media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 19, edition 0003780, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
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- LK ADVANI TAKES A BOW
- DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE
- NO ALTERNATIVE TO MOTHER TONGUE - JS RAJPUT
- SEEK THE FORCE AROUND US - AJIT BISHNOI
- OBAMA DOCTRINE IN A SPIN - MALLADI RAMA RAO
- WHERE IS INDIA IN ALL THIS? - WARN KUMAR ANAND
- MEANWHILE PAKISTAN AMENDS BALOCH POLICY - SAMUEL BAID
- THE RSS FIX WILL NOT WORK FOR THE BJP
- COMING APART IN PAK
- THE CHOICES BEFORE MR ZARDARI ARE STARK.
- NEED TO REINVENT A LEGEND OF ITS TIMES - BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
- DIGITAL INK - SACHIN KALBAG
- BHUTANESE KING TO CEMENT INDIA TIES - BY DIPANJAN ROY CHAUDHURY IN NEW DELHI
- THIEVES DECAMP WITH AUSCHWITZ CAMP SIGN - RAISINA TATTLE
TIMES OF INDIA
- MILES TO GO BEFORE WE SLEEP...
- INDIAN INSTITUTE OF IDIOTS - CHETAN BHAGAT
- DIVORCE LAWS NEED UPDATING
- DEBRAY GROWLS AT A WORLD IN CHAOS - DILEEP PADGAONKAR
- TOO MANY BREAKDOWNS - NAOMI D' SOUZA
- DIGRESSION TO OPPOSITION
- The visible hand - Differential calculus - KAUSHIK BASU
- SPEAKEASY - NOT JUST A FAST TRACK TO FAME - PRATIK KANJILAL
- SCHEMATIC SCOPE
- CURED BY THE CODE
- MAGIC POTION
- HITLER IN STOCK MARKET - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
- BUSINESS AS UNUSUAL - SEEMA CHISHTI
- MANTRAS AND MYTHS - YOGINDER K. ALAGH
- ON DISINVESTMENT, MAKE HASTE SLOWLY - N K SINGH
- LEADERS, FOLLOW US - RICHARD BRANSON
- THE LONELINESS OF BEING HASAN GAFOOR - MASEEH RAHMAN
- THE REAL COLOUR OF SAFFRON
- CHEQUE OUT
- REFORM NOW TO FARM A SURPLUS - SAUGATA BHATTACHARYA
- MORPHED INTO A NEW AVATAR - ANAND RAMACHANDRAN
- PUBLIC OR PRIVATE ASSET? - SURABHI
- CONTAINING THE DAMAGE
- EUROPE'S FAR-RIGHT
- MOVING TOWARDS PEACE IN ASSAM? - M.S. PRABHAKARA
- LEARNING FROM SUCCESSES AND FAILURES - AMARTYA SEN
- 'MY BIGGEST DREAM IS NO CHILD GOES HUNGRY'
THE ASIAN AGE
- IT'S BEST TO AVOID IMPEACHMENT
- ISOLATED ZARDARI TO FIND IT HARD TO STAY
- INDIA SCREAMS FOR ICE CREAM! - SHOBHAA'S TAKE
- BRITISH PONY TALES - KISHWAR DESAI
- MULTIPLE SUPERPOWERS - BY ARUN NEHRU
- EMBROIDER TALES
- ANITA NAIR
- FINALLY, CRIME FICTION FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM - SIDHARTH BHATIA
- CLIMATE CONCERNS - SATHYA SARAN
- MONEY, MONEY, MONEY - ARATI R JERATH
- ACTING AGAINST DINAKARAN
- HOPE ON CANCER FRONT
- CHANGES IN THE BJP
- OBSESSION WITH HIGH GROWTH - BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
- PEEPAL TREE NO. 918 - BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH
- BREAKTHROUGH IN CURE FOR CANCER? - BY STEVE CONNOR
- STANDARD GAUGE FOR RAILWAYS - BY ARABINDA GHOSE
- SOME IN CHINA LIKE IT HOT - BY BARBARA DEMICK
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- NSG HUBS
- AID TO CREATIVITY - ARUP KUMAR DUTTA
- PRESENT STATUS OF RADIOLOGY AND IMAGING - DR DC MAHANTA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- WHEN MEN DISSEMBLE
- MAKE ADOPTION EASY
- SLASH PETROLEUM SUBSIDIES
- CHUCK FALSE SELF GLASSES, BE FREE - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- 'WE'LL FOCUS ON GROWTH AREAS IN INDIA'- SANJEEV SINHA
- RISING CURVE ON STRONG HOME SHOW' - ANWESH KOLEY & AMITI SEN
- 'INDIA'S A HIGH-RISK, HIGH-REWARD MARKET' - RASHMI PRATAP
- HOW AL HIT AN ICEBERG - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- DON'T LET US HEALTHCARE REFORM BILL FAIL - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- INERTIA OPTION - BY ROGER COHEN
- LONG ISLAND
- A POOR MODEL
- OSCAR HOPES
- ARDI NAMED 'SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH OF 2009'
- THE HEADLEY RIDDLE - RAJINDER PURI
- SACHIN'S JOGENS
- PRIMARY SCHOOLING: I - AMARTYA SEN
- VIOLENT SHORES
- SHAKY IN SADDLE
- STATE OF THE UNION - BY S L RAO
- THE IDEAL MAN - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- SOME EMBARRASSING MOMENTS - BY A N SURYANARAYANAN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- START AND BEYOND
- HOPE FOR THE EVERGLADES
- IN A DAY-LABOR CORNER
- DARCY AT HER DAYS' END - BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
- THE NEW PERILS OF PAULINE - BY GAIL COLLINS
- COURTING TROUBLE
- SECURING MUHARRAM
- THE NRO AND AFTER - BY ARIF NIZAMI
- ROAD TO ANTI-CORRUPTION REFORM - BY SANIA NISHTAR
- GOOD COMMANDER, BAD COMMAND? - BY A R SIDDIQI
- THOSE LEFT BEHIND - BY TALAT FAROOQ
- REVELLING IN JUSTICE - BY BABAR SATTAR
- CRITICAL MASS - BY ANJUM NIAZ
- GILANI TOO HAS TO COME INTO ACTION
- PRESIDENT SHOULD AVOID PLAYING SINDH CARD
- WHAT'S "A FEW STIRRED-UP MUSLIMS?" - NOSHEEN SAEED
- PAK-US RELATIONS: FROM INSECURITY TO INSECURITY - DR ABDUL RUFF
- FATWA AGAINST SUICIDE ATTACKS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- US CREATES ITS ANTITHESIS IN IRAQ - NICOLA NASSER
- THE INERTIA OPTION - ROGER COHEN
- FIGHTING CROP LOSS
- SMOKING HABIT
- WHAT SIGN ARE YOU? - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- THE GROWTH AND GOVERNANCE - MD JOYNAL ABDIN
- ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT PLAN (EMP) - SHALIM UDDIN
- LEAD LEVELS US FIRST LADY'S GARDENING - PROFESSOR M ZAHIDUL HAQUE
- FREE PRESS COMES AT A PRICE
- HOW BLUE IS YOUR REEF?
- COPENHAGEN HIJACKED BY SECOND-ORDER ISSUES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- SURVEY SHOWS RELIGION STILL HAS THE NUMBERS
- IF IT'S A COMB-OVER, IT AIN'T NECESSARILY OVER
- FAITH SOMETIMES DIVIDES US, BUT THAT'S OK
- NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS: A FEE TOO FAR
- COPENHAGEN CLIMATE CONFERENCE: THE GRIM MEANING OF 'MEANINGFUL'
- UNTHINKABLE? NAMING AND SHAMING TAX-SHIRKERS
THE KOREA HERALD
- OUR FUTURE
- PRINCIPAL EVALUATION
- EUROPE'S LOST GENERATION OF WORKERS - TITO BOERI
- BENEFITS OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH - M.K. THOMPSON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- TOWARD FEWER NUCLEAR ARMS
- AN ABUSE OF INTELLIGENCE - BY HUGH CORTAZZI
THE JAKARTA POST
- OVERBURDENED JAKARTA
- IMPROVEMENT SOUGHT FOR HAJ MANAGEMENT, ACCOUNTABILITY - M. HUDAYA BULYA
- WHY OBAMA SKIPPING JAKARTA MIGHT NOT BE SO BAD - EVAN A. LAKSMANA AND HAZELIA MARGARETHA
- QUALITY OF EDUCATION AND THE NATIONAL EXAMS - PAUL SUPARNO
LK ADVANI TAKES A BOW
BUT HE WILL BE THERE TO GUIDE THE BJP
Politicians are more often than not reluctant to disturb the status quo and most who aspire to high office, whether in their parties or in Government, tend to sway with the wave. Mr LK Advani is among the very few politicians India has had who consciously challenged the status quo, steered the Bharatiya Janata Party (and before that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh) against the stream of Nehruvian consensus, and in many ways refashioned India's political discourse while setting the agenda for national politics. In a sense, he freed Indian politics from the shackles of the past and contributed in no small measure to the emergence of a bipolar polity in which the BJP and the Congress are the two major poles around which smaller players congregate, depending on their political exigencies. In brief, he was a 'change agent' who, along with Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, not only made nationalism once again fashionable but demonstrated that it still remains a powerful tool for political mobilisation as well as the core idea of good governance in modern India. This is the best tribute that can be paid to Mr Advani, who has dedicated his life to the nation, as he prepares to step aside for younger leaders to take charge of the BJP, marking the beginning of a new chapter and the end of an era.
It is only natural that Mr Advani should not make an abrupt departure from either active politics or the party which he has nurtured for nearly three decades. A leader is not necessarily a helmsman; Mr Advani has been both for the BJP. By becoming chairman of the parliamentary party while Ms Sushma Swaraj, an able parliamentarian, takes over as Leader of Opposition, Mr Advani will remain at the helm of his party's affairs, which he should. As the BJP makes a momentous generational shift and the old guard passes on the baton to the next generation of leaders, it will require a calming hand to guide it through the much-anticipated transition. Mr Advani, needless to say, is best suited for this task: As mentor for those who will now lead the party from the front and wise counsel for the cadre, he will oversee the changing of the guards. The BJP, which will also have a young president in Mr Nitin Gadkari, should consider itself blessed that unlike other parties which crowd the political scene, it will not have to contend with either turmoil or tumult in the coming days.
It must be said to Mr Advani's credit that he had expressed his desire to step down after last summer's general election. But it was the party, defeated and dejected, which had insisted on his assuming charge as Leader of Opposition. Mr Advani had abided by the collective decision of the time. Let it also be said that he has not used that opportunity to stay on in office, but create the right atmosphere for younger leaders to come to the fore. It would be in order to mention that Mr Rajnath Singh, who took charge as party president at a particularly difficult time, has been equally gracious. It is now for Mr Arun Jaitley, Ms Swaraj and Mr Gadkari to prove they are worthy inheritors of a great legacy; it is also for the party cadre to demonstrate that they have the determination and commitment to build upon what they have inherited: It's both a challenge and an opportunity. As the BJP enters a new phase of its life, it can look up to Mr Advani for inspiration. But it must also learn to look forward to conquering new frontiers, as Mr Advani and Mr Vajpayee did with single-minded determination and absolute devotion to the party.
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE
ABSURD REASON CITED TO SKIP 2G DEBATE
It is shameful that the Government has deferred the promised discussion in Parliament on the 2G spectrum scam on the ground that the matter is sub judice. Needless to say the move can only be seen as an attempt by the ruling coalition to shield Communications and Information Technology Minister A Raja, who is alleged to be the mastermind behind the scam. It is shocking that a frivolous reason has been cited to avoid meaningful debate on a serious issue. Never before in the past has an issue not been discussed in Parliament just because it is pending in a court of law. There are several examples that bear testimony to this. Bofors, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, the Satyam scandal, the Telgi stamp paper scam, the fodder scam, etc, have been discussed in Parliament despite being 'sub judice'. Therefore, the Government's claim that any discussion in Parliament will affect the legal status of the 2G scam-related case is completely baseless. Parliament is not some tabloid whose reporting of a case that is sub judice could lead to character assassination or undermine the authority of the judiciary. After all, the 2G scandal is a matter of national concern and as such deserves to be debated by the elected representatives of the people.
Mr Raja is like the proverbial albatross around the Government's neck. Given the compulsions of coalition politics, the Congress cannot do without him, but is far worse off with his company. By trying to avoid a discussion on the issue in Parliament, the Government stands accused of subverting the process of democracy. The very purpose of Parliament is to discuss and deliberate on issues of national importance. From this flows the right of parliamentarians to seek discussion on any topic that they deem important. And a scam that is estimated to have cost the exchequer Rs 1 lakh crore is certainly worth discussing, especially since a Cabinet Minister is in the thick of the scandal and the target of allegations. Attempts to scuttle a debate on the issue comes in spite the fact that the Central Vigilance Commissioner has found gross irregularities in the issuance of 2G spectrum licences that were 'auctioned' at dirt cheap prices and without Cabinet approval. Following this, the CBI conducted raids on the Department of Telecom headquarters and seized incriminating evidence regarding the scam. The Comptroller and Auditor-General too has ordered an investigation intro the spectrum dealings. Hence, no one can say that there aren't enough grounds for a debate. Citing the fact that the case is sub judice is perhaps the lamest possible excuse that the ruling coalition could have given to escape a discussion in Parliament. For, it cannot defend the indefensible. By shielding Mr Raja the Government is simply fetching disrepute to itself.
NO ALTERNATIVE TO MOTHER TONGUE
Language learning has been a tricky issue for our educators, especially after independence. The three-language formula has not been implemented uniformly to the satisfaction of one and all. The formula rightly envisaged primary education through a child's mother tongue. Later, one modern Indian language and English were to be introduced at an appropriate stage. Hindi-speaking States could not arrange for the teaching of modern Indian languages other than Hindi, whereas, certain southern States expressed their reservations about what they called 'Hindi hegemony'. The only trend that has flourished uniformly over the years is the pursuit among parents to get their child admitted in English-medium schools. The general perception is that a good and successful life awaits only those who obtain their education through such schools. And this is not far from the truth.
The latest survey reports and trends indicate a 150 per cent growth in the number of primary students in India getting their education in English-medium schools for the period 2005-06 to 2008-09. Trends also suggest an increase in the number of schools imparting education in English on a geographical spread. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, almost one-fifth of the total number of enrolled students are educated through the English language. Haryana, on the other hand, has recorded the highest growth rate as the number of children in English-medium schools has gone up by more than seven times in the last four years. The surveys also indicate that the actual number of those learning through English medium right from class one might be far higher than what is estimated as there are thousands of unrecognised schools spread all over the country.
Everywhere, including small towns and villages, there is a race for opening English-medium schools. They ensure high rates of return with no possibility of a meltdown. India is in the grip of a great transition. It is not an issue that pertains to Hindi and English or Hindi and other regional languages. As far as education is concerned, the language of learning is English, English and English!
The dominating trend among the youth at present is to aspire for jobs in multi-national companies in India or abroad. There are genuine economic reasons for this. Business Process Outsourcing companies are advertised as the finest employment option for youth from middle-class backgrounds, particularly so from small towns and cities. Heads of management institutes have the major task of ensuring that their students are taught English properly so that they are prepared for the toughest of job interviews. This will enable them to impress their prospective employers. Other skills, they say, could be learnt later! Without proficiency in English, every young person faces a serious disadvantage in the job market, including in Government jobs.
An interaction with youngsters in a district town in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar is enough to gauge how demoralised the youth get if they miss the opportunity to learn English in a convent or public school. No parent wishes to be blamed for the misfortune of his or her child. Wherever possible, parents make every effort to get their sons and daughters admitted in English-medium schools. The education gap between the elite and the rest has been growing alarmingly. The elite are happy with the existing arrangement. But the neglected have resigned themselves to their fate. The quality of education in sarkari schools shows no signs of improving.
There are numerous examples of nations that can compete with the West in the field of science and technology on an equal footing. Have China, Russia (erstwhile USSR) or Japan lagged behind on any count because of the primacy they have given to their mother tongues? When the Russians sent their Sputnik satellites into space ahead of the US, the Americans were greatly demoralised. The Russians also had their own journals on high scientific research. In fact, it was the West that had to arrange for these journals to be translated into English and published for the benefit of its scientific community.
China is often quoted in the Indian media as having launched a massive programme of learning English. No one reports that it has not discarded the practice of imparting primary education through the mother tongue. But the Indian system, by encouraging English in all sectors, is fast discarding the basic pedagogical principle that no child should be burdened with an alien language in the initial years. Children can learn more languages with considerable ease as they grow older.
Mahatma Gandhi, who could communicate in several languages, had this to say in Young India, dated September 21, 1921: "The foreign medium has caused brain fag, put an undue strain upon the nerves of our children, made them crammers and imitators, unfitted them for original work and thoughts, and disabled them for filtrating their learning to the family or the masses. The foreign medium has made our children practically foreigners in their own land. It is the greatest tragedy of the existing system. The foreign medium has prevented the growth of our vernaculars. If I had the powers of a despot, I would today stop the tuition of our boys and girls through a foreign medium, and require all the teachers and professors on the pain of dismissal to introduce the change forthwith. I would not wait for the preparation of textbooks. They will follow the change. It is an evil that needs a summary remedy."
Mother tongue as the medium of instruction is critical for a meaningful beginning to a child's education. It is also important for a child's emotional, cognitive and social development. Education in mother tongue alone establishes continuity between home and school environment. It is essential for proper learning of other languages as well. The seeds of independent thinking, free and effective expression of opinions and logical interpretation of present and past events are sown only through the mother tongue. There is no pedagogically acceptable alternative. But unfortunately, little attention is being paid to this aspect of education.
While addressing a congregation of over 500 enlightened citizens in Akola in 2006, a question was posed, "In Maharashtra, Marathi is getting neglected and English is spreading all around. If you are given all the authority and power, what would you do to stop this proliferation of English?" There was total silence in the auditorium. The response after a quiet pause was, "I would do nothing to stop the spread of English. I would use all my powers to strengthen Marathi in all respects everywhere and in every direction." The deafening applause that followed indicated total approval for the approach. This is the direction in which India needs to move in the years ahead.
SEEK THE FORCE AROUND US
Cheating is a general propensity among human beings. When we cheat others there are repercussions. What is not common knowledge is our tendency to cheat ourselves. This is very pronounced in the matter of pleasures and in our search for god.
First, let us see what we do with respect to pleasures. There are several levels of pleasure, beginning with dark pleasure like hurting someone and feeling pleased about it. Then there are sense pleasures like the passion for eating tasty food. Next comes pleasure in goodness like what we feel after helping someone. The highest pleasure is association with god.
But what is it that we generally do? Possessing a material body with a material mind, one is naturally attracted to sense pleasures, a trait common with animals. When one is either feeling good or bad, animal instincts surface. We start seeking sense pleasures. And one succumbs to such pleasures even though they hurt. People who resist such pleasures advance in life, remain peaceful, are secure, qualify for happiness and ultimately achieve liberation from the bondage of birth and death.
But in order to achieve this supreme state, one needs to make a connection with god. Many try to do so, but few succeed. Why is it so? In the search for god, one seeks a spiritual teacher or guru. He or she guides the disciple's spiritual development. But the prevalent tendency is to limit one's disciples to oneself. For, the virus of materialism has caught up with these gurus as well who insist on being called 'spiritual masters' because they like their disciples to be their slaves and provide them with all kinds of material benefits.
The disciples also restrict themselves to their gurus. Why? It is because they can relate to them. Relating to an omnipresent god is very difficult. In the process they forget that their original intention was to connect with god. Some worship god in the form of a deity. Still, the connection with god is not felt. One needs to do more and try and feel the presence of the singular universal force. It is only then that one can achieve what one has set out to do. But this requires the right knowledge, renunciation and application. Many do not have the will and strength to achieve this. But it can be done. Therefore, let us not cheat ourselves. Let us become wise and seek god in his all-pervading form. Then only will this precious human life be well served.
OBAMA DOCTRINE IN A SPIN
EVEN TWO WEEKS AFTER HIS AFGHANISTAN SPEECH, THE WORLD IS QUESTIONING THE NOTIONS AT THE BASIS OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA'S DOCTRINE. THE LATEST SURPRISE IS THE SUGGESTION OF A CARROT AND STICK POLICY FOR THE TALIBAN
MALLADI RAMA RAO
Expectedly, US President Barak Obama has defended his Afghanistan policy in his Nobel Peace Prize speech as a watershed event. Like his predecessor, George Bush Junior, he also cautioned the world of the consequences of not supporting the American war against Islamists. But at home, his policy has evoked a mixed response. The reasons would appear to be obvious.
In one breath Obama talks of pulling out US troops in 18 months and also his determination to bring the 'war' in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion without making an 'open-ended commitment.' Despatch of extra 30,000 US troops to the embattled country is in his view good enough evidence of his determination to win. At the same time he admits the war in Afghanistan can be won only when the last vestiges of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stamped out from not only the Afghan soil but also in their 'safe havens' across the border in Pakistan.
The dichotomy in the Obama doctrine is therefore clear to the naked eye. Can anyone fix a time table for the decimation of terrorist groups? By announcing a sort of deadline for US pullout, he has assured the terrorist groups that all they have to do is to hold out for a year and a half before going on rampage in Afghanistan and beyond. The return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan cannot be the end objective of the US policy. In fact, it will be a nightmare for an America that is already quite paranoid about threat from terrorists even though the 9/11 has remained a solitary instance for the US.
Undoubtedly, the pullout talk is a domestic compulsion for Obama. It is a tough job to balance between the popular demand in his country and the pulls of strategic considerations for defeating the conglomerate of terrorists. To achieve that balance he is perhaps stepping up efforts to prepare Afghanistan to defend itself from terrorists and other dangers with its own forces. Simultaneously, the pace of rebuilding the impoverished country may be accelerated considerably. Recession in the world makes it difficult, though.
Frankly, since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2003, not enough has been done to accomplish the twin tasks which are vital for rebuilding the country and keep it safe from the forces loyal to the Osama bin Ladens and Mullah Omars, not to mention Pakistan's ISI. This is largely on account of excessive reliance on Pakistan to sanitise its border hideouts and to rein in its jihadi groups.
Not enough attention was paid till recently to the day-today problems being faced by average Afghans. The inadequacies in building the infrastructure surfaced suddenly when everyone started talking and writing about acute power shortage in Kabul. The discovery that the Afghan farmer had no incentive to give up poppy cultivation came late because in the first two or three years of the US invasion the world was being fed stories about how many schools and dispensaries were reopening and how thousands of Afghans were returning to the country. President Hamid Karzai is being roundly condemned in the West today for poor governance and corruption when seeds of it had been sown soon after his first election as head of the state.
If the US is really serious about ending the menace of terrorism of all forms it did not go about it with any determination. After 2003, the location of the terrorists was referred to only vaguely as being some obscure 'border areas' between Afghanistan and Pakistan when American intelligence community, if not the policy-makers, knew that the territory where most of the followers of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were hiding was inside Pakistan and that Quetta Shura is calling the shots in southern Afghanistan in particular. The obfuscation created a myth that Pakistan was whole-heartedly involved in the war against terror.
No pressure was brought upon Pakistan to discourage it from providing 'safe havens' for the terrorists in FATA on the border with Afghanistan. Barring the rare admission, Pakistan is making it clear that it will not go after its 'assets' in the gory world of terrorists because they are useful for meeting its 'strategic goals' of keeping Afghanistan completely under its influence and devising ways to destabilise India with the help of 'holy warriors.' There is no move to force Pakistan to give up that policy. The benighted country is so obsessed with its 'enemy' India that it would rather suffer from the hands of the very terrorists it nurtured and trained than exterminate them.
It is absurd to contend that Pakistan is not too pleased with the AfPak policy of Obama. The celebrations among the officially patronised community of 'holy warriors' of Pakistan is obvious. In fact, behind the veneer of criticism that the US exit from Kabul would expose Islamabad's flanks, there is a sense of excitement within the Pakistan establishment for the second opportunity at finding strategic depth in Afghanistan. It does not seem to matter that the jihadi export across Durand Line may also lead to complete sway of fundamentalists over all of Pakistan.
There is still nothing to suggest that the US and the West are actually acting 'tough' with Pakistan, asking it to dismantle its vast network of terror factories. Pakistan has been systematically rebuilding its old India bogey. There are some US generals and politicians who echo the Islamabad fiction that Pakistan has 'security concerns' on its eastern borders with India. India makes no claim to any Pakistani territory while Pakistan attacked India three or four times to wrest parts of India. What 'security concerns' does Pakistan talk about when right from the 1980s it has been openly using terror as a state policy to hit India?
Obama's constituents are bound to pounce on him when they discover that without an 'open-ended commitment' in Afghanistan the spectre of terrorists attacking the US and other countries in the West will only increase. Strangely, till now, neither Obama nor his egg-heads speak of any back up plan, if, as expected, the Taliban strikes soon after the US exit from Afghanistan. Already, the Taliban is in a resurgence mood, thanks to US and NATO follies. The US tax payer suffering the woes of Dollar meltdown would question the utility of the policy that has broadly accepted the notion that it is possible to devise an optimal US military presence in the arc of crisis. As Jim Hoagland pointed out in The Washington Post (Dec 13), four decades ago, the US was opposed to stationing of US combat troops in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.
It is difficult to disagree with the observation of a Guardian columnist that the realism of American foreign policy can only be selective and ephemeral. But President Obama's Oslo speech offers a strong case for rollback of the policy since he admits that fanaticism is centred now in Afghanistan. The case is further strengthened by the transnational operations of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba which have come to light with the FBI's interrogation of David Coleman Headley, the US national of Pakistani origin who was charged with helping plot the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
The writer is editor, South Asia Tribune and a columnist
WHERE IS INDIA IN ALL THIS?
A FORTNIGHT AFTER OBAMA'S HISTORIC ANNOUNCEMENT ON AFGHANISTAN, IT'S TIME TO DEMAND TO KNOW WHETHER INDIA'S CONCERNS HAVE BEEN TAKEN ON BOARD
WARN KUMAR ANAND
US President Barack Obama's December 1, 2009 speech "The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan" delivered at West Point is a landmark in America's south Asia policy. This week, for the second time in December, Saturday Special visits the AfPak cauldron as the new doctrine appears to have a legacy even before the ink on it is dry. To some, like Obama's Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it is not to be taken literally. To others, like leaders in the Pakistani establishment, America is reneging on its commitment.
Maladi Rama Rao, who returns to Saturday Special after three months, writes (Main) that the dichotomy in the Obama doctrine is clear to all today. Who has ever heard of a timeframe to finish off guerrilla terrorists? According to him, Obama is pressured by domestic compulsions to return and seems to be yielding. In The Other Voice, Samuel Baid, our veteran Pakistan expert (he represented UNI there in the 1980s) points to a little-noticed and less-understood effect that the Obama declaration is already having in our neighbourhood. This relates to Balochistan where the Pakistan establishment is talking peace.
Obama's dependence on Pakistan has cost millions worth of ammunition and supplies and loss of lives and slowing down of operations. Lack of coordination among NATO officers is well-known. Their interests as member-nations clash. Unless this is sorted out, this is going to be "Obama's war", even more than it was "Bush's war."
The perception, at least in India, is that the US/NATO are least bothered about non-Pushtun, non-Taliban militants in Pakistan. Nothing is said about those who operate from Punjab and Sindh, from the seminaries of Karachi and from PoK, since they are not the ones attacking Afghanistan.
In this context, President Obama's call, a muted one though, asking Pakistan not to 'use" Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), will be welcome. So far, the West (including Gen Stanley McChrystal) has accepted the Pakistani worldview and India has been painted as a villain of the piece in Afghanistan.
What Obama said about India's role in Afghanistan should not remain a mere diplomatic gesture. The NATO allies, particularly the British (with a Secretary like David Milliband and his ideas about South Asia), and the soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan should also be made aware of it. India could do a lot more, without ruffling Pakistani feathers, if the West genuinely co-opts it as a partner in Afghanistan. This must exclude Indian soldiers being invited to join the fight against the Taliban.
Obama announced that the US would deploy 30,000 more troops. Many see it as the beginning of an honourable exit policy, while others see the US getting deeper into another Vietnam. It raises a number of issues for consideration by the security analysts, particularly in India since a lot depends upon its success or otherwise on how India must deal with its own strategy in Afghanistan, considering its investment that now stands at $1.2 billion.
The additional forces announced sound large in headlines, but shrink small in the mountains. The commitment is intended as an earnest indication of America's will. Butneither the number of troops nor the timeline that mandates a drawdown in less than two years is likely to impress the Taliban, who think in decades or for that matter the Afghan people. The 18-month timeframe announced can only make the Taliban work to last out this period.
It is not surprising, thus, that within a week of Obama's speech; his Defence Secretary Richard Gates has said that the US would remain in Afghanistan for "several years." One would assume that the nitty-gritty of how best to deploy 30,000 more troops to get maximum results in the form of annihilation of al-Qaeda/Taliban will have been worked before this figure was arrived at.
The US has taken the lead with 30,000. One would also assume that after this and the American exhortations, the NATO allies would chip in liberally, and resolutely, getting over their "Afghanistan fatigue." The speech takes care of the sensitivities over the Iraq intervention. More soldiers by US/NATO would mean fiercer fighting and could mean more casualties. Public reaction over the arrival of body bags would need greater preparation through media blitz.
Obama has compared and contrasted the situation in Afghanistan with that prevailed in Vietnam nearly four decades ago. Taliban may not be 'popular' among the people as the Vietnamese were. But they control vast stretches of territory, particularly in rural areas. What is being done to wean the people away from them? Co-opting Afghan media in a big way would help speak to them in their own language(s).
In this context, it would be hard to overstate the cultural chasm separating the Afghans from their foreign allies and expatriate returnees. Scarcely a single Western soldier speaks their languages. President Obama aptly referred to Pakistan and its political class as 'friends' and 'allies' as he charts out a course for future cooperation. But the experience so far has been that it hunts with the hounds and runs with the hares. Take just The New York Times . It is replete with reports that convincingly point to this phenomenon.
The fact is that only a section of Pakistan's political class and the military are supportive of the fight against the Taliban (both domestic and Afghan). Rustam Shah Mohmand, former Pakistan ambassador to Kabul and now a key Advisor, repeatedly told a United Services Institute seminar on Afghanistan that the problem facing Afghanistan (and by implication, Pakistan) was "foreign occupation." What he says, the Pakistani middle classes and the common man believe so.
If the 'surge' is to succeed, it would need isolating the populace from the Taliban. By repeatedly talking of 'good' Taliban and those otherwise, the US and its allies have consistently sent out wrong signals. This point has been laboured over by many analysts, particularly the Indian ones. That seems to have no effect on the US/NATO. At the end of the day, it would require renting sections of the Taliban. The US/NATO cannot depend upon Pakistan as the sole supply line. The inability to make up with Iran remains a handicap with the US. It is unlikely to ease given the US-Iran relations.
President Obama's troop surge was perhaps politically inescapable. But any chance of salvaging a minimally acceptable outcome hinges not on what American and allied soldiers can do on the battlefield, but on putting together a coherent political strategy. Obama's speech represented a gesture to his generals rather than a convincing path to success in Afghanistan.
The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer
MEANWHILE PAKISTAN AMENDS BALOCH POLICY
It appears the Obama effect is compelling Pakistan to reconsider its Balochistan position and discard Musharraf's policy of using only brute force; late November saw fresh initiatives taken by Pakistan's Parliament to work out a political solution
The 45-point package, approved by Pakistan's Parliament on November 24 for Balochistan is an admission by the country's elected representatives that this province has suffered injustices which are responsible for the present insurgency.
On the face of it, the package, called "Aghaaz Haqook-e-Balochistan" (the beginning of the rights of Balochistan), reflects the parliamentarians' sincere desire to end Baloch alienation at any cost. Some of the demands of the common Baloch are: withdraw the Army from the province; produce the missing Baloch people; accept the rights of the Baloch to the natural wealth of the province; stop work at Gwadar Port and stop the construction of Army cantonment in the areas of Dera Bugti and Kohlu, which are worst hit by Baloch resistance.
Under the leadership of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the Baloch were demanding their political and economic rights and due human dignity. An alliance of four Baloch political parties, which met a Special Parliamentary Committee, headed by ruling Quaid Muslim League Secretary-General Mushahid Hussain in 2004, had, in addition to the above-mentioned demands, wanted cases against Baloch political leaders and activists withdrawn, general amnesty for those accused of anti-State activities and stoppage of work on mega projects.
Hussain returned to Islamabad and wrote his recommendations, which, if accepted, would have brought peace to Balochistan. But General Pervez Musharraf, who was obviously inspired by the devastating affect of the United States' firepower used in Afghanistan and Iraq, decided his own firepower to bomb the Baloch demands forever. He got Akbar Bugti and his men killed in August 2006. Thus, a movement for political and economic rights became a violent movement for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan.
The present Pakistan People's Party-led Government and parliamentarians are trying to win over Sullen Baloch. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani constituted a committee under the leadership of Senator Raza Rabbani to visit Balochistan and make proposals for ending the insurgency. The Baloch nationalists boycotted the visit because, they said, the committee included only non-Baloch nationalists. Thus, Senator Raza Rabbani's
proposals, which he put in Parliament on November 24, had no support from the Baloch nationalists.
Raza Rabbani's proposals, which reportedly had the Army's approval, announced that the Army would be replaced in Sui district with the Frontier Corps (FC) in Balochistan. This proposal sounds like a revolutionary concession to the angry people of Balochistan. But, they say, only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches: the Rabbani Committee seemed to have overlooked Baloch resentment against FC, too. According to them, both the Army and the FC are equally hostile to the Baloch population.
The Rabbani Committee does not say how its proposal will remove the Baloch complaints against the ISI's activities such as quietly killing Baloch leaders and activists and causing disappearances. It says a committee, under a retired High Court judge will be appointed to identify missing persons but it does not say how ISI's anti-Baloch activities will be stopped. ISI's activities in Balochistan seem beyond the oversight of world's human rights organisations. A few years ago, former Chief Minister of Balochistan Akhtar Mengal was caught and put in a cage in Karachi for many days. Pakistan's human rights organisations protested, but within the constraints of Musharraf's military rule and a captive judiciary.
In April this year, three Baloch leaders who were consulting their lawyers in their chambers in Turbat, were tied with ropes by alleged ISI operatives and dragged out of the lawyers' chambers like animals. A week later, their mutilated bodies were found in a nullah. There were prolonged agitations to no avail.
Nawab Akbar Bugti's campaign, for which he was killed, was not for secession but economic and political rights. The province was very irregularly paid royalty for its natural resources like gas much of which came from Bugti's fields. How irregular the royalty payment was reflects in Parliament's approval of paying Rs 120 billion as gas royalty for 30 years from 1954 to 1992.
The Rabbani proposals, as recommended by Parliament, also promise to compensate denial of political rights by giving Balochistan provincial autonomy. This is a confusing promise. The 1973 Constitution already provides for provincial autonomy. But in the past 36 years no government has honoured this provision. The Rabbani proposals don't make it clear whether the Government intends to honour the existing constitutional provision for provincial autonomy in respect of Balochistan or give this province a special status. The latter choice may invoke bitter opposition especially in Punjab where sixty years of negative propaganda has given Baloch an image of traitors to Pakistan.
The negative propaganda describes Baloch Sardars as exploiters who are held responsible for the poverty of their people. The Bugti, the Marri and the Mengal Sardars are called trouble makers. This propaganda, which might have been designed and sponsored by the Army and its intelligence agencies, claims the Baloch already have a government-in-exile established by militants in 2005 with headquarters in Jerusalem. According to this propaganda, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) has its headquarters in Kandhar where it has the support of RAW and CIA.
The writer is Media Director, YMCA
THE RSS FIX WILL NOT WORK FOR THE BJP
THE ongoing changes in the Bharatiya Janata Party of L K Advani stepping down as leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in favour of Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari being anointed the president of the party need to be seen in the right light. Mr Advani relinquishing his post was long overdue. It should have happened in the aftermath of the BJP's debacle in the Lok Sabha elections, as the veteran leader had indeed expressed the intent of doing. There is nothing really new or dynamic that Mr Advani can offer his party at this stage of his political career. And it is precisely dynamism that the BJP needs if it is to resurrect itself.
In that sense the articulate and moderate Ms Swaraj offers a welcome option to the party. She has both ability and charisma, qualities she shares with Arun Jaitley, who is the leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha. In Parliament, then, the party will have competent and effective leadership.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the BJP president in waiting Nitin Gadkari, who was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's candidate for the top job.
Considering that his performance as the party chief in Maharashtra was nothing to speak of, we wonder what he will bring to his job that the uncharismatic Rajnath Singh did not. While talk of Manohar Parikkar being a part of his A- team is reassuring, given that he has an impressive educational background, this is marred somewhat by his less than liberal credentials.
The more disturbing aspect of the changes under way is that they are not being driven by the organisation itself, but by its ideological mentor, the RSS. For the principal Opposition party in the country to be remote- controlled by an opaque organisation like the RSS is unfortunate. The clear lesson of the National Democratic Alliance governments headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004 was that the party needs to keep a healthy distance from the RSS and the Sangh Parivar's other less savoury components like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. The path that the Sangh would like the BJP to tread is hidden from none. This path is not likely to yield the BJP political returns. It could well revert the party to its marginalised Jana Sangh days. That would be a pity, for a bipolar polity is very much in this country's interest.
COMING APART IN PAK
THE Pakistan Supreme Court's decision to scrap the National Reconciliation Order has opened the proverbial Pandora's Box in the country. Some 8,000 persons, the who's who of the Pakistani elite, led by its President Asif Zardari, are now liable for criminal prosecution for corruption related charges. Though Mr Zardari is, as President, immune from prosecution, the fact that the NRO was passed basically to give him and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, immunity in a power sharing scheme by former President Pervez Musharraf, has upped the pressure on him to resign on moral grounds. The fact that Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar are also on the list has created an air of crisis over the Pakistan Peoples Party government.
THE CHOICES BEFORE MR ZARDARI ARE STARK.
He can either flee the country and go back into exile, or work out a deal with the Army and the judiciary which would put effective power into the hands of his Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. The tougher option is that he concedes Nawaz Sharif's view that the 17th amendment to the Pakistan constitution giving the power to the president to dissolve the National Assembly be repealed and takes up a grass- roots struggle to rein in the Army and the judiciary.
The chances are that the outcome will be a mix of the three options and therefore unsatisfactory to all. This means that Pakistan's economy will suffer further and the war against the rising tide of terrorism will be put on the back- burner. In such circumstances there is little value in New Delhi talking to Islamabad. However, India must send a clear signal to Pakistan that it has a stake in political stability there, one that is based on a civilian- led political setup, rather than the army.
NEED TO REINVENT A LEGEND OF ITS TIMES
BY AMRITA IBRAHIM
IT has been a year of many anniversaries: 25th for Indira Gandhi's assassination, the Sikh riots, and Hum Log and the big golden 50 for Doordarshan. Even Maggi Noodles celebrated its 25th this year, riding on the popularity of Hum Log . That 2- minute tune that a whole generation of fans of instant noodles grew up on has grown too. Recent ads for Maggi noodles are a series of nostalgic stories about mera Maggi, narrated by those who are now sharing it with a whole new generation.
Maggi noodles might have been expanding its reach over the past 25 years, but Doordarshan's popularity waned in the face of cable and satellite growth. Nevertheless, there is a part of DD that endures for many in its ads, public service films, and Chitrahaar clips. There is a strong attachment to DD in this past avatar, and yet, for the average urban viewer, DD has long since faded into the background.
One of DD's first broadcasts, from a makeshift studio under AIR's shadow, was a shehnai recital by Ustad Bismillah Khan. DD was always big on cultural programmes, exposing its viewers to the fine arts of dance and music by broadcasting documentaries and recitals of the greats. It was a way to bring high art to the masses democratising access to art, as though it had always been in a vacuum, appreciated only by elites. It is a different matter that musical and dance traditions in India have always been fundamentally tied up with the publics that patronised them.
Far from being a preserve of the elite, they have emerged from the tension between that which is considered popular or ' low' art and that which is considered ' high' art. In the 1980s when DD had finally begun a National Programme, film based content was considered the Achilles heel of public service broadcasting.
Today, even DD couldn't ignore the enormous pull of contemporary popular culture celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with rousing musical offerings by A R Rahman.
It was a simultaneously fitting and ironic move for a public service broadcaster that saw ( and continues to see) itself as bringing high culture, education, and knowledge to the vast ignorant masses of India. Fitting, because Rahman's musical achievements have recently placed him in the category of the greats in Indian music today. Ironic, because DD has had to change a great deal of itself to bring together what it used to see as the popular with high forms of art. In this, the 50th year of DD, numerous journalists have gone over how DD has had to change itself to join in the competition that is the television industry today. There are also those who have looked back on what it is about DD that gives it a special place in a lot of people's lives especially for those of us who live in big urban centres like Delhi where DD was the first to start, and also the first to fade into the background with the coming of cable and foreign satellite channels.
There is an entire generation that grew up on programming on DD that was punctuated by one of the most popular of all visual art forms the advertisement. There were the serials Hum Log , Buniyaad , Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi , Tamas which are some of the best examples of television production in India and fondly remembered as well. But the advertisement was one of the most loved forms of mass communication it changed our relationship to consumption patterns and there's plenty of research and commentary to show that we've only intensified those early days of commercialism today. But those ads did more than create desires for things like Maggi noodles, Gold Spot and Cadburys.
Searching for " Doordarshan" on the Internet, once you get past the official website of the national and regional DD sites, you will find blogs and videos ( on YouTube) that are full of nostalgic reminiscences of " good old Doordarshan," or the " good old days." This is a mode of celebrating DD that is more discreet; perhaps because you have to go looking for it, it doesn't seek you out. And it is not on Doordarshan or any official website, but on one of the most democratic spaces on new media today YouTube where thousands of people have uploaded old DD advertisements, the signature opening tune of the national network, clips of newscasters ( remember Salma Sultan and her rose?), and of course Mile Sur Mera Tumhara and Ek Chidiya produced by the Films Division. This is a vast archive of DD memories around which a virtual community of urban fans is built, perhaps more enduring than Doordarshan itself today, because it thrives on nostalgia an idealisation, a fabrication of how things were.
So is it that for many, DD only survives as a nostalgic apparition? There is plenty that was wrong with the way DD was handled, the result of tight government control that plagued radio in India since colonial times and television after Independence. During the 1970s, DD expanded to many regional kendras and especially during the Emergency, became a direct instrument of Congress propaganda.
The 1980s saw programming that, an expert on the television industry told me, would rival the highest TRP shows on private television today. Initial planning sought to model DD on the BBC model of public broadcasting, where a network of independent licensed agencies produce television programmes without having to answer all the time to an interfering government. However, the Prasar Bharati Corporation has been wracked with allegations of corruption and inefficiency; DD has often bungled the many ways it could have continued to draw enterprising young directors, producers, and writers for television. We have no publically available archive of some of the most beloved DD serials, and plenty of archived material has also been lost
to bad storage or carelessness. In 1995, when the Supreme Court declared a government monopoly over the airwaves unconstitutional, it also declared that the airwaves were " public property." This has broadly been interpreted in such a way that has supported the rapid growth of satellite channels over the past 15 years, but has also diluted the significance of what the public stands to gain with the cultivation of a strong, vibrant, and most of all, appealing genre of public programming.
In a country where so many are still, after 62 years of Independence, illiterate, television can be a powerful medium of communication, but also of expression. In other international community based models of public broadcasting like National Public Radio ( NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service ( PBS) in America and BBC, a great deal of funding comes directly from the viewers and listeners that make up their demographic either as voluntary contributions or taxes.
This makes the viewers both the source from which legitimation for public broadcasting comes, and it has also encouraged more young people to become involved in televisual production for the community. This is something that the community media movement is trying to accomplish in India too, but it is still small. Too much of our television and radio programming is mortgaged to advertising revenue and by joining the race for those revenues, while still shackled to political influence, Doordarshan only further betrayed the potential it had gathered in the ' 80s to be a genuinely powerful public broadcaster.
A policy maker in Rajiv Gandhi's government once said about DD that it was like a guest in the homes of the
viewers. The problem with DD was that it too often entered like a droning lecturer, whose classes were broken up by catchy jingles.
Instead, if it had tried to enter as a friend, our relationship with it might have grown over the years, instead of being doomed to a nostalgic retreat to school every once in a while.
The writer is a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University, currently doing her field work in India
THE NET ASMEANS TO WAGE WAR ON FREEDOM
THE TERRORISTS have got it all wrong. When they attack buildings, kill people and commit arson just so they get their 15 minutes of fame on television, they are not really achieving anything, are they? Families lose their loved ones ( so much for the terrorists generating sympathy for their cause), property gets damaged ( which means now both private residents as well as the government get after you) and people lose property in arson, but as seen in the Mumbai attack last year, not their spirit.
In the end, you get bad press and even hatred from very community of people you supposedly protect by resorting to such tactics.
Which is why, I quite like the way the so- called " Iranian Cyber Army" hacked Twitter on Friday and posted pro- Iranian and anti- American messages on the world's most popular micro- blogging site. In one fell swoop, they had more than 50 million people from all over the world politicians, journalists, lawmakers, law enforcers, the military listening to what they had to say. It took Twitter more than three hours to
find out what had really happened before it managed to put the site back online. But the damage had been done. For a brief while, people on Twitter panicked and those who heard
Twitter has been hacked panicked too (" If they can hack Twitter, how safe are the others?").
They panicked not because they were scared; they panicked because they are so addicted to Twitter they were at a loss about what to do. And it is a scary feeling that not knowing what to do when you are online but the screen only blinks back.
But attacking the Internet as an instrument of war and politics is not new. Last August, when the Russian military was waging war with Georgia over South Ossetia, hackers from both countries were at each others' throats, trying to get their nation on the winning side, at least in the virtual world.
Earlier this year when the Iranian presidential elections were being held, it was Twitter that helped thousands of Iranian rebels to rally around and
create a movement against incumbent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
In the same uprising when Neda Agha Soltan a student was killed by a stray bullet while on her way to a rally, the video of her getting shot travelled around the world via YouTube and Twitter and the 27- year- old student became the mascot for the anti- establishment rallies.
But no single war effort has been as effective as Israel using the Internet against arch enemy Hamas early in January 2009. A New York Times report said: " The Israel Defense Forces, recognising that success in neutralising the Hamas movement in Gaza is as much a public relations challenge as a military one, has enlisted an arsenal of Internet tools to take their message directly to a global audience.
There is a military channel on the video- sharing site YouTube where you can watch suspected Hamas sites being obliterated by ordnance; blogs that spread the message of the foreign affairs ministry; and in the newest wrinkle, a news conference conducted through the microblogging service Twitter." Twitter was most effectively used during the 26/ 11 terror attacks, but when you want to influence opinion during a war or even a proxy war, there is no greater weapon than the Internet. It may not be the most coherent and it may not spell out the real purpose of the user's demands, but it is effective because it makes us feel vulnerable. In short, when you want effective rhetoric, go online.
3D television coming to the US err, what about India?
OK guys, time to feel deprived again. The Scandinavians went 4G this week, while we are still debating over 3G spectrum and the auctions get postponed each time they are announced. Now, on Friday, the Blu- Ray Disc Association has taken a giant step forward to get televisions to go 3D. Not that the concept of 3D movies is new. But the images were so low- resolution that it never took off.
But with Blu- Ray discs fast becoming the standard the world over in home entertainment, perhaps this time that 3D television may not look bad after all.
A report in the Los Angeles Times says: " Details on the first Blu- Ray machines equipped for full- on 3- D are expected at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January and then be available later in the year. It's also expected that recent 3- D movies such as Avatar will be coming out in formats that can be played by the new disc machines.
Current Blu- ray players aren't able to handle the new format, but the upcoming 3- D machines are expected to be backward compatible in that they'll be able to show regular, 2- D discs." Blu- Ray disc players and discs are just beginning to go mainstream in India, but are quite expensive. Given the quality of the stuff that you can watch, it won't be long before it goes mainstream.
IMPOSSIBLE IS NO WORD THESE DAYS
TECHNOLOGY writer and columnist David Coursey says Apple and Microsoft may team up to fight Google. After fighting for more than three decades, the two technology giants have realised that they cannot take on Google independently.
Coursey says: " On the basis that ' my enemy's enemy is my friend', Apple and Microsoft could find that competing with Google requires both their efforts, with Microsoft able to provide web applications that Apple doesn't want to build. ( Or does it, since Apple has been making some moves on the mapping front?). This is all very speculative at this point, but competition is a good thing and, working together, Apple and Microsoft may be able to take the fight to Google in ways not previously possible."
RESOLVE PRIVACY ISSUE ONCE AND FOR ALL
I don't know about you, but I am getting a bit cheesed off with all the debate over privacy on Facebook. The social networking site has more than 350 million users, so what it does in the name of privacy is important. But the way it is going about doing it makes me wonder if it is just another start- up. It was about time therefore that lawyers took the company to court to resolve the dispute.
Earlier this week, the Mark Zuckerberg- led Facebook highlighted the privacy changes on its site, though much to the chagrin of human rights activists.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights organisation led by guitarist John Perry Barlow, said it was forced to file a suit because Facebook never responded to their queries.
" Millions of people use social networking sites like Facebook every day, disclosing lots of information about their private lives," said James Tucker, a student working with EFF through the Samuelson Clinic.
" As Congress debates new privacy laws covering sites like Facebook, lawmakers and voters alike need to know how the government is already using this data and what is at stake." It added: " When several agencies did not respond to the FOIA requests, the Samuelson Clinic filed a suit on behalf of EFF. The lawsuit demands processing and release of records concerning policies for the use of social networking sites in government investigations."
BHUTANESE KING TO CEMENT INDIA TIES
BY DIPANJAN ROY CHAUDHURY IN NEW DELHI
BHUTAN King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck will arrive in India on Monday. This is the 29- year- old's first state visit abroad after his coronation as the fifth King of Bhutan.
The visit is expected to deepen bilateral ties in wide- ranging areas. A couple of agreements on hydro- power and economy are expected to be inked during Namgyel's six- day visit.
As he meets India's top leadership, defence personnel and senior bureaucrats the Army chief and national security adviser included discussions are also expected to focus on security matters and bilateral defence ties.
A series of meetings have been lined up for the visiting monarch. President Pratibha Patil, Vice- President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, foreign minister S. M. Krishna, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P. Chidambaram will exchange views on bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest with Namgyel.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi who is also the United Progressive Alliance ( UPA) chairperson will also call on the King.
Both Chidambaram and Krishna had visited Thimpu earlier this year after the UPA was voted back to power. A memorandum of understanding ( MoU) on Nehru- Wangchuck scholarships was inked during Krishna's visit.
The visit will be an occasion to reconnect with each other as President Patil, Sonia Gandhi and Mukherjee ( then foreign minister) were pres- ent at Namgyel's coronation ceremony in November 2008.
On December 23, the King will inaugurate a photo exhibition on Bhutan at the National Gallery of Modern Art, entitled ' Bhutan: An Eye to History'. The exhibition will showcase the early photographic records of Bhutan from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection will also include the photographs taken by the King himself. On the same evening, he will also deliver the Madhavrao Scindia Memorial Lecture at Teen Murti Auditorium.
" His Majesty's first state visit to India will be an important milestone in further promoting the goodwill, understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation between Bhutan and India," the Bhutanese foreign ministry said in a statement.
The monarch will be accompanied by his foreign minister Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering and economic affairs minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk.
India and Bhutan modernised their multi- faceted ties during Namgyel's last visit here in February 2007 by signing a revised treaty of friendship and cooperation that gave Thimphu more freedom in the crucial areas of foreign policy and nonlethal military purchases provided it does not impinge on New Delhi's interests.
THIEVES DECAMP WITH AUSCHWITZ CAMP SIGN
THIEVES on Friday stole the infamous Nazi German ' Arbeit macht frei' sign from the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, the police said.
The sign, which means " Work Will Set You Free" in German, became a symbol of the horror of the death camp where about 1.1 million prisoners, mainly Jewish, died during World War II, most in the notorious gas chambers.
The police said the theft may have been ordered by a private collector or a group of individuals. " A worldwide symbol of the cynicism of Hitler's executioners and the martyrdom of their victims has been stolen. This act deserves the strongest possible condemnation," Polish President Lech Kaczynski said.
His Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres was quoted as saying by his office: " The sign holds deep historical meaning for both Jews and non- Jews alike as a symbol of the more than one million lives that perished at Auschwitz." Camp survivors also decried the theft. " In taking this historic symbol, the perpetrators wanted to destroy history and committed this perverse act in order to revive Nazism," Raphael Esrail, 84, president of the Union of Auschwitz Deportees in France, said.
The 16- foot- long sign was forged by prisoners on the orders of the Nazis, who set up the camp after invading Poland in 1939.
" The sign was not hard to unhook from above the entrance gate but you needed to know how," Mensfelt said.
THE PRIME Minister's dinner diplomacy prior to leaving for Copenhagen gave the Andhra Pradesh MPs an opportunity to mend fences with the Congress high command.
At the dinner, meant for UPA constituents, late chief minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy's son, Jaganmohan, tried to make up for the embarrassment he had caused the Congress by joining the anti- Telangana Telugu Desam Party MPs in the well of the Lok Sabha.
He tried to chat up with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Another Congress MP, Subbirami Reddy, escorted Jagan to Sonia, but she ignored them and continued to talk to others. Jagan and Subbirami hung around for a while and melted away after a few minutes.
REMEMBER the FIR filed against a prominent Samajwadi Party politician in Kanpur some time ago? After the Allahabad High Court ruled that the FIR wouldn't be quashed, the home ministry referred the case to the enforcement directorate ( ED).
This made the bulky politician huff and puff.
In distress, he approached the topmost brass of the finance ministry and the ED bosses were promptly advised to take a lenient view. So much so that the task of investigating the case was assigned to a state police officer of the politician's choice! It has now come to light that the politician is in close touch with the investigating officer. Some say the police officer informs the politician of the questions he would ask him a couple of days in advance so that he can prepare the replies. Connections, truly, come to one's rescue these days!
THE TELANGANA fire has created a piquant situation for the Congress and party president Sonia Gandhi.
The party cancelled its daily briefings in Parliament for four consecutive days from Tuesday in the wake of the imbroglio.
Not only that, the customary Congress Parliamentary Party ( CPP) meeting was not held at all till Friday, when the Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die and most MPs left for their constituencies.
Party sources said Sonia shied away from the CPP fearing that the Andhra MPs may raise the uncomfortable Telangana pitch there.
NEW defence secretary Pradeep Kumar has a curious style of functioning.
He does not interact with the military, the media or even the joint secretaries of the department.
Old- timers say the joint secretaries are the cutting edge of policy- making.
But Kumar believes their files need to be filtered through another layer of the ministry bureaucracy before it reaches him. So the joint secretaries do not get to meet him unless they are specifically invited to attend a meeting in his room.
This is far from the past practice of a defence secretary having independent channels of communication on the basis of one- to- one interactions with the joint secretaries.
So, many of the ministry's joint secretaries also have taken to enjoying the life outside the office more. Some of them are even seen taking their morning walks at the capital's Lodhi Gardens at nine in the morning. Earlier, their office used to start buzzing by that time.
TIMES OF INDIA
MILES TO GO BEFORE WE SLEEP...
What a rude awakening. A survey says that a big majority of us desis are sleep-deprived. Indians don't get the perfect eight hours of mandatory drool time in la-la-land. Nearly 58 per cent of respondents say their productivity suffers. Many even doze off at work, much like parliamentarians during Budget speeches. And here we thought people were only sleepless in Siachen...or is it Seattle? We midnight's children can see why Deve Gowda was clicked so often snoozing in public appearances, paradoxically displaying all the classic symptoms of hypersomnia. As MAD Magazine once noted, you're in trouble when you wake up from deep sleep to take a nap. In this case, someone woke up from deep political sleep to take a prime ministerial nap.
Sleep scientists trace many disasters to human error produced by bleary eyes, from nuclear installation mishaps to oil spills off Alaska. Recall also Charles Lindbergh's solo transatlantic flight in 1927. Not having rested pre-takeoff, he said he nearly crashed fobbing off sleep along with gravity. Similar things happen when (a) parties sleep with the enemy under post-poll coalitional compulsion and (b) resulting 'alternative front' motley crews spend honeymoon nights choosing a 'consensus' (read suitably dormant) PM nominee to foist on unsuspecting compatriots.
On sleep shortage, we're in august company though. War explained Napoleon's and Churchill's unearthly hours. The night owls customarily catnapped. In ex-British PM Maggie Thatcher's case, bedtime, it's said, didn't last even four hours. But the Iron Lady took no Gowda-style power-naps in public. Some say the ultimate test out there is achieving a no-snores feat during rambling speeches at the UN. Who, after all, could have been wakefulness incarnate during Krishna Menon's eight-hour gabathon in 1957, selling India's stand on Kashmir? With that possible put-off, New Delhi still spends sleepless nights over J&K over five decades later. Poetic injustice.
Conversely, many netas, babus and other watchdogs lose no sleep over anything, be it potato prices, potholes or Ponzi schemes. It's called on-duty sleepwalking. In spirit, they side with George Bush, who put seven hours under his belt while Saddam impersonators did nocturnal recces on snooze-bunkers for the original. On repose, you're either with Bush, or against Bush. Kalashnikov is 'with': he said he "slept sound" despite inventing killer-gun AK-47. Our own Karunanidhi is 'against', self-confessedly "unable to sleep" due to the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. Only, his insomnia bouts seem to coincide with rivals milking this sleeper hit of a political issue.
The rest of drowsy humanity can take heart from a research finding: dreaming during daytime naps aids creative problem-solving. It's rock lore that the base riff for the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction came to guitarist Keith Richards during rapid eye movement slumber. So there's no way the world can get no satisfaction from our shut-eyes at politically incorrect hours. Sweet dreams are made of these...Uh oh. Sleeping Gowda's just walked into this dream, saying: What did I tell ya?
TIMES OF INDIA
INDIAN INSTITUTE OF IDIOTS
I avoid columns on the Indian education system as it is not good for my health. For days, my blood continues to boil, i have insomnia and i feel like hurting someone real bad. The system is a problem that can be fixed. It affects the country's future, impacts almost every family, everyone knows about it and it is commercially viable to fix it. Still, nothing happens because of our great Indian culture of avoiding change at all costs. And because change means sticking out your neck and that, ironically, is something we are not taught to do.
Still, with a movie coming on the education system, which came about because of a book i wrote nearly six years ago, it is important to revisit the issues. Soon, all the media will talk about is the anatomy, diet and romantic chemistry of the main actors. While that makes insightful breakfast , it is also important to understand the main problems with our education system that need to be fixed or, rather, should have been fixed 10 years ago.
There are two main problems: one, the supply of good seats and, two, the actual course content and intent behind education.
The first issue is about the supply of A-grade institutions vs the number of A-grade potential students. With one crore students taking the class XII exam each year, the top 10 per cent, the high potential population by any global standard, deserves a world-class institution. That means we need 10 lakh good, A-grade, branded college seats per year. Either the government provides them, or they work with private participants to make it happen. Until that is done, the scramble for seats will be worse than a peak hour Virar fast. No amount of well-meant advice to parents to go easy on kids, telling children to not take stress, will work. I'm sorry, if i have a child who i think is bright, i will fight to make sure he has a good college. If the number of seats is well below the required number, the fight is going to be bloody and ugly. And that is what happens every year.
What makes me most curious is: why doesn't the government fix it? Real estate and faculty are often the biggest requirements in creating a university. The government has plenty of land. And any advertisement for government teaching jobs gets phenomenal responses. After this, there could be running costs. However, most parents are happy to pay reasonable amounts for college. With coaching classes charging crazy amounts, parents are already spending so much anyway. I understand Indians send $7 billion (over Rs 30,000 crore) as outward remittance for Indian students studying abroad. Part of that money would be diverted inwards if good colleges were available here. The government can actually make money if it runs universities, and add a lot more value to the country than, say, by running the embarassing Air India which flushes crores down the drain every day.
Why can't Delhi University replicate itself, at four times the size, in the outskirts of Gurgaon? The existing professors will get more senior responsibilities, new teachers will get jobs and the area will develop. If we can have kilometre-long malls and statues that cost hundreds of crores, why not a university that will pay for itself? This is so obvious that the young generation will say: Duh!?
The education system's second problem: the course content itself. What do we teach in and college? And how much do you use it in daily life later? Ask yourself, has the world changed in the last 20 years? If yes, has our course content changed at the same pace? Has it even changed at all? Who are the people changing our course materials? Do they have real life corporate exposure?
I am not saying we only to get a job (though many, many Indians actually do it with that main intention). However, even in the 'quest for knowledge' goal of education, our course materials fall short. We emphasise sticking to the course, testing endlessly how well the student has revised his lessons. We treat lessons as rules to be adhered to, and the better you conform, the more likely you are to score. I hated it personally, and i am sure millions do too but they have no choice. Innovation, imagination and creativity crucial for the country as well as more likely to bring the best out of any student have no place in our education system. In fact, we actually ensure we kill this spirit in the child as fast as possible. Because innovation by definition means challenging the existing way, and that is just not something good Indian kids who respect elders do.
The cycle perpetuates itself, and we continue to create a second-rate society of followers rather than change-embracing leaders. I have hope that the current generation will break this norm and start questioning the great Indian way. I have hope that the current HRD minister will acknowledge this problem and do something. I have hope that Indians will start questioning any politician they meet on what they are doing about the education system at every place possible. I have hope that people will realise that making new states is less important than making new state universities. Maybe i am right, maybe my hope is justified and maybe i will live to see the change. Or maybe i've got it all wrong, my optimism is misplaced and i am just, as they say, one of the Idiots.
The writer is a best-selling novelist.
TIMES OF INDIA
DIVORCE LAWS NEED UPDATING
laws in our country belong to an era that has long elapsed. But the laws have neither kept pace nor do they take into account the altered socio-economic realities of contemporary India. This is highlighted, once more, by the recent controversy surrounding grounds for divorce following Smriti Shinde's petition to the apex court urging it to consider granting unilateral divorce when a has irretrievably broken down. The Supreme Court itself is ambivalent about where it stands on the matter.
Under the Hindu Marriage Act or the Special Marriage Act, there are no provisions that recognise "irretrievable breakdown" or "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for granting when it is not a mutually consensual decision. However, in 2006, the apex court granted divorce in the Naveen Kohli vs Neelu Kohli case, precisely because of irretrievable breakdown of marriage. But, early this year, another SC bench refused to entertain this argument in the Vishnu Dutt Sharma vs Manju Sharma case. It decided to stick to the letter of the law.
This is as good a time as any for the laws governing divorce to be updated. In doing so, the issue must not be looked at through a moral prism alone. As Indians interface with the world and are exposed to new ideas and opportunities, there is bound to be a social churn, which impacts on personal affairs like marriage and family relations. Add to this the fact that more women today are economically more independent and assertive of their rights and choices. Divorce must be seen as a social reality, unfortunate though it might be, and not as a social evil.
There are of course legitimate concerns that waiving the mutual consent clause to grant divorce in cases of irreparable marital breakdown would put women in a vulnerable position. But that cannot be used as an excuse to deny those who would genuinely benefit from easing the process of obtaining a divorce. As things stand, one has to go through a lengthy, convoluted and extremely stressful procedure to get a divorce. It's time that changed.
TIMES OF INDIA
DEBRAY GROWLS AT A WORLD IN CHAOS
To engage in a conversation with Regis Debray, one of France's most stimulating public intellectuals, is to expose oneself to an avalanche of unorthodox ideas. From the study of his fourth-floor apartment in the Latin Quarter he casts a disabused glance at the chaos assailing the world from all sides. Aeons ago, after disastrous stints in the company of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, he renounced all craving to change the course of history through an armed, left-wing revolution. His flirtations with democratic socialism first with Chile's Salvador Allende and later with Francois Mitterand of France also proved to be short-lived.
Once he bade farewell to any direct truck with the political establishment, Debray devoted all his time and energies to what he believed was his true vocation: writing. Over the past quarter of a century his output novels, extended essays, columns in the press, books on art, religion and 'medialogy' (a discipline he claims to have forged) has been prolific. Each publication generated fierce controversy. His critics, especially on the left, have damned him for promoting ideas that they think belong to another, reactionary age: the importance of the state and nation, the need for a robust national identity, the role of religion in human affairs and so forth.
Debray, now touching 70, asserts time and again that he has been, remains, and will be a materialist, an agnostic, a man of the left but with a Gaullist underpinning. In his most recent book, The Fraternity Moment, he rails against what he calls the 'religion of the contemporary West'. The central beliefs of this 'religion' relate to activism about human rights; a preference for unabashed individualism to the detriment of the common good; an endorsement of the market ideology as the be all and end all of human progress; a condescending attitude towards other faiths and cultures in the name of pluralism and tolerance; a subservience to the 'videosphere' (where the image reigns) at the cost of the tried and tested value of the 'graphosphere' (where the printed word is supreme.)
What keeps the world spinning today, he argues in substance, is shallow and ephemeral enthusiasm in the realms of politics, intellectual endeavour and the arts. In each case the yearning is for instant fame, not reputation, for money, not achievement. Even more shallow, and infinitely more dangerous, is collective religious fervour and the resurgence of narrow identities. No less worrisome is the homogenisation of cultures.
All this explains, he says, why China, quite apart from its imperial ambition, is a banal country or why Japan's quest for identity is so troubling. America, as is evident from its misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, cannot look beyond its nose. A wave of mediocrity sweeps across the length and breadth of Europe. The warriors of Islam battle against emptiness.
And India? Debray says that India was once known in the outside world for its poverty and spiritual lore. Today, it is known for its impressive economic growth, its achievements in high-end technology, the drive of its entrepreneurs and its vibrant democracy. What is missing, however, is what and Nehru ensured for India: a very special voice in the comity of nations.
What the international community desperately needs now, he concludes, are strong states. For, when a state begins to withdraw from public life, the clergy move in, the banker calls the shots, the mafia advances. Moreover, individuals, communities and nations need frontiers or markers to defend their specific identity. The abolition of frontiers, much like mass migrations across national borders, leads to an upsurge of bigotry. It heralds the return of the barbarian.
This does not mean erecting walls between communities and nations. Rather we need to build bridges provided water flows beneath them. And by water Debray means fraternity between peoples rooted in their cultures and specific ways of life and in a humanism bereft of double-think and double-speak. Trust Debray the quintessential 'committed spectator' of human grandeur and human follies to light firecrackers beneath the seats of power, religious authority, do-gooder secularism, and wealth. That is why to emerge from a conversation with him is akin to stepping out from a sauna.
TIMES OF INDIA
TOO MANY BREAKDOWNS
NAOMI D' SOUZA
Smriti Shinde's petition to the Supreme Court to allow for irretrievable breakdown as grounds for divorce essentially the no-fault divorce seems, prima facie, to be a good suggestion. Who, after all wants to be trapped in a -in-name-only, in which neither party is happy, but one party holds on out of spite or fear of recrimination? But deeper investigation will reveal that unilateral divorce would be nowhere near as beneficial for women as its proponents are claiming.
Supporters of no-fault think that the provision would help women trapped in unhappy marriages, beholden to their husbands for financial stability, who would not be able to get consent from their partners for the dissolution of a marriage under the Hindu Marriage Act. But the law doesn't distinguish between the or wife, so a husband would be entitled to seek unilateral divorce just as much as his wife. That means that men who are looking for a quick bailout could use it to take the easy way out of a marriage that is proving to be inconvenient. It cuts both ways and if men use it to get out of marriage, it would leave women even more disadvantaged than before, because the wife in that situation would have no grounds to claim spousal support.
Consider, also, the problems that could arise from making divorce too easy. Marriage is the institution on which human civilisation rests, and to destroy it easily by facilitating a no-fault divorce might shake the foundations of our society. Take the example of the United States. All US states, except for New York, have adopted no-fault divorce, with an unsurprising increase in the divorce rate. Continuing with the American example, statistics show that over 80 per cent of no-fault divorces are unilateral, which means that no-fault laws leave the party not in favour of divorce unable to do anything to save their marriage. Further operational details are also problematic. No-fault would mean that judges would have free reign, more or less, in deciding on issues of custody and asset division, which would lead to arbitrary decisions based on subjective criteria.
India's divorce laws are complicated, true, and do need to be looked at and simplified. But adding no-fault divorce to existing divorce laws wouldn't do that it would merely complicate it further.
DIGRESSION TO OPPOSITION
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been talking about unveiling BJP Version 2.1 for a while. But like all re-branding exercises that come only after an existential crisis, this, too, took much prodding from shareholders to make the transition happen. The appointment of Sushma Swaraj as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha was a logical decision.
Two things in the BJP's internal politics made this obvious transition seem radical: procrastination and the jousting of egos. The 'elevation' of L.K. Advani to the role of a mentor as Parliamentary Party Chairman hopefully will take care of the earlier rumblings between the RSS and the BJP as well as those within the party. Success in the BJP's post-90s political yatra threw up a visible leadership; but failure since the Lok Sabha elections in May made the 'party with a difference' a cacophony of differences.
Less obvious has been the change of guard in the BJP's presidency. Rajnath Singh's tenure was marked, at best, by irrelevancy, and at worst, by self-destruction. The relatively unknown figure of Nitin Gadkari taking over should be seen as an act of fumigation. For the nation's main Opposition party to have turned itself into the source of a minor soap opera must have required dollops of political bankruptcy. And in the past one year, there was plenty of this that the BJP showcased. It is to the credit of Ms Swaraj that she has been able to perform her function as a senior Opposition leader, especially inside Parliament, even while the BJP ship seemed to ram the proverbial iceberg. The party now has to make use of the rapprochement made with the RSS, which under Mohan Bhagwat realised that a prod and a push were necessary for the BJP to stand up and be counted again.
In a political atmosphere veering towards piecemeal regionalism, the BJP is still the antipode to the ruling coalition. The new dispensation will not automatically get the BJP back on track. Which is why the daisy chain between Mr Advani playing Dronacharya and Ms Swaraj holding the reins of the chariot and the more bureaucratic Mr Gadkari needs to hold. The return of the BJP is eagerly awaited not only by its still-unsettled supporters but also by the nation at large. All it has to do to start off things on a positive note is to get back to business as usual as the main Opposition party of India and stop being the digression it has become.
The visible hand - Differential calculus
Taking over as Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India has meant adapting to changes -some obvious and some more subtle THE HARDEST LEARNING THAT I AM EXPECTED TO DO CONCERNS SPEECH. THE ART OF POLITICAL SPEECH IS TO SAY THINGS THAT SOUND MEANINGFUL BUT ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO PIN DOWN. NO ONE CAN SAY WHAT YOU SAID IS WRONG BECAUSE NO ONE CAN SAY WHAT YOU SAID
This was my first week in office as Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India and this will be my last column. As I enter my new life, there will clearly have to be many adjustments; and the loss of my column and the accompanying sense of wistfulness is just one.
The changes were apparent the very first day I arrived at my office in the North Block within the imposing ramparts of Lutyens' New Delhi. As I got out of my Ambassador car with my weather-beaten briefcase and cheap laptop, two persons emerged from nowhere and whisked these out of my hand.
My first instinct was to run after them and recover my belongings. My usual experience, for instance, when going somewhere with my wife, is to have heavy things given to me, not taken from me. The only times I have had things taken from me has been in mugging incidents, such as the one in Venice.
Relieved of my bags, I walked jauntily into the high-ceilinged building. As I approached my office and reached out to push open the huge wooden door, my men Friday did it for me. In these five days, I have not once touched the office door when getting in. It is like those airport doors with sensors that open up automatically when people approach them.
The hardest learning that I am expected to do is not about these mechanical and, in some ways, trivial matters, but concerns speech. The problem stems from the fact that I speak clearly. The art of political speech is apparently to say things that sound meaningful but are impossible to pin down.
No one can say what you said is wrong because no one can say what you said.
I now realise that I had, prophetically, created a character like this in my sole literary venture -- the play Crossings at Benaras Junction, which appeared in The Little Magazine in 2005. There is a sham travel agency that organises tours for foreigners. The travel guide, Lachhu, is a street-smart ignoramus.
No one can ever accuse Lachhu of giving wrong information because he has mastered the art of indecipherable speech. When a group of travellers from Europe ask Lachhu about the history of Benaras, Lachhu is on the mat, but recovers quickly: "Benaras is valdest city... Wayne the tame cum the river Ganga the people catlest the centium dreem...." The foreigners nod unsurely and Lachhu's confidence picks up: "Gem kalidusten gest come. Ve de mandareen kartejenna ven ten lethen is Agra, Jaipur, ... and the Benaras city."
Since I mentioned the Venice mugging incident, let me complete the story because it is one achievement I am proud of. Also, it illustrates the art of translating theory (in this case, game theory) to practice, something that I will have to do in my new job.
My wife and I had bought ice-cream from a roadside stall just outside St. Marks Square. The best time for a mugger to strike (I realised later) is when both hands are occupied juggling cones. And indeed, within minutes of buying ice-cream, I realised my wallet was gone. It had money, credit cards and travel documents. Alaka wanted to rush to the nearest police station. I felt that would be useful service to Venice but of no use to us, and I was not feeling charitable. I told her that there were two possibilities. Either the thief had run into the milling crowds in the main square or was still in the small cluster of people buying ice-cream. If it was the former, the wallet was lost; if the latter, there was some hope. Just then a young couple walked away from the group licking ice-cream. There was some probability -- they fitted the age-profile of pick-pockets -- that they could be the culprits; so we began tailing them. If they were guilty, they would soon check if we were still behind them, I reasoned to myself. Soon they paused to look into a shop window and casually turned back. So we also turned back. I told Alaka I was now almost certain that they had taken it. Alaka did not believe me but, being intrepid in these matters, promptly walked up to them and asked if they had seen anybody fishy near the ice-cream vendor since we had lost our wallet there. To this the man turned his pocket inside out and said, "Check my pocket if you think I have taken it." I told Alaka, in Bengali, that that response clearly confirmed his guilt. And I got aggressive and insisted that he allow me to check his back-pack. He agreed and said that, since we were in the middle of the street, we should move to a side. As we did so, his girlfriend moved away.
The readiness with which he opened his bag made me signal to Alaka not to let the girlfriend out of sight. Alaka was clearly now persuaded for she literally held the girl physically.
As the man rummaged around in his bag, I threatened to call the police. The game, he realised, was up. He asked me to speak softly and called his girlfriend. The wallet emerged from her back-pack.
Late that night my wife and I walked to the same vendor to have another round of ice-cream to make sure that we did not get scarred for life with a phobia of street-corner ice-cream.
The views expressed by the author are personal
SPEAKEASY - NOT JUST A FAST TRACK TO FAME
STARVATION IS BEING MISUSED AS A TOOL FOR POLITICAL BLACKMAIL. THIS TRIVIALISES ITS USEFULNESS
Irom Sharmila fasts for nine years on a patently legitimate demand backed by popular opinion and nothing happens. K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) fasts for eleven days on a demand whose legitimacy is not established, and the government buckles. KCR hits the fast track and becomes the hottest brand in national politics on a purely local issue. Sharmila is put away on a suicide charge for making a demand with national implications -- repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which suspends civil rights and legalises murder and torture. One has to ask: are some Indians more valuable than others?
It appears so. Andhra Pradesh is crucially important to national parties.
Manipur is not. This perception has actuated a differential response from the State: Sharmila was slapped with a criminal charge and force-fed, while KCR was not. The political crisis he was trying to precipitate dominated the news. The larger crisis of State violence that Sharmila wishes to draw attention to was indefinitely postponed by forcefeeding her, and hiding her away from public view in a jail cell. The State's differential response has devalued the political and moral status of fasting. It is a form of protest that was instrumental in securing our freedom. And it is suspected to be of ancient, proto-Aryan origin.
Take Ireland, which apparently shares more with India than the colours of its national flag. Speculative theories pro- pose that the Celtic races could mark the western limit of the Aryan migration. Apart from linguistic features, Ireland shares two cultural mark ers with India: the hors sacrifice, and fasting as a political rather than religious act. We associate fasting with Gandhi, Gautama, Mahavira and Bharata, but some readers may also remember Bobby Sands of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army, who led the 1981 hunger strike at the Long Kesh prison and was elected to British Parliament before he died of starvation. Thousands of Irish nationalist protesters had gone on hunger strike before him. It's a tradition stretching back almost a century to 1917, to Thomas Ashe, who died in Mountjoy Prison due to force-feeding. The very tactic which is being used on Sharmila by the post-colonial Indian State.Fasting as a form of protest was written into the legal code of pre-Christian Ireland. It was legitimate for the wronged to fast on the doorstep of their oppressors -- or of the State -- to shame them and to secure justice. At the eastern rim of the presumed domain of Aryan culture, this is precisely what the people of Manipur are trying to do. And in rejecting their claim while accommodating KCR, the State has cheapened the great tradition of fasting as legitimate protest.
After the drama in Hyderabad and Delhi, while Gorkha activists were on hunger strike in Darjeeling, commentators and talking heads were offering to fast to secure trivial political aims. They were ridiculing fasting as blackmail. They could afford to. They would never need to fast, except while on a diet or for Karva Chauth. But what would we have the powerless do? They can use peaceful protest as a calling attention motion, or they can take to insurgency. With its differential reaction to KCR and Sharmila, the home ministry has effectively devalued peace and promoted violence.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed by the author are personal
From the perspectives of both the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the government's rural sanitation programme, linking the two together makes perfect sense. Thus, Union Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi's statement that the government is considering the said interlinking to eradicate open defecation by 2010 raises hopes for the Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) to cover a lot more of the remaining 40-odd per cent of rural India much sooner than otherwise. Channelling NREGS funds for material and labour into rural sanitation will also boost the way India thinks about and provides public goods in its villages.
Significantly, the NREGS which creates public goods without calling for special skills conceptualises its projects locally. This is aimed at ensuring local decision-making, community participation and efficient utilisation of resources. In other words, each village articulates its peculiar needs and sets out to meet them, mitigating to a great extent the drawbacks of top-down Central or state-level determined schemes that usually misread local conditions. The NREGS has, however, been performing below its potential and public health in India has, till recently, concerned almost wholly subsidised treatment rather than prevention of disease. So, interlinking NREGS works with the TSC is an important step.
However, the rural sanitation project, linked with the NREGS, should also evolve into a holistic rural health programme. An inventory of necessary public goods for better rural health would include not just covered pit latrines but also clean drinking water, scientific and functioning garbage disposal, drainage and sewerage systems and eradication of pests. Moreover, since the NREGS already involves grassroots decision-making, the interlinking would help generate awareness about hygiene and sanitation. This will be an integrated, but locally nuanced, approach to asset creation and maintenance that will provide for rural India's foremost socio-economic imperatives: employment and public health.
CURED BY THE CODE
This week scientists announced that they have successfully mapped the entire genetic codes for two types of cancer. Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Britain have unlocked the genetic code for skin and lung cancers. These developments have predictably inspired a stocktaking of the pace and future uses of human genome research. And at the end of a decade that began with a frenetic race to put in the public domain the human genetic code, they help put in context the great claims made for genetic treatment.
Pioneers like Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project and is now director of the US National Institutes of Health, have been emphatic that there could come a tipping point when genetic research into different cancers will start producing benefits. On that timeline, the lung and skin cancer maps are a key milestone. Cancer complications essentially draw from abnormalities in DNA sequences. For instance, scientists have zeroed in on more than 23,000 mutations in the DNA code for lung cancer and 30,000 for melanoma. This sort of sequencing has huge implications for diagnostic and treatment options. Given that early detection can be key for cancer treatment and that current methods of treatment can be very searching, the probable benefits of further research are obvious. The genetic maps also reiterate possible causes of certain cancers; for instance the errors in the lung cancer sequences show a clear correlation to exposure to cigarette smoke. (Already, in a matter of days the Sanger Institute's suggestion that a typical smoker develops one mutation per 15 cigarettes smoked has become the most popular statistic floating around.) For melanoma, the connection with exposure to the sun has been reaffirmed. And with the international consortium investigating different cancers in different parts of the world, the research will be valuable in ways of preventing them. In India they are studying mouth cancers, the rampant incidence of which is only just drawing coherent public health policy on awareness, diagnosis and treatment.
This decade also began with a raging debate on how much of genome research must be in the public domain. These breakthroughs in cancer research are once again a call to cooperation.
At long last, the BJP has decided to reshuffle its top management Sushma Swaraj takes over from L.K. Advani as leader in the Lok Sabha, and Rajnath Singh is expected to hand over to Nitin Gadkari as party president. Advani has been kicked upstairs rather nicely, and as parliamentary party chairman, he will ensure that Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley are technically on par, and ostensibly provide sage counsel from above. The RSS has been pressing hard on the BJP to effect this organisational shake-up, and it has, inevitably, been cause for much bitter jostling and warring within the party.
But the point is, how persuasive is the BJP's makeover? The faces may be younger, but they employ the same curdled rhetoric. Since the Lok Sabha results the party has done nothing to convince that it is serious about eliminating the ideological deadwood. The BJP's infighting and floundering have ensured that the country has functioned without a real opposition, despite there being all too much to oppose the government on. Whether it is price rise, climate change or handling of the Telangana issue, the BJP has been unable to control the conversation or figure out where its centre of gravity lies. At one point, it seemed that the BJP would try and reinvent itself from the right and yet, during the Liberhan ruckus, a moment of real reckoning, it failed. What we heard was not a unified swell, but many small sniping voices hoping to play it every way. If the BJP cannot present a solid façade at a crucial moment like this, how can it be entrusted with potentially running the country? After all, despite the mortal drift, it still commands 116 seats and therefore retains the responsibility of making a meaningful intervention in the way we are governed.
At the core of all this is one simple question: who's the boss of the BJP? Are these decisions being remote-controlled by the RSS, or are these the party's natural choices? The tension within the BJP and RSS might not have mattered when they were all one big movement, but to function as an autonomous political party takes some growing up. The party's decisions and decision-makers have to clarify their functioning, and take ownership for their actions. If not, they end up dissipating whatever remaining credibility they have.
HITLER IN STOCK MARKET
Friday morning, every week, I have a private, intimate conversation with news TV: I have watched you the whole week, you were just so amazing, but now I gotta stop and think which amazing bits do I share with the reader, so don't do anything amazing while I write the column, OK, please? News TV doesn't stop amazing me, of course. But I have worked out a compromise regular amazing stuff I'll catch up with later. What if, though, it is amazing, amazing stuff? Then, my larger responsibility to society as a journalist enjoins me to start writing all over again. Which is to say, it would have been unforgivable on my part to make you wait till next Saturday to tell you that this Friday morning CNBC was talking about Hitler.
Yup. Hitler on CNBC. Stock exchanges want to extend stock market trading hours, some brokers are reportedly unhappy. Exclusively on CNBC, Shankar Sharma an ex-market trader who's barred from trading for now (for alleged misdemeanours) told us the stock exchanges' decision was reminiscent of Hitler's Germany. Oh boy, I thought, amazing, amazing stuff. But Sharma was just warming up. I really pine for the '80s and '90s, he said, when brokers could have gone on strike. Why can't brokers go on strike now? Because, as Sharma pointed out, a terrible thing has happened there's a regulator now and this has emasculated brokers.
CNBC anchors were listening with rapt attention. They didn't cut in to say, excuse me, Shankar, are you serious about comparing BSE, NSE to Hitler, or, Shankar, are you really suggesting a market without a regulator is better than one with it, or Shankar, could you rethink on that bit about '80s/'90s being a better time, because we (CNBC) are running a show that's saying the last 10 years have been India's best decade, indeed we are saying India is only 10 years old, so although you are a star panellist and all that, can't you see you are putting us in a difficult spot?
If you are ever late for office, say this to your boss, and tell him you heard the argument from a celebrated analyst (Sharma) on a premier business news channel (CNBC), and so it must be right: You are a fat cat, boss, therefore you live close to office, but me, I have to commute from far, so don't ask me to come on time, change office timings instead, otherwise I will go on strike and you are a fascist. And if you sack me, I will become a CNBC panellist.
In America, by the way, NYSE opens very early and some trading options are open 23 hours a day. But what do Americans know, huh? Yanks are afraid of us, anyway. They are? Didn't you watch Times Now?
Times Now, as ever defending the country's honour, decided to take on Fox News's Glenn Beck. He is an American television provocateur who cracked some silly jokes on the Ganges. Times Now thundered: why are they saying this about us? The answer, from a Newshour panellist: America is mortified that India will beat it in every goddamned department. Yes! We have beaten them on software, the Times Now panellist said, we have beaten them in knowledge sectors and now they are worried we will beat them on healthcare. Yes, yes, yes! Amazing, amazing, amazing stuff!
I love this part of my job. Because although I think Americans are not doing too badly on software, knowledge production, healthcare, etc, vis-a-vis us, I know, by virtue of writing this column, we have beaten Yanks on news TV.
BUSINESS AS UNUSUAL
The first winter session of the 15th Lok Sabha was meant to have been a yawn. The opposition was still coming to terms with its dismal numbers, and did not seem to have the stomach to effectively flag off issues. And the allies in UPA-II were evidently not keen to pressure the government at this stage. Seventeen pending bills were to be passed, and 55 new bills were set to have been introduced in this session slated for four weeks, with the government still basking in the after-glow of remarkable victories in three assembly elections and some cheerful news in by-elections. The stage was set for a business-as-usual routine.
Even now, as the session ends, nothing concrete has altered there is a stable government in the saddle, ministers appear settled but there is now a distinct sense that in these weeks the legislature was trying to reassert itself and nuance its voice. If in the first few months after the summer general elections every day saw a few ministers making policy pronouncements, the Parliament session saw the opposition struggling to assert relevance and influence debate, and almost succeeding.
Two crucial reports, otherwise with tremendous potential for rupture and conflict, were finally introduced, the Liberhan report and the controversial Ranganath Mishra Commission report. It even in a sense underlined the importance of Parliament again as central to India's politics. No doubt, as in all good parliamentary democracies, the government had its way, but the opposition too seemed to have had its say. Or at least the opposition parties coherently began the discovery of a voice on issues that concern the people like price rise and even climate change saw a varied and robust debate.
This session began with a surprise "victory" of sorts for the opposition as farmers closed in on Delhi to press their demands on sugarcane prices and the opposition closed ranks and rallied behind them. Overnight the government changed its mind and, in an effort to diffuse the situation, agitating farmers turned into slightly surprised, cheering farmers the opposition was in fact stunned with the government's agreement, and left reeling over what to do, given that just before the Centre agreed, the Congress's Amethi MP casually said he had "taken up" the matter with the prime minister.
But the sweet taste of sugar was quickly forgotten, with the publication in this newspaper of what the Liberhan Commission had to say about the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It led to a furore, a split opposition raged and pushed matters to a point that the report was tabled, and even discussed. The debate was telling, from various points of view. The BJP debated it in a way that made it clear that identity politics remained key to its politics, though it would be used more like a dog whistle in future, as part of a we-didn't-do-it-but-are-thrilled-it-happened line.
The impeachment proceedings against a judge (the second to have been started in a year, though the first was recommended by the Chief Justice of India) in this session herald another phase in the age-old see-saw between the
legislature and the judiciary. Some members of Parliament were emphatic that they were anxious to enforce "accountability", though a deep urge to enforce the supremacy of the legislature informs the silent backdrop for the move.
This session also saw the "coming out" of Y.S.R. Reddy's son, Jagan Mohan Reddy. Known to have been in a silent sulk so far, the dithering on the separate state by the Congress brought him out into the public focus and he walked across the aisle to shake hands with Andhra-Rayalaseema MPs of the TDP, now making it difficult for the Congress to take disciplinary action against him. It was Parliament that was the forum for this to play itself out. In fact, the rupture in most parties on Telangana (and a spate of other small states that erupted in the aftermath) found a forum for expression in the two Houses.
When it came to passing bills in a jiffy, this session too had its low point, three bills in 15 minutes. Another low could well be empty treasury benches, sometimes well into legislative business in the House. The opposition of course has said that the prime minister's absence from the House (away on three overseas trips) may have encouraged more absenteeism in the treasury benches.
A particular low was registered when the Lok Sabha had to terminate Question Hour when a large majority of MPs against whose names questions had been listed were absent. The Rajya Sahba had a brush with such absenteeism too, but the House reacted promptly. Now an absentee MP's question will be the property of the House, a neat way of retaining the opportunity for others to ask supplementary questions.
Speculation has also centred on the swiftness with which the session was adjourned sine die on Friday. There is a sense that the government refused to be caught on the back foot on Telangana and the question of smaller states, and this is why it may have been keen on allowing time to be frittered and quick adjournments.
Ever since the May results for the Lok Sabha, it has been advantage UPA-II in all elections. The BJP, the Left and other parties seemed bereft of issues, game-plans and even minor triumphs. This session unexpectedly found unlikely partners coming together, those who had little in common other than their fortunes and that itself made for a very watchable bout. So much so that it may have been one of the reasons that the government was keen to have "undivided UPA" home for dinner (with the SP and the BSP both in attendance). Now, Jharkhand results would be the watershed. The party/ coalition which wins this proverbial "small state" could well define the mood for the next, longer session of Parliament.
MANTRAS AND MYTHS
YOGINDER K. ALAGH
That food inflation is supply-side is a mantra repeated without reference to either theory or facts. It was not so in India as there were always in government braver spirits to stick their necks out in Yojana Bhavan, North block or Mint Street. The supply-side mantra goes back to my planning days. But in those days we had our hands on the levers of the economy which we consciously gave up in the '90s, but when we face a problem we go back to those mantras without the power to act or intention to use what we have.
I did not design the reform of the '90s and remain an agnostic, for there were many ways of doing it. But that is not because I did not know the theory, and that is true today. Supply-side mantras in India go back to a time before that when imports were controlled and if specific commodities went out of a price band you used dual pricing, played the buffer stocks or used limited trade imports, an expression we owe to Vijay Kelkar who developed it for building the first case I know of trading in a bad year three to four lakh tonnes of oilseeds equivalents, not oil, or two to four million tonnes of grain and providing exchange reserves for that so that your strategic investment plans in energy or irrigation infrastructure did not go haywire with wage push inflation.
We gave all that up, correctly so, and the only difference one can have is on phasing and harmonising, but to use those mantras in an open economy, where exchange rates and trade are largely free and public intervention is strictly limited, is both confused and dysfunctional. Which are the specific agricultural commodities in which supply is a bottleneck and prices are rising? If it is general then you have a macro problem and it is not honest to beat the gods and the farmer with a supply-side stick.
The first fact the mantra chanters have to come to grips with is that if you look at the latest GDP forecast, the value added in agriculture, and that includes animal husbandry,
fishing and forestry, as a percentage of private final consumption expenditure, both in constant prices, is 24 per cent in H1 2009-10. It was 24 per cent in H1 2008-09. In plain terms, that means that agricultural supply as a share of demand in real terms is constant. It is not rice price that is rising but all agricultural prices. We know that milk and poultry supply is growing at 3-4 per cent a year in real terms and it is that the CSO tells us which leads to the near 1 per cent growth rate in agricultural GDP for the quarter. The same is true for fruits and vegetables and those prices are rising. These prices rise when the share of output to demand in real terms is constant. Ministers keep on, on kharif grains as the big villain, but both in the price and in the output indices their share is pretty low, in fact around a sixteenth. We do need to get real particularly when we have severely curtailed the PDS and use dual pricing only in sugar to feather a small political nest.
Of course the share of value added in agriculture to private final consumption expenditure in current prices is different from last year and that is the point. We are facing a macro and not a supply-side inflation. Much higher consumer demand is hitting agriculture as a whole. We are living as if there is no tomorrow. You have reached an abyss when prices chase incomes. This emerges from the highly unbalanced nature of our stimulus. Up to this year government's capital formation or investment in real terms is falling in a significant manner by more than 15 per cent every year. We are promised, as in the past, a big increase in investment this year, although there are no signs of it up till now. The slack on account of export and private contraction is in the industrial sector, but our stimulus is only on consumption. President Obama has put the details of his stimulus on the Internet. It is almost entirely on infrastructure. This is true of the Brazilians. So is the Chinese stimulus. The American and Chinese stimuli are much bigger than ours at above $700 billion, but no inflation. We have to understand that we cannot be the last of the big spenders.
If sitting in a village near a nature park I can see this so clearly, the economists working with government a tradition started by the late J.J. Anjaria in every ministry and economics think-tank can surely see it. Speak up and tell us what the real answers are. Nothing will go wrong with you. Remember the big chief is an economist.
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand
ON DISINVESTMENT, MAKE HASTE SLOWLY
N K SINGH
There is uncertainty about the exit from the stimulus package. The stimulus package to mitigate the consequences of the financial meltdown had two principal components: relief in excise taxes and increased public outlays. This was in addition to the liquidity accommodation through various measures adopted by the Reserve Bank. The current fiscal scenario is unsustainable, but sharp reduction in public outlays and increase in tax rates could impair the recovery process. It is this configuration which makes the revival of the disinvestment programme a key component of our economic strategy.
Over the years, government has rarely been consistent either in its pronouncement or in implementing the disinvestment programme. It commenced in 1991 as part of a bold strategy of economic liberalisation by bundling of shares of public sector companies representing a miniscule part of public equity. This attracted multiple controversies. Limited disinvestment programmes were often resorted to for raising resources. During the NDA regime, a proposal by the then finance minister to restrict public equity to not more than 33 per cent in all public undertakings could not be legislated given the dissent within the NDA, particularly the BJP itself. Front organisations of the BJP regarded this move as excessive in its embrace of new liberalism, as against the larger social purposes that public utilities served. No doubt during the NDA regime some audacious decisions were taken for outright privatisation, and strategic sales were beginning to gather momentum. With the return of the UPA government with the support of the Left parties, privatisation was laid to rest and notwithstanding two companies whose shares were offloaded, disinvestment was put in deep freeze. The present UPA government, particularly the finance minister must be credited for having salvaged this important tool from the deep freeze to announce a robust programme over the next three years. The essence of the programme is to offload 10 per cent of the equity of all public listed companies and to list those which are unlisted and have made continuous profits over the last few years. This itself is an ambitious programme and on the current reckoning could yield a handsome total.
Nonetheless, there are five important questions which remain unanswered. First, while governments elsewhere were acquiring shares of private banks and companies; India was doing the opposite. Factors for this atypical behaviour needed to be explained. The answer is obvious that the contagion effect of the global financial crisis has been limited and our recovery process has begun faster than countries more deeply affected. In the face of rising growth and to ameliorate the harsher consequences of the exit strategy, disinvestment was beneficial.
Second, by confining disinvestment to only 10 per cent, the embedded value in public sector companies could scarcely be realised since investors could see no change in the overall management and therefore, in the productive efficiency of these entities. Another option would be to select a certain smaller group of companies with larger stakes but enable management changes are possible. Some say that this would be a typical case of selling family silver too cheap. Besides, why should investors find these minuscule investments attractive when the management remains intact and they will have no say in the decision-making process? In terms of their opportunity cost of investment, this will receive low priority.
Thirdly, it is well recognised that current market volatility, both global and Indian, will not go away soon. The timing of disinvestment in conditions of high market volatility needs careful orchestration for realising the best value. In-house expertise need to be beefed up by quality independent advice for sounder judgments.
Fourthly, the policy of due diligence for determining reserve price needs to be prioritised. The typical government approach, often called the CPWD approach of the cheapest bidder, may not hold good as this is hardly a case where cheapest is necessarily the best. High quality advice and due diligence are bound to be more expensive given the large sums of money which are involved. This extra cost must be accepted and happily borne in the public interest.
Fifthly, unveiling the disinvestment strategy prematurely can lead to premature speculation and avoidable complexities. The selection process and the logic of sequencing needs transparency and rational public explanation.
Finally, incrementalism in disinvestment is tantamount to action by stealth. The 13th Finance Commission has reportedly estimated that the value of all PSUs could be $400 billion or more (even 40 per cent of this value will be adequate to fill our fiscal hole, social sector financing and the expensive low carbon technology). It is time that the government got out of the Shakespearean dilemma of "to be or not to be" if we accept disinvestment as an integral part of our economic strategy, the country could be better served not by increments but by bolder and more coherent action, without undue concern about some inevitable opposition. But to do so it must be transparent, the entities more carefully selected, best expertise employed and action timed to fully realise the embedded value. A job less than half done needs course correction, and consensus-seeking beyond a point is no substitute to rational economic decision-making. Historians are usually harsh on lost opportunities.
The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP.
LEADERS, FOLLOW US
The messages coming out of Copenhagen are loud and clear. On the one hand, scientists from almost all governments tell us society has to conduct an orderly retreat from fossil fuels or face unacceptable climate risk.
On the other hand, the numerous representatives of modern renewable-energy industries here for the summit tell us that their technologies when hooked up with efficient energy use can build a world where we would no longer need to use fossil fuels.
Such a world, delivered quickly enough, would offer hope of survival for even the most vulnerable nations, including low-lying island nations like the Maldives. It would also soften and eventually dismantle many security threats other than climate change.
A world no longer geared to oil, for example, would be far less prone to both the creation of terrorists and the recessions that tend to oil price shocks. A world no longer burning coal would see a restoration of our fresh water resources along with a reduction in the high levels of mercury in your fish.
How quickly could the renewable-energy industry perform this security-building paradigm shift?
Many industrialists believe it could happen within as little as two decades by simply shifting the $72 billion in subsidies given to the fossil fuel industries each year a commitment that has been made but not yet implemented at the last G-20 meeting.
A recent study by American scientists, published in Scientific American, mapped out the route down to the last wind-, solar-, and water-powered plants, and the relatively small acreages of available non-arable land that would be needed.
Some observers, those who prefer to cling to the status quo, will deem this far-fetched. But consider that 20 years ago, at the time of an earlier oil price shock, the Saudi Arabian oil minister, Sheik Yamani, warned his fellow OPEC ministers that "if we force Western countries to invest heavily in finding alternative sources of energy, they will. This will take them no more than seven to 10 years."
That was with the technology of 30 years ago. In 2008, China became the largest manufacturer of solar in the world and renewable energy attracted $150 billion in new investment. A continued growth rate of just 15 per cent per annum is all that would be required to make sure that renewable technologies do not remain dwarfed by oil, gas and coal in the next two decades.
If we can find the collective will to make good on eliminating the $72 billion in fossil fuel subsidies and defy the vested interests, we can de-carbonise the world, building layer upon layer of common security as we do it. This is a bright vision that is real. The thousands of people in the streets here believe it. So too do the visiting investors and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley.
Business is already leading; governments simply have to keep up with the pace of change. Retailers are competing with each other to see how deeply they can cut carbon, and right across their supply chains. Investors are pouring billions into clean energy. Communities are acting too low-carbon initiatives are proliferating in cities and towns across the world.
At one level, all we have to do is accelerate what is already going on. But we do need governments to seize the
historic opportunity that Copenhagen provides them with. There must be an agreement that has teeth: one that sets the world on a course where there is a realistic chance of greenhouse gas emissions on a scale that can offer the most vulnerable countries hope for the future.
Some day we will have to learn that our security is best built by making sure our neighbours are secure as well. Global warming is in the process of teaching us that. Its beachheads are becoming clear in proliferating climate extremes. Floods and droughts are already showing us how they can destroy the economies of entire states. Insurers tell us that if we do not change course, we risk destroying wealth and value faster than we create it before we are half way through the century.
We must defeat this enemy. We know we have the technologies, the tactics, and the people to do it. What we need is fewer pronouncements and more leadership.
The writer founded the Virgin Group and co-founded the Carbon War Room.
THE LONELINESS OF BEING HASAN GAFOOR
After 26/11, Hasan Gafoor became the target of a sustained media campaign inspired and managed by an influential group of police officers. Now a year later, after the former Mumbai Police chief got provoked by a journalist into commenting on four juniors, the Maharashtra Home Minister R.R.Patil has promised "strict disciplinary action" against Gafoor to send out the message that "no one will be spared for misconduct".
Patil maintained that he went through the 26/11 police wireless records after Gafoor reportedly said four officers had under-performed, and "didn't find anything that shows them to be at fault."
But Vinita Kamte, the wife of a slain officer, used the RTI Act to access just a small part of the same records for her book To The Last Bullet. And what did she find?
That the Additional Commissioner (Crime Branch) was sent to Cama Hospital with half a dozen armed constables to rescue the injured IPS officer Sadananad Date from the Lashkar duo Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan; that instead of going there he 'stayed put on the terrace of the Anjuman School (opposite the rear gate of Cama) for over an hour until 00.30 a.m.'; and that much after the terrorists had shot Vinita's husband Ashok Kamte, the ATS chief Hemant Karkare, Crime Branch
Inspector Vijay Salaskar, and four constables, this officer 'chose to leave the Anjuman School... and took the opposite direction (from Cama) to exit from the Times of India (building) side, even as the three officers were lying in a pool of blood'.
Vinita Kamte doesn't name this 'Addl CP' in the book, though she did in a later media interview. But surely Patil knows that the Crime Branch no. 2 is none other than Deven Bharti, one of the famous foursome for whose sake he has decided to punish Gafoor. Does Patil believe then that just as the Lashkar onslaught was "a little incident...in a big city", Bharti's terrace caper was a normal midnight outing?
But why marvel only at Patil's Alice in Wonderland logic? Bharti and the three others were also defended by 'supercop' Julio Ribeiro as "outstanding officers...some of the best in the department". It doesn't stop there. Even while the Ram Pradhan Committee damned Gafoor by constantly thumping the laughably incongruous Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) police manual (never mind that it was scrapped immediately after 26/11), it relied on these same four officers to brand him as a 'poor leader'. So maybe now we will be told that Bharti's strange behaviour that night (there was more, but enough!) was SOP.
What was not SOP was the dedication and courage displayed by Karkare and Kamte in response to the call that another IPS officer was injured and under fire from terrorists, and needed support. They died fighting. But in the topsy-turvy world of the Maharashtra government, they died because "they didn't understand the gravity of the situation" (what a top minister told Vinita Kamte during a condolence visit). And in the malevolent view of a few policemen, "they got Ashoka Chakras for nothing....just for taking bullets" (this was what provoked Gafoor during his ill-fated encounter with the journalist).
Altogether nine policemen died that night before Kasab was captured. A few policemen may have stayed indoors until the army came, or wandered aimlessly, but many confronted the terrorists despite being shockingly ill-equipped and untrained for the challenge. As a result, for the first time a Pakistani jihadi was caught during an urban terror attack, a tremendous boost for New Delhi in its campaign to expose the India-hating terror network across the border.
And where was Gafoor throughout the night of 26/11? Soon after the terrorists struck, he set up his command post in the field, outside the Hotel Trident. This helped him to quickly and correctly gauge that the scale and ferocity of the onslaught was such that only specially trained commandos could combat it. Otherwise, it could result in a bigger tragedy.
The Lashkar fighters were displaying considerable tactical agility and acumen, and were using not just pistols and AK-47s but also hand grenades and RDX bombs. Gafoor himself narrowly escaped being felled first by a bomb in the hotel driveway and then by a grenade hurled at his car.
Until the commandos arrived, the best his men could hope to achieve was to contain the terrorists, rescue hotel guests, and assist the injured.
Like many others, I sat all night watching the horrific drama unfold on TV. Occasionally, I would catch sight of Gafoor at the Trident. I was startled to see that Mumbai's police chief was without a bullet-proof jacket. When I met him later, I remonstrated. His reply, I thought, was typical of an officer who is down-to-earth yet innovative, and always ready to lead from the front.
"I had put on my bulletproof vest when I reached the Trident," Gafoor said matter-of-factly. "But then I saw that my men were falling back, they didn't have any such vests. As the police chief, I felt I had to set an example. So I took it off."
This was probably another violation of the SOP. But is it at all possible that during his amazing, lathi-swinging surge toward the silver Skoda, Asst Inspector Tukaram Ombale, the policeman who finally pinned down Kasab, may have felt a little extra motivation knowing, as he would through the police wireless, that further up the road his own chief was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his men confronting the terrorists? (In fact, Kasab's car narrowly skirted Gafoor's command post, from where orders first went out to stop the Skoda.)
No police chief anywhere in India has been indicted or removed after a terror strike. Gafoor is the first. Now he faces severe punishment that, according to reports, could include demotion or dismissal. Will the Queen of Hearts shout, "Off with his head!"?
Misguided media critics of the Mumbai police's performance on 26/11 should get out of wonderland and examine a simple fact what the Indian Army and the Navy commandos did that night. The Army, perhaps sensibly, did not take on the Pakistani jihadis inside either the Taj or the Trident-Oberoi hotels, but maintained 'perimeter security'. The Navy's fearsome Marcos commandos refused to fight at the Oberoi, but did go inside the old Taj. A few hours later they announced they had killed two terrorists. But all four Lashkar gunmen were still active when the NSG arrived. So who had the Marcos killed?
Heavily-armed soldiers without the instincts and skills of a force like the NSG which is specially trained and equipped to combat fanatical gunmen inside large, civilian-occupied buildings (the toughest of all commando operations) can do more harm than good. But in the inspired media campaign coming from within the force, only the lathi-wielding Mumbai cop, a shadow of his former self due to years of neglect and political interference, is portrayed as the villain, and the police chief vilified.
Even with the NSG, a significant detail always goes unmentioned. The fighting arm of this special counter-terrorism force consists of commandos drawn from the Army. The inductees from the police are used for security duties, such as guarding politicians. Though the NSG is always headed by a police officer, it discovered early on that its police recruits are neither physically nor mentally capable of lasting the full stretch in its commando training programme. In Mumbai too it was the slain Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Havaldar Gajendra Singh and their Army comrades who fought and killed the Lashkar terrorists.
After taking over as commissioner in February 2008, Gafoor was worried about his ragtag force's ability to counter a terrorist strike. But he was starved of funds. So he improvised. Former British commandos whom he had befriended as Air India's security chief were invited to train a select group. Kamte was given charge of this programme. The famous Israeli-run ICTS aviation security company trained Mumbai airport police on essentials such as how to profile passengers or identify a suicide bomber. The training was free of cost, since ICTS was looking for an entry into the Indian market. His most ambitious project was to modernise the antiquated police control room through a citywide electronic surveillance system. (After its mysterious metamorphosis into a privately-sponsored proposal, the CCTV project languishes.) But in a police force bedeviled by corruption and crass careerism, men like Gafoor, Karkare and Kamte (two officers he was professionally close to he called Kamte "my right arm") remained 'outsiders'.
When the so-called 'Deccan Mujahideen' claimed credit for 26/11 in a spurious email, the media, ever hungry for dramatic contrasts, missed an act. Leading the brave policemen confronting the fake Hyderabadi Muslims was a genuine one, Hasan Gafoor. This was one more message from Mumbai to the Lashkar's sponsors in Pakistan. Now he too will be a victim. I can only hang my head in shame.
Now based in Delhi, Maseeh Rahman worked in Mumbai for 25 years as a reporter, editor and India Today bureau chief.
THE REAL COLOUR OF SAFFRON
In what can only be described as curiosity of Indian politics, LK Advani finally took a step up in order to step down as leader of the opposition. The BJP amended its constitution to create the post of chairman of the Parliamentary party, and followed that by appointing the departing leader of opposition to that posta post which will ostensibly be right above the two leaders of the opposition, Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha and Arun Jaitley in the Rajya Sabha. Presumably, though, the two younger politicians will now be the chief spokespersons of the largest opposition party in Parliament, even while Advani guides them as mentor. In another important change, Nitin Gadkari will replace Rajnath Singh as party president. But will a change in guard at the top be enough to revive the declining fortunes of the BJP? The party has been in such a disarray since the defeat in May 2009 that they have failed to even seriously question the government on a number of controversial issues these past six months. For example, they haven't got their act together on the Telangana issue on which many questions could be asked of the government. Even on issues like economic reform or climate change, the party seems to have had nothing to contribute. And surprisingly, on the Liberhan report, where we would have expected greater unity and purpose from the BJP, there was none.
Unfortunately, simply a change of guard is unlikely to solve the BJP's problems. There is no reason to believe that the party will unite around the new leadership. It is even more unlikely that the party will agree on a moderate agenda to replace some of the shriller, electorally unappealing formulations that have been going around. At the heart of this tension is the role of the RSS. Will the new leadership take instructions from an interfering RSS or will the BJP be able to break away to become a more reasonable Centre-Right political formation? At this point in time, it's too early to say which way the party will end up leaning. But one has to hope, for the sake of competitive democracy that the BJP rejuvenates itself to become an effective opposition party for the remainder of UPA-2's term in governmenta government which faces no serious opposition is more likely to commit mistakes. And opposition doesn't mean disrupting the proceedings of Parliamentthe BJP needs to get more constructive than that. But ultimately, the BJP, defeated in two successive general elections, needs to convince the electorate at large that it presents a credible alternative to the Congress as a party of government. Changing leaders is only a small part of that exercise.
Some say the cheque dates back to 352 BC and the Roman civilisation. Others trace its origins to Persian proto-bankers of the 3rd century AD. There's scant documentary evidence about the early centuries of its debut. But details about when the first cheque was signed within the UK appear more categorical. On February 16, 1659, a gentleman by the name of Nicholas Vanacker signed off an amount of £400, drawn on Messrs Morris and Clayton, scriveners and bankers of the City of London. Now, 350 years after Vanacker inked that signature, the UK Payments Council has correctly declared that cheque use is in terminal decline. When's the funeral? In the UK, it's scheduled for October 31, 2018. What about elsewhere in the world? Well, in some technologically advanced countries like Sweden and Norway, cheques are close to extinction. But here too, organic developments needed a helpful nudge from the policymakers. In Sweden, since the beginning of the 1990s, one bank after another started imposing heavy fees on all cheque transactions. As electronic modes of payment became more and more popular, the cost of cheque transactions began to appear too expensive in comparison. They involved heavy, labour-intensive handling. In the UK, many retailers like Marks & Spencer and Boots banned the use of cheques arguing that they slowed down the shopping experience. Certain communities are crying oopsie daisies at the UK Payments Council's proposal. There are the oldies, who reportedly still write many more cheques than the average of 14 for last year suggests. Elsewhere in the world, the US may be better off, but its people still write more than 100 cheques a year. Never mind what that means for the trees.
Turning to India, RBI governor Duvvuri Subbarao gave a really interesting speech on the issue in April. He pointed out that payment and settlement systems play an important role in improving overall economic efficiency. They also have a social dimension, as an efficient payment system is an important prerequisite for financial inclusion. So, whether it's via ATMs or National Electronic Fund Transfers or mobile transfers, India has good reasons to leap into a non-paper economy. As for trends, the value of funds transferred through electronic means has increased phenomenally from about 2% a decade ago to about 74% now. Paper-based transactions still dominate in volume terms, but the story is becoming different on the value front. This is good and needs policymaking support. This is the greener thing to do; it's cheaper and safer, too. Because electronic modes of payment leave cleaner audit trails.
REFORM NOW TO FARM A SURPLUS
The recent discussions on monetary policy tightening following the persistent and disturbing increase in food prices has put the spotlight squarely on a key weakness in India. There is an unusual consensus among economists and even policy authorities that monetary tightening is likely to be effective at the margins in containing the rising prices of food and vegetables.
While the proximate cause of the price rise is generally considered to be the deficient rainfall in 2009 and shortfall in kharif output, there is a more serious structural deficit that is building up in food output and productivity. Some part of this is evident in price movements over the past one and a half decades. A look back on food inflation since the mid-1990s shows three distinct phases. The first is a period of high volatility but a flat trend from 1995 to mid-2000. The volatility then diminishes till about beginning 2004. Thereafter, there is a distinctly perceptible trend increase in food inflation, although with just a slight increase in volatility.
The reason is not hard to deduce. Very broadly, shorn of government food stocks and other factors, since 2002-03, per capita availability of foodgrains (cereals and pulses) will have dipped to a projected 185 kg this year, from around 200 kg in the two previous years (which themselves were pretty much the 2003-04 level). But this is only part of the story. India's consumption has increased not just due to an increase in the population, but also in terms of income. Incomes have increased, growth impulses diffused from a few growth centres into the hinterland, demand for proteins and vegetables grown. Foodgrains availability, measured using GDP, has halved, almost secularly, from 7.7 grammes per rupee in 2003-04 to a projected 3.7 grammes in 2009-10. The higher elasticity of food expenditures to incomes going down the income ladder is likely to have led to higher spends on food for the additional incomes as well.
As is well recognised by now, India's agricultural productivity remains low. China has 933 million hectares of land, a little over three times of the Indian land area of 297 million hectares. Yet, the Chinese have only three-quarters of India's arable land. China's arable land is about 13% of its landmass, India's 54%. Yet, India trails China in some productivity related aspects. First, the extent of irrigated land is about the same in both countries (around 55 million hectares). As a result, proportion of irrigated to arable land is 44% in China, 34% in India. Second, the average size of a Chinese rural landholding is larger than in India. Third, Chinese farmers use more fertiliser in their farms. World Bank data for 2001, albeit dated, shows that fertiliser use in China was an average of 279 kg per hectare, India's being 103 kg per hectare. The nutrient balance in South Asia for nitrogenous fertilisers is a much higher deficit in South Asia than in East Asia. The extent of machinery use is also higher in China.
This is not just a matter of food prices. Agriculture is a key contributor to the investible surplus of a country. There is a strong case for arguing that SEZs in Shenzen and the Pearl River Delta were fuelled by capital partially raised from the rural hinterland. Some pointers emerge from the initial China initiatives.
Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms first started in agriculture, where peasants were encouraged to participate in the market economy. Communes and collectives were dismantled, and farmers were given long-term transferable lease contracts and encouraged to grow crops to sell in private markets. With rules that varied from province to province, farmers were allowed to hire a certain numbers of labourers, and sell their surplus; this change was particularly marked in the coastal areas. Similar reforms in Vietnam and Laos have also contributed to their economic growth.
Globally, prices of agri commodities will be on the rise, and probably become more volatile, with more consumption demand from emerging countries and grains being diverted to bio-fuels. Another major concern is also the link of agriculture to water. Irrigation accounts for over 80% of India's water usage, and delays in pricing rationalisation of this even more scarce resource will add to the distortions in farm output. Add climate change to this.
What is the way out for India? There are no clear answers. Only that all problems have solutions, however partial and long drawn. There needs to be a prolific debate on this, not on the inside pages of newspapers, but up front. While our vocal policy focus is on financial sector reforms, on organised retail, on infrastructure, there is a real crisis brewing out there, which is likely to have a far greater influence on India's course.
The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal
MORPHED INTO A NEW AVATAR
James Cameron's Avatar open-ed this weekend to great critical acclaim and a tumultuous reception from audiences worldwide, who were swept into an immersive audio-visual experience that is poised to change the face of cinema, and possibly the whole of visual entertainment.
While the film itself is a fairly straightforward hero's journey yarn, featuring vivid, breathtaking visuals, a spectacular fantasy setting, and frenetic, adrenaline-pumping action sequences that are quintessentially Cameron, this time it's the technology that has everyone in thrall. And quite rightly so.
3-D cinema itself has been around since the 1950s (audiences in India may remember My Dear Kuttichatan/Chhota Chetan), but has always remained a novelty on the periphery of the mainstream, mainly due to complicated, glitchy technology and economics that did not make for pretty numbers. But recently, improvements in digital 3-D filmmaking technology have led to a resurgence in 3-D films, especially in the animation market. With Monsters vs Aliens, Bolt, Ice Age 3 and the delightful Up firmly establishing the viability of animated 3-D films, more audiences are putting on those weird glasses and enjoying the added dimension to their movies.
However, Avatar takes things to a whole new level. It's a reach-out-and-you-can-touch-it experience, drawing you into the film's world and immersing you in it like never before. Plenty of 3-D films have used cliches like swords being thrust towards you, or arrows flying at you, or vehicles hurtling out of the screenbut Avatar completely changes the rules by eschewing the 'sudden 3-D surprise' approach in favour of delivering total 3-D immersion that starts from the first frame and never lets up. All manner of jungle foliage rustles and waves and disappears behind you as the camera moves past. Creatures leap, fly and run at you, across you and over you. Rooms and corridors stretch out into the screen, and people walk past you into them. Simple, everyday objects such as chairs, desks and doors either seem so close that you can actually touch them, or so far away that they recede into the screen. Little flourishes like raindrops, falling flowers, rustling leaves, cracked glass and flickering tongues of flame add to the feeling of actually being in the film's virtual world.
All this wizardry is made possible thanks to the wondrous Pace/Cameron Fusion Camera System that captures images in a similar way to the human eye. Unlike earlier 3-D filming systems that involved two separate cameras set far apart and could only shoot straight ahead, the Fusion Camera uses two lenses that can be placed as close together or far apart as required, to focus on objects at any level of depth, and change focus and angles within the same shot. This means that you get to see a composite of images shot at theoretically infinitely different levels of depthto give you a lifelike 3-D image, almost like you see in the real world. Additionally, the actors are filmed using a 'performance capture' system, which involves them performing with hundreds of sensors attached to them. All this is brought into the digitally created environment, and the director can then control the scene as he likes, using a video game-like virtual camera control system. It's all very sophisticated and horribly expensive for now, but the results are nothing short of magical.
Thanks to the level of immersion that is possible with the technology behind Avatar, we are possibly on the brink of the next exciting leap forward in visual entertainment. In other 3-D films, the third dimension is merely a gimmick that's good for some 'money moments'. In Avatar, it's integral to the storytelling, bringing the world to life and contributing immensely to creating audience empathy with the world and its characters. Despite the rather corny script and story, I still found myself caring about Pandora and its flora & faunasimply because I was standing in it, as opposed to watching it on a screen.
It's an invaluable tool for future storytellers, because empathy is the single most powerful reason that makes movies, and indeed video games, effective. It is empathy that makes us cry when Carl loses Ellie in Up, or be gripped by fear when Jennifer Love Hewitt is about to open her bedroom door in whatever generic slasher flick she's in, or grind our teeth in satisfied rage when Kratos finally brings down a creature that is 20 times his size in God of War. And this feeling of empathy is so much greater when you experience the world from within rather than from the outside.
If Avatar paves the way for more films and video games that use its pathbreaking technology, it could infuse new life into an entertainment industry that badly needs innovations to bring back the mojo.
The author is game designer and gaming journalist based in Mumbai
PUBLIC OR PRIVATE ASSET?
The PPP route for funding infrastructure projects is the smart choice to bridge the country's gaping infrastructure deficit. But there's a huge debate on the ownership of, and the accountability for, the assets created by combining public and private resources.
The Planning Commission, the finance ministry and administrative ministries often argue that, though built by a private company, a bridge or a road is still a public asset. The private player, which puts in money, time and resources, staunchly calls the asset its ownat least for the concession period.
In the last few years many JVs have been formed between government departments and private players to carry out PPP projects that are curiously called Private Ltd Companies. Other confusing cases are those like the DMRCa 50:50 JV between the Centre and the Delhi government. The highly efficient corporation, however, refuses to be pinned down as an agency of either the state government or the Centre.
Worried by this trend and in order to bring accountability to such projects, the finance ministry had said no JVs with equal stakes of a private firm and a government company would be allowed in the infrastructure sector. These guidelines may help avoid confusion about who's in charge. The accounting frauds at Satyam and Maytas, which eventually derailed the Rs 12,500-crore Hyderabad Metro Rail project, posed a bigger crisishow does the government ensure that discrepancies by a private player do not hijack the creation of public assets?
It's in this context that the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) decided to bring PPP projects in the infra sector into its purview. From now on, it will have the authority to check the account books of not only the SPVs and JVs formed with public and private capital, but also those of the private players. The idea is to check up on the private partner and ensure that it is not taking other stakeholders for a ride.
With billions more to be invested through the PPP route in areas as diverse as infra, health and education, the CAG's audit norms will hopefully bring the much-needed order and accountability.
CONTAINING THE DAMAGE
It is the right decision, but one that took a bafflingly long time to arrive at. The procrastination of the collegium of judges headed by the Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, in virtually withdrawing its controversial August 27 recommendation to elevate Karnataka Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran to the Supreme Court has done incalculable harm to the image of the judiciary. The delay was accompanied by a surprising attempt to pass the buck, with Chief Justice Balakris hnan requesting the Centre to conduct an independent probe into certain allegations against Justice Dinakaran, which the Law Ministry politely and quite correctly turned down. With the Centre rejecting the recommendation to accommodate Justice Dinakaran in the Supreme Court, the sustained campaign against his elevation by members of the bar, and the impeachment process set in motion by Opposition MPs in the Rajya Sabha, there was considerable pressure on the collegium to withdraw its recommendation. It would have been far better if the collegium had taken a quick decision on merits rather than give the impression that it was forced to act in the face of an escalating controversy.
The allegations against Justice Dinakaran remain unproven as of now. Yet they are extremely serious and two reports from a district collector have lent credence to at least the ones relating to land encroachment in Tamil Nadu. His refusal to resign in the face of the ugly controversy and erosion of public confidence has called attention once again to the need for a quick, fair, and effective statutory mechanism for enquiring into judges' conduct and suggesting appropriate action. The process of impeachment is cumbersome and uncertain, and is often overwhelmed by political considerations. No judge has ever been impeached and the uncertain nature of the process stood out in 1993, when the motion against Justice V. Ramaswami was defeated, with the Congress abstaining. In the light of the Justice Dinakaran controversy, Law Minister Veerappa Moily has suggested a Judges Standards and Accountability Bill. The in-house enquiry system put in place by the Supreme Court has proved wholly inadequate, and a more effective mechanism is needed to enquire into charges against judges. The question of removing a judge always invites another: why was he or she appointed in the first place? Proposals to set up a broad-based and independent National Judicial Commission with the power to appoint, and enquire into the charges against, judges have been made time and again. The Justice Dinakaran controversy is a warning that no further time should be lost in putting in place a more transparent appointment process and in strengthening judicial accountability.
The pan-European outfit floated recently by the political parties of the far-right fringe may only stand a distant chance of capturing the popular imagination in the European Union. However, the potential for long-term damage from the ultra-nationalist and majoritarian ideology represented by these forces, feeding on the xenophobic and anti-immigrant constituency in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, should not be underestimated. The failure of the extreme right parties to qualify as an official grouping in the EU Parliament after the June polls provides the background to the formation of the European Alliance of National Movements, led by the first-time entrant to the legislature, the British National Party (BNP). Whereas a formal political bloc within Parliament is entitled to positions in influential committees shaping policy, a pan-European body such as the latest alliance is eligible for substantial public funds. If the BNP wears on its sleeves its brazenly racist "only whites" membership policy, in clear contravention of the EU and many national anti-discrimination laws, the anti-federalist platform of the new alliance also counts among its champions the Holocaust denier Jean Marie Le Pen of the French National Front, besides the Italian and Hungarian parties that oppose abortion and gay rights.
It is ironic that a narrow, sectarian, and divisive agenda, disguised as a defence of national identity and sovereignty, should be sought to be advanced through a transnational front, and one that is staunch in its opposition to closer European integration. The contradictions inherent in such a coalition of convenience stood exposed as the short-lived far-right caucus in the previous Parliament collapsed when certain highly provocative remarks were directed against the Romanian nationals as a whole in the context of the influx of the Roma minorities into Italy. The lessons in this for mainstream political parties in different member states are significant. There is need to refrain from pandering to populist sentiment, or indulging in political one-upmanship in the face of domestic pressures and instead engage the genuine concerns of citizens over the real implications of greater integration. The recent controversy over the appearance of the BNP leader on prime time show highlights the difficulties of foreclosing an arena of public debate for elected representatives, quite apart from the arguments over the appropriateness of such means to counter any group, including the far-right, in a democracy.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
MOVING TOWARDS PEACE IN ASSAM?
THERE ARE SERIOUS, ALTHOUGH NOT INSURMOUNTABLE, IMPEDIMENTS TO THE CLINCHING OF ANY SETTLEMENT OR DEAL ON ASSAM.
The facts and circumstances of the return of the chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom, Arabinda Rajkhowa, its deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah (both aliases though their actual names are widely known), with eight others mostly women and children to Assam from Bangladesh on December 4 were surrounded by some controversy. Fugitives from law, they had been living in Bangladesh, with several other leaders and cadres of ULFA, for long. The huge popular interest that greeted their return and the carpet bombing coverage by the media also contributed to the controversy.
CONFUSION OVER 'SURRENDER'
First, there was the question of whether they had 'surrendered' or were 'arrested'. This created considerable heat immediately in the wake of their arrival at Guwahati, with the two ULFA leaders vehemently maintaining when they were produced in court on the evening of December 5 that they had not surrendered, that they would never surrender; and that they would never compromise on their 'demand for sovereignty.'
Two, the handcuffing of the two militants as they were brought to the court created some more heat, some of it perhaps contrived. In Indian political tradition, as ULFA leaders know well, being handcuffed is more a badge of honour than a mark of disgrace for a political prisoner. However, Rajkhowa pointedly noted that instead of returning wearing a victory garland, as he had expected the clearest suggestion that his return had been, in a way, 'negotiated' he had been treated as a criminal. He also said there was no question of negotiations, with handcuffs on.
Interestingly, these words and sentiments echoed the response of Nelson Mandela in 1985 to South African President P.W. Botha's announcement in Parliament that the government would 'conditionally' release him if he renounced armed struggle. Mr. Mandela gave his answer in a famous statement, read by his daughter Zindzi on February 10, 1985, at a mass rally in the Jabulani Stadium in Soweto: "What kind of freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts." The two situations are not comparable but the resonance is clear, perhaps intended.
Three, there was some confusion on where exactly the ULFA leaders were picked up. Initially, it was claimed that they had "surrendered" to the Border Security Force after being "pushed" across the border by the Bangladesh Rifles, a routine exercise by the BSF inherent in the "expulsion" of illegal migrants. They were then "arrested" on the Indian side of the border and brought to Guwahati. There were contradictory reports on where exactly they were pushed back, for four of the seven States of the region Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura share 1,879 km of the 4,095 km of the India-Bangladesh border, which include riverine areas and the 'borders' of several Indian enclaves surrounded by the Bangladesh territory.
For the record, and to give an indication of the complexity of the India-Bangladesh border problems, West Bengal has the longest border with Bangladesh (2,216 km), followed by Tripura (856 km), Meghalaya (443 km), Mizoram (318 km) and Assam (262 km). There were reports, all attributed to intelligence agencies (who were saying nothing), that they had been picked up in Tripura, Meghalaya and even Mizoram. Eventually, it was clarified that they had been picked up from the most commonly used point on the Bangladesh-Meghalaya border Dawki-Tamabil area.
Such misdirection and cock-ups are inevitable in clandestine operations involving competing intelligence and security agencies of two countries, as well as the tacit consent and co-operation of the main actors without which the ULFA leaders could not have been brought over. However, for appearance's sake, the pretence of surrender or arrest had to be maintained.
Damage control exercises are already on. Instead of asking for further police custody of two other ULFA militants arrested early in November foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury and finance secretary Chitrabon Hazarika the two have been sent to judicial custody and lodged in the Guwahati Central Jail where three of their senior colleagues, all members of ULFA's central committee facing trial, have been lodged. When, eventually, Rajkhowa and Baruah too are sent to judicial custody the court has extended their police custody by nine more days they would join the five other leaders in prison. There are reports that another senior leader, Bhimkanta Burhagohain, arrested during the Bhutan operations in December 2003, presently in judicial custody in Tezpur jail, may also be moved to Guwahati jail, facilitating exchange of views between persons who have for years not had direct contact with one another.
Yet there are serious, although not insurmountable, impediments to the clinching of any kind of settlement or deal.
First, there are the contradictions between the stated stands of the Centre and the ULFA. The Union Home Minister is categorical: "Lay down arms, and give up 'demands for sovereignty.' Then, the talks can be held." ULFA's stated stand is equally categorical: Talks can be held only if the 'demand for sovereignty' is on the agenda. There is, however, an element of make-believe in such posturing, for 'sovereignty' can never be demanded, let alone granted. No sovereign nation has ever ceded sovereignty over a part of its territory except under two conditions: defeat in war and occupation by the conquering power.
The circumstances of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, two recent events that seem to have enthused the separatist/sovereignty aspirations in Assam and the northeast, were specific to those countries and are not a universal principle. It is true that the Indian state is beset with several challenges to its authority but the inspiration and the objectives of these struggles differ sharply. For instance, the challenges posed by the CPI (Maoist) is quite different from the one posed by sovereignty assertions based on exclusive and exclusionary ethno-nationalism. The CPI (Maoist) wants to capture state power in India, in the name of the Indian people, however illusory that objective may be, not establish an ethno-nationalist sovereign republic in a part of the country that would by definition exclude other Indian people outside that ethno-nationalist framework.
However, the ongoing talks with the Naga nationalist leaders who have not given up the 'demand for sovereignty' may provide a formula for talks to be held, without either side formally climbing down.
A more serious impediment is the absence of the outfit's commander-in-chief, Paresh Baruah, whose whereabouts are a matter of free speculation. With amazing regularity he has been sending faxes and e-mails to the media in Guwahati, occasionally speaking on the telephone to individual journalists, reiterating the outfit's stand on sovereignty. His most recent intervention was an email sent on December 11 reiterating the demand for a plebiscite (or referendum) on the issue of sovereignty. "We will continue to fight the occupation forces unless they agree to hold discussions on sovereignty or conduct a plebiscite."
Finally, there are powerful forces inside and outside the state, not in the least sympathetic to ULFA's strategic objective of Swadhin Asom, who would rather want ULFA to carry on, for only the presence of such an insurgency will ensure that the Centre will "not neglect Assam." Such a structural nexus between insurgency and development is complex, evident to even the most superficial observer, especially in the glitz and splurge and squalor of cities. ULFA is the other side of such development.
However, overriding these is also the impending danger to the very existence of Assam, with the recrudescence of demands for the creation of other states, starting with the demand for a full fledged state of Bodoland, following the developments over Telangana. These developments may induce some rethinking. The Swadhin Asom that ULFA seeks is not an Assam truncated further.
LEARNING FROM SUCCESSES AND FAILURES
A REPORT CARD FROM PRATICHI TRUST ON THE PRIMARY SCHOOLING SCENE IN WEST BENGAL.
Pratichi Trust (India) was established a decade ago, along with Pratichi Trust (Bangladesh). The latter has been concentrating on the social progress of girls and young women: it has worked particularly on supporting and training young women journalists reporting from rural Bangladesh. In India, the work has mainly focussed on advancing primary education and elementary health care, along with a few other activities such as providing disaster relief.
Though Pratichi Trust (India) has a programme of establishing new schools (the Pratichi School in Orissa is functioning actively and well), our main work in the field of education has been to examine, assess and scrutinise the schooling system in operation in the eastern part of India, beginning with West Bengal and a part of Jharkhand. We have surveyed a number of schools in the region. Though the overall picture cannot be considered, in any rigorous sense, representative of the region, there is enough information in these studies to arrive at some general judgments about successes and failures, and for us to form an understanding of the principal problems that face primary school education in this region and how they can be addressed in order to attempt remedying the adversities.
Our first set of surveys of randomly selected primary schools from six districts of West Bengal was done in 2001-02. We resurveyed the same schools to check how, and whether, things are moving forward, and where they stand, in 2008-09. This report presents our latest findings, with an assessment of the situation today compared with what was observed seven years earlier.
The first set of studies led us to offer recommendations about necessary changes for the enhancement of primary education in the region. The action plans were based, among other issues, on the following diagnoses:
* the critical need to work with the teachers' unions to advance the role and effectiveness of school teachers, including the reduction of teacher absenteeism and helping teachers to pay special attention to children from disadvantaged families;
* the importance of regular and constructive use of parent-teacher committees, particularly to increase communication of teachers with parents from economically and social disadvantaged families;
* the necessity to serve cooked mid-day meals both to advance elementary education and improve child nutrition (the reasons for the often-neglected complementarity of child nourishment and elementary education were investigated in earlier reports);
* the need to reverse the decay of the inspection system for schools (which is severely under-used and sometimes entirely defunct);
* the importance of providing more educational facilities in some schools and particularly in the Sishu Shiksha Kendras (SSKs) and ensuring prompt payment of salaries and making other administrative improvements;
* the need to discourage the growing dependence of school children on private tuitions to supplement educational arrangements in the schools: various means to achieve this were suggested.
A number of our recommendations though not all have been carried out in the intervening period. While some of the recommendations broke fresh ground, others provided reasoned support for independently developed, but new, efforts by the State and Central governments in these fields (for example, the provision of cooked midday meals and the use of parent-teacher meetings). Our approach has been one of collaboration with, as well as mutual critique of, the work of agencies dedicated to the improvement of school education, including Central and State governments, and teachers' unions, and we have been rewarded by the engagement and cooperation of all the parties involved.
Having worked with the primary teachers' unions (in particular with the ABPTA and the DPSC), we had the benefit also of exchanging views and analyses with the union leadership, in pursuit of a fuller understanding of the problems and prospects of primary education in the State. In joint meetings the Pratichi Trust had with the Unions, large numbers of primary school teachers actively participated. Our understanding of the problems have benefited from the cooperation of teachers' unions, and they in turn have done much to help implement a number of our recommendations.
We have held each year a fairly large meeting of teachers, parents, educational activists and experts. These have generated important suggestions to improve school education in West Bengal, on which we have drawn for further enquiry. Parents and teachers joined us in these meetings to present their own analyses.
The meetings we have had with parents, teachers, unions, government servants, and NGOs working in similar or related areas, among others, helped us to pay special attention to important features in the ongoing schooling arrangements that need re-examination and reform, and to supplement the findings of our own surveys and investigation. For example, one of the important issues taken up more fully in this report deals with the content of the official curriculum, and the load very young children have to bear. The official demands typically insist on home-based study after school hours, often in excessive and unreasonable ways (particularly unreasonable for families in which the parents have not had the benefit of going to school themselves). As is discussed in the report, the apparently unshakable dependence on private tuition of primary school children has a strong connection with the unrealism of the overloaded curricular content.
A second issue that has repeatedly emerged in our discussions is the importance of recognising the class barriers that divide the school age population. Problems of first-time school education are enormously larger than those faced by children from families with an educated background, at various levels. Also, lack of economic resources and low social standing in established stratification can make it much harder for children from disadvantaged groups to get the facilities and the attention they need to pursue their studies successfully.
Class divisions have a clear connection with caste distinctions but actually go much beyond what is caught in conventional caste-based categorisation. It is of course right that Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are seen as being, in general, disadvantaged, with very few exceptions. (The exceptions come mainly from particular SC groups and hardly any from STs.) However, to that has to be added the category of the Muslim poor, which for historical reasons is substantially larger as a proportion of all Muslims in West Bengal than in many other States (for example in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh). So, even though Muslims as a category cannot be seen as being a disadvantaged group (indeed a lack of adequate class analysis has been responsible for some misleading recent statements on the subject), a large proportion of Muslims in West Bengal do fall in the category of those who are economically and socially disadvantaged in terms of their class background.
Any detailed investigation of the empirical situation brings out the need to go beyond the SC-ST characterisation of social disadvantage to take note of the historically conditioned economic and social disadvantages from which most Muslim families and SC and ST populations historically suffer in this region. These disadvantages make children from those families particularly in need of greater attention and support. Even in interpreting the findings of our surveys, the broader issue of class disadvantage has to be kept in view, as we have tried to do in arriving at our conclusions and recommendations.
The recent resurveys give us an opportunity (i) to assess the present state of affairs in primary schooling in West Bengal, (ii) to see whether there have been advances or not, and what remains to be done, and (iii) to examine the effectiveness of the reforms that have been carried out and the changes that have occurred. It gives us pleasure to share our findings with the public, the media and the authorities responsible for schooling, including the government, and the teachers' unions.
The main findings in terms of the comparative picture between 2001-02 and 2008-09 are that there have been significant improvements in the performance as well as coverage of primary education in West Bengal over these seven years, and that there still remain defects and infelicities that must be overcome.
There is certainly no case for despondence, and it is particularly important to recognise this fact both because despondence can lead to despair and resignation, and because there are good reasons to see, on the basis of the empirical data, that reasoned efforts, when properly executed, do lead to the achievements at which the efforts cogently aim. However, there is no room for smugness either. Things have moved considerably forward (often related to the reforms that have been carried out by the governments involved, and the cooperation of the unions, which have often substantially supplemented official efforts). However, more needs to be done.
To note the improvements first, there is not only a higher rate of student enrolment, but also a significantly larger average attendance of enrolled students (75 per cent both for primary schools and SSKs - up from 58 and 64 per cent respectively).
Second, though the problem of absentee teachers remains, there is in fact a noticeable fall in the percentage of absentee teachers on the randomly chosen day of our visit (14 per cent in primary schools, down from 20 per cent, and 8 per cent in SSKs, down from 15 per cent). There is also some increase in the number of teachers per school.
Third, the level of parent satisfaction with the performance of teachers has also gone up (from 52 per cent to 64 per cent for primary schools and from 70 per cent to 75 per cent for SSKs), though it is still far from perfect. Parents' satisfaction with the progress of children is up significantly from 42 per cent to 71 per cent for primary schools, and from 49 per cent to 73 per cent for SSKs.
Fourth, we were depressed with the 2001-02 results of independent testing of students' achievements, for example the fact that 30 per cent of the students in classes 3 and 4 could not even write their own names. There has been considerable improvement in this area, and the proportion of students who could not write their names is now down from 30 per cent to 5 per cent.
Fifth, midday meals are now being served in most primary schools and SSKs, and there are clear indications of the benefits of that initiative both in educational and nutritional terms. Indeed, even the increased attendance of students in schools partly reflects the attraction of the school meals, even though the efforts of the teachers' unions, particularly in reducing teacher absenteeism, has also greatly helped, in many regions.
Sixth, parent-teacher meetings are now much more in use, mostly in the form of mother-teacher committees, though we still have specific suggestions to improve their reach.
THINGS TO DO
Significant as the progress has been, there are still big gaps to meet. Even in those fields, already mentioned, in which there have been significant advance, the absolute numbers of the performance indicators bring out the fact that there is still quite a distance to go for the primary school system to be considered really satisfactory. While some reforms have been carried out, for example in having arrangements for midday meals (even though they can be, and must be, extended), in other areas, such as having a functioning inspection system, and remedying the dependence on private tuition, the achievements have been very little. The need to go further forward is strong and urgent.
There has been a real regression, as opposed to progress, on the dependence on private tuition. The proportion of children relying on private tuition has gone up quite a bit:64 per cent from 57 per cent for students of standard primary schools, and 58 per cent from 24 per cent for SSK children. Underlying this is not only some increase in incomes and the affordability of having private tuition, but also an intensification of the general conviction among parents that private tuition is "unavoidable" if it can be at all afforded (78 per cent of the parents now believe it is "unavoidable" - up from 62 per cent). For those who do not have arrangements for private tuition, 54 per cent indicate that they do not go for it mainly, or only, because they cannot afford the costs.
India is one of the few countries in the world in which private tuition is thought to be necessary even at the earliest stages of primary education. Reliance on private tuition for very young children is unknown not only in Europe and America, but also in many developing countries. I had difficulty explaining to students at Peking University in Beijing what I was talking about in referring to private tuition for the youngest primary school students: the phenomenon appeared mysterious and incomprehensible to them.
However, in a number of economies in Asia and North Africa, including Japan, Republic of Korea and Taiwan, there has been, in recent years, an increased use of private tuition even at the primary stage - though typically not for the youngest children. This is seen as having resulted from the pursuit of the perceived competitive benefits of privately tutored children over others. Even in those cases in which private tuition operates only to supplement and advance good primary teaching (rather than acting almost as a substitute for organised schooling, as in many in cases in India), it can be shown that it has a significant adverse impact on the educational system.
The harm, however, is greater when private tutoring becomes "essential" (rather than merely competitively advantageous for the fortunate), especially as in India when most families of first-generation school-goers are not able to afford this artificially generated "essentiality." The advent of private tuition in school education may not be harmless even for Japan and Korea, but it is radically more harmful in India, when it eliminates, in effect, the right to basic education for all children (since the primary schools come to depend on such supplementation even for the basic education to be imparted).
The question must, thus, be asked with some urgency why this problem remains so strong and takes this form in primary education in India, and in the context of this study, in West Bengal, and why, rather than weakening, the evil has actually strengthened over the last decade, despite efforts to eliminate it. Why has dependence on private tuition come to take the place of what can be easily done in the class, and for which the schools are devised?
Our judgment based on extensive discussions with teachers, the unions, the parents, educational administrators and the public is that one important reason for this is the heavy curricular load at the primary level. Indeed, the load is so heavy and ambitious for primary schools that (1) students need supplementation even at the end of the school day, and (2) teachers have to spend a lot of their energy and efforts to impart specialised knowledge even when basic literary and accounting skills (such as reading, writing and simple arithmetic) remain underdeveloped and insufficiently engaged. The proportion of primary educated students in classes 3 and 4 who cannot read is still 17 per cent, those who cannot write is 19 per cent, and the proportion who cannot do simple arithmetic is 26 per cent.
Indeed, many of those who do have proficiency in these simple and basic skills have often acquired them with the help of private tutors, rather than just from regular schooling. The limited reach of teaching during school hours may not come as a surprise, since the necessity of "home tasks" for even very young children is routinely accepted in India, including in West Bengal. Giving "home tasks" for very young children is typically not the practice in the rest of the world (that is, at least not before the end of the first few years of school education). Something, we would submit, has gone fundamentally wrong in the way we think about the discipline of primary education for young children, in our country, including in this State.
Dependence on private tuition for school education in general, and for early primary education in particular, is, of course, a terrible affliction for reasons that have been extensively discussed in our previous reports. In particular, private tuition divides the student population into haves and have-nots; it makes teachers less responsible and diminishes their central role in education; it makes improvements in schooling arrangements more difficult since the more influential and better placed families have less at stake in the quality of what is done in school; it effectively negates the basic right of all children to receive elementary education and replaces it by seeing effective education as a privilege, reserved for the better placed in society.
The necessity of stopping the dependence on private tuition has been the subject not only of our reports, but also of public pronouncements, governmental instructions, and general moral lecturing, along with various organisational proposals to improve the quality of what is offered in schools to make private tuitions redundant. These are not useless attempts, and we support and encourage efforts in these directions.
The point is that no matter how strongly we pursue these remedial courses of action, the dependence on private tuition would be hard to eliminate unless basic curricular reforms are undertaken. That is something we do stress in this report, without in any way undermining what we have recommended in the past to reduce this debilitating dependence, and without trying to undermine what is being done through other means to fight this dependence.
'MY BIGGEST DREAM IS NO CHILD GOES HUNGRY'
The World Food Programme chief has lamented the severity of world hunger and said her biggest dream is to see no child goes hungry. Worldwide, 1.02 billion people or one in six of the world's total population are suffering from hunger and a child dies of hunger in every six seconds.
"Every child deserves at least one humble cup of food a day," said Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in an interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, showing a small red plastic cup.
"This is a cup from our school feeding program in Rwanda." The world food chief said her life changed in 1986 when she saw an Ethiopian mother holding her 8-month-old child in the famine.
The child cried for food, but the mother could not satisfy the child's basic need, only to see the child die in her arms.
"No mother should have to hold their child and see them die in their arms," Ms Sheeran stressed.
"Today, one out of every six people on planet Earth will wake up and not sure even how to fill up one humble cup of food," she said, "this is a challenge." To help address the world hunger problem, the WFP has put a "1 billion for 1 billion" appeal on the Internet, calling on the 1 billion people on Earth who have enough food to contribute one euro a week to help the 1 billion people who do not have a cup of food.
Ms Sheeran stressed that the hunger situation in the world is quite severe. "This is caused in part due to the severe weather, in fact the food crisis was triggered when Australia had a severe drought, coupled with a few other problems." In many of the world's hunger hotspots where land is too dry or too wet, she said the conditions are going to get more severe. It is predicted that it will get worse. Xinhua
THE ASIAN AGE
IT'S BEST TO AVOID IMPEACHMENT
The saga of the Chief Justice of the Karnataka high court, P.D. Dinakaran, is a narrative laden with irony. Here was a judge whose name was among a set approved by the Supreme Court collegium for elevation to the apex court until a rethink was forced by the intervention of some of the best known lawyers of the country and the agitation mounted by the Forum for Judicial Accountability. The first steps in the impeachment proceedings against the judge have been taken. The vice-president of India, who is the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, has admitted a motion seeking impeachment. As required, the chairman will now constitute a committee of three to investigate the charges. This is a crucial stage. The succeeding steps in the impeachment process, which concern proceedings on the floor of Parliament, come into play only after the probe panel submits an adverse report. This step can take time. A similar investigation committee constituted last year to go into charges against a judge of the Calcutta high court is yet to produce its findings. What is noteworthy, however, is that the Supreme Court collegium has withdrawn Chief Justice Dinakaran's name from consideration for elevation. This came in the wake of the Rajya Sabha Chairman admitting the motion of impeachment. The collegium had chosen not to take note of the recommendation of the Union law ministry last August to pull Chief Justice Dinakaran's name from the list of high court judges who were to be elevated. At that stage the charges of misconduct centring on illegal encroachment of government and public lands had been made but not looked into. Since then the collector of Tiruvallur district in Tamil Nadu, who had probed the charge at the instance of the Chief Justice of India, has confirmed the allegations.
It is noteworthy that the CJI did not withdraw Chief Justice Dinakaran's name even at that stage; he did so only when the impeachment motion in the Rajya Sabha was to be admitted. Possibly Chief Justice Dinakaran was being given a long rope. He had the opportunity to resign. That could have pre-empted the impeachment move. Even at the present stage, the judge under the scanner proclaims his innocence and has said he will not resign. He has also said he possesses documents that will establish his innocence. He will have the opportunity to rebut the charges in the impeachment debate in Parliament if the matter reaches that stage in the light of the findings of the probe committee.
Now that it is amply clear that Chief Justice Dinakaran will not make the Supreme Court, it may have been prudent of him and in the best interest of the higher judiciary to put in his papers. Indeed, this should have been done when questions first began to be raised. By not doing so the judge has evidently decided to fight it out. This is an embarrassment the country could have done without. The judge should ideally have left the field at the first whiff of scandal, real or presumed. This is an important basis on which to proceed in a democracy. Clearing the judge's name is doubtless important, for him and the public institution he serves, for the judiciary must be seen to be free of taint. It was not difficult to do so. The documents that purportedly show him to be blameless could have been forwarded to the CJI, and to the Supreme Court collegium. But Chief Justice Dinakaran evidently prefers a parliamentary debate on allegations against him to a more quiet (and no less honourable) exit. The present case highlights the need for institutional mechanisms to probe the conduct of members of the higher judiciary before the red button of impeachment is pressed.
THE ASIAN AGE
ISOLATED ZARDARI TO FIND IT HARD TO STAY
Wednesday night's ruling by a 17-member bench of Pakistan's Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is clearly a blow to President Asif Ali Zardari's prestige as well as his political position, from which it may be hard to recover given the parallelogram of forces in that country. It is yet to be seen if he can hold on to his office. The striking down of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) of October 2007 by the court essentially takes away Mr Zardari's (and that of thousands of others, including interior minister Rehman Malik) immunity from prosecution for offences for which he had been charged before the NRO was promulgated. Essentially, this means the reopening of a money-laundering case pending under Swiss jurisdiction. Even before the damning judgment, the President was increasingly getting isolated within his Pakistan People's Party over his controversial positions on a range of domestic issues, and in relation to the Pakistan military, which is the country's main power centre. Were this not the case, Mr Zardari could have met the judgment with greater political élan. The way it has turned out, however, there have been no popular demonstrations in support of the President after the Supreme Court expressed itself on the NRO.
Mr Zardari has sought to strike a lofty pose, telling a group of journalists that, like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto before him, he was ready to face all challenges, and that his object was to save Pakistan from turning into another Afghanistan. Such a posture could be maintained if there had been protests in the country against the Supreme Court order. Since Mr Zardari has already served a jail term for 11 years in various cases during the previous military regime and earlier on charges that he, his late wife Benazir, and the PPP insisted were politically motivated he may even have emerged as a martyr if the national mood had been with him. But apart from a succession of serious political mistakes (including the alienating of the community of lawyers, by now an important social and political constituency, the judiciary, the Chief Justice, the Army, the Opposition, not to mention his own Prime Minister who has moved close to the military) committed by the President, his government has also presided over a frightening internal security situation and an economic calamity that has left people without daily necessities, including bread. This is an unenviable situation to be in. If the going had been good for Mr Zardari, the country might have taken a more large-hearted view of the NRO. After all, the measure had been promulgated by Gen. Pervez Musharraf under American pressure to enable Benazir Bhutto to return home and take part in the election process, and in order to free her husband and others from prison. In the event, the former Prime Minister returned home to a rousing welcome from her people. This suggested that the NRO had its uses. Without it, a credible election could not have been imagined at that stage. And yet, all those who had hailed that election and the restitution of the PPP leadership are cheering the striking down of the NRO. That is the measure of the about-turn that Pakistan's domestic politics has taken.
As Pakistan's neighbour, India of course needs to be watchful. Flowing from a fluid political situation, domestic unrest in that country is not unlikely. That can ease the way for anti-India jihadist outfits. The best outcome for all concerned, including Pakistan's neighbours, is that the political system does not come unhinged.
THE ASIAN AGE
INDIA SCREAMS FOR ICE CREAM!
Goodness gracious me!! As Peter Sellers might have exclaimed at the hullabaloo over Haagen Dazs and its rather silly ad campaign. To begin with, it's a pretty lousy ice cream. I mean, I find it lousy, over-rated and over-priced. Upar se, the brand's entry into India has raised hackles over the tasteless ad campaign that has since been "modified". Are we really that sensitive as to go ballistic over a cup of a hazel nut and raspberry duo that costs the earth? Come on, guys! That corny line about entry restricted to "international passport holders only" was exactly that corny! All passports by definition are international, remember? What's a "local" passport?? It was obviously the brainchild of an immature copywriter taking a shot at being extra clever. Clearly, the ad agency got it all wrong, and now the excreta has hit the ceiling. Various groups have banded together to scream, "Racism'' and demand an apology if not an immediate closure of the Delhi outlet. My guess is that the person guffawing all the way to the bank must be the marketing director of the ice cream brand. Without spending an extra paisa, Haagen Dazs has become a pretty well known (or notorious) national name. How easy was that? If one thinks "brand recall" well, it doesn't get any better than this.
They say nothing works as brilliantly as publicity that hammers home a message regardless of what that message is. Repeated often enough, it sinks into our khopdis and there it stays. After a point, not many people remember why they remember it but the fact remains, they do! Target achieved. So it might be with the Indian consumer and Haagen Dazs the ice cream with attitude. The one that cheekily and blatantly discriminates against citizens of the host country by excluding them completely. Whether or not it's true, people fervently believe the brand was serious about banning Indians from its premiere outlet in Delhi. But common sense should tell us this cannot be so. For one, it is illegal. For another, it's asking for trouble. Big trouble. At the time of writing, public outrage was beginning to snowball into something major. This may change if something juicier diverts media attention, and bloggers discover a new bete noire. But for now, tweets by the nanosecond are flying around the world mobilising opinion against the brand's provocative advertising that got tweeple into overdrive, tearing into the foolish campaign like it was an American conspiracy to keep desis out and destabilise the region. Which, on deeper analysis makes zero sense I mean which brand in the world would want to keep its main customers out? That's as good as committing professional hara-kiri. Haagen Dazs is in India to sell ice cream tonnes of it to Indians. I doubt they'd survive if their client base didn't go beyond the expats of Delhi. They're here to make us fat on their gooey ice cream so, why would they keep us out?
Excuse me, what's all the fuss about in that case? I think it is about our thin skins. We have taken offence (count me in!) at what is seen as a racial slur, a national insult, a crime. Our izzat is at stake and we shall go to any length to protect it. How dare Haagen, come into our country and insult our pride? Would this be tolerated by any other nation? Never. But we are all so bloody phus, these arrogant fellows can walk in here and spit on our face. This is too much! It is time we asserted ourselves and told these people where to get off. Haagen Dazs may claim to be the greatest ice cream in the world, so what? We won't take their barbs and taunts lying down, either. Oh no. We'll show them! God alone knows what we want to show them. But right now, we have shown them how hyper we are. By over-reacting, we have done the brand a huge favour. And made Haagan Dazs into the Raj Thackeray of the ice cream world. It has become a newer, trendier version of the outsider\insider issue. I have watched various people with considerable amusement condemning the ice cream and swearing not to lick a single spoon. This is crazy, considering what a non-issue it is. Haagen Dazs is to India what sarson da saag is to America an acquired taste. We are used to uncomplicated, simple ice creams vanilla, chocolate and strawberry (with and without nuts). Now along comes this fancy brand at an even fancier price and has us frothing at the mouth instead of salivating. Please guys, think! Haagen Dazs needs our patronage. We don't need Haagen Dazs. Geddit?
Jaaney do. The latest controversy has led to a free national awareness campaign that would otherwise have cost the brand a huge amount of money. The ice cream is front-page news and a matter of heated debate across channels at prime time. Fortunately for the brand, there is no George Fernandes around to chase it out of India, the way Georgie Boy had chased out Coca Cola.
The naara of patriotism and national pride has been raised ("Yankees go home!") by alert watchdogs who spotted the offensive line and started a roaring, countrywide controversy in a flash (long live twitter!). I heard several Dilliwallas holding forth on national television about the audacity of the brand to demand passports before letting customers into the parlour. Someone pointed out India's fixation with foreign brands and how Haagen Dazs was cleverly cashing in on our weakness by establishing its "exclusivity" and creating an edge over competing products. Frankly, I think the whole hoo-hah is a load of humbug. Indians are bored at the moment. Apart from Sehwag's performance, there is very little action to distract our attention. Strange that an ice cream brand that chose to launch itself during winter, is generating so much heat. It makes me recall a childhood ditty most of us have repeated at some point: I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Only this time, we are screaming to throw one particular one out. Chalo throw it out. But then you'll have to start looking for a substitute right away. We desperately need something/someone to fill the vacated spot. It is called "the flavour of the season". Right now, the flavour is a bit too bitter for anyone's taste. Haagen Dazs, hai hai! Kulfi, zindabad!!
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THE ASIAN AGE
BRITISH PONY TALES
Everyone is winding down in London with the holiday season approaching no one is serious about work any more, and so it's a good time to get away. For a while, the most pressing problem on everyone's mind is no longer the economy but whether British Airways is going to go on strike and wreck everyone's holiday plans. But then, the really important issue surfaced: who was going to win X-Factor? It is a show everyone has got addicted to, including Prince Harry who actually showed up to sit in the audience for the grand finale last week in which over 10 million people voted for the winner, 18-year-old Joe McElderry, who also bagged a £1 million record contract.
Prince Harry came with his on-off girlfriend Chelsy Davy and sat through the performance which drew a record 18 million viewers. Obviously, the couple who claim to be 'potty' about the show may have re-kindled some feelings towards each other as well. Oddly enough, the other Prince and his consort William with Kate Middleton were also spotted out on the same night but they were watching the award winning show The War Horse, all about an army recruit and his beloved steed. While the young Harry had no qualms about being spotted with his lady love, William was much more circumspect and was careful not to be photographed with Kate. It is these little mysteries which keep the tabloid press bubble-fretting whether there is actually an X-factor between Will and Kate, who by all accounts are still in love after a seven-year relationship.
Strangely enough, the The War Horse has turned out to be a show much favoured by the royals. Not so long ago, the Queen had quietly walked into the theatre where the heart-warming show is being performed and taken her seat without any pomp and ceremony, much to the pleasant surprise of other viewers. Can you imagine President Pratibha Patil quietly walking into a theatre? My imagination boggles what will the SPG and the other security cordons and sniffer dogs do with themselves? Their importance would be diminished terribly wouldn't it? As would the importance of the President. So whilst the Queen can calmly do away with her security and confidently sail into a theatre like any normal person, it is simply not possible in India, for a truly high profile person to behave in the same way.
However, given the high publicity attracted by The War Horse (since the Royals seem rather fond of it) I rather recklessly blew a hole in the family budget and bought tickets for it. But in retrospect it seems that I must confess that there is a definite yawning chasm between my taste and that of the Royals. Or perhaps there is an even wider chasm between my taste and that of the average Londoner and theatre critic, since the play has been running almost the whole year to packed houses and has been receiving rave reviews. The kindest explanation I could think of was that Britain is a horse-crazy country. The Queen, as we already are aware, loves most animals and is mad about horses. So are the children and grandchildren. Therefore, perhaps a play where the main character is a huge puppet of a horse manipulated very skilfully (in full public view) by three puppeteers who also whinny and neigh when needed could only be appreciated by someone who is totally besotted by equestrian pursuits. I have never really indulged in any sporting exercise (apart from some mild walking) and so for me to fall dewey-eyed in love with a wooden horse on stage was a rather impossible task. Worse, my husband wanted to leave within the first five minutes after we realised that we would have to watch a "make-believe" horse cavorting across the stage for the next two hours. I did my best to pretend that the Queen was in the audience and so we all had to behave, but nothing helped. We were asleep for most of the play and all I can say is that I have much greater appreciation for the British stamina for self-flagellation now than I did before. I did actually ask the couple next to us why they appeared to be riveted by the play (where even the dialogue was quite pedestrian) though of course, as I said, it was a very moving tale of how these poor horses were cannon fodder, especially, during the World War I. But once that point was established and we had wept over the inequity of being born a horse who is then sold into warfare for no fault of his what next? I am seriously hoping I will meet the Queen one day soon and closely question her about her fascination for the play.
In Delhi, in lieu of plays we all go to book launches. And I must say its been fun because I have already attended two. One of which was the launch of my husband's new book The Rediscovery of India. It was a great idea, by the publishers, to have the highly provocative launch at Teen Murti and we all wished that Jawaharlal himself had been present. He would have enjoyed the debate which arose because he had an unfettered mind, and was not bogged down by petty self-indulgent beliefs. He would have also appreciated the fact that India and Indian history has come so far ahead we know so much more today than the information available when he wrote his Discovery of India. He would have also liked the diversity of opinion represented on stage among people who had come to talk about the book (apart from Meghnad): it was an eclectic mix from Jaswant Singh to Mridula Mukherjee to Ashish Nandy. And when we left the auditorium, I did feel that in celebrating the book in such a way, with such a varied representation of people on stage, meant that the spirit of Nehru was still present in India. It was a comforting thought.
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com
THE ASIAN AGE
BY ARUN NEHRU
U.S. President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize while his country wages wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to Mr Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people. The committee has attached special importance to Mr Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
The decision of the committee is very surprising since it has ignored icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela in the past. Clearly their priorities are very different from our assessment of global situations.
Mr Obama is a superb orator, has achieved a remarkable electoral victory and has changed the image of the US in the global community.
We wish him well as he struggles to stabilise the US economy, free the system of the vested interests on healthcare and regulates the financial industry that has virtually bankrupted the system.
We have had excellent relations with the US under former President George W. Bush and this continues as our good relations are based on mutual interests that go beyond trade and commerce.
Mr Obama's China visit and his remarks with regard to India and Pakistan did create a great deal of political confusion but these were skillfully diverted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US. These were "disturbing" developments and indicated a rather casual approach to a serious issue between the two countries.
We sincerely hope that Mr Obama succeeds in his efforts in Iraq where the situation is marred by daily suicide attacks and in Afghanistan where an additional force of 30,000 troops will be deployed. Is there any sign of peace on the horizon?
I have read Mr Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. It was skillfully drafted and had a "little" for everyone. The speech praised the tactics of peace and non-violence and justified the use of force and war. The same argument could have been put forward by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela as they fought a brutal colonial regime while revolutionists advocated the use of violence and armed struggle.
The opportunity was ripe as the British Empire was weakened and virtually bankrupt after two World Wars. But in a world dominated by kings and queens, the imperial feudal order, colonial domination and exploitation based on the power of superior weapons, the Mahatma roused the conscience of the nation and led the freedom movement, which liberated India.
We cannot and should not wrestle with the past events but attitudes have not really changed. Also I wonder if Iraq would have been attacked if it really possessed weapons of mass destruction.
The electorate in the US and many of its allies have rejected the theory deployed by Mr Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Iraq where war was waged on the basis of "false intelligence" reports. Civilian casualties in Iraq have crossed over 1,00,000 but the war waged against Taliban and Al Qaeda has found worldwide acceptance.
The tactics deployed by Mr Obama in West Asia have so far yielded little but the effort must continue with a more balanced approach in the region.
I have little faith in political miracles and I would like to believe that we are heading for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan as well as in Iran.
Also we would like to believe that one day we would be able to see a stable and a democratic Pakistan. Till this can happen we would like to see the United Progressive Alliance government and the Opposition to do everything in its power to strengthen our defence mechanism both the external and internal.
In the field of nuclear development and climate control, which affects our gross domestic product, we have to read beyond the speeches and the rhetoric. Our national interests have to take precedence over other issues.
We are witnessing a major shift in political and economic power from the West to the East, and this is little more than a "correction". The decision-making in the future will be more balanced and from a single superpower we have already moved into a situation where a collection of superpowers will determine the global agenda.
The political crisis in Andhra Pradesh escalates and after the midnight announcement by the home minister P. Chidambaram on separate statehood for Telangana we are heading for another regional political force in Andhra Pradesh in addition to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and the Telugu Desam Party.
Much will depend on the action taken in regard to the political interests of Jaganmohan Reddy and his supporters who are clearly in majority in the Assembly. Their financial power and the continuity of their business interests might override all other considerations. The Congress high command cannot delay the process of decision-making beyond a point. The President's Rule is not a viable option for the Congress.
The principal of hindsight can be deployed and blame can be apportioned to individuals but this is not going to resolve the crisis and defeat can be turned into victory for the moment by supporting the majority views expressed by the MLAs in Andhra Pradesh.
Political authority is being subverted by financial power and taking into account the exploding cost of electoral expenses and the lack of transparency and accountability for fund collections, these problems are being experienced by political parties.
The problems faced by the Congress in Andhra Pradesh and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka are coming to public attention as both are big states.
However, this ailment that exists in Goa and in most of the north-eastern states and is reflected in the assets of many political leaders and their family members. The vast majority of funds generated are through land reservation and acquisition by those in power and this will generate the maximum resistance in the immediate future.
Arun Nehru is a former Union minister
A friend of mine called to say that he had a vision of me: sitting under the trees in my garden with an embroidery hoop and drawing needle and thread to form perfect stitches... my friend saw me embroidering roses wrought of satin and chain stitch. It is a very restful image, he added.
It is an image I cling to. There are days when I have asked myself why I do what I do. As a columnist and author, words have become the sum total of the living hour, of existence. Art it may be, but writing is also the profession that defines me. It has taken me a very long time but these days I can say it without awkwardness. "I write," I say when asked what I do. And I can with great élan ignore the following question in the person's eyes: For a living? No, I meant what do you do to earn your keep? It is at such times that I wish I could truly embroider a few stories. "I am a disaster management expert." "I am an aviation etiquette trainer." "I am a pet shrink." But for a professional embroiderer of tales, I am abysmal at lying.
I have also come to realise that writing would never mean as much to someone who isn't inclined towards it. And hence one is subject to certain disparaging comments that would seldom have been thrown at an architect or a doctor or a college professor. One of my all-time favourites is a query from a visiting relative: "Still writing?" What on earth could have triggered that remark? Because I was sitting under the trees that Sunday afternoon with a G and T? Or because I was sans the articles of my profession pen and paper or laptop? Or because he couldn't conceive that a writer is for life?
I smiled as pleasantly as I could, murmured a few choice epithets in my head and said, "Yes, of course." In hindsight, I wish I had added I am thinking of taking up embroidery, though!
Anita Nair's new novel will be published in January 2010
FINALLY, CRIME FICTION FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM
Aficionados of crime fiction often get excited whenever a new author appears on the scene. The consensus is that after the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, generally thought to be between the 1930s and the 1960s, there have not been many writers who have startled with their originality either in plot-making or in terms of the character. That the greats are still popular is evident from the rush at the crime fiction section in any bookshop in the world.
The racks are still full of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, P D James and the Americana masters Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, all different in style and substance but all still very engaging and original. The intrepid buff will also track down authors like Ed McBain and Ross McDonald in second hand book shops.
However, these are all from way, way back. The last four decades have seen a dry spell in this business. Not that there have been no books at all: James Ellroy created a flutter with his noir novels and sparse writing and there is no dearth of authors who are a good read on a flight. There is much action on television too, with Inspector Barnaby of the quaint but lethal village of Midsomer in England and the Law and Order officers dealing with crime in New York. But there is something missing.
That gap has been filled by the three books of Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson that have taken the world by storm. Called the Millenium trilogy, the books have generated an unprecedented buzz among lovers of crime fiction for their fascinating characters and also for much, much more. Larsson died soon after the books were submitted for publication and did not really see the worldwide success of his creations--this lends a certain piquancy to the whole thing.
The books cannot strictly be called detective fiction because there is no traditional gumshoe, sleuth, call it whatever as the hero. The two main protagonists are Mikael Blomkvist, the publisher and writer of a small but influential investigative journal much like Larrson was and Lisbeth Salander, possibly one of the most intriguing women characters of recent times.
Salander is 22-year old social misfit who was sent to a psychiatric ward when she was 12 and then grew up a troubled individual who was kept with several foster homes. The Swedish state then monitored her development, managed her money and basically controlled her life. She lived on the streets and eventually found part time employment with an investigative firm which realised they had a troubled genius on their hands.
While her social skills were non-existent, she was a wizard at tracking down information, mainly because of her computer hacking skills. Dimunitively built at under five feet, she nonetheless packs a mean punch, rides a motorcycle, is a bi-sexual with tattoos and piercings and has great trouble in expressing emotions. A real mixed up kid who, along with Blomkvist whom she alternatively loves and hates, solves crimes.
These are no ordinary crimes and that is what makes the triology no ordinary series. They do not concern mere individuals, but the whole of Swedish society. This is not the bland and generous Sweden of popular lore, a country run by a gentle welfare state and populated by altruistic people and lovely blonde women. This is a country also of mafias, human-traffickers, neo-Nazis, prostitution rings, corrupt businessmen.
Larsson's Sweden is a place where the government turns a blind eye while powerful scamsters bilk the exchequer and the welfare system is cold-hearted and venal and cannot cope with non-conformists. It is a sordid universe where two people, one an oddball who wants to be left alone and the other a crusader who is determined to set things right come together to expose wrong doers. Larsson has little but contempt for the media and journalists as a class, considering them lazy and in bed with the establishment; it is an uncomfortable truth that will strike a chord with journalists all over the world.
Larrson himself was a fighting writer and activist who waged campaigns against extreme-right groups. His socialist and feminist instincts are obvious in the novels. Many readers have said that these are books about social justice and are not classic whodunits. It has also been argued that the plots have no mystery in them, or at least the reader is not given any clues. That is a valid complaint, since a key attraction of a good detective story are the red herrings that the writer throws on the way to fool the reader. Yet that has not stopped the books from selling in their millions.
Reading the books also raises another question: why has India not thrown up a truly good detective writer? There are Hindi pulp novels of course and some stray books and there is Inspector Ghote of the Bombay Police created by an Englishman, H R F Keating. But contemporary Indian writing is bogged down in diaspora dilemmas, exotica and questions of identity. India has so much more to offer than spices and arranged marriages. Why has no one thought of using modern India with all its contradictions as a backdrop to a ripping crime story? It's a question worth pondering over. Meanwhile, pick up the Stieg Larsson books and take them on your holidays.
For those who care about such things, the goings on at Copenhagen are a matter of deep concern.
But really, if you take a head count, among our billion and more, and ask each one of us about global warming, and the general state of the Earth, chances are: on a scale of 1 to 5, the subject and awareness of it would be closer to 1, if it features at all.
Don't believe me?
Then read on!
Outside Dadar station, on the east side, there stands a great tree. Its trunk is venerable, entwined with roots that have been discouraged from spreading themselves. It stands tall and stately, its leaves the only green left against a backdrop of posters in garish colours and other evidence of urban living.
I have sent out a silent greeting to the tree each morning as I pass it by, saluting its majesty, and hoping it will continue to stand as it does, despite the fact that there is so much digging and cementing that goes on in the road around it.
Today, I was dismayed to find the top of the tree chopped off. Like a ritual beheading. The trunk alone remained with one small leafy branch forking out in, what seemed to me, a call for help.
Global warming may be a larger issue. But the temperature around a city is kept more equable by trees. Rising temperatures is the often the result of concrete replacing the cool water bearing leaves, that also give shade, and combat pollution. Somebody needs to tell axe-happy authorities this basic truth.
Instance 2: The canteen of my own office, or most likely any other. Or in fact our very homes. Have you watched how the bai or the canteen boy washes vessels?
Well, I watched this one in our office canteen washing a rag. Very meticulous, he spread it out and soaped it thoroughly, and turned it around and soaped it again, and then set about rubbing it briskly. All the while the tap was open and the water flowed in a steady stream.
I shouted to him to close the tap till he needed the water, and he did so, looking surprised. It had never crossed his mind that the tap could some day run dry.
A similar story enacts itself in my colony where cars are washed. I have rebuked the man who washes my car many times, but he will keep the water pipe flowing as he dries the cars, and move to shut the tap only when he is done.
Not only does he waste water, but he leaves the cars standing in a swamp by the time he is done. And we are facing a water crisis, and wonder why it is necessary.
He has learnt to use a pipe instead of buckets of water, to clean the cars, thereby lessening his burden, but in the process has not learnt to use the water wisely.
But I don't blame him. In the washroom, I see young women letting the tap run as they soap their hands, or using reams of tissue to wipe them dry.
Small little things that no one taught us.
That we need to conserve to be able to share resources that were once in plenty, but thanks to the fact that there are more and more people claiming the right to use them, are now scarce.
That what we took for granted a decade ago, is now something we need to pay for: clean water or clean air are not easily at one's reach.
And life is heading towards full circle: more of us will soon be standing in queues to get our water, and we might end up buying our clean air in tubes
All the development in the world will not compensate when our life comes to this!
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
ARATI R JERATH
It's not politics this time. It's economics, stupid! The fight over Telangana is actually a battle for Hyderabad whose streets are thought to be paved with gold. Why else would a Member of Parliament from Vijaywada along the coast take the extreme step of quitting his Lok Sabha seat and proceeding on a hunger strike to protest the formation of a separate Telangana state? According to his fellow parliamentarians, the MP, L Rajagopal, has everything to lose if Telangana bags Hyderabad in the proposed division. His vast commercial interests in this boom city include a mega township called Lanco Hills, which has an investment outlay of some Rs 3,600 crore, mostly from NRI Andhras based in the US.
His colleagues say that Rajagopal's phone hasn't stopped ringing ever since Chidambaram's midnight announcement of the creation of Telangana, with worried investors phoning in to ask what's going to become of the money they've put into his mini city in Hyderabad. The global meltdown had caused a slump in any case and with Telangana looming large on the horizon, NRIs are threatening to pull out completely. No wonder Rajagopal is a worried man!
* * *
Outgoing BJP president Rajnath Singh emerged a loser in the compromise succession plan hammered out between LK Advani and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. While Advani retains his grip over the parliamentary party and Bhagwat has got his nominee, Nitin Gadkari, as president, Rajnath has been left emptyhanded. All those years of bowing and scraping to the Sangh seem to have got him nowhere. But Rajnath hasn't given up.
He is now lobbying to become chairman of the all powerful parliamentary board, which is the apex decision-making body. It's an audacious gambit because under the party constitution, the president automatically becomes the board chairman. But Rajnath's argument is that an exception was made for Advani who held the post instead of him. So why can't the constitution be amended and the fishes and loaves of office distributed evenly? It looks like the BJP's internal problems are far from over.
* * *
Rural development minister CP Joshi had to pull strings ultimately to win the hotly contested election for president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association. With chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who is Joshi's rival in state politics, secretly backing Shivcharan Mali, the Union minister went knocking on the doors of 10 Janpath for help. It came readily (Joshi is said to be a great favourite of Rahul Gandhi) and a directive went from Delhi. In a last-minute flurry, a compromise was effected. Mali withdrew from the contest and was duly appointed president of the Rajasthan Sports Council with a minister of state rank. And Joshi heads the RCA. Gehlot is maintaining a discreet silence but his detractors in Delhi believe that he will have to watch his step in future.
* * *
Delhi mayor Kanwar Sain has been fuming ever since he saw newspaper pictures of his Chennai counterpart M Subramaniam cycling away in Copenhagen to give a green push to the ongoing climate meet. Sain was supposed to have gone to the Danish capital too but at the last moment, the environment ministry cancelled his trip and denied him a place in the international limelight. Sain is so upset that he's dashed off a letter to the PM complaining about political bias. Sain is a BJP member while Subramaniam is from the DMK.
ACTING AGAINST DINAKARAN
BALL IS SET ROLLING TO DECIDE HIS FATE
Vice-President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari has justifiably admitted a notice of motion signed by 76 MPs to start impeachment proceedings against Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran.
This would be widely welcomed because the judge has damaged the reputation of the judiciary by refusing to quit the high office despite being under a cloud. After the Tamil Nadu government confirmed serious charges of land-grabbing and benami transactions against him, Justice Dinakaran lost the moral authority to continue in office.
Unfortunately, instead of resigning from the post and protecting the fair image and reputation of the higher judiciary, he chose to continue for reasons best known to him. Consequently, as impeachment is the only route available for Parliament to get rid of such a judge, the Rajya Sabha Chairman has initiated the process of impeachment of Justice Dinakaran. In the national interest, Parliament would do well to decide his fate sooner than later.
Significantly, this comes close on the heels of two equally important developments the decision to divest Justice Dinakaran of the duty of presiding over judicial hearings "until further notice"; and the Supreme Court collegium's belated communication withdrawing its proposal for Justice Dinakaran's elevation to the Supreme Court.
The Dinakaran episode has once again brought into focus the serious limitations and the inadequacies in the collegium system. The very fact that Justice Dinakaran's name could reach and get the collegium's nod in the first instance shows that the system of selecting judges for the apex court is seriously flawed. Increasing cases of judicial misconduct and corruption in recent times indicate that the collegium system is not working well. Moreover, the system is shrouded in mystery and one does not know the collegium's criteria for the selection of judges. There is, indeed, need to reform the system so that such things do not happen again.
HOPE ON CANCER FRONT
GENE DECODING MAY YIELD BETTER TREATMENT
A transforming moment may have finally arrived in the endless quest for a more effective treatment of cancer with the unlocking of the genetic code of lung and skin cancers by British scientists. This detailed picture of the fundamental causes of the disease may lead to earlier detection, clearer understanding of the causes and better drugs. In a decade from now, it may become possible for all cancer patients to have their tumours analysed to find the genetic defects that caused them. Such personalised therapy would be a medical revolution indeed. That is why scientists are ecstatic, with Mike Stratton of the Sanger Institute's cancer genome project telling a briefing in London: "We have never seen cancer revealed in this form before."
Right now, the breakthrough has come only in the case of melanoma skin cancer and lung cancer but soon similar progress may be made in other categories. India's national cancer genome anatomy project is focusing on cancers of the oral cavity, while stomach cancer is being studied in China, breast cancer in the UK, cancers of the brain, ovary and pancreas in the US and liver cancer in Japan.
The development is big news for India where over eight lakh persons are diagnosed with various cancers every year and about 5.5 lakh die of these deadly tumours. While the whole world waits patiently for an effective treatment, what must be remembered is that prevention is the first line of defence. Peter Campbell of the Sanger Institute has underlined that the lung tumour carried more than 23,000 mutations and the melanoma had more than 33,000. A smoker developed one mutation for every 15 cigarettes smoked. The good news is that by quitting smoking, cancer risk falls as damaged lung cells are replaced by healthy cells. Similarly, weeding out foods contaminated by toxins can save lives.
CHANGES IN THE BJP
RSS STRANGLEHOLD, ADVANI MAY HAMPER CHANGE
After weeks of procastination the BJP has made known its intention to effect a generational change this month with Mr Nitin Gadkari replacing Mr Rajnath Singh as party president, and Ms Sushma Swaraj donning the party leadership mantle in the Lok Sabha. With Mr Arun Jaitley already leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, a younger leadership is now emerging to take control of a party that has been hurtling towards disaster in the aftermath of the debacle in the last Lok Sabha elections. There are two elements of the proposed changes, however, that cannot escape attention. The first is the unmistakable stamp of the RSS in the changes on the anvil and the second the fact that the octogenarian leader, Mr L.K. Advani, will assume the role of a mentor in the new scheme of things in the new post of BJP Parliamentary Party chairman.
It is indeed no secret that Mr Gadkari, a leader not known widely across the country, is a protégé of the RSS and would owe his enhanced status to it. How subservient that would make him to the RSS, which wields power without responsibility, is anybody's guess. At a time when people at large are fed up with temple politics and obscurantist attitudes of the RSS and the aging BJP leaders, would the new incumbent be able to inspire the requisite confidence by hanging by RSS coat-tails? Also, would the generational change symbolised by the emergence of Mr Gadkari, Ms Sushma Swaraj, and Mr Arun Jaitley in key positions not be unduly reined in by the presence of Mr Advani as an ultimate authority over them?
Evidently, the BJP is still going through a churning process and its leaders are unsure of what they want. Mr Gadkari is no visionary and his record inspires little hope of a break with the past. Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Arun Jaitley may bring a whiff of fresh air but they may be allowed little initiative. All in all, the BJP reorganisation is a patchwork solution which offers little hope of the party's resurgence.
OBSESSION WITH HIGH GROWTH
THINK OF THE WELFARE OF COMMON MAN TOO
BY JAYSHREE SENGUPTA
No one can deny that economic growth or GDP growth is important because it means more output, more employment, more business activity, rising stock markets, wealth creation and prosperity. India has experienced over 9 per cent growth before the global financial crisis and today seems to be obsessed with high growth and is trying hard to achieve 9 to 10 per cent GDP growth it reached a few years back. The last quarter's ( July to September 2009) GDP growth of 7.9 per cent seems to make that goal possible.
But is high growth translating into prosperity and happiness all around? It is a question worth asking. Because if high growth is only leading to skyscrapers, five star hotels and malls, then one wonders whether it is really benefiting the people in the villages and the vulnerable sections of the population.
According to a recent report, the percentage of poor in India for 2004-05 has been estimated at 37.2 per cent which is quite high. The Tendulkar committee has set the threshold per capita consumption expenditure for defining the poor in rural India at Rs 446 per month and for the poor in urban India at Rs 580 per month. At today's prices this amount would not feed anyone for a month. It is very surprising how the "aam admi" is able to manage his household with nearly 20 per cent food inflation.
If higher growth means more jobs, better housing for workers, better living standards for all, specially better health and education, better transportation system and low inflation, it would surely be welcome. Thus today when India is on the verge of achieving 9 to 10 per cent growth, it is important that the quality of life for the average person also improves. It should not mean astronomical salaries for the corporate executives and luxurious lifestyle for a few while others face daily drudgery and gloomy futures.
Basically, where should high GDP growth lead us to and what does it mean? For India it should mean more investment in health, education and infrastructure. Even the Supreme Court has recently observed that high GDP growth with so much poverty is quite meaningless because it leads to trafficking of women and children. One would like to wish that India could be a country like Norway, Sweden or Finland which have egalitarian lifestyles for all and life that is peaceful as there is very little crime and violence.
No wonder, the Scandinavian countries are at the top of the latest prosperity index calculated by the Lagatum Institute of London. There the children are looked after in proper schools, they have efficient healthcare, retirement benefits, good public transport, good housing, clean water and power throughout the day. There is no sharp contrast between the upper 30 per cent of the population vis-à-vis the rest, and a good social welfare system allows people to live longer and in dignity. One must remember that this ideal model works not only because these countries are sparsely populated and very cold (so that immigration is discouraged) but because the government spends 50 per cent of the GDP on the welfare of the people. They are at the top of the UN Human Development index also.
Why has India slipped in the recently released Human Development Index 2009 down to 134th place from the 128th in 2008? It means the government has not been effective in promoting human development despite high growth as its per capita social expenditure by the government is much less than many of the developed countries. Even within India the states that have a higher per capita social expenditure have a better rank in India's human development index. The first, of course, is Kerala, then Punjab and lowest ranks are for UP and Bihar. If high growth means better public hospitals and not just private hospitals that are like five star hotels and have very costly tests, consultations and other medical procedures, then it would be a desirable thing.
According to Megsaysay award winner P. Sainath, India has one of the six most privatised health care systems in the world. When the poor fall sick, they have to borrow heavily for treatment and one illness can push them into penury. Indian rural health spending accounts for the second largest component of rural debt. If high growth only leads to elitist culture and only a handful are getting all the benefits of modern technology and medicine, then it has little meaning for all.
If high growth means better education for the entire population where all schools have more or less the same standard of teaching and teaching aids, it is worth having. But if it means airconditioned classrooms for a few and no school building, teachers or books for a huge chunk of the population, it means little. Millions of school dropouts would not be able to benefit from high growth and would find jobs only as low paid labourers.
High growth should also bring good governance evident in a good waste disposal system, good sanitation, and uncontaminated drinking water from taps as it would mean a healthy workforce. It should mean decent housing for workers and other low income groups. If it is believed that the high rate of growth would trickle down and everyone would be able to benefit, then just look around has it trickled down anywhere in the world? All the prosperous countries that are at the top of all indices and indicators of wealth prosperity and happiness have had efficient governments and good governance. Social infrastructure like health, education and housing, and physical infrastructure like railways, roads, airports and ports, and a good public transport system have all been built by the governments in these countries, including in China.
If the benefits of growth are skewed and go to a small section of people and help them graduate from millionaires to billionaires, then it would not mean much to the ordinary people. Because everyone wants a decent standard of living and a good future for their children, and unless high growth fulfils at least these minimum aspirations, people would not be impressed with high growth. For them the prices of atta, rice, dals and vegetables would be more important as well as the quality of schooling and hospitals. They would want jobs also which in India are not growing at a fast rate after the global financial crisis.
Thus, the obsession is hardly going to be shared by the people. Unlike Indians, the Chinese are obsessed not by high growth but with making China a great power. They may be justified in doing so because the government has fulfilled the basic needs of the people first and all are united in making China great. In India that stage is yet to come because there is so much discontent and deprivation that it will take years for them to think about anything else but survival.
PEEPAL TREE NO. 918
BY JUPINDERJIT SINGH
Pillar No. 918 on the Indo-Pak zero line on Suchetgarh-Sialkot border has gone missing. The ever-watchful guards of both countries watched it disappear helplessly.Much after men from both countries partitioned the land and demarcated this area, a giant Peepal tree sprouted exactly on the zero line and consumed millimetre by millimetre the brick-lined pillar, of the size of milestones we see on the roads.
The tree, seemingly revered by both forces now, quietly witnessed the bloodbath between two countries over the years, all the time braving bullets and bombs, working quietly on the stone on its own. It eventually sucked it into its giant trunk engulfing the man-made structure with nature's wood.
The tree was there well before my eyes as I, part of a group of "lucky" visitors, could stand next to it and touch and feel it. There was a time in my childhood in Khalra village in Amritsar when our tractor would wade around such "border signs" while ploughing the land.
That time the borders had just such stones and no fencing and bundhs. Terrorists had not started sneaking in from across the border. And one didn't need VIP position or special access to go close to the stones as one has to do now.
After seeing hundreds of such stones, standing alone and strong in our village, or along Punjab border with Pakistan and even in Rajasthan where sandstorms can only temporarily erase them, I stood wonderstruck before this tree at the working of mother nature.
The speechless tree had its own way of telling us what the nature thought of such man-made boundaries.
No one could have fed it water or manure. It is dependent totally on rains but seems to have taken vital supplements from the brick-lined pillar it gulped and grew strong.
I felt the light brown trunk and it seemed it was crying. I felt I was hugging the one body of two brothers, India and Pakistan. Separated like Siamese twins, they have no love lost now and vie for each other's blood and of the progeny as well.
Whose tree is it? One half is in India and the other in Pakistan with branches extending their shade on both sides equally. As I walk back towards the Indian territory with BSF men closing the huge iron gates behind me, I brood on the message given by Mother Earth. We can create borders on her chest, dividing her breasts for the two sons to feed on. But can we divide the land and mark it mine or yours and make the mother nature behave accordingly?
But why was a new pillar not put up? Wasn't the numbering jeopardised? I asked the technical question to an officer. "Well, the tree is the Pillar No. 918 now. We have marked on it the number of the pillar it consumed."
The tree that tried to finish the man-made border is now part of the border, one of the thousands of such pillars. I felt as someone just took life out of something growing rapidly. That is what man does to nature.
BREAKTHROUGH IN CURE FOR CANCER?
BY STEVE CONNOR
British scientists announced on Friday that they have sequenced a "cancer genome" for the first time. It means they have identified all of the many thousands of genetic mistakes that make a tumour cell different from a healthy cell taken from the same cancer patient.
Not all of these mistakes, or DNA mutations, were involved in triggering the cancer, but some of them the "drivers" clearly were. Scientists believe it will be possible eventually to identify these driver mutations and find the genetic faults that led to the changes in a healthy human cell that caused it to divide uncontrollably to form a cancerous tumour.
How could this lead to a possible cure for cancer?
There is unlikely ever to be a single "cure" for cancer, which after all affects so many different tissues and organs of the body. In fact, there may be as many as 200 different types of cancer, and many more subtypes. But each and every cancer involves damage to the DNA template that rules the cell and governs the way it divides. In this respect, cancer is a genetic disease, indeed it is said to be the most common genetic disease since, in the developed world, it strikes one in three people over a lifetime, killing as many as one in five.
By understanding the nature of these genetic mutations in a cancer cell, it should be possible to design tailor-made drugs that specifically target the faults, or the outcome of the faults. It could also lead to new methods of diagnosing cancer in the earliest stages of the disease before it becomes apparent to the patient or doctor, or new ways of finding secondary cancers lurking in the body that have evaded earlier anti-cancer treatment.
Who carried out this work?
It was a team of human genome scientists led by Peter Campbell and Professor Mike Stratton at the Sanger Institute near Cambridge, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the world's biggest medical research charity. They are part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, a collaboration of research institutes from countries such as Britain and France in Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia. They will be taking samples from about 500 patients around the world in the hope of analysing the genomes of the 50 most common cancers.
What was actually done in the latest study?
The Sanger Institute scientists analysed cells stored from two patients who had died of cancer. One was a 55-year-old man with small-cell lung cancer and the other was a 45-year-old man with malignant melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. The researchers took a cancerous cell and a healthy cell from each patient and sequenced the full genetic code, or genome, of all four cells. They did this dozens of times over to make sure they had a correct final sequence, consisting of some 3 billion letters of the full human genome.
And what was the result?
The scientists found that the lung cancer cell had 22,910 DNA mutations that the healthy cell from the same patient did not possess. These mutations in the lung must have accumulated during the lifetime of the patient, many as a result of exposure to cigarette smoke. The same goes for the 33,345 mutations identified in the cancerous skin cells of 45-year-old man with malignant melanoma, although most of the mutations here are presumed to have been caused by exposure to sunlight.
Both of these "cancer genomes" show where the mutations occurred and in which of the chromosomes of the cell. They were published in the journal Nature. It was the scientific first step towards the "personalised medicine" of sequencing the DNA of cancer patients on a routine basis.
What do these mutations look like?
Some of them involve quite big changes to the DNA molecule, such as rearrangements of hundreds of thousands of letters in the four-letter code of DNA. But some of them are the smallest change possible, a shift for instance in one letter (known as a base) to another, such as C to T and vice versa, or an A to G and vice versa. These "base pairs" are at the heart of the DNA sequencing exercise.
Some of these mutations are already known from previous studies to be linked with certain environmental mutagens, the mutation-causing agents. Tobacco smoke, for instance, often results in the mutation of G to T, whereas ultraviolet light tends to mutate C to T. By looking at the mutations in the lung-cancer cell and the skin-cancer cell, scientists were able to see the influence that smoking and exposure to the sun had had on the DNA of these two patients. "In the melanoma sample, we can see sunlight's signature writ large in the genome," said Andy Futreal at the Sanger Institute.
But not all the mutations would have been involved in triggering the cancer. Most of them would have been harmless "passenger" mutations, but some of them would have been "drivers" within the genes that are in some way involved in cancer development.
How can this be used to identify the 'driver' mutations that cause cancer?
For this, it would be necessary to extend the sequencing effort into other patients suffering from the same cancer, perhaps as many as 500 people to achieve statistical significance. By comparing all mutations in all patients with the same cancer, scientists will be able to identify those that appear to be common to them all, and hence likely to be involved in triggering that particular disease.
Scientists have already identified more than 30 genes that play some kind of role in cancer development. This gives them a lead in terms of knowing where to search for the likely driver mutations that are probably involved in causing the cancer.
How might this lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs?
In the past, cancer drugs were discovered largely by trial and error. Now it is possible to find the precise genetic fault that causes a cell to divide uncontrollably and so hopefully be able to design a drug that can fix that specific fault.
For instance, scientists found that faults in a gene called BRAF were involved in triggering a high proportion of skin cancers. The mutations meant that the BRAF gene was permanently switched in the "on" position, causing the cells to divide continually in malignant melanoma. Scientists are now developing drugs that turn this gene "off", and some of these substances are near to clinical trials.
What do the experts say about this work?
They are very excited by it they have branded it "remarkable", "groundbreaking" and "fascinating". But it
will still be many years before we can expect full genome sequencing of a patient's cells to be used routinely in
hospitals and clinics that is if the NHS can ever afford it given the parlous state of public finances.n
By arrangement with The Independent
STANDARD GAUGE FOR RAILWAYS
BY ARABINDA GHOSE
The trial run for the Inderlok-Mundka metro line on standard gauge - 1435 millimeters (mm) - sometime ago and the announcement about the Airport Express Line of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) also on standard gauge are not merely historical firsts for the DMRC alone, but for the Indian Railways (IR) system too as a whole and could be hailed as the harbinger of integration of IR with the railway systems across the world.
More lines on this world favourite gauge (distance between the inner edges of rails) are expected in future by the DMRC in particular and the people of this country owe a gratitude to its Managing Director, E Sreedharan, for making the standard gauge happen in this country after his efforts to build the Delhi Metro on this gauge in 1999-2000 were spiked by the then Railway Board on the flawed logic that the system should be integrated with the general railway system in the country, which is largely on the broad gauge (1676 mm)
However, some day or other, the country will rue its decision to stick to the broad gauge (BG) even after Independence and the future generations will have to spend trillions of dollars in order to convert the entire B.G. system into standard gauge along with the rolling stock. All over the world, the Railways are staging a comeback, triggered by the TGV train system of SNFC (French National Railways in the early 1980s and within a few years we will have to face this problem when we join the trans Asian railway system.
Most of the systems in Asia and Europe falling on the trans Asian route are in either BG or metre gauge (1000 mm, MG)). India and Pakistan will be the major countries which offer road blocks to the proposed system because of the gauge problem. Of course Malaysia and Myanmar too have the problem of metre gauge and it is time they too at least start thinking about converting their lines to standard gauge.
Before the advent of the trans Asian railway system, it is necessary for India (and Pakistan) to provide at least one corridor from Moreh (on Manipur-Myanmar border) to Zahidan on the Pakistan-Iran border for a continuous standard gauge route for uninterrupted passage from say Singapore to Bosphorus in Turkey.
India has a golden opportunity to usher in the standard gauge over long distances without resorting to extensive conversion from broad gauge. Vast distances in north-eastern India, now without rail links, but on the threshold of being provided with this facility, offer a beginning with making Lumding on the Guwahati-Dibrugarh broad gauge route as the hub of a standard gauge system for the present to be extended to Guwahati in not-too-distant future. Here is how it can be done.
At present, the picturesque Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar section of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) is being converted from metre gauge to broad gauge. The work is being hampered because of militant activities. The work will of course be resumed, because on this conversion depends the construction of rail lines to Manipur and to Mizoram on the one hand and on the Dimapur-Nagaland line.
We have in our hand the conversion of the metre gauge system from Murkongselek to Rangia, north of Guwahati (with a branch line joining the Arunachal Pradesh capital of Itanagar) and on the other, the construction of the Bogibeel bridge across the Brahmaputra near Dibrugarh.
The idea is to provide standard gauge facilities within the broad gauge rails all along NFR east of Guwahati, with this city eventually becoming the hub of the standard gauge system in the north-eastern part of the country, with all BG lines there converted to standard gauge.
In fact, there should be no gauge other than the standard gauge for rail lines emanating eastward from Guwahati .The pending new line construction in southern Assam towards Manipur and from eastern Assam to Nagaland and Manipur should also be built in standard gauge. The Tripura line should be converted to standard gauge.
The New Bongaingaon-Siliguri line being converted from metre to broad gauge should be converted to standard gauge instead and eventually being extended through metre gauge systems in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan -where this systems still exists in certain stretches- could become the corridor for a thorough standard gauge system from Moreh to Pakistan border .It will be for Pakistan to choose the corridor to Zahidan.
Guwahati, Lumding or Dimapur could become the hub of construction of standard gauge coaches and wagons for a standard gauge system. One or more than one proposed new factories for building diesel locomotives could take charge of manufacturing standard gauge diesel locos. Electrification of the system could wait for the present.
SOME IN CHINA LIKE IT HOT
BY BARBARA DEMICK
In the debate over global warming, some historical meteorologists in China pose a contrarian view. Their theory, in a nutshell? Some like it hot.Looking back over the millenia, these scientists suggest that China has prospered during periods when temperatures are warmer than usual. Conversely, they point out, cold spells have brought tragedies along the order of barbarian invasions, collapsing dynasties and civil war.
The proposition that global warming might actually be good for China, or at least a mixed blessing, has been quietly discussed and largely dismissed in academic circles here. Those who see possible good in global warming for China rarely speak about it publicly, fearing that they will be cast as out of step with the global scientific mainstream.
But beneath the surface, the theory is not completely discounted.
"There are many different opinions in China about global warming, but people express them only in private," said Ge Jianxiong, director of the Institute of Chinese history and geographic studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.
Whether politically correct to talk about or not, the Mongol invasions under Genghis Khan at the start of the 13th century were hastened by a sharp drop in temperatures and the phenomenon now known as desertification, according to scientific studies.
"With the cold temperatures there was a drought in Mongolia. Since people were eating livestock which fed on the grasslands, they needed to go south," said Xie Zhenghui of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' International Center for Climate and Environmental Science. "When there was warmer weather and more rain, the Mongols didn't need to attack the south."
The same went for pre-Khan invaders. The western Zhou dynasty came to an abrupt end in 771 B.C., when cold temperatures drove barbarian tribes southward to sack the city of Xian, the capital whose glory is epitomized in the artistry of the terracotta warriors.
Warmer temperatures, on the other hand, have marked periods of major progress. During the Shang dynasty, (1766-1050 B.C.), when China developed its writing system, average temperatures around the Yellow River basin where China was centered were about 52 degrees, slightly warmer than today's temperatures.
The golden age of Chinese classics, epitomized by the life of Confucius (551-479 B.C.), and the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), which many historians consider the high point of Chinese power and civilization, also coincided with warmer than average weather.
Not to forget the start-up of the People's Republic of China. Temperatures have been rising since Mao Zedong's founding of the republic in 1949, most sharply in the 1980s and 1990s exactly the same period that the Chinese economy exploded. "Historically, when the temperatures were warmer, the dynasties were more prosperous," said Xie from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. "That led some people to theorize that global warming might be good for China."
Xie hastens to add that theory has been dismissed in proper circles in large part because it focused on northern dynasties, when in fact the center of power has been shifting southward.
These days, temperatures in China are about 1.8 degrees warmer than they were in the 1950s and almost as high as in the glory days of the Tang dynasty, according to the Yellow River Conservancy Commission.n
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram recently announced that the Centre would strive for setting up of hubs of the National Security Guards (NSG) or equivalent commando forces in all the States to strengthen the national security apparatus, which is a positive development and the Government should expedite the process of setting up such hubs as soon as possible to deal with terrorist attacks. The terror attacks in Mumbai last year exposed the loopholes in the security system in the country, following which the Government of India decided to set up regional NSG hubs, but despite repeated requests by the Government of Assam, the Centre decided to set up the NSG hub for the eastern region of the country in Kolkata. The delay in arrival of the NSG commandos gave a long rope to the terrorists in Mumbai as the NSG was informed late and then there was no crew of the aircraft that was to fly them to Mumbai from Delhi. Setting up of regional hubs will definitely hasten the reaction time, but it will definitely be a difficult proposition for the NSG men to rush to any part of North East to deal with terror attacks or any such eventuality without spending valuable time. The Government of India should have considered the proposal of the Assam Government while finalizing venues for setting up of regional centres of the NSG considering the vulnerability of the region to terror attacks, but unfortunately that was not done.
The north eastern region is always vulnerable to terror attacks as the region has long international boundaries with countries where anti-India forces have established their bases and the possibility of terror attacks like the one in Mumbai cannot be ruled out. Moreover, a number of militant groups are active in the region and the NSG commandos can play a major role in assisting the police in launching specific operations against militants, particularly in rescuing kidnapped persons as police and security forces hardly manage to secure release of persons kidnapped by the militants for ransom. The NSG hubs can also play a major role in training the police personnel of the north eastern States as the policemen of the region will definitely be benefited from the tough and specialized training of the NSG commandos. In recent times, the Centre has laid stress on modernization of the police forces of the States and is pumping in substantial amount of funds for procurement of modern weapons. But only procurement of sophisticated weapons will not serve the purpose if the police personnel are not properly trained to use such weapons and in this regard, the NSG hubs can play a major role. One hopes that the Centre will seriously consider the vulnerability of the NE and the first of the State NSG hubs will be established in Assam.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
AID TO CREATIVITY
ARUP KUMAR DUTTA
Let me quote segments from a recent report titled the Good Childhood Enquiry, compiled in Britain by more than 35,000 contributors on the impact of TV and internet on young minds. "Too much television and time spent on the internet can make children mentally ill... Excessive exposure makes a child materialistic, which in turn affects relationship with parents as well as health. Children are a part of a new form of consumerism, with under-16 years old spending 3 billion pounds of their own money each year on clothes, snacks, music, video games etc. Some advertisers explicitly exploit the mechanism of peer pressure, while painting parents as buffoons.... Constant exposure to celebrities through TV is having detrimental effect. Children today know in intimate details the lives of celebrities who are richer than they will ever be... this exposure inevitably raises aspirations and reduces self-esteem and automatically encourages obsessive pursuit of wealth and beauty... etc.
Needless to add that what is true of children is also true of our teenagers and youth. The young generation of today is overexposed to the audio-visual media, as well as the communication mechanism such as the internet, mobile phone etc. Moreover, the new generation has been caught in a highly competitive milieu and has to undergo intense pressure at home, school and other places. All these factors combine into an insidious phenomenon which not only hinders the development of individuality, but also prevents youngsters from growing up into mature adults who can contribute towards society.
However, my concern in this piece is not these broader issues, but specifically with the deleterious impact made by over-exposure to the audio-visual media and over-reliance on electronic gadgets on an individual's creative imagination, in contrast to cultivation of the book reading habit, which is an aid to creativity.
If we look at history we find that the single most important element in the progress of humanity is creative imagination. This faculty is the cornerstone of every facet of societal evolution whether it is cultural transformation, scientific and technological progress, creation of literary and aesthetic tradition, or intellectual advancement. It was creative imagination which had enabled early man to invent the wheel and discover methods of making fire. All great individuals who have contributed to the progress of the human race philosophers, scientists, inventors, intellectuals, poets, artists, economists etc. had been endowed with this seminal faculty.
It had been the faculty of creative imagination which enabled the Neolithic man to invent the wheel or discover fire, spurred on ancient explorers to map the globe, astronomers to chart the skies. There are myriad examples of the faculty of creative imagination coming into play to further the destiny of mankind. One example is the story related to Sir Isaac Newton. The great scientist was sitting under an apple tree when a fruit fell down. That the fruit fell to the ground and did not fly into the upper atmosphere activated Newton's imaginative faculty and led him to discover the theory of gravity. Mind you, gravity is a purely speculative force had Newton not been invested with imagination he would not have been able to visualise an unseen but palpable entity.
It is my firm conviction that the faculty of creative imagination lies not only in geniuses, but in every young adult. It is up to enlightened parents, guardians and teachers to ensure that we create the conditions in which this intrinsic faculty is allowed to blossom and mature, empowering a child to attain his or her true potential.
This is where the power of words, oral, written or printed, to activate and nurture this all important human faculty of creative imagination scores over the electronic world. The Oxford University Dictionary defines 'imagination' as "the faculty or action of forming ideas or mental images, the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.-
Words through their descriptive power enables an individual to create mental images and perceive ideas, activities that are essential for intellectual growth as well as the ability to communicate. This was precisely why society since primeval days created its own body of legends, myths and folk-lore. Written literature is simply an extension of the oral tradition and has the same power to exercise childish imagination. The child can enter the writer's world through visual images he or she creates with the aid of the descriptive power of words. The images created are unique to the child, a product of his or her personal creative imagination.
Thus books, so to speak, are gymnasiums wherein to exercise one's imaginative faculties. Take, for instance, the immortal book called Buri Air Sadhu. A baby who was reared by a kite and grew up in its nest! The poignant tale of Tejimala and the ordeal she undergoes in the hands of her stepmother. The comic story of Dighalthengia, wherein a thief and a tiger misinterpret the widow's words and become victims of their self-created fear! The Buri Air Sadhu is a veritable gymnasium in which childish imagination can exercise itself. Similarly, a book like Alice in Wonderland can entice youngsters into a magical realm where their imagination can be let loose.
It is a scientifically proved fact that, in helping to bring out latent creative powers in a child, books are far superior to the audio-visual medium. A good book also assists in empowering a child by providing the resources required for total intellectual development when he or she grows up into an adult. In contrast, the audio-visual medium, by imposing images created by others onto childish sensibilities, inhibits individual creative imagination, thereby stultifying this all important faculty.
Not that a child should be kept completely away from the TV, judicious use of which can prove fruitful. But in a home where the TV becomes a substitute for books, the environment will prove to be harmful as far as intellectual development is concerned. While books fertilise and nourish the creative faculty, the prefabricated images spewed out by the audio-visual media tend to act as impediments to the fruitful exercise of imagination because there is nothing left to be visualised. It is the kind of spoon feeding that will ultimately reflect deleteriously on young sensibilities.
Similarly, the over reliance on electronic gadgets tend to impair innate abilities of the human brain and lead to imperfect all round developments. For example, the constant use of a calculator to work out sums that may more profitably done in the head deprives an individual of an inborn faculty to work out problems. It is imperative that parents in these complex times keep in mind such home truths and help rather than hinder the personality growth of their off springs.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
PRESENT STATUS OF RADIOLOGY AND IMAGING
DR DC MAHANTA
Radiology and Imaging play an important and decisive role in the diagnosis and management of disease in day-to-day medical practice. From the discovery of x-ray on 8th November 1895, by Conrad Wilhelm Roentgen, till date there has been an explosive development in the field of Radiology and Imaging. Today radiology has achieved a new dimension of being minimally invasive, offering complete diagnosis and therapy as well. What is really significant is that it has evolved as a speciality, with no hospitalization and no catheterization associated with the diagnosis. Most importantly, the level of prognostication has become accurate like never before it has made giant strides in the past five years and has assumed an important place as a specialty, which offers newer ways of determine and design therapy.
The speciality has gained a lot of potential and medical fraternity is gradually realizing it. It is shaping up a very broad speciality, encompassing modalities like Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA), Ultrasound, Computed Tomography (CT-SCAN), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Mammorgraphy, Isotope Scanning Interventional Radiology and General Radiology. Another most fascinating subject, which is now boon to radio diagnosis as Teleradiology.
Angiography, today, is the most potent tool of interventional radiology because of its minimally invasive approach in treating any diseased organ. It has evolved dramatically in the last few years. Another very upcoming modality, which gas evolved as a part of interventional radiology is 3D rotational angiography to detect brain abnormalities. The greatest advantage with the modality is its compatibility with CT and MRI machine, which makes for a good diagnostic and therapeutic modality.
Nevertheless, biochemical engineering, a part of interventional radiology, has also falicitated the diagnosis and treatment through the modalities of radiology. Transjugular Transhepatic Shunts (TIPS) as a part of the interventional radiology is an upcoming radiological tool to treat patients with cirrhosis of liver. Started ten years ago' TIPS has become more refined in the past five years. Long stents have come in the market that implies longevity of the stent and the procedure, thus leading to better therapeutic outcome Day-to-day instant minor interventional procedures are abscess drainage, aspiration of pleural and abdominal fluid, FNAC, biopsies are done routinely under ultrasonography or CT-scan guidance.
It can rightly be pinpointed that with CT, radiology has become more refined. It is the most spectacular invention of medical science. CT, which was in use in the 1980s, has evolved that not only in items of accuracy, but also speed. The modality now scans 200 slices of the body in one second. From the era of spinal CT, the technology has now culminated into what is called as multi-slice CT or multi detector CT, which has to day become the gold standard for diagnosis of any body organs. The latest evolution in the modality of heart CT is CT coronary-angio with 64 detectors. The detectors help to detect the amount of X-Ray that is being absorbed & passed through the body in a particular time frame. It actually measures different densities in different parts of the body at different levels, depending on which diagnosis is done. Therefore, large numbers of detectors are required for proper diagnosis and this also increases the efficiency of the radiologist. CT coronary-angiography with 64 detectors is to-day the best modality for imaging heart vessels. This modality can also help taking angiographies form brain, kidney and leg.
MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging has also witnessed a sea change in terms of new technologies setting in the past five years. Modality like parallel imagine have come-up, which are faster and have higher strength magnets for imaging body organs. Now a day, the radiologist prefers three-tesla diagnotic MRI, which delivers clear images of the body organs. Detection of cancer, staging of the cancer, spread of the cancer to the bone marrow is much better appreciated in MR Cancer of different parts of body like colon, prostate, lungs and liver easily is detected by modalities like CT and MRI. Nevertheless, MRI and CT being two great modalities have different scanning capabilities in terms of diagnosing heart. MR cannot perform the coronary angio. While the radiologist can peep into the arteries of the heart through the CT, MRI can pinpoint the intensity of the damage to the heart muscle. If through MR, the doctor gets to know the extent of the heart muscle damage, he can rule out the surgery for bypass graft. The decision to do the surgery depends on the diagnosis through MRI. This kind of accurate diagnosis is called myocardial viability.
Mammography is a specific type of imaging that uses a low dose of x-ray to examine the breast. It helps in detecting cancer of breast even in very early stage. Presently monograms have been upgraded to digital ones, where a film is not produced and the data is available as a soft copy. This has also helps in stringent quality control. Mammography guided FNAC (fine needle aspiration cytology) is a finest method of detecting and staging of breast cancer.
Ultrasound is becoming increasingly important in the area of diagnostic imaging. The emphasis on cost controls will serve this modality well, as it is able to deliver high quality images at a lower cost than most of the competing modalities.
Manufactures are trying to make this modality a global preference, with emphasis on marketing the technology in developing countries and new markets. The application range of ultrasound is rapidly growing, supported by technologic advancements include power Doppler and finest color pricking, three and four dimensional imaging, contrast agents and image quality and resolution management.
When Conrad Wilhelm Roentgen viewed the first ever radiography of his wife's hand with a ring in the ring finger on the momentous day of November 3 in 1895 he would have little realized how far reaching the effect of his discovery would be! Nor could he have possibly imagined, that one day in the electronic era, his x-ray would be converted into a digital file that could be viewed in a monitor and can be manipulated as much possible to get a optimum result at the click of a mouse. This advancement in radiology have manifested into a modality called digital radiology, which means getting output in to the form of digitally produced image. The main advance of the modality is that it offers good resolution and there is nothing like a repeat X-Ray. With this modality, the user can customize the images accordingly with features like contrast and brightness. The other major advantage is that there is no wastage of films with this modality.
Digital radiology also known as computed radiology (CR) is all about departmental digitalization. Yet another very fascinating area of departmental digitalization in hospitals is called Picture Archiving and Communication system (PALS), which enables image to be, stored electronically and viewed on video screens as and when required. This enables doctors and other health care professionals to access any information across different department of hospitals.
(Published on occasion of 35th Annual Congress of IRIA, Assam Branch at Guwahati.)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHEN MEN DISSEMBLE
The greatest moral milestone of our age, perhaps, is that we no longer regard evil as uncommon. Globally, after the two great wars, with the second one and its final solutions being more definitive, the human capacity for horror, it seems, reached an apogee only to relapse into a state of relative torpor.
Scenarios of outrage, genocides, even wars became either dislocated, faraway images on TV, or subject to the manipulations of spin masters. One didn't even need a real reason to go to war we could invent one.
And later, even claim a certain moral comprehension of things. While, of course, freely admitting that one did lie. To the whole darn world, as former British PM Tony Blair, who recently confessed, perhaps as a concession to his convert-Catholicism, that he'd have invaded Iraq even if he knew from the start that there weren't any WMDs there.
This, in common crook language, is a double whammy. Indeed, one could recommend its definition for a dictionary: invading a country for a stated reason while knowing the reason doesn't exist, and later claiming it'd have been done anyway, even if the reason didn't exist.
This, lest you miss the point, is brilliant stuff. Blair does happen to be a tad brighter than Bush the best the latter could do was lean into the microphone, pause, and perfectly assured of angels singing hosannas in the background, announce 'we have a mission from the stars...' and he's deploying complex theories about mass psychology and the media to plummy effect.
The point is that having known he lied, and our knowing he did, he's at once saying that he didn't lie, and even if he did, it is alright. Or, to evoke both George Orwell and Sylvia Plath, perhaps more notable examples of Englishness, dissembling is an art like everything else, and Blair did it better than anyone else. "Before people crow about the absence of weapons of mass destruction," the man had, with scathing assurance, stated on April 28, 2003, "I suggest they wait a bit." That, naturally, was a mere suggestion. Not his fault if you took a world leader seriously.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MAKE ADOPTION EASY
IN A space of three months, we've seen two positive developments in the sphere of adoption, an activity that simultaneously relieves distress and builds human capital. In September, the Mumbai High Court paved the way for Hindus to adopt a child of the same gender as their existing offspring. The court allowed legal adoption of a girl taken as a ward under the Juvenile Justice Act even though the couple already had a daughter.
Stating that courts must harmonise personal laws with secular legislation, Justice D Y Chandrachud held the Juvenile Justice Act of 2000 would prevail over the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (Hama), a personal law that is restrictive on adoption.
The ruling is noteworthy as personal laws of non-Hindu communities do not provide for adoption and parents can only be appointed as guardians under the Guardian and Wards Act, 1890.
If the privileging of the Juvenile Justice Act over personal laws is carried to its logical end, adoption should (rightly) become easier across all communities, bringing relief to prospective parents and abandoned children.
Separately, the government is reportedly toying with allowing women to be appointed 'guardian' regardless of their marital status. Hama does not allow a married Hindu woman to adopt even with her husband's consent, as the right to adopt vests solely with the man (albeit with his wife's consent). Ironically, this is a handicap only for married women unmarried women, divorcees and widows are free to adopt. This needs to change. The law should not discriminate between married men and married women.
The proposed change, though an improvement over the extant law, does not go far enough. Why should married women have to rest content with guardianship rather than adoption? Justice must be gender-neutral. Given the numbers waiting to be adopted 6,000, according to the official figures of the Central Adoption Resource Agency, though actual numbers are likely to be higher, say activists every effort must be made to make adoption easier.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SLASH PETROLEUM SUBSIDIES
With about 10 weeks to go the next annual Budget, the government has told Parliament that it expects to meet, and not exceed, this year's fiscal deficit targets. This is good, but not enough. Combined with the states' deficits, this still represents a claim by the government sector on the private sector's savings to the tune of 10% of GDP.
This will constrict growth as and when investment picks up in the private sector, and add to inflation pressures. The Centre must cut its fiscal deficit. And the ground must be prepared now. As the mid-year review rightly notes, subsidy reform is the key to sustainable fiscal consolidation. Food and fertiliser subsidy reform are important but politically and administratively complex.
Therefore, to begin with, the government must address the subsidies it provides on petroleum products: both through duty cuts (at a time when the world levies additional taxes on greenhouse gas emitters!) and part-compensation of public sector fuel retailers that sell fuels at below-cost, administered prices.
Forgone taxes show up in the reported fiscal deficit but compensation to oil marketing companies in form of oil bonds does not.
The government thus needs to do two things in the short term: restore Customs duty on crude and products to the pre-June 2008 level and decontrol retail prices. Decontrolled retail prices, along with commitment to that policy regime even if crude prices spike in the future, would promote competition in fuel retailing and hold the price line to the extent it makes economic sense.
In the medium to long term, the government will have to promote piped gas for household and commercial use, and for public transport. Solar lanterns and rural electrification make it redundant to subsidise kerosene as a means of lighting and there is no case whatsoever for subsidising kerosene as a cooking fuel.
The poor in urban India without regular gas connections buy 5-kg cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas at prices that are not only not subsidised but include markups for scarcity, smaller package size and unorganised distribution.
The Indian middle class deserves no subsidy on its cooking fuel and this is the right time in the election cycle for the government to make a firm announcement of this fact. Fiscal consolidation is about politics, not public finance expertise.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CHUCK FALSE SELF GLASSES, BE FREE
VITHAL C NADKARNI
In Frank Baum's children's classic all hell seems to break loose when Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard of Oz for the first time. The 12-year-old orphan and her friends are wearing the green spectacles given by the Guardian of the Gates of the Emerald City. The glasses produce strange distortions depending on the wearer's state of mind: when each traveller meets with the wizard, he appears each time as someone or something different.
To Dorothy, the wizard appears as a giant head. The Scarecrow sees a beautiful woman instead and the Tin Woodman sees a ravenous beast while the Cowardly Lion perceives a ball of fire. The sound effects are terrifying too. Each time the Wizard speaks, his voice rolls through the grand hall like thunder!
No wonder Dorothy and her friends quake and shiver in front of the Wizard who also has the power to hurl around spears of flame and smoke. However, when they meet for the second time, their dog Toto accidentally tips over a screen in a corner of the throne room to reveal a strange little old man standing at an elaborate control panel. He's busy pushing buttons and pulling levers, talking a mile a minute in the microphone. Each time he speaks his tiny voice is magnified into a roar filling the hall.
Suddenly it dawns of Dorothy that the great 'wizard' is just a powerful projection created by a wizened little fellow cowering behind a screen! She's shocked at the cruel trick that's been played on her. But at the same time, she feels liberated from her self-created delusions and fears. The moral of the story is chuck off those green spectacles!
Give up the great illusions which are keeping you from letting go exhorts Guy Finley in his best-seller The Secret of Letting Go. "The way in which our sleeping mind looks at life makes this difficult: it sees cause and effect as being separate operations. It refuses to see through the game; worse, it takes on an erroneous sense of responsibility for the same.
This can result in all sorts of illusions and inhibitions. But learning to recognise and disarm these "can only happen outside the shadow of pride," Finley adds: "Anything that resists correction is part of what is wrong... we should recognise that pride is the middle name of the false self. You lose when it wins, and it wins by getting you to deny or protect your mistake." But we can defeat it and instantly become free as Dorothy did, merely by questioning it.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE'LL FOCUS ON GROWTH AREAS IN INDIA'
Notwithstanding the speculation surrounding it, Patni Computer Systems, one of the pioneers of the IT services business, is aiming to take rapid strides under a new professional management, led by CEO Jeya Kumar. In an interview with ET, Mr Kumar discusses the company's transition, its growth strategy as well as other issues concerning it. Excerpts:
The promoters of Patni have taken a back seat and you lead the new professional management. What is your strategy for catching up in the marketplace?
I joined the company in February and we completed our internal transition by March. The board's supportive role in the process helped us to quickly focus on a challenging market and build our future. We addressed the current reality by focusing on three areas: coverage, portfolio and operational optimisation. We continued to invest in coverage model and started expanding in new geographies. We dived deeper into our key accounts, addressing our portfolio gaps.
Incrementally, we also optimised our operational structures to deliver on our shareholder promise. We have decided to focus on rationalising our portfolio and increasing our intensity at the sub-vertical level that will drive our customer and asset acquisition to deliver scale. We have also innovated a key facet of the organisation, for the length and depth of this recession will surely reshape our industry. We have committed up to 1% of our workforce to move into Patni Labs and Customer Innovation Labs to build domain-specific, IP-lead solutions working with our customers to deliver on their GTM initiatives; linking our future to our customer's success.
Patni had earlier ignored the domestic market, and now it wants to focus on it. Why the sudden change in strategy?
The developed economies represent the largest opportunities in outsourcing and offshoring. So, the entire industry's growth has been a function of the maturity in these markets. India's strong growth and the government's recent focus are creating the focus on the domestic market the intensity of focus is largely due to opportunities that are now available. We are looking to India as a growth market. We have reorganised the company to carve out India from the Asia-Pacific region. We have a dedicated team in place and hope to generate sizable domestic revenues by 2011.
Ex-Patniites started Infosys and took it to great heights. What is your strategy for the Indian market?
Yes, it was a long time ago. In this industry, two years are a career and it happened some three decades ago. Our strategy for growth in India is built around leveraging our global experience to achieve rapid penetration in key segments. For example, financial sector reforms in India had started early in the reform cycle, but within the financial sector, the insurance reforms have just begun to move. We are here at the right time.
There is enormous scope for expansion in that area and insurance is one of our strongest verticals. We have a similar story with respect to the power sector where big-ticket reforms are underway. Our experience of working with major utility companies abroad positions us well to go after these opportunities. Our plan for India is to invest in the development of relevant management skills and build the operations to a scale.
Government and the public sector control the bulk of the IT spend in India. How can you leverage your international experience in India?
We do work with the public sector abroad. Many of these opportunities in India insurance, banking, power, railways, etc are more often than not in the private sector abroad and we have a vast experience of working with them in the US, Europe and Japan. I think the vital difference is in operating scale and, more importantly, in the procurement process and less in technology and domain knowledge. The cultural nuances are surely different. Hence, the greater emphasis is on acquisition and development of local talent and management skills.
Patni's experience of the Indian market is rather limited. How do you intend to fill the gap?
We are recognised as one of the pioneers of the IT services business. We plan to build on this legacy. Secondly, we would focus on our strengths in insurance, banking, product engineering, utilities and retail management. Luckily for us, they are also the growth areas in India. I believe we have the right team and expertise to deliver on our goals.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
RISING CURVE ON STRONG HOME SHOW'
ANWESH KOLEY & AMITI SEN
The textile sector, which was severely hit by the global slowdown and the contraction in world demand, seems to be slowly getting back on its feet. bold">In an interaction with ET, textile secretary Rita Menon talks about what lies ahead for the sector. Excerpts:
Export growth has finally turned positive in November. How do you see the future for textile exports?
Textile exports have gone up in November. The heartening thing is that handicraft exports have increased by 34%. Hand-made carpet exports are showing very good growth, too.
The textile industry is also contributing to country's industrial production. We have shown an average growth of 10% in fabric textile production. So, there is a positive dimension to the future in terms of textiles.
What role did the stimulus package announced by the government play in helping the textile sector recover?
It certainly helped. The interest subvention helped our garment and carpet exports to the US and the EU. That is why we asked for the continuation of these measures till March 31 2010.
We also believe that the action of our ministry in accessing Rs 2,000 crore of funds under the technology upgradation funds scheme (TUFS) and ensuring that it reached the beneficiary in 72 hours contributed to the industry's cash flow and helped improve things.
There was some problem with TUFS some time back with the finance ministry not sanctioning enough funds and the industry saying that they were having difficulty in accessing the funds. What has been the movement there?
With our last set of approvals of about Rs 300 crores, demands till June 30, 2009 have been taken care of. But, it is a demand-driven scheme. It requires funding all the time since the past investments have to be serviced. So, I can't say that we are satisfied. We are looking for about Rs 1,500 crore in the current fiscal itself.
Given the slowdown, is the textile industry investing as much in capital equipment, as it was in the past?
I think it has been investing quite consistently because what really saved India from the throes of real crisis was domestic demand, which is very strong.
Domestic demand has been actually the key and we are very enthused about the fact that it has helped buoy up the whole scenario. I imagine it would continue, with the number of Indians in the higher income level and higher middle class growing.
Traditionally, textile exports have been mainly to the US and the EU countries that were majorly affected during the slowdown. What steps have been taken for diversification and promotion of Indian textiles?
We did a diagnostic study quite early and in February this year I had decided that we will go into as many new markets as possible. The new markets of South Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand and Japan were being targeted by us.
Happily, the commerce minister understood our point of view and in the enhanced allocation for assistance for major expositions and export initiatives, they had already pitched for a higher level of allocation and got it.
As part of our promotional drive, we are planning a mega India show in Delhi in July next year that would cover the whole gamut of the activities of the textile ministry. We know it would take a couple of year to assume some respectability, but like the defence expo, which has now become such a big brand, we believe that the India textile show will also come of age.
There is a lot of buzz on cotton exports. Is there a need to ban it?
We are expecting a minimum of 290 -295 lakh bales. We believe that domestic demand is around 240 lakh bales, even with enhancements, factoring the carry over stock. The physical exports so far is still in single digits (lower than 10 lakh bales). There is no room for panic. There is place for exports to take place.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'INDIA'S A HIGH-RISK, HIGH-REWARD MARKET'
Mikhail Shamolin is the man behind Russia's largest telecom operator Mobile TeleSystems (MTS). The MTS president is also on the board of Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL), which is trying to alter the dynamics of the great Indian tariff war by offering calls at half-a-paisa per second. Mr Shamolin describes India as a 'high-risk, high-reward' market and foresees consolidation in the telecom sector. In an interview with ET , he talks about acquisitions, branding, bullishness on CDMA technology and more. Excerpts:
How do you think running a business in India is different from running it in Russia?
I think, India is fairly competitive, more competitive than Russia. I think, India is a very entrepreneurial, vibrant, dynamic market with lots of energy, lots of potential, all at the same time. It is a 'high-risk, high-reward' type of market.
What is Sistema doing to promote brand MTS in India?
Besides the general logo, look and the feel that MTS India has taken from the bigger MTS, the particular brand strategy is adapted to the Indian market. On the one hand, it supports the affordable brand and, on the other hand, it is a high quality look and feel brand.
The strategy we are pursuing with CDMA data services is more upper-end than the poor man's phone. It is an affordable brand with good execution.
Indian operators are increasingly looking at Africas and the Middle-East to expand operations. What about MTS?
Not at the moment. We don't really find many markets with low levels of penetration, low levels of competition and big population.
The reason India is interesting because it is the only market in the world with the potential of 800 million people not having a mobile phone and still growing. If you want to be in Africa, to be able to have a market comparable to India, you have to be pretty much in all the African countries, which is not achievable in the short-to medium-term. So India is the best out of the growing markets.
Why are you so bullish on the CDMA technology?
Tatas and Reliance Communications have now opted for GSM as well. There are a couple of reasons. One, both CDMA and GSM are coming together in the LTE (long-term evolution, successor to 3G) standard. So, in a couple of years, there won't be much difference. Secondly, spectrum in CDMA's 800 MHz band is better for cost and coverage than spectrum (in the 1,800 MHz band) that some of the new players are using.
Thirdly, CDMA is good for data. The biggest differentiator remain the handsets. Soon handsets will become very generic and software will be more important. So there won't be much difference.
Given an option, will you go for the GSM platform in India, like the Tatas have done?
No, I don't think so. And that's because of the reasons given earlier.
Isn't profitability a big issue for late entrants like Sistema?
Well, profitability is a big issue for the market itself. There is high risk, but the potential is high reward. Indian market fits the Sistema profile. It is a venture capital type of investment. The upside is 800 million potential customers.
Do you expect consolidation in the sector?
I think consolidation is necessary. I don't think the market can be healthy with the number of competitors that currently exist because it's not a social support system; it's business. I think the government should push the legislation forward to allow M&As as soon as possible. That will be better for the industry.
If it is allowed, will you look at any acquisitions?
I think it's still early. We are thinking about it, but we will have to see how everything plays out. There are no firm plans for now.
HOW AL HIT AN ICEBERG
BY FARRUKH DHONDY
"She wasn't evil
She was vain
She did me wrong from
From Dreams of Damyanti (Chapter 17) by Bachchoo
Al Gore, star of the Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, was recently caught out in an inconvenient untruth. He told the Copenhagen climate change summit that in five years time "global warming" will melt all the ice in the Arctic.
Alarmist? The seas worldwide will rise seven feet and drown London. Polar bears will pad the Sahara if they survive the swim!
Al was immediately denounced by friend and foe: pundits of the anthropogenic (man-made) global warming consensus and climate scientists sceptical of the anthropogenic theory. He based his "prediction" on the work of Wieslaw Maslowski, a climatologist working at the US Naval Postgraduate School who denounced the alarmist prediction as misrepresenting the information he gave Mr Gore's office.
Professor Jim Overland, a leading oceanographer at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offered his opinion: "Over the last two years we've learnt that it is very difficult to melt the oldest ice at the North Pole. It would be almost impossible for this to happen within five years".
Richard Lindzen, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, admittedly one of the most respectable sceptics, says "Why would you take anything that Al Gore said seriously? He's just extrapolated from 2007, when there was a big retreat in the sea ice and got zero".
The truth that the anthropogenic lobby will not face or admit is that by all reliable methods of temperature measurement, the planet has been cooling for the last three years and the temperature drop of 0.7 degrees Celsius is more than the entire increase of temperature over the 20th century. To acknowledge that would be to explain why, when the emission of Carbon dioxide has gone steeply up since the beginning of the century, the temperature has fallen. The best the lobby can do is assert that the "underlying trend is still upward" and this will emerge in the future. That's not science. At best it's prediction by computer models which are programmed and fed selective data to produce the desired result and at worst it is opportunistic fortune-telling.
I beg you, gentle reader, to suspend disbelief for a further paragraph or two and not judge me harshly as a sort of undistinguished Tabo Mbeki who refused to believe, despite the medical and scientific consensus that HIV was the cause of AIDS. Neither do I wish you to conclude that my observations about Mr Gore or these challenges to prove the parallel trajectory of graphs betray the zeal of the recent convert to the sceptical faith.
I have never been an admirer of zeal and have, from an early age, been too cynical to be a "convert" to anything. So I must confess that my arguments and my vehemence against ex-vice-president Al is informed by a book I have been reading. Though no editor has asked me to express my preference, I venture to say it's the book that most impressed (not amused, not enchanted, not beguiled) me this year. (Last year's choice was Jeeth Thayil's anthology of Indian poetry in English so many, who would have thought ).
The book is Christopher Booker's The Real Global Warming disaster. Its cover, in lieu of a subtitle, asks: "Is The Obsession With 'Climate Change' Turning Out To Be The Most Costly Scientific Blunder In History?"
Booker is a distinguished British journalist and, I am certain, has no association with the coal or petrol industries. He answers the question on the cover in a meticulous step-by-step, scientifically argued history of the "global warming" theory, its contentions and its growth into a globally persuasive, dominant political force.
Booker labels it an "obsession". I see in it all the characteristics of a religion with its central faith, its incontrovertible doctrines, evangelical zeal and appeal, its high priests and its demands on believers for faith, hope and above all sacrifice.
Booker's account, combining journalistic investigation with detailed exposition of the scientific claims and counter claims, attempts to trace the way in which the world has been led to believe that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus for the anthropogenic argument. He examines, for instance, the genesis of Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph which is, (forgive the mixed metaphor), the backbone of the anthropogenic argument. Around this hockey-stick backbone the body of the political fight against carbon emissions and for the already vogue shibboleths of the age "sustainable", "organic", "renewable" are constructed. But the hockey stick as constructed by Mann is not good science and it's fundamentally challenged and discredited, for arbitrary and biased data feed, statistical cowboy tactics and deliberate scientific dishonesty by leading experts in temperature science, historical climatology and computing statistics.
The science in abeyance, Booker tracks the genesis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which, being an offshoot of the United Nations, arrogates to itself Vatican status. The state-funded citadel assumes politics, not science as its Constitution which adopts the hockey stick as its creed and commissions acolytes and associates of Mann to defend it.
The world knows that the tobacco lobby bought doctors and scientists who denied the link between smoking and cancer. Smokers didn't continue to smoke because they were convinced that there was no link. Addiction doesn't operate on conviction.
While it is plausible that those with the most interest in the continuing or expanding use of fossil fuels the oil and coal merchants, China and India would sponsor scepticism about emissions leading to apocalypse, there is no Chinese or Indian scientific school of sceptics. Most of the sceptics featured are high profile, accomplished, independent scientists. If there is a bandwagon or a gravy train, it is the multi-billion-dollared, politically nominated juggernaut of the IPCC.
With the circus of Copenhagen, where the princes of the new religion come to bargain and barter, the world's media collaborate and the young and the idealistic, as ever, find a sacrificial meaning to life, the "sceptics" remain voices crying in the wilderness.Has Booker convinced me of the sceptic's arguments? I am not saying. He has convinced me that global warming and its anthropogenesis, like cigarettes and cancer, HIV and AIDS, thalidomide and genetic defects, have to be settled by free and unfettered science. The connection is not resolved, as the preference for a confection or a politician is, by "consensus".
In another story, remember, the voice in the wilderness, though meek, inherited a significant part of the earth, heating or cooling.
DON'T LET US HEALTHCARE REFORM BILL FAIL
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy. Declare that you're disappointed in and/or disgusted with US President Barack Obama. Demand a change in Senate rules that, combined with the Republican strategy of total obstructionism, are in the process of making America ungovernable. But meanwhile, pass the healthcare bill.
Yes, the filibuster-imposed need to get votes from "centrist" senators has led to a bill that falls a long way short of ideal. Worse, some of those senators seem motivated largely by a desire to protect the interests of insurance companies.
But let's all take a deep breath, and consider just how much good this bill would do, if passed and how much better it would be than anything that seemed possible just a few years ago. With all its flaws, the Senate health bill would be the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare. Getting this bill would be much, much better than watching healthcare reform fail.
At its core, the bill would do two things. First, it would prohibit discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of medical condition or history: Americans could no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or have their insurance cancelled when they get sick. Second, the bill would provide substantial financial aid to those who don't get insurance through their employers, as well as tax breaks for small employers that do provide insurance.
All of this would be paid for in large part with the first serious effort ever to rein in rising healthcare costs. The result would be a huge increase in the availability and affordability of health insurance, with more than 30 million Americans gaining coverage, and premiums for lower-income and lower-middle-income Americans falling dramatically. That's an immense change from where we were just a few years ago: remember, not long ago the Bush administration and its allies in Congress successfully blocked even a modest expansion of healthcare for children.
Bear in mind also the lessons of history: social insurance programmes tend to start out highly imperfect and incomplete, but get better and more comprehensive as the years go by. Thus Social Security originally had huge gaps in coverage. But it was improved over time, and it's now the bedrock of retirement stability for the vast majority of Americans.
Look, I understand the anger here: supporting this weakened bill feels like giving in to blackmail because it is. Or to use an even more accurate metaphor suggested by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, we're paying a ransom to hostage-takers. Some of us, including a majority of senators, really, really want to cover the uninsured; but to make that happen we need the votes of a handful of senators who see failure of reform as an acceptable outcome, and demand a steep price for their support.
The question, then, is whether to pay the ransom by giving in to the demands of those senators, accepting a flawed bill, or hang tough and let the hostage that is, health reform die.
Again, history suggests the answer. Whereas flawed social insurance programmes have tended to get better over time, the story of health reform suggests that rejecting an imperfect deal in the hope of eventually getting something better is a recipe for getting nothing at all. Not to put too fine a point on it, America would be in much better shape today if Democrats had cut a deal on healthcare with Richard Nixon, or if Bill Clinton had cut a deal with moderate Republicans back when they still existed.
But won't paying the ransom now encourage more hostage-taking in the future? Maybe. But the next big fight, over the future of the financial system, will be very different. If the usual suspects try to water down financial reform, I say call their bluff: there's not much to lose, since a merely cosmetic reform, by creating a false sense of security, could well end up being worse than nothing.
Beyond that, we need to take on the way the Senate works. The filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to end debate, aren't in the Constitution. They're a Senate tradition, and that same tradition said that the threat of filibusters should be used sparingly. Well, Republicans have already trashed the second part of the tradition: look at a list of cloture motions over time, and you'll see that since the GOP lost control of Congress it has pursued obstructionism on a literally unprecedented scale. So it's time to revise the rules. But that's for later. Right now, let's pass the bill that's on the table.
BY ROGER COHEN
I hope Iran policymakers in Washington and Europe are reading histories of that world-changing year, 1989. I hope so because the time has come to do nothing in Iran. As Timothy Garton Ash has written of the year Europe was freed, "For the decisive nine months, from the beginning of Poland's roundtable talks in February to the fall of the Wall in November, the United States' contribution lay mainly in what it did not do".
That inaction reflected the first US President Bush's caution and calculations. Its effect was to deprive hardliners in Moscow of an American scapegoat for Eastern European agitation and allow revolutionary events to run their course. The main difference between Moscow 1989 and Tehran 2009 is that the Islamic Republic is still ready to open fire. The main similarities are obvious: tired ideologies; regimes and societies marching in opposite directions; and spreading dissent both within the power apparatus and among the opposition.
Yes, the Islamic Republic has not arrived at a Gorbachevian renunciation of force. It is not yet open to compromise, despite calls for moderation from prominent clerics and now, it seems, from some senior Army officers. It is still, in the words of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi, sending its Revolutionary Guards and Basiji militia to chase "shadows in the street". I don't know how long this situation can endure. Anyone who claims to be able to tell the Iranian future is lying. But it seems clear that the "political clock" has now outpaced the "nuclear clock".
Iran has been messing around with a nuclear programme for some four decades. Pakistan went from zero to a bomb in about a quarter that time. Setting aside the still debatable objective of this Iranian endeavour, it's not in the midst of the current political turmoil that Tehran is going to break out of its back-and-forth tinkering. Inertia is always strong in Iran's many-headed system. Right now it's stronger than ever hence the risible, blustery confusion over a possible deal to export Iran's low-enriched uranium.
All this says nay, screams to me: Do nothing. It is US President Barack Obama's outreach that has unsettled a regime that found American axis-of-evil rhetoric easy to exploit. After struggling, Obama has also found his sweet spot in combining that détente with quiet support for universal rights. Note the feminine possessive pronoun in this line from his Nobel speech: "Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government but has the courage to march on". I saw those bloodied women marching in Tehran in June and will never forget them.
Their cause would be best upheld by stopping the march toward "crippling" sanctions on Iran. The recent House passage of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which would sanction foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, is ominous. Rep. Howard Berman, who introduced the bill, is dead wrong when he says that it would empower the Obama administration's Iran policy.
So would sanctions action from the so called "P5+1" the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. When I'm asked where the "stick" is in Iran, my response is the stick is Iranian society the bubbling reformist pressure now rising up from Iran's highly educated youth and brave women. It would be a tragedy were Obama to weaken them. Sanctions now would do just that. Nobody would welcome them more than a regime able once more to refer to the "arrogant power" trying to bring proud Iran to its knees. The Revolutionary Guards, who control the sophisticated channels for circumventing existing sanctions, would benefit. China and Russia would pay little more than lip service.
As Elizabeth Shakman Hurd of Northwestern University has written, "the United States is empowering the dissenters with its silence". Sanctions represent tired binary thinking on Iran, the old West-versus-barbarism paradigm prevalent since political Islam triumphed in the revolution of 1979 as a religious backlash against Western-imposed modernity. The Iranian reality, as I've argued since the start of this year, is more complex. A leading cry today of the protesters in Iran is "God is great" hardly a secular call to arms. These reformists are looking in their great majority for some elusive middle way combining faith and democracy. The West must not respond with the sledgehammer of sanctions whose message is "our way or the highway". Rather it must understand at last the subtle politics of Iran by borrowing an Iranian lesson: inertia.
When the Berlin Wall came down two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama famously predicted "the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government". In Iran now, many of the forces of 1989 are present, but the reformists' quest is not for something "Western". It is more for an idea of 1979, an indigenous non-secular and non-theocratic pluralist polity. Obama must show his understanding of this historic urge by doing nothing. That will allow the Iranian political clock to tick faster still.
RED HERRINGS ON THE NAYACHAR TRAIL
There is more to criticise and little to commend in formalising the Petroleum Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Region (PCPIR) in West Bengal's Nayachar island. Which is not to detract from the importance of a Special Economic Zone, a shiftaway from volatile Nandigram. Any welcome, however, ought to be tempered by the fact that the basics appear to be rather half-baked, even rushed through, for so critical an investment. It may well be touted as an achievement of sorts for a beleaguered government, but there is no mistaking the undercurrent of tension between the two vital departments ~ land and industries.
The fact that the finance secretary and the land reforms commissioner, both members of the committee, were not invited to the final meeting suggests there were in-house differences over the pricing and size of the land, indeed a measure of discord that had even held up the registration. Both bureaucrats had raised objections over the fixing of the value of the land. The facts, as exposed by this newspaper, are barely stated. While the land department had measured the tract to be 8,365 acres, the government has accepted the industries department's projection of 11,927 acres. It is almost a 4000-acre difference, a red herring that has been left delightfully vague. Whether or not the cabinet has willingly allowed itself to be shortchanged, it is quite obvious that the commerce and industries department has had its way over both land and finance.
Beyond the nitty-gritty of Tuesday's lease deal, it is the suitability of the Nayachar soil that has not been convincingly established. The last geological survey, conducted in the mid-eighties, is scarcely relevant today. The full report of the one commissioned last year has not been made public. Nor for that matter has the impact of industry on the environment and fisheries been assessed. The effluents are almost certain to degrade the island's ecology. Minister Kiranmoy Nanda's proposal for a fisheries and eco-tourism project is a thoughtless pie in the sky, and curiously floated after the deal had been struck. Having been shaken and stirred in Nandigram, Nayachar was perhaps the only alternative in the vicinity. Unfortunately once more, the groundwork has been shoddy, and literally so.
A POOR MODEL
POLITICS OF EDUCATION CONTINUES TO HINDER
While there is speculation on how the Left will meet popular expectations on the proposed Presidency University without killing its political obligations, the dilly-dallying on the Centre's proposal for model colleges in backward areas reconfirms that political considerations unfailingly prevail over the education scene in West Bengal. There was no reason to have any doubts about the Centre's plan to identify educationally backward areas for setting up 12 model colleges.
But, like most other proposals, the idea of identifying such areas for which Rs 40 crore has been sanctioned by the HRD ministry has been related to larger questions such as the apprehension of this being a poor reflection on the Left government in these areas. It must also be related to the concerted move by the the CPI-M to prove through school examination results that the education scene in the districts has taken a quantum leap forward. In the circumstances, it fears the selection of backward areas for model colleges would be a pathetic admission of failure and a handy tool for the opposition.
The dilemma of the Left threatens to scuttle the plan as a whole. There is no reason to believe that the HRD ministry has a political agenda in setting up 370 model colleges in the country, 12 of these in West Bengal. It is no secret that while these regions need to be brought on par with the rest of the state, students who have shown promise in their school leaving examinations from these areas have had to travel all the way to Kolkata for the education they deserve. While other states have grabbed the opportunity and ensured that the work of infrastructure development has begun, the ruling Left in West Bengal has chosen to first examine the political fallout. Like the development funds going abegging on account of the failure to put together credible BPL and APL lists, this opportunity may also fall a prey to sectarian politics. It could well be another crucial test for the chief minister who, with his claimed good intentions, must still speak in the voice assigned to him.
THE MORE, THE MERRIER
After more than 80 years, the Academy awards remain a judicious mix of critical appreciation and commercial possibilities with the scales tilted perhaps towards the latter. But unlike the spate of awards mounted in India with the support of corporate houses to the extent of diluting banners with brand names, the Oscars have not only preserved the dignity they earned when makers of the first talkies grabbed the statuettes but have drawn a cross-section of Hollywood that managed to set aside professional rivalries to present a wholesome picture of camaraderie. Essentially, however, the selections pave the way for a global market, throwing up hitherto unknown talent and producing new hopes of breaking into a glittering world. That is why the industry has reason to be delighted that the organisers propose to increase the number of nominations to ten in the best picture and maybe other categories. The Oscar is the only honour where a nomination is marketed as much as the award itself. A longer awards ceremony in Los Angeles may not be all that dull with stars of the present and yesteryear playing cameo roles on stage with all the wit and humour they can pack into a couple of minutes.
To be sure, there are the cynics who are disgusted by the picture of well-dressed men and women hugging and kissing each other through the night. For them an increase in the number of Oscar nominations would prolong the misery of watching stars and technicians in a spurious display of togetherness made worse by mundane acceptance speeches, and may erode the value of deserving selections by clubbing them with productions that have squeezed in by accident.
But that would be casting doubts on the credentials of the 5,800 Oscars voters who have set the standards and so have far earned the confidence of a global network of viewers. The larger number of nominations restores the position that existed prior to 1944. More important, it would give critics the chance to scan a larger canvas of hopefuls wholly on merit ~ leaving the Oscar ceremony to look after itself.
ARDI NAMED 'SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH OF 2009'
LONDON, 18 DEC: Ardi, the oldest member of the human family tree found so far, has been named the "scientific breakthrough of 2009".
According to prestigious Science journal, the discovery of the seven stone, four-foot tall ape-like creature which roamed African forests some 4.4 million years ago just as humans began walking on two legs is the most important breakthrough of this year. Her discovery, reported in October, sheds light on a crucial period when we were just leaving the trees. Ardi's skeleton, found in Ethiopia, promises to fill in gaps about how we became human and evolved from apes, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported. Rather than humans evolving from chimps, the find provides evidence that chimps and humans evolved together from another common more ancient ancestor. While she wasn't exactly this "missing link", she was described as its "cousin". ;PTI
THE HEADLEY RIDDLE
ROGUE OR TIP OF AN ICEBERG?
THE David Coleman Headley affair is getting murkier every minute. It was reported that the visa papers of Headley and his associate Tahawwur Rana were missing from the Indian consulate in Chicago. This occasioned on Thursday conflicting statements by Foreign Minister SM Krishna and his MOS Shashi Tharoor. Krishna was still seeking clarification. Tharoor claimed that Rana's papers had been found and the search for Headley's papers was on. The Indian consulate in Chicago reportedly claimed that the papers were never missed and the government had access to them. Earlier on Wednesday Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: "I have sought a factual report from our consulate in Chicago in this regard (of the missing papers)." She expressed satisfaction with the cooperation being extended in the 26/11 investigation by US authorities. She refused to comment on reports that Headley could be a double agent working for US authorities. "I don't want to comment on the double agent issue. It will not be professional on my part," she said. What's going on?
TO unravel the tortuous complexities of this case it would be necessary to recall briefly Headley's background as well as the facts so far established. On the basis of these facts some deductions may be made that give rise to questions that scream for answers. David Coleman Headley was arrested on October 3, 2009 and charged with conspiring to commit terrorist attacks outside the United States . He was allegedly involved in a plot to attack the newspaper in Denmark that had published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005. The court proceedings after Headley's arrest brought out an almost daily dose of new disclosures. American, Indian and Pakistani government officials also gave out leaks that added to these revelations. On December 7, fresh federal charges were filed against Headley alleging that he was closely involved in the planning and execution of the 26/11 attack in Mumbai. According to leaks, Headley reportedly had been recruited by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1997 after being apprehended for smuggling heroin into the United States from Pakistan. After 9/11 he reportedly worked for the FBI as a terrorism informant. After his arrest on October 3, he is reportedly again cooperating with the US government.
Headley was born Daood Gilani in 1960 in America to a Pakistani father and American mother. His cousin is PRO to Pakistan's Prime Minister Gilani. The cousins last met at a funeral in 2008. From court proceedings it emerges that Headley worked as a surveillance operative and operational planner for the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HuJI). The US government has alleged that between 2006 and 2008 Headley made five extended trips to Mumbai in order to conduct surveillance for the attacks. If as an FBI informant Headley was briefing the agency it would explain the specific warnings the US provided to India about plans to attack Mumbai hotels in September 2008. After the warning the Indian government stepped up security measures at these hotels. Oddly enough, these security measures ceased a little before the 26/11 attacks occurred.
Headley's surveillance activities were solo operations. According to the US security and intelligence outfit, Stratfor, solo surveillance is enormously risky. Yet Headley managed to make many video recordings and photographs in alien territory without being caught. According to Stratfor, "The only rational explanation for why Headley was not noticed while conducting his surveillance is that nobody was looking." Or did nobody choose to look? If US intelligence agencies knew Headley was their informant and acting as their mole in LeT, would they not ensure his protection? According to Indian security analyst B Raman, "Since Headley was a source of the DEA, the FBI, through the DEA, was aware of his visits to India ." Yet US authorities allowed Headley frequent visits to India without questioning even though after 9/11 security was extra vigilant about all such travel by dubious individuals. An Indian MHA official has been quoted by the media to state that the CIA concealed this fact "apparently to ensure Headley did not get exposed as a US secret agent". Subsequently a CIA spokesman has flatly stated that Headley was never a CIA agent. The easy and widely accepted explanation is that Headley was a DEA informer who became a rogue double agent. To avoid embarrassment US authorities are tightlipped about the affair and loath to share information with their Indian counterparts. This explanation is over simple. Consider the following facts and connect the dots.
Agent and informer
Headley had close connections with terrorist outfits in Pakistan that were complicit with rogue elements of the Pakistan establishment. Headley was an agent and informer of a US agency which explains how he could operate so boldly and travel so frequently without being questioned. But Headley's exposure came about only because of the FBI. The information about his complicity in 26/11 also came about only because of the FBI. The CIA has disowned Headley. Yet Headley undoubtedly received logistic support from some US agency that allowed him to operate with impunity. The FBI did not stop him. But the FBI did apprehend him. So which force in the US was protecting Headley? Indian authorities either lost or pretended to lose Headley's visa papers. Indian security mysteriously lifted the security measures to protect Mumbai hotels despite FBI warnings about imminent terrorist attack on Mumbai hotels. Why?
Headley may be a rogue double agent. That is the comforting theory. There is a much more uncomfortable possibility. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Headley could have received logistic support from rogue official sources in America, Pakistan and India . In other words he may be more than a rogue double agent. He could be serving a rogue fifth column that aids terrorism and has penetrated governments in America, India and Pakistan. This scribe has always believed that there is a transnational corporate nexus that has subverted American security and has become a global threat. Is it possible that under its shadow there has grown a parallel transnational nexus that promotes terrorism? Has this nexus become so powerful that the FBI clearly opposed to Headley and responsible for arresting him remained helpless to prevent him from planning and guiding the Mumbai terrorism?
Is the embarrassment facing the US much bigger than the fact of Headley being a rogue double agent? This question cannot be lightly brushed aside. Today global terrorism has acquired the means of launching widespread and unrestricted warfare.
The writer is a veteran columnist and cartoonist
Art has always had an uneasy relationship with decoration. From the earliest times, images were created for the structures in which human beings live, eat, gather, work, worship and govern. Homes, restaurants, offices, churches, temples, museums, galleries, palaces and parliaments. In these spaces, Art cohabits with décor Constables with cushions, watercolours with wallpaper, Jamini Roys with jamdanis. But an entire hierarchy of making, looking and valuing maintains the shifting boundaries between the two. Artists create, and craftsmen make, according to very different relationships with beauty and use and therefore with the market. Therein lies the sublime arrogance of Art and of its masters, their vital independence and remoteness from the acquisitive world that receives their works and makes them its own.
So, it bodes ill for a city planning its first Museum of Modern Art and generally, for art in Bengal when one of its iconic painters asks an iconic cricketer for a photograph of his drawing room before making two paintings for him. Not only is Jogen Chowdhury anxious that his paintings should go with the décor of Sachin Tendulkar's drawing room, but he also seems to have accepted Mr Tendulkar's specifications about subject, colours and, most bizarrely, "what the women will wear". Mr Chowdhury does not seem to mind being rushed to finish these jobs in time for Mr Tendulkar's felicitation in Calcutta where he would be "gifting" his paintings to the cricketer. He is aware of the constraints this puts on his freedom as an artist. But he has spoken about it to the press in a tone of indulgence towards the nation's favourite. In much the same tone, the local designer making Mr Tendulkar's kurta for the event has spoken of the honour of making something for the man also according to specifications sent to her in advance. Mr Chowdhury's eager compliance in decorating Mr Tendulkar's drawing room is like Picasso gushing about his Blue Period being inspired by the blue of the chintz in his richest buyer's home. When a painter and his market come into direct contact with each other, the anonymity of buyers and collectors ceases to exist. That is when the tyranny of drawing rooms and colour schemes takes over the making of art. A trivialized form of the feudal system of patronage pulls creativity into its comfortable arms as the artist starts enjoying the tamasha of celebrity, which has little to do with the inner life of his art and could even be inimical to it.
When Mark Rothko was paid $35,000 to decorate the walls of Manhattan's swankiest new restaurant in the Fifties, he took his revenge by painting his greatest and grimmest murals. For Rothko, this was "where the richest b*****s in New York will come to feed and show off". So, he created art that he hoped would "ruin the appetite of every S.O.B. who ever eats in that room". And then, after a meal there, he suddenly returned all the money, withdrew the works and, a few years later, gave most of them as a gift to the Tate, where they arrived the day he killed himself in his studio.
PRIMARY SCHOOLING: I
A REPORT ON IMPROVEMENTS AND PROBLEMS IN WEST BENGAL SCHOOLS
Pratichi Trust (India) was established a decade ago, along with its sister across the border, Pratichi Trust (Bangladesh) . The Bangladesh centre has been concentrating on the social progress of girls and young women there (it has worked particularly on supporting and training young women journalists reporting from rural Bangladesh), whereas here in India, the work of the Trust has been mainly focused on advancing primary education and elementary health care, along with a few other selected activities (such as providing disaster relief).
Even though Pratichi Trust (India) has a programme of establishing new schools (the Pratichi School in Orissa is already functioning actively and well), our main work in the field of education has been to examine, assess and scrutinize the schooling system in operation in the east of India, beginning with West Bengal and a part of Jharkhand. We have surveyed a number of schools across the region, and even though the overall picture cannot be called, in any rigorous sense, representative of the region, there is enough information in these studies to arrive at some general judgments about successes and failures, and, most importantly for us, to form an understanding of the principal problems that face primary school education in this region and how they can be addressed in order to attempt remedying the adversities .
Empirical Surveys and Repeats
Our first set of surveys of randomly selected primary schools from six districts of West Bengal were done for the year 2001-02 . Recently we have resurveyed the same schools in the same districts to check how and whether things are moving forward, and where they stand seven years later in 2008-09. This report presents our latest findings, along with a comparative assessment of the situation today compared with what we had observed seven years earlier.
The first set of studies led us to offer recommendations about necessary changes for the enhancement of primary education in the region. The action plans were based, among other issues, on the following diagnoses:
the critical need for working together with the teachers' unions to advance the role and effectiveness of school teachers (including the reduction of teacher absenteeism and helping teachers to pay special attention to children from disadvantaged families);
the importance of regular and constructive use of parent-teacher committees (particularly to increase communication of teachers with parents from economically and socially disadvantaged families);
the necessity of serving cooked midday meals both for advancing elementary education and for improving child nutrition (the reasons for the often-neglected complementarity of child nourishment and elementary education were investigated in our earlier reports);
the need to reverse the decay of the inspection system for schools (which is severely underused and sometimes almost entirely defunct);
the importance of providing more educational facilities in some schools and particularly in the Sishu Shiksha Kendras (SSKs) and making sure of prompt payment of salaries and making other administrative improvements;
the need for discouraging the growing dependence of school children on private tuition to supplement educational arrangements in the schools (various means of achieving this were suggested).
Cooperative Efforts and Collaborative Understanding
A number of our recommendations though not all have in fact been carried out in the intervening period, and we are grateful for the attention that our work and assessments have received from the government, from the media, and from the general public.
While some of our recommendations broke fresh ground, others provided reasoned support for independently developed but new efforts by the state and Central governments in these fields (for example, the provision of cooked midday meals and the use of parent-teacher meetings). Our approach has been one of collaboration with, as well as mutual critique of, the work of different agencies dedicated to the improvement of school education, including Central and state governments and teachers' unions, and we have been rewarded by the engagement and cooperation of all the parties involved .
Since we have been privileged to work together with the primary teachers' unions (in particular with ABPTA and WBPTA), we have had the benefit also of exchanging our views and analyses with the union leadership in pursuit of a fuller understanding of the problems and prospects of primary education in this state. The Pratichi Trust has held several joint meetings with the unions in which large numbers of primary school teachers have actively participated. Our understanding of the problems has greatly benefited from the cooperation of teachers' unions, and they in turn have done a great deal to help implement a number of our recommendations.
We have also held every year a fairly large meeting of teachers, parents, educational activists and experts. These meetings have generated a number of important suggestions for improving school education in West Bengal, on which we have drawn for further enquiry. We are particularly grateful to the parents and teachers who have joined us, often involving considerable travel, in these regular meetings to present their own analyses and to enrich our understanding of the problems involved.
The regular meetings we have had with the different parties (including parents, teachers, unions, government servants, and NGOs working in similar or related areas) have also helped us to pay special attention to critically important features in the ongoing schooling arrangements that need re-examination and reform, and to supplement the findings of our own surveys and investigation. For example, one of the important issues taken up more fully in this report deals with the content of the official curriculum, and the heavy load that very young children have to bear in pursuit of elementary education. The official demands typically require and insist on home-based study of children after school hours, often in excessive and unreasonable ways (particularly unreasonable for families in which the parents have not, in their own childhood, had the benefit of going to school themselves). As is discussed in the report, the apparently unshakable dependence on private tuition of primary school children has a strong connection with the unrealism of the overloaded curricular content.
Class Disadvantages Imperfectly Captured by Caste Analysis
A second issue that has repeatedly emerged in our discussions is the importance of recognizing the class barriers that divide the school-age population. Problems of first-time school education are enormously larger than those faced by children from families with an educated background, at various levels. Also, lack of economic resources as well as low social standing in established stratification can make it much harder for children from disadvantaged groups to get the facilities and the attention they need for successful pursuit of their studies.
Class divisions have a clear connection with caste distinctions but actually go much beyond what is caught in conventional caste-based categorization. It is of course right that Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are seen as being, in general, disadvantaged, with very few exceptions (the exceptions come mainly from particular SC groups and hardly any from STs). However, to that has to be added the category of the Muslim poor, which for historical reasons is substantially larger as a proportion of all Muslims in West Bengal than in many other states (for example in Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh). So, even though Muslims as a category cannot be seen as being a disadvantaged group (indeed a lack of adequate class analysis has been responsible for some very misleading recent statements on the subject), a very large proportion of Muslims in West Bengal do indeed fall in the category of being economically and socially disadvantaged in terms of their class background.
Any detailed investigation of the empirical situation brings out the need to go well beyond the SC-ST characterization of social disadvantage to taking note of the historically conditioned economic and social disadvantages from which most Muslim families as well as SC and ST populations historically suffer in this region. These disadvantages make children from those families particularly in need of greater attention and support. Even in interpreting the findings of our surveys, the broader issue of class disadvantage has to be kept firmly in view, as we have tried to do in arriving at our conclusions and recommendations.
Repeat Surveys and Our Findings
The recent resurveys give us an opportunity (i) to assess the present state of affairs in primary schooling in West Bengal, (ii) to see whether there have been advances or not, and what remains to be done, and (iii) to examine the effectiveness of the reforms that have been carried out and the changes that have occurred. It gives us particular pleasure to share our findings with the public as well as the media and the authorities responsible for schooling, including the government as well as the teachers' unions.
The main findings in terms of the comparative picture between 2001-02 and 2008-09 are: (1) there have been significant improvements in the performance as well as coverage of primary education in West Bengal over these seven years, and (2) there still remain defects and infelicities that must be overcome.
There is certainly no case for despondence, and it is particularly important to recognize this fact both because despondence can lead to despair and resignation, and because there are good reasons to see, on the basis of the empirical data, that reasoned efforts, when properly executed, do lead to the achievements at which the efforts cogently aim. However, there is no room for smugness either. Things have moved considerably forward (often related to the reforms that have been carried out by the governments involved, and the cooperation of the unions, which have often substantially supplemented official efforts). However, much more needs to be done.
To note the improvements first, there is not only a higher rate of student enrolment, but also a significantly larger average attendance of enrolled students (75 per cent both for primary schools and SSKs up from 58 and 64 per cent respectively).
Second, even though the problem of absentee teachers remains, there is in fact a noticeable fall in the percentage of absentee teachers on the randomly chosen day of our visit (14 per cent in primary schools, down from 20 per cent, and 8 per cent in SSKs, down from 15 per cent). There is also some increase in the number of teachers per school.
Third, the level of parent satisfaction with the performance of teachers has also gone up (from 52 per cent to 64 per cent for primary schools and from 70 per cent to 75 per cent for SSKs), even though it is still far from perfect. Parents' satisfaction with the progress of children is up significantly (from 42 per cent to 71 per cent for primary schools, and from 49 per cent to 73 per cent for SSKs).Fourth, we were really depressed with the 2001-02 results of independent testing of students' achievements, for example, the fact that 30 per cent of the students in classes III and IV could not even write their own names. There has been considerable improvement in this area, and the proportion of students who could not write their names is now down from 30 per cent to just 5 per cent (that proportion should of course be zero per cent, but it would be silly not to see the progress that is observed).
Fifth, midday meals are now being served in most primary schools and SSKs, and there are clear indications of the benefits of that initiative both in educational and nutritional terms. Indeed, even the increased attendance of students in schools partly reflects the attraction of the school meals, even though the efforts of the teachers' unions, particularly in reducing teacher absenteeism, has also greatly helped, in many regions.Sixth, parent-teacher meetings are now much more in use, mostly in the form of mother-teacher committees, even though we still have specific suggestions for improving their reach.
Things that Remain to be Done
Significant as the progress has been, there are still big gaps to meet. Even in those fields, already mentioned, in which there have been significant advance, the absolute numbers of the performance indicators bring out the fact that there is still quite a distance to go for the primary school system to be considered really satisfactory. While some reforms have been carried out, for example, in having arrangements for midday meals (even though they can be and must be further extended), in other areas (such as, having a functioning inspection system and remedying the dependence on private tuition), the achievements have been very little, if any at all. The need for going further forward is strong and urgent.
To be concluded
1. Pratichi Trust (Bangladesh) has been working under the leadership of Professor Rehman Sobhan, with help from others sharing our objectives, particularly BRAC, led by Fazle Hasan Abed. Both the Trusts were set up with the help of the Nobel money that came my way in December 1998.
2. The research work, including empirical investigation and analysis, for this project has been very ably led by Kumar Rana, the Project Director, who has also largely authored this report. His initiative and stewardship have been important at every stage of this work.
3. The 2001-02 surveys were conducted in two instalments, beginning first with Birbhum, Puruliya and West Medinipur, and going on later to cover Barddhaman, Murshidabad and Darjeeling in the second instalment. The findings from the first instalment were published in The Pratichi Education Report I, (2002), and the combined results of the two sets of surveys were included in a Bengali publication, Pratichi Siksha Pratibedan (2004). In the comparisons presented in this report with the later 2008-09 surveys, the two instalments of the first round of surveys in 2001-02 have been aggregated together.
4. I should particularly mention here the exemplary cooperation we have received from the District Primary School Council of Birbhum, led by Gautam Ghosh, who has also given us valuable advice on the analysis of our findings and recommendations.
''THE CLEAN-UP OF GOA WILL NOT BE EASY.''
Goa is in the news yet again for all the wrong reasons. A Russian girl has been raped allegedly by a local politician and the police have threatened her to withdraw charges against him. It does seem that a massive attempt at cover-up is on to let the alleged rapist off the hook. Adding insult to injury is a statement by a Goan Member of Parliament (MP) shifting the onus of responsibility for the rape to the victim. This brings back memories of another unpleasant incident last year when a 15-year-old British girl was raped and killed in Goa. Then too, authorities sought to hush up the case by trying to make it out to be an accident and they blamed the victim's lifestyle for the rape. This is not just an absurd argument, it is dangerous. By blaming the victim, the government is shifting the focus away from the person who committed the crime and absolving itself too of responsibility for allowing an environment to thrive where rape and murder happen often. It is the responsibility of the Goa government to ensure security for all, whatever their lifestyle may be. And in the event of crime, it should investigate it thoroughly and bring the guilty to book.
It has failed to do so repeatedly.
Famous for its sunny beaches and laid back lifestyle, Goa was once an idyllic place. It has now earned itself the tag of 'rape capital.' It has become a haven for all kinds of criminal activity including illegal land deals, peddling of hard drugs, rape and murder. And all this happens under the benign gaze of the police. It is well known that various criminal mafias operate in Goa with the full protection, if not participation of the local police and politicians.
Goa's politicians and police have repeatedly failed the state its heritage, environment and people. A couple of years ago, a powerful people's movement emerged in Goa to step in where the state had failed. It was successful in forcing the government to stop the setting up Special Economic Zones that were a threat to the state's ecology and environment. The time has come for another people's movement, this one to rid Goa of its sleaze and crime. The clean-up of Goa will not be easy. The dirt is deeply entrenched and the sleaze has powerful patrons. Yet it is not impossible to achieve if people join hands to act.
SHAKY IN SADDLE
''ZARDARI IS YET TO FREE HIMSELF OF HIS OLD IMAGE.''
Asif Ali Zardari's position as Pakistan's president has become rather shaky. A supreme court ruling declaring unconstitutional an amnesty granted by former President General Pervez Musharraf to Zardari and other senior members of government in graft cases has opened the door for their possible prosecution for corruption. Others in government who could find corruption cases being revived against them include Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar. The amnesty was part of a National Reconciliation Ordinance passed by the Musharraf government to enable former prime minister and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) chief Benazir Bhutto and her supporters to return to the country and contest in elections. It let 8,000 officials and politicians with corruption and murder charges off the hook. The supreme court ruling paves the way for all of them to be tried now. It is a welcome decision.
Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution so long as he is president. He will therefore do his utmost to remain in power. Demands for his stepping down on 'moral grounds' have been raised by the opposition. It is a matter of time before these gather momentum and turn into mass protests on the streets of Islamabad and other cities. It was popular protests over his sacking of supreme court judges that forced President Musharraf to step aside two years ago. And the possibility of history repeating itself in the case of Zardari cannot be ruled out. Zardari is unpopular in Pakistan. He hasn't been able to shake himself free of the 'Mr Ten Percent' label. He is seen to be a 'stooge' of the United States too. A medley of divergent interests could come together to demand his resignation.
The supreme court ruling is a setback to the US. Washington is believed to have brokered the amnesty deal to facilitate Bhutto's return to politics. The Obama administration has found Zardari to be an easy person to do business with and it is likely that it will be tempted to explore ways to shore up his position in the president's saddle. It must avoid going down that road. There is no doubt that anti-Zardari protests would add to the turmoil in Pakistan, perhaps distracting attention from the ongoing military operations against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban along the border with Afghanistan. Still, it is for Pakistanis, not the Americans, to decide whether Zardari should remain at the helm.
STATE OF THE UNION
IN BANGALORE, PEOPLE FROM OTHER STATES ARE NOT MADE TO FEEL UNWELCOME AND FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES AS IS HAPPENING INCREASINGLY IN MUMBAI.
BY S L RAO
In 1995, the States Reorganisation Commission Report said: "The decision to create the state of Andhra and the events leading to it have precipitated matters. Even without this decision, so long as the political parties stand committed to the policy of reorganisation, further deferment of a general reorganisation might lead to more dissatisfaction".
History is repeating itself. The Telangana agitation has been with us for over six decades. The NDA and BJP governments wooed the support of the TRS of Chandrasekhara Rao and ditched him. When Rao almost died (Potti Sriramalu actually died fasting for Andhra), the Centre announced willingness to create a Telangana state.
There was no widespread consultation, nor preparation, or concern for the consequences within Andhra where Hyderabad has had much investment from Rayalseema and coastal Andhra. The turmoil in Andhra was avoidable.
In 1955 the SRC, wanted Bombay as a state by itself. Reasons: in Bombay Marathi was spoken only by 43.6 per cent of the population, Bombay was by itself a well-administered city, its financial resources were huge, the surplus supported Marathi and Gujarati speaking areas, it was a very cosmopolitan and commercial city. But riots followed and Bombay was given to Maharashtra. Maharashtra over 50 years later is among the poorest Indian states, home to the largest number of urban poor in the country, attracts less investment than before, Marathi speakers eye with envy the prosperity of the many non-Marathi speakers in Bombay (say Mumbai or suffer violence!), there are demands for job reservations for the 'Marathi manoos', Mumbai has become a cash cow for funding the rest of the state, unbridled corruption at the highest political levels is at the cost of the city's infrastructure and other facilities, and far from becoming a Shanghai it is one of the worst cities in India today to live and work in.
The contrast between Mumbai and Bangalore, the two cities that the SRC had problems deciding upon, is striking. In 1955 as now, Bangalore was not a majority Kannada speaking city as Mumbai was not a majority Marathi speaking city. Bangalore was surrounded by Kannada speaking districts. SRC gave it to Karnataka. It is today what Mumbai was in 1955, an increasingly cosmopolitan city with the best brains from all over India flocking to Bangalore to study and work in its knowledge-based companies, research institutions and in education. Mumbai has seen violence to confirm its position as a Marathi speaker's city. Bangalore has never had the kind of language violence against non-Kannada speakers, (even when there were agitations against Tamil films for non-language reasons), as has Mumbai. There is no agitation for jobs in Bangalore only for Kannadigas. People from other states are not made to feel unwelcome and fear for their lives as is happening increasingly in Mumbai. In Mumbai the Legislature erupts into violence if a language other than Marathi is used. Bombay with the help of the Marathi zealots is trying hard to become a non-Indian city.
The Telangana decision has revived movements for splitting other states. This will gather momentum. Government will inevitably create another SRC sooner or later, something both NDA and UPA governments avoided for so many years. We will get smaller states soon with little disruption, or later with great economic and human loss. The longer the dither in creating a new SRC and deciding on small states, the more violent the agitations for smaller states will be.
Hopefully, the new SRC will have a better set of criteria than language alone as with the first SRC. The object must now be to break existing large states into smaller ones and to develop criteria for doing so.
Punjab and Haryana had a similar dispute as with Hyderabad between the Telangana to come, and the residual Andhra. Giving Bombay to Maharashtra created parochial violence. Chandigarh as a Union Territory and a common capital for both states has worked well and the city has prospered. So will Hyderabad if it becomes a Union Territory, capital of Telangana and if possible, also of Andhra.
The issue now is about the present disparate sized Indian states. Reorganisation is overdue. It must be based on rational parameters. These could be the range of population, number of administrative units (districts), common bonds over the state, geographical wholeness, a common hinterland to its major cities, common water linkages, adequate present or potential tax revenues to minimise dependent on Central handouts, a state domestic product that is not over dependent on one sector, universities within the boundaries, etc. Principles for reorganisation need careful thought before being applied.
As states become more equal in size we will see changes in our political system. Hindi speaking states may not dominate Indian politics as states forge common bonds with other that are similar, even with different languages. Himachal, Goa, Haryana, Punjab, even Chattisgarh and Jharkhand have done relatively better as small states. Regional parties may move from being one-state parties to multi-state, and more national. Ganging up on the basis of community and religion may be more difficult. The time has come for reorganising Indian states rationally, and soon, before agitations divert our focus from inclusive growth and better governance.
THE IDEAL MAN
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
There are events in the histories of different people which at the time they occurred may not have appeared to be of great significance but with the passage of time became turning points in their history. There are two such incidents in the history of the Sikhs, which made them change from pacific followers of their founder Guru Nanak to the militant Khalsa of the last Guru Gobind Singh.
First was the persecution of the fifth Guru Arjun. His only 'crime' in the eyes of the rulers was that he had acquired a large following and threatened to become a rival power base in the north. He was taken to Lahore, cruelly tortured and he died as a martyr. His son Guru Hargobind decided to take up arms.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, who composed some of the most soulful hymns later incorporated into the Adi Granth was arrested on fabricated charges and executed in Delhi on Nov 24, 1675. His body was stolen by one of his Dalit disciple who burnt down his own thatched hut to cremate it. Gurdwara Sis Gunj marks the site of his execution, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj the site of his cremation. It was this wholly gratuitous act of criminality that made his son come to the conclusion that when all other methods have failed it is righteous to draw the sword.
To mark the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur I reproduce my translation of one of his hymns, entitled 'Jo nar dukh mein dukh nehi manai' devoted to describing an ideal human being:
He who in adversity grieves not
He who is without fear,
He who falls not in the snare of sensuality,
Who has no greed for gold, knowing it is like dust;
He who does not slander people when their backs are turned
Nor flatters them to their faces.
He who has neither gluttony in his heart
Nor vanity, nor attachment to worldly things,
He whom nothing moves
Neither good fortune nor ill,
Who cares not for worldly applause:
Nor its censure.
Who ignores every wishful fantasy
And accept what comes his way as it comes.
He whom lust cannot lure,
Nor anger command
In such a one lives God himself
On such a one God's grace
For he knows the righteous path
O Nank, his soul mingles with the Lord,
As water mingles with water.
The first thing I do when I receive my copy of 'Private Eye' is to read the column 'Funny Old World'. India
ften appears in the columns because we do have more than our fair share of nutty people. However, this one comes from Malaysia. It is no laughing matter but I had a hearty laugh. (The Star: July 27, 2009 reprint as follows):
"It is perfectly possible for the Devil to have carnal intercourse with a man's wife," religious leader Datuk Abu Hasan told a Syariah Court in Malaysia, "because the Devil can make himself appear to look just like the husband. In this case, the husband has been regularly asking his wife for sex more than 10 times a day, which suggests to me that he must be friendly with evil forces, and practising black magic. It is considered normal for a man to want sex two or three times a day, but when the wife is asked more frequently than that, then it is probably not the husband who is asking, but the Devil."
"Hasan was speaking during a hearing in the Syariah court (a Malaysian court that operates under Shariah law), in which a wife was seeking 'fasakh' (divorce) due to her husband's unusual sex drive. "It all started when he had sex with her 17 times on their wedding night," the wife's representative Nazri Mohammed Isa told the court.
"The wife did not suspect anything at the time, because she thought he was merely performing his duty as a husband, but when the situation persisted, day after day, she told her mother, who also thought it was strange. When the wife's family came to her house to investigate one morning, they found two men hiding in the bathroom, both of who looked exactly like the husband. Which struck them as odd, because the family had seen the husband leaving for work earlier that morning."
Not for Valentine's Day
Entries to a Washington Post Competition asking for a two-line rhyme with the most romantic first line, and the least romantic second line:
My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you has screwed up my life.
I see your face when I am dreaming
That's why I always wake up screaming.
Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
This describes everything you are not.
Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
But I only slept with you because I was pissed.
I thought that I could love no other
that is until I met your brother.
Courtesy: Amir C Tuteja, Washington)
SOME EMBARRASSING MOMENTS
WE INTEND TO DO SOMETHING AND END UP DOING SOMETHING ELSE.
BY A N SURYANARAYANAN
At a wedding at Loyola Chapel in Madras, while merrily chatting with a long-lost friend, I stood up when the groom and bride entered; but felt something odd. My fly was open. Knowing: "Flies spread disease; keep yours zipped!', I went out and tried; it wouldn't close! I slid beside my still-standing-daughter to whisper, with my hand you-know-where! She looked at me quizzically. The nuptials were about to begin; thereafter reception was 8 km away. I could either change after Church; or change now and get back. A quick appreciation showed an auto trip would be economical in time and money; I was back in 38 minutes! Later when queried by people how my trousers had changed, I blamed an 'unnoticed stain'!
At a party for a couple returning from US, the wife saluted me in a playful manner on entering and I saluted back! She probably didn't notice it; so, 'ticked me' off saying I had not returned her compliments! Instead of just saying that I indeed had, I opened my big mouth and told her that in my childhood, dad had taught me that even if a mad person saluted/wished you, you must return the compliment properly! Everyone had a hearty laugh; but the lady said, "Surya, you think I am mad?" I didn't know where to hide, though I tried to explain myself!
Once rushing urgently from a field-manoeuvre in Rajasthan 350 km away to my Nasirabad-home, I reached late evening. Driver went towards the trailer to bring my bedding, camp-cot etc to my flat; but took a little time. Admonishing him, I told him to hurry! Nothing was found inside: bedding, camp-cot, jerrican, gifts, etc! The driver said sheepishly that he probably forgot to tighten the rope! Two friends happened to be home just then to enquire about welfare of my family. When I entered, they were all surprised. After a few minutes, my wife asked about the items. I told her. She didn't follow but to my bad luck, my friends started teasing her saying, I had probably left everything behind with some other woman! My wife kept quiet till they left and then started questioning me, if it was seven-year-itch! I explained again. Thank goodness she didn't decide like the song: "Ram Dulaari maike chali... khatiya khadi kar gayee!"
THE NEW YORK TIMES
START AND BEYOND
President Obama had hoped to announce a deal with Russia this week to extend the 1991 nuclear arms treaty known as Start and make some modest additional cuts in both sides' arsenals. On Friday, negotiators were still stuck on how to verify the agreement, and American officials are now saying it won't be done at least until January.
They need to conclude this work as soon as possible so the two sides can move on to a far more ambitious agreement. The Times reported on Friday that Washington and Moscow are already quietly working on a new deal that would make even deeper cuts in the number of deployed weapons and for the first time reduce both the number of stored warheads and tactical nuclear weapons the thousands of smaller bombs that are terrifyingly vulnerable to clandestine sale or theft.
It is easy to dismiss arms control negotiations as a cold war anachronism. Former President George W. Bush did it for eight years. But two decades after the Berlin Wall fell, the United States and Russia still have some 20,000 nuclear weapons a fact the Iranians and North Koreans eagerly raise when the United States and other powers try to curb their nuclear ambitions.
That is yet another reason why it is so important for President Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia to move these negotiations ahead.
The Start treaty officially expired two weeks ago. Few details have emerged, but we are told that the Russians want to keep secret data on their development of a new generation of missiles. And there are disagreements over how often each side can inspect the other's nuclear forces, plus when and what facilities will be covered.
The Obama administration should fight hard for a credible verification regime. Republicans, predictably, are already accusing the president of being too willing to make concessions. There is no evidence of that. But it is a reminder to the White House that after their tough negotiations with Moscow are completed, they will have to work at least as hard to win Senate ratification.
Their work can't stop there. Mr. Obama also needs to start pressing the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996). The treaty is essential for curbing nuclear proliferation it is nearly impossible for countries to build weapons without testing them. And there are few agreements more in this country's favor the United States has already tested its weapons thousands of times.
The White House had high hopes of winning ratification before this May's review conference for the Nonproliferation Treaty. It should keep pushing. Ratification would give a big boost to Mr. Obama's efforts to rally global support for new nonproliferation efforts and, if necessary (and all evidence suggests it will be), for tougher sanctions on Iran.
Twenty years later, the horrors of nuclear war haven't gone away. President Obama is right to push hard on all of these fronts.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HOPE FOR THE EVERGLADES
A one-mile bridge does not sound like a big project, any more than $81 million sounds like big money. But the recent groundbreaking for a one-mile, $81 million bridge on Florida's Tamiami Trail was a huge event for people who care about the Everglades. It was one more encouraging sign that the effort to restore South Florida's ecosystem remains alive.
The bridge project will raise one section of the Tamiami Trail's roadbed to allow water to begin flowing into the Everglades and south to Florida Bay much as it did before commercial development, canals and roadways deprived the Everglades of the freshwater flows that had made it one of the richest ecosystems on Earth.
The bridge symbolizes the Obama administration's determination to get cracking on the $8 billion (now $12 billion) Everglades restoration project approved by Congress in 2000. The project was supposed to be a 50-50 deal shared by Florida and the federal government, but Washington has failed to honor the bargain. The state has provided $2.4 billion, the feds only one-fifth of that.
Now, not just the bridge but other federally financed projects are leaping off the drawing boards. Two important wetlands restoration projects on the state's southwest and southeast coasts are to begin early next year.
There are two reasons for the change. One is an infusion of federal cash. The administration included more than $100 million for Everglades restoration in the stimulus package, and Congress anted up another $100 million. The other is an infusion of high-level interest. Carol Browner, President Obama's top environmental adviser, is a longtime Everglades champion. Ken Salazar, the secretary of the interior, is equally committed. The notoriously dysfunctional Army Corps of Engineers, which will have to do much of the actual work, is finally in the hands of people who care.
Other sections of the trail must be elevated, other projects begun. Gov. Charlie Crist's ambitious plan to buy and retire from production thousands of acres of sugar cane fields north of the park must be brought to fruition. (The deal would reduce pollution and provide room for reservoirs to store water that could be released during the dry season.)
The Office of Management and Budget wants major cuts in Everglades spending next year. The White House should resist them. Re-establishing momentum has not been easy, and it would be silly to arrest it now.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IN A DAY-LABOR CORNER
This fall, despite the warnings of civil-rights lawyers, Oyster Bay, on Long Island, adopted an ordinance. Among other things, it makes it illegal to wave your arms by the side of the road. The hope is that day laborers who gather on residential streets in the village of Locust Valley will go away rather than risk a $250 fine.
Oyster Bay is the latest community to grapple with two big questions vexing the suburbs: Who are all these day laborers, and should we welcome or expel them?
The short answers: They are your neighbors, and there are serious obstacles to driving them off the streets, starting with the Constitution. The town supervisor, John Venditto, says his lawyers have told him the anti-solicitation ordinance will withstand a legal challenge. The First Amendment and the growing pile of federal court rulings striking down similar ordinances around the country strongly suggests otherwise.
We sympathize with Mr. Venditto's concerns for safety and order. Anyone who has seen the chaos of an unsupervised day-labor site knows how troubling they can be: men dashing into street, surrounding cars and trucks, snarling traffic and intimidating drivers. A site without amenities, where laborers linger all day with no shelter or toilets, creates serious problems of its own.
But jaywalking and obstructing traffic are already illegal, and people who recklessly endanger others should be ticketed. Even if the town conducts an empirical study to show that traffic laws are inadequate to preserve order, it is still inviting a lawsuit, which it would lose.
Mr. Venditto and the town board can accept that now or go to court and accept it later. Either way, they will end up where they started, trying to find a solution that is effective, fair and respectful of the law.
Mr. Venditto insists he's not an immigration hard-liner. He says he understands the historic bonds that link today's Hispanic immigrants with his own Italian ancestors. He should know, then, that encouraging laborers off the streets into a safe, well-managed hiring site is the best of an array of unsatisfying options.
There is no magic answer for desperation and poverty, and the broken-down anarchy of the federal immigration system will be with us for a while. The country is not about to lose its insatiable appetite for cheap labor or its core belief that this country was built by immigrants who started poor and worked their way up.
On the streets of Locust Valley, meanwhile, people are waiting for an answer that an unconstitutional silver-bullet anti-solicitation law will not provide.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DARCY AT HER DAYS' END
BY VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Not quite 15 years ago, my wife adopted a mixed-breed puppy she found tied to a storage tank behind a gas station in Great Barrington, Mass. I say she adopted it because I wasn't quite sold on the idea. We had a new pup already a border terrier named Tavish and this gangly new addition looked, in comparison, like a badly made dog. Darcy's feet were too small for her body, her hind knees were weak, and her coat made her look like a wire-haired golden retriever. But who ever loved a dog less because it was ugly?
And now, suddenly, it's all these years later. Darcy still lies on the lawn, basking like a lioness, and barks at the pickups going up the road. Much of the day she still has the look of an indomitably gratified mutt. But there are hours now when her eyes, a little misty with cataracts, seem worried, hollow. And she has stopped eating, or rather, she eats with deliberation and reluctance, a spoonful of this, a forkful of that.
Which means that now is the time for a hard decision. According to the vet, there are no signs of disease, other than the disease of age nothing to force our hand. When Tavish died, four years ago, his liver was failing, and there was no choice but to sit on the floor and hold him while the vet inserted the final needle. It's somehow not surprising that Darcy raises the matter of our responsibility in its purest form.
I've known too many owners who waited far too long to put their dogs to sleep, and I've always hated the sentimentality and the selfishness in their hesitation. Last week, watching Darcy out in the sun, it felt as though I was trying to decide just when most of the life the good life, that is inside her has been used up. Is it conscionable to wait until it's plainly gone? Or is it better to err on the side of saying goodbye while she's still discernibly Darcy, while she seems, as she nearly always does, to be without pain?
It comes down, in the end, to the pleasure she shows, the interest she takes in the world around her and not to anything her humans feel. She has not had the life she might once have expected a far better one instead. My job is to make sure she gets the death she deserves in her human's arms.
And so she has. She died quietly last Friday while I sat on the floor beside her at the vet's. The world is a poorer place without her.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE NEW PERILS OF PAULINE
BY GAIL COLLINS
When we last left the health care reform bill, it was tied up on the railroad track, writhing helplessly with the train bearing down. The role of Snidely Whiplash was played by Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Time for a new episode. Having stripped away all the parts that offended his sensibilities, Lieberman has slunk off and the fate of the legislation is now in the hands of Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
People, when did it become necessary for average, conscientious-but-not-fanatic citizens to know the names of so many senators? There was probably a time when you thought "Max Baucus" was a brand of sausage. And now we not only know that he is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and from Montana, we are also up to the minute on his divorce and his "mature and happy" relationship with his live-in girlfriend.
We know more about Max Baucus than we do about Brad Pitt! That seems wrong, so very wrong.
Nelson is the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a guy who seems to really enjoy having the fate of the health care bill in his hands. We have mentioned before that George W. Bush used to call him "The Benator." Have we mentioned that he used to be president of an insurance company?
He is being treated like a visiting superpower. When the prime minister of India came to the United States, he got that one crasher-wracked party and an hour of face time with Barack Obama. Ben Nelson has met Obama at least three times in the last nine days. The president, he said serenely, "made a strong case for passing health care reform, but it remains to be seen if it was compelling."
Good work making your case, most powerful person on the planet. But we will see if it meets the standards of Senator Ben Nelson.
So the health care bill, which was already watered down for Max Baucus and then stripped down for Joe Lieberman, is now being sent to the sauna for Ben Nelson. The big question on the liberal side is whether what remains will still be worth supporting. On Friday, MoveOn started a petition urging progressive senators "to block the current Senate bill until it is improved." The blogosphere resounds with calls to go back and start over.
Our question for today is: Does this make sense? Has the health care bill been so abused by the various pols who've held its fate in their hands that it's time to put it out of its misery?
Let me tell you a story. ...
Back in 1971, Congress passed a bill aimed at providing high-quality early childhood education and after-school programs for any American family that wanted them. It was bipartisan, which in those days meant more than a whole lot of Democrats and somebody from Maine. "Having been a working mother, I knew what day-care problems were like," said Martha Phillips, who was at that time a staffer at the Republican Research Committee in the House.
Then Richard Nixon surprised almost everyone by vetoing it, with a scathing message written by Pat Buchanan, claiming the bill would "commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing."
The social right, which was just beginning to come into its own, was delighted! Opponents reinforced the message with a massive letter-writing campaign. They accused members of Congress of plotting to deprive parents of the right to take their offspring to church, give children the power to sue their parents for forcing them to do chores, and, in general, turn the country into a Maoist concentration camp.
"We really saw the beginning of the right-wing religious agenda," said Walter Mondale, who was the chief Senate sponsor of the bill. "They used this bill to raise fears about undermining parents, Sovietizing American youth. People were afraid to touch it for a while."
Meanwhile, there was hardly a peep from the other side. Children's advocates had been enthusiastic at first, but as the legislation made its way through Congress, they squabbled over what kinds of community groups should be allowed to deliver the services. Advocates for poor children were worried that subsidies for middle-class families would reduce the amount available to help the neediest.
"It wasn't perfect," said Mondale. "We've never passed a perfect bill in American history. But it would have made a big difference."
In the end, the people who hated the whole idea were much more energized than the people who loved the idea, but disagreed on the details.
"People always think there will be another day," said Jack Duncan, who was counsel for the subcommittee that handled the bill in the House. "Well, there might be another day, but not in my lifetime."
Remind you of anything?
Bob Herbert and Charles M. Blow are off today.
I. THE NEWS
Ministers and others in powerful places are experiencing the first taste of the post-NRO world. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a man who is rarely short of anything to say when a microphone is within five-hundred feet of him, was curiously reticent when asked about his reaction to his own ministry putting his name on the Exit Control List (ECL). There were stories in the media of arrest warrants out against him which were later denied. Less reticent and at the 'incandescent' end of the spectrum of upset-ness was Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar who was prevented from flying to attend official duties in China by his inclusion on the ECL along with 247 other politicians and bureaucrats who are now required to clear their names through an anti-corruption process. Mr Mukhtar told a private TV channel that the FIA had said he could not leave the country, but he protested that he was merely the subject of a 12-year-old enquiry into corruption and not a convicted felon. No matter if you are on the list you are going nowhere and the defence minister waved goodbye to the naval chief who was off to China to pick up a warship. Curiously, the news of his being on the ECL was also denied by NAB officially.
The hands of the clock have suddenly turned back. Dead convictions have sprung zombie-like back to life. It is too early to say where the process will end, but the disinfectant smell of accountability is strong in the air. The judgment of the Supreme Court has caught the zeitgeist and the public mood is perceptibly lifted. Those untouched by the NRO will doubtless be making their own calculations and we may expect changes and slippage in the strata of governance. Time just shifted, and it is quite apparent many do not like this turn of events at all. For the future, much will depend on how the government handles things. In the changed environment people will not be ready to accept convicts as decision-makers. The right thing of course is for all those who face cases to step down, at least until a verdict comes in. It is unfortunate that this has not already happened. The complications we face are a direct consequence of this failure. If the situation persists, only more embarrassment lies ahead. Incidents like the defence minister being unable to fly to China to sign a defence deal will not do much for Pakistan's international standing.
There is another facet to all this. Already, the sitting government has earned a reputation for large-scale corruption. Allegations of wrongdoing in the energy sector continue to pour in. Those in Islamabad talk of a set 'rate' for any work at a ministry. Indeed many report desperation to make as much as possible in as little time as possible. While there has been much recent talk, from lawyers and most recently from the ambassador to the US, of a threat to democracy, it would appear the biggest threat comes from within rather than without. Democratic governments largely depend on support from people. When this is withdrawn, they weaken. At present, the popular standing of the elected setup has hit a low. People are disillusioned and displeased with its working. The rather belated efforts by the prime minister to distance himself from the presidency have been, at best, only partially successful. The government must consider what it can do to save its image. Calls are coming in for the NRO-tainted ministers to step down. There would appear to be fewer and fewer options for them. They must do so or put the government at still greater risk of losing whatever support it still enjoys.
I. THE NEWS
As we enter the holy month of Muharram, the question of security and its provision has risen to the top of the agenda of civil administration across the land. There is a past history of tension and violence at this time of mourning that has blighted it and tarnished the piety with which it is expressed and felt. In every province we are passing through a time of great disturbance, and if ever there was a need for all concerned to focus on the protection of the common man, it is now. The chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, has said that we need to learn from our past mistakes and that we should see this as a time to forge unity rather than exploit divisions; that we should all actively seek to thwart those who by their actions conspire to weaken our country.
Whilst we entirely support his sentiments as well as similar sentiments expressed by other political and religious figures, we are mindful of the fact that the forces of law and order are stretched exceedingly thin everywhere, and that the resources they need to prevent the actions of those who would create havoc and mayhem are very scarce. Terrorism is ever-adapting to a changing environment, and as those who fight it struggle to keep it in check, the beast of terrorism shapes itself yet again in an effort to avoid those who would limit it. We cannot abdicate responsibility for countervailing terrorism entirely to those for whom it is a job, because we as citizens have a responsibility to the wider society we are members of. We may feel ambivalent or worse about those who police us, but they need our help and support especially at this most sensitive time, and we would all be doing less than our civic duty if we did not give it.
I. THE NEWS
THE NRO AND AFTER
BY ARIF NIZAMI
By unanimously declaring it ultra vires of the Constitution, the Apex Court has finally buried for good the infamous corruption-laundering law, the NRO. Although the presidency has claimed immunity from persecution under Article 248 of the Constitution as its moral high ground, if there was any in the first place, it has been inexorably damaged.
Whether President Zardari can be prosecuted on the basis of corruption cases, as they existed before the NRO, is now open to legal interpretation. The court, by ordering the government to peruse money-laundering cases against him, has further eroded his position to remain in office. Similarly, the MQM will have to face the music in criminal cases that were closed under the controversial Ordinance. A Pandora's Box has been opened, which has grave implications for the government in days to come.
The detailed judgment of the court is bound to open the door for future litigants to challenge the eligibility of the president to remain in office. According to legal experts, cases against at least 37 who benefited from the NRO and are now part of the government will be reinstituted. The honourable thing for them would be to resign their posts and clear their names in the courts.
It is generally acknowledged that the government legal team put up a very weak and haphazard case in front of the 17-members full bench. Its attorney general cut a sorry figure in front of the court, whereas the court in its short judgment has censured the maverick former attorney general, Malik Quyyum, and has ordered action against him. But the mea culpa was the stunning statement by its lawyer, Kamal Afzar, before the Supreme Court that the GHQ and the American CIA's involvement could derail democracy in Pakistan.
Mr Afzar, a senior politician and a barrister of considerable standing, is surely well aware of the implications of remarks made in front of the full bench of the highest court of the country. Despite his saying that the GHQ has been a bad boy in the past and that Kayani is a gentleman, his remarks inexorably damaged the already weak case of the government. Expressing his apprehensions about the democratic system Mr Afzar unwittingly exposed the fragile nature of relations between the military and the civilian set up and the US role in influencing events in Pakistan.
Admittedly, Mr Zardari and the military top brass have not had a smooth sailing. The first indications of fault lines in the relationship emerged when in March of this year the Presidency was forced to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry on the intervention of Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani in the wake of the long march call given by the Nawaz Sharif-led opposition.
Later in the year, the corps commanders, taking the unusual step of issuing a statement voicing deep concerns over certain aspects of the Kerry Lugar Bill, especially those relating to civilian control over the Armed Forces and Pakistan's nuclear programme, did not auger well for harmonious civilian military relations. Although Gen Kayani has very cosy relations both with US Centcom chief Gen David Petraeus and America's top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, who are his frequent guests at the GHQ, the military is not very comfortable with the closeness between the civilian government and the US administration.
Perhaps the top brass feels that its basic strategic precepts are not fully shared by Mr Zardari and even the leader of the opposition, Mian Nawaz Sharif, both of whom initially were all too keen to have friendly relations with India, even at the cost of putting Kashmir on the backburner. On the other hand, the Army, to this date, feels that despite the successful operations in Swat and South Waziristan and the spate of terrorism plaguing the whole nation, India remains Pakistan's major strategic concern, whereas the Afghan Taliban in post-US Afghanistan are future allies and a strategic reality.
This was all relevant before the Mumbai carnage November last year. Since then New Delhi has been consistently refusing to open a meaningful, structured dialogue with Islamabad on the pretext that Pakistan has failed to nail the perpetrators of the attack whom it alleges were sent by the ISI. Since then, enthusiasm for India has waned considerably. Recent statements by the prime minister, the foreign minister and, not least, by the president espousing the Kashmir cause bear testimony to this shift in emphasis.
Poor governance and lack of transparency in running the affairs of the government are also another bone of contention. When a top sleuth of the ISI gave a list of patently corrupt ministers, after initial willingness to sack them, Mr Zardari had a change of mind. After the failure of the government to get the NRO approved by the parliament sacking of ministers was no longer a workable option. Although only recently Prime Minister Gilani ruled out a reshuffle, most of the controversial ministers have been politely shifted in the name of austerity and efficiency.
Does this mean that the Army or the ubiquitous establishment is out to get the president, come what may? And, more importantly, is it in a position to do so? The chief justice has already observed that the court was there to guard democracy and the rule of law and that he felt hurt when aspersions are cast upon what the judiciary has struggled for.
Despite these sanguine remarks courts have never been able to thwart a coup d'etat, of which have been aplenty in the country's chequered political history. Without exception, coups in Pakistan, including the last one by Musharraf, have been legitimised and sanctified on one pretext or the other by the Apex Court. There is no reason to believe that Pakistan is ripe for another extra-constitutional change. However, there are dangers looming on the horizon that should be realised and guarded against by all and sundry.
Although Pakistan has a free and vibrant media, independent courts and an elected parliament, it is not an easily governable state, not least for the army. It has a fractured polity with relations amongst the provinces at the lowest ebb. There is a medium-level insurgency and aspirations for independence in Balochistan, notwithstanding the so-called Balochistan Package and the recent historic NFC Award. Prolonged and persistent military rules have left deep scars on our body politic.
Gen David Petreaus says that he is positive that the Pakistan military does not nurture any notion to destabilise President Asif Zardari and that he has been assured by Gen Kayani that the army is committed to a democratic civilian government, and there is no reason to doubt these assurances. The army, increasingly embroiled against the Taliban within Pakistan, is in no position to govern, nor is Gen Kayani a general in the takeover mode.
Judging by our history, how tenuous is the military-civilian equation, or rather lack of it, can be judged from a recently released book, The Clinton Tapes, which deals with President Clinton's years in the White House. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited himself on July 4, 1999, to the White House to seek his help to extricate Pakistan from the Kargil debacle, without incurring the wrath of Musharraf. According to Clinton, "for him (Sharif) as the elected defender of Pakistan's fragile democracy, surrender has been worse than war. In the extreme, he faced a choice between ordering a nuclear attack as a patriot or being overthrown as a traitor by Musharraf."
Musharraf finally overthrew Sharif on Oct 12, 1999. Clinton writes, "when Sharif defused the nuclear brinkmanship in Kashmir, he lost his job, his constitution and perhaps his life." When Clinton visited Islamabad in March 2000, on the top of his agenda was to implore Mushrraf to spare Nawaz's life. The book narrates: "Early in April days after Clinton's departure, Pakistani courts sentenced the deposed prime minister to life imprisonment, rather than the gallows."
Assurances by American leaders about democracy can only be taken with a pinch of salt. Shahbaz Sharif's dash to Washington in August 1999 could not save his brother. Nor can the present government depend upon US backing for survival. The strength for survival has to come from within by strengthening democracy and its institutions.
What stops President Zardari from taking the moral high ground to return the sovereignty to the parliament by scrapping the 17th Amendment and defend charges against him, instead of taking refuge behind presidential immunity? Hopefully the politicians realise the historic responsibility upon their shoulders to save the incipient democratic from their own shenanigans.
The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
ROAD TO ANTI-CORRUPTION REFORM
BY SANIA NISHTAR
After the Supreme Court judgment, the NRO stands null and void since its inception and all benefits acquired, accrued or incurred under it stand withdrawn. This decision is a very important link in a chain of events which are paving the way for strengthening the moral basis of anti-corruption reform in Pakistan.
The sequence of events began with a series of suo moto actions by the Supreme Court, which played an important role in strengthening the political culture -- a demonstration of which was part of the lawyers' movement. Subsequently, the media's drive to bring corruption as a leading public debate to the fore has also been commendable. The role of successive governments, which allowed a free media to thrive -- reservations notwithstanding -- should additionally be acknowledged. It appears that these events along with the realisation that the need for clean and competent hands on the governments reigns are critical to alleviating the day-to-day crises facing the common man, can be key to giving an impetus to holistic anti-corruption reforms.
Why the emphasis on anti-corruption reform when the country suffers from so many crises? The answer to this is embedded in some key realisations.
Corruption relevant to state governance has many shades -- financial, ethical and procedural. Closely related to these are mal-governance, inefficiency and ineptitude, which, in the absence of mechanisms to compel accountability, can be equally damaging. Each of the problems that we see plaguing our nation today is a manifestation of one of these.
Over the years, we have seen the emergence of a form of governance where systemic manipulation was fast becoming well-ingrained; where state capture by vested-interest groups and undue influence to shape state policies, laws and regulations, was becoming commonplace. In these environments, procurement graft was becoming institutionalised, preferential treatment and nepotism guided human-resource decisions and patronage and support for debt write-offs, tax exemptions and other favours was fairly common. In general, decisions were usually not grounded in evidence and misuse of authority was fast gaining acceptance.
This style of governance steadily eroded the capacity of state institutions over time; it fostered public-private collusion and furthered vested economic interests of the powerful elite. There was massive diversion of state resources for personal gains and a growing trend towards cartel activity, which manifested itself in frequent commodity shortages of the kind witnessed over the last few years. These malpractices helped to further strengthen Pakistan's growing informal and black economies, which thrived on smuggling, trafficking and a range of financial crimes.
As these practices got firmly ingrained, state resources got channelled to the well-connected through patronage and political links were furthered, establishing a vicious circle. Regulatory capture became pervasive and procedures were circumvented to settle police cases, change land documents, evade tax and get permissions and licenses. The ability of state institutions to target welfare was weakened. Moonlighting in the private sector and levying of charges for services that were meant to be provided by the state for free became common in the social sectors.
The resulting outcomes were devastating -- the rich-poor divide worsened, society become polarised and impoverished masses became exploitable in extremist hands. Upright politicians and state functionaries were weeded out of the system and reforms were held hostage. We were left with frail governance, weak political systems and a thriving informal economy.
All this may be up for a change now! By upholding constitutional stipulations, the judiciary, and through its open confrontation of this menace, the media, have given impetus to a burgeoning transition. The judiciary and the media have played their respective roles; it is now imperative that the legislature and the executive also play their part in this transition. Anti-corruption measures necessitate deep-rooted systemic reforms and it may not be possible to do everything at once. However, they are some critically important steps which need to follow.
The legislature must do five things: one, in the forthcoming 18th Amendment to the Constitution, it must aim for the right separation of powers and structure-appropriate institutional checks and balances between the executive, judiciary and the legislature and ensure that constitutional restraints upon the elected government are in order. Second, it must revisit the freedom of information law -- the oxygen of democracy -- which has to do with access to information and disclosure, which can enable public discourse in larger national interest on issues of governance.
Pakistan's existing Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002, which is still in force, has many weaknesses. Some of these, such as the broad regime of exceptions and the restrictive approach to the definition of public records, need to be addressed through appropriate amendments. Third, the parliament must strengthen its Public Accounts Committee and empower it as an engine of oversight with active engagement with the civil society and expert groups. Fourth, it must revisit the Competition Commission law to enable the commission to function independently, as it is playing an important role in creating a level playing field for businesses and weakening economic interests that promote state capture.
The legislature must produce a legal and institutional accountability framework for the country. Weaknesses of the Holders of Public Offices Act, 2009, in terms of the envisaged Accountability Commission's prerogatives, the flexibilities and space for manoeuvrability, its structure in relation to purported independence, moreover the fragmented institutional design being structured under the bill's aegis, have been the subject of great debate. These concerns need to be addressed in a new legal and institutional dispensation.
Finally, there is a set of imperatives for the executive, or the government. Theoretically speaking, there are many things in that fold that need to be undertaken -- revival of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, strengthening of several institutions that have a role to play, mainstreaming technology to plug leakages, institutional changes in ministries that would separate policymaking from regulation and implementation to reduce space for collusion, revival of the many donor-supported projects initialised by several governments, which can have a knock on effect on transparency, civil-service reform, changes in public-finance management, procurement reform and many other areas.
It is accepted that it would not be possible for the executive to commence work on all of these areas at once. However, some strategic measures need to be taken to pave the way for broader reform and keep the momentum going. By doing just two things the executive can signal a strong commitment to change. One, upholding merit and creating incentives for integrity in public service at all levels -- the cabinet and bureaucracy and, two, assisting with needed reform in the judicial system itself.
The road to anti-corruption reform is long and winding, but with needed measures at the right time, progress is possible. As a nation we have long underestimated and ignored the cost of corruption and mal-governance. We may be familiar with the staggering costs of commissions, revenue lost due to crony privatisation, political patronage, tax evasion and the shadow economy, but what we don't recognise is the erosion of the social fabric and ethical and democratic values it has caused and the risks it poses to national security and peace.
For now, the judiciary has played a watershed role in what can be a burgeoning transition. Its coming to fruition will depend on how well the two other pillars of the state play their role to uphold accountability, transparency, professionalism and neutrality.
The writer is founding-president of NGO-think tank, Heartfile. Email: sania@ heartfile.org
I. THE NEWS
GOOD COMMANDER, BAD COMMAND?
BY A R SIDDIQI
The counsel for the federation, Mr Kamal Azfar, appearing in the Supreme Court in the case of the infamous NRO, now struck down ab initio by the apex court, called the GHQ a "a bad boy" and the Army chief a "gentleman." He said, "You want me to say it more openly? The danger comes from the CIA and the GHQ." Even if unintended, the statement was highly unwarranted and patently indiscreet. It challenged the very basis, the very essence of the military command-and-control system under the Service chief in his own wisdom or in concert with his principal staff officer and the corps commanders when necessary. A bizarre and uneasy juxtaposition with far-reaching implications against the institutional oneness and cohesion of the army, in fact, the unity of command of the armed forces as a whole, considering the special status of the army chief.
The simple question is: how can a team, be it the GHQ or a sporting outfit, be any better than its chief? How can a "gentleman" ever tolerate a league of rogues under his direct command? Whether in peace or war, an army chief can be no better than his command, and vice versa. The army chief represents, especially in war or a grave national emergency, such as the existing one, the centre of gravity for his command and the rest of the country.
Without exactly losing the 1965 war, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, the supreme commander, and his protégé the army chief Gen Mohammad Musa, threw in the towel before fighting it out to the finish. The Sept 21-22, 1965, tame ceasefire, more then the known asymmetries and imbalances in an unequal war, resulted from the miserable loss of nerve on the part of the supreme commander and the army chief.
Unless, the army chief, in this case, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, therefore, proves his ability to command and control his own headquarter, the GHQ, and his field formations, what sort of an army chief he will be? There is no such thing as a good, gentlemanly commander and a bad un-gentlemanly command. A command in either case must reflect the image of the commander.
Didn't Lt-Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi's command of the military forces in East Pakistan reflect badly to infect fatally their battlefield performance to end in humiliating surrender? Gen Agha Mohammad Yahya's disastrous performance as the head of the state and supreme commander irreparably damaged the battlefield performance of his forces in West Pakistan, his military's powerhouse.
A command, at any level, especially at the level of the high command, can be no better than the commander. He is the one who rules the roost. There is no question whatever of the GHQ being nobler than the army chief. All wars won or lost are known after their commander-in-chief. Waterloo was Napoleon's rather than France's debacle.
Mr Azfar's insinuation against the GHQ for "derailing" democracy contrary, against the wishes of the army chief betrays the existence of a war within the high command itself. Mr Azfar has used his personal acquaintance with Gen Kayani as the basis of his good chit to the general as a good cop without realising how much embarrassment he might have caused the general personally. Once army chiefs go about collecting character certificates from private citizens, no matter how eminent, God help them and their command.
Wasn't Mr Azfar hawking his personal ties with the chief even unconsciously in the Supreme Court to influence or impress their lordships?
Even if by a long shot, would it not be in order to ask Mr Azfar if his classification of the commander as a good man and his command (GHQ) as "undemocratic" was an unintended attempt to throw a spanner in the works of their orderly and disciplined relationship?
Apart from stating that the GHQ and the army chief were at variance about the status of democracy in the country, by far the most incriminating part of Mr Azfar's statement alluded to collaboration between the American CIA and the GHQ. Should there be an even an iota of truth in this, the GHQ would be little more than a mole, a foreign agent planted in the highest echelon of the army. While the army chief, according to Mr Azfar is a "gentleman" and there is "no immediate" threat to democracy, the GHQ, together with CIA, posed a threat to democracy.
Mr Azfar said: "My statement was in historic perspective as historically the army chiefs and foreign intervention have been destabilising democracy in the country." He went on to explain that his statement was a personal one, without reflecting the opinion of the government. A tame apology for the damage done to the unity of the military command, even only theoretically.
The writer is a former brigadier.
I. THE NEWS
THOSE LEFT BEHIND
BY TALAT FAROOQ
"I decided to join the army because I dreamed of becoming a general and enjoying the glamour and the perks that go with the position," the young lieutenant told me. "But a few days ago, as I carried the dead bodies of two six year old boys in my arms, my whole perception of life changed. I don't care about becoming a general anymore; all I care about now is to die ten times over as a lieutenant for my people and my country."
He was answering my query as to what made him join the army. He was a member of the team that carried out the rescue operation at the Parade Lane mosque, and was himself wounded during the process. This conversation took place during my visit to army hospitals and Parade Lane as a member of a social workers' group. The visit entailed our meetings with injured officials and their families, including those who lost their children in this act of brutality. Their eyes welled up as they spoke of the young boy who was killed while shielding two smaller children with his body. Their eyes shone with pride as they talked about the officers who stood up to the terrorists with bare hands. They recalled with horror the chilling words of the terrorists as they went on their killing spree: "No child will be spared today. There are more children on the first floor, throw more grenades there Congratulations! The murtads (apostates) are dead . '
These survivors are now on a different plane of existence. Having the trauma they will never be the same again.
In the last two years more than 3,000 attacks have been carried out in urban Pakistan, in which nearly 4,500 people have lost their lives. Those whose lives were prematurely terminated are the lucky ones; those left behind are the ones who will have to nurse a broken heart, and in many cases, wrecked bodies, for as long as they live.
We cannot remain aloof at the emotional level anymore. This is exactly what the terrorists want; an emotional reaction, rather than a logical and systematic response. The virus of terrorism aims at the nerve centre of our confidence in democracy and democratic systems. It aims to destroy our faith in institutions and communities. The emotional state that the terrorists induce is meant to block analytical thinking. Such a state of affairs helps perpetuate the terrorists' agenda, which is cold and calculated in comparison. Our response has to be equally calculated and well-thought-out. Such a response must be twofold, involving both state and society.
The government must formulate a comprehensive anti-terrorism policy. This policy should be grounded in domestic ground realities and must be seen by people as effective. Prevention through legal measures may be difficult at the state and local levels, but it is not impossible. Those apprehended after the terrorist attacks must be brought to justice through speedy trials and awarded severe punishments. This would help in not only curtailing terrorism but would also revive people's faith in the government's professed intention to make Pakistan secure for its citizens. The terrorists and their supporters constitute a small percentage among the 180-million-strong populace.
People would come forward to help and report suspicious activities only if the government were seen as carrying out an effective counter-terrorism mechanism. Confidence-building measures to augment relations between the police and the citizens and between the national government and the local communities cannot be ignored any further; the problem is far too complex to be left to the state alone.
Those left behind need our attention. We, as ordinary citizens, can accomplish a great deal with just a little compassion and thoughtfulness. Let me cite an example. The Human Service Workers project was undertaken by the Pakistan Navy at PNS Shifa in the mid-90s. Both naval and civilian female volunteers were trained in counselling and crisis-intervention under the supervision of the Department of Psychiatry. The model was later adopted by the Military Hospital, Rawalpindi, where the department of mental health continues to hold workshops and reinforcement classes for the volunteers.
These ladies played a commendable role after the 2005 earthquake by reaching out to the injured at the military hospitals and are currently involved in providing emotional support, under professional supervision, to the families of the Parade Lane survivors. This particular model can be replicated by the psychiatry departments at various private and state-run hospitals to train volunteers in helping the survivors in all parts of the country. This is just one suggestion; with just a little innovation there can be many more doable plans.
Civil society needs to involve the youth to initiate a countrywide campaign for peace. The political parties could help the process. The media should be seen as treating the issue of terrorism as a national priority, not through banal political discussions but by actively educating the public in taking practical steps to combat the evil. Those who have come out stronger after the ordeal must be presented as role models. Those shattered by the tragedy must receive social support and recognition; by bringing together the resilient and the shattered the media and the rest of the civil society can help start the healing process. Above all, we must not play into the hands of the terrorists by losing faith in democracy, no matter how imperfect.
Our society is already a victim of sectarian and ethnic divides and unchecked terrorism can shake the very foundations of our country. With a little old-fashioned patriotism, however, we can use the same phenomenon to our advantage, and in the process help close many social gaps. At some level we are all members of the group of those left behind; any practical steps that we may decide to take for the sake of others will ultimately influence our own lives and the future of our own children.
The writer is executive editor of the quarterly Criterion. Email: talatfarooq11@gmail .com
I. THE NEWS
REVELLING IN JUSTICE
BY BABAR SATTAR
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Had the Supreme Court not struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance as unconstitutional, we would have had to rethink the foundational values that inform our fundamental law and our union as a nation. But the manner in which the apex court dealt with legal challenges to this revolting piece of legislation and the outcome of the proceedings provides ample cause for optimism and cheer. This ruling addressed a constitutional question that had both legal and political facets. By seizing the NRO conundrum the Supreme Court has established that it will not shy away from its obligation to interpret the Constitution and uphold rule of law even in relation to the most controversial issues. But by confining itself to tackling legal aspects of the problem in a manner that doesn't produce partisan outcomes, our apex court has struck the right balance between activism and restraint.
Our reconstituted superior judiciary is putting to rest the fears of its detractors. The NRO proceedings were extremely fair and transparent, and the Supreme Court finally delivered a short order that responds to Pakistan's shrieking need for accountability while being jurisprudentially sound. The Chief Justice constituted a 17-member bench to hear the NRO petitions, which is unprecedented in our judicial history. Chief Justices have often exercised their authority and discretion to compose benches as a means to manipulate the outcome of judicial proceedings. By enabling the entire Supreme Court to sit and rule over an issue, the Chief Justice effectively took away his ability to control the outcome of the NRO hearings. For his judicial authority in this matter was no more than that of any other member of the bench. And the fact that the entire court spoke with one voice on an issue of crucial constitutional, moral, political and social significance cannot be veremphasized.
The Supreme Court's decision to declare the NRO unconstitutional and restore all affected cases to their pre-NRO status was widely expected. Jurisprudentially a significant aspect of the short order is that it held the NRO ultra vires of Articles 4, 8, 25, 62(f), 63(i) and (p), 89, 175 and 227 of the Constitution, and not necessarily Article 2(A) (the Objectives Resolution) that was forced into the Constitution by Ziaul Haq. The Objectives Resolution contains overbroad language that should never have been made an operative part of the Constitution. There was some speculation that the Court could possibly hold that Article 248 of the Constitution (that offers the president complete immunity from civil and criminal prosecution) is in conflict with Article 2A and further hold that since Article 248 is in conflict with the Objectives Resolution (that is akin to our Grundnorm), the presidential immunity needs to be watered down.
Such interpretation of the Constitution would not only have corrupted our jurisprudence but would also have made the case outcome Zardari-specific and thus questionable. Refusing invitations to indulge in any creative interpretation of our fundamental law that would immediately place the legal sword of Damocles over Zardari's head (as many detractors of the NRO would have desired), and reiterating that the NRO is illegal for being against guarantees of equality, prohibition of dishonesty, separation of powers and injunctions of our religion makes the court's decision balanced and sound. Fears that the court was out on a fishing trip at Zardari's expense asking piercing questions and straying from the legal questions raised by the petitions it was hearing have been proven unfounded.
But bringing back to life processes of accountability while faced with a ruling government actively performing the role of a clog is no walk in the park. The PPP-led government tried to oust Khalid Mirza when he took on the corporate mafia. It replaced the scrupulous, reputable and principled head of FIA, Tariq Khosa, when he refused to be coerced or cajoled by considerations of fear or favor while investigating the Steel Mill matter and the Firdous Ashiq Awan scandal, and wished to see Benazir Bhutto's original will in her murder case investigation. Further, the government has a proclivity to appoint individuals to key positions within the accountability machinery of the state who are incapable of doing their jobs because they are either spineless or thoroughly compromised. There is only so much justice that courts can dispense if other vital components of the criminal justice system are completely dysfunctional.
Faced with this dilemma the Supreme Court has done three things through the NRO trial. One, it has caused the disclosure of ugly details of corruption of pubic office holders and brought into public space information that no other tribunal or court could have forced out of the government. This will limit the ability of the government to hide facts from courts that will now be seized of the reopened NRO-related cases and encourage the media and civil society to scrutinize the conduct of government in view of the available information. Two, not being able to rely on the government to assiduously implement court orders and conduct effective prosecution, it has put in place a monitoring mechanism to supervise the progress of the NRO case that now stand revived.
And three, by declaring that the chairman and prosecutor general NAB are liable for misconduct and that Malik Qayyum acted unlawfully in withdrawing the Swiss cases against Zardari and should be proceeded against, and by publicly rebuking the acting Attorney General for hampering justice, the court has warned that the-dog-ate-my-homework-routine will no longer work and public servants will be held personally accountable for exercise of legal authority vested in them.
The challenge before us as a nation is daunting. We are struggling to reassemble moth-eaten machinery for accountability within a culture wherein defying the law is often the mark of status. The suggestion that corruption is a plague eating us up from within and needs to be confronted on war footing is either met with a look of disbelief from our ruling elites or vocal disdain. One argument one hears in private settings is that while the military has been plundering national wealth for decades, the entire country starts to jump up and down every time there is a civilian government in place. This is true. But it is an argument against selective enforcement of law and not in favor of tolerating corruption or offering unconditional amnesty to politicians.
The other argument in favor of looking the other way from the ruling government's corrupt ways is that it will 'destabilize the system'. We heard the same argument when we tried to oust our last dictator, when we struggled for restoration of the judges and now when we demand Musharraf's trial. This logic of expediency has been our bane for decades. The kind of instability that rule of law and accountability create is one that is indeed desirable and a prerequisite for positive change.
It is true that we need to establish effective civilian control of the military. But hatred for praetorians does not translate into acceptance of inept and corrupt politicos. Non-performing civilian governments might just be an excuse for military interventions, but they certainly sharpen the khaki savior instinct. Corrupt civilian governments and dictatorships are thus two sides of the same coin. We need to eliminate both through rule of law braced by political, legal and social accountability. This nation is under no obligation to protect the pride and shame of its corrupt leaders. We must not dither in allowing the trial of our president in a foreign court (while he continues to hide behind legal immunity in Pakistan), or putting our ministers on exit control lists. If they wish to parade around naked, their disgrace is personal. No nation falls from grace because it holds the mighty accountable. But in this moment when we have rightly refused to be held hostage by a president and his cronies negotiating with the country by holding a gun to their heads, let us not forget that the author of the NRO is still running amok and needs to be brought back to justice.
I. THE NEWS
BY ANJUM NIAZ
A fly on the wall heard the incumbent on the hill tell a lawyer friend, "I'm not scared of going to jail but this time do char ko lapait ker jaon ga." The sentence is loaded, so better to leave it at that Meanwhile haunted by a demon for over two years, we are finally free. Our nightmare is over. We've been rescued by knights in shining armour, seventeen of them who have slain the beast called the NRO. For the grievous wrong perpetrated on us by planning and executing the NRO, America and Britain stand guilty. The 180 million Pakistanis have a right to be compensated for the financial and emotional damages caused by the two. The NRO in October 2007 brought back thugs, low-lifes, murderers and absconders from law to rule Pakistan. Every self-respecting citizen suffered humiliation, anger, helplessness, mental torture and low self-esteem. The billions of dollars stolen from the people by the NRO beneficiaries got forgiven. And their frozen bank accounts and seized properties around the world handed back to them on a golden platter. Do you call this reconciliation? Do you call this democracy?
Will the International Court of Justice at The Hague entertain our plea against the US and UK? Will the UN take up the issue of external interference in the affairs of a sovereign state? You've got to be kidding! When our government itself commits the crime against its own citizens while in cahoots with foreign powers, emasculates the superior judiciary and butchers the constitution as Musharraf did, who can the people appeal to?
Certainly not to Obama or Brown! With 'Friends of Pakistan' like them, who needs enemies? Our hero today is the Supreme Court and the seventeen judges led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Before we begin the accountability process, the man on the street, the housewife in the kitchen, the petty shop-owner, the labourer, the lawyer, the honest civil servant, the small fry in the military, the hardworking professional, the intellectual and the academic needs to question the ingenious role played by Washington and London in summer of 2007. No, not even a dullard, a duffer, a moron among us was duped into believing that for democracy's sake, we needed the NRO.
And yet, George Bush and Gordon Brown conspired to hatch a plot that would in one fell swoop forgive the sins of the former first couple and their corrupt coterie. We were shell-shocked when the NRO was announced and Benazir Bhutto boarded a flight to Pakistan. The whole affair was surreal and loathsome. How could sworn enemies, BB and Musharraf, co-exist? Even an idiot knew it would never happen, but our ignoramus foreign friends stringing Musharraf from afar thought their plan was fault-proof.
American Ambassador Anne Patterson and British High Commissioner Mark Lyall Grant, representing Washington and London, respectively, were the busiest pair going in Islamabad. They were brazenly in connivance with Musharraf and his advisers blatantly plotting the NRO. It was the season of shamelessness Musharraf jettisoned Chief Justice Chaudhry along with the superior judiciary and suspended the constitution on November 3. The US and the UK kept silent.
With Benazir's death in December, Pakistan was plunged into darkness. Soon Patterson and Grant's successor, the bland Robert Blinkley, got to work on BB's widower after the PPP won the polls in February 2008. The duo were daily visitors at Bilawal House in Islamabad, the home of Zardari. What got discussed? Obviously the two hardnosed envoys negotiated tough with the widower over national security issues. Once he gave in, he was propped up into the presidency. But it's been downhill since. In the People versus America/Britain/Zardari/NRO case, the Supreme Court has declared the People victorious. Let this be a lesson for Washington and London. Never mess with the critical mass!
VERDICT: SC DISPLAYS ALL SERIOUSNESS
AFTER delivering the historic judgement on the much-maligned National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), the Supreme Court has started giving very positive and loud signals to the administration conveying in clearest terms that it means business on the implementation aspect of the verdict. This came as a pleasant surprise for the people, as, in the past, those at the helm of affairs flouted judgements of the court with immunity.
Thursday proved to be a turning point because of several significant developments of unparalleled magnitude in the recent history of the country. As cases against NRO beneficiaries stood reopened following Wednesday's short order of the apex court, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent 248 names including those of some bigwigs for putting them on the Exit Control List (ECL) and the Interior Ministry, chief of which is one of them, had to carry out the orders placing 247 of them on the ECL. Defence Minister Ch. Ahmad Mukhtar became the first affected person as he could not depart for China from Benazir Bhutto Airport as planned as his name also figured in the high profile list. And in a related development, the Supreme Court issued contempt of court notice to Interior Minister Rehman Malik for intervention in the court's proceedings and misinterpreting its order. It also forced the Government to reverse its decision to post out Tariq Khosa from FIA because of the questionable motives of the move. All this, hopefully, would send right kind of message to the Government that the judiciary would not allow window-dressing in cases involving corruption and misuse of power. This would also contribute a lot towards efforts to ensure rule of law, which is also the avowed commitment of the Government itself. We firmly believe that the country cannot move ahead in the right direction without across the board application of law without consideration of personal, group or party interests. We are confident that the judiciary, under the wise leadership of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, would continue its crusade against corruption and misrule, as this is the only way to promote good governance in the present-day scenario. In the past, the judiciary too adopted an evasive posture by taking refuge behind the infamous law of necessity that gave protection to misdeeds of all sorts.
GILANI TOO HAS TO COME INTO ACTION
WHILE the Supreme Court is playing its role well, one is disappointed to observe that the chief executive of the country i.e. the Prime Ministry has preferred to remain as a silent spectator to the emerging developments. This is quite contrary to the expectations of the masses that want Prime Minister Yousu Raza Gilani to come into action to clean the mess, which would not be in the long-term interest of the country but also for the Peoples Party as well.
We say so because the latest judgement of the Supreme Court in the NRO case is being viewed by many as moral renaissance of the otherwise decaying background. It was widely anticipated that following reopening of the NAB related cases, some of the Ministers against whom cases are pending in the courts of law, would be shown the door to fulfil the demands of the justice. It is understood that a controversial person sitting at the head of a ministry is not expected to deliver and would rather impede the process of smooth dispensation of justice. Otherwise too, as such people have fallen from the higher moral pedestal, they cannot command respect of others and are, therefore, unfit to lead a ministry. There are even ministers who can effectively scuttle proceedings against them or can twist investigations and mislead the courts. We, therefore, believe that the ministers and a host of bureaucrats including some diplomats too need to be removed from their respective slots, as their continuation would be a stigma for the Government as well as the country. How a person with tainted image can, in any way, help improve the image of the country? It is also in their own interest to disassociate from the present positions and get the stigma removed through the courts of law. The Prime Minister is already in a process of trimming the size of the Federal Cabinet and there are also recommendations of the austerity committee in this regard as well. It would be, therefore, in the fitness of things if the Prime Minister gets rid of those who are becoming a source of trouble for the Government. There is no dearth of people with clean background, who should be inducted in the Cabinet and appointed against key bureaucratic assignments.
PRESIDENT SHOULD AVOID PLAYING SINDH CARD
PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari is understandably concerned as he is under great pressure due to the fall-out of the NRO fiasco. Though, according to some experts, he himself enjoys constitutional immunity but some of his close aides are among those who could ultimately be axed because of their involvement in corruption.
It is in this backdrop that the President and his men have started unfolding their strategy to safeguard their interests. There was a telephonic conversation between the President the MQM Chief and though no details were available as to what transpired in their talks yet it is obvious that the two must have discussed the counter moves. And whether it was coincidence or part of the new strategy that the Sindh Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution expressing support for President Asif Ali Zardari. While the Assembly might have cogent reasons to express solidarity with the Head of the State but in our view it will further strengthen the already deep perception that Asif Ali Zardari, now in dire woods, is bent upon playing, what is called, Sindh card. This was also manifested in reports that before announcement of the Supreme Court judgement in the NRO case on Wednesday night, rumour-mongers took advantage of the situation to flare up feelings of people of Sindh urging them to close down their shops and businesses in several cities and towns. This was obviously meant at sending the message that things would turn ugly in Sindh if any anti-Zardari development took place. Of course, as head of a political party and seasoned politicians, Zardari is fully entitled to mobilize public opinion throughout the country to rehabilitate himself politically. However, this objective should not be given parochial touch and he should try to enlist support of all the provinces. This is also important because he is Head of the State and symbol of the Federation and not representative of a single province or mere Co-Chairperson of a political party.
WHAT'S "A FEW STIRRED-UP MUSLIMS?"
Two months after 9/11, late November 2001, Bush distracted US top military commanders from the hunt for Bin Laden with rushed plans for a new war in Iraq. The new development shifted their focus, at a critical moment when they had Osama bin Laden cornered at Tora Bora. Facts now show that it helped US "enemy number one" Bin Laden escape from Afghanistan, in December 2001. Initially White House never acknowledged the embarrassing letdown; now a Senate report says Bin Laden was unquestionably within reach of U.S. troops in the mountains of Tora Bora when American military leaders made the crucial and costly decision not to pursue the terrorist leader with massive force. The report asserts that the failure to kill or capture Bin Laden at his most vulnerable in December 2001 has had lasting consequences beyond the fate of one man. Bin Laden's escape laid the foundation for today's reinvigorated Afghan insurgency and inflamed the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.
"Removing the al-Qaida leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat," the report says. "But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed Bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide. The failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that forever altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism."
In a recent interview to CBS News "Face the Nation" US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Washington did not know where Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was and had lacked reliable information on his whereabouts for years. Referring to the last time US intelligence had a fix on Bin Laden's whereabouts, Gates said, "I think it's been years." Eight years after the war, Osama and his accomplices continue playing hide and seek, shifting hideouts with ease and the entire US intelligence apparatus seems helpless to capture them. If this is not failure than what is? If the main reason for attacking Afghanistan was to apprehend Bin Laden and it was never achieved then what is the US strategic objective? Hence it's not surprising for many to doubt the very premise of the attack against Afghanistan and the motives attributed to the attack. Since it's the "season of honest admissions" it's time the West, it's think tanks, lobbyists, leading newspapers and channels such as Fox News and CNN to stop their poisonous propaganda of blaming the Inter-Services Intelligence for recruiting, training and arming radical militant Islamist groups, and own up to the fact that the U.S. government played a central role in creating the "vicious movement" that created Osama bin Laden, Taliban and fundamentalist terrorists.
Modern Islamic jihad "exits" courtesy Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as United States National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter form 1977 to 1981. Brzezinski was the mastermind behind the building of an Islamic network in Afghanistan, as part of a huge, covert CIA operation to destabilize the so called "evil empire" Soviet Union. The Carter Administration's decision in 1979 to intervene and destabilise Afghanistan is the root cause of Afghanistan's destruction as a nation. Washington utilized the intelligence services of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to create, finance and arm an international network of Islamic militants to fight the Russians, in Afghanistan. Standing on the Torkham border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Brzezinski would eulogize the virtues of the Pakhtuns, urging "believers" to wage war against the "non-believers", pose for photographs in a Pathan turban, on Khyber Pass and address huge gatherings of jihadists shouting, "Go and fight against the Russian infidel. Go and wage the jihad. Allah is on your side."
Propagandists also overlook the fact that the mujahidin were warmly embraced and supported by the US and Afghan fundamentalists were being feted as freedom-fighters in the White House and Downing Street. US-run Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe beamed Islamic fundamentalist tirades across Central Asia.
Brzezinski's plan went far beyond simply forcing Soviet troops to withdraw; it aimed to foster an international movement to spread Islamic fanaticism into the Muslim Central Asian Soviet republics to strike at the foundations of the Soviet Union. Brzezinski's grand plan coincided with Pakistan's military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq's own ambitions, in the region. Washington's favoured mujahidin faction was one of the most extreme, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The West's aversion for terrorism did not apply to this cruel "freedom fighter" notorious in the 1970s for throwing acid in the faces of women who refused to wear the veil. Hekmatyar was also infamous for his side trade in the cultivation and trafficking in opium. Backing of the mujahidin from the CIA coincided with a boom in the drug business. Within two years, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was the world's single largest source of heroin, supplying 60% of US drug users.
Brzezinski acknowledged in a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur that the Carter administration began funding the Mujahidin, in Afghanistan, six months before the Soviet invasion, "Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." When asked whether he regretted anything? His reply was, "Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, "We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR, its Vietnam War. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire." Asked whether he regretted supporting Islamic fundamentalism and having provided arms and advice to future terrorists, Brzezinski's notorious statement was, "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"
If these "few stirred-up Muslims" planned the 9/11 attacks and are on rampage around the world, should the "sponsors of the menace" be surprised? Weren't violence, terrorism and using "deadly force" official foreign policy of the US to achieve geopolitical goals? Are these extremists not a symbol of US flawed foreign policy? Is Al Qaeda not an offshoot of the cold war? Why in God's name were the consequences of bringing together thousands of Islamic radicals, from all over the world and training them as mercenaries and cut throats, not considered? Hasty decisions have consequences and the world is witnessing, first hand, the "horrors of the stirred up", turning from partners into enemies of the U.S and its allies.
The policy of recruiting, training and arming Islamic reactionaries proved to be a two-edged sword for the US. Once the PDPA fell, Bin Laden's followers lost their worth and became an irritant to the US. They were hostile to US policy towards Saudi Arabia, Palestine and Iraq, and began attacking US targets. Many of them are now raising their own private armies and using their experience and expertise to wage war on whoever they consider an adversary. The determined fight waged by these Afghan freedom fighters, against the Soviets and the "success factor" has made these terrorists believe, that they alone were responsible for the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and their might is absolute. They are fully capable of creating a U.S. Vietnam, if not restricted.
PAK-US RELATIONS: FROM INSECURITY TO INSECURITY
DR ABDUL RUFF
One of the most important, perhaps unintended, outcomes of the IST (international state terrorism) or Global ST is the convergence of views of West and East, USA and Russia , Jews, Christians and bulks of Arab Muslims on several issues like terrorism and Iran ad have soft corner for state terrorism. Mischievous global media run by capitalists seeking more and more profits by exploiting the weakness of people have systematically terrorized Muslims and Pakistanis are no different to not believe that Muslims were not responsible for the Sept-11 in USA . The Pakistani capitalists are interested only in their growing money and are made to think Islam and Shari'a are coming in their profit ways. Hence they use media to paint Islamization of Pakistan as a threat to Pakistan and regional peace. These mischevous media have in turn pushed US capitalists to ask the Pentagon to kill Muslims in Swat after Pakistani regime signed agreement for Islamization of Swat. That has been boomeranging. Pakistanis are sitll told USA exists only to protect Pakistan and its capitalist interests.
The international conspiracy against Islamic world roots behind US invasion in Balochistan via Drone Attacks and Jewish Mining Company Barrick Gold! Right now, on the sidelines of genocides of Muslims, the NATO is reportedly fighting for the US economic cause and American terrorists are after Reko Diq Balochistan Gold Reserves in Pakistan . Reko Diq is the area where world largest copper reserves and one of the biggest Gold reserves has been estimated. Nearly 100 Billion Dollar and it is just a surface estimate. Pakistani media still talk about Muslim terrorists and hide the truth underneath rather effectively. But Pakistani regime and media lords are deliberately misleading the public about US intentions in Pakistan against Indian policy in Pakistan . Upon Obama's decision to appease the NATO terrorists in Afghanistan , American and European terror specialists inside and outside of the White House have been coercing to send 30,000 addition troops to Afghanistan as quickly as possible to kill Afghans and Pakistanis, transferable to Pakistan without any approval from the puppet regime in Islamabad
Now both puppet regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq are engaged in trade in used military equipment of USA in Iraq . Under new authority granted by the Pentagon, U.S. commanders in Iraq may now donate to the Iraqis up to $30 million worth of equipment from each facility they leave, up from the $2 million cap established when the guidelines were first set in 2005. The new cap applies at scores of posts that the U.S. military is expected to leave in coming months as it scales back its presence from about 280 facilities to six large bases and a few small ones by the end of next summer. U.S. commanders in Iraq say they have been judicious in assessing what equipment to earmark for donation. The equipment can be donated in exchange for "substantial benefits" to the USA .
Global media paint a collectively dark picture about Pakistan . Pakistani regime is keen to get more money from USA and the NATO's left over military equipment in Af-Pak after the terror war. The NATO brings in plenty of military equipment and leaves them in the country as the Soviet did n Afghanistan in 1980s after pulling out of the lands of Afghans, and go back after killing as many Muslims as possible with puppet Zardari help. Military officials have made decisions on gifts based chiefly on the "substantial benefits" provision, avoiding potential delays of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by relieving them of the logistical challenges of moving tons of equipment and the belief that the gifts would "foster favourable relations" between the two countries. The latest set of guidelines, issued Oct. 9, gave commanders in Iraq the authority to determine the merit of donating items. As per the terror rules equipment worth less than $1 million without prior Pentagon approval. A separate provision raised the cap for donations to a total of $30 million per facility. USA under Obama does not behave a totally different regime from that of Bush Jr, while new president show tow faces of his personality. And that is the human tragedy now. Under the surge that President Obama outlined recently, commanders in Afghanistan a theatre long eclipsed by Iraq soon will need to accommodate 30,000 additional troops. US terror strategists say Obama's deployment of 30,000 additional American terror troops to Afghanistan will be accompanied by increased US attacks inside Pakistan , obviously to cripple Pakistan beyond recognition as part of hidden agenda of indo-US nuclearism rules. The Pentagon had already begun moving gear and personnel from Iraq to Afghanistan and Af-Pak, reflecting a shift that has made Afghanistan the new administration's top foreign policy priority.
Genocides and destruction in Islamic world- that is how western democracy could be best described today. It will be months before the 30,000 new US terror troops, if at all, may have gone to war in Afghanistan . But President Obama already has increased attacks by pilotless Predator drone aircraft against Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan 's tribal areas in the name of Taliban and Al Qaeda "militants". In stead of attacking the American leaders inside USA for falsely attacking Afghanistan and Iraq on fictitious pretexts and for creating , in the first place, all these so-called pro-Islamic "extremist" groups to kick the Soviet terrorists from Afghanistan. Already, since 2006, in the fight for energy routes and Pakistani nukes, US drone-launched missiles have killed between about 1,000 Muslims only in Pakistan , according to the New American report. Perhaps they think it is too little, considering the amount they pay to Pakistani bigwigs. In Afghanistan they have killed over a million innocent Muslims at will.
Pakistan claims to be an ally of USA and NATO and its main task is to assist the American state terrorists in the murders of Muslims in Pakistan . Less talked about today's badly weakened Pakistan , obviously, the better for any one who thinks well of Islamabad as a Muslim nation. Pakistanis have grown over greedy and do not think well of fellow Muslims and want to get them killed by foreign occupiers while they send their kith and kin to western capitals for life upgradation. No amount of criticisms of pathetic performance of the government would make Zardari regime plus its media work sincerely for the welfare of the common masses the majority voters in Pakistan - and nothing seems to make any impact on the policies and functioning of Pakistani regime, chiefly because the government and state are self-centred and awfully immuned to public or foreign criticisms. The situation alarmingly is same in India too where the capitalists and their political agents play havoc in the country.
As part of Indo-US nuclearism arrangement, India comfortably settled down in Afghanistan with US support and is on its terror path to Pakistan wherefrom it does every thing possible to destabilize Pakistan and help USA steel Pakistani nukes. Pakistani regime would welcome Indian terrorists into Islamabad on the request of American and Europe . India can now insist n that aspect for resuming a dead dialogue with Pakistan . As a vital link in the IST, India is sponsoring terrorism in the region in order mainly to become a bonafide entity in US-led global terrorism for ensuring certain benefits, like nuclearism. After successfully wooing USA to destabilize Pakistan , and thwarting Swat agreement, India is keen to detach Balochistan from Pakistan which is ill-focused on killing Muslims as terrorists in the terror company of the American state terrorists.
FATWA AGAINST SUICIDE ATTACKS
In a Ulema and Mashaikh conference held in Islamabad on 17th December 2009 under the aegis of Ministry of Religious Affairs it was unanimously resolved that suicide attacks are forbidden in Islam and haram. Unfortunately, a small number of misguided elements wittingly or unwittingly support the militants that raise the banner of Islam to kill their Muslim brothers thus playing in the hands of Pakistan's enemies. It is unimaginable when some educated people and leaders of religious parties instead of condemning the terrorist acts support them who killed innocent people destroyed schools and mosques. In fact, terrorists are emboldened when their acts are condoned on the pretext that they are taking revenge because they have lost their near and dear ones in the military operation or drone attacks. During 2008 and 2009, terrorists had killed more than 800 people in 31 suicide attacks on mosques only that were damaged or destroyed in the process, which is evidence of their callousness and enmity with Islam.
When the terrorists are torching schools, killing innocent people in suicide bomb attacks and even attacking mosques especially on Friday congregations they do not deserve to be called Muslims. Some of them are misguided elements whereas others have sold them out to the enemies of Pakistan and are trying to implement their agenda to destabilize Pakistan. Addressing ulema and mashaikh convention from London on Tuesday, Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain has appealed to religious scholars of all schools of thought to highlight in their sermons and speeches the fact that Islam forbids suicide bombing and to issue a fatwa declaring that it (suicide bombing) is forbidden in Islam under any circumstances. The participants agreed with Mr Hussain when he said that offering prayers behind ulema who were directly or indirectly supporting suicide attacks should be declared 'haram'.
It is true that one cannot stop the suicide bomber because he is bent on committing suicide and also kill others in the process, but the incidence can be reduced to a considerable extent if the masterminds of attacks and those who aid and abet terrorists and suicide bombers are given exemplary punishments. There is a perception that many of those involved in terrorists' activities and apprehended are released due to lack of evidence, and others are given ordinary sentences because the prosecution does not properly prepare cases against them. Even those involved in Lal Masjid episode were released on bail or acquitted honourably. In order to stem the tide of terrorists, their collaborators have to be dealt with iron hand, and exemplary punishments should be given to them. The people should also boycott those ulema and leaders who hypocritically announce that suicide bombing is haram but they also equate with the military action, which is taken to restore order and establish writ of the state.
Former Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Qazi Hussain Ahmad's saying that 'taking life of an innocent person whether he is killed in suicide attack or aerial bombing is forbidden in Islam', is a case in point. He was addressing a seminar organised by Jamat-i-IslamiI Rawalpindi in connection with three-day campaign to create awareness among the masses against terrorism and to expose real enemies of the country. "The issue does not require any 'Fatwa' from Ulema as it is a known fact that killing of innocent human beings whether they are killed in GHQ, in suicide attack in Peshawar bazaar or aerial bombardment by fighter jets in Waziristan is not allowed in Islam and is a condemnable act," he said. He gave anther spin to the matter when he said that said India was involved in terrorist attacks in the country and creating unrest in Balochistan. "Our country's leadership is unable to differentiate between enemies and friends," he said. Instead of making a pointed reference, he was trying to establish that militants and terrorists are friends of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, Head of Minhaj-ul-Quran Allama Tahirul Qadri and the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman, Mufti Muneebur Rehman have issued a Fatwa declaring suicide attacks and bomb blasts 'un-Islamic'. Issuing the Fatwa comprising 150 pages, which would be released across the world in three languages, Qadri said: "Any armed struggle against an Islamic state fell in the domain of rebellion." The Fatwa describes viewpoint on Islam and terrorism in the light of the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah. Terming the suicide attacks and incidents of beheading carried out by the militants as 'un-Islamic, leading Ulemas' of Pakistan said that militants in Swat and FATA were pursuing an agenda similar to the one the enemies of the country were pursuing. Recent incident of attack on the mosque in Rawalpindi in which 40 people were killed, including several army officials, speaks volumes about the collaboration of militants with agencies of foreign countries. The question arises as to who is funding those militants and who is supplying sophisticated arms to them?
A few months ago, India's pernicious designs to destabilize Pakistan were exposed by one of the most prestigious US journals "Foreign Affairs", which wrote that India had been pumping huge amount of money to create unrest in Balochistan and that it has direct links with terrorist activities in Pakistan. The journal published by the Council for Foreign Relations from Washington carried the report by an eminent US journalist Christine Fair who gathered impeccable evidence of India's involvement in acts for destabilizing Pakistan by visiting Iran and Afghanistan. The journalist who is a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation disclosed that "the Indian missions are undertaking the job beyond issuance of visas". Anyhow, Pakistan's armed forces have almost cleared and recovered the area where militants, terrorists and thugs aided and abetted by foreign intelligence agencies had complete control. They have achieved within a short span of time, what the US, NATO and Afghan forces have not been able to achieve during the last eight years.
Anyhow the fight is not yet over and the terrorists who ran away from the area would try to hide in some other areas, and the government would have to watch their movements so that they do not gang up again to repeat the sad saga. It is true that military operation in Swat and Malakand Division has been successful and armed forces have also helped in rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons within a couple of months. Nevertheless, the government and the armed forces have to keep a strict vigil over enemies' agencies. The government should also highlight the foreign agencies involvement in acts of terrorism in Pakistan and submit the evidence of India's involvement to international community and expose its machinations to destabilize Pakistan. Since operation in South Waziristan is about to be completed, the government should put in place provincial administration on one hand to win hearts and minds of the people and on the other hand strengthen provincial law enforcing agencies so that if they raise their ugly heads, the provincial setup should be able to take them head on.
US CREATES ITS ANTITHESIS IN IRAQ
Nowhere it is more obvious than in Iraq that the existence of an election law, elections themselves and the constitution they are based on are not indicators of democracy or legitimacy, because these mechanisms are merely symbols of the antithesis of the mechanisms of democracy as practiced back home by the U.S. occupying power. An editorial of The Washington Post on December 8 hailed the passing two days earlier of an amended version of the 2005 election law by the Iraqi "Council of Representatives" (CoR) as a "Breakthrough in Iraq," which "gives democracy a chance to work." However if this statement is not misleading, then it is extremely too optimistic, at least for one reason: The Iraqis themselves had another say.
The new version was vetoed by none other than Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi. On November 23, under U.S. excessive pressure including a phone call by President Barak Obama to Kurdistan Regional Government head Masoud Barzani, the CoR passed another amended version of the law without addressing al-Hashemi's demands to increase the representation in parliament of displaced people, internally and abroad, from 5% of the total to 15%, which indicates yielding in to U.S. pressure by al-Hashemi, nor did it address the Kurds' threat to boycott the elections if their demands in Kirkuk were not met, in another indication of yielding to U.S. pressure by the Kurds, although it did meet their complaint for more parliamentary seats. Rachel Schneller, a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department writing for the Council on Foreign Relations on December 4, warned that the latest version of the Iraqi election law could make things worse in Iraq if approved. The Sunnis, including Hashemi, could resort to "desperate measures" to gain power as the new election law provoked claims of Shiite dominance. Schneller wrote that elections in Iraq are not a sign of stability. "The United States would do well to back away from the policy of elections at any cost," she concluded. Obama's administration had a different point of view. U.S. diplomats, notably Washington's ambassador in Baghdad Christopher Hill, had pushed MPs to pass the law, which they did in the wake of a meeting between a US delegation including US Forces Commander in Iraq General Raymond Odierno and deputy US Ambassador to Baghdad Robert Ford and the Iraqi president Jalal Talibani. The White House said the move was "a decisive moment for Iraq's democracy." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the U.S. welcomed the new law. "This legislative action will allow Iraq to hold national elections within Iraq's constitutional framework," he said. Earlier, Obama had hailed the Iraqi elections next year as a "significant breakthrough" and a "milestone that can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq." The administration sees the election as a prerequisite to the U.S. meeting its goal of releasing more combat troops for the Afghani theatre by August next year, and redeploying its combatants fully by 2012, whatever the cost might be to Iraqis.
The carnage left by a series of coordinated attacks by car bombs and suicide bombers on December 15, December 8, October 25 and August 19, which struck at the symbols of what the U.S. hopes would be a burgeoning pro-western government, if not a puppet regime, in and near the heavily protected Green Zone, which houses the largest U.S. Embassy worldwide, the Iraqi parliament and other government offices and embassies in Baghdad, claiming more than 500 lives and hundreds of wounded, and inflicting devastating damage on public order infrastructure, is a stark and humiliating proof of the U.S. failure, and not only a failure of a proxy Iraqi government, in securing even the Iraqi capital after less than nine years of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.
Those bloody demonstrations of insecurity cast serious doubts on the planned imminent redeployment of U.S. troops. "The American role is necessary now in Iraq, not only to maintain security but to maintain political stability," Hameed Fadhel, a political science professor at Baghdad University told Asia Times on Dec 15. "The Iraqi people no longer trust their politicians," added Tariq Harb, a member of Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki's State of Law alliance. Sadi Pira, a politburo member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, one of the two dominant Kurdish parties, was more vocal on maintaining the U.S. "military role" in Iraq: The latest bombings in Baghdad, along with unrest in Mosul and Kirkuk, "proves that the Iraqi forces are not able to control the cities or the borders. If the U.S. position is to extend the [stay] of the remaining coalition forces, it is not bad for Iraq," Pira told the Times.
Such statements vindicate the U.S. officials who were quoted by Reuters on December 10 as saying that the 60-day period after Iraq's election will probably reveal whether the country will tip back into sectarian bloodshed or move toward stability and peace. But more importantly, the immediate aftermath of the upcoming elections would reveal whether the U.S. troops would redeploy on time. The U.S. force in Iraq is supposed to be reduced to 50,000 by the end of August from around 115,000 now. However, the date for the end of the U.S. combat operations in Iraq is not included in a bilateral security pact signed last year, but was set by Obama as part of a pledge to U.S. voters to end the war on Iraq.
In his accepting Nobel Peace Prize speech earlier this month, Obama proclaimed a justification for war that could label him more a modern Niccolo Maichiaville than "the candidate of change," which does not preclude the extension of his country's military presence in Iraq as a hidden agenda. "The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace," Obama declared. The United States reserves the right to "act unilaterally if necessary" and to launch wars whose purpose "extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor," he said.
Could this be the hidden agenda of the United States in Iraq: i.e. to create pretexts for a permanent military presence in Iraq? Within this context it has been noteworthy that the government of al- Maliki and its security officials, when they were questioned by the parliament in closed and public sessions last week, were divided over whom to blame for the bombings: Syria and other "Arab" countries or infiltrators of their security agencies by resistance elements whom they dub as "terrorists," but they never hinted to the U.S. occupying power as a possible culprit, which maintains the capability to really infiltrate the security shield around the "Green Zone" and could be the major beneficiary of portraying the government as still incapable of maintaining law and order; this possibility was given substance, for example, by the report of The New York Times on December 11 that Blackwater gunmen, ostensibly contracted as security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan, "participated in some of the CIA's most sensitive activitiesclandestine raids with agency officers," and by CIA Director Leon Panetta's briefing before Congressional intelligence committees last June about a covert "assassination program" involving Blackwater. Nor did they hint to Iran, the major beneficiary of the U.S. occupation or to voting by bombs by the political components of the U.S. engineered "political process" as they used to do since they were brought into the country by the invading armies.
The reason underlying the U.S. failure in Iraq should be sought in the fact that the United States has failed to establish a political system of its own image in Iraq and has instead created its antithesis, which deprived both its presence in the country as well as the political regime it has so far failed to install there of a legitimacy that would credibly stand on its own as an alternative to the legitimate national regime the U.S. invasion devastated in 2003, notwithstanding the fact it was labeled a dictatorship by western standards of liberal parliamentary democracy. For the same reason, the U.S. engineered Iraqi constitution of 2005 and the election law which regulated the Iraqi elections the next year as well as the latest amended election law, which will regulate the upcoming elections early next year, have so far failed to vindicate the missing legitimacy.
THE INERTIA OPTION
I hope Iran policy makers in Washington and Europe are reading histories of that world-changing year, 1989. I hope so because the time has come to do nothing in Iran. As Timothy Garton Ash has written of the year Europe was freed, "For the decisive nine months, from the beginning of Poland's roundtable talks in February to the fall of the Wall in November, the United States' contribution lay mainly in what it did not do." That inaction reflected the first President Bush's caution and calculations. Its effect was to deprive hardliners in Moscow of an American scapegoat for Eastern European agitation and allow revolutionary events to run their course.
The main difference between Moscow 1989 and Tehran 2009 is that the Islamic Republic is still ready to open fire. The main similarities are obvious: tired ideologies; regimes and societies marching in opposite directions; and spreading dissent both within the power apparatus and among the opposition. Yes, the Islamic Republic has not arrived at a Gorbachevian renunciation of force. It is not yet open to compromise, despite calls for moderation from prominent clerics and now, it seems, from some senior army officers. It is still, in the words of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, sending its Revolutionary Guards and Basiji militia to chase "shadows in the street." I don't know how long this situation can endure. Anyone who claims to be able to tell the Iranian future is lying. But it seems clear that the "political clock" has now outpaced the "nuclear clock." Iran has been messing around with a nuclear program for some four decades. Pakistan went from zero to a bomb in about a quarter that time. Setting aside the still debatable objective of this Iranian endeavor (nuclear ambiguity or an actual device?), it's not in the midst of the current political turmoil that Tehran is going to break out of its back-and-forth tinkering. Inertia is always strong in Iran's many-headed system. Right now it's stronger than ever hence the risible, blustery confusion over a possible deal to export Iran's low-enriched uranium.
All this says nay, screams to me: Do nothing. It is President Barack Obama's outreach that has unsettled a regime that found American axis-of-evil rhetoric easy to exploit. After struggling, Obama has also found his sweet spot in combining that détente with quiet support for universal rights. Note the feminine possessive pronoun in this line from his Nobel speech: "Somewhere today, in this world, a young protester awaits the brutality of her government but has the courage to march on." I saw those bloodied women marching in Tehran in June and will never forget them. Their cause would be best upheld by stopping the march toward "crippling" sanctions on Iran. The recent House passage of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which would sanction foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, is ominous. Rep. Howard Berman, who introduced the bill, is dead wrong when he says that it would empower the Obama administration's Iran policy. It would in fact undermine that policy.
So would sanctions action from the so called "P5+1" the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. When I'm asked where the "stick" is in Iran, my response is the stick is Iranian society the bubbling reformist pressure now rising up from Iran's highly educated youth and brave women. It would be a tragedy were Obama to weaken them. Sanctions now would do just that. Nobody would welcome them more than a regime able once more to refer to the "arrogant power" trying to bring proud Iran to its knees. The Revolutionary Guards, who control the sophisticated channels for circumventing existing sanctions, would benefit. China and Russia would pay little more than lip service. As Elizabeth Shakman Hurd of Northwestern University has written, "the United States is empowering the dissenters with its silence." Sanctions represent tired binary thinking on Iran, the old West-versus-barbarism paradigm prevalent since political Islam triumphed in the revolution of 1979 as a religious backlash against Western-imposed modernity. The Iranian reality, as I've argued since the start of this year, is more complex. A leading cry today of the protesters in Iran is "God is great" hardly a secular call to arms. These reformists are looking in their great majority for some elusive middle way combining faith and democracy.
The West must not respond with the sledgehammer of sanctions whose message is "our way or the highway." Rather it must understand at last the subtle politics of Iran by borrowing an Iranian lesson: inertia. When the Berlin Wall came down two decades ago, Francis Fukuyama famously predicted "the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." In Iran now, many of the forces of 1989 are present, but the reformists' quest is not for something "Western."
It is more for an idea of 1979, an indigenous non-secular and non-theocratic pluralist polity. Obama, himself of hybrid identity, must show his understanding of this historic urge by doing nothing. That will allow the Iranian political clock to tick faster still.The New York Times
FIGHTING CROP LOSS
Crop loss has ever remained a cause for serious concern in countries like Bangladesh. If rodents account for major losses of all crops, other pests and insects together do not lag far behind. The annual losses of grain inside houses are estimated at US $ 620 million and the pre-harvest losses can at times surpass this for understandable reasons. Add to this the losses due to frequent flooding of croplands and the picture becomes even gloomier. Reportedly, about 18 per cent of the total paddy, vegetables and other crops produced are lost due to various diseases and pest attacks every year in this country. This certainly is on the higher side even compared with the average between 5-15 per cent losses of the major rice-producing Asian countries.
Bangladesh has an impressive record in developing pest-resistant varieties of paddy: as many as 45 varieties have so far been released for field-level cultivation. Yet such ecology-based pest management falls far short of fighting the attack of rats. This calls for completely different strategies. Two national strategic multi-media rodent control campaigns have accounted for a net profit of US $ 800,000 for each campaign and this too was based on a single crop and season. Field studies have pointed to the fact that losses could be reduced by 40-60 per cent at farm level if organised pest management and control system could be geared up.
Application of eco-friendly technologies and management complemented by farmer participatory research and capacity-building of researchers and agricultural extension staff can make a perceptible difference in the situation. Attention has to be given to research work aimed at reducing both pre-harvest and post-harvest crop losses. In this context, let us not forget that some traditional pest management methods are still worth practising. In some cases their efficiency level has been improved further with help from engineering devices. Confront as we do the climate change, we need to be prepared for threats from newer varieties of pests. After all, much of our food security can be guaranteed if we can reduce losses of grain or other crops to the minimum.
That exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disabilities is an established scientific evidence. Although smoking rates have fallen in rich countries, they are rising in much of the developing world and, therefore, the World Health Organisation is urging governments to implement its framework convention on tobacco control. Despite the signing of the Anti-smoking Treaty, smoking in Bangladesh has not been contained and our inability to control its spread has resulted in an increasing number of premature deaths. Although a law banning smoking in open places and public transport is in force and aggressive advertising has been undertaken, a large number of children in Bangladesh below the age of five are still exposed to tobacco smoke. Therefore, the importance of the law must be emphasised. We must also make people aware that betel-leaf taken with dried tobacco leaf, can cause oral cancer, cancer of the pharynx, and the oesophagus.
Smoking generates additional negative costs for health care taking a heavy toll on family and national resources. Therefore, the time is ripe for Bangladesh to become more conscious about the evils of smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption. A recent survey by the Bangladesh Lung Foundation found that the effect of smoking was having a devastating impact on the lives of many people in the country. With awareness dangerously low, if we fail to come up with stronger measures to combat smoking, we shall not be able to contain the habit. Only a smoke-free policy can help us avert this menace that kills thousands of people prematurely each year.
WHAT SIGN ARE YOU?
Quite often I'm asked, "What sign are you?"
"Like in road signs? Halt and go? Stop and Proceed? Maximum speed 15 Kmph?
Curve ahead? Do not overtake?"
"No, no. Star sign? Like Scorpio, Gemini? Taurus?"
"What does Scorpio say?"
"Determined, dark and dashing."
"Yeah that's me!"
"No, determined, dark and dashing and a dreamer."
"You can't be a dreamer."
"But I am."
"Scorpios are not dreamers."
"I'm not a Scorpio."
"Then you can't be determined."
"Nor, dark and dashing!"
"What star sign are you?"
"I'd like to know the kind of person you are."
"From my star sign?"
"You'll know all about me from my sign?"
"Sexy, suave and scary."
"Yeah that's me."
"No sexy, suave and I don't know about scary. Am I scary?"
"Are you Gemini?"
"Then you're not scary."
"Nor are you sexy and suave."
"So what am I?"
"What star sign are you?"
"Does it matter?"
"How else will I know you?"
"What sign are you?"
"Sagi. That's cool, composed and cocky."
"You're not any of that.""The book says so!"
"Star signs. Sun signs. What's wrong with you?"
"You're not very cool, or composed, or is this the 'cocky' part?"
"What sign are you damn it?"
"What does that mean?"
"That I'm unique: That there is no one else in the world made like me; no one else with my temperament, my qualities, my personality, my character. No other person in this whole wide world is created like me..!"
"Wow, that is some sign..!"
THE GROWTH AND GOVERNANCE
MD JOYNAL ABDIN
Globalisation trend pushes the concept of free market economy into liberalisation of trade and economy. But after the global financial crisis in the US economy, now economists are trying to rethink with the same. They are talking about the role of government to make and continue an efficient market. Because before every financial crisis (whether it is 1930s great depression or GFC-2008) all the market mechanisms were there but market did not perform effectively.
For example, the US economy was rising during last four and above decades without any downturn, even it was rising fast during the economic depression in the east during 1980s. They have the largest consumer market of the world, having sophisticated technologies, world's biggest investors groups, efficient managers of the world. But why US economy fell into the greatest financial crisis in recent years? Because market mechanisms were not performing well, and there was a lack of regulatory check and balance activities.
Today economists are rethinking that market should not be over freer, there should have a check and balance mechanism to ensure planned growth and this mechanism would be operated by the government. The state needs to intervene to sustain growth and development. In particular market failures would prevent the acquisition of advanced technologies.
In case of Bangladesh, our growth is running based on a single sector i.e. RMG. It is not a good sign that our economy is depending upon one sector to grow. Today or tomorrow a third power would enter into the RMG market and defeat us. Are we ready to tackle that disaster? No, off course not. After three decades of RMG's rise, no other sector is coming forward. Without diversification of export basket, it would be tougher to sustain our current growth. There are many examples in the world economic history that, economies that rose for three or four decades with a significant rate but after saturation of that particular industry, those economies fell, never to comeback again.
Why a second sector is not rising in Bangladesh? It is simply because lack of government support and proper planning to grow a second one.
The government should take urgent necessary action to push forward a second sector for sustainable growth in Bangladesh. We have many other potential sectors like, leather and leather goods, pharmaceuticals, light engineering, handicraft, and recent ship-building industry. One or two sectors can be selected to earn foreign currency equal of the RMG within next five years, and it is possible.
To do so the government has to ensure efficient role of some trade related organisations along with Board of Investment, Bangladesh Bank, Joint Stock Office, NBR and others. The government has to ensure zero tolerance to corruption in these institutions. To root out corruption, Bangladesh must ensure that the income source of the political parties is legal. Currently political parties are running upon the funding of its members and some allied businessmen. As a result, the donors get special non-budget income facility whenever they are in power. So managing a legal source of income for the political parties would be the first step towards rooting out corruption.
Bangladesh is offering too many special facilities to attract FDI but the rate of foreign investment is not increasing. An one-stop business support centre is the demand of time to avoid harassment of investors to increase flow of FDI in Bangladesh.
The current government came into power with a manifesto of reform, so for the betterment of Bangladesh economy some business reforms are mandatory like a. Stable property rights (specially in case of ownership of land): Because, to establish an integrated industrial state we are in lack of land. Today or tomorrow power, gas and infrastructure problem would be overcome, but we have a limited amount of land which is not expandable. So maximum utilisation of land is required. At the same time we have the most complicated cases regarding land ownership. So ensuring a stable property right and enforcement of IPR is important to ensure foreign investment in Bangladesh.
b. Rule of law: Without ensuring full security of entrepreneurs and their wealth it is not possible to expect higher rate in investment. Once it was said that civil servants are corrupted due to their low salary, but now salaries have increased through the announcement of recent pay scale up to a considerable level. In absence of an accountability mechanism to monitor their activities, the rule of law cannot be ensured.
c. Anti-corruption drive: You can hardly find anybody who likes corruption, but why corruption is not going down? Post 1/11 anti-corruption drives helped to reduce corruption in Bangladesh only for a limited period. Thanks to the efforts, we are now not in the list of top 10 corrupted nations. But with the political government taking over power, corruption scenario is changing. The post 1/11 anti-corruption drive was criticised due to their one-sided mission towards politicians and businessmen rather than bureaucrats. So
anti-corruption drives need to be operated impartially irrespective of politicians, bureaucrats, etc.
d. Government accountability: Political parties come to power with so many good promises but after being elected they begin fulfilling their party agendas. As a result development is hampered. Development agendas should get priority rather than political gain and rivalry. An unaccountable government leads the nation towards corruption, which results in a stagnated economy.
e. Stable political situation: There is a measurable absence of tolerance and compromising attitude among our ruling elite. Without tolerance to opposition, political stability can never be achieved. This is very important for economic development.
In fine we would like to be optimistic that our government and political parties would try to build up two more new exportable sectors for earning foreign currency for sustainable development of Bangladesh. Good governance is a prerequisite for sustainable development and government planning and assistance is required to build up new sectors. Our ship building industry, along with leather and leather goods may be given priority and assistance so that these sectors can be flourished like RMG and save our economy from the danger of RMG saturation and ensure suitable growth of our economy.
(The writer is Assistant Secretary, FBCCI)
ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT PLAN (EMP)
There is no succinct universal definition of Environmental Management Plan (EMP). This is understandable, given the very broad range and the diversity of specialisations involved. The spotlight of environmental management plan is on implementation, monitoring and auditing, on practice and managing with real world issues like modifying human habits that damage nature, rather than theoretical planning. While a close interrogation with environmental planning is desirable, environmental management is a field of study dedicated to understanding interactions of human-environment and the application of science and common sense to solving problems with sustainable ways.
An Environmental Management Plan (EMP) can be applied as an environmental management device to ensure that undue or reasonably avoidable adverse impacts of the construction, operation and decommissioning of a project are prevented; and that the positive benefits of the projects are enhanced. EMP is applicable to a range of types and scales of projects or developments, from projects with a low level of environmental risk to those with high environmental risk. It assumes a broad understanding of the term "environment", that includes the biophysical, social and economic components, and includes the enhancement of positive impacts (benefits) as
well as the mitigation of negative impacts on the environment.
Environmental management is not, as the phrase could suggest, the management of the environment as such, but rather the management of interaction by the contemporary human societies with, and impact upon the environment. The need for environmental management can be viewed from a variety of perspectives. A more common philosophy and impetus behind environmental management is the concept of carrying capacity. Simply put, carrying capacity refers to the maximum number of population a particular resource can sustain. Therefore, the environmental management is not only the conservation of the environment solely for the environment's sake but also the conservation of the environment for humankind's sake.
To set environmental goals, the planning part of the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) is anticipated to help an organisation define its environmental trajectory. The objectives should focus on maximizing the organisation's positive impact on the environment. The EMP should describe the process that will be followed to verify that the plan is being properly implemented and describe how implementation problems will be corrected in a timely manner. Routine evaluation and continual improvement to the process is necessary to make sure that the plan successfully leads the organization toward completion of environmental objectives and targets. The scope of an Environmental Management Plan should include several crucial information to achieve the objectives such as: 1) To enhance benefits and minimise adverse environmental impacts, meaning of the environmental management objectives to be realized during pre-construction, construction, operation and/or decommissioning phases; 2) Explanation of the detailed actions needed to achieve these objectives, including how they will be achieved, by whom, by when, with what resources, with what monitoring/verification, and to what target or performance level; 3) As part of the implementation of the Environmental Management Plan, clarification of institutional structures, roles, communication and reporting processes are required; 4) Description of the link between the Environmental Management Plan and associated legislated requirements;
and 5) Explanation of requirements for record keeping, reporting, review, auditing and updating of the Environmental Management Plan.
With the enhanced development, the mass urban areas are growing into bigger agglomerations with ever increasing invasion of people creating demand for support services such as water supply, transportation, drainage/sewerage, garbage collection and disposal, etc. that is far exceeding the supply of these services. While taking up developmental activities, the incorporative capacities of the environmental components such as air, water and land to different types of pollution are rarely considered. Also, lack of knowledge on proper land use control is resulting in poor land use compatibility. The chaotic and unrestrained developmental activities leading to overuse, congestion, incompatible land use and creating high risk environment to the population in the form of deterioration of the natural and socio-economic living conditions which specifically include overcrowding, congestion, insufficient water supply, unhygienic living conditions, sanitation problems, air, water and noise pollution, etc. Thus, further action is required to address remaining gaps in information and understanding of enhanced development and environmental components.
In addition, in large urban agglomerations, the problems cannot merely be solved by pollution control measures such as control of pollution at source, providing sewage treatment facilities, spill prevention, storm and wastewater management, etc. The environmental aspects are not usually considered while preparing master plans or budget plans to produce well-coordinated and balanced developmental plans right at the planning stage itself. The best use of the land needs to be assessed in terms of not only the economic views but also the environmental aspects. The spatial planning tools can help in sustainable development. There is a need to study further the necessity of structural changes in the bulk areas and to introduce planning approaches that can help in achieving environmentally compatible.
To ensure that the plan is appropriate, effectively implemented and helps the organization meet its environmental objectives, routine management review and support is an indispensable. The objectives of an Environmental Management Plan should also include some basic criteria such as ensuring that there is sufficient allocation of resources on the project budget so that the range of EMP-related activities is consistent with the significance of project impacts; ensuring compliance with regulatory authority stipulations and guidelines which may be local, provincial, national and/or international; verifying environmental performance through information on impacts as they occur; responding to changes in project implementation not considered in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); responding to unforeseen events; and providing feedback for continual improvement in environmental performance.
Environmental management, whatever its approach, is related to overlaps, and has to work with environmental planning. The Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) provide an essential contrivance for ensuring that the mitigation of negative impacts and enhancement of positive impacts is carried out effectively during the construction, operation and decommissioning of a project. Hence, it is anticipated the guideline be used in the spirit of continual improvement, to assist in promoting best practice in environmental management, in a manner that is pragmatic, efficient and cost-effective. Finally, as is the goal of the Environmental Management plan, there is a continuing imperative to communicate research advances in terms that are relevant to decision making.
(The writer is City Research Scientist, USA E-mail: email@example.com)
LEAD LEVELS US FIRST LADY'S GARDENING
PROFESSOR M ZAHIDUL HAQUE
Her dream to raise an organic vegetable garden on the White House's South Lawn ended in a nightmare! A few months back the US First Lady Michelle Obama planted an organic vegetable garden with the hope to grow some fresh vegetables like cauliflower, tomato, etcetera for her husband US President Barack Obama, daughters, Sasha and Malia. She had also a noble intention in her mind to encourage others in 'do-it-yourself agriculture'. But what factor(s) exactly dashed her dream and efforts?
Well, it was detected that the previous presidential gardening team had applied sewage sludge as substitute to chemical fertiliser to the soil of the south lawn. Sludge is a type of compost which is made from wastewater plant's soil effluent. It is an organic fertiliser and environment-friendly too. The US government had earlier encouraged farmers to use sludge compost in lieu of chemical fertiliser and sludge got popularity in homestead gardening. But it has been proved through laboratory tests of sludge samples that sludge contains heavy metals particularly toxic lead which ultimately contaminates soil and absorbed by plants grown on the lead contaminated soil that later finds its way into the food-chain.
The amount of lead in soil is measured in parts per million (ppm). Naturally the soil contains about 50 ppm of lead. According to some soil scientists, crops grown in soil containing 100 or above ppm of lead should not be consumed particularly by the children.
Now the question is what makes sludge contaminated with lead? Sludge is made of the solid wastes carried with the sewage water. The sewage water carries lead which comes from lead-based paints used in homes, factory wastes, leaded gasoline, and lead released from toys and electronic gadgets, etc. When sludge is extracted from the sewage wastes, some toxic elements including lead are being mixed and retained.
To get back to the beginning, it was found that Michelle's garden soil lead content was in greater ppm which needed treatment to bringing down the toxic lead level for making it a safer plot for vegetable gardening.
How to reduce lead in soil? Well there are some good agricultural practices which if applied can lower down the ppm of lead in soil. Firstly, it is better to avoid growing root crops, such as, potatoes, turnips, carrots, radish, etc. instead leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, etc. should be grown on lead elevated soil. Further, increasing organic matters by adding lime and farmyard compost can significantly reduce/control lead level.
One thing, it should be kept in mind that lead is a neurotoxin, that is, intake of it by humans can destroy neurons or nerve cells. Children are more vulnerable to lead poising because they may intake lead while playing in lead contaminated soil. Toxin lead may also be ingested from the environment which is being frequently polluted by motor vehicle's fumes, contaminated soil in form of dust, etc. Extreme precautions should be taken so that children may not ingest garden soil, play with dust or toys containing toxic lead. Vegetables and fruits should be thoroughly washed by water or vinegar before consumption. Above all, every conscious citizen has to take individual measures to keep lead contamination under control.
(The writer is a Professor, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka)
FREE PRESS COMES AT A PRICE
DEFAMATION CASES CHALLENGE THE LEGAL SYSTEM
IT was a good day for the freedom of the press yesterday when The Australian was not punished in the courts for publishing the truth. Our victory in a defamation case brought by former Serbian paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic, also known as "Captain Dragan", involved us conducting a quasi-war crimes investigation in the former Yugoslavia in order to defend ourselves in a civil court in Sydney. We incurred high costs in marshalling chilling testimony from Vasiljkovic's Croatian and Bosnian victims. To prove that he raped a woman and committed the war crime of torture during the war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s meant we undertook work normally left to the criminal courts or The Hague, albeit with a less onerous burden of proof.
That we were compelled to take this course of action should concern anyone with a commitment to justice, press freedom and the public's right to know. After our 2005 publication of Vasiljkovic's actions, Croatia began pursuing him for alleged war crimes. Our report prompted a defamation case fought on Vasiljkovic's behalf by Clive Evatt QC. Common sense suggested any war crimes process should precede the defamation hearing. Instead, we were forced to defend our publication without assistance from Croatia, whose files remained closed to us.
It would have been easier -- and cheaper -- to settle but we had strong evidence to back a story that we believed was manifestly in the public interest. Our decision was vindicated by yesterday's judgment but we face further action from Vasiljkovic, who has taken another defamation case against us over similar allegations.
It is time for the Law Reform Commission to take a close look at the way defamation law is being played out since the capping of damages and consider whether this is leading to an increase in litigation. Defamation actions are expensive to defend and plaintiffs generally do not have to produce any evidence of an ability to pay costs if they lose.
Mainstream media outlets, like our own, accept the ethical responsibility to pursue issues in the public interest. It is our core business to reveal stories such as that of "Captain Dragan". But it is not clear the public interest is served when the blogosphere defames with impunity, while litigants target big media companies that continue to pursue their job of publishing the truth.
HOW BLUE IS YOUR REEF?
THE QUEENSLAND TOURIST ATTRACTION IS PROVING ITS RESILIENCE
INTERNATIONAL audiences are easily swayed by scare stories about the impact of global warming on the Great Barrier Reef. Australians who dive off the reef, year in, year out, are not so easily convinced that its end is nigh. They see first-hand what our coverage today shows -- the Reef is more resilient than some might have predicted. Yes, there has been bleaching, but there is also a lot of healthy coral, much of it regrowth after damage caused by changes in temperatures.
This is not to say that the 3000 reefs that make up the tourist magnet do not need constant monitoring and protection. Nor is it to diminish the huge body of research on the ecology of the 2000km stretch of reef off the Queensland coast. But as the world debated climate change in Copenhagen this week, the capacity of the Reef to regenerate and adapt was a reminder of the need to constantly test the claims made in the name of science.
Wild statements and political spin are the basic tools of many green campaigners obsessed with proving their case in the face of evidence never as neat as they would like. Rather than the hard slog of developing a nuanced policy response, they opt for the king hit of exaggeration and emotion. Australians deserve better, especially when it comes to what is arguably (along with Uluru) the country's most magnificent and best-known natural wonder. A few years back, the crown-of-thorns starfish was the enemy, followed by pesticides, tourist traffic and sediment carried by runoff. More recently, climate change has copped the blame in the battle to prove the Reef is at risk. Meanwhile, the positive stories of coral regrowth are often sidelined, with those arguing against the tide (so to speak) finding it hard to be heard amid the doomsday scenarios.
Why are we not surprised? In recent years, the science of climate change has been conscripted to the cause as green ideologues seize data to back up their arguments against development. Rather than wrestling with inconvenient facts about natural cycles and the environment's ability to adapt, many advocates overstate their case. It does them little good. This newspaper is prepared to give the planet the benefit of the doubt about the need for action. But we draw the line at politicised science and propaganda that don't line up with empirical evidence.
COPENHAGEN HIJACKED BY SECOND-ORDER ISSUES
AS WELL AS THE UN, GIVE THE G20 A GO ON CLIMATE CHANGE.
THE climate change conference conformed to the two universal rules of meetings -- the more people involved, the less chance of agreement on anything practical. And the people with the smallest stake always make the most mischief. Even with the statement that was expected to be stitched together overnight, the conference constituted two wasted weeks that will make no dramatic or early difference to global greenhouse gas emissions. And while the green extreme argues that this is the fault of the developed economies, the reality is that they never got a chance to hammer out a deal on behalf of all the people on the planet.
Copenhagen failed because it was hijacked by participants with other agendas -- especially underdeveloped nations, including the Africans. While no one really knows what the impact of global warming will be on individual countries, poor nations have used it as an opportunity to extract more aid from the developed world. Not that they need help to reduce their carbon emissions. Given the incompetence of many African governments, their people do not have access to electricity at all, let alone rely on large and polluting power plants. Rather, the continent's main sources of carbon output are entirely natural, animals, fires and the occasional volcanic eruption -- which all the aid in the world will not stop.
And so the Africans tried to turn Copenhagen into a summit on world poverty and ways to expand their economies with green energy, using climate change as leverage to seek more money from donor nations -- including China. Certainly there is a case for the developed world to fund developing nations' mitigation and abatement efforts, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to a $US100 billion-a-year climate finance fund for them, if China agreed to international verification of its pollution-fighting efforts, But handing over "compensation" for wrongs done in the distant colonial past, without proper reporting of what the money is be used for, will only perpetuate the aid-dependency and its attendant corruption that has trapped large parts of the developing world in penury.
Nor will aid alone significantly reduce carbon emissions. What the world needs now is a binding international agreement that applies globally but is organised by the nations that produce the carbon -- the group of 20. The G20 accounts for 90 per cent of the world's economy, a figure that is likely to increase as member states China and India grow. And the G20's co-ordinated response to the global financial crisis over the past year demonstrates that it is small enough to stay focused and important enough to shape the state of the world. As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown puts it, "the G20 is the global committee of globalisation". Advocates of the UN argue it gives small and poor nations a voice -- and so it does. But too often they have nothing to say, beyond blaming the old colonial powers for their present problems, which generally have little to do with climate change.
If the world is to see action on global warming it is time to recognise the obvious limitations of the UN to develop a global strategy. It is time to call on the nations that have the power and focus to fix the problem to get on with the job.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SURVEY SHOWS RELIGION STILL HAS THE NUMBERS
THE word religion itself comes from a Latin root which originally means to bind, or to oblige. Religion binds its adherents to a certain set of beliefs. Faith enables a people to think alike about certain issues which are fundamental to humanity. By doing so it also binds those adherents to each other, into a community. That is religion's great power - to give strength to a community of the like-minded. In a social species such as homo sapiens, strong communities survive where weaker ones fall by the wayside. Thus does the theory of evolution explain religion's hold on the human mind.
In a modern, diverse, multicultural nation such as Australia, though, survival requires more than unquestioned faith. Science and rationality call the foundations of faith into question, and appear to undermine the basis on which a religious community is formed. What the Herald's survey of faith, published today, reveals, is the enduring strength of religious belief in individuals.
This may surprise some. Australians who grew up between the wars matured in a society which held religion - or rather, overt religiosity - in relatively low regard. The hostile reception given the US evangelist Oral Roberts, who fled the country in 1958 after an unsuccessful tour, was unsurprising when considered against this background. But if religion was less in evidence when today's older Australians were growing up, it appears to have become more important, or more prominent, today.
Religion is still regarded in Australia as a personal matter - as it should be. We believe there should be no place in a secular and multicultural society such as Australia for religion in political life. Politicians as individuals may of course be guided by their own religious beliefs in their public actions. They may appeal to the faithful, too, to support certain policies or courses of action. But the idea of establishing a religion as somehow official, or enshrining its tenets explicitly in legislation, should be abhorrent. Too much of the history of the past five or more centuries in Europe and elsewhere has been taken up with wars motivated by the desire of one religion to dominate another for anyone to realistically propose such a thing in this country.
While church attendance may wax and wane, belief in a god appears to be steady, held by about 68 per cent of the population. Only half that proportion, though, believe that their god is the author of their faith's scriptures, and a smaller proportion still - 27 per cent - believe those scriptures are literally true. Clearly, the questions posed by a rational approach to religion's claims have undermined the basis of belief.
Yet belief in something persists. A quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton runs: "When a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing. He believes in anything." Whether Chesterton said it or not matters little; the words describe an observable human tendency: the breakdown of a dominant religion is followed by the rise in popularity of fringe beliefs of various kinds. The survey indicates some forms which this undirected spirituality can take: 37 per cent of Australians believe in the devil, 51 per cent in angels, 22 per cent in witches, 34 per cent in unidentified flying objects, 41 per cent in astrology, 63 per cent in miracles. Anything, clearly, will do.
If religion is in decline - and that is debatable - then science and rationality are not benefiting from it. One of religion's earliest claims is to explain human origins. Most religions have creation myths which are matters of faith; science explains the origins of the Earth and the human species through theories based on the available evidence.
Australians' current view of this well-known contest between religion and rationality makes unedifying reading. Barely two Australians in five subscribe to the theory of evolution; 23 per cent believe in a single act of creation by a god; 32 per cent believe a god guided creation in some way. It is something of an indictment of the efforts of Australia's teachers and scientists that evolution's great strength as a theory has not prevailed over this wilful ignorance and fanciful credulity.
Yet in a secular world, faith still matters - not to challenge or replace science, since that is a contest it will lose, but to explain for each individual those mysteries of the nature of human beings that science cannot. Furthermore, the challenge implicit in our poll is the challenge of the ages: we are spiritual beings and yet the world we live in seeks to undermine that spirituality at every juncture. It is little wonder that we admire people of faith because it appears so hard to live by a set of rules and beliefs that are often so not of this world. Of course, there are so many other aspects of humanity to admire - and only a zealot would conclude that the only way to a good life is via faith. Nonetheless many of us find it possible to reconcile these competing forces. These people should be respected, if not admired.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
IF IT'S A COMB-OVER, IT AIN'T NECESSARILY OVER
SCIENTISTS have developed a theory to explain the tendency of middle-aged men to dance embarrassingly badly. It is, apparently, programmed into them by evolution. Dad dancing, as it is called, has evolved over the eons, a University of Hertfordshire psychologist speculates, to demonstrate to young, nubile women that older males are a bad bet as breeding partners and should be avoided in favour of younger, healthier males who can dance more athletically and look better in tight jeans. This conclusion surely is wide of the mark. If it were true, embarrassing dancers would have been bred out millenniums ago. If young, nubile women have not figured out that the balding, paunchy, liver-spotted, short-sighted male gyrating arthritically in front of them ought to be avoided, they just aren't trying. He probably dyes his hair too. And he's wearing leather pants. What evolution has taught young women to ask, however, is the sole question which ensures the survival of the ungainliest in a cruel world: is he rich?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
FAITH SOMETIMES DIVIDES US, BUT THAT'S OK
AUSTRALIA'S SECULAR STATUS IS NOT THREATENED BY THE RESILIENCE OF RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS.
THIS weekend the Pope is expected to announce that Mary MacKillop will become Australia's first canonised saint. To some, this will confirm that the traditions of faith European settlers brought with them to this country have taken firm root in Australian soil. To others, it will be an anachronistic declaration, bizarrely out of place and time in a culturally diverse, secular society such as this. The Age/Nielsen poll "Faith in Australia 2009" that we report today, however, suggests that neither of these reactions accurately reflects what Australians believe, or how those beliefs have shaped, and continue to shape, the culture we share.
Yes, Australia is a secular nation. There is no legal establishment of religion, and freedom of religion is one of the very few individual rights provided for in the Constitution of the Commonwealth. But a secular state is not the same thing as a secular society, and although Australia is emphatically the former it is evidently not the latter. A large majority of respondents to the poll, 68 per cent, said they believed in God and/or a universal spirit, and 50 per cent said that religion was an important part of their lives. A perhaps surprisingly large minority, 23 per cent, said they believed in the biblical account of human origins, by which they meant that "God created human beings, largely in their present form, at one time in the last 10,000 years or so". A larger minority, 32 per cent, believed that human beings developed from earlier forms of life over millions of years in a process guided by God. And those who believe that human beings developed in this way but God played no part in the process were, although more numerous, still a minority: 42 per cent.
None of this means that Australia is a sort of Alabama of the South Seas, where ol' time religion cannot safely be challenged, at least in public. But it does show that the image of Australian society cherished by some militant secularists as a place in which religion is increasingly being relegated to the status of mere superstition, to be tolerated as a private eccentricity but ridiculed in public discourse is a product of wishful thinking. All that can be said is that the number of Australians declaring themselves to be "of no religion" 18.7 per cent of those who answered the optional question on religion in the 2006 census, and 24 per cent of respondents to our poll has risen in the decades since World War II. In other words, in questions of fundamental belief, as in most other respects, Australia has become a more diverse society without becoming a less cohesive one.
What is clear is that an overwhelming majority of Australians 84 per cent, according to the poll agree that "religion and politics should be separate". What is not clear is whether they all mean the same thing by this assertion. Do they mean simply that the existing prohibition of any kind of establishment of religion must stand? Or do they mean that in matters of public controversy people should never argue from values informed by faith?
If the latter is what is meant then free speech, as well as freedom of religion, is in peril. A society that purports to be tolerant and diverse but does not allow people to argue from their most deeply held beliefs is a society that may be democratic, but is not a liberal democracy. What matters is that no faith's teachings should be given a privileged status in law; but that is very different from insisting that any utterance or expression of faith must be completely excluded from the public realm.
Sensitivity to the influence of religion in politics is perhaps heightened at a time when the Prime Minister routinely briefs reporters outside church on Sundays, and the Opposition Leader is known as a strident advocate of his church's teachings on intensely contested ethical questions such as abortion. If the House of Representatives were to reopen the abortion debate, however, is it likely that either Mr Rudd or Mr Abbott would be able to speak as more than individuals? There would be a free vote, as there always, and rightly, is on such issues, and neither leader could expect to impose the kind of discipline on his party that has been apparent on, for example, climate policy.
So when the Fitzroy-born Mary MacKillop becomes Saint Mary it will add one more facet to Australia's religious diversity. The occasion will be celebrated by Catholics, especially by the Sisters of Joseph whom she founded. Yet even among Catholics the diversity will be evident: some will be inspired by Mary's struggles with the church's hierarchy, and remember that she was excommunicated by a bishop who thought her insubordinate. Few now remember the bishop's name, but many, perhaps most, Australians will have heard of Mary. It's a very Australian story.
NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS: A FEE TOO FAR
Politicians believe that a pledge to reform in other words, to cut legal aid is always going to play well with the populist gallery, irrespective of the disproportionate injustice such cuts may cause to less well-off litigants and suspects. When Gordon Brown was at the Treasury, Labour repeatedly took the axe to Britain's humane and once admired legal aid system. Now, under Alistair Darling, it is up to its old tricks. Barely reported in the pre-budget report speech last week was a pledge by the chancellor to include yet another reform of legal aid in the list of "waste" and "lower priority budgets" from which he proposes to extract £5bn savings in 2012-13. Squeezing legal aid will help to allow the government "to focus better on those areas that make most difference to people's lives", the chancellor told MPs.
Mr Darling's remarks read even more dubiously when they are set against figures on the legal cost of fighting NHS clinical negligence claims produced this week by the Conservatives. Over the last five years, according to these figures, there have been 52,000 clinical negligence claims against the NHS which have together cost the taxpayer more than £8bn. One in 10 of these cases has ended in a legal bill that is larger than the payout to the victim in one extreme case the victim received compensation of £1,750 while the lawyers were paid £102,334. In those cases where the lawyers walked away with more than their clients, the victims received an average of £15,000 and the legal bill averaged £36,000. The NHS litigation authority has already warned that it is facing an annual 10% increase in claims.
It is nine years now since Labour took away the right to legal aid in personal injury cases. At the time, ministers explicitly encouraged the "no win, no fee" conditional fee system like that which operates in NHS negligence claims as a better alternative for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Nearly a decade on, however, the disadvantages of the conditional fee system can no longer be ignored. These range from the disproportion between awards and legal costs to the rising bill to government of having to defend the tide of claims. All government departments that deal with personal injury cases are affected. This week the defence ministry received a £15m legal bill for fighting compensation claims from nuclear test victims.