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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

EDITORIAL 01.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month december 01, edition 000364, 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. KODA BEHIND BARS AT LAST
  2. IRRATIONAL DEFIANCE
  3. PATCHY RESPONSE TO 26/11 TERROR - AJAI SAHNI
  4. MUSLIM CLERGY DISTORTS ISLAM - MOHD SHAKAIB
  5. A NON-EVENT FORETOLD - RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
  6. TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH - GWYNNE DYER
  7. THAW UNLIKELY AFTER FREEZE - BARRY RUBIN
  8. BE COMPASSIONATE ON RED RIBBON DAY - ABDULLA KP

MAIL TODAY

  1. MURDERED ONCE AND NOW BETRAYED
  2. METRO FAILURE
  3. PREPARING THE GROUND FOR MODI - BY JYOTIRMAYA SHARMA
  4. CM'S WAR CRYMET WITH MORE BLOODSHED - ALOKE BANERJEE
  5. GOVT TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR ITS STAFF

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. CLIMATE CALCULUS
  2. LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
  3. SOHNA CHOWK PARADIGM -
  4. IT IS OF IMMENSE VALUE
  5. NOT A LAST WORD WORTH HAVING -
  6. IT'S ALL IN THE GENES -
  7. LESSONS OF A SHAM EPIDEMIC - ANOOP KOHLI 
  8. LOOK TO ARUNACHALA FOR A DIVINE EXPERIENCE -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. NO PARTY ON THE FARM
  2. CLOSE TO THE BONE
  3. SONGS OF EXPERIENCE - SIDDHARTH SHANGHVI

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. EASING OFF
  2. TOWERING PREJUDICE
  3. KAIGA TEST
  4. TO JUDGE OR NOT TO JUDGE - J. S. VERMA
  5. THE WHITE SHEEP - ALIA ALLANA
  6. AND THEN, ACTION NOT TAKEN
  7. THE WASHINGTON WASHOUT - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
  8. A SHOWPIECE OF SYNERGY - VIKRAM S MEHTA
  9. THE FIRST CUTS - KIRITSPARIKH
  10. THE STORY THAT REFUSES TO DIE  - THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. THE NEARLY 8% STORY
  2. PUT CAT BACK IN THE BAG
  3. GDP GROWTH: THE SPECKLED BAND CHANGES - BIBEK DEBROY
  4. NOT JUST PPP, INCLUDE CIVIL SOCIETY, TOO - VIKRAM S MEHTA
  5. MINISTERIAL WITHOUT AN AGENDA - RITUPARNA BHUYAN
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. SRI LANKAN DRAMA
  2. REVISITING BANK CONSOLIDATION
  3. MODIFYING INDO-RUSSIAN SUMMIT FORMAT - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
  4. "WE HAVE TO SAVE THE NATION'S WEALTH FROM THE MINING MAFIA"  - J. BALAJI
  5. CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
  6. A RAINFOREST'S SAGA OF SURVIVAL  - G. PRABHAKARAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. KAIGA: LET IT BE A WAKE-UP CALL
  2. BYE-BYE DUBAI? - JAYATI GHOSH
  3. LIVING WITH AIDS, NOT DESPAIR - PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  4. WATCH OVER BANGLADESH - SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

DNA

  1. LEADING PLAYFULLY
  2. PRAKASH BELAWADI  
  3. NARROW GROWTH FOR NOW, PAIN LATER
  4. SOUR CREAM
  5. THE KAIGA SCARE
  6. SECRET OF ONENESS
  7. DARK SPELL OF DEMOLITION - RAVI SHANKAR 
  8. POLITICAL GAMES SHAPE COPENHAGEN AGENDA - PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR  
  9. STEP OUT FOR A BIT - DINESH KS 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. POSITIVE SIGNALS FROM OBAMA
  2. KAIGA SABOTAGE
  3. TECHNICAL GLITCHES AT CAT 
  4. PM'S VISIT TO US AND AFTER - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
  5. THE COMMISSIONER'S ASSISTANT - BY ROBIN GUPTA
  6. IS COMMONWEALTH'S ROLE STILL RELEVANT? - BY DANIEL HOWDEN
  7. FIRES OF TRIBAL OPPRESSION - BY KALPANA DHARINI
  8. DELHI DURBAR

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. VOTE AGAINST IRAN
  2. DAMS IN NORTH EAST
  3. INDO-US RELATIONS : RHETORIC AND REALITY - SHIBDAS BHATTACHARJEE
  4. PREVENTION OF AIDS - DR DHRUBAJYOTI DAS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. GDP CHEERS BUT GROWTH NEEDS BOOSTERS
  2. MOUSE GOT THE CAT
  3. MIRAGE IN THE DESERT
  4. THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
  5. CORP BOND DEALS TO GET EXCHANGE COVER
  6. GAURAV PAI & REENA ZACHARIAH
  7. GROWTH NUMBERS FAIL TO CUT ICE WITH OVERSEAS INVESTORS - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
  8. FACE DUBAI STORM WITH LESSONS FROM CRASH OF '08 - VIDYALAXMI & PREETI KULKARNI
  9. BEWARE OF BEING TOO AWARE - MUKUL SHARMA
  10. DOMINO EFFECT ON COMMODITY TRADE - NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS
  11. SEN'S PROJECTION OF 7% GROWTH COMING TRUE - ANTO ANTONY
  12. WE NEED TO TAILOR GLOBAL MODEL FOR INDIAN MARKET: INDRA NOOYI - SHAILI CHOPRA

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. LET KAIGA BE A WAKE-UP CALL
  2. WATCH OVER BANGLADESH - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
  3. US NEEDS NREGA WITH A COOLER ACRONYM - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  4. LIVING WITH AIDS, NOT DESPAIR  - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
  5. BYE-BYE DUBAI?  - BY JAYATI GHOSH
  6. LAURA IS NO LOLITA - BY PHILIP HENSHER

the statesman

  1. CORNERED SHEILA
  2. HOOGHLY ON THE BOIL
  3. MISSING MONUMENTS!
  4. NUMBER OF US DIABETICS TO DOUBLE IN 25 YEARS: STUDY
  5. CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY - BY DIPAK BASU

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. RISING DAMP
  2. IN DISARRAY
  3. RAISING OUR AMBITION - ASHOK V. DESAI
  4. TIME TO KEEP THE FAITH  - MALVIKA SINGH
  5. A SENSE OF INJURED MERIT
  6. NOT JUST FISH, A DELICIOUS DISH
  7. MAKING THE CITY PROUD

DECCAN HERALD

  1. DUBAI DEBACLE
  2. AWARENESS IS KEY
  3. AMERICA'S DOORMAT? - BY M K BHADRAKUMAR
  4. NEED TO INVEST IN CLIMATE PROSPERITY - BY HAZEL HENDERSON
  5. TEEN TORNADO - BY VASUDHA MURTHY

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. A TERRIBLE IVAN
  2. BORDERLINE VIEWS: WHO'S MONITORING THE MONITOR? - DAVID NEWMAN
  3. NO HOLDS BARRED: THANKSGIVING IN ZIMBABWE - SHMULEY BOTEACH
  4. IDF INSUBORDINATION CAN SAVE ISRAEL - MOSHE FEIGLIN
  5. ONE FOR ONE - CHARLEY J. LEVINE
  6. LET'S TALK ABOUT LOYALTY – FAINA KIRSHENBAUM

HAARETZ

  1. PROPER TREATMENT OF REFUGEES
  2. TERRIBLE BLATHER - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. MOSHE ARENS / PALESTINIAN DREAM OF STATEHOOD FURTHER AWAY THAN EVER - BY MOSHE ARENS
  4. DAVID MAKOVSKY / OBAMA AND NETANYAHU: LESSONS OF 2009  - BY DAVID MAKOVSKY
  5. MALIGNANT CENSORSHIP - BY MOSHE NEGBI

THE NEW YORK TIMES+

  1. THE SWINE FLU, AS OF NOW
  2. NOT I, SAID THE NEW YORK SENATE
  3. A VOTE FOR INTOLERANCE
  4. ROOSEVELT UNDERSTOOD THE POWER OF A PUBLIC OPTION - BY ADAM COHEN
  5. A TRAGIC MISTAKE - BY BOB HERBERT
  6. CLEAR, HOLD AND DUCT TAPE - BY DAVID BROOKS
  7. A TREATY ON ICE  - BY BRENDAN BORRELL
  8. CRASHING F.D.R.'S PARTY - BY HENRY MORGENTHAU III

I.THE NEWS

  1. NOT ENOUGH
  2. AFGHAN DILEMMA
  3. EID AND AFTER
  4. WHY FEAR CHANGE? - AMEER BHUTTO
  5. LET'S START WITH SIACHEN - DR SALEEM H ALI
  6. COMBATING CORRUPTION - ABID HASAN
  7. EXPATS VS LOCALS - PART IIAYESHA IJAZ KHAN
  8. POMP AND SUBSTANCE - DR MALEEHA LODHI
  9. STATE OF THE STATE - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. GORDON BROWN FURTHER HUMILIATES BRITONS
  2. NATION HAS TO LOOK AFTER INJURED SOLDIERS
  3. DIALOGUE BETWEEN JAILERS AND JAILED!
  4. MORAL IMPERATIVES - DR ZAFAR ALTAF
  5. A WAY OUT FOR AMERICA - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  6. MAOIST INSURGENCY GAINING STRENGTH IN INDIA - COL GHULAM SARWAR (R)
  7. KASHMIR, A VICTIM OF HYPOCRISY – ALAM RIND
  8. LIFE IS SHORT..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. DEATH BY WATER
  2. WORLD AIDS DAY
  3. JOKE'S ON US...!
  4. A LIFE-THREATENING CHALLENGE - NICHOLAS BISWAS
  5. RACE AGAINST TIME TO REDUCE POVERTY  - MDG ISSUES
  6. WE AND AIDS  - HABIBA TASNEEM

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. KNOW THE FACTS
  2. ADDING FUEL
  3. ELECTION AND GOVERNANCE CAN WE TREAD THE MIDDLE PATH? - BIRENDRA P MISHRA
  4. TEENAGERS ARE THE HOPE - SHAKTI POUDEL
  5. SOMETIMES AND ALWAYS - JACKIE SAGNER
  6. WOMEN NEED TO SPEAK UP AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - KOKILA KC

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. LIBERALS NEED TO GET BACK TO THE FIGHTS THEY CAN WIN
  2. THE STATELY HOMES OF AUSTRALIA
  3. AN EXPLANATION FOR THE ETS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. CHALLENGERS' CHOICE: THE LEADERSHIP OR RELEVANCE
  2. WANT ACTION ON CLIMATE? GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER
  3. IF HOCKEY IS TO LEAD, HE CANNOT DO SO ON OTHERS' TERMS

THE GURDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF… THE ROYAL SOCIETY
  2. CONSERVATIVES AND TAX: ONE RULE FOR THE RICH
  3. SCOTLAND AND THE UNION: ALEX'S CUNNING PLAN

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. CONFUSED DIRECTION
  2. EXIT FROM JAPAN
  3. A KORUS LINE FOR JOB CREATION IN U.S. - LEE JAE-MIN
  4. CAN THE EURO ZONE SURVIVE THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY? - MARTIN FELDSTEIN

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. THE PRICE MR. HATOYAMA PAYS
  2. YEN PERCHED AT RISKY HEIGHT
  3. EAST ASIAN COMMUNITY PRIMER - BY SHINJI FUKUKAWA

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. FOLLOW THE MONEY
  2. RI-EU PCA: TAKING RIGHTS SERIOUSLY - USMAN HAMID AND PAPANG HIDAYAT
  3. A NEW PARADIGM FOR MICROCREDIT - NURKHOLISOH IBNU AMAN
  4. RI'S NUCLEAR FUTURE WILL REQUIRE ADDRESSING THE WASTE PROBLEM - MARK FITZPATRICK
  5. A BASELINE FOR ENERGY EMISSION REDUCTION - MONTTY GIRIANNA

CHINA DAILY

  1. MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING
  2. FIGHT AGAINST AIDS
  3. WORLD FACES MORE PRESSINGPROBLEMS THAN EMISSIONS
  4. HOW TO FURTHER BOOST CONSUMPTION - BY LOUIS KUIJS (CHINA DAILY)
  5. NINE ECONOMIC DILEMMAS IN 2010

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. LAW AND DISORDER - BY ALEXEI PANKIN
  2. MOSCOW SHOULD FEEL THE IMPACT OF LISBON TREATY - BY FRASER CAMERON
  3. NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY - BY ALEXANDER GOLTS

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

KODA BEHIND BARS AT LAST

BUT WILL HE GET HIS JUST DESSERTS?


The law at last appears to be catching up with Madhu Koda, the former Chief Minister of Jharkhand. After weeks of dilly-dallying by authorities, the Vigilance Bureau has arrested Koda who is now in judicial custody. In an amazing display of contempt for the law of the land, Koda had thumbed his nose at both the Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate, refusing to respond to their repeated summons. He cockily told investigators looking into his acquisition of ill-gotten assets worth anything between Rs 2,000 crore and Rs 4,000 crore that he was busy campaigning for his candidates in the Assembly election and would be available to answer questions after December 18. Meanwhile, he was playing to the gallery, pretending to be an innocent 'tribal victim' of a grand conspiracy in the hope it would find a resonance among voters and thus facilitate the victory of some of his candidates, contesting the election as Independents, which in turn would provide him with leverage in the event of a hung Assembly. More than anybody else Koda knows the value of being an Independent MLA in a fractured House; he has headed a Cabinet comprising such legislators and propped up by the Congress, the RJD and the JMM. Be that as it may, Koda now finds himself behind bars, something which he has been desperate to avoid, not least because he will have to explain how he came to acquire so much wealth so soon. If investigators are to be believed, they have 'clinching evidence' of Koda misusing his office to indulge in illegitimate activities ranging from fixing mining deals to money laundering. In brief, he and his associates, Sanjay Chaudhary and Binod Sinha, who are now on the run, looted the State.


The Congress and the RJD insist that the law will take its course — something which has been said in the past, too, about corruption in high places without, of course, the cases being taken to their logical conclusion — but that does not explain the delay in taking action against Koda. Jharkhand is under President's rule and the Union Government is accountable for all acts of omission and commission. By not arresting Koda immediately, the authorities, clearly acting on instructions, allowed him sufficient time to tamper with evidence. Strangely, his associates still remain free despite being declared absconders. Had the authorities been truly serious about getting to the bottom of what has come to be popularly referred to as the 'Koda scam', then both Chaudhary and Sinha would have been arrested by now. It remains to be seen whether officials of the Income Tax Department, the Enforcement Directorate and the Vigilance Bureau are able to secure useful information from Koda to pin him down or whether the former Chief Minister's arrest is no more than an attempt to fool the people into believing that the 'law is taking its course'. It is possible that the Congress wants to be seen as cracking down on corruption and thus persuade the people of Jharkhand to vote for its candidates. It would be a pity and a shame if the ruse were to work to the Congress's advantage. After all, had it not been for the Congress and its allies keeping Koda in power for two years although neither he nor his patrons had the mandate to govern the State, Jharkhand would have been spared the depredations of an avaricious politician and his goons who deserve nothing but the harshest punishment.

 

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THE PIONEER

IRRATIONAL DEFIANCE

IRAN COCKS A SNOOK AT WORLD OPINION


It is disappointing that in response to the International Atomic Energy resolution passed last Friday rebuking it for concealing a nuclear enrichment facility, Iran has announced its intention to establish 10 more similar installations: Work on five is to begin immediately. Iran's second nuclear facility at Qom, in addition to the known facility in Natanz, only came to light in September even though work there had begun nearly two years ago. Despite the fact that the international community, through the IAEA, has been engaging Tehran on its nuclear programme for quite some time now, Iranian authorities kept the Qom facility a secret. This brings to mind two issues. First, no matter which way one looks at it, the fact that Iran has been operating a secret nuclear facility is in clear contravention of the provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory. Therefore, it would be a fair assessment to say that Iran deliberately and fully aware of the consequences flouted the norms of an international agreement. Thus, Iran's complaint that foreign powers are provoking it with their resolutions and sanctions cannot be taken seriously.

 

Second, as an NPT-member nation, Iran has every right to pursue civilian nuclear technology and nuclear energy provided these are subjected to proper safeguards and scrutiny. It is because Iran has consistently failed to comply in this respect that suspicions have arisen that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. With the discovery of the Qom facility and Tehran's declared intention of establishing more such installations, those suspicions are bound to get stronger. Also, what does not help Iran's cause is its refusal to accept a proposal through which it could have got its uranium meant for its nuclear power plants processed in Russia. This would have demonstrated Iran's stated goal of using nuclear technology for civilian purposes and allayed the fears of the international community. The very fact that Tehran refused to play ball shows that it has something to hide vis-à-vis its nuclear programme. There is no doubt that a nuclear armed Iran will have disastrous consequences for West Asia. It could start a dangerous arms race in the region. Besides, there is also the fear of groups like the Hizbullah, which are known to be supported both financially and materially by Iran, getting their hands on improvised nuclear explosive devices such as a dirty bomb. It is anyone's guess what the Hizbullah, or for that matter Syria, could do with such a weapon. It may be true that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been ratcheting up the nuclear rhetoric to try and unite the Iranian polity behind him and legitimise his authority in the eyes of the Iranian people. Nonetheless, the international community cannot afford to take any chances. A nuclear armed Iran would be a hurdle to world peace and stability.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

PATCHY RESPONSE TO 26/11 TERROR

AJAI SAHNI


A slew of initiatives, particularly emanating from a significantly revitalised Union Home Ministry, has followed the tragedy of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, suggesting, first, that the political leadership has finally been shaken out of the stupor of indifference and neglect that had rendered India bereft of effective protection against terrorism, and, second, that we will soon be quite secure.


Both propositions are, at best, half truths. Certainly, there has been a measure of reorientation at the Centre, and the political leadership, led directly by the Prime Minister, is projecting a measure of urgency that has not been seen before. But this enthusiasm is largely limited to the Centre. The States, by and large, remain mired in apathy. Limited initiatives have, of course, been taken in Mumbai, and some of the other States may have shown a greater measure of willingness to improve their often dysfunctional policing and intelligence systems, and to integrate these more effectively with a slowly crystallising national effort, but the cumulative impact of all this is no more than marginal and will do little to safeguard India against another terrorist outrage, or to distinguish Indian responses from the debacle of 26/11 when such an outrage occurs. Indeed, the man credited with much of the transformation in the post-26/11 period, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, offered a sober and sobering appraisal on October 16, 2009, "My assessment of the vulnerability is that it has remained the same since 26/11. It has not diminished nor has it enhanced."


And yet, even a partial inventory of what has been done over the past year suggests dramatic increases in capacity. Even if we ignore the essentially symbolic elements — such as the National Investigation Agency, the changes to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the location of NSG hubs in four metropolii — there are a number of substantive initiatives which would appear to impact directly on counter-terrorism response capacities and security. Thus we hear of an allocation of Rs 6,000 crore on procurements for the Navy and Coast Guard and another Rs 300 crore to establish a chain of 46 radar stations along the country's coastline. Midget submarines are to be acquired for underwater surveillance. Joint Operations Centres are to be established in Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi and Port Blair.


A New Criminal Tracking, Networking and Systems Project has been sanctioned an outlay of Rs 2,000 crore. A National Intelligence Grid is to provide real time flows of intelligence and security related information between the Centre and the States. Online connectivity between the States and the Centre is to be established between the Multi-Agency Centre under the Intelligence Bureau and the State Multi-Agency Centres for intelligence generation and sharing. The IB has been sanctioned an additional 6,000 posts. The long-languishing Joint Task Force on Intelligence is to be 'urgently' activated. The CRPF is to have its own intelligence wing, even as its strength is to be augmented by 38 battalions… The list goes on and on, and has the capacity to lull you into a false sense of security.


In Mumbai, Force 1, a State Police Special Force, has been set up with a sanctioned strength of 350 (current strength, 216). Five Quick Reaction Teams, with a total strength of 200 personnel, have also been created. Motorcycle-borne Beat Marshals in teams of two are to patrol the streets. Thirty-nine bullet proof combat vehicles will create the illusion of security in public places (their utility, in an urban environment, is uncertain, but experts have presumably evaluated their benefits). These various special teams have been equipped with modern arms. An 'additional' 15,000 personnel are to be recruited into the Maharashtra Police (this will, in fact, barely meet existing deficits against sanctioned strength).


These various measures are undermined on three basic counts. Most of them are bare sanctions, and implementation is expected to take, in many cases, years; moreover, the total capacities sanctioned have little bearing on the reality of the colossal deficits that have accumulated in the system over decades of neglect. They are focussed overwhelmingly on defensive measures and emergency responses, with little of this capacity oriented towards prevention, detection and neutralisation. Crucially, most of these focus narrowly on special 'counter-terrorism' capabilities, largely leaving general policing and intelligence capabilities unaffected.


It is not possible, here, to review the status of each of these various proposals, but to take a few examples: Over the past year, only one advanced offshore patrol vessel and two interceptor boats have actually been commissioned. The Home Ministry has supplied 42 boats for coastal security, but the balance of 152 boats is 'in the pipeline'. Eighty fast interceptor craft are 'being procured'. The CRPF is currently raising just two of the sanctioned 38 new battalions. Despite the fact that the Home Ministry has decided to dramatically increase the annual intake of IPS officers, it will take another 11 years before existing deficits can be met — with substantial recruitment in the State and Central forces, the requirements at leadership ranks will have enormously increased by that time. Structural impediments have prevented the IB from hiring any more than a few hundred of the 6,000 additional personnel sanctioned.


On the second point, it is crucial to recognise that there can be no permanent strategy of defence. Terrorism can never be contained and defeated at its points of delivery. Its sources and its networks — wherever these exist, on Indian soil or abroad — must be targeted and destroyed. There appears to be little by way of strategy or capacity creation to meet the objectives of an aggressive initiative to target these sources and networks.

Critically, there is an enveloping failure to comprehend that security is, in fact, an indivisible: You cannot have an efficient counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency response in a collapsing law and order and justice administration. The idea that we can 'target terrorism', even while we ignore other patterns of crime and threats to national security, is misconceived and dangerous. There is, in fact, no such thing as a 'small crime'. The same networks service both petty crime and major crime, including terrorism.


Much of crime and terrorism in India remains collusive and most political leaderships, certainly at the State level, have little motivation to install an effective and efficient general policing system in their jurisdictions. In Mumbai, for instance, the Dawood Ibrahim gang — the perpetrators of the 1993 serial blasts that killed 257, and now a permanent asset for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and its terrorist enterprises — still flourishes under political patronage. In no civilised country of the world would this be possible; in India it elicits no surprise, let alone outrage.


The reality is, 26/11 and the rising threats of terrorism, insurgency and political violence across the country, have only provoked small elements in the Indian political system to a sense of urgency. Much of the remaining system remains trapped in indifference, ritualism and corruption. Such a patchy response can hardly be relied upon to secure the country against the relentlessness of contemporary terrorism and the unwavering intent of its state sponsors.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

MUSLIM CLERGY DISTORTS ISLAM

MOHD SHAKAIB


The resolution passed by the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind against the singing of Vande Mataram is baseless in a multi-religious, multi-cultural country like India. The cherishers of Islam tend to forget that their religion approves of unity in diversity. Prophet Mohammad himself had set examples by emphasising the peaceful co-habitation of believers and non-believers in Mecca. If the singing of Vande Mataram can bring Muslims and those belonging to other communities closer, it cannot be heresy.


If politicians really love this country and believe in the unity of the people, which is the need of the hour, they must refrain from turning the Vande Mataram issue into a controversy for the sake of gaining political mileage. The baseless decree which appeals to the Muslim community not to participate in the singing of the National Song is an effort by the ulama to remain in the limelight given that Muslims today are slowly turning towards modern education and are aware of Government institutions for their welfare.


I wonder why Muslim clerics do not hesitate to pass decrees on issues related to the unity of the country but fall silent on local issues such as a panchayat's inhumane judgement wherein a married woman who was raped by her father-in-law was forced to marry him and accept her husband as her son. Instead of passing a decree against the panchayat and demanding police action against it, the clerics expressed their 'diverse' views through the media which further strengthened the popular myth that Islam does not treat women and men as equal.


Truth be told, the lack of vision of Muslim clerics is responsible for the backwardness of the community. To start with, the ulama had dissuaded Muslim youth from joining the Indian Army after partition of the country because it believed this would mean fighting against their Muslim brethren in Pakistan. The small number of Muslims in the Army, as the Sachar Committee in its report has stated, is a consequence of this.


Even in matters related to Muslim women, the clergy's role has been shameful. The infamous Shah Bano case bears testimony to this. It strengthened Muslim Personal Law which itself is in need of reform in the interest of Muslim women and society.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

A NON-EVENT FORETOLD

THE PRIME MINISTER'S VISIT TO THE US SHOWS THAT IF INDIA CANNOT ARTICULATE A VISION ABOUT ITS BEING ONE OF THE POLES IN A MULTIPOLAR WORLD, IT DOES NOT DESERVE ANY RESPECT. THOSE WHO CAN'T ASSERT THEMSELVES DESERVE VAGUE PLATITUDES AND DINNERS WHERE GATECRASHERS CAN CASUALLY WALK IN

RAJEEV SRINIVASAN


It is not clear why some are disappointed by the non-event of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington, DC. In fact, a sigh of relief is in order, as there was no major faux pas, which is customary when the Prime Minister and his Sancho Panzas sally forth abroad. No, the soporific, meaningless joint statement was better than the abject surrender of some major national interest, as in Havana 2006 and Sharm el-Sheikh 2009.


It is mystifying exactly what was expected, anyway, from the first state visit to President Barack Obama's Camelot. The first state visit is just a diplomatic air-kiss. The best metaphor for it was the fact that the dinner was gate-crashed by a couple named Michelle and Tareq Salehi, a blonde in a bright-red, diaphanous lehnga-choli, and a tuxedo-clad Arab. That these people waltzed right past the massive security, and even got photo-ops with the Obamas and the Veep, would be appalling, if it weren't comical. So it has come to this — the Federal Bureau of Investigation reincarnated as the Keystone Cops. Or maybe it just shows the level of attention and due diligence the Obamistas paid to the first state visit.


It is hard to decide whether the Obamistas are as bumbling and ineffectual as they appear to be. Yes, they did kowtow in China like their life depended on it: The sound of bowing and scraping could be heard clear across the Pacific. They have made a hash of AfPak policy. Mr Obama accepting the undeserved Nobel Peace Prize made them look pathetically self-indulgent. Their huffing and puffing on healthcare and climate change has produced little result. Sic transit gloria mundi! Their dithering and apparent confusion are startling, and almost makes one wish for the supremely confident, overbearing ugly American of yore. Well, almost.


Then again, maybe the Obamistas were intentionally insulting the Indians. If so, they have given some very clear messages lately. First, the trip to 'Asia', which ended up being primarily a trip to China, with the Chinese dong a lot of finger-wagging on economics. There was the statement in Japan that defined Asia as east Asia. That presumably means India is part of the West Asia, with the clear implication that India-Pakistan-equal-equal is back in full force. Then there was the joint statement with strongman Hu in Beijing where Mr Obama virtually sanctified the idea that China would be the 'keeper' of India, by asking China to intercede in 'South Asia'.

There was the surprise resurrection of the vicious and vituperative Robin "I do not see the accession of Jammu & Kashmir as final" Raphel — till recently a paid agent of the Pakistanis — to oversee the distribution of untold new billions to the ISI. Later, there was Mr Richard Holbrooke groveling to the Pakistanis in a two-hour Press conference and explaining that the first state visit did not mean that Mr Obama was going to favour India over Pakistan.

Despite the prognostications about India's economic superpowerdom, no Obamista has ever suggested a G3 or G4 (US, China, India and Japan, the four biggest economies in 2025), but there sure is a lot of noise about a G2. Do they know something we don't know? Do the Americans intend to ensure that India will never reach the economic status is deserves? Is that why they made no progress on the much-ballyhooed nuclear agreement? Is that why both China and the US do so much for Pakistan, so as to contain India and keep it a supplier of raw materials and a market, never a competitor?

However, there is at the end of the day a sad realisation all this is not the Americans' problem. Obamistas are maximising utility for themselves, as they should, and India simply does not rate very high. It is up to India to figure out and articulate its value and market its friendship as a must-have —Marketing 101, which the Pakistanis have figured out, whence the new Obama largesse.


India doesn't have a strategic intent: It doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. Its Nehru-jacket clad, pot-bellied and chicken-legged mandarins try to muddle through. That is not a recipe for long-term success, nor for long-term alliances. If India were to articulate, for instance, that the Indian Ocean Rim is its domain where it will enforce Pax Indica, the Americans would respect it.


The real problem is that a generation of Indians has internalised the idea that India is a second-rate power that needs a godfather. This is why we wasted precious years mouthing hot air about non-alignment with a lot of third-rate banana republics. Instead we should have got them to align with us!


If India cannot articulate a vision about its being one of the poles in a multipolar world, it does not deserve any respect. It deserves — as Mr Obama demonstrated — vague platitudes and a few kebabs and biryani thrown in. India needs to push itself forward as a future numero uno. That will get the world's attention. Someone begging for admission to the nuclear club or to the UN Security Council won't get it; when India demonstrates that it will move forward relentlessly without these, they will be offered to it on a platter. It's like Woody Allen said: He wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would have him.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH

BANGLADESH BEGINS TO BURY GHOSTS OF THE PAST

GWYNNE DYER


If a Shakespeare should ever arise in Bangladesh, he would have plenty of tragedies around which to weave his history plays. The country is only 38 years old, but the vendettas between the leading families, the murders and plots and coups, have been just as tangled and bloody as the ones in 14th and 15th-century England that gave the great playwright so much of his material. But that kind of history may be coming to an end in Bangladesh.

It's not quite dead yet. Last February, at least 4,000 soldiers serving in the Bangladesh Rifles, a border defence regiment, mutinied and began killing their officers. Fifty-seven officers and 17 other people were murdered by the mutineers, who dumped their bodies in sewers and an incinerator. The violence spread to military camps all over Bangladesh.


The mutineers said that they were revolting against poor pay, but many people suspected that there was a political motive behind it all. If there was, it failed. The rest of the Army remained loyal, tanks surrounded the regiment's various camps, and the Government promised to look into the rebels' complaints if they surrendered.

That was a lie, of course: They were all arrested. The first nine soldiers went on trial for mutiny before a military court on November 24 and more than 3,500 others will follow in various military cantonments around the country, while several hundred others will be tried before civilian courts for murder, rape and looting.

This is not the kind of blood-spattered Shakespearean ending that Bangladeshis have become much too familiar with. The trials may even answer the question of whether there was a political motive behind the military uprising. But suppose there was. What could it have been?


There has been a second high-profile court case in Bangladesh in the past month. On November 19 the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentences for 12 former military officers who took part in the assassination of Bangladesh's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1975. The five ex-officers who are actually in custody, and whose final appeal was rejected, now face imminent execution for their crime of 34 years ago.

Few countries had a bloodier birth than Bangladesh. For a decade and a half after the partition of India in 1947, it was just the eastern wing of Pakistan, a country in two parts with a lot of Indian territory between them. But the two parts never got along, and when what is now Bangladesh tried to leave Pakistan in 1971 it got very ugly.

The Pakistani Army killed up to three million people in rebel 'East Pakistan' before Indian military intervention forced it to withdraw. East Pakistan then became the independent country of Bangladesh, and the country's nationalist political leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (who had spent the war in jail in West Pakistan) came home to lead it.


Mujib was an autocratic man: By 1975 he had closed down all the anti-establishment papers and declared himself President for life. But he did not deserve what happened to him and his family.


In the early hours of August 15, 1975, a group of young officers stormed Mujib's house and killed everybody in it, including his wife, his three sons (one was only nine years old) and his servants. Twenty people in all. Only his two daughters, who were abroad at the time, survived. One of them, Sheikh Hasina, is now the Prime Minister. (I told you it was Shakespearean.)

The young officers who murdered Mujib were overthrown by a different group within months, and another coup removed that bunch before the end of the year. Eventually power ended up in the hands of Gen Zia-ur Rahman, who was also murdered by fellow officers in 1981. His widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, has been Prime Minister three times, and still leads the main Opposition party.


Gen Zia was not involved in the murder of Mujib, but he did end up allied to the people who had killed him: Officers who detested Mujib's secularism, and in some cases had helped the Pakistani Army slaughter their own people during the independence war. They killed Gen Zia too, in the end, but that does not stop Gen Zia's widow and Mujib's daughter from hating each other.


That personal vendetta has virtually paralysed the politics of a country with half the population of the United States. Ever since democracy was restored in Bangladesh in 1990, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia have alternated in power, each devoting all her time in Opposition to sabotaging the other's initiatives. But now the page may have turned.


The Supreme Court's confirmation of the death sentences on the ageing conspirators of 1975 may finally enable the country to move past its obsession with those horrific murders. If there was a political motive behind the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny, it was to stop that verdict from being passed, but the insubordination did not spread.

Sheikh Hasina's Awami League won the last election by a landslide, and the Army stayed loyal to the elected Government right through the mutiny. The Bangladeshi Shakespeare may be running out of material.


The writer is a London-based independent journalist.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THAW UNLIKELY AFTER FREEZE

ISRAEL HAS HALTED CONSTRUCTION ON WEST BANK BUT IT MAY NOT LEAD TO THE RESUMPTION OF THE STALLED PEACE TALKS WITH PALESTINIANS WHO REMAIN AS RECALCITRANT AS EVER

BARRY RUBIN


Finally, we know the terms of the US-Israel agreement on freezing construction on settlements. It is a good plan and represents a considerable, but well-crafted albeit unilateral concession by Israel. No licences will be granted or apartments started on the West Bank for the next 10 months. And Israel doesn't consider east Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank.


The US Administration has praised the decision, after all it is pretty much what President Barack Obama has been trying to obtain for nine months and has worked hard to negotiate. "We believe the steps announced by the Prime Minister are significant and could have substantial impact on the ground," said Mr George Mitchell, Mr Obama's special mediator.


But, of course, it will have no impact whatsoever. On the contrary, the Palestinians and Arab states will complain that it isn't enough, that it doesn't mean anything, and that they have more demands. Their openly stated demand is that Israel should just hand over all the West Bank and east Jerusalem in exchange for nothing.

In giving something in exchange for no material gain or even a gesture from the other side, Israel can only hope that the US President appreciates this gesture and remembers that he did not deliver on his promise to get some concession from the Arab side to match it.


But will it be appreciated and even kept by the Obama Administration? Will the world, or even Europe, give Israel any credit for taking one more effort to show that it wants peace? Is it going to be widely understood as demonstrating — unfortunately — that the other side doesn't? Is this going to affect the knee-jerk media view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as being a 'hardliner'?


Well, probably no, but it's worth a try. Mr Obama will be President another three to seven years and he should be shown that Israel wants peace and is willing to cooperate with his efforts to a reasonable extent. But that's also why there's a time limit. It's not a high price to pay for keeping the US happy and showing Mr Obama that Israel wants peace.


Certainly, it won't please the Palestinians, for reasons different from what you might think. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is not so happy. He's complained in an interview that Mr Obama is "doing nothing right now" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "I hope he'll play a more important role in the future," Mr Abbas said.


The Palestinians, according to Mr Abbas, "are waiting for the US to put pressure on Israel so it respects international law, so it takes up the road map… It can do two things: Put pressure on the Israelis so they reject settlements, and put pressure so they accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders".


The problem isn't Mr Obama or Mr Netanyahu; it's Mr Abbas. He is the one refusing to negotiate with Israel and is making a President who promised talks within two months look bad. He wants Mr Obama to get him everything he wants without him making any compromises or concessions.


It isn't going to happen. And the Palestinians, Arabs in general, and lots of Muslims will blame Mr Obama. This must be a shock to him since he tried so hard and leaned over backwards to make them happy. And this disrespect is coming from Mr Abbas, leader of the group which Mr Obama has tried hardest to help in the whole world.


If the Palestinian side was sincere about negotiating seriously and making peace, it would respond rationally. Ok, they could say, it is only for 10 months but we can use that period to make so much progress that it will be extended. Even better, they could understand that if they made a peace treaty and got a state there wouldn't be any more settlements in the territory they would be ruling (though there would be on land swapped with Israel).


But, of course, Mr Abbas and the PA don't intend to do anything serious diplomatically in the next 10 months, or 20, or 30. All he wants is that the US force Israel to "accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders" and give up demands for settling Palestinians only in Palestine, not Israel; ending the conflict forever; having an unmilitarised Palestine; and insisting that it recognise Israel as a Jewish state rather than an impending victim.


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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BE COMPASSIONATE ON RED RIBBON DAY

FIGHTING THE MENACE OF HIV/AIDS REQUIRES MORE THAN SLOGANS AND PIOUS DECLARATIONS, WRITES ABDULLA KP


As in the previous years, World AIDS Day 2009 also carries a theme. This year's theme is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'. It calls global leaders to pledge to work towards universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care, recognising these as fundamental human rights.


International organisations meant to tackle this menace claim that they have made valuable progress in increasing access to HIV/AIDS services, yet greater commitment is needed around the world if the goal of universal access is to be achieved.


According to UNAIDS and WHO, around the world there are 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS. More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. At the end of 2007, women accounted for 50 per cent of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and 59 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.


It is alarming that half of all new HIV infections worldwide account for young people (under 25 years old). And in developing and transitional countries, 9.7 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 2.99 million (31 per cent) are receiving the drugs.


These statistics disclose the stark realty that millions of people continue to be infected with HIV every year. In low and middle income countries, less than half of those in need of antiretroviral therapy are receiving it; many do not have access to adequate care services.


As part of World AIDS Day 2009, various organisations will seek to enforce the protection of human rights as being fundamental to combating HIV and AIDS. Violation of human rights fuels the spread of HIV, putting marginalised groups at a higher risk of HIV infection. By promoting individual human rights, new infections can be prevented and people who have HIV can live free of discrimination.


World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for all of us — individuals, communities and political leaders — to take action and ensure that human rights are protected and global targets for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care are met.


In India, HIV prevalence has declined slightly in recent years. the National AIDS Control Organisation, the official body to assess and control the epidemic, estimates that around 2.3 million people in India are living with HIV. Of these, an estimated 39 per cent are female and 3.5 per cent are children.


Although much of India has a low rate of infection, certain places have been more affected than others. Prevalence of HIV infection is more severe in the southern part of the country and the North-East. The highest HIV prevalence rates are found in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the south; and, Manipur and Nagaland in the North-East.


On this very day we should rethink our attitude towards this burning issue. To be 'positive' towards life and to challenge destiny is the only 'mantra' that 'negative' people have to pass to the victims. We need a mass campaign on the need to be alert about the killer virus, to be positive towards victims, and never to excommunicate or marginalise them.

The message of the Red Ribbon should be more than paying lip service. It should be about constant vigil and compassion.


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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

MURDERED ONCE AND NOW BETRAYED

 

DELHI chief minister Sheila Dikshit and the Capital's lieutenant governor Tejender Khanna have a lot of explaining to do on the parole being given to Manu Sharma, the millionaire brat convicted of killing model Jessica Lal in 1999.

 

The parole to Mr Sharma was given on two grounds — one so that he could take care of his ailing mother and two, that he could support the flagging family business.

 

Both have turned out to be flimsy, if not fictitious. His ' ailing' mother, Shakti Rani Sharma, was busy addressing a Women's Cricket Association of India press conference at her family- owned Piccadilly Hotel in Chandigarh last Saturday.

 

Considering that his father, Venod Sharma, a prominent Congress politician from Haryana with extensive business interests, campaigned extensively during the recent state assembly elections, there are no reasons to believe that the family business needed the services of a convicted murderer. The junior Mr Sharma also has a brother who otherwise runs the business.

 

Clearly, then, the parole seems to be politically motivated, having little or no legal merit. The police also seem to have played a sinister role in an episode when the paroled Manu Sharma allegedly visited a nightclub in the Capital. Frequenting a nightclub is not an offence even if you are on parole. So why did 50- plus policemen reach the nightclub to allegedly apprehend Mr Sharma? The CCTV footage was also confiscated claiming that there was a brawl in the nightclub, something that the owners and eyewitnesses deny. Why? But that is not the only unanswered question that arises out of this murky affair: Was there any due diligence done on the claims made by Manu Sharma in his parole application? Because, he was clearly lying about his mother's ailment.

 

Also, does the law allow a convicted killer to be set free for two months while serving his sentence? Mrs Dikshit defended her decision on Monday, saying " all the rules were followed" in approving the parole application.

 

Ms Dikshit and Mr Khanna are supposed to protect the people from the likes of Mr Sharma. Instead, they let him loose on a flimsy pretext. The state was supposed to protect Jessica; it did not. After her death, it should have protected her interests by ensuring her killer pays for his crime. Instead the Chief Minister and the Lieutenant Governor have betrayed an innocent person who was cut down at the prime of her life.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

METRO FAILURE

 

SUNDAY's chaos on the Delhi Metro reinforces the perception that the capital's only world class institution is slipping on the standards it had set for itself at the time of its inception. It is difficult to resist concluding that the chain of events set into motion after a newly acquired train came to a halt in the underground portion of the Rajiv Chowk- Dwarka line could have been handled a lot better. First, the lights and airconditioners in the train should not have gone off after it came to a halt. Surely, the Metro trains are expected to have a power back- up for such purposes.

 

It won't do for the Metro authorities to say that the rescue efforts initiated by them were hampered because people broke open the doors and jumped into the underground tunnel. When train compartments that are packed with close to a 1000 people are submerged in suffocating pitch darkness inside a tunnel and the crying and shrieking takes over, it is not easy for passengers to keep a stiff upper lip. It is for the Metro authorities to have a concrete contingency plan in place for such situations.

 

The rescue efforts initiated by the Metro authorities and the near- stampede like situation that prevailed at Rajiv Chowk suggest that this was not the case. The rescue train that was sent after the stranded train took too long in coming.

 

It had not anticipated the scenario at the site, with the result that most of the stranded passengers walked their way in the underground tunnel to Rajiv Chowk.

 

The Metro provides us clean and swift urban transportation service, for which we are grateful. But the managers of the system must plan for all eventualities. Their emergency drill should be known to their passengers and, ideally, drilled occasionally.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

PREPARING THE GROUND FOR MODI

BY JYOTIRMAYA SHARMA

 

IF only the media could turn its attention away from the socalled crisis within the government and the party in BJPruled Karnataka, it would be able to see a very interesting, but also darkly diabolical, set of plans being laid out within the RSS and the BJP. One has to be extremely gullible to suggest that only now has the RSS come out in the open to play a more active role within the BJP. The RSS has never distanced itself from politics, whatever its rhetoric might be, and continues to hope that it will guide the destiny of all its 'inspired' organisations.

 

What is new regarding the public posture of the RSS is its desperation to survive as an organisation through the help of the BJP, but also drawing upon individuals within all other parties who could be closet Hindutva sympathisers and fellow-travelers in the dream of making India an aggressive and threatening superpower. Even in the instance of Karnataka, the attitude of the BJP and the Sangh was to save the government rather than the party, knowing full well that sooner or later the inherent contradictions within the BJP's Karnataka unit would resurface and wreck the temporary truce.

 

Remember the time when the BJP was the very picture of a badly organised circus during its meeting in Shimla? Jaswant Singh was camping in Shimla, and was expelled from the BJP for writing a book. Allegations and counter-allegations were flying around and much dirty linen was being paraded, though not always being washed, in public.

 

Gadkari

 

There was the bizarre spectacle of epic loss of memory on the part of L. K. Advani, as also the overnight growth of spine on part of the likes of Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh. While this theatre of the absurd was being played out, the RSS fed a select group of journalists with the ' information' that Manohar Parikkar of Goa was the Sangh's favoured candidate for assuming the leadership of the BJP after completion of Rajnath Singh's term.

 

The reasons for this sudden affection for Parikkar were simple. He was relatively young, he was an IIT alumnus, and he would represent the modern, forward- looking, younger face of the BJP. It would be his job to train and prepare a still younger generation of the Party to eventually take over the business of running the BJP. Many who heard this asked the predictable question, wondering who Manohar Parikkar was, and what political base he could have within the Party to be able to contend with keeping together, however tenuously, a party of differences.

 

In the meantime, the BJP lost two other elections, in Maharashtra and in Haryana, postponed holding its national executive, got away by the skin of its teeth in temporarily solving the Vasundhara Raje question, and managed to make Yeddyurappa and the Reddy brothers stuff laddus in each other's mouth, a sure indication that things will sour between them sooner than later. But while this crisis was hitting the headlines, the RSS was sending out a message to select individuals that Manohar Parikkar was no longer the favoured candidate to assume the president's post within the BJP. The Sangh was now in favour of Nitin Gadkari. After all, had not Mohan Bhagwat said that the future leader of the party ought to come from the states and not from Delhi? Once again, the politically innocent among us asked the inevitable question, " Gadkari who?" and were told that he was the man who led his party in the recently concluded Maharashtra elections and under his leadership, the BJP stood fourth in the list of seats won. I have met and spoken to Gadkari. He is from Nagpur, was not very happy with Sudarshan's RSS, and seems happier with Bhagwat's RSS, but more significantly, he has had a significant charm bypass. He is utterly uncharismatic, inarticulate and betrays no claims to possessing a vision of any sort. The question that remains unanswered is why his name is being mentioned as Rajnath Singh's successor despite having miserably lost a major election in an important state.

 

CALCULATIONS

The RSS wants the press and the people at large to be misled regarding its true intentions. It ideally wants Narendra Modi to succeed Rajnath Singh and eventually be Advani's successor as well. Any public disclosure of these plans would lead to a debate regarding Modi's suitability, raise questions regarding his role in the riots of 2002, but also bring into sharp relief a number of issues related to his authoritarian style and megalomaniacal personality.

 

At the same time, the RSS as well as the BJP are reconciled to living with Modi and looking up to him as saviour and redeemer. If one goes by the strict canons of Sangh orthodoxy, Modi's individualistic streak and his relish of political power are obvious disqualifications. But there are few left within the BJP who have either the popular support or the charisma to make any difference to the dwindling fortunes of the Party as well as the RSS than Modi. The Sangh feels that any adverse publicity against Modi would scare potential and existing allies and make the transition for him difficult.

 

DISINFORMATION

Hence, the strategy seems to be to throw up names like Parikkar and Gadkari, who at best would be stalking horses for Modi, and if, for reasons beyond control, the strategy were to fail, they could step in as a temporary arrangement before Modi's spin doctors could get back to the drawing board and fabricate a new strategy to repackage him for a national role.

 

The perils of this strategy are as obvious. Even if the BJP falls for this model of succession of the RSS, there is no guarantee that Modi will eventually listen to the voice and word of Nagpur. There is no way for the RSS to ascertain that once in a position of leadership at the national level, Modi will endorse hare- brained ideas such as Bhagwat's continued support of the Akhand Bharat- Hindu Rashtra dream. If he does so, it will only be temporary and would be in order to achieve a practical end.

 

Neither does the BJP have any inkling as to the direction in which Modi will lead the party, especially so when the only ideology and the only organisation that he understands is himself. In many ways, Modi is the Sanjay Gandhi of the BJP. While the Congress and the country were spared of his leadership through a tragic set of events, the BJP and the RSS seem to be saddled with him for better or worse.

 

One can only speculate as to when this inevitable transition within the Sangh Parivar and the BJP would take place. But till such time that it does, it is safe to ignore the misinformation that emerges from the RSS regarding the leadership question within the BJP.

 

The writer teaches politics at the University of Hyderabad

 

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MAIL TODAY

HOWRAH EXPRESS

CM'S WAR CRYMET WITH MORE BLOODSHED

ALOKE BANERJEE

 

CHIEF minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's war cry against the Maoists is sounding hollow.

 

Barely two hours after the chief minister roared at a public meeting in West Midnapore on Sunday that the Maoists would soon be chased out of the Left- ruled state with the help of the central forces and the people, the rebels shot dead four EFR jawans and walked away with their rifles with consummate ease.

 

Neither the locals nor the other EFR jawans, stationed less than 150 metres from the spot, offered any resistance.

 

It is clear now that the Maoists are operating freely in the Lalgarh- Belpahari region of West Midnapore as well as in Purulia and Bankura. The deployment of a large number of paramilitary units may be costing the government exchequer a lot but it has been totally ineffective in tackling the Naxals.

 

The style of operation of the forces clearly shows a lack of determination as well as specific intelligence on the whereabouts of the rebels. The CRPF, EFR and BSF only patrol the roads.

 

If they enter the villages at all, they make so much noise — deliberately or otherwise — that the Maoist squads are alerted and escape. On their part, the state police routinely damage villagers' houses, destroy even household utensils and beat up anybody they can lay their hands on. This further isolates the villagers. Only on Sunday, the chief minister asked senior police officials to ensure that innocent villagers are not harassed. It is yet to be seen whether the police follow his instruction.

 

The CPI( M)' s strategy was to raise its own armed force and take on the Maoists at a time the joint forces give the rebels a hard chase. At least 15 camps have been set up by the CPI( M) in the Enayatpur- Goaltore- Garbeta region. But the number of fighters is coming down and their morale is rapidly sinking.

 

In 2001 CPI( M)' s armed squads had effectively neutralised heavily armed Trinamool activists in this same area. This time, the strategy is not working against the Naxals.

 

The Maoists are obviously enjoying the support of the local people. This was candidly admitted even by the state home secretary. The government's repeated promises that it was determined to bring the fruits of development to these areas raises questions over why there has been no development for the last six decades. If Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee really wants development, why is he sending in the police who have occupied the schools and are beating up innocent people, women of Lakshmanpur in Lalgarh asked this scribe during a recent visit.

 

It is significant that the local leadership of the Maoists now comes from the local tribals. A large number of women are not only a part of guerilla squads but are even leading them. The recent attack on Sankrail police station was led by two women.

 

Sunday's attack on the EFR was also led by a woman. The involvement of women in a violent struggle exposes a deep and long existing social malaise, which the government has conveneniently ignored all this while.

 

 


MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

 

GOVT TO MAKE IT HARDER FOR ITS STAFF

EIGHT years after his " Do it now" slogan backfired, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has embarked upon another novel plan to improve the work culture in the state.

 

His government will soon start a 100- mark evaluation system for its employees.

 

Promotions and salary hikes will depend on these bi- yearly assessments.

 

Finance minister Ashim Dasgupta is likely to announce the new policy next week.

 

The CPM- led state coordination committee leaders admit that even in the state secretariat where the chief minister and 28 ministers have their offices, about 60 per cent of the employees come in late and 50 per cent leave before time. This happens even though Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee coined his " do it now" slogan way back in 2001, urging government employees to speed up work.

 

The work culture of government employees in the state has never been something to be proud of. " Who will work? The chairs and tables?" former chief minister Jyoti Basu had once fumed, though even he had largely failed to inculcate discipline among state employees.

 

Several ministers have expressed doubt whether the new scheme would yield results. After repeated electoral debacles it would be hard for the Left government to crack the whip on its employees before the 2011 assembly polls, they felt.

 

BY- POLLS RESULTS CRITICAL FOR LEFT'S FUTURE

 

AFTER stunning defeats in the panchayat and Lok Sabha elections, the Left Front is facing yet another challenge. The results of 10 assembly by- elections will be declared on Tuesday and promise to become a major indicator of the Left's future in this state. Last time, three of the 10 seats belonged to the Left Front, five to the Trinamool Congress and two to the Congress.

 

Left Front leaders look unsure whether they will be able to retain the three seats.

 

A 8- 2 tally will be most satisfying, they say but add that given the anti- Left wave sweeping over the state, the possibility of a 9- 1 or even 10- 0 rout cannot be ruled out.

 

What will happen if the Left's tally goes below the present three seats? The Congress and the Trinamool Congress, fighting the polls jointly, will immediately demand that since the Left is losing every poll, it must step down and seek a fresh mandate from the people. If the Left is able to retain its position, the morale of its cadres, which has now reached its nadir, will surely get a welcome boost.

 

Whether the Left retains its position or not, an increasing number of senior Left leaders now feel that it would have been best to step down and seek the people's mandate by projecting somebody other than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as the chief minister immediately after the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. This would have created a sympathy wave in favour of the Left. The situation is likely to worsen with time and defeat is certain in 2011 when the next assembly polls are slated, these leaders feel.

 

Aloke.Banerjee@.mailtoday.in

RAILWAY minister Mamata Banerjee performed a unique feat on Sunday. She laid the foundation stone for the same bridge for the second time.

Eight years ago, as Railway Minister, she had laid the foundation stone for Bankim Setu in Naihati.

 

On Sunday, she merely changed the name of the bridge to Sampriti Setu and laid its foundation stone again. " You can't work if you don't have brains. We have golden brains," she said during her speech.

 

They have long served their sentence and yet continue to languish behind bars. The reason: those empowered to recommend their release do not even have the time to look into the matter.

 

Ramu Mahato of Hazaribagh was lodged in jail 28 years ago for killing a woman he worked for.

 

Mahato is still in jail. As many as 65 prisoners lodged in various correctional homes in the state have remained behind bars for over 20 years.

 

According to the law, prisoners can resume normal life after serving a sentence of 14 years. But for this, their release has to be recommended by the State Sentence Review Board. The Board's recommendations are sent to the chief minister and the governor, who give the final approval.

 

The State Sentence Review Board, however, has found time to meet only once this year though the National Human Rights Commission's guidelines clearly state that such boards must meet at least thrice a year.

 

The Board finally met last week — for the first time this year. They went through the case histories of 30 prisoners who have been in jail for more than 14 years but recommended the release of only two.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

CLIMATE CALCULUS

 

A draft proposed by the Danish government which is hosting and chairing the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Copenhagen this month is decidedly skewed. It sets 2025 as a deadline for all, including developing countries, to 'peak' emissions, irrespective of their current level of emissions. That principle, paradoxically, rewards countries that have polluted the most so far. In response the BASIC countries Brazil, South Africa, India and China have rallied together and come up with an alternative, more reasonable draft, which sets targets for developing countries as well though not the same ones as those of developed countries.

A no-no for Copenhagen should be trade measures aimed at developing countries in the name of curbing emissions. Yet a carbon tax on countries such as India for not capping its emissions is being proposed by the Americans and now by the French. Sensibly, the British have pointed out the protectionist nature of the carbon tax that French president Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed for EU imports. British prime minister Gordon Brown's proposal of a $100 billion fund, financed by developed countries, for climate mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries is also a good starting proposal for what it would take to get countries like India, which have low per capita emissions and are just starting out on the growth path, to sign on to a wide-ranging climate deal.

Since the first 1992 Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro, the US has remained non-conformist. George W Bush took flak for his insensitive approach to climate change. With Barack Obama's election came hope, and the Climate Bill passed by the House of Representatives became a symbol of the country's intentions to try and set right the wrongs. However, the Bill awaiting Senate approval is not kosher on equity. It seeks to impose trade tariffs on goods imported from developing countries that are not currently reducing their emissions.


Upset over this patronising approach, the BASICs have come up with an alternative idea: cuts in carbon intensity for developing country economies, which are more doable. That should be the basis of New Delhi's stance, showing flexibility as well as keeping its growth options open. A global agreement on climate change ought not to be about who is powerful enough to call the shots; it's about honouring the principles of equity. Old constructs of national interest don't quite apply to climate change, as climate doesn't know any national barriers. Nations meeting at Copenhagen should remember that the alternatives are stark. If equity and internationalism are given the go by, imperial privilege in the name of green principles isn't going to cut it.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

 

The past few days have failed to bring any reasonable amount of clarity to the Kaiga atomic plant incident. The affected plant employees have, fortunately, responded to treatment. But the nature of the radiation mishap tritiated heavy water being introduced into a drinking water cooler raises serious security concerns. Yet, official statements have asserted that there was no security breach, and that the incident was probably the result of deliberate 'mischief' by an employee. If a system failure was not responsible for the water contamination, then deliberate sabotage does fall into the category of a security breach.


There are other questions as well. Why was there a gap between the discovery that tritium had been taken out of the nuclear reactor building and a police complaint being filed? Are adequate screening procedures in place for employees at such installations? After all, given that the culpable party carried out a serious breach of security and then proceeded to deliberately inflict radiation poisoning on a number of employees, mischief seems a trite motivation. It is unlikely that anyone working at an atomic plant would not understand the ramifications of such actions.

The answer to all these questions has one common element: greater transparency. Not in the details of security procedures at such installations, for those must necessarily remain opaque to an extent. But do regular reviews and independent audits of safety and security procedures take place at all, particularly in the context of recent reports about terror threats to our nuclear facilities? How intensively are employees' credentials checked and their health monitored? The safe inventory and disposal of radioactive material is also of vital importance.

India's nuclear programme is headed for rapid expansion. Russia and France have operationalised nuclear agreements with India while Canada is on the verge of doing so. In addition, the deal with the US will see the establishment of at least one reprocessing facility, and possibly more in the future. And of course, the cornerstone of these accords and India's unique nuclear status is International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of the country's designated civilian nuclear facilities. The last thing that New Delhi can afford at a juncture when it is finally emerging as a full nuclear partner to the established powers is questions about the security and safety of its facilities.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

SOHNA CHOWK PARADIGM

Turning left from the Jaipur highway at Rajiv Chowk in Gurgaon you get to the Alwar road, the old road to Jaipur. With much of the traffic now using National Highway 8, the new road to Jaipur, you would imagine there would be little traffic on the old road. Not so. The old road too is chock-a-block with traffic. I was recently stuck at the Sohna Chowk crossing, about 20 km down this road, in what i am tempted to call the mother of all traffic jams. However, there was nothing unique about the traffic jam. It is a daily occurrence here as in hundreds of other crossings around the country. As we waited helplessly and interminably, contemplating the noisy, dirty, energetic world around us, it struck me that in many ways Sohna Chowk is quite representative of India's chaotic path to prosperity.


Why were all the vehicles passing through this place? There is nothing special about Sohna, except for the hot springs in a temple frequented by religious tourists. That there would be some traffic transporting goods and people between the towns and the hinterland of this road is quite understandable. But why the huge container platforms, long vehicles and endless line of trucks overloaded with Aravali rocks? Why do they pass through the narrow winding roads leading to this gridlocked chowk?


The reason is simple. By taking these untolled side roads never designed to carry such loads, these commercial vehicles save thousands of rupees by way of tolls. Corners are cut to save some private costs, but the economic costs to society are huge. On a rough reckoning, at least 1,800 vehicles pass through Sohna Chowk every weekday from about 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., each one stuck for at least half an hour. Back of the envelope calculations translate that to 2,43,000 hours of extra travel time per year. Imagine the money value of that time, not to mention the additional fuel cost of idling engines and the corresponding pollution cost.


These economic and environmental costs could be easily avoided through proper regulation, and enforcement of existing laws. But that is a pipe dream. There are no traffic police to regulate Sohna Chowk traffic, as they are not there in many other choke points in towns and cities around the country. Taxpayers pay for the police, but you have to wonder what services the public get in return. However, this is not just about traffic management. Lack of concern that allows the police to stay away from managing traffic at Sohna Chowk is visible wherever the government is expected to serve the public. Visit any government hospital, railway station, property registration office or any public office and you will see the impatient, contemptuous attitude towards the public. Indeed, this is one of the cultural attributes of India's underdevelopment. Hopefully, as development proceeds the public will count for something more.


Not everything is negative about the Sohna Chowk paradigm. Those long vehicles and container trucks are there because Haryana is emerging as a major automobile manufacturing belt even as India emerges as a leading global player in this industry, and Sohna is in the middle of it. This is the chaotic but very real substance of India's high growth story. Also, traffic jams may cease in another year or so. Not because traffic will go away or the police will manage it but because India has recognised that a large part of the growth story is about sound infrastructure, especially good roads. Under a progressive Hooda government, Haryana is being crisscrossed with excellent roads. A part of the Alwar road is being six-laned, the rest four-laned, at a very hectic pace. This is in stark contrast to neighbouring UP, where highway projects have languished under several governments. Sooner or later, a flyover will replace the chaotic roundabout at Sohna Chowk.


Like railroads in America in the 19th century, roads in India are now one of the major catalysts of high growth. In Sohna's hinterland, as in other parts of India, road development is spawning a wide range of new economic activities and urban settlements. Price of land has doubled and doubled again in recent years. Ordinary farmers have become crorepatis overnight. A part of their new wealth is being spent on huge mansions springing up in the middle of mustard fields, new cars and other forms of conspicuous consumption. Another part is being spent on agriculture especially tubewell irrigation. This may boost crop production, but is also driving down the water table. What will happen tomorrow nobody knows, but let's enjoy the party today. A third part is being invested in off-farm activities: trading, brick kilns, urban property, etc.


All this is happening in and around Sohna, transforming this old pilgrim centre into a new growth centre. Sohna Chowk is the hub of this new rural economy with all its dynamism and chaos, hustling and energy, rising prosperity and declining water tables. That is development Indian style.


( The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi.)

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

IT IS OF IMMENSE VALUE

 

The publication of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, The Original Of Laura, more than three decades after his death has triggered a debate on the merits of publishing posthumous works by writers. Nabokov's latest book is somewhat unusual since the novel was unfinished and only existed as a series of index cards, and the author himself had left instructions with his wife to destroy the fragments. But none of these represents a compelling case not to have published the novel.


If it had not been for Max Brod who chose to ignore Franz Kafka's instructions to destroy his manuscripts some of the masterpieces of 20th century literature would not have seen the light of day. Ironically, if Nabokov had his way his greatest work, Lolita, would have ended up in the incinerator. Nabokov's wife had at least on two occasions prevented the author from consigning the manuscript of Lolita to flames.


Similarly, for Laura, Nabokov's wife and subsequently his son might have disregarded the author's wishes but they have done a service to literature. The book is clearly presented as an incomplete work and is even subtitled 'A novel in fragments'. The format of the book, which is composed entirely of index cards, makes no pretence that the novel is finished. If readers have a problem with Nabokov's wishes being disregarded or the merits of an incomplete novel they are free not to buy it.


Writers such as Nabokov or Kafka are some of the biggest names of modern literature. Whatever they write is of some intrinsic value and deserves a wider audience. The same can be said for artists in other fields. A rough sketch by Van Gogh or an incomplete composition by Beethoven would have tremendous value even if they weren't meant for public consumption.


Nabokov's son could well have seen Laura as a money-spinner. Even if that is the case, the book offers us insights into a great writer's craft.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTER VIEW

NOT A LAST WORD WORTH HAVING

The publication of Vladimir Nabokov's purported last 'novel' has caused no small amount of debate in literary circles. Nabokov, creator of works such as Lolita and Pale Fire, one of the greatest authors the world has ever known, was working on this book before he died. Because he was ill for a long time, he left instructions to his wife to destroy the index cards he'd scribbled his prose on in the event that he wasn't able to finish it before dying. His wife dithered over the cards for some time, and passed away before she could make the decision to burn them, thus enabling their son to cash in on his father's work against his express wishes.


Central to this contentious issue is the question of ownership. Who ultimately owns an author's works? Do we, the public, have the right to ignore the writer's wishes and consume his words in a way that he never intended us to do? While some will no doubt argue that the index cards offer a fascinating glimpse of one of the world's greatest literary minds at work, the fact of the matter is that he never intended for those words to be published in that form. In any case, Nabokov was so ill at the time he was writing this book that the only insight to be gleaned from his notes is how addled his mind had become towards the end of his life.


To consider this book amongst Nabokov's oeuvre would be like judging the merit of the Sistine Chapel from merely its blueprints. Laura might've been a good novel, or even a great one we'll never know. But it is now no more than a gimmick that will no doubt earn Nabokov's estate and his son a significant sum of money and no small amount of attention. Unfortunately, posterity will record Nabokov as having authored this last book, perhaps denting his position in the literary hall of fame. Most of us would want our final requests to be honoured and dealt with conscientiously. It is tragic that one of the most masterful authors of our time could not be accorded the same courtesy.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

DRIVING CRAZY

IT'S ALL IN THE GENES

"Hat, hat, shuss, shuss!" I'd even stuck my head out of the window, but these and numerous other indescribable sounds were not having any effect on the boy on bike, the cow and the dog on the road who continued moving on at their leisurely paces. I turned to find my son pointing in front of me, wondering how in the world to proceed. "The engineers did foresee this insurmountable problem, Mum", he explained patiently, "and provided all cars with this little round thing in the centre of the steering wheel which utters a loud sound when pressed, they call it the horn! Press the damn horn before we're challaned for holding up the traffic!" I hadn't foreseen this and other such little problems while learning driving on empty roads. I saw myself as a champ, flying on them with excellent steering control. Topping my son at those driving games on the computer strengthened the illusion that here was a F1 champ and sucks to those who still thought of women on the wheel as second-class citizens. I could beat any of them.


The first time one took the car out confidently on the real roads, it dawned on me that there were other vehicles on the road, which one had to either follow or overtake. Both were problematic following them seemed too much like bowing to the dictum that women were nervous drivers; overtaking them seemed like leaping off the foggy edge, how could one know what was coming from the other side of the two-way road? So one would speed up and slow down alternately till every other vehicle in the vicinity got laryngitis. Eventually the engine would stall and one would pull up, much to their relief. The next problem was that after somehow managing to reach point B from A, one had to park. The inconsiderate beings there before me seemed to think that leaving space for one car was good enough, evidently they hadn't heard of manoeuvring. It was a slim choice between denting their doors, or sinking my teeth into my own elbow. I'd go red and apologetic earlier, or call my insurance people. But thanks to recent research, when they come now demanding where one learnt driving from, one can smile and show them the little scrap of news i've started carrying around. You can't blame me for my driving skills or the lack of them; it's in my genes! Go and yell at them, not me!

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

LESSONS OF A SHAM EPIDEMIC

ANOOP KOHLI 

 

What would happen if the entire population of a midsize town in this country was stricken with swine flu? There could be 'n' number of stress reactions from the system: quarantine the infected, keep the pigs out, collect samples for confirmation, dispense medication to anyone and everyone, clear all hospital beds for this particular disease alone, contact the disease control centre, do whatever else is possible and keep the authorities informed.

 

Would any of these have a meaning, even if achievable? Can't quarantine the whole population, not enough kits for the tests, not enough beds anyway, and those ill from other causes can't be removed. Medicines will reach the nearest patient, and we don't have more than what would cover 5% of the population. The mortality rate being 5%, that looks accurate, but there is a 95% chance that you will not reach the 5% that would benefit. To do the best then would be as good or bad as to do nothing. Don't lament action. Don't celebrate inaction. Just 'don't'.

 

Try this again with a variable. Suppose someone in the centre for disease control, maliciously reports that the whole population is infected. The human reactions would be exactly the same, even more vigorous, with a central agency supervising. People will be told as a soother, not to panic, and most will be grateful for the reassuring chance of hope. The health minister, if he visits the town and mingles with the people will be proclaimed a hero for risking his life. There will be a few deaths as per the normal incidence. Panic and circumstance will force the coroner to report these as due to the disease. A month later, after fluctuating reports and various trial medications and rituals, the authorities will victoriously declare how 99% of the population was saved. The health minister can now vie for the post of Prime Minister. The pharmaceutical industry, which knows something of what happened, would join the bandwagon, if only to push a new premium drug for upmarket prevention. Sure, part of the proceeds will go for the minister's campaign. The press, despite its investigative arm, cannot but write favorably, if the public sentiment is so overwhelming.

 

A new order starts. Science, human concern and the ability to dare are falsely the attributes of the changed leadership. The people are happy, assured of peace and prosperity for a while. Even the democratic protocol was not broken!

 

Today's world perhaps runs on the fallouts of legitimately tested 'stress tests' of paranoia. One should know the extent, penetration and duration. It all works. Right or wrong are parameters outdated by the ability to stir instant chaos, and yet to be able to snuff it out at the drop of a hat, a moving speech, and a proposed plan to phase out the evil in the near future. That leaves little to doubt the intentions. The results are gratifying in terms of all that counts - power, money, influence. If you have already worked out the Phase II, the influence may last long enough. Beyond that, public memory or political audits have little to exercise in changing public opinions, even to put a block on such campaigns in the future.

 

Finally, if you analyse, it all can work just on the connivance of a couple of crucial men.

 

Here comes the scary part. In an intensely interacting world, moving all the while from one transaction to another, with deals and gains decided at the microscopic level, with far too many players, a calculating mind can slowly start changing the rules. By the time it is noticeable, the momentum and returns are such that many more would join in gradually. It would be a folly not to; in fact you may be duty-bound to play your role.

 

Such clones are now the part of every governing body - variously termed as 'thinktanks', or 'analysis wings'. They work hour to hour, controlling the circumstances within a country, its neighbours and strategic partners. They set up agendas overnight, decide and even prove as yet unknown threats. They choose the right minds for prime-time discussions on key channels, even persuade some noble and distinguished but unsuspecting minds to write essays on decided subjects. Facts and truth are camouflaged by publicity and propaganda.

 

The communist world probably ran on some such principles. Communism, presumably is extinct, but the wile of governance, espionage, and veiled diplomacy have been well learnt by the free world, just as Hitler's technology of destructive armory, even the  German-made Saturn V rocket launcher is crucial to many of Nasa's key programs.

 

The uncertain times we have created are due to collective global mongering.  No one nation can be blamed. Each one seems to have played its role when the ball fell in its court. Leaders changed, statesmen assassinated, at times unmourned, but the theme of reciprocal suspicion, the urge to keep juggling a great deal of issues in the air, and then to do a 'Houdini' at a well-timed moment has become an essential art for diplomatic survival. Today's 007 is not on Her Majesty's Secret Service, or settling a score with the bad 'Goldfinger'. He plays Bond, Goldfinger, and Dr No in the same plot, at different geographical locations. Enumerate all the human tragedies of the decade. We don't have a clue for a single one, because the urgency to stop them has not arisen. They are trying to 'master' them. That may never happen. The mind has a well-known property called 'addiction'. It thrives on perpetuation. Is violence, espionage and distrust becoming the essential instinct for survival - our next step to evolution?

 

Are we entering the age of ongoing weekend war contests between nations, with a global trophy every four years? Will this become the next edition for soaps and reality shows?

 

One does not know what will take one, a swine flu, a bullet, toxic environment, a new drug trial, lack of insurance, communal clash or the stresses of an economic meltdown. Anyway, man never had the option of choosing his end.

 

He, however, had some role in deciding how to live. Just why can't we come down to simple means? There is one compelling reason - we all have just one life to live! And finally we all began as human beings!

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

LOOK TO ARUNACHALA FOR A DIVINE EXPERIENCE

While Mount Kailash is regarded as is the divine abode of Shiva, the Arunachala Hill at Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, is regarded as Shiva Himself. That is why it impels more than 15 lakh pilgrims to walk barefoot on the 14 km path around it every full moon night.


The Shiva Purana says that Shiva manifested here as a Tejoling or subtle column of the blazing light of knowledge. In the Satya Yuga , the first epoch of Creation, Arunachala was brilliant gold. In the Treta Yuga , Arunachala took on the mellow hue of Panchaloha. In the Dwapara Yuga , it had the lustre of burnished copper. In Kali Yuga , Arunachala appears like a rocky hill with bristles and thorns, but its incredible power remains undiminished. Hence Giri Pradikshina or circumambulation of the Hill is considered auspicious.


The Shiva Purana describes Shiva as the source of power because He contains the energy of the whole cosmos, and yet remains unmoving and stable, with no trace of negative energy. Shiva is static, potential energy and Shakti is dynamic, creative energy. The cosmic dance of Shiva and Shakti creates, sustains and dissolves the Universe. However, while Divinity in the formless state, nirakaar, can be experienced by enlightened seekers, many find this intriguing. So, Arunachala, the subtle column of light being still and as eternal knowledge, froze into a static form in order to become more palpable.


The Bharani Deepam or lamp is lit on its summit every year during the Kartik month, when the Bharani star is ascendant. The blaze, a manifestation of His knowledge, burns brightly on the austere, majestic Hill. It is said that those who obtain a darshan of the Bharani Deepam will receive Shiva’s grace in the form of total awareness of the Self. He blesses each seeker saying â€" “Let karma and thoughts of this being be dissolved and let the radiance of soul be unveiled.” The flame represents our own atma jyothi, the effulgence of soul.

How does Arunachala unveil the light of your soul? Normally the mind conceals the soul with thoughts and traps you in time and space. The constantly chattering mind prevents you from experiencing the sound of silence and bliss of soul. Arunachala splits the mind, segregates thoughts and burns them in the fire of knowledge. So, when you enter the vibrant aura of Arunachala which pulsates with serenity and tranquility, thoughts disappear, revealing the effulgence of soul. “Arunaâ€
 means dawning of light and “achala” means unmoving or still.


Each one of us experiences a pull towards Divinity sometime in life. The pull becomes a propulsion, a constant motion that generates a divine vibration which makes us aware of our Soul. This is the call of Arunachala. The Shiva Purana says we can go to Arunachala only when we get this call. Sages assure us that when we circumambulate the Hill with complete surrender, Arunachala dissolves the ego by burning our thoughts one by one, as thoughts form a base for ego. The process liberates us from the cycle of birth and death. The glowing beacon of Jnana or knowledge activates our souls and liberates us from the shackles of time and space forever by making us aware of the limitations of body and senses.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO PARTY ON THE FARM

 

There is enough in the second-quarter government growth estimates to cheer but policy makers cannot escape the rising skew against agriculture and its implications for economic inclusion. GDP grew by 7.9 per cent in the quarter on the back of 7.7 per cent a year ago, giving us a foretaste of even better numbers in the ensuing quarters when the low base of last year's financial crisis should inflate current performance. Overall consumption and investment demand are back to levels seen before the meltdown, and government spending remains a strong fallback. Imports are a worry though; they have fallen twice as fast as exports during the quarter. Although this shores up the immediate report card, significant declines in non-oil imports signal a weak investment appetite in a technology- and capital-starved economy like India's.

 

The cloud (or lack of it) is yet to show up as the effects of the drought will work their way into national income accounts only in the second half of the year. Expectations are kharif output will decline by between 7.5 per cent and 19.7 per cent for principal crops like rice, cereals, pulses and oilseeds. The Central Statistical Organisation arrives at flat agriculture growth for the quarter in question on the assumption that 82 per cent of farm output will post growth rates in the region of 3-4 per cent. As things stand, India's farm produce would have to shrink by 5 percentage points to pull down GDP growth by a point. This degree of agricultural contraction is extremely unlikely given our wide experience with monsoon failure.

 

The gradual decoupling of India's growth from natural forces is a mixed blessing. Agriculture's share of the national income has shrunk by 1.5 percentage points over the past three years to a shade under 17 per cent. Regaining 9 per cent economic growth can only bolster this trend when farm output grows in the best of times at half that rate. Unless labour absorption in the rest of the economy shows a remarkable upsurge, an increasing proportion of Indians will be kept out of the loop. The short-term solution to keep them from falling off the cliff is government-intermediated resource redistribution. But this is not self-sustaining. Alongside a rules-based system for income transfers, the government needs to work on raising the absorptive capacities in industry and services.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CLOSE TO THE BONE

 

One man's meat is from another man's petridish, if a new Netherlands effort to grow meat in labs goes any further. If they do, you may soon be chomping pork chops that have been grown using extracted cells from a live pig and mixed with the broth of other animal products. This abomination is apparently called soggy pork and is bound to put a dampener on those of us who are genuine meat eaters.

 

Scientists have yet to taste the new concoction but this development raises several questions. If your objection, as is that of the militants from Peta, is to eating flesh, how do you stomach anything which looks and tastes like it? How also can you tell whether it's come from a petridish or the hind of an animal? Can these killjoys in the laboratory produce a rare steak complete with its bloody rivulets?

 

Will it contain the protein that we need to write editorials like this? And, of course, that old chestnut climate change is being cited as the reason to bring down real meat production with its attendant methane adding to the greenhouse gases.

 

We don't suppose that the fact that the project is backed by a sausage manufacturer who has got two million pounds from the Dutch government and is seeking more public funds has anything to do with this sudden desire for ethical consumption. So our advice is simple. If you don't like the thought of eating a dead animal, stick to munching on cabbage leaves and cherry tomatoes. Don't waste public money trying to grow your own meat that we cannot imagine will come as cheap as that of a grazing animal. But will there ever be a meating of minds on this one? Yes, it's puns like that one that gives us non-veggies such a rotten rep.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SONGS OF EXPERIENCE

SIDDHARTH SHANGHVI

 

I was a student then, 22, when I decided to write about Aids in India, and my writerly ambition was naïve but my sadness was not. With the percept of grief's unassuming clarity I went to government hospitals where I skulked about at various wards to talk to doctors, nurses, and those living with HIV. If I had come to the subject armed with a scholarly inquiry — I had read research papers, underlined academic tomes, attended conferences — then my vague allusions to scholarship had not prepared me for the horrifying particulars on the ground. One man told me he was treated worse than a stray dog, after which he burst into tears, then turned and left, as if he had been waiting — just waiting — to tell someone. Another woman was heartbroken to learn that her husband had infected her and their infant; she was heartbroken because she did not think her husband would have cheated on her, and HIV's impact on her, her infant's inherited helplessness, was not of immediate concern, the betrayal had cut a deeper wound. 

 

Assimilating these stories I returned to Berkeley, where I put on paper what the ground had given me, and accepted that words can cast a wide net over fury and injustice but they cannot convey the depth of either. I wrote pedantically, systematically, adding references, flashing quotes, building the shape of a paradigm if only to dismantle it; my sterile, scholarly procedure was anesthesia to what I had seen, an antidote to reality, a small answer to big questions. When my friend Elnora read the thesis she remarked it was dreadfully erudite — euphemism for unreadable, dull as daal. Perhaps my feeling for the subject had coloured it, interrupted the unimpeachable lucidity and vigour of a story's linear, engaging unraveling.

 

Sensing my unease, Elnora took me on a drive and off we went into the Berkeley Hills, coming upon a clearing on a street called Euclid. From here, the vista before us was of the Golden Gate Bridge stretching over the Pacific Ocean. Every now and then, fog would roll over the city, and when San Francisco was completely obfuscated my eyes would pull Bombay before my eyes, the hot afternoons at the hospitals where the sick lay on ward beds praying not so much for recovery but the relief of death, the exhausted young doctors from whom one should simply expect wakefulness rather than interest, the nurses who were as much soldier as harridan.

 

The fog cleared, I saw the city ahead of me, and now I imagined just one man in his bed in San Francisco, sick, dying, lonely, alone, tired, bitter, miserable, hopeful. I could see him more clearly than I had any of the people I had met during my many months studying HIV, the researchers, the volunteer workers, the activists. What was his name, how had he come to fall sick, was there no one to look after him? Could I get him a newspaper or lend him a book, should I tell him it was going to be better (it was not) or switch the radio dial from mournful etudes to warm, sprightly saxophone? I suspected that if I'd been allowed a glance into his world it was not to radiate an imaginative sympathy (to borrow Salman Rushdie's wonderful phrase) but to gaze at the profound singularity of his experience. I'm too cynical to believe in revelations — they're generally the prerogative of magic mushrooms or tele-evangelists — but perhaps this distant, anonymous man had given me something, a personal sorrow, larger and deeper than what I had seen before, and as intimate as a love letter.

 

The fog came and went, and I identified a white tower in North Beach, a building in the Financial District. By the time my eyes moved to the promontory of Marin County, behind which the sun had set with an extravagance of colours ranging from smouldering fuchsia to leaden gray, I understood I would have to write about Aids in my fiction. The non-fiction could locate the condition, explain its minutiae, share the prescriptions of experts on the subject. But only fiction and, if you allow me a diva moment, art, could allow us to inhabit all what nonfiction had brought to the table, collared and kenneled, showing us what we did not know, or want to know, or could not know. My thesis won me some sort of a prize at college. Parts of it were rewritten and published by the San Francisco Chronicle and The Times of India. Of course, if I felt at the time that I had failed at my task it was only because its enormity had been revealed to me only accidentally on a street called Euclid, and writing about Aids would always be a failing task for me.

 

Years later, when I sat down to write The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, a pianist appeared before my mind's eye, and I saw his cruel and rapid death from Aids. Then I had only to close my eyes and imagine the man on the bed in San Francisco, and with him came a story that became Samar's story, a gift I did not think I was a lucky — or brave — enough a writer to inherit, or steal. Sometimes, writing is about bearing witness to what one has not seen, if only to see it.

 

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is the author of The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

EASING OFF

 

That the latest figures for India's economic growth are considerably better than expected is certainly cause for much relief. Most estimates, even those from government (and therefore optimistic) economists, put likely second-quarter growth under 7 per cent. But the official announcement from the Central Statistical Organisation on Monday estimated instead that India's economy grew an (adjusted) 7.9 per cent in the second quarter of the financial year 2009-10. That is good news. But the reaction should not be unmixed with caution.

 

The first part to note is that much of this is a response to timely and effective government spending. Private consumption went up by 5.6 per cent over the corresponding quarter last year; but government spending rose by a whopping 26.9 per cent. Much of that is the pay commission; some of it is spending on various subsidies and transfers that have gone up since last year. This is, obviously, unsustainable. The finance minister recognises that. So we should hope for, and expect, the beginnings of an exit from expansionary fiscal policy in a few months. The recovering figures for industry, for example, give us a clue as to how to go about it. The auto parts sector, for one, a sector that was so badly hit by collapsing external demand, may no longer require the stimulus that excise cuts had provided. That's an example of exit mechanisms that should be looked at closely. Of course the agricultural figures — according to the break-up, agricultural output stagnated, neither growing nor falling — don't reflect the impact of the drought that India has endured this year. Given the several independent estimates that show agricultural output falling by 15 per cent or so, next quarter's figures will have to take that into account — though because the base is low, they may not impact the overall figure too much. Then, too, the mining sector did well according to these figures — reflecting movement in the gas sector.

 

That industrial production has gone up is, thus, helpful in determining the structure of exit; and the fact that these better-than-usual numbers are predicated on unsustainable factors also determines the degree to which the foot cannot be taken off the pedal. Any exit from expansionary policy must be well-designed. If there's one thing that these numbers make clear, it is that hiking interest rates is the bluntest possible instrument to use, and may well be counter-productive.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TOWERING PREJUDICE

 

In a move that has reverberated across Europe, 57 per cent of Swiss voters decided through a referendum to block the construction of a minaret in Langenthal, just north of the country's capital, Berne. A two-year campaign by the nationalist Swiss People's Party insisted that minarets thrusting into the skyline would be a concrete sign that Switzerland was systematically being turned into an Islamic nation. Switzerland is not alone in this paranoia; after decades of immigration (consciously encouraged by post-war Europe), the entire continent is contending with questions of assimilation and identity, and the tension between metropole and margin. They have surfaced around mosques in Germany, headscarves in France. Given how ferociously conformist the Swiss are — you can't flush a toilet in an apartment block after 10 at night, people routinely tell on their neighbours for minor rule-breaking — this minaret proposal was bound to shake up the citizenry.

 

Then again, Switzerland is a place of oddly made institutions. It has long been a Swiss conceit that their democracy is the most bottom-up effective; built around referenda, it means the average citizen casts her vote on as many as 20 different issues a year, from big national questions to matters which intimately affect a community. These work in peculiar ways, often holding up crucial change: for instance, women were enfranchised for federal election only as late as 1971, and one Swiss canton denied women the right to vote locally until 1990.

 

So the big takeaway from the ban is the danger of involving the people in every decision — especially polarising ones that hinge on matters of tolerance — without allowing a mediatory role to the institutions of liberal democracy. American states with a strong record of direct legislation have shown how the ballot can be deeply illiberal; if you're homosexual in Colorado or an immigrant in California, you can find your rights struck down at various points by a bigoted electorate, no matter how well-intentioned your political representatives are. Switzerland's ban must re-ignite the debate on illiberal vs liberal democracy.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

KAIGA TEST

 

There is understandably a veil drawn over what transpires at nuclear plants. However, the government and India's nuclear establishment have put out assurances that there is no need to fear a wider fallout of the incident at the Kaiga power plant in which about 50 workers were exposed to radiation from tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and by-product of heavy water reactors. S.K. Jain, chairman and managing director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, has said that the preliminary investigation has not revealed "any violation of the operating procedures or radioactivity releases or security breach." Following medication, the affected workers returned to work and only one is reportedly found to carry contamination levels bordering on the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board's prescribed upper safety limit. MoS for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan has added that the safety of India's nuclear power plants is not in doubt.

 

In context, the incident at Kaiga may be minor. But all authorities appear to concur with Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Anil Kakodkar's earlier statement that somebody had deliberately put tritiated water in a drinking water cooler that has been identified as the source of the radiation contamination. This cooler, from which the exposed workers drank, is outside the reactor building; but nuclear establishment sources claim that an outsider had no means of mixing tritium in its water. If it is indeed an inside job, there perhaps was no security breach. But then what prompted the so-called "disgruntled insider" to perform this criminal act and how did he manage it?

 

Early detection may have prevented a more dangerous outcome this time, but the investigation must run its course and catch the culprits. There is, after all, a wider civic and humanitarian issue at stake here — let alone security breaches, even an "act of mischief" on the inside at a nuclear installation always has the potential to spell a bigger disaster.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

TO JUDGE OR NOT TO JUDGE

J. S. VERMA

 

Is the Dinakaran imbroglio really a puzzling question? I do not think so. The Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, is right that the collegium is bound to follow the Supreme Court decisions on the point relating to the appointment of judges, till the law is changed. The real issue is: on that basis, is the solution for the problem not obvious? Once again my answer is in the affirmative. I have no doubt that the credibility of the appointment process and the image of the judiciary must not suffer further damage, shaking the public confidence which is the true strength of the judiciary. This factor impels me to write this piece.

 

The blame for the current situation is attributed mainly to the Supreme Court decision in the 1993 Second Judge's case (AIR 1994 SC 269), which gave primacy to the opinion of the judicial collegium in the matter of appointments. As the author of that opinion I must dispel that impression — indicating that the decision does carve out to the executive the area of non-appointment of a person on the ground of doubtful antecedents. The executive, therefore, is not helpless if in such a situation the judicial collegium's recalcitrance to withdraw the recommendation continues. It is the duty of both organs to ensure that a known doubtful appointment is not made of a judge at any level, more so in the apex court.

 

Let me say at the outset that I neither know Justice Dinakaran, nor do I comment on the merits of the allegations made against him. I speak only on the basis of the information in the public domain brought out by media reports of the uncontroverted facts, which to my mind are sufficient for his non-appointment to the Supreme Court on the above ground.

 

A brief reference to the existing law governing the appointment of Supreme Court and high court judges on which the appointing authorities rely is useful. The recognised principle stated in the 1982 First Judge's case to govern the exercise was reiterated in my separate opinion in the K. Veeraswami case (1991(3) SCC 655), thus: "The collective wisdom of the constitutional functionaries involved in the process of appointing a superior judge is expected to ensure that persons of unimpeachable integrity alone are appointed to these high offices and no doubtful person gains entry. It is, therefore, time that all the constitutional functionaries... should be fully alive to the serious implications of their constitutional obligation and be zealous in its discharge in order to ensure that no doubtful appointment is made even if some time a good appointment does not go through. This is not difficult to achieve." (Emphasis supplied.)

 

In the 1993 Second Judge's case the majority opinion, which I wrote, held: "The process of appointment of judges of the Supreme Court and the high courts is an integrated 'participatory consultative process' for selecting the best and most suitable persons available for appointment... There may be a certain area, relating to suitability of the candidate, such as his antecedents and personal character, which, at times, consultees, other than the Chief Justice of India, may be in a better position to know. In that area, the opinion of the other consultees is entitled to due weight, and permits non-appointment of the candidate recommended by the Chief Justice of India... If the non-appointment in a rare case on this ground turns out to be a mistake, that mistake in the ultimate public interest is less harmful than a wrong appointment... Non-appointment for reasons of doubtful antecedents relating to personal character and conduct, would also be permissible." (Emphasis supplied.)

 

Thus, the settled law on the point is: a person of doubtful integrity or antecedents should not be appointed a judge of the Supreme Court; the area of non-appointment on this ground is clearly in the executive domain, notwithstanding the recommendation for appointment made by the CJI; it is safer and in public interest to not appoint a doubtful person, even if it turns out later to be a bona fide mistake. The executive is not powerless to thwart the appointment of such a person; the Supreme Court decision expressly empowers the executive in this behalf.

 

In Justice Dinakaran's case, the media reports, based also on the statements of the CJI, say that the report of the district collector sought on some allegations pertaining to land grabbing is adverse to the candidate and that the outcome of a further inquiry by another authority is awaited. If the available material is sufficient to create a reasonable doubt warranting further inquiry, the test for non-appointment laid down judicially is satisfied and it is difficult to appreciate the propriety of keeping alive the issue of his appointment to the Supreme Court. I for one, with experience of the office of CJI and as the author of the opinion that lays down the existing law, find the persistence with the recommendation embarrassing and contributing to an erosion of the image of the institution. I wish the imbroglio ends soon with withdrawal of the recommendation.

 

The power of withdrawal is inherent and need not be specified. There are precedents of withdrawal of recommendations even to the Supreme Court on discovery of adverse material subsequently. I myself, as CJI, withdrew a recommendation for appointment of a judge as chief justice of a high court on further information regarding his antecedents. I wish this matter ceases to get curiouser every day. That is not good for the institution, which is bigger than any individual.

 

It must be remembered that elevation to the Supreme Court and continuance in the high court are two different issues. Merely non-appointment to the Supreme Court does not automatically call for removal of the judge from the high court, which can be done only for "proved misbehaviour or incapacity" under Article 124(4). For non-appointment, a reasonable doubt, as indicated above, is sufficient; and for removal further inquiry ending with proof based on authentic materials of the allegations of misconduct or misbehaviour is necessary. In the case of Justice Dinakaran, his non-appointment on this material is at present the only issue.

 

I write this piece with the hope that it helps to end the imbroglio soon, satisfactorily.

 

The writer is a former Chief Justice of India

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE WHITE SHEEP

ALIA ALLANA

 

Dubai is. It is over-the-top extravagance, it is opulence in abundance, an imagery that challenges even the most feverish imagination. Far removed from a time when there was more desert than development, Dubai has become the star of the Emirates.

 

And now, it has buckled under the pressure of its own zealousness: asking for a debt standstill, unable to pay back $59 billion sukuk.

 

Dubai's glory days were being questioned even as the recession set in. Voices whispered that the property bubble had burst, that the countless cranes lining the skyline lay idle, that wealthy investors — the type Dubai wanted — would abandon the country, scared by plummeting oil prices. So they threw a party. To celebrate a new, palm-shaped island. And what a party it was. Sheikhs rubbed shoulders with Lindsay Lohan; shipping tycoons discussed trade as Kylie Minogue rocked the party. A huge success, according to the Dubai "It" crowd; but frowned upon from afar. Was this really a time to party?

 

Then the bad press came swamping in. Investments overlooked earlier now became the talk of the town: the P&O Ferry Line; that the QE2 was docked, unable to get decked up; that Dubai was as plastic as the Madame Tussauds it had invested in.

 

But there is more to Dubai than gold-lined palm-tree boulevards and imported white sand.

 

Firstly, acknowledge the role Dubai played once the great cities of Beirut, Cairo, Tehran and Damascus fell. Their wars and the trials that followed created a vacuum in the Middle East. Beirut lay ruined, Cairo suffered a blow following the crushing of its pan-Arabist dreams, Damascus was embroiled in its own insurgencies, and the rise of the Islamic Republic pushed Iranians out of Tehran. An alternative was needed: and Dubai has always been a laissez-faire economy with less pinching political and religious inclinations. Populations from elsewhere could be easily absorbed.

 

Dubai already served as a refuelling and relaxation stop during the various Gulf Wars. Wealthier refugees from Iraq, Iran, Armenia came to form permanent settlements in colonies; economic migrants came from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

 

Diaspora communities built Dubai. The first Gulf War was a major catalyst: wealthy businesses and large chunks of the foreign trading communities — first from Kuwait, and later from Bahrain as the Shi'a insurgency there picked up — moved their businesses to Dubai. Thus grew the idea of "Modern Dubai." Sheikh al-Maktoum's philosophy of "build and they will come" was first conceived by the creation of Emirates airlines, and then a mall or two sprang up, catering to increased demand. Naturally everyday life of Dubai "locals" was disrupted. Ask us if the changes were welcomed and they will grudgingly dodge the topic, then proceed with a "No, not really..." It simply disturbed everyone and everything — until recently.

 

As much as Dubai is a copy of Las Vegas-style development, where aesthetics and architecture often clash and urban planning is at odds with reality (note how the Palm Islands project was delayed due to poor sewage conditions around its fringes), Dubai focussed attention on the Emirates.

 

Development in Dubai has allowed for the wise investments undertaken by Abu Dhabi. Who would have thought, back in 1992, that Abu Dhabi would have the privilege of developing the latest F1 circuit, or that the remote emirate of Sharjah would become an urban metropolis too? Dubai's growth has spurred growth in the Emirates. As the rents continuously rose between 1998-2006, less wealthy migrants spurred a property boom in Sharjah. Real estate boomed in Al Ain too, which developed its own free zones. It's not all competition though: consider the Dolphin Project. This aims to develop links between the gas infrastructure of Qatar, the UAE and Oman. What's more, the Gulf Cooperation Council also reaped benefits from Dubai's growth.

 

Oman is now a major tourism destination. It has the gorges, the rivers and the turquoise sea Dubai has attempted to replicate. Its airline is giving Emirates a run for its money. Bahrain too challenges Dubai: the so-called Sheikh of Fashion who climbed to fame in Dubai with his Boutique One brand has gone back home to Bahrain to set up similar luxury stores.

 

Simply put, there is more to Dubai. Yes, it may be an exercise in extravagance but its spill-over effects are beneficial to the region. So, as far as the wise cousin bailing out his badly-behaved relative line goes, one needs to look deeper, beyond Dubai Inc. Beyond the façade.

 

alia.allana@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

AND THEN, ACTION NOT TAKEN

 

Section 3 of the Commission of Inquiries Act provides that when the Central or state government is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so, it may appoint a commission to inquire into any matter of definite public importance. If the appropriate legislature (Parliament or state legislature) passes a resolution to that effect, the appropriate government is bound to appoint such a commission. This power of the

 

appropriate government has been judicially held to be based on the subjective satisfaction of the government as to the existence of a definite matter of public importance which requires to be inquired into. It is not justiciable as a court cannot direct the appointment of such a commission. This is the stage where political wisdom overtakes rational wisdom, making it possible for a government to play the ostrich burying its head in the sand and pretend that no such situation exists, even if there is a public outcry. The eventuality of the appropriate legislature passing a resolution and compelling the government to appoint a commission, though theoretically possible, is remote, as it may be avoided by deft political manoeuvring.

 

More often than not, the public importance of the definite matter stems more from its political overtones than its inherent moment. The overtones make it inherently difficult for a person not immune or indifferent to political pressure to act judiciously and in accordance with the

 

dictates of his conscience. The commission then degenerates into a convenient tool in the hands of the political class to stifle debate in the legislature and hope that the groundswell of public opinion would eventually subside with the passage of time.

 

The act prescribes no qualification for the person to be appointed on the commission. This gives another handle to the government to appoint any convenient bureaucrat effectively to whitewash the issues and ensure that there are no adverse findings against it. The person chosen may also be a retired judge whose self-interest may override judiciousness in his findings. Every time there is such a definite matter of public importance, and the government dithers, there is persistent clamour for the appointment of a sitting judge, preferably of the high court or Supreme Court, to preside over the commission. In theory, at least, the last category of persons is expected to be impervious to political carrots and sticks.

 

The inevitable political overtones of the inquiry throw open the doors to all busybodies to claim before the commission that they represent particular interests that have certain facts to present and views to project during the inquiry before the commission. Even if many of them are publicity seeking busybodies, it becomes impossible to separate the chaff from the grain until the whole process is completed. Apart from dumping tonnes of relevant and irrelevant documents on the commission, the representatives of different sections, often represented by astute counsel, insist on interminable cross-examination of witnesses, often randomly and ramblingly. The commission is often buffeted by the strong side winds, unable to steer the course for the inquiry charted by it. Any stern ruling by the commission brings forth flared tempers, acrimony, innuendos and outright allegations of bias. The commission must be made of sterner stuff if it has to navigate the turbulent sea of voluble lawyers, perjuring witnesses and uncooperative officers of the government to grapple with the Holy Grail of truth.

 

The task of the commission is to sift through the mass of documents and testimonies presented before it and draw rationally acceptable conclusions and suggest appropriate remedial measures to the government. The blame game freely indulged in by all political parties renders this task of the commission immeasurably complex. The sheer political sensitivity of the task daunts many, impelling them to seek quietude by adroit avoidance of appointment to the commission by convenient excuses, perhaps to prove Alexander Pope's astute observation that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

 

Even if an occasional lionhearted one volunteers to brave the flings and arrows of an outrageous fortune and decides to take arms against a sea of troubles to end them all, the outcome is utterly disillusioning. The government that solemnly appointed the commission is not obliged to accept the findings of the commission and may disdainfully dismiss them as "not acceptable" with nary an apology for the sheer waste of precious time, talent and public funds. True, Section 3(4) of the act requires that the report of the commission be tabled before the appropriate legislature together with a Memorandum of Action Taken. This is intended for the legislature to debate upon before acceptance. Aye, there lies the rub, for such a memorandum, called the Action Taken Report in popular parlance, gives free rein to the use of bureaucratic jargon to obfuscate material facts and metamorphose the Action Taken Report into a veritable No-Action Taken Report.

 

An unbiased reader of such an Action Taken Report will often find it to be an exercise in suppressio veri, if not suggestio falsi. Creative usage of bureaucratic language used in such an Action Taken Report is often replete with such circumlocution as would make Samuel Johnson blush in his grave. The findings of the commission accepted would be relatively few and insignificant, as compared to those that are officiously rejected as not acceptable. The reasons given for such non-acceptance of the commission's findings are hardly enough to satisfy a reasonable mind but miraculously the legislature is made to accept the ATR and treat the matter as closed. The aggrieved citizens are left wondering as to whether the exercise was worth the time and money spent.

 

This is the painful and pitiable saga of most reports of commissions of inquiry appointed in this country so far. In the final analysis, the whole exercise, to quote William Shakespeare, resembles "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Justice Srikrishna, who headed the commission of inquiry into the Bombay riots of 1992-3, retired as a judge of the Supreme Court

express@expressindia.com

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE WASHINGTON WASHOUT

SHAILAJA BAJPAI

 

From a public relations standpoint, Dr Manmohan Singh's timing was off. A prime minister's visit to the US is headline news. When he is the first state guest at the White House for the Obamas, it's the "exclusive", live, breaking news, just-in lead story of the day — and night. Instead, events of the day, like the Liberhan Commission report, overshadowed the visit. And then, of course, there was 26/11.

 

The PM's visit coincided with the first anniversary of 26/11 and TV news had 24x7 coverage of it throughout the week. The BJP may frown at this preoccupation, even obsession with 26/11; and they are right to remind us that many other crimes, calamities or deprivations receive a fraction of media attention. But those 60 hours were an attack on our sensibilities, at least partially because we had a real time ringside TV view. The attacks were preceded by months of terrorist attacks in different parts of the country — Jaipur, Bangalore, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Malegaon. Television coverage of 26/11 — excessive, exaggerated — reflected, in a sense, our helplessness in the face of such attacks. In 2009, thus far, we have not experienced terror of a similar nature. Thus, 26/11 is unique and has been invested with a symbolic meaning that goes beyond the immediate human tragedy. Thus, the TV coverage of the anniversary was always going to be overblown. And in the process, the prime minister's American visit — which should have been portrayed as a historic first — received less than its fair share of attention. Even on BBC and CNN, the British inquiry into the Iraq war took precedence, Then again, state visits are not planned with an eye on media coverage.

 

On November 26, 2009, we watched November 26, 2008. You could not have watched anything else. All the news channels had acquired lengthy CCTV footage of the attacks and transcripts or voice-overs of the Pakistani handlers' conversations with the terrorists. The horror is still chilling, spellbinding. The length of the entire episode and its live coverage, has, uncannily, left us the most complete account, to date, of a terrorist attack in progress. Brrrrr.

 

News channels reconstructed those 60 hours with actors playing the major roles. Hindi news favoured this approach with India TV, who else, and News 24 leading the way. Most recounted the memories of their reporters who covered the shoot-outs, or those of the surviving relatives and friends. It was up close and personal, it was real. NDTV 24x7 and CNN-IBN had dialogues with the home minister who looked most self-assured and confident of our preparation, lest someone launch another such assault. Let's hope he is.

 

CNN-IBN's 60 Hours, spread across several days, was the best: comprehensive, yet succinct and telling without being overly sensational. Discovery's hour-long Surviving Mumbai relied on the memories of foreign survivors to tell the tale. It worked well, not least because the survivors were eloquent witnesses: they painted pictures with their words, set off against dramatic reconstructions without too much blood and tears. Our TV news depended heavily on the CCTV footage and the Pakistani handlers' conversations; we saw people being shot, killed. Maybe we didn't have to.

And maybe, Star Plus didn't have to inflict Un Hazaaraon Ke Naam on us. Or Vinod Khanna, Seema Biswas or a host of other actors who, poor dears, had to play many of those who became involved in the attacks. From the Holtzbergs' maid Sandra to Karambir Kang, the general manager of the Taj Hotel, from a grief-maddened mother to badly injured child, 26/11 was suddenly a poorly scripted, poorly produced docu-drama. Such a production requires enormous skill, plenty of money and an acute sensibility. Not quite there.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A SHOWPIECE OF SYNERGY

VIKRAM S MEHTA

 

A disclaimer. This article has been triggered by a museum project that my wife Tasneem has spearheaded over the past decade or so. I have no other personal involvement or interest in the project.]

 

The restoration of the erstwhile Victoria & Albert Museum of Mumbai, now named the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, to its pristine splendour is a microcosmic example of how trilateral partnerships between the government (as the custodian of national assets), the private sector (with its management, marketing and financial resources) and the NGO community (as the providers of niche expertise and local knowledge) can "bit by bit, project by project" overcome the systemic blockers to excellence in performance. The project also highlights the conditions that must be secured if excellence is not to be but a momentary blip on a screen of mediocrity.

 

The museum is the oldest in Mumbai and the second oldest in the country. It came into existence as the result of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. The authorities made a replica of everything that was sent to London and it was to house these copies that funds were raised by Bombay's merchant princes. A wonderful building in classical Palladian architecture was completed in 1872.

 

Sadly, over the years and on account of neglect and disinterest, the building and its exhibits lost their lustre. In the mid-'90s, when my wife, as the Head of the Mumbai chapter of INTACH (The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) "discovered" the museum, it was in a state of total degradation. Huge chunks of plaster had peeled off the walls; naked wires were dangerously exposed; the interior gildings and decorative details had faded and whitewashed over and the exhibits were difficult to see through the encrustation of dust that layered every glass case.

 

Tasneem persuaded the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, which owned the museum to allow INTACH to undertake its restoration. They agreed on the condition that funds be raised from the private sector. Rahul and Neeraj Bajaj met this condition with a generous donation and eventually a trilateral trust deed was signed between INTACH, the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and the Municipal Corporation. The uniqueness of the deed was the recognition that the restoration project needed to draw upon and leverage the diverse but complementary assets of each partner, viz the Municipal Corporation to overcome systemic inertia, expedite approvals and provide supplementary matching funds; the Bajaj Foundation for finance and relevant advice and INTACH for technical expertise and project leadership.

 

A decade of effort and there is only one word to describe the transformation — extraordinary. I say this conscious that readers might discount the partisan judgment of a husband but my views are shared. UNESCO for instance awarded the project its highest accolade of excellence in 2005 — one of only two projects worldwide to receive this accolade that year

 

Why do I believe this small and specialised project has broader significance? The answer to my mind lies in the complexity of contemporary economic and social development. The government must of course bear preponderant responsibility for addressing the aspirations and concerns of its citizens. But in today's connected, competitive and resource constrained world the government does not have all the tools. It needs the support of the particular expertise and resources of business and civic society.

 

To some limited extent, government and business have started to share a common platform. This is partly because of the altered relationship between the two. In the days of the license raj business were supplicants of the government. This is no longer so. The traditional antipathy that government had in bringing businesspersons into policy discussions has, for instance, diluted. Witness the number of businessmen that sit on government committees and the nature of the interaction between officials and the various industry federations. It is also because business does realise that they cannot remain cloistered within their corporate domain. They have to be more broadly engaged; else they run the risk that society will revoke their license to operate. But this sharing is still episodic, personal and unstructured. There is no formal vehicle through which the uniquely distinctive skills and assets of say Unilever (marketing and distribution), WIPRO (IT), Reliance Industries (project management), and HDFC (financial innovation) can be pulled together in partnership with the government to identify and promote income and employment generating opportunities. Most people believe that a partnership between the government, the private sector and civic society is impossible to structure. One reason why I have pegged this article on the museum project is because it belies this view and offers an example of what can be achieved if indeed the government, the private sector and civil society do successfully leverage their respective strengths and assets towards a common goal.

 

The challenge, of course, is to sustain excellence. It is one thing to execute a project with a defined goal and timetable successfully. Another to ensure that it is run continuously to comparable standards. The restoration was successful because the individuals involved were uniquely committed. The question is whether the museum will be run equally well. I do not know the answer, but I do know that like any developmental project it will depend on whether the Municipal Corporation is able to institutionalise the idea of excellence that motivated its restoration.

 

The writer is chairman of the Shell Group of Companies in India. Views expressed are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE FIRST CUTS

KIRITSPARIKH

 

Under the Bali action plan, developing countries are required to take Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions with financial and technical assistance.

 

In the climate change negotiations India, as the articulate leader of the G77 group of 77 developing countries is seen as an obstacle as it refuses to accept any verifiable mitigation obligation. The Indian negotiators are frustrated that even when we are doing a lot to reduce our emissions it is not appreciated while China, which emits as much as five times our total emissions seems to get good press internationally. Obviously, we are not doing a good job of communicating what we are doing. Should India take some mitigation commitments? If so, what price or what quid pro quo should we demand?

 

I argue here that there are many things we have to do for our own energy security that can be accelerated and can qualify as mitigation obligation. This could be a win-win possibility provided the rich countries take on deep cuts and compensate us for the additional cost of acceleration. These include the following:

 

• Dedicated railway freight corridors to increase share of railways in freight traffic by 10 percentage points by 2020

 

• Increase the average efficiency of coal based power plants from 30.5 per cent to 33.5 per cent by 2020

 

• Improve fuel efficiency of four wheeled vehicle fleet by 20 per cent by 2020

 

• Double the number of buses/person in urban areas by 2020

 

• Install solar water heaters in 50 million homes by 2020

 

All these are doable, very desirable for our energy security and can save significant quantities of GHG emissions. I elaborate below:

 

Dedicated Railway Freight Corridors

 

A tonne-km of goods traffic carried by trucks use four times as much diesel as when it is moved by rails even when railways run on diesel. In 2006-07 the total goods movement by road and rail was 1250 billion tonne kilometers (btkm). The railways share has come down from more than 80 per cent in the 1950s to around 38-40 per cent around which it has stabilised over the past few years. By 2020 our freight movement would be around 3000btkm. If railways share increases by 10 percentage points, then 300 btkm of freight traffic would move from road to rails. The amount of diesel saved per year would be 6 to 10 million tonnes. This would mean a reduction of 18 to 30 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

 

Efficiency of Coal Based Power Plants

 

On September 30, 2009 India's installed capacity of coal based power plants was 80000 MW out of a total capacity of 152000 MW. The energy efficiency of coal use is around 30.5 per cent. The state of the art plants in Germany run with efficiency of 46 per cent. Since the ambient air temperature in India is higher than in Germany, we cannot get the same efficiency, but we can surely get around 40 per cent. We can ensure that all our new plants attain an efficiency of at least 38 per cent. We will need to add at least 80000 MW, if not more, of coal based power plants by 2020. This will give us an average efficiency of coal use in power plants of about 34.5 per cent as the new plants would generate more than the old ones. This will reduce our coal consumption by more than 70 million tonnes per year and our CO2 emissions by more than 110 million tonnes per year.

 

Improve Four Wheel Vehicles' Fuel Efficiency

In 2006 there were in India around 17 million four wheel motor vehicles, cars, buses and trucks. The fuel consumption of these vehicles was around 30 mt. The number of vehicles is growing rapidly and by 2020 if the acceleration continues we may have around 70 million vehicles. Consuming at the same rate and efficiency, the fuel consumption would be more than 125 mt in 2020. A 20 per cent increase in efficiency will save 25 mt of petrol and diesel and reduce emissions of CO2 by 75 mt.

 

Increase Number of Buses

In 2008 a little more than 100000 buses served some 1150 million people in India providing public transport. Some 500 billion passenger kilo metres (pkm) were provided by these buses, which consumed some 1.85 mt of diesel. With a projected population of about 1400 million in 2020 and the same bus/person ratio we can expect 125000 buses consuming 2.25 mt of diesel and serving 600 billion pkm. Doubling the availability of buses per person we can attract more people to travel by bus rather than private vehicles. If we can double the travel by bus to 1200 billion pkm, and if we assume that travel by private vehicle would consume 0.025 litres per pkm, the net saving of petroleum products (petrol saved - additional diesel consumed by buses) would be 19 mt per year and reduction in emission of CO2 of some 55 mt per year.

 

50 Million Solar Water Heaters

Pillai and Bannerjee of IIT -B have estimated a saving of 1300 kwhr per year with a water heater of 2 square meters collector area. 50 million water heaters will save 65 billion units of electricity per year at the consumer end and some 95 billion units of generation. This will save some 65 mt of coal per year. The saving in CO2 emissions would be around 100 mt per year.

 

These measures together thus can save more than 350 mt of CO2 per year.

 

• 20 mt from dedicated railway freight corridors

 

• 100 mt from higher efficiency of coal plants

 

• 75 mt from improved efficiency of motor vehicles

 

• 55 mt by doubling bus density

 

• 100 mt by 50 million solar water heaters

 

This would be around 16 per cent of our current emissions and 10 per cent of our projected emissions by 2020 assuming they will continue to increase at 4 per cent per year.

 

India can offer to take these commitments provided we are compensated for the additional expenditure involved and provided the Annex 1 countries accept deep cuts. By deep cuts I mean 30 per cent reduction by 2020, 50 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050 over their 1990 emissions.

 

The writer, former member of the planning commission, is chairman of Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe)

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE STORY THAT REFUSES TO DIE

THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Much of the Muslim world still buys into `the Narrative' which pits America against their interests

 

WHAT should we make of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?
Here's my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced -- I assume anyone who sume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers,abouthowheshowedupatapublichealth seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam, and about his contacts with Anwar alAwlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America -- the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by "The Narrative."

 

What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, The Narrative still got to him.

 

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books -- and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes -- this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand "American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy" to keep Muslims down.

 

Yes, after two decades in which US foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny - in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan--anarrativethatsaysAmericais dedicatedtokeepingMuslimsdownisthriving.

 

Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslimworldafter9/11,partlytosenda message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes - the Taliban and theBaathists--andtoworkwithAfghansand Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindnessaimedatgivingArabsandMuslimsa betterchancetosucceedwithmodernityandto elect their own leaders.

 

The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.

 

It's working. As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: "This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. [It says] the West, and right now mostly the US and Israel, is single-handedly and completely responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people's grievances over why their countries are falling behind.

 

"Liberal Arabs like me are as angry as a terrorist and as determined to change the status quo," said my Jordanian friend. The only difference "is that while we choose education, knowledgeandsuccesstobringaboutchange, a terrorist, having bought into the narrative, has a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which are inculcated in us from childhood, that lead him to believe that there is only one way, and that is violence."

 

What to do? Many Arab Muslims know that what ails their societies is more than the West, and that The Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves. But none of their leaders dare or care to open that discussion. In his Cairo speech last June, President Obama effectively built a connection with the Muslim mainstream. Maybe he could spark the debate by asking that same audience this question: "Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, `This is not Islam.' I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn't. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us -- and to yourselves."

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE NEARLY 8% STORY


Hardly anyone expected GDP growth in the second quarter of 2009-10 to be as high as 7.9%, in fact the highest in the last 6 quarters. Needless to say the numbers will bring much cheer in India, perhaps even draw attention away from the crisis in Dubai, at least temporarily. A closer look at the disaggregated numbers reveals a few interesting trends. The three sectors that really propelled growth are manufacturing; mining & quarrying and community, social & personal services. The strong rebound in the manufacturing sector, where output growth has revived to 9.2% after posting a decline just two quarters ago, was probably aided by the strong pick-up in gross fixed investments to 36.3% of the GDP at market prices from a trough level of 33% in the third quarter of last year. Improvement of growth in the mining & quarrying sector and the community, social & personal services to 9.5% and 12.7%, respectively, can be explained by the rise in gas production, which pushed the former, and the release of the salary arrear payments made to the Central government employees that buoyed the latter. Of course, not all trends were positive. Two important sectors where growth has decelerated are construction and financing, insurance, real estate & business services. The slower growth here can be attributed to the slowdown in demand for housing and office spaces in general and the deceleration of growth in information technology and business process outsourcing in particular. Also, while growth in utilities like electricity, gas & water supply has accelerated to 7.5% in the most recent quarter, it has still failed to keep pace with the overall growth in the economy. Perhaps the most dismal picture emerges from agriculture, where growth has slumped to 0.9%, the lowest growth in any quarter since 2005-06. Unfortunately, this isn't likely to be the trough. The full impact of the less than satisfactory monsoon will only be felt in the Q3 numbers.

 

So, where do all the numbers leave us in terms of policy? For one, monetary stimulus must continue to keep manufacturing growing steadily. Lower interest rates will also boost private consumption expenditure, which is still below full potential. There may, however, be a case for beginning to think about withdrawing tax exemptions for certain sectors. The best way to achieve this in the medium term would be to phase in GST on schedule—that will get rid of all exemptions in any case. And now is perhaps the time that UPA needs to seriously think about making a real contribution to the revival by beginning a new generation of reforms—in foreign investment, in the financial sector, etc. Growth on auto-pilot has its limitations.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PUT CAT BACK IN THE BAG


For 33 years, brand IIM has been manning its gates with a pen and paper CAT. This year, it made the decision to upgrade the entrance test to new millennial standards by bringing it online. The move had been in the making for some time, as the number of aspirants multiplied every year and their paper trail became increasingly difficult to manage. There were other logistic challenges. A leaked question paper in 2003 led to a retest. In 2006, the paper had printing errors. Faculty resources absorbed in supervising the test also kept growing. So, when IIMs announced they would be switching to computer-based testing, the move was widely hailed. A tender to the effect attracted companies with both domestic and international backgrounds. The five-year, $40 million contract was finally won by the local arm of US-based Prometric, which in turn is a subsidiary of Educational Testing Service. ETS is not only the world's largest testing company, operating in around 180 countries, it also administers Toefl and GRE assessments; Prometric itself provides exams for IT heavyweights such as Infosys, HP, Apple and Microsoft. So far, so good. CAT's CBT debut had been placed in safe hands. Then, things fell apart this weekend. Around 10% of the applicants couldn't take the test as systems failed at around 14% of the centres. Viruses and malware were held responsible. But media reports clearly show that lack of D-day preparedness was much more widespread. Even at centres where the tests went through, students complained about computers starting late or shutting early. Actual time deficits aside, the resulting chaos didn't make for ideal testing environments. Complaints have also poured in about how exam labs were equipped and how staff were trained. A replacement test has been scheduled, but affected students remain confused about exactly how that would work out, and whether it may clash with other commitments. In short, CAT's promised technological upgrade has turned into the kind of bungled mess with which Indians are all too familiar.

 

You could put the blame on the test vendor. Certainly, Prometric should have conducted comprehensive trial runs, or at least responded to the muddle in a more customer-friendly fashion. But, ultimately, it's the IIMs that must bear the brunt of blame and brand impact. What's good management? Anticipating and averting problems, and competently redressing them when they can't be controlled. There was failure on all these fronts. That technical glitches took place was one thing, that there was no back-up plan in place is another. Remember, IIMs are set to go on an expansion spree. To those who argue that adding seven new IIMs to the existing seven is going to strain resources and affect quality, it's said that IT will obviate this threat—a theory that's gotten a good bashing through the CAT fiasco. Good IT also needs good management. So the circle goes.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GDP GROWTH: THE SPECKLED BAND CHANGES

BIBEK DEBROY


There is a background to Q2 2009-10 real GDP growth figures of 7.9% and that is growth of 6.7% in 2008-09 (5.3% in Q3 and Q4) and 6.1% in Q1 of 2009-10. Let's face it. No one expected 7.9% and there are legitimate reasons for that. First, there was the spectre of drought, even if it didn't turn out to be as bad as was initially feared. Second, exports are still declining (6.6% dollar decline in October), though rate of decline is slowing. Third, Q2 of 2008-09 didn't have low base of 5.3%, growth for second quarter last year was 7.1%. For 2009-10, most forecasts are in a band of 6 to 7%, with government towards higher end of range and non-government towards lower end. Consequently, most people would have expected a shade over 6% in Q2 (including PM's Council) and 7.9% is way out of line. Disaggregated, in Q2 we have agriculture growth of 0.9%, manufacturing of 9.2%, mining of 9.5%, electricity, gas & water supply of 7.4%, finance, insurance, real estate & business services of 7.7%, trade, hotels, transport & communication of 8.5% and construction of 6.5%.

 

There are indeed post-facto rationalisations of why everyone went wrong. First, agriculture has done better than expected. Decline due to drought will show up in Q3. Second, liquidity has stimulated domestic demand more than expected, and festive season distorted trends. Third, industry (and manufacturing) has done better and that is perhaps explained by a build-up of inventories. Fourth, services (overall growth of 9.3%) did much better because of Pay Commission installments. (Community, social and personal services grew by 12.7%.) Fifth, numbers are often revised later and perhaps the agriculture number will be revised downwards later. The fact remains these are post-facto rationalisations and the economy has performed better than expected. There is no question of getting back to 8.5%-plus trends until the global economy and exports recover. Until then, we are on a band of 6 to 7%. However, because of these better-than-expected numbers, for 2009-10, most projections will now switch from closer to 6% to closer to 7%. And that band will be changed from 6 to 7% to 6.5 to 7.5%. The Sensex (and capital markets) has over-reacted and there are legitimate concerns about how strong the revival is. Weak agriculture numbers will show up in Q3. There will be exit from stimulus packages.

 

What does exit from stimulus packages mean? There is fiscal policy, monetary policy and structural reforms. No structural reforms worth the name have surfaced since the global financial crisis. On fiscal policy, there is the expenditure part and tax exemption part (concentrated in three packages between December 2008 and February 2009). Contrary to impressions about a wonderful counter-cyclical fiscal package devised by government after the global crisis, expenditure (and resultant widening of deficits) occurred before September 2008. Given UPA's predilections, is there any reason why public expenditure (regardless of efficiency) should not continue? Pay Commission will spill over into state and local governments. NREGS remains. Right to education (and perhaps right to food) expenditure will follow. On fiscal policy, exit therefore means exit from tax reductions, not public expenditure cuts. If direct taxes are reformed and if there is GST, tax exemptions will go, as they should. Given the inflation bogey, exit from monetary policy is different. Tightening is certain. What is unclear is timing (January/April) and its content (mopping up liquidity, CRR hike, repo or reverse repo hikes). However, let us also remember Q3 and Q4 are good quarters for exports and there are signs of some revival in external sector. Low bases in Q3 and Q4 of 2008-09 also help the cause of higher growth in last half of this financial year.

 

While scepticism about recovery is fine, all recovery is with respect to a benchmark. We aren't back on 8.5% and 9% trajectories. But we aren't on 5 or 5.5% either. We seem to be inching up to something like 7% in 2009-10 and 7.5% in 2010-11. Whether that is good or bad is relative. After all, a difference between 7.5% and 8.5% translates into (depending on composition of growth) something like 1.5 million fewer jobs created. There is also the point about government patting itself on the back for having ensured India's weathering the storm well. That's a proposition that has to be taken with several pinches of salt. As was mentioned, public expenditure occurred before September 2008 and even in 2007-08. To interpret such government action as counter-cyclical, one would have to agree that UPA anticipated global crisis and acted accordingly, a dubious proposition. A counter-factual proposition also remains, worth remembering since tight monetary policy is almost certain. What would have happened to growth had RBI not hardened interest rates in 2007-08? And there's a final speculative proposition, too. Post-1991, has there been enough unshackling of entrepreneurship to ensure the economy chugs along at around 7%, regardless of what government does? As long as government doesn't do something positively malign. Consequently, imagine what growth will be like if government becomes benign and introduces sensible policies for infrastructure (roads, electricity), law & order and public goods & services.

 

The author is a noted economist

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NOT JUST PPP, INCLUDE CIVIL SOCIETY, TOO

VIKRAM S MEHTA


Disclaimer: This article has been triggered by a museum project that my wife Tasneem has spearheaded over the past decade or so.

 

The restoration of the erstwhile Victoria & Albert Museum of Mumbai, now named Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, to its pristine splendour is a microcosmic example of how trilateral partnerships between the government (as the custodian of national assets), the private sector (with its management, marketing & financial resources) and the NGO community (as the providers of niche expertise and local knowledge) can 'bit by bit' overcome the systemic blockers to excellence in performance.

 

The museum is the oldest in Mumbai and the second oldest in India. It came into existence as the result of the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. At the time, along with other colonies, the Bombay Presidency sent an array of artifacts, depicting the history, culture, commerce and topography of Mumbai for display at the exhibition. The authorities made a replica of everything that was sent to London and it was to house these copies that funds were raised. A wonderful building in classical Palladium style architecture was completed in 1872.

 

Sadly, over the years the building and its exhibits lost their lustre. In the mid-1990s, when my wife as the head of the Mumbai chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) 'discovered' the museum, it was in a state of total degradation. Tasneem persuaded the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, which owned the museum, to allow INTACH to undertake its restoration. They agreed on condition that funds be raised from the private sector. Rahul and Neeraj Bajaj met this condition with a generous donation and eventually a trilateral trust deed was signed between INTACH, the Jamnalal Bajaj

 

Foundation and the municipal corporation. The uniqueness of the deed was the recognition that the project needed to draw upon the diverse but complementary assets of each partner.

 

A decade of effort and there is only one word to describe the transformation: extraordinary. Unesco awarded the project its highest accolade of excellence in 2005. Why do I believe this small and specialised project has broader significance? Why does its model warrant further reflection? Why this article? The answer to my mind lies in the complexity of contemporary economic and social development. The government must, of course, bear preponderant responsibility for addressing the aspirations of its citizen. But in today's connected, competitive and resource-constrained world, the government does not have all the tools. It needs the support of the particular expertise and resources of business and civic society. A participative, multipronged developmental model is what is required.

 

To some extent government and businesses have started to share a common platform. This is partly because of the altered relationship between the two. In the days of the licence raj, businesses were supplicants of the government. This is no longer so. It is also because businesses do realise that they cannot remain cloistered within their corporate domain. They have to be more broadly engaged. But this sharing is still episodic, personal and unstructured. There is no formal vehicle through which the diverse, uniquely distinctive skills and assets of say Unilever (marketing & distribution), Wipro (IT), Reliance Industries (project management) and HDFC (financial innovation) can be pulled together in partnership with government to identify and promote income and employment generating opportunities. Such a vehicle, if it did exist, could bring to the development state-of-the-art technology; management know-how, project management capabilities, marketing & distribution assets and innovative financing. Most people believe that a partnership between the government, the private sector and civic society is impossible to structure. They maintain that the interests of the various parties are misaligned and too wide to bridge. One reason why I have pegged this article on the museum project is because it belies this view and offers an example of what can be achieved if indeed the government, the private sector and civic society do successfully leverage their respective strengths and assets towards a common goal.

 

The challenge, of course, is to sustain excellence. It is one thing to execute a project with a defined goal and timetable successfully, another to ensure that it is run continuously to comparable standards. The restoration was successful because the individuals involved were uniquely committed. The question is whether the museum will be run equally well. I do not know the answer but I do know that like any developmental project, it will depend on whether the municipal corporation is able to institutionalise the idea of excellence that motivated its restoration.

 

The author is chairman of the Shell Group of Companies in India. These are his personal views

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MINISTERIAL WITHOUT AN AGENDA

RITUPARNA BHUYAN


In 2005, when the WTO last held a full-scale ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, everyone from trade experts to trade union leaders termed it the year's most important event. The island city state saw unprecedented curfew scenes, thanks to a motley crew of protesters, including Korean rice farmers. The stakes were high.

 

Cut to Monday, when trade ministers from all 153 WTO member nations began the first such meeting after Hong Kong. Though mild violence was reported from Geneva by anti-globalisation protesters, this WTO meeting is far from being the cynosure of the world's eyes. The reason is rather ludicrous—negotiations on the Doha Round of Development, hanging fire since 2001, have been kept off the agenda. So instead of taking global trade forward, ministers will twiddle their thumbs over house keeping issues—'discuss and analyse the full spectrum' of its activities, election of office bearers, setting the date and venue of the next such meeting, etc. Ostensibly, the idea seems to be climate-friendly—why create paper when no one is in a mood to sign on the dotted line.

 

But that's precisely why New Delhi had hosted an informal meeting of key trade interlocutors this September as negotiators had virtually stopped talking since the last failed meeting in July 2008, when developing countries resisted pressure from rich nations to relax safeguards proposed for their farmers. After the financial crisis struck, heads of state at G-20 meetings underlined their 'commitment for a speedy conclusion' of the Doha Round, while the G8 summit at L'Aquila went a step further and resolved to conclude the Round by 2010.

Words and joint communiqués are one thing, getting 153 members with differing interests to agree on liberalising global trade further amidst what could be a shaky recovery is a tall order. More so, because key players like the EU are set to change their negotiators soon, while the Obama administration is yet to appoint an ambassador to WTO. For the WTO, already reeling from a crisis of confidence, a failed summit would be disastrous. So it has chosen a frictionless agenda before it goes into a winter recess.

 

rituparna.bhuyan@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REPORT CARD

 

This paper* assesses the arguments and examines the role of fair-value accounting in the financial crisis using descriptive data and empirical evidence:

 

Based on existing evidence, we have little reason to believe that fair-value accounting contributed to banks' problems in the financial crisis. Fair values play only a limited role for banks' income statements and regulatory capital ratios, except for a few banks with large trading positions. For these banks, investors would have worried about exposure to subprime mortgages and made their own judgments, even in the absence of fair-value disclosures. While we believe that the claim that fair-value accounting exacerbated the crisis is largely unfounded, our conclusions have to be interpreted cautiously and should not be viewed as advocating an extension of fair-value accounting. However, given the paucity of evidence that fair-value accounting was in any substantial way responsible for either the weakening of banks or causing contagion between banks, the case for loosening the existing fair-value accounting rules is equally weak. We need more research to understand the effects of fair-value accounting in booms and busts to guide efforts to reform the rules.

 

Christian Laux and Christian Leuz; Did Fair-Value Accounting Contribute to the Financial Crisis?; Working Paper 15,515, National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2009

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

SRI LANKAN DRAMA

 

To say that the decision by Sri Lanka's major opposition parties to field Sarath Fonseka, the prematurely retired general, as their consensus candidate in the January 26 presidential election against the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa is opportunist is to state the obvious. The more serious question is what kind of political and ideological message the United National Party, the Janatha Vimukthi Perumana, and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Mahajana wing) are sending to the people, the Sinhalese, the Tamils, and the other ethnic groups. Is this an invitation to yet another South Asian variant of Bonapartism? This is the first time in the 61-year-old history of independent Sri Lanka that a mainstream effort is being made to politicise the military, which has unswervingly stuck to its job unlike some of its counterparts in the region. The island nation stands at a crossroads of history following the comprehensive military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. There is a new opportunity to redefine and settle the terms of unstable relationship between the 75 per cent Sinhalese majority and the Tamil and Muslim minorities on the basis of genuine devolution, equality, and justice. President Rajapaksa, who has remained cool and confident in the thick of this drama, says he chose to advance the presidential election by two years in order to restore to the people of the Northern Province the right to a free vote that was snatched away by the Tigers. There is absolutely no reason for any one to grudge him the sentiment.

 

Opposition parties have a lawful right to go for their best shot at the top political job, especially when the odds seem stacked against them. Moreover, the combined Sri Lankan opposition can be given some credit for placing on the agenda the issue of the long-promised abolition, or at least whittling down of the powers, of the executive presidency. To be fair, Army Chief Fonseka commanded the respect of his men and had a reputation for professionalism — as long as he stayed a soldier. The problem was that, from time to time, he crossed the lines and betrayed quirkiness, triumphalism, chauvinism, and hints of political ambition. At the height of the Eelam War IV (August 2006 to May 2009), he went on record with assertions like "I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese" and that the minority communities "can live in this country with us but they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things." Immediately after the final victory over the Tigers, he went completely over the top — publicly demanding a 50 per cent increase in the Army's numerical strength for the peacetime challenge! Nor were the general's political transgressions confined to domestic issues. He caused diplomatic embarrassment to the government he served by characterising sections of Tamil Nadu political leaders as a "bunch of jokers." His most recent political pronouncement — that the 13th Amendment, which provides for devolution of powers to the provinces, needs "a re-look in the present context" — has mystified political observers. Ironically, Fonseka-in-uniform was waging a parallel war with his current political sponsors, some of whom dubbed him a racist and went so far as to accuse him of manipulating the data on Tiger cadres killed in the fighting to bolster the 'sagging morale' of the Army. Opportunism may be the norm in piquant situations such as the one that has arisen in Sri Lanka. But for the combined forces of the Opposition to be essaying into political adventurism, with a maverick and unpredictable retired general (in fancy dress) at their head, is to court humiliation and possibly trouble.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

REVISITING BANK CONSOLIDATION

 

Consolidation among the dominant public sector banks has been on the policy agenda ever since the Narasimham Committee-II recommended in 1997 the creation of four or five large banks to take on international competition. But not much progress has been made so far, although there were occasions when the government tried to force the agenda. Any merger dictated by the government met with opposition from the trade unions and independent banking experts; in their opinion the costs far outweighed the likely benefits. Of late, the government has taken the position that the initiative for consolidation should come from the boards of the banks concerned and its own role, as the majority shareholder, would be a supportive one. There is an all-round realisation that the merger process cannot be hurried through or compressed into a short time frame.

 

The heads of the top five nationalised banks consulted recently by the Finance Ministry have done well to point out that the government should look for genuine synergies in terms of geographical coverage, and cultural and technological fit. However it is not going to be easy to lay down specific parameters for a merger. For instance, after nationalisation some of these banks became truly pan-Indian. A merger would result in duplication of bank branches at a number of centres. Theoretically speaking, the creation of larger units through mergers may sound attractive. Still, it is not just prudent but necessary to be circumspect while preparing the road map.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

MODIFYING INDO-RUSSIAN SUMMIT FORMAT

THE CHANGE WILL NOT ONLY HELP INTENSIFY BILATERAL INTERACTION AT THE TOP LEVEL, BUT ALSO BE IN LINE WITH THE DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY FOR INTERNATIONAL CONTACTS BETWEEN DMITRY MEDVEDEV AND VLADIMIR PUTIN.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

 

As diplomats finalise the programme for an annual Indo-Russian summit in Moscow from December 6 to 8, the South Block would be well advised to reserve at least as much time for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's interaction with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as for his talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.

 

It will be Dr. Singh's first visit to Moscow after the power configuration in the Kremlin changed in May 2008 when Mr. Medvedev succeeded Mr. Putin as Russia's President and appointed his tutor and predecessor to the post of Prime Minister. The two leaders have since been ruling Russia in tandem, but power-sharing is anything but equal, and New Delhi must factor this in.

 

Mr. Putin remains the undisputed leader in the duumvirate. On surface, each of them has his well-defined spheres of authority. Mr. Medvedev is responsible for foreign and security policies, as well as strategic directions of the country's development, whereas Mr. Putin looks mainly after the economy. But in practice, Mr. Putin has his hands on all issues and all levers of power. He has further consolidated his position by getting himself elected as the leader of the ruling United Russia Party, which enjoys a three-fourths majority in Parliament. This effectively devalues the President's constitutional right to sack the Prime Minister.

 

Mr. Medvedev for his part has not made any attempt to tighten his grip on power, let alone challenge Mr. Putin's supremacy. He has undertaken hardly any personnel changes even among the Kremlin administration; all his aides are Mr. Putin's appointees and all his major policy decisions are coordinated with Mr. Putin. This is part of an informal agreement they struck when Mr. Putin promoted Mr. Medvedev to succeed him.

 

"Everything we had agreed upon at the start of our joint journey is being implemented and is working effectively," Mr. Putin said in an interview earlier this year. On another occasion he revealed that the agreement also covered the next election scheduled for 2012.

 

"We will sit down, think it over and reach a joint decision [on who would run for President in 2012] because we are of the same blood and of the same political outlook," he said.

 

A survey by the independent Levada Centre in September found that only13 per cent of Russians believe that Mr. Medvedev holds power, while 32 per cent said power was in Mr. Putin's hands and 48 per cent said power was divided equally between the two. The large proportion of those who believe in equal power sharing is the result of a Kremlin-orchestrated media campaign rather than a reflection of reality. State-controlled TV broadcasts give roughly the same airtime to Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin on a daily basis, with news items about the President's activities coming first and invariably followed by stories about the Prime Minister.

 

A recent Forbes magazine ranking of the world's 67 most powerful people (one for every 100 million people on the planet) gave a more accurate picture of who is in charge in the Kremlin. The magazine placed Mr. Medvedev at No. 43, not only far below Mr. Putin, who ranked third, but even behind Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, Mr. Putin's long-time ally and leader of the "siloviki" clan of security services strongmen.

 

Mr. Medvedev has sought to cast himself as a more liberal politician than his predecessor with his own forward-looking agenda. He has declared plans to fight Russia's "endemic corruption," which grew manifold during Mr. Putin's presidency, reduce red tape and make the courts independent from executive pressure. He has set the goal of building a more democratic Russia with a genuine multiparty political system and a free press.

 

However, Mr. Medvedev's record of the past 18 months shows he lacks the clout or will — or both — to implement his agenda. He has been rich on reformist rhetoric but poor on action on the ground. A Kremlin-drafted anti-corruption package approved by the Parliament last year contained too many loopholes and experts dismissed it as totally inadequate. In fact, corruption has increased since Mr. Medvedev took office last year. The average size of a bribe in the low levels of bureaucracy has more than tripled in one year from 8,000 roubles in 2008 to 27,000 roubles in 2009, according to the Interior Ministry.

 

A pledge to combat "legal nihilism", massive disregard for the law, primarily by government officials, was a highlight of Mr. Medvedev's election campaign. Seven months into his presidency, Mr. Medvedev reiterated his resolve to root out lawlessness in his first state-of-the-nation address. But corrupt law enforcers knew better than fear Mr. Medvedev's warnings. Three weeks after the President delivered his maiden address Interior Ministry officers arrested a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, after he presented evidence implicating them in a theft of more than 5 billion roubles from the Russian treasury. The lawyer was denied bail and medical aid despite deteriorating health and held in horrible conditions in a Moscow jail for almost a year without trial till he died in prison earlier this month. His colleagues called it a premeditated murder.

 

In his first state-of-the-nation address Mr. Medvedev also hit out at Russian bureaucracy that "meddles in the electoral process." At a closed door meeting with the leaders of the ruling United Russia Party earlier this year he warned them against trying to rig elections. Six months later he received a slap in the face when regional elections held across Russia were blatantly falsified in favour of the Putin-led United Russia, which swept the vote. Public opinion surveys found that just 3 per cent of respondents believe the elections were fair and democratic. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the vote as a "mockery of democracy." Despite angry protests by the usually docile opposition, Mr. Medvedev refused to denounce the fraud and described the election as "orderly." He did criticize the ruling party at its congress several weeks later, euphemistically referring to "bad political habits" and "democratic procedures mixed with administrative ones," but failed to support changes in the electoral laws proposed by opposition leaders and experts to reduce vote rigging and encourage political competition.

 

In this year's state-of-the-nation address Mr. Medvedev called for a sweeping technological modernisation of Russia, but offered no action plan. The President's controversial proposals for banning incandescent bulbs in favour of ecologically hazardous energy-saving lamps and reducing the number of time zones in the country raised quite a few eyebrows.

 

A recent scandal with the sacking of Mr. Medvedev's powerful media adviser Mikhail Lesin for "abuse of office" provided a revealing insight into the power balance in the Medvedev-Putin tandem. According to Kremlin sources, Mr. Lesin, a former information minister and long-time ally of Mr. Putin, lost his job for telling state-owned TVcompanies to do what he, not the President, told them to do.

 

Mr. Medvedev's apparent indecisiveness has disappointed many in Russia who hoped he would become a reformist President.

 

"Medvedev is simply the more liberal side of Putin's brain," one analyst said. "The two rule together, and Putin rules both of them."

 

"Medvedev's last word on everything is Putin's word," another political commentator quipped. "Medvedev is a member of Putin's team, not vice versa."

 

In recent months Mr. Medvedev, however, has grown increasingly critical of Mr. Putin's legacy and policies. He has railed against state-run corporations promoted by his predecessor and bemoaned "the primitive structure" of the Russia economy, its "humiliating dependence on raw materials" and "shamefully low competitiveness."

 

Some experts deemed this signalled Mr. Medvedev's attempt to emerge from Mr. Putin's shadow. They said Mr. Medvedev still has two-and-a-half years of his presidential term to take the reins of power and the verdict is still out on who will lead Russia after 2012.Others, however, argue that there is no credible competition between the two, and Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin are merely addressing different audiences. While Mr. Medvedev is targeting the younger and wealthier West-oriented sections of the Russian society, as well as foreign audiences, Mr. Putin is addressing the more conservative, low-to-middle income middle age and senior people.

 

Be that as it may, under the current dispensation Mr. Medvedev does the talking and Mr. Putin does the doing. It may not be a bad idea therefore for New Delhi to modify the format of annual Indo-Russian summits and supplement the Singh-Medvedev summits with annual meetings between the Prime Ministers of the two countries. This will not only help intensify bilateral interaction at the top level, but also be inline with the division of responsibility for international contacts in the Medvedev-Putin duo. While Mr. Medvedev usually meets with Presidents of foreign countries, Mr. Putin interacts with Prime Ministers.

 

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THE HINDU

"WE HAVE TO SAVE THE NATION'S WEALTH FROM THE MINING MAFIA"

THE PRESENT CHIEF MINISTERS OF ANDHRA PRADESH AND KARNATAKA WERE HELPLESS OR POWERLESS BEFORE THE REDDY BROTHERS, SAYS N. CHANDRABABU NAIDU.

J. BALAJI

 

Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president, N. Chandrababu Naidu, who always balances his political career between state and national issues, has recently taken up a new cause — "saving democracy from the mining mafia."

 

The 58-year old leader, who has the distinction of serving Andhra Pradesh for the longest term (1995-2004) as Chief Minister, is busy mobilising opposition support to protect, in his words, the country's mining wealth from the powerful Reddy brothers of Karnataka — Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy and Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy.

 

In an interview to The Hindu on Saturday, Mr. Naidu said the present Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were helpless or powerless before the Reddy brothers. Excerpts:

 

Why you have suddenly taken up the mining issue, mobilising support at the national level?

We have been raising our voice for the last five years against the Reddy brothers. But the YSR government was not taking action. Instead, they patronised the mining lobby. Even in Khammam district, 1.50 lakh acres of mining area have been given to [a close relative of YSR]. Nowhere, nobody could give so much land. Countries preserve iron ore, bauxite, granite for future generations. China and the United States are importing such minerals while preserving their own mineral wealth for the future. Because of this, there is a good demand and prices are very high. The mineral mafia wants to exploit this.

 

In A.P. and Karnataka, the Reddy brothers started their mining company in a small way in 2003-04. There is a history to that. A company promoted by one Ramachandra Reddy was given a mining lease for 20 years (1964-1984) and later extended. After his death, his son, Ram Mohan Reddy, took over and urged the then TDP regime to extend the lease for the company called Obulapuram Mining Company (Private) Limited (OMC). After some time, Mr. Janardhana Reddy joined the company as a director and Mr. Ram Mohan Reddy was out from that company.

 

The lease was to expire by 2004. Four months after YSR took over as Chief Minister in 2004, he extended the lease up to 2017. YSR even fought with the Central government's forest department to get permission for OMC's mining activities in reserve forest areas. Later, when Mr. Janardhana Reddy wanted to start a steel factory, YSR encouraged him.

 

There was pressure on the Central government. Though the latter tried its best to do some justice, this lobby resisted, and land was given under the pretext of captive mining for a steel plant. One hundred and eighty acres were given to OMC for mining. They even took over Karnataka land illegally for mining. Over the period, they started acquiring other mines too. They even entered no-mine zones, forest areas which run to about 647 acres. They blasted one temple in the mining area and even changed the boundaries between A.P. and Karnataka.

With all these things, they got good money. In 2003-04, when they started the company, the investment was a mere Rs.20 lakh, and at the end of that period, OMC's turnover was Rs.35.52 crore with a nominal profit of Rs.1.05 crore. During 2008-09, the turnover of OMC alone touched Rs.3000 crore with the provisional profit of Rs.700 crore!

 

Even Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh informed the Rajya Sabha that the YSR government was not allowing his Ministry to do a survey to fix the village and State boundaries.

The Reddy brothers had an understanding with YSR's son, Jaganmohan Reddy. The Reddy brothers created so many companies in the last few years.

 

What do you want the Centre to do now?

The Centre should immediately ask the CBI to probe the activities of this illegal mining, who is behind it, what is the extent of their wealth, and bring out how various laws of the land, particularly those relating to forests, mining, exports, and revenue, were violated, and prosecute those involved in it. The Centre should also come out with its clear mining policy to protect the mining wealth for the future generation. Mining leases should be given carefully.

 

How piteous is the condition of the country that a Chief Minister [Yeddyurappa] wept before TV cameras as the Reddy brothers had tried to topple him and blackmailed the BJP high command with the support of a section of BJP MLAs in Karnataka.

 

What proof do you have that Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy was involved in business dealings with Reddy brothers?

We have voluminous documents to prove our charge. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) on OMC, appointed by the Supreme Court, in its report on November 19, 2009, clearly stated that Mr. Janardhana Reddy, MD of OBC, was involved in a business partnership with Mr. Jagan. It even stated that "OMC has encroached in mineral rich areas outside their mining leases and is carrying out large scale illegal mining in unallotted reserve forest areas. The temple of Goddess Suggalamme Devi, located on the top of the hillock, together with the GTS station, fixed there by the Survey of India, have been destroyed."

 

But the present Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Rosaiah, has acted against OMC and even suspended their operations.

After a series of stirs launched by us, and because of our pressure, he wrote a letter to the Centre seeking a CBI probe; that too only to probe the boundary dispute between A.P. and Karnataka. The boundary survey could be done by the Survey of India. What we want is investigation into the illegal mining, how they have done it, how much money was transacted. But Mr. Rosaiah is not talking about that.

 

Did the A.P. government act on the recommendations of the CEC report?

After we put pressure, the Chief Minister announced that the government would confiscate iron ore, suspend mining, etc. After that, one crore metric tonnes of iron ore were transported and kept elsewhere and 30,000 tonnes was even shifted to Karnataka. I would say either Mr. Rosaiah is afraid or has some problem or there is some pressure on him. I don't know.

 

Some say you are doing all this for political mileage.

There is no politics in it. This is national wealth. We cannot allow it to be looted by individuals. For five years, we have been raising the issue. Now it has become a national problem. These people are hitting our economy and wealth every day. Democracy is under threat.

 

But what about Mr. Yeddyurappa? Can't he do anything to check the mining lobby?

He cannot do anything. He has surrendered to the Reddy brothers to save his chief ministership. So many powerful elected representatives, both in the Congress and the BJP, are closely related to this lobby.

 

What do you suggest to put an end to all this?

If the mining lobby continues to have a free hand, in the next 10 years there would be nothing left to mine! We should restrict mining. If the trend goes unchecked, so many Madhu Kodas will emerge and it will be a problem to the society and democracy. There can't be one rule for Madhu Koda or Ramalinga Raju and another one for the Reddy brothers!

What do you want the Congress and BJP high commands to do?

The governments of their parties, in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, should act firmly. They can't shield this scandal. I don't say that all those in these two parties are involved. If they don't put an end to it, I will fight it out in the interest of saving the nation's wealth. I don't have any personal grouse against any one. This is beyond politics. Individuals are not important. The country is permanent and important.

 

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THE HINDU

CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS

 

  Several readers have written complaining against the comparison made between the pay of police constables and sanitation workers in Praveen Swami's article titled "Where style has trumped substance." (OP-ED page of November 27). No offence was meant against any section but the comparison was not warranted and should have been avoided. The Editor-in-Chief agrees with my assessment and expresses regret on behalf of the newspaper for publication of the inappropriate reference. — Readers' Editor

 

  The heading of a report (November 30, 2009) was "President to inaugurate 62nd World Newspaper Congress today". It should have been "President to inaugurate 62nd World Newspaper Congress tomorrow" as mentioned in the text — that President Pratibha Patil will inaugurate the Congress on Tuesday.

 

  The heading of a report on the Bhopal gas tragedy "No room for 3/12 in the algebra of tragedy and outrage" (November 30, 2009, page 1) led to queries on the 'phrase'. Though 3/12 is a reference to December 3, 1984, and the word "algebra" linked to this, its usage in the heading might have been a substitute for the words "equation" or "scheme". There are no phrases associated with the word "algebra".

 

The eleventh paragraph of Arundhati Roy's essay "The algebra of infinite justice" (The Guardian, September 29, 2001) – with the blurb "As the US prepares to wage a new kind of war, Arundhati Roy challenges the instinct for vengeance" – said: "So here we have it. The equivocating distinction between civilisation and savagery, between the 'massacre of innocent people' or, if you like, 'a clash of civilisations' and 'collateral damage'. The sophistry and fastidious algebra of infinite justice ...."

 

  The Supreme Court collegium has recommended that Justice Chandramauli Kumar [C.K.] Prasad, Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, be elevated to the Supreme Court. The first paragraph of a report "Awaiting survey report, collegium keeps Dinakaran issue pending" (November 27, 2009) mentioned it as Justice C.M. [Chandra Mohan] Prasad of the Patna High Court.

 

It also said that Justice C.M. Prasad is the seniormost judge of the Patna High Court. Chief Justice of the Jharkhand High Court Gyan Sudha Misra is the seniormost judge of the Patna High Court cadre.

 

It is the policy of The Hindu to correct significant errors as soon as possible. Please specify the edition (place of publication), date and page.

 

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THE HINDU

A RAINFOREST'S SAGA OF SURVIVAL

TWENTYFIVE YEARS AFTER KERALA'S SILENT VALLEY WAS SAVED BY ENVIRONMENTALISTS.

G. PRABHAKARAN

 

Rainforests have been under extreme pressure all across the earth for more than a century now, and they now cover only an estimated 3 per cent of the earth's land surface. In India, they are now distributed mainly in the Western Ghats and in the northeastern region. Even here, they are shrinking in area.

 

Rainforests are repositories of biodiversity, especially the unexplored and wild kind. The antiquity of the rainforest ecosystem and its fine-tuned physico-chemical conditions have led to a very high degree of endemism of the species found there. Hence, the destruction of rainforests is opening up the floodgates of species extinction. Of late, the linkage between rainforests and climate change has also become an issue that has caught the attention of scientists and governments the world over.

 

The struggle in the 1970s and 1980s to protect the unique Silent Valley rainforests in the Western Ghats system in Palakkad district of Kerala was something of a watershed event. It helped focus attention worldwide on the need to protect the few remaining patches of rainforests in the country.

 

The Nilgiri Hills occupy a pivotal position in the southern peninsula because of its location at the junction of the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats, the Carnatic Plains and the Malabar Coastal Strip.

 

The Silent Valley is a small plateau located on the southwestern corner of the Nilgiri Hills, a part of the Western Ghats hill chain in southern peninsular India. This forested plateau is the point of origin of the Kunthi river which joins the west-flowing Bharathapuzha. The Silent Valley also forms the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.

 

The 'Save Silent Valley movement' resulted in the creation of the Silent Valley National Park following the intervention of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. It was the culmination of an environmental saga and a milestone in the environment movement in the country, said M.K. Prasad, who was then president of the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad. He was himself a key figure who led the struggle.

 

The environmentalists who had battled then to conserve the forests and the ecology had another creditable victory when Union Minister for Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh and Kerala Forest Minister Binoy Viswam declared, while inaugurating the silver jubilee celebration of the Park in Palakkad on November 21, that the buffer zone of the Park would be made an integral part of it in order to ensure better protection of the area.

 

Silent Valley symbolises hope for all the people who stand up for nature, and remains a beacon for rainforests everywhere. Thus it is no longer merely the name of a place but part of a universal vocabulary as a word that indicates an untrammeled wilderness that would last beyond human greed and wilful destruction, and protected through the efforts of the people sustained by hope.

 

A national seminar organised by Kerala Forest Department and the Wild Life Department as part of the silver jubilee celebrations of the Silent Valley National Park at Mundur in Palakkad district on November 21 on the theme of 'Rainforest and Climate Change' highlighted some of the imperatives in this context.

 

The conservation of entire Silent Valley forest area is vital to ensure the perennial flow of water through the Bharathapuzha, the Bhavani and the Cauvery providing water to Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The Kunthipuzha, which originates from the Silent Valley National Park area, is the main source of water for Bharathapuzha, Kerala's longest river. It provides drinking and irrigation water to the districts of Palakkad, Malappuram and Thrissur. A tributary of the Bhavani that originates on the eastern side of the Silent Valley forest area is the perennial source of water for this major inter-State river. Its protection is vital for drinking water and irrigation water projects in a couple of districts of Tamil Nadu. It later empties into the Cauvery.

 

Thus the protection of the Silent Valley and its adjacent forests that form the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere is vital for the peaceful sharing of the water sources of three major rivers by the three neighboring States. This major benefit to the people of three States is the best justification for the struggle for the protection of the Silent Valley and its adjoining buffer zone covering an area of 237.52 sq km, said Dr. Satheeshchandran Nair, a well-known field biologist.

 

The Park comprises essentially two parallel south-sloping valleys. The western Kunthi valley is part of the basin of the west-draining Bharathapuzha. The eastern, Bhavani Valley is part of the basin of the east-flowing Cauvery.

 

In the estimation of scientists such as M.S. Swaminathan, the Silent Valley evergreen rainforest is more than 50 million years old. It is perhaps the only remaining undisturbed tropical rainforest in peninsular India. The flora and fauna here are quite unique. The Silent Valley's dark and cool ambience, vibrating with life, has been described as "the richest expression of life on earth" and a "cradle of evolution."

 

Ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali observed that the "Silent Valley is not just an evergreen forest, it is a very fine example of one of the richest, most threatened and least studied habitats on earth." Thus, it is the "sacred grove" for the world, and a gene pool of rare flora and fauna.

 

The Silent Valley receives the second highest rate of rainfall in the country after the Mawsynram-Cheerapunji belt in the Khasi Hills of the Himalayan ranges in Meghalaya, known as the world's wettest place. Some areas of the Valley like Valakkad received a record annual rainfall of 9,569 mm in 2006. In 2005 the area received 9,347 mm of rainfall and in 2004 it had 8,465 mm. In 2007, Valakkad received 7532 mm of rainfall. In 2008, the Puchipara area received a rainfall of 7,639 mm.

 

Malayalam poet Sugathakumari, a key figure in the struggle to save the Silent Valley, said that the biggest justification for the protection of the Valley is that it gives the second highest rainfall in the country. Recalling her three-decade-long efforts to save the Silent Valley, she said that this precious chunk of dense forest is perhaps India's last, largest and oldest tropical rainforest remaining undisturbed, undisturbed because of its relative inaccessibility, oldest because its age is estimated to be 50 million years.

 

The echoes of the campaign to save the Silent Valley have served to ignite other campaigns in the region over the last 25 years, and conservation initiatives were made in the Nelliampathy Hills of Palakkad, the Vembanad lake, Kochi-Mangalavanam, Athirappally, Sabaramala-Pampa and so on, although some of these have had only mixed results.

 

But the gains that have been made ought to be consolidated and taken forward.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

KAIGA: LET IT BE A WAKE-UP CALL

 

Since the worrying incident involving radioactivity in the reactor building of the first unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka - in which up to 65 workers received doses of radiation - does not involve fissile material, fission, or a reactor, the event will not qualify as a nuclear accident or incident, as these things go. However, it bears stating that expert opinion has it that a radiation accident or incident can cause as much damage as a nuclear accident for workers at a plant or the public. Fortunately, this appears not to have been the case at Kaiga on November 24, and panic is not warranted at this stage of investigation. Nevertheless, note must be taken of the fact that the workers in question, who drank water from the cooler kept in the reactor building, have ingested radiation higher than indicated by prescribed limits. According to the department of atomic energy, the experience of "extensive environment monitoring" shows that "even a hypothetical individual staying at a plant exclusion boundary"- a distance of 1.6 km - will receive eight per cent of "dose limits" in the case of several atomic power stations in the country, and in the case of Kaiga and some others, this will be less than one per cent. Clearly, this limit has been surpassed in the November 24 case.

 

The government and various entities of our atomic energy establishment have been at pains to point out that the Kaiga episode was not an accident, that it did not involve breach of operational procedures, and that there was no leak of heavy water. The basis of these assertions has not been made wholly clear. Nevertheless, the suggestion has been put out (at this stage this can only be called a working hypothesis) - based on an inquiry by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board - that a "mischief-maker" or a disgruntled employee "may have added a small quantity of tritiated heavy water" to the water cooler, "possibly from a heavy water sampling vial, through its overflow tube". Further investigations are said to be in progress. In that case, it does appear premature to put out any view officially, including the one about purported sabotage by a troublemaker.

 

Several questions arise prima facie from the mischief-maker hypothesis. Some of these are: how was such an individual able to gain access to a vial of tritiated heavy water? Was the water cooler not under institutional watch? Is it possible that someone with cleared access to vials of tritiated heavy water introduced it into the drinking water cooler? If the last is the case, what's the level of security clearance and isn't vetting a continuous process at our atomic power plants? Further, is it not possible that more than one individual might be involved, if the troublemaker theory is not without foundation?

 

The authorities could be right. The workers who drank the contaminated water may well recover fully after the necessary period of treatment. But since we are now a nuclear-capable country in all respects, the issue of plant safety needs to be brought to the top of the agenda, and in a manner that will give confidence not only to our own citizens but to the international community with which we have lately been enabled to engage in nuclear commerce. At the moment, any suggestion of enemy action in the Kaiga incident is being ruled out. But the occurrence would have been noted worldwide, and is apt to give ideas to hostile quarters. It is therefore necessary that every kind of activity at an atomic station, including drinking water, canteen, non-nuclear stores, and other ancillary features, must be punctiliously safeguarded.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

BYE-BYE DUBAI?

JAYATI GHOSH

 

There is much about Dubai that is artificial and based on illusion: the man-made islands designed to represent a map of the globe; the indoor ski slope in the midst of desert; the incredible hotel with glass walls looking onto a sea aquarium mimicking the surrounding ocean. Dubai had also become synonymous with excess: building the tallest tower in the world and the biggest and most expensive luxury hotels, residences, shopping malls and office complexes; providing the market and the sales venue for the most outlandish and flamboyant luxury goods.

 

It's very brashness was both a sign of and a cause for its success. Even the opacity that has characterised its political system became a source of economic magnetism. Expatriates flocked to its dynamic construction and tourism industries and relished the tax-free incentives. And Dubai emerged as one of the developing world's new global financial centres.

 

In the early phases of the global financial crisis, all this even seemed to be an advantage, as investment activity and construction continued at their feverish pace. For example, plans for constructing the world's most newest tallest building (near its closest competitor Burj Dubai) were unveiled just after Lehmann Brother collapsed in the US. Continued growth in Dubai was heralded as another sign of Asian economic "delinking" from the problems in the core of international capitalism. But now it turns out that this too, like so much else in Dubai, was based on illusion. The sudden declaration that the state-owned conglomerate Dubai World, which typified the apparently insatiable appetite for accumulation in the small Gulf Emirate, would unilaterally suspend its debt payments for at least six months came as a sign that the improbable honeymoon is finally over.

 

Dubai is one of seven small states that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and it is second to Abu Dhabi (which is the richest and has most of the oil reserves) in terms of the size of its economy. Although its economy was originally built on oil, currently oil revenues account for less than six per cent of its total revenues. In any case Dubai's oil reserves have diminished significantly and are expected to run out within the next 20 years.

 

Dubai's strategy has been to diversify its economy away from oil to trade, tourism and finance. It encouraged its state-run conglomerate Dubai World to buy up companies around the world and invited multinationals to use Dubai as the Middle Eastern base for their activities in Asia and elsewhere. A subsidiary of Dubai World (DP World) purchased the British ports operator P&O in 2005, bought the department store group Barneys New York in 2007 and invested heavily in construction projects in Las Vegas in the United States. Dubai World also includes the property developer Nakheel, which is behind some of the most ostentatious commercial projects ever built on this planet.

 

Of Dubai's resident population, more than 80 per cent are expatriates, including around 1.5 million from India. Indian tourists — from the Bollywood crowd to newly affluent middle classes — have also contributed to Dubai's boom.

 

Is there a relation, as some have argued, between height and hubris? In any case it is clear that Dubai is an apt symbol of the recent over-extension of capitalism, and the over-accumulation that typically characterises unfettered market behaviour in any period of boom.

 

With the financial crisis, global markets for luxury goods and services and for real estate both shrank simultaneously. Dubai's fall began with the exodus of capital. Thereafter, the collapse of non-tradeable sectors, especially real estate and construction, was swift. Property prices in Dubai have fallen by more than 50 per cent in the past year. Many construction projects have been held up or abandoned.

 

The economy slumped from the second half of 2008. At the start of the financial crisis, gross domestic product growth expectations in 2009 for Dubai were four per cent, but this was lowered to two per cent in the middle of the year. By late 2009, the crisis loomed. On November 26, Dubai World announced that it was seeking a debt standstill for $15 billion of repayments on its $59 billion of external debt until May 2010, and had hired Deloitte to help it restructure to move into financial viability. This surprise announcement, coming on the eve of the Bakri-Id holiday, reverberated across global markets.

 

The official estimate of the UAE's sovereign debt is $80 billion, but some analysts say it is could be even twice that amount. Some Indian banks (like Bank of Baroda) and companies (Nagarjuna Constructions, Larsen & Toubro, Punj Lloyd, Voltas, Omaxe, Aban Offshore, Spicejet and Indiabulls Real Estate) have exposure in Dubai, but they have generally rushed to declare their exposure to be marginal. But the most direct impact on India is through workers. Most of the 1.5 million Indians in Dubai are blue collar workers in construction or low grade services, who typically have temporary contracts. In a country with no unions, it is easy for companies to lay off workers. It is estimated that tens of thousands of workers in the construction and real estate market alone have lost their jobs over the last few months.

 

Dubai is relatively fortunate, however, in that investors still believe that it will ultimately be bailed out by its "elder brother" Abu Dhabi, which already granted Dubai a $10 billion loan in February 2009. Some analysts have argued that it is not a question of whether, but when, Abu Dhabi will step in. After all, Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth funds have reserves estimated at over $700 billion and it cannot afford damaged financial credibility in the region.

 

But even if Dubai manages to survive the current crisis, broader questions remain. Dubai is not unique in being tripped up by its earlier irrational exuberance, especially in housing and real estate. The rotten fruits of the earlier phase of over-accumulation are still waiting to be collected, and as a result there are plenty of potential banana skins waiting to trip up investors in financial markets across the world. Real estate prices in the US continue to fall, especially in luxury markets such as Florida, and default and dispossession continue to increase. Elsewhere too, the multiplier effects of the collapse of the construction and real estate sectors are still working their way through the economy. The latest fear of sovereign default is from Greece, and Ireland is also in trouble.

 

So financial markets may have good reasons for reacting the way they have. The collapse of the Dubai dream is not a sui generis event without any implications for wider markets. Rather, it may be a straw in the wind indicating that the travails of finance capitalism in the current period are far from over.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

 EDITORIAL

LIVING WITH AIDS, NOT DESPAIR

PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

On a winter afternoon, many years ago, a young man who greeted me at Michael's Care Home, a south Delhi refuge, smiled cockily and told me I had got it all wrong. "I am HIV positive. You are not. You think I will die soon. What if I tell you that you may die tomorrow, and that I will live longer than you? Is that so improbable?" I was taken off-guard. I had gone to the Home in search of "real life stories" of people living with HIV who were fighting a dual battle — the virus, and the stigma that came with it. I felt sorry and wanted to focus on their plight. But the young man who hailed from Manipur was laughing at me, and telling me not to waste my pity. Sure, it was a tough life, sure there was stigma. But there was so much more as well. Just because he was living with HIV did not mean he had to be viewed as a "patient" all the time, he said.

 

In his office, there were posters of Elvis Presley and we spoke less about AIDS and more about rock music. He invited me for Friday "Coffee Nite" at the Home. I was curious and turned up. The Home's inmates were a lively bunch — mostly young men from the Northeast, who had contracted HIV through intravenous drug use. They sang, strummed the guitar and danced. It was a party. I joined in, and loved every minute. I dropped by Michael's Care Home many times in the years that followed even when I was not in search of a story. There were times when a pall of sorrow hung over the Home. An inmate had died. But most often it was an atmosphere that celebrated the small joys of life, like a victory in a football match and the daily acts of incredible courage.

 

Once, I turned up with a camera. The boys had one condition: they did not mind being photographed as long as I did not show them lying on a bed or with medicines as background. I shot them playing carom, watching Bollywood movies and chatting with each other.

 

I liked turning up at the Care Home on December 1, World AIDS Day, to light candles and express solidarity. I invariably stayed on for the feast and the dancing that followed.

 

Loon Gangte, the young man whose jaunty remark spurred me to revise my view about people living with HIV, is a friend today. We are both alive and have children. Gangte has emerged as one of Asia's most dynamic treatment activists. I have chronicled the stories of many other people living with HIV. Gangte's HIV status is a minor detail in our friendship. He is simply a fun guy who has taught me stuff I would never have learnt from a book or conventional "experts" in the AIDS conference circuit.

 

In my travels across the country I found the same indomitable spirit in countless individuals and families who are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic. While writing the book Hopes Alive: Surviving AIDS and Despair for FXB India Suraksha, the Indian affiliate of the Swiss NGO, FXB International, I came upon a scene in a little room in Chilakapeta, a fishermen's colony in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, that was sad and stirring. The room was home to a a nine-year-old boy and his grandmother. The child was HIV positive and had lost both his parents before his first birthday. No one in the family was prepared to look after him except his 60-year-old maternal grandmother, an illiterate fish vendor. There was no place for the two inside the house. They were forced to take refuge in a little corner beside the staircase in the building. The stigma was so acute that the rest of the family eventually left the house, unwilling to be anywhere near the infected child and his caregiver. Meanwhile, the child's condition deteriorated: he had continuous fever and a persistent cough. The old woman took him to the hospital affiliated to the local medical college, and the child was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the brain. In 2004, the child and his grandmother were referred by an NGO to the FXB clinic at Visakhapatnam. The boy was extremely weak the first time he came to the clinic. But once treatment began, there were rapid changes. Initially, he was treated for recurring skin, respiratory, ear infections and diarrhoea. On being tested, he was found to be in the fourth stage of HIV infection (AIDS). In August 2005, he was put on liquid formulation of the three drug ARV medication. The old woman confessed she was terrified by her new responsibilities at the start. But thrice a week, an FXB outreach worker paid home visits, monitoring the grandmother's ability as a caregiver. Within three months, the child's condition had improved dramatically. And after six months of ARV treatment, he had gained height and weight and could start going to school.

 

Treating a child for HIV infection is a complex process because the dosage adjustment is done for each of the three medications factoring in height and weight from time to time.

 

The old woman was proud that she had learnt how to look after her grandson despite her lack of education. When we met them, the child had just come back from a tuition and the grandmother was quizzing him about his day at school — a scene with which anyone can connect.

 

There is no formula for turning pain into power. But December 1, World AIDS Day, offers us an opportunity to celebrate the voices of resistance and hope — like Gangte, the grandmother in Chilakapeta and all the others living with, or affected by HIV, whose actions and words teach us how to survive despair.

 

Today is World AIDS Day

 

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

WATCH OVER BANGLADESH

SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

 

On November 19, 2009, over 34 years after the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has rung down the curtain on the case and upheld the death sentences pronounced on the 12 military officers and their civilian associates who were involved in the crime. The defendants were all recent repatriates from the Pakistan Army, rehabilitated in the new Bangladesh Army in accordance with policy initiatives by Sheikh Mujib himself. Many of his political associates in the War of Liberation had warned Sheikh Mujib of the risks in doing so, but were overruled by him in his vision of national reconciliation. Expatriates formed the bulk of the new cadre which occupied controlling positions in the new Bangladesh Army, so the background and identity of Sheikh Mujib's assassins should not come as any surprise. The verdict of the Supreme Court must have undoubtedly gratified Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Mujib's daughter and now once again Prime Minister of Bangladesh, whom fate had selected to survive the massacre of her family and return some day to be the nemesis that hunted down her father's murderers.

 

However, amid all the tension and turmoil in Bangladesh, it is nevertheless instructive to note that throughout what must have been an immensely agonising personal quest for justice, Sheikh Hasina functioned exclusively through the judicial and legislative process of the country, without any attempts to resort to extra-constitutional or extra-legal alternatives which are so characteristic of the South Asian milieu, and for which there must have been ample opportunity for her as a person in supreme authority.

 

India has always had an underplayed but abiding interest in the proceedings, because Sheikh Mujib was not only "Bangabandhu", or "friend of Bengal", but also shared a deep and warm rapport with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the architect of the victory in Bangladesh, and was "Bharatbandhu", or friend of India, as well. However, in the later years of his regime, his well-wishers in this country could only watch in dismay as he frittered away his mesmeric popularity and rapport by ill-considered acts of megalomania (such as nominating himself President for life!) and allowing nepotism, corruption and family favouritism to flourish unchecked. The fallout gravely eroded India's high stakes in the establishment of a stable, secular and democratic alternative to replace the East Pakistan that had been eliminated by India's military victory in the 1971 Bangladesh War.

 

However, any sense of personal or national satisfaction at the closure of a traumatic chapter in the history of Bangladesh is premature. Of the original 12 accused, one died during the course of the proceedings, six are fugitives from justice absconding in foreign countries, and only five remain in the custody of the Bangladesh authorities on whom the full weight of the judgment can be brought to bear, depending of course on the outcome of the remainder of the judicial process.

 

The Bangladesh government is attempting to secure the return from abroad of the fugitives convicted in absentia and in hiding in foreign countries, but with what degree of success remains to be seen. It must not be imagined that judgment day has exorcised Bangladesh of the jihadi demons from its past, hitherto nurtured and allowed free play by the right-wing fundamentalist Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and its assorted radical fundamentalist allies during their long period in government. These forces are still active and remain implacable opponents of the Awami League, lurking in the background, awaiting their opportunity. Indeed, the Great Mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles, which shook and nearly overwhelmed the present government almost immediately on its assumption of office, was instigated and initiated by these very elements, infiltrated and installed within the ranks of the paramilitary force while the BNP was in power. The mutiny was merely a reminder that India's close eastern neighbour continues to be the base of the eastern jihad, closely linked with bases in Pakistan and the AfPak region.

 

Sheikh Mujib's murderers had been supported by these organisations, and it would be prudent to expect that in the aftermath of the judgment the threat level to the personal safety and security of the current Prime Minister would greatly increase. Sheikh Hasina cannot afford to relax her security posture to any extent. Rumours abound that the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, had received prior warnings of the assassination plot against Sheikh Mujib and had passed on the information to the intended target, who apparently refused to take any precautions, while another version has it that the Indian agency had remained blissfully unaware of any threats to India's newly-installed and very valuable ally. Of course, all this is speculation, which can neither be substantiated nor authoritatively denied, but whatever the truth, the assassination of Sheikh Mujib severely injured Indian interests and efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in the region through good relations with Bangladesh. It is, therefore, in India's own interests to ensure that history is not allowed to repeat itself where his daughter is concerned.

 

Sheikh Mujib's assassination also has to be visualised within the overall geopolitical context of South Asia, and its pervading environment of endemic Indo-Pak proxy conflict, now extending over Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal, besides Jammu and Kashmir and certain regions of mainland India itself. In many ways the assassination of Sheikh Mujib must be viewed as Pakistan's riposte through its covert agencies to its military humiliation in the 1971 Bangladesh War, something that could not be allowed to go unchallenged. Much water has flowed down the Meghna since then, and Indo-Bangladesh relationships have vastly improved under the current Awami League dispensation over those with previous dispensations under the BNP or military governments. But Indo-Pak equations over Bangladesh remain generally unchanged, and India has to remain alert of the wolf ever at the door, waiting for an opportunity to snap back. The proxy war goes on, and India needs to redouble its vigilance against threats to Indo-Bangladesh relations. India had failed to protect its interests once — this must not be allowed to happen again.

 

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

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

LEADING PLAYFULLY

PRAKASH BELAWADI  

 

Five years ago, when Ranga Shankara was ambitiously launched as 'the' theatre in Bangalore, Kewal Arora wrote: "Theatre activity can flourish only when it is nurtured through enlightened sponsorship — in terms of finance, voluntary effort, or a sensitive appreciation of the difficulties that confront amateur and professional theatre workers. Ranga Shankara holds out such a promise."


After delivering about 2,000 shows in different languages to an estimated total audience of 300,000, it would seem Ranga Shankara has fulfilled that promise. "There is so much to do!" its founder and inspiration, Arundathi Nag, will exclaim. Still, there is no denying that this Bangalore venture has delivered to expectations. Theatre groups queue up for performance bookings and the weekends have been taken up deep into the year 2010.


Architect 'Naresh' V Narasimhan, Bangalore's man-about-town and occasional gadfly, once even said: "Ranga Shankara has skewed the city's centre of gravity."


What makes Ranga Shankara so special? "It is the theatre community. They make it!" says Nag. "Locality theatre, affordable theatre, everyday theatre — that's the mantra we set out with," says Ranga Rao, the theatre's advisor on all matters, be it commercial, accounting or legal. "You know when there's a show happening here," adds his colleague, Gayathri Krishna, a constant fixture in the backrooms of the theatre.


The state government will spend about Rs185 crore on what it calls "Kannada and Culture" this year. But exactly how and where are questions that haven't been raised or answered. Also, there are hardly any procedures laid out for audits — financial, social or aesthetic — when grants are parcelled out to various bodies. The government has built performance spaces all over the city. There are several auditoriums and halls built by private parties as well.


But Ranga Shankara is unique.And this is not just because it is, as Ranga Rao says, "a world-class space." In fact, there are many stage experts who argue that Ranga Shankara, despite its first-rate acoustics, elegant lighting and professional infrastructure, could be better. The gradient for the seating is too steep and audiences can only get top-angle views of performances, they say. It limits the kind of sets that can be erected, is another criticism. And then, those stung by the exacting regulations of the theatre say that Ranga Shankara has "too much attitude." We can all quarrel on with our objections, but the fact remains that it is a "world-class space" is a view largely endorsed by audiences at Ranga Shankara.


What makes the Ranga Shankara model unique? Ranga Shankara charges Rs2,500 to put up a show. This includes professional lighting, superb acoustics, back-up generator and air-conditioning. Compare it to Jnana Jyothi Convocation Centre, Central College, which charges Rs80,000 per day or Ambedkar Bhavan at Rs60,000 or even Alliance Francaise at Rs11,000. And the infrastructure doesn't even begin to compare.

But Nag believes the reasons go beyond the money. "Affordability is very necessary. But there is also a living theatre culture here. If we can keep the stage occupied every day, consistently, it speaks for a performance enthusiasm in the groups," she explains. Ranga Rao adds: "We give opportunities to new groups and youngsters; it's very affordable, and you can be sure if you drop in without finding out what's on, there won't be a conference or a wedding. And we respect the theatre community: we don't allow late walk-ins and coming-ins and going-outs once the show begins."


With the chief minister in charge of the culture portfolio, can we draw his attention to this working model? Or should the Ranga Shankara model be celebrated as a unique, stand-alone achievement difficult to replicate?

"It has to be replicated," says Nag. "We need them in different parts of the city." Ranga Rao reveals that when the application for such a space was first made to the state and central governments, "we wanted it for four theatres in four corners of the city."  Gayathri Krishna believes that without replication, theatre will remain a token cultural presence. "We can seat 300 people. To reach an audience of even 30,000 in this city, you need to put up 100 shows. Without at least 3-4 such similar halls, theatre will be very superficial," Krishna explains.


To be able to replicate this model, we need professional management. Right now, the government handles its performance spaces in the most bizarre fashion. Bal Bhavan is managed by the social welfare department; Town Hall by the public works department; Yavanika by the Youth Services and Sports and so on. We need to think of ways to harness the passion in small communities to form trusts dedicated to building and running such theatres.

"We have created a hunger for good theatre. With four or more such halls, we can exchange productions and build an audience of, perhaps, 100,000 in 10 years," says Krishna. Till then, those who want a good play must make their way to the south of the city.


Before 7.30 pm, strictly no exceptions.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

NARROW GROWTH FOR NOW, PAIN LATER

 

So the economy is ticking at a great pace, eh?


Yes, but not the 'economy' we know, encompassing all its productive parts. The second-quarter story's mostly about government stimulus-led growth.


And therein lies the rub.


For perspective, let us rewind first: What has the government done in the face of the global financial crisis to arrive here? It cut taxes, increased subsidies and raised wages, apart from spending more.


Meaning, the government's footprint in the economy increased significantly. So much so, government-spend — or the so-called stimulus — has constituted nearly 27% to second-quarter GDP growth.


Exclude that, and growth would slump under 5%, compared with 5.5% same time last fiscal. So, not so gung-ho.

To play the devil's advocate further, the moot question: what can go wrong from here?

A lot, actually.


The demand components of GDP in the form of private final consumption expenditure has dropped from 8.5% in 2007-08 to 2.9% in 2008-09, while government final consumption expenditure has increased from 7.4% to 20.2% in the same period.


The government is hoping that private sector demand will rise in the coming years so that it can get back on the fiscal consolidation road. To be fair, there is a semblance of increase in private consumption in the September quarter.

But going by loan growth numbers of banks (at around 10% year-on-year in November) private sector demand remains anemic.


The tax mop-up figures are rank bad with indirect tax collections down 22% in April-October and direct tax collections rising just 4%.


Also, as we all know, a higher government footprint gives rise to a complete misallocation of resources, which, in turn, increase prices in the economy.


And given that private sector demand is yet to take off in a sustainable manner, the misallocation will continue for a longer period.


Here's proof: look at the shortages painfully felt in the economy, from electricity to food. There is unlikely to be respite on that anytime soon.


On its part, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is grappling with rising inflation expectations. It has cut policy rates to all-time lows and has kept liquidity high to support current growth.

To dissect inflation, while the surge in the prices of primary articles is a supply-side problem, the pressure on wages remains high and can lead to a self-fulfilling wage-push inflation.


Remember, we also don't have a social security net like in the developed world, so our high savings rate is a function of this lack.


And what high inflation does is force people to dip into their savings for consumption in times when savings rates do not compensate the increase in cost of living.


Which means RBI will be forced to raise rates in times of supply shortages.

 

What, then, is the solution? The ideal path to a long-term, sustainable recovery is through more structural reforms and prudent policies.

 

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DNA

SOUR CREAM

 

Thousands of students who appeared for the online Common Aptitude Test (CAT) examination — the gateway to the premier management institutions of the country, the Indian Institutes of Managements — suffered a harrowing experience last week. The litany of woes included such variables as technical problems with the server not working, the system crashed in some places, the timers did not start, two-hour-long delays, students being turned away from exam centres after a four-hour wait and misinformation being handed out.


The numbers describe the enormity of the problem — this year 240,000 students registered for the exams, which was being conducted online for the first time, through 360 labs at 104 centres in 32 cities. Prometric, the US firm that had built the online platform for the CAT, attributes the debacle to viruses. But that's hardly an explanation or solace for the affected students.


For many, who had come prepared to crack the tough test, it was also a year lost. They would have to sit again next year. It is not only a waste of time, but also a waste of money and energy as most of these students had enrolled in coaching centres, which have steep fees, and burnt the midnight oil to see themselves at the IIMs.


It was clearly evident that the authorities weren't prepared for such a debacle. Even on the second day, the situation hardly showed any improvement, which means the authorities didn't have a plan B to counter such a crisis. On Sunday morning, the CAT website said that due to "technical issues" 50 out of the 360 test centres across the country had to be shut down. Of these labs, five are in Mumbai and one in Navi Mumbai.

The obvious question that remains unanswered is: Why did the authorities undertake the daunting and ambitious task of holding such an examination when there was a possibility of the system giving up? There have been instances of websites crashing when the results of the board exams were displayed online. Surely the premier management institutes in the country could have managed their entrance exams a little better? Ultimately, this is the question which prospective students and the nation must grapple with. The IIMs pride themselves on the high standards that they set for themselves and their students and their intent is apparently to pick and groom the cream of India's student population.


Unfortunately with this year's CAT, they have been licked by their own shortcomings.

 

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DNA

THE KAIGA SCARE

 

Nuclear power plants are not the only dangerous work places. All industrial units can prove to be fatal — from a metro rail construction site to a chemical plant. The contamination of drinking water at the Kaiga atomic power plant should be viewed in the larger context. The facts as they have emerged are: 55 employees have shown traces of radiation above the permissible levels, but none of them are dangerous. As to who could have kept the hazardous stuff in a water cooler, the plant's bosses seem to believe that this is the mischief of an insider. Inquiry is on and full alert has been sounded. The steps taken so far are right.


This should however raise legitimate questions about safety provisions at the atomic power plant. There is a need to resist the temptation to grab the worst case scenario, which in this case happens to be the possibility of a terrorist saboteur. As of now, it seems a little far-fetched although of course it should not be dismissed out of hand. The probe teams should consider that angle as well. It would have been much better if the plant authorities did not hint at the mischief factor even before the inquiry has been initiated. If that is indeed the fact it should have come at the end of an inquiry and as a considered conclusion.


Since the establishment treats atomic power plants as secret, high security zones, information about maintenance and safety of the plants is kept confidential and sensitive.

 

This might give a sense of importance to those who man and overlook it but it does not contribute to the plant's efficient performance or even its safety.


Even as India plans to expand its nuclear power generation, there is a need to set up transparent protocols so that people are aware of all the stringent measures taken to keep the plants safe. The safeguards that are expected of industrial establishments in general are to be expected from the nuclear plants as well. This will set at rest the deep-rooted fears about the lethal effects when something or the other goes wrong at the plants. A breakdown at a nuclear plant should not conjure up images of the disaster at the Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Large scale leaks and reactor meltdowns cannot be bracketed with the minor leaks. This will also help in dealing with the 'accidents' without being traumatised about it.

 

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DNA

SECRET OF ONENESS

 

This world of ours has everything except one thing: peace. Everybody wants and needs peace, whether he be a child or an octogenarian. But the idea of peace is not the same for each individual. It differs. A child's idea of peace is to beat a drum. Beating a drum brings him joy, and this joy is his peace. An old man's idea of peace is to sit quietly with his eyes and ears closed, so that he can escape the embrace of the ugly and restless world.


The Son of God taught us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth."

Somebody has very aptly said, "The more we strive for peace on earth, the more it seems that the dove of peace is a bird of paradise."


To be sure, peace is not the sole monopoly of heaven. Our earth is extremely fertile. Here on earth we can grow peace in measureless measure.


A genuine seeker after peace must needs be a seeker after love. Love has another name: sacrifice. When sacrifice is pure, love is sure. When love is divine, in sacrifice there can be no "mine" . Love is the secret of oneness. Sacrifice is the strength of oneness. Self-love is self indulgence. Self indulgence is self annihilation. Love of God is the seeker's greatest opportunity to realise God.


We sacrifice our precious time to make money. We sacrifice our hard earned money to fight against time. In order to have something from the outer world, we have to sacrifice something of our own. Similarly, in the inner world we offer our aspiration in return for God-realisation. The flame of our aspiration is kindled by God Himself. God uses aspiration to take us to Himself. God uses realisation to bring Himself to us. God is sacrifice when we live in the world of aspiration. But God says that there is no such thing as sacrifice. There is only one thing here on earth and in heaven, and that is oneness: the fulfilment in and of oneness.


Sri Chinmoy

 

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DNA

DARK SPELL OF DEMOLITION

RAVI SHANKAR 

 

In that gloaming that was settling over the wounded landscape of Ayodhya 17 Decembers ago, the flames of Muslim houses burning lit up the night's arrival. On the road to Lucknow, shrouded in a silent dusk that was an eerie sibling of the day's tumult, clusters of policemen were checking passing vehicles. They were looking for rioters, arsonists and agitators. But I don't remember LK Advani being found.


By a bizarre coincidence, I happened to be the only hack who found himself inside the Babri Masjid during the demolition. The mob started by attacking journalists; the first casualty was Voice of America's Peter Heinlein who collapsed bleeding, hit on the head with an iron bar. I was on the terrace of Manas Bhawan, right opposite the mosque.


Along with me were correspondents of Time magazine, Mark Tully of the BBC and others. Police officers had begun to round up the media, escorting them to safety behind bamboo barricades. Soon they came to Manas Bhawan looking for Tully. I was young and foolish and didn't want to escape to the safety of a ringside seat. Next to me was a young man wearing a saffron bandana. His eyes blazed, his voice was strident with slogans. I borrowed his saffron gamcha to tie around my head. I looked like a kar sevak. That day, a kar sevak was the safest thing to be.


A dais full of leaders stood to the right of the masjid. The usual suspects of radical 20th century Hinduism were there, exulting and chattering like excited chickens: Swami Dharmendra, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Rithambara et al. Advani was running late that morning. At a press meet near Faizabad, he had dismissed the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and their fraternal groups as an 'extremist fringe' of Hinduism. It was noon by the time he made it to the masjid compound. He began a speech, but no one seemed interested. The mob was busy attacking the protective chain-link fence with iron rods, finally breaking through and swarming up the mound. Even at that distance, I could see Advani's expression — shock, followed by dismay. He began to shout into his microphone, "Please don't do this!" As a cordon formed around Advani to take him to safety, the attack on the mosque began.

Sometimes, a dark angel gifts you an opportunity to be part of history. I seized it, and ran towards the besieged mosque, my saffron headband flying in the wind. The mob was a screaming, sweaty beast. Inside the crumbling masjid, the cloudy sunlight had turned the atmosphere into sepia. People were pushing and shoving as they smote the walls with rods and hammers. The ochre, vaulted ceilings wept dust. Suddenly a sadhu appeared, like a phantom born in the hysteria of history and thrust a gleaming trident into my hands.


"Strike for Ram!" he screeched, "Jai Sri Ram."


That violent, dun-coloured day was perhaps the turning point in Advani's career. For one used to mastery over crowds, the sudden unpredictability, independence and savagery of the Ayodhya mob must have been unsettling. A long standing pracharak, brought up within the disciplined khaki shorts-and-wooden staff ethic of the RSS, Advani has been unused to the chain of command being snapped as easily as the mosque's fence. Maybe, it was this shock which tainted his psyche with indecision, later producing a weak home minister and a stumbling leader. This weakness went on to make him a captive of the mob, a leader who had to exchange his rath for a vengeful bandwagon of hate.


The only BJP leader who refused to climb on that bandwagon, which started then from Ayodhya to roll through Gujarat, is Vajpayee. Today, the invalid leader's memory must be a caliginous one, wandering along the unmarked frontiers of history and dreams. His mind will not register the Liberhan report accusing him of "leading India to the brink of communal chaos". But even the Vajpayee of old, of the quicksilver mind and dazzling repartee, would have been at a loss for words if told he has been indicted for being absent in Ayodhya on December 6. A "tailor made exercise", according to Liberhan, to "preserve (the BJP's) secular credentials."


So, Advani is indicted for being in Ayodhya. And Vajpayee, for not being there. Liberhan has covered all bases.


Most enquiry reports, in retrospect, are a comment on their times. The many who have investigated mankind's crimes — from Nazi Europe to Serbia — have reflected man's need for atonement. Liberhan may have been moved by that ancient impulse, but somehow the condemnation of Atal Bihari doesn't fit here. For the head of a critical enquiry commission, being more loyal than the King can defeat the truth.


But, in politics' twilight zone, truth is a pursuit full of the stumbling blocks of half-truths. Something both Liberhan and Advani should remember before they finally retire.

 

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DNA

POLITICAL GAMES SHAPE COPENHAGEN AGENDA

PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR  

 

The crisis in climate change is not the issue at the UN summit at Copenhagen beginning on December 7. It is about political games which different groups are involved in playing to remain important and dominant players. In the 1970s, their numbers were small. Now they have attained critical mass. We are not sure whether polar ice sheets are melting because of human activity in the industrial era. But we can be quite sure that the climate-change lobbies comprising some of the scientists and many of the green groups have been able to impress and convert a few of the political leaders and business corporations about this.


This does not mean there is some truth in all this talk about how climate change is going to destroy civilisation as we know it. Many of the green activists are aware that they are overstating the case but they believe that it is a necessary strategy to bring on board the political and business classes which have to take the decisions and put in the money to back their agenda.


In reality, the climate crisis has pseudo-scientific validity because it is based on evidence that is as yet incomplete. There is need for further inquiry. No scientific study ever strikes the note of finality as the panel of scientists which has set itself as the final arbiter in the matter has done. The intelligent conjectures and projections that are being made are partly motivated by political preferences and partly by blinkered sentimentalism. Scientists are not to be trusted when they argue politics or when they speak from the heart instead of on the basis of hard evidence.


The most mischievous and the more dangerous are of course civil society groups looking for a cause — any cause — to muscle their way into the influential circles of decision-makers. These nearly-demented green fanatics want to enjoy power without social responsibility. 

 

We can recognise these groups clearly in India. The group of climate scientists is represented by the chairman of the UN Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), RK Pachauri, elder of the group who as chairman of the IPCC shared a Nobel Peace prize with former US vice-president Al Gore. Here is a man whose views and arguments have to be taken with more than a pinch of salt because he is not the rigorous number-cruncher. He is more an ecology planner rather than a climate scientist. Then we have organisations like the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), founded by Anil Aggarwal, and now headed by Suneeta Narain. The CSE is not a science research institute like the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) or the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). The CSE has proved to be an effective and successful campaigner. But campaigns have nothing much to do with truth.

 

In the government we have the Union minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh and special advisor to prime minister on climate Shyam Saran. Ramesh is an enthusiast for ideas and campaigns; Saran is a seasoned diplomat with a grasp of the technicalities of his brief. But Ramesh and Saran are out of their depth with regard to the real issues concerning climate change. They understand the political and policy implications of the issue which is important but it is not the heart of the matter.The situation is similar to the positions that India took during the run-up to the setting up of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The issues were too complicated for our diplomats and bureaucrats. There were not enough experts on board then. The same thing is happening again. Climate change is a natural phenomenon. It will occur whether there are human beings around or not. We will have to reckon with changes in climate because it affects our lives and livelihoods. Playing political games is not the way to meet the challenge but that is all the participants know.

 

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DNA

STEP OUT FOR A BIT

DINESH KS 

 

There is a lure in the outdoors that you may try to resist — you may succeed for a while, and claim to not have experienced it, but you probably have not opened your heart to it.


You don't have to travel around the world, or to the Himalayas, to know what I speak of.


A small beach will do. And as beaches everywhere do, the one I talk about has a clump of coconut palms, three or four strong. Clouds gather on the horizon, and the monsoon clouds advance. Boats take shelter and holidayers seek cover. That's when you notice it— the hypnotic sway of a coconut palm in the monsoon breeze.


It is impossible to just walk by it, and inexorably, you are drawn into its spell. As the wind lashes the leaves and makes them thrash about in an unbridled ecstasy, you cannot help but feel a pang of lust — the wanton call of the elements. It is an instinct so basic and it has been burned into our DNA.

 

But then, human civilisation has taught us to suppress  our instincts. Perhaps it has dehumanised us, somewhat. We have been programmed to resist that urge — "come inside", "don't stay out" and "stay indoors" seem to have become the epithets we raise our young with. 


We did grow up hearing our parents tell us to come into the safety of the home, not spend time outdoors as it would have been 'dangerous'. But many things about the outdoors have changed. It is much safer to be in the outdoors today than it was some years ago. The irony is that perhaps the city, along with its people, is far more dangerous today than a walk by the ocean.


Have we forgotten what it used to feel like to stay outdoors, seduced by the sounds, sights and smells of the open skies?

 

There is lust that can make us rise out of the mire we seem to live in — a lust for nature, a lust for life. Step out into the open and embrace the elements. You'll feel like a part of them, because you are.


Dinesh KS is the co-founder of Wildcraft, an outdoor and adventure gear company.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POSITIVE SIGNALS FROM OBAMA

REPROCESSING DEAL WILL STRENGTHEN INDO-US TIES

 

National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan's disclosure that the much-awaited spent nuclear fuel reprocessing agreement between India and the US is expected to be clinched in about 10 days is heartening. With this, the last requirement for the implementation of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, signed last year, would stand fulfilled. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had expressed the same conviction during his just concluded visit to Washington. He had indicated that he had been assured by the US leadership that US "remains committed to the early implementation of the civilian nuclear agreement". The agreement could not be finalised during the Prime Minister's visit to Washington owing to tough negotiations by the US side.

 

The reprocessing agreement will lead to setting up of a uranium reprocessing facility under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards exclusively for the use of nuclear fuel to be received from the US. Initially, there will be only one plant that will be built by the US. But there is a provision for more such plants to come up, depending on the need to reprocess spent nuclear fuel.

 

As Dr Manmohan Singh stated, the development is bound to "strengthen the momentum of our relations built during the last few years". There is a clear signal from Washington that India remains as significant in the US scheme of things in Asia as it was during the George W. Bush Administration, when the nuclear deal was signed. We hope the new warmth in US-China relations and the dependence of Washington on Islamabad for the success of its mission in Afghanistan would not be allowed to affect Indo-US ties, which had been put on a new trajectory by former President Bush. The fact that India and the US as the world's two biggest democracies have convergence of views on many global issues can help them work together for peace and progress in the world. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

KAIGA SABOTAGE

ALARMING, EVEN IF "INSIDER MISCHIEF"

 

THE consequences of any sabotage or mischief at an atomic power plant can be catastrophic. As such, it is natural that the news about drinking water being contaminated with radioactive material at the Kaiga plant in Kaiga has caused nationwide concern. The authorities have come out with the hurried explanation that the radioactive material tritium stolen from the reactor building was put in the water cooler by a disgruntled scientist. Presumably, he or they played this vicious prank to get even with colleagues, who are now under treatment for having received radiation doses higher than the prescribed limits.

 

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board have been stressing the point that there was no radiation leak in the plant itself and no violation of the operating procedure. Nor was there any security breach, it is claimed. But apprehensions in the public mind remain. If an employee could thus place the lives of his colleagues at risk, where is the guarantee that something even more sinister cannot be done to the plant itself? There is urgent need to go through the entire safety-related procedure with a fine toothcomb. After all, there can be no compromise with security at such vital installations.

 

As a matter of abundant caution, it will also be necessary to double-check through independent agencies whether the incident was indeed as trivial as it is made out to be. It is yet to be fully explained how the highly radioactive tritium could be taken out of the fortified Kaiga nuclear reactor building at all. What has to be borne in mind is that the Indian atomic power plants are very much on the hit list of the terrorists and it is necessary to maintain a zero-tolerance vigil. It must be underlined that whether it is an insider job or not, India cannot afford to have a repeat of such a shocking incident.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TECHNICAL GLITCHES AT CAT 

MANY ASPIRANTS FACE HARROWING TIME 

 

Meritorious students appearing for the highly competitive CAT examination for entry into India's prestigious business schools are expectedly under great stress, worried that they may miss the bus. This year they were more apprehensive than usual for the pattern had changed from the traditional pen and paper to online. To top it all, in the last couple of days they faced anxious moments that could have easily been avoided. Technical glitches marked CAT entrance in centres across the country affecting hundreds of aspirants, who couldn't take the exam that went online for the first time. With chaos and confusion reigning at many centres, doubts have been raised about the new system. The fact that the problem continued for two days implies that the glitches were not minor but were a systemic failure that cannot be dismissed as teething problems.

 

Software experts have already dismissed the virus theory. The stark reality is that there was lack of preparedness and proper redundancies were not built in the system. Clearly, Prometric, the US-based company conducting the examination, had not done its homework well despite being given adequate time to set up the systems. Given the prestige value attached to the CAT examination, the least they could have done was to have conducted extensive mock trials. Several educational institutions in the country have switched to the online system successfully. The first ever online CAT examination has already seen a decline in the number of registered aspirants due to the change in format. Students who could not take the examination were not only inconvenienced but also faced uncertainty.

 

It is only in the fitness of things that examinations are being rescheduled for those who missed out for no fault of theirs. But it is crucial that students are informed properly. While caution has to be exercised that such incidents do not recur, accountability too must be fixed. For at stake is not only the future of students but also the credibility of the business schools' admission process. The challenge of taking the CAT should not be allowed to turn into a wasted opportunity for aspiring students, howsoever small their number might be.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

PM'S VISIT TO US AND AFTER

WASHINGTON MAKES BALANCING MOVES 

BY S. NIHAL SINGH

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States and the honour he received as the first state guest of the Obama administration yielded predictable results. In essence, the United States wanted to convey the message that India mattered to Washington despite the new administration's preoccupations with China and Pakistan. India, on its part, made clear its problems with an assertive China and a Pakistan that seemingly refuses to face the terrorism threat that is now rebounding on its own security forces and civilians.

 

In the throes of deciding the future strategy on Afghanistan, President Barack Obama would have found it useful to listen to the Indian perspective and would perhaps have been encouraged by New Delhi's belief that any effort to cut losses and run would be disastrous. In other words, New Delhi's vote was for sending the right American signals that it would remain in Afghanistan till the local establishment was ready to take over full responsibility.

 

But the India-US relationship encompasses a broader canvas that takes in Pakistan, China and questions of the nuclear treaty and trade and climate issues. Dr Manmohan Singh has said that he was at a loss to understand Chinese motives in the new assertiveness it has adopted in relations with India. He would have sought to probe the American understanding of China's attitude to the world and how it sees regional equations.

The nuclear issue became a new irritant in the Indo-US relationship because New Delhi's perception was that the new administration was tardy in completing the processes required to implement the provisions of the reprocessing part of the deal. How effective American assurances are on this score will be apparent with time. Trade issues involve the pace and extent of the opening up of the Indian economy and the procedural hurdles that stand in the way.

 

President Obama, of course, has many problems on his plate and he has to balance the compulsions of following a conciliatory policy towards China, stemming in part from the salience of US treasury bonds China holds, with US strategic interests in Asia and the world. The extravagant rhetoric used by President Obama's Secretary of State, Mrs Hillary Clinton, in describing the US-China relationship and the anointing of a Big Two condominium by Mr Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser, Mr Zbignew Brzezinski, to solve the world's problems had alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. By inviting the Indian Prime Minister as his first state visitor, President Obama has sought to correct the balance to an extent signalled by Mrs Clinton's early visit to Beijing and his own journey there, taking care not to meet the Dalai Lama before he went.

 

Given US responsibilities, such exercises in realpolitik are par for course. What concerns India is that President Obama's distractions in Afghanistan and Pakistan and in building an understanding with China do not hurt Indian interests. A case in point is the gratuitous reference to Indo-Pakistani relations in the joint statement he chose to issue in Beijing. It is, of course, no secret that Beijing has been consistently playing a pro-Pakistan role in South Asia for its own reasons and any attempt to legitimise China's role in the subcontinent by the sole surviving superpower can only be at India's expense.

 

The US is understandably focused on Pakistan in relation to the war it is fighting in Afghanistan. The bumper civilian aid given to Pakistan over and above the military aid that continues to flow to Islamabad presents problems for India, given the history of how American arms have been employed against India and the mindset of the Pakistani military establishment. Nor is it a secret that Pakistan looks at India's effective aid programme in Afghanistan with suspicion.

The different Indian and American perspectives are understandable, given Washington's worldwide interests and the starkly contrasting neighbourhoods. The basis of an understanding is the convergence of interests in a number of areas. India can provide the only meaningful counterweight to China in Asia despite the formal denial by the two sides. Second, the Indo-US nuclear treaty does represent a big push by President Obama's predecessor to give India a freer hand. It was not a popular measure in many circles in the US and it is up to the present administration not to fritter away the gains made during the George W. Bush era.

 

India has an obvious interest in cultivating good relations with the US in a number of fields: the burgeoning trade, the links forged by a growing Indian American community, the climate issue, India's future ambitions to secure a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, the tempering of the US arms trade to Islamabad and the emerging scenario in the new world that is beginning to take shape. Perhaps, the most difficult task is to sensitise the Obama administration to the state of power play in Asia. It is foolish to work on the basis of a US-China condominium because it will not work.

 

The success of the Manmohan Singh visit will be determined by the policies President Obama pursues in areas of vital Indian interest. Washington's record has not been encouraging. The US chose to turn a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme because it needed Islamabad's help in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and Washington desperately needs Islamabad's cooperation in salvaging America's war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

 

Admittedly, Pakistan has suffered in the process, but India has had to pay a big price as well because American priorities in Pakistan take precedence over the collateral damage such policies cause New Delhi. The basic value of the Prime Minister's visit, therefore, boils down to making President Obama aware that there is an Indian dimension to the policies he might choose to follow with Pakistan and China.

 

Perhaps, Dr Manmohan Singh's understated style of diplomacy suits President Obama's own temperament. But the Indian Prime Minister is a long way to giving him the ultimate accolade he gave President Bush of "India loves you".

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

THE COMMISSIONER'S ASSISTANT

BY ROBIN GUPTA

 

After a painstaking search in the Bengal Moffussil, a suitable tutor to instruct me in the finer nuances of Bengali was discovered in Siliguri of which I was Magistrate-in-Charge.

 

Mr B.N. Chakraborty, a tall thin gentleman in his early 70s with aquiline features, dressed in starched white apparel strode into my camp office early one morning.  He had been advised by the English Office of the Collectorate to train me in appropriate application of the language. 

 

 When I offered him a cup of tea he tersely replied: "Horlicks please, if it is going".  Lowering himself into a chair Bishnu Babu, laid down the ground rules: "We shall cleave to the classics for there can be no short cuts or re-definition. I have taught three British members of the I.C.S.  an acceptable degree of perfection". 

 

I was mesmerised by Bishnu Babu who seemed to have stepped out of the archives.  "Never be indiscreet in word or action". "Remember always, in high office wind and water carry forth your name far and wide, your reputation shall precede every post that you hold" quoted my mentor. Everything that happened or was worthy of happening, according to him would, in fact, happen "just then" ("Theek She Shamay"). Also he had internalised a sense of the immediate for the fiat of the Sarkar had to be executed without a moment's delay. "Thatkhanat".

 

Bishnu Babu told me about the affectionate eccentricities of a British Commissioner of the erstwhile Rajshahi division who would sit late in the evening clearing confidential papers in his large  bungalow by the Teesta river, with his Confidential Assistant for company.  After the day's work, the Commissioner would call for his sundowner.  Subsequently for a silver cutlery box.  

 

The Confidential Assistant was stood against the opposite wall with the Commissioner darting knives outlining him. "After working with such an officer," reminisced Bishnu Babu,  "every vestige of fear was drained out of my system". Bishnu Babu was determined to ingrain in me classical Bangla, the exquisite language of bejewelled princes reclining on cushions in their marble palaces.  We progressed slowly in syntax, inflection, eloquence and grammar. 

 

 In the process my tutor wafted me to the majestic peaks scaled by British Administrators in India.  "Be prepared to lead the District from the front", said Bishnu Babu in strangely martial tones. While grudgingly accepting the need for a British Colonel in the Cantonment, he shuddered at the albeit stray threat posed by any Police Superintendent to the magistracy. "Have you not heard of Mr Pennel, District Magistrate Midnapore at the end of the 19th century?  You know, he went by the book and one morning placed the Police Superintendent under house arrest for insubordination after which he sailed away in his launch on tour for a month". 

 

Awestruck I meekly addressed my tutor: "You have witnessed the Empire in its full splendour".  "Yes, indeed," said Bishnu Babu,  "I will now tell you about the last British Deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling who at his farewell accepted a bouquet of flowers and handed them over to me stating "Bishnu Babu, Janin! Aiye Zila ta Apni Chaliye chen" (Do you know, it is you who have administered the District).  He then handed me an envelope and can you imagine what it contained?  It was the key of a house in Hakimpura that he had bought for my retirement". At sunset the District Magistrate saluted the flag outside his court and left for England.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

IS COMMONWEALTH'S ROLE STILL RELEVANT?

BY DANIEL HOWDEN

 

IN an international calendar full to bursting with uncomfortable acronyms it's time for one of the worst of them: CHOGM. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting convened in Trinidad and Tobago on Friday for its bi-annual get together, which can ordinarily be counted upon to be in one of the warmer member states. Last time it was Uganda.

 

The agenda this year was dominated by the expected acceptance of Rwanda into the fold, something which nations such as Britain, Australia, Canada and Uganda have lobbied hard for.

 

Those less happy with the newcomer to the club are the agencies that have examined Rwanda's troubled record on human rights and found it wanting. They have lobbied against the central African country's acceptance.

 

What exactly is the Commonwealth?

 

That depends, both on who is asking and who is answering. Formerly the "British Commonwealth", the modern version came into being 50 years ago, shedding the British part of its tag and becoming the Commonwealth of Nations. The old club of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa has since swollen to 54 countries, until it lost Zimbabwe, and is expected to return to that number.

 

To its supporters it is a British foreign policy success story that has come to encompass every region, religion and race on the planet, something no other organistation apart from the UN can boast.

 

It enables otherwise isolated and impoverished nations to network with powerful allies and be, in the words of one booster, "a decent club... which confers a sense of identity... no more no less."

 

While its membership is almost entirely made up of English-speaking former colonies that share a legal system and often a constitutional framework, Britain is no longer dominant in what is a voluntary association.

 

Are there any dissenters?

 

Yes. Many. Some see the Commonwealth as a peculiarly British consolation prize for the loss of Empire, that bolsters the UK's sense of importance while doing almost nothing else. A collection of not very important states brought together by the unhappy accident of having been colonised by the English.

 

It talks in high ideals but trades in a much more compromised reality, offering abusive regimes a fig-leaf of legitimacy and a platform that they would otherwise have to look for at the more crowded but equally grubby UN.

 

Considering that it confers no trade priveleges, has no influence on defence or economic policy, no executive authority and no sensible budget to play a global role it remains a talking shop at best and at worst a costly junket.

 

The countries that can would be better served by spending their time and money on organisations like Nato, the UN or trade blocs like the European Union.

 

Does anyone else want to join and, if so, why?

Yes they do. In fact, there's a queue. Sitting behind expectant Rwanda are Madagascar, Yemen, Algeria and Sudan. Previous unsuccessful suitors have included Cambodia and Palestine, while those with an appetite for being shouted at have even suggested this year that Ireland might rejoin.

 

As to why – there are several suggestions, and different aspirants offer differing explanations. Meetings like CHOGM give smaller nations the chance to lobby for bi-lateral trade deals, to influence the positions of bigger powers at forums with real bite like the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

 

Its formal and informal channels benefit the little guy, something that Guyana demonstrated when it floated its offer to protect the entirety of its standing forest in return for development aid on the sidelines of the Uganda meeting in 2007. Britain, eventually, declined but the idea got media coverage and Norway took them up on it this month to the tune of $250m.

 

Are those the only reasons?

 

Not exactly. A second look at the list suggests some worrying truths. Nations like Sudan, Yemen and to a lesser extent Madagascar may well like the Commonwealth precisely because it doesn't have the power to enforce international norms and has to rely on "constructive engagement" - a staple of regime's from Khartoum to Pyongyang in North Korea.

 

A talking shop which offers access to development aid and informal trade talks while conferring prestige and an international platform is hard to dislike. Let's not forget it also offers access to the Commonwealth Games, an international sporting event where the competition is so modest that even the UK can expect a decent medal haul and which was memorably introduced by the sports writer Frank Keating as "a bucketload of pointless contrivance."

 

Which high ideals does Commonwealth espouse?

 

On the tin it says that the grouping is about promoting democracy, good governance, human rights and prosperity. The Harare declaration in 1991 is billed as the Commonwealth's core set of principles and values.

 

Those include: world peace, economic development, the rule of law, a narrowing of the wealth gap, an end to racial discrimination, liberty regardless of race or creed and the "inalienable right to free democratic processes".

 

The setting for this declaration could hardly be more poignant. Since 1991 Zimbabwe's life expectancy has imploded, the regime has stoked vicious racial politics, collapsed the economy and stolen elections.

 

The reaction of the high-minded Commonwealth was labelled "spineless" in 2002 by this newspaper, as it dithered over ejecting Robert Mugabe's government, which walked out by itself the following year. Since then it has, in the words of the eminent constitutional expert Yashpal Ghai, "looked desperately for ways of doing nothing" about a host of crises. And only reluctantly suspended Pakistan, twice, and Fiji, once. Professor Ghai's assessment is that the grouping "couldn't care less about human rights".

 

What about the Queen?

 

All this leaves Her Majesty on a plane to Trinidad and Tobago, where she attended the latest CHOGM with typical seriousness. This despite 33 of her family of nations being republics, five having their own monarchs and only the remainder having her as their head of state.

 

Of them, Australia and Canada now openly debate and ocassionally vote on whether they still want Elizabeth II. When looking for a reason why the Republic of Ireland will not rejoin one need look no further, and it's hard to see Omar al-Bashir of Sudan rewriting the constitution in order to curry favour.

 

By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

FIRES OF TRIBAL OPPRESSION

BY KALPANA DHARINI

 

THERE are fourteen hairpin bends on the coiling hillroad that leads to Yelagiri; each one offers a view of 3,500 acres of verdant forest lands that surround this tribal hill station in northern Tamil Nadu. But with increasing regularity, this view also offers another spectacle: of long tongues of forest fire snaking their way through the trees and huge tracts of forest land disappearing under massive flares.

 

Suspicions arose and questions were raised about how 'natural' these fires were, as the Forest Department continued to claim. But the truth, as the perpetrators themselves unhesitatingly admit, is simple. The fires are lit by the tribals.

 

Yelagiri is a tribal settlement of about 14 villages, flanked by four hills, in the district of Vellore, Tamil Nadu. Lying about 258 km to the north of Chennai, the people here speak Tamil and Malayalam, and call themselves the 'Karalars' which means 'the people of the clouds', or sometimes the 'Malayalees', 'the people of the mountains.'

 

When the Forest Dwellers' Act was passed in 2006, it was hailed as a revolutionary step, a long-awaited recognition of the rights of traditional forest dwellers. The ground realities, however, are vastly different. Riddled with loopholes and left to the discretion of the forest guards, the implementation of the Act has been one that has created several problems along the way. Yelagiri is no exception.

 

Under constant pressure from the forest officials to leave the jungles, the tribals have been fighting a losing battle to reclaim their rights to the lands that they have inhabited for generations. These communities are regularly served notices by the department concerned demanding that they move out. And when they refuse to obey, the harassment becomes more brazen.

 

Forest officials deny them entry into the jungles. And for communities that depend extensively on forest produce for their livelihood by collecting fruits, honey and vegetables that they sell in the local market, this effectively severs their lifeline.

 

"The families are too few in number to warrant a struggle. Moreover, this place has become a real-estate market with the local people selling off their lands," said K.S. Ramamurthy, who started the Society for Development of Economically Weaker Sections in Yelagiri in 2004, which has been active in promoting primary education and computer training in schools in Vellore district. So the tribals hit back at the officials by setting the forests alight and hundreds of acres of land burn to cinders.

 

It is a fact that land prices in this pristine natural habitat have skyrocketed. Ten years ago, an acre of land in this relatively isolated hill station could be bought for Rs. 1 lakh. Now, the same plot of land costs over Rs.1.50 crores, a 150-fold increase. This means the pressure on the tribals to vacate their land is already immense.

 

Moreover, as real-estate sharks rip up the forests and sell them to the highest bidder, the land available for grazing and farming has shrunk drastically and the tribals are already struggling to escape this tightening noose. And in the case of a conflict between commercial interests and traditional rights, it is not difficult to say which one triumphs. So, this denial of access to common property resources comes as a fatal blow, ill-timed and devastating in its impact.

 

Interestingly, there is no concrete data available on the area of forest cover destroyed in a year, and nor are there any inquiries conducted to ascertain what caused a particular conflagration. "These fires are mainly because of the foreigners. The tribals are in no way connected to this," said an official from the Tourist Information Centre in Yelagiri. The forest department also continues to claim that the fires are caused by transformer bursts, and tourists careless with their cigarettes and bonfires.

 

They added that the only way that the tribals are involved is the odd incident occurring owing to their superstitions. For instance, the officials allege that there is a belief among the tribals that burning crops can cure chronic stomach ailments, and that setting the remnants of harvested 'manjam pul' (a yellow grass that carpets the hills) alight helps them to sprout again in the summer.  They flatly refuse to consider these occurrences as a sign of protest of the tribals remonstrating their unfair actions.

 

What smoulders in Yelagiri is much more than the trees or the forests; it is the anger of a community abused and denigrated; their call for help when they fear no one is listening. For them, placing a burning torch to a tree is no easy option , it has been their source of life, shelter and edification for generations, and the desperation that drives them to it is perhaps beyond our comprehension. It is their last stand, their last resort. Whether we take heed is the only question that remains.

 

Charkha Features

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DELHI DURBAR

AMAR SINGH UNHAPPY IN SP?

 

Amar Singh seems to be going through an existential crisis in his political life. Since Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav's trusted lieutenants Azam Khan, Raj Babbar and Beni Prasad Verma started walking out on Netaji, blaming Amar Singh for Mulayam's political degeneration and disconnect with people, Amar has been in a bit of a spot in his party.

 

And to make matters worse for him, Mulayam has appointed son Akhilesh the president of the UP unit of his party. Perhaps seeing no more future in the SP, Amar has once even threatened to quit the party.

 

Whether that was a serious threat or just an attempt to draw Mulayam's attention, Amar is clearly looking at other avenues to channel his political energy. He and his friend, Jayaprada, have started heaping praises on Rahul Gandhi.

 

Simultaneously, he has started making overtures to the BJP. First he went and met Advani. Last week he declared his affection for Sushma Swaraj before TV cameras on the doorstep of Parliament House.

 

Even his mock fight with S.S. Ahluwalia over the Liberhan report in the Upper House ended in both disclosing their long-standing camaraderie from the days they were college students in Kolkata and Youth Congress activists.

 

The clash had a queer side to it also. While the BJP members shouted "Jai Shri Ram", Amar Singh raised the "Ya Ali" slogan. But this came after the pushing and jostling between the SP and BJP members.

 

However, as tempers cooled in the House, Ahluwalia looked toward Amar Singh and came out with a remark which had most amused. He said, "Kamaal hai, Musalmanon ko bachane ke liye, ek Sikh ko maar rahe ho (How ironic, to save Muslims you are beating up a Sikh)."

 

Slip of tongue

 

Speeches in the Rajya Sabha at times bring out some of the most amusing unintentional slips and one was from Sports Minister M.S. Gill as he replied to the calling attention motion on the preparations for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi next year.

 

Giving details of the preparations, Gill, while pointing out that the Games Village was coming up near the Akshardham Temple, unintentionally pronounced the temple as Akash Darshan Temple. Incidentally, such unintentional errors do definitely make the proceedings of the House more interesting.

 

Copenhagen summit

 

The PM is not going to Copenhagen for the UN summit on climate change. This has disappointed the Danish authorities. The Danish Ambassador recently met the Foreign Office mandarins and reeled out the names of the world leaders who were coming for the summit.

 

He wanted that India should also be represented at the PM's level. But he did not get a positive response. What if Obama attends the summit, he asked a senior Indian official. The reply was: it is entirely for the PM to take the final call. Indian Ambassador to Denmark Yogesh Gupta also enquired if the embassy needs to book rooms for the PM's entourage as well as journalists in connection with the summit. He too was told that there was no need.

 

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, Girja S Kaura and Ashok Tuteja

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

VOTE AGAINST IRAN

 

India's stand on the Iranian nuclear programme is quite consistent with its stated position on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. By voting against Iran in the IAEA resolution, India has rightly said that while Iran, as a signatory to the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), is within rights to use nuclear material for peaceful means, it must also stick to its membership obligations at the same time. The Ahmadinejad regime, with backing from spiritual head Ayatullah Khamenei, has been defying global demands to stop uranium enrichment. The recent discovery of a secret site at Qom has further heightened the fears that the nuclear programme is aimed at bomb-making under the garb of Tehran's oft-repeated assertion that it is meant for generating electricity. The resolution, therefore, has specifically asked Iran to "suspend immediately" the construction at Qom and announce if there are more such secret sites. There is another crucial factor why the stand taken by 25 countries on Friday is justifiable. The reports of Iran transhipping uranium to another country for enrichment are startling indeed, as it speaks of Iran's resolve to achieve its goal at all costs. Even Russia and China, who have always been opposing harsh penalties on Iran or diluting UN sanctions, have also joined other nations in opposing Iran. This is extremely significant; for it suggests that the global apprehensions about Iran trying to go nuclear are quite valid.


This further justifies India's position. By opposing Iran again, India has no doubt risked souring of bilateral ties, but any backing, direct or tacit, would have been inconsistent with India's high moral stand against nuclear proliferation, particularly because Iran has received assistance from China and Pakistan in its efforts. Although the fate of the India-Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline now hangs in balance, its coming to fruition will depend more on how the present conflict with Islamabad gives way to a peaceful environment. Iran must acknowledge that India has balanced its opposition by calling for engagement to resolve the impasse, instead of hasty punitive measures. It remains to be seen, however, how Iran abides by NPT membership obligations and respects the IAEA resolution. Going by Iran's readiness to enrich uranium on its own and embrace isolation and punishment, it is unlikely it will come down from its position immediately. However, the reported reservations brewing in Iran against uranium enrichment could influence its decision-making in the long run. While the Obama Administration should not heighten Iran's insecurity by playing up its pro-Israel policy too much, Iran should display more diplomatic wisdom to take the standoff to a peaceful and logical conclusion.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DAMS IN NORTH EAST

 

The move to set up mega dams in the upper reaches of Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh has been mired in controversy. Vociferous protests by a number of organizations in Assam against the dams have compelled the Centre to make down stream assessment impact study mandatory. The environmentalists and the local communities have raised their opposition against the mega projects. Several studies have already been commissioned to make a comprehensive survey on the impact of the dams in the down stream areas. But the Centre's action has not been able to allay the apprehension of the people of the State. The opponents of the dams are not satisfied as they believe the findings of the proposed study are likely to endorse the Centre's stand. The environmentalists are concerned over the fact that no serious attempts have been made to prepare a comprehensive environment impact assessment report for such projects. The votaries of the mega dams justify that if harnessed properly the hydro resources will transform this remote part of the country into the fastest growing region. The dams apart from making the region a power surplus one would also help in accelerating the pace of development. The Centre without taking the region into confidence has chalked up a grandiose plan of generating 55,000 MW power by setting up around 100 dams in Arunachal Pradesh. The speed in which permission was granted to the hydel projects on the Dibang and the Lower Demwe on the lower reaches of the Lohit without making the down stream report public has created apprehension among the people of the State.


The studies undertaken to ascertain the down stream impact of the dams don't inspire confidence among the people of the State. And there are valid reasons behind it. The recent dam-induced flood which created havoc in Lakhimpur district besides several such flash floods in the State speak eloquently about the hazards such dams pose for a flood prone State like Assam. The dams will end up magnifying the problem. Being located in a highly seismic zone the mega dams do not exactly inspire any confidence. Experts are of the view that it wouldn't be prudent to interfere with nature in this geologically sensitive region. Considering the gravity of the ground situation the Centre should conduct an in-depth study on the feasibility of the mega dams in the region considering all the relevant aspects and allay the fears raised by different quarters. The Centre must ensure that the region does not end up paying a heavy price for the sake of power generation.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INDO-US RELATIONS : RHETORIC AND REALITY

SHIBDAS BHATTACHARJEE

 

"My objective on this visit was to lay the basis for transformed ties between our two great countries. I believe that we have made a very good beginning. With the support and understanding of the Congress, the full benefits of our partnership will be realised in the months and years to come. India is today embarked on a journey inspired by many dreams. We welcome having America by our side. There is much we can accomplish together." This concluding statement of the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's address to the joint session of the US Congress clearly highlighted India's approach and expectations from the new US administration under the leadership of President Barack Obama.


New Delhi was satisfied that it was able to persuade Washington to acknowledge that India was being inflicted by terrorism from neighbouring Pakistan. President Obama referred to Pakistan's role in combating terrorism in the region in the course of his press conference. The joint statement specifically referred to the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremists emanating from India's neighborhood and resolved to work together in taking credible steps in eliminating sanctuaries that provide shelter to terrorists. The statement also called for the defeat of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The two countries signed a new memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism cooperation to help each other in information and intelligence sharing related to terrorism, which institutionalised an arrangement which has been in place since the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The US appeared to have realised why China cannot be allowed to play the monitoring role in South Asia. President Obama made it clear that India has to play a pivotal role in Asia and the world. It is a matter of great satisfaction that India's stand on resolving disputes between New Delhi and Islamabad without any third-party involvement has been upheld. The US assured to put pressure on Pakistan to force it to eliminate all kinds of terrorist networks, including those operating against India.


On the other hand, Obama expressed strong commitment to the implementation of the India-US nuclear agreement. The acknowledgment of India's nuclear status has made it easier for India to agree to participate in the April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit proposed by Obama. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two countries to enhance cooperation on energy security, energy efficiency, clean energy and climate change. This MOU', signed by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is to bring together joint ideas on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green technologies to stimulate the India-U.S. Energy Dialogue. Another MOU was signed to intensify cooperation in agriculture and food security, calling for an expansion of the current partnership. Under the umbrella of a new framework called the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative, the two sides promised to increase university linkages and junior faculty development exchanges between India and the United States. The funding for this initiative is to be from both countries.


All these are undoubtedly good rhetoric. But this does not manifest the US policy towards India, the so-called hidden US agenda in South East Asia. It will be better not to see all these through the prism of euphoria. How many times US made such announcement like taking action against the anti-India terrorist organizations operating from Pakistan? Has anything happened? Did US take any action against Pakistan? Do the people of India know where the Indo-US nuclear deal stands this time, the issue that created unprecedented hue and cry and got extensive media coverage? What is the real state of Sino-US strategic ties that encouraged China to go ahead with its evil design of expansion in the region?


There are viable questions and the present Indian administration should have accountability to answer these. In fact, the announcements made by the Washington administration during Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's recent visit to US were some damage repair efforts of the Obama administration. In fact, the Indo-US relations became uneasy in recent times. US aid to Pakistan, giving Pakistan more active role in Afghanistan, the growing Sino-US relations, giving China the monitoring role in Indo-Pak bilateral issues, Washington's comment on Dalai Lama taking asylum in India and so on. Truly the present Washington administration has adopted a dubious policy in case of the nations of South East Asia. For its strategic interests it is using Pakistan and China. But to project itself as the leader of democratic movement and expanding democratic culture, it has engaged with democratic India. But this is also a calculated ploy as its relations with India is a strategy to cover up its policy and an effort to legitimize US policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Somalia for the so-called democratic values.


But Indian foreign policy mandarins have been hoping that the warmth and understanding between the two countries will not only continue, but also that the momentum is sustained. But in the absence of clear-cut policy formulations in the US on India or the South Asian region, and in the midst of contradictory statements from Washington, there is a degree of apprehension on the future course of India-US relations. Why have India and the US not enjoyed long term stable bilateral ties expected of two ideologically similar nations? Though views of key aides to the American President– positive, or otherwise – made public through the media do matter in the formulation and direction of the US foreign policy, they do not constitute the last word on the subject. US foreign policy formulations weigh heavily on certain crucial factors: These include economic national interests, geo-strategic compulsions and perceptions of the US State Department and the Pentagon. The emergence of a global economy, characterised by growth in world trade and spread of foreign investments in international markets, has clearly changed the paradigm governing relations between states. Although power and security still constitute the nuclei of foreign policy in all countries, the emphasis on economic aspects has assumed greater significance. From this viewpoint, the India-US economic relations have to be examined from two perspectives — the Indo-American trade relations and US foreign direct investments in India.


One of the limitations of the American foreign policy establishment lies in its inability to get out of the Cold War mindset and evolve a country-specific approach with India. The same could be said about the Indian policy planners who continue to be preoccupied with non-alignment fixations in the changed global order. Nonetheless, the Pakistan factor plays an important role in Indo-US relations. However, in today's changed political milieu, the prospect of Pakistan becoming a 'failed state', owing to the collapse of its democratic institutions and the consequent consolidation of religious fundamentalism, is making the Americans wary. But those days are gone when the adversarial nature of Sino-Indian relations, coupled with the fact that India is the only country that can provide a market, sphere of influence and military capability comparable to China, could provide some strategic solace to the US as Washington began to acknowledge China's status as the most powerful regional player. So great Expectations of continued and sustained goodwill between India and the US are more rhetoric than reality.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

PREVENTION OF AIDS

DR DHRUBAJYOTI DAS

 

Prevention and control of AIDS are very vital as there is no effective vaccine or curative treatment. Education forms the major weapon against spread of HIV infection by sexual contact with infected persons and avoidance of use of shared needles offers protection against the infection.


It is necessary to take some precautions as with other sexually transmitted diseases. One should not have sexual contact with AIDS patient or with members of the high risk groups with people who have a positive test for HIV or people who use intravenous drugs. It is necessary to use condom when, one is not sure whether sexual partner is infected with HIV or not. The disease can be prevented by avoidance of vaginal, anal or oral sexual activity and intimate kissing with the infected persons. One should not have sex with multiple partners including prostitutes.


The best defence against AIDS is to maintain a faithful monogamous relationship in which one has only one continuing sexual partner and both are faithful. If one decides to have sex with someone regarding whom one is not absolutely certain about his or her sexual history, then use of condom is necessary from start to finish of the sexual activity. Women should make sure that her male partner uses a condom. IV drug abusers, homosexuals, bisexuals and prostitutes form the most important group at risk for AIDS. Those who are infected with HIV must be identified and blood testing.


Blood test can determine whether the antibodies to HIV are present in a person's blood. Since they are produced after infection with HIV, the AIDS antibody test should be advised to a person if he(1) is a homosexual or bisexual male, and if he/she, (2) injects drugs, (3) has sexual relationship with several partners, (4) is a hemophiliac and/or (5) has sex or has had sex with someone who falls into any one of the above categories.

The antibody test is done in three stages, after a pre-test counselling. The blood sample is drawn for ELISA test. If the results are positive, a second ELISA test is done. If that is also positive, Western Blot test is performed. It must be noted that none of these tests is foolproof. The results must be interpreted, whether positive or negative for each individual, by a trained physician. Absence of antibodies in the blood of HIV indicates that the individual has not been infected with the virus. However, it must be remembered that if a person is engaged in high-risk behaviour in the last few months, he may be infected even if his body hasn't produce antibodies.

A positive test indicates that the person has been infected with HIV. However, it does not necessarily mean that the person will develop AIDS. Once infected, the person remains infected for the rest of his life. He should be advised about steps to prevent the spread of the disease. The normal contact with family, friends and fellow employees at work will not put them at risk.


The individuals who have a positive test should have periodic medical checkup. They should not donate blood, plasma, sperms, body organs or other tissues. They should not share needles with others. Razors and toothbrushes should not be shared with infected individuals. They should avoid exchanging body fluids-semen, blood and vaginal secretions-during sexual activity. However, it should be noted that condom offers some but not complete protection. As an infected woman has the risk of giving birth to an infected body she should avoid or postpone pregnancy.


The donor testing for HIV should be mandatory and it will reduce the possibility of infection through the blood or blood products, and organs and other tissues intended for transplantation. The coagulation products should be heat treated. HIV is a fragile virus. It is killed at 56° C kept for 30 minutes. Soap and hot water will kill the virus. Soiled linen must be washed in hot water or boiled. The virus gets inactivated with it comes in contact with the following for 10 minutes: household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) 1/1000, alcohol 50 per cent glutaraldehyde 1 per cent and formol 0.5 per cent. These substances should be used to disinfect and clean any surfaces or objects that have been in contact with potentially infecting substances. Compared to hepatitis B virus, HIV is not easily transmitted and requires an inoculum 10 times greater. Further, AIDS is not a very contagious sexually transmitted disease.


The health care workers should use appropriate barrier precautions to prevent skin and mucous membrance exposure when contact with blood or other body fluids of any patient is anticipated. Gloves should be worn for touching blood and body fluids, mucous membrances, or non-intact skin of all the patients, for handling items or surfaces soiled with blood or body fluids, and for performing venipuncture and other vascular access procedures. Gloves should be changed after contact with each patient. Masks and protective eyewear or face shields should be worn during procedures that are likely to generate droplets of blood or other body fluids to prevent exposure of mucous memberances of the mouth, nose, and eyes. Gowns or aprons should be worn during procedures that are likely to generate splashes of blood or other body fluids.


Hands and other skin surfaces should be washed immediately and thoroughly if contaminated with blood or body fluids. Hands should be washed immediately after gloves are removed. Health care workers should take precautions to prevent injuries caused by needless, scalpels, and other sharp instruments or devices during procedures, when cleaning used instruments, during disposal of uses needles, and when handling sharp instruments after procedures. Health care workers who have exudative lesions of weeping dermatitis should refrain from all direct patient care and from handling patient-care equipment until the condition resolves.


The persons who have been infected by the virus do not show clinical signs. They demonstrate HIV antibodies. It indicates not only current infection with the virus but also their capability of transmitting the disease. Since HIV integrates its genome into the host cell genome, the patient becomes infected for life and hence capable of life-long transmission of the infection. Such individuals should take precautions not to get infected with HIV. They should not get themselves exposed to infectious disease. They should avoid taking drugs to get immunised with live virus vaccines. They should not become pregnant or impregnate a woman. They should have periodic medical checkups.


There is no effective vaccine to prevent the infection or treatment capable of destroying the HIV or restoring the immune system. AIDS has shown to be universally fatal. The treatment is mainly supportive. Education about the disease is the most powerful defence against AIDS.


(Published on the occasion of World AIDS Day).

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GDP CHEERS BUT GROWTH NEEDS BOOSTERS

 

Doubting Thomases on India's growth rate are all now revising the current fiscal year's growth rate sharply upwards, with the Central Statistical Organisation estimating growth in the first half (April-September) at 7.8%, pulled up by the 7.9% growth in the second quarter (July-September). Does this mean that the slowdown is now history, that the government and the central bank can now afford to take their foot off the accelerator, leaving the economy to cruise along on its own?


While these columns have been optimistic on India's growth all through these troubled times, we would still urge caution in writing off growth hurdles. Growth could slow down substantially in the next two quarters. The effect of a poor monsoon (June-September) does not show up on the field or in GDP numbers in the first half, but will, with a vengeance, in the second. So, the marginally positive growth in farm output in Q2 will turn negative in the coming quarters.


The Sixth Pay Commission largesse for civil servants kicked in from Q3 of the last fiscal year, which means that Q2 of this fiscal year is the last period for which exceptionally high growth will be recorded for community and social services, whose value is estimated as the government's salary bill. From Q3 this fiscal onwards, like government wage bill will be compared against like government wage bill, whereas for Q2, Pay Commission-boosted salary bill has been compared against unlike salary bill, to yield a high growth rate.


Another similar source of growth arising from inter-year asymmetry is mining: the Krishna-Godavari basin gas started flowing in Q4 of 2008-09, so for the first three quarters of 2009-10, the value added in mining would be high because a higher level of aggregate mining output is being compared against mining output that did not include KG basin gas.


This growth booster will disappear in Q4 this fiscal. That only pre-existing redeeming feature of H2 growth this fiscal would be the stunted H2 growth of the last fiscal, post-Lehman. Growth in fixed capital formation, at 7.3%, shows a pick-up. Fiscal and monetary policy should stay focused on keeping that trend going.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOUSE GOT THE CAT

 

The glitches in the first online Common Admission Test (CAT) for the Indian Institutes of Management have put 5,000 students to much distress. This is unfortunate, but technical snags can be sorted out and the way forward remains online tests for all entrance exams. With the caveat that students must be given flexibility in when to take the tests.


Ideally, it should be possible for students to take the test throughout the year. Such a system will be in sync with the best international practice. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general test, to assess the advanced study potential of students enrolling in universities in the US, is online and round the year. This test is, however, paper-based in a few countries including China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. The GRE subject tests, paper-based worldwide, are held thrice a year. The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) too is computer-adaptive.

The test is conducted through the year and, hence, gives students several options from which to choose a convenient date. So is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). These tests are given 30-40 times a year on pre-determined dates at over 4,000 secure internet-based centres across the globe. Back home, Manipal University and Birla Institute of Technology & Science have been conducting online entrance exams over the past few years.


In Manipal, the university experimented with online tests to enrol post-graduate students who were fewer in number. It was later scaled up to cover students seeking admissions for undergraduate courses. Given that over 2.4 lakh students registered for CAT this year, Prometric, the agency entrusted with the task of conducting the online exam, ought to have had a backup plan and probably conducted mock tests.


Rural electrification and publicly-funded optical fibre networks in all parts of the country are complementary investments that the government must make, to remove the present elitist bias in computer access. As online testing becomes ubiquitous, felicity with the hardware should not be a differentiating factor for those being tested.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

MIRAGE IN THE DESERT

 

It was a monument to overvaulting human ambition, a fantasy fuelled by frenetic investment-dollars and oxymoronic benevolent despotism. A desert mirage built to rival the sheen and glitz of Las Vegas. Crass spectacle on a surreal scale. And it seems to have ended in a nightmare. Welcome to fear and loathing in Dubai. The emirate for which the term metropolitan disorder seems to have been solely invented.


Sure, given its paucity of oil, Dubai did the right thing to posit itself as a model of the new economy. But the fun and games bits were grandiloquent. An attempt to cast the world anew, according to fantasy. Thus, the 24-square-mile archipelago of islands in the shape of a world map jigsaw; the new Pyramids and the Colosseum; hyper resorts, mega hotels, skyscraping towers, amusement parks and an array of kitschy mansions in the middle of water.


Buildings that echo the Tower of Babel: half a mile high, higher than the Empire State Building doubled. The childish wonderland extended downwards too — a hotel like the Hydropolis, jellyfish-shaped and 66 feet below the surface of the sea — where you could presumably have your shark-fin soup while gazing at a live specimen. That, perhaps, is what happens when a small sea-trading town fantasises about becoming a megapolis. Megalomania as a way of life.


You didn't need a financial whiz to suspect something was wrong here. At best, it was like watching an unrestrained kid pile on the Lego blocks, amazement tinged with the lingering certainty of the impending collapse. And it did. The bust is as staggering as the spectacle. The total debt estimated at a jaw-dropping $80 billion. This was a city-state built as an anti-thesis of the original Greek conception.


One that ballooned using the exploited labour of masses of south Asians, subject to total control, working inhuman shifts in white heat to enable the sheikhdom to wallow in refrigerated swimming pools. Often, it was compared to indentured labour under colonial rule. Livelihoods might have been lost, but the moot point is whether such a colonial Xanadu was ever workable in the first place.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE

A HOUSE FOR MR PINARAYI

 

Here's a sort of curtain raiser on the CPI(M)'s asset-declaration drive. First came an e-mail containing a photograph of a palatial bungalow that the senders claimed was the much-talked-about mysterious house of Kerala CPI(M) boss Pinarayi Vijayan. Mysterious because no publication in Kerala could access a photo of the house Vijayan has reportedly built in his village. Soon, Vijayan cried foul and got the state police to probe the e-mail.

The photo turned out to be fake and the people behind it are now facing prosecution. Then came a party politburo statement, urging the comrades to be cautious about such e-mail tricks 'aimed at discrediting' the party and its leaders. Soon, the Kerala Youth Congress sent an open letter to Prakash Karat, urging him to end the mystery by making public the real photos of Vijayan's house. Karat kept mum.


But now Janashakthi, a Malayalam political weekly brought out by some rebel/expelled CPI(M) activists, has hit the stands with a cover story with exclusive photos on the construction of a double-storied house which, the weekly asserts, is the 'real' Vijayan house. No response yet from the CPI(M), but watch out.


Blunted edge

As the winter session of Parliament progresses, one man is increasingly coming under the scrutiny of the Congress brass. There is a growing feeling in the ruling party that parliamentary affairs minister Pavan Bansal is proving to be too much of a gentleman, minus the guile his job demands. As the opposition gets increasingly belligerent, there have been goof-ups on the House floor in the form of poor coordination on the part of the ruling front.


Sometimes, ministers were found missing on the treasury benches and also for roster duty. The other aspect, insiders aver, is that the mild-mannered Bansal, in his bid to get the opposition's cooperation, has not been able to ensure a strategic advantage for the ruling side. A crack in the shield, this?


The bahu plot

Smita Thackeray's dramatic expression of interest in quitting Matoshree to roam the Gandhi Bhavan headquarters of the Maharashtra Congress Party has sent ripples through the BJP, SP and NCP. Never mind the guarded response of the usually-clueless AICC spokespersons, party insiders say 'the Smita fence-jumping' is a done deal which will be put on public display after the assembly elections in Jharkhand — which has a sizeable 'Bihari population' with a political distaste for anything coming out of the Thackeray household.


After undergoing the rituals of the 'secular conversion', to be presided over by the same Congress pundits who had performed the hriday parivartan rituals of Narayan Rane and Shankarsinh Vaghela, party sources say the Congress' very own Thackeray bahu could focus on two projects: lecturing on the need for the Marathi manoos 'to break the chains' and enter the national mainstream and getting more 'suffocated leaders' to follow her
from the Sena tent. And then she can dress up for a Rajya Sabha entry. Nice plot.


Tailpiece
Pilots and Indian politics have a long history. Perhaps taking a cue from the Congress clan, BJP's Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a former civil aviation minister, is joining the list, having just completed a pilot training course from a Miami institute.


That makes Rudy perhaps the only top BJP leader to become a qualified pilot. But aviation does seem to run in the family, what with his wife being a former senior airhostess with the national airline. But then again, given the timing, is this a hint for a party now scouting for a new leadership team?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CORP BOND DEALS TO GET EXCHANGE COVER

GAURAV PAI & REENA ZACHARIAH

 

MUMBAI: The National Stock Exchange (NSE) and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) are set to guarantee all corporate bond transactions starting Tuesday, a move which, dealers say, will greatly deepen the market for corporate debt. National Securities Clearing Corp (NSCCL) or the Indian Clearing Corp (ICCL) — arms of the two exchanges — will now clear and settle deals between banks, bond houses, mutual funds and others. Presence of a central counterparty to all transactions will eliminate counter-party risks, otherwise associated with bilateral settlement, dealers said.

 

Analysts see the move as a prelude to introduction of repurchase agreements in corporate debt. Here entities can borrow short-term funds by pledging corporate bonds as collateral in a repurchase agreement ranging from one-day to one-year.


"Our systems and processes are ready, and a large number of banks, primary dealers, mutual funds, and custodians have already started the process of registering with us," said a BSE spokesperson in a emailed response. "We are working with RBI to open RTGS account required for completing the preparatory framework which we expect to take place any day now," she added.


RTGS stands for Real-Time Gross Settlement and allows real-time settlement of all payments made inside the country. Golaka C Nath, senior vice-president at Clearing Corporation of India, the firm that clears and settles government securities transactions, said this was a long-pending reform. He predicts it will greatly increase confidence of market players in the market.


However, the move has set up a turf war between BSE and NSE over whom business from Fimmda, a trade body of debt professionals, will go to


BSE has been working towards modifying Fimmda's reporting platform so that banks and bond houses will be able to route their settlement instructions directly from the Fimmda platform to either BSE's ICCL or to NSE's NSCCL.

Fimmda, however, is expected to use the services of NSE, as per deal it signed with the exchange. Until now, dealers in the corporate bond market are struck bilaterally between players, and are only reported to NSE, BSE and Fimmda. Setting up of a central counter-party may hasten the operationalisation of a trading platform for these securities, market watchers say.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

GROWTH NUMBERS FAIL TO CUT ICE WITH OVERSEAS INVESTORS

DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR

 

MUMBAI: Foreign portfolio investors, which have bought Indian stocks worth over $15 billion so far this year, may prefer to wait until the gross domestic product (GDP) figures for the next quarter come in to decide whether to raise their allocation, say some of the strategists attached to overseas broking houses.


While purchases by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) may see an uptick on the back of better-than- anticipated GDP numbers, the flows are unlikely to intensify, say portfolio investors. Strategists and analysts at foreign banks and brokerages, while pleasantly surprised by the strong GDP numbers (7.9% for the September 2009 quarter) prefer to be cautious with the perception being that much of the momentum has been on the back of agriculture.


Some of them sought to discount the numbers saying that the spurt in the Index of Industrial Production numbers could have been on account of "inventory stuffing" due to the festive season. It will be premature to expect foreign portfolio flows to improve in anticipation of a further jump in GDP numbers next quarter, say analysts working in .


This view is shared by Subir Gokarn, deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) who on Monday said that the central bank expects the full impact of the drop in farm output to be reflected in the GDP numbers for the last quarter of 2009-10. The view, not surprisingly, finds an echo amongst most foreign equity research houses.

"On a sectoral level, we saw surprisingly a strong output growth of 0.9% year-on-year in agriculture despite the drought-like conditions. This was due to a statistical methodology, which accrued a small part of the total summer production to the July-September quarter. Total crop production declined by 18% in the kharif cycle (summer crop). Accordingly, we could see the impact of falling agriculture output materialise in the Q4 2009 GDP print, when the full impact is factored in," say Rahul Bajoria and Matthew Huang of Barclays Capital Research.


Interestingly, despite being close to their all-time highs, portfolio flows have been gradually trending down over the past few months. According to Sebi data, net purchases by FIIs, which was close to $3.8 billion in September, declined to $1.9 billion in October and further to $ 1.18 billion for the month of November. While concerns relating to Dubai World's debt rattled sentiment, the UAE's decision to lend support boosted market sentiment. This coupled with India's strong GDP numbers is expected to bolster portfolio flows but not accelerate it significantly, say institutional investors.


"It has been recognised for a while that India remains one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Consequently, while Q2 growth is ahead of estimates, we don't see any significant change in the trajectory of FII flows on the back of this data point alone," said Bharat Iyer, ED and head-India Research at JP Morgan.
Portfolio investors, however, maintained that the strong growth numbers need not necessarily lead to an early normalisation of the easy monetary stance.


"The news is moderately positive from an economic point of view but not a huge factor in terms of the market. It is not expected to change the trajectory of interest rate hikes in the near term. The question is whether the farm sector numbers will be revised down. There will be an uptick if numbers are not revised," said Narayan Ramachandran, country head, Morgan Stanley.

Mr Iyer is of the view that the corporate performance accompanying the Q2FY10 GDP numbers has been discounted by the markets for a while. "We see no pre-ponement in the calendar on monetary tightening on the back of these numbers alone," he told ET.


A strategist with a foreign brokerage said that the market can take heart from the fact that if the numbers had been bad, there could have been a sharp pull-back. While near-term prospects look good, one needs to watch out for the Q3 FY10 numbers, he said.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FACE DUBAI STORM WITH LESSONS FROM CRASH OF '08

VIDYALAXMI & PREETI KULKARNI

 

Just when equity investors began to nurture hopes of the sensex hitting the 21000 level once more, markets have been hit by a desert storm originating from Dubai. For many, it was a feeling of deja vu as the crash revived memories of January 2008, when indices had nosedived, wiping out millions of rupees of investors' wealth. As fear once again threatens to surpass greed, investors would do well to apply lessons learnt during last year's turmoil.

Stay long

"You should have the stability to filter the noise and be in sync with your investment strategy, which has been designed in line with your financial goals," advises financial planner Amar Pandit. You need to remember that external factors such as interest rates or geo-political environment are not under your control.


There are certain broad guidelines you need to define in advance such as your goals, risk appetite and investment strategy, and stick to it. "As long as the equity investment is for more 7-9 years, even seven bad weeks should not bother investors," says financial planner Gaurav Mashruwala. Therefore, the only method of making money through the equity route is to stay invested for a period of at least 5-7 years.


The votaries of investing for the long haul were proved right when markets bounced back to the 17000-levels this year after touching lows of nearly 8000 earlier. It is widely believed that India is poised to become a highly influential economy, and a huge young population, coupled with proposed higher expenditure towards infrastructure, means the potential remains unquestionable in the long term.

 

However, what is not clear is the short-term trend, and hence, one should not take a day-to-day view of markets, as it leads to panic reaction and impulsive selling in the market.


Staggered Investment

You need to continue investing in a staggered manner over 1-3 months — this could help you enter the market at the lowest level. You could also look at a systematic transfer plan (STP), wherein a lumpsum is invested in a debt fund that carries nominal risk and at regular intervals, a specific amount is transferred to a diversified equity fund.


This form of investing can come to your rescue during turbulent times, as it helps you earn reasonable returns — higher than fixed deposits/savings account — through your investment in a debt fund. At the same time, it also ensures that you do not miss out on the opportunity of earning the returns that equities are capable of offering.

Diversification is key

There will always be performing sectors and non-performing sectors at every point in time, and is constantly susceptible to change. Today, banking, pharma and IT look attractive compared to real estate, telecom, oil and gas or construction. Investors are better of diversifying their investments, as this will ensure that any adverse development in a particular stock or sector will not radically diminish the value of the portfolio.


Do your homework

You have to study the sector and the company fundamentals before investing your hard-earned money in a particular stock. This includes the quality of the management, their track record, growth history and future estimates, earning-per-share (EPS) and debt-to-equity ratio. If all this sounds complicated to you, just opt for a diversified large-cap equity fund. The entire exercise of picking up suitable stocks is outsourced to a fund manager who has the professional expertise to manage your funds better.


However, check the track record and above-mentioned parameters of the asset management company before choosing the mutual fund. Explains Mr Mashruwala: "In view of the current crisis, those investing directly into equities could consider checking if the companies, whose stocks they own, have any significant exposure to vulnerable sectors in Dubai. You need to take a close look at their balance sheet. You can then consider taking a call on these specific stocks."

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BEWARE OF BEING TOO AWARE

MUKUL SHARMA

 

To continue, what is this thing called consciousness? Some scientists maintain it's when we're aware of things. But is that really right? Forget dolphins or chimps, isn't an ant — a creature we normally would not endow with the quality of consciousness — aware of its environment so that it can avoid extreme heat, poison and other hostile animals while preferring food, mates and shelter? Even in something as 'dead' as a plant, there are tropisms: movements of its stem towards light and roots towards water.


Biology tells us it's blind evolution: things that have worked for survival in the past will make surviving work better in the future. Okay, let that go. Cognitive psychologists and philosophers, on the other hand, would say consciousness is more than merely being aware. It's when one is aware that one is aware. But what does this mean? That I know that I know?


That I can think of the fact that I'm thinking? That I can reflect on my reflections? How long can this go on without becoming meaningless like, for instance, some superior or enlightened being becoming aware that it's aware that it's aware?


Then four times. Then five. That's like images in two facing mirrors which regress away to a vanishing infinity without becoming any clearer as the distance increases. Forget that too.


In 2006, when researchers at the University of Cambridge and their colleagues asked a 23-year-old woman who was injured in a car accident and had slipped into a completely unresponsive vegetative state of coma to imagine she was playing tennis, they were dumbfounded. Her brain scan lit up in virtually the same places as the brains of fully-conscious healthy volunteers asked to do the same thing. So, sure, she was aware.


Maybe even aware that she was aware. But she had been unconscious for five months by that time. Since then, neuroscientists have found that something like 4 out of 10 similarly-diagnosed people could be conscious. Hmm.

Obviously, consciousness has served another purpose. Non-conscious evolutionised creatures are value-free. That is, they may be altruistic as some animals definitely are for a local Darwinian function, but they don't exhibit a moral dimension as we understand it. Consciousness must, therefore, have been developed — or dealt to us — with the intention of being able to differentiate good from bad. In hindsight, this must be true because we can be so proficient at both.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DOMINO EFFECT ON COMMODITY TRADE

NIDHI NATH SRINIVAS

 

Real estate may be the epicentre of Dubai's debt crisis, but it is the Indian commodity trade that will feel its aftershocks for months to come. ET helps you join the dots.


Two reasons make Dubai important to Indian companies. One, Dubai is the hub of most-traded commodities, from pearls, gold and diamonds to tea, cotton, basmati and sugar. Crucially, it is gateway to west Asia. All the top players in the region, especially Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), have a presence there and use Dubai as a convenient and glitzy business centre to meet each other and the outside world. So, to Indian companies, Dubai epitomises their entire west Asian business, whether it is Saudi companies or Iranian traders.


Two, Dubai is attractive because of light-touch regulation and easy finance. Most use the City of Gold as a trans-shipment point and its local banks as moneybags for short-term trade, usually six months.


West Asian companies have never been too sold on the idea of getting their books audited or sharing them with perfect strangers. But this was never a major hurdle till now because the region was all about traditional values like trust, relationships and family name. Not any more.


Since balance sheets are not available, there is no way for an Indian bank or company to figure what is the actual exposure of its potential partner to Dubai's debt crisis. So, everyone will be presumed guilty unless proved innocent. In other words, trust will be replaced with deep suspicion. The cost of this shift to Indian business will be huge.


Dubai-based importers would reduce buyer's credit because they will themselves be feeling the squeeze as local banks hunker down. Trade finance will start drying up because the liquidity crisis and higher risk will drive up interest rates on loans and advances.


Indian exporters will reduce open account sales where the goods are delivered before payment is due because they are so risky. Intense competition may have forced Indian exporters to make such sales in the past. Not any more. Right now, their focus will be on getting back the money they are owed.


Nervous Indian banks will start demanding more documents and letters of credit because this substantially reduces risks for both exporters and importers. You can bet on documents meant for Dubai being scrutinised more carefully and a higher rate of rejection. Banks will also charge more for the same trade finance instruments because of exploding counterparty risk. Currently, Dubai's credit default premium is on par with Latvia.

The volume and value of trade itself may be affected for a while because channels will be clogged with traders trying to exit a crumbling credit market. Stock and sale, the favourite formula for trading, means continued exposure to risk. It will be replaced with a just-in-time mentality, where people will hold cash and get rid of stocks.

In case the UAE chooses the last resort of printing more notes and devaluing its currency, Indian exporters would lose further. Today, at a reported debt of $120 billion and population of 2,50,000, every man, woman and child of Dubai owes the world half-a-million dollars. A decline in purchasing power would mean that many high-value Indian products would become unaffordable. Luckily, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Abu Dhabi may coordinate to rescue Dubai. In a similar position, Iceland was bailed out by the European Union.


What may seem like a doomsday scenario is hardly far-fetched. Last year's global debt and banking crisis had the same effect on trade across the world.


The upside — and don't they say life is about silver linings — is that it might lead to a deeper scrutiny of crony capitalism that has been the leitmotif of west Asian business. Balance sheets and risky investments will be put under the lens and the market will favour the prudent and the secure. More importantly, Indian companies will quickly discover who are the really trustworthy. Inshallah, it would be a reassuringly large number.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SEN'S PROJECTION OF 7% GROWTH COMING TRUE

ANTO ANTONY

 

The country's chief statistician and secretary of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation, Dr Pronab Sen, had projected an above 7% growth for the FY2010 way back in May 2009 when the domestic economy was reeling under psychology of gloom and doom. With his projections being vindicated now, Mr Sen explains to ET the likely course of the economy.


Are you surprised by the second quarter GDP figures, which beat everyone's expectations?

Not at all. These figures are in line with the case for an 8% growth projection I made earlier (in an interview carried in ET on May 6), which many laughed off as overly optimistic. But things are panning out as per that case. Global shock is wearing off, stimulus measures are showing effects, investments are coming back and private consumption is gathering steam.


One point I stressed at that time was that the projects put on hold midway on account of slowdown will be back on track at the first sign of revival, giving further strength to the bounce. It is happening as is evident from the GDP figures. If it was not for the truant monsoons we could have clocked an above 8% growth this year.


What growth rate can we expect in the current year?

Going by the current trend an above 7% growth for the whole fiscal is expected. Although the first advance estimate for kharif produce shows a 16% year-on-year fall compared to the first estimate last year some upward revisions may happen. The non-crop related agriculture — fisheries, livestock, forestry and horticulture — is also performing well. So with the industry and services segment maintaining the current momentum we can manage an overall growth of close to 6.3% in the quarter ending December.


The fourth quarter, which has a higher weight in overall economic growth, can see a growth rate of above 7% even with some indirect impact of the poor summer crops.


Is it the right time to start unwinding the fiscal stimulus?

We are not yet completely out of the woods. We can get a clearer picture of resilience of growth when third quarter GDP figures are out. But one thing I am sure about is that the confidence is back and risk appetite is beginning to pick up. I would strongly suggest waiting till January or February before deciding on timing of rolling back the stimulus measures.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE NEED TO TAILOR GLOBAL MODEL FOR INDIAN MARKET: INDRA NOOYI

SHAILI CHOPRA

 

Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi, the India-born head of US-based beverages major Pepsi, has seen her reputation grow manifold as her efforts to turn the company into a maker of foods and healthy drinks are bearing fruit. In an interview with ET NOW , Ms Nooyi plays down the ancient rivalry with Coke, claiming instead that PepsiCo has competed with all companies selling foods and drinks. Ms Nooyi's country of origin has also not let her down, as India has been growing at blistering rates in recent quarters. As a result, India is being seen as a centre for innovation for products such as Aliva. Last month, PepsiCo's global board meeting was held in Mumbai, which was only the second time that such a meet was held outside US. Ms Nooyi's growing stature has prompted a frenzy of rumours about an alleged job offer to head the Tata Group, after the retirement of current incumbent Ratan Tata. Ms Nooyi, head of Pepsi since 2006, denies any interest in the job. Excerpts:


What does India mean for PepsiCo?

India is a critical growth market for most of the companies. But for Pepsico, it represents a huge growth opportunity. India is just not any market; it's a market with unique taste, products and cultures. It's critically important that we don't just bring a global model into India but instead tailor the global model for the Indian customer and the Indian farmer because at our core we are also an agricultural company. We wanted our board to have a firsthand experience of the glory of the country as well as its complexities so that when we go back and ask for extraordinary levels of investment, which we have been doing, they (the board) understand the reason for such a move.

 

Was the PepsiCo board convinced by the India story?

The market place was exciting, the vibrancy in the market place was truly incredible, but the best part was the calibre of the people that we have at PepsiCo India, which can stand up to any world-class team. At the end of the day, we all invest in people. They bring us tremendous confidence about our investments.


Will India be the game changer, even though it's already in your top three markets?

The demographic gains are incredible. The fact that so many people are below the age of 25 is a promise of many, many more years of growth. An interesting about India is that most of the people have figured out to live with not much. So, they have figured out how to adapt and invent low-cost solutions. I think India could be the disruption capital for the company.


What breakthrough do you envisage here and what will drive it?

If you develop a low-cost bottling line in India, why not take it out of India? We launched the Aliva cracker, it's made in India and is an incredible product. We can now take it from India to other markets. We look at India and often say that's a lesson learnt. It's looking piece by piece and saying what can we lift and shift to the rest of the world and the reverse also holds true. The Indian team is very strong in borrowing and building solutions for India. The way we approach business in India is a way by which we don't disturb historical cultures and tailor to their taste.


You recently invested Rs 1,000 crore in India, which is your largest here. How much more investment do you plan?

We have just started in India. The rate at which the company is going now, we expect the team to come back to the till very soon. But let them finish investing that mega tranche. India is a market we want to invest. So, if they invest it faster, we will give them more investments.

As we come out of a slowdown, is the consumer sentiment coming back here?

I don't think India ever slowed down from a consumer product perspective though it may have from a capital goods perspective. You have to eat and drink in a downturn as well as when you come out of it.


As a corporate citizen, do we you feel CEOs are little too optimistic about slowdown getting over?

Don't know. The jury is out on that one. There are some statistics that point to green shoots. Some say this could be a series of Ws. The best we can do is to prepare for both scenarios.


What's the worst-case scenario?

Worst-case scenario could be a prolonged downturn.


If that happens, how will PepsiCo deal with it? Will the dependence on emerging markets go up?

The dependence on developing and emerging markets, from east to the Middle East, will always be high. That's where half of humanity live and that's where all of the growth is. That's going to happen whether the US grows or not. We are not going to back off the expectations of those markets. But the way we plan for these downturns is to variabilize more of the costs in a way that we don't have too high a fixed cost base and we can navigate through the downturn.

 

Is there scope for more cost cutting?

We do that all the time when we look to increase productivity. Everytime you go into planning for next year, you always ask if the cost is variable enough. Next year, we will reinvest in some parts and get more productive in other parts.


All adversities throw up opportunities. Globally, is there a buyout opportunity?

For any buyout, there has to be a buyer and a seller. Even if we want to be a buyer, there has to be a seller.


But there should be many, I imagine?

The good news is that we do have a rich deal pipeline of potential deals ranging from small transactions to fairly sizeable ones. But we are a very disciplined buyer, we have never done deals at crazy prices.

 

Aren't valuations attractive enough?

Not the valuations per se in terms of what they trade for, but it's when there is a feeding frenzy and several companies are going after the firm. They bid the price up way too much. And in our space, all the consumer product firms are sitting with a lot of cash.

 

What's the missing link in PepsiCo's portfolio?

We lack protein in our portfolio. Whole foodgrains are something we'd like to do more of with Quaker as a great trademark. I think you will also see a lot more from the Tropicana trademark.


Do you at anytime think life beyond Pepsico could be part of policy making?

I think there's life after PepsiCo, whenever that life begins. I think that life is about giving back. I must say I owe to the United States a huge deal of gratitude because I am what I am because of the meritocracy of the country.

Would you want to come back to India as a head of any corporation? Has Ratan Tata asked you to come and take charge?

I love PepsiCo. It's near & dear to my heart. I just love what we are doing. I love what we stand for-performance with purpose. And I want to give back to the United States what it has done for me. That's all I have to say on this topic.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

LET KAIGA BE A WAKE-UP CALL

 

Since the worrying incident involving radioactivity in the reactor building of the first unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka — in which up to 65 workers received doses of radiation — does not involve fissile material, fission, or a reactor, the event will not qualify as a nuclear accident or incident, as these things go. However, it bears stating that expert opinion has it that a radiation accident or incident can cause as much damage as a nuclear accident for workers at a plant or the public. Fortunately, this appears not to have been the case at Kaiga on November 24, and panic is not warranted at this stage of investigation. Nevertheless, note must be taken of the fact that the workers in question, who drank water from the cooler kept in the reactor building, have ingested radiation higher than indicated by prescribed limits. According to the department of atomic energy, the experience of "extensive environment monitoring" shows that "even a hypothetical individual staying at a plant exclusion boundary"— a distance of 1.6 km — will receive eight per cent of "dose limits" in the case of several atomic power stations in the country, and in the case of Kaiga and some others, this will be less than one per cent. Clearly, this limit has been surpassed in the November 24 case. The government and various entities of our atomic energy establishment have been at pains to point out that the Kaiga episode was not an accident, that it did not involve breach of operational procedures, and that there was no leak of heavy water. The basis of these assertions has not been made wholly clear. Nevertheless, the suggestion has been put out (at this stage this can only be called a working hypothesis) — based on an inquiry by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board — that a "mischief-maker" or a disgruntled employee "may have added a small quantity of tritiated heavy water" to the water cooler, "possibly from a heavy water sampling vial, through its overflow tube". Further investigations are said to be in progress. In that case, it does appear premature to put out any view officially, including the one about purported sabotage by a troublemaker.


Several questions arise prima facie from the mischief-maker hypothesis. Some of these are: how was such an individual able to gain access to a vial of tritiated heavy water? Was the water cooler not under institutional watch? Is it possible that someone with cleared access to vials of tritiated heavy water introduced it into the drinking water cooler? If the last is the case, what's the level of security clearance and isn't vetting a continuous process at our atomic power plants? Further, is it not possible that more than one individual might be involved, if the troublemaker theory is not without foundation? The authorities could be right. The workers who drank the contaminated water may well recover fully after the necessary period of treatment. But since we are now a nuclear-capable country in all respects, the issue of plant safety needs to be brought to the top of the agenda, and in a manner that will give confidence not only to our own citizens but to the international community with which we have lately been enabled to engage in nuclear commerce. At the moment, any suggestion of enemy action in the Kaiga incident is being ruled out.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WATCH OVER BANGLADESH

BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

 

On November 19, 2009, over 34 years after the murder of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has rung down the curtain on the case and upheld the death sentences pronounced on the 12 military officers and their civilian associates who were involved in the crime. The defendants were all recent repatriates from the Pakistan Army, rehabilitated in the new Bangladesh Army in accordance with policy initiatives by Sheikh Mujib himself. Many of his political associates in the War of Liberation had warned Sheikh Mujib of the risks in doing so, but were overruled by him in his vision of national reconciliation. Expatriates formed the bulk of the new cadre which occupied controlling positions in the new Bangladesh Army, so the background and identity of Sheikh Mujib's assassins should not come as any surprise. The verdict of the Supreme Court must have undoubtedly gratified Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Mujib's daughter and now once again Prime Minister of Bangladesh, whom fate had selected to survive the massacre of her family and return some day to be the nemesis that hunted down her father's murderers.

 

However, amid all the tension and turmoil in Bangladesh, it is nevertheless instructive to note that throughout what must have been an immensely agonising personal quest for justice, Sheikh Hasina functioned exclusively through the judicial and legislative process of the country, without any attempts to resort to extra-constitutional or extra-legal alternatives which are so characteristic of the South Asian milieu, and for which there must have been ample opportunity for her as a person in supreme authority.

 

India has always had an underplayed but abiding interest in the proceedings, because Sheikh Mujib was not only "Bangabandhu", or "friend of Bengal", but also shared a deep and warm rapport with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the architect of the victory in Bangladesh, and was "Bharatbandhu", or friend of India, as well. However, in the later years of his regime, his well-wishers in this country could only watch in dismay as he frittered away his mesmeric popularity and rapport by ill-considered acts of megalomania (such as nominating himself President for life!) and allowing nepotism, corruption and family favouritism to flourish unchecked. The fallout gravely eroded India's high stakes in the establishment of a stable, secular and democratic alternative to replace the East Pakistan that had been eliminated by India's military victory in the 1971 Bangladesh War.

 

However, any sense of personal or national satisfaction at the closure of a traumatic chapter in the history of Bangladesh is premature. Of the original 12 accused, one died during the course of the proceedings, six are fugitives from justice absconding in foreign countries, and only five remain in the custody of the Bangladesh authorities on whom the full weight of the judgment can be brought to bear, depending of course on the outcome of the remainder of the judicial process.

 

The Bangladesh government is attempting to secure the return from abroad of the fugitives convicted in absentia and in hiding in foreign countries, but with what degree of success remains to be seen. It must not be imagined that judgment day has exorcised Bangladesh of the jihadi demons from its past, hitherto nurtured and allowed free play by the right-wing fundamentalist Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and its assorted radical fundamentalist allies during their long period in government. These forces are still active and remain implacable opponents of the Awami League, lurking in the background, awaiting their opportunity. Indeed, the Great Mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles, which shook and nearly overwhelmed the present government almost immediately on its assumption of office, was instigated and initiated by these very elements, infiltrated and installed within the ranks of the paramilitary force while the BNP was in power. The mutiny was merely a reminder that India's close eastern neighbour continues to be the base of the eastern jihad, closely linked with bases in Pakistan and the AfPak region.

 

Sheikh Mujib's murderers had been supported by these organisations, and it would be prudent to expect that in the aftermath of the judgment the threat level to the personal safety and security of the current Prime Minister would greatly increase. Ms Sheikh Hasina cannot afford to relax her security posture to any extent. Rumours abound that the Research and Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, had received prior warnings of the assassination plot against Sheikh Mujib and had passed on the information to the intended target, who apparently refused to take any precautions, while another version has it that the Indian agency had remained blissfully unaware of any threats to India's newly-installed and very valuable ally. Of course, all this is speculation, which can neither be substantiated nor authoritatively denied, but whatever the truth, the assassination of Sheikh Mujib severely injured Indian interests and efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in the region through good relations with Bangladesh. It is, therefore, in India's own interests to ensure that history is not allowed to repeat itself where his daughter is concerned.

 

Sheikh Mujib's assassination also has to be visualised within the overall geopolitical context of South Asia, and its pervading environment of endemic Indo-Pak proxy conflict, now extending over Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal, besides Jammu and Kashmir and certain regions of mainland India itself. In many ways the assassination of Sheikh Mujib must be viewed as Pakistan's riposte through its covert agencies to its military humiliation in the 1971 Bangladesh War, something that could not be allowed to go unchallenged. Much water has flowed down the Meghna since then, and Indo-Bangladesh relationships have vastly improved under the current Awami League dispensation over those with previous dispensations under the BNP or military governments. But Indo-Pak equations over Bangladesh remain generally unchanged, and India has to remain alert of the wolf ever at the door, waiting for an opportunity to snap back. The proxy war goes on, and India needs to redouble its vigilance against threats to Indo-Bangladesh relations. India had failed to protect its interests once — this must not be allowed to happen again.

 

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

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

US NEEDS NREGA WITH A COOLER ACRONYM

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

If you're looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

 

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There's a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

 

This is wrong and unacceptable.

 

Yes, the recession is probably over in a technical sense, but that doesn't mean that full employment is just around the corner. Historically, financial crises have typically been followed not just by severe recessions but by anemic recoveries; it's usually years before unemployment declines to anything like normal levels. And all indications are that the aftermath of the latest financial crisis is following the usual script. The US Federal Reserve, for example, expects unemployment, currently 10.2 per cent, to stay above eight per cent — a number that would have been considered disastrous not long ago — until sometime in 2012.

 

And the damage from sustained high unemployment will last much longer. The long-term unemployed can lose their skills, and even when the economy recovers they tend to have difficulty finding a job, because they're regarded as poor risks by potential employers. Meanwhile, students who graduate into a poor labour market start their careers at a huge disadvantage — and pay a price in lower earnings for their whole working lives. Failure to act on unemployment isn't just cruel, it's short-sighted.

 

So it's time for an emergency jobs programme.

 

How is a jobs programme different from a second stimulus? It's a matter of priorities. The 2009 Obama stimulus bill was focused on restoring economic growth. It was, in effect, based on the belief that if you build GDP, the jobs will come. That strategy might have worked if the stimulus had been big enough — but it wasn't. And as a matter of political reality, it's hard to see how the administration could pass a second stimulus big enough to make up for the original shortfall.

 

So our best hope now is for a somewhat cheaper programme that generates more jobs for the buck. Such a programme should shy away from measures, like general tax cuts, that at best lead only indirectly to job creation, with many possible disconnects along the way. Instead, it should consist of measures that more or less directly save or add jobs.

 

One such measure would be another round of aid to beleaguered state and local governments, which have seen their tax receipts plunge and which, unlike the federal government, can't borrow to cover a temporary shortfall. More aid would help avoid both a drastic worsening of public services (especially education) and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

 

Meanwhile, the federal government could provide jobs by... providing jobs. It's time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA), one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment. There would be accusations that the government was creating make-work jobs, but the WPA left many solid achievements in its wake. And the key point is that direct public employment can create a lot of jobs at relatively low cost. In a proposal the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, argues that spending $40 billion a year for three years on public-service employment would create a million jobs, which sounds about right.

 

Finally, we can offer businesses direct incentives for employment. It's probably too late for a job-conserving programme, like the highly successful subsidy Germany offered to employers who maintained their work forces. But employers could be encouraged to add workers as the economy expands. The Economic Policy Institute proposes a tax credit for employers who increase their payrolls, which is certainly worth trying.

 

All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run. But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency.

 

Later this week, President Obama will hold a "jobs summit". Most of the people I talk to are cynical about the event, and expect the administration to offer no more than symbolic gestures. But it doesn't have to be that way. Yes, we can create more jobs — and yes, we should.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LIVING WITH AIDS, NOT DESPAIR

BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE

 

On a winter afternoon, many years ago, a young man who greeted me at Michael's Care Home, a south Delhi refuge, smiled cockily and told me I had got it all wrong. "I am HIV positive. You are not. You think I will die soon. What if I tell you that you may die tomorrow, and that I will live longer than you? Is that so improbable?" I was taken off-guard. I had gone to the Home in search of "real life stories" of people living with HIV who were fighting a dual battle — the virus, and the stigma that came with it. I felt sorry and wanted to focus on their plight. But the young man who hailed from Manipur was laughing at me, and telling me not to waste my pity. Sure, it was a tough life, sure there was stigma. But there was so much more as well. Just because he was living with HIV did not mean he had to be viewed as a "patient" all the time, he said.

 

In his office, there were posters of Elvis Presley and we spoke less about AIDS and more about rock music. He invited me for Friday "Coffee Nite" at the Home. I was curious and turned up. The Home's inmates were a lively bunch — mostly young men from the Northeast, who had contracted HIV through intravenous drug use. They sang, strummed the guitar and danced. It was a party. I joined in, and loved every minute. I dropped by Michael's Care Home many times in the years that followed even when I was not in search of a story. There were times when a pall of sorrow hung over the Home. An inmate had died. But most often it was an atmosphere that celebrated the small joys of life, like a victory in a football match and the daily acts of incredible courage.

 

Once, I turned up with a camera. The boys had one condition: they did not mind being photographed as long as I did not show them lying on a bed or with medicines as background. I shot them playing carom, watching Bollywood movies and chatting with each other.

 

I liked turning up at the Care Home on December 1, World AIDS Day, to light candles and express solidarity. I invariably stayed on for the feast and the dancing that followed.

 

Loon Gangte, the young man whose jaunty remark spurred me to revise my view about people living with HIV, is a friend today. We are both alive and have children. Gangte has emerged as one of Asia's most dynamic treatment activists. I have chronicled the stories of many other people living with HIV. Gangte's HIV status is a minor detail in our friendship. He is simply a fun guy who has taught me stuff I would never have learnt from a book or conventional "experts" in the AIDS conference circuit.

 

In my travels across the country I found the same indomitable spirit in countless individuals and families who are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic. While writing the book Hopes Alive: Surviving AIDS and Despair for FXB India Suraksha, the Indian affiliate of the Swiss NGO, FXB International, I came upon a scene in a little room in Chilakapeta, a fishermen's colony in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam, that was sad and stirring. The room was home to a a nine-year-old boy and his grandmother. The child was HIV positive and had lost both his parents before his first birthday. No one in the family was prepared to look after him except his 60-year-old maternal grandmother, an illiterate fish vendor. There was no place for the two inside the house. They were forced to take refuge in a little corner beside the staircase in the building. The stigma was so acute that the rest of the family eventually left the house, unwilling to be anywhere near the infected child and his caregiver. Meanwhile, the child's condition deteriorated: he had continuous fever and a persistent cough. The old woman took him to the hospital affiliated to the local medical college, and the child was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the brain. In 2004, the child and his grandmother were referred by an NGO to the FXB clinic at Visakhapatnam. The boy was extremely weak the first time he came to the clinic. But once treatment began, there were rapid changes. Initially, he was treated for recurring skin, respiratory, ear infections and diarrhoea. On being tested, he was found to be in the fourth stage of HIV infection (AIDS). In August 2005, he was put on liquid formulation of the three drug ARV medication. The old woman confessed she was terrified by her new responsibilities at the start. But thrice a week, an FXB outreach worker paid home visits, monitoring the grandmother's ability as a caregiver. Within three months, the child's condition had improved dramatically. And after six months of ARV treatment, he had gained height and weight and could start going to school.

 

Treating a child for HIV infection is a complex process because the dosage adjustment is done for each of the three medications factoring in height and weight from time to time.

 

The old woman was proud that she had learnt how to look after her grandson despite her lack of education. When we met them, the child had just come back from a tuition and the grandmother was quizzing him about his day at school — a scene with which anyone can connect.

 

There is no formula for turning pain into power. But December 1, World AIDS Day, offers us an opportunity to celebrate the voices of resistance and hope — like Gangte, the grandmother in Chilakapeta and all the others living with, or affected by HIV, whose actions and words teach us how to survive despair.

 

Today is World AIDS Day

 

Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

BYE-BYE DUBAI?

BY JAYATI GHOSH

 

There is much about Dubai that is artificial and based on illusion: the man-made islands designed to represent a map of the globe; the indoor ski slope in the midst of desert; the incredible hotel with glass walls looking onto a sea aquarium mimicking the surrounding ocean. Dubai had also become synonymous with excess: building the tallest tower in the world and the biggest and most expensive luxury hotels, residences, shopping malls and office complexes; providing the market and the sales venue for the most outlandish and flamboyant luxury goods.

 

It's very brashness was both a sign of and a cause for its success. Even the opacity that has characterised its political system became a source of economic magnetism. Expatriates flocked to its dynamic construction and tourism industries and relished the tax-free incentives. And Dubai emerged as one of the developing world's new global financial centres.

 

In the early phases of the global financial crisis, all this even seemed to be an advantage, as investment activity and construction continued at their feverish pace. For example, plans for constructing the world's most newest tallest building (near its closest competitor Burj Dubai) were unveiled just after Lehmann Brother collapsed in the US. Continued growth in Dubai was heralded as another sign of Asian economic "delinking" from the problems in the core of international capitalism. But now it turns out that this too, like so much else in Dubai, was based on illusion. The sudden declaration that the state-owned conglomerate Dubai World, which typified the apparently insatiable appetite for accumulation in the small Gulf Emirate, would unilaterally suspend its debt payments for at least six months came as a sign that the improbable honeymoon is finally over.

 

Dubai is one of seven small states that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and it is second to Abu Dhabi (which is the richest and has most of the oil reserves) in terms of the size of its economy. Although its economy was originally built on oil, currently oil revenues account for less than six per cent of its total revenues. In any case Dubai's oil reserves have diminished significantly and are expected to run out within the next 20 years.

 

Dubai's strategy has been to diversify its economy away from oil to trade, tourism and finance. It encouraged its state-run conglomerate Dubai World to buy up companies around the world and invited multinationals to use Dubai as the Middle Eastern base for their activities in Asia and elsewhere. A subsidiary of Dubai World (DP World) purchased the British ports operator P&O in 2005, bought the department store group Barneys New York in 2007 and invested heavily in construction projects in Las Vegas in the United States. Dubai World also includes the property developer Nakheel, which is behind some of the most ostentatious commercial projects ever built on this planet.

 

Of Dubai's resident population, more than 80 per cent are expatriates, including around 1.5 million from India. Indian tourists — from the Bollywood crowd to newly affluent middle classes — have also contributed to Dubai's boom.

 

Is there a relation, as some have argued, between height and hubris? In any case it is clear that Dubai is an apt symbol of the recent over-extension of capitalism, and the over-accumulation that typically characterises unfettered market behaviour in any period of boom.

 

With the financial crisis, global markets for luxury goods and services and for real estate both shrank simultaneously.

Dubai's fall began with the exodus of capital. Thereafter, the collapse of non-tradeable sectors, especially real estate and construction, was swift. Property prices in Dubai have fallen by more than 50 per cent in the past year. Many construction projects have been held up or abandoned.

 

The economy slumped from the second half of 2008. At the start of the financial crisis, gross domestic product growth expectations in 2009 for Dubai were four per cent, but this was lowered to two per cent in the middle of the year. By late 2009, the crisis loomed. On November 26, Dubai World announced that it was seeking a debt standstill for $15 billion of repayments on its $59 billion of external debt until May 2010, and had hired Deloitte to help it restructure to move into financial viability. This surprise announcement, coming on the eve of the Bakri-Id holiday, reverberated across global markets.

 

The official estimate of the UAE's sovereign debt is $80 billion, but some analysts say it is could be even twice

that amount. Some Indian banks (like Bank of Baroda) and companies (Nagarjuna Constructions, Larsen & Toubro, Punj Lloyd, Voltas, Omaxe, Aban Offshore, Spicejet and Indiabulls Real Estate) have exposure in Dubai, but they have generally rushed to declare their exposure to be marginal. But the most direct impact on India is through workers. Most of the 1.5 million Indians in Dubai are blue collar workers in construction or low grade services, who typically have temporary contracts. In a country with no unions, it is easy for companies to lay off workers. It is estimated that tens of thousands of workers in the construction and real estate market alone have lost their jobs over the last few months.

 

Dubai is relatively fortunate, however, in that investors still believe that it will ultimately be bailed out by its "elder brother" Abu Dhabi, which already granted Dubai a $10 billion loan in February 2009. Some analysts have argued that it is not a question of whether, but when, Abu Dhabi will step in. After all, Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth funds have reserves estimated at over $700 billion and it cannot afford damaged financial credibility in the region.

 

But even if Dubai manages to survive the current crisis, broader questions remain. Dubai is not unique in being tripped up by its earlier irrational exuberance, especially in housing and real estate.

 

The rotten fruits of the earlier phase of over-accumulation are still waiting to be collected, and as a result there are plenty of potential banana skins waiting to trip up investors in financial markets across the world. Real estate prices in the US continue to fall, especially in luxury markets such as Florida, and default and dispossession continue to increase. Elsewhere too, the multiplier effects of the collapse of the construction and real estate sectors are still working their way through the economy.

 

The latest fear of sovereign default is from Greece, and Ireland is also in trouble.

 

So financial markets may have good reasons for reacting the way they have. The collapse of the Dubai dream is not a sui generis event without any implications for wider markets. Rather, it may be a straw in the wind indicating that the travails of finance capitalism in the current period are far from over.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LAURA IS NO LOLITA

BY PHILIP HENSHER

 

These long anticipated literary mysteries never end in anything very significant — one thinks of Harold Brodkey's The Runaway Soul, falling totally flat after decades of sycophantic pre-publicity, or Truman Capote's Answered Prayers, emerging in fragments in 1975, after 17 years of non-work, to scandal but no acclaim. (I wouldn't get your hopes up for the quality of anything J.D. Salinger has been keeping in his safe either if I were you).

 

The Original of Laura is the extended fragment which Vladimir Nabokov left incomplete at his death. These 138 index cards have, over the decades, become extremely famous. Very few people have seen them; the Nabokov scholar, Brian Boyd, apparently read them out to a small circle of experts in the 1990s. Dmitri Nabokov has been sitting on the manuscript since his father's death, occasionally suggesting that he will carry out his father's final wishes and destroy the manuscript, or, teasingly, that he already has. Meanwhile, well-meaning Nabokovians have been bombarding him with advice and peremptory demands on a regular basis. His decision to publish has taken everyone by surprise.

 

The Original of Laura as published by Penguin is, I must say, an astonishing object. The famous index cards are reproduced on press-out panels, with a typed transcription below. Should you wish to, you may remove the index cards to place in a box file of your own, leaving a deep square vacancy within the book, highly suitable for stowing a small bottle of whisky in the manner beloved of 1970s comic sketches.

 

Some of the psychological causes of the long delay of the appearance of this last statement are, in my view, apparent in Dmitri Nabokov's introduction, a bizarre document of pastiche and complacency. Into Dmitri's prose style enter Charles Kinbote and Humbert Humbert. He writes like a man who knows his father's novels better than anyone ever knew another's novels; he writes like Nabokov without, I am afraid, the talent: "I am equally sure of the colours I saw in my final onboard dream as we approached America: the varying shades of depressing grey that coloured my dream vision of a shabby, low-lying New York, instead of the exciting skyscrapers that my parents had been promising. Upon disembarking, we also saw two differing visions of America: a small flask of Cognac vanished from our baggage during the customs inspection; on the other hand, when my father (or was it my mother? Memory sometimes conflates the two) attempted to pay the cabbie who took us to our destination with the entire contents of his wallet — a hundred-dollar bill of a currency that was new to us — the honest driver immediately refused the bill with a comprehending smile."

 

The Original of Laura itself has, in the mind of a fevered coterie, somehow become a lost masterpiece. If no one had ever been allowed to read it, it would have stayed like that forever. Unfortunately, it turns out to be rambling, trite and, evidently, a very early draft of some quite confused material. There is another of Nabokov's extreme narrators, this one possessed of an unprecedented desire to mutilate himself by removing his toes, and a slightly more adult version of Dolores Haze, tormentingly juvenile and sexually provocative: "Her frail, docile frame when turned over by hand revealed new marvels — the mobile omoplates of a child being tubbed, the incurvation of a ballerina's spine, narrow nates of an ambiguous irresistable (sic) charm."

 

The celebrated abstruseness of Nabokov's vocabulary seems to keep itself going without much reference to any human reality, and without much in the way of wit, either. Was this all we were waiting for, the reader wonders? But what were you expecting? The books he published before starting work on this one — Ada, Look at the Harlequins and Transparent Things — have never been much admired, even by the specialist.

 

Of the books in English, Speak Memory Pnin, Lolita and Pale Fire are enough to base Nabokov's reputation on. Why anyone thought this last draft, written so long after he had lost his mojo, would turn out to be a masterpiece is a puzzle. Dmitri should have burnt it, kept it in the safe indefinitely, or, best of all, brought it out apologetically and on a small-scale, immediately after his father's death. As it is, the much discussed Original of Laura has been revealed as, in Oscar Wilde's words, a sphinx without a secret.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CORNERED SHEILA

TALKS LEGAL ~ NOT MORAL


WHETHER or not it amounts to contempt of court is for the experts to decide, but it is apparent that having painted herself into a political corner the Delhi chief minister is hissing like a feline without an escape route. The slamming from the High Court of her government's fast track processing of the parole plea of Manu Sharma ~ the son of a powerful Congressman of adjoining Haryana who has been convicted of the murder of model Jessica Lall because she declined to serve him after the bar had closed ~ while similar pleas from poor people languished for years is obviously hurting. More so after the Police Commissioner made a point of going public that the cops had not recommended such temporary release from custody. Now the chief minister insists that nothing "illegal" or "unlawful" was done, conveniently skirting the core question of whether the easy parole was "moral" or "proper". And she seeks refuge in the assertion that the Lieutenant-Governor did not object to the recommendation and cleared the file. As patent a bid at buck passing as a Delhi government official's contention that the report of the police was "not clear" ~ since when have bureaucrats ceased to demand clarifications?


Yet there was more than a grain of truth to Sheila Dikshit's insistence that what was done was "normal". For it has now become routine that rules and principles are subservient to political interests, and that very little comes in the way of a neta and his kin having their own way. Had Manu not tangled with the son of the Police Commissioner who would have dared report his misconduct at a night club? The fact that he was there despite the conviction would have sufficed to keep all lips sealed. This is what is so unacceptable ~ parole was sought on false grounds, consequent regulations were flouted with impunity, and now the chief minister sees nothing "illegal" in that. She has condemned herself. It is understandable her saying "I do not want to say anything more about it", but it is unlikely that the last word has been spoken on the subject. Remember Banquo's ghost?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

HOOGHLY ON THE BOIL

STATE SHOULD COOPERATE WITH CENTRAL TEAM


A question that defies an answer is why the administration has failed to bring an explosive situation in Hooghly and other areas of South Bengal under control after so many months. That there would be charges and counter-charges on rival parties wanting to gain control of villages was only to be expected but no one can explain why the local police have failed in their basic responsibility. In the circumstances, the initial resistance by the CPI-M to the idea of a visit to the disturbed areas by a central team, as Trinamul had demanded, was somewhat revealing. It was fortunately replaced by Prakash Karat's guarded acquiescence on Saturday. The persistent fear in Alimuddin Street is that the Centre is preparing the ground for imposition of President's Rule. The question is whether the Centre can simply sit back when innocent lives are being lost or resort to proactive action when the police have no answer to depredations caused by armed cadres that found the officer in charge of Khanakul police station with a bullet wound. When questions arise on the competence and neutrality of the police, it makes no sense to quote the rule book on law and order being a state subject or argue that no solution is in sight because Trinamul has taken a policy decision to boycott all-party meetings convened by the state government.
A political solution cannot absolve the administration of its responsibilities on the ground. There are persistent charges of Trinamul excesses on the one hand following its election victories and counter-charges of a partisan administration aiding and abetting Left cadres to protect falling bastions. The situation has been made worse by explosive statements by party leaders; these serve as directions to those entrusted with the task of restoring law and order. The CPI-M MP who considered the central team's visit "uncalled for and unwarranted'' could suggest no solution other than a status quo that meant spilling of more blood. If the state government has conclusive evidence on the real culprits and their political agents, as the chief minister claims, it may use the central team's visit to carry its case to the right forum. By creating hurdles, it may raise suspicions that direct contacts with the affected people may produce evidence which may not corroborate the official position. The state and the ruling party need not stand on prestige or act on fears of what the Centre intends to do. Cooperation with the fact-finding team would be a move in the right direction ~ and a sign that there is nothing to hide.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MISSING MONUMENTS!

AND THE LOOPHOLES IN THE HERITAGE BILL


IT is an intriguing coincidence that the parliamentary standing committee's critique of the National Commission for Heritage Sites Bill, 2009, has been advanced in parallel with a startling disclosure by the Archaeological Survey of India. No fewer than 36 structures or heritage sites are missing across the country. To blame it on poor protection would amount to labouring the obvious. And the ASI merely hedges its primary responsibility as it gropes for other possible factors ~ the demolition of monuments and tombs to facilitate real estate operations, in the main shopping malls and highrise apartments. With an air of almost injured innocence, the ASI now speculates that the heritage sites may have been razed as they came in the way of perceived development. To promote the development of underdevelopment would be nearer the truth. As the entity entrusted with safeguarding historical sites, it has palpably failed in its surveillance if it pleads ignorance of such calculated desecration over time. The lapse is still more serious as the ASI functions under the ministry of culture, one that is directly under the Prime Minister. The admission that as many as 200 monuments are "unattended" confirms the callous negligence. And if the ASI requires the PM's authorisation before security guards can immediately be appointed, it only reinforces the inherent shortcomings of the chain of command. Small wonder why 12 monuments are "untraceable" in the national Capital alone.


The ASI has rung its own alarm bells. Which makes it imperative for the loopholes in the Bill to be plugged with urgent despatch. Clearly, the spadework has been shoddy if the parliamentary committee describes the document as a "half-hearted effort". The Bill will not serve its purpose if the proposed National Commission is empowered only to notify the heritage sites. Such data can be gathered on the basis of historical texts. Any legislation on the subject must take care of preservation and protection of the heritage sites. Hopefully, the ASI's disclosure will prompt a holistic approach.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NUMBER OF US DIABETICS TO DOUBLE IN 25 YEARS: STUDY

 

New York, 30 NOV: The number of Americans with diabetes is likely to double in the next 25 years, a new study has predicted. Researchers at Chicago University have claimed that the number of diabetics will rise from 23.7 million in 2009 to 44.1 million in 2034, and the associated medical costs will triple from US$ 113 billion to US$ 336 billion.


"If we don't change our diet and exercise habits or find new, more effective and less expensive ways to prevent and treat diabetes, we will find ourselves in a lot of trouble as a population," lead author Dr Elbert Huang was quoted by The Independent online as saying. The study said its projections, despite being significantly higher than other recent estimates, may be too conservative because they assume the rate of diabetes and obesity, a risk factor for the disease, will remain stable. The study's authors acknowledge that obesity rates have risen steadily in past years, but predict that they will level out over the next decade and then decline slightly from the current 30 per cent level to around 27 percent in 2033.


The US health program Medicare, which provides health care for older Americans, spends some 45 billion dollars a year on diabetes treatment for 8.2 million people. By 2034, the number of people with diabetes covered by the program is expected to rise to 14.6 million, according to the study, with associated costs rising to 171 billion dollars a year. ~ PTI

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY

OVERLOOKED IN THE PAEANS TO JINNAH 

BY DIPAK BASU

 

WE often tend to forget the crimes against humanity committed either by the British or the Muslim rulers before them or the Muslim League and its brainchild, Pakistan. History books, published in India, hardly mention that in 1943 at least 5 million people died of starvation in Bengal because of the British government's denial policy. There are no accounts of how many millions were slaughtered by the Muslim League, headed by Jinnah, between 1946 and 1948.


India has not pressed charges against Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan, who killed thousands in East Pakistan in 1970. And yet politicians like LK Advani and Jaswant Singh are only too anxious to establish Jinnah's secular credentials. Both have ignored the crimes committed by Jinnah; they have only cited his speech on 11 August 1947 in the Constituent Assembly in the presence of Lord Mountbatten. That speech was essentially addressed to the British elite. Jinnah said that in a future Pakistan, everyone would be treated equally irrespective of their religion and non-Muslims would be free to practise their respective religions in Pakistan. Does that speech make Jinnah a "secularist"? A close study of his speeches during 1934-48 shows that the word "secular" does not find mention in any of them. In Muslim societies, acceptance of secularism means abandonment of the Shariah and denial of the divine. If someone says Jinnah was secular, it follows that he was anti-Islamic, a non-Muslim and against the ideology of Pakistan.


Lucknow pact

LET us examine his early life. In 1910, he was elected to the Imperial Council on a reserved Muslim seat. He joined the AIML formally in October 1913 and became its president in 1916. He gave up his membership of the Congress in 1920, opposing Gandhi's decision to confront the British. One outcome of his efforts was the Congress-Muslim League Lucknow Pact of 1916, which settled the issue of separate electorate for the Muslims, paving the way for the birth of Pakistan. Jinnah married a Zoroastrian only after getting her converted to Islam.
After 1937, Jinnah was quite close to Mohammed Iqbal, the spiritual founder of the concept of Pakistan. In his historic speech favouring the creation of Pakistan in the Muslim League conference in Lahore in 1940, he declared that "Islam and Hinduism ... are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are different and distinct social orders. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, literature, to two different civilisations; they derive their inspiration from different sources of history ... (with) different epics, different heroes, and different episodes."


In his meetings with Gandhi in September 1944, Jinnah demanded that the constituency for the plebiscite ~ to decide on the demand for Pakistan ~ would comprise only the Muslims, and not the entire population of the areas concerned.


After Independence, as head of the state he had founded, Jinnah talked in the same vein. He spoke of securing (a) "liberty, fraternity and equality as enjoined upon by Islam" (25 August 1947); (b) "Islamic democracy, Islamic social justice and the equality of manhood" (21 February 1948); (c) "sure foundations of social justice and Islamic socialism which emphasised equality and brotherhood of man" (26 March 1948); (d) "the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles" (14 August 1948); (e) "the onward march of renaissance of Islamic culture and ideals" (18 August 1947). Are these pronouncements secular?


Pakistan is the result of the "two-nation theory" propagated by Jinnah in the Lahore conference of the Muslim League in 1940. He bluntly told the meeting that Hindus and Muslims could never live together in one country. During 1937-39, several Muslims leaders inspired by Iqbal's ideas, presented elaborate schemes for partitioning the subcontinent in line with the two-nation theory. All this culminated in the 1940 Lahore declaration for the creation of Pakistan.


On 14 August 1946, Jinnah called upon the Muslims to get Pakistan by the sword. The result was the organised mass murder of at least 50,000 people in Kolkata and in the southern districts of East Bengal ~ Noakhali and Chittagong in particular. Jinnah never condemned the killings. But in the context of the ejection of Hindus from Noakhali in 1946, he said that the transfer of population was in progress and that some sort of a machinery should be devised to carry it out on a large scale. Just on the eve of 15 August and after, when Jinnah was proclaiming his supposedly secular credentials in his speeches, the deportation of Hindus from Noakhali and elsewhere became an all-out campaign. Jinnah, as the first Governor-General of Pakistan, had the authority to control the situation. But he was then gearing up for the invasion of Kashmir, which took place on 20 October 1947.


Cabinet Mission Plan

WHEN Pakistan was established, the process of elimination of minorities continued unchecked by the government under Jinnah's control. On the contrary, they abetted the proces. No responsible Pakistan or Muslim League leader condemned the attacks on Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.


The Cabinet Mission Plan of 16 May 1946 was intended to divide India into the states grouped into Hindu and Muslim majority segments: (a) Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Central Province, Bombay and Madras; (b) Assam and Bengal; (c) Punjab, North West Frontier Province and Sindh. The Congress agreed to this scheme. The Muslim League initially accepted it, but rejected it subsequently. In August 1946, it announced the plan of Direct Action, which led to the communal riots. Nehru flew over the riot affected areas in Rawalpindi in March 1947, and was shown the deep well into which the Sikh and Hindu women had jumped to save their honour. He then agreed to the Partition of India.


The life of Jinnah and his activities illustrate that he was driven by the idea of an Islamic state for the Muslims even if it meant the destruction and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Jinnah's speech on 11 August 1947 was almost fraudulent, a political presentation designed to please the British elite. As a successful lawyer, he was a very good actor, given to making speeches to satisfy the target audience. The constitution of Pakistan, which he had proposed and was implemented in 1955, was meant for an Islamic and not a secular state.

The writer is Professor of International Economics, Nagasaki University, Japan

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RISING DAMP

 

As bad investment ideas go, there are few that can beat one made by Dubai World: building luxury submarines for recreational use. Dubai's State-owned corporation even set up a separate company called Exomos in 2003 to oversee their manufacture and sale. In September this year, Dubai World sued the former Exomos CEO, Herve Jaubert, for fraud; court papers filed in a Florida court said that he did not have the expertise he claimed to have in the business, and he overcharged Dubai World through a company he controlled for submarines that did not work. So much for due diligence. Today, many question most of Dubai World's investment decisions, including luxury real estate, where prices have dropped 50 per cent over the last year, and vacancies abound. The amount of debt that the Dubai government is asking for a standstill on — about $60 billion — is not much in the global context. But the dent to fragile confidence in world economic recovery is much larger. About 4.5 million Indians live and work in the Emirate, about 25 per cent of that from Kerala, whose finance minister said that Dubai's troubles could affect remittances — about $10 billion annually — though the Central government in New Delhi said the impact would be negligible.

 

The direct impact could be very small — companies and banks in the United Kingdom are among the largest creditors, about $50 billion to all of the United Arab Emirates that includes Abu Dhabi — but the indirect effects should cause concern. Interest rates on sovereign debt could go higher, and credit could get tighter as risk aversion returns. Governments have been borrowing heavily to manage the crisis impact, and may have to cut back on the scale of their borrowing. Exchange rate volatility is expected to increase, besides volatility in world equity markets; the carry trade — borrowing in a zero interest currency like the dollar to invest in higher return assets such as emerging market equities — may unwind rapidly, causing another large stock market correction. Many say that markets are already overvalued anyway, and this could lend impetus to their fall. It also means lower profits as people tighten belts further, and that implies lower investment and lower commodity prices as consumer demand disappears. That means global recovery gets delayed further. Is a bailout realistically possible? No one is sure where it could come from.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

IN DISARRAY

 

It takes a lot to shock Calcutta. So the chaos and violence that gripped parts of the city on Monday may not have been such a novel experience. But the events showed once more how little the people can really expect of the state government. Even for a city that had long earned its notoriety as the cradle of the politics of bandhs, Monday's attempted shutdown was a bit of a surprise. Few had suspected that a bandh called by the Bharatiya Janata Party would have much of an impact in the state. It came less than a week after the bandh called by the Socialist Unity Centre of India, which passed without any major incident of violence or disruption to public life. The BJP's bandh call was thus expected to be a minor political event because the party has a small following in West Bengal. True, even a weak outfit can disrupt public life or cause violence, at least on a small scale. But if the saffron brigade lacked strength to force the shutdown, an inept administration moved in to help it. It would be ridiculously wrong to see the disruptions as a sign of the BJP's success; the ugly events of the day only reflect the rulers' inability or unwillingness to exercise power in the public interest.

 

The trouble is that the government's failure to uphold the rule of law is becoming all too evident. It has become routine for Writers' Buildings to cower in the face of every provocation, big or small. The biggest party of the ruling Left Front, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has its own explanation for the failure. It is ever ready with conspiracy theories: its political opponents, it argues, are constantly plotting to break the law and incite violence. True, the erosion of the CPI(M)'s support base, as reflected in all recent elections, has emboldened the Opposition parties to challenge the government and the CPI(M) in ways that they could not do in earlier years. However, this is a weak defence of the government's incompetence. Whether it is the bandh culture or the politics of violence, the CPI(M) has been the original sinner. But more important is the fact that the governing agenda is not a political matter. No matter what his party's agenda is, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is constitutionally bound to administer the state as long as he is the chief minister. Monday's bandh may not prove anything about the BJP's prospects in Bengal, but it serves as a ringing indictment of his government.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RAISING OUR AMBITION

TO BUILD A BRAND, INDIA MUST BE BEST IN MAKING SOME THINGS

WRITING ON THE WALL

ASHOK V. DESAI

 

At the end of World War I, there was a poor boy in Japan. He worked as a domestic servant in the house of a workshop owner. The workshop repaired and serviced Ford trucks. The owner saw an opportunity to make money in Manchuria, which at that time was a Japanese colony. So he left the workshop in charge of his young servant, and went off to Manchuria. He came back after eight years. Then his young servant got ambitious; he left his master and began a business of making engine oil. He continued in this small business till World War II. Just a fortnight before the war ended, an American bomb sent his factory up in flames. The man was very depressed. He started drinking, and stayed drunk for a year.

 

The time after World War II was a time of terrible food shortages. The people of Tokyo used to wander into the countryside and dig for roots to eat. It was also a time when there were a lot of small, idle petrol engines. The Japanese army used these engines to power their field telephones; after the war, the engines were useless. Our young man bought up these engines, put them at the back of bicycles, and turned them into primitive motorcycles. The people who were scouring the countryside for sweet potatoes were delighted with these motorized cycles. Our man did brisk business, and grew rich.

 

He then decided to go on a world tour. He went to Le Mans, and watched the motorcycle tournament. He was flabbergasted. He said to himself, I am making junk. He wanted to make a motorcycle that would win the Le Mans race. So he improved his technology and started making motorcycles.

 

He then wanted to export his motorcycles to America. But the Japanese government did not let him. It was keen to get Nissan and Toyota cars exported to the United States of America, and did not want Americans to think of Japan as a manufacturer of second-rate motorcycles. So our man designed a light two-wheeler, an early scooter which the Japanese government could not object to, and it allowed their export to the US. Our man advertised it in California as a fun vehicle for young men and their girlfriends; it was a roaring success. Finally, after the Japanese government gave up its preference for Toyota and Nissan, our man began to export cars. Today, they are a leading brand across the world. The man's name was Yuichiro Honda.

 

Why did the Japanese government promote Nissan and Toyota, and not Honda? It was because it wanted to promote Japan as a brand, and wanted good cars to be a part of that brand. It did not simply want to promote Japan; Japan was already well-known all over the world. Japan was the country that had fought World War II as an ally of Germany. It was defeated, and its brand was in a shambles round the world. Its army had become notorious all over Asia and the Pacific for its atrocities. Japan's was an embarrassing brand; the Japanese government wanted the world to forget Japan as a warring country, and to recognize it as a manufacturer of the world's best products. Apart from its image as a belligerent country, it also faced the handicap that Japanese products were known before the war for their shoddiness. That is why it was so keen that exported Japanese cars should be as good as the best in the world. It tried hard for decades; today Japan is a well-known and respected manufacturing nation.

 

Germany has gone through a similar transformation. The German troops had become notorious for their atrocities in Poland and Russia. But Germany had become even more notorious for its killing of six million Jews. Amongst these Jews were businessmen, financiers and industrialists; they were amongst the most respectable Germans till the 1920s. Then Hitler took power; he robbed them of their wealth, and killed them. It was a terrible blot to overcome after the war.

Germany, like Japan, rebuilt its industry at the cutting edge of world technology. Audi, the German car, had an advertising slogan, "Technik die begeistert (technology that amazes)"; later it was replaced by "Vorsprung durch Technik (leap forward with technology), which became one of the world's most famous advertising slogans.

 

But Germany could not create its brand as a technology leader until it wiped out its disgrace as a mass killer. If it had waited for the world to forget the massacre, that would have taken centuries. Instead of waiting, the German government distanced itself from the massacre by acknowledging and publicizing it. One of the most conspicuous museums in Berlin is the holocaust museum, which documents the massacre. And Germany gave billions of marks and euros to Israel. Today, Germany has achieved respectability, but at a tremendous cost. I am sure that not all Germans regret the holocaust. I am sure some think that it was a good thing. Whatever they think, denying the massacre or keeping silent about it would have been a bad strategy — just as the Gujarat government's silence on the massacre of Muslims in 2002 was and continues to be a bad strategy, for the government and for Gujarat. Today, not only have the Germans left behind the stigma of Nazism, but they form the bedrock upon which the European Union has built its status as a power competing with the US.

 

Gujarat apart, the problem for India is not one of overcoming shame, but one of building a reputation. There was a time when countries and kingdoms built up a brand on military successes; Romans, Ottomans and Mughals for example. But after the Industrial Revolution, countries that have built up global reputations have been technologically good at something. Britain is remembered today as the hegemonic power of the 19th century. It reached there by means of military power. But what it then achieved had much to do with its technological leadership in shipbuilding, steel and textiles.

 

The US followed Britain; its leading role in the two world wars sealed its role as a world power. What gave it a lead over other countries was mass production, which it first developed in car manufacture: the Ford Model T was the best-known forerunner. Then it applied mass production to all industry, including steel, guns, ships, planes and shoes.

 

China's rise as a world power is related to its ability to take over technology from abroad for a very broad range of goods, and to produce them with world-class efficiency and much lower wages than abroad. It is so competitive in manufacturing that it has built up an enormous export surplus. The surplus enables it to invest abroad; it has been investing in foreign mines, oilfields and other resources that its own industries need. It has given unprecedented amounts of foreign aid to African countries, and has got access to its natural resources as a result. If we are interested in building up Brand India, we must make India best in the world at doing at least some things.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TIME TO KEEP THE FAITH

MALVIKA SINGH

 

One of the most embarrassing moments of recent months was the excruciatingly shameful display of politicians assaulting each other in the Rajya Sabha. It was even more horrible to watch the unfortunate incident in the company of friends in Bhutan, a kingdom unused to such appalling behaviour, where the king and his extended family, the elected representatives, the civil service and the police conduct themselves with great dignity and treat their people with much respect. Thereafter, to hear the silly apologies from grown men — 'leaders' who profess to deliver the goods to the exploited and forgotten, and to give them the respect and dignity they deserve — was enough to make one squirm in horror.

 

What will be the future of our democracy if our representatives are unable to conduct themselves within appropriate norms and manners? Civilized societies deserve respect, and the blatant misconduct our legislators and members of parliament indulge in, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, is unwarranted and should be punished with a ruthless Constitutional whip. Our founding fathers could never have imagined that in a span of 60 years, some 'players' in the Houses of Parliament, could shame our great civilization. These men and women are damaging the intellectual fibre and the intrinsic morality of a great people, and reducing us to becoming the laughing stock of the subcontinent and of the world.On the one hand, we want recognition from the advanced nations, feel the need to be partners on the high-table of international policy-making, do not want to carry a 'third world' label. Yet, our parliamentarians consistently mock the instruments of clean, democratic functioning, misuse their privileges, abuse the mechanisms that protect the freedoms in the Constitution by their immature responses to issues that do not suit their limited, short-term agendas.

 

New hope

It is due to these individuals as well as some others with criminal records that India, despite economic growth and achievement, stands insulted on the world stage. The time has come to reassess the privileges that are offered to those elected to govern us. The Opposition, having spent the better part of the parliamentary sessions forcing adjournments, only exposes the lacunae in the mind and soul, commitment and nationalism.

 

If the Constitution needs to be amended, so be it. A strict code of conduct must be written out clearly and in all our languages. That code must be enforced with no caveats whatsoever. The wishy-washy reprimands, followed by the equally unimpressive 'I am sorry' that has saved these men and women from being publicly ticked off for unlawful acts, is unacceptable to honest citizens who have done nothing to deserve this crass infliction of impropriety. Their actions, within the portals of Parliament and the many Vidhan Sabhas, are against the laws of this land. They must be dealt with like all other Indians who break the law. Physical assault is a criminal act, so why should politicians be absolved after a token 'sorry'? The time is right to reassess the perks that these men and women have lived off for years. Free housing, cars, subsidized electricity and more are not necessary for those who opt to serve India. Their service must be selfless. They have exploited the patience of their constituents, and need to urgently show their paces by bringing change now.

 

The only silver lining is that some leaders rise above this disorder and, fortunately, happen to be at the helm. Manmohan Singh and his cabinet conduct themselves with dignity and restraint, refusing to fall to any bait. The Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, the young leaders in Parliament, from the Congress, the Biju Janata Dal, and some other parties, make us proud. They have together kept the faith.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

A SENSE OF INJURED MERIT

 

General Fonseka's play for the Sri Lankan presidency does not necessarily augur well for democracy, writes Chirosree BasuAt a five-star hotel in Colombo last Sunday, Sarath Fonseka, Sri Lanka's former army chief, regulated the flow of questions from reporters in the same way that he had once commanded troop movements. White had replaced khaki as attire, but there was little change in the stiff countenance of the general. He formally announced his decision to fight the presidential elections in January 2010 as a 'common candidate' of a host of Opposition parties, with the swan as his election symbol. Amid the flashbulbs, he also delivered his Barack-Obama-style punchline, "I can do it."

 

There can be little doubt about Fonseka's determination to do what he sets his mind on. Despite being grievously injured in an assassination attempt by a pregnant bomber in 2006, he had refused to hand over the military baton. He had miraculously recovered, and then driven the Tigers out of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu and then the Wanni jungles. It is on this flaming determination — this time to win the presidential election — that the disparate Opposition parties have placed their bets. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which has till now never fielded any candidate other than its own, has decided to back him, as also the United National Party, which has decided to forgo, for now, the ambitions of Ranil Wickremesinghe to the presidency. Their game plan is to give enough support together to Fonseka to bag the presidency, and then to go their separate ways to wrest the parliamentary seats from the jaws of the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance.

 

It is quite obvious that it is the personal vengeance of Fonseka that the Opposition is seeking to capitalize on. Fonseka himself has made no bones about the fact that he is mightily cut up about the Rajapaksa brothers — the president himself and his brother, the defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa — for duping him with the post of the commander of defence services that gave him nominal control over the armed forces within months of the victory. Fonseka had expected greater generosity from his partners in the war cabinet and imagined for himself a more responsible role for a longer term.

 

This was plainly evident in his advice to the president to hold back resettlement till the army, under his guidance, conducted the painstaking procedure of picking out the crouching Tigers from among the milling refugees in camps. Again, the north, as he saw it, would have to remain militarized to reduce security threats. In other words, he didn't quite foresee the Rajapaksa administration walking two steps without his support. The Rajapaksas' belittlement of Fonseka was, naturally, interpreted as an affront to military might. In his 17-point resignation letter to the president, Fonseka makes it plain that he completely fuses his interests with those of the military. Denial of a free hand to Fonseka to make changes in the army is seen as undermining the independence of the armed forces. The administration's mistrust of him is seen as an insult to the loyalty of the men who had made supreme sacrifices for the nation.

 

Fonseka made apparent his desperation to do something about it in his address at the Washington Buddhist temple during his personal visit to the United States of America. He reminded the august assembly at the vihara that "some people in Colombo" had forgotten the importance of the army and he was ready to take any step necessary for the security of the nation. He also reminded himself then that it wasn't possible to go on wearing the uniform forever. This was in late October. By that time, he must have already received strong feelers from some of the Opposition leaders to join the gang. While in the US, Fonseka's relationship with the ruling dispensation in Colombo went into a further downslide over his possible deposition against the defence secretary. But the nation had to wait a little longer to view the unfolding of what is being described as the coup of the indubitable UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe.

 

It is the Opposition's sleight-of- hand that has transformed Fonseka's petty grievance into a national cause. Of course, it is entirely to the credit of the brains at work that the capturing of the national mood of post-war sullenness and displeasure with the Rajapaksa administration should have been so timely and accurate. There is a lot of popular anger at Mahinda Rajapaksa's mishandling of the economic situation, the evident corruption and nepotism, the continuing curb on essential freedoms, and the fear psychosis that was created to serve the government's interests. Then there is the Sinhala triumphalism with which Fonseka, as the architect of Sri Lanka's stupendous military victory, can claim greater affinity than Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is on this particular strength that Fonseka knows he has to work on. He has, undoubtedly, tried to broad-base his political initiative by voicing concerns for the welfare of Tamil refugees. But he knows that it is with the Sinhala Buddhist majority that his appeal lies. With his discipline, anger and public appeal, the divided Opposition in Sri Lanka has found in Fonseka an "efficient, effective" vehicle to carry forward its political agenda.

 

One might argue that this is how democratic change begins in most countries. But with Sarath Fonseka as replacement for Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka can hope for no more representative democracy than it already has. Fonseka may have given grudging assent to the Opposition's wish to make the scrapping of executive presidency a part of his electoral agenda. He may have even acknowledged the presence of minorities in Sri Lanka. But he is unlikely to allow either of the two to come in the way of his political objective — getting even with the Rajapaksas. The eagerness to deal with the problem of accommodating the minorities — which was prominent in his resignation letter — may even be dispensed with if it impinges on his vision of a Sinhala Buddhist militarist state. Given Fonseka's predilections and his narrow interests, his candidacy may do a greater disservice to democracy than the Rajapaksas have done.

 

For one, the spectre of the Opposition coming together only to provide Fonseka with a passport to the highest office and then disbanding to seek the loaves and fishes of the parliamentary offices signals instant chaos. That chaos perhaps would have to be reined in by the dictatorial presidency of Fonseka. In other words, the Opposition, by upholding Fonseka's candidacy, could be ensuring Sri Lanka's eventual descent into military dictatorship. His political gambit, in fact, represents the first instance in Sri Lanka of a military commander challenging the authority of the commander-in-chief, the president. If that challenge has to be worked out on the political plane as a democratic contest (instead of by the easier way of staging a coup), it is not so much because of the strength of Sri Lankan democracy as the lack of cohesion in the army.

 

Two, there is no guarantee Fonseka would prove any more tolerant of the press and of personal freedoms than the Rajapaksas. The media, if Fonseka's character assassination is any indication, are being used by the establishment to undermine him. Fonseka's kin have already been exposed for alleged kickbacks in arms deals. Fonseka, as president, is unlikely to allow such misdemeanours on the part of the press. As the war has proved, he sincerely believes in news blackout when occasion demands.

 

There is no doubt that General Fonseka has filled a void in Sri Lanka's democracy by acting as a sounding board for the government — a role the Opposition has miserably failed to live up to. The threat from him has remarkably speeded up resettlement and rehabilitation and thrown open opportunities for the expression of dissent. But it is unfortunate that Sri Lanka's Opposition has surrendered its legitimate role to a rogue general.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPED

NOT JUST FISH, A DELICIOUS DISH

MAKING THE CITY PROUD

 

A fishy tale that lifted spirits and demonstrated how much talent the city has A fishy tale that is uplifting sounds like a contradiction in terms. Yet this impossibility was achieved by the students and teachers of Modern High School in a production that involved drama, music and dance. Under the Sea, at the Science City Auditorium, took the audience on Sunday afternoon up into the open sky and made them touch the stars. It was a superlative performance that demonstrated that this wretched city of ours is not devoid of talent, dedication and discipline.

 

Ritu Sarawgi, who conceptualized and produced Under the Sea, befittingly gave the production a simple storyline. A little fish, called Jet Li, who earlier lived in an aquarium accidentally gets flushed out from his cosy home and swims out into a beautiful coral reef in the ocean. There he befriends the kind but wise Fishy 1303, a fish who is yet to be discovered and be given a categorical name. Fishy tries, thanklessly at times, to keep Jet Li out of trouble, and takes care to introduce him to the beauties of the reef that is inhabited by innumerable fish and other underwater creatures, including an evil shark, Sharkozy, and a baby whale, Boomba, who is separated from his mother. The story progresses to the downfall of Sharkozy through the wiles of Fishy and the latter's elevation to the top position in the reef.

 

The simplicity and the innocence — trust little children to remind us cynical adults of the importance of simplicity and innocence — of the storyline was spiced up by some delightful puns and wordplay and by an underlying commentary on some of the stupidities and absurdities of the adult world. Election campaigns in India, Bollywood and the lack of care about the environment all came in for comment and telling mimicry.

 

The dancing and the coordination were breathtaking. Each separate group of fish came on stage with its individual dance sequence. In the course of one-and-a-half hours, around 700 girls were on the stage. Every sequence was perfect and wonderfully choreographed and executed. The sequence with the girls on roller skates obviously stole the show, and I, for one, sat there wondering how, despite being on skates, the girls maintained their timing and movements. In my mind, old-timer that I am, the sequence with Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White displayed dancing skills of an exceptionally high order.

 

It is invidious to single out performances in a production that is a complete team effort but I thought we have a rising star in Adrija Ghosh (of Class VIII), who played Sharkozy. Preetanjali Mitra as Jet Li and Amrita Bhattacharjee as Fishy 1303, both Class V students, were on stage right through the one-and-a-half hours. Their performances were really commendable. I would like to specially mention Swastika Chatterji (again from Class V), who acted as the Stray Fish. She had very little to say but was on stage doing her business right through the performance. Actors always talk about the difficulties of being on stage without dialogue and yet doing something. Swastika made the difficult look easy. There is real talent here in these girls and god bless them.

 

At the end of it all, it is the team effort that remains etched in one's mind. The sheer scale of it, the training and the rehearsals make it a memorable event. I have one complaint: one-and-a-half hours slipped away too fast. I can think of no better way to usher in the winter festivities in the city than diving under the sea. Thank you, Modern High School.

 

RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DUBAI DEBACLE

'DUBAI IS PAYING PRICE FOR GOING TOO FAST.'

 

 

The  tremor that originated in Dubai, an emerging and upstart financial centre, last weekend created ripples around the world, with markets suddenly making a knee-jerk reaction of fear and caution. The fear arose from experience of the financial meltdown of last year but it seems to be more sentiment-related than substantial. The announcement of the Gulf country's government-owned company Dubai World that it wanted to defer payment of its $ 59 billion debt till May 2010 raised visions of the failure of Lehman Brothers last year, but there are major differences between the two scenarios. Dubai World has major presence in real estate, leisure  and port development and the companies around the world which had exposure to these areas in the Gulf may feel some heat. There are some Indian companies also in the list but their exposure is not substantial. So neither Indian banks nor real estate companies,  whose operations in the Gulf region are not big, have many reasons to worry. The Reserve bank of India and the finance ministry have also made this clear and known.


The tremor is also unlikely to develop into a global crisis. But the Dubai government's announcement on Monday that it would not take responsibility for Dubai World's debts, will not go well with the investors. Financially stronger Abu Dhabi has promised to come to Dubai's rescue, but in the absence of specifics, the markets will continue to wobble. The situation came to head now as the culmination of the downturn in the real estate sector, where prices have been steadily going down for months as a part and result of the global crisis. The realty prices in Dubai have declined by as much as 40-50 per cent and may get hit further.

With a large Indian population working in the Gulf countries, any disruption in economic activity there will affect the jobs of many Indians and remittances from there. But the remittances from abroad had become diversified in the recent past and there is no possibility of a sudden closing of the tap. The Dubai World is paying the price for going too fast and too soon on its growth plans  with less than necessary attention for the risks involved. That is again another lesson but fortunately without too much pain. 

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

AWARENESS IS KEY

'FEAR OF THE HIV STIGMA HAS TO BE REMOVED.'

 

 

There is good news for Karnataka on World AIDS Day. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among young women in the state has dropped by around 54 per cent over the 2000-07 period. The achievement has been attributed to targeted prevention interventions. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu too have seen a similar drop in HIV/AIDs prevalence among women.  HIV sentinel surveillance among ante-natal clinic (ANC) populations in 27 districts over the years shows that prevalence of the virus has fallen from 1.6 per cent in 2003 to 0.86 in 2007-08. The government can take some credit for the achievement. Its setting up of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centre in every district in the state – Karnataka is the only state to have done this - seems to have had a positive impact.

The state has been able to achieve high treatment adherence among AIDS patients. In the process, it has been able to save many more lives.  However, there are areas of concern. Prevalence of HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) has increased dramatically. Moreover, HIV-tuberculosis co-infection has been found to be high in north Karnataka. A HIV-positive person infected with the TB virus has a 50-60 per cent lifetime risk of developing TB disease as compared to an HIV-negative person who has only a 10 per cent risk.

India has at least 2.5 million people who are HIV positive. This includes 80,000 children below the age of 15. India's battle against HIV/AIDS must give more attention to prevention. Spreading awareness about how the virus is contracted must be improved especially among high-risk sections such as truck drivers, sex workers and MSMs.

Education of people about HIV/AIDS will go a long way not only in preventing the disease but in dispelling many of the myths that surround it. AIDS patients continue to be ostracised in India, even by supposedly educated and informed sections. Children of HIV parents are thrown out of schools. Hospitals refuse to treat people who are HIV positive. There have been instances in this country of HIV positive people being pelted with stones by their families and peers. It is the fear of the stigma that is attached to AIDS that prevents people from getting diagnosed early and seeking treatment. HIV/AIDS is preventable and curable. But stigma leading to late detection makes treatment less effective and death more likely. People must be made more aware of this.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

AMERICA'S DOORMAT?

WHY CAN'T OUR FOREIGN POLICY CZARS LEARN FROM RUSSIA OR CHINA ON HOW TO EXTRACT SOMETHING IN RETURN FROM THE US?

BY M K BHADRAKUMAR


The government's stance on the resolution against Iran on Friday at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna rests on a lame excuse. The government claims it voted against Iran since the latest report of the IAEA Director-General Mohammed El Baradei is "difficult to ignore."


But then, in 2006, India voted against Iran despite El Baradei's neutral position regarding referring the issue from the IAEA to the United Nations Security Council. At that time, the government came up with the excuse that India was behaving like a 'responsible' nuclear power - whatever that might mean. (Actually, the United States, which dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is the only 'irresponsible' nuclear power to date.)

The junior minister in the South Block Shashi Tharoor advanced the specious plea that Russia and China voted against Iran, and so did India. He was presumably covering the government's backside from criticism by the Left parties. But since when is it that India began synchronising with Russia and China - two countries, which are signatories of the NPT and CTBT, both of which India rejects?


Simply put, the government has stretched its credulity. According to media reports, the National Security Council bosses of the US and India had a pow-vow in Washington and the Indian vote followed.


Abstaining vote

Curiously, Afghanistan and Pakistan abstained in the Iran vote. Although Kabul and Islamabad depend critically on the American largesse, they stood up to be counted as Iran's friends. South Africa, Brazil, Turkey and Egypt abstained. Malaysia voted with Iran. They have ably shown it is possible to be key partners of the US and still be independent. In comparison, why are our czars such one-dimensional men?


Once again, India's Achilles' heel seems to be the nuclear deal with the US that stymies our foreign policy options. It has become a convoluted story. The nuclear deal cannot be 'operational' without a US-India agreement for transfer of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technology. The US pledged to do this before August 2010 but the co-relates of non-proliferation regime are changing.


Indeed, it is incorrect to say the nuclear deal cannot be 'operationalised,' as it is already operational. Except that without any agreement with the US, government cannot import nuclear reactors from America and may have to be content with Russian, French or Japanese reactors.


In other words, the government is seeking Obama administration's goodwill and cooperation so that India can generate tens of billions of dollars worth business for the American nuclear industry. Does it sound funny? But it doesn't end there. Now the government plans to 'incentivise' the US by legislating that the liability of the American companies will be limited if the imported nuclear reactors cause accidents.


 That's how the government's ingenious foreign policy calculus works - generating lucrative business for American corporate sector, which would in turn create pressure points on the US establishment to do away with the ban on 'dual-use' technology transfer to India so that India can ultimately transform as a 'counterweight' to China. Doesn't it sound absurd? It bucks the entire gory history of East-West dialectics.

Meanwhile, what happens to India's relations with Iran? Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's recent visit to Delhi was expected to forge understanding and coordination between the two countries over Afghanistan, where Indian and Iranian interests converge. In retrospect, Delhi was merely playing the 'Iran card' to catch Obama's attention in the warm-up to Manmohan Singh's visit to the US.


Surely, Iranians won't be amused that they have been had. It appears we weren't serious about a prime ministerial visit to Iran - not in February, not in March. The Iranians can also keep on hold their offer to create a joint regional initiative with India on the Afghan problem. Indians will only mate with Americans.


Our czars are making the country a doormat for America. The geopolitics of the region remains highly complicated. The US regional policies are at a crossroads. They could go either way. From any conceivable angle, it is highly probable that Pakistan will continue to be a pivotal relationship for the US - even if the US ere to cut and run from Afghanistan, which of course will not happen.


Pakistan's interest

At some point, the US will recognise Pakistan's interests and threat perceptions, which ultimately devolve upon its adversarial ties with India. These are not parameters that can be easily redrawn. It is extremely foolhardy to foreclose India's options in a security paradigm of such complexity.


The great tragedy is that we don't insist on reciprocity for favours shown. In fact, no sooner than Singh ended his Washington visit, the US State Department clarified that the ENR agreement negotiations were nowhere near conclusion.


Why can't our czars at least learn from their peers in Russia or China how to extract something in return from America for all their dhobi work?


At the very least, why can't they get the US to ensure as Pakistan's financier that Islamabad doesn't prevaricate about the perpetrators of Mumbai attacks? When the Indian ambassador in Vienna voted against Iran, India was still in deep mourning on the first 'anniversary' of the Mumbai attacks.


The prime minister returned home empty-handed except for a few more Rockefeller fellowships in the kitty -- for which, too, India is paying in hard currency. And we are to regard all this to be realpolitik. The country feels short-changed.

(The writer is a former diplomat)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

NEED TO INVEST IN CLIMATE PROSPERITY

SHIFTING FROM FOSSIL FUEL AGE TO THE GREEN ECONOMIES IS THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL COUNTRIES.

BY HAZEL HENDERSON


The world's giant pension and institutional funds (university and foundation endowments) are seeing the light on climate issues. As governments wrangle over how to cap carbon and other pollutants, how much it will cost, and who should pay, private investors in North America, Europe, China, India, Japan, and Brazil have been quietly investing in the solution: shifting to low-carbon, cleaner, renewable energy and smarter, more efficient infrastructure and transportation.


The global climate prosperity scoreboard estimates that since 2007, almost USD 1 trillion has already been privately invested in solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, ocean power, more efficient buildings, batteries, energy storage, smart electrical grids, and urban redesign.


Now, the big pension funds and endowments are joining this climate prosperity investing. The Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change (with USD 13 trillion) announced in Sept 2009 that it will lead in shifting its assets toward the real solution to climate change: growing the green economy worldwide.


Their 'triple bottom line' accounting for environmental, social, and economic performance enables trustees of these assets to see the longer-term advantage of avoiding obsolete fossilised sectors. Their ethical principles also steer them away from the old formulas maximising short-term returns and using the now-failed ideas of market fundamentalists.


Climate prosperity

The climate prosperity strategy is the 'win-win' that all countries attending the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, December 6-14, 2009, can agree on. The wrangling between the north's industrial countries, whose many decades of burning fossil fuels has caused the climate warming, and the newly developing countries of the south now can be bypassed.


As the private investors have shown, shifting from the fossil fuel age to the information-rich, green economies of the solar age is the greatest opportunity for all countries and all humanity. Billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr says, "we are talking about nothing less than the re-industrialisation of the whole planet."


There is no shortage of money to finance the global green economy. The only shortage is time, and we have all the technology needed for this transition. Re-deploying just 10 percent of pension and endowment funds away from fossilised sectors, hedge funds, oil and commodities, derivatives, and speculation on interest-rates can add over USD 10 trillion to the USD 1 trillion already invested.


And, if the US, Britain, and other EU countries stop spending their taxpayers' money on bailing out zombie banks, Wall Street, insurance companies, and other failed financial speculators and re-direct stimulus funds to small businesses and local economies, additional trillions can be saved. Meanwhile the big Wall Street bailout recipients, rather than lending to Main Street, are still speculating in derivatives, proprietary trading, and betting taxpayers' funds in the global casino, reaping huge profits and paying executives even bigger bonuses.


Since politicians in the US, Britain, and Europe are too close and beholden to their financial sectors, independent private sector investors are now leading the way. As new funds continue to pour into building the green economy, governments may be shamed into following at least with guarantees.

As a recent report from DeutscheBanke shows, the leading countries for green investors are China, India, France, Germany, and Brazil, while the US and Britain's political inertia make them less attractive. UNEP-FI's 2009 Report on Catalyzing Low Carbon Growth shows how USD 1 of public investment can leverage between USD 3 and USD 15 of private investment.


Those governments that do not oppose their financial, fossil fuel, and nuclear lobbies will lose the race for climate prosperity, wasting billions on futile R&D for 'clean' coal carbon sequestration and other un-needed technologies. As David Martin, patent expert, of the innovation firm M-CAM points out, we have already invented all the technologies necessary for the transition to the Solar Age.


While on the advisory council of the US Office of Technology Assessment, I learned how many of these technologies were captured and patented by big fossil fuel and financial companies in order to keep them off the market, as General Motors did with its early electric car. Martin has launched the global innovation commons and inventoried all the needed technologies that are now freely in the public domain.


I have long held that it is unethical to speculate in oil, food, and other vital commodities, as well as forests and land, merely as 'asset classes' for big monetary returns. No pension fund or foundation or university endowment should speculate in such vital resources. What better way for such funds to provide for their beneficiaries than to re-deploy their assets into directly stabilising our climate and growing the cleaner, greener global economy for our common human future. Copenhagen may yet see a victory for the planet, people, and common sense.


IPS

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

TEEN TORNADO

INDEED, STRANGE AND POWERFUL ARE THE TEEN 'REVERSE LAWS.'

BY VASUDHA MURTHY

 

Having a teenager at home is like living with a virtual tornado. A gust of wind and everything goes spinning and I mean everything: the books on the  table, the clothes on the bed and knick-knacks spread all over.


The teen reverse laws prevail, or so it seems. Otherwise how could one explain the dirty pants while going out and a very clean one while whiling away time at home. Neatly combed hair while on the computer playing Fifa and ruffled hair on the way to the movies. The wet towel on the bed and the bedspread on the floor.


How can one ear listen to a very low decibled call for dinner while studying but the same ear becomes deaf to the shrill loud call for some errand while watching Television.


Sundays are for taking it easy on studying and the rest of the days it is for resting after coming back after a long day of study and play. I wonder where is the energy stored while playing and where it disappears once inside the house. Reverse law is rearing its head again. Hunger and thirst all the time while studying and 'no, I am not hungry' when the computer is beckoning.


Neatly arranged shirts and pants are an eyesore to the teens governed by these laws and that's why the shirt kept at the bottom attracts and is pulled out with a neat tornado like gesture spinning away all the shirts and pants into a good heap. Viola! now I am okay,you are okay.


'How can you call it untidy, it looks cool now' is what is written large on the face. Hands itch all the time , no, not for work, but for the messages on the SMS

 

The reigning god for all the teens is the 'mobile god' and he is worshipped all the hours of the day and also in their dreams .


So powerful and strange are these reverse laws that it takes away the parental power and also the listening power away from the teens.


Louis Armstrong's words ring true. 'There are some people that if they don't know, you cannot tell them.'

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

A TERRIBLE IVAN

 

One after another, more than 30 years ago, a series of Holocaust survivors identified John Demjanjuk, a strapping, round-faced Ukrainian who had come to live in the United States, as "Ivan the Terrible," the sadist who ran the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp.

 

One after another, Josef Czarny, Pinhas Epstein, Eliahu Rosenberg and others testified against Demjanjuk in Jerusalem, describing the "satisfaction and gratification" he took from breaking the bones of his victims and the relish with which he pumped carbon monoxide into the gas chambers.

 

But the survivors, so confident in their identification, were mistaken. At Demjanjuk's 1993 Supreme Court appeal, it became clear from the testimonies of Treblinka guards who had been tried and executed by the former Soviet Union in the 1940s, 50s and 60s - evidence that the FSU had previously declined to make available - that Treblinka's "Ivan" was a man named Ivan Marchenko, older and darker-haired than Demjanjuk, and scarred on one cheek.

 

John Demjanjuk was not "Ivan the Terrible." In the memorable words of Efraim Zuroff, the Nazi-hunter who heads the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office, however, "He was another terrible Ivan."

 

ZUROFF APPEALED in vain to have Demjanjuk tried here for his involvement as an accessory to the murder of 29,700 Jews at Sobibor, the Polish death camp where he was a guard.

 

Demjanjuk's own alibis - the claim that he had been a Red Army soldier captured by the Germans in the Crimea, then held in a prisoner of war camp - had been dismissed at his 1988 trial in the face of the documentary evidence of his own signed ID card from the SS training camp at Trawniki in Poland, which recorded his transfer to Sobibor.

 

But the Supreme Court, in Zuroff's assessment, "lost its nerve." It overturned Demjanjuk's conviction as "Ivan the Terrible," ruled that he had already served the seven-year jail sentence due a member of a Nazi organization and ordered him deported.

 

Now, in Germany, the wheels of justice have turned slowly but inexorably forward, and Demjanjuk finds himself in the dock again.

 

This time, there are no direct, elderly eyewitnesses to point a shaky finger in his direction. But the "totality of evidence," according to the spokeswoman for the Munich state prosecutor, "is overwhelming."

 

The SS ID card places him incontrovertibly at Sobibor, and his ID number appears on various documents related to the camp. An American court has already established, in a 2002 ruling, that he contributed to the mass murder of Jews. The court was persuaded by evidence compiled by the US Justice Department, which showed that he had given false information about his activities during the Holocaust when gaining American citizenship. Accordingly, he was stripped of that citizenship and, in May of this year, deported to Germany.

 

The so-called "lowest-ranked person to go on trial for Nazi war crimes" is facing justice there because almost 2,000 of his alleged victims were German Jews. He faces up to seven years in jail if convicted... and if, today aged 89, he lives that long.

 

MANY, IN Germany and beyond, are discomfited by what they perceive as the hounding of an old and dying man. Many are suggesting that this may prove to be the last headline-making Nazi war crimes case.

 

In fact, new allegations against suspected Nazi war criminals continue to emerge, hundreds of investigations are ongoing in over a dozen countries, and there have been numerous convictions and legal victories in recent years, relating to members of murderous security police units and concentration camp guards.

 

Wolfgang Benz, the director of Berlin's Center for Research on Anti-Semitism, said earlier this week that the Demjanjuk trial marked a vital case of Germany "dealing with our past" - a constant obligation, as he saw it. And he noted that "there is no statute of limitations for the crime of murder."

 

Indeed, the crucial morality at the heart of the new Demjanjuk trial lies in its message that the passage of time in no way diminishes the gravity of the crime and the guilt of its perpetrators, and that there can be no reward for having evaded justice through the decades and into old age.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

BORDERLINE VIEWS: WHO'S MONITORING THE MONITOR?

DAVID NEWMAN

 

The Knesset on Tuesday will host a conference which will bring it into disgrace. Instead of upholding the traditions of democracy and free speech, it will be responsible for an attempt to trample on the principles of freedom of expression by those who hold divergent views to those of the government. Most surprising of all is the fact that the event is to be hosted and chaired by Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, a parliamentarian who has become known for his staunch defense of democratic values - most recently leading the counterassault on the attempt to have all citizens registered with biometric identity cards.

 

The conference has been put together by two right-wing organizations - NGO Monitor headed by Prof. Gerald Steinberg at Bar-Ilan University, and the Institute of Zionist Strategies headed by West Bank settlement leader Yisrael Harel. The invitation to the event shows that, with the single exception of MK Daniel Ben-Simon, only right-wing MKs will be attending, while the list of invited NGOs is no more than fiction. Adding their names to the list of unconfirmed attendees was no more than a publicity stunt aimed at making the event appear to be more balanced than it really is. They will be absent and never had any intention of participating in this latest round of NGO bashing. And even Ben-Simon cancelled his participation at the last moment after finding out about the true nature of the meeting.

 

Reading its publications, it is very clear that NGO Monitor has, for a number of years, had a dual objective. Its reports deal almost entirely with a critique of peace-related NGOs and especially those which focus on human rights, as though there were no other NGOs to examine. The second is to point the blame for the funding of these NGOs at the door of the European Union in what has become a very blatant anti-Europe policy.

 

In an unprecedented move, NGO Monitor requested detailed information from the EU on 105 projects which were funded under the auspices of either the Partnership for Peace (PFP) or the European Instrument for Development and Human Rights (EIDHR) programs as though they were carrying out a police investigation for fraud. And despite the fact that the EU provided copious material in response, over and beyond what it normally releases, NGO Monitor has not allowed the facts to get in the way of its preconceived conclusions.

 

NGO Monitor itself does not practice the same degree of transparency that it demands from others. It constantly refuses to disclose its own funding sources, over and beyond the minimal amounts which are registered with the official register of nonprofit organizations and which account for but a small percentage of its actual income.

 

And despite many requests for NGO Monitor to investigate, on an equal basis, the activities and funding of right-wing NGOs, many of which support illegal activities in the West Bank, it has consistently refused to do so. Many of these NGOs are North American-based and fund activities in settlements which are deemed illegal by both international and US law, while others support hesder yeshivot whose leaders, just a week or so ago, supported the illegal call for soldiers to refuse orders aimed at future settlement evacuation. It would appear that what is sauce for the goose is certainly not sauce for the gander as far as NGO Monitor is concerned.

 

THE EU funds human rights projects throughout the world, including in its own member countries, as well as Russia and China. It is indeed a sad day for Israeli democracy when Israel joins the elite group of states - Syria and Algeria - which make constant complaints to the EU over its funding of human rights activities within their countries. This is the family of Middle Eastern democracies to which we now join forces as the Knesset attempts to legislate against legitimate human rights activity.

 

Instead of being proud that under intense conditions of conflict, the best of Jewish tradition and humanistic values enables it to set up organizations which are concerned with the human rights even of its enemies, is to be commended, not attacked. Organizations such as B'Tselem, Adalah, Bimkom and Ir Amim, to name but a few of those attacked in the NGO Monitor report, are a credit to Israel and its values of democracy and are one of the few beacons of light that Israel is able to show to an increasingly sceptical international community.

 

It is indeed possible that today's attempt to push legislation through the Knesset aimed at preventing further funding of such organizations has little to do with values but a lot to do with realpolitik. There has been anger among many politicians during the past year because of Europe's decision to freeze the upgrade of the already highly developed relations between the EU and Israel. Notwithstanding, Israel continues to be the second largest recipient of R&D from the EU, partly through the Seventh Framework, well beyond the proportional amount which Israel pays into the common fund.

 

So it would appear that the EU is a good cow to milk as long as it doesn't make any political statement. This is the sort of attitude which Israel used to display to its Jewish supporters in the Diaspora - sign the check and shut up. Only give to what we tell you to give but don't exercise your own independent judgement what to do with your philanthropic endeavors.

 

NGO Monitor's activities have become so blatantly political that it is indeed hard to understand how such a reputable politician as Michael Eitan could have agreed to host today's conference. It is a black day for Israeli democracy and will only bring even greater international disrepute and criticism to the country which packages itself as the "only" democracy in the Middle East. NGO Monitor will no longer be able to point all the blame for Israel's bad press at the door of the Durban convention - it will have to look in the mirror for the real harbinger of bad news.

 

The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

NO HOLDS BARRED: THANKSGIVING IN ZIMBABWE

SHMULEY BOTEACH

 

Seldom do I use the word 'life-transforming" because very few things in life are. True change is usually something that requires diligence, effort and often monotonous repetition. It doesn't come cheaply.

 

But what I did this past Thanksgiving changed my perception of the world forever. As a volunteer with my friend Glen Megill's organization, Rock of Africa (a Christian relief effort), I travelled to one of the poorest villages in Zimbabwe, one of the world's poorest countries. Joining me was my daughter Chana, my friend, the writer and radio host Dennis Prager, his son Aaron and about seven Christian volunteers. We staged an outreach program, preparing a Thanksgiving feast for 500 villagers, to whom we then distributed mosquito nets and Bibles. Most importantly, we gave them seed that can produce shima, the corn flour that is the staple diet for most of Africa and which, for $25 a year, can literally keep a family alive. The feast consisted of 10 slaughtered goats, giant pots of cooked cabbage and shima.

 

It would be difficult to convey the appreciation of the villagers for one good, hot, meaty meal. The people we met were gentle, beautiful and utterly poor. The village consisted of nothing but mud huts, the chief's homestead included. These people have virtually nothing. They live in tiny pen-sized huts, and one which we visited housed a hospitable but infirm man in his late 80s who reeked of urine. His 12-year-old grandson lives with him and takes care of him; his parents died of AIDS. The only luxury in the tiny dwelling was one mosquito net for the grandfather.

 

Indeed, of the hundreds who came to our feast, only a few were young mothers and fathers; the vast majority had already been lost to AIDS. We saw scores of young children strapped to their grandmothers' backs in the African way. An entire generation has been wiped out by this killer disease, which is still met by denial in Africa. Most of the people we spoke to who lost relatives to AIDS told us that "they got sicker and thinner." They knew exactly what caused the ailment but would never pronounce it. Strict moral codes govern life in southern Africa, so a sexually-transmitted disease is rarely acknowledged.

 

BUT AMID these serious challenges, the people exhibit unbelievable warmth. Are they happier than we in the West? I can't say. I have never believed in the supposedly ennobling effect of poverty, and I will not glamorize a life with so little. But what is undeniable is that they seemed far more satisfied, grateful and content than us. We in the West who are fortunate to be able to translate so much of our potential into something professionally and personally fulfilling are more often than not plagued by insatiable material hunger, rarely finding the inner peace which they seemed to possess.

 

When we Rock of Africa volunteers cooked much of the food and physically served it, I noticed that among the villagers there was not a single finicky eater. They ate every part of the goat served them - the stomach, the intestines, the vertebrae; food was not a luxury, it was survival itself. Indeed, the villagers rarely looked down at their food, which they ate with their hands (which were washed just before the meal). There is no piping in the village, so water is fetched from a well a kilometer away. Before and after the meal, the women serenaded us with joyous song and dance. The chief was a man of extraordinary humility, and took great pride in showing us his village.

 

The men and women sat apart. When the women, my daughter included, served they curtsied, as women do by tradition before men. If a woman does not curtsy, the man will not accept the food. The men seemed more self-conscious than the women. I hugged every man I met - something usually not done in Africa, but a pity because men need tactility as much as women. They all responded warmly to the overture.

 

Most memorable were the children, who were wondrous in every way. Gorgeous, extremely polite and exceptionally well-behaved. They exhibited none of wildness that is becoming common among Western kids. Hundreds of them sat in perfect rows on the floor, grateful to have a hot meal. They too sang and danced for us, and we danced with them.

 

The most moving part of the day was when we distributed the corn seed. The chief called out the names and as the families came forward, they were glowing. Many of them kissed the bags as they collected them. A few bags broke open and their recipients searched for, and found, every last seed as if it were a diamond.

 

It should be mandatory to take Western kids to Africa for at least one humanitarian mission. It would help wean them from the corrosive materialism that is suffocating us all, and it would lead them to appreciate their blessings and share more with others.

 

All this was made possible because of two angels. The first is Glen, an American businessman who created Rock of Africa and is one of the most righteous men I know. The second is a young woman whose courage and heroism left me incredulous. Her name is Regina Jones. She's 30 years old and from Detroit. She moved to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, four years ago, after a teen life where she owned more than 200 pairs of shoes. She now lives on her own and runs the organization. She saves orphaned street children from dying. She teaches villagers how to become self-sustaining. For our feast, she went at midnight to a neighboring village, negotiated the price for the goats and rented a trailer in the morning and picked them up so the villagers could eat meat. I personally watched her lovingly lecture a man with a white beard to help out his wife more with their tiny farm.

 

No, she is not a household name and she will never be as famous as Britney Spears. But to me she was a small reminder that the suffocating selfishness of Western material culture can indeed be transcended.

The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network and the author most recently of The Blessing of Enough. D`onations to Rock of Africa can be made on its Web site, www.rockofafrica.org.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

IDF INSUBORDINATION CAN SAVE ISRAEL

MOSHE FEIGLIN

 

In the 1990s, as a result of my attempts to halt the Oslo collapse, I was put on trial for "sedition." I asked the judges to allow me to read a short piece from a book that I had brought with me. The judges agreed, and to their surprise, I removed The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery from my briefcase:

 

"Sire, over what do you rule?"

 

"Over everything," said the king, with magnificent simplicity.

 

"Over everything?" The king made a gesture, which took in his planet, the other planets and all the stars.

 

"Over all that?" asked the little prince.

 

"Over all that," the king answered.

 

For his rule was not only absolute: it was also universal.

 

"And the stars obey you?"

 

"Certainly they do," the king said. "They obey instantly. I do not permit insubordination." "I should like to see a sunset... Do me that kindness... Order the sun to set..."

 

"If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?" the king demanded. "The general, or myself?"

 

"You," said the little prince firmly.

 

"Exactly. One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform," the king went on. "Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable."

 

IT IS a mistake to think that the state works within the boundaries of laws. The public does not obey laws. It obeys rules within the boundaries of a triangle, the first side of which is the law. But the triangle has two other sides: common sense and ethics.

 

What if the Knesset passed a law requiring drivers to drive in reverse all winter? That would counter the logic side of the triangle. The public's subsequent refusal would be the fault of the government, not of the public.

 

In other words, the fact that we obey the law is not because of the law itself, but because it is logical enough to warrant our adherence.

 

The third side of the triangle is ethics. If the government ordered us to drive our elderly and infirm out onto the frozen tundra, as per Eskimo custom, we might agree that it would logically enhance the economy. But nobody would obey, because it would be patently immoral. The party at fault for the insubordination would be the government that enacted the law and not the citizens who refused to obey.

 

How are the boundaries of this triangle determined?

 

A government has unlimited power to enact and enforce laws. The government, with its Knesset majority, can enact a law that would postpone elections for 50 years. Why doesn't it do so?

 

For only one reason: Because it knows that the public would not accept it and the government would subsequently lose its credibility. In other words, just like Exupery's king, the government enacts laws within the boundaries that it assumes the public will accept, both logically and ethically.

 

Power always strives for more power and the government will always attempt to test the boundaries of common sense and ethicality. But fortunately, it is not the government that determines these boundaries, but the public. How does the public accomplish this? By using its right and sometimes its duty to refuse to obey the law. That is how the logical and ethical platform for the healthy functioning of society is created.

 

To increase its power, the government tries to convince us that insubordination will cause the state to collapse. But that is completely false.

 

The greatest crimes in human history were perpetrated when citizens ignored their duty to delineate logical and ethical boundaries for the rule of law. The societies in which this took place by and large collapsed.

 

"Good men must not obey the laws too well," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. He understood what the disengaging Israeli tyranny no longer wants to hear.

 

Those soldiers who obeyed the expulsion law in Gush Katif despite the fact that they knew that it was illogical and unethical, brought the Hamas missiles to Beersheba, the resulting Operation Cast Lead, Goldstone and the international anti-Israel demonization campaign that is gaining momentum by the day. In short, our eager-to-obey soldier has endangered Israel's very existence.

 

The writing on the wall of Binyamin Netanyahu's office is clear: destruction of the Golan Heights, of the settlements in Judea and Samaria and the division of Jerusalem. Public delineation of clear, logical and ethical boundaries for the law can prevent Netanyahu from carrying out his plan.

 

In the past few weeks, soldiers from two separate units in the IDF expressed their civic responsibility by refusing to obey orders to expel Jews from their homes. These brave young men are positioned to save Israel from collapse.

 

The writer is the head of the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction of the Likud and a candidate for chairman of the party. He advocates Jewish values-based leadership for Israel predicated on Israel's Jewish identity. He has authored two books: Where there are no Men and The War of Dreams.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

ONE FOR ONE

CHARLEY J. LEVINE

 

This country urgently needs a policy regarding captive exchanges. Once, we had one: It was no negotiations with terrorists. Period. That has morphed today into absurd horse-trading of the "any price" variety, including 20 female terrorists for a videocassette.

 

Hopefully one day very soon Gilad Schalit will be released. That will be a wonderful occasion, and it's too late to reformulate our policy this time around. Because freeing hundreds of criminals encourages future kidnappings, however, the policy must indeed be changed immediately following Schalit's return.

 

Israel must give its answer - unequivocally and in advance - to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who tellingly observed recently in Damascus: "We are capable of capturing Schalit and Schalit and Schalit until there is not even one prisoner in the enemy's jails."

 

This challenge is daunting precisely because it sets Israelis not against Hamas but rather each person against himself. We are profoundly torn. Each of us is a parent or grandparent who would pay any price to gain the release of a child. Thankfully, our society views Gilad Schalit not as expendable cannon fodder but precisely as our own flesh and blood.

 

But each of us is also a potential victim of terror, a potential kidnappee. As such, we realize fully that surrendering to extortionists' wild demands may secure a videotape or the remains of long-deceased MIAs or even a live soldier - but at the crystal-clear cost of encouraging many more attempts by Hamas to kidnap other Jews. This is an untenable position in which we dare not wallow passively.

 

REFLECTING THIS latter perspective, I recently had a very difficult conversation with two fathers in Tel Aviv, each of whom had lost a child to terrorists. They oppose the release of any Palestinian prisoners for any Israeli. They know their position is an unpopular albeit principled one, and they asked my advice on how to communicate it persuasively to the public.

 

It was my unenviable task to tell them it just wouldn't fly. Emotionally, pitted against the release of a real, live young Israeli, rejection of negotiations just cannot capture public support.

 

Yet neither is the public in love with the idea of releasing up to 1,000 hardened criminals, many with blood on their hands.

 

One for one. The thought came to me in a flash.


Somewhere between zero and 1,000 lies this wholly sane, compelling formula.

 

Think about it: We do in fact oppose negotiating with terrorists. Trading any terrorist for any Israeli is a disgusting thought. Yet there is a compelling logic to the principle of "one for one," which is intellectually intuitive and could not be morally clearer.

 

On the same day Schalit comes home, Israel should announce its new unyielding and ironclad policy: We will do everything possible to prevent future kidnappings, and our policy remains not to reward terrorists for their crimes. However, the most we will ever agree to under any circumstances in any future exchange will be one. We can negotiate over the who in such a case, but never on the how many. This should be codified by legislation.

 

I know this, too, will raise questions. Some will argue, with justification, that releasing even one evil person to win the release of an innocent is one too many. There can be no moral equivalency between the terrorist and the one defending against the terrorist.

 

Others will say we dare not tie the government's hands, so no stratagem should be written in stone. If we need to free five bad guys at some point, or 50 or 500, then let the leaders make that determination as the situation warrants.

 

That is precisely my point: It is the situation that is not written in stone, while the principles must be. Not very long ago, civilians in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood were being constantly shot at. Buses were being blown up in the streets of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Rockets were pouring onto the homes in Sderot. Suicide bombers seeped into our cities, seemingly unchecked.

 

These bloody attacks have largely ceased. Effective intelligence contributed mightily, but so did changes in public policy. Many fires were quashed as a result of wise, effective counter-measures. Changes were implemented, and they worked.

 

Hamas has managed to kidnap one solitary soldier and hold him. It's not an easy thing to do. Further attempts will follow, but a new policy of "one for one" will dampen the Palestinians' penchant for even trying. If they know that even a successful kidnapping will result at very most in only one, not 1,000 released prisoners, they will abandon the tactic.

 

What the security wall has become to untold dozens of would-be mass murderers, "one for one" can be to those who plot future kidnappings.

 

We absolutely must stand firm.

 

The writer is a media and public affairs consultant based in Jerusalem.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

LET'S TALK ABOUT LOYALTY

FAINA KIRSHENBAUM

 

I hear a knock at the door in the middle of my breakfast. "Who could it be at this hour," I wonder. When I open the door, I see my son and his army friends. They have come to evacuate me from my home in the Judean hills.

 

I know that such scenarios are the nightmare of many soldiers and their families. I know that fear and anger over possible future settlement evacuations are fueling the recent spate of soldier protests. I understand the worry and pain - especially when reflecting on the 2005 disengagement, which has been a failure on all counts.

 

Nevertheless - and it's a difficult "nevertheless" to swallow - the army and the government cannot tolerate any declarations of intent to refuse future orders. If the IDF becomes an institution in which members can opt in and out of goals and campaigns, our ability to defend our citizens and deter our enemies will crumble.

 

SO WHAT do we do about it? Firstly, we have to remember that these protests are small-scale affairs, and that most soldiers and their instructors condemn military insubordination; it's unfair to blame the entire hesder yeshiva network. As Rabbi David Stav, spokesman of the union of hesder yeshivas, has said, most yeshiva heads condemn political expression within a military framework.

 

That is why I regret Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i's pronouncement that the IDF can do without the soldiers of the hesder yeshivot. I know that he is both blaming an entire segment of the population for the acts of a few, and alienating people even further instead of bringing them back into line.

 

I want to change the tone of discussion from distrust and suspicion to empathy for the other's position. Just as insubordination can weaken the army, so too can labeling entire groups as disobedient and dispensable damage the abilities of the IDF. Let's get rid of the threats and talk about what every Israeli shares. Let's talk about loyalty to our country and moral responsibility - principles with which soldiers who put their lives on the line can certainly identify.

 

I call on soldiers struggling with this issue to understand that it is not morally justifiable to refuse evacuation orders when such refusals weaken the entire military institution and endanger all Israelis.

 

As a member of Knesset and a resident of Judea, I feel the tension, the uncertainty about the coming months. But I am fully confident that the unity of our citizens behind the government, and the military and moral strength of the IDF, will together ensure our security and success.

 

The writer is a member of Knesset and Director General of the Israel Beiteinu party. She is also a member of the Knesset Committee for Internal Affairs and the Knesset Finance Committee.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

 

PROPER TREATMENT OF REFUGEES

 

Israel is contending with a wave of migrants from Africa, particularly Sudan and Eritrea, entering its territory through Egypt. There are currently around 17,500 African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel who want recognition under the international treaty prohibiting their return to their countries of origin, where they might face persecution, torture or death by execution. Most of the migrants entered Israel's Negev via the border with Sinai in the past three years.


Even if the Israel Defense Forces' estimate of "1 million labor migrants" seeking to cross the border into Israel illegally are inflated, it is clear that the migrants are not a passing phenomenon and must be addressed with a suitable and comprehensive government policy. The existing policy defines them as "infiltrators" who must be blocked from entering or sent back to Egypt immediately if they manage to cross the border. In line with Israel's practice of immediate "hot return," authorities have handed over to Egypt 117 asylum seekers in the first nine months of the year, all of them apprehended near the border area within 24 hours after crossing.


The procedure for accelerated deportation is being deliberated by Israel's High Court of Justice after several human-rights organizations filed a petition on the matter. The organizations anchor their petition on an opinion issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to the effect that "hot return" violates international law when practiced without guarantees ensuring the well-being of displaced people returned to Egypt. The UN also demands that Israel adhere to the "principle of non-return" ("non-refoulement") of the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.


Israel has been the target of international condemnation for its human-rights violations amid the ongoing occupation in the Palestinian territories and the disproportionate use of military power in civilian areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed the fight against the Goldstone report (which accused Israel of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in Operation Cast Lead) at the top of his diplomatic agenda. In such circumstances, it behooves Israel not to draw further condemnation, this time over African refugees who have fled countries torn by famine and war.


Israel, like any country, has every right to restrict the entrance of migrants and infiltrators into its territory. But it is important that these parameters conform to international law and treaties to which Israel is a signatory. The matter of refugees from Sudan and Eritrea must be addressed without opening a new front against the UN.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

TERRIBLE BLATHER

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

My Hebrew teacher would turn in her grave if she heard the devastating criticism that Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat leveled at the U.S. president: "We have fallen into the hands of a terrible U.S. administration."

Her sudden empathy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's troubles surprised me. First, I didn't know she was still a minister. Second, I didn't believe the culture minister was speaking such poor Hebrew. The Hebrew word she used for "terrible" - nora'i - is wrong in Hebrew. And because she repeated it a number of times, it can't be said to have been a slip of the tongue. The word is low slang, certainly unsuitable for the culture minister and clearly not reflecting the actual situation.


But nothing less can be said of her audacity in accusing the Obama administration of being the worst ever for Israel. Some administrations have been more sympathetic and some less so, but they have all been committed to Israel's security at a cost of tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars. Livnat, whose political career is behind her, has decided to join the detractors of the construction freeze in the settlements who declare that "the true Likudnik does not fold," or "the freeze is un-Zionist, immoral and illegitimate."

 

Netanyahu responded correctly to her unsolicited defense, saying that her accusations did not represent his position and that Israel and the United States shared a "courageous alliance." The fact that his temporary freeze has received the support of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon, Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin and other extremists - though not Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau - suggests that this is one small step on our moon. But it may be a giant leap in challenging the Palestinians to renew negotiations.

A skeptical observer might warn that this will not end well, saying a breakthrough is impossible considering Netanyahu's tricks for trying to square the circle. The settlers will pull out permits from every possible corner that will allow them to continue building despite the freeze. Trust the hilltop youth and the heads of the Yesha Council of settlements - they will try every possible provocation to prevent Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from returning to talks with Israel. They will close off balconies, add rooms and lay foundations, all ostensibly in keeping with the freeze.


We do not know whether Abbas will return to negotiations during the freeze. But even if the other side hardens its positions, it's important that the freeze on our side be real. It can be verified on the ground and by satellites, not to mention Peace Now's commandos and the Israel Defense Forces. It won't kill anyone for us to act honestly and insist on a unilateral freeze, even without an immediate quid pro quo.


Last month, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed entitled "Call the White House, Ask for Barack." The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play, he wrote, in which the parties are acting out the same old cliches that no one takes seriously anymore. Friedman decries Barack Obama's over-involvement with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the two sides' excuses not to reach an agreement. Since Obama has so many problems, he wrote, let's tell the sides that if they are serious, they should call the White House and ask to speak to the president.


Friedman was witty, as usual, but a president plummeting in the polls is not going to go into an election year at risk of losing his Democratic majority in Congress. Indeed, Thursday's New York Times editorial disagreed with Friedman, a warm-hearted Jew who wants to give us a good shake until we say we're ready.


The New York Times, in contrast, says the administration lacks initiative and determination, and points to the failure of the president and his advisers to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. "Peacemaking takes strategic skill. But we see no sign that President Obama and Mr. Mitchell were thinking more than one move down the board," the paper said.


There is no choice but to keep trying, lest the extremists lead to another war. And so a freeze is unacceptable. Netanyahu has not really changed. As usual, he will do what needs to be done only when he is forced to. That is actually what The New York Times is demanding. The maturity of Netanyahu's leadership will be tested in his ability to implement the construction moratorium in the territories, no matter how "terrible" the price is. Nothing can be worse than renewed terror or war.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MOSHE ARENS / PALESTINIAN DREAM OF STATEHOOD FURTHER AWAY THAN EVER

BY MOSHE ARENS

 

Never in the history of man has so much effort been invested by so many in nation-building as with the Palestinians. The United States, the European Union and many other countries have been investing huge resources as part of this effort. An American general, Keith Dayton, is training the Palestinians' fledgling police force.

And yet there still seems to be a long way to go. There is no unified Palestinian leadership. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, and whereas the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is the generally recognized leadership of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, its control of this area is far from complete.


It was only relatively recently that the Palestinians declared themselves a national entity and have been recognized as such by the international community. The United Nations partition resolution in 1947 called for the division of western Palestine into a Jewish and Arab (not Palestinian) state. Jordan's annexation of Judea and Samaria in 1949 and the awarding of Jordanian citizenship to the Arab population residing there met with no objections from any quarter. It was only with the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, under Yasser Arafat's leadership, that a claim for Palestine was put forth on behalf of the Palestinian people.

 

But for many years the PLO was little more than a terrorist organization. And it was only after Arafat declared in May 1989 that the PLO's charter, which denied the legitimacy of Israel's existence, was "caduc" ("obsolete"), and the 1993 Oslo Accords that granted rehabilitation to Arafat and his terrorist group, that the PLO attained general recognition as the representative of the Palestinian people. So the Palestinians took their place among the recognized community of nations.


It did not take long before Arafat reverted to terrorism and the Oslo Accords were turned into ashes. Only after Arafat's demise and the election of Abbas, who declared that the Palestinians must abandon the weapon of terror, were the Palestinians showered with outside assistance in an attempt to chaperone them on the road to statehood. The "two-state solution" mantra was adopted worldwide, including by many in Israel. Some even began to argue that the only obstacle to achieving Palestinian statehood and peace with Israel was the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.


But while Abbas is in Venezuela seeking encouragement from Hugo Chavez, and the Israeli government declares a settlement freeze for 10 months in Judea and Samaria, the ultimate goal of Palestinian statehood seems further away than ever. So far there is nothing more than a virtual Palestinian state, a house of cards. Anyone who thinks the settlement freeze will serve as the foundation for this house of cards will soon find that he is mistaken. There is no connection there. The intensive care and artificial respiration provided by U.S. President Barack Obama may not be able to bring this patient to life.


At this time the Palestinian state may be no more than an impossible dream. The reality is that there are currently three Palestinian entities - the Kingdom of Jordan, the Hamas-ruled enclave in the Gaza Strip, and the area of Judea and Samaria that is not in the control of Abbas, although his headquarters is there. No law of nature prohibits the existence of three Palestinian states at some future date, but it seems patently unreasonable and not very likely. Freezing settlement construction in Judea and Samaria for the next 10 months is not going to change that.

So why did Benjamin Netanyahu's government decide on the 10-month settlement freeze, which is no more than a futile gesture? The prevailing explanation is that the Israeli government wanted to please President Obama. Although personal relations between the leaders of nations is not completely unimportant in international relations, it is certainly not the first priority in conducting a country's foreign policy. Relations between Israel and the United States are not based on personal sympathy, but rather on common values and strategic interests.


When there are differences of opinion between two friendly nations they are not resolved by trying to please one or the other leader. They are certainly not resolved through the issuance of orders by one side to the other. Israel is a small country, but it is an independent country. Netanyahu does not have to state, as Menachem Begin did, that we are not a banana republic, but he does need to make that clear. That is of great importance for U.S.-Israel relations in the years to come.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

DAVID MAKOVSKY / OBAMA AND NETANYAHU: LESSONS OF 2009

BY DAVID MAKOVSKY

 

WASHINGTON - The announcement of a moratorium on building in the settlements ends the first chapter of U.S.-Israel relations during the Obama era. There are lessons for all.


The move by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clearly a bid to improve U.S.-Israel relations as much as it is an effort to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. It may also be a counterbalance toward Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, against a potential prisoner swap with Hamas for Gilad Shalit.


Much of this year has been defined by the friction over settlements, which have cast a shadow. The Obama administration feels it does not always receive credit from Israel regarding close bilateral consultations on a range of issues including the Iranian nuclear threat, the Operation Juniper Cobra military exercise and the Goldstone report.

 

There were profound implications for the United States in setting the bar high on the settlement issue by calling for a construction freeze rather than merely no outward expansion of settlements. One lesson is that even if the Israeli opposition cannot say "yes" to Barack Obama, the United States has lost mainstream Israelis.


A second lesson is that caution is required in raising expectations. Abbas cannot be less Palestinian than the United States. So if the U.S. demands a freeze, Abbas is boxed in and not likely to agree to less. This pattern will likely repeat itself. With the United States calling for a freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem, Abbas is not likely to accept less - such as no outward expansion of East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhoods.

There are also lessons for Israel. Trust at the top is indispensable. Obama and Netanyahu will both be around for some time. Israelis have bemoaned the lack of trust between the two. Israel believes it was ambushed on the issue of a settlement freeze. On the one hand, Israel is correct in claiming that the Obama administration erred by denying the verbal understanding between the U.S. and Israel in 2003 on defining the geographic expansion of settlements. This undermines the prospect of future verbal understandings with the United States.


On the other hand, trust goes both ways. Israel does not emphasize the fact that it never implemented the West Bank understanding of 2003 that it now declares to be key. Moreover, the Obama administration resented comments by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman after the United States agreed to compromise with Israel over settlements that Washington interpreted as gloating. Obama was surprised by the announcement of new construction in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo since it came just a week after a rare tete-a-tete with Netanyahu. Netanyahu insists that he is transparent but was also surprised by the Israeli bureaucratic move from below. However, the action provided fodder to Netanyahu's critics while undercutting those wishing to give him the benefit of the doubt.


Aides of Netanyahu are correct that the United States was not as stringent with Olmert as with this government. While it is partially attributed to the change in the U.S. administration, one cannot rule out the possibility that the lack of U.S. internal debate in the past was due to the certainty of Olmert's direction. Netanyahu hopes his current move on settlements will put to rest the issue of intentions. He feels he has been unfairly singled out by this administration, given his support for a Palestinian state and for the dismantling of most West Bank checkpoints. Some in Washington may quietly say that Netanyahu's concessions are grudging and extended over many months and therefore can be discounted. Netanyahu's rejoinder will be that belated Israeli concessions are better than no concessions from the Arab side.

Indeed, there are lessons for Arabs, too. Despite Obama's speech in Cairo, which raised expectations, the long-standing Arab dream of the United States bending Israel to its will did not materialize.


Therefore, the Arabs need to act to avert radicalization. In their anger at not getting a 100 percent freeze from Israel, they want to give nothing for now. Yes, they will likely restart multilateral talks on issues such as water, but only after Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway. As in the past the Arab states believe in never making early moves that could provide political cover for the Palestinians to make progress, preferring instead, at best, to ride on the Palestinians' coattails. The Arab states need to contribute their share to ensure that Netanyahu's gesture is not lost. They need to provide Abbas with political cover and declare their unambiguous support for peace negotiations now between Israel and the Palestinians.


The writer, senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute, is co-author with Dennis Ross of the new book "Myths, Illusions and Peace" (Viking/Penguin, 2009).

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

MALIGNANT CENSORSHIP

BY MOSHE NEGBI

 

The military censor's blackout on the details of the deal being stitched together for the release of Gilad Shalit not only harms democracy and press freedom, it is also liable to turn out to be malignant from a security standpoint.

About 20 years ago, in a precedent-setting petition filed by the newspaper Ha'ir and reporter Aluf Benn against the chief military censor, the High Court of Justice recognized the legitimacy of military censorship only to block publication of information liable to cause grave harm to security.


The problem is that the sorry experience in Israel shows that with this kind of deal, it is actually censorship itself that can cause the harm. It turns out that conduct of secret negotiations under the cover of censorship, without revealing information and without prior consideration of the costs and benefits, is clearly the most certain recipe for a reckless and potentially disastrous prisoner exchange deal.


The definitive evidence of this is the deal involving Ahmed Jibril about 25 years ago, in which every possible red line was crossed in our bargaining with terrorist organizations and our surrender to the demand of the Popular Front-General Command to release more than 1,000 dangerous terrorists. The editors' committee representing the Israeli media acceded to the prime minister at the time, Shimon Peres, and his defense minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and accepted a total blackout on publication of Jibril's demands.

 

I personally remember, as someone who was then editing news programs on Israel Radio, how we were prevented from broadcasting the names of mass-murderers whose release Jibril was demanding (and which several months later he received).


The result of this blackout was that not only the Israeli public but also most Knesset members, and even most cabinet ministers (other than those of the inner circle) first heard about the identities of those being freed and their deeds just before their release. The censor prevented them from hearing, among other things, about the strong opposition to the deal from IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Levy and the opportunity to consider his reasoning.

Only after the killers returned home (and after hundreds of them returned to hostile activity), a public issue was made of it, involving political, security and media implications, but we have never been able to return to the limits that were breached at the time.


Certainly, it appears that there is no difference of opinion about the security consequences and the destructive moral standards of the terms of that deal, and the limits that were exceeded in the process.


About two years later, many of the freed terrorists led the first intifada. Terrorist organizations - and not just Palestinian ones - learned that kidnapping a soldier or civilian is a strategic weapon of the first order against Israel, in cost-benefit terms, and there is really no limit to the military and political advantages that using the tactic can bring them. Terrorists concluded that, even if they committed the most heinous acts and were captured, there is a reasonable prospect of being freed in a subsequent deal.


As noted, the Israeli media, in their devotion and hasty acquiescence to sweeping censorship, were a fully responsible partner in all the fateful consequences of the Jibril deal. It is crucial that the same does not happen this time. In the interest of full disclosure, I hold the view that it is justified and even obligatory to pay a very heavy price for the return of a captive soldier to the arms of his family.


As a citizen of a democracy, however, I am not ready to pay this price without knowing the exact amount up front, and without giving the deal's opponents a fair chance to convince me that the price is too high.


The writer is Israel Radio's legal commentator and a senior lecturer on media and security at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

THE SWINE FLU, AS OF NOW

 

So far, the news about swine flu is better than expected. The pandemic may have reached its peak and is heading downward in all regions of the country; weekly deaths from swine flu have started to decline; the virus remains relatively mild; there seem to be few claims of serious side effects from the vaccine; and despite widespread complaints about shortages, vaccine supplies are steadily building up.

 

By mid-October, the latest estimates available, the swine flu had infected some 22 million Americans, sent roughly 98,000 to the hospital and killed roughly 3,900. Those numbers may sound high, but they are not apt to reach the levels of harm caused by a normal flu season. One big unknown is whether we will see a normal flu epidemic on top of the swine flu outbreaks or whether the swine flu will crowd out the seasonal flu, which has barely been detected here.

 

Supplies of seasonal flu vaccine have also been running short. The five companies licensed to make flu shots for this country had expected to make more than 118 million doses, but manufacturing glitches and the need to convert production to swine flu vaccine cut the supply of seasonal flu vaccine to 114 million doses. Even 118 million would not have been enough to meet demand that was revved up this year by all the publicity surrounding the new swine flu. (The vaccines are not interchangeable.)

 

Even as the swine flu seemed to be waning last week, health officials voiced concerns that Thanksgiving travels and get-togethers could lead to new outbreaks. And there were a few hints of troubling developments.

 

Some swine flu patients have developed serious bacterial infections in their lungs, including pneumococcal infections that invade the blood and other internal sites. The victims are mostly those with underlying chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and other longstanding ailments. There is a vaccine that can protect them from 23 strains of pneumococcal infection, and health officials are urging adults with chronic conditions to get it from their doctors now.

 

There have also been scattered reports of mutations in the swine flu virus that cause harm deep in the lungs of some patients or make the virus resistant to one of the standard drug treatments. However, neither mutation seems to be spreading widely.

 

This is no time for Americans to let down their guard. The number of children and teenagers killed by the flu continues to rise. Even if it is past its peak, the swine flu will go on to infect many millions more before it disappears. And if the swine flu follows the pattern of some previous pandemic strains, it could return in a new wave early next year.

 

As of last Wednesday, some 61 million doses of the swine flu vaccine had been used or were available to order, far less than needed to vaccinate the original target groups of 159 million Americans. As vaccine supplies build up, those who are at highest risk or could endanger others at high risk — pregnant women, people caring for infants less than 6 months old, health care workers with direct patient contact, children 6 months through 4 years old, and children 5 through 18 with chronic medical problems — would be wise to get immunized. So would others deemed at some risk, like young adults and older adults with medical problems.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOT I, SAID THE NEW YORK SENATE

 

If New York State runs its money supply down to a mere $36 million later this month — as predicted — the state will have to decide which bills to pay first. That means libraries, schools and taxpayers who qualify for a real estate tax rebate could all get their money later than usual, maybe a lot later.

 

And the blame for this latest financial squeeze will fall squarely on the New York State Senate — both Democrats and Republicans.

 

For months, Gov. David Paterson has been sounding the alarm about dwindling resources. He has trumpeted the warnings from Moody's that New York's bond rating could easily slide into treacherous territory. He has offered a list of $3.2 billion in budget cuts to keep the state's finances mostly in balance until next April. What he's been doing has been necessary, but it has not been popular or easy, and the governor has the rock-bottom poll ratings to prove it.

 

The State Senate, on the other hand, has done little more than issue press releases. Senators are too busy eyeing next year's elections, especially those lawmakers with the least political security — that is, a few suburban Democrats in dicey districts and all 30 of the Republicans, who want to regain the majority next year.

 

They don't want to do anything unpleasant or really difficult like pare state expenses in midyear — in other words do their jobs — even if it means facing an even larger deficit in April, perhaps as high as $10 billion.

 

So, it is time once again for New Yorkers to ask why they elected these people as state leaders in the first place. To run the state — or more accurately to act as if they are running the state — only in happy times?

 

Clearly not, and yet the proposed solutions from these sunshine senators so far have involved plugging holes in this year's budget with next year's money — extending debt and using one-time funds to fill the gaps. This is budgeting by Band-Aid.

 

Some of the state's special interests are acting irresponsibly as well. Union representatives, particularly those for the teachers, have made it clear that they will fight any midyear cuts to education with angry television ads aimed at vulnerable politicians. The hard truth is that everybody should feel this budget pinch, including schools. All but a very few school districts put a little extra padding in their budgets in case of bad times. Some of that cushion is needed now.

 

In the meantime, the state's senators need to start taking real actions instead of hiding from reality.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A VOTE FOR INTOLERANCE

 

Disgraceful. That is the only way to describe the success of a right-wing initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, where 57 percent of voters cast ballots for a bigoted and mean-spirited measure.

 

Under Switzerland's system of direct rule, the referendum is binding. Switzerland's 400,000 or so Muslims, most of whom come from Kosovo and Turkey, are legally barred from building minarets as of now. We can only hope that the ban is quickly challenged, and that the Swiss courts will find a way to get rid of it.

 

But the vote also carries a strong and urgent message for all Europe, and for all Western nations where Islamic minorities have been growing in numbers and visibility, and where fear and resentment of Muslim immigrants and their religion have become increasingly strident and widespread. The warning signs have been there: the irrational fierceness of official French resistance to the shawls and burkas worn by some Muslim women; the growing opposition in many European quarters to Turkish membership in the European Union.

 

Terrorist attacks by Islamic militants, notably 9/11 and the attacks on London, Madrid and Mumbai, have played a role in the perception of Muslims as a security threat. But the worst response to extremism and intolerance is extremism and intolerance. Banning minarets does not address any of the problems with Muslim immigrants, but it is certain to alienate and anger them.

 

In Switzerland, Muslims amount to barely 6 percent of the population and there is no evidence of Islamic extremism. If its residents can succumb so easily to the propaganda of a xenophobic right-wing party, then countries with far greater Muslim populations and far more virulent strains of xenophobia best quickly start thinking about how to counter the trend.

 

If left unchecked, xenophobia spreads fast. Already right-wingers in the Netherlands and Denmark have called for similar measures, and others are bound to be encouraged by the success of the Swiss People's Party.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ROOSEVELT UNDERSTOOD THE POWER OF A PUBLIC OPTION

BY ADAM COHEN

 

As governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt crusaded for "public power," government-owned electric plants. He was outraged by the high prices that monopolistic utility companies were charging and by their refusal to bring electricity to rural parts of the state, which, they said, could not be done economically. Public plants, Roosevelt said, could bring power to those who needed it and serve as a yardstick for measuring and keeping in check the prices charged by private power companies.

 

Many decades later, a major point of contention in the debate over health insurance reform is the so-called public option, a government-run program that would compete with private insurers. Critics have tried to paint it as a wild-eyed experiment, but it echoes F.D.R.'s battles for public power — in fact, the entire New Deal he later created. The argument Roosevelt made — that a government program could fix the flaws in a poorly functioning private market — applies with even more force in health care.

 

In the early 20th century, electricity was a hot political issue. It was expensive and did not reach many parts of the country. To Roosevelt, it was an important social justice issue. "When he talked about the benefits of cheap electricity he did not think in terms of kilowatts," a top adviser said. "He thought in terms of the hired hand milking by electricity, the farm wife's pump, stove, lights and sewing machine."

 

When he ran for president in 1932, Roosevelt made public power a cornerstone of his campaign. In a speech in Portland, Ore., he explained that it could be a "birch rod in the cupboard," which the citizenry could use to punish private power companies that were gouging the public or not providing good service. Critics accused Roosevelt of Bolshevism, but he was not deterred. Public power was no more radical, he said, than the public mail.

 

F.D.R. championed public power as president. Du