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Saturday, November 28, 2009

EDITORIAL 27.11.09

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Editorial

month november 27, edition 000361, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. HIGHWAY TO NOWHERE
  2. CHOICE FOR SRI LANKA
  3. FROM AMERICA, WITH A SMILE! - BALBIR K PUNJ
  4. NO ALTERNATIVE TO DIALOGUE - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
  5. BJP CAN'T DENY ITS ROLE - KOENRAAD ELST
  6. FOR BETTER OR WORSE? - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
  7. DOES CONGRESS STAND TO GAIN? - KALYANI SHANKAR

MAIL TODAY

  1. LESSONS OF 26/ 11 HAVE STILL NOT BEEN LEARNT
  2. NO SIGN OF SINCERITY
  3. FOOD FOR THOUGHT
  4. DON'T DISCOUNT THE CHALLENGES - BY SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI
  5. SOBERING STATISTICS TO NOTE - BY NAJAM SETHI
  6. RAIPUR GIRL REJECTS FAIR & UGLY PROPOSAL - BY SAHAR KHAN IN RAIPUR
  7. IPS OFFICER AGREES TO RETURN HOUSE TO LOTIKA SARKAR
  8. CONG CLARIFIES

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
  2. OPEN THE DOOR
  3. TAKE-AWAY FROM WASHINGTON -
  4. 'WE NEED BETTER FILMS... WE HAVE LOST TRACK OF CULTURE'
  5. THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE -
  6. ME AND HIMAL  - JUG SURAIYA 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. UNCHANGED TALE OF TERROR
  2. IT'S ONLY ON PAPER
  3. STILL ON A TINDERBOX - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
  4. PLAYING TO THE GALLERY
  5. THE WAY TO GOD - BABITA KEJRIWAL
  6. TIME TO MOVE ON - AMRIT DHILLON

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SOBER DOWN
  2. RATES OF REFORM
  3. DIFFERENT SPORTS
  4. THE VANISHED MOMENT - MIHIR S. SHARMA
  5. MOVING BEYOND PRELIMS - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
  6. INDIAN HOLIDAY - INDER MALHOTRA
  7. BENDING OUR MINDS
  8. THE COMPULSIONS OF COPENHAGEN - N K SINGH
  9. FIGHTING FAITHS

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. LEND THEM A HAND
  2. THE GST DEADLINE
  3. SINGH, OBAMA AND THE ASIAN BALANCE - C RAJA MOHAN
  4. DON'T LET TURF BATTLE HIT TRADE - RAJESH CHAKRABARTI
  5. WRONG TO CURB EQUIPMENT IMPORTS FROM CHINA - NOOR MOHAMMAD
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. LAST MILE IN THE NUCLEAR DEAL
  2. THE WAGES OF EXPLOITATION
  3. INDIA'S STRATEGY AT COPENHAGEN - T. JAYARAMAN
  4. WHERE STYLE HAS TRUMPED SUBSTANCE - PRAVEEN SWAMI
  5. PAKISTAN: TWO QUESTIONS, MULTIPLE REALITIES - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
  6. HARNESSING DARWIN TO PUSH AN ANCIENT INTELLECTUAL CENTRE TO EVOLVE - MICHAEL SLACKMAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. A GOOD VISIT, BUT DON'T OVER-HYPE IT
  2. A LONG WAIT FOR JUDGMENT HOUR
  3. SPY THRILLERS: THE COLDER THE BETTER - SHEKHAR BHATIA
  4. BE A ROLE MODEL - ROBIN SHARMA
  5. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - SRINATH RAGHAVAN

DNA

  1. HOMING IN
  2. CLEANING UP ACT
  3. HOUSE OF LORDS' TRYST WITH SUFI POETRY - FARRUKH DHONDY
  4. A DEAL GONE SOUR - BRAHMA CHELLANEY 
  5. NRIS, DON'T COME HOME - VENKATESAN VEMBU 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. ONE YEAR AFTER 26/11
  2. GOLD ON A HIGH
  3. FUEL-EFFICIENT VEHICLES
  4. NATIONAL DEFENCE MESSED UP - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. HOME AND ABROAD - BY LIEUT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)
  6. MIGRATION BENEFITS LOCAL ECONOMY: UN REPORT - BY N.K. SINGH
  7. A UNIVERSAL E-BOOK LIBRARY - BY ROOPINDER SINGH
  8. WITH A WING AND A PRAYER, COURAGE GETS A PARDON - BY ALEXANDER C. HART

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. THE TERROR THREAT
  2. JUMPING FOOD INFLATION
  3. NATIONAL AGENDA OF INCLUSIVE GROWTH - HITENDRA NATH SARMA
  4. RAYS OF HOPE FOR WOMEN - DR TAPATI BARUAH KASHYAP

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. CEMENTING INDO-US TIES
  2. WELCOME JOB GROWTH
  3. FIGHT CLUB
  4. THESE GENEXT I-BANKERS ARE FIRING UP DEAL STREET - GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER
  5. BULL RUN HELPS COS RAISE $2 BN VIA FCCBS IN OCT - GAYATRI NAYAK & DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  6. M-CAP MAY NOT ALWAYS TELL A CO'S REAL WORTH - VIJAY GURAV
  7. BROKERS SET UP DATA MINES TO WARD OFF TERROR IMPACT - SHAILESH MENON
  8. DUBAI SLIDES INTO DEBT TRAP, RATTLES WORLD
  9. WHERE IS THAT THING CALLED TRUTH? - MUKUL SHARMA
  10. WHAT LIBERHAN REPORT MEANS FOR BJP
  11. IT'S JUST A LOPSIDED POLITICAL DOCUMENT
  12. CAT IS NOT JUST AN EXAM, IT'S A NATIONAL ASSET - KUMAR ANAND
  13. 'INDIAN ACHIEVERS ARE NOT FLAMBOYANT' - NIKHIL MENON
  14. 'OUR PROFITS GREW 32% DESPITE FLAT VOLUMES' - RUCHITA SAXENA
  15. WTO SHOPTALK NEXT WEEK, BUT DOHA BACKDROP STAYS - AMITI SEN
  16. 'IN KAYA, RELATIONSHIPS ARE CRITICAL' - NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. A GOOD VISIT, BUT DON'T OVER-HYPE IT
  2. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN
  3. BESTSELLERS, NEW WEAPONS OF RELIGIOUS WARS - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
  4. A LONG WAIT FOR JUDGMENT HOUR
  5. A TALE OF TWO TURKEYS - BY GAIL COLLINS
  6. APOLOGY VS SORRY - BY ROD LIDDLE

the statesman

  1. PRESIDENT'S SORTIE
  2. TRIAL & VERDICT
  3. LEAVE SCHOOLS ALONE
  4. STRATEGIC SHIFT  - BY SALMAN HAIDAR

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. OLD ROLE
  2. TIME MATTERS
  3. A NEW PARADISE FOUND - MALVIKA SINGH
  4. TOO EASY A CONCLUSION - SWAPAN DASGUPTA

DECCAN HERALD

  1. SHORT ON SUBSTANCE
  2. WELCOME REFORMS
  3. MODERN CHANAKYA'S GAME - BY SAEED NAQVI
  4. INDIA'S GROWTH AMID REGIONAL TURBULENCE - BY SUDHANSU R DAS
  5. WHERE TIME STANDS STILL - BY H N ANANDA

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. 'IT'S NOT ENOUGH'

HAARETZ

1.A TINY DIPLOMATIC CRACK

  1. GIVING AND CRYING - BY YOEL MARCUS
  2. THE 1988 DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE - BY JEROME SEGAL
  3. I (DON'T) BELIEVE  - BY YOSSI SARID
  4. SECULAR ISRAELIS IDENTIFY WITH DIVINE PROMISE OF THE LAND TO JEWS - BY RACHEL ELBOIM-DROR
  5. THE CRIME OF BEING A ZIONIST - BY KARL PFEIFER
  6. GIVE US A CHANCE - BY RONY PALUCH
  7. MANIPULATING THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS - BY GERALD M. STEINBERG
  8. BRING ON THE TRANSPARENCY - BY DIDI REMEZ

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. YES, YOU OWE THAT TAX
  2. IMMIGRANTS, CRIMINALIZED
  3. A BIG LOSS FOR BIG TOBACCO
  4. FLY THE SLEAZY SKIES
  5. THE OTHER EDUCATION - BY DAVID BROOKS
  6. TAXING THE SPECULATORS - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  7. WHAT'S YOUR UNDERLYING CONDITION? - BY JEROME GROOPMAN AND PAMELA HARTZBAND
  8. ROOTLESS FOR THE HOLIDAYS - BY JOHN DUVALL

I.THE NEWS

  1. HOLLOW WORDS
  2. BLACK AND WHITE
  3. A GRAND PASSION MISPLACED - AYAZ AMIR
  4. ANOTHER HAJ PASSES BY... - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  5. 'LOOT SALE' OF FAMILY JEWELS
  6. NO LIMITS TO CORRUPTION? - DR MASOODA BANO
  7. REGAINING PARADISE LOST - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  8. SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. PRESIDENT SEEMS TO BE UNDER STRESS
  2. MUCH-NEEDED NETWORK OF YOUTH CENTRES
  3. QUAID MUST BE HAPPY WITH GEN KAYANI
  4. MANMOHAN SINGH GOES TO WASHINGTON - M D NALAPAT
  5. INDIAN PM'S VISIT TO US - SULTAN M HALI
  6. UNDEREXPLOITED POTENTIAL OF HAJJ - S JAVED HUSSAIN
  7. WHY ISSUE OF MATARAM IS BEING RAISED AGAIN? - AFSHAIN AFZAL
  8. FRIENDLY FIRE..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. CHANGED WORLD
  2. HAPPY EID
  3. SET YOUR SIGHTS HIGH…!
  4. EID AL-AZHA: MEANING OF THE FESTIVAL OF SACRIFICE
  5. FS NAZRUL THEN LOST PRESIDENT'S FAVOURS - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
  6. LAND DEGRADATION IN BANGLADESH - DR MIR MUHAMMAD HASSAN

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. STRUGGLE FOR BREATH
  2. A TICKET TO RIDE
  3. SUSTAINING DEMOCRACY ILLUSIONS AND REALITIES - GANGA THAPA PH.D.
  4. SMALL YET MEANINGFUL - UDAY LAMA
  5. MAOISTS ULTIMATE GOAL MAKES RIVALS JITTERY - KAMAL DEV BHATTARAI

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. NOW FOR THE AUSTERITY BUDGETS
  2. A FIGHT TO THE DEATH FOR THE FUTURE OF THE PARTY
  3. NOW FOR THE AUSTERITY BUDGETS

 THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. FREE AT LAST - BUT NOT TO TALK
  2. WHOSE TIMOR SEA GAS?

THE GURDIAN

  1. DUBAI: STORMS IN THE GULF
  2. IN PRAISE OF… PLANTING TREES
  3. BOOK TRADE: ONE CHAPTER CLOSES

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. MORE BABIES, PLEASE
  2. SPEND WISELY
  3. PERSUADE PEOPLE ON URGENCY OF REFORMS - JEFFREY D. SACHS

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. 9/11 TRIALS A VICTORY FOR JUSTICE
  2. TOKYO'S URBAN DESIGN ROLE - BY JARED BRAITERMAN

CHINA DAILY

  1. SAVE MEN'S SOCCER
  2. GREEN CLOCK STARTS TICKING
  3. 4 P'S FOR SUSTAINABILITY PLANNING
  4. STANDARDIZE AGRICULTURAL TRADING

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. CIVIL SOCIETY CAUGHT IN A VICIOUS CIRCLE - VEDOMOSTI
  2. THE JOY OF BEING INDEFINITE  - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
  3. STRENGTHENING THE RESET - BY THOMAS GRAHAM

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

HIGHWAY TO NOWHERE

PM, SONIA TO BE PRAISED FOR NHDP MESS!


The National Highways Authority of India's proposal to erect billboards with pictures of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on every 25 km stretch on all national highways under it, exposes the double standards of the UPA Government. It will be recalled that the UPA, when it had come to power in its previous avatar in 2004 and had inherited the National Highways Development Programme from the NDA regime, had taken exception to a handful of similar highway signboards that carried pictures of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the ground that development projects are for the welfare of the people of this country and no single political party or leader should take credit for them. Subsequently, the signboards were draped in black before being pulled down altogether. That the same UPA today has decided to put up hoardings with pictures of Ms Gandhi and Mr Singh exposes the hypocrisy that has become the hallmark of this Government. Apart from the duplicity, the UPA has neither the moral right to appropriate credit for the work that has already been completed under the NHDP nor boast about the achievements which are really those of the NDA. For, it is a matter of fact that the NHDP was conceived by PV Narasimha Rao a decade-and-a-half ago. Due to several reasons, the plan never really took off at the time. It was only after the NDA, led by the BJP, came to power that the NHDP was taken out of cold storage and put on the fast track.


As a result, under the NDA regime work on NHDP projects such as the Golden Quadrilateral progressed at a brisk pace of 11 km per day. Credit for this must be attributed to Gen BC Khanduri who was in-charge of the NHDP at the time. However, this commendable pace of progress significantly slowed down when UPA-I took over the reins. Under it the pace of work came down to as low as 2.3 km per day. The state of affairs today is such that 93 km of the Golden Quadrilateral have been formally abandoned while tardy progress is being made on 300 km. This, when the project itself was to be wrapped up by 2004-2005. On the other hand, the status of another NHDP project , the North-South, East-West corridors, has only seen 14 per cent of the work being completed in the last five years while work on 7,000 km of highways still remains. In the backdrop of such statistics, it is amazing that the UPA is boasting about the 'success' of the NHDP under its regime. Instead of picking up the pace of work on these crucial highway projects, it is planning to divert resources towards what can be best described as a bogus advertising campaign which, interestingly enough, is also incongruent with the NHAI's policy on roadside advertisements. At the same time, the UPA Government has not backed off from collecting exorbitant toll tax from the people. One can encounter as many as 50 toll booths on the highway between Delhi and Mumbai. Hence, the Government can hardly claim that lack of funds is the reason behind the slow rate of progress on these projects. Therefore, the Government should be asked what is happening to all this money. The decision to erect billboards extolling Ms Gandhi and Mr Singh amounts to nothing but publicity for non-achievement and a waste of public money. It must be abandoned forthwith.

 

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THE PIONEER

CHOICE FOR SRI LANKA

GENERALS IN POWER CANNOT BE TRUSTED


A strange contest for power is taking shape in Sri Lanka with the country's 'national hero' pitted against the 'war hero'. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has completed four years of his six-year term, opted for early election hoping to cash in on his popularity after winning the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and decimating the terrorist organisation that had led a murderous separatist campaign. After V Prabhakaran and the entire top leaders of the LTTE were liquidated on May 18, a triumphant Mr Rajapaksa was hailed as the 'liberator', the 'lion' who had devoured the nation's enemy. By all accounts, it was an unprecedented popularity wave with Mr Rajapaksa riding its crest. The SLFP appeared invincible as it swept local elections. But political calculations can often go awry as they have for Mr Rajapaksa. Suddenly, the early election called by him — it could be held in January next year — does not appear a cakewalk for Sri Lanka's 'national hero'. He will now have to contend for power with the former Army chief, Gen Sarath Fonseka, putting up a tough challenge — yesterday allies are today's bitter foes, with Sri Lanka's 'war hero' unleashing a vitriolic campaign against his political boss, accusing him of contributing little to the victory over the LTTE and doing even less for consolidating the gains of the military's amazing achievement.


Astonishingly, Gen Fonseka, an unabashed advocate of Sinhala majoritarianism, has charged Mr Rajapaksa with not keeping his promise of addressing Tamil grievances. It is equally surprising that the main Opposition party, the UNP, has no compunction about backing Gen Fonseka despite the JVP, known for harbouring nothing but ill will against Tamils, raucously supporting the man who has been charged with resorting to 'war crimes' and unleashing terror on innocent civilians. Reports about a section of the Army plotting a coup, which are not entirely unfounded, do nothing for Gen Fonseka's credibility. Nor is there any reason to believe that if elected to power, he will end the 'executive presidency' and adopt a parliamentary system of governance. Generals who come to power through coups or elections are not known to leave office voluntarily. Gen Fonseka, for all his pious declarations of commitment to democracy, is not known as either a democrat or a tolerant individual; his colleagues in the Army will bear witness to this fact. Sr Lanka faces the Herculean task of recovering from the ravages of 25 years of LTTE terrorism and rebuilding its economy, apart from rehabilitating tens of thousands of displaced Tamils. It can ill afford political instability at this stage, nor should it embark upon an adventurous course of experimenting with giving power to the Army. It hasn't worked in any country so far.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

FROM AMERICA, WITH A SMILE!

BALBIR K PUNJ


Irrespective of what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's spin doctors in South Block say, it is as plain as daylight that the Obama Administration is not taking India seriously. True, our Prime Minister is the first to be formally invited for a state visit after President Barack Obama took over the US presidency. However, one cannot ignore the numerous indicators over the last few months about what Mr Obama thinks of India's position vis-à-vis China in global geopolitics.


The US likes to make a show of how upset it is whenever human rights are violations take place anywhere in the world. It had denied Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi an American visa citing the post-Godhra violence that took place in 2002. Yet, Mr Obama did not see fit to remark on China's authoritarian ways and human rights abuses during his recent visit to that country. If he did at all object, it is not there in the joint statement issued by him and Chinese President Hu Jintao.


Mr Obama could not even get his host to commit to the worldwide demand that China revalue its currency to its natural level, which is at least 20 per cent more than what it is presently pegged at. China has contributed to the global imbalance in currency flow by keeping the renminbi valued around 1980 level. This gives China an enormous advantage in terms of its exports, enabling Chinese goods to be manufactured and sold cheaper than the rest of the world.


That Mr Obama put off his meeting with the Dalai Lama just because he did not want to annoy China is another example of how much the American President is willing to bend in order to please the Chinese. On top of this, Mr Obama openly conceded that Tibet is an integral part of China with the weak rider that "the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Chinese Government and the representatives of the Dalai Lama." This, when the Tibetan leader has already announced that such dialogue is futile.


It is a fact that Mr Obama got nothing from China on his maiden trip there as President. On the contrary, he virtually conceded to China the whole of South Asia as its sphere of influence through this key sentence that was part of the joint communiqué: The US recognises China's role in South Asian peace and specifically in India-Pakistan dialogue.


By this the US has practically endorsed what China has been seeking to do through its support to insurgent groups in India, its aggressive naval expansion in the Indian Ocean and its support Pakistan.


It is true that our External Affairs Ministry has reacted strongly to this joint Obama-Hu communiqué. But the fact that the joint statement came on the eve of Mr Singh's visit to Washington is even more significant. It is enough to make perceptive observers in New Delhi wonder whether any purpose will now be served by Mr Singh's visit.

Newsweek's international editor, Fareed Zakaria, has rightly commented on what you could expect from Mr Singh's visit: "There will be nice words said in public about the ties between two great democracies. But underneath this lies an unease." A historic parallel can be drawn in President Nixon's overture to China behind India's back in the early 1970s that stunned the Indian foreign policy establishment and then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.


The danger of the Indian Prime Minister also being the country's foreign policymaker and having a nominal External Affairs Minister is all too well-known. But the Congress continues with this practice even now. Mr SM Krishna was nowhere to be seen at the time of the India-Pakistan meeting on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in July. Subsequently, he could hardly explain the abject diplomatic surrender of the Government to Pakistan on that occasion.


Mr Singh seems to believe that he is best suited to conduct foreign policy on behalf of the country because he succeeded in winning the previous US administration's support in getting the India-US Civil Nuclear Co-operation Agreement through. Compare this to what Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done as Prime Minister in talks with Gen Pervez Musharraf at the Agra summit. Mr Vajpayee had got his colleagues to go through the proposed agreement on that occasion and, as a result, was able to reject the trap that Gen Musharraf had laid.

Core to Washington's perception about South Asia is that it needs a face saver in Afghanistan to get out of the situation there, and Pakistan, with its influence over the Taliban, alone can do this job for the Americans. This is a departure from the Bush Administration's determined stand that the Taliban should be exterminated. What this country wants to know from Mr Singh is whether he will stand up to President Obama and tell him that such a move in Afghanistan would be interpreted in India as a surrender to Pakistan's use of terror as an instrument of state policy and that it would also further endanger India's security.


If Mr Singh is unable to talk his host out of such a surrender, out of accepting Pakistan's goal of setting up "a pro-Pak Government in Afghanistan," as Zakaria puts it, all talk of India being a 'strategic partner' of the US will simply be meaningless. Also, it would be prudent to ask whether Mr Singh has an alternative policy by which he can tell the American President that India can move forward on its own strength and build a strong country that can counter a growing China-Pakistan-US nexus.


To get the Obama Administration to perceive the Indian advantage and reorient its foreign policy, India must have a Government that believes in building national strength through a framework that inspires a billion people with one purpose — to become a superpower. But within the ruling Congress, nationalism and national culture are dirty words. Thus, Mr Singh finds the need to appeal to his celebrity host. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's spin doctors have to spot the glitter in the lunch and dinner that President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have thrown in Mr Singh's honour, in order to divert the people's attention back home.

 punjbk@gmail.com

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

NO ALTERNATIVE TO DIALOGUE

RUDRONEEL GHOSH


In 1945 when the United Nations was created as a forum for collective international diplomacy, it was thought that a platform that would enable countries of the world to sort out their differences through dialogue and negotiations would end armed conflict once and for all. However, the reality, we know, has been different. Although since the creation of the UN we have been able to successfully prevent another World War and even managed to take the chill out of the Cold War, armed conflicts have taken place and continue to do so in several parts of the world. Understandably, this has led to criticism of the UN and a weakening of the belief that international multilateral diplomacy is the key to conflict resolution.


It is true that the UN is far from perfect. Some of the charges against it are, in fact, valid. For example, few will disagree that the US and its allies have an unhealthy sway over the international body and that many a times the UN appears to be powerless to prevent American hegemonic policies. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was opposed by majority of the UN-member nations. The Americans took no heed of this. Despite the UN Security Council rejecting the American demand for use of force to disarm Iraq of its rumoured weapons of mass destruction, the US invaded Iraq with a military coalition, termed 'mother of all coalitions', and had among its supporters countries such as Iceland and Kazakhstan that supplied a princely total of two and 29 troops to the military effort respectively.


Over the years, such incidents and more have been bad advertising for the idea of international diplomacy as a solution to armed conflict. So much so that there has been growing cynicism about the notion itself. Nonetheless, despite all its flaws, international diplomacy and multilateral dialogue is the only viable alternative we have to war and human rights crises. It is true that there are structural deficiencies in bodies such as the UN. Yet, the cost of turning those deficiencies around is far more acceptable than the cost of abandoning dialogue.


In this context, it is heartening to note that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme — a group of 70 nations that regulate the trade in rough diamonds — has managed to get Zimbabwe to withdraw its Army from the country's Marange diamond fields, where serious human rights abuses were committed by the latter, through dialogue and negotiations. It might be a small victory, but a triumph nonetheless for multilateral diplomacy.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BJP CAN'T DENY ITS ROLE

THE LIBERHAN COMMISSION'S FINDINGS ARE SHODDY AND BIASED, BUT THE DISGRACE NOW SUFFERED BY THE BJP LEADERS AND WORSENED BY THEIR DENIALS IS WELL-DESERVED. THEY OUGHT TO PAY A PRICE FOR REFUSING TO ADMIT THE BJP HAD A ROLE IN THE BABRI STRUCTURE'S DEMOLITION

KOENRAAD ELST


The Justice MS Liberhan Commission's finding that the BJP leadership is guilty of the "criminal" demolition of the Babri Masjid has provoked some protests and denials in the BJP and pro-BJP circles. These implicitly assume that the demolition was indeed a crime, that Mr LK Advani and others have to be absolved from it, and that the guilt must be shifted to Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao. Meanwhile, Mr Kalyan Singh and Ms Uma Bharati have owned up their responsibility, but they happen to be leaders who ended up clashing with the BJP. Hindu activists loyal to the Ram temple cause will commend their steadfastness. They will also praise Rajiv Gandhi for starting the process of replacing the usurper Babri structure with a proper Ram temple; and Narasimha Rao for passively helping the demolition by his refusal to intervene. By contrast, the BJP leadership's denial of responsibility will only earn it their contempt.


To be sure, a more orderly procedure to replace the mosque structure with proper temple architecture would have been preferable. Mr Advani had a point in lamenting the breakdown of RSS discipline that made way for the demolition fervour. But even what actually took place was a lesser evil compared with the continuation of the Babri structure, at least in the real world. For one thing, it saved many lives. Just compare the riot toll in the years preceding the demolition with those in the subsequent years. After Muslim revenge had run its course with the Mumbai bomb attacks of March 12, 1993 (which set the pattern for later terrorist actions in London, Madrid, Bali, Delhi, etc, one of the international offshoots of the Ayodhya affair), all was relatively quiet on the Hindu-Muslim front until 2002. The demolition and its aftermath, shocking though they were, triggered a catharsis that sobered the marching crowds, both Hindu and Muslim. Imagine what riots would have taken place had the Babri eyesore remained standing, a scandal to Hindus and a prop to Muslim hopes of taking it back. Indeed, the prospect of endless Ayodhya-related riots is probably the un-stated reason (apart from putting the BJP on the defensive) why Narasimha Rao allowed the demolition to be completed.


As for the pre-planned nature of the demolition, it has always been obvious. This, too, the BJP should concede unequivocally. Members of the demolition vanguard have told me about their training and the equipment they had brought. They also mentioned the name of the mastermind of the whole operation; it was neither Mr Advani nor Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Which brings us to the most startling fact of the demolition's aftermath: The total refusal of the Indian media to investigate the details. Collectively, they spurned the scoop of the decade — a cover picture with the caption: "Meet the mastermind of the Ayodhya demolition." The reason is that they found it more expedient to blame Mr Advani and barred themselves from publishing or indeed finding anything that might disturb this story-line.


Once the vanguard had started its operation on December 6, 1992, the rest of the crowd followed. For them at least, the demolition had indeed not been pre-planned. And this unprepared crowd included the unwilling Mr Advani. He and most BJP leaders (if not all — I cannot claim completeness for my data) clearly were not in on it, and the Liberhan report offers no proof of their involvement either, only some suppositions about what they "must" have known. Even so, they did bear a political responsibility. Today the BJP says that if Home Minister P Chidambaram did not personally leak the Liberhan report, he remains politically responsible. That makes sense, but the same principle naturally applies to the BJP leaders' responsibility for the demolition. They should have owned it up right then, and they can still do so now.


Mr MS Liberhan is unconvincing in his unfounded allotment of blame for the demolition's technical preparation to them. But it is petty-minded to make a fuss about this, because their political responsibility is so undeniable. Focusing on the technical whodunnit is politically incorrect in that it misrepresents the whole issue as conceived by the pro-temple movement. The crime is not that a usurper structure was demolished, but that the Government (egged on by the English media, the CPI(M), the JNU historians and similar usual suspects) had been thwarting the restoration of a Hindu sacred site to its pilgrim constituency, the Hindus. The right policy would have been to acknowledge and act upon the self-evident principle that a Hindu sacred site should be in Hindu custody and adorned with Hindu architecture. Will the secularists insist on the imposition of a Ram temple on the Kaaba site in Mecca, or on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? Of course not, and for the same reason there should not be a mosque on a hill that for centuries has been the main site dedicated to Ram.


Some people were ready to act upon this simple and logical insight. When Rajiv Gandhi had the locks on Babri Masjid opened, he clearly embarked on a policy of accommodating the Hindus in compensation for (and in proportion with) the plentiful Muslim 'appeasement' by his own and previous Governments. It was a typical instance of the Congress culture with its compromises and horse-trading — nothing very noble, but pragmatic. That approach would normally have led to a deal, with the Ayodhya site for the Hindu lobby and some sweeteners for the Muslim lobby, of which package the ban on Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was an opener. Indeed not quite noble, but it would have saved a lot of lives and political energy. Today the Ram Janmabhoomi temple would have become just one among many uneventful Hindu places of pilgrimage. Come to think of it, that option could still be tried by the present Congress Government.


But in 1989-92, that option was thwarted by the offensive of Babri extremists, and by this I don't mean the warriors of Islam but the conformistic intellectuals shrieking and howling that the contentious building was the "last bastion of secularism", a matter of high principle, of life and death. Under their fierce calls for "hard secularism", no administrator dared to reduce the controversy to its true and manageable proportions anymore. Not the Congress, not the various Left-populist parties, and not the BJP either. They were all paralysed and consequently bought time, all the while taking sides against the weaker party, the pro-temple movement with its vacillating and politically incompetent leadership.


And this shows us another sense in which the BJP is politically responsible for the demolition and for its erratic implementation by an unguided crowd. They too took the side of the status quo against the Hindu demands. The Hindutva rank and file defied its leaders because it felt cheated by them. After the 1991 election, when the BJP rose to the rank of largest Opposition party, the Ayodhya demand was ditched, first mentally, then gradually also in practice. The activists felt that the leaders didn't mean business, that they didn't dare to push for the logical next step — physically replacing the mosque structure (already in use for Hindu worship) with temple architecture. It was clear that the leaders had no clue on how to go about it. As it later turned out, in 1998-2004, even with the mosque gone and the BJP in power, Mr Advani and others didn't move a finger towards the construction of the temple. So the ordinary activists had rightly sensed the unwillingness of the leaders to take the movement forward. That is why they took the law into their own hands.


The leaders could have avoided this outcome by charting a political roadmap towards a negotiated temple construction and then staying the course. Instead they tried to give the issue a quiet burial all while still making some increasingly faint pro-temple noises in order to retain their vote-bank. For that hypocrisy, they ought to pay a price. The Liberhan findings are shoddy and biased, but the disgrace now suffered by the BJP leaders and worsened by their denials is well-deserved.

 

The author is a Belgian Indologist and has written several books on aspects of the Ayodhya controversy.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

FOR BETTER OR WORSE?

'CHANGE' ALONE MEANS NOTHING IN WEST BENGAL

SHIKHA MUKERJEE


Species originate through evolution and that remains perhaps the greatest discovery ever even after 150 years. Therefore, West Bengal just has to survive long enough before regime change can happen without being preceded by years of violence, death, destruction and perpetuation of deprivation.


If it is a Trinamool Congress activist who dies one day then there are two if not three Communist Party of India(Marxist) supporters who die the next. The masses, instead of dying dramatically, thereby becoming martyrs to 'the' cause, die by degrees. In turbulent times in West Bengal the creaky administration tends to collapse. Political strife tends to convert this into a melodramatic moment of a terrorised people awaiting the apocalypse.

Between 1967 and 1977, West Bengal defied the trend, as Atul Kohli famously described it, and turned the corner, restoring order out of chaos. It now seems that history is all set to repeat itself. Between 2006 and 2011, the chaos will create the conditions for the restoration of the order of the Trinamool Congress.


In other words, by 2011, the Trinamool Congress must evolve to a higher plane of politics. Instead of threatening 'change', it must set about the task of preparing to be the agent of a change for the better. How it will go about that extremely challenging job is a matter of speculation, if not irrelevant.


It is the Trinamool Congress's capacity to evolve that is material to the future of West Bengal. Between its inception and now, as it hurtles to the finish line of 2011 it needs to ensure that it wins on its own a bare majority to establish its dominance over the Congress. It needs to figure out the direction in which it will evolve, because till now it has merely followed the course set by its leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee.

The assessment of the Trinamool Congress, however, cannot be made on the basis of Ms Banerjee's capacity to evolve; because she cannot do so. She must remain frozen forever, or at least in the foreseeable future, in exactly the same mould as the one in which she had originally cast herself when she split from the Congress in 1997. As a fiery leader, ready to place herself at the forefront of battle is how West Bengal's masses idolise Ms Banerjee; till she wins the 2011 election and is installed as Chief Minister, she must continue to remain exactly as she is.


Leaders and their parties are one but not the same; the sooner the Trinamool Congress figures out a way of handling this real difference the better it will be. At the rate at which the party, its leaders and even its Ministers are using Ms Banerjee's name for every twitch and turn, she will be either accused of being a control freak addicted to micromanaging everything or she will inevitably find herself responsible for actions and omissions about which she may have been entirely ignorant.


It has long been said that Ms Banerjee was uneasy about sharing the decision making space within the Trinamool Congress. Leaders who have crossed the floor from the Congress to the Trinamool and then back again have all talked about Ms Banerjee's iron hand that is rarely gloved in velvet within the confines of the party office. But that was Ms Banerjee as an Opposition leader struggling to make headway against the formidable CPI(M).


Ms Banerjee is now the leader-in-waiting. The Trinamool Congress is the party-in-waiting. Therefore getting their organisational and leadership acts together are an increasingly urgent need. While it is true that Ms Banerjee has adopted a franchisee model in spreading the Trinamool Congress's influence and done so with spectacular success since 2006, it is also true that that there are no so to say heavyweights within her party's inner circle. The rainbow alliance of the disgruntled was just one manifestation of the franchisee strategy. The fiefdom established by the Adhikari clan in East Midnapore is another strategy. But all these bits hold together only when Ms Banerjee is the glue.


The big question is whether this is a sustainable model or does the Trinamool Congress need to evolve? In the dozen years since it was set up Ms Banerjee has generated the steam that has taken it forward and upward. West Bengal has grown accustomed to seeing Ms Banerjee leading every movement, taking every decision, being a dynamo of activity.


The Trinamool Congress or perhaps Ms Banerjee herself needs to figure out how this fusion can work when she becomes Chief Minister. The Trinamool Congress and Ms Banerjee herself have made promises, lots and lots of promises. To keep some of them — an efficient people-friendly administration, a non-partisan Government, a pro-industry-pro agriculture Government, a Government that solves the Maoist problem in Lalgarh, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha problem in Darjeeling, that delivers development to the backward districts, converts Siliguri-Darjeeling into Switzerland, Kolkata into London — and the list is pretty much a fabulous wish-list, Ms Banerjee will have to work hard at governance.


To do all this Ms Banerjee needs to evolve and so does the Trinamool Congress. She will have her work cut out between undoing her handiwork and living up to promises that are in truth formidable targets.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

DOES CONGRESS STAND TO GAIN?

EVERY PARTY WILL TRY AND MAKE USE OF THE LIBERHAN COMMISSION'S REPORT TO SCORE POLITICAL POINTS AND CONSOLIDATE ITS VOTE-BANKS. THE CONGRESS HOPES TO REAP BENEFITS IN UTTAR PRADESH

KALYANI SHANKAR


Now that the inquiry report of the Liberhan Commission which probed the circumstances leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 is out, what is its impact on political parties? No doubt, it was hanging like Damocles's sword over BJP leaders, particularly Mr LK Advani and Mr Murli Manohar Joshi. The BJP too knows that the chickens have come home to roost and it is time to face the consequences.


While the report is being dubbed as a 'damp squib' as nothing much has come out of it despite the commission taking 17 long years to prepare it, politicians are not going to let it go. Every party is taking position keeping in view its interests and future. Their perspective on the Liberhan Commission is congurent to their party line. The issue has been fixed in the context of the present political positions of the party. It is more important to political parties where the BJP is in power except in the south where it has not been able to spread beyond Karnataka.

There are some who believe that the verdict of the commission may benefit both the Congress and the BJP to a certain extent in Uttar Pradesh. They believe that while Muslims may turn towards the Congress, the BJP may try to consolidate Hindu votes. But recent Assembly and Lok Sabha elections have shown that Ayodhya has ceased to be a major issue with the community. Where does that leave the two regional parties dominating Uttar Pradesh — the Samajwadi Party and the ruling BSP? The growth of the two national parties in Uttar Pradesh may mean the shrinking of these two regional parties.


For the BJP, the report has ended the suspense. As expected, the commission has pointed a finger at some senior BJP leaders, including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The BJP, supported by the Sangh Parivar, will naturally shrug any responsibility. In any case, nothing is going to happen if one goes by the action taken report. Even if the Government plans more action, it is bound to take a long time knowing the way our system works. Leaders like Mr Advani and Mr Joshi are already fighting legal battles which are moving at a snail's pace. Meanwhile, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar may defend their case with the public.


Second, Mr Advani, who was on his way out, has gained some time because it will not be possible to remove him immediately after the Liberhan report indicting him. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar will have to rally behind him and let him choose his own timing to bow out gracefully. He will also get to choose his successor.

Third, with leaders like Mr Advani and Mr Joshi indicted, the field is clear for second rung leaders like Mr Arun Jaitley, Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr M Venkaiah Naidu to assert themselves for their place in the party. The second rung leaders may choose a liberal outlook as they know that young voters are not interested in just Hindutva but want to have other things like jobs, development and governance. If the BJP has to survive it has to change itself to suit voter requirements.


Fourth, the RSS may think twice to put pressure on Mr Advani and the BJP to toe its line. The remote control exercised over the party may also weaken. With the RSS not breathing down its neck, the BJP may be able to bloom on its own.


Fifth, and more importantly, does the commission report mean a rethink on the part of the BJP about its ideology? Obviously not. The BJP has already realised that Ayodhya is not going to help the party win any more elections. But that does not mean that it will openly acknowledge it, as was seen in the statement made by Mr Advani in Parliament while raising the issue of the report being leaked to the media before being tabled in the House.


As for the Congress, much depends on how it makes use of the findings of the Liberhan Commission. Will it use the report to defame the BJP politically? Will it really try to bring a law as suggested by the commission to separate religion and politics? With the Congress feeling more jubilant and confident after its recent victory in the Assembly elections, the leadership is in a comfortable position to take bold measures. The most important thing for the Congress is how to build itself in Uttar Pradesh. With the upward swing already showing, it has to keep up this momentum. Once the party stabilises in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Rahul Gandhi strategy may work elsewhere.


As far as the Left parties are concerned, they are in a dilemma. They are peeved with the Congress and its growing clout and, therefore, do not want the latter to take advantage of the report. At the same time they want the BJP to be punished and embarrassed. Right now, they have taken a position against the Government. The Left parties do not want the Congress to get any benefit because of the report in the Jharkhand Assembly election but they are also against those involved in the demolition of Babri masjid.


The RJD will go along with the Congress. For one thing, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav has already realised his mistake of not aligning with the Congress during the 2009 Lok Sabha election. It would be to his advantage to expose the ruling JD(U) in Bihar and embarrass Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his party's alliance with the BJP. Mr Yadav is preparing for the next Assembly election in Bihar and has to fight the JD(U)-BJP combine.

Regional parties like the DMK and the AIADMK are not much concerned about the report, as the BJP is yet to strike roots in Tamil Nadu. Their concern is limited to their own turf and both had been partners with the BJP during the NDA regime. The Telugu Desam Party finds itself against both the Congress and the BJP and will speak against both. The Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee is demanding action against the BJP.


While the commission's findings or the action taken report are not startling in any sense, it has certainly created a storm in the tea cup. The Congress may have succeeded in dividing the Opposition on the Ayodhya issue but very soon the Left and the Right may come together on issues like price rise, the Madhu Koda scam and other matters pertaining to the masses.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

LESSONS OF 26/ 11 HAVE STILL NOT BEEN LEARNT

 

THE deputy leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, S. S. Ahluwalia of the BJP made a statement on Thursday, November 26, which summed up what our worthy politicians have learned in the past one year since the dastardly terror attack on Mumbai. " The 26/ 11 attack is talked about," he noted, " because it happened in the Taj Mahal Hotel. Such incidents are happening regularly in rural India." With Ahluwalia's words and the bickering in Parliament over the still- unreleased compensation to the victims of 26/ 11, our parliamentarians have shown, once again, that they neither have the maturity nor the sensitivity befitting an occasion as solemn as the anniversary of what is easily the worst single terror attack on Indian soil. Also save some movement on the ground, there has been hardly any serious initiative to make Indians feel safer when they venture out of their homes. Contrast this with the American response of creating the Department of Homeland Security within days of the 9/ 11 attack in which about 3000 people were killed.

 

The formation of the National Investigative Agency, whose only case so far has been against the David Headley- Tawahhur Hussain Rana duo for allegedly helping the 10 gunmen with logistical support, has done very little to instill any kind of confidence among Indians.

 

Mumbai, surely one of the most vulnerable terror targets in India, still does not have a fully operational commando hub — the so- called Force One — that could take on terrorists. In the Capital, a mock drill trying to gauge the efficacy of the emergency response system flopped recently because a doctor supposed to be on duty did not pick up calls. Clearly this calls for an overhaul of the system that needs to be not only efficient but also work when it is needed the most.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

NO SIGN OF SINCERITY

 

ON the eve of the first anniversary of 26/ 11, an anti- terror court charged seven Pakistani men alleged to be members of the Lashkare- Tayyeba militant outfit with taking part in the conspiracy. If not for anything else, the court and the Pakistani administration must be commended for their impeccable timing. Seven dossiers and hundreds of pages of evidence were presented to the Pakistani establishment over the last year; yet their reluctance to act against those involved in the planning and execution of the attack is an indicator that not all of the conspirators were " non- state actors", as President Asif Ali Zardari has termed them.

 

Islamabad's strategy to prolong the case seems simple. It has named Ajmal Amir Qasab, the lone surviving terrorist, as a proclaimed offender and demanded that India extradite him to Pakistan so that he could face trial. Since India is not inclined to do so, it may probably use this as a convenient excuse to not move the case against the seven others, including Zaki- ur Rehman Lakhvi and Zarrar Shah, two of the most important figures in the conspiracy. India must expose Pakistan's duplicity in this regard and treat it as an equal partner in the investigation only if Islamabad shows tangible progress.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 

EDUCATION and health, welfare economists say, are two sectors in which the state has a critical role to play in a developing market economy. Unfortunately in India the authorities continue to let down the citizenry, especially the poor, on both fronts.

 

This is evident from the incident of 120 children falling ill in a Delhi school after they consumed the Mid- Day meal — the second such incident in the capital in less than a month. And the poor health infrastructure the state provides was exposed when the hospital the sick children were taken to was found unprepared for such an emergency.

 

If this is the quality of services being provided in the national capital, it is only to be wondered what goes on in the remote areas of the country. As is well known, the Mid- Day Meal Scheme is a vital programme of the Union government that is meant to encourage more people from underprivileged sections to send their children to school, besides providing kids with a nutritious diet. But every now and then we have evidence that, as is the case with National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the delivery standards are unsatisfactory.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

DON'T DISCOUNT THE CHALLENGES

BY SAUMITRA CHAUDHURI

 

THE THRALLS of the Great Economic & Financial Crisis no longer hold the world to ransom.

 

It is over in the sense that it was a crisis, but not yet over in respect to the structural elements which had brought this crisis to the boil. That is principally the high level of debt assumed by both the financial sector and individual households in the West which remains as yet largely unchanged.

 

It is true that some of the financial risk of this excess of debt has been transferred through refinancing and guarantees to the respective governments of these countries and to their central banks. But the underlying debt remains to be paid down or written off. Governments of the developed West have also taken on massive additional borrowing to provide fiscal stimulus to their hard hit economies.

 

Moreover, several of the ambitious public policy measures adopted to alleviate the harshness of the crisis are hard to terminate.

 

Hard, because first, there is considerable fear that if they are terminated, the financial sector may begin to unravel yet again and the economies may fall back into recession. Second, there is not much clarity as to over what time period this termination or withdrawal process should be carried out, even as it is clear that these supportive policies must end. Finally, the idea of unrestricted enlargement of government budget deficits has been freshly imbued with virtue and once this legitimisation is done, it is hard to bring public finances back to an even keel.

 

DEFICIT

The US for instance recorded a federal deficit that was 10 per cent of GDP in the fiscal year ended September 2009, and is likely to record one of similar magnitude in 2009/ 10. In addition several major American states, including California and New York are quite deep in fiscal difficulties.

 

While that does not trouble some economists much, including last year's Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, it does trouble many others, and non- economists, including business and most of the citizenry.

 

Runaway budget deficits are unacceptable, not just because these deficits are eventually paid by inflation that effectively robs wage & salary earners and the middle class by reducing the value of their generally fixed money incomes and the value of their savings which is mostly invested in one form of debt or the other.

 

It is also unacceptable because it sooner than later results in much more serious solvency problems.

 

When a large part of public debt is held overseas, the problem is even more acute.

 

The argument made in defence of large deficits is that eventually they will enable the economy to grow robustly and the additional flow of tax revenue will pay off the debt. A stabilisation of debt can be visualised under certain circumstances: That the US economy returns to its long term trend rate of growth of around 2.5 per cent per annum, inflation is at an acceptable average level of 2 per cent, tax revenues accordingly rebound and most critically, curtailment of federal expenditures happens resulting in the deficit being held at average levels of 3 per cent of GDP or lower, starting a couple of years from now. This, or some variation to it, is certainly a possible scenario.

 

But is it probable? Therein lies the rub. First, is the reflexive thinking that the recovery will be as strong as the recession was deep, that is, V- shaped: One more, of the many contextual observations, that were unfortunately imbibed as fundamental dictum over the past several decades by economists and management graduates.

 

The fact is that the US continues to labour under several structural problems. On the one hand is the afore- mentioned high level of debt and on The economic crisis maybe over but the structural ills behind it have not gone away recast their personal indebtedness. The argument that a weak dollar will spur exports does not make much sense. For, most of US exports are not currency/ price sensitive — defence, high technology etc. And those who export to the US for the main part, namely China and oil exporters, remain tied to the dollar. Therefore, a weak dollar will help reduce the trade deficit, but by compressing imports, not by spurring exports. But all of that implies tepid economic growth for the US and the debt dynamics then begin to look unfavourable, unless and until there is a change in course.

 

It is this reading that is making investors, including American ones, leery of holding dollar assets. That is what is pushing up the price of oil, gold and equity assets — much faster than the extent of recovery in the world economy might warrant.

 

What does all of that mean for India? We have managed the negative shock from the global crisis fairly well and without committing too much of an additional expenditure burden. Our economy is showing all signs of revival and we ought to exit the fiscal stimulus by March 2010 and the supportive monetary policy gradually, starting now.

 

INDIA

Globally, even as economies return to growth, the fact that the basic imbalances remain as of yet uncorrected means there will continue to be a period — possibly an extended one — of pervasive unease. So we should not be surprised to see the occasional sudden retreats of business confidence and jitteriness in the financial and currency markets.

 

We must seek to power our own economic recovery through adopting policy and other measures to ensure a step- up of private and public investment in physical infrastructure — which remains today the most important constraint to India being able to sustain a high rate of economic growth in the region of 9 per cent. Measures to engage more foreign investment in key infrastructure areas, especially power, including nuclear power will help catalyse the process. In the region we must seek to develop closer ties of trade and investment with countries in Asia — including Southeast, West, Central and East Asia, Africa and Australia — as well as where possible, Latin America. We must devise the means to create more opportunities for collaborative engagement in high technology with the advanced nations of the world. In short, our response to the global crisis should not be a shying away from the opportunities that globalisation presents, but a greater, broader and thoughtful engagement with the world on the basis of developing a robust domestic economy capable of servicing higher and higher levels of economic activity.

 

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MAIL TODAY

THE LAHORE LOG

SOBERING STATISTICS TO NOTE

BY NAJAM SETHI

 

T HE " government" of Pakistan has released a list of the top 248 out of 8000+ accused by the National Accountability Bureau who are alleged to be hiding behind the skirts of former President Musharraf's National Reconciliation Ordinance. But from the outrage of the notorious and infamous protesting their wide- eyed innocence, it seems the right hand of the government doesn't quite know what its left hand is doing. Even those who, like our dandy prime minister with a stiff neck, had done " muk mukaa" deals with NAB by paying off their defaulted loans and getting mountains of interest waived before the NRO was promulgated, are seemingly caught in the NRO's damning web of perception.

 

Our High Commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shams ul Hassan, and Ambassador to the USA, Hussain Haqqani, are also quite right to protest their innocence because " inquiries" have been substituted for " cases" and everyone has been tarred with the same brush. The state minister for law, Afzal Sindhu, is now talking of revising the list, a clear admission that he didn't do his homework and allowed indifferent bureaucrats at NAB to have the last laugh.

 

The irony is that the current head of NAB is not a fire- breathing or self- righteous general with an anti- politician agenda up his sleeve before retirement but a civilian appointed or approved by the Zardari regime which has been worst hit by NAB. This is yet another indictment of bad governance in Islamabad.

 

UNDERSTANDABLY, the moral media brigade is aghast that none of the accused, barring the odd secretary

who is now with the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, has bothered to resign forthwith and scurry into oblivion. Nor, despite the media pressure, should we expect this to happen. Indeed, the fate of the NRO is still hanging in the balance, and it is difficult to imagine how any of the accused is liable to prosecution at the hands of the very government to which he or she belongs even if the NRO is struck down as unconstitutional! This farce must end. The NAB list, out of which 97 per cent are Sindhis, reflecting an obvious anti- PPP bias, was originally

 

composed by the anti- PPP witchhunter Saif ur Rehman of the PMLN who bequeathed it to General Pervez Musharraf's crusaders led by General Mohammad Amjad, who added and subtracted at will in view of their Boss' political compulsions. This can hardly form the basis of any morally consistent and transparent policy of justice.

 

Indeed, for that to happen, we would have to wipe the slate clean of everyone ( politicians, bureaucrats and generals) who has strayed into politics since Independence in 1947, except Mr Jinnah.

 

But that is the sort of revolutionary anarchy that exists in the minds of the violently disgruntled, hypocritical or self- righteous. It is a sure shot recipe for inviting the military to seize the reins of power once again.

 

Unfortunately, the mood of the country seems to be swinging in that very direction. This is significant because it comes so soon after a revolutionary upsurge to reinstall an independent judiciary and usher in a new era of civilian democracy. A recent report commissioned by the British Council and conducted by the Nielsen Research Company claims that the young urban middle classes of Pakistan are deeply disenchanted by corruption in a democracy ( only 33 per cent thought democracy was the best system of government, equal to those who preferred an Islamic state). They feel abandoned by their government and are despondent about their country's future. More than 70 percent said they were worse off financially now than they were last year.

 

An overwhelming majority said their country is headed in the " wrong

 

direction", and 90 per cent have no faith or trust in their government. They are faced with unemployment in a failing economy — only 20 per cent of those interviewed had permanent full- time jobs, 50 per cent said they did not have sufficient skills to get a job and 25 per cent could not read or write.

 

O MINOUSLY, they are overwhelmed by their sense of Muslim rather than Pakistani identity — 75 per cent identified themselves primarily as Muslim and only 15 per cent as Pakistani — which can lead to a volatile religious- nationalist upsurge if their issues aren't solved quickly. But this is an impossible task that would require Pakistan's economy to grow by 36 million jobs in the next decade compared to the maximum 10 million jobs forecast if all goes well. And here's the rub. The highest- ranking institution in the " most trusted" bracket was Pakistan's military.

 

60 percent said that they trusted it and 50 per cent said they trusted religious educational institutions next in order. The national government came last at 10 percent.

 

These are sobering statistics. The Zardari government must get its act together and start delivering on the economic promise of democracy. The opposition must not destabilise the government to such an extent that the political system itself is irrevocably discredited.

 

The media must not succumb to the pressure of yellow commercialism or subscribe to vindictive personal agendas. The judiciary must not think it can provide a compelling substitute for the executive. And the military must shun the idea that it can become the long awaited saviour once again.

 

The writer is the editor of Friday Times ( Lahore)

 

A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF NAWAZ SHARIF

JUGNU MOHSIN

 

I HAVE written latter in French to Asif so that ISI cannot read.

 

" Ma cherry Asif, eau are y'eau? I eaup y'eau appreciatez vouz moi interview de GEO, oui? In weech I lashed

out et Faujis et savez vouz y'eaur skeen.

 

Rememboeure. Dieu naute feurgette. Faujis, zey are sly old faux. D'eaunt trouste zem. Mayonnaisse, l'etat cest moi. Zey are ouvre cleveaur. What operateurs! But d'eaunt wourrei. Faujis, zey are all pagaille et pignon ( souer) et couteaux. Couteaux who are constantly barking. Eau says zeiur barque eez worse zan zeiur bight? Real paien de assez. Zey are odieux. What a disguste raquette zey are making over pauvre Kerry- Lugar Beel! Quai? Jouste because le money isn't going into zeir pocquettes! Oui pauvre civillienes weel get ze dollars de la Kerry- Lugar Beel et Fauji's are jealouse et zeiur mama is dying.

 

Mama Mian! La audacite de la commandre du corps! Tu put ouet zat statement sayez vouz zat oui dieu naute approve eouf ze gouverment's stance de la Kerry- Lugar Beel! La audacite! Eef moi had been la presidente, moi wood ave sacqued le chef du armee! Bouet y'eau pauvre chap, y'eau are a Seendhee.

 

Eaunly Pounjabees cannes sacque chef du armee. Boute zey behave like enfants! Oui politiciennes, oui are adults. Let ze faujis be in zeiur infancy.

 

Oui are in ze adultery.

 

" Zey are alseau seau stupide. Moi, I asked an haute fauji I met in La Hore zat eau was Mickey Mousse — a cat eaur a dogue? Ee quepte leauking et moi. Ee deed naute kneau la anseaure. Imaginez vouz! Lacque oeuf de la intelligence! Life, eet ees de la tough. Eet eez a leaute tougherre eef y'eur are de la stupide. Zen moi, I asked le fauji, have y'eau eveur seen a dirty magazine? Ee said, oui monsieur, y'eau mean clips from rifles that haven't been cleaned? Voila! Suete l'innocente! Moi's left feaute! Neau, neau, neau! Weurry naute ma cherry Aseef. Faujis are tres stupide! " Et ma cherry Aseef, dieu naute drown y'eaur saureaus een Moet et Chandon eaur Bollinger eaur Taittinger eaur Veuve Clicquot eaur indeed any vins du France appellation controlee. Eau weel get ze terribly drunkoise and zen dehydrate. Zen ma cherry Aseef, dreenk votre. Lots of Nestle votre.

 

Dieu naute dreenk votre de la tap. And eef eau need me, jouste sayez vouz. Avant? Mayonnaise in Pounjabee, " shall I come? — avant?" By ze way, l'ambassadeur de Hollandaise sent me a bouquet oeuf tulips. Moi shall send zem tu vouz, crepe suzette Aseef. Moi, I alseau asked l'ambassadeur de Hollandaise zat eef Poland people are called Poles, why Holland people are naute called Holes? As un finale, I have bought tres jolie garments feur yeur bhabi from Muslim Dior, not Christian Dior." Au Riviera! N'eauvoise de la Cheriffe

 

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MAIL TODAY

RAIPUR GIRL REJECTS FAIR & UGLY PROPOSAL

BY SAHAR KHAN IN RAIPUR

 

RAIPUR girl Niketa Bajaj was busy shopping, meeting friends and happily preparing for what is arguably one of the most important rites of passage in a person's life — marriage.

 

Already engaged to Jamshedpur resident Dinesh Khatri, the allimportant day had been fixed for November 27. Even the invitation cards for the wedding had been sent out to the family's extended relatives, friends and well- wishers.

 

What Niketa never figured out in the bliss of anticipation was the pressure her parents were soaking up. The Bajajs had already borne the hefty tab for the engagement- cum- ring ceremony at a premier city hotel a year- and- a- month ago. The Khatris were also given gifts and items worth Rs 1.5 lakh as part of the engagement ceremony.

 

The Khatris, however, proved insatiable. They progressively increased their demands upon Niketa's parents, making it seem they were doing the Bajajs a favour by consenting to their only child's wedding with a ' dusky' girl.

 

Niketa has called the bluff, rejecting ' fair' Dinesh the moment she got to know of all that had transpired.

 

" I had heard about girls calling off their marriage to protest against dowry demands.

 

But I never expected I'd also be doing the same one day," Niketa said.

 

" My parents asked me to swallow the insults and dowry demands saying Dinesh is the only son. I know Dinesh was happy at the prospect of marrying me. But he succumbed to the demands of his parents. They wouldn't even let him speak to me on the phone," she said.

 

She has lodged a police complaint against her would- havebeen in- laws. The Chhattisgarh Police have begun inquiry into the complaint against Dinesh's parents, Chandra Prakash Khatri and Bharti Khatri, and said a team would proceed to Jamshedpur soon as part of the investigation.

 

" The Khatri family was harsh in reminding us to fulfil their renewed dowry demands since our daughter, who they say has a dusky complexion, is marrying their very fair and only son," Shanti Bajaj, Niketa's mother, said. " They gave the impression they were doing us a great favour by fixing the matrimonial alliance," she added.

 

The Khatris allegedly demanded a four- wheeler, a lot of cash and 35 golden rings for their relatives who were to attend the now- cancelled marriage ceremony.

 

Niketa, a Class XII passout, is obviously crestfallen but, at the same time, she expressed confidence she would come out stronger from this episode. She is talented in embroidery work and hopes to take it up as a profession.

 

Her family members have supported her decision.

 

" I know I'll feel low for quite some time after the decision I've taken. But this will be a lesson for those who harass the would- be bride's family for dowry," the brave girl said.

 


MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

IPS OFFICER AGREES TO RETURN HOUSE TO LOTIKA SARKAR

 

THE Delhi High Court on Thursday cancelled Lotika Sarkar's ' gift deed' to an IPS officer's family after both sides reached an agreement.

 

The deed was cancelled after Nirmal Dhoundiyal, an officer of Bihar cadre, and his wife Preeti agreed to return the property to the 87- year- old Sarkar. She retired as a professor in Delhi University's law faculty and is the widow of journalist Chanchal Sarkar.

 

" The property was given to us out of love and affection and if she wants to take it back, we don't have any problem," Nirmal submitted before the bench of Justice S. N. Dhingra.

 

The court asked the Delhi Police to remove the house's seal and allow Sarkar to stay there. The house is estimated to be worth Rs 5 crore. The court also restrained any NGO from interfering in Sarkar's affairs. The SHO of the Hauz Khas police station was directed to keep a vigil on the house.

 

The court proceeding was marked with emotional outburst as the officer's wife broke down while answering queries.

 

Sarkar, in her statement before the court, said she had gifted the property to the Dhoundiyals without any coercion.

 

Taking both Nirmal and Sarkar's versions into account, the court allowed the latter's plea to get the house back. The court quashed the proceedings initiated against the Dhoundiyals in a tribunal under the Maintenance and Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act and asked the couple to file a separate petition seeking quashing of the FIRs filed by Sarkar against them . The controversy came to light last year when the widow, who is childless, was allegedly forced to live away from her home after the Dhoundiyals claimed that the property was gifted to them by her in 2007.

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MAIL TODAY

RAISINA TATTLE

CONG CLARIFIES

 

THE Congress has admitted the indirect role of P. V. Narasimha Rao in the demolition of Babri Masjid. The party said Rao was denied a ticket in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls just to keep public anger in control.

 

Then Congress president Sitaram Kesri publicly apologised for the failure to protect the mosque, party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said. But at the same time, he made it clear that the Liberhan Commission had not directly or indirectly held Rao responsible for the demolition.

 

AIRLINE FREEBIE

AN airline from an emirate in West Asia is getting special attention from bureaucrats in South Block, which houses the external affairs ministry as well as the all- powerful PMO. A small eavesdropping session during lunch hour at South Block revealed that this airline is bound to help one particular state in India because of the large passhyujenger flow between the two countries.

 

It's a " you scratch my back, I scratch yours" situation. The airline will give travel discounts and, in return, get " gas" at cheaper rates. Well, a senior bureaucrat who got superannuated recently is under the scanner for this hanky panky. The Central Vigilance Commission has an incriminating letter in its possession and can nail the person( s) behind the unlawful activity — as and when required, of course.

 

BOLT FROM THE BLUE

IT sounds preposterous, but good enough to rattle even a seasoned politician like Digvijay Singh of the Congress.

 

Former BJP leader Uma Bharti has alleged that he had amassed wealth to the tune of Rs 15,000 crore during the 10 years when he was Madhya Pradesh chief minister. Singh, who was chief minister from 1993 to 2003, was initially shaken by the bolt from Bharti. Then he gathered his wit. He said Bharti should pay a penalty of Rs 100 crore for the baseless allegation.

Where's the proof? Singh asked. Can she prove that " I had accumulated Rs 15,000 lakh leave alone Rs 15,000 crore?" he asked again. Bharti's response is awaited.

 

CRISP REPLY

HOW taut and crisp can a reply to an RTI query be? Well, the PMO can finish it off in two words and a numerical figure. Sample this. Since austerity measures were announced by the finance ministry on August 7, how many ministers have sought permission from the Prime Minister to travel abroad? Have any ministers been denied permission to travel abroad? Have any trips of ministers been cut short by the Prime Minister? Have any reasons been cited for denying permission to ministers or for cutting short their proposed tours? The PMO replied thus: Point number 1 is " 42"; point number 2 is " nil"; point number 3 and 4 is " no".

 

THE CYNICISM

PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh proposed a " reverse brain drain" in Washington and invited Indians worldwide to return home. Addressing the Indian- American community, he said: " Let me take this opportunity to extend an invitation to all Indian- Americans and non- resident Indians who wish to return home to India in one capacity or another." Somebody at the function whispered to his " foreign" spouse: " One of his ministers ( read Jairam Ramesh) commented the other day that if they start giving Nobels for filth, India would win it hands down." Behind the layers of brouhaha, the cynicism still lingers.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

 

According to a recent report published by an international think tank, if all of mankind were to live life the way Americans do, we'd need an additional four earths to support us. Americans and many others do live wastefully, as the report suggests, but convincing people to renounce their creature comforts is an unpopular task. This is where technology can help. Green tech can allow people to keep their lifestyles with only a few minor adjustments, while substantially reducing their ecological footprints encompassing carbon, water and many other substances we use in our daily lives or generate as by-products.


Embracing green tech will involve a wholesale reorientation of lifestyles and production systems, bringing about perhaps even more sweeping changes than those ushered in by the IT revolution. And it will require large-scale government as well as civil society initiatives, while the IT revolution happened largely on its own. As the US is also innovative in terms of spawning new technologies, it's a large part of the problem as well as the solution. In this context, the commitment Barack Obama will reportedly make in Copenhagen to cut US emissions by 17 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020 is a step in the right direction, although more would have helped. There's also a caveat: Obama has set this goal without the approval of the US Congress, which may or may not uphold the commitment.


The solutions are both big and small. Scientists in several nations are trying to develop new sources of electricity that do not rely on fossil fuels, and to harness renewable energy from various sources so that it may provide a viable alternative to coal and gas. Automobile manufacturers are developing electric cars, which produce far fewer pollutants than their petrol or diesel alternatives. Governments across the world need to incentivise their production and build the supporting infrastructure, such as charging stations.


Cities of the future will have to be planned so they do not sprawl outwards but grow vertically, while the infrastructure for mass transport needs to be prioritised so as to discourage use of personal vehicles. The construction of green buildings that account for the climatic conditions where they are situated should be encouraged via tax benefits. The biggest challenge for clean technology is what Vinod Khosla, one of Silicon Valley's foremost venture capitalists, calls the Chindia test: the price at which China and India will adopt a technology without subsidies. Governments need to foster a regulatory climate that encourages companies to develop technology that passes that test none more so than the US, which is, after all, the world's largest polluter.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

OPEN THE DOOR

 

Amidst all the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, a far more low profile event is quietly taking place in Bangalore. And like next year's games, the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports World Games with over 1,400 athletes from around the world participating is facing infrastructure problems as well. Ironically, the stadiums where the events are to be held lack basic facilities such as access ramps and disabled-friendly toilets. Neither is the transport arranged for the athletes suitable for wheelchair use. Public transport, of course, is even more problematic. This embarrassing and given the nature of the event, absurd lack of planning and infrastructure has brought home again the various difficulties disabled people face in the country.


This is not to say that no progress has been made. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act passed in 1995, guaranteeing a 3 per cent quota in top government jobs and incentivising the employment of disabled employees over and above 5 per cent of the workforce in private companies was an important step. So too the 2006 Corporate Code on Disability put out by the Confederation of Indian Industry in 2006. But as with so much legislation in India, legal infrastructure is no guarantee of improvement on the ground.


There are two broad issues here. One is the 'hard' aspect, relating to hiring policies and physical infrastructure in public and private places. That successful cases have been fought against former Indian Airlines and a temple in South India compelling them to take disabled-friendly measures speaks of the efficacy of the legal provisions. That it should have taken court action in the first place and in other matters as basic as making election booths disabled-friendly reveals how much still needs to be done. And not everyone has the resources or the wherewithal to demand their rights in court


The other, 'soft' issue is a broader, cultural one. There is a lack of sensitivity in our society when it comes to such matters. We do not only lack infrastructure, we also often overlook the need for it. Not all of the problems people with disabilities face here stem from recalcitrant institutions or establishments. Many are the product of a societal blind spot. We have come a long way from the days when people with disabilities had no legal provisions at all to bank upon. But we also have a long way to go.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

TAKE-AWAY FROM WASHINGTON

Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set out for his state visit to Washington, there was great expectation in India that terrorism would feature high on the agenda of his discussion with President Barack Obama. November 24, the date of their summit, fell two days before the first anniversary of the terrible Mumbai massacre last year. The Headley-Rana case, with its speculative connections with 26/11, had been dominating media headlines.


The expectations were not belied. The two leaders discussed the issue of terrorism and have come out with clear formulations which should set to rest the misperception that the Obama administration is likely to pay less attention to India than its predecessor, or that it is likely to make an early exit from the Af-Pak region, which is the epicentre of terrorism.


While the US president reiterated the condemnation of the Mumbai attack, the two leaders underscored the absolute imperative to bring to justice the perpetrators of 26/11. They expressed grave concern over the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremists emanating from India's neighbourhood whose impact is felt beyond the region.


Obviously, they had in mind British prime minister Gordon Brown's estimation that 75 per cent of terrorist plots in Britain had trails leading back to Pakistan. Almost every month jihadi plotters are arrested in the US and most of them have links with terrorist organisations functioning in Pakistan. Mostly due to the efficiency of the intelligence agencies and security services of the US there has been no successful terrorist strike since 9/11 on American soil. Recently, a Pakistani-American, Najibullah Zazi, was arrested in Denver attempting to make explosive devices using cosmetic lotions, as was earlier done by the Pakistan-linked UK terrorists plotting to explode trans-Atlantic flights.


The joint statement records "The two leaders reiterated their shared interest in the stability, development and independence of Afghanistan and in the defeat of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan. President Obama appreciated India's role in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. The two leaders agreed to enhance their respective efforts in this direction." With this statement President Obama has made it clear he did not endorse the apprehensions expressed by the Pakistanis and accepted by some Americans including General Stanley A McChrystal US commander in Afghanistan that Indian development activities in Afghanistan were a cause for concern for Pakistan.


The two leaders vowed to redouble their efforts to deal effectively with terrorism while protecting their countries' common ideals and shared values and committed themselves to strengthening global consensus and legal regimes against terrorism. They decided on a counterterrorism cooperation initiative to expand collaboration on counterterrorism, information sharing and capacity building. Following the 26/11 attack, information sharing between the two countries was stepped up.


Many Pakistanis are of the view that the Americans will tire out in the next two to three years and leave Afghanistan. Then the situation would be back to square one and, with Pakistan having substantial strategic depth in Afghanistan, the operations of jihadi terrorist organisations could be harnessed as instruments of state policy. For them, Obama had a clear message. Referring to his decision on an Afghan troop surge, which he proposes to announce on December 1, the president made it clear that it was in America's strategic interest to ensure that al-Qaeda and its extremist allies could not operate from those areas.

The US was going to disrupt and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. Obama asserted that after eight years, during some of which the US did not have either the resources or the strategy to get the job done, it was now his intention to finish the job.


The Washington visit resulted in the counterterrorism cooperation initiative between India and the US. It also clarified that the US intended to pursue the al-Qaeda and its associates to their end and wanted India to reinforce its efforts in Afghanistan. Unlike George Bush who was permissive of General Pervez Musharraf nurturing the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and its associate extremist organisations, Obama has made it clear to Pakistan that extremist organisations are carcinogenic and could kill Pakistan from within. He has told Pakistan there will be no more blank cheques from the US. The Kerry-Lugar Act requires the US administration to monitor military aid to Pakistan carefully and ensure it is not diverted to arming the Pakistani army against India. Obama is also the first US president to tell Pakistan that India is not a threat to that country.


The US itself is a victim of numerous attempted Pakistani terrorist acts. Since Pakistan carries out its terrorist activity behind the shield of a nuclear arsenal and uses the terrorism excuse to blackmail the US for billions of dollars of aid, there are limitations on US pressure that can be put on Pakistan. Therefore, Washington is compelled to employ a strategy of both engagement and pressure with Islamabad.


The writer is a strategic affairs expert.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

'WE NEED BETTER FILMS... WE HAVE LOST TRACK OF CULTURE'

 

Film-maker Muzaffar Ali headed the seven-member jury for International Film Festival of India, Goa's Indian Panorama section. The jury's selection has run into controversy with critics alleging that at least two jury members didn't attend all the screenings while selecting films for the Panorama. Ali talks to Faizal Khan about the difficult task of choosing movies from a huge basket of regional and Bollywood films:

 

What was the selection process adopted by the jury?

We were two teams of three members each. The teams divided the 102 films between them and watched them over 15 days. I was not a member of either of the two teams, but i hopped from one team to the other and watched films with them. After each day or a couple of days of viewing the entries, we would meet and discuss the films we saw. It is a mind-boggling task, but seeing these films gives you an idea of what is happening in the country.


What would you discuss at the meetings?

We kept checking what is accepted and what is rejected. We had reasonably long discussions each time. We would debate if the theme of the movie was good or was it technically good. Sometimes a film was technically good, but thematically not. Another was thematically good, but technically not. Films were also rejected because there was a lack of proper structure and poor screenplay.


Was the jury well-equipped and trained for the task because there are controversies about the selection?

Everybody's experience came into play. The entire jury had a trained eye. The Directorate of Film Festivals selected the jury. I didn't pick the jury. And the festival authorities don't select jury members from the street. I can't accept what the other jury members have rejected. I can't overrule them unless there is a dispute. There were 102 films and we had to narrow the choice to 25.

 

Do you think there should be changes in the selection process?

The process is too long. May be the process should be faster. There could be three sets of juries instead of two now. More importantly, we need better films. People think that they have done a better job making the films. But that is not correct. Somewhere we have lost track of our culture, we have lost track of detailing. We are influenced by western cinema.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

EMPOWERMENT MANTRA

THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE

Men become harebrained in the company of beautiful women. It's now official, though for beautiful women it's hardly earth-shattering news. If a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology by psychologists is to be believed, a beautiful woman can make a guy stupid. According to New Scientist, pretty women scramble men's ability to assess the future.

 

The study suggests that when a man meets a pretty woman, he remains so reproductively focused on finding opportunities to pass on his genes that his brains become addled. Men use up so much of their brain functions trying to impress beautiful women that they have little left for other tasks. And you can't simply blame a man's roving eyes, because men are programmed by evolution to think about mating opportunities. ''A beautiful woman'', remarked Napoleon, ''pleases the eye, a good woman pleases the heart; one is a jewel, the other a treasure.'' It is not surprising that the beauty of woman should have given rise in most countries to a host of strange and romantic fancies.


The new study reconfirmed how beauty of a woman has brought not only havoc to families, societies and nations, but hit the men hardest by making them vie with one another as the fair maiden creates hierarchy and competition. All men want to possess her and other women are jealous of her. Be she Cleopatra or Helen of Troy, it is the same old story of battles waged, kingdoms fallen and men slaughtered. The early depictions of humanity - the Venus of Brassempony, the Venus of Willendorf and the Venus of Laussel - are all overblown, sexually exaggerated human female forms.

 

From Botticelli's 15th century Birth of Venus, to Titian's celebrated Venus of Urbino and Goya's infamous Naked Maja, every great artist in Europe was at one time or other preoccupied with this theme. But men would do well to note how a woman's beauty can make them spend a fortune. As the German proverb says, beauty is the eye's food, and the soul's sorrow. Feminists like Betty Friedan in the 1960s and Naomi Wolf in 1990 brilliantly explored the female obsession with appearances and the factors contributing to it, and argued against "the commodification of the female body in consumer culture". I think, though, that nothing can be more empowering for beautiful women than making stupefied males spend on them mindlessly, which they would be loath to do were they not blinded by beauty.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

ME AND HIMAL

JUG SURAIYA 

 

This piece has been done by my dog Brindle Suraiya.

 

Woof! I'm doing this column on Jugfellow's behalf because this is something you've really got to hear from the dog's mouth. I'd always wondered why, in human-speak, the phrase 'a dog's life' meant something unpleasant and undesirable. I'm a dog, and ever since i adopted Bunnylady and Jugfellow a while ago, i've had a pretty good life.

 

I've got the two of them well trained to do what humans have been put on this planet to do: love and pet us dogs, feed us, and most importantly take us for walks. I'm glad to report that my adopted humans have always fulfilled all these functions quite admirably. And life for me was one long tail-wag. Till one day they went and did the UNMENTIONABLE. They went and let a...i can't bring myself to use the word... a CAT into the house. Not a full-grown cat, but a juvenile member of that species, what's known as a kitten. Ooh, what a little oogie-woogie it is, cooed Bunnylady, picking up the wretched creature from the pavement where it belonged and stroking it. I was appalled. I've long known that Jugfellow is congenitally soft in the head and generally prone to strange and unaccountable behaviour. But i'd always assumed that Bunnylady had more sense. But here she was, holding this cat in her hands and saying: He's so sweet, and round, and soft, and white, let's call him Himal. Round and soft and white? Was the damn creature an animal or a sweetmeat? Why not just call him Rossogolla and be done with it. And were they actually bringing the wretched beast into the house, my house? I couldn't believe it. They were.

 

Look, you've got to understand about dogs and cats. You know India and Pakistan, right? Well, dogs and cats are like India and Pakistan. Dogs all dogs, everywhere and anywhere, including in Pakistan are Indians. Cats all cats, including those in India are Pakistanis. I'll tell you about my first encounter with a cat, a big, mangy, flea-bitten tom, oozing malice and treachery from every pore. I was little more than a pup in those days, and quite innocent of the ways of the catty world. So i bounded up to the monster and barked at it, whereupon according to the rules it was supposed to run up a tree and hiss down at me from the branches. But the freaking psycho did a Kargil on me: instead of running up a tree, with a bloodcurdling screech it scratched me on my nose. The scar was visible for weeks. Mortifying.

 

After that, i learnt to ignore cats. All cats, of whatever shape, size, age or gender they might be. They represented an untrustworthy and malevolent life form which could never be relied upon to play according to the rules of the game. Stab you in the back, first chance they get. Or rather, scratch you on the nose. No. Cats were very definitely felines non grata, so far as i was concerned.

 

That is until those two loonies i've adopted took Himal in. It's just been a few weeks, but already he's become quite gross and fat, the amount he eats. And from my bowl too, when i'm not looking, though he's got a bowl of his own (from which i snaffle the odd morsel when he's not looking, tit for tat. Or cat). But worse, much worse is to come. At night he snuggles up to me and sleeps with me in my basket. And all day he keeps mewling and purring and trying to entwine himself around me. I think he thinks i'm his mother, for crissake. Horror of horrors. Anyway, i've managed to avoid his revolting attentions for the past couple of hours. Wonder where he is, and what he's up to. Hope he hasn't got into any trouble, or hurt himself, After all, he's still very young. Oh dear. A mum's worries are never done. Hell's bells. What did i just say...?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

UNCHANGED TALE OF TERROR

 

Little comfort can be drawn from the formal charging of seven Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) members for masterminding the Mumbai attacks on the eve of the first anniversary of 26/11. If anything, the fortuitous timing of the court action leaves a sense that Pakistan's legal action against the Lashkar members is political rather than process-driven. This is one reason why pressure from the United States continues to be the best hope India has that some form of punishment will be meted out to the terrorist leaders. The other hope had been that the Pakistani establishment would push the case out of a recognition that its long-standing support for terror was proving damaging to Pakistan. Sadly, outside a few individuals, there is little evidence this sentiment has taken hold anywhere in Islamabad. Worse, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged during his recent visit to the United States, the present civilian government in Pakistan has no authority to even negotiate with India — let alone take on the entrenched strength of the Lashkar.

 

This means expectations regarding what will happen in Pakistan should be low. The chances the LeT will be forced to shut shop are negligible. India can, at best, hope that the intensity of international pressure will force the Lashkar members to stay out of the terrorism business for a few years. This will give time for India to reform its domestic security system, improve its intelligence systems and strengthen its border defences. If Dame Fortune smiles, it is possible Pakistan's mindset may also undergo a sea-change during this time and belatedly conclude Lashkar's utility has reached its expiry date.

 

This is why the anniversary of 26/11 is as much a time of concern as it is a time of remembrance. The LeT is quite open in its desire to continue its war against India. The Pakistani state is even weaker than it was last year with its military distracted by its operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban in Pakistan. The Obama administration has become increasingly consumed by fears about the costs of waging a war against the Taliban. Finally, India's own domestic security reforms remain only half-implemented. Another Mumbai-type terrorist attack may never happen. But the news from Pakistan and the rest of the world does not give anyone grounds for optimism.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S ONLY ON PAPER

 

Next time you get caught in a traffic jam because the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) failed to clean up stormwater drains on time before the rainy season, don't blame the corporation: they are truly short-staffed. Thanks to a brand new biometric attendance system, the MCD has found out they have 22, 853 fake employees on their rolls. A probe revealed that the corporation now has 104,241 employees. The MCD employs people ranging from teachers to cleaners and gardeners in the capital city of 14 million people. Now for the munificence of the municipal corporation: it spends a neat packet (read: taxpayers' money) — about Rs 17 crore a month and Rs 204 crore per year — to pay these fake employees. But no one is sure for how long this has been going on. So calculate at your own risk.

 

However, we must thank the municipal corporation chieftains who have been nice enough not to bother us with such minor operational details even as we kept wondering why garbage piles outside our apartment buildings were growing at such an alarming rate. Till the biometric system beeped and gave the story away, the municipal corporation had been in denial mode about this scandal. In true sarkari sytle, an in-depth inquiry has been promised into this incident and a freeze has been ordered on fresh recruitments. However, that should not bother citizens too much. We are used to 'ghost' employees because many of us have actually seen very little of them or have been privy to their secret work schedules.

 

The fake employee case has, however, set us thinking. We, print journalists also run the risk of falling in that 'ghost' category: after all, we too exist 'only on paper.'

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

STILL ON A TINDERBOX

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

 

As the media goes into an overdrive on the first anniversary of last November's Mumbai terror attack, we should remember that before 26/11, there was 12/3. Way back in 1993, there were no 24-hour news channels to capture every moment of the blasts that shook Mumbai. An Anurag Kashyap made Black Friday, but there is limited graphic representation of what happened 16 years ago. The truth is, no mention of 26/11 is complete without 12/3 because that is where the cycle of terror began.

 

If the 26/11 attacks left us angry, the 1993 blasts had stunned us. We hadn't heard of RDX, Dawood Ibrahim was just another underworld don who only months earlier had been spotted waving the tricolour in Sharjah, and the ISI was seen as a Pakistani army agency engaging in mischief in Kashmir, and not beyond. The Mumbai blasts, in a sense, robbed us of our innocence in dealing with the merchants of terror.

 

Two hundred and fifty-seven dead, more than 700 injured: Mumbai '93 was not just statistically much worse than any single terror attack India has endured, it was also the first. Worse, the blasts forced us to confront an ugly reality: the enemy is not just across the border, but also lies within. The blasts were part of a cycle of violence that had shaken the nation in those traumatic months of 1992-93, a cycle of rioting and revenge that pitted neighbours and communities against each other.

 

It would be fair to suggest that Mumbai 1993 would not have happened if the Babri Masjid had not been demolished in December 1992, if the demolition had not been followed by street violence and if the December riots had not been followed by equally gruesome rioting in Mumbai in January of 1993. Those three months of mayhem left Mumbai scarred and divided.

 

Sixteen years later, the scars haven't fully healed, the divisions haven't melted away. Which is why it is not possible to explain November 2008 without turning the clock back to March 1993.

 

In 1993, the local involvement in the blasts was stark: the footsoldiers were not just members of the 'D' gang, they included the likes of a chartered accountant like Yakub Memon and film video producers like Samir Hingora and Hanif Kadawala. What united them was their religious identity, and their perceived sense of anger and injustice in the aftermath of the riots.

 

By 2008, the rules of the game had changed. Where Dawood had once provided his local network, now the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba had the capacity to plot the terror attack from long distance. But while it is clear that the core of the conspiracy was planned, financed and executed by Pakistan-based terror groups, it is difficult to accept that there was no local involvement. Kasab may have been indoctrinated in Pakistan's Punjab province, but what of the Indian Kasabs whose sense of grievance is making them potential terror recruits?

 

But while the scope and sophistication of the terror organisations may have increased in the last 16 years, the response of the state and law enforcement machinery hasn't matched the new realities. In 1993, the 'D' gang landed the RDX along the Konkan coast. In 2008, Kasab and his gang members could land in the heart of south Mumbai. If 1993 exposed a corrupt customs force, this time the coast guard was found to be the weak link. In 1993, the Union home minister was S.B. Chavan who had sleepwalked through the Babri demolition. In 2008, home minister Shivraj Patil kept the National Security Guards waiting for hours till he had got his wardrobe right. In 1993, the Mumbai police was struggling with political interference and patronage of the underworld. In 2008, the police was fractious and demoralised. Sixteen years after 1993, the conspiracy charges are still being fought in court. A year after 26/11, the trial is still being heard in a lower court.

 

It should also be no surprise that Mumbai has been more vulnerable than any other Indian metropolis to urban terrorism.

More than a dozen terror strikes between 1993 and 2008 is proof that Mumbai sits on a tinderbox. It's no use blaming civil society and its apparent disconnect with the State for this. Mumbai's crisis has to do with an effete and bankrupt political class, one that has been corrupted by the city's riches. When transfers and appointments of police officers, for example, are made on the basis of cash, not merit, then the system becomes too feeble to take on well trained and highly-motivated terrorists. When political leaders are bankrolled by the underworld, then these leaders lose the moral authority to be able to enforce law and order. Which is why for all the commendable efforts made by the union home minister to give a sense of purpose to the country's security apparatus in the last year, the lurking fear remains: 26/11 will not be the last time terrorists strike at us.

 

Post-script: there is one other uncanny similarity between 1993 and 2008. Then, the Shiv Sena was on the streets, claiming to defend the Hindu majority. Now, the rival Senas are once again on the rampage, this time for Marathi asmita. A society that legitimises violence from within will always be prone to violence from outside.

 

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PLAYING TO THE GALLERY

 

Everybody in Indian life wants a slice of Sachin Tendulkar. The rub-off effect of his brand equity is too huge to ignore, more so for those running political agendas. Almost every party has tried to grab his allegiance in recent years, but Tendulkar has dealt with all as he would a testing, late outswinger from Glenn McGrath: shoulder arms and let it pass.


The only way to include him in such an agenda could then only be by default. However, for the past week I have mulled over the Shiv Sena's recent diatribe against him and must confess to still being befuddled. What's wrong in saying that I am an Indian first instead of a Maharashtrian? Bereft of any cricketing logic, the controversy also seems a zero-sum game politically.

 

Whispers abound that Tendulkar's 'closeness' to Raj Thackeray — the bête noire of the Shiv Sena — led to his becoming a target. Very few years separate the two in age, and they have been good friends for years. But that has never influenced Tendulkar's public posture where political issues are concerned.

 

Indeed, he has tried hard — and successfully as yet — to keep his identity as an apolitical person intact, more so where the Thackeray family is concerned. After the split, Tendulkar has straddled not just the geographical but also the political distance between the two factions by keeping his political beliefs inscrutably personal while making himself available to both as a representative of the son of the soil.

 

What compelled the Shiv Sena then to take unprovoked potshots at him? A whiff of desperation is unmistakable in the emotional blackmail, of course. There has been much fretting and wringing of hands in Matoshree after the state elections in September left the Shiv Sena with fewer seats in the assembly and pride seriously dented. But even if the nose is bloodied, to lop it off seems a grotesquely silly way to show pique.

 

Nobody expects the Shiv Sena to show grace under pressure, yet to compare Tendulkar to Lokmanya Tilak and Sunil Gavaskar reveals not just the extent of the confusion in the party, but also caricaturises its current predicament. The first comparison I find so facetious as to be funny, but I'll leave the first to those with a greater understanding of the Maharashtrian ethos to analyse. It is the comparison with Gavaskar I find more relevant because it is seriously flawed in context and diabolical in motive.

 

The Sena argues that unlike Tendulkar, Gavaskar 'favoured' players from Mumbai when he was captain, citing the examples of Ghulam Parkar and Suru Nayak who were selected for the 1982 tour of England. Perhaps Gavaskar did, but it had such a dubious impact on the performance of the team that it should never be repeated.

 

Indeed, the history of Indian cricket is littered with examples (including Tendulkar's tenure as captain, easily the most undistinguished aspect of his career) of how favouritism has failed the country. The more damaging aspect in this was parochialism which divided the dressing room into Mumbai versus Delhi, East versus South and what have you for decades.


It is only in recent years that the cricket system has become more transparent, more accountable where selection matters are concerned leading to a massive upsurge of exciting talent from all parts of the country. True, favouritism may not have been completely eradicated, but parochial interests have been considerably marginalised. That is something that needs to be succoured — and not just in cricket — in the modern milieu of our nation.

 

The Shiv Sena presupposes the part as more important than the whole and argues for regionalism over nationalism. This mocks not just at Indian cricket, but also at the idea of India.

Mumbai-based Ayaz Memon writes on cricket and other matters

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE WAY TO GOD

BABITA KEJRIWAL

 

We are born on this planet to be one with the Almighty. Each soul has to ultimately converge with Him.

For that, we have to be regular in our spiritual practices. Daily meditation, reading and praying are necessary to commune with Him. This path is for the steadfast devotee who does his practices regularly in a disciplined manner.

 

I read this beautiful story about a young man who was initiated by his guru. In the ashram, he was assigned the job of procuring wood for the kitchen and fireplace. He did this saadhana incessantly with dedication. One day, when he was unloading the logs from his shoulder, a few hairs from his topknot got caught in it. Seeing them, he realised that his hair had become white. His whole life had gone and he had merely carried wood. He thought of all the wonderful spiritual experiences he had hoped for, but he had attained nothing. He started sobbing.

 

Just as his first tear was going to fall, his guru came to his rescue, caught the tear in his hand and said that even if one tear from a great soul like him fell on the ground, the entire country would have a famine. The guru touched him and he attained cosmic consciousness. This should be an encouragement for all who have lost hope.

 

One realises God easily through devotion, by constantly chanting His name, singing His glories. Nothing is achieved in the spiritual world without intense longing and yearning. When the mind dwells on God, soaked in His love and his soul becomes restless for God, He attracts the soul towards Himself. Through earnest prayer, one receives the grace of God and then ultimately realises Him.

 

Any efforts in worldly pursuits may not yield results according to our own karmas. But even the slightest of effort in the spiritual path gives us much more than we expected. The reason being that compassionate God wants his true devotee to complete the cycle of birth and death and attain enlightenment.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME TO MOVE ON

AMRIT DHILLON

 

I salute the individuals who have fought for 25 years to help the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster. Their dedication has been exemplary. They have fought for compensation, treatment, and justice. I recognise the suffering of those who died and the huge number who suffer from ailments arising from having inhaled the gas as children. But it is time to stop.

 

It is time for all the disaster NGOs to fold away their newspaper cuttings, empty the filing cabinets, pack up the computers, shut shop, and move on. This is, of course, easier said than done. I did not see a loved one die an excruciating death. My lungs have not been damaged from inhaling methyl isocyanate, making breathing painful and earning a living impossible. But the cottage industry that has grown up around the disaster must end. Victims cannot continue to be victims for 25 years.

 

The catastrophe has been so relentlessly blown up and brandished and — dare I say even hyperbolised — that a tragedy of far greater magnitude, Hiroshima, starts to appear like a minor short-circuit in comparison. I suspect that the activists must have enjoyed blasting an evil multi-national like Union Carbide as it hits all the right 'guilt points' of the West and works a treat in loosening the purse strings that have funded 25 years of activism. But there has to be an end to this perpetual breast-beating and wailing. NGOs must stop feeding off the catastrophe unless, as seems likely, they plan to pass the baton on to their children. Bhopal's grief has been preserved beyond its natural duration.

 

Build a museum so that no one forgets. Hold an annual ceremony to remember the dead. But it's time to end the protests, fasts, accusations, and drama. For the bereaved, it can sound cruel to be told 'to move on'. But this message is not to them. It's to the activists who have crossed two fine lines. The first is the one that separates dedicating yourself to a good cause from making it your raison d'etre. The other is the one that separates remembering the dead from parading their suffering like a badge of honour.

 

Amrit Dhillon is a New Delhi-based writer

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SOBER DOWN

 

We shall be known by the delicacy of where we stop short." Robert Frost's beautiful line bears repetition at a time when we are maxed out on Mumbai. While an avalanche of 26/11 commemoration was only to be expected, the tawdriness has been truly remarkable. Candles were lit and hands were linked across the country, schoolchildren made to paint placards with earnest, empty platitudes they cannot begin to comprehend. Nariman House, the site of unspeakable violence, was thrown open to the public as another venue for this tacky festival. Television retrospectives and discussions have plonked every nerve, as survivors, state officials, politicians and randomly chosen movie stars weighed in on the tragedy. The city's morning rush hour was interpreted as evidence of its spirit and resilience. Meanwhile, Mumbai has become a fairground for terror, and T-shirts and souvenirs probably aren't far away.

 

If we recoil from this spectacle, it is not from embarrassment about vulgar emotion — public sorrow usually has its own valid, self-involved logic, and should not be compared against the feelings of those personally affected by the tragedy. But there is something especially suspect and mass-manufactured about all this public grief — with India's long and terrible history of terrorist attacks, it is demeaning and silly to attempt a 9/11-style circus of commemoration. After all, 9/11 was a moment of rupture and genuine incomprehension for Americans, and they reacted like a country that had been sucker-punched. Ground Zero became a spontaneous shrine, messages and poems and keepsakes fluttered through the devastated site. There were parades of mourning, and street-corner discussions, and through it all, the sense of a country trying to understand what just happened.

 

In India, that kind of memorialising seems not just imitative, but also mawkish and fake, especially when it's state-sponsored. Mumbai Police, for instance, paraded from Trident hotel to Girgaum Chowpatty, showing off shiny new weaponry from AK-47s to amphibious vehicles — reminding us of how they were failed by shoddy equipment and slack reflexes last November. What makes this carnival of remembrance especially awful is how little has changed in Mumbai, how easy the aftermath was for those who should have been held accountable.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RATES OF REFORM

 

One of the standout features of the monetary stimulus in India has been the wide divergence between the RBI's policy rates and the actual lending rates of banks — the latter haven't fallen nearly as much as the RBI would have liked. On Wednesday, Governor Subbarao ticked Indian banks off for the stickiness and non-transparency in lending rates and urged them to get out of the mindset which has led to "boring", excessively conservative banking. The problem of non-transparency is well-identified and has a ready solution.

 

The core of the problem is what banks call their benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR). It is this rate which has been many percentage points higher than the RBI's repo rate. However, a lot of lending, particularly to prime borrowers (mostly big business), takes place at rates much lower than the double digit BPLR. At the same time, small businesses and individuals often pay rates much higher than the BPLR. The combination makes the BPLR meaningless and there is therefore no transparency in lending rates. However, an RBI committee has already recommended replacement of the BPLR with something called a base rate, which will be directly linked to deposit rates offered by each bank. This will create a floor on which banks will additionally charge their costs and a risk weightage.

 

One of the reasons for stickiness which will not go away with the base rate is the high operational costs incurred by Indian banks. Subbarao has urged banks to cut down on costs by improving efficiency. They may yet follow his advice, but the only way to enforce efficiency is to increase competition. The RBI has let Indian banking be too insulated from competition for too long. It is this insulation from competition which ultimately leads to boring banking as well. It is easy enough to make handsome profits without doing the kind of lending the fast-growing real sector needs. As Subbarao said, banks need to step up on financing infrastructure. In other more advanced economies, non-banking financial institutions perform this role, but in our relatively under-developed financial system, banks need to fill the gap. The time for celebrating survival in the financial crisis is over. Indian banks need to move to the next level.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

DIFFERENT SPORTS

 

Gambling has been around since before recorded history. Football, among other legal sports, was never really immune to the interference of this arch sport of the other kind. European football, too, has hardly been free of it, and could never pretend that such things happened only in Latin America and elsewhere. The 2005 Bundesliga scandal, via prosecuted referee Robert Hoyzer, exposed a network of Croat gambling syndicates. The 2006 Serie A match-fixing scandal shamed Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio, with Juventus stripped of two-year titles and relegated. UEFA is thus alarmed by what is arguably European football's biggest ever match-fixing scandal. At the initiative of the criminal investigation led from Bochum in Germany, seven qualifying round games — from a list of 40 fixtures — in the Champions League and the Europa League are under further investigation. The staggering magnitude of the scandal could be about 200 suspect matches, and a criminal network of 200 individuals that possibly bribed referees, players and officials, fixing games and making at least 10 million euros.

 

The unfolding scandal is a case in point where sports authorities give over to the state. The cricket match-fixing scandal that tarnished the late Hansie Cronje and others in perpetuity was chanced upon by the Delhi police in 2000. UEFA however was technologically assisted by the Betting Fraud Detection System, monitoring competitions since July; this early warning system flags up unusual betting patterns.

 

It was in 1919 that eight Chicago White Sox players were bribed to throw the World Series in the world's first major match-fixing scandal that forced an overhaul of Major League Baseball. But bribed athletes on record go as far back as the ancient Olympics. UEFA President Michel Platini has called match-fixing the "greatest danger to football". The silver lining of the current scandal is its inherent lesson in the need and means to aggressively pursue suspects and combine technology with the law to clean up all sports.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE VANISHED MOMENT

MIHIR S. SHARMA

 

When it happened, 9/11 genuinely altered the way people throughout America thought, at least for the next year. It was impossible to go anywhere in that stunned country, read anything, or have a conversation without being informed that "everything had changed."

 

9/11 permeated every experience for that first year because, for the US, it was completely, shockingly, harrowingly unprecedented. Nobody — not trusted anchors, not politicians, not comedians — had any instincts that could help: each was accustomed to dealing with tragedy from a distance. And the average American was even more unprepared for the sudden shock of vulnerability, the thought that their country, so distant from anywhere problematic, could no longer rely on that physical remoteness. Which is why parts of the US where politicians can win elections by denouncing big cities nevertheless responded so strongly to the attacks on New York and DC: the geographical isolation was shared, the freshly-felt insecurity too. They hadn't realised that they were targets; they were trying to figure out why.

 

Indians knew terrorism. The attacks horrified, but we knew what about them horrified: the scale, the targets, the cold-bloodedness. It was not as if we discovered for the first time a year ago that there was an outside world, in which many people disliked us enough to try to kill as many of us as spectacularly as possible. That explains both the loudest initial reaction — anger instead of shock, and not at the perpetrators but at the government and at "politicians" — as also how, over the year that followed, people began to shout themselves hoarse about the mysterious disappearance of expressions of that anger.

 

But shouting won't help. India just doesn't feel the same way that America did about 9/11, and no number of borrowed phrases — "Lest We Forget", anyone? — will change that. And we should be glad of that. Because the feverish atmosphere that American public life had that year was in no way a good thing. Individuals made misjudgements then that they have since regretted; and so, far worse, did the organs of government, rushing panicked into policies since repudiated — such as "waterboarding" of detainees — and which have now been blamed by officials on the paranoia that seemed everywhere those months.

 

Of course, the institutional solidity of the US ensured that a bipartisan commission sat down and produced a

public, authoritative report about what went wrong and what needed fixing. If our governments, Central or state, have done something as comprehensive, we certainly haven't seen it. Nor have we held answerable either the state's political leadership, or whoever in the Mumbai police hierarchy is to blame for its sluggish overall response. "Show of force" parades are a poor substitute for accountability.

 

Nevertheless, India's response in general, both at the level of the state and of the average citizen, has been thankfully free of the hysteria that, understandably, was everywhere in America after 9/11.

 

So why push to replicate — artificially, inaccurately, in miniature, and in bad taste — the trappings of America's grief? Why the human chains, the painted walls (variously described as "art" and "graffiti" by people with differing aesthetic standards), why the endless exhortations to stay angry, to stay sad, to "never forget"?

 

Remember, 9/11 was unique for America. More may have died in the attacks on Mumbai than have in other terrorist attacks in India, but too many had died already. And it would be absurdly optimistic to expect that no others will die in the years to come. Will we memorialise every attack? Just as Lutyens Delhi and the Yamuna bank fill up with memorials, will we dot our news calendar with tragic anniversaries? And if not, if all India's long and complex encounter with choreographed political violence is collapsed into one commemorative date, won't that be a massive lie, if one of omission?

 

Look at the name that we have chosen to give the attacks on Mumbai in conscious echo of 9/11. It signposts what we've left out. The attacks hurt because so many died; but they were traumatic, and exposed something raw, because they lasted so long. If anything, the fact that so little changed through all of November 27 was more scarring than learning of the first strikes on November 26. The confused and delayed response, the very public humiliation of India's security apparatus was what set the attacks apart. A focus on the initial horrifying spectacle on that first night, the parallel to the twin tower strikes, won't get at that essential truth.

 

What stands revealed today, a bare year on, is how synthetic is the emotion-from-above to which we're increasingly subjected. Moments of genuine collective emotion tend to be fleeting. (And usually slightly embarrassing in retrospect for the participants. Speak to a Briton about the day Diana died, and see his ears turn red.) Asking us to relive it as one, when we've internalised it in different ways, is plainly ridiculous. And doomed to fail. In CST, on the morning of the 26th, part of the long-distance platform had been cordoned off for various ceremonies throughout the day: wreath-laying by various dignitaries, a multi-religious prayer service, the usual. But all around that, Mumbai's famously harried commuters went about their day. If they paused to remember without being forced to by a camera thrust in their face, it wasn't obvious. And why should they? For some of them, the commuter train bombs of 2006 may have hit closer to home, or the blasts of 1993. Many others may simply want to forget.

 

But some seem puzzled by this, oddly nostalgic for those bits of last November that seemed to be made for SMS campaigns and snappy posters, unhinged rants about politicians and threats of secession. Silly, because that candle-waving anger felt slightly choreographed to begin with, a cheap knockoff of the equally kitschy but considerably deeper-rooted flag-waving defiance of America post-9/11.

 

America has grown beyond that time. Glenn Beck, their TV's populist man-of-the-moment, misses it as much as do our populist men-of-the-moment. He runs something called the 9/12 project, which he says "will return America to the solidarity they shared" on the day after. Tough job. New York has grown accustomed to living with terror alerts, and the rest of the country has recollected its traditional contempt for New York.

 

Here, the daily violence, or threats of it, that many of our itizens face always made the prospect of that solidarity a little doubtful. And for the rest, a thousand televised candlelit vigils for a thousand middle-class causes inevitably belittle the thousand-and-first, trivialising what they are trying to elevate.

 

What happened last November was terrible. But it affected all of us differently. And it affects us differently now from how it did then. Can we not leave it at that?

 

mihir.sharma@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

MOVING BEYOND PRELIMS

YOGINDER K. ALAGH

 

Gresham's Law says bad money drives out good money. Since I am an optimistic kind of blighter, I've an Alagh law: good ideas eventually drive out bad ones. I once chaired a group which wrote a report on higher civil service recruitment and training. It took a year-and-a-half and the country's best and brightest helped us. Some of it was implemented and some not. The latter included lowering the age at first entrance, changing over from a Macaulay kind of testing procedure to finding out the candidate's aptitude and skills for a civil service career in the 21st century and a lifetime training programme. The last one was implemented. The earlier two were not. One does not know why — the report remained a classified document and I was not given access to it later when I wanted it for some work — but now someone's put it on the Internet. Dr Moily read the reports and gracefully

 

acknowledged and endorsed the recommendations in the reports of the Administrative Reforms Commission he chaired, beginning with the Tenth Report. And they've been raised again by the chairman of the UPSC in the inaugural UPSC Foundation Day Lecture Series earlier this month.

 

The lowering of the age of first entrance is a serious matter. The idea of giving as many chances as possible to certain sections of the population arises out of a concern that poor children should have a level playing field. I am a great

 

believer in having candidates from poor families in the civil service, and fully endorse the point that my former colleague Ram Vilas Paswan often makes: a collector or SP of SC/ ST origin makes more difference to outcomes than a minister. Also in JNU, I have seen how the best and brightest could come from very poor families, if you had the patience and were fair. But the percentage of candidates from poor SC/ ST families coming from backward areas was unfortunately declining — a matter of great concern. The Zakir Hussain Centre of Educational Research at JNU was asked to find out; they reported that the cost of preparing for the exams could be quite high — in fact above a lakh of rupees a year in the urban areas they surveyed. Poor children cannot pay this cost, so drop out. It was children from better-off sections who could take advantage of the age relaxations. But there was a sunny side. My experience of JNU showed that when you do a fair selection and take only a few — in JNU tens of thousands applied and only nine hundred were taken — then, at the national level, you get many extraordinary candidates at lower ages. In the civil services lakhs of candidates apply so the choice is even wider. At each point in the scale you get many candidates. Therefore one would get very good candidates at younger ages, from genuinely poor families, from backward regions. Some allowance has to be made for candidates from rural and backward areas, but very old entrants become a drag.

 

Dr Kalam, then not yet president, spent a lot of time with the committee. He got the defence establishment's psychiatrists to sit down with senior service officers and designed personality tests especially for the civil services.

 

Services selection boards have been using them for a long time, but the civil services have been holding out. The tests are not infallible, of course, and since civil service selections can be contested the idea is for the selection boards to take the results into account as one factor. But the main work was to design a new selection examination procedure taking into account this century's new needs. The world over it is transparency, accountability, proclivity towards technological savviness, concerns for the disadvantaged, ability to network in a society where newer organisational forms are increasingly solving social problems, energy to pursue objectives under stress that are being looked for. The UK — the mother country for our system — the US, France and many others are changing. We remain in a cul-de-sac of coaching institutes producing the civil servants of the future.

 

The first test should, as the UPSC chairman says, be an aptitude test. Those who qualify should be tested in those skills and aptitudes that are needed for a services career, governance, environment, technology and an understanding of an increasingly networked world in terms of opportunities and threats.

 

Once in, they have to be given the best training on a continuous basis, encouraged to specialise, allowed mobility and protected from the ravages of interference. But that, as they say, is another story.

 

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

INDIAN HOLIDAY

INDER MALHOTRA

 

In this part of the world there have been only faint echoes of this startling event but in Russia and Europe there is enormous excitement over Stalin's spectacular comeback, after more than half a century of oblivion, in the hearts and minds of the Russian people. The Russian authorities have reinstated verses in Stalin's praise that had been erased, like everything else about him, after Nikita Khurschchev's "secret speech" at the historic 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956.

 

Remarkably, this has happened even though Georgia, Joseph Stalin's home province, is a separate and sovereign country now, no longer a part of the Russian Empire. No wonder then that the memories of three important episodes in this country associated with the Soviet Union's tyrannical dictator and inspiring wartime leader, are flooding my mind.

 

The first dates back to March 5, 1953, the day "Uncle Joe" died. In New Delhi Jawaharlal Nehru paid an eloquent tribute to him in Parliament, calling him a "man of peace", got both houses adjourned and declared a day's holiday. The next morning there was some embarrassment at Teen Murti because it transpired that the Soviet Union, though in deep mourning, hadn't stopped working even for a minute.

 

Secondly, Ajoy Ghosh, the general secretary of the then undivided Communist Party of India was the Indian "fraternal delegate" at the 20th Congress. Like other foreign comrades, he was kept out of the secret sitting. But before they left Moscow, they were all made privy to what had happened. Even so, on arrival in Delhi he gave me an interview stoutly denying that there had been any denigration of Stalin. The so-called secret speech, he claimed, was the invention of the "Western capitalist press controlled by imperialists". But the cat was soon out of the bag, and when the next issue of New Age came out I was horrified to find that Ghosh had announced that the reporter who interviewed him had "misunderstood" him "completely". Privately, however, he told me courteously that I should understand his compulsions. "Our original decision was not to share this information even with the Central Committee".

 

The third event was unquestionably the most historic and most sensational. Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, was married to Brajesh Singh, a Moscow-based Indian "revolutionary" and an uncle of Dinesh Singh, then a confidant and cabinet colleague of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Brajesh had died in early 1967 when India was in the throes of the fourth general election, the main issue in which was not which side would win but whether Morarji Desai would be able successfully to challenge Indira Gandhi's leadership of the Congress parliamentary party.

 

Some time in February, Svetlana arrived to consign her husband's ashes in the Ganga. She had had some difficulty in securing the Soviet government's permission for her journey to India. Premier Alexie Kosygin, in fact, told her not to go because "these Hindus usually burn the widows". After the ritual at Haridwar, she stayed on with Brajesh's family in his village in Uttar Pradesh. One day she confided to Dinesh that she planned not to return to the Soviet Union but to live in India. He naturally told her that this would not be possible because of the critical importance of Indo-Soviet relations. She said nothing but packed her bags and left for Delhi where she had to stay at the Soviet embassy. She told the ambassador that her passport be returned to her because she wanted to return to Moscow two days later. A greatly relieved ambassador immediately handed it to her.

 

Nobody in Delhi even knew that Svetlana was here. The entire country was obsessed with the election results and concomitant power struggle in the ruling Congress party that had lost no fewer than 82 seats in the Lok Sabha while retaining a narrow majority in it. There was hardly any other news. And then, all of a sudden, one morning in March, Stalin's daughter changed everything. She hogged the headlines and limelight, overshadowing for a while Nehru's daughter.

 

After dusk on March 6, Svetlana, passport in hand, had appeared at the American embassy, and demanded a visa at once. The duty officer rang up his ambassador, Chester Bowles, who arrived within minutes from the Roosevelt House next door. It took him some time to realise the delicacy of the situation and its politically explosive potential. So the first thing he did was to give Svetlana a yellow legal pad and ask her to write out who she was and why she wanted to leave the Soviet Union and go to the United States. He also made up his mind not to reject Stalin's daughter's request but not to give her even temporary asylum in his embassy.

 

He therefore drafted an "eyes only" telegram to Secretary of State Dean Rusk telling him that if he got no instructions to the contrary within three hours he would give Svetlana an American visa "on my discretion". According to Bowles, the telegram had reached the state department, decoded and placed on Rusk's desk in 18 minutes flat. But no reply ever came. Bowles did what he said he would and arranged a passage for two to Rome on a Qantas plane leaving Delhi at 1 a.m.

 

Since Svetlana used her mother's maiden name — Alliluyeva — as her surname name, Immigration at Palam took no notice of her. Nor of a smart, young American next to her in the queue. He was a CIA agent posted to the American embassy and her escort to Europe.

 

The next day all hell broke loose. Moscow screamed about yet another "CIA kidnapping plot". The External Affairs Ministry, to forestall Russian suspicions, charged Bowles with "smuggling her out of the country in the dead of night". An IFS officer was rushed to Europe to persuade Svetlana not to go to the US; she told him to take a walk. Eventually, she reached her destination where she married a distinguished, if maverick, architect. But the marriage did not last. She got disenchanted with America and returned to her country, but eventually returned to Madison, Wisconsin where she now lives.

 

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

BENDING OUR MINDS

 

Visits from three senior US officials in three weeks indicate troubles in the US-Pakistan relationship. Washington has failed to deliver on the regional strategy it promised this spring, and friction with Pakistan seems to be contributing to the long delay in announcement of a new US strategy in Afghanistan. Pakistan is critical to any Afghan strategy the Obama administration undertakes. Pakistanis hope that President Obama will push his state guest this week, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to be more flexible toward Islamabad. But Pakistanis, too, must compromise if there is to be hope for Afghanistan and South Asia.

 

In their recent visits, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, national security adviser James Jones and CIA chief Leon Panetta promised to push the Indians on regional issues. But the Pakistani army does not trust American promises and has leaned on the civilian government in Islamabad to scale back its largely pro-US positions.

 

Any surge of US troops into Afghanistan would depend on the Pakistani army's help to protect the truck convoys that would supply the extra Western troops in landlocked Afghanistan. Washington would need even greater clandestine cooperation from the Pakistani military in targeting terrorist hideouts along the border.

 

Pakistan's army, which is overshadowing the elected government on regional policy, does not want US forces to pull out of Afghanistan. But neither does it want a massive surge of US troops, which it fears will ultimately drive more Afghan refugees into Pakistan or boost morale for the Pakistani Taliban.

 

The army is finally fighting decisively against the Pakistani Taliban on several fronts in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and has had some success in driving the Pakistani Taliban out of its main stronghold in South Waziristan. Yet the army is loath to even acknowledge the presence of the Afghan Taliban leadership that is based in Baluchistan province and North Waziristan.

 

US troops cannot roll back the Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan without the Pakistanis cutting off the men and materials the Afghan Taliban can draw on.

 

If US and NATO troops stay on in Afghanistan and beat back the Afghan Taliban in the next few years, the Pakistani military is likely to cooperate with the West.

 

If, however, President Obama speaks soon of an exit strategy, as many in the United States and Europe want, the Pakistani army is likely to push Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a Pakistani-brokered deal to form a pro-Pakistan government with the Taliban in Kabul.

 

The Pakistani army has no love for Islamic extremists now, but it differentiates between the Afghan Taliban, which it sees as a potential ally in a pro-Pakistan Afghanistan if US efforts there fail, and the Pakistani Taliban, which is viewed as a threat to the state.

 

In reality, the two Taliban groups and al-Qaida are closely allied. Both Taliban groups acknowledge the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar as head of the essential jihad against Western forces in Afghanistan. Even though Afghan Taliban leaders are careful not to fight alongside their Pakistani brothers in South Waziristan, they would be happy to see larger parts of the NWFP controlled by the Pakistani Taliban so that their own base areas could expand.

 

The Pakistan military's primary interest in a US-led regional strategy was that the Americans would help restart Indo-Pakistan talks on Kashmir and other disputes that ceased after the terrorist attack on Mumbai last year, and negotiate a reduction of India's influence in Kabul, which Pakistan now blames for a host of ills (some imagined, some real).

 

Washington pledged in March to involve all of Afghanistan's neighbours and regional powers to help secure peace. India pointedly snubbed the United States and its regional strategy and demanded that Pakistan first eliminate terrorist groups targeting India from Punjab and Karachi. Iran, Russia and China presented other setbacks to the US initiative.

 

Now India and Pakistan are both playing for broke. Pakistan says it will support a US regional strategy that does not include India, while India is talking about a regional alliance with Iran and Russia that excludes Pakistan. Both positions — throwbacks to the 1990s, when neighbouring states fuelled opposing sides in Afghanistan's civil war — are non-starters as far as helping the US-NATO alliance bring peace to Afghanistan.

 

To avoid a regional debacle and the Taliban gaining even more ground, Obama needs to fulfill the commitment he made to Afghanistan in March: to send more troops — so that US-NATO forces and the Afghan government can regain the military initiative — as well as civilian experts, and more funds for development. He must bring both India and Pakistan on board and help reduce their differences; a regional strategy is necessary for any US strategy in Afghanistan to have a chance. The United States needs to persuade India to be more flexible toward Pakistan while convincing Pakistanis to match such flexibility in a step-by-step process that reduces terrorist groups operating from its soil so that the two arch-enemies can rebuild a modicum of trust.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE COMPULSIONS OF COPENHAGEN

N K SINGH

 

One of the major issues engaging our policy makers is the forthcoming Copenhagen meeting on global warming and climate change. The last agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012. Even though that agreement did not have American and Australian ratification, many European countries did try to bring down the levels of emission. The Copenhagen meeting is designed to finalise and replace the agreement which would have the consent of all countries, particularly the US which is the world's biggest emitter.

 

There is incontrovertible scientific evidence that global warming, a result of carbon dioxide emission is making a far-reaching impact on our lives and will jeopardise the future of the planet. Rapid glacial meltdown, reduction in snowcaps of both the poles, and rising sea-levels threaten our lives in fundamental ways. Rising sea-levels, for instance, would lead to the submergence of large parts of the globe which are currently under dense habitation. Mauritius is reportedly already looking for a new home, Maldives, Seychelles, Sunderbans in India, large parts of Bangladesh and coastal cities would go underwater requiring the existing habitation to be relocated in other areas. Changing patterns of monsoon, cyclones and typhoons of unprecedented velocity will result in the destruction of agriculture patterns. Rainfall precipitation may vary from flood to drought. Clearly the present trajectory is unsustainable.

 

Current lifestyles and economic activities all over the world are based on the intensive use of fossil fuel. Fossil fuel energy has high levels of emission of carbon dioxide, which results in global warming. According to scientists, the per capita emission by 2050 needs to be around 2 tons of carbon dioxide as a global average. This implies that the developed countries must cut their emission by 90 per cent from the 1990 levels by 2050 with intermediate target to be reached by 2020 and 2030. But developing countries would also need to make substantial cuts because even if their emission today may not be beyond 2 tons of carbon dioxide, as economic growth picks up, this will rapidly rise above the stipulated target.

 

For a country like India, the current emission is only a modest 2 tons but sustained growth rate of 8-9 per cent will see a dramatic rise in per capita emission. The Indian argument is that the problem has been created not by us but by the US, Europe and other developed countries and therefore the burden of emission control, needs to be implemented by them. Attempts to force an emission target on countries like India have a danger as it might adversely affect growth and hurt poverty reduction efforts. The known technologies to produce energy to make it more efficient with lower pollution are expensive, so the developing countries naturally want access to technology and assured finance from the developed countries. Only through these means can they hope to combine high growth rate with lower emission discharge.

 

The international framework on climate change, therefore involve five key issues:

 

(a) Mitigation which fixes a near term commitment to emission control with intermediate targets.

 

(b) Adaptation which means efforts to deal with unavoidable consequences of climate change

 

(c) Finance, namely schemes to pay for lower emission regime.

 

(d) Technology, namely methods for advancing and distributing low carbon technology; and

 

(e) Long-term vision in developing a simple framework that combines all the four together.

Related with this is the issue of Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV). Namely, if a country like India does take steps to reduce its emission what is the process and institution to verify that this reduction have actually been carried out. Unless there is objective measurement and verification of reduction in emission, developed countries will not be willing to make major finances available without ensuring that the emission reductions has actually been achieved.

 

There is another related issue of some relevance to India. This is to deal with black carbon and ozone which, unlike carbon dioxide, stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time. Black carbon is a widespread form of particles of air pollution which makes air sooty. Incomplete combustion is a sign of energy waste. Vehicles and ships fuelled by diesel with poorly-maintained engine releases it and so do forest fires and households and factories that use wood. The present use of wood and animal waste like cowdung in rural India leads to black carbon and soot. Switch over to cleaner fuels like LPG will be of enormous help. The melting of the Himalayan and Tibetan glaciers caused as much as because of black carbon as by carbon dioxide. It is much easier to reduce black carbon and ozone than carbon dioxide. That is why some economists like Prof. Veerbhadra Ramanathan and Jessica Wallack view this effort as a low-hanging fruit.

 

The Indian position to the ongoing negotiations has been less than consistent. We must be mindful of at least five key factors:

 

First, defining obligations in terms of per capita emission differentials is both ethical and expeditious. However the other simple fact that while we may not be a major contributor to the stock but an increasingly significant player in the flow of emission given growth compulsions cannot be wholly overlooked.

 

Second, common but differentiated responsibility is well accepted but must be mindful that in the near future more than us, it enables China to get away with existing astronomical emission levels and its relentless accretion. Rigid insistence between Annex 1 countries (A1C) and non-Annex 1 countries (NA1C) oversimplifies some serious infirmities.

 

Third, voluntary actions to reduce energy-intensity accepted even by the Chinese, a line being pursued by the environment minister, is consistent with the approach as being a part of the solution than part of the problem in securing international arrangements.

 

Fourth, a consistent stance that international disclosures must be that technology and finance which become externally available cannot be too jealously protected. It is well recognised that both technology and finance are in the final analysis fungible.

 

Fifth, finally the dynamics of international negotiations always need flexibility. Developed countries have yet to demonstrate a seriousness of intent and coherence of action to persuade the poorer countries in accepting concomitant obligations. National interest must be paramount. However boxing ourselves in a corner cannot augur well for successful outcomes.

 

Rising economic clout has international obligations. We need to show vision and leadership quality at Copenhagen.

 

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FIGHTING FAITHS

 

Just a few years ago, it seemed curious that an omniscient, omnipotent God wouldn't smite tormentors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. They all published best-selling books excoriating religion and practically inviting lightning bolts. Traditionally, religious wars were fought with swords and sieges; today, they often are fought with books. And in literary circles, these battles have usually been fought at the extremes.Fundamentalists fired volleys of Left Behind novels, in which Jesus returns to Earth to battle the Anti-Christ (whose day job was secretary general of the United Nations). Meanwhile, devout atheists built mocking websites like www.whydoesGodhateamputees.com. That site notes that although believers periodically credit prayer with curing cancer, God never seems to regrow lost limbs. It demands an end to divine discrimination against amputees.

 

This year is different, with a crop of books that are less combative and more thoughtful. One of these is The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright, who explores how religions have changed — improved — over the millennia. He notes that God, as perceived by humans, has mellowed from the capricious warlord sometimes depicted in the Old Testament who periodically orders genocides.

 

Wright also argues that monotheism emerged only gradually among Israelites, and that the God familiar to us may have resulted from a merger of a creator god, El, and a warrior god, Yahweh. Wright also argues that monotheism wasn't firmly established until after the Babylonian exile, and he says that Moses's point was that other gods shouldn't be worshipped, not that they didn't exist. For example, he notes the troubling references to a "divine council" and "gods" — plural — in Psalm 82.

 

Wright detects an evolution toward an image of God as a more beneficient and universal deity, one whose moral compass favors compassion for humans of whatever race or tribe, one who is now firmly in the antigenocide camp. Wright's focus is not on whether God exists, but he does suggest that changing perceptions of God reflect a moral direction to history — and that this in turn perhaps reflects some kind of spiritual force."To the extent that 'god' grows, that is evidence — maybe not massive evidence, but some evidence — of higher purpose," Wright says.

 

Another best-seller this year, Karen Armstrong's The Case for God, likewise doesn't posit a Grandpa-in-the-Sky; rather, she sees God in terms of an ineffable presence that can be neither proven nor disproven in any rational sense. To Armstrong, faith belongs to the realm of life's mysteries, beyond the world of reason, and people on both sides of the "God gap" make the mistake of interpreting religious traditions too literally.

 

"Over the centuries people in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, stretching language to the end of its tether, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage," Armstrong writes. Her book suggests that religion is not meant to regrow lost limbs, but that it may help some amputees come to terms with their losses.

 

Whatever one's take on God, there's no doubt that religion remains one of the most powerful forces in the world. Another new book, The Faith Instinct, by my Times colleague Nicholas Wade, suggests a reason for the durability of faith: humans may be programmed for religious belief, because faith conferred evolutionary advantages in primitive times. That doesn't go to the question of whether God exists, but it suggests that religion in some form may be with us for aeons to come.

 

I'm hoping that the latest crop of books marks an armistice in the religious wars, a move away from both religious intolerance and irreligious intolerance. That would be a sign that perhaps we, along with God, are evolving toward a higher moral order.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LEND THEM A HAND

 

The Indian banking sector may still be basking in the glory of surviving the global crisis in fairly good shape, but the sector's regulator, RBI, has finally urged banks to fix the very problems that are preventing Indian banking from becoming a provider of cheap finance to the real economy. Governor Subbarao, speaking at a conference on Wednesday, ticked banks off for what he called 'boring banking', in particular the continued stickiness and non-transparency in lending rates. As we have pointed out on a number of occasions in these columns, the difference between RBI's policy rates and benchmark prime lending rates of banks is far too wide. Some of the problem, of course, has to do with the concept of BPLR, which is what has led to the non-transparency in lending rates. A lot of bank lending actually happens under the BPLR, at least to prime customers, mostly big businesses. On the other hand, smaller businesses and individuals get charged at rates higher than the BPLR. An RBI committee has already recommended replacing the BPLR with a base rate that will be linked to the deposit rate. The base rate that will be calculated by adding deposit rate with costs and risk weightage will form a more transparent floor for lending rates. Now RBI must ensure that the base rate is implemented as soon as possible, as early as the first half of 2010.

 

Of course, what the base rate will still not solve, and Governor Subbarao mentioned it in the same speech, are

the high intermediation costs of Indian banks. Indian banks, now that they have survived the crisis, must work to bring about greater efficiency in their operations. The fact that Indian banks have been fairly insulated from competition doesn't help the cause of operational efficiency. RBI should ideally liberalise the system to allow more competition, but while that liberalisation happens, it is in the interest of Indian banks to prepare themselves to compete with the best in the world. The other point raised by Subbarao in his speech on Wednesday was the need for banks to get more involved in the financing of infrastructure. Of course, there is the problem of lending long for infrastructure on the back of what are largely short-term deposits, but banks need to get out of their 'boring' mode and look at innovative methods to overcome this problem. In a more liberalised system, other financial institutions would usually finance infrastructure, but since we are some way away from getting to that stage, banks need to fill in to meet the gap in infrastructure financing. It's time to end boring conservatism and start taking some more risks.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE GST DEADLINE


As per the promise of the 2007-08 budget, the deadline for the goods & services tax is April 2010. That leaves little time for various issues to be resolved, before India's most radical indirect tax reform in many decades goes into effect—with the goal of creating a genuine single market in federal India. States like Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana have demanded that the GST introduction be delayed till standardisation is reached. But our columnists have argued that even if some states do not cooperate, the Centre should keep its date with GST on April 2010, and incentivise recalcitrant states to come on board over time. Now, a giant move forward was made when the empowered committee of state finance ministers released the first discussion paper on GST on November 10. We found that the paper attempted to create far too many exceptions to what should be an unexceptionable tax—which was most unfortunate given that exemptions have been the bane of the Indian tax system. Next, while accepting that the dual GST model was a necessary political compromise, we suggested the government resist the temptation of rate structures in the range of 16% or 18%. A low uniform rate and capturing most of the supply chains, after all, provides the raison d'être of GST.

 

As FE reported yesterday, the technical paper of the 13th Finance Commission reflects thinking along similar lines. It's understood to have arrived at a revenue-neutral rate of around 12%, which is actually a more benign impost than anyone had expected. On the one hand, the commission's recommendations would benefit India Inc by taking down its tax liabilities. On the other hand, it also recommends a substantial broadening of the tax base by including hitherto untaxed deals like those in real estate or in high-end education and healthcare. Plus, the commission suggests that GST should subsume taxes on petroleum, alcohol and even the beedi industry. While exemptions can't be scrapped overnight, the commission moves in the right direction by making GST coverage as exhaustive as possible. Simultaneously, we should see lobbying and distortionary privileges diminish and drop off. In short, the commission's technical paper is much more progressive than the discussion paper released by the state finance ministers. Trying to resolve their differences will give concerned parties room to move back the April 2010 deadline. If this happens, it will be unfortunate indeed. A more desirable outlook would involve GST taking off with select states on board on the proposed date, and the stragglers finding it to their advantage to join in over time.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

SINGH, OBAMA AND THE ASIAN BALANCE

C RAJA MOHAN


When he headed for Washington this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had two basic political objectives. One was to try and hold President Obama to the broad understanding of his predecessor on India's role in Asian balance of power. The other was to nudge Obama away from Bush's policy of uncritical reliance on Pakistan in the pursuit of US objectives in Afghanistan.

 

By any measure this was an ambitious agenda that was somewhat obfuscated by other themes that dominated the public focus. There was all the soft stuff about Singh being the first 'state guest' to be entertained by President Obama.The second was about the multilateral agenda—the soft stuff of international relations—that is dear to the Obama Administration. There was widespread concern in Delhi that climate change, non-proliferation, and the revival of the Doha round of trade talks would turn out to be Obama's pressure points against India.

 

For all of the Obama administration's tall talk on multilateral issues, big question marks remain on the President's ability to mobilise domestic political support for his multilateral agenda. It is by no means clear if the US Congress is with the President on climate change and nuclear disarmament. It certainly is not with him on trade liberalisation. In any event, Singh had made sure there was some new flexibility in India's traditional unyielding positions on these issues.

 

What mattered for Singh were the American policies towards the two most important security challenges for India—China and Pakistan. In the last few weeks, especially after Obama's Asian tour, Delhi's chattering classes had turned increasingly pessimistic about Obama's world view and India's place in it. Few analysts in Delhi were willing to bet on Singh's ability to move Obama's positions on China and Pakistan. Yet it seems Singh has raised some hopes for continuity in the US policy towards the Sino-Indian balance and engineered a measure of discontinuity in Washington's approach to Pakistan's intransigent support to cross-border terrorism.

 

On China, Bush's premise was that helping India's rise would not only help limit Beijing's expanding influence in Asia, but also shift the global balance of power in favour of 'freedom'. During the last few months it appeared that Obama's foreign policy had little room for a celebration of democratic values, as he sought to reach out to America's semi-authoritarian interlocutors across the world—from Venezuela to Iran—and reset America's ties with Russia and China. As the financial crisis revealed the mutually assured financial destruction between the US and China, Obama seemed to have no choice but to show new deference to Chinese sensitivities.

 

When Obama talked of a role for China in the subcontinent, it seemed the bottom had fallen out of the Bush framework for engagement with India during the last eight years. If working with India to preserve the Asian balance of power is no longer a guiding principle, it would be reasonable to assume that Delhi and Washington would return to squabbling with each other in such places as New York, Vienna and Copenhagen. Singh seems to have averted that danger.

 

At the end of his talks with Singh, the President appeared quite eager to compensate for his diplomatic errors in Beijing. If Obama had gone too far last week in Beijing by offering China a role in the subcontinent, he was emphasising this week India's role in the building of a new security order in Asia. The difference between a democratic India and an authoritarian China was there for all to see as the Indian-American clichés on shared values and democratic traditions were thrown about at every turn throughout Singh's visit to Washington.

While the talk of democracy also differentiates India from Pakistan, Singh's focus on this front was to get Obama to raise the pressure on Islamabad on bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book. The US interest in resumption of an Indo-Pak dialogue gave an opportunity for Singh to underline his own commitment to the peace process and his readiness to pick up the threads with Pakistan, if only Islamabad was ready to give satisfaction on cross-border terrorism. It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that Pakistan charged seven conspirators of the Mumbai outrage while Singh was in Washington and a day before the anniversary.

 

Even more importantly, Singh appeared to have engineered a 'meeting of minds' with Obama on Afghanistan. Until recently it seemed that Afghanistan was dividing the Obama administration and India. At the end of the visit, the two sides were underlining their shared interests in defeating the sources of terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. India-US counter-terrorism cooperation, which started to acquire a measure of significance after the Mumbai attacks, is now being institutionalised and elevated to an unprecedented level.

 

Singh's gains in Washington should not, however, be over-estimated. They are certainly reversible given the fact that US stakes are real and high in both Beijing and Islamabad. Having moved the US towards a more helpful position in relation to India's challenges vis-a-vis China and Pakistan, Singh must now fully leverage it by demonstrating diplomatic agility and strategic purposefulness in dealing with its two nuclear neighbours.

 

For now the PM has shown he has the skill to manipulate the complex dynamic with the US, China and Pakistan. But the game has just begun.

 

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

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

DON'T LET TURF BATTLE HIT TRADE

RAJESH CHAKRABARTI

 

After a 3-year hiatus and armed with, among other things, the recommendations of two high-powered committees—the Percy Mistry committee and the Raghuram Rajan committee—the government has once again cautiously broached the subject of bringing commodity trading under the same umbrella as other assets by merging the Forward Markets Commission (FMC) with Sebi. Expectedly, it has immediately re-ignited a fierce turf battle.

 

Financial regulators in India today come from as many as six different ministries. Trading of financial assets itself is regulated by three distinct agencies— RBI regulates trading in government bonds and currencies, Sebi regulates trading in equity and equity derivatives, while FMC regulates trading in commodity and commodity derivatives. Today most large players operating in one segment need to manage risks using instruments in other segments, so these markets are essentially interlinked. This regulatory separation leads to loss of economies of scope and scale for market players, and builds incentive for regulatory gaming, reducing liquidity, price efficiency and even stability (monitoring the overall activities of large players becomes difficult owing to the fragmentation). Increasingly, even exchanges themselves are crossing regulatory walls. MCX, the biggest commodity exchange, also has the biggest platform for trading in rupee futures. Gold ETFs trade on stock exchanges. All this screams for regulatory consolidation.

 

Point out all these good reasons to FMC or its parent ministry, the ministry of consumer affairs, and you are unlikely to be persuasive at all. The first answer will be 'commodities are different'. They are supposed to be different from the 'papers' traded at equity exchanges since they affect food prices, directly affecting the lives of millions of poor people and farmers. The argument paints a world so cleanly segregated that it should give everyone else an inferiority complex, as if the rest of the financial system is just sitting there and playing monopoly with no impact on the real economy at all. Commodity prices are the sole determinants of everyone's welfare and somehow only FMC knows how to get those right. The fact that these prices, regardless of their supposedly greater real effects, are exchange-determined by a system of trading like any other financial asset, and that the Sebi has considerable experience in regulating far more sophisticated and liquid markets, would cut no ice.

 

The next argument is that FMC has been in existence for over half a century while Sebi is hardly an adult, so what does this Johnny-come-lately know about exchanges that FMC does not. But that is precisely the point. FMC was created as an institution for a bygone era. Sebi's youth means it has less baggage of outdated regulatory history and has also evolved quickly with the times. For much of FMC's life, trading in commodity derivatives itself was outlawed. But more than anything else, the flaw lies in this adversarial thinking. It is not a question of Sebi vs FMC. The proposed dispensation hardly calls for FMC to shed its knowledge and experience.

 

FMC's frustration is understandable though. With autonomy through an Act of Parliament almost shining in the horizon, it is now being told to report instead to an agency it considers its peer. That cannot be uplifting news to anyone.

 

This is the bane of all bureaucracy. Ego battles and turf wars affect national policy more than we think and infinitely more than they should. But the issues here are not exclusive to the government—many a corporate merger with great synergy has run into these same rocks. Organisations have their own incentives and identities that they fight to protect. Regulators and ministries are no exceptions.

The FMC-Sebi turf division is not the only problem that dogs commodity trading in India. The other equally important issue is the government attitude towards commodity derivatives. Banning commodity future trading seems to be the easiest way to fight inflation. If only it worked. The Abhijit Sen report of the Planning Commission found no link between the two. But that is hardly enough to persuade evidence-proof minds. Absorption within Sebi (perhaps more than autonomy itself, for autonomy does not necessarily change mindsets) will hopefully give it some more independence and voice to resist such arbitrary government measures.

 

Consolidation, whether of regulators or—the other powder-keg—banks in India, is surprisingly difficult to execute. So the quick softening of the finance ministry to let FMC keep its autonomy but start reporting to North Block for a change may very well have been the original game plan and may be an interim step to an eventual merger. For now it would escalate the turf battle to the inter-ministry level.

 

The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WRONG TO CURB EQUIPMENT IMPORTS FROM CHINA

NOOR MOHAMMAD


The government seems serious about considering curbs on Chinese power equipment imports. It has set up a high-level committee to look into the matter. But is this a move to protect just one firm? Public-sector power equipment monopoly BHEL has been feeling the heat ever since Chinese suppliers entered the Indian market in 2004. Initially, it was expected that, because of import competition from Chinese players, BHEL's performance would improve. The domestic supplier showed some promise when it got into manufacturing of 300 MW units after it lost a bidding race for five such units to Chinese competitors. However, its persistent lobbying to restrict free Chinese equipment shows that BHEL doesn't think that it can compete with the Chinese.

 

It is unfortunate that the government is mulling imposing curbs on Chinese imports, instead of asking BHEL to get its act together. Electricity is a key input and industry cannot remain competitive if electricity tariffs are too high. The government has already delegated sufficient decision-making powers to BHEL's board and as a business entity, the company should be able to adjust with the changing business environment. In any case, competitiveness of the Indian industry is a much bigger concern than the profitability of any one entity.

 

A shortfall of about 50% was reported in the capacity addition envisaged by the power ministry for the Tenth Plan period. The power ministry and utilities blamed BHEL for the huge shortfall in the capacity addition target. Out of the 78,700 MW capacity addition envisaged by the power ministry, BHEL is implementing about 43,000 MW capacity. The company is fully booked for the next five years but still wants more projects.

 

Now that power projects are being awarded for implementation through competitive bidding instead of on a cost-plus basis, developers have to be concerned about optimising their project costs. With equipment accounting for about 50% of the project costs, developers cannot reduce their project costs if they do not get to source cheaper equipment. That is the reason why more and more power project developers are opting for Chinese equipment.

 

noor.mohammad@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REPORT CARD

 

What are liquidity crises? And what can be done to address them? This short paper* brings together some personal reflections on this issue:

 

Contrary to a widely-held view, the development of financial markets has increased, not reduced, the demand for funding liquidity {Borio (2003)}. In other words, a market-based financial system is 'funding liquidity hungry'. Many observers expected the development of markets to reduce the reliance on funding liquidity, in the sense of dependence on external funding. After all, if the portfolios of economic agents include more tradable securities, sales of these securities can substitute for external funding. As a result, a market-based financial system could be expected to be less vulnerable to liquidity crises. This common reasoning, however, is based on two faulty premises. One, the process of trading does not rely on funding liquidity. In fact, it is heavily dependent on it. Two, market liquidity can always remain robust under stress, thereby not amplifying the need for funding liquidity. The recent financial crisis has reminded us how misleading these two premises can be. It has led to an unprecedented drying up of funding liquidity, too, as highlighted by the enormous strain placed on the interbank market and the huge injections of liquidity by central banks. One corollary is that a market-based system may be more vulnerable to funding liquidity crises than a bank-based (or intermediary-based) one. A second corollary is that it is equally misleading to think of financial intermediaries and markets as alternative forms of finance; their complementarity is important and has grown over time {Borio (2003)}.

 

* Claudio Borio; Ten Propositions about Liquidity Crises; Working Papers No 293, Bank for International Settlements, November 2009

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

LAST MILE IN THE NUCLEAR DEAL

 

There can be little question that the failure to reach agreement on the arrangements and procedures for reprocessing spent American fuel on Indian soil during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States is a let-down. The official Indian claim may be that the problems in settling the issue of reprocessing spent fuel under the 123 agreement are "minor" and of little practical significance since the U.S. and India have until February 2010 to settle matters. But the fact that the two sides were looking at the agreement as a major deliverable from the visit suggests the bilateral relationship is living on past credit rather than current commitments. The Obama administration has said and done enough in the past six months to raise doubts about its intention of sticking to the letter and spirit of the U.S. obligation to facilitate full civil nuclear cooperation with India. Getting the G8 to endorse a proposed Nuclear Suppliers Group ban on the sale of enrichment and reprocessing technology to India was not a friendly act; nor was Washington's recent insistence that New Delhi accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 

The reprocessing obstacles Indian and American negotiators seem to have hit are by no means minor —

assuming that India's nuclear establishment will not dilute its stand on certain key issues. The first sticking point appears to be the U.S. demand for intrusive access to the reprocessing facilities India will be building. The Indian stand thus far has been to accept only the safeguards and protocols of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The second problem relates to the U.S. insistence on limiting the number of reprocessing facilities that can be built in relation to the reactors. If accepted, this will place unreasonable restrictions on India's civilian reprocessing options. An unrelated but significant issue is the liability legislation that needs to be passed through Parliament and has been delayed on the Indian side. How New Delhi will go about resolving these problems in the next few weeks will be watched closely everywhere. The fact that it has the NSG waiver under its belt means it has, at least on paper, more bargaining power than it did in the past. The Department of Atomic Energy has made it clear that absent a satisfactory agreement on reprocessing under the safeguards procedures of the IAEA, there can be no import of U.S.-made light water reactors. The planned import of Russian and French reactors, and of nuclear fuel from other countries, faces no such problems and must go ahead regardless of what happens with the U.S. India must act on the realisation that there is no reason for it to lose sleep over the delay in settling the reprocessing issue. If anything, it is Westinghouse and General Electric that should do the worrying. Without a reprocessing deal, there can be no question of them setting up reactors on Indian soil.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE WAGES OF EXPLOITATION

 

The continuing uncertainties felt by Europe's main ethnic minorities have been highlighted by a recent survey of Germans of Turkish descent. Like most European countries, Germany has an ethnically varied population. Among a total of 83 million, Turkish-Germans form the largest minority, with estimates of the proportion varying between 2.1 per cent and 4 per cent. A recent study conducted in Germany and in Turkey shows that 45 per cent of Turkish-Germans feel unwanted in Germany, with only 21 per cent happy to call it home. Just 54 per cent feel that they have the same educational opportunities as other Germans. They are also ambivalent about their own identity, with 62 per cent saying that in Germany they feel Turkish but in Turkey they feel German — readers of Orhan Pamuk's wonderful fiction will recognise this phenomenon. Over half the respondents are thinking of moving to Turkey at some point in the future. The survey's most interesting finding is that younger Turkish-Germans, those aged between 15 and 29, are more conservative than their elders on a wide range of issues like virginity, abortion, and believing in heaven. Many of them ascribe their hardline attitudes to the pressure of trying to fit into German society.

 

The sense of unwantedness within this important minority is understandable given the history of Turkish migration to Germany. In the 1960s, with the Berlin Wall ending labour movement from the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany imported large numbers of Gastarbeiter or "guest workers" from Turkey and Yugoslavia. They were denied residence and other rights, and even their German-born children were denied citizenship for a long time. The Turkish contribution to the German economic miracle, however, was acknowledged especially by the big corporations. As for cultural integration, while Germany does not prescribe views for individuals, the fact that the majority of Turkish-Germans have origins in the poorer regions of Turkey may account for a tendency to continue speaking Turkish and celebrating traditional festivals. This exacerbates white racism, which in turn contributes to the feeling of exclusion. That young Turkish-Germans are becoming more traditionalist is, in good measure, the result of cynical and exploitative policies dating back nearly half a century.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

INDIA'S STRATEGY AT COPENHAGEN

INDIA SHOULD INSIST THAT DEVELOPED NATIONS TAKE THE LEAD WITH SUBSTANTIAL EMISSION REDUCTIONS, IN LINE WITH THE IPCC RECOMMENDATIONS. ANY NON-BINDING AGREEMENT COMMITTING ALL NATIONS WITHOUT DISTINCTION SHOULD BE REJECTED.

T. JAYARAMAN

 

It is a measure of the current state of global climate negotiations that the only point on which all nations are likely to agree is that the prospects of an agreement at Copenhagen are far from bright. The moral and ethical imperative to reach an agreement has never been stronger. Paradoxically though, climate change negotiations have become progressively more difficult even as the scientific evidence underscoring the need for global action has been mounting.

 

The reasons for this difficulty are not in the realm of rocket science. As the realities of the scope and extent of mitigation action required have sunk in, many developed nations have increasingly balked at undertaking the necessary effort. Global environmental governance has been made subservient to short-term economic interests, particularly in the United States. They have balked at delivering the finance necessary for global adaptation action. Insisting on a rigid intellectual property rights regime as the basis for any climate change related technology transfer arrangement, the 'North' has sought to preserve its economic hegemony in emerging green technologies. The U.S., while rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, effectively set itself against the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" by insisting that it would sign no emission reduction commitment unless the major developing economies were on board.

 

Developing nations on the other hand have become increasingly frustrated as they see the absence of agreement driving them to increasingly tougher choices in development. The more industrialised among them still have considerable room for manoeuvre, though they will face a considerable shortfall in the 'carbon space' needed for their development. The rest face the prospect of bearing the brunt of climate change impacts with very little assistance or resources.

 

Specifically in the arena of climate negotiations, since the Bali summit two years ago several developed nations, led by the United States, have substantially ignored their responsibility to take the lead in mitigation efforts. Their energies have instead been directed at drawing the entire world into mitigation efforts with specific targets. The distinction between developed and developing nations is constantly sought to be eroded through clever technical stratagems such as a common schedule of mitigation actions by all nations. According to one of the more bizarre proposals, all developing nations would have to specify their low-carbon pathways by signing on to specific, detailed, "ambitious" mitigation targets (formally defined as deviation from business-as-usual), to be specified for every decade. From the perspective of the economics of development, such specifications belong to the domain of astrology.

 

In Kyoto-Protocol-related negotiations, many developed nations have focussed on delaying specific action on emissions reduction commitments for the next phase that commences in 2013. Several developed nation signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, led by Japan, have campaigned to scrap the Protocol itself. The disinformation campaign by the advanced nations has reached such heights that the global media have bought wholesale into the patent untruth that the Kyoto Protocol will come to an end in 2012.

 

A comprehensive view of the developed nations' agenda suggests that they wish to evolve a global climate mitigation order where their interests are preserved, which will be run on their terms, which will be supervised by them. The developing countries understandably have taken a dim view of such proposals and have been kept busy rebutting them. Meanwhile, the core issues of sharp emission reductions by developed nations and concrete progress on finance and technology transfer are increasingly being lost sight of.

 

The North's agenda is increasingly being driven by the climate laggards in their ranks. Australia (in denial of climate change until recently and as yet unable to get a carbon credit system going), South Korea, Japan, and Canada have all been extremely active and often quite obviously acting in tandem with the U.S.

 

Most recently, the United States has been the moving spirit behind suggestions for an agreement at Copenhagen that will explicitly set aside — at one stroke — both the Kyoto Protocol and the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." In this proposal, put forward formally by the Danish Prime Minister, all countries would make their own commitments as they deemed appropriate, which would then be collected in one single document. Further negotiations would then take place to convert these commitments into a legally binding agreement.

 

It is evident that this process would erase the difference between nations in terms of historical responsibility for emissions. There are further dangers if such an agreement is not effectively converted to a legally binding treaty. The burial of legally binding commitments by developed nations would endanger the entire process of guaranteeing emissions reductions where they matter most. However, developing countries in need of financial assistance and technology would be held to their commitments, even beyond specific project-linked assistance. This would effectively shift the burden of legally binding commitments to the developing countries.

 

What is the minimum that India should insist on at Copenhagen? The first key issue is the preservation of the integrity, in substance, of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol provides the only framework for mitigation action where developed nations have to take the lead and undertake legally binding commitments. India should unambiguously reject non-binding agreements of the kind suggested by the United States or variants that violate the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

 

Secondly, in line with the Kyoto Protocol, the developed countries need to take the lead with specific quantitative commitments for emissions reductions (without carbon offsets) consistent with the recommendations of the IPCC (25-40 per cent reduction of annual emissions below 1990 levels and 90 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050). Developed countries outside the Kyoto Protocol need to be brought into the ambit of similar commitments by suitable means.

 

Thirdly, developing countries cannot be expected to favour only market solutions to a range of climate-related problems, including adaptation, mitigation, finance, and technology transfer. All nations have a right to the economic and social institutions of their choice to combat global warming.

 

Fourthly, technology transfer needs to be led by state-level interventions and green technologies need to be treated as global public goods. Finance must also be primarily routed through multilateral institutions under the aegis of the UNFCCC. But we need to ensure that conditionalities for climate finance do not effectively become legally binding commitments for emission reductions.

 

As a quid pro quo to developed nations taking the lead, the large developing countries need to come on board with declared voluntary actions. Many of them are already undertaking some mitigation action as well as announcing significant voluntary targets. It is unexceptionable that the large developing economies need to do their share by shifting to a sustainable, low-carbon path of development. But until such time as the developed countries stabilise their climate mitigation trajectories in line with the IPCC recommendations, the emerging economies cannot accept monitoring, reporting, and verification of their voluntary actions, or other means to convert them into legally binding commitments.

Regrettably, in the run-up to Copenhagen, the strategy of the Government of India has been beset by confusion. Most recently, the official statement by the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, that India would be ready to submit the outcomes of its domestic mitigation actions to "international consultations" has given rise to fresh concerns that India is going too far in accommodating the developed nations. The government has not seen it fit to conduct adequate consultations with Parliament, political parties, and civil society on India's climate strategy ahead of the summit. In this situation, we can only await with concern the outcome of Copenhagen and the manner in which India's interests are articulated there by the government.

(Dr. T. Jayaraman is chairperson of the Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)

 

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THE HINDU

WHERE STYLE HAS TRUMPED SUBSTANCE

THE MODERNISATION PROGRAMME FOR THE MUMBAI POLICE IS NOWHERE NEAR GIVING THE CITY THE COUNTER-TERRORISM CAPABILITIES IT NEEDS.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

 

Armed with a spanking-new assault rifle, constable Sanjay Kamble stood outside the Taj Mahal hotel this afternoon — the face of a force that is seeking to transform itself into a truly modern force capable cutting-edge crisis management, intelligence-gathering and modern investigation.

 

Working upwards of fourteen hours a day — not counting the typically three hours spent commuting — constable Kamble earns a basic pay of Rs. 5,200 a month. Sanitation workers employed by the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation are paid less — Rs. 4,440 a month — but end up taking home similar wages, because of overtime. Indeed, until the Sixth Pay Commission recently upgraded the categorisation of police work as semi-skilled from skilled, sanitation workers actually made more money. Little has been done to upgrade the police's living standards and training.

 

Mumbai Police personnel stationed at pickets set up to guard hotels and public buildings in the run-up to the anniversary of last November's attacks did not have proper hygiene and rest facilities. Land assigned years ago to build police housing in the central Worli area was usurped by private builders — and is now home to many of the city's politicians and business élite.

 

For the most part, Mumbai's police modernisation programme has consisted of making purchases of equipment that at first glance appears impressive — but, on closer scrutiny, amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a pig. If hiring requirements, salaries and training are not thoroughly reviewed the ongoing police modernisation will yield limited gains.

 

COSMETIC CHANGES

Mumbai's counter-terrorism programme offers a fascinating insight into just how style has trumped substance.

 

For the past week, Indian television viewers have been bombarded with gushing commentary on Mumbai's new élite counter-terrorism quick reaction teams. New equipment, ranging from state-of-the-art automatic weapons to brand-new bullet proof jeeps and amphibious vehicles, have been rolled out in front of the cameras.

 

In fact, much of the new equipment is inappropriate — and in some cases, useless.

 

The M4 Colt 5.56 Carbine, first designed for urban combat by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, was picked as the standard-issue weapon for Mumbai's counter-terrorism teams. The weapon is in the process of being phased out by its core users. The United States' Marines have chosen the Fabrique Nationale Herstal Special Forces Compact Assault Rifle, while the crack Delta Force has picked the Heckler and Koch M4. The new weapons have overcome problems integral to the M4 and other carbines powered by gas-optimised systems — among them, jamming and heavy component wear and tear.

 

Mumbai Police planners also ordered a large number of the Brügger & Thomet MP5A4 machine pistol, along with its sub-compact cousin, the MP9. No one in office has an explanation for just why the MP9 was ordered. The weapon, which features a retractable stock and a magazine fitted inside the grip, is designed for environments where weapons cannot be displayed — for example, functions where important officials are making speeches. Since VIP protection is not among the duties of the Mumbai Police, the order has mystified many experts.

 

The MP5A4, by contrast, is a robust and well-established weapon. But the 9-millimetre ammunition system it uses is known to be less than optimal at generating neurologic shock — the biological phenomenon that kills or incapacitates targets. Many crack forces, therefore, are slowly switching to newer ammunition systems. The Special Protection Group, for example, now uses the 5.27 x 8 millimetre Fabrique Nationale Herstal P90. Mumbai planners, however, never even investigated alternate systems.

 

For reasons that are unclear, the Mumbai Police also purchased the M107 Special Application Rifle, the most powerful small arm in the world. Its 50-calibre shells can punch through armoured vehicles and concrete walls, but also pose a substantial threat of collateral damage to civilians. Mumbai does not have a range where personnel can be trained to use the weapon. Nor does it have experts familiar with the complex, computerised equipment needed to optimise the weapon's use in varying climactic and wind conditions.

 

Just three men — former Police Commissioner Hasan Gaffur, Additional Commissioner of Police Vinay Khargaonkar and Joint Commissioner of Police Sanjay Barwe — were given the responsibility of selecting these weapons. None had any experience in either special weapons technologies or counter-terrorism tactics. Instead, representatives of the Hong Kong-based firm which made the sale acted as advisers and also provided short-term training in their use. No counsel was solicited from Mumbai Police officials actually involved in setting up new élite units.

 

Police have also paraded an array of apparently impressive mobility platforms, like armoured jeeps and amphibious vehicles. No one, however, has actually planned under what situations these platforms will be used. Expensive bomb-detection equipment, designed to scan trucks and cars for explosives, is already gathering dust.

 

Much of the training for Mumbai's élite forces has been provided by officers from the National Security Guard and foreign private firms. India has no authority charged with assessing the quality of the instruction provided by these firms, so there is no empirically-robust way of knowing how adequate it actually is. The NSG itself is still in the process of learning lessons from its conduct of the siege last November, when the tactical shortcomings of the military-dominated force were brutally exposed.

 

Last year, much commentary focussed on how the steady decline in the State police's intelligence capabilities had left Mumbai vulnerable to terrorist operations. Maharashtra now has a state-of-the-art intelligence academy, intended to revive the police's long-decaying intelligence capabilities. But the State authorities haven't yet assigned an officer to run the institution.

 

Electronic networks linking the Intelligence Bureau with the State police in real time are still in early-execution stage. Work towards building a national criminal database is years away from realisation.

 

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has announced massive new grants for developing State police forensic capabilities. However, police commanders say, their pool of personnel with the educational qualifications to execute modern investigation is grossly inadequate — no surprise, given the salary structure.

 

No police force in India runs a programme encouraging constables to take time off for higher education, or linking promotions to new qualifications. Last year, crime-scene contamination and poor forensic capabilities meant that India was heavily dependent on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations to build a credible case. One year on, very little has changed.

 

EXPERIENCES IGNORED

Worst of all, the Mumbai authorities — as well as the counterparts in other major Indian cities — have shown a remarkable unwillingness to learn from their own experience.

 

In the wake of last year's attacks, the Mumbai Police amended its emergency-response protocols — just as it had done in 2006, after terrorists linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba bombed the city's commuter train system. No courses have been organised, though, to help officers understand just why the earlier standard operating procedure collapsed, and what needs to be done to avoid it.

 

Mumbai is, furthermore, yet to rehearse its preparedness for another mass-casualty attack.

 

In July, Singapore staged Operation North Star VII, in which more than 2,000 participants from 15 government agencies and the media participated in simulated attacks on hotels, malls and an underground train station.

 

New York Police Department officials visited Mumbai days after the attacks to study the assault sites, and draw lessons. By December 5, 2008, the New York police had carried out a tactical drill from Emergency Service Unit officers and a tabletop exercise for commanders based on the Mumbai scenario.

 

Last year, new Indian Police Service recruits were finally offered a course in counter-terrorism: a stark, if depressing, illustration of just how slow India's security system has been to respond to the long-standing challenge it faces.

 

Last year, Indian television viewers watched in horror as constable Jillu Yadav battled the terrorists at Chhattrapati Shivaji Terminus, armed only with a bolt-action rifle — and, when his ammunition ran out, a chair. Now, his colleagues might have better guns — but are still under-trained, under-paid and overworked. India's city's desperately needs its politicians to back a holistic programme of police reform and capability-enhancement.

 

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THE HINDU

PAKISTAN: TWO QUESTIONS, MULTIPLE REALITIES

NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

 

A year after the Mumbai attacks, two questions have persisted: was the Inter-Services Intelligence or any other "elements" of the Pakistani state complicit in the attacks? If the ISI, which nurtured the Lashkar-e-Taiba to wage a proxy war in India, has cut itself off from the group as claimed and was not involved in the attack, what stops Pakistan from cracking down effectively on it?

 

There are no certain replies to these questions, only multiple realities, and how each side perceives and interprets them.

 

In the weeks after the attacks, the Pakistan government, under immense international pressure and scrutiny, took several steps. A raid on a Lashkar camp at Muzaffarabad led to the arrest of commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. This is possibly also where Abdul Wajid, whose alias has been shown as Zarar Shah, was picked up. Both are the alleged masterminds of the attacks.

 

Next, it placed Hafiz Saeed, LeT founder and leader of its front organisation, Jamat-ud-dawa, under house arrest. It also detained some 70 JuD activists across the country. In Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province, the government sealed some JuD offices. This came after the designation of the JuD and Hafiz Saeed by the Al Qaeda/Taliban sanctions committee of the U.N. Security Council.

 

The Punjab government took over the administration of the Muridke campus of the JuD, located 45 km from Lahore, to keep operational some of the welfare activities started by the group.

 

The government also launched an investigation into the planning of the Mumbai attacks in Pakistan. The probe named the LeT as the group behind the attack. The government made multiple arrests, registered a case and put seven people, including Lakhvi and Abdul Wajid, on trial.

 

Analysts and officials in Pakistan feel that all this only goes to show that no state "elements" could have been involved in the Mumbai attacks. The government could not have taken any of these actions without the consent of the ISI and the Army. Even the investigation by the Federal Investigating Agency, they say, would not have been possible, but for the assistance provided by intelligence agencies.

 

There is a real worry within the military and the intelligence agencies, these analysts say, that if there is another attack of a similar nature in India, it could trigger an India-Pakistan at a time when its forces are tied up battling the Taliban on the western borders. This, they say, is a "nightmare scenario" that the Pakistani authorities are trying their best to avoid.

 

'STRATEGIC ASSET'

"Some corners of the establishment may still hold the view that the LeT can be used as a 'strategic asset,' but there is a lot of internal thinking on this, lots of questions are being asked internally about this. My information is that in the majority view, they are now seen more as a liability," said Amir Rana, author of A-Z of Jihad, and head of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies.

 

But the government's reluctance to go all the way against the LeT is all too obvious. After six months of house arrest, Hafiz Saeed is a free man, and the government says it cannot act against him unless New Delhi provides "concrete evidence" linking him to the Mumbai attacks. Saeed does keep a lower profile than before, but still leads the Friday prayers at the JuD's headquarters, Jamia Al Qudsia, at Chaudburji in Lahore.

All the others JuD activists have been released. The organisation has not yet been banned, but now operates under the name of Falah-i-Insaniyat and was noticed in relief operations among the internally displaced from the Swat Valley during the military operations there.

 

As the arrests of David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana in the U.S. have shown, the LeT also retains operational capabilities. The two men are said to have been in communication with an unnamed LeT operative, and though they were arrested for an alleged terror plot against a Danish newspaper, they were also said to be planning an attack on the National Defence College in New Delhi.

 

Further, the arrest of a former Major for his links with Headley and Rana are bound to raise questions on the LeT's continuing links, if not with the military as an institution, but with sections within it, especially because the Major retired only two years ago.

 

After the attack on the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the Pakistan military acknowledged, for the first time, that the Pakistani Taliban, which it is battling, had found allies among the Punjab-based jihadi groups — known as anti-India groups, or 'Kashmiri' groups that came up with state backing — to carry out terrorist strikes in the heartland of Pakistan.

 

It is now accepted within the military that Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies among the Punjabi jihadis operate as a syndicate. But while the military has included the Jaish-e-Mohammed, along with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-e-Sahaba, in this syndicate, the Laskhar-e-Taiba is still not considered part of it.

 

In a background briefing for journalists last month, senior military officials warned against India's "propaganda" of trying to conflate the LeT with Al Qaeda "for its own ends".

 

Even with the Jaish, the extent of the rupture with the establishment is unclear. In a briefing after the GHQ attacks, the military spokesman said it was "splinter groups" and "individuals" who had broken away from the main group and joined up with the Taliban. The implication seemed to be that there was no problem yet with the main group.

 

Indeed, an October 16 report in The News, which was not denied or contradicted yet, said the military flew down the leadership of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Sipah-e-Sahaba to negotiate with the GHQ attackers during the siege. From the JeM, it was Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of Maulana Masood Azhar and acting Ameer of the group. But jihad-watchers in Pakistan say there are good reasons for the reluctance to go all out against the Punjab-based jihad groups.

 

Especially with the LeT, one reason widely cited is that the security establishment does not want to risk a backlash from a group that has refrained thus far from anti-Pakistan activities and is still seen as closest to the establishment. The JuD has a network that reaches deep into every tehsil of Punjab, and the military does not want to be forced into opening yet another front in the country's most stable, prosperous and politically important province.

 

Arresting Hafiz Saeed is also seen as out of question. It is claimed that it would lead to factionalism within the JuD, and the creation of hard to control "rogue" or splinter groups. In fact, Saeed's hold over the organisation is already said to have weakened from the time of the 2002 ban on LeT. Even the Mumbai attacks are held to be the handiwork of a "rogue" group.

 

Plus, analysts say, India's attitude since the Mumbai attacks has led to a corresponding hardening of anti-India attitudes here, not just within the establishment or government, but also among ordinary people, and any move against Hafiz Saeed or JuD/LeT could set off a political backlash about "appeasing India".

It seems that the maximum that Pakistan is prepared to do to address Indian concerns is prosecute the seven men, including the LeT commander Lakhvi, who face trial for their suspected involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Those questions, though, will not go away.

 

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THE HINDU

HARNESSING DARWIN TO PUSH AN ANCIENT INTELLECTUAL CENTRE TO EVOLVE

MICHAEL SLACKMAN

 

It is not that Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution are unknown in Alexandria, Egypt. But even among those who profess to know something about the subject, the common understanding is that Darwin said man came from monkeys. Darwin, of course, did not say man came from monkeys. He said the two share a common ancestor. But to discuss Darwin anywhere is not just to explore the origin of man. It is inevitably to engage in a debate between religion and science. That is wh y, 150 years after Darwin published On the origin of species," the British Council, the cultural arm of the British government, decided to hold an international conference on Darwin in this conservative, Sunni Muslim nation. It was a first.

 

"A lot of people say his theories are wrong, or go against religion," said Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council. "His ideas provoke, but if we are going to understand each other, we have to discuss things that divide us."

 

Darwin may be misunderstood here, but in many ways that is but one symptom of a more fundamental problem with education in Egypt and around the region. In a culture that prizes and nurtures conformity, challenging conventions and beliefs is anathema, said writers, political scientists, social workers, students and educators inside and outside the conference.

 

Education here is based on rote memorisation, with virtually no emphasis on creative thinking. Few schools here even teach the theory of evolution.

 

"Our culture, the whole Arab culture unfortunately, does not encourage free thinking," said Madiha el-Safty, a sociology professor at American University in Cairo. "You're not encouraged to think freely, you're supposed to be moulded into certain forms and frameworks."

 

In large part because of the emphasis on memorisation over critical thinking, many here say, the quality of the education is poor. While countries in the region often spend as much or more than the world average per pupil, the results are frequently far below average.

 

Egypt, for example, once considered the intellectual capital of the Arab world, was recently ranked 124th of 133 countries in the quality of its primary education by the World Economic Forum, based in Switzerland. Other global assessments have provided equally dismal results.

 

"If our education system is solid, but without emphasis on Darwin, it would be OK," said Belal Fadl, a script writer and social commentator. "But our education system doesn't really teach anything well, not Arabic, not English, nothing."

 

Indeed, many people, including some of the 150 scientists and scholars in attendance at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina this month, were somewhat surprised that the government even agreed to allow the conference. It was unlike the leadership here to permit public discussion of ideas that challenge religious thinking and the national curriculum, or promote critical thinking, they said.

 

But the government's acquiescence came in part because of the library itself, a modern reincarnation of an ancient intellectual centre that was rebuilt and re-opened in 2001, a one-shot effort to rekindle the kind of scholarship that centuries ago put Egypt at the forefront of science and learning.

While defending Darwin, it was this broader theme, the idea of at least listening to new ideas, that the library's director, Ismail Sergaldin, emphasised in his opening remarks. He pointed to the Quran, which he said emphasised study and scholarship, as well as early Muslim scientists, to make his point. He cited the words of the pioneering 13th-century physician, Ibn al-Nafis:

 

"When hearing something unusual, do not pre-emptively reject it, for that would be folly. Indeed, horrible things may be true, and familiar and praised things may prove to be lies. Truth is truth unto itself, not because people say it is."

 

It was a message that seemed to resonate with the many Egyptian college students in the lecture hall.

 

PARTIAL ACCEPTANCE

"I am not against the idea of evolution completely," said Amr Zeydah, 23, a zoology major at Alexandria University. "I accept the idea partially."

 

Despite his major, Zeydah has never studied Darwin, and before the conference knew little about the theory of evolution. But after taking in the discussion, he said he had worked out a way to reconcile the two: that God created life, which then evolved to suit its environment. While some people may chuckle at the notion that man was once of enormous height, the point, some of the speakers here said, was that local sensitivities and beliefs must be understood, too, not dismissed out of hand, if dialogue is to work.

 

"The problem is trying to impose your ideas on others," said Samy Zalat, professor of biodiversity and former chairman of the Department of Zoology at Suez Canal University.

 

The British Council framed the conference to seek middle ground, more than to promote confrontation. While challenging a religious society to think seriously about evolution, it emphasised the possibility of reconciling a belief in divine creation with Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection. That was a position that many students here said they were comfortable with.

 

"Darwin's theory of species says nothing about the appearance of life — or about the origins of the universe," read panel number 7, in an evolution of man exhibition put on display during the conference. "It is perfectly plausible to uphold a scientific account of how natural laws allowed the universe and life to develop and to believe that a deity created those laws."Judging from public comments made during the gathering, the effort to reconcile faith and science left avowed atheists in the audience frustrated and did little to convince the religious fundamentalists. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

A GOOD VISIT, BUT DON'T OVER-HYPE IT

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's state visit to the United States earlier this week has on the whole ended on a positive note. A key objective of the trip was to gauge the current climate in Washington regarding India's own rise. The earlier George W. Bush administration was remarkable in that it gave India wide room in the region, opened doors for it internationally through the civil nuclear agreement in the face of stiff opposition from nuclear hawks at home and sharp resentment in China and Pakistan, and invested in a bilateral ties across a broad range. Quite genuinely, the Bush approach was to cultivate India after 50 years of animosities and neglect in the belief this was for the mutual good of both countries as well as the world at large. President Barack Obama, it became clear right away, would favour the deepening and expanding of bilateral relations. But given the shade and nuances of America's articulation of its present concerns in the Afghanistan-Pakistan context, its reliance on China on the economic side, and the President's own particular leanings on issues of nuclear theology, India wasn't quite certain in what light the US viewed its interface with Pakistan and China, two countries with which America has enjoyed cordial working relations for long while India hasn't exactly. Some of these worries were soothed in the course of Dr Singh's visit. Mr Obama appeared receptive to India's aspirations and anxieties. He used his way with words to make the Indians feel comfortable. But to take the President's lexical effusions literally would hardly do. On the other hand, nor would it do to make undue caution second nature in dealing with Mr Obama's America.

 

The key lies in being measured and pragmatic in interacting with the world's most significant power, rather than rhetorical or ideology-reliant. No game is a zero-sum game in this business, it has to be remembered. A look at two top issues on Dr Singh's Washington agenda are instructive. Although "early and full implementation" of the US nuclear deal is envisaged by both sides, especially since it is deemed to be of no small benefit to the US nuclear industry, an agreement was elusive during the PM's Washington sojourn on the vexed issue of reprocessing protocols. (In contrast, the issue has not been a problem in dealings with France and Russia.) The jury is therefore still out on the nuclear deal. On the other hand, the experience can be said to be quite satisfactory in engaging the Obama administration on counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, and the status of the current dynamics in Pakistan. The Prime Minister did exceedingly well to speak his mind freely on these questions. They matter greatly to this country. The President gave every sign of being responsive and supportive. On counter-terrorism, the joint statement was as explicit as a diplomatic document can be, and we may expect deeper cooperation in the field. This is necessary. Global terrorism can be effectively combated only through concerted action among countries, and no country has greater resources than the US in this area. On Afghanistan, the PM was quite clear that India would stay the course. Mr Obama endorsed the value of India's role and its wider meaning, rejecting the assessment of his military commander in Afghanistan in a recent document that had gained currency.

 

A better understanding than before on climate and clean energy issues are also a positive spinoff of the visit. There is today room for optimism that there will now be a more nuanced appreciation of India's outlook on the world in the Obama administration. However, it might be realistic to skip hyperbole, cliché, and talk of a strategic partnership.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

A LONG WAIT FOR JUDGMENT HOUR

CASE MUST GO ON TO UNEARTH CLUES

 

Though the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab has pleaded guilty and admitted to not only his role in the 26/11 attacks but also the roles played by the other wanted accused, it is still imperative for the prosecution to complete the trial.

 

Earlier the catch was that Kasab did not admit to certain charges levelled against him. Hence, the prosecution was absolutely right in asking for the continuation of the trial. In June, Kasab pleaded guilty. He narrated the complete story — starting with how he became a part of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), to the training he was given in LeT camps. He also confessed how he, along with other nine terrorists, sailed from Karachi to Mumbai and executed the conspiracy which was planned by their handlers in Pakistan.

 

However, while this sounds conclusive, it may not be sufficient evidence to prove the charge of "waging war against the nation". In order to define the role of the main conspirators and handlers, it is necessary for the trial to continue as the prosecution can bring forward more concrete evidence which would make their case stronger.

 

Furthermore, as per our Constitution, we believe in giving a fair trial to the accused. Had the court pronounced the judgment without completing the trial, and just by accepting the confessional statement given by Kasab, the accused — and Pakistan, for that matter — could have made allegations that we as a nation did not give Kasab ample chance to defend himself.

 

More recently, the defence lawyer of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi has already demanded in the court of Pakistan that they should not rely on the confessional statement of Kasab to try Lakhvi. Hence, it is important to bring all the evidence before the court so that the court can take it into consideration and pass a detailed judgment which will clearly prove the role of not only Kasab but also the other 35 wanted accused who are in Pakistan.

 

We have already sent dossiers to Pakistan. These include the evidence produced before the court. Pakistan's reaction to the dossiers is always the same. They have maintained that the evidence gathered by the Indian investigating agency is not sufficient to nail the accused who are in their country.

 

As Pakistan is not acknowledging the evidence gathered by our investigating agencies, it is necessary for the prosecution to bring each and every fact and evidence before the court here and send it to Pakistan. The prosecution has chosen a more far-sighted, albeit a tougher approach, to the nation's most famous trial.

 

(As told to Jigna Vora)

 

Majeed Memon, noted criminal lawyer

 

***

 

Kasab's report is sufficient evidence

 

I believe the 26/11 trial could have been wrapped up much earlier. The root of the delay lies in the prosecution clubbing all 12 cases in a single chargesheet. The investigating agency, the Mumbai crime branch, has registered 12 cases — the D.B. Marg encounter, murder of the navigator of the MV Kuber vessel, firings at the Leopold Café, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Nariman House, Cama Hospital, Taj and Oberoi, the robbery of the Skoda vehicle and the two taxi bomb blast cases. It would have been better to focus solely on the incidents in which the lone surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was involved. To prove the charge of conspiracy, the prosecution should have relied on Kasab's confessional statement. They also had details of the telephonic conversation between the deceased terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan.

 

Kasab's confessional statement itself is very elaborate. He has explained how he got recruited by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, their terror setup, the role of his handlers, how the terrorists reached Mumbai. The prosecution should have stuck to the confession. But the prosecution said Kasab has been booked for conspiracy, waging war against the nation, murder, attempt to murder, the theft of a Skoda car and for planting a bomb in the taxi which exploded at Mazagaon. Kasab is also booked under the Arms and Explosives Act for carrying weapons and bombs.

 

The prosecution should have produced evidence in cases where Kasab's involvement was clear — like the CST firing, the murder of Kuber's navigator, firings while going in and out of Cama Hospital.

 

What is the point in prolonging the trial? Unless the prosecution is going to get some more evidence which would help them, this is an open-and-shut case and could have concluded long ago.

 

Yes, it is true that when we were handling the case of the 1993 Mumbai blasts the prosecution had clubbed all the cases together. But back then there were different people involved in different stages of the planning and execution of those blasts. There was a continuous chain. For example, some amounts of RDX landed at certain places. Then the bombs were assembled at another location where there were different people. After that, each of those people planted bombs at different places. To add to the complexity of the case, the absconding accused were also involved at different stages.

 

The Kasab case is the polar opposite — a sole accused whose involvement with different aspects is clear and confessed.

 

(As told to Jigna Vora)

 

Rohini Salian, former chief public prosecutor, Mumbai

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

SPY THRILLERS: THE COLDER THE BETTER

SHEKHAR BHATIA

 

 In November 1955, Nikita Khrushchev, then Premier of the Soviet Union, and Nikolai Bulganin, the first secretary of the Communist Party, visited Bombay. I was very young, but I remember the two old men in a convertible, waving at the cheering crowd that had lined the streets of Bombay. I was part of the crowd.

 

That was the beginning of India's special relationship with the Soviet Union — a relationship that grew into a strategic alliance and a military treaty that gave us reassurance during our war with Pakistan over Bangladesh and continued till the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War in 1991, when we started moving closer to the US.

 

At the peak of Indo-Soviet friendship, the Indian market was full of cheap Russian — or rather Soviet — books. A lot of them were propaganda material but there were also many interesting science and a few science-fiction titles, and the best part is they cost some Rs 10 each.

 

I remember my father buying me many books on science and Russian literature; later, he bought more books for my son, including some Russian fairy tales. They were published by Mir Publishers, Moscow, and he bought them from pavement booksellers, mobile bookshops and from a Russian-run shop at the end of Park Street in Kolkata. The shop also had Western classical music, magazines like New Times and Soviet Life, but my fondest memories of those days were those books. As for music, I was more interested in classic rock.

 

I still have one called Fun with Maths and Physics by Y.I. Perelman, a hardback that was bought for just Rs 25. Three generations of men in my family have sat together, laughed and bonded as they tried to solve puzzles from the book. I remember a trick question: A person has six sons. Each son has a sister. How many children does he have? No, the answer is not 12. I think it was the simplest puzzle in the book.

 

Just out of curiosity I did a Google search for the book and found one copy for £66 and another on Amazon for $216; there was also a Telugu edition for Rs 180.

 

I have another book from that era, What is the Theory of Relativity, published under a special programme "to make the best Soviet textbooks available for Indian students". Going by its size (just 60 pages) I won't be surprised if it was bought for just a rupee or two. I am talking about late Eighties and early Nineties.

 

I do not for a moment regret the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War; if you have travelled to the Soviet Union or any of the East Bloc countries, you would know how tyrannical those regimes were and the misery of the people who lived under them.

 

No, I do not wish the return of those days. But I do think that Mir Publishers did a good job and subsidised the education of an entire generation. Perelman died of hunger during the siege of Leningrad in 1942; his other gem, Physics for Entertainment, was re-published last year and, from what I gather on the Net, it is still in demand in America. I hope they would reprint more titles from that era.

 

There's another reason why I look back on those days: I miss a good Cold War spy novel. Not just any ordinary thriller but a KGB vs CIA or MI6 story, the John Le Carre kind. I have read all his books (except the Naïve and the Sentimental Lover, but then I don't know very many people who managed to finish it) and I have seen the BBC movie based on Smiley's People three times and can recite lines from it.

When the New York Times asked Le Carre about George Smiley, the central character of his Cold War trilogy, he said, "He (Smiley) belonged to his time, and his time is over". His most recent book, A Most Wanted Man, is about "extraordinary rendition" — CIA's post-9/11 practice of abducting suspected terrorists. It's a gripping tale, but the post-9/11 world is not the same setting as the Cold War for a classic spy thriller. Perhaps it's my personal bias.

 

Len Deighton's trilogy Game, Set and Match is another example of this genre. I have seen the Granada TV series on it, and can never forget the scene when the protagonist, Bernard Samson, played by Ian Holm (a hobbit in two Lord of the Rings movies), finds out his wife is a Russian spy and says, "Treason has done its worst". There is a cerebral quality to the characters in Le Carre and Deighton stories that is missing in today's action-packed terrorist thrillers.

 

I wouldn't say the spy novel is dead because there's still a lot of archived material available.

 

The Mitrokhin Archive by the KGB agent who defected to the West has many pages on India and an Indian diplomat codenamed Prokhor who was recruited "with the help of a female swallow codenamed Neverova, who presumably seduced him". In the recently-published The Authorized History of MI5, Christopher Andrew quotes a top KGB agent as saying India was "a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government".

 

So you have a playground of spies, intriguing names like Neverova and Prokhor, and honey-trap thrown in. All you need is a good story-teller to weave a classic Cold War tale.

 

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at shekhar.bhatia@gmail.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

BE A ROLE MODEL

ROBIN SHARMA

 

I was on my way to a meeting and saw a billboard that caught my eye. Its words: What are you teaching your children? The big idea? Leadership really does begin at home.

 

What are we teaching our children by the lives we are leading and the examples we are setting? I believe that

the best way to influence your kids is to be true to yourself and to lead the best life that you can, so that they will adopt the same values, though their path may be different. What message are you sending to those little leaders who watch your every move and model your every act? Are you showing them what's possible by being remarkable in each of your pursuits? Or are you teaching them to play small by resigning yourself to average?

 

The fruit never falls far from the tree, and your children will become a lot more like you than you may believe. You can help your kids get to their greatness. It starts with you leading the way.

 

Excerpted from The Greatness Guide 2

by Robin Sharma. Published by Jaico

 

Publishing House, jaicopub@vsnl.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

SRINATH RAGHAVAN

 

On the first anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, the Indian security apparatus has come under some scrutiny. However, the ongoing discussions have overlooked a key component of this establishment - the intelligence agencies. This is surprising, for these agencies had drawn the ire of the media and pundits in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Indeed, the attacks were attributed to an "intelligence failure". The agencies tried to fend off these accusations by a series of leaks to the press. The government naturally sought to reconcile these conflicting claims. The Union home minister stated that there had been problems of coordination between the numerous agencies and their subsidiaries, and that these gaps had been plugged.

 

To be sure, there were problems of coordination in the run up to the attacks. For instance, a crucial warning from the agencies was passed on to the Coast Guard; but the Navy and the Maharashtra police apparently did not receive this information. Nonetheless, in focusing excessively on issues of coordination, the government might be overlooking more deep-seated issues that need to be addressed as well.

 

It is now clear that the intelligence agencies did provide important inputs. Towards the end of September 2008, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) issued warnings that the Taj Mahal Hotel was among the high-profile targets shortlisted by the Lashker-e-Tayyaba (LeT). The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) also gathered from communications intelligence that the LeT had reconnoitred several targets including the Leela Kempinski. On November 18, RAW intercepted a satellite phone conversation, which was traced to a location about 60 km off the coast of Karachi. Subsequently, the terrorists abandoned this vessel after hijacking an Indian fishing trawler.

 

Why, then, were the dots not joined? The problem was that these pieces of pointed information were part of a wider stream of more generic warnings through the year. This seems to have led to what might be called a "crying the wolf" syndrome. It is easy to accuse the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Maharashtra police for not taking the warnings seriously. But the last, especially, had a serious problem of capacity. It is equally easy to suggest that a "worst-case scenario" approach should have been adopted for every warning. Such an approach, however, would have required far more resources and caused much more inconvenience to the public. In fact, after the RAW warning on Leela Kempinski, hotels like the Oberoi did introduce restrictions but eased them just a week before the attacks. Notwithstanding all the beefing up of security forces over the past year, "a worst-case scenario" approach will remain unviable.

 

Furthermore, these warnings were issued by the agencies and were not accompanied by a threat analysis based on all available inputs. This problem stems in part from the fact that intelligence reports are usually inconclusive. By the time they become conclusive the event is already upon us. Reforming this system might be desirable; but it will also result in additional delays. Besides, increasing the number and frequency of intelligence assessments might be counterproductive. Top decision-makers seldom have the time to work their way through a pile of intelligence.

 

These innate problems of intelligence analysis, warning and action are not specific to India. These can be observed in many instances of intelligence failure across countries. Comparative studies also suggest that these are usually intractable. Organisational restructuring is certainly an inadequate remedy. Intelligence failures, then, may be unavoidable.

 

Yet there are some ways of mitigating these problems. The first step would be to identify and analyse recurrent patterns in intelligence failures. This would entail a comparative historical examination of these instances of failure. The agencies could conduct in-house studies, but also allow competent outsiders to give an informed assessment based on full access to records. The British intelligence agencies have been the pioneers in this regard. An "authorised history" of MI5 written by the Cambridge historian, Christopher Andrews, has recently been published. Similar histories of the MI6 and the Joint Intelligence Committee are due to be released next year. Such exercises would also give us reasonably good idea of the ratio of success to failure, and hence the "batting average" of different agencies. Apart from history, it is import to sensitise intelligence professionals and consumers to the methodological and cognitive pitfalls that usually accompany intelligence failures.

 

The Mumbai attacks have also underscored the need for a qualitative leap in our capacity for intelligence gathering. The recent investigations into the attacks by the Italian police demonstrate the sophistication of the threats that now confront us. The attackers and their handlers in Pakistan used a US-based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) for real time communication. The VOIP number was owned by a Belgian company, which in turn had leased it to an American telecommunications firm. The VOIP account was activated by money transfers through a franchisee of Western Union. And this transaction was carried out under a false name and identification by a duo based in the northern Italian city of Brescia.

 

Anticipating such threats will require an entirely different order of capabilities and skills. Given India's large base of talent in information technology and related areas, developing the necessary technological capabilities should not be too difficult. But our agencies also need to be able to attract people with the requisite skills. The existing policy of relying largely on Indian Police Service officers on deputation needs to be reconsidered. Like many of their Western counterparts, our agencies should be able to compete openly in the marketplace of colleges and universities for the best talent. They also need to acquire better area specialists - people who have a strong grounding in the language and culture, history and politics of different regions.

 

Finally, they should reach out to a wider community of specialists and experts. The Canadian intelligence, for instance, has a designated "academic outreach" programme, which regularly organises conferences. These may not be very pertinent for immediate security concerns. But they are useful for understanding the bigger, longer-term strategic picture.

 

All of this would require our agencies to be more transparent and open to outside influence. As the Director-General of MI5 rightly notes, such openness to the society is in itself a strategic advantage in confronting contemporary threats.

 

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HOMING IN

 

Prime minister Manmohan Singh's American trip this week seems to follow the dictum of the title of the now dated self-help manual, How To Make Friends And Influence People. The prime minister has been literally bending over backwards while speaking to the American business leaders on Monday asking them to invest in India and, earlier this week, assuring them that there will soon be further economic reforms.


At the state banquet at the White House that president Barack Obama had hosted on Tuesday, there was a surprisingly large sprinkling of Indian glitterati, including Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, filmmaker Manoj Night Shyamalan, award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri and Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal. It would have been hard to imagine in the 1980s that so many prominent Indians could be on the White House dinner list. That seemed to have turned the mind of the prime minister to ways of connecting with them.


On Wednesday, he made a sentimental sales pitch that Indians abroad, not just in the US, should come home. He clarified to those in the US that they can choose to stay and work in both the places — the US as well as India — because of the IT-enabled technologies which make it possible to work from almost anywhere. This is significantly different from what would have been expected in the 1990s and in the earlier part of the decade, where the non-resident Indians (NRIs) were exhorted time and again to invest in the mother country. Singh must have realised that more than the dollars that they can send to India, the country needs their entrepreneurial energies, technical expertise and intellectual spark in pushing India into the fast lane of growth and prosperity.


The reality, however, is as always different and difficult. During the late '90s and in the earlier years of this decade, many Indians came home from the US to settle down here and contribute to the economic success story. But they discovered soon that things have not really changed despite economic liberalisation, and that it is a hassle to work and live here. So many of them packed their bags and went back to where they came from. Again after the 2008 financial meltdown, some Indians have been forced to look homeward, but there have not been too many who made the beeline home this time round. There is however a window of opportunity which could be used to advantage by the ubiquitous NRIs to connect with the homeland once again.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

CLEANING UP ACT

 

Union home minister P Chidambaram has, in his admonishment of the Mumbai police, pointed to a very unfortunate trend which has developed lately -- senior police officers using the media to score points off each other. The run up to the first anniversary of the November 26 terror attacks saw a most unseemly series of controversies erupting, where police officers accused each other of dereliction or shirking of duty, cowardice, deliberate withholding of information and so on. Even worse, this was played out in public.

 

Adding to this internal battle was the publication of two books connected with the attacks. One, by a former police officer, accused serving officers of deliberating conspiring against another. The second, by the wife of one of the officers felled in the 26/11 battle, raises questions about the role played by a colleague in her husband's death.

 

The issue is not just about whether all these accusations and suspicions are true or not. It is about the apparent lack of trust, fellowship and professionalism within what was once the most envied police force in the country. The public was in any case quite appalled at the fumblings of the Mumbai police during the terror attacks. Now it seems that all those fears were true -- the Mumbai police did not work as one force. Instead it has exposed itself as faction-ridden, self-serving and corrupt. This is not corruption connected with money so much as a fall in ethics and discipline. We have just been through the ugly spectacle offour senior most policemen in Maharashtra rushing to court over who best deserves the post of Director general of police.

 

It is no secret that political interference in the police and bureaucracy has been a curse for this country. This ugly fact reared its head in Mumbai some 20 years ago, according to experts. The way out, also according to experts, is to finally enact all those police reforms which have been waiting to unshackle the Indian Police Service from the colonial vice it operates under.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

HOUSE OF LORDS' TRYST WITH SUFI POETRY

FARRUKH DHONDY

 

I have in a rare idle moment thought of standing for parliament, but the closest I ever got was standing outside it for half an hour in the rain today. Westminster buzzes with traffic all day and in the evenings, the two possible accessible pubs on the streets outside parliament, one just under the shadow of Big Ben when the sun is across the river at an angle, and the other on Whitehall next to the window from which Charles I emerged to be executed, are very crowded. Anywhere else in England the TV sets on the walls of the pubs feature football or pop, but in the Red Lion, the TV is switched to the Parliament Channel which mostly features the empty green seats of the House of Common with some cove rabbitting on about the health-and-safety hazards of Santa Claus beards or some such compelling question.


I was not outside the House of Lords to take my place on the benches of peers of the realm. Her majesty has not yet recognised, or perhaps is reluctant to acknowledge, my noble qualities. I was standing in a queue to get into a poetry reading. This may sound odd, but this particular reading was being held in the House of Lords because the chief guest was Prince Hassan of Jordan and the meeting room had been booked by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Third World Solidarity — unlikely hosts for literature.


The queue had to pass through the sort of security checks in force at airports, only more thorough. The mother of parliaments is taking no chances. It was the launch of Islamic mystical poetry, Sufi verse from the early mystics to Rumi, a Penguin book edited with translations by Mahmood Jamal. Launching it from the House of Lords seemed to be part of an obvious political ingredient to its publishing strategy.


Very many lords and ladies of the House and members of parliament from the Commons attended the crowded occasion. Prince Hassan spoke first, delivering an erudite speech about the historical strands of Islam.


Mahmood, a poet in his own right and an Islamic scholar, was introduced as the descendant of two Muslim Sufi 'saints' and missionaries. His ancestral home is the area of Lucknow known as 'Firangi Mahal' and the audience was told that the family came by this inheritance when Aurangzeb confiscated it from a British indigo trader and bestowed it in a firman upon them. Mahmood grew up there and a few years after Partition was taken by his parents to East Pakistan and thence to Karachi and to study in London.


Mahmood talked about the purpose of writing such a book. He said he didn't want to call it Sufi poetry, but deliberately used the word Islamic because today the 'Islamics', fundamentalists, Wahabis and terrorists, through their murderous actions and pronouncements, have created the impression that they represent the Abrahamic faith of Islam. Abd-al Bari, Mahmood's grandfather, a respected scholar and Indian nationalist told Mahmood in his boyhood that the Wahabis were furthest from the truth of Islam. Fuelled with oil money and political agendas from Saudi Arabia and Iran, the fundos have given the world the impression that they represent Muslims, Islam and its traditions, but like the crickets who make the most sound from the shelter of the grass, they are not the largest animals in the meadow. Mahmood claims that the Sufi tradition is the only authentic Islam and its inspirations will carry the faith forward. His collection of Sufi verse should go a very tiny way to spreading that certainty.


I am not competent to comment on the quality of the translation but the verses of poets from Rabia Basri (801 AD) to Mian Muhhamad Baksh (1907 AD) (the subtitle which says 'Early Mystics to Rumi' is clearly wrong!) proclaim the mystical faith which is full of human questioning and doubt and bereft of the vulgar philosophical definitions and certainties of the murderous faith of the deviants. I would stand in the rain for twice the time to hear it proclaimed.

 

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DNA

A DEAL GONE SOUR

BRAHMA CHELLANEY 

 

The ritzy state dinner US president Barack Obama hosted in honour of prime minister Manmohan Singh at the White House could not obscure the fact that Singh's visit yielded little in substance. The elaborate pomp and ceremony also did little to change perceptions in India that it has lost ground in America's Sino-centric Asia policy. During the presidency of George W Bush, many in India had whipped themselves into rapturous frenzy over what they saw as a tectonic shift in US policy toward India. All it required to shatter their bliss (and belief) was a change of government in Washington. 

 

The lesson: Unlike India's personality-driven, sentiment-laced approach, US foreign policy is shaped by institutional processes that preclude abrupt U-turns or shifts. To be sure, Bush was India-friendly. But he left office without translating his thinking into concrete policy guidance to various departments to treat India as a strategic priority. In the absence of a national security directive to the powerful State Department, Pentagon and Commerce Department bureaucracies that run day-to-day aspects of India policy, the vaunted Indo-US nuclear deal has failed to deliver tangible strategic benefits, or even to promote joint defence research and development. US export controls on high technology continue to target India like before.


The developments since 2008 actually hold the most-sobering lesson for Singh, who staked his political reputation to push through the nuclear deal. He peddled the deal as a transformative initiative that would help put the Indo-US relationship on a much-higher pedestal. But more than a year after the deal came to fruition there is no sign of its transformative power. Rather, India now is concerned about its diminished role in US foreign policy. Despite a much-celebrated strategic partnership between the world's most-populous democracies, the US values India more as a market for its goods and services than as a collaborator on pressing strategic issues. Indeed, just as it has been balancing its relationships with India and Pakistan for long, Washington now is balancing its ties with India and China.


The nuclear deal itself is turning sour. It will take a decade or so before the first imported nuclear-power reactor begins to generate electricity. The economics of generating power from imported reactors hasn't even been discussed. Costs are likely to be so high as to saddle Indian taxpayers with a major subsidy burden. Two nuclear-power plants currently under construction in Finland and France are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.


Despite a strong US push to bag major reactor contracts and New Delhi's action in reserving two nuclear parks exclusively for American firms, no reprocessing agreement could be clinched during Singh's visit. Key differences remain over such an agreement, which would have to pass US congressional muster. Singh went to Washington after getting his Cabinet to approve a nuclear-accident liability bill, which seeks to cap liability at a mere $537 million (Rs2,500 crore) and makes the Indian state-run operator, rather than the foreign supplier, liable for compensation payment. Parliament must seize the opportunity when this bill is tabled to examine in full the nuclear deal, which thus far has escaped legislative scrutiny in India. The bill — intended to provide cover mainly to US firms, which, unlike France's Areva and Russia's Atomstroyexport, are in the private sector — seeks to further burden Indian taxpayers, rather than put the onus on the sellers of multibillion-dollar reactors.

If anything, Singh's visit was a reminder that Obama's tilt towards China on key Asian issues and growing US reliance on and aid for Pakistan have emerged as major sticking points in the Indo-US relationship. The policy frame in which Washington is viewing India is not the larger Asian geopolitical landscape, but the southern Asian context. But even on regional matters, the US has on occasion sought to pursue approaches antithetical to India's vital interest. Also, at a time when Sino-Indian border tensions have escalated, Washington has failed to even caution China against any attempt to forcibly change the territorial status quo.


But more than Washington, New Delhi is to be blamed. The deal-peddlers in India allowed their wishful thinking to blind them to the strategic trends that were firmly set long before Obama came to the White House. Take the China factor. Bush left office with a solid China-friendly legacy, best illustrated by the manner in which he ignored the Chinese crackdown in Tibet and showed up at the Beijing Olympics. The talk of a US-China diarchy — a G2 — ruling the world had begun before Obama was elected. It was also under Bush that the US renewed aid to Pakistan on a massive scale, while pressuring India not to take diplomatic sanctions against Islamabad after 26/11. Clearly, the deal was oversold.

 

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DNA

NRIS, DON'T COME HOME

VENKATESAN VEMBU 

 

A recent Silicon Valley gathering of Indians organised by an Indian thinktank revealed a distinct 'homeward bound' mood among those who had "gone West" in search of fame and fortune. Asked how many among the audience planned to return to India, as many as 75% raised their hands, recalls Indian-American entrepreneur-turned-academic Vivek Wadhwa.


"Large numbers of the Valley's top young guns (and some older bulls as well) are seeing opportunities in other countries and are returning home," notes Wadhwa. "And a return ticket home also puts their career on steroids." Quality-of-life considerations in their home country also weighed to a considerable extent in the "return of the native".

To that extent, prime minister Manmohan Singh's invitation today to all Indian-Americans and non-resident Indians to "return home" only reflects an underlying reality that's already playing out. The US 'green card' was once the ultimate lifetime achievement trophy for the middle-class Indian professional as he headed West; today, with the American Dream wracked by self-doubt induced by an economy in deep trouble, the one thing that's greener than a green card is the grass back home in India.


An Indian economy on a high-growth path and the promise of more, the exciting new career and entrepreneurial opportunities it opens up, and the comforting familiarity of all things Indian are evidently incentives that induce many NRIs to be drawn back home by the invisible umbilical cord that always bound them to Mother India.

There is, of course, much to commend about this "brain gain" — this return home of the millions of immensely talented 'global Indians' who pitted themselves against the best and the brightest in the world, fared well, and kept the Indian tricolour fluttering in faraway lands. In the nation-building endeavour that's still far from complete, they constitute a significant human capital with a wealth of global exposure, and have much to contribute by way of ideas and innovation.


But there are equally compelling reasons why they shouldn't all come back 'home'. For one, as India gradually grows as an economic power and enhances its profile on the world stage, it needs a critical mass of brand ambassadors who can project an image of a polished, confident and global India. It needs 'spokespersons' who can influence local communities and domestic politics wherever they are, and who can shape foreign governments' responses with their masterly power of persuasion. It needs 'thought guerrillas' who can infiltrate foreign minds across all sections of society and embed positive images of a resourceful and multiply talented India. 

As was revealed at the White House banquet in honour of Manmohan Singh, there is a critical mass of Indian-Americans who are doing their bit to burnish the image of Brand India. In virtually every area of human endeavour — from politics to literature to business and much else — Indians and Indian-Americans have acquitted themselves creditably and enhanced India's profile in the US. In particular, their visibility in the arts and mass media space — think of Fareed Zakaria, Manoj Night Shyamalan, Sanjay Gupta, among others — influences for the better the way India is perceived, particularly among the thought leadership. This is so even if they are all US citizens and therefore not always batting for India.


At a recent event at Duke University, Wadhwa recalled that when he went to public school in New York City in the late 1960s, he was "ashamed to be an Indian…" But a generation later, he noted, "my children feel proud to be an Indian. When Americans look at Indians, they think they are smart, high-tech CEOs, doctors or IT workers."

Much of that radical change in mindsets in the US came about because of the 'insurrection' of skilled Indian professionals — like Wadhwa himself — in the American landscape. That enterprise needs to be advanced even deeper into US civil society — and the same 'revolution' needs to be exported to other parts of the world, including continental Europe, East Asia and Australia.


An inverse of what happens to India's image abroad when a popular (and positive) insurgency of that sort doesn't happen is manifest in Australia, where young Indians have been subjected in recent months to street violence. The critical mass of visible Indians in Australia are vocational-stream 'students' from small-town India who are exploiting a window of immigration opportunity there. The perception of Indians as visa-violating 7-11 store clerks is imprinted in Aussie minds. That image would be forever altered if we had a few Indian-origin stand-up comedians performing in smoky Sydney bars or doing piece-to-camera segments on ABC television.


Manmohan Singh is a man of wisdom, and during his recent US tour, projected an image of a thoughtful, articulate leader who can speak with equal felicity about Af-Pak affairs and the dollar's status as a reserve currency. But his 'invitation' to NRIs to return home is best ignored. As India steps out onto the world stage, it needs Brand Ambassadors to implant themselves around the world. This is precisely the wrong time for them to pack their bags and head home.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ONE YEAR AFTER 26/11

WOUNDS REMAIN; SO DO CONCERNS

 

One year is far too short a period to lessen the horror of the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai. Not only the families of 166 children, women and men gunned down by Kasab and gang, but entire India feels the pain of that inhuman act. Yet, 365 days should have been long enough to bring the perpetrators to book. Still, the men who orchestrated the devilish bloodbath while sitting in Pakistan continue to laugh in their sleeves, because Pakistan seems hell-bent to stonewall all attempts to bring them to book. 

 

Leave alone being repentant about what the ISI and the goons patronised by it did, it seems to be plotting similar attacks in future. That is a failure of not just India but the whole world that it cannot make a roguish nation to mend its ways. That happens because of the badly fragmented response of the world community to such dastardly acts. Unless one's own country is targeted, leaders are clearly not willing to take the beast of terrorism by the horns. Terrorists are making full use of this division.

 

Since Pakistan is not likely to change its stripes, the focus must shift to India's own preparedness. It is indeed in a better position today to face the challenge than it was one year earlier, but the improvement is not substantial enough. No doubt the NSG has been upgraded and we now have a National Investigation Agency. But these only comprise the response set-up. What is needed is a foolproof mechanism with the help of which such misadventures can be pre-empted. That will be possible only if the state police forces are modernised into a fighting-fit shape and the intelligence gathering network revamped.

 

When Home Minister P Chidambaram warned that if terrorists from Pakistan try to carry out any attacks in India, they will not only be defeated but will be given a befitting reply in kind, he was not just indulging in rhetoric. The public mood in India is such that if any such foolhardy attempt is made again, it may indeed lead to a full-fledged war. That is an eventuality which can destabilise the whole region. Even Pakistan will have to pay a heavy price for such a misadventure. Those plotting to make India bleed from a thousand cuts will do well to think of the consequences. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GOLD ON A HIGH

IT IS A SAFER INVESTMENT

 

The lure of gold continues despite a sharp rise in its prices. It has touched another peak at Rs 18,000 per 10 gm. Indians are the world's biggest gold buyers and even at such high rates there is no slackness in demand. Traders are piling up stocks in anticipation of an increased demand during the winter wedding season. Apart from its traditional use during social ceremonies and functions in India, gold has emerged as a much sought-after destination for investment. Its price has appreciated 32 per cent since the start of the current year. People now invest in gold exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are now traded at stock exchanges like other funds.

The spurt in gold prices is a global phenomenon. Among the factors driving up the gold prices are: uncertainty about the economic recovery in the recession-hit US and Europe, depreciation of the dollar against major global currencies and a rising inflation. International capital is moving away from risky currency, equity and real estate markets to a safer haven like gold. The near zero per cent interest rate in the US is aiding the flow of dollars to markets in the emerging economies. There does not appear to be an immediate decline in the demand for gold. A recent prediction made in a survey carried out by The Economist of London that the prices of the yellow metal will "continue to hold up well in 2009 and 2010" globally is turning out to be true.

 

A new dimension to the rising demand for gold is the entry of central banks, which are diversifying their foreign reserve portfolios, mostly held in dollars, to venture into gold investments. India's Reserve Bank of India recently purchased 200 tonnes of gold from the International Monetary Fund with the twin object of helping the IMF raise money for giving aid to poorer nations and hedging against the dollar slide. So it is not just individual investors who are attracted to gold; countries too are succumbing to its glitter.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FUEL-EFFICIENT VEHICLES

NEW NORMS CAN REDUCE POLLUTION 

 

The government seems to be earnest in its commitment to save the environment. Close on the heels of announcing new air quality standards, it has come up with new fuel efficiency norms for vehicles to be notified soon. Vehicles shall be rated according to their fuel efficiency that has an indirect correlation with pollution i.e. higher its fuel efficiency the less pollution it will cause. Indeed, the move likely to become mandatory by 2011 is well-intended and can build the country's energy security and help climate action plan.

 

The transport sector contributes about 15 to 20 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, which is likely to increase with further rise in vehicular traffic. With Indian economy growing at a fast clip, vehicular traffic has multiplied manifold. While the total number of registered vehicles in 1970 was about 14 lakh, in year 2009 (till October end) 72 lakh two wheelers and 15 lakh cars have already been sold. The situation in metros is more worrisome. Delhi alone accounts for over 55 lakh vehicles, double the figure in 1991. According to a study, industrial production, motor vehicles and fossil fuels are the biggest potential contributors to increased pollution. Merely laying down fuel efficiency norms for automotive industry may not solve the problem completely. Poor fuel quality, improper vehicle maintenance and faulty traffic planning too cause vehicle pollution.

 

Yet according to the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, new norms can lead to considerable reduction of greenhouse gases in two to five years. At the same time, the government will have to devise ways to implement pollution norms of vehicles already on the road. The existing rules are being flouted blatantly. The urgent need for an efficient and rapid public transport system cannot be ignored either. Proposed standards must be considered in lieu of the immense benefits in terms of savings in fuel consumption and reduced carbon emissions and must be implemented seriously as and when these become mandatory.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

NATIONAL DEFENCE MESSED UP

POLITICIANS THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

WITHOUT doubt the Vice-Chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Marshal P. K. Barbora, is a maverick. Or else he would not have been speaking out so bluntly as he has done. For this he has predictably drawn flak.

 

Those who criticise him for speaking out of turn while still being uniform do have a point. But there is a bigger and more worrying question that needs to be answered: Isn't every word of what the intrepid Air Marshal has said absolutely accurate? Must the grim state of affairs he has exposed to the light of day be brushed under the carpet again?

 

Let us leave out the controversy over women as fighter pilots that he started; the Air Force can sort this out. But no more time should be wasted before coming to grips with the key problem: the messing up of national defence by the way politicians and political parties of all hues and the political operate.

 

Other factors, of course, aggravate this depressing situation. The military itself seems to be reluctant to plan for the long term. To compound this, the three services habitually change their "qualitative requirements" all too often. "Firewalls" between the defence forces and the insufficiently informed civilian bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence can delay proposals unduly.

 

It is true that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), despite the good work it has done, is unable to make good its tantalising promises, as the fate of the main battle tank and the Light Combat Aircraft so eloquently underscore. No fewer than 450 LCAs should have been produced by now to replace the IAF's earlier workhorse, Mig-21. Not one has entered service yet!

 

This enables the Service Chiefs to demand imports of the latest and best equipment from abroad rather than rely on indigenous production. Consequently, 62 years after independence India has to import 70 per cent of all military hardware.

 

However, when all is said and done the main cause of unconscionable delay in decision-making is political. At a time when they need to be vigilant against both China and Pakistan, the Indian armed forces are not properly equipped. At one level, it is this country's alarmingly contentious political culture that is at work. Whichever party may be in power, its adversary in the Opposition resists vehemently all decisions to acquire weapons and equipment. And when the power sea-saw goes the other way, the roles of both sides are immediately reversed.

 

Suspicions of massive corruption in every lucrative defence transaction, which cannot be dismissed out of hand, have undoubtedly contributed to the virtual gridlock. But no corrupt person — politician, military officer, bureaucrat or arms agent — has ever been brought to book. Indeed, the classic Bofors case that contributed to Rajiv Gandhi's defeat in the 1989 general election is a telling example of how India handles the gift of the grab in defence purchases.

 

Without an iota of doubt there was corruption in the purchase of Bofors 155 mm gun. The amount distributed was Rs 64 crore, which is small beer compared with the amounts that are merrily changing hands these days.

 

Moreover, seven governments have come and gone since Bofors burst on the Indian scene with the force of a mini-nuke. These have included one that vowed to "expose the guilty men of Bofors" within 15 days but couldn't do so during the 11 months it lasted. Another that ruled for six years was long on the promise to mete out just deserts to the "culprits" but woefully short on performance.

 

The story became steadily worse. Some people did make money but the gun they bought was excellent, as became evident at the time of the Kargil War. However, so shocking is our defence management and so inflexible our procedure that after putting a blanket ban on any further dealings with Bofors, the government made no alternative arrangement to either buy from elsewhere or manufacture domestically ammunition for the large number of Bofors howitzers.

 

So when the crunch came, we had no Bofors ammunition, and had to buy it at three or four times the normal price. No one is sure that the ammunition situation is any better today.

 

Finally, as the fish begins to rot at the head, unacceptable delay in decision-making on defence takes place at the top — at the level of the defence minister and his cabinet colleagues. Sadly, India has not always been well served by its defence ministers. Some of them didn't have a clue to their critically important charge. Ironically, the cleverest of them, V.K. Krishna Menon, did a lot of damage in his arrogant ways. No wonder, during the border war with China in 1962, the country spent more energy on ejecting him from South Block than on beating back the invaders.

 

Some times, prime ministers have made the cardinal mistake of taking over the defence portfolio themselves and leaving it to a handpicked minister of state to run it. In Arun Singh, Rajiv Gandhi had an MoS of competence but the two were then drifting apart.

 

P. V. Narasihma Rao left the Defence Ministry to the tender mercies of Mallikarjun whose best friends never claimed that he had any knowledge of matters military.

 

Today's Defence Minister, A. K. Antony, is a senior Congress leader burdened with some party chores unrelated to his official duties and a fine man. But his knowledge and experience of security issues is limited. Moreover, his overriding concern for probity and transparency in defence acquisitions is leading to indecision.

 

Against this backdrop, let me cite just one example of the resultant havoc. After careful consideration, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had invited offers for 126 multi-role warplanes this country needs. The United Progressive Alliance that has been in power for more than five and half years fully agreed with what the National Democratic Alliance had done.

 

However, has the desperately needed acquisition of the 126 aircraft moved an inch forward? Meanwhile, the prices of these magnificent machines are piling up as does the ticking meter of a taxi.

 

As far back as in 1963, the government had planned to have an air force of 64 squadrons. Later, for want of resources, the target was lowered to 45 squadrons. Today, the air force consists of only 39 squadrons of which only 30 are combat squadrons. Indeed, The IAF now is no better equipped than it was in 1962 but we boast of being a "global player".

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

HOME AND ABROAD

BY LIEUT-GEN HARWANT SINGH (RETD)

 

At Manmad, we changed train for Ahmednagar. As I got down at the station I was accosted by the railway staff for carrying three items in my baggage. It consisted of a suitcase, bedding and a small radio (transistors had not come into vogue). I was told that penalty will have to be paid. There was no rule where only two items were allowed. Still I opened my bedding, put the radio in it and rolled the bedding and then had only two items. But the railway staff was adamant.

 

Another member of the staff, from my part of the country, taking me into confidence, suggested that I pay the chap Rs 50 and get him off my back. The railway staff was working as a syndicate. With frayed temper I threatened the stationmaster that I would report the matter to the Railway Board. That got them off my back.

 

We landed at Harwhich, on the English coast, from where we were to take the train for London. Delayed at the immigration check point, we reached the ticket counter when the clerk was in the process of closing down. He told us that tickets will be issued in the train. But no one came to issue us the tickets. As I got down from the compartment at London station, there was a ticket collector standing nearby to whom I explained that we were told that tickets would be issued in the train, but no one did so. He said, it is not your fault. Someone should have issued the tickets in the train. Well, your journey is over so you carry on.

 

We were joined in Scotland by our nephew, a government officer, who had taken return train ticket for Glasgow via Manchester, where he had some official work. Return tickets on British Rail are much cheaper. On return journey to London he wanted to travel with us. We had tickets for the direct route while our nephew had one for the longer route. He was worried that his travelling on a different route will come under objection. So we marched off to Glasgow to change his ticket.

 

While looking for help, we were spotted by a railway official. He said: "Gentlemen you are looking a bit harassed. How can I help you?"

 

Our nephew, cast as he was in the Indian bureaucratic mould, explained his predicament. His travelling, on the direct route, with his current ticket will be objected. The official told him that he had paid more money for his ticket, being of a longer route and his now travelling by a shorter route, which costs less, can be objected only by a bloody fool!

 

We bought tickets at Harrisburg for New York, two days in advance of our journey. Later we learned that as senior citizens, we could get a hefty rebate. So before boarding the train we went to the ticket counter and explained the situation to the clerk. He informed us that we should have told him that we were senior citizens. Then he looked at our grey hair and said that he was sorry: he should have realised this on his own. He took our tickets and issued new ones and refunded the excess amount.

 

Why in India is it so different?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

MIGRATION BENEFITS LOCAL ECONOMY: UN REPORT

BY N.K. SINGH

 

A fact that Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan does not know but the UN Development Progam (UNDP) does is that in his state the poverty rate in households with a migrant fell by about half between 2001-02 and 2006-07, courtesy the migration of people from his state to other states.

 

The same is the case with Andhra Pradesh and several other states in India and in Bangladesh (Page-73 UNDP report on HDI released last month).

 

Shivraj Chauhans' and Raj Thackerays' negative stereotypes portraying migrants as "stealing our jobs", especially in times of recession, only show their total ignorance not only of the Constitution and the law of the land but also of the interest of the state.

 

What is a curious paradox is that their wanton "no-outsider" assertion militates against this UN Development Program Report, released last month. The report is devoted to migration.

 

In the process of assessing Human Development Index (HDI) in various countries, the report focusses on human mobility and development. Strongly advocating legislation for the protection of migrants across the globe, the report enumerates numerous benefits of human mobility.

 

Detailing multiple benefits that migrations bring about, the report fervently calls all nations to introduce strong legislation to protect the migrants from local (Thackeray-brand) chauvinism and suggests them to imbibe a culture of attracting migrants by providing them facilities like health care and community living, besides education to their children.

 

It says if migrants raise the population of a place of destination by one per cent, the Gross Domestic Product of that state goes up by at least one per cent.

 

What makes migration important in India is the fact that it is the only country in the world where regional differences in per capita income are the highest (1:5). That also encourages human mobility from a highly poor state to a highly prosperous state.

 

A larger example of the reverse being true is scant or no movement from developed countries to developing countries

 

Most migrants do not go abroad at all, but instead move within their own country. Next, the majority of migrants, far from being victims, tend to be successful, both before they leave their original home and on arrival in their new one.

 

Reviewing an extensive literature, the report finds that fears about migrants taking jobs or lowering the wages of local people, placing an unwelcome burden on local services, or costing the taxpayer money are generally exaggerated. When migrants' skills complement those of local people, both groups benefit.

 

Societies as a whole may also benefit in many ways – ranging from rising levels of technical innovation to increasingly diverse cuisine to which migrants contribute.

 

The report suggests that the policy response to migration can be wanting. Many governments institute increasingly repressive entry regimes, turn a blind eye to health and safety violations by employers, or fail to take a lead in educating the public to the benefits of immigration.

 

Using a conservative definition, the report estimates approximately 740 million people as internal migrants – almost four times as many as those who have moved internationally.

 

Some governments, such as those of Italy and Spain, have recognised that unskilled migrants contribute to their societies and have regularised the status of those in work, while other countries such as Canada and New Zealand have well designed seasonal migrant programmes for sectors such as agriculture.

 

According to the report, while there is a broad consensus about the value of skilled migration to destination countries, low-skilled migrant workers generate much controversy.

 

It is widely believed that while these migrants fill vacant jobs, they also displace local workers and reduce wages. Other concerns posed by migrant inflows include heightened risk of crime, added burdens on local services and the fear of losing social and cultural cohesion.

 

The report cites an example of Gujarat. Young men among the lower caste Kolas in the central Gujarat region of India commonly seek factory jobs outside their village in order to break away from subordinate caste relations.

 

This occurs despite the fact that factory wages are not higher, and in some cases are lower, than what they would earn as agricultural day labourers at home. Escaping traditional hierarchies can be an important factor motivating migration.

 

Similarly, India's 'argonauts' – young graduates who helped fuel the country's high-tech boom in the early 2000s – brought to their jobs the ideas, experience and money they had accumulated in the United States and elsewhere.

 

The entire software industry model changed as firms increasingly outsourced production to India or based themselves there. In this case, skilled migration brought significant external and dynamic effects, which benefit both workers and the industry in the place of origin.

 

The report strongly recommends expanding schemes for truly seasonal work in sectors such as agriculture and tourism. We have seen such schemes have already proved successful in various states like Punjab and Haryana in India, besides many other countries.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

A UNIVERSAL E-BOOK LIBRARY

BY ROOPINDER SINGH

 

Life, the iconic American magazine, gained a new life after over 1,860 issues, covering the years 1936 to 1972, were digitised and put online. Computers and the Internet together have created an atmosphere where we expect knowledge and entertainment at our fingertips, not by turning pages, but by tapping at the keyboard. Increasingly, we see that this trend is impacting something that we have taken for granted for centuries – books, the traditional repositories of wisdom, and more.

 

Books ... we love the content, the feel of the paper they are printed on, what they convey to us and how they enrich us. Yet, books in classical form have limitations imposed by the very factors that make them so alluring – they can get damaged, cost money to print and distribute and have to be physically taken from one person to another, etc.

 

E-books, or electronic books, promise to transform the content into bits and bytes that can be freely transmitted to all the corners of the connected earth, and beyond, for that matter. You can read what you want, when you want to, and where, provided you have an e-book reader, computer or even a mobile phone handy. A universal e-book library seems within reach.

 

The Internet giant Google has been in news recently because it is engaged in litigation defending its right to digitise book, following an agreement it penned in 2004 with a number of top university libraries to scan their collections. Over one crore books have been scanned by Google Books and this has made it the owner of the largest collection of titles in an electronic format.

 

This very ownership has raised the hackles of communities that are defending the rights of authors and copyright holders, as a result of which Google has given full access only to those books whose copyright has expired, or those whose copyright it has bought.

 

Many books are out of print, but have valid copyrights, which are sometimes difficult to establish. Such books are called "orphans". Google has made an agreement through which Book Search users can read, download and print out-of-copyright books, freely.

 

Those books that aren't actively being published or sold, but are within the copyright period, would, under the latest agreement, be digitised and become available online for preview and purchase.

 

The income would be shared between various parties. Right now, Google has almost come out of a long and complicated legal battle. Its doggedness is about to pay it rich dividends, since no one can compare with Google Books in the sheer number of titles that they have online, whether in limited view or otherwise.

 

However, Google is not the first mover in this field, nor is it the only player. Long before Google came up with the idea, other digitisation endeavours were underway, including the Library of Congress's American Memory project, Project Gutenberg, the Million Book Project and the Universal Library.

 

Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitise and archive cultural works and to "encourage the creation and distribution of e-books." It was started by Michael S. Hart in 1971 and is considered the oldest digital library. Effort is made to provide these texts in standard, long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any device – computer, Kindle, Sony Reader, or iPhone. Although pioneering, the project has just over 30,000 free e-books to read.

 

Microsoft has been an also-ran in this endeavour. It started Live Search Books, a project similar to Google Books, in late 2006, but abandoned it in May 2008. All was not lost, since the scanned books are now available on Internet Archive, a non-profit organisation.

 

The Europeans digitised over 30 lakh objects, including video, photos, paintings, audio, maps, manuscripts, printed books, and newspapers from the past 2,000 years of European history from over 1,000 archives in the European Union. The French National Library's Gallica links to about eight lakh digitised books, newspapers, manuscripts, maps and drawings, etc.

 

Lakhs of books to read, and how many readers? Well, lakhs, even crores. Just a day before this article was written, Project Guttenberg showed that 1,01,122 books were downloaded. And the most popular authors? No surprise there: In the last month, the top five downloads were Charles Dickens (48,591), Mark Twain (40,703), Jane Austen (30,929), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (29,907) and William Shakespeare (28,163). Google, after digitising the Life magazine, has added many others to it its repertoire, and it is a pleasure to browse through them.

 

Amazon's Kindle2 has triggered new interest in e-books and it has competitors like Sony nipping at its heels. What exactly is Kindle? Well, this e-book reader is lighter than an average paperback, while being as thin as a magazine. A wireless network connects it in over 100 countries. It can store over a thousand books and the new text-to-speech features reads out to you. As of now, 2,30,000 books and many newspapers and magazines are available. Incidentally, Kindle is also a software program that allows you to download book on to your computers or mobile phones.

 

Sony has its own readers which compete with Kindle. Sony has a good library also. Its readers have some special features that make them attractive. Other competitors include the iLiad, the Cybook Gen3, the Barnes & Noble nook and the Readius device from Polymer Vision.

 

Many people use personal digital assistants like Palm TX for downloading and reading e-books, but the main distinction that e-books have is the e-ink screen, a kind of electronic paper based on research started at the MIT Media Lab. The ultra-low power consumption screen is black and white and you can read without glare, even in bright sunlight. The image is stable, unlike computer or phone screens, it does not need to be refreshed constantly. It reflects ambient light rather than emitting its own light. Thus, it is much superior to other displays.

 

As we see a profusion of e-books and readers, the manufacturers will have to move towards universalisation of standards in technology and in ensuring that copyright violations do not take place. The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's latest book, can be downloaded free and publishers are up in arms against the distribution of pirated books through the Net.

 

This, however, is an old battle, albeit in a new form. Pirated editions of the book are available in Mumbai, Delhi and Chandigarh off the roadside stalls, in the conventional form. Technology is a tool, which can be used positively, or negatively.

 

As we move towards making books more accessible through digitisation, the idea of a universal library does not seem so utopian. The sheer reach of the electronic medium is staggering, and the written word continues to carry weight, whether it is printed on paper or read on screen.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

WITH A WING AND A PRAYER, COURAGE GETS A PARDON

BY ALEXANDER C. HART

 

One turkey will have plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving when he is gobbling about, rather than being gobbled up.He owes his good fortune to President Barack Obama – and his two daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8.

 

On Wednesday morning, Obama continued the tradition of pardoning a turkey by granting this year's lucky bird, named Courage, a reprieve from the dinner table.

 

"I am pleased to announce that thanks to the interventions of Malia and Sasha ... Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate," announced Obama, with the two girls standing by his side. He joked that otherwise he "was planning to eat this sucker."

 

The 45-pound bird, along with its alternate, named Carolina, were a present from the National Turkey Foundation, which has made similar annual gifts to presidents since 1947. The custom of issuing a pardon began in 1989 under former President George H.W. Bush, Obama said.

 

Originally from North Carolina, Courage and Carolina are now at Disneyland, where they will live out the rest of their days. Courage will serve as grand marshal in a Thanksgiving Day parade down the park's Main Street USA.

 

The two fowl received star treatment in Washington. They spent Tuesday night in the pricey Willard Hotel, which also hosted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after that night's state dinner. And they flew to California in the first-class section, not the cargo hold.

 

From an early age, the birds had been taken to schools so they could become comfortable with people in preparation for their high-profile performance, said Dr. Eric Gonder, who served as Courage's veterinarian.

 

But Courage's pardon left Gonder conflicted.

 

"He's a bird raised for meat consumption, so to me it somewhat suborns his purpose and existence by pardoning him," he said. "But if it gives people the opportunity to learn what turkeys are like, that's a good thing."

 

The event allowed the White House to show off its sense of humor. On Tuesday, the staff released a video with a turkey's eye view of the walk from the White House gates to the Oval Office.

 

"Tomorrow, one turkey gets a second chance," intoned spokesman Benjamin LaBolt, who narrated the video.

"Tomorrow ... one turkey will be trotting a little prouder as he trots down these hallowed halls for an appointment with destiny." The president used his address to crack a few jokes. Alluding to White House claims about the job-creating effects of the stimulus package, Obama quipped that he had "created or saved four turkeys."

 

"There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office," Obama added. "And then there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland."n

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE TERROR THREAT

 

The arrest of terror suspects David Coleman Headley, a Pakistan-born American citizen and Tahawwur Husain Rana, a Pakistani-origin Canadian citizen by the FBI at Chicago recently has given ample leads to the functioning of the world terror network. According to the FBI chargesheet, Headley and Rana were being used by the Pak-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to target among others the National Defence College in New Delhi, the Doon School in Dehradun and Woodstock School in Mussouri as a sequel to Mumbai terror attack last year. The American investigating agency also said that Headley had personally visited every site of the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai and carried out a recce on behalf of the LeT. Posing as a Jew, he visited Nariman House in July 2008 and mapped the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station and the Taj and Trident hotels. Headley is the first known case of the Lashkar drafting an American for terrorist attack against India. Because of his Christian sounding name and an American passport, he found it easy to get across India. The LeT, one of the trusted arms of the al Qaeda, is seeking to play havoc in India. That it has taken a circuitous route via the US in order to return to the subcontinent shows the range of its terror network in the world. Then, there are other groups in the terror syndicate waiting impatiently to strike. An attack foiled and an individual arrested means only a tragedy averted, not the threat itself. And the threat looms large over the entire nation. And we must not forget about the north eastern region. Although there are no major footprints of Jehadi terrorism in NE region, there is likely to be a convergence of the radical elements in neighbouring Bangladesh. Headley's arrest should be an eye-opener to the security agencies here.


One of the resolutions taken up by the leaders of the G-8 Summit on terrorism in St Petersburg in 2006 included "engaging in active dialogue with civil society to help prevent terrorism." How far have we been able to achieve that? That fact is that like the terrorists who work overnight with the sole aim to create terror and spread mayhem, ordinary members of the civil society hardly engage themselves in discussions, to counter the terror threat. And it is in this perspective that the nation has to take the initiative. Instead of relying solely on the Central Intelligence, the intelligence at the local level has to be enhanced so that no terror suspect can roam around freely plotting terror strikes like Headley did. The intelligence sharing between the official security agencies and the public has to reach a new height. Every individual of the civil society has to be made aware of the threat that he faces from a bundh of fanatics whom he does not consider to be his enemies. Headley's arrest has been a great lesson to the security establishment of the nation. If need be, the entire mode in intelligence sharing has to be overhauled. Sooner we do it, the better.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

JUMPING FOOD INFLATION

 

Soaring prices of daily consumption staples like potatoes and onions have pushed up further the index of food inflation to over 14 per cent on year-to-year, basis, in the first week of November, 2009, as shown by the data on wholesale price index released by the Union Commerce Ministry recently. Thus, India's annual food inflation moved up to 14.55 per cent for the week ended November 7 from 13.68 per cent the week-before. The 52-week average prices of onions now selling at around Rs 30 a kg and potatoes at Rs 25 per kg were higher by 35 per cent and 31 per cent respectively compared to last year. Statistics also shows average prices of vegetables going up by 18 per cent, pulses by 17 per cent, rice by 16 per cent and fruits and milk by 7 and 8 per cent respectively in the course of one year. Pulses which were once considered the cheapest and nutritious food for poor people have now become the privilege of the richer section of people. It is important to note that food prices are the pace-setters for general price index for consumers and the rise in consumer prices does not take time to spread to other areas of non-food consumer goods and services. The huge amount of money put into circulation through various means ranging from stimulus packages to huge salary hikes by the Central and State governments for their employees at the back of the worst type of dry spell and floods resulting in poor harvest have also added further fuel to the prevailing food inflation. It is well known that the unscrupulous and dishonest traders are in the habit of promptly taking advantage of the scarcity situation in the form of hoarding and black marketing. Though the Centre had alerted its own administration as well as the States against such a fall out and asked them to take drastic measures to encounter dishonest deals of traders and black marketeers with respect to essential commodities such as pulses, sugar, edible oil, potatoes, onions, kerosene oil etc, no such steps being taken by the government are yet to be in sight.


The Prime Minister also reiterated that the Centre and the States must work together to take effective measures to tide over the crisis situation and must put to order the scandalous public distribution system which is an important safety net for the poor people and for price stability. However, it is surprising to observe that while essential goods like kerosene oil are scarcely available in public distribution channel, they are abundantly sold in black market eg, kerosene is available at a price ranging between Rs 25 and Rs 30 a litre as against controlled price of Rs 9 in the open market while no action is initiated against the wrong doers. If things go this way, the price situation will go from bad to worse. One fails to understand if the State governments, particularly in this part of the country have completely surrendered to the whims of the traders. The absence of any concerted consumer movement is also to be equally blamed. A stern action by the State against artificial scarcity created by hoarders is essential in its endeavour to moderate consumer prices along with the Centre's decision to import scarce commodities like rice, wheat, pulses, potatoes and onions.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NATIONAL AGENDA OF INCLUSIVE GROWTH

HITENDRA NATH SARMA

 

In one of the profoundest tragedies of the twentieth century, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the greatest among the American playwrights, Willy Loman, the hero of the play, spells out the senselessness of all the strivings of his life to "accomplish something" in a telling manner as follows: "Work a lifetime to pay off a house. You finally own it, and there's nobody to live in it." Willy Lowman's life is a psychological journey without effective correspondences to real-life situations, and naturally it ends up like that of Hamlet's in futility.


"Futility" is not the exact description of the state of economic affairs we have been thrust into; but it is no better than a murky confusion of disconcerting groans of the teeming majority heavily shadowing the smiles of the tiny minority – a phenomenon which had not been seriously and adequately recognized and responded to by our political system. We have still been taught to rely on an economy that behaves in averages and doesn't seem to weigh the failures of the overwhelming majority. The question of inclusive growth therefore comes on top of the national, and therefore, the regional or the state, agenda of economic planning and faithful execution of that planning. The strategy of inclusive growth opposes the theory of trickling down to the gaping mouths.


The determining features of inclusive growth are sustainability and togetherness; and the principal variables are re- generation of rural economy through increased agricultural production including the whole spectrum of village based production, establishment of a direct and easy to reach marketing network, increased industrial production and adequate infrastructure facilities such as all weather roads, participatory governance, devolution of adequate finances, proper fiscal and budgetary policies, effective communication facilities, electricity, irrigation and water resources, drinking water and sanitation, housing, health services and education. Apart from these physical variables, there is the attitudinal variable of the positive will to work.


The government headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh surely deserves commendation for adopting the concept of inclusive growth in its economic agenda. His Finance Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, is an avid advocate of inclusive growth. He says," Inclusive growth is imperative and it will have to be enlarged and expanded." In an attempt to define inclusive growth Mr. Mukharjee says, "To be more specific, inclusive growth is a strategy where there will not only be growth but it will be achieved through certain instrumentalities so that the benefits reach the largest section of the society and that the maximum number of people are able to derive benefits from these developmental projects." Mr. Mukherjee realizes the difficulties that waylay the successful implementation of the policy of inclusive growth in a country like India where "variety of divergences" prevail and for undoing of those difficulties he says that it "would require huge effective intervention from the policy makers as well as the planners."


Accordingly, the present government at the centre has adopted the "bottom up" policy in order that the vast majority of the people living in the villages get the benefits directly for their proper resurgence during the 11th plan period itself. Apart from the projections of necessary build up of rural infrastructure on all fronts such as governance through Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs), finance, telecommunication, roads, electrification, irrigation and water resources, drinking water and sanitation, environment protection, housing, health and education, the government has introduced two ambitious schemes – National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) –particularly to benefit the poorer section of the village community. The government at the centre is also encouraging the inroad of private sector efficiencies in the provision of infrastructure and their proper maintenance through the option of Public Private Partnership (PPP)

For resurging the rural India the Government of India adopted the Bharat Nirman Yojana in 2004-05 with a total outplay of Rs. 1,74,000 crore for the period from 2005 to 2009 with the basic objective to build rural infrastructure in order to provide an instrument to guarantee rural employment , health and education through NREGA, NRHM and SSA. Separate provision of a corpus fund Rs.4000 crore for 2006-07 under the head of rural roads as a necessary component of Bharat Nirman Yojana was made . The Prime Minister's Gramin Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) was created as the monitoring scheme of this component.


Due emphasis has been given at the national level on basic health care services such as reproductive and child health, immunization, ante- natal care etc. in remote areas. In education as well the policy during 11th plan with regard to SSA has been changed from universal enrolment to universal retention and quality. The governance of schools is sought to be made more effective through formation of Village Education Committees. During 11th plan period 6% of GDP is earmarked as the total allocation for education so that quality of elementary and secondary education could better be achieved through greater expansion of infrastructure accompanied with proper reforms and strategies.


Whereas at the all India level the projects, schemes and the options of inclusive growth are beginning to show some good result, in Assam the success has remained an elusive and far cry. The PRIs have been functioning devoid of the gusto, devoid of the genuine devolution of power for effective governance, devoid of proper training. The PRIs can be the most effective instrument for rural transformation provided the government has the will to make them as such. The inanity of the PRIs in Assam to deliver the good to the rural communities is due to several factors. The most important of them all is the tendency of many of the MPs and MLAs of the party in power to use the grass-root level representatives in the PRIs as their dependents as if with no will and no real authority of their own to devise their activities. The superior democrats flare with their extra-constitutional authority to interfere in the functioning of the elected representatives of the grass-root level institutions of rural governance. Another stumbling - block is the agency called DRDA which is alleged to be meddling unnecessarily in the affairs of the PRIs and making a "mockery" of them.


The slow and inefficient implementation of Bharat Nirman Yojana in the state of Assam eludes the hope that it raised at the beginning. NREGA itself has become implicated in the charges of corruption and inefficiency.


The rural health sector in Assam is yet to respond comprehensively to the needs of the people due mostly for dearth of adequate infrastructural support, such as all weather roads, necessary building provisions, drinking water and sanitation facilities, adequate medicine and lab facility and also for lack of sufficient no of doctors, nurses and qualified paramedics. The education sector is perhaps in the most degenerate state with little monitoring of the system functioning, far too less accountability, rampant corruption, steady decline in the number of good quality teachers, inadequate infrastructure, poor quality of text books, and the mighty plague of Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). With a puerile state of education can the state achieve any substantial growth in the rural side?


With the scenario of a similar kind of helplessness in all other sectors of growth, Assam is found in a state of debacle in its journey towards inclusive growth. What is needed in this hour is a revolutionary change in the mind sets of our political leaders, economic thinkers and planners, social activists and, above all, our bureaucrats so that a genuinely democratic spirit binds us all together in the sealing bonds of participation in our triumphant march towards growth and progress.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RAYS OF HOPE FOR WOMEN

DR TAPATI BARUAH KASHYAP

 

A recent decision of the United Nations to create a separate and more powerful agency for women has raised new hopes for women across the globe. This has been already hailed as a major step towards providing a new boost to the process of women empowerment. It was on September 14, 2009, that the General Assembly of the UN adopted a resolution on improving system-wide coherence within the UN structure. The new consolidated body is to be headed by an under secretary general, with the underlined agenda of dealing with issues concerning women. This historic resolution adopted by the 192-member General Assembly incorporates in the new body four existing organizations – the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of women, the office of the Special Adviser of Gender Issues and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW).


Women around the world have waited a long time for the United Nations and its member States to fulfil the promises made since the first International Women's Year in 1975, which was followed by the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) exactly 30 years ago. Needless to recall, several major promises were made in the World Conferences in Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described the creation of this new body as an important step towards what he described as "a more robust promotion" of women's rights under the new entity. "An important step has been made in strengthening the United Nations' work in the area of gender equality and empowerment of women, as well as'in ensuring the effective delivery of its operational activities for development, which constitutes the other key components of the resolution," Ban Ki-moon has said. The UN Secretary-General has in the meantime taken the first step towards fulfilment of the renewed commitment by announcing the appointment of more women to the rank of Under-Secretary-General. The number of women in senior posts in the UN has already increased by 40 per cent under his tenure.


It is important to note that although CEDAW was adopted 30 years back, the process of women empowerment is yet to touch every nook and corner of the world. The irony of the situation is that much has been thought and many women-related policies and measures have been taken up, yet women development indices have not yet become equal with those of men. That exactly is why the CEDAW Committee has of late been putting main emphasis on the concept of substantive equality.


According to this concept, "In order to move from formal notions of equality promised on the notion of sameness between people situated in similar circumstances towards a substantive definition of equality which takes into account diversity, difference, disadvantage and discrimination, we need to look at the conditions that are necessary to make this move. It is clear that `equal treatment' of women and men is not sufficient to transform the situation of women—neutrality does not allow for sensitivity to disadvantages that may not permit some people to benefit from the equal treatment. Hence the focus must move to an emphasis on equal outcomes or equal benefits".


Women empowerment processes have been made stronger with each passing day. New policies have been adopted by different countries in accordance with different International Conventions. Does it signify that women as a whole are beneficiary of all these policies and schemes? Some of the women friendly policies have not been interpreted properly at the grass root level. That is why; many ignorant and illiterate women are made to be merely silent victims of the whole situation. As a result, women empowerment process remains sometimes stagnant. One of the important Millennium Development goals is for empowering women and that is the only way to achieve overall development. Women must come forward to participate in empowerment process and women should get equal opportunities to enjoy their rights.


The indices of women development show that women fail to achieve equal status with men, as their opportunities despite several women friendly policies, are very limited. Women are still made to be the victims of traditional outlook. Male chauvinism is still perceptible in our society.


With that, some other reasons behind this may be for women's unpaid work. Most of women's works remain unrecognized. Although most of the educated women have come forward to occupy jobs, yet while considering their status, their work participation rate seldom count their unpaid household work. On the contrary, there are rural urban divide for which women status is yet to be equal with men. In rural areas, illiterate and ignorant women are not aware of their rights and women's empowerment process. Even in urban areas, especially amongst the poor women, illiteracy is a major problem.. Due to illiteracy and ignorance, women cannot keep track with the empowerment process. Even the needy women are often deprived of their due.


Women rights are always considered as part of human rights. The Convention of Eliminations of all forms of Discriminations against Women is based on the perspective of women rights as human rights. So, when women are deprived of their rights that will be a major concern for humanity. Article 1 of the Convention defines discrimination as "any distinction, exclusion or restricting made on the basis of sex, irrespective of marital status, in political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." So, CEDAW addresses need to tackle power relations between women and men at all levels, including family, community, market and state. In these levels one can assess the empowerment process of women. At present, many women in spite of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 continue to be silent victims of violence inside the household. Many victimized women are unaware of it, as they are unable to approach to the nearest police station or court for any sort of complaints. The Act needs to be interpreted to those ignorant mass. Women, especially is Assam, are yet to be aware of it. A strong and impartial women rights awareness movement should be initiated at all level. That will definitely make everyone realize the deep-seated realities of women's empowerment situation in the long run.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CEMENTING INDO-US TIES

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US has succeeded in its objective, of consolidating the gains of the paradigm shift in bilateral relations brought about by President Obama's predecessor. The Bush administration had gone out of its way to release India from its three decade old thrall of technology denial, by cajoling and compelling the rest of the world to accept India as a member of the nuclear club, albeit in the associate category.


This had opened the way for the two governments and companies of the two countries to work together in areas and on a scale not possible before. The Prime Minister's visit saw significant strides down this path of cooperation. Dr Singh chose to highlight, speaking to Americans of Indian origin, the agreement reached to cooperate on the economy, energy, environment, education and empowerment, along with the progress being made in defence, security and counter-terrorism.


It is significant that the section on climate change in the Singh-Obama joint statement is wholly congruent with India's own position on what should be the outcome of the forthcoming Copenhagen summit, with its commitment to the UNFCCC, the Bali Action Plan, transfer of technology and finance, joint development of technology and so on. There has been meeting of minds between the two leaders on the need to contain terror emerging from Pakistan as well.


China also figured in the discussions between the two leaders and the joint statement's repeated reference to India's role in the emerging world order and security and stability in Asia makes it clear that the there is no diminution, in the Obama administration's eyes, of the strategic importance of Indian power whose appreciation led the Bush regime to change the world's nuclear rules in India's favour. There should be no ambiguity that the US and much of the world expects India to play an increasing role in the world's affairs, in both economic and strategic terms.


The joint statement's repeated reference to shared values and goals between the two countries, absent in the Hu-Obama statement, and a commitment to jointly develop vital technologies of the 21st century underline the nature of the emerging partnership between India and the US. It is up to Indian and American firms to build it and build on it.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WELCOME JOB GROWTH

 

An official survey estimates that over five lakh jobs have been created in sectors including textiles, automobiles, information technology and business process outsourcing during July-September. This is welcome. But not the increasingly frequent bouts of labour unrest and loss of production in different parts of the country. Work stoppage in India can today halt assembly lines in America and Europe, given India's integration into the global division of labour. That would hurt India's image as an investment destination.


One way out is to crush all trade union activity with an iron hand and labour at the barest minimum standard of living required for them to survive and work. Stamping out labour unrest with an iron fist would call for radically changing India's democratic polity as well, towards an authoritarian structure. This is neither feasible nor desirable; nor a situation in which the workforce, which also constitutes the body of consumers, stands bereft of purchasing power beyond what will cover bare necessities. Such a situation would stunt the domestic market for industry as a whole.


A worker who earns more will spend more. This, in turn, would drive industry's revenues and profits . Trade unions should be used as the organised interface through which to align workers with overall corporate goals and to raise productivity. For this to happen, workers must sense that they are stakeholders who gain when the company gains, and lose when the company underperforms. It is not the case that such enlightened labour practices is alien to India: witness the celebrations by Tata Steel workers when Tata took over Corus.

The perception that trade unions are enemies of employers and vice-versa is obsolete. Workers' well-being lies in the well-being of the company. Managements should recognise this, by taking workers into confidence and sharing prosperity with them. Workers should appreciate the merits of flexibility in employment and wages, depending on the circumstance. Such a new paradigm of industrial relations is imperative, for India to sustain its growth.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FIGHT CLUB

 

Will President Pratibha Patil's appearance in a fighter pilot's G suit, instead of her customary saree, sway the minds and opinion of the Indian Air Force (IAF) brass on inducting women into combat service? Will her maiden flight aboard a Sukhoi-30MKI make any of our armed forces heads salute women's empowerment embodies in their present commander-in-chief?


A significant movement forward on the matter came last week when two women were commissioned in the Indian Navy as navigators in the flying branch, considered a combat arm, but the country is still a long way from actually mainstreaming women soldiers, as the Americans have done. Women comprise approximately 20% of the US armed forces now and are deployed in all major conflict zones, while women make up nearly 10% of the British armed forces, most of them in the Royal Air Force.


The defence services' squeamishness about taking this step is strange considering Indian paramilitary forces already deploy them — all-women police contingents, for instance, have been sent for peace-keeping duties in foreign war zones — and Indian soldiers have been facing women fighters as part of their counter-insurgency missions ever since the Sri Lanka operations. The armed combatants among Maoists and other militants in India and abroad effectively negate all the quibbles forwarded by the Indian armed forces about women's capacity to rough it out.


Unfortunately, more has to be done to convince the IAF — which commissioned women into its administrative and education wings in 1993 and into their transport wing as pilots in 1994 — than just getting a 74-year-old lady to take a ride in a fighter jet. The prejudice that women do not pull their weight — or get derailed from their career path by marriage and childbearing — have been dismissed by court judgements or just the dawning of common sense. Hopefully, the Indian armed forces will opt for the latter.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

THESE GENEXT I-BANKERS ARE FIRING UP DEAL STREET

GEORGE SMITH ALEXANDER

 

 MUMBAI: Most 'rainmakers' in London or New York won't speak about Standard Chartered in the same breath as Goldman Sachs or a Morgan Stanley. In Mumbai, they do. Thanks to the 44-year-old Prahlad Shantigram. Top deal makers in India were stunned when Shantigram returned this May/June with Bharti Airtel's plan to combine with South Africa's MTN Group in a transaction valued at $23 billion, just 12 months after it was buried. The deal did not happen, once again. But nobody is now saying it won't rear its head again. Because Shantigram is still interested in it. So is Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal.


For an Asia-focussed bank such as Standard Chartered that was built on funding the cotton and tea trade, establishing a mergers & acquisitions desk was a challenge, that too after having a brush with the then biggest stock market scandal. It did so in 2003 in India, when Indian companies began to look beyond their shores. It tapped Shantigram in DSP Merrill Lynch, then led by the nation's top deal maker Hemendra Kothari. It helps that the US-led financial system won't be the same again, and that prosperity in the 21st century will be concentrated in the world's two most populous nations with more than 200 crore people — India and China. Standard Chartered has its roots here.


"We see this as a huge opportunity," says Shantigram, the global head of M&A, Standard Chartered Bank. "Particularly, after the recent events in the banking industry, most of our competitors are in a much weaker position in our markets."Standard Chartered, which may become the first international bank to list on Indian stock exchanges, is gearing up to fill in the void left by many global banks that face restrictions, because of their bailouts from their governments. It is unaffected by the subprime virus unlike most global banks.

"Asia is a home market for us. We have significant risk appetite for the markets that we operate in. India, amongst those, is a key market for us — we see very few constraints in our ability to support Indian companies from a credit or country risk perspective relative to any of our competitors," says Shantigram, the restless banker who looks at the Alps and Himalayas for inspiration. The bank that has the distinction of being first in appointing an Indian as the CEO, Rana Talwar, has been on many deals in recent years, especially those from the $70-billion Tata stable.


For a late kid off the block, other than the failed Bharti deal which would have been India's largest-ever cross-border acquisition, it has been involved in some high profile deals — HCL Technologies' acquisition of Axon, United Spirit's acquisition of Scottish whisky company Whyte & Mackay, Tata Tea's 30% stake in Energy Brands, Tata Steel's acquisition of Millennium Steel, and Tata Chemicals' acquisition of General Chemical Industrial Products. Shantigram, a mechanical engineer from VJTI, Mumbai, who cut his teeth in a crane manufacturing company and graduated from the elite Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, is also guided and aided by a team of experts.


Hong Kong-based V Shankar, the global head of origination and client coverage, is the guiding light, and Rahul Goswami, global head, strategic client coverage, Bala Swaminathan, the regional head of origination & client coverage for South & South East Asia, all aid Shantigram. The team is banking on its clients, like any other bank. So, what is going to differentiate them other than Shankar's charm and knowledge.


"To be successful with clients we need to deploy both brain and brawn," says V Shankar. "We need to look at the aspirations and strategies of our clients and then develop appropriate ideas. The brawn part would be the ability to provide the financial muscle and flawless execution to translate those ideas into reality."

For a deal maker from IIM Bangalore, Shankar doesn't brag about the complex transactions he did or how world-renowned dealmakers such as the late Bruce Wasserstein inspired him. Instead, he prefers to discuss about the 'New New Deal', a kind of welfare society visualised by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman.


The 51-year-old physics graduate from Chennai's Loyola College, Shankar, is not just carried away by the opportunities thrown open because of the weakness of many Western banks. He is well aware of those strong ones such as ICBC in China, State Bank of India, resurgent Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs, which he has to compete with in Asia. "Our edge lies in the fact that we are more local than global banks and more global than local banks," says Golfer Shankar. Watch out HSBC.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BULL RUN HELPS COS RAISE $2 BN VIA FCCBS IN OCT

GAYATRI NAYAK & DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

MUMBAI: Indian corporates raised close to $2 billion through foreign currency convertible bonds (FCCBs) in October — the highest since February 2007, riding on the back of an upswing in stock prices in the local market.

The raft of offerings are also aimed at helping issuers to buy back part of the bonds under a facility introduced by the Indian central bank and the government. In November last year, RBI allowed firms to prematurely buy back FCCBs that were trading at a steep discount either out of internal accruals, or by taking recourse to foreign borrowings.

Several companies then took advantage of the opportunity to buy back their bonds, which were then quoting at a steep discount. The flurry of offerings last month may be due to the fact that the special facility for such buy backs may be discontinued by the end of the year.


According to data released recently by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Indian firms raised $1.88 billion in October through FCCBs. This amounts to more than 70% of the total overseas borrowings of $2.6 billion during the month through both foreign borrowings (ECBs), as well as the FCCB route.


The last time that India Inc has raised such huge amounts through FCCBs was in February 2007, well before the onset of the credit crisis. Munesh Khanna, CEO & MD (investment banking) of Centrum Capital said that there are two reasons for this. "One, there is a window shutting down and hence people want to take advantage of this opportunity. Two, in a rising growth market, FCCBs provide an attractive capital raising alternative than an ECB or a pure equity instrument."


FCCBs are quasi debt instruments issued in foreign currency and get converted into equity. Such instruments are attractive to both issuers and investors at a time when stock prices are rising. The investors are guaranteed interest payments and also take advantage of a rise in the stock price of the company.


The issuer, on the other hand, can price the coupon on the lower side because of the equity component and hence reduce its debt financing costs.


Corporates can raise up to $500 million a year through the automatic route for a minimum maturity of three years. In October, two companies — Sesa Goa and Sterlite Industries — fully utilised this limit as they sought to raise $500 million, while Tata Motors sought an approval for $375 million.


Most of the large borrowers, except Tata Motors (which borrowed for overseas acquisition), have raised funds overseas for modernising their business, or for capital goods expenditure. But, a senior investment banker, on the condition of anonymity, said that a part of these borrowings could also be going towards repaying their earlier high cost debt.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

M-CAP MAY NOT ALWAYS TELL A CO'S REAL WORTH

VIJAY GURAV

 

MUMBAI: The recent bull run may have pushed up valuations of many companies to stratospheric levels. But, there is also a band of companies whose current valuations may not be reflecting their true worth, at least when the value of quoted investments they hold in the balance sheets is taken into account. The current market capitalisation of such companies is lower than the combined value of the investments in other listed companies including group firms.


The list includes a few major corporates led by HPCL and holding companies of a few leading groups such as Bajaj, United Breweries (UB) and United Phosphorus. Leading the pack is the state-owned refiner Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL) whose current market cap of Rs 12,175 crore pales when compared to the investment value of Rs 12,948 crore as on Wednesday.


Bajaj Holdings, UB Holdings, Uniphos Enterprises are a few other notable examples. The market cap of these companies stood at Rs 5,333 crore, Rs 1,771 crore and Rs 81 crore respectively against the value of investments amounting to Rs 6,096 crore, Rs 2,189 crore and Rs 244 crore respectively. In these cases, the current investment value is calculated assuming the companies continue to hold all those investments as mentioned in the last year's balance sheets till date.

 

"Most holding companies act as a vehicle through which all the investments in the group companies are routed. Being purely investment companies restricts the scope for much appreciation in their valuation," said HDFC Securities vice-president (institutional research) Ranjit Kapadia.


There is the possibility that a majority of the shares in such companies are with the promoters and the floating stock is quite low. In such a situation, the scope for trading is limited for the public, which affects the valuation, he said. Some analysts, however, feel it is difficult to find if a particular company is undervalued, fairly valued or overvalued on the basis of such a comparison. A company may appear to be undervalued theoretically, but there are many important factors one needs to analyse before taking any investment call, they feel.


"One has to see if there is any change in the portfolio since the year-end. The cost of investments is also the important factor on which depends the amount of profit the company would earn on sale of shares," said KR Choksey Securities head of research Maulik Patel. Investors need to study all these factors on a case-to-case

basis before arriving at any conclusion about the valuation on any company, Mr Patel said.


Of the companies listed above, HPCL holds close to 30 crore shares in Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals (MRPL) which were acquired for Rs 472 crore. The stake is now worth Rs 2,377 crore. Bajaj Holdings' portfolio mainly includes group companies led by the erstwhile Bajaj Auto, Bajaj Finserv and a host of other non-group companies such as ICICI Bank, Bharti Airtel, Hindalco, Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), among a few notable examples. UB Holdings holds investments in companies like UB, United Spirit and UB Engineering.


There are many others medium- and small-sized companies where the value of the investments exceeds that of the market cap. Maharashtra Scooters, Binani Inds and Mcdowell Holdings are a few notable examples where quoted investments valued 1.9, 1.6 and 1.5 times their respective market cap.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BROKERS SET UP DATA MINES TO WARD OFF TERROR IMPACT

SHAILESH MENON

 

MUMBAI: Market participants are diehard optimists. They hope to ride out a bear phase, a recession, a full-blown corporate scam or a 26/11-type terror strike. The bottomline for them is, 'the show must go on'. At a time when the Indian establishment and industry is preparing ways to prevent another terrorist attack, some of the key players in the capital market such as brokerage houses are firming up plans to ensure that business is not interrupted — in the event of another terror attack of the kind that the city witnessed last year.


Apart from appointing a retired military captain or colonel as 'chief security officer' and installing a few doorframe metal detectors, equity market players are not spending big money on personal security gadgetry. For most of them, the basic security plan — apart from regular gate checks — has been pegged to 'business preservation' than actual intervention and prevention of conflict.


"Prevention is impossible in mass-scale conflicts. As a company, there is nothing much you could do to avert a full-blown terrorist attack like 26/11. The only thing you could do is to work out a 'business continuity plan' that will chart the course ahead after the conflict," said Motilal Oswal, chairman, Motilal Oswal Financial Services.

Business continuity plans (BCP) revolve around switching operation base, multi-data warehousing, liquid cash management (or vault management) and information management in times of conflict. This branch of strategic business management gained popularity post the 9/11 (World Trade Centre, New York) attack in America. While the original BCP segment involves a series of business functions, the Indian variant only covers 'recovery period' and business commencement phase.

 

"We've got a BCP module that will enable us to restart operations within the shortest possible time," said Rujan Panjwani, president, Edelweiss Capital. "In case of conflicts near key offices, we can shift our entire operational base within 15 minutes. The only impediment should be moving key people to new bases," said Mr Panjwani.


Top brokerages such as Motilal Oswal Financial, Edelweiss, Angel Broking and Sharekhan have already created multi-centre datahubs to preserve database. Most of them have two-to-three data warehouses to preserve important business documents.


"We have a decentralised IT department that enables us to shift our entire trading operations fast and easy. Our data mine is manned continuously. In such cases, shifting key operational data should not be a problem. Data back-ups are always maintained at different locations at all points of time," said Ketan Shah, associate director, Angel Broking.


According to industry sources, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) had appointed a foreign security agency (post 26/11, last year) to identify key security issues threatening the exchange. The security agency had also reportedly told exchange officials to create a secure ring road around the 'Rotunda' and regulate public entry into the bourse compound. Security has been strengthened in both the exchanges post the terror attack last year. BSE officials declined to comment.


The lone possible 'direct threat' for capital market, according to experts, could come in the form of money laundering and terror financing. Former finance minister P Chidambaram had expressed concerns relating to a 'probable nexus' between Indian market intermediaries and active terror groups last year.

Security experts believe that terrorist fund-raisers were using a clean frontman or sympathiser to route hawala money into the market, trade on it and then re-route it back to the terrorist organisation. Around the 26/11 attacks, central government's Financial Intelligence Unit was reported to be tracking over 600 financial transactions it believed could be linked to terror funding and other suspicious activities in the country and the region.

"There is a high possibility of terror groups using Indian stock markets to raise funds. It will be difficult to book them, as they operate under fictitious PAN cards and current accounts under false names," said Mayur Joshi, CEO, India Forensic, an accounting firm that specialises in combating money laundering and financial frauds. "Though we have KYC norms for both banking and broking segment, the checks are not done in good spirits. Banks and brokerages will have to go deeper into a prospective customer's credentials to check the veracity of his claims," he added.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DUBAI SLIDES INTO DEBT TRAP, RATTLES WORLD

 

MUMBAI: Markets around the world including India found themselves lashed on Thursday by fears of fresh financial trouble, this time with its epicentre near home in Dubai, threatening to derail an incipient global recovery and holding huge ramifications for India.


Dubai's attempts to reschedule its debt has cast a shadow on a world only just emerging from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, knocking markets from Sydney to Sao Paulo.


For India, which has tens of thousands of its citizens living and working in the emirate, the concerns are more direct: thousands of its expats staring at job losses and the economy, sharply reduced trade.


India, which gets nearly a quarter of the remittances from the United Arab Emirates and has lakhs of labourers working in the region, could be worse off than most other nations if the crisis escalates into a full-blown one like the Russian or Argentinean crises of the past. India's exports to the UAE stood at $23.92 billion in FY09.


"If they are unable to send a positive message to their investors, it will impact not only NRI remittances, but will also see a lot of NRIs coming back," said CJ George, managing director at Geojit BNP Paribas, which has operations in the Middle East. "It is very likely that we may see one more leg of job losses in Dubai. The only consolation for the region is that Abu Dhabi is booming."


Indian shares and the rupee fell in sync with other global markets where investors are fleeing for safety after Dubai World, the government investment company with $59 billion of liabilities, sought to delay repayment on much of its debt. Investors believe that there could be more troublespots in emerging markets after Vietnam devalued its currency and raised rates.


The Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex fell 2% to 16854.95, and the rupee fell 24 paisa to 46.55 against the dollar. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index lost 1.4%.


Most European indices were about 2% lower after Asia tumbled. The Shanghai Composite Index slumped 3.6%, its biggest drop since August, and Brazil's Bovespa Index slipped 1.1%. U.S. markets were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.


Credit-default swaps tied to debt sold by Dubai rose as much as 131 basis points to 571, Bloomberg News reported.

"Dubai isn't doing risk appetite any favours at all and the markets remain in a vulnerable state of mind," said Russell Jones, head of fixed-income and currency research in London at RBC Capital Markets. "We're still in an environment where we're vulnerable to financial shocks of any sort and this is one of those."

 

The Dubai announcement drove up the cost of protecting emerging-market sovereign debt against default. Contracts linked to Saudi Arabia climbed 18 points to 108, while Bahrain rose 30.5 to 225, Bloomberg reported. Debt swaps linked to Abu Dhabi government bonds increased 18.5 to 155, Vietnam rose 39 to 252, Indonesia climbed 27 to 229 and Russia added 13 to 205.


Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent, should a borrower fail to adhere to its debt agreements.

Dubai, which borrowed $80 billion in a four-year construction boom to transform its economy into a regional tourism and financial hub, suffered the world's steepest property slump in the global recession. Home prices fell 50% from their 2008 peak, according to Deutsche Bank.


Banks around the world have written off more than $1.7 trillion as the credit crisis trashed the value of their assets.

Dubai World's lenders are said to include Credit Suisse Group, HSBC Holdings, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland Group, all of which saw their shares fall.


Credit Suisse fell 3.3% in Zurich, HSBC slid 4.3%, Lloyds sank 3.9 percent and RBS retreated 4.2% in London, where a trading glitch halted trading in many stocks.


"This reminds us that there is still risk out there and things are not recovering that quickly," said Andrew Holland, CEO, Ambit Capital. "It takes the shine out of the risk appetite. It could potentially change the way people were beginning to think."

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHERE IS THAT THING CALLED TRUTH?

MUKUL SHARMA

 

Adherents of mystical sects of any faith such as the Sufis, Bauls, Kabbalists, etc, are usually not the most well-beloved of the faithful. At best, they are tolerated; at worst, abhorred and, at any rate, not very popular. There's a simple reason for this: they seem to make belief an unnecessarily easy internal process.


This obviously doesn't dwell well in the heart of doctrinal liturgy that prescribes mountains of texts to be followed with strict definitions and within stricter parameters. Meaning, if decades of formality like solitude, celibacy, prayer and penitence can't always guarantee a knowledge of God, how can a bunch of people just dancing around the place or singing all over the countryside claim to commune with the Creator in such a hurry?

Einstein, another of the Sufiesque ilk, faced a similar problem with e = MC2. How could an equation with merely five alphanumeric characters in it possibly purport to explain the mysterious nature of space and time and the intimate existing relationship between matter and energy which apparently were the same? It took years of experimental verification and the wholly-unforgiveable deaths of over 1,20,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to demonstrate that simple can also be correct to the point where it can even be used stupidly by stupid people.


Or Darwin for that matter. He reduced a lot of convoluted and unnecessary rubbish floating in the ether for millennia about the origin of species and the descent of humans to just two words: natural selection. The 'It can't be right' — or, more properly, 'It shouldn't be right' — reaction was far more ferocious in his unfortunate case with traditionalists openly lampooning him during his day and their creationist descendants doing the same thing more than 150 years later in the 21st century.


Luckily, mystics don't care because — one suspects — they're done caring and have moved on, or in, as the case may be. It's us, the luckless unfaithful ones, who fume in our temples of devotion and trip over archaic instruction manuals while contemplating the dutiful life; who fret between the ought and the should, the so-called bad and the good, lingering over 2,000-year-old 2,000-page texts that only manage to separate us from what is, who should be caring. The truth is, the truth is not out there. It never was, as any mystic worth his or her ism could tell us. It's in here.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WHAT LIBERHAN REPORT MEANS FOR BJP

IT'S JUST A LOPSIDED POLITICAL DOCUMENT


A delay of 17 exhaustive years, which saw 48 extensions, has taken the sheen off the Liberhan Commission report that now simply remains a wand for political gimmick. The demolition of the disputed structure is possibly the first aggressive display by the majority in India which could be treated as an emotional retaliation arising out of years of appeasement of the ruling dispensation post-Independence.


While the act has been regretted by the brass of the BJP and nonetheless the Mandir still remains a commitment. We would have been happy with a solution through negotiations or a dispute settlement process, which has remained elusive.


Justice Liberhan's indictment of Atal Bihari Vajpayee certainly makes the report a suspect. Under the Commission of Enquiry Act, there can't be a charge without a formal notice or summon, which was never served to Mr Vajpayee, defying the cardinal principles of justice. Even a prominent saint from Bihar, Deoraha Baba, who had died in 1990, two years before to the demolition, appears in the report as a culprit.


The country would have been more than happy to move ahead albeit shedding crocodile tears for an unfortunate happening. Here, we have a futile exercise that is seemingly an academic one, expected good 16 years ago, by March 1993. The opinionated voluminous report is more a perception rather being a document of events and facts with both technical and factual errors.


Thirdly, the report intently omits and absolves the former Congress Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao whose onus as the ruling head of the nation can't be ignored, confirms the overt bias towards the Congress party. Even the context of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had recognised the rightful claim for religious ceremonies inside the temple, being instrumental in opening of the shrine for worship appears nowhere.

One can simply conclude that the Liberhan report has been an instrument of self-perpetuated employment for a good 17 years, raising doubts on the efficacy and intent of the report itself. The selective leakage proves that it is nothing but a lopsided political document that will gather dust no soon.



An obdurate black spot unlikely to be cleared


The Liberhan report is yet another defining moment for the BJP. Despite all digressive diversions, the BJP and its Parivar cannot wish away its cold, hard print as a bad dream. Even if the report merely confirms and provides a legal basis for what the country as a whole always knew — that the BJP had unleashed a blatantly-communal campaign for purely political gain to reach some respectable seat tally from its abysmal 1984 performance — it affixes a very obdurate black blot that decades of whitewashing is unlikely to clear.


Secondly, it exposes the BJP and its entire Parivar leadership as hypocritical, double-faced and fork-tongued. The credibility of leaders like Advani is irretrievable. How can a PM-aspirant even now claim that while that day was the saddest of his life, his life's mission is to see a temple at that very spot? At least M M Joshi and fringe BJP players like Katiyar and Uma Bharti had the courage of their convictions to declare their true intentions, howsoever mala fide and unconstitutional. But Advani's attempt to run with the hare and hunt with the hound has reduced him to a pitiable figure.

Thirdly, the BJP is inexorably bound to be drawn into an ever-more aggressive campaign of justification and repetition of its communal agenda. In this, it would be again committing a cardinal error. This is so because today's India, with its new demographic profile and its ambitious global aspirations, will indubitably and unequivocally reject those who negate India's diversities and those who create instability by tod-phod ki rajniti. Although this is obvious, I doubt if the BJP wants to read this clear message that stares everyone in the face.


Last, but not the least, the report, howsoever belatedly, imperfectly or controversially, charts the story of how crudely and unscrupulously one political party can pick up the issue of a site at Ayodhya which, despite a long-pending dispute, had been consigned to the memory of history as India moved on, and then use it to deliberately inflame religious passions purely for electoral gain without concern for the thousands of lives and the vast amounts of property lost in the wake of its destructive trail. At the end of the day, the electorate needs to fundamentally rethink whether such parties with such stated agendas should be allowed to exist.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CAT IS NOT JUST AN EXAM, IT'S A NATIONAL ASSET

KUMAR ANAND

 

A massive 2.41 lakh candidates are slated to test their managerial skills to seek entry into the country's top-notch B-schools through an exam that is probably the world's largest computerbased test to be held over a span of 10 days. The eagerly-awaited common admission test (CAT) to be held at 105 centres in 32 cities will be a click & hit game for the first time in its 33-year history. IIM-A economics professor Satish Deodhar, who is also the chairman of the CAT committee that will conduct the all-important test beginning Saturday, spoke to ET's Kumar Anand about the new scheme of things. The test is conducted jointly by the IIMs and the scores are acceptable at 150 Bschools apart from the seven IIMs. Deodhar feels, it is high time that CAT changed its paper-pencil format, and going forward, might be held throughout the year on the lines of the GMAT and GRE sometime in future. Excerpts:


Computer-based CAT will probably be the largest exam that would depart from the paper-pencil format. Are you a bit apprehensive, looking at the numbers?

This is the first time the test will be computerised, and I am keeping my fingers crossed. In fact, it would be one of the largest computerbased test worldwide as well. GMAT and GRE the two tests of similar nature have 250,000 candidates worldwide in a whole year, and here, we have 241,000 candidates taking the test within just 10 days, so the peak load is the highest . All preparations are done, and I have just conducted a site visit.

Apart from its administrative ease, what were the other reasons that led the IIMs decide in favour of a computerbased test?

The IIM directors thought the role of the admissions chair should be limited to choosing the right candidates and not conducting CAT. Like any other universities in the US, admission team only focuses on the scores and entry criteria before an extensive interview to select the right candidates. The IIMs similarly wanted to make CAT committee a separate entity which will specialise in conducting the test. Secondly, the numbers were going up every year (20% rise until this year) and we were unable to handle the load. This is not just an exam, it's a national asset. But at the same time, the kind of services we were giving to the candidates (in terms of facilities at the test centres ) were not good. Now, because of the computerised test, we are offering air-conditioned rooms, quiet environment, enough light, little disturbances, and some of the best colleges as test centres.

Will CAT be held round-theyear in the future, on the lines of GMAT and GRE?

Yes, in the long run, we would like to take the test round the year. However, we could not have done so earlier. We need to generate many more items (question sets). GRE and GMAT have a huge item bank, so it is possible for them to have a year-round test. The new system has ensured that from demand side candidates get flexibility and better environment. But to make it a year-long test, we will have to accumulate huge item bank. Once we have a big pool, we can take it round-the-year


Do you foresee dummy candidates taking the exam during the first few sessions to help the serious contenders later?

Out of 2.42 lakh candidates, many are serious contenders. I don't think candidates themselves would disclose what has been asked in the initial sessions. As far as helping candidates is concerned, we have generated sets for the last 40 years and every serious candidate knows what kind of questions have been asked. We can make changes here and there, but the pattern is more or less known to the candidates.

How were the student slot choices distributed over the 10-day period. Were there any takers for the initial sessions?

There was no particular choice except for the fact that Saturdays and Sundays, being holidays, were preferred over the working days for obvious reasons. Rest would depend on availability. If the date of your choice is filled, you look for other dates. So candidates were making their choices, subject to the slot availability. We have planned for more capacity in each centre. This is to ensure there are alternatives, in case there are technical glitches. We will then quickly move candidates to the reserved computer set.


With the test being held over 20 sessions, how would you maintain the same level of difficulty across sessions?
We have had 40-odd CAT examinations so far, and our faculty members from all the IIMs have been generating questions. They know the level of questions they have been generating and know what needs to be done. In that sense, qualitatively, we have generated similar items over the last 33 years and now the frequency is much higher. Going forward, we will go the way the GRE, GMAT and TOEFL are held. We want CAT to be a standardised test, so we have tried to eliminate all surprises . All candidates will take a similar test in 20 different forms. For other surprises, I am not much privy to it myself.


Don't you think candidates in semi-urban and rural areas will be less privileged due to introduction of computer as a mode of test?

We gave enough thought to this. We started giving information about this much earlier. Early June, we said CAT 2009 will be computer-based . Those who wanted to take the test were aware about this from the beginning. We understood it will be difficult for candidates to have the test on computer, so we had a ten-day gap between advertisement and registration. We asked candidates on the tenth day to buy bank voucher and register one month later. The process for CAT started late. We gave a demo as to how the CAT will look like. In addition, even during the test, we will have a 15-minute tutorials on how to write the test.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'INDIAN ACHIEVERS ARE NOT FLAMBOYANT'

NIKHIL MENON

 

Did you know that the world's biggest entrepreneurial contest is held in China, where more than 120,000 entrepreneurs compete for over $5 million in prize money? This surprising piece of information is what VC and entrepreneur Robert Compton is using to tell the story of China's push to create a nation of entrepreneurs , in his new documentary 'Win in China' An investor in a few Indian startups, Compton has earlier produced a documentary on global education titled '2 Million Minutes' . He speaks with ET on the lessons that could be learnt from the Chinese model.


How did you get interested in Chinese entrepreneurs?

I went to China and noticed that they weren't all hitech . Entrepreneurship was held in high regard—whether you started a tea shop or an electric vehicle company. Later, at the IIMs in 2006 I asked student entrepreneurs for the professor of entrepreneurship ; there were none. At Harvard Business School they had 30 professors. At Tsinghua University, I talked to a student and asked him the same. He said, 'Which one do you want to meet?' There were more than one! I mean, this is Communist China. I said, 'Yes' .


Then I discovered that in 1990s there were 25 people in the Chinese politburo: half were engineers, a third were scientists. They found out that steel, auto, mining and oil will generate a certain number of jobs. Then, people coming from America, Europe, etc would generate a certain number of jobs. But 20 million people would be entering the Chinese workforce each year. So what about those who can't get jobs? They realised that jobs come from new entrepreneurs. So they decided to make China the most entrepreneurial country on Earth in the world in 10 years.


They made a plan. Every institute would have faculty and an incubator. Every university would have a research park. A woman came up to create a TV show about the largest b-plan competition in the world (Win in China) and they said, 'Do it' .


Entrepreneurially, how do India and China compare?

China is giving competition to even the US. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report shows that in the first time, this year, the Chinese came out number one. Based on the number of incorporations, in China, one out of every four persons is an entrepreneur. In the US, it's one in ten!

 

How does culture influence entrepreneurship?

Everyone has questions and problems. But the Chinese have places to go to get answers to their questions. In some parts of the US, like Silicon Valley, it's easy to get those answers. But for instance in Chicago it isn't so easy. Indians don't have the (startup) culture around them. Here you are 'hands-off' and let it grow naturally . In China, they say, 'We don't know what you're going to build but we will encourage you to build and export fast, and we'll provide the support mechanism' . That's where I think they're going to win big time.


Didn't the entrepreneurs at the 'Win in China' competitions have bad ideas? What about those who didn't win?

There is a saying in the Red Army that quantity has a quality all its own. There was another saying, 'The way to have a good idea is to have lots of bad ideas' . There will always be more failures but all you need is that one Google or Wipro or Infosys.

 

So what needs to change?

The lack of role models here is a big factor. I don't want to be too critical of India but in the US we have a huge number of role models. Indian achievers are humble. In China or the US they're much more flamboyant. I didn't see a single Porsche on the street in Bangalore though I know there are people there who can afford them. If you're a young, aspiring entrepreneur, you need someone to aspire to.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'OUR PROFITS GREW 32% DESPITE FLAT VOLUMES'

RUCHITA SAXENA

 

It hasn't been the best of year for Siemens India with order inflow slowing down. It closed the financial year ended September 30 with a profit from operation that grew by 32% to Rs 945 crore on flat sales of Rs 8,389 crore. ET NOW spoke to Siemens India MD Armin Bruck and CFO Sunil Mathur on demand pick-up. Excerpts:

What is your outlook on order inflows for the company?

Mr Bruck: It was a challenging year for all the companies in India not only for Siemens India due to the global downturn, which also has affected India. So I think, we did a remarkable job, so we could manage to keep the volume flat, which is good for actual time, and we have managed even to increase our profit and cash, so we are quite optimistic of the months to come.


What led to margin expansion this year?

Mr Mathur: We have concentrated on project and asset management a lot, and prior to the financial crisis we had started a cost reduction programme and that helped us through the year.


Any further investments do we see in any new capacities?

Mr Bruck: If you look back, we always had an investment of around Rs 200 crore, if everything runs well, we will keep it in that range.


Which sectors out of energy, healthcare or industrial will contribute to more orders?

Mr Mathur: We do see that business turning around. Our energy sector of course has been very stable and despite the crisis we have been getting good orders. Healthcare of course has been growing despite the fact that we had the crisis, so we are positive about the future. In industrial, we are seeing month-on-month increase in volume.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WTO SHOPTALK NEXT WEEK, BUT DOHA BACKDROP STAYS

AMITI SEN

 

Trade ministers from 143 countries are meeting in Geneva on Monday to discuss ways to improve the functioning of the WTO. The director general of the world trade body, Pascal Lamy, is hopeful that members would 'exchange ideas' on how to conclude the elusive Doha Round by next year.


In an exclusive e-mail interaction with ET, Mr Lamy talks about where the Doha negotiations—launched eight years ago—stand and the road ahead. Excerpts:


The WTO ministerial next week is more about the functioning of the WTO than the ongoing Doha Round. What do you seek to achieve there?

The theme for the seventh ministerial conference is — the WTO, the multilateral trading system and the current global economic environment. There are two working sessions: one on the review of WTO activities, including the Doha work programme, and the other on the WTO's contribution to recovery, growth and development.


These formats are deliberately broad so that governments can discuss the issues of importance to them in all sessions. I'm quite certain that the Doha Round will be discussed in all the sessions.


This was never intended to be a negotiating session, but the ministers can send out very strong signals of support for concluding the Round next year and perhaps exchange some ideas on how we can accomplish this. I would also expect a lot of 'behind-the-scenes' talks and discussions among ministers.


India and the United States are seen as being at the forefront of a number of contentious issues that are holding up the talks. Could the two countries play a greater role than the others in speeding up the negotiations?
Both are important players in our work, but there are others as well. It has often been reported in the press that the breakdown we suffered in July 2008 was the result of disagreements between India and the United States. It's true that the two were on different sides in agriculture and industrial market access, but there were other countries supporting each of them.


Moreover, on the issue of trade in services there is much in common for the two countries. This said, of course, there is more the two of them can do to accelerate the negotiations. India recently sent a strong signal in that regard with the convening of a key ministerial gathering in Delhi.


There were issues both in agriculture and industrial goods (Nama) that were identified as the deal breakers in July last year. When do you expect some movement in these areas?


We have seen engagement and progress at the technical level on both issues. But the problem is that they are not yet moving fast enough for the Doha Round to be concluded in 2010. The question is, how can the pace be accelerated. I expect that we will see the breakthrough when key players have enough confidence in each other to go to the end game, show their final cards and reveal what it is they vitally need and what it is that they really cannot accept. We should be getting soon to that stage.

 

If the deal is to be sealed by 2010, when would be the time to draw a road map?

We have been operating via a road map since the September meeting of ministers in New Delhi. We have senior officials here in Geneva meeting intensively this week and they will come again in mid-December. Before the year ends, we should have a clearer view of what lies ahead in 2010.


Members of the G-20 and more recently at the APEC summit have committed to taking stock in the early part of 2010 to see what the prospects are of achieving the target date they have set for themselves to conclude the Round next year.


At this point of time, is it possible to predict the timing of a ministerial conference on the Doha Round?

No, but perhaps we will have greater clarity in the next few months.


Is there a possibility of a 'Lamy draft' being introduced at any point of time?

I have always worked under the principle of 'no surprises'. So the WTO members know that I will certainly not drop a text from heaven. The model we have worked with is to produce draft texts following a bottom-up process of engagement by members. Today I see little reason to put this model at risk.


How important a role would small group discussions play in these negotiations?

Small group discussions play an important part in every negotiation. Decisions are only taken by the full 153 members. The WTO has no board or directory which decides for the entire membership. But it is clear that these decisions need to be prepared in smaller groups and often bilaterally.


This concentric circle approach is complex and time-consuming but it's the only way I know to reach consensus. And consensus is a solid base for legitimacy.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'IN KAYA, RELATIONSHIPS ARE CRITICAL'

NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA

 

Six years ago, when Harsh Mariwala forayed into service business with Kaya Skin Care Clinics, skeptics predicted the outcome. But Mariwala had the last laugh. In five years, the company broke even, Mariwala took the brand to foreign countries, and this week Kaya's 100th outlet was opened in Guwahati. The chairman and managing director of the Rs 2,000-crore Marico spoke to ET about the challenges of venturing into a new usiness, keeping ahead of competition and growth. Excerpts:


What is the next challenge for Kaya?

To aspire for more, Kaya has to be seen in the context of Marico, and currently its contribution is only 7%. We should close this year's turnover at about Rs 200 crore. But it must reach a turnover of at least Rs 400-500 crore or it is not worth the effort and energy we have spent over the last six years.


Yes, there has been some impact of the slowdown as people have been a little cautious on spending, plus the Union budget added a 10% service tax so collectively both factors could have impacted us about 10%.


To some extent we did underestimated the challenges of this business, so on an overall aggregate it may show as if the brand is not performing, but as you expand the business takes a certain hit. A new clinic takes just under a year to turnaround and in smaller cities, it may take longer. So, if we stop expanding, we would start making money, but then scale is important for a company likes ours and within a two-three year timeline we should achieve higher growth.


It is certainly a very difficult business but also very exciting. The aim is to improve customer warmth, in fact the next challenge is to shift the focus to make it more like hospitality. The challenge is only because it is such a scattered business.


How different is running a business like Kaya from FMCG?

This is a very, very different and much more difficult though exciting business than the FMCG. Here you deal with the actual end consumer, while in FMCG, we are only dealing with distributors and through them the retailers.

In Kaya, relationships are critical and fragile and if you do not treat these well and you could lose a customer. The challenge then is to standardize all of this, which is where relevance of training, audit, timely solutions all come in. Safety is of paramount importance, as is ensuring doctors, determatologists all follow certain basic safety procedures.


Even doctors go through two months of training and I personally track the consumer recovery process in Kaya. Even the minutest case causing minor discomfort can lose a consumer. In fact, we function nearly like a finishing school for staff training! This business demands a totally different focus. This is why we have made a lot of investments in IT and we roped in TCS to improve our IT infrastructure and network across all our clinics to further improve customer service through this.


How easy was it to go in for this business for Marico as a group?

There is in fact a larger question of when do you go in for a new business and there are many learning curves for large corporates in this. Looking back six-seven years, I would say if it were not for my one member incubation cell, my personal involvement and CEO, Rakesh Pandey, Kaya would not have happened.
A new business needs a different focus, a new team and a will to remove all escape buttons. The challenge here was to create a small entrepreneurial driven culture in a larger organization. How could we do this is a structured manner? The one man incubation cell meant, his job was only to look at new business ideas and report to me with no systems involved. I then, behave like the small entrepreneur and see how we can do a quick dip stick test if the idea sticks.


From the original laser hair removal business idea which we rejected, we scaled this idea into a chain of skin care clinics. From incubation of idea all was done in a year. This would not have happened if we had worked in the 'large organizational way'.


Entrepreneurs do no look at paybacks first. If we have something to offer consumers and they see value, I was sure it would work. Of course, large organizations definitely need to have systems in place, but for starting new businesses you cannot get bogged down with the systems.


Where do you see Kaya's international presence reaching?

Currently our international clinics contributes 25% to our revenues and we see potential for growth, though of course the base is smaller. We have to look at markets where there has been no penetration. So neighbouring countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Qatar, Bangladesh are some of the markets which we will be scanning. While we will look for markets where we have synergy with Marico that will not be the primary focus of growth internationally.


Regulations in international markets are very different, sourcing staff is a key challenge, you need local doctors who speak the local language, so we went to Syria and Egypt to source. In fact, our Middle East clinics look like an Emirates airline with staff from every part of the region! Digital marketing is a huge success in Saudi as women only shop and surf. Equally, the net penetration is increasing as well making our website a key tool for marketing.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A GOOD VISIT, BUT DON'T OVER-HYPE IT

 

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's state visit to the United States earlier this week has on the whole ended on a positive note. A key objective of the trip was to gauge the current climate in Washington regarding India's own rise. The earlier George W. Bush administration was remarkable in that it gave India wide room in the region, opened doors for it internationally through the civil nuclear agreement in the face of stiff opposition from nuclear hawks at home and sharp resentment in China and Pakistan, and invested in a bilateral ties across a broad range. Quite genuinely, the Bush approach was to cultivate India after 50 years of animosities and neglect in the belief this was for the mutual good of both countries as well as the world at large. The President, Mr Barack Obama, it became clear right away, would favour the deepening and expanding of bilateral relations. But given the shade and nuances of America's articulation of its present concerns in the Afghanistan-Pakistan context, its reliance on China on the economic side, and the President's own particular leanings on issues of nuclear theology, India wasn't quite certain in what light the US viewed its interface with Pakistan and China, two countries with which America has enjoyed cordial working relations for long while India hasn't exactly. Some of these worries were soothed in the course of Dr Singh's visit. Mr Obama appeared receptive to India's aspirations and anxieties. He used his way with words to make the Indians feel comfortable. But to take the President's lexical effusions literally would hardly do. On the other hand, nor would it do to make undue caution second nature in dealing with Mr Obama's America. The key lies in being measured and pragmatic in interacting with the world's most significant power, rather than rhetorical or ideology-reliant. No game is a zero-sum game in this business, it has to be remembered. A look at two top issues on Dr Singh's Washington agenda are instructive. Although "early and full implementation" of the US nuclear deal is envisaged by both sides, especially since it is deemed to be of no small benefit to the US nuclear industry, an agreement was elusive during the PM's Washington sojourn on the vexed issue of reprocessing protocols. (In contrast, the issue has not been a problem in dealings with France and Russia.) The jury is therefore still out on the nuclear deal. On the other hand, the experience can be said to be quite satisfactory in engaging the Obama administration on counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, and the status of the current dynamics in Pakistan. The Prime Minister did exceedingly well to speak his mind freely on these questions. They matter greatly to this country. The President gave every sign of being responsive and supportive. On counter-terrorism, the joint statement was as explicit as a diplomatic document can be, and we may expect deeper cooperation in the field. This is necessary. Global terrorism can be effectively combated only through concerted action among countries, and no country has greater resources than the US in this area. On Afghanistan, the PM was quite clear that India would stay the course. Mr Obama endorsed the value of India's role, rejecting the assessment of his military commander in Afghanistan in a document that had gained currency. A better understanding than before on climate and clean energy issues are also a positive spinoff of the visit. There is today room for optimism that there will now be a more nuanced appreciation of India's outlook on the world in the Obama administration.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

BY SRINATH RAGHAVAN

 

On the first anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, the Indian security apparatus has come under some scrutiny. However, the ongoing discussions have overlooked a key component of this establishment — the intelligence agencies. This is surprising, for these agencies had drawn the ire of the media and pundits in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Indeed, the attacks were attributed to an "intelligence failure". The agencies tried to fend off these accusations by a series of leaks to the press. The government naturally sought to reconcile these conflicting claims. The Union home minister stated that there had been problems of coordination between the numerous agencies and their subsidiaries, and that these gaps had been plugged.


To be sure, there were problems of coordination in the run up to the attacks. For instance, a crucial warning from the agencies was passed on to the Coast Guard; but the Navy and the Maharashtra police apparently did not receive this information. Nonetheless, in focusing excessively on issues of coordination, the government might be overlooking more deep-seated issues that need to be addressed as well.


It is now clear that the intelligence agencies did provide important inputs. Towards the end of September 2008, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) issued warnings that the Taj Mahal Hotel was among the high-profile targets shortlisted by the Lashker-e-Tayyaba (LeT). The Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) also gathered from communications intelligence that the LeT had reconnoitered several targets including the Leela Kempinski. On November 18, RAW intercepted a satellite phone conversation, which was traced to a location about 60 km off the coast of Karachi. Subsequently, the terrorists abandoned this vessel after hijacking an Indian fishing trawler.
Why, then, were the dots not joined? The problem was that these pieces of pointed information were part of a wider stream of more generic warnings through the year. This seems to have led to what might be called a "crying the wolf" syndrome. It is easy to accuse the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Maharashtra police for not taking the warnings seriously. But the last, especially, had a serious problem of capacity. It is equally easy to suggest that a "worst-case scenario" approach should have been adopted for every warning. Such an approach, however, would have required far more resources and caused much more inconvenience to the public. In fact, after the RAW warning on Leela Kempinski, hotels like the Oberoi did introduce restrictions but eased them just a week before the attacks. Notwithstanding all the beefing up of security forces over the past year, "a worst-case scenario" approach will remain unviable.


Furthermore, these warnings were issued by the agencies and were not accompanied by a threat analysis based on all available inputs. This problem stems in part from the fact that intelligence reports are usually inconclusive. By the time they become conclusive the event is already upon us. Reforming this system might be desirable; but it will also result in additional delays. Besides, increasing the number and frequency of intelligence assessments might be counterproductive. Top decision-makers seldom have the time to work their way through a pile of intelligence.


These innate problems of intelligence analysis, warning and action are not specific to India. These can be observed in many instances of intelligence failure across countries. Comparative studies also suggest that these are usually intractable. Organisational restructuring is certainly an inadequate remedy. Intelligence failures, then, may be unavoidable.


Yet there are some ways of mitigating these problems. The first step would be to identify and analyse recurrent patterns in intelligence failures. This would entail a comparative historical examination of these instances of failure. The agencies could conduct in-house studies, but also allow competent outsiders to give an informed assessment based on full access to records. The British intelligence agencies have been the pioneers in this regard. An "authorised history" of MI5 written by the Cambridge historian, Mr Christopher Andrews, has recently been published. Similar histories of the MI6 and the Joint Intelligence Committee are due to be released next year. Such exercises would also give us reasonably good idea of the ratio of success to failure, and hence the "batting average" of different agencies. Apart from history, it is import to sensitise intelligence professionals and consumers to the methodological and cognitive pitfalls that usually accompany intelligence failures.


The Mumbai attacks have also underscored the need for a qualitative leap in our capacity for intelligence gathering. The recent investigations into the attacks by the Italian police demonstrate the sophistication of the threats that now confront us. The attackers and their handlers in Pakistan used a US-based Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) for real time communication. The VOIP number was owned by a Belgian company, which in turn had leased it to an American telecommunications firm. The VOIP account was activated by money transfers through a franchisee of Western Union. And this transaction was carried out under a false name and identification by a duo based in the northern Italian city of Brescia.


Anticipating such threats will require an entirely different order of capabilities and skills. Given India's large base of talent in information technology and related areas, developing the necessary technological capabilities should not be too difficult. But our agencies also need to be able to attract people with the requisite skills. The existing policy of relying largely on Indian Police Service officers on deputation needs to be reconsidered. Like many of their Western counterparts, our agencies should be able to compete openly in the marketplace of colleges and universities for the best talent. They also need to acquire better area specialists — people who have a strong grounding in the language and culture, history and politics of different regions.


Finally, they should reach out to a wider community of specialists and experts. The Canadian intelligence, for instance, has a designated "academic outreach" programme, which regularly organises conferences. These may not be very pertinent for immediate security concerns. But they are useful for understanding the bigger, longer-term strategic picture.


All of this would require our agencies to be more transparent and open to outside influence. As the Director-General of MI5 rightly notes, such openness to the society is in itself a strategic advantage in confronting contemporary threats.

 

 Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BESTSELLERS, NEW WEAPONS OF RELIGIOUS WARS

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

 

Just a few years ago, it seemed curious that an omniscient, omnipotent God wouldn't smite tormentors like Mr Richard Dawkins, Mr Christopher Hitchens and Mr Sam Harris. They all published best-selling books excoriating religion and practically inviting lightning bolts.


Traditionally, religious wars were fought with swords and sieges; today, they often are fought with books. And in literary circles, these battles have usually been fought at the extremes.


Fundamentalists fired volleys of Left Behind novels, in which Jesus returns to earth to battle the Anti-Christ (whose day job was secretary-general of the United Nations). Meanwhile, devout atheists built mocking websites like www.whydoesGodhateamputees.com [1]. The site notes that though believers periodically credit prayer with curing cancer, God never seems to regrow lost limbs. It demands an end to divine discrimination against amputees.


This year is different, with a crop of books that are less combative and more thoughtful. One of these is The Evolution of God, by Mr Robert Wright, who explores how religions have changed — improved. He notes that God, as perceived by humans, has mellowed from the capricious warlord sometimes depicted in the Old Testament who periodically orders genocides.


Wright also argues that monotheism emerged only gradually among Israelites, and that the God familiar to us may have resulted from a merger of a creator god, El, and a warrior god, Yahweh. Mr Wright also argues that monotheism wasn't firmly established until after the Babylonian exile, and he says that Moses' point was that other gods shouldn't be worshiped, not that they didn't exist. For example, he notes the troubling references to a "divine council" and "gods" — plural — in Psalm 82.


In another revelation not usually found in Sunday School classes, Wright cites Biblical evidence that God (both El and Yahweh) had a sex life, rather like the Greek Gods, and notes archaeological discoveries indicating that Yahweh may have had a wife, Asherah.


As for Christianity, Mr Wright argues that it was Saint Paul — more than Jesus, an apocalyptic prophet — who emphasised love and universalism and built Christian faith as it is known today. Saint Paul focused on these elements, he says, partly as a way to broaden the appeal of the church and convert Gentiles.
Wright detects an evolution toward an image of God as a more beneficent and universal deity, one whose moral compass favors compassion for humans of whatever race or tribe, one who is now firmly in the anti-genocide camp. Wright's focus is not on whether God exists, but he does suggest that changing perceptions of God reflect a moral direction to history — and that this in turn perhaps reflects some kind of spiritual force. "To the extent that 'God' grows, that is evidence — maybe not massive evidence, but some evidence — of higher purpose", Wright says.


Another best-seller this year, Karen Armstrong's The Case for God, likewise doesn't posit a Grandpa-in-the-Sky; rather, she sees God in terms of an ineffable presence that can be neither proven nor disproven in any rational sense. To Armstrong, faith belongs to the realm of life's mysteries, beyond the world of reason, and people on both sides of the "God gap" make the mistake of interpreting religious traditions too literally.
"Over the centuries people in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, stretching language to the end of its tether, and living as selflessly and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage", Armstrong writes. Her book suggests that religion is not meant to regrow lost limbs, but that it may help some amputees come to terms with their losses.


Whatever one's take on God, there's no doubt that religion remains one of the most powerful forces in the world. On Thursday, millions of people gave thanks to Him — or Her or It.


Another new book, The Faith Instinct, by my Times colleague Nicholas Wade, suggests a reason for the durability of faith: humans may be programmed for religious belief, because faith conferred evolutionary advantages in primitive times. That doesn't go to the question of whether God exists, but it suggests that religion in some form may be with us for eons to come.


I'm hoping that the latest crop of books marks an armistice in the religious wars, a move away from both religious intolerance and irreligious intolerance. That would be a sign that perhaps we, along with God, are evolving toward a higher moral order.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A LONG WAIT FOR JUDGMENT HOUR

DC DEBATE: THERE CAN BE NO COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE PROGRESS OF THE KASAB TRIAL

CASE MUST GO ON TO UNEARTH CLUES

BY MAJEED MEMON


Though the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab has pleaded guilty and admitted to not only his role in the 26/11 attacks but also the roles played by the other wanted accused, it is still imperative for the prosecution to complete the trial.


Earlier the catch was that Kasab did not admit to certain charges levelled against him. Hence, the prosecution was absolutely right in asking for the continuation of the trial. In June, Kasab pleaded guilty. He narrated the complete story — starting with how he became a part of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), to the training he was given in LeT camps. He also confessed how he, along with other nine terrorists, sailed from Karachi to Mumbai and executed the conspiracy which was planned by their handlers in Pakistan.


However, while this sounds conclusive, it may not be sufficient evidence to prove the charge of "waging war against the nation". In order to define the role of the main conspirators and handlers, it is necessary for the trial to continue as the prosecution can bring forward more concrete evidence which would make their case stronger.
Furthermore, as per our Constitution, we believe in giving a fair trial to the accused. Had the court pronounced the judgment without completing the trial, and just by accepting the confessional statement given by Kasab, the accused — and Pakistan, for that matter — could have made allegations that we as a nation did not give Kasab ample chance to defend himself.


More recently, the defence lawyer of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi has already demanded in the court of Pakistan that they should not rely on the confessional statement of Kasab to try Lakhvi. Hence, it is important to bring all the evidence before the court so that the court can take it into consideration and pass a detailed judgment which will clearly prove the role of not only Kasab but also the other 35 wanted accused who are in Pakistan.
We have already sent dossiers to Pakistan. These include the evidence produced before the court. Pakistan's reaction to the dossiers is always the same. They have maintained that the evidence gathered by the Indian investigating agency is not sufficient to nail the accused who are in their country.


As Pakistan is not acknowledging the evidence gathered by our investigating agencies, it is necessary for the prosecution to bring each and every fact and evidence before the court here and send it to Pakistan. The prosecution has chosen a more far-sighted, albeit a tougher approach, to the nation's most famous trial.
(As told to Jigna Vora)

 

Majeed Memon, noted criminal lawyer

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KASAB'S REPORT IS SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE

BY ROHINI SALIAN

 

I believe the 26/11 trial could have been wrapped up much earlier. The root of the delay lies in the prosecution clubbing all 12 cases in a single chargesheet. The investigating agency, the Mumbai crime branch, has registered 12 cases — the D.B. Marg encounter, murder of the navigator of the MV Kuber vessel, firings at the Leopold Café, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Nariman House, Cama Hospital, Taj and Oberoi, the robbery of the Skoda vehicle and the two taxi bomb blast cases. It would have been better to focus solely on the incidents in which the lone surviving terrorist, Ajmal Amir Kasab, was involved. To prove the charge of conspiracy, the prosecution should have relied on Kasab's confessional statement. They also had details of the telephonic conversation between the deceased terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan.
Kasab's confessional statement itself is very elaborate. He has explained how he got recruited by Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, their terror setup, the role of his handlers, how the terrorists reached Mumbai. The prosecution should have stuck to the confession. But the prosecution said Kasab has been booked for conspiracy, waging war against the nation, murder, attempt to murder, the theft of a Skoda car and for planting a bomb in the taxi which exploded at Mazagaon. Kasab is also booked under the Arms and Explosives Act for carrying weapons and bombs.


The prosecution should have produced evidence in cases where Kasab's involvement was clear — like the CST firing, the murder of Kuber's navigator, firings while going in and out of Cama Hospital.
What is the point in prolonging the trial? Unless the prosecution is going to get some more evidence which would help them, this is an open-and-shut case and could have concluded long ago.


Yes, it is true that when we were handling the case of the 1993 Mumbai blasts the prosecution had clubbed all the cases together. But back then there were different people involved in different stages of the planning and execution of those blasts. There was a continuous chain. For example, some amounts of RDX landed at certain places. Then the bombs were assembled at another location where there were different people. After that, each of those people planted bombs at different places. To add to the complexity of the case, the absconding accused were also involved at different stages.


The Kasab case is the polar opposite — a sole accused whose involvement with different aspects is clear and confessed.


(As told to Jigna Vora)

 

Rohini Salian, former chief public prosecutor, Mumbai

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A TALE OF TWO TURKEYS

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama pardoned his first Thanksgiving turkey.


There is something wrong with this concept. Here is how our beloved national tradition works: One lucky turkey gets to live — and fly first class to Disneyland, where he is grand marshal in the Thanksgiving Day parade (I am not making this up). While another nameless bird gets slaughtered in his place.
It's A Tale of Two Cities, except somehow I doubt that the doomed turkey volunteered for the job.
Who mourns the Backup Bird? What fickle finger of fate decided that he should literally get the axe, while the one who was supposed to go next lives happily ever after on the Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland?
The President did not seem all that thrilled with his role. "There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this, where I pardon the turkey and send it to Disneyland", he said.
His daughters, who were trotted out as the alleged champions of the turkey pardon, looked as if they'd be perfectly happy to retract. Malia, who noted that the bird reminded her of "a large chicken" seemed particularly unenthusiastic.


The National Turkey Federation named the bird Courage, perhaps in memory of Benjamin Franklin's contention that the bald eagle was a bird of bad moral character while the turkey was "though a little vain and silly, a bird of courage". If Franklin's argument had prevailed and the turkey, rather than the bald eagle, had become the national symbol, would we still be eating them? Would the turkey farmers still be in business? What does eagle taste like, anyway?


These are the whims of fate that we celebrate on the day before Thanksgiving, when one random, somewhat sullen-looking bird gets pardoned while another goes to the presidential dinner table.


The turkey-pardoning is supposed to be a long-running national tradition, but it officially only goes back to George (the Good One) Bush and 1989. Since Thanksgiving is a holiday that's particularly rich in long-running traditions, 20 years barely counts as an impulsive gesture.


If we want a political tradition, we can do better. Let's all just gather around the family computer and watch that video of Sarah Palin discussing Thanksgiving in front of a bloody turkey abattoir.


There was actually no mention at the presidential pardon of what the Obamas themselves were going to be eating on Thanksgiving. While the turkey federation traditionally donates a live bird for the ceremony and dead ones for the White House dinner, the oven-ready birds seem to be the ones that the President and the girls were taking to a Washington charity. As to the menu at the White House, a spokesman said it would involve "traditional foods and family favourites", but declined to give details.


We all know that Obama is extremely logical. He must understand that the only way for this pardoning ritual to make sense would be if he spared the backup turkey, and the backup's backup, all the way down the line.
Then he could announce the creation of a new vegetarian Thanksgiving to commemorate the day the Pilgrims and the Indians got together over a steaming platter of parsnips.


But since this is keep-it-cool, middle-of-the-road Barack Obama, he would probably skip both the drama and the turkey and go meatless without telling anybody.

After all, if the word got out, who knows how many tea parties it would spark? Birthers would probably claim that no one actually born in the United States would consider celebrating Thanksgiving without a turkey. Glenn Beck would weep over the incipient loss of our freedom to consume really dry meat on a holiday. Rumours would arise that Michelle does not really love her national cuisine.


Whatever they're eating, the Obamas will undoubtedly discuss the things they want to give thanks for this year. You wonder what the President would say. He can always mention his family. Not every man has daughters loyal enough to accompany him through a cheesy turkey-pardoning.


But when he tries counting his blessings, does the spectre of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai rise up through the mashed potatoes? Do the Brussels sprouts all look like little versions of Joe Lieberman threatening a filibuster? If it turns out that there is a turkey, and someone inevitably remarks that it looks like the biggest ever, does Obama think they're talking about the unemployment rate?


It's not really fair. The President knows he could jump-start the economy, fix healthcare and do his ambitious energy policy — if only the last administration hadn't cut taxes, started two wars and created a new, large Medicare entitlement without paying for any of it.


When he's not making his way through Thanksgiving photo-ops, he's adding up the numbers over and over in his mind, and sending mental daggers at the Republicans who are yelling at him about deficits that they created.
Although what else could he expect in a Washington that thinks you can pardon your turkey and eat it, too?

This column was written a day before Thanksgiving.

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

APOLOGY VS SORRY

BY ROD LIDDLE

 

I never knew it was Prime Minister of UK Gordon Brown who sent all those kids off to Australia, packed them off and waved goodbye from the quayside, and now feels terribly bad about the whole thing. This deportation scheme, which ran from about 1920 to 1967, was designed to give British children from underprivileged backgrounds a new life in the former colony, which considered itself to be short of white folks, any white folks; too often, though, the children were torn from the comfort and familiarity of their neighbourhoods and, once abroad, exploited for their puny labour, and treated with what can only be described as the roughest of love. There were cases of abuse, although none of it, by the standards of the time, seemed like abuse then.
Gordon Brown was 15-years-old when the programme ended, but he has nonetheless taken it upon himself to apologise for the behaviour of others. He is now, very officially, sorry that this stuff ever took place. That will come as a comfort to the expats — an apology from someone who had nothing to do with the scheme, who did not understand why it was undertaken, who bore no responsibility for it, who has never met anyone who was the victim of it. An apology of almost perfect pointlessness, then — rather as if I suddenly decided I ought to apologise for the Rape of Nanking. Almost, but not quite, perfectly pointless; the apology at least gives the Prime Minister the opportunity to show that he is human, that he can be contrite, that there are things which affect him on a personal level and which he can apologise for on behalf of all of us. It is the quintessential example of the modern apology; a politician who is not remotely contrite apologising for something for which he had not the vaguest responsibility and for which, therefore, he cannot be blamed. A non-apology apology, then — an apology for something someone else did, and what's more, did in the best of faith.
You might argue that Gordon Brown has plenty to apologise for — not least for knowingly, wilfully, recklessly selling 60 per cent of Britain's gold reserves at the bottom of the market and thus losing the nation an estimated £3 billion.


Tony Blair, remember, apologised for the Irish potato famine, despite not having been a greengrocer at the time of the tragic event, nor seemingly understanding why it had occurred. It was enough for Blair simply to say: well, we — other people, obviously, from a different time — were wrong about the spuds. And in doing so he helped to justify Irish anger, fuelling the notion that we were an arrogant imperial power indifferent to the suffering of our poorest people.


Blair also apologised for slavery, despite never having held a whip in his life, nor owning leg irons, so far as I am aware. This was a particularly iniquitous public apology and has distorted history for a generation of schoolchildren. They are not told that the Africans — and in particular the Asanti of modern-day Ghana — controlled slavery and continued with it long after Britain had decided that it was morally and ethically repulsive (the first nation, incidentally, to have done so). They are not told that slavery existed in Africa long before Britain came along, nor that it continues to this day in Mauritania and Togo and Chad and Sudan. Instead, so far as our educationalists are concerned, slavery was a British invention which began and ended with our involvement in the trade, and there's an end to it — a reason for Africa and the Caribbean countries to wallow in victimhood and an all-encompassing excuse (along with colonialism) for their grotesque and unrelieved economic and social failure.


This is the meaningless apology as white lie, both metaphorically and literally. Of course Tony Blair did not apologise for the thing for which he was at the very least partly responsible, the illegal and catastrophic invasion of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of people killed as a consequence. There was no contrition, not even the suggestion that he might have been wrong in good faith (which would be a very generous reading of history).
Instead, he apologised for the potato famine and slavery — and also, bizarrely, for the treatment of the Maoris. Give him another couple of years and he would have apologised for the sacking of the monasteries and perhaps even continental drift and the movement of the tectonic plates. The Australian premier Kevin Rudd has also apologised for what happened to those British kids. It may be that one day the Turks will apologise to Armenia, the Japanese properly apologise to Korea, descendants of the Duke of Buckingham apologise to the Yorkists and so on, ad infinitum; apologies which cost the person apologising nothing whatsoever and instead confer upon them intimations of magnanimity and decency. There is no point to any of it, other than political advantage to be wrung from events which happened so long ago that we cannot possibly hope to imagine how they occurred in the first place.

By arrangement with the Spectator

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PRESIDENT'S SORTIE

PERSONAL THRILL, PUBLIC EXPENSE


STORY goes that a little boy asked Santa for a model sailboat, the Prince of Wales received a battleship. That must echo strong when evaluating the hyper-publicised flight President Pratibha Patil took in the IAF's state-of-the-art SU-30 MKI. Sure it took guts, and physical preparation, for the 74-year-old lady to become possibly the first Head of State ~ certainly the first woman of that stature ~ to fly a combat sortie of sorts. True it was a matter of pride for Wing Commander S Sajan and No. 30 Squadron (Rhinos) to be selected to host the President. Yet the "history" that was made was of the variety that would find place in a book of records (stunts included) rather than any serious chronicle. No doubt it served as an image-makeover for the traditionally conservative personality, but for all that her squadron of spin-doctors may churn out it was a personal joyride ~ with little other relevance. Only the naïve would believe it will have any bearing on what must be a thoroughly professional decision on expanding the role of women in the military, and certainly there was no requirement of "hands on" experience for the Supreme Commander to appreciate and extol the gallantry and commitment of the personnel she leads. Whether the flight will erase the memory of her arriving almost an hour behind schedule for an official defence engagement in the Capital remains open to question.


What cannot be questioned is that it has been a costly pleasure trip that 25-minute junket in which two other SU-30s joined in. Big jets guzzle fuel. There were other costs too, like the Governor and Chief Minister being at hand, the courtesies extended to them with customary IAF slickness, and hidden costs in the security mounted for the VVIP visit. Not to mention "human costs" in the strain IAF personnel endured, their anxiety that nothing go wrong for the VIP who opted for G-suit in preference to sari. In money terms the sortie's seven-figure bill would be a trifling amount in the context of the burgeoning defence budget, but would that gel with the austerity drive the Finance Minister has directed? Mrs Pratibha Patil is not to be faulted alone, in fact as far as the flight goes she was merely emulating her predecessor ~ with a gender angle thrown in. It is increasingly unbecoming that competitive gimmickry has taken root in Rashtrapati Bhavan. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TRIAL & VERDICT

THE NEMESIS IN BANGLADESH


THE verdict had been pronounced and the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman are to hang. The nemesis comes after 34 years. That it took the Bangladesh judiciary more than 13 years to pass judgment is testament to the tortuous processes that hobble the country's courts. No less crucially, it mirrors the machinations of the political power centres and above all the military. It must, therefore, remain open to question whether the highest court would have been able to wrap up the case ~ whose contours were clear on 15 August 1975 ~ were it not for the Hasina Wajed dispensation. In a very real sense, the present Prime Minister has been able to hasten the day of judgment. In the interim, the political history of Bangladesh has been as mortal as it has been tortuous. It wasn't merely the Bangladesh Nationalist Party that was against the trial advancing to its logical conclusion. The military, most particularly the Generals repatriated from Pakistan post-liberation, tried as long as they could to delay, if not scuttle, the judicial proceedings. And the spells of military domination merely reinforced the opposition to the trial. Indeed, several of those convicted, majors and lieutenant-colonels in 1975, may be permanently absconding. Still others were rewarded with plum diplomatic assignments during the BNP dispensation.


The case came up before the court only in 1996 ~ twenty-one years after the assassination ~ when Mujib's daughter became Prime Minister for the first time. The time-gap itself confirms the attempted cover-up. She removed the legal barriers enacted by the post-Mujib military regimes to protect the killers. And from 1996 to December 2008 ~ till Hasina took over as PM again ~ the judiciary allowed itself to be manipulated by her political rivals and most damagingly by the military, largely a confirmed anti-liberation outfit. The Awami League has eventually been able to ensure that justice is handed down without the fear of sinister and vested interest groups. Thirty-four years after the assassination, the world may never know the entire story of the conspiracy. There is much that has been intriguing about Bangladesh ever since its creation after India played the midwife in 1971.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LEAVE SCHOOLS ALONE

A JUDICIAL REBUFF FOR THE EXECUTIVE


Keeping education in suspended animation is a disingenuous method to cope with the Maoist challenge. This must be the sharp message of Tuesday's directive by Calcutta High Court (coram: Bhaskar Bhattacharya, acting CJ, and Prosenjit Mandal, J). The Bench has given the West Bengal government two weeks to vacate the Junglemahal schools, home to the joint forces since July. The deadline for the rest of the occupied schools is 30 December. The High Court has drawn a crucial distinction between school education and the perceived compulsions of the administration, specifically to provide accommodation to the paramilitary that was summoned six months ago. The area is unlikely to be normal any time soon. Meanwhile, the state took a conscious decision to suspend learning as it were. Which turned out to be the worst of both worlds: neither have the children been able to attend school nor has the state been able to contain the extremist challenge. Almost half the academic year has been lost with the administration out of its depth in trying to confront the Maoist.

 

The government had time enough to place education back on the rails, but has allowed the school buildings to almost indefinitely serve as barracks. The challenge may be forbidding enough, but it isn't as if a war-like situation prevails in West Midnapore, however volatile the district. And the government has distinctly been stumped with the query of the acting CJ: "Is the situation in Lalgarh more dangerous than Kargil?" Also, that the right to life should not come in the way of the right to education. These are crucial issues that call for reflection not least because of Bengal's dismal record in primary education.


Indeed, the contrived deadlock in the schools is reminiscent of 1970-71 when the Siddhartha Shankar Ray dispensation acted on similar compulsions to counter the Naxalite violence in Kolkata. Presidency College was closed indefinitely to serve as a CRPF barrack. It scarcely mattered that a generation of students lost an academic year. Close to four decades later, the judiciary has had to intervene to rectify the folly of the executive, in real terms to help out the child in search of learning. The order to resume the midday meals mirrors that anxiety.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

STRATEGIC SHIFT

RESHAPING OF THE BALANCE WITHIN ASIA

BY SALMAN HAIDAR


President Obama's visit to China, and to Singapore before that for the APEC meeting, has directed new attention to Asia and to the emerging security architecture of that continent. In both Singapore and in China, there appeared to be a considerable concord on major issues between the USA and China. The differences between them that were widely expected to dominate their exchanges were not permitted to become the main focus. On the contrary, the leaders met in an air of deliberately smooth and constructive engagement.
Mr Obama is a popular figure in China and received a warm welcome from his hosts and the people in general. He was careful not to harangue China on issues like human rights, minority affairs, revaluation of the yuan, happenings in Tibet, and other such that have been areas of contention between the two countries. His readiness not to give offence was to be seen even before he went to China, when he turned down the possibility of meeting the Dalai Lama, judging that this would not be an appropriate curtain raiser to his visit. In China, common ground between the two parties was identified that strengthens their relations and could have considerable international impact. They joined together, for instance, in holding out the hope that the coming meeting in Copenhagen on climate change could agree on specific targets for limiting emissions: this came hot on the heels of a larger meeting that had regretfully concluded that such targets were not attainable within the projected time-frame, but with the USA and China now having expressed a different view, expectation of a

positive outcome at Copenhagen may have revived.


PLACATORY GESTURES

Noteworthy, too, is the marked contrast in the tone and tenor of this meeting from what had been witnessed on earlier such occasions, when Chinese observers were moved to remark that it took six months or more for a new Administration in Washington to trim down unrealistic expectations of China and learn how to deal with it. Clearly that has changed.


No less visible is the change in China's ways. Prior to the visit, it did not feel it necessary to make placatory gestures, as it was wont to do in the past: no release of a few prisoners or the easing of one or two stringent regulations. China was obviously mindful of the importance of the visit, but not to the point that it felt it necessary to forbear from clearly stating its own interests and intentions. Thus the joint statement makes no bones about asking for acceptance of China's 'core interests', meaning Taiwan and Tibet, and obtained reiteration of the US position that Tibet was part of China. Mr Obama did not go beyond calling for early talks with the Dalai Lama. On some issues, notably Iran, the joint statement showed something less than identity of views, but on the whole, mutuality was much more in evidence than differences.


All in all, China was seen to be conducting itself with new confidence during the visit. There was no undue assertiveness, and the tone was carefully measured, but objective realities have brought about significant change, most particularly as a result of China's economic success. Nobody needs reminding that China's reserve of US financial assets, mainly treasury bonds, approaches the trillion dollar mark. Its successful management of its economy is manifest, and it does not have to heed those who try to push it towards measures like revaluing its currency. Moreover, China has been less affected by the global economic crisis than almost any other major economy (India has also succeeded in minimizing the damage). Its continued good economic health is important to the global recovery, so this is no time for reviving the chorus of demands that several Western countries have been making. Indeed, the USA and China seem locked in an economic embrace that is vital for each of them and which does not encourage radical change, whose consequences may be unpredictable. At the same time, China's increased leverage is to be seen in its reiterated demand for an alternative to the US dollar as an international reserve currency, for which support seems to be growing. In the political arena, too, China has avoided the kind of morasses in Afghanistan, and Iraq before that, in which the USA and other Western countries have bogged themselves. China's system of governance, for all its democratic deficiencies, can thus claim to have served well, and external pressure for reform, once so strident, is currently muted. If anything, it is China that feels it can push for reform of undesirable US policies and practices, witness the demands made to Mr Obama to cut out protectionism.


RESTRAINED REACTION

Much attention has been directed in India to the portion of the US-China joint communiqué that is devoted to South Asia. This has come as a surprise, and not a welcome one. The statement expresses belief that the USA and China could work together to promote peace and stability in South Asia, which is a maladroit formulation that harks back to an uncomfortable past and gives wrong signals today. Not too long ago, it would have provoked a rather strident response from New Delhi, which is always touchy about anything that looks like a call to third party intervention in the problems of South Asia, especially Kashmir. But the reaction in New Delhi has been restrained and sober. India's position on the issue has been firmly placed on record without the rhetoric that could complicate India's relations with either of the countries concerned. Disclaimers by official spokesmen from both China and the USA are all to the good, having clarified that no specific measures were discussed by the leaders during the Beijing visit ~ though why the matter should have been mentioned at all remains difficult to fathom. Nor is it merely fanciful to suppose that there can be an adverse impact within the region: already we have seen opportunistic politicians in the Valley trying to make capital of it.

 

Mr Obama's China visit is only one of the significant events that are part of the reshaping of the balance within Asia, and between that continent and the rest of the world. Before long, the US President will be visiting Russia. The Indian Prime Minister is the most recent foreign visitor to Washington. Major multilateral meetings of Asian countries have recently concluded or are about to take place. These are all important occasions where the strategic future of Asia is being shaped. India must play its full part, in keeping with its enlarged capacity and widening interests. Age-old problems with neighbours should not be permitted to reduce India's effectiveness as an interlocutor on a larger stage. That is a fresh challenge at this time of strategic shift within Asia, when a new regional architecture is in the making.


The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

OLD ROLE

 

Change can be a deceptive idea in the case of West Bengal. It is thus much easier to predict what may not change than to guess what may. The state's love affair with bandhs and strikes, for instance, may not change even if the political scene changes. Last week's strike at the Haldia Petrochemicals suggests how the future may unfold. Two things make the strike an ominous signal. It was organized by the trade union wing of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist); and this was the first time since its inception that the unit was shut down by a strike. The CPI(M) was the original sinner in forcing the culture of strikes and bandhs on the state. The HPL strike, therefore, raised the disturbing question of whether the party, if ousted from power, could revert to its old game. That this fear originates in Haldia is darkly symbolic. The industrial town and its petrochemical projects in particular are held up by the CPI(M) as showpieces of its attempts to re-industrialize the state. Yet, these icons of the new industrial hope for the state have to be shut down if the political fortunes of the party are threatened. The CPI(M)'s return to militant trade unionism would be similar to the Bharatiya Janata Party trying to clutch at its fundamentalist politics in the face of a crisis.

 

That the Trinamul Congress opposed the strike can hardly offer much hope. If the present political trend continues till the next assembly polls, the party has a realistic chance of forming the next government in West Bengal. Its leader, Mamata Banerjee, wants to change all that she thinks has gone wrong in the state under the long Red rule. She now takes pains to assure sceptics that she is not opposed to the idea of industrialization. But her party's record in thwarting several new projects, especially the Tata Motors' small car unit in Singur, has only darkened the state's economic horizon. If her party had opposed the strike in Haldia, it was clearly more for its rivalry with the CPI(M) than out of a genuine concern for the state's economic revival. It is hard to imagine a time when West Bengal's politicians will change enough to put the state's interests above their personal or partisan goals. That precisely is the fundamental change that the state needs. Power changes people, but the loss of it also changes them. A role reversal by the CPI(M) may not change much in West Bengal.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TIME MATTERS

 

Pakistan has an uncanny sense of timing. Immediately before the Pakistan prime minister met his Indian counterpart at Sharm el-Sheikh in July, the Pakistan government had filed an application before the supreme court against the release of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief, Hafeez Saeed. The move protected Yousuf Raza Gilani from having to answer uncomfortable questions about the trial, especially about the federal government's reluctance to share information with the provincial government that had grounded the trial in the Lahore high court. The timing of the conviction of the seven terror suspects of the 26/11 carnage at an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi is just as perfect. As it came a day before the anniversary of the tragedy, it circumvented the possibility of fingers being raised at Pakistan for dragging its feet on the judicial proceedings against the Mumbai terror suspects. With seven indicted, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba commander, Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi, the trial has finally begun in Pakistan. But the timeliness of the move is unlikely to allow Pakistan to shake off allegations of delay. Despite the meticulous investigation by Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency, proceedings in this case were stonewalled under one pretext or another. Judges were changed, the court was shifted and the case adjourned seven times in the past two months alone. Ajmal Amir Kasab's trial in India, on the contrary, has proceeded with gusto in spite of initial hitches. It is also one that has been held with remarkable transparency, unlike the one in Pakistan from which the media have been barred.

 

All the seven accused in Pakistan have pleaded not guilty, and the defence lawyers are reasonably confident that the lack of sufficient 'evidence' will allow them to walk free. Their hopes may not be misplaced. A similar turn of events has enabled Saeed to continue with his social service and war propaganda despite ten dossiers of information against him sent by India. The accused would hope that apart from political duplicity, legal loopholes too will see them through. Much depends on the eye-witness account of Ajmal Kasab, a "proclaimed offender" in Pakistan, who, fortunately for the accused, cannot be extradited from India. It seems that without an unprecedented legal initiative between two countries for such an exceptional case, there is every possibility of this trial going the same way as that of the JuD chief.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

A NEW PARADISE FOUND

BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

 

The kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked paradise, protected by the mighty Himalaya. It is a special gem. Flying alongside the majestic Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga — an indescribable experience — and then banking to the right into the valley of Paro, where the landing strip is the only runway in the country, I was struck by the sheer beauty and pristine environment of Bhutan. The preamble of the country's young constitution commits itself with emphatic clarity to the social, political and cultural ethos that rule this pure and unmatched country. To quote: "We the people of Bhutan: blessed by the triple gem, the protection of our guardian deities, the wisdom of our leaders, the everlasting fortunes of the Pelden Drukpa and the guidance of his Majesty the Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck: Solemnly pledge ourselves to strengthen the sovereignty of Bhutan, to secure the blessings of liberty, to ensure justice and tranquillity and to enhance the unity, happiness and well-being of the people for all time…"

 

Unencumbered by colonization and the devastating after-effects of foreign domination that brings with it spiritual and cultural upheavals, this young democracy escaped the turmoil that complicated socio-cultural realities elsewhere in the sub-continent. A traditional monarchy, Bhutan became a democratic State recently and has spelt out its mandate clearly in its constitution. Traditional culture, skills and the natural environment have an exalted position in the larger scheme of policy and governance. Apart from pledging to protect and conserve, the constitution declares: "the State shall recognise culture as an evolving dynamic force and shall endeavour to strengthen and facilitate the continued evolution of traditional values and institutions that are sustainable as a progressive society… Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom's natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations… a minimum of sixty per cent of Bhutan's total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time…."

 

REVERSE SWING

In a world where leaders are grappling with the problems of a degraded planet, where identities, cultures and pluralism are under attack, Bhutan could play an important role in leading the march for sustainable living. Bhutan is a proud nation, it respects its inheritance. Wherever you drive, over hills or dales, into valleys, the style of building remains the same. Its man-made habitats are beautifully constructed. Dzongs dominate the landscape with their imposing presence, their white walls rising high, embellished with painted lintels and small window frames. Private homes and public offices follow the same style.

 

Wide-eyed groups of tourists, loud and cheery, have not overwhelmed these wondrous valleys, making irrational demands for things that do not belong to the inherent ethos of this mountain kingdom. Pride in their national dress, in what they eat, is evident here. Travellers are welcome to partake of the culture, faith and environment. Rules are enforced and damage is minimal. In a capital of 100,000 inhabitants, it was remarkable to find 250 students training in sculpture, wood work, painting, weaving and embroidery. This is a high percentage compared to India, a country with a lot of human resource, where pride stands diluted, and traditional skills are ignored.

 

India, as the 'big sister' of the Saarc nations, has a lot to learn from this small kingdom. We have failed to give dignity to our skill sector, allowed the worst kind of buildings to take over our habitats, with public works departments across the country drowning every semblance of our traditional aesthetics in a quagmire of concrete blocks that have pockmarked the landscape. We have mutilated our natural treasures, poisoned our rivers, methodically killed our inheritance. We must reverse the trend.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TOO EASY A CONCLUSION

EVEN THE LIBERHAN REPORT CITES CONSPIRACY, AN INDIAN FAVOURITE

SWAPAN DASGUPTA

 

In the normal course, some 17 years of single-minded perusal of a subject — backed by an army of researchers and support staff and privileged access to government records and all the relevant individuals — should have resulted in a work that is magisterial, rigorous, incisive and almost definitive. It is a commentary on Manmohan Singh Liberhan that all the privileges and perks of the government of India and an astonishingly flexible deadline couldn't inspire him to produce a report on the "sequence and events leading to and all the facts and circumstances relating to the occurrence at the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992" that would have been cherished for its fairness and legal erudition. Instead, the country has been, first, "leaked", and subsequently presented with, a report that may well serve as a model for undistinguished prose, empirical inadequacies and tendentious generalizations.

 

A cabinet under pressure to respond speedily to contain the damage arising from a breach of parliamentary privilege met hurriedly for 30 minutes to consider the report. India's political guardians considered a clutch of recommendations, including profundities such as "It is inherently unfair, immoral and legally dubious to hold democracy hostage to religious and casteist blackmail", and "As members of a single union, the State Governments must… trust the union government and expect a reciprocal trust as well". The monosyllabic response of the government's action taken report to most of the insights of the commission was: "Agreed."

 

Displaying a sense of humour that is otherwise not very evident, the report's recommendations include the observation that: "In the first half of their career, most officers fall prey to extraneous influence for securing transfers and postings or other benefits for themselves. In the latter half, the emphasis is equally on finding out and securing a roosting ground for their post-retirement period." To this unexpected display of candidness, an astonished government could only respond: "Noted."

 

To those interested in governance, the Liberhan Commission has thrown up a multitude of issues. The more abstruse of these centre on the wisdom of charging the Rs 8 crore or so spent by the commission on salaries (not including expenses) to the national rural employment guarantee scheme. At a more sublime level, there are concerns over the unrestricted licence granted to State-appointed commissions of inquiry to reflect on life in general. Since one inquiry report often becomes a template for another, there may be some virtue in imposing a set of guidelines to prevent the rigorous exploration of a specific subject from being embellished by lessons in undergraduate civics.

 

The extent to which the premises of one inquiry are reproduced in another is quite remarkable. In the past two decades or so, there have been three inquiry reports, all three divulged to the media before being presented to Parliament, that have pursued a common thread: conspiracy.

 

The Thakkar Commission report on the assassination of Indira Gandhi, presented to the government in February 1986, but suppressed till it was leaked to the media in March 1989, recommended that the "Central government should seriously consider the question of appropriate agencies to investigate the matter as regards the involvement of R.K. Dhawan, the then special assistant to the former prime minister". To C.K. Thakkar, Indira Gandhi's death at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards seemed a consequence of a palace conspiracy.

 

In a similar vein, the Jain Commission of inquiry — which was given 12 extensions — into the death of Rajiv Gandhi at the hands of a Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam death squad in 1991, had its interim report leaked to the media in 1997. Relying quite heavily on Intelligence Bureau inputs, the 5,280-page report, comprising eight volumes of interim findings, also smelt an elaborate conspiracy that stretched from the LTTE-held Northern Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu. M.C. Jain held the then Tamil Nadu chief minister, M. Karunanidhi, and his Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam responsible for abetting Rajiv's murderers. It also went on to blame the former prime ministers, V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar, for being indifferent to the threats to Rajiv's life. The Congress responded angrily to the report, demanded the dropping of all DMK ministers from the Union council of ministers and subsequently withdrew support to the I.K. Gujral-led United Front government.

 

This week, and perhaps because it, too, included suggestions of an elaborate conspiracy that extended from the top to the lowest rung of the sangh parivar, the Liberhan Commission was leaked to the media. Unfortunately for those who fed the media, there are as yet no indications that the political fallout of Liberhan's experiments with truth will have as devastating a consequence as the reports of Thakkar and Jain — perhaps a case of diminishing returns from conspiracies.

 

A feature of the Liberhan report is its post-facto rationalization of events that at that time seemed to be discordant. That there was a loose coordination between the various arms of what has come to be known as the sangh parivar isn't in any serious doubt. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and, for that matter, sundry sadhus and sants were, after all, working for a common cause: the construction of a grand Ram temple at the site of the erstwhile Babri Masjid. Yet there were important differences.

 

The BJP, for example, had to combine its commitment to the temple with the imperatives of running a state government and respecting the rule of law. Just three months prior to the demolition, the state government run by Kalyan Singh was put into an awkward position by obstinate sants and sadhus (unconnected to the RSS) who refused to obey a Supreme Court directive to desist from constructing a ceremonial gate and a podium at a distance from the disputed shrine. The BJP believed the sadhus were being obstinate and it took a lot of persuasive skill to persuade the VHP to observe a short truce for negotiations with the Centre. Predictably, these yielded nothing and it is in the ensuing frustration and anger of the VHP and the sants that we can glean important clues relating to the demolition. Curiously, most of the holy men who added their congregational might to the movement have not been censured.

 

This doesn't exonerate the BJP of its responsibility for reneging on an assurance to the Supreme Court. At the same time, it doesn't detract from the fact that L.K. Advani, Vijaya Raje Scindia and even Kalyan Singh were completely taken aback by the unexpected turn of events. As an eyewitness to the demolition, I can state with certainty that until about 12.30 pm, when a former editor of an RSS publication (and a virulent Advani critic) rushed to the podium and asked for the idols to be removed, the BJP leadership was unaware that the Babri structure was in danger of imminent collapse.

 

These may be trivial details in a sweeping reconstruction, but it does suggest that the perception of a grand conspiracy involving the BJP, VHP, RSS and the assortment of highly individualistic sadhus may be somewhat facile. There were some people who organized a small band of activists with pickaxes and ropes. They rightly calculated that the actions of the vanguard would have an unstoppable bandwagon effect. It was the job of Liberhan to sift through the evidence and present a picture of the events as they happened. Instead, he fell back on the Indian penchant for grand conspiracies that can't be corroborated with empirical evidence.

 

In India, conspiracy is a rhetorical flourish and the commissions of inquiry mirror this casual attitude to a serious charge.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

SHORT ON SUBSTANCE

"THERE WERE NO SOLID GAINS FROM PM'S US VISIT."

 

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States, while rich in style and symbolism fell short on achieving anything substantial. The atmospherics were great and the joint statement at the end of the visit reiterated the commitment of the two sides to their 'global strategic partnership.' Besides, India and the US have agreed to set up a bilateral Counterterrorism Co-operation Initiative that will expand collaboration on many fronts. While stopping short of naming Pakistan for its support and sanctuary to anti-India terrorism, the joint statement also expresses 'grave concern' over 'terrorism and violent extremists emanating from India's neighbourhood.' However, the prime minister's visit failed to achieve its main objective ie the operationalisation of the India-US civilian nuclear agreement. There has been some unease in India over the Obama administration's commitment to implement the nuclear deal finalised by the George Bush administration. While Obama has reaffirmed commitment to the deal, it does seem that differences on the issue of reprocessing persist. Prime Minister Singh has said that the differences are 'minor.' Still, with an August 2010 deadline looming, the two sides cannot be complacent. They must hurry up and clinch an agreement at the earliest.


A greater congruence between India and the US on the climate change issue seems to have emerged. India has been insisting rightly on enhanced financial and technological support to developing countries to enable them to switch to green technologies. The joint statement recognises the need for such support. This is heartening. But how much support will the US extend? The proof of whether the US is willing to walk its talk will become evident in a couple of weeks at

Copenhagen.


The prime minister's visit to the US has sent out a mixed message to those looking for signs of the Obama administration's firm commitment to close engagement with India. That Obama hosted the Indian prime minister for his administration's first state visit is important. There is no doubt that he is excited by India and its achievements. There is an excellent personal rapport too between the US President and the Indian Prime Minister. But these alone are not enough. On key security issues, Washington wavers in extending India robust support. The visit shows that there is a favourable mood and environment in the US for a closer Delhi-Washington engagement. India must tap that supportive environment's potential to take the 'strategic partnership' to a higher level.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

WELCOME REFORMS

"REFORMS OF COOPERATIVE SECTOR IS LONG OVERDUE."

 

The proposal to bring in a constitutional amendment to strengthen the co-operative sector by minimising government interference in the working of these institutions is a welcome move. The Constitution (110th Amendment) Bill, which has been approved by the Union cabinet and may soon be introduced in parliament, aims to promote autonomous functioning, democratic control and professional management of co-operative bodies. There are over 120 million such bodies in the country, some of them on paper, others defective and malfunctioning and only a few working well.


Vested interests dominate most of them. Co-operative societies are run like persona l fiefdoms and political interference is rampant.


The proposed amendment seeks to do to the co-operative sector what the 73rd amendment did to panchayat raj institutions. A new article, 43B, will be inserted in the Constitution which will mandate regular elections to the societies, ensure a fixed term for office-bearers, limit the size of the director board and provide for independent audit of the accounts. More importantly, elections will be conducted by the state election commissions, as in the case of panchayats, or a similar independent authority. State governments will not be able to dissolve them at their will as they will enjoy statutory protection.


Governments have consistently ignored recommendations made by many committees  to reform the co-operative sector, for obvious reasons. It should not go back on the proposal now. The provision of statutory status alone does not guarantee the best results. Governments still influence their functioning, subvert them and very often manage not to hold regular elections. But the working of these institutions has generally improved and there is greater popular awareness of their role. The same will be the case with co-operative societies also. If they are empowered and given autonomy many of them will increasingly refuse to toe the line set by politicians or others and develop into institutions that best serve their members' interests. As grassroots level bodies, they have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people. When they grow stronger, society will gain what the vested interests lose.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MODERN CHANAKYA'S GAME,

BY SAEED NAQVI


PVN was not averse to the BJP gaining in strength in the north to keep his potential challengers outside the playfield.

 

 

The Librehan Commission report on the events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec 6, 1992 has once again brought into focus a deplorable chapter in Indian history. Sadly, no contemporary historian has so far analysed all the dimensions of the catastrophic event. Librehan gives us only a unidimensional, flat narrative.


Several fault-lines had got entangled. There was, of course, the Hindu-Muslim fault-line but there were others, each aggravating the next one. There was the north-south factor within the Congress party. Upper caste, lower caste divide, amplified by the Mandal Commission report. Finally, there was a divide among the upper castes which came across as a Brahmin, non-Brahmin tussle, also primarily within the Congress party.


Let me explain. In the 1991 elections, the Congress, with 244 seats (272 are needed to form the government) did poorly in the Hindi belt. The balance of power within the party shifted towards the southern states.


Since the BJP had emerged powerful in the north, (120 from two seats in 1984) a sort of unstated compact emerged, particularly between P V Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP would not be disturbed in its northern citadel. The Congress, short of a majority, would likewise not be threatened. This implied that Congress' revival in the north would be kept in check. What was the game? Well, if the Congress revived in the north, leaders like Narain Dutt Tewari, Jagannath Mishra, even Arjun Singh may threaten Narasimha Rao, India's first south Indian prime minister.


There are conspiracy theorists who believe that Narasimha Rao and his Sancho Panza, Home Minister S B Chavan, fell back on total inaction throughout the seven hours that the Babari Masjid was systematically pulled down because they were not averse to the BJP gaining in strength in the north to keep potential Congress challengers outside the playfield. Don't forget, this was the very beginning of PVN's prime ministerial innings.


Notice the paradox. There is a north-south divide within the Congress, but an unstated north-south rapport between the Congress and the BJP.


Part of this latter rapport had its roots in the caste divisions sharpened by the Mandal Commission report providing reservation in government jobs to 'other backward castes' or OBCs.


NEW WAVE

In the south and the Deccan belt, social reform movements had gradually ironed out caste divisions since the 1930s. It was in the Hindi belt where the political consequences of Mandal Commission set into motion turbulent, tectonic shifts. Emergence of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati duet shook the entrenched caste elite which straddled both sides of the Congress-BJP divide.


The Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid conflict was the BJP's device to consolidate Hindus around a potent, emotive issue. The Mandir movement, in considerable measure, was to neutralise Mandal. In other words, a desire to minimise Hindu fragmentation was at the heart of a movement which would not have become such a powerful movement had the Babri Masjid Action Committee not become the convenient counterpoint, incrementally and unwittingly strengthening the Mandir movement.


Another factor attended Narasimha Rao's ascension to prime ministership. In the 1991 elections, Congress leaders who lost were N D Tewari, Lokpati Tripati, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, Jagannath Mishra, Jitendra Prasada, Bindeshwari Dubey, K K Tewari, Vasant Sathe, V N Gadgil and Gundu Rao among others. All of these were Brahmins, clearly a casualty of caste politics aggravated by Mandal.


With 244 seats, PVN needed tacit agreement with Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP. This resulted in two contradictory schools within the Congress. K Karunakaran, like PVN, encouraged a soft line towards the BJP for his own circumstances in  Kerala.


There were RSS cadres in Kerala but the BJP had never won a seat. Since the RSS-BJP were primarily an anti-Marxist force in the state, whenever the combination worked for the Congress, it made a difference of just that one per cent vote needed for Congress-led UDF to win.


But Arjun Singh had to fight the BJP tooth and nail in Madhya Pradesh. Little wonder he was totally opposed to the PVN (and Karunakaran) line on the BJP. Over a period of time, this open disagreement acquired caste overtones.


The excitement generated by the Librehan report is temporary. It cannot resurrect the Mandir movement. The soufflé rises only once. But the historian owes to posterity a clinical appraisal of the events leading up to the darkest chapter in Indian History.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S GROWTH AMID REGIONAL TURBULENCE

TERRORISM DRAINS TAX PAYERS' MONEY, THREATENS LIVELIHOOD, AND REDUCES PRODUCTIVITY.

BY SUDHANSU R DAS


Making India strong is not narrow jingoism. In reality India is surrounded by politically turbulent nations like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh.


The Taliban have already threatened to create problems in India. China has been building massive military infrastructures on Indo-China border and in the Indian ocean with long term objectives. While developing trade relationship with China, India should not forget the 'Chinese bhai' who turned foe in 1962 and grabbed part of Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese display of massive military strength during the 60th birth anniversary of the Communist Party of China shows South East Asia heads for unipolarism.


USA's dependence on Pakistan's intelligence inputs to fight the Taliban has compelled USA to strengthen Pakistan's military muscles, which has become the chief concern for India. Indian border states are highly infested with insurgency and cross border terrorism. The systematic and planned demographic change in Kashmir and bordering districts of North East India will force India to focus on its border policy.


Bangla threat

Assam's former Governor Lt Gen S K Sinha in his letter to the President gave a clear picture of how Bangladeshi migrants emerged as a majority in bordering districts of Bangaladesh and would sooner or later demand merger of those districts with Bangladesh. In 45 Assembly constituencies and four Lok Sabha constituencies, Bangladeshi voters clearly influence the results.


The entry of huge quantity of Chinese arms in India shows all is not well in our border states. In 2006 and 2007, Indian security agencies seized nearly 4,000 small arms and light weapons in the North-East, Jammu and Kashmir — nearly half of which were China made.


The US Department Report on terrorism says 70,000 innocents civilians have been killed in Kashmir. More than five lakh Kashmiri natives have left their homes due to terrorism. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recognised Naxalism as no 1 internal security threat. The recent incidence of Maoist stopping the Rajdhani Express gives the message that Maoist can paralyse even train services at will.


Many analysts have found corruption has impoverished the tribal region and helps Maoists politicise poverty. India lost more senior army officers in fighting Maoists, insurgency and cross border terrorism than the number of senior officers killed in the three wars India fought. A group of boy terrorists entered Mumbai, stayed there for a month and successfully achieved their mission. The loss of precious lives of senior security and army personnel and hundreds of innocent people due to terrorist and Maoist attacks attributes to India's delay in evolving a co-ordinated effort.


Terrorism of any form drains tax payers' money, threatens livelihood, reduce productivity hours, triggers demographic change and weakens the nation within. There is no other option but to build a strong cohesive India.

Political inclusion

The nation's first and foremost duty is to achieve political inclusion so that deserving people without political family background, money and muscles can aspire for political power. Lack of political inclusion is the reason why we don't have true mass leader who can create one India feeling among Indians. Today, Indian political class have reversed Mahatma Gandhi's struggle to eradicate caste system and cling to caste, language, religion and minoritism to win election.


A strong India is unimaginable without food sufficiency.   A nation cannot be strong when 50 per cent of its people are hungry, where 5,000 children below five year die every day due to minor diseases. One out of three women in India are underweight and India is home to half of the world's illiterate people. India's Human Development Index is as low as Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Botswana and Pakistan as per UNDP Report 2009.


With 20 agro ecological regions and 60 sub regions India can easily become food sufficient if it recognises its food storage in its rich biodiversity.  India must develop physical infrastructure for outdoor  games which will build the much needed stamina and courage among our youth.


Only morally and physically strong people can build strong army, ensure internal security, protect the old and the helpless people, provide good governance and increase productivity.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

WHERE TIME STANDS STILL

IN A CLINIC, IF YOU KNOW THE ART OF MEDITATION IT WILL COME IN HANDY.

BY H N ANANDA

 

The eye clinics are a great leveller. It is here both the premier and the peasant are made to wait. With drops in the eyes. And both the organs of the vision shut."Please close your eyes", says the nurse as she drops the medication into the eyes. And you comply without a protest. You may murmur but there is no one to hear. Even if she hears, she gives you a smile and walks off towards another patient whose turn it is now to keep the eyes shut.

With eyes closed what will you do now? Are you the disciple of some 'HH?' Good. You will perhaps know the art of meditation. It will now come handy. Of course you have to sit on the chair, not squat as is the usual custom, and meditate.


Time stands still at the eye clinic. While many a doctor writes out the prescription even before you have fully unburdened all your symptoms before him, this specialist or the ophthalmologist as he is to be called, is in no hurry. You are made to sit before a junior first who does the formalities. Then you are asked to return to your seat and wait for your turn for the senior specialist to have a 'dekho' at your organ of the vision.


And you wait — till the nurse calls out your name. Now it is SS's turn. He first takes a casual look at the eye, then peers through an instrument for a closer look, again through a lens which appears like the Kohinoor diamond and it flashes a brilliant light blinding you for a couple of seconds… Look left, look right, look up, look down, your eye lid obeys all his commands. Of course you are helpless.


At last the prescription. You heave a sigh of relief as the doctor picks up the writing pad. And as you walk clutching that precious document you realise that you have spent some 2-3 hours in that ambience.


The other day the ball was in the other court. I found my eye specialist waiting at the school for his son to return from a picnic. None had a clue to as when the van would come. So he had no choice but to wait as his patients did at his clinic.


"Well doctor, now it's your turn to wait," I remarked. "Yes but with eyes open," he said with a smile. And we both waited. I, for my grandson, who was in the same class.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

'IT'S NOT ENOUGH'

 

With the patience of a taxi driver at a red light about to turn green, the Palestinian leadership responded to Wednesday's announcement of an Israeli moratorium on new settlement building with: "It's not enough!"

 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's unprecedented moratorium is both substantive and symbolic - the appropriate response to a Palestinian settlement freeze demand that is both emblematic and a red-herring.

 

THE DISPUTE between Palestinians and Israelis is not about settlements. It hinges on whether the Arabs are willing to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as the state of the Jewish people within any boundaries. Some find it convenient to imagine that the clash between the Zionist and Arab causes has transitioned to a non-zero sum game. That is hardly the dominant view in Israel.

 

In 1920, the international community gave Britain the responsibility of establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. But a year later London turned over eastern Palestine to Emir Abdullah and Transjordan was born. The Arab response? "It's not enough."

 

In 1937, the Peel Commission recommended dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Zionists consented. The Arabs... said no.

 

In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Again, the Jews agreed. The Arab response was: "It's not enough" and they tried to throttle the newborn Jewish state. Israel survived while the Arabs took the West Bank and Gaza. Did they then form a Palestinian state? Of course not, because these territories alone were "not enough."

 

In 1967, the Arabs failed to push an Israel living within the 1949 Armistice Lines into the sea and the West Bank came into Israeli possession. Magnanimous in victory, Israel offered peace. The Arab response? "No peace, no recognition, no negotiations."

 

In 1977, Egypt's Anwar Sadat courageously embarked on the path of peace. Israel withdrew from all territory claimed by Egypt, and Menachem Begin, moreover, offered the Palestinians something they had never enjoyed - autonomy. Israeli forces would have been re-deployed as a prelude to final status negotiations. The Arab response? "It's not enough."

 

As a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PLO leadership was invited to return from Tunis and set up a Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. But a double-dealing Yasser Arafat never genuinely embraced this historic opportunity for reconciliation. Hamas intensified its terror campaign which claimed dozens of Israeli lives (well before the Baruch Goldstein Hebron massacre in February 1994). Ehud Barak twice - at Camp David (July 2000) and at Taba (January 2001) - offered Arafat a Palestinian state accompanied by extraordinary territorial and political concessions. The Arab response? "It's not enough."

 

When Israel unilaterally pulled its settlers and soldiers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Arabs again said: "It's not enough."

 

In 2008, Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas 93 percent of the West Bank, plus additional territory from Israel proper. Abbas did not even deign to say "It's not enough" - he just walked away.

 

Then in June of this year Netanyahu, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, unequivocally accepted a demilitarized Palestinian state. The Arab response? "It's not enough."

 

Generation after generation, decade after decade, Israeli concession after concession, the Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to say, "It's not enough."

 

SO now the question is what will America do? Special Envoy George Mitchell reacted with sparing approval to Netanyahu's moratorium. "It falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli government has done before…" He then diluted this faint praise by coldly reiterating: "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

 

A slightly more positive reaction came from Secretary of State Clinton who acknowledged that "agreed swaps" should be part of negotiations based on the 1967 lines.

 

To take additional risks for peace, Israelis must feel secure that the Obama administration wholly backs the 1967-plus formula. Washington needs to cajole Mahmoud Abbas back to the table to bargain in good faith, and it should extract diplomatic gestures from its Arab allies in reciprocity for the premier's concessions.

 

Otherwise, the discouraging message that comes across to Israelis who want an agreement is that no matter what we do it will always "fall short" with this administration and never be "enough" for the Arabs.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

A TINY DIPLOMATIC CRACK

 

The prime minister's announcement this week to halt construction in the West Bank settlements will not satisfy those who consider the existence of settlements an obstacle for peace. Limiting the hiatus to a 10-month period, after which construction will resume, excluding East Jerusalem from the freeze, permitting the completion of buildings where construction has already begun and making no comment on the evacuation of illegal outposts, all raise serious doubts about the prime minister's true intentions.


It may be possible to be satisfied with the change in Benjamin Netanyahu's stance and impressed by his ability to impose his will on his political rivals, but this is not a political test. This is an essential step in view of tremendous international pressure, the enormous blow to Israel's standing and the threat to crush the diplomatic process.


At the same time, the decision is not meant to bring about a peace agreement, nor to offer a final resolution on the status of the settlements. Its aims are limited, too. Freezing settlement construction, including in Jerusalem, is a precondition to the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This is also its test. The prime minister's decision, whose foundations are in the road map that Israel adopted as early as 2002, should have been made long ago. This would have not only prevented pressure that has been put on Israel, which undermined its relations with the United States, but the negotiations with the Palestinians would have by now reached a more advanced stage. Now, in light of the reservations included within it, this latest freeze may be perceived as insufficient.


Evidence to support this can be seen in the negative Palestinian response, which argues that this is merely a decision aiming to make an impression, particularly in Washington, one that lacks any incentive for furthering negotiations. On the other hand, the Palestinians should recognize that Netanyahu has changed his position on two issues: the adoption of the formula of "two states for two peoples," and his willingness to temporarily halt construction permits. Both are sufficient to restart the negotiations. There are still many difficulties and complex core issues in these negotiations, which pose crash risks at every junction; however, without a resumption of talks, there will be no chance of resolving them.


As such, the prime minister's decision cannot remain just a declaration, or simply something to flash at Washington. The warning by the attorney general - that there is insufficient power to enforce the decision, and that the number of building inspectors (only 14) cannot ensure its implementation - raises serious concerns that until the decision is implemented, and the construction is actually stopped, many new facts on the ground may be established. The weight of the decision must not be allowed to evaporate due to inefficient bureaucracy - something which will be used by its opponents.


A freeze in construction is not meant to satisfy the United States as having achieved a diplomatic victory, or to be seen as a personal achievement by its president. Netanyahu opened a tiny diplomatic crack, but it is too little too late. This is only the first link in a process that Barack Obama has promised to bring to fruition. Now Washington must resume action along the main track, focusing on the immediate resumption of negotiations and determined mediation until an agreement is reached.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

GIVING AND CRYING

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

The "Jibril Deal" - in which Israel released 1,150 terrorists (including many with blood on their hands) on May 21, 1985 in return for three Israel Defense Forces soldiers - was followed by a huge outcry around the country. Because of the circumstances under which the soldiers were captured, but mainly because of the heavy price paid for their release. I recall the stormy argument in the Haaretz newsroom, and the proposal that was made then to establish a policy according to which from now on every prisoner exchange would be conducted on a one-to-one basis. The essence of naivety.

Yitzhak Rabin, who affixed the final signature to the deal, would later claim that he could no longer bear the look in the eyes of the soldiers' parents. But in the public discourse that followed the exchange, there were those who said the Jibril deal would never be repeated. As time went by, we learned that, on this topic, you should never say never.


Terrorist organizations have understood that Israel is open to pressure and sensitive about its fallen, and that its prisoners are its Achilles' heel. Yitzhak Navon, the only minister who opposed the Jibril exchange, said at a cabinet meeting at the time that the government must have the strength to say no to the POWs' families, that there are lines that a country cannot cross. But the kind of hero that Navon called for has not arrived on the scene to this day, and despite the declarations made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, this hero will not appear during the next abduction either.


I have written several articles on this subject - one under the title, "Not at any price," in which I opposed a deal being worked out with Hezbollah to return three bodies and one civilian in return for an unreasonable number of terrorists, thus leading Israel to assist in a mechanism that makes the kidnapping of Israelis worthwhile. The fact that, at a later stage, another article was printed under the title "Yes at any price" with regard to Gilad Shalit, proved how the terrorists have succeeded in locating our most vulnerable point.

 

Attorney Uri Slonim, who dealt with the issue of prisoner exchanges for many years, says the phrase "not at any price" does not appear in his lexicon. Any price is good if it is achieved via negotiations. When you say "at any price," it implies that you are prepared to give everything for very little. Tomorrow they will ask for the Western Wall as well.


When you say not at any price, Slonim continues, you are in fact negotiating. The Americans in Iraq do not conduct negotiations with those who abduct their soldiers. Some believe that precisely because of that there has been a decrease in the number of kidnappings. But the IDF, which has a tradition of not leaving a soldier behind in the field, must first and foremost ensure that its soldiers will not be abducted. When a soldier is taken captive, however, negotiations should be held and closed as soon as possible after the abduction because the price grows higher as time wears on.


One should not relate to this matter merely on the limited level of the return of a single soldier. Our strength lies in our human weakness, and our weakness is also our strength. On the one hand, Israel is a country that has values, but values have a price. It is not merely the fate of a single soldier at hand, but the fate of these values.

"One for one" does not work, says Major General (Res.) Mendy Meron, and even though there are situations where it is not necessary to yield at any price, the final decision is in the hands of the prime minister. It can be assumed that we will have to face situations of this kind again in the future, and it is important to distinguish between emotions and the country's vital interests. It is in our interest not to conduct negotiations with terrorists - because in that way we are inviting further abductions. The greatest fear during Operation Cast Lead was that Hamas would kidnap soldiers. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was in sight of achieving a deal, retreated at the last moment, perhaps so that the concessions would fall on the shoulders of his successor.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken a courageous step to reach a deal. He realized that Hamas is better than we are at bargaining in a souk. Everyone knows the price is high and that, at this point, there is no choice but to pay it. This heavy responsibility has been placed on the government. There are a number of cabinet ministers who are opposed; they are counting on the approval of the deal without their vote, and then at least they'll be regarded as not having been involved in approving it. However in a government where there is collective responsibility, and one which will have to face complicated tests in the near future, Netanyahu will have to make sure that those who vote against will not remain in the government. "Crying and giving" is not an acceptable form of conduct.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE 1988 DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

BY JEROME SEGAL

 

Salam Fayyad's plan for Palestinian statehood calls for creating the institutions of a de facto Palestinian state within two years. A common misreading of Palestinian intentions is that they will then issue a Declaration of Independence.

The Palestinians already issued a Declaration of Independence under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. And lest anyone believe that the 1988 declaration is ancient history, they should read the new Fayyad plan with more care. It cites the 1988 declaration four times, identifying it as having articulated "the foundations of the Palestinian state."


It is shocking that the 1988 declaration, one of the most fundamental documents of Palestinian nationalism, is largely unknown, not just to the Israeli public, but to most Israeli leaders as well.


Nothing illustrates this as clearly as the claim that current Palestine Liberation Organization resistance to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state demonstrates that it has not yet accepted Israel's legitimacy.


The 1988 declaration opens with the words, "Palestine, the land of the three monotheistic faiths ... " It goes on to speak of Palestine as having been enriched by a succession of civilizations and of "the message of peace," having come forth from "temple, church and mosque."


This is about Judaism, not Jewish statehood, but it is a powerful and striking opening to a Palestinian declaration, one that situates Judaism as part of the proud heritage of the ancient land.


The issue of Jewish statehood is taken up later in the declaration as it nears its operative paragraph in which it proclaims the State of Palestine. As it moves toward the actual declaration, it turns its attention to the Partition Resolution of 1947. Here it reverses the stance previously taken in the PLO Covenant.


The covenant stated, "The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the State of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time."


The declaration, by contrast says, the partition resolution "still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensures the right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty and national independence."

There can be no doubt that the Palestinians, in citing the partition resolution as a basis in international law for the State of Palestine, deliberately choose to link their international legitimacy to that of Israel.


This can be seen in the startling fact that when it discusses the UN resolution the declaration says it "partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish."


No one should think that the Palestinians became Zionists in 1988. Rather, they distinguished morality from legality, and addressed both.


With respect to morality the declaration said partition was a historical injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians. But with respect to legality, they accepted the creation of Israel, under international law, as a Jewish state.

If this is so, then why does the PLO now resist demands that it recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Firstly, there is a fear this will harm the status of Palestinian refugees in negotiations. Secondly, Israel has changed. Today there are calls to place conditions on Israeli-Arab citizenship. There is a fear that any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state will play into that dynamic.


Lastly, the Palestinians have taken as a lesson from the Oslo process that freely given concessions are a mistake. After all, they said what they said in 1988 and it was ignored by Israel. And further, they affirmed Israel's right to exist prior to negotiations and got little in both 1988 and 1993.


In the judgment of many, and they may be correct in this, it would have been wiser to withhold recognition of Israel until a final peace treaty was achieved, as was the case with Jordan and Egypt.


That said, under Arafat's leadership they still recognized that Israel was created under international law as a Jewish state. If a comprehensive end-of-conflict agreement is reached, they will find a way to again make that affirmation.

The fact that the Fayyad plan says that the future Palestinian state will be based on the 1988 declaration is of great importance to Israel, and is one of many reasons for Israelis to look favorably upon this effort.

The writer is a Senior Research Scholar at the University of Maryland. His book, "Creating the Palestinian State," was a catalyst for the Palestinian Declaration of Independence.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

I (DON'T) BELIEVE

BY YOSSI SARID

 

War is conducted with ruses: Is that the way peace is conducted, too? Is the policy to continue the war with the same old tricks? It may be true that official Israel is the cleverest in the world, but the world is not completely dumb. It is still able to recognize the ball made of rags Israel is now trying to roll onto the Palestinian field.

Only the dreadful memories are dissuading me from singing and thawing at the news of the settlement freeze. I suddenly remembered that seven years ago the Israeli government committed itself to "freezing all settlement activity, including natural growth," as was stated in the road map. It also committed itself to "immediately dismantling outposts set up since March 2001." Another commitment was to present the Americans at an early date with the markings of the outer borders ("the blue line") of every settlement. These commitments, made by Ariel Sharon and later endorsed by Ehud Olmert, have not prevented demented analysts from declaring that Benjamin Netanyahu's offer is "unprecedented."


For their part, the Palestinians at that time committed themselves to imposing law and order in the areas of the Palestinian Authority. So far they have succeeded in their struggle against the terrorists, while Israel has failed in its struggle against the settlers. Will Barack Obama buy used promises, second- and third-hand plans, from Netanyahu - from him, of all people?


The "dramatic announcement" is an open door that will allow the thieves of knowledge to enter. In order to satisfy the settlers' big appetites and to soothe their feeling of insult - "how can it be that a right-wing government is the one to do this to us?" - a great momentum in construction will now begin in greater Jerusalem, the construction of 2,500 "housing units" will be completed, schools and synagogues will multiply and flourish, because the natural increase of the settler population, as all know, is one of those things that cannot be measured.


This will be a freeze for the sake of a thaw. The American representatives in Jerusalem would do well to peek out their windows from time to time, so that they can see things for themselves and stay updated.

Do not view me as someone who has difficulty believing. A person is not born suspicious; his experience and memory teach him suspicion. His credo instructs him not to believe. A long while ago they promised that "no new settlements would be set up," and for 13 years they indeed did not. But who needs "new" ones when the old ones expand their borders systematically and poke fun at us? The Jewish population in the territories has doubled from 166,000 in 1997 to more than 300,000 in 2009 (not including East Jerusalem).


A long while ago, they promised that they "would not expropriate more lands." The expropriations stopped because there was no need for them - about 1.6 million dunams, approximately one-third of the West Bank, are today state lands. Land reserves of this kind will suffice for 100 years of settlement - they are more than enough.

And a long while ago they promised to "evacuate unauthorized outposts." From their lips we hear evacuate, evacuate, but in the field it is beef up and increase, and provide support behind their backs. Some 100 outposts of this kind sprouted like mushrooms after the rain of official commitments, made both orally and in writing.

Benny Begin, Moshe Ya'alon and Gideon Sa'r know their client very well, the one who is in charge of them. They understand him with a wink. The three of them did not change their spots when they agreed to eat the cold lokshen from his hands, which he had served us as a hot meal.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

SECULAR ISRAELIS IDENTIFY WITH DIVINE PROMISE OF THE LAND TO JEWS

BY RACHEL ELBOIM-DROR

 

Although most of the Jewish population of Israel is secular and therefore seemingly unaffected politically by God's promise of the land to Abraham in Genesis, it appears the divine promise that "I will give unto thee and to thy seed after thee the land of thy sojournings" holds ancient power. The pull is unconscious for most but very deep, which has an effect on most Israelis.


The influence of this justification for our tie to the land on the secular population rises emotionally above all other rights to ownership of the Land of Israel. This phenomenon reveals one of the fundamental contradictions of Israeli society, which has been with the Zionist movement since its inception.


Such a paradox is not unique to us. It can be found in many other societies. However in light of Israel's geopolitical circumstances, and the makeup of its population, in our case it has hidden destructive potential. And because the public debate on such matters is scant and limited to academic circles, most members of the secular public are in no way aware of the political theology they follow.

 

The concept of a divinely promised land is in contradiction in principle to the values of the Zionist movement, which was primarily a modern, secular nationalist movement.


On the other hand, the secular nationalism of Zionism and the state of Israel has messianic religious underpinnings, both conscious and unconscious, and the use of the Hebrew language provides a host of examples of this (such as calling immigration to Israel aliyah - ascent, and emigration yerida - descent).

Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem had already noted the hidden theological potential of the Hebrew language and its dangers. These issues greatly disturbed a few of the intellectuals of the Zionist movement.

In that vein for example, the father of the revival of the Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, contended that our right to the land was the right of immigrants to the land and the first immigrant was the patriarch Abraham, who came from Haran.


Most of the world's population, he added, consisted of immigrants, but this fact did not detract from their national rights. One can point to Canada and Australia as countries settled by English immigrants, who became Canadian and Australian in their own right.


Micah Joseph Berdichevsky, on the other hand, believed that our right to the land was the right of conquerors. The children of Israel, led by Joshua, conquered the land, which is how we came to rule it. It was subsequently taken from us by other conquerors.


The Zionist movement for its part spoke of our historic right and the right of self-determination. Theodor Herzl sought legitimacy from the great powers at the time and a seal of approval on the part of international law.


However, as noted above, the deepest sense of the right to the land has roots of another kind. "I will give unto thee and to thy seed after thee the land of thy sojournings" is a resounding voice of political-theological power that takes hold of many secular people.

This explains many phenomena in secular Israeli society, such as the enthusiasm with which left-wing intellectuals and Labor Party ministers embraced the Greater Land of Israel; the gap between government policy and practice on the settlements; and the lenient policy toward the ultra-Orthodox, both in exempting them from military service and granting funding for ultra-Orthodox education despite their refusal to allow core subjects to be taught.

 

And beyond political debate and societal considerations, powerful conscious and subconscious religious and mythical emotions are at work in secular Israeli society, which at times are also connected to feelings of guilt. These emotions and feelings of responsibility also find expression in the operation of Israeli government bureaucracy, which sometimes hinders, rejects and undermines policy it is tasked with carrying out. The result is a range of political declarations which are dead on arrival, unless the United States and European countries step up the pressure.


That is why it is possible to live on one level in an Israeli bubble, and in practice to act on another level at the opposite end of the spectrum.

 

There is currently a public debate over a plan to have army officials give lectures to teachers in an effort to raise their students' motivation for army service. (A similar idea was implemented, by the way, in Prussia, when they decided to impose compulsory education for everyone. Because there were not enough teachers available for the task, soldiers, especially disabled officers, served as teachers.)


Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's plan to involve the soldiers reveals the basic failure of the Israeli education system. High school graduates do not have the benefit of a national education based on Jewish cultural tradition in its varied and changing facets. The idea that the future citizens of a democratic state can be educated through one kind or another of political indoctrination is fundamentally flawed.


Without strong roots in Jewish and general culture, including critical discussion of varying opinions, we will not succeed in instilling a sense of national solidarity and we will not produce a generation with a worldview stemming from knowledge and critical humanistic values seeking to build a more egalitarian and just society, both looking inward and outward.


The writer is a professor of education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE CRIME OF BEING A ZIONIST

BY KARL PFEIFER

I am an 81-year-old survivor of the Holocaust. Strange things happened to me last week in Germany.


A journalist, I had been invited by a student organization at Bielefeld University and College to give a lecture on "Racism and Anti-Semitism in Hungary." My host was the left-wing anti-fascist group Antifa AG at the Bielefeld campus, located in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.


My lecture was scheduled to take place on November 19 at a youth center that serves as the home of a number of left-wing organizations. The event had been announced in late October, but two days before I was to appear, at a meeting of people who frequent the center, several raised an objection about my speaking there. They said they had received information that during Israel's War of Independence, when I served in the Palmach (the pre-state elite strike force of the Haganah), I had participated in a massacre in a Palestinian village. They went so far as to allege that I myself had actively participated in the killing.


Those accusing me did not name the place where this alleged massacre was committed, or provide any other details, and even acknowledged that their information was incomplete. But when pushed for corroboration, they settled the matter by explaining that "Pfeifer is a Zionist." At the same time, in an apparent - and bizarre - attempt to appear even-handed, those in attendance resolved that they also would not be willing to host someone who had been a member of the militant Palestinian organization Black September in the 1970s.


Of course, no one at the youth center asked me to respond to the accusations before they decided to rescind the invitation. Nor have any of them been willing to answer the questions of German journalists who learned about the incident regarding just why they excluded me. I only learned about what happened because it was reported to someone in Antifa by two of its members who had been present at the decisive meeting.


Fortunately, my hosts were able to organize an alternate space with limited notice, and I gave my lecture in the end. My subject was Hungary, where a recent resurgence of racist acts and statements can be observed. This includes the murder of eight Roma (Gypsies) in racial attacks during the past two years, and the shocking anti-Jewish verbal attacks in the right-wing media there and on YouTube.


As for me, I did indeed serve in the Palmach and the Israel Defense Forces from 1946 until 1950, after arriving in Mandatory Palestine in 1943. And although I left Israel in 1950, I am proud of my service as a soldier there, when we were defending ourselves against aggression and fighting for the right to have our own state. I did not participate in any massacres, but I know that improper acts were carried out by both sides in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, as happens during wartime.


But the comparison of the Palmach with Black September, which carried out murderous acts of terrorism against civilians in the name of the Palestinian struggle, is an outrageous and ignorant one.


To accuse someone of having participated in a "massacre" - in this case, with no details and no proof - is an act of projection that is unfortunately not unusual in certain European circles. The best-known and by far the most widespread example of projection of guilt is the defamation of Israelis as the "Nazis of today." This is one of the most objectionable forms of anti-Semitism in the era after Auschwitz. As far as I can tell, my real crime apparently is being a "Zionist," which I can only understand as being guilty of being a Jew who defended himself and who favors the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. In Germany, I had the feeling that I was being judged by those arrogant anti-Semites not on the basis of what I have done or am doing, but for what I am.

Karl Pfeifer is a Vienna-based journalist.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

GIVE US A CHANCE

BY RONY PALUCH

 

The 2009 report by the Ono Academic College on discrimination in the workforce, which revealed with great fanfare earlier this month that most employers hiring for positions requiring academic degrees are unwilling to give jobs to Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox and Ethiopian Israelis, didn't tell us anything new. I know these things firsthand.

Readers will probably not be surprised that the Arabs won first place in the discrimination parade, with 83 percent of employers saying they prefer not to hire them. This is a separate issue, in which I have no expertise, but it's hard to see how a society that complains to the Arab public about its separatism can, at the same time, prevent it from integrating into nearly any type of job - whether as a railway worker or a low-level administrator in public service.


In second place on the reprehensible list of those with an academic education who can't find jobs are the ultra-Orthodox. All right, you may say, how many of those are there, after all? Yet, in recent years the press has not stopped reporting on "the academic revolution" among the Haredi public. They photograph the thousands of graduates on the Haredi campuses and write admiringly about the women who manage to give birth to 10 children, cook, clean and launder, complete a programming course with honors and work as managers.


My ultra-Orthodox friends take umbrage at this admiration. It's patronizing, they say, and reflects secular people's profound ignorance about our lives. "My father and my grandfather and my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather worked and earned a living and also studied at a yeshiva," say my friends. "What's new?"

I myself have decided not to get insulted; any form the revolution takes is fine with me. The change is significant, it embraces large parts of the ultra-Orthodox public and it is affected by many, varied factors. These range from greater openness to the wider world and the influence of relatives abroad, to an accelerated process of Israelization and a fierce desire to participate in the economy and society.


It is true that our ancestors worked, and that alongside the devoted talmidei hakhamim - students of religious learning - whom our society has traditionally nurtured, there have always been balabatim, "heads of households," who bear the burden of earning a living. But academic studies are a different issue, one with far-reaching consequences. Such education gives Haredim the opportunity to learn the "language" and the "system," and thus to gain entry into the very heart of Israeli consciousness.


When I completed my law studies, and my wife, children and parents embraced me proudly, I thought there would be no problem joining one of the leading firms: My grades were high, I was no longer a child, I had extensive connections in the business world and everyone who knew me could warmly recommend me.

But the rejoicing was premature and excessive. In fact, it is hard to imagine the discouragement caused by my encounter with reality. I phoned a well-known law firm, to which some of my acquaintances had sent many recommendations on my behalf.


"Yes, yes, we'd be delighted," said my interlocutor, a well-known lawyer and partner in the firm. "Definitely. Come in and we'll talk."

However, when I entered his office he looked perplexed and surprised. "Ah ... look," he said. "Do you understand that the food here isn't kosher?"

 

I nodded.

"And that there aren't mezuzahs on the doors here?"

I smiled.

"And, well, there are women here and ..."


I tried to divert the conversation to the relevant topic: Was I suitable for the job in light of my qualifications and areas of knowledge? I did not get an answer.


"You know that many people in the firm work on the Sabbath, no?" asked my interviewer. "And what about laying tefillin? How many times a day do you lay tefillin?"


When I left, I already knew it was a lost cause.


"What kind of doss [a pejorative term for an observant person] did you send me?" the important lawyer protested the following day to someone who had recommended me. With that he slammed the door on the possibility that I would work at his firm. I tried another two or three places. The reaction was the same.


Israeli society cannot continue dancing at both weddings: It cannot both hate the ultra-Orthodox for their separatism and not allow them to work. Young ultra-Orthodox men are studying very practical professions - law, accounting, computers and paramedical professions - with the fervent hope that they will integrate into workplaces, prove themselves and support their families. If we are not given an opportunity, we will understand once and for all that the fine talk about the academic revolution is just that - fine talk.


Rony Paluch is a partner in the law firm of Hager, Paluch, and a member of the public advisory council to the State Comptroller and Ombudsman.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MANIPULATING THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS

BY GERALD M. STEINBERG

 

For over a decade, European governments have been major sources of funding for dozens of Israeli and Palestinian organizations claiming to promote human rights and similar moral causes. While these groups are known as "nongovernmental organizations," or NGOs, they are, in fact, selected and nurtured by foreign governments. And as seen in research to be discussed in a Knesset conference on December 1, their agendas are more political than moral.


This often hidden support helps pay for expensive newspaper advertisements, such as those recently announcing B'Tselem's 20th anniversary; the salaries of lawyers involved in dozens of High Court cases about the security barrier, treatment of Palestinian terrorists, etc.; the Geneva Initiative's conferences and booklets; and a flood of statements submitted to the United Nations condemning Israeli policies. Recipient NGOs have a major influence on many issues in our lives, and on the decisions of our democratically elected government.


Although foreign funding for Israeli NGOs is labeled as support for "civil society," this is false advertising. Organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, B'Tselem, Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, and many more, cannot claim to be rooted in Israeli civil society when they are funded both directly by the Swedish government, and indirectly through budgets provided by the same government to the Diakonia church organization. This process is repeated by another 15 governments (including Norway and Switzerland), as well as the European Commission, which between them fund more than 50 similar organizations.

The nature and scale of European influence is unique - in no other case do democratic countries use taxpayer money to support opposition groups in other democracies. Imagine the French response to U.S. government financing for radical NGO anti-abortion campaigns in Paris, or for promoting Corsican separatists under the guise of human rights. Would Spain tolerate foreign government funding of NGO campaigns involving the violent Basque conflict? But here, as in other areas, Israel is singled out and subject to different rules.


Taken together, the large sums provided to NGOS by European governments through secret processes constitute a major effort to manipulate the Israeli marketplace of ideas. This is inherently colonialistic, undermining the goals of Zionism and Jewish sovereign equality.


For example, Adalah's 2007 "Democratic Constitution" seeks to abolish the Law of Return; Mada al-Carmel's "Haifa Declaration," featuring the EU logo, calls for a "change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state" and accuses Israel of "exploiting" the Holocaust "at the expense of the Palestinian people." In the judicial arena, dozens of politicized court cases are brought by these NGOs, making them "repeat players" with an unfair advantage that greatly distorts the legal process.


Externally, officials from fringe ideological NGOs frequently speak at UN sessions on human rights, in churches and on university campuses, where they demonize Israel with terms like "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," "genocide" and "war crimes." The allegations in the Goldstone report on the Gaza war are in some cases copied directly from reports of more than 20 NGOs funded by Europe, and many are also involved in the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign based on the Durban NGO Forum strategy of isolating Israel. The Coalition of Women for Peace, which receives grants from the EU, operates the "Who Profits?" divestment Web site, which tracks Israeli and international corporations allegedly "involved in the occupation." "Who Profits?" was central in the anti-Israel divestment campaign in Norway, and a similar project has begun in Britain. In parallel, using European funding, B'Tselem lobbyists in Washington and London campaign for the adoption of the Goldstone report, and oppose the policies of Israel's elected government. And the travel expenses provided to Breaking the Silence are used to promote its efforts to spread allegations of war crimes around the world. The use of taxpayer funds for this political warfare against Israel is unjustifiable.


The first step to ending this practice is a law to require full transparency - a principle that European officials preach, but when it comes to Israel, do not practice. Before any NGO can accept foreign government funding, the details of the grant would have to be made public. Israeli law should also require full notification when the money is used, so that the backing for NGO activities - newspaper ads, political protests and conferences - is clearly stated. Transparency would also allow European parliamentary oversight and expose the absence of professional evaluation of the purposes to which funds have been put.


Opponents and critics of research exposing European government funding allege that transparency requirements would hinder free speech. This is a diversion: Free speech is not the issue. As should be the case in civil society activities, private funding will always be available from local and Diaspora supporters for organizations representing the full spectrum of ideologies, including for allegations (real and fabricated) regarding human rights and related issues. Their main fear is that transparency will lead responsible Europeans to reconsider the wisdom of sending tens of millions of government euros, pounds and krona to favored Israeli fringe NGOs. Transparency may not halt the European practice of using Israeli NGOs to sell these agendas and manipulate policy and politics, but this is an important beginning.


Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and a member of the political science faculty of Bar-Ilan University.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

BRING ON THE TRANSPARENCY

BY DIDI REMEZ

 

The government of Israel is waging an aggressive campaign to suppress internal dissent. Most of its targets have been organizations operating in the occupied territories, and the campaigners would have us believe that they are acting in the interest of "national security." However, a closer look indicates that they are motivated by a general disrespect for the role of civil society in a democracy. Any NGO in the government's way seems to have become fair game; indeed, officials have even started calling refugee-aid groups a fifth column.


Civil servants are playing an increasingly active role in this effort. A notable example is Ron Dermer, chief of policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office, who led the charge this past summer to suppress any group that dared to advocate on behalf of Palestinian human rights or to question the Israel Defense Forces' conduct during the Gaza campaign.


Dermer, whose legislative initiative to ban funding of Israeli human rights organizations by allied governments stalled in September, has now passed the ball to a political ally: Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. This organization has now partnered with the Institute for Zionist Strategies, led by Israel Harel, a founder of the Gush Emunim settler movement.


Steinberg is savvier than Dermer. Instead of a ban, he advocates "funding transparency." Next Tuesday, he is organizing a Knesset conference to "debate" the issue. Israel's beleaguered human rights activists are bracing for yet another round of demonization and delegitimization.


In formulating a response, some have argued for an appeal to reason. They want to explain to Steinberg and his organization that the suppression campaign is ill-advised and destructive; that it threatens to put Israel in the same camp as Putin's Russia and other autocracies; and that it may provoke a retaliatory call by a European public, already dangerously hostile, to cut critical funding to Israeli hospitals, universities and R&D projects.


This approach is commendable, but futile. NGO Monitor is not an objective watchdog: It is a partisan operation that suppresses its perceived ideological adversaries through the sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques - blacklisting, guilt by association and selective filtering of facts.


If Steinberg really cares about "transparency," why does he not begin in his own backyard? Breaking the Silence, a frequent subject of his organization's wrath, has financial reports for 2006-2008 posted on its Web site. NGO Monitor's site lists only one small U.S. charity as its current funder, providing no links for further information. The Institute for Zionist Strategies' site says nothing about its funding.


Here is another example of NGO Monitor's intellectual dishonesty: A central theme of its recent critiques has been of NGO "lawfare," achieving "political" goals through the courts. There are at least three examples of pro-settler Israeli NGOs engaged in "lawfare," as defined by NGO Monitor: the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, the Israel Law Center and Regavim, but you will not find even an acknowledgment of their existence among the hundreds of documents on its Web site.


We have another option. Steinberg's and Dermer's cynicism has created an opportunity to dismantle the power structure that forces Israelis to continue defending Palestinian human rights, 42 years after the "temporary" occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began.

If Israeli neoconservatives really want "transparency," why not take them at their word? We could propose to NGO Monitor and its allies that we launch a bipartisan campaign to enact legislation mandating high standards of financial transparency for all local NGOs. This would entail listing all donations of, say, NIS 15,000 and above, prominently on the NGO's Web site and in its publications, including full donor identity details and any tax exemptions that were applied. Israeli government funding would, of course, be listed as well.


Most of NGO Monitor's Israeli targets already meet these standards. For the few that do not, compliance would be an easy task.


This is certainly not the case for the organizations fueling the settlement enterprise that is destroying our country. They depend on financial opacity for continued operations. Elad, for example, a prime mover of many controversial and provocative settlement adventures in East Jerusalem, has been cited by the Registrar of Associations for refusing to disclose its donor identities.


One can understand their reticence. What would the Israeli public say if the fact that Od Yosef Hai yeshiva, in Yitzhar, is the recipient of generous funding from the Israeli government had to be prominently displayed on the cover of its publications - which include "Baruch Hagever," an ode to Tomb of the Patriarchs killer Baruch Goldstein, and the "Handbook for the Killing of Gentiles"? How long would the U.S. taxpayer put up with the tax-exempt status of Shuva Israel, a Christian Zionist fund, if they knew that it supports the expansion of settlement outposts, illegal even under Israeli law?


These examples are just the tip of an iceberg. Hundreds of millions of dollars in Israeli taxpayer money and U.S.tax exemptions, mostly hidden from public view, are the driving force of the settlement enterprise. The Steinberg Act would be applauded by progressive Israel and genuine "pro-Israelis" abroad. Transparency is the lifeblood of democracy and our society could use a lot more of it.


Didi Remez, a communications consultant and human rights activist, was proud recently to discover that he has been targeted by NGO Monitor. Remez blogs at Coteret.com.s

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

YES, YOU OWE THAT TAX

 

As many Americans gird themselves for the Black Friday shopping crush, we can think of a lot of reasons to stay home and do holiday shopping online. Not having to pay sales taxes should not be one of them.

 

Online retailers who do not collect sales tax enjoy a significant and unfair advantage over rivals who must add the tax to their prices. They also cost the states billions of dollars a year in lost sales tax revenue — money that cash-starved states cannot afford to forgo.

 

New York's Legislature made the right decision in 2008 when it passed a law requiring Amazon.com and other Internet retailers to collect taxes on sales to New York customers. Amazon challenged the law in a lower court, and lost in January. A New York appeals court is expected to rule soon. New Yorkers will be well served if it upholds the lower court's ruling. And other states would be wise to look to New York as a model.

 

Sales taxes for any state are legally due on online purchases that would be taxable if the items were bought in a local store. If the retailer does not collect the taxes, the buyer is supposed to remit them to the state.

 

As a practical matter, unless the taxes are collected by retailers, they are virtually never paid. As online shoppers well know, some Internet retailers collect sales tax and some do not. The deciding factor is whether the retailer has a physical presence in the state where the customer is located. If so, the retailer is obligated to collect the tax. If not, not.

 

Those rules are based on a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that it would be unduly burdensome for retailers to collect other states' sales taxes. Of course, that was before online shopping was so widespread and before software and other support services made collecting easy.