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Thursday, December 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 22.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 22, edition 000382, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





















  2. 26/11 can occur in London
















































We often hear our politicians talk about the need for electoral reforms but rare is the occasion when they push for meaningful changes in the manner in which we elect our representatives. Indeed, more often than not minor tinkering with electoral laws is touted as major reform because nobody is really keen on disturbing the status quo with which most politicians and political parties are comfortable. Seen against this backdrop, the Bill making voting mandatory for all local elections which has been adopted by Gujarat Assembly is a giant step forward. Once the Bill is signed into law, eligible voters in Gujarat will have to participate in elections to the seven municipal corporations, 159 municipalities, 26 district panchayats, 223 taluka panchayats and 13,713 village panchayats in the State. The Bill also raises the reservation of seats for women in local self-governance bodies from 33 per cent to 50 per cent. While the idea behind the Bill is innovative in the Indian context, it is by no means untested. Voting is compulsory in as many as 32 countries and the law is strictly enforced in 19 of them, including Australia where it is mandatory to vote in local, State and national elections. Punishment for non-participation ranges from community service to harsher measures like cancellation of driving licence and non-renewal of passport.

While it is true that voting is a constitutional 'right' and not a 'duty' in our country, there is no reason why the Gujarat Bill should be criticised simply because it seeks to strike a balance between a citizen's right and his or her duty to ensure the foundations of our democracy, which rest on the principle of majority rule, are not weakened. At the moment, we have a strange situation where in most constituencies the voting percentage hovers around 50 per cent and even dips below that figure. The candidate who is able to secure slightly above 25 per cent of the valid votes that have been cast is declared winner. In other words, the person representing a constituency at any level of governance — from a village panchayat to the Lok Sabha — is actually endorsed by 12 to 14 per cent of the voters. This reflects poorly on our democracy and raises serious questions about the representative nature of our 'elected' bodies. The Gujarat Bill seeks to make elected bodies truly representative of the people. The Bill allows those who do not wish to vote for any of the listed candidates for whatever reason to exercise the 'None of them' option. Thus, in no manner does it restrict a citizen's right.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who should be credited for piloting this major electoral reform, is right when he says that the present system, which does not require voters to exercise their right during elections, is flawed on three counts. First, anticipating a low to medium turnout, parties tend to campaign from narrow, sectarian platforms, appealing to caste and community sentiments rather than addressing real issues of governance. Second, elected representatives do not feel they are accountable to the vast majority of voters in their respective constituencies but only to some sections. Third, there is an increasing indifference if not cynicism towards the political process which, in the long run, is bound to hurt our democracy. No fundamental right can be seen in isolation, nor can it be entirely divorced from duty to the nation. Gujarat has shown the way. India should now follow.





One of the positive developments within the Indian polity in recent times has been the growing consensus across the political spectrum on the threat that Maoists pose to the nation. It is true that there are civil society 'activists' and 'intellectuals' who still find common cause with these extremists. Nonetheless, overall opinion today has come to a point where few do not recognise the barbarity and destructiveness that Maoists have come to epitomise. Incidents like the shocking beheading of Jharkhand Police Inspector Francis Induvar and numerous other attacks on security personnel and poor villagers alike have only served to strengthen the view that Maoist activities are nothing more than another form of terrorism. The Maoist excuse for taking up arms against the Indian state — that it is in self-defence — is bunkum. The attack on Sankrail police station in West Bengal in October this year is just one of countless examples that bear testimony to the fact that Maoists have no compunctions about indulging in senseless violence. Far from representing the downtrodden and the neglected, Maoists are the biggest impediment to development activities in the country's rural hinterland.

It is clear that the only language that Maoists understand is that of the gun. Hoping that they will abjure violence any time soon is wishful thinking. Besides, our experience in Andhra Pradesh is proof that the Left-wing guerrillas can only be tackled through a mix of force and development. In that sense, it is welcome that there is now a conscious effort to replicate the Andhra Pradesh model. The first phase of an all-out offensive against Maoists has begun in the three districts of Gadchiroli, Kanker and Rajnandgaon located along the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border. Nearly 80,000 jawans drawn from the CRPF, the BSF and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, along with several thousand policemen, are taking part in the operations that will seek to dominate the Maoist strongholds with the minimum of bloodshed. The idea is to overwhelm the Left extremists through a show of force so that favourable conditions can be created for development work. Depending on the progress of the first stage, the second stage of operations will include pushing deeper into Maoist-dominated areas to cleanse them from the scourge of Red terror. Such cleansing operations are also slated to begin in Jharkhand soon. Nonetheless, it would be naïve to think that the operations will be smooth affair — Maoists are well dug in, know the local terrain and can use villagers as human shields. Their strategy will be to prolong the operations, frustrate the security forces and steadily increase the human cost. Hence, it is extremely important that political will remains firmly behind the security operations.



            THE PIONEER



Union Defence Minister AK Antony's decision to withdraw 30,000 troops from Jammu & Kashmir on grounds of an alleged improvement in law and order is fraught with risk and reflects dangerous vacillation regarding this critical border State. The announcement coincides with renewed unrest over the report of the CBI's inquiry into the Shopian case, where two women alleged to have been raped and murdered on May 30 were found to have died by drowning in a stream. The situation had become volatile with the People's Democratic Party and separatist groups alleging foul play and triggering a 47-day shutdown of the district, forcing the Chief Minister to set up a one-man inquiry commission.

Unfortunately, the commission confirmed rape and murder and claimed that four police officers were involved in destroying crucial evidence. The accused were arrested, but when matters did not improve, the CBI was asked to investigate in September. The CBI's findings have corroborated Mr Omar Abdullah's first statement that the women had died by drowning. The CBI has now filed a charge-sheet against six doctors, five lawyers and two witnesses for making false claims. Previous exhumation of the bodies had revealed that the unmarried girl was not raped.

As the court has yet to assess the CBI's report, and habitual dissidents are trying to stoke sentiments afresh, this was probably not the best moment to reduce troop levels. Reduction was also avoidable because the Chief Minister had, while dedicating a war memorial, Balidan Sthambh, to the nation on November 25, admitted the continued need for the armed forces to provide stability to the State.

With terrorism a continuing threat, and reports that over 800 dreaded terrorists have successfully entered the State, and increasing incidents on the Line of Control, troop reduction is inexplicable. Even as a cosmetic exercise for diplomatic mileage, the decision has caused dismay among Hindus and other minority groups. There is also a basic contradiction in the Defence Minister asserting that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act would remain in force until the situation improved (which is hardly likely).

There is profound unease over the reasons and objectives behind the Government's decision to engage in secret talks with various separatist groups in Jammu & Kashmir. Why should a democratic country, with elected Governments at the Centre and in the State, which has conducted working group meetings with all parties at the initiative of the Prime Minister, need secret talks at all? What is the content of these talks? What are the areas of accord and discord? And, why has the process triggered discontent among separatist groups like the All-Party Hurriyat Conference?

New Delhi's secrecy is reminiscent of the British Raj's backroom parleys with the Muslim League prior to partition, in that the Centre is behaving like a 'neutral' arbitrator between nationalist and anti-national forces in the State, rather than as the legitimate wielder of national sovereignty. Instead of stoutly defending the nation's territorial integrity, the Government of India itself appears to be tilting towards the separatist forces. There is no response to pointed questions whether the Centre envisions a further partition of the nation and the loss of critical strategic territory to hostile forces.

For reasons best known to it and a small coterie of like-minded persons, the Manmohan Singh regime repeatedly asserts that it is committed to finding a settlement between what are called 'stake holders' in the so-called Jammu & Kashmir 'dispute.' Invisible actors determining the content and character of the 'quiet dialogue' started by the Government are thus perverting the post-1947 national consensus on the indivisible unity of India with Jammu & Kashmir as its integral part.

As there has been no national debate, much less a referendum, on whether the unanimous parliamentary resolution reclaiming the whole of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed on August 15, 1947 can be cast aside, the Centre would do well to seek national opinion on this sensitive issue.

Mr Omar Abdullah actively supports this so-called dialogue, which lends strength to the suspicion that he may be furthering his grandfather's dream of an independent Muslim nation of Kashmir. It is, therefore, imperative that the Centre tell us if peace and reconciliation means surrender to Muslim communal separatism. In that case, what about the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the State's Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist communities, who constitute over 40 per cent of the population?

After over six decades of freedom, and several party combinations at the Centre, ordinary citizens are at a loss to understand how and why the Government of India has agreed — and under whose pressure — to treat Jammu & Kashmir as an extra-national concern. It is pertinent that after the fiasco in the UN Security Council in the late-1940s, New Delhi initiated a consensus that lasted decades, which asserted that Jammu & Kashmir was an inalienable part of India.

So, what considerations have compelled South Block to change course, determine an arbitrary set of 'stake-holders', and discuss the future of the State with them? One cannot help but notice that New Delhi's change in policy is co-terminus with coalition Government at the Centre. Each Government at the Centre has been fully aware that the Muslim separatist leaders with whom they are carrying on secret parleys do not represent Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists of Jammu & Kashmir, or even all the Muslims of the State.

Yet the Government is perpetuating the post-1947 era errors by de facto accepting Jammu & Kashmir as a separate sphere of Muslim interest in India. By promoting the sentiment of exclusion of the State from the secular polity of the country by accepting vague proposals for 'greater autonomy', 'self rule', or the 'Musharraf Plan', New Delhi will be opening the door to an irreversible balkanisation of India. The formal creation of a Muslim State on Indian soil (as opposed to the existence of a Muslim-majority State within the country) can only rupture India's unity.

The horrific sufferings of the Hindus of Kashmir over centuries, and particularly since independence and the forced exodus of 1989-90, do not need reiteration here. Hence, if there is to be any internal reorganisation of Jammu & Kashmir, it should consider the Hindu and Buddhist demands for a separate Union Territory of Ladakh, a separate Jammu State, and a Union Territory of Panun Kashmir north and east of Jhelum.







The 17th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid has passed away peacefully. The peace that prevailed this December 6 clearly indicates that both Hindus and Muslims have lost interest in the Mandir-Masjid issue. They have realised that it is foolish to fight over a disputed religious site as doing so would only vitiate the social atmosphere. This change in attitude of the people has once again foiled the bid of politicians to fan religious sentiments for vote-banks.

Such a demonstration on the part of both communities has taught a fitting lesson to the political parties that they cannot fool the voters all the time. The recent tabling of the Liberhan Commission Report is nothing but an effort by the Congress to divert the attention of the Muslim community from the Sachar Committee Report that the Centre seems to be in no mood to fully implement. Going by past experiences, it seems, that like the Ram Sahay Commission on Muslim weavers, the Srikrishna Commission and the Gopal Singh Commission, the Sachar Committee findings too are destined to gather dust.

As far as the Liberhan Commission Report is concerned, it appears to be totally biased as it has indicted only the saffron brigade while giving almost a clean chit to the Congress which was then ruling at the Centre. A close look at the sequence of events pertaining to the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomiepisode — right from the shila niyas to the launch of an electoral campaign by Rajiv Gandhi in the run up to the demolition — makes it abundantly clear that the Congress has betrayed the Muslim community. While the kar sevaks were marching towards Ayodhya, the Congress-led Union Government did not deem it fit to even instruct the State Governments to halt their movement. Worse, on that dark day Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister neither dismissed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh nor did he accept the latter's resignation. The Centre could only impose President's rule in the State when the Babri Masjid had completely been reduced to rubble. All of this forces us to believe that the so-called secular Congress was anxiously waiting for the mosque to be destroyed so that it could win over Muslim voters by defaming the BJP for this barbaric act. The Congress and the BJP both benefitted from the destruction of the Babri Masjid. It is the people who suffered.







We often hear our politicians talk about the need for electoral reforms but rare is the occasion when they push for meaningful changes in the manner in which we elect our representatives. Indeed, more often than not minor tinkering with electoral laws is touted as major reform because nobody is really keen on disturbing the status quo with which most politicians and political parties are comfortable. Seen against this backdrop, the Bill making voting mandatory for all local elections which has been adopted by Gujarat Assembly is a giant step forward. Once the Bill is signed into law, eligible voters in Gujarat will have to participate in elections to the seven municipal corporations, 159 municipalities, 26 district panchayats, 223 taluka panchayats and 13,713 village panchayats in the State. The Bill also raises the reservation of seats for women in local self-governance bodies from 33 per cent to 50 per cent. While the idea behind the Bill is innovative in the Indian context, it is by no means untested. Voting is compulsory in as many as 32 countries and the law is strictly enforced in 19 of them, including Australia where it is mandatory to vote in local, State and national elections. Punishment for non-participation ranges from community service to harsher measures like cancellation of driving licence and non-renewal of passport.

While it is true that voting is a constitutional 'right' and not a 'duty' in our country, there is no reason why the Gujarat Bill should be criticised simply because it seeks to strike a balance between a citizen's right and his or her duty to ensure the foundations of our democracy, which rest on the principle of majority rule, are not weakened. At the moment, we have a strange situation where in most constituencies the voting percentage hovers around 50 per cent and even dips below that figure. The candidate who is able to secure slightly above 25 per cent of the valid votes that have been cast is declared winner. In other words, the person representing a constituency at any level of governance — from a village panchayat to the Lok Sabha — is actually endorsed by 12 to 14 per cent of the voters. This reflects poorly on our democracy and raises serious questions about the representative nature of our 'elected' bodies. The Gujarat Bill seeks to make elected bodies truly representative of the people. The Bill allows those who do not wish to vote for any of the listed candidates for whatever reason to exercise the 'None of them' option. Thus, in no manner does it restrict a citizen's right.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who should be credited for piloting this major electoral reform, is right when he says that the present system, which does not require voters to exercise their right during elections, is flawed on three counts. First, anticipating a low to medium turnout, parties tend to campaign from narrow, sectarian platforms, appealing to caste and community sentiments rather than addressing real issues of governance. Second, elected representatives do not feel they are accountable to the vast majority of voters in their respective constituencies but only to some sections. Third, there is an increasing indifference if not cynicism towards the political process which, in the long run, is bound to hurt our democracy. No fundamental right can be seen in isolation, nor can it be entirely divorced from duty to the nation. Gujarat has shown the way. India should now follow.






One of the positive developments within the Indian polity in recent times has been the growing consensus across the political spectrum on the threat that Maoists pose to the nation. It is true that there are civil society 'activists' and 'intellectuals' who still find common cause with these extremists. Nonetheless, overall opinion today has come to a point where few do not recognise the barbarity and destructiveness that Maoists have come to epitomise. Incidents like the shocking beheading of Jharkhand Police Inspector Francis Induvar and numerous other attacks on security personnel and poor villagers alike have only served to strengthen the view that Maoist activities are nothing more than another form of terrorism. The Maoist excuse for taking up arms against the Indian state — that it is in self-defence — is bunkum. The attack on Sankrail police station in West Bengal in October this year is just one of countless examples that bear testimony to the fact that Maoists have no compunctions about indulging in senseless violence. Far from representing the downtrodden and the neglected, Maoists are the biggest impediment to development activities in the country's rural hinterland.

It is clear that the only language that Maoists understand is that of the gun. Hoping that they will abjure violence any time soon is wishful thinking. Besides, our experience in Andhra Pradesh is proof that the Left-wing guerrillas can only be tackled through a mix of force and development. In that sense, it is welcome that there is now a conscious effort to replicate the Andhra Pradesh model. The first phase of an all-out offensive against Maoists has begun in the three districts of Gadchiroli, Kanker and Rajnandgaon located along the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border. Nearly 80,000 jawans drawn from the CRPF, the BSF and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, along with several thousand policemen, are taking part in the operations that will seek to dominate the Maoist strongholds with the minimum of bloodshed. The idea is to overwhelm the Left extremists through a show of force so that favourable conditions can be created for development work. Depending on the progress of the first stage, the second stage of operations will include pushing deeper into Maoist-dominated areas to cleanse them from the scourge of Red terror. Such cleansing operations are also slated to begin in Jharkhand soon. Nonetheless, it would be naïve to think that the operations will be smooth affair — Maoists are well dug in, know the local terrain and can use villagers as human shields. Their strategy will be to prolong the operations, frustrate the security forces and steadily increase the human cost. Hence, it is extremely important that political will remains firmly behind the security operations.






Union Defence Minister AK Antony's decision to withdraw 30,000 troops from Jammu & Kashmir on grounds of an alleged improvement in law and order is fraught with risk and reflects dangerous vacillation regarding this critical border State. The announcement coincides with renewed unrest over the report of the CBI's inquiry into the Shopian case, where two women alleged to have been raped and murdered on May 30 were found to have died by drowning in a stream. The situation had become volatile with the People's Democratic Party and separatist groups alleging foul play and triggering a 47-day shutdown of the district, forcing the Chief Minister to set up a one-man inquiry commission.

Unfortunately, the commission confirmed rape and murder and claimed that four police officers were involved in destroying crucial evidence. The accused were arrested, but when matters did not improve, the CBI was asked to investigate in September. The CBI's findings have corroborated Mr Omar Abdullah's first statement that the women had died by drowning. The CBI has now filed a charge-sheet against six doctors, five lawyers and two witnesses for making false claims. Previous exhumation of the bodies had revealed that the unmarried girl was not raped.

As the court has yet to assess the CBI's report, and habitual dissidents are trying to stoke sentiments afresh, this was probably not the best moment to reduce troop levels. Reduction was also avoidable because the Chief Minister had, while dedicating a war memorial, Balidan Sthambh, to the nation on November 25, admitted the continued need for the armed forces to provide stability to the State.

With terrorism a continuing threat, and reports that over 800 dreaded terrorists have successfully entered the State, and increasing incidents on the Line of Control, troop reduction is inexplicable. Even as a cosmetic exercise for diplomatic mileage, the decision has caused dismay among Hindus and other minority groups. There is also a basic contradiction in the Defence Minister asserting that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act would remain in force until the situation improved (which is hardly likely).

There is profound unease over the reasons and objectives behind the Government's decision to engage in secret talks with various separatist groups in Jammu & Kashmir. Why should a democratic country, with elected Governments at the Centre and in the State, which has conducted working group meetings with all parties at the initiative of the Prime Minister, need secret talks at all? What is the content of these talks? What are the areas of accord and discord? And, why has the process triggered discontent among separatist groups like the All-Party Hurriyat Conference?

New Delhi's secrecy is reminiscent of the British Raj's backroom parleys with the Muslim League prior to partition, in that the Centre is behaving like a 'neutral' arbitrator between nationalist and anti-national forces in the State, rather than as the legitimate wielder of national sovereignty. Instead of stoutly defending the nation's territorial integrity, the Government of India itself appears to be tilting towards the separatist forces. There is no response to pointed questions whether the Centre envisions a further partition of the nation and the loss of critical strategic territory to hostile forces.

For reasons best known to it and a small coterie of like-minded persons, the Manmohan Singh regime repeatedly asserts that it is committed to finding a settlement between what are called 'stake holders' in the so-called Jammu & Kashmir 'dispute.' Invisible actors determining the content and character of the 'quiet dialogue' started by the Government are thus perverting the post-1947 national consensus on the indivisible unity of India with Jammu & Kashmir as its integral part.

As there has been no national debate, much less a referendum, on whether the unanimous parliamentary resolution reclaiming the whole of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed on August 15, 1947 can be cast aside, the Centre would do well to seek national opinion on this sensitive issue.

Mr Omar Abdullah actively supports this so-called dialogue, which lends strength to the suspicion that he may be furthering his grandfather's dream of an independent Muslim nation of Kashmir. It is, therefore, imperative that the Centre tell us if peace and reconciliation means surrender to Muslim communal separatism. In that case, what about the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the State's Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist communities, who constitute over 40 per cent of the population?

After over six decades of freedom, and several party combinations at the Centre, ordinary citizens are at a loss to understand how and why the Government of India has agreed — and under whose pressure — to treat Jammu & Kashmir as an extra-national concern. It is pertinent that after the fiasco in the UN Security Council in the late-1940s, New Delhi initiated a consensus that lasted decades, which asserted that Jammu & Kashmir was an inalienable part of India.

So, what considerations have compelled South Block to change course, determine an arbitrary set of 'stake-holders', and discuss the future of the State with them? One cannot help but notice that New Delhi's change in policy is co-terminus with coalition Government at the Centre. Each Government at the Centre has been fully aware that the Muslim separatist leaders with whom they are carrying on secret parleys do not represent Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists of Jammu & Kashmir, or even all the Muslims of the State.

Yet the Government is perpetuating the post-1947 era errors by de facto accepting Jammu & Kashmir as a separate sphere of Muslim interest in India. By promoting the sentiment of exclusion of the State from the secular polity of the country by accepting vague proposals for 'greater autonomy', 'self rule', or the 'Musharraf Plan', New Delhi will be opening the door to an irreversible balkanisation of India. The formal creation of a Muslim State on Indian soil (as opposed to the existence of a Muslim-majority State within the country) can only rupture India's unity.

The horrific sufferings of the Hindus of Kashmir over centuries, and particularly since independence and the forced exodus of 1989-90, do not need reiteration here. Hence, if there is to be any internal reorganisation of Jammu & Kashmir, it should consider the Hindu and Buddhist demands for a separate Union Territory of Ladakh, a separate Jammu State, and a Union Territory of Panun Kashmir north and east of Jhelum.







The 17th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid has passed away peacefully. The peace that prevailed this December 6 clearly indicates that both Hindus and Muslims have lost interest in the Mandir-Masjid issue. They have realised that it is foolish to fight over a disputed religious site as doing so would only vitiate the social atmosphere. This change in attitude of the people has once again foiled the bid of politicians to fan religious sentiments for vote-banks.

Such a demonstration on the part of both communities has taught a fitting lesson to the political parties that they cannot fool the voters all the time. The recent tabling of the Liberhan Commission Report is nothing but an effort by the Congress to divert the attention of the Muslim community from the Sachar Committee Report that the Centre seems to be in no mood to fully implement. Going by past experiences, it seems, that like the Ram Sahay Commission on Muslim weavers, the Srikrishna Commission and the Gopal Singh Commission, the Sachar Committee findings too are destined to gather dust.

As far as the Liberhan Commission Report is concerned, it appears to be totally biased as it has indicted only the saffron brigade while giving almost a clean chit to the Congress which was then ruling at the Centre. A close look at the sequence of events pertaining to the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomiepisode — right from the shila niyas to the launch of an electoral campaign by Rajiv Gandhi in the run up to the demolition — makes it abundantly clear that the Congress has betrayed the Muslim community. While the kar sevaks were marching towards Ayodhya, the Congress-led Union Government did not deem it fit to even instruct the State Governments to halt their movement. Worse, on that dark day Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister neither dismissed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh nor did he accept the latter's resignation. The Centre could only impose President's rule in the State when the Babri Masjid had completely been reduced to rubble. All of this forces us to believe that the so-called secular Congress was anxiously waiting for the mosque to be destroyed so that it could win over Muslim voters by defaming the BJP for this barbaric act. The Congress and the BJP both benefitted from the destruction of the Babri Masjid. It is the people who suffered.








CONSIDERING that Congress MPs tried to give a communitarian colour to the Justice Dinakaran controversy a few days ago, it is hardly surprising that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has joined the chorus of those alleging or insinuating that he is being targeted because he is a ' Dalit'. This is just a ploy to deflect attention from the corruption charges being faced by Justice Dinakaran and to pander to a caste vote bank.


First, Justice Dinakaran is a Christian and cannot be called a ' Dalit'. Second many of the people who have suffered on account of his alleged land- grabbing in his village are Dalits themselves. Third, it is about time that Ms Mayawati, the chief minister of India's most populous state who is wont to flaunt her Dalit card frequently, realised that the chief victims of corruption are invariably the poorest of the poor, and therefore many Dalits. She would do well, too, to keep in mind her constitutional position and look at the corruption issue sans considerations of caste or community.


Ms Mayawati is right in holding that Justice Dinakaran must be given the right to defend himself. But he will get this opportunity before he can be impeached. Here it must be said that the Indian law in this regard could adopt a few aspects of the American system where judges get a public opportunity to respond to charges laid at their door.


As for the ' Dalit being hounded' logic, it can cut both ways. After all, how do you stop Justice Dinakaran's detractors from arguing that it is because he is a ' Dalit' that his elevation to the apex court is only in ' abeyance' and has not been scrapped though jurists and the government of India think him unfit for the job and there is some substantial evidence against him?






DELHI'S bad traffic manners are often cited as a benchmark for other cities to not follow. But who really is to blame for the chaos that hits the Capital's roads early morning and continues well up to late evening? While motorists themselves are undisciplined, the stark reality that faces them at every traffic light is of the signal not working. That number is close to 100.


It is not just that the signals don't work; at major junctions there are no traffic policemen on duty to manage the chaos.


The natural question, then, is, whether the companies managing the signals are doing their job well. They certainly aren't, but, as M AIL T ODAY has pointed out, even their supervising authority, the Delhi Traffic Police, has been found wanting in executing its responsibility over new tenders for maintenance contracts.


Both CMS and Keltron — the two companies currently charged with maintaining the city's 725 traffic signals — have failed miserably in doing so primarily because of poor technology and even poorer oversight by the police which have given the two firms a virtual free hand.


Things have come to such a pass that Ajay Chaddha, the special commissioner of traffic police, has gone on to defend CMS' bad record and blame his department for their lethargy and " faults within the police system". It would seem that the traffic police and the two maintenance companies have absolved themselves of all responsibility, while the Delhi commuter is stuck in another jam.






DELHI Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has professed to be " nervous" about the state of readiness of the Commonwealth Games' infrastructure. Clearly this is an exercise in good PR in which Ms Dikshit excels— If things don't work according to plan she can claim that she always had misgivings, if they do she can say that she has delivered as promised.


The facts, of course, are that Ms Dikshit's responsibilities are limited; the primary responsibility for the construction of the stadia and venues is with the Union government and the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Organising Committee. Ms Dikshit has her sphere of duties and she must fulfill them. Unfortunately, lemons like the BRT system that her government has commissioned are not a good reason to trust that the city will put its best foot forward during the Games.











India is only ahalf democracy that badly needs administrative and electoral reform to be whole


WHILE gossipmongers in Delhi are busy trying to find the reasons behind a visibly irritated P. Chidambaram's midnight announcement regarding initiating the process of creating a state of Telangana, the more serious among political observers are asking a different set of questions.


The obvious one is not merely the hasty and ad hoc way in which the decision was taken and conveyed, but also whether the Manmohan Singh government has a mind of its own or is it hostage to the fixers and racketeers within the Congress party machinery.


People also have begun to wonder about the quality of advice that the party as well as the government gets, and if the clumsy way in which the issue of Telangana has been handled is any indication, the value and worth of these advisers need serious reexamination.


Having bungled, there are few indications of the government having learned the larger lessons from the fiasco. An obvious question that needs addressing in a nonpartisan way is the very nature of Indian federalism.




The reorganisation of states on linguistic basis in the fifties and the sixties was, perhaps, necessary and expedient at that point of time. It was an antidote to an overbearing idea of what nationalism and the Indian nation was all about. Certain centralising features inherent in the evolution of postindependent India and the Indian state had to be modified and renegotiated. There was little sense of the other less than fortunate dimensions of the linguistic reorganisation of states, especially the kind of identity politics this could trigger.


The most obvious manifestation of this trend is the way in which political parties like the Shiv Sena and the MNS have magnified the question of language into the politics of parochialism and cultural terror. Languages are not merely means to communicate but represent a potent cultural universe, containing within them the capacity to create as well as destroy. Over the last three decades, the spiraling demands made in the name of region, language, culture and religion have steadily eroded the ability of Indians to live with each other and solve problems through democratic mechanisms made available to them.


Part of the reason for this trend is shortsighted political expediency and partisan gains masquerading as pragmatism. The other reason for increase in demands for states based on questions of identity is to be located in the lack of governance in many areas. Questions of bad governance, lack of any real development and rampant corruption get translated into a sense of inflamed grievance and demands for carving out smaller states.


The argument often put forth is that smaller states are better governed, forgetting, of course, the fact that these smaller states will still have to contend with the same administrative structure and the very same human material that brought them to grief when they were part of a larger unit. There is also the question of dealing with real and imagined instances of hurt.




Often these are seen as threats to peace and order and solutions are sought in an arbitrary fashion. The recent example of the Centre's promise of creating a state of Telangana is a good example of this form of mindless arbitrariness. All major political parties in this instance promised a state of Telangana, went back on their word, and never sought to bring the issue into the realm of democratic debate or discussion.


Just as promises are made in manifestos only to be broken, the case of Telangana became yet another of those promises that no one was ever serious about. This has little to do with the rightness or otherwise of the claim for a separate state, but more to do with the cynicism that has permeated political life in the country at all levels.


Even if new states are created, they will hardly serve the purpose of strengthening Indian federalism or address questions of governance.


Before any further step to create new states is taken, all political parties will have to reappraise the way in which the federal polity in India has unfolded.


This cannot be done until and unless two other elements are included as part of the larger question of Centre- state relations and their interface with multiple ideas of India. The first element is a serious overhaul of the electoral system and its radical reform. The firstpast- the- post system needs a thorough examination and the question of proportional representation ought to be debated nationally by all political parties and all citizens. The central question that needs to be addressed is whether India's representative democracy is representative enough or not.


A cursory look at any set of election data would show that there is little or no connection between the percentage of votes polled and the number of seats won by a political party. The proliferation of small political parties and independent candidates in elections also often reduces the election process to a farce. Introduction of proportional representation will not, however, address all the contentious issues facing the Indian polity if comprehensive administrative reforms are not introduced.




There is no guarantee that creation of separate states will lead to prosperity, justice and equity till such time that the administration is not rendered responsible, accessible, accountable and transparent.


These issues have an urgency that can hardly be exaggerated. There are political parties and politicians who have bullied, threatened and disrupted the idea of democracy in India in the name of issues that eventually lead to the ghettoisation of people.


They have shortchanged the Constitution and the rule of law in the name of emotion, spontaneity and the will of the people.All this is done through crass populism and by playing on the fears and insecurities of ordinary citizens.


The time has come to call their bluff. While a second SRC is a fair way to go forward, it will be a disaster in the current political scenario without electoral and administrative reforms.Does the current UPA government possess the vision and the will to go ahead with something as radical as this? If not, India will remain, to invoke Ramachandra Guha's evocative formulation, a fifty- fifty democracy, satisfied with boasting about its size, but falling short on content.


The writer teaches politics at University of Hyderabad








IT IS true that for many in West Bengal, the Maoists had emerged as messiahs on the political horizon. Amidst decades of stagnation and political corruption, their arrival as a committed band with big dreams of change had kindled a ray of hope even among a sizable section of the Bengali intelligentsia. But the spate of violence unleashed by the rebels, particularly in the last six months, is forcing many of them to rethink.


Nearly 100 CPI( M) activists have been executed in the Lalgarh- Belpahari area. They were tried in kangaroo courts and gunned down or simply hacked to death. The Maoists claim that the executions, brutal as they were, had the sanction of the villagers. The claims cannot be verified. Most of those killed were poor people. Their main crime was that they were members of the CPI( M).


It may not be inappropriate to draw a parallel here. When the Taliban first came out of their bases in Kandahar to capture Afghanistan, they had enjoyed enormous popular support. The war ravaged country, polluted by political and military corruption of the worst kind, had pinned its hopes of progress and peace on the Taliban. But the hopes were shattered in no time, as the Taliban imposed their beliefs on the people with ruthlessness. True, the Maoist vision of society is far different from that of the Taliban. But the methods look uncannily similar.


Violence, kindled by the Maoists, has spread. Thousands of village youth now take part in arson and looting of government property. They cannot be blamed much. Years of neglect by the government has indeed invited the wrath of the people.


The Maoists are only steering this popular anger to serve their strategic plan of creating a liberated zone and finally capturing political power in India. But those who have the slightest idea of village life know that personal vendetta often wears a political guise. True, the CPI( M) is genuinely disliked in many parts of Lalgarh. But CPI( M) activists may not always have been killed only because they were police informers.


Maoist insiders are dropping hints that the ongoing spate of killings in Lalgarh has generated a debate inside the party and that the issue will be " discussed" in the upcoming Maoist party congress. Even some of the senior leaders are reportedly against these summary executions.


It is to be seen whether saner voices prevail in the Maoist camp. But if the shortsighted government, pushed on by politicians with questionable intentions, let loose a brutal police on the villagers, it will only fuel the discontent.





THE dropout rate for school children in West Bengal is falling. This is the reassuring finding of Pratichi — a trust founded by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in 2001. In its latest report, Pratichi has also found that attendance of students as well as teachers in schools has improved remarkably. So has improved parents' satisfaction levels about their children's progress.


In its first report published in 2002, Pratichi had been stingingly critical of the standard of primary education in the state. The state school education department had faced angry criticism inside and outside the state assembly. The latest report, however, observes that the situation is changing. Even the awareness of parents is improving.


In 2002, most parents had said education up to class eight was enough for their daughters.


Now most of them feel their daughters should at least pass secondary examinations.


Earlier, parents felt education would help their daughters' " marriages". Now they feel it would build their " confidence". Pratichi has observed some disturbing trends as well. Only 36 per cent of upper primary students are getting regular midday meals.


Also, 78 per cent parents said their children needed private tuition after school.



POLITICAL clashes in West Bengal have been hogging national headlines of late.


What is less reported, however, is campus violence, which has already reached alarming proportions.


None of the 45 colleges where student union elections took place after the Lok Sabha polls have remained violence free.


Campus violence has returned to the state after a gap of three decades. It has become mandatory for the authorities to call in the Rapid Action Force and Indian Reserve Battalion every time a college goes to polls — which was unprecedented till recently, say worried professors.


Last week Kolkata's Srish Chandra College, Behala College and Sarsuna College erupted in flames when clashes between the SFI and TMCC— the student wings of the CPM and the Trinamool Congress respectively— poured out from the campus to the streets. The students pelted stones and bottles at each other and also at the police and passing vehicles.


Bombs and small firearms are being frequently used in the districts.


The SFI was controlling an overwhelming majority of college unions in the state for the last 30 years. But with clear signals of change emerging in the political arena, violence is erupting at regular intervals on campuses. The TMCC wants to grab power. A worried Congress has written to Union home minister P. Chidambaram for intervention.


Aloke. Banerjee@ mailtoday. in




THE winds of political change sweeping over the state have reached even chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's home turf.


Last week, during election to the management committee of a school situated within Bhattacharje's constituency in Jadavpur, the CPM failed to even put up any candidate. The school in question, Ramakrishna Upanibesh Vivekananda Vidyapith, had always been in the firm grip of the CPM which called the shots in its management committee.


The first murmurs of dissent were heard about two years ago, when students and their parents set up a road blockade for over 12 hours after the headmistress was assaulted by alleged CPM activists following a dispute with the management committee.


Sources said the CPM desperately tried to find candidates during the school committee poll last week.


But no one wanted to contest on a CPM ticket. The candidates put up by the Opposition parties won unopposed.








The UPA's lucky this isn't election time. Ordinary folks are justifiably in a foul mood about grocery bills. A united opposition is on the offensive on price rise. With food inflation touching 19.95 per cent in December's first week, a 10-year high, the government is mulling imports. In some quarters, there's optimism this strategy, along with the rabi yield, will ease pressures. Others warn this won't impact prices of vegetables, fruits and milk. Nor are they sure if the November surge to 4.78 per cent of wholesale price index-based inflation reflects the start of a trend. If food prices do fuel dearness elsewhere, RBI's dilemma on hardening monetary policy will deepen. Yet raised interest rates are a mood depressant nobody wants at a time India is chasing 7.5-plus per cent growth this fiscal.

Clearly, the government must prevent a 'psychology of shortage' from taking hold of the larger economy. On foodgrain imports, India must strategise and be selective. It wouldn't want to push up international food prices, which rose considerably in November. Nor will it want to shell out high prices for, say, rice and be seen as benefiting overseas farmers. Some experts have counselled release of grain from central stocks rather than imports or even higher than usual procurement that could squeeze out private players. However, ruling out imports entirely would be impractical. A judicious mix of options will work best.

Next, commodities must actually reach people through a leak-free PDS and in the open market. Apart from ensuring proper storage to prevent wastage, there must be demonstrated political will to check and punish diversion of foodgrains meant for the poor and to strictly implement anti-hoarding laws. Central ministers may be right in calling for states' cooperation in ensuring delivery mechanisms work smoothly. That doesn't mean administration can't be improved at their own end, for instance by professionalising the slow-reacting babudom of the Food Corporation of India.

On runaway prices of vegetables, fruits and other food items, scope for public intervention is limited. But solutions for the future must be sought, starting now. It's crucial to promote local markets allowing growers access to end-consumers, as well as integrated food value chains connecting farmers to processing units and big retailers. The supply chain in traditional wholesale markets suffers predatory pricing thanks to intermediaries. Modern retail - organised retailers sourcing directly from growers - will curtail farm-to-fork price anomalies. There's urgent need for agri-marketing reform, including eased contract farming rules. This is something states still holding out on the Centre's reworked model Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act must realise. Finally, recurring crises make year-round vegetable production under hothouse conditions an attractive proposition and call for better cold chain infrastructure. Such initiatives require major capital investment, buttressing the case for liberalised retail.







Since the resignation of Nepal's Maoist-led government in May, there's been a progressive slide towards greater confrontation. A general strike called by the Maoists has paralysed the country, costing the economy Nepali Rs 1.2 billion daily by some estimates. It is the latest step in the unravelling of the fragile peace achieved by the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006. With each government-Maoist impasse, the adoption and enforcement of a new constitution by the May 2010 deadline seems that much more improbable.

At the heart of the current problems is President Ram Baran Yadav's reinstatement of chief of army General Rookmangud Katawal, who was dismissed by the Maoist government for insubordination. It is, admittedly, a conundrum. On the one hand, demobilisation and reintegration are essential steps in the resolution of any civil conflict. On the other, it may be a better idea integrating erstwhile Maoist cadres into police and paramilitary forces rather than the army, which by the standards of the region is a professional force. It is a tricky question and requires broad-based deliberation and consensus; it has neither.

Worryingly, their May failure seems to have prompted the Maoists to opt for a strategy of polarisation instead. Their unilateral declaration of autonomous states within Nepal amounts to an usurpation of the Constituent Assembly's authority. There's also the Maoist refusal to participate in administrative processes for the all-party consensus called for by the interim constitution, and supremo Prachanda's backing out of the selection meeting for a replacement chief justice of the supreme court. All these signs point towards an attempt to push the government and military into a confrontation that will weaken them. Meanwhile, the Young Communist League continues to hover on the fringes, offering an implicit threat of violence.

This is a process of attrition that could overturn every precept of the 2006 accord to the benefit of neither the government, nor the Maoists themselves ^ and least of all, the Nepali people. And it will not be to New Delhi's advantage either. With its channels to the government, army and Maoists, it is in a unique position to help steer Nepal back on course towards its May 2010 constitution. And the message it must send is a simple one ^ parliamentary democracy in a unitary Nepal is non-negotiable.








WASHINGTON: The threat of home-grown Islamist terror is a new source of anxiety for Americans. The David Headley aka Daud Gilani case, Major Nidal Hasan's rampage in Fort Hood, Texas, the mysterious affair of five would-be terrorists from Northern Virginia - across the river Potomac from the national capital - who were arrested in Pakistan and a few other cases, have left security analysts scratching their heads.

The pilots of the 9/11 aircraft in 2001 had come from outside the United States. Nidal Hasan and the five lads from Virginia were all born in the United States and are American citizens. At a recent conference in a think tank here, Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy expressed grave concern over the phenomenon. Terrorist activities among immigrant minorities, he pointed out, had hitherto been more Europe's problem than America's. Clearly, that 's no longer true.

Irshad Manji of New York University - a brave woman who has written the daring book The Trouble with Islam Today - said on television the other night that the vast majority of America's 1.8 million Muslims were well integrated in American society. But a fringe, consisting almost entirely of young men, had been influenced by extremist propaganda, not so much from fiery clerics in mosques as is generally supposed but from incendiary matter posted on internet sites. She said such sites only highlighted the rage of Muslims around the world against those powers, chiefly the US, which were killing Muslims in wars, without mentioning the fact that an overwhelming majority of Muslim killings were being carried out by other Muslims.

Columnist Tom Friedman, who has a penchant for coining pithy labels and phrases, calls the global web war a "virtual Afghanistan". Whether we are there or not, we are all involved in Afghanistan now, potentially in the case of most of us, in reality for jihadi recruiters and planners wherever they might be operating. Add to that the global reach of today's cellphones. As we know well from a year ago in Mumbai, and as now documented brilliantly by Fareed Zakaria for HBO television, the Pakistan-based controllers of the 10 assassins used cellphones with terrifying efficacy.

So, combating global terrorism is becoming that much more challenging with the advances and reach of communications technology. The same technology, however, can help anyone who can use it with matching skill to unearth terrorist plots and recruitment drives.

Funding for terrorism is helped to an extent by the clandestine drugs trade in Pakistan-Afghanistan. But a lot of money flows into terrorist coffers from so-called charity set-ups in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf nations. In a number of cases, especially in the case of Pakistan, the funds flow has a connection with shadowy intelligence operatives who want to keep the fires burning, because low intensity conflict by jihadis has long helped khaki Rawalpindi achieve its objectives.

After all, the Pakistani military, while ready to fight the Pakistani Taliban which is wreaking havoc in the country, is unwilling to move against the Afghan Taliban also based in Pakistan. The strategy has a clear objective - that of keeping future control of Afghanistan in Pakistan-friendly hands after the Americans have left. Yet, to the distress of the US and NATO forces who want to crush them, the Afghan Taliban are sheltering al-Qaeda leaders and exercising control over swathes of Afghan territory. Tracing any funds flow through Pakistan, in the circumstances, will remain hard.

With a globally coordinated effort, however, the internet can be a highly effective channel to serve another important purpose. That is to activate Muslim intellectuals and moderate clerics across the world to produce and disseminate widely a counter-narrative to the violent ideology of jihadism. While some intellectuals and scholars, generally located in western societies, have written books and articles to counter the hate doctrine of the extremists, much more needs to be done within Muslim societies to counter narrow interpretations by radical clerics of Quranic texts and hadiths. This should now happen, much of it preferably in Arabic, Urdu and Pashto.

Importantly, Islam's compatibility with the ideas of democracy and the nation-state needs to be established in the minds of young Muslims. Major Nidal Hasan's case is a worrying one. Here was an American Muslim who had willingly sworn to defend his country by joining the army; yet, when it came to being actually deployed to fight he told himself, allegedly with guidance from a radical cleric on the internet, that his allegiance was to the Ummah and not to his country. He not only declined to fight other Muslims, he killed 13 soldiers who had similarly vowed to defend the nation.

To the best of my knowledge, no Indian soldier has ever wrestled with such a dilemma. Most of our wars over the past six decades have been against an Islamic nation; Muslim soldiers have fought bravely for India, some have been highly decorated. Perhaps living in a democracy and accepting a national counter-narrative to radical religiosity helps us see things differently from the likes of Major Hasan.

The writer is a former executive editor of this paper.







Political parties have finally woken up to the need to recruit people with some formal training in politics. Candidates with academic training in political science or government are for the first time being offered internships by political parties across the spectrum.

That's the way to go. For far too long political parties have remained closed entities where entry has been determined by patronage. This has resulted in an unusually high number of elected representatives who are either wives, sons and daughters of established politicians or married into a political dynasty. The Lok Sabha elected in 2009 is testimony to this disquieting trend. Whereas the current Lok Sabha is decidedly more 'youthful' than earlier ones, many of the younger MPs unfortunately belong to political dynasties.

The trend towards patronage and cronyism shows Indian democracy in poor light. It also breeds cynicism among voters who view the political system as one that is not open to the best and brightest. One way to break this vicious cycle is to induct more people who are qualified in the science of politics and government. And who better than students of politics and public policy?

Students trained in political science and policy are much more likely to understand the issues confronting India and its people. They are also more qualified to come up with the right solutions to tackle the problems. Where they could be lacking are the skills and the funds to win elections. This can be overcome by having a lengthy induction process for qualified candidates who work for a party for a few years before taking the electoral plunge. In any case, many of the aspiring politicians could also be back-room people for parties.

Of course, leadership and charisma are equally important attributes of a politician, qualities that cannot be acquired by learning alone. What we need is the right balance of charismatic politicians with ones who have superior problem-solving skills. Some formal training in politics would go a long way towards providing this balance and improving the quality of political debate in the country.







So, a BA political science or some such stuff makes you a better politician. This preposterous idea, unfortunately promoted by some less-than-bright politicians, is only an indication of our fascination for academic degrees, more so if they're from foreign universities. It is unlikely to qualitatively transform public life in this country.

The idea of an academic degree as a basic qualification to enter a profession is essentially based on two premises. One, the presumption that the degree is an indication that the degree-holder has learned a particular subject or is trained in a certain trade. Two, it serves as a criterion to restrict admission to a profession. Over the years, we have reduced the idea of schooling or learning to spending a certain number of years in a college or a university. A degree today is just a tool to eliminate potential job seekers. Studies show that our MPs are more educated than ever before. There are more postgraduates and PhDs in Lok Sabha today than in previous Houses. But is the quality of debates in Parliament better than before? Some of our finest politicians, for example former Tamil Nadu chief minister K Kamaraj, didn't go to university. They learned on the job.

Of course, there is no harm if a politician has a university degree. That, however, can't be made a basic criterion for recruitment to political parties or participation in public life. The stress ought to be on attitude and aptitude. Being sensitive to public issues and willingness to devote time for public causes have to be the primary qualifications for one to be a politician. He must know to make pragmatic and ethical choices in public policy debates. Academic qualifications do not ensure that a prospective politician will have such abilities or qualities.

Rather than promote MBAs in political management and so on, let parties train their workers in the business of politics. Politics is a practical matter, and can be learned only through directly engaging in this craft.







There was a time I could multiply 196 by 832, call my friends, family, lovers without referring to a phone book, remember the birthdays of those who mattered most to me, spell every word I knew without the slightest hesitation. I never owned a dictionary nor a phone book. Yes, I had a calculator on my desk but that was not to add, subtract, divide or multiply. It was for multiple calculations, finding square roots of impossibly large figures which I needed while solving mathematical puzzles, my favourite source of short term amusement.
Today I use my cell phone to add and subtract, recall phone numbers and faces, remind me about birthdays. My laptop tries to correct my spellings, language, grammar and often makes mistakes itself. I can still beat the computer at chess but it's so easy I have long given up playing. No, I don't need to remember anything at all. Google helps me find it in an instant. What was the song Bade Ghulam Ali sang in Khudita Pashan, Tagore's unforgettable ghost story that Tapan Sinha directed, for which Ali Akbar Khan wrote the music? Who directed Edward Scissorhands? When will Rajiv's assassins walk out of jail? Who was India's first Education Minister? Was Jailhouse Rock the King's first big hit? Which was the first big scam that shook Independent India? What did Mountbatten say when he first caught Edwina in Jawaharlal's arms? How does one become a citizen of Melchizedek? Google has an answer for most things, from curing your cat's diarrhoea to which old bookshop in London may have the 1921 edition of Lorca's Libro de Poemas. When Google fails, there's twitter. Somebody, somewhere will always have an answer to the question bothering you. The answer need not always be right. None of us look for right answers in life. We look for answers that comfort us. It's a bit like finding God. If he doesn't exist, we'll have to manufacture him. 

No, it is not Alzheimer's nor stress (nor the refusal to eat fish) that's slaying my memory cells. It's this continuous acceptance of technology that's being thrust into my face, demanding it be used. I may not be as quick as a calculator but I'm certainly better than a dictionary or thesaurus. I may not be able to do Rubik's cube in under two minutes, as Aamir Khan apparently does, but I'm ready to take a Mensa test with anyone. The problem is not in my faculties. It lies in the dependencies being forced onto me by technology I have no need for. I am ashamed I have to remember my father's death anniversary by an alarm on my cellphone. Or that a website has to remind me two days ahead to send flowers to my wife on our wedding anniversary. I fear I'm becoming a technology victim.


I'm not alone. That's pretty obvious. I get flowers at least four times a year from friends and acquaintances. That's because different sites have published different birth dates for me and they stay in Google memory. I get anniversary cakes on wrong days. Google informs that these dates do not even match the date of my earlier marriage leave alone my current one. Many of my more famous friends now celebrate multiple birthdays and marriage anniversaries simply because they enjoy partying. I don't. What's worse, I get confused and have now reached a stage where I don't even remember my own birthday till Maria reminds me the evening before with a discreet sms.

Do we need so much technology in our lives? Do we really need taps that go off on their own or lights that come on when we walk into a room? Don't we want to do these things ourselves? Do we really need 11 digit phone numbers that no one can recall without assistance? What about simple, easy to remember word/number combinations like Maggie69Wow? Must we perfunctorily celebrate all birthdays? Why not stick to 20 people who really matter to you and call them instead of sending fancy bouquets to hundreds of people with notes from florists? Why send a V-Day e-card when a simple kiss can do? Why do I need 8GB of music on my iPod when running in the gym? Why can't I let my imagination chase that gorgeous babe two treadmills away? Why must technology isolate us instead of bonding us with a real world of real people, real passions? How can internet sex be a substitute for The Real Thing? Yet porn is the biggest business on the net. How can a Tamagotchi (or any e-pet) replace the love of a real pug? Yet the Japanese are hooked on it. How can any cell phone chat (with a zillion call drops) be a substitute for talking face to face with someone you love? Yet 700 million cell phone users here cootchie coo on it.

So as this year stumbles to an end, I make this promise to myself. Let me slave technology, not let it run my life for me.








A popular internet joke has two municipal employees hard at work. While one is busy digging holes, the other is filling them up with dug-up earth. A curious passerby asks them what the purpose of it all is. "We are doing the tasks assigned to us", explains one of them, "but the person who has to plant the saplings is absent." That may be a joke, but the truth about public works can be even more bizarre. Back in the 1960s, for Rajasthan emergency relief projects we used to have to provide employment to villagers hit by drought. Most popular among these was road building, since that offered perennial employment potential. Why? Because, more often than not, the roads built during one year's drought soon got covered by sandstorms and were, therefore, available for relaying during the next year's drought! I have a theory about public works. Their primary purpose is to perpetuate themselves - the 'karmic cycle of work'. As Northcote Parkinson would have put it, "When it comes to civic projects, work expands to fill the budget earmarked for it." If anything does get accomplished in the process, it is by accident, not design.


If you think designing such work programmes is easy, you couldn't be more wrong. As the director of the Institute of Civic Works in Bangalore explained: "There is very complex science involved in designing these works. A project should be split up into as many sub-contracts as possible, so that coordination becomes impossible and completion time is an unknown quantity. At the same time, individual contracts should not become so tiny that they do not attract any contractor. Quality specification plays an equally important role in perpetuating work. We follow the old American principle of built-in obsolescence." "Anything else that is significant about perpetuating work?" "Timing is also of the essence. A project should be started only after the neighbourhood has become so desperate about it that it does not care how it is being executed. Then again, coordination with the works of other civic agencies is a must. For example, relaying a road should be completed before the water supply authority starts digging it to lay fresh pipes. That way, relaying the road can become a perpetual job."








Whether the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was a disaster or an accomplishment largely depended on one's expectations. Anyone who listened to the statements of the negotiators from the emerging economies would have judged the chances of a global, legally-binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions as near zero. Anyone who had listened to those of the developed world would have presumed it was just a matter of some hard talk and a bit of give and take. As it happened, it was a quartet comprising India, China, Brazil and South Africa that proved to have the deciding vote. And it was with these so-called BASIC countries that the United States decided it had to come to terms with — leaving the European Union, Japan and the rest of the Group of 77 — on the sidelines.


Copenhagen helped sort out who really matters in climate change diplomacy, something of great import given the cacophony of voices at the summit. Once one looks at the impromptu meeting that the US held with the BASIC countries it also becomes clear why a comprehensive agreement was not possible. The differences between the US and these countries were not rhetorical cracks: they were yawning gulfs. The US wanted to scrap the principles of the Kyoto Protocol, including existing Western commitments on carbon cuts, the idea that rich and emerging nations could not be blamed equally for global warming, and letting the issue of compensation dissipate. The emerging economies saw all these as bedrock principles. For them, Kyoto was the launching pad, not a temporary gantry crane that would fall aside. The stakes for all these countries — not merely environmental but also in terms of future economic growth — were so high that they proved difficult to divide the group.


Copenhagen has also sorted what matters. Even this was not clear beforehand. Those who hoped that sounding the alarm over climate change would stampede diplomacy were thwarted. The emerging economies well understood that a green adjustment would be beneficial but also carry an enormous price tag. How to share this cost is what the next several rounds of negotiations will have to focus on. India has successfully ensured that the broad agenda of the future talks are to its liking. It will now have to ensure that as the details fill out, they will assist its public intention to follow a low-carbon growth path in a way that minimises its domestic costs and maximises international benefits.








Mike Fennell. Funny guy. One day he tells everyone that he's worried about the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi missing its tryst with destiny. The next day Funny Mike says he's not worried at all. So what happened in the intervening hours for him to change his mind? Was it his meeting with the venerable Sports Minister M.S. Gill that turned tension into confidence? Or was it his meeting with Delhi Commonwealth Games' ringmaster Suresh Kalmadi on Saturday that made Mr Fennell furrow his brows unnaturally? We don't know.


But we will know this: the bookies are looking at the Commonwealth Games Federation president hitting the grumpy curve again around the end of January. Just to make sure, however, let's examine what Mr Fennell did say on Saturday. "To now hear that there are further delays is distressing," he was quoted in the newspapers as saying. Now let's see. "Distressing" sounds like he was worried, and "now hear that there are further delays" suggests there will be further delays. On Sunday, the same man said, "This [delay in projects] is the area we should not be worrying about."


Should we be distressed about Mr Fennell's flip-flops? Don't be silly. As the Vedantic-sounding Sheila Dikshit pointed out on Sunday, "I am nervous," following that up with: "It [completion of projects in time] will be done." All Mr Fennell and Ms Dikshit are trying to say is that they are jittery, but their jitters will fuel the confidence needed to complete all preparations well in time. Fair is foul and foul is fair/hover through the fog and Delhi's filthy air.









According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), 241 Pakistanis were killed and 704 wounded in 165 militant strikes across the country in November alone. The PIPS website ( has collated figures for fatalities and casualties for months and years before. As we know all too well, however, mounting death tolls alone don't tell the full story. Most stories of individual loss, grief, destitution, anger and helplessness that follow these terror strikes remain untold.


Ironically enough, Karachi, the abode of mohajirs — migrants from undivided India — is the most peaceful city in Pakistan today. Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi are in flames and seem to be the favourite targets of the Taliban. Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan, outside the tribal battle zone, have also been attacked.


From 1997 to 2000, when I lived in Islamabad, one routinely saw Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz waiting patiently in his car for the traffic light to turn green. His chauffeur was his only companion; there were no securitymen in sight. You could also see Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan strolling along the street for a late-night coffee with his family to the Nadia coffee shop inside the Marriott Hotel. Again, there were no gun-toting men with him. Pakistan was still peaceful.


Today, Islamabad is a fortress. Earlier this year, I was in Lahore when the Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked close to the Gaddafi Stadium. Were it not for the presence of mind of their Pakistani driver and the poor marksmanship of the attackers, Sri Lanka would have been searching for new members of their cricket squad.


Today, Pakistani children are not safe praying in mosques. Lt. Gen. Masood Aslam, the army's Peshawar corps commander and the man leading the assault against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan, should know this all too well. The general lost his only son, the 19-year-old Hashim Masood, when the Taliban struck a mosque frequented by senior officers and their relatives on December 4. At least 39 others were killed, including serving and retired officers and their children. The message was chilling: if you hit us in Waziristan, we will kill your children in Rawalpindi, the garh of the Pakistani army.


This battle, which occupied Pakistan in 2009, will continue to rage in 2010 as well. There are no signs that the elimination of Tehrik-i-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has crippled the leadership of the Taliban or its ability to strike in urban centres or military targets in the country. Shuja Nawaz, analyst and author of books including Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, summed up Pakistan's challenges: "The army is still battling a vicious insurgency in the western borderland. The United States is counting on a stable Pakistan to help it exit from Afghanistan gracefully... The army is under pressure from its US allies to open a fresh front against the Afghan Taliban in Baluchistan, an action that makes no sense to the army. The rollercoaster US-Pakistan relationship seems heading for another deep dive, unless cooler heads prevail."


Nawaz, writing in Foreign Policy, also listed the December 16 annulment of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by 17 judges of the Pakistani Supreme Court as another challenge for the Gilani-Zardari administration. In February-March, it appeared that the Taliban were at the gates of Islamabad.


The Pakistani army launched an operation in Swat and, then, after months of dilly-dallying and advance notice, took the battle to South Waziristan. But the battle for Pakistan cannot be won by bullets or drone strikes. At the end of the day, the battle is for contending visions of Pakistan.


The militants want to turn it into the short-lived Islamic Emirate of Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, where women will live as second-class citizens and a brutal Islamist law would be imposed. The other is a vision of a moderate Pakistan,  where political parties run the country and the army (eventually) takes a backseat; where people receive quality education and net good jobs; where religion is important but doesn't dictate every sphere of personal life.


If the Taliban are in Punjab, then the Brothers Sharif must take up political cudgels against them. Frontal attacks must be launched in the political arena against the Taliban vision — a task made easier by the brutal slaughter of civilians in markets and mosques. So far, Asif Ali Zardari, Yusuf Raza Gilani, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif have been found wanting in demonstrating that an alternative path is possible for Pakistan — a path where people and their needs come first. For all this to happen, the political parties and the military must operate in sync.


The NRO and the alliance with the US have been cleverly used by General Ashfaq Kayani to wash away the sins of the Musharraf years. But if Pakistan is to win its battle and defang the Taliban monster, the country must bring to the surface what it has mostly missed in its history of 62 years — a unity of purpose between politicians and generals that leapfrogs money-making and power-brokering. The coming year could provide some answers — if Pakistan's rulers fail to offer a different vision, then the Taliban will win.


Amit Baruah is Editor of the BBC's Hindi service and author of Dateline Islamabad


The views expressed by the author are personal








There are two reasons why the Indian Supreme Court is considered the world's most powerful. First, Supreme Court judges self-appoint, with no inter-institutional checks and balances. Second, dismissing a judge is so difficult that it has not been done so far. Many of the recent criticisms of the apex court's perceived opacity have focused on these procedures for appointment and dismissal. The proposed Judges Standards and Accountability Bill is one such attempt, aiming to streamline the mechanism to discipline serving judges. Will it work?


Currently the only way judges can be disciplined is by parliamentary impeachment, a long drawn out process that made it to the floor of the House only once (in the Justice V. Ramaswami case), to be finally rendered unsuccessful. Under this impeachment process, there is no formal way for citizens to complain against serving judges. Besides, the in-house complaint mechanism is shrouded in secrecy and armed with discretion. The Judges (Inquiry) Bill 2006 sought to change this by setting up the National Judicial Council, consisting of senior judges. Citizens could file complaints to the NJC against sitting judges, who could provide a range of punishments or recommend impeachment to Parliament. But the bill ran into rough weather before a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which wanted the NJC to consist of more than just serving judges. That bill lapsed, but its latest version — renamed the Judges Standards and Accountability Bill — reportedly does just that, creating Oversight as well as Scrutiny Committees, in which both judges and non-judges would look into complaints against serving judges.


That such a law is necessary is a no-brainer. As the Justice Dinakaran episode demonstrates, in the absence of a clear-cut mechanism for citizens to complain against sitting judges, rumours and innuendos grow, leaving no one happy — including the concerned judge himself. The latest draft of the bill is even more welcome. While every effort must be made to preserve the independence of the judiciary, broad-basing the inquiry mechanism will increase transparency and, more importantly, be seen to be more transparent. At the same time, by penalising errant complainers, the proposed bill has in-built protection against misuse. But the proposed bill only deals with disciplining judges, not appointing them. As the Justice Dinakaran episode shows, that is an area in equal need of reform. It is hoped that Parliament and the higher judiciary reach a consensus on making judicial appointments more transparent without transgressing on the independence of our higher judiciary.







After the Headley-Rana revelations, there would undoubtedly be checks instituted to scrutinise visa applications to India, and a resultant tightening of the visa mechanism. However, the judiciousness of citing Headley to impose a moratorium for a couple of months after every visit for US and UK passport holders, with long-term tourist visas, is questionable.


There are ways to ensure the effectiveness of the sieve without inconveniencing, in unabashedly non-discriminating terms, the harmless majority who need to, or desire to, travel to this country. First of all, revoking or qualifying privileges, such as long-term, multiple-entry visas extended to select states on a reciprocal basis, may have diplomatic repercussions as the protests from the US and the UK bear out. Second, not only do these two countries have large numbers of citizens of Indian origin, many of whom frequently visit India for personal and professional reasons, but tourists with US and UK passports also add significantly to the coffers of the Indian tourism industry. If some, or many, of them are now dissuaded from coming altogether, how does it ensure greater security for us? At the least, the two-month prohibition is likely to adversely affect business interests and tourism.


The government claims that only "genuine cases" will henceforth approach the Indian missions for exceptions to the two-month prohibition. But how does it assume, as it no doubt does, that such cases will be few and that not-so-genuine cases, especially if these are the suspect ones, will not undergo every kind of inconvenience to beat the system? Thus the security focus should be somewhere other than preventing US and UK passport holders from entering the country twice in two months. What benefit will come from keeping at bay, say, a professional on business or an academic attending seminars or a tourist using India as a base for a South Asia trip who needs to touchdown more than once in that period?







The politics of portraits and statues in Parliament is prone to contentiousness, but is an incident apart. At a recent meeting of the curious named Committee on Installation of Portraits/ Statues of National Leaders and Parliamentarians, a decision was taken on B.R. Ambedkar's reading matter of public display. Ambedkar's death anniversary was approaching, and the MPs wondered whether to give identity to the book he's shown holding in the statue in the Parliament House Complex. The Constitution of India it would be, they decided, before slipping into another discussion on what language edition the Father of the Constitution should be holding. Predictably, fresh chalk paint shows it to be a bilingual copy.


That's settled for now, but another decision of the committee is equally intriguing. Now on, it was decided, no more statues would be installed in the complex, only portraits. The politics of portraiture is deeply contested in Parliament — and you only have to go back a few years for examples of fresh inductees like Savarkar and M.G. Ramachandran. In fact, the debate has swung between putting a freeze on new representations and just letting them all in. There is a good case for keeping space for new portraits, to deepen representation and reflect how the pluralities of this country continue to inform politics.


However, as the discussion on the Ambedkar book — on which word is out that the decision is not final — shows, portraits and statues become focus points for political contests. The DMK MP in this case wanted English, his SP colleague Hindi. Ambedkar, of course, finds acceptance across the spectrum. But as a greater number of more recent public figures find representation through portraits, contentiousness is bound to increase. That is not a case for limiting new faces, instead it may be a call against mandatory reverence.








The institutional improvisations of Indian democracy confound predictions and principles. The decision to make voting compulsory in local body elections in Gujarat is a deeply intriguing move, normatively and empirically. J.P. Agrawal of the Congress also has a private members bill to this effect. There are reasons to be sceptical about this move, but it is important to be clear about its pros and cons. Despite the Supreme Court's dismissal of an earlier petition, it is not prima facie clear that a law requiring compulsory voting is unconstitutional. In fact, that petition was dismissed more on practical and procedural grounds than on a due consideration of the constitutional issues. Even if not desirable, compulsory voting is not outside the bounds of constitutional permissibility.


The debate over compulsory voting appeals to a common democratic language on four dimensions: choice, legitimacy, equality, participation. The distinguished political scientist Arend Lipjhart wrote an article in the late '90s suggesting, in desperation, that compulsory voting was the only way to counter voting apathy and declining legitimacy in democracies in the developed world. The Indian framing is curious because it comes from a different angle. India is exceptional in that voting turnouts have remained decent. But most importantly turnout amongst the poor has been no worse, and usually much higher, than amongst the privileged. Compulsory voting is being framed as a device not to empower the poor, but to save the middle class, "the drawing room wallahs" from self-destruction and apathy, another reminder of how easily the discourse of democracy can be mobilised on behalf of the privileged.


But a democratic sensibility should concentrate less on the framing and more on the substance of the issue itself. The first value at stake is choice. Proponents would argue that the compulsion involved in voting is at best minor and no more onerous than the compulsions the state poses on us in so many areas, from taxation to regulation. Indeed, this move requires not that you vote but that you turn out. It requires you to expressly register your act of non-choice, and by aligning it with an option to reject everyone, it may enhance choice. On the other hand, not turning out is also a significant act of choice; and it may not necessarily register your dissatisfaction. You may simply not care who wins, and there is no reason why this disposition should not have a legitimate place in democratic politics.


The legitimacy argument is less compelling. Here the worry is that candidates often get elected with a small plurality of votes, and increased turnouts would enhance the legitimacy of elected representatives. This argument is flawed for a number of reasons. First, how many votes someone may be elected with is a function of a number of things, including number of candidates. There is no evidence that in democracies where candidates win with small pluralities, the system as a whole is less legitimate than in democracies with compulsory voting. Legitimacy is mostly endogenous to electoral rules; by changing rules you do not necessarily enhance legitimacy. You simply replace one decision-making rule by another. Finally legitimacy is a complex idea and cannot be reduced to a single arithmetical point. You could argue that a plurality system with low winning margins that allows rapid turnover of different groups in power is more legitimate because it assures different groups that they have a shot at power. It polarises the distinctions between winners and losers much less.


Third, there is the equality argument, used more in the West than in India. The argument was that low turnouts disenfranchise the poor more. This argument empirically does not apply to India. There is also the paradox that large participation of the poor is nowhere associated with a more social democratic empowerment or greater equality. To be fair to the proponents, it is very difficult to predict the ideological consequences of greater turnouts if they get routinised. But it is not clear that they are a tool for enhancing equality.


The fourth argument concerns participation. Requiring citizens to participate improves their civic engagement. The interesting thing about Gujarat is that the experiment has started at the level of local government, paradoxically the one level of government we are the least engaged with and care least about. Engagement with local government is a challenge in our system. But it is not clear whether this is a function of the administrative structures of government, or voter apathy. Whether high turnouts can transform civic and local bodies is a potentially interesting experiment. But compulsory voting does not necessarily enhance the quality of civic engagement. Lipjhart assumed that forcing people induces them to have greater interest in the political process. But several papers have demonstrated the opposite effect: it gives disproportionate voice to those who are apathetic and therefore likely to vote more randomly. There is merit in privileging those who want to vote, not those who are forced to.


One side argument in the compulsory voting literature concerns election spending. On this view much spending is devoted to either getting voters out to vote, or from deterring them from showing up by increasing their disenchantment with certain candidates. Compulsory voting induces less spending and less negative campaigning. But this argument has also turned out to be very fragile.


But the most powerful objection to compulsory voting is that it criminalises non-voting. Whatever one's views on the duty and right to vote, there is something deeply problematic about punishing non-voting. On merely practical grounds it is likely to give the state immense powers of harassment. It is a deeply democratic value to worry about state intrusion in our lives. One is not reassured by the fact that Gujarat government officials have been quoted as saying that one of the penalties under discussion is denying BPL cards to those who do not vote. Not having prescribed punishment as part of the legislation but making that part of the rules is itself an odd interpretation of democracy. It is not an accident that most of the countries that have compulsory voting have to desist from enforcing penalties. It will also be interesting to see how lists for local government elections are created and used. One unintended consequence of this drive may be to reduce the incentives to have your name included in a voting list.


Democratic participation is a laudable value. But a flourishing democracy requires a diversity of dispositions, including the option of disengagement. Voting is an important duty. But giving the state coercive power ostensibly in the name of saving the people from themselves is undemocratic paternalism. Voting must remain an act of choice, not propelled by coercion or inducement.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi






Tiger Woods being named the Associated Press's athlete of the decade was a timely reminder of his unparalleled greatness as an athlete, and a welcome shift away from the relentless intrusion into his personal life. It is easy to forget that even in their personal lives celebrity athletes are held to a higher standard than most other individuals, but the reason why they are in the public light in the first place is because they possess athletic skills and a work ethic that separate them from any other competitors on the planet. Tiger is and has been a class apart from any other athlete across all sports for over a decade now. He is closing in on every golf-related record that there is, and he is more than likely to set records himself that may never be broken. Incidentally, the ease with which he separated himself from the other contenders for the decade's best athlete is particularly impressive, since many of his competitors are themselves considered the greatest their respective sports have ever seen.


Roger Federer (tennis), Michael Schumacher (Formula One), Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez (baseball), Kobe Bryant (basketball) and Tom Brady (American football) are other superstar athletes of the decade who are considered among the best that their sport has seen, but their achievements pale in comparison to Tiger's: 12 Majors, virtually every week of the decade at the top of the rankings, and 56 PGA tour wins. He is also the first ever billionaire athlete, but all this means so much more when seen in the context in which it was achieved.


He is among the first African-American Golfers on the PGA tour period, let alone successful African-American golfers. In most sports this may not mean much, but golf has traditionally been a Caucasian-dominated sport with significant barriers to entry. Tiger and his success to a large extent opened the doors for golfers from all ethnic origins to successfully pursue a career in golf, and feel as if they belonged. Till date, Augusta, the home of the Masters, has barriers to entry to the club, yet it was Tiger who blew away the competition on numerous occasions to wear the coveted green jacket, and show that it could be done. He has crossed social and ethnic barriers, and he has done it with class and panache, to become the brand ambassador of sport. What is equally notable is that he has become a household name, and made a sport that has traditionally been elitist into a sport that is watched and played by many, competing with the traditionally popular sports.


It has been an outstanding decade for sport overall. This has been the decade where we have had the privilege of seeing the rise of Federer who is widely considered the greatest tennis player of all time, and is a class act to boot. Although his cross-over appeal never matched Tiger's, his own accomplishments this decade are mind-boggling.:15 Majors, 5 years at the top, and a Grand Slam on every surface. Tennis has seen a rebirth of sorts with the rise of Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, and Del Potro as contenders to Federer's dominance.


Three Olympics (Sydney, Athens, and Beijing) were successfully hosted, and each had its own charm to it, especially Beijing. The Beijing Olympics were one of the most successful ever, and saw two games-defining moments by athletes in their prime. Michael Phelps broke every record with his 8 gold medal haul, but even he was overshadowed by a man whose name is in perfect synchronicity with his ability: Usain Bolt, who broke two records with laughable ease, and also established himself as a man whose personality matched his ability. It was a welcome change for athletics, after so many years of drug-tainted performances.


Domestically, the decade again was a momentous one. Cricket saw India reach the World Cup finals in ODIs and eventually win the inaugural World Cup T20. Sachin finished his second decade in international cricket. In the Olympics, India's gold medal and two bronzes via Bindra, Vijender and Sushil made the Beijing Games one of our most successful ever, albeit in relative terms. In tennis India's resurrection remained on track, with the next few years promising much. The biggest story in Indian sport, however, was the birth and success of the IPL. It has revolutionised cricket, and will revolutionise Indian professional sports, with the Indian sports industry set for a complete metamorphosis.


But this still remains the decade of the Tiger. He will be back on the playing field, and then we can once again admire him for what he is: the greatest athlete we are ever likely to see. And that in itself is a privilege.


The writer is a sports attorney








The consolidation of some of India's public sector banks is something government wants, financial sector pundits want and just about nobody in the affected banks wants. It is the patina that can bring gloss to the financial sector without the need for any complicated forecasting to evaluate the benefit. The Indian economy needs far bigger size banks than they are now. Period.


But this could prove to be the toughest act to get together. Simply because, there are no champions to drive the agenda for the banks to be merged from the present 29 dots and dashes scattered over the country. Unless we are ready to identify the leaders who will hold the new banks together, this could end up as big human resource disasters, that will even compromise the financial health of the new entities. Any merger or acquisition plan for a company has to be driven by some logic. When it is a listed entity the plan would mean maximisation of the shareholders' value or a possible chance to increase market share. For a privately held company, the driver for M&A too has to be the maximisation of the interest of the promoters.


None of these considerations operate here. The public sector banks have the public as minority shareholders who obviously are not in any position to drive any of the agenda. For the government, the decision to merge any of the banks with another is purely administrative.


But, for the employees of the banks including their chairmen, the stakes are more substantial and clearer. For the chairman and managing director, it is the painful choice of relinquishing his power, if not his designation. Down the line, the bank employees have often made it clear what they think of consolidation, like the strike called on Wednesday. For them the worry is the extent to which they could lose their seniority vis a vis the other bank staff. Sixteen years after New Bank of India was merged with the Punjab National Bank, the staff still stand classified on that basis, informally.


So while it is quite easy for the finance ministry to issue an order anytime asking any combine to be formed the chances of making that entity work out the way one would expect a large player on the block to operate, is bleak. The existing management team will be so beset with the problem of removing the obstacles that will spring up as two extremely reluctant groups of company officials move together with the same badge, they will have little time to pick up the opportunities from the new business space.


The employees at no public sector bank have any understanding of the working pattern of their competitors. Bank officials do not move out to other banks till they come up to the level of executive directors, which is on an average around the age of 50. The only time everybody does come together on a semblance of common ground is at the negotiating table for wage revision, every five years. It is only the State Bank group which has instituted common practices for everyday banking, from investments down to the mundane ATM rules, which makes the group look more cohesive now. That steam too gathered momentum, only when the current chairman of SBI, O.P. Bhatt with a long assured innings, walked in. But the rank and file of other banks are quite disparate in millions of things in their banking practices. At a time when the RBI governor has said the Indian banks will now face more competition, this is then a dangerous foundation to build the larger banks.


It is in this context that we need the leaders to drive the process. The finance minister has to seriously consider co-opting charismatic leaders to drive the consolidation process in at least the first set of banks that are taken up for mergers or consolidation. The government has been consistently pushing home the point that consolidation in the sector has to be led by the banks. The government would only act as the facilitator. That position has to change to make the plans really come together. Way before any of the banks are brought into a single unit when the government gets a cabinet approval for the passage of a couple of bills redrawing their status as independent units, the role of the chairman designate has to start.


That person must be appointed to the bank who will lead the consolidation process, even before the partner is identified, and immediately move to battle. That battle will be to win over the employees' confidence about the merger, moving on at the next stage to win the loyalty of the employees of the bank that is expected to be merged. Since no one else will drive the agenda, (as I said, it is not a shareholder or company driven plan) it is his persona that will create the degree of confidence. This radical approach is essential. There is no point believing that an effective merger can be made possible by an incremental approach, almost assuming that the staff will not notice the difference the day after the merger.


It isn't my point that a charismatic leader cannot be selected from within the current crop of bosses in the public sector banks. But it will be a dangerous game to wait for the merger to happen before offering the prize to one of them. The leader will simply not enjoy the level of credibility that is required to drive the new company. The approach is essential because it is his or her vision that will shape the new entity. This will take time but that is the reason to start off right now, when the government has the lead time in its hand to support the plan.


In fact, given the humongous challenge of the project, it might be better to bring in an outsider. The government as the largest shareholder can jolly well do so. The appointment itself will be a signal of the intent to change and he can take a lucid view of the changes at each level that will be needed. Otherwise we will change the symbols but very little else that will work in the new banks.


The writer is Executive Editor (News), 'The Financial Express'








B'gosh, will someone please smile? Nowadays, if you want to see a front row of pearls on the tube, you have to wait for Nigella Feasts or Bites, depending on your calorie intake. Gosh, doesn't she just make you want her to feast on you with those lovely, happy teeth?


She's one of the reasons to watch Travel & Living, quite the most jolly place to be this holiday season — or any season. She is plush, luscious, so warm and inviting you wish you could curl up and nestle into her arms. Watching her cook is a sensual pleasure. When she licks the spatula clean of the cake mix she's just prepared, mmmmn, it's a Richard Gere-Julia Roberts sort of Pretty Woman moment. That's what she does: make you fall in love with food.


Travel & Living makes you feel "ooooh" almost every time you stop by for a meal, a drink, or one of their many exotic trips. It can do it in the most unexpected ways. For instance, on Friday night, when everything on television made you feel bad for someone — L.K. Advani for being dismissed as a mediocre man by commentators, Zaheer Khan for showing the ball the way to the boundary after he had brought India back into the second ODI against Sri Lanka, TV news reporting on world leaders' emissions at Copenhagen or young Suman, the latest unfortunate to be TV's victim in Sony's Jeet Jayange Hum — you switched to Travel & Living for some cheer. And there was Abba: The Mamma Mia Story (for the nth time) with Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth explaining how they came to sing the saccharine sweetness of Abba. There were songs, excerpts from the film — well, you could have asked for more but on a tired Friday night when everyone else gently wept, it did nicely.


In Jeet Jayenge Hum, it's all about loving your parents (oh yes, one again!). Suman loves her mother and siblings so dearly she doesn't let them do anything for themselves, other than those bodily functions which each of us has to perform for ourselves. It is one idyllic family. Then the mother began to cough and couldn't stop while the father was soundly thrashed by the bad guys. And when we say "soundly", we mean we heard the slap resound against his cheek like clashing cymbals. Next week, Suman and her siblings will probably be orphaned. Do you really want to watch?


More complaints. It's been said before but obviously no one is listening: how often can you watch Indra the Tiger? This film is telecast 365 days — we've heard of daily shows but this is ridiculous. Unfortunately, there are others like this Tiger. Now repeat after me, A is for Amitabh B (Natwarlal on Sunday ), B is for Bhoonath or Bheja Fry or Border , G is for Golmaal, J is Jab We Met (could it be anything else?) and K is for a Karan Johar film (Sunday afternoon it was Kuch Kuch Hota Hai). Honestly, can't we get fresh releases, around here? At least Colors tried with Delhi 6???


As for Shah Rukh Khan, we have seen his future and it looks like a white Christmas. In his latest Dish TV commercial, he's an elderly gentleman. Saw what Aamir Khan may resemble when he's old and grey, too, as he appeared in disguise on NDTV, promoting his 3 Idiots. Have to say, both look rather more fetching as they are.


Lastly, Rahul Dulhaniya Le Jayenge is the next swayamvara you may (not) want to watch (NDTV Imagine). That depends on whether you like men — and specifically Rahul — with lipstick, not on the collar, but on the lips. We did not. Rahul Mahajan is the male Rakhi Sawant — famous for being celebrity. He'll be choosing himself a bride from amongst the pretty damsels seen in promos for the show. For some inexplicable reason they are dancing. Getting rather confused: with Nigella you know the way to a woman's heart is through the stomach, but in Rahul's case, could it be feet first?








In the small village of Kalika in Kumaon, Sarla Devi and her daughter spend the day scrounging the forest for firewood. Her son takes the two family cows to pasture within a kilometer of the house, while her husband works as a day labourer for the roads department. The 800 square yards of land the family owns, provides them with seasonal corn, bajra and vegetables; on it is a mud plastered stone house of two rooms. By any measure, Sarla Devi's family is typical of millions of families in rural India. Its carbon footprint — if the global measure applies — is a mere half ton of carbon per person. Laughable by western standards.


By comparison, the Kapurs of Delhi live a more abundant lifestyle. Two cars and an SUV line the drive of a four-bedroom ground floor flat in Greater Kailash. A commodities trader, Kapur drives to work 30 kilometers a day to NOIDA; his son takes the other car to college, while the SUV is used by the driver for a range of daily chores. Within the house, an assortment of electrical gadgets — two TVs, a fridge, a freezer, three computers, a music system — line the walls. The family lives in a perpetual haze of gadget upgrade and international vacations. At 16 tons per person, their carbon footprint comes close to the American average.


In the desperate urge to replicate the outmoded Western model of development, the Indian government wishes to turn Sarla Devi's family into the Kapurs within three generations. At a time of enormous challenges in climate science, urbanism and technology, India sets itself imitative goals. Along the worn and tested path, the country's ambition is to become the America of the 1950s, happily complacent in its middle class affluence, and a state of self-righteous contentment that poses no demands to develop new ideas, or test its will to enact real change. The parallel is not just painfully obvious, but comes at a time of global energy, financial and climate crisis, when the rest of the world is rejecting such growth as wasteful and redundant.


Sadly, the unfortunate consequence of the recent recession did not sting enough or last long enough to forge a corrective path. Buildings are still bloated with excessive services and useless fripperies of luxury, SUVs are still driven long distances to pick up a loaf of bread, and 300 acre golf greens are still being built outside bleached waterless Haryana villages. All set to become tomorrows ruins, caricatures of a way of life that has no future.


But for selecting the venue for the next Copenhagen, the meeting in Copenhagen produced little real change for Sarla Devi or the Kapurs. Even before the world's experts had descended on the city, the air was tinged with hopelessness. To make the right noises of conciliation if you are rich; to be demanding the rights to pollute if you are poor, the important thing was to be seen to be doing something; even if after Rio, and Kyoto, and now Copenhagen, all that will emerge is a set of unmet targets and a few statistical objectives set so far into the future, that there is little need to alter the course of the present.


When global tragedies — famine, floods, water scarcity, deforestation, tribal wars — strike, they principally affect the poor, so mandating emission cuts in the rich industrial nations, becomes a matter of conscience, a Christian belief that we live in a global world. Deprived of arable land, water and habitation, food and water riots in the poorer countries will spill into the affluent North. The primary motivation to act on climate change is the fear of upheaval in the neighbourhood.


While the rich world self-obsesses over alternative fuels, smart electricity grids, and carbon credits, the poor need a different route. A transfer of technology from the West to curb large scale gas emissions is certainly essential, though less in India's interest than developing low-scale applicable Indian technologies. If unelectrified villages in Bihar and Jharkhand are beneficiaries of such technology, the burden of conventional electrification becomes unnecessary. Traditional water conservation measures and improving solar cooking technologies are equally essential. A sizable population that lives pre-industrial lives, allows a greater leverage in bypassing the pit falls of conventional growth altogether.


If Sarla Devi's family has a future it is unlikely to come the Kapur way. To follow an American lifestyle or to create a uniquely Indian one, to build indigenous electric or hybrid cars, solar houses in villages without electricity, or design communities without cars is a pressing Indian need that steps outside the cycle of American consumption. More than ever, the Gandhian message of self reliance that the truly Indian house will be built of materials gathered within a five mile radius of the site is relevant. In it, are solutions that are new, Indian, and entirely without Western lineage.


The writer is a Delhi-based architect







Once upon a time, elevator rides were silent. The bathroom was for using the bathroom. Dinnertime was about sharing a meal with friends or family, and mornings were about waking up. Most radically, home was simply home. Work may have been on our minds, but it wasn't in our hands (or pockets).


But now, thanks to the BlackBerry (and the iPhone, and the Treo, and all the other hand-held e-mail devices), we are always connected. The modern BlackBerry, which dates to 2002 (a two-way pager by the same name came to the market in 1999), has evolved into something sleek and handy and almost discreet. Using it is like taking an electronic cigarette break. The problem is, we're all e-mail chain-smokers now. Anytime a moment opens up, we fill it with e-mail.


The BlackBerry starts by infiltrating your morning. Then e-mailing replaces reading on your commute. Next you have it under the table at meetings; surely no one notices your thumbs clicking. Finally, it winds up at your bedside.


Enabled by an umbilical attachment to the hand-held, the average office worker sent and received 100 e-mails a day in 2009 — almost as many telegrams as a high-output operator sent in Western Union's heyday. But those operators simply passed messages along. We're supposed to think and respond and sort as well. How are we doing? Not very well, considering how many of us spend our mornings and nights and weekends replying to e-mails to get to the bottom of our inbox.


The problem is, the more e-mails we send, the more we receive. So the empty inbox is a phantom, an impossibility — and the attempt to achieve it the ultimate Sisyphean task.


How many of the e-mails are essential? How many could be replaced by a simple phone call? We'll never know: As of February, 50 million BlackBerrys had been sold. Pretty soon, these devices will be as common as car keys, and as they expand to include e-reader technology, they will also become our virtual bookshelves, our day planners, our newspapers, our maps and our shopping malls.


Barring a full-fledged revolt, our electronic fidget is here to stay. It almost makes one nostalgic for a long, awkward elevator ride.


The Washington Post


Housing prices always rise


Countless delusions and mistakes brought on our financial crisis, but none did as much damage as the belief that home prices never go down. People have long seen real estate as a safe investment. The notion is intuitive — the supply of land is limited, and the population is always growing — and until 2007, national home prices had not fallen significantly since the Great Depression.


Yet at the start of this decade, this belief became the lynchpin of an entire investment philosophy, as survivors of the dot-com bubble sought a refuge for their money. When Robert Shiller, a Yale economist, surveyed homebuyers in 2003, he found that 10 times as many said the stock market collapse had encouraged them to buy a home as said it had discouraged them. At first, home values seemed reasonable when compared with a family's income or with rental prices. But the more people behaved as if home prices could not go down, the more they drove prices beyond reasonable levels. Between the end of 1999 and early 2007, prices soared 70 per cent.


The belief was even more consequential for lenders than buyers. Why turn down a mortgage applicant with a bad credit history or no documented income? After all, if prices only went up, a delinquent borrower's home could always be sold to repay the loan. Declines in certain regions could not be ruled out, so investors bought securities backed by a pool of mortgages from around the country for safety. A 2009 study by Federal Reserve staff members found that banks knew from 2004 to 2006 that a big nationwide fall in home prices would trigger catastrophic defaults; they simply thought such a fall impossible.


And most experts agreed. Alan Greenspan had famously warned of irrational exuberance in stocks in the 1990s. But a decade later, the Fed chairman argued that houses were not susceptible to such excess: They were difficult to trade, expensive to build and not very homogenous. "A national severe price distortion seems most unlikely," he said in 2004. Less than a year later, Greenspan, too, became nervous, diagnosing housing "froth" in some regions. But he predicted that even if prices declined, the economy wouldn't suffer much, thanks in part to mortgage securitisation.


With hindsight, what should Greenspan have done differently? Raising interest rates just to cap home prices would have invited recession. However, the Fed could have used its regulatory powers to press for tighter loan underwriting standards. Of course, that would have made it harder to buy a home, so a political backlash would have followed. But it might have mitigated the damage when prices eventually fell.


Real estate's appeal in America has waned, but it's alive and well in the red-hot Asian housing markets. Regulators there are trying to learn from America's lessons by insisting on tougher criteria to get a mortgage. If property prices implode, they hope their banks won't follow. We'll see.


The Washington Post






The Parliament's winter session has been a let down in terms of delivering substantive reforms. The ruling coalition is now down for two full sessions where it has achieved far less than it promised. It came to power against a mixed financial backdrop—there were the boom years and there was the global recession. It was widely agreed that India stood at a threshold, where it could either liberalise further or give in to the populist call for greater economic sovereignty. It was further understood that UPA-2 would resist the temptation to roll back reforms—taking the mandate against the Left as one against the status quo. First, the President addressed the Parliament, assuring it that the government's priorities included economic reforms and increased decentralisation. She also indicated that an independent evaluation office would be created to make flagship programmes more accountable. Then, the finance minister's budget speech tracked a similar route, also emphasising the benefits of competition—such as eliminating supply bottlenecks, enhancing productivity and reducing costs. Taxes, pensions, insurance, land acquisition, competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks, judicial accountability, foreign universities, banking reform—the list of areas in which draft Bills were floating around was substantive. Therefore, in the run-up to the winter session, there was widespread expectation that UPA-2 would really push the reform agenda forward and reinvigorate economic sentiment by passing relevant legislation.


These columns have been emphasising the growing urgency of effecting such reforms. Pressure is building up for monetary policy tightening. Plus, as the government itself has acknowledged, current levels of fiscal expansion cannot be sustained on a long-term basis. So, unless economic reforms move forward, it's hard to see how India will return to 9% growth. And yet UPA-2 leadership keeps falling short of legislative action to back up its reform rhetoric. To take stock of this winter session, it didn't get around to introducing the Pension Fund and Regulatory Development Authority Bill, to which the President's June speech referred. Next, with 95% of new employment being generated in the SME sector, the Labour Laws Amendment and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill would have encouraged smaller enterprises to hire more workers and file their compliance reports electronically. This wasn't introduced either. The Bill to strengthen the forward markets regulator and the two Bills related to insurance shared the same fate. The new Companies Bill that substitutes government oversight on management with shareholder oversight on many issues—again, a freshly urgent issue following the Satyam scandal—wasn't put on the floor.


UPA-2 also lost an opportunity to push forward changes in both the direct and indirect tax codes. Such spells of dithering unfortunately suggest that bigger reforms that are still being worked out may be stillborn.






Much of the attention in the debate on inflation has understandably centred around galloping food prices. But since this is a supply side problem, it isn't the best guide for monetary policy which needs to focus on aggregate demand. Here, it is useful to consider what is happening to prices elsewhere—cement and steel prices are a particularly good indicator of judging aggregate demand pressures. Cement prices are indeed inching up in the wholesale price index-based inflation as consumption has grown by about 12% in the last six months. The industry is growing at 7-8% and has a current capacity of 240 million tonnes, which is expected to be around 285 million by the end of March 2011. All the major cement companies have hiked prices by Rs 5 to 10 for a 50-kg bag. Cement prices have risen moderately as demand from states like Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa is picking up because of rural housing and government infrastructure projects, which were announced as a part of the stimulus packages and which have to be completed before March end. Despite the stimulus, there isn't any evidence of a steep price rise in cement thus far.


For steel—a key input for infrastructure, auto and heavy machinery—prices are only likely to look up from January next year—currently they are around 60% of the peak level of June 2008. In fact, SK Roongta, chairman, SAIL, in an interview with FE on Monday, has said that an imminent price hike of the metal early next year would be an indicator of early recovery in the steel industry. The overall demand for steel next year is expected to be back at the 2006-07 levels and the third quarter results of steel companies are expected to be better on the back of a low base effect. Coupled with a demand push from the automobile and consumer durable sectors in the domestic market and increase in raw material costs, some producers have already made price adjustments and others are in the process of doing it. Again, despite these adjustments, there is no significant rise in steel prices so far. So, the price trends from these two sectors, better indicators of aggregate demand than food prices, do not raise any cause for immediate concern. Interestingly, the last bout of high inflation, in the summer of 2008, was driven by the high prices of steel, cement, metals and oil. That was when global demand was still on a high before the crisis struck. Now, the recovery is still in its early stages and there is no significant price pressure on steel, cement (and even oil) resulting from excess demand, either at home or abroad. RBI must consider this along with food inflation before it decides to exit monetary stimulus.







At a presentation in Paris this November, I argued that striving for a deal in Copenhagen without fixing the climate regime's governance was like putting a cart before the horse. Copenhagen delivered parts of a cart, which stumbled because there was no horse. Any international negotiator knows three home truths: national interests stand paramount above global welfare aspirations, the world has more and less powerful countries, and there is no world government. How did these play out in Copenhagen? And what next?


The real challenge of climate change negotiations is that countries fear others would take a free-ride on their efforts and undermine their economic competitiveness. The climate regime might be about a global public good and increasing global welfare; climate negotiations, however, are about mercantilist interests and protecting national welfare. This basic tension remained unresolved in Copenhagen. It will take another six weeks before developed countries submit emissions targets for 2020 and developing countries submit their planned mitigation actions.


Complicating the mercantilist negotiation was the power differential between countries. One obvious cleavage was between developed and developing countries. This meant that, first, no country was willing to commit to deeper cuts unless the US Senate moved first. It also meant that negotiations about financing continued to assume the colour of a donor-recipient relationship. That explains why Maldives supports the outcome: it will have first dip into the $10 billion of yearly funding promised for 2010-12 even though mitigation actions so far offered by rich countries are not sufficient to prevent the disappearance of the islands. Further, the 130-nation G-77 block of developing countries also suffered severe fissures. Chinese Premier Wen's discussions with small countries notwithstanding, many LDCs and island states were unhappy over the unwillingness of China and India to do more. Then there were the cracks among rich nations. The fact that on the final night President Obama huddled together with the BASIC countries (Brazil, China, India and South Africa) made the Europeans feel that they were being left out in the Copenhagen cold.


The biggest stumbling block emerged on the question of measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). The US made it clear that lack of verification of China's actions would make any deal hollow. China protested that international verification would violate its sovereignty. The accord was a compromise that promised that developing countries would submit information on emissions and actions every two years, which would be domestically monitored. But the information would also be subject to 'international consultations and analysis'. Despite the compromise, the actual design and operation of such MRV mechanisms have to be worked out. Similarly, monitoring of promised financial support from developed countries has to become much more robust and credible.


Thus, Copenhagen began building bits of the architecture for a future climate regime—emissions reductions, financing and monitoring—but the regime rests on weak foundations that do not make the vague statements credible. Increasing the credibility of deals between self-interested and differentially powerful parties increases the governance burden for a regime. When the Kyoto Protocol was signed, negotiators hoped that implementation, monitoring and enforcement would sort itself out. Despite that error of judgement, expectations were high for a big breakthrough in Copenhagen, even though the governance questions remained outstanding. Viewed from a governance perspective, the weak outcome of the talks should come as no surprise.


It is hard to predict how 2010 will look for climate negotiations, especially since no clear next steps have been outlined. Rather than only trying to convert a political statement into a legal agreement, negotiators would do well to go back to basic principles. First, much more attention has to be devoted to finding win-win solutions. This is definitely not easy. For instance, cooperation on clean energy technology will still raise competitiveness concerns but it is an essential step.


Secondly, negotiations will always be affected by power asymmetries, but they need to be organised more efficiently. So far the strategy of only the major emitters making deals (at the G20, MEF or in Copenhagen) will be hostage to threats from countries like Sudan or Venezuela. Instead, smaller groups of negotiating coalitions (region-based or issue-based) could be represented by different countries that provide broad-based legitimacy and yet do not make the negotiations unwieldy. The trade regime has managed to graduate to this model since the debacle in Seattle in 1999.


Thirdly, transparency will be crucial, but we have to recognise that there will be resistance to international verification until large developing countries also develop credible domestic capacity to monitor emissions. Therefore, domestic regulatory institutions need immediate attention. None of these steps will yield immediate outcomes; leaders need to set expectations accordingly. Without the governance horses, the climate cart will remain stuck.


The author is Oxford-Princeton Global Leaders Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University








The introduction of GST will not only remove the negative effects of cascading taxation but also address the other major distortion in the indirect tax system as it stands, which discriminates against domestic producers and gives preference to imports by exempting them from consumption taxes. Removing this anomaly is especially important, as India has already concluded a few free trade agreements, which will now significantly encourage more zero duty imports. In fact, India is all set to become the leading FTA hub in Asia.


India's efforts to neutralise the indirect tax bias against domestic producers have so far been limited to the levy of countervailing duties, additional duties and extra additional duties. While countervailing duties on imports are meant to compensate for the excise duty levied on domestic producers, the additional duty sought to neutralise the disadvantage of the state taxes, like the sales tax that are levied exclusively on domestic producers. But the impact of these measures has not been very encouraging as the customs duty exemptions continue to go up each year. Most recent estimates show that customs collection forgone has gone up from Rs 1,53,593 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 2,25,752 crore in 2008-09. And this has pushed up the share of the customs revenue forgone from 26% to 36% during the period.


And the additional duty rates levied to compensate for the bias against domestic products is also too low. For instance, while the special additional duty (SAD) on imports charged by the Centre in lieu of state taxes is at a flat 4%, the VAT rate on the products varies from zero to 12.5% or even higher.


And now the effort to levy additional duty and extra additional duty to compensate for the disadvantage faced by the domestic industry on account of state taxes is facing greater resistance from trading partners. For instance, just a few years ago, the US raised a dispute at the WTO over the levy of such duties on liquor and other agriculture and industrial products, which ruled that the additional duty and extra additional duty are inconsistent with Article 11:1 (b) to the extent that they result in imposition of duties which are in excess of the limits set in India's Schedule of Concessions. Such disputes will only increase in the coming years.


The introduction of GST would go a long way in removing these anomalies if the new tax would shift from the origin to the destination principle as recommended by the task force on GST set up by the 13th Finance Commission. With the implementation of this international norm, the tax base shift from the value added through domestic production to the value added on all products consumed domestically would ensure that both domestic and imported goods & services are taxed at the same rate. The report goes on to suggest that both central GST and state GST should be levied on all imports, irrespective of whether the products are manufactured in the country or not.


Providing such a level playing field on the tax front is of critical importance as India moves forward with greater liberalisation on the trade front through free trade agreements. Improvements in the competitiveness of the economy and the growing confidence of industry have encouraged India to tie up new FTAs with a growing number of big economies. The success of the early agreements with smaller economies like Nepal and Sri Lanka has encouraged the country to tie up with larger economies like the Mercosur countries and Singapore. So far, the biggest stride has been the Asean FTA, which has forced domestic producers to face serious competition for the first time.


The country has chalked out an even more ambitious plan by starting negotiations with much larger economies. The most important among them are the China-India Regional Trading Arrangement, India-European Free Trade Agreement, India-Mauritius Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement, India-Egypt Preferential Trade Agreement, India-Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agr-eement and Japan-India Economic Partnership Agreement.


Other new FTA proposals include the India-Australia Free Trade Agreement, India-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Arrangement, India-Israel Preferential Trade Agreement, India-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Arrangement and the India-Russian Federation Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.


A positive conclusion of these deals would further open up the domestic economy to imports and potentially worsen the impact of the current indirect tax policies that discriminate in favour of imports. The destination-based GST favour-ed in the task force report will remove this anomaly and provide a more level playing field for domestic producers.







Money is not going to make managers of the formidable IIM brand go round any more. At least that's what you'd infer if you interpret the new placement plan mooted by the placement cell of the country's most coveted IIM in Ahmedabad. Brand IIM, in recent years, has come to symbolise burgeoning pay packets and shrinking loyalties. Small wonder then that second- and third-rung recruiters have been flooding less known management schools in the quest for sincere managers who'd be much more affordable and would not necessarily job-hop from one fancy designation and salary to another till they find a company they can stick with.


If the new placement plan is implemented, then it will do away with the caste system prevalent among recruiters on IIM campuses. The plan envisages organising hiring companies in cohorts where companies will be competing against their own kind in a sector rather than be slotted by their money power. This will ensure that all recruiters get an equal shot at hiring. As an IIM don succinctly put it, "We had, consciously or unconsciously, put in place a system whereby recruiters were segregated on the basis of the salaries they could pay." Day Zero recruiters had, for instance, come to stand for those who could pay the highest salaries. And while these high payers could walk in and have the best choice of candidates to choose from, those who didn't have deep pockets ended up with virtually no choices. This was detrimental not only from the perspective of the IIMs but also from the students' viewpoint. A kind of peer pressure was being exerted to make certain sectors the most favoured employment sectors. If investment banks, for instance, had enough moolah to attract the most candidates, then students just flocked to them, not factoring in their core competencies and actual aptitude for the sector.


It's largely this student-sector-organisation mismatch that the new placement plan is aiming to rectify. Then only will sectors and organisations be able to recruit passionate managers committed to improving the quality of management across sectors.








When a seven-decade long career, marked by game-changing initiatives, comes to a close, hyperbole is hard to avoid. It was truly the 'end of an era' last week when the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Lal Krishna Advani, passed the baton to Sushma Swaraj. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy loomed so large and for so long over the Bharatiya Janata Party that its fortunes became inseparable from their own personal triumphs and losses. The Atal-Advani presence was the prism though which any outsider watched the party's rise and fall, its raging internal battles, its ideological struggles, and its increasingly awkward relationship with mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Mr. Advani himself would see his long innings as an incomplete journey. "I am not about to retire," said the formidable rath yatri, the light touch he sought to impart to the moment failing to obscure his disappointment at the way things turned out. Unlike Mr. Vajpayee who reached the pinnacle of success, his deputy lost out more than once. At the peak of his career in 1995, Mr. Advani overrode objections from the BJP rank-and-file and the Sangh to take a backseat to the more 'moderate' Mr. Vajpayee. That proved a masterstroke for the BJP and future coalition-builder, but it would be 14 years before Mr. Advani was cast in the role of shadow Prime Minister.


Yet by 2009, the wheel had turned a full circle. The BJP, now deprived of the charismatic and reassuring presence of Mr. Vajpayee, once again faced isolation and rejection, with a resurgent Congress on course for a second term in office. The irony would be greater for Mr. Advani's interesting effort towards the end of his political career to overcome his fiery rath-yatri persona. The praise he lavished on Mohammad Ali Jinnah's August 1947 secular orientation was a necessary course correction — as much for himself as for his party. For the BJP's minder in Jhandewalan, however, there was no sacrilege worse than praising Jinnah, in however qualified and nuanced a manner, on Pakistani soil. It speaks to Mr. Advani's towering stature in the BJP that he was the automatic choice to lead the party into the 2009 election. But other political factors aside, at 82, Mr. Advani was no match for the Congress troika of Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi. He also knew he had reaped as he sowed. He could not dismount the Ayodhya tiger and his party was constitutionally incapable of giving up its divisive communal agenda. With the RSS blessing the installation of Nitin Gadkari as party chief in place of Rajnath Singh, the former Deputy Prime Minister seems destined to watch his party drawn deeper into the embrace of its saffron mentor.







The mid-year review presented recently to Parliament exudes confidence in the state of the Indian economy while simultaneously being circumspect on inflation. Economic growth is likely to be higher than what many official agencies had forecast earlier. The RBI has not revised the forecast of 6 per cent growth (with an upward bias) it made in its July credit policy review. The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council had pegged its forecast at 6.5 per cent. The Econ omic Survey released ahead of the Union Budget had predicted a rate between 6.25 per cent and 7.75 per cent for 2009-10. According to the mid-year review, GDP growth will be nearer the upper band. Such robust optimism is based on two related factors. As the global economy shows signs of finally moving out of the prolonged recession, India, China, and a few other developing countries that are in the forefront of recovery have posted growth rates higher than projected earlier. More specifically, the Central Statistical Organisation's estimate of a robust GDP growth of 7.9 per cent during the second quarter of the year (July- September 2009) exceeded all expectations and prompted many professional forecasters to mark up the growth projections. However, it is doubtful whether data from just one quarter can be the basis for predicting an increase in growth that is clearly above the more recent trends. The economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2008-09 and by 6.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2009-10.


The second quarter growth has been driven by the strong performance of the manufacturing sector and some specific segments of the services sector that have clearly benefited from the stimulus packages and the implementation of the pay commission report. Although the government has said that the stimulus measures will not be withdrawn in a hurry, they cannot also be continued for very long. Also, while industrial growth led by the manufacturing and services segments is spurring the growth momentum, the performance of agriculture is causing serious concern. With a disappointing growth rate of 0.9 per cent in the second quarter, agriculture is expected to fare worse in the third quarter when the full impact of the shortfall in the output of major Kharif crops will be felt. The surge in inflation might dampen growth expectations. Even though the supply side factors have been underpinning inflation, monetary policy will also have to kick in to control the situation. Once again the RBI faces a stark choice of continuing its soft interest rate stance or tackling inflation through tighter money.










The youth is more interested than anyone else in the future. Until very recently, the discussion revolved around the kind of society we would have. Today, the discussion centres on whether human society will survive. These are not dramatic phrases. We must get used to the facts. Hope is the last thing human beings can relinquish. With truthful arguments, men and women of all ages, especially young people, have waged an exemplary battle at the Summit and taught the world a great lesson. It is important now that the world come to know what happened in Copenhagen.


If anything significant was achieved in the Danish capital, it was that the media coverage allowed the world public to watch the political chaos created there and the humiliating treatment accorded to heads of states or governments, ministers and thousands of representatives of social movements and institutions that in hope and expectation travelled to the Summit's venue in Copenhagen.


No one could have thought that on December 18, 2009, the last day of the Summit, this would be suspended by the Danish government — a NATO ally associated with the carnage in Afghanistan — to offer the conference's plenary hall to President Obama for a meeting where only he and a selected group of guests, 16 in all, would have the exclusive right to speak.


Mr. Obama's deceitful, demagogic, and ambiguous remarks failed to involve a binding commitment and ignored the Kyoto Framework Convention. He then left the room shortly after listening to a few other speakers. Among those invited to take the floor were the highest industrialised nations, several emerging economies, and some of the poorest countries in the world. The leaders and representatives of over 170 countries were only allowed to listen.


At the end of the speeches of the 16 chosen, Evo Morales [of Bolivia] requested the floor. The Danish president had no choice but to yield to the insistence of the other delegations. When Evo had concluded his wise and deep observations, the Danish had to give the floor to Hugo Chavez. Both speeches will be registered by history as examples of short and timely remarks. Then, with their mission duly accomplished, they both left for their respective countries. But when Mr. Obama disappeared, he had yet to fulfil his task in the host country.


From the evening of the 17th and the early morning hours of the 18th, the Prime Minister of Denmark and senior representatives of the United States had been meeting with the Chairman of the European Commission and the leaders of 27 nations to introduce to them — on behalf of Mr. Obama — a draft agreement in whose elaboration none of the other leaders of the rest of the world had taken part. It was an anti-democratic and practically clandestine initiative that disregarded the thousands of representatives of social movements, scientific and religious institutions, and other participants in the Summit.


Through the night of the 18th and until 3:00 a.m. of the 19th, when many heads of states had already departed, the representatives of the countries waited for the resumption of the sessions and the conclusion of the event. Throughout the 18th, Mr. Obama held meetings and press conferences, and the same did the European leaders. Then they left. Something unexpected happened then: at three in the morning of the 19th, the Prime Minister of Denmark convened a meeting to conclude the Summit. By then, the countries were represented by ministers, officials, ambassadors, and technical staff.


However, an amazing battle was waged that morning by a group of representatives of third world countries challenging the attempt by Mr. Obama and the wealthiest on the planet to introduce a document imposed by the United States as one agreed by consensus in the Summit. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba [Bruno Rodriguez] made a vigorous speech from which I have chosen [these observations]:


"The document that you, Mister Chairman, repeatedly claimed that did not exist shows up now…we have seen drafts circulating surreptitiously and being discussed in secret meetings…Cuba considers the text of this apocryphal draft extremely inadequate and inadmissible. The goal of 2 degrees centigrade is unacceptable and it would have incalculable catastrophic consequences…The document that you are unfortunately introducing is not binding in any way with respect to the reduction of the greenhouse effect gas emissions…I am aware of the previous drafts, which also through questionable and clandestine procedures, were negotiated by small groups of people…The document you are introducing now fails to include the already meagre key phrases contained in that draft…as far as Cuba is concerned, it is incompatible with the universally recognised scientific view that it is urgent and inescapable to ensure the reduction of at least 45 per cent of the emissions by the year 2020, and of no less than 80 per cent or 90 per cent by 2050.


"Any argument on the continuation of the negotiations to reach agreement in the future to cut down emissions must inevitably include the concept of the validity of the Kyoto Protocol … Your paper, Mister Chairman, is a death certificate of the Kyoto Protocol and my delegation cannot accept it. The Cuban delegation would like to emphasise the pre-eminence of the principle of 'common by differentiated responsibilities,' as the core of the future process of negotiations. Your paper does not include a word on that."


"This draft declaration fails to mention concrete financial commitments and the transfer of technologies to developing countries, which are part of the obligations contracted by the developed countries under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change … Mister Chairman, by imposing their interests through your document, the developed nations are avoiding any concrete commitment…"


The representatives of the countries had been given only one hour to present their views. This led to complicated, shameful, and embarrassing situations. Then a lengthy debate ensued where the delegations from the developed countries put heavy pressure on the rest to make the conference adopt the above-mentioned document as the final result of their deliberations. A small number of countries insisted on the grave omissions and ambiguities of the document promoted by the United States, particularly the absence of a commitment by the developed countries on the reduction of carbon emissions and on the financing.


After a long and extremely tense discussion, the position of the ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America] countries and Sudan, as President of the G-77, that the document was unacceptable to the conference and could not be adopted, prevailed. In view of the absence of consensus, the Conference could only "take note" of the existence of that document representing the position of a group of about 25 countries.


After that decision was made, Bruno [Rodriguez], together with other ALBA representatives, had a friendly discussion with the U.N. Secretary-General to whom they expressed their willingness to continue struggling alongside the United Nations to prevent the terrible consequences of climate change. Their mission completed, Cuba's Foreign Minister and Vice President, Esteban Lazo, departed to come back home and attend the National Assembly session. A few members of the delegation and the ambassador stayed in Copenhagen to take part in the final procedures.


This afternoon they reported the following: "…both those involved in the elaboration of the document and those like the President of the United States who anticipated its adoption by the conference … as they could not disregard the decision to simply 'take note' of the alleged 'Copenhagen Agreement,' they tried to introduce a procedure allowing the other COP countries that had not been a part of the shady deal to adhere to it, and make it public, the intention being to pretend such an agreement was legal, something that could precondition the results of the negotiations that should carry on."


"Such belated attempt was firmly opposed by Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. These countries warned that a document which had not been adopted by the Convention could not be considered legal and that there was not a COP document; therefore, no regulations could be established for its alleged adoption … This is how the meeting in Copenhagen is coming to an end, without the adoption of the document surreptitiously worked out in the past few days under the clear ideological guidance of the U.S. Administration …"


(This is an abridged version of the Cuban leader's Reflections, dated December 19, 2009.)








It started with a bust and it ended with an even bigger bust. In between was sandwiched an unsustainable boom. Banks have been humbled. Economists have been found wanting. Geopolitical power began to shift from west to east. That was the noughties that was.


It barely seems five minutes ago that policymakers were fretting about the possible — and, as it turned out, entirely illusory — effects of the millennium bug. Policy was loosened to prevent any deleterious effects from a global computer meltdown; the result was to pump even more air into the dotcom bubble.


Britain, hard though it now is to believe, was one country that avoided the recession which followed the realisation that most of the overhyped internet companies were duds. Gordon Brown had been stingy with public spending in the late-1990s, building up a sizeable fiscal war chest in the process. When the crisis broke, he was able to behave in a classic Keynesian way - boosting growth through higher investment and lower taxes.


These were the days of "prudence for a purpose", of "no return to Tory boom and bust" and of "building a platform of stability". With the economy likely to contract by 4.75 per cent this year (a postwar record) and borrowing on course to hit 12 per cent to 13 per cent of GDP this year (a peacetime record) it all seems a very long time ago.


[Opposition finance spokesman] George Osborne, understandably enough, is loving it. Mr. Brown made mincemeat of a succession of shadow chancellors, taunting them with the contrast between the strong growth and healthy public finances under Labour and the humiliation visited upon John Major's government on Black Wednesday.


There were none of the sterling crises that had marked every previous Labour administration. Nor could the Conservatives make their traditional accusation against Brown — that Labour governments, sooner or later, ran out of money.


There are no such constraints now. Osborne responded to Friday's news that the Treasury had to borrow more than £20bn last month to balance the books by accusing Brown of "maxing out on the nation's credit card." The looming fiscal squeeze does reflect the fact that Labour has run out of money.


It is, however, unfair to assume that Britain is alone in its budgetary difficulties. The U.K.'s overreliance on financial services as a source of both growth and tax revenues means the deterioration in the public finances has been more marked here than elsewhere, and from a worse starting point. Brown, crucially, failed to replenish his war chest after the loosening of policy earlier this decade.


But the crisis of the past two-and-a-half years has exposed vulnerabilities across the entire global economy. During the fat years in the middle of the decade, clear warning signs of trouble ahead were ignored. Ultimately, the global imbalances did matter. Ultimately, the build-up of personal debt did matter. Ultimately, the willingness of banks and other financial institutions to take ever bigger risks in search of high returns did matter.


The economics profession thought otherwise. It built sophisticated mathematical models showing that markets could not be wrong. Despite the fact that Wall Street and the City of London seemed to be dominated by headstrong young men with far too much money and far too little sense, the chance of a catastrophic blow-out was viewed as alarmist nonsense. When the meltdown occurred, there was a sense of utter disbelief. Chuck Prince, the (former) boss of Citigroup, captured the mood when he said, a couple of weeks before the crash, that while the music was playing he would carry on dancing. If prices in the markets were not signalling problems, how could there possibly be any?


The fact was, however, that trouble had been festering for the past 15 years, and intensified during the noughties. After the collapse of communism, industrial production migrated to Asia, and China in particular. Britain and the United States saw a hollowing out of manufacturing and a concomitant growth in the relative importance of their financial sectors. Producers in Asia (and parts of Europe such as Germany) ran trade surpluses while the Anglo-Saxon economies ran trade deficits. Surplus countries bought assets in debtor countries; the money churning through New York and London kept the dollar and the pound strong, made imports cheaper and allowed policymakers to keep interest rates low. Consumers found their incomes went further and they could borrow cheaply. They spent like it was going out of fashion.


Yet there was a dirty little secret about this supposed perpetual moneymaking machine. It required debt — and lots of it — to work. The real story of the noughties is that of how borrowing was used to plaster over the deep structural problems of modern global capitalism. We have almost reached the end of that road, but not quite.


Dhaval Joshi, the economist at RAB Capital, describes it well when he says that this has been the decade of three borrowing booms. It began with corporations racking up debt during the irrational exuberance of the dotcom bubble. Alan Greenspan dealt with the recession that followed by leaving interest rates low enough for long enough that there was then a boom in borrowing by households, leading to a housing bubble.


When that bubble burst, governments had a choice. They could sit and watch a severe recession worsen as companies and individuals repaired their finances by paying off their debts, or they could borrow more themselves. They took the second option, allowing budget deficits to take the strain as growth collapsed and unemployment rose. That was true in the west, but it is also true in the east. China, which perhaps has more to fear from recession-generated political unrest, is the world's top borrowing nation.



There are three big lessons, Joshi says. The first is that debt-driven growth is eventually unsustainable. To generate growth from borrowing, you have to borrow more year in, year out. The second is that borrowing binges lead to asset booms, which investors seek to rationalise using arguments such as "a new paradigm" or "a wall of money."


The final lesson is that the point of maximum danger in any borrowing boom is when borrowing starts to slow, not when it stops. "However much you borrow and spend this year," Joshi says, "if it is less than last year, it means your spending will go into recession."


This is an important point given the current state of the global economy. Governments are coming under intense pressure to rein in their borrowing; some countries, Ireland most notably, have already taken steps to do so.


Policymakers are hoping a renewed appetite for debt by firms and households will enable governments to cut borrowing without causing a second leg to the recession. This looks like a flawed strategy. It would be rebuilding the global economy on the same jerry-built foundations that caused the crisis in the first place. It also flies in the face of reality: there is precious little evidence that the private sector has any great desire to load up with lots more debt.


Instead, governments may have to face up to a stark choice. They can carry on borrowing more, thereby accepting that public sector deficits will spiral. Or they can respond to the pressure from the financial markets and start borrowing less. The latter seems the likeliest, but it would all but guarantee a double-dip recession during 2010. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009







He came. He did a quick deal. He left.


That was how U.S. President Barack Obama intervened in the global warming conference in Copenhagen and whether he saved it from total deadlock or condemned it to issuing a powerless piece of paper depends on your point of view. The result was a politi cal commitment not a treaty. And it was worked out by the United States with China and a handful of others. The rest of the conference simply "took note of it," most with resignation, many with anger.


The words sound fine enough. "We emphasise our strong political will to urgently combat climate change."


And: "We shall, recognising the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2{+0}C, on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development, enhance our long-term co-operative action to combat climate change." But where's the beef? That apparently has to be added to this sandwich later.



The deal — done between President Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, along with India, Brazil and South Africa — tells you a lot about how diplomacy will happen in future. The U.S. and China had to work with each other on this. They will have to deal with each other on other issues. It is at least encouraging that they are talking.


New players are coming onto the stage. Russia was absent. The EU was nowhere. It has already made its commitments and did not need to be brought on board. The rest had to go along.


A difficult period lies ahead as governments have to sign up to making cuts and everyone will be watching to see who does something and who does nothing. Perhaps there was just too much to bite off. It is often the case in international diplomacy that tackling problems salami-style is more effective than trying to digest them all at once.


It is also true that mega-conferences are very difficult to handle. Even European summits, still small by Copenhagen standards, almost always come down to what happened there — a small number of countries take control and impose their will.


It is a toss-up however as to why Copenhagen did not get further — was it the format or the decisions? Were too many governments trying to negotiate at too late a stage or was the reality that they simply did not want to compromise or commit, with some of them not even believing that the world needs saving?


It's probably a mixture of the two. And perhaps more time would have helped. But time is not available to statesmen and women these days. They have to be on the move all the time.


President Obama even had to rush back to Washington to avoid the worst of a snow storm. The pace used to be more leisurely. The Congress of Vienna, which divided Europe up after the Napoleonic wars, lasted from November 1814 to June 1815. All the deals were done informally. And there was no 24-hour television to ask why progress had not been made. The Congress of Berlin, which tried to sort out the Balkans, lasted a month in the summer of 1878. The Versailles Treaty followed negotiations that lasted from January to June 1919. It is proper to compare Copenhagen with these meetings if only because the agenda was even more momentous in the eyes of many — the saving not of continents but of the planet. In the absence of such a timeframe, there were pre-negotiations, such as they were, and these were left to lower level ministers and delegations. But it is always the same — nobody wants to back down until the very last minute and the decisions had to come from the very top.


A similar process has been going on in world trade talks, in the so-called Doha Round, which seeks to lower tariffs and other barriers to trade. Admittedly time has not been a problem there. The talks started in 2001 and are still staggering on. Maybe a better formula might be to have a series of meetings at the top level — so governments could make progress bit-by-bit. A salami might be the solution. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate







  • We have all heard of peak oil? But now there is peak wood. And peak gold.
  • And even peak rock music ...


First there was peak oil. Then came peak wood and peak gas. What is it with all these peaks? Is the world really running out of the raw materials it needs to make it tick, move and communicate? Or should the next peak be in stories about peaks?


Attributed to American geophysicist M. King Hubbert, peak theory assumes that resource production follows a bell-shaped curve. Early on, the production rate increases as discoveries are made and infrastructure built.


Later in the curve, after the eponymous Hubbert's peak, production declines as reserves run dry. U.S. oil production reached its Hubbert's peak in the early 70s and has declined since. But what about the rest?




Coal started the whole peak theory craze when Hubbert used records of how its production levelled off to forecast future peaks in U.S. oil supply. Conventional thinking says there are hundreds of years of coal supplies left, but are the figures accurate? Predictions are complicated by there being several types of coal, with much of the high-grade stuff already burnt. Although production keeps rising, the total energy obtained may peak sooner.



Every schoolchild is taught that world supplies will eventually run out. But when? Supporters and critics of global peak oil theory argue about the timing of the peak, with some insisting it has already been reached. Reliable, independent estimates of discoveries and production are rare, and most governments rely on statistics from the International Energy Agency, which has long been accused of painting too rosy a picture.



Earlier this month (December), Aaron Regent, president of the Canadian gold company Barrick Gold, reportedly warned there was a strong case that the world was already at peak gold. Global output has fallen steadily since 2000 and, Regent said, it was becoming harder and harder to find ore.



There is a serious academic school of thought that says the Earth's water was delivered from outer space on the back of wet asteroids and comets. But there is growing concern that the water is running dry. As Alex Bell describes in his book Peak Water, we are using more water than is available in the places where we live. For some, in the wet regions, peak water will never occur, but for the people of the U.S., Africa, southern Europe, India, Middle East and China, he says, it is already here.



At an energy conference in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, the Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander warned that we should learn a lesson from history. When the Roman empire collapsed, he said, large parts of Europe had been deforested for farmland and to provide firewood. "Wood and food were essential to maintain the Roman empire," he said. "So the demise of a seemingly invincible civilisation was partially due to the unsustainable use of their prime energy resource. What the Romans were experiencing, we would now describe as peak wood."



Most of the good musical ideas really have been used up. Last year, popular culture blog Overthinking It analysed Rolling Stone magazine's top 500 songs of all time, and found that rock music peaked in the late 1960s.


"It would seem that, like oil, the supply of great musical ideas is finite. The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Motown greats and other genre innovators quickly extracted the best their respective genres had to offer, leaving little supply for future musicians." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009






A survey by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia in 2009 showed that orangutan habitat in West Kalimantan province is narrowing due to damaging forests they live in, the national news agency Antara quoted the organisation's official as saying on Monday.


The agency's Coordinator for Species Conservation Chairul Saleh said that there are two sub species of orangutan in the province, namely Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii and Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. "The condition of Pongo pygmaeus is more worrying with only 1, 330 to 2,000 populations left around the National Park of Betung Kerihun and 1,090 in the National Park of Danau Sentarum in the Kapuas Hulu regency," he said. According to the survey, about 70 per cent of orangutans in Kalimantan Island live outside the conservation forest, with the biggest population is concentrated in low-lying planes forests.


Meanwhile, Forestry Ministry's Director for Biodiversity Conservation Harry Santoso said that orangutan habitat had several ecological functions, namely erosion prevention, water conservation and supporter for people's social and economy life, among others. — Xinhua









The political implications of the White Paper about the performance of the railways from 2004-05 to 2008-09 that Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee tabled in the Lok Sabha on Friday are quite palpable.


Without imputing motives, it casts a shadow on the aura of Lalu Prasad Yadav who was minister during this period and who enjoyed the encomiums that an uncritical media bestowed on him for the success of the largest public sector transport system in the world.


The media were overwhelmed by the fact that starry-eyed Harvard Business School students visited the populist Bihar leader to learn about the railways economic miracle, and he was a guest lecturer at the famed Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad to expound on the secrets of the turnaround. No one sat down to do the simple math to find out whether the numbers were adding up or not.


A respected academic publisher had even put out a semi-academic work on the railways' success story. There was no attempt to check out whether the turnaround and buoyancy is due to policies and measures initiated by Yadav. Common sense would have indicated that there is a gestation period for policies to bear fruit. Yadav himself has come out firmly in his own defence and a political game will ensue here.


The white paper does not really demolish whatever improvements that have been made during the Yadav tenure. It is more a correction of numbers rather than a course correction. The proclaimed accumulated surplus of Rs89,000 crore has to be pared down to Rs39,500 crore because it was the pre-dividend surplus.


There is nothing quite objectionable in this because it is normal corporate practice to give the pre-tax deduction figure as well as the post-tax one. In this case, only a part figure was revealed. It was also shown that the increased earnings of the railways was more due to the general economic boom of the period, with the implication that it was not exactly due to the increased efficiency of the railways.


While the politicians will fight it over on other grounds, the white paper should serve as an eye-opener that the railways is the most crucial linkage in the Indian economy for the movement of people and goods across the country, and that there is a crying need to modernise it to meet the increase in demand in the future. Indian railways are a miracle because despite politicians and bureaucrats it keeps the country on the rails.







It is interesting — no, not ironical — that chief minister Narendra Modi was not present when the state assembly had passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009 making voting compulsory on Saturday. It shows that sincere intentions do not always translate into action.


There is the clichéd slip between the cup and the lip and all that. And this could very well affect the pattern of implementation of this law. This is indeed a practical difficulty and most objections seem to hinge on this alone. The Election Commission, jurists, Modi's opponents like the Congress politicians, grudgingly admit that the idea is good but it is impractical. Everyone seems to think that compulsory voting is a way of promoting, deepening and strengthening democracy. That is where the danger lies.


The idea is bad in itself because it is punitive in nature and this is antithetical to democracy whose foundational principle is freedom.


That is, it implies that you are free to vote and not to vote, you are free to believe and not believe — many, but not true democrats, would baulk at this - in democracy. India's democracy evangelists are willing to pursue any wild idea, including imposing it because they believe in it as an article of faith. It is not surprising that in Taliban fashion they want to impose it on people. In doing so, they are only too willing to trample upon the spirit of democracy.


There is loud lamentation among the articulate classes that there is a need to counter the rising democratic apathy, seen especially in the low voter turnout in election after election. And that somehow and in some way, civic virtues — and voting is one of them — need to be imposed in the old-fashioned tyrannical way. The presumption behind this thinking is that of pushing things from above instead of letting them emerge from below.


Modi's specific arguments need to be countered as well. He thinks that this law will help in increasing voter turnout. A higher voter turn out is always a good thing, if it is voluntary.


Gujarat's chief minister is not averse to authoritarian tactics, something he shares as member of a right-wing political party which is prone to totalitarian thoughts, and this law betrays the tendency. There is a need to declare loudly and clearly that India is a liberal democracy and not a people's democracy of the communist and fascist kind. There is no place in the liberal ideology for mandated civic virtues.







James Cameron's new film Avatar deals, among other subjects, with marauding humans looking for minerals invading a moon inhabited by a non-human species. The species fights back. As it happens, the humans are the bad guys and this has led to some discussion of the subject of aliens and us.


Of course, in our current situation of real life, we have no clue whether we will ever meet any extra-terrestrials and further, will have no clue if they are good, bad, ugly or indifferent. This excludes people who live in mid-west America who meet invading aliens quite frequently. If Hollywood veers between good aliens-bad humans and good humans-bad aliens, at best it reflects on the political and philosophical sensibilities of the film-maker.


But studying that reflection leads one to some essentials of human nature. Most significantly, our fear of the "Other". Of course, this fear is perfectly understandable. As nomadic tribes moving through hostile terrain or as pastoral groups anticipating unfriendly invaders, as humans we have had to deal with Others all the while. Trust and suspicion are both vital components of our social interactions and we cannot survive without them.
The alien from another planet is then the ultimate Other. Films like Mars Attacks spoofed both our official knee-jerk reactions to crises and our intrinsic silliness as a species.


District 9 was a damning indictment on human prejudice when faced with the unfamiliar. Both ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind talked about more benign aliens who could easily be friends. Avatar has been called a "cautionary tale" about war and human greed.


All these stories are about ourselves. If we assume that aliens will be angry invaders when they land on earth, how do we imagine that we will be sweet and gentle when we go "out there"? Are we sweet and gentle when we move from country to country, civilisation to civilisation? At every point in the human discourse, we veer from being conservative and liberal, hard and soft, friendly and hostile and so on. The bleeding hearts liberals versus the hard nut cons. The brave versus the cowards. We know all these people very well because they are us.


Perhaps we do have to be prepared for the invasions of the body snatchers, who may want our land, our ability to procreate (this is a very popular perception — zillions of aliens who want to come here for sex, the mind boggles at the tremendous ego of the human race), our air, our minerals or just us. Very rarely do these fictional aliens want our ideas because our logical assumption is that any invading species that reaches us is obviously more advanced.


All science fiction then is a morality tale and in some sense, no one does morality better than television. Two popular television shows to do with outer space and outer space beings have come from America and England. Both finally applaud the ingenuity and humanity of the human race. In Star Trek, as the Enterprise boldly goes where no man has gone before, what saves the crew every time is when they think like humans — that is humans of the good, kind, noble variety.


In Dr Who, the handsome Time Lord comes back again and again to save planet Earth because he is very  fond of humans and their qualities. (And it must be admitted, he is fond of some human females too. Conversely, in the first series of Star Trek, the charming captain was quite taken with ladies of all species and persuasions: a true renaissance man.)


Simply put, there are no aliens. It is just us. Right now, it is one half of the world aligned against some believers in the Islamic faith or the pro climate changers versus the anti climate changers. It is, still, rich versus poor, middle class versus lower middle class, cities versus villages. As with our fictional aliens — blue or green or zombie-like or insect-like — they represent what we fear most about ourselves.







The Copenhagen conference on climate change has been a miserable failure. It was largely expected that no firm deal would be signed. The advanced developed countries, whose lavish lifestyles over the decades have largely been responsible for overloading the atmosphere with CO2, blocked any chances of a deal.


What finally emerged was a deal in which no commitments were made to cut carbon emissions, only agreeing that temperature rise over this century be restricted to 2oC. The earlier goal of promising a 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by the developed nations before 2050 was dropped, and only $30 billion in funding to poor countries for adapting to climate change, this rising to $100 billion after 2020 largely through the financial markets rather than as specific country commitments. The political deal clearly failed to meet what was required.


Behind all the jockeying for what to put or not put in a new treaty, lies the uncomfortable truth that the rich, polluting countries don't want to cut carbon emissions that might add a marginal cost to their economies and they don't want to help pay for the other countries efforts to do so either. That is why they wanted to renege on the earlier Kyoto agreement that bound them to cut carbon emission by around 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 and to compensate the poorer countries that are most affected by the changing climate. Instead their emissions have increased, despite their signing binding agreements to cut them.


Yet cutting emissions for the rich is not very difficult. Earlier this year consulting firm McKinsey & Co. prepared a report that showed the United States alone could save $1.2 trillion in energy costs till 2020 by investing $520 billion in improvements like sealing leaky building ducts and replacing inefficient household appliances with new, energy-saving models.


Further savings are easily possible by increasing energy efficiencies in industrial units, automobiles, and power plants. A small change in lifestyles like living with lower home and office temperatures in winter and higher in summer, besides improving public transport systems so that people don't use cars as often, would further cut energy use and carbon emissions.  


The biggest polluters are the US and Australia whose carbon emissions per head are twice those of other advanced countries like Germany and Japan, and 20 times that of India, pointing to wasteful use. They both refused to sign the Kyoto agreement and even in Copenhagen were major spoilers. President Barrack Obama, despite only committing his country to an unverifiable 4 per cent cut from 1990, wanted the substantial voluntary cuts announced by India and China to be monitored and verified by international bodies even though they would not be funded by them. 


India had unilaterally announced a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in carbon intensity for every increase in the country's GDP and China has announced a 40 per cent reduction in such intensity. The Americans and the Europeans want this monitored probably since they themselves have not met binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol. They were meant to cut carbon emission by 20 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020 but in fact these have increased.


This condition was a deal breaker since they knew it would not be accepted because it impinges on the sovereignty of the two Asian giants. Neither has the developed world committed itself to carbon cuts nor has it promised the poorer countries, especially those in Africa, the help they need to deal with climate change, something that has already started adversely affecting that continent. For instance Al Gore has maintained that the drying up of Lake Chad because of scanty rainfall was a major reason for the Darfur conflict in the Sudan. Such violence because of climate change will only increase. 


For the South, which will suffer the most in the coming years, apart from money to cut emissions help is also needed for their people to adapt to the inevitable climate change. McKinsey has estimated that India alone will need over $900 billion over 20 years just to cut emissions. This is just a fraction of what all countries in Africa, South America, and Asia will need, which will add up to much over $200 billion a year.  


The plain fact is that the economies of the rich countries will not suffer much if they have to meet needed targets. The economies of the poorer countries will. But even within developing civilians to there is a need to differentiate between the rich and the poor — between those who have air-conditioning and drive cars, and those who don't even have electricity or bicycles.









The blame game between the Centre and states over the escalating prices of essential commodities is, to say the least, in bad taste. The failure on the food prices front cannot be denied or explained away. Blaming it on global warming, as Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has tried to do, will not help either. There is a serious problem and the need is to solve it without delay. It won't go away if the states alone are held responsible. Mr Sharad Pawar might sleep a little better by deflecting part of his all-round criticism, but he in particular and the Centre in general cannot escape some responsibility for not handling the price situation in time.


Despite the deficient rains this year, there are enough stocks of rice and wheat. Media reports even talk of piles of foodgrains rotting in the open in some northern states. Why the prices of the cereals, which are part of every Indian's diet, have not been controlled through open sales by the Centre is beyond comprehension. Again, it is known that the country regularly faces shortages of pulses and edible oils. Yet their imports in sufficient quantities have not been arranged. The politics over sugarcane pricing, delayed payments and poor returns year after year have turned farmers away from sugarcane. Hence, the sugar scarcity and the consequent price rise. These are not intractable problems.


Whenever there is a scarcity of any commodity, speculators and traders take advantage of the situation. Hoarding stocks beyond the permissible limits is a recurrent phenomenon. Yet the states, whose responsibility it is to check this malpractice, have failed to act. Ruling state politicians are often hand in glove with profiteers. If this is how the food prices are handled in almost normal times, imagine what would happen if there is a severe drought. The country is ill prepared for such an eventuality. It is time, therefore, to sit up and take notice. The Prime Minister should call an urgent meeting of the chief ministers and ensure swift, time-bound and coordinated plan of action to control the prices urgently.





26/11 can occur in London

Global cooperation needed to fight terrorism


The warning by Scotland Yard that Mumbai-style massacre of innocent persons at the hands of Pakistani terrorists can occur in London anytime cannot be taken lightly. A senior detective of the counter-terrorism command in London has been quoted by the media as saying, "Mumbai is coming to London". Security analysts believe that the communications captured through electronic eavesdropping indicate a definite plot by terrorist masterminds to kill a large number of civilians as it happened in India's commercial capital last November. It is feared that a terrorist cell is already functioning in London to enact another 26/11 at the time of its choosing. Earlier it was reported that the Danish newspaper that carried cartoons of Prophet Mohammed could be targeted by jihadi terrorists. They are believed to have changed their target obviously for gaining maximum publicity.


London has been targeted by international terrorists in the past too, but that was quite different from the audacious attack in Mumbai, leading to the cold-blooded killing of 166 persons within a few hours. Britain is scared more because its capacity to effectively handle a commando raid by terrorists is doubtful. This lack of British confidence is based on a security drill carried out recently in south-east England which exposed the weaknesses in the security system. The weaknesses might have been removed, yet there are always chances of the system failing to save people's lives.


The best remedy for handling global terrorism lies in international cooperation. But this should happen in the real sense, not in the manner the US has been "cooperating" with India in the fight against terrorism. Had the US shared all the information it had about the activities of arrested terrorist David Headley, 26/11 could have been prevented. What happened in Mumbai can happen anywhere, not only in London, if the world community does not realise the necessity of launching a united drive against the scourge. As it is well known, Al-Qaida functions through its affiliates like the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Taliban factions in the Af-Pak region. There are reports of Somalian terrorist group Al-Shabaab, too, developing closer links with Al-Qaida. The picture that emerges is horrifying,and needs serious attention of the world. 








When the 19th Commonwealth Games open in Delhi on October 3 next year, there will be palpable tension as to how the players of the host country will fare. But right now, the worry is about how well India is going to organise the Games. Preparation on various fronts, whether it is the construction of stadiums or roads, is way behind schedule and quite a few people are chewing their nails. Some like Sports Minister M S Gill and Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi exude confidence in public, while others like Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dixit do not hide their nervousness. The anxiety is fully justified considering that most of the works are only half complete and many deadlines have been missed during the run-up.


The organising committee had sufficient time to complete the task, but like a mediocre student preparing for the examination who leaves everything for the last minute, they started rather late and then fumbled over many bottlenecks. The end result is that instead of having had dry runs before the hosting of the main event, they would be lucky if the work is even completed in time. The biggest worry is the stadia which just have to be complete, even if some of the roads and bridges are not — although even the latter eventuality would be a disgrace.


In the past, there have also been ego clashes among the Sports Ministry, the IOA and the Delhi Government. These will have to be gotten rid of at all levels if the speed that has been gathered recently in completing the work is to be maintained. There are still nine months to go. What is at stake is the country's prestige. If each and every person involved in the ambitious project puts his shoulder to the wheel faithfully, we can still do it. Even the Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell has exuded this optimism of late. 









On December 9, a news agency reported a Supreme Court Bench, comprising Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice A. K. Patnaik, observing to Solictor-General Gopal Subramaniam during a PIL-hearing on large-scale child-trafficking in the country: "When you say it is the world's oldest profession and when you are not able to curb it by laws, why don't you legalise it? You can then monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved in the trade."


Trade? Unable to curb by laws? So legalise? With due respect to the Justices, aren't there shades of Marie Antoinette in those remarks? By the same benchmark, murder — the world's oldest crime, never eliminated, is a candidate for legalisation; also, bribery, corruption, money-laundering, black-money, for existing laws on each have hopelessly failed to remedy.


Would the honourable judges have spoken so if they had first enquired fully into the sordid facts of the sex-industry in this country? Have they noted its phenomenal growth in recent years as an "enabling environment", deliberately created with large-scale international funds under the HIV/AIDs control programme, further emboldens those practising high-risk-sex-behaviour? What hearing has been given to understand the severe consequences of commercial-sex-exploitation to millions of women/children dehumanised in the nefarious sex-trade and millions more sucked-in as those used are tossed aside, the "market demand" seeking younger, voluptuous bodies to satiate voracious, jaded sexual appetites? Do we "monitor" such "trade" or endeavour to eradicate it? Can it be monitored? Should not the apex justice body have taken the government to task on what concrete efforts — and with what funding scale — it has applied to dent the problem rather than make ad-hoc suggestions for legalisation?


The Supreme Court would do well to note the ground realities in the very few countries — notably the Netherlands and Australia — that have legalised prostitution. In 2000, the Dutch legalised prostitution to "protect women by giving them work permits". By 2009 the authorities have found the "business out of control". No less than Amsterdam's Mayor Job Cohen is on record: "We've realised this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but that big crime organisations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings and other criminal activities." Responding to the situation, the Dutch Justice Ministry has appointed a special public prosecutor to close down prostitution windows and drug-selling coffee shops connected to organised crime syndicates. If organized crime and drug syndicates loom large in pocket-size, well-monitored Netherlands, imagine what is likely in India.


On Australia — which spearheaded legalisation in certain states from mid-eighties onwards — eminent Australian sociologist Shiela Jeffreys reports: "The social experiment of legalising brothel-prostitution has failed in all its objectives: i. e. stopping the illegal industry and police corruption, reducing the harm to women, stopping street prostitution. In fact, these harms have increased and significant new harms have joined them such as the traffic in women." Beyond Jeffries, sizable documentation evidences growth of a still larger illegal industry and trafficking growth while legality coexists. Jeffries notes:


"Legalisation creates a culture of prostitution. Men's prostitution behaviour is normalised. Prostitution takes an ordinary and everyday place in the culture and girls and boys, women and men are educated that the behaviour of buyers is acceptable…in Melbourne there are brothels on many streets, including a sadomasochist brothel and an ordinary brothel on the street where I live. Children walk past brothels on their way to school and buy their summer swimsuits in a shop opposite a brothel. Brothel owners are in the Rotary Club and are profiled as role models in respectable newspapers. Brothels are listed on the Stock Exchange."


Not a joke but a sad fact are new "Vocational Training" schools in these "prostitution-legalised" countries; women social service-carers for older/invalid men obliged to escort charges to brothels for "services-entitlement" and much more. A scenario we wish to bring to India? Will NREGA then list prostitution as one employment-avenue to provide minimum 100 working days to the huge mass under the poverty line?


Strangely, while the prospect of changing country-wide negative mindsets towards prostitution is not daunting to today's policy-makers, there is unquestioning acceptance that the behaviour pattern of some men to purchase sex cannot be altered. However, even as the Netherlands/Australia provide models of failed social experimentation, a sterling example of prostitution significantly curbed by targeting demand exists: Sweden's 1999 law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services while decriminalising the prostitute — recognising that she (or he) is the victim and prostitution is violence against women. Sweden's decade-long experience has demonstrated dramatic reduction in both prostitution and trafficking into Sweden. Proof of Sweden's success is the adoption of its strategic response to prostitution/trafficking by neighbouring Norway, Iceland, Finland, Russia and several other countries.


Ironically, the Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Ramaswamy on July 9, 1997, had explicitly described prostitution as "a crime against humanity, violation of human rights and obnoxious to the Constitution and Human Rights Act." The judgment said: "All forms of discrimination on grounds of gender is violative of fundamental freedoms and human rights. It would, therefore, be imperative to take all steps to prohibit prostitution. Eradication of prostitution in any form is integral to social weal and glory of womanhood. The right of the child to development hinges upon the elimination of prostitution. Success lies upon effective measures to eradicate the root and branch of prostitution".


Further clarifying: "Women found in the flesh trade should be viewed more as victims of adverse socio-economic circumstances rather than as offenders in our society", Justice Ramaswamy had ordered. The directions given in the Order aim not only at giving benefits to the children but also to root out the very source of the problem as has been pointed out in the first part of the Order. It is for the government to evolve suitable programme for action." A decade later Justices Bhandari and Patnaik should have asked Subramaniam about this programme of action. Why did it not take adequate shape and size despite the very detailed orders passed by the Supreme Court a decade ago? Further, why have not the proposed amendments to give more teeth to the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) remained un-enacted, even though reviewed and recommended by a Parliamentary Standing Committee? The amendments include penalisation of the buyer alongside decriminalisation of the victim — the twin-path that must be taken if those trapped in dehumanising prostitution are to be retrieved/prevented entry and the macho-male-perspective of purchased-sex-as-alright is to be broken. Tiger Woods is finding to his cost, it is not. The International Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) has amply documented: legalisation/decriminalisation of prostitution is a gift to pimps, traffickers and the sex industry. It promotes sex trafficking, expands sex industry; increases hidden prostitution, including child prostitution; remains inadequate in protecting women/their health while "normalising" predatory male sexual behaviour to the detriment of general society.


As this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner said so memorably in Stockholm, albeit in another context: "I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him….So let us reach for the world that ought to be." 








Economics for most macho teenagers like my son Sehajbir is "for the girls". But of late economics is what's hitting their weekly allowance and sexual stereotyping and is thus "also for the boys". So inflation, purchasing power and currency depreciation, are not just terms the girls love to mug up, but the hard reality impacting their weekly spend and junk food intake.


The confectionary stores have upped the price of pizza by almost 20 per cent, tandoori chicken and Chinese takeaway prices are up 40 per cent. Now most teenagers have a junk food habit and most parents are in denial about it. The first emotional appeal for higher allowances to combat inflation is usually to the parents. But when the parental response is an unequivocal "NO" the macho-men turn economic analysts and consumer-activists.


"How're the global MNC chains holding their prices?" they query and plan a rally outside their favorite bakery to protest the price hike of their beloved blueberry tart and pizza. That's when I step in with a lesson in the economics of inflation. I take the little men to the mandi where we do a six- month survey of the prices of wheat, sugar, oil, and vegetables — which are pizza staples, also milk, eggs, and chocolate for cakes, only to be confronted by the doubling of prices.


We talk of margins, futures and derivatives and forward-contracts for foodgrains, sugar et all that can help multinationals hold prices, where the homegrown Mom & Pop bakeries with JIT (Just in Time) inventories cannot.


The way to a young man's heart is through his junk food. So these macho-men with severe cases of ADD (attention deficit disorder), actually, listen to the suddenly empowered parent. But abruptly, there's a sniper: "what's the government doing about it?" asks one bright thing. So I extol, about fair price shop distribution networks for the poor and, of course, DA (Dearness Allowance) linked to a basket of essentials for "babus" like us — so that when prices go up so does our DA.


The bleakness in my son's eyes is suddenly replaced with a blinding light. "Eureka, we have it" he says, with all the aplomb of an Archimedes. "The solution is simple — its allowances linked with DA". My little balloon of empowerment bursts even as I realise that his demand is both reasonable and rational. After all, if our salaries are DA indexed why shouldn't allowances be too?


As I sit despairing over my budget deficit, I realise I have just lost the battle of inflation and economics. On the flip side I'm now updated about my DA instalment before anyone else. But at last call the little men were discussing how the DA instalment wasn't neutralising price inflation adequately. The Finance Ministry mandarins had better watch out.









Buried deep in our subconscious, there still lays the belief that our political leaders are collective Daddies and Mummies who will – in the last instance – guarantee our safety. Sure, they might screw us over when it comes to hospital waiting lists, or public transport, or taxing the rich, but when it comes to resisting a raw existential threat, they will keep us from harm. Last week in Copenhagen, the conviction was disproved. Every leader there had been told by their scientists – plainly, bluntly, and for years – that there is a bare minimum we must all do now if we are going to prevent a catastrophe. And they all refused to do it.


To understand the gravity of what just happened, you need to know a few facts about global warming that, at first, sound odd. The world's climate scientists have shown that man-made global warming must not exceed 2C. When you hear this, a natural reaction is – that's not much; how bad can it be if we overshoot? If I go out for a picnic and the temperature rises or falls by 2C, I don't much notice. But this is the wrong analogy. If your body temperature rises by 2C, you become feverish and feeble. If it doesn't go back down again, you die. The climate isn't like a picnic; it's more like your body.


Two degrees is bad: 2C means we lose much of the world's low-lying land, from the island-states of the South Pacific to much of Bangladesh to swathes of Florida. But at every step up to and including 2C, if we reduce our emissions, we can stabilise the climate at this new higher level.


If we go beyond 2C, though, the situation changes. The earth's natural processes begin to break down – and cause more warming. There are massive amounts of warming gases stored in the Siberian permafrost; at 2C, they melt and are released into the atmosphere. The world's humid rainforests store huge amounts of warming gases in their trees. Beyond C, they lose their humidity and begin to burn down – releasing them too into the atmosphere.


These are called "tipping points". Because of them, the world gets warmer and warmer beyond 2C. They stand at the climate's Point of No Return, beyond which there lies only warming. We are only 6C away from the last ice age; we are setting ourselves on course to go that far in the opposite direction.


So what do we need to do to stay this side of 2C? There is a very broad, rock-solid scientific consensus that we need a cut of 40 per cent in the most polluting countries' emissions by 2020 if we are going to have even a 50-50 chance of doing so. Then, by 2050 we need an 80 per cent cut from everyone.


The fact we are only aiming for a 50 per cent goal of avoiding calamity is a sign of how far we have already made a terrible compromise with fossil fuels – but our leaders are refusing to aim even for those odds.


There was plenty of disgrace to go around in Copenhagen. The world's worst per capita warmer is the US, yet its President turned up offering a pathetic 4 per cent cut by 2020 – and once you factor in all the loopholes his negotiators demanded, he was actually demanding the right to a significant increase in US emissions. He caved to the oil and gas lobbies who virtually own the Senate.


It was – apart from anything else – a terrible betrayal of his own country's national security. In 2004, a leaked Pentagon report warned that unchecked global warming would ensure "disruption and conflict will be endemic ... [and] once again, warfare would define human life."


Similarly, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao behaved appallingly. His country is the single largest overall emitter of gases, albeit with a far larger population, and much more need for development. Yet he vetoed the 80 per cent target by 2050, and refused to allow other countries to carry out basic checks to ensure China was carrying out the smaller cuts they were committed to. Again, he is betraying his own people: most of China's population depend on rivers that flow down from the Himalayan glaciers, yet they are rapidly disappearing. His name will be cursed in the Chinese history books.


The European Union was hardly better. They sat inert, refusing to make any larger offer to get the ball rolling. Only President Lula da Silva of Brazil came out boldly with an ahead-of-the-curve offer – but his heroism was met with awkward silence and avoided glances from the other leaders.


So here's the situation. There is no deal. The world's leaders refused to agree to limit our emissions of warming gases. The most they could agree was to officially "note" the scientific evidence about 2C – with no roadmap to keep us this side of it. You get a sense of how valuable this "noting" is when you look at the things the conference also "noted": the hard work of the airport security staff, and the quality of the catering in the Bella Centre.


I am normally somebody who supports incremental change. Most progress happens by inches. But with this problem, we can't wait patiently knowing we'll prevail in the next generation. The tipping points will make that too late. You can't defuse a ticking bomb slowly year after year. You either defuse it fast, or it blows up in your face.


Where does this leave us all? At least we know now: scientific evidence and rationality are not going to be enough to persuade our leaders. The Good Daddy isn't in charge. Nobody is going to sort this out – unless we, the populations of the warming-gas countries, make them. Politicians respond to the pressure put on them, and every single politician at Copenhagen knew they would get more flak at home – from their corporate paymasters and their petrol-hungry populations – for signing a deal than for walking away.


There is only one way to change that dynamic: a mass movement of ordinary democratic citizens. They have made the impossible happen before. Our economies used to be built on slave labour, just as surely as they are built on fossil fuels today. It seemed permanent and unchangeable, and its critics were regarded as deranged – until ordinary citizens refused to tolerate it any more, and they organised to demand its abolition.


The time for changing your light-bulbs and hoping for the best is over. It is time to take collective action. For some people, that will mean joining Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or the Campaign Against Climate Change and helping them pile on the pressure. Every coal train should be ringed with people refusing to let it pass. Every new runway should be blockaded. The cost of trashing the climate needs to be raised.


There need to be parallel movements to this in every country on earth. Copenhagen had one value, and one value alone. It has shown us that if we don't act in our own self-defence now, nobody else will.


 By arrangement with The Independent








Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Nangyul Wangchuck's visit to India from Monday is yet another milestone in the relations between the two countries. This is the first visit of the Bhutanaese King to a foreign country after his coronation. Earlier, Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Yoser Thinley visited India from June 29 to July 4 this year close on the heels of External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna's visit to Bhutan. During the Bhutanese Prime Minister's visit, India announced Rs 10 crore relief for Bhutan, which was affected by floods.


The importance that India attaches to the land-locked country can be gauged from the fact that President Pratibha Patil and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi visited the Himalayan Kingdom in November last year to grace the coronation ceremony of Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wanchuk, who was sworn in as the fifth King of Bhutan.


Considering China's increasing influence in Nepal, perhaps India can ill-afford to ignore its relationship with Bhutan. The fact that India occupies a unique position in Bhutan's external relations is evident from the fact that India was the only country which was extended the privileged invitation to witness the gala pageantry.


Soon after his appointment as the Prime Minister of the first elected government in Bhutan, Mr. Lyonchen Lyonchen Jigme Y. Thinley visited India with a high-powered delegation in July last year. The high point of the visit was that India enhanced its standby credit facility for the Himalayan nation to Rs. 400 crore and exempted it from the ban on the export of essential commodities.


New Delhi has committed to double its 10th Plan assistance over the revised outlay in the 9th Plan period and to develop 10,000 MW of hydropower in Bhutan for export to India by the year 2020. This would be done through direct assistance and in collaboration with Indian public sector undertakings.


India has also agreed to positively consider Bhutan's request for the removal of the export duty on the supply of industrial raw materials, including coal and steel billets, to the Himalayan nation.


During the visit of the Bhutanese King in September 2003, a memorandum of understanding for the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Power Project, to be built at a cost of Rs. 3,500 crore, was signed by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries. The 1095 MW Punatsangchhu project is expected to be completed in eight years.


The Punatsangchhu project is the latest to be built with Indian assistance after the Chukha, Kuricha and Dhala projects for which India has invested a total of Rs. 5,000 crore. The three-hydel power plants together produce 1400 MW of power. India draws power from the Bhutanese hydel plants. Besides, these projects are examples of India's contribution to Bhutan's development.


The India-Bhutan cooperation, however, is comprehensive and the gamut of cooperation touches many aspects of the economic development of Bhutan ever since Bhutan embarked upon its planned development in the 1960s. Some of the major projects in Bhutan carried out with Indian assistance are Paro airport, the Bhutan Broadcasting Station, major highways, electricity distribution systems and exploration of mineral resources.


In the field of education development in Bhutan, India has also been playing a very important role. India provides technical expertise and services of specialists to Bhutan in various fields. India offers scholarships to about 50 Bhutanese students every year in Indian institutes of higher learning.

In the evolution of democracy and a parliamentary polity, India has also been playing the role of a catalyst over the years. Ever since 1988, Bhutan has followed the policy of devolution of powers by taking steps to introduce a written constitution for the Kingdom of Bhutan.


By entering a new treaty of friendship and cooperation, signed on February 8, 2007, India and Bhutan moved a step towards restructuring their relations. It marked a historic moment in India's relations with Bhutan.


India's rich experience in democracy, particularly in electoral politics, which India extended to Bhutan, further consolidates the trust and goodwill between the two countries. Indian constitutional and legal experts and Election Commission officials have guided and trained their Bhutanese counterparts in the democratic process and electioneering.


Bhutan earned India's gratitude a few years ago when Indian insurgents were flushed out of their hideouts in the jungles and hills of the country by the Royal Army. The regularity of exchanges of visits at various levels between the two countries is suggestive of trust and confidence between the two countries.








The New Year may spell happy times for the BJP, at least for the post seekers in the parliamentary party. Suddenly with L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh quitting their respective posts, there is a spurt of vacancies to be filled.


The party created one more post -- that of chairman of the parliamentary board -- for accommodating Advani. In the process five additional posts have fallen vacant. The post of president has already gone to Nitin Gadkari, while that of the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha has been immediately occupied by Sushma Swaraj.   


With Jaswant Singh quitting as the PAC chairman four months ahead of the expiry of his term, Gopinath Munde is likely to replace him. The post of Deputy Leader of the party in the Lok Sabha is also vacant, and if the grapevine is to be believed, it is going to Ananth Kumar.


The chairmanship of the Committee on External Affairs, so far occupied by Sushma, is likely to go to Yashwant Sinha. His sins against the BJP gods seem to have been forgotten after he actively participated in the parliamentary party meeting and heaped praises on Advani.



On the last day of the winter session of the Lok Sabha, the atmosphere in the House was so vitiated by repeated disruptions on the Telengana issue that all opposition leaders boycotted the valedictory function except L.K. Advani. It was, after all, his last valedictory as the Leader of Opposition in the Lower House -- a mantle he has passed on to his deputy, Sushma Swaraj. Not that Advani did not walk out of the House to protest the disruptions; he came back just before the "Vande Mataram" melody filled the air.


So soon as they turned up, a disturbed Advani asked Sushma where she had been. And she did have some explaining to do. Later, it turned out the BJP members were held up at the gate of the House when the concluding event began. So they stood there till the Vande Mataram recital was over -- in honour of the national song -- which ultimately brought the dissenting members together again.



In India nothing remains secret for more than a day, rues the Chief Justice of India, Mr KG Balakrishnan. From the second day onwards even confidential information starts appearing in the media and within a few days there is nothing that is not reported.


And surprisingly, the media reports are invariably correct, the CJI said in praise of the Fourth Estate, which was furious about the selective media leakage of the Supreme Court collegium's decision to keep on hold the proposed elevation of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice PD Dinakaran in view of the impeachment proceedings initiated in Parliament.


When reporters pointed out that whoever was responsible for the leak had played with their careers, the CJI said he understood their plight as the media had become highly competitive. Legal correspondents had sought an appointment with him for an interaction in view of the two-week winter recess. n

Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, Aditi Tandon and R Sedhuraman








With the galloping rise in prices of both food and non-food essential commodities, the wholesale price index has started rising at a rapid rate. In early December, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development had cautioned India against complacency on rising prices. It is important to note that food prices are generally found to ease in the months of November and December, but analysts are worried that the reasonal dip is not expected this year and, on the contrary, prices might further rise. As a result of food prices being politically sensitive, warranting higher price support programmes, the wholesale price which was moving at less than 2 per cent in October last has already scaled up above 4 per cent in the first week of December. An important fact that has kept the government as well as the Reserve Bank of India alert is that the wholesale prices have already increased by over 6 per cent from the beginning of 2009-10 financial year. The attending circumstances make the economists feel that the price index could climb to as much as 8 per cent by the end of the current fiscal as against the Central Bank's presumption of 5 per cent. The fact that food prices rose at their fastest pace this year with the index rising by 19.95 per cent in 12 months to December 5 due mainly to worst dry spell in nearly four decades and floods in parts of the country hurting summer crops, has now put pressure on Reserve Bank of India to tighten monetary policy sooner than later to contain the likely spill-over to the broader economy.

It is no doubt a fact that monetary policy is not the right instrument to influence prices of food items which are essentially inelastic in demand, and, more so, for affluent classes. The RBI Governor, D Subbarao did voice concern over rising food costs that could fuel inflationary apprehensions further and has expressed his readiness to do whatever is possible on monetary front. One could therefore expect that the Central Bank could swing into action with raising of Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) either in late December or early January. Replying to the debate on Appropriation Bill for supplementary demand in Rajya Sabha on December 15, the Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee said that it is the cost-push factors which have raised the inflationary pressure and that these factors include price support to farmers who have to be encouraged. While long term solution to price rise lies only with removal of mis-match between the demand for and supply of essential commodities through a strengthened second green revolution, the short-term measures like revamped public distribution system, increased imports of scarce essential commodities, rooting out of evils like hoarding, black marketing and cleaning of civil supply administration need be given utmost attention at the moment. It is a pity that the central offer of foodgrains to States often go unlifted or partially lifted because of the much talked-about scandals, wide-spread in the system in most of the States. Unless stern action is initiated by the State governments against wrong-doers and dishonest alliance between fair price shops, government officials and politicians, no amount of buffer stock can tame the distribution system and bring down food prices in scarcity periods.






It is an irony of sorts that scientific temperament continues to be abysmally low in our society despite the fact that India had attained enviable success in the realm of science and scientific thinking several thousand years back when rest of the world saw little development on this front. Even today ignorance and superstitions continue to be widespread among the masses, throttling rational thinking. More disturbing is the fact that the educated class is also not free from the shackles of unscientific thinking and temperament. The prevailing circumstances call for bridging the gap between science and the masses, and one of the ways to achieve this is through enhanced scientific communication involving mass media. With the unprecedented growth of the media in recent years, it can play a crucial role in taking scientific thinking closer to the people and promoting scientific temperament. Unfortunately, the media is not devoting enough time and space to scientific issues, as seen from the low coverage of science and related issues. Worse, often the media is found to be adopting an unscientific approach in dealing with different issues, as it tends to cater more to public sentiments and emotions in presenting or analyzing a matter. There have been umpteen occasions when the print and electronic media sought to sensationalize 'miracles' rather than addressing those in a rational and scientific manner. Such irresponsible behaviour on the part of the media is totally uncalled for and detrimental to the promotion of scientific thinking. The media requires sensitizing not just on scientific issues but also on the need to maintain a scientific approach in handling any matter.

The ongoing ninth Indian Science Communication Congress – held in the North-East for the first time – is an important event that can address issues concerning advancement of scientific communication and thinking. The scientists, science communicators and writers, media personnel, and academicians who are deliberating on wide-ranging issues should identify the areas hindering scientific thinking and prepare a roadmap for taking the scientific message to the masses. Science and media should act in tandem as both are seekers of the truth. The media will have to play an increasingly responsible role in spreading scientific awareness and dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Widespread superstition which is leading to ghastly acts such as witch-hunting with alarming regularity in the State is one such area where the media can play a pro-active role. For this, the media needs to exhibit a clear focus and must not be swayed by unnecessary sentimentality.







In those days when I was editing a daily newspaper, I would have frequent visits at the office from young men and women looking for jobs. They invariably spoke to me in English – often in bad English and sometimes in downright atrocious English. After the first few minutes, I would often say, "Your surname is Saikia (or Hazarika or Kakoti or whatever else). It smells very Assamese. You know my name. Does it not smell Assamese to you? So we have a shared common language. Why are you wasting your time speaking to me in such fractured English?" In most cases there would be stunned silence for a few seconds when the realization of what I had said would sink in. After that most of them would switch over to Assamese. But a few obdurate souls would seek to rationalize their senseless charade by saying, "You are the editor of an English daily, so I thought…" The sentence never got completed because by the time it approached its end the speaker invariably realized that it made no sense.

However, this is fairly common behaviour among the present generation of Assamese, as one can discover by not interrupting them and by continuing the conversation in English. The flow of bad, fractured English liberally sprinkled with "like" goes on creating further linguistic pollution every minute. Over the years, I have discovered that this is one of the manifestations of the several kinds of inferiority complex that most Assamese people suffer from – often quite needlessly. They have an inferiority complex about their mother tongue that is created largely by their parents. Among the 3,800-odd languages of the world that have survived (about the same number are dead, thanks largely to English), Assamese, with 15 million speakers, ranks 40th in terms of the number of speakers. My readers can verify this information from the table at the bottom of page 289 of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (second edition) by David Crystal. Yet a strange inferiority complex over their mother tongue grips our present generation and their parents. Actually, the avoidance of their mother tongue even when talking with their fellow Assamese is a trait sedulously nurtured by doting parents who do not know how much harm they do thereby. But what is it that impels 'modern' and 'educated' parents to deprive their children of the rich heritage of their own mother tongue? What is it that makes them take pride in saying, "You know, our Tony and Lisa can't speak Assamese at all. You see, they have always read in English-medium schools."? What is it that makes them think that their children can speak English well only if they stop learning their mother tongue? Most of the time I just wonder whether they are thinking at all. But what I can see very clearly is an unwillingness to identify with Assam and the Assamese except when it comes to getting jobs as 'children of the soil' or getting prized contracts or lucrative 'consultancy' assignments in their own State. But as a student and teacher of Linguistics I would like to tell such misguided parents a few home truths about what incalculable harm they are doing to their progeny.

As all experts on education will tell you, the best medium of instruction at least for primary and secondary education is one's mother tongue. And when one thinks of a springboard for learning other languages well, a solid grounding in one's mother tongue is a must. It is important to bear in mind that language learning becomes a far easier task if one thinks of all languages as being different and the similarities that exist as accidental ones. This saves one from the mistake of assuming that the new language one is learning will be full of such serendipitous similarities. However, all languages are similar in one respect: they all share language universals. These language universals are linguistic devices for tense, for making statements, asking questions, making negative utterances, being able to talk about what might happen or could have happened, expressing wishes, reporting someone else's speech and so on. These language universals could differ from language to language as chalk from cheese, but they are there in all languages to a less or more sophisticated degree. If one knows one's language well, it becomes a very easy task to identify these language universals. Thereafter, it becomes an easy task to recognize and use these language universals in other languages as well. No wonder, most Assamese writers who have also excelled as writers of English are people who went to Assamese-medium schools. I can think of Dr Hiren Gohain, Ajit Barua, Navakanta Barua, Dilip Barua, Jitendra Gopal Borpujari, Madan Prasad Bezbaruah and quite a few others who write impeccable English but went to Assamese-medium schools. I too have made a living off the English language for over half-a-century though I went to an Assamese-medium school and took my Matriculation examination in Assamese. I have never found any difficulty in expressing myself in Assamese or English. I am still looking for an Assamese person educated entirely in English-medium schools who not only writes in English very competently but who is also committed to issues that affect the Assamese people. Something interesting is happening in Europe. Countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland made English a compulsory subject in their schools long ago. Ten or fifteen years ago even Germany followed suit because English has become the world language and German children would be much better off in global competition if they were proficient in English. A nation that fought two World Wars against Britain has now made English a compulsory subject in its school curriculum. However, in none of these countries would you ever find History, Geography, Mathematics or Science being taught in any language but their mother tongue. The medium of instruction is invariably the mother tongue. They have all taken the advantage of knowing and using English well but they stick to their own languages with pride. In fact, all major powers of the world, that are nations to reckon with, have stayed with their own languages with pride. Look at the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Japan, China or Korea – they are all where they are because they are proud of their own language and heritage.

This brings me to the real harm that parents do to their children in making them give up their mother tongue when they start going to school. Like all children all over the world, it is natural for Assamese children to be communicating with people around them in the language that they hear around them all the time. And the important people around them are their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles and their cousins. What their parents do when they compel them to give up their mother tongue is to switch off a part of their brains that has got used to functioning in a certain predetermined way because of the natural linguistic inputs from the surroundings. The parents are in effect telling them, "Junk your mother tongue. It is not worth learning. Just learn English." I would like to know how such parents communicate with their own children. Are they obliged to communicate only in the bad English that most of them are capable of? Is that the kind of English they wish to sentence their own children to when they end up with only one language? How are the children ever going to communicate with their grandparents? Or are our 'modern' Assamese parents determined to put up a linguistic barrier that debars today's children from the rich and rewarding experience of communicating with their grandparents who alone can impart to them worthwhile values to take them through their lives? Is language supposed to be for communication or for preventing communication even among near and dear ones? Are aunts and uncles all expected to learn English in order to be able to communicate with their privileged nephews and nieces who have given up their mother tongue? I have not encountered a more perverse and bizarre linguistic situation anywhere in the civilized world. Here are misguided parents telling their children to junk their own mother tongue and to switch off a part of their brain that had developed naturally with their mother tongue. Do these neurons thus switched off ever get back to full function in any useful way? And what about the values mankind has cherished through the ages? What values can anyone have who has been instructed to reject his/her mother tongue? It is like being instructed to reject one's mother. Having seen this process in operation for well over three decades, I am in search of those Assamese who are supposed have wonderful command over the English language because they did not waste their time over their mother tongue. Why do we not get to read the beautiful English they should have written or hear pearls of wisdom that come from them in impeccable English? Why must their English be confined to mundane day-to-day affairs or the needs of one's club life alone? Why must one sacrifice one's ability to communicate with one's own family in order to learn rather poor English? The answers must be as devoid of sound reason as the actions that have given rise to the questions.







Did the Indian Railways (IR) enjoy a 'golden period' or a leaden period under former railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav? It was indeed golden, according to the irrepressible Lalu, who won worldwide acclaim for his turnaround of the IRs. It was anything but, according to his successor, the fiery Mamata Banerjee who presented a White Paper in Parliament last week to buttress her position. Whom does the average citizen believe? She has no means of knowing. And that is the crux of the problem: the lack of transparency in IR accounts.

Clever PR may have had something to do with the accolades showered on Lalu, but surely, not everything; but in the absence of further information it was hard to dispute the numbers. And, prima facie, these did look good during Lalu's years at the helm. And might have continued that way had it not been for Mamata Banerjee's claim of past accounting jugglery.

It is easy to dismiss the controversy as just another instance of up-manship between two political rivals (albeit one that causes embarrassment to the UPA). Except that there is more at stake, for the public, the Railways' ultimate owners and users of its services, who have a personal stake in the financial health of IR. After all, both the quality of service and safety standards are a function of IR finances. Hence the need for both precision and clarity. This is not a new demand.

Back in 2001, the Rakesh Mohan committee on IRs had called for recasting accounts on the lines prescribed in the Companies Act 1956 with a view to developing financial statements (balance sheet, profit & loss statement) that can be understood by the financial community and the public at large. True, mere adherence to the format prescribed in the Companies Act offers no guarantee against creative accounting — the Satyam scandal is just one year old. But it will make the accounts more transparent and limit the scope for fudging numbers. We urge Mamata Banerjee to devote her considerable energies to that and to improving the state of IR rather than to taking pot shots (deserved or un-deserved) at her predecessor.







It will be no tragedy if we miss the April 1, 2010 deadline for rolling out the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The Centre and the states are yet to resolve differences on key issues including the rate-structure, legislative amendments and the mechanism to compensate states for revenue losses, if any. The 13th Finance Commission's task force on GST has come out with a report that merits close study by both the Centre and the Empowered Committee of state finance ministers. GST is the mother of all tax reforms and its implementation should be preceded by adequate preparatory work to ensure a smooth transition.

The introduction of GST can wait till the legislative framework is in place, the IT system that can service it is up and running and the administration is fully geared to handle the new tax. As of now, the Centre and the states have only agreed on a dual GST, comprising a central GST and a state GST. States want a cumulative indirect tax rate of 15% plus compared to the 12% rate suggested by the Finance Commission task force, as they fear loss of revenue during transition.

A simple tax regime would require subsuming all state and central taxes under GST. Legislative changes including the Constitutional amendment to empower states to levy a tax on services and the Centre to levy a tax on the sale of goods can always be done, once the rate structure is settled.

The Constitution also needs to be amended to proscribe taxes by local governments on goods and services such as Octroi and entertainment tax. An ill-conceived GST could defeat the goal of having a simplified tax system to usher in a seamless common market in the country. Recall the compliance problems encountered after the introduction of the value added tax at the manufacturing level (Modvat) in 1986. Systems were not in place to track transactions, leading to fictitious claims by manufacturers. Many of them claimed credit on input taxes that they never paid. Mistakes such as these must not be repeated.

A robust IT system is a pre-requisite for the introduction GST. The Tax Information Exchange System (Tinxsys), a centralised exchange of all inter-state dealers, is yet to be fully implemented by all states. Scaling up this system to include inter-state transactions would take time. But that would be time well spent.






The Death of American Virtue could well be the name of a book that would deal with what happened when the media caught a Tiger by his tale. But, alas that title already graces a new book on another iconic American's fall from grace, as the subtitle enunciates: Clinton vs Starr. One chapter in the book is particularly relevant as it links up to this year of extra-marital scandals. Monica Lewinsky has returned to the media spotlight by telling the book's author that the former US president in fact lied when he denied having 'sexual relations' with her, an issue over which there has been much semantic hairsplitting. Yet, the steamy revelations of 2009 do give rise to the thought that given the mores and morality on display these days - especially in high places - Clinton's transgressions in the Oval Office and Arkansas seem quite minor, a rather tame affair. Just like the Rs 64 crore sum linked to the Bofors gun deal seems like chickenfeed compared to the scale of recent scams.


A measure of how much things have changed is the fact that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, a politician much lower down in the pecking (and peccadillo) order, has escaped impeachment over obfuscations related to his haring off to see his Argentine mistress using state facilities. Meanwhile, as the world digests news that Tiger Woods' prodigious talents vis-a-vis birdies go way beyond the conventional golfing descriptions, top statesmen seem to be intent on giving the disgraced sportsman competition in the infidelity stakes.

The Russian media is silent on a rumour of a Putin son from a mistress, reported on blogs and in the press abroad. At the least, the virtue of press freedom is at risk in Russia. Then we have Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi's trail of nubile interests, a pastime that may be hit by his loss of two teeth and a mangled nose courtesy a well-aimed metal knick-knack by a bystander. The publication of kiss-and-diss books by his miffed mistresses may, however, not be affected.







Remember A B Vajpayee's farewell BJP session at Mumbai some years ago? With a single gibe Vajpayee literally had the entire aspiring lot of BJP leaders gasping for breath. Talking about Advani leading the BJP after him, Vajpayee dropped a political bomb by saying Pramod Mahajan "will henceforth" play Lakshman to Advani, the new Ram. In contrast, Advani's politically correct speech when he quit as opposition leader last week didn't cause colleagues any similar political convulsions. But that was to be a temporary relief for some. Later, in an interview, Advani said that during his 2009 Lok Sabha poll campaign he "missed the late Pramod Mahajan's managerial skills and exceptional abilities". Well, you've got to be dumb to not realise where the arrow was aimed. Notice the post-interview stunned silence in the habitually clamourous camps?


New BJP president Nitin Gadkari has shown his readiness to play, if warranted, on the factional fault-lines of the party's central leadership. His loaded comment that he was in favour of the return of expelled BJP leaders Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and Govindacharya might appear, on the face of it, an attempt to unite the party. But for those in the know, Gadkari meant to set the cat among the pigeons. After all, the very mention of Bharti's return can be a red flag to some entrenched players who bullied her out of the party. Those familiar with Gadkari's ways think his comments may be a riposte to those who plotted to try and halt the return of some tricky players like Sanjay Joshi to Ashoka Road as part of Team Gadkari. Remember, Gadkari is no pushover in checkmating-games as he has a track-record of rising to the helm of the Maharashtra BJP unit by combating no less a player than the late Pramod Mahajan.


As the last round of polls ended in Jharkhand last week, AICC managers took to 10, Janpath what they claimed was the result of an exclusive exit poll the Congress had commissioned. The in-house verdict was in favour of a hung assembly, and so party managers are working the phones in the run-up to the declaration of results. Incidentally, the BJP camp seems on the same wavelength. Congress managers say their party along with Babulal Marandi's outfit will emerge as the single largest alliance with eight to five seats below the half-way mark of 41. The BJP, desperate to end its bad electoral spell, is banking on the ability of the redoubtable Shibu Soren to swing both ways — depending on what is on offer. While a hung verdict is also Lalu Yadav's last hope for finding an escape route from a painful existence in no-man's land; for Madhu Koda an opportunity to liberate Jharkhand from President's rule means an opportunity to liberate himself from the chains of scam investigators. Jharkhand, truly, is a land of opportunities for many.


So why did Jaswant Singh retire from the PAC chairmanship even after declaring his intention to face BJP counter-attacks in true Rajput style? Some said he was trying to make up with his former party. But BJP leaders say the only way they could readmit him is by swallowing the 'Jinnah poison'. The Congress says it has no brownie points to score by 'converting' Singh who launched an attack on Nehru and Patel while trying to ride Jinnah to literary fame. But Third Eye learns that Singh's fate was sealed when the Lok Sabha secretariat received a letter from a senior BJP leader a couple of weeks ago. While pointing out how an opposition renegade presiding over the PAC could defeat the very purpose of the panel, she also added that the precedent could prove bad for the Congress too. With the ruling side in no mood to shield him further, Singh took the call, finally.









The Copenhagen Accord is a fair deal. At Copenhagen, unity amongst the developing countries has shaped, for the first time, design of the rules.


Once the heat and dust settles, this achievement will be seen as a 'game changer' in eliminating a remediable injustice. Clearly, the United States was very desperate to secure a deal.

By moving the multilateral discourse on climate change away from emissions to equitable access to atmospheric space, Manmohan Singh's persistence is as important as Indira Gandhi's initiative, at the Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972, in pointing to poverty as the greatest polluter, with the potential to shape future negotiations.

Of course, perceptions will differ. Many see climate change in terms of environmental damage, and the most popular image is one of polar bears floating on ice floes. Hence, any agreement, despite the consensus that world temperatures must not rise above two degrees, that does not focus on global emissions reductions is considered flawed. For others, the human impacts are more important, whether it is recurrent drought in Darfur or one billion citizens lacking access to modern energy and, for them actions must be taken in the context of sustainable development.

According to the accord, reducing global emissions by 50% in 2050 below 1990 levels will take into account "the right to equitable access to atmospheric space". A sustainable approach requires the atmospheric resource to be allocated fairly. As Nicholas Stern has pointed out "if the allocation of rights to emit in any given year took greater account both of history and of equity in stocks rather than flows, then rich countries would have rights to emit which were lower than two tonnes per capita (probably even negative). The negotiations of such rights involve substantial financial allocations: at $40 per tonne of CO2 equivalent a total world allocation of rights of, say, 30 Gt (roughly the required flows in 2030) would be worth $1.2 trillion per annum".

There is no reason why these rights should be considered differently from property rights, even if it entails large-scale transfers from developed to developing countries. The emerging market mechanisms, on the other hand, provide for developed countries allocating emissions allowances to themselves. They also earn emission credits from emission reductions of developing countries, moving towards a commoditisation of carbon, based on an inequitable occupation of atmospheric space and allocation based on annual flows, thereby disregarding historical emissions.

A closer look at the facts reveals the significance of a new framework that is not based on national emissions. According to analysis done by Ecofys, a think-tank in Germany, to limit warming to two degrees reductions of around 13 Gt of Co2 equivalents would be needed. Current developed country emission reduction proposals as a whole are estimated to be around 11%-19% per cent below 1990 levels, amounting to only about 2-2.5 Gt. Moreover, the total amount of surplus emissions credits is large enough to allow these countries to follow a business-as-usual pathway until after 2020, while still complying with the currently announced emissions targets. An agreement that cemented such a deal would have led to developing countries meeting a large part of the shortfall, after having agreed to limit warming!


Shifting the focus of the negotiations to defining the criteria for burden-sharing establishes a new agenda that will lead to greater fairness, and transparency. The accord recognises that long-term cooperative action to deal with climate change will be on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development. The developed countries had, in the earlier negotiations, wanted the focus to be solely on emissions reduction.

The accord brings other benefits as well. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities has never been defined, and the focus has so far been on transfer of financial resources, which has been provided as development assistance rather than as an entitlement. The amount of less than $4billion. that has been made available to the financial mechanism of the Convention is insignificant. A high-level panel will now study potential sources of revenue to provide $100 billion. a year by 2020.

Developing countries have gained what they had been fighting to achieve over the last 15 years. For the first time transfers of financial resources are treated as substantive commitments and subject to verification. The majority of new funding will go for adaptation in the least developed countries, and will be provided over the long term. A new fund has been established under the Convention as well as a new mechanism for technology transfer.

Developed countries had wanted to review national development strategies of developing countries. This was strongly resisted, and is now limited to international consultation and analysis of the national communications detailing with identified mitigation and adaptation measures — a technical review. As all actions are referenced to the principles and provisions of the Convention, and with no agreement to kill the Kyoto Protocol, the differentiation between developed and developing countries, which was sought to be erased, will remain as the essential safeguard for future economic growth.

An assessment of the implementation of the accord has to be completed by 2015. This is also a euphemism for developing countries taking on similar commitments as developed countries. Here again, the timing secures the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, which begins after 2012, and further cements the differentiation. With the equitable sharing of atmospheric space on the agenda, this provision may well turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the developed countries.

We now have the opportunity to set the agenda to determine the criteria for burden sharing, or sharing of the atmospheric space, which has been, and remains, the key issue of the negotiations. Preparations for these negotiations, to develop guidelines and flesh out details, are best done through wide participation of the states, business and other stakeholders.








As opposed to the received tradition of "family first", some people (including this writer) often like to say that as far as rapport, reliability and tolerance — all essential aspects of relational affinity in fact — is concerned, their friends come first. That they then constitute family. And, thereafter, only those genetically-related family members who also qualify as friends can re-engage as family. There's no reason to disbelieve them either. Ethnologists who study human racial groups have a somewhat near enough term for it: fictive kinship, the process of giving someone a relatedness and treating them as if they had the actual kin relationship implied.

There's nothing gaspingly avant-garde about this nor anything particularly new in it. Cultural anthropologists have noted that among the Gurungs of central Nepal exists the (admittedly dying) institution of Rodhi where teenagers form fictive kinship bonds and become Rodhi members to socialise, perform communal tasks and find marriage partners. Indians influenced by western tradition routinely refer to good friends of their parents as "uncle" or "aunty"; African Americans call one another "bro"; and college fraternities and sororities usually use "brother" and "sister" when talking about members of the organisation.

(Actually friendship must be a very powerful attractant, otherwise how can we explain why this whole thing works the other way around too? It's the reason, for instance, why a lot of people say that their mother or father was "not only my greatest confidante and caregiver but also my best friend". Or why two brothers are described as being like "inseparable friends".)

Unfortunately however, when it comes to the crunch and society begins to intrude the fiction in fictive gets increasingly difficult to dispel. Which is why it's easy to throw a wild bash for friends at home and not necessarily call a close cousin living across town. It becomes dicier though to have a son's engagement party and not invite Aunty Sheila who stays in an adjoining state. And it's virtually unthinkable for a daughter's wedding to happen if Mom and Dad can't make it down from Canada. Rare is the person who can say the marriage should not take place because some important member of the non-biological family cannot attend. Suddenly buried roots turn upside down and blossom.








Tax reforms are the flavour of the season. Whether it is the long-awaited introduction of GST (Goods and services tax) or the Direct Tax Code, the tax regime is headed for an overhaul of the kind not seen since the introduction of Vat (Value-added tax). Fittingly, the first Raja Chelliah Memorial lecture organised by National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in memory of the father of tax reform in India, Raja Chelliah, was delivered by another stalwart in fiscal economics, Professor Alan Auerbach, Director, Robert D Burch Centre for Tax Policy and Public Finance, University of California, Berkeley. The topic of his lecture? You guessed it! On the Adoption of Tax Reform. Later, he spoke to ET. Excerpts:

You seem to favour large rather than incremental tax reform. But in noisy democracies like India where wholesale reform is much more difficult than incremental (which is why GST is proving so difficult) do you think there is a case for re-thinking that proposition?

There is a case for incremental reforms in some cases. The problems are that they are more easily reversed once adopted, and are more likely to create winners and losers and therefore be opposed in the first place. A large package of reforms, by contrast, may be constructed to benefit most individuals and harder to reverse. However, large packages are difficult and time-consuming to construct, so if there are small steps that are so beneficial that they can stand on their own, then these might be a successful route to reform, at least initially.

You've also made a distinction between tax reform and changes in the tax system. Could you elaborate?

Tax reform involves more than changes in tax rates or other adjustments that may be seen as the normal evolution of a given system in response to year-to-year fluctuations in revenue needs and spending requirements. To be reasonably labelled as a tax reform, a change must involve a more significant shift in policy direction, such as the adoption of a new type of tax or a major change in the existing tax base.


What is the trigger for tax reform?

There could be a number of reasons. Change in the prevailing political consensus is one; gradual erosion of the tax system is another. Then you could also have some additional inputs coming from new information and of course there could be a change in circumstances that make a compelling argument for a change. In the US, for instance, the Tax Reform Act 1986, broadened the tax base but at low marginal rates of tax. Now we are seeing an erosion of the base and hence there is a call for higher rates.


Does sustainability of tax reform mean that countries have to wait to get everything right before they go ahead or can they improvise as they go along?

There is a trade-off; one shouldn't wait for the ideal if a reasonable potential reform is available, for waiting can deprive the economy of the benefits of reform during the interim. But the significant political capital required for a reform supports the argument for waiting until a major improvement is expected. It must be a matter of judgement when the time for reform has come, and of course political conditions will influence this timing as well.

How can countries make tax design impervious to rent-seeking?

There are blunt instruments for doing so, such as constitutional restrictions, but I favour choosing methods of taxation that are less susceptible by design, such as the subtraction method VAT/GST versus the credit-invoice method practiced in most countries. Whereas the credit-invoice method keeps track of individual stales and therefore makes differentiation in tax rates a straightforward procedure, the subtraction method does not.

Given that FDI is much more beneficial than portfolio flows, is there a case for some kind of tax on inflows?
I would favour instead tax benefits targeted toward FDI, but these two policies have the same effect of favouring FDI over portfolio flows.

In one of your papers you've called for new fiscal activism. What do you mean by that?

I think the approaches to fiscal stimulus undertaken in most countries in the past year were not sufficiently informed by recent advances in economic theory and analysis. For example, governments could have used timing incentives more, as through temporary sales tax reductions, to encourage more aggregate demand at relatively little cost in tax revenues.

In the present context should we see an exit from expansionist fiscal policies first or from easy monetary policies?
I think this must depend on the country in question and what the inflation outlook is there. Where the risk of inflation is small, low interest rates can be maintained.








Entrepreneurs, big or small, should think beyond available resources to become successful. This isn't merely limited to a particular region; the golden rule applies to all. That's what CK Prahalad, Paul & Ruth McCracken Distinguished University professor of corporate strategy at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business Management, had to tell ET in a freewheeling chat. Excerpts:

As author of 'The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid', are you happy with the way India is looking to achieve inclusive growth? Is there a need to strengthen the ecosystem here for unlocking value at the bottom?
There's no denying that India needs to do more to eradicate the abject poverty in the country. Yet, we have to take notice of the success stories all around us in reaching out to the poor. The self-help group system, ITC's e-choupal model or Amul's dairy plant are successful experiments of using the ecosystem for reaching out to the poor masses. Cellphones, too, have penetrated rural markets and now a million kirana shops are selling telecom products. If the telecom boom can happen, what's stopping us from achieving similar success in other areas? It's all about you look at it.

Do you think, the country lacks entrepreneurship in reaching out to the poor?

There's no dearth of entrepreneurship in the country. Even the little boys on the street who sell small things to earn a living are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship doesn't necessarily mean volume of investment. In fact, it largely depends on innovation and the way you think. Entrepreneurship and innovation are the antidote to poverty alleviation. The opportunities are immense in the era of globalisation. The surge in connectivity, digitisation, convergence and social networking have opened new doors for entrepreneurial boom.

But public policy is a real stumbling block for entrepreneurial development. Why should the licences not be given in two days? Why should an entrepreneur wait months to get the requisite clearances for business? The procedures are cumbersome and the authorities need to address these issues.

What is your advice to the GeNext who aspire to take on entrepreneurial roles?

Transformation isn't about resources. It's all about aspiration and imagination. Why doesn't one try to offer one-consumer-experience for a product? For instance, an entrepreneur can bring in innovation in a very traditional shoe business. Let him scan the footprint and take a 3-D image and send it to the design centre for a tailor-made product. A customer will be happy to shell out a little more for such an innovative product. So, don't focus on best practices, focus on your next practices.

The country has been growing at a decent clip. However, the global recession slowed down the pace a bit. What is your prescription for India Inc in light of the latest situation?

For the past six to seven years, Indian companies had performed well and their bottomline had risen significantly. The global recession provided them an opportunity to look back and consolidate and pay more attention to expanding operations in rural India.


Officially, India is growing at 7%. This means, some states like Gujarat, Punjab or Tamil Nadu are growing at a much faster rate. So, the average growth doesn't mean much. It's a segmented growth. Truth is India is a huge market and everybody is interested to come to India.

How important is scale of operation, especially in a country like India?

The scale of operation is a necessity if you want to make a difference for the people in the country. That's why Amul is so special; ITC's e-choupal is a runaway hit. Can't we replicate these models? If you have desire to do it, you can achieve it. To enhance scale, one can always opt for the franchisee model.

Once you've perfected your business, then the franchisee model is the way to get a virtual scale.

You have always batted for the Indian economy. What makes you so upbeat about the economy?

India became independent in 1947. But it achieved economic independence only in 1992 and, in merely 17 years, the country has come a long way.


India is doing pretty well compared to others. Every time a comparison is drawn between India and China, but don't forget that China is 20 years ahead of us as far as economic reforms go. It's like the story of the hare and the tortoise. Time will tell, who will win. I can say with conviction, the long-term trend is extremely positive for India.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It is hard to know what inspired the Gujarat Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, to get into making voting compulsory in elections to local bodies in his state. It is clear to see that such a legislation cannot be easy to enforce. At any given time, a good number of people from rural and small-town India are away in the bigger cities in search of livelihoods or to pursue business options. If they were to be penalised for not being around at the time of voting, a fair segment of registered voters will find themselves in the dock. This can only breed resentment. That is no way to strengthen democracy, which is Mr Modi's stated object. The Chief Minister says that 32 countries have comparable legislation in place. But as an expert has pointed out, in only 19 of these is the law being enforced and in only one of these 19 are the transgressions deemed punishable. Thus, the model does not look too promising. But there is also a wider question of principle involved. Forcing people to cast their ballot is at odds with the idea of free will, and therefore with the idea of democratic choice, which Mr Modi appears eager to promote. The Chief Minister has been quoted as saying that he wishes to "bring the voter, rather than the political party, centrestage" in order to "strengthen democracy". This is a dichotomy. Indeed, the argument of disregarding parties and over-privileging voters is advanced when military dictatorship is poised to make a comeback in a country such as Pakistan. The phenomenon goes under the rubric of "party-less democracy". Indeed what is true to say is that political parties are the life-blood of the system in a parliamentary democracy. There is another point to consider as well. In elections to local bodies in India, the long-standing convention is that political parties do not field candidates under their banner. This is for the reason that wider concerns of ideology and policy do not come into play. In the light of this, Mr Modi appears to be barking up the wrong tree. Generally, in this country, the electorate is not shy about exercising its franchise. Even in areas afflicted by political violence, voters are known to assert their will through the ballot box. This has been seen to be the case even in belts wracked by Naxalite terror. Recent polling figures in Jharkhand underline the point. In the Kashmir Valley, too, voters have given the thumbs up to the idea of exercising their franchise to the chagrin of secessionist and terrorist elements. There have been times in some states when polling figures have been low for a period of time on account of the prevailing atmosphere of terror, as in Punjab in the Eighties. But the electorate has hit back at the first opportunity. So, it is not clear what Mr Modi is driving at. When voter apathy does come to the fore (and this is not a common phenomenon), it is usually in particular constituencies — a mark of protest against the lethargy of their representative, not as a revolt against the system of voting. That is an argument for providing voters at all levels the choice of casting their preference in favour of "none of the above" if the list of candidates does not inspire confidence. In the case of Gujarat, a particular context needs to be noted. Large numbers of Muslims had fled their homes in the aftermath of the post-Godhra pogrom, and are yet to return. Such people are likely to be affected by the legislation.








Looking from the threshold of 2010, the year 2020 provides a convenient timeline to examine the evolving dimensions of the Indian armed forces. Indian decision-making in defence planning is perhaps the ultimate case study in negative processes, the fallout of which affects the operational preparedness of forces in an extremely adverse manner. In the ultimate analysis, unless the government and its political and bureaucratic establishment actively focus on reform and refurbishment in the process of planning and decision-making, modernisation of the Indian defence forces will continue to be a nightmare in slow motion.


Reform of defence planning and decision-making is the objective to be achieved by 2020. Post-independence defence planning in India has always been a stepchild of the national planning process. The heritage of non-violence and the cult of Panchsheel, has traditionally placed defence low on the list of priorities, keeping resources inadequate and their allotment uncertain, making the development of the armed forces a slow and tentative process. Progress has been cyclical in nature, activated by periodic impacts of military setbacks, and the hasty scramble to modernise, tapering off into complacency when the effects wore off. India has never understood that resources for defence have to be allotted regularly and in adequate measure, on the analogy of regular payments of life insurance premium for the nation, rather than reluctantly parted with on a misplaced analogy of development versus defence.


A universal thumb-rule for allocation of resources for defence is three per cent of the gross domestic product. India's record in this respect has been consistently lower, except in the aftermath of defeat in 1962, and the scramble to build up the armed forces to certain minimum levels. This served the country well in the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, but thereafter the usual complacency set in, and the government and its leadership returned to business as usual until the country received another jolt in the Kargil War of 1999. The aftershocks of Kargil should normally have produced another rush to upgrade and modernise, but the wave effect was dissipated by a new booby trap in defence planning — the discovery by prowling politicians of national defence as yet another area for their scorched earth manoeuvring, which crippled all aspirations for rapid modernisation with successive tit-for-tat controversies engineered around Tehelka, Coffin-gate scandal and the Comptroller and auditor general's report on the Kargil purchases. India's defence is again in a stagnant swamp. The Army is short of artillery, the Navy of submarines, and the Air Force of fighter aircraft, this at a time when India is assiduously pursuing ambitious international aspirations of regional power. The iron fist that must be the core of every velvet glove has again melted away, and India must again survive on its wits and diplomatic rhetoric alone.


The role of India's armed forces since Independence has never been officially defined, but has evolved since 1947 into homeland defence and nation-building, consolidating and preserving the territorial integrity of the country while infusing a sense of nationhood amongst its diverse and heterogeneous society by its model of flawless national integration. Homeland defence has also included expeditionary interventions outside the country carried out within the region when deemed necessary as in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Sri Lanka (Operation Pawan) and the Maldives (Operation Cactus). With the rapidly changing international scenario, the likelihood for further such undertakings is a possibility as in Afghanistan.


Territorial defence of a homeland theatre as geographically extensive and sociologically diverse as India is a formidable and complex task, which includes protection of its maritime economic zones in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal as also the national airspace. India is attempting to modernise its armed forces to remain capable of successfully carrying out this task.

The three wings of the armed forces are traditionally accorded equal priority for this purpose, but perhaps it is time for a more calibrated application of resources for modernisation plans at the national level, in accordance with assessed inter se priorities in respect of land, maritime and air power assets. Determination of these priorities will, in many ways, be the acid test of mature and responsible leadership by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, where all decisions have to be arrived at by professional judgment and rational consensus. Lifetimes of service loyalties, otherwise vital for organisational cohesion, dedication and motivation of each service, are likely to prove extremely contentious and lead to intense heartburn, often at personal levels. Nevertheless, this is the requirement of the times, and has to be implemented dispassionately.


Technology is the most capital-intensive component common to all three services. Defence technology has traditionally remained confined to the government sector and it is indeed a matter of utmost concern that even 60 years after Independence, indigenous capabilities for research and development in cutting-edge defence technology, along with matching, high quality production facilities in Ordnance factories remain unacceptably inadequate. Quality standards are relatively better in the private sector, which have to survive in highly competitive market environments. In India, the private sector has recently been allowed access into defence production but acceptance of their presence has been grudging, and their capabilities have not been fully exploited. Defence modernisation is, therefore, based very largely on imports, whether of equipment, components or defence technology, all involving complex financial transactions at astronomical levels. The procedures for such imports have to be and are indeed elaborate and designed to be foolproof, but are also extremely complex in nature. Decision-making on defence imports has resultantly become an almost interminable process, and funds allotted for modernisation lapse almost on a routine basis. They are returned unutilised year on year, leading to further vicious circles of more delays and backlogs along with resultant price escalations. It is a fact that as long as Indian defence modernisation is based on technology transfer or imports, the sheer tortuousness of the entire process will not allow any systematic modernisation to be achieved.


In other countries, notably some with whom perceptions are adversarial, the focus is unambiguously on building national military power in the priority air, maritime and land, reflecting outlook of the government. The time for India to determine its own strategic priorities in a similar manner is overdue.


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








Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, healthcare 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 US 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 centre. 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 polarised 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 maths. In the 1960s, she finds, "extended-debate-related problems" — threatened or actual filibusters — affected only eight per cent of major legislation. By the 1980s, that had risen to 27 per cent. But after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006 and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 per cent.


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: GOP senators held up spending for the defence department — which was on the verge of running out of money — in an attempt to delay action on healthcare.


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 paralysed government, waiting for financial, environmental and fiscal crises to strike.








This has been quite a decade for global corporate leaders, volatile not only in terms of their actual fortunes, but even more so with respect to the shifting perceptions of society. When the decade began, large corporations and those at their helm were at the peak of their power, flush with riches delivered by the dotcom boom in the US economy as well as the vast opportunities created by easier access to global markets.


Celebration of financial success also meant encouraging the specific motivation that was seen to drive economic activity. The unalloyed focus on the material benefits that capitalism was seen to deliver (at least for the fortunate minority, if not for most of the world's population) led to an appreciation of the qualities that capitalist functioning is based on: individualism and the competitive spirit.


Capitalism as a system is based on greed, on the harnessing of individual self-interest to the common good. This has been known by analysts of political economy for a very long time. In 1776, Adam Smith's famous and still widely quoted passage in the Wealth of Nations noted that "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages".


More recently, the more famous quotation was probably that of Gordon Gekko, the fictional hero of the 1987 film Wall Street: "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind".


The crash of the dotcom boom in 2001 changed all that, not because any underlying realities were different, but because the collapse of bubble-driven profitability forced many accounting worms to crawl out of corporate cupboards. A series of corporate scandals and failures rocked the US economy in 2001 and 2002 — from Enron and WorldCom to Adelphi and even one of the "Big Five" accounting firms, Arthur Andersen. It turned out that much of the much-hyped growth and profits were illusory, based on fraud and data manipulation, or simply put, lies.


Two points that emerged then are still relevant today. First, such scams are not new or unexpected; in fact they are part of capitalism's normal functioning. Only the most naive of interpretations of the history of capitalism would leave out the crucial role played by fraud, deceit and open crime in the accumulation of capital and its subsequent use. The notion that the "new" capitalism is somehow more open, accountable and democratic, is a false illusion purveyed by the capitalist media which also have major stakes in the system.


The second point is that such scams typically emerge at the end of a boom, or when it is beginning to peter out. It is not that the scams cause the financial or economic collapse; rather, they are symptoms of the turning point, when companies find that profit expectations are not being met, and try to prevent or delay the anticipated downturn with whatever means they possess, including fraud. Thus, while many of the financial malpractices continued for several years, they were exposed only when economic slowdown and the stock market bear trend fed into each other.


For a while after that, there were some attempts at restraint. There were some widely advertised cases of chastisement and even legal punitive action against those corporate honchos who were seen as most at fault, but they were simply the fall guys in a much wider system of malpractice. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 in the US attempted to make the financial activities of publicly-listed companies more transparent and bring in more regulation.


But then yet another (policy created) bubble in the US — this time directed to the housing market and financial proliferation — once again diverted attention and brought back the glory days for risk-loving CEOs of large companies, especially financial firms. The period 2002 to 2007 thus became, in the US and globally, a repeat of the earlier 1990s process on an even larger scale. It was the same dance, to just a slightly different tune, and joined by many more economic agents all over the world. Greed and boundless market optimism were back in fashion again. The collapse of the sub-prime housing market from late 2006 indicated that this dance could not go on for much longer either, even though governments and markets across the world were in denial for several months thereafter. By late summer 2008, the crisis could no longer be averted, and though some analysts date the beginning of the crisis to the collapse of Lehmann Brothers in September 2008, the actual unwinding had already begun.


And the current crisis is not over yet. The major imbalances that were at the heart of the crisis still persist: the imbalance between finance and the real economy; the global macroeconomic imbalances; and the ecological imbalance resulting from the pattern of growth. The methods adopted to deal with the crisis have not really helped. Banks that were "too big to fail" have become "too bugger to fail". The humongous bailouts have generated unprecedented moral hazard among financial players and other companies because they have not come with adequate regulation.


Even if collective policies somehow try to generate yet another bubble, there is clearly going to be more financial turmoil, and this will mean more financial scams and needs for bailout. And the captains of industry will once again face public hostility.


Of course global capitalism has reinvented itself before, and may do so again. But whichever way you slice it, this requires a major change of course — it cannot be based on business as usual.








Flying over the waves of snow-covered mountains that make Afghanistan a natural fortress and a sinkhole for empires, it's impossible not to think of Osama escaping from Tora Bora as one of the greatest bungled opportunities in history.


Unlike the Bushies, who tried to play down Osama's importance the longer he was on the lam, Gen. Stanley McChrystal acknowledged in recent US Congressional hearings that "he is an iconic figure".


"It would not defeat Al Qaeda to have him captured or killed", he said, "but I don't think that we can finally defeat Al Qaeda until he is captured or killed".


I asked Bob Gates, as we flew over the notorious terrain, if he had any insights into why such a bellicose team as W., Cheney and Rummy flinched at the very moment they could have captured our mortal enemy. Gates, who said there hasn't been any good intelligence on Osama's whereabouts in years, said "it's just hard to find somebody who has a sympathetic network and local support".


During the climactic showdown at Tora Bora, Rummy distracted Gen. Tommy Franks by demanding that he freshen up an Iraq invasion plan. The insufficient number of troops at Tora Bora was a harbinger of things to come in Afghanistan, as the Bush administration heedlessly moved on to Iraq.


"Afghanistan was a vastly underresourced operation because, as some of the generals say in the Pentagon, we were just out of Schlitz", Gates said. "We didn't have any more troops to send".


Noting that the dad of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a Hollywood publicist whose clients included Julie Andrews, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett and Anthony Quinn, and his mom was an assistant for a time to Jimmy Durante, I said that if this were a movie, an elite Rambo team would have gone into the Pakistan border area long ago to fulfil W.'s empty threat to get Osama "dead or alive".


I wondered why Bush and Obama officials went along with the mythological geological alibi of "impassable" mountains. Healthcare has often seemed impassable. Lots of things are difficult. But in America, given all our resources, we pride ourselves on achieving the difficult.


Gates told US soldiers in Kirkuk that, we went to war twice in Afghanistan: in 2001 that America won, and one that started at the end of 2005 when the Taliban regenerated.


"What we didn't realise", he said, "was that, particularly beginning toward the end of 2005, the deals that the Pakistanis cut with the tribes to back off and leave them alone created the space in which the Taliban were able to come back".


The Bush administration may not have realised that, but common sense told you the deal was lousy, giving those who hated us a sanctuary in which to rejuvenate.


In a compelling cover story in the current New Republic called The Battle for Tora Bora, Peter Bergen, a

terrorism expert, reconstructs the debacle, calling it "one of the greatest military blunders in recent US history". He reports that Tommy Franks rebuffed the CIA request for 800 Army Rangers from nearby bases to assault the complex of caves where Osama was hiding and block his escape. In the end, Bergen notes, there were more journalists there than Western soldiers.


General Franks told the CIA he wanted to keep a light-footprint approach.


(Curiously, Gates — who is known in the Obama administration as "the man who leaves no footprints" — decided to support the heavy-footprint surge after McChrystal made the argument that it's not the size of the footprint, but how hard the foot comes down.)


Franks and Rummy were risk averse about American troop casualties at the very moment they could have decapitated Al Qaeda.


Instead, Osama's myth grew with his escape as a 15,000-pound Daisy Cutter bomb and a series of 500-pound bombs rained down on the caves.


Bergen writes that Bin Laden's son, Omar, said "Bin Laden would routinely hike from Tora Bora into neighbouring Pakistan on walks that could take anywhere between seven and 14 hours. 'My brothers and I all loathed these gruelling treks that seemed the most pleasant of outings to our father', Omar bin Laden later recalled. Bin Laden told his sons they had to memorise every rock on the routes to Pakistan. 'We never know when war will strike', he instructed them. 'We must know our way out of the mountains'".


Eight years after Tora Bora, the failure there poses the question at the heart, or Achilles' heel, of US President Barack Obama's strategy: What if victory over Al Qaeda and other terrorists lies in Pakistan, not Afghanistan?


Are we going to go get them in Pakistan or not? Osama's evading us and ending up in Pakistan is the perfect humiliating symbol of our failure to deal with that question.








Across Pakistan's history a number of politicians, lawyers, journalists and party workers have bravely wrestled with the establishment's civil, military and economic arms. These arms have played every dirty trick in the book of destructive Machiavellian politics set into motion against democrats so the "establishment" can retain a stagnant and largely reactionary political and economic status-quo; a status-quo that fears the pluralistic and levelling qualities of democracy.


Many from the higher echelons of society have prospered from this status-quo.


Though they are quick to blame the masses for falling so easily for democratic parties' "empty" promises, the truth is, the same masses have been more susceptible to whatever hate-spewing gibberish these magicians have been feeding the people in the name of history, Islam and patriotism.


This brew, present in the history books our children are taught, has been gradually turning the average Pakistani into a paranoid and pessimistic android who, as if instinctively, lets out his frustrations by pounding the democrats with cynical blows.


No wonder, in this day and age, we are still debating whether democracy is right for Pakistan, and/or is it compatible with Islam. It is not surprising that such debates crop up in a nation constantly injected with a heavy dose of dubious history which begins not 5,000 years ago with the Indus Valley civilisation, but many centuries later with Muhammad Bin Qasim's conquest of Sindh. In fact, some textbooks have had no qualms of completely bypassing logic by claiming that Qasim was actually the first Pakistani!


This history then cleverly ignores the many terrible intrigues and murders that were committed by a series of Muslim rulers against their own comrades and kin.


We forget West Pakistan's controversial role and the blood bath that followed in the former East Pakistan. We forget how the founder of Pakistan was treated while on his death bed, as he lay lamenting how some of his closest colleagues couldn't wait to see him die.


We forget the terrible sounds of the Army's tanks rolling into Balochistan (1962, 1973); and then in Sindh (1983), slaughtering a number of young Baloch and Sindhis, accusing them of treason, when all they wanted were their democratic rights. We forget the terrible decade-long armed action by the state against "Muhajirs" in Karachi, in which whole families were wiped out.


Also, there are many horrid episodes in which Pakistanis killed Pakistanis and Muslims slaughtered Muslims.


Why is it so difficult then for us to understand that the mayhem rained on us today is by monsters like the home-grown Taliban? "It can't be us. It can't be Muslims", we say.


Back in 1971, very few Pakistanis were willing to advise Yahya Khan to get into a dialogue with rebelling Bengalis. But today, after years of unprecedented violence perpetrated by the Taliban, we have many politicians, TV hosts, and journalists suggesting a dialogue with men who can't even be described as human. These people's minds have been influenced by all the concocted and mythical moments of glory, and of justified hatred in the name of religion and patriotism present in our historical discourse.


Unfortunately such demagogic claptrap still manages to pass as being Pakistan and Muslim history in the textbooks and on popular TV.








THE profound import of the Pratichi Education Report-II, sponsored by Amartya Sen's Nobel prize money and released last Saturday, is the setting of three new parameters for primary education. Pre-eminently these are private tuition, homework and the class divisions arising out of the SC/ST/Muslim construct. The report has gone beyond the standard indices of dropout rate, shabby infrastructure and shabbier midday meals and an absurd teacher-student ratio. Despite the fact that it is largely a study of Bengal, Sen is emphatic on the point that the malaise is national, one that compares abysmally with the primary levels in Europe and America. Graciously enough, there is no carping of government initiative across the country, not even the failure of legislation to abolish private tuition ~ the thriving parallel system from the primary to the post-graduate levels. The report is focussed on stark conclusions and suggestions embedded in empirical data. While the union HRD minister is obsessed with the "world class" superstructure, Asim Dasgupta, Sen's protege in Bengal, ought now to reflect on the failure of his initiative. "India is among the very few countries of the world where private tuition is thought to be necessary even at the earliest stages of education".

The deeper tragedy is that the system has caused a "class-related disadvantage". Private tuition is deemed unavoidable by those who can afford it. In the net, what Sen calls this "artificially generated essentiality" at once creates a class divide between those who can afford and those who cannot. Many if not most in the latter category may be first generation learners. Of course, several states have tried without success to do away with the system, the singular underpinning being that teachers don't neglect their basic function in the classroom. The social and economic parameters have scarcely formed part of the governmental perspective. Ergo, the latest report (2008-09) is a benchmark on primary education.

That said, it is arguably an oversimplification to suggest that private tuition is necessitated by the burden of homework. And Sen has made a famous presentation on the need for its abolition at the primary stage. At the core of this deleterious absurdity is that little or nothing is taught in the classroom. And there is little to celebrate over the report's finding that the percentage of teachers has gone up since the last report (2001-02). The state of affairs doesn't mirror that perceived improvement. Going by Sen's data collection, the taught in India remain somewhat ignorant ~ primary students who can't read (17 per cent), who can't write (19 per cent) and who can't do simple arithmetic (26 per cent). And we still chase the chimera of "world class universities". It devolves on the Centre and all the states to take follow-up action.







IT is an open question whether Mamata Banerjee would have gone through the motions of ordering a White Paper had Lalu Prasad not adopted aggressive postures after she assumed charge of the Railways six months ago. There were claims and counter-claims that may have been a matter of an internal inquiry. There was, for instance, a wide gulf between the surplus claimed by the RJD minister in the first UPA government and the figures presented in the White Paper. Discrepancies such as these, suspected for long and therefore not surprising, have rarely been put in the public domain. The announcement by Miss Banerjee during her budget speech was seen as an attempt to put Lalu in his place with tacit consent of the Congress. That may have been expected after the party was ditched by Lalu during the parliamentary poll in Bihar ~ at his own expense. By describing the White Paper as "black'', he may be recording a routine protest as someone who finds himself targeted. But the protest is unusually restrained by Lalu's standards. Compared to the frequent interruptions he made in his own defence during the budget speech, it is quite uncharacteristic to find him suggesting quite charitably that Miss Banerjee has simply been "misled''. That does not remove the doubts about why the White Paper was necessary in the first place. With or without the controversies that persist in the Railways, a new minister takes over from where the last incumbent left the department, carries forward ongoing projects or corrects imbalances. What Lalu had done for Bihar has been multiplied many times over during the last six months in Bengal. Miss Banerjee tries to put a veiled curtain on her concerns for her own state (just as her predecessors did) by adding a 62-page Vision 2020 document to the White Paper that proposes 25,000 km of new lines and an increase in public-private partnership that would "strengthen national integration'' and generate "productive employment''. The satisfaction drawn from these inspiring projections are less relevant than the evidence of the surplus claimed by her predecessor being the result of a jugglery with accounts. The White Paper echoes the popular expectations from a leader who is on a roll. One would also expect it to be rooted in sustained performance rather than political or personal rivalries that are best ignored.







TO vote is a citizen's right, but it isn't a fundamental duty. Narendra Modi has, as a matter of policy, blurred that critical distinction if Saturday's passage of a Bill in the Gujarat Assembly is any indication. The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, makes voting mandatory in elections to the local self-government bodies, in other words the grassroot entity. Small wonder why the legislation has promptly been criticised by constitutional experts, the Congress and the Left. The muted response of the Bharatiya Janata Party's new leadership makes it plain that the underpinning has been intensely political. The legislation isn't merely controversial; it, above all, runs counter to the concept of freedom of expression. Gujarat appears to have ignored the fact that the individual's right to vote and the right not to vote are two sides of the freedom of expression coin. Mr Modi's political spin is pretty much obvious. Theoretically, the Gujarat government may be right with its claim that a low turnout doesn't reflect the "true spirit of the will of the people in the electoral mandate". But the reasoning comes out as contrived so as to suit the party.

Still more inexplicable is that the provision on mandatory voting has been clubbed with women's reservation ~ a wholly unrelated issue ~ in the same Bill, though it must be conceded that the decision to raise the quota for women in local bodies from 33 to 50 per cent is indubitably a progressive measure. However much Gujarat's Chief Minister exults that "democracy will become more participatory", the argument that a low voter turnout necessitated the measure is less than convincing. Precisely because Gujarat's local elections have registered a seventy per cent average turnout in recent years. Mr Modi's brainwave, if applicable only to local elections, is unmistakably based on cold electoral calculations. Equipped with a legislation on compulsory voting, the BJP has the organisation to mobilise the numbers, at least in Gujarat







NAZARETH, 21 DEC: Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a home dating to the time of Jesus in the town of Nazareth where he is said to have spent the better part of his life, the antiquities authority said today.
The remains were found near the Basilica of the Annunciation, built on the ruins of three earlier churches on the site where Christians believe Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus.
"The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus," Ms Yardenna Alexandre, who is heading the excavation, said in a statement. ~AFP








Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1879-1972) does not figure prominently enough among the names mentioned in connection with the creation of Pakistan. An eminent scholar, lawyer, an uncharismatic leader of the Indian National Congress, he was Premier of Madras (1937-39), which then extended from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, Governor of Bengal and Governor-General of India, Central home minister, and a chief minister of Madras. After he left the Congress, he formed the Swatantra Party and was its chairman. A stark realist, he was a statesman in the truest sense. The then Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick Lawrence, described him as the only statesman in India.

He wrote profusely on Mahatma Gandhi's teachings and philosophy, Sri Ramakrishna, the Upanishad, translated Kural from Tamil, and the Upanishad for the lay reader, the Vedanta, the Bhagavat Gita, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. 

Chakravarti Rajagopalachari was the lone Congress leader who very correctly realised that the Muslim League demand for the separation of the north-western and north-eastern Muslim majority zones could not be ignored, and that it had to be conceded.

Rajagopalachari first made a "sporting offer" on 16 September 1940 to promote an agreement with the Muslim League. He proposed that if His Majesty's government agreed to a provisional national government being formed at once, he would try to persuade his colleagues to agree to the Muslim League being invited to nominate the Prime Minister and to let him form a government as he would consider best.

Bengal's Opposition

Gandhi had made a somewhat similar proposal to Mountbatten on 2 April 1947. To the effect that Jinnah should be invited to form the interim government with members of the Muslim League. Neither Mountbatten nor Nehru agreed.

On 23 April 1942 Rajagopalachari as the Congress president had two resolutions passed by members of the Madras Congress Legislative Assembly recommending to the All India Congress Committee that Congressmen should recognise the Muslim League in order to arrive at an agreement and secure the installation of a national government to meet the emergency. The second proposal called for the restoration of responsible government in Madras (i.e. to restore the Congress ministry under the premiership of C Rajagopalachari). 

Bengal was the first to oppose Rajaji's recommendation. This was articulated by Kiran Sankar Roy, leader of the Bengal Congress Parliamentary Party. The Congress president, Abul Kalam Azad, in his concluding speech at the AICC session on 2 May 1942, announced that Rajagopalachari's resolution accepting Muslim League's claim for separation was rejected by 92 votes to 17 by the AICC. The creation of Pakistan, he added, was against the spirit of Islam.

Rajagopalachari and three leading Madras Congressmen wrote to Gandhi on 14 July 1942, suggesting that the Congress and the Muslim League should evolve a joint plan with regard to a provisional government, one that could take over power and preserve the continuity of the state. In March 1943, Rajagopalachari was permitted by the British government to visit Gandhi in jail. There he obtained the Mahatma's approval of his scheme, known as the "Rajaji formula" for a settlement between the Congress and the Muslim League. The main terms of the formula were: Subject to the terms set out below..., the Muslim League endorses the Indian demand for independence and will cooperate with the Congress in the formation of a provisional interim government for the transitional period;

After the end of the war, a commission shall be appointed for demarcating contiguous districts in the north-west and east of India, wherein the Muslim population is in absolute majority. In the areas thus demarcated, a plebiscite of all the inhabitants held on the basis of adult suffrage or other practicable franchise shall ultimately decide the issue of separation from Hindustan. If the majority decide in favour of forming a sovereign state separate from Hindustan, such a decision shall be given effect to without prejudice to the right of the districts on the border to choose to join either state;
It will be open to all parties to advocate their points of view before the plebiscite is held. In the event of separation, mutual agreements shall be entered into for safeguarding defence, commerce and communication and for other essential purposes;

Any transfer of population shall only be on an absolutely voluntary basis. These terms shall be binding only in case of transfer by Britain of full power and responsibility of the governance of India.

Formula Revealed

On 8 April 1944, Rajaji revealed his formula to Jinnah. Talks between Gandhi and Jinnah were held in Bombay from 9-27 September 1944. Gandhi presented his own scheme which was not much different from the Rajaji formula. Jinnah stood on the Muslim League's Pakistan resolution of March 1940, describing the Rajaji formula as entirely unacceptable.

The two leaders disagreed on the boundaries of Pakistan and the issue of the division of India. Gandhi stated that he assumed that the Muslims living in Baluchistan, Sind, the North-West Frontier Province and part of Punjab, Bengal and Assam were anxious to live in separation from India. Jinnah argued that the present boundaries of these provinces would be changed beyond redemption and the Muslims would be left with the husk. According to him, Pakistan would comprise the whole of six provinces - Sind, Baluchistan, the North-West Frontier Province, the Punjab, Bengal and Assam. 

Gandhi wanted the Pakistan issue to be determined by a vote of the entire adult population of the six provinces. Jinnah was firm that only the Muslims of these provinces should vote on the issue because the Muslims claimed the right of seld-determination as a nation, and not as a territorial unit. It is clear that Rajaji played a key role in trying to arrive at a settlement between the Congress and the Muslim League. Alone among the Congress leaders, he had the vision to realise that in some form, Pakistan would have to be conceded by the Congress. His formula formed the basis of the Partition.

The writer is a freelance contributor








Appearances are often deceptive. Narendra Modi's decision to make voting compulsory in civic polls might appear, on the face of it, a welcome and radical move. It forces people to participate in the democratic process. The word 'forces' in the previous sentence is used advisedly. Embedded in the idea of democracy is the notion of freedom. Indeed, freedom is the driving force of democracy. One implication of the association of freedom with democracy is the empowerment of individuals through choice. Individuals, when they decide to vote, choose one candidate over the many others who are contesting the polls. Choice also means the freedom not to take part in the polls by not voting. There could be any number of reasons for not choosing to vote, including the absence of belief in democracy itself. Democracy has within it space enough to include people who do not believe in democracy. Mr Modi's new law is thus undemocratic for two reasons. First and foremost, by introducing an element of coercion it takes away the freedom that is central to democracy. Following from the above, the new law reduces room for dissent within democracy.


There is another ancillary point that needs to be made in this context. Elections in India no longer give voters the option of not supporting any of the candidates contesting the polls. Before the introduction of the electronic voting machine, it was possible for a voter to cancel his vote by stamping on two places or not stamping on any of the symbols. The electronic voting machine has taken away this option. It does not permit a voter to cancel his vote and thereby express his refusal to choose from the candidates who have stood for elections. Thus there is already an element of the reduction of choice built into the prevailing voting system. Mr Modi is reducing this further by saying that it will be compulsory for everyone to vote in the civic polls. His intentions might be noble: he probably wants all adults to participate in the election of the person who will represent a given ward in the civic body. Such noble intentions, however, run counter to one of the basic principles of democracy. It is clear that for reasons best known to Mr Modi, he has not thought this matter through and has sought to curtail the choice that is available to citizens. This is an ominous development. What Indians need is an expansion of choice and freedom, not their reduction.







Had Daood Sayed Gilani, settled in Chicago but born to a Pakistani father and an American mother, applied for a visa to India, he would probably have been summarily turned away. So he used his other name, David Coleman Headley, in the application form, knowing too well the magic charm of this alias. He secured the permit quite painlessly, and made nine trips to India on a business visa without ever arousing the least bit of suspicion. In the course of his visits, he allegedly made extensive footage of potential targets and passed it on to the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Headley's intelligence served as the guideline for the 26/11 attacks. So, how were the officials at the Indian consulate in Chicago so easily duped? True, Headley has green-brown eyes, looks Caucasian, and has spent all his adult life in the United States of America. But so have millions like him of East-West parentage, who are settled all over the 'free world'. Yet seldom do embassies encounter such conundrums as one of a terror suspect having a distinctly un-terrorist-like name. A name like David Coleman Headley on an American passport was enough to assuage all worries. Had the slightest attention been spared, officials would not have missed Headley's birth name or his father's nationality, which would have led to a detailed background check, and probably a suspension of his visa. Since 9/11, Muslims have felt persecuted for their religious identity. Headley trumped the shapers of stereotypes at their own game.


Highly embarrassing and dangerous slips usually provoke knee-jerk reactions, followed by overzealous damage control. Predictably, India is treading that familiar path. First, it tightened entry restrictions for US and British citizens holding long-term visas. Now, a blanket ban has been imposed on US citizens who were born in Pakistan or even in parts of undivided India that now belong to Pakistan. A sense of security earned at the expense of racial profiling is unlikely to last long. There is also no guarantee that the Headleys of the future would not originate from outside the US, from one of the many members of the league of big nations. Globalization has turned human networks impossibly complex and widespread. So hasty measures, executed with impunity, would not be able to harness terror, which is now more expertly outsourced than ever before. Only greater vigilance will keep the Mr Hydes away.







Ramachandra Guha


The novelist and critic, C.S. Lewis, said he had no time for those who thought that since they had read a book once, they had no need to read it again. The great works of literature were to read again and again. The urge to go back to a book was prompted sometimes by aesthetics, the desire to savour once more its artful or elegant prose; and, at other times, by the sense that one would learn something new on a second reading. Thus, it is said that War and Peace makes one kind of impression when read while young, quite another when read in middle age.


My own tastes run in the direction of non-fiction, but at least in this sphere I think I am exempt from C.S. Lewis's strictures. Among the books I go back to are autobiographies, such as those written by Neville Cardus, G.H. Hardy, Mahatma Gandhi, Verrier Elwin, Salim Ali and Leonard Woolf. I have also read Tagore's tract on nationalism three or four times, and C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary at least once every other year.


These return journeys have chiefly been undertaken for pleasure. However, I recently reread a book for instruction. Like some other Indians, I have been thinking a great deal recently about the rise of the Maoist movement in the country. Who or what are these Maoists? Are they, as the home ministry tells us, a bunch of thugs and murderers, or are they, as some left-wing intellectuals claim, idealistic and high-minded revolutionaries who shall create a society free of evil and exploitation?


In search of answers, I went back to a book I had first read 25 years ago. In the 1980s, while writing a doctoral thesis on peasant resistance in the Uttarakhand Himalaya, I had read the works of British social historians who had written about lower-class protest in early modern England. Within that vast and once very influential literature, I thought that one study in particular might help clarify my ideas about the Maoists now active in central and in eastern India. This was E.J. Hobsbawm's book, Bandits.


And so I read that book again. I learnt (or learnt afresh) that there is an important distinction to be made between the ordinary criminal and what Hobsbawm calls the "social bandit". Whereas the former is despised by poor and rich equally, the latter "never cease[s] to be part of society in the eyes of the peasants (whatever the authorities say)". "The point about social bandits," writes Hobsbawm, "is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders for liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported."


Hobsbawm was writing about another continent and another century. Still, his book does seem to speak somewhat to the India of the present. In an evocative passage, he writes of social bandits in medieval Europe that "they lived their wild, free lives in the forest, the mountain caves, or on the wide steppes, armed with the 'rifle as tall as the man', the pair of pistols at the belt…, their tunics laced, gilded and criss-crossed by bandoleers, their moustaches bristling, conscious that fame was their reward among enemies and friends."


This description, with a word or phrase changed or modified, could fit the current bête noire of the West Bengal state government, the Maoist leader who uses the nom de plume, Kishenji. To be sure, he wears a cloth mask rather than a moustache, while, to broadcast his fame (and notoriety), he uses those very modern devices, the cell-phone and the television camera. However, the way he speaks and the manner he affects bring to mind the swagger and self-regard of the medieval social bandit. Like that character, Kishenji will be wild, and he will be free — and he thinks the police will never catch him.


Hobsbawm observes that in several countries and historical epochs (as for example, early-20th-century Mexico), bandits had joined revolutionary political struggles, "not because they understood the complexities of democratic, socialist or even anarchist theory…, but because the cause of the people and the poor was self-evidently just, and the revolutionaries demonstrated their trustworthiness by unselfishness, self-sacrifice and devotion — in other words by their personal behaviour". Then, he continues, "That is why military service and jail, the places where bandits and modern revolutionaries are most likely to meet in conditions of equality and mutual trust, have seen many political conversions."


Once more, the parallels with the current crop of Naxalites are not hard to detect. What they have going for them is their lifestyle — they can live with, and more crucially, live like the poor peasant and tribal, eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, eschewing the comforts and seductions of the city. In this readiness to identify with the oppressed, they are in contrast to the bureaucrat, the politician and the police officer. And to take Hobsbawm's other point, from the late 1960s onwards, the jail has indeed been a crucial site for the transmission of Maoist ideology in India.


Historical comparisons are never exact. In some respects, the Indian Maoists are like the social bandits of early modern Europe. They too emerged in response to inequalities in society and the manifest corruptions of the State. With the government indifferent to the needs of the poor, a band of motivated individuals have come forward to identify with their interests. Here, the parallels break down. For the Maoists seek not justice for a single individual or village, but a wholesale re-ordering of society. Their ambitions are far larger than, for example, those of the late Koose Muniswamy Veerappan, he of the bristling (and outsize) moustache. Whereas the gang of that Tamil Robin Hood operated in a single hill range, the Maoists have a network stretching across several states.


Hobsbawm wrote of the bandits he studied that "they are not activists and not ideologists or prophets from whom novel visions or plans of social and political organization are to be expected". The Maoists, on the other hand, see themselves as ideologists and even prophets, although it must be said that their vision and plan are not novel but wholly derivative. They hope that, in time, they will prevail by the force of arms over the Indian State, thus to capture power in New Delhi much as their revered hero, Mao Zedong, had captured power in Beijing 60 years ago. This larger aim marks them out from the likes of Veerappan, as, of course, does their access to more deadly weapons such as AK47s, dynamite and land mines, not to speak of their practice of a virtual cult of violence which takes pleasure in blasting transmission lines and railway stations and beheading policemen and alleged informers.


As it happens, however, the revolutionary dreams of the Maoists are a fantasy. The Indian State is far more powerful today than the Chinese State was back in the 1940s. And in spite of all its manifest faults and failures, most Indians prefer our current, multi-party democracy to a one-party state to be run by the Maoists. For these, and other, reasons, we must withhold from them their own preferred appellation, that of "revolutionaries". They are considerably less than that, but also far more than ordinary criminals. Should we then see them as social bandits for a post-modern age, capable, like their medieval counterparts, of irritating the hell out of the government of the day, if ultimately incapable of overcoming or replacing it?





Malvika Singh


The dignity and grace with which the outgoing governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, left the Raj Bhavan and the state on the day his term ended made for the most appropriate, yet rare, manner of demitting office. No one, but no one, in a position of power has done this in the recent past. Ministers hang on to government accommodation, hoping for a sinecure and hence another free 'home', and a handful of retired government babus and former members of parliament continue to live on in official residences. Gopal Krishna Gandhi should be held up as an example of what this nation deserves from its leaders.


One is getting increasingly ashamed of some of those who 'lead' us. They have, over the last couple of decades, corrupted the public space, polluted the larger domain by breaking the laws of this land for their personal gain, diluted the discourse by using abusive and unacceptable language in Parliament and on public platforms. They have employed the official machinery for their personal needs, and have used State protection for free. This shameless charade, played out over decades, has evoked disgust in the minds of Indians. Sadly, no single leader has addressed the problem and initiated a radical corrective. If the party in power can issue endless 'whips' in Parliament to make sure members attend sessions that are mandatory constitutionally or to make them vote in a particular way, why not have a 'whip' to follow the spirit of the law?


Enemy inside


With Parliament in session for these last few weeks, some 'new' Congress MPs, particularly those from Uttar Pradesh, have been enjoying a sense of 'power', whether real or imagined, in the sterile corridors and in the waiting rooms. Some first-timers, with heavyweight backing, are incessantly talking about their 'closeness' to the powers-that-be, in an effort to impress wide-eyed colleagues about their imaginary importance. Needless to say, this lot has begun to manipulate members of the press, the secretaries at Akbar Road as well as other functionaries by suggesting their 'closeness and accessibility'. Others, perhaps not as adept at such self-deception, claim that they spend many minutes with the top boss when, in fact, they sit in the ante-room! God knows who swallows these imaginative stories, but the antics of these lightweight 'madonnas' and 'adonises' continue unabated. Will the gen-next remain vulnerable to such superficial manoeuvrings by its elected representatives?


Some of these players are so persistent that, ironically, they end up operating from the same ante-room in which they once sat waiting for the appointment. The shunned 'outsider' becomes a burrowing mole, inside. That 'mole' then begins his or her payback to the mentor, the tacit supporter who stood by when the going was tough and elections had to be fought and won, when social and developmental works had to be funded. Such stage performers have been showing their knickers for decades to voyeurs, watching two generations of political Delhi with eager interest. The actresses and actors have changed, and so have the names on billboards, the faces, make-ups, fabric of saris and footwear, the cabals and the scales, but the modus operandi of devious infiltration remains consistent.

The possibility of serious, lively, energetic conversation with these entities is nearly non-existent. These people do not make one feel confident that India is in intelligent hands. They are simplistic, unread and clearly unlettered in the broadest sense of the word. But this does not mean that some of them do not have elaborate degrees. It only means that, alas, their 'degrees' have put them into a straitjacket which makes them one dimensional, predictable and hugely ineffective in a plural, complex and diverse nation state.







Now that India's economy seems to have been nursed back to health, Bhaskar Dutta hopes that the government will act decisively on other battlefields


The Central Statistical Organization has given everyone a very pleasant surprise by releasing figures which show that the country's gross domestic product during the quarter, July-September, grew at 7.9 per cent over the corresponding period last year. This surpasses everyone's expectations by a comfortable margin, with the average prediction being close to 6 per cent. The fact that expectations were very modest is not surprising at all because most major economies are still feeling the after-effects of the global recession. So, the experience of the Indian economy certainly stands out in comparison.


Of course, some part of the growth in GDP is illusory: it has been generated more by the way in which GDP is measured. In particular, the salaries paid to government employees are counted as part of the "community, social and personal" services. Since government employees were paid an instalment of their arrear salaries during this period, this sector exhibits a very high rate of growth. Unfortunately, as we all know, higher government salaries are typically not associated with any increase either in the volume or quality of services received by us.


However, there has also been a most welcome acceleration in the 'real' sectors of the economy, with manufacturing as well as mining and quarrying recording very satisfactory rates of growth. Since the global economy is yet to recover from the slump, the Indian export performance has not been particularly bright. Clearly, it is domestic demand that has triggered off a process of recovery in the Indian manufacturing sector.


So, the government can claim with justifiable pride that its expansionary policies have been largely responsible for the speed with which the economy seems to have come out of the downturn. It did set in place a fiscal stimulus programme with increased expenditure in the social sectors in particular. Some tax concessions were also given. The Reserve Bank of India also pitched in, reduced interest rates steeply and also put in place measures to ensure an adequate supply of credit. It helped that the domestic banking sector as a whole remained virtually untouched by the turmoil in the global financial sector. This ensured that banks were not reluctant to extend credit.


However, the government now has to contend with a new set of contentious issues. Over the last couple of months, there has been a steep rise in prices. What is particularly worrying is that prices of staple items of food have gone through the roof. The fight against inflation must become the principal focus of government policy in the immediate future.


Since the economy has been restored to a moderate degree of health, the need for the fiscal stimulus programme is no longer as acute as it was even a few months ago. Similarly, the RBI can perhaps afford to raise interest rates and also move, at least slightly, towards a tighter monetary regime. Not surprisingly, some economists believe that the RBI will soon raise the cash reserve ratio in order to restrict the increase in the flow of credit. These are, of course, classic and conventional measures to control inflation. They are designed to choke off aggregate demand. To the extent that prices rise when demand exceeds supply, the logic underlying these anti-inflationary policies is quite transparent.


Unfortunately, the design of appropriate policies is not always this easy. For instance, the economy is still in the initial stages of recovery, and it may be imprudent to change the policies too suddenly from a growth-inducing regime to one that is primarily an anti-inflationary regime. Some degree of fine tuning is clearly important, for there is the obvious danger that an excessive degree of contractionary policies may again push the economy back into deep slumber. Since that is the last thing that the government wants, both the finance ministry and the RBI need to proceed rather cautiously along this route.


But there is another far more serious reason why exclusive reliance on contractionary policies is undesirable.

Surely, the finance minister does not want to advice the representative housewife to curtail her family's

consumption of rice, potatoes and other vegetables because lower demand for these commodities would bring down prices?


In other words, when prices of basic food items are rising, the appropriate policy response must surely be to tackle the problem from the supply side. Of course, it may sometimes be possible that an increase in the rate of interest — which is typically viewed as an instrument of tight money policy — may help bring down food prices by raising the cost of hoarding and hence forcing traders to release larger stocks on the market. But the emphasis must be on ways of augmenting supply.


The government's short-term policy options are somewhat limited because it is not feasible to increase production instantaneously. That is why the current bout of inflation should have been anticipated and the government should have taken appropriate steps much earlier. The debate about whether the country should import rice illustrates the ham-handed manner in which the government has handled the situation. Some ministers have said that the government would not hesitate to import rice if prices spiral out of control, while others have asserted that the country's buffer stock is more than adequate. Finally, the empowered group of ministers have met recently and decided that there is no immediate need to import rice.


But, the current stock of rice available with the government is reported to be over 15 million tonnes — this is a very large amount and quite adequate to deal with sudden emergencies. Why has the government not been releasing some of this stock in instalments? The increased supply of rice would have helped to cool off the market price. Equally important, it would have been a powerful signal of the government's intention to act decisively. This would have prevented, or at least reduced, the speculative hoarding of rice by traders since they would no longer be confident of future prices being higher. For similar reasons, it would have made the task of procurement agencies easier. At any rate, given the thinness of the international market for rice, prolonged discussions about whether India should import rice or not only serve to drive up the price in the international markets to stratospheric levels.


Perhaps, the government was so preoccupied with the global recession and its effects on the domestic economy that it neglected all other problem areas. But, now that the economy seems to have been nursed back to health in so far as GDP growth rate is concerned, one can only hope that the government will act decisively on other battlefields.


The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick









A petition has been filed in the supreme court on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug that she be allowed to die. The former nurse has been in a coma for the last 36 years, left blind, speechless and paralysed, her brain cells severely damaged by the dog chain her rapist used to strangle her. She is being kept alive by force feeding and is looked after by nurses at Mumbai's KEM hospital, where she once worked. It is hard to be unmoved by the vegetative state in which she has remained for over three decades.  Aruna doesn't live, she exists, say those who believe she must be allowed to die with dignity. The petition before the supreme court says her vegetative condition is a violation of her right to live with dignity, and hence she has a right to not be in this kind of sub-human condition. The right to life which is guaranteed by the Constitution has been described by the supreme court as right to living with human dignity. A life in a vegetative state is hardly one with human dignity. Indeed then, there is a strong case for recognizing an individuals right to die with dignity.

But the right to die is a principle that is not without its share of complications when it comes to practicing it. How do we know that a person who is believed to be in a vegetative state is not hearing, thinking or feeling? A recent case in Germany, where a patient who was thought to be in a vegetative state conveyed through his communicator that for the past 26 years he had been aware of events around him and had heard things told to him indicates that our understanding of the human body is far from complete. It raises questions about our capacity to decide on issues of assisted death. Aruna's caregivers at the hospital say she seems to enjoy meat. How sure are we that she wants to die?

Implementing a court ruling in favour of Aruna's right to die will be complicated. Generally, life support systems would be switched off.  This would not apply to Aruna, as she is not on a support system. In which case, will she be given lethal injection? Or denied food? Recognising an individuals right to die will throw open the floodgates. Do we have systems in place to ensure that unfair practices don't creep in when deciding whether a person in a coma should be allowed to die?








The results of the Karnataka legislative council elections to 25 seats from local authorities' constituencies have proved to be a mixed bag for the ruling BJP and Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa. Though, on the face of it, the BJP won 10 seats, six more than the number it had held earlier, the party did not do as well as its leaders had hoped for. In keeping with the recent trend towards 'going all out' for win, the ruling party more than the others, went out of the way to lure the prospective voters, which does not augur well for democratic polity in the state. The recent fissures in the BJP also seemed to have played a role in some of its candidates losing the elections. Significantly, despite having 17 MLAs in Bangalore city, the BJP lost the lone council seat to the Congress candidate.

The biggest loser, of course, was the Congress whose downward spiral since the May 2008 elections have continued. Fighting the council elections in alliance with the JD(S), the Congress managed to win 10 seats, but it was down by as many as nine seats. Now the party is in danger of losing its position as the principal opposition in the council as its leader V S Ugrappa did not even contest the polls, perhaps thanks to the 'arrangement' with the JD(S). The JD(S) has increased its tally in the House to 17 with five of its nominees emerging victorious, mainly from its stronghold of old Mysore areas.

As the 19-month-old Yeddyurappa government is rivan by internal bickerings and the air is thick with rumours of somehow putting together an alternative government when the situation so develops, the Congress is really on the horns of a dilemma. As the council elections have shown, it is only the combined opposition which can give the BJP the run for its money, but it also means that the Congress aligning with the JD(S) will really benefit the latter more than the Congress. While the state Congress leaders have been vehemently opposed to joining hands with the JD(S) and want to rebuild the party at all levels, the party high command seems to be more concerned about halting the growth of the BJP in Karnataka. JD(S) is already pressing for continuing the alliance in the ensuing BBMP elections as well and it will be interesting to see whether the Congress high command will go by expediency rather than long-term interests of the party. 








There is something terribly wrong with growth economics. After all, 18 years after India ushered in economic liberalisation, the promise of high growth to reduce poverty and hunger has not worked. In fact, it has gone the other way around: the more the economic growth, the higher is the resulting poverty.

A report by an expert group headed by Suresh Tendulkar, formerly chairman of prime minister's economic advisory council, now estimates poverty at 37.2 per cent, an increase of roughly 10 per cent over the earlier estimates of 27.5 per cent in 2004-05. This means, an additional 110 million people have slipped below the poverty line in just four years. 

Poor multiplying

The number of poor is multiplying at a time when the number of billionaires has also increased. Economic growth however does not reflect the widening economic disparities. For instance, the economic wealth of mere 30-odd rich families in India is equivalent to one third of the country's growth. The more the wealth accumulating in the hands of these 30 families, the more will be country's economic growth. A handful of rich therefore hide the ugly face of growing poverty.

If these 30 families were to migrate to America and Europe, India's GDP, which stands at 7.9 per cent at present, will slump to 6 per cent. And if you were to discount the economic growth resulting from the 6th pay commission, which is 1.9 per cent of the GDP, India's actual economic growth will slump to 4 per cent.
Anyway, the complicated arithmetic hides more than what it reveals. Poverty estimates were earlier based on nutritional criteria, which means based on the monthly income required to purchase 2,100 calories in the urban areas and 2,400 calories in the rural areas. Over the years, this measure came in for sharp criticism, and finally the Planning Commission suggested a new estimation methodology based on a new basket of goods that is required to survive, which includes food, fuel, light, clothing and footwear.

Accordingly, the Tendulkar committee has worked out that 41.8 per cent of the population or approximately 450 million people survive on a monthly per capita consumption expenditure of Rs 447. In other words, if you break it down to a daily expenditure, it comes to bare Rs 14.50 paise. I wonder how can the rural population earning more than Rs 14 and less than say even Rs 25 a day be expected to be over the poverty line. It is quite obvious therefore that the entire effort is still to hide the poverty under a veil of complicating figures.

India's poverty line is actually a euphemism for a starvation line. The poverty line that is laid out actually becomes the upper limit the government must pledge to feed. People living below this line constitute the Below the Poverty Line (BPL) category, for which the government has to provide a legal guarantee to provide food. It therefore spells out the government subsidy that is required to distribute food among the poor. More the poverty line more is the food subsidy.

If the government accepts Tendulkar committee report, the food subsidy bill will swell to Rs 47,917.62 crore -- a steep rise over the earlier subsidy of Rs 28,890.56-crore required to feed the BPL population with 25 kg of grains. This is primarily the reason why the government wants to keep the number of poor low. In other words, the poverty line reflects the number of people living in acute hunger. It should therefore be called as a starvation line.

I remember a few years back, a group of charitable organisations in England presented a list of demands to the government for helping the poor. Unlike India, where BPL category only receives food rations, and that too severely short the minimum nutritional requirement for a human body, the first demand of the UK charities was to provide the poor in England with washing machines.


India's poverty estimates therefore are the most stringent in the world. I don't know the economic justification of hiding the true figures, but politically it makes terrible sense. Each government therefore is happy to gloss over the starvation figures in the guise of poverty estimates. I wonder when India will include a basket of essential goods like footwear, cycles, sewing machines, solar lamps, water purifiers etc for the poor. This is simple economics, and not political compulsion as the media will like us to believe.

Going back to the poverty line arithmetic, the 2007 Arjun Sengupta committee report (officially the report of the National Commission on Enterprise in Unorganised Sector), which had estimated that 77 per cent of the population or 836 million people, were unable to spend more than Rs 20 a day, is probably a correct reflection of the extent of prevailing poverty.

In addition to monthly income, poverty estimates must incorporate the human development index as prepared by the United Nations Development Programme. India should therefore have two ways to classify the poor. The starvation line, needing direct cash transfers in addition to the basic requirement of food supplies. And a poverty line, needing not only food (but in lesser quantities) but also other economic necessities like sewing machines, water-purifiers, pressure cookers etc.








As if the pressures of living in an ever more competitive world were not enough, the challenges of coping with inadequate income support are bearing down on Asia's growing army of retirees, whose long years of hard work helped the region's economies grow.

With traditional informal family-based support mechanisms cracking, Asia's seniors are left to depend on pensions that are increasingly unable to meet their needs.

Particularly in rural areas, older people are considered especially susceptible to poverty. That is why increasing numbers of individuals of retirement age continue to seek employment, and most are eventually absorbed by the informal economy. This hardly makes them less vulnerable.

Changing profiles
More worrisome, the number of elderly people is increasing so fast that the demographic profiles of societies across Asia are changing. United Nations estimates point to a tripling of the number of seniors aged 60 years and over between 2007 and 2050 in eight Asian countries -China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam- even as their total population is forecast to increase by only 13 percent during that period.

For Asian Development Bank (ADB) senior economist Donghyun Park, the ballooning ratio of retirees to workers requires a change in priorities for Asia's pension systems. Park concludes in study, "Ageing Asia's Looming Pension Crisis," that Asia's pension systems are "ill-prepared to provide economic security for the large number of retirees who loom on the horizon."

Park's study, released by ADB recently, covers pension systems in the eight countries listed above, where the demographic transition toward older populations is much more advanced.

Park notes that while the family network used to be Asia's pension system, with children taking care of the material needs of their elders, far reaching changes accompanying the region's economic progress have given rise to smaller nuclear families that are less conducive to intra-family support. Such changes, he says, include rapid urbanisation and the declining relative importance of agriculture in the economy.

The Australian government recently announced increases in pension rates under its 2009-2010 budget. Australia's pension system offers two sources of retirement income: 1) superannuation, which is paid for through employment-related contributions, and 2) age pension, which is funded by taxpayers and paid through the government.

Total pension assets as of 2006 ranged from less than USD 1 billion in Indonesia to more than USD 180 billion in Korea, with the ratio of pension assets to gross domestic product highest in Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea.

More recently, the international consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide published estimates that Asia's pension savings bucked the downtrend in 2008 and actually grew while total funds under management by Asia-Pacific pension funds surpassed Europe's for the first time. The growth in Asia was attributed to the fact that many funds in the region were new, with contributions from working embers outweighing pensions paid to retirees.

Hamstrung by these weaknesses, pension systems in Asia are able to cover only a small portion of the total population. The share of the labour force covered by pension systems ranges from 13.2 percent (Vietnam) to 58 percent (Singapore), according to the ADB study. On the other hand, the coverage rate for the working-age population (15 to 64) ranges from just 10.8 percent to 40 percent. In developed countries, pension systems typically cover around 90 percent of the labour force and 60-75 percent of the working-age population.

Moreover, coverage of Asia's pension systems has been skewed towards workers in urban areas and the formal sector and towards government employees as opposed to private sector workers. The replacement rate —the ratio of retirement to pre-retirement income --has been largely inadequate, with only the Philippines reaching the recommended level, with a 79 percent rate.

Park's study lists four major areas for reform: 1) strengthening the institutional and administrative capacity of the pension systems; 2) improvement in their governance and regulation; 3) expanding coverage, and 4) enhancing financial sustainability.

The case for urgent pension reform is as much economic as social. Policy-makers around the region would do well to heed his warning that, if left unreformed, Asia's pension systems will be unable to honour their future pension promises. (IPS)








Have you ever felt your destiny dribbling down dollops of dread all over you one fine unexpected morning? And you wishing that some wizard of worth and classiness would rescue you from such a hopeless hole of hurdles and gruesome glue?

Everyone knows that destiny bakes this bothersome pineapple cake to badger you into solving a major problem, or to scrape out hurdles that have hardened into rust.

Also known as being stuck between the devil and the deep sea, this uneasy prison owns me as its very regular visitor, because I hate change. Even the rubble and the rust I'm sitting under calmly, seem better than to make that decision, scrape out that bully or that blizzard hammering at the door!

This talkative prison warns that a massive weasel is breathing down your back, your neck, or worse, your soul! Or eating up the cashewnuts in the kitchen cupboard, and eyeing your Hilfiger watch!

Then it nastily reminds you that that persistent boring bully is trying to run your life for you. Or that twittering of mediocrity posing as expertise is becoming a massive mansion of draculas pounding down upon your nerves!

Still, I would rather watch Dalziel and Pascoe on BBC entertainment to see how those two delightful detectives are solving the ghastly murder while my mess goes on murdering me! I visit that Tortoise Shell cat on her terrace with her two-colours-short to make a decimated rainbow of pineapple yellow, chocolate brown, ice white, and sun-kissed yellow squiggles on her fur. Her exquisite calm scrubs away all the sniggers of stupidity and slime.

And then just one spell of Handel's Messiah is enough to badger me into such bliss that nothing else makes sense except  the awesome truth that Handel took just 24 days to create this masterpiece of such solemn, soaring majesty!

Magic squirts out of two ducks snoozing in water on their very own water beds! One piece of bread passed on for an early breakfast, and the ducks peer out with one eye to gleam and wash off the missiles of mediocrity slamming around the universe.

What could be the reason to remain in this prison? For this maddening Mayor of Meekness and Indecision, the saving grace could be that while lost between the devil and the deep sea, one finds several hidden nuggets of sense and sensibility.

It is the place where Pavarotti seems to be singing for his supper at your doorstep! And Panis Angelicus weeps for you, and woes you out of your woes. How awesome!








A portentous decision on whether to trade Gilad Schalit - who has been in Hamas captivity for an excruciating 1,275 days - for a thousand imprisoned Arab terrorists is now being finalized. The raw anguish of Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva, has been imprinted on the Israeli consciousness since their son fell into enemy hands on June 25, 2006.


Our hearts tell us to pay Hamas's price.


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his top ministers, however, have the terrifying responsibility of acting with both their hearts and minds. Their deliberations cut to the essence of what it means to be Israeli.


Israelis do not want a second Ron Arad affair; Gilad is now so close to freedom, he's virtually touchable. For him to slip away now would be devastating.


Paying Hamas's price, though, would constitute a second "Jibril Deal." That 1983 prisoner swap with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine saw 1,150 Arabs exchanged for three Israeli soldiers. One of those Arabs was Ahmed Yassin; others would become his lieutenants. Together they created Hamas.


There are doubtlessly men of Yassin's "caliber" among the 1,000 Hamas seeks. After his release, Yassin was re-arrested, only to be released in 1997 by Binyamin Netanyahu - during his first term as premier - in yet another prisoner exchange.


Beyond the moral bankruptcy of rewarding past evil, with history as our guide - and with heavy hearts - we assert that Israelis will die if the government obtains Gilad's freedom by acting only with its heart.


Things were not supposed to get this far. Days after our Gilad was taken, Hamas demanded the 1,000 prisoners. Ehud Olmert responded: "We won't let anyone believe that kidnapping is a tool to bring Israel to its knees." Privately, however, the then-premier gave Egypt the green light to commence bargaining. Those talks are culminating now under Netanyahu.


Israel concurrently tried pressuring Hamas. The IDF quickly rounded up 64 Hamas "parliamentarians" in the West Bank; it launched Operation Summer Rains sending tanks and commandos into Gaza in search of Gilad. (When this affair is over, Israelis deserve to know why a soldier held within driving distance of the Ministry of Defense could not be rescued.)


By early July 2006, dozens of Palestinian gunmen had been killed, others taken prisoner, to exact a price for Schalit's continued captivity. Israel temporarily re-took parts of Gaza - for the first time since the 2005 disengagement. Hamas absorbed these blows and responded with intensified shelling against Sderot and Ashkelon.


Relentless Hamas rocket attacks ultimately led to Operation Cast Lead in December 2008. All in all, since Schalit was taken, Hamas's recklessness has cost the lives of well over a thousand Palestinians and left a trail of devastation in Gaza. Yet Hamas remained steadfast in its demands certain that Israel would ultimately capitulate. Indeed, within days of Schalit's capture, then-internal security minister Avi Dichter said publicly what Hamas wanted to hear: that Palestinian prisoners should be released for Schalit's freedom.


NOW, Israelis will be assured that the most lethal of the freed prisoners will be confined to Gaza or exiled abroad; as if there is no two-way traffic in Gaza's tunnels.


And with the absolute sincerity of an alcoholic having one final drink before going cold turkey, the government will assert that the Schalit deal will be Israel's last lop-sided prisoner exchange.


A deal will buttress what Palestinians already believe, that Israelis understand only force. Tomorrow's Palestinian leaders, therefore, will be that much more obdurate. It will become still harder for a credible Palestinian leader - no matter how ostensibly moderate - to abjure violence.


Stopping on a dime will mean that the pundits and politicians who orchestrated the campaign that took matters this far will have some explaining to do. If Netanyahu does pull back, it will be because Israelis were bluffing ourselves as much as we were bluffing Hamas.


A "no" now would take Hamas down a peg. Netanyahu could directly address the Islamists' disappointed constituents, emphasizing that meeting Hamas's rapacious demands would have dishonored him and caused Israel to lose face. Palestinians will understand that. So will Israelis.


He should frankly acknowledge that he was ready for an honorable deal. Indeed, he must stress that he remains ready for an honorable deal.


THE HARROWING ordeal of Gilad's selfless parents touches us all. Their son has become our son.


Nevertheless, Netanyahu must reverse course. The killers should remain incarcerated; if they don't, more Israelis will surely die.








Thirty-nine young people from Gaza applied to attend a peace education workshop sponsored by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information that was held this past weekend in a school in Beit Jala. Thirty-five of them were denied entry by the IDF and did not have the opportunity to join the 70 other Israelis and Palestinians who spent the weekend in dialogue, debate, disagreement and agreement, rejoicing in the mutual recognition that we all want peace and that peace is possible.


Actually all 39 Gazans were denied entry, but we managed to get agreement to allow four people to come. The refusal of the army to allow their entry had nothing to do with security. The army officer in charge even told me so. This is the policy and the army is implementing that policy.


What exactly is the policy and why was it designed, you ask? The policy is to completely isolate Gaza from the rest of the world and the reason is to convince the people of Gaza that they should take action against the ruling Hamas government. The policy is that no one leaves Gaza. Period.


Of course there are the exceptions - those with immediate humanitarian needs. There also some other exceptions - judgment calls made by the commander of the Erez crossing - that is how we managed to get four young people from Gaza to attend our peace education workshop and that is how about five businessmen get out of Gaza every day as well. But with all of the exceptions, more than 1.5 million Gazans are trapped inside this tiny and crowded piece of land, with no right of movement into and through Israel or into and through Egypt.


This policy is actually supposed to convince the people of Gaza that Hamas is their enemy and that they should rise up against them. Analysts in the army and in the security forces claim that the policy is working because public opinion research shows that there is a decline of public support for Hamas in Gaza. This might be true - there is no way we can really know what has brought about a decline in public support for Hamas, but it is very unlikely that the economic siege is the reason.


GAZANS ARE really suffering. This is what we heard from the four who joined us for the workshop. This is what I continue to hear from dozens of other friends that I speak with regularly all over the Gaza Strip. They all report the same thing. While most of the average Gazans - the secular and non-fundamentalist people - are paying the price of the siege, Hamas activists and Hamas-connected entrepreneurs have become the nouveau riche.


The underground economy has created the need to establish a Ministry of Tunnels with a full policy of tax collection for goods coming into Gaza, as well as for the time used for their transport. At the same time, the factory owners, the farmers and shopkeepers who were dependent on trade with Israel have gone bankrupt. What was once the mainstream of Gazan society, a kind of middle class, has been decimated by the policies aimed at making them turn on Hamas. This will not happen.


The majority of Gazans are broken. They have lost hope. They have no strength for a long, drawn out struggle. They feel detached from the world, an abandoned people - "even God has forgotten us," one of them said. The four people who left to meet Israelis took a big personal risk. They were stopped by Hamas on the way out and they were stopped and questioned upon their return. The other 35 who couldn't get out were willing to demonstrate the same courage.


We told the army: Check all of them; if there are any who are a security risk, don't let them out. But the policy is not about security, so they were not even checked by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). I cannot find the logic in prohibiting young people from Gaza from meeting with Israelis. Is the government implementing an anti-normalization campaign?


IRONICALLY I find myself often encountering Palestinians in the West Bank who refuse to meet Israelis because they see it as "normalization" with the enemy while the occupation continues. To them I always say, "Please explain to me how you not meeting with Israelis is advancing your struggle? How will you liberate Palestine and end the occupation by not talking to Israelis?"


I don't get it. I say to them, if you want to end the occupation and liberate your land and create your state next to Israel, go and meet with Israelis from the Likud and from Israel Beiteinu, don't boycott them - that has no logic to it at all. So I say to the government, if we want to change the regime in Gaza without reoccupying it, we must change the hearts and the minds of the Gazan people.


One of the young participants from Gaza said, "My father who used to work in Israel told me that he knew many Israelis who wanted peace with us, but I never believed him. After being here this weekend I now know that there are Israelis who want peace as much as we do, and some even more than us!"


Israel's current policy is not only not working, it is counterproductive and it is morally wrong. Collective punishment against a civilian population will never create future partners for peace. If we want to weaken Hamas, end the economic siege. If we want to bankrupt Hamas economically, open the passages for trade - it will put the tunnels out of business. If we want to build partners for peace, enable thousands of Gazans to come out to meet with Israelis. If we want change in Gaza, we have to change the way we treat Gaza. Hamas is the enemy; the people of Gaza are not.


The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.








Part I of this series appeared on December 16 on this Web site.


It seemed as if that Friday, December 22, 1989, the day Nicolae Ceausescu fled Bucharest in an army helicopter and the Romanian revolution started in earnest, would never end. Confusion was total. Nobody knew what was going on and who exactly was shooting at whom. The only source of news was the television, where events were literally broadcast live.


A succession of TV presenters wearing armbands the color of the Romanian flag were earnestly expressing their joy at their new freedom, while explaining that for years they had worked under duress - all the while uneasily watching reports about Ceausescu's faithful regaining ground.


In the first few hours, the fate of the battle raging in the country hung in the balance. Would the ragged bands of heroic civilians, poorly armed and trained, be able to overcome the forces of the Securitate, the dreaded security apparatus wholly devoted to the dictator? Suddenly a triumphant yell resounded in the studio: "Armata e cu noi!" (the army is with us). That was the turning point.


It meant that part of the establishment was throwing its lot in with the insurgents. The problem was that there were not enough troops in the capital and while reinforcements were being rushed in, the Securitate made an all-out effort to crush the uprising. The first step was to try and take over the television building, thus silencing the voice of the revolution. The battle raged for hours.


Just before midnight, a soldier rushed in with unbelievable news: Far from planning his comeback from the safety of some secret location, Ceausescu, having been betrayed by the pilot of his army helicopter, had been arrested and thrown in jail together with his wife. Since, however, there were no pictures of the couple, many people believed it was a ploy to discourage his followers and convince them to lay down their arms. They were wrong: It was true.


THIS WAS high drama, and I might have enjoyed it more hadn't I been caught in it. Israel had nothing to do with what was going on, and neither side had anything against us. Cannon balls, however, are not always very good at telling friends from foes, and the embassy walls would be no match for a stray shot. Still, it was thought that the ambassador would be safer there than alone (with his wife) in the residence with no one to protect him. So I had packed a few necessities and lots of food, and I had dutifully followed my husband.


Needless to say, Israeli representations the world over do not as a rule have comfortable bedrooms for the use of the diplomats. I spent that first night lying on the faux Persian carpet in his excellency's stately office, my head resting on one of the cushions taken from the small sofa (the ambassador had the other one). I did not sleep well. More than the bright flash of mortar fire or the dull thud of cannon, it was the uncertainty of the situation which was keeping me awake. How long would this go on? What was going to happen?


Diplomatic immunity was not going to help if things got really bad, as another ambassador's wife was discovering that very night. Sharpshooters were targeting the brightly lit television studios and soldiers were returning fire. The British residence, situated next door to the television building, was caught in the crossfire.


The ambassador himself was safe in the embassy building, but his wife was trapped in the house with the children who had come from England to spend Christmas with their parents. They managed to creep down to the basement where they huddled together for a long time, waiting for a lull in the fighting to make a dash for the street. They escaped just before dawn - not a moment too soon. A direct hit set the mansion ablaze. It burned to the ground and with it all the family personal effects - from clothes to mementos and family albums.


We had no such drama and I eventually drifted to sleep until a new round of artillery fire started in earnest. It petered out by mid-morning for no apparent reason. Among the many rumors floating around that Saturday - the wildest being that there was an atomic bomb under the party headquarters and it could be triggered by remote control - was that Arab mercenaries were allegedly pouring in to help repress the revolution. The angry crowd would pounce on blameless passersby with a Middle Eastern appearance yelling "terrorists."


TWENTY YEARS ago there were hundreds of young Israelis in Bucharest studying medicine and dentistry, and roughly half their number were Israeli Arabs. Not all had gone home for the long end-of-the year vacation. Many of those who had remained found themselves suddenly the target of hostile manifestations and came to seek refuge at the embassy. By mid-afternoon there were 50 of them milling in the courtyard and the waiting rooms. Fortunately they had brought a little food with them, because by that time we were running out of supplies and could give them nothing but apples and a few remaining doughnuts.


The good news was that the US embassy was hard at work trying to organize the orderly evacuation of nonessential personnel to neighboring Bulgaria - less than 40 miles away - and was ready to include whoever wanted to in the convoy due to leave the next day. Most students decided to go.


Night fell on a wounded and bewildered city. Was the fighting abating or was it just wishful thinking? On the morning of December 24, the evacuation started and the embassy regained a measure of calm - a calm which slowly spread to the city. Our driver showed up. With the blessing of the head of security, who came with us, we decided to make a quick trip to the residence to replenish our stocks.


Roadblocks manned by what appeared to be very young fighters had been set at major intersections. Our car was stopped again and again, and once the driver was ordered at gunpoint to open the trunk. There was nothing in it but a case of grapefruit which we had intended to send to a sick friend. The youngsters looked at it with wonder.


Grapefruits in communist Romania were not a common sight. Zvi had an inspiration: "Take them and have a merry Christmas," he said. He did not have to repeat it. In less than a minute, the three fighters were making off at top speed for home, each clutching a few of the golden fruit to his chest.


As the day went on, it seemed as if heavy artillery had ceased completely and only occasional gunfire was heard. The army was taking control and meeting less and less opposition: Now that Ceausescu was in jail, his supporters were losing the will to fight. With no less than six armored personnel carriers having taken position to protect the residence, we went home for a good night's sleep. The next day - December 25 - was Christmas. At noon, there was a sudden hush. A grey faced speaker told the country and the world that the dictator and his wife, having been found guilty of innumerable crimes by a special tribunal, had been condemned to death and executed on the spot.

That night, snow began to fall at last.


The writer is the wife of former ambassador Zvi Mazel. She is the author of Ambassador's Wife published in 2002, a personal account of the eight years she spent in Cairo with her husband.








The scope of the dilemma facing Israel's decision-makers regarding the deal to free Gilad Shalit is demonstrated by the protracted deliberations of the forum of seven senior cabinet ministers yesterday and Sunday. The smaller the gaps become between the positions of Hamas and Israel, the more obvious the difficulty becomes. The ultimatum of the German mediator underscored to the cabinet the necessity of making a decision.

The apparent tie among the other six ministers means that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will determine the abducted soldier's fate. It is he who will have to explain his decision to that part of the Israeli public that will object to it. If he approves the deal he will have to explain the release of prisoners responsible for major terror attacks in exchange for Shalit. If he rejects the mediator's offer, he will have to explain why to the Shalits and to those who support accepting Hamas' demands.

Infuriatingly, these agonizing deliberations are taking place three and a half years too late. The Hamas demands are not new, and the lengthy and frustrating negotiations have made it clear that there is a limit to the concessions each side is prepared to make. The mistakes made during the term of prime minister Ehud Olmert and the foot-dragging in Netanyahu's have added to the other considerations surrounding the decision: the superfluous ones of prestige, party politics and personal pressures. They have shifted the focus of the decision making process from its proper place - delivering on the state's duty to - to populist considerations.

The cabinet will not be able to wash its hands of responsibility with the spurious claim that it has "done everything" to obtain Shalit's release. True, it clamped a cruel blockade on Gaza as a means of applying pressure, but the heavy price of that is paid by the Gazans, not Hamas. The massive military operation in Gaza did nothing to advance his release, and in the end Israel had to return to negotiations.

Not a single new reason that justifies keeping the Shalits and the Israeli public in suspense - and jeopardizing Shalit's life - has been added to the sum total of security and political considerations. Israel's security does not depend on whether another 10 or 20 terrorists are freed. Israel's prestige is not measured only by its ability to combat terrorism, and its failure is not a function of the roars of triumph with which Hamas will welcome its freed prisoners. Gilad Shalit, who could have been free a long time ago, must come home now.







It is not difficult to understand the agonizing decision facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet ministers. It would be very hard to accept a negative decision on their part. Gilad Shalit must be freed at any cost, all the more so because the actual cost is lower than the one bandied about by those who oppose the release.

We're dealing with the release of hundreds of Palestinians, about one-tenth of the Palestinians in prison. Some of them are political prisoners for all intents and purposes; some are women and youths.

The most murderous of them have, for the most part, already served long sentences. The overwhelming majority of them will not return to terrorist activity; rather they will want to spend the remainder of their life in freedom.

Yes, there will be more and more terrorists in the future, with or without the hundreds of released prisoners, if the occupation and abuse of the Palestinian people continues. This is the real infrastructure of terror, and it does not depend on those who will be released in the deal.

One generation of Palestinians after another will fight in its own way for its liberty and breed more and more terrorists. The only really effective way to reduce terror, if not to prevent it altogether, is to stop its operating engine - the occupation.

Whether Mohamed, Ahmad and Marwan are released or not, whether they are exiled are not, the extent of danger expected from our neighbors will continue to depend on the entire Palestinian nation's liberty, not on the freedom of nearly 1,000 people.

Of all the arguments against releasing them, the most fallacious one is the "loss of deterrence." Even after implementing the deal the Palestinians will do everything they can to capture more soldiers. Israel has taught them, after all, that this is the only way to get their imprisoned brethren freed.

Just as Israels' tough stance in the Ron Arad affair failed to prevent the capture of additional soldiers, so Israeli stubbornness in the Shalit affair will fail to prevent abductions. If Israel was not holding 10,000 prisoners, some of whom are serving disproportionate sentences and have no hope of ever getting out but by violent means, the Palestinians' motivation for capturing more soldiers would diminish.

Whether Israel decides to sign the deal or not, it will not change anything except the personal fate of Gilad Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners. This is the only issue on the agenda, not Israel's security or its sovereignty.

The dilemma is razor sharp - do we or do we not want to see Shalit home; alive or dead, to be or not to be, that is the only question. This is why the government must decide in favor of the deal.

It's difficult to demand that the Israelis occupied with Shalit's captivity show consideration for the Palestinians' feelings as well. But they should do so, or at least try.

Hundreds of prisoners have been locked up for years in dire conditions, some - those from Gaza - have been imprisoned for years with no family visits, not a phone call home.

And not all of them have blood on their hands. At least the possibility of their release should have raised compassion in our hearts as well, as groundless and shrill as this may sound to the obtuse Israeli ear.

It is no coincidence that only the Palestinian prisoners' families have expressed hope for Shalit's release, beside the hope for their own sons' release. How distressing that we hear no similar sentiment from anyone on our side, not even the Shalit family.

But Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners are not alone. Seven million Israelis and three and a half million Palestinians have been imprisoned for 42 years in a dark cave due to the curse of occupation. Had the turbulent Israeli temper, so impressively mobilized in the campaign to free Shalit, been recruited in a similar way for the struggle to end the occupation and free both Palestinians and Israelis from its yoke, things would already be different.

In view of the huge (and appropriate) sensitivity and concern demonstrated by Israeli society for one man's life and liberty, it's time to think of applying similar sensitivity, determination, involvement and caring in regard to the fate of 10 million Israelis and Palestinians. True, they see the light of day, but their future is cloaked in darkness.

The same intensive negotiations, the same public pressure, the same flyovers, races, balloons, petitions, bills, stickers and demonstrations, the same protest tents and the same demonstrations against the ongoing occupation would have got us long ago to a safe shore, one that would prevent more Gilad Shalits. But first Shalit must be released, and today.








Thousands of words have been written about the political folly of including 75 percent of the West Bank settlements within the map of national priority zones, but almost nothing has been said about the alarming social distortions entailed by the measure. The settlements do not meet any of the criteria for benefits. Most of them are not far from the center of the country and their socioeconomic situation is just fine. Central Bureau of Statistics data indicate that family income levels in the settlements are about 10 percent above the national average, that unemployment is 1.5 percent below the national average and that the settlements have the highest rate of matriculation exam eligibility in the country. All this is despite the fact that one third of the settlers are ultra-Orthodox - a community that is considered below-average economically.

The settlers, who see themselves as an elite group, will doubtlessly attribute these figures to their exceptional values and sense of mission. But the truth is that the settlements have been a national priority area since 1977 (with the exception of the three years of the Rabin government, for which Netanyahu generally compensated). For 30 years they have enjoyed benefits in every area. While throughout Israel teachers receive laughable salaries and contend with classes of 40 or more students, schools in the settlements have classes with no more than 21 students and an abundance of higher-paid positions for teachers and counselors - not to mention the fully subsidized longer school day, afterschool activities and busing. This may be why the settlements tend not to join the strikes by budget-challenged municipalities.

Even those who see the settlers as pioneers who created something out of nothing cannot deny that it is nonsensical to include the settlements in the national priority map. The government's boast that 40 percent of Israel's Arab communities are also on the map is risible. Precisely how does it propose to close the gap between the development towns and the Arab communities on one hand and the settlers on the other, if all are considered equal in the allocation of benefits despite their huge differences?


This distortion is not new. In the past, too, there were unjust divisions of resources - between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, between kibbutzim and development towns or poor urban neighborhoods. But then, the deprived populations developed anger and hatred for the kibbutzim, which to them symbolized the unequal allocation of resources. Those who face discrimination today do not protest against the settlers, who on the whole are privileged "white" folks. This is because the disadvantaged populations have only become even weaker and even when they fought they remained behind, trapped in the struggle to survive, while the settlers (and the wealthy) have thrived at their expense.

Another reason is that the left has been less bothered by economic and social justice, viewing the settlements as an obstacle to peace rather than to an egalitarian, just society. Politicians and the media discuss the foreign-policy aspect of the settlements but not their social impact. In addition, the left is less proficient at incitement and lacks a leader with the rhetorical powers of Menachem Begin, who managed to turn the anger of the dispossessed toward the kibbutzim.

A contributing factor is the fraudulent methods used by the government to establish the settlements. Any attempt, even by cabinet ministers, to obtain accurate data on the money given to them is doomed to failure. Everything is concealed within general budgetary items, so that the discrimination remains a secret. Kibbutzim are scattered throughout the country, while the settlements are in an area that most Israelis don't visit. So they are far from what might be an observant eye, and also far from what might be a jealous heart.

The new priority map will leave intact both the settlers' superior standard of living and the inferior status of development towns, poor neighborhoods and Arab communities. It will also further weaken the middle class, which pays for it all: those who may still live in the center of the country, but whose quality of life is gradually growing farther from that of the settlers' Garden of Eden. It's a shame, because the settlement experience has shown that with big money and unlimited support communities with good people who want to succeed and have a sense of mission will indeed flourish - in the Negev, the Galilee and the Arab Triangle too








During the first and last days of Hanukkah, the Jerusalem police arrested drummers and clowns who believe in nonviolence, coexistence and equality between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.

At noon on the last day of Hanukkah we marched, about 20 people, down Hanevi'im Street. The atmosphere was so relaxed that near the old stone building that houses the Ministry of Education, I thought about the civics classes the education minister had promised would be taught in schools. Perhaps he would begin the lessons with the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, a quarter million strong, who are not Israeli citizens, who live in an occupied territory annexed by the State of Israel contrary to international law.

They have Israeli identity cards, but they are considered only permanent residents. And even that is a temporary status: Those who travel abroad to study or are stuck on the other side of the wall (like tens of thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem) lose their right to live in the city.


As we sang, I thought that perhaps the education minister would tell the children the story of Musrara, the neighborhood in which his office is situated, and where until 1948, Arabs lived in the beautiful homes that Jews now inhabit. We were on our way to Sheikh Jarrah, to the homes where Palestinian families were evicted onto the street.

The court authorized Jewish families to come live in those homes instead, since before 1948, the homes belonged to a Jewish organization. How will the education minister explain that Arabs are forbidden to claim the homes they abandoned in 1948 - in Musrara, Talbieh, Katamon and all the beautiful neighborhoods where only Jews live today - but Jews are allowed to claim their former homes?

We sang to a samba beat; the drums set the beat and made us merry. And then, dozens of police arrived in huge vehicles, along with others riding horses, and forcibly dragged away my son and his drummer friends. The police did not explain; they refused to identify themselves; they gave us no reason for the arrest. Two hours later, at Sheikh Jarrah, police attacked the clowns and the drummers and arrested 20 of the Israelis who sat down and said "no more" to racism in Jerusalem.

Altogether, 50 were arrested over the course of a day and a half. In custody, they sang Hanukkah songs and peace songs, and after being released, they continued to drum and sing in the square outside the court. Their drums are still being held.

The Israel Police arrests drums and drummers in order to keep order. And order in Jerusalem means that Jews are by law more equal than Arabs. The Jerusalem Municipality awards the third of its citizens who are Palestinian less than 14 percent of its budget, and its declared policy is segregation and discrimination: the construction of Jewish neighborhoods on land expropriated from Palestinians, the razing of Palestinian homes that were built without a permit, the building of Jewish but not Palestinian schools, the creation of Jewish settlements, protected by security guards and police, in the middle of Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The policy of "preserving a demographic majority" means as few Palestinians in Jerusalem as possible, and as many Jews as possible.

This is the crux of Israel's entire policy. And the police arrest drummers so that the voices challenging this racist order are silenced.

Everyone has a pot that can be used as a drum. Sometimes, it is deep in the cupboard. Sometimes, it seems impossible to reach it.

But everyone can drum - drum in order to wake us all up and suggest that we can do things differently. Drum for Jews and Arabs to have a shared life in Jerusalem.








I have recently discovered that I am one of the few people who bother to watch "Big Brother." This, of course, contradicts the ratings and is in complete contrast to last season, when Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath watched the show and said she even sent text messages to ensure Shifra Kornfeld would win and Einav Boublil would lose.

It is very easy, as the present public debate in Israel proves, to confuse three issues: policy, law and professionalism. One minister's wish to change healthcare policy priorities is considered an infringement on doctors' professional judgment; another minister, who complained that the courts do not take the economic repercussions of their decisions into account, was described as not understanding democracy; and the courts make decisions that in fact set security policy, without any expertise in this field.

A classic case of a tragic decision is deciding who should receive dialysis treatment when there are more patients than there are machines. First come, first served? A lottery? By age - and what about elderly creative geniuses? By the chance of the treatment's success?

One thing is clear: This is not a professional medical decision. Doctors can predict who will benefit more from the treatment, but that is all. The decision is one of public values, and that is the purview of elected officials.


Politicians do not make such decisions happily. They prefer to pass them on to "professional bodies," so as to avoid responsibility. But that does not change the principle: Moral decisions on public issues belong in the domain of elected officials.

Thus, for instance, the decision to fund dental care for children over drugs that would extend the lives of cancer patients by a few months is not a medical question, but a moral one. And therefore, it falls under the politicians' auspices.

The courts' role is to apply legal norms to real cases that have come to trial, while taking other moral considerations into account. It is not their job to weigh numerous "utilitarian" considerations regarding the social outcomes of their decisions. Worrying about the future is generally the politicians' responsibility.

This division of labor is not clear-cut. The courts are authorized to make financial demands of the state if the law requires it, but they must minimize such cases. And it certainly does no harm done to democracy if a minister claims, in appropriate language, that the courts are interfering with the implementation of economic policy via decisions that place heavy financial burdens on the state.

As for professionalism, a modern government must be rich in knowledge. Senior officials need to have professional training of the highest caliber, and the politicians need to grant great weight to this professional expertise in setting policy. They must also avoid interfering in concrete professional decisions. Thus, for example, there is room for politicians to set policy, after carefully studying the relevant information, on the question of how to determine when death occurs. But a minister who intervenes in a medical decision on whether to declare a specific patient dead is overreaching his authority.

There is no profession that encompasses all knowledge, and there is always a need to bring various professionals together. The Finance Ministry's Budgets Division ought to include other professionals in addition to economists, in order to give proper weight to social considerations. The same applies to the courts. When the High Court of Justice hears a case with security implications - for example, the route of the separation fence - it must solicit opinions from independent professionals, among others. That, obviously, does not undermine the court's independence.

It is crucial to understand the correct division of labor that democratic principles dictate: Elected officials are responsible for setting policy, which involves making moral judgments; the courts are granted the authority to apply norms; and professionals need to provide information to both politicians and the courts. There will always be disagreements, but the public discourse will suffer from less ignorance and the situation will be less confused.







Ten Democratic senators are calling for abandoning the much-maligned "public option" — a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers — and replacing it with two programs that might achieve the same goal of expanding Americans' choices and providing some competition.


We won't know if this compromise does that until the Congressional Budget Office has evaluated it. But we admire the senators' desire to try to move reform legislation forward.


We have long championed the idea of a public plan. With no need to turn a profit and backed by government

muscle, it could charge lower premiums and probably induce its private competitors to lower their premiums. But the insurance industry and Republican critics were determined to kill or severely weaken a public plan.


As currently embodied in the Senate bill, the public plan would be sold only on new insurance exchanges that would be open just to people who buy their own insurance policies and to certain small businesses. And instead of imposing rates based on Medicare's relative low reimbursements, it would have to negotiate how much to pay health care providers (just as private plans do). The C.B.O. believes the public plan's premiums would be higher than the average private plan's.


We still believe that a weak public option is better than none. Here are the details, as of now, of the possible alternative:


MEDICARE BUY-IN People ages 55 to 64 who are eligible to use the exchanges would be permitted to buy coverage from Medicare. Unlike older Americans, this younger group would have to pay the full premium themselves unless their incomes are low enough to qualify for subsidies. The premium could be in the neighborhood of $7,600 a year for single coverage.


Whether people would find Medicare attractive at this price is not clear. Expanding Medicare to cover even a few million people strikes us as promising. Medicare, which pays low rates to providers, might actually offer stiffer competition to private plans than the current weak version of the public option in the Senate bill.


REGULATED NONPROFIT INSURANCE For people below age 55 who are not enrolled in group coverage, the insurance industry would have to create an array of nonprofit insurance plans to compete with for-profit plans on the exchanges in every state. (If industry fails to do this, the government would create them.) The plans would be approved and supervised by the government's Office of Personnel Management, which administers the health insurance plans offered to members of Congress and federal employees.


These plans could have great difficulty competing in states where they lack networks of doctors and hospitals and where entrenched insurers and hospital combines dominate the market. But that is also true of the weak public option. And in at least some places they would provide more choice for consumers.


At this point, even the 10 Senate negotiators have not fully agreed to all elements of the deal. They have simply agreed to have the budget office evaluate it. Until that is in, it is impossible to know whether this nonpublic option is an acceptable alternative.







President Obama's proposals for pump-priming the job market are a welcome, if belated, reminder that the goal of government efforts to stabilize the economy must be to put more Americans back to work.


In a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama outlined a sensible list of programs that could be rolled out in coming months. But we fear his refusal to attach a price tag means that he is still not ready to do full battle with Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) who have vowed to block any additional stimulus spending. To work, this effort needs real money behind it.


More than seven million jobs have been eliminated since the recession started, and today more than 15 million Americans are out of work. Most economists still expect joblessness to get worse before it gets better.


The president's package could provide a substantial boost to jobs, but only if it gets sufficient money. Proposals by Democrats in the House that could provide $150 billion for jobs plus $100 billion to extend unemployment insurance amount to a bare minimum of what is needed.


Mr. Obama proposed asking Congress for $50 billion next year (the only program with a price attached) for additional investments in public works, which would put large numbers of people to work. He called for more incentives for investment in energy efficiency, including rebates for consumers who retrofit their homes. And he proposed giving small businesses cheap loans and an array of tax breaks to encourage investment and hiring.


Unfortunately, he made only a passing reference to the idea of giving more assistance to cash-strapped state and local governments, and extending unemployment insurance. Administration officials suggest that money could be provided through other initiatives, but Congressional Republicans are especially opposed. We hope this does not mean that the White House is pulling its punches on what could be the best big ideas to encourage job creation, assist the jobless and stimulate the economy.


We, too, are concerned about the size of the deficit. But creating jobs and ensuring that the incipient economic recovery does not stall, are more important right now. And, as Mr. Obama pointed out, the bank bailout is expected to cost $200 billion less than earlier estimates, which opens space in the budget.


Mr. Obama rightly called the apparent conflict between stimulating job creation and reducing the fiscal deficit "a false choice." The budget gap cannot be closed in a sustainable fashion without first achieving robust job growth. He also criticized Republicans who eagerly championed budget-busting tax cuts under President George W. Bush, only to pose as deficit hawks now.


There is other hypocrisy to be highlighted. A Congress that agreed to spend hundreds of billions to rescue enormous financial institutions should be willing to spend far less to put Americans back to work. The president can win this argument on the merits of economic soundness and fairness. But he must be willing to fight.






The fight in New Jersey to legalize same-sex marriage cleared a crucial hurdle on Monday night, and it is now time for the rest of the state's lawmakers to end a grievous violation of this nation's promise of equal rights. The same-sex marriage bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee of the State Senate on Monday night following a day of emotionally charged testimony.


The fate of the bill was in doubt late Wednesday when the Senate postponed a vote set for Thursday and sent it back to the General Assembly for more hearings. We're not sure why they are necessary at this point and hope the delay does not rule out a vote before the next governor takes office on Jan. 19.


It was disappointing that only a single Republican on the committee, William Baroni of Mercer, was willing to stand up for the measure. And the two ranking Democrats on the panel — Chairman Paul Sarlo of Bergen and Vice Chairman John Girgenti of Passaic — also voted against extending a fundamental right to gay men and lesbians. But the narrowness of the 7-to-6 vote should not obscure the fact that it was the first time any legislative body in New Jersey had voted for same-sex marriage.


Supporters of the measure are still hunting for the votes needed for final approval. Much now depends on whether Democrats — including the majority leader, Stephen Sweeney, who will become the Senate president in January — can rise above overblown fears about the next election if they join in discarding inadequate civil unions in favor of full marriage equality.


A negative vote could delay justice for four or even eight years. Christopher Christie, the Republican who defeated Gov. Jon Corzine, has said he would veto any legalization bill, making passage in the current lame-duck session an urgent matter.


For Democrats truly committed to treating all of New Jersey's families fairly, this should not be a hard vote. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed that New Jersey voters would accept the change.


As Monday's hearing showed, there is agreement on both sides that the state's civil union law is not working. Wavering Democrats should worry less about political tactics and more about addressing that problem.








It's time for political sex scandals to reclaim their rightful place in our national discourse. The way things have been going lately, you'd think extramarital sex only happened to professional athletes.


Consider the case of Senator Max Baucus of Montana. We learned last week that the recently divorced Baucus had nominated his girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, to be a U.S. attorney without warning the White House that they were an item. You would expect this to create quite a buzz. Particularly since Baucus is a major player in the health care debate, which makes it possible to talk about his sex life while pretending to be discussing the prospects for a public option.


But, no, it's been Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods. How much can you say about a guy who golfs? A politician with a compulsively wandering eye is not just a hound dog with a famous name. He's a commentary about our judgment as voters, and the viability of our social standards. Plus, gossiping about him almost brings some useful information about the political process into the conversation. What would any of us know about how impeachment works if it hadn't been for Monica Lewinsky?


I just cannot get excited about sexual misbehavior that is never going to be investigated by a legislative committee.


To be fair, although the Republicans instantly called on the Senate ethics committee to look into the Baucus affair, Max and Melodee are not likely to actually get investigated. Hanes, who was one of three nominees being considered for the U.S. attorney post, withdrew when she and Baucus moved in together. If the story lives on in memory, it may be for a statement issued by the senator's office, which began: "Senator Baucus is currently in a mature and happy relationship with Melodee Hanes."


This is a turn of phrase that could be put to good use on so many sensitive occasions, the Baucus press office should really go for a copyright.


Joe Bruno, the former majority leader of the New York State Senate who was convicted of corruption this week, is in a mature and happy relationship with Kay Stafford, the chairwoman and president of CMA Consulting Services. (Actually, the relationship is really, really mature, since Bruno is 80.) When Bruno resigned from the Senate last year, he quickly got a great job as C.E.O. of CMA.


A guy who was being investigated by federal prosecutors for his consulting activities would not normally be regarded as a perfect hire for an information technology consulting business, particularly when he seems to know as much about information technology as he does about quantum physics. Still, it was nice to finally see a woman on the powerful, job-dispensing side of these stories.


One of the positive aspects of recent political gossip is that the women seem to be getting tougher. Jenny Sanford, who won public acclaim for refusing to stand by her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, during the Appalachian Trail debacle, was just named one of the "10 Most Fascinating People in 2009" on a Barbara Walters special. (Her fellow honorees included Kate Gosselin, the betrayed-wife-and-mother-of-sextuplets, Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert. The clear message here is that the best routes to being fascinating are an adulterous husband or lots of eye makeup.)


On the show, she repeated her contention that even if her husband had asked her to stand next to him during his confessional press conference, she wouldn't have complied. We can probably look back on 2009 as the year that finished off the loyal-wife-photo-op, even though in the Sanfords' case, having Jenny in the room would have helped. She might not have looked all that supportive, but when the governor promised to give the assembled press corps "way more detail than you'll ever want," she probably would have slapped her hand over his mouth.


A subcommittee in the State Legislature voted on Wednesday not to impeach Sanford and merely voted unanimously to censure him for bringing "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" to his state. A great victory! Sanford will be able to finish his term and perhaps go on to a rewarding career as an adventure vacation guide, or professional wrestling referee.


That leaves Senator John Ensign of Nevada as the current holder of the Most Likely to Be Turned Out of Office title. The ethics committee is investigating efforts Ensign made to help his ex-aide, Doug Hampton, get a lobbying job after Hampton found out that his boss was sleeping with Mrs. Hampton.


Hampton, you may remember, first told his story with the remark: "All of those tentacles were birthed because John needed things to go down like this." Obviously not the easiest guy to place.


This could be a new rule of political sex: Never have an affair with the wife of an employee. But if you do, make sure you are not the only person in the world who would hire the cuckolded husband.


Of course, that comes after the prime directive: Never have an affair with anyone who would enjoy seeing themselves on the cover of "In Touch" magazine.


That was the point where Tiger should have been paying attention.


Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.








Islamabad, Pakistan

NOW that President Obama has recommitted the United States to stand with Pakistan and Afghanistan in our common fight against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism, it would be useful for Americans and Pakistanis to consider what has brought us to this point — and what the conflict's true endgame must be.


Despite the noise created by an often hyperactive press in Pakistan (an essential and preferable alternative to the censorship that prevailed during my country's military dictatorships), and the doubts expressed in America, Pakistan's democratically elected government is unambiguously on the right path toward establishing a moderate and modern nation.


Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and I are working closely with our national assembly and our military and intelligence agencies to defeat the Taliban insurgency and the Qaeda-backed campaign of terrorism. Simultaneously, we are pursuing policies that will re-establish Pakistan as a vibrant economic market and finally address the long-neglected weaknesses in our education, health, agriculture and energy sectors. This isn't just rhetoric — it is an active policy with new budget priorities and a reoriented national mindset.


Over the last weeks I have moved forcefully to re-establish the traditional powers of the presidency as defined in the parliamentary model on which our Constitution is based. Our Constitution was distorted and perverted by military dictators who usurped the legal powers of Parliament. In accordance with the manifesto of the Pakistan Peoples Party, I am working toward strengthening the separation of powers of the presidency from those of the prime minister. Recently, I voluntarily handed back the chairmanship of the National Command Authority that exercises control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Contrary to some of the commentary on the subject, this is not a sign of weakness, but rather a demonstration of the vitality of Pakistani democracy.


As President Obama has noted, Pakistan's military has courageously executed important actions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan against terrorists who threaten all of us. Pakistan has paid an enormous price in blood and treasure. But this is a price we are willing to pay. Every day across our land, cowards distort our religion of peace, Islam, by slaughtering innocent people. Three thousand civilians, including my wife, Benazir Bhutto, and 2,000 soldiers and police officers have been killed in the last eight years. Just last week 40 people died in a mosque while at Friday prayers, including 10 children. This is our war as well as America's.


Yet in both countries there is deep suspicion toward the other. Many Americans still wonder, despite our sacrifices, if Pakistan is doing all it can to fight terrorism. Some resent what they believe is an absence of gratitude in Pakistan for American aid. But consider the history as seen by Pakistanis.


Twice in recent history America abandoned its democratic values to support dictators and manipulate and exploit us. In the 1980s, the United States supported Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's iron rule against the Pakistani people while using Pakistan as a surrogate in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That decade turned our peaceful nation into a "Kalashnikov and heroin" society — a nation defined by guns and drugs. In its fight against the Soviets, the United States, as a matter of policy, supported the most radical elements within the mujahedeen, who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda. When the Soviets were defeated and left in 1989, the United States abandoned Pakistan and created a vacuum in Afghanistan, resulting in the current horror.


And then after 9/11, the United States closed its eyes to the abuses of the dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf, providing support to the regime while doing little to help with social needs or encourage the restoration of democracy. For Pakistanis, it is a bitter memory.


Public mistrust of the United States also stems from regional issues, specifically policies concerning India. I know it is the conventional wisdom in Washington that my nation is obsessed with India. But even to those of us who are striving toward accommodation and peace, the long history and the unresolved situation in Kashmir give Pakistanis reason to be concerned about our neighbor to the east. Just as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute cannot be resolved without accommodating the Palestinian people, there cannot be permanent regional peace in South Asia without addressing Kashmir.


The recent upset in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which President Obama signed into law and which requires the secretary of state to report to Congress on military and civil progress in Pakistan, shows how sensitive many here are to what they see as unfair treatment by the United States. It would be helpful if the United States, at some point, would scrutinize India in a similar fashion and acknowledge that it has from time to time played a destabilizing role in the region.


The perceived rhetorical one-sidedness of American policy often fuels the conspiracy theories that abound here — theories that blame the West for all of our ills. Pakistan's elected democratic leadership is itself a victim of some of these conspiracy theories, but our American partners must understand their origins and work with us to turn public opinion around.


Although we certainly appreciate America's $7.5 billion pledge over the next five years for nonmilitary projects in Pakistan, this long-term commitment must be complemented by short-term policies that demonstrate American neutrality and willingness to help India and Pakistan overcome their mutual distrust. It could start by stepping up its efforts to mediate the Kashmir dispute.


In recent days, I have thought often of something my wife, Benazir, wrote in the days before her death: "It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than to accept responsibility ourselves." Benazir added that conspiracy theories and "toxic rhetoric" were "an opiate that keeps Muslims angry against external enemies and allows them to pay little attention to the internal causes of intellectual and economic decline."


The free world stands with President Obama in the effort to defeat the extremism that threatens us all. Pakistanis are on the frontlines in this battle.


But we need help. We need the support of our allies in war but also to help build a new Pakistan that promises a meaningful future to our children. We are not looking for — and indeed reject — dependency. We don't need or want (nor would we accept) foreign troops to defeat the insurgency, and we seek trade more than aid from you in the future. It is an economically viable and socially robust democratic Pakistan that will be the most effective long-term weapon against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism. This is the necessary endgame. And this is how history will judge victory.


Asif Ali Zardari is the president of Pakistan.








The PPP has decided to fight back against what the president says are conspiracies being hatched against it. However, at the meeting of the party's CEC, some voices of reason prevailed over less rational ones, and it was decided not to defy the courts but to contest cases before them. Suggestions that ministers against whom cases remained pending step down were, rather unfortunately, rejected. A 'fresh' start may have been just what the PPP needed at this point. The display of belligerence from Mr Zardari, who accused some elements of plotting against the PPP, is hardly encouraging. What is needed is calm and selflessness rather than bravado. It is also becoming clear that there is division within the party on how best to proceed. While the prime minister and his camp work to re-establish closer ties with the PML-N, the Punjab governor has lashed out against the Sharifs, demanding old corruption cases be revived and asking why the PPP should step down in the face of charges when the PML-N did not do so.

There is an obvious lack of wisdom behind the governor's latest rant, as there is in the case of his periodic tirades against the media. At this point the PPP must hope and pray that the opposition does not launch a new front against it. Such a battle could serve as a crippling blow. For the same reasons too it needs to avoid turning the media against it any more than is already the case. It is also not clear from the CEC meeting or from the statements of party leaders how the PPP plans to proceed in the future. The interior minister has said he is not afraid of the cases against him. But will he step down if his own conviction that he is innocent is not shared by the judges? How about others who face cases, including the president? Will verdicts from the benches be respected? These are questions to which answers will need to be given. The PPP CEC has so far stood by its leaders, but there is a possibility that new divisions could emerge. The comments from the president and those closest to him suggest some signs of panic. The public mood meanwhile remains hostile to the government. How things will pan out over the coming days is difficult to predict as the political drama we are witnessing continues to unfold.







Payday is about to arrive for those who invested in oil-futures in Iraq. The war fought to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the bloodied peace that has followed was never about getting rid of an odious dictator or saving the world from weapons of mass destruction – it was about oil. It was about the control of strategic assets and having a more tractable oil-producer than the Saudis in the pockets of western power-brokers. The auctioning of the right to develop Iraq's massive and mostly unexploited oil reserves has seen primarily western consortia win the bids, but with China a significant player. Iraq's oil production capacity is projected to reach 12 million barrels per day (BPD) within the next six years, a clear rival to the Saudi capacity of 12.5m BPD. The profit from this bonanza is obviously going to go into the pockets of the companies who are going to have to frontload the investment in extraction infrastructure. However, against the euphoria there is a note of caution. The recent series of bombings in Baghdad that claimed 127 lives and over 400 injured is a clear indication that the security of the ordinary citizen is far from adequate, and if it is inadequate for the citizenry it is inadequate for those weighing the risk of investment – which is why more than half of the fields on offer for development failed to attract a single bid. Investors are worried not just about the lack of security; they are concerned about the shaky government and the ramshackle legal system both of which contribute to a high-risk development environment for oil or any other commodity.

Those with foresight will have seen long ago that Saudi reserves were finite – and are probably in their dying decades. Alternatives to oil-based power and traction have yet to reach mass viability or acceptance, and thus the rush for Iraq. There is little doubt about who is going to have the final say over Iraq's oil. Huge US military bases in Iraq and a regime dependent on Washington ensure US strength vis-a-vis other contenders. This will also give it the power to threaten and punish any political and economic rival by cutting of oil supply, should tensions ever rise. The price that humanity has paid for this ambition is an Iraq in physical, cultural and spiritual ruins, with a million killed and millions maimed. All this at the altar of profit and power.













A private school has been damaged by a bomb blast in Peshawar and a government school has been similarly targeted in the Kurram Agency. Previously too, over the last few weeks, schools have been blown up in Bara, the Khyber Agency and other places. The onslaught against education, which led to a closure of scores of schools, in particular those for girls, continues. While claims continue to come in of victory against militants, there must be some doubt as to what kinds of gains are being made. It seems evident that in many parts of the northern areas, it remains unsafe to go to school. Even in Peshawar attacks on buildings continue. Threats to schoolchildren meanwhile mean that parents remain quite naturally reluctant to send their children to classes.

Ways need to be found to counter the mindsets behind such assaults. Local mosques offer one route to this. Imams must be made allies and persuaded to use their influence and their weekly sermons to promote education. Others with standing in their communities must be urged to do the same. The message for education is strongly delivered in Islam. This must be projected and used as a means to ensure every child has access to learning. In some areas this right has been denied by militants for months or even years. Alongside the continuing military operation, we need to open up new fronts against militancy and ensure that the obscurantist ideas of the Taliban are effectively challenged. The majority of people in the north seek education for their children. Authorities must find means to make this available and to act against those engaged in blowing up schools or acting in other ways against the interests of communities.






Under pressure from the western nations that have invested heavily in blood and money to keep him in power, President Hamid Karzai has retained ministers favoured by the US and its allies in his 23-member cabinet and appointed new ones reportedly untainted by corruption. It was a tough balancing act for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he had to please not only the western capitals but also powerful Afghan warlords who had backed him in the recent presidential election. As if this wasn't enough of a challenge, he needed to keep in mind the interest of the competing political, regional and ethnic groups brought together in a broad and unwieldy coalition to confront the growing challenge by the Taliban.

The fact that President Karzai took a month after his re-election to come up with his list of ministers explained the difficulties he faced in selecting a winning combination that was acceptable to all who mattered. The process was delayed earlier by the controversy generated by the fraudulent presidential election on August 20. It has taken four long months after the poll to propose a cabinet that now requires a vote of confidence from arliament. Only then Karzai would start governing the country in the real sense.

Karzai's choice of ministers has generally been welcomed in the western capitals. Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said the Obama administration can work with the new Karzai government. Several ministers have been educated in the west and have worked and lived there. Some hold dual nationality, which has become an issue in Afghanistan and is being debated in parliament as lawmakers want such people to give up citizenship of other countries if they want to serve as ministers in the Afghan cabinet. In fact, there has always been resentment among many Afghans, particularly the former mujahideen and their supporters, against those who lived comfortably in the west at a time when their countrymen were resisting the Soviet occupation forces and later the Taliban.

Incumbent ministers favoured by the western governments and retained in the cabinet include defence minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak, interior minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar and finance minister Omar Zakhilwal. Though ageing, the scholarly Wardak as a former mujahideen commander and then as a pro-west minister after the fall of Taliban regime is seen as strengthening the Afghan National Army to gradually take charge once the US-led forces start pulling out from Afghanistan. The UK-educated Hanif Atmar, despite serving as spymaster in the former communist regimes and facing accusations of facilitating election rigging in favour of Karzai, showed his worth as education and rural development minister in the past. Omar Zakhilwal, a former World Bank and UNDP consultant with a PhD in economics from Canada, is a technocrat suited to professionally run Afghanistan's finance ministry.

Eleven incumbent ministers have been retained and the other eight, along with the three abovementioned, didn't lose their jobs due to their generally good reputation and support from western governments. The lone exception could be the Tajik warlord Ismail Khan, a former governor of Herat considered close to Iran and respected by the Afghan mujahideen for his role in resisting the Red Army. Ismail Khan, who was lucky to survive three years of imprisonment at the hands of the Taliban in Kandahar, is back as the minister of the prized water and power portfolios. Afghan warlords are no longer favoured by the US and its western allies after having been armed and paid to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Still some of the warlords such as Ismail Khan and the two vice-presidents, Muhammad Qasim Faheem and Karim Khalili, are back in influential positions in the Karzai administration and others like General Abdul Rasheed Dostum and Muhammad Muhaqqiq have been able to induct their nominees in the cabinet. It would be impossible to keep the warlords out of the government as long as the battle against the Taliban, former mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the smaller opposition groups isn't won, because muscle-power is needed to keep the insurgents at bay.

The other seven cabinet members who have been retained are public health minister Dr Mohammad Amin Fatemi, agriculture minister Muhammad Asif Rahimi, justice minister Mohammad Sarwar Danish, education minister Ghulam Farooq Wardak, women's affairs minister Husn Bano Ghazanfar, communications minister Amirzai Sangeen and counter-narcotics minister General Khodaidad. Allegations of corruption have surfaced regarding the ministries of health, education and counter-narcotics but no evidence has been presented.

The two ministers who lost their jobs due to corruption charges are minister of mines Muhammad Ibrahim Adel and religious affairs minister Siddiq Chakari. The former was accused of taking $20 million bribe to give the Ainak copper mining project of $3.2 billion in Logar province to a Chinese firm. Chakari, another stalwart of the Afghan jihad, was accused of corruption in handling Hajj affairs and certain donor-assisted projects. Both have denied the accusations and the latter has placed the blame on two employees of his ministry.

The 12 new members of the Karzai cabinet are minister for higher education Hobidullah Hobid, minister for economy Anwarul Haq Ahadi, minister for information and cultural affairs Sayed Makhdum Rahin, minister for mines Wahidullah Shahrani, minister for Hajj and mosques Enayatullah Balugh, minister for refugees Enayatullah Nazari, minister for transportation Mohammadullah Patash, minister for commerce Ghulam Mohammad Aylaqi, minister for public welfare Mirza Husain Abdullahi, minister for work and social affairs Ismail Manshi, minister for border and tribal affairs Sayed Hamid Gilani and minister for development and rural affairs Wais Ahmad Darmek.

Some of these ministers aren't really new as they remained cabinet members in previous Karzai administrations. Wahidullah Shahrani was until now the commerce minister and has been shifted to mining after the corruption-tainted Ibrahim Adel was sacked. Sayed Makhdum Rahin after a stint in the wilderness has returned to the cabinet in his old job as information minister in place of Abdul Karim Khoram. Anwarul Haq Ahadi was finance minister and head of the state bank and will now look after the economy. He had quit the Karzai government amid speculation that he wanted to contest the presidential election. Instead he backed Karzai for the job and has been rewarded.

The nomination of Sayed Hamid Gilani as the head of the important border and tribal affairs ministry is interesting due to the fact that someone with influence among the Pashtun tribes in southern Afghanistan is needed to erode support for the Taliban. As the son of former mujahideen leader Sayed Ahmad Gilani and the scion of a spiritual family with some influence among the Pashtun tribes, he will be tasked to win over the Pashtuns in Taliban-dominated provinces considered critical for the success of President Barack Obama's new Afghan strategy. It won't be easy at a time when the US-led coalition forces are increasingly seen as occupiers, the Taliban are resurgent and the Karzai government is seen as corrupt and ineffective.

Foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, an ethnic Tajik from Herat who lived in Germany for years, is on the way out. Karzai has said he will make a nomination in his place after an international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London in late January. There are speculations that former foreign minister Dr Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in the presidential election, could be offered the job. Though Dr Abdullah has stressed that his major goal isn't power but reforms in the constitution and the government to make it more responsive to public needs, the western backers of the Afghan government are still trying for reconciliation between him and Karzai. In case of a power-sharing arrangement, Dr Abdullah's camp would get quite a few berths in the cabinet.

Expansion in the cabinet is certainly a possibility as various political, regional and ethnic groups are dissatisfied with their representation. Karzai has promised to take another female minister to manage the new ministry being created to tackle illiteracy. Presently, there is only one female minister, Husn Bano Ghazanfar, a highly-educated ethnic Uzbek poetess from the northern Balkh province. Karzai is also asking parliament to create a ministry for martyrs and the disabled.

It seems President Karzai has passed the first test set for him by the western governments by cobbling together a cabinet containing acceptable figures. The US was concerned that it cannot win the war against the Taliban if it didn't have a dependable partner ruling Kabul and capable of overcoming corruption and regaining confidence of the Afghan people.

Karzai has tried to respond to the challenge and made a cabinet of ministers with relatively clean reputation. But corruption has become so pervasive due to the availability of easy money sent to Afghanistan as foreign assistance and also lack of accountability that it is hard to imagine that ministers and public servants would not be tempted to pocket some of it. All this talk of fighting corruption and making government functionaries accountable would surely be heard for a while but before long it would be business as usual.


The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim







In my last article (Dec 15), I had commended the efforts of Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif in achieving a landmark consensus on the 7th National Finance Commission Award. The consensus was achieved because both the federal and provincial governments displayed mutual understanding, accommodation and magnanimity. The agreement on multiple criteria for revenue-sharing and the federal government's sacrificing an almost 10 per cent share in the divisible pool in favour of the provincial governments are the hallmark of the 7th NFC Award.

In this article, I am going to highlight the challenges that the federal and provincial governments will be facing in implementing the Award. The federal government will receive 44 per cent of the net divisible pool in the first year (2010-11) and 42.5 percent during the remaining period of the Award. This is the first time in the country's history that the balance of receiving resources from the divisible pool has shifted in favour of the provinces.

The reduction in the share of the federal government will be taking place at a time when its expenditure requirements will be rising at a much greater pace. The defence and security-related expenditures, owing to the intensification and widening of the war on terror, will be rising. Expenditures on these two items are likely to rise from Rs613 billion in 2010-11 to Rs800 billion by the end of the NFC period.

The government has added Rs3 trillion in public debt in just two years. Conservative estimates suggest that the interest payment will rise from Rs745 billion in 2010-11 to over Rs1,000 billion by the end of the NFC Award period. The expenditure on running of the civil administration is projected to rise from Rs182 billion to Rs280 billion during the same period. The total expenditure of the federal government on these four items alone will rise from Rs1,540 billion to Rs2,075 billion during the period. I have not included important federal government expenditures, such as pensions, subsidies, grants, and development programmes.

On the resource side, the federal government will receive Rs719 billion from the divisible pool in 2010-11, which will then rise to Rs1,304 billion by 2014-15. The petroleum levy is the federal revenue which is estimated to rise from Rs123 billion to Rs180 billion during the period. The other important revenue of the federal government is the non-tax one, which is estimated to rise from Rs495 billion to Rs662 billion during the same period. Thus, federal government resources are projected to rise from Rs1,337 billion to Rs2,146 billion during the NFC period.

It is quite clear that federal government resources will not be sufficient to finance even the four expenditure items mentioned above. If expenditures on pensions, subsidies, grants and development programmes are added, then the federal government deficit will rise further. In order to meet the IMF target for the overall budget deficit, the provincial governments would have to generate surplus cash balances.

Assuming pension, subsidies, grants and development programmes to remain at 0.47 per cent, 0.3 per cent, 1.4 per cent and 2.0 per cent of the GDP, respectively, the federal government budget deficit is estimated to be 5.4 per cent of the GDP in 2010-11 and decline to 3.9 per cent of the GDP by 2014-15. In order to meet the IMF target, the provincial governments will have to generate surplus cash balance in the range of 1.2-1.7 per cent of the GDP, or Rs200-330 billion.

In this calculation, it has been assumed that the Federal Board of Revenue will collect taxes worth 10.1 per cent of the GDP in 2010-11, which will rise to 12.3 per cent of the GDP by 2014-15. Any shortfall in revenue collection will further widen the federal government budget deficit. Furthermore, if the federal government decides to increase development spending beyond 2.0 per cent of the GDP during the NFC period, the size of the federal deficit will rise further and put greater pressure on the provincial governments to generate even more surplus.

The topmost priority of the government is to successfully complete the IMF programme, for which fiscal discipline is vital. The success of the IMF programme will depend heavily on the fiscal discipline of the provincial governments. The federal government has made a great sacrifice by giving enormous resources to the provinces. Larger resources go with greater responsibilities and financial discipline. The provincial governments will have to develop their capacities to spend their resources efficiently and effectively.

The provincial governments have little or no capacity to collect value-added tax on services as of July 1, 2010, and it has been reported in the press that they will ask the federal government to collect the VAT on their behalf. This is the right approach in the short run. If they can ask the federal government to collect the VAT on services on their behalf, they can also ask it to collect agricultural income tax on their behalf. This will provide the provincial governments even more resources to help improve agricultural infrastructure.

The federal government, on its part, needs to get out of the business of providing subventions and grants to provinces to supplement their resources, financing of special packages like Larkana and Multan, and financing provincial projects from the federal PSDP. The financing of the on-going provincial projects may be transferred to the respective provincial governments. The federal PSDP should be restricted to infrastructure projects, while education, health and other social-sector programmes should now be funded by the provincial governments.

The success of the 7th NFC Award in the midst of the IMF programme will therefore depend on the fiscal discipline of the federal government, but more so the provincial governments. If the current spending patterns of the provincial governments are not changed, I am afraid that even the larger resources will not be enough for them and Pakistan will land in a more difficult fiscal situation, with the country's debt burden aggravating the situation even further.

The writer is dean and professor at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email:







In the 2002 elections, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) scored what was by all accounts a surprise victory in NWFP and parts of Balochistan. For a gang of unkempt exploiters of the tender religious sentiments of Pakistanis who had never been successful in electoral politics, winning the entire NWFP province was a bonanza unlike anything they'd previously experienced.

Too often, the MMA victory in NWFP is explained by the strategic rigging that Gen Musharraf and his supporters allegedly oversaw in that election. The massive success of the religious parties was not just a numerical surprise. It was a cultural anomaly too. Mullah politics in Pakistan had always been seen until that point as an issue-based phenomenon. The theory was that mullahs could mobilise thousands to rampage on the streets over Satanic Verses, or the apostasy of Ahmedis, but hardly manage even a few dozen to vote for them. That traditional and conventional wisdom was turned on its head in the 2002 election.

Of course, the truth, as always, is a bit of a casualty of our obsession with the truths we fashion. Three factors that are less sexy, and therefore less frequently mentioned in the analysis of the 2002 MMA surprise, may help explain what happened to NWFP back then, and what is happening to Pakistan now, in the closing days of 2009.

First, the MMA was a unified force of the major religious parties in the country. Their unity, regardless of how it was orchestrated, demonstrated for the electorate a trait that they had come to long for but never quite been presented with. The MMA coalition, by very virtue of coming together, presented a solid reason for religiously-oriented voters to consider voting for them.

Second, by virtue of the banishment of the party leaderships, the PPP and the PML-N were almost entirely shut out of the electoral process. This meant that the traditional four-way split of the NWFP vote (across the PPP, PML-N, ANP and the religious parties) became, instead, a two-way split (across the ANP and the MMA, with a marginal spattering of PML-Q votes). The PPP voter in NWFP is decidedly more conservative than the ANP voter, or the PPP voter in Punjab or Sindh. A PPP-less election in NWFP therefore was a boon to the MMA.

Finally, perhaps the most significant factor in the MMA victory in NWFP -- notwithstanding the substantial vote-rigging and -engineering that allegedly took place -- was anti-Americanism. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan began on Oct 7, 2001. The election was held almost exactly a year later, on Oct 10, 2002. The MMA had a full year in which to help create, deepen and sustain an anti-American strain within NWFP. This anti-Americanism was rooted in the same language that Taliban opposition to the US presence in Afghanistan is rooted in. The short version is simple: Pakhtuns don't like to be occupied.

What the MMA was able to do very successfully (and what American public diplomacy has failed in countering so miserably) is marrying anti-Americanism with Islam, and concurrently, marrying the American presence in Afghanistan as a vast conspiracy of the kuffar (infidels) to take over Muslim land.

Why is any of this relevant to a post-NRO Pakistan? Mostly it is relevant because in the past several weeks the Jamaat-e-Islami seems to have been given an injection of adrenalin. It may be hazardous to speculate where the energy is coming from in terms of financing and other logistical support. What is entirely transparent, however, is where the energy is coming from in terms of political substance.

It is coming from an anti-Americanism that has grown far beyond NWFP, and far beyond the mullah's narrow and restricted space in Pakistani society. The Jamaat is finding it easier to get onto the front page because the only faith it preaches, anti-Americanism, just happens to be the fastest growing faith in Pakistan.

This is an unmitigated disaster in the making. The MMA's sudden good fortune in 2002 is not so long ago as to have faded from memory. The disastrous impact of five years of MMA rule over NWFP is also not such a distant memory.

If the Jamaat is allowed an uncontested monopoly over anti-Americanism, then it will almost certainly enjoy resurgent popularity that is not only wholly undeserved, but also potentially calamitous for the hopes that have been pinned on the fragile equilibrium of Pakistan's emerging urban middle class.

Some evidence of what we should fear was filed in this paper yesterday in a story by Muhammad Anis, and featuring the increasingly recognisable face of Jamaat boss Munawwar Hasan. It was titled "JI to go all out to defend SC." In it, Munawwar Hasan vows to "protect the supremacy of the Supreme Court and enforce its decision against the NRO."

The supremacy of the Supreme Court is given to it by the Constitution, not by the learned elders of the Jamaat. The enforcement of the Supreme Court's decisions is the responsibility of law enforcement, and whatever units of the executive that are instructed to action by the court. Munawwar Hasan is probably not entirely unfamiliar with these facts. But for the first time since 2002, the Jamaat can see daylight.

Why would it not steal something that doesn't belong to it (political momentum)? Since the Jamaat is incapable of winning an election in Pakistan fair and square, it will revel in the fact that its unique brand of cynical and conspiratorial poison has become the national dish of choice.

In August 2008, I wrote in a column titled "Measuring the Jamaat's descent" that the Jamaat is the only "unsalvageable wreck" within Pakistan's broken politics, and that "the Jamaat's political savvy is outrageously overstated." I don't mind admitting a mistake. But in this case, I made no mistake. The Jamaat is an outrageously unsalvageable wreck. Its election of Munawwar Hasan, rather than that of a younger leader, and its consistent dependence on the US government and Pakistani elite for its talking points offer a limitless supply of proof that it is more an opportunistic clash-of-civilisations gang than it is a viable political force.

Since the Jamaat is unsalvageable, the only control we can exert on the situation is through understanding the factors that are allowing it this undeserved relevance.

At least some of the responsibility for increased anti-Americanism (and therefore increased relevance for the Jamaat) has to be pinned on Uncle Sam himself. There seems to be no appreciation in Washington DC to the legitimacy of questions about the use of mercenaries, or the impact of increased drone attacks, or US support for leaders widely perceived to be corrupt.

Finally, whatever we may think of it, the dominance of anti-American sentiment on Main Street, and its absence from the language of the major political parties should tell us much about who butters the Pakistani elite's bread. The danger in this situation, of course, is that, as mainstream political parties neglect anti-Americanism, they allow the Jamaat (and the perpetually out of touch Imran Khan) a monopoly over articulating this important and popular mainstream sentiment.

The best indicator of how serious America's image problem in Pakistan is becoming is that, despite not being unified with other religious parties and despite being crowded out by mainstream parties, the Jamaat is finding life in its anti-American rhetoric.

The best indicator of how serious Pakistan's anti-Americanism problem is becoming is that, despite its offering nothing but old and hackneyed cynicism, people don't mind watching the Jamaat spew its conspiracy theories on prime-time television.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi .com







There is no doubt that we are at war. A war which is no more confined to the borders. Rather, it has altered its form to accommodate the fragile nuclear hangover prevailing in the subcontinent. In this war soldiers, civilians, women and children are being targeted by terrorists without discrimination. Religious scholars have already declared them non-Muslims. In such a changed environment the nation has to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with its security forces in every nook and corner of the country.

The terrorists have a well established network, which includes a large pool of trained manpower, a huge stockpile of explosives and multiple teams of experts to identify potential targets. How they can manage all this? Why people don't report their presence? And what people should do to protect themselves? These important questions need to be answered.

Absence of jobs, exploitation, persistent poverty and a general apathy towards the state of affair of the deprived segments have become accepted norms. This indifference breeds loss of hope. Poverty-stricken segments become easy prey for terrorist outfits, especially since the outfits are guised as religious and philanthropic organisations. Sending their sons to religious seminaries persuades them that their offspring are acquiring religious education. This provides an opportunity to their spurious religious teachers to indoctrinate them. Through their deceitful teachings they prime such youths to be used as suicidal bombers. According to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, suicide bombers are available for between Rs500,000 and Rs1,500,000. What a pity, our youth is being used by our enemies against us.

Is it really difficult for us to check the spread of hate through religious seminaries? Certainly not. Only thing we need to do is to keep a close watch on what is being taught there, have greater interaction with our children and to closely monitor people visiting and staying at such institutions. We must report any unusual activity to the law enforcing agencies.

Terrorist safe heavens are not confined to religious seminaries. Now the terrorists have been able to fan out to less conspicuous places. The evidence is that large chunks of explosives have already been dumped at different locations. Probably it is beyond the capabilities of the law enforcing agencies to be able to spot all such sites. But the custodians of such sites would behave in abnormal manner, like disallowing acquaintances to visit their residencies, shops and warehouses, minimising their interaction with the local community and being visited by strangers at odd timings. Such activities can only be monitored by locals through establishing close interaction with each other. To institutionalise the whole process village and mohalla committees can be constituted having liaison with law enforcing agencies. The initiative for the formation of such committees has to be taken by the people themselves.

The war has changed its form. It is being perpetrated by our enemies, the powers that want to see Pakistan weak, denuclearised and, if possible, undone. With the changed modus operandi the country is being weakened from within through terrorist activities. Therefore, the method of combating the activities has to be re-tailored. The presence of disguised enemies in our ranks and files demands greater cohesion between civilians and the law enforcing agencies. We need to be fully conscious of the urgency of the situation and the pressing requirement to take immediate actions.

The best way forward is mobilising and empowering people. They should be mobilised to constitute committees at the level of villages, mohallas, shopping centres, towns and cities, and in remote areas, to monitor unusual activities while having communication with police for quick response. Service providers like property agents, transporters and taxi drivers need to be very careful so as not to be deceived by the terrorists.

Besides this, every Pakistani must take the responsibility of being vigilant all the time and to report any unusual activity as soon as it is observed. In the short term, the government should start an awareness campaign to educate people as to how they should fight this menace. In the long term, there is dire need to invest in education, especially targeting underdeveloped areas and initiate projects aimed at sustained development and poverty reduction to improve living conditions of the deprived sections of the society.

The writer is a freelance contributor.







The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

In the month that marked 20 years of the uprising against Indian rule, occupied Kashmir once again erupted in anger. The shutters came down and life was paralysed by a strike across the Valley on Dec 15. This time the protest was ignited by the findings of a federal police investigation into the rape and murder in May of two women in Shopian, a town 35 kilometres from Srinagar.

Thousands of angry youths took to the streets in Shopian in response to the call by the victims' families and the Majlis-e-Mushiwarat, a local group formed to secure justice for the murdered women.

The report of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) presented to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court claimed that the two women – a 17-year-old and her 22-year-old sister-in-law – died by drowning, and not rape and murder at the hands of the state security forces, as their family and locals had insisted for months. This provoked demonstrations by outraged Kashmiris, who rejected the report and accused the authorities of a cover-up.

Mehbooba Mufti, the opposition leader in the state assembly, had this to say: "The whole charade of investigations by multiple agencies was aimed at shielding the culprits rather than bringing them to book." She was referring to the bizarre sequence of events since May when local officials initially claimed that the girls had drowned, then retracted this in the face of mass protests and agreed they might have been murdered.

A state inquiry commission in its report in July held law enforcement personnel responsible for destroying the evidence. But in September the state authorities handed over the investigation to the CBI.

The latest protests testify to the fraught situation in the Valley and stress the unchanged reality about the depth of popular alienation and the overwhelming sentiment for freedom from Delhi's rule. Every protest, even on civic issues, morphs into demands for an end to Indian occupation.

The large street protests in the past two years have also marked the Kashmiri struggle's transformation into a non-violent youth-driven mass movement for self-determination, which has been much harder for Delhi to de-legitimise than the armed resistance.

The unrest that raged in the Valley in the summer against the Shopian outrage was a spectacular demonstration of the extent of the ferment in the Valley. So also were the even bigger protests last year over the Amarnath Shrine dispute. This belied the Indian claim that elections had "settled" the Kashmir issue.

Despite the current claims by Indian leaders that they are pulling out some 30,000 troops from Kashmir – from the over half-a-million forces deployed there – the Valley remains the world's most militarised region. It is also the most traumatised. A report last week in The Independent said that in 1989 before the uprising and its ruthless suppression got underway, around 1,500 people annually sought help for mental-health issues. Today that number has shot to around 75,000.

Neither the humanitarian dimension of the Kashmir issue nor, for that matter, its political or security aspects, have recently attracted much attention from the international community. Yet the surface calm in Kashmir is but a thin veil over its combustible nature. And it remains the most proximate cause for the escalation of Pakistan-India tensions. Indeed, all four Indo-Pakistani crises in the past two decades were linked, directly or indirectly, to Kashmir.

International inattention to the human rights situation was more than evident before and during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington last month. In a letter addressed to President Barack Obama, Amnesty International urged him to take up human rights violations with India's prime minister, saying that, among others, the people of Kashmir bear the brunt of these abuses.

The letter dated Nov 18 also highlighted the fact that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which remains in force in Kashmir, has facilitated grave abuses including "disappearances, rapes, extrajudicial executions and deaths from torture." This evoked no response from Washington and none from the American media.

While Kashmiris see little change in the coercive environment that defines their daily lives, Indian officials portray Delhi's recent decision to draw down troops from Kashmir as evidence of the improved situation in the Valley. This reduction was promised in June at the height of the summer protests in what seemed to be an effort to defuse tensions and halt the momentum of the peaceful movement. One of the key demands renewed by the street protests was for the demilitarisation of the state.

Announced amid much fanfare last week the pullout of two infantry divisions from Kashmir was greeted with deep skepticism by Kashmiri leaders, and by public calls for an independent verification. Many leaders said they saw no visible sign of any reduction in the military presence. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), said: "This is merely an announcement… Who saw them leave Kashmir?"

The drawdown may well represent little more than a seasonal rotation of troops. In the past, too, such claims have produced a recycling of forces, often necessitated by the need to address the stress and strain of prolonged counterinsurgency duties and the obvious effects on troop morale.

Even if in this instance the troops are not replaced, the numbers are still a modest proportion of over 600,000 occupation forces present there. According to a Kashmiri commentator, if Indian officials claim there are only a few hundred militants left, what is the need to maintain such a heavy military force?

Moreover, a troop withdrawal is not the same as demilitarisation if the culture and infrastructure of repression remains intact. In the absence of a move to meet key Kashmiri demands – repeal of repressive laws, especially the AFSPA, end to arbitrary detentions and search-and-cordon operations, release of all political prisoners, cessation of extrajudicial killings and a halt to the human high abuses – the atmosphere of coercion will not be significantly transformed.

India's defence minister A K Antony made it clear in making the drawdown announcement that the AFSPA will remain in force, because without its powers "the military will not be able to act effectively." The Act gives sweeping powers to the security forces to act with impunity – shoot, arrest or search without warrant and kill on suspicion.

In this backdrop, the pulling out of a few thousand soldiers actually means little. It will hardly alleviate Kashmiri demands or, for that matter, address the roots of recurring tensions in the Valley.

Delhi has of late sought to engage leaders of the APHC in talks. But these ostensible overtures have been made absent by any concessions that can form the basis for serious negotiations. This strengthens the impression that the move is designed to divide rather than negotiate with the movement's leaders.

For his part, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has set a number of conditions for Delhi to meet before formal talks can proceed. They include creating a "conducive atmosphere" for meaningful talks that entails a number of steps, especially an end to human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, with the Pakistan-India dialogue process suspended for over a year now Indian officials insist that terrorism is the only issue they are interested in discussing with Islamabad in any future talks. By taking this position Delhi is signaling a singular lack of interest in pursuing a negotiated solution of the Kashmir dispute – on terms other than its own.

None of this holds promising prospects for a people whose fate has so tragically been shaped by a history of conflict, repression, injustice and denial of the right of self-determination and whose future has been stolen by the obduracy of an occupation force. Until there is wider international acknowledgement that the road to peace in the region runs through the Valley of Kashmir, the people of that land may yet have to witness more Shopians.







People last week saw the operation of justice in all its majesty. The 17 judges of the Supreme Court declared unanimously that an accused person cannot be absolved of charges by an act of parliament. An ordinance promulgated by the president has the same force and effect as an act of parliament (Article 89(2)). President Musharraf, the product of a sham referendum, had conceived and promulgated the NRO to acquire legitimacy and another tenure and clean the slate for about 8,500 NAB-hit people, which included politicians, bureaucrats and party functionaries. They were accused of corruption and other criminal acts and undergoing trials in Ehtisab Courts. But the NRO washed out all accusations pending against them. However, Musharraf's machination failed miserably because the PPP government gave him neither legitimacy nor another term. Heart-broken, Musharraf left the country to take shelter in London.

The NRO was a repugnant law. It made larceny an honourable profession and political murders a pastime. No court in the world would have given it legal sanctity; least of all the court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. It was such an obnoxious law that the government chose not to defend it in the Supreme Court. Even the National Assembly, which is usually referred to as a rubberstamp, threw it out. Parliament could have abrogated it which would bring much-needed laurels to the PPP government. But it thought otherwise and threw down the challenge to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court patiently heard the petition for 10 days and declared the NRO null and void.

People were expecting fireworks following the verdict. They thought that all hell would break loose and those who had benefited from the illegitimate NRO would disappear from the scene. It is not as simple as that. The Supreme Court was not fighting a war nor was it trying some politicians and bureaucrats for their misdeeds. It was simply trying to discover the truth about the NRO, which it did to a great extent. The Supreme Court has opened up the Pandora's Box and now it is up to civil society, the media, lawyers and honest politicians -- if such a species exists -- to cleanse it of evil spirits.

The victory gained in the Supreme Court is being frittered away by an exchange of invectives between the opposing parties. Raja Riaz Ahmed, senior minister in the Punjab cabinet and divisional president of the PPP, said in a rally in Faisalabad: "Sindh had received two dead bodies (ZAB and Benazir) but now the next body will be destined for Punjab". The process of elimination would reveal the identity of the third body.

It is a very serious turn of events that the PPP and the PML-N have adopted a confrontation course. If it continued, the SC verdict would lose its electrical effect. The best course for both the parties would be to respect the verdict and carry out its injunctions in letter and spirit.

President Zardari should not waste more time in making good governance his top priority. He should abandon his oft-repeated remark that he is 'yarun ka yar' (a friend of friends). There are no friendships at the top. Good governance demands that he change his friends periodically. Moreover, he is not required to make statements rebutting every criticism. It is often better to leave the repartee to underlings. When a former British premier, Clement Attlee, was told that he speaks very little, he answered, "You don't keep a dog and bark yourself".

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com







STRONG reaction of President Asif Ali Zardari and other leaders of the PPP over the historic verdict of the Supreme Court in the NRO case is quite understandable. The PPP leadership believes that the cases were false and framed as part of the process of political victimization and their reopening is aimed at maligning the Party.

One can understand the reasons behind unease of the PPP leadership if statement of former Secretary, Election Commission Kanwar Dilshad is analysed minutely. Dilshad, who was an upright officer with reputation of mincing no words when it comes to speaking truth, has revealed that in 2005 the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had asked the Commission to open cases against Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari. His disclosure has deepened the impression in the PPP circles that in the past there had been some quarters in the country which indulged in the character assassination of the PPP leadership. Unfortunately, the process of mud-slinging against the PPP began soon after the founder of the Party late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto assumed power. There was strong reaction from vested interests to various reforms introduced by him in different spheres of life aimed at empowering the people and weakening grip of some privileged segments of society over affairs of the State. The policies of late Bhutto to safeguard rights of the common man and secure a place of honour and prestige for the country in the comity of nations ultimately led to his tragic death and his daughter, who was a true heir of his political legacy and mission, was also targeted. All this ingrained the impression that some segments of society were not ready to accept the PPP in power and in our view these elements are also from Sindh Province from where the PPP leadership mainly hailed. It is in this backdrop that the PPP is again in melancholy mood following judgement of the apex court on NRO, which is being viewed with skepticism by the Party. Anyhow, this is what the life is and we would urge the PPP leadership to adopt a positive, constructive and nationalistic approach to handle the situation. It should rise above all other considerations and keep interests of the country uppermost in its mind as any knee-jerk reaction could damage the system.








KNOWLEDGEABLE circles in Islamabad have expressed their fears that the US plan to launch drone attacks in Balochistan could be implemented any time as the deployment of additional 30,000 troops announced by President Obama begins. These circles said that the US Commander in Afghanistan General McChrystal had only 18 months at his disposal to show progress in eliminating Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership and White House's authorisation of an expansion of CIA's drone programme was an important component of the new strategy.

There appears to be a lot of credence in these reports as it was not the first news of its kind. Washington Post and the New York Times in different reports said that American officials were talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Balochistan on the ground that Taliban Shura was based there. Though Pakistan has categorically opposed the proposal of drone attacks in Balochistan and instead asked US military and intelligence leaders to provide actionable intelligence and leave it to its security forces yet the Americans seem to be adamant to go ahead. A proof of American intention was the much criticised controversial Kerry-Lugar Bill which specifically demanded action against alleged militants hideouts in Muridkee and Quetta. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Pakistan stated that Pakistan should look beyond FATA and take on terrorists in other areas. US National Security Advisor also reportedly told the leadership in Islamabad that Pakistan would have to choose between leading attacks against the insurgents inside the country's borders or stepping aside to let the Americans do it. All this indicates that the Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan that if it does not act more aggressively, the US will use considerably more force including Drones on the Pakistani side of the border to prevent Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. Keeping these developments in view, we would like to warn all concerned that if this happens, it would have horrible consequences as Pakistan in no case would allow violation of its sovereignty and further destabilization of the largest province which is already witnessing incidents of lawlessness. Therefore it is the time, the Government must use every forum and firmly say "NO" to drone attacks or ground incursions by foreign forces in Balochistan.







PAKISTAN has rightly termed the Indian announcement of withdrawing 30,000 troops from IHK as 'cosmetic measure'. Foreign Office spokesman pointed out that there was urgent need to address the long-standing issue in accordance with the UN resolutions and aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

Indians are portraying the decision to withdraw a fraction of the occupation forces from Jammu and Kashmir as a major concession whereas the fact remains that it is nothing but an attempt to hoodwink the international public opinion. New Delhi, these days, is under pressure from the West especially the United States to take steps for resolution of the dispute and it is resorting to such tactics to give an impression of moving towards that direction. India has over seven hundred thousand troops in occupied Kashmir and withdrawal, even if it ultimately takes place, of just 30,000 would have no visible impact on the ground situation. Documented accounts by international human rights organizations and even those by some of the Indian bodies speak of gross human rights violations by the occupation forces including targeted and custodial killings, torture, rape and systematic destruction of properties and assets of the Muslim population there in a bid to change its demographic complexion. It is in this backdrop that the veteran APHC leader Syed Ali Gilani has also rejected this gimmick of withdrawal and demanded total demilitarisation of the occupied State. Also fractional withdrawal is meaningless until and unless Indians engage into serious dialogue with Pakistan and Kashmiris for resolution of the problem. But Indians not only avoided serious discussions during frequent rounds of talks but have discarded the process altogether on the pretext of Mumbai attacks. They are not returning to the negotiating table despite a clear commitment given at the Sharam al-Sheikh meeting between Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India. This speaks volumes about the real intentions of New Delhi.









December 16th is the day of tragic memory when Pakistan was dismembered and a new state of Bangladesh was created in 1971 as part of Indian intrigue which still continues. At present, New Delhi has been supporting separatism in Balochistan, Sindh, and insurgency in the Frontier Province in order to further weaken the federation of Pakistan.

India has a long-gone history of many centuries, based upon religious prejudice against the Muslims. In this respect, Indian intelligence agency, RAW which was founded in 1968, has assumed a significant status as invisible actor in formulation of India's domestic, regional and global policies, particularly directed Pakistan.

Hindus give credit to Indira Gandhi who in the late 1970s gave RAW a new role to suit her Indira Doctrine specifically asking it to undertake covert operations in neighboring countries, especially Pakistan which comprises majority of Muslims. RAW was given a green signal to mobilise all its resources by exploiting political turmoil in East Pakistan in 1971 which this agency had created through its agents who provided Bengalis with arms and ammunition for conducting guerrilla acts against the Pakistani defence forces.

As regards the separation of East Pakistan, Indian RAW had unleashed a well-organized plan of psychological warfare, creation of polarisation among the armed forces, propaganda by false allegations against West Pakistan, creation of differences between the political parties and religious sects of East and West Pakistan, control of media, manipulating linguistic, political and econmic disputes in order to keep maligned the Bengalis against Islamabad. There is no doubt that one can note political, economic and social disparities almost in every Third World country. India itself contians these disparities on larger scale. In seven states of India, separatist movements are at work. But New Delhi which has not recognized the existence of Pakistan since partition, left no stone unturned in planting and exploiting differences between the people of East and West Pakistan.

RAW has a long history of sinister activities in the East Pakistan, backing secular areas of Hindu minority who had played an important role in motivating Bengali Muslims against West Pakistan. RAW's well-paid agents had activated themselves in East Pakistan in the 1960's so as to dismember Pakistan. For this aim, it took the responsibility of funding Mujib-ur-Rehmans' general elections in 1970 and the members of the Awami Party. It colluded with the pro-Indian persons and had paid full attention in training and arming the Mukti Bahnis. RAW, playing with the bloodshed of the Muslims, succeded in initiating a civil war in East Pakistan. Meanwhile, India welcomed the refugees from East Pakistan, providing them with every facility to provocate them against West Pakistn.

However, huge quantity of arms started entering East Pakisan along with the guidline of Indian army and RAW. In this connection, Asoka Raina in his book, 'Inside RAW: The Story of India's Secret Service', reveals, "Indian intelligence agencies were involved in erstwhile East Pakistan…its operatives were in touch with Sheikh Mujib as the possible 'Father' of a new nation-Bangladesh, who went to Agartala in 1965. The famous Agartala case was unearthed in 1967. In fact, the main purpose of raising RAW in 1968 was to organise covert operations in Bangladesh. Indian army officers and RAW officials used Bengali refugees to set up Mukti Bahini. Using this outfit as a cover, Indian military sneaked deep into East Pakistan. The story of Mukti Bahini and RAW's role in its creation and training is now well-known." Asoka further explained, "Indian sources including journalists have put on record how much RAW had established the network of a separatist movement through 'cells' within East Pakistan and military training camps in Indian territory adjoining East Pakistan…carring out acts of sabotage against communication lines so that Indian forces simply marched in at the 'right' time. RAW agents provided valuable information as well as acting as an advance guard for conducting unconventional guerrilla acts against the Pakistani defence forces." Nevertheless, India had played a key role in the debacle of Dhaka, which culminated in dismemberment of Pakistan. Even at present, Indian RAW which has been implementing Indian hidden agenda against other countries such as China, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan in order to maintain Indian dominace in the region has made Pakistanan—a special target to disintegrate or weaken it.

India has established more than 200 foreign offices and training camps in Afghanistan where RAW's intelligence officials with the help of Khad are doing their utmost to destabilise Pakistan by sending weapons to the separatist elements in Balochistan and the insurgents of FATA regions. Very young boys including Afghans, training recruits are mostly from Central Asia, bordering Afghanistan. Thus more than 20,000 ideologically motivated terrorists are regularly being infiltrated into troubled spots of Pakistan. They join the Taliban militants to fight against Pakistan's security forces. These miscreants also conducted a number of suicide attacks and bomb blasts in Pakistan, killing a number of innocent people and personnel of the security forces. In Kurram Agency, RAW's Afghan agents have also been actively involved in the sectarian conflict. However, their aim is also to create unrest in our country. It is mentionable that Pakistan's prime minister, interior minister and foreign minister have repeatedly stated that they have concrete evidence of Indian involvement in the terrorist activities in Pakistan. Pakistan's army spokesman, Maj-Gen. Athar Abbas disclosed in wake of the military operation in South Waziristan that huge cache of arms and ammunition of the Indian origin, entering our country from Afghanistan was captured.

Nonetheless, after the separation of East Pakistan, India is fully backing the Baloh separatists who have been waging a low-level insurgency by destroying gas-pipelines and eliminating Pakistani citizens from other parts of the country including targeted-killings. RAW's agents are regularly helping them in conducting the subversive acts. Notably, On July 23, 2008, in an interview with the BBC, Brahmdagh Bugti, while replying to a question regarding the acquisition of arms, remarked that they "have the right to accept aid from India." In the recent past, by assassinating the Baloch nationalist leaders, Indian elements wanted to fulfill a number of clandestine aims.

In Balochistan, people, openly, began to blame Pakistan's intelligence agencies for the abduction and killing of these leaders. This is what the external plotters intended to achieve. Another aim was to gain the sympathies of general masses for Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) which has been fighting for secession of the province with the logistic support of RAW. One of the major purposes of this agency was not only to create a rift between the center and Balochistan, but also to give a greater impetus to the people of the province so as to intensify their separatist activities through acts of sabotage against the federation and Punjabis.

It is pertinent to note that Balochistan is replete with mineral resources. Its ideal geo-strategic location with Gwadar Deep Seaport alone could prove to be Pakistan's key junction, linking the rest of the world with Central Asia. However, besides separation of East Pakistan and perennial wave of suicide attacks in other regions, the largest province of Balochistan has become center of Indian intrigue.







Larry Cox, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA addressed Obama on 18 November and urged him not to forget the plight of women, men and children who are facing numerous human rights abuses in India and to make public statements emphasizing that human rights are central to US-India relations. He also stressed that Obama has the opportunity to directly communicate concern about human right to Prime Minister Singh. The director of Amnesty International tabulated the glaring violations regarding human rights through a letter. India always claimed her as one of the largest secular democratic state but her formal and informal policies in vogue do not reflect her claim. However, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama failed to take clear stance on the issue of violation of human rights in India. President of supper power did not condemn the Indian brutality which was pointed out by Mr. Larry since he (Obama) knew that Indian PM has to start her visit of Russia from first week of December, 2009.

After conclusion of USA visit, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama in the joint statement reaffirmed the global strategic partnership between India and the United States, and agreed on launching a new phase of partnership. Both the leaders also discussed economic relations, civil nuclear deal, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, openness, and avowed the respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights. President Obama expressed that the United States looks forward to a stable and prosperous India playing an increasingly important role in world affairs. The Obama's desire of promoting India as regional power would be taken as living in a fool paradise. Obama probably tried to close his eyes over Indian naked state terrorism against neighbouring countries and minorities.Amnesty international very rightly expressed that government of Indian failed to prevent abuses and also providing shelter to member of security forces from facing justice. The amnesty international report is not the only report which has reflected the bleak picture of violation of Human rights in India. According to Indian National Human Rights Commission, there were more than 2000 cases of human rights violations (which include rapes, terrorizing, abduction & killing of innocent women, children youngsters & communal violence) by the security forces from 1990 to 2009. No downward trend in crime ratio has been noticed so far because of unethical and lenient approach has been adopted by the concerned authorities.

The indecent activities against the innocent agitators almost raised 100%. If we consider that it reduced by 50 % even then figures will be quite alarming for the international community. Indian Ministry of Defence reported that it filed 17 rape cases against army personnel whereas media reported 20 cases of rapes from 2003-2004 and by adding 50 % per annum will make this figure 90 till November, 2009. There are reports that till to-date only two or three rape cases have been concluded so far in a guilty verdict. In the remaining cases, the investigations are still in process or terminated because of tremendous pressure on the presidents of the court of inquiries, investigating officers or on the eye witnesses.

Currently, 5,137 women officers serve in the armed forces. They include 4,101 in the army, 784 in the air force and 252 in the navy. In July 2008, Captain Poonam Kaur of the Army Supply Corps (ASC) has alleged that three officers of her unit had mentally and sexually harassed her and confined her illegally when she resisted their advances. The army then constituted a court of inquiry whereby all three officers denied the allegations and an innocent complainant (Miss Poonam) has been thrown out of the army instead providing justice. This incident has created bad impact in the ladies of Armed Forces and most of them are ready quit from the forces. According to the amnesty international, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958 has remained in effect in "disturbed areas," including Kashmir and large parts of the northeastern states of India for over forty years. This act is a major contributor to mass human rights abuses in these areas of India and protects Indian security forces from prosecution by requiring permission to prosecute from India's Central Government—permission which is rarely given. Thus security forces are busy in mass killing against, Maoist, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Though, Indian government has made the laws for bluffing international community but implementation of such laws is not being carried out in real life.

In fact the prevailing Indian terrorism is of two types, one is Indian state terrorism and other one is sponsored terrorism of Hindu extremists against minorities. As per the report, the Mass killings of Sikhs and Muslims are the worst kind of state terrorism. In this form of terrorism over three thousand Sikhs were massacred when the governing Congress Party incited mob violence targeting Sikh civilians. In reaction assassination of Prime Minister India Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards has been carried out in 1984. Scores of women were gang raped and some were burnt alive. Similarly mass killing of Muslims was made in Gujarat and Kashmir. In reaction 59 Hindus have been burnet in a train fire.

This train fire was blamed on Muslims. According to the media reports in 2009, workers over the past 18 months, nameless graveyards where Indian security forces dumped nearly 2,400 nameless corpses. In Kashmir only since last two decades over 68,000 people have been killed, the graveyards have deeply shaken Kashmir, digging up memories of the estimated 8,000 people who disappeared at the height of the militancy. The graves have also become constant reminders that while violence is down, it is far from over. Bodies have been buried as recently as the past few months

It is worth mentioning here that India has failed to make safety arrangements on her nuke plants. The thefts of uranium and equipments from Tarapur nuke plant have also created an alarm in the world community. Bhopal tragedy does also remind the death of several thousand people. No compensation has been made to the bereaved families. There are over 300 cases of nuke accident in India 'Times of India reported on November 30, 2009 about radiation contamination at the Kaiga nuclear plant in Karnataka. The locals residing in surrounding area suffered heavy damages in the shape of casualties of inhabitants and livestock worth costing in corers. Indian Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh has denied any radiation leak and said there was "nothing to worry about".

He further added that he has been briefed that it is a small matter of contamination and is not linked to any leak. In this regard global Nuke experts really got astonished over Indian PM Statement, in which he tried to tone down the most serious crisis of India assed since the leak occurred, but the plant site has not been cleaned up and toxic wastes continue to pollute the environment and ground water. Tens of thousands continue to live with debilitating illnesses. Despite numerous efforts, survivors continue to be denied adequate compensation, medical help, rehabilitation, and justice.

Abuses against "Dalits" are an open secret. India's caste system involves a social hierarchy in which individuals are considered to be born into a particular caste in which they remain throughout their lives. This category is being suppressed ruthlessly by the extremists Hindus. Outside these caste categories are the "untouchables", now commonly known as "Dalits", whose occupations — sweepers, tanners, sanitation workers, according to the Amnesty international report, it has been Indian is busy in fomenting terrorism in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The action against Maoists-Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal and other states are pure example of Indian state terrorism.

Indian violation of human rights is eye opener for the world community. So called world largest democratic country is heading towards her disintegration. American top brass should critically view the letter written by the director of Amnesty international since south Asian peace would only be possible when Indian state terrorism would come to an end.







Islamic history is replete with examples when men of authority presented themselves before the courts of law and sought justice or defended themselves like any other ordinary person. After they were exonerated by the courts, they continued their work uninterrupted as during the court proceedings against them. Justice requires that an accused is not punished before his crime has been proved. We are unique in one sense though. We cry for justice but in the same breath we demand injustice. Why the president and the ministers should be sent packing and rendered jobless whereas their cases are still pending decisions in the courts of law. Aitzaz Ahsan's logic is twisted so is of Barrister Akram Sheikh's and other of their kinds. My respect for them notwithstanding, we must call a spade a spade. The analogy drawn between the suspension of a permanent employee working under ESTA code and the office holder of a political office working on temporary basis is quite far fetched and tantamount to playing up the whole situation. Politicians swim the waves of public support based on good public perceptions which they earn through hard work and dedication to public welfare. The absence of which is no less than a death knell for any politician and severe enough punishment.

Further, what high moral standards are we talking about? According to what law a holder of high public office should leave his office, defend his case, exonerate himself first and then come back to reclaim his ministerial position which may evade him then. Are we blind? Don't we know how our courts work? One life is not good enough for any case to decide. Moreover, those who had instituted these cases against politicians on what high moral pedestal did they stand? Don't we know our political culture? The 34 politicians who are subjected to this legal grind have not been able to escape it in the last twelve years.

If Saifur Rehman, former chairman of NAB, is morally, ethically and legally unassailable, then why should he be running away from the country? Why doesn't he present himself before the courts of Pakistan and remove some fog from certain cases doing service to justice and fair play. The initial reactions of Khawaja Asif and Sadiqual Farooq of PML (N) over Supreme Court's decision on NRO were classic examples of ennui the politicians are usually accused of: Never miss a chance to land in the blow. This time, however, it was too pre-mature. Their demand of the president to resign because of SC's decision on NRO is not only ludicrous, it is downright hilarious rather comical. Our sages on TV screens, some of them even went over board, have created an unnecessary hype that is only reflective of acute shortage of maturity which is sadly missing in our political culture on the whole. These political wizards including Dr Shahid Masood, who claims to be candid enough not to agree with himself, have done little service to Pakistan by sensationalizing an ordinary situation. Curiously, Dr SM's show, quite superciliously called 'According to Me' very frequently props up venom sprouting anti Zardari cartel led by Arfan Saddiqi, Shaheen Shehbai, Salah Zafar and Ansar Abbasi etc along with Barrister Akram Sheikh and for the last twelve months straight has failed to point out any good thing the PPP government may have done for the country: should we let our prejudices blind us? Courts are not and can't be in tune with these pseudo revolutionaries who want to change everything overnight. Courts rather tame the revolutionary spirits, because they are to do justice. Courts don't act like revolutionary councils to reform society. Courts do justice and by doing so they uphold the rule of law which eventually proves beneficial to a society but this all happens over a considerable period of time. This is an evolutionary process which is a blessing and reward in itself. The society reforms itself voluntarily in an atmosphere of justice, fair play and rule of law. Even a junior student of Civics understands that the judiciary and the executive are two faces of the same coin. Both in their respective roles have responsibility towards society. Their role, essentially speaking, is not inimical to each other, it is rather complementary. The executive implements the decisions taken by the courts, whereas the courts have the right to supervise the implementation of their orders. Strong and independent courts are good things for the executive too so that its rogue elements are kept under check which signifies good governance.

Now the verdict being out one can reflect upon the circumstance that led to the abrogation of the NRO by the Supreme Court. Frankly speaking, the NRO never had any chance of survival. In the Supreme Court it even did not have any lawyer to support it. The government had already abandoned it a month before it was taken up by the court. The court has only formalized its demise enabling/or forcing the executive to follow through on newly opened cases. Angels won't fall from the sky to do that. If courts are independent, which they are, there should not be any problem regarding who is sitting where. Further, under the watchful eyes of newly liberated media and hawkish supervision of the so-called independent judiciary, prosecutors can't compromise with their work. We should also give some allowance to the fact that there are a very few politicians who are involved. There are thousands of others who have wrongly benefited from this legal loophole.

All, whether in authority or not, will pass through the judicial net and come out clean or condemned. With all fairness one can say that Pakistan needs a breather and an interregnum for democracy. Zardari should not succumb to the immoral, unethical and illegal demand of resignation made by his detractors with ulterior motives. Since beginning they have been on his throat. They have been defeated politically and legally. Now they must invoke some moral and ethical standards in their own right to push Zardari out of the president house. Especially, those who did not participate in the elections have grown extremely impatient. Such political Zombies as Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Munawar Hassan of Jama-te Islami and Imran Khan have already demanded midterm election which on their part signifies very cruel reading of Pakistan 's multidimensional problems. In politics personal honesty is no guarantee your recipe will work. The nation is already through such experimentation and can't afford to continue with such political vandalism.







Human rights violation is one of the most grievous problems of today's modern and so-called civilized society. Every year so many innocent people have to be a victim of human rights violations throughout the world. The system of the law enforcing agencies tries to shelter and safeguard these rights to the maximum extent but sometimes the situation becomes very painful when these agencies themselves prove a fatal weapon against these rights. Recently the Asian Human Rights Commission has released a report with the title, 'Law Enforcement Agencies of India involved in Human Rights violations." According to the details discussed in the report, from April 2001 to March 2009, the National Human Rights Commission of India NHRC has recorded 1184 deaths in police custody. These deaths must be called as the murders committed by the police because they all were without any sanction or approval of a court of law.

According to the details most of these murders have taken place in relatively calm and problem-free states of India including the most peaceful Maharashtra state with 192 murders. The other afflicted states are Uttar Pradesh with 128 killings, Gujarat with 113, Andhra Pradesh 85 and West Bengal 83. The most interesting fact is that all these states are considered very peaceful and prosperous parts of the country with no insurgent activities. This report compels us to think of the parts where insurgencies and separatist movements are simply a routine matter .The situation must be worse in the seven states forming the Northeastern territory and in the valleys of Jammu-Kashmir.

A few weeks back, the International People's Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir claimed in a heart rendering report that there are 2,700 "unknown, unmarked and mass graves" in three districts of the region. In this 108-page report, it has been claimed that the graves are spread across 55 burial grounds across north Kashmir. Regarding the authenticity of the report, the compilers say; "We used conversations, observations, research and formal interview methods in individual, private and collective settings, we also took photographs and on certain occasions video documentation, so that there might not be a single grain of exaggeration in it."

The report has been submitted to the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. According to 'Kashmir', the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, Mohammad Akbar Lone has said," If the report is submitted to me or a complaint is registered with me, I will ask the government to investigate the report," The tribunal of legislators from North Kashmir comprising of Prof Angana Chatterji, professor of anthropology in California Institute of Integral Studies; Mihir Desai, Supreme Court lawyer; Parvez Imroz, head, Coalition of Civil Society; and rights activist Khurram Parvez, said criticizing the report, "The credibility of the government is at stake. It should seriously investigate the case."Extra-judicial killings have become a cultural and traditional trait of the Indian society.

Another hidden reality is that the facts and figures sorted out by the Human Rights Commission may not match with the actual statistics because only a very few cases of human rights violations succeed in reaching the Commission or judiciary. The basic reason for this reality is that very often the victims belong to the most deprived and unprivileged social strata. They neither have the means nor the courage to approach the courts. Another hurdle is the absence of any eye-witness. People are so much frightened of the security forces that they find no courage to stand upright against them in the courts as eye-witnesses. Furthermore, if they succeed in building up any moral courage, they are reminded of the Armed Forces Special Power Act of 1958.This draconian law allows even a junior non-commissioned officer to 'shoot to kill' on mere suspicion in order to maintain 'Public Order'. This license to murder, known as AFSPA, is widely misused by the security forces in India. Some of the moderate politicians of India call this license 'a trigger-happy culture of governance'. The states like Manipur are the worst victim of this cruel license to kill. The people of the Manipur state could never forget the ruthless killings of two innocent citizens on the 23rd of July 2009; one of them was Mayanglambam Thokchom Rabina, a seven-month pregnant woman. She was shot dead in front of her young son. The police officers claimed that the pregnant Rabina was killed when another man was trying to run away while being frisked by police. During the chase, police opened fire and accidentally shot Rabina. The other man murdered on the same day was Chongthan Sanjeet Meitei. According to the details he was taken inside a shop to be searched, and was killed inside it. These 'manly' actions were taken by a team of Manipur Police Commandos (MPC). Five other civilians were seriously injured by the gunfire. Although the police official claimed that these two incidents were mere accidents but eyewitnesses and photos released by media contradicted this claim.

The role of the security forces must be that of the custodians of human rights but the situation in India is altogether different. Under the shield of AFSPA, the security forces are butchering and slaughtering the innocent people. It is the dire need of time that the Indian government should safeguard the lives of its helpless citizens from the cruel clutches of the security forces; but for this purpose the Indian government will have to disengage itself from the interference in the neighbouring countries.








The two little unborn babies, not yet born and waiting to be delivered to expectant mothers below sat in their abode above looking down at the planet earth. "What a beautiful place we are going too soon," said the first unborn baby gleefully. "Look at those meadows those streams and wonderful gardens, those snow capped mountains, those friendly hills."


"Yes," sighed the second unborn baby sadly, "I can see them all." "Can you see that lovely woman down there too." "Yes," said the second unborn baby, "I do." "That's going to be my mother.""And that, " said the second unborn baby pointing to another woman, "is mine."

"She's so beautiful," said the first. "I know," said the second." "Oooh, I can already feel my mothers arms around me, her love, surrounding me. I can feel her breath as she bends over me and showers me with care.

I can feel her doting on me, her little baby." "Yes," said the other listlessly. "And when she calls me by my name, I will run and hide and watch from my hiding place and see her anxious eyes, growing concerned that she cannot find me, and just when she is overwhelmed with worry I will come out and shout, "Mummy..!""Mummy," mumbled the second unborn baby. "And my mother will run and smother me in her arms and crush me with relief and hold me to herself with deep felt joy. Oh mummy how I 'm waiting to come and be with you." The other unborn child looked down at her mother and sighed.

"There will be father too," said the first. "That's him down there." "A good man he seems to be," said the second unborn baby. Where's yours?" asked the first. "I don't know," said the second.

"Soon I will go down into my mothers womb," said the first unborn baby, "and I will grow in her, till one day I will come into that world below to enjoy it with her and my dad. Oh how happy we all will be. Aren't you waiting for that day?" "I will never see that day," sobbed the second unborn baby. "Never." "But, what a beautiful mother you have!" "Who will end my life before I see the world! Never will I see a sunrise or sunset. Never will I feel the love of a mother. Never will I be born. But she in some dark, dingy clinic will see that I am scooped out and thrown as waste!"

"No," cried the first unborn child. "No! It is your right to be born!" The two unborn babies looked at the beautiful mother of the second as she flirted and teased and gave herself up to men who waited to bed her. "No!" screamed the second unborn baby. "No..! Don't kill me before I'm born, don't, please..!"








Violence in educational institutions has been a nasty reality of our national life for long. Yesterday alone, there were reports from a couple of universities, that students were locked in battle. This is a highly undesirable situation and despite many casualties in the past, has defied any solution. What is it about students that make their seats of learning so fraught with danger? And why is it that nothing can be done to stop them?
Academics, when confronted with the question, point their fingers at external forces, meaning politicians, for the fracas. And student activists show off the glorious history of student activism in different national movements to rationalize their role. Whatever the rationale, the fact remains that students are the future leaders of society and violence or inter-party conflict must not overtake the curricular activities. The nation cannot afford its young men and women to be in politics that very often upsets the academic calendar. The vicious cycle must stop and the sooner it does the better for the nation.

 There were several attempts in the past couple of decades to contain the menace but some political parties refused to be on board. In the early '90s former caretaker chief president Shahabuddin Ahmed proposed a moratorium on student politics, but the political parties turned a deaf ear to his call. They preferred the situation to continue as it was. In a country where charisma is the primary political capital morality is the last thing politicians are worried about. Naturally, the status quo continues.

For the administration the frequent breakdown in law and order that is a by-product of student politics is a reason for concern. They try their best to keep it under control. But then addressing the symptoms alone without eliminating the cause gives only temporary respite -- to recur again at the slightest provocation.
Currently the Election Commission (EC) has undertaken several initiatives to clean up politics. Hopefully, they will also take into consideration the recurring violence in the educational institutions and do something about it, too. Disassociating student organizations from political parties could be one such solution. If that does not work more radical solutions may be necessary. But for that to happen public opinion must be vocal and persistent.









At present, the number of seats in parliament is limited to 300 but, as the size of a constituency is determined by population, it has resulted in an imbalance between rural and urban development to the benefit of the urban population. This discrepancy has so affected development that the Election Commission (EC) feels the rural areas are in urgent need of an increase in the number of seats allotted. As a result the EC is proposing that the government amend the Delimitation of Constituencies Ordinance, 1976, in order to effect a balance between urban and rural constituencies. This proposal has its merits because giving Dhaka 15 seats instead of 8 just before the general elections of December 29, 2008 suddenly changed the political equation. 

In July that year, the EC published the draft of 300 constituencies with 45,000 population in each as per the Delimitation Ordinance, 1976.  They could do no less because present laws laid emphasis on population and not geographical demarcation. Therefore, to our minds the proposal by the EC for amending the Delimitation of Constituencies Ordinance 1976 is good. If by amending the delimitation laws it gives equal importance to geographical and administrative issues, this discrepancy will be reduced. The EC is also proposing to increase the number of reserved seats for women. But it must be remembered that any proposed change in the distribution of seats has to be subject to parliamentary approval. Therefore, all MPs owe it to their voters to be present in Parliament during this important debate as not many parliaments have seen Constitutional changes made for the people's welfare.   Although the question of increasing the number of reserved seats for women raises other issues such as direct elections, in a 500 seat parliament this will be necessary.









To many of my younger readers it may come as a shock that once upon a time there was only one domestic airline:
"You must be joking?"

"And to say you had arrived in life, you needed to have an acquaintance who could book tickets for you in the railways and another to…."

"Book your tickets in this one airline, right? You're still not joking are you?"

"No I'm not, and the planes left whenever they wanted to and arrived when felt like, and the airhostesses.."

"What about them?"

"Never smiled!"

"Why ever not?"

"Because it didn't matter, whether they smiled or gave you great service or no service you just had to fly with them again and again and again!"

"It must have been terrible huh?"

Oh yes it was, and I did think that that horrible chapter of our nation's history had been relegated to the past till I flew in from Delhi last evening:

"On the same airline?"

"Nope! On a private airline?"

"The airhostesses smiled right?"

"Nope I think they were still getting over being nearly laid off!"

"But the plane took off in time?"

"Not even an announcement made, except some pilot with a Russian voice at the end of the flight apologizing for delaying me for two hours and then delayed me for another half hour on the tarmac itself maybe because I mimicked him; Theese eese your Kapitan speakin.."

"And the service?"

"I asked for a newspaper, he forgot!"

"I asked again for a newspaper, and he forgot!"


"I asked him once again and he brought me a glass of weak lime juice!"

"And the food?"

"Ah the food! The food! Was good ole food of yore! The best! Which is why I'm saying it was de good ole flyin' day's again: Good food, no smiles, or announcements that you are late; it doesn't matter to them you fly with them again or not…"

"Because I think they're all running at a loss and really don't want you aboard; that's how I felt last night; it was de ole flyin' days again..!"







The lives in nature maintain an ecological equilibrium with surrounding environment and are inter-dependent to one another in harmonious rhythm and with soil and prevalent climate. Faunal species are dependent on the floral species for food, shelter and other necessities. Diversity of biological species is, therefore, key to varietals adaptability and sustainability of biological species linking the food chains of the faunal species. Hence, bio-diversity in gene pools is essential toward emergence of species and varieties that are fittest for survival under the changed environmental conditions taking place naturally or due to manipulation by advanced species. Therefore anthrophic disturbance is disastrous for biological species diversity. In farming systems, people rely on wide range of crops, animals, fishes and forest species for obtaining sustainable supply of food and other necessities to keep pace with the environmental changes occurring naturally or due to human interventions. The cooperation and collective efforts amongst the floral and faunal species are needed more for survival than individual capabilities to prove as fittest during the process of natural selection under the dynamic ecological challenges. Peter Raven a renowned French ecologist working on plant animal interdependence claimed that extinction of a plant species affects at least 20/30 faunal species directly or indirectly in nature. The major ecosystems in Bangladesh include the forest land, wetland, homestead, agriculture land and coastland ecosystems. Each of the ecosystems and their adjacent subsystems under natural conditions possesses distinctive biological compositions and diversities closely inter-linked.

Crop biodiversity in real sense means harmonious coexistence amongst the organisms, plants and animal species in terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems and subsystems. Moreover, roles of biological diversity became recognized in recent years in respect of food security, mass poverty and extinction of wildlife, narrowing the genetic resources, etc.

The dynamics of biodiversity got its root within the term itself that reflects several biological and natural factors. All these relationships make imperative for human to be more careful for conservation of biological diversities in the interest of living beings and to maintain the ecological equilibrium. The biodiversity is to be conserved because of the present and projected economic values and optimisation of plant and animal population within the carrying capacity of bio-production capabilities of a region.

Biodiversity consideration at national, community and individual levels demand due care for its roles in economic, scientific and ecological arenas and environmental balance and ecosystems. Contributions of biodiversity in bio-mass productivity, heat energy flow, soil fertility and maintenance of biotic and non-biotic natural resources cannot be undermined. From commercial and trade relationship aspects biodiversity plays roles because human utilises the diversified bio-resources as commodities like food, fodder, building material and protein source.

Natural forests and plantations in Bangladesh accommodate 113 mammals, 630 birds, 125 reptiles and 35 amphibian species. In addition, this country is rich with 260 freshwater fishes and 475 marine species including 327 mollusks and 66 corals in the eco-systems.
But unfortunately, wildlife population and species diversity dwindled over the decades due to habitat loss, food shortage, over exploitation and pollution leading extinction, endangering or threatening many species including the gorial, bison, chita, white winged wood duck, pal lass's fishing eagle, river terrapin and several other species.
Bangladesh possesses 5,700 flowering plant, four naked seeded gymnosperm, one pinus, 250 bryophyte and pteridophyte and 300 algae and lichen species. Out of 5,700 plant species 160 are agriculture crops, 300 forest tree; 250 freshwater wetland, 250 mangrove and many ethno-botanical species e.g. beverages, horticultural, medicinal and aromatic plant species.

The paddy varieties in 30 agro-ecological zones include 3,000 aus, transplanted, broadcast and deep-water aman varieties of which 800 are deep-water varieties. The mentioned number of paddy varieties reached 12,479 through a nationwide survey conducted in 1980. The indigenous paddy varieties are threatened due to IRRI varieties. However, a gene bank in BRRI conserves 7,439 traditional and exotic paddy varieties to protect those from extinction.

Bangladesh is committed to its obligations of CITES, World Heritage Conservation, Ram Sar Convention, CBD, Climate Change Convention and Convention to Combat Desertification and adhered to the principle of conservation of biodiversity, maintenance of eco-balance since 1992. The status of CDB implementation as per Articles-5 to 16 of Rio Convention Bangladesh prepared Biodiversity Conservation Strategies and Action Plan (BCSAP), National Conservation Strategy (NCS) and NEMAP (1994). A survey on biodiversity status in St. Martins Island, Himchhari Coastal Belt, Tanguar Haor, Barind Tract, and Chalan Beel has also been done.
Bangladesh prepared the Wildlife (Preservation) Ordinance 1974 and of BECA (1975) and established eight wildlife sanctuaries, five national parks, two eco-parks at Sitakunda and Moulvibazar and one safari park at Dulhazari and a gene bank.

The Fish and Bird Sanctuaries at Hakaluki Haor has been established as per the provisions of Fish Act 195 for providing protection, breeding facilities to fish species and conservation of fish habitat. GoB approved continuation of moratorium (1989) on logging from the Sundarbans and from sal and hill forests. Beside these, DoE implemented the SEMP that include 26 components, three of which directly linked to biodiversity conservation particularly in wetlands and floodplains. The FD implemented the Forest Resource Management Project (FRMP), Forestry Sector Project (FSP), Coastal Greenbelt Project and Biodiversity Conservation of Sundarban Reserve Forest (BCRF), Upzilla Banayan and Nursery Development Project and Forestry Sector project during eighties and nineties. Fisheries and Livestock Ministry implemented the 3rd and 4th phases of the Fisheries Management Project during the nineties. BARC coordinated drafting of Policies, Acts and Guidelines for conservation of biological diversities relating agriculture sector that has been approved by GoB as National Biodiversity Rules.

Projected impacts on biodiversity indicated forests and wetlands are the components that warrant immediate and particular attention of GoB against further degradation of biodiversity as forests and wetlands are heavily depleted due to over exploitation, mismanagement, demographic pressure and large-scale pollution. Pollution of soil, water and air in Bangladesh is caused due to ill managed disposals of solid wastes and affluent from 30,000 big and small industries, 16,000 rural and urban markets, 20,000 brick fields, rapidly growing urban areas and 38,000 kg insecticides/pesticides and huge quantities of chemical fertilizers in agriculture field each year.

Forests, biodiversity, climate and pollution status are closely inter-linked as forests provide habitats, food and breeding facility for a wide range of wild species and absorb carbon as natural sink saucers.
The high canopy of forests defuses light intensity and lower down soil temperature due to deflection of sun shine, help maintaining soil moisture and permit multitudes of habitats for co-existence of diverged plant and animal species. Tropical forests cover 7.0 percent of the globe but support nearly 90 percent of the faunal and floral species. Under Forest Department, Bangladesh has the total 1.8 million hectare forest covered area with the stock density of 0.2 million hectare tree-covered and homestead forest of nearly 0.4 million hectare. The annual deforestation rate is 3.0 percent while only 10,000 hectare is replanted. 

 — (To be continued)








(Continued from yesterday's issue)

These traditions and norms are widely mentioned and practised in Islam. Consultation, accountability and democratic decision making processes are not only mentioned in Islam, they were actively encouraged. We know in site of having all skills, knowledge and God guidance of taking unilateral decision, how our beloved Prophet (pbuh) did consultation with his companions, shahabas. Accountability is the heart of democratic process. We know how Omor, the second Caliph, had shown the example of accountability. Ruler of half of the world could have been stopped in the middle of speech by an ordinary woman!