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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EDITORIAL 09.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 09, edition 000371, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





  6. Silly to deny climate change - Anuradha Dutt




































































Commercial space tourism has received a boost with Virgin Galactic unveiling SpaceShip Two, the space pod that will take paying customers on a trip beyond the Earth's atmosphere by 2011. It is hardly surprising that the event has got millionaire space enthusiasts gushing at the possibility of becoming astronauts-for-a-day. Apparently 300 people are already on Virgin Galactic's waiting list and a couple of hundred more have expressed interest in space tourism on the company's website. A typical Virgin Galactic space jaunt will cost $ 200,000 and involve the SpaceShip Two taking passengers on a two-hour space flight during which those on-board will get to experience six precious minutes of weightlessness before crashing back down to Earth. All of this sounds very fascinating indeed. Nonetheless, there is a bigger issue here that cannot be overlooked. Proponents of commercial space tourism like Dennis Tito — the first commercial space tourist — and Richard Branson have been vigorously pushing the idea of space joyrides for the average Joe. However, sending people into space is a serious matter that cannot be taken lightly. Any flight into space is a risky proposition. There are numerous safety issues involved. Professional astronauts spend months training for a space flight. They have teams comprising hundreds of people who oversee and conduct various aspects of the space mission. Yet there are times when things don't turn out the way they are supposed to. Astronaut Kalpana Chawla's tragic death exemplifies this point. Therefore, in order to allow private space tourism operators to carry on with their venture in a safe and secure manner they would have to be subjected to stringent guidelines and regulations.

But given the inherently risky nature of space flights, the problem is that there are no guidelines stringent enough to ensure 100 per cent safety for the space tourists. In such a scenario, the question is should Governments around the world encourage the growth of a commercial space tourism industry knowing full well that there is no way one can ensure the safety of the amateur astronauts. Also, there is a clear distinction between space exploration for scientific purposes and space tourism. It is very important that the two are never confused. The agencies and the people involved in the former are skilled professionals who are dedicated to studying space and its various qualities. Thus, when an astronaut undertakes a trip to the International Space Station, he knows why he is doing what he is doing and is trained and prepared for any eventuality. But profit-driven companies advertising space tourism will tend to water down the risks involved with the venture in order to attract more customers. This is simply unacceptable; the issue of space tourism needs to be looked at afresh.






Even in the worst of adversarial relations, there is merit in keeping the conversation going. Snapping dialogue leads to unwarranted erosion of painstakingly nurtured confidence building measures and people-to-people contacts. Between India and Pakistan playing cricket in a third country is not cricket. One year after 26/11, and seven dossiers later, much water has flown down the Indus and Ganga without breaking banks. Pakistan has repeatedly called for resumption of composite dialogue held in abeyance since Mumbai, saying let terrorists not hold the peace process hostage. India is unmoved, refusing to revive talks till the 26/11 culprits are punished.

Track II, the saviour during such an impasse, provides a useful feedback on the mood in the two countries though both country delegates tend to toe the official line with few good exceptions. Last month's Friedrich Ebert Stiftung-hosted India-Pakistan conference in Singapore, the seventh in a row after the attack on Parliament, proved a useful exception. It has good luck charm as its members have become Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers, Members of Parliament, editors and media advisors to Prime Ministers.

Here are a few vignettes of the conference which covered US strategy in AfPak and the ongoing wars against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan; prospects of India-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan; unrest in Balochistan and India's alleged involvement; sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan; situation and internal dialogue in Jammu & Kashmir and the four-point Kashmir formula; and India-Pakistan relations post-Mumbai; and the way ahead.

First, the macro view. Compared to India which has fared commendably in assimilating and integrating tribal areas in the North-East and managing unrest and alienation in Jammu & Kashmir, the Pakistani experience has been bitter and unsuccessful.

While India has used carrot and stick, that is dialogue and calibrated military force, Pakistan has resorted to maximum military means to quell insurgencies, employing intense fire power including air and heavy artillery which has led to civilian casualties, displacement of population, alienation and destruction of infrastructure.

The list of foul-ups is long — the separation of East Pakistan, the turmoil and turbulence in the Frontier Tribal Areas, sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan and the unrest in Balochistan, which is now ripe for another Bangladesh. The discussions on Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan were especially embarrassing for the Pakistani side as the two delegates from these areas pulled no punches.

The big picture emerging in new Pakistan as visualised by its delegates seemed too good to be true. The new actors in this new Pakistan were a fiercely independent media, an independent judiciary and a robust civil society. According to this visualisation, the Army and the ISI had said tauba and so had the ISI to dirty tricks. For abundant caution there was a post script — both will say tauba once more.


The Pakistani specialist on Afghanistan painted a bleak picture of US and Pakistani military campaigns to quell their respective Talibans. He felt that the wars were unwinnable due to poor intelligence. Privately though, a Pakistani mentioned that the ISI was very strong inside Afghanistan, confirming Gen Pervez Musharraf's recent assertion that the ISI had penetrated all militant organisations though ground operations do not reflect proportionate success.

The Afghan Taliban will not negotiate and reconcile as they know they are winning even after the civilian and military surge is effective. The elusive Mullah Omar had a 98 per cent following among the Taliban and was the blue-eyed boy of the Pakistani Army. He would not annoy it as the Taliban need sanctuaries in Pakistan. Latest reports indicate that he has been moved from Quetta to Karachi to avoid being struck by US drones.

The Afghan expert added that foreign forces are anathema for the locals. Who is helping the Afghan Taliban, he asked. Iran was playing a double game and Russia and China had secretly received Taliban delegations.

Afghanistan has become an emotional and contentious issue between the two countries. Islamabad seeks strategic depth which some Pakistanis feel is an outdated concept and shudder at the thought of a Taliban takeover. The last thing India wants is a return of the Taliban and certainly no depth of any kind for Pakistan. This does not translate into encirclement of Pakistan as the delegates feared. Despite the common goal of minus Taliban, both countries are cancelling each other out, rather than cooperating to help Afghans grow and prosper.

Pakistan will not even permit nutritional biscuits to be sent overland and since 2002 these have been transitted through Iran at 20 per cent extra cost. Pakistan is highly suspicious of India's generosity — $ 1.2 billion developmental assistance — as their delegates sarcastically enquired: "Where was India when the Soviet Union nvaded Afghanistan and Pakistan hosted 5 million refugees?"

Surprisingly, a Pakistani delegate said that Islamabad must recognise that India as a regional power has a role to play in Afghanistan. Their respective agendas must be discussed to allay each other's concerns. Ideally they should undertake joint projects in sectors like IT, communication, power, health, etc. Such was the mixed picture on cooperation in Afghanistan.

The discussion on Balochistan was the first of its kind, thanks to its mention in the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. The Baloch presenter painted an explosive situation of the province and how the richest and largest region was impoverished due to wrong policies and misgovernance of Islamabad. Another Bangladesh, he warned, was in the offing. Unsubstantiated allegations about India's involvement were listed which included training of 600 Baloch by R&AW inside Afghanistan.

That Kashmir was no longer the core issue was the breaking news. Terrorism, poverty, illiteracy, etc, were priority concerns. Pakistanis may have disowned Gen Pervez Musharraf but in India he is credited with the four-point Kashmir formula which has secured broad consensus in Jammu & Kashmir as well as in the rest of India.

For the time being, India is no more Enemy Number One. Islamabad has come around to allowing simultaneous release of Indian movies in Pakistan but is not prepared to accept India's offer to switch its troops from east to west to fight the Taliban to the finish with the assurance of no harm from India. How can we trust India after what it did in creating the Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan, asked the Pakistanis. The lesson from Singapore was: Keep talking but also open the official line quickly.


            THE PIONEER




A story is told of how when the Ramayan-recitalists of Banaras were hounding Sant Tulsidas for 'plebianising' the Sanskrit epic into Awadhi, a sagely verdict turned the tide in his favour. Madhusudan Saraswati, next only to the Shankaracharya and Swami Vidyaranya as the expounder of Advaitavada (monist non-dualism) described Tulsidas as a grove of holy basil whose poetic leaves are kissed by a bee called Lord Ram. Madhusudan Saraswati, who famously raised the Naga Sanyasi militia to protect Hindus, was a Bengali from Barisal district. He knew Krittibas Ojha had transliterated Ramayan into Bengali as early as 14th century. Madhusudan Saraswati's intervention helped Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas become a popular scripture with the Hindi-speaking masses.

The ties between Hindi and Bengali run deeper than Hindi's critics like Kajol Chatterjee imagine. The easiest way to verify this would be to visit the 'Hindi fiction' shelf in a public library. There could be complete shelves of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi, Bimal Mitra, Shankar, Mahasweta Devi's novels rendered into Hindi. Translations into Hindi from other Indian languages pale in comparison. Comparative studies of Hindi and Bengali novelists crop up in PhD lists of universities frequently.

The holy cities of Hindi region, Hardwar, Mathura, Vrindavan, Banaras, Allahabad, etc, have always loomed large on the Bengali mind. Bengalis have lived in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand for generations without any discrimination. Swami Vivekananda first set up his headquarters at Mayawati Ashram, Almora. The first woman Chief Minister to be elected by any State of India was a Bengali — Sucheta Kripalani neé Majumdar of Uttar Pradesh (1963-1967). In 1957, Lucknow elected Pulin Banerjee of the Congress, a Bengali, over Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Bengalis played a leading role in the establishment of Lucknow University. Atul Prasad Sen, the well-known Bengali poet, was a leading advocate of the city. Famous economist and historian brothers Radha Kamal and Radha Kumud Mukherjee were professors in Lucknow University. Khandwa-born Kishore Kumar struck gold in the Hindi film industry whereas the Bengali music industry was less than fair to him.

Thus, it is hoped Bengalis will take a more welcoming view of Hindi.








After weeks of speculation and inspired leaks to the media we have finally been told the contents of sealed envelopes filed with a United States court in the Headley-Rana Chicago conspiracy case. David Coleman Headley's direct role in the conspiracy underlying the November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai is now authoritatively established.

The specific charges against Headley in connection with the Mumbai conspiracy include making five extended trips to the city — in September 2006, February and September 2007, and April and July 2008 — and each time taking pictures and making videotapes of various targets, including those attacked in November 2008. More specifically, it is interesting to note the FBI says Headley discussed potential landing sites for a team of attackers who would arrive by sea in Mumbai, and he was instructed to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbour and take surveillance video, which he did during his visit to India starting in April 2008.

What is even more interesting in the fresh public revelations in the Headley case is the identity of Headley's alleged Pakistan-based controller and a key go-between with Al Qaeda-affiliated 313 Brigade leader Ilyas Kashmiri. Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (Abdur Rehman), who is described as a retired Major in the Pakistani Army, was also charged in the larger Chicago conspiracy case in connection with the planned attack on a Danish newspaper's office. The FBI communication, however, makes no mention of any direct role of Abdur Rehman in the Mumbai conspiracy.

While we await more details to surface in the days to come following the visit by the FBI team to New Delhi, it is interesting to overlay the timeline of Headley's activities in India with attacks of mass terror in India.

The wave of mass terror attacks staring 2005 and culminating with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks has an interesting overlap with what we have learned of Headley's initiation into terror activities directed against India.

Late November 2005 saw the first of deadly serial bomb blasts in New Delhi, the same period was also when Headley, we are told, was made aware of his surveillance role to be played in India. It maybe of significance to note that while the Indian Mujahideen e-mails ascribed responsibility of all serial blast attacks to its still elusive mastermind Guru al-Hindi, the e-mails were careful to exclude the November 2005 blasts in Delhi while starting the chronology from the 2006 Varanasi blasts.

Back in 2005 responsibility for the Delhi blasts was attributed to Lashkar's Al Qama. Recent revelations in the Headley case, yet to be confirmed by the FBI, indicate Al Qama is in fact the same person as Headley's Lashkar controller identified as 'Lashkar Individual A' in the Chicago chargesheet and also known as Sajid Mir. The Chicago conspiracy sheet indicated an interesting inter-jihadi factional dynamic between Headley's other controller who we now know to be Abdur Rehman and the Lashkar's Sajid Mir (Al Qama) with Abdur Rehman and Headley describing the Lashkar as having "rotten guts". This specific conversation, according to the FBI chargesheet, is reported to have taken place in the aftermath of reports of Ilyas Kashmiri's death in a drone strike when Abdur Rehman and Headley debated the implications of his death and the fate of planned terror strikes.

This inter-jihadi factional dynamic alluded to by Abdur Rehman and Headley may perhaps explain why the Delhi blasts of 2005 were attributed to Lashkar's Al Qama while all subsequent blasts were almost always described as having a Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami connection starting specifically with the 2006 Varanasi blasts with the exception of 7/11 which is attributed to Azam Cheema.

If Abdur Rehman indeed was the Pakistan-based controller of HuJI activities, including Bangladesh-based modules, it raises an interesting series of questions about his role in all of the attacks of mass terror in India with a HuJI link.

While the Varanasi blasts and subsequent Hyderabad blasts were blamed on HuJI's India-based lieutenants like Shahid Bilal hardly anything has been uncovered on the next layer of command within HuJI based in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Similarly the Indian Mujahideen chain of command as well terminates with the Indian origin Amir Raza Khan with no clarity on his immediate Pakistan-based handler.

A closer examination of Amir Raza Khan's antecedents is warranted to perhaps establish Abdur Rehman's role if any in the HuJI inspired attacks in India.

It is interesting to note that the chargesheet in the 2001 HuJI conspiracy to kidnap Sachin Tendulkar and to target former President Abdul Kalam named Amir Raza Khan's brother. In addition to Asif Raza Khan the chargesheet named two other Pakistan-based HuJI commanders Omar Sheikh and Azam Cheema. Azam Cheema's name surfaces again in the interrogation of another associate of Amir Raza Khan and his brother. In May of 2003 the Indian Express in Kolkata revealed details of Aftab Ansari's interrogation. Ansari a Dubai-based underworld fugitive responsible for the attack on American Consulate in Kolkata, who was serving time in India, mentions that Amir Raza Khan was working with Azam Cheema in addition to Hashim Akhtar and Tahir, both based in Islamabad. Tahir is also blamed as the reason for Azam Cheema's estrangement from Lashkar.

The most extensive insights into the HuJI network come from interrogations of Babu Bhai a key accused in the 2006 Varanasi blasts languishing in a jail in Uttar Pradesh. Babu Bhai's revelations made public in May 2008 name an Abdur Rehman as the key HuJI recruiter and handler. While Indian investigators connect the dots in the Headley case they must dig deeper into Abdur Rehman as well to determine his role if any in previous attacks of mass terror attributed to HuJI.

The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.








The Federal Bureau of Investigation has filed before a Federal court in Chicago a Criminal Information Report charging David Coleman Headley, previously known as Daood Gilani, a US national of Pakistani origin, on 12 counts. Six of these counts related to participating in a conspiracy to bomb public places in India, murder and maim persons in India and Denmark, providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The remaining six counts related to participating in a conspiracy to aid and abet the murder of US citizens in India. This refers to the massacre of six US nationals by the LeT in Mumbai during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

It is learnt that it has been called a Criminal Information Report and not yet an indictment because the charges relating to India are largely based on voluntary admissions made by him during his interrogation after he was arrested by the FBI on October 3 on a charge of conspiring with Pakistan-based elements to carry out a terrorist attack in Copenhagen against a Danish journal which had published caricatures of Prophet Mohammad in 2005. The FBI had originally filed a criminal affidavit giving details of evidence collected on the basis of technical intelligence which justified his arrest and interrogation. Subsequently, they submitted to the court in a sealed cover information obtained during his initial interrogation to justify his continued custody. This sealed cover has now been opened and its contents incorporated in the CIR.

The FBI has described the investigation against Headley as still active. A formal indictment would follow after the investigations into his disclosures in India and Pakistan. The National Investigation Agency has already started an investigation into his activities in India during his periodic visits, but no arrests would appear to have been made as yet during this investigation. Rahul Bhatt, an aspiring actor and son of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who was the only Indian whose name had figured in the e-mails exchanged by Headley with his Pakistani handlers, could be a material witness during the investigation and prosecution in the US as well as India. The CIR against Headley, however, does not refer to Rahul.

The FBI has also filed a separate CIR on two counts in the same court on December 7, against Major (retd) Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a Pakistani citizen based in Pakistan. The two counts relate to conspiring to attack the Danish newspaper and its employees. The CIR against the retired Pakistani Major does not refer to the 26/11 attacks. In the affidavit filed earlier by the FBI against Headley, there were references to two handlers of Headley in Pakistan — a person referred to as 'Individual A' and an LeT office-bearer referred to as 'LeT member A'. Headley was allegedly in touch with 'Individual A' in connection with the Copenhagen conspiracy and with 'LeT member A' in connection with the Indian and Copenhagen conspiracies. 'Individual A' appeared in the earlier affidavit as an associate of Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade. He had introduced Headley to Ilyas Kashmiri and was acting as a cut-out between the two.

The earlier affidavits had not identified 'Individual A' and the 'LeT member A'. The CIR filed on December 7 has identified 'Individual A' as Major (retd) Abdur Rehman. While the report does not say anything about the arrest of the Major, media reports have said that he has been arrested by the Pakistani authorities at the request of the FBI. For reasons which are not clear, no CIR has been filed against Ilyas, who seemed to have initiated the conspiracy relating to Copenhagen. The FBI has not yet named the LeT handler of Headley called 'LeT member A'.

The details of Headley's participation in the 26/11 related conspiracy are as follows:

2005: The LeT, of which he had become a member, asked him to "travel to India to perform surveillance."

February 2006: He changed his name from his original "Daood Gilani" in order to "present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani."

June 2006: Obtained permission from friend and businessman, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, to open an ostensible consultancy franchise in India. Rana is a Canadian national of Pakistani origin living in Chicago, who was running an immigration consultancy service.

September 2006: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

February 2007: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

September 2007: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

April 2008: Visited India for several week, making a surveillance video as he took a boat ride through the Mumbai harbour.

July 2008: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

The FBI's CIR does not refer to any Indian visit by Headley in November, 2008. There is also no reference to any role of his in connection with the July 2006 explosions in some suburban trains of Mumbai.

The second conspiracy for which Headley has been charged relates to the planned terrorist attack in Copenhagen for which he had visited the city earlier this year on behalf of Ilyas Kashmiri and Maj Abdur Rehman. It is known that Ilyas heads the so-called 313 Brigade based in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas. Maj Abdur Rehman also probably belonged to the 313 Brigade. The LeT and the 313 Brigade were aware of each other's conspiracies relating to India and Denmark.





Silly to deny climate change

A Government report saying the Himalayan ice cover isn't shrinking is simply denying the reality of global warming. This is not only myopic but will prove disastrous for India

Anuradha Dutt

Some days back, heavy unseasonal rains wrecked havoc in north Karnataka. There were over 200 casualties, and numerous houses were washed away. Professor TV Ramachandra of Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, ascribed the disaster to the fact of climate change, warning that "such freak conditions are going to become frequent". Karnataka is suffering the consequences of climate change in other ways as well. For instance, streams in the Western Ghats, which were earlier perennial, have become seasonal. Deforestation and change in land use adversely affect ecology, resulting in alarming depletion in rainfall.

Underlining the reality of climate change, and global warming, in particular, the Indian Space Research Organisation has cited satellite imagery that shows a 1.5-km retreat of the Gangotri glacier over the past three decades. It is a timely disclosure, against the backdrop of the 193-countries summit on climate change, currently being held at Copenhagen. While ISRO is being cautious about blaming the retreat of Himalayan glaciers on global warming, the fact remains that its own studies confirm that some of them have indeed melted in the past two decades. This is of utmost importance, given that a month ago, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh released a Government report, titled Himalayan Glaciers: A state-of-art review of glacial studies, glacial retreat and climate change. The study avers absence of evidence to support the claim that climate change has caused 'abnormal' shrinking of Himalayan glaciers. By associating with the report, even if he did not endorse it, the Minister gave credence to it. It was subsequently debunked by some renowned experts.

Mr RK Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations environmental agency, dismissed the report on the grounds that it had few "scientific citations". Contrary to satellite images, which show the Gangotri glacier receding, the report claimed that the glacier, the main source of the Ganga, was now 'practically at a standstill'. Worse, Mr Ramesh's assertion that he was ready to take on "the doomsday scenarios of Al Gore and the IPCC" fuelled the ire of experts, who felt that denying the reality of global warming was not only myopic but would prove disastrous for India. Mr Pachauri had summed it up as "climate hange deniers and schoolboy science".

A more sinister trend in the developed First World has manifested as a cynical questioning of the very premise of climate change and global warming, with sections of the media also joining the debate. The controversy has gathered momentum in the wake of an alleged break-in at a premier climate research institute, with e-mail accounts being hacked and files stolen. Data reportedly available via the break-in is sought to be deployed by those who oppose cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as evidence that climate change warnings are not rooted in facts. A New York Times report — 'Leaked e-mails give naysayers ammo' — mirrors the scepticism: "In recent days, an array of scientists and policymakers have said that nothing so far disclosed — the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data — undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science.

Yet the intensity of the response highlights that scepticism about global warming persists, even as many experts thought the battle over the reality of human-driven climate change was finally behind them. On dozens of websites and blogs, sceptics and foes of greenhouse gas restrictions take daily aim at the scientific arguments for human-driven climate change. The stolen material was quickly seized upon for the questions it raised about the accessibility of data to outsiders and whether some data had been manipulated".

However, the timing of the break-in, just before the Copenhagen summit, suggests that there is more to it than meets the eye. Some detect a plan by vested interests to derail negotiations on climate change and a new global accord to curb emissions. For, if binding cuts in emission can be enforced on the developed and developing countries, indiscriminate industrial growth will be curtailed since this is considered by climate change experts to be one of the primary causes of global warming. And such curbs will certainly be an extremely unwelcome prospect for uninhibited advocates of incessant consumption and free markets. Opposed to them are those who traverse the sensible course of sustainable development: That mankind should use as much of the earth's resources as are within its capacity for self- renewal.







While the crucial issue of environment and the effects of global warming will continue to dominate national and international debates for long, the Siddhpur municipality in Ahmedabad paved the way to curb the use of plastic bags in the city.

Despite a Government restriction on production and use of plastic bags of less than 20 micron thickness, they are being blatantly manufactured and used. This shows how far we can stray from the core concept of preserving our environment by flouting rules which actually will benefit not only us but the entire ecosystem.

Sometimes it requires a voice from within to remind us, not only of the violation of the ban but the dangers of polluting our environment. This voice has come from the Siddhpur municipality which has in a sense gone beyond its routine duties to effect this change.

The municipal staff formed three groups for this and came to the conclusion that these poly bags found their way into town through people coming from outside.

This was followed by a crackdown. The teams fanned out in the area, confiscating polybags and sending them for recycling. Those found guilty of using them were reprimanded. The campaign had the desired effect not only on the users but those who manufactured and sold plastic bags.

However, this was only a battle won in the long war the municipality had declared on plastic bags and it kept up the heat. Sure the usage of plastic bags had virtually stopped. The challenge was now to provide a viable option so that inadvertently things do not slip back into the old practice. Officials in the team hit upon an innovative idea, one that would entail not only an immediate solution but a long-term one and would create awareness about the issue amongst the local community bringing an attitudinal change. Forty-seen sakhi mandals or women's group had been formed as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This was the perfect network the municipality needed to propose the usage of paper bags in place of plastic ones.

Rather than merely deflect their message through the existing functionaries of these sakhi mandals, the municipality went a step further to select and train a group exclusively for this. Fifty women living below the poverty line were identified to make paper bags. They were put through training and later they formed a group. To their great joy, members of this pioneering group started saving Rs 100 each month.

This was a good beginning but not enough. It was important to set a high standard of quality for these bags to really become a part of the market and people's consumption patterns in the long run. The municipality conducted an extensive survey of the business community and documented the expectations of quality, design, choice of material, thickness and size. In all the idea was to cater to what the customer would want rather than imposing a uniform model devised by the officials without 'market research'.

It is indeed a mature market-sense and purely professional way of bringing about social change that has marked the progress of this initiative. The production of paper bags was not adhoc but based on the sound findings of this survey. The newly formed groups were literally partners in progress. When it came to buying raw materials for paper bags and other activities, they showed a high level of enthusiasm and participation. The idea of paper bags had taken roots and had caught the imagination of those making them. And they were involved in all stages of production.

The women worked out the cost of raw material, making charges and profit before finalising the selling price of the bags. Based on this calculation, the cost of paper bags was fixed at Rs 54 per kg. Interestingly, the cost of plastic bags in the market is Rs 120 per kg. At once the dual benefit became clear dispelling the common notion that for environmental protection, only high-cost technologies can work. Not to mention, the generation of employment for women living below the poverty line.

At present, groups make paper bags for provision stores to hold products weighing between 250 gm and 2 kg. These groups earn Rs 15 a kg as labour charges. They make between two to eight kg of bags in a day. Thus their earnings are anything between Rs 30 and Rs 120 a day sitting at their homes. They are now contributing to their family income, their sense of economic worth and to the larger cause of the environment.

There is yet another advantage and indicates the ripple effect of this path-breaking initiative. Plastic bags now do not form part of the garbage collected from the town and as a result the task of garbage disposal has become easy. This effort by a tiny band of municipality officials has not remained confined to the local context. Their efforts and the subsequent impact are being documented by the City Managers' Association, Gujarat. Inspired by the municipality's efforts, other local organisations are also taking up this task of making paper bags. One small step has set the ball rolling!








IT IS no secret that the quality of parliamentary debate in India has been gradually declining over the years. The one on Monday over the Justice Liberhan Commission report probing the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya in 1992 was perhaps a clinching piece of evidence of this.


The Congress fielded Jagadambika Pal, a former member of the Loktantrik Congress who broke ranks and joined the Congress, to be its first speaker in the debate. This move made it clear that none in the government had read the Liberhan Commission report in detail. Mr Pal was named in the report as one of the members of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and if anyone had read the report even cursorily, the MP from Domariyaganj would not have featured in the debate.


It was only natural that the BJP — which, incidentally, had done its homework better — grabbed at the opportunity to heckle him and therefore shame the Congress. Of course, party president Rajnath Singh did do his bit with a sterling performance defending the demolition that was aimed at warming the cockles of the RSS's heart.


The Babri Masjid demolition may be a blot on the BJP and indeed the extended Sangh Parivar, but to field Mr Pal in such an important and controversial debate was an error of enormous proportions. It also proved beyond doubt that the Congress takes the issue of communalism quite casually.


Sad really, because it is the Congress which trumpets its secular credentials at possible forums. To make a fundamental mistake such as this, in full view of the nation, in the august House is simply unpardonable.






INDIA'S nuclear pact with Russia tells us a great deal about the continuing importance of the relationship which was forged in the era when the Soviet Union existed.


That relationship has been based on an identity of geopolitical interests which continue to have relevance to this day.


There are really no major issues, barring arguably the price of oil, on which India and Russia have differing interests.


Otherwise, the Soviet Union and now Russia continue to be a major pillar on which India's ability to deal with the world rests. It provides India a shield in the United Nations Security Council, and it aids India to have a military profile that it could not have had on its own. The Russians have bent rules to aid India's nuclear submarine and missile projects, besides being friends in need in providing India weapons and equipment that would be denied by most western suppliers.


In the case of the Indo- Russian nuclear deal, the guarantee of uninterrupted fuel supplies and a promise of enrichment and reprocessing technologies makes Russia an automatic lead partner in India's ambitious plans to use nuclear power as a source of clean energy. This is a relationship in which India needs to invest a little more.






THE arbitrary manner in which Suresh Kalmadi, the chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee ( OC), functions is evident from his decision to ' sack' Vijay Goel, BJP leader and former Sports Minister, from the body. Mr Goel may have many shortcomings as a politician but that he has organisational skills and experience that the OC could do with is not in doubt. In any case, he has every right to raise issues about the completion of Games projects on time and the accountability on funds being spent for the purpose.


After all, these issues have also been raised by the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Union government led by the party to which Mr Kalmadi belongs.


But the OC has gone to the extent of filing a petition in the high court to avoid making its accounts public, saying it is an autonomous body — in complete disregard of the fact that the hundreds of crores that are and will be spent on the Games are coming from the national coffers.


Since Mr Kalmadi does not realise that the OC is not his fiefdom and the Games are not being organised by the Congress Party, it's best that he is replaced immediately by someone more efficient, inclined to transparency and with a temperament that fosters cooperative endeavour.








FOUR CENTURIES ago, Rana Sanga and the Rajput confederacy faced Babur at Khanwa, 60 km from Agra. Despite legendary heroism, extolled in ballads and folk-lore, the Rajputs were decisively defeated. Fast forward to 18th November 1962. C Company, 13 Kumaon faced Chinese human-waves at Rezang-La in Ladakh. Out-gunned and greatly outnumbered, the company fought last-man-last round and perished in a saga of rare valour.


Other than defeat, what is common in these two epic battles? Both exemplify the Indian warrior's unparalleled valour and limitless capacity for sacrifice. Both also highlight our continuing infirmity in higher defence management. The Rajputs failed to modernise and the Rana's war-elephants were stampeded by Babur's artillery. Then they were enveloped and routed by the Mughal tulughma.


However, there is one notable difference between then and now: Rana Sangha and allied rulers personally led their men and many embraced veer-gati. In 1962 the Indian army was pushed into battle by 'leaders' in air-conditioned offices, totally oblivious of ground realities. The valiant Kumaonis braved the Ladakhi winter in summer uniforms and PT shoes; then faced Chinese human-wave assaults with bolt-action rifles, which often jammed and vintage ammunition misfired. Nevertheless, the 120-odd heroes accounted for over 500 Chinese before their ammunition and life-blood ran out.




Four decades later, denial of surveillance equipment for a quarter- century by apathetic babus helped the Pakistanis to surreptitiously intrude across the LoC in the Kargil sector.


The ensuing war again witnessed most conspicuous valour, which ultimately negated Pak's napak designs. But 700 gallant sons were martyred to pay for their ' leaders' neglect of defence preparedness.


This author is witness to one such peremptory and callous dispensation, which literally made the Army blind. Illuminating shells for the indigenous Field Gun had been ' under development' by DRDO since 1970s and thus faced an import ban. In 1996, with total void in night illumination, we sought to import just one percent of our requirement to enable artillery night firing and observation.


But MoD vetoed the proposal, ' since DRDO success was imminent' — as it had been for twenty dark years. It was brought out that, taken in conjunction with the gap in surveillance and night vision equipment, the lack of these shells would keep the Army totally blind. But they remained unmoved.


Only small fry in the System, the Army officers nevertheless stated that MoD would be responsible for any border violation due to the lack of night- vision equipment. But of course, three years down the line, this proved a worthless scrap of paper. The hamstrung commander on- thespot got the sack.


Today, Babur's self- proclaimed legatees are conspiring with the Dragon to pose a collusive threat.


Both launched rhetorical assaults on our borders. In September, Pakistan accorded quasi provincial status to Gilgit- Baltistan.


Post- 1948 this region had been illegally separated from POK, designated Northern Areas and federally administered by Rawalpindi. Now it has been given its own Assembly and appellate court, alienating its link with Jammu & Kashmir. China blocked Asian Development Bank aid for Arunachal Pradesh based projects and even protested our PM's visit to the State. Reflecting our military inadequacy through decades of neglect, our response has been at pains to avoid causing offence, while blaming media for its ' hype'. In 2004 UPA- I cancelled all major defence deals then at the finalisation stage and blacklisted some firms for alleged kickbacks.


With this they scored multiple goals against NDA, but these were actually a hat- trick of self- goals; shooting India's defence preparedness in the foot! A quarter- century back, the 155mm Bofors howitzer was a key acquisition, which showed off its battle- winning might during the Kargil conflict. The deal included technology transfer for indigenous manufacture and for future upgrades. The political storm over alleged kickbacks froze all defence modernisation for two decades. The NDA governmet finally took courage and cleared the import of modern howitzer systems. These were among those cancelled by UPA- I; negating thirty years' efforts to modernise the artillery. A recent newspaper report suggests that the leading firms may yet again be ruled out, virtually aborting the renewed proposal.




The stark disparity between our once- dominant Navy and the Chinese Navy was highlighted in the CAG Report to Lok Sabha, Oct 2008. Our submarine fleet is at only two- thirds of the 1985 Plan and serviceability of even these is down to half — yet another victim of political soccer with national defence; this time the HDW submarine contract was cancelled.


Like the Bofors deal, this too included technologytransfer for indigenous manufacture. The foreclosures perpetuated foreignsource dependence and crippled defence capability.


Two double self- goals! Further, against the Navy's minimum strategic requirement for three- carriers, it is down to one — the 50- year old INS Viraat, which has had its life- span repeatedly extended. With the induction of the Gorshkov delayed by at least five years, and the recently overhauled Viraat running out of Sea Harriers our blue water capacity is tenuous.


The Air Force is in deeper trouble with a threedecade wait to replace the ageing Mig fighters, while DRDO struggles with the LCA. From the sanctioned 45 squadrons, it will be down to about 29 before the first aircraft of the 126- fighter deal is delivered.


Similarly, its transport fleet is only two- thirds of the requirement and its 32- years ancient airdefence missiles have outlived even their overextended service life.


The weakness in the strategic forces is extremely distressing. It is surprising that we can circle the moon but still lack China- capable missiles. On its 60th anniversary, China proudly displayed ultramodern, 8000 km, UScapable missiles Dongfeng- 41 ( East- Wind), ICBM and Ju- lang- 2 ( tsunami) SLBM. In April, China had show- cased its superpower Navy at Qingdao.


The centre- piece was the second- generation nuclear submarine equipped with Ju- lang- 2 SLBMs. We have made some progress in launching the hull of our nuclear submarine which will take two more years to fit with N- power pack etc. Then sea trials and, five years hence, we will hopefully have our 1st generation Nsubmarine — if SLBMdevelopment keeps pace.



However, the most worrisome is the premeditated, deliberate downgrading of the status and morale of the Defence Forces — particularly after the 6th Pay Commission. It is also galling to see completely different standards applied to martyrs by the Ministries of Home and External Affairs one hand, and the Armed Forces. When questioned, one bureaucrat retorted, " But they're paid to die, aren't they?" In that case, the legitimate question is, " Is babustan paid to kill our jawans by equipping them with inferior weapons?" Even as the Chinese up their belligerent rhetoric, boldly violate our borders and stoke internal insurrections, Pakistan appears to be slowly imploding — nukes and all. Thus a grave security situation is brewing, which may boil over sooner than we think. Will the babu- neta establishment continue playing soccer with India's defence preparedness while the flower of our youth is once again martyred by their games and impudent sloth?


The writer is a retired major- general








THE upsurge in the Telangana movement in the last 10 days has charged up the political atmosphere in Andhra Pradesh enough for the heat to be felt by the Congress high command in New Delhi.


Till recently, political analysts had virtually written off the Telangana Rashtra Samithi — which has been spearheading the agitation for the last eight years — following its debacle in the April general elections. TRS president K Chandrasekhara Rao was so afraid of facing an electoral battle that he did not field a single candidate in the just concluded Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections.


So, when the TRS president announced that he would launch a fast- unto- death at Siddipet in Medak district from November 29, nobody took him seriously.


However, as the deadline for the fast approached, KCR became aggressive in his talk and approach, instigating the people to take up a violent agitation on the lines of the Gujjars of Rajasthan. Following intelligence inputs that the TRS would give a violent spin to the movement, the government alerted the police machinery and decided to nip the agitation in the bud.


So when KCR launched his fast, the government immediately arrested him, filed a case of sedition against him and sent him to Khammam jail. The TRS president was obviously expecting such a development as his sole intention was to create a favourable political atmosphere for the TRS. As he had anticipated, his arrest triggered violence all over Telangana.


Osmania University, the nerve centre of the 1969 Telangana movement, flared up once again with students taking to streets and resorting to demonstrations and dharnas. The police used brutal force to crush the agitation resulting in serious injuries to several students. One student immolated himself, demanding a separate Telangana state and protesting KCR's arrest.


At this point, the TRS president decided to call off his strike — within 36 hours of its launch — on the pretext that the agitation was turning violent. At Khammam hospital, KCR allowed the doctors to administer him saline and offer him fruit juice to end the fast. The police authorities cleverly recorded the entire sequence of events leading to the end of KCR's fast and released it to the media.


This infuriated the students at various universities and colleges across the Telangana region.


Various caste organisations including those of washermen, barbers and cobblers declared non- cooperation for Andhra people. The government announced a shutdown of colleges and hostels for 15 days, hoping that the movement would fizzle out if the students returned to their homes. But that did not happen.


The agitation turned further violent on November 6 and 7, when a Telangana shutdown had been called. Thousands of students and TRS activists went on the rampage damaging buses and properties belonging to Andhra businessmen, including malls, shopping centres and theatres.


Meanwhile, the condition of KCR, who was shifted to Hyderabad, deteriorated and he was put on saline and support therapy.


That led to a steady stream of politicians calling on KCR and expressing their solidarity with the Telangana cause. The attempts of the Rosaiah government to prevail upon KCR to call off his fast did not yield any result.


The hijacking of the movement by the students has left him with no option but to continue the fast in order to survive politically.


Finally on Monday, the Telangana thunder had its echo in New Delhi. AICC president Sonia Gandhi called for a meeting of the core committee to discuss the Telangana issue. She asked Rosaiah to seek the opinion of all political parties and send it to the UPA government.


Going by the indications, there is likely to be a positive development on the formation of a separate Telangana state.




INSTANCES OF " back- stabbing" have been very much a part of Andhra Pradesh politics.


Former chief minister and Telugu Desam Party founder N T Rama Rao experienced it twice: first from Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, his " co- pilot" in the party, who had dethroned him in August 1984; and then from his own son- in- law N Chandrababu Naidu, exactly 11 years later.


Now, it is the turn of megastar Chiranjeevi, who founded the Praja Rajyam Party with hopes of doing an NTR in the 2009 elections. Unfortunately, he had to end up with just 18 assembly seats in the 294- member assembly. In the subsequent byelection to the Tekkali assembly seat, his candidate lost his deposit and in the most recent Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections, his party managed to win only a single corporator seat with a very narrow margin, while all the other 63 candidates lost miserably.


As a result, one leader after the other has been deserting Chiranjeevi, the latest ones being former union minister Krishnam Raju, former MP Ch Harirama Jogaiah and Dalit intellectual Katti Padma Rao.


Another former union minister P Upendra was also contemplating quitting the PRP, but he suddenly passed away.


No wonder, Chiranjeevi is now crying foul, stating that all those who had supported him in the launch of the PRP, had stabbed him in the back by deserting him at critical moments. Though he is putting up a brave front, it is evident that the PRP president is fast losing his confidence.


One is inclined to pity rather than blame him for the sorry state of affairs in the PRP!


THE OTHER day, Anand Mahindra, vicechairman and CEO of Mahindra and Mahindra, gave an inspiring speech at the 16th World Editors' Forum meeting held in Hyderabad, which was attended by nearly 1,000 delegates from across the globe.


Anand narrated interesting anecdotes to prove how India had become a potential leader in education and industrial sectors over the years. When he was a student of Lawrence School, Ooty in 1971, the school principal used to entrust the task of setting question papers to a few renowned teachers in London.


" Every year, he used to get question papers shipped from London to India in an iron safe; and after we wrote the examinations, he used to religiously send the answer sheets back to London for evaluation. He was of the view that Indian school teachers were just incapable of setting question papers and evaluating the answers," he recalled.


After explaining how India had made rapid strides in various fields in the last two decades, Anand ended his speech with another anecdote.


" Recently, I came to know that some academic institutions of London like AQA send the answer sheets of their students to India for evaluation," he concluded, amidst thunderous applause.


IF THE Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams has its way, a Muslim will compose tunes and sing " keerthans" for Lord Venkateshwara soon! The TTD is contemplating approaching Oscar- winner A R Rahman to sing the traditional keerthans of 14th century Telugu poet- composer Tallapaka Annamacharya, better known as Annamayya, in praise of Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala. If Rahman agrees, it will be for the first time that the country's richest temple engages the services of a non- classical Muslim musician for singing paeans to a Hindu god.


The proposal was mooted recently by TTD trust board chairman D K Audikesavulu Naidu. The TTD authorities would obviously want to consult Hindu saints and religious functionaries before approaching Rahman, as it is a sensitive issue.


It was only recently that Lata Mangeshkar sang Annamayya's keerthans . Similarly, renowned classical and playback singer Jesudas, though being a Christian, has sung several songs in praise of Lord Venkateshwara.








Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been a busy man. Coming on the heels of his US visit, his trip to Russia has paid dividends with a raft of initiatives aimed at revitalising ties between New Delhi and Moscow. Foremost is the nuclear agreement signed between the two countries. In going beyond the terms of India's deal with the US and guaranteeing unrestricted nuclear cooperation and nuclear fuel supply regardless of G8 resolutions and other considerations, Russia has essentially enabled India to start positioning its civilian nuclear sector as a buyer's market.

With France and Canada having inked nuclear agreements with India as well, there is both incentive and now urgency for companies in those countries and the US to lobby their governments for ensuring smooth nuclear trade with India. This can only be to New Delhi's benefit. Likewise, the agreement on joint nuclear research and development is a significant step forward. Interestingly, US companies too are looking at India as a cost-effective manufacturing base for several components of nuclear power plants. Since such plants are zero-emission demand for them is slated to go up by leaps and bounds globally. Multiple benefits would flow to India if it could position itself as an essential part of the global supply chain for nuclear power plant manufacture, including the growing difficulty of isolating it internationally on the nuclear issue.

An area in which the India-Russia relationship has so far been severely lacking is trade. Russia features nowhere on the list of India's top trade partners. The push to hit the $20 billion mark for trade exchanges by 2015 is welcome in this regard. The potential for expansion - via both direct trade as well as investment - is substantial in a variety of spheres, from the traditional focus on defence to others like energy, the IT sector and the pharmaceutical industry.

There will be stumbling blocks, of course, as there are in relations between any two sovereign states. The Gorshkov deal has been one such for a long time. That issue has, hopefully, been resolved now, although such assurances have been given in the past as well. New Delhi must also take care to diversify and wean its armed forces from over-reliance on Russian equipment. But there is sufficient manoeuvrability in the New Delhi-Moscow relationship to allow for dealing with any irritants, as synergies between them are great. There's scope for intelligence-sharing on terror, and both have similar concerns on Afghanistan. Above all, now that Washington and Moscow are moving to repair their relationship, New Delhi is in the happy position of not having to choose between them, but leveraging ties with both to its advantage.







The Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh is on the boil. Protests and strikes seeking a separate Telangana state have brought the region to a halt. At least 17 people are claimed to have committed suicide in support of the demand. The state assembly has been stalled by MLAs from the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). Their chief K Chandrasekhara Rao is on a hunger strike. It is time for the Centre and the state government to take a close look at the statehood demand and not wait for the situation to go out of control.

Almost all political parties support the case for Telangana. Even parties like the Telugu Desam that had opposed a division of Andhra Pradesh are on board now. The Congress claims that it is not opposed to a Telangana state. Yet the government has refused to take the necessary administrative measure to bring the issue to a closure. The previous UPA government, under pressure from TRS, appointed a committee under Pranab Mukherjee to study the demand. Nothing came out of the committee. After the TDP adopted a resolution in support of the state demand ahead of the assembly election, the Congress also spoke in favour of the Telangana state. But after winning the election, the Congress government has refused to take decisive action on the issue. Is the Congress trying to buy time and wait for the agitation to fizzle out? Such a strategy is risky and could backfire on the government and the party.

This newspaper has been supportive of smaller states whenever the demand has had a logical basis. Large states like Uttar Pradesh are too unwieldy as administrative units and deserve to be split into smaller units. Economic viability and geographical and cultural unity ought to be the determining factors in the constitution of new states. The first states' reorganisation commission chose linguistic communities as the basis for reconstituting the Indian state. The linguistic communities are now unravelling with economic factors coming to the forefront. Some of the large states, Andhra Pradesh included, have witnessed uneven development. The underdeveloped regions, expectedly, are unhappy. The latter's concerns are mostly genuine and need to be addressed.

The Centre must set up a new states' reorganisation commission to address separatist demands wherever they exist as well as to reconstitute large states like UP into manageable administrative units. If a political consensus already exists on the demand, as seems to be the case on Telangana, steps should be taken immediately to form the new state.






After a thorough review, President Barack Obama has determined that the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops is necessary to break the stalemate in Afghanistan. Despite the costs, he is clear that this is a war of necessity because the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is "the epicentre of the violent extremism practised by al-Qaida".

No one, least of all President Obama, would deny that the challenges we face in Afghanistan are enormous.

Decades of conflict have torn it apart and left it stricken by poverty. And the Taliban's resort to asymmetric warfare is extracting a heavy price in terms of innocent Afghan lives and on the international forces.

However, the resources that will come on stream in 2010 offer a genuine opportunity to break the back of the insurgency. The extra US troops will start to arrive early in the new year. The additional UK military commitment to Afghanistan represents an extra 1,500 soldiers in just over a year. We hope it will encourage others to step up their efforts. And then there is the Afghan National Army, which is set to go from 94,000 today to 1,34,000 by the end of next year.

To turn short-term military momentum into long-term success, we need to unite behind a clear political strategy. Central to that strategy must be the recognition that success in Afghanistan involves isolating the hardcore, ideologically driven, full-time Taliban fighters from the many Afghans who lend support to the Taliban simply to stay safe or earn money. To that end, the additional troops need to be used to protect the population and isolate the hardcore Taliban fighters in three ways.

First, we must help the Afghan government to win the trust of its people. The vast majority of Afghans say they do not want the Taliban back. But in the villages and valleys of rural Afghanistan, the government offers so little in terms of protection or basic services, and the risk of Taliban retribution is so great, that few are prepared actively to resist the insurgents.

To turn this round we need to convince ordinary Afghans that we - the international community - will stay until the legitimate Afghan authorities can provide security, justice and development. That was why the US president's focus on building the capacity of the security forces and government was significant. Getting effective provincial and district governors in place will be as pivotal to success in this war as extra troops. Because with the Taliban appointing shadow governors, and establishing courts that deliver quick - if very brutal - justice, the danger is not just that Hamid Karzai's administration is out-fought, but that it is out-governed.

Second, we need to help the Afghan government reintegrate those militants prepared to pursue their goals peacefully and live within the constitutional framework. By stepping up our presence and military operations, we increase the cost of sticking with the Taliban, and encourage ordinary Afghans to turn against them. We also need to support the Afghan government in offering those who renounce violence a route back into normal Afghan society. Any reintegration programme must be Afghan-led, but the international community can and must provide the funding.

Third, Afghanistan needs a new relationship with others in the region. For too long the country has been a geopolitical chessboard upon which the struggles of others have been played out. The increased military presence is a clear sign that the international community's commitment to establish effective governance, and secure Afghanistan's future not as a client of any, but as a secure and independent country in its own right.

President Obama's decisions on the US troop contribution provide the platform and impetus for a much greater effort in each of these three areas. The London Conference which British PM Gordon Brown has announced for January 28 will map out the route for international support for Afghanistan over the next 12-18 months and mobilise international support. It will focus on strengthening the Afghan security forces; building governance and reducing corruption. Improving regional relations will also be a key theme.

We will work to establish an Afghan-led reintegration programme, supported by an international resettlement fund, and to focus attention on economic and social development. And the conference will also be an opportunity to enhance the international civilian architecture.

The challenges in Afghanistan are complex and will take time to resolve. But at stake is not just the credibility of NATO or the stability of South Asia, but the security of people across the region, and in Europe or America. The US commitment and determination is clear. It is not just more troops that are needed but police, judges, administrators, development assistance, reintegration funding or agricultural expertise too. It is now incumbent on the rest of us to consider our own strengths and resources, and ask what more we can do. In this respect, we warmly welcome the contribution India is making to strengthening the capacity of the Afghan government and society. We look forward to working ever more closely with India in the crucial period ahead.


The writer is the British foreign secretary.






As all epicureans know, hotels are synonymous with relaxation and leisure. But experts will testify that the hotel, so long a favourite of intrepid travellers, has a larger than life role in books and films as well. Espionage plots woven into thriller prose, especially of the honey-trap genre, are based on trysts in luxurious settings. The camera is partial to gala banquets where drunken characters reveal their souls. I was thrilled at the prospect of putting up in a five-star hotel for the conference on my first official trip. I walked into the hotel room and all poise forgotten, leapt back with a shriek. There was someone right there, in the passage. The bellboy ran up, consternation writ large on his face, and white as a sheet, one pointed inside with a trembling finger. The hospitality training had not schooled him in how to keep an impassive countenance; trying hard to cover his smile, he indicated the full-length mirror in the passage. I was chagrined at the realisation that one had literally been a horrifying image to behold! The theory about hotels being exciting places was confirmed; my palpitations bore testimony to that.

The other dimension of hotels is unforgettable cuisine. I remember only too well my maiden visit abroad. I studied the restaurant's menu card closely, found a host of exotic dishes, and proceeded to order them in generous quantities. The entrée was a salad that on close inspection turned out to be inhabited by the entire marine life of the region. The waiter added helpfully that they were all in roasted or boiled form. Sadly, all the poetry was in theory only. My colleague turned a light shade of green and promptly declared himself a vegetarian. It was up to me to do justice to the assortment of delicacies, which tasted alternately like burnt or boiled rubber. By my second trip I had gained poise and fancied myself as being cool, calm and confident. The hotel room was an impressive one, and more so, the bathtub with all its fancy chrome fittings. I was excited at the thought of a foam bath till, horror of horrors, a murder scene from an eminently forgettable movie came to mind, where the vamp had been strangled even as she luxuriated in the scented bubbles. I opted for the shower stall, but the comfort was short-lived. Gory reminders of Psycho flashed upon my inner eye; solitude, naturally, was far from bliss.







'River to River Florence-India Film Festival' is the first festival in the world outside India that is devoted entirely to films from, and about, India. As its eighth edition began in Florence last week, festival director Selvaggia Velo spoke with Romain Maitra :

What was the idea behind starting an exclusive film festival devoted to Indian cinema in Florence?
I began organising an exhibition of Bollywood movie banners in 1998, and then i invited those artists for a live show in Florence in 1999. This was a success and people still remember it. Then i realised that there was no festival out of India that is devoted solely to Indian films. So in 2000 i tried to organise the first edition but did not succeed because of budget problems. I tried again and in 2001 managed to give birth to the first edition of the festival. At that time, there was no festival outside India of this kind totally devoted to Indian cinema.

How has the festival changed after eight years?

Over the years, the festival has changed and grown with regard to the number of submissions and collaborations, as well as the interest of the audience and the media. We have had more sections and more guests coming over. Also, during these years, we have also seen Indian cinema change along with interesting tie-ups, such as commercial/Bollywood actors being cast for independent films, and vice versa.

What is the composition of the viewing public? Do Indian films release commercially in Italy?

Our audience is made of cinéphiles, other film-makers, other festival directors, journalists, students, people who have travelled to India or are planning to, and many English-speaking people. Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance, and many Anglosaxons come to study art here. Since all films have English subtitles - as well as Italian ones - there is a big audience from the British and the American communities here. Unfortunately, hardly any Indian film gets released in Italy. The only Indian films that see theatrical release in Italy are those of Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha and Deepa Mehta. For the moment, there has been no space for others, but let us see what will happen…

What sort of response do you get at the festival?

We get a very good response. Often the same people come back, and there are some who have been coming since the first edition! The audience also likes very much the Q&A sessions after screening of the films, since film-makers and actors answer to questions concerning the films. However, since we do not screen Bollywood, most Indians who live here in Florence are not too interested. But, we are slowly managing to attract them also.

Does the festival help arousing interest in India?

This is slowly growing. I hear more and more that someone who has been at the festival would be visiting India. Such things have been happening more and more.







Man-made climate change is a scientific fact, right? If you believe it is, you're not being scientific. Because in science - real science, and not the media mumbo-jumbo that so often is passed off as science - there is no such things as a proven fact. Real science, and the real scientists who practise it, are the essence of scepticism. The scientific definition of science is that it is a never-ending contest between competing hypotheses whose falsity has yet to be proven. In short, there is no such thing as a scientific 'fact': there are only provisional theories which, inevitably, will have to be amended or even totally rejected one day, in the light of new theories which will take their place, till they in turn are displaced by newer discoveries which produce newer theories. In real science, the investigation is endless; the case is never closed. Closure belongs to the realm not of science but of dogma, which is the antithesis of science and is the cornerstone of superstition.


In the increasingly contentious discourse on global warming and man-made climate change (that carbon emissions resulting from industrialisation have produced a 'greenhouse effect' leading to higher temperatures which in turn will melt the polar ice, causing devastating floods and drastically altering rainfall patterns, which will lead to drought and famine) only one thing is not open to argument. And that is that climate change is a reality, an undisputable fact. There can be, and are, literally heated arguments about who is most responsible for climate change, and what should be done about it. The developed countries want the developing countries - like China, India and Brazil - to slow down on industrial growth, while the developing countries counter that the fault lies with the developed countries who both in absolute and in per capita terms remain by far the biggest polluters and must undertake to reduce their carbon emissions first before having the cheek to lecture the developing world about its emissions.


But no one - or at least, almost no one - questions if climate change is, in fact, a fact, beyond all doubt. If you try to question climate change - or even to suggest that perhaps it might not be as bad as it's cracked up to be - you are immediately branded a destroyer of the planet, a dangerous heretic who should be burnt at the stake. The 'warmists' - the high priests of the religion known as climate change - will not tolerate sceptics any more than did the Spanish Inquisition.


So why is it that climate change has become an irrefutable 'fact'? Because there's money, huge money, in climate change. Governments can make money by imposing extra taxes for environmental infringements. Industry can make money through selling 'green' technology. Billions can - and are being - made through the trade in carbon credits. Can we afford not to have climate change?


Yes, say the dissenters, the two most notable being Australian geologist Ian Plimer and journalist Christopher Booker. In his book Heaven and Earth, Plimer debunks many climate change 'facts' as does Booker in The Real Global Warming Disaster. Plimer, Booker and others have pointed out that though the polar ice shelf has become thinner in places, it has also become thicker in others; that the snow on Kilimanjaro has melted because of deforestation and not through global warming; that higher temperatures in cities are caused by localised 'heat island' effects and not by climate change.


But perhaps the most telling 'anti-warmist' cautionary tale is about a climate change media conference held, deliberately, on the hottest day of the summer of 1998 in a mid-western US city. The night before the conference, the windows of the auditorium were left open. TV cameras focused on the faces of profusely sweating delegates. Overnight global warming became hot news. One of the chief sponsors of the meet? Al Gore. A convenient lie? Check it out.





Once there was a king. He was a strong spiritualist, a dharmik. Whatever he said he did and whatever he did he said. One day the king declared that he would buy anything that remained unsold in the village market. People flocked to the market.

A sculptor brought an idol of the goddess Alaksmi, which negates wealth. Who would want to keep an idol Alaksmi in their house? Nobody bought it. In the evening the sculptor came to the king and said: “Please take this idol and be true to your words." The king bought it.

Alaksmi entered the palace. At midnight the king heard a woman weeping. He approached her, asking, "Mother, why are you weeping? What is the matter"? "I am the goddess of wealth, Rajyalaksmi", she replied. "Now that Alaksmi has entered the palace, how can I live here?" The king said, "Very well, for the protection of dharma I have to keep Alaksmi here. If you do not want to live here, you may go". So the goddess of wealth left.

After some time the Raja heard the sound of footsteps. He saw a man and asked, "Who are you?" The reply was: "I am Narayana." The king asked: "Where are you going?" Narayana replied: "Laksmi has left the palace, so I shall not live here." The king said, "To protect dharma, I have to keep Alaksmi, and so if you want to leave the palace, you may go; what can I do?" Narayana left. After that all the gods and goddesses left the palace. The king said, "If you all so desire you may go". In the end a glorious personality appeared. "Who are you?" asked the king. The reply wasâ€
 "I am dharma raja, the king of dharma. As all the other gods and goddesses have left the palace, I am also leaving." The king replied, "It cannot be. To protect dharma I kept Alaksmi. Oh Dharmaraj, how can you leave me?" Dharma Raja said, "You are right. I will not leave."

Since Dharma remained there, Narayana slowly entered through the back door. The king said to him, "If you wish you may come." Laksmi followed him, covering her face, because she did not dare to show her face to the king. Then all the gods and goddesses started entering. They said "Where there is dharma, where there is arayana and Laksmi, we shall also go and remain."

Dharmabal is the biggest force. For those who have such a force, the worldly force is meaningless. You were with Dharma, you are with Dharma and you will be with Dharma. Don’t fear anybody. We should move on the path of Dharma even if Lakshmi leaves. Those who oppose Dharma will be destroyed.

There are three stages of people: Uttam or superior, madhyam or middle standard, adham or inferior. The adham people always think, “Can I do that great work, can I do? Shall I do? No, perhaps, I won’t be able to do great work.” They always avoid such work. The madhyam people come forward, associate them to do great work but when obstacles come, they dissociate themselves from the great work. The uttam people always participate in great work. Such people cannot come from the path of Dharma because there are impediments on that path. They will be victorious. So you must be adhering to Dharma. Victory is in your pocket. You shouldn’t cry for victory. You shouldn’t run after victory; rather victory will seek you out.


Excerpted from Anandavachanamritan.








The diplomatic language that is exchanged between India and Russia today is as glowing and warm as it was during the Soviet Union's time. Moscow continues to be generally more willing to go an extra mile on behalf of India when it comes to bucking international restrictions or sanctions. It remains India's most dependable veto provider at the United Nations Security Council. And it remains the country's main source of weapons platforms and — following the completion of a formal civilian nuclear agreement — will be one of India's main suppliers of nuclear material and technology.


However, it is exactly this remarkable continuity in relations that ensures bilateral ties stagnate. In the days when socialism reigned supreme in India, the nature of foreign relations could be determined through government fiat. In post-reform India, civil society has a big say in the width and depth of relations with a specific country. It is on these rocks that the Indo-Russian relationship is foundering. Compared to almost any other large country in the world, Russia is all but devoid of Indians coming to visit, study or work. More telling is that the Indian private corporate sector largely shuns Russia as a place to do business. Almost all Indian investments in Russia are done by state-owned enterprises and mostly in the energy sector.


So long as Indo-Russian relations lack this second leg they will be crippled — and perpetually in danger of falling over. While this can be attributed to circumstance rather than policy, the fact remains that Moscow has moved far more slowly from its socialist past than India has. Russia remains a hostile environment to private Indian investment and trade. Indian students prefer the varsities of the West. There is little or no attempt by Moscow to woo Indian society — if anything, it has ensured that Russian visas are always in short supply. The Russian leaders seems to believe that this is fine so long as they have the ear of their New Delhi counterparts. But as India continues to emerge as a global player, other countries will come bearing gifts. The Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement is just the most remarkable example of such geopolitical generosity. Others already match Russia in the defence field, will surpass it in the energy sector and may soon do so in the diplomatic world. Moscow needs to give thought about an Indian policy that does not depend only on contracts and nostalgia.







We seek him here, we seek him there/ the Yankees seek him everywhere… that damned elusive bin Laden.' This mangled ditty on the Scarlet Pimpernel best explains America's thoughts on Osama, who according to US National Security Adviser James Jones pops across to Afghanistan from his mountain lair in Pakistan once in while. But we thought Pentagon chief Robert Gates said the US had no clue where dear old bin Laden has been for the last several years. So we wonder why, when he drops in to address the faithful in Afghanistan, Obama's boys are not out with the nets. Or could it be that Osama has found a new calling altogether.


Don't forget that the bin Laden school of theory is to convert the whole world to the holy ways of the faith. What better time to start than this festive season? So we submit that the US has got it all wrong. Osama is planning a much bigger strike on the world than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld could ever dream of. He is going to assume a new avatar and unleash a jihad of giving and love on the world. Yes, you're on the right track, meet Santa bin Claus and his sled drawn by Rudolph the Bactrian camel and company.


So on the night before Christmas, the sounds in the chimney mean bin Laden laden with gifts has dropped in. Gifts from him could range from Harpoon missiles to claymore mines and, as a bonus, free add-ons of wine and houris in heaven. So get real, America, you're barking up the wrong chimney. Osama is not hanging out in Pakistan, he is in Lapland working on the gift list. And you can get to him by sneaking up pretending that you are part of a delegation that has lost its way to Copenhagen. Ho, ho, ho.








Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh is India's new king of climate, leading our country's charge against the West who are forcing India to accept carbon emission cuts. The IIT-educated Ramesh is an unlikely nationalist folk hero, and in spite of being targeted by the Opposition on his alleged sell out to the West, it is he who now embodies India's national interest at Copenhagen.


Even before Ramesh became Mr Green India, the Harvard Business School-educated Home Minister P. Chidambaram has already been consolidating his image as Mr Strong India. Chidambaram's speeches have charted a bold new position of defending the 'Idea Of India' from 'Islamic terrorism', 'Hindu extremism' and 'ideologically-driven violence'.


Then there is the St Stephen's College-educated Mr Educate India, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal who has also taken a daring first step in attempting to transform India's mind-numbing examination system. Last but not the least, there is the Oxford-educated Mr United India, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid who bravely declared recently that Muslim vote or no Muslim vote, Muslims should have no qualms about singing Vande Mataram.


The UPA not only has some very well intentioned bright ministers, but all these ministers also represent important political positions. Now haven't we always assumed that Stephanians, Oxonians, IITians and Harvard-educated individuals are totally irrelevant in today's politics? Perhaps not.


After all what do Chidambaram, Sibal, Ramesh and Khurshid have in common? All hail from the educated English-speaking elite, all have attended Western educational institutions, all are extremely good talkers for the mass media and all are regarded, from the point of view of conventional 'Mandalised' politics as political 'lightweights', compared to doughty people's messiahs like Lalu, Mulayam and Mayawati. Yet, a liberalising society with an international interface demands talent and education, and the Hindi lobby's snobbery about the English-speaking class' political irrelevance may be a little outdated.


An 'English-medium education' is a tremendous aspiration across the country. Politicians of all linguistic colours from Hindi chauvinists to Marathi warriors all send their children to the best English medium schools. And now there is a creeping realisation that being able to communicate in good English provides a cutting edge in politics too.


Even last year it would have been impossible to believe that Ramesh would have become a mascot of the UPA government. Until five years ago, he was considered a political non-entity who had no political constituency, and had to be brought into Parliament by the backdoor as a Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra Pradesh. But last week, as Parliament debated climate change, Ramesh was transformed into India's voice ahead of the Copenhagen summit.


In fact, the climate change debate was a good example of how in a younger, more knowledgeable India debates are becoming more meaningful than simply loud statements of ideology. Young MPs cutting across party lines — Stephanian Sandeep Dikshit, London School of Economics-educated Jayant Chaudhary, doctor Jyoti Mirdha — spoke with an intelligence that would make an impact on a voter of 21st century India.


Chidambaram is a far more seasoned politician than Ramesh, and has won elections repeatedly from Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu. Yet Chidambaram, fast emerging as a tough and perspicacious home minister is hardly a mass Tamil leader or a mela-ground rallyist or a caste chieftain. Brain power rather than political power, intellectual talent rather than a talent for mass politics are the hallmarks of politicians like Chidambaram.


Sibal and Khurshid are not mass leaders either. Yet their ability to communicate policy and appeal to the growing numbers of an aspiring upwardly mobile voting public, indeed their saliency within the UPA, is a sign that the English-speaking educated politician has made a comeback in Indian politics. Let's not forget that it was this educated class that was in the vanguard of the freedom movement: 35.6 per cent of our first Lok Sabha was made up of lawyers.


Yet, elitism is not a virtue in politics. A democracy's life blood is provided by grassroots leaders like the Lalu, Mulayam and Karunanidhi and the new educated politicians have a great deal to learn from them. But the elitism of merit and education is distinct from the elitism of birth and family. Today's young MPs are all beneficiaries of family connections, yet at the same time — because of their education and articulation — they are able to dominate debates on contemporary issues such as trade and climate in a way that old-style netajis perhaps cannot.


Television is perhaps an important reason why the English-speaking politician has returned to saliency. Television shapes middle class perceptions of politics and TV brings a brilliant minister into voters' drawing rooms as no Ram Lila ground speech can. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's public appeal has a lot to do with the power of TV: soft spoken policy initiatives, which would be lost in mass rally, can be heard first hand on TV. Articulate English-speaking party spokespersons like Manish Tiwari or Ravi Shankar Prasad rise much faster than their colleagues who may not be as au fait with issues. An Arun Jaitley may not have contested an election, but has become the BJP's Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha purely on his uniquely bilingual oratorial talents.


Sagarika Ghose is Senior Editor, CNN-IBN




The views expressed by the author are personal.








The declaration of assets by Supreme Court judges recently is a belated step in the right direction. By challenging the direction of the Central Information Commission in the high court, and then appealing against its decision, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) gave an impression that instead of being a paladin of impartiality and transparency, he was more interested in protecting his peers. This voluntary move appears to have been taken under pressure from civil society.


Justice Shylendra Kumar of the Karnataka High Court hit the nail on the head by challenging the CJI's authority to speak on behalf of all judges. The CJI consistently took the stand that if Parliament makes a law for declaration of judges' assets, they would comply. Inadvertently, he invited the legislature to control judges, something that any government will be only too happy to do, but which no right-minded person would like. Thus the Supreme Court missed a rare opportunity to establish its moral authority. However, this disclosure is welcome as people will be able to know the financial background of judges now. This is the first step and one hopes more transparency is on the way.


But the question may be asked about why  the judiciary alone should be assigned the task of interpreting and enforcing the Constitution and not the executive and the legislature, especially when judges lack popular mandate. The answer to this was provided by Laurence H. Tribe of the Harvard University: "[T]he independent judiciary has a unique capacity and commitment to engage in constitutional discourse — to explain and justify its conclusions about governmental authority in a dialogue with those who read the same Constitution even if they reach a different view. This is a commitment that only a dialogue-engaging institution insulated from day-to-day political accountability but correspondingly burdened with oversight by professional peers and vigilant critics can be expected to maintain…


"The price we pay for allowing judges to discharge his commitments is that, for various periods of time, an enlightened consensus may be blocked by blind judicial adherence to constitutional views we will later come to regret. But the price of the alternative course is that, for other periods, the enlightened consensus that judges might help to catalyse in the name of the Constitution may be blocked by more self-interested or short sighted majorities."Insulation from day-to-day political accountability does not mean no accountability. There is corruption in the judiciary. Allegations against judges are not uncommon. But no action has been taken any corrupt judge. Instead, the Supreme Court further fortified the position of judges by ruling that no investigation would be made against any judge without the prior approval of the CJI.


Corruption is a crime under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act. But judges enjoy immunity as even the president cannot give sanction for prosecution in a case of corruption against a judge of the higher judiciary without the recommendation of the CJI. No judge has been subjected to criminal investigation in the last 15 years. If an FIR cannot be registered against a judge how can his crime be investigated or proved?


Judges are public servants under Section 21 of the IPC. Further, Section 166 of the IPC provides for the punishment of public servants guilty of misconduct. The Judicial Officers' Protection Act, 1850 and the Judges Protection Act, 1985, read with Section 166 of the IPC, do not give any immunity. Aren't judges, like the rest of us, bound by the law?Sudhanshu Ranjan is a Delhi-based journalist.(The views expressed by the author are personal.)








The other day, I got superstitious in a superstitious case. And that led me into doing a little bit of research into the history of superstition and its fascinating and innumerable kinds.


I developed a keen interest in some of the superstitions that had never been heard of before. One such was, " Crossing your fingers helps avoid bad luck." I tried to reason out how and why this act could help one keep away from bad luck. My efforts went futile as not even a hint was available.


I thought of various possibilities, some of them quite weird.


But one possible reason that I thought quite possible and reasonable was that crossing one's fingers tight could mean concentration of body force, energy, attention and working of the mind and soul together.


And, this makes one a formidable force which kills negative forces and eliminates fear for the unknown and the supernatural. Bad luck 'visits' those who are weak of mind and soul.


Among the many other superstitions that one could learn about, the good and the bad ones were almost in equal number.


Some of the bad ones that I found good were: To open an umbrella in the house is to bring  bad lick. To break a mirror gets one seven years of bad luck. And it's a black cat, not any cat, that brings bad luck if it crosses your path.


Among the ones that bring good luck, I found these interesting: Clothes worn inside out;  and finding a penny heads up. You must get out of your bed from the same side as you got in.


And then look at these: Warm hand, cold heart. Cold hand, warm heart.


Now I know how to understand the person/s I shake hands with!


If one tries to look for logic behind superstitions, one gets into an interesting world of discovery that one does not like to quit so easily. The world of superstition may be for the ignorant and the fool, but let's agree life would be less interesting without them.








Sometime in the late 1980s, Patna was holding what could be called the city's equivalent of the HT Leadership Summit. Only those who were invited could attend.


Respected guests turned up —  mostly IAS and IPS officers who were recruited into service directly, and some ministers. Then came a man, uninvited, dressed in a dhoti and wearing a Gandhi topi. Someone politely asked: "Ji, aap kaun hain?" (Who are you?) The man replied confidently and dramatically: "Main neta hoon." (I am a leader.) What  party he belonged to was not specified and he was not denied entry.


What happened at the summit is eminently forgettable. But the bit about a self-styled leader thinking he had the natural right to participate in a leadership summit tells a purportedly deeper story: what stuff leaders are made of in Bihar. My narrator probably missed the nuanced message.


Whatever people may say, politicians, assuming the onus of leadership is on them, are not all responsible for the ills of our society. Behind each wrong-doing of a politician, there are legions of common people involved. Illegal constructions in Delhi are a case in point here. Seen from another angle, how is it that even for an occasion like a book release function, publishers fall over themselves to get a leader to bless the occasion? I was part of an exercise to get a leading politician from Madhya Pradesh, who was also a minister, to release four children's books together. When I failed to reach him, one of the authors, an MP cadre woman IAS officer, described me as "unenterprising" to my work supervisor. What case was the publisher making out through his zeal to be seen sitting next to a minister? Looking at the author's behaviour, I kept wondering where to draw the line between 'people like them' and 'people like us'.


But leadership is not about politics alone. There are leaders in extended families, civil society organisations, corporate set-ups, universities, health chains, sports bodies and so on. There have been outstanding examples, but how many? Very few. Why? Lack of talent? Maybe. But the most potent reason to my mind  is the overarching desire to ape the ways of politicians, with the obvious implication being their abiding faith in their own effectiveness — prevaricating, playing favourites, eagerness to find fault with others while covering up their own guilt... the list is long. Fine. But, why do these other 'leaders' fail? Politicians rarely do. Because such people lack the skills of a politician. Politics is no doddle, after all.


Chances are the man there on sufferance in Patna was not commenting on the state of Bihar. Most probably, he was mocking the leadership summit. Or leadership itself.








Lalit Modi, commissioner of the Indian Premier League, was the picture of firm resolve on Tuesday. No more, he said, there would be no more extensions given to the five Pakistani cricketers to complete their paperwork to confirm participation in IPL's third season, slated to begin mid-March. With this he put the five players, who failed to obtain visas by December 7, out of contention in the tournament. Two extensions had already been accorded and now the window for teams to put up players for trading would shut on December 9, he decreed, and by December 11 teams will have to submit expressions of interest. All this will culminate on January 19 in what is now turning out to be IPL's most celebratory moment of announcing self-worth: the auctioning of cricketers.


Look at that time-table once again, and it is clear that Modi is being less than earnest. There is enough room for manoeuvre to allow the five Pakistani cricketers — Kamran Akmal, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Misbah-ul-Haq and Abdul Razzaq — time to complete their paperwork and still meet the trading deadlines before January 19. It transpires that they have now the clearances from their sports, foreign and interior ministries needed for no-objection certificates from the Pakistan Cricket Board. All that appears to be pending is visa clearance from the Indian high commission in Islamabad. Were Modi to stay stuck to his time-table, the absence of the five players would surely be felt by the Indian cricket fan, in whose name Modi and the BCCI brooked no flexibility in scheduling IPL 2009 and took the entire tournament overseas to South Africa.


Put more simply, this intransigence on extensions for the five Pakistanis appears to be a sequel to the high adventurism Modi committed the BCCI to earlier this year, by misrepresenting this country's capacity to conduct games as usual in order to emphasise the board's unilateralism in matters of cricket. Now the organisers are stepping into dangerous diplomatic territory. Were the five Pakistani players to remain barred — this after they were not permitted to participate in IPL's second season by their country in the aftermath of 26/11 — the takeaway would be about more than just the composition of IPL teams. It would curdle bilateral engagement. Modi and his colleagues must therefore be made to understand that such adventurism, this handling of cricket affairs as if they are a state within a state, will carry consequence.







International negotiations, like all forms of diplomacy, require a certain fluidity of mind. Holding doggedly to a particular position, however much you think it may be justified, isn't diplomacy, it's where diplomacy goes to die. As the Indian government settles in for a hard fortnight at Copenhagen, possibly one of the most consequential negotiations of our lifetime, we see a familiar set of people standing on the road to the future, yelling "Halt!" India, we hear from these pompous retirees and earnest do-gooders, is selling out to America. Just as we did during the nuclear deal.


These objectors may well think that India's firm stand, that it should not expect to clean up a mess it did not create, has served it well for two decades. Possibly, but over those years climate negotiations failed over and over again. Clearly something needed to be done to shake them up. Nor did, over the years, these staunch defenders of the shibboleths of the past succeed in making a coherent argument for their stand. Today, in 2009, it could — and is — reasonably be pointed out that if India is not part of any climate solution, if its emissions increase astronomically as have other countries', no solution would work anyway. Once that argument is accepted, sticking to a stand that doesn't take that into account is irresponsible. That underlies the government's decision to go into Copenhagen with a quantified intensity path, and with a clear sense of what is negotiable. (And the thought that putting the US administration on the spot by not blocking what so many there would be relieved to see blocked is "selling out to America" is patently ridiculous.)


But we see a familiar coalition take shape here: the same sort of person — some superannuated bureaucrats, others who have succeeded in climbing to the top of the "scientific establishment" — who opposed the nuclear deal. And for the same reasons. Because this stand, like that, is transformational. Because it goes beyond the aged positions that these people have spent their professional careers creating and defending. And, of course, because it isn't confrontational enough with the big bad West and with the United States. Just as it did then, the government should stand firm now.








Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa's "City of Sin and Splendour" carried on undeterred in its ways; then, on Monday evening, the twin bombings at a throbbing shopping centre in a middle-class neighbourhood took dozens of lives. The same day, Peshawar and Quetta, two other provincial capitals, were also hit by terrorists.


Lahoris may be flabbergasted at what they consider the lack of proper security around the city in these critical times, but in their own way, they were back Tuesday morning in large numbers at the scene of Monday night's carnage, laying flowers and lighting candles in remembrance of those lost — mostly women and children — to this latest spate of terrorism. This impromptu response suggests that secular sections of Pakistani society will not be cowed by the followers of militant Islam.


Lahore has had more than its fair share of terror attacks, but it continues to defy the Taliban. And it will even now, insist ordinary citizens walking in the streets. The youth music festival planned for later this month will be held undeterred by acts of terror, say the organisers.


"Terrorists cannot be allowed to change our way of life," says one music enthusiast. "Music must now be played and heard louder still. Only a cultural onslaught by performing artists, with common citizens in attendance, can send a message to those indulging in terrorism that we will live and we will live well. You cannot bog down our spirit." This sentiment is shared widely.


However, Islamabad, not exactly known for a fun-filled environment, has succumbed badly, as has Peshawar. There are barricades and snap checks literally every few yards down any road worth the name. Going by the recent number of terrorist assaults on the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, it seems every other building is a high-value target. There are embassies, UN offices and a myriad of NGOs all over, and all are equally despised by the Taliban for spreading what they see as anti-Islamic culture and values, such as women walking or driving or music being played out loud.


In Islamabad going to the Marriot Hotel, hit twice in two years, is chilling. You are stopped at some nine snap-checking points and grilled, and your car checked. At the sixth such barrier, I could not keep myself from asking the security officer if I looked like a terrorist. "No, sir," came the confident answer. "But it's people like you we feel comfortable checking thoroughly because we know you are not going to blow yourself up, and us with you. I wouldn't know what to do if I really suspected someone of being a bomber. I too have little kids at home." His honesty was laced with an uneasy sense of a tragedy foretold, as it were.


Once you reach the Marriot, you see a thick, high wall, like the one the Israelis have built. A bunker-like reception area that leads to what used to be the driveway of the hotel.


Entering the building you suddenly realise how empty it all looks. "Am I the only person silly enough to have come here?" you wonder. It'll be a long time before the Marriot can bounce back to business as usual, you are told by a nervous receptionist. An unspecified number of snipers guard the hotel property.


Islamabad after dark seems like it's under curfew. Jackals and wild boars seem to be the only presence in the thick foliage that can hide so much from surveillance. Mere mortals dare not step out.


I was nursing similar depressing thoughts while landing in Lahore the week after my trip to Islamabad. But the contrast between Islamabad and Lahore was pleasant. The roads and the bazaars buzzed with night-time traffic and shopping, the restaurants were just as crowded, though Lahoris said they avoided going out during the day. The reason: all recent bombings took place in daytime; none at night! You were told. Well, that was true until last Monday.


But then Lahore defies logic. A reason has to be found, even if obviously dumb, to keep the good times rolling despite the adversity. The Punjab government keeps shutting down privately-owned schools for lack of adequate security — but schooling again is a daytime activity; nights, they said, were safer. The motorists start rolling out their vehicles after 9 pm, and then it's business as usual, including all-night restaurants serving gourmet meals to their obsessive-compulsive patrons.


The only places that were barricaded were police stations and government offices and residences, for these had been the targets, until Monday night. Now it seems public places too are in the bull's eye. But still there are hardly any snap checks on the roads, one is told. Hotels and malls have long had their metal detectors installed, and they feel threatened no more than the average citizen.


Life must go on, insist the Lahoris — and it does.


The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi







Manmohan Singh's recent state visit — the first hosted by the Obama administration — has been almost universally criticised in India for being, although high on symbols, everything from a fizzle to a failure. The critics, in this instance, may be exaggerating. If the yardstick of success is replicating the July 2005 achievement, then this summit indeed pales in comparison. The 2005 visit was epochal because it removed the last major structural impediment to better US-Indian strategic relations. Since then, however, bilateral ties have become broad and diverse, spanning a variety of issues where both agreement and disagreement persist in varying measure. This dominance of ordinariness suggests that US-Indian ties today are rapidly approaching normality. Dramatic breakthroughs, therefore, will become increasingly rare, and although this visit did not produce any, it was nonetheless more successful than many commentators appreciate.


Consider the context surrounding the November summit. After eight years of an unprecedented deepening in bilateral ties, President Barack Obama got off to a rather wobbly start in sustaining the US partnership with India. Although Democratic cheerleaders were emphatic during the presidential campaign that Obama would be just as invested as Bush was in preserving India's priority in US foreign policy, Obama's early positions made those claims suspect. Beginning with his unenthusiastic support for the nuclear deal when still a US senator and continuing with his ruminations about mediating in Kashmir when still president-elect, Obama intimated changes in US policy that would have adversely affected India. Since becoming president, his evident hesitation about committing the resources necessary to secure victory in Afghanistan and the fear that he might seek to appease Pakistan at India's expense combined to produce a deep anxiety about Obama's strategic vision in New Delhi. Finally, his angst-inducing faux pas of failing to integrate India into his vision of Asian stability, even as he seemingly endorsed a Chinese oversight role in South Asia just on the eve of Singh's visit to Washington, intensified the growing suspicion that Obama would likely end up undermining core Indian strategic interests.

The prime minister's visit to Washington, therefore, must be assessed against this inauspicious backdrop and against the widespread fear that the bilateral partnership, which had enjoyed unparalleled success under George W. Bush, was at serious risk because of Obama's neglect and missteps involving India. Given these realities, the correct measure of accomplishment during this visit could not be whether Obama and Singh would produce a breakthrough akin to July 2005, but whether they would fundamentally protect the inherited achievement.


In particular, the success of this summit had to be measured by whether the two leaders could achieve three specific objectives. First, could they prove to the international community that the US-Indian bilateral relationship transcends the preferences of any single leader on either side and actually represents the national strategy of both countries? Second, could they assure each other that their fundamental strategic goals are in fact convergent, if not aligned? Third, could they exploit the complementarities in their evolving partnership, while simultaneously managing their differences effectively?


By these criteria, the recent Obama-Singh summit was more successful than is currently realised. Through both the symbol of being the first invited state visitor to Washington and, more importantly, through the public affirmations that India's rise was helpful to preserving stability in Asia, President Obama sought to signal continuity with Bush policy. In other words, strengthening the strategic partnership with India does represent the national strategy of the United States — even if Obama has yet to emulate the critical decision made by his predecessor to deliberately aid the growth of Indian power for strategic reasons.


Further, the warm private conversations between Obama and Singh provided proof of their personal rapport and strengthened the convergence towards common goals. Their utterly frank tête-à-tête not only traversed the range of issues that deeply affect critical American and Indian geopolitical interests, but it also produced a new and consequential appreciation of India's concerns at the highest levels of the US government. Given that this was the first meeting between Obama and Singh where the bilateral relationship was the centrepiece of discussion, there could have been no better ending — and the prime minister's later declaration that he was "very satisfied with the outcome of [his] discussion with President Obama" said it all.


Finally, the joint statement and fact sheets published by the two sides confirmed the reality that the two countries share many complementarities that can yield fruit which will make a real difference to the lives of millions of ordinary Americans and Indians. Equally significant, they proved that even when both sides disagree on matters of significance — climate change being a good example — Washington and New Delhi can manage their differences creatively and with an eye to reaching solutions, rather than merely engaging in grandstanding as both might have done in the past.


When the evidence is weighed, therefore, the prime minister's trip to Washington was emphatically not the disappointment that many in India have claimed. To be sure, work still remains to be done: lasting success will require that the assurances expressed during the bilateral discussions find reflection in future policy decisions in both countries. That will undoubtedly be the ultimate proof of achievement. But while the two governments move towards that end, Singh's visit has already had important ameliorative benefits: it has rectified the American missteps that had cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship; it has refocused the United States on issues of high politics that are critical to both nations' security, while providing a fillip to further cooperation in low politics; it has cemented presidential attention on critical strategic issues involving India; it has provided opportunities for India to demonstrate tangibly its desire to partner with the United States on issues of global security; and, it has further deepened the personal ties between Obama and Singh, which are indispensable for any sustained transformation of the relationship. All in all, a worthwhile harvest for a summit that was supposedly only about symbols.


The writer, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC, has served as senior adviser to the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, in which capacity he was involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India








Is the government finally waking up to our skills problem, and will proposed reforms deliver? The 11th Five Year Plan document went as far back as the Kothari Commission of 1964-66, which had contemplated that 25 per cent of secondary school students would opt for vocational education (VE). NSS data show only 5 per cent of the 19-24 age group in India have some skills, compared to 96 per cent in South Korea. It is odd that policy debate on revamping and reforming education tends to focus on elementary and secondary education (delivered through schools) and higher education, with little said on vocational education. Consider the annual reports of the human resource development ministry. Vocational education is interpreted as nothing more than tagging a vocational stream on to secondary education. This is not to suggest the skills deficit is not recognised. There were Planning Commission reports of the S.P. Gupta Special Group in 2002 and the Montek Singh Ahluwalia Task Force in 2001. And of course the 11th Plan document, which makes the additional point that there is near exclusive reliance on a few training courses with long duration (two-three years), covering around 100 skills. The Plan document tells us China has short duration modular courses for 4000 skills.


Who delivers VE, both formal and informal? Within the formal system, higher technical education is imparted through professional colleges and lower technical education through vocational education in post-secondary schools. In addition, there is specialised training through technical institutes and a system of apprenticeship training. The HRD ministry has 1244 polytechnics. There are 5114 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and six Advanced Training Institutes (ATIs) run by the Centre. 20,800 public and private sector establishments are covered under the Apprentices Act. This sounds impressive. But the Plan document has a damning indictment. "There are seventeen ministries and departments of GOI which are imparting vocational training to about 3.1 million persons every year... Each ministry/ department in charge of subjects sets up training establishments in its field of specialisation. The attempt to meet training needs through multiple authorities — labour, handlooms, handicrafts, small industry, education, health, women and child development, social welfare, tourism, etc leads to redundancy at some locations... The unorganised sector which constitutes about 93 per cent of the workforce is not supported by any structural system of acquiring or upgrading skills. By and large, skill formation takes place through informal channels like family occupations, on the job training under master craftsmen with no linkages to the formal education training and certification."


Eight per cent of new entrants into the work force have no opportunities for development of skills. While there are 12.8 million new entrants into the work force every year, existing training capacity is 3.1 million per year. In both rural and urban India, and for both males and females, attendance rates in educational institutions drop by around 50 per cent in the 15-19 age group. Simultaneously, labour force participation rates begin to increase in this age group and by the time it comes to the 25-29 age group, it is 95.0 per cent for rural males and 94.4 per cent for urban males. Figures for females are lower at 36.5 per cent in rural India and 22.1 per cent in urban India.


If one considers the government's road-map for delivering skills, such as stated in 11th Plan document, it has the following. Implement a Skill Development Mission, with Skill Development Programmes involving private sector, so that placement is also ensured. Provide one-time capital grants to private institutions and stipends and subsidies towards fees for SC/ ST/ OBC/ minorities and other BPL (below poverty line) candidates. Enlarge the 50,000 Skill Development Centres. Expand public sector skill development infrastructure by a factor of five. Once expanded, this can be handed over to the private sector for management. Expand capacity for vocational education in schools, with focus on capturing Class VII and Class IX dropouts. Assess skill deficits sector-wise and region-wise. Establish a National Skill Inventory and a National Database for Skill Deficiency Mapping. Reposition employment exchanges for career counselling. Establish a national qualifications framework, to establish equivalence and vertical mobility across various forms of vocational education. Set up third-party accreditation systems, de-linked from the regulator.


The Prime Minister's National Council on Skill Development, National Skill Development Coordination Board and National Skill Development Corporation (NKDC) have been set up. Beyond the signal that skill development is important and has been recognised as such, it is too early to speculate what will come out of these efforts. Much the same can be said of the "National Skill Development Policy", formulated by the labour ministry in March 2009. Nevertheless, some points should be flagged. First, if the proposed labour market information system is developed, there should be better quality of information on skill deficits, sector-wise and region-wise. And there should also be movement on affiliation, accreditation, examination and certification. Much of this is sought to be done through the National Council on Vocational Training (NCVT). Second, coverage of the Apprenticeship Training Scheme will be expanded. Third, employment exchanges will be strengthened and upgraded.


There are several reasons for dissatisfaction with the government's road-map. First, government ministries and departments work in silos. Notwithstanding reform intentions, it is not obvious that multiplicity is going to decline, with improvement in coordination. Second, implementation remains a state subject and there is no guarantee that delivery will improve across all states. Third, though the road-map incorporates possible private sector provisioning too, it is fundamentally based on expansions in formal public training systems. While the formal versus informal or the organised versus unorganised dichotomy is often policy-induced, it is necessary to subsume successful examples of delivery in informal and private categories. Fourth, quite a bit hinges on improving vocational education in secondary schools. Increase in enrolment rates at the primary level will create eventual pressures to improve secondary schools. But at the moment, there is no particular reason for optimism.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist








Vice President Hamid Ansari's observations on internal democracy in our legislatures merit revisiting the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution that seeks to prevent party hopping by our Parliamentarians and state legislators.


He said "We need political consensus so that room for political and policy expression in Parliament for a member is expanded. A whip could be limited to bills that could threaten the survival of a government, such as money bills or no confidence motions".


He was alluding to the rigours of the Tenth Schedule that inadvertently restrict the freedom of expression of individual members to serve the higher ideal of political morality, ordained unfortunately through a legislative fiat.


One of the first actions of the Rajiv Gandhi government was to introduce The Constitution (Fifty Second Amendment) Bill 1985 to add the Tenth Schedule to the Indian Constitution. The Schedule's mandate was to curb the growing tendency of political defections. In the decades spanning the late '60s to the early '80s, defections became the rule rather than the exception.


The unamended Schedule penalised individual acts of defection but recognised the principle of splits whereby if one-third of the members of a legislative party broke away and formed a separate group or joined another political party, they could continue as members of the legislature. The ingenuity of the immoral converted the retail malaise of defections into a wholesale malady.


The NDA government, through The Constitution (Ninety First Amendment) Act 2003 omitted paragraph three from the Tenth Schedule which allowed one-third of the parliamentarians/ legislators to split from their parent party. However, it left paragraph four in place, which allows two-thirds of the members of a parliamentary/ legislative party to merge with an existing political party or form a new political party. What this constitutional amendment did was raise the wholesale defection bar from one third to two thirds.


Against this background, Ansari underscores the dilemma — that is, how to provide more freedom of expression to our lawmakers while containing their opportunism through legislative action.


What may have impelled Ansari's exposition is that the drafting of laws in India remains an essentially non-transparent bureaucratic function. To top it all, political parties routinely issue whips to its members to vote one way or the other on a bill. Treasury members have to vote for every bill and the Opposition is invariably against it, irrespective of the merits. This disincentivises lawmakers from seriously researching, doing lateral thinking or searching for best practices to incorporate into legislation. They become disinterested in constructively contributing towards legislation, which is the principal function of Parliament and instead expand their energies on other procedural instrumentalities like questions, zero hours, calling attention etc., to try and meaningfully contribute to the national discourse.


The contra-argument is that Parliamentary standing committees have been instituted to enable individual MPs to provide their inputs on legislation so that a broad consensus can be hammered out before a bill enters the house for the final rites of passage. However this argument suffers from an inherent flaw. Since a member of Parliament only serves on one standing committee and the practical possibility of getting onto even one more committee depends upon the availability of space which is invariably non-existent, therefore a MP is handicapped by the inherently constraining committee system.


What then are the actionable points of Ansari's observations on which various political parties need to build consensus? One small amendment needs to be made to the Tenth Schedule and, perhaps, one-odd change to the Representation of Peoples Act can provide an appropriate fix to this problem.


First and foremost, the provisions of the Tenth Schedule need to be tightened by shifting the burden of proof, and automatically disqualifying the lawmaker who violates a lawful direction of the party on whose symbol he has been elected. Rather than wait for a petition to be filed by the political party concerned in terms of paragraph six and the relevant rules of the Tenth Schedule, the onus should be on the member concerned to file a petition for the restoration of his membership.This would obviate the problem of a friendly presiding officer delaying or reserving a decision on a disqualification petition as has been the case in the past, and allowing defaulting lawmakers to complete their terms. Defection may be treated as an electoral malpractice whereby a defector is debarred for six years from contesting any election.


Rather than waiting for the wisdom of political parties to manifest itself through a self-imposed restriction on the issuance of whips to those legislative items that threaten the stability of government like money bills and no-confidence motions, an amendment may made to paragraph two of the Tenth Schedule that inserts a proviso which states "That the provisions of Para 2 (1) (b) would only apply to the violation of a direction given by a political party on a no-confidence motion or matters connected to the financial business of the government. This would entail automatic disqualification of the member concerned". Paragraph four should be deleted. This would take care of both stability and expanded legislative space for individual members.


The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court, MP and national spokesperson of the Congress. Views expressed are personal







Few of us would escape with reputations intact if our email were made public, and the scientists ensnared in "climategate" are no exception. Writing "I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years ... to hide the decline" makes Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia, who typed that in 1999, look as if he is pulling a fast one to conceal a trend toward global cooling. And when another scientist wrote that "I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow —even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" it looks like a blatant attempt to censor opposing views.


Those of you who know I consider the science of anthropogenic global warming solid probably expect me to explain that the hacked e-mails don't mean what they seem, and that, even if they did, it would not undercut the multiple lines of evidence showing that greenhouse-gas emissions are causing climate change. All true. But first I have to say that the emails reveal two tendencies that have set back attempts to show the public and policymakers that climate change is real and serious.


Many of the emails refer to attempts to evade requests from critics for raw data, some of which comes from national meteorological offices that, when they sent Jones the data, required confidentiality for hardly more reason than "we can, so let's." Really, all climate data "needs to be publicly available and well documented," Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, a leading researcher on the climate-hurricane link, wrote in an open letter to climate scientists. This includes "how the data were treated and manipulated, what assumptions were made in assembling the data sets, and what data [were] omitted and why." To be sure, most of the data, and even the computer codes used to analyse them, have been freely available for years (not buried in Al Gore's backyard). But all the data and methodology should be in the public domain. Yes, critics will cherry-pick and play "gotcha," as they have with the e-mails, but the science of climate change is robust enough to withstand that.


Other e-mails reflect the ugly politicisation of climate science, which is unending. Climate scientists have been subject to harassment and character assassination (Google "Ben Santer" and "Wall Street Journal" to see what I mean), and just last week, Rep. James Sensenbrenner accused the researchers of "scientific fascism" and, with GOP colleagues, made the stunningly stupid demand that the EPA therefore stop regulating greenhouse emissions. It may be human nature to respond in kind; in one e-mail, a scientist wishes he could beat up a leading denier. But the scientists should be bigger than the know-nothings. Rather than "circl[ing] the wagons," as Curry put it, respond to misinformation with physics, data, and analysis as, for instance, the RealClimate blog does.


Especially since the science — paleoclimate data, heating in the stratosphere relative to the troposphere, and other fingerprints of manmade climate change — is so compelling. Take the two papers by climate sceptics that triggered that "redefine the peer-reviewed literature" e-mail. Both were cited and discussed in the IPCC report — and have now been shown to be riddled with errors. Science worked as it should, good research crowding out bad.


Climategate has tarnished the image of climate research, but hasn't undermined its substance. At the risk of invoking the silver-lining cliché, maybe climategate will spur scientists to change how they conduct their research and engage with critics.










In the latest issue of CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy, General Secretary Prakash Karat once again talks about India's deepening ties with the US in the context of the prime minister's visit to America. He says the Indian establishment is unable to see the actual purpose and design behind the efforts of the US to make India a strategic ally.


His argument — the US firmed up a strategic partnership with India keeping China in mind and as part of its Asian strategy. Besides, Washington wants to be advantageously placed to invest and exploit India's huge market and would like New Delhi's support for its Af-Pak policy. Essentially, the Manmohan Singh visit has underlined the character of the Indo-US strategic alliance. "The US has enlisted India as a military ally and is on the way to becoming a large scale supplier of weapons which will enormously benefit its arms companies. Besides, the US has been able to prise open various sectors of the economy for American capital and is now looking forward to FDI in higher education, retail and other services. The Indo-US nuclear deal has straitjacketed India into adopting positions contrary to an independent foreign policy, he says.


Washington, unlike what the pro-American acolytes in the Indian establishment want, will continue to accord importance to Pakistan, which is not only a non-Nato major ally but also its dubious partner in the "war against terror". Referring to Manmohan Singh's first visit to the US in 2005, he says "nothing has changed in between except that India is now more firmly aligned with the United States.




The Dubai World debacle prompted the CPI to take a dig at Union Surface Transport Minister Kamal Nath, who it says had some time back lauded the UAE-government-owned firm as a model of future development of real estates. The lead editorial in CPI's weekly organ New Age says Kamal Nath wanted the model to be adopted in India with major share from the private sector including foreign capital. "Will he now learn a lesson or two from the Dubai debacle or will continue to beat drums for the international finance capital that is at the root of the global economic melt-down?" it asks.


As regarding the crisis faced by the Dubai World, it says if immediate measures are not taken by the rulers of Dubai, and other oil-rich emirates refuse to come to the rescue of Dubai, it may lead to the government of Dubai itself going broke. "If that happens, it will definitely trigger another serious phase of the global meltdown."



Contrary to the general perception, the CPI feels the Liberhan report on the demolition of Babri Masjid may hasten the downslide of the BJP. An article in New Age says the report has come out at the worst time for the BJP and was bound to aggravate the internal crisis. "Even before the party could decide on a smooth succession to the next generation of leaders, the revival of memories of the only successful, though highly divisive, movement it had ever organised was bound to exacerbate its internal rifts," it says.


It observes that L.K. Advani, who had been indicted by the probe panel, would now seize the opportunity provided by the urging of majoritarian sentiments in the party and in the sangh parivar, to try and return to centre-stage. Besides, the report has given an opportunity to the hardliners in the party to bounce back, which could also pose a threat to the NDA, the article analyses.








Governor D Subbarao chose a most unlikely forum—a panel discussion with three of his immediate predecessors as central bank chiefs—to shed some of RBI's conventional wisdom on inflation. At last, the RBI governor made a clear distinction between supply side-led inflation and demand-led inflation, and stated in no uncertain terms that monetary policy is likely to be ineffective against supply side inflation, the kind which we are seeing in the economy now. Of course, he qualified it by saying that if inflationary expectations take hold, even if because of supply side problems, then the central bank may have to intervene using interest rates. Clearly, RBI has moved to a more nuanced position on the inflation-interest rates debates, which means that the central bank remains concerned about growth and the importance of lower interest rates in ensuring that growth chugs along.


The central bank chief also made the crucial distinction between consumer price inflation and asset price inflation and made it clear that RBI is more worried about the latter. Again, interest rates are an ineffective tool to contain asset price inflation and governor Subbarao admitted that. In a bold hint to future intent, he even said that there might be a need to think about capital controls if capital flows experience a surge and push asset price inflation towards an unsustainable bubble. Obviously, RBI will have to think very carefully before actually recommending capital controls—such a move will impact foreign inflows into India. But the governor's thinking on this matter is not way off mainstream thinking, which has come around to supporting, for example, a Tobin tax in certain situations. Of course, the situation as it stands now does not merit the imposition of a Tobin tax or any other restriction on capital flows—foreign inflows are lower than they were at the time of boom when we had no capital controls. And governor Subbarao refused to elaborate on any specific policy measures he had in mind. But given RBI's traditional orthodoxy on a range of issues, it's good to finally see some opening up in terms of the discourse within the central bank. In practical terms, we hope that this means that RBI will desist from hiking interest rates until the end of this financial year at the least—most analysts believed that RBI will hike rates as early as January 2010, but that was before governor Subbarao brought much clarity to the central bank's thinking on this admittedly tricky policy issue.






PM Manmohan Singh has taken his flagship nuclear diplomacy an important step forward by signing a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement that will lead to the setting up of additional Russian reactors in India. Obviously, this agreement follows from the Indo-US agreement on which Singh staked his reputation as much as his government last year. In fact, no sooner had that deal been announced than Russia rushed to offer us nuclear materials. Now the Russian deal is being described as better than the American one because it stipulates that nuclear fuel supplies will continue even if India carries out a nuclear test in the future, or if the pact is cancelled for any other reason. Betwixt the two deals, the Singh government has also taken steps to move ahead with Canada, France, Japan and the UK. When Canadian PM Stephen Harper was visiting India recently and was quizzed about his country's volte-face on a 35-year-old policy of sanctioning India post its 1974 test, he said: "We are not living in the 1970s. We are living in 2009." Today's reality is that international companies are competing for a piece of the pie that makes up India's growing energy needs.


India has ambitious plans, seeking to increase the nuclear component of its electricity supply from 3% to 10% by 2022 and to 26% by 2052. This works out to an average growth rate of 9.5% per year, which is actually a bit less than the average global nuclear growth between 1970-2002. These were decades in which India's nuclear programme stagnated as imports of and access to foreign technologies dried up; they included long periods in which global capacity addition slowed down as well. In other words, ambitious as India targets are, they are also achievable. This is not to underestimate the challenges involved. Land acquisition remains an issue as in other infrastructure projects, upfront financing is high and returns come in only in the long term, safety remains an ongoing concern and so on. The recent contamination at the Kaiga plant warns of existing dangers and, as capacity increases, the question of dealing with spent fuel will become more urgent. But challenges apart, imperatives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and seeking energy security will make nuclear power more and more necessary to our energy mix. Meanwhile, the Russian deal underscores the enduring strength of India's traditional defence ties. But Singh had it right when he said energy is the greatest emerging dimension of the Indo-Russian relationship.







It's getting cold in Copenhagen. A few degrees hotter could improve things for the Danes. That isn't true for future generations of Biharis, Bangladeshis or Zambians—or for anyone living in areas at risk of the (potentially) catastrophic effects of climate change. That's a major reason why agreement on a climate deal is so hard: it is inextricably about distribution. It is also hard because it is a huge collective action problem. But it is the interaction between the collective action challenge and the absence of agreed upon mechanisms over the distribution of losses and gains that makes a deal really, really hard.


There are three distributional issues at stake: across generations; between rich and poor countries; and between different groups within countries. The first two just got more difficult because of the financial crisis. It's hard to worry about 2050 when you're at risk of losing your job. And the huge rise in public debt means rich nations face fiscal consolidation for years, increasing resistance to large transfers for mitigation and adaptation in poor nations.


Despite these difficulties, there is rising hope that a political deal will emerge from Copenhagen. It will be imperfect, but could be the basis for a treaty and better future arrangements. However, I want to focus here on the risk that within-country distributional issues will be a distorting factor, not because of helping the poor, but because concentrated interests will protect their position and engage in rent-seeking.


Take the major policy instrument of cap & trade. This looks like a brilliant solution to economic, distributional and political problems. Here's an ideal scenario. Rich countries get permits to emit greenhouse gases. Governments auction them to polluting industries, and use the revenues to finance innovation and adaptation in poor countries. Industries trade permits with each other, setting the price of carbon emissions in the market, thus fostering more efficient choices over emission reductions. Crucially, there are 'offsets' for action in developing countries, as under the Clean Development Mechanism: industries can reach their limit through purchasing emission reductions from green projects in Brazil, China, India or elsewhere. This is good for efficiency and distribution: it reduces global emissions at a lower cost, and it transfers resources to poor countries. It also looks good politically since it avoids an explicit tax and finances mitigation in poor countries without government money.


The problem is that it isn't working like this.


First, in the European scheme many industries were excluded, and those included realised that they would do better to get large allocations of permits for free! They succeeded. American businesses have also managed to change the Obama plan—still in Congress—from an auction to free permits. Somehow this isn't a big issue in the public debate; whether permits are free or auctioned sounds arcane. Yet, who pays to reduce catastrophic risks for future generations is a big issue, justifying well-informed democratic debate.


Second, while some offsets will be a good sell politically (supporting forests, if that could be worked out), others won't. Providing transfers to help Chinese or Indian industries and power stations go green will be seen as subsidising the competition—politically lethal when workers lose jobs, and subject to business lobbying. This is already a theme in American discourse.


Third, there are real problems about how to verify that a project is additional. In the recent affair over Chinese wind farms, the Chinese government was accused of withdrawing subsidies in order to get offset funds from the Clean Development Mechanism. This looks like a system ripe for rent-seeking and obfuscation.


These issues become more important when the market for offsets becomes large—and that is badly needed if it is to have a serious impact and to avoid the problems of price instability that typified the European market. This all matters: if the system is seriously distorted, the costs of mitigation could rise much more than the 1-2% of GDP now estimated, and political support will be threatened.


Is there an alternative? Much better would be an explicit carbon tax and transparent subsidies from rich to poor countries, with transitional compensatory mechanisms for losers in rich and poor countries. That really sounds like the musings of a naïve economist! But I think these issues have to be openly discussed. Perhaps the tough choices over fiscal consolidation will focus the mind of rich country politicians: after all, a carbon tax (or indeed auctioning of permits) is a wonderful tax that reduces rather than increases distortions. In the meantime, since cap & trade is the main game in town, it will be important to have serious, open debate on the influence of sectional interests, who is paying and how to make schemes work transparently. Otherwise the devil in any deal will lie in the distributional details.


The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Institute of Social & Economic Change and the Centre for Policy Research







The second quarter numbers on agricultural growth (0.9%) are now known. What do they mean for agriculture? This column has consistently argued that in addition to the natural uncertainty over agricultural production, there is the policy uncertainty created by flip-flop stories on agriculture. 'High level statements' at the beginning of the meltdown treated agriculture as a major source of growth (above 4%) counteracting the deceleration of the economy; a source of rural demand counteracting low export and foreign investment, underpinning low growth. After kharif this year, it is all down in the dumps. According to a wag, growth estimates vary depending on rain and sunshine between the Sachivalaya and Krishi Bhavan in Delhi, particularly depending on the extent to which certain luminaries look out of the window.


Agricultural growth numbers for the recent period, when the underlying data is being firmed up, are a slippery game and only the charlatans are sure of the second decimals. But the underlying tendencies are relatively clear, giving scope for intelligent surmising. Last year, after the third quarter, we had argued that since the average growth in the first two quarters was 2.75% and the third quarter was negative at a little over 2%, this gave an average growth rate of 1.2% for the first three quarters. Since a big revival in the last quarter was talked about, we said that it was obvious that the whole year growth rate of 2.6%-plus was off the agenda.


Since no one knows what is actually happening, it is useful to look at the underlying trends. The agriculture economy did not grow in 2004-05, since the year before that was one of exceptional weather, but if you took the annual average of growth rates from 2004-05 to 2007-08 for the larger agricultural sector—which includes animal husbandry, forestry and fishing—the number stacks up to 3.5% per year. It is lower in crop production, but dairying, poultry and fish (inland, not deep sea) are growing faster. More recently we argued that grains, largely led by official policies, are not doing well, and in the growth league it is cotton and animal husbandry.


Last month we argued in this column that "Non-cereals are doing better, apart from edible oils, and it's animal husbandry and fish that are the leaders of the pack. In the growth league it is animal husbandry, non-cereals, and then cereals, with pulses and inferior cereals at the bottom." These underlying trends we tend to neglect in the breast-beating phase when falling agricultural production is the stick to beat the farmer with for all our macro policy failures. Government economists and ministers blame rainfall, the farmer and bully anybody with a counterfactual. CSO has again come out with the counterfactual. Actually the kharif crops of rice, coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds account for less than a fifth of the GDP from agriculture. In pulses and oilseeds, the policy of subsidised imports with zero tariffs has destroyed incentives. But from the production angle, other crops like cotton, livestock, milk, poultry and fish have been growing between 3% and 4%, and it is that which gives the increase of Rs 4,021 crore of additional domestic product at 1999-2000 constant prices in agricultural GDP—in turn a growth of 2.9% in the first half of 2009-10. GDP or value added in agriculture in 2009-10 as a percentage of private final expenditure at constant prices is at 24%, and was so in 2008-09. So, obviously, agriculture is not the macroeconomic villain it is made out to be. At current prices, this year agriculture is a larger share of private consumption expenditure. Government had better find another explanation for inflation. How about fiscal reliance on consumption instead of investment growth as a reason for starters?


What will happen to agricultural growth in 2009-10 for the year as a whole? It will be lower. Incidentally, while minimum growth takes place in the diversifying sectors, the first half of a year is not a good projector of annual growth in agriculture. In 2006-07, H1 growth was 2.9% while the annual figure was 3.8%. But in 2007-08, it was the other way round. The H1 number was 4.5%, the annual was 2.6%. Rice and kharif oilseeds will take a knock this year. With a good rabi, the decline in agricultural GDP may be as low as 1% and the macro outcomes will be decided elsewhere. The best guess for the bad outcome would be 2% decline. This will not make or mar the performance of the economy. The inflationary trend is policy determined. Like the first half of the year it is extremely unlikely that agricultural value added will be lower as a share of aggregate demand as shown by its share of private consumption expenditure. This is also shown by the fact that prices are rising for the agricultural sectors that are growing the fastest. India has to improve its literacy levels on Bharat. It would be nice if a comment on agriculture, growth and inflation was at least remotely based on easily available facts.


The author is a former Union minister







It's a win-win deal, exhorted liquor baron Vijay Mallya during a conference call to announce UB's deal with global beer major Heineken NV on Monday. But he refused to divulge any details, especially financial ones, to substantiate his comment on the deal. At the same time, Jean-François van Boxmeer, chairman of Heineken's executive board & CEO, said, "In the world of beer, there is no bigger or more exciting growth opportunity than India." He could not hide his joy of fructifying efforts in establishing Heineken's presence in the steady growing Indian beer market, on the back of Mallya's successful strategies. In 2009, the Indian beer market is expected to grow at 9-10% to 14.4 million hectolitres.


For Boxmeer, tapping the Indian market means exploiting the strong distribution network that helps local players to dominate the market. It's no wonder that Kingfisher corners more than half of the Indian beer market share. The mounting number of breweries in each state and strong position in distributorships made Mallya the real king of good times.


At a global level, four players—Heineken, A-B InBev, SABMiller and Carlsberg—together hold 49% of the beer market. The remainder is held by local brands that pose a local threat to the majors. Heineken, which holds about 10% of the global beer market, knows the significance of a market like India, where a single beer brand holds the lion's share. The best way to establish Heineken in India is to use the route used by Mallya—strong distribution channels that keep MNCs away from grabbing the pie. Vice-versa, Mallya says Kingfisher brands will be distributed abroad through the Heineken marketing channels, but will it be successful in the West, where consumers are more brand conscious?


The earlier economic boom in India increased the number of consumers who can afford high-end beer and spirits brands, which would be a pushing factor for Heineken, priced above the local Indian brands. Though Kingfisher will remain unchallenged in India for quiet some more time, surely Heineken will conquer the hearts and then wallets of Indian beer lovers in the near future.








Legitimate socio-economic grievances can take problematical political forms. Decades of neglect and denial of opportunities, especially in education and employment, have left the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh underdeveloped and backward. This inescapable reality explains the militancy of the movements that surface from time to time for a separate State. The region, which broadly corresponds to the areas that were under the princely state of Hyderabad, continues to fall behind both coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema in development indices. Dams and irrigation projects have helped to some extent, but the rural hinterlands on the Deccan plateau have resisted attempts to boost agricultural productivity and income. Rural unemployment and poverty are rampant. Leaders of the Telangana region, including many from the time of the first major agitation in 1969, have sought to frame these deprivation and development-related issues in the language of regionalism — as wilful, oppressive neglect of an entire region by those in power belonging to other regions. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the party behind the current agitation, is of the same mould. Although the TRS fared poorly in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections earlier this year, its president K. Chandrasekhar Rao has now managed to rally support by going on a protest fast. Such is the volatility of Indian politics that the mass mood can change within months, especially when an emotive issue is worked up by clever political footwork. The mishandling of the students' agitation by the police has clearly aided Mr. Rao's cause.


Sound political diagnosis must of course factor in the mass mood but cannot be determined by it. In most cases, the real answer to problems of under-development and backwardness lies in big efforts aimed at development and progress. Aside from the unwisdom of breaking up South India's largest State, a separate Telangana will fuel demands for a separate Rayalaseema, for a separate coastal Andhra, and, maybe, even for union territory status for Hyderabad — and there will be no Pradesh left. The problem of uneven regional and intra-State development is one of the major challenges rising India faces but there is little to suggest that smaller States will make for a more even process of development. Surely, regional imbalances can be corrected without recourse to bifurcating or trifurcating a stable and potentially prosperous State — which came into being through historical struggle and sacrifice and showcases the virtues of post-Independence linguistic reorganisation. For a start, the Regional Development Boards could be given more resources and more powers. Successive chief ministers have avoided resourcing the boards with sufficient funds, for fear of creating regional power centres and undermining their own authority. This must necessarily change. The diagnosis is right: Telangana is backward and cries out for rapid development and the regional autonomy needed for this. But the cure pressed by a succession of militant movements — a separate Telangana State — will do serious harm to the patient.







The association between excess salt (sodium) intake and raised blood pressure is well established. According to the World Health Organisation, 62 per cent of all strokes and 49 per cent of heart disease events can be attributed to high blood pressure. Yet, not much medical literature is available to establish a direct link between salt intake and strokes and cardiovascular disease. A recently published meta-analysis of 13 studies involving more than 175,000 individuals across six countries and followed up for 3.5 years to 19 years has thrown up strong evidence of such a link. An increase of 5 g in daily salt intake was found to be associated with a 23 per cent higher risk of stroke and 17 per cent risk of cardiovascular disease. The average intake in many developed countries is above 9 g., as against the WHO recommended (1985) norm of 5 g. While processed food is the dominant source for salt in the developed countries, discretionary use also contributes, in addition to the processed food, to the higher salt intake in India and other developing countries.


Several studies, including the latest, have shown that a restriction on salt intake is an important and non-pharmacological public health intervention for preventing and controlling hypertension. A 3 g per day reduction can bring down blood pressure by 2.5/1.4 mm Hg, and a 6 g per day reduction by 5/2.8 mm Hg. Many countries have already taken the lead in cutting down on salt consumption. Finland, Japan and the United Kingdom have mandated reductions in salt content in processed food items. The United States requires mandatory labelling of sodium content. Three-decade-long effort by Finland to reduce sodium levels by about 30 per cent has resulted in 75 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease in those under 65 years; stroke rates have fallen by more than 70 per cent in Japan. As for India, the 24-30 per cent prevalence of hypertension in urban areas, and 12-14 per cent in rural areas, and the rising trend in the consumption of processed food call for urgent steps to limit salt levels in processed food and to build public awareness on the need to take less salt.









Critics have panned the Liberhan Commission report on the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid on multiple counts, berating Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan especially for placing the Teflon Atal Bihari Vajpayee alongside such accomplished disrupters as Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Rithambara and Pravin Togadia.


It is a measure of the rarefied place politics has accorded the former Prime Minister that on Monday the Congress was forced to jump on the 'save Vajpayee' bandwagon. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Salman Khursheed, Minister for Minority Affairs, all but regretted Mr. Vajpayee's inclusion in the list of 68 men and women whom the Liberhan report held culpable for the Babri crime. Hardly anyone objected to the presence of Lal Krishna Advani's name on the same list.


The judge's conclusions are undoubtedly problematic. Unlike Mr. Advani who was in the thick of pre- and post-demolition action in Ayodhya, Mr. Vajpayee was all along on the sidelines. Yet in conferring this dubious honour on the former Prime Minister, the learned judge unwittingly broke the enduring stereotype of "moderate-Vajpayee" and "hardline Advani," thereby providing an opportunity for a more honest and less black-and-white appraisal of the former Prime Minister and his deputy.


The celebration of Mr. Vajpayee has grown inversely with the popularity of his party, reaching hagiographic proportions in the currently adrift Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr. Advani's inability to arrest the BJP's precipitous decline, and the impression he has given of clinging to position, have only added to the Vajpayee persona and aura.


The Liberhan Commission report provides the perfect backdrop for re-evaluating the two key figures who, between them, shaped the BJP's fortunes. Under their watch, the party scaled great heights as it plumbed the depths but, more relevantly, it grew from a sidelined introvert to a fearsome bully capable of repeatedly pushing the country to the brink. Analysts have judged Mr. Advani more guilty of divisive politics than Mr. Vajpayee, and not without reason. Mr. Advani was visibly in command whenever the BJP ran amok, as was the case during the Ram rath yatra, which he used to whip up frenzy and which inevitably set the stage for the destruction of the Babri Masjid.


By contrast, the former Prime Minister was famously toasted as the "right man in the wrong party." He would be in the background as Mr. Advani rallied and thundered, emerging to take his place at the top once the BJP began to assimilate the limitations of combative politics. Mr. Advani was the chosen one as far as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was concerned. The RSS distrusted Mr. Vajpayee, and would not easily accept the transition to the Vajpayee era. But as the former Deputy Prime Minister himself records in his book, My Country, My Life, the ideologue was ill-suited to forge electoral partnerships, which alone could place the BJP within the reach of power. Who better to drive the coalition than the "liberal-secular" Mr. Vajpayee?


Mr. Vajpayee's accomplishments are many, and it is entirely to his credit that the BJP-led alliance ruled for six years. But his vulnerabilities have been numerous too, though such has been the Vajpayee myth that he could move to the periphery when a wrong was done, and win commendations when a right happened.


Indeed, a dispassionate reading of the BJP's history will establish not only Mr. Vajpayee's frequent excursions into "communal" territory but also his failure to frontally confront the RSS despite being uniquely placed to do so. Ironically, and probably for all the wrong reasons, that job was done by Mr. Advani. In a speech delivered at the party's national executive in Chennai on September 18-19, 2005, the former Home Minister showed the RSS its place in a manner that went beyond anything attempted by Mr. Vajpayee and which is unlikely to be equalled by any future BJP leader. Long ago, in August 1979, Mr. Vajpayee did write an article in the Indian Express, critical of the RSS but that was by a compact with the BJP's mentor. The Jana Sangh, which was under pressure to renounce the RSS, needed to save its place in the Janata Party. Mr. Vajpayee's piece was intended to suggest distance between the Jana Sangh members of the Janata Party and the RSS.


Mr. Vajpayee was a schoolboy when he penned a poem which went on to attain fame beyond the imagination of a child his age. The lyrics, Hindu tan man, Hindu jeevan, rag, rag mera Hindu parichay (I am Hindu in heart and body, my life is Hindu, Hindu is my only identity), inspired many generations of RSS volunteers and continues to be sung at RSS shakhas. Obviously, the song was justified by the path he took. Mr. Vajpayee joined the RSS and was among the first batch of pracharaks to migrate to the Jana Sangh.


In 1983, Mr. Vajpayee hit the headlines for a speech he made during the violent Assam election which was fought on the foreigners' issue, and which saw the massacre of over 2000 mostly Muslim men and women in Nellie. The BJP disowned the speech. However, thanks to the irrepressible Indrajit Gupta, who read out excerpts from it in the Lok Sabha while debating the motion of confidence moved by Mr. Vajpayee on May 28, 1996, we now know what he said. And what Mr. Vajpayee said (about foreigners being chopped into pieces) is not very different from what Varun Gandhi would say a quarter of a century later, winning universal approbation for the violent, divisive imagery he evoked.


This was not the only occasion when Mr. Vajpayee slipped into libellous language. He did so as Prime Minister. In the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, he famously asked "kisne lagayee aag? (who lit the fire?)," and went on to insinuate that Muslims cannot co-exist with non-Muslims. A hallmark of Mr. Vajpayee's career has been his effortless ability to flip-flop between statesmanlike large-heartedness and pandering to the vile instincts of a raw swayamsevak. He rose to towering heights when he visited the Minar-e-Pakistan, when he pushed for peace with our western neighbour and when he reached out to Kashmiris. No assessment of Mr. Vajpayee can be complete without acknowledging that Kashmir held its first free and fair election under a government headed by him.


But then there is also the string of self-indicting statements — while on a visit to Staten Island in September 2000, he shared a platform with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and declared himself a swayamsevak first. Three months later, on the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, he described the construction of the Ram temple as "a national sentiment" that awaited fulfilment. It was an impolitic thing to say on a day that commemorated the Masjid's brutal end. In the Lok Sabha, Jaipal Reddy would describe the remark as the "slip of the mask." Yet Mr. Vajpayee got away with it because with characteristic aplomb he would soon make a u-turn — handing out the assurance from distant Kumarakom that any solution to Ayodhya would have to be "peaceful and amicable."


What sets Mr. Vajpayee apart from Mr. Advani is the former's instinctive reaction to situations. He could change colour and tone so often and so quickly that critics would tear their hair trying to pin him down to one position. For every comment that Mr. Vajpayee made, there would be a counter comment with an escape clause.


Those who know the former Prime Minister insist that he was genuinely stricken by the enormity of December 6, 1992, and wrote out his resignation in atonement. A month into the cataclysmic climax, Mr. Vajpayee himself acknowledged the speculation, saying in witty verse, "jaaye to jaaye kahan? (where do I go?)". And yet in March 2005, the weekly magazine Outlook produced a video recording of a speech he made in Lucknow on December 5, 1992, which captured a relaxed Mr. Vajpayee quite enjoying the prospect of karsevaks gathering in strength at Ayodhya. "Kar seva rok ne ka sawal hi nahi hai (no question of stopping the kar seva)," he asserted, adding that it was natural for people to assemble in large numbers for it.


When Mr. Advani tried the somersault, he landed on his nose. This is because he could never multi-task like his senior colleague. Mr. Advani breathed so much fire during the Ayodhya agitation that the embers virtually extinguished his career. His Jinnah Avatar did not work because his audience was not trained to accept deviations from the Ayodhya warrior. Nonetheless, history will record that Mr. Advani went where Mr. Vajpayee dared not go. Asked to resign for the Jinnah adventure, Mr. Advani lambasted the RSS: "But lately an impression has gained ground that no political or organisation decision can be taken without the consent of the RSS functionaries. This perception, we hold, will do no good either to the party [BJP] or the RSS…"


Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani come from the same stock and subscribe to a common divisive worldview. Except one was clever enough to appear different and the other tried but failed.








It is billed as one of Pakistan's most historic cases. For no other case has the Supreme Court put together all its judges for the hearing.


The possible outcome could have damaging consequences for the political future of President Asif Ali Zardari and many others in the Pakistan People's Party-led government.


Fresh uncertainties loomed over Pakistan as 17 judges of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, on Monday took up petitions against the National Reconciliation Ordinance.


The petitions are asking that the infamous Musharraf-era decree that helped President Zardari stand for office by freeing him from corruption cases be struck down as unconstitutional and void ab initio — invalid from the beginning — as it is discriminatory and violates the fundamental right of equality before the law.


The main petitioner, Mubbasher Hassan, a former leader of the PPP and finance minister in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's cabinet, contends that the Supreme Court's ruling has the potential to change the country's future for the better. His petition dates back to October 2007. "It is not about unseating anyone. This is not a political petition. My petition has been pending from before Zardari's presidency. We are fighting the NRO because it goes against the Constitution and the rule of law," Dr. Hassan said.


In an early surprise and reflecting the difficulties of the government in this case, the Acting Attorney-General, Shah Khawar, made a statement in court saying he was under instruction from the government that it would not defend the law.


Government defence


A government defence of the NRO would have been difficult considering it pulled back from a vote on the law in parliament last month. But legal circles are more than astonished at the decision, considering the NRO was finalised after several rounds of talks between emissaries of former President Pervez Musharraf and the late PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto, and was later justified by the party as a vital factor in helping the transition to democracy.


"In my view, by this decision, the government has encouraged the full court to strike down the law," said Ahmed Bilal Soofi, a Supreme Court lawyer and commentator on legal affairs.


From now on, said Mr. Soofi, the question before the court was not so much if the NRO was ultra vires — the government having virtually conceded that — but more the consequences for different players in Pakistan's political scene.


The scenario is complex. The NRO itself lapsed on November 28, following the government's decision not to put the controversial and divisive decree to vote in the National Assembly after it became evident that its own coalition partners would not support it.


According to some legal experts, the cases against more than 8,000 people who benefited by NRO were automatically revived on the day the NRO lapsed. Among the beneficiaries are President Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and several former bureaucrats, some whom are now in the president's inner circle.


President Zardari claims presidential immunity from prosecution. In any case, it is the government that has to reopen the cases, something it may be loathe to do as it puts some of its prominent leaders at risk.


But with the involvement of the Supreme Court in the matter, the picture may change substantially. If the court were to strike down the NRO, those who benefited from this law would stand to lose those benefits.


According to legal experts, there is a possibility that instead of leaving it to the government, the court may order the reopening of the cases.


The ruling could also pave the way for further petitions by those interested in seeing Mr. Zardari tried asking the court to interpret the limits of presidential immunity.


It could also open the gates for petitions challenging the eligibility of Mr. Zardari as a candidate in the 2008 presidential elections.


The court has asked the government to place on record last month's parliamentary debate on the NRO to see for itself why "342 elected representatives did not give their support" to this law. It also asked the anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau, to furnish it with an authentic list of beneficiaries.


It is expected to pronounce a verdict later this week. "The decision of the court in this case, whatever it is, will be momentous," said Dr. Hassan.








Scientists at the European commission have cast doubt on whether biofuels could ever be produced sustainably in significant quantities, dealing a blow to the aviation industry, which sees such fuel as a key way to reduce its emissions.


The researchers argue that the greenhouse gases emitted in making biofuel may well negate most of the carbon dioxide savings made by replacing fossil fuels.


Of particular concern is the uncertainty over emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.


The road transport industry is also keen to increase the use of biofuels, and an EU directive last year requires 10% of all road transport fuel to come from plants by 2020. Theoretically the fuels are carbon-neutral: when burned they only release the carbon dioxide they absorbed while the plants were growing.


270 times more potent


Campaigners argue biofuels are not as sustainable as they seem and say more biofuels would mean the destruction of virgin forests - and the release of their stored carbon - to create agricultural land.


Heinz Ossenbrink, of the EC's Institute of Energy (IoE), said research carried out by EU-funded scientists increasingly pointed to a long-term problem for large-scale biofuels use, namely the emissions of nitrous oxide. This is about 270 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and is released through use of fertilisers to grow biofuel crops. "Some of the older studies don't take that into account," he said. "We have now come to less positive values for biofuels."


The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does consider the production of nitrous oxide when deciding on the sustainibility of particular biofuels, but errors in its calculations are known to be large.


"That's because there's such a huge local variation - [emissions] could double from one end of the field to the other and hundreds of times between the fields in the same country and thousands of times around the world," said Robert Edwards, of the renewable energies unit at the IoE.


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








  • Environmental groups contend that governments have been slow to react and are not looking hard for contamination
  • Gas companies use at least 260 types of chemicals, many of them toxic, during the hydraulic fracturing process


Victoria Switzer dreamed of a peaceful retirement. Instead, she is coping with a big hassle after a nearby natural gas well contaminated her family's drinking water with high levels of methane.


Through no design of hers, Switzer has joined a rising chorus of voices sceptical of the nation's latest energy push.


"It's been 'drill, baby, drill' out here in Dimock [Pennsylvania]," Switzer said bitterly. "There is no stopping this train."


Across vast regions of the country, gas companies are using a technology called hydraulic fracturing — fracking — to produce natural gas from previously untapped beds of shale. The push has been so successful that the country's potential gas reserves jumped by 35 per cent in two years. The new supplies have driven down natural gas prices for consumers and might help the global environment by allowing more production of electricity from natural gas, which emits fewer global warming emissions than coal.


What the drilling push will do to local environments is another matter.


The drilling boom is raising concern in many parts of the country, and the reaction is creating political obstacles for the gas industry. Hazards like methane contamination of drinking water wells, long known in regions where gas production was common, are spreading to populous areas that have little history of coping with such risks, but happen to sit atop shale beds.


And a more worrisome possibility has come to light. A string of incidents in places like Wyoming and Pennsylvania in recent years has pointed to a possible link between hydraulic fracturing and pollution of groundwater supplies. In the worst case, such pollution could damage crucial supplies of water used for drinking and agriculture.


So far, the evidence of groundwater pollution is thin. Environmental groups contend that is because governments have been slow to react to the drilling boom and are not looking hard for contamination. Gas companies acknowledge the validity of some concerns, but they claim that their technology is fundamentally safe.


The debate is becoming more urgent as gas companies move closer to more populated areas, especially in the Northeast, where millions of people are likely to find themselves living near drilling operations in coming years.


"To be able to scale up our drilling, clearly we have to be in sync with people's concerns about water," said Aubrey K. McClendon, chairman and chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp., a leading gas company. "It's our biggest challenge."


Hydraulic fracturing consists of injecting huge volumes of water at high pressure to break shale rocks and allow natural gas to flow out more easily. The water is mixed with sand, chemicals and gels to lubricate the process and help keep the rocks open. After refining the technique in western states in recent years, gas companies are moving to tap the nation's largest shale structure, the Marcellus shale, which stretches from Virginia to New York.


"It's a very reliable, safe, American source of energy,: said John Richels, president of Devon Energy Corp.


Environmental activists, however, say there is at least scattered evidence that fracturing operations can pose risks to groundwater sources, particularly when mistakes are made in drilling. They have also questioned how some companies deal with the wastewater produced by their operations, warning that liquids laced with chemicals and salt from drilling can overload public sewage treatment plants or pollute surface waters.


Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer for the non-profit environmental group Earthjustice who is fighting to toughen Pennsylvania's discharge rules, said the state "is facing enormous pressure from gas drillers, who are generating contaminated water faster than the state's treatment plants can handle it."


Long-term contamination


According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is going through a public review of its new rules on hydraulic fracturing, gas companies use at least 260 types of chemicals, many of them toxic, like benzene. These chemicals tend to remain in the ground once the fracturing has been completed, raising fears about long-term contamination.


The most immediate hazard from the national drilling bonanza, it is clear, involves contamination of residential drinking water wells by natural gas. In Bainbridge, Ohio, an improperly drilled well contaminated groundwater in 2007, including the water source for the township's police station, according to a complaint filed this year. After building to high pressures, gas migrated through underground faults, and blew up one house.


In Dimock, 13 water wells, including that of Switzer, were contaminated by natural gas. One of the wells blew up.


Under prodding, environmental regulators are stepping up the search for groundwater contamination. In Pavilion, Wyo., for instance, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun an investigation into contamination of several drinking water wells.


Luke Chavez, an EPA investigator, said that traces of methane and 2-butoxyethanol phosphate, a foaming agent, had been found in several wells near an area where EnCana Corp., a Canadian gas company, had used hydraulic fracturing in recent years. He said the compounds could have come from cleaning products or oil and gas production, but "it tells us something is happening here that shouldn't be here."


An EnCana spokesman, Doug Hock, said the company was "committed to working with EPA to resolve this issue." But he added, "at this point, no specific connection has been made between the tentatively identified compounds and oil and gas activities."


In a 2004 study, the EPA decided that hydraulic fracturing was essentially harmless. Critics said the analysis was politically motivated, but it was cited the following year when the Republican-led Congress removed hydraulic fracturing from any regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.


The current Democratic Congress recently enacted a law requiring the EPA to review the study. Lawmakers from Colorado and New York have also introduced legislation to end the water act exemption and require gas companies to disclose all chemicals used in fracturing operations. The agency has begun an analysis of whether hydraulic fracturing requires tighter federal regulation.


"EPA is reviewing available information to determine whether hydraulic fracturing fluids have contaminated drinking water and has dedicated resources to properly studying this issue," the agency said in a statement.


The political situation has put the gas companies on the defensive. "It's not going to stop us, but we do have to solve the problem in a prudent manner," said Rodney L. Waller, a senior vice-president at Range Resources Corp., a major gas producer in the Marcellus shale.


Partly in response to opposition it has encountered in New York, Chesapeake recently indicated that it would not drill in the New York City watershed, a region that supplies drinking water to nearly 10 million people.


Schlumberger, a service company that performs fracturing operations on behalf of gas companies, said it was working on "green" fracturing fluids, including safer substitutes for hazardous chemicals. In the Barnett shale gas field in Texas, Devon Energy and Chesapeake are trying various treatment techniques for disposing of contaminated drilling water. Gas executives hope that wider use of such techniques will damp public opposition in some regions. Several companies are starting a joint water treatment effort in Pennsylvania in the next few weeks. Still, around Dimock, the gas boom is viewed with mixed feelings. Many public officials support drilling. Governor Edward G. Rendell has called the surge "a great boon" to Pennsylvania. Many people have leased their land here and are collecting royalty checks from gas production.


The hills around Dimock have been bulldozed to clear the ground for dozens of drilling pads the size of football fields. Eighteen-wheelers thunder down narrow country roads, kicking up dust and fumes. Recently, a helicopter buzzed overhead while dangling heavy cables used for seismic tests.


In September, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., a Houston energy company, was required to suspend its fracturing operations for three weeks after causing three spills in the course of nine days. Cabot, which was fined $56,650 by the state, said the spills consisted mainly of water, with only 0.5 per cent chemicals. This month, Cabot was fined an additional $120,000 by Pennsylvania for the contamination of homeowners' wells.


Companies' stand


A company spokesman, Kenneth S. Komoroski, said it was too early to blame hydraulic fracturing — the technology at the heart of the boom — for pollution of water wells. He said Cabot was still investigating the causes of last January's contamination incidents.


"None of the issues in Dimock have anything to do with hydraulic fracturing," he said.


The fines were little consolation to Switzer, the woman who can no longer draw drinking water from her well.


After moving here in 2005, she sold drilling rights on her property for a mere $180 after, as she recalled it, a gas company representative convinced her only one well might be drilled. In fact, no well was drilled, but three were on surrounding properties. Her well was contaminated at the beginning of the year after gas leaked from a well drilled by Cabot.


Her family now uses bottled water supplied by Cabot every week. She fears that if she tried to sell her home, which sits in the middle of a drilling zone, no one would buy it.

"Can you imagine the ad? 'Beautiful new home. Bring your own water,'" Switzer said. "We're like a dead zone here."


 © 2009 The New York Times News Service








  • The evidence of man-made global warming is unequivocal
  • People behind climate denial campaigns know that their claims are untrue


When you survey the trail of wreckage left by the climate emails crisis, three things become clear. The first is the tendency of those who claim to be the champions of climate science to minimise their importance. Those who have most to lose if the science is wrong have perversely sought to justify the secretive and chummy ethos that some of the emails reveal. If science is not transparent and accountable, it's not science.


I believe that all supporting data, codes and programmes should be made available as soon as an article is published in a peer-reviewed journal. That anyone should have to lodge a freedom of information request to obtain them is wrong. That the request should be turned down is worse. That a scientist suggests deleting material that might be covered by that request is unjustifiable. Everyone who values the scientific process should demand complete transparency, across all branches of science.


The second observation is the tendency of those who don't give a fig about science to maximise their importance. The denial industry, which has no interest in establishing the truth about global warming, insists that these emails, which concern three or four scientists and just one or two lines of evidence, destroy the entire canon of climate science.


Even if you were to exclude every line of evidence that could possibly be disputed — the proxy records, the computer models, the complex science of clouds and ocean currents — the evidence for man-made global warming would still be unequivocal. You can see it in the measured temperature record, which goes back to 1850; in the shrinkage of glaciers and the thinning of sea ice; in the responses of wild animals and plants and the rapidly changing crop zones.


No other explanation for these shifts makes sense. Solar cycles have been out of synch with the temperature record for 40 years. The Milankovic cycle, which describes variations in the Earth's orbit, doesn't explain it either. But the warming trend is closely correlated with the accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. The impact of these gases can be demonstrated in the laboratory. To assert that they do not have the same effect in the atmosphere, a novel and radical theory would be required. No such theory exists. The science is not fixed - no science ever is - but it is as firm as science can be. The evidence for man-made global warming remains as strong as the evidence linking smoking to lung cancer or HIV to AIDS.


The third observation is the contrast between the global scandal these emails have provoked and the muted response to 20 years of revelations about the propaganda planted by fossil fuel companies. I have placed on the Guardian's website four case studies, each of which provides a shocking example of how the denial industry works.


Two of them are drawn from Climate Cover-Up, the fascinating, funny and beautifully written new book by James Hoggan and Richard Littlemore. If every allegation it contained could not be traced back to leaked documents (I have checked all the sources), their findings would be unbelievable. Nothing exposed by the hacking of the Climatic Research Unit's server is one tenth as bad as the least of these revelations.



When I use the term denial industry, I'm referring to those who are paid to say that man-made global warming isn't happening. The great majority of people who believe this have not been paid: they have been duped. Reading Climate Cover-Up, you keep stumbling across familiar phrases and concepts which you can see every day on the comment threads. The book shows that these memes were planted by PR companies and hired experts.


The first case study I've posted reveals how a coalition of U.S. coal companies sought to persuade people that the science is uncertain. It listed the two social groups it was trying to reach — "Target 1: Older, less educated males"; "Target 2: Younger, lower income women" — and the methods by which it would reach them. One of its findings was that "members of the public feel more confident expressing opinions on others' motivations and tactics than they do expressing opinions on scientific issues."


Remember this the next time you hear people claiming that climate scientists are only in it for the money, or that environmentalists are trying to create a communist world government: these ideas were devised and broadcast by energy companies. The people who inform me, apparently without irony, that "your article is an ad hominem attack, you four-eyed, big-nosed, commie sack of shit," or "you scaremongers will destroy the entire world economy and take us back to the Stone Age," are the unwitting recruits of campaigns they have never heard of.


The second case study reveals how Dr. Patrick Michaels, one of a handful of climate change deniers with a qualification in climate science, has been lavishly paid by companies seeking to protect their profits from burning coal. As far as I can discover, none of the media outlets who use him as a commentator - including the Guardian — has disclosed this interest at the time of his appearance. Michaels is one of many people commenting on climate change who presents himself as an independent expert while being secretly paid for his services by fossil fuel companies.


The third example shows how a list published by the Heartland Institute (which has been sponsored by oil company Exxon) of 500 scientists "whose research contradicts man-made global warming scares" turns out to be nothing of the kind: as soon as these scientists found out what the institute was saying about them, many angrily demanded that their names be removed. Twenty months later, they are still on the list. The fourth example shows how, during the Bush presidency, White House officials worked with oil companies to remove regulators they didn't like and to doctor official documents about climate change.


In Climate Cover-Up, in Ross Gelbspan's books The Heat is On and Boiling Point, in my book Heat, and on the websites and, you can find dozens of such examples. Together they expose a systematic, well-funded campaign to con the public. To judge by the comments you can read on the Guardian's website, it has worked.


But people behind these campaigns know that their claims are untrue. One of the biggest was run by the Global Climate Coalition, which represented ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, the American Petroleum Institute and several big motor manufacturers. In 1995 the coalition's own scientists reported that "the scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well-established and cannot be denied". The coalition hid this finding from the public, and spent millions of dollars seeking to persuade people that the opposite was true. These people haven't fooled themselves, but they might have fooled you. Who, among those of you who claim that climate scientists are liars and environmentalists are stooges, has thought it through for yourself?


© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









The connections between Pakistan and the November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai are becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day. The fact that a United States court has charged the Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley aka Daood Gilani with criminal conspiracy in the 26/11 attacks is one more in a series of irrefutable pieces of evidence presented to Pakistan. While Pakistan has consistently tried to mock, denigrate or discredit the evidence which India presented to it, this charge comes from its chief benefactor, the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Headley in October and since then it has become clear that he was the chief reconnaissance agent for the LeT in India and worked out the sites and how the attack would proceed.

The involvement of Pakistani terror groups in attacks across the world is now accepted and established — 9/11 set that process in motion and denials by subsequent Pakistani administrations have been exposed as lies. But it took the world time to accept India's contention that Pakistan-based terror groups were attacking it. The 26/11 attacks established the Pakistan connection too firmly for any possibility of denial. The Headley arrest by the FBI was one more reaffirmation of India's position.

But there are worrying factors about the role which Headley played and the ease with which he made friends and influenced people in India. The finger points straight at the loopholes in our intelligence-gathering networks. The 26/11 attacks had already exposed the failures of our intelligence agencies and the Headley case re-emphasised those lapses.

This is where India has to take action to safeguard itself. This is apart from the consistent diplomatic pressure on the world to acknowledge Pakistan's role and our own efforts to demand justice from our western neighbour.

Headley's connections to a retired Pakistani army major  points once more to the disturbing links between the Pakistani military and terrorist groups. The demon once aimed at India has turned around and is attacking it. The anarchy, rebellion and chaos in its north western provinces and the almost daily bomb blasts in other parts of the country have put Pakistan in an unenviable and almost impossible situation. The onus here is on the US to ensure that Pakistan not just assist it in its endeavour to attack terrorist camps but also to dismantle the structure that it had put up to destabilise India. The charging of Headley is only one small step.








The Russians have never lost interest in India, except for a few years during the Yeltsin period in the 1990s. During the Putin years from 1999 onwards, Russia had steadily focused on reviving and strengthening bilateral ties, with an emphasis on defence purchases. There has, however, been a change in the Indian position. New Delhi-Washington got closer to each other in the last decade, on political, economic and strategic levels.

It meant in plain terms that in contrast to the Cold War era, when the former Soviet Union was the strategic partner in world affairs, the situation changed drastically for Russia and radically for India. Russia had almost become a Third World country and India moved up more than a few notches in the new world scenario's pecking order. Yet India has been painfully aware that it still needs its old friends because the new world order is still unclear.

What has remained critical in India-Russia ties is defence cooperation. There is a certain comfort level in this long-term relationship and the armed forces are all for it, whether it is the Sukhoi fighter jets or battle tanks. The other key area is nuclear power cooperation.

Prime minister Mamnmohan Singh's Moscow visit has confirmed broadly the New Delhi-Moscow ties along these specific lines. The major pacts signed on the occasion of the annual India-Russia summit — held alternately in the two capitals — on Monday reflect this. There has been a 10-year defence cooperation pact, an after-sales support system agreement, and a nuclear power deal agreement. It is not a friction-free engagement. If the Russians are grudgingly aware that India is shopping elsewhere, the Indians are unhappy that the Russians are faltering on their commitments.

The aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov is a good example of this. Russia revised the purchase price and did not keep to schedules. India is aware however that Russia is still the only country which is willing to share strategic defence systems.

The India-Russia connection is anchored in hard reality. Both sides are aware that they can be of help to each other. Whatever the pro-US bias of the Singh government, there is an awareness in policy circles in New Delhi that the Russian window is useful for global cross-ventilation. It is a signal to the West that India's foreign policy is based on the assumption of a multi-polar world.







The most intriguing part of US president Barack Obama's battle plan for Afghanistan is the announcement of beginning a troop withdrawal 18 months down the line so that the Afghan people "will ultimately be responsible for their own country". Despite an initial surge of an additional 30,000 American troops this announcement flies in the face of logic.

If you want to defang the Taliban you don't announce that you'll leave before the job is done.

He may have said that keeping in mind the opposition within the Democratic Party to a long haul in Afghanistan. But that is exactly the kind of commitment that is necessary if Afghanistan is not to be abandoned once again. This happened in 1989 after the mujahedeen vanquished the Soviet army with American help, and the Americans stopped all military and civilian aid, leading to chaos and eventually to the Taliban taking over.

After 9/11 the US and NATO sent in their troops in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. Once he escaped the American dragnet later that year, they lost interest and concentrated on Iraq, giving the Taliban a chance to regroup and return. It is unreasonable to expect that not being able to defeat the insurgents after eight years, in just another 18 months the US and NATO will turn the tide against them. 

The fresh American troops are to be largely concentrated in the Helmand province, the centre of the poppy cultivation, a strong Taliban base and just north of Quetta. This is of concern to Pakistan, fighting the Taliban extremists in the Swat and Waziristan regions of the federally administered tribal areas (FATA) of the Pashtun or Pathan populated North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The Pakistanis feel that the increased US pressure will push the Taliban in the area surrounding Helmand into Baluchistan, opening another front for the Pakistani army to tackle the Taliban. 

Part of the American strategy is to use drone bombs to target its adversaries. Remotely controlled halfway round the world from CIA headquarters in Langley, they can hover above a suspected Taliban stronghold beaming pictures until instructed to explode. Their use inflames public opinion in Pakistan because of high civilian deaths.

With Obama announcing the withdrawal, it is not in the interest of the Pakistani army to take on the Taliban, knowing that they are likely to be in power in Afghanistan two years hence. Pakistan has had an ambivalent relationship with them, encouraging them as a friendly force on their western flank. They only began taking them on in parts of NWFP once a series of bomb blasts orchestrated by the Taliban in Peshawar and Rawalpindi took the battle home. 

The British-imposed Durand line artificially divides the 15 million ethnic Pathans in Afghanistan from the 24 million in NWFP in Pakistan. They share kinship, a common language and culture and are indistinguishable from each other. Pakistani policy has to consider what happens to the Pathans in Afghanistan since it raises hackles in the NWFP, just as the fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka does in Tamil Nadu.

A likely American failure of nerve in Afghanistan brings the vortex of terrorist politics closer home to us. A Taliban comeback in that country will lead to the Pakistani army's adjustment with them and a radicalising of sub-continental politics. It also presents the frightening possibility of the al Qaeda managing to get its hands on part of the nuclear arsenal. 

Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, put it bluntly in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. The Pashtuns, he argued, were marginalised after 9/11, pushing them into the Taliban's arms. "The exit strategy cannot be time related… We must eliminate al Qaeda, dominate the Taliban… raising additional Afghan troops with significant Pashtun representation."

Whatever the impact of American troops, it must be understood that Pakistan is the frontline state taking the major burden. And despite its troops not being as well equipped, it is a well-trained army, speaking the language and familiar with the culture. They are also willing to take higher losses than the US or NATO.

The Americans are not even willing for a much needed "nation-building project of up to a decade".  Obama rejected this in his December 3 speech because "it sets goals that are beyond what we need to achieve to secure our interests." Yet this is just what is needed.

What Pakistan seeks is a larger influence in Kabul. To its frustration, India has made excellent inroads by its superb developmental work. Pakistan is too closely identified with arming the Taliban. It needs to be helped to get into civilian programmes, even if financed by the US. That should help rebuild its image, the "partnership with Pakistan" being so important for successfully taming the Taliban.







Nothing concentrates the mind so wonderfully as the prospect of a hanging in the morning.


It's no wonder, therefore, that policymakers in Britain are sounding particularly lucid, faced as they are with an economy that's just one dark night away from the prospect of careening into a public debt crisis. As they scramble to raise revenues and scale back expenses to pay off debts, they're exploring a range of proposals — from imposing a levy on bankers' bonuses to cutting up to 1 million public sector jobs. Most of these measures are targeted at the domestic economy and polity, and have little bearing on the wider world. 

But in its desperation to balance its books through cost-cutting, the cash-strapped UK government is looking farther afield and in so doing is stepping on India's toes. For instance, at the yearly round of negotiations under way to finance the United Nation's budget, diplomats from the UK are pushing for emerging economic powers, including India, to contribute more. 

For sheer audacity, that suggestion is hard to top. Ponder over this: one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which secured that place solely on the strength of its colonial plunder of its erstwhile colonies (including India), now wants India, whose case for a seat at the high table has been systematically scuttled, to foot a larger share of the bill for the UN to do as the five 'super' members bid it! 

The sentiment underlying that suggestion reflects a throwback to a time when the UK's Industrial Revolution-driven prosperity and its colonial wars were underwritten by remittances from its colonies, particularly from India, the 'Jewel in the Crown.' The economically enfeebled empire of the 21st century feels overly burdened by the weight of 'global responsibility' and wants to pass the tab along, but not the privileges that come with it. 

It would be tempting to dismiss this as the 'arrogance of power', except that today's UK isn't particularly powerful. Japan and Germany, the losers in the War that shaped the world power structure, are today economically bigger than the UK, even though they're not permanent members of the Security Council. In any case, even the UK's 'super member' status hasn't earned it much by way of privilege. 

Still, permanent membership of the UN Security Council retains 'vanity trophy' value for many aspiring states, including Japan, Germany, Australia, Brazil and South Africa. So analysts at Lowy Institute in Australia recently suggested (half in jest) that a bankrupt UK could perhaps raise money to pay off its debts by 'auctioning' or leasing its permanent membership! And since Article 28 of the UN Charter even provides for Security Council members to "be represented by… some other specially designated representative," there might be a window of opportunity for the UK to monetise its seat and for an aspiring power to secure admittance to that exalted club. 

But the unvarnished truth is that the power (including veto power) that comes with permanent membership has more often been invoked to 'legitimise' unilateral actions (such as the US war on Iraq), cover for friends (as China did for genocidal Sudan or the US did for Israel) or strike deals. And, as we've seen with the US and the UK, it doesn't offer any immunity from crippling economic enfeeblement that acts as a drag on their standing in the world. So, really, who needs it?

If, however, the UK — the modern-day Atlas groaning under the weight of the world — wants to unburden itself, it could do one thing: it could cede its permanent membership, with all its rights and responsibilities, to India — for free. We'll be gracious and, as a concession to its economic plight, not ask it to contribute any more than it does to the UN budget. We'll even consider it sufficient reparation for all those years of colonial plunder.









It is heartening that India's efforts for assured fuel supply to its nuclear reactors have succeeded with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signing a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement on Monday. Russia has agreed to the inclusion of a clause guaranteeing that India will continue to get uninterrupted nuclear fuel supply even after the India-Russia deal is called off in any eventuality. The equipment and technology transferred to India also will remain unaffected. This is contrary to the 123 Agreement with the US, which clearly says that the US will stop not only the uranium supply to the nuclear reactors exported to India, but also take back everything, including the reactors, in case India goes in for a fresh nuclear test. Those involved in the negotiations with the US argue that Washington is unlikely to go to such an extent owing to the deepening Indo-US economic ties, but the sceptics refuse to agree. They rightly point out that the punitive clause in the 123 Agreement hangs over our head as the proverbial Damocles' sword.


The deal with Russia is a "major step forward", as Dr Manmohan Singh elaborated. What Russia has agreed to offer is not there even in the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement reached with France. The Russian President has emphasised that the G8 Group resolution, restricting the sale of nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies to non-NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) countries, "does not change anything in our cooperation." Russia is expected to supply 20 reactors to India, which will enhance the country's nuclear power generation capacity considerably. The Russian gesture can have its impact on the arrangement with the US and France because of nuclear business compulsions. In any case, Russia has stolen a march over the US and France.


Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow has been a path-breaking one from another angle. India and Russia are believed to have sorted out the pricing issue related to the acquisition of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier. Though no agreement has been signed at this stage, the removal of the irritant is significant. The relations between the two countries, having commonality of views on most of the global issues, are bound to scale new heights in the days to come. 








The chilling details revealed in a Chicago court regarding David Coleman Headley's involvement in the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai underscore the global nature of contemporary terror and the sophistication acquired by terror groups in executing their diabolical plans from foreign lands. The arrest of Headly, his Pakistani-Canadian co-conspirator Tahawwur Hussain Rana and two more men of Pakistani origin in Italy had earlier unmasked the extensive terror links. Prosecutors in the US have now officially charged Headley with conducting surveillance of targets in Mumbai for over two years and with supplying videotapes to terror groups based in Pakistan. It has also been confirmed that the plan to attack Mumbai was hatched several years before it was finally executed. Headley, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, was commissioned to do the surveillance in 2005; he changed his name from Dawood Gilani to David Headley in 2006, the year when he also opened an office in Mumbai. During his two-year long stay in Mumbai, he visited Pakistan no less than five times without apparently arousing any suspicion in the mind of Indian Immigration or Intelligence officials.

Even more alarming is the disclosure that Headley was reporting to a retired Major of the Pakistani Army, identified as Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, who acted as the conduit and communicator. The Chicago court has now been informed that the Pakistani army officer had even escorted Headley to the FATA region of Pakistan to meet Ilyas Kashmiri of HuJI to prepare for another terror attack in Denmark. India's decision to involve the US FBI in the investigation, soon after the Mumbai attack, was criticised in some quarters. But developments this week would seem to have vindicated that stand. With overwhelming evidence gathered by investigators about the involvement of another prominent Pakistani, who is being identified by US prosecutors only as "A" , it is hoped that Pakistan would cooperate with India and the US to bring all the players to book.


The ease with which Headley obtained visa to travel to India and set up shop in Mumbai has already caused considerable concern. The disclosure that he changed his name from Dawood Gilani to David Headley in 2006, which was overlooked or missed by the Indian establishment, is bound to cause even more concern. The more dramatic or damaging information would obviously have been kept secret. But with every country having a stake in putting an end to terror, global cooperation and intelligence-sharing must improve to give a fighting chance to peace.








Now that the Ludhiana storm has abated somewhat, it is time to take a dispassionate look at the reasons behind the outpouring of migrants' anger. Fortunately, there was no local-versus-outsider angle to it, as is the case in Maharashtra thanks to the Shiv Sena and the MNS. But the abominable socio-economic conditions in which the migrant workers live in Ludhiana contributed largely to the eruption. The industrial town is home to some of the richest persons in the region. But it also has a large populace of migrant labour which barely ekes out a living. This contrast can magnify the feeling of deprivation anywhere. What made matters worse was that the labourers were deprived of their meagre earnings by gangs of robbers time and again. The police tended to look the other way, fanning the grouse of the hapless labourers. When the policemen allegedly misbehaved with those who went to lodge a complaint, instead of nabbing the culprits, the matter came to a head. Protesters damaged private and public vehicles, and disrupted road and rail traffic.


As if that was not enough, allowing the head of a controversial dera to hold a congregation in the city added fuel to the fire. Members of some Sikh organisations launched violent protests in some parts of the city.The district administration in view of the violence cancelled permission for the second day of the congregation, besides imposing curfew in the city as a preventive and precautionary measure. This incident had nothing to do with the protests by the migrants, but the two got interlinked because this particular dera has a large number of followers among the labourers.


More than finding out who is right and who is wrong, it is more important to maintain the peace somehow. That will be possible only if all political parties refrain from playing the communal card at the drop of a hat. Punjab has suffered incalculable damage because of such polarisation during the terrorism days. All attempts should be made to ensure that there is no repetition. 









In the new Af-Pak strategy announced by President Obama on December 1, most of the attention of both US and international strategists has been focused on his fixing a date for beginning the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan after the surge to be effected in the spring and summer of 2010. That led to the general conclusion that if the Taliban were to lie low till after the American withdrawal is completed they will be able to reoccupy Afghanistan. Consequently, the strategy was ridiculed, overlooking the fact that the national security team of the US President had worked on it for weeks and the President himself had spent days deliberating it.


It should have been noticed that in his speech, while drawing attention to the continuing threat posed to the US by the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, emphasising the need for a common strategy on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, making a reference to the inability of tackling the situation in Afghanistan without doing the same in Pakistan and, above all, emphasising the offer of long-term partnership with Pakistan, the President was silent on the strategy to be adopted to fight the terrorist groups which have safe havens in Pakistan. This should have alerted strategic commentators that the major part of the strategy relating to Pakistan had been deliberately withheld by the President because of Pakistani sensitivities.


The superficial commentaries on the Obama strategy reminded one of the strategic forecasts in India just before the First Gulf War when it was confidently predicted that there would be an unacceptable stream of body bags coming home to the US and Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards armoured divisions would offer very stiff resistance to US forces. This did not happen that way. In October 2001 our commentators again predicted that US operations in Afghanistan would meet the same results as the Soviet operations in that country in the eighties. Again they were proved wrong. That did not deter them from predicting a long and bitter resistance invading US forces by the Iraqi army in 2003.The Iraqi army was defeated in a few days though the US leadership committed fundamental mistakes in handling post-war Iraq. Once again the same mindset does not differentiate between the political mistakes committed by the Bush administration and permissiveness extended to Musharraf and the military strategy now being worked out.


While political mistakes may yet take place in handling the situation in the Af-Pak area, it is necessary to be realistic about the military dimensions of the proposed operations. They are likely to have serious implications for India. That should have been the primary concern of our strategic commentators.


President Obama is reported to have decided on a rapid surge of 30,000 additional troops and this is to be completed by the beginning of summer. If so, there has to be a massive logistic support operation that should be undertaken simultaneously. Will it be through Pakistan running the risks of disruptive attacks by the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban against whom the build-up is aimed. Or through Russia and Central Asian republics? Will Pakistan, as a partner of the US, be able to stand by and allow the likely attacks to take place?


The New York Times of December 7 carries an article which confirms an earlier Washington Post article of November 30 that prior to the announcement of the strategy on December 1, US National Security Adviser General Jones carried a personal message to Mr Zardari from Mr Obama that if Pakistan did not act aggressively against five terrorist groups (Al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban) the US will use more force from the Afghan territory by way of drone attacks and operations by US Special Forces. Already in the Pakistani media there are mentions of likely drone strikes in Balochistan where Afghan Taliban operate.

Mr Obama's letter specifically mentioned that any ambiguity in the relationships between the Pakistan Army and the five terrorist groups could not be ignored. In these circumstances, our attention should be focused not on the beginning of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 but also the decision that the Pakistan Army is being asked to take to fight to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the five terrorist organisations which were originally nurtured by the Pakistani Army and its ISI.The Pakistan Army has initiated a campaign against the Pakistani Taliban and is yet to make a decision to fight the other four terrorist organisations.


The campaign against the Pakistani Taliban has already resulted in retaliatory attacks on major Pakistani cities — Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Lahore, etc. If the Army takes on the other four the retaliatory attacks are likely to increase. The American forces reinforced by the surge are likely to use their superior firepower to push the Afghan Taliban into their safe havens in Pakistan. They expect Pakistan to take on the Taliban falling back into the Pakistani territory under threat. If the Pakistan Army fails to do so they will use drone strikes and their own special forces. In such circumstances, the terrorist forces may fall back into further interior areas. They may also launch revenge attacks on Pakistani cities and military targets to punish the Pakistan Army for its cooperation with the US.


Given this scenario, the US authorities, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates, expect that terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Toiba may launch a major terrorist strike against India to trigger an India-Pakistan war that may forestall action against them. While the US authorities expect the terrorist organisations to resort to this stratagem, the Pakistan Army also may resort to the same trick to provoke India into a confrontation and use it as an excuse not to take action against terrorist organisations they had nurtured, as being insisted on by the US. Such a confrontation with India will be popular in Pakistan and may help to unite the country, including the jehadis.


Therefore, the next few months are extremely vulnerable for India. We have vulnerabilities in respect of sleeper jehadi cells planted by Pakistan in our country, terrorist attacks by land, sea and air by Pakistani terrorist teams, Maoists whom the Pakistani ISI could have cultivated and the secessionists in the North-East with whom the ISI has been in touch in Bangladesh


Already, a great deal of cooperation and information sharing exist between the agencies of India and the US. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Obama in their joint statement agreed to establish a counter-terrorism cooperation initiative. That has to be acted upon without delay.








While reading Jeffrey Archer's recent book "Paths of Glory", I came across a conversation during WW-I between the hero, a Lt in Royal Artillery and his corporal: "A letter to your wife, Perkins?"; "No, sir; it is my Will". My mind immediately raced back 38 years, to Friday, 10 December 1971.


Having fought a ferocious battle and pulled back to east of the river, the Division was consolidating. It was expected to be a day of lull. Suddenly at about 10 a m, there was confusion, as half-baked information came in that a huge enemy tank column had crossed the river at Crossing "D" and was heading towards the nearest town!


While that information was being checked, as a precautionary measure, reconnaissance of a different gun area for the artillery brigade, further to the rear, commenced as we were on the possible ingress route.


Just then my friend Major Pakrasi from Corps HQ landed close to my Fire Direction Centre in an Air OP aircraft carrying an important message for the Division (along with a cake from his wife). When he saw the 'fog of war', he decided not to delay, as the aircraft was urgently required back. I quickly wrote a letter (which was more or less my last Will and Testament) to my wife of three-and-a half years, then staying with her parents in Dehradun, in case the worst happened!


I handed it to him requesting him to post it in the Corps FPO for faster delivery! I had written telling her the likely balance in bank; advising her not be sentimental but to re-marry for the sake of our (then) only daughter, just a year-plus etc!


Soon, the information about the tank-column crossing was found to be false. With the arrival of the Corps Commander early afternoon, reconnaissance for any rearward move was stopped and a counterattack went in at D. The situation stabilised!


Ceasefire came on 17th and I had my first weekend pass, a month later, on 15/16 January 72, to be with my wife whom I had called to our own vacant flat at Pathankot by 14th. Soon the postman arrived and handed a Forces Letter duly re-directed from her Dehradun address! Looking at my name and the FPO stamp of 10 December, I snatched the letter from her. She wanted to know why. I told her. She insisted on reading it and cried a lot.


That is the time she also told me how Radio Pakistan had announced the names of my Commander, me, my GSO-3 and the Field Post Master as having been captured....a white lie, on 7 December, after we had vacated our previous position west of the river.


Luckily she had got a letter from me dated 8th subsequently! It was good that this Last Will and supposedly Last Letter from me was delayed by a month; for once I thanked the Indian Post!


We visited Darbar Sahib in Amritsar that Sunday, before I drove back to forward area on Monday morning!


Tailpiece: My wife passed away in 1983; that daughter in 1994 and Pakrasi this year.









The 25th anniversary of the signing of the SAARC Charter (Dec 8, 2009) is good occasion to review and assess the progress the organisation has made since its inception. After initial years of stilted progress, SAARC is rapidly transforming itself from a declaratory to an effective implementing organisation. This progression has generated interest amongst non-SAARC states with nine observers formally expressing their intent to engage with SAARC.


India has been an important factor in strengthening intra-regional cooperation. India's manner of its commitment to regional cooperation with SAARC member states by taking initiatives on regional projects has helped SAARC transform itself as an effective regional development organisation impacting directly at the grassroots level.


Bangladesh, Pakistan and Bhutan are also setting up necessary infrastructure for establishment of key specialised institutions that would complement the role of the SAARC Secretariat in coordinating SAARC activities. The focused approach of Nepal and Maldives on core subjects of development, such as agriculture, health and coastal management through the SAARC Regional Centres hosted by them are producing vibrant programmes and workshops.


Even SAARC's newest member, Afghanistan, despite all its problems, is actively participating in all SAARC meetings and has already hosted/hosting several meetings in Kabul including the pivotal Fifth Meeting of the SAARC Development Fund Board.


The new spirit of regional cooperation, notwithstanding political difficulties between certain SAARC countries, has resulted in the beginning of SAARC institution-building process. The contours of the South Asian University (to be established in New Delhi), the SAARC Arbitration Council (to be located in Islamabad), Secretariat of the SAARC Development Fund (to be headquartered in Thimpu) and the SAARC Regional Standards Organisation (to be established in Dhaka) have been finalised.


The timely disbursement of India's financial commitment of US $ 189.89 million (both voluntary and assessed) for the SAARC Development Fund has enabled it to be operationalised. The other SAARC member-states are also in the process of disbursing their contributions before the 16th SAARC Summit. The SAARC Food Bank is operational. Intra-regional trade within SAARC through SAFTA has more than doubled and has crossed 7 per cent, totalling US $ 200 million despite the current global economic crisis and recession.


The 15th SAARC Summit, chaired by Sri Lanka, witnessed signing of four key agreements, namely, accession of Afghanistan to the SAFTA Protocol; the establishment of SAARC Regional Standards Organisation in Bangladesh; the Convention of Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and the Charter and Bylaws of the SAARC Development Fund.


The speed with which the South Asian University project is being established is impressive. With its Act, the South Asian University Act 2008, and its privileges and immunities giving it the required international legal contours, member-states will all be contributing to its full cost of US $ 303 million. India, as host, is already providing 100 acres of land in the centre of Delhi for it and is ready to disburse US $ 239.30 million, in five annual tranches.


Other major regional project initiatives include women's empowerment, maternal and child healthcare including immunisation, SAARC Science Caravan, demonstration run of a container train from Pakistan to Bangladesh via India and Nepal. In addition, a number of projects such as telemedicine, tele-education, solar rural electrification, seed testing laboratories, harmonisation of seed standards and rainwater harvesting funded by India are being implemented through a hub-and-spoke mechanism.


These have increased member-states' experience in cooperation and collaboration in regional projects. They are offering international airfare in addition to hospitality for programmes being hosted by them resulting in increased participation in training programmes.


A SAARC Museum of Textiles is to be established shortly in the Delhi Haat, Pitampura, to showcase the region's rich textile heritage that though it has historic commonalities, it is diverse with each member-state's unique contribution. Cultural programmes such as Bands Festivals, Folklore Festivals, Fashion shows and Food Festivals are adding to the increased cultural interaction in a vibrant manner.


With increasing regional engagement on core areas of development like health, education and infrastructure, awareness about the effectiveness of SAARC in delivering the fruits of development to the South Asians at the grassroots has increased. Consequently, there has been an exponential increase in intra-regional tourism, people-to-people exchanges through cultural and social activities and programmes.


This new vibrancy reflected in the growing regional cooperation through SAARC has also attracted interest amongst non-SAARC States; nine observers have formally expressed their intent to engage with SAARC. Intra-regional cooperation has strengthened physical connectivity, helped face the food crisis and is encouraging greater cooperation in articulating a common SAARC position at many international fora.


As the youngest yet fastest growing vehicle for regional economic cooperation, SAARC has been able to successfully adapt and complement its traditional cultural strengths with the demands of the current global economic and political framework. Representing the aspirations of one-fifth of world's population, SAARC aspires to grow from strength to strength using its traditional linkages, innovative ideas (SAARC Science Caravan, SAARC Car Rally) and the research and development initiatives of its 11 regional centres.


SAARC's evolutionary path towards economic prosperity is irreversible. With increasing economic inter-dependence amongst member-states, the future towards a SAARC Customs Union or a Single SAARC Currency appears to be more realistic than ever before.


Political will and commitment towards meaningful and effective regional cooperation can only result in the progressive dismantling of physical, psychological and other barriers and effective regional integration that can fulfill the hopes and aspirations of more than one billion of human kind for peaceful coexistence and economic prosperity.


The writer, a former IFS officer, has served in the US, the UK, Germany and Switzerland and in the Ministry of External Affairs. He is currently Chairperson of the Indian National Committee for SAARC Awards








The Congress' emergence as the largest single party in the Haryana Assembly elections enabled it to form the government for the second time under the leadership of Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The much-needed support from the kingmakers, the seven Independents, helped the government to prove its majority on the floor of the House. The so-called merger of five Haryana Janhit Congress MLAs will ensure stability.


However, the government has yet to gain legitimacy by de-bureaucratising and decentralising the district governance, which is the cutting edge of administration. Indeed, it was this factor that adversely affected the Congress' performance in the Assembly elections despite Mr Hooda's clean and liberal image as also rapid development during his earlier tenure.


The Haryana Administrative Reforms Commission had recommended in its report (2008) that the district administration should be restructured and its operational and service delivery aspects be reformed by strengthening the grievances redressal mechanism. For this purpose, it sought re-organisation of the districts, sub-divisions, tehsils, development blocks and police stations and suggested the formation of clusters of departments and PSUs in districts for better coordination.


It also recommended a reasonably fixed tenure for the officers posted in the field formations. It was of the view that only super-time scale officers of IAS cadre and DIG rank IPS officers should be posted as DCs and SSPs in crucial districts. It also emphasised career planning and adequate training of them before their appointment to these offices.


Further, the commission suggested the need-based re-deployment of Group C and Group D employees within the district by the district heads of various departments. It suggested scrapping the present practice of deciding these at the state level.


The commission made many more recommendations to improve district administration, but it is doubtful how many of them have been implemented. There is no use of these recommendations, however worthwhile they may be, if they remain only on paper.


The Third State Finance Commission, set up by the state government, under the chairmanship of former Chief Secretary A.N. Mathur in 2005, in its report (2009), has recommended democratisation and decentralisation of district governance through the functional and financial empowerment of the panchayati raj Institutions and the urban local bodies.


It felt that there was an imperative need for the bifurcation of domain between the state government and the local bodies similar to the division of subjects between the Centre and the states. To achieve this, it recommended that all the local level functions being presently performed by the line departments in the district and sub-districts should be transferred to the rural and urban local bodies along with funds, functionaries and functions in a phased manner.


The commission was of the view that there should be a clear-cut demarcation of the tax resources between the state and the local bodies either through consensus or through suitable state legislation to ensure legitimate sharing of taxes. It recommended that out of its resources from the global sharing, state excise revenue, Local Area Development Tax Proceeds and Twelfth Finance Commission grants, the state government should give to the rural and urban local bodies Rs 816.50 crore in 2008-09, 889.38 in 2009-10 and 876.89 in 2010-11. The Commission recommended that the unreleased share of PRIs amount 352.28 crore and of the urban local bodies to the tune of Rs 183.92 crore for 2006-07 and 2007-08 should be also transferred to them.


It suggested a very rational criterion for the division of resources among various districts by devising a composite index based on the parameters of population, areas, BPL families and literacy gap between the PRIs and the urban local bodies as well as among the gram panchayats, panchayat samitis and zilla parishads.


Besides, the commission recommended that the PRIs should be authorised to levy tax or fee on advertisements, hoardings, cable operators, micro-towers, public schools, coaching centres, technical and commercial institutions and other establishments like shops, restaurants and hotels, etc. located in their jurisdiction. Whereas, the municipalities be empowered to double house taxes on buildings other than residential buildings to levy profession tax, tax on the vacant land in the urban areas. Moreover, they be authorised to levy tax on valoriaation, impact fee on development, betterment levy and charge extractions from the developers.


If the state government is keen to resolve the crises of legitimacy, it will have to remove the deficit of good governance at the district level by implementing the recommendations of the Haryana Administrative Reforms Commission for streamlining district governance and that of the Third State Finance Commission for democratic decentralisation without delay. Commissions and recommendations are of little value if they are not implemented with the attention they deserve.


The writer, a former Professor of Political Science, Kurukshetra University, is currently Consultant, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri (Karnal)








SEA LEVELS may rise three times faster than the official predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the global average sea. The new assessment comes just one week after another international scientific body concluded that the IPCC had been too conservative in estimating a maximum of 59 cm of sea level rise this century as a result of global warming.


Scientists believe earlier estimates failed to take into account gaps in the knowledge of how melting ice sheets will affect sea level, as well as technical errors in the calculations which have now been corrected, giving a much higher figure for estimated sea level rise than those published by the IPCC in its 2007 assessment.


A sea level rise of 1.9m would result in large tracts of eastern England being inundated with seawater, and would wipe out many low-lying island nations as well as making large parts of Bangladesh uninhabitable. It would also increase the chances of storm surges flooding major coastal cities, such as New York and London, even with the protection offered by the Thames Barrier.


The latest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that global average sea levels are likely to rise by between 75 cm and 190 cm by the end of the century, due to the thermal expansion of the warmer oceans and the melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets.


Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and Martin Vermeer of Helsinki University of Technology in Finland said sea levels are rising faster as a result of temperature increases, especially at the poles, which are warming at a faster rate than many other parts of the world.


"Since 1990, sea level has been rising at 3.4 mm per year, twice as fast as on average over the 20th century. Even if that rate just remained steady, this would already lead to 34 cm rise in the 21st century," Dr Rahmstorf said. "But the data show us clearly n the warmer it gets, the faster the sea level rises. If we want to prevent a galloping sea level rise, we should stop global warming as soon as possible," he said.


Dr Rahmstorf published a study in 2007, which came too late for including in the IPCC's fourth assessment report, suggesting that global sea levels could rise by as much as 1.4m by 2100. However, he said that this earlier study was based on previous sea level rises that had failed to take into account the extra amount of sea level — about 3cm — that would have occurred had the freshwater held back by man-made reservoirs and dams been able to flow into the sea.


About two thirds of the additional 0.5m of maximum sea-level rise predicted in the latest study is due to this underestimate in previous calculations of past sea levels, Dr Rahmstorf said. The remaining third is due to refinements of the calculations producing more accurate estimates of sea level rise. The 1.9m increase will occur if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase on their present trajectory, which happens to be the worst-case scenario of the IPCC. Reducing emissions early this century will have a corresponding effect on reducing the maximum sea level rises, the scientists said.


One of the greatest difficulties in assessing future sea levels is the problem of gauging how fast it might take for polar ice sheets to disintegrate — whether they melt slowly, or slip quickly into the sea.

By arrangement with The Independent







By defeating Sri Lanka by one innings and 24 runs in the third and final Test of the recent series, India emerged as the number one Test side in the world, which brought smiles to the faces of millions of fans across the country. But India cannot afford to be complacent and should start preparations for the 2011 World Cup right now as the country's performance in the last World Cup was not at all up to the mark. With the batsmen making merry, India totally overpowered Sri Lanka in the three Test series to win by a 2-0 margin and the woes of the visitors were compounded by the fact that their bowling spearhead Muthiah Muralitharan was totally off colour in the whole series, while, most of their top batsmen did not click at the same time. Only on a docile pitch in the first Test of the series, the visitors got an upper hand with the Indian top order failing to click in the first innings. After the initial hiccup in the first innings of the first Test, the Indian top order clicked on every occasion with Virender Sehwag in rampaging mood, while, on the positive side, the Indian bowlers lived up to their reputation to bowl out the opposition twice on two occasions. The pace spearhead Zaheer Khan led from the front to trouble every batsman, while, the return of S Sreesanth with a bang in the second Test of the series is a positive development. Very rarely, pace bowlers succeed on the docile Indian pitches, but Zaheer and Sreesanth proved everyone wrong with one five wicket haul each and the new boy Pragyan Ojha also impressed everyone.

The cricket fans of the country are elated over the success of the team, but certain aspects need immediate attention if the team is to retain the number one status for a long time as was done by Australia in the past. Though the slot of openers in the team is secured for the time being, middle order stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are not getting any younger and efforts must be made to improve the bench strength to replace them when they retire from international cricket. Of course, both the stalwarts proved that they are still in prime form, but they cannot be expected to carry on for a long time and India must start looking for their replacements from now on. Dependable middle order batsman VVS Laksman also did not get a big score in the series, a which is a cause of concern, while, Yuvraj Singh failed to live up to the reputation to emerge as a dependable and consistent batsman in the longer version of the game. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's form even in the longer version of the game is a positive sign and he may have to bat higher in the order in the days to come. What is unfortunate is that India is yet to produce a genuine all rounder who can fill the void created by the retirement of Kapil Dev and though in his initial years in the international arena, Irfan Pathan promised much, his bowling lost the sting and he is now out of the team.





It is shocking that the phenomenon of witch-hunting continues to be widespread in the State, with 50 people having lost their lives on the suspicion of practising sorcery in less than four years. It is a grim reminder that even in the millennium when scientific knowledge is breaking new grounds, many of our societies have not been able to put their dark, primitive days behind, with ignorance and superstition throttling rational thinking and fuelling mass frenzy. If the alarming regularity of incidents of witch-hunting is any indication, it is clear how deep-rooted the malaise is. Interventions made by the government and non-government organizations have apparently failed to make much impact. Even areas that had been brought under special focus of the administration due to their sinister reputation for such killings have shown little improvement on that count. While it is easy to attribute all this to deep-rooted superstition, it is a fact that widespread illiteracy, ignorance and socio-economic backwardness also form the breeding ground of superstition and perpetuate such despicable practices. In many tribal villages, witch-hunting is often used as a ploy to settle personal scores by branding a person as witch. People's dependence on quacks in remote areas because of lack of access to modern health-care facilities also contributes to the scourge. When a quack fails to cure a patient -- more so when wrong treatment results in death -- the blame is generally sought to be put on a 'witch.'


The deteriorating situation has to be tackled through a multi-pronged approach. While spreading education and creating awareness is critical for a long-term solution, equally imperative is to make modern health care accessible to the people in remote areas. The law-and-order and legal aspects also need to be strictly addressed and those indulging in such killings have to be punished. More often than not, the murderers manage to evade the law as a mob is involved in witch-hunting. Engaging the people in meaningful economic activities should also be a part of the strategy to deal with the menace. The government undoubtedly has an abiding responsibility in meeting the basic needs of the people but voluntary organizations can play an equally responsible role in dispelling superstitions. Irrational beliefs are so deeply entrenched in the psyche of a primitive society that it would require a sustained effort to shake it off. All of us should join hands to exorcise the witch from the minds of our ignorant brethren.







The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) received the most severe blow when its Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa was brought back to India after his arrest (or surrender) in Dhaka in December, 2009. Along with Rajkhowa the Deputy Commander-in-Chief Raju Baruah and a few others were also brought back to India. Only the Commander-in-Chief Paresh Baruah and the cadres whom he directly controls have remained behind in a badly truncated ULFA. Whether these momentous events will bring back peace to Assam will be known only in the future.

But there was a time in the late 1980s when ULFA used to run almost a parallel government in many areas of the Brahmaputra valley. Selected destructions of property, bomb blasts, killings, large scale extortions, kidnappings and frequent bundhs terrorized the different strata of society and adversely affected the economic and social life of the people. ULFA used to recruit its members from amongst the large reservoir of unemployed youths in the villages, train them mainly in the northern parts of Myanmar with the help of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) to whom large sums of money had to be paid as training fees.

ULFA had its support base mainly in the villages where its cadres used to find easy shelter. Even in the urban areas many families used to supply money, food and accommodation. Some of them were forced to do so. While some others did it willingly. There were instances of policemen helping ULFA by passing on advance information about proposed counter insurgency measures and thus enabling them to flee or to avoid arrests. Even otherwise many policemen used to intentionally ignore ULFA's nefarious activities and desist from taking appropriate actions.

ULFA had started with the definite objectives of making Assam independent and making it free from the Bangladeshi infiltrators. The first objective it still professes. But it practically abandoned the second objective when it transferred its base to Bangladesh and got embroiled in the anti Indian posture of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Bangladeshi Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI). ULFA's top leaders took up residences in Bangladesh and reportedly started individual businesses with huge investments from out of the money that the outfit had earlier extorted.

Things started changing when Operation Bajrang was launched on the night of November 27-28, 1990. The then ruling Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) Government was dismissed and President's rule was imposed on Assam. The Unified Command structure was set up and combined action of Army, paramilitary forces and police started against ULFA. In my capacity as the Chief Secretary I was appointed Chairman of the first Unified Command in Assam which came into existence on the night of the November 27-28, 1990. There was co-ordinated effort to strike at ULFA Head Quarters in Lakhipathar forest area off Digboi. But the main ULFA leaders had fled away to Myanmar having been tipped off in advance about Operation Bajrang. In a number of strikes in many parts of Assam the security forces inflicted very heavy damages on ULFA in terms of manpower and weapons. Many ULFA leaders and cadres deserted the outfit. They are now known as surrendered ULFA or SULFA. Many attempts were made by pro-talk elements to start a dialogue. But they did not succeed.

The next big offensive was launched on December 15, 2003 to flush out the ULFA cadres from southern Bhutan. ULFA's loss in terms of manpower and weapons was heavy. Since then ULFA has been taking shelter mainly in Bangladesh. But the political situation in Bangladesh has changed recently after the assumption of office by Seikh Hasina Wajed as the Prime Minister. The new Government has turned on the heat against ULFA. Two of its most important leaders, and Central Committee members, namely, Sasha Choudhury, who was in charge of Foreign Affairs, and Chitrabon Hazarika, who was in charge of Finance, were pushed out of Bangladesh directly into the hands of the Indian police in October, 2009. They are now under custody. The ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa was arrested in Bangladesh and has been handed over to Indian police on December 2 or 3, 2009. Only the ULFA Commander-in-Chief Paresh Baruah now remains to be arrested. He is reported to be either in China or in Myanmar or in one of the countries of South East Asia. Arabinda Rajkhowa's arrest also has been officially described as surrender. Meanwhile, an extradition treaty is expected to be signed between India and Bangladesh in the near future. This will facilitate handing over of the arrested ULFA leaders and cadres to India in future.

The situation at present seems to be that almost all of ULFA's top leaders are in custody except Paresh Baruah. Some of its top leaders, including Mrinal Hazarika, who have surrendered, are now campaigning for formal talks. Large numbers of ULFA's cadres have been decimated by desertions and killed in police and army actions. The small number of its cadres who are still sticking to the outfit are in disarray and scattered. Media reports suggest that they are trying to regroup in 3 camps in the Mon district of Nagaland under the aegis of NSCN (Khaplang group). About 200 ULFA cadres are reported to be in NSCN(K)'s designated camp at Mynakshubasti. It is also reported that ULFA has opened a transit camp at Chakobasti on the Assam-Nagaland border. Notwithstanding these activities it is the general belief that ULFA will never regain its earlier strength anytime soon. This belief has been fortified after the arrest of Arabinda Rajkhowa. The situation should not, however, lull the Government into complacence because even if grounded now there is every possibility of ULFA rising again like a phinx. There is also the distinct possibility of fresh disgruntled elements forming new outfits to replace ULFA.

In order to ensure that the number of disgruntled elements do not increase (and is actually reduced) it will be necessary to generate enough employment for skilled, non-skilled and technical personnel through all round and inclusive development of the state with emphasis on labour intensive industries and self employment opportunities. We are now in the middle of the Eleventh Five Year Plan. This plan is very well conceived. It will be necessary for Assam to take advantage of the numerous schemes and programmes included in the Plan and to attract the enormous fund allocations made in the different sectors of the Plan. Only such concentrated efforts can wean away the youth from the path of insurgency and reduce the potential manpower reservoir of unemployed from which ULFA has been drawing its cadres so far.

At the moment the problem is that of freeing the state from continuous violence. This can be done by both Government and ULFA agreeing to talk and sort out the differences. Various people and relevant organizations have expressed different views on the subject. After a number of incidents in which ULFA killed innocent people in indiscriminate bomb blasts and pointless violence majority of people all over the state now want very strict action against ULFA. The universal condemnations that followed the killing of innocent children in Dhemaji on the Independence Day in 2004 and the death of 9 people in the Nalbari blast of November 22, 2009 is evidence of people's anger.

To my mind talks must be held with a view to a permanent and political solution of the problem. And a permanent solution is essential for peace in the state so that economic development can take place in a proper atmosphere and at the appropriate pace. A military solution can bring only temporary respite. I therefore feel that both parties should come to the table for talks with three pre-conditions.

There can be no question of "Sovereignty" as an issue in the talks. Sovereignty and integrity of India as a nation is sacrosanct and cannot be compromised under any circumstances. ULFA must seek a solution within India as it is presently constituted, not outside. This should be the first pre-condition for talks.

The second pre-condition is a truce or a ceasefire and, if necessary, setting up of designated camps as in the cases of NSCN and the Bodo outfits. It would be unrealistic to expect that Arabinda Rajkhowa's arrest would persuade all ULFA cadres to surrender because after surrender they will have no locus standii to talk.

The third pre-condition is to have talks at the highest level. The Government of India should be represented by the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram himself. Lower functionaries may prepare the agenda after sorting out the issues. But as in the case of the Assam Accord the actual talks must be held at the highest level. Many organizations including the People's Consultative Group (PCG) and the People's Committee for Peace Initiative in Assam (PCPIA) would like to join the talks. Many other organizations seem to point out that ULFA do not represent all the people of Assam. That is true. But it is ULFA which has been fighting against the Government for the past three decades. A solution has to be found with their agreement. It is therefore essential that ULFA is represented in the talks at the highest level of Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua. No other organization need be associated at this stage.

(The writer was Chief Secretary, Assam)







A recent news about developing a vaccine against cervical cancer has certainly brought relief to women. Not many people know that cervical cancer is also one of the most dreaded diseases of women during their reproductive years. The exit of Jade Goody from Big Boss was also a shock that she was at the terminal stage of her cervical cancer and that she was well prepared for her impending death. Since then news about cervical cancer has become a hot topic.

Cervical cancer is a major global public health problem affecting socio-economically deprived populations. It is the most common cancer among women in low-resource countries where 85 per cent of the global cervical cancer burden of approximately 4,93, 000 cases and 2,73, 000 deaths are found annually. "Cervical cancer caused by HPV comprises over 34 per cent of cancers among women in India, making it the most common. Of this, 70 per cent of the cancers are said to be caused by two strains of the virus – HPV 16 and HPV 18 – against which a vaccine has been developed," explained Dr Neerja Bhatla, additional professor of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the AIIMS.

Not many know that India, with a population of 365.71 million has women aged between 15 years and above who stand at the risk of developing cervical cancer. A World Health Organisation study reveals that every year 1,32,082 women are diagnosed with this particular kind of cancer and 74,118 die from the disease. The growing risk of cervical cancer in women in India (aged 0-64 years) is 2.4 per cent compared to 1.3 per cent for the world.

Cervical cancer is the cancer of the mouth of the uterus called cervix. "It is the commonest cancer in India and all sexually active women are at a risk of contracting this disease. But it's mostly seen in woman aged between 50 to 55 years. If detected at a pre-cancerous stage (when the cells are not normal, but are not yet cancerous), this cancer is 100 per cent curable," says Dr Gauravi Mishra, a consultant in preventive oncology at the Tata Memorial Hospital. Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse, bleeding between periods, post-menstrual bleeding and discharge from the vagina are the main symptoms. HPV (Human papilloma virus infection) is the main and necessary virus for this cancer. It is a sexually transmitted virus and even rubbing of the private parts can cause it. Most people never even know they have HPV or that they are passing it to their partner. So it may not be possible to know who gave HPV or when one got it. HPV is so common that most people get it soon after they start having sex. And it may only be detected years later. There are some risk factors like having sex at an early age , having many sexual partners, having many pregnancies, using birth control pills for 5 or more years or consuming any form of tobacco.

Cervical cancer vaccine is the first vaccine ever designed to prevent cancer. It is recommended to girls aged 11 to 12 years as it allows a girl's immune system to be activated before she's likely to encounter HPV. This vaccine is not yet available in India, but is expected by the year end. "Although this vaccine has proved quite effective in the western countries, we still need to follow up to see for how long the immunity lasts," says Dr Mishra. Delaying sex until one becomes older can help to avoid HPV. It also helps to limit the number of sexual partners and to avoid having sex with someone who has had many other sexual partners. Condoms when used correctly can lower the HPV infection rate by about 70 per cent. They can't protect one completely because they don't cover every possible HPV-infected area of the body, such as the skin of the genital or the anal area.

Pap test is done for diagnosis of cervical cancer. In this test, cells are collected from the surface of the cervix and checked on a slide. This test is available at most hospitals and clinics and its cost varies from Rs 250 to Rs 500.

For several decades now, it has been known that the widespread use of Pap smear test for screening has successfully and substantially reduced cervical cancer deaths in developed countries. Doctors take DNA cells by swabbing the cervix. "The HPV test is ideal for the detection of cervical cancer. It is slightly more accurate than the pap test, but is not recommended for woman below 30 years of age," says Dr Neerja Batla, a senior gynecologist, AIIMS.

The three main treatments are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In case of a surgery, the chances of a woman conceiving a child later in her life are nil. In Western countries, the cases of cervical cancer have come down due to the active awareness, vaccine and pap screenings which detect the cancer at a very early stage.






Abhinav Bindra called the shots in 2008 by becoming the first Indian to win an Olympic gold in an individual event. The year 2009, which will end in 23 days, has seen any number of outstanding performances in the sports arena. December 3 saw one of the greatest knocks in Test cricket being played by Virender Sehwag who smashed his way with 40 fours and seven sixes to 293 off 254 deliveries, just seven runs short of achieving the world record of being the only batsman to score three triple centuries in Tests. Just 28 days before that, on November 5, Tendulkar smashed 19 fours and six sixes while scoring 175 runs off 141 deliveries at Hyderabad in an ODI against world champions Australia, almost taking India to an improbable win while chasing a mammoth score of 351. However, both Sehwag and Tendulkar were playing at home while representing the national cricket team that has not just a physical-fitness trainer but a mental-conditioning coach.

Nineteen year old Saina Nehwal did not have that kind of back-up when she won the Super Series Indonesian Open tournament on June 21, defeating in the finals China's Lin Wang, the world number three. Her father, a scientist at the Oilseeds Research Centre in Hyderabad, used to drive her to the coaching centre some 20 km away from home, and then drop her off at school before reporting for duty. Her family spent Rs 12,000 a month on equipment and training until she reached a level where the likes of Yonex and the Mittal Champions' Trust supported her. The one thing Saina had going for her was that she had an outstanding mentor in the Hyderabad-based Pullela Gopichand who won the All England Open Badminton Championship in 2001. Gopichand is also one of the few Indian sporting legends who has turned down offers to endorse MNC colas as he felt they were not exactly health-enhancing drinks!







The Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority's (PFRDA) decision to appoint a second central record-keeping agency (CRA) for the new pension system (NPS), to introduce competition and bring down cost, is a welcome measure. This should serve as an occasion to rethink the use of such shared infrastructure for maintaining electronic record- and account-keeping. Why restrict them, as we have so far, to demat accounts that hold securities and pension accounts? Why not extend the use of commonly-shared electronic accounts for low-cost banking? If wealth equivalent to India's GDP — that's roughly the value of all listed shares — can be entrusted with such electronic accounts, without compromising security, privacy or ease of operations, why can't banks and small savings make use of the facility as well? While it is true that competition does generally lower price of a product or a service, the principle need not apply to record keeping just yet. The new player - whether it is Central Depository Services (CDSL) or some other — may not automatically be able to bring down costs for subscribers the way CDSL managed to do for depository services when it was created to challenge National Securities Depositories (NSDL) monopoly. The number of accounts, over which the overhead costs have to be spread, is the key factor, even if the government were to extend budgetary support to over capital costs.

In the case of the CRA built for the NPS, the cost of maintaining a permanent retirement account (PRA) will fall from the current Rs 350 to Rs 280 and further to Rs 250 when the number of accounts maintained by the CRA rises to 10 lakh and 30 lakh respectively. Some say this is a conservative estimate. But NPS alone will not be able to ensure rapid increase in account numbers. We have suggested in the past that the Employees' Provident Fund Organisation should use the existing CRA for its 4 crore members, rather than build a new, dedicated one for itself. State governments too can use the CRA of either NSDL or the incoming agency to manage pensions of their employees, even if they do not join the NPS.






The Prime Minister's visit to Russia that saw six key agreements being signed marks two things, both significant: one, resumption of the strategic ties between the two countries that had lost, of late, some of their earlier warmth and tensile strength; and two, India's readiness to engage with all the different poles of global power with equal vigour. The six agreements included a pathbreaking civil nuclear deal that firmly embraces cooperation and shuns the conditionalities that burden the nuclear deal with the US, three military pacts that take joint research and production to the next level, an agreement on cultural exchange between the two countries and a final one on trebling bilateral trade over three years with the help of a credit line. Indeed, given that the relationship with Russia — described as 'the most important' by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his just-concluded visit — has been dominated more by military matters, there is a need to deepen its political and economic facets. In fact, the levels of bilateral trade are abysmally low, which becomes all the more glaring given the huge scope that exists for trade in many spheres, from energy to IT. The multiple high-level visits between the two countries in the past few years could not mask the fact that glitches like the griping over the price of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov had been affecting mutual ties. Then there was the more significant perception that India had 'gone over' to the US. The feeling that, in the post-Soviet Union era, India was more interested in forging ties with the sole remaining superpower while Russia also turned its attentions elsewhere. Despite that, the core strategic relationship survived, with Russia continuing to be the major provider of equipment to India, and there was a positive convergence on a political understanding of regional issues as well.

Russia seems to have acted on the assumption of the growing importance of the Asian region, where it sees India as the only major player with the ability to balance China's growing might. Not surprisingly, this served as the basis for the turnaround in American ties with India under Bush as well. And even as more defence purchases are on the anvil, the high-technology transfer the nuclear deal entails also signal mutual cooperation on an entirely different plane.







When the noted writer Zadie Smith was 14, her mother gave her Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. "I was reluctant to read the book, Smith recounts in her recent book of essays Changing My Mind, "I knew what she meant by giving it me and resented its inference." But she was hooked when she read the first page of the novel that TIME listed in 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005: "Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death By Time. That is the life of men.

"Now, women forget all those things that they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly."

That aphorism "had me pinned to the ground, unable to deny its strength," Smith reminisces, "I found myself melancholy for these nameless men and their inevitable losses. The second part, about the women, struck home." The novel also forced the teen-aged writer-to-be to abandon several of her passionately held aphorisms such as only dead white males like John Keats had a monopoly on lyrical language: "Above all, Hurston is essential universal reading," Smith explains, "because is neither self-conscious nor restricted." Raised in an all-black town the writer "grew up a fully human being, unaware that she was meant to consider herself a minority, an other, an exotic or something depleted in rights, talents, desires, and expectations. As an adult away from her home town, she found the world was determined to do its best to remind her of her supposed inferiority, but Hurston was already made, and the metaphysical confidence she claimed for her life is present, with equal, refreshing force, in her fiction."

The search for this metaphysical confidence, which flows from self-actualisation or self-realisation, is one of the pivotal drivers of the human condition. But only when it is realised does it seem as essential or 'easy' as breathing or cycle-riding. Smith writes. "It is also as complicated, as full of blessings and curses."

Blessed are only those willing to confront and master its often counter-intuitive claims. This may entail just being and letting go as much as it calls for struggling and sweating. You're IT.







Zero levy doesn't make it anti-competitive

By itself, not levying a charge by an enterprise for a product or service is not necessarily anti-competitive. Low prices benefit consumers and are, therefore, welcome. But the story could change if the low or zero-pricing is undertaken for a predatory objective.

Under competition law, dominance itself is fine if attained through greater efficiency or better product or service. A dominant firm is also allowed by the law to compete, even aggressively, and competition law seeks to protect not a competitor but the process of competition. Thus, a dominant firm is not permitted to destroy competition through predatory pricing. Under section 4(2)(a) of the Competition Act, the offence of predatory pricing has three essential ingredients: the firm must be dominant as defined in the Act; the price must be below cost, usually 'average variable cost'; and there must be mala fide intent to eliminate or reduce competition. These fact-specific ingredients would have to be established through factual evidence in each case.

Predatory pricing cases, though relatively uncommon, are not unknown. Recently, Wanadoo (France Telecom) was fined e10.35 million in EU for pricing residential broadband internet services below average variable cost to pre-empt the market in high-speed internet access. Earlier, Akzo was fined e10 million for predatory pricing of flour additives, and Tetra Pak was fined for predatory pricing of non-aseptic cartons.

If a firm, dominant in one product or service, cross-subsidises another product or service to below-cost level, it could risk violating another abuse of dominance prohibition of the Act contained in section 4(2)(e). For example, in Europe, Deutsche Post, on a complaint by UPS, was found guilty of abusing its letter-post monopoly for below-cost selling of its commercial parcel service. Deutsche Post had to agree to spin off its commercial parcel service into an independent legal entity. Microsoft, in the famous case, was charged with similar misconduct. The inquiry into a predatory pricing offence is, therefore, fact-heavy, and this generic article is written without reference to any individual case.

(MCX-SX has sought the author's advice on the matter)

Predatory pricing only for introductory phase

Whenever an established stock exchange commences trading in a new segment, in order to ensure its success, it may grant concessions, including a lower rate of levy on turnover. This predatory pricing, however, needs to be viewed against the background of the imperative need to have free and fair competition for new entrants in the field.

The Competition Act, 2002, refers to predatory price as "the sale of goods or provision of services at a price which is below the cost, as may be determined by regulations, of production of the goods or provision of services, with a view to reduce competition or eliminate the competitors".

If, in the circumstances, the National Stock Exchange is allowed to continue with its policy of predatory pricing in the currency derivatives segment, it will be next to impossible for a new entrant to enter the field and sustain itself for long. A predatory pricing policy in respect of a new product, therefore, needs to be regulated. It can be for a short period of three months or so to act as a booster. Secondly, the subsidy for the operation of the new segment cannot come from other segments.

Internationally too, predatory pricing is considered to be a pernicious practice that can irreparably prejudice the market and consumers. It is here that the regulator has to intervene, as competition is the sine qua non of a free market economy where innovations in products, etc, must continuously emerge in the larger interest of the consumer to ensure that no one is allowed to be in a monopolistic position.

A few months ago, the Forward Markets Commission, which regulates the commodity markets, objected when the National Commodities & Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) announced a concessional levy of just 5 p per Re 1 lakh of turnover for its evening trading session against the rate of Rs 4 to Re 1 in the regular session. It directed that the band of variation in turnover levies between any two sessions cannot exceed 4:1. Moreover, Sebi presently fixes the issuer charges payable by the companies to the two depositories that are the same. The regulator may, therefore, take the call and stop avoidable wrangles.








By itself, not levying a charge by an enterprise for a product or service is not necessarily anti-competitive. Low prices benefit consumers and are, therefore, welcome. But the story could change if the low or zero-pricing is undertaken for a predatory objective.


Under competition law, dominance itself is fine if attained through greater efficiency or better product or service. A dominant firm is also allowed by the law to compete, even aggressively, and competition law seeks to protect not a competitor but the process of competition. Thus, a dominant firm is not permitted to destroy competition through predatory pricing. Under section 4(2)(a) of the Competition Act, the offence of predatory pricing has three essential ingredients: the firm must be dominant as defined in the Act; the price must be below cost, usually 'average variable cost'; and there must be mala fide intent to eliminate or reduce competition. These fact-specific ingredients would have to be established through factual evidence in each case.

Predatory pricing cases, though relatively uncommon, are not unknown. Recently, Wanadoo (France Telecom) was fined e10.35 million in EU for pricing residential broadband internet services below average variable cost to pre-empt the market in high-speed internet access. Earlier, Akzo was fined e10 million for predatory pricing of flour additives, and Tetra Pak was fined for predatory pricing of non-aseptic cartons.

If a firm, dominant in one product or service, cross-subsidises another product or service to below-cost level, it could risk violating another abuse of dominance prohibition of the Act contained in section 4(2)(e). For example, in Europe, Deutsche Post, on a complaint by UPS, was found guilty of abusing its letter-post monopoly for below-cost selling of its commercial parcel service. Deutsche Post had to agree to spin off its commercial parcel service into an independent legal entity. Microsoft, in the famous case, was charged with similar misconduct. The inquiry into a predatory pricing offence is, therefore, fact-heavy, and this generic article is written without reference to any individual case.

(MCX-SX has sought the author's advice on the matter)








Whenever an established stock exchange commences trading in a new segment, in order to ensure its success, it may grant concessions, including a lower rate of levy on turnover. This predatory pricing, however, needs to be viewed against the background of the imperative need to have free and fair competition for new entrants in the field.

The Competition Act, 2002, refers to predatory price as "the sale of goods or provision of services at a price which is below the cost, as may be determined by regulations, of production of the goods or provision of services, with a view to reduce competition or eliminate the competitors".

If, in the circumstances, the National Stock Exchange is allowed to continue with its policy of predatory pricing in the currency derivatives segment, it will be next to impossible for a new entrant to enter the field and sustain itself for long. A predatory pricing policy in respect of a new product, therefore, needs to be regulated. It can be for a short period of three months or so to act as a booster. Secondly, the subsidy for the operation of the new segment cannot come from other segments.

Internationally too, predatory pricing is considered to be a pernicious practice that can irreparably prejudice the market and consumers. It is here that the regulator has to intervene, as competition is the sine qua non of a free market economy where innovations in products, etc, must continuously emerge in the larger interest of the consumer to ensure that no one is allowed to be in a monopolistic position.

A few months ago, the Forward Markets Commission, which regulates the commodity markets, objected when the National Commodities & Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) announced a concessional levy of just 5 p per Re 1 lakh of turnover for its evening trading session against the rate of Rs 4 to Re 1 in the regular session. It directed that the band of variation in turnover levies between any two sessions cannot exceed 4:1. Moreover, Sebi presently fixes the issuer charges payable by the companies to the two depositories that are the same. The regulator may, therefore, take the call and stop avoidable wrangles.








There are two versions of the global warming story playing out at the Copenhagen summit. What you usually hear is the pop version, pushed by many NGOs and politicians. Less popular but more cogent is the scientific version, which is altogether more nuanced.

The pop version claims that science has proved that global warming that will devastate the earth, that carbon dioxide is a pollutant no less than sewage or radioactive waste, that the west — and, above all, the US — has created most of the carbon in the atmosphere and that on the 'polluter pays' principle, the rich polluters — and not than innocents in the Third World — should pay for cleaning up the pollution.

The scientific version says that our knowledge of the climate suffers from many uncertainties. Nevertheless, we can definitely say that certain gases — notably carbon dioxide and methane — trap the sun's heat as in a greenhouse, causing warming. This greenhouse effect may be offset or exacerbated by other factors that we do not know enough about and, hence, refer to as natural variations. If our scientific knowledge of climate was at all adequate — as in the case of the movement of planets — we could say exactly what the temperature in 2100 would be, just as we can say what the exact position of the sun and moon will be on January 1, 2100. But since our climate knowledge is so limited, we can only make educated guesses.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a string of guesstimates based on computer models. These guesstimates suggest warming in the range 1.1-6.4° C. The lower end of this range implies warming so minimal that we would scarcely notice it. But warming of 6.4° C could produce catastrophic changes in the climate, sea levels and agriculture. All IPCC reports list key uncertainties affecting the models. So, actual warming could be less than 1.1° C or more than 6.4° C.

This uncertainty does not mean that humans should ignore global warming. Despite uncertainties, we know that greenhouse gases create a significant chance of a climate catastrophe. Prudent people will take out insurance against a catastrophe that may never happen. The cost of limiting carbon emissions can be viewed as a worthwhile insurance premium.

The scientific version of the global warming story (we need an insurance policy) is less dramatic than the pop version (we must penalise the sinners). Both versions lead to the conclusion that emissions should be reduced, but have quite different implications for who should pay how much.

If we knew for certain that carbon was a catastrophic culprit, we could apply the polluter pays principle. There would still be questions on whether to use absolute emission, per-capita emissions, historical accumulation of emissions or some mix of the three in prescribing penalties. Nevertheless, the polluter pays principle could help Copenhagen reach a unanimous conclusion.

However, if we view carbon reduction as insurance against a disaster that may never happen, it becomes more difficult to decide who should pay what premium. The insurance version regards carbon as a possible pollutant but not a proven one, and this makes it difficult to apply polluter pays rule.

Moreover, you cannot be a beneficiary of an insurance policy if you pay no premium at all. Insurance companies can ask some beneficiaries to pay more than others, especially those with a bad track record, and so, historically, heavy emitters could be asked to pay more. But all countries would be beneficiaries of global mitigation, and so all would need to pay a basic premium. In the pop version (sin and penalty), the entire cost burden could legitimately be placed on rich polluters. But not in the insurance version.

India and other developing countries have stressed the per-capita approach to emissions that has the advantage of letting them off the hook completely in the sin-and-penalty version. Of course, developing countries also cite the per-capita principle as a high moral one, saying every human being is entitled to an equal share of the global commons. This argument certainly has some force.

However, the per-capita approach becomes quite inconvenient for India in the insurance version. Every human benefits from carbon reduction, so every human should pay a premium. The vast majority of humans and, hence, the vast majority of beneficiaries of the insurance policy, are in the Third World. The Chinese and Indians number more than a billion beneficiaries each. It is not logical for 300 million Americans to pay an insurance premium that benefits two billion non-paying Indians and Chinese. The US rejects the sin-and-penalty thesis, and so refuses to accept that China and India should pay nothing while the US shoulders the entire financial burden.

Current negotiations focus almost entirely on carbon dioxide, although other gases (notably methane) account for half the greenhouse effect. Methane comes from many sources, including rice paddies, sheep and cattle. So, countries growing rice and rearing sheep and cattle contribute to warming too. Methane emissions are tiny compared with carbon emissions. But rice growers have been putting methane into the atmosphere for thousands of years, whereas the western countries have been putting carbon dioxide into the air for barely 250 years.

Hence, the situation is complicated. The pop version divides the world into good and bad guys, rather like the George W Bush's version of history, and calls for waterboarding the bad guys. The scientific version has no clear-cut good and bad guys.


Countries at Copenhagen cannot possibly agree unanimously either on the sin-and-penalty version or the insurance version. Different countries will draw to different degrees on the two versions, mainly with a view to limiting their commitment. Unanimous agreement on a single set of principles looks impossible. What seem likely are different non-binding commitments from different countries. These will add up to far less than what sin-and-penalty NGOs demand. But many Americans will believe that Obama's limited commitment constitutes a reasonable insurance premium. The debate may continue unresolved for decades.








Nikolaus von Bomhard, chairman of the board of management, Munich Re — the reinsurance giant — speaks of how industry may not have the capacity to insure weather events in an interview with Mayur Shetty.

AS the world debates global warming in Copenhagen, one multinational group eagerly waiting the outcome is Munich Re, the reinsurance giant which suffers the direct impact of climate change more than anybody.

The group, which is among the largest reinsurers in the world, experienced the worst weather losses following Hurricane Katrina. According to Munich Re's NatCatSERVICE, the average number of major weather-related catastrophes such as windstorms, floods or droughts is now three times as high as at the beginning of the 1980s.

From being involved in massive projects to tap solar power in the Sahara desert to investing in green companies, Munich Re is doing its best to influence policies for preventing global warming. The reinsurer is also betting big on India, which is one of the few countries where all its business divisions are present. Following are the excerpts of the interview:

No company is more directly impacted by weather incidents than Munich Re. What are your concerns?

As an insurance conglomerate with a big reinsurance business, we have to be interested in what goes on with all weather-related perils. Climate is certainly a driver in this development. It is not whether we are in or out of business. One thing that's certain is, if exposures grow without limits, the insurance company will have a hard time coming up with the capacity to digest the exposure.

We sometimes get asked whether it makes sense for us to combat climate change because as an alternate we could manage our business away from this risk. But every insurer and reinsurer knows that active prevention of risk is part of the product. It is therefore not just about availability of capacity, but about prevention as well. We feel that if you do not step in now (to combat climate change) it will grow out of proportion and the insurance industry with all the capacity at hand will not be in a position to cover the exposure out there.

What can you do as a reinsurer?

The insurance-reinsurance industry by putting a price on the risk is providing the strongest incentive possible -- an economic incentive. To preach people to do this or do that is difficult in a world of ours. In insurance you say, increase your retention (of risk) and the price will come down. Increasing retention would go along with better protection against risks.


But countries that are fully compliant may still suffer because of overall global warming...

That is the common tragedy. We cannot influence countries, we can only inform them. We have certain knowledge at hand. Since the mid-70s we have been sharing information on what we know and this in a way also influences politicians. Politicians come to see us because we are perceived as an objective knowledge carrier. Also, if prices for certain products -- homeowners' policies for one -- go up because climate change increases the risk of hurricanes, it very quickly becomes a political issue. So, there is an indirect influence on governments as well.


But the trend risk can only be stopped by cooperation of countries. That is why we think that something needs to be done at the political level. That is why it is important that not just a group of countries commits to limiting or reducing its emissions... it is important that all the emitters of greenhouse gases do so.

Have you established the relationship between climate change and weather incidents?

One should be careful in coming out with a cause and effect argument. But one thing is for sure -- we have global warming. There is no question about it. There is global warming and it is anthropogenic (caused by environment degradation). The question is -- to what extent does global warming already affect the amount and severity of losses.

We think, yes there is a connection. At present, most of the increases in weather losses are driven by the density and penetration of insured values. But on top of that it is the trend risk which adds to the losses because of the increase in intensities of hurricanes, for example. We have also had more droughts and more heat waves. So, along with the increase in value, you have the increase in trend risk.


Besides weather, what are your views on terror... another risk that is considered uninsurable?

We do not consider weather-related risk to be uninsurable. The only exception depending on the country could be flood or inundation that has to with anti-selection as well. Terrorism is more difficult to handle because it is a man-made risk and does not lend itself to actuarial sciences. We have to work with scenarios, which does not mean that you can't insure it (terrorism loss) entirely but you have to stay within the frequency band of the losses.

There is a need to involve governments and to have public-private partnerships to deal with these risks. In the old days, when terrorism was a very local event, losses were insurable. Since we have this global scale of terrorism with very evil planning to cause the maximum possible loss to life and property it is a different scale of terrorism today and we have a hard time modelling. Capital is lacking to fully insure against it.

So it is a bit like nuclear or war risk?

A nuclear attack from a terrorist is not unimaginable. A nuclear incident still lends itself better to modelling than a human attack. Nuclear incidents are insured to certain extent but not entirely. In most countries they have pools which take the bottom part of the risks. On top of that you tend to have a government scheme.

So, the capacity of insurers is not enough for nuclear incidents either. Active war risk is difficult to insure because the dimensions are such that not even with capital market support can you underwrite the risk.

Since Munich Re has escaped the worst of the crisis, would you be looking at acquisitions?

We always look at acquisition but everything should be right and unfortunately that's not the case. The likelihood of an acquisition is not high as asset prices have not come down yet. We would have expected them to come down a long time ago when the crisis was at its peak... so far not much has happened. So, the changes will depend on the course the crisis would take as well.

What are your plans for India?

India is the only country where the group is active in all segments (reinsurance, health, non-life, and proposed life insurance). Other than India it is only in Germany and Italy that we are present across all segments.... even in China we are present only in two.


What kind of a partner are you looking for in life insurance?

I would say a partner as professional as HDFC. We want to replicate the HDFC Ergo story on the life side. We want the best partner because we don't want to change horses on course.


How will a branch licence in India help you?

A branch will allow us to have a larger footprint here. We can offer directly the entire capacity of Munich Re. For an economy of the size of India, we think it is more worthwhile to be present through a branch than have only a representative office.

Normally, if it is truly a branch you should not have separate capital requirement. It depends on recognition of supervisory regime in countries. Sometimes there is a minimum requirement and it really depends... a branch is not a 'daughter' company which is why it should be different. We try to avoid maintaining capital... we think that the client is served best if we concentrate the capital in one place.

For that, to the extent possible, we try not to have daughter companies. We are re-branching daughter companies. Munich Re had a subsidiary in Italy which has been converted into a branch. In India, we would go for a branch as far as possible but it certainly would depend on the all the rules that come along with the licence.

A little more than a year ago, Munich Re was returning capital to shareholders as you felt that the market was too soft. How are things now?

In India, the reinsurance market (price) has not hardened yet, so our share in the market is generally below what used to be our market share. Detariffication has taken its course and it would take a little more time (for rates to stabilise). It seems to be bottoming out. But until this is reflected in the reinsurance side, we would very selectively do our underwriting.

Internationally, it depends on where you are and what business you write... we think that reinsurance rates would move sideways. We have a threshold and if the business cannot pass the threshold we will not sell cover. Although most renewals happen before January, the market trend is to wait longer and we don't think we will get a clearer picture until after 15-20 days.








Nikolaus von Bomhard, chairman of the board of management, Munich Re — the reinsurance giant — speaks of how industry may not have the capacity to insure weather events in an interview with Mayur Shetty.

AS the world debates global warming in Copenhagen, one multinational group eagerly waiting the outcome is Munich Re, the reinsurance giant which suffers the direct impact of climate change more than anybody.

The group, which is among the largest reinsurers in the world, experienced the worst weather losses following Hurricane Katrina. According to Munich Re's NatCatSERVICE, the average number of major weather-related catastrophes such as windstorms, floods or droughts is now three times as high as at the beginning of the 1980s.

From being involved in massive projects to tap solar power in the Sahara desert to investing in green companies, Munich Re is doing its best to influence policies for preventing global warming. The reinsurer is also betting big on India, which is one of the few countries where all its business divisions are present. Following are the excerpts of the interview:

No company is more directly impacted by weather incidents than Munich Re. What are your concerns?

As an insurance conglomerate with a big reinsurance business, we have to be interested in what goes on with all weather-related perils. Climate is certainly a driver in this development. It is not whether we are in or out of business. One thing that's certain is, if exposures grow without limits, the insurance company will have a hard time coming up with the capacity to digest the exposure.

We sometimes get asked whether it makes sense for us to combat climate change because as an alternate we could manage our business away from this risk. But every insurer and reinsurer knows that active prevention of risk is part of the product. It is therefore not just about availability of capacity, but about prevention as well. We feel that if you do not step in now (to combat climate change) it will grow out of proportion and the insurance industry with all the capacity at hand will not be in a position to cover the exposure out there.

What can you do as a reinsurer?

The insurance-reinsurance industry by putting a price on the risk is providing the strongest incentive possible -- an economic incentive. To preach people to do this or do that is difficult in a world of ours. In insurance you say, increase your retention (of risk) and the price will come down. Increasing retention would go along with better protection against risks.

But countries that are fully compliant may still suffer because of overall global warming...

That is the common tragedy. We cannot influence countries, we can only inform them. We have certain knowledge at hand. Since the mid-70s we have been sharing information on what we know and this in a way also influences politicians. Politicians come to see us because we are perceived as an objective knowledge carrier. Also, if prices for certain products -- homeowners' policies for one -- go up because climate change increases the risk of hurricanes, it very quickly becomes a political issue. So, there is an indirect influence on governments as well.

But the trend risk can only be stopped by cooperation of countries. That is why we think that something needs to be done at the political level. That is why it is important that not just a group of countries commits to limiting or reducing its emissions... it is important that all the emitters of greenhouse gases do so.

Have you established the relationship between climate change and weather incidents?

One should be careful in coming out with a cause and effect argument. But one thing is for sure -- we have global warming. There is no question about it. There is global warming and it is anthropogenic (caused by environment degradation). The question is -- to what extent does global warming already affect the amount and severity of losses.

We think, yes there is a connection. At present, most of the increases in weather losses are driven by the density and penetration of insured values. But on top of that it is the trend risk which adds to the losses because of the increase in intensities of hurricanes, for example. We have also had more droughts and more heat waves. So, along with the increase in value, you have the increase in trend risk.

Besides weather, what are your views on terror... another risk that is considered uninsurable?

We do not consider weather-related risk to be uninsurable. The only exception depending on the country could be flood or inundation that has to with anti-selection as well. Terrorism is more difficult to handle because it is a man-made risk and does not lend itself to actuarial sciences. We have to work with scenarios, which does not mean that you can't insure it (terrorism loss) entirely but you have to stay within the frequency band of the losses.

There is a need to involve governments and to have public-private partnerships to deal with these risks. In the old days, when terrorism was a very local event, losses were insurable. Since we have this global scale of terrorism with very evil planning to cause the maximum possible loss to life and property it is a different scale of terrorism today and we have a hard time modelling. Capital is lacking to fully insure against it.

So it is a bit like nuclear or war risk?

A nuclear attack from a terrorist is not unimaginable. A nuclear incident still lends itself better to modelling than a human attack. Nuclear incidents are insured to certain extent but not entirely. In most countries they have pools which take the bottom part of the risks. On top of that you tend to have a government scheme.

So, the capacity of insurers is not enough for nuclear incidents either. Active war risk is difficult to insure because the dimensions are such that not even with capital market support can you underwrite the risk.

Since Munich Re has escaped the worst of the crisis, would you be looking at acquisitions?

We always look at acquisition but everything should be right and unfortunately that's not the case. The likelihood of an acquisition is not high as asset prices have not come down yet. We would have expected them to come down a long time ago when the crisis was at its peak... so far not much has happened. So, the changes will depend on the course the crisis would take as well.

What are your plans for India?

India is the only country where the group is active in all segments (reinsurance, health, non-life, and proposed life insurance). Other than India it is only in Germany and Italy that we are present across all segments.... even in China we are present only in two.

What kind of a partner are you looking for in life insurance?

I would say a partner as professional as HDFC. We want to replicate the HDFC Ergo story on the life side. We want the best partner because we don't want to change horses on course.

How will a branch licence in India help you?

A branch will allow us to have a larger footprint here. We can offer directly the entire capacity of Munich Re. For an economy of the size of India, we think it is more worthwhile to be present through a branch than have only a representative office.

Normally, if it is truly a branch you should not have separate capital requirement. It depends on recognition of supervisory regime in countries. Sometimes there is a minimum requirement and it really depends... a branch is not a 'daughter' company which is why it should be different. We try to avoid maintaining capital... we think that the client is served best if we concentrate the capital in one place.

For that, to the extent possible, we try not to have daughter companies. We are re-branching daughter companies. Munich Re had a subsidiary in Italy which has been converted into a branch. In India, we would go for a branch as far as possible but it certainly would depend on the all the rules that come along with the licence.

A little more than a year ago, Munich Re was returning capital to shareholders as you felt that the market was too soft. How are things now?

In India, the reinsurance market (price) has not hardened yet, so our share in the market is generally below what used to be our market share. Detariffication has taken its course and it would take a little more time (for rates to stabilise). It seems to be bottoming out. But until this is reflected in the reinsurance side, we would very selectively do our underwriting.

Internationally, it depends on where you are and what business you write... we think that reinsurance rates would move sideways. We have a threshold and if the business cannot pass the threshold we will not sell cover. Although most renewals happen before January, the market trend is to wait longer and we don't think we will get a clearer picture until after 15-20 days.







Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has a tough job at hand. He is putting in place a regulatory framework that will make India Inc more responsible, not just to shareholders, but also to the community. Mr Khurshid spoke about the key issues and regulatory challenges in an interaction with ET's editorial team. Excerpts:

What are the key issues before your ministry?

The Companies Bill is before Parliament, on which a lot of views are coming. But three items are significant. One issue is regulation. Some people think that regulation is a matter of the past, which I think is not correct. Regulation is not a matter of past, but control is. Regulation can be made enlightened, responsible and unobtrusive.

The second is corporate social responsibility (CSR), we are looking at a code which will be voluntary. The code will be an agreed set of best practices coming from the industry, so we will have our inputs there. Another important aspect is shareholders democracy and empowerment of shareholders in company affairs.

What do you exactly mean by shareholders democracy and how will that be achieved? What about the role of the board of directors?

Shareholder democracy means we give primacy to company, its shareholders. We don't give primacy to what we want, rather, give primacy to what they want. Empowernment of shareholders, which means greater disclosure, accountability and a structure whereby they can have a meaningful stake.

If you walk into a board room, you will have 1,500 pages to read. What can you do? You come out two hours later and say that I have said OK. The directors should be given enough time to read. He will be accountable for the decision that he has taken. We must tell them in advance that this is what you will be accountable for, beyond this only on actual knowledge and not imputed or implied knowledge.

What do you have to say on remuneration of directors?

Today, in the law, there is a cap on the remuneration of directors of a company, which is 11 per cent of the net profits. I am surprised that in the entire debate on directors' remuneration, nobody talked about the cap.

One factor is that remuneration should be decided by the shareholders. The draft Companies Bill does not have the cap, but what has happened since the draft Bill was made –– Satyam, collapse of Wall Street, Obama's greed statement, RBI saying bankers' salary must be cut, a general issue of our austerity. Now we have to decide—shall we remove the cap or should we not remove the cap?

Today the law says if you want to take a salary higher than the cap, you have to approach the government. About 2-2.5 per cent of the companies come for approval. And out of this 2-2.5 per cent, many are towards outstanding salaries for professionals whom you want to bring from abroad.

Let me tell you, industry—from what I have been given to understand—has preferred a cap. The ministry said no cap. I don't know what the parliamentary committee will appreciate.

How do you plan to encourage companies for a greater involvement in CSR activities?

I think we have to give CSR a quantifiable formula and link it to some incentive. You cannot keep talking to people that CSR activities are good for mankind and it can be a voluntary thing. Beyond a point, it may be difficult to get the kind of fusion that we want, which is CSR. And there must be a way of quantifying it and making it available for traders or an exchange dealing in CSR credits.

Today, for charity you get tax exemptions, but get nothing for CSR. Disincentive comes much later. Can we say that if you improve your profile in the next three years, you will stand to gain the following things, something which is reasonable, flexible and viable? YC Deveshwar has extended his support. Arun Maira (Planning Commission member) has stayed away from it as he said somebody could make use of this in a wrong manner.

The CCI merger regulations are pending with the ministry. Is there a lack of consensus on whether certain sectors should be exempted from the scope of CCI?

The issue is if there should be exemption for sectors, and then again if such exemption should be blanket exemption or a case-to-case exemption. If you give a blanket exemption, we have to see what the general principle is. There are reservations on this issue in the government.

Will foreign audit firms in India, like the Big 4, be made accountable for their work in India?

Big 4 should actually be allowed to practice in India, and made to sign the balance sheets that they have audited. You can only make a firm accountable if its has its name against that activity. But our chaps have to take a stand first.








He's one of the most outspoken people in the mutual fund industry. UK Sinha, CMD of UTI Asset Management Company, who's still waiting for the ink to dry on the strategic stake sale to T Rowe Price, is gung-ho on what the new partner can do to the fortunes of the mutual fund. But he's also of the view that there are far too many players in the asset management space. In an interview with ET NOW, he says that the government needs to get serious about pension reforms, and that maybe, the equity market has run up too fast, too soon. Excerpts:

You've brought T Rowe Price as a strategic partner into UTI. But the general thinking is that you got a very low valuation on the deal. Would you agree?

No valuation can be made in a static environment. You can't quote a particular valuation which was done in 2006 or 2007. But if you look at the changes that have happened in the industry, for example, the changes made by Sebi effective August 1, 2009, and how a good portion of the revenues of AMCs is going into paying out distributors, that has affected the earnings of mutual funds in a big way. So, you have to look at valuations in the current environment, and lastly, instead of looking at some of the transactions which happened 2-5 years ago, if you look at some transactions that happened a few months ago, then you will be able to come to a better understanding.

Apart from representation on the board, can we expect that T Rowe Price will play a larger role in day-to-day affairs of the asset management company?

The arrangement that the shareholders have negotiated with T Rowe Price is that there would be no change of management. The new shareholders are happy with the quality of the management here that they have not asked for any change. But at the same time, they are going to assist us. T Rowe Price is known to be a hugely system-driven and process-oriented company. They are known to be long-term investors, they are guided by research, they challenge their research process. So, they are going to help us in our research, our fund management. In technology, they are very good. They have large funds. So, with the distribution support of T Rowe Price, we expect inflows into our international business.

You have spoken in the past about doing an IPO. Where does that plan stand now, given that we've seen a turnaround in the equity market?

We have a strategic partner. So, it won't make any sense for UTI to come out with an IPO in the short-term. It's
very important that this arrangement takes shape, it stabilises, the benefits of the strategic partnership flows to the company and T Rowe Price is recognised by the outside world. My feeling is it will take at least another 12-24 months. So, any further change in the shareholding should be considered by our shareholders at that stage. Government approval is already in place for divestment of up to 49%. But the IPO should wait for at least 12 months.

Do you believe there is room for so many mutual fund players? Can we expect to see consolidation over the next few years? Also, would UTI look at any acquisition opportunities that come its way?

Actually, there's a study that suggests there isn't room for even 10 players in this market. The way mutual funds have been sold in India for the past 2-3 years, I have been of the view that consolidation is round the corner. If you are trying to increase only your topline and get high rankings by way of assets under management, but your earnings are negligible, then it is not a sustainable model. It is only a matter of time before the shareholders decide that enough is enough. This goes back to the issue of valuations. Many people thought that valuations could be achieved on the basis of AUM. So, many players were trying to ramp up their AUM at any cost. My feeling is that after the Sebi guidelines effective August 1, this bluff has stopped. Now, you have to put in serious money if you want to increase your AUM. I think, consolidation will happen sooner than later. UTI is a profitable company, we have got money, we have the reserves and we won't mind buying good quality assets.

You have been appointed a pension fund manager under the New Pension System for both government and non-government employees. What's the experience been so far?

It's been very disappointing. I feel that the government needs to do a serious rethink on its policy on pension reforms in this country. The expectation was that the PFRDA would be the lead pension regulator in the country. Unfortunately, the Bill, which is being presented in Parliament, doesn't have that provision. So, even if the Bill is passed, it is not going to make any difference to workers in the unorganised sector, because it is completely voluntary. So, a worker can go to an IRDA-regulated entity, a Sebi-regulated entity, you can go to the Department of Posts, you can go to PPF or you can go to the PFRDA. There's no sense of direction then. Even for government employees' pension, the record-keeping is not up to date. The whole approach needs a rethink.

There's a general feeling that Trustees merely lend their names to AMCs and don't play an effective role in monitoring their activities. Do you believe there is a need to review their working?

In practical terms, I don't think, there is scope for any substantive progress in this direction. We, for instance, have very reputed and eminent people as Trustees. In our case, the Trustee meeting takes place separately from the AMC which is the way it should be. But that is not the practice in the industry. If the company has a culture of treating the Trustees in a manner that is identical to the purpose for which they are there, then I think, there is no problem.

Do you think the equity market has run up too fast, too soon?

The market is trading at 16-16.5 times forward earnings. If you look at the way it has grown from January to now, it has grown rather too fast. The market has grown due to liquidity which is externally-driven rather than because of some fundamental changes in the market or the economy. But it is also true that that liquidity has to flow somewhere. If it doesn't come to India, it will go to some other country and fund managers have to be ready to deal with such situations. We still feel that there are certain sectors where there are some opportunities. Our approach is one of caution. We're not gung-ho at this level.


At the same time, we are looking closely at specific companies and specific sectors and trying to find out which are the likely winners. So, we are doing stock picking rather than going purely after the index.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




 CThe terms of the nuclear agreement with Russia signed during the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow this week emphasise the extraordinary relations between the two countries that have transcended change of systems, regime change, and the difference in political and social systems between them. Unlike in the case of the United States, in which close cooperation at the people-to-people level existed even when the two countries had uneasy relations until the end of the Cold War, India's ties with Moscow have burgeoned over half a century in the absence of that factor, suggesting the presence of an underlying geostrategic matrix that has stood the test of time. In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the security and strategic dimension of the relationship cooled for a time. Russia for the first time then endorsed the idea that India should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and be subjected to full-scope safeguards for its nuclear reactors. But this phase was not to last long. And now Russia has signed a civil nuclear agreement that is unlikely with any Western country, especially the United States. Under this, the Russian supply of fuel for nuclear reactors provided by it will not cease even when the horizon of the agreement is reached. More, in its dealings with India, Russia will not be a party to a G-8 understanding that proscribes the offer of reprocessing and enrichment technology to countries that have not signed the NPT. At one stroke, this understanding helps India overcome the restrictions imposed by the 123 Agreement with the United States. Until February this year, when it was displaced by Israel, Russia had been this country's largest defence supplier. Over a period of 40 years, according to a study by the US Library of Congress, Russia annually supplied India with military equipment worth $875 million across the range, although this country offered Moscow no base or berthing facilities. And the relations were far from being only defence-oriented. They stretched through the spectrum, covering the economy, trade, space, culture and politics.


Through the last half of the 20th century, Moscow's veto in the UN Security Council greatly helped India sustain its position on Kashmir. The convergence of interests between Moscow and New Delhi are now slated to extend common ground on the question of extremism and terrorism, and on the issue of Afghanistan, where India is committed over the long term. Both sides clearly understand, of course, that their mutual relations cannot be exclusive of that with a third country. For both, bilateral ties with the US are of the highest importance. And yet, neither has a congruence or near coincidence of interests on key regional and international questions with Washington, while they pretty much do with one another. Unlike Washington, in the foreseeable future, Moscow is not obliged to balance its ties with Islamabad or Beijing when dealing with New Delhi. This imparts a certain quality to their partnership. It is not far-fetched to say that Russia remains India's basic counterweight on critical issues in the Security Council, although by now India has moved away from a single-country reliance regime. Depending on the issue, it can find Security Council endorsement among several Western powers. Russia's economic rise in the post-Cold War era depended considerably on its vast oil and natural gas resources. With the prices of these commodities much lower than before, Moscow has recognised the value of doing business with a country of India's size, with its vast markets for civilian and military goods and services. The relationship is happily a two-way affair with sufficient natural adhesive to keep it going.








On a single day in the last week of October the morning papers published three items about the grand march of corruption that has become so integral a part of governance of this country that most people have become inured to what should normally generate outrage. The first of the disturbing three pieces of information was that the acting chairman of the Company Law Board (CLB), whose job it is to prevent fraud and venality among corporate crooks, was himself arrested "red-handed" while accepting a bribe of Rs 7 lakhs from the owners of a company arraigned before the CLB — Rs 55 lakhs in cash were "recovered" from the worthy's house, and subsequent raids unearthed another Rs 1 crore in various bank accounts of the acting CLB chief by then behind bars. This is a classic case of the fence eating up the field.

The second item disclosed that Russians had paid Rs 120 crores to the top functionaries of the National Thermal Power Corporation to secure a hyper-lucrative contract. If any action is being taken in this connection, the country has yet to hear of it. The third news report was even more bizarre. It disclosed that in the nation's capital there were several thousand employees of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) that existed only on its payrolls. Their salaries were, of course, drawn regularly and evidently lined the pockets of those controlling the municipal affairs. A few days later the NDMC announced loftily that it had stopped payments to the ghost employees but has said not a word about those who have pocketed huge amounts all these years.
Though shocking, these three cases are relatively minor, compared with the two blockbuster instances of loot — the former Jharkand Chief Minister, Mr Madhu Koda's miracle of allegedly amassing Rs 4,000 crore in a span of two years and the scandal of the G2 spectrum sold on the "first-come-first-served" basis by the communications minister, Mr A. Raja. Over these there had been understandable upheaval in both Parliament and the media that, as usual, has yielded place to total silence. However, Mr Koda has at long last been arrested after thumbing his nose for weeks at the enforcement and income-tax authorities demanding his appearance before them.

One of the Prime Minister's advisers has described the G2 scam as a "learning experience". In reality, it was an "earning experience" because the loss to the exchequer was the mind-boggling Rs 60,000 crore.

Let us face the fact that corruption in India is nothing new but goes back millennia. Over 2,500 years ago, Kautilya catalogued 40 different ways in which the king's minions were "bound to cheat him of his revenue". By the time of the Mughals, corruption had acquired the nickname "mamool" (usual) that is used in Hyderabad even today. The epithet "hafta" (weekly payment) is an invention of the British era. However, never before have corruption and graft in this country been so humongous, so ubiquitous and so tolerated as now. In Nehru's time, his minister for oil, Keshav Dev Malaviya, had to resign because he had accepted a contribution to his election chest of Rs 10,000 from an Orissa mine owner who had dealings with his ministry.

Even the Bofors scandal, considered the mother of all scams no more than 23 years ago, involved kickbacks totaling Rs 64 crores, which is piffle compared with the staggering amounts currently changing hands. Also, six successive governments, two of them committed to exposing the "guilty" men, were unable to name the beneficiaries of the Bofors bribes. Strangely, no one has bothered at all about the Rs 133 crores sent in the dead of night in P.V. Narasimha Rao's time to a dubious Turkish company ostensibly for the import of urea. Not a flake of urea ever arrived. Nor was a penny of Rs 133 crores ever returned because there wasn't even a bank guarantee.

In a famous, if also self-serving, statement Indira Gandhi once said that corruption was a "global phenomenon". True enough, there is a degree of corruption in almost every country as Transparency International reports every year. But is there any place on earth, apart from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, where the poorest of the poor are forced to pay bribes to get elementary services that are available in civilised societies as a matter of course?

An independent study in 2007 showed that in 2006, Indians living below poverty line had paid as bribes a "staggering Rs 883 crore" of which the police had claimed nearly a fourth. The rest of the money was devoured by the public distribution system, electricity connections, water supply et al. The Right to Information Act, public-spirited non-governmental organisations and whistleblowers have since made some dent in the worst features of corruption but not much.

The bottom line is that no one with a gift of the grab — and their number in the political power structure, bureaucracy and business and industry is legion — is ever punished because thanks to perverted investigations and unspeakable judicial delays no corruption case ever reaches the stage of conviction or acquittal.
It is against this bleak backdrop that two other curses of "Corrupt India" must be viewed. First, while every political party is infested with money-grubbers, every major case of corruption is immediately politicised. Though itself in disarray, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was quick to blame the Congress for protecting both Mr Raja and Mr Koda because it was "partaking of their ill-gotten wealth". But the saffron party forgot that Mr Koda was mining minister in Jharkhand's BJP ministry before becoming chief minister with Congress support. Mr Raja's party adorned Atal Behari Vajpayee's government in Delhi as it does Dr Manmohan Singh's.
Secondly, of late the stain of corruption has reached the highest levels of such venerable institutions as the judiciary and armed forces. In the case of the Karnataka Chief Justice all concerned are busy passing the buck. The Darjeeling land scam has brought under the scanner the highest Army officers. The Chief of the Army Staff angrily states that it is wrong "prematurely" to judge the issue. Fair enough, but will he make sure that the ban on a premature finding does not become permanent?








The most important line in the US President, Mr Barack Obama's Afghan speech was not about AfPak policy (so named by the White House) but about the US domestic situation: "Our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own".

As military strategy for winning a war the speech made little sense. You don't need to be Carl von Clausewitz to know that the commitment of 30,000 troops combined with the establishment of proximate date for the start of their withdrawal is not going to break the will of an enemy or destroy its centre of gravity.
But as a political statement and as an acknowledgment of the limits of American power after the first decade of the 21st century, the speech was adroit.

Saying troop drawdown will begin in July 2011, without saying at what rate or to what extent, is not a bad way to pressure the Afghan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, to get with the programme while leaving needed US options open for averting the worst in an area with an estimated 80 to 100 Pakistani nuclear warheads.
Those warheads and the virulence of anti-Western political Islam in "AfPakistan" mean US wagons will not be pulling out completely for a long time. Exit ramps are really easing ramps and political signals. As US defence secretary Robert Gates said after the speech, "We must not repeat the mistake of 1989 and turn our backs on these folks".
But nor can America turn its back on itself.
It cannot forever languish in a la-la land where the great global security underwriter and the great global debtor never encounter each other, dishing out billions for far-flung fights with one hand and condemning the next generation of Americans with the other. The Jekyll-and-Hyde years have to end.

The Taliban may never go away but they do sleep. Debt doesn't.

So, as the delirious decade draws to a close — a period in which America was upended by 9/11 and close to one trillion dollars was spent on the Afghan and Iraq wars — the realism of Obama is welcome. It takes getting used to — idealism propelled him after all. The three presidential Cs (cool, controlled, cerebral) can get to people; they've gotten to me at times. Still, Obama is right; America needs a heavy dose of nation-building that's incompatible with ever escalating military commitments.

The United States is buried in debt, personal and collective, after a decade in which median incomes for the average working stiff fell, and more Americans dropped below the poverty line, and the number of Americans without health insurance rose. Unemployment is above French levels without French welfare. Enough said.
A lot of Americans are worried sick. The friendly loan packagers who were doling out money like risk no longer existed have taken real exit ramps — they've vanished.

Leading by example has to mean something. If the US government doesn't care what it spends, citizens aren't going to either — and the dollar's plunge will become irreversible. Just look at the record of the bomb-and-shop years since 2001.

Polonius had some good advice for Laertes in Hamlet:

Neither a borrower nor alender beFor loan oft loses both itself and friend,And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.This above all: to thine own self be true...Or, as Proverbs 22:7 puts it in the Bible: "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender".

Everything from the nation's relationship with China to Americans' buying decisions in this holiday season is being affected by that venerable precept. President Obama cannot be impervious to it. He especially cannot be impervious to it because the great bailout that has unfolded on his watch has salvaged Wall Street and its bonuses while doing little for Main Street and jobs. Paying for mistakes has been inequitably divided. The derivatives crowd is still golfing; the rivets crowd is wondering what happened to manufacturing. Obama's "truth to himself" demands that he do better.

That begins with risk-is-shared healthcare reform. It involves re-learning husbandry. It's going to take innovation, education and long-term thinking. And it's going to demand trade-offs.
In acknowledging these trade-offs, and putting the world on notice about America's future capacity as global security underwriter, Obama turned an Afghan speech into perhaps the most important domestic pronouncement of his presidency.


There are some things I want to correct and clear up about a column, Of fruit flies and drones (November 14). I suggested that research being done on fruit flies at the California Institute of Technology was done for military purposes.

The research does receive military funding, but the director of the laboratory, Michael H. Dickinson, is a zoologist who studies insect neurobiology and neither he nor his lab contribute directly to the development of robots, drones or weapons. I did not speak to Professor Dickinson. A source I identified as a graduate student is in fact a former graduate student who works part-time as a technician in the lab. Finally, biomechanics refers to the application of mechanical principles to living organisms — not the application of living organisms to mechanisms.







While facts surrounding the capture of United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa are shrouded in mystery and might not be known for some time, the situation remains murky. This has not been helped by varying government statements: one that he was arrested and another that he had surrendered. This was countered by Rajkhowa's emphatic declaration that he had not given up and would not.

Rajkhowa's seizure and whisking out of Bangladesh has all the makings of a spy thriller. What is clear is that he did not come willingly; he was intercepted, apparently by the Bangladeshis, near Cox's Bazar and then handed over to the Indians. During this period his family members were also united with him.

It was a stunning setback to Ulfa, its most serious since it was formed 30 years back, but also served notice of Bangladesh's determination, and that of its confident Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, not to be hobbled by earlier allegations of permitting and even supporting insurgent groups to use its territory for their goals.


Bangladesh, it is said, is deeply worried by the spectre of the disaster in Pakistan which nurtured "friendly" terrorists for decades and is determined to ensure nothing like that is repeated in their country. This is also a pointer of how, in foreign policy, nothing works as well as enlightened self-interest!

The middle-aged Ulfa chairman, away from Assam since 1985, also declared, raising his handcuffs, when taken to the district courts — a gesture that drew support even from detractors — that there could be no negotiations with handcuffs! Without a doubt, putting him on display in handcuffs was inappropriate, if not downright foolish, although he has been wanted for long for waging war against the State, a charge that carries very stiff penalties.

Matters were not helped by offhand remarks by Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi that since Rajkhowa, whose real name is Rajiv Rajkonwar, had come back after a long time, "let him have home food"! This was trivialising what was a stunning setback to Ulfa and a tremendous opportunity for peace in the region. Such remarks have drawn the ire of a cross-section of society and interviews by the Assamese press have highlighted the tremendous hunger for peace and dialogue as well as growing confusion and suspicion about the Centre's role in the whole matter.

The government appears determined not to let him out of its sight, possibly recalling the 1992 fiasco when he met then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, agreed to a ceasefire and to abide by the Constitution, and then backed down after opposition by the cadre and pressure from the elusive Paresh Baruah, who remains at large in the Kachin lands near China where Ulfa has for long had camps and collaborates with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland's (NSCN) Khaplang faction, which too has a ceasefire with the Centre though it is not negotiating with New Delhi unlike its more powerful rival, NSCN (I-M) — which had over 50 rounds of talks, which don't appear to have gone anywhere.

In light of its experience with "unconditional talks" with the Nagas, it is imperative that the Centre clarifies its position on the future of discussions with Ulfa, which is still a banned organisation. People in Assam do not want sovereignty that is a chimera, a pipedream; they are only interested in peace through a political dialogue that will enable delivery of basic services, disrupted by years of conflict. But the Naga example is often held up — although their leaders too wanted sovereignty, New Delhi continues to negotiate with them without conditions. Here too everyone knows there is not going to be any concession on Naga "sovereignty".
Indeed, the years between the 1980s — when Ulfa began its rise — and now cannot be described as anything but the lost decades, when thousands of people died in the state at the hands of government forces as well as those who battled the government, all in the name of fighting for "the people", without ascertaining what the "people" actually wanted.

While those in prison may not be in a position to demand and dictate political concessions, it behoves New Delhi to remember Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's beautiful words a few years ago at the first interaction with Ulfa's representatives, the People's Consultative Group: "I am a servant of the Constitution" responsible to Parliament, the Cabinet and the people of India, he had said, adding he would strive his utmost to give as much as possible within those restrictions which he needed to abide by as the country's elected head.

Rhetoric's romance is over, although it retains some appeal. The time for realism is now: if both sides truly seek the welfare of the people of Assam, then they have no option but to engage, converse, dialogue and develop a process that could forge an agreement which would in turn address some of the long-standing demands and angst of the people of the state and the Northeast. There would need to be give and take; the world has changed in 30 years and both sides need to be acutely cognisant of that.

For while Ulfa's principal political plank does not carry much weight in Assam, some of its other demands on social and economic issues, as many of us have maintained, have a resonance. These have been refined and further articulated by scholars and students, politicians and non-officials, activists and ordinary people and are part of the political and social discourse of the state and the region.

The question of whether Paresh Baruah, the commander-in-chief of the Ulfa's army — much depleted but still capable of striking at vulnerable targets — will take part in any future negotiations is not the issue any longer. Most of his colleagues are in India and in custody — including a majority of the influential Central committee members as well as his own deputy Raju Barua — and these constitute the severest setback to Ulfa in its existence. There is a persistent lack of clarity on where Paresh Baruah is located. But while he may continue to have a contingent of armed men loyal to him in the Kachin province of Burma, not far from the Northeast's borders with Burma, and could theoretically strike back, the question is how long can such a campaign be sustained. This is so especially as across Assam and the entire Northeast there is a fatigue with violence and lost causes and a strong desire for peace. Those who do not recognise this do not understand the state or its people.
Indeed, another question arises: if talks begin, can Paresh Baruah afford to stay out of the loop since he will be unable to communicate directly with his former colleagues, now in jail, and also lacks the numbers he commanded a decade back.

If they truly wish for Assam's welfare — and the state and its people have suffered enough for many years — then both sides need to show more wisdom, realism and restraint than has been visible in the past.


Sanjoy Hazarika is an author, journalistand filmmaker








We met 15-year-old Sunil in a classroom at Tankuppa High School in a remote part of Bihar's Gaya district. It was one of 11 classrooms at the school, but when we visited only three were open for learning. The other eight rooms were occupied by armed men: paramilitary police who have taken over most of the school for the past three years, since their police station was destroyed in a Naxalite attack. The police station has still not been rebuilt, so now it is the students' education that is being wrecked.

Although Tankuppa was supposed to expand to a "plus two" school, teaching Classes 11 and 12, with the security forces already using so many of the classrooms, there is not enough space for all the current students to sit and study, let alone an additional two classes. Sunil, who will soon graduate to Class 11 and wants to continue his studies, is simply unable to live his dream: his family cannot spare the money to send him to even the next-closest school offering higher-level classes.Sunil is one among tens of thousands of students in Bihar and Jharkhand whose education is being disrupted as a result of the Naxalite conflict. On the one hand, the Maoists are blowing up government school buildings. On the other hand, government security forces are occupying schools for days, months, and even years, using them as bases for their anti-Naxalite campaigns. The students are stuck in the middle.

At least 13 schools in Jharkhand have come under Maoist attacks in the past month. The Naxalites claim that they attack schools because they are occupied by security forces, but recent research by Human Rights Watch proves this claim false: at least 25 of the schools they attacked in Bihar and Jharkhand were not being used by security forces at the time. Post attack the structures still leave behind enough solid walls to protect security forces.

Sunil's classmate Indira, 16, says she has trouble concentrating on her lessons. The police bring criminal suspects back to the school and beat them in the schoolyard in view of the children. "I feel very bad when they beat them", she said. Indira also does not like how the police have taken over the school's latrines — this means that she has to use an open field near the school.Other students described how offensive it is when the police bathe in their underwear in front of the girls.

The government claims that the Maoists cannot be defeated just with force and that their threat must also be countered with development. If that is so then the government should remember that access to quality education for India's most marginalised children is an indispensable ingredient for progress. And if the Naxalites seek to justify their bloodshed by saying they are fighting for India's poor, then their destruction of one of the few services that can empower these communities is abhorrently perverse.

Both sides of the conflict should reconsider their misguided policies: The Naxalites will never win legitimacy if they wage a war by picking soft civilian structures, especially when it comes at the cost of India's most disadvantaged children; and the government must consider that although they are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, their current policies and practices are frequently violating children's right to an education, and are thus only providing further fuel to the Maoists.

Sunil told us that his favourite school subject is mathematics. Maybe he can become an accountant when he grows up. But that will happen only if the government and the Maoists, who both claim to be fighting for his future, let him have a safe and secure present.Meenakshi Ganguly works on South Asia for the Asiadivision of Human Rights Watch







Recently, while giving a speech to the Peshawar police, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that no one could separate Islam from Pakistan. One wonders what prompted the Pakistan Army Chief to digress, and start assuring his audience about Pakistan's Islamic credentials. I guess he chose the occasion to comment on the military's take on a (albeit unsubstantiated) news report stating that the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) wanted to change the country's name from Islamic Republic of Pakistan to People's Republic of Pakistan. Even though both the ANP and MQM were quick to refute the news, General Kayani's reassurance in this respect yet again underlines the dilemma the military and the state of Pakistan have been facing for years.

The dilemma constitutes political and ideological factors in which the military has had the biggest stakes; but unfortunately it is also a dilemma which the military has been rather reluctant to resolve. According to respected historians, like the late K.K. Aziz and Dr Mubarak Ali, the whole idea that "Pakistan was made in the name of Islam" and/or as an "Islamic state", was nowhere to be found in the ideological discourse of the state before 1962, when it was first raised by the Jamaat-e-Islami — a party that was opposed to the creation of Pakistan.
Though the civil-bureaucracy conglomerate that presided over the affairs of the state and the government in the 1950s decided to officially start calling the country an "Islamic Republic" (in 1956), there was really no mention of such a republic in the early years of the new country.

Pakistan's founder was a secular Muslim, married to a non-Muslim and a strong defender of the notion that the state should confine its authority to the secular sphere. Throughout the Pakistan Movement, Muhammad Ali Jinnah's party, the Muslim League, overwhelmingly had secular-minded leaders who treated the Muslims of the subcontinent as a separate cultural entity. There is no way that Pakistan was conceived as an Islamic state by its founding fathers. This becomes apparent by the way orthodox Islamic parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami reacted to the creation of Pakistan.

Had Jinnah pictured the new country as an Islamic state, there was no reason why parties like the Jamaat would oppose its creation.

However, unable to convincingly define its ideology, the state started to capitulate in the face of the mounting pressure exerted by the religious parties.

The lack of democracy and its many institutions — initially discarded by the secular military dictatorship of Ayub Khan — is also a prominent reason why the military and the establishment were left stumped by the religious parties' mantra in this respect. What was being repressed in the discourse by the military and the civil establishment was the glaring fact that Pakistan, even as a Muslim country, was a land of great ethnic and sectarian diversity.

Its people constituted Urdu-speakers (Mohajirs), Sindhis, Pathans, Bengalis and many others; and also people belonging to various Islamic sects. By imposing the ruse that Pakistan was "one unit" was a naive evaluation that only ended up alienating the many ethnically distinct strains of Muslims and the minorities that made Pakistan their home.

In other words, Pakistan's identity and ideology should have been squarely based on a democratic acceptance of its ethnic, religious and sectarian diversity, instead of the establishment's rather convoluted "one ideology for all" brand of Islam. We are not an ethnically and culturally homogenous nation following a singular version of Islam, or of the state for that matter as far as religious minorities are concerned.

We are a nation of various groups of diversified people who can remain united as a country with the help of democracy alone. But such a state usually has not gone down well with Islamists — even after years of ethnic, political and religious turmoil and cleavages that the one-unit-Islam has caused across the long dictatorships Pakistan has had to suffer.

It is time our military and religious parties let go of the fear of a democratically accepted, diverse Pakistan; especially the military, which is now fighting a vital battle in the northwest — ironically with the monstrous pitfalls of the synthetic state-sanctioned Islam imposed through years of undemocratic rule and a crass undermining of what Pakistani nation and society are really about.

So what if some Pakistanis want to change the name of the country? It is only the synthetic nature and fragility of the one-unit-Islam that causes hearts to flutter, because state-sponsored Islam is not an organic construct. Thus, it is an insecure ideology that continues to blame outside forces, secularism and democracy for its own, very obvious, failures.

By arrangement with Dawn








THE CPI-M has been speaking in so many voices that it is difficult to accept at face value Biman Bose's vehement denials that there are no moves to reinduct Somnath Chatterjee almost 18 months after he was expelled by the Politburo for refusing to step down as Speaker when the Left withdrew support to the UPA government. The denials may even indicate something to the contrary. It is no secret that central and state leaders of the party are divided on action that was taken. This is in tune with the feeling that the Politiburo had blundered on the expulsion as much as it blundered on withdrawal of support to the UPA on the question of the nuclear deal. This impression is confirmed by informal contacts maintained with the expelled leader unlike the estrangement with Saifuddin Choudhury and Samir Putatunda, both of whom had suffered a similar fate in 2000 for questioning the party's reluctance to move with the times. A lot of water has flown down the Hooghly, taking a heavy toll of the CPI-M's support base in large areas of the state. A rethink on the former Speaker has obviously been driven by the changed circumstances. However, the party's constitution allows reconsideration after the expelled member makes a formal appeal ~ something that Mr Chatterjee is not expected to do. He may equally be reluctant to accept a gesture of "forgiveness''. If at all he is keen on returning to the party to which he still expresses allegiance, he would want to do so on his own terms.

The CPI-M is truly in a dilemma. The drubbing it has received in recent elections has prompted it to explore all possible options for a turnaround. The options tried out so far, including an appeal to Congressmen by Jyoti Basu have not worked. Mr Chatterjee's proximity to the CPI-M patriarch is well known and the groundswell of opinion in his favour may have fuelled the present debate. The question is how the reunion can be achieved without making it look like an abject surrender by central leaders. By all accounts, the key figures in the Politburo still refuse to acknowledge that either the withdrawal of support to the UPA or Mr Chatterjee's expulsion has left the party in dire straits. As state secretary, Biman Bose may well be obliged to echo that firmness. But as the party approaches more crucial tests, it may well be a matter of looking for the most credible warriors in the fight for survival. The Somnath debate must be seen in the context of these desperate adjustments from which there seems to be no escape.







NOT for nothing does the Indian Navy call itself the "silent service". For while Somali piracy is a matter of international focus and attention, only very occasionally do the policing duties undertaken by our naval forces in that region come into prominence. And its latest action, a rapid response from the 'INS Godavari' to ward off an attack on the 'Nordic Spirit' tanker found only brief mention in the media. Yet this was the 14th attempted piracy thwarted by the helicopters and ships patrolling the Gulf of Aden (some action of that nature has been taken off Mauritius too) since regular patrols were launched in October 2008. Perhaps more importantly, 700 merchant vessels carrying merchandise worth millions of dollars have been escorted through what are deemed among the most dangerous waters in the world. How many of them would have been "hit" had the patrols ~ actually one warship at a time ~ not been deployed is a matter for speculation. And there is no method of quantifying the extent of the confidence those patrols have created in the minds of thousands of merchant mariners, many of them Indians, as they enjoyed safe passage. All that actually makes out a strong case for maintaining a stronger naval presence in the operational zone.

Yet for some strange reason the government appears bashful, and wary of playing a more assertive role in the anti-piracy effort. Nor is there any evidence of it attempting to encash the international goodwill the Navy has generated since it has not confined its action to the protection of Indian-owned vessels. There is a diplomatic harvest waiting to be reaped out there, but those prosecuting Indian foreign policy remain shackled in the past, back off from including the actions of our military in their calculus. This low-key approach, after declining to take the lead when that "slot" was available, suggests a failure to think "big". Not only is strategic space being provided for others to fill, the opportunity to establish India as a major player on the international stage is being continually squandered ~ smooth talk alone will not deliver. Are our policy-makers, if we have any, still prisoners of a "third world" mindset?







ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa's assertion that "I have not surrendered and will not, and that there can be no talks as a prisoner" and self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua's denial of there being a split in the outfit and his stand that sovereignty must be included in any future negotiation suggest that, contrary to expectations, the Assam endgame is doomed to failure. Rajkhowa had maintained all along that sovereignty was not only the outfit's demand but that of the people as well, so he could not be expected to change his commitment to them overnight. He had also made it abundantly clear that "it is not possible to find a negotiated settlement to the Assam-India conflict within the ambit of the Indian Constitution, and a 'fresh outlook' is needed". What he meant by this was not clear but Jnanpith award winner and Assamese writer Mamoni Goswami, at whose behest the Ulfa agreed to talk to the Centre in 2005-06, has hinted that to make talks possible on the sovereignty issue the Centre had to think in terms of amending the Constitution. This is understandable because the Centre will not talk to any outfit that questions the country's sovereignty. It is worth recall that as early as December 1993 Ulfa pro-talk members, at their Bokaghat convention, called for "drastic changes" in the Constitution to give more powers to the states. They also demanded a green revolution and pleaded for state control over natural resources, giving rise to the suspicion that they were merely ventilating the government's grievances and that the convention was state-sponsored.

In December 2003, following the Bhutan Royal Army crackdown on Ulfa and Bodo hideouts, Barua reportedly advised Rajkhowa to sue for peace but he refused and even wrote to Chinese leaders seeking safe passage. Five years ago, Barua was quoted on a website as having said that "we are asking for a discussion on sovereignty… it does not mean granting the same". The Centre is now engaged in talks with the NSCN(IM) whose demand also includes sovereignty. So why is a different yardstick being employed for the Ulfa?








IN the context of contemporary history, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was earthshaking. It was a turning point leading to the collapse of Communism in Europe just as in 1945, the allied victory in World War II put the death nail on fascism. However, the major contrast between these two events is that the first was achieved by victory in war, whereas the second was achieved peacefully and spontaneously.

But, at the same time in communist China, a democratic movement spearheaded by students was mercilessly crushed. And in spite of the growing clout of China as a major economic power in today's world, there is no positive indication that it is moving towards a liberal democratic order in the near future.

While looking back to the events of 1989, one can recall Dickens' famous comment ~ "It was the best of times and it was the worst of times". In the Europe of 1989, the cruel partition of Germany ended with a reminder that the Berlin Wall (1962 to 1989) symbolised the monumental failure of Communism. A wall was erected to isolate Communism from the rest of the world so that its own citizens, given a chance, would flee to the West rather than remain within its confines.

Afghan way

IT is worth pondering that had there been no wall perhaps there would have been a mass exodus of people in East Germany and Eastern Europe in the working age group to the West, considering that by 1962, when the wall was built, four million people had fled. It is also paradoxical that the Khrushchev regime, the first in the post-Stalin era in the former USSR that initiated many reforms and even avoided the gravest nuclear confrontation with the US during the Cuban crisis, allowed the wall to be built. At the same time, Khrushchev even proclaimed that the Soviet Union would surpass the US by 1985, in both standards of living and production. The subsequent Brezhnev regime sealed the fate of Communism forever by making Soviet Union a one dimensional and an incomplete superpower in which the only parity between the two superpowers was in armaments. Brezhnev, towards the end of his regime, committed the cardinal mistake of entering into a war in Afghanistan against all odds. In the process, Russia not only lost its ideological clout but also alienated itself from the majority of Third World countries.
However, in the non-European world, 1989 did not make much difference and the situation worsened in Communist China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Nelson Mandela was still in prison with the apartheid regime in firm control. Within three years from 1989, Aung Sang Sui Kyi was denied the fruit of a democratic victory in Myanmar and kept under house arrest that continues even till date. The West continues to ignore the Myanmar situation and has allowed the bloodthirsty junta to carry on with its authoritarian rule with utter disregard for minority rights. On the contrary, the West was eager to impose democracy in Iraq with bayonets.
Mandela once remarked that the non-violent mode of protest would not work in situations like South Africa where the repressive apartheid regime never shied away from using force to squash a democratic upsurge. This brings us to a larger question about the use of non-violent forces in ushering important historical changes and at the same time, exposing its serious limitations. Gorbachov recently credited himself for being a key player in avoiding a nuclear holocaust which is a laudable achievement of his regime. He created a situation in which the Western powers started to believe the erstwhile Soviet Union and its leadership and Gorbachov also reciprocated by his refusal to use any kind of force when it became apparent that Soviet presence in East Europe was like that of an occupation army with very little popular support.

The suddenness with which the Berlin Wall was demolished is a testimony to the groundwork done by Gorbachov. The latter had convinced East Europeans that whatever might be the problem in Europe it would be resolved peacefully. With that kind of confidence building, the fall of the Berlin Wall vindicated Rosa Luxemburg's theory of spontaneity rather than a protracted use of techniques of non-violence. At the same time, the ideological onslaught of President Reagan of characterising the Communist regime as an evil one and the preparation for star wars created a great crisis in the Soviet leadership about the feasibility of continuing the arms race with the US as that was already bleeding the Soviet Union to its knees. It became quite apparent that ideologically, economically and technologically, the Soviet Union was no match for the West, a fact which Sakharov acknowledged, when he pointed out that during the Brezhnev regime all the major technological innovations had originated in the West. It also showed the hollowness of the once popular convergence theory articulated by many eminent Western intellectuals including Herbert Marcuse under the guise of end of ideology. However, the East European dissidents like Kolakowski, Vajda, the Praxis group and Andrei Amalrik's Will the Soviet Union Survive Beyond 1984? published in 1970 proved to be more accurate than that of western intellects.

The role of the Catholic Church in giving the long and arduous moral support was one of the major factors in bringing to the world stage the crisis in the belief structure of an average citizen of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The Polish Pope, John Paul II, played a pivotal role. In a nutshell, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in Europe, and the end of the Cold War came out of the cumulative factors that were building up over a long period of time.

In contrast, there was no such record of resentment in China. Nor for that matter was an alternative scenario present as was the case for the people of East Europe vis-a-vis the West. The Deng revolution had already started the reform process and unlike the Soviet Union which was stagnating economically, the Chinese growth rate was becoming impressive by the time the Tiananmen Square massacre took place and the fruits of its growing economic power were felt by its people. As a result the fallout of the Tiananmen Square revolt remained restricted, confining the ideals of liberty to some students and well-informed intellectuals.

Different situation

IN contrast to the larger urbanised and educated middle class in Europe, the corresponding middle class in China was small. Lucien Pye rightly pointed out that the freedom of the press and the attainment of civil and political liberties would become an important component of civilised existence only when the majority of a country's population is literate and belong to the middle class. The two different situations of Europe and the Afro-Asian world demonstrate the sharp contrast regarding the issues and outcomes of the events of 1989.
Lenin, while praising Sun Yat Sen and Tilak, remarked that it was the forward Asia and backward Europe that existed in the early 20th century. What he meant was that the Asian leadership at that time was comparable to the 18th century European Enlightenment and, in comparison the European leadership was backward. Perhaps, a re-evaluation of the historical process of the last one hundred years will help us to come to terms with 1989 when Europe succeeded and Asia and Africa failed.

Orwell said that non-violent mass action is possible only under a democratic and tolerant order with commitment to the rule of law and allowing dissent and, not in a totalitarian or authoritarian or repressive regime. An analysis of the events of 1989 should enable academics, the intelligentsia and political activists to identify the limits of non-violent mass action.

The writer is Reader in Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi







LONDON, 8 DEC: In a discovery that could lead to a pill to make hair straighter or curlier, scientists have identified a "curly hair gene" and are developing a treatment which could spell the end of electrical hair straighteners.

The groundbreaking research at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), Australia, identified the trichohyalin gene as the one that is mainly responsible for creating curls.

The discovery, which will help predict whether a baby will have straight or curly hair, can also allow detectives to use DNA found at the scene of the crime to indicate how wavy a suspect's locks are.

Professor Nick Martin, head of the QIMR Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory and author of the research, said it is variation in this gene that determines straightness or curliness of hair.

He also stated that their research may now pave the way for treatments to make hair straighter as an alternative to heated hair-straighteners.

"Potentially we can now develop new treatments to make hair curlier or straighter, rather than treating the hair directly," Prof Martin was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

"That is one angle we will be working on and which I will be discussing with a major cosmetic company in Paris in January.

"Also, we could certainly predict whether it was more probable that a baby would have curly or straight hair. We plan to keep working on this to improve the prediction."








People who are seriously ill and their carers are some of the most vulnerable in the market. The power that nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and laboratories wield on these hapless people can be absolute. In a poor country like India, the relationship between medical establishments and the people who put themselves at their mercy is often desperately unequal. So, it is reassuring to see the West Bengal government about to table a bill protecting patients and carers from negligence or exploitation in the private health sector. The bill promises a tribunal that would decide on inflated bills and compensation and forbids denial of life-saving treatment under any circumstances, among other things. The tribunal needs to be quick, efficient and free of bureaucracy, for inordinate delays and endless appeals are the chief causes of injustice in the current systems of redress. Doctors practising in their own chambers do not fall within the purview of the bill, which is somewhat alarming. But the effectiveness of such a bill would equally depend on the mindset of the people using these services. In Bengal, ordinary people are either in a sort of helpless awe of doctors and their world, unable to demand proper services when they are denied them, or the worst kind of violence breaks out in retaliation to any alleged injustice. The private health sector needs consumers who are aware of what they are entitled to in terms of the quality of what they are paying for.


Yet, the most helpless of Bengal's medical consumers use the facilities provided by the government, and it is precisely these establishments, the state-run hospitals, that are exempted from this bill. The fact that the services they provide are free, or almost free, is no excuse for putting them outside the realm of the law. This would give an already hellish and anarchic set-up a better handle to remain a law unto itself, often inhumanly unmindful of its users' needs. These hospitals also run on public money, and Swastha Bhavan has no reason to feel above accountability or ethics. The question of standards has to be rigorously brought back into the burgeoning healthcare industry in West Bengal. If the state government is going to be strict with the private sector, then it better get its own act together. Otherwise, it forfeits the right to monitor and to adjudicate, both of which are urgently necessary in this state.







Nepal's Maoists cannot wait to return to power. The surest way to do so, they think, is to return to the streets. But the Maoists' street-shows in Kathmandu lack the political and moral legitimacy that their electoral success gave them last year. That victory came on the crest of a popular movement against the monarchy in which Nepal's democratic parties had joined the Maoists. True, the electoral victory made the former rebels a major political force in the new Himalayan republic. But if they are not part of Nepal's government today, the Maoists have only themselves to blame. What they face today has happened to rebels in other countries who have laid down arms and tried to find their feet in democratic politics. Nepal's Maoists thus have two basic problems — they find themselves misfits in democratic politics and they would not, therefore, do away completely with their old tactic. That is why they have not disbanded their army or other wings in accordance with the terms of the peace process. Instead, they have stalled the working of the constituent assembly, which is supposed to give Nepal a new constitution and thereafter a fresh election. Worse, the Maoists have threatened to unilaterally announce the formation of "autonomous states" of a federal Nepal. All this is a sure recipe for a fresh spell of anarchy.


The Maoists' charge that India is desperate to keep them out of power is an old ploy. The anti-India card is routinely used in Kathmandu in order to settle partisan scores. Yet, not long ago, New Delhi had played a decisive role in brokering peace in Nepal and in persuading the Maoists to join mainstream politics. If the former guerrillas failed in their new role as the major partner in a coalition government, that had much more to do with their own weaknesses than with India's interventions. In the face of fresh turmoil in Kathmandu, New Delhi should make it absolutely clear to the Maoists that it has a stake in Nepal's peace and stability, and that stability in the country depends primarily on the success of multi-party democracy. If the common Nepalis rose against an unpopular monarchy, they did so in the hope of ushering in not a communist dictatorship but a democratic Nepal. The Maoists themselves now threaten to kill that promise by their demonstrations of street power. If they succeed, Nepal will see yet another revolution betrayed.









The biggest obstacle to India's rise in the 21st century is an Indian mindset. In January 2004, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government began a diplomatic process with an Indo-US Next Steps in Strategic Partnership to expand bilateral cooperation in the areas of civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programmes and high-technology trade. A follow-up to this was the nuclear deal between the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and the United State of America's Republican president, George W. Bush. Logically, the culmination of this process ought to be India's eventual recognition as a nuclear weapons state.


This objective is still quite some way down the road of diplomacy and the process will, by no means, be easy, but the United Progressive Alliance government has recently taken very tentative steps in this direction. Alas, even before such an initiative can be expanded, Indians themselves are doing everything to stymie this effort, which will change the country's destiny.


For those familiar with the workings of Indian diplomacy, such negativism should not come as a surprise. At one stage during the tortuous negotiations on the Indo-US nuclear deal, an Indian negotiator told the then foreign secretary that New Delhi should not at all expect enrichment and reprocessing rights from the Americans to be included in the agreements for operationalizing the nuclear deal.


"Sir, the Americans have never given enrichment and reprocessing rights to any country which is a non-nuclear weapons state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. So, we should not expect to get these rights in the 123 Agreement [then being negotiated for implementation of the nuclear deal]." But the foreign secretary told this negotiator, addressing him by his first name, "You are not in these negotiations to tell me what the Americans will not do for us. You are there to convey to the Americans what we want and to tell me how they will do it for us. Your job is to get us what we are seeking."


Shortly after the foreign secretary's firm rebuke, another negotiator was publicly asked at a forum in Washington when India and the US would resolve their differences and conclude the 123 Agreement. Without batting an eyelid, in an instant, this negotiator told the questioner that the 123 negotiations would be completed when the Americans agree to what India was seeking. The reply then produced shockwaves within the US state department and sent a clear message that India was unwilling to be pushed around.


Although the current, nascent efforts to seek an amendment to the NPT — to include India as the world's sixth nuclear power — are confined to a very small circle of the prime minister's trusted aides, word has got around, as it always does in New Delhi's culture of leaks, about Singh's recent discussions on this issue with two of the five nuclear weapons states recognized by the NPT. And almost as quickly, unsolicited advice has begun reaching the Prime Minister's Office that this is not a propitious time to launch any such ambitious diplomatic initiative.


There is a sense of déjà vu about this. In 2006, when the UPA government was considering putting up Shashi Tharoor as India's candidate for the post of UN secretary-general, naysayers in the country's strategic community nearly scuttled the nomination. But after Tharoor was nominated, a coalition between these naysayers and sections within the ministry of external affairs ensured that Tharoor's campaign did not realize its full potential. As a result, India's candidate to head the UN defeated himself.


The same was true of India's effort, along with Brazil, Germany and Japan in 2004, to change the composition of the UN security council to include India as a permanent member of the UN's top table. It was pathetic to watch some of those who handled the matter in New Delhi proverbially cutting off their nose to spite their face. Such negativism was prompted largely by their dislike of India's then maverick permanent representative to the UN in New York: these people wanted to see that if by some chance the security council was, indeed, expanded, the credit for it should not go to the envoy in New York who was in charge of carrying out the initiative.


A few decades earlier, India was actually offered membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations when the Asean was still in its formative period, but New Delhi decided against accepting the offer. Some of Indira Gandhi's aides at that time, anticipating what the then prime minister with a radical view of the world would have thought of the offer, persuaded her that it was not worth India's while to join the Asean, the members of which soon became the "Tiger" economies of Asia while India was left behind.


The worst irony of this episode was that some 25 years later, South Block had to virtually go begging to the Asean to be accepted not as a member but as the Southeast Asian bloc's "dialogue partner". Even that partnership would not have come about had it not been for prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's persistent effort to gain a toehold for India within the Asean, and for Singapore's solid lobbying on behalf of New Delhi within the group in the face of determined opposition to the idea from some countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

All this is not to say that the international community, which has abided by the NPT more than any other arms control agreement in the history of mankind, will bend over backwards to accept India as a nuclear weapons state through an amendment to the treaty if and when it is formally proposed.


To start with, one-third of the signatories to the treaty have to sign on to any change in the NPT in order for a special amendment conference to be called. Obviously, India's new-found friends in the developed world or in the Group of Twenty will not be enough to make up that mandatory one-third of NPT membership even if they were to go along with the idea of amending the treaty. The only course open to India to mobilize support on that scale is to turn to the non-aligned movement or the Group of Seventy Seven. That ought to be a reminder to Western lobbyists within the Indian establishment that India still needs groups such as the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77 to secure its rightful place in the international order.


Passing an amendment making India the world's sixth recognized nuclear weapons state, however, requires only a simple majority at a special conference. India's candidature for a non-permanent seat on the UN security council in next year's election will give New Delhi a reasonable idea of the country's ability to influence the community of nations with its newly emergent image as a rising power. The external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, is already pitching for a resounding victory in this election that will take place during next year's UN general assembly. If India is able to mobilize the 120 votes that Krishna is aiming for out of the UN's total membership of 192, the country would have avenged its miserable defeat at the hands of Japan when New Delhi made its last bid to get into the security council. At the same time, 120 votes in the general assembly will give New Delhi a sense of how quickly it can make its bid to amend the NPT.


There are other catches, however. All sitting members of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the time of an amendment conference to the NPT will have to unanimously favour an amendment for it to be passed, according to the provisions of the treaty. And, of course, all the five recognized nuclear weapons states have to agree to let anyone else into their exclusive club. It is pointless, at this stage, to speculate which of the big five countries will agree to an amendment favouring India or otherwise. What the country's leadership and those entrusted with this historic initiative to draw the final curtain on India's long nuclear winter need most of all is confidence in themselves and their cause.


In the past, India has lost out on the global stage when those in charge of its foreign and security policies have underestimated their country's strengths and acted in a defensive or reactive manner. For a change, the country's top political leadership appears to know what it wants in this instance and it is for those whose job is to implement policies to find a way to move forward, just as the one-time foreign secretary told his reluctant and defensive nuclear negotiator.








There it was: Any Premiership footballer has their own agent. Really? Not his? Do any women play in Britain's top football league? Must we write Every mother loves their baby? In the past I've lamented the follies born of the attempt, not foolish in itself, to make English gender-neutral. Yet how little gender it includes anyway.


We have he/him and his, she/her and her, it and its. A few nouns denote specifically female people or animals; but ever fewer, as words like authoress and poetess die off. Actress may follow, though few actresses could (or would) claim acting skill as their own charm. Princess and queen will surely survive, even if monarchies do not. So too lioness, vixen and the like.


We also have some issues of usage. A few people still call countries she, and more do so for ships. It's disputable up to what age one may use it for small children (never to their mothers, for sure, though new fathers can expect to be asked "Is it a boy or a girl?). But think what English doesn't have, and other languages do — most Indian ones included.


Ancient Greek and Latin, two big sources of English, used to put every noun in one of three genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. Modern Greek still has three. So does German, the other big source, through the Anglo-Saxons. So too Sanskrit, close kin to still older influences (and among its Indian kin today, Kannada and Tamil, Gujarati and Marathi, for example, have three genders, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu two. Bengali is an oddity, making no gender distinctions among nouns at all).


Latin's direct descendants — Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and their lesser cousins — have two genders, after absorbing most of its neuter nouns into masculine. The Latin gender often survives. But the effect can be odd. Most Latin nouns ending in -us were masculine. So too their descendants, which in Italian and Spanish typically end in the masculine -o. But Latin's manus, a hand, was feminine; so both languages have la mano. Italian muro, born of the Latin murus, a wall, has both a masculine and a feminine plural.


These linguistic genders have little to do with the real world. For a start, most nouns denote things that are sexless: stone or sorrow, for instance. Logically, they should be neuter. Yet few are. Again, the results can be odd. In Latin, the sea — mare — was neuter. To Italians, it is now masculine, il mare. The French have feminized it into la mer. In Spanish it can be either. And in German, whose See could have been neuter, it is, in fact, masculine.


With living things, you might think their sex decisive. Not so. Most plants anyway are bisexual. What gender should their names have? Nearly all animals are indeed either male or female. But their names don't always follow suit: in Tamil, both bull and cow are neuter (if one allows "neuter" for the Tamil grammarians' "irrational"). Often one noun serves for both sexes: farmers talk of boars and sows, but to most of us any pig is just a pig.


As for the human animal, man and woman are indeed habitually masculine and feminine. It was they that led grammarians to apply the notion to language at all. But even here confusion can arise. Latin's nauta and agricola, sailor and farmer, in typically male jobs, were both masculine, yet had typically feminine -a endings.

German is odder still. Sure, it has der Mann and die Frau, masculine and feminine. But make the frau a little woman with the German suffix -lein, and she is suddenly desexed into das Fräulein, a neuter. Ditto for das Mädchen, a girl. In Konkani too, the word for a young woman is neuter. I doubt German or Goan feminists can end this linguistic slander.


English escapes nearly all this nonsense. Just as well. It has crazy spelling, many irregular plurals, countless irregular verbs, and several competing varieties, spread across the globe. Imagine gendermonium on top.











It is strange that the supreme court has approached itself with a complaint relating to its own role and responsibilities and then decided to grant relief to itself. The court has never been comfortable with the Central Information Commission's views on its obligations under the Right to Information Act and has tried to stonewall legitimate queries of citizens on the assets and liabilities of judges. It does not yet accept that the Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the RTI Act, though the spirit of the Act and an enlightened view of the role of the judiciary would support that position. The latest of the court's actions of doubtful merit is its stay on the CIC's directives to disclose details pertaining to the decision of its collegium to appoint three judges superseding some others and the communication between the CJI and a Madras High Court judge on the latter's charge about the interference of a Union minister in a case.

There is no reason why the details of appointment of judges should be kept a secret. It is difficult to see how the independence of the judiciary and its prestige will be compromised if it is shared with the people. The selection of judges should not be a secretive process and the reluctance of the court to impart any transparency to it strengthens the case for changing the procedure and giving a role for the executive also in it. The supreme court bench which stayed the order of the CIC promised that the court will be objective in its examination of the issue and that there is no backtracking on the right to information. But the widespread impression that the judiciary does not want itself to be subjected to the right to information does not seem to be off the mark.

The Madras High Court judge's comments about the attempt to influence him were made in open court and the people have the right to know what happened to the charge and how it was handled, especially because it related to the image of the judiciary and the conduct of a representative of the people. Withholding that information is again against public interest. The supreme court's decisions on both these issues show how unresponsive it is to the people's right to know, which ironically, it has upheld and expanded.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Russia might have lacked the hype that surrounded his recent visit to Washington but it was not short on substantial achievements. The two countries signed six important agreements taking bilateral relationship to a new, higher level. The most significant is a civilian nuclear energy agreement under which Russia will set up more nuclear reactors in India, transfer the entire range of nuclear energy technologies and supply nuclear fuel.

India's nuclear deal with Russia goes well beyond that clinched with the US. Unlike the deal with the US, which warns India of termination of all nuclear co-operation in the event of Delhi conducting a nuclear test, the India-Russia nuclear agreement assures India of uninterrupted fuel supply. The Russians have also promised India enrichment and reprocessing rights. Another point in favour of the nuclear deal with the Russians is that there is no request for liability or insurance cover.

The stalemate over the pricing of 'Admiral Gorshkov', which has queered relations somewhat in recent years, is reported to have been resolved 'satisfactorily to both sides'. Russia repeatedly hiked the cost of upgrading the aircraft carrier, citing a rise in cost of materials. This has been unacceptable to India. The ensuing deadlock has delayed delivery. India will be forking out far more money to get the carrier than originally agreed. Still, the end of the stalemate is welcome. An important gap in India's naval preparedness will be closed once a refurbished Gorshkov (renamed INS Vikramaditya) is inducted into the Navy. India and Russia have also signed a defence agreement that provides for acquisition, licensed production, upgrades and modernisation of defence equipment as well as the development of new and advanced weapon systems.

Defence co-operation has been the mainstay of the Delhi-Moscow bond for decades. Increasingly, however, India has been looking to Israel and the US to meet its defence needs. Not surprisingly this has bothered the Russians. There are serious issues that trouble Indo-Russian defence ties, such as the inordinate delay in supplying defence spare parts. The unseemly haggling over the price of Gorshkov, after the agreement was finalised, has not gone down well in India which values its long-standing friendship with the Russians. The generous terms of the nuclear deal is widely appreciated in India, but Moscow's pressure tactics in defence deals must stop if it is keen to keep the relationship alive









Just think. If the poorest of a poor woman in a village wants to buy a goat, she can avail a small loan from a micro-finance institute. She buys a goat, which becomes her life-line ensuring her livelihood security, and is forced to repay the loan at a staggering interest rate of 24 per cent on an average.

In any city on the other hand, if you want to buy a car you can walk up to a bank and get an easy loan for an annual interest rate not exceeding 8 per cent. Buying a television or a refrigerator on installments may be still cheaper, often without any interest rate. While for you in the city the bank loan is merely a business transaction and therefore comes cheap, in the village the petty loans are being distributed in the name of empowering the poor.

I am sure that if the poorest of the poor woman was also to get a loan for buying a goat at a minimal rate of interest, say 4 per cent or even 7 per cent that we provide to farmers, she would be driving a Nano car at the end of the year. Since this is not allowed to happen, I sometimes wonder whether the primary objective of micro-finance is to protect the health of the banks and the intermediary organisations rather than to pull the poor out of the poverty trap.

If the poorest of the poor, living below the poverty line, need financial credit at an exorbitantly high interest rate of 24 per cent to get empowered, why the more resourceful people living in urban centres cannot empower themselves with the same rate of interest? If the poor in rural India can make business sense from this high rate of return, how come the people living in the city cannot? Why do poor have to pay three times more interest for small loans?

Let us not forget that a majority of the 150 million poorest of the poor in rural areas, who are borrowing from the plethora of micro-finance institutions, probably earn their daily bread from working under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which only provides them an assured daily income of Rs 60 to Rs 80 and that too for only 100 days in a year. Isn't it criminal to charge these poor borrowers 24 per cent interest on small loans?

It is therefore quite apparent that poverty has literally become a big and organised business. If you are educated, and looking for a profitable business enterprise, and more so if you are a non-resident Indian and want to translocate to India, micro-finance offers you the right avenue. There can be no better business opportunity than starting a micro-finance institution with assured returns and 100 per cent loan recovery.

Safety and profit

At times of economic insecurity, micro-finance is a business with assured returns. No wonder, Monsanto, Citicorp, ABN Amro, ICICI, Nabard, UN and a host of other international and national financial institutions are lending at roughly 12-13 per cent to the micro-finance institutions. These MFIs add another 10 to 12 per cent to meet their overheads, and therefore for the poor borrower the cumulative interest comes to around 24 per cent a year.

The micro-finance business has grown manifold. India Microfinance Report 2009 tells us that the portfolio of the micro-finance institutions has grown by 97 per cent, and number of beneficiaries has also gone up by 60 per cent. Another news report tells us that SKS Micro-finance is charging approximately 24 per cent rate of interest in Orissa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh; in southern India, Equitas Micro-finance is seeking 21-28 per cent interest rate and Basix Microfinance is providing small loans at 18-24 per cent interest rate.

The unprecedented growth in micro-finance tells us that while the rules of the game have changed, the poor in the villages continue to be exploited. Micro-finance institutions have shifted the game from the hands of the villains of the story, the 'sahukars' to a sophisticatedly organised class of new money-lenders. These are not the usual 'banias' but a highly educated class of people who use all the modern marketing skills. Charging usurious interest rates, these MFIs actually "live off the back of the poor."

I don't understand how the Reserve Bank of India can be a mute spectator. Ostensibly the RBI is only concerned at the health of the banks, since they get an assured return of 12 per cent without even making any effort to build up its customer base. I see no reason why the RBI cannot force these banks to lend at a maximum of 2 per cent interest for the poorest of the poor, allowing the MFIs to charge an additional 2 per cent. Any micro-finance charging more than 4 per cent interest for the people, who are somehow surviving below the poverty line, should be considered a crime.

At present, MFIs do follow a code of conduct, but I fail to understand why some institutions like the Society for Rural Improvement in Kerala charge 10 to 15 per cent rate of interest, only 2 to 3 per cent more than what the commercial banks charge them, while the big players romp home with another 12 per cent interest over and above what the banks lend them for.









The 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall reminded Americans of just how heady it felt when a triumphant America stood astride a collapsing Soviet empire. Two decades later, Americans find themselves bewildered and resentful. Many are now asking, Where did it all go?

In truth the decline of American supremacy was a long time coming. Even at the height of US power, crucial trends were undermining the long-term health of American society. A humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an exhausting war of choice in Iraq, a political class ever more beholden to corporate coffers, crumbling educational, medical and public infrastructures, an debt-driven economy dominated by risky financial speculation at the expense of productive activity: All these and more sapped the essential sources of national strength.

Now, as Americans survey the wreckage of their dreams, their responses to this diminished destiny are sharply divided. The financial collapse of 2008 left most Americans breathless and bereft.

The financial collapse occurred just in time to hand Barack Obama a ticking time bomb. Recently released documents reveal that the fix was already in during the last days of the Bush administration to hand US banks and investment firms a free pass to cover their misdeeds and emerge not just unscathed but with a still more dominant role in the American economy. The Obama administration was handed a poisoned chalice and forced to drink it.

But Obama then compounded the crime with egregious errors of his own that have left his supporters deeply dispirited. Instead of defending ordinary Americans from the depredations of an unconscionable financial sector, he handed the tiller to the bankers.

The result is that 10 months after a tidal wave of progressive populist hope, the 'liberal moment' is already waning. In its place, a much more menacing populism is emerging. It deftly exploits the fears of those left behind by the new economy and stokes fear and loathing in venom spewed by incendiary talk show hosts, Rupert Murdoch's fact-free Fox News, a virulent blogosphere, orchestrated 'tea parties' and bizarre 'birther' movements.

This retro populism glories in its own ignorance. For the past few decades Republicans have found a winning formula in putting forth presidential candidates manifestly unqualified for the job yet hugely appealing to a significant segment of the population that isn't comfortable with anyone leading them who knows more than they do.

Far right populism is fuelled by conspiratorial fantasies and a surly contempt for facts and reasoned debate. Historian Richard Hofstadter once called this "the paranoid style in American politics". Like a lethal political virus, it routinely erupts during periods of economic distress and social dislocation.

It all sounds eerily familiar, with haunting echoes of the rise of fascism in Europe two generations ago. The accelerating decline of US power and influence after decades of malfeasance and mis-governance raises the question of how Americans will take no longer being Number One. The contrasting populisms of right and left reflect radically different responses. On the left a new localism is emerging in post-political movements for self-reliance, simplicity, and a renewed spirit of interdependent community. Many long for their country to be liberated from the burdens of empire so as to focus on rebuilding a more equitable and sustainable American dream.

Confronting the same disturbing trends, retro populism shares the impulse to return to family, friends and community. But it expresses itself in anger at the immigrants, minorities, and cultural elites its adherents see as undermining traditional American values. And it forcefully rejects any future where the United States is perceived as anything less than "the greatest nation on earth".

Progressives have long warned of a homegrown American fascism. Yet the self-balancing nature of its government and the ballast of its middle-class society have always prevented the country from succumbing to its worst excesses. But now, the decline of its superpower status, massive economic insecurity, orchestrated rage, and a poorly informed and educated public could combine with the amplifying effects of partisan media to unhinge American history.







When he was introduced to a big wig Patel yesterday, all Prince Philip had said was: "There are a lot of your family about" in a good natured banter. Patel himself took no offence, said it was a joke. But the media? Ah, they went to town!

On such occasions, what is a luminary supposed to say to the entire line-up of people being introduced? "Nice weather we're having"?

Interpreting his light-hearted remark as though the Duke of Edinburgh implied that all Patels are related, and taking offence, is all due to the media — in a fiercely competitive scenario — seeking sound-bites. Use a file picture of the poor guy, say he is racist and so on.

First of all, who is to say his words were reported accurately? He could have said, "there are a lot with your family name about". That would not give the media the rope to hang him as it would only mean that Patel is a common surname in England.

Prince Philip knows India well, has visited often, played polo here and so on. During one such visit when our government chaps organised a visit to Ranthambore National Park for tiger spotting, he politely declined. He knew India enough to know that the tiger event would be stage managed and was reluctant to disturb India's wildlife.

I was introduced to him in Mumbai in a line up of people active with World Wildlife Fund  He didn't just say "how do you do" — he bantered as a personal touch of appreciation to each of us.  He asked me: "What do you do?" and I replied "I am a small businessman".

I am as tall as him. Looking at my large, portly frame, he touched my shoulder and said "Not a very  small businessman". That could have been interpreted as making offensive remarks, implying I was fat. But it was just a personal touch. His smile has remained in my memory.

There is this story about the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had to often shake hands with a long line up of people. Bored, he'd mumble something to each. Wearing a plastic smile, what he'd say was: "I murdered my grandmother this morning". None of them noticed. All of them said things like: "It's an honour to meet you, Mr President."








Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman must have been thinking out loud when he told a legal conference Monday night that judicial decisions in this country ought to be based on Torah principles and this goal should be implemented incrementally.


"We will bestow upon the citizens of Israel the laws of the Torah and we will turn Halacha into the binding law of the nation," the minister pledged, "Soon, in the near future, amen."


What possessed this savvy lawyer, consigliere to the stars, and a power broker in his own right, to in effect call for the creation of a theocracy? Does Neeman envision it would be based on his type of progressive national-religious Orthodoxy? Would it not more likely adhere to a form of haredism? Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was inspired to blurt out that he anyway discourages his followers from turning to goyish courts because Israeli judges do not adjudicate according to Halacha.


Having unleashed a storm of concern, Neeman's office "clarified" that he did not, actually, mean what he said - though Neeman later told the Knesset that rabbis could right now start taking some of the burden off judges.


Frankly, Neeman's remarks catch us by surprise. We had pegged him as a man who appreciated where fundamentalist Orthodoxy - the stream now ascendant - is leading the country.


It was a committee Neeman chaired that recommended Robinson's Arch as a solution to the Orthodox hegemony at the Western Wall. It was Neeman who proposed the formation of the Institute of Jewish Studies, where representatives of different streams of Judaism would instruct prospective converts. And it was Neeman who supported the appointment of more compassionate Orthodox rabbis to the rabbinical courts.


Neeman well knows that operating a modern state on the basis of Halacha is unworkable.


In 1953, the secular state enacted the Rabbinical Courts Adjudication Law that empowered the rabbinate to apply Halacha in areas of marriage, divorce and citizenship. The results have been ... unsatisfactory.


Thousands of citizens must go abroad to marry because the state clergy does not acknowledge they are Jewish. Scores of women are chained in dead marriages because the same clergy will not grant them divorces. Tens of thousands of potential Jews have been turned away from Jewish civilization because they will not commit to leading Orthodox lifestyles.


The profane blending of politics, patronage and piety has alienated countless secular Israelis. Yet jealous of their prerogatives, the Orthodox will not share the taxpayers' resources with the Masorti and Reform streams who might be able to reach these people.


LIKE NEEMAN we, too, cherish the halachic tradition. Over thousands of years, the sages created legal foundations that have formed a basis for Western jurisprudence.


For instance, laws of inheritance and torts, topics being studied this week by Talmudists worldwide, epitomize Jewish ideals of fairness. From the Pentateuch to responsa literature, Halacha has made it possible for Jews to flourish intellectually, communally and spiritually under the harshest conditions.


It is a grand idea for Israeli jurists to be informed by Halacha, but it would be terrible if they were bound by it.


Halacha, like American constitutional law, is organic, evolving and malleable. It is intended to unify the Jewish people. Tragically, however, those who today dominate the application of Halacha tend to be strict constructionists. A theocratic state in which such rabbis would replace judges would be hellish.


A learned, astute observer, a personal friend of the minister, told The Jerusalem Post the idea that Israeli jurisprudence could operate on halachic grounds is "not serious" and Neeman well knows this.


"Jewish law was never the law of the land in any period of Jewish history. So no one really wants this, not the secular, and also not the rabbis; the secular for obvious reasons; and the rabbis because it would require a stunning revolution in Jewish law," the source said.


After all, what, practically, does Hebrew law have to say about the currency markets? Where would bad guys go? Can contemporary litigation follow halachic rules of witnesses or the limitations on the testimony of women?


If our justice minister wants to think out loud, he should do so in the privacy of his own home.








WHILE NO one would wish to rob any of the valiant people who were involved in the struggle for Soviet Jewry of the recognition due to them, there is a need to set the record straight. In last Friday's Jerusalem Post Magazine, Zvi Raviv and Yona Yahav were credited with making prime minister Golda Meir aware of the Soviet Jewry issue. While there is no doubt that they were in the forefront of Israeli activism for Soviet Jewry, there is also no doubt that Meir, having previously served as ambassador to the Soviet Union, was very much aware of the plight of Soviet Jewry.


Moreover, Nativ, the covert liaison bureau to Soviet Jewry which was established in 1952 as a unit in the Prime Minister's Office by former Hagana commander Shaul Avigur, reported regularly to then prime minister Moshe Sharett and to all subsequent prime ministers.


In 1959, a young Australian University graduate who would later rise to the top leadership position in the Australian Jewish community was recruited by Avigur to launch a campaign for Soviet Jews. The young Australian was Isi Leibler, who eventually became the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and who is today a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post.


In 1962, just as it had been the first country at the UN to vote in favor of the resolution for the partition of Palestine in November, 1947, Australia became the first country to broach the plight of Soviet Jewry at the UN. It should also be remembered that Australia was one of the few countries that opened its gates to Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler's Europe and to Holocaust survivors who sought to build new lives after the war.


  JUST A little over a month ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day which is commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, representatives of more than 50 countries will gather at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem on December 16-17 to participate in the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism under the joint chairmanship of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein. The global forum was established in 2000 by then minister for Diaspora affairs Michael Melchior and current Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, the most famous of former prisoners of Zion.


It is no coincidence that this prestigious assembly will take place during Hanukka, which commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over a virulent form of physical and religious persecution. Forum participants include statesmen, parliamentarians, diplomats, journalists, human rights activists, legal experts, NGO representatives, prominent academics and leaders of Jewish communities and Jewish organizations.


Among the largest delegations, other than Israel, is that of Canada, whose representatives include lawyer and human rights activist David Matas, who has successfully brought Nazi war criminals to trial. Matas is also an outspoken critic of the alleged killing of Falun Gong practitioners in China for the purpose of marketing their organs. Together with David Kilgour, he has written a book on the subject: Bloody Harvest - The Killing of Falun Gong for their Organs that was launched last month in Ottawa by the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Falun Gong. Matas will have an Israel launch of the book on December 15 at the Hebrew Writers Association in Tel Aviv.


Another very important participant is Prof. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a former foreign minister of Poland, who in addition to being a social activist and politician is also a journalist, writer and historian. A survivor of Auschwitz, a resistance fighter in the Polish Home Army, and from September 1942, a member of the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews, Bartoszewski who has visited Israel several times, also has honorary citizenship. Yad Vashem named him as Righteous among the Nations in 1963 and has a close relationship with him. Bartoszewski can be seen in Warsaw at the annual commemorations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. While here, he will participate in a Hanukka celebration hosted by Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska at her residence in Kfar Shmaryahu.


  TURKEY'S NEW ambassador, Oguz Celikkol, will be the last of five ambassadors presenting their credentials to President Shimon Peres today. The others are Henry Hansonof Ghana, Kyriakos Loukakis of Greece, Andrew Standley of the European Commission and Roberto Eduardo Arango of Panama. Because five is the maximum number of ambassadors who can present their credentials on any given day, there are others such as Sri Lanka's G. Donald Perera and Colombia's Isaac Gilinski Sragowicz waiting for the next round of presentations. Albanian Charge d'Affaires Qirijako Kureta is waiting to see whether his country's next ambassador will be sent in from abroad or whether his Foreign Ministry will decide to promote him. Several other embassies are currently headed by a charge d'affaires in the absence of an ambassador.


  THE POSITION of Ambassador Andrew Standley, the new head of the European Commission to the State of Israel, will be short lived. There's no danger of Standley, who arrived here in October, being recalled. But as of January 1, he will no longer be head of delegation of the European Commission. Instead, he will be head of the Delegation of the European Union. Standley was previously here in the 1970s working as a kibbutz volunteer. He met his wife Yehudit, who's a nurse and midwife, when both were working for the UN in Bangladesh. She has done a lot of work for UNESCO. She's American, he's British. She's Jewish, he's not. But their marriage in California was performed by a rabbi and they have a ketuba to prove it.


  THE FACT that the European Union will no longer have a rotating presidency does not mean that Spain, whose turn it would have been in January, will miss out entirely. According to Spanish Ambassador Alvaro Irenzo Gutierrez, there will be a transitional period in which Spain will have a role to play.


  IT MAY not be common knowledge, but before he entered the political arena, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, dreamed of being a karate master. Hanegbi, 52, has been practicing karate since he was 10, and was taught by one of the first Japanese masters to come here. "I counted in Japanese. I yelled in Japanese and I was yelled at in Japanese," he revealed last week at a luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Jerusalem hosted by Japanese Ambassador Harushisa Takeuchi for members of the Knesset's Japan Friendship League and a delegation of Japanese business people and journalists. Hanegbi also wanted to practice karate in Japan and eventually realized that wish when he paid an official visit while environment minister.


Takeuchi, who speaks fluent English, welcomed his guests in halting Hebrew, switching momentarily to English to explain that he was going to give his address in Japanese, simply because he wanted to hear the language. A simultaneous translation into Hebrew was provided by Kenji Goto, third secretary in the embassy's Protocol and Politics Department, who happens to be a graduate of the Hebrew University, but whose Hebrew is not quite as fluent as that of head of the Protocol Department Mitsuhiko Shinomiya, whose Hebrew is excellent and without any trace of a Japanese accent.


MK Shai Hermesh, who heads the Friendship League, noted the diversity of his members, who not only represent the Knesset's political spectrum, but include males and females, Jews and non-Jews, haredim and secular, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. In addition to Hermesh and Hanegbi, members of the league who attended included Ya'acov Litzman, Taleb a-Sanaa, who took time out from Id al-Adha celebrations; Rachel Adato, David Rotem, Anastasia Michaeli and Faina Kirschenbaum.


  ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR Edward Iosiper and his wife Tatiana this year decided to celebrate their country's National Day at their residence in Herzliya Pituah instead of at a Tel Aviv hotel. Events of this kind almost always start with the playing of the national anthems of the ambassador's country and that of the host country. Guests gathered on the patio - and waited, and waited and waited... until finally the ambassador decided that it would be speeches first and anthems later. Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver represented the government.


Both Iosiper and Landver noted that when the Eastern Bloc countries severed relations with Israel after the Six Days War, Romania was the only country that maintained ties. These ties have been constant for six decades. The foreign ministries of both countries in June issued statements in celebration of 60 years of uninterrupted diplomacy. In the last week of November, President Traian Basescu attended a ceremony in Bucharest marking the release of a joint Romanian-Israeli postage stamp issue celebrating the fact that the first Yiddish theater in the world opened in 1876 in Iasi, Romania. A similar philatelic event was subsequently held here.


  APROPOS YIDDISH, a century ago, Czernowitz in Romania was selected for the first world Yiddish conference. Jews were not permitted such large scale public gatherings in Vilna or Warsaw. The Romanians took a far more liberal attitude, making Czernowitz a natural choice. Czernowitz featured prominently this week at the International Academic Conference "A Century of Yiddish 1908-2008" held at the Givat Ram Campus of the Hebrew University. Participants were totally enamored by a documentary film, Yiddish Czernowitz, made by Boris Sandler, editor of the Yiddish Forward of New York, and Chana Pollack, and clamored to be able to buy a copy. So far there's only the master video, but Sandler promised that copies would soon be available.


His own story is no less remarkable than his nostalgic tribute to Czernowitz and a Jewish world that is no more.He was born in Belz, graduated from the Kishinev Music Conservatory, went to Moscow to further his musical career and wrote for Sovietish Heimland. He then went back to Kishinev and started a Yiddish radio station, came to Israel and after a few years relocated yet again to take up his present position. In addition to being a musician and journalist, he also writes novels and plays - in Yiddish of course.


  THAI NATIONAL Day is celebrated on the birthday of King Bhumibol, who was born on December 5, 1927. Greatly loved and revered, the king has inspired his people to great accomplishments in many fields, and is quite an accomplished individual himself. The Thais are great on aesthetics, and although there weren't the traditional Thai fruit and vegetable sculptures, there were magnificent, breathtaking floral arrangements all over the Yam Restaurant in the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv. Ambassador Chatchaded Chartsuwan and Minister for the Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan, who represented the government, spoke.


As far as cuisine was concerned, many of the guests were ecstatic about the authentic Thai offerings which were prepared by a Thai chef specially flown in for the occasion.


  AS A curtain raiser for its film festival, currently at the Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv Cinematheques, the Indian Embassy, in conjunction with Cinema Park and the India Israel Friendship Association, held a special screening at Cinema Park in Beit Agron, Jerusalem, where guests included popular Indian actor Anupam Kher and filmmaker Amol Palekar and his wife. The Palekars have been here before and said that they absolutely love Jerusalem.


Also present was Haim Topol who stars in The Jerusalem Time Elevator, a fast moving documentary that covers several periods of Jerusalem's history in a most riveting manner. The film, made by Ori Yardeni, founder and CEO of Cinema Park Network, was shown together with India in Motion of which Anupam Kher is the star. IIFA President Anat Bernstein-Reich said that Topol is well known in India, where many people have seen Fiddler on the Roof.


Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna noted that both Palekar and Kher were "fundamental influences on Indian theater" and credited Palekar with redefining Bollywood. Edutainment of the nature of the two films was a very important development, he said, referring specifically to some 35,000 Israelis who go to India each year.


WHEN HE was in Jerusalem last month for the Saban forum, former US president Bill Clinton was given the same red carpet treatment he had received when in office. Clinton has always been popular here and continues to be so. Clinton did not spend all his time at the conference table. He also paid a visit to the Western Wall and was guided through its tunnels by Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.


n In addition, Clinton went wandering through the galleries at Hutzot Hayotzer. He stopped off at the Greenvurcel Judaica Gallery where he admired the ritual objects, particularly the new innovative designs of the Hanukka menorot. He also displayed a surprising degree of knowledge about Jewish customs and traditions. At the gallery of artist Motke Blum, he not only stopped to look, but actually purchased a painting. For Blum, every buyer is special, but Clinton was extra special.


In the interim, Clinton's daughter Chelsea and her long time boyfriend investment banker Marc Mezvinsky announced their engagement. The young couple plan to marry in the summer, which will put something of a strain on Chelsea's mom, who has to juggle wedding arrangements with her job as secretary of state. But Madeleine Albright managed to plan a wedding while she was secretary of state and she's offered to help Hillary Clinton do the same.


  FEDERATION OF Chambers of Commerce President Uriel Lynn and his predecessor Dan Gillerman have always been on the best of terms, and will now have better relations than ever before since Gillerman's appointment last week as chairman of Markstone Capital Partners. Gillerman, who left his position at the FCC to become ambassador to the UN, had many tempting offers after his return, but the challenge of making sure that Markstone stays afloat - after its founding chairman Elliott Broidy was forced to step down, after confessing to having made illegal payments to senior New York officials - apparently appealed to him. Markstone was very active in the work of the FCC, said Lynn, who believes that it will be even more so with Gillerman at the helm.   MAYBE YOU can't have your cake and eat it - but you can have your schnitzel. Singer Avi Toledano, while filming a schnitzel commercial for Off Tov, sat down to genuinely enjoy a schnitzel with the company's CEO Moti Goldberg during the break.


  THE COUNTRY'S most widely read Hebrew daily, Yediot Aharonot, this week celebrates its 70th anniversary, and on Friday will publish a special supplement. While it may have the largest number of readers, Yediot - which was founded in December 1939 by Nahum Kumarov who sold it to Yehuda Mozes, who ran it with his son Noah, and is now being run by Noah's son Noni - is not the oldest daily newspaper. That honor belongs to Haaretz which was founded in 1919, was purchased by Shlomo Zalman Schocken in 1937 and given to his son Gershom to manage. It is today published by Gershom's son Amos.


Other daily papers, particularly those run by political parties, fell by the wayside. Ma'ariv was founded in February 1948 by a breakaway group from Yediot led by then editor Azriel Carlebach. Today, the paper, which in its early years outpaced Yediot in readership, is run by the Nimrodi family. The second oldest daily newspaper is The Jerusalem Post, founded on December 1, 1932 by Gershon Agron who edited it until 1955, when he was elected mayor of Jerusalem.


Hamodia, the religious daily, is probably the oldest surviving daily newspaper of its kind. It was founded in Eastern Europe a hundred years ago, stopped publication during World War II and was revived here in 1950.







I won't keep you in suspension, nor in suspense. I will be very clear: While I can comprehend Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's concern for what he considers more primary national interests than keeping his electoral platform promises to those who voted for him regarding the continuation of the Jewish return to the national homeland, his recent decisions are quite incomprehensible. To think that even the opposition leader, Kadima chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni, can justifiably criticize him from a right-wing perspective says much about Netanyahu's policies.


On the Likud Web site, which oddly appears as, as if a personal plaything, one can read the aims of the Likud which include: advocating the integrity of the Jewish homeland, bringing together the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, cultivating love of the country, safeguarding the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as an eternal, inalienable right while working diligently to settle and develop all parts of the land of Israel, and extending national sovereignty to them. All admirable missions, well-steeped in the tradition of the nationalist camp of Zionism.


And yet, on November 25, Netanyahu told his security cabinet that international circumstances dictate that for the promotion of Israel's broad national interests, a moratorium on construction across the Green Line will be adopted over the next 10 months. And its purpose? To convey the message that the government wants to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians.


That's it? His Bar-Ilan speech was insufficient? His running off to meet US President Barack Obama at the UN wasn't enough? His subsequent White House late-night powwow didn't make things understandable?


IN THE fashion of literary criticism, let's deconstruct Netanyahu's words. Obviously, "international circumstances" mean that Obama can't mobilize Europe and Russia and is going independent - with Iran, with North Korea Korea and other hot spots.


"Israel's broad national interests" are the bombing of Iran if all else fails, and, to quote Murphy, all else will fail.


Even a continuing Jewish presence in our national homeland must be secondary, at least for 10 months.


Netanyahu presumes that the pressure being applied by the US president can be offset by the "freeze" of normal growth and it is the only chance Israel has of gaining support for a military operation against Iran. That this is also simply perceived as a capitulation does not bode well, not for Iran and not for Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria. "Yield once, surrender twice" is the lesson Netanyahu has put aside.


Before declaring this moratorium, we could have expected that the issue of the Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem be settled with the Americans but this was not done. And so, Gilo and Shimon Hatzaddik remain "on-the-table" items. And the pressure will only increase. Palestinian Authority officials are not forthcoming but are raising the ante.


The EU is now declaring a capital of a nonexistent state in the midst of Israel's sovereign capital. As for the truly "broad national interests" of Israel, a public reminding that the retention of Judea and Samaria also has a security element is in order.


Iran is indeed a supreme security threat. If the Al Arabiya report that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now claims that the US is blocking the return of the mahdi - the imam believed by Muslims to be the messiah - is indeed credible, then Iran is a very dangerous threat.


NEVERTHELESS, THERE is Teheran and there is also Tulkarm. Iran is an immediate matter but no less so are the hills of Judea and Samaria.


If those hills are surrendered, if the heights overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport, Ra'anana and Netanya fall into Fatah or Hamas rule, if Netanyahu yields on that issue - for that is the intention of the Arabs, Obama and the EU - then even if Iran is dealt with, Israel would still eventually face an existential threat, this time from Jenin, Kalkilya and Bethlehem.


The loss of Judea and Samaria would be just as great a security risk. It happened with Gaza. And it can - and will - happen again.


When Netanyahu proclaims that "the future of settlement will be determined only in a permanent peace agreement," we all must realize that that future is not assured by his policies.


In the meantime, the procedures adopted with regard to the moratorium, its supervision and hardship appeals board indicate a woeful lack of preparation, which is not very encouraging. There are, at present, real economic losses being suffered. It would seem this government is quite capable of repeating the poor record of the Sharon and Olmert governments of not protecting and securing the property and fiscal rights of Israeli citizens.


Combined with the existing discrimination in Israel not applying any parallel limitations on Arab construction or in following through on demolition orders, there is a moral, legal and social fabric issue the government is fumbling over.


In essence, Netanyahu's government is inadequately dealing with the internal-social front, the economic front and the diplomatic-security front.


Our prime minister is asking us to suspend our Zionism, suspend our natural logic and suspend our economic personal freedoms for quirky political behavior that will last 10 months - after which all will revert to normal: normal growth, normal development, normal security. This is truly a matter of suspended belief.


The writer, who resides in Shiloh, serves as a spokesperson for the Yesha Council of Jewish Communities, was director of Israel's Media Watch and was a political aide to Members of Knesset, 1981-1994. He is also secretary of the To the Temple Mount advocacy group. He blogs at








However well or poorly Hapoel Tel Aviv performs in the next stage of its Europa League campaign, the club at least survived a hijacking attempt when it flew to the gritty city of Glasgow for its last qualifying match. Not an air hijacking, it should be swiftly added, but a fairly ferocious onslaught nonetheless.


The English humorist P. G. Wodehouse once memorably remarked that "it is never difficult to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine." On a bitterly cold night the Israeli team was up against a whole battalion of Scots with a real grievance - both inside and outside the stadium.


Hapoel had to contend not just with the Celtic team - eager for revenge on the playing field - but with a determined effort by the Scottish Trades Union Congress to turn the high-profile match into anti-Israel protest. The STUC tried to distribute 10,000 Palestinian flags outside the ground, which it incited the crowd to wave in the faces of the small cluster of Israeli supporters.


In the event, the Tel Aviv team got a reception not anywhere near as frosty as the Scottish weather. Match stewards intercepted the protesters and wrestled one of them to ground when he attempted to run onto the park toward the end of the game. The vast majority of Celtic supporters refused to play ball with the keffiyeh-clad comrades and just a handful of Palestinian flags were smuggled into the ground.


THE NEXT morning's match report in the Daily Record, Scotland's top-selling tabloid, stated: "The good news was that Celtic's people were not so bored or so restless that they felt the need to indulge in the STUC's hair-brained proposal to stage some sort of protest over the state of affairs in the Middle East... And thank God for that."


Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to Britain, flew up to Glasgow to attend the match and said afterward: "Sport prevailed over politics. Since Hapoel was originally a team based on the Israeli unions, it seems ironic that people demonstrated against them."


Sense and decency didn't prevail just by luck. It happened because the officials of Celtic FC stood up to the pro-Palestine lobby's attempt to hijack the Hapoel match for a political demonstration. They expressed concerns about the possible threat to public safety and questioned whether the move complied with UEFA regulations.


Even more important was the stance taken by many ordinary Celtic supporters, who mobilized against the move on Internet message boards and blogs. A torrent of 635 comments flooded into the Celtic quick news site, with one blogger commenting: "They [Hapoel Tel Aviv] will receive the warm welcome all visiting fans get at Celtic Park... Welcome Hapoel fans, I hope you enjoy your stay in Glasgow and your team gets a good hiding."


It takes guts to take a stand for Israel in Glasgow, or anywhere else in Scotland. There has been a powerful pro-Palestine lobby in these parts from as far back as the early 1980s, when the young George Galloway twinned Dundee with Nablus and Yasser Arafat was almost elected as lord rector of Glasgow University.


The author takes great pride in having successfully campaigned against that move as the then editor of the Glasgow student rag. But anti-Israel sentiment has continued to rise in Scotland and reached a crescendo in April when the STUC called for a boycott, sanctions and disinvestment from Israel.


Subsequently, the Edinburgh Film Festival returned a grant from the Israeli Embassy in London after an outcry by the English agitprop director, Ken Loach, the moviemaker who rarely lets a good plot get in the way of political propaganda.


ALL OF this is extremely saddening to anyone who knows the history of Scotland, never mind the suffering of the Jewish people. Since the Protestant Reformation successive generations of Calvinist Scots have held a great affinity with the biblical nation. The Scottish Covenanters in the 17th century even seriously believed that they were created a "New Israel" in the harsh climate of Caledonia.


Their unholy descendants at Holyrood, the district of Edinburgh that houses the Scottish Parliament, would go along with the growing international consensus that Israel should be treated the world's number one international pariah. Not one of these so called "Bravehearts" was brave enough to stand up to the STUC.


One Conservative parliamentarian did put down a motion condemning the action, but he only did that after the match - and it didn't get passed by the Parliament. Only Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, wrote to the STUC to express his "disgust" at its using a football match for political purposes.


Still, there is some satisfaction to be had from the fact that ordinary decent supporters of Celtic - a club has traditionally drawn much of is support from the descendants Catholic Irish immigrants to Scotland - stood up to the pro-Palestine lobby and extended a warm welcome on a freezing night to a group of Israelis. Once again, Glasgow lived up to its billing as the Friendly City.


The writer is a Scottish journalist and academic based in Dublin.








The government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had no convincing reason of substance to be upset about the Swedish request that the Council of the European Union endorse a Palestinian state with "east Jerusalem as its capital" - wording watered down in the final EU text issued Tuesday. Of course the wording of the initial resolution could have and should have been less hostile to Israel, e.g. by explicitly recognizing west Jerusalem as Israel's capital and doing more than merely "taking note" of Netanyahu's settlement freeze.


But what does Netanyahu expect? Basically, the proposal reiterated known European and international positions. And Israel's recent behavior in Jerusalem - the disastrous house expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah, excavations at Silwan/City of David and expansion into disputed territory at Gilo - essentially invites a reprimand.


Still, there is little likelihood of real European pressure on Israel. The EU has limited clout as a diplomatic player in the Arab-Israel conflict. Conceivably, that situation may soon change, with the advent of an EU president and foreign minister. But for the moment, we simply don't know to what extent this new system will enable the union of 27 European states to better formulate and implement a foreign policy. Meanwhile, we recall that last July, outgoing EU foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana proposed that the UN plan unilaterally to create and recognize a Palestinian state - seemingly a much more far-reaching initiative - without generating more than an international yawn.


SWEDEN'S thwarted initiative represented the dying gasp of the old EU system under which the rotating state president can take all kinds of bizarre and ultimately pointless diplomatic initiatives. Last January, the Czech Republic held the presidency during Israel's incursion into Gaza: Due to inexperience and a heavy pro-Israel tilt, it managed to neutralize EU influence almost completely. Then there was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's "Mediterranean Union." In Sweden's case, a government that has demonstrated a clear pro-Palestinian tilt was trying at the 11th hour to influence future EU policy with proposals that, however logical, were guaranteed not to find favor in either Jerusalem or Washington.


We have already noted Jerusalem's response. As for Washington, even the watered-down resolution will certainly not render easier the efforts of Obama administration peace emissary George Mitchell to restart negotiations based on what Netanyahu has - rather than what he has not - done regarding settlements and Jerusalem. The PLO places exaggerated faith in European support and, accordingly, may now stiffen its refusal to negotiate. In this regard, the Swedish initiative represents the near total absence in recent months of close US-EU coordination regarding efforts to resolve the conflict.


Remember the Quartet? It represented president George W. Bush's relatively successful effort to maintain such coordination, even as the Bush administration did far too little on the diplomatic front. Now the Obama administration has tried harder diplomatically yet accomplished equally little, and without effective coordination with the Europeans to boot. In this regard President Barack Obama, too, "deserves" this Swedish initiative.


Finally, if Netanyahu took umbrage at the Swedish attempt to create a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, this cannot but return us to a fundamental dilemma regarding the extent of our prime minister's "conversion" from Greater Land of Israel Revisionist to champion of the two-state solution.


Surely Netanyahu by now understands that a genuine solution will require the ceding of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state. In this context, he seemingly says and does the right thing - the Bar-Ilan speech, removing checkpoints, the settlement freeze, confrontations with the settlers.


Yet in parallel he leads us, through innuendo and body language, to understand that all this is being undertaken for very different reasons - to make the Americans happy so they'll keep their eye on the Iranian threat, "prove" the Palestinians don't want peace and keep Labor in the coalition - rather than to extricate Israel from a demographic disaster that threatens its future integrity as a Jewish state. So the settlers get reassurances and concessions and the creeping and utterly counterproductive Judaization of east Jerusalem continues.


Thus the Swedish initiative can be seen as metaphor for many things. Yet, however understandable the frustrations it reflects, I doubt the initiative will be seen in the long term as a positive step toward peace.


The writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of Internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. This article was originally published by and is reprinted with permission, with minor changes by the author.








It appears Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi lost his patience this week after the incitement by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the head of the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva. Ashkenazi took the uncharacteristic step of recommending to Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the yeshiva be removed from the hesder arrangement, in which religious studies are combined with military service.

Ashkenazi is right. Melamed permits himself to excoriate the IDF, both orally and in writing, to dismiss the authority of its commanders and to call on his students to disobey orders. This also happened during the Gaza disengagement, after which then-chief of staff Dan Halutz recommended that yeshivas whose rabbis encourage the refusal of orders be removed from the hesder arrangement. It is happening even more now in the face of the limited construction freeze in the settlements.

The defense minister is loath to take the chief of staff's advice. People close to Barak argue that the pressure to sever the relationship between the army and the yeshivas is causing a closing of the ranks, and that even moderate rabbis are voicing support for the hesder yeshivas. In light of this, they say, harsher measures should not be taken against those calling for the refusal of military orders.

That is a mistake. The government must not give in to those who do not accept its authority, particularly if certain rabbis threaten that their students will not enlist in the army. The more the state ignores the incitement in the hesder yeshivas, the more it allows it to grow.

This growth is not "spiritual," as the rabbis label it. By virtue of the rabbi's position and the special arrangement between the army and the yeshiva, this growth effectively means a division of authority. The inciting rabbi is not "expressing his opinion." He is telling his students to do the opposite of what their commanders instruct them to do. This division is a surefire recipe for the breakup of the army and a sign of anarchy.

The rabbis' disingenuous claim that, just like university professors, they have the right to freedom of expression is completely groundless; the army has no arrangement with an academic institution similar to what it maintains with the hesder yeshivas. There is also no similarity between the influence of a professor, however charismatic, and the authority of a yeshiva head. Yet the fact that the rabbis of all the yeshivas have rallied around the inciting rabbi helps prove the inadequacy of their leadership.

About two weeks ago, at the annual memorial for David and Paula Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there is no place for refusal, there are no ideological factions in the IDF and there is a single chain of command. The chief of staff's recommendation puts that declaration to the test.








There is a lot of similarity between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to freeze construction in the settlements and U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

They both came out against their own political bases: Netanyahu against the right and Obama against the left. They both ignored ideology: Netanyahu surrendered "the right of Jews to live anywhere in the Land of Israel," and Obama - peaceful conflict resolution.

They both know their decisions will achieve nothing: The settlement freeze will not bring peace, the surge in Afghanistan will not bring victory. They both also promised in advance that the measures they took were one-offs.

One might be suspicious they are using the same speechwriter, given the similar explanations both gave for their controversial decisions.

The prime minister explained the freeze by "broad national considerations." Obama said beefing up the forces in Afghanistan was a "vital national interest."

For Netanyahu it was "a step that was not easy - a painful step." The American president did not "make this decision lightly."

When the two leaders met in Jerusalem during Obama's presidential campaign, he told Netanyahu that people saw them as strongly ideological, but they were in fact both pragmatists. He was right. Despite all the disagreement and public tension between then, Netanyahu and Obama are alike in terms of their leadership styles.

They are both excellent speakers who have difficulty making decisions. They prefer to wait, hold another round of consultations and another meeting, until they garner support. Internal consensus around their decision is more important to them than the image of a determined leader who acts swiftly.

They work by persuasion, not by force or orders.

Netanyahu called the "forum of seven" cabinet members for more than 10 meetings until the freeze was a matter of general agreement. Obama had some 10 sessions on Afghanistan until all his advisers agreed on a common plan.

According to the New York Times, Obama's Moshe Ya'alon was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was not enthusiastic about the troop increase and asked many hard questions. In the end, he too was convinced.

The group dynamics of long meetings, of belonging to the inner circle of those in the know, has an effect even on ideologues like Biden and Benny Begin. It is interesting that Netanyahu had a lot fewer leaks than Obama, who was furious over the reports that emanated from his closed meetings.

In Netanyahu's and Obama's lexicon, the term "national interest" is justification for decisions made contrary to their basic beliefs. Netanyahu buckled to American pressure, out of fear of international isolation. Obama gave in to the pressure from his military, out of fear he would be seen as weak on Al-Qaida and the Taliban.

They both softened the original demands made on them, adding exit strategies.

And like their predecessors - Rabin on the Oslo Accords, Sharon in the disengagement, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam - Netanyahu and Obama are also trying to cover up their initial hesitation by standing up to their adversaries, lest they appear weak.

What can be learned from this? First of all, that Netanyahu and Obama understand each other very well. When the American president looks the Israeli prime minister in the eye, and vice-versa, each knows what the other is going through. Secondly, that they appreciate and respect power more than beliefs and values. Third, that the fundamental laws of politics work even on leaders who were elected with a promise for "change."

This is a basis for evaluating Netanyahu's and Obama's future policies.

But the big question remains: What will Netanyahu do when push comes to shove on going to war against Iran? Will he avoid taking action and explain that the "national interest" requires him to sit tight, or will he lead like Obama - who captivated with his statements about the "good" war in Afghanistan - and embark on a military adventure to make good on his promise "to prevent a second Holocaust?"

The like-minded leader in the Oval Office can be an example in both directions.







Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's objection to a bill allowing Arabic language books to be imported, sponsored by MKs Yuli Tamir (Labor), Zeev Bielski (Kadima) and Yariv Levin (Likud), is a ridiculous show of force. By using a British Mandate era ordinance from 1939, which bans the import of books from "enemy states," Steinitz is showing Israeli Arabs that not only can they not choose where they can live or the size of the budget they will be allocated, they also cannot decide what they can read.

The bill's sponsors cite the need to develop research and higher education, and the right of every person to read and purchase books in their own language in explaining their support for importing books from Arab countries. The need for such a law arose a few months ago when the state accused Salah Abassi, a publisher from Haifa, of trading with enemy nations and refused to allow him to continue importing "Harry Potter," "Pinocchio" and "Peter Pan" from Syria and Lebanon. The very same government, by the way, was very proud that Abassi had succeeded in distributing Hebrew literature translated into Arabic in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Bahrain.

It is ludicrous that Steinitz objects to importing these books. He obviously knows that anyone can order Syrian and Lebanese best sellers over the Internet, or buy them in the mall in Ramallah. More serious at hand is the liberty the finance minister and his colleagues are taking in restricting the freedom of reading for Arab children in Israel.

Arabic children's literature in the region was dealt a serious blow in 1948 - when many educators and writers left or were expelled, and the education system was rebuilt under the supervision of the military administration. Jaffa's flourishing period of creativity in the mid-1940s was halted, and only in the 1960s were children's books in Arabic published again, as well as copies of old books from the '30s and '50s.

The "open bridges" policy since 1967 brought a change. High-quality children's books reached Arab book stores through the border crossings, and children were exposed to stories from Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. Educators nonetheless felt a need for local works, which would describe the day-to-day reality for children in their own language.

Journalist and author Salam Jubran wrote that there is a need to write children's literature. He was the first among the Arab intelligentsia who thought it was not enough to deal with issues of politics and identity. In the early 1980s, Abd al-Latif Nassar, a lecturer at Hebrew University, began to publish a series of books on the lives on Arab children in Israel.

Since then there has been great progress. The center for children's literature at the Arab College For Education in Haifa holds writing seminars. The Israel Center for Libraries has been nurturing the translation of children's books since the mid-'90s and recently published dozens of books for toddlers in Nazareth - including a number of well-known works translated from Hebrew, and a good-sized list of books in Arabic from local authors. Beit Berl College is home to the Kamil Kilani Center for Arabic Children's Literature, named after the writer who died in 1954 and left behind dozens of series of classic literature he adapted for children, including Shakespeare's plays and other masterpieces.

But publishing children's books in Arabic in Israel is not profitable and very few are willing to invest in it. The Arabic book industry in Israel is slipping. Once the communist party distributed books for free. Today Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who controls most of the Arabic television channels, provides cheap, available entertainment. Educators and parents are desperate for activities that expose children to books and encourage them to read.

This bill could have been a wonderful opportunity for Israel. Without much effort, and for not a lot of money, both the Culture and Sports Ministry and the Education Ministry could have offered encouragement to authors, illustrators, publishers and editors - and reaped the benefits of nurturing Arab culture in Israel from a young age. In practice, the government is giving with a closed fist. Now it also wants to censor.

Someone needs to tell Steinitz about Palestinian musician Marcel Khalife. Israel banned sales of his song "Asfoor" ("bird" in Arabic), which was recorded in Lebanon. A relatively small store in Nazareth made tens of thousands of copies of the banned recording and the song turned into a symbol sung enthusiastically at every event. Anyone who thinks it's possible to stop art at the border and expel it, seems to have missed an important lesson in national history.








Would any of the settlers who opposed the Civil Administration inspectors this week be living in the territories had the governments of Israel not established and encouraged them? Would the Gush Katif evacuees have moved to mobile homes in Ariel in the expectation of spacious permanent housing had the government clearly declared that this was forbidden - because the settlements will be evacuated in the near future for a peace agreement - and that evacuation-compensation money would not be paid to anyone who moves to the West Bank?

Do the settlers clashing with the forces of law and order not know that those who have committed crimes - from racist threats and blocking roads, to wholesale cutting down of trees, arson and beating and murdering Palestinians - have not been investigated or have been forgiven and forgotten with a wink?

The settlers' feeling of betrayal is natural. Haven't the state and its institutions taught us that the settler is superior to everyone else?


Yes. The settler, in fact, is us.

The freeze orders will not change what exists now: an elite state for Jews and a sub-space for Palestinians - truncated, cut up, asphyxiated.

The distinction in the mind nowadays between the state of Israel and the settlers is artificial.

So is the distinction between the bad and the good, the violent and the law-abiding, the residents of the Migron outpost and the residents of Etzion Bloc settlements and the territories that have been annexed to Jerusalem, or those who live to the West of the separation fence.

Those who laud the freeze orders are thinking about relations with the United States.

The subordinated and occupied do not factor into their calculations. And indeed the land that was stolen from them in Beit Jala (for the benefit of Gilo) is like the land of Qalqilyah that Alfei Menashe coveted and is coveting.

The legitimacy of the settlement blocs exists only in the Israeli consensus. In reality, it is these blocs and Ma'aleh Adumim that are destroying the chance of a fair peace, because they and their separated roads are laying the groundwork for a crippled Palestinian political entity.

There is a lot of ingratitude in the media assault on the settlers, who have been manning barricades for the sake of a reality from which many Israelis are benefiting and accept as natural.

Had the governments of Israel been interested in containing the Golem they had created on time, they would not have cynically exploited the Oslo agreement to accelerate building and lure more and more Israelis with settlers' benefits.

Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin would have evacuated the Hebron and Kiryat Arba settlers after the massacre Baruch Goldstein committed in the Tomb of the Patriarchs / Ibrahimi Mosque.

His government and subsequent governments would not have strangled Bethlehem with the Tunnels Road and with the "moderate" settlement of Efrat that snakes and twists along the hills.

They would have prepared the public for a just scenario by which to bring all the settlers back home and would have apologized for having lured them to transgression.

However, in 1993 we missed a one-time opportunity to develop as an entity, the aim of which is not territorial expansion at the expense of another people - who were prepared for very painful concessions for the sake of its independence and for the sake of peace.

We missed an opportunity to expel the deed of disposession from our state's institutional and mental chromosomes.

It is no wonder the setters are saying there is no difference between Kibbutz Baram and Psagot, between Givat Shaul and Alon Moreh.

Precisely in the shadow of diplomatic negotiations, Israel chose a policy of accelerated settlement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

It is expelling Palestinian inhabitants from their homes there by various methods.

In this way, Israel is drawing a straight line between Kiryat Shmona and Beit El, between Tel Aviv and Givat Ze'ev. It has made settlers of us all.








Every teacher has heard - and a lot more often than once - the question "Is this going to be on the exam?" Now Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar comes along seeking to free teachers from this annoyance. In his reforms, there will be fewer exams, especially fewer matriculation exams.

Like his two predecessors, Sa'ar wants to shake things up to improve education and students' achievements. He proposes, rightly, to end the practice of breaking the school year into three parts; the academic year is short in any case. Yes, it would be good to get rid of this trimester system, which requires many exams and grading before teachers can properly teach the material. A new system could allot more time to learning and deeper understanding.

The problem begins with the way Sa'ar plans to use the new calendar. Under the proposed reforms, important subjects like English and math would be taught throughout the school year, whereas "trivial" subjects like civics would be taught only during a single semester.

Indeed, this is excellent preparation for the university entrance exams, but what about internalizing humanistic values and developing abstract thinking? If we recall that in high school most students acquire information about arithmetic and trigonometry but do not acquire tools for abstract reasoning, this curriculum will leave a dangerous void.

Worse still is the proposal to reduce the Education Ministry's responsibility for the statewide matriculation exams, transferring some of them to the schools. This step is liable to lead to superficial study material and an increase in the gaps between well-off and poor areas. When we add the proposal to increase the use of individual contracts for principals and teachers, the reforms might lead to alarming gaps among schools.

To show achievements, principals will use statistical tables reflecting astronomical grades. On the assumption that only some students are gifted enough to attain such grades, principals will have to resort to one of two actions: ensure that the weak drop out, or adjust the exams. Students from prosperous areas will do well. Educated parents, or their money, will enable students to cope with the learning materials, even the toughest. Students with less-educated and less-prosperous parents will lose every battle - and the entire war. If they are not encouraged to drop out of the system they will survive only in weak schools that examine them using suitably designed tests.

Internal rather than statewide matriculation exams - whose supervision would be haphazard under the minister's proposal - would be drawn up accordingly. Is our national poet Bialik too difficult for students? Let's go with Kofiko, the monkey in a popular book series for young children.

Once again we will be surprised to find that students with a weak background are very weak and students with a strong background are very strong. Once again we will be shocked at ignorance about civics. Once again we will ask ourselves why the English know who the Knights of the Round Table were and the Israelis barely know why they light the Hanukkah candles.

It's odd that a fine parliamentarian like Sa'ar is choosing to harm the foundations of Israeli culture and civic responsibility. He, who as a Knesset member vigorously defended the principles of civic equality and the state's responsibility toward its citizens, has chosen to damage Israeli society's most important piece of infrastructure. His sincere aspiration to improve the system has moved from the phase of examination and reparation to a phase that casts aside the foundations of an education worthy of the name.







The conviction of Joseph Bruno, the former state senator who once was one of the most powerful state leaders in the country, is an indictment of the entire New York State Legislature. Mr. Bruno was convicted on two felony counts of "theft of honest services" after a trial that showed how he mingled taxpayers' business with his own — and made it clear to one and all why state leaders have taken care not to clean up their legislative pigpen.


There's just way too much money to be made.


Mr. Bruno, who freely used his office and his staff for private business, earned more than $3 million in fees by getting unions and others with business before the state (and who wanted his help with that business) to invest in one of his private profit-making concerns.


It was the federal government that rooted out this shameful behavior, not the state attorney general or the Albany district attorney or the feeble Legislative Ethics Commission.


It was bad enough that these people did not, or would not, see what was happening around them. But the testimony eliminates any last feeble excuse for lawmakers to explain their failure to enact real ethics reform.


Here is how they should fill the Bruno loopholes:


• State law should explicitly forbid lawmakers' use of government services for their private businesses. That includes staff, copying machines and office space. Senator Daniel Squadron, a Manhattan Democrat working on an ethics bill, said Mr. Bruno "looked like he hung a shingle outside the majority leader's office."


• Disclosure of outside income needs to get real. The annual disclosure reports for the Legislative Ethics Commission reveal almost nothing. The amounts earned are in ranges from Category A, which is under $5,000, to Category F, which is $250,000 and above. The exact amounts should be public; now even the letter categories are deleted when an ethics report is released. Also, the reports must be computerized. As it is, the New York Public Interest Research Group scanned all 212 reports and posted them on their Web site — with blank spaces where the income levels should be.


All details are kept secret from the public. Consultants don't have to reveal their clients, a fact that made it easier for former Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio to create a mock consulting firm that collected payments from hospitals and others who wanted his help in Albany. Mr. Seminerio pleaded guilty in June to corruption.


The 50 or so lawyers in the Legislature, including the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the Republican Senate leader, Dean Skelos, are not required to reveal their clients. What if those clients have business with the state, which certainly means that their business crosses the desks of these lawmakers? The public is kept in the dark. That needs to be changed.


Mr. Silver, one of the state's most powerful Democrats, is listed as being "of counsel" to Weitz & Luxenberg, one of the state's most prominent personal-injury law firms. His annual income from that firm is widely estimated to be about double his state salary. The public has to guess because, of course, that income from the law firm is not made public.


The clients of Mr. Skelos, a lawyer with Ruskin, Moscou & Faltischek, a prominent Long Island law firm, are also not available for public scrutiny. The same goes for about 48 other lawyers. Attorney-client privilege should not be used as a way to hide conflicts of interest. There are ways of making that work — like telling clients in advance that the relationship will be made public.


• The ethics process needs actual oversight and enforcement. As bad as these disclosure forms are, the ethics commission apparently fails to figure out whether they are accurate. And there is no enforcement when lawmakers abuse what few rules exist. It is, in short, an invitation to corruption.


What is needed, at a minimum, is a random review. An ethics commission with clout could do such an audit, and if a legislator broke the law the file should go to the attorney general or other law enforcement officials.


• The state law must be clearer on what constitutes an unwarranted abuse of office. State law is full of warnings about a lawmaker making "unauthorized exercise" of "official functions" or using the public job and public resources "to secure unwarranted privileges." That's not been strong enough or clear enough to stop the rampant influence-peddling. New York City's laws are more precise, and they could serve as a model in Albany.


The only good news is that almost half of New York's legislators do not have outside businesses — at least 28 of 62 senators and 70 of 150 assembly members. They should form a noisy army to demand support for ethics reform from their colleagues who should be nervous about Mr. Bruno's conviction.


Over his decades in the Legislature and his 14 years as leader, Mr. Bruno had structures named for him — a stadium, a school, a highway. It is time for another monument: the Joseph Bruno Ethics Loophole Closing Law.


This article is part of a series examining the political and structural crisis in the New York State government. The series can be read at







Under federal law, people who pose a heightened risk of violence cannot buy or own firearms, including convicted felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill and several other categories. Suspected terrorist is not one them.


Individuals on the government's terrorist watch list can be barred from boarding airplanes, but not from purchasing high-powered guns or explosives. Bipartisan legislation in both houses of Congress would end this ridiculous loophole, commonly known as the "terror gap."


Introduced in the Senate by Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, and in the House by Representative Peter King, a Republican of Long Island, this reform was first offered in 2007 with support from the Bush administration, a rare departure from the gun lobby's party line. The Obama administration has endorsed the bill.


This is no small problem. An audit by the Government Accountability Office released last June found that since 2004, people on the terrorism watch list succeeded in purchasing firearms 865 times in 963 attempts. The relatively few denials owed to another factor like a felony conviction. A 2005 G.A.O. review found people on the watch list were able to buy weapons in 35 of 44 attempts between February 2004 and June 2004.


The National Rifle Association has voiced opposition to the legislation. To justify its stance, the group cites a Justice Department inspector general's report in March that found thousands of people placed on the terrorism watch list erroneously while people with genuine ties to terrorism who should be on the list are left off. The Justice Department needs to improve that record. But the list's imperfections are no basis for preventing the government from blocking the sale of guns or explosives to those known or suspected of having terrorist ties.


The terror-gap measure is more modest and balanced than its opponents make it appear. It would not automatically disqualify people on the watch list from purchasing a weapon. Rather, the attorney general would be given discretionary power to deny the issuance of a firearm or explosives in instances when the government has reason to believe the person may use the weapon in connection with terrorism. The authority would have to be exercised according to written guidelines. Due process safeguards are built in to permit the affected person to challenge a denial.


Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the public safety coalition led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has started a drive to alert lawmakers and the public to the real issues here. We applaud the group's refusal to be intimidated by the N.R.A.'s political attacks, and we urge the Democrats who control Congress to show similar fortitude by scheduling prompt hearings.







The first song on the new album "American Horizon" sends you right away to a place you've never been and might never want to leave: a tropical countryside under a full moon, where men come down from hills on horseback and women gather by a lagoon, full of anticipation that a warm, dark evening will become, through music and dance, a night of light and heat.


The song, "La Luna," is sung in Spanish by, of all people, Taj Mahal, the African-American blues master. Though not a native speaker, he cradles the words in his gravel voice, and when he sings of the moonlight as "muy sensual," and of this "baile celestial," this heavenly dance, he clearly knows what he's talking about, and so do you.


That's the strange beauty of "American Horizon," by a little-known Mexican-American folk-roots group, Los Cenzontles, with guest appearances by Taj Mahal and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. It both honors and upends traditional Mexican music, tapping deep roots as it flowers into something completely new, and distinctly American.


What may be more remarkable is that Los Cenzontles — The Mockingbirds — is not the creation of some music label's cross-marketing department, but a tiny storefront nonprofit organization for young people in San Pablo, Calif., a heavily immigrant and Hispanic neighborhood outside Oakland.


There's a whole story, much too long to tell here, of what Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center has accomplished since it began 20 years ago. Its founder, Eugene Rodriguez, is a third-generation Mexican-American, a classical guitarist who wanted to create a haven for youths in a community scarred by gang violence, graffiti and drugs.


It started out simply as a safe place where children could learn dance and music and do their homework. It's still that — a humble space in a noisy strip mall, with couches and stuffed chairs to flop into and small stages where students can drum and strum and sing.


But the organization has steadily gained a reputation for excellence in reinvigorating musical traditions ignored or left for dead in their home country. It has gone to Mexico looking for maestros. And it has grown some young maestros of its own, like Hugo Arroyo, one of the best players anywhere of the jarana, a ukulele-like instrument from Veracruz, and Lucina Rodriguez, a singer and expert in zapateado dancing.


The group's touring band is still the barest blip on the music scene. But it has attracted an array of friends and enthusiastic collaborators, who also include Los Tigres del Norte, the giants of norteño music, and Linda Ronstadt. In January, the group is performing in Glasgow with the Chieftains and Ry Cooder.


Ms. Ronstadt, who long ago left rock 'n' roll to explore her Mexican-American musical roots, lives in the Bay Area and has often dropped in at Los Cenzontles to sing. She said the organization gives young people the gift of an identity in an area bleak with poverty and rootlessness. "They know who they are when they come out of there," she said. " 'I play jarana.' 'I'm the one that's teaching those kids how to dance.' "


"They're making modern music, but it's very securely rooted in tradition."


It is telling that the musicians who have befriended Los Cenzontles are known as innovative traditionalists. To Mr. Rodriguez, to freeze folklore is to kill it. That is clear on all the songs on this album. Mr. Hidalgo plays ukulele on "Tecolote," a traditional Mexican dance song. On "Sueños" ("Dreams"), Ms. Rodriguez and Fabiola Trujillo trill like a doo-wop chorus, yet the bluesy song never loses its Mexican feel.


On "Voy Caminando" ("I Go Walking"), Taj Mahal plays banjo, an instrument unknown to Mexican music, and the rhythm is supplied by shoe dancers, their stomping beat summoning old Spain or Appalachia. The song tells of a young migrant who leaves home, his parents, their little plot of land, to find his future on the other side, America.


It's a new song, and an old story — the perfect fit for a country that has been renewed by immigration, but also perplexed and sometimes frightened by it. Some have declared the surge in immigrant Spanish-speakers as the end of America as we know it. But as "American Horizon" shows, it's just another new beginning.








In 2006, Ron Suskind published "The One Percent Doctrine," a book about the U.S. war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: "If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response." Cheney contended that the U.S. had to confront a very new type of threat: a "low-probability, high-impact event."


Soon after Suskind's book came out, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Mr. Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same "precautionary principle" that also animated environmentalists. Sunstein wrote in his blog: "According to the Precautionary Principle, it is appropriate to respond aggressively to low-probability, high-impact events — such as climate change. Indeed, another vice president — Al Gore — can be understood to be arguing for a precautionary principle for climate change (though he believes that the chance of disaster is well over 1 percent)."


Of course, Mr. Cheney would never accept that analogy. Indeed, many of the same people who defend Mr. Cheney's One Percent Doctrine on nukes tell us not to worry at all about catastrophic global warming, where the odds are, in fact, a lot higher than 1 percent, if we stick to business as usual. That is unfortunate, because Cheney's instinct is precisely the right framework with which to think about the climate issue — and this whole "climategate" controversy as well.


"Climategate" was triggered on Nov. 17 when an unidentified person hacked into the e-mails and data files of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, one of the leading climate science centers in the world — and then posted them on the Internet. In a few instances, they revealed some leading climatologists seemingly massaging data to show more global warming and excluding contradictory research.


Frankly, I found it very disappointing to read a leading climate scientist writing that he used a "trick" to "hide" a putative decline in temperatures or was keeping contradictory research from getting a proper hearing. Yes, the climate-denier community, funded by big oil, has published all sorts of bogus science for years — and the world never made a fuss. That, though, is no excuse for serious climatologists not adhering to the highest scientific standards at all times.


That said, be serious: The evidence that our planet, since the Industrial Revolution, has been on a broad warming trend outside the normal variation patterns — with periodic micro-cooling phases — has been documented by a variety of independent research centers.


As this paper just reported: "Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization made public on Tuesday. The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record."


This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the Earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.


What we don't know, because the climate system is so complex, is what other factors might over time compensate for that man-driven warming, or how rapidly temperatures might rise, melt more ice and raise sea levels. It's all a game of odds. We've never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is "irreversible" in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 buildup has the potential to unleash "catastrophic" warming.


When I see a problem that has even a 1 percent probability of occurring and is "irreversible" and potentially "catastrophic," I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about.


If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull's-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.


But if we don't prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell. And that's why I'm for doing the Cheney-thing on climate — preparing for 1 percent.


Maureen Dowd is off today.









OVER the past month there has been a great deal of discussion about the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts amendment in the House health care reform bill. Unfortunately, much of this discussion has been driven by misinformation about what our amendment does and does not do. I would like to set the record straight: Our amendment maintains current law, which says that there should be no federal financing for abortion.


Under our amendment, women who receive federal subsidies will be prohibited from using them to pay for insurance policies that cover abortion. The amendment does not prevent private plans from offering abortion services and it does not prohibit women from purchasing abortion coverage with their own money. The amendment specifically states that even those who receive federal subsidies can purchase a supplemental policy with private money to cover abortions.


Some opponents of the amendment have tried to argue that it would effectively end health insurance coverage of abortion in both the private and public sectors. This argument is nothing more than a scare tactic.


The language in our amendment is completely consistent with the Hyde Amendment, which in the 33 years since its passage has done nothing to inhibit private health insurers from offering abortion coverage. There is no reason to believe that a continuation of this policy would suddenly create undue hardship for the insurance industry — or for those who wish to use their private insurance to pay for an abortion.


For example, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program provides health insurance through a variety of companies to more than eight million Americans — but it does not allow abortion coverage in any of its policies. Yet the same companies that offer these abortion-free plans to federal employees also offer plans with abortion coverage to non-federal employees. Given that insurance companies are able to offer separate plans with and without abortion coverage now, it seems likely that they would be able to continue to do so on the newly established health insurance exchange.


It is also disingenuous to argue (as some have) that it would be a hardship for insurance companies to provide plans with and without abortion coverage — when the health care bill as introduced in the House and Senate mandated exactly that. Under language suggested by Representative Lois Capps, Democrat of California, the new insurance exchange would be required to provide at least one plan that covers abortion and one plan that does not. If offering separate abortion-free plans in this way was acceptable under the Capps language (which has been endorsed by abortion-rights groups), then it should also be acceptable under the Stupak-Ellsworth-Pitts amendment.


While many accusations have been thrown around in recent months, the intent behind our amendment is simple and clear: to continue current law, which says that there should be no federal financing of abortions. Our intent was not to change, add or take anything away from federal law. This goal is consistent with the opinion of a majority of Americans. Recent CNN and Washington Post-ABC News polls found that 61 percent of Americans do not want taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions. And while the Senate voted down a similar amendment on Tuesday, I'm hopeful that the spirit of our legislation will make it into the final bill.


I encourage other members of Congress to listen to the American people and the majority of House members who have made it very clear: We do not want taxpayer dollars financing abortion. I also encourage them to work to pass health care reform legislation that provides access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans.