media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 14, edition 000375, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- BEGGARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS
- BAN DRUGS, SAVE VULTURES
- A VIRUS CALLED BUNKING WORK - JOGINDER SINGH
- DESTROYING CRICKET FROM WITHIN - DEBJYOTI ROY
- LET'S NOT ABSOLVE RAO - PRAFULL GORADIA
- TELANGANA FALLOUT - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- UNREALISTIC COMMITMENTS - SHIVAJI SARKAR
- POLITICAL AGENDA CORRUPTS SCIENCE - PHILIP STEVENS
- SWINE FLU VIRUS IS VERY MUCH AROUND
- NURTURE THE RECOVERY
- NEW BODY NEEDED TO REARRANGE OUR STATES - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
- POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA
TIMES OF INDIA
- THINK SMALL, GAIN BIG
- IT'S RAINING IDEAS
- PRINCE CHARLES
- ON BEING PUNCTUAL - SUBHASH KAURA
- A WILD CELEBRATION - OLIVIA JUDSON
- A LONG HAUL FOR LANKA
- AT HOME, IN INDIA
- BEYOND THE BYTE - A STAR IS BORN - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- BETWEEN US - TELANGANA DECISION WILL BACKFIRE - PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR
- STORY SELLING
- WAYS OF PROGRESS
- OFF COURSE
- A NEW HIGH TABLE - MIHIR S SHARMA
- MATTERS OF HONOUR - PREMCHOWDHRY
- 'AT WOODSTOCK, WHO WAS LISTENING TO MUSIC? THEY WERE ALL STONED'
- HOLD ON
- THE TUVALU PRINCIPLE
- SUPPLY ISN'T ONLY ABOUT PRODUCTION - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- CAN DELHI UNDO WHAT NIZAM DID? - D RAJASEKHAR
- REBUILDING SATYAM - RACHANA KHANZODE
- TOPPLING THE BOLIGARCHY
- A FRAGILE RECOVERY
- CAPPING NUCLEAR LIABILITY IS A NON-STARTER - SOLI J. SORABJEE
- SEIZE THE MOMENT - SUHASINI HAIDAR
- THE GRAND CHALLENGES OF INDIAN SCIENCE - R.A. MASHELKAR
- IN FAMILIAR BOOKS, A BATTLE OVER ELECTRONIC RIGHTS - MOTOKO RICH
- ANDHRA PRADESH POLITICAL CRISIS AND THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
- SITE DIVERTS SHOPPING MONEY TO CHARITIES - STEPHANIE STROM
THE ASIAN AGE
- GROWTH? YES. BUT CAN IT BE SUSTAINED?
- WE ARE THE WORLD
- OUTDATED MINDSET
- IROM SHARMILA'S 10-YEAR-FAST IS IGNORED - KALPANA SHARMA
- TAMING THE SEXUAL TIGER - ABHAY VAIDYA
- HOLY TRINITY
- TELANGANA, A SENSITIVE CASE
- CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT
- UP IS UNWIELDY
- WAITING FOR PENSION
- B'DESH HAS STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE - BY HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY - BY TRILOCHAN SINGH TREWN
- POKHRAN N-TESTS WERE A SUCCESS - DR KAKODKAR REPLIES TO DOUBTING SCIENTISTS
- CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- CONFLICT IN NEPAL
- DISQUIETING NPAS
- DUBAI DEBACLE AND DEGLOBALIZATION - SAZZAD HUSSAIN
- CLIMATE CHANGE AND INDIAN AGRICULTURE - PRANAV BHARADWAJ, TONMOYEE RANI NEOG
- INDIA'S GENERATION NEXT AT RISK
- LEAVE BANKS TO FIX THEIR LENDING RATES
- PRESIDENTIAL ENTOURAGES
- 'WE'LL HIGHLIGHT WOMEN'S SUCCESS' - ARATI MENON CARROLL
- SCRIPT AN END TO DOHA ROUND - T S VISHWANATH
- US FED MAY DECIDE THE MARKET COURSE - NISHANTH VASUDEVAN
- NOW, BSE, NSE TRADE CHARGES OVER ALGORITHM TRANSACTIONS - SANTOSH NAIR
- REALTY IPOS: BUBBLES THAT MAKE LITTLE SENSE FOR SERIOUS INVESTORS - DHIRENDRA KUMAR
- REPENTANCE CAN ALSO BE CHANNELED - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- THERE COULD BE A TRADE WAR: PETER FISH
- INFLATION WAY ABOVE EXPECTATIONS: YASHIKA SINGH
- 'WE'VE GOT MONEY. WE WON'T MIND BUYING QUALITY ASSETS' - GEORGE CHERIAN
- WE CAN HANDLE PRICE WARS & COME OUT ON TOP IN LONG TERM: VODAFONE - JOJI THOMAS PHILP & CHAITALI CHAKRAVARTY
- IT INDUSTRY COULD SEE NEW BUSINESS MODEL BY 2015: HCL TECH - HARSIMRAN JULKA & PANKAJ MISHRA
- EARLY-WARNING SYSTEM FOR FRAUDS NEEDED: SALMAN KHURSHID - HEMA RAMAKRISHNAN
- WE CAN HANDLE PRICE WARS & COME OUT ON TOP IN LONG TERM: VODAFONE - JOJI THOMAS PHILP & CHAITALI CHAKRAVARTY
- 'EVERY INVESTOR MUST HAVE GOLD IN HIS PORTFOLIO' - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
- GSK CONSUMER HEALTHCARE BETTING BIG ON RURAL MARKET - RATNA BHUSHAN
- GROWTH? YES. BUT CAN IT BE SUSTAINED?
- REVIVAL PLAN FOR BENGAL - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
- ENCOURAGING THE DO-IT-YOURSELF ECONOMY - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- THE GRAMMAR OF TELUGU CULTURE - BY CHENNURU ANJANEYA REDDY
- LEAVE THE CLASSROOM,SEE THE REAL WORLD - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISOF
- A GAME THAT'S NOT SO GREAT - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- NO PROMISES
- DARK DAYS
- SCIENCE AND THE LAYMAN - COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO
- A LONG WAY TO GO- GWYNNE DYER
- HEADLEY'S PEOPLE
- UPWARDLY MOBILE
- MUSCULAR INSTABILITY - M J AKBAR
- MYANMAR LOOKS FOR INSPIRATION FROM INDIA - BY DEEPAK K UPRETI
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- EUROPE AND AFGHANISTAN
- THERE IS NO 'HUMANE' EXECUTION
- EMINENT DOMAIN IN NEW YORK
- DRIVING CONGRESS
- DISASTER AND DENIAL - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- DUBAI GROWS UP - BY CLAUDIA PUGH-THOMAS
- VANISHING TRICK
- POROUS INDEED
- SIGN OFF!
- NEW US STRATEGY AND PAKISTAN'S RESPONSE - BY MUNIR AKRAM
- ANTI-AMERICANISM - BY TALAT MASOOD
- THE 'CIVILIAN SURGE' - BY IKRAM SEHGAL
- THE RUMOUR MACHINE' - BY SYED ALI HAMID
- THE MEDIA'S NEW FRONT - BY AYESHA IJAZ KHAN
- THE NEW PROZAC - BY CHRIS CORK
- US MUST RESPECT PAK LAWS, SOVEREIGNTY
- PLEASE DON'T GO AFTER ORAKZAI
- NEW EMPIRE BUILDERS! - KHALID SALEEM
- INORDINATE DELAY IN MUMBAI TRIAL - COL GHULAM SARWAR (R)
- ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - UK DAR
- SAY IT LIKE IT IS..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- US EFFORTS TO DEFUSE INDO-PAK ANTAGONISM - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- INTELLECTUAL MARTYRS
- OPENING OUT
- A LIL BIT OF GOA..!
- IS AN ENDGAME IMMINENT IN AFGHANISTAN? - KAWSER AHMED
- THE INDEPENDENT ENGLISH CLUB - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- REMEMBERING OUR MARTYRED INTELLECTUALS - DR. MD. SHAIRUL MASHREQUE AND DR. M. ABUL KASHEM MOZUMDER
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- WISHING YOU A BORING 2010
- WHERE IS BRADFIELD?
- OVERLAND'S BACKFLIPS ON LISTS RAISE THE SPECTRE OF POLITICAL PRESSURE
- RUSSIA AND NATO: A FROZEN CONFLICT
- IN PRAISE OF LONG JOHNS
- DISEASE ERADICATION: YESTERDAY'S AMBITION
THE KOREA HERALD
- ARMS CARGO
- CRAMMED PLAZA
- GREEK DEBT THREATENS EURO DISASTER - EDIN MUJAGIC
BEGGARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS
PAKISTAN PRETENDING OFFENCE IS LAUGHABLE
Pakistan's pompous and erratic President Asif Ali Zardari forgets that beggars can't be choosers. In yet another opeditorial penned for an American daily, this time the New York Times, Mr Zardari has protested against the conditionalities attached to the $ 7.5 billion US aid over five years scrutiny of how Islamabad uses the aid and its cooperation in the fight against terrorism. It is absurd to demand, as Mr Zardari has done, that the Americans should hand over billions of dollars without asking for any accounts. Yes, this has been the practice in the past with Pakistani Generals and politicians helping themselves to a generous share of American aid and using the leftover to fund Islamic terrorist groups as part of Islamabad's policy of promoting cross-border terrorism, especially in India. Aid has also been diverted to create military capacity to wage war on India, instead of waging war on terrorism for which the money had been provided by the US. After decades of neglecting how Pakistan uses military and civilian aid, the Americans have got wiser and now insist that the days of issuing blank cheques are over. Pakistanis, no matter how much they may dislike being asked to show their account books, will have to live with this reality. Surprisingly, Mr Zardari, who now pretends offence, was virtually begging the Americans and Europeans for aid earlier this year to bail out Pakistan; he had shown little or no pride in pleading for urgent assistance to prop up a failing state with empty coffers: Its utterly corrupt and cynical political and military elite, as always, had shown no compunction while robbing the country for self-aggrandisement. Mr Zardari, more than anybody else, should know how the 'system' works in Pakistan; for him to now claim that Pakistani pride, such as it is, has been hurt by the conditions attached to fresh American aid is truly amazing. It is equally amusing that he should sternly suggest that the US must monitor India's affairs in a similar manner. Surely Mr Zardari is aware of the basic difference between Pakistan and India? Unlike Pakistan, India is not a client state of America, nor is the Government of India a puppet regime. India lives on the wealth it generates, not on scraps from the high table in Washington, DC. If that truth grates with Mr Zardari and his fellow Pakistanis, there's nothing India can do about it: They must deal with their plight, sorry as it may be.
Meanwhile, by harping on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir and seeking American intervention, Mr Zardari is neither helping his country nor making it easier for any improvement in relations between India and Pakistan. He is welcome to believe as do most Pakistanis living in denial of the harsh reality that the mess in which his country finds itself today, the rapid descent into chaos and horrendous bloodletting in which Pakistan is trapped, is on account of New Delhi not settling the Jammu & Kashmir issue to Islamabad's satisfaction. The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is now getting a taste of the disastrous policy it has followed; the hate-India project of six decades has transmogrified, thanks to hate-filled jihadis, into a hate-Pakistan project. The moth-eaten edifice which Mohammed Ali Jinnah bequethed to his wretched people has begun to crumble; it is being pulled apart brick by brick by those who were supposed to be its standard-bearers: They are Mr Zardari's fellow Pakistanis, not aliens from a foreign land.
BAN DRUGS, SAVE VULTURES
OUR ECOSYSTEM IS ENDANGERED
Saving the vulture does not evoke the same kind of zeal for conservation like saving the Royal Bengal tiger. After all, the latter is the national animal, majestic and proud, whereas the vulture is but an ugly scavenger, at least that is the common perception. But given the rate at which vultures in South Asia are disappearing and the vital role they play in the ecosystem, perhaps the vulture deserves more attention than it presently gets. The main reason for the rapid decline in vulture numbers has been the use of drugs such as Diclofenac and Ketoprofen in treating livestock. Vultures feeding on the carcasses of animals treated with these drugs suffer from acute kidney failure that eventually leads to death. Diclofenac was banned in India in 2006 after its lethality to vulture populations in the country was established. But farmers continue to use cheap variants of the drug imported from China to increase milk yield. This, combined with the lack of knowledge that people have regarding the impact that these drugs have on the vulture population, is the main threat to the existence of the raptors today.
As scavengers, vultures are the natural garbage disposers of our ecosystem. As a consequence of their decline, a large number of carcasses lie rotting out in the open that in turn lead to other problems such as spread of diseases. But shoring up vulture numbers is no easy task. As slow breeding birds, the decline in their population will take years to reverse. Plus vultures are social creatures and depend on each other to find food. This fact further threatens the existence of the remaining vultures in the wild. The only way that the vulture can be saved is if vigorous captive breeding is carried out and farmers educated about the consequences of using lethal veterinary drugs and convinced of replacing them with non-lethal drugs such as Meloxicam. Also, pressure needs to be put on the pharmaceutical industry to produce more veterinary drugs that are not harmful for vultures. On a different note, the fact that so much of attention is focussed on saving wildlife and so little on saving the vulture betrays a lopsided approach to the conservation of our fauna. It must be borne in mind that the ecosystem and the flora and fauna within are all part of one singular, interconnected system. It would be foolish on our part to pay attention to the protection of one particular animal or plant species and ignore the rest. The plight of the vulture should force us to reorient our thinking about conservation and adopt a more pragmatic and wholesome approach. Unless this is done, neither can we save animals nor the vulture.
A VIRUS CALLED BUNKING WORK
While serving in the Home Ministry a few decades back, I noticed that any excuse was good enough to bunk work. During lunch breaks in winter, which would invariably extend to two hours from the permissible half-an- hour, the men would either munch groundnuts or play cards while women would be busy with their knitting or indulge in aimless chit-chat. This was apart from at least two informal tea breaks, one before lunch and the other after, of up to an hour.
It was futile to expect the case workers and helpers to be available before 3 pm, unless it was a dull day outside. Checking the presence of the staff would be done once in a blue moon by the administration. Late arrival and early departure was the standard norm.
Another common practice was to mark attendance and then disappear from one's seat, leaving a shawl or a briefcase behind to indicate that the official was present in office and might have gone to the washroom or to the canteen for a cup of tea.
The Sixth Pay Commission, which has revised the payscales of Government employees retrospectively from January 1, 2006, also gave some suggestions about the introduction of a biometric system. It said, "For improving punctuality, new concepts like flexi time, biometric entry/exit, etc, needs to be introduced. But we would like to emphasise that punctuality should be maintained. To us, it is a question of ethics and morality."
To ensure the punctuality of the staff, the Union Home Ministry has now introduced a biometric system. It is basically automatic identification of people through one or more of their physical characteristics. The use of biometric systems makes it difficult for an employee to clock in or out on behalf of his or her colleague, which happens quite often, as you have to physically sign your own attendance.
Nobody minds bunking. While undergoing training at the National Academy of Administration in Mussoorie after joining the Indian Police Service, I had noticed that bunking classes and marking attendance on behalf of the absentees had reached an all-time high. In a surprise check the director of the academy found only 40 out of 270 trainees present. Incidentally, everybody was present on record as some of us had signed in for our batchmates. As punishment a day's pay was deducted from our salaries and donated to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
Bunking duty or being unpunctual is not confined to any particular category or class. It is not considered a crime or a misdemeanour in any Government department. Delhi University's teaching faculty is opposing the adoption of a fool-proof attendance monitoring system. The teachers have called for a strike and have given the queer logic that the biometic system is hazardous to health as it can spread swine flu and other contagious diseases to justify their demand. Theoretically this is possible, especially in the 'high physical' zone where physical frisking is done. But to the best of my knowledge no such practical case has been reported.
If we go by the teachers' logic then nobody should visit any library or canteen or travel in public transport because there is a possibility of catching some infectious disease.
The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has detected 22,583 'ghost' employees with the help of its new biometric system. The truth is, given the security that comes with a Government job, most people do just about enough to keep their jobs.
According to a report, no Indian university figures in the list of top 100 universities in the world. While no formal report about absenteeism in higher education is available, there is a shocking Human Resource Development Ministry report about the state of education at the school level. It says that not just students but teachers bunk classes as well and that no State in the country has teachers with 100 per cent attendance. The States which have over 90 per cent teacher attendance include West Bengal, Delhi, and Haryana, whereas in other States the attendance percentage stands between 70 and 80 per cent. In Assam only 55.2 per cent of the teachers take classes regularly. The situation in higher education cannot be any better.
As it is teachers in Government or UGC-funded institutions draw salaries in the highest range as compared to their counterparts in private colleges. It is no secret that even in terms of discipline teachers are no role models. If anybody is performing his or her duty in the best possible manner, he or she won't hesitate to mark his or her attendance. But the problem arises when they mark their presence but not their absence. In a biometric system somebody else will check whether a particular person has come for duty or not. Mind you, the system does not check the quality of work.
By going on strike the Delhi University teachers have not earned any empathy. On the contrary, the strike gives an impression that the protest is being carried out for the purpose of shirking work. The teachers should remember that if they do not discipline themselves, society will make them learn the hard way.
DESTROYING CRICKET FROM WITHIN
Indian cricket has become the new political battleground for power-hungry politicians. With crores of rupees involved, our netas are constantly fighting each other tooth and nail to usurp control of the cricket boards. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that most State cricket boards have as their governing heads controversial and influential politicians.
We may recall the prolonged, ugly struggle that took place during the last election for the post of BCCI president between Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and the then all-too-powerful president Jagmohan Dalmiya. In the same vein, Mr Shashank Manohar, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, Mr Prafulla Mahanta, Mr Farooq Abdullah, and Mr Anurag Thakur are just some of the high-profile political figures who have over the years 'graced' Indian cricket with their presence. Last week's high-voltage battle to wrest control of the Rajasthan Cricket Association has once again exposed the dirty politics that is eating at the innards of India's most popular sport. It cannot be denied that the corruption and red-tapism that are associated with Indian cricket today have affected the potential of budding cricketing talents. It is because of the black hand of politics that we do not have a vibrant and transparent talent scouting programme at the grassroot level. This is where Australian cricket has a clear edge over us.
Fans are worried that T20 cricket will change the nature of the game in the coming years. What they should really be worried about is the corrupting influence that politicians have come to have on Indian cricket. Such is the scenario that the number of politicians in cricket is increasing and that of cricketers is decreasing with each passing day.
Can the BCCI, run by politicians and business tycoons, propel Indian cricket ahead? The answer is a big fat no. These so-called 'office bearers' behave like the mafia and do not allow any public scrutiny to take place of their decisions and activities. They do not even have a website to publish information regarding their workings. They act with impunity, reward themselves as they wish and hold on to power by hook or by crook.
It is pathetic that our players are subjected to humiliation by these power brokers. The public must question the credentials of these BCCI officers. Their accountability must be fixed and if they are found unable to deliver, these men should be shown the door and their conduct in office thoroughly probed.
LET'S NOT ABSOLVE RAO
P CHIDAMBARAM'S REPLY TO THE DEBATE ON THE LIBERHAN COMMISSION'S REPORT IN PARLIAMENT IS SHORT ON FACTS. ACCORDING TO IM, IT WAS PV NARASIMHA RAO'S 'WRONG POLITICAL JUDGEMENT' THAT LED TO THE DEMOLITION OF THE BABRI STRUCTURE. THAT'S NOT TRUE. RAO KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING, AND HIS 'INACTION' WAS NOT WITHOUT INTENT
Union Home Minister P Chidambaram's reply to the debate in Parliament on the report submitted by the Justice Liberhan Commission of Inquiry leaves out crucial details related to events leading up to the demolition of the disputed Babri structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. It would seem from his reply that he is unaware of the fact that in July 1991 the Government of India, then headed by PV Narasimha Rao, got Parliament to unanimously pass the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. This law prohibited the conversion of places of worship, barring Babri masjid. Clause 3 of the Act says: "However, since the case relating to the place commonly called Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid forms a class by itself, it has become necessary to exempt it entirely from the operation of this Act." The exemption of the Babri edifice from the purview of the Act raises the following points:
Why the exemption? Was a change especially contemplated in the status of the edifice? Did not the unanimity in the passage of the Bill signify that neither Muslim nor Hindu MPs had any objection? Did not this amount to a national consensus on the contemplated change of the edifice, and hence the use of the phrase "forms a class by itself"? Do these questions not indicate that Narasimha Rao knew his gameplan?
The Home Minister was right in stating that the action was pre-planned, calculated and cold-blooded. The question is, by whom? Not the young men who climbed up the Babri domes. I was present from 10:40 that morning to 5:45 pm on the Ram Katha Kunj terrace facing the edifice. My arguments are based on what I saw and heard. The Home Minister's reply in Parliament is based on what he must have read and heard second hand as well as what he must have imagined.
In the course of his reply, Mr Chidambaram inter-alia said, "Looking back, I can say it was a wrong political judgement. Narasimha Rao paid the price for making the judgement. The Congress paid a price for that." In what way was Narasimha Rao's a wrong judgement? If the edifice had survived, the Hindu movement would have continued to excite mass emotions. Whereas with its demolition their cause célèbre disappeared. The fact that Narasimha Rao had pre-planned it, calculated it cold-bloodedly is evidenced by his sponsoring and getting passed the 1991 Places of Worship Act. This was a thought through objective and to call it a wrong political judgement is patently wrong.
The Home Minister was correct when he said that the kar sevaks made holes in the domes from inside, tied ropes and brought them down. I also confirm that kar sevaks used crowbars to disconnect the domes from the flat roof. Where Mr Chidambaram is incorrect is that these kar sevaks belonged to neither the BJP nor the VHP. Most of the operatives were probably employees of the PWD. Had they been laymen they would not have been able to operate effectively hooks, axes and crowbars; to be able to bring down three large domes in the course of a few hours. The decisive evidence was the fact that they did not permit their photographs to be taken. In fact, five photographers were manhandled and their cameras smashed when they persisted with photographing the men. Activists and political workers, like members of the VHP or BJP, would have been proud to have themselves snapped in the act of pursuing their mission. Two of these photographers eventually took refuge on the roof of Ram Katha Kunj. They told me that under no circumstances were the kar sevaks prepared to be photographed. They even refused to come out from under the domes and be photographed outside.
It was clear that the Kalyan Singh Government, not the BJP as a party, was working in tandem with the Prime Minister's establishment. This explains the use of Government sevaks without intervention by the Central Reserve Police Force of whom there were reportedly 15 battalions. A senior Uttar Pradesh Police officer told me that she had instructions not to intervene unless human life was in danger. Incidentally, no Minister or MLA of Uttar Pradesh seemed to be present in Ayodhya on that winter day.
The first dome collapsed at 2.30 pm, there was no Central intervention. Again there was no Central action when the second dome fell at 3.40 pm. Only after the last dome came down at 4.30 pm was President's rule imposed. When I left the Ram Katha Kunj terrace at 5.45 pm, it was cold and dark but I could see that the walls of the edifice were still standing. At 10.00 pm Narasimha Rao addressed the nation, condemning the demolition of the edifice and promising to re-build the masjid all over again. If his intentions were earnest, the domes could have been re-constructed in a matter of months.
Instead, in the course of the next 60 hours of President's rule, the 10 standing walls were brought down; all the rubble was removed by the morning of December 9; and the idols of Ram Lalla installed in a tent. The walls were 30 feet tall, mostly three feet wide; there was the plinth plus the chabutra and the rubble of the fallen domes. In short, the rubble accumulated by the demolition of some 15,000 cubic feet of stone and mortar totalled several thousand tonnes. How could the demolition and removal of rubble have been possible without the help of CPWD professional? For this the responsibility must squarely rest with the Union Government because immediately after the third dome fell, President's rule had been declared and the Governor had taken charge.
Mr Chidambaram has traced the genesis of the demolition to the then chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh who was merely a partner in the game. The genesis actually lay in the contents of the Places of Worship Act passed by Parliament. The Home Minister of India has enormous resources at his disposal. He could have obtained his own independent information from Ayodhya and elsewhere, but he did not. Instead, he chose to rely on Mr Liberhan's report while replying to the debate. Why?
DEMAND FOR GORKHALAND GETS FRESH LEASE OF LIFE
Mixing morals with politics is a deliberate act of mischief, guaranteed to push a complicated situation towards chaos. The resultant disorder provides the rationale for an intervention that aims to re-establish order; thus the political advantage is reclaimed by the side that initiated the mess.
The summary of the tactics adopted by the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti is being mimicked in other places too. The volatile Darjeeling situation has received a shot in the arm, post the Congress announcement to "initiate" the process for formation of a separate Telangana State.
Predictably the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has resurfaced with a new energy, if for nothing else than calling another destructive bandh in support of a demand that has a strange assortment of supporters. Till the Telangana announcement, the GJM was in a far less combative mood than it is now; it was preparing a round of tripartite talks scheduled for December 22 with the West Bengal Government and the Union Government.
The demand for a Gorkha homeland has split the political parties in three ways; the Congress maintains that it is not in favour of a separate Gorkhaland; the Communist Party of India(Marxist) has rejected the demand; the Trinamool Congress is schizophrenic by maintaining a studied silence. And the BJP, even though excluded from the power games in West Bengal, is divided; its central leadership a la Rajiv Pratap Rudy has emphatically endorsed the Gorkhaland state demand while its State leadership a la Rahul Sinha says exactly the opposite.
The mischief is all too evident. The Congress by limply stating its position is not exerting its moral authority. The Trinamool Congress has no scruples about keeping company with every anti-CPI(M) political force in West Bengal, because such alliances add to its number count, irrespective of what demand parties like the GJM raise. The BJP's ambition of proving itself as morally righteous, by granting statehood to claimants, has fuelled GJM's campaign.
The political stakes in West Bengal's dismemberment, therefore, can be calculated as follows: For the CPI(M), it is the highest and for the BJP it is the lowest. The Communists know that any weakness demonstrated in dealing with GJM's claims will convert north Bengal into a seething space of rival claims from groups such as the Kamtapuris, the Rajbansis, the Greater Cooch Beharis, the adivasis and whatever fringe elements care to put forward a demand based on history, ethnicity, language and culture. This makes it easiest to blame the CPI(M) for whatever is happening and may happen on the Gorkhaland issue.
For the Congress, a break-up of existing States into smaller units is politically abhorrent, but it is prepared to toy with the process if it suits its purpose. The Congress has lost the opportunity it had in 2004 and again in 2009 of setting up a States Reorganisation Commission in the wake of the demand for Telangana as well as other regions, including Gorkhaland. Its failure to do so has produced the chaos in Telangana the ripple effects of which will be experienced in Darjeeling and north Bengal.
The question that all political parties need to ask is why should there be a separate State of Gorkhaland? The liberal democratic desire to reverse past injustice by legislating a correction that in some way is compensatory is morally laudable, but politically daft. The Gorkhas in Darjeeling want a separate State for the injustice done to them; their grouse is against the Indian state, against West Bengal for not doing enough. How can this be ever satisfactorily estimated?
Doing justice by precisely calculating the amount of reparation for past wrongs is bound to fail.
If by compensation is meant a separate State with the freedom to run it then the 'common man' in Darjeeling should beware. Going by the dismal record of the first autonomous Gorkha administration, the failure to "progress" spiralled. Gorkha National Liberation Front supremo Subash Ghising complained that West Bengal had held up funds and hampered his initiatives. But the question he was never asked was what did he do with the money he got? His rivals accused him of siphoning off fund, he decline to furnish evidence and the West Bengal Government never pursued the matter.
There is a dilemma between the need to reverse past wrongs and the need to make 'progress'. The solution to this sensitive and complex problem cannot be a magician's trick, like pulling rabbits out of a hat.
When the CPI(M) argues that language is the only acceptable basis for creation of a separate State vis-à-vis Telangana, it should pay heed to what this implies a separate State for the Nepali-speaking population, that is Gorkhaland. If others of the political class, including the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal to the TRS in Andhra Pradesh, to the Communist Party of India (allies of but different from the Marxists) think that every ethnic-identity demand should be compensated with a separate homeland then it should be held accountable for its position in the future.
The ad hoc response of political parties to complex problems is depressing. The Congress has made a mess out of the Telangana issue just as the CPI(M) has made a mess out of the Darjeeling one. It was soft of the first autonomous Gorkha administration and lost political ground, its Government lost administrative authority and now the area teeters on the brink of a dangerous cliff.
THE PROPOSED CUTBACKS IN CARBON EMISSION WILL ENDANGER THE GROWTH OF THE INDIAN ECONOMY. THEREFORE, INDIA, WHOSE CARBON EMISSION IS AMONG THE LOWEST, MUST NOT CONCEDE GROUND
Should India or should it not? That is the question rocking India after the announcement of voluntary carbon emission cuts by Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. Should the country, one of the lowest carbon emitters, have taken such 'bold' steps ignoring economic realities or, to state simply, at the cost of alleviating poverty?
The World Bank has not only called the Minister's statement far from reality but virtually termed it a daydream. The nation needs to take a hard look at climate change. Indian emissions are 20 per cent below the world average.
It is time to check whether global warming, a periodic earthly phenomenon, could be checked by emission controls aimed particularly at poor nations trying to develop themselves. Noah, as per Biblical tradition, or Manu, as per Puranic tradition, had to build the giant ark to save exotic species because of the massive inundation. Was that not caused by global warming? Was there so much carbon emission as it is now? Even before Noah, the Earth had undergone such phenomenon at least six times, which geologists call ice ages and pluvial ages.
India needs to educate the world and is under no obligation to reduce emission. The US and other Western developed nations are trying to penalise the poor for the sins committed by the rich. Europe destroyed its natural forests and European immigrants devastated the American aboriginal civilisations, played with Australian ecology and now they are on an onslaught to stop the progress of rising Asian economies in the name of climate disaster.
India needs to be extremely cautious and should not have rushed to Copenhagen to make even a moral commitment. At best India should have raised its voice for the poor and roared to increase emission so that the poor could have a better life.
It is also time to learn from 30,000 American scientists , who have put their names to a petition that notes, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate".
Why should India ignore this wisdom? It is time to see through the games of the short-sightedness of those which created the problem in the first place. The US did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, now a dead document except for academic purposes. The World Bank's latest World Development Report states that emissions have increased by 25 per cent since the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated. But it has bled the world of $ 2.7 billion invested in the Global Environment Facility projects.
China, heavily dependent on the US economy, was under obligation to announce that it would cut CO2 emissions per unit of GDP (carbon intensity) by 40-45 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels. China resorted to jugglery. China's carbon intensity is already quite high in 2006 it emitted 2.85 tonnes of CO2 for $ 1,000 GDP, compared to 0.54 tonnes for the US and some European countries achieving far lower levels. The 2005 figure for India is 1.82.
There is a catch here too. The GDP values of the US, Europe and China are far higher than that of India. The Chinese decision under US diktat was taken to generate pressure on India. Sadly enough, the Government of India succumbed to the trap without analysing the macro impact and studying the issue in absolute terms. Percentages if not connected to the absolute could always create an illusory situation. India has got into that illusion. Going by the present trends of electricity uses India, which consumes a pathetic 503 kwh per capita, could reach Chinese and Brazilian levels of 2040 and 2060 kwh not before 2030.
It is also not correct to assume that the country has gained in terms of global prestige by posturing. Internationally, it has been observed that India often decides the floor level in contentious issues. It happened at the WTO meeting in Singapore as well. India lost the textile export protection soon after that. Copenhagen may be one of the greatest blunders as it is likely to severely pressurise its move to accelerate the pace of industrialisation and farm reforms the essentials for creating jobs and removing poverty. India needs to learn that at international meetings points are scored from a position of strength and not by acquiescing to the powerful.
The World Bank study undertaken at the instance of the Indian Government states that the country would have to make heavy and possibly unaffordable investments to meet the target set in the 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans.
This is not to suggest that India should ignore efficient-energy technologies. There is a huge gap in its electricity needs and generation. It cannot be met by increasing generation alone. Efficient technologies would help wider availability.
It has wisely undertaken a Rs 75,000-crore solar mission target despite the fact it still remains more expensive than coal-fired thermal plants. It has to decentralise power generation and distribution and break the monopolies of thermal power lobbies taking recourse to alternative energy sources, which are cheaper and sustainable in the long run.
But Copenhagen commitments endanger the growth of the Indian economy as it makes investments unrealistic. India must reject them.
The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.
POLITICAL AGENDA CORRUPTS SCIENCE
A NEW UN AGENCY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE WILL SERVE NO PURPOSE, WRITES PHILIP STEVENS
US President Barack Obama admits a new climate-change treaty is unlikely to emerge from the next two weeks of top-level negotiations in Copenhagen. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown want to hide the embarrassment by spawning a monster: A new UN agency to co-ordinate advocacy and policy on climate change. Mr Brown calls the absence of such a body "absolutely scandalous."
In the interests of a sensible response to climate change let's hope it doesn't happen. The UN has been down this road before when it created an agency to deal with another apparently global crisis: AIDS.
The UN in 1996 merged all its disparate AIDS advocacy, policy-making, funding and scientific activities into one, UNAIDS.
AIDS activists suddenly had a lavishly-funded UN agency to support their political agenda, so Governments would spend the billions they demanded.
UNAIDS was also responsible for interpreting scientific data about the pandemic. Year after year, its supposedly scientific updates predicted devastating heterosexual pandemics all over the world, with alarmingly high existing HIV/AIDS infections.
UNAIDS's advocacy worked. In 2000 the Clinton Administration declared the disease "a national security threat" and global funding ballooned from $ 1 billion in 2000 to $ 13.7 billion in 2008. New multilateral funding bodies emerged, AIDS NGOs proliferated and universities dedicated whole departments to the disease. Thanks mainly to the single-issue advocacy of UNAIDS, a new industry was born.
By the early 2000s, though, it was becoming increasingly apparent to outside experts that UNAIDS was distorting the science. UNAIDS was accused of ignoring peer-reviewed studies that showed the pandemic peaked in the mid-1990s. Its estimates of the numbers of infections globally seemed implausibly high. Until last year it claimed that without a significant increase in resources, Asia was at high risk of a generalised heterosexual AIDS pandemic even though reputable epidemiologists knew such a thing was scientifically impossible.
UNAIDS's scientific reputation has crumbled. Since 2001, it has been forced to drastically slash its estimates of the numbers of people infected for dozens of countries in the cases of Kenya and India by over half. This year, finally, UNAIDS admitted for the first time that the pandemic peaked in the mid-1990s and there is no prospect of generalised heterosexual pandemics outside southern Africa.
The UN-sponsored exaggeration of the AIDS threat has done real damage. AIDS now grabs a disproportionate amount of public money, consuming 23 cents of every aid dollar spent on global health, despite causing less than 6 per cent of deaths in developing countries. Mr Obama has pledged 70 per cent for AIDS of all US global health spending in 2010: $ 8.6 billion, totalling $ 63 billion over six years. Meanwhile, diseases that kill far more, such as diarrhoea, lack funding even though they cost only a few cents to treat.
UNAIDS generated constant scary headlines to keep AIDS at the top of the political agenda. It is therefore a massive conflict of interest that UNAIDS remains in charge of the science as well as being the official campaigner-in-chief.
There are hints that similar conflicts of interest are already corrupting climate science. Leaked e-mails from the influential Climatic Research Unit here in Britain appear to show scientists manipulating data to prove that climate change will be catastrophic.
As with UNAIDS, such scientific manipulation was in the interest of the CRU scientists, whose research grants rose six-fold over the last two decades to $ 19 million. This pales into insignificance beside the enormous sums given by Governments to green-energy and climate-change lobbies whose very existence depends on climate change being the most serious threat facing humanity.
The creation of a new UN agency for climate change would make the science ever more prone to political capture. Since the science is being cited as justification for a total reordering of the way we live our lives, it has to be transparent and apolitical. If the experience of UNAIDS is anything to go by, putting it in the hands of the UN would achieve precisely the opposite.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at International Policy Network, a development think-tank based in London
SWINE FLU VIRUS IS VERY MUCH AROUND
THANKS to the complete absence of hysteria- creating television coverage of the H1N1 flu, the affliction better known as Swine flu seems to have vanished from public consciousness. But the truth is bleaker than we would imagine.
According to figures released by the health ministry and the World Health Organisation on December 11, India has more than 21,000 officially recorded cases of Swine flu with 683 deaths so far the fourth highest casualty rate in the world after the US, Brazil and Mexico.
These figures may seem small compared to the other major diseases such as malaria or TB or cholera whose incidence is much higher in the general population.
But unlike these diseases, swine flu, if not screened on time, can be fatal in a short period of time. Which is why it poses a greater challenge to health authorities especially with regard to the lax screening methods prevalent in India and the non- availability of a vaccine.
In Delhi, the situation could be far worse than what is suggested by the civic and central authorities. Delhi's winter has already exacerbated the spread of the H1N1 virus and the Capital has been recording swine flu cases in excess of 100 per day. In fact, last Wednesday, almost 200 cases were recorded on a single day.
Neither the health ministry nor the civic authorities can afford to be lax on the emergence of H1N1 as a major epidemic threat in crowded cities of India.
The target group that is most vulnerable is schoolchildren who sit in classrooms that have in excess of 50 students and travel in a closed space in a school bus. The old and infirm form a particularly vulnerable section of the population as well.
The health ministry must go into preventive mode now rather than turning reactive when the cases and the deaths reach gargantuan proportions. In China, for instance, when an airline passenger tested positive for H1N1, the entire plane was quarantined. This method may seem drastic, but this is one of main reason that China has been relatively successful in blocking the spread of the virus. Similarly, all flights to Mexico the epicentre of the current outbreak stood suspended, and the response level in Hong Kong was raised from " serious" to " emergency". India would need similar radical steps to curb the growth and spread of H1N1.
NURTURE THE RECOVERY
THE CONTINUED robustness in industrial production seen in October has confirmed that the take- off in economic growth witnessed since the second quarter of the current financial year is no stray flash in the pan. Overall industrial output has grown by a strong 10.3 per cent in October. The manufacturing sector, which accounts for 80 per cent of the overall Index of Industrial Production ( IIP), has jumped by over 11 per cent in October. This indicates that the upsurge in demand across sectors like automobiles and consumer durables, continues unabated. These high numbers have been logged despite a record number of holidays in October, on account of festivals.
This poses new challenges for the government.
The key issue will be managing the recovery, while getting some sort of grip on the issue of inflation. With food price inflation shooting past the 19 per cent mark last week, tackling inflation will have to become one of the main priorities of the government.
The last time that we saw a surge in inflation, the Reserve Bank of India reacted by sharply cutting the money supply and tightening up lending. Any similar move this time around, though, might have negative consequences.
Industry is quite clear that demand needs to be supported by easy credit availability at competitive rates, especially since the government's stimulus spending plan, which has been primarily responsible for the revival, is scheduled to draw to a close at the end of the current fiscal.
Meanwhile, a closer look at the numbers indicates that growth may also be flattening out. While the numbers are up on a yearon- year basis, compared to September, the IIP is down nearly 3.75 per cent, while the manufacturing index is down nearly 5 per cent. Given this, the RBI might be well advised to approach monetary tightening more circumspectly.
NEW BODY NEEDED TO REARRANGE OUR STATES
BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
Real democracy should be the outcome of devolution
EIGHT per cent growth does not define India. It is living people who do. For decades, it is the poor who have made India proud. Harassed and manipulated, they cling on to their identities of faith, group and culture in ways that both assimilate and divide.
To accommodate regional and historical claims, India evolved flexible boundaries and ideas for its federalism. From 1950-1956, there were class 'A', 'B' and 'C' states. A states reorganisation committee (1956) abolished this framework to create new states and territories. After Nehru gave up his resistance, linguistic federalism went further with the creation of Maharashtra, Gujarat (1960), Punjab, Haryana (1966) and Himachal (1971).
Cultural and political pressures led to the reorganisation of the North-East creating Nagaland (1962), Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura (1972), Mizoram, Arunachal, Goa (1987), Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand (2000).
Indian federalism is asymmetrical with special status provided to Jammu and Kashmir (Article 370), and to various other states (Article 371A) and the tribal areas (Vth and VIth Schedule). Each reorganisation has worked well despite the disapproving flutter that India is splitting into unmanageable pieces.
The Constitution accommodatingly allowed geographic restructuring of the Union, requiring no more than the legislature of the affected state to "express its views" (Article 3). The people were not involved. There were no referenda. But should Indian federalism be rewritten by agitational politics?
Is there no limit to redrawing state boundaries? Just because Potti Sreeramulu's fast unto death created linguistic Andhra Pradesh, it does not follow that K. Chandrasekhara Rao's (KCR) fast should yield a similar shotgun result. Conceding Telangana has triggered a chain reaction of demands, including Rayalaseema within Andhra, Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh and Purvanchal in Uttar Pradesh, Gorkhaland in West Bengal, Bodoland in Assam, Coorg from Karnataka, Vidharba from Maharashtra, Saurashtra in Gujarat, Mithilanchal in Bihar, Mahakosala in Orissa and Ladakh and Jammu in J&K.
The 1956 States Reorganisation Commission drew detailed plans. A lesser exercise went into the split of Punjab in 1966 and the North- East in 1971.
With no role given to the people, their will is expressed by demonstrations, slogans and political aggrandisement with each political party wondering how its electoral chickens will hatch. But, if the will of the people is an un- Gandhian fast unto death, KCR's 11- day fast is now to be out- matched by 21 Gorkhas launching a hunger strike.
The people's will should be given effect to by a second states reorganisation commission ( SSRC) 2010 initially to examine the claims of Telangana, Rayalaseema and Andhra. The SSRC 2010 should then examine other claims to statehood dealing not with legislators but the people, economists, geographers and technical experts. Without overlapping with the Punchi Commission on federalism, the SSRC would concentrate on geographic federalism so that state boundaries are settled by 2015 after which changes should be by referendum.
The historical demand for Telangana suffers many inexactitudes. In princely Hyderabad, the ' land of the Telugus' was distinct.
Today Telangana has 10 districts, including Hyderabad, a population of 35- odd million, an area of 114,800 sq.
km and the mighty Krishna and Godavari rivers flowing through it. Landlocked, it produces 119 of 294 MLAs and tips the balance with 17 out of 42 MPs. For political parties, the future will remain a puzzle.
This is the probable reason why the Congress is hesitatingly willing to risk the Telangana gamble. The BJP is happy either way. It will criticise the Congress if the movement fails and take the credit if Telangana becomes a reality. There is more to creating a state than party politics. Many questions arise: Will the creation of the new state bring peace and a lasting solution for the area? Will the new state be financially and economically viable? Will the sharing of resources be equitably worked through? Will the development prospects and people's rights and development be enhanced? Where will state institutions and the capital city be allocated? The Chandigarh solution for Punjab and Haryana remains disputed as a lasting solution. In our context, who will claim Hyderabad? This cannot be worked out by a special session of the state legislature to affirm a Union Parliament Bill which is the only constitutional requirement.
Across the border, Nepal is trying to create a federal system. Its assembly members are concerned that small states may not generate sufficient consolidated fund to pay for minimal infrastructure of a legisla ture, courts, police and administration. The poorer the state, the greater the need for distribution of federal revenues and grants.
When I went to Iraq to discuss federated units with Iraqi legislators, they wanted to know who would control oil revenues. In Canada, oil rich Alberta shares with other provinces by negotiation. Dreams get shattered by an impoverished federal structure unable to meet just demands with federal equity.
India is now committed to a multi- tier federal structure including a panchayat system. At this point, many states are still dealing with issues concerning the representation of Dalits, tribals, women and OBC's rather than the panchayat's real empowerment and control over development, planning, welfare and resources.
Why is this important? The geographic distribution of power does not vouchsafe a real and live democracy. If many federal units induce alienation, despair and disillusionment, it is because even among the new units, real power eludes the real people.
Madhu Koda's Jharkhand is a classic example of how new states break down into corrupt politics. Eventually, the true test of electoral democracy is local government.
If England, Europe and America breed democracy it is because local government is strong, responsive, transparent and participatory. To build new states without assuring resources to and empowering local government is to surrender these states to the zamindari of party politics immersed in the ping- pong swerves of periodic elections.
What direction will the new spate of demands for new states take? The federal reorganisation of 1956, 1960 and 1966 was along linguistic lines. The North- East ( 1971, 1975) and the recent new states taken out from Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and UP ( 2000) sported new cultural identities.
Even among the linguistic states, Maharashtra and Punjab display xenophobic truculence in ways that exasperate India's quest of unity and diversity amid migratory movements.
Even if Nehru's apprehensions about linguistic states were not well founded, he was right in forewarning the dangers of micro- splitting India without reserve. The message: nothing in haste.
Indian federalism's geographic boundaries cannot be resolved by fasts unto death, stoning trains, burning buses or bringing all business and traffic to a halt. The Constitution- makers, created an easy method to create new states without referenda. They did not imagine that such a process would become absurdly facile. The silences of the Constitution were to be filled with wise solutions.
Each reorganisation has to be thought through as viable, necessary and truly democratic and not just shifting MLAs from the old state to the new.
Carrying ' Telangana' further requires skill, patience and a democratic approach to divide resources and empowerments. The answer is a second states reorganisation commission to meet all demands so that India's federal structure is not perpetually in unstable equilibrium.
Wisdom must sober the shrill demands of politics.
10 Janpath's knee- jerk solutions cannot define the will of the nation.
The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer
POWER & POLITICS
NEW STATE OLD LAND SHARKS
WE HAVE seen political somersaults before but what was on offer last week simply took the breath away.
Late on Wednesday, Union home minister P. Chidambaram announces that steps would soon be initiated for the creation of the new state. When Andhra MLAs and MPs began to resign en masse and all hell broke loose, the prime minister tells a delegation of protesting MPs from his own party that " nothing will be done in haste". The midnight announcement of the creation of Telangana was, if anything, an act of haste. Andhra Pradesh today is among India's fastest growing states and the triple cities of Hyderabad, Secunderabad and Cyberabad , a showcase capital. It has culture, history, wealth and now thanks to its software prowess, global presence. It has many rich and the mighty, tobacco tycoons and the builders mafia, the mining barons and the new cyber gurus. The tussle over Telangana boils down to costly real estate and huge investments. About 200- odd Reddys have investments worth a few hundred thousand crores and want nothing to do with the new state of Telangana.
That would perhaps explain why Home Secretary G. K. Pillai was forced to issue a clarification that the issue of the capital of Telangana would be settled by the central government. These well- entrenched rulers of Hyderabad cannot afford to lose it. For they see in K. Chandrasekhara Rao a southern version of Raj Thackeray who may hound them out. So they all ganged up and forced the PMO to retract.
Until about a fortnight ago, Rao, better known as KCR, was seen as a spent force in politics. The outright rejection of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti ( TRS) in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in May was proof that his future as a politician was behind him. All it took was one long huddle between Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, law minister Verappa Moily and Chidambaram to resurrect him. If only they had played by the book. Constitutionally, it is the prerogative of Parliament to bifurcate states, establish new states and redraw existing state boundaries. What this means is that the government could have simply moved a resolution in Parliament, which after passage, would have been referred by the President to the affected state for its opinion. If the UPA government was serious about statehood for Telangana it was part of the Common Minimum Programme in 2004 when the Congress wooed the TRS into the UPA it could have simply moved such a resolution.
With the BJP also backing statehood, the Bill would have sailed through comfortably. The President could then have referred the Bill to the Andhra Pradesh KCR is winner legislature and assigned it a specified period for reverting with its views. It's up to the President to fix the time frame: a year, two even four. That's called buying time, a tactic that's more important in politics than in any other sphere of life.
When Rao began his fast- untodeath, the Centre took it lightly, assuming that a man who was overwhelmingly rejected by his people just seven months ago would be no threat at all. But as Rao's health deteriorated, the Congress clearly panicked. Chidambaram's announcement about the creation of Telangana indicates one of two things: ( 1) the Congress high command was unaware of the sentiments of the state unit; ( 2) the party was playing a double game aimed at deceiving Rao to break his fast.
It's my hunch that having got Rao to break his fast, the Congress will now brazen it out, knowing that if he attempts another fast- unto- death, they will book him for attempted suicide and lock him in jail.
But such deceit can boomerang. The Union home ministry admits there are already demands before it for the creation of nine new states: Vidarbha, Bundelkhand, Telangana, Vindhya Pradesh, Mahakaushal, Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh and Mithilanchal.
There is nothing to stop agitations in Magadh, Seemanchal , Udayachal, Rohilkhand, Malwa, Mewar and Saurashtra.
Strangely for a chief minister, Mayawati has already stated that she will be happier ruling a much smaller state.
Studies conducted by various organisations including India Today magazine's annual research on the State Of The States have shown that smaller states are more viable and better governed. Whatever the outcome of the ongoing agitation, it would have done the country a lot of good if it leads to the creation of new and smaller states. Then power will be shared not by the few who hold on to it but by the many who have so far had no stake in it.
KAMAL NATH KEEPS A LOW PROFILE NOW
QUITE a few of the high- fliers in the UPA government are conspicuous by their absence from the front pages. I don't know if it is by design or default. One of them is the road transport and highways minister, Kamal Nath. In his earlier avatar as commerce and industry minister, be it New York or London, Berlin or Tokyo, he had been there and done that.
But the man seems to have gone AWOL after moving to Transport Bhavan. Though he was far from pleased with the transfer to transport ministry, he got down to work in right earnest and set ambitious targets for the ministry, which included the construction of an additional 21 km of highways each day. He used his clout to push the Prime Minister's Office ( PMO) to restructure tender procedures and liberalise norms for funding these projects. He also aggressively pushed the state governments to remove bottlenecks in land acquisition which has been the bane of the Golden Quadrilateral as well as the National Expressway projects even as he travelled to world capitals to raise much needed funds for some of his mega schemes. But things just don't seem to be moving at the pace that he would have wanted.
The sloth that is bureaucracy is not being able to keep up with the pace and style of the new minister. Though new projects covering over 2,000 km have been identified, not many bidders have shown interest due to low returns and long gestation periods.
One reason could be that Kamal Nath has not been able to push the National Highways Authority of India because he is still clearing the debris and dirt left behind by his predecessor T. R. Balu.
Kamal's priority is to put back on track the unfinished projects and then move on to new ones. We will wait and watch whether this long- distance runner will break the record of one of his predecessors, B. C. Khanduri, the retired Major General who was the roads minister during the Vajpayee government.
WHEN OFFICIAL INSIDERS ARE SEEN AS OUTSIDERS
DESPITE the winter chill in Copenhagen, there is much heat being generated in the Indian camp in the Danish capital. Adding to that is the confusion which has more to do with a clash of egos of the many civil servants who were chosen as interlocutors. In keeping with the UPA government's style of functioning, all of them were seen working as autonomous power centres.
But there was a clear division between those who were formally in the government and those outside that charmed list.
While Jairam Ramesh, the glib environment minister was indulging in letter writings and policy formulations, the prime minister's special envoy in climate change, the former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, was taking direct orders from the PMO without keeping Ramesh in the loop.
But both Ramesh and Saran realised soon that non official interlocutors like Chandrashekhar Dasgupta and Pradipto Ghosh, former environment secretary were no easy pushovers. The two first refused to go Copenhagen in protest against the government adopting a " flexible" stand on the issue of equitable per capita emissions.
They later agreed to join the delegation after the minister " cleared the air". Yet in Copenhagen, they were not fully involved in the behind closed door discussions which Ramesh, Saran, environment secretary Vijay Sharma and Ajai Mathur, head of the bureau of energy efficiency, were conducting. Dasgupta and Ghosh, known for their impeccable credentials and long and credible track record on the issue of climate change, would not budge from the known and stated stand on the emission cuts. They not only refused to join the bandwagon but also have demanded debate and transparency.
And both of them are senior to the other civil servants who make up the Indian team.
Ultimately, it turned out to be a clash between those who were in the government and those who were outside.
THERE is much about Rahul Gandhi that is to be admired. For a couple of years now, we have seen his youthful zest, tenacity and doggedness as he pursues his dream of taking the Congress back to its commanding heights. But if there is one thing that makes me take my hats off, it is his determination to stamp out the culture of sycophancy which has engulfed the Congress since the days of Sanjay Gandhi. Even Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, powerful and charismatic as they were, loved to be surrounded by cronies.
Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the Uttar Pradesh Congress chief showed crony symptoms last week when she gushed to the media in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh about Rahul Gandhi's commitment.
" It was so dark. The pilot was not ready to land but Rahul Gandhi forced him to land the helicopter. You should really admire his commitment". Just a day earlier, Beni Prasad Verma, the Samajwadi Party turncoat who is now a Congress MP did his bit of cronyism by calling Atal Bihari Vajpayee unprintable names during a row over the Liberhan Report in Parliament.
On both counts, Rahul set the record straight. He told Rita Joshi that she was neither a pilot nor a weather expert to talk about difficult landings. He brusquely reminded his much senior colleague Verma about parliamentary traditions and etiquette. If sycophants become a vanishing breed in the Congress, praise be to Rahul.
TIMES OF INDIA
THINK SMALL, GAIN BIG
The bottom of the pyramid in India is where the next big growth story lies. And Indian companies are waking up to this fact. The latest offering of high-end durables targeted at households in small-town and rural India is a water purifier from the house of Tatas, which revolutionised the domestic automobile market by rolling out the Nano. The new water purifier blends indigenous and advanced technologies and is priced at below a thousand rupees. Other players in the water purifier business like Eureka Forbes and Unilever have also come up with low-cost, non-electrical versions priced below a couple of thousand rupees. It makes good sense: while the water purifier market is growing at 17 per cent per annum country-wide, it is growing at a whopping 60 per cent in rural India. And this high consumption pattern in rural India is not limited to water purifiers alone.
Contrary to popular perception, it is not just SEC A or B (jargon used by marketing professionals to mean the elite and more affluent sections of our society) but also the semi-urban and rural markets that are fuelling demand in India. Rural India accounts for almost two-thirds of India's domestic market and about 60 per cent of its income, according to the Rural Association of India. Which is why companies are tailoring their products to fit non-urban specifications. Innovation is the key to success as the products and services must take into account the differentiated needs and conditions of rural and semi-urban consumers, who are both brand and price-conscious.
There are examples of such enterprise already. The sachet concept for shampoos, detergents and tea opened up a whole for FMCG companies. Attractive pre-paid mobile schemes have added millions of subscribers to the cellular community. Smokeless chulhas, washing machines without driers, customisable TVs have boosted the bottom lines of consumer durable giants. Even in the retail segment, be it food or clothing, companies have gained by altering their non-urban offerings.
But these initiatives are few and far between. Indian companies need to speedily ramp up production capacities, and come up with fresh ideas across various categories of products and services to profitably unleash the potential of the rural and semi-urban segments of our economy. This would, in turn, buoy India's overall economy and have positive implications for our employment and poverty-reduction goals. The god of small things promises big gains.
TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S RAINING IDEAS
This week the world has an opportunity to herald perhaps the most exciting era of international cooperation in human history. As leaders gather in Denmark at the Copenhagen climate change summit, an accord on a way forward on this most critical issue could lay the foundations for a period of incredibly dynamic development and economic opportunity. But we will need to adopt 21st century ways of thinking and doing if we are to rise to the challenge before us and to make the most of the opportunities it presents.
While climate change has recently emerged as a clear priority for policy-makers in many countries, in many others the focus has quite understandably been elsewhere especially on development and the alleviation of poverty. While the focus on ending poverty must remain and be sharpened, it seems to me that we must guard against falling into the trap of seeing the protection of the environment and development of the economy as alternatives. I believe they are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.
No longer can any country or city pursue its interests in isolation. Today, the emphasis is very much on interconnection, interdependence and cooperation. While history reveals that humans sometimes struggle to succeed in these respects, we must not be deterred from seeking a better future. One challenge that has been on my mind a lot for the last couple of years, and which is relevant to many developing countries, is the question of how to save what remains of the world's tropical rainforests.
These incredible ecosystems harbour more than half the earth's terrestrial biodiversity, on which, whether we like it or not, human survival depends. They generate rainfall; they are home to many of the world's indigenous peoples; and they help meet the needs of hundreds of millions of other people. They also hold vast quantities of carbon, and their clearance is causing massive greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about a fifth of the total.
While some countries, including India, have achieved many environmental gains through their ambitious afforestation programmes, the science also tells us of the urgent need to also stop forests being cut down in the first place. This is precisely why my Rainforests Project has expended so much effort during these last two years to help facilitate a consensus on increasing international cooperation to cut deforestation. And happily agreement is beginning to emerge.
A new working group of more than 30 governments has set out proposals on how it would be possible to provide countries with financial rewards for their positive performance in cutting deforestation. New financial incentives could be used in rainforest nations to implement strategies for sustainable development without having to rely so heavily on the kind of economic activities that cause deforestation. At the same time, money would be available for new health and education programmes, as well as genuinely integrated rural development models. In return, the world would sustain the vital ecosystem services upon which we all rely for our economic, physical and spiritual survival.
The idea that the world should pay in some way for the essential utility services provided by the rainforests (after all, we already pay for our water, gas and electricity) is not a new one. But there does, at last, appear to be agreement that this is one way we can quickly begin to reduce emissions and, thus, buy urgently needed time in the battle against catastrophic climate change.
While initiatives like this will need to be a part of the solution, they are not, i believe, the whole answer. As we have become progressively more separate from nature, and more reliant on technological inventiveness to solve our problems, we have become less able to see our predicament for what it really is namely as being utterly out of balance, having lost any sense of harmony with the earth's natural rhythms, cycles and finite systems.
Forging a reconnection with nature and reintegrating our societies and economies with her capacities is very much a part of the challenge to which we must rise. The Copenhagen summit will, i hope, contribute to a shift at this deeper level, as well as set out the plan for transition to a low carbon economy and the means to ensure that those countries least responsible for this problem can be helped to adapt to what is already inevitable change.
While time may not be on our side, our ability to cooperate and innovate to find solutions is still with us. We have in the past faced huge challenges and prevailed. I would like to conclude with a thought from one of the great leaders of the 20th century. His words seem more relevant than ever in the 21st. Mahatma Gandhi observed how ''The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems''. I hope that in Copenhagen we will be able to rise to this challenge, and show our children that what we could do is what we did.
( The writer is the Prince of Wales.)
TIMES OF INDIA
ON BEING PUNCTUAL
Some people hate to keep things pending or to be late and thus remain anxious all the time, which may be a good trait, except that it can also land them in odd situations at times, such as arriving at a wedding venue even before the hosts. These people live life by the motto 'better do today what you intend to do tomorrow'. There is another set of people who believe that haste makes waste, however, and thus tend to defer taking action as long as possible.
Their philosophy of life says, 'don't do today what you can do tomorrow', because, if you put it off long enough, you may never have to do it! The first category is the type that believes tomorrow never comes. However, as each day is limited to 24 hours, and human capacity to work non-stop is also limited, how much can a person pack in for completing in a single day? Certain things are bound to remain pending. This becomes a matter of great concern for the anxiety strung who want things done and settled today.
A dear relative, an ex-defence personnel now residing in Pune, is very punctual, but also anxiety-prone by nature. He was in recently and had duly booked his return to Pune by train well in advance. On the scheduled day of return, he got ready and got his bags packed well in time and arranged for a taxi to drop him at the railway station at least half an hour before the departure of the train, which was at 11 a.m. So he bid us goodbye at 9.30 a.m., keeping a safe margin of one hour to drive through chaotic and slow moving traffic.
We were, therefore, amazed to see him back at our door at around 12.30 p.m. It turned out that when he tried to board the train at the station, he could not find his name anywhere in the list displayed outside the reserved compartment. So he approached the railway official to find out what had gone wrong. He was told that he was booked on the train leaving the next day and he'd reached 24 hours in advance! Rather than spending a day at the station to avoid being laughed at by all, he had decided that it was better to stay in the cozy comfort of our home and bravely face some teasing.
TIMES OF INDIA
A WILD CELEBRATION
This year, as you may have noticed, has been one long party in honour of . That's now drawing to a close. But don't put away your glad rags. Next year is also slated to be one long party; this time, in honour of biodiversity. Yes, 2010 is to be an international knees-up for the other species on the planet.
It's not clear to me what, in practice, this celebration is going to mean. But the prospect of it has led me to get out some picture books books like The Deep, which is full of incredible photographs of strange beings. Looking through these books, it's hard not to be struck by the immensity of the planet it's home to all these life forms! And we haven't even met them all yet. We still don't know the planet all that well. On the one hand, this is exciting: there's so much more to learn! Millions of new species may await discovery; and discovery is only the first step. Once an organism has been identified, we can learn about its lifestyle: its mating habits (if any), what it eats, how long it lives, what weird genetic quirks it has and so on. On the other hand, our lack of knowledge is a bit worrying. Although we often behave as if we're the only ones who live here, we depend on other organisms in all manner of ways.
Some of these are obvious. We hunt fish to eat them; we grow cows for meat, milk and leather. We cultivate silkworms to make clothes. We grow a large number of plants for diverse purposes to eat, or to use as drugs, timber or paper. But much of our dependence is less obvious. Worms, , insects and microbes consume dead bodies and fallen branches. Some organisms consume dung; others move seeds. Many organisms make soil richer and more fertile. Plants around streams and rivers filter the water and make it cleaner. Plants also take from the air, and thus affect the composition of the atmosphere; their roots help prevent soils from washing away. Some bacteria may play a role in making clouds; the list goes on.
By and large, we do not pay for any of this: our economics does not, for the most part, include paying for nature. But we pay when it is lost. Less fertile soils make it harder to grow crops. Dirtier water is more expensive to make fit for human consumption. The collapse of fisheries leads to unemployment. The loss of mangroves increases the impact of tsunamis. The loss of animal species increases the risk that humans will catch diseases such as Lyme disease. Again, the list goes on.
The other beings that live here with us are, like us, descended from ancient lineages. In and of themselves, they are marvels to be wondered at. But they are also precious: they make our planet what it is today. Still, as the great American environmentalist Aldo Leopold once said, when something vanishes, "We grieve only for what we know. The erasure of Silphium from western Dane County is no cause for grief if one knows it only as a name in a botany book." Yes: if we don't know something, we don't care if it goes.
This, then, is what the International Year of Biodiversity should be about: it should be about conveying the excitement of discovery in biology, coupled with an intimate knowledge of the majesty of nature. For we must start cherishing our fellow life forms, and treating them well: we need them, in more ways than we probably imagine. Their loss makes the planet and ourselves poorer. So please be up-standing, raise your glasses and join me in a toast to: "Other Life Forms!" And let's make sure that in the years ahead, we don't need to change it to "Absent Friends''.
OUR TAKE - A LONG HAUL FOR LANKA
THE WAR MAY BE OVER IN SRI LANKA, BUT THE `TAMIL ISSUE' HAS BEEN LEFT TO FESTER
The war has ended but Sri Lanka's Tamils are caught between a hard place and a harder place. Whichever way the forthcoming presidential elections pan out, the choice is between two people, neither of whom have too much love lost for the island's Tamil ethnic minority.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now the undisputed strongman of Sri Lanka after his army crushed the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) and with it ended the 25-yearlong civil war, faces challenger and former army chief Sarath Fonseka, himself a staunch Sinhala nationalist. It is difficult to see the hawkish Mr Fonseka either trim presidential powers or, indeed, come to a political settlement with the Tamils any more than Mr Rajapaksa will. Flush with success after the killing of the LTTE's once dreaded supremo V. Prabhakaran, Mr Rajapaksa had proclaimed that he would be the saviour of the Tamils. The 13th amendment that would devolve powers to the Tamils in the areas where they are in a majority has been quietly put on the backburner. Mr Fonseka vaguely talks of equal rights, but there is nothing in his record that suggests that he will be any better for the Tamils than Mr Rajapaksa.
The military conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians most of whom continue to live in hellish conditions in camps. Their rehabilitation seems a forgotten issue. The only power that can effectively put pressure on whoever wins the election seems to be India.
But New Delhi has maintained a deafening silence on the issue. However, it would be shortsighted to hope that the Tamil problem will go away.
With their ethnic ties to mainland India, the issue of refugees, even a regrouping of militant forces, are very much threats that India has to factor in into any Sri Lanka policy. Caught between a murderous LTTE and a rampaging Sri Lankan army, the island's Tamils today find that they have no credible leader to speak on their behalf. While New Delhi should not be seen to interfere in Sri Lanka's internal matters, it can urge a political resolution of the Tamil problem since India is also affected by its fallout.
Both Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Fonseka have put relations with India up in the arc lights. Post-elections, India must become a bit more proactive and try and bring a closure to a painful chapter in the history of both India and Sri Lanka by helping the Tamils rebuild their shattered lives.
THE PUNDIT - AT HOME, IN INDIA
FORGET THE COMING OF THE INDIAN CENTURY. WE HAVE ALREADY HAD AN INDIAN MILLENNIUM
It's not really going to stop the onand-off bickerings about the ownership of Arunachal Pradesh between India and China. But it turns out now that, going by a study that maps the human genetic history in Asia, all Chinese, Japanese and other East Asians are Indians. Well, they had ancestors who moved out from the landmass that now forms India. What this will do for India's much-spokenabout-but-little-else `Look East' policy is hard to tell. But this could see Indians now not be that puzzled any more each time they hear non-Asians refer to Chinese, Korean and Japanese movies as `Asian cinema' as if our films are from a different continent. Because we're all Asians now.
According to the study, humans migrated from southern Africa to India some 100,000 years ago. Using the Indian subcontinent as a sort of port of call, they spread to China, East Asia and South East Asia. This, of course, puts a lot of things in a different context. Babar, for instance, came down from the plains of Central Asia to start a dynasty in what now turns out to be the land of his ancestors. So in a way, India became not so much a land ripe for foreign invaders to set up shop but an old, sprawling mansion with property disputes where families that had moved out returned to reclaim their rooms.
Of course, going by that logic, since we all came from Africa, that continent should have claim to the whole planet. Which is why instead of focusing on the genetic origins of all Asians being in India, we should celebrate a bonhomie that's more tangible: the fact that ten Asian countries -China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and India -- all worked together to come up with this finding.
BEYOND THE BYTE - A STAR IS BORN
KCR MAY HAVE USED A GANDHIAN TOOL TO PUSH THE CENTRE ON TELANGANA BUT HE IS JUST AN AMBITIOUS POLITICIAN WHO IS LOOKING TO REVIVE HIS CAREER POST TELANGANA, WILL OTHER MOVEMENTS FOR SEPARATE STATES NOW GATHER FRESH MOMENTUM? NO TWO SITUATIONS ARE ALIKE, BUT A STATE THAT CAPITULATES ONCE GIVES THE IMPRESSION THAT IT CAN DO SO AGAIN IN THE FUTURE
In politics, never write off anyone. A few months ago, I was invited by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader, and politician of the moment, K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) to his residence for an Andhra (oops, Telangana!) lunch. Tied up with other work, I frankly did not make an effort to keep the date. The fact that KCR's party just has two MPs, including KCR, may have influenced my decision. In Delhi's power equations, two MPs make you almost irrelevant: lunch with KCR, honestly, seemed a waste of time. Today, KCR has proved the power of one, forcing the Centre to blink after going on a 11-day fast over his demand for a separate state of Telangana.
The demand is not new. Nor is the student agitation. In 1969, more than 300 students were killed while agitating for a separate state. Long before KCR, there was Dr M. Chenna Reddy, who eventually allowed his separatist urges to be dissolved by his ambition to be Andhra chief minister. KCR too, has been a political nomad, who left the Telugu Desam Party in 2001 to form the TRS because he did not get a Cabinet berth. His experiment with the UPA ended when he realised that Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy was decimating his party. Just days before the 2009 general elections, he resurfaced at an NDA rally, only to find himself being swept aside once again by the YSR tidal wave.
But what he couldn't do through the ballot box, KCR has achieved, at least temporarily, through one of the oldest forms of political protests: `a fast unto death'. It was the Mahatma who legitimised the idea of a fast as an instrument of non-violent civil disobedience, designed mainly to further the strategic goal of political independence.
KCR is no Mahatma. Far from it. Nor is he a Potti Sreeramulu, whose fast-unto-death led to the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1952. But KCR has shown that it is possible to use a Gandhian tool in a contemporary India that otherwise identifies with the Mahatma only through the cinematic glow of a Munnabhai. In Gandhi's view, "the fasts must have a concrete and specific goal, not abstract aims" and "the fast must not ask people to do something they were incapable of, or to cause great hardship."
The `success' of Gandhi's fasts were based on his moral power, his ability to emotionally unite a nation with the spirit of sacrifice.
The `success' of KCR's fast, on the other hand, has much to do with the power of the visual image and the impact it can have in shaping public perceptions. That there has always been a popular pro-Telangana sentiment is undeniable. But that sentiment has needed a symbol around which it can crystallise. For the last ten days, Andhra Pradesh's dozen-plus Telugu news channels -more than any other state in the country -- have shown little else but an emaciated Rao in different hospitals. The image of a politician on saline drip with doctors offering hourly health updates was enough to build a larger-than-life aura around a leader who otherwise had dropped off the headlines.
Making KCR's task easier was a weak and nervous Andhra government still coming to terms with YSR's death. A strong state government would not have allowed the student agitation in Osmania University to get out of control and would have sent out a firm message of zero tolerance for any law and order disturbance. Unfortunately, K. Rosaiah is a CM who feels so obliged that the Congress high command has given him the post that he has forgotten his prime responsibility lies in governing the state.
So, will other movements for separate states now gather fresh momentum and will we see more `fasts unto death' in the weeks ahead? An Ajit Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Gorkhaland activists in West Bengal, even the ageing Vidarbha warriors may be tempted to test the resolve of the State, or at least try and make political capital of the postTelangana concession. No two situations are alike, but a State which capitulates once gives the impression that it can do so again in the future.
So, the fast as made for television event may well be replicated in other parts of the country. Ironically, the one individual who perhaps best exemplifies the Gandhian spirit of fasting isn't on the national television map. Last month marked nine years since a frail, but remarkably gritty Manipuri woman, Irom Sharmila went on a fast unto death, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Locked up in a hospital room in Imphal, she has been force-fed by the government and re-arrested every time she is granted bail.
She is a staunch believer in ahimsa, and its the State and the militant groups in Manipur who stand charged with violence and human rights violations. Perhaps, Manipur isn't mainstream enough, nor is there the kind of relentless news coverage that will make Irom Sharmila's story force the Indian State to accommodate, or at least listen to her brave voice. Irom Sharmila is a true inheritor of the Gandhian legacy of peaceful protest; KCR is only an ambitious politician who is looking to revive his career.
Post script: I am looking forward to KCR inviting me for a Telangana lunch when he is next in the capital. Don't want to make the same mistake again of underestimating a neta's capacity for political resurrection.
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network email@example.com The views expressed by the author are personal
BETWEEN US - TELANGANA DECISION WILL BACKFIRE
THE TELANGANA ISSUE HAS ALSO RAISED QUESTIONS ON WHETHER THIS WAS DONE BECAUSE SOMEONE IN THE CONGRESS WANTED TO DIVERT ATTENTION FROM THE VARIOUS SCAMS. OR WAS THIS DONE TO FINISH THE LATE YSR'S INFLUENCE SO THAT HIS SON JAGAN WOULD NOT INHERIT HIS LEGACY?
PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR
The arbitrary announcement by the UPA government that it would bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, paving the way for the creation of Telangana, is a classic example of political hara-kiri by the party. The decision to divide the state is not only against the mandate of the 2009 Parliament and assembly polls but has been arrived at without any rationale or adequate consultations.
What is appalling is that the announcement was made after a meeting of the Core Committee and without even the Union Cabinet's endorsement.
Worse, if such a proposal was to be announced, then Parliament, which is in session, was the appropriate forum.
The move not only lacks constitutional sanction but is also devoid of propriety.
The announcement will precipitate a crisis in many other states where similar demands have been pending.
It is alarming to think that along with Andhra Pradesh, now caught up in political unrest, supporters of a separate Vidarbha, Saurashtra, Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Poorvanchal, Gorkhaland, Bodoland, Jammu and Ladakh may also take to the streets. In the process, the Centre is likely to come in for a severe criticism from all quarters if and when such agitations spread across the country.
People have been suffering the acute price rise in silence. Regional forces will now play on their emotions and encourage them to demand the creation of new states. Even politically, the Congress, which had done well to minimise the role of regional players, may find that chauvinistic forces may once again appropriate the space it had sought to recover in various regions. Far-fetched though it may sound, heightened agitations in various regions could pose a big challenge to the Centre's continuation in office. The political class has already branded the present government as one of babus. In the midst of emotions running high, a senior official has given further proof of the growing role of babus by publicly agreeing that Hyderabad will be the capital of Telangana. So now we have bureaucrats deciding on the capital of a state whose creation itself is in doubt.
The manner in which the issue has been handled demonstrates that the decision-making mechanism in the government is faulty. Why else would a decision, which is likely to severely affect the Congress in its best state, be taken so casually? There has been no reference point on the subject from the State and neither has the Centre put forward any proposal in Parliament. But a decision has arbitrarily been taken. Why?
The issue has also raised questions on whether this was done because someone in the party wanted to divert attention from the various scams. Or was this done to finish the late Y.S.Rajasekhar Reddy's influence so that his son Jagan would not inherit his legacy? Or was this due to the power politics within the Congress.
Whatever the compelling reasons, the announcement has put the Congress on the mat and the government will have to bear the consequences.
The mass resignation of MLAs and MPs from Andhra is an indication of how sensitive the matter is. In the 2009 assembly polls when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti contested on the issue of a separate state, it got only 10 out of 117 seats in the region. Clearly, the mandate was for a unified Andhra. So whose `wise' advice did the Congress and the government's leadership listen to on this issue? In any case, the Congress now has a lot to worry about in its 125th year. Between Us.
SALE OF CONTENT IN PRINT AND ELECTRONIC MEDIA: HOW MAY A CLEAN-UP BEGIN?
INDIAN media needs remedial action, and needs it now. As evidence had poured in about how election reporting is widely up for sale (methodically exposed by The Hindu) and how articles and programming all too often do not carry disclosures on sponsorship (as detailed in two reports in The Sunday Express), the media have been forced to look harder at our own linty navel.
It is perhaps no surprise that there exists a sophisticated persuasion industry, spanning politics, business, sport and entertainment, which aims to use the news media as brand battleground -- to shine a politician's image right before an election, sell a razor or provide publicity for a movie -- and do it sneakily, pretending to be a straight piece of news.
There is an entire range of such insidious practices, from private treaties to advertisements in return for buying up newspapers and inflating circulation, besides more complex kinds of implication -- impacting both the reportorial and editorial fronts. For too long, much of the mainstream media in India has gotten away with prissy exhortations to transparency, responsibility and ethics even as their own marketing departments are busy shilling. TV networks which never tire of meta commentary on the lines of the New Yorker cartoon -"Welcome to All About the Media, l where members of the media dis- cuss the role of the media in media coverage of the media" -- have an r even harder time living with theme selves, as their sanctimony clashes - with brand partnerships that make it y hard to separate truth and market- ing lies. It is public faith in the need y for a free media that guarantees the d freedom of the press and checks . against interference by government.
e It is this faith -- and therefore this - freedom -- which is at stake. To be , fair, many newspapers and TV neth works are now instituting a verifid able set of norms, but they need to - be held to their word.
, Sections of the media that are a complicit in this selling might feel - clever about the way it swells their coffers, but are oblivious to the way h it imperils their very foundations e -- and devalues the very space they n put on sale. At a time when media - outlets are staving off the e avalanche of amateur content and - trying to convince the world how - desperately it needs them -- that f journalism is a vital public trust, an s essential for a full-throated democ- racy -- this is exactly the kind of y practice that punctures the grand - talk. The Indian media is so far iny sulated from the larger industry r crisis, but one would think that in e the interim, they would try and shore up a sense of professional , credibility. It's all we have.
WAYS OF PROGRESS
India needs an honest debate with itself. Vice President Hamid Ansari reiterated as much in Patna when he called upon Muslims to seize the opportunities of a growing economy and empower themselves. A pervasive tragedy of post-Independence India has been the predicament of its largest minority namely, the two narratives of its victimisation, as exploded most recently and brutally in Gujarat in 2002, and that of its syndrome of victimhood. While the former has constrained Muslims from without, the latter has confined itself from within, within the boundaries of underdevelopment. The call is for debate within the community to end that narrative of victimhood and move ahead, to seize the benefits of India's economic growth.
Ansari started off the debate while delivering the Khuda Bakhsh Memorial Lecture in Patna. Not only has there been a failure of communication with the wider society, but both the state and media have failed to break the stereotypes that further perpetuate the narrow domestic walls. The corrective must be two-pronged: commitment and action on the part of the state and the larger society toward inclusive growth , and an effort on the part of Indian society to project a holistic and honest image of Muslims that does not set them apart, but ensures them, in the vice president's words, the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens.
While self-empowerment by Muslims must partner their state-aided empowerment, Ansari has rightly and bravely called for the segregation of harmful social customs from religious law a revolutionary result of that would be the empowerment of Muslim women, who, as with women in most minorities, are deprived twice over. The codification of laws pertaining to marriage, divorce and succession, as enacted by several Muslim countries, is the point of departure which yet is the one that has polarised the community from within. Religious texts, which allow for constant re-interpretation, do not hinder this necessary equal role for women as do social customs. No community progresses without the progressive empowerment of its women for both, literacy and economic empowerment are imperative.
Tiger Woods nurtured a carefully constructed image. It came crashing down, however, as he rammed his Cadillac SUV into a tree unearthing secret indiscretions. As his dalliances and infidelity are plastered over the media the private world of Tiger Woods is suddenly not so private. This comes at a time when fans awaited Woods's best season yet. His knee injury had kept him on the sidelines for eight months and anticipation geared towards a resurgent Woods one that would pursue golfing great Jack Nicklaus' record but that is no more.
Woods has announced an indefinite golfing sabbatical. Naturally, the fear is that the game will suffer. His absence was felt during his knee injury, as seen through declining ticket sales and sinking television ratings. The PGA Tour, already struggling to find sponsors for upcoming tournaments, will reel under the effects of Tiger's absence. That is not to say the PGA will not go on without him but its relevance will be somewhat stunted. Plus, as the recession hits the golfing industry fewer tournaments have been slotted for 2010 and prize money is expected to drop by $5 million sponsors already calling back will feel the absence of the game's greatest crowdpuller.
As the sport's premier practitioner billionaire hero of the fairways finds himself at the centre of a very public moral storm, the oft-asked questions over the need to distinguish between player and person are rampant. Woods has dominated the game for almost a decade and his squeaky-clean demeanour and youthfulness, rare at his level, raised the profile of golf. So, it was not just that he was golf's golden boy, he brought to golf its golden age. Now, as he takes a break from the game, there are reports that sponsors are re-evaluating his status. It will be interesting to see how this generation's finest golfer bounces back.
A NEW HIGH TABLE
MIHIR S SHARMA
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who wants India to be part of the climate change solution, must go to Copenhagen and throw India's weight behind the proposal that a new multilateral agency monitor the world's efforts to fix the climate. And he should demand it be located here, in the country with the most to lose not just from climate change, but also from a lot of the solutions that are being proposed.
Here's why it seems that idea comes out of nowhere.
Talk about climate change in India is stuck in a time-warp. Sometimes, it feels like we're negotiating the NPT, with all the associated moralising, third-worldist, anger. Sometimes, it's trade talks, in which everyone has to "give" a little, so you can obsess over whether we're "giving" up too much; sometimes, development aid talks, in which we, the powerless, ask the powerful for a bit of cash for our hungry. And sometimes people seem to talk as if these are the Olympics, and we're just along for the ride, a one-billion strong afterthought, and shouldn't we do something, our national pride demands it?
Copenhagen is actually like none of these things. First of all, third-worldism is out. India can't help the dozens of small islands or sub-Saharan countries most immediately vulnerable and that need money for "adaptation" to help their populations stave off the worst, a rising sea, a spreading desert. Europe can help, and will; we can't: island nations have broken visibly with India at Copenhagen. So let's not pretend.
Nor are we powerless. The truth is that, for the first time in any such negotiations, India has what the world wants: hundreds of millions of people with an eco-friendly lifestyle. Not by choice; they're just too poor to live otherwise. As they get richer, the planet can't afford them having the tiniest fraction as wasteful a lifestyle as even the poorest American. So our poor have to be bribed. To grow richer "differently", the optimists would say, even though among all the bright people thinking about it there isn't a single good idea yet as to how that'll be managed.
What we have to negotiate with, therefore, are the jobs of our future. There's been a lot of talk, for example, that India's announcement about carbon intensity cuts the amount of carbon dioxide needed to produce a dollar of GDP is meaningless. China's cuts are deeper, over 40 per cent, making India's 20-25 look insignificant. And it isn't really a diversion from business-as-usual, either, the Planning Commission happily tried to tell everyone: carbon intensity has decreased 18 per cent in the 15 years (that is, till 2005) since 1990, so it will continue to do so that much, even if we chug along normally.
No it won't. That is blatantly disingenuous. India's growth since 1990 has been unprecedented in one respect: it is driven by services, not manufacturing. Never in history has a country grown its tertiary sector before its secondary. This uniqueness is driven by several factors labour laws that are more restrictive for industry than services, the difficulty of acquiring land for factories that don't exist elsewhere.
Not, for example, in China, which is manufacturing-intensive and thus has a carbon intensity twice India's. Naturally, they can cut more: they know they will eventually grow their low-carbon services sector. (In this as in everything else climate-related China and India have nothing in common making any "alliances" impossible.)
But India? Have you ever heard a single reasonable plan for how we're going to employ the millions who want to move out of agriculture that doesn't involve a massive expansion in industrial capacity? Why else are we trying to update our infrastructure? So how can we claim that our past intensity decline predicts our future?
So if we want our future intensity to decline and we should we will either have to give up on industrial employment, hope for a technological miracle, or get help making that happen. The first would please some Luddite environmentalists alone. The second is sadly overoptimistic. Nobody has even the beginnings of a glimmering of an idea as to how research into low-carbon energy generation and consumption could result in cost-effective production in India, that will employ our unskilled post-agrarian labour while retaining its price competitiveness.
Which means we need help. Lots of it. And that's what we really should be focusing on at Copenhagen. Not on what we're "giving up", because that's notional, but on what we need from the rest of the reluctant world now that we, for once, have a bit of bargaining power.
The world isn't stupid. They will know if we make a promise we can't keep, once internal Indian politics realises what controls on intensity actually mean: the first time since 1991 that we will increase government licensing, not decrease it. If they know we might want to duck targets, and we don't make the targets "legally binding", and don't even want them monitored by external observers, then even the most trusting of negotiators will know we are setting up a system we plan to undermine.
And they won't let us. That, and not any attempt to "dilute Kyoto", is what eventually lies behind the European and American attempt to get us on board with a reiteration that no large emitters can duck responsibility.
But legally binding targets are genuinely difficult even to imagine for any economy growing at 8-9 per cent, growth so fast even the medium-term future is fuzzy. So, at the least, we need to let the world check our figures. The government continues to hold out against monitoring and verification of our own domestic efforts to contain climate change. But those domestic efforts are what will convince the rest of the world the climate can be saved at all. So this old-style defence of our sovereignty from the horrendous Western gaze must end.
And the best way to end it is to lend support to the French plan, adopted by the rest of Europe and by some within the US, to set up a successor to the International Energy Agency which will standardise the over 500 international environmental conventions and monitor mitigation efforts across the world. Instead of the endless quest for a more equal UN, be the prime mover in creating a multilateral organisation with real power: the power to certify which projects, where, meet what standards; to regulate the first-ever international negotiable instruments (for that is what carbon credits could wind up being); to oversee the largest transfer of resources since America rebuilt Europe after World War II. Instead of demanding an Asian head to the World Bank or the IMF, let an Asian head this new, powerful, third pillar of the world order.
And headquarter it in Delhi. Let the world see we've nothing to hide. And let those who oversee international mitigation effort look around them and see the people harmed by both the problem and any botched-up solution.
MATTERS OF HONOUR
It is high time that intellectuals, opinion makers and politicians took cognisance of the havoc being caused by the caste panchayats in Haryana and elsewhere in northern India . Why is an extra-judicial body, allowed to wield dictatorial power and make a mockery of democracy, its norms and laws?
Recent cases show the violence inflicted by the caste panchayats, which range from the death penalty to compelling divorce, humiliating couples in public by blackening their faces, cutting off their hair, making them ride donkeys and beating them with shoes. In other cases, the entire families and even communities as a whole have been boycotted or expelled.
In all these cases the couples or families have breached the customary rules for marriages. These stand opposed to the law of the land. Under the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), except for certain prohibited degrees of relationship, restrictions on the marriage of a girl above 18 and a boy above 21 are almost nonexistent. Yet, customary marriage rules in most parts of north India uphold caste endogamy, village as well as gotra or got (patrileneal clan) exogamy.
Post-independence changes underlined rather than undermined the need to retain the customary taboos. The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 enabled women, for the first time, to inherit land. This meant that any marriage alliance within the village cannot be overlooked: a married daughter within the natal village spells danger to patrilineal inheritance.
It is also worth remembering that these cases are not necessarily 'love matches'. They are sometimes arranged, attended by members of their community. Hence, not only the individuals concerned come under pressure from the panchayat, but also their families. Why are parents breaching "tradition"? Over the years, the customary regulations governing marriages have had the effect of creating a very tight market for prospective brides and grooms. The highly adverse female sex ratio worsens the situation, leading them to breach "sacrosanct norms".
These prohibitions are compounded by Haryana's social flux, where different clans in a caste group are either claiming a higher or equal status or attempting to maintain their status against challenges. The changes occurring in ideas about rank and equality, along with the increasing differentiation of status, power and wealth developing within each caste contribute to a re-evaluation of the relative status of different clans and the collapse of the earlier relatively coherent, traditional hierarchy. As marriage alliances are a significant means to establish one's status in society they assume great importance.
Such attempts by 'erring' individuals and families are used by the caste panchayat to assert itself. This intervention is also an assertion of the united power and domination of upper caste, senior male members over younger men and women. It represents a direct attempt at retention of power by the caste leadership which is fast being challenged by aspirants from different socio-economic strata as well as by the younger generation. Their power stands considerably eroded with the introduction of structures such as the elected statutory panchayat. That new focus of political life in the village has pushed the traditional leadership to the margins. This diminishing power is sought to be resurrected through cases like those related to questions of marriage.
The illegal verdicts of the panchayats can be legally challenged. Not many people exercise the option; going to court over issues internal to the caste is not generally approved of. Any attempt may well lead to permanent antagonism or violent retribution. However, it is also true that it leads to a dramatic loss of the caste panchayat's prestige as well as its delegitimation. It is a public demonstration of the refusal to obey its dictates and a further transgression of the norms of community. It is an even greater challenge to the panchayat's decision, leading to a further hardening of its posture. The traditional leadership considers the judiciary, run by people who have no knowledge of rural culture and customary practices, to be working against caste and community norms. Anyone taking recourse to it is similarly condemned as 'westernised', 'urbanised' and 'modernised', and out of touch with rural realities. The State and its laws are blamed.
In such a situation what can be done to salvage the state of affairs? The need is to encourage reformist agendas within caste panchayats make it obligatory for their survival. They must be made to open up traditional restrictions on marriage and take up wider issues such as female foeticide, dowry, ostentatious weddings, among other socially relevant matters. It will not be easy, but when have reforms had easy passage in society?
The writer is a senior academic fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research
'AT WOODSTOCK, WHO WAS LISTENING TO MUSIC? THEY WERE ALL STONED'
PANDIT RAVI SHANKAR, IN THE SECOND PART OF AN INTERVIEW WITH THE INDIAN EXPRESS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF SHEKHAR GUPTA ON NDTV 24X7'S WALK THE TALK, SPEAKS ON LIVENING UP CLASSICAL MUSIC, ON WOODSTOCK AND THE BEATLES, AND ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH DAUGHTERS NORAH AND ANOUSHKA
SHEKHAR GUPTA: YOU OWE A LOT TO HIM (USTAD ALLAUDDIN KHAN).
Pt Ravi Shankar: Absolutely. I would say everything because the depth of music...when we say music, there are different layers. But the music that I am talking about which includes been, surbahar, sitar, rabab, sarod and all that. And the whole training of Swami Haridas, Mian Tansen and the Beenkar gharana and Rababi gharana. People really have lost the complete sense of what it was all about. And that thing, Baba had. And I also met his guru Uzar Khan Sahib's grandson Dabir Khan Sahib and others who still had that old taleem. And that was so connected to the spiritual side of the whole thing, not just music to please. Now music means speed. The virtuosity is the main attraction.
Shekhar Gupta: Like 20-20 cricket. Over in two hours.
Pt Ravi Shankar: It is very difficult to explain today the type of music I am talking about. And I have tried to maintain that. Our audiences were very small.The very word classical, what does it mean? It belonged to a class. The same thing happened with Beethoven and Mozart in the old days. But with us, it was a really very closed thing.
Shekhar Gupta: But you are, after all, our own Beethoven, Mozart.
Pt Ravi Shankar: No, no (laughs). And then after Independence, after the rajas, maharajas, those artistes were in trouble, because they weren't used to singing for such large audiences. Even on radio, they got chances.
Shekhar Gupta: And there was no patronage.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Then their sons and shagirds made it a little better. Things have changed gradually in a better way, so that we have larger audiences today and more people can appreciate it.
Shekhar Gupta: But I've heard that you get impatient when your audience doesn't have that same tehzeeb.
Pt Ravi Shankar: In the beginning, I had to go through a lot of problems because I started the whole performance style. How to drape the platform, place the carpet, fix the mic, the lights. This wasn't done before. Then time: the show is at 5, people trail in at 5.30, or when they please. Some walk out, some chat in the middle about business or whatever.
Shekhar Gupta: I know Kishori Amonkar has also acquired this reputation of ticking people off. She once ticked me off for sitting cross-legged.
Pt Ravi Shankar: (laughs) Bless her. But gradually things have become better. But this is the other side of it. I am talking about the musical side also, from the artiste's point of view. It is much better in a way for a large audience, to give them things that they can really take.
Shekhar Gupta: So you shortened the process. You made it more market-friendly.
Pt Ravi Shankar: It is editing, like in films. We love our Indian films, but why aren't they taking off in the West? They're too long, we need song and dance. It's the same with music. When it is completely foreign and if you go to hear an opera, you will have the same problem. I cannot go to a great Wagner opera because I think it is too long and too much for me to understand.
Shekhar Gupta: But when you first started this comprehensible format, there was a lot of criticism from old-fashioned people. They said you'd made it into western music.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Absolutely this isn't pure Indian music, I had to take a lot of that. But you know, we play a single raga for three hours. But it's very difficult while you have one or two in the audience to understand, the others will start climbing walls.
Shekhar Gupta: So guruji, let me take you back now. You finish your training. The World War ends and then you come back as a sitar player. And then you become an international citizen.
Pt Ravi Shankar: This was also a combination of two things my dada Uday Shankar who revolutionised the whole thing.
Shekhar Gupta: You say Dada not many people realise that you're actually Bengali.
Pt Ravi Shankar: (laughs) Ami toh Bengali Actually, how to present things he typically said that if someone can eat 10 rotis, don't give him 10. Give him three to keep him hungry. Stage, lighting, presentation, punctuality... all these things he brought for the first time, it wasn't there earlier.
Shekhar Gupta: You have done so much in your life, people are aware of so little. How many people would know that you also composed the original Saare Jahan Se Achha?
Pt Ravi Shankar: See, this is what happens, there was so much plagiarism too.
Shekhar Gupta: But how did that happen, in 1945?
Pt Ravi Shankar: At that time I was with Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA). For one year I was a music director. And I did some ballet 'India Immortal' and many other things. Ahmad Abbas made Dharti Ke Lal and Chetan Anand made Neecha Nagar. I did the music for these two films. Let me tell you a story.
Shekhar Gupta: Tell me.
Pt Ravi Shankar: I feel ashamed to say it, because I am afraid it will be misunderstood. In the music of Neecha Nagar, there was a chorus. This poet, Vishwamitra Aadil, had written the songs, so it was a very communist theme hum rukenge nahin, hum jhukenge bhi nahin. We were searching for a male voice. A musician brought a young fellow who just came from Lahore. Very nice looking, fair. And we asked him to give an audition. And I showed him the tune and the feeling. And he sang hum rukenge bhi nahin hum jhukenge bhi nahin in a classical tone. And I was like, please try to be more powerful. He tried, but it wasn't happening. He had a wonderful voice, so tuneful... Anyhow, we could not use him. That was Mohd Rafi.
Shekhar Gupta: So how did Saare Jahan Se Achha happen?
Pt Ravi Shankar: It happened then, someone made me hear the song (sings) Saare jahan se achha...That was the original tune, and I felt it sounded very sad. How to make it a song that you can walk to or you can feel more vibrant towards? So it came spontaneously. There is a blessing I have. What comes for the first time, that is the best. And I did the whole song and it came out very well. Unfortunately, it was not publicised or immediately recorded.
Shekhar Gupta: How did you compose it for the first time?
Pt Ravi Shankar: It was absolutely like what it is now. (Sings) Saare jahan se achha, Hindustan hamara hamara, saare jahan se achha... It goes on. But there is a beat and the words are very clear. It caught on and I am glad that it got so popular.
Shekhar Gupta: But it is so funny and unfair that over time even HMV started calling the tune 'traditional'.
Pt Ravi Shankar: That is their ignorance, and I am saying it openly.
Shekhar Gupta: You can say anything. Everybody has to bow to you. And then, the Apu Trilogy with Satyajit Ray.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Well, he was a great friend. He used to come to my concerts. He was one of my greatest admirers in Calcutta for years. Even in Bombay he came.
Shekhar Gupta: And you were an admirer of his as well?
Pt Ravi Shankar: Not at all. He was just a tall person. That's all.
Shekhar Gupta: I see.
Pt Ravi Shankar: It was way after that. I had attained a lot of fame in the early 50s. I heard he was trying to make a film but could not because of lack of funds. And when I went to Calcutta, he said that I would like you to see the film. If you think you'd like to do it, I would be very happy. And one summer afternoon in Bhavanipur, I saw the rushes, I held his hand and said, "My God, what have you done? I have to do this music." And I sang to him the theme song, which immediately came to my mind.
Shekhar Gupta: So your return to the global stage begins when?
Pt Ravi Shankar: Well, it happened gradually.
Shekhar Gupta: Yehudi Menuhin comes to India...
Pt Ravi Shankar: You know, Yehudi Menuhin was a great friend and with him I got the opportunity of playing at UNESCO and other different places in Europe, at Carnegie Hall etc. As a classical musician, I became very well-known but it was George Harrison's coming to me and starting to learn from me around 1966 that...
Shekhar Gupta: How was that first contact made?
Pt Ravi Shankar: It was at a common friend's house. All four (The Beatles) came and I did not know much about their music but I had heard they were very famous. All of them were very sweet but George was so special. He would corner me and ask me about the relation between spirituality and music, religion and music. He met me a few times and then I started teaching him. And that news spread all over. That did help me. When people say that George Harrison made me famous, that is true in a way.
Shekhar Gupta: Yes, because that caught the global imagination immediately.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Absolutely. Before that I was well known like a classical Western musician might be.
Shekhar Gupta: Because these were also the days of Beatlemania, spirituality, hippie cults.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Exactly. And then what happened was that I became a pop star all of a sudden. All young people, bearded, long hair, wearing beads and not normal. They would behave like Naga sanyasis if they were permitted. And I was not happy at all. I would tell George, "What have you done?" And I started speaking out. And then Montreal Pop Festival was the first place where I had this platform. They wanted me to play between The Who and another pop group. I said no, I am not going to play. Because I saw them kicking the instruments, burning the guitars and doing obscene things.
Shekhar Gupta: And that would offend you.
Pt Ravi Shankar: It was all drugs and nobody normal there the audience or the people on stage. I said I was cancelling my programme. So they changed my number to an afternoon show, where there was no one before me or after me and that was fantastic. All the famous rock stars were there, including that guitar player Jimmy Hendrix. Anyway, that did change and that show was so successful. And then barely a year or so later, I was invited for the first Woodstock and I played there. Actually, I started the programme. Joan Baez sang and after that it started drizzling. So I said I won't play because my sitar will get wet. So they quickly tried to cover it with something and I performed. But that was the experience that changed my whole view, because there were half a million people. It was raining, there was mud all over. And who was listening to music? They were all stoned. Completely stoned. And they were enjoying it. Mujhe yaad aaya, hamare mulk mein bhains dekhte hai in muddy water... it reminded me of that and I said "This is it. I am not going to play."
Shekhar Gupta: Right. They were soaking in the atmosphere.
Pt Ravi Shankar: And I told my agent, and actually did not accept anything, which meant that I had no programmes. So it took me a year to start again. What I was not happy about was that though they gave me all the adoration and I was like a pop star and could become a multi-millionaire...
Shekhar Gupta: You led the life of a rockstar as well.
Pt Ravi Shankar: No, I did not. That's what I am saying. I did not want to have it. They wanted me to be a guru. They all would sit down and say, "Tell us guru." And I said, I am not your guru. You know it was a strange situation, at that time I found such talent but there were those dumb ones too. But they all were into drugs and that is what I objected to. They were beatniks, before hippies. And the San Francisco area was the headquarters. Such intellectuals. They were achievers. They were already famous. They were into drugs.
Shekhar Gupta: But you never tried?
Pt Ravi Shankar: No, never. Once a friend tried to give me marijuana but because I did not smoke, I could not take it in. I just had a big headache. That is all. I have taken bhang a few times in Benaras with friends but that was very mild. Laughed a lot, ate a lot. So that is what I was objecting to, you see. All the young people, who were flocking, admiring and loving me so much. I told them not to smoke and behave like this. And that is what kept my audience away for a few years. But I did not mind. I was back into my classical fold.
Shekhar Gupta: But George Harrison came back to you?
Pt Ravi Shankar: He was always there. He understood me because he was seeing through that haze of drugs and everything. And then his association with Maharishi Mahayogi for a little while and then Bhaktivedanta, the Krishna Consciousness, Prabhupada. So you know, he was slowly getting out of all that. He was an ardent fan of the Vedic philosophy.
Shekhar Gupta: It was difficult to hide him in India, isn't it? He tried to come secretly.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Absolutely. That was when he came for the first time. He was in the Taj and everybody was shouting Ravi, we want George. They thought that I am not letting him come out because I was teaching him.
Shekhar Gupta: But you could not keep his visit secret.
Pt Ravi Shankar: No, it got out. One of the liftboys in Taj, who was Christian and used to play the guitar, recognised him. Then I had to take him to Kashmir. We were on a houseboat for three weeks and that is where I taught him.
Shekhar Gupta: And 1971 was a big peak period in that, with the Bangladesh war going on.
Pt Ravi Shankar: The Bangladesh war was another big thing. We had a lot of relatives there and my father had come from there. So I was thinking of doing a performance which would raise $20,000 at the most. But George came to Los Angeles and stayed with me at that time. He said, "let's do it in a big way" and he immediately called Madison Square Garden, called Bob Dylan and all the big names and instead of one we had to give two shows. Then I asked bhai Ali Akbar (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan) and Alla Rakha bhai.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you have any Beatles favourites?
Pt Ravi Shankar: A number of them Here Comes The Sun is there and some of George's and some of John's and, of course, some of Paul's. Paul is such a sweetheart. We meet quite often now.
Shekhar Gupta: Did you see the break-up coming?
Pt Ravi Shankar: Oh, yes. I saw that whole period. It was a very difficult period.
Shekhar Gupta: But they led tough lives. They led complicated lives.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Normal for them and many others in the West. Even now normal for many because I see a lot of things happening now, which happened then as far as drugs are concerned.
Shekhar Gupta: But you led a slightly colourful life as well. I mean not like Beatles but slightly colourful.
Pt Ravi Shankar: No, colourful I don't know. I have lived well. Good hotels, I had a lot of ladies as friends and you know, it was a normal thing and I was never a sort of a person who would go after the show to nightclubs or something. This is something I never did. And all artistes have to relieve themselves somehow and that is the life they like. But this was something I have never done. But I have enjoyed life absolutely. I had wonderful friends and I am very grateful. Since I have been married, I have been even happier with everything. This is my second official marriage.
Shekhar Gupta: And I like the way you say my second official marriage.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Yes, because I have lived with wonderful people, had some wonderful time and I am very grateful to them but you know, sadly, it broke up. But this is very, very happy.
Shekhar Gupta: And now your daughters are also performing together.
Pt Ravi Shankar: I am so lucky. Not one but two. They are so talented and so wonderful. And bless them.
Shekhar Gupta: Because we see a lot of Anoushka.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Bas mujhe yahi dar laga rehta hai ki nazar na lage. That typical Indian thing I still have (laughs).
Shekhar Gupta: Have you watched Norah's movie, My Blueberry Nights?
Pt Ravi Shankar: Haan. It was a very good film but with films you don't know what is going to be successful and what is not. And another thing. I know that director. What is his name...I am forgetting. He exploited her so well. She looked so beautiful, stunning absolutely.
Shekhar Gupta: Was there some tension between you and Norah?
Pt Ravi Shankar: That was because her mother and I parted very bitterly. It was a complicated affair. I was really crazy at that time. I did not know how to handle it. Norah was born here and then after two years Anoushka was born in London. And that was a very difficult time. I really was finding it very hard. And she got mad and wanted to completely cut off. For nearly six-seven years, I did not know anything about them: where they were and where they disappeared. I could not find out. But that seven-eight years was a difficult period and then would you believe, when Norah was 16, I got a message, and it was Sukanya who made this contact.
Shekhar Gupta: I see.
Pt Ravi Shankar: And she made it possible for Norah to come visit me in California .
Shekhar Gupta: And now you are so happy that everything is so relaxed now.
Pt Ravi Shankar: Oh, yes. I am so happy... I have burdened many people. I apologise to all.
Shekhar Gupta: You have given millions of people so much joy and happiness. You and Ustad Vilayat Khan have been famous rivals. Was that painful or inspirational?
Pt Ravi Shankar: You know, you will be surprised to know, the time I met him... he was six-seven years younger than me. In Delhi, we used to ride the bicycle together and go eat out here and there. In Calcutta also. But I don't know what happened. It is the people in between, always. But when I met him I never found any... He called me Rovu da and I called him Vilayat bhai and there was no problem at all. Unfortunately, yeh beech wale, they always want to make comparisons.
Shekhar Gupta: Because it also seems that of all the fine arts, music is the most secular. Because Hindus and Muslims have shared this tradition so closely and the Sikhs in India, the entire holy book has been written along the ragas.
Pt Ravi Shankar: True. I mean this is a thing which we have to admit, that conversions began, particularly after Akbar. You know about Tansen. He was a Brahmin and he converted. So if you see, forced conversions happened, gharanas kept being formed but that is something which we have to ignore. Ab Bismillah Khan sahib ko aap last dekhenge. Baba ko agar aap dekhte...
Shekhar Gupta: Bismillah Khan sahib bole ki humko mandir nahi jaane diya to hum peeche se aakar deewar ko haath laga dete the.
Pt Ravi Shankar: They were all these wonderful musicians who did not have these silly dogmas. People create that. I haven't faced anything. Competition is usual. But that competition can be between two Hindus and two Muslims also. That is a different thing. But this typical bitterness.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you listen to (A R) Rahman?
Pt Ravi Shankar: I do listen to him, though I don't think what he got the Academy award for was his best. But he has done fantastic stuff.
Shekhar Gupta: Do you have any regrets that you did not do more films?
Pt Ravi Shankar: That is the saddest thing. I am saying it myself, that I am as good a composer, if not better than any other. I have done some wonderful things which have not been known for. Look at Saare Jahaan that is only one example. There are hundreds of compositions.
Shekhar Gupta: So if somebody came and offered, will you still do a film?
Pt Ravi Shankar: I will do it if I think I like the theme.
Transcribed by Suanshu Khurana.
The latest number of the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) of 10.3% for the month of October confirm the now widely accepted perception that recovery is taking firm root. Manufacturing recorded double-digit growth for the third consecutive month. Mining continues to be powered by gas from the KG basin. Electricity is still lethargic at 4.7%. Importantly, capital goods grew by 12.2%, an indicator of growing investment demand. Both consumer durables (over 20%) and non-durables (8.1%) also registered impressive growth. Amidst these cheery numbers, we need to keep two things in mind. We are now approaching that period when there will be a significant base effect in the numbers we seethis period over the last year was the worst of the crisis, hence the low base. Second, at least some part of the recovery must continue to be attributed to the monetary and fiscal stimulus of the government. Consumer durables, in particular, have been boosted by stimulus. When these factors are accounted for, it is reasonable to assume that while the economy is doing well, the current numbers may be overstating the underlying fundamentals, which may take a few months more to return to normal. So, for the time being, stimulus must continue. On the other side of these numbers on industrial growth is the continued climb in food inflation, now in touching distance of 20%. Obviously, this is a cause of worry for the government. Fortunately, both the finance minister and RBI have made it abundantly clear that this inflation is a supply-side problem. Governor Subbarao even affirmed that monetary policy is ineffective against supply-side inflation. On this they are right and hopefully that's an indicator that stimulus will continue.
As for food inflation, the real problem and the need for solutions lie in vegetables. Cereal prices have only increased marginally. And there isn't much the government can do about pulses, since there is a global shortage. On vegetables, there is a serious problem in the supply chain, which links the farmer with the final consumer. There are shortages but they can't explain the entire rise. The real cause of soaring prices is the growing number of intermediaries, each of whom extracts a profit which hikes the prices. This is a difficult issue for the government. There is no easy way to remove all the intermediaries. In policy terms, what the government should urgently consider is bringing the farmer close to...
THE TUVALU PRINCIPLE
One of the few positive side-effects of the global financial crisis has been that the G-7 ceded its position as a preeminent forum for intentional policymaking to the G-20. A select group of rich nations has given way to a less select group, which nonetheless accounts for about 85% of global output. Given how much the performance of emerging economies like those of Brazil, India, South Africa and China has contributed to the psychology of global recovery, this seemed more than fair. But taking the argument of global democracy further, one cannot but welcome the tumult created by the small state of Tuvalu at Copenhagen. It has proposed that the Kyoto protocol be revised, to make deep emission cuts mandatory for countries across the conventional rich-poor divide. Obviously, this unsettles India's position and China's, too. Tuvalu has proposed that all countries sign up to a more ambitious, legally binding target than the one which will not allow temperatures to rise by more than 2°Cremember, voices in support of even such a target have been vociferously attacked in India as betraying the nation's interest. And this was before the environment minister Jairam Ramesh's emissions intensity cut announcement, which has been attacked for compromising India's traditional per capita argument.
Tuvalu is a tiny Pacific island nation made up of nine coral atolls, with a population of less than 13,000. It's made a negligible contribution to global carbon emissions but remains the most vulnerable to flooding from rising seas. After all, its highest point is just 4.5 metres above sea level. The reason it stepped out of the broad G-77 framework was that the whole conversation about who pays whom for what cuts leaves it literally unmoved. Even if, for example, the US and the EU are persuaded to move real monies into Indian and Chinese clean energy coffers, the odds are astronomically against Tuvalu reaping carbon credit benefits. Vanuatu, Trinidad and Tobago, Samoa, Mauritius, Saint Lucia, Grenada and the like are in the same boat. Such countries are no longer willing to accept that India and China speak for their interest, too. They want temperatures stabilised at a 1.5°C increase over pre-industrial levels. A year ago, who could have predicted that Tuvalu would make such a splash at Copenhagen? For that matter, few had anticipated India announcing emission intensity cuts either. A week into the much-awaited meet, it's still not clear what the final resolution will look like. What's clear, though, is that global policymaking has become far more multilingual than it was a year or so ago.
SUPPLY ISN'T ONLY ABOUT PRODUCTION
Sustained high inflation inflicts serious corollary damage on the ranks of the middle class. It whittles down its size. This creates a vacuum in the political structure of the state, as the number of supporters for a moderate liberal position get clipped in the process. No wonder a period of inflation creates a nice setting for political disturbances that become difficult to quell as long as the trigger of price rise keeps on inflaming opinion.
By any reckoning the current level of inflation in food prices has become almost comparable to the early 1970s, which was also a period of major political upheaval. Of course, the spell of price rise at present has not been around for as long as it was then, so the implications for permanent income levels are possibly quite some way off. But the current level of 19.05% for food inflation does not look like it will switch to more moderate levels anytime soon. The reason why inflation could remain sticky is that this is a supply side driven phenomenon. RBI governor D Subbarao, too, has acknowledged it. Whether the current monetary stance will exacerbate inflation later is a different question.
So this inflation has built up as a response to the rising income level of the country, including in the rural areas. It has been a gradual process. There has been a close association of the rising prices of late with rising income levels. Typically, therefore, the commodities where prices have risen the most are pulses and of course vegetables, while sparing rice and wheat. The country's food consumption basket has irrevocably moved to a more diversified plate. The inflation in prices that now threatens to engulf other sectors, including consumer goods, is a continuation of the same trend.
The implication is that this is not a bout of inflation, but a challenge to improve the food supply chain. On Friday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament it was a combination of a 40-year low of monsoon rains and in some areas, floods that have precipitated the shortage and the consequent rise in prices. The failure of rain is just not the main reason for the current price rise.
For instance, vegetable cultivation, mostly concentrated around cities is not a rain dependent activity, though pulses are. But the shortfall in pulses production versus the total estimated demand is secular and is rising every year. This means the year 2010 will not see prices softening either. To bridge the shortfall the government cannot basically import from a very thin international market, year after year. Wheat crop on the other hand, is in abundance. As an example, in the same reply, Mukherjee said India will have a grain surplus of 7.7 million by April 1 next year.
So the prices of other commodities will not march southwards to a great extent. The cure for the bout of inflation is therefore bringing structural changes in the economy on the management of food supply. This newspaper has flagged those areas of reforms repeatedly, but the point is a spiralling inflation of this rate will ring in political disorder very soon.
In his latest column in Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria pointed out that the world economy has shown fundamental stability despite the current financial turmoil, stability built on the victory over inflation achieved in the 1970s. But in India, we are at the risk of cracking the base of this stability if inflation is not tamed again.
That sort of taming can only happen if the government shows the resolve to go ahead with the changes in the agricultural economy. There will, of course, be disturbances to the status quo as these changes are worked upon. But again, those disturbances will be relatively minor compared with the scale of problems that will spill out if the reforms are not made.
Why, despite all these signals, is the government not moving in the required direction? It is because the government for a long time was only bothered about, to use a power sector analogy, the generation problem. The distribution of power, or food, was a secondary problem.
But as the Indian economy now has a huge urban population, made up of every stratum of society, providing food for the urban plate has emerged as a major responsibility for the government. Food inflation means the government is not able to do that. Which means that as inflation chips away at the ranks of the middle class, the consequent unrest generated will be a hugely difficult mess confronting the government. The incendiary potential of the robbed middle class aligned with the poorest could be very destablising indeed. The poor in India are now located overwhelmingly in cities to where they have migrated en masse. They have no safety net to handle the sort of long-term inflationary spell that we are certain to face.
From any perspective one chooses to see, there is therefore a pretty short fuse available to the government to make the changes that will make the farm sector grow faster. This could be one hell of a blast.
CAN DELHI UNDO WHAT NIZAM DID?
Is there an economic justification for the movement for separate Telangana? In 1956, Andhra Pradesh was formed by combining three regions: coastal Andhra Pradesh (CAP) , Rayalaseema and Telangana. Telangana consisted of Telugu-speaking areas of the erstwhile Hyderabad state. While the presence of a Telugu-speaking population was common in all three regions, the economic history of each region has been distinct, and there were economic inequalities to begin with.
CAP was directly under British rule. Zamindari and Ryotwari systems were the predominant land revenue systems. With the construction of irrigation dams across the Godavari and Krishna rivers around 1850, there was considerable agrarian expansion in this region, and an appreciable increase in the area under irrigation (from 12 lakh acres in 1891-92 to 37 lakh acres in 1945-46) and cultivated area (from 45 lakh to 98 lakh acres during this period). More importantly, there has been an intensive process of commercialisation of agriculture, with paddy becoming the most important crop (accounting for 28-38% of gross cropped area) and assuming the character of commercial crop. Soon, there were agro-processing units (mainly rice mills) in many villages of CAP indicating intensive capital accumulation in agriculture and rural diversification.
Rayalaseema was also under the British rule, and the Ryotwari system was the dominant form here. Although the construction of K-C Canal near Kurnool increased the area under irrigation, the expansion of area under cultivation could not be sustained due to near dependence on the monsoon for cultivation. Although there has been an intensive process of commercialisation of agriculture in this region, the full potential of this could not be realised. The total sown area increased from 69 lakh to 89 lakh acres during the period 1891-92 to 1945-46. The growth of agro-processing industries witnessed considerable fluctuations. By 1950s, the region was backward in comparison to CAP, especially southern CAP.
In contrast, the Telangana region was under Nizam rule. The land was under the control of intermediaries, such as Deshmukhs, Jagirs and Zamindars, who could 'grab lands by fraud, reducing the status of tenant into landless labourer at will'. Such feudal tendencies slowed down the agrarian expansion, while the other two regions were progressing, albeit unevenly. The area under cultivation increased slowly, and so also the area under irrigation. In the Telangana region, overburdened with feudal oppression and exploitation, there were no incentives for agrarian expression and growth before independence.
When Andhra Pradesh was formed, millions from Telangana hoped that the situation would improve in independent India. While the districts around Hyderabad witnessed considerable development, the Telangana region as a whole suffered from inadequate investments.
Let us take the case of trends in investment on irrigation, which indicate that the Telangana region has not benefited. While CAP benefited from the widespread investment on canal irrigation, Telangana and Rayalaseema did not receive similar benefits. As a result, the farmers from these two regions mainly depend on tank and well irrigation. However, due to neglect of tank irrigation, the area irrigated by tanks in Telangana declined from 4.47 lakh ha in 1955-56 to 1.26 lakh ha in 2004-05. The dependence on well irrigation in the Telangana region increased the farmer's costs for electricity, and this, in turn, perpetuated farmer's vulnerability due to dependence on uncertain electricity.
The inequality in the allocation of resources to Telangana continued even during the tenure of YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Of 26 projects contemplated to irrigate 59 lakh ha of land in the state, as much as 43 lakh ha will be irrigated in CAP and Rayalaseema, and only 16 lakh ha will be irrigated in Telangana. Moreover, the irrigation projects contemplated in Telangana are lift irrigation schemes meant for drip and sprinkle irrigation; these imply considerable investment on the part of farmers in sprinkler systems in contrast to no such investment on the part of farmers from CAP on account of canal irrigation. This is sad because the two major riversGodavari and Krishnarun through Telangana.
Thus, Telangana did not benefit as much as CAP did during the post-independence period. As a result, both Telangana (minus Hyderabad) and Rayalaseema continue to be backward in Andhra Pradesh. But, one cannot be certain that a separate Telangana state is the answer to the reduction of these inequalities.
The author is a professor at the Centre for Decentralisation and Development, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore
The settlement of a long-pending fraud and forgery case with UK-based online and mobile payments solutions firm Upaid is a positive indicator of how smartly Tech Mahindra is managing legal issues concerning Satyam Computers. Upaid was a legal liability that the market expected would settle at $200 million, but TechM settled at $70 million in two installments. The immediate impact on the stock price was evidentTech Mahindra shares surging 2.20% and Mahindra Satyam, 5.26%, on Thursday on the BSE.
However, Tech Mahindra's efforts to pull Mahindra Satyam out of the woods don't end here. It may be recalled that Satyam needs to work out other legal issues, the larger concern being 12 US class action lawsuits. Besides these, Satyam also needs to fight three more legal issues coming from past acquisitions, concerning companies like the Chicago-based Bridge Strategy Group, Belgium's S&V Management Consultant and Venture Global.
The firm, in the past, did settle its issues with Caterpillar and termed the demand of about Rs 1,230 crore from as many as 37 'unacknowledged' creditors as 'legally untenable'. When the picture came to light, the overall liability, according to industry viewers, was set to be around Rs 10,000 crore. Backed by the efforts of its team coming from Tech Mahindra, Satyam has been trying to settle some of these claims amicably, while it intends to 'vigorously defend' the class action lawsuits filed against the IT firm in the US.
At the same time, Mahindra Satyam continues to face challenges in terms of retaining clients and employees. Though industry viewers say that Satyam has been able to cling on to some clients, bagging a large contract is still a difficult task for the company. Retaining the top leaders, who brought a lot of business to Satyam, was a key concern and Satyam did take steps to retain them. In a recent media event, one of the veterans from Satyam mentioned how the firm had to dig its pockets to retain these senior employees. And it continues, he added. But it's a long journey before Tech Mahindra can say that it brought Satyam back on its tracks.
TOPPLING THE BOLIGARCHY
Hugo Chavez's government has once again demonstrated its willingness to halt the march of untrammelled capitalist growth in Venezuela. On November 30, his government shut down four medium-sized banks facing financial insolvency; three more followed suit by the end of the week. In an industry-wide crackdown aimed at protecting ordinary deposit-holders, 27 arrest warrants were issued including several for financiers behind the failed banks. These individuals belong to a group of politically connected big businessmen known as "Boligarchs," after their close ties to President Chavez's Bolivarian revolution. The arrest that made headlines was that of Arné Chacón, president of the failed Banco Real and brother of Jesse Chacón, Venezuela's Science and Technology Minister. Minister Chacón soon handed in his resignation, which Mr. Chavez accepted last week, saying: "We are demonstrating that there are no untouchables here." The arrest of Boligarch Ricardo Fernandez Barrueco further signalled the President's intention to purge the economy of those who prospered at the expense of the masses. Mr. Barrueco became a billionaire supplying corn and transport services to government-subsidised supermarkets.
The crackdown flies in the face of allegations by the United States and its allies that the Chavez regime is corrupt, populist, and dangerous to mainstream market institutions. In part, western insecurity has been fuelled by Venezuela's bold approach towards the global oil economy. For example, in 2008, it took on Exxon Mobil the world's largest private company and won against it in British courts in a dispute over oilfields in the Orinoco basin. The U.S. is also hostile to Mr. Chavez's pursuit of an alternative paradigm in global politics, one in which resource-rich countries like Venezuela, Iran, China, and Russia forge close links based on trade in oil, weapons technology, and agricultural products. Yet the western bloc must concede that the toppling of the Boligarchs is testimony to the Venezuelan leader's willingness to tackle corruption in high office. While Washington's hostility towards the Chavez administration peaked during the Bush years, President Obama has an opportunity to repair and normalise the relationship. This would be politically expedient, especially since the people of Venezuela voted overwhelmingly, in a referendum in February, in favour of allowing Mr. Chavez to run for office again in 2012. Mending fences with this charismatic leader from Latin America would have positive effects and implications going beyond the region.
A FRAGILE RECOVERY
Two recent developments in Japan have major implications that go well beyond the world's second largest economy. A new, large stimulus package announced on December 8, a day after the GDP growth rate for the July-September quarter was sharply scaled down. With many economic indicators faltering in November, Prime Minister Yukio Hatayama did not really have to wait for the formal announcement of lower growth figures to come up with the $81 billion (1.5 per cent of GDP ) stimulus spending. The growth rate was revised down from 1.2 per cent to 0.3 per cent for the quarter and on an annualised basis from 4.8 per cent to 1.3 per cent. Japan has been battling a fall in prices and a galloping yen that has already inflicted severe pain on an economy heavily dependent on exports. With a deflation rate of 2.2 per cent, policymakers could not remain idle. Companies such as Toyota Motor Corporation and Sony Corporation have reported weaker financial results, mainly due to the rising yen. The stimulus is intended to prevent the economy from going into a "double-dip" recession, or contracting again in the second quarter of next year. A substantial portion of the money will go to local governments and for programmes to support small businesses. Employment, housing, and environmental schemes are among those to benefit from the additional spending.
The expectation is that domestic demand will pick up on the back of stimulus spending. Japan, like other countries depending on export-led growth, has been modifying its strategies as demand from the principal markets of the United States and the European Union is rising only slowly. For the global economy, the message is that, while the developed countries may be moving out of recession, their economic growth is fragile. All the countries are still dependent on continuing public spending through stimulus packages and soft monetary policies. Just under a week ago, China vowed to continue with its stimulus for now. The U.S. President is looking at using some $200 billion from the bank bail-out packages to support employment generating schemes. In India, opinion is tilted in favour of continuing with the easy monetary policy and stimulus measures. Japan, like a few other developed countries, has a very high level of public debt. In fact, with the total debt at almost 200 per cent of GDP, it is seen as the largest debt-burdened economy. Falling tax revenues and a lower savings rate attributed to an ageing population might make funding the stimulus packages particularly daunting. Yet, as in most other countries, revival of economic growth depends critically on government spending.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
CAPPING NUCLEAR LIABILITY IS A NON-STARTER
THE GOVERNMENT PROPOSES TO INTRODUCE A CIVIL NUCLEAR LIABILITY BILL TO APPEASE FOREIGN INVESTORS. ANY LEGISLATION THAT ATTEMPTS TO DILUTE THE POLLUTER PAYS AND PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE AND IMPOSES A CAP ON LIABILITY WILL BE IN BLATANT DEFIANCE OF SUPREME COURT JUDGMENTS AND IS LIKELY TO BE STRUCK DOWN.
SOLI J. SORABJEE
One of the vital guarantees in our Constitution is the protection of the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21. Our Supreme Court by creative interpretation ruled that the expression 'life' does not connote merely physical existence but embraces the right to live with "human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head." Thereafter it further expanded the concept of the right to live with human dignity to encompass within its ambit, the protection and preservation of environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water.
Our Constitution evinces great concern for environment. Article 48-A of the Directive Principle mandates that the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment. One of the fundamental duties prescribed in Article 51-A is, inter alia, to protect and improve the natural environment.
Despite these constitutional provisions, pollution continues unabated. The river Ganges was brazenly polluted by the discharge of effluents by some tanneries in Kanpur who, despite notices issued by the Supreme Court to take steps for the primary treatment of industrial effluent, had utterly failed to do so. Hence the court was constrained to issue directions for the closure of the tanneries. The court was conscious that closure of tanneries may bring unemployment and loss of revenue, but it significantly ruled that "life, health and ecology have greater importance to the people."
In its landmark judgment in the Oleum Gas Leak case, the Supreme Court laid down certain important principles. A five-judge bench unanimously ruled that "an enterprise which is engaged in a hazardous or inherently dangerous industry which poses a potential threat to the health and safety of the persons working in the factory and residing in the surrounding areas owes an absolute and non-delegable duty to the community to ensure that no harm results to anyone on account of hazardous or inherently dangerous nature of the activity which it has undertaken." The court further held that "it should be no answer to the enterprise to say that it had taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part."
At first blush, this may appear unduly harsh. However the rationale for this rule as explained by the court is that "such hazardous or inherently dangerous activity for private profit can be tolerated only on condition that the enterprise engaged in such activity indemnifies all those who suffer on account of the carrying on of such activity regardless of whether it is carried on carefully or not." Therefore in a case of escape of toxic gas, "the enterprise is strictly and absolutely liable to compensate all those who are affected by the accident and such liability is not subject to any of the exceptions."
In 1996 in the case of Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action Justice Jeevan Reddy speaking for the court pointed out that the rule of absolute liability is premised on the very nature of the activity carried on and "it is the enterprise carrying on the hazardous or inherently dangerous activity alone has the resource to discover and guard against hazards or dangers." The court further introduced the Polluter Pays Principle, which according to it requires that the financial costs of preventing or remedying damage caused by pollution should lie with the undertakings that cause the pollution. Under this principle, it is not the role of government to meet the costs involved in either prevention of such damage, or in carrying out remedial action, because the effect of this would be to shift the financial burden of the pollution incident to the taxpayer. The responsibility for repairing the damage is that of the offending industry. It is noteworthy that the Polluter Pays Principle has been incorporated into the European Community Treaty as part of the new articles on environment that were introduced by the Single European Act of 1986.
In its subsequent judgment in Vellore Citizens Forum, Justice Kuldip Singh speaking for the court held that "the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle are essential features of Sustainable Development." This is a milestone judgment in our environmental jurisprudence. The court reaffirmed the Polluter Pays Principle laid down in its previous judgments to mean that "the absolute liability for harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also the cost of restoring the environmental degradation. Remediation of the damaged environment is part of the process of Sustainable Development and as such the polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferers as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecology." The seminal significance of this judgment lies in the court's holding that the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle are part of the environmental law of the country and the court's pointed reference to Articles 21, 47, 48-A, and 51-A (g) of the Constitution in this connection.
The thrust of these Supreme Court judgments is for compensating and protecting the victims of accidents as part of their fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Under our Constitution, Supreme Court judgments constitute the law of the land and are binding on all courts, authorities and persons.
It is claimed that foreign companies are reluctant to invest in India as they do not want to run the risk of having to compensate without a cap for a nuclear accident on account of imposition of absolute liability. It is understood that the government to appease the foreign investors proposes to introduce a Civil Nuclear Liability Bill whereby inter alia the compensation payable in case of a nuclear accident is capped at $450 million.
In effect, this means that in case the actual damage and the cost of remedying environmental degradation exceeds the proposed ridiculously low cap of $450 million or any other sum, the government would have to bear the remaining burden. This would be directly contrary to the Supreme Court's ruling that it is not the role of the government to meet the costs involved. The effect of a cap in reality would be to shift the financial burden of the consequences of the accident to the taxpayer. According to the Polluter Pays Principle that has been embedded in our jurisprudence, the liability and responsibility for compensating the victims of accident and remedying the environmental damage caused is that of the offending industry alone. No part of the liability can be limited nor passed on to the government.
There can be two views about the advantages or disadvantages of foreign investment in India in the nuclear energy sector. But there can be only one view: health well-being and protection of our people are paramount and must override dollar considerations. Foreign multinationals are not solicitors of the fundamental rights of our people. The Bhopal Gas case is a burning reminder.
Any legislation that attempts to dilute the Polluter Pays and Precautionary Principle and imposes a cap on liability is likely to be struck down as it would be in blatant defiance of the Supreme Court judgments. Moreover, it would be against the interests and the cherished fundamental right to life of the people of India whose protection should be the primary concern of any civilised democratic government.
(The author is a former Attorney General for India.)
SEIZE THE MOMENT
A WINDOW OF RARE OPPORTUNITY TO BREAK A 20-YEAR-OLD CYCLE OF VIOLENCE IN JAMMU AND KASHMIR IS PRESENTING ITSELF.
Opportunities, says ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, multiply as they are seized. A leader doesn't just make things happen, he is able to see when destiny beckons and the stars are lined up in the right constellation. Then the opportunity for resolution and a chance to change the course of history presents itself.
As the shots hit Hurriyat leader Fazl Haq Qureshi coming out of a mosque in Srinagar this month, but missed their mark in stopping the dialogue process between the Hurriyat and the Centre, it was one more indicator that the opportunity for a resolution in Jammu and Kashmir is presenting itself. A window of rare opportunity to break a twenty-year-old cycle of violence that must be seized.
It was rare enough to hear Home Minister P. Chidambaram admit in parliament what his government took great pains to deny for months that he was in 'quiet talks' with separatist Kashmiri leaders. He backed it up with other announcements, withdrawing several paramilitary battalions from the valley, and pushing Jammu-Kashmir police into the 'frontlines' of state security. Each of those initiatives would have been unheard of some years ago, but point to the fact that the Central government, bolstered by wins in successive elections, today feels empowered to take them.
Ironically, the most far-reaching initiative for the resolution of the Kashmir problem to date was the one taken not by this government but the NDA government that preceded it, when it announced a ceasefire along the Line of Control in November 2003. That ceasefire, which has largely held for six years, became the springboard for all the initiatives that followed, including the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus.
Since 2003, the two sides have followed a 4-step plan laid out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he pursued negotiations with President Musharraf (2004-2007) viz., to move the army back to the barracks in Valley towns like Srinagar, Baramullah, Kupwara and Anantnag, transfer control to paramilitary forces, build up the J&K police force, and then to work on cross-LOC linkages- transport, trade, tourism.
Relative calm at the LOC was followed in the years by relative peace in the valley. While many in India may be uncomfortable admitting it Pakistan's actions, or lack of them there in the recent past have helped. They're the reason the fires that raged over two successive summers: the Amarnath agitation in 2008, and protests over the Shopian murders in 2009 were able to burn themselves out. And the State witnessed two general elections (2004 and 2009) and two State elections (2002 and 2008) each one overturning the government in power, without any volatility. Pakistan's virtual acceptance of the LOC as a more permanent "Line of Peace" is best reflected in its latest efforts to reorganise parts of POK and give Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status.
Many wounds have had a chance to heal in this time according to official estimates the number of violent incidents in a year at the peak of militancy were 6000. Last year, they numbered 400. Seventeen per cent of the population suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2004 a number that has steadily decreased. Perhaps the greatest healing will only follow the return of Pandits to homes they were driven from nearly two decades ago last month the community came together with former Muslim neighbours in Srinagar's Rainawari to renovate the abandoned Shiv temple there. These are all positive signs that should be counted even as we chronicle levels of infiltration and fidayeen attacks which we resolutely need to combat.
Finally, the rarest part of the alignment is the transfer of power to a new generation of leadership across the board. In the mainstream, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Leader of the opposition Mehbooba Mufti may disagree on everything else but they are fully behind the current dialogue process with the Hurriyat, and their own solutions for the State differ only marginally. For the separatists, the old guard of Geelani may never come on board, but others like Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat have already deferred to the Hurriyat's Gen-next: Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Sajjad and Bilal Lone to move ahead with talks. Three young men with a tragic and powerful common bond they lost their fathers to terrorists on exactly the same day 12 years apart (May 12), targeted for trying to talk to New Delhi. They're accompanied by a powerful voice of peace who has made the journey from the gun and prosecution by the State, JKLF chief Yasin Mallik. The biggest change is the call by the Hurriyat for the NC and PDP to work with it on a solution, thereby overturning a decades-old stand of being the "sole representatives of the Kashmiri people".
'Azaadi' may not be a viable option for any of them today but what New Delhi needs to recognise, and prepare the nation for is that none of these leaders can go on endlessly with the status quo. "Silence or absence of overt defiance by the war weary Kashmiri should not be treated as a change in the sentiment," warned Sajjad Lone in his 2006 paper: Achievable Nationhood. Both the Mufti's doctrine of Self-Rule, and Abdullah's concept of Autonomy (passed unanimously by the J&K assembly in 2000 but rejected by the Union cabinet) find many areas of common cause.
Interestingly, each of them proposes solutions, shorn of the rhetoric, that can be found within the Indian Constitution which is imperative. For the government, to move forward would involve the sort of flexibility it has already shown in the Naga peace process (more power to the state, changing nomenclature of the government and head of government etc), and others.
In Qazigund this October, the Prime Minister linked peace and prosperity in Jammu and Kashmir with the India-Pakistan peace process calling for a new 'humanitarian agenda' as a basis to restart talks with Pakistan. And perhaps paraphrasing Sun Tzu's words on the urgency of the moment he offered up an Urdu couplet:
Yeh jabr bhi dekha hai taareekh ki nazron ne?
Lamhon ne khata ki thi sadiyon ne sazaa payee
(These are the lessons of time: for the mistakes made by moments, the punishment is meted out to centuries.)
In terms of Jammu and Kashmir, the real mistake would be for the Prime Minister to fail to seize the moment now.
(Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)
THE GRAND CHALLENGES OF INDIAN SCIENCE
WE NEED TO RECOGNISE THAT THERE IS NO INTELLECTUAL DEMOCRACY; ELITISM IN SCIENCE IS INEVITABLE AND NEEDS TO BE PROMOTED.
The Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman had famously said, 'the difficulty with science is often not with the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones. A certain amount of irreverence is essential for creative pursuit in science.'
The first grand challenge before Indian science is that of building some irreverence. Our students are too reverent. Our existing hierarchical structures kill irreverence. Promoting irreverence means building the questioning attitude. It means education systems that do not have the rigid unimaginative curricula, it means replacing 'learning by rote' by 'learning by doing' and to do away with the examination systems with single correct answers.
PAPER OR PEOPLE?
More often than not, in our systems, paper becomes more important than people. Bureaucracy overrides meritocracy. Risk taking innovators are shot. Decision making time cycles are longer than the product life cycles. Therefore, the second grand challenge is that of creating an 'innovation ecosystem', in which questioning attitudes and healthy irreverence can grow.
The third grand challenge is of creating truly innovative scientists, who see what everyone else sees but think of what no one else thinks. The 2005 Nobel Prize winners for medicine, Warren and Marshall, for instance, were such innovators. Everyone had thought that the cause of gastritis inflammation and stomach ulceration is excessive acid secretion due to irregularities in diet and lifestyle. Warren & Marshall postulated that the causative agent was, a bacterium called Heliobacter pylori. They were ridiculed but they stuck to their guns. They saw what the others did not see. And they were proved right.
The fourth grand challenge is the ability to pose, rather than merely solve, big problems. For example, James Watson felt sure that it was going to be possible to discover the molecular nature of the gene and worked hard at it even to such an extent that he was fired from the Rockefeller Fellowship that he had. Einstein, when he was 15 years old, asked himself what would the world look like if [he] were moving with the velocity of light. This big question led finally to his special theory of relativity.
The fifth grand challenge is to create new mechanisms by which out of the box thinking will be triggered in Indian science. In the early nineties, when I was the Director of the National Chemical Laboratory, we tried to promote this by creating a small "kite flying fund", where an out of the box idea with even a one in one thousand chance of success of would be supported. Bold thinking was applauded and failure was not punished. The result was remarkable 'free thinking' that gave us a quite a few breakthroughs.
When I moved to Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) as Director-General in mid nineties, we created a "New Idea Fund" with a similar objective. Here, over time, it turned out that it was not the lack of funds, but it was lack of great ideas that was the bottleneck!
But great ideas did come to Indian scientists in the distant past. In 2003, Jayant Narlikar wrote a book The Scientific Edge. He listed the top 10 achievements of Indian science and technology in the 20th century. There are five before 1950 and five after 1950. Interestingly, the five before 1950 are all individual efforts, namely, the works by Ramanujam (the products of his mathematical genius are still researched on), Meghnad Saha (his ionization equation played a vital role in stellar astrophysics), S.N. Bose (his work on particle statistics was path breaking), C.V. Raman (his Raman effect discovery led to the one and only Nobel prize that an Indian scientist doing work in India has won) and G.N. Ramachandran (he was the father of molecular biophysics).
After 1950, Narlikar lists the other five achievements, namely the green revolution, space research, nuclear energy, superconductivity and transformation of CSIR in the nineties. In these, except for the superconductivity research, in which the likes of C.N.R. Rao made pioneering contributions, the rest are all government funded "organised science and technology". Why is it that in the second half of 20th century, we could not recreate the magic of the early part of the century created by Ramanujams, Ramans, Boses and so on?
The potential Ramans and Ramanujams are there even today somewhere. We need to find them early enough and nurture them. For this, we need to recognise that there is no intellectual democracy; elitism in science is inevitable and needs to be promoted.
In the year 2005, the Nobel prize for physics was shared by Glauber, Hall and Hansch, a controversy erupted since many Indian scientists felt that it should have been shared by E.C.G. Sudarshan, a scientist of Indian origin. In the year 2009, we did better. A scientist of Indian origin, Venky Ramakrishnan shared the chemistry Nobel prize with Steitz and Yonath. The fact that Venky was born in India was a cause for great Indian celebration. Next, will we have a Nobel prize for an Indian working in India?
Why not? It certainly can happen. The government has created new institutions such as Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research. It has created schemes such as Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE), for drawing and retaining millions of young bright children into science. There are clear signs of reversal of brain drain. Infosys has taken a giant step forward by creating mini Indian Nobel prizes worth half a crore rupees each for different scientific disciplines. If we can leverage all this by promoting that irreverence in Indian science, creating new organisational values, creating tolerance for risk taking and failure, then Indian science will certainly make that 'much awaited' difference. Nobel prizes will then follow inevitably.
(Dr. R.A. Mashelkar, FRS, is chairman, National Innovation Foundation & president, Global Research Alliance.)
IN FAMILIAR BOOKS, A BATTLE OVER ELECTRONIC RIGHTS
A RISING SOURCE OF CONFLICT IN ONE OF THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY'S LAST REMAINING AREAS OF GROWTH.
William Styron may have been one of the leading literary lions of recent decades, but his books are not selling much these days. Now his family has a plan to lure digital-age readers with e-book versions of titles like "Sophie's Choice," "The Confessions of Nat Turner" and Styron's memoir of depression, "Darkness Visible."
But the question of exactly who owns the electronic rights to such older titles is in dispute, making it a rising source of conflict in one of the publishing industry's last remaining areas of growth.
Styron's family believes it retains the rights, since the books were first published before e-books existed. Random House, Styron's long time publisher, says it owns those rights, and it is determined to secure its place and continuing profits in the Kindle era.
The discussions about the digital fate of Styron's work are similar to the negotiations playing out across the book industry as publishers hustle to capture the rights to release e-book versions of so-called backlist books. Indeed, the same new e-book venture Styron's family hopes to use has run into similar resistance from the print publisher of "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller.
On Friday, Markus Dohle, chief executive of Random House, sent a letter to dozens of literary agents, writing that the company's older agreements gave it "the exclusive right to publish in electronic book publishing formats."
Backlist titles, which continue to be reprinted long after their initial release, are crucial to publishing houses because of their promise of revenue year after year. But authors and agents are particularly concerned that traditional publishers are not offering sufficient royalties on e-book editions, which they point out are cheaper for publishers to produce. Some are considering taking their digital rights elsewhere, which could deal a financial blow to the hobbled publishing industry.
The tussle over who owns the electronic rights and how much the authors should earn in digital royalties potentially puts into play works by authors like Ralph Ellison and John Updike.
Some publishers have already made agreements with authors or their estates to release digital editions. All of Ernest Hemingway's books, for example, are available in electronic versions from his print publisher, Scribner, a unit of Simon & Schuster.
But with only a small fraction of the thousands of books in print available in e-book form, there are many titles to be fought over.
"This is a wide-open frontier right now," said Maja Thomas, senior vice-president for digital and audio publishing at the Hachette Book Group.
And with electronic readers like the Kindle from Amazon and the Nook from Barnes & Noble attracting new readers and sales of e-books growing exponentially, authors and publishers are trying to figure out how best to harness the new technology.
New ventures focusing explicitly on e-books are cropping up regularly. Some offer authors better financial terms than the traditional publishers, raising the tension over who should publish the books digitally.
In the case of Styron, who died in 2006 at age 81, the eight titles his family wants to re-release as e-books were published in print before 1994. This fall, Styron's estate reached an agreement with a new company, Open Road Integrated Media, founded by Jane Friedman, the former chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide, and Jeffrey Sharp, a film producer.
In October, Open Road announced that it would produce e-books of Styron's work, along with several older titles by Pat Conroy and Iris Murdoch.
Alexandra Styron, 43, Styron's daughter, said her family liked that a company "focused on the idea of the future of the book industry wanted to make my father's books an important part of their plan to bring old and long-gone authors into the 21st century." Styron said her family was happy with the job Random House, and their father's editor, Robert Loomis, had done for Styron's work in the print world. But with e-books, she said, "we didn't feel that we were getting any similar kind of full-court press from Random House."
In his letter on Friday, Dohle said that authors were precluded "from granting publishing rights to third parties." Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, said the company expected to "continue to publish the Styron books we own in all formats, including e-books." © 2009 The New York Times News Service
ANDHRA PRADESH POLITICAL CRISIS AND THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA
Half a century ago, on December 19, 1952, to be precise, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announced the formation of a new State of Andhra. It was separated from an unwieldy and composite Madras State, which then comprised people speaking Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, along with a few other languages. Comprising mostly Telugu-speaking people, Andhra State came into being on October 1, 1953, with Kurnool as its capital. This is a historic date since this was the first-born among Indian States in the era of linguistic reorganisation.
It did not come without a struggle and a final price: Nehru's announcement came three days after Potti Sreeramulu, Gandhian and freedom-fighter, who went on an indefinite fast in Madras demanding formation of a State for the Telugu-speaking people, died on the 59th day. Three years later, on November 1, 1956, the Telangana region with Telugu-speaking people, which was under the control of the princely state of Hyderabad, was brought into the State of Andhra, which was renamed Andhra Pradesh. Younger siblings such as Kerala and Karnataka followed. Over the years, the formation of States based on the linguistic principle proved, by and large, a big success. Among other things, they provided an opportunity for Indian languages to grow independently and for their art and literature to enrich themselves with strong state support.
A CONCEPT UNDER CHALLENGE
Today, the very concept of linguistic organisation of States has come under question and even under challenge. It has suffered a setback in several parts of the country, with factors other than language becoming a decisive force for separation into new units. In North India, some States have already been bi-furcated or tri-furcated in response to popular demands, not always for just reasons, using criteria other than language. This did not happen in the South. But there has been one longstanding issue defying all attempts at resolution, the status of Andhra Pradesh's Telangana region comprising 10 districts. The revival of the agitation for a separate Telangana State, with Hyderabad as its capital, and the response by the central government have taken Andhra Pradesh to the brink.
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's late-night announcement on December 9 that the process of forming the State of Telangana would be initiated and an appropriate resolution moved in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly has profoundly altered the political situation in all three regions of the State. The central government's decision followed the reported deterioration in the health of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi president, K. Chandrasekhara Rao, whose fast demanding a separate State of Telangana had entered the 11th day. The announcement has triggered demonstrations and protests, violent in some areas, disrupting peace and normal life in several parts of the State.
Understandably, the Union government's announcement was criticised by elected political representatives of the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions as "hasty", "based on wrong threat perceptions," and so on. Twenty Ministers are reportedly planning to resign and 138 members of the Assembly have submitted their resignations to the Speaker, apparently with the intention of bringing pressure on the Centre.
It is not yet clear whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assurance to a group of Members of Parliament from Andhra and Rayalaseema regions that "nothing will be done in haste" will arrest the cascading effect of the ongoing violent protests. This may lead to fresh thinking on the issue and, hopefully, help shape an alternative solution that avoids breaking up the State. Of course, such a solution needs to give top priority to alleviating the genuine grievances of the people of Telangana, the social and economic backwardness of the region, and the discrimination they complain of especially in the fields of employment and education.
What is intriguing, however, is how the ruling dispensation in New Delhi came out with the big announcement when even the supporters of the Telangana movement did not expect it. It bore all the signs of a panic-driven response from the Centre, a loss of political nerve. But how did it happen?
MEDIA BECAME A PLAYER
Some political observers assign a considerable share of the blame on influential sections of the broadcast and print media. Apart from the general complaint of sensationalising the agitation-related incidents with a view to sustaining the viewer or reader interest, there has been the charge that a section of the media developed vested interests in support of, or against, the agitation. In other words, they became players in the political drama. "To some extent they were able to influence the course of events that should otherwise have been left to the political parties or the agitators," commented an independent observer. Some others said that there was clear exaggeration in news television's portrayal of the initial phase of the Telangana agitation.
A senior journalist took exception to the repeated telecast of the clips of the police lathi-charge on the agitators. One TV channel reportedly showed in slow motion the lathi blows on a university student. As serious was the way some channels sensationalised the deterioration in the health of the fasting leader, making it out to be much worse than it actually was. One channel even went to the extent of reporting that the fasting leader was slipping into a coma, which was completely untrue. This only strengthens the impression that on sensitive issues, under the pressure of emotionally driven mass movements, factuality and reporting norms relating to proportion and context are being sacrificed by influential sections of the Indian media.
SITE DIVERTS SHOPPING MONEY TO CHARITIES
DONATE THE MONEY THAT YOU WOULD OTHERWISE HAVE SPENT ON SOMETHING YOU MIGHT NOT REALLY WANT.
A new Web site lets people donate to charity the money they would have spent on, say, that $44.50 Henley sweater from The Gap or, better yet, the $250,000 his-and-hers ICON aircraft that Neiman Marcus is selling this year.
BRAC USA, the American arm of a Bangladeshi development and aid organization, started the site, www.whatididnotbuy.org, on Thursday.
"What we're trying to do," said Susan Davis, the president and chief executive of BRAC USA, "is emphasise how much you could help accomplish with an amount of money that you might otherwise spend on something you or someone else might not really want or need."
As of midday Friday, 89 people had contributed roughly $500 using the site, forgoing items like a blender, champagne, power tools and a flat-screen television.
Lucy Bernholz, a nonprofit and philanthropic consultant, said she saw the new Web site as a reaction to the growth of embedded giving, in which companies promise to donate part of the proceeds from the sale of specific items. "Walgreens will no longer stand between me and my gift, which I like," Bernholz said.
Churches often exhort their members to curtail consumption during the holidays and instead spend more on the needy, and the Dalio Family Foundation used to run advertisements that advocated charitable giving in lieu of holiday excess.
NO PAPER CARD
Jennifer Buffett, president of the NoVo Foundation, one of BRAC's biggest supporters, said the foundation, based in New York, had decided to use e-cards and donate the $350 it spent on paper cards last year to support three teachers in southern Sudan. The foundation's seven-member staff also decided that instead of buying one another Secret Santa gift, they would put the money toward projects described on the new Web site.
"I'm so excited about the site," Ms Buffett said, noting that it had inspired her to swear off taxis and use the money she would have spent to support nonprofit causes. "I'm going to tell all my friends about it."
She said she had no idea what her father-in-law, Warren E. Buffett, who is known for his off-the-rack suits, might choose not to buy. © 2009 The New York Times News Service
THE ASIAN AGE
GROWTH? YES. BUT CAN IT BE SUSTAINED?
The stock market gave the thumbs down to the figures for industrial production on Friday even while the government and some sections of decision-markers were pleased with the figures. The truth is that the double digit growth figure of 10.3 per cent was higher than the base figure, or the figure for October 2008, the period when the global financial crisis was at it peak. But the index of industrial production (IIP) was less than what it was month-on-month and, therefore, is indicative of a slowdown in the pace of growth. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said that growth well above 10 per cent is not just due to the base effect and that there is an element of growth which he hopes will be sustained in the following months. This a positive interpretation of the IIP figures and a morale-booster for the economy. The tricky part is to sustain this growth. There is an admission that this growth has been fuelled by the government's stimulus package. No study has been made of the percentage that the stimulus package contributed to this growth in the various sectors though the stimulus package is said to have contributed nearly two per cent to GDP growth. It is more likely than not to be quite significant because captains of industry as well as industry and business organisations have been repeatedly saying that the stimulus packages should stay for some time even as the Reserve Bank of India keeps talking of an exit policy in phases.
So the continuation of the stimulus package is critical to growth. Growth will have to be stimulated by real economic activity, and this is yet to be seen. There has been growth in car sales, which is said to be fuelled by the fact that cars could be dearer in the coming months as inflation and interest rates go up. A lot of growth has been stimulated by government spending as against private spending. Private investment is not picking up and in the current fiscal is said to be just six per cent as against 18 per cent in 2007-08. The signals on investments are mixed. It is said that several projects have been shelved and those that have been completed are fewer than planned. It is true that industry has been showing profits, but that is mostly due to cost-cutting and other related measures. The top-line growth is still insignificant. There is a general concern about the fragile mature of the recovery and people, and the market, are not fully convinced about the solid nature of the growth. Though India is not dependent on global growth to the extent that the Southeast Asian countries are, the weakness in the growth in the US and Europe are till worrying and can affect growth impulses in India. The sovereign ratings of various countries, like Greece and Ireland, have stoked fears of several others being in line, particularly after the Dubai financial crisis. India's fiscal deficit is still only on the increase and is close to eight per cent of GDP though the government says it is lower but a source of concern. If there is another global financial crisis, as is feared, then India will have very little leeway to offer any more stimulus packages with such a high fiscal deficit. It is said that India experienced a difficult second quarter, but that the worst is over. But India needs to see more investment and increasing capacity utilisation across the board if growth is to be sustained in the real economy.
WE ARE THE WORLD
Even as we are separating ourselves into mini regions to establish our identities, genetic and anthropological research is pushing us in the opposite direction that as human we are more connected than apart. The Human Genome Organisation has in a study published in Science discovered that Indians are the ancestors of all East Asians that is, the people of China, Japan and South East Asia. Conventional wisdom earlier had it that people migrated out of Africa in two waves some 70,000 years ago, one towards India and the other towards the rest of Asia. Now it seems that the migrants stopped in India before moving on.
The immediate question that arises here is about ethnic facial and other characteristics because that is how we distinguish ourselves into "races". But anthropologists have long known that skin colour, the shape of the eyes, the size of lips and nostrils change with climate and geography. That there is only one human race is by now practically indisputable.
Genetics and the study of the human genome give us a complete and so far fascinating picture of who we are and how we emerged. From our migration patterns, from our social interactions, from our marriage laws, we can create a picture of how we developed as societies and civilisations. Many of these divisions happened more recently in time than we had imagined. Obviously, now that we know that the usual race indicators skin colour and so on are superficial we ought to be better equipped to deal with our prejudices.
To know that we are one with the people of Asia also gives Indians a different perspective. Often politically and strategically, we are seen as different. But now that India is in a sense the big sister, if Africa is the mother, we share far more than we realise. Only months ago, we learnt that genetically, North and South Indians are very closely connected. Before those revelations which are yet to sink in we had used language and cultural choices as ways to separate us.
To dream of one world with one race reeks of childish optimism but yet, science is inexorably pushing us in that direction. In some sense so has popular culture singers like John Lennon or Michael Jackson as have philosophers, thinkers, commentators. Perhaps somewhere, as we celebrate and wallow in our differences, we might also accept our similarities. We are the world?
The general body of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi has predictably set up a committee to look into the recommendations made by the Valiathan committee to suggest ways of improving the functioning of the country's premier medical institute. Set up more than three years ago, the Valiathan committee has made about 28 recommendations with regard to the general functioning of the institute and a second part of seven more which would require amendments to the Parliamentary Act that governs AIIMS.
The general response has been lukewarm, occasionally even cold and negative, to some of the suggestions like the one on linkages between the hospital and industry for research purposes. Some of the faculty expressed a sense of horror at this and exclaimed that this would lead to the corporatisation of AIIMS as though corporatisation in itself is sinister.
They also objected to the fact that such a link with industry will give profits a priority over genuine work. The apprehensions are not unfounded. It is the refusal to see the positive aspect that is worrying. It is the general practice that research funding can be legitimately funnelled through private industry and the possible malpractices that arise out of it could be monitored and controlled. The rejection of the idea itself shows the entrenched bureaucratic attitude not just of the government but of doctors and faculty at the AIIMS.
Similarly, the committee has recommended that AIIMS should collaborate with other international institutes, which is a good idea. But it goes on to say that AIIMS should set up hospitals in different parts of the world. On the face of it, it looks rather outlandish but a second look will show that with a large Indian expatriate community in the Gulf countries, Singapore and the US it could be workable. The committee has also suggested that doctors and researchers who publish papers in research journals and have an impact a technical process by which an article's importance is weighed by the number of times it is cited by other researchers should be given a cash incentive. It has also suggested that people with original research ideas should be given seed money of Rs100,000 for a pilot project. Now these are changes that AIIMS need to undertake without delay. What seems to stand in the way is a mindset governed by rigid norms and an outmoded sense of hierarchy.
IROM SHARMILA'S 10-YEAR-FAST IS IGNORED
Isn't it ironic and smacks of the Centre's double standards? One person in Andhra Pradesh fasts for ten days and Centre relents. Another person fasts in Manipur for nine years and more, supported by the relay fast of thousands of other women for one year now, and what does the Centre do? NOTHING. Wah, wah, Indian democracy!! Not proud to be an Indian".This is a message sent to some of us by a woman journalist friend in Manipur. Indeed, if you are looking at what they call "mainland" India from the distant Northeast, it must seem strange that a 10-day-fast can result in talks for a separate state for Telangana but a 10-year-fast to demand the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from Manipur results in nothing.
Irom Sharmila, that iconic 36-year-old Manipuri woman, has spent the best part of almost 10 years being force fed against her will. She has undertaken a fast-unto-death demanding the withdrawal of the AFSPA. Each year, the ritual is played out. Her period of detention for attempting suicide is one year. The authorities have to release her, usually in early March. She leaves the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal where she is incarcerated and being force fed through a tube shoved down her nose.
Earlier this year, many of us were witness to the moving moment when this pale young woman emerged from the hospital and was virtually carried by hundreds of older Manipuri woman who have been on a relay hunger strike in support, to the shamiana where they sit all day and all night in solidarity. Sharmila began speaking as she gained a little strength. But she would not give up her fast. So two days later she was rearrested and once again moved to the hospital.
And while this annual arrest and rearrest ritual continues, Manipur and particularly Imphal is caught in a permanent spiral of violence. For many months now, since the July 23 "encounter" killing of a young man, Chongkham Sanjit in broad daylight in Imphal's busy market area (exposed by Tehelka through a series of photographs), the capital of Manipur has not been "normal". People are demanding that the killers of this young man be prosecuted. But AFSPA gives the security forces impunity. Their powers to act cannot be questioned.
As a result, there has been a civil strike that has immobilised the city. For months children have not attended school or college. There is violence, curfew and an aggravation of the perennial shortages that this land-locked city not far from the border of Myanmar faces even in so-called normal times. The 25 lakh citizens of the state of Manipur have seen little or no development for years while the rest of India, apparently, marches ahead. So my Manipuri friends have a right to ask why some fasts in the "mainland" yield results while their protests are never heard. Or if they are, then the result is promises that are never kept. Prime minister Manmohan Singh raised some hopes in 2004 when he went to Imphal and promised that the withdrawal of AFSPA would be considered.
He set up a committee headed by Supreme Court judge BP Jeevan Reddy to look into the issue. The committee strongly recommended that the Act be withdrawn pointing out that the Act, "for whatever reason, has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness". But nothing happened. The promise was forgotten, the recommendation ignored. The Telangana issue has triggered a series of demands for separate states. The people of Gorkhaland have begun fasts, others are threatening to do so. But in the midst of all this fasting, we would do well to pause and think why only the demands of our "mainland" matter while the "periphery" places like Manipur are ignored, forgotten and rendered virtually invisible.
TAMING THE SEXUAL TIGER
My Experiments With Sex could well have been the title of the other bestseller by Mahatma Gandhi.
Throughout his life and right into his old age, Gandhi tried to comprehend the power of sexual urges and shared his thoughts through his writings. Becoming increasingly spiritual as he progressed in life, he decided to become celibate after 36. As is well documented by Ved Mehta in Mahatma Gandhi And His Apostles and other books by Nirmal Kumar Bose, Erik H Erikson, and by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in Freedom At Midnight, Gandhi put himself to the test by taking naked women to bed.
With rare courage, he confessed in his autobiography that during his sixteenth year, his mind was overwhelmingly preoccupied with sex, driving him repeatedly to the bedroom to his pregnant wife as his father lay dying in an adjoining room. He never forgave himself for missing the moment when his father died, all because of his "carnal desire even at the critical hour of my father's death, which demanded wakeful service".
Gandhi discussed his thoughts on sex somewhat candidly in spite of the highly conservative and reactionary environment of his times. He viewed himself as "a lustful though faithful husband" and as he said in his autobiography, "It took me long to get free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before I could overcome it."
The world has passed through multiple sexual revolutions since and India is just beginning to open up on this front. Sexual freedom is increasingly becoming a reality, especially for urban Indian men and women, and there is ample opportunity for experimentation, be it real or virtual.
As our society embraces new attitudes on sex, making it challenging particularly for the youth, the fact remains that howsoever outdated and irrelevant Gandhi's thoughts may seem today, his focal point on managing one's sexual urges continues to be relevant. All the more for people in the public glare, who have high stakes in carefully cultivated images which are often just facades.
Tiger Woods is but the latest in the long string of notables from any and every country whose image has been shattered by the revelation of his sexual escapades. It was Bill Clinton before him who made headline news on the same subject. Both Clinton and Woods projected the image of ideal family men but confessed that they had erred in weak moments.
Our present ethic on fidelity in marriage can be traced to the traditions of the Catholic Church and 18th century America which "condemned sex outside marriage and exalted family solidarity". As it stands, marriage has emerged as more than a practical institution; it is a bond of trust among couples that weakens, if not breaks, with the discovery of infidelity.
The matter of suppressing sexual urges has been central to practically all religions, although virtually all religious orders have failed in trying to keep their priests and pundits celibate, as is evidenced from scandal upon scandal.
It may be argued that Hinduism, which gave the world the manual of sex, the Kama Sutra, has been tolerant of this primal urge, advocating the middle path and "the withdrawal of the senses in a weak moment" just as "a tortoise pulls itself under its shell in times of danger".
The American philosopher Will Durant described sex as "our strongest instinct and greatest problem" after hunger. He strongly disapproved of the gross stimulation provided to this instinct by modern civilisation through advertisement and other means and looked upon marriage as a solution "to take our minds off sex, and become adult".
It may be forcefully argued that the traditional emphasis on suppressing the sexual urge has, on the contrary, fuelled the sex industry and, as a consequence, the trafficking of children who die young or end up as unwilling prostitutes. Legalising prostitution is one way of coming out of our denial and this thought was expressed recently by the Supreme Court.
Way back on August 28, 1968, Osho (then known as Acharya Rajneesh) bravely and brilliantly delivered his 'Sambhog se samadhi ki ore' (From sex towards superconsciousness) lectures at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and at Gowalia Tank in what was then Bombay. Beginning with the question, what is the meaning of love, he lambasted religious doctrines for their destructive approach to sex, holding them responsible for man's biggest obsession.
Echoing the thoughts of Sigmund Freud, Rajneesh described the sex drive as the fundamental energy in man and demanded that society must demystify sex for its children; accept and embrace this mysterious force as a friend. Rather perceptively, he had said, "The more you embrace sex in its true spirit, the greater will be your freedom from it; the more you deny it, the greater will be your destruction."
Will, knowledge and love are the three divine powers in human nature and the life of man, and they point to the three paths by which the human soul rises to the divine. The integrality of them, the union of man with God in all the three, must therefore, as we have seen, be the foundation of an integral Yoga.
Action is the first power of life. Nature begins with force and its works which, once conscious in man, become will and its achievements; therefore it is that by turning his action Godwards the life of man best and most surely begins to become divine. It is the door of first access, the starting-point of the initiation. When the will in him is made one with the divine will and the whole action of the being proceeds from the Divine and is directed towards the Divine, the union in works is perfectly accomplished. But works fulfil themselves in knowledge; all the totality of works, says the Gita, finds its rounded culmination in knowledge, sarvam karmãkhilam jñãne parisamãpyate. By union in will and works we become one in the omnipresent conscious being from whom all our will and works have their rise and draw their power and in whom they fulfil the round of their energies. And the crown of this union is love; for love is the delight of conscious union with the Being in whom we live, act and move, by whom we exist, for whom alone we learn in the end to act and to be. That is the trinity of our powers.
Knowledge is the foundation of a constant living in the Divine. For consciousness is the foundation of all living and being, and knowledge is the action of the consciousness, the light by which it knows itself and its realities, the power by which, starting from action, we are able to hold the inner results of thought and act in a firm growth of our conscious being until it accomplishes itself, by union, in the infinity of the divine being.
An excerpt from The Yoga of Divine Love by Shri Aurobindo
TELANGANA, A SENSITIVE CASE
Although the Centre's decision to concede in principle the longstanding demand for a separate state of Telangana is abrupt, it deserves a cautious welcome insofar as it sets out to meet the aspirations of the people of a region that has been characterised by lack of development, social backwardness and poor education opportunities. We should have at least 50 states as against just 30-odd now since smaller states will be stable and easy to administer. An agitation may be mounted to counter the Telangana demand. This had happened in 1972 when the "Jai Andhra" movement had been launched to checkmate the Telangana agitation. However, if statehood is achieved, there is real hope that Telangana, where social and economic backwardness have bred Naxalism, would benefit from it the way Haryana did when it was carved out as a separate state from Punjab.
Dilbag Rai, via email
The Telangana agitation has demonstrated that there has been so far no single chief minister in Andhra Pradesh who worked for the welfare of the whole state and carried all the people with him. It also goes to prove that even though linguistic provinces were expected to bring cohesion among linguistic groups it has not done so. Lastly fasting unto death for a cause is not satyagraha, it is duragraha. Supposing if some of those who oppose the formation of Telangana go on a fast to death what will the government do?
G Venkataraman, Mumbai
Although the people of Mumbai, Konkan and Vidarbha would like to free themselves from the clutches of the Maratha rule, it is unlikely that the Marathas who dominate Maharashtrian politics would agree. Out of the 9 crore population of Maharashtra 34 per cent consists of Marathas. They have dominated state politics since its inception in 1960. The first chief minister of the state was a Maratha (Yashwantrao Chavan). Since then the state has witnessed heavy presence of the Maratha community in the ministry, local municipal commissions, police force and panchayats.
Adrian S, Mumbai
CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT
MPS STEP UP PRESSURE FOR DINAKARAN'S EXIT
Justice P.D. Dinakaran's continuance as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court has become untenable following serious charges of landgrabbing and misconduct levelled against him. Even as legal luminaries, the bar associations of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and organisations like the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reform and the Forum for Judicial Accountability have stepped up efforts for his removal, over 50 Rajya Sabha MPs of the BJP, Left and other parties have sought his impeachment by Parliament. Unfortunately, the collegium headed by the Chief Justice of India has not taken any decision on the matter despite the Tiruvallur District Collector's two reports confirming the charge of landgrabbing against the judge. The Survey of India is also taking a long time to reply to the CJI's query on the issue.
The issue in question is not limited to preventing Justice Dinakaran's elevation to the Supreme Court but even his continuance as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court. If he is considered unfit for elevation, how can he continue at the helm in the Karnataka High Court? Moreover, according to the MPs' petition, Justice Dinakaran is not only guity of landgrabbing but also possessing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income, unlawfully securing housing plots in favour of his wife and two daughters, benami transactions and acquiring and possessing agricultural holdings beyond the ceiling limit in Tamil Nadu.
There is an elaborate procedure for impeaching a judge. On receiving the MPs' petition (signed by 100 Lok Sabha MPs or 50 Rajya Sabha MPs), the Rajya Sabha Chairman sets up a committee under the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, consisting of a sitting Supreme Court judge, a High Court chief justice and an eminent jurist. After its inquiry, Parliament can pass the motion of impeachment by two-thirds of members present and voting. The House is now following this method for the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court. The 1992 impeachment motion against Justice Ramaswami failed because MPs from his home state of Tamil Nadu decided to vote against it and the Congress abstained. As the judiciary's reputation is at stake, action against Justice Dinakaran brooks no delay.
UP IS UNWIELDY
MAYA PLAYS POLITICS WITH GEOGRAPHY
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati may be playing politics while demanding the trifurcation of her state into Harit Pradesh, Bundelkhand and Poorvanchal, but the time has come to look dispassionately into the issue. The demand had been raised on these lines by others too, but in vain. Despite the carving out of Uttarakhand as a separate state comprising the hill districts of UP, the latter still remains as unwieldy and ungovernable as it ever was. Its huge size with a population of 22 crore, sending 80 MPs to Parliament, has definitely been a major hindrance to the development of all regions of the state. Providing an effective administration covering 800 km from Noida to Ballia is a nightmare for any head of the government. In such a big state, development is bound to be the first casualty.
UP can give birth to, in fact, four states if the case of Avadh with the Avadhi-speaking districts surrounding Lucknow is taken into consideration. It will be difficult to ignore the case of UP by the states reorganisation commission if it is constituted in the wake of the claims for statehood made by different regions after the Telangana development. There are no emotions involved in keeping UP as a laggard one state. It is the other way round. People of western UP will be happier if they get Harit Pradesh. Those belonging to Bundelkhand (which has seven districts in UP and six in Madhya Pradesh), Oudh and Poorvanchal will also react in the same manner if they get what they want.
The population complexion of all four regions is such that Ms Mayawati's BSP may be a major gainer. The Dalits are in an overwhelming majority in Bundelkhand, which has been in the grip of drought for many years. Ms Mayawati's primary support base is quite strong in Oudh and Poorvanchal too. The situation in Harit Pradesh is different. Yet she is not prepared to get a resolution passed in the state assembly for the purpose. She has her own game-plan and wants the Centre to initiate the process. The Congress, which is busy reviving its state unit, may have difficulties in going in for converting UP into four states. But it can ultimately gain as this will lead to a considerable improvement in the economic profile of the different areas that together are what is at present UP.
WAITING FOR PENSION
IF ONLY BABUS KNEW THE PLIGHT OF THE NEEDY
As many as 26,597 applications for pensions by the aged, the handicapped, widows and destitute are pending with the government, according to a statement made in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha on Friday. They are all needy people and deserve whatever little the state can do for them. It should not take too long to weed out unentitled applicants, if any, and there is no point in sitting over the remaining cases. It is not enough to announce welfare schemes for the downtrodden. The authorities concerned must ensure that the benefits are actually delivered without putting the beneficiaries to unnecessary inconvenience. Pensioners can often be seen making rounds of government offices for petty sums passed on as pension.
Although media reports do not carry the Social Security Minister's explanation for the pile-up of applications, there can be two reasons for the enormous backlog: administrative and financial. For one, government machinery moves terribly slow. For another, official procedures are so complicated and tedious that it quite often becomes difficult for an ordinary citizen to get relief in his/her lifetime. Being unorganised, the poor cannot plead their case effectively before the powers-that-be and, because of poverty, they cannot approach the court for justice. Those at the helm of affairs, therefore, should understand their plight and go out of their way to help them.
Many of the Punjab government's welfare schemes have collapsed for want of funds. "Shagun" is one. High food prices have hit the plan to offer subsidised rice/wheat and dal to the poor. Pension delays may also be attributed to the acute resource crunch in the state. The state kitty is seriously depleted. The government is taking loans to partly meet its day-to-day commitments. The extravagant political leadership and bureaucracy must do serious cost-cutting and use the limited state resources for development and helping the needy.
B'DESH HAS STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE
NEED TO STRENGTHEN AWAMI LEAGUE'S POSITION
BY HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
Most discussions on India-Bangladesh relations revolve around issues like river-water sharing, illegal migration and the sanctuary and assistance given to secessionist rebel groups in north-eastern India by Dhaka. Little attention has been paid to the wider question of Bangladesh's strategic importance to India. An understanding of its significance must play a defining role in formulating India's position on the specific issues between the two countries.
The first thing to consider is geographical location. India's land link to seven of its north-eastern states is a narrow passage running above Bangladesh's northern border. Its narrowest stretch, the 50 km-long Siliguri-Islampur corridor, is only 20 km wide at most places. India's vulnerability here does not normally feature in public discourse because of this country's vastly superior military strength compared to Bangladesh's. That problems may arise when this country is engaged in military conflict in other areas was underlined by the bomb explosion at New Jalpaiguri railway station on June 22, 1999, when the Kargil war was at its height. Two of the 10 killed and 16 of the 80 wounded were men of the Gorkha Regiment on their way to Kargil for deployment.
The blast, which was traced to ULFA terrorists aided by Pakistan's ISI operating from Bangladesh, was aimed at disrupting the transfer of Indian troops from the country's north-east to the north-western border. That it was not followed by other blasts and guerrilla operations was the result of several factors.
First, it was a localised war and India was not fully extended. It had enough troops to retaliate in the eastern sector if things took a serious turn. No government of Bangladesh could risk such a development, however intense its hostility toward India. The Awami League government, in power in Bangladesh at the time, was certainly not hostile toward India, though it was not effective in preventing Pakistan's use of its territory for launching cross-border terrorist strikes in India or the DGFI from assisting rebel groups from the north-eastern states based on its soil.
Things can, however, turn out very differently in future if there is a hostile government in Dhaka and India is so fully extended in a war with Pakistan or China that it can hardly strike back at Bangladesh for cross-border terrorism from its soil. Or it may be even worse if Bangladesh is then at war with India in alliance with the countries fighting the latter. It will be unwise to dismiss such a scenario as being too far-fetched. Strategic projections must take all possibilities into account. Besides, that such a development is well within the range of possibilities will become clear if we take other likely developments into account.
Much would depend on what happens in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is by no means certain that President Obama's Af-Pak policy will succeed. The deployment of 30,000 more US troops and between 5,000 and 8,000 more NATO troops in Afghanistan may not be enough. According to American troops, the Taliban contingents confronting them are, despite significant inferiority in firepower, highly skilled and motivated, and have been matching them move by tactical move. Also, the resumption of operations in Kunduz in Afghanistan, where peaceful conditions had led to a reduction in the levels of NATO and US forces, reflects sound strategic thinking aimed at spreading out the anti-Taliban forces so thin that they become vulnerable to concentrated Taliban/Al-Qaeda attacks at particular points.
The Taliban fighters, therefore, are highly unlikely to be defeated by the middle of 2011 when the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan is slated to begin. On the other hand, the knowledge that the US would begin withdrawing from that year would boost their morale immensely and persuade them to fight tenaciously to maximise US casualties in the hope that this would increase the pressure on President Obama to hasten the withdrawal, particularly since powerful elements in the Democratic Party want a quick end to the war. Or they must just melt into the local population to resume their offensive once the US and NATO forces leave.
On the other hand, personnel of US and NATO forces may be less inclined to risk their lives knowing that they just need to be safe till 2011 when the withdrawal would begin, and even Pakistanis opposed to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda may refrain from acting against them for fear of post-withdrawal reprisals. The planned increase in the strength of the Afghan Army to 240,000, and the Afghan police to 160,000-from their present strength of 90,000 and 93,000-- to replace US and NATO forces is unlikely to materialise. People are unwilling to join. Also the quality of the officers and men of the army is poor.
The Obama administration's reassurance that 2011 would mark only the beginning of the withdrawal whose pace would depend on the developments on the ground, and the US would not leave its allies in the lurch, is not cutting much ice given its virtual abandonment of Afghanistan to its fate after the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, and its diversion of attention, energy and resources to the war in Iraq in 2003. This and the sanctuary and assistance provided by Pakistan substantially accounted for the Al- Qaeda and Taliban forces, shattered and ousted from Afghanistan in December 2001, to recover and pose the serious threat they now do to the Karzai regime.
The beginning of a US withdrawal without a definite indication that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda face defeat would cause demoralisation in Kabul and Islamabad. This and the accompanying surge in the spirits of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda may enable them to win the war and establish control over both Afghanistan and Pakistan and the conventional and nuclear arsenals of both countries, with the former vastly expanded with US military aid. India will then face a sharp increase in cross-border terrorism and several attacks on the scale of 26/11, backed by the military might of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and nuclear blackmail.
Things will become infinitely worse if a coalition government headed by Begum Khaleda Zia, with her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh, among the constituents, is then in power in Dhaka. This may well be the case because the developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan are likely to come to a head in a few years after the beginning of the US withdrawal. The next parliamentary elections in Bangladesh are due in 2013.
The pathological hatred the Jamaat and the BNP harbour toward India is no secret, nor how Bangladesh had become an important hub of cross-border terrorist strikes in India and of global terrorism, when a coalition government, comprising both and with Begum Khaleda Zia as Prime Minister, was in power from 2001 to 2006. Hence the critical importance for strengthening the position of the Awami League, which has sharply demonstrated its commitment to combating terrorism and friendship with India by rendering Arabinda Rajkhowa and other ULFA leaders to this country along with the functionaries of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. New Delhi needs to give serious thought to this as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's rescheduled visit next month draws near.
BY TRILOCHAN SINGH TREWN
Diesel-electric submarines had already joined the Indian naval fleet at Vishakhapatnam when Admiral Sergei Groshkov, supreme naval chief of the Soviet Union, arrived there. He stayed in Palm Beach hotel where my wife served as senior housekeeper. The Soviet naval fleet had about 500 operational submarines at that time. India's heavy aircraft carrier, now under modernisation in a white sea shipyard in Russia, had been named after this Admiral.
I had the privilege of meeting the Soviet naval chief almost every morning when I used to drop my wife in the hotel. Admiral Groshkov was very informal and casual about protocol, sometimes to an embarrassing extent. One day during breakfast time he caught hold of me and asked me to sit next to him on the dining table for breakfast. This was a privilege which many serving rear admirals of Indian navy could not have!
I was also carrying out liaison duties with dozens of soviet specialists residing at Vishakhapatnam. Their interpreter Anatoli had studied Hindi in Tashkent University. He invited me to meet him at his home in Moscow whenever I happened to be in that area. I casually mentioned to him about my desire to have a look at the famous Trans-Siberian Railway spread between Vladivostok and Leningrad. This railway had been an engineering marvel and a symbol of the Soviet Union since its inception.
During 1976 we made a trip to Stockholm from Mumbai via Tashkent and Moscow. At Mumbai airport we felt the difference as we boarded an Aeroflot plane after security clearance. Air crew declined to have a look at our air tickets and asked us to be seated at any empty seat available. Confusion regarding handbags lying at several places remained till we reached Tashkent.
During the two-day halt enroute at Moscow we met our friend Anatoli who was ever keen to learn more of Hindi throughout our association. Anatoli had his hometown in Omsk located on Trans Siberian railway close to Kazakhstan border. It had a very pleasant climate. Anatoli suggested to visit his home town Omsk and thus experience a ride in the Trans Siberian railway too.
Our rail coach was well heated. Meat, bread, non-vegetarian soup, tea, boiled eggs were there for all meals. We managed with only loaf bread and tea in this prestigious train.
Just before boarding train at Moscow a young passerby asked me to change my US dollars currency into Russian roubles. I did that after consulting Anatoli and thereby got four times the prevailing official bank rate.
Inside our coach there were two large framed photographs of places of tourist interest. One of them was that of a famous church. Curiously enough for us there was a printed headline underneath stating: "house of god" with word "god" in Italics only and not in capital letter. On our querry regarding this discrepancy Anatoli smiled and pointed out that Russia as per prevailing concepts in those days did not recognise god as supreme power but only as a respectable deity not entitled for a capital letter! During our two-day stay in Omsk we visited a tourist restaurant where we saw plates full of artificial rice, fish, meat joint and eggs in various forms prominently displaced in glass showcases with tags indicating price in US dollar currency. One had only to point at the item and real food in exactly the same quality and quantity as displayed was served. This helped in overcome language problem!
POKHRAN N-TESTS WERE A SUCCESS
DR KAKODKAR REPLIES TO DOUBTING SCIENTISTS
How credible is India's thermo-nuclear deterrent? That is the key issue Karan Thapar discussed in the CNN-IBN's "Devil's Advocate" programme, broadcast on Sunday, with the former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Anil Kakodkar. He speaks comprehensively, authoritatively and powerfully to clear all the doubts raised by Dr Santhanam and three other leading scientists about the credibility and success of India's thermo-nuclear tests of 1998. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Question: Dr Kakodkar, four leading scientists - Dr Santhanam, Dr Iyengar, Dr Sethna and Dr Prasad - have raised serious doubts about India's thermo-nuclear tests of 1998. Dr Santhanam says, "we have hard evidence on a purely factual basis that not only was the yield of the thermo-nuclear device far below the design prediction, but that it actually failed". Do you have a problem on your hands?
Answer: No, I think this is a totally erroneous conclusion. The yield of thermo-nuclear tests was verified, not by one method but several redundant methods based on different principles, done by different groups. These have been reviewed in detail and, in fact, I had described the tests in 1998 as perfect and I stand by that.
Q: I am glad that you began by talking about the yield because both Dr Santhanam and Dr Iyenger have questioned the yield of the thermo-nuclear tests. Dr Santhanam says that the DRDO seismic instruments measured the yield as something between 20-25 kilotonnes which is hugely different from the claim put out by the Atomic Energy Commission that it was 45 kilotonnes. How confident are you of the 45 kilotonne yield?
A: Well, let me first of all say that that the DAE and the DRDO both work together as a team. The DRDO did deploy some instruments for measurements but the fact is that the seismic instruments did not work. I myself had reviewed all the results immediately after the tests and we concluded that the instruments did not work.
Q: Dr Santhanam says that the Bhabha Atomic Energy Centre accepted the DRDO's instruments and their estimation for the yield of their fission bomb but not for the fusion or the thermo-nuclear. He says how can it be that the instruments worked in one case and not the other.
A: Well that's not true because the instrument measure the ground motion at the place where the instrument is located. We had to separate out the information which was coming out from the thermo-nuclear and which was coming from the fission test. So the point that I am making is that the seismic instruments did not work. So there is no question of the yield of the fission test being right and the thermo-nuclear test being wrong because no conclusion can be drawn from those instruments either way.
Q: But do you have proof that the yield of the thermo-nuclear test was 45 kilotonnes?
A: Yes. In fact, we have. Within limits of what can be said and I must make it clear here that no country has given so much scientific details on their tests as we have given and this we have published with the maximum clarity which could be done.
Q: The problem is that even in 1998, foreign monitors questioned the yield of the thermo-nuclear tests. At that time, Indian doubts were only expressed in private. Now, Indian doubts have burst out into the open and they are being heard in public. Does it not worry you that these doubts continue - now both abroad and at home - and that they have continued for 11 years?
A: Well, it's unfortunate but it doesn't worry me because facts are facts and there is no question of getting worried about this. The point is that the measurements which have been done, they have been done as I mentioned earlier by different groups. People who carry out the measurements on seismic instruments are a different group. People who carry out the measurements on radiochemical instruments are a different group. There are other methods that you can use for example, the simulation of ground motion. That's another group. And all these groups have come to their own conclusions, which match with each other.
Q: And all these five or six different ways of measuring the yield have come to the conclusion that the yield was 45 kilotonnes for the thermo-nuclear device?
A: That's right.
Q: So in your mind there is no doubt about it whatsoever?
A: Absolutely not.
Q: Now, Dr Santhanam, in addition to disputing the yield has other reasons to believe that the thermo-nuclear device failed. He says that given that the fission device, which produced a yield of around 25 kilotonnes, created a crater of 25 meters in diameter, then if the fusion bomb had been successful and produced a yield of 45 kilotonnes it should have created a crater of around 70 meters in diameter. He says that that didn't happen and there was, in fact, no crater at all.
A: That's a layman way of looking at it. The fact of the matter is the fission device yield was 15 kilotonnes, not 25 kilotonnes.
Q: So he's wrong in saying that it was 25 kilotonnes?
A: That's right and secondly although the two devices were about 1.5 kilometers apart, the geology within that distance changed quite a bit, partly because of the layers that exist and their slopes but more importantly because their depths have been different. So the placement of the device of the fission kind is in one kind of medium and the placement of the device of the thermo-nuclear kind is in another medium.
Q: So, in fact, what you are saying is that Dr Santhanam is making two mistakes and possibly making them deliberately. First of all, he's exaggerating the yield of the fission device and secondly he is completely ignoring the fact that the geology of the placement of the fusion was very different.
A: That's right.
Q: And both of those have led him to an erroneous conclusion?
A: Yes. And, in fact, we have gone through detailed simulation. For example, in simulation you can locate the thermo-nuclear device where the fission device was placed and you can locate the fission device where the thermo-nuclear device was placed. And you get a much bigger crater now because the yield is higher.
Q: This is a very important point that you are making.
A: Yes. And the fission device, which is now placed in the thermo-nuclear position, produces much less ground displacement.
Q: So if in simulation you place the thermo-nuclear device where the fission device was placed, you would get a much bigger crater - much closer to the 70 metres in diameter that Dr Santhanam would like to see?
A: Well, I don't remember how much it was but this is actually true. This has been verified by calculations.
Q: Dr Santhanam has yet one more reason for believing that the thermo-nuclear device failed. He says if it had succeeded, both the shaft and the a-frame would have been totally destroyed. Instead, writing in The Hindu, he says, the shaft "remained totally undamaged" and as for the a-frame, he says, it "remained completely intact".
A: Well, I think you must understand the phenomena of ground motion when a nuclear test takes place. Depending on the depth of burial and of course the medium in which it is buried, you could get several manifestations on the surface. You could get a crater and there are different kinds of craters that one could see. You can just get a mound - the ground rises and remains there. And on the other extreme it can vent out. So in case of the thermo-nuclear device, the placement was in hard rock - granite - and with the depth and the yield for 45 kilotonnes, one expects only a mound to rise, which is what happened.
Q: And not a crater?
A: And not a crater.
Q: Clearly you are dismissive of Dr Santhanam's doubts. Now let me quote to you what one of your predecessors - former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr P K Iyenger - said in a statement he issued on September 24, 2009. He says: "The recent revelations by Dr Santhanam are the clincher. He was one of the four leaders associated with Pokhran II, the team leader from the DRDO side, and he must certainly have known many of the details, particularly with regard to the seismic measurements. If he says that the yield was much lower than projected, that there was virtually no crater formed, then there is considerable justification for reasonable doubt regarding the credibility of the thermo-nuclear test." Does it worry you that your predecessors seem to disagree with you but agree with Dr Santhanam?
A: Well, first of all I respect everybody. I respect Dr Iyenger, I respect Dr Santhanam, but the fact is that Dr Iyenger was nowhere involved in the 1998 tests. He was, of course, a key figure in the 1974 tests. Also, the fact is that before the 1998 tests, all work was done under cover - we were not in the open - and we required a lot of logistical support and that all was being provided by the DRDO. But things were still being done on a need-to-know basis. So, to assume that Dr Santhanam knew everything is not true.
Q: You are making two important points. One you are saying that the DRDO and Dr Santhanam did not know everything - the fact that he was the DRDO team leader does not mean that he knew everything that was happening.
A: He knew everything within his realm of responsibility.
Q: You are also saying that Dr Iyenger isn't fully in the picture and, therefore, his opinion is not necessarily valid.
A: He is not in the picture as far as the 1998 tests are concerned.
Q: So, he doesn't really know about the 1998 tests.
A: Well, he knows only as much as has been published and nothing more.
Q: Let's pursue the credibility and the doubts surrounding India's thermo-nuclear deterrent in a somewhat different way. Dr Santhanam says that these doubts were formally raised by the DRDO with the tovernment as far back as 1998 itself. And in a meeting arranged by the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, they were brushed aside in a manner which Dr Santhanam compares to a sort of frivolous voice vote.
A: Immediately after the tests, we carried out a review with both teams present - BARC team as well as the DRDO team. We looked at the measurements done by the BARC team and we looked at the measurements done by the DRDO team and I told you the conclusions and on the basis of that review it was clear what instruments we could go by and what conclusions we could draw. Now, the question is that if the instruments didn't work, where is the question of going by any assertions, which are based on (that). What is the basis of any assertions?
Q: In an article that Dr Santhanam has written recently (on November 15, 2009) for The Tribune, he says: The Department of Atomic Energy - the department to which you were ex-officio secretary - has, in fact, been hiding facts from successive Indian governments, from Parliament and from Indian people. How do you respond to that accusation?
A: Well, as I said earlier, we are perhaps unique in giving out the maximum information and that too very promptly - immediately after the tests.
Q: There is no hiding?
A: There is no hiding.
Q: Let me put to you two or three critical issues. Given the fact that although you have concluded several reviews - including one recently after the doubts were raised - the doubts continue. And given that these are doubts about India's one and only thermo-nuclear test, do we need more tests?
A: Well, I would say no because the important point to note is that the thermo-nuclear test, the fission test and the sub-kilotonne test all worked as designed.
Q: You are saying that India doesn't need more thermo-nuclear tests but the truth is that all the established thermo-nuclear powers needed more than one test. Can India be the exception?
A: Well, if you go by "Dil Maange More", that's another story.
Q: I want to pick up on that last point that you have just made. Given that doubts continue and given that there are going to be no further tests and you are not saying that there is any need for further tests, can you say India has a credible thermo-nuclear bomb?
A: Of course.
Q: We have a credible thermo-nuclear bomb?
A: Why are you using singular? Make that plural.
MPS GET TIPS ON CLIMATE CHANGE
BY DEVI CHERIAN
Over a hundred members of Parliament opened their home doors to groups of school students. The students were rating the carbon footprint on the adoption of eco-friendly steps. They were keen to know whether the MPs had switched to e-bills as opposed to paper bills, recycling paper, rejecting plastic bags and switching to solar power.
Surprisingly, many MPs were politically correct while some were so ignorant that they did not even know that the Prime Minister was leaving for the climate change conference in Copenhagen in a few days.
An MP from Chhattisgarh told to them that "The sal leaves from my constituency are used to make containers for prasad in Tirupati, so we have to be aware of environmental issues. When I was a young boy, it was never very hot in my constituency but now everyone uses fans and coolers. I believe the climate is changing".
Others too, while being aware of environmental problems in their constituencies, were unaware of the larger debate regarding climate change and India's stance. The Rashtriya Janata Dal believes Copenhagen would be a "good tourist opportunity".
An MP from Jammu and Kashmir confessed that he did not like e-bills. While he may not know India's position on climate change, however, he has switched to CFL.
Seeking to strike a chord with Indians, Barack Obama twice turned to Hindi as he hosted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House. Obama set the mood for the day when he greeted everyone at the beginning of a joint press conference with a "Namaste". In the evening, as he raised the toast along with Singh at the high-profile state dinner, Obama greeted the audience in Hindi "Aapka swagat hai".
Obama has always been fascinated by different aspects of India. A picture of the Mahatma adorns the President's office. During election campaigning the President had a Hanuman picture in his pocket.
As Senator, he kept a picture of Mahatma Gandhi in his office. Michelle Obama is a great believer in Indian herbs. She has them planted now in her kitchen garden at the White House.
Madhushala" showcases works by artist Namrita Bachchan. Inspired by excerpts from Harivansh Rai Bachchan's poetry, Namrita's works are evocative.
Attending the do were some of Delhi's best-known people. Priyanka and Robert Vadra walked with their children, Raihan and Miraya.
Namrita is an independent artist. Her aunt, Jaya Bachchan, and daughter Shweta Nanda, also came to cheer the youngster in their family. Namrita is the daughter of Ajitabh Bachchan. Priyanka, as usual, stole the show with a long skirt and a muffler.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CONFLICT IN NEPAL
All is not well in Nepal. As that country marks the third anniversary of the cessation of conflict between the State and Maoist guerrillas, the hopes for lasting peace that the subsequent accord with other political parties had roused now appears to have been premature. The increasing unpopularity of Gyanendra, the erstwhile king, amongst the general public as also the prevalence of an inequitable feudal set up had been principal factors for the success that the Maoists had achieved against the Royalists. In every sense the end of the civil war and ousting of the monarch had been a revolution, for this had almost overnight transformed Nepal from an autocratic monarchy to a socialist, democratic republic where a new Constitution anticipating broad changes in the social structure could be framed. But now it seems that Nepal has merely jumped from the frying pan into the fire for the spectre of anarchy and street-violence is over-shadowing the nation's firmament again. Apparently, it has been a matter of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, for the actions of the Maoists so far show that they are misfits in a democratic system. They have become increasingly frustrated by the fact that, despite having attained the maximum number of seats in last year's elections, they have not been able to push through their economic and social agenda at a desirable pace.
Nothing else explains their reversal to old tactics of forcible seizure of land, call for mass uprising, rabble rousing propaganda as well as violent street demonstrations. The Maoists have not been able to attune themselves to the requirements of a democratic mechanism and the slow pace of change it entails. In trying to impose their own will upon the elected bodies and speed up the pace of reforms, they have instead stalled the framing of a new Constitution, the sine qua non for the proper and lawful functioning of a democratic republic. Since they are more affined to Chinese ideology, the Maoist leadership had been trying to take the nation closer to China, a shift resisted by most other political entities. The conflict this has brought about is the result of internal political contradictions and the Maoist charge of India conniving to keep them out of power is unwarranted. They must comprehend the reality that if the ordinary Nepalese had backed them in their struggle against the Royalists, it had not been due to ideological reasons but because of a wish that a democratic mechanism be installed in Nepal. It would be ironic indeed if the Maoists, who had inspired hopes of meaningful change in that nation, were to become the biggest impediment towards realising such an objective. Thus the Maoist leadership needs to ensure that Nepal is not once more reduced to a state of anarchy.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Though the government claims that it has brought down the level of non-performing assets of public sector banks as proportion to total assets from 18 per cent in 1997 to 2 per cent at the end of March, 2009 as per statistics unfolded by the Finance Ministry to Parliament recently, what is important is the modus operandi which has been applied to arrive at the declining quantum of NPAs over the years. What is more is that even in the same statistical measure the proportion of NPA since 2008-09 has been on the increase. As the Economic Survey, 2008-09 puts it, the gross non-performing assets of Scheduled Commercial Banks declined to 1.3 per cent during 2007-08 compared to 1.5 per cent in the previous fiscal and the ratio is found to be rising to 2 per cent in 2008-09. The modus operandi was a trade off between recovery and write-off with respect to bad debt. The gross NPAs of government banks which declined by Rs 611 crore in 2006-07 increased by Rs 5949 crore in 2007-08 during which as many as 1,86,535 cases of NPA recoveries were referred to Lok Adalat for an amount of Rs 2,142 crore of which only 8.2 per cent was recovered. The Scheduled Commercial Banks in the last three years since 2006-07 have written off nearly Rs 25,000 crore. What is, however, perturbing is that the written-off quantum of loans is too high and is often even larger than the recovered amount.
It may be noted here that the biggest defaulters are mainly the big industries and the Centre's decision to allow 27 banks in 2004-05 to write off coroporate loans worth Rs 8000 crore was a bad precedence and certainly counter-productive since bad loan on account of them started to rise year after year. Yet, another sickening development which this decision triggered off is that the one-time settlement scheme of banks had led to withdrawal of many criminal cases that were taken up for prosecution by the Criminal Bureau of Investigation in various courts in the past, though in many such cases the investigative agency had enough evidence of collusion of bank officials with the willful defaulters. The recovery of loans, thus, was Rs 9,200 crore against which the written off amount was more than Rs 9,400 crore in 2007. In 2008, these amounts were Rs 9,300 crore against Rs 8000 crore and in 2009, it was Rs 11,000 crore against the write-off quaqtum of Rs 7,400 crore. Naturally, the big industrialists took advantage of liberal bank loans and used to show growing business till the installments of loans were received, while they started showing losses and managed to get them registered as sick industries to be qualified for write-off. The provision of attaching assets of defaulting enterprises to realise bad debt could not be successful since it is associated with legal hurdless and fraudulent means of diverting assets to newly created firms. While legal loopholes need be adequately plugged, it is high time that some means be devised to bring to the public the criminal episode of the defaulters together with legal actions initiated against them.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
DUBAI DEBACLE AND DEGLOBALIZATION
Dubai, the favourite destination for investors and corporate financing is now in shambles following the debt burden faced by its State owned real estate giants Dubai World and Nakheel. The hub of global commercial capital and finance, Dubai achieved spectacular success in developing infrastructure and other civil amenities in the last decade, thanks to the wise leadership of its ruler and Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al Maqtum, who unlike the other rulers of the oil rich Middle Eastern nations chose to concentrate more on economic development than harping on political and religious sentiments. It attracted investors and financial agencies across the globe to turn the Emirate into a dream world, particularly the real estate sector where the rich and famous people of the world rushed for a fabulous exotic house to live. However, the debt burden showed by the two groups has shattered that dream of Dubai for which another recession is sweeping the global markets. In this context the radical concept of deglobalization has again emerged as the most important and convenient answer to the economic crisis caused by neo-liberal market economy of globalization.
Experts following the Dubai glitz have been consistently warning against such an economic collapse for the lack of transparency in the investment activities by the Dubai World and Nekheel and their deliberate indifference to the fact that the global recession started in the US with the fall of Lehman Brothers and the real estate sector almost a year ago. But the showcase of Dubai's success like the Burj al Arab Hotel and the Dubai Palms, bungalows made on artificial islands on the sea, were used by the authorities to cover up their financial crisis and with full media hype they further said that the Dubai World and Dubai Port Trust had purchased many equity shares and ownerships of world's leading hotels, port authorities and other liquid assets to survive any economic collapse including the drying of its oil wells. The corporate bosses of the Dubai World even lambasted its critics to shut up when its initial debt crisis was reported recently and took $100 billion loan from its neighbour of the emirates Abu Dhabi to continue its on going real estate projects. Many investment banks and other financial agencies expecting a sure return invested heavily in Dubai without taking any security and mortgages. As result they, mostly in US and Vancouver, Canada, are in utter bankruptcy like the last year's market crash. Now Dubai is facing a debt of $800 billion and unable to return the money to its investors. The sneeze made by Dubai has caught cold in world markets as Dow Jones nose dived to 2.9 per cent in the real estate index and BSE to 2.3 per cent dropping to 390 points creating sub-prime issues. Many Indians who invested their ill gotten money in Dubai are also shaken as they already spent a huge amount of their income in paying high rent and expensive lifestyle bills in Dubai.
This October the Dubai International Finance Corporation held a meeting in India with FICCI asking Indian investors to do business there. Those who responded are now in deep trouble and many workers engaged in the construction sectors, mostly from India and Pakistan have fallen victims of job cuts. Therefore the importance of deglobalization has again emerged as an alternative to these economic debacles caused by globalization based on free market.
The concept of deglobalization is attributed to Walden Bello, a member of House of Representatives of the Philippines and an analyst at Focus on Global South, Bangkok. According to him the current global downturn hammered the last nail into the coffin of globalization. Bello says that globalization has been terminally discredited in the last two years for global poverty, increasing inequality and zero economic growth of the poor countries. Reversing the much-heralded process of financial and trade dependence, he says, globalization became the transmission belt not of prosperity but of economic crisis and collapse. Bello considers it as an opportunity and forwarded as a comprehensive paradigm to replace neo-liberal globalization a decade ago when the painful effects of the latter were felt. He says that there will be no return to a world centrally dependent on free spending American consumers as most of them are bankrupt and nobody has replaced them. Bello's deglobalization is an alternative mainly for developing countries as well as for central capitalist economies based on eleven pillars: (1) Production for domestic market must again become the centre of gravity of the economy rather than production for export markets. (2) The principle of subsidiarity should be enshrined in economic life by encouraging production of goods at the level of the community and at the national level if this can be done at reasonable cost in order to preserve community. (3) Trade policy that is, quotas and tariffs should be used to protect the local economy from destruction from corporate-subsidized commodities with artificially low prices. (4) Industrial policy including subsidies, tariffs, and trade should be used to revitalize and strengthen the manufacturing sector. (5) Long-postponed measures of equitable income redistribution and land redistribution (including urban land reform) can create a vibrant internal market that would serve as the anchor of the economy and produce local financial resources for investment. (6) Deemphasizing growth, emphasizing upgrading the quality of life, and maximizing equity will reduce environmental disequilibrium. (7) The development and diffusion of environmentally congenial technology in both agriculture and industry should be encouraged. (8) Strategic economic decisions cannot be left to the market or to the technocrats. Instead, the scope of domestic decision-making in the economy should be expanded so that all vital questions-such as which industries to develop or phase out, what proportion of the government budget to devote to agriculture, etc. become subject to domestic discussion and choice. (9) Civil society must constantly monitor and supervise the private sector and the state, a process that should be institutionalized. (10) The property complex should be transformed into a 'mixed economy' that includes community cooperatives, and state enterprises, and excludes transnational corporations. (11) Centralized global institutions like the IMF and the World Bank should be replaced with regional intuitions built not on free trade and capital mobility but on principles of cooperation that, to use the words of Hugo Chavez in regarding the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americans (ALBA), 'transformed the logic of capitalism'.
According to Walden Bello the aim of globalization is to move beyond the economies of narrow efficiency, in which the key criterion is the reduction of unit cost undermining the social and ecological destabilization it brings about. The Dubai debacle has once again shown the dangers of globalization based on neo-liberal economy. Therefore the time has come for our economists to think about the relevance of deglobalization.
(The writer teaches English in Lakhimpur Commerce College)
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CLIMATE CHANGE AND INDIAN AGRICULTURE
PRANAV BHARADWAJ, TONMOYEE RANI NEOG
Climate change refers to a statistically significant change in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcing or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.
Climate change is the major environmental issue of our time and the single greatest challenge facing environmental regulators. This crisis is comprehensive in nature and affects the economy, health and food security of the nation. Climate change and agriculture are inter-related processes and any disharmonisation between them would be catastrophic for human race.
It is astonishing that the backbone of Indian society ie agriculture which gained utmost importance in the initial years of development and planning after independence is out of gear in the present time. Because of persisting infrastructural constraints Indian agriculture had become precarious. This problem is further accentuated by meagre agricultural funds and lack of any prompt adaptation. Further, Indian agriculture will be affected by the severity and pace of climate change. If change is gradual there is time for adjustment, but rapid climate change, however could harm agriculture badly due to lack of optimum natural selection and adoption.
The climate forces like temperature, rainfall, level of CO2, Ozone are really very critical to farm productivity. Increased probability of flood, drought, heat waves is a real and crucial challenge to farmers. This in turn, could not help in maximum production in certain regions. Human activities have certainly changed certain climate characteristics like pollution level and global warming and this in turn results in the reduced yield of crops.
The people of India, especially the poorest are vulnerable to the impact of climate change as more than 50 per cent of the population are engaged in agriculture and allied sectors, while many others earn their livelihood in coastal areas through fishing and tourism. Among the poor the women are worst affected as no equal access to non farm employment opportunities is available. Their conditions are made more deplorable with the suicides of their husbands involved in agricultures. This section of population has already experienced the impact of climate change with few resources to cope up. The very call of the hour is a holistic solution which includes adaptive response to this so called "impregnable problem zone" with short term and long term solutions.
The severe outcome of climate change is the price hike which affects every section of the society and hence an effective price control measure is of utmost importance. Only a fration of the population can bypass the peril-ridden nature of the economy but the latter stares at our resilient poor and middle class. Hence, to check this adverse condition an effective and strengthened PDS is required. The genesis of the problem can be traced to a flawed food grain policy that involves open-ended grain procurement and distribution. PDS can be strengthened by, identification of the poor by panchayats and bureaucracy. Moreover the FCI must take care of PDS properly and NGO's can be entrusted with this work.
Moreover, NREGA must make provisions to provide 100 days work at minimum wage to every working member of rural household instead of 100 days work for the household. In addition to this, reforms in dry land farming and intensive agro forestry and livestock based production system can reduce the adverse effects of climate change. Recently at the G-8 summit held L'Aquila (Italy) it was accepted that temperature rise of 2ºC over preindustrial period cannot be avoided. Even to contain this 2ºC, green house gas emission will have to be reduced by 40 per cent by 2020. It is an unavoidable condition and the most serious consequence of this will be the reduction in the yield of rice and wheat ie. Indian food security system is under a serious threat. Hence, a long term solution is necessary to combat the inevitable.
India has considerable technical and scientific expertise to understand, analyse and act upon climate risks. There are many encouraging initiatives and policy reforms that are moving in the right directions. These provide an ideal foundation for developing a comprehensive strategy for promoting adaptation to climate change. This includes launching of a 'pond in every farm' movement with the help of NREGA workers in the lands of small and marginal farmers. This in turn will help mitigate the adverse impact of climate change. Again, the key to an inclusive approach to food security is the adequacy of fodder to the animals. This is possible only when the cattle farms are organised near water sources and residues enriched with urea and molasses.
There is no single remedy to fight climatic change. Use of bio-technology for development of varieties with enhanced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress, resource conservation technologies that use less water and nutrients are some examples of technologies required to tackle the adverse climate. These efforts would be of no meaning if they are not translated into a visible flow of information about the weather to the farmers. A mission approach can be the launching of agromat station in every village with trained climate risk managers at the Panchayat level.
An area that requires attention is water and energy security, which in turn would result in livelihood security. Optimum use of retained rainwater through agro forestry practice is an improved adaptive capacity of system to climate variables. Agro-forestry can prevent soil erosion, restore soil fertility and provides shades for other crops.
We are entering an era of heightened disaster. Being prepared to fight disaster would stop us from viewing the incredible ugliness. Building substantial given reserve and improved seed stocks hold great promise to livelihood security at the worst time. A sensitive turn out at this alarming hour would be the proper implementation of self-help group and micro financing. Diversification in income and access to appropriate range of credit and funding will revive the worst-effected agricultural sector.
Mere making available rice and wheat to BPL families does not in any way guarantee food security. The latter can only be achieved if it is supported by three prerequisites food availability, food accessibility and food absorption capacity. If the adaptive responses are implemented by the government with avowed commitment, most of the scourges currently plaguing the Indian agriculture would be wiped out and real progress ushered in the country to make a marked difference in the quality of life to millions of people. Hence, time has come to emphasize the framework of agriculture based inclusive growth as forwarded by APJ Abdul Kalam in terms of physical connectivity, economic connectivity, knowledge connectivity, social connectivity and electronic connectivity.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA'S GENERATION NEXT AT RISK
For a country looking to reap its demographic dividend when most other economies would be struggling to cope with ageing populations, the health of India's under-five population should be a huge concern. Almost half (48%) of children under the age of five are stunted, or too short for their age, and 43% are underweight, according to the National Family Health Survey of 2005-06 (NFHS-3). The primary cause, finds the survey, is inadequate intake of food, leading to, in some cases, chronic and acute undernutrition.
The prevalence, predictably, is higher in rural areas than in urban centres, and varies from state to state. Malnutrition, translating into underweight children, is lower in a state such as Kerala, where the ordinary citizen is far more aware of her rights and ensures government-run programmes deliver, than, say, in states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
More seriously, malnutrition and undernourishment in infancy affect not just the physical development of children but their mental growth as well. The ability of these children to learn, process information and respond creatively would be far below that of children who eat decent food. The deprived children grow up into adults who are far less productive than their peers who did not suffer in malnutrition. Indeed, that is already true of the labour force, as 36% of women and 34% of men in the age 15-49 are too thin, the survey reported.
Political empowerment of the poor alone can ensure that government schemes that target malnutrition work. Malnutrition among infants and pregnant women can be addressed if the effectiveness of central programmes such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme is improved. Apart from expanding its coverage, people need to be made more aware of the programme as also the services they can get from the anganwadi centres run under the scheme.
In some states, use of anganwadi services (where present) were an abysmal 12% (Delhi), and in the best case scenario, 66% (Orissa and Chhattisgarh). Overall, only 33% of the children under six received any service from the anganwadi centres. This must change. The nation must invest in its young people, for their sake, and its own.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEAVE BANKS TO FIX THEIR LENDING RATES
The move by the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) at the prodding of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)? to compel banks to offer a uniform rate to old and new home loan borrowers is wanton interference in what is essentially a commercial decision of individual banks. All that the IBA and the RBI can, and must, insist on is transparency: all terms and conditions of the loans, and not just home loans, should be declared upfront. It is for the borrower to read the fine print and decide whether she wishes to avail of the loan.
Caveat emptor is the rule whether in the matter of loans or credit cards, stock market investment or buying an insurance or pension product. If a borrower does not understand a product, she should not get into it. Period. Yes, if the seller has not been transparent and slaps additional charges, whether for prepayment or resetting interest rates, the borrower has a genuine grouse and can demand recompense.
But if for whatever reason the bank in a bid to attract new customers decides to make a special offer and limits this offer to new customers, the older ones have no case. If Maruti, for instance, offers a festival discount for its cars, can those who bought cars earlier, maybe even a day earlier, protest? Of course not! The same goes for discounted airline tickets. So why expect banks to act differently?
The problem is that the banking industry in India, at least the public sector banking industry, has been so hobbled with all kinds of restrictions, driven either by vested interests or political compulsions, that the public at large thinks it can interfere in bank pricing decisions in a way that would be unimaginable in any other sector. Ultimately, competition is the only way of ensuring customers get the best deal.
As for the RBI, it should limit itself to ensuring banks' antics do not endanger the health of the sector, apart, of course, from transparency. Beyond this, it is for borrowers to read the fine print before they take a loan, not afterwards. In the brave new world of market-led growth, there is no substitute to financial literacy. The sooner the public learns this, the better. Beyond a point, no regulator can protect a man from the consequences of his own folly. Nor should it try!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The first woman President of India, and thus the first woman to be the supreme commander of the armed forces, despite her air of serene quiet, is quickly notching up quite a few other firsts for Indian women. Aware of the debate around the role and function of women in the country's armed forces, President Pratibha Patil recently affirmed her belief that women could, indeed, be inducted as fighter pilots. And then promptly proceeded to don a suit and fly in a topline Sukhoi fighter jet. The symbolism was quite significant.
After all, if neighbouring Pakistan, of all places, can induct females as fighter pilots, surely, so can India! The President, to round off matters as it were, is now slated to also venture into the sea aboard India's sole aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. Indeed, even apart from more than fulfilling her role as the supreme commander, the President has been quite busy recently.
Even though official visits both home and abroad are part and parcel of the presidential role, recent times have seen quite a flurry on that front. Apart from official visits to the UK, Russia and Tajikistan, the President also went to Gujarat, Kolkata, Goa, Puri and Bhubaneswar. And it was at the airport at the latter city where all the travelling went scarily wrong for a brief while as her helicopter narrowly escaped crashing during landing.
That, naturally, caused alarm. But also renewed apprehensions on the frequency of the presidential perambulations with a large entourage. In fact, when the strength of the President's retinue, including relatives, was revealed after the President's visit to Gujarat in October, some Opposition members had caused a bit of a ruckus.
Rashtrapati Bhavan officials did aver that charges of extravagance in times of austerity were unfounded since the entourage was paying for its own expenses and that the President was entitled to have guests. That said, any whiff of such lavishness is quite unwholesome. Part of the job, of course, is that the President must indeed stand on ceremony.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE'LL HIGHLIGHT WOMEN'S SUCCESS'
ARATI MENON CARROLL
Cherie Blair has left behind her role as First Lady, only to commit to the even more daunting task of delivering empowerment to women. As the founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in Mumbai to host the foundation's first Women in Business conference, where professionals would discuss the challenges and opportunities for women in various fields.
"The aim is to highlight the success Indian women have had in business as well as address the stumbling blocks they face in their journey to achieve their full potential." Blair, a barrister with a specialisation in human rights and public law, says she's always felt strongly about gender equality even though as the First Lady she was happy to use her position as a sort of bully pulpit for a wide range of causes.
The World Economic Forum global gender gap report for 2008 suggests that while progress has been made globally in closing the gender equality gap in health and education, in the areas of economic attainment and political empowerment, the gap is still large. Blair believes that backing women's rights isn't just good ethics, it is sound economics. "The Economist calls it Womenomics.
In a special story a few years ago, it said the biggest driver of the 21st century global economy won't be India or China, it will be women coming into the workforce. Yet, women find it much harder to access capital or get sound marketing advice." The conference, she hopes, will spark off partnerships; the foundation has already inked a knowledge partnership with Infosys Technologies to conduct research on women entrepreneurs in India.
Blair knows the power of economic emancipation: she was the first in her family to go to university and makes conscious references to her Catholic working-class roots in Liverpool. "Luckily, in a lot of places around the world, there is now greater acceptance that women should be educated, but the notion is they should be educated for their children at home not so that they can be equal economic actors." She herself was lauded for being the first wife of a British PM to have a career of her own even as she brought up four children.
Did she see herself as a pioneer of modern working motherhood? "Tony was 44 when he became the PM, so it was a new generation coming into power, and that generation had working wives. I see myself as a representative of the generation and not so much a pioneer." Often though, she admits, she felt like she was "teetering on the brink of chaos" juggling her multiple roles.
Blair may not have put her career on hold for Downing Street but that decision came with its limitations. In real life, her husband and she were equals; in Downing Street, he was clearly No. 1. "In a marriage, sometimes something has to be given and when you follow your husband into No. 10, the one who usually gives is you." In a letter of unsolicited advice to another high-profile First Lady, Michelle Obama, printed by The Times of London last November, Blair advised, "You have to learn to take the back seat, not just in public, but in private... When your spouse is late to put the kids to bed, or for dinner, or your plans for the weekend are turned upside down again, you simply have to accept that he had something more important to do."
In Blair's memoirs, Speaking for Myself: My Life from Liverpool to Downing Street, she sheds light on everything from her childhood to her socialist leanings, the Blairs' arrival at No. 10 in 1997 and, of course, her marriage with (then) England's most powerful man. If there is one thing that Blair won't complain about life on this side of Downing Street is the diminished media attention.
When she was First Lady, far from being obsequious, the Press was often decidedly hostile on everything, from the 'accident' at Balmoral Castle that led to the birth of her fourth child Leo to her antipathy towards Gordon Brown. When leaving Downing Street for the last time two years ago, Blair famously called to the Press as she got into the car, "Bye, I won't miss you." "They still haven't given up on me," she says with a wry smile with particular reference to The Daily Mail.
Yet, Blair prefers to leave her days as political wife far behind; preferring instead to be judged for her current challenges, like the foundation. "I want this conference to be a start of something big. This is not me saying I have the answers to everything but asking the right questions." And then, in her unaffected, friendly fashion, calls an end to the interview.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SCRIPT AN END TO DOHA ROUND
T S VISHWANATH
The Geneva Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which ended a two-and-a-half-day session on December 2, went along predictable lines. It delivered little on substance but gave the Doha Round a fresh mandate of completing the Development Round by 2010 with a stock-taking exercise in the first quarter of next year.
The focus has now shifted to the negotiators who meet from the middle of December 2009 to iron out the disagreements and close out on the agreements. Pascal Lamy, the director general of WTO, in his blog during the ministerial meeting said that the members got what they wanted. A "normal ministerial (which)...was different from all previous ones". He said that the ministerial had a "feeling of normality, a feeling that the WTO was a solid institution, not an ocean producing big waves every day".
This statement, however, belies the perception that the Doha Round, which was originally slated to conclude in 2005, is now edging towards becoming an academic exercise and countries, India included, are depending more and more on bilateral and regional cooperation to increase market access and push trade liberalisation.
The opportunities for business in the west from commitments on climate change seem to outweigh the possible benefit of trade liberalisation under the WTO. This is why one sees business associations in Europe and the US
seemingly more focused on climate change negotiations today than on the WTO.
However, it is important that countries do not lose sight of the benefits of a Development Round launched at Doha in 2001. This is because the WTO, despite the severe knocking to its image due to the inconclusive trait of the Doha Round, continues to be a democratic institution among the important multilateral bodies. This is because in the WTO, decisions are taken by consensus and every member has one vote, irrespective of size.
The Doha Round, despite the best efforts of the developed world to change goal posts midway, can still provide a level playing field to the least developed and developing countries in global trade. So, what should be the focus of senior negotiators who meet in the middle of December to draw a roadmap for concluding the Round in 2010?
First, it would be important for all member-countries to bring on the table some achievable targets. The agenda, as many agree, is a little too large and, in many areas, the differences are too big to bridge in three months by when the next stock-taking exercise will happen. If countries are serious about the 2010 deadline, they may do well to focus on some core areas where differences have been narrowed down and conclude in areas where the differences have either been bridged or are within striking distance.
The decision during this ministerial to not reopen some of the stabilised texts would help in finalising the list of areas of agreement. A good example, for instance, of what can be left out would be the sectoral negotiations for eliminating tariffs in select industrial sectors that the developed countries have been pushing.
Second, there is a need to focus on areas that have so far been relegated to the background. From an Indian business perspective, the services negotiations will be on top of this list besides some others. There is also an urgent need to address some of the concerns of the least developed countries including some sensitive topics such as cotton or duty-free quota-free market access. The livelihood issues of developing countries like special safeguard mechanism in agriculture are also important issues to conclude. Mr Lamy was optimistic and he said that in the two-and-a-half days, people had talked and identified their agreements and disagreements. It may be time to pursue the areas of agreement and weed out the areas of disagreement from the agenda.
Third, it is important to ensure that while trimming the agenda, there is enough on the plate for everyone and it doesn't end up becoming a lopsided deal that does not pass muster. Fourth, there must be a conscious effort to steer clear of topics that do not fall within the ambit of trade negotiations such as climate change. It is a matter of concern that many countries and some NGOs want to bring the topic of climate change to be discussed at the WTO, if not in this Round, later. Introducing new areas into the WTO will make it unwieldy and the organisation faces the danger of becoming irrelevant. In the interest of global trade liberalisation that the WTO advocates, it is important for members to stay away from topics that can create a large rift among the membership.
Finally, for the WTO to remain relevant, it has to remain membership-driven. This would mean that members would have to make a lot more effort to ensure that the political direction to conclude the Round in 2010 is adhered to. Political pressure combined with serious official-level negotiations can help the WTO achieve its objective of concluding the Round next year.
(The author is principal adviser with APJ-SLG Law Offices)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
US FED MAY DECIDE THE MARKET COURSE
MUMBAI: The outcome of the US Federal Reserve meet and a few economic reports there are likely to set the tone for the equity market this week. With India's stock indices moving in a tight band in the past few weeks, indifferent to some turbulence overseas and also to optimistic economic data at home, market participants are hoping that the events in the US could help stocks shrug off lethargy.
The US Fed, which announces its decision on interest rates on Wednesday, is widely expected to keep rates unchanged at near zero. More importantly, investors worldwide will closely watch the US dollar's reaction to Fed's comments on the outlook for monetary policy, economic growth and inflation, given their influence over the US dollar's direction.
Any indication from the Fed that interest rates may be hiked sooner than expected may strengthen the dollar, an event that could result in foreign investors book profits in emerging markets, including India. A weaker rupee against the US currency erodes the value of their Indian stock holdings.
Other key US economic data announcements this week would be industrial production figures and housing starts for November.
Back home, investors are concerned about the recent rise in food prices, which would likely spark a jump in the inflation index and could prompt the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to tighten the monetary policy earlier than expected. But analysts feel fears of an early rate hike are exaggerated.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NOW, BSE, NSE TRADE CHARGES OVER ALGORITHM TRANSACTIONS
MUMBAI: Just when it seemed that arch rivals, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE), might form an informal pact ahead of the impending entry of MCX Stock Exchange (MCX-SX), differences have cropped up between the country's top two bourses. At the heart of the matter is algorithm-based transactions, which are executed by software programmes, without human intervention.
At a recent conference with market intermediaries on electronic trading, James Shapiro, BSE's head of market development, publicly alleged that NSE was not granting approval for those algorithm trades, which involved transactions on BSE as well.
"You go to NSE for approval of a smart order-routing programme, saying you want to compare the prices on both exchanges, and then route the order to the exchange with the best prices, they say: we can't give you approval, because you are trading on another exchange where we have no control over the prices," Mr Shapiro said. BSE is learnt to have taken up the matter with NSE, and also complained to market regulator Sebi of what it views as a restrictive trade practice.
An email questionnaire sent to NSE on the issue remained unanswered.
However, ET has learnt from a source in the exchange that NSE had raised certain "security-related issues" on algorithm trades, involving BSE, to which the latter could not provide satisfactory answers. Also, the source says that BSE has reneged on its promise to provide the price feed for NSE's web-based front end software NOW (NSE on the Web), a facility that allows NSE brokers to offer internet-based trading for their retail clients.
NSE's reluctance to approve cross-exchange algorithm trades is hurting BSE in its efforts to improve market share. BSE's decision to selectively cut transaction charges in October this year has failed to boost trading volumes at Asia's oldest bourse. If anything, it has further lost the market share to its rival. BSE's market share in November stood at less than 25%, down from 27% at the start of 2009, and 29% for the whole of 2008.
Algorithm-based trading or programme trading is common in developed markets. But so far, it has not taken off in a big way in India. One reason, say market watchers, is the lack of liquidity beyond the top 15-20 most actively-traded stocks. The other reason is the exchanges' systems not being equipped to handle very heavy volumes of trades, when the market is unusually active.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REALTY IPOS: BUBBLES THAT MAKE LITTLE SENSE FOR SERIOUS INVESTORS
Of all the bubbles that were floating around back in the heady days of 2007 and 2008, the one that was the biggest is still hanging around, being maintained by a determined (or perhaps desperate) set of people.
At that time, it was clear to most of us that India's real estate sector was a massive bubble. The froth was equally visible in the prices of real estate itself as well as the way real estate scrips were doing on the stock markets. And then came the crash and everything collapsed around the world. This is a crash that is still continuing Dubai's real estate disaster is still said to be only half done. And without a doubt, there are many more zombie developers around the world who are still staggering around in the hope that one day things will turn around.
In India, we now seem to have entered a phase where many of these zombies are now planning to try and revive themselves with IPOs. The coming months will see a spate of issues from real estate developers.
Currently, we are seeing an elaborate PR and advertising exercise that is aimed at convincing investors that there is a real estate 'revival' on the way. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that at the ground level, people are buying more houses than they were a year ago. Companies too are renting and buying more offices. However, there is a complete disconnect between the supply that exists and the actual demand. There is an even bigger disconnect between the prices which these consumers are willing to pay and the prices that the developers need to realise to make their projections justified.
As a potential investor in the real estate sector, you shouldn't be reading any broker or analyst reports, nor should you be reading ads or articles in the media. Instead, you should be doing some research yourself. Just find out the officially-quoted prices for some of these IPOing (or about to be IPOing) developers' properties. And then, try and make some enquiries about the same properties pretending to be an actual buyer. Generally, you will discover that the real prices are a fraction of what is claimed publicly. Or in some cases, you may also discover that there are no real price quotes because no one is even pretending to sell properties because no one has any expectations of the underlying projects being executed in any realistic timeframe.
Almost without exception, the coming realty IPOs are desperate rescue missions, which seek to use the collected funds to replace some of the masses of debt that they've taken on. And almost without exception, the IPO funds will do nothing for the basic commercial viability of the products that these companies are supposed to produce and sell.
For historical reasons, there is now a fundamental design flaw in the real estate sector in India and this will take a long time to work itself out. For the active trader, there may be opportunities in riding realty stocks up and down the news cycles in the secondary markets. But for the serious investor, realty IPOs do not even begin to make sense.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REPENTANCE CAN ALSO BE CHANNELED
In his Bhaja Govindam, Adi Shankaracharya observes, "Childhood is lost in play and youth in dreaming of women with the result that old age has to be lost in repentance". Pitiable brooding on what "might have been" arises on account of various aspects of one's earlier life be it lost opportunities, let down having had to be faced or decisions, which turned out to be wrong, besides also not equipping oneself in the fields dear to heart.
An insight would, however, reveal, instead of such passive repentance, one can, instead, choose to channel creatively his regretful feelings, even when he knows it is too late for himself and that he has already "missed the bus".
Having learned lessons through mistakes, he can help others pre-empt such errors; having missed opportunities, he can guide others in recognising and seizing them as they come; having been misled, deceived or led down the garden path, he can forewarn others, who seek the art of skilful and wise living; having damaged his health himself, he can counsel and teach on the importance of good habits and lifestyle.
Very importantly, having comprehended the huge potential for excellence in particular fields of human endeavour, he can point the way, inspiring those who seek, though he himself had drawn blank for want of timely action. He can sportingly thus live out, at least vicariously, all his dreams, through others who he had thus inspired. Thus he could rest in the feeling that he too had contributed.
Repentance and regrets over omissions and commissions of a dead past can thus, through adoption of a healthy approach and attitude, be a spur to creativity and to bringing out the potential in others and also often in one's own self, though the field of activity now taken up may be different from one's own past dreams. History of mankind would be replete with innumerable such instances and also of constructive sacrifices, inspired through such benign repentance.
The case of Annapurani is a case in point, in the manner conceived of by the legendary Tamil writer, 'Kalki' Krishnamurthy, in his short story, Kadithamum Kanneerum. She founds a service organisation for women and the underprivileged, motivated by the yearning that the factors which led to her repenting for what "might have been" in her past personal life, should never ever bind others in realisation of their dreams. Indeed, 'dynamic repentance' is also, thus, one of the means for leaving "foot prints on the sands of time"!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THERE COULD BE A TRADE WAR: PETER FISH
In an interview with ET Now , Peter Fish , Managing Director of MEPS International said there could be a trade war in and China will most likely increase their exports to other parts of the world.
Tell us China is revving up its steel production. Do you believe it will soon start dumping it on the world market?
That's a distinct possibility but so far we have seen less antidumping cases and I would have expected it this time, so perhaps it is not quite as bad as we expected, may be because the Western world prices have been and therefore it has not been very profitable for the Chinese to get rid of their steel on world markets.
China obviously has overcapacity this year. Do you think in the coming months, may be in the second quarter of next year, a trade war is shaping up between EU and the US versus China and what do you think it will do for India?
Well, it is possible that there could be a trade war. What's most likely to happen is that the Chinese will still most certainly increase their exports to other parts of the world, mainly because prices will probably rise quicker in the west than they do in Asia and that will encourage the Chinese to sell more. Having said that, the EU and the US authorities are looking very, very closely at the volume and prices of the imports coming from the East.
How much this will affect India is much more difficult but Indian prices are quite firm relative to world market prices, so I think that the Indians will suffer somewhat and therefore probably will be joining the US and Europe in antidumping cases and in fact we have even heard recently the Indian producers are trying to encourage their government to act.
Indeed that's a valid point but also when we talk about steel, tell us how do you see nickel prices moving and how much new supplies likely to come on stream?
Well, I see nickel prices. In volume terms, I cannot say how much will come on stream. All I can say is that the nickel producers will increase their production next year partially because prices will increase and clearly demand is likely to increase particularly from the Chinese, so I see prices strengthening but I feel that the mines will restrict their supply somewhat to the market to try to get prices above the current levels, which are roundabout 16500 dollars. They will try to restrict output to try to get it back towards the 20,000 dollar mark, probably it will finish off for the year in the 18000 to 19000 the average across the year that's the dollars prices worldwide in the next year, I mean it would partly as a result of restriction.
You proposed joint venture between Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Do you think that's good for the iron ore market and what does it mean for steel companies across the world?
I do not think it would be good for competition in the steel market. I do not think it would be good at all. My view is pretty similar to the main organisations and governments in the West. There is insufficient competition at the moment in that field and therefore we are strictly reducing that competition even further. I think the steel industry because prices would rise in that field and probably make steel less competitive.
There are many usages for steel where steel is a very, very competitive product, mainly in the structural engineering side but if price of it go up but at some other usage, particularly in auto bodies and other usage where aluminium could become a major competitor if the iron ore supply was restricted further and prices increase substantially. We saw what was happening last time when the prices rocketed. Again we just had a massive peak in unsustainable prices and then a collapse, so it is not good for the industry to have such little competition.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INFLATION WAY ABOVE EXPECTATIONS: YASHIKA SINGH
Inflation at 4.78% much above the previous months number of 1.34% but the Reserve Bank of India has in the past said that addressing purely through rate hikes is not going to fix the problem it is one of supply side issue so what do you believe the key factor pushing the Central Bank to push rates up very soon will be?
I think inflation as you said it is way above expectations and our own expectations were between 3.1 to 3. I think there are two factors which are sort of contributing to this increase in inflation. One is of course is the base effect, I mean if you look at October 08, inflation was at about 11% it went down to 8.4% in November 08 and we are seeing that reflected in the inflation numbers that we have seen now so therefore from 1.3% to about 4.7% this year on a month to month basis. What the other factor that's contributing to this is the increase in the prices of primary products which went from 8.4% as of last month to 11.2% as of November 09 so yes what you are saying is very clear and yes it is just increasing or bringing about a rate hike might not impact the inflation going forward because a lot of this is coming from supply side pressure which we can see from the primary articles inflation there is a shortage of food products therefore we are seeing the prices of food articles go on. As to what the RBI can do, it has only monetary policies at his hand so whether it is a CRR or a repo rate or a reverse repo those are the tools that the RBI has. On the other hand are there any long term pressures or medium term measures to lower some of these pressures well I think is already working towards then whether it is in the form of export bans or it is in the form of more imports but point is I don't see these pressures on food grains on the food side abating. If you look at the international prices, if you look at the FAO food index they are at a year high more than a year high and even if we forward estimates for food supplies, for food prices seem to be very high and in that scenario would we be able to control food price inflation immediately seems slightly difficult I think it will happen only a period of time you will have to ease the demand supply gap as it may through whatever measures those might be perhaps not always at the hands of the RBI which can really work was like I said monetary policy tools.
One of the concerns is really the rising input costs that inflation will have on the manufacturing sector now how would for concern is that?
That is going to be a concern and as sentiments in the economy start to improve as demand gets better yes we will see some rise in input prices because we all are hoping for that actually. Right, we are hoping that the economy actually picks up and demand starts to improve and investment starts to improve and which will probably show up as better prices for manufactured products or manufacturers inflation is likely to go up. So yes that is going to happen and some of it is expected and I think it still fairly low but it will start building up and that is I think what the RBI is concerned about and if the food price inflation, if the primary articles inflation last for too long then I will be sort of looking at a wage pull inflation which then feeds into the WPI numbers as a whole and those are the other concerns. So yes for manufactured goods at this point of time when it just starting to pick up, when investment and demand is starting to pick up rising input cost would be something of a concern but to look it from the WPI perspective there is still some time before aspect to the WPI starts to grow in a manner which needs to be controlled but yes on the whole given the primary articles prices, given the inflationary expectation that are likely to go up. Yes, those would be the larger concerns on WPI.
The fact is that all the increase in input cost that the manufacturing sector will experience obviously is not going to be passed on entirely to the end user so somewhere should we expect that the manufacturing sector's margins are going to come under pressure?
Absolutely because still such time the demand becomes extremely robust. Most companies would be vary of passing on those increase in input cost to their consumers so yes there would be a larger pressure on margin for a short while, I expect that for a short while before demand becomes more robust. So then the higher input cost could probably be pass on but as of now most companies will hold back in doing so.
Should we assume then that Q4 and Q1 of the next financial year for the manufacturing sector will be a bit of a challenging one in terms of their performance really coming under pressure?
Well I would not say that, I mean if you look at the kind of challenges that the manufacturing sector has already been through in the past year then I think a lot of this has already been factored in and if you look at the industrial production, industrial production is just about starting to pick up so I would not say that there will be any more challenge then they have been in the past few months but then there are those challenges that yeah rate hikes are expected and they will be coming so the cost of funds would be growing up and at a time when like I said demand is not fully robust it is just starting to pick up, investment demand is just starting to pick up so those concerns will be there for the manufacturing sector but if you are asking me if they are going to be as tough as the past few months have been well that is not really clear at this point of time. It will be a little difficult because this is the part of growth that one normally sees, input prices do start to pick up as soon as growth started to return and there will be some of those pressures but I would not say that the forthcoming quarters will be anymore difficult than the quarter that have been in the past.
One final word on expectations and what do you hope to hear from the RBI credit policy this time around in Jan?
Earlier we are expecting the RBI to increase the CRR definitely there will be first, they have done a very structured it is a very structured approach towards monetary policy. We have got the signal that the monetary policy stance is about to change in the previous review itself. It is likely to continue on that front so first and foremost I think they look to suck out the excess liquidity if there is such through a CRR hike and only later with a repo rate hike take place at the end of the current financial year so about 50 basis points of CRR hike at the end of this month or early Jan in the Jan policy is what we are expecting.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE'VE GOT MONEY. WE WON'T MIND BUYING QUALITY ASSETS'
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:
Now you have brought in T Rowe Price as a strategic partner into UTI AMC. The thinking however in the market is that T Rowe Price has come into UTI AMC quite cheap given the valuation at which they have come in at. Now given the fact that you are the most profitable AMC, you have the largest network, somewhere do you believe that T Rowe Price has actually got a very very sweet deal coming into this company.
I am surprised that anybody is thinking on those lines at all. In the AMC, for quite sometime in India when the industry was in the growing phase, people thought that the valuation of a company should be as a percentage of the total assets under management but that is not the model for example which you follow in the insurance industry or in any other industry. Normally the model followed is as a ratio of your earnings or your earning capacity and there are other discounted cash flow methods and other methods. Let me clarify one thing before I go further on this. No money is coming into UTI. The shareholders of UTI, that is State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Bank of Baroda and LIC, they have decided to divest a certain portion, 6.5% each and they are selling it to T Rowe Price. No money from T Rowe Price is coming into the company. So the role of the management because you are asking me, so I must clarify, the role of the management is like an assistant to the priest in a wedding. We are not even the parties to the transaction, so we are not the wedding partners. We are not even the priest of the wedding arrangements. We are an assistant to the priest and in that capacity whatever is the valuation, that has been done by the shareholders, their boards have approved it. So procedurally I must clarify that it is not that UTI management decided the price, it is for all the four shareholders and as you know all my four shareholders are large public sector undertakings and they have a very stringent procedure for coming to such issues. So that is the point No. 1 on procedure. Coming to the justification part of it, no valuation can be made in a static environment. You cannot quote a particular valuation which was done in 2006 or 2007 but if you look at the changes which have happened in the industry, for example the changes made by SEBI effective 1st August and how a good portion of the revenue of the asset management companies is going into paying out to the distributors and I think we will cover that point in greater link as we go along. That has affected the earnings of the mutual funds in a big way. There are consulting firms which have come out with very clear cut recommendations that how the valuations have been affected just by this decision of the regulator. So if you look at the valuation, you have to look at in the current environment and lastly instead of looking at some more transactions which happened two years, three years, five years back, if you look at some of the transactions which happened one month, two months, three months back, then you will be able to come to a better understanding. For example, one of my shareholders has inducted a foreign partner three months back and found out what is their valuation and what is the premium on that valuation theory we have got and then perhaps you will not raise these questions.
Now but you did raise the issue of the distributor commission part, so would you say somewhere that the distributor commission issue has in some part actually affected the valuations that mutual fund companies can hope to get?
Yes but this is not the only issue but it has.
Sure, one among many issues.
Yes, it has.
Now, T Rowe Price apart from getting representation on the board of directors, should we expect that they will play a larger role in the day to day affairs of UTI AMC?
If you are asking whether there is going to be any change of management in UTI, the answer is a big no. The arrangements which the shareholders have negotiated with the T Rowe Price is that there will be no change of management. Normally in a transaction like this one party brings one senior executive and the other party brings in another. For example in one of the deals which happened with one of my shareholders about three months back, the CEO was from one of the partners and the Chief Investment Officer was from another partner. In this deal nothing of that sort has happened and that goes to the credit of the UTI as an institution. The new shareholders are so assured about the quality of the management here, the quality of the manpower here that they have not asked for any change nor has it been agreed but at the same time they are going to assist us. In fact the right way to answer this question would be that what is UTI gaining out of this transaction and what UTI is gaining out of this transaction is that in our research process T Rowe Price is known to be usually system oriented and process driven company. They are known to be long term investors, they are guided by research, they challenge their research process, there is a systemic procedure about challenging the decisions and recommendations on a continuous basis. So they are going to help us in our research process. They are going to help in our fund management process. In technology they are very good. They have large funds. For example in my international business, UTI is expecting to gain a lot from them. To give you an idea as an example, UTI runs a fund, an offshore fund called UTI India Fund, it is an offshore fund. This fund has been rated by Morningstar as the best fund from India on a three-year basis and on a five-year basis. However the assets under management of this company, of this fund are only $55 million and there are other funds which are maybe 5 notches below, 10 notches below us and they are sitting with more than $1 billion and why because why UTI is very good in the fund management and this is an example to prove that. Nobody knows UTI outside India. So with T Rowe Price, with their distribution support, the money that they command, they are a company which has more than $370 billion. The money that they command, the relationship that they have we expect inflows into our international business. So that is another area that their relationship, once we are able to further strengthen our research process and fund management process in our technology, we will be able to capitalise on their relationship and their strength. So that is what is going to come to UTI.
Now, with the emergence of a number of extremely strong players in the asset management space without taking any names, there is a thinking somewhere that the UTI brand is beginning to lose its shine, would you agree?
If you had raised this question three years back or four years back, I would have agreed with you but I am afraid you are raising this question at completely the wrong time. So I cannot agree, in fact I am surprised you are raising this question because UTI had a problem and UTI had a serious problem in 2001 and government had to step in to assure that then investors of UTI, the company was bifurcated, new arrangements were made, the parliament had to repeal the UTI Act because UTI was not a mutual fund, the technical sales governed by SEBI. So all those things had to be done and then we created new company, 1st February 2003 called UTI Mutual Fund and UTI Asset Management Company. We had on that day about 17% of market share but because of the disturbances and things which had happened, the perception that has taken place in the market space, from 17% we came down to as low as 8.4%. So today the decline has been arrested and we have started going up. If you look at our current numbers we are at about 10% of the market share.
Now in the past you have spoken about the likelihood of your coming out with an IPO, where does that plan stand especially given the fact that we have seen a strong turnaround in the markets?
Right now we have got a strategic partner, 26%. So it would not make any sense for UTI to make any clear cut short term plan for the IPO. It is very important that this arrangement takes shape, it stabilises. The benefits of the strategic partner flow into the company and now only the flow into the company, they are recognised by outside world. My feeling is it will take at least 12 to 24 months, so any further changes in the shareholding ideally should be considered by my shareholders at that stage and not now. However to clarify the positions UTI is a company where change of shareholding also requires government approval. Government approval is already in place for divestment up to 49%. So if my shareholders decide in less than 24 months or even less than 12 months to divest further from 26 to 49, the government approval is with them. My own feeling is that this should wait for at least 12 months. Let the benefits flow in.
Now, the other thinking is that the mutual funds space in India is getting very very crowded. We have close to 40 players in this market, do you see consolidation and how soon do you see it and again, would UTI play if there were opportunities that arose?
The way mutual funds have been sold in the country for the last two-three years, I have been of the view that consolidation is round the corner. Somehow I have been proved wrong so far but my conviction is very very strong because if you are only trying to increase your top line and get your rankings high in the assets under management but your earning is negligible, in fact if you are spending more money to buy those assets than the revenue from those assets then I do not think it is a sustainable model. It is only a time before the shareholders decide that enough is enough. Let us come back again to the valuation. Part of the drama was also because people though that in India, the valuation of an asset management company can be as a percentage of the assets under management. So everybody was trying to ramp up their assets under management at any cost. So the feeling that I have, the understanding that I have is that after the SEBI guidelines effective from 1st August, this bluff has been called off. Now you have to put in serious money. If you are running an asset management company, you will have to put in serious money if you want to increase your AUM without earning. So my feeling is that it will be sooner than later, consolidation will happen sooner than later. I am supported in this analysis by report by one of the most prestigious consulting function in the world. They have come out with the report basically saying that the bottom 15 asset management companies will find very hard to survive and those above them, their revenue will decline from 50% to 90% depending upon the approach that they have been following so far. Now the question is when will the actual thing happen. That will depend upon the management and shareholder of that particular asset management company. Do they want to take a call or they want to feel that no, they can carry on for maybe another six months or 12 months but the imperatives are there, imperatives of consolidation are there. Coming together UTI would be willing, my answer is yes. We are a profitable company, we have got reserves and we would not mind getting good quality assets.
Right, so you would say that this market is not big enough for 35 to 40 players?
In fact if you look at that consultants report, you will find that this market is not big enough for even 10 players and I do not know whether you have noticed that there was a rush of applications to SEBI for setting up new mutual funds but there are companies which are sitting with approvals and they have not opened their shop. They have got the approvals and they are sitting tight.
Right, now after the restrictions that SEBI imposed on distributor commissions which came into effect 1st August, how has the mutual fund industry been adapting to this change and again, have you seen a significant decline in inflows into equity funds as a result of this?
If you look at the industry numbers and the numbers are available for three months, August, September and October, the industry has seen a net negative sale of 4000 crores which is a big money. 4000 crores of net sales negative in the three months whereas in this time period insurance industry for example must have seen positive flows of more than 15000 crores. So this is the lost opportunity for the mutual fund industry. However I must also add that so far as UTI is concerned, we have seen positive inflows during this period. In these three months, we have seen positive inflows and why is that because again coming back to your earlier observation which I disputed that as a brand, UTI is much better recognised today than it was four years back, three years back.
Right, now focussing on the pensions space, you have been appointed a Pension Fund Manager under the New Pension System for both government and non-government employees, what has the experience been so far in terms of how you have been able to take this forward?
It has been very disappointing and I feel that government needs to do a serious rethink on their policy about pension reforms in this country. I am sure you might be aware of that I had been involved with pension reforms in the country since beginning and it is a subject very close to my heart but somehow we have lost out and let me tell you why and where. One is that the whole expectation was that PFRDA, the pension regulator would be the lead pension regulator in the country. Unfortunately, the bill which is being presented in the parliament does not have that provision. So even if the bill is passed, according to me it is not going to make any difference for unorganised sector workers because it is again voluntary and as a worker you can go to an IRDA regulated entity, you can go to a SEBI regulated entity, you can go to the Department of Post, you can go to PPF or you can go to PFRDA and if you have got so many things there, there is no sense of direction there. That is one. Secondly, even for the government employees pension, my understanding is that the recordkeeping is not up to date. People who have joined maybe a year or two years back, their records are not in place. Their monthly remittances are not coming in time because I am one of the managers of this fund, I am noticing that funds are not flowing at the regularity with which they should flow. So in pension reforms I would suggest that it needs a rethink. The whole approach needs a rethink.
Now there is a general feeling that trustees who are supposed to look out for the interests of investors in mutual funds have not been doing their job well enough and nearly been lending their names as just been offering their names effectively just rubberstamps. Now, is that something you would agree with and do you believe there is a serious need for a rethink in terms of what the trustees' should be?
UK Sinha: Theoretically you can give them much higher responsibility and much direct role. In practical terms I do not hold the view that there is a space for any substantive progress in this direction, in the practical terms. Let me tell you that in UTI for example, we are very reputed and eminent people as trustees and in our case the trustee meeting takes place separately from the asset management company which is the way it should be but by the way that is not the practice in the industry and the CEO of the asset management company is in attendance before the trustee company presenting his point of view and defending whatever he has been doing or whatever he is proposing to do. So if the company ha a culture of treating the trustees, exactly according to the responsibility assigned to them then they have a much bigger role to play. So whether there is any space for further improvement and advancement, I would not agree. My belief would be that SEBI should look at and individual company should also look at that whatever role has been given to the trustees, are they actually performing them or not, is the company facilitating that or not or is it trying to create a (22:11). Secondly I would like to take this debate on a bigger platform. In India we have fragmented regulation. We have one regulator for mutual funds on the capital markets, we have another regulator for insurance and a third and a fourth regulator. Nobody is looking at. This investor protection or other issues which are being done in the mutual fund industry is something similar happening in the corresponding industries or not. Do we have a counterpart of that in the insurance industry for example and if you make that comparison then the zeal with which you are asking this question you will perhaps get a thinking that this needs to be looked at a larger perspective.
Now, moving away, you have just been named member, in fact the Chairman of the Working Group on Foreign Investment in India, what should we expect?
I received the notification only yesterday and I am grateful to the government for reposing their faith. As you know I have experience in working in the Ministry of Finance and I have worked with some of the committees. For example earlier I was a member of the Committee on FII flows in 2004 which was headed by Dr. Lahiri, I have also worked in the committee on corporate bond market which was headed by Dr. Patil. So I have some awareness and knowledge and I am looking forward to interaction, I have got a very good committee and it has also got experts from law and other relevant backgrounds. The mandate of the committee is very wide. Except for FDI, rest everything to do with foreign flows including the tax issues are there within the mandate. So it is a very daunting task and I can only say that we will do our best to live up to the expectation of the government to make a very objective and timely recommendation, I am looking forward to it.
Alright, the equity markets here in India, do you think they have run up too fast too soon and that we should expect some significant correction?
Today the market is trading at around 16.5 times forward earnings. If you look at the way it has grown from January to now, it has grown rather too fast. Personally and also my company, the analysts in my company, they feel that the market has grown more because of the liquidity which is externally driven rather than because of some fundamental changes in the market or in the economy. Having said that, it is also true that that liquidity has to drive somewhere. If it does not come to India, it will go to some other country and a fund manager has to be ready to deal with these situations. We still feel that there are certain sectors where there are opportunities. So our approach is that we are cautious, we are not gung-ho at these levels. We will wait for some new information, new developments to form our view whether we can be very optimistic going forward from here. So our approach would be cautious. At the same time we are looking very closely at specific companies or specific sectors and trying to find out which are the likely winners. So we are doing stock picking rather than going after pure index. So yes, it is a stage to be cautious.
Right but the general viewers and everyone seems agree that it is really a dollar carry that is driving the markets. When the dollar does turn, should we expect some huge correction not just in India but across emerging markets?
It is difficult to say whether there will be huge correction but maybe there will be some correction because the question presumes that the change in dollar valuation will be sudden and it will happen on one fine day, it would not happen that way, it will be gradual. So if you are a smart fund manager, if you are watching the global developments clearly, you will get the signals and maybe then you can take a position. To give you an idea in 2007 December or beginning of 2008 when the markets were at a very high level, UTI fund managers went into a high degree of cash. We felt that this is not a sustainable level and we went to a very high degree of cash and we maintained that level for quite sometime and the benefit was that our funds lost the minimum amount compared to our competitors. So that is a call which we have to continuously take. Yes, my advice through you would be that this is a time when people should not be very heroic in starting picking up their own securities. This is more a time for people to go through and informed investor or through an expert rather than directly meddling with the market. This is not that time.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE CAN HANDLE PRICE WARS & COME OUT ON TOP IN LONG TERM: VODAFONE
JOJI THOMAS PHILP & CHAITALI CHAKRAVARTY
NEW DELHI: Vittorio Colao, the CEO of Vodafone Group Plc , the world's largest mobile operator by revenues , is on his fifth visit to India this year and will be coming back again in January. India continues to be a jewel in the Vodafone Group's operations, which has operations in 30 countries, even three years after it bought a controlling stake from Hutchison. For the quarter-ended September 09, the Vodafone Group's revenues from India grew 23% and the country accounted for 65% of the 9.7 million new customers the group added across the globe during this period. India also continues to account for close to half of Vodafone's global cellular traffic. Mr Colao speaks to ET's Joji Thomas Philp & Chaitali Chakravarty about Vodafone's prospects and his concerns that over-regulation may kill the vibrancy in India's mobile space. Excerpts:
You must be in India more often than you go to your home country (Italy).
For business, I go to Italy maybe once or twice a year, but I do go there for holiday. India is the highest. The others, such as South Africa and Germany, I visit maybe twice a year. In the past, I've been in India more often. Outside the UK, I am on the board of Vodafone's operations only in the India and the US.
During the course of this year, things have changed so much in India . The ongoing price war has not spared your Indian operations and your revenues have taken a hit. Are you concerned?
No, I am not concerned. My brief to the India team is to ensure that no competitor undercuts us. If any company cuts prices, just follow it. My concern is longterm , as the telecom sector requires big investments going forward. At present, data usage is a mere 1% this is nothing . Regulators and policy makers must be careful frequencies (spectrum) is scarce here and when you slice this across so many players, you reduce the capacity of the system and this could lead to to a scenario where there is less incentive to invest in the telecom space here. We cannot be just doing voice services for very low tariffs in India and we need to get into data. Vodafone is a long-term player. We can handle price wars and street fights and come out on top in the long-term , but clearly there are too many operators in the market here. In every environment I have seen, not more than 5-6 operators and 3-4 networks have survived this provides with enough competition from pricing perspective and also space for innovation . Unfortunately, India has a set of rules that does not allow consolidation. This year, in India, Vodafone had a £350 million operating profit in the first six months and we investing £1 billion. No player in India other than Bharti Airtel has positive cash flow and we should make sure that there is enough cash in the system for future investments.
If telecom regulator Trai eases the M&A rules, will Vodafone Essar buy out some of the new entrants to solve its spectrum crunch?
We favour consolidation because it is important to create efficient scale. We can be buyers, facilitators or in some cases we can be passive supporters of consolidation. It depends, but it is not possible to predict when we don't even know the rules.
In your latest quarterly results, you have said that despite the price wars, Vodafone will be looking to leverage its brand and scale in India. How do you plan to do so? We believe that your operating costs in India are much higher than that of your closest competitor Bharti Airtel.
The Vodafone brand in India is fantastically executed and I am very proud that we are the best admired company in India. We are a classic case where you bring in an asset that is big globally and it flourishes and grows here. Next, in terms of networks, we have been able to use our global scale to get the best deals from western and eastern equipment companies. Yes, Bharti has scale and they are ahead of us, but we are patient. Give us another 15 years and we will catch them.
You must be joking about the 15-year period to catch up with Bharti.
I am serious this is no joke. In our sector it takes time. I am not obsessed with being Number 1, but we are happy to be amongst the two leaders of the market here. Bharti is a very well run company. I admire them, but right now, they are well ahead of the competition.
Talking about Bharti, will you sell the 4.4% stake that you still hold in it? The buzz in the market is that you are looking for a buyer of this. This is a minority investment that does not give you much and besides , you already have a presence in India. There is speculation that Vodafone Group has already held talks with prospective buyers such as SingTel. Is this true?
We operate Vodafone Essar and not Bharti Airtel. So clearly this is a relic of the past. No company in the world will be happy with a small minority stake in another entity. If anybody is interested in buying our stake, we are for it.
What do you think of Bharti's failure to bag the MTN deal?
I support a deal. If it had happened, it would have been a good thing for both India and South Africa as it would have made both countries more international in terms of exposure to other markets.
You have always been talking about mobile money transfers and mobile banking for markets such as India. Are you concerned that our laws don't allow these?
There is a huge confusion between mobile banking and mobile money transfer. Mobile banking is the business of banks we don't loan money, don't do insurance and we don't do micro finance. Period. Mobile money transfers can be our business because it involves transferring cash that already exists in the market in a way that is better because it is safe and trackable . We are not going into banking, but only changing the way cash is moved around we are doing it in a more sophisticated and safer manner. India is missing a great opportunity to get people who are unbanked and not financially active into the system. We've had fantastic success in rolling out this in Kenya and will soon be starting it in South Africa. I really hope that 2010 is the year when Indians can avail of this facility. From a business point of view, telecom companies really don't make much money from this this is more of a social opportunity.
What about talent? Are you sending a lot of people from Vodafone India abroad, or is it the other way around?
Initially, it was the other way around. Now, we are also taking people out from India. For instance, former CMO here Harit Nagpal is with the headquarters in UK now. It is a two-way flow and since India is where the growth is, people want to come here. With 3G coming, we will get people competent on this here. My desire is to import competency and export entrepreneurship. For example, the ZooZoos I love them and have met the people who have created them and I am even on the Facebook ZooZoo page. The interpretation of the Vodafone brand here, led by Kavita Nair, is very good and my desire is to export their creativity and their approach to the rest of the group.
Are you looking at a listing of your Indian operations?
Listing is one of the many possibilities and it is a positive thing to do. We recently listed our operations in South Africa (called Vodacom). We have also listed our arm in Kenya and at some point, we we'll list our Egyptian telecoms company. But the listing may depend on whether the Ruias of the Essar Group, who own a 33% stake in Vodafone's Indian operations, decide to exercise their put option. They have a one-year window (May 2010-mid-2011 ) and the listing will depend on when and how much of the put option in exercised.
Are you concerned that over-regulation can kill the country's telecom sector?
The Indian market is so competitive and dynamic that there is no need of regulation . For instance, there is regulation that says we need to get clearance before we buy equipment the industry here will place about 300,000 orders for equipment in a year. How can someone look into all this it only slows down and delays the whole process. Also, there are several regulations that make consolidation impossible. I see there is a lot of goodwill there is an interest in regulators and policymakers for change.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT INDUSTRY COULD SEE NEW BUSINESS MODEL BY 2015: HCL TECH
HARSIMRAN JULKA & PANKAJ MISHRA
NEW DELHI: HCL Technologies, India's fifth biggest tech firm, chief executive Vineet Nayar , is known for his dealmaking capabilities. In an interview with ET he says that over 95% repeat business and almost 30% profit margins are not really the correct benchmark to measure the success of different Indian IT companies. He talks about how Indian tech firms may be caught 'wrong-footed' by 2015 if they do not act fast. Excerpts:
Looking at the Indian tech firms, many experts say that they are evolving like 'factories', focussed on managing complex delivery and people supply chain. Do you agree?
There are some very basic changes happening in the industry today which may redefine its business model by 2015. Between 2012 and 2015, we may see basic applications moving on to the cloud (basically internet). ERP applications and basic application development and maintenance will be done for and on the cloud. The Indian IT industry is in a danger zone, and may be caught wrong footed on that front. I slowly see deals moving in that direction.
Another basic trend, is the shifting of the entire focus of the CIOs towards total IT outsourcing (ITO) vendors. As a result, we might see a lot of consolidation of best-of-breed vendors, who don't possess ITO capabilities. Global IT companies seem to have realised this shift. The multibillion dollar acquisitions this year of Perot by Dell, ACS by Xerox and Sun Microsystems by Oracle, indicate that entire strategic plate is shifting towards ITO.
HP also bought EDS to compete with the likes of IBM, last year. On the other hand, Indian companies are just focusing on delivery efficiencies and are busy evolving as better ADM (Application Development and Maintenance) factories, oblivious of the shift in the external environment.
Despite establishing separate consulting divisions, many Indian tech firms are yet to make any substantial progress. Is there a build vs buy dilemma when it comes to consulting?
Acquisitions are like steroids. Should you take steroids whenever you have pain? The answer is no. The answer also depends upon how severe is your pain, and how fast it will get self healed. There are various skills which can be acquired. But some, should be built grounds up. So, infrastructure capability, we realised years ago, had to be built grounds-up. SAP consulting, we thought, was a better decision to buy (from Axon).
Unlike other IT companies, we don't have a single team for acquisitions. We have eight acquisition teams sitting in each part of the business. If an acquisition can relieve a pain that will take too long to cure, it is better to take the steroid. However, the purpose of the buy out has to be very very clear.
Your margins have always remained lower than your rivals like TCS, Infosys, Wipro... Why?
Higher margins should be a cause of concern for them not me. IT companies with margins over 30% have been stuck. We like to call it 'the margin trap', where if you chase deals which offer lower margins, your overall operating margins will be impacted severely. (This may affect the companies' shareholders and future capabilities to win new business). Large global IT vendors have always kept their margins around 11%-12%. We, however, have maintained our margins at about 20%.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EARLY-WARNING SYSTEM FOR FRAUDS NEEDED: SALMAN KHURSHID
Union Minister for Corporate Affairs Salman Khurshid says his ministry will gauge the efficacy of an early warning system to detect corporate frauds like Satyam, a year after it first came to light. He is pinning his hopes on the new Companies Bill to make statutory auditors and independent directors of companies more accountable. In an interview, the minister admitted to an unwholesome interface between business and politics.
What are the lessons from Satyam and what has changed from then?
It is important to put the Satyam episode in perspective. We had incorporated provisions in the Companies Bill 2008 to address crucial issues on corporate governance norms before Satyam's erstwhile promoter admitted to perpetrating the fraud. The Bill lapsed. In a sense, we had anticipated that something like Satyam could happen. So, it is not as though everything proposed in the Companies Bill 2009 was a consequence of Satyam. Greater disclosures by companies, better accountability of independent directors, the separation of internal audit from statutory audits, audit committees headed by an independent director and so on were already in the pipeline when Satyam happened.
Certainly, we have been able to focus specifically on many of these issues, post-Satyam. For instance, we found that the SFIO had limited powers when the investigations began. After the passage of the Bill, the body will have more teeth. We also have to put in place a software-based early-warning system to detect frauds. We will be able to assess if the system can throw up results that we are looking out for, a year after its operation.
Has Satyam set a precedent for the government to step in when promoters indulge in fraudulent practices?
The Satyam episode is a model worth studying for anyone who wants to see how a 'minimum invasive surgery' can put things right when such a crisis takes place. This experience will come in handy if something was to happen again. We should not underestimate the ability of people to do wrong if they want to do so. We have, therefore, taken several steps to avoid a repeat of something like Satyam. The new Companies Bill, once legislated, would provide for higher penalties and better systems of accountability and adjudication. We will also allow investors to file class-action-suits in India, but with safeguards to prevent any misuse.
At the heart of the scam is the siphoning off funds by the promoter B Ramalinga Raju and this is yet to be legally established. How do you see the progress of the investigation?
It is far more difficult to trace money that has found its way out of the company. The smoking-gun evidence is generally available closer home. One reason why people think that the investigation and prosecution are tardy and slow is because the rehabilitation effort in Satyam was so quick. So, in contrast, there could be a perception that the investigation is slow. The CBI, which is not under my ministry, has filed an additional charge-sheet and is waiting for the enforcement directorate to find more details on the fund trail. The Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) has filed its charge-sheet as well. We (SFIO) have a limited reach as we have no right to seek information from foreign jurisdictions. That is something we are trying to deal with now.
Investigations now show that the promoter forged board resolutions to raise loans of over Rs 1,200 crore from banks. Will you intervene if the onus of discharging these liabilities falls on the new owner?
As far as any liability is concerned, the new management has to deal with it. They have come with their eyes open and ultimately the responsibility is on their shoulders. They must find a solution. The new management has done an exceptionally good job. This is a case study to see how honest new managers can revive a failing company. Also, the role governments can play in being of critical help in such moments and the board in the interregnum that did pro-bono work to help the company tide over the crisis. Obviously, Satyam had some inherent strengths and not just the fictitious strength that had been created by the previous management.
How do you ensure greater accountability of statutory auditors and independent directors?
The role, rights and duties of auditors are defined in the Companies Bill that will help maintain integrity and independence of the audit process. Statutory auditors will have to become a lot more accountable than what they seem at this point. But certainly, under their professional requirement, company secretaries and statutory auditors are answerable to their professional institutes as well.
The Satyam scam has political dimensions as the promoter diverted money from the company to fund land deals. It has also brought to the fore the need to have greater transparency in corporate funding of elections.
We are not directly concerned with electoral reforms, though we have ideas to contribute. Business and politics have a wholesome and an unwholsesome interface. You have to eliminate the unwholesome interface. For that, electoral reforms are being considered from time to time and we have views to contribute if the discussion is carried forward.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE CAN HANDLE PRICE WARS & COME OUT ON TOP IN LONG TERM: VODAFONE
JOJI THOMAS PHILP & CHAITALI CHAKRAVARTY
Vittorio Colao is on his fifth visit to India this year and will be back again in January. Nothing unusual, except that Mr Colao is the CEO of the world's largest mobile operator by revenues Vodafone Group which has operations in 30 countries. The fact that India continues to be a jewel in the Vodafone Group's operations even three years after it bought a controlling stake from Hutchison, and also that the country offers huge growth potential, it should be no surprise that Mr Colao's travels here are the most for business. Consider the figures. For the quarter-ended September 2009, the Vodafone Group's revenues from India grew 23% and the country accounted for 65% of the 9.7 million new customers the group added across the globe during this period. India also continues to account for close to half of Vodafone's global cellular traffic. Mr Colao speaks to ET about Vodafone's prospects, the mobile sector and over-regulation.
You must be in India more often than you go to home country (Italy).
For business, I go to Italy maybe once or twice a year, but I do go there for holiday. India is the highest and others, such as South Africa and Germany, I visit maybe twice a year. In the past, I've been in India more often. Outside the UK, I am on the board of Vodafone's operations only in India and the US.
The ongoing price war has not spared your Indian operations. Your revenues have taken a hit. Are you concerned?
No, I am not concerned. My brief to the India team is to ensure that no competitor undercuts us. If any company cuts prices, just follow it. My concern is long term as the telecom sector requires big investments going forward.
At present, data usage is a mere 1% this is nothing. Regulators and policy makers must be careful frequencies (spectrum) is scarce here and when you slice this across so many players, you reduce the capacity of the system and this could lead to a scenario where there is less incentive to invest in the telecom space here. We cannot be just doing voice services for very low tariffs in India and we need to get into data. Vodafone is a long-term player. We can handle price wars & street fights and come out on top in the long-term, but clearly there are too many operators in the market here.
In every environment I have seen, not more than 5-6 operators and 3-4 networks have survived. This provides with enough competition from pricing perspective and also space for innovation. Unfortunately, India has a set of rules that does not allow consolidation. This year, in India, Vodafone had a £350 million operating profit in the first six months and we investing £1 billion, and therefore we will be negative. No player in India, other than Bharti Airtel, has positive cash flow, and we should make sure that there is enough cash in the system for future investments.
If TRAI eases the M&A rules, will Vodafone Essar buy out some of the new entrants to solve its spectrum crunch?
We favour consolidation because it is important to create efficient scale. We can be buyers, facilitators or, in some cases, we can be passive supporters of consolidation. It depends, but it is not possible to predict when we don't even know the rules.
In your latest quarterly results, you have said that despite the price wars, Vodafone will be looking to leverage its brand and scale in India. How do you plan to do so? I believe your operating costs in India are much higher than that of your closest competitor Bharti Airtel.
The Vodafone brand in India is fantastically executed and I am very proud of the fact that we are the best-admired company in India. We are a classic case where you bring in an asset that is big globally and it flourishes and grows here. Next, in terms of networks, we have been able to use our global scale to get the best deals from western and eastern equipment companies. Yes, Bharti has scale and they are ahead of us, but we are patient. Give us another 15 years and we will catch up with them.
You must be joking about the 15-year period.
I am serious. In our sector, it takes time. I am not obsessed with being number 1, but we are happy to be among the top two leaders of the market here. Bharti is a very well run company. I admire them. But right now, they are well ahead of us.
Talking about Bharti, will you sell the 4.4% stake that you still hold in it? The buzz in the market is that you are looking for a buyer for this. There is a speculation that Vodafone Group has already held talks with prospective buyers such as SingTel. Is this true?
We operate Vodafone Essar and not Bharti Airtel. So clearly, this is a relic of the past. No company in the world will be happy with a small minority stake in another entity. If anybody is interested in buying our stake, we are for it.
What do you think of Bharti's failure to bag the MTN deal?
I support the deal. If it had happened, it would have been a good thing for both India and South Africa as it would have made both countries more international in terms of exposure to other markets.
You have always been talking about mobile money transfers and mobile banking for markets such as India. Are you concerned that our laws don't allow these?
There is a huge confusion between mobile banking and mobile money transfer. Mobile banking is the business of banks we don't loan money, don't do insurance and we don't do micro finance. Mobile money transfers can be our business because it involves transferring cash that already exists in the market. In a way that is better because it is safe. We are not going into banking, but only changing the way cash is moved around. We are doing it in a more sophisticated and safer manner. India is missing a great opportunity to get people who are unbanked and not financially active into the system. We've had fantastic success in rolling out this in Kenya and will soon be starting it in South Africa. I really hope that 2010 is the year when Indians can avail this facility. From a business point of view, telecom companies really don't make much money from this. This is more of a social opportunity.
What about talent? Are you sending a lot of people from Vodafone India abroad, or is it the other way around?
Initially, it was the other way around. Now, we are also taking people out of India. For instance, the former CMO here Harit Nagpal is with the headquarters in UK now. It is a two-way flow and since India is where the growth is, people want to come here. With 3G coming in, we will get people competent on this here. My desire is to import competency and export entrepreneurship. For example, the ZooZoos. I love them and have met the people that have created them. I am even on the Facebook ZooZoo page. The interpretation of the Vodafone brand here, led by Kavita Nair, is very good and my desire is to export their creativity and their approach in the rest of the group.
Are you looking at a listing of your Indian operations?
Listing is one of the many possibilities and it is a positive thing to do. We recently listed our operations in South Africa (called Vodacom). We have also listed our arm in Kenya and at some point, we will list our Egyptian telecoms company. But, the listing may depend on whether the Ruias of the Essar Group, who own a 33% stake in Vodafone's Indian operations, decide to exercise their put option. They have a one-year window (May 2010-mid-2011), and the listing will depend on when and how much of the put option in exercised.
Are you concerned that over-regulation can kill the country's telecom sector?
The Indian market is so competitive and dynamic that there is no need of regulation. For instance, there is a regulation that says we need to get clearance before we buy equipment. The industry here will place about 300,000 orders for equipment in a year. How can someone look into all this? It only slows down and delays the whole process. Also, there are several regulations that make consolidation impossible. But, there is an interest in regulators and policy makers for change.
Are you concerned about the $2-billion tax claim by Indian authorities on Vodafone Essar.
I am confident we are not liable for tax on the 2007 deal. The share-purchase did not amount to transfer of capital assets which could be taxed. We are the buyer and capital gains tax cannot be imposed on the buyer. The transaction took place between two foreign entities and therefore cannot be taxed here. Any tax on us will also heave a huge political impact. We have made huge investments here. If this tax is imposed, it will affect other foreign companies in India who have large investments here.
Is 3G another missed opportunity because we still don't have it in India. Will you bid aggressively for the 3G spectrums?
3G has a huge potential. If you have enough spectrum, you can have speeds of up to 80 Mbps/second. My concern is not about the technology, but how much spectrum will be awarded to companies who want to rollout this technology. I cannot comment on Vodafone's strategy for the auctions.
The amount of outsourcing that you do is much lower when compared to Bharti Airtel. Will you outsource more in the future?
We have big scales as Vodafone as a group, and therefore do not need to outsource so much. It gives us the same result in terms of reducing our operating costs as that of Bharti. For instance, our call centres in Egypt cater to several countries, including India. This is also an opportunity for India as we can address the requirements of several other markets that we operate in from here.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'EVERY INVESTOR MUST HAVE GOLD IN HIS PORTFOLIO'
India is a capital-hungry nation and has a lot of room to absorb investments over time, says Narayan Ramachandran, MD and country head of Morgan Stanley. In the short term, though, excess capital flows could lead to some amount of capital friction from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), he says. In an interview with ET, he says the recent bad news globally underscores the fact that there is recovery, but it's not without risk.
From the Dubai debt crisis to the downgrading of Greece and Poland, bad news is trickling in. What does it mean for India?
The extent and magnitude of bad news make a difference to the prognosis for India. Moderate bad news, in a strange way, keeps the lid on inflation. India's Achilles heel is inflation. So, to the extent that bad news is moderate in the rest of the world, it's actually a wave/whiff of disinflation that's imported into India and that has the paradoxical but good effect of stretching the cycle here.
But recently, there have been a few glimmers of bad news relating to sovereign debt. What the world is grappling with is whether such developments are much more widespread or not. For the moment, the sensible conclusion seems to be that it's manageable. But it still bears watching. If the Dubai crisis had been $250 billion rather than $60-70 billion, then you might have had a very different outcome. What it has served to do is tell people that 'yes', there is a recovery, but the recovery is not without risk.
Do you anticipate further downgrades, globally?
The region that has not gone through a balance-sheet crisis is Eastern Europe. So, we have had a crisis in Latin America, Asia, Russia and even in Japan, but not in Eastern Europe. Iceland was an example of that, and Greece is, in some sense, an example of that. But a difficult world will put pressure in some of these economies. There is a risk of it happening and that exposes the European Union and its financial system to risks that had hitherto not been apparent. The only other pocket of excess credit was the Middle East, and particularly Dubai, and that also happened.
There are concerns about controls on excessive capital flows. Do you think such worries are justified, especially since the RBI has indicated that it's not averse to it?
RBI is going to calibrate capital flows against the current account deficit. And if the current account is negative 2-3%, RBI is going to be able to tolerate something like negative 5-7%. That's 2-3% more than the current account deficit. But beyond that RBI will have to figure out mechanisms to put some friction in inflows.
I don't think, it takes the Brazilian form (Tobin tax) as it would set a precedent. And it's also highly debatable if it would eventually succeed. In India, capital flows could begin to be a problem when they are 3-4% away from current account deficit. We are not there yet, but we could get there towards the latter half of 2010. If we do get there, it is likely to have been because markets in India have been good till then. There's good news before the bad news. I think, there is some form of capital friction likely.
Given the current hawkish stance of RBI, there are concerns that interest rates may be hiked sooner than later?
I think, concerns about interest rate hikes are overdone. Interest rate increases happen in part, because growth has been good. So, the best capital market outcome frankly is steady, but modest increases and normalisation of interest rates. Although the first time RBI increases interest rates particularly if it's at a moment when people are not expecting it there could be a market sell-off. Our mantra in Morgan Stanley is that normalisation of interest rates is not the same thing as the tightening of monetary policy conditions. Equities, particularly with visible and sustainable growth, do quite well in a normalisation process.
What are the sectors in India that you are positive on and not so positive on?
I am positive on real estate in the long term, say over a 10-year horizon. I would say hold off on telecom, technology, and FMCG. Take infrastructure and industrials case-by-case and financials, sector wise. This leaves only one industry i.e commodities. It's a tough call, but I wouldn't go short. If growth is going to be dull, commodities shouldn't be held in the portfolio. On the other hand, it's still being held up by the eroding dollar. Beyond that, I believe gold is insurance. I believe every investor should have gold in his portfolio. It's insurance against the dollar and inflation and against the world falling apart.
What is your view on equity-raising by India Inc?
The markets will remain in pause mode, as investors will be unwilling to take a position before the holidays, given the cloud over sovereign risk. If markets around the world hang in there, India Inc can raise on average $15-25 billion a year over the next three years. Including disinvestments, the number should go up to $60-70 billion over the next three years. This is, of course, assuming that the bottom doesn't fall out of global markets.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GSK CONSUMER HEALTHCARE BETTING BIG ON RURAL MARKET
Healthy topline, back-to-back launches such as Foodles (instant noodles), Nutribar snack bars, flavoured milk, and biscuits for toddlers, low-priced Asha, nutrition supplements ActiBase and ActiGrow, and aggressive inroads into rural and premium segmentsis the Rs 2,100-crore GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare (GSKCH) moving too fast? GlaxoSmithKline Consumer's executive VP-marketing, Shubhajit Sen, spoke about the company's roadmap for growth as it emerges unscathed from a difficult year. Excerpts:
There seems to be an over-dependence on brand Horlicks. Isn't that a risk?
As a brand we are still fairly dependent on Horlicks, but as a product format, we've bought down the dependence significantly. Our dependence on Horlicks is strength, but it has some risks as well. We are trying to mitigate that risk by moving into newer categories that can give us scale. We've started investing heavily in biscuits. Foodles (instant noodles) is being rolled out. Snack bars, flavoured milk, women's Horlicks all talk to different consumer segments.
The pros of having Horlicks as our flagship is that we can disproportionately invest behind it. The equity of the brand now is probably at its strongest in many years. This year monsoons were not good, and typically in bad monsoon years, Horlicks' sales diminish. But for the first time in probably last 30 years, the company's performance has not been impacted.
We also manage brands such as Eno, Iodex and Crocin. For the first time this year, Horlicks has contributed to less than 50% of our overall sales.
Recent months have seen a flurry of launches addressing different consumer segments. Will that pace continue?
Now that we are riding this tiger called growth, we've got to keep feeding it with ideas. We continue to scan the market for opportunitiescategory segmentation, localised productsfrom our global portfolio. What's given us confidence is that in a difficult year, we performed well, so as the economy revives, topline should only grow.
What's GSK doing to take advantage of growth potential in the rural markets?
Rural is critical for us. We are approaching it in two ways the obvious strategy is smaller packs at lower prices. Second, is to develop products at appropriate price points. We are test-marketing Horlicks Asha in AP -- 40% cheaper than the regular variant. It's the first product from GSK designed for rural consumers. If it works, it could open up a completely new category, because rural consumers do want to upgrade from commodities (like dalia) to brands. Besides, none of the bigger players operate in this category yet. Also, we are giving the Rs 5 biscuit packs a big rural push. Expanding distribution in rural areas and smaller towns is a big focus area.
GSK spends heavily on advertising. Will there be a let up or increase in spends over the next few quarters?
As long as we're in growth mode, I see no let up in spends. We don't want to significantly deviate from an A&P (advertising and promotions) to sales ratio. We are pretty mindful of the ratios. The trick is to grow topline so much that A&P spends keeps growing. How to allocate those spends between brands and platforms is something we're discussing. From an equity perspective, above-the-line is absolutely critical. But below-the-line spends tend to have far more short-term impact. So we keep meeting doctors, children, mothers. For Horlicks Nutrition Academy, we did a good amount of below-the-line activity.
Do you foresee changes in GSK's advertising and labeling of products, with the upcoming integrated food law that will regulate claims made by foods companies?
If anything, we are happy because there are lots of unsubstantiated claims made by other brands. We hope the move will result in a level-playing field. GSK being essentially a pharmaceutical company, our internal standards are really stringent. We have the advantage of leveraging our pharmaceutical parentage.
Viva and Maltova have been on the back burner. What are your long-term plans?
Well, whatever commercial consumer opportunities we have identified for Viva and Maltova seem to fit better with Horlicks. That's because our strategy has always been to find the biggest commercial opportunity we can. But the focus on Viva and Maltova is how to maintain shares and sales. Over the last five years, profitability of both brands has gone up dramatically. Periodically, we do keep looking at opportunities for these brands, but we need to figure out a growth platform for them.
GROWTH? YES. BUT CAN IT BE SUSTAINED?
The stock market gave the thumbs down to the figures for industrial production on Friday even while the government and some sections of decision-markers were pleased with the figures. The truth is that the double digit growth figure of 10.3 per cent was higher than the base figure, or the figure for October 2008, the period when the global financial crisis was at it peak. But the index of industrial production (IIP) was less than what it was month-on-month and, therefore, is indicative of a slowdown in the pace of growth. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said that growth well above 10 per cent is not just due to the base effect and that there is an element of growth which he hopes will be sustained in the following months. This a positive interpretation of the IIP figures and a morale-booster for the economy. The tricky part is to sustain this growth. There is an admission that this growth has been fuelled by the government's stimulus package. No study has been made of the percentage that the stimulus package contributed to this growth in the various sectors though the stimulus package is said to have contributed nearly two per cent to GDP growth. It is more likely than not to be quite significant because captains of industry as well as industry and business organisations have been repeatedly saying that the stimulus packages should stay for some time even as the Reserve Bank of India keeps talking of an exit policy in phases. So the continuation of the stimulus package is critical to growth. Growth will have to be stimulated by real economic activity, and this is yet to be seen. There has been growth in car sales, which is said to be fuelled by the fact that cars could be dearer in the coming months as inflation and interest rates go up. A lot of growth has been stimulated by government spending as against private spending. Private investment is not picking up and in the current fiscal is said to be just six per cent as against 18 per cent in 2007-08. The signals on investments are mixed. It is said that several projects have been shelved and those that have been completed are fewer than planned. It is true that industry has been showing profits, but that is mostly due to cost-cutting and other related measures. The top-line growth is still insignificant. There is a general concern about the fragile mature of the recovery and people, and the market, are not fully convinced about the solid nature of the growth. Though India is not dependent on global growth to the extent that the Southeast Asian countries are, the weakness in the growth in the US and Europe are till worrying and can affect growth impulses in India. The sovereign ratings of various countries, like Greece and Ireland, have stoked fears of several others being in line, particularly after the Dubai financial crisis. India's fiscal deficit is still only on the increase and is close to eight per cent of GDP though the government says it is lower but a source of concern. If there is another global financial crisis, as is feared, then India will have very little leeway to offer any more stimulus packages with such a high fiscal deficit. India needs to see more investment and increasing capacity utilisation if growth is to be sustained in the real economy.
REVIVAL PLAN FOR BENGAL
BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
In my column Mamata's rise a ray of hope for Bengal (November 16), I tried to point out the reasons why the Left and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) could not retain the support of the people of West Bengal after ruling the state for almost 32 years.
Some of my CPI(M) friends have taken offence when no such offence was meant. It is a matter of great regret that the CPI(M)'s support has eroded so much. It is likely to be pushed out of government, at a time when the country needs a genuine moment of the Left.
I believe that the Left is the natural ally of any political and social movement for the uplift of the poor and vulnerable, especially of the movement motivated by the mainstream ideology of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and the Congress Party. We need growth and development with the primary purpose of giving "Swaraj" and self reliance to the poorest of the poor in the country, and for a genuine "national independence" in the international community.
When the CPI(M) first came to power its cadre was motivated by that ideology and introduced many changes, especially in the countryside. The Party worked towards labour rights and industrial development of the small and unorganised sector. As a result its support base grew. Although numerically the Congress retained most of the vote share, its organisational strength deteriorated and hence, it was unable to recapture power and the Left's rule remain unchallenged.
Over a period of time, however, the CPI(M) started suffering from the same symptoms of bureaucracy, corruption and petty exercise of necked power as Mao Zedong had recognised would be the case in China after Communists prolonged rule there. Mao moved the rectification campaign, known as the Cultural Revolution, to get rid of corruption and distortions in the party bureaucracy. It was another matter that this movement was hijacked by the gang of four. But Mao proved his ability by identifying the weaknesses of a Left movement as it did not continue to reinvent itself.
In West Bengal, something very similar happened. Their electoral politics and hunger for power overwhelmed its dedicated and motivated cadres. They were taken over by Lumpens and Mastans, the corrupt muscle men who proved very useful in capturing votes and in controlling the grassroots movement to help the increasingly corrupt segment of party leadership. As a result, although the CPI(M) retained power, it lost moral strength and support among the people. Common people could not do much as they could not organise themselves and, hence, submitted themselves to the continuing rule of the CPI(M), which literally moved away from social development, compared to most other states in the country.
It is important that the Left realises its mistakes. To quote Mao again, "Mistakes are made but they can also be corrected". There should be a correction call to purge the corrupt elements and in returning to the mainstream social movement so that the party can get back the support of the people. Resorting to violent and factional politics is not going to help because once the Mastans realise the CPI(M) losing its strength, they will shift their allegiance and destroy the party itself. It will take some time for the CPI(M) to get back its support base and still a year and half is left before the next Assembly elections.
In the other part of that article I talked about the growing strength of Ms Mamata Banerjee, who succeeded in bringing the wave against CPI(M) and has almost certainly been accepted by most people in West Bengal as their next chief minister. It is better to recognise the change in situation, come to terms with it and reckon the possibility that Ms Banerjee would actually emerge as a powerful leader in the image of Dr B.C. Roy in West Bengal. Ms Banerjee has now got a historic opportunity of playing that role to which she must dedicate herself in the present conditions of West Bengal's economy and politics. It is very difficult to play that role and we all hope that she will measure up to the challenge.
There are three essential requirements for that role to be played effectively. First, Ms Banerjee must move above factional politics, stop the violent game of tit-for-tat, and re-establish law and order which, unfortunately, the CPI(M) had practically failed to maintain. But for this there should be an understanding between the Trinamul Congress and the CPI(M) which must be seen as cooperative in these efforts.
Law and order is in the interest of all parties and a social consensus can be built with some efforts of all the parties. Second, Ms Banerjee must revive social development programmes, many of which have already been launched in a half-hearted manner, whether they are related to National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, rural health programme and Sarvashiksha Abhiyan as well as the decentralised development projects.
The lessons from other states clearly demonstrate that these programmes can deliver enormous benefits for the people through popular participations both at the grassroots and higherlevel with monitoring, review and dispute settlement. In most cases, finance has not been a bottle-neck, it is organisation and motivation which have proved to be the deterrents success.
The third requirement is to immediately initiate a major development programme for West Bengal based on industrialisation and agricultural progress. There are many issues involved, including land acquisition, financing the poor in unorganised sector and protection of agricultural labour about which there is still no consensus. But for that a consensus-building process must start immediately, with the involvement of all sections intellectuals, bureaucrats and party activists. Debates and public scrutiny are the only way to improve upon development programmes. Nobody has the final definite answer but the process has to start, to look for the task and implement it in whichever manner and whatever area, it is possible.
West Bengal now stands at the crossroads of history. We can only hope that the new emerging leadership would be able to guide the destiny of the state in the coming days.
Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament andformer Economic Adviser toPrime Minister Indira Gandhi
ENCOURAGING THE DO-IT-YOURSELF ECONOMY
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
In case you haven't noticed, the US economy today is actually being hit by two tsunamis at once: The Great Recession and the Great Inflection.
The Great Inflection is the mass diffusion of low-cost, high-powered innovation technologies from hand-held computers to websites that offer any imaginable service plus cheap connectivity. They are transforming how business is done. The Great Recession you know.
The "good news" is that the Great Recession is forcing companies to take advantage of the Great Inflection faster than ever, making them more innovative. The bad news is that credit markets and bank lending are still constricted, so many companies can't fully exploit their productivity gains and spin off the new jobs we desperately need.
Two examples, one small, one large: The first is my childhood friend, Ken Greer, who owns a marketing agency in Minneapolis, Greer & Associates. The Great Recession has forced him to radically downsize, but the Great Inflection has made him radically more productive. He illustrated this by telling me about a film he recently made for a non-profit.
"The budget was about 20 per cent of what we normally would charge", said Greer. "After one meeting with the client, almost all our communication was by email. The script was developed and approved using a collaborative tool provided by www.box.net . Internally, we all could look at the script no matter where we were, make suggestions and get to a final draft with complete transparency easy, convenient and free. We did not have a budget to shoot new footage, yet we had no budget either for stock photography the old way paying royalties of $100 to $2,000 per image. We found a source, istockphoto.com, which offered great photos for as little as a few dollars.
"We could easily preview all the images, place them in our programme to make sure they worked, purchase them online and download the high-resolution versions all in seconds", Greer added. "We had a script that called for four to five voices. Rather than hiring local voice talent for $250 to $500 per hour we searched the Internet for high-quality voices that we could afford. We found several sites offering various forms of narration or voice-overs. We selected www.voices.com . In less than one minute, we created an account, posted our requirements and solicited bids. Within five minutes, we had 10 to 15 'applicants'" charging 10 per cent of what Greer would have paid live talent.
"Best part", he said, "within minutes we had sample reads, which could be placed into our film to see if the voices fit. We selected our finalists, wrote them with more specific instructions and within hours had the final read delivered to us via MP3 files over the Web. We could get any accent or ethnicity we wanted. For music, we used a site called www.audiojungle.net", where he could sample thousands of cuts of music and sound effects with the click of a mouse, and then buy them for pennies.
By being able to access all these cheap tools, Greer got to focus on his value-add: imagination. The customer got a better product for less money. But he didn't create many new jobs. For that, he needs the economy to pick up. "If we could only borrow a buck and invest", said Greer, "we'd all be rolling again".
Mr Farooq Kathwari, the longtime CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors, had to accelerate reinvention of his company for the same reasons. In the last year, he reduced his workforce by 25 per cent and consolidated several US manufacturing plants, including transferring all upholstery manufacturing into a large state-of-the-art facility in North Carolina, enabling Ethan Allen to substantially decrease its production time. The most labour-intensive upholstery work is done in the company's new plant in Mexico, and the components are shipped to the North Carolina facility for completion.
"Five years ago", said Kathwari, "it would take about 20 hours of labour time to make a high-quality custom sofa. Now, due to our investments in technology and a smaller workforce that is more highly skilled, the labour time to make this sofa is about three hours".
Everywhere he can, Kathwari says he is leveraging technology to cut costs and improve quality to retain his competitive position in world markets. This enabled Ethan Allen to maintain sufficient cash to survive. "We now produce all our advertising programmes in-house, including national television commercials, at a fraction of the cost we spent a few years back just as your friend is doing", said Kathwari. "Our associates recognise that reinvention is vital to our survival".
Given its new state of hyperefficiency, any uptick in business would really help Ethan Allen's bottom line and stimulate hiring, but that requires credit markets to loosen for its customers and store owners. Said Kathwari, "Credit is still a vital issue, and it is not happening at the grassroots level or when it is, it is very expensive".
Strange times: The Great Recession and Great Inflection are making our companies ultralean, innovative and productive. But with credit still constricted, we're like a superfit track star with a weak heart. We've got to get credit pumping to our industrial muscles again.
THE GRAMMAR OF TELUGU CULTURE
BY CHENNURU ANJANEYA REDDY
Historically, the Telugus have had no strong cultural identity and this fact is once again demonstrated amply by their anxiety to split the state for no good reason into two for now and may be three or four units before long.
They are different from Tamils or Malayalees or Kannadigas in the South or Bengalis in the East in this respect.
Most major dynasties which ruled the Telugu country in ancient and mediaeval times were not locals but naturalised non-Telugus be it the Chalukyas of Vengi, the Kakatiyas of Warangal or the Rayas of Vijayanagar or the Pallavas or Cholas of the Tamil country.
The Muslim dynasties, the Qutbshahis and the Asafjahis, were rank outsiders; the latter ruled as the representatives of the Mughals and had no roots here.
While the former made some effort to build on the local culture and develop local languages, the latter brazenly imposed a non-native culture and an alien language to the extent of suppressing the local language and culture.
Hyderabad became cosmopolitan to the point that locals became strangers in their own land. This is not a cynical observation; all those with dispassionate interest in regional history know it.
With the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, for the first time in their history most of the Telugu people, if not all of them, were brought together in their homeland, with an opportunity to foster their cultural identity.
We now seem to be throwing away the hard-earned opportunity. The self-destructive process began when we named our unified state as Andhra Pradesh, after the Andhras, who were outcasts living on the fringes of the Aryan society and with whom all the social intercourse was forbidden by that notorious law-giver, Manu.
We should have called the new Telugu state by the old name, Telangana or Telugunadu or Teluguseema; this itself would have reminded us of our common heritage the ancient Telugu language!
Even after coming together for the first time in history some 53 years ago, Telugus have failed to discover their roots and foster a cultural identity, which was the intention in creating language-based states.
Their language, which derived from the Dravidian core and was much influenced by Paisachi prakritam, was known as Desi for over 2,000 years and found its place even on the coins of the pre-Satavahana times.
Its origins and early history never interested our scholars who were brought up on the false notions of a Sanskrit ancestry for our non-Sanskritic language.
The fact that the two Prakrit works are set in what is now the Telugu country and that they illustrate our ancient folklore and contain many desi words is lost even on the literati.
Though the Telugu University has been there for 25 years, it has yet to evolve a standard Telugu usage. Instead, we have been making fun of regional variations and unintentionally hurting each other's sensitivities and foolishly taking pride in one's own lingo.
Telugu grammar remains unknown even to Telugu people; it is difficult, almost impossible, for others to learn the basic structure of the language with the help of a book of grammar.
No one has attempted to present a basic grammar text after Chinnaya Suri of the 19th century who, limited by his time and circumstance, didn't think of Telugu as a Dravidian language and tried to subject it to Sanskrit grammar, creating in the process an enduring confusion in the minds of students and scholars.
Still worse, there is no modern lexicon and other tools for children to learn the language and the standard usage; in the present scheme of things, it would take a good five minutes to locate a word in the available dictionaries and when you finally do it, you are not much wiser!
Our children in cities and towns prefer to converse in English; whenever they speak Telugu, more than half the words employed are English. The joke about Telugu journalism is that we cannot read a Telugu newspaper unless you are conversant with English usage and idiom as what passes for Telugu is transliterated English.
A stage has now come where many Telugu language enthusiasts agonise that at this rate idiomatic Telugu will soon be a thing of the past.
The story of the development of fine arts, particularly the performing arts is also one of unpardonable neglect.
The malevolent impact of Telugu cinema and want of scholarly attention are responsible for their decline.
The only comparable resource person, Nataraja Ramakrishna, has been languishing and left to fend for himself.
Of the three broad categories of dances the Temple dances, the Court dances and the Yakshaganams and Kalapams, only Kuchipudi which belongs to the third genre could establish itself and has found some patronage.
Temple and Court dances, originally known as the Devadasi and Rajadasi traditions, have fused into what is now called Bharatanatyam in Tamil Nadu. By sheer indifference, the Telugus have now disinherited themselves of these glorious traditions and lost them to Tamil Nadu, which is now considered their homeland.
Yakshaganam has been owned, developed and modernised in Karnataka, though it belongs as much to the Telugu country.
The political leadership has lost their long-term vision and neglected the language and culture, which alone can anchor a people in their tradition. Through the best part of the last half-century, we have had a political leadership which paid scant attention to these aspects.
While one chief minister has abolished the various academies fostering the fine arts, another decried the study of history and drove our boys and girls to call centres and sweat shops of Information Technology.
In the absence of a core culture that anchors all of us together, it is no wonder we, the Telugus, have arrived at this cultural impasse.
We have a lesson to learn from our Tamil cousins who through sheer will and hard work regained for Tamil its due place while we have lost whatever cultural advantages we had.
Let us understand at least now that we have a historic role to fulfil and if we fail our people now, future generations will not forgive us.
Should we fall apart, we shall become two or three insignificant patches in the great mosaic of Indian culture. The sooner we realise it, the better for the future of Telugu identity..
* The writer is a formerIPS officer
LEAVE THE CLASSROOM,SEE THE REAL WORLD
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISOF
Are you a university student with a yearning to see the best and worst of the world?
Are you (reasonably)unruffled if you're dive-bombed by insects the size of small planes while bouncing over ruts toward an interview with a warlord?
Then it's time to apply for my 2010 "win-a-trip" contest.
For the fourth time, I'll take a student with me on a reporting trip to Africa to cover issues of global poverty and their solutions.
It won't be comfortable or glamorous. Maybe we'll interview a president, but far more time will be spent squatting in thatch-roof huts, listening to villagers.
Within The New York Times, my colleagues say that first prize is one trip with Kristof, second prize is two trips, third is three trips and so on...This contest reflects my conviction that the best way to open minds and hearts to the world's challenges is to see them, hear them, smell them.
Readers ask why I tilt at windmills like malaria, sex trafficking or maternal mortality.
The answer has to do, in part, with my university days not my time in class, but the far more educational experiences I had backpacking around the world on vacations.
To save money, I travelled with local people on tops of trains in Sudan, on tops of buses in Pakistan.
I was robbed in Ghana by drunken soldiers, and by a gang of teenagers in Peru.
I had also slept on the floor of a temple in India and lived with a family in its cave in Algeria.
During these trips around the world I witnessed the harsh and cruel realities of life. Something that was not visible to me in the classroom.
These trips completely transformed my understanding of the world, and instilled a yearning to make a difference.
American universities are still remarkably parochial.
If education is supposed to expose us to new worlds, then it's appalling how many people go through college and graduate school without ever spending time in a village in the developing world the habitat where humans have spent most of history.
(If you travel with a herd of other students to Paris and have nothing but fun, that doesn't count. The point is to get outside your comfort zone: The best way to understand the terrible burden of malaria is to catch it although I promise not to shoo mosquitoes in your direction.)
My first win-a-trip journey was with Casey Parks, a Mississippi woman who had never been abroad she may be the first American whose first foreign countries were Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
We traipsed through the jungle to see gorillas and elephants, scratched bedbug bites and stumbled across a New Jersey man who lives with Pygmies in the jungle. When we tried to cover banditry, we were held up at gunpoint ourselves. Twice.
Most poignant of all, we came across Prudence Lemokouno, a pregnant woman who had suffered a ruptured uterus when a birth attendant sat on her stomach to expedite the delivery.
We donated blood, but the only doctor in the area refused to help her until it was too late.
That was our close encounter with the problems faced by people living in the other parts of the world.
We knew that in some African countries a woman has more than a 1-in-10 chance of dying in childbirth, but to see Prudence dying in front of us was shattering.
The second win-a-trip was to Rwanda, Congo and Burundi with a medical student, Leana Wen, and a high school teacher, Will Okun.
We had dinner with a warlord, and interviewed people starved and raped by his army.
But we also saw extraordinary aid workers a reminder that the very best of humanity invariably is found alongside the worst.
The third trip was with Paul Bowers of the University of South Carolina.
In West Africa, we saw how simple nutritional supplements like vitamin A can save lives incredibly cheaply.
We had an inspiring encounter with blind beggars who were organising themselves to demand that their children be given the right to education and allowed to attend school.
So where should we go on this fourth win-a-trip? What issues should we cover?You tell me on Facebook, Twitter and my blog (nytimes.com/ontheground).
All the information about how to enter the contest is on my blog and I owe a shout-out to the Centre for Global Development for helping me screen the numerous applications.
If you win, you won't be practicing tourism, but journalism. You'll blog and file videos for nytimes.com, and you'll bring a powerful reporting credential that I can't: fresh eyes.
Only one of you can win this contest, but any of you who is intrested can put together your own journey.
Some past entrants, frustrated by my own poor judgment in failing to select them, have consoled themselves by buying an air ticket to Uganda/Thailand/Bolivia.
In my blog post about the contest, I've suggested some volunteering possibilities.
You could volunteer to help out at an inspiring hospital in Somaliland or teach English to brothel children in a Kolkata red light district.
Bottom line: If you don't win my contest trip, go ahead and buy your own.
A GAME THAT'S NOT SO GREAT
BY MAUREEN DOWD
Puppets just aren't what they used to be. Or maybe a trillion dollars doesn't buy the same felicitous level of obsequiousness it once did. Visiting Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to shore up US wobbly wards, Bob Gates could not seem to get the respect due, the man running the world's best military, a force that has been protecting and propping up our two occupied territories for most of this decade.
At a joint press conference on Tuesday at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai surprised the usually unflappable Gates when he knocked down US President Barack Obama's attempt to get out of Dodge.
Needling his American sugar daddy, the Afghan peacock observed: "For another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources".
Gates and Obama may have wanted to "light a fire", as Gates put it, under the corrupt Afghan President and warn that the ATM is closing, but Karzai called their bluff. He knows, as do the leaders in Iraq and Pakistan, that America is stuck bailing them out with billions every year, even when they dawdle, disappoint and deceive.
Gates and his generals in Afghanistan talked a lot last week about "partnering" with and "mentoring" the Afghan Army and police. But given the Flintstones nature of the country, it's more basic. Americans have to teach the vast majority of Afghan recruits to read and write before they can get to security training. It's hard to arrest people if you can't read them their rights and take names.
It seems late to realise this, but Gates told reporters he had only recently learned the "eye-opener" that the Taliban were able to attract so many fighters because they paid more. Generals in Afghanistan said the Taliban dole out $250 to $300 a month, while the Afghan Army paid about $120. So Gates has made sure that recruits get a raise to $240.
Gates promised that America would not leave until the Afghan and Iraqi forces stand up even when he gets stood up, as he did by Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri Kamal al-Maliki on Thursday night. The Iraqi Prime Minister blew off a planned meeting with Gates because he was in a scorching, closed-door, six-hour meeting with Iraqi lawmakers.
After four days of preaching a message of love Gates said it was "a myth" that America likes war and called it the first time in military history that an occupying force was in Afghanistan "on behalf of the Afghans rather than to conquer" he finally got some back.
"You look very young you look much older on TV", Maj. Gen. Turhan Abdul Rahman, Kirkuk provincial director of police, told the manicured Gates.
If Rummy had been dissed by our inglorious glove puppets, he would have blown his top. But the disciplined, analytical, pragmatic, introverted Gates is no Rummy. His form of ego is not to show ego.
The Cold Warrior who helped persuade the Reluctant Warrior to do the Afghan surge has sometimes been on the wrong side of history with the Soviet Union, the Iran-Contra scandal and the 1989 desertion of Afghanistan.
But unlike Rummy, Cheney and Wolfie, he doesn't seem driven to make up for past disappointments by manipulating present history. "Where I do think I bring something unusual is, I think I have uncommon common sense", he told me.
Asked about the Democratic lawmakers who felt the President had been rolled by the generals, Gates snapped: "That's ridiculous". So how does Gates make a decision that will determine his reputation and that of the young President he serves? "Anybody who reads history has to approach these things with some humility, because you can't know", he said.
By arrangement with the New York Times
Jairam Ramesh, once the Congress's stormy petrel, has a storm raging in his environment ministry. On one side are old-style nationalists. They follow the Nehru line that developed countries are villains and developing countries are innocent victims. This line followed in Nehruvian times from two centuries of colonialism; then, the colonial masters were the perpetrators and the colonies the perpetrated. This line went out of fashion in the last two decades as India grew and acquired self-confidence. It continued, however, to survive in an attic of the foreign ministry, whence it has re-emerged. Its new form is that industrial countries spewed out those greenhouse gases which now threaten to roast the world. It is their duty to remove or mitigate them. India has meanwhile industrialized and continues to do so. But its sins are too recent to consider; it should be considered innocent until the guilty have served their sentences.
On the other side is a minority which believes that Indians are no special species, but are citizens of the world. It faces an urgent crisis; if world temperatures rise, the catastrophe will strike India as surely as it does the rest of the world. The 21st century requires development of a new style of living and livelihood. Participating in its development is not only right, but desirable; it will give India a voice in shaping it. India should accept the responsibility for cutting down its emissions, and ask for assistance from technologically advanced countries to do so.
Given his political loyalties, Nehruvian intransigence came naturally to Mr Ramesh. But then he realized that it would exclude India from the negotiations that will decide the strategy for dealing with climate change. Already the European Union is talking about imposing duties on imports in proportion to their carbon footprint. By not keeping pace with the world in mitigative policies, India would not only miss out on the technologies that will be developed to reduce emissions, but would also find its exports excluded from industrial countries' markets.
The minister may go to world forums and rant against the injustice, but by definition, the world is never fair to an iconic developing country like India. So Mr Ramesh wrote to the prime minister in June proposing a change in India's stance. The consensus that emerged from the ensuing confabulations was that Mr Ramesh should prevaricate. He announced a national target for reduction of emissions, but said that he would not promise any reductions; it would be just a promise to himself. He worked out a national plan of sorts, and defended it in Parliament and outside. But he promised not to defend it outside the country. So he has gone to Copenhagen, where he will sit on a fence and whisper his promise. But it is an unwise resolution; for what he does not promise, he will get nothing in return.
India may have its own reasons for not agreeing with the timeline to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as proposed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But political bargains between big and small nations are not going to forestall the dangers of global warming. If anything, developing countries are more likely to face the brunt of nature's fury as the temperature of the earth rises and cyclones, tsunamis and floods are unleashed on the people. So it makes sense to make a start somewhere, and what better way than to learn to harness the resources of the natural world. Solar energy is one of the most obvious places to begin with. Not only is it ubiquitous, but technology has also made its utilization relatively inexpensive and easily accessible. However, sensible thinking has generally eluded the people who run West Bengal. So one is not particularly surprised to learn that the rate of dissemination of solar energy in West Bengal, a state blessed with sunlight for around 250 days in the year, has been abysmal. In 2007, the Bengal Municipal (Building) Rules had stipulated that new houses or extensions of existing ones must use solar energy. Yet, apart from the Sunderbans, the rest of the state has neglected this injunction with the usual brazenness that it reserves for laws governing vehicular and sound pollution.
Even less surprising is the news that compared to West Bengal, there has been a significant rise in the popularity of this alternative mode of energy in states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Gujarat. To make a new scheme work, any administration has to introduce subsidies and raise public awareness the two counts on which Bengal's Left Front government has signally failed. Since last February, subsidies to individuals have been stopped, resulting in a marked fall in the sales of solar-energy equipment. And thus, yet another flicker of change is being put out by the State.
SCIENCE AND THE LAYMAN
HOW SCIENTISTS AND DECISION-MAKERS CONFUSE ORDINARY PEOPLE
COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO
Governments and people have to make choices about accepting new scientific developments into their daily lives. Many attribute high levels of objectivity and integrity to scientists, which is not true of many of them. Scientists have been known to manipulate results to their advantage. Scientific issues are often complex, there are differing views among scientists and the layman finds it difficult to decide which scientific course is harmful or beneficial. Decision-makers also make wrong decisions based on faulty understanding of scientific issues. Recent examples are debates on the genetic modification of food crops, nuclear energy, the hydrogen bomb and climate change. And on the other side, the Indian Neutrino Observatory. Opposing points of view among industrialists, scientists and the government's decision-makers have proved unreliable guides to these issues.
Nuclear energy does not cause the global warming that burning coal for generating electricity does. But public concern in the media raises doubts about safety and the high costs of nuclear plants and nuclear power. Atomic plants can cause lethal radiation. The after-effects can lead to sterility and painful death. Many have argued that nuclear energy is more costly than other kinds of energy. High and rising costs of imported plants, expensive safety measures and the safe storage of long-lasting nuclear waste until safe methods of disposal are found are serious concerns. Our engineers are accused of lying about the safety records of our nuclear plants. Dual use of enriched uranium for producing energy as well as bombs enables hiding the substantial costs under defence expenditures. And yet, India is going in for a massive expansion in the production of nuclear energy. The lack of transparency befuddles the layman.
Similarly, nuclear scientists are arguing whether India actually has a hydrogen bomb or whether the last test was a 'fizzle'. Some scientists have said that the Atomic Energy Commission is really not competent to judge since it is composed of bureaucrats and engineers, and practically no nuclear scientists. The layman does not know whom to trust with giving facts and objective judgments.
There are similar opposing positions about genetically modified seeds for agricultural products, especially food. Fertilizers and chemicals in foods can be dangerous for our health, damaging to soils. We are better off with foods grown organically. But organic foods are more expensive and cannot presently feed all of us. Genetic modification means creating new versions of life. Some feel that scientists are playing god. Crucially, we do not know how much reliable testing there has been to ensure that there are no long-term adverse side effects from genetically modified foods on humanity and the environment. As with pesticides, genetically modified seeds that are pest-resistant could create more powerful pests. Their high cost is another problem, especially in India where fakery is common with many products. Our poor administration is unable to prevent such fakes. Farmers borrow to buy fertilizers, pesticides or seeds. When these products turn out to be fake, resulting in crop failures, the farmers are unable to repay their debts. This has led to farmers' suicides.
Some scientists and environmentalists have questioned the credentials of those who are testing these seeds. They would like the tests to be conducted by scientists directly involved in the development of such seeds and not scientists from more distant expertise. The layman is unable to make sense of the credentials of the testers. Many also argue that the scientists working on the development of these seeds work for big companies and have vested interests in finding favourable results from the genetic modifications. So their tests cannot be accepted.
Yet, genetically modified Bt Cotton is said to have resulted in a substantial rise in productivity and profit to farmers. In the United States of America, much of the maize grown is genetically modified. Many millions of acres all over the world have been planted with these seeds. Surely, by now, there must be sufficient evidence as to whether they are harmful to humans? But the layman only gets to hear strong opinions, not credible evidence.
Major changes in climate are now obvious even to the illiterate and uneducated. The changes in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, changes in the difference in temperatures between night and day and so on have made for a complex set of disturbances. This is anthropogenic or man-made climate change. The seasons are becoming less predictable, temperatures vary wildly and the monsoons come much earlier or much later than before. The regularity of seasons in India, embedded in our literature and religious festivals, seems much less predictable today.
John Vidal writes in The Guardian, "On a 1,000-mile journey from the world's greatest water source in the Himalayas, down rivers and then by train through Nepal, India and Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal, we saw evidence of profound changes in weather patterns right across South Asia. Wherever we went we were told of significant temperature increases, and found governments slowly waking up to the threat of climate change and communities having to respond in any way they could to erratic rains and more serious droughts, floods and storms."
As the Arctic ice melts rapidly, countries are already queuing to exploit its immense mineral wealth, hitherto beyond reach. The melting of the Arctic will have horrendous effects on low-lying countries. Even Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta will be badly affected. Monsoon failures or floods will harm agriculture, the livelihood of 60 per cent of our population. But climate sceptics among scientists claim that climate change is a false alarm. The hacking of the electronic and email storage of East Anglia University, a major centre for research on climate change, shows that pro-climate-change scientists concealed data and asked such contrary data to be kept secret.
A Gallup study of over 206,000 citizens from 128 countries shows that more than half of the world's greenhouse emissions come from five nations: Japan, China, Russia, India and the United States of America. In terms of percentage, awareness of climate change in Japan is 99, the US 97, Russia 85, 62 in China and 35 in India. Those considering greenhouse emissions as serious threat is 80 per cent in Japan, 63 in the US, 39 in Russia, 29 in India and 21 in China. The climate sceptics are confusing the layman even when he recognizes dramatic changes in climate.
The US and other rich countries have brought about drastic climate change because of their energy-intensive economies, consumption and lifestyles. Improvement in living conditions in India demands much more energy and the burning of coal. Most Indians cannot afford to pay the price even of electricity from coal, let alone solar or wind power. Are scientists who are climate sceptics controlled by industries in rich countries that want status quo?
Scientists are also short changed by decision-makers. The Indian Neutrino Observatory by Indian standards, a mega project with a projected investment of Rs 900 crore was to be situated in a tunnel, already dug by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board in the Nilgiris, near Masinagudi. Ecological implications were thoroughly studied. The ministry of environment commissioned a thorough study by a top Indian scientist well-known for his work on elephants who has worked in the area for nearly three decades. In spite of this, the ministry has stopped the project without giving any reasons. Scientists in Canada, Italy and Japan have a head start of almost a decade.
Neither scientists nor decision-makers have brought clarity to issues. The layman needs honest answers and should not accept scientists as gospel. Science needs total transparency of results. Scientists must be educated to respect people and not hide or twist results that are unfavourable. Decision-makers in governments must certainly be better educated and not become loyal to one or other scientific group.
The author is former director- general, National Council for Applied Economic Research
A LONG WAY TO GO
Copenhagen is turning into exactly the sort of shambles everybody feared it would be. The only official text still has almost 2,000 square brackets indicating points of disagreement. And now all the rival, unofficial texts are starting to emerge.
The first to be leaked was a Danish proposal, backed by a number of other industrialized nations. It would simply scrap the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty in existence that makes countries reduce emissions, and ditch the measures it contains on financial assistance and technology transfer to the poor countries. A new treaty would be constructed on a green-field site, with everything up for grabs.
The developing countries were furious but in the next few days the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) will release its own proposed text. The least developed countries, the African bloc and the overall G-77/China group are also expected to present their own texts, as are the small island states.
One hundred and ten heads of State will show up for the final couple of days, so something will have to emerge that can be presented as a success. But it is likely to be merely a ringing statement of principles that steers around all the unresolved disputes, and then everyone will go home leaving the job half-done.
But cheer up. 'Last chances' are rarely what they seem. The job of removing all the brackets from the text will probably be resumed next year, with the goal of bringing something closer to a final draft back to another Conference of the Parties as soon as possible.
So what does this process remind you of? If it were all happening within one country, and the blocs of states manoeuvring at Copenhagen were local interest groups defending their turf, then you would recognize it instantly. It is the normal, familiar political process transposed to the global scale. And that is new.
It is hard to celebrate a process as clumsy, and occasionally as ugly, as the horse-trading and arm-twisting going on at Copenhagen but that is how human politics works. We may all recognize that there is a global emergency, but every government still has its own interests to protect. Nevertheless, we have come a long way.
Seventy-five years ago there were only about 50 independent countries in the world, and more than half of the human race lived in somebody else's empire. The one existing international organization with any pretensions to global authority, the League of Nations, had collapsed, and we were entering the worst war in human history. Sixty years ago, there was a new, more ambitious global organization, the United Nations, created mainly to prevent more wars, in particular a nuclear war. There were a 100 independent countries, many of them dictatorships, but they did represent the interests of their people better than the empires. The world was divided ideologically into East and West and economically into North and South, but the realization was dawning that we were all in the same boat and in the end we did avoid nuclear war.
Now there are 192 governments at the Copenhagen conference, most of them democratic, and they know that we are all in the same boat. So, for the first time, we have real global politics. It is as messy as politics at any other level, but it is better than what we had before. Some on the Right think that climate change is a Left-wing plot to impose a world government on everybody nothing of the sort is remotely likely.
We are all just dealing as best as we can with threats that require a global response. We bring our old political habits with us, because there is no better model available. If we succeed, the world will be more politically integrated than ever before. Not because it is desirable but because it is necessary.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN ON DECEMBER 9
''THE ARREST SHEDS LIGHT ON PAK'S ROLE IN 26/11 ATTACK.''
The case of David Coleman Headley, the Lashkar-e-Toiba operative who was arrested in the US by the FBI, has got curiouser and curiouser ever since he was held, with revelations about the reach of the terrorist organisation, the long planning that has gone into its actions and the failure of counter-terrorism bodies to detect and pre-empt its plans. The FBI made a major breakthrough with his arrest, though there are questions about how he escaped the strict vigil and surveillance in the US for years. It is even suggested that in the murky world of intelligence and counter-intelligence he may even have been useful to the US once. But the matter of practical value for both India and the US now is that he had an important role in planning the Mumbai terrorist outrage of last November, in which the US also has a direct interest because six of its citizens were killed in the attack. He is now facing trial in Chicago on many charges.
American prosecutors have found that the Mumbai attack plan was conceived many years before it was implemented. Headley lived in Mumbai for two years, set up an office there, did reconnaissance for two years, passed on videotapes and other information to Pakistani handlers and visited that country many times. He obtained his visa from the Indian consulate in Chicago, which hardly checked his antecedents, though there was a tell-tale change of name from Daood Gilani to David Headley and he supplied many incorrect details about himself which went unverified. There cannot be few other testimonials to the failure and inefficiency of Indian intelligence and immigration authorities.
The revelations in Chicago have also shed more light on the Pakistani role in the Mumbai attack. Headley was reporting to a retired Pakistani army officer who took him to the terrorist hotspots in the country to plan another attack in Denmark. The involvement of another Pakistani, identified as 'A', has also come to light. Headley was arrested when he was planning another Mumbai-type attack in India. His disclosures strengthen the need for more efforts and co-operation by Pakistan in bringing those responsible for the Mumbai outrage to justice. These have not been forthcoming, with an almost farcical trial going on in that country. More importantly, the disclosures are a wake-up call for India to raise its vigil and plug the loopholes in its security system.
''HONDA HAS MOVED IN WHERE BAJAJ ONCE RULED.''
When Bajaj scooters ride into the sunset next year, it will mark the end of a chapter in the history of how India travelled in the last century. The company has decided to stop production of its scooters and concentrate on motor cycles. India, as famously observed by Jawaharlal Nehru, had entered the bicycle age in the 1950s.
The scooter age marked the next stage in its tryst with travel. It became the Bajaj age because the Bajaj scooters gave a local habitation and a name to the new way we shortened space and quickened time. The company started the manufacture of Vespa under licence from Piaggio in the 1960s, it launched its Chetak in 1972 and Super in 1976. They dominated Indian roads in the 1980s and 1990s and became symbols of middle class aspirations.
The 'Hamara Bajaj' advertisements drove home the message of mobility in a new media age when television was breaking into families and the print media was expanding. A brand was born and it gained an iconic status with the owners flaunting it, aspirants waiting for delivery for years and millions of miles being measured on wheels by a country on the move. Spatial mobility became social mobility, and Bajaj became its vehicle. But with the 90s came liberalisation, stiffer competition and a change in the tastes and expectations of people. Bajaj could not keep pace with the change of mood and did not innovate. Scooter sales started falling while the company concentrated on motor cycles. Krystal, launched in 2007, was the last product from the assembly line, which is being shut down now.
Though the Bajaj scooter is bowing out, the scooter market is not at the end of the road. Honda has moved into where Bajaj once ruled, though the growth figures are modest. The shift in modes of travel and brand perceptions can be signposts of changes in the economy, social attitudes and individual tastes. Scooters are no longer seen as family vehicles but as a feminine idea on the move. But are motor cycles more masculine? It is wrong to gender-stereotype machines but when they become extensions of humans social perceptions they colour descriptions. People and cultures also define themselves by the way they travel and aspire to travel. No wonder the 'Hamara Bajaj' ad had a nationalist strain too. The scooter held a mirror to a slice of India that has passed now, and profiled a class of Indians for many years.
''YOUTH PROVIDE CRITICAL MASS TO ANY MOMENTUM AND THERE IS ENOUGH VOLATILITY IN AP TO INDUCE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE.''
M J AKBAR
Can a stable government be a weak government? Yes. There is no compulsory correlation. Strength comes from concern, purpose and commitment, while fragility is the first manifestation of complacence and sometimes the popular mood kicks in, turning the first into the second. Defeat in the China war punctured the strongest government we have had, Jawaharlal Nehru's.
Indira Gandhi's tenure can be divided into three phases: January 1966 to the 1971 general elections; then up to the Emergency and the elections of 1977; and the final, tragic term between January 1980 and October 1984. She inherited a government with the lowest ever majority, and then proceeded to turn it into a minority by splitting the Congress.
Bangladesh apart, the most decisive period was when she was in a minority. She reshaped the domestic agenda, breaking almost as many moulds as had been nurtured in the previous two decades. Ironically, it was when she became a near demi-god, after Bangladesh in December 1971, that she lost control of the tides of public opinion. By 1973 India was in ferment; by 1974, in revolt.
Opposition parties have rarely been the principal architects of challenge to government, even if they do end up the principal beneficiaries. In 1972, the left was defeated and sulking in Bengal; the socialists were bickering and split and the Jan Sangh was a flickering lamp in pockets of Hindu-Muslim antagonism without much oil.
Indira Gandhi returned to power in January 1980 with an astonishing majority, but her government never got into second gear and finally stalled over Punjab and Assam. In this phase too, the traditional Opposition parties had little to do with the establishment's disarray.
Rajiv Gandhi led the most powerful majority in parliament's history but in three years his government was defensive, and by the fourth year, immobile. Each time, the people mobilised, in one way or the other, while the regular Opposition leaders spent time in self-important confabulations.
Narasimha Rao, in contrast, never had a majority, even after he purchased one. He stumbled from crisis to calamity, propelled largely by cynicism. But despite instability in both parliament as well as on the street, he managed to navigate economic reforms through turbulence, leaving an important legacy.
An election victory does not necessarily breed complacency in the sinews of authority, but re-election almost certainly does. The high-five of a renewed mandate persuades politicians to believe that they are sitting on a peak from which they cannot be moved for 20 years.
I have no idea why they believe they have been given 20 years of eternity; maybe the human imagination, restricted by the limitations of lifespans, cannot be self-delusional beyond that. But the moment you step into that self-satisfied zone, your descent begins.
The Andhra crisis is a self-inflicted wound. When Telangana leader K Chandrashekhar Rao began his fast unto death, or at least unto partition, he was treated with such supreme indifference that no minister in Delhi even bothered to treat it as a problem.
The earth was warming in Hyderabad, but the statements and newspaper headlines were only about climate change in Copenhagen. Rao was dismissed as an irritant without a cause.
After all, the Congress had just triumphed for a second time in the state. I suspect that the complete disconnect with Delhi multiplied the anger and brought Osmania University's students out. Youth provide critical mass to any momentum and, as we have seen in the past, there is enough volatility in the state to induce the ultimate sacrifice of suicide.
Rao himself could no more have ended his fast than he could have abandoned his dream of a separate state; it would have been political suicide. Those with a memory know that the Telugu speaking areas of Madras Presidency were merged into the Nizam's Telugu domain as a result of a fast, by a Gandhian called Potti Sriramulu. Nehru allowed him to die, by Dec 15; but even the enormous credibility of Nehru and Congress in 1953 could not stop the realisation of the demand.
Sriramulu achieved in death what he could not in life, and forced Nehru to accept the principle of linguistic states. Rao has achieved what he may never have obtained without a Russian roulette gamble. The Congress of 2009 had neither the wisdom to negotiate on the first day of the fast, nor the strength to let the fast continue. The high command succumbed with startling speed, signalling to Gorkhaland, Vidarbha, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand that if they keep their eyes open and focused the government will blink.
Is this the point at which the Manmohan Singh government begins to bleed from an Achilles heel? Much depends on how well the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi bandage the breach, but the Andhra story is going to be in play for a while and will expose the contradictions inherent in a unitary national party that was unable to manage an epochal change. If the Andhra Congress bleeds from a local civil war the stain will spread.
Tension is good for governance; taut nerves keep your body on its toes, and the mind alert. After this year's general election, the tension fizzled out from government, and rushed directly into the Opposition. Tension, by the way, is not good for Opposition, as is pretty obvious, isn't it? If the government does not recover its balance we could have a very curious dilemma: authority is in disarray, and the Opposition spread-eagled. But the Indian people will be in array.
MYANMAR LOOKS FOR INSPIRATION FROM INDIA
THE US IS INCREASING ITS ROLE IN MYANMAR. THERE IS A WORRY THAT IT MAY DEVELOP NUCLEAR CAPABILITIES.
BY DEEPAK K UPRETI
Myanmar is a country that not only shares common borders with India but also a common heritage Buddhism. Post-Independence, India walked hand-in-hand with Myanmar in the non-alignment movement.
But the extended military rule substantially reduced Indian engagement with Myanmar with New Delhi giving a cautious response to the pro-democracy movements in its neighbourhood.
The year 2010 could prove to be an important milestone for Myanmar as the junta has promised to hold elections, raising national and international hopes of democratisation of the country. But given the fate of 1990 elections the first free poll in Myanmar in the last 30 years many a fingers are crossed. The elections which gave a clear majority to National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung Suu Kyi were then annulled by the military rulers.
Opinions are divided whether India should be more pro-active in supporting the pro-democracy leaders of Myanmar. Aung has been under house arrest since 1989. In Sept 2007, hundreds of monks paid respects to her at the gate of her home, which was the first time in four years that people were able to see her in public.
Cry for democracyBesides, NLD, Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), an apolitical organisation of the seven ethnic states Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan are the stakeholders for the future democracy in Myanmar. Some of these were independent states before the British colonisation.
"There is a deficit in Delhi's work not only in context of Myanmar but also in Pakistan. There is a contradictory stand in India's policy. We are a democracy but we not seen to be terribly active in the neighbourhood", says Salman Haider, former foreign secretary.
Stressing on the possible impact of Indian institutions, Prof Sanjoy Hazarika, North-East Studies Centre, said the All India Radio played a crucial role in 1990 when Myanmar army generals snuffed out democracy by giving the 'the other version' on the developments.
Strategic consideration played on Indian mind in not giving full support to democracy, whereas China has built strong ties with the Myanmar regime, he said.
Prof Harn Yawnghwe, director, Euro-Burma office, felt the US is increasing its engagement with Myanmar as it has to deal with China if not to contain it. More so, it has plans to be active in the Association of South East Nations. The US cannot work with ASEAN as long as Myanmar is a problem. The US is worried that Myanmar may develop nuclear capabilities.
Former external affairs secretary Rajiv Sikri said until Bangladesh changed its hostile attitude, Myanmar was critical for India in respect to the north-eastern region. This, he said, is being realised by New Delhi as a part of 'Look East' policy.
The northern Kachin state of Myanmar borders Arunachal Pradesh which is claimed by Beijing. China is in effective control of Kachin state, he said. Sikri said India should fund more road and rail projects in Myanmar, encourage more people-to-people contact and the pilgrim tourism with Buddhism being a centuries old link.
Denial of right to decision making to ethic linguistic minorities vis-à-vis majority Burmans is a major issue in Myanmar. A member of Women's League of Burma Thin Thin Aung regretted that India has no contacts with opposition parties and civil rights groups in Myanmar.
Dr Tint Swe, NLD member of parliament in exile, pointed to two important steps taken by the military establishment ceasefire with most of the ethnic groups and promise of holding elections in 2010.
Victor Biak Lian, a member of ENC, spoke of 'civil war' in Myanmar and refugee exodus to Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh. There were around 70,000 Chin refugees in Mizoram. He cited cases of human rights violation, forced labour, land mine victims, orphans in refugee camps, migration of most of the young population with only children and women being left behind in villages and deployment of one million army by the rulers. He sought greater international pressure to bring democratic rule in Myanmar.
While keeping a keen eye on 2010 election promise of the military Junta, India could possibly do well by exposing Myanmar to the ideals of democracy and help it build democratic institutions. By increasing its economic, trade and cultural engagement, New Delhi could impact the ruling dispensation more positively in the days to come.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
EUROPE AND AFGHANISTAN
Afghanistan is not and should not be just the United States' fight. Al Qaeda has used its sanctuaries in Afghanistan and Pakistan to plot and launch attacks on European cities. We welcome the news that some of America's 42 military partners in Afghanistan plan to send more troops.
It was not an easy call. As President Obama said in his Nobel acceptance speech last week, "In many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public." And in Europe any ambivalence has long been replaced by fierce demands for withdrawal.
Still, NATO's announcement that an additional 7,000 troops will be going falls short of what is needed, and has too many casualty-limiting caveats attached.
That isn't good for Afghanistan or NATO, which has never fully shouldered the burden of this mission. And it is unfair to the American people, who are being asked to make disproportionate sacrifices for what is, emphatically, a common fight.
When more closely parsed, the NATO numbers look even less impressive. Almost 2,000 will come from countries outside the alliance (including Australia, South Korea, Sweden and aspiring NATO members, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Montenegro). And more than half of the new NATO troops will come from just three member states: Britain, whose force will go up to 10,000; Italy, which will go to roughly 4,000; and Poland, which will total 2,800.
So far, neither France, which has 3,750 troops there, nor Germany, with roughly 4,300, has agreed to send any additional troops.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands, with roughly 2,200, will withdraw its forces in the course of 2010; Canada, with 2,800, will be leaving by 2011. That means as American troop levels rise from 68,000 to 98,000 by next summer, allied troop levels are not likely to go much higher than the present 38,000.
Immediately after 9/11 there was a spontaneous outpouring of European support for the United States and offers of assistance in Afghanistan under the common defense clause of the NATO treaty. The Bush administration arrogantly spurned that offer, and then proceeded to alienate European opinion with its disastrous war in Iraq. Trans-Atlantic cooperation on Afghanistan still has not recovered.
The challenge for President Obama and European leaders is to overcome that unhappy recent history before it does more damage to the war effort in Afghanistan and to the NATO alliance. Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, and France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, have repeatedly stated that their countries have a stake in the future of Afghanistan and the future of NATO. But both are wary of pushing their voters too far, too fast. (Both have essentially postponed their decisions on further troop contributions until late next month.)
Democratically elected leaders cannot ignore public skepticism, but they should not surrender to it when they know better. Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy must educate their voters to the harsh reality that Europe will also pay a high price if the Taliban and Al Qaeda get to retake Afghanistan and further destabilize Pakistan.
There is a lot Europe can do in addition to sending more troops. Afghanistan also needs more skilled civilian advisers to work with President Hamid Karzai's new cabinet appointees. And it urgently needs help reconstructing its dysfunctional national police force a job the United Nations initially assigned to Germany, which fumbled it. NATO had it right in 2001. Defeating Al Qaeda is a matter of common defense. President Obama is right to insist that the allies do more. Now Europe's leaders need to demand more of themselves.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THERE IS NO 'HUMANE' EXECUTION
This is what passes for progress in the application of the death penalty: Kenneth Biros, a convicted murderer, was put to death in Ohio last week with one drug, instead of the more common three-drug cocktail. It took executioners 30 minutes to find a vein for the needle, compared with the two hours spent hunting for a vein on the last prisoner Ohio tried to kill, Romell Broom. Technicians tried about 18 times to get the needle into Mr. Broom's arms and legs before they gave up trying to kill him. Mr. Biros was jabbed only a few times in each arm.
Ohio adopted the single-drug formula after the botched execution. It may well be an improvement over the three-drug cocktail, or may not. (Death penalty advocates who hailed it as less painful have no way, obviously, of knowing that.) But the execution only reinforced that any form of capital punishment is legally suspect and morally wrong.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, in a dissenting opinion in a death penalty case last year, that critics have charged that the three-drug cocktail poses a serious risk that the inmate will suffer severely. The one-drug method was not used before last week on human beings, and Ohio should not have used it without a more public airing of its strengths and weaknesses, with input from medical and legal authorities.
The larger problem, however, is that changing a lethal-injection method is simply an attempt, as Justice Harry Blackmun put it, to "tinker with the machinery of death." No matter how it is done, for the state to put someone to death is inherently barbaric.
It has also become clear particularly since DNA evidence has become more common how unreliable the system is. Since 1973, 139 people have been released from death row because of evidence that they were innocent, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
An untold number of innocent people have also, quite likely, been put to death. Earlier this year, a fire expert hired by the state of Texas issued a report that cast tremendous doubt on whether a fatal fire for which Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 was arson at all. Until his execution, Mr. Willingham protested his innocence.
Most states still have capital punishment, and the Obama administration has so far shown a troubling commitment to it, pursuing federal capital cases even in states that do not themselves have the death penalty.
Earlier this year, New Mexico repealed its death penalty, joining 14 other states and the District of Columbia that do not allow it. That is the way to eliminate the inevitable problems with executions.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
EMINENT DOMAIN IN NEW YORK
A New York State appellate court has misguidedly put a roadblock in the way of Columbia University's expansion plans, ruling that the state misused eminent domain to help Columbia assemble the land it needs. This decision conflicts with the relevant law and will make it much harder for the university to move ahead with a project that would benefit the surrounding neighborhood and the entire city.
Columbia is outgrowing its Morningside Heights campus and is planning a major expansion north into West Harlem that would include school buildings, laboratories and publicly accessible open space. It would allow the school to better pursue its important missions of education and research. It would also provide the community with jobs and amenities, including widened, pedestrian-friendly streets and space for local artists.
To secure enough land, the university is relying in part on the Empire State Development Corporation's eminent domain power, compelling holdout commercial property owners to sell. Several of the holdouts sued, arguing that the use of eminent domain was illegal.
In a weakly reasoned decision, the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court agreed, by a 3-to-2 vote. The majority took the peculiar position that there is no civic purpose behind Columbia's decision to expand.
The decision is completely out of step with eminent domain law, including a recent 6-to-1 decision from the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. That court ruled that Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards, a commercial development, can use eminent domain to secure land to build new housing and a basketball arena for the Nets. That was the right decision, and the case for Columbia is even stronger.
The civic purpose in the Columbia expansion is clear, given the contributions it would make to education, the job market and community life. The Empire State Development Corporation also made a thoroughly defensible decision that eminent domain was appropriate given the blighted condition of the land at issue, between 125th and 133rd Streets near the Hudson River.
The university says it intends to move forward on a center for interdisciplinary neuroscience, which would be built on land it already owns. But it is regrettable that much of the project is now stalled. The Court of Appeals should hear the case on an expedited schedule and reverse the Appellate Division's ruling.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Congress has seized the wheel from General Motors and Chrysler to stop the automakers from shutting about 2,000 car dealerships as part of cost-saving reorganization plans. An initial House measure would have ordered all closings to be reversed. The final measure the Senate enacted will let certain dealerships bring their cases to arbitration. That's better but still too much meddling.
The companies, and many outside experts, decided the closings were necessary after the failing Detroit giants were bailed out with federal financing and promised to modernize outdated marketing practices. Competitors like Toyota and Honda succeed with far fewer outlets.
So the dealers took their cases to Congress, where pandering to the community is as all-American as a Chevy. At the same time, dealers with multigenerational roots literally wept during court challenges.
The legislation will give arbitrators the final say, weighing the economic interests of the auto companies, the dealers and the public. Required balancing factors include dealers' profitability histories, the automakers' overall recovery plans and customers' satisfaction ratings.
This sounds Solomonic, and difficult enough to risk delaying the reorganization and reforms that Detroit so badly needs. Detroit's backers, otherwise known as the American taxpayer, should certainly care about that. But such is the power of the pander that the arbitration rule is being authorized anyway in an omnibus government funding bill. For the sake of national recovery, may the arbitrators prove to be wise and fast.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DISASTER AND DENIAL
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
When I first began writing for The Times, I was naïve about many things. But my biggest misconception was this: I actually believed that influential people could be moved by evidence, that they would change their views if events completely refuted their beliefs.
And to be fair, it does happen now and then. I've been highly critical of Alan Greenspan over the years (since long before it was fashionable), but give the former Fed chairman credit: he has admitted that he was wrong about the ability of financial markets to police themselves.
But he's a rare case. Just how rare was demonstrated by what happened last Friday in the House of Representatives, when with the meltdown caused by a runaway financial system still fresh in our minds, and the mass unemployment that meltdown caused still very much in evidence every single Republican and 27 Democrats voted against a quite modest effort to rein in Wall Street excesses.
Let's recall how we got into our current mess.
America emerged from the Great Depression with a tightly regulated banking system. The regulations worked: the nation was spared major financial crises for almost four decades after World War II. But as the memory of the Depression faded, bankers began to chafe at the restrictions they faced. And politicians, increasingly under the influence of free-market ideology, showed a growing willingness to give bankers what they wanted.
The first big wave of deregulation took place under Ronald Reagan and quickly led to disaster, in the form of the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s. Taxpayers ended up paying more than 2 percent of G.D.P., the equivalent of around $300 billion today, to clean up the mess.
But the proponents of deregulation were undaunted, and in the decade leading up to the current crisis politicians in both parties bought into the notion that New Deal-era restrictions on bankers were nothing but pointless red tape. In a memorable 2003 incident, top bank regulators staged a photo-op in which they used garden shears and a chainsaw to cut up stacks of paper representing regulations.
And the bankers liberated both by legislation that removed traditional restrictions and by the hands-off attitude of regulators who didn't believe in regulation responded by dramatically loosening lending standards. The result was a credit boom and a monstrous real estate bubble, followed by the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Ironically, the effort to contain the crisis required government intervention on a much larger scale than would have been needed to prevent the crisis in the first place: government rescues of troubled institutions, large-scale lending by the Federal Reserve to the private sector, and so on.
Given this history, you might have expected the emergence of a national consensus in favor of restoring more-effective financial regulation, so as to avoid a repeat performance. But you would have been wrong.
Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It's a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It's a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.
Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don't fit the narrative.
In part, the prevalence of this narrative reflects the principle enunciated by Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it." As Democrats have pointed out, three days before the House vote on banking reform Republican leaders met with more than 100 financial-industry lobbyists to coordinate strategies. But it also reflects the extent to which the modern Republican Party is committed to a bankrupt ideology, one that won't let it face up to the reality of what happened to the U.S. economy.
So it's up to the Democrats and more specifically, since the House has passed its bill, it's up to "centrist" Democrats in the Senate. Are they willing to learn something from the disaster that has overtaken the U.S. economy, and get behind financial reform?
Let's hope so. For one thing is clear: if politicians refuse to learn from the history of the recent financial crisis, they will condemn all of us to repeat it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DUBAI GROWS UP
BY CLAUDIA PUGH-THOMAS
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
THE morning after the United Arab Emirates turned 38, the streets were deserted but for the foreign workers dressed in orange coveralls. They swept the confetti from Dubai's beach road, wiped Silly String from the lenses of the traffic cameras and retrieved the carcasses of rockets. Long gone were the crystal-encrusted Hummers and Escalades that had paraded up and down in their finery. A cacophony of horns and cheers and firecrackers had filled the night; now everything was quiet.
Abandoned near a bus stop, one S.U.V. still bore the signs of Dec. 2's celebration: heart-shaped green stickers peppered the hood, streamers in the national colors fluttered at the rear window, the windshield was plastered with an image of Dubai's ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. His hundred-yard stare is meant, one imagines, to convey the impression of a man gazing at the glorious realization of his vision. But as the emirate teeters on the brink of economic meltdown, Sheik Mohammed's enigmatic expression seemed more like the look of a man who is seeing his dream rapidly turn sour.
At 38, the brashest, and best-known, of the seven emirates is facing something of a midlife crisis. She has lost the blind optimism of her youth, when the oil rush brought Mercedeses and McDonald's drive-throughs to the desert, but she has yet to gain the wisdom of old age. Despite constant, furious reinvention and desperate attempts to direct the world's focus to her door Come see the world's tallest tower! A fountain visible from space! A shopping mall that sprawls across 12.1 million square feet! this city is in danger of losing her oxygen. Without positive publicity, Dubai ceases to exist meaningfully on the world stage.
And if the money really is gone, there will be a significant demographic shift within the expatriates who constitute the majority of the population. We all come here for the money. Some choose to stay for the lifestyle, some for the lack of a better alternative. Many see life in Dubai as a welcome break from civic responsibility; the expat can skim the surface, cream off the good, ignore the bad, live the dream. As long as there's an economy to speak of. If that fails, you have to leave. No work, no visa, goodbye.
All summer there were reports of cardboard-box shortages and serried ranks of dusty vehicles abandoned at the airport's international terminal; there were telephone calls from concerned friends and family: "Are you O.K.?" "When are you coming home?" In the air hung the expectation that thousands would leave to ride out the global recession back in their country of origin. Surely, with the end of the academic year, families would pack up their possessions and head off.
But the fact is, many Western expatriates are less capable of escape than they like to believe. They now consider Dubai to be home, for better or worse. They have opened bank accounts and started businesses; they have mortgages on houses in incongruously named developments like the Springs, the Lakes, the Meadows. They are tied to the fate of Dubai as a viable business hub, and if they leave, they stand to lose everything.
So the registrars at the myriad schools catering to European expats say that their waiting lists are still long, their classrooms at capacity. And the mothers gathered in the playgrounds to pick up their children talk of things other than the economy plans for Christmas, the change in the weather, Rihanna's New Year's concert in Abu Dhabi.
Their husbands have reassured them that it will be quite all right. It's not as bad as has been reported, they say. All countries have financial problems. America's debt is bigger than Dubai's. Britain's economy is in freefall. What we need to do is be optimistic. Abu Dhabi, Dubai's wealthier, more conservative neighbor, has come up with a $10 billion bailout for the prodigal son. And where are you getting your turkey from this year?
Yet there are, behind the glittering facade of marble and the bright masses of bougainvillea, signs of change that are getting harder and harder to ignore. The for-rent signs that last year would have vanished in a flash as thousands came to set up a new life here now hang askew from villas and apartment blocks. Twelve months ago, you paid what you had to even if the landlords were doubling the rent overnight, but if you're looking to move now, you can haggle, get the bathroom fixed, update the kitchen, knock thousands of dirhams off the asking price.
With the dust storms that move in this time of year, it's hard to discern which half-constructed tower is actually still being developed and which has been abandoned. Only a matter of months ago, whole swaths of the city the older parts, some dating back a whole 10 years were destined for destruction; now dowdy bungalows are being repainted, reappointed and put back on the market. Behind plywood hoardings advertising the latest "integrated community" there is nothing but leveled sand.
What has undeniably changed is the relationship between the local population and the expats. It has always been an uneasy one, the inherent tensions manifest only when an accident on the road occurs and the foreigner is assumed to be in the wrong. Part of this strain is surely growing resentment that the boom, in which Western expats played such a pivotal role, is now over. We might rue the collapse and suffer the economic consequences, but our sense of national identity has not been undermined by Dubai's rapid demise; we were just along for the ride. For the locals, there is no alternative, no moving on, not ever. The next generation of Dubaians stands to inherit a ruined legacy.
The emirate's Islamic identity has also suffered over the past decades. How could it be otherwise? Dubai welcomed expatriates from Jersey to Japan, Ethiopia to Estonia but turned a blind eye to the ills that such a multicultural, transitory mix can spawn, at least until that rootless diversity threatened to become the emirate's defining trait. The locals complain, rightly in some cases, of a lack of respect for their religious sensitivities, while simultaneously openly embracing many of the less desirable elements of the secularized West.
So we, the foreign workers, are now chastised for our failure to integrate, to engage with local culture and heritage. We are urged to assimilate as best we can. "With what?" is the question. There is no need to speak Arabic in daily life; there is little indigenous culture to explore.
Last week, there was some confusion over what food my children should take into school for the National Day festivities. What exactly is local cuisine? If this were a wedding it would be roasted camel hump. But the supermarket does not stock camel, and as Dubai borrows heavily from Lebanese, Egyptian, Indian and Pakistani cuisine, it is hard to identify what dish is uniquely Dubaian. To feed a class of 7-year-olds, we yielded to the inevitable appeal of cupcakes, iced and decorated with Christmas sprinkles. In festive red, white and green, they lacked only something black to pass as representing the colors of the national flag.
Dubai has become what it is today partly through defiance of normal expectations: here are islands shaped like palm trees, the world's only seven-star hotel, the world's richest horse race. But the result is a place that lacks coherence, both physically and psychologically. In many ways, it resembles a glorified film set, awaiting the arrival of the swashbuckling hero to tie all the loose strands together and give this fantasy some credibility. But this most unconventional of places is not immune to reality. How Dubai negotiates this rite of passage will determine whether it will ever be taken seriously. That we are being told this is all just negative publicity, merely a marketing blip, is not a promising sign.
Meantime, the malls are decked with Christmas trees and tinsel. We are reminded to dress modestly as we shop for artificial snow at the indoor ski slope before stopping to watch the roller-skating penguins or to sip a hot chocolate in front of an open fire provided courtesy of a wall-mounted projector. The malls still hum on the weekends and if the shops are offering discounted items, who is to say whether it's a seasonal affair or a barometer of economic collapse?
Claudia Pugh-Thomas is a writer.
This piece has been updated to reflect today's news
I. THE NEWS
Magicians are wonderful people. They can make things appear and disappear before our very eyes. A trick of considerable complexity and magnitude has just been performed with something called 'The Quetta Shura.' The Quetta Shura is the terrorist equivalent of a theoretical sub-atomic particle. Its existence is very difficult to prove, but the laws of physics (or, in this case, denial in the face of reality) determine that it must exist; otherwise things that we know to exist would be unable to exist. The government has for as long as anybody can remember denied the existence of the Quetta Shura. Presidential spokesmen and government ministers are all on record to the effect that the QS is a figment of an overheated media imagination and the Americans. Conversely, the Americans appear never to have any doubt as to its existence and have recently hinted that unless Pakistan addressed the problem of the QS then Uncle Sam may decide to address it himself an option we would prefer he did not take up.
Enter our esteemed Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar appearing on a private TV channel last Friday. Tapping the table with his magic wand to get our attention he announced that the QS is no longer a threat to Pakistan as our security forces have "significantly damaged it". We have taken on the QS and disrupted it to the point at which it no longer poses a threat to us. The QS, which did not exist and therefore was unworthy of our attention, has become a corporeal entity of a magnitude that requires not just our close attention but the determined actions of our own forces and agencies to counter and fight it. Deconstructing the minister's statement further, if the QS no longer presents a threat to us then logic determines that it did at some point present the very threat that was denied, along with its existence. Wonders will never cease. All levity aside, the institutionalised denial of manifest realities does no more than make us look like fools rather than magicians, and yet those who lead and govern us are unable to understand this simple fact.
I. THE NEWS
The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is almost invariably described as 'porous' as in allowing a constant flow of people, goods, contraband and arms to pass between the two. There is a difference between having a border which is porous and leaving a gap in your border through which anybody and anything may freely pass, yet this is what appears to have been the case at the Torkham crossing. The Frontier Corps announced last Friday a set of what it is calling 'enhanced security measures' at this busy crossing point; and that henceforward people without valid travel documents would not be allowed to enter or leave Pakistan with a similar requirement of those seeking to cross from the other side. That any international border should allow free and unchecked passage is astonishing enough; the more so that it is the border between two countries awash with guns, drugs, smuggled goods, people being trafficked and assorted individuals and groups bent on the destruction of both states. We are told that this state of benign laxity has persisted for 'decades' and that the new restrictions are in effect the first time that a real attempt has been made to control the crossing.
Passports, visas, Afghan refugee or NADRA registration cards as well as permits from the Khyber Agency political administration for members of 'divided tribes' will now be required. The move comes after security officials and customs officers have found truckloads of weapons passing too and fro. Well what a surprise. They were expecting truckloads of fluffy pink toy rabbits perhaps? In a robust statement the FC has announced that vehicles carrying goods will be required to produce documentation and those failing to do so will be stopped from entering or leaving Pakistan. Anybody trying to force their way through " will be considered hostile and dealt with accordingly." It is beyond comprehension that this has been allowed to continue as it has for as long as it has. No doubt money has changed hands to ensure this laissez faire continued and no doubt we as a populace have suffered, and suffered terribly, as a result of this misguided and dangerous policy of free movement. Let us hope that our common border is from today a little less porous.
I. THE NEWS
Technologies tend to advance quicker than our ability to regulate or even understand what it is that they have laid on our collective plates. Ten years ago plasma screens were tiny and experimental today you can buy one - if you have the money from your local electrical goods retailer. Alternatively, you can save yourself the expenditure and watch the plasma screens erected in public spaces across the land; an increasing number of which are inappropriately and dangerously sited. Specifically, very large plasma screens are being erected at busy city intersections which can only add to the hazards of driving in a country where road discipline is at best poor. Plasma screens have been erected at the chowk in front of Fatima Jinnah Park in Islamabad and at the Islamabad Stock Exchange as well as at Kutcheri chowk in Rawalpindi. We are a highly distractible people that already use our mobile phones while driving thus diverting our attention from the road; and we do not need further distraction in an already fraught urban environment.
City authorities in every province need to get a grip of this problem before it gets out of hand, and the advertising industry needs to discover a few ethical principles for itself. The advertising of products and services is a legitimate business, and it does its best to attract the rupees from our wallets and into the pockets of the vendors and producers of whatever is on offer but not to the detriment of the consumer. There are strict controls on where electronic advertisements may be displayed in most of the developed world, but being 'less developed' is no excuse for allowing an additional hazard into lives already having a hazard-surfeit. Plasma screens have their place both as sites for advertising preferably in pedestrian areas and public entertainment. They should have no place alongside roads or close to traffic signals or in any location that serves to distract the attention of those driving on the road. Rigorous enforcement everywhere is the only solution, and we will be safer for it.
I. THE NEWS
NEW US STRATEGY AND PAKISTAN'S RESPONSE
BY MUNIR AKRAM
There are good reasons to conclude that the "new" US strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan announced by President Obama on 1 December will fail. But it could have serous consequences for Pakistan and the region.
First, the objectives of the strategy are too broad and opaque. Last March, President Obama's emphasis was on defeating and eliminating Al Qaeda. Now, the aim is also to "roll back" the Taliban insurgency. To eliminate Al Qaeda in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, it must be separated and isolated from the Taliban "sea" in which it is currently hiding. But, the US troop surge will be mainly directed against the Taliban insurgency. It will push Al Qaeda and the insurgents closer together, making it more difficult to isolate and target Al Qaeda.
Second, the strategy is mostly a military plan. It fails to address the motivation and causes of the Taliban insurgency, which derives mainly from Pashtun alienation and disempowerment and is now emerging as a Pashtun liberation movement. The Taliban and other Pashtun insurgent groups cannot be "peeled off" to side with a government in Kabul that is dominated by the Tajik and other warlords the Taliban were fighting prior to the 2001 US intervention or with a foreign army supporting this regime. The Taliban may not enjoy significant popular support. But, they are mostly Pashtun and better placed to secure local support and cooperation from common people in the Pashtun regions.
Third, the additional 30-40,000 US-NATO troops may be able to clear and even temporarily hold some of the areas in the South and East of Afghanistan. But, the troop numbers will still be entirely insufficient for sustained control over Afghanistan's vast deserts, valleys and mountains. (The Soviets could not do this with 140,000 troops plus an effective Afghan Army of 80,000.). In fact, the McChrystal plan envisages defending civilian population centres and withdrawing from "indefensible" outposts including those along the border. As a result, the areas under Taliban and insurgent control are likely to enlarge not contract after this surge.
Fourth, the aim of "transitioning" security responsibility to the Afghan Army in three years is an impossible benchmark. President Karzai has said so. Apart from the admitted difficulties and costs of training, the question is whether a sufficient number of Pashtuns can be found to join a 240,000 strong Army. If not, it will continue to be largely composed of recruits from the non-Pashtun regions. Unless it is ethnically balanced, the ANA will be rejected and fought as an alien force by Pashtun insurgents.
Fifth, the parallels drawn between the Iraq "surge" and the current escalation are inappropriate. Whether the surge in Iraq was successful remains to be finally determined. The Sunni tribes in Iraq turned on foreign Al Qaeda elements in order to gain the political and military influence to counter the growing power of the Shias and Kurds. Afghanistan's tribal and ideological conditions are very different. And, the Taliban are not being offered any credible inducement to discard their links with Al Qaeda. On the contrary, they are the main targets of this surge. Winning their cooperation through force is unlikely.
Sixth, the expansion of aerial attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban "leaders" and training camps may achieve some tactical success. But, slain leaders and rudimentary training camps can be quickly replaced. With the Taliban also being targeted, reliable intelligence on the location of Al Qaeda leaders is likely to dry up. Without such intelligence, aerial strikes are likely to result in incorrect targeting and high civilian casualties, losing rather than "winning hearts and minds".
Seventh, as is already evident, the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan will be difficult to sustain over time. In the short-term, the support of the US Congress, and a slim majority of Americans, has been secured partly by indicating a short timeline for withdrawal. Other NATO governments are being cajoled to commit additional troops (7,000) in the face of opposition from the majority of their peoples. This tenuous support is likely to erode over the coming months as casualties mount, costs increase and the military, political and economic benchmarks set out in the strategy are unmet. Faced with an expensive, open-ended war, domestic pressure will intensify in Europe and the US to bring the troops home.
Although President Obama's speech did not dwell on this, it is evident from the leaks to the US media, that the onus is to be placed on Pakistan for the success of the new US strategy. The US "surge" will obviously push more of the Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents into Pakistan, who it would then be asked to deal with. Pakistan will also have to assume responsibility for securing the border and protecting the larger US-NATO supply lines.
Reportedly, Pakistan has been asked to undertake military action against the Taliban groups led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbedeen Hikmatyam and Mullah Omar (and the so-called "Quetta Shurra") although these groups are currently not fighting Pakistan. Pakistan's acquiescence is sought for more intense US air strikes against a larger number of Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the FATA as well as NWFP and Baluchistan. For good measure, Pakistan is also asked to advance India's agenda by taking action against pro-Kashmiri militant groups.
The consequences of this for Pakistan are not difficult to project.
One, wider military operations will severely stretch the capacity of the Pakistan Army, which has already deployed 150,000 troops on the western frontier. It would jeopardize the success of the ongoing operations in South Waziristan and adjacent areas against the TTP and other insurgents who are attacking Pakistan with help from Indian and Afghan intelligence;
Two, it will escalate retaliatory strikes against Pakistani civilian and military targets from a wider range of militant groups;
Three, it will revive the general perception that Pakistan is fighting America's war and thus erode the existing national consensus to confront and defeat the TTP and other groups targeting Pakistan;
Four, it will, inevitably, require the movement of more troops from the Eastern border, further diminishing Pakistan's ability to deter and repel possible Indian military action which has been repeatedly threatened in the event of another Mumbai-like incident.
If Pakistan does not take the demanded actions, the US has threatened it will do so unilaterally. A "strategic partnership" of "limitless potential", promised by Secretary Clinton, cannot be forged in a crucible of coercion.
In fact, the limitations of such a "partnership"on offer are evident from the "incentives" offered to Pakistan i.e. US support for a "dialogue" with India, (not a fair solution for Kashmir; nor even an end of India's repression of the Kashmiris, or stopping Indian interference in Baluchistan and FATA). Also, undefined "defense cooperation", (whose limitations Pakistan should be well aware of, not least in the wake of the conditionalities incorporated in the Kerry-Lugar Bill). Finally, additional economic assistance (whose cumbersome delivery and limited impact is evident from Pakistan's past history.).
Pakistan's response to the US strategy should reflect its own national interests and the sentiments of its people. It should be formulated in consultations between the Government, Parliament and the armed forces.
From Pakistan's perspective, it would be unwise to agree to a blanket escalation of military and police action simultaneously against all Taliban and militant groups. Pakistan's priority must be to finish the job of putting down the anti-Pakistan TTP militants. Pakistan must also display determined opposition to wider, unilateral US air strikes on its territory and insist on joint control of all strikes against jointly determined Al Qaeda targets.
Even within these parameters, Pakistan's cooperation should be offered only in exchange for tangible and immediate US support for Pakistan's national objectives: an end to Indian-Afghan interference in Baluchistan and FATA; a Kashmir solution; a military balance between Pakistan and India; parity with India on nuclear issues; transfer of equipment and technology for counter-terrorism; unconditional defense and economic assistance; free trade access.
At the same time, Pakistan, in its own interest, should take the lead to promote a political solution to the Afghan and Pashtun insurgency. This could be in the form of reconciliation initiative with all Pashtun and Taliban groups. Such an initiative would need to be undertaken though credible intermediaries, e.g. a commission consisting of respected Pashtun and tribal leaders and some other eminent Islamic personalities. Through such mediation, agreements could be evolved with the Taliban and other insurgent groups for a cessation of hostilities, support for economic development, creation of a genuine Afghan national Army, a decentralized political governance structure in exchange for the progressive and complete withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and continued economic support for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A political plan for Afghanistan, based on such a reconciliation effort, should be discussed and agreed, specially with Saudi Arabia., Iran and other Islamic countries as well as Pakistan's consistent geo-political partner China.
The outcome of this approach may be messy. It may not respond to Western "values". But it stands a better chance of restoring peace in the region, dismantling Al Qaeda and securing the graceful exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan which are now part of the problem, not the solution than the new US strategy.
The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan to the UN.
I. THE NEWS
BY TALAT MASOOD
Anti-Americanism continues to rise unabated in Pakistan. It is not confined to fringe elements alone but is spreading in the mainstream. A few recently retired military officers and politicians have gone as far as accusing US for abetting and supporting acts of terror that have engulfed the country. This is despite the fact that President Obama and the administration has made serious efforts clearing up misunderstandings and reducing the inherent tensions not only with Pakistan but with the Muslim world in general.
Washington has tried to redress the past policy mistakes of abandoning Pakistan by developing a long-term strategic relationship. It has expanded, in scope and depth, Pakistan's economic assistance threefold and doubled military assistance, totaling $2.2 billion annually. The Enhanced Partnership Act, notwithstanding its intrusive clauses and abrasive wording, is a clear manifestation of breaking from the past. The United States has also been highly supportive of Pakistan at the World Bank, IMF and other multilateral forums to ease its financial crisis.
Furthermore, on a larger canvas, President Obama has tried to reach out to the Muslims and expressed as a matter of policy his desire to develop a relationship on the basis of mutual respect. He has repeatedly emphasised his close personal links with Muslims and frequently reflects warmly on his experiences in Muslim countries during the early part of his life. His speech at the University of Cairo and prior to that in Turkey was a clear indication of this shift. The immediate withdrawal of some of the draconian measures like water boarding and his plans to close Guantanamo Bay, although as yet to be implemented, are all signs that were meant to reduce the cleavage with the Muslim world and an assurance that the US is not at war with Islam but is only fighting those radical Muslim elements that have taken arms against them. The Nobel Peace Prize award to Obama was an acknowledgement of the transformational changes that he was aspiring to bring in American policy.
But nothing seems to work. Even when the US administration or the military leadership makes a statement that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute would contribute towards regional stability, it is viewed with great scepticism. Similarly, when top US military and government officials publicly acknowledge that Pakistan's nuclear assets are safe it fails to resonate.
In short, cynicism and dislike for America has reached a point of no return among a certain class in Pakistan, and from their point of view nothing that US does can possibly be good for the country. And they cling to the mantra, despite repeated assurances, that Washington's interest only lies in taking out our nuclear assets.
What then are the reasons for this distrust and how far are these allegations of the US wanting to destabilise Pakistan, with the help of India, credible?
Any major power, when it adopts a security or foreign policy, always weighs the flip side of everything. If Washington were to destabilise Pakistan as a deliberate policy, then the ensuing chaos will create a vacuum that would surely be filled by the Taliban and jihadi forces, posing a far greater danger to the US, India and the rest of the world. It would be absurd for the US to simultaneously fight the militants, be it the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and support them.
The fact, however, is that the internal and external policies Pakistan has pursued in the last three decades to advance its perceived national interests were flawed and have come to roost. Regrettably, we are in a state of denial and not prepared to accept that militancy is not home grown, and has taken root with the people. There is no doubt that American policies along with Indian designs have accentuated Pakistan's regional problems. But the answer to our insurgency and the expanding frontiers of terrorism lies primarily with us. It is the responsibility of our leaders to give clarity in defining the nature of threat and mobilising the nation's resources, both human and material, to combat it successfully. Failure to do so has resulted in the spread of endless rumours generally to the advantage of the militants. We are also failing to optimise the exceptional support that the international community is willing to extend in these difficult times.
This is also true that the legacy of betrayal is so strong and deep-seated that the US will have to work very hard to overcome the prevailing suspicions. The US administration will have to make a categorical assertion that Blackwater or its associates are not operating in Pakistan if confidence in the public of its sincerity is to be restored. The policy of employing drones needs also to be reviewed so that Pakistan military's involvement at the intelligence and operational levels is fully integrated.
Otherwise every drone attack fuels anti-Americanism and exposes the contradiction in our relations, neutralising the tactical advantage that its employment accrues.
It is equally important to realise that, while we are passing through the worst of times, not everything is lost. There are many positive elements that are emerging as we wade through the present crisis. Despite all odds, a democratic system however fragile has been put in place. Institutions have started functioning, the judiciary is asserting itself, and media is robust debating every facet of our political, economic and social life and acting as a watchdog on our leaders. Parliament has yet to energise but is under public pressure to assume its responsibilities of legislating and assisting in the formulation of national policies. The civil society is emerging, albeit somewhat gradually.
Tragically, the nation is paying a heavy price in blood and sweat in combating militancy. It is forcing us to reform or face the consequences of an existential threat. The cumulative impact of these developments whether it is pressure of media, civil society or the violent acts of militants is bringing about fundamental changes in the society. Feudalism and tribal hierarchy is on its way out and politicians canot fool the people, and the military is in no position to capture power. Militancy is now compelling the government to act and reach out to the tribal people whom they neglected for 62 years. Similarly, the insurgency in Baluchistan is forcing the government to take political and economic measures that it denied to them. The military is acting against the proxies that at one time it patronised. The society is in flux and anarchic but there are several positive happenings as well.
The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
THE 'CIVILIAN SURGE'
BY IKRAM SEHGAL
Of the initiatives laid out in the new Obama doctrine for Afghanistan, the 'civilian surge' is perhaps the most important. Military successes in the field will amount to nothing if not followed up closely by addressing the root causes of public disaffection. According to McChrystal: "our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the support of the population. This will require a better understanding of the people's choices and needs. Progress is hindered by the dual threat of a resilient insurgency and a crisis of confidence in the government and the international coalition. We must never confuse the situation as it stands with the one we desire, lest we risk our credibility. The needs of the population must be "by, with, and through" the Afghan government. A foreign army alone cannot beat an insurgency; the one in Afghanistan requires an Afghan solution. Eventual success requires capable Afghan governance capabilities and security forces."
McChrystal recognises that, "all ethnicities, particularly the Pashtuns, have traditionally sought a degree of independence from the central government, these and other factors result in elements of the population tolerating the insurgency and calling to push out foreigners. Nonetheless, the Afghan people expect appropriate governance, delivery of basic services, and the provision of justice. While Afghan is rooted in tribal structures and ethnic identities, Afghans do have a sense of national identity. The population can also be a source of strength and intelligence and provide resistance to the insurgency. Alternatively, they can often change sides and provide tacit or real support to the insurgents." McChrystal talks about "the weakness of state institutions, mala fide actions of power brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and coalition's own errors. The Afghans do not trust the government or that they will provide their essential needs, such as security, justice, and basic services. This crisis of confidence, coupled with a distinct lack of economic and educational opportunity, has created fertile ground for the insurgency."
Kim Barker confirms this: "Corruption has grown around Karzai like a fungus, touching almost every ministry and office. This pervasive culture of graft is blamed for driving a wedge between Afghans and their government even driving some toward the Taliban. For Afghans, corruption falls into three categories: (1) first is petty corruption by lower-level government employees who are looking out for their own survival; (2) next is large-scale corruption, which is committed by ministers and relatives of top Afghan officials involved in lucrative international contracts or the drug trade; (3) last is what Karzai described as western-driven corruption, which begins with the foreign contractors who live conspicuously well in Kabul. They sub-contract work to local Afghans, who then make their own with other Afghans. The end result is that the bulk of every aid dollar is wasted. But this, at least by western standards, is technically legal a seeming loophole that many Afghans find absurd, if not hypocritical and offensive." The recent presidential and provincial council elections were a disaster and there was no credibility of the election results. Rural populations were largely excluded from the political process. By empowering local communities, they must be encouraged to support the political system.
Some issues are critical to a civilian surge; (1) the so-called Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) provide major elements of governance in the areas they control and/or contest; (a) a body receives compliant against their own "officials" and acts on them and (b) "Sharia" courts deliver swift and enforced justice, providing security against a corrupt government, government and coalition forces, criminality, and local power brokers; (2) major insurgent groups use their Pashtun identity to deliver immediate and enduring messages, out performing government and coalition at information dissemination. The perception of inevitability of their victory is a key source of their strength; (3) major insurgent groups use violence, coercion and intimidation against civilians to control the population. Inflicting casualties on coalition forces, they deny them freedom of movement and access to the population, while defending vital terrain; (4) the insurgent groups adopt social strategies that exacerbate the breakdown in Afghan social cohesion; and (5) some local and regional power brokers are current or former members the government, their financial independence and loyal armed followers gives them autonomy from the government, this further hinders efforts to build a coherent Afghan state.
For any state to function effectively, particularly a land-locked country with a large rural population, emphasis must be on agriculture. If an effective buy-back scheme is introduced, the population will be able to feed itself, and have enough left over for the other needs. Fruits and vegetables can be grown in enough qualities for local consumption as well as traditional exports. Some industrial zones must be set up with government-owned factories producing goods till they become economically viable and can be taken over by commercial entities. A free trade zone (FTZ) is proposed on the Pakistan side of the Durand Line in FATA, support facilities for commercial and industrial activities can be set up on the Afghan side.
McChrystal's view of the regional actors is interesting: "Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures in Afghanistan or India. Iran plays an ambiguous role in Afghanistan, providing developmental assistance and political support to the government. While Iran does not pose a short-term threat, it has the capability to threaten the mission in the future. Afghanistan's northern neighbours have enduring interests in, and influence over, particular segments of Afghanistan. They pursue objectives that are not necessarily synonymous with the Coalition's mission."
What is missing is the recognition what Pakistan means to Afghanistan. To quote Kim Barker, "Najibullah's fall from power is a reminder that the fate of the Kabul government is closely tied to what happens in Pakistan (Najibullah remained in Afghanistan and was killed by the Taliban in 1996). As much as he was able to compromise and negotiate with his adversaries, he ran up against an even stronger opponent in Pakistan, which offered sanctuary to his enemies and a great deal of funding, weaponry, and logistical support to groups that opposed his rule. The road to Kabul lies through Islamabad and these days even more through Peshawar, where the Pashtun insurgency has its base."
Kim Barker has it right when she states: "The future of Afghanistan, then, is not about military strategy, about which side the Afghans like more, or about democracy and human rights. It is about who the Afghans think will be strongest in five or 10 years; it is about picking the winning side, about survival. If Afghans believe that the Taliban-led insurgents plan to be around longer than the more powerful West and are stronger than Afghan government security forces, Afghans will tilt toward the Taliban. And if Taliban leaders and their underlings begin to sense this, they will have no incentive to negotiate or reconcile with the Afghan government or the U.S.-led coalition."
If the "civilian surge" gets the Taliban to the table, the Obama Doctrine will work.
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
THE RUMOUR MACHINE'
BY SYED ALI HAMID
At a wedding a year ago, a few of us were talking about what every discussion nowadays degenerates into: the security situation. Adding my two bits, I narrated an incident I believed to be authentic that had recently happened to a friend of a friend. You all probably heard the story about the would-be suicide bomber getting a lift from some poor, unsuspecting driver and being instructed to ram into any government vehicle encountered en route. "I have heard this story from five different people in the last two days and you are the sixth," remarked a gentleman from my audience of listeners. "Each of them said it had happened to a friend of a friend. It's total rubbish. Don't believe rumours." I felt small but he was absolutely right. I had succumbed to the temptations of the rumour machine and for a few minutes was sitting in the seat of the rumour mechanic driving the machine on.
The rumour machine grinds down the truth, fuelled by baseless conspiracy theories connecting unrelated and unverified information. In these times of uncertainty, few vehicles travel faster than the rumour machine. It moves at the speed of light over the internet and through SMSs. Akin to a computer virus, it worms its way into newspapers and TV talk shows and is followed by fear and despondency.
Like a cosmic cloud, the conspiracy theory is borne from specs of rumours and insinuations. As the rumours and insinuations circulate collecting interstellar dust along the way, they coagulate creating a gravity that feeds on the debris of past theories to support the credibility. If the rumours gain sufficient strength where people start believing them to be authentic, a critical level of temperature, pressure and mass is reached, which sets in a chain reaction and a new sun of a full-blown conspiracy is borne. Sadly, it's not a sun whose golden rays will provide life to new planets. It's a dark star that is created to destroy, shooting out solar flares and bolts of radiation that burn through the fabric of a nation, pulverising trust and hope.
What provides rumours that degree of authenticity is when they are picked up by the media. Now people will quote them with reference; the foreign media will pick them up, add more fuel and sling it back like a comet entering the cosmic cloud through the national press. Even the militants have tried to use the rumour machine to their advantage. One of their leading commanders is reported to have said that Blackwater was responsible for the recent spate of bomb blasts in Peshawar.
Each plausible explanation is countered and negated by another rumour. I was with an executive at a bank and he narrated a rumour linking it to a conspiracy theory doing the circuit. I told him he was misinformed and explained the facts. So he shifted to another rumour linked to the conspiracy theory and I challenged him on that too. He brought forward yet another rumour.. Rumours are not supported by facts but are based on hearsay and gossip, the building block of other rumours. Each of us who passes on a rumour is for those few moments driving the rumour machine till someone else jumps onto the driving seat. But the actual driver is the rumour manipulator who is the architect of its birth and plays from behind the scene stoking the embers if the fire fades.
Much as I would like to say, I have no formulae or recipe to disable the rumour machine. I have no set of five recommendations for the government to counter this menace. I commend the people who fight back. I may not challenge every rumour I hear because I don't know the facts but I have certainly stopped repeating them. We are the silent majority. Let us use our silence as a weapon by not being an accomplice to the rumour monger.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
THE MEDIA'S NEW FRONT
BY AYESHA IJAZ KHAN
The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political analyst.
In a recent episode of "Capital Talk," Hamid Mir suggested that in response to the Swiss ban on minarets for mosques, we, in Pakistan, should encourage our Christians to build as many churches as they like and in whatever style they prefer. This is exactly the type of openness, tolerance and respect for plurality that Islamic civilisation displayed at its zenith, at the time when it ruled as far as Spain.
This is also the type of broadmindedness that western countries had exhibited previously, by attracting the best minds from diverse backgrounds and accommodating them. Yet, since 9/11, to varying degrees, nearly every country in Western Europe, along with the United States, Canada and Australia, has either passed laws or manifested societal intolerance in the form of Islamophobia. The long-term ramifications of this increased prejudice, if it is to continue unabated, will undoubtedly mean a decline of western dominance and civilisation as we know it.
However, the corresponding question is: are we in the Muslim world going to respond to this in a narrow-minded, defensive and reactionary manner? Or are we going to realise that what made the western world great, in the first place, and Islamic civilisation before that, illustrious, was very closely linked to how comfortable diverse groups of people with varying practices, cultures and, indeed, disparate religions felt in a given polity?
What is particularly disturbing about the Swiss ban is the fact that it was decided by the people in a democratic initiative. But this is a weakness of the vote, which if not guarded against will result in nothing but what Alexis de Tocqueville called "tyranny of the majority." Democracy, as it has been developed over the years, calls for majority rule but with protection of minority rights. This is a most essential concept for democracy to work. In Pakistan, the blasphemy law is also an unfortunate example of tyranny of the majority, ostensibly worse than the Swiss ban on minarets because it endangers the lives and security of innocent citizens.
In order to establish any type of moral authority in the world, Muslims will need to rethink the injustices committed in the name of Islam in their own countries. Nearly all countries of the western world deride the secondary status to which women are often relegated in the Muslim world. When the Swiss talk about it, one must take it with a grain of salt, however, given that they only gave their women the right to vote in 1971. And while women's rights are a fairly new concept in the western world at large, they are, we must acknowledge, way ahead of the Muslim world. If one looks at inheritance laws, laws allocating assets to divorced women or even laws defining maternity rights of working women, the western world is far ahead of what the Muslim world has to offer. Therefore, it is odd for us to keep chanting about the rights Islam gives women, if we fail, correspondingly, to interpret those rights in the light of modern-day realities and in conjunction with a global standard that has now been set. As long as we fail to do this, we will continue to be the subject of ridicule.
Our laws could be better, but what is even worse is societal practice. In spite of the fact that in Pakistan, since its inception in 1947, we have given our women the right to vote, in certain parts of the country women are nevertheless denied this right by their own family and community members, and there is regrettably no action taken against these tyrannical forces.
A recent television show by the courageous Munizae Jahangir highlighted the plight of women IDPs from Waziristan in Dera Ismail Khan, as women are not allowed, according to certain tribal custom, to come out and procure their own rations. Given that a large number of men have died in the recent unrest, this practice is heavily discriminatory towards women, yet it is taken lightly by society at large.
In the case of the IDPs from Swat, women were not allowed to step out of the tents in spite of the severe heat at the time. This resulted in terrible skin rashes and breathing difficulties, but a tyrannical tradition was given preference over the health of the displaced women. There is no religious justification for this obsession with segregation. In fact, during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH), men and women prayed together. Even in the case of prayer, there was no segregation. My mother, a regular visitor to Mecca, informs me that until the late seventies, there was no secluded prayer area for women at the Haram either, and thus families prayed together in a congregation of men and women.
If we are to progress as a society and prevent the takeover of our communities by unlearned and bigoted forces, then we must be willing to rethink these false notions of honour and revisit traditions that are discriminatory. We cannot create an environment that becomes conducive to dominance by barbaric forces, and this becomes much easier when segregation to the point of discrimination is tolerated. As it was decided in the landmark case of "Brown vs Board of Education" in the United States, many years ago that "separate cannot be equal" and that if blacks are to have the same rights as whites, they must be allowed to be educated in the same institutions. The same holds true for women in Pakistan. The only difference is that we do not have a legal impediment to this but have some very impermeable societal bars that must be eradicated.
Recently, I received a sad email entitled, "Suicide bomber was my cousin," written by an Afghan woman called Sahar Saba. Sahar described her time in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war as follows: "The Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan were in practice run by the Mujahideen, even if the UNHCR officially managed their affairs. In these camps, girls' education, music, TV, or any liberal pursuit were banned. Women had to wear burqa. My father wanted me to go to school. Rawa, an Afghan women's organisation, was running underground schools for girls as well as boys." She attended the Rawa school, but the cousin who later became a suicide bomber was condemned to the boys-only madrasa run by the Mujahideen, where "the primers were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines. These textbooks were, ironically, developed in the early 1980s under a USAID (US Agency for International Development) grant to the University of Nebraska and its Centre for Afghanistan Studies."
For too long, we have allowed our religion to be hijacked by forces that have interpreted it in ways that is killing our society. In order to rectify it, the army will have to continue its battle until these forces are militarily defeated, the government will need to regulate both mosque and madrasa, as well as work on governance issues so that poverty is not become a feeder for terrorism. The opposition will need to make sure it does not confuse the people on these sensitive issues critical to our survival as a nation-state, the judiciary will need to deliver justice and punish the perpetrators of terror, the civil society will need to actively organise and condemn cultural practices that make the environment conducive to such malaise. But, most of all, the media will have to play a big role in addressing this as Pakistan's biggest problem; yes, bigger than corruption and sovereignty issues. Media owners and managers need to be serious about not allowing their outlets to be used by forces that misinterpret religion or encourage any sort of intolerance.
I. THE NEWS
THE NEW PROZAC
BY CHRIS CORK
Stress-busting medication? Psychotherapy? Transcendental meditation? Nope, none of them. What we all need is a big pile of ironing, preferably natural fibre garments, a good steam iron and an ironing board set to the optimum height. A water-spray might come in handy, too. Peripherals like music an iPod being the recommended means of delivery bringing a capsular sense to the entire ironing experience or a film are purely optional. This is where I get to divulge the secret of my mental equilibrium and yes, it is doing the ironing. Strange as it may seem to those of you out there who loathe the very thought of doing the ironing, it has for me held the key to a calming of the savage breast and a release of pent-up tensions. Now read on
There is something deeply satisfying about placing the well-ironed shirt on the hanger, doing up the top button and then holding it up to admire ones handiwork. The crease-free uniformity, the way in which the sleeves hang just right and the crispness of the collar producing that warm inner glow of satisfaction. Then there are those t-shirts, arranged to perfection in a square when they are finished, the circle of the neck dead-centre and then the trousers! The trousers knife-sharp at the leading and trailing edges and coming to a vee just below the waistline now hanging next to the shirt and smug in the knowledge that they will beat the pants off the opposition at their next social outing.
My mother hated ironing. I can remember her still grumbling and cloudy-faced as she bashed and muttered her way through the weekly pile of laundry generated by a husband and four children, not to mention sundry grannies and grandpas who might be staying for a few weeks. I was experimenting with ironing my own clothes in my early teens, got the hang of it mid-teen and have never looked back. The therapeutic aspects of ironing were discovered in my twenties and now, in my sixties, a heap of un-ironed clothes is the panacea for most of my ills.
The first time I tackled the ironing here in Pakistan after we were married my wife looked on in horror and the servant practically dissolved into tears. Sahibs just did not do this sort of thing. They certainly did not do that sort of thing in Kabul, where one of the domestic staff physically tried to remove the iron from my grip so affronted was he by my actions. Sleepy Bahawalpur has been scandalised by my ironing activities and two of my (female) FaceBook friends have offered their own un-ironed wardrobe for my attention. I may just take them up on the offer.
Now I am not suggesting that doing the ironing is going to solve the world's ills, but it is such a pacific activity that perhaps a few more men ought to channel some of their latent aggression into the smoothing-of-creases department. Introduce a pile of ironing into meetings at cabinet level, issue all generals with a camouflaged ironing board and a state-of-the-art steamer or perhaps require all violent criminals to do at least one hour's ironing every day. Get the UN to celebrate Global Ironing Day and have heads of state conduct their business whilst pressing the missus' best blouse and skirt. Amidst the hurly-burly of busy lives we can lose sight of the ordinary, the mundane, yet it is the ordinary and the mundane that are the glue that holds us together sometimes and if it was not for the humble iron I would have gone mad decades ago.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: email@example.com
US MUST RESPECT PAK LAWS, SOVEREIGNTY
PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari during a meeting with Ambassador Anne Patterson has made it clear that the decision to deport US nationals arrested in Sargodha for their terror related activities would be taken after completion of investigations. At the same time the President is also reported to have expressed his strong resentment over violation of Pakistani laws by the American diplomats and stressed that every one must cooperate with the Pakistani security agencies, which are engaged in rooting out the menace of terrorism from the country.
While the US diplomat might be seeking the extradition of the arrested nationals of her country, it was essential to raise the issue of repeated non-stoppage of vehicles by the American diplomats in Lahore and Islamabad and their refusal to allow the search, which has created a lot of resentment among the security agencies and the people at large. For three successive days American officials in vehicles either with fake numbers or non diplomatic plates were stopped in Lahore for security checks but not only they refused to allow the security people to do their job, they even used abusive language in total disregard to diplomatic norms and Pakistani laws. Every diplomat is required to respect the laws of the land where he is posted yet it appears from their conduct that the Americans consider themselves above the law. A similar incident happened in Islamabad a couple of days back when an American diplomat sped away from the security picket, was pursued by an alert Capital Police officer and forced to excuse for the harsh language he used for the security personnel. Also the CIA operated drone attacks continue in FATA in utter disregard to Pakistan's sovereignty causing collateral damage. All this is a proof that the super power is engaged in trampling the laws and sovereignty of Pakistan which no country can allow. In this perspective the President has done well by strongly raising the issue with Ambassador Patterson yet we are of the firm opinion that if the violation of our laws continues, he raise the matter with President Obama. Side by side the political leadership, civil society and media should also join hands against this unethical practice of violating Pakistani laws and oppose it forcefully. At the same time it would be advisable for the United States to listen Pakistan's view point, respect its laws and sovereignty and give up the attitude of a colonial power if it wants to work as a partner in the war on terror.
PLEASE DON'T GO AFTER ORAKZAI
AFTER operations against terrorists in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has hinted that the Government was ready to launch a drive against the militants in Orakzai agency if efforts to restore order through political means failed. These comments in Lahore in an interaction with the media indicates that after South Waziristan, army would be asked to go after the militants in Orakzai and other tribal agencies where they are challenging the writ of the State or have taken shelter after fleeing from Waziristan.
Though in Lahore the Prime Minister said that operation in South Waziristan is over, later in Karachi he said the operation in SWA, the strong hold of banned TTP, would continue. We are of the opinion that it is time to wrap up the operation in South Waziristan Agency before the harsh winter sets in. Troops continue to stay in operational readiness in Malakand after the militants were rooted out and definitely they would be kept in SWA after the operation. In such a scenario, launching of another operation in Orakzai Agency would mean withdrawal of forces from eastern border, which would not be advisable. The launching of yet another operation would also give a wrong message to the people that it was being done at the instance of the United States because there had been repeated statements from Washington that Pakistan must go after the Taliban in other tribal areas instead of restricting the operation to a few selected ones. With additional deployment of about 35,000 US and NATO troops in Helmand and Kandhar provinces, there would be more fighting between Taliban and foreign forces and definitely there would be a spill over in Pakistan. To pre-empt that, Pakistan would need additional deployment on its side of the border so ensure that Taliban or the foreign forces in hot pursuit may not cross over. We are confident that the military leadership would also have considered all the options and given its input to the civilian Government about future course of action. No doubt there are groups of militants in Orakzai and Khyber agencies, having allegiance with those in SWA and involved in acts of terrorism in the settled areas, yet they could be dealt with by strengthening F.C. and other civilian law enforcement agencies rather than sending the troops.
NEW EMPIRE BUILDERS!
As an erstwhile imperial power, Britain did rather well for itself. The British may justifiably pride themselves on steering to good advantage what was arguably the most successful colonial empire of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Historians of various hues and cadres cite myriad reasons for the success of British colonial methods. One would not wish to delve into the details. Suffice it to state that perhaps the most outstanding feature of these was the tactic of "divide and rule". The name of the game was to size up the opposition and then to engineer fissures in its ranks to weaken it. While the fragmented opposition was up to its neck in internecine quarrels, the imperial power went about its dirty business with comparative ease, unchallenged and uninterrupted. The secret of success was the colonial masters' strategy of aligning themselves with one or more factions while encouraging them to undermine those that could have been their natural local allies. With the opposition thus at sixes and sevens, they could devote their energies to whatever it is that the imperialists like to do.
As part of the political games that they played in abandon, the British colonialists specialized in using religious and ethnic divides among their subjects to further their own ends. When they felt threatened by a populace belonging to a certain religious denomination, they used all tactics to widen schisms within the latter's ranks. They, at times, even went to the extent of engineering brand new sects to further sub-divide the already fissured society. One finds that Muslims were singled out for the third degree during the apex of the colonial era. The colonialists shamelessly encouraged and engineered divisions and sub-divisions within Muslim ranks. One would refrain from delving any deeper into this question for fear of hurting sensibilities. One should hasten to elucidate that the aforementioned is merely by way of introduction to the theme.
This subject has become relevant once again because, according to the best-informed analysts, a brand new Empire is in an advanced stage of evolution. As an awe-struck world looks on in dismay, the world's sole superpower has set its mind on this course. There is precious little the small fry can do except to grin and bear it. If it is an Empire the superpower wants, an Empire it will get! And the nomenclature "American Empire" has a good, albeit ominous, ring to it, rather like its predecessor, the "British Empire". Though the powers that be must surely have worked hard at developing a brand new imperial concept to adapt it to the demands of the twenty-first century, in some ways the planners appear to be harking back to age-old tactics. The expertise acquired by the British during a century and more of empire building must, undoubtedly, be coming in good stead to the new empire builders. The context may have changed but the British archives must have yielded a wealth of useful tips and usable information.
Launching of the new Empire is always the easier part. As the British experience will tell, it is holding on to the Empire that is the rub! Friends around the globe earnestly hope that the Americans, given the unlimited resources at their disposal, have taken advantage of the opportunity to think the thing through before taking the plunge. As any novice at the game would know, nothing can be more calamitous than plunging into a project and then discovering that the several loose ends that should have been tied up betimes have suddenly turned into festering sores.
The experienced British advisers at their beck and call notwithstanding, the new empire builders do appear to have encountered teething problems of a sort. From all appearance, it would seem that they have stepped into a mire of sorts, extricating themselves out of which appears to be presenting unexpected difficulties. A dispassionate look at the whole jolly circus would indicate that, in their new venture, the Americans are taking British advice to heart at least in so far as the tactic of "divide and rule" is concerned. This tactic is being applied, for instance, with varying success in Iraq. The strategy is to play off the Iraqi Shia Muslims against the Sunni Muslims. The Iraqi Shiites are being used to destroy the Iraqi Sunni resistance. In the recent past it did appear that Iraqi nationalism would prove strong enough to bridge this schism within their ranks.
It remains to be seen how well the Iraqi religious leaders play their cards. A lot will depend on the leaders of the Shiite majority, who have exhibited a laudable degree of political sagacity thus far. On their part, the leaders of the Sunni minority must cooperate in nailing those responsible for acts of terrorism against their compatriots. A certain measure of irresponsible behaviour can be expected in the sort of stew that Iraqis have been landed into for no fault of their own. But the leadership has a responsibility to counsel restraint. Iraqi nationalism is on test and not for the first time. Similar tactics have been used in Afghanistan where the ethnic card was played. It may be recalled that the ethnic cleavage between the majority Pakhtuns and the minority Tajiks, Uzbecks and Hazaras had initially been exploited to devastating effect by the Soviet occupiers during the nineteen eighties.
The Soviets had sided with the minority ethnic groups in order to isolate the Pakhtuns. Post nine/eleven, the Americans adopted the strategy of extenuating the ethnic divide by siding with the essentially anti-Pakhtun Northern Alliance against the mainly Pakhtun Taliban. It remains to be seen as to how long will this precarious perch sustain them. As history is witness, Afghanistan has never been an easy country to govern from a central authority in Kabul. Real power has always been with the warlords around the countryside. This situation was transformed for a short period during the rule of the Taliban, when Afghanistan briefly exhibited a semblance of a unitary state entity. Now the situation is back to the proverbial 'square one'.
An attempt has been made in the preceding paragraphs to set out the facts as objectively as possible. The old tactics, that stood the erstwhile colonialists in good stead once, might or might not turn out to be equally efficacious in the new millennium. The situation has been further complicated by the nuclear standoff between the United States and Iran. One can do no better than hope for the best. The world is in for very turbulent and somewhat uncertain times. Here, in the Land of the Pure, our once much-vaunted strategic geopolitical situation is fast becoming a millstone around the nation's collective neck Meanwhile, right-thinking people all around are hoping and praying that the mother ship does not drift into choppy and uncharted waters!
INORDINATE DELAY IN MUMBAI TRIAL
COL GHULAM SARWAR (R)
With regard to the Mumbai attacks, progress of Pakistan's investigations has duly been conveyed to Indian government, but it appears that this information is not enough to carry out trial of the case. Pakistan, on its part, has so far filed the terrorism cases against the alleged attackers and their supporters and handlers on both sides of the border. However, the completion of legal process has been inordinately delayed due to a non-sharing of relevant information by both countries.
Mr. Shahzada Irfan Ahmad, a renowned legal expert, writing on the subject, brings out that India seems to have handed over several dossiers to Pakistan. In these documents, people involved in the attacks have been listed. Also, locations of their operation along with logistic details have also been pinpointed. Pakistan, on the other hand, holds that the evidence provided by India s insufficient and as such, it is likely to benefit the accused. Javed Hassan, a reputed advocate of the Supreme Court, is of the view that in the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, it may not be possible for any country to hand over any of the accused to the other for cross-examination as neither would give each other's investigations, access to the accused in its custody. Further, he remarks that under the criminal law, the International Criminal Court (ICC) could take up cases related to genocide and human rights violations, provided all countries party to it, agree on this. Javed Hassan, further says that another possible forum for Mumbai attacks could be a tribunal formed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). However, in his view, there is little hope that the "unfriendly" India and Pakistan would openly share sensitive information in the presence of laws like the Official Secret Act 1923 and other critical security mechanism.
As hinted above, due to lack of trust, two countries are not likely to share information so far as it relates Mumbai attacks. In fact, this mistrust is the biggest hurdle in the swift and fair trial of the accused. Sad part of the story is that from the very beginning the two countries were intentionally trying to hide the information, rather than sharing it with each other. Incidentally, after denying for about a month and a half, it was revealed that the Mumbai attacks had any link with Pakistani soil. Government of Pakistan, confirmed in January this year that Ajmal Kasab belonged to Pakistan. Also the government of Pakistan has confirmed that the attacks were partially planned inside Pakistan and some handlers were present in the country at the time of the attacks.
Subsequently, the Pakistan Government launched a crackdown against Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) putting its Chief Hafiz Saeed under house arrest. The JUD at this point of time, disassociated itself from Lashkar-e-Taiba, known as its militant wing, but the government took its control and appointed administrators there. At this point of time, seven more suspects were broken, Zakiur Rahman Lakhwi, being one of them.
During the course of trial of these suspects A.K. Dogar, Council of Hafiz Saeed, expressed the views that the charges leveled against his client were as vague as one could think of. Further, we learn from Shahzada Irfan Ahmad's account that just like the lack of cooperation between India and Pakistan, there exists the same, between the Punjab Government and the Federal Government when it comes to sharing of information. This lack of trust expressed when Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sana Ullah told media that the federal government had not shared the evidence with them. Explaining the legal implications of the case, Ahmar Bilal Sufi, an International Law expert, says that the crime in question was of trans-national matter. In view of this, his argument is that the conspiracy was hatched in one country and the crime was committed in another. Similarly, the facilitations were present in different countries. Like the US and Italy. He maintains that until and unless, all these countries collaborate and examine and verify all the evidences there cannot be a break through. Adding to these arguments, Bilal Sufi says that the trial, if conducted the way it is, cannot proceed in the right direction till the law enforcement agencies start cooperating with each other and arrange proper access to the accused and the witnesses. To him, proving a conspiracy is far more difficult than proving the actual issue. In the estimation of Mr. Sufi, the trial, if conducted the way, it is being done, may take many years to complete this tardy procedure and it may result in lighter sentence or acquittal of some of the accused. In that case, India would increase pressure on Pakistan and castigate it saying that it may not serious in conducting the trial. If this happens, it would be mainly due to legal lacunae and nothing else.
This being the case, we suggest that the Indo-Pak talks should not be linked to this trial and the investigation from both the countries be allowed an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
The act of killing innocent children and women offering their Friday prayers in a country created on the name of Allah is a brazen act of the shadowy figures whose origin is indistinguishable. Many would blame Taliban for these inhuman acts and some will blame it on American agencies like Blackwater and few will point their fingers on India; with her many consulates in Afghanistan whose presence, on the first instance, is of dubious origin; these consulates are not issuing visa to Afghans national one thing for sure. Whosoever is the perpetrator of all these terrorist acts, one thing is crystal clear and is that it is Pakistan which is suffering the most. Its population is suffering day in and day out and with no fault of their; as they are not the one who decide the foreign policy of Pakistan.
So who are responsible for the policies we as a nation follow? The present-day policy was formulated by a single man who was the usurper of power and came through a backdoor. Many conspiracy theorists claim he was placed on the helm of affairs before 9/11 so that Americans can pursue their policy here in this part of the world. The U-turns and with ease that he accepted the Americans demands even surprised the Americans. However, to cut the long story short, we are suffering because of the policies formulated by a dictator. General public shows their maturity and rejected his policies blatantly, latter to be proved in elections where King's party was voted out of power. The Americans were no naives and sensing that Pakistanis are fed up from their Pakistani "poodle" they ensured that he be replaced by someone who is more obedient and ready to follow what is told to them. Mohtarrama Benazir Bhutto was a seasoned politician and she sensed the public sentiments and gave every indication for formulating an independent policy was thus eliminated from the scene. Similarly, Nawaz Sharif was not allowed to participate in the elections. With big names out, the road was open for people with no or little public stature. The result, there is just change in faces at the top and no policy reviews at all. The hope that new leadership would drastically change Pakistan foreign policy has been destroyed. The law and order has worsened and the civil war is looming in NWFP and Balochistan. The suicide bombing and killing of innocent Pakistanis have increased many folds; Mosques, hospital, schools, markets and sensitive installation; no place seems safe in Pakistan. Not even a single day passes when a gruesome act of violence is not committed somewhere. The most gruesome part of the story is that no hope of betterment prevails in general public. Pessimism has taken over. The leaders are trying to convince us that they are fighting Pakistan's war; what they are not telling us is that this war is fought on the instructions of our "masters" and that no such urgency was felt before 9/11. They are not trying to address the root cause of all this mayhem. This in my eyes is presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. The vast majority of Afghanis fighting foreign troops are common citizens infuriated by foreign troops rummaging around in their own country and killing their kin and kith. Agreed, religion is deep rooted in Afghan culture, but the presence of occupying force is the driving force behind their "terrorism". Islam denounces violence, but demands to resist any infidel trying to occupy a Muslim land.
I think the time has come to call a spade a spade and look into the eyes of American and say enough is enough. The latest announcement by American President of sending an additional 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan while pleading his European partners to send an additional 10,000 will have adverse effects in Pakistan. The decision of his troop surge has changed my mind, who, until this point, was giving him the benefit of the doubt. The reasons for the surge, Al Qaida, get Osama or eliminate Taliban etc. are unlikely to hoodwink many Pakistanis, with the exception of the few. According to American top national security adviser there are fewer than 100 Al Qaida members in Afghanistan with diminishing capability of launching attacks. They must be superhumans as they require more than 100,000 American troops to contain them. American President has given the deadline of July 2011 as the date when American will start leaving Afghanistan; presumably the task would be done by then. To suggest anything like that or that Karzai administration would be in a better position to accomplish 'mission' after 18 months is bizarrely out of touch with the reality.
Let us be the one who tells the king that he is naked and ask America to abandon Afghanistan by that date, as this will take the sting out of the Islamists who are encouraging "Jihad" against the infidels. Surely the puppet regime of Mr Karazai will not last a week without the American troops but then he is not the true representation of Afghan public and sentiments. It will not create more mess then we already are in. American President in his speech said "the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own"; I really wish our leaders can say the same and ask Americans to stop meddling in Pakistan internal affairs and do not destroy this nation while trying to build his own.
SAY IT LIKE IT IS..!
It's well becoming a fashion today to use buttery words, lofty phrases, sometimes sentences that ramble, and as I listen and try to figure out what people mean, I feel like yelling, "Say it like it is!" In the days before the advent of so many motor cars on the road, and also so many motorised two wheelers, we used ordinary bicycles to get from one place to another. I loved cycling on the more or less empty roads, smooth and well tarred and with hardly any potholes to disfigure the blackness.
However, suddenly at the end of the road, and most roads for that matter would be a sign "Halt and Proceed." Halt and proceed, meant to me poor cyclist that I had to apply my brakes, stop my bike, look at the junction, to see whether there was traffic coming and then proceed by starting to pedal again.
Simple! Till one day a cyclist did not halt. A policeman, lurking as usual behind a lamp post stopped the poor cyclist and asked him for an explanation for breaking a traffic rule. "Sir," said the