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Thursday, December 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 21.12.09

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Editorial

month december 21, edition 000381, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. BASIC INSTINCT
  2. FROM BAD TO WORSE
  3. TOUGH ROAD AHEAD - ARUN NEHRU
  4. HINDI IS A BOND THAT UNITES -BK VERMA
  5. KERALA'S TERROR HUB - VR JAYARAJ
  6. SAME STORY RETOLD - BARRY RUBIN
  7. URGENTLY NEEDED, A SECOND SRC - PRAFULL GORADIA
  8. COPING WITH WEST ASIA'S DEMAND FOR NUCLEAR POWER - ANTON OPKOV

MAIL TODAY

  1. WHITE PAPER SHOWS GOVT'S GREY ACCOUNTS
  2. MAKE IT SIMPLER
  3. OPPORTUNE MOMENT - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
  4. POWER & POLITICS  - PRABHU CHAWLA

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. TOKEN AGREEMENT
  2. SPRING-CLEANING
  3. WHAT THE STATUES SAY - BADRI NARAYAN
  4. 'ARMED FORCES SPECIAL POWERS ACT RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY KILLINGS'
  5. ENTER, THE ELINATOR! - NIKHAT KAZMI
  6. CITY ON TWO WHEELS - JAGMOHAN CHOPRA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. PAKISTAN DOES A PAKISTAN
  2. TRAIN OF THOUGHT
  3. CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE BJP - PANKAJ VOHRA
  4. SAW THIS, LIBERHAN? - MADHU TREHAN

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. SILVER LININGS
  2. MY VOTE AND I
  3. IS IT HACKTIVISM?
  4. THE US-VERSUS-US DEBATE – SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
  5. THE AVATAR - COOMI KAPOOR
  6. 'SOMETIMES THERE IS A TENDENCY TO OVERDO T20 CRICKET'

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. HALF DEGREE OF SEPARATION
  2. CUT, SAYS CCI
  3. ON CLIMATE, NOW DO THE HOMEWORK - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
  4. WHERE NEXT FOR THE RATH YATRA? - MEGHNAD DESAI
  5. COURTING TROUBLE - RISHI RAJ

THE HINDU

  1. FAR FROM INSPIRING
  2. NARROW VISION
  3. SINGING THE ENEMY'S SONG - PRAVEEN SWAMI
  4. A LONG AND MOSTLY LONELY BATTLE FOR REORDERING PAKISTAN - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
  5. NO GUARANTEES FOR WORK IN MELGHAT - MEENA MENON
  6. AN ACT WITH TEETH, BUT OF NO USE IN PROTECTING THE WEAK
  7. LIFT FORECAST AS U.S. CENSUS BUREAU HIRES FOR 2010 - MICHAEL LUO

DNA

  1. NOW WHAT?
  2. HUMAN PROGRESS
  3. END OF AN ERA
  4. ON THE FARM FRONT - BHAVDEEP KANG
  5. PUTTING AN END TO COMMUTERS' WOES - ANIL DHARKER
  6. THE BEAUTY OF TIME - ROBIN SHARMA 

THE TRIBUNE

  1. A WHIFF OF FRESH AIR
  2. WAS LALU'S CLAIM HOGWASH?
  3. ZARDARI FIGHTING A LOSING BATTLE 
  4. TACKLING PAKISTAN - BY RAJENDRA ABHYANKAR
  5. ELEVEN INDIAN GODS  - BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV
  6. AMERICA ON DECLINE - BY HAROLD MEYERSON
  7. UPHOLDING HUMAN VALUES - BY AJAY KANCHAN
  8. CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. INCONCLUSIVE SUMMIT
  2. INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY
  3. GEOGRAPHICAL STUDY IN ASSAM - DR MANAMOHAN DAS

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. PAK GOVERNMENT'S TRYST WITH DESTINY
  2. DATA LOSS IN POWER
  3. COPENHAGEN FAILS
  4. TRACKING INDIA'S TALENT SUPPLY - CHETAN AHYA
  5. 'GHOST, PHANTOM HUNGRY FOR MORE' - CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN
  6. TRANSFORM ALL HARMFUL EMOTIONS - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
  7. TIME FOR A DISPASSIONATE DEBATE - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
  8. 'MARKET MAY TURN INTO A STOCKPICKER'S PARADISE' - SANTOSH NAIR
  9. 'THERE'LL ONLY BE A FEW WINNERS AND WE WILL BE ONE OF THEM' - JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
  10. WE AIM TO REACH A BUSINESS OF RS 1.75 LAKH CR BY MARCH 2010 - ATMADIP RAY
  11. IPL-III TO MAKE UP FOR LOSSES IN SECOND SEASON - MEENAKSHI VERMA AMBWANI
  12. 'TELECOM STILL HAS ROOM LEFT FOR 40-50% GROWTH' - ANDY MUKHERJEE

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. COPENHAGEN: WHERE IT FAILED
  2. GEZS FOR SUSTENANCE - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN
  3. SAVING THE WORLD: LET THE RACE BEGIN - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
  4. GRAND OLD PARTY WILL BE 125 - BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN
  5. SCAMS THAT LAUNCHED A 1,000 SUITS - BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA
  6. INDIA LOOKS, SEES GREAT BEAR AGAIN - BY ZORAWAR DAULET SINGH

THE STATESMAN

  1. COMMON INEPTITUDE
  2. CRIME AND RESPONSE
  3. METRO MUDDLE
  4. FOG DISCOVERED ON SATURN'S LARGEST MOON
  5. DESTROY OR DIVIDE~II - ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. TAKE NOTE
  2. GOING DOWN
  3. ALIEN CORN  - ASHOK MITRA
  4. YOUNG WAR CRIMINAL - GWYNNE DYER

DECCAN HERALD

  1. VITAL SIGNS
  2. TENUOUS ACCORD
  3. BIRD'S-EYE VIEW - BYLINE M J AKBAR
  4. MONEY CAN'T BUY PEOPLE HAPPINESS - PRASENJIT CHOWDHURY
  5. MY RETREAT - V RADHAKRISHNAN

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. THE GREAT DISCONNECT
  2. THE REGION: THE 'NO WAR, NO PEACE' OPTION - BARRY RUBIN
  3. RUPTURE AND ITS REWARDS - YISRAEL HAREL
  4. DEALING WITH MR. YES AND NO - YOSSI ALPHER
  5. AN ANNIVERSARY OF SORTS - CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER
  6. THE CONFLICT AWAITS OBAMA'S PROGRAM - OPHIR PAZ-PINES

HAARETZ

  1. HONOR WITH AN EXPIRY DATE 0
  2. TALK ABOUT 1967 BORDERS, NOT SETTLEMENT BLOCS - BY AKIVA ELDAR
  3. ON ZIONISM AND REFUSING ORDERS - BY SHLOMO AVINERI
  4. WAR OVER THE HOMELAND - BY RON LESHEM
  5. WHERE WAS STEINITZ? - BY ZE'EV SEGAL

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. COPENHAGEN, AND BEYOND
  2. THE 76 MILLION FOOD VICTIMS
  3. COMBATING PRISONER ABUSE
  4. GUN OWNERS, UNFILTERED
  5. HEAVEN AND NATURE - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
  6. A DANGEROUS DYSFUNCTION - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  7. FASTER, NASA, FASTER - BY EDWARD LU

I.THE NEWS

  1. FESTERING TENSIONS
  2. AGE OF DARKNESS
  3. SWINE FLU ONSLAUGHT
  4. A FORGOTTEN MILLENNIUM - ASIF EZDI
  5. WHAT WOULD ZAB DO? - GIBRAN PESHIMAM
  6. OWNING OUR INSTITUTIONS - AYESHA IJAZ KHAN
  7. ON THE SLIPPERY BONNET - ZAFAR HILALY
  8. FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS - AMEER BHUTTO
  9. GOTCHA! - CHRIS CORK

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. POLITICAL TEMPERATURE MAY FURTHER DEFLECT ECONOMY
  2. A SETBACK TO ENVIRONMENT
  3. ILLUMINATIONS ON THE EVE OF X'MAS
  4. MYSTERIOUS OPERATIVES VS DIPLOMATS - DR SAMIULLAH KORESHI
  5. NOAH'S ARK TO SAVE PAKISTAN - DR GHAYUR AYUB
  6. DEC 1971: INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION - KHALID SALEEM
  7. A REQUIEM FOR THOSE WHO SHALL LIVE FOR EVER - RAASHID WALI JANJUA
  8. NEEDED: REGULAR MAINTENANCE..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. BUS TERMINAL TOLL
  2. SHIPPING WOES
  3. GRANDPA'S WORDS OF WISDOM..!
  4. THE ROLE OF MUSLIMS IN UK POLITICS - BARRISTER NAZIR AHMED
  5. ENSURING HEALTH OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN - MD. SAZEDUL ISALM
  6. COPENHAGEN MEET ENDS WITH A DEAL AND DEVIDE
  7. NAVA THAKURIA IN COPENHAGEN

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. SHORT OF BREATH
  2. RED FACED
  3. MAHAKALI TREATY OUTCOME OF ECONOMIC NATIONALISM - HARI BANSH JHA
  4. A GLANCE AT TWO WORLDS - PRABHA THACKER

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. NEW APPROACH ON GLOBAL WARMING NEEDED NOW
  2. MARY MACKILLOP LIVED TO SERVE
  3. COPENHAGEN HIJACKED BY SECOND-ORDER ISSUES

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. ONE CHEER FOR COPENHAGEN
  2. BACK AWAY FROM THE BLACKBERRY
  3. HOPES FOR HUMANITY WILTED BEFORE NATIONAL SELF-INTEREST

THE GURDIAN

  1. IN PRAISE OF ... SIR LIAM DONALDSON
  2. BEYOND COPENHAGEN: DIALOGUE, NOT DIKTAT
  3. MPS AND WESTMINSTER: STRICTLY POLITICS

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. DOLLAR-BASED GNI
  2. GET DOWN TO WORK
  3. IS FINANCIAL SECTOR TOO BIG TO REFORM? - HOWARD DAVIES

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. PEOPLE AND CLIMATE CHANGE
  2. TAIWAN POLL'S WEIGHT OVERHYPED - BY RALPH COSSA
  3. NO SUCH THING AS CLASSLESS - BY HUGH CORTAZZI

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. REJECTING UNSUSTAINABLE PALM OIL
  2. THE YEAR OF HUMAN RIGHTS PARADOX FOR INDONESIA - USMAN HAMID
  3. 2010 Outlook: Critical year for human rights - Usman Hamid
  4. PRACTICAL LESSON FROM MELBOURNE CONVENTION: GOD, MEN AND PLURALISM - ANAND KRISHNA
  5. READERS' HOPES: FIRM STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN

 CHINA DAILY

  1. SMALL BUT ESSENTIAL STEP
  2. THOUGHTFUL ARRANGEMENT
  3. ECONOMY NEEDS SOME TWEAKING - BY HE FAN (CHINA DAILY)
  4. LET'S END THE BEGINNING, NOT BEGIN THE END - BY MICHAEL BERENDT (CHINA DAILY)

THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. A NATION OF SWINDLERS - BY ALEXEI BAYER
  2. Life Is Not Fair  - By Anders Aslund
  3. ROBIN HOOD FIRES HIS GUNS AND TOP OFFICIALS - BY VLADIMIR FROLOV

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

BASIC INSTINCT

COPENHAGEN HAGGLING ENDED WITH NO LOSERS


As was always expected by reasonable minds, the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit has ended with a compromise draft that is only the first step towards combating global warming. The text agreed to by the United States and the four BASIC countries — Brazil, South Africa, India and China —commits to limiting global temperature rise to two degrees and to each country cutting emissions in keeping with domestic protocols and processes, without punitive liability and specific targets. Three sets of people are livid at this. First, leaders of tiny island states have denounced the agreement and said it will not prevent them being swallowed by rising sea waters. Second, certain populist politicians from unreconstructed Third World states in Africa and South America sought to convert a global conference into an opportunity for self-promotion, and see the five-nation draft as an unnecessary intrusion. Finally, the throngs on the streets of the Danish capital, backed by Western aid agencies and European Governments with NGO sensibilities, have cried betrayal. They will probably keep protesting till the world goes back to the Stone Age. Nevertheless, the US-BASIC deal — correctly called "a work in progress" by the Indian Environment Minister — represents a template that incorporates four essential and unalterable principles. One, historical responsibility for climate change and emissions cannot be ignored. Two, newly industrialising countries such as India cannot afford to modernise and grow using the same model as the West. They have to do it with greater carbon efficiency and using green-compliant technology. Three, it is perfectly understandable that citizens of the US, the world's biggest emitter, don't want to make massive compromises. Yet, and this is point four, neither can the billions living in the developing world be denied access to energy-intensive lifestyle enhancement. All of these goals are reconcilable. That will require development and commercialisation of climate change resistant technologies, particularly for energy generation, and their availability to developing countries at affordable prices. Potentially this is a win-win situation for both the West and the rest. Every previous recession in recent American history has ended with a technology surge that has created conditions for a period of prosperity. The previous time this happened was in the early 1990s, with the IT boom. With a little effort, it can easily be replicated in the first quarter of the 21st century. For India, which is at the cusp of a manufacturing revolution, this could spell a special bonanza. This country could be both a producer and user of such technology and its appliances. Unlike Japan or China or the West, it will not need to replace obsolete technology as much as establish green field facilities. Behind the bureaucratic language, the US-BASIC document recognises these parameters and represents red lines that these five countries will not be in a position to cross, for domestic reasons.


A truly global climate change agreement with some 200 countries signing a single document is always going to be difficult. In that sense, Copenhagen was destined for failure and even at the successor conference — one is so tempted to use the word 'jamboree' — in Mexico City is only likely to yield incremental gains. It is more practicable to expect the major industrialising countries (essentially, the BASIC four) and the major industrialised countries (led by the US) to first come to mutual or bilateral technology-sharing agreements, based on a mix of market access, commercial advantage and incentives. The rest of the world will have to come along.

 

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THE PIONEER

FROM BAD TO WORSE

PAKISTAN SINKS DEEPER INTO QUAGMIRE


Despite the brave and optimistic pronouncements of US President Barack Obama and the billions of dollars in military and civilian aid provided by his Administration to Pakistan, the situation continues to deteriorate in India's western neighbourhood. With the Supreme Court striking down the Ordinance that was issued to ensure immunity from prosecution for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari who had a number of corruption cases pending against him, the political turmoil has become that much more intense. Tensions between various factions of the Pakistan People's Party and between Mr Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani can only be expected to escalate in the coming days as the demand for Benazir Bhutto's husband to step down from office gather momentum. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, who are convinced that the Americans are behind the protection accorded to the Bhutto clan, have signaled that they shall launch yet another campaign to force Mr Zardari out of office. It is another matter that Mr Sharif is no knight in shining armour riding a white steed: He and his family are as steeped in corruption as the Bhutto clan. For Mr Sharif to now attack Mr Zardari and offer himself as an alternative is truly laughable. Indeed, it is amusing to watch exalted members of Pakistan's power elite, whether in politics or in the military, pointing fingers at others — it's like the pot calling the cattle black. But given the hostility that has marked relations between Mr Sharif and the Bhutto clan, it is only to be expected that neither side will miss an opportunity to pillory the other.


Meanwhile, the compact between the US military and the Pakistani Army has run into trouble. For all the money that Mr Obama is willing to give to Pakistan for its assistance in tracking down and neutralising top leaders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, there have been no promises as yet. On the contrary, there is a rising demand that the Government and the Army should not succumb to 'American pressure'. That, of course, is easier said than done: After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune: A client state really has no option to stand up and say no. At the same time, it would be interesting to wait and watch how the US reacts to Pakistan's virtual refusal to crack down on the Taliban and Al Qaeda. If the Pakistani Army were to stick to this stand, then the US and its allies in the war on terror would find themselves in a rather tight spot. Beyond a point, both the lure of American money and the threat of getting bombed by American troops may cease to have an impact. If that were to happen, how would Mr Obama respond to the AfPak situation? With yet another policy?

 

 

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            THE PIONEER

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD

ARUN NEHRU


US President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize even though his country is waging a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Nobel Committee's choice for the award this year has no doubt been a surprise. Mahatma Gandhi, the 'Man of the Century', was passed over for the award and so was Nelson Mandela when he was in jail. Clearly, the Nobel Committee's assessment of global situations is very different from ours. Mr Obama is a superb orator. He achieved a remarkable electoral victory last year and has changed the image of the US in the global community. We wish him well as he struggles to stabilise the US economy and free the American financial system from vested interests that took that country to the brink of a complete meltdown. We have had excellent relations with the US under former American President George W Bush and this continues on the basis of 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 this was skillfully handled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to the US. We sincerely hope that Mr Obama will succeed in his efforts in Iraq where the situation is marred by daily suicide attacks. The war in Afghanistan is as grim as ever where an additional force of 30,000 American troops is to be deployed. Progress on the West Asia talks has been marginal while the rhetoric from Iran is getting shriller by the day. Something is not quite right with the situation there.


I have read the speech delivered by Mr Obama at the Nobel Prize presentation ceremony and while it is skillfully drafted and has little for everyone, it justifies the use of force and war. The same argument could have been made by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela as they fought a brutal colonial regime. Many at the time advocated use of violence and armed struggle, and the opportunity was ripe as the British Empire was weakening. But in a world dominated by the imperial feudal order and where exploitation was based on the power of superior weapons, the Mahatma roused the conscience of the nation and led a non-violent freedom movement to liberate India from the tyranny of the British. We cannot and should not wrestle with events of the past. But attitudes have hardly changed. I wonder if Iraq would have been attacked if it really possessed weapons of mass destruction.


The theory propounded by the Bush regime and former Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair that Iraq posed a security threat to the world has now been found to be false. War was waged on the basis of fraudulent intelligence reports. However, there is total global agreement on the just war being waged against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the tactics deployed by Mr Obama so far have yielded little. Nonetheless, the effort must continue with a more balanced approach.


I have little faith in political miracles and I would like to believe that we are heading for peace in Iraq and Afghanistan and a peaceful resolution vis-à-vis Iran. We would like to believe that we will see a stable, democratic Pakistan in the future ahead. But till this can happen we would like to see the UPA Government and the Opposition do everything in their power to strengthen the country's defence capabilities on both external and internal fronts. Our national interests must 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'. Decision making in future will be more balanced. 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 continues to escalate and after the midnight announcement by the Union Home Minister declaring the Centre's stand on Statehood for Telangana, we are heading for another political battle in Andhra Pradesh. Much will depend on the action taken with respect to the political interests of Mr Jaganmohan Reddy and his supporters who are clearly in majority in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly and their financial power and business interests override all other considerations. The Congress high command cannot delay the process of decision making beyond a point and President's rule is not a viable option.


The agitation on inflation and price rise which is in excess of 15 per cent has assumed serious proportions. But many in governance with declared assets going into millions and billions of rupees are not likely to be affected by the rising price of cereals, sugar, dal or vegetables. In a political system where election costs run into lakhs and crores, the aam admi is clear in minority in terms of participation and representation. Sadly, the UPA, lacking an effective Opposition, is letting the situation slide. This can be an expensive mistake for the future.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

HINDI IS A BOND THAT UNITES

BK VERMA


Over a last few weeks, I have been keenly following the debate on 'Hindi chauvinism' in the columns of this paper. In your special edition on the language debate on December 17, a good range of opinions surfaced. In the article, "Common script can unite", Mr Shankar Sharan clearly established the fact that since a lot of commonalities can be found in spoken Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and a few other Indian languages, switching over to Devanagari as a common script can best serve to put linguistic tension at rest. But the way Mr Kajal Chatterjee in his article, "Hindi divides our land of diversities" denounced Hindi, his contempt for the language belied his claim that he was against the imposition of Hindi and not the language per se. Having read everyone's point of view closely, I feel the ongoing debate is needless.


It is common knowledge that MNS legislators' violent opposition to SP MLA Abu Asim Azmi's act of taking oath in Hindi in the Maharashtra State Assembly triggered off the language debate. It is for the people to understand that fear for Hindi's dominance, which was settled long back in the 1960s, is being stirred up once again for the narrow interests of certain politicians in the non-Hindi-speaking belt.


As a resident of Mumbai in the 1940s and 50s, I witnessed the truly cosmopolitan nature of Mumbai, where people from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, Bihar, West Bengal, etc, lived in complete harmony and spoke 'Bambaiya Hindi' — a style of speaking Hindi that is typical of Mumbai people. There was no tension or the so-called chauvinism of any language.


Our need for a common speaking medium to conduct business smoothly across the country cannot be overemphasised. Which other language than Hindi qualifies for this cause? This is the question which Mr Chatterjee would strenuously avoid to answer.


In 1967, I attended a conference of State representatives. Practically, every one advocated the use of Hindi in official dealings. Also, former Chief Minister of Punjab Giani Zail Singh encouraged Punjabis to write in Hindi despite thinking and speaking in Punjabi. Mahatma Gandhi and a few other prominent leaders of the freedom movement promoted Hindi as the language that could unite a multilingual country like India.


There are several other issues of momentous importance for the country. Let us concentrate on them rather than on trifles like linguistic chauvinism.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

KERALA'S TERROR HUB

FOR DECADES KANNUR, IN THE MARXIST HEARTLAND OF KERALA, HAS BEEN KNOWN FOR ITS POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND MARXIST THUGGERY. 'RED KANNUR' IS NOW FAST TURNING INTO 'GREEN KANNUR' FROM WHERE ISLAMISTS AND JIHADIS HAVE BEEN OPERATING WITH IMPUNIT

VR JAYARAJ


Kannur, the Marxist heartland of Kerala, has always been known as the capital of political terror in Kerala due to the hundreds of murders that have taken place in the district, with the CPI(M) almost always on one side of the conflicts. But Kannur has now become the hub of jihadi terror in Kerala and perhaps in the entire south. Investigators now say that around 55 people could have been played vital roles in carrying out the terror blasts sponsored by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Indian Mujahideen in Bangalore and other places last year. All of them, except perhaps three, belong to Kerala, and about 40 of them are from Kannur. More intriguing is the fact that several of them are close relatives.


That Kannur is in some way or other home to Islamist terror elements is not news. The police and the secret services have always known of the presence of such elements in the north Malabar district, known otherwise for the unquestionable rule of the CPI(M). The police also have so far been complacent that religious terror cannot find roots in such a politically sensitive district, but the new picture of extremist network revealed by the investigations has shocked them and also the entire State. Right from the top boss of terror, Thadiyantavide Nazeer, the south India commander of the LeT, arrested in Bangladesh last month, to low-level couriers like Sharafuddin, who helped him in transporting the ammonium nitrate used in Bangalore blasts, most of them belong to Kannur.


Despite their alleged soft attitude towards Islamists due to the over-dependence on vote-banks (just like Congress, their opponents), the Marxists used to claim that they are the only force that has kept extremist tendencies among Muslims under check. But when asked about the proliferation of terror men in their bastion the other day, Kerala CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had some difficulty in explaining that. "In Kannur, there are pockets where we do not have the influence we should. That is where these terrorists are thriving. That is exactly why we don't win elections in Kannur constituency," he replied cautiously. His dig was direct and it was aimed at the Congress, which has been winning elections in Kannur constituency for a long time now.


The terror network based in Kannur, with the controlling strings kept intact in far away Pakistan, came to light for the first time in October 2008 when the anti-terror squad of the State Police arrested Abdul Jaleel, a former NDF activist, for his connections with the four Malayalee militants killed by security forces on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir earlier that month. Two of these slain militants, Faiz and Fayas belonged to Kannur. The revelations were to continue as the investigations progressed, which naturally led to the arrest of the LeT's south India boss, Nazeer, who is husband of Jaleel's niece.


Investigators tend to disagree to the theory that the concentration of so many terror operatives in one place, Kannur, is merely coincidental. As all the key players belong to the same area, terrorists have the advantage of being able carrying out discreet fund-transfers, avoiding long journeys for coordinating operations and having rendezvous without catching inquisitive eyes, officials say. They also say that disallowing the network to be scattered is part of a strategy to ensure its intactness and this also justifies the fact that several of the terror men are close relatives. The family of Jaleel has five men already arrested by the police: Nazeer, his associate Shafaz arrested along with him, Feroze and Majeed Parampayi. Abdul Sattar alias Sainuddin aka Sattar Bhai, the master bomb-maker of the LeT and the Indian Mujahideen who had manufactured the explosives that went off in Bangalore and other cities, is father of terror man Sharafuddin, now in the custody of Bangalore police. Abdul Hakkim, one of the four militants killed by the security forces in Kashmir last year, was Sainuddin's son-in-law. Mujeeb, fourth accused in the terror case registered by the ATS, is husband of the sister of Sainuddin's wife.

Sociologists are of the opinion that the horrific bloodshed in recurring political clashes in Kannur could be seen as one of the aspects that might have created an impassive attitude towards human misery resulting from terror acts. "For the past four decades, Kannur district has been witnessing ruthless killings in political clashes. Such a history can create a feeling in the minds of the young that taking lives for a goal need not be a sin. Almost in all these clashes, the CPI(M) has been on one side of every clash," says a philosophy professor of a Kochi college.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

SAME STORY RETOLD

THERE'S NOTHING NEW ABOUT 'FRESH' PALESTINIAN OFFER

BARRY RUBIN


We now have Mr Mahmoud Abbas's answer regarding short-term Palestinian Authority strategy. He says that if Israel stops all construction now — in Jerusalem and the 3,000 apartments being completed — and accepts in advance the 1967 borders and there will be peace within six months. This is the basic story we've been hearing since around 1988: One or more Israeli concessions and everyone will live happily ever after.


This is clearly bait being dangled for US President Barack Obama, offering him an 'easy' way out of his dilemma of not having any peace talks after almost a year in office: Pressure Israel to give up more and you will look good, with plenty of photo opportunities of you presiding over Israel-PA talks.


Of course, what Mr Abbas wants to do is to remove one of the main points of Israeli leverage, the borders to be agreed upon and the status of east Jerusalem. Moreover, is leaving out both the additional demands he will be demanding (all Palestinians who want to can go live in Israel) and all the Israeli demands he will be ignoring (recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the end of the conflict and dropping all Palestinian claims, security guarantees, an unmilitarised Palestinian state, settling all refugees in Palestine).


In addition, of course, he can't speak for about half the people and territory he claims to represent, that is, the Gaza Strip. And by not holding elections and unilaterally extending his term, Mr Abbas leaves the door open for some future Palestinian leadership saying he had no legitimate mandate to negotiate and therefore any agreement he made isn't binding.


Finally, he made one very big misstatement of fact, hoping — as usual — that the West pays no attention to what's said in Arabic. He claims that the PA has stopped incitement against Israel, in terms of urging violence and rejecting Israel's existence. While the PA is, of course, far better than Hamas on such matters, a very large dossier can be compiled on how that is a lie.


The question is what will the Obama Administration do? Is it going to press Israel for still more unilateral concessions so that the PA will come to talks and President Obama can claim a success? Will it try to get the PA to do something in terms of confidence-building measures or to talk without preconditions? Israel is certainly not going to accept the 1967 borders with absolutely no change before even talking with the PA (and probably not even as part of a peace agreement).


Indeed, it is now Obama Administration policy that there need to be minor border modifications to accommodate the post-1967 changes on the ground. Moreover, Israel can say that if it stops all construction immediately, including in Jerusalem, the PA still won't talk so what's the point?


Incidentally, Mr Abbas admitted that he never asked for an Israeli construction freeze before but is only doing so in the context of the Roadmap Plan. However, even after the Road Map, Mr Abbas never made this a big issue until after Mr Obama demanded the construction freeze. In objective terms, the President has no one to blame but himself for this mess, but of course he isn't going to blame himself. He has to blame either Israel or the PA. Which will it be?


At the same time, there's a new trend worth noting in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority: A sense of satisfaction. While the Western media generally reflect the rather false-front public relations' campaign waged by the PA — bitter, frustrated, victimised, and eager for peace — that's not what's really going on right now.

Mr Mahmoud Abbas's Government has to weather some difficult politicking along the following lines:

 

He has extended his own term in office indefinitely and cancelled January 2010 elections without receiving much criticism from within the PA. After all, Hamas won't let any balloting happen in the Gaza Strip and who knows which side might win a fair vote?

The PA has been rounding up Hamas activists and keeping security on the West Bank while—with a lot of help and some pressure from Israel — preventing cross-border attacks.

The economy is doing well with relative prosperity on the West Bank, though this could collapse in hours if the PA let's violence reappear.

Mr Abbas has contained intensive criticism from his colleagues about his being too "soft" in his dealings with Mr Obama.

He has worked out a way to refuse negotiations while blaming it on Israel.

No matter what the PA does international media coverage, support from Europe, and a lack of criticism from the US Government seems assured.


There are plenty of things to be pleased about even though the peace process is dead, there's no realistic prospect of a state, and Hamas looks set to govern the Gaza Strip forever.


What's really true — though often misunderstood in the West — is that a no war, no peace option suits the PA just fine right now. There is a question of whether hot-heads among Mr Abbas's colleagues, Hamas sabotage, or some accidental event will set off a new confrontation.


Yet that doesn't seem too likely in the short- to medium-run.


Finally, while Fatah and the PA can't wean themselves—indeed, they aren't even trying—from a basic strategy whose main goal is destroying Israel some day, that doesn't mean they can't get along with Israel on a current basis. Behind the scenes, things aren't so bad.


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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

URGENTLY NEEDED, A SECOND SRC

THE CLAMOUR FOR SMALLER STATES CANNOT BE DEALT WITH IN A PIECEMEAL MANNER. WE NEED A SECOND STATES REORGANISATION COMMISSION WHICH IS INSULATED FROM POLITICS

PRAFULL GORADIA

 

Since a number of demands for the division of States have been pending, the appointment of a second States' Reorganisation Commission should be desirable. Without an objective study, there is a fear of ad hoc decisions. Before, however, any appointment is made, it should be ensured that members of the second SRC are not potential playthings in the hands of politicians. Second, it should be nationally resolved that the recommendations of the second SRC would be followed and not chopped and changed.


Of the three members of the 1955 SRC, Justice Saiyid Fazl Ali and Hriday Nath Kunzru were friends of Jawaharlal Nehru and both originally from Uttar Pradesh although the former had shifted to Bihar by the time of appointment. KM Panikkar was a Keralite. Other than him no non-Hindi speaking person was included.


While in principle no one could question the merit of these distinguished gentlemen, unfortunately they were influenced by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In 1961 my father stayed at Janpath Hotel whenever he visited Delhi. The eminent Ashok Mehta also stayed at the same hotel during those months. On two occasions, at dinner Mr Mehta told my father how an all-out effort was made to ensure that the Hindi-speaking areas remained consolidated. As a result, Bihar remained unaltered while as much area as possible was included in Madhya Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh was also not sub-divided in spite of its enormity. This was a majority recommendation. Panikkar disagreed.


In his note of dissent, he wrote: "My proposal is that a new State should be created consisting of the Meerut, Agra, Rohilkhand and Jhansi Divisions of Uttar Pradesh (minus Dehradun district of Meerut Division and Pilibhit district of Rohilkhand Division), the district of Datia from Vindhya Pradesh and the four districts of Bhind, Morena, Gird (Gwalior) and Shivpuri from Madhya Bharat. The new State might have Agra as its capital and might be called the "State of Agra". Agra will be conveniently situated from the point of view of communications. The State thus constituted would be manageable in size and population and will generally speaking be homogeneous with resources sufficient to carry out its development programmes."

The Bombay State was already large and yet it was made even larger by adding to it Saurashtra and Kutch on the one hand and Vidarbha and Marathwada on the other. The only exclusion from composite Bombay were the Kannada districts like Mangalore. The political desires of the Marathi and Gujarati-speaking people to be in separate States were well known. Sure enough the enlarged composite State did not survive and by 1960 Gujarat went one way and Maharashtra the other. Yet at the end of the SRC it could be claimed that just as Uttar Pradesh sends the largest contingent of MPs to the Lok Sabha, the team from composite Bombay was not much smaller. If Bihar was large, so would be Andhra Pradesh. The SRC actually recommended a separate Telangana although preferred to call the State Hyderabad.


The Nehru Government, however, did not follow its recommendations and made Andhra Pradesh one of the largest States of India. All these were attempts, according to Mr Ashok Mehta, to counter the whispering campaign that Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Uttar Pradesh to be big so that it could send a large contingent of MPs and ensure his primacy in the Congress parliamentary party. The answer to this campaign would be that there were other large States also namely Bombay and Andhra Pradesh. It was believed that Nehru considered Morarji Desai as a potential future rival. It could be whispered back to him that his composite Bombay had 71 MPs compared with Uttar Pradesh's 86.

In this context it is relevant to quote from Panikkar's note of dissent which we have referred to earlier: "One of the arguments advanced before us by leaders in Uttar Pradesh was that the existence of a large, powerful and well-organised State in the Gangetic Valley was a guarantee for India's unity; that such a State would be able to correct the disruptive tendencies of other States, and to ensure the ordered progress of India. The same idea has been put to us in many other forms such as that Uttar Pradesh is the "back bone of India", the centre from which all other States derive their ideas and their culture, etc. It is not necessary to examine these claims seriously for nothing is more certain to undermine our growing sense of unity than this claim of suzerainty or paramountcy by one State over others."

 

Panikkar continued: "A second argument which has been advanced is that the Uttar Pradesh is a homogeneous and integrated State and that to partition it would be to ruin its economy and to create discontent." After giving details, he concluded: "For all practical purposes, therefore, the existing State of Uttar Pradesh has had a continuous history of less than a hundred years. The argument that it is a well-knit area which cannot be broken up without undesirable consequences is not, in these circumstances, impressive. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that nothing has happened during these hundred years to alter the basic fact that this area has but little unity."


In reply to other arguments placed before the SRC, Panikkar stated: "The test of economical and efficient administration is obviously whether a State is or has been in a position to increase the expenditure on nation-building services. It does not appear that the Uttar Pradesh can claim any particular advantage or achievements in this matter. Uttar Pradesh has the lowest literacy of all the Part A States in India including Orissa."


The way Uttar Pradesh has performed over the last five decades has amply vindicated Panikkar. The real reason for leaving Uttar Pradesh undivided was its 86 Lok Sabha MPs in the then house of 499, as opined by Mr Ashok Mehta.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

COPING WITH WEST ASIA'S DEMAND FOR NUCLEAR POWER

APART FROM IRAN, MANY COUNTRIES IN THE PERSIAN GULF REGION ARE SEEKING NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS, WRITES ANTON OPKOV


The West Asian states are actively seeking nuclear power. Of the Gulf countries, excluding Iran and Iraq, almost 20 agreements and memorandums of understanding on nuclear cooperation were signed during the last 18 months, with countries, possessing advanced nuclear technology, including Canada, China, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the UK, and the US.


At present, the only nuclear energy facility in the region is the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Russian specialists are now completing the construction of the plant's first power reactor. The expected start-up date is some time in the spring of 2010. The region also has a few nuclear research facilities (in Israel, Iran, Egypt and Syria).

At the same time the region is on the top of the non-proliferation list due to the disclosure of undeclared nuclear activity in Iraq in the early-1990s and in Iran in 2002 (and Tehran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA since then). Experts estimate that Israel has 60-80 nuclear devices. The country's Government neither confirms nor denies this. In addition, during the 1990-2000s West Asia was a key region for deliveries by an illicit nuclear proliferation network run by AQ Khan, including the supply of fissile material production technology and nuclear weapons-related design information. More recently, the IAEA is questioning possible undeclared nuclear installations in Syria. Nuclear energy development in West Asia has, therefore, raised serious concerns over the issue of nuclear non-proliferation.


Other issues include the lack of specialists — or the expertise and technical capability to train such specialists locally; heightened security requirements in view of the terrorist threat in the region; and the need to set up national regulating agencies to oversee safe and secure nuclear energy development.


Such development requires a series of steps to be taken in the region as outlined below.

 

Due to a lack of expertise in the region and a lack of funds for nuclear studies in some West Asian countries, a few joint multinational nuclear-research and training centres under IAEA safeguards could be established instead of individual state centres. Each centre could specialise in one nuclear-related field. One centre, for example, could specialise in nuclear-powered desalination, a big issue for the region. Over 50 per cent of all desalination plants around the world are located in West Asia. In fact, according to initial plans from the 1970s, the Bushehr nuclear power plant was expected to be used partially for desalination.

 

Expanded international oversight of nuclear activities in the region should be implemented (after local ratification) with IAEA Additional Protocol, which provides the IAEA with extended authority to monitor civilian nuclear programs. As of November 2009, this Protocol is in place for over 90 countries; only two (Jordan and Kuwait) represent West Asia.

 

A West Asian nuclear-free zone is not likely to be established soon due to the peace process in the region. At the same time the states of the region could take confidence-building steps, which would create a more open atmosphere for further dialogue on the subject. Signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by all the countries in the region could be the first step in this direction.

 

Greater international cooperation would result from a voluntary agreement prohibiting these countries from creating new uranium enrichment and SNF reprocessing facilities, the most sensitive nuclear technology. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recently affirmed their intention to forgo sensitive indigenous fuel-cycle technology.


West Asia has been a point of discussions during the last three Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Reviews and will no doubt continue to be in the spotlight during 2010 NPT Review Conference to be held in New York on May 3-28, 2010. Special attention should be paid to the lack of universality of the nuclear non-proliferation process in the region during the conference debates. Israeli nuclear programs were almost 'ignored' (or its discussion was blocked by the US) during recent international non-proliferation forums, while nuclear progress in Iran and Syria is sometimes exaggerated. So a balance should be reached between the issues of non-compliance, process consistency and nuclear energy development during West Asia non-proliferation discussions.

International forums on the future of the nuclear energy industry in the region like the 'Middle East Nuclear Energy Summit' to be held in Amman on March 21-24, 2010, could contribute a lot to the development of the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the region.

 

 The writer is Director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

WHITE PAPER SHOWS GOVT'S GREY ACCOUNTS

 

FOR ordinary mortals who struggle to balance their pay- slips with their monthly expenses, it appears almost inconceivable that anyone could gain or lose close to Rs 50,000 crore, simply by counting the money differently. Yet, this is precisely what the White Paper on the status of the Railways, tabled in Parliament last week by railway minister Mamata Banerjee, has done. By applying what they say are " standard accounting practices," the consultants who helped prepare the White Paper have come up with a figure for the accumulated surplus with the railways which is less than half what has been officially stated by the Railways in its accounts.

 

The paper says changes made in accounting norms during the last five years had inflated ' cumulative cash surplus before dividend' by as much as 55 per cent to reach the official figure of Rs 88,669 crore. The ' standard practices' followed in the White Paper are, in themselves, unexceptionable.

 

All payments have been accounted for on accrual basis – that is, when they become liable to be. If payouts for the sixth pay commission wage hikes are taken on an accrual basis, and money meant for the Depreciation Reserve Fund is accounted as working expense and not cash, the figure falls to Rs 39,411 crore.

 

This is an extremely disturbing revelation.

 

The White Paper is an official document and not merely a revenge exercise, as former Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was the principal architect of the turnaround in the fortunes of the Railways over the past five years, has indicated. It is supposed to reflect the government's position on an issue. If that is so, we are at a loss to understand which figure should now be considered. The one in the Railways' Budget documents, which have also been approved by the government's own auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, or that in the White Paper.

 

This is not just an accounting correction.

 

The surplus funds are needed for ongoing and fresh investments to meet the Railways' own ambitious ' Vision 2020' goals. In fact, the very future of the Railways, the largest transport utility in the world and the world's largest commercial employer, is at stake. The report also highlights the grayness and lack of transparency in government accounts in general, as well as the wide scope for interpretation. The government needs to comprehensively overhaul its accounting practices and align them with modern global standards.

 

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MAIL TODAY

MAKE IT SIMPLER

 

THE adoption process was made a little easier a few days ago with the Cabinet approving the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance ( Amendment) Bill to allow women separated from their husbands to adopt a child. Until now, only divorced women could adopt children. This is a welcome move and will go a long way in providing equal opportunities for women.

 

To the misfortune of millions, India does not have a secular adoption law. Only Hindus ( and " similar" communities like Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs) are allowed to become full- fledged parents through adoption in India, while those belonging to other communities and wanting to adopt can only become guardians. And then, for sheer absurdity, only Hindu children can be adopted.

 

While most children up for adoption are those given up by mothers who voluntarily go to an agency and

renounce all their rights towards the child, there are an equal number of children who are simply abandoned or orphaned for one reason or the other. In all these cases, there is no way that one can formally establish the religion of the child.

 

These are but two fundamental flaws or drawbacks in our adoption law. Admittedly, India has one of the most secure adoption laws that more or less prevent any child from becoming a victim of trafficking or a target of paedophiles. Ironically, because of these iron- clad laws, the process of adoption has discouraged hundreds of genuine prospective adoptive parents. There is a crying need to make adoption in India a simple process and not the ordeal that it is.

 

What we need, therefore, is an adoption regime that is sensitive to the needs of the child as well as those of the adoptive parents, no matter what religion they profess.

 

And to achieve that, we cannot have piecemeal changes to what is surely a societychanging law.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

OPPORTUNE MOMENT

BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN

 

Acrop of newleaders and ideas on autonomy present NewDelhi an opportunity to resolve the Jammu &Kashmir issue once and for all The spotlight may have been on Copenhagen this last week. As the year slips away, there is equal if not more historic opportunity closer to home. It concerns an issue that has taken centre stage for prime ministers since Nehru. It is the only one of 28 states where each event has implications beyond India. Kashmir is a litmus test for a largeness of vision of whoever leads India.

 

But there is a distinct possibility an opportunity for peace is at hand in Kashmir. Over the last two decades more than one Prime Minister has looked ready to break the impasse. Narasimha Rao spoke of 'anything short of azaadi'. Vajpayee eloquently advocated a solution based on 'insaniyat' or humanity.

 

Dr Singh's government has done more than its predecessors did. But it is by no means enough. It is not just a 'package of autonomy' that is needed, vital as that is. It is critical to restore trust.

 

Not just in Kashmir but for India in itself. Only a highly insecure country can possibly see autonomy for a few million as tantamount to breaking up. True, there cannot and must never be compromise with those who kill unarmed civilians or try to redraw maps via murder.

 

To seize a chance for peace requires a sense of history. Precedents abound. It was the case when John F. Kennedy stood firm with the city of Berlin, an isolated Western enclave in a sea of red in Eastern Europe. And it was so when Mikhail Gorbachev walked the streets of Prague, a Pope trying to be Luther.

 

Each saw new equations emerging and had the presence of mind and agility of feet to seize the moment.

 

LEADERSHIP

 

Moments when men or women make history have not been uncommon in India. It was true of Jawaharlal Nehru when he told Sheikh Abdullah in Delhi, " We will bind you in golden chains." And it was true of the Beg- Parthasarthy accord of 1975, which saw Syed Mir Qasim step aside as chief minister for Sheikh Abdullah. The rebel turning ruler, the man in office making way not for another occupant but for a cause larger than any one man alone.

 

After all peace does, and did, lie across the barriers.

 

In Kashmir, it lay in bringing closer to the Union the key leaders whose dream of irredentism came via peaceful protest not the gun. Each generation threw up new leaders of this ilk: Sheikh Abdullah and Amanullah Khan, one hewing close to India and the other to Pakistan.

 

The difference was that for Abdullah, there was a common lingua franca with India's emerging leaders. This was the spirit of the Naya Kashmir manifesto, much of it drafted by the economist P. N. Dhar ( later to be a key aide of Indira Gandhi). Education for all, enfranchisement, land to the peasantry, a society of religious harmony.

These are ideas that would be revolutionary in much of west and central Asia even today, 65 years on. It was this vision more than a mere distaste for the tribal raiders that underlay the always fragile but potentially strong link with India as a whole. Better a country of liberal democracy with autonomy, than being a pocket borough of a Pakistan dominated by the army and bureaucracy. India's leadership, Patel and Nehru included, realised Kashmir needed extra space: it was the only state that negotiated its entry into the Union.

Much of the writing on Kashmir is about barriers between countries and rulers, about lines drawn on maps and guarded by soldiers. Even attempts to redraw it have seen hard deeds and harder men ( and a few women) take to the gun. Since the winter of 1989, much of the history of the state has been about trying to go beyond the gun.

 

The barriers to peace clearly have to do with those without. Those who see religious identity as salvation.

 

Those who see another country as a haven of freedom. Or those who see India simply through the dark goggles of what the writer Basharat Peer calls a Curfewed Night . But this may be one of those rare times when it is possible to take a step where no one has gone before successfully, at least not for years, if not decades. The home minister says the government is in touch with key leaders.

 

And most important, key paramilitary forces are being pulled back.

 

Pakistan is in a worse mess than ever since 1971.

 

But can India do more than simply draw solace from Pakistan's plight?

 

Politics

 

The gesture and steps taken so far are all positive.

 

But they do not go quite far enough. Across the world, where peace has advanced it has been via dialogue. The new generation of Kashmiri leaders deserves a closer look.

 

Mehbooba Mufti led her party to power, albeit in coalition, a first for a regional party other than the National Conference.

 

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has stayed loyal to the Valley's plural culture while being a religious figure. The Lone brothers have spelt out a blueprint for autonomy their father would have been proud of before he fell to an assassin's bullet.

 

There is also chief minister Omar Abdullah, a Kashmiri elected leader, who does not feel threatened by talks between New Delhi and the secessionists.

 

This is a mature regional leadership whose political standing gives the space to move forward.

 

It is true none of this can satisfy the cry for justice after the eyewash of New Delhi's sleuths in cases like

Shopian. It cannot bring back those who have lost their lives. Nor can it help those displaced from their homes no matter of what faith. How can peace thrive where there is fear of anonymous death? There can be no compromise with violence as means to remake frontiers or coerce people. But the corollary to this firmness is a larger vision. India and Asia cannot move ahead if Kashmir does not.

 

For Dr Manmohan Singh and his colleagues, Kashmir is the place to begin.

 

All the steps for scaling down civil society- security forces conflict are positive.

 

But the nub of the matter is political. Autonomy going beyond what the region has known so far is the key. A starting point could be the 1952 agreement.

 

Autonomy

 

Closely aligned to this is the issue of Omar taking up where his father's last government left off with the Balraj

Puri report on autonomy for regions within the state.

 

Finally, and most crucially, this is time to have a larger citizens' movement facilitated but not run by

government functionaries.

 

This would seek to give succour and support to the victims of violence, not just families that have lost loved ones but counsel for those who have been traumatised by violence. Civil society groups, one of this country's abiding democratic assets, can be encouraged to act.

The moment is at hand.

 

The Hindutva groups are rudderless; the Congress is not encumbered by allies.

 

Will the leadership in New Delhi make a new tryst with destiny? What is needed is a bold gesture to break the deadlock of decades.

 

A looser arrangement in the state may also help rethink how to accommodate other sub- nationalisms of the periphery. A more flexible India can be more viable, a living proof that multiple identities can coexist in one polity.

 

The writer teaches history in Delhi University

 

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MAIL TODAY

POWER & POLITICS

PRABHU CHAWLA

 

DIVISION OF AUTHORITY

IT HASN'T been a great year for the BJP and the leaders and cadre alike must be glad that 2009 is nearing its end amidst hopes that the new year will bring better tidings.

 

The leaders and the led, I am sure, are equally relieved that the much awaited reshuffle at the top has finally taken place. Not for the first time has LK Advani stepped down as the Leader of the Opposition, but there will be no room for withdrawal of his resignation this time.

 

That's because, before he finally quit, the party amended the constitution, that he himself had penned at the founding of the BJP exactly 30 years ago, to create a new post— the chairman of the BJP Parliamentary Party— which he promptly occupied. 57 year old Sushma Swaraj took over from him as Leader of the Opposition. A couple of days after the dramatic developments, Nitin Gadkari, the 52 year old firebrand pracharak from Nagpur, took over from Rajnath Singh as the BJP's youngest president.

 

So is it, as is being suggested, the end of an era and the beginning of another in the BJP? Far from it. It's my hunch that ringing in the new, at least in this instance, does not automatically imply that the old have been phased out. The party's short but tumultuous history has been a political rollercoaster. When down, it has always managed to bounce back. All that changed once the party tasted power for the first time at the Centre in 1998. It is not for nothing that the Congress has been referred to as the natural party of governance.

 

For despite having one leader who has a vice- like grip on the party and the government, there has forever been a clear demarcation of roles for those assigned to run the party's organisational and its parliamentary wings. That has not been the case in the BJP where those in charge at 11 Ashoka Road also ran its Parliamentary wing and during its days in power, the government too. During the Vajpayee regime, it wasn't uncommon to see a couple of ministers replying to question hour in the Lok Sabha in the morning, attending to the parliamentary party office in the afternoon and in the evening holding forth at its central office. It caused huge damage to the organisation as grassroots leaders were sidelined.

 

It was sometime late last year that the RSS had for the first time suggested corrective measures to delink the political from the legislative unit. But faced with the general elections which were then less than six months away, this was put on hold. Following the BJP's humiliating defeat in May, Nitin Gadkari Advani resigned but his overnight decision to stay on in office, a decision forced on him by his coterie, meant that the clean up operation had to wait.

 

This suited the RSS fine, since its political affiliate had by then been riven by petty factionalism and Nagpur saw wisdom in letting the veteran clean up the mess that his protégés left behind.

 

That the RSS wholeheartedly supported the idea of creating a new post of Chairman of the Parliamentary Party to accommodate Advani is a clear sign that it now wants the former prime minister in waiting to keep a tight leash on his pupils.

 

They expect him to play the role of a neutral umpire as his proteges continue to indulge in their dangerous game of fratricide.

 

If the plan is fully implemented then those who lead the parliamentary party will have a marginal role in running the affairs of the organisation.

 

One thing is clear: as the senior most leader of the BJP, he is on test once again. The RSS expects him to rein in the feuding leaders of the BJP's bygone GenNext who made sure that its previous president Rajnath Singh's hands were tied and therefore unable to perform.

 

According to sources within the Sangh Parivar, it was Advani who had first suggested that Nitin Gadkari be made the next party chief. His argument: Gadkari wasn't polluted by the factional fight that the central leaders were involved in. Now it is up to Advani to make sure that his many wards behave so that the portly Brahmin from Nagpur delivers. This is probably the BJP's last chance.

 

INTERPRETING MAMATA BANERJEE'S BEHAVIOUR

WITHOUT her tantrums, Mamata Banerjee will not, of course, be Mamata Banerjee. And so with her unpredictability. She seems determined to continue treading unchartered waters.

 

Her decision to issue a " white paper" to debunk her predecessor Lalu Prasad Yadav's claims of turning around the Indian Railways' fortunes is a first of sorts. We have often seen in the past new governments taking office and promptly running down the previous regimes for mismanagement but individual ministers have so far refrained from stooping so low.

 

What then explains Mamata's sudden offensive? Does it have to do with a new found liking for Nitish Kumar who would be the happiest to see Lalu squirming? Is she livid that B- school kids from Harvard and MIT are not dropping by to see her, as they did with Lalu? Or does it have to do with plans for her own future? Or does it have to do with the total non- performance of the ministry under her leadership? There are no clear answers but my hunch is that she is already preparing the ground for her move to Kolkata which she thinks is just a matter of time. Readers may recall that she took charge as minister not at the Rail Bhavan in New Delhi but in the regional railway headquarters in Kolkata.

 

Since then, apart from presenting the rail budget, she has done precious little and in fact is hardly ever seen in her office. Not only has she not taken any initiatives of her own, she has put on freeze many of the schemes that Lalu had launched.

 

Senior railway officials say that by the time the next rail budget is due a little over two months from now, Mamata may not even want to introduce it for fear of presenting a dud. By then, the assembly elections in her home state will be exactly a year away and she may decide to move to Kolkata to launch one final offensive that could bring to an end the 33 year misrule of the Commies.

 

Rest assured, West Bengal's gain will not be Rail Bhavan's loss.

 

MINISTERS, their secretaries and sundry mandarins keep telling us that the downturn is over, and the worst is behind us. But there was no sign of this at the traditional end- of- session dinner that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted last week at Race Course Road for the members of Parliament belonging to the UPA coalition partners.

 

Despite government claims that we have crossed the hump, most invitees came away with the feeling that austerity was still the theme. The culprit, I understand, was the frugal menu on offer. Some politicianfriends who have attended such dos in the past told me that this time, it was a heavily watered down menu. In the past, the spread was invariably lavish with a variety of nonvegetarian and vegetarian dishes, many types of roti and nan , plus rice, pulao and biryani . Last week, there was just one non- vegetarian and two vegetarian dishes, roti and just plain rice. The pulao was dispensed with as were the heavily buttered nans , without which no meal is complete for many a politician.

 

So, have we turned the corner or are we still on austerity mode? One politician thinks it is a mixture of both. " Considering the frequency with which she is seen on satellite TV channels talking about skyrocketing prices of vegetables and other articles of daily use, hostess Gursharan Kaur must have trimmed the menu". He may be right.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

TOKEN AGREEMENT

 

The emperor has some new clothes, but they're only a fig leaf. India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh says: "India had got a good deal." Sudan says it's a "suicide pact" and Costa Rica accuses the US of hijacking what was meant to be an UN-led consensual pact. The truth lies somewhere between the two. That the Copenhagen Climate Accord was engineered by the US and BASIC countries, that is, Brazil, South Africa, India and China, is not a bad thing. Considering that despite being a major polluter the US has stayed out of UN negotiations on climate change and that emerging economies were not part of the policy-making process, it is good that climate talks have now become more inclusive.


The draft Copenhagen Climate Accord does take into account the UN principle of common but differentiated responsibility in reducing global emissions, and states its intent to make available more funding and technology transfer to developing countries by the rich with the setting up of a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund and a Technology Mechanism. It also talks of the need for the developed world to take on domestic emissions cuts in a way that would help regulate global temperature to rise not more than two degrees Celsius and calls on developing countries to do the same with capacity-building help from the rest.


But while intentions may be laudable, a road map is till missing. What are the quantifiable targets for rich countries to reduce emissions? What is the time frame? How will the UN ensure that the promised $30 billion between 2010-2012 and the $100 billion a year from 2020 onwards as assistance from the rich to poor countries (announced by the US, not the UN) are deposited in the fund and disbursed equitably? The deal acknowledges that countries need to work towards limiting global temperatures but experts say that the accord is so weak on specifics that it is unlikely to inspire urgent action. We are more likely to see a three degrees Celsius rise in global temperature because the accord is just a statement of intent, not a legally binding agreement.


The 2010 Mexico summit has to produce a plan that works out the mechanisms involved including emissions targets, deadlines and penalties for failure as well as rewards for achievers. With only a token agreement at Copenhagen, the ball has just been pushed down to Mexico. One can only hope the Americans are more forthcoming there.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

SPRING-CLEANING

 

The much-debated transition in the BJP was set in motion on Friday when three leaders in their 50s took over leadership positions in the parliamentary and the organisational wings of the party. The transition process was triggered by a series of events that followed the party's defeat in the general election.


A few second rung leaders had blamed the party's central leadership for the losses. Jaswant Singh's controversial study of Jinnah allowed them to infuse a dose of ideology into what essentially began as a fight for party posts. A beneficiary of the raucous debate was the RSS, which had lost some of its control over the BJP after it gained office at the Centre. The call for a generational change in the BJP leadership came from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. His remarks were interpreted as barbs aimed at L K Advani and other leaders such as Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.


Many see Advani stepping down as leader of opposition in Lok Sabha as the end of an era. But is it? In his own words, he intends to be a political rath yatri till the end. The BJP constitution was amended to create a new post for Advani. As chairman of the BJP's parliamentary unit, he will now appoint the party's leaders in Parliament and "mentor" them. It is amply clear that the party can't ignore the 82-year-old leader. Swaraj and Jaitley, the new leaders of opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, are not identified with the BJP's Hindutva campaigns and, hence, may be able to reach out to the middle classes and those voters who were uncomfortable with the hardliners in the sangh parivar. But the new party president Nitin Gadkari will have to outgrow his regional profile and mofussil politics fast if he wants to be taken seriously.


The change of guard, however, is unlikely to transform the BJP's ideology or programme radically. The party will have to embark on a re-education programme for its cadres if it wants to shed its Hindutva baggage and reinvent itself as a liberal, right-wing outfit. That's unlikely as long as the RSS continues to be the ideological fountainhead of the party and provide its organisational muscle. The exigencies of coalition politics and the influence of popular politicians like Atal Behari Vajpayee helped the party to check the influence of the RSS in the past. The current leadership has a tough task in hand if it wishes to transform the party to suit the times. But it has no other choice.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

WHAT THE STATUES SAY

BADRI NARAYAN

 

If you travel through Uttar Pradesh's kasbas, townships or cities like Lucknow and Allahabad, you might see some 20,000 Ambedkar statues. The vast and sprawling Ambedkar Park in Lucknow showcases tall statues of Ambedkar along with those of Kanshi Ram, Jyotiba Phule and Periyar. Most of these statues were erected during three tenures of the chief ministership of Mayawati (June 1995 to October 17, 1995, March 21, 1997 to September 20, 1997, and May 3, 2002 to August 26, 2003). After Mayawati came to power with a clear majority in 2007, construction of these statues gained momentum. Most of them were, and are, erected by the Bahujan Samaj Party government, with the aid of the development funds of several BSP ministers, MLAs and MPs. All this is being done in the name of fulfilling the dreams and missions of Ambedkar.


Strangely, Ambedkar who advocated struggles at the grassroots for the emancipation of Dalits was never in favour of erecting statues. In the initial days of his political career, Kanshi Ram also criticised Ambedkar's supporters in Maharashtra for betraying him by erecting his statues. He used to say that, in Maharashtra, Ambedkar's followers had killed his mission, message and dreams. He would ask, "What's the use of erecting statues, crows sit on these?" It is difficult to understand how the BSP founder later came to support the building of statues of Ambedkar, Mayawati as well as his own.


The dominant features of the Dalit emancipation movement that Indian society experienced were inspired by Ambedkar and led by Kanshi Ram. The movement developed in the form of a BSP upsurge. Kanshi Ram argued that the bahujan movement in UP was, in fact, the extension and flowering of the Dalit movement in Maharashtra. He even used to mix his own ideology with that of Ambedkar.


However, in the name of carrying forward the ideology of Ambedkar, the BSP in the past formed a government with the BJP, whose Hindutva ideology primarily strengthened Brahmanism. While Ambedkar favoured the abolition of the caste system in Indian society for Dalit emancipation, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati favoured the awakening of Dalit and backward identities in order to link these with the bahujan movement. Thus, in UP, to strengthen Ambedkar's vision, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati transformed his 'abolish caste system' slogan into a 'promote caste system' one.


So, while Ambedkar wanted it dismantled, the caste system was used by Kanshi Ram to polarise the Dalits instead. The latter's argument was that social polarisation based on the caste identities of Dalits and marginalised communities was meant to oppose and eventually demolish Brahmanical politics. Ambedkar laid emphasis on identity and the struggle for self-respect, locating Dalits in history. In contrast, Kanshi Ram mingled myth with history, popular culture with intellectualism. He used pragmatic wisdom (vyavaharic vivek) as the basis of his politics. In contrast, Ambedkar wanted to empower Dalits by building their intellectual capacities in order to ensure their political emancipation. His idea of emancipation was not memories or memorials.

The basic differences between Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram are latent in the development of their personalities and viewpoints. Ambedkar, who studied at Columbia University, was a modern and intellectual leader. Kanshi Ram, in contrast, belonged to a small village of Punjab, with a critical stance towards Marathi Dalit politics. He evolved as an excellent organiser of Dalit politics. Ambedkar believed Dalits couldn't be freed from Brahmanism within the Hindu fold. He, therefore, embraced Buddhism along with thousands of Dalits. Kanshi Ram and Mayawati held an opposed view on this subject, the main reason being not to alienate and anger the majority of Dalits who are part of popular sects of the Bhakti
kaal (era of devotion) of the Hindus, like Kabirpanthi, Ravidasi, Satnami, Shivnarayani, etc. It was a wise political strategy, which was to both link them and carry forward the avowed mission.


If Ambedkar were around today, he might have paused and thought very deeply before forging alliances with the Hindutva forces. But Kanshi Ram was known to defend his political strategy without any scruples or qualms. He used to say, "If someone feels that this is opportunism, my answer is that if Brahmanism used it to strengthen itself, why i should not strengthen the Dalits treading the same path?"


Though Kanshi Ram criticised the Congress and the BJP for practising Brahmanism, he followed the path of these political parties. Ambedkar, on the other hand, favoured an alternative culture, religion and politics to assert Dalit rights; he held ideology and principles in high esteem. Kanshi Ram, by contrast, adopted pragmatic politics as a guide in the search for Dalit emancipation. He used to elaborate the differences between Ambedkar and himself by saying, "Ambedkar used to collect books, i collect people."


The difference between a thorough intellectual and a practical organiser is, therefore, pretty sharp. The statues in UP are a testimony to two very different political visions.


The writer is with G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

'ARMED FORCES SPECIAL POWERS ACT RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY KILLINGS'

An independent citizens' fact-finding mission to Manipur to assess and report on the extrajudicial killings by security forces presented its report in New Delhi recently. One of the team members, K S Subramanian , a retired IPS officer and the author of Political Violence and the Police in India, spoke to Amrith Lal :


What is wrong with the law and order situation in Manipur?

Since July this year when a pregnant young woman and a young man were killed in an unjustified police shoot-out in the heart of Imphal in public view, the situation in Manipur has deteriorated. The enforcement of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state since 1980 has led to a large number of such killings (260 in 2009 alone). The public unrest in the state over the last 10 years and more is symbolised in the heroic and unprecedented indefinite fast by Irom Sharmila Chanu. The state has a deployment of 26 battalions of Assam Rifles, 10 battalions of the army, 12 battalions of central paramilitary forces and 12 battalions of Manipur Rifles and India Reserve battalions. The need for such a large deployment in a tiny state with a population of only 2.6 million was not obvious to us. It was causing public dissatisfaction and militancy rather than imparting a sense of increased public safety.


The state government and the civil society groups have completely different versions of almost every violent incident. Why is this so?

The main source of official information is the police force, which feel obliged to present such incidents as arising from a threat to national security. The civil society gets information directly from reliable public sources. Security personnel operating under the AFSPA are tempted to indulge in fake encounters for rewards and medals. Manipur heads the list of police gallantry medal awardees during the current year.

 

As elsewhere, the AFSPA is a bone of contention in Manipur also. Is this Act essential to fight militancy?

The Jeevan Reddy committee (2005) reviewed the working of the AFSPA and admitted that the Act had become "an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness" and recommended that it be repealed "without losing sight of the overwhelming desire" of the local people that the army should remain. This means that the AFSPA was not considered essential to fight the insurgency in the region. The large number of fake encounters in Manipur appears to be a direct outcome of the impunity conferred on the security forces by the AFSPA. The CrPC, Section 176 was amended in 2006 to provide for mandatory judicial enquiries in all cases of custodial deaths and rapes. The procedure has not been followed. A sessions judge who carried out enquiries into several such incidents had found all of them to be fake encounter killings. His reports were not made public.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

ENTER, THE ELINATOR!

NIKHAT KAZMI

 

Sixteen years ago, a woman wronged wielded a kitchen knife in the dead of night and added a whole new word to the man-woman parlance. Infuriated with her intoxicated husband's wild acts after a night of partying, 23-year-old Lorena Bobbitt picked up the carving knife from her kitchen counter after her husband allegedly raped her and sliced off more than half of his member, while he slept. Poor John Wayne Bobbitt. Medics may have rejoined the severed organ after a nine-and-a-half-hour surgery, but Bobbittisation was here to stay. Henceforth, every adulterous man had a bogey to fear and every cheated woman had a weapon up her sleeve. At least, in the head.

That was way back in the 1990s. Today, the Tiger Woods escapade throws up another new avatar of the woman wronged: The Elinator. Even as all the sordid details of Tiger's trysts with cocktail waitresses, porn stars, night club hostesses, pancake restaurant girls keep spilling out from the Woodswork, wife Elin Nordegren stands tall amidst the sleaze, maintaining a stony silence around her crumbling citadel. Surf the net feverishly for any dope on the world's richest athlete's wife and all you get is one major story written about the mysterious Mrs Woods: a 2004 Sports Illustrated profile. And SI too doesn't have much to say, pointing out that "even in the insular world of the PGA Tour, Nordegren is a shadowy figure, talked about by everyone but close to very few''.

Since she was spotted on his arm in 2002, 29-year-old Elin has tried her best to sculpt a modern-day Great Garbo image for herself. Content to be a home-maker, the erstwhile Swede supermodel (that's what they say she was before she met Tiger), preferred to remain in the shadows while her husband teed away to glory. But only until she discovered his sexting. Then the time came for the Elinator to rise in all her fury and take charge.

So who's an Elinator and what does she do other than scratching an errant spouse and hurling golf clubs at him, as he flees her fury? She goes ghetto just once, to prove she's human too. And then maintains her dignity, poise, equanimity while the muck flies hither thither. Does she forgive her philandering husband? Yes. She makes him issue public apologies that reaffirm his belief in the institution of the family, causes him to take an indefinite break from his high-profile career, buys a home in a sparsely inhabited island (Faaglaro, 40 kilometres south-east of Stockholm), retreats behind the fortress with her two kids, barks out "Tiger, heel!" and tries to rebuild on the remains of the day.


Is the Tiger heeled/healed? We need to wait and watch out for that. But the Elinator's definitely here to stay in an age when infidelity doesn't necessarily spell the end of a marriage; when the alpha woman strangely chooses to salvage her home, despite the cracks; when husbands know exactly where to draw the line between ever-after nd one-night stands. Is this the birth of the anti-feminist?


Some years ago, infidelity may have been that unforgivable crime which would necessarily cause a marriage to crack up. In the Elinator's almanac, however, 10-12-14 acts of spousal indiscretion are hardly impetus enough to pack your bags and call it quits. The erstwhile feminist might have cried herself hoarse about women's rights, but the anti-feminist seems to have changed priorities. A trophy husband who sleeps around is okay as long as you can hold on to the trophy. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan states: "No woman gets an orgasm by shining the kitchen floor." Poor Betty. She didn't foresee the second coming.


For, the housewife heroine has returned, albeit in a sharper, smarter avatar. The Elinator is essentially the suburban wife of the 1960s who makes the beds, shops for grocery, eats peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeurs Cub Scouts, lies beside her husband and smugly sighs: "This is all!" (Unlike the 1980s, when she wondered: "Is this all?!") Doesn't matter if the husband slips out sundry nights, since her sparkling kitchen floor does give her orgasmic highs.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

BICYCLE CENTRAL

CITY ON TWO WHEELS

JAGMOHAN CHOPRA

 

As soon as the speeding taxi from Schipol Airport brought me into the city of Amsterdam, the thing that struck me most were the bicycles. It is said kids in Amsterdam learn to bike as soon as they learn to walk. It is not surprising, therefore, that 7.5 lakh people in Amsterdam own as many as seven lakh bikes. Barring babies and the infirm, everyone in the family owns a bike. Even the Queen has a bike. Bikes have merged so well into the Dutch way of life that people use them for performing every conceivable task during the day like going to school or college, going to work or to shop and, believe it or not, police patrols as well! It is estimated that 40 per cent of the trips inside the city are done on bikes.

 

To enable the residents to park their bikes at different places, there are bike-racks or stands at every nook and corner within the city. Most bikes in Amsterdam are basic bikes, and few people own flashy ones. Interestingly, 10 per cent of all bikes in Amsterdam get stolen every year by druggies, the cost of a shot of heroin being equal to that of a second-hand bike. Buying a stolen bike, however, is a crime in the Netherlands. Some bikes in Amsterdam find their way into the canal after a drunken brawl or when they are too old to be sold.

Although biking is popular in other countries also, the status of bikes and bike-
drivers in the Netherlands is entirely different. For example, while people in the US drive bikes for fun or to keep themselves fit, those in the Netherlands do it as a way of life. Similarly, while an executive driving a bike to his office in America would raise eyebrows, one driving to office in Amsterdam won't even cause a flutter. What impresses most in Amsterdam is the ease with which different modes of transport gel with each other.

 

With dedicated tracks for automobiles, trams and cycles, honking and accidents are unheard of. All one hears is the occasional tram-bell, gently cautioning people crossing its track. With so much biking, one would expect the Netherlands to be among the top biking nations in the world at the Olympics as well as the Tour de France. However, records prove otherwise, proving you need more than just leisure cycling to win medals in a competition.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN DOES A PAKISTAN

 

As it does periodically, Pakistan's polity has returned to what can politely be called a state of nature. The Supreme Court's decision to revoke the National Reconciliation Ordinance has punched a huge hole in the legitimacy of the present civilian government. However, the court's action is insufficient to actually force President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani out of office. The result is almost predictable. Mr Gilani's attempts to keep the bureaucracy in line by suspending the interior secretary means that the twin heads of the executive branch are readying for battle with the judiciary.

 

Mr Zardari has already rallied his own Pakistan People's Party and he can probably ensure Washington's neutrality. However, the military and the main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, are almost certainly hoping that the judiciary will bring the Zardari government down. The Pakistani president will face a legal assault on a number of fronts. Petitions will question the basis of his election. And investigators will hunt for his connection to several corruption cases.

 

At a time when the country is in crisis on so many domestic fronts, the political merit of the court decision is questionable. However, given the steady decline in Mr Zardari's authority, it was likely that it would face some sort of challenge in the coming months. The real concern is how such crises continue to show up the weakness of Pakistan's political culture: a leadership that has no sense of a loyal opposition, a civilian class who too easily take their cue from the military or foreign capitals, and a lack of anything resembling constitutional continuity. No surprise then that a poll has shown that as many young Pakistanis support a Sharia-based political system as who support democracy.

 

Sadly, this crisis will not help the cause of political stability in India's western neighbour. It is no one's case that Mr Zardari was proving to be an effective ruler — the last several months have shown quite the opposite. New Delhi joined other governments in saying there was no one in Islamabad with authority. While he may linger on, Mr Zardari's term in office is effectively over. Whoever may wield power after this may, in the short-term, be better able to deliver on promises made. However, the short trajectory of the Zardari government will only continue a broader trend of political decline and dilution in Pakistan.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRAIN OF THOUGHT

 

The Queen of England, it would appear has taken a train in the festive season. It did not cost her much more than £ 44, but then would that have dented Buckingham Palace coffers? But let's get to our dignitaries. It might cost them a bit to get about but then the government pays the whole lot. PM Gordon Brown, God bless his soul, is able to take off at his fancy, whenever he wants to, and he needs to put in nothing into the kitty. Our take on this is whether such freebies should be available for all of us? Back home, President Pratibha Patil went off for a bit of a swing in the sky and we did not pay for it. Or did we?

 

However, this is not to suggest that those who are in places of power and position should not be a little au fait about their circumstances. We just want to ask, and in jest, how much we might expect to get paid to tickle your funny bone on an occasion? Could we editorial writers, for example, be able to take off here and there so that we may bring you much more honed pieces than we already do? But if you don't feel that is the right thing for us, then take a train ride around the countryside yourself and see how you feel about living the low life.

 

Well, we can see that the chief minister of Delhi is so full of cheer that she has told us, with such a lot of joy, that we may have to pay a huge lot more in the next year.  We will pay, but we just don't want to know about this so early. So we need, like dear Queen Liz, to do the clever thing: take trains when we can take planes, and not tell anyone who we are. Now, you don't want to get charged for who you are, do you? All we can say, is that we are not terribly amused. Or are we not so privileged?

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE BJP

PANKAJ VOHRA

 

The recent developments within the BJP resulting in the elevation of L.K. Advani as the Chairman of its parliamentary wing through arbitrary means have led to a situation where both the saffron outfit and its controlling authority, the RSS, have come out as losers. The happenings have also demonstrated that fascist tendencies within the Sangh parivar continue to dominate its functioning.

 

The appointment of Sushma Swaraj as leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and that of Arun Jaitley in the same position in Rajya Sabha, in addition to the elevation of Nitin Gadkari as the party president, also indicates that the Sangh has decided to somehow make up for Atal Bihari Vajpayee's absence by having three Brahmins in key posts. But what is baffling is the tearing hurry with which the parliamentary party constitution was amended without prior notice to pave way for Advani, Swaraj and Jaitley to occupy their positions barely a few hours before Gadkari's appointment as the BJP chief was to be announced.

 

It appears that Advani did not wish to take any chances and went ahead with his plan to present a fait accompli to the new party chief, said to be extremely close to the RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat. There is also speculation that Bhagwat, who has ended with egg on his face in view of his statement excluding the D-4 — Jaitley, Swaraj, Ananth Kumar and Venkaiah Naidu — from the race for important positions in the BJP, may have entered a deal with the Advani camp to have Gadkari appointed as the president. Gadkari and Bhagwat hail from the same village.

 

The RSS had always been reluctant to have a Maharashtrian Brahmin at the helm of affairs of the BJP/Jan Sangh particularly after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, which led to a ban on its activities. Three Brahmin families from the region — Godse, Apte and Kanade — had appeared in the conspiracy behind Gandhi's murder and the Sangh (also accused of complicity) had to wait for nearly 50 years before it was able to come to power at the Centre during the coalition era. Gadkari is expected to lead the party towards its hardcore Hindutva agenda and has, therefore, been handpicked even though he does not have much experience of Delhi and politics of regions where the party is strong. But the manner in which things have played out, it appears, that Advani has ensured that Gadkari's importance remains minimal.

 

There is another spin to the developments. It is being said that the RSS wanted Advani, a Jinnah-admirer, to step down as leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha,  which he did as per his own conditions. It may not be difficult to get his nominees out once the appropriate time arrives. According to another version doing the Sangh rounds is that the RSS is unhappy over what has happened and may want things reversed.

 

But the most apt way of analysing the developments would be that the BJP has a Jinnah-admirer as its parliamentary party head and Gadkari, an RSS stooge, as its president. The appointments are in accordance with Bhagwat's promise of bringing about a change in the party's image. Murali Manohar Joshi, the only person who could have fulfilled the actual RSS agenda stands totally marginalised. He was sent to Copenhagen while the real climate change in his party was taking place in the capital.

 

It is obvious that he has been cheated and outwitted by realpolitik. Advani and Gadkari, the new big two, together may help Bhagwat realise his dream of Akhand Bharat. Both Jinnah and Gandhi will look from above in disbelief. The impossible has happened. Between us.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SAW THIS, LIBERHAN?

MADHU TREHAN

 

It should have taken 60 minutes — 30 minutes to watch the footage from Newstrack, the old video magazine, and 30 minutes to write the report. Newstrack's December 1992 edition gave a minute-by-minute account of what happened in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. And yet, M.S. Liberhan took 17 years to come up with what he came up with.

 

Mritinjoy Jha along with his team were in Ayodhya from November 23, 1992. Thousands of pumped-up, slogan-shouting people were pouring in, carrying pick-axes and other equipment. Manoj Raghuvanshi, with another Newstrack team, had pulled the story together. In his voice-over, Raghuvanshi spoke about "a chief minister who spoke from both sides of his mouth — promising the Supreme Court that no construction would take place on the disputed site — and a prime minister who trusted everybody, including his central forces sent ostensibly to defend the masjid".

 

The recordings captured Hindu leaders, including Tyagi Maharaj and Acharya Dharmendra, exhorting the crowd that the masjid must be destroyed and a temple built. Uma Bharti in her speech made three crucial points by demanding answers from the crowd: "Will you restrain yourselves when the leaders ask you to? Will you maintain peace and observe rules? Will you obey your leaders?'" The crowd bellowed a yes. But did the BJP really believe that it could control the kar sevaks, the RSS volunteers, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad after its own passion-rousing rath yatra?

 

Rehearsals of demolition teams practising with ropes, pick-axes and boulders were recorded by Newstrack. The images included Bajrang Dal leader Ramesh Pratap in khaki shorts 'directing' with a whistle.

 

Each time they pulled down a 'practice boulder', there were cheers. Bajrang Dal president Vinay Katiyar stated on camera, "I have never formulated any strategy keeping the Supreme Court in mind." At the Marg Darshak Mandal meeting on December 5, 1992, VHP president Ashok Singhal responded to Newstrack's query on whether he would obey the Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo: "Nonsense! We have nothing to do with courts. We are unaffected by the court order."

 

The disputed area was cordoned off and only sadhus and journalists were allowed in. Around 11.00 am on December 6, BJP leaders Murli Manohar Joshi, L.K. Advani and the VHP's Ashok Singhal were seen walking into the area. Ayodhya District Magistrate R.N. Srivastava smugly told the Newstrack team: "We have made full arrangements," adding excitedly, "There is a lot of enthusiasm in the public." Any fear of anything happening? "No fear," Srivastava replied. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) D.B. Rai maintained that "peace and calm will prevail". Srivastava, along with other senior bureaucrats, then settled down on a terrace to observe the demolition. Tea was served as they watched the proceedings.

 

As the mob started to demolish the cordoned-off area of the Babri Masjid, there was a clear divide between the general crowd and the hardcore kar sevaks. After being given a cue, the kar sevaks started assaulting journalists, breaking cameras and most journalists made a run for it. Newstrack's sound recordist Ashok Bhanot hid tapes under a charpai in a nearby house. Another team carried on shooting.

 

The hardcore kar sevaks wearing yellow head-bands  then started weeding out the general crowd (wearing orange head-bands) and only those trained and part of the demolition plan entered the area of the masjid. Singhal was seen shoving people himself. There was confusion among the faithful about why they were being thrown out. Those who resisted were beaten up. There was a specific plan with assigned roles for the demolition. Any 'freelance' help was not welcome.

 

"Watch this. The single-most crucial development that led to the destruction of the disputed structure — at this point there was no direct threat to the shrine and certainly no threat to the police — for some unknown reason: these troops suddenly lined up and filed out of the shrine area," says Raghuvanshi in the voice-over of the footage. "Was this direct collusion? Were they ordered to leave and if so, by whom? There was no tear gas. No rubber bullets. No lathi charge. No firing. There was no attempt whatsoever to even try to defend the shrine."

 

As sadhus blew conch-shells and kar sevaks scaled the barricades to the masjid with pick-axes, ropes and shovels, a small contingent of police stood just below the bureaucrats' terrace. A police rebellion was caught on camera. As the demolition began, a frantic-looking SSP D.B. Rai ordered his troops to stop the demolition.  The police force shuffled nervously, refusing to move even as Rai shouted at them. The bureaucrats kept sipping on their tea. Cameraman Bharat Raj realised then that the action to capture was not confined to the destruction of the masjid, but also the inaction around it.

 

The Censor Board banned the Newstrack tape. We appealed to the Appellate Tribunal in Bombay. Justice B. Lentin passed an order that stated, "Not only should this tape be allowed, it should be compulsory viewing for every citizen of India." Doordarshan showed nothing.

 

We had 36 tapes of 20 minutes each, which totalled 12 hours. I was furious with Raghuvanshi for wasting so much tape on a 30-minute story. M.S. Liberhan asked Newstrack to hand over the tapes. I refused to hand over 12 hours of original tape and we gave him the edited story.

 

In the 17 years that Liberhan took to write his report, the BJP was in power for six years and the Congress  for ten. One can presume that all the 48 extensions were given to Liberhan by both these parties, since the Congress and the BJP were in power for 16 out of the 17 years. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the tabling of the report did not suit either party.

 

Here's the simple conclusion: both parties were responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered an inquiry into the leaking of the Liberhan report. This is the wrong inquiry to order. Journalists were simply doing their job to get the contents of the Liberhan report to the public. There should be an inquiry into who gave Liberhan 48 extensions and took Indian citizens for a Rs 8 crore ride.

 

Madhu Trehan produced and anchored Newstrack, a video magazine, from 1988 to 1995.


The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SILVER LININGS

 

That the Copenhagen climate change conference produced anything at all should be regarded as something of a miracle. Beforehand, it was crushed by massive expectations; it started by being pulled in 190-odd directions; and was eventually stalled for days by those who should know better. Yet it did not close without achievement. At the very least, it mapped out the only workable way forward, making it clear the UN-run process that gave us the Kyoto protocol is insufficient. That clarity, tragically, came not from much-anticipated villainy from the developed world but from the grandstanding and delays to which the G-77 countries subjected the conference. India's and China's dilatory tactics were no less objectionable — but at least they helped with the last rush. In the end, the unlikely heroes of the conference were the Americans; Hillary Clinton got things moving by committing US support to a $100-billion climate fund — and the last-minute push by Obama and Clinton that ended with them walking in, uninvited, to a meeting between China's Wen Jiabao and the leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa (and apparently grabbing chairs for themselves) sounds like something off television. Note to world: US leadership can get things done.

 

So what did that dramatic meeting produce? On the one hand, an accord that moves beyond the old developing-developed divisions is welcome. But divisions between the West and China (and its new best Copenhagen friend, India) over how to evaluate domestically chosen mitigation actions haven't been solved. Simply put, without concessions from future large emitters on that, the world's current large emitters have absolutely no incentive to cut. So while there was some progress on the final wording on emission cuts and on the transparency of developing-world action, there were no numbers for the first, and no explicit method for the second. The more stringent the latter, the deeper the former. India will have to realise at some point soon that hanging on to China's coat-tails, instead of isolating its obstructionism internationally, is not helping the world closer to a solution.

 

The road forward is now clear. The main negotiating will have to take place at some equivalent of the Major Economies Forum, which gathers the largest current and future emitters in one place. There are several meetings of the larger group of nations scheduled next year, starting with one mid-year in Bonn and then a full Copenhagen-style conference at Mexico City. Before the first one, the MEF should have a draft agreement — and should have lobbied aggressively to get the rest of the world to sign on. And India can no longer be a passenger in the process.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MY VOTE AND I

 

Two debates tend to tail into periodic appraisals of how to deepen our democracy. One lingers on voter turnouts at elections. It celebrates rising turnouts in different parts of the country — for instance, just this weekend turnout was almost 60 per cent in the last phase of the Jharkhand assembly elections, that too in territory that includes many Maoist strongholds. The takeaway is that this faith in electoral democracy is about more than statistics at the polling booth, it is a call to unknot the string that runs through processes to make legislators accountable and those to make politics responsive through meaningful decentralisation.

 

The other debate intersects the first tangentially, and centres on the choices voters could rightfully have — could they, for example, obtain the right to reject the fray, or even to recall elected representatives? Alert to the populist consequences of such direct democratic practices, many have argued that perhaps the best instrument for a voter to register dissatisfaction is the right not to vote. It is in this wider context that the Gujarat assembly's okay to a bill to make voting compulsory in local bodies must be assessed. The state's urban development minister insists that the main point is not to punish the "defaulter voter" but to encourage the voter "to spare some time to exercise his right to vote". But is this the right way?

 

The argument for compulsory voting is that it establishes the vote as an entitlement — employers would have to give voters time off to go vote, election authorities would be liable for getting a voter on to the electoral rolls. And overall, the final decision would presumably be as close as possible to determining the will of the majority. That may be all to the good — though in India we already have provisions to ensure voters get time off to exercise their franchise — but in balance compulsory voting is too problematic a concept. It is distinctly undemocratic to coerce a citizen to do something (vote) which, by the very definition of democracy, is supposed to be based on free will. That is, the right not to vote must remain a democratically obtained right. And if politicians want high turnouts, it's their job to mobilise the electorate.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

IS IT HACKTIVISM?

 

On Thursday night for a couple of hours Twitter was under the command of the "Iranian Cyber Army". The popular micro-blogging website suffered a cyber-attack which rendered its services useless to 80 per cent of its users. Rather than the chirpy "birdie" (indicating business-as-usual) or the "fail whale" (when the server experiences errors) users were directed to a black menacing page with a green flag and the following message, "USA think they controlling and managing Internet by their access but they don't, we control and manage internet by our power..."

 

Over the past year one of the many contributions of Twitter has been to openly document the calls for change and reform in Iran. It was then the world recognised the potential of Twitter — that it was not just a site for social interaction but it could serve as a portal to the free flow of information. As the number of users has increased over the past year — by 500 per cent — the security component of the laid-back San Francisco company has been slow to adjust. This can be seen in the politically motivated attack on Twitter in August aimed at a blogger who spoke out against Russia in favour of the Republic of Georgia. Though many other social networking sites were targeted, it was only Twitter that could not withstand the attack.

 

This is really not just about Twitter. The freedom of information promised by the internet has transforming capabilities — it can free a society but it too can transfer the same battles between free speech and those attempting to curtail it to another arena. As ever more people embrace this openness it comes at a cost; information is only as secure as a password and it is the responsibility of the site to ensure security.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE US-VERSUS-US DEBATE

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI

 

The key question for India after Copenhagen: Have we learnt that climate trade unionism doesn't work? The quasi-agreement that US and the so called Basic countries drafted allows all major players to (a) not commit anything now; (b) to indicate that there's commitment about future commitment; and (c) work out a first draft on the money/monitoring issue. Those who are unhappy at this very modest list are not recognising that action to forestall a long-term danger (climate change) in the midst of combating a short term challenge (economic recovery) couldn't have produced binding commitments. Does America want binding commitments on cutting emissions starting now just because Barack Obama is president? Obama wants to fix the US economy, a short-term challenge that he doesn't want to be made any more complicated by committing America to deep emission cuts right away. Therefore, there was and is commonality of interests across the rich-emerging world divide. This is the first step in getting the right fix on India's climate change strategy: there's less of us-versus-them than many of us say there is.

 

The second step begins by noting that, following from the first point, there will be and should be less money for us (and China) on the climate diplomacy table than we traditionally argue for. It's been an article of near faith in this country in the run up to Copenhagen that rich countries must make emission reductions affordable for big emerging economies. But the money should go to really needy countries, not India and China. The Copenhagen quasi-agreement actually established that, India has agreed to that principle, and to that extent it was a good summit for India. This recognition makes the us-versus-them binary even less relevant. Put simply, India was at the high table in Copenhagen talks. You can't be a part of the high table and ask for a lot of help.

 

Parenthetically, let's note here the concern about so called international verification. There will be lots debate in India about the implications of national communications to the UN climate body being subject to clarification and consultation. However this is parsed, remember one thing: the less cash you get as help, the less you are asked to explain yourself. There are people in India who ask for both lots of cash from rich countries and no questions on how that cash is used. This is the time for them to get real.

 

The third and most important takeaway from Copenhagen for India is that the first two points — plenty of elbow room on emission reduction and not being a recipient of largesse — imply a massive domestic upgrade in our domestic efforts. Look at it this way: if we grow at a rapid clip (as we should) but our material progress continues to be dirty, what will we tell the world? A big, middle income country can't again ask for money to get clean. And a big middle income country with dirty growth will lose influence as climate negotiations progress. India made a good beginning announcing, pre-Copenhagen, national carbon intensity targets. These targets, many commentators have noted, can be comfortably accommodated given growth projections and extrapolations on energy usage patterns. But we need to have less-than-comforting national targets.

 

We have a very good example of this: China. China has less flexibility than India in climate negotiations because it has grown a rapid clip for a long time and the growth has been dirty. In Copenhagen, China and India worked together and this has been noted with approval here, rightly so. But the fact is China's imperatives are greater right now than India's. We have a chance to avoid finding ourselves in China's position if our national purpose about cleaner growth is clearly articulated and executed.

 

On this, too, we have a very good example: China. China's ability to frame and execute a big, national complicated strategy is well-established. It is a cliche to ask for enhancement of India's policy capacity. But that's what India needs to do on clean growth. And here, apart from the advantage of starting on a lower base than China, India has another thing working in its favour: Its industry (the private sector) is more sophisticated, it can better respond to incentives.

 

However, just as the government's capacity needs an upgrade, industry's intellectual approach to clean growth needs an upgrade as well. Many industry spokespersons spent pre-Copenhagen time warning against emission commitments, saying industry can't afford it. However, we can't absolutely afford industry not being cleaner either.

 

The win-win way to look at high growth and clean growth is, of course, developing clean technology. Here India's record is pathetic. Public and private spending on research and development is dreadfully low for an economy of this size and potential. Of course, India must argue for some intellectual property rights flexibility on cleantech developed in the West. But to do just that would be as foolish as saying India's patent laws for pharmaceuticals should not have changed. It is in India's interest to have pharma patent laws that both allow exceptions exploitable by generic pill manufacturers and offer sound protection for intellectual property; given that Indian pharma is a potential producer of, if not new molecules, incremental innovations on existing formulations.

 

Similarly on cleantech, India should adopt the strategy of a potential contributor. Global spending on cleantech is small now — the upper bound of estimates is around $2 billion. This will certainly go up. Sensible experts on climate negotiations have pointed out that a 50-fold increase in global spend on cleantech - $100 billion — will have huge positive effects on cleaning up economic activity but the expenditure will still represent only 2 per cent of global GDP. India's national strategy should be a variant of this.

 

Where do we start? There's the prime minister-led council on climate change strategy. That should be the base camp for India's post-Copenhagen strategy. That council must start by junking the us-versus-them theory, address those who argue against strong national action — the us-versus-us debate — and win that debate comprehensively.

 

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

THE AVATAR

COOMI KAPOOR

 

Just who is Nitin Gadkari was a common query when his name first cropped up as next the party president of the BJP. Little known outside his native Maharashtra, Gadkari started in the BJP by literally laying the red carpet for the party bigwigs. The modest bio-data of the mid-level businessman who deals in goods as varied as PVC pipes, saris and furniture includes the fact that he has been winning the graduate seat in the Maharashtra Council since 1989 and was PWD minister in the Maharashtra cabinet for four years. Till now president of the Maharashtra BJP, he managed to blow a near perfect opportunity earlier this year when his party failed to unseat the unpopular incumbent Congress-NCP government, which had been in the saddle for a decade.

 

In comparison, L.K. Advani's four nominees for the post, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar, seemed decidedly more qualified. They were key players in the party organisation for over two decades, ministers at the Centre during the Vajpayee government, familiar figures in the media and articulate on various issues. They joined the BJP through the route of student politics and JP's anti-Emergency struggle.

 

But the RSS opted for the relatively unknown and untested Gadkari, who happens to be the boy next door. He lives in Nagpur near the RSS headquarters in the city, and is a full-blooded Maharashtrian Brahmin, as is the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat. Gadkari is in the mould of the faceless disciplined soldier preferred by the Sangh. Bhagwat has made known that he wants to end personalised politics and does not believe in leaders giving unnecessary sound bites for TV.

 

With Gadkari's induction, the RSS has moved from the silent manipulator behind the scenes to an unapologetically upfront controller. Unlike his predecessors, Bhagwat is not coy about acknowledging that he hopes to call the shots in the party and his mission is to set the party on the right path. Annoyed with the very public display of infighting within the BJP during Rajnath Singh's tenure, Bhagwat is determined that BJP leaders should not speak in discordant voices. He is wary of intellectuals, especially those not originally from the Sangh stable. This is why Rajnath Singh was able to eject Jaswant Singh so summarily from the party. Bhagwat's vision for the BJP is of a disciplined outfit not corrupted by scandal or sleaze, whose office bearers are comparatively young and relatively anonymous.

 

Bhagwat believes that the party which claims to be different should revert to its core ideology — the RSS's Hindutva philosophy, which many see as out of step with the times and in desperate need of a course correction. Bhagwat is unapologetic for the Babri demolition and harps on old RSS hobby horses such as Akhand Bharat, conversions and Indian tradition as opposed to today's popular culture. In foreign policy he favours an extremely nationalistic approach, is self-avowedly anti-Pakistan, anti-China and suspicious of the West. His economic mantra is self reliance and he has misgivings about economic liberalisation.

 

With the RSS's insular, narrow-minded vision, some see this as the end of the road for the BJP as a centrist, non-caste-based, national mainstream party which offers an alternative to the Congress, an image which Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani to an extent fought hard and long to project. NDA allies, like the Janata Dal (U), are clearly nervous about the BJP's changing avatar. Former allies like the BJD have already moved away. Recent polls also suggest that the BJP's appeal to the youth, urban voter and middle class professional, once it core constituency, has declined sharply.

 

As of now, the RSS seems more concerned with controlling the organisational structure of the party rather than influencing the legislative wing at the Centre. Advani may have taken on a more ceremonial role as chairperson of the BJP Parliamentary Board, but it would be premature to write him off. Given the hierarchical structure of the party and the fact that his nominees, Swaraj and Jaitley, occupy key positions, Advani's word will continue to count for a lot. Particularly as most party MPs are privately unhappy with the growing influence of the RSS in party affairs. At a BJP parliamentary party meet earlier this month, Uday Singh, an MP from Bihar, expressed misgivings about the signals emanating from Gadkari's appointment. He said he had won his seat with the help of the minorities and warned that if the party shed its inclusive character, it would be unable to survive politically. Significantly, no BJP MP contradicted Singh — and many congratulated him afterwards.

 

The RSS takeover is not yet complete. Since the BJP's inception there has been an ongoing tug-of-war between the more liberal elements in the party and the RSS. The struggle for control is still continuing. Bhagwat also has indicated that he is not interested in a purge, but wants all sections treated with dignity. Unlike in most other parties, the president is not the sole arbiter. The BJP works through a consensus of sorts, even if some are more equal than others and the RSS opinion outweighs all others. Which way the wind blows will be seen from Gadkari's choice of vice presidents and general secretaries.

coomi.kapoor@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'SOMETIMES THERE IS A TENDENCY TO OVERDO T20 CRICKET'

 

In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24X7's Walk the Talk, former India opener Srikkanth talks about his own hard-hitting batting style, changes in the game, India's new stars and mentoring young cricketers

 

Shekhar Gupta: I am at Neelankarai beach on the outskirts of Chennai. Well, I should have said I am speaking to you from the neighbourhood of Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the swashbuckling opener of my times and chief selector of these times. Chika, good to be a senior citizen of sorts in your own game?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: You said it right, senior citizen. I don't really think of this term at all yet in cricket.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because, somehow, one never thought that anybody would treat you as a grown-up.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Yeah, that is right. Mentally, I still think I am pretty young. I don't try and talk in a very mature manner. I like to feel young and I always believe that if you are mentally young, you will also feel slightly physically young too.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Everybody asks you questions about who you selected, who you didn't select. Let me ask you something else. Cricket has changed. When you came out to bat, everybody would say this guy is crazy. He sees the ball and he swings his bat at it. Now every opener in the world is trying to bat like you in all forms of the game, including test cricket.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That's right. I think you got to accept change in times. As you said very rightly, in my playing days when I was hitting those balls over the top, they would all say, "Hey, what is this? Who is this guy, who doesn't play copybook style of cricket? Probably he doesn't have a proper technique." All this kind of criticism was there when I played. There was a bit of scientific reasoning behind that, by the way.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What was that?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I will tell you what. I am basically an engineer, as you know. My scientific reasoning: even if it is an outswinger... if I try for the shot just outside the offstump and even if it takes an edge, my logic is it will go over the slips and if I time it, it will clear even if there is a man at midoff. I always had the confidence that I can clear the man at midoff. My chances are that 70 per cent of times, I will clear the field. OK, there is a 30 per cent chance of you getting out but I never used to do it to an inswinger, by the way. I used to be very careful; I used to do it only to an outswing bowler. Inswing bowler, I know if I miss the bowl I will get bowled, whereas outswing bowler, even if I miss the bowl, I will get beaten.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So the logic was the same: if you slash, slash hard?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That's right. Today the shot outside the offstump, people like Tendulkar have mastered it, Sehwag has mastered it. Short ball outside the offstump, they go for the slash. And they have started hitting sixes over point and thirdman.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And now you find that even middle order batsmen are doing it?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: They have to, especially with so much one-day cricket being played all over the world and now this T20 form of cricket. I think you will have to take those calculated risks.

 

Shekhar Gupta: But cricket is becoming much faster. Look at even test cricket, 400-plus runs being scored in a day. I mean, 300-plus is not news any more. In your time, it was rare.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Three hundred-plus was very rare even just couple of years back. You don't have to go to that time at all; 270, 280 in 90 overs, you were trying to score 3... 3 point runs per over. Now, you said it very right, imagine... India in the last two test matches in Kanpur and Bombay... 417 for 1 in the Kanpur test match and then 440 in the Bombay test match...

 

Shekhar Gupta: Then we didn't bat the full day also.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I think if we had batted the full day, I am sure Sehwag would have got his triple hundred that day itself.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And we would have got to 500?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That is right. Because of so much of one-day cricket being played, one good thing that has happened to cricket is that players have become very positive in their approach. They have started playing fast, they have started playing attacking cricket. And once you start playing attacking and positive cricket, you are bound to get those quick runs, and that is why you see a lot more results in test cricket today than it was in our time.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Could it be also because they are also performing for selection in one-day and T20 teams? If I bat too slowly here, I will be seen as a misfit for those forms of the game?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I don't know really. Probably, what you say could be true but I think the reason is that the total outlook of players has changed. As I said, it is becoming more of an attacking mode. That is even if you see fielding today, thanks to one-day cricket and thanks to T20 cricket, the fielding has improved enormously. You got to give credit to that.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Yet when you started doing this, a lot of people thought you were crazy?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: You said it very right. I am sure you said it yourself. I am sure probably you would have written a few articles...

 

Shekhar Gupta: I didn't call you crazy... but maybe out of admiration...

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I am just meaning it as a joke... what I am saying is: time has changed. Just imagine cricket 20-25 years back, it was copybook cricket still. See, we followed basically... let's not forget, who are we? We are basically colonies of the English, so...

 

Shekhar Gupta: You were also applauded for the well-left sentiment?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That's right. You see, what happens is this is originally an Englishman's game and India still has the colonial hangover. Because of the colonial hangover, in early days, everything was the way the British played cricket. Englishmen today also play more of a copybook style of cricket, right?

 

Shekhar Gupta: Unless the Englishman is Kevin Pieterson, who is not an Englishman.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That's right. See. So that has changed. That was say in the'50s, '60s, '70s and early '80s, till mid-'80s. Then the Aussies started dominating cricket. See after mid-'80s or early '90s, the Aussies started dominating cricket. Then everybody started following more of Australian cricket than English cricket.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And it was difficult to follow West Indies style unless you had fast bowlers like them.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I think the West Indies were a class apart. I really feel that bad... '70s and '80s, cricket was popular because of the great West Indians. The Vivian Richards, the Gordon Greenidges of the world, the Clive Lloyds, the Michael Holdings, Roberts, Garner...

 

Shekhar Gupta: You were facing a lot of them, in fact, the whole lot of them in the World Cup final, remember? I remember, Jimmy Amarnath came and told you to take it easy.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That's right. See, the way Garner was bowling I was finding it difficult. The ball was bouncing, coming at that height... I told Jimmy, I don't know what to do, why don't you play him. Jimmy said, just play your game, Chika, just go slash a few balls, everything will be OK. So, I took his advice and went for it.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And your first time against Imran Khan? I think it was Lahore, wasn't it? Full stadium and Imran bowling at his best.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: That was in '82-83 series, just before the '83 World Cup and that time Imran was at his peak and really bowling quick... thank God, I had a good partner like Sunil Gavaskar at the other end, who was able to give me all the encouragement. See, a lot of people thought Sunil was trying to come and restrict me but it was the other way round. Sunil used to always come in between when we used to have a mid-wicket talk. All he used to say was, Chika, you play your game, enjoy yourself, don't worry. Only, he used to say when you have two people on the fine leg or square leg, just be careful. He never said, don't do. He just said watch out, there are two people out there. He used to just come and caution me but otherwise, he gave me a free hand to do whatever I wanted to do.

 

Shekhar Gupta: You also became a student of the game?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Because of engineering as an educational qualification, I had that little bit of... what should I say... insight and, yes, I was able to understand the game pretty well.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Because, even by '85, when you performed so well in the Benson & Hedges World Championship, you had become slightly different. You had become more scientific about your play.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I, in a way, had slowly started maturing a bit, but then I never let go of my natural game because that was one thing that even seniors like Kapil Dev or Gavaskar or everybody in the team... in fact, we used to have team meetings and they always said, "Chika, this does not apply to you, do whatever you want."

 

Shekhar Gupta: Is that what you think they say to Sehwag now?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Sehwag, he is extraordinary. I have never seen a cricketer like Sehwag. I tell you, I

have seen Viv Richards, I don't think I have seen any cricketer who can demolish the bowling... Sehwag can play any bowling anywhere. He's got runs everywhere. And it just amazes me, some of the shots he plays, and he plays it in a carefree manner which is amazing.

 

Shekhar Gupta: So, you think he is the one who provides balance to this team?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I think he is the one who provides us the impetus, I would put it that way. The start is important anywhere, whether it is your life, whether it is cricket, whether it is business. Whatever it is, the start is important for you. I think when a guy like Sehwag gives you that kind of a start, an extraordinary start, you straightaway put the opposition on the backfoot.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Gautam Gambhir is another great success story.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I really have become a great fan of him in the sense that that guy has just changed dramatically in the last 15 months or so. The guy can adapt himself to situations brilliantly. See, when you want Gautam Gambhir can play attacking cricket, when you want he can...

 

Shekhar Gupta: He can play time?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Imagine in Napier, the situation in New Zealand, when we all thought that we are going to lose the test match, these guys played out two full days and Gautum Gambhir was the backbone there.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Right. And Rahul Dravid, who has done this for ages.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Rahul Dravid, they all say he is The Wall. I think he is a rocky wall or you may call him a rock... I think that guy is solid as ever. And what I like about Rahul Dravid is that guy has an appetite. If you see most of Rahul Dravid's runs, his averages outside India are better.

Shekhar Gupta: Did you ever speak with him, or did he ever speak with you, when he was going through his rough time?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I mean, we just had a small chat. My job as a chairman or as a past cricketer is just to encourage anybody or motivate people... He was just going through a rough time and I said this is all nothing, you are such a great cricketer, you have achieved so much in life. This is all nothing. I think, he knows how to get out of those situations. See, when a person is going through a rough time all he needs is a little bit of moral support or a little bit of motivation.

 

Shekhar Gupta: And also some assurances that you are not about to drop him under pressure.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: There was no question of that at all. He just had to reassure himself.

 

Shekhar Gupta: This is a remarkable thing about these seniors: he, Sachin, even Laxman... that they just want to go on and on. They have so much appetite and they are enjoying the game.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: See, Sachin... I can't imagine... for 20 years that guy has been so passionate about the game...

 

Shekhar Gupta: There was a little joke about Sachin being addressed as Grandpa?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I heard about it in interviews about what Yuvraj and others said. Twenty years continuous, and he still looks young.

 

Shekhar Gupta: What about your talent base now in India, the youngsters?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: The BCCI has probably one of the best organised setups in the world as far as domestic cricket is concerned. Now we have Ranji Trophy matches being played all over and we have this two-tier system also. Now the Ranji Trophy is regarded as very important. The importance of domestic cricket has become very big and guys have realised that they have to do well...

 

Shekhar Gupta: That is why you are even sending short-listed guys to go and play Ranji Trophy?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Yeah. Nowadays you see they — those who are not playing in the 11 — go back to Ranji Trophy, they get those runs, get their confidence back or whatever it is.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Somehow, we have still not produced a genuine quick, a tearaway, somebody who can... you know, Shoaib Akthar at his best or even Mohammad Asif.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: No, I think, probably we don't have a real tearaway quick bowler yet but don't forget, I think our fast medium bowlers... it needs not only pace, I think it is pace with movement. Mohammad Asif is not a fast bowler, he is a fast-medium. Like that we have a lot of people, we have Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, a lot of cricketers...

 

Shekhar Gupta: You buy the argument that IPL is a bit of a strain on the players?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I will not like to use the word "strain". I believe that you need to space it out in the right manner, and don't overdo T20 too much — sometimes there is a tendency to overdo T20 cricket, we should not overdo T20 cricket. In respect of one-day cricket... you saw it against Australia. Everybody was thinking one-day cricket was dying. But against Australia last series, every match was well fought, closely fought and I think the viewership was as good as or higher than a T20 match. So, it all depends on the quality of cricket you play. So, you will have to space it out and make sure nothing is overdone.

 

Shekhar Gupta: There is also a sense that too many young cricketers are able to make too much money too easily in IPL, so somehow the motivation when they are playing for the country, motivation to work to break into the top 16, goes down?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: No, not exactly. That is probably a little bit of a myth. I tell you what. Every cricketer who is born in any part of the world, I am sure his dream is to play for India. Fine, you might make a few rupees extra in IPL or something like that but for a cricketer it is not just money, for a cricketer it is the pride of playing for India...

 

Shekhar Gupta: But have you seen some of the youngsters not being able to handle it, going astray and having to be brought back?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I mean, it is all experience for your life. It is upto the youngster to sort out his problem himself and come back and at the end of the day, any youngster...

 

Shekhar Gupta: What about Irfan Pathan? He was such a wonderful talent.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I don't want to talk about individuals but youngsters will have to know how to handle it, how to fight it, fight their way back. That is what competition is all about.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Survival of the fittest.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: Survival of the fittest, you said it right. You know only 11 can play out of one billion people, so you have to be extraordinary in every way.

 

Shekhar Gupta: India has a wonderful history of having level-headed cricketing stars, who are great role models. Never has anyone of them been associated with a personal scandal or controversy of any sort. I am saying that now because of the Tiger Woods situation. But there is something about Indian cricketers that they have become good role models including you. You were never known to make much mischief.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: See, by nature we Indians have a lot of culture in us, we have a lot of values of our families and culture and our value systems are high and that is the reason... You said the names like Sachin or Dravid or Kumble or Laxman or Sehwag, everybody, all these guys are very simple guys. When you meet them one to one they are such lovely people and I tell you that is because of the value system...

 

Shekhar Gupta: Maybe also good upbringing and good role models?

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I don't know about that but I always believe that the upbringing in your family is very important.

 

Shekhar Gupta: I said many role models, like the chief selector who refuses to grow up. Be that way, Chika, don't grow up.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: At the end of the day, I always believe that you should be your natural self.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Even if you are selling us old-age products, nobody will believe you have grown up.

Krishnamachari Srikkanth: I always believe that you live only once, why not enjoy it. You have to do certain things seriously at times but at the end of the day, the best thing is to keep smiling and laughing, and make people laugh.

 

Shekhar Gupta: Thank you.

Transcribed by Mehraj D. Lone.

 

log on to www.indianexpress.com

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

HALF DEGREE OF SEPARATION

 

First, the good news. While only one head of state was in attendance to sign the Kyoto protocol, over 160 of them were present to negotiate the Copenhagen Accord—a clear indication that climate change has moved centrestage in global policymaking. While the Kyoto protocol imposed obligations only on developed countries that ratified it, the Copenhagen Accord brings both into purview, both the US and China—the world's leading greenhouse gas emitters. Both developing and developed countries have moved from entrenched positions. India and China have been persuaded to set and achieve peaking emissions, albeit on principles of historical equity. Following on the same principles, developed countries have agreed to provide financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries. Such mitigation actions will be subject to international measurement, in return for which developed countries will mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to meet developing countries' historically justified demands. Perhaps a good indicator of the fact that there were good intentions all around is the difficulty of isolating Copenhagen villains. The usual suspects didn't do too badly, after all. UK's Gordon Brown came up with the $100-billion figure. The US President personally pushed the envelope to reach some kind of agreement. Indian and Chinese leaders refrained from becoming obstructionist, even while protecting their turfs. There are murmurs that the BASICs forced everyone else to accept a draft negotiated behind closed doors as fait accompli, but how different was this from Kyoto—where the Annex I countries drove the entire show? At Copenhagen, the smallest of countries like Tuvalu and Maldives were given a hearing. Their special grievances found a solid window of attention.

 

Next, let's acknowledge the many disappointments. Let's begin with Tuvalu and Maldives. The Alliance of Small Island States' head has emphasised how member countries are living on the front lines of climate change. In November, the Maldives President actually held an underwater cabinet meeting to emphasise why it wants the world's policymakers to commit to holding the rise in global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of the 2 degrees commitment currently supported by the major economies and the Copenhagen Accord. But such a commitment would mean, according to the International Energy Agency, vastly deeper carbon dioxide cuts and up to $10.5 trillion extra in energy-related investment by 2030. Such largesse has simply not been on the table at Copenhagen, where even legally binding clauses and specific mid-term emission cut targets have fallen by the wayside. Next on the agenda is signatory nations committing to emissions targets for 2020 by February 1, 2010. Further off, there is the Mexico meet scheduled for December next year—Al Gore has suggested that this meet be preponed. To summarise Copenhagen, the German chancellor probably put it best when she said, "There is light and there is shadow."

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CUT, SAYS CCI


The Competition Commission of India (CCI) seems to have finally woken from its slumber. According to a report in The Indian Express on Friday, the CCI has held a nexus of film producers and distributors guilty of anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices during the course of their long stand-off with multiplex owners in April-May this year. The competition authority has objected to the fact that producers and distributors colluded to prevent multiplex owners from getting access to new releases with the aim of forcing them to concede a favourable (to producers-distributors) revenue sharing arrangement. In doing so, not only were they arm-twisting multiplex owners in a manner not befitting a free market, but also depriving consumers of access to new films. Multiplex owners had also said that the producer-distributor nexus was forcing them to charge ticket rates priced by the latter, which were higher than the prices multiplexes wanted to charge consumers on their own. Now, producers and distributors have the opportunity to respond before further action is contemplated.

 

The case may seem watertight except for the plain fact that producers and distributors bore losses as significant as those borne by the multiplex owners—something in the range of Rs 100 crore. So, they certainly did not benefit financially from the stand-off. Of course, there is the counter argument—that producers and distributors were using their superior market power and deeper pockets to wear down multiplex owners and any settlement in their favour would have ensured that they would have made more money on the margin in the medium term than what they had lost during the stand-off. The CCI will undoubtedly have to consider this when the producers and distributors present their defence. The CCI will also have to consider the fact that the matter was eventually settled satisfactorily between the two sides without any intervention from the competition authority at the time when the dispute was on. This also calls into question the time taken by the CCI to decide on a particular case. Should it have taken this long after the dispute was settled? Still, it's good to see the CCI taking up issues like this one—this is precisely what CCI has to do more regularly. Of course, the fact remains that anti-trust cases are complicated and it is often difficult to prove offences like collusion beyond reasonable doubt. The CCI, if it is to be speedy and effective, needs many more professionals on board—investigators, lawyers and economists. The chairman has stated that it is his intention to do just that. But time is of the essence.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

ON CLIMATE, NOW DO THE HOMEWORK

DHIRAJ NAYYAR

 

It was always going to be unrealistic to expect a legally binding international treaty on climate change from the just concluded meet in Copenhagen. But the fact that countries are still willing to talk about all the sticky issues—emission cuts, financing and international monitoring—in Bonn and Mexico City next year is an encouraging sign.

 

However, if the talks are to make significant headway in the next year, certain key countries have to, quite literally, do a lot of homework. Unless governments are able to evolve a broad consensus on climate change mitigation within their borders, they are unlikely to be able to sign on to binding agreements. And the plain truth of the matter is that most of the countries that mattered were not yet ready (in terms of a political consensus at home) to make significant binding commitments.

 

Interestingly, the agreement that was 'taken note of' at the final plenary session in Copenhagen was essentially the text agreed upon by the wavering, unready countries—US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa (US-BASIC). The EU, which has actually taken most of the action to mitigate climate change to date, was left out of the final negotiations, as were the countries which stand to lose the most from no action being taken to mitigate climate change (some of the G77 countries).

 

It is safe to assume that the fate of future talks also depends on the positions that the US-BASIC group takes. And each of these countries needs to go back home to settle questions about how much, at what cost, and in what time after a process of deeper consultations and political outreach to key constituencies at home.

 

The homework will be different for each of these countries. Let's take the US first. President Obama needs to first convince a clear majority of Americans that climate change is for real—the number of doubters still remains significant. Then he must convince them that the US will need to do more than countries like China and India, given the gap in incomes. Even if he can win those arguments, there remains the even tougher bit of convincing people that they must incur a cost by consuming less or paying more for 'cleaner products'.(Clean power will cost more than dirty coal, for example.) Also, this cost will be incurred to benefit a future generation. A difficult task, particularly when a country is coming out of a serious economic crisis, but then good leadership is about persuading. He will also need to work on specific interest groups, like the manufacturing industry, which believes that all of this will shift manufacturing advantage to places like China and India permanently. On this, Obama's task ought to be easier—the US has no manufacturing advantage even now. In fact, a move to new cleantech may actually help it regain an edge in manufacturing.

 

In developing countries like China and India, it will be impossible to convince every citizen to consume less and pay more, in general. While these are indeed the fastest growing economies in the world, they are still in the low-income bracket. Hundreds of millions of people in both China and India (and millions in the case of Brazil and South Africa) need to be pulled out of poverty as quickly as possible. That means they will consume more, emit more and nobody can tell them to pay more or consume less without a political backlash.

 

But that's only one constituency of the poor. The BASIC countries need to convince their sizeable middle classes and industries to get serious about cutting emissions. There is no reason that China and India should subsidise the consumption of fossil fuels by the middle classes, but they do. There is every reason to strive for cleaner sources of energy than coal. In all likelihood there will be financial transfers from the West to help finance these. And industry in emerging economies can actually leap to the next technological frontier if they beat the West to the development of cleaner tech. Industry needs to be persuaded to see climate change mitigation as an opportunity, not a threat.

 

Back home, the government made a sensible, but delayed, move by giving up the per capita emissions position to move to emissions intensity of GDP. Now, more political weight should be put behind this position. And let's be a little more flexible on international monitoring and verification. We seem to get unnecessarily sensitive about sovereignty—a loud minority had reacted similarly to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Instead of resisting the idea, we should focus on how to make the monitoring mechanism independent and credible. In exchange for monitoring, we should press the US and industrialised countries for deeper cuts.

 

The stakes are high. If the US-BASIC group of countries in particular don't begin their homework now, they will certainly flunk the test, and fail the planet, in Mexico City in December 2010.

 

dhiraj.nayyar@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHERE NEXT FOR THE RATH YATRA?

MEGHNAD DESAI

 

Apart from the Congress, the Jan Sangh/BJP is the oldest party still around. The CPI is the only other. While the Congress has split several times, the first time in 1969, again later in the 1970s, and CPI spawned CPM, the Jan Sangh/BJP has never split. It is also the only party with an internal democratic system, which the Congress has by now abandoned and the CPI never believed in.

 

Neither longevity nor internal democracy has been of much help to the BJP in the last five years. After a Herculean effort, it got elected in 1996, and again in 1998 and 1999, but then it was exhausted. It lost the 2004 election inadvertently, surprised itself and ever since then has not found its way back. This happens to parties that lose power when they least expect it. It happened to the Labour Party in 1979. It took the Labour Party three more defeats before it got itself electable.

 

The BJP has at least begun to recognise that it has a problem, though it should not have taken seven months after the May 2009 defeat. It was obviously difficult for Advani to resign immediately upon defeat and the party at large could not tell an elder to get out.

 

So, after the confusion of the August Chintan Baithak, we now have a compromise. There is at least a change of guard and a new face at the helm of the party. The RSS has decided that it cannot any longer be the power behind the throne. It has to take charge of the party hands on.

 

The choice of Gadkari is, however, a cautious one. I had expected the RSS to opt for Manohar Parrikar who, as chief minister of Goa and an IIT graduate, has both top executive experience and a modern image. But the choice fell on a proper Marathi speaker since RSS is in the final analysis a Marathi outfit. Yet the transparent control of RSS over the BJP is a good thing. It is best to have these things in the open.

 

Gadkari will need to restructure the Party offices, which became quite moribund during the NDA government period. But the major problem of the BJP is not organisation, but ideology. As the Labour Party found, after each defeat the Party faithfuls want to reinforce the orthodoxy that had just been rejected. They forget that in a democracy a party has to capture not so much the faithful and dedicated, but the undecided and hesitating voters.

 

The BJP had been enticed into a centrist stance by Vajpayee. He was trusted so totally that no one suspected him of deviating from the true path. He thus managed to make the BJP electable and won three elections in a row, a record matched only by Panditji.

 

Advani had made his name as a hard-line ideologue and organiser while Vajpayee was there. But by nature he is a moderate person. When he tried after 2004 to bring out his moderate reasonable nature, both the BJP and the RSS were very unhappy. They believed quite wrongly that the voters wanted the raw meat (apologies to BJP vegetarians) of Hindutva and not the daal-roti of a reasonable mid-stream ideology.

 

What Atalji could get away with, Lal Krishnaji could not. In the final stages of the 2009 elections, Advani tried to become his fiercer self with Narendra Modi at his side but the game was up.

 

Labour Party redefined its old style Socialism as Left of Centre progressive radicalism and sold it to the electorate to win three victories. The BJP has to find a modern repackaging of Hindutva so that the new generation of Indians born since Indira Gandhi's days will find something to identify with. Their insecurity is economic, not religious or political. The Partition is old history for them and Muslims are the heartthrobs in Bollywood and not aliens. Hence the need to repackage.

 

There is a gap in the political spectrum on the Right of Centre. India needs a pro-business party, somewhat like the Swatantra Party. Twenty years after liberal reform, the themes of anti-bureaucracy and accelerated growth can win many more voters for the BJP.

 

It can be done. The hard task is to look ahead, not backwards.

 

The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

COURTING TROUBLE

RISHI RAJ

 

Is the department of telecommunications (DoT) really serious about providing licences to the 343 applications, which have been pending with it since it last provided 120 controversial licences in January, 2008? Going by its promise before the Supreme Court recently, which is hearing its appeal against the Delhi High Court's verdict striking illegal the arbitrary cut-off date of September 25, 2007, DoT agreed to provide 120 licences, it seems so. However, a quick reality check clearly shows this is nothing but a hollow promise.

 

The fact is that there's not enough 2G spectrum available to provide licences to even half of the 343 applications. Since a start-up spectrum of 4.4 Mhz is provided with the licence, 343 applications would require more than 1,500 Mhz of spectrum! So anytime DoT says that it has not rejected the balance applications and would process them subsequently, one should ask whether the requisite spectrum is available and by when? One can guess what the answer would be—that the licence does not guarantee spectrum and would only be provided as and when available. However, this answer would once again embarrass the communications & IT minister A Raja and his officers who have created all this controversy and confusion in the first place.

 

True, the licence does not guarantee spectrum but the same should be applicable to all the applicants before the government embarks upon granting licences. Some arbitrary cut-off date cannot be fixed to shower bounty on a few applicants while closing the door on others, which the DoT did and the High Court struck as illegal. Before processing even a single licence application, DoT should have been clear in bringing out the facts on spectrum availability, which it did not do.

 

The promise before the Supreme Court and earlier before the Delhi High Court has now put DoT in an even more embarrassing situation, apart from creating further policy confusion. Trai, which is currently examining whether a cap can be put on providing more licences, cannot apply the same measure to pending cases because of the court order. This would ensure that the government is unable to guarantee 2G spectrum to any new foreign operator that wants to enter India through the 3G spectrum auction route, thereby closing door on such operators.

 

So the telecom ministry, it seems, has ensured that the Indian telecom market is practically closed to foreign players.

rishi.raj@expressindia.com

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

FAR FROM INSPIRING

 

In any reasonable reckoning, the outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit falls far short of what the nations of the world, particularly the industrialised countries, absolutely need to do to combat global warming. The Copenhagen Accord, the product of personal negotiations between President Obama and the political leaders of China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, marked the end-run of a concerted U.S. strategy to corner the major developing economies in the climate negot iations. The terms suggest that the BASIC Four have successfully resisted, for now, the core strategy of the developed nations to set aside the Kyoto Protocol in its entirety and to alter the architecture of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The unscripted follow-through to the last-minute submission of a draft accord in the summit plenary allowed a few determined nations to ensure that the Accord has less than full formal recognition. It remains an accord between interested parties that is "taken note of" under the UNFCCC process and "operationally commits" only those that declare their adherence. However, the developing countries have made some significant concessions in exchange. The Accord postpones any global quantitative commitment to climate mitigation, particularly any commitment to drastic emissions reduction by the developed nations. It pays disproportionate attention to the responsibilities of developing countries. The most serious import of these concessions is evident from the UNFCCC assessment that the current global mitigation effort allows for a significant probability that global temperature rise will reach 3 degrees Celsius. The report further observes that in the mitigation commitments currently made, the contribution of developing countries is greater than that of the developed countries. The cry of many small developing countries, led by tiny Tuvalu, that the promise of $100 billion in annual climate finance by 2020 amounts to asking them to trade their future "for thirty pieces of silver today," is a call to conscience that must not be ignored.

 

It is arguable that in the state of play at Copenhagen, the developing nations had little room to ensure drastic emissions reductions by developed countries without risking the total collapse of the summit. The U.S. came with no offer of enhanced commitments nor were the others willing to bring this issue to the fore. From the ranks of the developed countries, there was no attempt to stand up to American high-handedness, typified by Mr. Obama's take-it-or-leave-it speech wherein he mangled the well-known UNFCCC principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" into a new formulation of "common but differentiated responses." The later lament of the European Union that the Copenhagen Accord missed out on ambitious emission reduction targets need not be taken seriously. The political challenge before the BASIC Four, especially India and China, is to redefine the task of drastic emissions reduction globally, led by the developed nations, in a manner that refuses to counterpose the global public good to the development imperative. Climate laggards in the developed as well as developing world need to be pushed aside in a dialogue that has both the scientific case and the ethical imperative in focus. This demands a stronger display of political will that goes beyond firm negotiating stances and forces all major players in mitigation action to do their due share for humanity.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

NARROW VISION

 

If Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's white paper is to be taken as her "Vision 2020" document, there are no real insights into what she envisages for the Railways. The aim, unfortunately, seems to be to detract from the achievements of the Railways under her predecessor, Lalu Prasad. The white paper, reportedly prepared by a consultant under the supervision of the Railway Board, asserts that the accumulated surplus of Rs.90,000 crore claimed for the peri od 2004-09 was the result of a change in the accounting system. The real surplus, after allowances are made for the new system and the outgo due to the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report, was only Rs.39,500 crore. Strangely, the Railways has decided to continue with the same system of accounting which, the report says, exaggerated the surplus. While Ms Banerjee is known for playing such type of politics, it is a mystery that the ruling coalition should have allowed one of its partners to take a dig at an erstwhile constituent that is still supporting the government.

 

Whatever the quantum of surplus, there can be no denying that Mr. Lalu Prasad and his team did turn the Railways into an efficient enterprise. It is widely acknowledged that he, while insisting on his priorities, gave the administration enough space to shuffle around and tone up the operational efficiency. The facts speak for themselves. Despite the serious competition from road transport, more revenue was generated through innovative measures, even while keeping the basic passenger fare untouched. Freight tariff was restructured. Loading as well as originating passenger traffic rose significantly during the five years. Ms Banerjee will do well to concentrate on consolidating the gains and finding ways of raising the Rs.14 lakh crore investments the Railways needs, keeping petty politics out of the sound and successful public sector undertaking.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SINGING THE ENEMY'S SONG

DECEIT, DOUBLE-CROSS AND THE INTELLIGENCE WAR AGAINST ISLAMIST TERRORISM.

PRAVEEN SWAMI

 

"We have an expression in Arabic", the blind Egyptian cleric who ran al-Qaeda's networks in the United States once told an interviewer, "everybody sings for those he loves".

 

On February 26, 1993, a fifteen hundred kilogramme improvised explosive device went off in the underground parking garage of the World Trade Centre in New York — the very building that, eight years later, would be brought down by the Al-Qaeda. Six people were killed, and 1,042 injured. Investigators rapidly determined that the operation had been funded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged operational chief of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Its perpetrators were linked to the Brooklyn-based blind cleric, Omar Abdel Rahman.

 

Rahman, many experts have long suspected, was allowed to enter the United States by the Central Intelligence Agency in an effort to infiltrate Al-Qaeda — a high-stakes intelligence gamble that backfired spectacularly.

 

Ever since news broke that Lashkar-e-Taiba clandestine operative David Headley had been a Drug Enforcement Administration informant, speculation has grown that the Pakistani-American jihadist may also have worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The evidence for the claim is thin. Headley's links with the Lashkar, Federal Bureau of Intelligence detectives say, was only detected in July, 2009, when he posted inflammatory messages in an internet chat-room. Even at the time of his arrest, they claim, no evidence was available to suggest he had carried out pre-attack reconnaissance in Mumbai. For its part, the CIA has flatly denied any association with Headley.

 

But the Headley rumours offer an opportunity to examine the efforts of intelligence services around the world to infiltrate the global jihadist movement — and what sometimes happens when their assets turn out to have been double agents, singing the enemy's song.

 

Imprisoned by Egyptian authorities until 1986, Rehman initially travelled to the United States each year after his release, using funds provided by Saudi Arabia. He was later, however, placed on a terrorism watch-list. But in 1990, Rehman succeeded in securing a visa from the United States embassy in Khartoum. The visa, it turned out, was issued by an undercover CIA officer. The decision was officially characterised as a mistake. "In fact," journalist Tim Weiner recorded in his book Legacy of Ashes, "CIA officers had reviewed seven applications by Abdel Rehman to enter the United States — and said yes six times."

 

Declassified State Department documents suggest United States intelligence officials had begun meeting with Rehman's followers in the summer of 1989, in what appears to have been an effort to build alliances with the Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya against groups like Al-Qaeda. Many experts believe Rehman, who is reputed to have taken charge of al-Qaeda's United States networks, was granted his visa to capitalise on that dialogue. It is possible the CIA believed their relationship with him would help monitor those networks, and provide protection to the United States against attack.

 

For that reason, authorities in the United States may have overlooked Rehman's open calls to violence. His sermons to his followers, the researcher Evan Kohlman has recorded, included one condemning Americans as the "descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communists, and colonialists". He called on Muslims living in the west to "cut the transportation of their countries, tear it apart, destroy their economy, burn their companies, eliminate their interests, sink their ships, shoot down their planes, kill them on the sea, air, or land." Language like this, after all, would have been precisely why the CIA granted Rehman a visa in the first place: to allow him to attract followers whom he could then betray.

 

Ahmed Syed Omar Sheikh — the British jihadist who was released from a jail in New Delhi in return for the lives of passengers on board an Indian Airlines flight hijacked by the Jaish-e-Mohammad in 1999 — is believed to have had an even more complex relationship with intelligence services. Pakistan's former President, General Pervez Musharraf, charged in his autobiography In the Line of Fire that Sheikh was recruited by the British intelligence service MI6 to infiltrate jihadist groups operating in the Balkans. "At some point", General Musharraf claimed, "he probably became a rogue or double agent". But there is also credible evidence that Sheikh was closely linked to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence — and the Al-Qaeda.

 

Educated at the exclusive Forest School in London and the Aitchison College in Lahore, Sheikh went on to study applied mathematics and economics at the London School of Economics. But he dropped out of university after his first year, after joining the Islamist student movement, and went on to serve with jihadist groups in Bosnia. Imprisoned in New Delhi from 1994 to 1999 for kidnapping western tourists, Sheikh is known to have met with British officials nine times at Tihar jail. The London Times later reported that the United Kingdom offered him a secret amnesty in exchange for information on his relationship with the Al-Qaeda. But after Sheikh was released by India — and became the subject of international arrest warrants — he was reported to have visited his parents in the United Kingdom in 2000 and 2001. The United Kingdom has never explained its failure to arrest Sheikh on his arrival in London.

 

It was only in the wake of the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States that Sheikh was charged by the United Kingdom with kidnapping its nationals in New Delhi — a delay that his victims described as "a disgrace." Former ISI Director-General Lieutenant-General Mahmud Ahmad was alleged to have used Sheikh to wire $100,000 to Mohammad Atta, a key member of the Al-Qaeda cell which carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks. No hard evidence emerged to corroborate these accounts — but General Mahmud was indeed removed from office. Sheikh is now awaiting execution of a death sentence awarded for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

 

London-based Islamist cleric Omar Mahmoud Othman, spiritual mentor to the Al-Qaeda in Europe, is also alleged to have been a double-agent working for the United Kingdom's domestic covert service, MI5. Known by the alias Abu Qatada, Othman's followers included the chief suspect in the Madrid train bombings of 2004, and Al-Qaeda operative Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a Paris-Miami flight with explosives. Nineteen audio cassettes of Othaman's sermons were found in Atta's apartments. For years before the Madrid attacks, MI5 resisted appeals from the European allies for Othman's arrest. "Abu Qatada", The Times later reported, "boasted to MI5 that he could prevent terrorist attacks and offered to expose dangerous extremists, while all along he was setting up a haven for his terror organisation in Britain."

 

THE COSTS OF BETRAYAL

Why, then, do intelligence organisations persist with the high-risk enterprise of cultivating agents who could betray them, sometimes with horrible consequences? The reason is simple. Even in an age of increasingly sophisticated electronic intelligence-gathering, there is no more effective source of information than an insider. For each embarrassing failure, agents have helped prevent dozens of attacks — agents whose identities may remain secret for decades, or longer.

 

Had intelligence services succeeded in planting agents, several major terrorist strikes may have been averted. Last year, in November, India's Research and Analysis Wing tracked satellite phone communications from the boat which carried the Lashkar-e-Taiba assault team to Mumbai, but lost the trial when the attackers hijacked a Gujarat-registered fishing boat for the final part of their journey. Deceived by the move, India's intelligence services even cleared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to address a convention at the Oberoi Hotel scheduled for just one day after the carnage began.

 

Perhaps the most spectacular examples of the consequences of the lack of assets amongst the enemy emerged during investigations of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In January 2005, Al-Qaeda commander Tawfiq bin-Attash called a meeting of key operatives in Kuala Lumpur. Based on prior intelligence provided by the CIA, Malaysian police covertly photographed Ramzi Binalshibh, the logistical head of Al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell, in the company of bin-Attash. His recruits Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, who were among the nineteen men 9/11 hijackers, were also at the Kuala Lumpur meeting. But without a source among the conspirators, the CIA was compelled to hold off targeting them, waiting for more information to emerge.

 

But the risk of betrayal is the inevitable price of attempting to infiltrate the enemy's ranks. During World War II, John Cecil Masterman's Twenty Committee — which drew its name from the Roman numerals for twenty — put out a mixture of disinformation and credible military intelligence through German agents who were apprehended and put to work against their masters. For all practical purposes, the Twenty Committee ran the networks of Germany's Abwehr and Sicherheitsdient. The Twenty Committee's achievements included making trans-Atlantic military traffic safer, misdirecting German bombing attacks on the United Kingdom and easing the way for the eventual liberation of Europe.

 

No enemy has ever been so comprehensively vanquished in an intelligence war since. But victory and defeat in the struggle against terrorism, perhaps more than in any war before it, still rests in large part on the outcome of a high-stakes game of deceit and double-cross.

 

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THE HINDU

A LONG AND MOSTLY LONELY BATTLE FOR REORDERING PAKISTAN

FOR MUBASHIR HASAN — ANTI-NRO PETITIONER AND A FORMER BHUTTO AIDE — THE STRUGGLE FOR A JUST PAKISTAN IS NOT OVER YET.

NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

 

As the ruling Pakistan People's Party scrambles to deal with the fall-out of the Supreme Court verdict annulling and voiding the National Reconciliaiton Ordinance, it can be no consolation to it or to President Zardari that the main petitioner in the case was none other than an old political associate of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and a co-founder of the party back in 1967.

 

Many in Pakistan are celebrating the verdict as the beginning of the country's "moral renaissance". The NRO was widely seen as legitimising corruption because it let off many charged with siphoning national wealth into their own pockets.

 

The Supreme Court has now reinstituted all those cases, as a result of which President Asif Ali Zardari, the most important of the NRO beneficiaries, now faces an uncertain future.

 

While Mr. Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution, accountability courts have reopened old cases of corruption against several important government functionaries including ministers, many of them from his close circle of confidantes.

 

There is jubilation that a crackdown has been ordered on the brazen looting and plundering of the exchequer that went unchecked all these years.

 

But the 88-year-old Mubashir Hasan, whose petition against the NRO became a cause celebre in the country with the verdict setting off political tremors, believes the judgment will bring about no fundamental changes in Pakistan.

 

Over nearly five decades, Dr. Hasan has waged a long and mostly lonely battle for reordering Pakistan as a just society in which power truly rests with the people.

 

The Columbia University doctorate-holder dropped a lucrative career as a civil engineer in the 1960s to join forces with Bhutto, when the erstwhile lieutenant of General Ayub Khan started forming the Pakistan People's Party. He believed that this new political entity could really change the face of the country for the better. Hopes were really high when the PPP took office in December 1971.

 

"Only later we discovered that we are in the Assembly, we are ministers, we are in the government, but we have no power. The power was in the hands of those who stay permanently, the combine of military-civilian services, and it remains there," Dr. Hasan said in a recent conversation with The Hindu.

 

He recalled that one of the top functionaries against whom corruption cases were restored after the verdict, a former bureaucrat and a close confidante of Mr. Zardari, was someone he had suspended when he was the Finance Minister in Bhutto's cabinet all those years back. The Bhutto government was ousted but the official remained, and faced little difficulty in making his way up the bureaucracy.

 

This is why, said Dr. Hasan, who was finance minister in Bhutto's cabinet, he is not as excited about the

judgment as the rest of Pakistan, even though he seemed not to mind the attention after years of trying to project his cause from the margins of public life.

 

When reporters surrounded the tall and lanky Dr. Hasan in the courtroom at breaks during the hearings, he was ready with the right quote and a charming smile; after winning the case, he took congratulatory telephone calls from all corners of the country and abroad, from friends and strangers alike.

 

"The people of Pakistan are extremely happy, so I'm happy too. But since I know the reality, I do not entertain the hope that this will stop the state of Pakistan from falling apart," he said.

 

This, according to him, is not a drastic or dramatic overstatement. What is corruption, he asked, if not the falling apart of the state, where a person in public office tasked with holding the monies of the nation is looting it.

 

The judgment may delay the process, but Pakistan was destined to perish unless it underwent a radical reconstruction, he predicted, prescribing that the only thing that can stop it "is a genuine democracy in which power is transferred to the people".

 

Taking a side-swipe, he said this was true for India and Bangladesh too, except that Pakistan's condition was far worse.

 

"The present system of government in Pakistan, before the judgment and after the judgment, is incapable of taking the state forward under the rule of law," he said.

 

Dr. Hasan, who parted ways with the PPP when Benazir Bhutto took charge of it after her father's hanging, is seen as one of the few good men left in Pakistan, reputed both for his personal and political integrity and razor-sharp intellect. In a political culture — pervasive through South Asia — where even a few months in power is seen as enough opportunity to amass wealth, he does not own a house, and still drives an old Volkswagen Beetle.

 

Now a member of a tiny PPP faction, called PPP-Shaheed Bhutto, led by Ghinwa Bhutto, the widow of Benazir's brother Murtaza, he is also a big votary of peaceful and friendly relations between his country and India.

 

Some months ago, Dr. Hasan released a 120-page booklet that he co-authored with 16 other "like-minded" people who call themselves the "Independent Planning Commission of Pakistan".

 

The booklet, called "Making Pakistan a Tenable State", calls for the forging of a new social contract between the State and the citizens for the transfer of power from the former to the latter. The test of a "genuine democracy", according to its prescription, is simple: it is one in which the power to detain a citizen in custody, to determine whether someone is innocent or guilty of an alleged crime rests with the citizen. In other words, a state in which the police of an area work under the control of a local elected council, as in many western democracies.

 

There are fears, however, that despite being a staunch democrat, Dr. Hasan may have unwittingly placed whatever democracy Pakistan has at risk through the NRO case. Concerns have been expressed that the verdict has put Pakistan back on the slippery slope to military rule, as it has weakened the political leadership of the country and eroded its authority to rule.

 

But Dr. Hasan said such fears were akin to trying to prevent a doctor from amputating the legs of a man suffering from gangrene. The judgement gave the patient a "slight chance", he said, "to reconstruct or perish".

 

He reminded those who point a finger at him for becoming part of "a conspiracy" against Mr. Zardari and the present government, that his petition was filed in October 2007, days after the NRO was promulgated as part of a power-sharing arrangement between Benazir Bhutto and the former president, Pervez Musharraf, brokered by the US and Britain..

 

"I filed this case as the ordinance was promulgated. At that time, Zardari was not even in the picture. It was against the deal reached by the US, Benazir and Musharraf," he said. "It was an evil deal and it was against the constitution."

 

The real national reconciliation in Pakistan was the 1973 Constitution, Dr. Hasan argued. The process for framing it, in which he played a key role, started in the demoralized atmosphere in the aftermath of the 1971 break-up with East Pakistan and it brought together all disaffected sections of the West Pakistan polity.

 

Fittingly enough, one of the two lawyers who argued his petition against the NRO in the Supreme Court was his old cabinet colleague, Hafiz Peerzada, the law minister in Bhutto's government and the chief framer of the Constitution. The verdict itself came on December 16, the anniversary of the day East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh.

 

But for Dr. Hasan, the struggle will continue. Unfailingly, every Thursday, at 11.30 am, this spry old man rallies a small bunch of Shaheed Bhutto activists in Lahore for a demonstration in one part of city or another, asking the rich to pay their taxes, urging an end to the exploitation of workers, or as he said, "awakening the people". Next Thursday will be no different.

 

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THE HINDU

NO GUARANTEES FOR WORK IN MELGHAT

MEENA MENON

 

It was a night out under the stars. These were not city slickers but a group of villagers from Salona. On the way down from Chikhaldhara hill station in Amravati district, the darkness of the cold night is lit by small fires. Groups of people huddle around the flickering flames.

 

Their children lie swaddled in thin bedclothes which cannot keep the chill away. Shivlal Belsare and his wife are finishing off a frugal meal of rice and chillies. Since a fortnight, he and about 30 people are working on a road construction site. There is no work in the village and people have migrated.

 

"We will work like this till March and go wherever the contractor tells us. The children too are pulled out of school. Who will look after them at home," he says.

 

Salona is not far off from Churni Phata where they are camping for the night. But work will take them even further away. Melghat region which comprises the Dharni and Chikhaldhara talukas has rural employment works which are approved to the tune of Rs. 36.73 crores.

 

Yet work, which is guaranteed by law and for which ample funds and an elaborate framework has been set up, is not available. As a result, the annual exodus began a month ago. Deputy Collector Shiv Mishra said as of December 5, the region had 900 workers on employment guarantee schemes. Officially job cards have been issued to 41,250 families in both districts which translate to a registered labour force of about one lakh.

 

In Paratwada, the space behind the government guest house has a large group of migrant labour waiting to be picked up by contractors.

 

Families with small children have brought their belongings including food supply and vessels for a long stay. Shaligram has come from Kesharpur village over 50 km away. "We come here every year looking for work, there is nothing back home. We get wages of Rs. 100 a day while the women get Rs. 80," he says. Suniyari has come all the way with two infants, one is only a year old, and the older one is two.

 

Both of them are chewing plain rotis. "What else can I give them, the poor eat only rotis," she says. Like her Sakrai has brought her two children along. "Anyway they don't go to school," she smiles.

 

Chotelal sits near the group, covered in a thick blanket. His age and gray hair don't deter him from travelling around in search of work. "I have coming here for many years, what else can I do? Agriculture does not make ends meet. It is very difficult. We stay in an open ground, there is no water," he says. Near him is a group of men and boys from Kongada village. They have been working since November 30 for five days and have earned Rs. 600 each. Babulal says this is an annual practice. Most of the group is very young. Kishore Savalkar, a student of class eleven has left his studies to work. "This is the first time I have come. There are boys in the tenth class too. We don't have any money so we have to work," he says shyly.

 

In village after village in Chikhaldhara and Dharni talukas, migration is the norm. In Kohana village nearly 200 people have already left a month ago. The unseasonal rain has been lucky for farmers here — they have planted some green gram and wheat. The government is using that as an excuse not to start work. People's experience with employment guarantee schemes (EGS) is that they never get paid on time. "Not many have job cards in this village and last year there was work but there are some complications. We get paid on the basis of the amount of mud we dig and that is all wrongly calculated. You work for a fortnight and spend months getting the money. Who wants to waste time like this? It's better to migrate," says Mangal Bhusum. That's why there is no one who prefers EGS. Three wells were dug in the village but work was stopped halfway last year. The gram panchayat which is supposed to initiate work does nothing and the forest department too is no help.

 

There are trucks in the village — contractors have come to get people for labour in other districts. Young girls are taken to work in orange orchards.

 

Under the new rules for EGS payment, each worker has a bank or a post office account and money is paid to them directly. N.M. Naikwad, postmaster at Kohana has six villages under him some of which are far away. Each worker can be paid a maximum of Rs. 2,000, if the dues are more than that, then the person has to be called again. Payment can be time consuming both for the post office and the workers. Villagers in Kohana are demanding work. Sumani Dhikhar says, "we are too old to travel out now. All the men have left already." The impact of migration on the health of women and children is acute and that is one of the reasons for the severe malnutrition among children that is endemic to Melghat. Mira Solao, the anganwadi worker in Kohana says 20 children below the age of six have left with their parents and two of them are severely malnourished. When they come back the children fall ill, she pointed out. This year people from Kohana have gone 120 km away for work where they live near a dam site in tents.

 

In Hathighat too, the situation is similar. Shakuntala Mohan Bhoir, anganwadi sevika, says 38 children are out since a month with their parents, of which 35 have gone on work sites. She says this is the first year that so many children have gone. The list of migrants includes 18 couples and 35 children, of which 23 are already malnourished. There are totally 87 children in the anganwadi and only 17 are of normal weight. In Chikhaldhara taluka, official sources say that over 500 children below six have migrated with their parents.

 

Complaints of lack of work reached a flash point on December 5 after a public hearing in Amravati on this issue. District Collector Rucha Bagla had to assure an angry delegation of activists and Adivasis that she would speed up the work everywhere. "No one should migrate for work," Ms Bagla declared. It's probably a bit late for that now.

 

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THE HINDU

AN ACT WITH TEETH, BUT OF NO USE IN PROTECTING THE WEAK

 

One reason the police and revenue officials assign for the ever-rising incidence of violence against Dalits and tribal folk is the 'inadequacy' of existing laws against atrocities. This is far from true. In fact, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is a potent law. It provides for punishing not only the perpetrators of violence, but also the officials, including the district collector in certain circumstances, when they refuse to enforce the Act the way they should. So the reason for the failure to bring the culprits to book seems to lie elsewhere.

 

With the Act completing 20 years of its existence, the problem is up for public debate. Advocates, rights activists, leaders of political parties, and others are discussing the various aspects of the problem. Five years after the Constitution banned the practice of "untouchability" under Article 17, the first relevant legislation, the Untouchability Offences Act 1955, was put in place. The Act also came to be known as the Temple Untouchability Act, because denial of entry into temples was the single most onerous aspect of untouchability. The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, which prescribed punishment for preaching and practising untouchability, is a central Act applicable to the whole of India. Under this, "civil rights" meant "any right accruing to a person by reason of the abolition of 'untouchability' by Article 17 of the Constitution." This was the only legislation that dealt with civil rights, with amendments bringing many other human rights under its purview over the years.

 

AN INTERESTING HISTORY

The introduction of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, 1989 has an interesting history. The Protection of Civil Rights Act came up for review in the late 1970s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi virtually signalled the end of the Emergency by opting for fresh elections to the Lok Sabha. She suffered a humiliating defeat and the Janata government took charge. It was perhaps the lowest point in Mrs Gandhi's political career. Studies by pollsters and discussions with senior party leaders identified the loss of traditional Dalit votes to the Congress as a major factor in the party's crushing defeat.

 

The massacre of 12 Dalit workers by a group of 'upper caste' landowners gave Mrs Gandhi an opportunity to make amends for her neglect of the problems of Dalits, who were believed to be her unfailing supporters. Discussions with party workers gave her the impression that all the existing Acts had failed to ensure the abolition of untouchability and protect Dalits from 'upper-caste' violence. The urgency of bringing in more powerful laws became apparent. It took about eight years for the Congress, now under Rajiv Gandhi, to make this realisation a reality. Another major pro-Dalit contribution by Mrs Gandhi was the Special Component Plan (now renamed as the Scheduled Castes Sub Plan); it provided for allotment by Ministries at the centre and the States of separate funds for the benefit of Dalits every year in proportion to their share in the population. There were complaints that the scheme was not properly implemented for several years in many States and at the centre. The scheme has, however, been in operation in recent years.

 

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, 1989, which covers many forms of atrocity, raised high hopes among Dalits. Had it been properly implemented, it could have made a significant difference on the ground. Besides providing for severe punishment for atrocities against Dalits, the Act fixes the quantum of compensation to be paid, depending upon the nature of the atrocity and the nature of the injury and the extent of loss to the affected. Any failure of the police and officials to take suitable action would also attract punishment. Yet sincerity in implementing the Act has been conspicuously absent.

 

INDIFFERENCE

It is well known that in most cases, when the affected Dalits go to the police, First Information Reports (FIR), are registered not under the S.C. and S.T. Act but under the ordinary laws, which weakens any chance of bringing the criminals to justice. One well-identified reason for the indifference of policemen is that they are overwhelmingly non-Dalits. Apart from that, in many cases, officialdom is not free from caste bias. True, the 1989 Act does not cover certain forms of atrocity such as social boycott or denial of social benefits or economic offences such as denial of employment. But the basic fault lies not in the legislation but in the dominant values in the social system, which are shared by the police and officialdom at large.

 

There is a vital challenge here for socially sensitive journalism. The news media must go beyond covering atrocities, various forms of violence, against the socially oppressed. They must pro-actively report and analyse the chronic and deep-seated realities of this oppression as a daily phenomenon — so that the atrocities are located in proper social context and the need for thoroughly cleansing society of the curse of 'untouchability' and kindred social evils is highlighted. Only then can the media play their part as agents of social justice and progressive social change.

 

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

 

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THE HINDU

LIFT FORECAST AS U.S. CENSUS BUREAU HIRES FOR 2010

IT WILL ALSO PUT MONEY IN MILLIONS OF POCKETS AND CREATE A WELL-TIMED ECONOMIC SPARK.

MICHAEL LUO

 

Not in more than a half-century has the United States census been conducted amid such high rates of joblessness. The 1.2 million census-taking jobs may be temporary, but they pay well, and economists say they will provide a significant lift.

 

The jobs will amount to a $2.3 billion injection into the economy at a critical juncture, a bridge between the moment when many economists believe the private sector will finally stop shedding jobs and when it ultimately begins to add them.

 

"These are real jobs with good solid hourly pay," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com.

 

Zandi added: "It's a form of stimulus. It's like infrastructure spending, or WPA in the Depression. It effectively does the same thing. It's not on the same scale, but it is large enough, and it will make a difference."

 

Recruiting is just beginning for the jobs. The Census Bureau began adding temporary offices across the country in the fall and has recently been holding open houses to encourage people to sign up for a half-hour test that is the first step to a job. It has also set up a Web site with information for job-seekers. About 13,000 workers were hired this month.

 

The peak of the bureau's hiring, however, will be in late April and early May when about 800,000 people are expected to be on its payroll, most of them as field workers, knocking on doors to follow up with households that did not return census forms mailed in March. The positions vary in length and pay, but the average job is 20 hours a week for six weeks, paying $10 to $25 an hour.

 

Rebecca Blank, the undersecretary for economic affairs at the Department of Commerce, whose responsibilities include the Census Bureau, was cautious about the ultimate impact on the monthly unemployment rate, because of a variety of complicating factors in how it is calculated.

 

"My guess is it's going to be less than one-half of 1 per cent," Blank said.

 

Nevertheless, the boost to total employment nationwide, she said, will be significant. And the timing, in some ways, could not be better.

 

Zandi, along with many other economists, believes the nation will stop shedding jobs in the spring, and by the time these census jobs wind down over the summer, the private sector will be poised to begin adding jobs again.

 

"When we look back historically, the census will mark the end of the downdraft of employment," he said.

 

Census officials across the country, however, sounded a note of caution for those desperate for the temporary jobs. Many may wind up being turned away. In part, that is because of the extraordinary demand during a smaller spate of earlier census hiring.

 

The bureau hired about 140,000 people this year for its address canvassing campaign, in which workers walked block by block to make sure the government's address lists and maps were updated.

 

Lee Ann Morning, office manager of the bureau's Denver office, said her staff was caught off guard after an open house last December that received some news coverage. Every phone in the office was ringing, and additional staff members were called in to handle the volume. Hundreds of calls rolled over to voicemail, which quickly filled up. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

NOW WHAT?

 

Copenhagen climate summit had ended on Saturday. There was no deal that all the 192 countries had agreed on. There is now something called a "Copenhagen Accord', hurriedly hammered out by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa late on Friday night. It is a political accord in the sense that it sets out non-binding goals, leaving industrialised and industrialising countries to voluntarily implement them. Brazil negotiator Sergio Serra summed up the mood in the summit succinctly when he said, "Certain groups like G-77 are not happy when a few people make decisions. It's not an inclusive exercise.


Perhaps it can't be." The challenge is now to make this document acceptable to the rest of the world, especially the island states and the poorest African states  The only hopeful note in all this is that Copenhagen is just a beginning, and the process of arriving at an agreement that will be acceptable is years away.


What does it mean for India? There is solace that it is part of the small group that was responsible for the document, however unsatisfactory, that will now stand as the contentious achievement of a failed summit. India is also now an insider in the global councils which reflects the country's new-found economic and political clout. It is in the big league for good. No major global decisions can now be taken without India contributing to it. More importantly, India stood its ground on the issue of not accepting legally-binding emission controls. Did India succeed in its other ambition of being a deal-maker and not a deal-breaker? Perhaps it could. The unofficial accord could serve as a framework for a solution at the Mexico summit due next year. There has been neither a breakdown nor a stalemate as it had happened in the case of the Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks.


Given the inherent problems of the climate change issue, and the conflicting interests of all the countries — developed and developing, rich and poor, big and small — a smooth and positive outcome at Copenhagen was not to be expected. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh was right when he hinted even before the summit that it will be necessary to look beyond Copenhagen. The clash of views that resounded in Copenhagen should not be seen as mere dissonance but a vibrant note of global democracy. The voices of the small and poor countries had to be heard as much as that of US president Barack Obama.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HUMAN PROGRESS

 

The process of human progress takes place in only in the spiritual sphere. What we generally call "progress" is not actual progress. Behind the human endeavour to progress towards perfection lies one motivating factor — the desire for permanent happiness.


Human existence is trifarious: physical, psychic and spiritual. In the initial phase of their march, in the dark age of the distant past, the humans progressed in the physical and psychic spheres alone. Not having the key to enter the spiritual world, they were unable to advance spiritually. When they try to establish their physical supremacy in the external world, great pressure was exerted on their nervous system, resulting in a mutual conflict between their innumerable cells. This inter-cellular clash caused a marked development in human consciousness which, in turn, led to corresponding changes in the external human structure.


 When human beings started fighting against imperfections in the physical world and psychic sphere for the development of mind, psychic changes began to occur. When they become more subtle, therefore, there is a corresponding subtle change in the physical structure. Thus those early human beings battled against psychic imperfections to bring about a change in the psychic world. The same fight is still continuing and will continue in future as well. This phase on the path of human progress can be called "Jinanayoga".

According to Ananda Marga philosophy this is the real karmayoga and "Jinanayoga". It is also a change, not of absolute significance, but of relative significance. The importance of the spiritual world is immense, yet the relative world is not totally unimportant.When, in the distant past, humans realised that karma yoga and jinana yoga would not help them to attain true progress, they readily embraced bhakti yoga. They realised that devotion is the only path.


The teachings of Shri Shri Anandamurtiji.

 

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DNA

END OF AN ERA

 

LK Advani's handing over the reins as Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha to Sushma Swaraj in some sense marks the end of an era for both the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian politics in general. And yet, the move was hardly unexpected. This was no ordinary retirement, no customary passing of the baton to the next generation. This was an enforced departure, symptomatic of the painful churning which the BJP has been seeing since it lost the general election in 2004 and even more since it could not get power back earlier this year.


The general election of 2009 put an end to Advani's longstanding prime ministerial ambitions as the country chose another direction. The BJP, once the hope of a new shining India, found itself out in the cold with an outdated ideology and at odds with the hopes and aspirations of the rest of the country.


It took the party some time after the general elections — and a series of setbacks in the states as well as mini-rebellions within the party — to accept that something was seriously wrong. The changing of the guard — resisted robustly for five years – was forced by the RSS, which was compelled to step in when it saw how its political wing was crumbling.


With Nitin Gadkari taking charge as president of the party, replacing Rajnath Singh, the new order will be complete.

As what is true in life is true in politics, this change is just a form of re-packaging. Advani has not yet gone into retirement but instead has been re-designated as parliamentary party leader — a new post which has been created for him. His prime ministerial ambitions may have been dashed but his political career has been given a face saver — or a fillip — for now.


Politically, the party may now see itself divided between the old power circles — Advani, Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and so on and the newer formations, with Gadkari, under the aegis of the RSS. The party still has to have its introspection session and decide on its future course of action. The festering within will not go away with these changes at the top and nor will its confusion with the disconnect between its ideology and the trends visible with today's India.

 

Advani plays a new role and Gadkari takes charge. It remains to be seen whether these changes make substantial differences or if the BJP needs more than a few cosmetic nips and tucks.

 

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DNA

ON THE FARM FRONT

BHAVDEEP KANG

 

In a time of high food prices and growing hunger worldwide, climatologists are warning that we will have to further tighten our belts. Global warming could gradually reduce India 's agricultural capacity by as much as 40 per cent (Global Warming and Agriculture, William Kline). Water and energy are the most critical inputs for agriculture and access to both is increasingly compromised by the effects of climate change. As temperatures rise, droughts and water stress are being felt in large parts of the country. Procuring water for agricultural operations is taking increasingly more energy, at a time when we urgently need to put the brakes on fossil fuel consumption.

This nexus between food security, water and energy has been put in the spotlight by climate change. Projections show that Indian agriculture's energy needs are likely to double in the next decade. How can this demand be met if India is forced to accept emission cuts sometime in the near future?


The answer lies not in Copenhagen, but in rationalising the use of water and energy in agriculture. The trend towards energy-intensive agriculture in India is clear from the fact that farmers are now going in for 15-20 HP power-guzzling submersible pumps rather than the 5 HP centrifugal pumps fashionable in the 1970s! This is putting tremendous stress on state governments which have to cater to the energy requirements of the farm sector.

Pumping groundwater accounts for the bulk of energy used in agriculture. One-third of the total electricity consumed in Punjab is used for pumping water. In Haryana, the figure is a staggering 41 per cent and in Andhra Pradesh it is 36 per cent. 


Although the government is spending lakhs of crores on massive irrigation projects and hundreds of kilometres of canals, the fact is that canal water efficiency is 25-45 per cent as compared to 70-80 per cent for wells and tube-wells. Agricultural productivity through groundwater water irrigation is one-and-a-half to two times more than that of canal irrigation.


Hence, private players prefer to invest in groundwater. Sixty per cent of irrigation is accounted for by ground water sources developed through private investment to the tune of Rs 2.2 lakh crore.


However, groundwater irrigation is not sustainable when no matching outlay is made for water conservation. In areas dependent on groundwater, watershed management aimed at maintaining the water table is essential. But this has not received due attention from policymakers. The focus is on high-cost canal irrigation.


The geographical distribution of groundwater is uneven and the usage is irrational. Around 70 per cent of blocks in India have satisfactory levels of groundwater but the maximum withdrawal continues to be in precisely those 30 per cent blocks which are critically short.


Tubewell irrigation is the leading cause of groundwater depletion.


Punjab is the best example. The water table has fallen by 50 to 100 feet and yet Punjab continues to "export"21 billion cubic metres of water out of the state in the form of food grains. Groundwater utilisation is at a staggering 145 per cent. Uttar Pradesh "exports" 21 billion cubic metres of water and its groundwater usage is 70 per cent. Similarly, Haryana "exports" 14 billion cubic metres and groundwater exploitation is at 109 per cent.
Some states have initiated water conservation efforts. Maharashtra has started a system of water audit. Punjab and Haryana have begun delayed transplanting of rice to escape the hottest part of the summer.


In situ conservation of water is called for. There are 10 million wells in India but 35 per cent are dysfunctional. These could easily be restored through recharging of aquifers. Communities all over India have shown the way but bureaucrats still need to be convinced!


A change in nutritional habits can also play a critical role in water conservation. It takes 16,726 cubic metres of water to produce one ton of beef, but only 1020 cubic metres of water to get a ton of maize. Potatoes need only 133 cubic metres of water a ton but cheese will cost you 40 times as much water!


Preying on fear of plummeting productivity, multinationals seed companies are making unsubstantiated claims of drought-proofed, genetically modified seeds. But farmers are already beginning to go back to these traditional varieties, wherever they have not been wiped out through the efforts of the MNCs.


Meanwhile, a new cause for concern has emerged as studies all over the world, including India, show that higher carbon dioxide levels might well result in "toxic" crops.


Food shortages will be the most immediate and widely felt fallout of climate change but the lack of seriousness in dealing with the issue was evident in Rome last month, during the UN-sponsored World Food Summit. The G-8 heads of state gave it a miss and no firm, time-bound commitments on the hoped for agricultural aid package for developing countries was made.

 

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DNA

PUTTING AN END TO COMMUTERS' WOES

ANIL DHARKER

 

If you drive in Mumbai, the city's accident statistics will not surprise you. What will is that the number of crashes and fatalities isn't even higher. Every ride in a Mumbai cab is an accident closely averted, every bus represents death on wheels, each water tanker wants to drown you in its contents. Every arrival at a destination is a miracle in itself.


But no one really goes unscathed. Accident statistics give you figures of death and injuries, but who can put numbers on mental and psychological stress? If people have begun to crash on the Sea Link, it's only because its relative emptiness acts as a relief to any driver, and the urge to accelerate and break free is irresistible.

What has brought about this situation? The obvious answer is over-population, both of people and cars and the inevitable congestion on roads which were already inadequate to start with. But this over-population is not something which should have caught anyone by surprise; the upward curve of car production and people reproduction are well-known and widely documented. The problem has been in anticipating the change and planning for it. Planning, to state a truism, is to plan ahead, not to react to a situation after the event.


But now that is so much water under the flyover.


The metro and elevated railway will no doubt make things better, but that's a few years wait. Until that happens, do we all have to suffer in silence, having a stroke or two on the way? There are common sense suggestions to give some relief to commuters, and here are mine:


Make driving tests more stringent. It's no one's god given right to get a licence to drive a vehicle. It's a responsibility which should be earned. For professional drivers, especially those who teach in driving schools, for taxi drivers and drivers of heavy vehicles like buses, trucks and tankers, the test should be comprehensive and extremely tough.


A minimum educational qualification should be mandatory to get a driving licence. A few years ago a draft code had mooted this idea, laying class VIII as the minimum. It's not just a question of reading road signs and instructions, education trains the brain in many ways and an illiterate driver is a menace to society. There is bound to be resistance to this idea from populace, but unless hard decisions are taken, what improvements will ever be made?

No naka bandis except late at night. The other evening the cops decided to enforce one on both sides of the highway flyover linking Bandra east to west. The resulting traffic jam added an extra half hour to the commuters' woes. What purpose do naka bandis serve anyway?  Will a reader make an RTI enquiry to find out what has been achieved so far except to catch a few errant motorcyclists?


Only a body as insensitive to its public as the Mumbai Municipal Corporation would dig up every major road at the same time. Common sense suggests that road repairs be done in phases. Visual observation also suggests that many of the roads didn't really need doing. Is someone making a fast buck here?


Taxis double park with impunity. Either moving away when told to do so by a passing policeman or greasing his palm with a grubby note. A three-lane road is thus reduced to a single lane. How long can we tolerate this? Should motorists and motoring bodies like the WIAA not bombard the authorities with protests? Perhaps the Professional Party of India can take this up on a war-footing. It will earn the gratitude not just of motorists but the lakhs who travel by bus.


There are too many taxis and autorickshaws in Mumbai anyway, a combined total of 150,000 as opposed to 25000 to 30,000 in London and New York. Not renewing cab/auto licences when the come up for renewal is the only solution. There will be a hue and cry from those affected, but look at the man hours that will be saved across the city.

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DNA

THE BEAUTY OF TIME

ROBIN SHARMA 

 

Time is a beautiful commodity. It is part of the hardware of life. What you do with it shapes, in so many ways, what your life looks like. And yet, while almost every one of us wishes for more time, we misuse the time we have on hand.


I am no guru, you know that. But I have become pretty good at using my time well. Time wasted is time lost and the big idea on time is that once it is lost, it can never be regained.


I recently read that John Templeton, the celebrated financier, never went anywhere without a book in his briefcase. This way, if he found himself in a long line, he could use the downtime to read, learn and grow. I also read in the Rolling Stone magazine that Madonna hates wasting time. She used to bring a book with her when she would go out to a nightclub to use the time when she wasn't dancing, efficiently.


My coaching clients are like that. And they lead big lives as a result of that giant devotion to time management. I want to be clear: I am in no way suggesting that every minute of your days, weeks, months need to be scheduled. Be spontaneous. Be playful. Be free. I am a free spirit at heart. I just find that the people who have the most time for fun are those who know how to plan and use their time well.


In my experience, the people who feel stress the most and lead their lives like a five-alarm fire are those who leave life to chance and make no time to set schedules, articulate goals and follow well-thought-out plans.


"Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organisation, preparation and action," observed thinker David Kekich. That's a powerful thought, isn't it? 


Robin Sharma is the author of The Greatness Guide (Jaico)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A WHIFF OF FRESH AIR

COPENHAGEN DEAL HOLDS OUT HOPE

 

The last-minute deal struck by the US and emerging economies China, India, Brazil and South Africa at the Copenhagen summit on Friday after frenzied negotiations, marks a limited step forward in the complex quest for tackling global warming.  As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said at the end of the summit, "The Copenhagen accord may not be everything everyone had hoped for, but it is an important beginning." The plenary of the summit "took note" of the accord but the deal could not become a UN pact because it was not adopted unanimously as the rules required, with many countries among the Group of 77 opposed to it. Predictably, the deal would find wider acceptance as countries study the gains that would accrue from it. Judged by the fact that but for this deal the summit would have been deemed a complete failure, it is heartening that a framework has emerged upon which further negotiations can proceed.

 

For India, the five-nation deal is a refreshing development and an index of the statesmanship shown by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who played a key role in hammering out the agreement.  A significant and very welcome aspect was the coordinated stand taken by India and China at the summit. Had it not been for the partnership between the two, joined in by Brazil and South Africa, the Americans would have stuck to a harder position. Clearly, India's goals were substantially achieved. The deal is to be backed by $10 billion a year for the next three years and then $100 billion a year that the US government has promised to put together from all sources around the globe. A fund to tackle deforestation would also be available to developing countries. No legally-binding emission cut targets have been provided for in the deal for the developing countries. The stipulation is that developed countries would report their mitigation actions by February 1, 2010, while larger developing countries like India and China would report their "mitigation ambitions" by the same deadline.

 

All in all, the five-nation deal is a worthy starting point for future negotiations, with considerable benefits for the poor countries. It is now incumbent on the rich nations to deliver on their commitments for carbon emission cuts and for countries like India to guard zealously against any violation of the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WAS LALU'S CLAIM HOGWASH?

WHITE PAPER RAISES DISTURBING QUESTIONS

 

The Railways' turnaround claims made during the tenure of Mr Lalu Prasad in the UPA-I stand challenged in a White Paper brought out by his successor in the UPA-II. When presenting his last budget on February 13 this year Mr Lalu Prasad claimed that the Railways had a cash surplus of Rs 90,000 crore, he earned all-round applause in Parliament and lavish praise from the Prime Minister. Some of the top business management institutes in the world evinced interest in the "turnaround" story. His Officer on Special Duty, Mr Sudhir Kumar, co-authored a book "Bankruptcy to Billions" to much acclaim, portraying the Railways' so-called success story.

 

All that, we are now told, was hogwash. The minister was taking his own governmentt, Parliament and the whole nation for a ride. After this, the credibility of what ministers say gets further eroded. Whether the present or previous Railway Minister is right, the government must clear the confusion. It cannot allow mud being thrown around without getting its own image sullied. In 2001 a committee chaired by noted economist Rakesh Mohan had said that the Railways was on the edge of "fatal bankruptcy". Is it possible for the same Railways, caught in a "terminal debt trap", to be Rs 90,000-crore cash surplus in less than a decade?

 

The White Paper says changes in the accounting norms had inflated cumulative cash surplus before dividend by 55 per cent. The claimed surplus of Rs 88,669 crore did not account for the payouts for implementing the Sixth Pay Commission report and the appropriation to the Depreciation Reserve Fund, which together leave the actual figure at Rs 39,411 crore. Financially, the best period for the Railways in the last two decades was, according to this document, 1991-96 when Jaffer Shrief was the Railway Minister. Though Mamata's White Paper seems to have a tacit approval of the government, the UPA must make it clear whose set of "facts" it stands by.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ZARDARI FIGHTING A LOSING BATTLE 

VERDICT ON NRO SHAKES ISLAMABAD

 

The noose around the neck of Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and many other political heavywights like Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar is getting tighter after the country's Supreme Court scrapped the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) last week. With the amnesty granted to a large number of persons under the NRO no longer valid, the court cases earlier withdrawn against them stand revived. The 17-member Bench, which gave the verdict, has ordered the setting up of monitoring cells at the apex court as well as all the provincial high courts to oversee a quick disposal of the cases against the former NRO-beneficiaries. Mr Zardari has now to explain not only how he "earned" the huge funds that he has in his Swiss and other overseas bank accounts, but also from where he got the money to buy the 20-room mansion — "Surrey Mahal" — in the UK in the 1990s.

 

Pressure is building up from various quarters, including the Opposition, to force Mr Zardari and his tainted ministers to resign to save Pakistan from fresh political turmoil. Interestingly, Mr Rehman Malik finds his name included in his own ministry's Exit Control List along with that of his colleague, Mr Mukhtar. There are 247 persons on the list barred from undertaking foreign trips. Though efforts are on to devise a strategy to save Mr Zardari and the other big guns hit by the verdict, they are unlikely to escape from the long arms of the law.

 

Mr Zardari discussed on Friday the situation arising out of the apex court historic judgement with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a partner in the PPP-led coalition government. Going by the mood in the ruling PPP and the government, Mr Zardari will not give up power easily. He is apparently getting ready to fight for his survival with the help of the constitutional provisions that provide him immunity as President. But with the Army being firmly in favour of allowing the law to take its own course, Mr Zardari is unlikely to win the battle. His very eligibility for contesting the 2008 elections is being questioned.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

TACKLING PAKISTAN

INDIA NEEDS ALL-PARTY CONSENSUS

BY RAJENDRA ABHYANKAR

 

NO sooner has the euphoria of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington and the substance of his Russian visit evaporated in the atmospherics than we are confronted with two serious developments. They attest to the fact that India's continuing demarches to the Afghanistan strategy of the US have not cut much ice. As reported by The New York Times, first, the US President has privately promised Pakistani military and civilian leaders what is described as a partnership of "unlimited potential" in which Washington would consider any proposal Islamabad puts on the table. Second, he told a small group of journalists at a White House lunch the other day that "reducing tensions between India and Pakistan, though enormously difficult, is as important as anything to the long-term stability of the region." Holding even a grain of truth, we have reason to be worried.

 

President Obama's long-awaited Afghanistan strategy, when it finally unfolded, left more unsaid — especially about the role Pakistan had to play if the strategy had to succeed. It is since the Presidential statement at West Point that we are gleaning the sub-text from leaks, both inspired and unintended. We are being regularly lulled into complacency, here in India at least, that Pakistan has been told in no uncertain terms that unless they themselves go after the indigenous Pakistan Taliban and others of their ilk, the US will do it.

 

There appears to be a good degree of confidence that Pakistan will play ball this time. Nevertheless the threat of increasing drone attacks inside Pakistan has been put on the table. It is, of course, not at all clear when this sub-strategy will be unleashed on Pakistan, given the hype of increasing anti-US sentiment purveyed by the Pakistani media and other sources. Obviously, there will be a period of persuasion and financial carrots — a $ 7.5 billion US aid package has already been authorised — in the hope that Pakistan is convinced of the US serious intent. Yet even this prescriptive exhortation is hedged.

 

Notwithstanding India's submissions, Washington does not appear to have entirely given up the idea that a resolution of India-Pakistan tensions is the key to making it possible for Pakistan to whole-heartedly partner in eliminating Al-Qaeda and the Taliban on its western border and beyond. Although not articulated it in these terms, it would appear that settling Pakistan's eastern border may well be an unstated pillar of the revised Af-Pak strategy of President Obama.

 

Dr Manmohan Singh's visit, although good as a long-term building block of bilateral relationship, does not appear to have laid the ghost of Kashmir which had been initially aired during the contretemps on Holbrook's mandate. Our determined action at that time vis-a-vis the US Administration ensured that India-Pakistan relations were kept out of his mandate. We felt that we had succeeded in projecting ourselves as a part of the solution and not the problem. We had come away with the belief that we had immunised our bilateral relationship with Pakistan. We have also been led to believe that our views on, and presence in, Afghanistan were being seen as contributing to settling that turbulent country.

 

While we know that our contribution is seen in a positive manner by the Afghans, this clearly does not spell the whole picture. Much has been left unsaid in our interactions with the US, and it appears that the linkage of the Af-Pak situation with the Indo-Pak situation had not been entirely given up.

 

We also need to see these developments in the context of both the US-China joint statement during President Obama's Beijing visit and the tragic Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement.

 

The US-China statement, for the first time and overtly, gave China a role in South Asian security and stability without so much as a by-your-leave from India. In so doing the US achieved China's long-standing aim of keeping us boxed into the India-Pakistan box from which the US-India civil nuclear agreement had extricated us. Nothing brings out more evocatively the contrasting positions of the Bush and Obama administrations on its India policy. More importantly, in hindsight, these statements have set the stage for pushing the envelope yet further by now suggesting the supposed criticality of reducing India-Pakistan tensions for a better passage in Afghanistan.

 

India can expect determined US pressure on it to take steps to reduce tensions with Pakistan by addressing both the Kashmir question and the issue of resumption of the composite dialogue process, never mind that we have so far got no satisfaction on meaningful action by Pakistan against the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack or on dismantling its flourishing terror infrastructure. This is where the Sharm-el-Sheikh document gives them the handle to pressure us to deliver on the "de-linking" commitment it contains, and the stick of Balochistan to hammer it in.

 

As if this is not enough, if there is any basis for President Obama's offer to Pakistan of a partnership of "unlimited potential", we can well imagine what it would want, starting with parity in civil nuclear cooperation , not to mention early closure on Kashmir. It is nothing short of frightening in terms of what it would do to India's regional and global stature and ambitions.

 

We need to realistically analyse our options, both political and diplomatic. The Russian commitment to help us in tackling Pakistan's "terror deficit" is a welcome boost to our position. There needs to be much greater pro-active diplomacy on this issue, as it is on the verge of being sidelined as a regular mantra that the Indians recite — its seriousness has dissipated both internally and abroad. Politically, the government should strengthen its hands by an all-party consensus or even a Parliament resolution which restates the cardinal points of our current negotiating stance on Pakistan.

 

The writer, a former diplomat, is Chairman, Kunzru Centre for Defence Studies and Research, Pune.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

ELEVEN INDIAN GODS

BY ASHOK KUMAR YADAV

 

From my schooling to university and finally into civil services, I have always been searching for a credible reply to an age-old enigma called God and its existence. Though I grew up imbibing that there is only one God and he is omnipresent, my scientific temper would at times make me swing like a pendulum between a believer and a non-believer.

 

As I matured, I came to realise that we cannot see or touch God because he is intangible and ethereal till I developed keen interest in cricket, a leading religion in India with 11 deities. What a massive public exaltation is enjoyed by them, I experienced it last week when I accompanied my son for a T20 match at Mohali.

 

As the Indian players arrived on the field, they were lustily cheered like mystical icons and given a standing ovation by thousands of teeming mortals.

 

Chasing a target of 207 runs, my son was emphatic that Indian 'deities' would easily crush the Lankan demons, re-enacting the 'Ramayana' way. What followed thereafter is now a slice of history. The opponents were shredded in tatters by a trademark batting display of T20 trinity of Veeru, Yuvi and Dhoni.

 

Whenever any boundary was hit, the entire stadium stood up in unison forming a pulsating pattern of 'mexican waves' demanding-four, demanding-more. The visitors were in a fix whenever an Indian god hit a six! The Lankans had epileptic fits whenever they skied lofty hits!

 

The iconic trio was truly benevolent and answered all the 'prayers' of their devotees instantaneously by hitting boundaries on demand. They appeared "omniscient" about their sentiments and did not disappoint them. Despite initial hiccups and sloppy fielding, they somehow succeeded in re-enacting the Shakespearean "Comedy of Errors" and did not let the match slip away.

 

We all kept crying hoarse reciting 'chaalisa' in their honour. The incessant cheering and physical aerobatics turned my stiff joints supple. My orthopedic consultant was quick to endorse 'cricket yoga' as the panacea for joint aches.

 

The daredevil heroics of 11 musketeers have earned them absolute sovereignty for having seized No. 1 rank in

Test cricket, with Sachin Tendulkar still sizzling for two long decades! But now there is not one god that people see only in Sachin but in the playing eleven who bring glory to India in all formats of game.

 

Like our scriptural deities, the contemporary gods have also been ascribed various names, such as, 'The Wall', 'Master Blaster', 'Little Master', 'Maharaja', 'Yuvraj', 'Nawab', 'Very Very Special', 'Turbonator', 'Jumbo' or 'Dada' depending upon their cricketing traits.

 

The millennium icons, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan have aptly summed up that 'film stars are reel heroes while the cricketing idols are real heroes worthy of emulation'. Various fan clubs have been formed where they are even worshipped. Even I have turned a believer.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

AMERICA ON DECLINE

IT WAS THE DECADE OF DISTRACTION

BY HAROLD MEYERSON

 

This decade began and ended in dread. It began with Wall Street – the World Trade Center – targeted for mass murder. It ends with Main Street fearful and reeling from economic reverses that Wall Street helped create.

 

It was the decade of distraction. While the U.S. economy bubbled and then crumbled, the president for eight of the decade's 10 years embroiled us in a grudge match with Saddam Hussein and then persisted in throwing lives and money into the chaotic conflict that (as many predicted would happen) ensued. The decline of the American middle class was nowhere on his radar screen.

 

The stocks bubble of the late 1990s was succeeded by a bubble in housing; these were the engines of our economic growth. America's production of goods no longer received the level of investment that had made it the engine of our economic growth from the mid-19th century through the 1970s. The change began at the outset of the Reagan years, when the percentage of corporate profits retained for new investment dropped sharply.

 

A report from the International Labor Organization published last week shows where the money went: to shareholder dividends, disproportionately benefiting the wealthy. In the prosperity years of 1946 to 1979, dividends constituted 23 percent of profits. From 1980 to 2008, they constituted 46 percent.

 

Finance boomed. The gap in annual wages between workers at financial companies and workers at non-financial companies, the ILO reports, grew from $11,000 in 1989 to $40,000 in 2007. The financial sector defended this shift by arguing that it had created many innovative financial products – the very financial products that managed to turn downturn into Great Recession.

 

In an interview in Monday's Wall Street Journal, former Fed chief Paul Volcker said that he has "found very little evidence that vast amounts of innovation in financial markets in recent years have had a visible effect on the productivity of the economy." He went on to say: "All I know is that the economy was rising very nicely in the 1950s and 1960s without all of these innovations."

 

The dread in the land today isn't just a fear of losing your job – or of your spouse, sister, father or child losing his or hers. It's a fear that America has been hollowed out, that we don't have a sustainable path back to mass prosperity, let alone to economic preeminence.

 

A poll taken last month for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) shows that 44 percent of Americans considered China to be the world's leading economic power, while just 27 percent thought the United States still held that throne. Such fears can only be intensified by public policies that fail to champion America's national interests by fostering the flight of investment abroad.

 

Overcoming some of our national phobia about having an industrial policy, the Obama administration has rightly targeted the renewable energy sector for investment – a long overdue shift back to real, rather than financial, production. But we don't yet have policies to ensure that the real production we're fostering is done at home.

 

As Joan Fitzgerald, director of the Law, Policy and Society program at Northeastern University, notes in a recent article, 84 percent of the $1.05 billion in federal clean-energy grants distributed since September has gone to foreign wind turbine manufacturers. Unionized, high-wage Germany and non-unionized, low-wage China both have thriving wind-power industries that profitably export their products to us. We have shunned policies that bolster domestic production, which is why more Americans are betting on China's economy than on our own.

The problem is that America's economic elites have thrived on the financialization and globalization of the economy that have caused the incomes of the vast majority of their fellow Americans to stagnate or decline.

 

The insecurity that haunts their compatriots is alien to them. Fully 85 percent of Americans in that CFR-sponsored poll said that protecting U.S. jobs should be a top foreign policy priority, but when the pollsters asked that question of the council's own members, just 21 percent said that protecting American jobs should be a top concern.

 

The moral world that we see in that poll is the moral world of Charles Dickens. Of the elite of his day, he wrote in "Bleak House," "there is much good in it. ..." But, he continued, "it is a world wrapped up in too much jeweller's cotton and fine wool, and cannot hear the rushing of the larger worlds, and cannot see them as they circle round the sun. It is a deadened world, and its growth is sometimes unhealthy for want of air."

 

 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

UPHOLDING HUMAN VALUES

BY AJAY KANCHAN

 

There is a film called "Torch-bearer" on the life of an ordinary farmer, whose concern for the death of a large number of pregnant women led him to construct one of the most modern hospitals in rural Assam.

 

Over the years his hospital succeeded in saving nearly 30,000 women from dying an untimely death. That farmer passed away recently. In a tribute Mahesh Bhatt wrote, "India has not stopped producing Gandhis, the fault is in our eyes that we fail to recognise them".

 

One such person is UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh. In his book called "Kashmiriyat" he makes a strong case how the age old "pluralist Sufi-Bhakti-Rishi culture" can work as an antidote against the mindless violence unleashed by jehadi elements and security forces in the Valley.

 

This is what Tasleema Nasreen has said about him: "At the age of 84, the values that Madanjeet Singh symbolises are something that the new generations of South Asians should imbibe. They are sinking in the stagnant pool of conservatism, narrow-mindedness, fanaticism and fear".

 

The chapters – "The Secular Legacy of Aasi" and "This, My People", – can move one to tears.

 

Madanjeet's work had even moved the then Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, to write a foreword for one of his books, and that too in his own hand writing!

 

Ambassador Madanjeet Singh has been described as the "Mandela of South Asia" and a "living Gandhi" among us that not many of us recognise.

 

Over a period of last 10 years, the South Asia Foundation (SAF), founded by Ambassador Madanjeet Singh, has set up institutions of excellence in all the SAARC countries to foster closer ties, especially among youth of the region.

 

It has been exhorting them to rise above the influence of parochial and divisive forces, which have embroiled the subcontinent in the vortex of poverty and inexplicable suffering.

 

It's remarkable the way it has been encouraging singers, writers, painters, and mobilising prominent people from all walks of life to protect the human values that are so dear to all of us and has been on the forefront of promoting gender equality in the region.

 

It would have been a lot better if instead of US President Barack Obama, the Oslo-based Nobel Prize Committee had conferred the Nobel Peace Prize on the SAF and Ambassador Madanjeet Singh.

 

Other than mouthing platitudes, Obama is yet to achieve anything significant for world peace, and has, in fact, even failed to prevent his popularity nosediving in his own country that gave him a landslide win with high hopes not so long ago.

 

In the look "Kashmiriyat" Madanjeet emerges as an author who all through his life had the courage to call a spade a spade.

 

If he's been unsparing in his attack on Islamic fundamentalists, he's no less scathing in his attack on elements in the Sangh parivar, and that's why he even went to the extent of saying that "the political strategy that Modi is emulating to win Gujarat elections is a carbon copy of Hitler's Nazi goons, and the mysterious fire that engulfed the train in Godhra was no different from the burning of the Reichstag building in Berlin that Hitler used as a prelude to winning elections in Germany".

 

Quite impressing was his stand not to accept the Padma award. His refusal to such a high State honour is absolutely unthinkable, especially at a time when so often we come across people in our circles working overtime to get their names recommended for some award and recognition, by hook or crook.

 

His assertion that, "I will not accept any award till the Picasso of India (MF Husain) is in exile" is nothing but the manifestation of his strong secular credentials that so many of our leaders just preach.

 

But strong political posturing is not the only thing Ambassador Madanjeet Singh has been doing. His stand on common currency for South Asia and innovative ways to reduce the tension and mitigate the suffering of people in the region are the real need of the hour.

 

As a filmmaker I have worked a lot in EU countries so I know what he's aiming to achieve.

 

No longer the countries of the EU waste their human and financial resources in manning their borders and arm their troops to teeth to fight one another, but here in the subcontinent where the countries don't even have enough resources to meet the most basic needs of their people, they squander billions in making their forces defend the barren and most inhospitable pieces of lands and for buying armaments that we all very well can do without. 

 

The writer is a film director and CEO of the Centre for Advocacy & Communication

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

CHATTERATI
THREE TYPES OF MINISTERS

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

A Union minister, while chatting the other day, happily categorised his colleagues into three groups, based on their "efficiency, proficiency and shrewd political aptitude". The likes of Pranab Mukherjee, P.Chidambaram, Kpil Sibal, Jaipal Reddy, Sharad Pawar, CP Joshi, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath, always come to Cabinet meetings prepared.

 

They are briefed by their secretaries and thoroughly read the agenda papers. But there are other ministers who bank on views of a section of the Cabinet and accordingly formulate their own "biased" opinions.

 

Ministers such MK Azhagiri and Mamata Banerjee skip meetings, leaving it to their secretaries to do the needful. And if Mamata does attend a meeting, she throws tantrums. Why do they get away with this? Then we have the ones who rarely have anything to say. But to be fair, it's usually the Congress ministers who come prepared. The other UPA ministers really don't have to answer to anyone. So, why bother?

 

Politicians in cricket

 

Having lost to Union Minister Joshi as the president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, Lalit Modi seems to be surrounded by problems. Having to shake Jagmohan Dalmiya's hand for support is really a sign of desperation for him. And here Dalmiya is the one smiling.

 

But now we have very few states where politicians are not heads of cricket associations. Starting from Farooq Abdullah to Lalu, and of course the mighty Sharad Pawar. The common man just cannot understand the importance of becoming the head of a cricket association in the state. Maybe he should understand the money involved.

 

Also it has become fashionable to be amongst cricketers. But it is really a sad state of affairs for such tall leaders to waste their time on games. People elect them for doing development work and not to become a part of the elitist game.

 

Rent a bag

 

Now Delhi girls, who'd love to show off a branded handbag but can't afford one, can rent one. A website called Bagsutra is going to start its operations in Delhi soon Mumbai. They charge a certain amount and give high-end bags, sunglasses and other things on rent. It's a very American trend, to rent luxury accessories.

 

Website like Bag Borrow or Steal and Bags to Riches have allowed many women in Europe and the US to flaunt expensive bags, sunglasses and shoes from the brands they can't afford. But is Delhi the rent-a-bag kind of city?

 

Knowing Delhi society women, I am sure it will work. Everyone wants a feel of the stuff from these high-end brands. As long as the identity of the person renting the items is not disclosed, people would love it. Delhi is brand-conscious and this will allow the middle class also to flaunt a bag they have longed for.

 

It could work because the membership fee is only Rs. 10,000. If you do the math, you will realise that it turns out to be very economical. However, I see two problems here: one, the bags are not going to be from the latest season. And two, they might not be in great condition, what with so many people borrowing and renting them! Also, what is the guarantee that people won't run away with a product worth more than a lakh that they can get by just paying a deposit of Rs 10,000?

 

This whole renting business is for a different market segment completely, like college kids who can't afford to buy one on their own. Also, one must keep in mind that it is not in the Indian ethos to have second-hand things.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INCONCLUSIVE SUMMIT

 

There had been a tremendous, world-wide sense of expectation prior to the Copenhagen summit on climate change although cynics had pointed out that the presence of delegates from over hundred and ninety nations, apart from converting the summit site into a veritable Tower of Babel, would achieve little else. With the clock on global warming ticking on inexorably, it had been hoped that political leaders would rise above petty compulsions and national loyalties and work as one towards a global goal. In the event this has turned out to be an opium dream. As usual Governmental apologists and those endowed with inordinate optimism are attempting to provide alibis for human stupidity. But the tragic truth is that the summit has not been able to attain even an iota of what it had set out to achieve, and basic issues remain unresolved. It has failed on every criteria of success, with even the UN Secretary General acknowledging this fact. There has been no agreement on emission cuts for developed countries beyond 2012, the proposed requirement being 25 to 40 per cent of 1990 levels by 2020. Tentative pledges of around 100 billion US dollars by the year 2020, as against the proposed 200 million, to help provide anti-polluting technology to developing nations have been informally made, but neither the source of the financing nor its distribution mechanism has been specified.


The pledges currently made in the three-page document, dubbed the Copenhagen Accord and drafted by 25 nations, will witness an increase in the average global temperature by about 3 to 3.9 degree Celsius, while the Accord itself acknowledges the need to hold the rise in global temperature at below 2 degree Celsius. Since even a rise of 1 to 1.5 degree Celsius might spell disaster for many island nations, such pledges have left many Island States and African nations utterly dissatisfied. The sole positive aspect of the Accord is that it includes major green-house gas polluters such as the US, China and India, and promises greater transparency in pollutant monitoring in all countries, developed or developing. The inconclusive meet at Copenhagen also exposes the futility of a large gathering of nations to work out a consensus to an over-riding issue. For instance, while only 25 nations were drafted in to pen the Accord, in reality it involved just five —the US, India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Perhaps this is a sign that the era of huge, multinational, UN sponsored meets on climate change might be over, and that actual progress would be made in the future through bilateral or multilateral dialogue between nations. Such a change in the modus operandi may well be a far more practical one, since Copenhagen has shown how difficult it is to combat climate-change through emissions-curbing measures sought to be coordinated between too many nations.


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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY

 

The sluggish growth rate of agriculture remains a serious challenge before the State Government. While heavy floods and erosion have been a perennial bane for the sector, recurring phases of drought-like situations in the past few years have made things worse. Given our stagnant agricultural production, any further drop in crop yield is fraught with ominous portents. With the scientific community predicting an increase in the vagaries of nature in the years ahead – thanks to global warming and the resultant climate change — it is time to put in place a mechanism that can mitigate the adverse impacts on agriculture. Agricultural research and technological interventions could play a critical role in ensuring a sustained production. Unfortunately, lack of initiatives at government level has effectively distanced scientific intervention from agriculture. In order to harness the tremendous possibilities offered by the fertile Brahmaputra and Barak valleys, it has to be ensured that the boons of agricultural research percolate down to the grassroots. The State's marginalized farming community is in dire need of all the expertise related to crop production, management, post-harvest technologies and value-addition, storage, market linkage and institutional finance. Investment in agriculture is a must if it is to become a sustainable exercise, giving the farmer what is his due. Also imperative is to have an adequate compensation package for the farmers in view of the recurring natural calamities like floods and drought.


The phenomenon of climatic aberrations makes it imperative that our farmers adjust to the changes through a curative mechanism involving alterations in traditional farm practices. The required changes in cropland and crop management, however, will be possible only when the relevant information, technology and training reach the small, marginal and landless agriculturists who constitute a majority of the farming community. The overall status of agriculture will never witness any meaningful transformation unless the primordial manner in which it is still carried on in the region is reversed. The growing volatility of the weather also warrants greater research, especially in developing crop varieties that are high-yielding and can withstand temperature variations to a higher degree. Similarly, water-resistant rice varieties that can endure prolonged flood situations are another urgent need. Micro watershed management and soil conservation also assume tremendous significance under the changing circumstances. The challenges before agriculture are grave and have to be tackled through competitive technologies and an enhanced level of efficiency. The focus should be on working out a strategy for better management of resources, effective coordination among stakeholders and addressing researchable issues for increasing productivity.


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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GEOGRAPHICAL STUDY IN ASSAM

DR MANAMOHAN DAS

 

Since the time of the advent of men on the surface of the earth, geographical knowledge has been unavoidable for them to live on by adjusting to the natural environment. But his art of adjusting to the natural inveiglement at that primitive time was at the level of intuition only rather than cognizable knowledge of than- environment relation. It was the Greek scholar Eratosthenes wait during the third century B.C., coined and used the term 'geography' in his writing for the first time. In Greek language, 'ge' means the earth and 'graphien' means description. So the literal meaning of the term 'geography' is the 'description of the earth'. It is now known that many other scholars made geographical investigation and wrote geographical description without using the word 'geography'.


The geographical description of ancient Assam is made on the basis of the scattered information found in the religious scriptures in which geographical background of the holy places is described for the interest of the practice of religion. For the first time, some British administrators, military officers and physicians wrote detailed accounts of geographical environment of Assam after the Yandaboo, Treaty of 1826 A.D. for the interest of their activities. Among them, the names of John M'Cosh, Moffat Mills, Major John Butler, Hamilton, Nobel Williams, Walters, Major General Alexander Cunningham, Layel and Robert Reid may be worth-mentioning.

Assistant Surgeon John M'Cosh puiblished his book Topography of Assam in 1837. This is an excellent book dealing with land, people -Indian story, agriculture, plants and animals, mineral wealth, climate, administration, culture, customs, land, system and ethnic groups living in the hills and plains of Assam. All these themes are included in geographical study. While writing about the administrative system of different government departments under the British rule in the 'Report on the Province of Assam' prepared by Moffat Mills in 1853, he described in detail about land system, settlement, agriculture, method of land revenue collection, behaviour of people, industry, transport and communication, education system, law, etc. of the then six districts of Assam–Goalpara, Gohati, Lusimpur, Nowgong, Shivsagar and Durrang. Thus in his writing, many geographical informant and description of the then Assam are found. The two books—A Sketch of Asom and Travels and Adventures in the Province of Asom were authored by Major John Butler in 1855. In the former, geographical description and relevant aspects of Assam have been written and in the latter he nicely presented a detailed description of the customs and rituals, social structure, ways of living, culture, etc. of the various tribes of Assam. The Ancient Geography of India authored by Major General Alexander Cunningham published in 1871 was a valuable geographical book.


It not only provides an extensive geographical account of ancient India, but also a brief geographical account of the Kamrupa Kingdom .According to him the ancient Kamrupa was so extensive that besides the Brahmaputra Valley it included Coch Bihar and Valley Bhutan. Besides, extensive geographical accounts of 19th century and earlier Assam are four in the books like The Province of Assam by Laye, Huen-Chang's Travel in India by Walters, The Lohit Brahmaputra of Nobel Williams, Ggraphical, Statistical and Historical Description of Hindustan and Adjacent Countries by Hamilton and report on the Eastern Frontiers of Assam by Pambertion. The erudite Sanskrit scholar of Assam Anando Ram Barooah presented a detailed geographical description of ancient Kamrupa Kingdom along with the description of different regions of ancient India in his book Ancient Geography of India published in 1880. He said in his book that the Kamrupa Kingdom was spreading from Kartoya river in the west to the frontier of China towards east.


A brief but excellent geographical description is made by Dr. Birinchi Kumar Baruah on the ancient and medieval Assam in the introductory chapter of his book Cultural History of Assam published in 1951. In this book, the author used meticulously collected information from a large number of sources. Besides, enough geographical information are found in the two chapter one on " Economic Condition' and the other on Social System" in this book.


From the ancient time, there are evidences of geographical thinking and writing found in religious scriptures, administrative reports and historical literatures. But geography was not studied as a separate institutional subject though the term "geography" was coined by the Greek scholar Eratostenes for the first time in 2 d century B.C. He started the method of study of geography as the study of " the Earth as the home of men' and, therefore, this Greek scholar is called the father of geography. In spite of that geography was not studied as a separate subject till the classification of knowledge during the 18th century. During that time not only in Assam, but also in India as a whole, no attempt was made to study geography as a separate subject.


From, the beginning of the 19th century to the time of Independence, geography as a subject was taught only at school level during the British rule. However, commercial geography was introduced at the intermediate level of the colleges as an optional subject. Knowledge about distribution of the locations of natural resources, their exploitation and the nature of export-import in different countries of the world or different regions of the same country were taught and studied.


In the beginning of the British rule, text books for the schools and colleges were written in English and Bengali. But later on textbooks were also started to be written in Assamese. In the first part of the 20th century, Harinarayan Dutta Baruah and Heramba Borpujari wrote textbooks of geography in Assamese for the school level. The Atlas prepared by Nagendra Narayan Choudhury was a worth-mentioning contribution to the study of geography at school level. As geography was a compulsory separate subject at school level during that period, so all the students could get a comprehensive knowledge of the distribution and interrelation of different places, people, mountains and hills, rivers, climate, flora and fauna, agriculture, mineral resources, industries, transport and communication and trade of the world, India and Assam. Unfortunately, the students are deprived of the opportunity of acquiring geographical knowledge of different countries of the world, India and Assam, even in this age of highly developed science and technology, because of the withdrawal of the subject geography from its status as a separate compulsory subject in the school level. At present only a handful number of students studying in the colleges and the University levels can earn the knowledge of geography.


Before Independence teachers were trained in Normal Schools to prepare globes and maps so that they can teach geography with the aid of globes and maps to the students at the primary and MV level schools. After the abolition of Normal Schools now the teachers and students do not know how to prepare globes and maps.


For the first time BT course was introduced in 1948 in Gauhati University. Geography was included as one of the subjects in B.T. course. Besides, G.T. (Geographical Training) was introduced as a condensed course for only 3 months in the Gauhati University to meet the scarcity of geography teachers at the High School level- The Education Department of Assam provided deputation to some of the teachers of the High Schools for taking training in GT course. Such a condensed course continued for 10 years. This effort of the Government of Assam and Gauhati University indicates the due importance given to the subject Geography during that period.


In 1949 after one year of the establishment of Gauhati University, Geography at the undergraduate level was introduced for the first time. Then Geography was taught both at the pass and honours level of undergraduate courses. The graduates in geography could fulfil the requirement of geography teachers in the High Schools to some extent. The postgraduate courses were introduced in the Department of Geography of Gauhati University in 1958 for the first time. But there was an acute scarcity of students for admission into the PG classes in the beginning as the students who did not have geography as a subject in the undergraduate classes were not allowed to take admission in the PG classes. In the mean time the undergraduate classes in the University were abolished. During that period geography was taught only in a few colleges. In order to fulfil/ the need of geography teachers in the Higher Secondary and Colleges, Gauhati University introduced a "three year vacation course" at the P.G. standard in 1961. The graduate teachers of High Schools who were desirous of studying geography for MA MSc. degree could come to the Department of Geography, Gauhati University during vacation period and could obtain MA./MSc. degree. Thereafter they could get appointment as lecturers in the colleges or Higher Secondary Schools. Such a vacation course was run only for 3 years on experimental basis.

Now many colleges of Assam have opened Major Courses in geography. Hence there is tremendous pressure for admission into the post graduate course in geography by the increasing number of candidates having Major at the degree level. For candidates who do not obtain first class Major, it becomes almost impossible to get seats in the PG classes. For that reason, the University accorded permission to introduce PG classes in geography in Cotton College and Bajali College. Cotton college started the PG classes in 1985 and Bajali College in 1984.

(Published on the occasion of Golden Jubilee year of the Department of Geography, Gauhati University)


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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PAK GOVERNMENT'S TRYST WITH DESTINY

 

Often, events in Pakistan seem to descend into the realm of pure farce. We have the spectacle of the Pakistani defence minister being prevented by Pak immigration officials from boarding a plane to proceed on an official visit to China.


Now, the two aren't incidents quite linked. But the propensity for the absurd is. Indeed, it is the Zardari government which now faces the piquant situation of being labelled, or treated like, crooks by the highest court in the land.


That undoubtedly would be a first of its kind — a court indicting, wholesale, the rulers of the land. And when one considers the miasma of corruption that pervades Pakistan, such drastic moves by the Supreme Court seem, again, quite Quixotically-absurd.


The background is the annulling of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was basically an unholy deal between Musharraf and the Bhuttos to quash the corruption cases against them so that they could return to Pakistan from exile.


And after the court's directive, since (reportedly) around 248 beneficiaries of the NRO have been put on the exit control list to prevent them from fleeing the country — including several top guns of the ruling establishment — the regime is understandably getting quite hot under the collar.


Which the situation has led some observers to ask that perennial question: just who is in charge in Pakistan, then? The army, the Zardari regime or now, the Supreme Court?


The sight of a dignitary such as the defence minister himself being treated thus only encapsulates the bizarre situation. The million-dollar question is whether all this will, by accident, lead to some sort of better democracy in the neighbourhood.


A stellar example of enforcing accountability, as it were. Will the tainted ministers and officials go? Will Zardari have to go too? If the larger picture wasn't so troubling, this could actually have been fun.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

DATA LOSS IN POWER

 

Cautious welcome should greet the veritable surge in investment proposals in power by varied large and middling-sized companies. Power is a policy-challenged sector, riddled with shortages, revenue leakage and routine theft in distribution.


The way ahead in policy terms is to follow through with distribution reforms, and purposefully clamp down on aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, with close monitoring on the ground. Investor bullishness is not enough to rev up power capacity.


Also required are attendant execution capabilities, the financial strength to tie up project funding and garner fuel linkage as well; there can be a panoply of rigidities in the whole process.


Besides, given that the going 'spot' rates for power — Rs 6-7 per unit — are almost double the average long-term rates, the rush to set up merchant power plants may be the reason, in the main, for stepped up investor interest. It remains to be seen how well merchant producers, while aiming at buoyant returns, cope with the higher risks.


Overall, the figures suggest that a total capacity of 62,374 mw pan-India is likely to be setup in the current 11th Plan (2007-12) 'with a high level of certainty'. Should the numbers actually materialise in the aggregate — just over 18,000 mw has been commissioned by late October — it would amount to a 50% increase over actual outcome in the 10th Plan.


It's progress, but clearly on a low base. Besides, the latest data and trends on AT&C losses are an official secret. The power ministry website does say that overall AT&C loss did drop from 38.86% in 2001-02 to 34.54% in 2005-06.

Concurrently, the commercial losses of state power utilities reduced from Rs 29,331 crore to Rs 19,546 crore. But there's apparently been no updates since. As a matter of fact, the Economic Survey earlier this year chose not to mention power utility losses at all.


In the domain of policy, ignoring a deep-seated problem would hardly solve it. It's time we mandate quarterly results for state power utilities. We do need to end widespread opacity in power.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COPENHAGEN FAILS

 

It would be easy to dismiss the 15th Conference of Parties at Copenhagen (Cop15) as a cop-out on climate change. Measured against the conference objective of coming up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which committed developed countries to measurable emission cuts by 2012, the conference failed.


What an agreement brokered by US President Barack Obama with the BASIC group of China, India, Brazil and South Africa has done is to commit countries to keep negotiating to reach an agreement, hopefully, at Cop16 in Mexico. This agreement was 'recognised' rather than adopted by Cop15. Unless all 193 members of the UN agree to this, it will have no legal sanctity.


But this has to be seen in the context that the Kyoto Protocol, which had legal sanctity, has not made developed countries cut their emissions as promised. In the absence of mechanisms to either effectively penalise or resolve disputes, international obligations are hard to enforce. Government commitments to their own national expectations will have far more force.


The US-BASIC agreement envisages $30 billion will be made available to developing countries for fighting climate change by 2012, and larger sums thereafter. More significantly, the agreement says that both developed and developing countries will list their climate change actions, and, crucially, provide information on these actions through national communications and international consultations and analysis 'under clearly-defined guidelines'.

This is likely to get the goat of many high-minded nationalists in India, who will fault the government for submitting to 'imperialist' pressure. This Pavlovian reflex completely misses the advantage it bestows on India.


While the Chinese make grand commitments to fight climate change but insist on remaining stereotypically inscrutable on vital questions of how and how much, even as parliamentary democracy keeps such information transparently in the public domain in India, India's international competitiveness would suffer should the Chinese choose to fudge their figures.


That the Chinese have agreed to international consultation under defined guidelines offers some insurance against this risk. India must refine its position to become an even more aggressive climate negotiator. Let us put more 'no regrets' commitments unilaterally on the table and then demand reciprocal action by developed and competing developing countries.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

TRACKING INDIA'S TALENT SUPPLY

CHETAN AHYA

 

While the demographic skew will be in India's favour in the job market over the next decade and a half, this can turn into an advantage only if our education system can churn out quality workforce, says Chetan Ahya Among the large countries in the world, India will continue to have the best demographic trend as measured in terms of age dependency by ratio of old and children — people under 15 or over 65 to working age population — people 15-64.


In simplistic terms, median age in India will rise from 25 years in 2010 to 30 years in 2025 while in China, it will rise from 34 years to 39 years during the period. In the US, Western Europe and Japan, it will rise from 37 years, 42 years and 45 years to 39 years, 46 years and 51 years, respectively.


As of 2009, India's total working age population (age 15 to 64) is likely to hit 765 million, or about 17% of the world's working age population.


The UN population division estimates that over the next 10 years, India's working age population is set to grow by a cumulative 138 million — significantly greater than the expected increase of 33 million in China. This compares with an increase of 12 million in the US and declines of eight million and 18 million in Japan and Europe, respectively. A positive demographic trend may be a necessary condition for strong growth, but it is not a sufficient one.

 


India needs to convert the advantage of having a growing working population into a virtuous loop, creating productive jobs for the expanding workforce, which, in turn, should translate into higher savings, investment and economic growth.


To be sure, the government has been gradually initiating reforms to create productive job opportunities, thus lifting GDP growth. A benign globalisation trend has also played a key role in accelerating job creation.


We believe that the quality mix of the fresh additions to the workforce over the next 10 years is likely to be dramatically different. The quality of India's current workforce is lagging, with 34% of the adult population classed as illiterate (as of 2007).

 

Currently, we estimate that only 7-9% of the population moving into the 15-year-plus age bracket is illiterate. However, we think this ratio could dip to well below 5% over the next few years.


To understand the potential shift in the working age population's education level, we conducted a proforma simulation of the flow across various education levels. Note that this simulation assumes that the current trends in enrolment, promotion, repetition and dropout rates are maintained/ witness improvement over the coming decade and that there is a commensurate rise in education-related infrastructure.


Our simulation indicates that there could be a steady rise in out-turn of students at all three levels of education: primary, secondary and tertiary. Enrolment rates in primary schools have already witnessed a significant rise over the past few years, both on net and gross basis.


The key reason for this improvement has been the success of the government with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan — that providing universal primary education — programme and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme — under which a free lunch meal is provided to students to encourage them to attend school. Out-of-school children — in the primary age group who are currently not in school — have dropped to around 5.6 million, as per World Bank estimates, in 2007 from 18 million as of 2000.


Additionally, the dropout ratio has also witnessed a significant improvement in recent years. According to District Information System for Education (DISE) data, the retention rate — the percentage of students who complete their education — at the primary level has shown a steady improvement over the past three years. It improved to 73.7% in 2007-08 from 58% in 2004-05 and 53% in 2003-04.


Our simulation exercise suggests that, if the current trends are maintained, the number of students graduating from primary school each year, or out-turn, could increase from 18 million in 2008 to 20.3 million in 2015, and further to about 21.4 million by 2020.

The impact of this higher enrolment would be felt on out-turn at the secondary level as well. Indeed, secondary enrolment rates have already started to pick up. According to World Bank data, the secondary school gross enrolment rate has picked up to 57% in 2007 from 46.2% in 2000.


In India, there are two key secondary education levels: lower secondary with education up to Grade X and higher secondary with education up to Grade XII. Our simulation suggests that lower secondary out-turn could increase from around 7.8 million in 2008 to 11.8 million by 2015, and further to about 14.5 million by 2020. Out-turn at the upper secondary level could also increase from around 5.3 million in 2008 to 9.2 million by 2015 and further to 11.2 million by 2020.


Finally, this improvement would also filter through to the tertiary level. Out-turn at the tertiary level could increase from 3.5 million in 2008 to 5.9 million by 2015 and about 7.2 million by 2020, as per our simulation. This would imply an increase in India's tertiary educated workforce from 48-50 million in 2008 to 116 million by 2020.

With the increased focus of the government and private sector in providing higher education facilities and rising young population, both India and China have already begun to outpace the US, Brazil and Russia. The out-turn of the tertiary graduates in China has been much larger than India due to significantly larger delta in population in the 20-24 age bracket in China compared to India.


However, this trend is likely to change over the next few years with India witnessing a larger delta in population in this age bracket compared to China. In others words, by 2020, we believe that India will emerge the largest in the world in terms of annual out-turn of tertiary graduates.


We think government efforts will be critical to achieve our estimates. The availability of infrastructure and teachers will be the key to ensure that the quality of education imparted and the supply of an educated workforce does not suffer or become constrained with the rapid growth.


To realise our estimates of growth in primary, secondary and tertiary educated population, the government will need to ensure that there are adequate measures initiated to increase the number of teachers and professors.

(The author is managing director of Morgan Stanley Research)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'GHOST, PHANTOM HUNGRY FOR MORE'

CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN

 

It's a car brand many aspire to drive but few manage to own. For long, Rolls-Royce was associated with the royalty and the upper crest. The maker of the quintessential car that delivers world's best luxury on wheels came back to India in 2005 after a five-decade hiatus.

 

But in all these years, the Goodwood-based Rolls-Royce Motor Cars continued to maintain its Indian connection by sourcing the antique Malabar wood from the south for its exclusive handmade interiors. For Colin Kelly, regional director for Asia-Pacific at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, India is one of the more exciting market.

The country has about 1,000 ultra high net worth Indians — people who typically have cash or assets worth over $30 million — and this number is rising faster here than elsewhere. "We recently unveiled our new car Ghost in India, which may also be the first Asian market to have this model next year."


The company had sold just 15 cars in 2008-09, but expects the demand to become more robust in 2010 and, therefore, sell 75 cars next year.


The Ghost, that will be priced at Rs 2.5 crore, would comprise 50-60 units, and Phantom, Rolls-Royce's other luxury saloon priced at over Rs 3.75 crore, would make up the balance.


The Phantom comes with a bigger tag due to the added cost of personalisation for every customer who invests in these super-niche handcrafted cars, often referred to as haunted marquees due to their branding. Phantom and Ghost are, after all, associated with night and darkness.


Rolls-Royce wants to maintain its lead in the Asia-Pacific region in the super luxury market. But when competition is fierce and economies are still recovering from what is said to be the worst recession since the Great Depression, maintaining the lead is a challenge.


Rolls-Royce had scaled down its production in 2009 due to global meltdown. It sold 1,212 cars in 2008 and, this year, sales may be just a shade under 1,000 cars.


So, how badly did the recession hurt demand for Rolls-Royce cars? The company initially expected Asian sales to be down 35%, but sales have picked up in the past few months, notes Kelly. "Next year, sales would accelerate to over 400 cars in the region," he forecasts.


This optimism has translated into a new production line at the Rolls-Royce's UK plant. Expectations are that global sales will double next year. "We are looking to sell 2,500 units globally in 2010, of which two-third is expected to come from the yet-to-be-launched Ghost," Kelly adds.


More people are to be hired to cope with the anticipated pick up in demand with the launch of Ghost. Thus the BMW group company is increasing its global headcount by 200, taking its total employee strength to 900 by the end of this year.


So, why did the company decide to launch another series at this stage? The company expects people with billions in disposable income would be charmed by the vehicle's simplistic design and whisper-quiet 6.6-litre twin-turbocharged V12 engine added to 8-speed automatic ZF gearbox. Ghost, Rolls-Royce most technologically-advanced car, was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September this year.


Incidentally, Ghost is a resurrected brand from the early years of Rolls-Royce. The brand with a premium positioning in those days was discontinued when Rolls-Royce introduced Phantom. This time, Ghost is positioned as a standard luxury car, and that explains why it is priced at a discount to the Phantom.


Despite the changes in the new car, the front doors of all RR cars still carry a standard integrated Teflon-coated umbrellas for chauffeurs to guide their owners in all types of unpredictable weather across the globe.


Rolls-Royce has already received 25 bookings for the Ghost in India, but it is hungry for more.


It aims to sell double the number in the next few years in India.


So how does it plan to go about luring more customers? It will undertake keen marketing initiatives for the ultra high net worth Indians though networking dinners and super-class special sporting events. But dealership, it will not expand. That will remain exclusive — one each in Delhi and Mumbai.


At least in the near term. "Everybody is keeping an eye on India. India is a key market for us. Last year, we added our second dealership in Delhi and if demand increases, we will expand, but not now. The current team is enough to take care of the Indian market for the next few years," says Mr Kelly.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TRANSFORM ALL HARMFUL EMOTIONS

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

It was wisely said that impatience can be a virtue if practised on oneself. Right though this statement is, it also is incomplete and inconclusive. In fact, all disturbing, harmful and retarding emotions such as impatience, repentance, regrets, cravings, jealousy, grudges, resentments and even depression can be transformed into virtues. However, there is a big if attached to this possibility.


Yes, the happy outcome of transforming such emotions to creative and constructive purposes would come about only when these emotions are also accompanied by the ability to understand, analyse and channel these. This is through patience, perseverance and intelligent application, inspired by that abiding wish power (ichcha shakti) within.

After all, emotions of all kinds, including those commonly thought of as negative, are forms of energy. Just as one form of energy can be converted into another, so can one form of emotion, which may otherwise damage, can be transformed into another, which would be supporting.


Taking the case of repentance, this would continue to mar the sufferer. However, when brakes are applied, one would discover, in many cases, that it is not too late to reverse.


Even where wisdom dawns too late, he can offer the wisdom gained to other true seekers and, in fact, where possible, himself take a different route to another form of excellence, which would beckon his wounded, yet ennobled and wise, personality. This approach could, thus, act as the base to catapult him to levels of substantial fulfilment — his own and others.


The possibility, as above, is also the base for the ancient Indian visualisation of transforming even the sensual and sexual energy, besides cravings to dynamic and creative outlets. This concept is that of awakening one's latent powers, in this regard (kundalini shakti or serpent power), lying thus far, coiled in its base and dormant position.

This process is also the cessation of longings and the 'burning' within, whereby one could invariably be led eventually even to fulfilment of his originally conceived of dreams too. This verily is true and sustained liberation through really 'having one's fill': mukti through bhakti.


Intelligence would prompt that for all apparently negative emotions, there always is the opposite side of the coin. Wisdom lies in divining this truth through tapping and awakening one's latent powers and the treasure house within, thus learning to live happily ever after!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME FOR A DISPASSIONATE DEBATE

MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH

 

It's a bit like George Bush's famous quip, 'you're either with us or against us'. Today, you are either for Telangana or against it. And no, you don't have to be from Andhra Pradesh to have strong feelings on the subject!

The prospect of similar demands from other states — notably Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra — where there have been simmering movements for separate statehood, means there's hardly anybody who doesn't have a view! And a strong one at that!


But just as the flip-flop on the issue lends credence to the view that the government panicked and conceded the demand without thinking through the consequences, a lot of the subsequent discussion has been impressionistic, off-the-cuff, based on gut feel.


Given our size and diversity, a degree of decentralisation is not just desirable but essential if the fruits of development are to reach the aam aadmi.


Having accepted that there is no gainsaying how many states is optimal.


Back in the 1950s, the States Reorganisation Committee headed by Justice Fazal Ali recommended formation of 16 states and three centrally-administered territories.


The government, however, opted for 14 states and six Union territories. Today, we have gone from 14 to 28 states. Would we have been better off had we stuck to the original 14? Unlikely!


So, to argue, as many have done, that there is some kind of sanctity about maintaining the present status quo: 28 states and seven Union territories is to assume that this is the optimal number.


Is there a basis for this? Unfortunately, international experience is not much use. Thus, if you have countries like the US with a population of just 308 million — against our 1.1 billion — with 50 states, you also have Canada with 10 provinces and three territories while Australia has six states and two territories.


So, clearly, these are issues that countries or rather their people have to decide for themselves.


But we don't need to look abroad for answers. Whatever the merits and demerits of sub-dividing states — and one can argue on this till the cows come home — if nationhood is about bettering the lives of people, the deciding factor must be whatever configuration is best able to deliver the fruits of development.

And on this, the evidence is unambiguous.


Barring the north-east that has special problems, hard data suggests that, in general, smaller states have performed better once they were spun off.


This is true of Gujarat, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh — all three have made rapid progress after they were freed from the embrace of their larger parents — and is equally true of the most-recent reorganisation in 2000 when Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand were carved out of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh respectively.
Per-capita GDP growth rate in all three cases has shot up after they were spun off. The case of Chhattisgarh is most striking, in that not only did the per-capita income growth rate go up almost five-old — from 3.4% prior to being spun off to over 15% in both 2006-07 and 2007-08 — the new state also grew faster than the parent state in both years.


The picture is not very different in the Jharkhand and Uttarakhand either with both recording faster growth post the split.


Not surprisingly, human development indicators have also improved. Infant mortality and enrolment of girls — both good proxies for any measure of human development — are both vastly improved after division than before. The only aspect on which the results seem a bit ambiguous is on fiscal performance where division doesn't seem to have made much difference.


Culture is often cited as a reason for communities wanting a separate identity. But if Hawaii is happy to be part of the US and Gibralter is happy to be a self-governing overseas British territory despite huge cultural ifferences, clearly it is economics that dominates.


If people are able to benefit economically by being a part of a prosperous larger entity, then cultural differences take a back seat — else, they come to the fore and form a nucleus around which other demands piggyback.


Does this mean we must keep dividing states, amoeba-like? Not necessarily — remember there are many states where there are no such demands. Also, even in states where there are demands, it is largely in pockets where people feel they are not part of the economic mainstream and do not share equally in the prosperity of the larger entity.

If smaller states address that sense of economic alienation, there is no reason why emotion should be allowed to come in the way.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'MARKET MAY TURN INTO A STOCKPICKER'S PARADISE'

SANTOSH NAIR

 

Navneet Munoth, chief investment officer, SBI Mutual Fund , says that the speedy execution of road projects across the country, and some successful disinvestments will be the factors deciding the market's performance in the next few months. Domestic consumption will also be a major trigger. In an interview with ET , he says that global investors will have to focus on India. Excerpts:


The market has been struggling in a narrow range over the past few weeks, and the general view is that it is more likely to go down than up in the short term. What is your view?


For the past couple of months, our view has been that the market will consolidate for some more time. We still maintain that. Price-earnings multiples have expanded, a further re-rating looks tough at this stage. Earnings will now have to catch up.


The next trigger will be the government's policy measures on the monetary and fiscal side. Looking at the recovery in the economy and rising inflation, a large part of the monetary and fiscal stimulus will be withdrawn over the next few quarters. There is little doubt as far as the direction of the measures is concerned. As to the sequence of withdrawal, the government is likely to take a view based on incremental (economic) data flow.


How soon do you expect a revival in corporate earnings, and what do you see as the likely drivers?

For the current quarter as well as the next, we are not expecting any major surprises. From the (April-) June quarter onwards, we expect earnings growth to start picking up. Even otherwise, the market is not looking at the numbers for this and the next quarter; the focus is now on FY11 numbers.

 

A lot of that has been priced in, to a large extent. But if the global environment remains favourable, the monsoon is good, there are some surprises on the reforms front, then we could see a better-than-expected growth in the economy, which in turn could create further headroom for stock prices.

 

The market is expecting speedy execution of road projects across the country, and some successful disinvestments. Liquidity will be another key trigger. Increasingly, we think that global investors will have to focus on India.


Which are the themes that you are looking to play in the near term?

We are positive on the infrastructure space, as India is deficient in all kinds of infrastructure, be it roads, ports, power. Within this segment, we are bullish on power and roads (companies), where there is more visibility in terms of earnings and execution.


The second big theme is domestic consumption — basic consumer goods, decorative paints, food and beverages, media and entertainment. But the bigger theme, going forward (2010-11) will be bottom-up investing. We feel that it will be a stockpicker's paradise, and higher alpha (returns) can be generated by focusing on the stock, and not the sector.


What about real estate? The residential property market appears to be doing well, though the commercial segment continues to remain depressed?

We are very, very selective. We will take a company-specific view. There may be few pockets of opportunity, but broadly, there are still lots of issues — balance sheets and the pace of execution.
Inflows into equity schemes of mutual funds over the past few months have been disappointing. Do you expect the situation to reverse anytime soon?


In a rising market, most retail investors tend to book profits. That is one reason why outflows have exceeded inflows in the past few months. But once the market stabilises, a lot of money on the sidelines will start coming back into equities. Most investors are underweight on equity even now. We expect that to change, going forward.

What are your views on interest rates, currency and gold?

Given the trend in inflation, we expect monetary tightening to begin, with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) hiking policy rates. Bond yields are likely to stay range-bound with a marginal upward bias. The Budget will provide cues as to how the fiscal situation is likely to play out.


As for currency, over a longer period, structurally most Asian currencies are likely to strengthen against the dollar. Gold should be viewed as a hedge against either a spike in inflation or a depreciation in the rupee against the dollar.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'THERE'LL ONLY BE A FEW WINNERS AND WE WILL BE ONE OF THEM'

JOJI THOMAS PHILIP

 

JUST two months in the job and the new CEO of the troubled equipment maker Nokia Siemens Rajeev Suri is confident of turning around the world's second-largest telecom gear maker. The first Indian to head a global telecom equipment firm, Mr Suri, along with adopting a new strategy for the company, has also spent a considerable amount of time in 'town halls across the world interacting with thousands of employees, sharing his vision and seeking their support for the turnaround'. On Friday, Mr Suri was at the town hall in Gurgaon. In an exclusive interaction with ET, Mr Suri said that NSN after suffering massive losses this year could generate a 2% operating profit in the next fiscal and that the new focus would be on increasing the market share.


Mr Suri also admits that the NSN's decision in 2008 to focus on cash flow and profitability was flawed. Come January, the entire board of NSN will be in India, which Suri has identified as a crucial market. "We have identified four crucial markets and our board meets will always rotate around these," he added. Importantly, before taking over as CEO, Mr Suri headed the company's services arm, which relocated to India (Noida) from Munich in 2007 and now accounts for over 45% of the equipment maker's revenues. Mr Suri says he will use all his learnings from his experience at the services HQ in Noida as he aims to transform the equipment giant and regain lost ground to competitors. Excerpts.


What is the way forward for Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN)?

Next year, the market for infrastructure or telecom equipment will be flat in euro terms. NSN aims to grow faster than the market in 2010 and we are aiming for an operating profit margin of 0-2% or a break-even. We are reorganising into three business units from five currently. We will also reduce the fixed costs and production overheads by e500 million over the next two years, and on top of that, we will also aim for purchasing savings, that will be higher than the e500 million mark.


This also includes a global personnel review of 7-9%, we are still doing this review and so cannot effectively say from where that will be cut. We are also doing a lot of transformation on R&D and there has been a lot of workforce re-balancing between high-cost markets and low-cost ones. A lot of R&D is being done from Chennai in India, China and Poland.


NSN has being doing a lot of things to get back, including job cuts, but the market will only get more competitive. What will change over the next 12 months for you to make operating profits?

 

In early 2008, we had taken an approach that was focused more on profitability and cash over market share, given the situation at that point. Now, with better liquidity position, my main priority is driving growth based on increasing market share and this is the key. Now, people will say, if you are driving up market share, there will a price erosion. Rightly so. But, I don't see us competing on price, and also I don't see price erosion globally. If you look at the three business units that we will have in 2010 — business solutions, network systems and global services — price cannot be the only factor. For business solutions, it is a software unit that sells solutions based on consultative engagement with the customer.


Many a time, we don't even respond to tenders. Here, price is not the determining factor, but the ability to consultatively engage the customer. While price is part of the equation in network systems, another equal part is the strength of your road maps, strength of your technology leadership, the quality of your products and your execution capabilities on the ground. Global services are all about maintenance, managed services and bringing about efficiency for operators.

Here the buying is more based on trust and not so much on price. If you look at the past 12 months, almost all managed services contracts have been won by two players in the industry and this is because they are confident of trusting you with their networks on a 24x7 basis and are also happy with your technology road map. So, if you put the price erosion in context, it impacts one part of the business and not all three.


Prior to your new role, you were based out of India. What is your understanding of the Indian market? You are among the few Indians to head global corporations and have taken over NSN when it is not doing so well. Take us through your journey. Also, we hear that you will soon be bringing the whole NSN board to India.


I have a customer-centric background and had earlier headed some businesses for Hutchison in Europe, before taking charge of the Asia Pacific region for NSN. Asia Pacific is an ecosystem of all markets, for instance, Japan has all the characteristics of a developed market while India and Indonesia represent the ultra-fast growing emerging markets. New Zealand is again a mature market and in between you have South East Asia — Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. This is the world market and it was a great exposure.


This was followed by all the learning experiences associated with heading a business unit in India that was the growth engine for the whole company and also bringing about the transformation. The marriage of customer-centric environment and running a business unit gives global perspective. I am humbled by the opportunity to lead NSN. I have an obsessive customer-centric focus — everything I like to do has to add value to the customer and this is what NSN's driving force needs to be. I have spent the past 78 days in the job meeting over 95 customers and meeting a lot of employees in town halls across the world. We are not happy with our performance in 2009, but I think the momentum is coming back.


In 4G, we are number one in technology leadership. We have a lot of momentum in subscriber-centric services, managed services, mobile broadband and in the second half of this year, we bagged 11 new 3G deals and seven were new customers. So, we are still finding new customers which present us with inspirational and exciting opportunities. At NSN, we now have four priority and breakthrough markets — India, North America, Japan and China — and our executive board will rotate its meetings between these four places. In January, we start with India. This is such an important market for us, beyond more than being just a regional centre. We now do so much out of here and have over 12,000 employees in India.


You are an equipment company, but services now accounts for over 40% of your business. Do you see a scenario where it will cross the 50% mark? In recent times we are witnessing hardware companies such as Dell and Xerox buying out IT firms. Do you think that in the future, telecom gear makers too will be actively peruse IT companies? Also, in markets such as India, where your managed services deal with Bharti Airtel, is up for contract renewals?


Yes, absolutely. Services will continue to grow. If you look at Q3, professional services grew 16% and special services largely characterised by managed services are also growing. Managed services are typically five year deals, these clients stay with you and there is predictability of revenues here. Our run rate for renewing large managed services deals is close to 100%. In theory, if we do not renew a deal, then the headcount we have built for it passes on to the new company that takes our place.


How many players can do this business of providing end-to-end transformation, improve quality, provide savings to operators and also make money from it? That is the reason for success in managed centre in Nodia, Portugal and other places. This has helped us drive costs down and get economies of scale. We now have 300 million subscribers on our managed services platform and have over 230 managed services contracts around the world. We won 29 deals in this space this year alone.


The more we win, the more our economies of scale improve. Our business solutions are in the IT/telecom space and we have always maintained that we will do partnership acquisitions. It is all about IT and IP — our knowledge is real-time mobility, which you do not get if you are a pure IT player. We bought an IT company called Apertio an year ago that does subscriber data management.

 

You were part of the team that was responsible for NSN shifting its global services business unit headquarters from Munich to India .This is also NSN's second major global centre to be headquartered out of India, after the global networks solutions centre at Chennai, which serves as a hub for NSN operation centres across the globe. The move paid off, but how big a risk was it in 2007?


It is easier to say so in hindsight, but it was a tough decision. At that time, we felt it was the right thing to do. We wanted to be closer to emerging markets. When I headed that organisation here, we asked ourselves as to what was the relevance of being in India. That is when the whole idea of setting up a global network operating centre in India got conceived and we decided to take remote management to the next new level. We did not have much to loose, because we were only going to transform more by being here. There was a risk, but it was worth the effort.


The telecom gear industry underwent a period of consolidation in 2006 that was supposed to reduce competition and improve margins for the remaining players. But the outlook remains tough and some analysts believe another round of consolidation is in the cards. Some analysts and industry executives are of the view that there is only room for three players. Do you see more consolidation in 2010?


It is difficult to predict, but one thing is clear that there will only be few winners in the long term and we fully expect to be among those successful companies. Despite lowering the number of competitors in the past, competition levels have not come down. Asian competitors coming to the fore are a reality.


Recently, in Geneva you said that one of the focus areas for NSN would be on technologies that help conserve energy. Is this a big business opportunity?


We are a market leader in the energy efficiency space. We are committed to improve the energy efficiency of our GSM equipment by 40% by 2012 and by 29% for our broadband products. Our solutions are not just to improve efficiency, but to use wind, solar and other alternate and renewable energy sources. We are also working on solutions that will reduce diesel consumption on existing sites because every year over 75,000 base stations are set up globally in places where there is no electricity or is erratic.


You seem to be strong in the mobile broadband space. How do you rate the potential and opportunities in this pace, especially in emerging markets?


We have momentum in this space and have won 26 deals here this year. The challenge for operators is that the traffic starts to grow immensely when you put up a mobile broadband network and we are working on products and solutions that can handle such traffic and scale with it. The market is moving from speed to quality of experience. India will face such challenges since traffic will go up once 3G is here and operators must ensure that there is no congestion on their networks. I think we are successful in this space and that is why we won 26 deals.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE AIM TO REACH A BUSINESS OF RS 1.75 LAKH CR BY MARCH 2010

ATMADIP RAY

 

FOR JP Dua, who has just taken over as the new managing director of Allahabad Bank, it is like home coming. Mr Dua joined the Kolkata-based bank in November 2007 as the executive director and was part of the team that steered the bank during a testing time. Having weathered the storm, the bank management now plans to adopt an aggressive approach to enhance its market share. In an exclusive interview with ET, Mr Dua outlines his strategies for the bank. Excerpts:


For the past couple of years, Allahabad Bank has consciously been following a conservative business model, in the sense that it has been eyeing mostly high-yielding loans in the asset side and constantly shedding high-cost deposits in the liability front. Now, under your leadership, would there be any change?


I was part of the team which consciously took the decision to follow a conservative approach. And the plan worked well for us. So, for the next three months or so, there will be no change in the way we approach our business. Yet, we would like to expand our balance sheet size at a much faster pace to make up the slow overall growth in the first eight months.


We aim to reach a business of Rs 1.75 lakh crore by March 2010, as fixed earlier in the year. Currently, our business size is Rs 1.53 lakh crore. From next fiscal onwards, we will try to increase the pace of business growth and increase our market share. The relatively slow size of our balance sheet is one of our weaknesses as we never went for volume growth. Having said that, let me assure you that we won't compromise on asset quality.

Some of the banks are reviewing their annual targets for 2009-10 amid a serious lack of credit demand. Yet, you are confident of achieving the business targets...


The target we have fixed is achievable. We will look into volume business by leveraging our 2,300-strong branch network. There are signs of credit demand picking up. Seasonal demand for farm loan has started showing up, especially in soyabean, sugarcane and paddy. As far as corporate loans go, there is demand from cement, steel and infrastructure sectors.


We are counting on these. We now have a Rs 20,000 crore worth of sanctioned loans at hand and when a good chunk of these limits start materialising, the bank will record a sizeable rise in advances. Let us also not forget that despite the poor credit demand, our bank has seen around 18% growth y-o-y. Loan demand from agriculture, micro and small businesses have largely contributed to this. In the liability side, we are targeting to improve the low-cost CASA ratio from rural branches.


As the chairman, what are your priority areas?

My priority areas are as follows: technology, balance sheet growth, growth in non-fund, non-interest income and capacity building of our manpower.


As far as technology goes, the core banking solution (CBS) has covered 82% of our business and by December 2010, we will complete 100% CBS. Having achieved this, it is now important to leverage the technology for business expansion. We should have products which will help us enhance market share. We have already launched cash management services.

Now, we plan to introduce a hub and spoke model to handle more volumes under this vertical. We are going to introduce an e-credit system internally to speed up flow of loan proposals from the branches to the zonal offices and to the headquarters. This system will, in turn, help us in data collection and risk management. We are introducing document imaging system and mobile banking, too.


Do you think the customers of your bank — who are mostly aged — will accept these new-generation products?

Yes, you are right in saying that majority of our customers are old or middle-aged and they may not be enthused enough to use such modern facilities. Nevertheless, we need these products to attract youngsters and change our customer profile. We would like to add more customers who have double income (in the family), and are ready to spend more and have high aspirations.


How do you propose to boost non-fund, non-interest income?

Under this category, we are especially focusing on two new verticals like loan syndication and selling of gold coins. We have been into these businesses for just about five months and within this short period, our progress is encouraging. We have made Rs 5 crore from five loan syndication deals and Rs 2.57 crore by selling 31,000 gold coins so far. Another important vertical where we would like to emphasise on is insurance and we have already earned Rs 10 crore this fiscal by selling both life and non-life risk covers.


What are the weaknesses of AllBank which need to be addressed immediately?

The size of the bank is relatively small. We never had volume growth. We have not been able to leverage the strength of our branch network. These are the areas which need correction.

 

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IPL-III TO MAKE UP FOR LOSSES IN SECOND SEASON

MEENAKSHI VERMA AMBWANI

 

Multi Screen Media, which owns Sony Entertainment Television (SET), has roped in several advertisers for bulk deals for the third season of Indian Premier League way in advance. The broadcaster has signed two co-presenting sponsors—Vodafone and Videocon. Others such as Pepsi, LG, Samsung ,Hyundai and HUL have signed as associate sponsors. In an interview with ET, MSM India president Rohit Gupta talked about how IPL's third season is going to be bigger than the last season.

 

Are you happy with the way IPL has panned out so far? What is in store for the third season?

As a tournament, IPL has seen various ups and downs and has come back strongly. In the second season, the tournament had to be shifted to South Africa and within 15 days everything had to be organised. Even after all this, it was a roaring success. Despite some drop in television rating points (TRPs) by about 10% compared to the last season, it increased its reach to 123 million audience, almost 20% higher than the second season. Each team has about three to four team sponsors. There are ground sponsors and several other sponsors who have signed with us.


All these sponsors missed on the ground activities and other branding opportunities in the second season since the matches were held in South Africa. This time these sponsors and other stakeholders are going to make up for the missed opportunities in the second season. They are expected to spend huge amount to create a strong buzz and this will make it much bigger and better. This year everything is being done much in advance. There will be a lot more effort and emphasis on advertising, merchandising and other opportunities like never before.


SET started negotiating with brands for advertising deals almost 8-9 months in advance. Was it something to do with the cut in advertising spends ?

If you look at international tournaments like Superbowl or English Premier League, brands spend millions of dollars to advertise and associate with these tournaments and put in their best campaigns. In IPL too, we saw brands like Vodafone come out with their best campaigns during the tournament. Similarly this year, we approached brands in advance and advertisers too were happy about finalising deals early. Now they can put their best foot forward for the advertising campaigns. I think this year, there will be a lot of pressure on creative teams to come out with something new, interesting and innovative after brands like Vodafone have set the benchmark. Everyone has more time for the third season to plan their branding activities.


Why do you think there was a drop in TRPs last year? Do you have concerns about a further drop in these ratings this year ?

Last season, the TRPs went down about 10-15% largely because there were many afternoon games on weekdays. From 6 weeks the tournament time period came down to 5 weeks. But this time, the timing is very good — matches will be held from March 12 to April 25, 2010 spanning across 6 weeks. Most brands that chose to associate with us for IPL in the first season renewed their interest for the second season and are back with us for the third season. If they weren't sure of IPL's success they would have not come back to advertise.

How have you structured deals with advertisers for the third season? Are they different than the last season ?

In the last season we had little time to finalise advertising deals because of uncertainties and we ended up selling advertising spots inventory with big advertisers and several smaller advertisers. This year we have 10 big advertisers who will form the first tier and would pick up about 1,500 seconds.

Then we would have a second tier of advertisers in each of these categories who will pick lesser amount of spots. So with these 20 odd advertisers, we will have a sell-out situation. However, we will keep about 10% of our inventory for later and sell it for a premium.


Is there any new category of advertisers that have shown interest?

I think one of the most interesting facts about IPL is how FMCG companies have shown interest in cricket. Players like Godrej and HUL have been consistently advertising on IPL. FMCG companies are known to be most cost conscious of all categories and mostly spend on general entertainment channels. The T20 format draws huge amount of female viewers and suits family viewing. So it makes sense for FMCG companies to associate with IPL.


What is your take on the debate on various cricket formats especially between ODI and T20 format?

I believe T20 being a new format will only grow in its reach in the coming times. The ODI format would continue to draw a large male target audience and Tests would draw the more serious cricket buffs.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'TELECOM STILL HAS ROOM LEFT FOR 40-50% GROWTH'

ANDY MUKHERJEE

 

India is not vulnerable to global liquidity problems anymore because of large household savings. And there is still plenty of money waiting to be invested , Rashesh Shah, chairman, Edelweiss, tells ET NOW . Excerpts:


Is there a distinct trend of more savings and more money going into the capital market?

Household savings are growing rapidly, at a rate of about 14-15% a year. A half of that goes into bank deposits, but the other half goes through insurance and equities and currency.


Even insurance is partly routing that into the capital market. And with many IPOs, we should see more of household savings coming into the capital market, not just equities, but also bonds.


What's your view on the broader market? The Nifty doesn't really seem to be going anywhere?

The world has had a great year. It has now gone into a pause. The good news is that there are no big headwinds on the horizon. Major global economies are improving.


India's economic growth has been very good. IIP numbers are very good. The only minus is credit offtake. But loan sanctions are happening, disbursements are not happening and banks believe by March-April, we will see disbursements happening.


Since October, the market has gone into consolidation phase. Everybody is waiting for the US exit policy. And everybody is waiting for correction to enter the market. So, the market is in pause right now, which is good news, because it gives a chance to consolidate.


We have seen Indian bank stocks come off a little over the past one month or so. What's the story for banks?

Two things will happen. When the short end of the yield goes up, some banks may get affected. But many are parking extra money with RBI.


They also have short-end assets, which will earn more. But the key story is the credit growth. If the credit growth takes off, then interest rates going up on the short end may not affect banks as much, because most banks take FDs where the rates are reasonably sticky.


I don't think, it will affect banks if significant credit growth happens. If we go back to a 25-30% credit growth, it will be great for banks.


What about other interest rate-sensitives such as auto and realty? How are those likely to behave?

Realty is going to be slightly more rate-sensitive. When interest rates go up, real estate companies may get affected in the short end too, because home loan rates begin to go up. In the past three months, everybody has been cutting down rates.


Demand-supply constraints will affect them more than just interest rates. Auto is also not so much interest rate-sensitive, though auto loans are there, but auto is more sensitive to economic growth.

 

What about telecom because on the Sensex the two worst performers this year are RCom and Bharti?

It's almost like the perfect storm for the industry and the catalyst was the Bharti-MTN deal. There are new operators in the market. So, supply is increasing significantly. MTS is already here. Many others are ready to start operations. We are going to see more supply.


ARPUs are falling. Growth is slowing down. Telecom players had a great run in 2001-2008 when there was no new entrant. Now, there are many new entrants. They also have another capex cycle. The quality of telecom networks is falling due to lack of fresh investment.


And when 3G auctions happen, they will eat up more capital. On the one hand, there's capex and on the other hand, we see more competition, falling ARPUs and demand. But there's still room left for a 40-50% growth from here. But increasingly, it won't as profitable.


But is all the bad news in the price or do you think there is still some downside for these stocks?

The entire story is in the price. But in India, I have seen, over the years, stocks do well when there is growth. They don't do well when they are underpriced.


India is a growth market. Investors are growth-oriented and are willing to pay much higher price for growth. It could be a great contrarian value investment as of now. But unless growth comes back, we may not see investors getting into this sector.


What is going to be the bigger risk for the market in 2010?

Historically, there have been only two risks in India. One has been inflation, because our supply bottlenecks are very significant, especially on food and fuel, which are the two large inputs on inflation and that is a very politically-sensitive area.


On the other side, it would be geopolitical. When it comes to global liquidity, India is not vulnerable anymore, because of large household savings. In 2008, FIIs sold Rs 48,000 crore in India. But Indian insurers, including LIC, bought Rs 58,000 crore.


We expect local insurers to allocate close to Rs 1 lakh crore, about $20 billion a year to equities. Market players like AMCs and MFs will put in another $3-4 billion on an average. We are going to see $20-25 billion coming from Indian money into equities, while FIIs are expected to be only $14-15 billion.


Do you worry about paper oversupply in 2010?

No. In fact, I have a contrary opinion. I am very happy that there is supply of paper, because if there is no supply of paper and if the money is coming to the market, it goes to the secondary market and we have exaggerated valuations. Money that comes to the market from household savings is about Rs 120,000-130,000 crore.

FIIs will see another $14-15 billion. We are going to see $40 billion, Rs 2 lakh crore of additional money being allocated for equities. Now, even in the best year, which was 2007 and the fresh paper that was issued was not more than $30-35 billion.


Even this year, only about $8 billion has been raised. I don't think, appetite is a problem, price is a problem, because there are cheaper alternatives available in the market.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

COPENHAGEN: WHERE IT FAILED

 

The outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit, whose closing phases were enveloped in needless drama, is an all-round disappointment. If at all it can have pleased anyone, it can only be the United States which had to be dragged to the table screaming, but was not prepared to play its part to cut back carbon emissions in terms of the execution plan devised by the UN since Kyoto in 1997. In the George W. Bush era, the US had said a straight no to committing itself to binding emission cuts and discounted the science that explained man-made climate change. Under the President, Mr Barack Obama, America made the right noises but, in effect, did not deviate from his predecessor's record on the subject. In the end, the Copenhagen conference, under the aegis of the United Nations, produced such a diluted result that not many among the 192 countries present — reflecting the biggest gathering of summiteers on record — were ready to lend it endorsement. Thus, officially the meet agreed only to "take note" of what had transpired. Calling the final outcome the "Copenhagen Accord" is egregious. What is being passed off as an accord representing all those present is, in fact, nothing more than a convenient agreement between the US and the Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries with which some industrialised and some developing nations can be brought in line. As it turns out, the nature of the so-called accord is such that it wouldn't have mattered if Copenhagen had not taken place. The Basic countries had already agreed to cut carbon intensity according to their respective domestic formulae, although they were not required to do so under the established UN arrangement. But they were stoutly resisting the persistent demand of the US and other industrialised countries to submit their national actions to international scrutiny even if these were to be executed without the financial or technological assistance of the industrialised states. With the "accord" in place, they need not now worry about being pushed. But this state of comfort comes at a price. Now they can't push the US nor the rest of the industrialised world to observe their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Thus, America can carry on doing nothing if it so pleases. However, buffeted by international opinion, the Obama administration had agreed to cut its emissions by four per cent of the 1990 level. So, this is where the matter will stand as far as the US goes. Copenhagen has produced a strange result. As a result of its exertions, in the next 10 years, the world may expect nearly nothing by way of a cut in greenhouse gases as doing so is not binding on any category of countries. The "accord" suggests that in the long term — by 2050 — greenhouse gases would be brought down by 80 per cent of their 2005 level, although no short- and medium-term steps to bring that about have been adumbrated. In short, the aspiration amounts to hot air. At the end of the day, it may leave the earth at least three degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels as against the consensus limit of two degrees that world opinion is ready to accept at this stage. One positive feature of Copenhagen is the US promise to arrange for $30 billion in three years and $100 billion after 2020 with which developing countries may address climate change problems.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GEZS FOR SUSTENANCE

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

 

Sometimes the future stands before us in ways we do not fully discern. It could be a metaphor, a shadow, an outline of a form of problem-solving; it could be a kaleidoscope of variations. The danger is that we might over-concretise it and think of it as something specific, local and concrete.

 

Think of three ways of linking at industry and land today. Each is a circus of many events. Think of Naxalbari, the explosion of special economic zones (SEZs) and the efflorescence of the idea of green economic zones (GEZs). We often forget that these three happenings are connected. In fact, they constitute a three-ring circus of problem-solving about the issue of land.

 

Naxalbari and the struggle over land are not often considered a theory of problem-solving. We reduce it to the question of unreasonable Maoists and their battle against the state. What one forgets is the desperation around the problem of land. The Maoists overshadow the tribal struggle to retain land, to fight against bonded labour. The marginalised tribes have fought against development, fought for an idea of land as sacred, as continuity with ancestors. The tribes have long believed development as it exists is designed to assimilate them or eliminate them. This problem did not begin with Independence but goes back to the colonial era where the state claimed ownership of land. The tribal vision of the forest and of land was at loggerheads with Anglo-Saxon ideas of the state and law. Between the state and the contractor, there emerged two forms of rapaciousness that destroyed the tribal way of life. Tribal wars against the British could be dubbed as some of the earliest of Independence struggles. What Naxalism did in its initial phases was to recognise the fate of the tribe and battle against it. But an official Marxist ideology was no real substitute for the cosmology of the tribe. Tribal cosmology, however, with its sense of seed, soul and nature was no match for modern political economy. The state, Naxalism and tribal resistance were three ways of constricting the fate of land in these marginal areas. Each was a framework of value deeply incommensurable with the other. Today we refuse to see the roots of the tribal and peasant problem in these earlier struggles exacerbated by development. Naxalbari stands as a fait accompli. Few dissenters like the author Mahasweta Devi list out alternative possibilities and alternative solutions to the struggle but not many see it as a viable part of the struggle.

 

If Naxalbari offers one half of the intransigent dualism of development, the SEZs represent what might be called the intransigent inevitability of development. The SEZ is an artificial utopia, where industry gets special concessions in terms of land and investment. The SEZs are artificially carved territories where trade unionism and the other human rights battle over land and work is minimised. It is constructed either as a form of futuristic or instant industrialism or as a science city designed as part of a knowledge economy. As legal fictions, they avoid certain forms of history like the usual chronicles of trade-unionism, pollution and the struggle over work. They are presented as postmodern cities, as fragments of a new industrialism, which has gone beyond such issues. They appear antiseptic because the corporations have outsourced to the state such muddy problems. But beyond being a space, SEZ is a state of mind, a rich ghetto of industries which frowns on any alternative interpretation of meaning. It allows industry privileges without many of the responsibilities that it had to shoulder earlier. An idea of utopian innovation Silicon Valley style substitutes for the old struggles of social justice. But the question of whose land it was, who did it displace, what ecological problems are put in the backstage are not part of an SEZ discourse. Few ask what forms of sustainability it destroyed to create its antiseptic universe. The SEZ often suffers from a boundary problem. An industry might abandon the area with few questions being asked. It can create new forms of risk where the "polluter pays" principle may not fully apply. It is an artificial aggregation of industries where issues of pollution and obsolescence have been wished away. Built often on the idea of the industrial park, the SEZ as the park controls not nature but industry. Using the latest developments, it seeks to minimise human control and in that process often de-humanises itself. The SEZs of the mind embody a soft authoritarianism of industry where issues of participation, accountability and prudence get located outside the industrial zone.

 

Between the violence of Naxalbari and the hygiene control of SEZ, stands a new idea of the green zones proposed by Mahasweta Devi and carried across by the pilgrims of the idea, the tribals. The idea of the green economic zones is a tribal reply to the SEZ. It has a tribal humour to it. It is not bounded as a zone. It reworks the idea of the economics, industry, work and livelihood around sustainability. It is a conversation between subsistence and sustainability attempting to show that life can be renewable and work can be conflict-free. It is participative and community driven; it caters to the bazaar but it seeks renewability of the ecology and fights obsolescence as anti-nature. It seeks a new kind of economics that sustains democracy. The GEZ is a new kind of commons, which sustains diversity over efficiency, renewability over control, participation over any vision of a command economy. It is sensitive to science but seeks knowledge apart from science, understanding fully well that modern botany knows merely 9 per cent of estimated plant life. The GEZ is the tribe's answer to sustainability in modern life.

 

If one sees them as a triptych, the GEZ is a reminder that worlds can be built between violence and development, that nature is a part of a community. The GEZ reminds the Naxal of the tribal as an autonomous imagination and poses to science a sustainability that works. Maybe the current dualism of Naxal and SEZ needs the GEZ as a third term bringing nature and democracy to create new hypothesis for economics, where models of violence, alienation and theories of participation rework themselves as visions of the future. The dialogue between these three systems promises to be one of the great conversations of modern politics.

 

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

SAVING THE WORLD: LET THE RACE BEGIN

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Copenhagen, Denmark

 

I've long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change — the "Earth Day" strategy and the "Earth Race" strategy. This Copenhagen climate change summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need.

 

Indeed, anyone who watched the chaotic way this conference was "organised", and the bickering by delegates with which it finished, has to ask whether this 17-year United Nations process to build a global framework to roll back global warming is broken: too many countries — 193 — and too many moving parts. I leave here feeling more strongly than ever that America needs to focus on its own Earth Race strategy instead. Let me explain.

 

The Earth Day strategy said that the biggest threat to mankind is climate change, and we as a global community have to hold hands and attack this problem with a collective global mechanism for codifying and verifying everyone's carbon dioxide emissions and reductions and to transfer billions of dollars in clean technologies to developing countries to help them take part.

 

But as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil told this conference, this Earth Day framework only works "if countries take responsibility to meet their targets" and if the rich nations really help the poor ones buy clean power sources.

 

That was never going to happen at scale in the present global economic climate. The only way it might happen is if we had "a perfect storm" — a storm big enough to finally end the global warming debate but not so big that it ended the world.

 

Absent such a storm that literally parts the Red Sea again and drives home to all the doubters that catastrophic climate change is a clear and present danger, the domestic pressures in every country to avoid legally binding and verifiable carbon reductions will remain very powerful.

 

Does that mean this whole Earth Day strategy is a waste? No. The scientific understanding about the climate that this UN process has generated and the general spur to action it provides is valuable. And the mechanism this conference put in place to enable developed countries and companies to offset their emissions by funding protection of tropical rain forests, if it works, would be hugely valuable.

 

Still, I am an Earth Race guy. I believe that averting catastrophic climate change is a huge scale issue. The only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America's.

 

Therefore, the goal of Earth Racers is to focus on getting the US Senate to pass an energy bill, with a long-term price on carbon that will really stimulate America to become the world leader in clean-tech. If we lead by example, more people will follow us by emulation than by compulsion of some UN treaty.

 

In the Cold War, we had the space race: who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Only two countries competed, and there could be only one winner. Today, we need the Earth Race: who can be the first to invent the most clean technologies so men and women can live safely here on earth.

 

Maybe the best thing the US President, Mr Barack Obama, could have done in Copenhagen was to make clear that America intends to win that race. All he needed to do in his speech was to look China's Prime Minister in the eye and say: "I am going to get our Senate to pass an energy bill with a price on carbon so we can clean your clock in clean-tech. This is my moon shot. Game on".

 

Because once we get America racing China, China racing Europe, Europe racing Japan, Japan racing Brazil, we can quickly move down the innovation-manufacturing curve and shrink the cost of electric cars, batteries, solar and wind so these are no longer luxury products for the wealthy nations but commodity items the third world can use and even produce.

 

If you start the conversation with "climate" you might get half of America to sign up for action. If you start the conversation with giving birth to a "whole new industry" — one that will make us more energy independent, prosperous, secure, innovative, respected and able to out-green China in the next great global industry — you get the country.

 

For good reason: Even if the world never warms another degree, population is projected to rise from 6.7 billion to 9 billion between now and 2050, and more and more of those people will want to live like Americans. In this world, demand for clean power and energy efficient cars and buildings will go through the roof.

 

An Earth Race led by America — built on markets, economic competition, national self-interest and strategic advantage — is a much more self-sustaining way to reduce carbon emissions than a festival of voluntary, non-binding commitments at a UN conference. Let the Earth Race begin.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

GRAND OLD PARTY WILL BE 125

BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

The Indian National Congress will see its 125th Foundation Day on December 28, 2009. This is unprecedented in the annals of world political history. It is a truly historic event, that in any country in the world, any political party would be successfully celebrating its 125th birthday, and it is a matter of great pride for every member of the Congress to be a part of such a historic party, with a rich legacy of 125 years.

 

The Indian National Congress is undoubtedly the largest, and, possibly, the oldest political party in the world, with a mass membership that quite possibly exceeds the population of several small countries. And yet, this is not the only unique dimension of the Indian National Congress. The history of the Congress Party is inextricably intertwined with the history of the Indian independence movement, and hundreds of leaders and foot soldiers of the party had the honour to stand at the frontlines of the exceptional struggle for our country's independence from British rule. Exceptional because, once again, in the annals of world political history no other country or nation has fought for and obtained its independence without warfare and weapons. Exceptional because the entire struggle for freedom was based upon the foundation of truth and moral authority, and the creed of non-violence symbolised by the mighty power of the example of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Little wonder then that the name of Mahatma Gandhi resonates even today in the context of peace, and moral values in the world order.

 

The Congress and its leaders were born from the strong moral values and sacrifice of the freedom movement, and it is this spirit of service and dedication to the nation which informs the philosophy of the Indian National Congress until today. From the battle for freedom, the Congress led the country in the task of nation building under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, and, during that golden period, the Congress dedicated itself to the ideal of a welfare state, the commanding heights of the public sector, and an India determined to come out of the wounds of Partition, as also the shadow of colonial rule and take her rightful place in the comity of nations. Under Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Congress reiterated its foundation of morality and ethics, and continued to dominate the Indian political landscape.

 

Then began a period in our political history, when elections to state legislatures were won by some political parties, and from being the party in government, the Congress moved to occupy the Opposition space in some states. But soon Indira Gandhi dominated the national political scene and towered over all other leaders, with her fiery determination and commitment to the poor. "Garibi hatao" became the slogan of the Congress Party, both within the country and at international fora. Whether it was the Non-Aligned Movement or the creation of Bangladesh, the abolition of privy purses or nationalisation of banks, the Congress under Indira Gandhi found a lasting place in the hearts and minds of people. The poor of our country, the women, the dalits, and tribals, the disadvantaged all over the country, felt that Indira Gandhi would look after them and protect their interests. All over the country, it was the Congress alone which was the party in government, or the leading Opposition party.

 

The traumatic death of Indira Gandhi saw a generational shift in the Congress, and our country's youngest ever Prime Minister was sworn into office. Soon he led the Congress to a spectacular victory at the hustings. Then began the era of youth, of redefining the role of the Congress in the modern world and taking India into the 21st century. With refreshing idealism, which refused to be dampened by vested interests or nay-sayers, Rajiv Gandhi introduced to the party, and the nation, computers, technology, efficient delivery, and, above all, the concept of transparent, accountable politics. His steadfast idealism saw the impossible happen. Power was devolved for the first time, in a real sense, to the level of local government. Also for the first time, dalits and tribals and women were given a share of decision-making and a space on the political horizon by the reservation of seats for them in local bodies.

 

Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the party years after the assassination of her husband, and in the face of great pessimism expressed by parties opposed to the Congress. The Congress itself was numb and traumatised by the death of Rajiv Gandhi, and many wondered if the grand old party would be able to fight its way out of the vacuum caused by the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, who had been a leader acceptable not just to the entire Congress party, but to every Indian, cutting across barriers of geography, economics, caste and creed. In the 10 years Mrs Sonia Gandhi has led the party, the Congress has virtually gone from triumph to triumph, emerging once again as the only party with a truly pan-Indian presence, in government or the leading Opposition in every state in India. More importantly, the Congress has once again moved with the needs of the time and has fashioned itself, under the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, into a party committed to the welfare and upliftment of the most disadvantaged sections of Indian society, party committed to inclusive growth, to democracy, to accountability and to a strong self-reliant India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been the pride of the party with his shining integrity and quiet dedication. The Congress represents every section of our society, including youth and women, and the iconic leadership of Rahul Gandhi has been tremendously instrumental in taking the message of the Congress to the youth of India.

 

The year 2009 was another landmark for the Congress. It was widely expected that anti-incumbency would ensure that the Congress did not come back to power at the Centre, and indeed, in recent times, very few governments have won a second term at the national level. However, the steadfast commitment to inclusive growth, particularly schemes such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Information Act, won huge trust and support from the people of India. Further, as any political observer could see, the electorate was tired of the hollow jargon-type electioneering followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and certainly did not believe in Lal Krishna Advani's promises of good and decisive governance. Also, the Congress, under the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh, presented the much more satisfying prospect of good governance. The true achievement, however, lay in the revival of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. Mr Rahul Gandhi's repeated forays into the heartlands of Uttar Pradesh, his candid engagement of ordinary people, his transparent commitment to ensure democracy within the party, and good governance, saw the Congress winning back in substantial measure the trust of the people of Uttar Pradesh. To me, it is an important signal that the days of polarising and identity-based politics may not be fully history, but the success of Mr Rahul Gandhi's idealism signals a new watershed.

 

The challenges ahead are many. In a country like India, there is always the temptation to try the gimmickry of narrow electoral appeal and populist politics to win elections. Democracy within the party and accountability to the public, as well as making inclusive development electoral planks, may not bring gains in the short term. But, if anything, it is clear, that the Congress has stood the test of time. With our historic legacy, and mature leadership, infused now by the idealistic and transparent appeal of youthful leaders like Mr Rahul Gandhi, the Congress now towers head and shoulders over other formations. The Congress also has the ability to build patiently, and wait for results.

 

The achievements of the Congress are manifold, and self-evident. The challenges facing the party are the same as any that might face any mass-based political organisation, but these challenges appear relatively minor in the face of the strength of the party and the vision of the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Above all, the tremendous moral authority of her single act of declining the office of Prime Minister has raised her leadership to heights that can never be achieved by other leaders, and invests her leadership with particular resonance. And the greater the heights achieved by the Congress, the greater will its commitment be to the service of the nation.

 

* Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.The views expressed in this column are her own.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SCAMS THAT LAUNCHED A 1,000 SUITS

BY PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

Does the fact that more than 80 per cent of over a billion Indians believe in Hinduism has something to do with our convoluted sense of morality, our views on virtue and vice? Why are there so many shades between black and white in the country? When Deccan Chronicle asked me to draw up a list of the 10 biggest scams of the past decade, I didn't realise there were so many over the last two years alone. I gave up counting.

 

A group of bleeding-heart do-gooders by the name of Transparency International ranked India at the 85th position out of 179 countries in its annual "corruption perceptions index" in 2008. In fact, India's score improved dramatically from 2.7 (out of 10) in 2002 to 3.4 in 2008. When we reach the magic mark of 10, day after tomorrow, we would be truly transformed into a land of sadhus and sants. We draw distinctions between the more corrupt and the less corrupt, the corrupt-but-efficient and the corrupt-and-inefficient — "that fellow accepts bribes but still refuses to do his job". We are a nicely nuanced lot, aren't we?

 

One didn't have to look that far, towards the late unlamented Harshad Mehta, former employee of the New India Assurance Company who became a notorious stockbroker by presiding over a financial scandal involving Rs 4,000 crores. Or, for that matter, another gentleman with the same initials who lives a quiet life in Kolkata: Haridas Mundhra was involved in a scandal that rocked the political establishment like never before in the late 1950s, a scam that was publicised in Parliament by Jawaharlal Nehru's son-in-law Feroze Gandhi and which led to the resignation of the then finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari, besides a host of other official bigwigs.

 

One doesn't have to rewind half-a-century but look just beyond our nose. Byrraju Ramalinga Raju, who headed Satyam Computer Services, decided he would rather spend time behind bars in India than elsewhere. So he confessed that he cooked the books of account of his flagship firm to the tune of Rs 8,000 crores. In the process, he, his family members and his cronies ended up jeopardising the fate of the Metro Railway project in Hyderabad that was supposed to have been executed by a consortium led by Maytas. Satyam spelt backwards was still a scam and nobody asked what happened to the 1,000 suits that he possessed. Imagine wearing a new suit each day for three years!

 

Ketan Parekh is a pale shadow of his former cocky self (Satyam was one of the scrips he loved to manipulate) and few remember C.R. Bhansali's claim to infamy. The IPO (initial public offering) scam involving India Bulls and stock-broking firm Karvy is a distant development. And, have you recently heard anything about a man who started life as a fruit and vegetable seller before he decided to bribe his way into the Nashik security printing press and forged wads of stamp paper. Abdul Karim Telgi's story has been overshadowed by at least one more far-sexier rags-to-riches story.

 

Madhu Koda started off as a labourer in a mine and a window-grill fitter before he realised that the gift of the gab that he possessed could be put to better use. From a small-time flunky in the Bharatiya Janata Party to a big-time beneficiary of the vagaries of coalition politics, his less-than-three-year-long term as chief minister of Jharkhand was rather lucrative to put it mildly. He reportedly almost bought up a couple of uranium mines in South Africa before the celebrations abruptly ended.

 

But Koda's shenanigans faded into insignificance before the occurrence of the "biggest" scam in independent India, namely, the allotment of electro-magnetic spectrum to a clutch of mobile telephone companies at prices that were at least one-seventh their true market value. Imagine a bunch of well-heeled corporate captains tripping over one another to deposit demand drafts worth over a thousand crore rupees each in the dingy corridors of Delhi's Sanchar Bhavan at a notice of a few hours. Imagine a scarce national resource being doled out on a "first-come-first-served" basis in the way cinema tickets are sold. What was the loss to the nation? Only Rs 50,000 crores!

 

This is India, after all, the world's greatest democracy, where sibling rivalry can paralyse the working of the government. Imagine a tycoon splurging on front-page advertisements in dozens of newspapers to tell the world how the Union ministry of petroleum and natural gas was depriving the exchequer of huge amounts by favouring a company by agreeing to pay a higher price for natural gas taken out of the bed of the ocean in the Bay of Bengal.

 

More than 250 aircraft and helicopters valued at not less than Rs 16,000 crores that were imported into the country between May 2007 and July 2008 by more than 70 companies controlled by some of the country's most prominent industrialists after evading customs duty worth Rs 4,000 crores. What is noteworthy is that most of these private aircrafts were used not merely by corporate honchos, their family members and business associates but also by their "politician friends" during their election campaigns.

 

This is getting boring, isn't it? Have I reached 10? The nexus between business and politics is neither new nor unique to India. What's a few thousand crore rupees among friends? Let's talk about the weather instead. Next decade's list of biggest scams would be even cooler than this one and, to hell with global warming.

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educatorand commentator

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

INDIA LOOKS, SEES GREAT BEAR AGAIN

BY ZORAWAR DAULET SINGH

 

Ever since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, revisionists have sought to belittle the potential of Indo-Russian relations in the post-Cold War era.

 

The tumult of the 1990s and the socio-economic and political convulsions within an emasculated Russia invited obituaries from virtually all segments of the Indian intelligentsia. When the process of political stabilisation did begin in the early 2000s, few anticipated the restoration of Russian power and its impact on a "unipolar" world.

 

Buttressed by a surge in hydrocarbon prices after 2003, the watershed event came in 2006 when Russia for the first time regained its 1990 level of real gross domestic product. However, it was only with the events of August 2008 in the Southern Caucasus that India's strategic community began to take Russian resurgence seriously. What the Georgian conflict produced was a global realisation that Eurasian security is unachievable without an acknowledgement of vital Russian security interests.

 

The past year has also witnessed an infusion of realism in Indian security discourse. There is an emerging consensus that bandwagoning with a declining hegemon is insufficient to attain a higher international profile for India and address its regional security questions. It is against such a backdrop that Moscow and New Delhi conducted their annual summit last month. While this was the Prime Minister's sixth visit to Russia, a slew of agreements including a comprehensive nuclear deal and an extension of military-technical collaboration to 2020 indicate a renewed focus on the relationship and a belated acceptance of Russia's return as a global actor.

 

The joint declaration identified specific policy themes. Both sides agreed that the "fight against terrorism cannot be selective, and drawing false distinctions between "good" and "bad" Taliban, would be counter-productive. This convergence of views becomes especially relevant in the context of a segment of the Western commentariat that holds open the option to forge a bargain with the Taliban with the Pakistani military serving as the conduit.

 

Both Moscow and New Delhi are united in opposition to a stabilisation of the Hindu Kush that returns a radical proxy regime into power in Kabul. Furthermore, with Washington exploring greater coordination with Beijing in its AfPak plan and encouraging a regional role for China, Russia and India will discover growing opportunities to coordinate their Afghanistan policies. The joint declaration also focused on Asia, noting "the growing efficacy of close bilateral and multilateral interaction in the Asia Pacific region as a means to enhance economic cooperation and to maintain regional peace and stability to confront global challenges of security and development of the 21st century".

 

Clearly, this was a reference to strive for a geopolitically plural and an open security architecture for Asia. Interestingly, both sides appear to be shoring up each other's presence in the Eurasian region: Russia supporting India's membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and "full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation"; India supporting Russia's involvement in the Asia-Europe Meeting.

 

In fact, the allusion to the Asia-Pacific region is timely as the debate over Russia's evolving role in Asia assumes more clarity. A perception that Russia's "Westernisers" have irrevocably steered Russia away from Asia has gained currency in Russian foreign policy discourse. It is argued that a "European choice" and "the preservation of a predominantly European orientation of Russia" will preclude it from pursuing its objectives in Asia.

The reality, however, is more complex. As Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has noted, the so-called conflict between the western and eastern vectors of Russian policy is "artificial and far-fetched". What is also remarkable is the extent to which Russian foreign policy has come to rely on a non-ideological approach to the west. Geostrategic considerations — Moscow's resolve to prevent the revival of an anti-Russian trans-Atlantic consensus while restoring Russia's influence on its periphery — and geoeconomic realities — energy and technological interdependence with Europe — imply Russia's western vector is driven largely by realpolitik. Russia is poised to play a major role in Asian security once the present phase of transition is completed. Russian strategists are not uninterested in evolution of the Asian balance of power.

 

The emergence of the Ric (Russia, India and China) and Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) formats attest to this fact.

 

As Mr Lavrov argues, "Russia's energy, scientific, technological and intellectual potential" ensure an important role for Russia in Asia's economic rejuvenation. The fact that a majority of Russia's mineral and resource wealth lies east of the Urals in Asiatic Russia implies Moscow cannot avoid the challenging task of developing East Siberia and the Russian Far East. But, most importantly, Russia is finally overcoming its "China first" policy — viewing Asia through the Chinese prism — toward more diversified relationships in Southeast and East Asia.

 

The structural logic for greater Indo-Russian cooperation also stems from the emergence of a complex interdependence between the United States and China over the past decade. The discernible co-opting of China by the West, has introduced an additional variable into Moscow's and New Delhi's foreign policies. For New Delhi, the recent patronising Obama-Hu joint statement declaring South Asia as an object of common concern, underscored India's diplomatic vulnerability to the possibility of Sino-US collaboration on regional geopolitics. Similarly, in the global strategic triangle (US-Russia-China), it is China that enjoys a relative advantage in that the China-Russia and China-US bilateral dyads are more substantial than the Russia-US equation. Indeed, one of Russia's principal dilemmas has been to overcome this relative disadvantage by stabilising its own relations with Washington and an effort at construction of new interdependencies with the US at the global level (though the entrenched attitude of US security elites indicates that a policy of Russian constrainment remains active).

 

Suffice it to say, India and Russia need to expand their interactions both as a strategic insurance vis-à-vis an ascendant China and as a leverage against expanding US-China collaboration on issues of global governance and Eurasian security.

 

The realities of international life have ensured that nations can rarely claim to have more than uncertain partnerships. The relative permanence of the Indo-Russian relationship must then surely be an outlier in diplomatic history. Moscow and New Delhi are on the cusp of crafting a partnership that transcends the vestiges of the Cold War. Are strategic planners from both sides up to the challenge?

 

The author is an international relations analyst at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

COMMON INEPTITUDE


THE retest in January for an estimated 8000 candidates will itself be a retest for the IIM authorities across the country and the organisers of the Common Aptitude Test. Having opted for the online evaluation, it was only to be expected that a reversal to the pen-and-paper format would be ruled out despite the extensive systemic failure. The fact that the authorities took a fortnight to firm up their decision ~ and only after a prod from the HRD ministry ~ suggests that the IIMs had their backs to the wall after the collective flunking in the use of computer, terminal, mouse and keyboard. The turning down of the suggestion for a blanket retest may appear to be logical at first sight; yet the misgivings of a partial re-evaluation ~ significantly expressed by a section of the directors ~ are not wholly unfounded. Was last Wednesday's decision unanimous? Not quite. Chief among the inherent snags is that the democratic appellation of "common" will scarcely be relevant. Decidedly more intricate will be the task of identifying the candidates who couldn't sit through their papers in November.
The response of the IIMs to the HRD ministry's directive on "adequate steps to look after the interests of candidates" doesn't inspire optimism. The IIMs' point that precautions ought to be taken against poor performers anxious for a second shot is well taken. Equally, the authorities have accepted as a "challenge" the task of identifying what they call the "genuine cases". Which is to imply that the number of those eligible for the retest remains indeterminate; the figure stated at the meeting ~ "fewer than 8000" ~ may be a rough-and-ready estimate.


The criteria to shortlist the eligible remains to be worked out; the planned integration of technological data with onsite reports can only be an academic exercise, with little or no relevance to the hundreds of thousands aggrieved. Should the IIMs tie themselves up in knots in the matter of basics, it can only dent the standing of the centres of excellence and the organisers of the high-end CAT. It is worth the while to take a call on the suggestion by an IIM director that the contract with Prometric, the service provider, needs to be reviewed. And in future, why don't government and the institutes consider the obvious ~ using the well-tested MAT, which would spare students the bother of appearing in two tests?

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CRIME AND RESPONSE

 

More than the horror of another rape incident in Goa is the shocking response of government and politicians belonging to the party that should have been seen to be taking stern action. The Congress had the best opportunity to lead by example in cracking down on the culprit who was in a position to use his political connections to escape. Instead, not one party spokesman had the courage to express an apology to the Russian authorities who have every reason to be appalled by the way the investigation has been conducted after the crime was committed on 1 December.


The chief minister, who is seen trying to promote tourism in Goa and to make the beach resort the permanent venue of an international film festival, has been stirred into action more than 15 days after the FIR was registered ~ that too in a manner that buys time. His initial response was to express doubts about what the Russian woman was doing in a public place at that hour of the night. It echoed the desperate effort by a party MP to coin a special definition for rape that could bail out the culprit. The whole exercise needed to be roundly condemned. Instead, the party's spokesmen tried to find refuge in marginal arguments such as jurisdiction of courts and privileges of MPs. 


There was nothing to prevent the Congress from taking an unequivocal stand on moral grounds. Since that is uncharacteristic of parties, it is not surprising that it chose to engage in a cover-up before pressures from the community began to build up. The embarrassment is palpable but it seems helpless when protection of constituencies have a higher priority. Even now the chief minister has merely sought a report from the state police chief to be passed on to the Russian consulate while others who are engaged in damage control talk ritually of exaggerations by the media. If this offers foreign tourists some consolation, it is also a sad reflection on a system in which politicians belong to a protected species. Protected they are ~ and further exposed.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

METRO MUDDLE


THE fact that the ticketing system of Kolkata's Metro Railway is falling apart is merely a symptom of the overall malaise that has set in with the extension of the southern track in August. To the extent that it is visually quite obvious that a fairly large percentage of the commuters each day are free-loaders. On the face of it, there can be no linkage between the defective turnstile gates, including the ones earmarked for smart-card holders, and the extension of the service without adequate rakes. While there has been a partial crash of the electronic ingress-egress mechanism, the authorities are at sixes and sevens in trying to cope with the increase in the volume of passengers. With neither tickets nor smart cards effective at several stations, the withers of the authorities remain unwrung despite the daily loss of revenue. The Railways are having to pay both for a populist gesture and the defective gates.


It makes little sense, therefore, to introduce paper tickets for use on Sundays to carry out the maintenance work on the Automated Fare Collection (AFC) gates. Aside from being disingenuous, this is an afterthought. The counters have been shortstaffed and the machines virtually defunct for the past four months. Since there will be no bar on the number of zones to be covered, the extensive misuse can well be imagined. More so because the paper tickets will be cheaper than the ones with metal straps. Should those with ulterior motives use this facility, the impact is horrendous even to imagine. The point the railway minister must now accept is that the Metro is in a mess, to use the language of understatement. The decision to identify a station with the name of a worthy instead of the place was the first step that inconvenienced the commuter. It is vacuous; it flies against common sense.


The twin virtues of frequency and punctuality were trashed on the day the extended run was flagged off. To that has now been added the daily loss of revenue. It is altogether a hopeless transport sector in a city where several bus routes have gone off the map. It will be Kolkata's tragedy if the Metro goes off the rails, courtesy a daft administration.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

FOG DISCOVERED ON SATURN'S LARGEST MOON

 

LOS ANGELES, 20 DEC: US scientists have discovered fog moving across the south pole of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.


Titan looks to be the only place in the solar system aside from Earth to have copious quantities of liquid (largely, liquid methane and ethane) on its surface.


The new discovery suggests that Earth and Titan share yet another feature, which is inextricably linked with that surface liquid: common fog, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
The presence of fog provides the first direct evidence for the exchange of material between the surface and the atmosphere, and thus of an active hydrological cycle, which previously had only been known to exist on Earth, the researchers said in a paper published in the latest issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters. ;IANS

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DESTROY OR DIVIDE~II

ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA


THE Cabinet Mission's proposal for a three-section division of India was read out in the House of Commons on Thursday, May 16, 1946. One section comprised part of Baluchistan, NWFP, Federally Administered Tribal Area, West Punjab, southern Sind and pockets of east Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi. Another covered the whole of modern West Bengal, Bangladesh and the seven north-eastern states. Yet another included the princely states of India. Though the proposal did not allocate the princely states to any of the three sections, it was assumed that most, if not all, would wish to enter into a federal type of union with them.
Of all the "India dividing or reorganising" plans, one of the most violent and critical legacies was felt in the 1980s. The seeds were, however, sown in the 1940s. At the height of the Second World War, Shiromani Akali Dal proposed the state of "Azad Punjab". This was followed by two separate demands in 1946. The first was Gyani Kartar Singh's proposal to the Cabinet Mission for a state of "Sikhistan" and the second was Baldev Singh's proposal (also to the Cabinet Mission) for a state of "Khalistan". Though all three proposals envisaged Sikh political predominance in the undivided Punjab in question, in none of the three areas did Sikhs comprise over 21 per cent of the population, going by the 1941 census. Hence the proposals relating to the further division of India did not fructify in the 1940s. 


RELENTLESS ATTACK

THE transition of independent India from the 20th to the 21st century has neither been easy nor smooth as fissiparous forces are relentlessly attacking democratic India. And the most serious challenge to its unity emanates from the Kashmir Valley. Secessionist forces are not only harassing the state of India; they have had a destructive impact on the state machinery. Kashmir today appears to have become an acid test of, and for, the success and stability of India's democracy. If Kashmir manages to secede from India or even gets autonomy disproportionate to the perceived checks-and-balance machinery of state, floodgates of "autonomy", "independence" and religious intolerance will pose a threat that few can visualise.


When a Chinese strategist advocates that China should help divide India and support factions of the Assamese, Kashmiris and Tamilians, breaking up India into 20-30 independent nation states like Europe, it is clear from history that he hasn't said anything that is novel. The Balkanisation of India has been on the radar of both Englishmen and some Indians for more than 130 years.


It, however, comes as no surprise that "Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan" have been asked to help in breaking India. Unfortunately, however, at least two of these countries are geographically landlocked. This makes it difficult for them to take on India. The only distant, but possible irritant vis-a-vis Nepal, however, could be an attempt by some to rake up the emotive issue of "Greater Nepal" which certainly is a potential flashpoint. It can endanger the link between the Indian heartland and the eight north-eastern states connected by a slender Siliguri corridor, should the situation get murkier.


Regarding Pakistan and Bangladesh, the history of 20th century South Asia is all too well documented to be recounted. India has to learn to live with terrorism, turbulence, fundamentalism and the tectonic rhetoric and shocks thereof. Serious threats of "break India" exist within the Indian territory. Thus Jane's World Insurgency and Terrorism (2008) has identified at least ten non-state actors who pose a major threat to the Indian state.
The Communist Party of India (Maoist) constitutes a political challenge in view of its "objective to overthrow the perceived repressive state governments through peasant-based guerrilla warfare based on Mao Tse-tung's model of people's war." The Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha is an entity of "national separatists", being backed overtly and/or covertly by Nepal. The Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) is clamouring for a separate Kamtapur state formed out of West Bengal, Bihar and Assam. 


Two formidable "national separatist' groups ~ the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) of Isak Muivah and that of Khaplang "aim to establish an independent state, Greater Nagaland or Nagalim, consisting of Naga populated areas in India and Myanmar." There, however, exists an interesting difference between the two Naga leaders. Muivah operates from Thailand and Khaplang is based in Mon district of Myanmar. 


The Sikh extremist movement may be dormant but is not dead. Its objective continues to be the establishment of "an independent Sikh state in the Punjab (including Pakistan Punjab) called Khalistan." Next comes the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) which too is a "group of national separatists" demanding "a sovereign Bodoland" with the "adoption of Roman, rather than Devnagari script to write official documents in Bodo." With training camps run by the ISI in Bangladesh, the NDFB guerrillas undergo a rigorous programme of military training with the sole aim of operating "throughout Assam." 


ISLAMIST GROUP

Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is a group of militant Islamists. Formed in April 1977, it became militant and fundamentalist from the 1990s. It now "advocates the Islamisation of India."


The United Jihad Council (UJC) is a conglomerate of a number of previously established organisations. It was formed by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), LeT, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Al Badr, the Jamaat-e-Islam and Harkat-ul-Ansar. (HuA). 


Presently, the organization combines the original seven groups together with amalgams of other smaller, militant groups, like the Kashmir Freedom Force and the Kashmir Resistance Force.


The aims and objective of the United Liberation Front of Assam is to liberate Assam (an area of 78529 square kilometre) through an armed struggle from what it calls the clutches of the illegal occupation of India. Founded in 1979, the Ulfa poses a significant threat to the security of the Indian state.


India has historically faced the dangers and conspiracies that it now has to contend with. History, tradition and the machinations of neighbours have invariably gone against the forces of nationhood. There seems to be no respite. But whereas in the past India had to capitulate almost readily, the country is now in a position to counter the gravest of threats posed by the external enemy and the fifth columnists within.


(Concluded)

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TAKE NOTE

 

At the end of the two-week-long Copenhagen summit, a familiar cloud of confusion continues to hover over its central agenda of arresting climate change. Perhaps the only palpable change has been in geopolitical relations. India and China, along with Brazil and South Africa, have emerged as the key players in a conference whose working principles had been guided by none other than the United Nations. With the UN becoming virtually redundant, the role of the developed nations in framing the Copenhagen Accord was also dramatically reduced. In a curious reversal of the rules of the negotiating game — so far dominated by the big Western powers — the world's most powerful country was cornered by the combined intransigence of the developing nations. Barack Obama was merely expecting a tête-à-tête with the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao. Ambushed by the BASIC group, Mr Obama promised to share technology. He even topped it up with financial aid, but still could not secure anything better than a non-binding political pact. The countries that account for 60 per cent of global pollution left with a big grin on their faces, with India and China delivering the masterstroke. Unwilling to upset popular sentiments back home, they merely pledged to "take note" of the accord. This idea of prospective damage control for when tidal waves, droughts and floods start overwhelming the earth is like a smoker saving up carefully for when he is finally afflicted with lung cancer.

 

If India and China have intangibly, if dubiously, benefitted from the summit, their lesser partners in the G77 group are the ones that have been worst served. Based on the outcome of the conference, UN scientists have predicted that the temperature of the earth will increase by up to 4°C annually, which is far above the 1°C limit that the island nations have been lobbying for — anything more than 1.5°C would be catastrophic for them. Their sense of betrayal is now deepened by India and China, two pivotal G77 members, gesturing towards a deal, however tentative, with the US.

 

The only plausible winners of the Copenhagen summit are the sceptics. They have sneered at this elaborate gathering from the very start, predicting how it would all boil down to horse-trading and arm-twisting of the pettiest kind. Their apprehensions have been gloriously validated. The elaborate rhetoric of goodwill and environmental concern, bandied about by so-called global leaders, has steadily descended to bickering and mutual recrimination. The rich nations have desisted from signing any legally-binding deal to reduce emission. And the newly rich nations have pleaded their relative poverty and lesser carbon footprint, equally reluctant to enter into any long-term agreement. The pursuit of material wealth has triumphed over the need to safeguard the natural riches of the earth.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

GOING DOWN

 

If the developing countries start sharing responsibility, however differentially, for the fate of the planet, then the growth of Indian cities would have a special role to play in this change in attitude. And in this, transport management would have a great deal to do with cutting emissions. Calcutta's readiness to deal with this change is expectedly inadequate. Two kinds of civic indifference and mismanagement are the most obvious examples of this. First, the city's inability to rise above politics and corruption in order to get rid of old, polluting vehicles. Second, the increasingly dismal and dangerous condition of what, from the mid-Eighties, used to be the city's pride: the Metro Railway. Most recently, the imminent collapse of the entire ticketing system in the Metro has become symbolic of how poorly maintained and managed the whole show has been for a long time. Here too, as in many other spheres of dysfunctionality in the city, apathy and an acute lack of foresight are the main causes of deterioration. In terms of how it is run and maintained, how safe it makes commuters feel, and what it looks like, the Metro has become the grim underbelly of the city's civic identity — in spite of its recent, and much celebrated, expansion. In fact, it was the expansion that showed up how unfit the system had become to deal with every aspect of the increased reach and load.

 

Obstacles and delays are built into the history of the Metro, with the idea conceived in 1949 and operations beginning in 1984. So it is no surprise that the early warnings of the ticketing system going wrong were ignored, and even in a state of near collapse, the bureaucracy does not envisage a solution before July 2010. Meanwhile, the inconveniences mount and the dangers escalate. The underground is turning into some sort of a dank, uncertain and perilous underworld where only Tarkovskian stalkers, instead of 21st-century travellers, would feel at home.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

ALIEN CORN

THE NORTHEAST IS LIKELY TO REMAIN THE OUTSIDER TO THE REST OF INDIA

ASHOK MITRA

 

A couple of weeks ago, Team India overpowered Sri Lanka and emerged at the top in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings. The joy of the country's emerging middle class knew no bounds. A splurge of intense patriotic emotion swept the media: India was on top of the world, the pride and glory of the achievement were to be shared by each and every countryman, this was what national integration was all about. Each member of the Test team was given an instant award of Rs 25 lakh by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. That was peanuts; the more important thing, the cognoscenti agreed, was the fact that the stupendous distinction was won on behalf of the nation, once more furnishing evidence that sare jahanse achchha Hindustan hamara.

 

Happenstance, it also was the week when Bangladesh authorities, doing their own arithmetic, ended the sanctuary they had been providing to some of the top brass of the United Liberation Front of Asom. They were pushed back across the border to be gathered in by Indian military personnel. Within a day, the chief of the Ulfa and members of his retinue were produced, in handcuffs, before the designated court at Guwahati. Thousands of young men and women milled the court premises to have a glimpse of the Ulfa chief. They hailed him as if he was a conquering hero, and were incensed that handcuffs were clamped upon him. Ulfa slogans, demanding instant grant of sovereignty to Assam, rent the air; overt anti-India slogans were not missing either. Not much of national integration was visible in the neighbourhood.

 

To refuse to admit the existence of this duality of the state of affairs will be self-deception. One can travel the expanse of Assam and talk to people at random. Quite a few of those talked to will betray an ambivalence of the mind. They are citizens of India, but there is a haziness about it in their psyche. They are a part of the Union of India, and yet it is as if they are not altogether integrated with the Indian nation. There is some sort of a curtain separating them from the national conclave. They are a part of India, nevertheless, India is a somewhat distant entity. India's problems are seemingly not theirs; thank you, they have their own problems to worry over. Up to a point, it is almost a re-run of the old Asom Gana Parishad theme. Their land, Assam, has its own persona which Indians do not apparently appreciate; Indians in general, the complaint is posted, are unable to grasp Assam's specific realities. The Ulfa, with all its cruelties and insensibilities, does not, therefore, fail to attract the clandestine admiration of some sections, particularly of the new generation. The handcuffs on the Ulfa leader were conceivably regarded by the assembled youngsters as an affront to Assam's dignity. The emotional pitch rose, and latent anti-India prejudices experienced a catharsis. Maybe the Assamese people, one will be told, share the same heritage, such as of Hindu epics, with other Indians; so what, one can come across the imprimatur of these classics in Thailand and Indonesia too. Yes, this much will be conceded, Assam is politically a part of India; it is nonetheless different.

 

Why pick on Assam alone, it is more or less the same state of the mind over the entire stretch of the country's Northeast. This cluster of the so-called Seven Sisters constitutes a crucial flank of India's geography; India, nonetheless, by and large remains an alien land to the residents of these tracts. Their link with the rest of India is always a bit special. It is a loose kind of relationship, settled at the level of the superstructure, between this or that tribal chief and this or that top politician or civil servant in New Delhi. There is a hint of a suggestion that whatever the political arrangement, it is both tenuous and tentative. The people live their separate lives, they have their ethnicities and their own cultures and totems. True, India has a jurisdiction over them, their students go to Indian cities for higher education, but it is not always a comfortable journey, Indians allegedly tend to treat them as aliens. They too, therefore, have learnt to treat Indians as aliens. The situation is not helped when their daughters get raped in New Delhi or Mumbai, or when the shopkeepers enquire whether they are from Myanmar or Vietnam. The situation is not helped either when Indian army personnel, posted in Imphal or some place else in the region, under the protective umbrella of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, commit gross indiscretions. As one treks from one tract to the next, the ethnic composition changes a bit, the different tribes living next door to one another do not always gel along, occasionally they fight among themselves, Indian army and para-military forces have to step in to stop or arbitrate over these fights. Even so, almost all tribes and ethnic groups continue to nurse the same reservations about India, of which they are formal constituents. They are a part of India. India, however, is an alien entity.

 

This is reality, reality that has persisted through the past six decades. And that is the most frightening part of it. The 'psychological' distance between the Indian nation and the people in the Northeast has not reduced at all in the course of this long stretch of time. The North-east has derived tangible infrastructural benefits from the astronomical rise in the country's defence expenditure. Accorded the status of special category states, they have been at the receiving end of special dispensations from both the Finance Commission and the Planning Commission. Roads, irrigation systems, power plants, telecommunications, and educational and health facilities have expanded in all parts of the region. Besides, under-the-table political deals, going on all the time, have filled the coffers of many tribal chiefs; their spin-off on local living conditions is of no negligible proportion. None of this, however, has brought the Northeast nearer to India. The stirring of national integration induced by Team India displacing South Africa at the top of the Test cricket country rankings hardly affects the Northeast. To the formally Indian citizens over there, it is only a news item. Alienation continues to be the eternal verity.

 

In this milieu, it is relatively easy for both malcontents and ideologues to feel encouraged. Whatever economic progress has taken place in the region is anyway not that breathtaking, and certainly compare poorly with the pace at which states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab are striding forward. While genuine ground exists for some grievances, some other grievances can be, and are, imagined. It is, therefore, no surprise that over much of the Northeast, peace and tranquillity have an altogether temporary character, insurgencies are dime a dozen. These spurts of rebellion often quieten down on their own, or perhaps simmer not too dangerously. There is no warranty though that a fresh insurgency will not rear its head in a place barely 20 or 40 kilometres of rugged terrain away. The geographical location is, on its own, an aggravating factor. At least half a dozen countries have their borders around this area — a rich hinterland for espionage agents of the type one comes across in the Graham Greene-Eric Ambler genre of fiction. Intrigues are second nature here. The flow of unaccounted money increases every day; so does cynicism concerning the purposes for which the money is spent by those who spend it. Such cynicism is the enemy of developing either a sense of loyalty or passion for any cause.

 

Politicians in New Delhi have, at this moment, other things on their minds. The sub-nationalities or sub-sub-nationalities that make up the Indian nation are fighting it out for a greater share of the pelf triumphant capitalism has flooded the nation's superstructure with. This is, however, a temporary situation. The bickering bourgeois groups will settle it out among themselves. One or two new states will get created, one or two shuffles of political position will occur here and there, some deaths and some arson will leave a few scars, but, in the end, a new equilibrium will be reached, the capitalist system will see to that. The cricket bonanza will not be interrupted. As the country's cricketers reach higher pinnacles of glory and India maintains its super- power status in the arena, there will be no dearth of occasions for going through the thrill of patriotic emotions. The Northeast, though, is likely to remain the outsider.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

YOUNG WAR CRIMINAL

GWYNNE DYER

 

Alan Watkins is my favourite British journalist. Well into his 70s now, each week he still produces an elegant and knowing column, usually about British politics. And with a casual understatement that you might easily mistake for irony, he has for the past six years regularly referred to the former prime minister, Tony Blair, as "the young war criminal."

 

That may seem a bit harsh, for never has an alleged war criminal seemed more sincere, more open, even more innocent. As he said about his 2003 decision to involve Britain in the American invasion of Iraq in his resignation speech four years later: "Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right." But everybody does what they think is right.

 

They may mean pragmatically right, or morally right, or even ideologically right, but one way or another, people will find ways to justify their actions to themselves. When people's choices lead to the deaths of others, they must eventually be judged by more objective criteria than sincerity. That is now happening to Tony Blair.

 

Yet another public inquiry in Britain is now looking into the origins and consequences of his decision to attack Iraq, but it will not find him guilty of anything. It is what the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, called "an establishment stitch-up". Yet the mere existence of the Chilcot inquiry has so shaken Blair that he has made an extraordinary admission. He said on December 13 that he would have invaded Iraq even if he had known that the 'intelligence' about the weapons of mass destruction was wrong."I would still have thought it was right to remove [Saddam Hussein]," he told the BBC. He seemed unaware that he was throwing away the only justification that might stand up before the International Criminal Court.

 

You must be wondering why I am devoting all this space to a discredited ex-leader whose country once played a minor role in the invasion of a middle-sized Arab country. The war is mostly over now, the dead cannot be brought back to life, and we have lots of new things to worry about.

 

No exceptions

 

The point is that there is a law, and they deliberately broke it. Since 1945, it has been a crime to invade another country: that was the main charge brought against Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. The new rule was written into the United Nations Charter, principally at the behest of the United States of America, and there are virtually no exceptions to it.

 

You have the right to defend yourself if another country attacks you, but you are not allowed to attack another country on the grounds that it has a wicked ruler, or follows policies you disapprove of, or even because you think it might attack you one of these days. No unilateral military action is permitted, and even joint action against a genuinely threatening country is only permissible with the authorization of the UN security council.

 

The US is a different country now than it was in 1945, and under the Bush administration it announced a "national security" doctrine that directly contradicts this international law, arrogating to the government the right to attack any country it suspects of harbouring evil intentions towards the US.

 

It's the sort of thing Britain would have declared when it was top dog in the 19th century, had there been any international law against aggression back then. But this is the 21st century, Britain is no longer top dog, and there is a law now. There is even the ICC to enforce the law, although it never takes action against leaders of rich and powerful countries.

 

Blair will never face the ICC; even the Chilcot inquiry will be gentle with him. But he started a war on false pretenses (there were no WMD) and at least 100,000 died. He has admitted that he would have started it even if he knew that the WMD didn't exist (as he probably did). He is a war criminal.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

VITAL SIGNS

'AWARENESS ABOUT ORGAN TRANSPLANT IS LOW IN INDIA'

 

Legislation to boost and regulate organ transplantation in the country is on the anvil. The Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Bill, 2009, has been passed by the Lok Sabha. The bill increases the pool from which a patient can draw organs. The list of 'near relatives' who can donate organs, which included a spouse, parents and siblings, has been expanded to include grandparents and grandchildren. Besides, it allows for swapping organs between relatives of two patients whose organs find a better match with an unrelated donor.

The bill makes it mandatory for ICU staff to request relatives of brain-dead patients to consider organs donation. By increasing the pool of donors and encouraging and easing the way for legal donation, the government is hoping that the acute demand for organs, that fuels illegal trade in it, will be reduced. The bill provides for monitoring and stern action against those engaging in organ trade which has been active in supplying to foreign nationals visiting this country for transplants. In a bid to clampdown on this, the bill requires approval of the Authorisation Committee before organs or tissue are removed or transplanted. A National Organ Retrieval, Banking and Transplantation Network will be set so  that the donation and transplant process functions smoothly.


While legislation regulating organ transplantation is necessary, it alone will not achieve the goals of increasing donation or preventing trafficking. It is important that the law is implemented and applied with seriousness. Awareness about organ transplant is low in India. That must be addressed too. Organ transplants can give patients a new lease of life. Yet people are reluctant to donate organs of their brain-dead relatives, even of cadavers. Religious beliefs stand in the way of donation.


Sometimes it is sheer apathy. No one wants to run around getting the paper work done to permit harvesting of organs from a cadaver. Hopefully, under the new legislation, hospitals will facilitate the process.


The illegal trade in organs is not difficult to stop. It is not restricted to dark alleys or remote corners of the country. It is happening in some of the most-respected hospitals in our cities. It is being deliberately overlooked, often in the name of promoting medical tourism. What is needed is political will to act against it.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

TENUOUS ACCORD

'THE SUMMIT'S VERY MODEST OUTCOME IS WORRYING'

 

If the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change was aimed at putting in place concrete steps to arrest global warming, then the meet was a failure. An 'accord' reached at the summit – it is hardly an accord as it did not receive unanimous support — is unlikely to contain temperature rises to within the 2 degrees centigrade that scientists say is needed to avert calamitious climate change.

 

What has emerged from Copenhagen is a non-binding political deal reached between a US-led group of rich countries and a grouping of emerging economies, including Brazil, South Africa, Indian and China (BASIC) that the conference agreed to only "take note of". Many have dismissed the 'accord' as a moth-eaten deal.


The international community has failed itself by achieving so little at Copenhagen.


However, some gains were made at Copenhagen. Given the wide gap in positions and the highly acrimonious debates before and during the summit, the fact that an accord was reached, even if it is so irresolute in its commitment to countering climate change, is an achievement.

 

It includes a method for verifying industrialised nations' reduction of emissions and promises $30 billion in emergency climate aid to poor nations in the next three years and outlines a goal of eventually providing $100 billion a year to them by 2020. The rich countries were not able to jettison the Kyoto protocol.

 

The accord carries references to Kyoto. With all its warts, the accord saved the summit from total failure and the talks process from collapse. It is important that what was achieved at Copenhagen is built upon. If the Copenhagen accord is a 'warm up' intermediate deal ahead of a robust treaty next year, then the summit was not a waste of time.


The Copenhagen summit's very modest outcome is worrying. The accord indicates that while countries have come around to recognising the need to keep warming below 2 degrees, they are still a long way from committing to doing so. As troubling is the way diplomacy was done at Copenhagen. It is hard to ignore the fact that the accord was the result of a backroom deal done by a handful of countries. While the BASIC countries did manage to stop the rich nations from steamrolling their agendas, it does seem that the accord left them isolated from the G-77. Is a new climate order emerging that pits the world's poor against the rich and BASIC?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BIRD'S-EYE VIEW

'BIG POWERS TEND TO OFFER MIDDLE-CLASS NATIONS EITHER A PROMISSORY NOTE OR A DEMAND NOTICE'

BYLINE M J AKBAR

 

At long last there is a foreign minister on the international scene with ice-cold blood in his veins and an uncomplicated, unemotional comprehension of national interest. His name is Kieren Keke. He carries the flag for Nauru, an eight-square-mile island-nation of 11,000 inhabitants in the South Pacific famous on two counts. It is the smallest republic in the world, and its principal source of revenue was through the export of phosphates formed by bird droppings. That was undoubtedly the most valuable bird waste in history, but the republic killed the local version of the golden egg by selling more phosphate than the birds could drop.


When the money ran out, Nauru's imagination blossomed. It invested millions of dollars from its national saving in a London musical. The musical flopped, wrecking the country's bank balance. It then tried to solve Australia's troublesome problem by providing a base for immigrants en route to the Pacific El Dorado, in return for suitable compensation. Regrettably, the refugees wanted refuge in Australia rather than amidst lost bird droppings.

But Nauru's imagination remained fertile. In 2002 Nauru took $130 million from China to break relations with Taiwan. In 2006, presumably after this sweetener was exhausted, it reopened links with Taiwan. It is not known whether there was a financial angle to this decision, but the track record tells its own story. This year Nauru recognised Abkhazia (population:215,000), one of two nations that Russia liberated from Georgia in 2008. The price: $50 million. Keke has also paid a visit to the second region, South Ossetia, possibly with an accountant as travelling companion. The message has gone to every chancery: if the price is right, Nauru, a full member of the United Nations, will oblige.


There might even be a touch of High Marx about Nauru's foreign policy: to Nauru according to its need, from China and Russia according to their ability.


Regrettably, international relations are rarely conducted with such Nauruvian clarity. Big powers tend to offer middle-class nations either a promissory note, if they have been good, or a demand notice, if they have strayed off the indicated path; there is never a clean transaction, let alone a gift voucher.


Transparency may indeed be harmful to bilateral relations, because governments may have to script one narrative for their domestic audience and quite another for the international one. This was Barack Obama's dilemma in Copenhagen. He could not summon his predecessors' less-than-sublime indifference to Kyoto, which played well with an electorate that has been trained to believe that the world owes it the luxury Americans have become accustomed to. Neither could he open himself up to a cavalry charge by his opposition. Republicans, led by Don Sarah Palin Quixote, might be racing towards every windmill in sight, but the careful politician knows that even an insane spear can draw blood from a weak spot.


B-Grade Security Council

Clever Obama bought peace at home by a hard-line text, and deflected criticism abroad by creating a sort of B-Grade Security Council on climate change along with four well-behaved nations, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. This is one of those Christmas presents with packaging from Tiffanys and a gift from the sale at Woolworths, but it does have the advantage of sparkling impressively at the Christmas party. It is only when you open the package in the silence of your room that you discover that this is just another off-the-peg necktie.

Pakistan's gift from Washington is the usual: food coupons wrapped in a set of demands. Rarely has a wartime alliance been as fraught with tension as the US-Pak war against terror. Roosevelt and Stalin were more compatible. This had nothing to do with personality. They had no confusion about the identity or nature of the enemy. When last reports came in, America was sending Drones to kill Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani in their suspected hideouts in North Waziristan. The Pakistan establishment considers them past and future assets, and potential rulers of Afghanistan once American troops begin to depart in 18 months, leaving a crumbling Karzai regime in their wake. A second Drone target was Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who has a truce with the Pak army. The short-term Washington interest is now in open confrontation with the long-term Islamabad perspective. America is engaged in one battle from the air, Pakistan in a separate one on the ground.


Such divergence may be sustainable on the surface since it would be foolish to fracture the alliance, but there will be turmoil below surface calm. Pakistan is already placing curbs on the movement of American personnel, including civilians. One wonders if Richard Holbrooke, who has been placed in cloister for a while, will soon be brought back to show his customary heavy hand. Of course the left hand will never know, or seek to know, what Holbrooke's right hand is doing.


Eighteen months takes us into the middle of 2011. There is, in the meantime, 2010 to get through. I don't know what you make of the immediate future, but my depressing feeling is that 2010 is going to be The Year of the Bloody Mess.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MONEY CAN'T BUY PEOPLE HAPPINESS

DESPITE LOW ENTITLEMENTS, INDIA IS SAID TO BE HAPPIER THAN MOST OTHER DEVELOPED NATIONS.

PRASENJIT CHOWDHURY

 

In a 2005 book titled "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science", Professor Richard Layard, head of the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance and member of the British House of Lords, argued that societies do not become happier as they become richer. "There is a paradox at the heart of our lives," writes Layard. "As Western societies have got richer," Layard tells us, "their people have become no happier." All the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the last fifty years, even as average incomes have more than doubled: "In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe, and Japan".


In a recently conducted World Happiness Survey by Layard's team, Bangladesh emerged as the happiest nation in the world. India is the fifth happiest nation in the world. Even apparently small countries like Ghana, Latvia, Croatia and Estonia are quite high up in the happiness list.


Britain ranks 32nd and wonder of all wonders, the United States, the promised land where Declaration of Independence enshrines life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, ranks a lowly 46th. Quite naturally, LSE researchers, while seeking to find a link between personal spending power and the perceived quality of life, concluded the time-worn axiom that money can buy everything but happiness. Economic growth makes us healthier, better educated,  nurtures social toleration, and a milieu favourable to art and culture, but does it make us happier? 


We Indians are absolutely soaked in the high GDP rates. But Gross National Happiness (GNH) – a term coined in 1972 by Bhutan's former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, committed to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values, who has opened up Bhutan to the age of modernisation — is an attempt to define quality of life in more holistic and psychological terms than GDP. This is a departure from conventional development models that considers economic growth as the be-all and end-all. GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.


Now, supportive of what Layard says, Notre Dame University political scientist Benjamin Radcliff argues that market-oriented societies are by nature "corrosive" to happiness and that large welfare states are the remedy. Radcliff argues that "the more we supplement the cold efficiency of the free market system with interventions that reduce poverty, insecurity and inequality, the more we improve the quality of life." University of Michigan political scientist Ronald Inglehart shows that nations with rising levels of per-capita GDP tend to shift culturally from "materialist" values, "which emphasize economic and physical security," to "post-materialist" values, "which emphasize self-expression and quality of life."


INDIA'S POSITION

In almost all important parameters of development, India lags behind. Apart from faring poorly in the Human Development Index, India is ranked a poor 65th in battling hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index for 2009.

It said 21 per cent of the Indian population was undernourished (between 2003 and 2005), 43.5 per cent Indian children under the age of five were underweight (between 2002 and 2007) and infant mortality rate of children below the age of five in 2007 was 7.2 per cent.

In a 2009 report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) — the Gender Gap Index report — measuring equality around the world, ranking of which are based on the quantum of progress nations have made in the areas of job, education, politics and health to determine gender parity, India ranked a dismal 114th position out of 134 countries surveyed.


But India is said to be happier than a host of developed nations in terms of what is called "subjective well-being" despite its low entitlements and therein lies the rub. The question is: would we like to be as "unhappy" but wealthy as America or as happy as Bangladesh? It is inconceivable to think that Indians with such an appalling degree of health insecurities, poverty levels, literacy and gender-related disparities are generally happy. If we are, then we have right to claim a better life and secure a better nationhood.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MY RETREAT

I WAS FEELING HUMBLED BY THE FACT THAT MY EDIFICE OF LOGIC WAS CRUMBLING.

V RADHAKRISHNAN

 

The motivation was my friend Jacob who lives in the US and also my creaking knees which had started grating like wheels without bearings, making even a brisk walk an onerous task. And so, leaving behind my cynicism, I decided to take a break from work and attend a five-day yoga retreat. What an experience it turned out to be!
Like all momentous events in life, it started with high drama. The day after I  booked for the course, my knees became worse. My doctor suggested I give it complete rest and forbade squatting and kneeling.


Do I go or not? Overcoming Hamlet's predicament, I reached the resort and checked in. Waking at an unearthly 5 am, I sauntered into the yoga hall. Pot-bellied and balding executives lined up, bending and crawling like teeny boppers at the wish and command of a petite damsel in leotards. Intimidated, I tried to ensconce behind a corpulent corporate CEO to camouflage my slipups, but not for long.


After an excruciating spell, a furtive glance at the watch told that ten minutes was all that had passed! And she was only warming up. After an eternity of feigning and stooging, she stopped. I sighed in relief thinking it was over for the session, when the smiling assassin announced, "..start again.."


I do not know how the day ended, but trust me, it really did. By then I felt awfully tired — doing what, I honestly have no clue. On the few occasions when I had sincerely tried to cope, I was hopelessly out of sync with others. Yet, don't think I always lagged behind. I was ahead of the pack and already waiting whenever she said, ".. now relax".


Reaching home, I congratulated myself for having survived the ordeal without denting my pride. Lest you should get me wrong, let me confess: I came back with the highest regard for a practice I thought was mumbo-jumbo. I walked towards the buggy, and noticed that I wasn't limping any more. It didn't hurt when I flexed it!
It was not just my body that was transformed. I was feeling humbled by the fact that the edifice of logic I prided myself over was crumbling.


Throughout the grueling sessions, I grumbled and cursed through every movement, longing for rest. But when rest finally came and the robot lady told us "….. Now lie on your back. Be absolutely still as if you are dead", I was overcome by an intense desire to become alive.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE GREAT DISCONNECT

 

As Israelis continue to brawl over a settlement construction moratorium that Western powers denigrate as insufficient and Palestinians dismiss as worthless, the West Bank's Palestinian Arab population has reason to feel contented.

 

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has told Western media outlets that the West Bank economy is experiencing an upswing, and that next year could see double-digit growth.

 

Some 47,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel or in Israeli enterprises within the West Bank. About 1,500 VIP business people (selected by the PA) have the right to cross between Israel and the West Bank at any time. Arab citizens of Israel have been encouraged to resume commerce with their West Bank brethren. Crossing points have been upgraded; crossing hours between the West Bank and Jordan have been expanded.

 

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

 

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works.

 

Four EU-funded electrical substations are on the drawing boards. A second Palestinian cellular phone company is now online. People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

 

HAS THE relative prosperity of West Bankers made them more inclined to compromise with Israel? Not really.

 

The latest survey of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Khalil Shikaki, found that most Palestinians would not mind if Abbas retired; they think his talk of doing so is mere posturing.

 

Sixty-one percent of Palestinians say that Fatah and Hamas are jointly responsible for the continued split within the Palestinian polity. Reuniting the West Bank with Gaza is the Palestinians' top priority, with most saying this goal is more important than maintaining the cease-fire with Israel.

 

At the same time, if elections were held today, Abbas would receive the support of 54% of the Palestinian electorate compared to Ismail Haniyeh's 38%. Haniyeh's overall popularity among Gazans stands at 43% - not much lower than President Barack Obama's among Americans (49%).

 

But roughly 40% of eligible voters say - given a choice between Haniyeh and Abbas - they'd stay home.

 

What if younger blood were injected in the race? What if the man Yasser Arafat entrusted with running Fatah's terror campaign under the Tanzim brand were the moderates' standard bearer? Answer: Marwan Barghouti would take 67% of the ballots compared to 28% for Ismail Haniyeh - while participation would shoot up to 73%.

 

Were parliamentary elections held today, Fatah would garner 43% versus 27% for Hamas. Broken down by region, Fatah would win 41% of the West Bank and 46% of Gaza; Hamas would capture 23% of the West Bank and 34% in the Strip.

 

Most illuminating is the rating personal/family safety and security get. In the West Bank the comfort level is 63% (up from 58% four months ago). In the Gaza Strip, 65% of respondents said they felt safe and secure (compared to 63% four months ago).

 

This comfort level relates not to the economy, but to an end of the Hobbesian lawlessness that prevailed as a result of the second intifada. Gazans are as grateful to Hamas as West Bankers are to Fatah for returning normalcy to their lives - though Gazans acknowledge they have paid a greater human-rights price for their calm.

 

FROM AN Israeli viewpoint, the heartbreak is that despite a massive investment of resources by the EU and US, accompanied by essential Israeli cooperation, the relatively well-off West Bankers hanker after the imprisoned Barghouti, partly because he refuses to rule out a third paroxysm of violence.

 

The core attitudes of West Bankers and comparatively deprived Gazans are not poles apart, with so many believing that violence pays. Economic well-being, then, does not obviate political frustration.

 

Tragically, Palestinian "moderates" are doing precious little to lessen the dissatisfaction of their people, because they have failed to candidly discuss the compromises necessary to achieve viable aspirations.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE REGION: THE 'NO WAR, NO PEACE' OPTION

BARRY RUBIN

 

We now have Mahmoud Abbas's answer regarding short-term Palestinian Authority strategy. He says that if Israel stops all construction now - in east Jerusalem and the 3,000 apartments being completed - and accepts in advance the 1967 borders, there will be peace within six months. This is the basic story we've been hearing since around 1988: One or more Israeli concessions and everyone will live happily ever after.

 

This is clearly bait being dangled for President Barack Obama, offering him an "easy" way out of his dilemma of not having any peace talks after almost a year in office: Pressure Israel to give up more and you will look good, with plenty of photo opportunities of you presiding over Israel-PA talks.

 

Of course, what Abbas wants to do is remove one of the main points of Israeli leverage, the borders to be agreed upon and the status of east Jerusalem. Moreover, he is leaving out both the additional demands he will be making (all Palestinians who want to can go live in Israel) and all the Israeli demands he will be ignoring (recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, the end of the conflict and dropping all Palestinian claims, security guarantees, an unmilitarized Palestinian state, settling all refugees in Palestine).

 

In addition, of course, he can't speak for about half the people and territory he claims to represent; that is, the Gaza Strip. And by not holding elections and unilaterally extending his term, Abbas leaves the door open for some future Palestinian leadership saying he had no legitimate mandate to negotiate and therefore any agreement he made isn't binding.

 

Finally, he made one very big misstatement, hoping - as usual - that the West pays no attention to what's said in Arabic. He claimed that the PA stopped incitement against Israel, in terms of urging violence and rejecting Israel's existence. While the PA is, of course, far better than Hamas on such matters, a very large dossier can be compiled on how that is a lie.

 

THE QUESTION is what will the Obama administration do? Is it going to press Israel for further unilateral concessions so that the PA will agree to talks and Obama can call it a success? Will it try to get the PA to do something in terms of confidence-building measures or to talk without preconditions? Israel is certainly not going to accept the 1967 borders with absolutely no change before even talking with the PA (and probably not even as part of a peace agreement).

 

Indeed, it is now Obama administration policy that there need to be minor border modifications to accommodate the post-1967 changes on the ground. Moreover, Israel can say that if it stops all construction immediately, including in east Jerusalem, the PA still won't talk, so what's the point?

 

Incidentally, Abbas admitted that he never asked for an Israeli construction freeze before but is only doing so in the context of the road map. However, even after the road map, Abbas never made this a big issue until after Obama demanded a construction freeze. In objective terms, the president has no one to blame but himself for this mess, but of course he won't do that. He has to blame either Israel or the PA. Which will it be?

 

At the same time, there's a new trend worth noting in the West Bank and the PA: a sense of satisfaction. While the Western media generally reflect the rather false-front public relations' campaign waged by the PA - bitter, frustrated, victimized and eager for peace - that's not what's really going on right now.

 

Abbas's government has to weather some difficult politicking along the following lines:

 

• He has extended his own term in office indefinitely and cancelled January 2010 elections without receiving much criticism from within the PA. After all, Hamas won't let any balloting happen in the Gaza Strip and who knows which side might win a fair vote?

 

• The PA has been rounding up Hamas activists and maintaining security on the West Bank while - with a lot of help and some pressure from Israel - preventing cross-border attacks.

 

• The economy is doing well with relative prosperity in the West Bank, though this could collapse in hours if the PA lets violence reappear.

 

• Abbas has contained intensive criticism from his colleagues about his being too "soft" in his dealings with Obama.

 

• He has worked out a way to refuse negotiations while blaming it on Israel.

 

• No matter what the PA does, international media coverage, support from Europe and a lack of criticism from the US government seem assured.

 

THERE ARE plenty of things to be pleased about even though the peace process is dead, there's no realistic prospect of a state and Hamas looks set to govern the Gaza Strip forever.

 

What's really true - though often misunderstood in the West - is that a no war, no peace option suits the PA just fine right now. There is a question of whether hotheads among Abbas's colleagues, a Hamas sabotage or some accidental event will set off a new confrontation. Yet that doesn't seem too likely in the short- to medium-run.

 

Finally, while Fatah and the PA can't wean themselves - indeed, they aren't even trying - off a basic strategy whose main goal is destroying Israel some day, that doesn't mean they can't get along with Israel on a current basis. Behind the scenes, things aren't so bad.

 

Indeed, when Abbas speaks privately, he is likely to spend much of his time attacking Hamas and urging tougher sanctions on Iran. He knows who his real enemies are, even if most Western observers take him at his (public) word.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

RUPTURE AND ITS REWARDS

YISRAEL HAREL

 

The settlement construction freeze imposed by the government in Judea and Samaria has far-reaching practical, political and ideological ramifications.

 

Let us begin with the practical: Despite domestic and international political pressures against the settlements that inevitably generate heavy doubts among prospective settlers, demand for homes in these settlements is great, particularly among the second and third generations of settlers. If we add the security and economic price the settlers in any case pay (financial rewards under the government's "areas of national priority" are a joke in view of the settlers' heavy expenses incurred by their location), we find that the settlement movement is deeply rooted among the Israeli people. There is a strong desire to strengthen that movement so that it cannot again be uprooted like the small Gush Katif enclave in Gaza in 2005.

 

Thus, if only to continue to exist, i.e. to prevent another Katif bloc uprooting, the settlers understand that they must bring tens of thousands of new people to the settlements. But that cannot happen without ongoing construction.

 

Further, even if in view of the lessons of Gush Katif, no government is able to remove settlers (there are 300,000 in Judea and Samaria in contrast with some 10,000 in Gush Katif in 2005), they face an additional existential threat: atrophy. Many of the veteran settlements are over 30. Without housing there, the second and third generations will be obliged to live elsewhere and the original settlement is liable to age and eventually disappear. Thus, another reason for the struggle against the freeze is the need to bring fresh blood to the veins of these settlements.

 

THERE IS also a profound ideological reason. When the government issues construction freeze directives targeting only Judea and Samaria - something it would not dream of doing anywhere else - this sends a disturbing emotional and ideological message to the settlers. They view their communities as an integral part of the State of Israel; they settled where they did so that these territories would become part of the state.

 

Then too, the freeze communicates a strong sense of insult: What leftist or otherwise hostile governments like that of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert (which carried out the Gaza removal, then followed up with unprecedented and brutal force against the youth of Amona) never dreamed of doing is now being implemented by a Likud government for which many of the settlers themselves voted. This, incidentally, explains why in some places, especially secular settlements identified with the Likud, officials sent to enforce the construction freeze encountered a more violent response than in "ideological" settlements.

 

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is perceived by settlers and others as a weak figure who succumbs to whoever pressures hardest. The settlers are correct in calculating that their tough response to the freeze, which the media exaggerates to prove the settlers are violent, will generate antagonism to the freeze among Likud voters and supporters of other parties in the coalition (including not a few Laborites), thereby obliging Netanyahu to back off. Indeed, the ministerial committee appointed to mollify the settlers and deal with exceptional construction cases has already permitted the renewal of construction of hundreds of dwellings.

 

Netanyahu's inclination to fold under pressure generates yet another concern. Nothing will change in the Obama administration's approach 10 months from now. There will be more pressure, followed by further freezes. And since there will be no new construction starts during the coming 10 months, there can be no second ministerial committee for exceptions. Thus as long as Obama is president, there will be no housing construction in Judea and Samaria despite Netanyahu's reassurances that this is the last and only freeze.

 

The settlers, of course, cannot accept this situation. They have ways to melt much of the freeze, at least from the standpoint of political consciousness. Conceivably, with the right approach, they can even transform the freeze into a lever for generating greater momentum of construction than before, while in parallel recruiting more volunteers to strengthen the settler movement.

 

PRIOR TO the uprooting from Gush Katif, a kind of referendum was held among Likud members. Sharon dreamed up the idea and promised that if the majority was against him there would be no withdrawal. He made this commitment with a clear head, knowing that all opinion polls had predicted he would triumph. The settlers, not only those from the Katif bloc, visited Likudniks house by house to persuade them that because Hamas would view the withdrawal as its victory, the Kassam rockets then falling mainly on settlements would, after the withdrawal, fall on the Western Negev. These encounters were so effective that Sharon's victory predictions were overturned. He proceeded to violate his promise and implement the withdrawal anyway, even as he was creating a new party.

 

But the lesson was learned. Netanyahu is not Sharon and the Likud ministers in his government did not accompany Sharon to Kadima and will not allow Netanyahu to repeat that totally undemocratic exercise.

 

Conceivably, the fathers of this construction freeze - and not only in Washington - concluded that another mass uprooting of settlements is impossible, hence the solution is to atrophy them until they collapse on their own. If there is a significant and extended freeze, this could eventually happen. If indeed this is the strategy, the settlers will know in nine or 10 months. If the freeze is extended, they can again begin visiting the homes of Likud central committee members to confront them with what is already being called "Netanyahu's betrayal." And considering that no Israeli government in the past two decades survived its full four-year term and elections are held every two or three years, Netanyahu does not have the luxury of losing the confidence of his voters.

 

Thus it appears that even at the cost of tension with the US, and probably sooner rather than later, the freeze will fail - like every previous American effort to pressure Israeli governments, right and left, to restrict settlers' lives.

 

The writer heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He founded the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and headed it for 15 years. This article was originally published at www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted with permission.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

DEALING WITH MR. YES AND NO

YOSSI ALPHER

 

Back in the days of Binyamin Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, more than 10 years ago, he was satirized as Mr. Yes and No. For every "yes" he delivered to US president Bill Clinton or PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, there was also a "no" or, if you like, a "yes" to the settlers and other opponents of the peace process. That appears to be where we are today, once again.

 

The 10-month settlement freeze was a "yes," primarily to President Barack Obama, and a dramatic "no" to the settlers. For a change, a genuine attempt is apparently being made to enforce this prohibition, too. But the "no" to a peace process - indeed, to the very concept of a two-state solution - was quick to come, in the form of Netanyahu's proposal to award "Area A" development status, with its concomitant financial benefits, to outlying and provocatively-located settlements like Yitzhar and Kfar Tapuah.

 

Thus does Mr. Yes and No seek to placate the parties who are pressuring him. Obama and the international community want peace gestures; so does Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the ragtag remnants of his Labor Party. Hence the freeze. The settlers want to continue expanding, if possible with government support. Hence the development money. Interestingly, Netanyahu does not appear to perceive significant pressure on the part of the PLO, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world in general, hence he can afford for now to keep his zigzag two-dimensional.

 

Which pressures are likely to prevail? The settlers' strategy is much easier to figure out than Obama's. The American president appears to be increasingly preoccupied with Afghanistan and disillusioned with the Arab-Israel peace process and with the vagaries of both Palestinian and Israeli politics. How much more effective pressure he can direct toward Netanyahu or PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas is questionable.

 

THE SETTLERS, on the other hand, are responding to the construction freeze with their usual energy, faith-based dynamism and organizational capability. They appear to have developed a combination of two integrated strategic concepts.

 

First is preemption and prevention: The settlers fear that the freeze - which, after all, is only for 10 months and does not affect 3,000 current construction projects, construction in east Jerusalem or public buildings - is really the beginning of the end for the West Bank settlement enterprise. They regret not having fought harder against the Gaza pullout in 2005. They see a dangerous pattern here. They are determined to render the freeze unenforceable so there can be no follow-up.

 

Second is defense and intimidation. The settlers are witness to a right-wing government caving in to American peace pressures and turning against them. They want to set it back on the course they originally prescribed for it: enabling them to expand their grip on the West Bank.

 

The most dangerous provocation against the freeze carried out thus far by settlers is setting fire to a mosque in a village near Nablus. While the Netanyahu government has condemned this act and will hunt down the perpetrators, it does not seem to understand that under current circumstances, every financial concession it makes to the settlers, every compromise it offers an extremist West Bank rabbi calling upon IDF soldiers to mutiny, merely encourages such acts of extremism.

 

Here the government really is playing with fire. A violent Palestinian response to the mosque-burning could begin to unravel all the security, economic and institution-building progress registered over recent months by the Salam Fayyad government, thereby negating the very purpose of the settlement construction freeze.

 

We have already noted the relative absence of Arab, especially Palestinian, pressures as apparently perceived by Netanyahu. The most effective and constructive pressure that Abbas could possibly exercise right now is to acknowledge the settlement freeze, problematic and inadequate as it is, as the response he needed to enter into immediate and accelerated peace negotiations. He would have the backing of the Obama administration and most of the Israeli public. He would really put Mr. Yes and No on the spot.

 

The writer is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of Internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. This article was originally published at www.bitterlemons.org and is reprinted with permission.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

AN ANNIVERSARY OF SORTS

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER

 

Twenty-five years ago this week, I wrote my first column. I'm not much given to self-reflection - why do you think I quit psychiatry? - but I figure once every quarter-century is not excessive.

 

When editorial page editor Meg Greenfield approached me to do a column for The Washington Post, I was somewhat daunted. The norm in those days was to write two or three a week, hence the old joke that being a columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac - as soon as you're done, you've got to do it again.

 

So I proposed once a week. First, I explained, because I was enjoying the leisurely life of a magazine writer and, with a child on the way, I was looking forward to fatherhood. Second, because I don't have two ideas a week; I barely have one (as many of my critics no doubt agree).

 

The first objection she dismissed as mere sloth (Meg was always a good judge of character). The second reason she bought. On December 14, 1984, my first column appeared.

 

Longevity for a columnist is a simple proposition: Once you start, you don't stop. You do it until you die or can no longer put a sentence together. It has always been my intention to die at my desk, although my most cherished ambition is to outlive the estate tax.

 

LOOKING BACK on the quarter-century, the most remarkable period, strangely enough, was the '90s. They began on December 26, 1991 (just as the '60s, as many have observed, ended with Richard Nixon's resignation on August 9, 1974) with a deliverance of biblical proportions - the disappearance of the Soviet Union. It marked the end of 60 years of existential conflict, the collapse of a deeply evil empire and the death of one of the most perverse political ideas in history. This miracle, in major part wrought by Ronald Reagan, bequeathed the ultimate peace dividend: a golden age of the most profound peace and prosperity.

 

"I recently told an assembly at my son's high school," I wrote in 1997, "that they were living through a time so blessed they would tell their grandchildren about it. They looked at me uncomprehendingly... because it is hard for anyone to apprehend the sheer felicity of one's own time until it is gone." I concluded with "golden ages never last."

 

Throughout the decade, and most especially as it began to wane, I returned to this theme of the wondrous oddity, the sheer impossibility of an age of such post-historical tranquility.

 

And inevitable ennui. So profound was that tranquility, so trivial the history of that time, that George Will and I would muse that if this kept up - an era whose dominant issue was a president's zipper problem - he might as well go back to the academy and I to psychiatry.

 

Of course, it didn't keep up. It never does. History is tragic, not redemptive. Our holiday from history ended in fire, giving birth to a post-9/11 decade of turbulence and disorientation as we were faced with the unexpected resurgence of radical eschatological evil.

 

Which brings us to the age of Obama, perhaps - mirabile dictu - the most exhilarating time of all. There is nothing as bracing for democracy as the alternation of power, particularly when it yields as serious, determined and challenging an ideological agenda as Barack Obama's. This third wave of transformative liberalism - FDR, then LBJ, now Obama - is no time for triangulation. This is not incrementalism.

 

We're not debating school uniforms. When Obama once declared Ronald Reagan historically consequential and

Bill Clinton not, he meant it. Obama intends to be the Reagan of the new liberalism.

 

It's no secret that I oppose nearly everything Obama has proposed. But after the enervating '90s and the tragic 2000s, the prospect of combative and clarifying 2010s, of sharply defined and radically opposed visions, is both politically and intellectually invigorating.

 

For which I'm tanned, rested and ready. And grateful.

 

To be doing every day what you enjoy doing is rare. Rarer still is to be doing what you were meant to do,

particularly if you got there by sheer serendipity. Until near 30, I'd fully expected to spend my life as a doctor. My present life was never planned or even imagined. An intern at The New Republic once asked me how to become a nationally syndicated columnist. "Well," I replied, "first you go to medical school..."

 

Twenty-five years ago this week, I wrote my first column. I'm not much given to self-reflection - why do you think I quit psychiatry? - but I figure once every quarter-century is not excessive.

 

When editorial page editor Meg Greenfield approached me to do a column for The Washington Post, I was somewhat daunted. The norm in those days was to write two or three a week, hence the old joke that being a columnist is like being married to a nymphomaniac - as soon as you're done, you've got to do it again.

 

So I proposed once a week. First, I explained, because I was enjoying the leisurely life of a magazine writer and, with a child on the way, I was looking forward to fatherhood. Second, because I don't have two ideas a week; I barely have one (as many of my critics no doubt agree).

 

The first objection she dismissed as mere sloth (Meg was always a good judge of character). The second reason she bought. On December 14, 1984, my first column appeared.

 

Longevity for a columnist is a simple proposition: Once you start, you don't stop. You do it until you die or can

no longer put a sentence together. It has always been my intention to die at my desk, although my most

cherished ambition is to outlive the estate tax.

 

LOOKING BACK on the quarter-century, the most remarkable period, strangely enough, was the '90s. They began on December 26, 1991 (just as the '60s, as many have observed, ended with Richard Nixon's resignation

on August 9, 1974) with a deliverance of biblical proportions - the disappearance of the Soviet Union. It marked the end of 60 years of existential conflict, the collapse of a deeply evil empire and the death of one of the most perverse political ideas in history. This miracle, in major part wrought by Ronald Reagan, bequeathed the ultimate peace dividend: a golden age of the most profound peace and prosperity.

 

"I recently told an assembly at my son's high school," I wrote in 1997, "that they were living through a time so blessed they would tell their grandchildren about it. They looked at me uncomprehendingly... because it is hard for anyone to apprehend the sheer felicity of one's own time until it is gone." I concluded with "golden ages never last."

 

Throughout the decade, and most especially as it began to wane, I returned to this theme of the wondrous oddity, the sheer impossibility of an age of such post-historical tranquility.

 

And inevitable ennui. So profound was that tranquility, so trivial the history of that time, that George Will and I would muse that if this kept up - an era whose dominant issue was a president's zipper problem - he might as well go back to the academy and I to psychiatry.

 

Of course, it didn't keep up. It never does. History is tragic, not redemptive. Our holiday from history ended in fire, giving birth to a post-9/11 decade of turbulence and disorientation as we were faced with the unexpected resurgence of radical eschatological evil.

 

Which brings us to the age of Obama, perhaps - mirabile dictu - the most exhilarating time of all. There is

nothing as bracing for democracy as the alternation of power, particularly when it yields as serious, determined and challenging an ideological agenda as Barack Obama's. This third wave of transformative liberalism - FDR, then LBJ, now Obama - is no time for triangulation. This is not incrementalism.

 

We're not debating school uniforms. When Obama once declared Ronald Reagan historically consequential and Bill Clinton not, he meant it. Obama intends to be the Reagan of the new liberalism.

 

It's no secret that I oppose nearly everything Obama has proposed. But after the enervating '90s and the tragic

2000s, the prospect of combative and clarifying 2010s, of sharply defined and radically opposed visions, is both

politically and intellectually invigorating.

 

For which I'm tanned, rested and ready. And grateful.

 

To be doing every day what you enjoy doing is rare. Rarer still is to be doing what you were meant to do, particularly if you got there by sheer serendipity. Until near 30, I'd fully expected to spend my life as a doctor. My present life was never planned or even imagined. An intern at The New Republic once asked me how to become a nationally syndicated columnist. "Well," I replied, "first you go to medical school..."

 

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER is a syndicated Washington Postcolumnist.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE CONFLICT AWAITS OBAMA'S PROGRAM

OPHIR PAZ-PINES

 

The peace train between Israel and the Palestinians has been derailed for some time. World leaders are at a loss and have perhaps given up altogether; both sides in the conflict are busy explaining why the other is the real peace "refuser," while real negotiations over a peace agreement are replaced by endless internal discussions.

 

Israel is struggling over the question of freezing settlements, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu keeps changing positions in an attempt to please all those around him, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is trying to enforce the freeze and Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin talks about the settlement population growing by about ten thousand during the 10-month freeze period. This is an absurd situation.

 

The Palestinian Authority, for its part, is busy with questions of leadership, confrontation with Hamas and the nature of the Palestinian struggle, while dangerously toying with violence and one-sided acts.

 

It appears that these are two parallel lines that will never meet. This situation leads to despair and disbelief in the possibility of moving toward peace arrangements, and serves the anti-peace camps on both sides who support the deadlock and remain undeterred by deterioration to violence. In this scenario, the whole Middle East is hostage to one Palestinian terrorist who undertakes an attack or a Jewish terrorist who burns a mosque. This is the little-man's era in which the leaders allow extremists on the ground to dictate the agenda.

 

HOW DO we get the peace train back on track? How do we restore the hope of peace and the faith in a partner on the other side? Now more than ever, the region needs President Barack Obama to initiate a new peace plan. Such a plan would replace George W. Bush's road map, which can no longer serve as a basis for renewed talks. Obama must gather support from the Quartet and receive the backing of moderate Arab nations, and then attempt to reach an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

 

Obama's plan should include banning violence and fighting terror, mutual recognition and a decision that all disputable issues, including the topics of Jerusalem and refugees, would be up for negotiation. The plan should include timetables and a clear working schedule, which would commence immediately after it's approved by the Knesset and the PA. It should end in a permanent agreement of two states for two nations within two years.

 

History will not forgive those who did not take advantage of the current relative calm - that has not existed for decades - to promote peace, and instead contributed to a dangerous deterioration which would sabotage any chance for peace and will lead, God forbid, to another wave of violence, or to diplomatic moves which would intensify the existing rift.

 

Obama, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize, has a golden opportunity to undertake an act of inspiring

leadership which will justify the public's trust and expectations. Only a new pragmatic peace initiative can save us from endless treading and time-wasting. Only a new peace program can bring both sides to the negotiating table, prevent the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and stop the destructive political deadlock.

 

This historical opportunity must not be missed, as no one knows when another will come our way.

The writer is a Labor MK and a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

HONOR WITH AN EXPIRY DATE

 

The governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, decided last week to issue a new series of banknotes with new portraits. Instead of Moshe Sharett, S.Y. Agnon, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and Zalman Shazar, the bills will feature Theodor Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin. The choice appears to reflect political balance; Herzl and Ben-Gurion are seen as national symbols that transcend the political debate, while Begin and Rabin, with their contested legacies, represent the right and left.


Currency is as much a symbol of a country and its sovereignty as its national anthem and flag. Britain's bills feature a portrait of the queen. The portraits on dollar bills were decided on decades ago and stay the same despite political changes. Euro notes show a map of the union and symbols shared by its member states.


In Israel, the bills are "freshened up" every few years. Since the establishment of the state, nine series of banknotes have been released (the many versions can be ascribed, in part, to changes at the central bank and the switchover from the lira to the shekel to the new shekel). Since 1969, our banknotes have commemorated individuals, and the current series has remained in circulation for 24 years.


The governor's decision to change the bills again, explained by "a recommendation by an external committee," is disconcerting. Why commemorate some but not others? Why honor Herzl and former heads of state but not scientists, intellectuals or historical figures? Are Begin and Rabin more important and representative than Agnon, Israel's only Nobel laureate for literature, or Haim Nahman Bialik, the national poet, who appeared on the 10 lira note? Why is no woman on the list? And why discard Sharett, Shazar and Ben-Zvi? Does commemoration come with an expiry date?


The statement by the bank suggests that decisions on design and alterations of national symbols are made by an obscure committee, far from the public eye. Committee members decide who's in vogue and worthy of commemoration, and who should be forgotten. But such questions should be discussed in a forum where the arguments are plain to see, and whose decisions are thoroughly explained. Without a clear, convincing reason, changing the portraits on the bills is unnecessary and appears as little more than an attempt to curry favor with the political leadership.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

TALK ABOUT 1967 BORDERS, NOT SETTLEMENT BLOCS

BY AKIVA ELDAR

These days, it's tough to find a used car with a bumper sticker that reads "Peace is better than a Greater Israel." Nowadays, everyone seems to favor the latest formula: two states for two peoples. A few people on the right-hand margins are sticking to the belief that there's no difference between Yitzhar and Herzliya, but turbulent debates about the "heritage of the fathers" have given way to a consensus over "dividing the land." Instead of talking about the country's "narrow hips," we are erecting a fence that approximates the route of the Green Line. Even the old "no partner" mantra has been replaced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "repeated call" to the Palestinians to sit at the negotiating table. So if it's all so good, why is it so bad?


At first glance, 2009 seems poised to go down in history as one of the Zionist left's most successful years. Who would have believed that a Netanyahu-led government would adopt the premier's stance on the Palestinians' right to establish a state of their own and would freeze settlement construction? Furthermore, the person responsible for preventing renewal of final-status talks is not Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman from the settlement of Nokdim - but Mahmoud Abbas from the Palestine Liberation Organization.


You don't believe that Bibi is not to blame for the stalling of the peace process? Just ask Minister Isaac Herzog. True, the prime minister stomped all over Herzog and his fellow Laborites during the fight to turn isolated settlements into national priority zones, but everyone knows that Herzog wouldn't stay for a minute in a government that wasn't willing to advance peace.

When the Zionist left supported the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, it believed it was helping Likudnik Ariel Sharon put the last nail in the Greater Israel coffin. At the same time, the evacuation of 8,000 settlers from Gush Katif and other Gaza settlements became a central impetus for the right. What better evidence could there be, they ask, that the problem isn't Israel's total devotion to the territories? Qassam rockets hitting Sderot are "unequivocal proof," according to Likud leaders and many political commentators, that when Israel evacuates territory, Hamas takes over. And don't forget to add "unfortunately."


If Sharon's unilateral disengagement wasn't enough to spur a reality check among the remnants of the old left, Likud recruited another "deserter" to its campaign. In a speech last week at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference, Minister Dan Meridor spoke about the unprecedented concessions that Ehud Olmert offered Abbas in November 2008. Meridor quoted from an Australian newspaper exactly what percentage of the West Bank was included in the map of Palestine drawn by a prime minister who had already submitted his resignation. A member of the forum of seven, an advisory council comprising senior cabinet ministers, Meridor described Olmert's generous offer regarding Jerusalem, and made sure to mention his former friend's willingness to absorb several thousand Palestinian refugees. But all this bounty was still not enough to satisfy Abbas, concluded the most moderate Likud minister, with a sigh of victory - marking another victory for the "new left."


Meridor is right: Olmert indeed went a long way in reaching out to the Palestinians. But who knows as well as Meridor - a statesman who, as a member of the Israeli delegation to Camp David in 2000, knows the PLO's positions from up close - that the distance wasn't far enough? The PLO made its concession 21 years ago, when it accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242 during its declaration of independence in Algiers. Without receiving anything from Israel in return, the Palestinian National Security Council declared a state on territory captured in the Six-Day War - 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine, half the land the UN partition plan had allocated to the Palestinians.

In the eyes of the world in general, not to mention the Arab world, this 22 percent is not up for negotiation. Neither is the fact that a Palestinian state requires territorial contiguity. Until we reach an agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of the 1967 borders, phrases like "settlement blocs" and the "Jewish neighborhoods" of East Jerusalem are nothing but the language of the eternal negotiations we are conducting with ourselves.

Until Meridor and his friends from the "new left" understand this, it would be better if they remained part of the old right, and kept talking about the "heritage of the fathers." Maybe that would be enough to bring back the bumper sticker "Peace is better than Greater Israel."

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ON ZIONISM AND REFUSING ORDERS

BY SHLOMO AVINERI

 

Theodor Herzl's canonical statement after the First Zionist Congress, "In Basel I founded the Jewish state," has long been a cliche, so we sometimes lose sight of its profound significance. This is expressed in the sentences from Herzl's diary that follow, to the effect that the congress had become the national assembly of the Jewish people, and while it meant nothing then, eventually it would become everything.


In this analysis lies the historical achievement of the First Zionist Congress, which aimed to "restore the glory of yesteryear" and set up a representative body, one that would speak for those members of the Jewish people who aimed to establish a state. Before the birth of the Zionist movement there did exist institutions that represented Jewish communities and associations of communities, but nothing existed that represented the Jews as a whole. The absence of a Jewish state meant not only that a territorial basis was lacking, but also that there was no normative foundation accepted by everyone.


It was precisely in rabbinical sayings on Jewish tradition's pluralism and liberalism - "Make a rabbi for yourself" or "Both these and these are the words of the living God" - that the absence of a single binding authority was displayed. Zionism wanted to change this state of affairs.


Today, it is this historic achievement of Zionism that opponents of the settlement freeze are trying to undermine. They find justification for their resistance in certain rabbinical rulings. Indeed, the Diaspora made such rulings necessary in the absence of a sovereign Jewish authority that could maintain Jewish unity and survival. But once a Jewish commonwealth exists, the installation of a rabbinical authority - of course not of all rabbis, because they never agree with each other, but of one rabbi or another - is a rebellion against Zionism's greatest achievement.


This national authority was not attained easily. Ze'ev Jabotinsky's decision in 1935 to secede from the Zionist movement after his failure in the elections to the 19th Zionist Congress, as well as the establishment of separate underground organizations (the Irgun and Lehi), made waging a unified struggle while avoiding civil war a difficult test for the Jewish community in Palestine.


But after the establishment of the state, David Ben-Gurion's ruthless determination ensured that the nation would have only one army, the Israel Defense Forces. His decision on the Altalena affair, a decision that can justly be criticized in some respects, passed the test: The IDF achieved a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Similarly, his decision to dismantle the separate command of the Palmach, which was also controversial, ensured that the IDF's commanders would get their orders from the defense minister and not seek authorization for their actions from their mentor on Kibbutz Ein Harod. These were tough decisions, but they ensured that the State of Israel would have only one army and not a cluster of armed militias. Ireland is an example of what happens when such decisions are not made.


The pain and distress of those who support settlements throughout the historical Land Of Israel is understandable. But expressions of pain, however genuine, cannot be a substitute for acknowledging that in the Jewish state only one legitimate body is authorized to enforce political decisions. Failing to acknowledge this is to undermine Zionism's historic achievement, and the alternative is another Lebanon.

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WAR OVER THE HOMELAND

BY RON LESHEM

 

Twenty years from now, most of Israel's young people will be ultra-Orthodox or Arabs. Denial devices blind our eyes to this statistical fact.


It may be inconceivable, but it is certainly possible that in 30 years we'll be living in an unenlightened third-world country, subject to Torah law as interpreted by extremist rabbis who gradually, in a series of small steps, turn out the lights.


Most of the people we know will lose rights, but we'll get used to it. People get used to everything, even injustice. When all is lost, we will ask ourselves how we planted self-destruct mechanisms in our democracy; how we allowed, for example, the ultra-Orthodox school system to grow monstrously, using our own money. These are anti-Zionist schools that foster ignorance and condemn everything that is fundamental to our existence. And they are turning out a nonproductive majority that will one day make us their slaves. In fact, we are already their slaves, because their school system is flourishing using our funding.


Anyone who thinks that reality will force the Haredi majority to open up does not grasp that their openness will amount to nothing more than sending their wives out to work or taking a computer course; this will not bridge the yawning abyss. The adoption of certain ways of the secular world will not make this closed society any more enlightened, just as the need to integrate is not making Islamic society any less fundamentalist. There is no reason to believe complacently that it will simply happen or that the political Islamic world will not try to ensure the continued religiosity of Israeli Arabs.


This is not a question of Zionism, but rather of the right to breathe and of a world of values that has become something we take for granted. That world has hardly had time to take off here, and it is about to crash-land before our eyes while we drown in the depths of false individualism. By human nature, young people under 25 are supposed to be ready to take on responsibility for changing the world. What's strange is that with us, the temporary Zionist majority, young people are generally more apathetic than their elders.


It's not that there are no exceptions: Eleven student villages have been set up in the Negev and Galilee in recent years, and there are 60 communes whose aim is involvement in social issues. But apathy reigns among the majority. In urban elite society, a generation of teenagers is growing up convinced that they are cosmopolitan, but behind their proud cosmopolitanism lies nothing but ignorance.


Some of them may go out to demonstrate for animal rights or against the cutting down of trees. But they believe that politicians will go on stealing, the Palestinians will go on fighting, that there's no alternative, so what's the point in waging lost campaigns? Better just to go on living.


The result is that in recent weeks, with Mea Shearim wrapped in posters against "Zionist storm troopers" and with the war being waged in the streets, with the Haredi community wanting to live off the public coffers and hamper the economy, as at the Intel plant in Jerusalem, the Haredim are confronted by a too small, too polite and too homogenous national religious community.


The problem is not their ultra-Orthodoxy, but their primitiveness, their unwillingness to integrate. In the meantime, but not for long, we have the means to encourage them to integrate, to compel people who want to be citizens to learn civics, to try to get moderate elements among them to join our as yet nonexistent coalition. But we don't do anything - even against the ravaging of the drug basket by the deputy health minister and the dark threat sounded by the justice minister.


Democracy gives us the right to create an alternative, but we are not doing that here. Social gaps in the Zionist community are deepening, alienation to the point of hatred is rife, and that community is being stopped from forming a united bloc. Only when we understand that power has slipped from our hands and that we are the weak facing the masses in the war for our values will we regain the sense of excitement that derives from fighting for justice, from pioneering and community. Only then will we remember our identity and beat our breasts; only then will we open our eyes. The trouble is, the war over the survival of our values broke out a long time ago.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHERE WAS STEINITZ?

BY ZE'EV SEGAL

 

While Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's fierce attack on the Supreme Court still reverberated around the country - after he accused it of "irresponsibility bordering on economic malfeasance" - in the court itself last Wednesday, it appeared to be just a distant echo.


The three-judge panel of President Dorit Beinisch and justices Ayala Procaccia and Neal Hendel were listening with great patience to the detailed and reasoned petition in front of them. The petitioners, the Israel Bar Association, the Israel Association for the Self-Employed and the Reserve Officers Forum, had asked the High Court of Justice to invalidate the section of the Economic Arrangements Law that levied National Insurance Institute payments on high wage earners, and would effectively lower their earnings by 10 to 15 percent.


The businesslike session opened with a surprising declaration, one that is not customary in a courtroom that inspires reverence and emanates a chilling propriety that can cool off even the most heated advocate. One of the plaintiffs' lawyers protested the finance minister's attack on the justices, and accused Steinitz of trying to intimidate them.


Beinisch, who has by now become accustomed to being in the middle of various legal storms, did not lose her composure. She gently deflected the lawyer who proffered his support, but staunchly declared: "We will not be intimidated, even when they try to do that to us."


For their part, the plaintiffs sought to convince the court to invalidate the law at hand. The justices reiterated their traditional reluctance to annul legislation passed by the Knesset or to support judicial intervention in socioeconomic policy. And it seemed to everyone present that the task undertaken by the plaintiffs, to nullify legislation involving the collection of social security taxes through the offices of the NII - was almost an impossible feat. The petitioners hurled heavy barrages of criticism at the unconstitutionality of the law, which they said was not passed for "the proper purpose" and in a hasty manner. But the court took refuge behind the broad discretion granted to the Knesset and cabinet, as if the issue did not even relate to it.


Indeed, the High Court stood aside like a passive referee, allowing the teams playing on the economic field, the Knesset and the cabinet ample space for maneuvering.


Tax expert Prof. Yitzhak Hadari, representing the bar association, along with attorneys Eyal Nun and Doron Levy, representing the other petitioners, conducted a fierce battle to prove at least theoretical damage to the constitutional rights involving property and equality. The court seemed to stand fast against their claims, in a way that was totally different from the judicial activism of which the finance minister accused it.

Do we set tax policy or determine its wisdom, the judges half-asked, half-stated. "Where are we in this story?" asked Beinisch. And Procaccia queried, "Where is there a foundation for intervention?" - as if she were asking the petitioners to leave the justices alone because they were unable to convince the court that the government's policy and the law were seriously, or perhaps even mortally, harming human rights.


There were only a few people in the courtroom, mostly lawyers and students brought by Prof. Menachem Hofnung, of the political science department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They were amazed that this could be the same High Court that is so threatening to Steinitz, who was not present. And that was a shame.

Those in attendance in courtroom C could only be impressed by how high the hopes of the petitioners were for receiving justice from the High Court, and by how far the court was from trying to run the country or intervening in a case involving Knesset legislation.


This time the petitioners came in the name of the upper middle classes, who must now pay thousands of shekels more in NII payments after the ceilings were raised. In the past, the court was typically graced by people petitioning against cuts in old-age and guaranteed-income allowances.


But all of those groups together learned, or will learn, that the High Court not only does not represent "economic malfeasance": Sometimes it is even too hesitant to protect basic constitutional rights concerning individual property, in the face of the imposition of disproportionate and damaging taxes, or the right to a minimal level of sustenance.


The problem of a no-man's land immune to criticism - and not of economic malfeasance - is what really requires serious attention here.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

COPENHAGEN, AND BEYOND

 

The global climate negotiations in Copenhagen produced neither a grand success nor the complete meltdown that seemed almost certain as late as Friday afternoon. Despite two years of advance work, the meeting failed to convert a rare gathering of world leaders into an ambitious, legally binding action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It produced instead a softer interim accord that, at least in principle, would curb greenhouses gases, provide ways to verify countries' emissions, save rain forests, shield vulnerable nations from the impacts of climate change, and share the costs.

 

The hard work has only begun, in Washington and elsewhere. But Copenhagen's achievements are not trivial, given the complexity of the issue and the differences among rich and poor countries. President Obama deserves much of the credit. He arrived as the talks were collapsing, spent 13 hours in nonstop negotiations and played hardball with the Chinese. With time running out — and with the help of China, India, Brazil and South Africa — he forged an agreement that all but a handful of the 193 nations on hand accepted.

 

Mr. Obama aside, there were two keys to the deal. One was a dramatic offer of $100 billion in aid from the industrialized nations to poorer countries to help them move to less-polluting sources of energy and to deal with drought and other consequences of warming. The offer had an instant soothing effect on many poorer nations that had been threatening to walk out all week.

 

The other was China's willingness to submit to a verification system under which all countries would agree to report on their actions and — assuming details could be worked out — open their books to inspection. Transparency is a huge issue in Congress, and Mr. Obama made clear in his opening remarks on Friday that he would not agree to a deal unless China gave ground.

 

An enormous amount of work lies ahead, both for the president and for the other signatories to what is now being called the Copenhagen Accord. In order to deliver on his promises to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and provide a chunk of that $100 billion in aid, Mr. Obama must persuade the Senate to approve a cap-and-trade bill — a huge task.

 

Meanwhile, there can be no letup by the rest of the world's negotiators, no matter how tired and beat up they may be. These talks have been so chaotic and contentious that some people believe the United Nations machinery has outlived its usefulness, and real progress will henceforth be made in smaller gatherings of the big players.

 

There may be some truth to this, but at the moment it is hard to see how many of the arrangements agreed to in principle at Copenhagen — the verification system, for instance — can be made to work without detailed agreements. There must also be some mechanism that holds all countries responsible for doing everything they can to tackle climate change. As it is, the pledges now on the table, from both rich and poor countries, are nowhere near enough to keep atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide from rising above dangerous levels.

 

But for the moment it is worth savoring the steps forward. China is now a player in the effort to combat climate change in a way it has never been, putting measurable emissions reductions targets on the table and accepting verification. And the United States is very much back in the game too. After eight years of playing the spoiler, it is now a leader with a president who seems to embrace the role.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE 76 MILLION FOOD VICTIMS

 

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress set up a system that required food producers to register with the federal government, theoretically making it easier to trace dangerous contaminants in the nation's food supply. A new report for the Department of Health and Human Services reveals that more than half of those producers have not registered properly. Many have failed to give the most basic, updated information. Five percent have failed to register altogether.

 

This is only the latest reminder of the weaknesses in the nation's food safety system, and a warning that Congress should move quickly to repair that system, starting with a bill now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 76 million cases of food-related illnesses are reported every year, with over 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. Under the registration system, food producers are supposed to tell the F.D.A. exactly how to get in touch with them when there is trouble. The system failed badly during last year's salmonella outbreak that sickened 1,400 people and sent 286 to the hospital.

 

It took the F.D.A. two months to finally trace the source. Tomatoes were suspected at first, but then, as the sickness spread, investigators traced the original problem to spicy peppers from Mexico. These delays not only put more consumers at risk but also devastated the season for much of the tomato industry.

 

Congress is not yet ready to design a whole new system for tracing food contaminants. But the Senate bill would provide an important first step by setting up pilot programs to improve the agency's ability to track toxins quickly to any source. It would provide new powers for the F.D.A., which has been understaffed and given too little authority to prevent food-borne illnesses, and it would finally give the agency the power to order a mandatory recall of a food product if there was a reasonable probability of causing "serious adverse health consequences or death."

 

In addition, the measure, already approved by the House, would require all food processors regulated by the F.D.A. to develop risk-based preventive plans that would identify possible contamination points in each facility. Finally, it would require the F.D.A. to inspect food facilities more frequently. There is no timetable for required inspections now, and the agency's own data shows that inspections occur only once every 10 years.

 

One missing ingredient in the Senate bill is a $500 fee that each food processing facility would be assessed to help cover the costs of the F.D.A.'s new responsibilities. The House bill has such a fee. It is a small price to pay for more competent inspections and more public confidence in the food supply.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

COMBATING PRISONER ABUSE

 

When Mississippi inmates sued their prison, charging that they had been sodomized by a staff member, the claim was thrown out. Under a harsh federal law, inmates must show that they suffered a "physical injury" to prevail in a suit challenging cruel prison conditions. A federal district court ruled in 2006 that the alleged sexual assault did not constitute physical injury.

 

Congress included the physical injury requirement in the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which it passed in 1996 to deter inmates from bringing frivolous lawsuits. What the law has done instead is insulate prisons from a large number of very worthy lawsuits, and allow abusive and cruel mistreatment of inmates to go unpunished.

 

Legislation introduced by Representative Robert Scott, Democrat of Virginia, would undo the worst parts of that law. Most important, his legislation, the Prison Abuse Remedies Act, would remove the physical injury requirement. Prisons across the country have used this requirement to dismiss suits challenging all kinds of outrageous treatment: strip-searching of female prisoners by male guards; revealing to other inmates that a prisoner was H.I.V.-positive; forcing an inmate to stand naked for 10 hours.

 

Mr. Scott's bill would allow prisoners to prevail under the same conditions as plaintiffs in other kinds of civil rights cases. It would also make important changes in the 1996 law's "exhaustion" requirement, which forces inmates to bring their complaints to the prison's own grievance system before they can sue. A carefully drawn exhaustion requirement could help resolve problems locally, and avoid unnecessary litigation. But the one in the current law lets prisons put up procedural hurdles that make it difficult or impossible for prisoners to navigate the bureaucracy and get their complaints heard in court.

 

Juvenile inmates are not a significant source of frivolous lawsuits, but they are at increased risk of abuse in prison, especially sexual abuse. The current House bill would remove all of the 1996 law's restrictions for suits brought by inmates under the age of 18.

 

There are many problems with American prisons, including crowding, inadequate medical treatment and little opportunity for rehabilitation. Mr. Scott's bill addresses one that is less well-known, but no less real. The House should pass it, and the Senate should get to work on its own version.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

GUN OWNERS, UNFILTERED

 

The National Rifle Association has long fulminated in the gun control debate in Washington like the Great Oz in the Emerald City. Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz's curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.

 

Mr. Luntz queried 832 gun owners, including 401 card-carrying N.R.A. members, in a survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the alliance of hundreds of executives seeking stronger gun laws. In flat rebuttal of N.R.A. propaganda, the findings showed that 69 percent of N.R.A. members supported closing the notorious gun-show loophole that invites laissez-faire arms dealing outside registration requirements.

 

Even more members, 82 percent, favored banning gun purchases to suspects on terrorist watch lists who are now free to arm. And 69 percent disagreed with Congressionally imposed rules against sharing federal gun-trace information with state and local police agencies.

 

These findings strike at some of the N.R.A.'s most sacred shibboleths. The survey questionnaire, devoid of boilerplate alarums about threatened gun rights, found some plain reason at work. It is clear that most members still oppose policies like a national gun registry. But 86 percent of gun owners also agreed that more could be done to "stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them." And 78 percent of N.R.A. members said they should be required to report stolen guns to the police — to combat another source of underground arms dealing.

 

Imagine, the dreaded M-word — moderates — surfacing in a political constituency that the N.R.A. portrays as fully locked and loaded for marching orders. If only poll-addicted members of Congress dared to heed gun owners unfiltered by the gun lobby.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

HEAVEN AND NATURE

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

It's fitting that James Cameron's "Avatar" arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It's at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.

 

But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, "Avatar" is Cameron's long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

 

In Cameron's sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na'Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na'Vi are saved by the movie's hero, a turncoat Marine, but they're also saved by their faith in Eywa, the "All Mother," described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.

 

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that's because pantheism has been Hollywood's religion of choice for a generation now. It's the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It's the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like "The Lion King" and "Pocahontas." And it's the dogma of George Lucas's Jedi, whose mystical Force "surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together."

 

Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the "religion and inspiration" section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the "spiritual energy" of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na'Vi.

 

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. "Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator," he suggested, democratic man "seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole."

 

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism's American appeal. We pine for what we've left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of 'thou shalt nots," and a piping-hot apocalypse.

 

At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps "bring God closer to human experience," while "depriving him of recognizable personal traits." For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

 

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism "a sexed-up atheism." (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic "The End of Faith" by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in "the roiling mystery of the world." Citing Albert Einstein's expression of religious awe at the "beauty and sublimity" of the universe, Dawkins allows, "In this sense I too am religious."

 

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its "circle of life" is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren't the shining Edens of James Cameron's fond imaginings. They're places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

 

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren't at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We're beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

 

This is an agonized position, and if there's no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

 

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

 

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A DANGEROUS DYSFUNCTION

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, health care reform will pass the Senate this week. Count me among those who consider this an awesome achievement. It's a seriously flawed bill, we'll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it's nonetheless a huge step forward.

 

It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional.

 

After all, Democrats won big last year, running on a platform that put health reform front and center. In any other advanced democracy this would have given them the mandate and the ability to make major changes. But the need for 60 votes to cut off Senate debate and end a filibuster — a requirement that appears nowhere in the Constitution, but is simply a self-imposed rule — turned what should have been a straightforward piece of legislating into a nail-biter. And it gave a handful of wavering senators extraordinary power to shape the bill.

 

Now consider what lies ahead. We need fundamental financial reform. We need to deal with climate change. We need to deal with our long-run budget deficit. What are the chances that we can do all that — or, I'm tempted to say, any of it — if doing anything requires 60 votes in a deeply polarized Senate?

 

Some people will say that it has always been this way, and that we've managed so far. But it wasn't always like this. Yes, there were filibusters in the past — most notably by segregationists trying to block civil rights legislation. But the modern system, in which the minority party uses the threat of a filibuster to block every bill it doesn't like, is a recent creation.

 

The political scientist Barbara Sinclair has done the math. In the 1960s, she finds, "extended-debate-related problems" — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 percent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent.

 

Some conservatives argue that the Senate's rules didn't stop former President George W. Bush from getting things done. But this is misleading, on two levels.

 

First, Bush-era Democrats weren't nearly as determined to frustrate the majority party, at any cost, as Obama-era Republicans. Certainly, Democrats never did anything like what Republicans did last week: G.O.P. senators held up spending for the Defense Department — which was on the verge of running out of money — in an attempt to delay action on health care.

 

More important, however, Mr. Bush was a buy-now-pay-later president. He pushed through big tax cuts, but never tried to pass spending cuts to make up for the revenue loss. He rushed the nation into war, but never asked Congress to pay for it. He added an expensive drug benefit to Medicare, but left it completely unfunded. Yes, he had legislative victories; but he didn't show that Congress can make hard choices and act responsibly, because he never asked it to.

 

So now that hard choices must be made, how can we reform the Senate to make such choices possible?

 

Back in the mid-1990s two senators — Tom Harkin and, believe it or not, Joe Lieberman — introduced a bill to reform Senate procedures. (Management wants me to make it clear that in my last column I wasn't endorsing inappropriate threats against Mr. Lieberman.) Sixty votes would still be needed to end a filibuster at the beginning of debate, but if that vote failed, another vote could be held a couple of days later requiring only 57 senators, then another, and eventually a simple majority could end debate. Mr. Harkin says that he's considering reintroducing that proposal, and he should.

 

But if such legislation is itself blocked by a filibuster — which it almost surely would be — reformers should turn to other options. Remember, the Constitution sets up the Senate as a body with majority — not supermajority — rule. So the rule of 60 can be changed. A Congressional Research Service report from 2005, when a Republican majority was threatening to abolish the filibuster so it could push through Bush judicial nominees, suggests several ways this could happen — for example, through a majority vote changing Senate rules on the first day of a new session.

 

Nobody should meddle lightly with long-established parliamentary procedure. But our current situation is unprecedented: America is caught between severe problems that must be addressed and a minority party determined to block action on every front. Doing nothing is not an option — not unless you want the nation to sit motionless, with an effectively paralyzed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

FASTER, NASA, FASTER

BY EDWARD LU

 

Saratoga, Calif.

IN Silicon Valley we have a saying: launch early, launch often. It's an acknowledgment that successful, innovative companies are the ones that rapidly try new ideas, see what works, improve their products and repeat. Businesses that launch frequently are also able to take advantage of economies of scale to make launchings faster and easier. In many ways, the key to innovation is speed of execution.

 

NASA, an agency that depends on innovation, could benefit from the same mindset. To meet its new goals for human spaceflight, NASA must be able to be creative and take risks, or else it will be unable to adapt to new technology and changing political realities. Grand plans stretching over decades will become irrelevant and eventually collapse.

 

In the 12 years before I left NASA in 2007, we averaged about four space shuttle launchings per year. We had periods when the rate was even lower: in the late '90s, during the early construction phase of the International Space Station, and in 2003, in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. I saw firsthand the harm that low launching rates do to innovation.

 

With precious few flights, every available opportunity to test new equipment or run scientific investigations was filled for years into the future, and this discouraged engineers from trying out new ideas. Without actual flight test data on, for example, prototypes for new life-support equipment, management was forced to substitute analysis for real engineering experience.

 

As operations slowed, morale dropped and proficiency in mission control, hardware handling and other operations all declined. The space shuttle is a magnificent machine, but it is so expensive and difficult to maintain that most of NASA's effort was aimed at simply getting things up, so there were few resources left for actually exploring space. Imagine how different it would have been if we had had regular weekly launchings!

 

There is an important distinction to be made between the launching system (the rocket), and the spacecraft and payload (scientific instruments, experiments, people and so on) that it carries. In planning for spaceflight, the goal should be to make the launching system as robust as possible, and then launch rockets frequently so you can experiment and improve on the spacecraft and payloads that carry out missions.

 

I recognize that NASA cannot push a system to launch more frequently than it is capable of, because this could mean overrunning the budget or, worse, cutting corners on safety. Instead, future systems should be designed so that they can be rapidly prepared for launching by small teams.

 

This would not only increase NASA's ability to send up innovative payloads but also make launching systems more reliable. After all, the more a rocket is flown, the better it can be understood and the safer it becomes. Frequent launchings would also reduce costs per flight in the long run.

 

This strategy does have a downside: Given the reality of fixed budgets, a requirement to launch frequently would push designers to create smaller rockets. So any large spacecraft would need to be assembled and fueled in space, rather than on the ground. But if the flight rate is high and the launching system is robust, then such complications could be overcome. If, on the other hand, NASA is able to launch rockets only a few times a year, it will be difficult to maintain the innovation needed to sustain any long-term program.

 

The Russian Soyuz rocket demonstrates the value of frequent launching. Variants of this rocket have flown more than 1,700 times, averaging more than 30 launchings a year. As a result, the Soyuz is among the most reliable of all existing rockets. In fact, I flew into space aboard a Soyuz rocket in 2003 when NASA space shuttles had been grounded after the Columbia disaster.

 

There is no reason American companies could not build a similar, but modernized, medium-sized, economical workhorse of a rocket that is simple enough to sustain frequent launching. If NASA were to promise to buy one such rocket a week, the manufacturers could also profitably sell copies for launching commercial spacecraft and satellites — at much lower than current prices — and this would spur the development of space-based industries in fields like telecommunications, earth imaging and even space tourism.

 

To maintain a vibrant, innovative program, NASA needs to step up the rate of rocket launchings. It should set a requirement that any new launching system fly once a week, then put out contracts for private companies to design and build rockets that can operate this frequently. By launching early and launching often, NASA could get back in the business of exploring space.

 

Edward Lu, a former astronaut, is the program manager for advanced projects at Google.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FESTERING TENSIONS

 

By the standards of diplomatic language these were hard words. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Pakistan and Afghanistan David Sedney told reporters after a meeting in Washington last week between defence delegations of the two countries that the bilateral relationship was complex and that there were issues and tensions "festering from the past". 'Festering' is a word that has unpleasant connotations, best defined as… 'To be or become an increasing source of irritation or poisoning; rankle.' The meeting in which the 'festering' issue got an airing was the 18th Defence Consultative Group Session, the latest in a sequence that started in 2002 and is part of the ongoing process that the two countries use to review and evaluate the state of their relationship. Unpleasant it may be, but it accurately describes the state of our relations with America these days. On the one hand we are seen as 'not doing enough' and are constantly exhorted to be 'doing more'. On the other, our efforts at countering terrorism across a range of fronts are lauded and the sacrifices of our troops and innocent civilians condoled.


The frankness of the acknowledgement of the tensions that exist between us and the Americans may be seen as a healthy development. At least nobody is pretending in public that all is well, and if we can move from one honest position to another further down the line then so much the better. Doubtless one of the bones of contention is the American complaint that we are 'dragging our feet' (another version of the 'not doing enough' mantra) in the matter of issuing new visas to US nationals or renewing the visas of those who have been working here and wish to return. We are told that the continued delays in the issuing of visas may begin to impact upon the payment of tranches of aid we are due to receive – as blatant a piece of arm-twisting as we have seen for some time. Yet why should we not be careful – indeed slow – to issue visas to Americans some of whom may not be as advertised on the outside of the packet? You may find this irritating, Uncle Sam – but it is no less irritating for us to discover armed Americans in local dress travelling our roads. Just ask yourself… wouldn't you be wary? The 'festering' looks chronic and the healing process slow.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

AGE OF DARKNESS

 

In Lahore, and other cities in Punjab, gas shortages have begun to hit domestic consumers. Though there has been no formal announcement of gas loadshedding, consumers report gas shutdowns or reductions in pressure that make it impossible to light stoves, heaters or geysers. To add to the gloom, we are now told power loadshedding of up to four hours a day has resumed. We are told it will be increased by December 25 – evidently as a kind of cruel Christmas present. The combination of life with neither power nor gas, as winter descends in earnest, is hardly something to look forward too. The shutting off of gas also presents dangers in terms of poisoning. It is true the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Company has been issuing warnings about the need for caution, but the fact is these will not always be respected in a country where the literacy rate is barely 50 per cent. As for the suggestions from the company regarding gas conservation, while it is true that we must all do our bit to save energy, the prospect of wearing heavy coats constantly inside homes rather than use gas-heaters is, quite simply, an unrealistic one.


The energy crisis we face is an acute one. We are all aware of this. The question is what is being done to overcome it. We have, since March 2008, when the present government came to power, heard plenty of promises. But so far there have been no definite achievements. The crisis indeed seems to be worsening by the day. So does the controversy over the energy policy. Many fear the purpose is to line pockets rather than to light bulbs. The problem is one that needs now to be considered very seriously. The possibilities of using alternative energy sources must be taken into account, so that we have some hope of stepping out from darkness into the light.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SWINE FLU ONSLAUGHT

 

One health worker has died in Lahore due to the swine flu. A number of positive cases have been confirmed, most of them in Karachi. There is a dispute over the exact number. Sindh health officials say only six cases have been confirmed by the National Institute of Health in Islamabad. The Aga Khan University Hospital says it has found 32 people so far to have tested positive. It appears the swine flu has arrived at our doors. This was hardly unexpected. The flu has been reported in both India and Afghanistan; indeed, as the WHO has reported, the pandemic is racing around the world. Pakistan could not have hoped to escape.


As in the case of the dengue fever, the media coverage of the sickness has created some degree of public panic. An effort should be made to clarify the facts. The swine flu is not deadly. Complications occur only rarely. But nevertheless there is a need for some precaution. The official focus on playing down the problem and refusing to accept that there could be more than a handful of cases is, for this reason, rather disturbing. People need to be educated about the need to prevent the spread of the virus. Hand-washing and good hygiene can help keep it in check. Some commercial companies have been spreading this message. The government needs to do so too, focusing on rural areas and people who have limited access to written material. Measures such as encouraging schools to set up hand-washing facilities can also help. The problem needs to be approached calmly. We seem to be seeing the first signs of panic. Suspicions that there are attempts at a 'cover-up' do nothing to help. Efforts need to be focused on telling the truth and advising people on how the problem can be kept under control.

 

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I. THE NEWS

A FORGOTTEN MILLENNIUM

ASIF EZDI


Sixteenth December is a shameful date in our recent history. About 80,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered at Dhaka on this day in 1971, handing the greatest victory ever to a Hindu army over a Muslim force. Indira Gandhi, Indian