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Thursday, December 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 23.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 23, edition 000383, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


























































It is astounding that a former senior police officer held guilty by the trial court of molesting a teenaged girl who subsequently committed suicide should get away with as little as six months in prison and Rs 1,000 as fine. The laughable punishment, which makes a mockery of justice in our country, has been put on hold as the offender, who has been granted bail, prepares to appeal against what he claims is an 'unfair' judgement. The 19-year-old quest for justice for a budding tennis player, Ruchika Girhotra, who was 14 years old when she was molested by then Inspector-General of Police SPS Rathore and 17 when she committed suicide unable to bear the harassment to which her family was subjected for daring to lodge a complaint, has taken many twists and turns and is yet to reach an honourable closure. Monday's judgement reflects poorly as much on the lower judiciary as the criminal justice system which, it would appear, is so corroded that there's little cause to repose faith in it. But Ruchika's tragic story is not only about justice delayed and denied; it's also about the ruthlessness with which morally corrupt police officers seek to silence the victims of their misdeeds. More importantly, it is a sorry tale of how the state, as we understand it, colludes with criminals in uniform to whitewash their crimes. Soon after Ruchika was molested, her family was told not to persist with the complaint they had lodged. When her parents refused to oblige Rathore, Ruchika's brother was falsely implicated in several cases of theft. He was arrested, tortured in custody and made to sign blank pieces of paper that were later used for drafting bogus 'confessions'. All this happened without any senior official protesting against the gross abuse of power by one of their own; it was a shocking display of the 'brotherhood' ganging up against a hapless girl. Haryana's politicians, of course, were happy to let Rathore have his way for reasons that do not require elaboration. The cases against Ruchika's brother collapsed in court, but by then the victim's family had suffered enormous trauma: Ruchika committed suicide in 1993; her brother was reduced to a wreck.

Undeterred by Rathore's strong-arm tactics, the witness to his crime, Ruchika's brave classmate Aradhana, and her equally upright parents kept on knocking at the doors of justice. Their persistence paid off and the case was handed over to the CBI; Monday's judgement, which is no doubt horribly flawed, holding Rathore guilty of the crime he committed 19 years ago, is the result of their sustained efforts. There is some satisfaction for those who campaigned to get justice for Ruchika in securing Rathore's conviction, but that is overshadowed by the ease with which he has been able to secure bail. It is anybody's guess as to whether the higher judiciary will uphold Monday's verdict, leave alone increase the quantum of punishment — Rathore richly deserves far more than six months in jail and an insignificant thousand-rupee-fine. While it is for the judiciary to decide whether justice has been really done in this particular case, it would be in order to underscore the fact that when powerful individuals — especially police officers, bureaucrats and politicians — get away lightly for their crimes and are happy to be photographed grinning after being held guilty, society loses respect for the law of the land. When people like Rathore are not shamed and shunned, leave alone punished, law-abiding citizens become contemptuous of those who are supposed to implement laws and uphold them. Worse, policemen become objects of ridicule.






Over the last quarter century, Kerala's economy has increasingly come to be dependent on petro-dollars being pumped into the State by its sizeable expatriate community living and working in the Gulf. At the turn of the millennium, the total amount of money that was being repatriated to Kerala through such remittances was to the tune of Rs 4,000 million per annum. So vital is this money to Kerala that some believe without it the State would virtually be bankrupt. Indeed, remittances from the Gulf often amount higher than the State's Budget. Given the slow pace of infrastructure and industrial development that is evident in the unenviable economic growth rate of the State, Gulf money is what is propping Kerala up. But the question is: At what cost? There is a certain negative impact on the overall psychology of a society that is largely dependent on a migrant labour-based economy, an area that has become the subject of sociological studies. So far, studies regarding migration have tended to focus primarily on the challenges that migrants, especially unskilled labourers, face in their host countries. This includes material and environmental challenges such as tough living and work conditions as well as social challenges such as adjusting in a foreign land and trying to find one's place in an alien culture. However, recent studies indicate that Kerala is falling victim to a culture of brutality specific to migrant labour communities. This is becoming apparent in the increasing number of cases of senseless violence in the State, particularly with respect to migrants from other States to Kerala. Only days ago, a Tamil migrant was brutally beaten up by a mob in Tirur in Malappuram district, a town known for its huge population of Gulf migrants, just because the man was sleeping drunk on the roadside.

Sociologists believe that this is a direct consequence of migrants returning from Gulf countries trying to imitate the brutal treatment that was meted out to them by their masters there. If this is indeed true then there is serious cause for concern. The human rights record of Gulf countries is anything but praiseworthy. If Kerala's Gulf migrants are to start importing this home, the State could very well witness the proliferation of a culture of violence and intolerance. This should definitely give policymakers in Kerala reason to have a relook at the State's migration 'success story'. For, many believe that excessive emigration to Gulf countries in the pursuit of easy money has done more harm to the State than good. It has taken away incentive from boosting domestic economic growth and, correspondingly, discouraged the creation of a highly-skilled workforce to the degree Kerala is capable of, given its high literacy rate. This should be enough to initiate a serious discussion on Kerala's Gulf emigrations.



            THE PIONEER



The Maoists in Nepal are showing their true colours. Ever since the Prachanda-led coalition Government lost power in 2009, Maoists have been running amok. On the pretext of restoring civilian supremacy they have made the country ungovernable, thanks to the culture of impunity which ironically increased after the Government's much-heralded special security strategy.

The fight to regain Singha Darbar — the battle between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries — has reached the turning point. The countrywide strike in the last three days, which saw some of the worst violence since Jan Andolan II, paralysed Nepal, with Maoists holding the country to ransom. To avoid Maoist mobs, Nepal's Prime Minister MK Nepal returning from Copenhagen had to slink to his residence through an unconventional route. The optics of power before the distressed people of Nepal is that Maoists and not the 'illegal puppet Government of MK Nepal' were in power.

By all accounts Prachanda has received encouragement for establishing a 'people's republic' from China, a country that he visited a second time recently. Maoists have indulged in every variant of high-handedness and hooliganism ostensibly to protect the peace process and prevent the Constituent Assembly from being annulled. Unlike the Government, Maoist writ runs across every nook and cranny in Nepal. Prachanda says, "the Government is not in a position to suppress our protest, nor will it try to do so". So Maoists stormed the eastern township of Dhankuta, holding it for 24 hours; in Kailali they led their supporters to occupy Government land which was vacated through police action. In Tanahu a similar land grab was attempted. They show black flags and pelt stones at Government Ministers, not sparing even the Prime Minister and President. Business, tourism and industry are at a standstill with labour unions under their thumb.

Over the last two weeks, they have unilaterally declared 13 new 'states' as federal and autonomous without a word being written in the new Constitution. This was justified because according to them a Constitution will not be written and the Constituent Assembly dissolved. Journalists have been attacked and their youth wing, Young Communists League is routinely involved in clashes with their counterparts in Opposition parties. The Constituent Assembly, which doubles as Parliament, is permanently blocked by Maoist legislators who let it function only for vote on account and passage of the Budget because their PLA have not been paid its salaries. For the last six months, their leaders have said a national unity Government led by them will be formed soon and their protest programmes are to champion civil supremacy not covet Government.

Maoists have made the use of threat and intimidation into an art form. Warning signals are periodically issued about another revolt and conflict if the Constitution is not written on time (28 May 2010) and the political deadlock over civil supremacy not ended. These are the blue-blooded Maoists who joined the political mainstream in 2006, espousing multi-party democracy, human rights, press freedom and rule of law. Yet they have bypassed the interim Constitution, violated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and flouted the rule of law.

Nepal's Maoists will never change their colours. Maoist ideologue and vice-chairman Baburam Bhattarai made no bones in saying that accepting CPA was a tactical ploy to get rid of the King. Their aim was to seize power and run a single party state. The late Col NS Pun, who was King Gyanendra's emissary for the second round of peace talks with the country's Maoists in 2003-04 and one man who understood them, used to say after the mainstreaming of the Left-wing extremists that they would work their way into power through subversion of the state. During the nine months of the Prachanda-led Government, Maoists succeeded in transforming the state to their ways but stumbled when they tried sacking Army Chief Gen Katwal who stood between them and their totalitarian goals.

If more proof was needed of their intention to power grab, it was provided by Prachanda himself in the famous Shakti-Khor video clip.

Mr Bhattarai in an interview of World People's Resistance Movement revealed that the Maoist aim was to destroy the old state and create a new Nepal, capturing power with the help of the PLA. He acknowledged the receipt of new arms to continue "the people's revolution through a protracted people's war". Another high-ranking Maoist leader CP Gajurel has said that Maoists were providing "full support and cooperation" to Indian Naxalites. Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala took this to mean supply of weapons and said: "I have evidence".

The Nepali Government has singularly failed to counter the alarming developments of the last six months, suffering pain and humiliation at the hands of the Maoists to preserve the tattered peace process. A Nepali journalist visiting India compared Mr Nepal to Nero as Rome burned. But he also condemned Nepal's Maoists: "They are the biggest problem, they will not change and we do not know how to deal with them. There is no Plan B so India must help".

Is India hoping that power fatigue will overwhelm the Left-wing ultras? They've been out in the cold for eight months now but show no loss of resilience. Three things are clear: Maoists are not going to be able to return to power through street agitations alone; the Nepali Government is unable to govern; and the peace process is grounded. Neither the Constitution will get written nor integration of armies take place on time. UNMIN's fourth extension expires on 23 January.

Most constitutional experts believe that after 28 May, the country will be faced with a constitutional crisis. Others feel the President can extend the life of the CA or the House itself can issue the 7th Amendment to the interim Constitution provided Maoists cooperate. Either way, a crisis is in the making. Maoists might try to seize power in the confusion of a power vacuum. But for the moment they fear their bete noire, President RB Yadav will declare President's rule.

India, which is the biggest external stakeholder, is cool as a cucumber. Its one-point agenda is to keep Nepal's Maoists in their present avatar, out of Singha Darbar. It is in no hurry to see a new Constitution in Nepal. Next year, Foreign Minister SM Krishna will visit Nepal in January. President Yadav will come to Delhi in February and COAS Gen Deepak Kapoor will receive the gold-plated sword of an honorary General of the Nepali Army in Kathmandu the same month. But where is New Delhi's Plan B now that Prachanda has sought talks?






If one has the right to crib about politicians and how dirty politics is, it is also his or her duty to reject them to express disenchantment with the political system. Gujarat Government's decision to make voting compulsory in local elections is indeed a step in the right direction to make our democracy a voter-centric democracy. This is a move that will reinforce the fundamentals of democracy and drive home the point that elections are not about politicians but voters who give the former the authority to serve. Thus, it is necessary to make everyone's vote count.

Voter-turnout figures during general elections are not bad, but turnouts in local elections are disappointing. A Government or a civic body elected by less than half of the population does not reflect the choice of a society as a whole. This reminds one of the meagre 41.4 per cent voter turnout, lowest since 1977, in Mumbai in the last Lok Sabha election that brought back the same politicians to power who failed to prevent the 26/11 terror strikes on the city. Besides Mumbai, voter-turnout figures across the nation challenge us to initiate and implement electoral reforms. Also, it is routine for us to delve into voter-turnout statistics after every election without analysing the disturbing reasons behind people's reluctance to vote.

Two insidious factors for poor voter turnouts are public apathy and disconnect between voters and the political leadership.

The argument that either people are satisfied with the status quo (the present political arrangement in the country) or that they register their annoyance for politicians by not voting is unacceptable. Therefore, in such a scenario mandatory voting will compel voters to vote and voice their opinion.

Only compulsory voting can 'officially' gauge the level of voter dissatisfaction, compelling politicians to work for the welfare of the society. Besides allaying public apathy, it will compel the political leadership to do something about the apparent disconnect with voters. Instead of turning election debates into mudslinging and name-calling matches, politicians will be forced to focus on micro issues like water supply, sanitation, public transport, etc, that affect the lives of the voters directly.

No country can afford the luxury of poor governance and, therefore, the right to elect and the right to reject must be made a civic duty to be exercised by all citizens.








The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport," said Mr John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, on Friday night. "There are no targets for carbon cuts and no agreement on a legally binding treaty."

The guilty men included US President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who took the first planes out. Mr Xie Zhenhua, the head of China's delegation, lingered behind to declare that "The meeting has had a positive result, everyone should be happy." But many people are unhappy, including most of the 130 Presidents and Prime Ministers who showed up for the Copenhagen conference.

Their countries spent two weeks struggling unsuccessfully to bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor nations over who pays to fix the eminently fixable problem of global warming, but at least they were clear on the goal. They wanted a treaty that would hold the warming to a safe level (although they could not agree on what that level was). Most of them even wanted to make it legally enforceable.

The "Copenhagen Accord," by contrast, was a drive-by shooting, agreed in a few hours between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa. It contains no hard numbers for emissions cuts and no deadlines. Yet Mr Obama insisted that it was a "meaningful result," because they had "agreed to set a mitigation target to limit warming to no more than 2C and, importantly, to take action to meet this objective."

It's easy to make fun of this stuff. Those wise and powerful men set a target of no more than 2 degrees Celsius of warming — which is exactly the same target they declared at the G8/G20 summit last July. 'Importantly,' they also agreed 'to take action to meet this objective' — though they could not agree on what the action would be, or when they would decide on it.

For this, 192 countries spent two weeks negotiating at Copenhagen? Why bother? It was an utter waste of time. But why is anybody surprised ? Even I knew that it was bound to end up like that.

I had argued in the past that the Copenhagen summit would certainly fail to deliver the right deal. The danger is that it would lock us into the wrong deal, and leave no political space for countries to go back and try to get it right later. Public opinion is climbing a steep learning curve, and the asymmetrical deal that cannot be sold politically today might be quite saleable in as little as a year or two.

Well, Copenhagen certainly didn't lock us into the wrong deal. The reason no deal was possible is that public opinion in the developed countries is still in denial about the fact that the final climate deal must be asymmetrical. Until the general public grasps that, especially in the US, there will be no real progress.

Most Western leaders understand the history. For two centuries, the countries that are now 'developed' got rich by burning fossil fuels. In the process they filled the atmosphere with their greenhouse gas emissions, to the point where it now has little remaining capacity to absorb carbon dioxide without tipping us into disastrous heating.

This means that the rapidly developing countries like China, India and Brazil will push the whole world into runaway warming if they follow the same historical path in growing their economies. Since they are relatively poor, however, they have been investing mainly in fossil fuels, just as the West did when it was starting to industrialise. A wide variety of alternatives is now available, but only at a higher price.

So how do we deal with this unfair history? The developed countries must cut their emissions deeply and fast, and give the developing countries enough money to cover the extra cost of growing their economies with the clean sources of energy that they must use instead of fossil fuels. That's the deal, but most voters in the US don't understand it yet.

That's why Mr Obama couldn't promise to cut American emissions to 20 or 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, as most other industrial countries were offering to do. Instead, he could only offer a paltry 4 per cent — and he couldn't even guarantee that.

His most visible problem is the US Senate, a body whose constitutional role is to delay change. The Senate has become more corrupt in recent decades because of the almost unlimited spending power of special interest groups, but an uncorrupted Senate would not pass drastic climate legislation either. Like Mr Obama himself, it cannot risk getting too far ahead of the American public.

Until Americans start to take climate change seriously, Mr Obama will not be able to move. It is politically impossible for the Chinese to make concrete commitments until the Americans do. We will just have to wait until they get there.

Each year in which we don't reach an adequate global climate deal is probably costing on the order of fifty million extra premature deaths between now and the end of the century, but that's just the current tariff. By 2015 the annual cost in lives of further delay will be going up steeply. Time is not on our side.

- The writer is a London-based independent journalist.








The Ruchika Girhotra case, involving the suicide of a young tennis player, who was driven over the edge 16 years ago, allegedly by the harassment that her family and she faced at the hands of SPS Rathore, a senior Haryana police officer, evokes a sense of déjà vu. Crimes perpetrated by policemen against the innocent are so common that human rights activists and the media alike tend to believe the worst. The conviction of another senior Haryana police officer, RK Sharma, for the murder of journalist Shivani Bhatnagar, adds credence to this view. She was killed on January 23, 1999. Investigations opened up a Pandora's box, with the involvement of the police officer and a senior politico suspected. Sharma went into hiding, though finally surrendering to the Delhi Police on September 27, 2002. He, along with three other accused, were convicted by a Delhi court on March 18, 2008. They were sentenced to life imprisonment on

March 24, 2008.

In August this year, two police personnel, including a head constable, were dismissed from service by Hoshangabad range Deputy Inspector General of Police for allegedly raping a Dalit woman at Amla police station in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh. The dismissal of the two accused apparently occurred at the behest of women's rights bodies. In other parts too, police personnel have been in the line of fire, whether on the charge of committing rape, murder or robbery. The general perception is that the power given to them as custodians of law and order also makes them prone to abusing that power. This view is corroborated by media reports that scores of criminals and under trials are killed in 'fake encounters' by trigger-happy policemen.

Against this backdrop, the conviction of Rathore in the suicide case has somewhat assuaged the hurt of those who filed the case against him after Ruchika killed herself on December 28, 1993. However, they feel that justice still needs to be done as the Rs 1,000 fine imposed on him and six-month prison sentence is inadequate, presuming that the ex-Haryana DGP abetted the girl's suicide. They also feel cheated because Rathore, convicted by special CBI Magistrate JS Sidhu under the Indian penal Code on the charge of using force to molest the young Ruchika 19 years ago, not only managed to avoid his absurdly brief six-month jail sentence by obtaining bail but showed no signs of remorse when confronted by mediapersons. Worse, former Haryana Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala, who has the dubious distinction of having sanctioned Rathore's promotion during his tenure, despite the charges against him in the Ruchika case, brusquely dismissed all queries in this regard after the conviction.

Clearly, the loss of a young innocent life was of no significance. This is hardly unusual in an aggressively patriarchal society, where female foeticide and infanticide are rampant, and females rarely have freedom to make choices. The course of their existence is largely determined at birth — that is, if allowed to survive: Rudimentary learning, marriage, motherhood and death. Those from a more privileged background, like Ruchika, are an anomaly in a feudal milieu, where khap panchayats routinely condemn lovers, descended from the same gotra or genetic marker to death, or hound to perdition any couple that belongs to different castes. Such persecution, along with brazen display of power and wealth, are perversely considered points of honour.

Ruchika, a Panchkula resident, was an aspiring tennis player, whose sole mistake apparently was that she, accompanied by a teenage friend, went to meet Rathore at his office. He was then heading the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association, and was also the IGP, Haryana. He had reportedly told her father that he could help the girl by arranging for training in tennis at Chandigarh. Ruchika went to meet him in this regard. However, the friend, Aradhana Prakash, whose testimony provided grounds for conviction, vouches that the man tried to molest Ruchika. The motherless girl turned to Aradhana's family for help and support. Ms Prakash had a complaint filed against Rathore, who allegedly retaliated by harassing Ruchika and her brother. The latter was reported to have been implicated in some false cases at the DGP's behest. The girl herself was thrown out of her school. Eventually, she killed herself through desperation.

While Rathore still pleads his innocence in the case, rights activists have almost tired of attempting to convince policymakers of the need for initiating police reforms in order to make the supposed guardians of law and order accountable for their considerable lapses.







What importance has the recent Swiss referendum to ban the building of minarets (spires next to mosques from which the call to prayer is issued)?

Some may see the 57.5 to 42.5 per cent decision endorsing a constitutional amendment as nearly meaningless. The political establishment being overwhelmingly opposed to the amendment, the ban will probably never go into effect. Only 53.4 per cent of the electorate voted, so a mere 31 per cent of the whole population endorses the ban. The ban does not address Islamist aspirations, much less Muslim terrorism. It has no impact on the practice of Islam. It prevents neither the building of new mosques nor requires that Switzerland's four existing minarets be demolished.

It's also possible to dismiss the vote as the quirky result of Switzerland's unique direct democracy, a tradition that goes back to 1291 and exists nowhere else in Europe. Mr Josef Joffe, the distinguished German analyst, sees the vote as a populist backlash against the series of humiliations the Swiss have endured in recent years culminating in the seizure of two businessmen in Libya and the Swiss President's mortifying apology to win their release.

However, I see the referendum as consequential, and well so beyond Swiss borders.

First, it raises delicate issues of reciprocity in Muslim-Christian relations. A few examples: When Our Lady of the Rosary, Qatar's first-ever church opened in 2008, it did so minus cross, bell, dome, steeple, or signboard. Rosary's priest, Father Tom Veneracion, explained their absence: "The idea is to be discreet because we don't want to inflame any sensitivities." And when the Christians of a town in Upper Egypt, Nazlet al-Badraman, finally after four years of "labourious negotiation, pleading, and grappling with the authorities," won permission in October to restore a tottering tower at the Mar-Girgis Church, a mob of about 200 Muslims attacked them, throwing stones and shouting Islamic and sectarian slogans. The situation for Copts is so bad, they have reverted to building secret churches.

Why, the Catholic Church and others are asking, should Christians suffer such indignities while Muslims enjoy full rights in historically Christian countries? The Swiss vote fits into this new spirit. Islamists, of course, reject this premise of equality; Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned his Swiss counterpart of unspecified "consequences" of what he called anti-Islamic acts, implicitly threatening to make the minaret ban an international issue comparable to the Danish cartoon fracas of 2006.

Second, Europe stands at a crossroads with respect to its Muslim population. Of the three main future prospects — everyone getting along, Muslims dominating, or Muslims rejected — the first is highly improbable but the second and third seem equally possible. In this context, the Swiss vote represents a potentially important legitimation of anti-Islamic views. The vote inspired support across Europe, as signalled by online polling sponsored by the mainstream media and by statements from leading figures. Here follows a small sampling:

France: 49,000 readers at Le Figaro, by a 73-27 per cent margin, would vote to ban new minarets in their country. 24,000 readers at L'Express agreed by an 86-12 per cent margin, with 2 per cent undecided. A leading columnist, Ivan Rioufol of Le Figaro, wrote an article titled "Homage to the Resistance of the Swiss People." President Nicolas Sarkozy was quoted as saying that "the people, in Switzerland as in France, don't want their country to change, that it be denatured. They want to keep their identity."

Germany: 29,000 readers at Der Spiegel voted 76-21 per cent, with 2 per cent undecided, to ban minarets in Germany. 17,000 readers of Die Welt voted 82-16 in favour of "Yes, I feel cramped by minarets" over "No, freedom of religion is constrained."

Spain: 14,000 readers of 20 Minutos voted 93-6 per cent in favour of the statement "Good, we must curb Islamisation's growing presence" and against "Bad, it is an obstacle to the integration of immigrants." 35,000 readers of El MUndo replied 80-20 per cent that they support a Swiss-like banning of minarets.

Although not scientific, the lop-sidedness of these (and other) polls, ranging from 73 to 93 per cent majorities endorsing the Swiss referendum, signal that Swiss voters represent growing anti-Islamic sentiments throughout Europe. The new amendment also validates and potentially encourages resistance to Islamisation throughout the continent.

For these reasons, the Swiss vote represents a possible turning point for European Islam.

-- The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.







At the crack of dawn Baburam, along with his wife and two children armed with axes begin their slow trek to the nearby forest. Their aim — to cut wood and return home with heaps of branches and twigs. They are not alone in this. Some 300 woodcutters join them in this pre-dawn move and as the sun shines, a full army of them are at work in the forest.

This seems a page out of the bizarre when the entire world's focus is on preservation of forests as 'carbon sinks' but in fact it is a routine in Munger district of Bihar where hundreds of people are involved in illegal cutting of forest wood. What is ironical is the fact that it is taking place right under the nose of the administration which shows a criminal negligence by turning a blind eye. The illegal activities are not restricted to cutting of forests. Precious minerals and stones are 'mined' from the hills and then surreptitiously transported out under the cover of darkness. Such activities are hugely detrimental to the environment and flagrant violation of the law.

In Munger district, there is a nexus at work between mine owners, timber mafia and local officials. About 200 people in the district, particularly in Patam, earn their livelihood through these nefarious activities. The pollution caused by these activities is highly disturbing not for only human beings around the area but also for birds and animals living there. Many of animals have been driven out of their natural habitats.

The tradition in this country for centuries has been one of deep respect for nature. The symbiotic bond between human existence and patterns of nature was understood more in an intuitive, intrinsic way, rather than intellectual. It defined the relationship between the two, which was one of harmony.

With modern development, this concept turned turtle and the results are there for us to see and to reap. Floods, drought, earthquakes and other forms of natural calamities have been the bitter harvest. In some ways we have come full circle to again go back to basics, this time supported by intellectual debate and some policy measures to mitigate the situation.

The Wildlife Conservation Act, 1972 has a clear provision for protecting the means of livelihood of local inhabitants. The Government recognising the needs of communities living around reserved forest areas had even drawn up a plan. Sadly nine years later, implementation on the ground is lax which is amply evident in Munger.

Unless the Government takes decisive steps to provide an alternative to prevent the use of wood as fuel, it is impractical to expect Baburam and hundreds like him not to flout the law openly or in connivance with local officials to keep alight their home fires. In sum, unless the Government addresses this, it is virtually impossible to stop illegal cutting of woods in the forests of Munger.

There is a lacuna at the policy level too. While forests are very much a Central Government subject, the impetus and its implementation clearly need to come from the State Governments. There was a move afoot some years back to set up para-security forces for guarding the forest areas. State Governments were told to respond to this. Nothing came out of it and precious time has been lost.

We, as a nation, have unfortunately strayed far away from the innate understanding that our ancestors possessed. That human existence is undeniably and inextricably linked to the environment and its preservation must in a sense come first. If we had just stuck to this dictum, what we would have inherited today would have been clean air and water, lush green forests and a promise of an eternity of peaceful existence for the future generations.

Instead it is quite the opposite. The reasons are many and probably vary in different regions across the country. The concerns of Munger are not its alone. More than three decades ago, world leaders had taken note of the deterioration of environment and the devastating effect it was having on life on earth. But the promise has remained unfulfilled and the state of the world is a far cry from harmony and equity that are needed to preserve the environment.

In India, it is clear that State Governments need to buy into the concept and take onus. They cannot be bystanders or passive players in the move to protect and purify their natural resources. During disasters they cannot be allowed to take shelter behind outmoded laws and ineffective programmes. Environment should not remain just an issue. It needs more than ever to evolve into a movement that sweeps the country. Perhaps only then will Munger be able to restore its fast disappearing green gold.







A SENSE of shame is a scarce commodity in today's world. It is not surprising then that a former director general of police of Haryana should come out of the court smirking, after being convicted of the crime of molesting a child, and allegedly harassing her family to the point that she committed suicide.


That Mr S P S Rathore molested 14- yearold Ruchika Girhotra in Chandigarh on August 12, 1990 has been established by the CBI court that pronounced him guilty on Monday. But he is yet to be punished for what he allegedly did to prevent the victim and her family from pursuing their case against him. The victim's friend who was an eyewitness to the incident has narrated how Mr Rathore abused his power to lodge false cases against the victim's brother and humiliate and traumatise the family, which led to the girl taking the extreme step. These are far graver charges which must be pressed against Mr Rathore in a higher court of law.


For close to a decade after his crime, there was not even an FIR against the former police officer who went on to get promoted as DGP. Clearly he was protected by his colleagues in the Indian Police Service and the state government. They, too, are guilty of a terrible crime.


Fortunately, the judiciary intervened and ordered a CBI probe. But strangely, the premier investigating agency did not charge him with abetment to suicide, which would have been the case had it taken the testimony of the victim's brother.


The result is that this despicable man who was responsible for an innocent girl's death has gotten away with a six month sentence, with a bail coming his way immediately. For this we must all hang our heads in shame.


But the fight against this monstrous iniquity must not end. The government must press additional charges against Mr Rathore, and name and shame those who defended his abominable conduct.






THEWorld Bank's clarification that it does not make any judgment on disputes in the territories where it carries out its projects and that the disclaimers it seeks saying that its funding will not be used to endorse territorial claims are routine does not quite wash in the case of Jammu & Kashmir. Primarily because the Bank has been involved in funding the Indus Basin development ever since it persuaded New Delhi to sign an agreement promising the waters of Kashmiri rivers to Pakistan.


Disclaimers and clarifications were contained in the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960 itself and did not require additional disclaimers which, according to a state minister, they did not seek in two previous projects.


The Bank, which was the third signatory to the Agreement, was committed to the Indus Basin development on both sides of the Line of Control. This was not something that India sought, but the Bank gave as a means of obtaining Indian acquiescence for the Treaty that gives us or the state of J& K little benefit.


The problem with the World Bank is that it sometimes appears to be too politically correct and even- handed. The facts of the matter are that India went out of its way to accommodate the Bank and Pakistan on the Indus Waters issue despite a pattern of unremitting hostility from Islamabad. The government of India does not lack development funds. If necessary they must get the World Bank out of J& K state projects and fund them directly.






THE immediate reaction to England and Chelsea football captain John Terry being involved in a bribery scandal would be, " Oh no, not John Terry!" For, Terry is one of the respected sportsmen in the world, he donates a lot to charity, is liked by millions around the world, and his public persona is seemingly impregnable.

And yet, when he was bribed on hidden camera by a journalist in exchange for a tour of the football stadium, he readily agreed, and even proceeded to donate 80 per cent of that money to charity. Why did he do that? Temporary insanity? Players of Terry's stature should know that they are not only responsible for their clubs and their national teams, but to a wide community of fans. It is this constituency that Terry has let down.









IN its report presented to the Lok Sabha on December 16, 2009, the Standing Committee on Defence has expressed sharp reservations about the government's seriousness in appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) even eight years after the requirement was first accepted by the Cabinet Committee on Security.


"The Committee fail to understand the lack of political consensus on such an important issue concerning the security of the nation… The Committee conclude… that concerted efforts in this regard have not been made by the Government. Merely writing letters even from the level of the Defence Minister is not sufficient… The Committee expect the Ministry to take the effective steps… so that the institution of CDS is set up expeditiously."


India's military history does not inspire any confidence in the ability of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) to rise above partisan considerations and formulate war winning military strategies. In 1962, the Indian Air Force was not given any role to play in the war with China when it could have wreaked havoc on the Chinese concentrated on the Tibetan Plateau without air cover. In 1965, the Indian Navy was not even informed about the plans to launch a three-pronged attack across the international border into Pakistan.


It is repeated ad nauseum that the 1971 war was a well-coordinated tri-Service effort that led to a grand victory. In fact, the coordination was rather limited and what was achieved was mainly due to the personalities of the Chiefs in position of authority and not due to any institutionalised arrangements. There were several glitches in the planning and conduct of the land and air campaigns.




The ill- fated Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was undoubtedly a disaster from the joint planning point of view. The Kargil conflict of 1999 is the only real example of a coordinated effort. Even here there were initial hiccups and it took the IAF several weeks to begin bombing the Pakistani intruders' sangars ( bunkers) on the Indian side of the LoC after the army had made such a request. It is obvious that before the Kargil conflict a joint intelligence assessment of Pakistan's air strike capabilities had not been carried out.


India's prevailing security environment is marked by regional instability with a nuclear overhang. For over 50 years, India has been engaged in a low intensity limited conflict along the LoC with Pakistan, an ongoing Pakistan- sponsored " proxy war" in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country and has suffered from a vitiated internal security situation.


Repeated air space violations, burgeoning maritime security challenges and increasing demands for Indian contribution to multinational forces are some of the other factors that influence national security decision making.


Under such circumstances, the early appointment of a CDS is an inescapable operational necessity. More than ever before, and especially in the nuclear era, it is now necessary for the national security decision makers to be given " single point military advice" that takes into account the inter- dependence of the armed forces on each other to meet complex emerging challenges.


It is axiomatic that the differences among the Chiefs of Staff are resolved by the military professionals themselves, with one of them acting as an empowered arbitrator.


Success in modern war hinges on the formulation of a joint military strategy based on the political and military aims. At present, under the system bequeathed to India by Lord Ismay in the early- 1950s, the three Services draw up their individual operational plans based on the Defence Minister's Operational Directive.


Only limited coordination is carried out at the operational and the tactical levels.


In the present era of strategic uncertainty and shifting threats, no military professional now disputes the unavoidable necessity of a joint planning staff for the planning and conduct of joint operations so that operational planning that synergises the combat potential of each of the armed forces can be undertaken " top down". The newly established HQ IDS will undoubtedly meet this requirement in the years ahead, but if it remains headless, its functioning will remain disjointed and it will never carry the clout necessary to ensure that difficult and sometimes unpalatable decisions are accepted by the three Services without questioning.


Change should be evolutionary and not revolutionary.


Hence, at the inception stage it would be appropriate to make the CDS " first among equals" and let the three Chiefs of Staff retain operational command and administrative control over their Services. However, once the system matures, the CDS should be appointed the overall commander- in- chief.




From the CDS, operational command should flow to individual theatre commanders. The Chiefs of Staff should be the planning, equipping and training heads of their respective Services. They should have responsibility primarily for drawing up force structures and perspective plans. They should oversee the development, acquisition and introduction of weapons and equipment, plan recruitment, guide and coordinate training at specialised training establishments and control administrative matters such as the annual budget, pay and allowances, maintenance support and medical services etc.


Each theatre command should be headed by a four- star General, Admiral or Air Chief Marshal. The state of Jammu and Kashmir would naturally form the ' Northern Theatre' headed by an army General for both conventional and sub- conventional operations.


The ' Western Theatre' comprising the plains of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat could be led alternately by an army General and an Air Chief Marshal.


The ' Central Theatre' with its area of responsibility lying along the borders of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim with Tibet, and India's borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, could be placed under an Air Chief Marshal.


The ' Eastern Theatre' should have its HQ near Guwahati and not at Kolkata. It should be given the responsibility for all national security interests, external and internal, in the seven north- eastern states and should be headed by a General due to the ongoing insurgencies.


It will be a long time before the " seven sisters" are well and truly integrated into the national mainstream.


The ' Arabian Sea Coastal and Maritime Security Zone', including the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, should naturally be an Admiral's domain.

The ' Bay of Bengal Coastal and Maritime Security Zone', including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at present called the Andaman and Nicobar Command ( ANC), should take care of India's eastern seaboard.


The CoSC is driven by single- Service requirements and perceptions and has proved to be ineffective for joint operational planning. It works by consensus and cannot make hard decisions that are binding on all the Services.


War time decisions require professional understanding, a bi- partisan approach and, often, hard compromises.


As Winston Churchill famously said, " Committees cannot fight wars." In the prevailing battlefield milieu of joint operations, combined operations and even coalition operations, modern armed forces cannot be successful without a well- developed and deeply ingrained culture of jointmanship.




The government must act resolutely to implement the long- pending decision to appoint a CDS. Theatre commands will then be but one step further in the quest for synergy in operations.


It should be a short step, but given the way the Indian system works, it is likely to be a very long one indeed. The establishment of the Integrated Defence Staff is a good beginning, but there is a long and winding road ahead and, as yet, it does not even appear to be paved with good intentions.


Often during war, the fate of an entire campaign can hinge on a single decision.


Such a decision can only be made by a specially selected defence chief and not by a committee like the CoSC that operates on the principle of the least common denominator.


All other major democracies have opted for the CDS system. India cannot ignore it any further except at great peril. It is an idea whose time has come.


The author is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies ( CLAWS), New Delhi. The views here are personal








CONGRESS MP from Kadapa Y S Jaganmohan Reddy shakes hands with Telugu Desam Party MPs and joins them in slogan- shouting in the Lok Sabha.


In Vijayawada, TDP official spokesman Nannapaneni Rajakumari kisses Congress MP Lagadapati Rajagopal and shares the dais with him at a hunger strike camp. Film heroturned- Praja Rajyam Party president K Chiranjeevi congratulates Rajagopal and describes him as a real- life hero.


A large number of Congress leaders join fasting TDP MLA Devineni Umamaheshwara Rao in Vijayawada. Similarly, TDP leaders express solidarity with Congress MLC Y S Vivekananda Reddy, brother of former chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, at Kadapa.


On the other hand, Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, a minister from Telangana, comes down heavily on Lagadapati Rajagopal for taking up the United Andhra movement only to protect his business interests.


Another Congress leader T Jeevan Reddy goes to the residence of his- once- bitter- enemy Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K Chandrasekhara Rao and holds negotiations. TDP legislator from Karimnagar G Kamalakar resigns from the party in protest against party president N Chandrababu Naidu's volte face on Telangana.


So does PRP MLA Maheswara Reddy, as his party chief joins the United Andhra agitation.


In a matter of 10 days, political equations in the state have completely changed. We have seen in the past politicians dumping their ideologies and changing their political loyalties for petty political gains. But for the first time, the people of Andhra Pradesh are witnessing politicians of different hues putting aside party loyalties and coming together on a common platform over the Telangana issue.


Ever since Home Minister P Chidambaram made a mid- night announcement on December 9 that the process for formation of a separate Telangana had been initiated, the state is virtually divided into two sections: one supporting the Telangana state and the other demanding maintenance of status quo. Contrary to the traditional polarisation of political forces on caste and communal lines, it is region that is paramount today. The MPs, MLAs and MLCs of almost all major political parties are split into these two camps: Telangana and Seemandhra ( the latest word coined by the media to describe the Rayalaseema and Andhra regions together). They hold separate meetings, issue statements running down one another and sponsor agitations in their respective regions.


What is worse, even the Council of Ministers headed by K Rosaiah is vertically divided.


Ministers representing Telangana meet separately, express their solidarity with the pro- Telangana movement and criticise " Seemandhra" leaders. So do Seemandhra ministers, who bring pressure on their MLAs to step up the agitation for a united Andhra Pradesh.


Chidambaram's announcement has also divided the people of the state vertically. There is complete mistrust between the people belonging to the Andhra and Telangana regions. Arguments and counter arguments over Telangana can be heard at every public place: universities, public and private sector undertakings, social gatherings and even in buses and trains.


AND QUITE often, these arguments are turning into clashes. A few days ago, advocates of the High Court indulged in a dirty brawl over the issue.


What is worse, this regional divide has got extended even to the media. Journalists, especially from the vernacular media, are also fighting among themselves.


And their regional bias is reflected in their writings and questions at press conferences as well. It is glaringly evident in the coverage of events in the Telangana and Andhra regions by mediapersons working for Telugu television channels. With cable operators also displaying regional leanings, political developments in Telangana region are not reported in Andhra and vice versa.


Even films and the arts have not been spared. For the last few days, Telangana activists have been attacking cinema theatres screening the films of Ramcharan Teja and Allu Arjun, son and nephew respectively of Chiranjeevi, who has declared his support for a united Andhra.


They also stopped the screening of Saleem , the latest film of Manchu Vishnu, the son of former Rajya Sabha member Mohan Babu, who is also opposing the creation of Telangana state.


Rosaiah's tumultuous 100 days


LAST week, Chief Minister K Rosaiah completed 100 days in office, which is no mean achievement since he has retained the position fighting against all odds ( Read Y S Jaganmohan Reddy).


But perhaps it has been the most turbulent period in Rosaiah's 53- year old political career. Having taken over as the chief minister after the tragic demise of Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, Rosaiah had to struggle in the initial days to gain control over the party MLAs who were reluctant to accept his leadership. His cabinet colleague K Surekha resigned, stating that she would work only under the leadership of Jaganmohan.


Then there were unprecedented floods in Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers that wreaked havoc in Kurnool and coastal Andhra districts.


He had to virtually spend sleepless nights overcoming the crisis.


As everything appeared to be settling down and party president Sonia Gandhi got him elected as the CLP leader, he had to face trouble in the form of TRS president K Chandrasekhara Rao's fast unto death, which finally led to the UPA government announcing that a Telangana state would be formed and plunged the state into political turmoil.


Poor Rosaiah must have realised that the CM's post is not a bed of roses



THOSE who saw Congress MP Lagadapati Rajagopal swiftly walk out of a Vijayawada hospital and surface at the Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad after being underground for 15 hours, jumping out of an autorickshaw and sprinting his way into the ICU would have never imagined that he had been on a fast for the last seven and a half days.


Till the previous night, doctors in Vijayawada were telling the media that Rajagopal might slip into coma if he was not forcefed.


But in Hyderabad the MP looked healthy and aggressive.


Before he was shifted to hospital, Rajagopal was undertaking a fast- unto- death at Swaraj Maidan in Vijayawada. And the arrangements made for the programme at the venue were a revelation.


The municipal authorities had levelled the area and removed all the debris overnight. A huge tent was erected with a specially made dais for Rajagopal and the thousands of people who called on him. Cosy beds were arranged for him to take rest, with bedsheets and blankets being changed every six hours. An ultramodern western commode and bathroom was arranged for him. His assistants supplied him mineral water regularly and ensured that he was not inconvenienced in any way during his fast. And, of course, there were arrangements for mediapersons to cover the programme.


If not on the same scale, Telangana Rashtra Samithi leaders too made similar arrangements for their president K Chandrasekhara Rao when he proposed to launch his fast unto death at Siddipet in Medak district on November 29. Unfortunately for him, he was arrested before he went to Siddipet.


We have read about satyagraha by great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Potti Sriramulu ( who had undertaken a fast for 58 days and given up his life for a separate Andhra state in 1953). But today's leaders are a different breed altogether.


AT a time when the entire media is trying to cash in on the ongoing political turmoil in the state over the Telangana issue by over- projecting violent agitations by students and protestors in the Telangana and Andhra regions, a Telugu television channel has taken a welcome initiative to calm tempers and restore peace in the state.


The channel, HMTV, hosted a marathon sevenhour discussion with representatives of various political parties, people's organisations, intellectuals, academics and journalists from all parts of the state to elicit their suggestions on restoring normalcy in the state, while finding an amicable solution to the Telangana issue.


The programme, titled " Andhra Pradesh Dasa- Disa" ( Andhra Pradesh — Its present status and direction), evoked tremendous response from all sections of people. The meeting adopted a resolution appealing to students and agitators to give up violence and find a solution to the crisis through dialogue.

" We will hold similar conventions in Rayalaseema and Andhra regions as well. After inviting their views, we will send a consolidated report to the central government," the channel's CEO K Ramachandramurthy said.








A year after the Mumbai attack and the inevitable round of leaks later, the Ram Pradhan-V Balachandran committee report has finally been tabled in the Maharashtra assembly. Charges and countercharges regarding the actions of certain police officers during the attack, as well as accusations of cover-ups, have all been made over the past few months. But without getting into the culpability of individuals, two larger lessons can be drawn from the report. The first is the structural weakness of the police machinery, and the second is the performance of the policeman on the street despite all odds.

The former becomes even more damning in light of the latter. The Mumbai attack was not the first time policemen have carried out their duties despite lacking adequate equipment, intelligence input, organisation, training and communication. The list could go on. In this context, the report's contention that the war-like situation was beyond the capabilities of not just the Mumbai police but any police set-up is troubling. This is a matter of need, not choice. Given the terror threat that India faces, the police must retain first-response capabilities and the ability to control the situation until specialised units can be mobilised.

The report raises a number of questions, which need to be addressed immediately and answered by security forces across the country. What is the extent of the synergy between intelligence agencies and the police? Is actionable intelligence evaluated and disseminated adequately? Does everyone know what to do in case of a terror attack? Are training and standard operating procedures updated in keeping with best practices around the world and in light of changing threat scenarios? How efficient is the procurement process for new equipment?

To judge by the evidence of the Mumbai attack and the report's findings, none of these have particularly satisfactory answers. Bureaucratic bottlenecks have made upgrading police equipment difficult. Some purchases have been made in the past year, but they are not nearly enough. Better communication equipment, sensors and weaponry remain on the wish list. And basic police infrastructure in any number of cities is so poor - starting with manpower shortages and abysmal facilities and working conditions - that adequate training of the kind that is urgently needed remains a distant second stage. National security planners need to factor in that an increasing number of future threats are likely to be of an asymmetric, urban-targeted nature. All the more reason for the government to get serious about improving the force that will be on the frontline in coming years.







Despite opposition from teachers' unions at a few central universities, the government is sticking to its guns on ushering in the semester system in universities by 2011-12. If implemented correctly, this could be the first step in bringing about long-awaited reforms in the country's higher education system. The semester system can offer students a better learning experience by placing greater emphasis on ongoing classroom evaluations and teacher feedback, an improvement on the current system of formal examinations at the end of the academic year.

To be truly successful the semester system should enable two other reforms: giving teachers the flexibility to design their courses, and giving students the flexibility to choose their study programme by having many optional courses. Earlier this year the University Grants Commission proposed to allow students enrolled in a particular programme to earn credits by opting for elective courses within their university or even at other institutions. The semester system, when coupled with such a choice-based credit system, would allow students to acquire deeper knowledge within a subject faster than they can under the current system. It would also allow students group unconventional study subjects together, catering to their individual interests.

For the semester system to truly be a success, it is also important that internal assessment by way of term papers, classroom quizzes and contributions to discussions in class is prioritised. Without constant evaluations, the semester system would amount to little more than two sets of exams annually, as it has in some of the universities where the system is already in place. Unlike the present situation, where internal assessment is often regarded as a euphemism for getting easy marks, teachers may need to be trained to carry out serious internal assessment exercises.

That our universities and colleges are hardly institutes of academic excellence is well known. India's higher education system has been crying out for reform for decades now. The switch to a semester system, though not by any means enough to fix all that ails our education system, could herald a new beginning. The government must persuade all central universities to adopt the semester system and all that it entails, perhaps by linking funding to compliance with the new system. Otherwise India's youth, already ill-served by a rickety educational system from school through to college, will continue to be disadvantaged relative to students from other countries.








"How is the US different from India?" i am often asked. As a scholar of communication, my first impulse is to answer with deep theoretical insights. As i reflect, i realise that the most interesting comparisons are in our day-to-day experiences. Let us, for fun and learning, compare an American Christian wedding with an Indian Hindu wedding.

In the mid-1990s, my friend Joseph invited me to his wedding and asked me to be one of his groomsmen. I had known Joe and Charlene for a long time and was delighted. I had no idea what it meant to be a groomsman. I asked Joe and he sent me a detailed itinerary …Come four days before the wedding. Three days before the wedding, you will have to get your tuxedo fitted. We will have the bachelors' party two nights before the wedding. And one day prior to the wedding, we will have a rehearsal. My ears pricked. "Rehearsal? What rehearsal?" I have a theatre background and the word evoked memories of fun, friends and love.

As requested, i arrived four days before the wedding. The tux fitting was eventful, trying out a shirt with blue frills and intriguing collar designs. The bachelor party was, well…what happened in Denver will stay in Denver! And what did we rehearse? We rehearsed the whole wedding, from beginning to end! Where will the ushers stand? Where will the bride's family and friends sit in the church? The sequence was laid out: first the flower girls, then the groomsmen and bridesmaids will come from the left and right side of the aisle, one at a time, meet at the isle and make a path for Charlene, the bride, and her father. Like any good movie, we had a few takes before we got it right. The next day, the wedding was an hour long and it was beautiful. Everyone who attended had a programme, followed perfectly. The music was exquisite, the decorations subtle and stunning, and the event appropriately fun and spiritual. I joked later that Charlene would have had a fit if the roses were not the exact shade of pink!

How does one compare an American Christian wedding to an Indian Hindu wedding? For starters, if you have 200 or more guests, it is a big wedding in the US (of course, everyone has to RSVP if they wish to attend). In India, a wedding can have anywhere from 200 to 2,000 guests. The wedding invitation is addressed to family and friends and, on the wedding day, if friends wish to join the festivity that is perfectly okay. So, no one is really sure how many people will show up. And everyone who attends will partake in the wedding meal! If the US wedding is for a few hours, our Indian wedding can go on for days.

In the US, when Joe and Charlene got married, the focus was primarily on the wedding couple. In India, the wedding couple is important, but only to very close family and friends. In some ways, the focus is on the community reconnecting with family and friends, meeting new people and celebrating the young couple. I recall sitting faraway from the wedding "pandal" where the ceremonies were in full flow. We were gossiping and chatting with my aunt, oblivious to the actual wedding. When the right cue was given (drumming music), all of us turned and threw rice towards the "pandal" to bless the couple. Seconds later, we were back to chatting with my aunt about her latest jewellery purchase.

There is no programme, no guide and no instructions on what one is supposed to do in an Indian Hindu wedding. You step into this huge wedding hall and, from an outsider's perspective, it feels like complete chaos. Kids are running around and playing, people are milling around and chatting and a small group is in front of a "pandal" witnessing the wedding ceremonies. When Saumya and i got married at the Balaji temple in Chicago, we watched our US friends struggling to find out what they were supposed to do. Saumya asked me, rather worried, "Shouldn't we have someone explain what is happening and what they are supposed to do?" My mischievous side took over: "No, let them discover for themselves." It was fun watching my American friends, who were used to linear thinking, figure out: Where does one sit? How come everyone is talking? Isn't one supposed to be quiet during the wedding? Who takes the gifts? When do we know the wedding is over?

I could have told you how Americans are generally linear, direct and explicit in their thinking. And how Indians are often circular, indirect and implicit in their ways of life. We learn so much more about the same ideas when we unpack and compare our day-to-day experiences, like a wedding. Similar insights could be had from going sari shopping in India and comparing it to buying a dress in a mall in the US! Want to join us?

The writer is an associate professor in the department of communication & journalism, University of New Mexico.







Researchers around the world are racing to be the first to create artificial life. Last summer, Jack W Szostak's research team from the Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, zapped non-living matter into life by turning chemicals into biological organisms called "protocells", which satisfy all the conditions for life. Although the research is yet to be published, Prakash Chandra spoke to Szostak, who shared this year's Nobel prize for medicine for his earlier work on the role of chromosomes in ageing and cancer, about the progress in this "hard chemistry project":

How are the protocells built? And what energy sources are used to achieve this?

The protocell membrane is based on fatty acids and related molecules. The membranes are self-assembling structures that form automatically in the right conditions. We are trying to make a molecule that can carry genetic information like RNA or DNA, but that can replicate without enzymes. Many sources of energy may be involved in this replication - chemical energy (e.g., high energy compounds), mechanical energy (e.g., flowing or turbulent water), and more subtle energy forms such as phase transition energy and the energy of osmotic, ionic and pH gradients.

How soon do you expect to have the first artificial cell in your lab?

We have been making gradual progress over the past 20 years, publishing our results as they come in. We are still some way off from having a complete artificial cell.

Can this be technically termed "artificial life"? Since it involves turning chemicals into biological systems, isn't this "synthetic biology"?

Different people have different ideas about what would constitute a living system. I think a replicating, evolving system would be living, but others might want to see additional properties such as a more complex metabolism, or the ability to respond to a changing environment. I think these are simply properties that would evolve later as a result of mutation and natural selection, i.e., Darwinian evolution.

How does this research compare with Craig Venter's efforts to develop artificial life?

We are taking a bottom-up approach, assembling chemicals into cells. Venter's approach is quite different. It is basically about the modification (or rewriting) of the genomes of existing bacterial organisms. His 'top-down' approach, however, is much closer to practical applications, such as using bacteria to produce drugs or biofuels.

How do you think the creationists are going to react to this?

I wouldn't expect research that helps us to understand the natural world to have any impact on people who believe in supernatural explanations of the world.


What are the dangers of an accident happening in the lab and an artificial organism escaping?

None. Our artificial cells will be completely dependent on a complex laboratory environment for nutrients that are not found in nature. In addition, their simple biochemistry means that they could not compete with, well, 'modern' micro-organisms.







Should Pakistan's ISI give a medal to K Chandrasekhara Rao, the spear leader of the separate Telangana movement? Or to Mayawati who wants a separate Bundelkhand, and to those who are clamouring for Harit Pradesh, Vidarbha and Gorkhaland?


The ISI has always wanted to balkanise India, to break it up into small bits and pieces which can be gobbled up at will, or left to languish in their fragmented insignificance. Are those who are agitating for smaller and smaller Indian states willy-nilly doing the ISI's job for it?


The demand for smaller states is based on the principle that in a true democracy - which India is supposed to be - there must be grassroots representation. In other words, the people running the show in any particular administrative area must be aware of, and sympathetic to, the needs and aspirations of the general population which inhibits that area. When, for example, Uttarakhand was hived off from the cumbersomely large Uttar Pradesh it was argued that an administration based in distant, and very different, Lucknow, could have little idea of, and less empathy with, the requirements and desires of the hill people of Kumaon and Garhwal. A similar rationale is put forward for Gorkhaland: why should plains-dwelling Bengalis control the lives and fortunes of the people who live in the tea-rich hills of Darjeeling and Kalimpong?


It's a forceful argument. And, in the case of Uttarakhand and Gorkhaland, it does seem to make considerable sense. There are, however, at least two major problems. The first is that, only too often, the demand for smaller states is not really based on genuine concerns about administrative equity but is a disguised excuse for a land-grab. The moment a new state is formed, a new capital for it has to be established, together with all the pomp and paraphernalia of statehood: a new assembly, secretariat, and so on. As a result, property prices in the newly designated capital shoot up and the land mafia hits the jackpot yet again.


The more serious objection to ever-smaller states is that such demands, based on the politics of sub-regional identity, further erode India's already threatened and fragile unity. It is often said that Indians tend to be Gujaratis, or Tamils, or Punjabis, or whatever else, first and Indians second. Rabble-rousers like Bal Thackeray and his out-Heroding-Herod nephew, Raj, have shown us the dangers of regional chauvinism, and a sons-of-the-soil policy. If each state, or sub-state, sprouts its own home-grown version of the Thackerays the Indian union will soon be a disunion of disparate parts.


The great thing about India has always been what might be called the great Indian bazaar: the whole country seen as a marketplace, or a village haat, where people can freely come and go, to buy and sell, to earn a livelihood, to mingle with each other, and to raise families, in whatever part of this republic they choose to do so.


That's the paradox. The republic, in order to be a republic, must accept the principle and practice of regional autonomy. But if the legitimate demand for regional autonomy shades into narrow parochialism and exclusivist chauvinism, the republic will be destroyed. The great Indian bazaar will go bust.


Which is exactly what the Pakistani army and the ISI want. Are those agitating for smaller states unwittingly falling into the ISI's snare? Or are their demands justified and, if met, will they buttress the republic, not break it?


Points that need thinking about, in the rising clamour for smaller states, and the equally strident outcry against them. Where are we headed? Towards a more representative rainbow republic? Or towards what's on top of the ISI wish list: an India that is not Bharat, but Balkanistan?








While watching the masked magician, who was later learnt to be the well-known Val Valentino, on a TV show called 'Breaking the Magician's Code', one was shocked to see how the skilful performer, after presenting some baffling conjuring acts, quickly followed them up with revelations about the props used, hidden assistants, secret trap-doors, misleading gestures to divert attention, specially designed chairs and tables, that had actually helped deceive the viewers. What was unknown to the audience for several years was unfolding right before them on their TV screens! Being part of the Indian magicians' fraternity, who had fiercely guarded these secrets for a singular cause to maintain the charm of these intriguing, enthralling acts that had regaled audiences and kept them guessing one was stunned. "Oh, how does he do it?" "Does he hypnotise us?" "Surely there's something hidden up his sleeve!" I had only one answer when asked, though "It's magic!"

I had the privilege of assisting 'Raja the Magician', a popular children entertainer in the 1980s and 90s, at stage shows and birthday parties. While he was adept at his sleight of hands, my sloppy fingers were a threat to the trade, much before the betrayal of the masked magician. The best way to tell the world how it is all done was really to ask me to perform! Naturally, it was a strict no-no for me. That left me with limited opportunities to help out by setting up the table before the show and ensuring that curious kids didn't disturb the magical stuff until it was packed up and carried away for the next show. Several friends would coax us to let them know the secrets to these mystifying acts, but to no avail. I had no difficulty gaining entry into the esoteric meetings of magicians, hailing from all over India, in which the secrets of the acts were discussed and improvements, innovations and new tricks took shape. I lost my connections with these wonderful performing artists later, barring a few phone calls but caught up with some of them recently and wanted to know their take on the on-screen exposes. "We're innovative, the methods keep improving, new tricks keep coming for those charmed by our enchanting and entertaining acts. Moreover newer kids keep coming into this world!" they said reassuringly. So, they aren't vanishing any time soon!









The Fringe Benefit Tax (FBT) is casting a shadow beyond its grave. When it was introduced in 2005, the tax was cloaked in uncertainty over the valuation of perquisites enjoyed by company executives. This continued for a while till the taxman figured out the value of benefits like sweat equity. With the government reverting to rules on taxing perks -- ranging from company-provided houses, cars and stock options, to household help and holidays -that existed before the FBT, some confusion lingers.

This has more to do with the timing of the notification of the rules, a good five months after the FBT was scrapped, than with rates or the method of assessing the value of a perk. Two departures ensue from the restoration of the status quo ante: the employee, and not the employer, pays the tax now; and the value of a perk is specific, no longer notional.


The delay in notifying the rules will create some bunching of taxes in the last quarter for a very small section of Indian employees that enjoy corporate largesse beyond their wages. Widespread hardship there will be not if the top earners in a company are asked to pay in a quarter taxes on perks they enjoyed for a full year.

Although no specific figures are collated, for an idea of how many Indians enjoy such esoteric benefits as corporate club memberships consider this. Rs 122,600 crore was collected as income tax last year, while the FBT yielded a mere Rs 6,000-odd crore. The move away from the notional value of a perk ought to whittle these slim pickings further because the taxman has chosen to largely stay on with rates that obtained prior to 2005. A few residual doubts like the treatment of meal cards will hopefully be cleared up soon.


Legitimate business expenditure needs exemption from tax but the short life of the FBT is a telling example of a battle against income masquerading as perquisites.

The solution does not lie in shifting the incidence of tax between the employer and the employee but in arresting the trend. A simplified tax system that has reasonable rates and fewer exemptions can help avoid experiments like the FBT. We desperately need a rules-based system to remove discretionary taxation that is not only inefficient but also impossible to administer. A new tax code being drafted holds out the promise of equity, transparency and stability. Tax systems in much of the world have undergone extensive evolution to reach a steady state condition where rates change rarely, if at all. India stands to gain little by trying to reinvent the wheel.







There are ways and ways of tackling a problem. But governments all over the world prefer only the one from the old stylebook: the carrot-and-stick system. The latest addition to this style of governance comes from the Taiwanese government. Alarmed at the rising obesity levels in the island, the government plans to introduce a 'fat tax'. The Apple Daily, no pun intended here, has reported that Taiwan's Bureau of Health Promotion is in the process of drafting a special tax on foods that are seen as unhealthy like sugar candy, cakes, fast food and alcohol. The funds generated from this tax on junk foods will go to finance health awareness programmes and bankroll the island's health insurance programme.


Taiwan is not the only one in this fight against fat: in Britain recently, there was a proposal to introduce a chocolate tax. But the plan, thankfully, did not manage to get the British Medical Association's approval.


Later, a British doctor correctly said that such taxes on junk food only lead to lighter wallets, and not thinner waists.


When did any tax stop us from giving up so-called harmful habits? Everyday we are swamped with reports about research that enlightens us about the negatives of everything that's available on this earth. Yes, junk is bad. But then what's pure? Let's get that debate right first. Meanwhile, let not such matters spoil the holiday season for us. Eat, drink and make merry! Everything in moderation is okay. Isn't life all about choices?










From next year, on swearing allegiance to the Queen, all members of Britain's House of Lords will be required to sign a written commitment to honesty and integrity. Unexceptionable principles, one might say. But, until recently, it was assumed that persons appointed to advise the sovereign were already of sufficient honesty and integrity to do so.

They were assumed to be recruited from groups with internalised codes of honour. No more. All peers must now publicly promise to be honest. Only one had the guts to stand up and say that he found the new procedure degrading.


The trigger for imposing this code of conduct was a scandal over MPs' expenses, which rocked Britain's political class for much of 2009. It was a scandal with deep historical roots. Until 1910, British legislators were unpaid.
Payments were then started, but kept below the professional level, on the ground that MPs ought to be willing to make a personal sacrifice in the service of their country.


During the inflationary 1970s, a byzantine system of `allowances' was instituted to supplement lagging parlia mentary salaries.


Parliamentarians were allowed to claim expenses for the upkeep of properties con nected with their official duties. Supervision was lax, and, human nature being what it is, minor abuses crept in. In May of this year, London's Daily Telegraph began publishing details of began publishing details of MPs' expenses claims. In an aggressive campaign of `naming and shaming', the paper showed how MPs had been exploiting loose regulation to their advantage.


Most offences were trivial, and only a few were illegal.

Upwardly mobile MPs from the ruling Labour Party claimed the trappings of their newly-acquired middleclass status: second homes, mock-tudor beams, and plasma screen TVs. By contrast, the rich grandees of the Conservative Party claimed reimbursement for such things as repairs to swimming pool boilers, moat-cleaning, and hanging chandeliers. Revelations about such behaviour has already forced over 100 legislators out of public life. Personal honour can no longer be relied upon to keep legislators straight.


The expenses scandal is a symptom of a society in which money has replaced honour. The new assumption is that individuals will act not honourably, but gainfully: they will never miss an opportunity to turn a profit. In a money-obsessed society, the only way to restrain this proclivity is by externally imposed sanctions. The older language of trust has been replaced by a new language of `accountability' and `transparency'. People must be regulated into good behaviour.


The market has been insidiously creeping into many spheres of society traditionally governed by non-market norms. Duties of government, like fighting wars, educating children, or punishing criminals, are being outsourced to private companies. The United States employs over 100,000 private `military contractors' in Iraq. The ethic of public service is being replaced by contracts and financial incentives. The market logic of individual choice has been busy destroying the social logic of community.


The quest for market efficiency has also led to a frightening rise in complexity. Today, the systems by which most services are provided have become almost completely opaque to their users. People who call for greater `transparency' do not understand that complexity is the enemy of transparency, just as simplicity is the hallmark of trust. Complexity, by leading to moral ambiguities, forces relationships onto a contractual footing.


Parliamentarians are by no means the only, or chief, victims of the cold blast of public mistrust. Some of the most respected banks have been exposed as perpetrators of moral fraud: hence the demand for a new regulatory framework. But pervasive mistrust of politicians is more dangerous, because it undermines the basis of a free society.


A low-trust society is the enemy of freedom. It will produce a juggernaut of escalating regulation and surveillance, which will reduce trust further and encourage cheating. Systems in which people are trusted to behave well are more likely to produce good behaviour than systems in which they are compelled to do so by regulation or fear of legal sanctions. Liberal societies must tolerate some degree of crime and corruption. But there will be less of it than in societies run by bureaucrats, courts and policemen. In the former communist countries, private crime was virtually non-existent, but State crime was rampant.


There is nothing inevitable about the disappearance of trust. We have a choice. Societies can decide to protect trust-based ways of life by limiting the scope of developments that undermine it. The law, for example, could be used to favour institutions (like the family) that incubate commitment, and to decentralise decision-making to the maximum practicable extent. Politicians should stop treating religious belief as a `problem' rather than as a powerful social resource for good behaviour. The role of a free press should be to put pressure on public officials to behave better. But it is counterproductive to whip up such popular resentment at `abuses' as to produce precipitate changes in law or regulation, as has happened in Britain. After any such media-stoked scandal, there should be a pause to allow better norms to take root.

Legislation or regulation aimed at restoring faith in the political class should be a last, not a first, resort.


Robert Skidelsky is a member of the British House of Lords and Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University, UK The views expressed by the author are personal









India's wide experience with monsoon failure yields a formulaic response: draw down grain stocks to feed the poor, sell some of it in the open market to keep a lid on food prices, lower taxes on food imports and stop exports. Looks prices, lower Laxes on food imports and stop exports. Looks good on paper. Here's how it plays out on the ground.

WHEAT Mumbai, Dec 18 (Reuters): India's wheat futures were higher on Friday afternoon tracking the government's concern on rising food prices, analysts said.


The wheat January futures contract NWTF0 was up 0.97 per cent at Rs 1,356 per 100 kg. "Arrivals in the mandi are less than last year... prices are not coming down below the Rs 1,380 levels," said a trader in Delhi's Narela market.


The Food Corporation of India has earmarked 500,000 tonnes of wheat for sale to bulk consumers such as flour mills between October and December, but the mills have not been lifting stocks saying the Rs 1,400-1,450 per 100 kg price was too high.

RICE New Delhi, Dec 16 (Reuters): India has raised its summer-sown rice output estimates by 2.2 million tonnes, the government said, reducing prospects of imports after the worst monsoon in 37 years damaged paddy fields. To shore up stocks at government warehouses, three state-run trading firms in October floated import tenders totalling 30,000 tonnes, but did not place an order due to high bids.


Manila, Dec 1 (Reuters): The Philippines drew sharply higher bids at a tender for a record 600,000 tonnes of rice on Tuesday, suggesting the world's top rice buyer may pay a high price to secure supplies after storms ravaged crops. Bids for the tender -- the first of three of the same volume this month -- ranged from $598 to $697 a tonne cost and freight, above the budgeted cost and as much as a quarter up from offers at a November 4 tender.

SUGAR Mumbai, Dec 18 (Reuters): The Indian spot sugar price climbed for a third consecutive day on Friday, bolstered by a drop in output, improvement in demand and as a shortage of rail wagons delayed arrivals of imported sugar in the market, dealers said.


In Kolhapur, a key market in top sugar producer Maharashtra, the price of the most traded S-variety sugar rose 2.12 per cent to Rs 3,300 rupees per 100 kg.


India's sugar output fell 9.6 per cent to 1.70 million tonnes in the first two months of the season that began in October due to delayed cane crushing. Imported sugar has piled up at ports, particularly in Kandla in western India, because of a shortage of railway wagons and protests against raw sugar imports by farmers in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, government and industry officials say.

VEGETABLES Mumbai, Dec 18 (Reuters): India's potato output is likely to rise by 5.1 per cent to a record 32.7 million tonnes in 2009-10 as higher prices prompted farmers to cultivate the tuber crop on more area, a senior official said on Friday. "Because of scanty rains in some areas they [farmers] have not cultivated paddy. They covered this area with potato," R.P. Gupta, director, National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF), told Reuters in an interview.


Average wholesale potato price in Agra, a major spot market in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, was Rs 750 per 100 kg on Friday [December 18], after hitting a high of Rs 1,450 in late October. In December 2008 the price was hovering at around Rs 160.


India's onion output is likely to remain almost steady in 2009-10 at 7.70 million tonnes, com pared with 7.64 million tonnes a year ago, Gupta added.


Average wholesale price of onion in the country's largest onion trading hub, Lasalgaon in Maharashtra, was Rs 1,400 per 100 kg on Friday, after hitting a year high of Rs 1,927 on November 17, after hitting a year high of Rs 1,927 on November 17, NHRDF data showed.


India's onion exports in first eight months stood at 1.328 million tonnes, up 17 per cent compared to 1.132 million tonnes during the same period a year ago. "In the last two months the government has raised the minimum export price. It will discourage exports and will help in augmenting domestic supply," Gupta said.
EVEN GARLIC Mumbai, Dec 17 (Reuters): A good, garlicky wind is blowing across the Himalayas. A Chinese rally in garlic, which made it this year's best performing asset there, has quadrupled Indian prices and fueled an unprecedented eight-fold jump in exports.


At the Delhi spot market garlic price has surged 375 per cent to Rs 4,750 per 100 kg since March. The trigger for the bull run in China may have been te idea that the potent bulb can ward off H1N1 swine flu, Morgan Stanley economists said.


This is an account of our attempts to treat the symptoms of a drought. Our heroic efforts at treating the disease are the subject of another article.








An Indian citizen's right to her property has not been regarded as a fundamental right — by the Constitution, at least — for a generation. But over those same years the power of property rights, conceptually, has grown. The role stable and secure rights to property play in enabling investment and planning by individuals and households, and the extent to which they aid the upward mobility of even the most deprived in society, has become increasingly understood; and the idea of property rights, rather than a legalistic Right to Property, has become central to public policy. Yet properly harnessing the idea's awesome power runs into a barrier: the abysmal state of regulations and law governing land.


In remarks on Monday, Ratan Tata agreed that land policy is shockingly unreformed — untouched by the liberating breeze that has blown through practically every sector in India's economy, upending stolid, constraining institutions and knocking down obstacles to growth and poverty reduction. Tata's interests, of course, have visibly suffered from this lack of reform: Tata Motors' Nano might finally be seen on the streets, but its production has suffered thanks to the intransigent opposition to the company's acquisition of land at Singur. That flashpoint was but the most visible of a hundred other such throughout the country. And each was caused by the lack of transparency and modernity in the land sector. This means that, first of all, land records are outdated, unreliable and subject to local politics and power-relations — so who owns what, and who has the right to sell what, is far from obvious. Then there is the obstinate objection, in many parts of the country, to setting up a real market for transactions in land. Objections to the open buying and selling of land typically centre on possible "exploitation" — while, obviously, the truly exploitative system is one in which those who work the land cannot transform it into an asset that can back up their families' aspirations.


The rural development ministry has shown insufficient interest in moving forward on these two issues, with its minister instead prioritising his attempts to indelibly associate the NREGA with his party. Reforming land holding and transactions are central to so much policy and politics — aforestation for climate change mitigation, non-farm rural employment, mining and natural resources, the shortage of housing — that delaying any further would be rank irresponsibility. India's poor, and India's industries, need to be able to buy and sell land, and to hold secure title to it free from political interference. Acquisition must be accompanied by open, transparent, market-driven compensation, and should be seen as free from political arm-twisting. The UPA must show more commitment to reform in this sector than it has hitherto.







In the run-up to the enactment of the landmark right to education legislation, disability activists had pointed out how the law was ignoring the rights of differently-abled children. In response, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal gave public assurances to the contrary in Parliament. Recent reports that disability-friendly amendments to the law are on the way to Parliament are reassurance that inclusive education is to be more than a mere mantra for this government. Therefore, the government's decision to map differently-abled children is welcome.


On the eve of World Disability Day earlier this month, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal had spoken of the need for such a "map", and had even suggested making use of the Unique ID scheme. The HRD ministry's latest announcement — that a sub-committee composed of educationists and activists will submit its report in three months time — is the necessary next step. The sub-committee is expected to submit its findings within three months. As of now, there are reported to be no definitive figures on differently-abled children. Several government initiatives for differently-abled children, such as providing them access to a 25 per cent quota (along with other "disadvantaged" children) in private schools under the provision of the right to education legislation, hinge on better data. So do Sibal's publicly announced intentions to make educational institutions physically "accessible to all". Critically, the current estimates could do with more empirical scrutiny.


Apart from numbers, data on differently-abled children must include the varied types of disabilities, how many enter school, at what point they leave, what kinds of financial packages will be the most effective, and a priority list of infrastructural reforms. It is also important for working out the kind of facilities that must be augmented in our schools. And in a larger sense, the sub-committee's report forms the roadmap for not just evolving better disabled-friendly policies, but also indicating a roadmap on how other government welfare policies could incorporate more empirical information.








With UPA-II, there is no NCMP (National Common Minimum Programme). However, there is the president's address to Parliament, indicative of where UPA-II wishes to go with reforms. If that's the benchmark, 200 days (and more) have come and gone and but for taxes (direct tax code, GST) and a Moily agenda on legal reform, other 100-day reform agendas have disappeared. Madhu Koda, Telangana, Liberhan Commission, spectrum allocation allegations and even CCC (climate change in Copenhagen) don't constitute the heart of economic reform. Yes, India has weathered annus horribilis rather well. For the record, annus horribilis (horrible year) is counterpoint to annus mirabilis (wonderful year). The latter expression has been in circulation since 1666. The former was popularised by Queen Elizabeth in 1992, when she said, "1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis." The UPA will look back with pleasure at being re-elected, at successfully ditching the Left, at weathering global crisis and perhaps even at vindication of astrology. Forget earlier eras of Hindu rates of growth. Post-1991 and before the post-2003 take-off, India chugged along within a growth band of between 6 and 6.5 per cent. The worst two quarters of financial crisis posted 5.3 per cent and crisis year of 2008-09 posted 6.7 per cent. Confounding all forecasts by economists, second quarter of 2009-10 clocked 7.9 per cent, so that we are looking at above 7 per cent in 2009-10.


The reference to astrology isn't about Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Lest we forget, West Bengal's CM, confounded by an alliance between Trinamool and Naxalites, inaugurated a science exhibition and said, "Many of us believe that astronomy is a science. I do not believe this." By implication, astrology is a science, a conclusion UPA-II will agree with. Notwithstanding the likes of Nouriel Roubini, no one quite expected Wall Street to collapse the way it did, certainly not economists. However, UPA-II introduced counter-cyclical measures (NREGS, farmers' debt relief, public expenditure, Pay Commission) in advance, before the crisis hit us in September 2008. If this is not evidence of clairvoyance, what is? India is sui generis in introducing stimulus packages before crisis.


India is also sui generis in cooling an under-heated economy before the financial crisis, by hiking interest rates before September 2008. UPA should claim undiluted pleasure at such crisis management, especially since the opposition (BJP, CPM) has imploded. At best, if one is sold on reforms, pleasure can be diluted because reforms are headed nowhere. But is one sold on reforms? Without reforms, the economy chugs along at 8.5 to 9 per cent. Without reforms, UPA is voted back. Why reform?


However, this is the small picture. In the big picture, in December 2009, one should look back at 2000. That looking glass has more of looking back in wonder than looking back in anger. (Osborne's Look Back in Anger is apt, because it spawned a spoof titled Look Back in Hunger, relevant because of food price inflation.) In December 1999, no one expected many trends of the last decade. India Shining did happen, and not in NDA's election-slogan sense. Who expected growth to break into the 8.5 per cent -plus league? Before Y2K, no one anticipated India's BPO, KPO and software success or India figuring in US presidential election debates. We were still ecstatic about annual FDI inflows of $3 billion. FDI inflows of $35 billion and outflows of $15 billion were still in the realm of Chandrayaan, not to speak of the spate of mergers and acquisitions by Indian companies abroad. Who thought trade with China would explode on the scale it did, or that India would become increasingly integrated with East Asia? Or consider India becoming a significant exporter of petroleum products. Looking inwards, there was no Delhi Metro, no modernisation of airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore and no low-cost airlines.


The road connectivity revolution through the NHDP and feeder roads, not to speak of telecom revolution (such as pre-paid), was still in the realm of speculation. Implications of young India and demographic dividend were imperfectly understood. All that is fine, but what about poverty and inclusive growth (not a buzz-phrase then)? Ten years ago, we were still arguing in the absence of data, since NSS (National Sample Survey) 2004-05 numbers were still missing. Ignoring issues about the revision of the poverty line (a la Suresh Tendulkar), all-India, there was a drop in poverty ratios from roughly 36 per cent to roughly 26 per cent between 1993-94 and 2004-05. To place this in perspective, in 1950, the poverty ratio was roughly 50 per cent and it continued to be roughly 50 per cent in 1980. The poorest 10 per cent of the population bought ceiling fans, bicycles, pre-paid phones and moved away from firewood to LPG. Provided there is something to trickle down (question mark in some states, particularly if per capita), does one need more evidence for trickle-down? Who expected priorities of the poor to shift and the explosion in primary school enrolment, or increase in private expenditure (even for the poor) on education and health? Nor was countervailing pressure (RTI, panchayats, civil society, media) completely expected.


T20 performance is always erratic. Empirically, countries that drive on the left of the road under-perform those that drive on the right. Both models of UPA drive on the left, and usually in second gear, when there is an expressway at hand. One should legitimately castigate UPA for non-reform and non-performance, but that's the T20 angle. From the Test cricket angle, these trends of the last decade weren't entirely predicted, at least not in aggregate, though a few might have been thought of. In many ways, that Test performance was independent of government and reflected unleashing of entrepreneurship. Had one extrapolated in December 1999, one would have been wrong. These trends weren't linear, there was a structural break. It is no different in December 2009. No one knows where India (and the economy) will be in 2020. Per capita income of $2500 (today's dollars), infant mortality of 35 (per thousand), adult literacy of 85 per cent, HDI (human development index) more than 0.8 and poverty ratio (with unchanged poverty line) of 12 per cent are eminently possible. Ten years ago, collectively, IBSA or


BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China in different permutations) didn't possess the aggregate clout it does today. Nor did India individually (such as G-20). Today's clout is like some Nobel peace prizes, awarded not for what has been accomplished, but for what might be accomplished. In 2020, India should have more tangible assets to show. Let's not forget December 23, 1972. Chandrasekhar took 8 for 79 against England and that was Test cricket.

The writer is a Delhi-based economist







When the Competition Commission of India (CCI) was operationalised — after much delay — in May this year, the very first complaint that landed before it was from the multiplex theatre operators against certain associations of film producers/ distributors alleging that these were functioning as cartels, out to impose unfair conditions and prices on the multiplex operators. According to recent press reports, the investigation carried out by the CCI's director-general has found the film producers guilty of infringements of the Competition Act. What next?


The CCI can order an investigation by the DG once it is satisfied that a prima facie case exists. On receipt of the DG's report, the CCI can proceed with the inquiry keeping in mind the principles of natural justice. The parties must be notified of the DG's findings, and be given a hearing. In this case, according to media reports, the DG has concluded that the producers and distributors "formed a nexus and restricted the supply of movies to get more revenues from multiplexes", and they were acting in "concert and collusion which affected the consumers at large as they could not watch movies due to the stand-off" (The Financial Express, December18). Thus the film producers/ distributors must now defend their position before the CCI. (The writer is not privy to the specific facts of this case, and therefore cannot comment on the respective culpabilities of the parties.)


If the CCI inquiry finds the producers/ distributors guilty of acting as a cartel, the consequences under the act could be enormous. Each involved party can be fined up to 10 per cent of its annual turnover or three times its annual profit for each year of the cartel, and could face compensation claims, including class action, from injured parties. Recent cartels in the EU have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars. Under the act, any party to the cartel can apply as a whistle-blower, and if it makes a "full, true and vital disclosure" and cooperates with the CCI, it could become eligible for substantially lower penalty or complete immunity. This is a huge temptation for cartel members; recent successes against cartels have almost always involved a whistle-blower, for example, BASF in vitamins cartel, Virgin in the air cargo cartel, and so on.


Trade associations are legitimate bodies entitled to work for the growth of their industry, but they cannot become platforms for law-breaking, including cartels. Worldwide, vigilant competition authorities have dealt body-blows to culpable associations, for instance, associations of Belgian tobacco manufacturers, Swiss watch producers, lawyers/ engineers in the US, and the Dutch and British construction industries. Unfortunately, in India, some industry associations have got accustomed to easy ways and bad habits. These could now land them in deep trouble with the CCI. Instead they could learn from corrective steps taken by associations elsewhere, for example, fundamental reforms to the Dutch construction industry by their association, the Thai chamber's comprehensive competition compliance programme, and studied avoidance by compliant-conscious associations of competition sensitive agendas.


The film industry, across many countries, has not been a stranger to competition law challenges. In the UK, Australia and Canada, the competition authorities found it necessary to undertake comprehensive sector inquiries into complaints of anti-competitive practices in the film industry.


Reportedly, after the extended stand-off between the film producers/ distributors and the multiplexes, the warring parties reached an accord. But that cannot be reason for closing the CCI case. The real harm from anti-competitive practices is inflicted on the hapless consumers (filmgoers), who paid higher prices for tickets and were deprived of legitimate choices during the summer holidays. The very fact that there was collusion, instead of competition, between rivals on issues such as pricing, restricting supplies, etc is enough to constitute a violation of the act.

The need for augmenting professional staff at the CCI has been stressed. In fact, the CCI is currently doing just that. Had the government given the green signal in good time (during 2005-2008), and shown the will then for effective enforcement of the act, recruitment and training of professional staff and mustering of other resources could have been completed by the CCI much earlier, enabling it to undertake inquiries speedily and effectively once the full complement of members was appointed. This delay has been to the detriment of the ordinary consumer.


The writer is a former chairman of the Competition Commission of India








Narendra Modi has always loved catch phrases. Some phrases that his machinery thought up to push the country's first legal arming of a state to force every urban voter into the booths were:"Citizen-centric, not political party-centric", "curb money-power in polls" "consolidate democracy". There was even a cathartic valve: "negative votes for voters to express fury".


Arguments may go on if a coercive vote is the way to a real democracy. But this move also has some special implications for Gujarat. Especially alongwith the samras (Gujarati for "consensus") idea being systemically ramroded into the lower, panchayat, level. This one is a state-sponsored, cash incentives-tagged, push in exactly the opposite way. The idea is to avert "unnecessary" holding of all elections, the unneeded poll-spend, the even more unnecessary political differences — all with an often enforced local "consensus", for a "harmonious" village life.


Theoretically, Gujarat can now flog its urban voters to replicate even something close to the 99.90 per cent voting that the dead-and-gone Soviet Union used to gloat over, at its Municipality, city Corporation and panchayat polls. And as things stand, the samras will also go the exact opposite way in its gram panchayats, seeking to ensure that no polls are held in any, and no voting happens. How Modi intends to address this dichotomy is still not clear. The Bill is silent on samras. The Gujarat government has also not announced the punishment for voters refusing or failing to be herded into the booths.


But behind the hype is an irritant: Many basic support structures considered vital for any evolving and maturing polity remain nascent or stunted in Gujarat. This is not about the country's worst and sustained communal and casteist ghettoisation, a pivot of Gujarat's social and political life, its underbelly. It is about the degeneration, even disappearence, of some of the core premises and institutions that structure and shape political life elsewhere.


If debate and dissent is a pre-requisite in a democratic polity, the state assembly meets for barely more than the mandatory minimum days, logging one of the country's lowest sittings to decide and transact public business. The state has never been famously liberal, but it is not just about banning a book or a movie on suitable occasions. It is about the space for democratic dissent and debate in its socio-political domains.


Trade unions, for instance. Very few have a cohesive or effective presence in Gujarat, the national ones barely live on the walls. Few attempts at collectivism have survived in recent years, especially after the state's textile sector folded and its massive rump of unorganised labour has hardly any effective regulatory protection — when over four lakh-odd diamond workers were thrown out of their jobs last year, and many killed themselves in desperation, only a few had an ESI cover or even a PF account to fall back on. The unions that survive are the apologetically inconsequential Majoor-Mahajan Sangh (Employers-Employees union) and the mostly rag-tag bunch of openly casteist worker's bodies divided among themselves. Almost all of Gujarat's higher educational institutions — barring national showpieces like the IIM and the NID — remain under tight control of either the party in power or big business. Hardly any political or democratic consequence figure in the campuses.


Gujarat's civil society is at best a fond notion — some argue it doesn't even exist. The hundreds of NGOs in the state mostly use the vacuum of the state's abdication or withdrawal from what may be usual roles — including any meaningful rehabilitation of the kin of the 1000-odd officially killed in the 2002 carnage. But a big chunk remain too dependant to do any free opinion-building or catalysing of thoughts.

For the rest of the country, the paradox of the must-vote Bill and the samras may remain a conundrum. But if the stick is used for one, it is the carrot for the other. There is money for villages going for samras from the state coffers, as "development incentive": Rs 1 lakh for the first "consensus" election, more for the ensuing "successes". By last count, over a quarter of village panchayats in the state have opted for samras, many also lured by priority government sanctions for development work in their surroundings.


There have been many reports of armtwisting and even threats to get all development work stalled, when a villager or two had wanted to contest. Reports also, of district and block-level officials conniving with influential locals force villagers to agree on their sarpanches, and how people of the upper castes in caste-dominated Gujarat usually have the final say on who their "consensus" leader is to be.


There is this report of the Working Group on Democratic Decentralisation and PRIs set up by the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, which looked at samras: " The strongest voices prevail automatically (and) reservations in favour of women and the socially disadvantaged does not make much sense in a consensus situtation because one can just as easily silence the poor. Second, elected representatives can hide behind a consensus decision to avoid responsibility and accountability to their voters..."


But other advice may be more popular in Gujarat. Like the one of M.S. Golwalkar, the man who gave Hindutva its theoretical legitimacy, writing in his Bunch of Thoughts: "Gram panchayats are the cornerstones of our socio-economic system... If the common people are uneducated and ignorant they can easily be swayed... (So) stipulating that elections to panchayats shall be unanimous, or that there are no elections at all, would be a very useful step..."


Few would say it is not useful. Not when gram panchayats make up the bottom building blocks for power at the state level.








The Sindhi nationalist card is for showing and not playing; at least for now. That is the message from the beleaguered President Asif Ali Zardari and his Pakistan People's Party. As the political crisis deepens in Pakistan and the pressure mounts on Zardari to quit, there has been widespread speculation that Zardari might be tempted to play the Sindh card. The PPP's decision to hold the "Sindhi Topi Day" earlier this month had fueled this speculation. After the Supreme Court's judgment last week undermined Zardari's political moral authority, the Sindh provincial assembly was quick to affirm its faith in the president. Many in the PPP are angry that Pakistan's establishment is once again destroying a government led by a Sindhi. They recall the Army's coup against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his eventual hanging in the late 1970s and the ouster of Benazir Bhutto's two governments in the 1990s. Whipping up the nationalist sentiment in Sindh, Zardari appears to have decided, will play right into the hands of the Pakistan Army. Nor would the PPP be smart to abandon its enduring support bases in other provinces, especially in the Punjab. The PPP's emphasis for now is on affirming the party's nationalist contributions, exposing the different standards to which Zardari is being subjected to, and on utilising all available political and legal means to defend the presidency and the government. As he travels in Sindh this week, Zardari is expected to formally downplay the ethnic card while informally consolidating it as the possible last option to push away the political noose tightening around his neck. The PPP clearly needs a broad national platform than Sindhi nationalism to survive the current political challenge. And his best hope is some kind of an understanding with Nawaz Sharif, the leader of Pakistan Muslim League and a former prime minister.



While Zardari and PPP fight with their backs to the wall, Sharif looks better and better. Unlike many members of his party demanding Zardari's resignation, Sharif has held back. Deliberately. He has sought to maintain a balance between opposing the PPP and playing into the hands of the Army, which is the principal beneficiary of Zardari's loss of political authority. Over the last two years, Sharif has constantly exposed the unwillingness of Zardari to look beyond his own narrow political interests and strengthen Pakistan's civilian institutions and democratic norms.


Sharif backed the lawyer's movement earlier this year for the restoration of judges ousted in the last phase of the military rule, urged Zardari to shed some of the presidency's powers accumulated under Musharraf, and pressed him to return to a joint civilian front that will limit the dominance of the Army. Having been a victim of Army coup in 1999, Sharif understands the dangers of aligning with the GHQ to defeat the civilian opponents. That could change indeed if the Army and Sharif come to terms with each other. There has been no public indication so far of Sharif seeking one. While he could not persuade Zardari to follow reason during the last two years, Sharif has managed to elevate his personal political standing both within Pakistan and outside. There are some indications that Washington may be looking at Sharif as a possible option if the Zardari government implodes in the not too distant future.



Pakistan's internal political crisis could not have come at a worse time for Washington. Its plan to launch a short but intense campaign against the al Qaida and the Taliban in the next two years require a measure of coherence in Pakistan. If the civilian leaders in Pakistan do not close ranks and find some common ground with the Army to defeat violent extremism, there is little chance that President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy will work.

As so often in the past plays of the Great Game, the fragility of local politics in the Subcontinent's north-western marches may well trump the grand strategic designs in distant capitals. If President George W. Bush's political intervention in 2007 forced Gen. Pervez Musharraf to cede space to the civilians, the terms of that deal have now unraveled, creating a fresh political crisis. The fate of Obama's interventions to stabilise Pakistan may turn out to be no different; for it is not easy putting together Pakistan's humpty-dumpty.


The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC









Having decided to oppose the proposed Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, the CPI(M) is of the view that the legislation is being brought to safeguard the interests of American suppliers and investors and it will prove to be another case of New Delhi capitulating to the US and putting the interest of US capital before the interests of its people. The lead editorial in the latest issue of CPI(M) weekly organ People's Democracy argues that the US had linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India's capping of nuclear liability and this explains the haste behind moves to introduce the Bill in Parliament. "The proposed bill has sought to limit all liability arising out of a nuclear accident to only 300 million SDRs (about $450 million) and the liability of the operator only to Rs 300 crore. The difference between $450 million and Rs 300 crore (about $67 million) is the government's liability."


"Given that a serious accident can cause damage in billions, the small cap of $450 million proposed shows the scant regard the UPA government holds for the Indian people. The Bhopal Settlement of $470 million reached between the Government of India and Union Carbide and accepted by the Supreme Court, has been shown to be a gross underestimation," it says.


The party alleges that it is completely unconscionable of the UPA government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than Bhopal, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate. "Since the government wants to allow private operators in the nuclear power sector, this low level for compensation is meant to serve their interests too." The editorial also notes that neither Russian nor French suppliers have raised the issue of capping or limiting nuclear liability.



In the light of the contentious M.S. Valiathan committee report, the CPI(M) feels that plans are afoot to corporatise AIIMS. It says the four-member expert committee, whose task was to suggest ways to turn AIIMS into a centre of excellence and a leader in public health, has made recommendations to restructure the premier medical institution in the public sector. An article in People's Democracy says the government has welcomed the recommendations of the committee, showing its complete capitulation to the needs of a neoliberal economic order. In fact, the faculty of AIIMS has also been arguing that the report is a perfect prescription for corporatising the institution.


"The Valiathan Committee imbroglio is a reflection of the fact that the present Indian state seeks transformation of research institutions into profit-making commercial enterprises. In the neoliberal order, science is no longer seen as a way to advance knowledge and the well-being of society but as a means for generating profits for corporations," it says.


Arguing that AIIMS is in urgent need for resuscitation, the article says its demise would signal the end of publicly funded excellence in the field of medicine in India. "The primary need is to bring back the ideas of public funded science and medical education into the functioning of the institute. Tragically, the Valaithan Committee does exactly the reverse."



The CPI(M) has always opposed disinvestment of profit-making PSUs and it is but natural for it to lash out at Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for his decision to divest at least 10 per cent of government equity in all listed public sector undertakings. An article in the CPI(M) weekly mouthpiece questions his "people's ownership" catchphrase and ridicules Mukherjee's theory that stock market listing adds significantly to the enterprise value of a PSU.


"The invocation of 'peoples' ownership' is nothing but a cover to transfer resources, which are already in the hands of the state which represents the entire people, to a miniscule minority of 1 per cent of Indian people who are rich and affluent." Only less than one per cent of Indian households invest in equities or participate in the stock market.


It argues that enterprise value is nothing but the value of a company on the basis of prevailing stock prices, which are essentially driven by speculative players. "Is the finance minister oblivious of the fickle-mindedness of the stock markets and the fragility of such 'enterprise value' derived on the basis of market valuations?"


"How far can such market valuation be taken seriously, after what we have witnessed in the financial markets across the world since September 2008? The BSE Sensex in India, which had crossed 21000 points in January 2008, had fallen to below 8000 points by September 2008. Now it has once again risen to above 17000 points, which points towards another bubble in the making," it says.








The Central government's announcement on Telangana is a culmination of over five decades of agitation for the creation of a separate state. The current agitations on Telangana are no longer a political movement; it is now a civil society issue. It is perplexing that while one part of the state is carrying on an intense agitation for a separate state, the other part of the state is carrying on a unification agitation.


Unlike other states which were carved out of an existing state, Telangana was a pre-existing state which had a distinct identity of its own. It had a distinct language and culture. The States Reorganisation Commission recommended against the merger of the Hyderabad State with the Andhra State. The SRC recorded: "The real fear of the people of Telangana is that if they join Andhra they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and in this partnership the major partner will derive all the advantages immediately while Telangana itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising Andhras."


But despite the SRC recommendation against the creation of a separate state, the Union cabinet merged Telangana with the Andhra State which had been separated from the erstwhile Madras State. It was a reluctant and a conditional marriage. A gentleman's agreement was executed with leaders from two regions making promises towards the development of Telangana region. Unfortunately this agreement was honoured more in breach. The Telangana agitation again came into focus in 1969 when there were widespread protests for the creation of a separate state. A six-point compromise formula was hashed out promising accelerated development and due representation to people from Telangana in government service. Unfortunately even this formula was not implemented.


After five decades of merger with Andhra, Telangana remains a backward region —educationally, economically and agriculturally. All major political parties have accepted Telangana in principle. The UPA made a commitment in 2004 towards the formation of Telangana and before the 2009 election Sonia Gandhi made a public statement supporting the creation of a Telangana state. Even TDP which was committed towards a united state changed its position in favour of a Telangana state before the Lok Sabha elections this summer. But once the Central government made the announcement, every party is split into two factions on this issue.


In many ways, the agitation for a unified state is a proxy fight for control of Hyderabad. Several leading politicians have acquired vast real estate in Hyderabad. If Hyderabad was not part of Telangana, the demand for a separate state would not have been a contentious issue. The concerns of the settlers in Hyderabad are indeed legitimate and need to be addressed. But the solution does not lie in making Hyderabad the joint capital since it is geographically and administratively not feasible. A similar proposal was made to make the Madras the joint capital of the Andhra state and Tamil Nadu, but it was rejected because it was administratively not feasible.


A resolution from the state legislature is being proposed for creating Telangana. The Constitution does not mandate a state legislature resolution and it is a redundant exercise in an Andhra majority assembly. Under Article 3, seeking the opinion of the state legislature comes in after a bill has been introduced for the creation of a separate state and such opinion is not binding on Parliament. The Supreme Court affirmed this view in Babulal Parate v. Union of India (1960) in the context of the creation of Gujarat out of Bombay State.


Creation of a separate state of Telangana is a political issue and has to be resolved through dialogue. Unfortunately the state government has treated this issue as a law and order issue precluding the possibility of dialogue. When the issue was sought to be raised in the assembly at the peak of the Telangana agitation, the speaker rejected it on the ground that it was not on the agenda.


Internal self-determination is essential for the survival of the Indian state which has to accommodate people with multiple identities. Creating a separate state should be a function of two factors — identity and governability. Telangana satisfies both these criteria.


The writer practices law in the Andhra Pradesh High Court, Hyderabad







On Monday, Ratan Tata suggested that land reform is critical if the Indian growth story is to power forward. He should know. Tata Motors had almost finished building its factory in Singur, when continuous protests over land acquisition forced it to abandon the project. That was in 2008. This year, an Infosys IT park faced similar troubles in Rajarhat in Bengal. Interestingly, Monday's other development was that the Bengal Assembly passed a Bill that would allow it to take bank land leased to industries that have closed. Applying to a wide range of jute, heavy engineering, hosiery, foundry and textile units that have stopped operations, the state's land & land reforms minister Abdur Mollah says that the new legislation will enable his government to take possession of land lying idle. The problem is that this is the same minister who had recently admitted to irregularities in the land acquisition for the Vedic Village in Rajarhat. It's his government that mismanaged the Singur-Tata issue. The problem is that the Centre has been lethargic about amending a colonial-era land acquisition Act, a lethargy that in no small measure is on account of the coalition partner that helped escalate the Singur-Tata issue beyond resolution.


New legislation is urgently needed to streamline land acquisitions to facilitate industrial projects—also power plants, highways and other infrastructure projects. And this is not an agriculture vs industry issue, whatever the ideologues may bellow. As a recent agrarian relations and land reforms committee report has pointed out, 80% of the Indians engaged in agriculture own just 17% of the country's land. Locked into dismal economies of small plots, stagnating production and labour-intensive techniques, they will never become a part of any growth story unless their access to infrastructure and non-farm employment improves. This won't happen till land use is liberalised. This, in turn, means, various land banks—including those unproductively held by the government—need to become transparently available. A radical proposal in this regard is that an extensive survey be mobilised to zone the country between the most fertile and productive agricultural land and the areas that can be used for different kinds of development. Reducing the land logjam also means unproductive regulations involving land ceilings, conversions, and the like need to be pushed to the wayside. Echoing Tata, Infosys chairman Narayana Murthy referred to how India's floor-area ratio needs to improve from the current 1:1 to 1:15. When laws unreasonably restrict the supply of land or politicise its distribution, and when such land is desperately needed to improve the lot of the common man, then the laws need to be changed. As soon as possible.






David Axelrod was simply trying to score political brownie points for his boss Barack Obama when he suggested that the US had extracted a major concession from China and India on international verification of their voluntary actions on climate change. Under fire for having achieved very little in his first year as President, Obama needs his team to project a better image, of a doer. Hence the spin on having won a victory over China. News reports from the summit though seemed to suggest that China repeatedly snubbed the US President until he finally barged in on a meeting of the BASICs. Funnily enough, his statement clearly meant for a domestic audience has irked the political class in India. The objection is a tired one, put into a new context. India, it is being claimed, has sacrificed its sovereignty by succumbing to US pressure on international monitoring and verification of its efforts. For one, this is not true. The Copenhagen Accord is as vague about international monitoring and verification as it is about emissions cuts and financing. Of course, all the issues remain on the table, but none has been cast in iron so far, and isn't likely to be for at least another year.


But we would like to argue that the entire brouhaha about monitoring and sovereignty is nothing but a political gimmick. It is unreasonable to expect no international monitoring for projects, which are funded by money from abroad, or which use technology transferred from abroad, under the provisions of any final climate agreement. At least the government seems to have accepted this. But even on voluntary actions, we ought to have nothing to hide from anyone who wishes to cross-check. The background paper of the Planning Commission which formed the basis of our move to an emissions intensity of GDP criterion lays out our path to a 20-25% cut in emissions intensity by 2020 in no uncertain terms. We will, it seems, meet our voluntary targets in the course of normal technological change with no special effort. So why be defensive about it? Instead, we should use monitoring and verification as bargaining chips to extract more concessions from the West, especially in terms of emissions cuts. Instead of worrying about sovereignty, we should focus on ensuring that the international monitoring mechanism is neutral, credible and applicable to each country. On climate, we must stop being defensive now to extract a better deal for ourselves at the end. Having just sat at the highest table in Copenhagen (in a group of just five countries) which finally decided the outcome of Round 1 of climate talks, any talk of loss of sovereignty sounds completely hollow.







Towards the end of 2008, US policymakers halted the panic phase of the global financial crisis with three simple words: "No more Lehmans." In the short run, this statement could mean that there would be no more bankruptcies like Lehman—any large financial entity on the verge of failure would be simply bailed out. AIG was the first beneficiary of the new policy.


However, in the long run, the 'No more Lehmans' policy can only mean that there would be no more failures like Lehman. Either financial entities should be unimportant enough to be safely left to the bankruptcy courts when they fail, or they should be robust enough to make their failure extremely unlikely.


In this context, the US House of Representatives has passed a comprehensive 1,279-page Financial Reform Bill, but the Bill could change significantly before it is passed by the Senate and becomes law. How effective would this law be in eliminating Lehman-like failures?


First, the new US provisions (as well as the recent Basel proposals at the global level) impose higher capital requirements on financial institutions. While higher capital would reduce the chances of failure, it would not make failures so unlikely that governments can safely promise to bail out any large bank that slips through the cracks. Other elements of the new legislation are, therefore, designed to make it easier to let large institutions fail.


A second key part of the legislation extends the existing resolution mechanism for failed banks to systemically important non-banks and bank holding companies. Under the old law, Lehman could not have been resolved in this manner and while the banking part of Citigroup could have been resolved, the holding company itself (which owned many of the foreign subsidiaries) could not have been.


The new resolution mechanism makes it easier for the regulator to contemplate the failure of a large entity because the messy bankruptcy is replaced by a more orderly resolution process. There is also a provision for a bailout fund (Systemic Dissolution Fund) to facilitate the resolution process, but this fund is to be financed by contributions from the financial industry itself.


The problem with this proposal is that while it avoids bailing out shareholders of a large entity, it actually formalises the bail-out of their creditors through the systemic dissolution fund. It would, therefore, have the perverse effect of encouraging banks to become even larger to exploit this implicit guarantee from the government.


A third key element in the legislation is the reform of the OTC (over-the-counter) derivatives market. Lehman was not spectacularly large in terms of assets and liabilities. The systemic importance of Lehman (and even more so of AIG) came from OTC derivatives.


Lehman was a large dealer in OTC derivatives and AIG was a large counterparty for subprime-related credit default swaps. They were not too large to fail, but were described as too interconnected to fail. Reform of OTC derivatives is intended to prevent this kind of a situation from arising.


The straightforward solution to the OTC derivative problem is to move these derivatives to the exchanges where a central counterparty (the clearing house) collects margins from all participants and assumes responsibility for all trades. Lehman did have a portfolio of 66,000 contracts totalling $9 trillion of interest rate swaps cleared by LCH.Clearnet in London. LCH not only resolved the Lehman default without any loss, but also returned a large part of the margins that it had collected from Lehman.


To understand the difference with the OTC market, suppose that Lehman had sold $100 billion of a certain OTC swap to some parties and bought $90 billion of the same OTC swap from others. Its failure would force all its counterparties to terminate their $190 billion of Lehman deals and establish new contracts with other counterparties. When all these trades are done through an exchange, the clearing house would have to liquidate only the net position of $10 billion, and this is easier because of the margins that the clearing house has collected.


The US law tries to mandate clearing of standardised OTC derivatives, but the proposals are riddled with loopholes that threaten to make them ineffective. First, it does not mandate exchange trading; it only mandates clearing and that too if a clearing house accepts the concerned derivative for clearing. Second, many OTC derivatives lack price transparency and are therefore illiquid. Without a push towards transparency, many derivatives will simply be unacceptable for clearing. Third, minor changes in terms may make a derivative non-standardised and therefore not subject to clearing.


All in all, the 1,000-odd pages of complex provisions riddled with loopholes in this legislation will not make Lehmans sufficiently unlikely in future. I would suggest that 'No more Lehmans' is not the correct policy after all. True capitalism is about letting insolvent banks fail, however painful that might be.


The author is a professor of finance at IIM, Ahmedabad







Was Copenhagen a failure? The Copenhagen Accord has fine aspirations but no firm commitments, no clear plan and no governance mechanism. One activist group called it a disaster. Blame was being laid at all doors: President Obama for failing to deliver stronger US commitments; the Chinese for obduracy over emissions verification; the Europeans for not coming through; the group of African and poorer countries for holding out for even more money. Presidents Chavez and Morales blamed capitalism.


So how come the major global powers could save the world from financial catastrophe last year, but not save the globe from a potentially much larger catastrophe from global warming?


The comparison is revealing. In the case of the financial crisis, the threat was immediate, domestic action made sense on purely national grounds, redistributions were largely within countries and the interests of the big economic players—the financial institutions—were aligned with action, often controversially so.


Climate change couldn't be more different. The threat is distant. Coordination is not an add-on, but of the essence: one nation's action only makes sense at home if others act too—a classic problem of managing the commons. Even harder, the desirable redistributions are between countries, and intricately linked both to the management of the rise of emerging economic powers, and the need to extract resources from fiscally pressed rich countries to support adaptation in poor countries. Many established economic interests are resistant to change, including major parts of the energy lobby.


Given the sheer difficulty of the problem, the Copenhagen Accord looks better. Getting agreement in principle from the US, China and India is a big step forward. The Accord includes an important new proposal to protect forests. There is a commitment to deliver $30 billion over the next three years and $100 billion from 2020 onward to poor countries. There are surely credibility problems here, but the numbers are there to fight over.


Also valuable were new signs of coordination in the chaos. Most important was the group of Brazil, China, India and South Africa—with whom the final deal was cut with Obama, to the procedural fury of the G-77 and Europe. Also noteworthy was greater African coordination, led by Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi. There was an intriguing sign of China-African relations when the Africans threatened to keep their mineral resources if the Chinese did not support their case.


But better coordination is likely to be insufficient, given the sheer difficulty of the challenge. The lesson from the financial crisis is relevant: real action will come on the basis of politically salient, national self-interest. A future international agreement can be overlaid on this, but is not a substitute.


Political salience means two things: citizen support, including willingness to accept higher carbon-related prices, and alignment of domestic economic interests. Among rich countries, European citizens are essentially there, Japan is moving, and the US belatedly moving. But will business come round? There is a telling experience from the negotiation of the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement to phase out emission of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were destroying the ozone layer. The global leader in production of goods emitting CFCs was the US company Dupont. There was a point in the negotiation process in which Dupont shifted from resisting to favouring the deal. Once a deal became sufficiently likely, it was in its interests to innovate and become the market leader and standard-setter in CFC-free products.


There are signs of this occurring in carbon-saving innovation, and not just in rich countries. In the December New Yorker, Evan Osnos documents how China has been pouring resources into green, carbon-saving technology in the power sector—in some areas overtaking the US—and backing this with rises in coal prices. In future decades, innovation will be increasingly a joint activity between firms in rich countries and emerging markets, with a mutual interest in the sharing of technology. India needs to get serious on this act.


The Montreal Protocol had seven revisions in the decade after it came into force in 1989, which steadily strengthened its force and reach. Climate change is tougher, Copenhagen only delivered an Accord, and time matters. The major leaders, importantly, recognised the inadequacy of the deal. With rising citizen pressure, increasing alignment of economic interests and emerging international coordination among major players, there is real hope that Copenhagen was a genuine step to effective action on this truly momentous challenge of our times.


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







The synergies between Ranbaxy Laboratories and its owner Daiichi Sankyo have been unravelling over the last few months, much to the relief of investors in the Indian company. Shares of Ranbaxy rose to Rs 538 on Monday, the highest in a year, after the company said Daiichi would leverage Ranbaxy's marketing and distribution strength to create and consolidate its presence in Africa. In fact, the company's shares have come a long way from the 52-week low of Rs 133 on March 12 this year. This on the back of a string of announcements, including plans to take Daiichi drugs to emerging markets, and Ranbaxy's better performance during Q2 2009-10.


As per Monday's announcement, Ranbaxy will launch Olvance, Daiichi Sankyo's anti-hypertensive drug, in six African countries—Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In October too, Ranbaxy and Daiichi had used their hybrid business model to enter Mexico. Ranbaxy then said it will market Daiichi's products in Mexico using a newly created marketing division within Ranbaxy Mexico, its subsidiary. In September too, they leveraged the new business model by marketing the osteoporosis drug, Evista, in Romania, through Terapia, a subsidiary of Ranbaxy in that country.


After going through one of its worst phases ever, Ranbaxy is showing definite signs of improvement. The company posted a net profit of Rs 116.6 crore for its third quarter ended September, against a net loss of Rs 394.5 crore a year earlier. Its parent Daiichi has said it will strive to bring about an early resolution to solve the crisis emerging out of the USFDA ban on some of Ranbaxy's products. Ranbaxy is also formulating a


3-year plan (2010-2012) for exploiting synergies with Daiichi. This plan spans across multiple areas, including exploring synergies for new molecules research, and accessing Ranbaxy's low-cost manufacturing facilities in India as a sourcing base for Daiichi. According to analysts, while the resolution of the USFDA issues will remain the key determinant of near-term valuations for Ranbaxy, exploitation of synergies between Daiichi and the company will drive the long-term prospects of the company's stock.








At 1 a.m. on December 21, the United States Senate voted 60-40 on a closure motion to cut off a Republican filibuster over amendments to the health-care bill. The debate had been fierce and partisan, and the voting was strictly on party lines, with all 58 Democrats, supported by the two Independents, for the motion and all 40 Republicans, including the previously wavering Olympia Snowe of Maine, against it. The move to end the debate is, in fact, not stated anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, and has been imposed by the Senate on itself. That shows how seriously Democratic Senators take the bill, which is indisputably the most significant legislative measure President Obama has initiated so far. Republican opposition to the proposed law, however, is so fierce that the Senate Democrats will have to get 60 votes on two, if not four, more occasions; the final vote may in fact be taken as late as 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve. The key point is that the Republican Senators can no longer block the bill.


The bill still faces serious obstacles. Its final form is uncertain, as the version the Senate — if all goes to plan for the Democrats — passes could go to a Conference Committee of Senators and Representatives for reconciliation with the version passed 220-215 by the House of Representatives on November 7. Serious problems will almost certainly arise at that stage. First, the House version contains a government cover plan, the so-called public option, for the low paid, but Senate majority leader Harry Reid has had to drop that in order to gain the vote of the Independent Joe Lieberman. Secondly, there will be sharp disagreements over abortion. The Senate text excludes federal funding for insurance plans that offer abortion services, but it does not ban individuals from paying separate insurance cheques to cover abortion; the House version bans all insurers who receive federal funding from offering any such services. A third area of dispute is overall funding for costs estimated to be close to $900 billion over a decade. Furthermore, angry things are being said about the Senate's removal of the public option by those like Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and Senator Russ Feingold. The issues are so complicated that the House and the Senate may not even appoint a Conference Committee but instead hold negotiations involving Democrat leaders and committee chairpersons from both chambers. White House officials are likely to play a substantial part in such negotiations. The health-care bill still has a long way to go but that its proponents have succeeded in taking it even this far is, as economics Nobel laureate Paul Krugman says, an "awesome achievement."







The recent announcement by the World Health Organisation that no serious and unexpected adverse effects have been seen in the nearly 65 million people who have been vaccinated for the 2009 influenza A(H1N1) in 16 countries is encouraging. Apprehensions about the vaccine's safety were raised by the medical fraternity in a few countries and parents were unwilling to get their children vaccinated. The vaccine was seen as a new and experimental drug hurried along in fast-track mode, tested on a small number of volunteers, and followed up for an inadequate duration. Though fast-tracking flu vaccines is routine as the basic ingredients remain the same, a frontal objection was raised by the New England Journal of Medicine in an editorial: "any association of uncommon adverse events with this vaccine cannot be ascertained in studies of this size." Reports from following up millions of people after vaccination have now put at rest the safety concerns. The side effects — swelling, redness, pain at the site of injection, fever, and headache — were the common and anticipated ones; they resolved themselves spontaneously soon after vaccination. Although a small number of deaths occurred in people who had been vaccinated, investigations have shown that no direct link could be established between vaccination and the deaths; underlying medical conditions were found to have caused these deaths. The risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome — a rare autoimmune disorder that damages the peripheral nervous system, and in rare cases can cause permanent paralysis or even death — following vaccination was one of the most feared serious adverse effects. According to the WHO, fewer than ten suspected cases of this rare syndrome were encountered and all the patients recovered eventually.


According to the world body, the safety profiles were no different in inactivated and live attenuated vaccines. Likewise, there was little difference between adjuvant (a substance added to a vaccine to improve its effectiveness) and non-adjuvant vaccines. The safety profile of adjuvant vaccines, which the WHO recommends, is particularly important. The use of adjuvant reduces the amount of vaccine used in a dose, which means a greater number of people to be vaccinated under constrained circumstances. While A(H1N1) adjuvant vaccine is used in many countries in Europe, and adjuvant has been routinely used in seasonal influenza vaccine for over a decade, the U.S. has not approved it. Despite the safety profile of A(H1N1) vaccine matching the seasonal influenza vaccine, the need for continuous monitoring of those vaccinated cannot be over-emphasised.










As we approach the first anniversary of President Barack Obama's inauguration, all eyes are set on health care reform and its ultimate fate in Congress. In foreign affairs, the war in Afghanistan has held centre stage. Less attention has been paid to his policy toward Latin America. With a global financial crisis and two wars going on, there is no reason to think that the western hemisphere would be a priority for the White House.


Yet, the overwhelming feeling about the United States policy towards southern neighbours this year is not so much one of lack of attention as of missed opportunity. During the first half of 2009, despite many other demands on his agenda, Mr. Obama managed to get quite a bit done in the region. A visit to Mexico with President Felipe Calderón, a successful Fifth Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain (where Mr. Obama underscored he was there to listen rather than to pontificate), and the hosting of Presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Álvaro Uribe of Colombia at the White House, are evidence of that. Much the same can be said about the lifting of the travel and remittance limitations on Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba, as well as of the 1962 Organisation of American States (OAS) resolution that suspended Cuba's membership.


Perhaps the high point of this "Latin offensive" was reached with the condemnation of the June 28 coup in Honduras. For a change, Washington sided with the democrats rather than with the generals, who evicted President Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya from his home at gunpoint, put him on a plane and sent him abroad.


In the following weeks, hand in hand with regional bodies like the OAS, which voted unanimously to suspend Honduras' membership, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on the country, stopped a number of aid programmes, cancelled the U.S. visas of prominent Honduran officials (including that of strongman Roberto Micheletti) and otherwise indicated that it would not abide by the first military coup in the region in 20 years. The high expectations generated in Latin America and the Caribbean by Mr. Obama's election (which even led to the government of Antigua to rename its highest mountain Mount Obama) seemed to have been vindicated. A principled defence of the democratic cause in the Americas, anchored in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, seemed to have gained the upper hand in Washington's corridors of power, so often dominated by other, less elevated concerns.


Yet, much to the chagrin of the overwhelming majority of Latin Americans, this initial stance quickly unravelled, allowing the policy of the past to raise its ugly head. By putting a hold on two key U.S. State Department appointments — of Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, and of the Ambassador to Brazil-designate, Thomas Shannon — Senator Jim DeMint threw a monkey wrench into all this. In an unprecedented case of "parallel diplomacy," Senator DeMint flew to Tegucigalpa on his own, brushing off offers of assistance from the U.S. embassy there, met with the head of the de facto government, Mr. Micheletti, and told him to stand firm and refuse Washington's entreaties to allow President Zelaya to return to office.


Thus emboldened, Mr. Micheletti quickly realised he had Washington's number, and that it was just a matter of running the clock towards the November 29 elections, after which he would be home safe. The one outstanding problem was the U.S. recognition of the elections. To take care of that, Mr. Shannon was dispatched to Honduras to broker a deal between the de facto government and the forces supporting Mr. Zelaya. Ensconced in the Brazilian Embassy, the latter and his supporters made the mistake of trusting that this was a bona fide negotiation, and signed off on a deal. This made the restitution of Mr. Zelaya contingent upon a vote of the Honduras Parliament, on the not unreasonable assumption that having internationally recognised elections was a powerful incentive.


Yet, the deal turned out to be a Faustian pact between the Democratic administration and the Republican opposition. Back in Washington, Mr. Shannon quickly stated that Washington would recognise the November 29 elections no matter what happened with Mr. Zelaya, thus ending whatever leverage the U.S. might have had with Mr. Micheletti and the de facto government.


From there on, the comedy turned into a farce. The Honduras Parliament did not even meet to vote on Mr. Zelaya's restitution before the November 29 elections. When it did so in early December, the vote started with a strident PowerPoint presentation on Mr. Zelaya's alleged misdeeds, ending with a predictable vote against restoring him to office. Back in Washington, the Republicans lifted the hold on Mr. Valenzuela, who was quickly sworn in, and on Mr. Shannon. Yet, in a remarkable turn of fate, the next day another Republican Senator, George Le Mieux of Florida, put another hold on Mr. Shannon and his appointment as Ambassador to Brazil. This left him twisting slowly, slowly in the wind, despite having kept his promise to deliver Mr. Zelaya's head on a silver platter to the Republican opposition.


Assistant Secretary Valenzuela lamely asked the newly elected Honduran President to stick to the San Jose-Tegucigalpa agreements (which contemplated a government of national unity), a request which was brushed off as so much gobbledygook. At this point, the government won't even allow Mr. Zelaya to leave the country unless he signs a document giving up on all claims to his former office. Instead of reaching out to the other side, all pretences at a compromise have been abandoned. The de facto government is simply rubbing it in, boasting of how, through the K-Street lobbyists ($600,000 was paid to them, including Lanny Davis, a former Clinton lawyer, for their services) and the Republican Senators, they managed to humiliate the Obama administration, the OAS and most Latin American governments, blocking the reinstatement of Mr. Zelaya and thus the undoing of the effects of the coup.


As John Ruggie has pointed out, multilateralism is much more than just another tool in the foreign policy toolbox. It is an expression of a willingness to work with others in the community of nations. It is a signal that one believes in collective action to promote global public good, and that states are able to see beyond a narrow Hobbesian perspective.


One of President George Bush's big mistakes was his extreme unilateralism, which led him to waste the enormous sympathy the U.S. earned as a result of the 9/11 tragedy. Iraq, Kyoto, Guantanamo and the policy followed towards the International Criminal Court all reflect this approach. Part of the attractiveness of Mr. Obama's candidacy, a man who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, was his commitment to multilateralism. Progress has been made. Steps towards closing Guantanamo, the banning of torture and measures designed to slow down global warming are all examples of it. For the first time, a U.S. President chairs the United Nations Security Council. Mr. Obama's dream of eradicating nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth points in the same direction.


Where his commitment to multilateralism has failed, however, is in the Americas. By ignoring the unanimous resolution of the OAS that condemned the military coup in Honduras, by ending up supporting the de facto government there and by recognising the November 29 elections held under a cloud, Mr. Obama has disposed of any illusion that he might embody a significant change in U.S. policy towards Latin America.


In outsourcing that policy and delegating it, effectively, to the Republican Party, the message is crystal clear: Washington cares little about what happens South of the Rio Grande, and is willing to let that policy be handled by the Republican Senators from the Carolinas to Florida.

It is thus surprising that the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil raised eyebrows in Washington. In a speech, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even warned Latin American countries not to deal with Iran, as consequences would follow. Washington is eager for Latin American nations to join the efforts of some members of the international community to isolate Tehran. Suddenly, the Obama administration discovers that it needs emerging powers like Brazil in its multilateral efforts on global fora, and Mr. Obama writes President Lula endearing letters. Yet, it is perfectly willing to abdicate on its Latin American policy and to capitulate to whatever one or two Republican Senators demand in the region.


The notion that this initial outcome of the Honduras crisis is a victory of realism over principles is sadly myopic. It is nothing of the sort. It is simply the triumph of expediency over consistency. This is not the way to rebuild inter-American relations, in a bad state of disrepair after a difficult decade.


(Jorge Heine holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario. His latest book, with Andrew F. Cooper, Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization, is published by United Nations University Press.)








A recent piece by an ex-energy adviser on India's carbon intensity reduction holds lessons for our educational CEOs. It makes the point that India's low carbon growth in recent decades has left untouched 500 million Indians without electricity, and 700 millions who use some sort of biomass for the bulk of their domestic energy requirements. The lesson is not that we should abjure, mock Gandhi-style, energy-efficient gadgets. It is rather that a sub-continental polity like ours can ill afford to clone enclaves and islands, surrounded by a stagnant water body of disprivileged citizenry.


Quick-fix solutions are being flashed on websites of the HRD Ministry and several front-ranking universities. In both instances, there is a gesture towards openness and feedbacks from stakeholders and civil society. But instead of the responses being placed on the same website — creating an open access — these inputs are shredded into files or simply ignored.


This seems to be the case with the Ministry's plan to create 14 world class universities, funded by the state but "unencumbered by history or culture of the past" — something that no world-class institution would dare boast about. The underlying idea is to build islands of excellence by relying on "the highly skilled Indian diaspora." While other publicly funded universities – even premier ones like Calcutta and Delhi — are clearly hobbled by their sheer size, teacher politics, and professorial apathy, the new 'national' edifices will simply skip over resident Indian talent. The message is that even those who returned home with research degrees from world-class universities to put their shoulder to the wheel before the new dispensation need not apply.


For their part, older institutions such as Delhi University cannot quite effect Bertolt Brecht's sardonic suggestion: if dissatisfied with the existing lot, "elect another people." For desi vishwa vidyalayas, the parameters are given: a national intake of students from unequally diverse backgrounds and a sudden doubling of enrolments to accommodate all categories of reservations. And of course the problematic lot: more than 7000 teachers, as with Delhi University, some of them of indifferent quality, but a large number of dedicated professionals who are responsible for the brand of the university's flag-ship undergraduate Honours courses.


Naturally, our Vice-Chancellors are not immune to the buzz about India as an emergent knowledge giant. And so they no longer see their role as one of steering an overburdened ship buffeted by the squall of equity, access, and quality. For them, it is not the receding horizon that is the limit. If they could, they surely would abandon ship and 'take off' from the crowded deck. As that is not possible, the basic contours of a university need to be quickly altered. This, it is argued, will help improve our ranking on the international table of world class universities. 'You cannot lift a bucket of water from mid-air; you have to lift it from the ground' — this modern Chinese saying has a lot to commend to our educational planners in a hurry, especially those advocating a Great Leap to catch up with China.


It is against this background that Delhi University is currently being genetically modified by its administrators, to make it conform to the highest Ivy League, Oxbridge standards. Its flagship undergraduate Honours courses in more than two dozen disciplines, affecting a 100,000 students in some 80 Colleges, have to be slashed, and retrofitted into smaller, 15-week-long semester courses.


The current practice of allowing Honours students to specialise in one basic subject, leaving a quarter of the scores to a wide choice from specially designed units in other disciplines, is to be replaced by a Major and one Minor, from the very point of entry. That in the United States an undergraduate is not required to decide on a Major straightaway; that there is, in fact, a medley of 'Minor' subjects that she or he could choose from seems of no consequence. The fluffy mantra, "A critical level of knowledge of a second discipline is being increasingly realized globally," is supposed to take care of any criticism.


Clearly a hybrid semester system cannot remedy all that ails India's universities. The vast number of first-generation learners has to be enabled to develop core competences; teacher truancy has to be curbed; and new pedagogical synergies need to be developed. The latest flashy proposal of Delhi University: biometric smart cards to ensure teacher attendance (and reward those who work overtime), as reported recently, is no doubt front-page news. Beyond that, it reminds one more of Sanjay Gandhi's Emergency, certainly not of Harvard Yard or Oxford's dreaming spires.


Somebody needs to tell Manmohan Singh about this 'fingerprint and thrive' strategy being chalked out for India's premier university, which is proud to count the Prime Minister among its scores of distinguished faculty.


(The authors are respectively Professors of History and Physics at Delhi University.)








If anyone can be called the father of modern analytical and scientific economics, it is Paul A. Samuelson, who passed away on December 13 at 94. Anyone who has read economics, even in the most fleeting way, cannot but recognise his perceptive undergraduate economics textbook. Think of analytical economics, and you think of Samuelson.


When I saw him last when he was 92, he was driving his car near his home in Belmont, Massachusetts — a small elite town in the vicinity of Cambridge which is home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and as alert as ever. He stopped upon seeing me on the sidewalk, pulled over and chatted about how I was. Since 2000 I have been going back each summer to Harvard to teach two courses in economics, and I had been meeting him over a one-to-one lunch at his favourite restaurant at Harvard Square. That year I had not yet called him, and he was disapproving.


Whenever I met him I was just his student, which I had been in 1962-63. At every meeting with him I had to answer his rapid-fire questions about a series of subjects, and even share delightful gossip. On that summer's day at Belmont it was no different.


Later I had become his co-author on the Theory of Index Numbers, published our research in the American Economic Review (1974) and the Royal Economic Society's Economic Journal (1984), but I was still treated as his student, to be cared for, and questioned.


Samuelson's main contribution to modern economics was the use of advanced calculus to show that economics could be structured on clearly stated or observable behavioural assumptions or axioms or objectives, and then by mathematical deduction deriving economic laws that could be tested on real-life statistical data. He thus made economics a subject of scientific inquiry to be truly called a science, in the sense that propositions in economics could be 'proved' with proof, just as theorems in mathematics could be. Mathematical logic and rigour was all; little else mattered. Gone, thus, were the days of John Maynard Keynes' "Shakespearean" economics and John Kenneth Galbraith's art of expression. Felicity in English no more mattered; mathematical methods took its place. Samuelson globalised economics by enabling scholars who knew little English to join in international discourse and collaboration in research and teaching. Economics thus exploded on to the international scene, and became fashionable.



Samuelson worked in two dimensions throughout his life. In one, he spoke in homely English about the most complicated economic issues. He thus authored one of the most widely used college textbooks in the history of American education. The book, titled Economics, first published in 1948, was the globe's best-selling textbook for nearly 30 years. Translated into 20 languages and updated periodically, it is selling over 50,000 copies a year in its 19th edition half a century after it first appeared.


His second dimension was of mathematical rigour that began with his Harvard Ph.D. thesis-turned-book titled The Foundations of Economic Analysis. This is a gold mine for research even today. When he defended his thesis before a committee of three Harvard Professors, the story goes that the chairman, Professor Joseph A. Schumpeter, asked his two fellow-members after the viva voce: "Gentlemen, have we passed?"


Between the two books, Samuelson redefined modern economics and made it popular, yet a science. For that he became the first American to win the then newly instituted Nobel prize for economics.


Paul Antony Samuelson was born on May 15, 1915 in Gary, Indiana. After receiving his bachelor's from Chicago in 1935, he went to Harvard. He earned his master's from Harvard in 1936 and a Ph.D. formally in 1941. He wrote his thesis in 1937.


In 1940, Harvard offered him an instructorship (the Harvard equivalent of Assistant Professor, which in turn equalled the position of an Associate Professor elsewhere), which he accepted. But a month later the MIT invited him to become an Assistant Professor, that is, the same as Harvard's Instructor. But jealousy and, some suspect, the anti-Semitism of the late-1930s made Harvard deny him a promotion, even though he had by then developed an international following.


Fresh from India with a B.A. Honours in Mathematics and a Master's in Mathematical Statistics, I first met Samuelson in his office in September 1962 wanting to be his student, cross-registering in the most advanced mathematical economics course of the MIT. I had arrived in Cambridge on a Harvard scholarship for a Ph.D. Samuelson selected each year only 20 students, out of about 200 who applied, expecting to groom them as scholars. I wondered whether I would be chosen. I was.


Once while lecturing on the theory of consumer behaviour in class, Samuelson wrote on the blackboard a series of equations to derive a theorem. As a student I raised my hand from my desk and said: "You have one equation wrong, so you will not be able to prove the theorem." There was stunned silence. Samuelson walked to my seat and glowered: "What did you say?" I held my ground and offered to rectify what was a small careless mistake which all geniuses commit on the blackboard in class. He made me go to the blackboard and write out the correct equation — which I did. Then, sternly he said: "See me after class." My classmates thought that was the end of me. One asked: "Have you got your return ticket to India?"


But it was, instead, the beginning of me — and of a relationship. When I saw him after class, he said: "I think you and I should write a joint paper some day." This we did 10 years later, but he me helped in the interim on a number of papers published in my own name, and thanked me in footnotes of his published papers for having corrected him or given him leads. He, and my thesis adviser Simon Kuznets at Harvard, launched my career. I became a Teaching Fellow as a student, an Instructor soon after, obtaining a Ph.D in the shortest possible time of 18 months, and an Assistant Professor, all at Harvard.


I eventually joined politics because my career was blocked in India. I continued to return to Harvard to teach, and got nothing but warmth and welcome from Samuelson each time. During the Emergency, Henry Rosovsky, the Harvard economist, became the Dean and appointed me Visiting Professor. Indira Gandhi sent an emissary to him to cancel my appointment. But Henry was no pushover. By now Samuelson was convinced that I had responded to a higher call. He encouraged me to fight on. He wrote in Newsweek against the Emergency and even signed a petition along with other Nobel laureates to the U.S. President condemning the jailing without trial of 140,000 persons.


Samuelson remained sympathetic from then on to my choice of a political career over academics. Once I called him my guru and explained the gurukul system of the Indian rishis. He said: "Ah! That's what the U.S. needs." Samuelson was already a rishi in the way he treated his chosen students. I shall remember always that I was once his chosen student among the many he nurtured.


(Dr. Subramanian Swamy is a former Union Minister who is the president of the Janata Party.)







Amazing video has been obtained in the Pacific Ocean of the deepest undersea eruption ever recorded.


The pictures show lavas bursting into the water at the West Mata submarine volcano, which is sited about 200 km south-west of the Samoas.


The U.S. Jason robotic submersible had to descend over 1,100m to acquire the high-definition video.


The vehicle found microbes and a specialized volcano-dwelling shrimp thriving in hot, acidic waters.


"It's an extraordinary environment," said Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer at the University of Washington and the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean in Seattle, U.S.


"You have molten lavas at 1,400{+0}C producing acidic fluids — the sulphur dioxide makes these fluids as acidic as pH 1.4 — and yet microbes are thriving," he told BBC News.


"The magmatic gases sustain and provide energy for microbial life, and then the microbes provide energy for the shrimp.


"We see them very close to the volcano — within metres." Dr. Resing has been describing the volcano's behaviour here at the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) Fall Meeting, the world's largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.




The West Mata submarine volcano is about nine km long and six km wide. The base is some three km down. Its setting is very close to the 10,000m-deep Tonga-Kermadec Trench. This is where the Pacific Tectonic Plate, which comprises much of the central ocean floor, dives under (subducted) the Australian Plate.


It is a key location for the recycling of rock back into the interior of the Earth and it is where molten material can also then force its way back up to the surface. The possible existence of the eruption was first identified in November 2008 through water samples recovered from the ocean that contained anomalously high levels of hydrogen and volcanic debris.


But it was not until a full scale expedition took place in May this year and Jason was able to go down and

investigate West Mata that scientists realised the magnificence of the discovery.



Jason, which is operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), moved to within 3 m of the erupting volcano. The vehicle's high-definition camera captured large molten lava bubbles about a metre across bursting into cold seawater, and it saw glowing red vents explosively ejecting lava into the sea.


It is said to be the first-observed advance of lava flows across the deep-ocean sea floor.


Jason's two robotic arms collected samples of rocks, hot spring waters, the microbes, and the shrimp. To find and study animal life in such a location was fascinating, said Tim Shank, a WHOI macro-biologist on the expedition.


"The animal life you see down there has evolved over millions of years to take advantage of the situation. Virtually every species down on the sea floor at vents has some sort of novel adaptation," he told reporters at the AGU meeting.


"Shrimp have modified eye forms, and modified claws to enable them to scrape certain types of bacteria. This is where fundamental planetary processes like eruptions meet life, so it has profound implications for me as a biologist looking at the evolution of life on this planet."


Researchers say the volcano is spewing boninite lavas, believed to be among the hottest erupting on Earth in modern times, and a type only seen before on extinct volcanoes older than a million years.


"Having a very fresh occurrence — it hasn't been altered by the ravages of time — and having a known date of eruption gives us the ability to study many different aspects of the rock, including radioactive tracers which will give us the rates of these processes — i.e. how long it takes for this recycling (at subduction zones) to occur."


The West Mata expedition was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate







There is probably no more critical biographical data about Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin than their dates of birth — 1972 and 1973. Had they been born 15 years earlier, they'd have arrived in the Microsoft age of computers, and users who were barely connected. Had they arrived 15 years later, someone else would already have figured out how to make sense of the internet.


Brin and Page came just in time to bring their key insight to the critical problem created by the internet: search and discovery — or, in the words of New York University's Professor Clay Shirky, "filter failure."


At the advent of the web, Yahoo quaintly believed it could use editors to catalogue all the content online, but quickly learned that that wouldn't scale, as we say these days. Google's founders realised they had to automate the task algorithmically, and they made a profoundly democratic decision to do that by listening to us, to our clicks and links, to find relevance.


Page and Brin are engineers — both PhD candidates in computer science who suspended their studies at Stanford to start Google — and so they approached the opportunity as scientists: first, find a problem and then seek solutions in data. That is how they run their company. Employees are told never to approach them without the data to support a recommendation.


Indeed, Brin and Page have made life for all of us more fact-based. Recall our habits before the search engine. How many questions were worth a trip to the library? Now, we expect answers on any subject — any need, curiosity, or conversation — in 0.3 seconds.


The ambition of the Google founders' mission — "to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" — is exceeded in scope only by the profound impact they have had on our world: on how we think, interact, manage and govern; on media, retail, education and the economy.



Media was the first industry to feel Google's impact because it is closest to the internet (both serve information and entertainment) and because the business model Google stumbled upon happens to be media's lifeblood: advertising.


Page and Brin also changed the laws of media by giving birth to the link economy, which replaces the content economy, in force for 570 years, since Guttenberg. In the link economy, value is made not only by those who create content but also by those who create a public for it: the aggregators and curators, such as Google itself, whom Rupert Murdoch and his team label as "parasites," "content kleptomaniacs," and "tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet." They refuse to understand that Google's links are gifts.


But just as the media have suffered trying to adapt to the Google age, so will almost every industry and sector of society. They must remake themselves for a new reality that Google understands because Page and Brin helped create it.


Google demands openness (even though its own algorithms and business deals are opaque). If you want to be found, you must be searchable. It also rewards specialisation: if you are the best at what you do, you will rise in search results over the mass of commodified mediocrity. That specialisation also creates efficiency. Do what you do best and link to the rest.

Contrary to common perception, Google does not own the world or want to. It only wants to organise it. Old industries and institutions were built around the notion of control and scarcity. Google is founded instead on belief in abundance.


As models for modern business managers, Brin and Page made their own rules. They decreed that engineers should spend 20 per cent of their time innovating. They put applicants through a grind of interviews to select those who will fit the culture, who will seek unusual solutions to problems. They release products as betas, which is a remarkable statement of humility and humanity, for it says to customers that this service is unfinished and imperfect; the beta label is necessarily an invitation to collaborate.


And, of course, Google's founders famously issued their edict to do no evil, although they have explained that this is less a commandment from the mountain-top than a licence to employees to question what the company does; to hold Google true to its mission.


We can only wish that these words — don't be evil — had been etched atop the doors of Wall Street and that just a few more people there had felt empowered to question what they saw.



Google has its sins and errors: its censorship of search results in China; its often hypocritical opaqueness; its occasional failure to recognise its own size and power — no matter how benevolent — as in its book scanning. And it has its virtues: Page and Brin devote 1 per cent of the company's equity and profits to philanthropic causes, including clean and cheap power (which will also benefit power-hungry Google's bottom line).


Some ask whether Page and Brin are one-trick ponies (well, two tricks: search and advertising). Others wonder whether Google might lose battles for the social web to Facebook, the live web to Twitter, and the mobile web to Apple.


Don't bet against them. To understand the power of Brin's and Page's focus, go to Google's home page now and type "weather in Ed" and stop there. Google will not only understand you want weather in Edinburgh but will give you the forecast right there in the search box; it will answer your question before you've even asked it. Google's true holy grail is understanding, anticipating, and serving our intent.


Google's next frontier is not to organise the world's information, but our lives. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









Given our colonial past, it is perhaps not surprising that we react quite badly to criticism from the West. However, it is not necessary, even wise, to constantly take umbrage.


The recent survey by the Pew Research Centre, an American think tank, has found that India is next only to Iraq when it comes to social hostility and religious discrimination. This may seem odd, seeing as how we are known for our plurality and our celebration of diversity.


Yet is it not also true that many of our prejudices are so deeply ingrained that we do not often even notice them?


The Pew Centre studied 198 countries and found that although countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have more restrictions on religious practices, the social hostility is not so high. This is an intriguing observation and could be best explained through the caste system.


Caste has been abolished since we adopted the Constitution on our first Republic Day. But caste-based biases are still practised across the country. These could be subtle — like different teacups for Dalit visitors in some homes — or outright violent — like families murdering young lovers for breaking caste barriers. Neither will be condoned by the law but that doesn't mean that they don't happen.


As with caste, so with religion: the relationship between the majority and minority religions in India remains fraught with mistrust and latent anger. While most days pass in an uneasy peace — often mistaken for "tolerance" — it sometimes only takes a minor spark to set off a huge conflagration. Again, the law promises equality in religious practice.


Are there any lessons to be learnt? It is not necessary to point out that American society has its own problems: of course it does. But the fact that incipient racism is still practised in the US does not absolve us of our caste or religious bigotry.


It is also true that each new generation in India sheds more and more of its historical baggage. Strides towards social progress and liberation have been made, some of them substantial.


When Mahatma dismissed Katherine Mayo's Mother India as a "drain inspector's report", he was outraged that she had reduced India to its parts rather than look at the sum. Yet, he had to acknowledge that the faults she pointed out also bothered him. We need to look at international assessments of ourselves with the maturity and good sense of a civilised society.











Karnataka assembly's joint house committee has submitted a report which is an indictment of the Bengaluru International Airport Ltd (BIAL), a public-private project (PPP) for its failure to create a facility which conforms to international standards. It has recommended that the private companies involved should be barred for the next five years from getting any state or central government contract.


The argument is twofold. First, the new airport fails to meet the needs of the passengers and that it charges Rs260 user charges from every passenger. The committee said that this charge should be scrapped. Secondly, it pointed that one of the partners Unique Zurich Airport sold its stake and made a huge profit in the bargain. The objection is not so much over making a profit but over the shoddy execution of the project.


The committee has felt that the private operators are exploiting the passengers because of the monopolist situation and it has asked for the reopening of the old Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) airport in the city so that there is competition. It has passed strictures against officials and non-official directors like Infosys mentor Narayana Murthy and BPL's Rajeev Chandrasekhar for lapses big and small in the project. All this is pretty stinging stuff.


On the face of it, the report is a healthy reaffirmation of the democratic overseeing of public, not just public sector, projects. The committee has come up with strong observations and recommendations. It is most likely that this report will be criticised by the market-friendly commentators as nothing more than political meddling in matters over which they have no expertise.


But it would be folly to dismiss this report as a political statement though it is not necessary to brush aside the fact that there could be lot of politics in it all. The project was initiated by an earlier Congress dispensation in the state.
The presupposition in this era of economic reforms has been that the public sector is incompetent and that private sector operators can do no wrong.


There is a need to correct this naïve view. The committee's report provides just that. The other positive aspect is the demand for quality, both in the construction of the airport and in the facilities that are being offered. This is something new and something good. The criticism of the committee could be faulted for inexactness on some counts by those scrutinising it closely, but there is no doubting the fact that this is the way to go.







The rejuvenation of the Bharatiya Janata Party according to the script elaborated by the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, has gone according to plan.


The 52-year-old Maharashtra BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, has taken over as the party president and LK Advani has

passed on the baton of opposition leader in the Lok Sabha to his deputy Sushma Swaraj although the position of chairman of the parliamentary party the 82-year old has now assumed has still to evolve.


And Gadkari, true to his image as Maharashtra's public works minister in the Sena-BJP government, has struck a positive can-do stance on assuming charge in Delhi, the only discordant note being his gum-chewing daughter at the take-over ceremony. Thus far, Bhagwat has reason to be pleased with his handiwork.


The problems for the BJP take on a new dimension because the central contradiction that has dogged the party all along is the umbilical cord that connects it to the RSS. True, the RSS is the BJP's recognised mentor but the former has tried to maintain some distance from the party so as not to be corrupted by power and to maintain the fiction of its cultural and civilisational vocation.


Traditionally, the RSS has cracked the whip when it has felt that the party has strayed too far. It had no compunction in stripping Advani of the party presidency after his controversial remarks on Jinnah in Pakistan. Advani, for his part, has publicly complained of RSS interference in the party's work. As the organisation that gives the BJP its ideological flavour and provides it key functionaries and all-important volunteers for elections, the RSS feels that it has the right to lay down the law on broader issues.


There is a built-in tension between the BJP and the Sangh and even the venerable AB Vajpayee had chafed at the RSS on one occasion. On balance, the two have tried to coexist because they need each other. The problem that will now arise is the need for Gadkari to prove that he is not a mere creature of the Sangh, having been catapulted from relative obscurity to the party presidency. Besides, the second rung party leaders in Delhi having been ostentatiously overlooked for the highest party office will be tempted to gang up against the newcomer.


Bhagwat's fault has been to broadcast his views on the age limit and provenance of the new party leader as widely as he did. He was right in suggesting that it was time for a generational change and that it would be wise to go outside the circle of politicians nurtured in the incestuous world of Delhi politics to find a new broom to sweep the party clean. But the quiet influence his predecessors exercised over party affairs was more effective precisely because it was not in the public domain.


A trait that could save Gadkari is his reputation of being a doer rather than a talker. If he were to involve himself in the minefield of "cultural nationalism", the credo of the Sangh, he would lose his political bearing. Indeed, his most difficult task will be to keep a distance from the RSS, particularly with an activist such as Bhagwat now at its helm.


Parties, like countries, live with contradictions and the demands of a national party seeking to return to power in Delhi are quite different from an organisation that calls itself cultural, harbouring the ambition of reordering the country's affairs and outlook. Building a temple at Ayodhya, the BJP's stepping stone to power in Delhi, is no longer an electoral vote-winner. The concept of cultural nationalism has waxed and waned with the compulsions of the party finding acceptance in a plural multi-religious society.

Gadkari will be judged by two benchmarks. Can he pay formal obeisance to the RSS while galvanising the party to pursue attainable pragmatic goals to enhance people's confidence in it? It is no secret that its second successive defeat in general elections and rather poor showing in assembly elections have scarred the BJP. Second, placing Hindutva on the front burner in accordance with RSS predilections would prove counter-productive simply because it evokes divisive concepts in the public mind.


In short, Bhagwat has achieved only part of his objective in securing the heads of Advani and party president Rajnath Singh. The more difficult task of letting his pick play a credible role as the party leader guided by the compulsions of returning to power and a larger vision for the country remains to be accomplished.







In the late 1990s, when India faced international ostracism following the Pokharan nuclear tests, BJP leader Jaswant Singh, one of Indian politics' most delightful raconteurs, explained the cynical mechanics of 'big power' geopolitics with an earthy metaphor.


Gaining admittance into the league of big powers was, he said, like jostling with a crowd to get into an unreserved railway compartment. You do whatever it takes to get in, whereas those inside want to keep you out; but once you're inside, your best interests are in ensuring that no one else gets in.


After the Copenhagen climate change conference, where India was among a handful of countries at a meeting that fashioned a political accord, the perception appears to be that India has made it into an exclusive club of global decision-makers, whereas large numbers of developing economies were still banging on the doors of the railway compartment. And that by standing alongside China, Brazil and South Africa to thwart US-led attempts to get developing economies to commit to legally binding and verifiable cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions, India had defended its interests.


Nothing could be farther from the truth. By being part of a political arrangement that effectively thwarted a more meaningful agreement at Copenhagen, India demonstrably failed to protect its interest, which lay in securing greater access to funds from developed countries for clean-energy initiatives. Access to those funds was to be made conditional on the fashioning of an internationally acceptable mechanism to verify and validate the emission reduction claims by developing countries.


The country that had the most to lose from such a verification mechanism was China, the largest recipient of funds from the UN-run Clean Development Mechanism, particularly given the widely shared scepticism over the authenticity of Chinese statistical data. This explains why China did its utmost at Copenhagen to thwart Barack Obama's extraordinary hands-on effort to secure agreement on legally binding, verifiable emission cuts all around.


In fact, it was to secure an alibi for itself that China hastily cobbled together an alliance with India, Brazil and South Africa last month ostensibly to represent the interests of developing economies. It came right after environment minister Jairam Ramesh went public with his stand that India should, in its own interest, agree to emission reduction targets. China was at that time in the middle of hectoring and harassing India over the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, but it paused long enough to send its minister to New Delhi to signal an 'Asian solidarity' on climate change issues — because it was in its interest.


With that agreement, and with the stalemate at Copenhagen, China's objectives have been well met. Status quo suits it just fine: it still has access to clean-energy funds, but isn't accountable on its emission reduction claims. On the other hand, a comprehensively outmanoeuvred India, which would have gained greater access to funds if there had been a more meaningful agreement at Copenhagen, is still banging on the door of the railway compartment.


At other levels too, India's negotiating position at Copenhagen, and the thought process that underlies it, put India squarely on the wrong side of climate change history. Its abidance by the Kyoto Protocol, which mandates emission cuts from developed countries (but not developing economies) may seem sound in principle, but it overlooks its meaninglessness in a polluted world where, going forward, it's the developing economies that will do much of the polluting.

China is already the world's leading polluter, with India not far behind; yet they claim unfettered right to 'development', although that right comes with an enormous environmental price tag that they will eventually have to pay.









Look at the unfairness of it all. A 13-year-old girl is molested by an IG. He harasses her and her family so much to withdraw the complaint that the girl is forced to commit suicide. The parents of her friend decide to take up cudgels on her behalf. Even they have to undergo untold hardship at the hands of the top cop, who rises to be the DGP of Haryana. Yet, they fight on regardless for full 19 years, and at the end of it all, the man who caused all this ruination, SPS Rathore, gets a jail term of only six months. The ultimate irony is that he will be out on bail while fighting on in higher courts. All that shows how difficult it is to stand up against the high and mighty. The minor six-month sentence that has been handed down to him is largely symbolic, in no way commensurate with the crime he committed. In fact, the culprit himself is a symbol of the degeneration in the police.


It is not only the culprit who misused his position. Many of those in the government helped him to the hilt. Unbelievable as it may sound, the FIR in the case could be filed only nine years after the incident and Rathore was charge-sheeted after a decade. This despite the fact that 15 days after the alleged molestation, an investigation conducted by the then DGP of the state, R R Singh, had concluded that the allegations were prima facie true. Rathore attributed this conclusion to a "grudge" that R R Singh held against him. Even the then Home Secretary J S Duggal wanted to initiate action against Rathore but the latter claimed that he too had a "grudge" against him.


All this while, Ruchika's family was systematically hounded. She was expelled from school without assigning any reason. Several cases of car theft were registered against her teenaged brother. Not being able to take all that anguish, she committed suicide. It is indeed a miracle that the parents of her friend Aradhana, Anand Prakash and Madhu, continued their struggle for justice all this while. As the brave man rightly points out, the battle has only started. It will end only when Rathore gets the right punishment and so do all those officials and politicians who shielded him.








Even before the dust could settle over the demand for a separate state of Telangana, in the East rumblings for Gorkhaland are getting louder. The fourth round of talks with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha ( GJM), however, ended on Monday in yet another stalemate, with the GJM deciding to resume the agitation and indefinite fast after Christmas. The agitation had been suspended for a few days at the request of the Union Home Secretary so as to create a conducive atmosphere for talks. But with the GJM refusing to discuss anything other than statehood at the meeting and then declaring, immediately after the meeting, the resumption of its agitation, indications are that things are back to square one. Still, bureaucrats representing the Union government and the West Bengal government seem to have made it clear that a political consensus was the first pre-requisite for statehood and that there was no such consensus at the moment. With the Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress, all opposed to any further division of Bengal, there is little or no possibility of a consensus.


While ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences from the rest of West Bengal, coupled with poor governance by the state government, are cited in support of the demand for statehood, the demand acquires greater sensitivity due to the proximity of the Darjeeling Hills to international borders as well as to the troubled North-East. Also, the proposed state is unlikely to be viable without the inclusion of some areas in the plains, where opinion over statehood is clearly divided. It is also feared that division of West Bengal would encourage fissiparous tendencies and destabilise the sensitive region. And yet it cannot be denied that the Gorkhas living in Darjeeling Hills seem to be alienated from what they describe as the 'colonial rule of West Bengal'. If Sikkim next door can develop dramatically, they have been arguing, statehood should be able to address their aspirations better.


While bureaucrats are good at buying time and deferring decisions, stonewalling the Morcha does not seem to be working. The better part of this year witnessed blockades, strikes and violence in Darjeeling Hills, where the administration took a back seat. Another year of agitation is in nobody's interest and a serious effort is needed to find a lasting solution to the emotive and vexed issue. Ad-hocism simply will not work.








With India fast emerging as a favoured destination for childless couples across the world, commercial surrogacy raises a host of moral, ethical as well as legal issues. More recently, even the Supreme Court has entered the debate. Hearing a petition filed by a German couple with regard to grant of Indian citizenship for their surrogate twins, it made pertinent queries. While the apex court bench has taken exception to the term industry, it has also questioned whether children born of surrogacy are being treated as commodities.


The issues related to surrogacy remain complex. Even the Law Commission has recommended to the Centre that legislation to regulate ART (assisted reproductive technology) as well as the rights and obligations of parties involved in surrogacy should be enacted. As of now, surrogacy arrangements are governed by individual contracts within parties in question. Often contentious concerns arise, especially those involving foreign couples. For many countries like Germany do not recognise surrogacy, thus leading to legal complications. Still, as the Supreme Court judgement in the Manji case proved, the legal environment in India remains favourable to surrogacy. Add to it the cost advantage that India has and surrogacy seems to be thriving, particularly in Anand in Gujarat that has come to be known as India's surrogacy centre. The country that is becoming a hub of fertility tourism cannot afford to put the interests of children as well as surrogate mothers at risk.


Indeed, while the court must come out with clear-cut guidelines that must go beyond the case in question, the Centre too must pass a comprehensive legislation that would regulate surrogate motherhood. Rights of not only children but also of surrogate mothers, many of whom are often exploited, have to be protected. The proposed ART Bill must resolve all conflicts and contradictions before it becomes law. Surrogacy laws have to take into account the whole gamut of concerns, including health risks to surrogate mothers, as a majority of them hail from underprivileged sections of society.









There is a disconcerting oddity about how we Indians react to certain situations. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in our attitude to bandhs.


 Think of an enemy who strains every nerve to cause chaos, disrupt production and fuel instability in India. He sends people across to engineer bomb blasts and strike terror. When he achieves the purpose, a political party or group organises a bandh "in protest", paralysing life and bringing economic activity to a standstill. Could the terrorist or his rogue sponsors have hoped for anything better?


Barring exceptions, those who organise bandhs and bring the wheels of development to a screeching halt are not the agents of terrorist outfits. They do have a political purpose, however, of showing their muscle and political relevance. In doing that, they deal the country's exchequer a huge blow, but who cares?


Bandhs are unique to India and in recent times are invariably characterised by virtual absence of governmental intervention, huge economic losses and appalling inconvenience to people.


The latest case in point is the events succeeding the in-principle nod by the Central government to the grant of statehood to Telangana. The midnight announcement in New Delhi was greeted by jubilation in the backward Telangana region but hostility in the coastal Andhra and Rayalseema regions.
 Major political parties and organisations opposed to a separate Telangana state got into huddles and the first thing they could think of was to give out a call for a bandh in both regions. With the state-run Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation buses going off the roads, shops, schools and colleges shut and normal life paralysed for days, the ordinary citizen was a harassed man.


 But even more grave were the repercussions for the state's economy with production in factories coming to a grinding halt and offices across the two regions in virtual paralysis. Ten days after the bandhs and strikes started, industry estimates were that the state was losing an estimated Rs 150 crore a day in terms of production.        
 About the same time, in faraway West Bengal, the demand to carve out a separate state of Gorkhaland got a new lease of life. Cadres of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha took to the streets in a 96-hour bandh, very proud at the end of it that they had brought normal life to a standstill.
 Sometime ago, West Bengal was shut down for four consecutive days as first CPM leader Prakash Karat and his cronies and then Mamata Banerjee and her coterie decided to call bandhs ahead of the two-day weekend.


Perhaps, influenced by the tactics of political leaders, this method of disrupting normal work and life is now spreading to far flung towns and villages too. Local leaders of all hues are realising the potential of the disruptive power at their command.


A couple of years ago, parts of the country, especially Rajasthan, were held hostage by the Gujjars agitating under the leadership of Colonel Bainsla. For weeks on end members of the community sat on rail tracks and major road routes to press for their inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe category.


Whatever may be the validity of their demands, it was shocking to see an administration standing by without intervening to restore order and clear the tracks so that trains may move again. It was a classic case of a government held to ransom by a community. Not only were people put to great inconvenience but also the economic loss from such action was disastrous.


 For us in India, it is difficult to imagine that there could be a country in the world where all protests are held during the lunch hour so that production does not suffer and work in offices is not affected. Japan is a shining example of exemplary sense of responsibility from which we have much to learn.


When the bandhs first began, there was a semblance of seriousness on the part of state governments to contain the fallout by providing protection to people and industry against lawless elements. Now, however, on the day of the bandh shopkeepers automatically down their shutters. A half-hearted attempt is made to run local trains and buses, but after a few incidents of stone throwing, they are promptly withdrawn. There is a celebratory atmosphere all around with children playing games and elders killing time in myriad other ways. By the evening, the organisers claim complete success, the state government takes credit that it has been peaceful and there is no action taken against the sponsors of the bandh.


Many years ago, a senior police officer once expressed his frustration to me that the police was hounded whatever it did — if it fired on rampaging mobs, it was hauled up for excesses, but if it allowed hoodlums to loot and burn it was pulled up for dereliction of duty.


Today, the policeman adopts the safe route — looking the other way, encouraging buses and autorickshaws not to run and shops to pull down their shutters.


Tourists getting stuck without transport and without any accommodation  at railway stations is disturbing enough, but even more serious is the chaos that is caused to the running of essential services like hospitals, banks, schools, BPO centres and small businesses. Perhaps, the worst hit are the daily wage earners. It is usually they who bear the brunt of the violence that marks such bandhs.


A most ominous development in recent times is the state-sponsored bandh. If the establishment which is supposed to prevent a bandh itself organises one for its political ends, who can the affected citisen turn to?


In October 2007 Tamil Nadu "shut down", thanks to a bandh called by the ruling DMK supremo and Chief Minister Karunanidhi to pressurise the Centre to expedite work on the controversial Sethusamudram project. It mattered little to the party or its leader that normal life was thrown out of gear, the common man who the party swears by was inconvenienced and work in state government offices was halted.


The Supreme Court, mercifully, stepped in, threatening to recommend the imposition of President's rule in the

state but it had only a momentary effect.


The judiciary, in fact, has been doing its bit to discourage bandhs. The first major judicial verdict against

bandhs came 12 years ago in 1997, when the Kerala High Court ruled in a landmark judgment that forced bandhs were illegal.


The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1998.


In 2002 the Supreme Court went a step further and declared all forced hartals illegal too.


In July 2004, the Bombay High Court told the Shiv Sena and the BJP to pay a fine of Rs 20 lakh each for organising a Mumbai bandh in July 2003 to protest against bomb blasts in the Ghatkopar locality. It was estimated that the bandh had cost the city Rs 50 crore.


In November the same year, the Calcutta High Court declared illegal and unconstitutional, the Bangla Bandh called by the Trinamool Congress. The court directed the party to withdraw the call and publish the decision in the media.


Last year, the Kerala High Court asked the Election Commission to deregister political parties calling bandhs.


A few months ago the Supreme Court took notice of the bandh called in Delhi on the Gujjar issue and described the government's inaction as a "national shame". The bandh cost the national capital region around Rs 700 crore.


Despite these judicial strictures, political parties have been organising bandhs from time to time with gay abandon.


Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court undid some of the good work it had done when it termed bandhs as legitimate means of expressing people's feelings in a democracy.


The stark change of stand looked even more so because of the fact that the fresh position was outlined by a Bench headed by Chief Justice of India K G Balakrishnan. In 1997, the CJI was part of the Kerala High Court Bench which gave the landmark anti-bandh judgment.


If this country is to move forward and have pride of place in the comity of nations, it is indeed imperative that bandhs as an instrument of political one-upmanship be banished. Nowhere in the world do governments tolerate such appallingly anti-national activity that hits production like a thunderbolt and causes untold suffering to people at large. We can ill afford to give democracy such a loose meaning that borders on chaos.








Who is not aware of the comfort and cosiness of a quilt popularly called Razai — a natural temptation and second skin for us all during winters. Size, smell, stink, shape, stuffing, softness, snugness, sensuousness and snooze is all that a Razai is.


Curled up like a baby in the folds of my velvety Razai, with the mercury dipping to 8 degrees, I was watching a programme on TV which dwelt on funny and silly laws. The anchor informed that in South Korea, it is a law that the cops shall inform the government on bribes given by motorists.


My heart almost missed a beat. No, not at the predicament of the cops, if such legislation was promulgated here, but at the thought of they levying taxes on use of Razais in India! I wrapped myself up a little tighter and began to weigh the pros and cons of the 'draconian Razai Tax'!


I visualised the Razai Tax raid on my house when the sleuths counted the "contraband" with us. "You are four of you in this house. How come you can afford to have a dozen Razais with you when the law permits one for each member?" R.T. Officer thundered while I sheepishly explained, "Sir, the extra ones are meant for the guests!"


"Ignorance of law is no excuse mister, aren't you aware that the new law envisages guests carrying their allotted Razais only with them?" an unconvinced R.T.Officer howled. "Couples and the 'like-minded' should go for a Razai-pool. India doesn't progress for the likes of you. None enjoys a Razai-luxury in the cold countries. Hence they are developed. You are the drones in the system —Razai-bugs! No work culture in India exists only because everyone, big or small, rich or poor, young or old, healthy or sick here is found slipping in the Razais at the first opportunity coming their way!"


Well, the Razai Tax could be levied prescribing various categories. The fibre and "shah-toosh" ones, besides the Jaipuris and those with velvet and satin covers, could be more heavily taxed than coarse cloth types. The size of a Razai could also be prescribed. The freshly cotton-ginned could have a moderate levy.


I pondered on the Razai Tax Department being always lapped up by governments as the "most revenue generating one". Officers would opt for plum postings here while the civil services aspirants would opt for RTD as their first choice. The department's mission statement could be "Quit-Quilt for India's Development" and its official business could be transacted only in the sun.


There could also be a Razai-Smelling Cell in the RTD to assess "appropriate use" of Razais. The cell's recommendations on "smell forensics" could determine the quality control of Razai manufacturing industry.


Suddenly I felt my Razai being taken off by wife at 9 that day, who said, "The only way to make people like you do some productive work is to levy a tax on Razais". And I said, "Just half an hour more darling, please!"


A couplet to conclude:

Khuda kare ke tumko judai na mileKabhi bhi aisee tanhai na mileMujhe na chaho to kuchh aisa ho
Mausam ho sardi ka aur tumko razai na mile!








The myth of the invincibility of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in its South Waziristan stronghold has been busted by the Pakistan army. However, Operation Rah-e-Nijat (path to salvation or deliverance), launched in mid-October 2009 in South Waziristan, has yielded only limited success. The army and the paramilitary forces are also carrying out an operation against militants in the Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram tribal regions.


The centre of gravity of the TTP's sway over South Waziristan lies along the triangular hub of Makeen, Ladha-Kaniguram and Sararogha. These frontier townships were surrounded by the Pakistan army but proved hard to capture for almost two months. Prime Minister Gilani announced on December 13, 2009, that South Waziristan had been cleared but operations would continue.


Most of the TTP cadres have melted away into the mountains to fight another day. Hakimullah Mehsud and other TTP commanders are reported to have sought sanctuary in North Waziristan and Orakzai.


The Pakistan army had begun the offensive operations in South Waziristan after several months of preparation on October 17, 2009. Approximately 30,000 troops of 7 and 9 Infantry Divisions of 11 Corps, based at Peshawar, were employed for the operation. They were provided ancillary support by about 5,000 personnel of the Frontier Corps, a para-military border guarding force.


Conventional military operations with massive artillery and air support were launched from three directions simultaneously, with 7 Infantry Division moving south from Razmak and 9 Infantry Division moving along two axes — north-west from Jandola and north-east from Wana and Shakai.


In the classical mountain warfare fashion, the advancing columns first secured the hills overlooking the towns located in the valleys and then surrounded the townships.


Initially, the Taliban fighters — numbering about 10,000 — offered stiff resistance and there was fierce fighting along all three avenues of advance. In fact, the Taliban even recaptured Kotkai from the Pakistan army, but failed to hold on to the town for long.


Subsequently, they retreated to the hills and adopted guerrilla tactics, launching hit-and-run raids when they could. They also resorted to the extensive use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to blow up army vehicles and cause casualties.


The army claims to have killed about 500 Taliban fighters and admits to having lost 50 soldiers. The Taliban says that only 11 of its fighters have been killed and claims to have inflicted 'scores' of casualties on the army.


As media access has been denied by the army, the rival claims cannot be verified. About 3,30,000 Pushtun civilians have joined the swelling ranks of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan.


The US and NATO/ISAF forces have been proactively engaged in sealing the border and launching supporting missile strikes from drones against suspected TTP hideouts. In order to avoid having to fight the other militant groups that are active in the area, the Pakistan army has apparently done a deal with them.


These groups are led by Mullah Nazir, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Hafiz Gul Bahadur and together include 30,000 fighters. Another 500 to 5,000 foreign fighters — mostly from the al-Qaeda backed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan — are waiting in the wings to see which way the fight will turn. They might well join the scrap and spoil the party.


This is not the first time that the Pakistan army has launched military operations in South Waziristan. In 2004, the Pakistan army offensive had been beaten back with heavy casualties. In 2008, the army hastily entered into a peace agreement with the Taliban as it was ill-prepared to conduct operations effectively.


Even now the Pakistan army was extremely reluctant to launch active offensive operations against the TTP for fear of alienating the Pushtuns who comprise approximately 25 per cent of the army, but the recent attacks in Punjab — including on the General HQ at Rawalpindi — and intense US pressure forced it to act decisively.


Pakistan's Muslim troops detest the idea of fighting fellow Muslims who they were told were 'strategic assets' till recently in what is seen as the US war against Muslims. In previous years there were many cases of desertion and refusal to obey orders and if the fighting in South Waziristan continues much longer, cases of insubordination are likely to be repeated in large numbers.


Creeping Talibanisation is a threat that is common to all countries in the Indian subcontinent. The Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates have already reached across the Indus river and have begun to consolidate their bases around Bahawalpur in southern Punjab.


If the spread of radical extremism remains unchecked, there is no way it can be prevented from creeping across the Radcliff Line into northern India. Hence, the Pakistan army's fight against the Taliban is in many ways India's war as well and is worthy of India's support.


The difficulty in offering support is that some perverted elements in Pakistan's establishment have chosen to accuse India of supporting the TTP. Nothing could be more ridiculous. Would India support a virulent radical organisation that it considers a long-term threat? And, would the TTP, that had offered to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pakistan army against India in case there was a war following the Mumbai terror attacks, accept Indian support?


It will soon snow on the hill ranges of South Waziristan, making further military operations difficult. It will also be a challenge for the Pakistan army to hold on tenaciously to the areas that it has liberated as the TTP fighters will be able to exploit the terrain to launch raids into army encampments at a point and time of their choosing. The army will also need to soon decide whether to carry the fight further into North Waziristan or to hold back and launch a spring offensive.


Alternatively, the army might claim that all its objectives have been achieved, enter into a cease-fire agreement with the so-called 'good Taliban' and gradually hand the area back to the Mehsud tribes to run on their own — after extracting a promise that the TTP will not be allowed to return.


In either case, the prognosis looks grim and the Af-Pak region is in for a long period of instability. The US and its NATO/ ISAF allies and the regional powers — the Central Asian Republics, China, India, Iran and Russia — must work together cooperatively for long-term peace and stability in the Af-Pak region — now the world's most dangerous flashpoint.


The writer is the Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi








During Sudan's half-century of independence, few spots on Earth have witnessed as much death and destruction, with 2 1/2 million war-related fatalities during the past two decades alone. Although the Darfur genocide that began in 2003 is only one of the conflicts raging in the country, they all stem from the same cause: the abuse of power. The ruling party represses independent voices and supports militias that have used genocide, child soldiers and rape as weapons of war.


Sudan faces a critical new year, with an unfree election coming in April and a referendum on the independence of the south the following January — tripwires that could provoke a return to full-scale war. In Washington, meanwhile, few challenges have produced a greater chasm between words and deeds. A first step toward closing that gap is debunking the myths about Sudan that persist among policymakers, diplomats and the public:


The genocide in Darfur is largely over


1 Because the regime's mass burning of villages in Darfur has ended and mortality rates have plummeted, some have concluded that the worst is done. African Union officials have even claimed that the war in Darfur is over, while Scott Gration, President Obama's special envoy for Sudan, referred in June to the ongoing violence in Darfur as "remnants of genocide." But the government is blocking all independent avenues of reporting, so there is no way to know the level of targeted violence or its perpetrators.


For example, mass rape is one of the main weapons of genocide, and there is ample anecdotal evidence that it is still occurring in Darfur. But in March the regime expelled over a dozen nongovernmental organizations, many of which provided support and protection for survivors of rape, so there no longer is any systematic reporting of sexual assaults.


China's oil investments in Sudan keep it from pressuring the government


2 China, which has invested more than $9 billion during the past decade in Sudan's oil sector, has provided weapons to the regime and run interference for it at the U.N. Security Council. Major international efforts to pressure Beijing to play a more constructive role have fallen on deaf ears. However, the game could change. If the 2005 peace deal between Sudan's north and south collapses and southerners go back to war, their first targets will be Chinese oil installations in the north. China, therefore, has a vested interest in peace and security. Following up on Obama's trip to China, Washington and Beijing could partner in a diplomatic "surge" to end the conflict in Darfur and prevent a recurrence of war in the south.


Pressure on Sudan hasn't worked, so let's try incentives


3 Obama administration officials and international diplomats often argue that all available pressures aimed at the regime — including sanctions, embargoes and diplomatic isolation — have failed, so it's time to use carrots rather than sticks. Gration, the presidential envoy, told The Washington Post that "kids, countries — they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk." Yet, in the 20 years since the regime in Khartoum came to power, it has compromised only in response to the threat or application of meaningful pressure from abroad, such as when it expelled Osama bin Laden from the sanctuary it was providing, stopped supporting slave-raiding militias in the south and struck a peace deal with southern rebels. There are plenty more pressure tactics that could be deployed through the Security Council or other coalitions, such as tightening the asset freezes on the ruling party's nouveau riche leaders, providing greater support to the International Criminal Court's cases against Sudanese officials, denying the regime debt relief and expanding the five-year-old U.N. arms embargo.


Indicting President Bashir hurt peace efforts


4 This one would be funny if it weren't so sad. First of all, the peace process in Darfur was moribund long before the International Criminal Court indicted Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March for crimes against humanity. Second, it is precisely because there has been no accountability for such crimes that the violence continues. Third, internal divisions are emerging within the regime, as other high-ranking officials worry that they might be the next ones accused. In reality, the indictment against Bashir has given the international community real leverage to move peace efforts forward.


Since seizing power in a 1989 coup, Bashir has ruled despotically and has demonstrated a willingness to maintain power by any means necessary, including authorizing genocidal war tactics. No plan exists to execute the ICC arrest warrant as long as he remains president, and he appears to be the ruling-party candidate for the April election. But unless there are consequences for the crimes of his regime, the atrocities will continue.


In short, the new administration, which includes several officials with a track record of calling for real action on Sudan, is missing huge opportunities to help break the deadly cycle of conflict.


— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








I joined Los Angeles' rainwater harvesting program in October, when fierce Santa Ana winds made the notion of any rain, not to mention enough to "harvest," seem fanciful to say the least. But last week's glorious pelting rains filled my new storage barrel to the brim, along with those of several of my Mar Vista neighbors on the west side of Los Angeles.


My rain barrel, which looks like a plastic beer keg, sits under our kitchen window, so as my morning coffee dripped last Monday, I watched runoff trickle in. Still in my pajamas, I padded outside to test the spigot at the bottom of the barrel; sure enough, out spurted a jet of water.


The next morning, I filled a watering can and gave my houseplants a drink of rainwater. This is truly the stuff of suburban drama.


My 55-gallon barrel won't change the world, or even affect our household water consumption all that much, assuming we use the Metropolitan Water District average of 171 gallons a day to shower, wash clothes and dishes, and water our lawns.


But in California, where there's little doubt we're in a years-long drought, even small steps make a difference. After Los Angeles residents obediently turned off sprinklers except on Mondays and Thursdays, water use plunged to an 18-year low, according to Department of Water and Power officials.


Our little rain barrel, of course, is a bit player in the municipal water production.


The harvesting project is funded by a bond that state voters passed in 2000 to curb storm runoff. Locally, the Bureau of Sanitation has a pilot effort in Mar Vista and other communities of L.A.'s west side that feed into the Ballona Creek watershed.


I received an invitation by mail to get one of the initial 600 barrels last summer. The eight-page application form included waivers to sign absolving the city of liability and questions about my home's gutters (you need them to participate).


Bond funds paid for the recycled barrels -- they once stored pickles, olives or syrup -- and for the private contractor who repositioned the downspout outside our kitchen and set the keg underneath. My total cost was $14 -- for the two cinder blocks on which the barrel sits.


"We're off the grid," I tell my husband every summer when our backyard tomatoes ripen or I'm able to cobble together a fruit salad from our spindly peach and plum trees. The line has become a standing joke between us because, of course, we're still very much on the grid.


Yet while the bitterness, distrust and one-upmanship in Washington make it easy to believe we are incapable of significant positive change, even in the face of looming climate catastrophe, our little bit does make a difference. I'll plant sweet peas along the fence near the kitchen again this spring -- and water them by attaching a hose to the spigot on my barrel.


In Congress, serious discussion of emissions caps, fewer coal-fired plants and more power from solar and wind -- among the obvious policy steps -- is stalled amid screeching over "socialized" medicine, illegal immigrants and whether the president should have bowed to another head of state.


— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








A twenty five per cent share of the Government of Assam's (GOA) revenues will now go to the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). This will mean that during the period 2007-11 PRIs and ULBs will get Rs. 3,164.10 crore as devolution, Rs. 258.26 crore as additional devolution and Rs. 593.46 crores as grants-in-aid. The total amount to be thus transferred is Rs. 4015.82 crore which is quite large. This is a revolutionary step because such devolution of resources never happened in Assam in the past and also because a total of 2479 PRIs and ULBs will get their respective shares in accordance with certain principles and criteria adopted for equitable distribution. This has been made possible by the award of the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) under the chairmanship of the former Assam Chief Secretary H.N. Das. In fact, TASFC submitted its voluminous 546 page report on March 27, 2008. GOA took more than 20 months to get it examined by a cabinet committee. Thereafter, the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi laid the report on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly indicating GOA's acceptance of most of the recommendations. This was December 11, 2009. An explanatory Memorandum on Action Taken, as required under Articles 243-I(4) and 243-Y-(2) of the Indian Constitution, was also annexed. PRIs and ULBs will now get sufficient funds for their non-plan expenditure to run the delivery system. This rejuvenation of the delivery system can be expected to expedite implementation of Plan projects, schemes and programmes. PRIs and ULBs will get these amounts out of the devolution of Rs. 3164.10 crore. The additional devolutions of Rs. 258.26 crore are for payment of salaries to the staff of District Rural Development Agencies (DRDA) to be transferred to Zilla Parishad (ZP) and those of the Development Blocks to be transferred to Anchalik Panchayats (AP). The grants-in-aid of Rs. 593.46 crore are for specific purposes including arrear salaires of Gaon Panchayat (GP) secretaries, training of PRI and ULB functionaries etc.

TASFC has done a commendable job in allocating funds to all PRIs and ULBs. It has identified some of the urgent requirements of citizens, specially in the urban areas where tremendous growth of population has taken place in the past 2/3 decades mainly due to immigration of people from the nearby villages in search of a better life and particularly for employment. In respect of the rural areas TASFC has made a survey and has obtained the details of 'felt needs' from ZPs, APs and GPs. The total amount required to fulfil these felt needs has been estimated at Rs 16,273 crore. Added to this will be another amount of Rs. 887.67 crore for ULBs. These figures look astronomical. TASFC recommended that a High Power Committee should be appointed to scrutinise these felt needs. GOA accepted this recommendation with the rider that "felt needs to be met from devolution." In reality this may not be possible and GOA may have to allocate more funds from the Plan heads. Much will depend on the Finance Department of GOA's goodwill and sincerity in sanctioning and releasing funds in time. In the past delay and non-release of funds had smothered many a good intention. This should not happen in the case of devolution made by TASFC. GOA should make democratic decentralisation possible by financial empowerment of PRIs and ULBs and thus usher in an era of grass roots development.






The dots were always there, now they are getting connected to form a picture of serious concern. Pollution levels in Assam are rising and along with it incidence of diseases associated with various pollutants. Across the State, once known for low emissions, toxic elements are beginning to foul the atmosphere, soil and water. Not surprisingly the cases of maladies like respiratory disorders, skin ailments, and even cancer are witnessing a steady climb. A recent study conducted by the Department of TB and Respiratory Medicine has affirmed that parts of the State have two per cent of their people suffering from some form of allergies. The number of cases is considerable in rural areas as well as in urban pockets, proving that pollution has not spared anyone even though their physical locations could be quite different. Those acquainted with the study have appropriately pointed to the need for better control over pollution, and especially vehicular emission, which is a source of pollution in a state where industrial pollution is relatively low. Some time back, this newspaper also carried reports about the high incidence of cancer in Kamrup Urban area, which could have connections with the increase in pollution.

Experts in air pollution observe that the State is under siege from lax implementation of pollution laws. Although the Pollution Control Board and the Transport Department have the mandate to monitor and take action, both have been found wanting in acting against polluters. The latter has failed in monitoring emission from old vehicles which continue to ply on the State's roads. Over loaded goods carriers, poorly maintained vehicles, ignorant drivers continue to multiply, contributing to rising pollution near arterial roads, and even amid densely populated urban areas. In such a backdrop, with the Government departments proving their ineptness, the people are left to suffer. Diseases from pollution could be chronic, and also lead to death and thus the human and economic cost is immense. The tragedy is that due to apathy a large section of the poor, the aged and the young are among the worst sufferers. Especially in remote areas, deaths due to pollution related factors go mostly unreported. It is time the Government took the issue seriously and planned interventions to confront the very real challenge. Otherwise, a situation is not far off when the magnitude of the problem would be too large for interventions to be really effective.







Who represents the people's interest of Assam – the ULFA or the Indian State? Is ULFA a gang of criminals? Is the issue of sovereignty merely confined to territorial integrity? Will the Central government learn a lesson from its trajectory of debacles in India's North-East in its mission of nation-building and national integration? Will ULFA define what does it mean by 'sovereignty' and how does it converge with the substantive interests of the common masses? What does the confession of ULFA C-in-C Paresh Baruah regarding the killing of the children in Dhemaji on the Independence Day five years ago mean in terms of the organisation's revolutionary ethics? Which territory will be the sovereign homeland of Assam – the entire state of present day Assam or the territory to be left out by all ethnic groups, who are already struggling either for sovereign homeland or separate State and also the Barak valley? How do we define a murder – people gunned down by an insurgent group or people being pushed to the death bed through malnutrition, poverty and deprivation from food and health care etc or the both?

These are some of the questions in people's mind regarding both ULFA and the Central government. The government endeavours to measure its legitimacy through many ways, but mainly through the election. In terms of people's participation in the elections in the recent decades the Indian State continues to be a legitimate entity in the State of Assam. Barring its electoral legitimacy, the lndian State continues to indulge in many illegitimate acts. For example, the Central government is not at all legitimate to pursue a path of development that coerces the people and invites people's wrath. The commissioning of around 168 river dams in North-East India with an aim to generate more than 50,000 megawat electricity has created uproar in the region. There has been strong people's resistance in all parts of the region. The Indian Sate has invested in crores for this. There have been allegation that the Indian Sate has even resorted to Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to suppress the non-violent people's movements against the construction of these dams. On the other, the government has moved ahead with either closing down many public sector units or refused to patronize many public institutions like the state Universities in Assam in the pretext of paucity of fund. What kind of policy is this? People are not asking for river dams, but government is investing in it. People are asking for more public funds in the educational institutions like state Universities, but the government is refusing to do so. Is it the representation of people's interest? The Union government spends almost 20 per cent of its total budgetary allocation for defence and only around 2 per cent in health sector. Does it go along with the common people's interest? The government argues that the pubiic institutions either should cut down its expenses or generate its own revenue for sustenance. However, the Chief Minister uses the whole Kainadhara hill top as his residence, which is otherwise the state guest house. Does it enhance the people's interest? The State government has acknowledged that the NREGA has been a failure in terms of implementation and bringing benefits to the common masses. Has any action been taken against the concerned minister or the top bureaucrats? The roads are often been blocked when the VIPs move creating huge traffic jam. In one instance a person died in a hospital in Haryana due to security arrangement of the Prime Minister of India. Many more people must have died due to such arrangements. Who will take account and also responsibility of these deaths? To be precise, although the Indian State sustains its electoral legitimacy, however, the policies pursued have often been anti people.

What about ULFA? ULFA is of course a product of historical circumstances. It did not emerge out of vacuum. There had always been a deep sense of deprivation among the people of Assam. The Cabinet Mission Proposal (1945), which was almost accepted by the Indian National Congress created an outrage in Assam and the Assam Provincial Congress Committee (APCC) took the leadership while fighting against the Mission proposal. The issue of rehabilitation of refugees in the State after partition generated debates between the Union Government and that of the State government just after independence. People in the State had to resort to mass movements even for a refinery and bridges over the Brahmaputra. All these had provided a legitimate ground both for the emergence of Assam movement and also ULFA. Now, thirty years have elapsed. The outcomes of the Assam movement had betrayed the people's cause. ULFA has been claiming that it represents the greater interest of the people. However, how does it know that it represents the people's interest? Has it ever conducted any survey in this regard? Did people of Assam allow ULFA to indulge in Bangladesh politics and to ally with the forces of fundamentalism? Did people of Assam allow them to kill the children in Dhemaji? Have people of Assam ever accepted the fact that it wants to be a sovereign State? Have people of Assam ever permitted ULFA to kill Sanjay Ghosh and others? Even if sovereignty is granted, will Assam be a military State or a democratic State? Are the people of Assam really ready to be the subjects of the ULFA C-in-C Paresh Baruah?

Precisely, for the common masses, both the government and ULFA are not its true representatives. Both have victimized the people. However, ULFA continues to sustain some sympathy due to the anti-people policies. So, it will be foolish on the part of the government to think that ULFA can be ousted through military might. If that is the fact, what can be the alternative? For the common masses peace is the highest goal that they have been longing for. None of us want to lose any of our close or distant relatives in the market in bomb blasts. None of us want to be tortured by the military in the pretext of security raids and get our sisters and mothers raped and molested. But, at the same time majority of the people in Assam do not really want to be completely cut off from "India".

Both the government and ULFA should internalize this people's pulse. We do not want to be hostage either to the government or to ULFA. We have been longing for peace and also fulfilment of our legitimate rights for decades together. So, the 'war' between ULFA and the government should come to an end at the earliest. ULFA and the government should immediately start a political dialogue. It should be unconditional as it is the only condition which will facilitate the process of dialogue.

However, such a dialogue should result in substantive outcomes. Therefore, both ULFA and the government should have alternative agenda in hand to replace the issue of sovereignty. The agenda must be in the interest of the common masses and it should not end up with political rehabilitation of the ULFA leadership and its cadres as it continues to be the case with all agreements with the insurgent groups in the region. Most important issue for North-East in general and Assam in particular is the radical reform in the federal structure of the Indian polity. The people of the region be given the maximum autonomy to have control over its resources. Let the Planning Commission not impose 'development' on us that facilitates the exploitation of our resources. Let all disparity between the Central government institutions/offices and employees and that of the State government institutions/offices and employees be done away with.

There can be more. While such a dialogue is the most sought after thing in the State today, however, both the government and ULFA should keep in mind that 'Assam' is no longer the exclusive homeland of any particular community. It is a shared homeland. And for that, both the parties be sensitive and prepared to address the concerns of all those communities whenever such a political dialogue starts. Otherwise there will be political backlashes resulting in more conflict and violence.

(The writer is a Reader in Peace and Conflict Studies, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University.)







Politics of ethnicity in Assam finds itself in a boil with the Central Government's sudden announcement about bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to form a new state - Telangana. The announcement was made on the midnight of December 9, 2009 by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram after talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The critical announcement has led to instant reverberations with widespread demands by different ethnic communities for separate statehoods in the Northeast, North Bengal and elsewhere.

Till the Telangana announcement was made, most of the ethnic groups seeking homeland in states like Assam seemed to be content with their existing autonomous status or have been agitating to press for greater autonomy. But the Congress-led UPA government's decision regarding the formation of Telangana has entirely changed the situation. The move has acted like a spark to reignite and strengthen the aspirations of different ethnic groups or organizations in Assam, if not the common ethnic people. Take the case of Jharkhand: after Jharkhand became a State, it is the State's political leadership rather than the common people who were benefited by the sudden claim to power and central funds. Corruption became the buzzword in Jharkhand, but that's another story.

Now, in Assam, student groups representing different ethnic communities, pro-talk factions of several ethnic insurgent groups, ethnic allies of the Congress-led government in the State, and even tribal MPs from the ruling Congress itself, have raised demands for separate states to be curved out of Assam. Groups and organizations have come to the street raising their voices for their respective homeland dreams, many parts of the State has been paralyzed by bandhs called by them for the support of their demands. Dimasa bodies like the All Dimasa Students' Union (ADSU), Dimasa People's Council (DPC) and Dimasa Mahila Samaj (DMS), called a 36-hour Dimaraji bandh covering NC Hills including, Karbi Anglong and parts of Nagaon and Cachar districts with effect from 5 am of December 15. The CPI (ML) called a 12-hour Karbi Anglong and NC Hills bandh from 5 am on December 14 demanding an autonomous State.

The Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) too called a 60-hour NC Hills and Karbi Anglong bandh from 5 am of December 15 demanding implementation of Article 244(A) relating to autonomous Statehood. Again, four other Karbi bodies led by the Karbi Students' Association (KSA) also called a 24-hour Karbi Anglong bandh from 5 am of December 24 demanding autonomous State, the United Democratic People's Front (UDPF), a Bodo front, called a 24-hour Assam bandh from 5 am of December 15 demanding a separate Bodoland State. The Indigenous Tribal People's Federation (ITPF) extended its support to the UDPF bandh. So, the statehood demand in Assam has turned into a chorus. The statehood bandwagon continued with the Koch Rajbongshis demanding a separate Kamatapur State. About nine Koch Rajbongshi organizations of Assam and West Bengal announced several agitation programmes (fast unto death, mass rallies, etc.).

Not just student and political groups, even insurgent groups seeking to push the interests of these ethnic communities have found fodder to press for achievement of their respective goals. Thus, the pro-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) demands a separate Bodoland state, the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) has upped the ante for a Dimaraji State, the Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KNLF) finds no reason why a separate Karbi homeland cannot now be granted, and the Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) hopes to achieve a Kamatapur homeland.

Coinciding with the Telangana episode, an eight-member delegation of Congress leaders led by MP Biren Singh Engti visited New Delhi and called on UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi demanding an autonomous State. While Rajya Sabha MP Biswajit Daimary raised the demand in the Upper House on December 10, Karnendu Basumatry, legislator of Bodo Peoples Front (BPF), a partner in ruling coalition in Assam, placed the matter of creation of separate Bodoland in the State Assembly on December 11. "If the government could grant a separate state to Jharkhand, Uttarkhand, Chattisgarh and now Telengana, then in the same line, Bodoland separate state demand has been a long standing demand. It's genuine economically, socially, politically, educationally, and can make our community more advanced," said K Basumatary, Chief Whip, Bodoland People's Front in support of the demand.

There is no doubt that the Centre's Telangana strategy is definitely going to make a tremendous impact on the State politics with challenges for the ruling Congress in view of the coming Assembly Elections scheduled for 2011. If the Congress has been expecting a sweeping victory in the Assembly polls for the third time, the current issue of statehood demands by numbers of ethnic groups is going to pose as a major challenge for the party. It is to be seen in what way the Government addresses the issue: as during elections, the Congress party often claims itself as a national party with a regional face. However, both the ruling party and the opposition AGP rejected demands for carving out separate States in the State Assembly on December 11.

It is true that every ethnic group in Assam has their own aspirations and demands. And if all demands for statehood or autonomy are granted, Assam will no longer be a cohesive entity. Pro-talk ULFA leader Mrinal Hazarika thinks that regional federation could be a solution, and if that is not given secessionist tendencies can develop. But what kind of a regional federation it could be? It is also interesting as to why the rebel ULFA group is silent in this case. After all where will they find the territory they are fighting for, i.e., a 'sovereign' Assam.

The demand for statehoods in Assam gained momentum overnight at a time when prospects for peace brightened with the possibility of a solution of the militancy problem. Earlier agitations for a separate Bodoland state resulted in an agreement between the Indian Government, the Assam Government and the then Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) paving the way for the creation of Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD). The rebel NDFB is still demanding a 'sovereign' Bodoland. Now politics of Bodoland is going to create enough trouble in the overall State politics. At the same time there is high possibility that agitations and rebellions demanding statehood will unleash fresh turmoil in Assam in the near future.

(The writer is Research Associate, Centre for Development & Peace Studies, Guwahati)






Santa Claus is usually a worried man in the days leading to Christmas, what with a population explosion throwing all his calculations out of gear and rising aspirations setting his gifts budget askew. Add to all this the fear that his staffing and logistics are woefully inadequate now given the current demand and expanding distances, Santa doesn't have much time for banter. It is estimated that there are 2 billion Christians, adhering to some 38,000 denominations and sects world-wide.

At least one third of these would be children, waiting for a nocturnal visit and presents from a certain red-kitted, white-bearded, pot-bellied gent. That adds up to 670 million-odd kids, give or take a few million, thanks to unbelievers on the one hand and cultural converts on the other. To fulfil his order-book commitments, it is not unlikely that he now lines up alternative labour forces, on the off-chance his weary elves may decide that a gruelling 24 X 7 X 364 schedule, century-in-century-out, is unacceptable.

He may look at more efficient methods of delivery for his goodies too. It's a wonder that the authorities in Finland (his supposed headquarters) have not cracked down on him already for violating animal health and safety regulations when it comes to reindeer, as it is obvious that his current team of antlered quadrupeds has expanded considerably from the cutely named characters popularly quoted in Christmas carols, red-nosed or otherwise.

Feeding and maintaining a few million of them, given the tonnes of gifts that now need to be carted world-wide, for their once-a-year jaunt must be a considerable drain on Santa Claus' finances.

If it wasn't for the eagle-eye of climate change crusaders and the lack of appropriate landing strips in key Third World destinations, Santa probably would have traded in his jingle-belled sleigh for a wet-leased fleet of Boeing 747s long ago. Yet every year, he gets there in time for the kids, with bags laden and a jolly 'Ho! Ho! Ho!" What's the magic mantra? Faith, of course!







Three incidents this month have exposed the socio-political and juridical grey areas that allow crimes against women to be either condoned or denied requisite justice. First, the Supreme Court (SC) commuted the death sentence of two brothers in an inter-caste marriage 'honour killing' to 25 years imprisonment.

Then, a Rajya Sabha MP from Goa did nothing short of shifting the blame for rape onto the victim by suggesting that rape charges against women who 'move around' with men after midnight should be 'treated differently'. And on Monday, an incredible 19 years after molesting a minor, former DGP of Haryana S P S Rathore was handed a sentence of a mere six months.

Read together, that is enough to ridicule all the tall claims made on behalf of our polity. It is clear that despite the presence of pertinent laws, crimes against women are rife in the country, and precisely because much of these are rooted in patriarchal social conceptions, there is even greater need for the full force of a remedial legal process to be brought to bear against the perpetrators of such crimes.

In that context, it is perhaps the SC's commuting of the sentence that is most disturbing. Indeed, the SC actually accepted the warped logic of caste considerations as a 'relevant social issue' while dealing with a case which, in essence, involves planned murder. And by doing so, it ended up reinforcing the same regressive social practices which go against every law in the land.

It is those same conceptions, or rather lack thereof, of gender equality, female freedom and 'morality' that allowed the Goa minister to suggest what he did. Changing such mores may be a long-term social process, but that can only be aided by a comprehensive, even zealous, application of the law when such patriarchal 'moral principles' translate, inevitably, into forms of violence against women.

Virtually condoning an honour killing is one aspect of the failure on that front, and allowing a molester in a position of authority, like the former DGP, to abuse his position to delay even this half-baked justice is another. A society can often be better encapsulated by its failings.






THE policy on third generation (3G) telecom services coagulates at a pace that would have been called slow before Samuel Morse invented the telegraph. Auctions to choose four licensees (in addition to one state-owned operator per circle) will be held in January and spectrum allocated in August, provided Defence is in possession of an alternate communication network by then and is ready to vacate spectrum. ( Watch )

This is very iffy, and so the actual commencement of service might be only in 2011. Clearly, the government's focus is on the money it would receive from the auction for 3G licences, rather than the services themselves. This is pitiful myopia, considering the transformational potential that wireless broadband holds for rural India.

Even for this shortsighted goal of mopping up revenue upfront, the current policy is pitiful. What the government has to offer a 3G auction winner is a tiny chunk of spectrum — 5 MHz. This spells commercial disaster for any new player entering India's telecom space through the 3G door. The new 3G licensee will have to shell out Rs 1,650 crore for a universal access licence (UAL), under which existing players offer 2G voice and data services.

But while the incumbents got 2G spectrum along with a UAL, the new 3G licensee will have to join the existing long queue of spectrum supplicants, even after shelling out Rs 1,650 crore. Without 2G spectrum, only those with 3G handsets will be able to access even pure voice services on the 3G network of a new entrant. Such skewed economics of the new 3G licence would keep out new, foreign players, and depress auction proceeds. But without spectrum to allocate, what can the government do? It can do a couple of things.

One, it can change the rules on telecom mergers, and allow for consolidation and buy-out of existing operators by a new player. Two, the government can allow spectrum sharing. The non-linear increase in spectrum fees when the size of allocated spectrum grows complicates spectrum sharing, and can be dispensed with. Perhaps, there is a case for the Competition Commission to examine whether the proposed 3G policy regime is designed to shelter the incumbents from new competition.







WITH year-end looming large, it's time for that feisty review, for meeting up with family, friends and colleagues, for jollity and merriment in the true spirit of Christmas and New Year. On this happy occasion, it might be prudent to avoid excessive self-reflection or at least the wrong sort of reflection. It's not for nothing that some surveys showed that nearly 45% of respondents in the plusher portions of the planet seemed to dread the festive season!

Sometimes darkness does lurk right under the lights. But it also lies in the eyes of the beholder — those searching for the darker, danker aspects are bound to find it! That might explain why western countries report the highest incidence of blues during this season. Cases of suicide peak too, as do levels of carping and cavilling.

All this is not because flinty Scrooge, or the Christmas-stealing Grinch rather than Saintly Santa rule during this season. Nor is it entirely due to something more mundane like SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) brought on by the dark winter weather! The real culprits may be excessive inwardness or self-centredness and unrealistic expectations.

Other factors could be 'victim' mentality brought on by rumination on innate inadequacies of life, particularly in comparison with other seemingly lucky or more fortunate individuals.

Self-help gurus like Guy Finley attribute it to the power that the false self has over us. "Nothing is more discontented than our lower nature, the false self," Finley explains in his best-selling primer on how to let go loneliness and discontent. "It is always unhappy with one thing or another. If there is one weed in the field of roses, you can bet that is what it will see. Since it has no real life of its own, it must endlessly create stimulating thoughts and feelings of one kind or another in order to give it the sensation of being alive.

"Like Sisyphus condemned in Hades to a life of endlessly pushing up a rock uphill, only to have it roll down again, the false self must spin its life tales over and over again. It is desperately afraid of not having the next thing to do."

Simply unplug it by refusing to buy into the artificial winter of discontent. If that creates a sense of vacuum, don't be afraid. "Choose being over doing, and there will be no more pain in what you do or don't because you don't have to prove that you are real," Finley says. "You are, and you know it!"







Fundamentally, we believe that no financial solution in India can be truly inclusive without the banking system being part of its distribution network. For us, therefore, the question is not whether banks should be allowed to sell multiple insurance products. The question is why should banks only offer limited insurance protection to their consumers by offering products of just one company each in life and general insurance.

Indian consumers have witnessed two key outcomes following the liberalisation of the sector: product innovation with the introduction of the popular unit-linked insurance policies; and the distribution reach through the emergence of alternate channels. The most successful channel has been bancassurance. Today, on an average, a significant 20-30% of the top-line comes through this channel for all major private life insurers.

The banking sector in India has a network of over 68,000 branches, of which over 32,000 branches are in rural areas. The reach, coupled with banks' expertise to skillfully understand, explain, educate and distribute a range of financial products to benefit the masses is critical to increase insurance penetration in the country. Further growth will only be fuelled from smaller locations where banks already have a presence.

The recent changes by the regulator, limiting commission levels, have changed the rules of the game forcing insurance companies to remodel their distribution network and reach out directly to consumers. However, the game has also changed for the distributors — including banks — who will have to fast graduate to being financial advisers from being mere product distributors. The focus will need to change from representing firms and selling products to meeting needs of consumers and offering them choices.

An open architecture model would help the bank leverage on the distribution potential to the fullest and enhance its revenues. We have already seen the successful operation of open architecture in the mutual fund industry. There are learnings available from examples around the world in Korea and Japan. The challenges would be in the implementation as the regulators, insurers and banks would have to walk a thin line between offering a choice to the consumer and confusing him.








Customer Relationship Management (CRM) remains one of the toughest challenges for companies, even as they try hard to fathom what the customer wants., the $1billion provider of CRM products, seeks to help companies understand the customer better. The company offers CRM on cloud (web based) and sees social networking media impacting performance of brands. has about 68,000 customers worldwide, including Rolls Royce and Cisco, and a few India companies such as Bajaj Auto Finance, Apollo Hospitals and Indiabulls Real Estate. In an interview with ET, Lindsey Armstrong - president, International Field Sales, talks about changes in CRM, challenges before companies in managing brands and so on. Excerpts:

How does CRM offered by Salesforce helps companies?

Large companies such as Cisco, Symantec, Merril Lynch, as well as mid-sized and small enterprises look for a 360 degree view of the customer. They want to capture information and be able to segment their customer data base with high degree of granularity. CRM helps align sales effort with marketing effort and helps target marketing dollars much more effectively.

With companies can create customised dashboards to throw up information such as: What deals I'm closing this week, what customers I need to pay attention, which country is doing well, which representative is doing well, gaps in my products, and a whole bunch of other metrics.

For instance, Rolls Royce is almost like a private bank with a very small number of customers. It wants to offer highly-customised service with very intimate relationship with its customers. So, it seeks enormous amount of detail about its customers. such as their likes and dislikes so that it can market itself properly to its unique customers. It is like a one-to-one relationship, very different from mass market. We enable them to interact with the niche customer base and deliver very customised services.

Today, the customer is often giving product feedback on the web, on mobile etc. How does CRM track that?

How is the service center evolving?

Service center is undergoing a dramatic change. The brick and mortar operations with people waiting for the phone to ring and then everybody leaping into action is a thing of the past. We believe that the conversations around services are happening elsewhere—not over the phone, but on the web, on Google, on Facebook on Twitter. Today, telephone is generally the last port of call. Our system enables customers to track what's going on in the social networking media. That's where your brand is being shaped without your participation. CRM software helps pull that information into traditional service centre environment, create cases out of it and is able to communicate back and forth with what's going on in Facebook, Twitter or in Google, and leverage the wisdom of crowds on the web into the service centre. There is going to be a lot of change in the future as to what the service centre will look like.

You mean, there'll be a virtual service centre.

Physically, it could be the same. But the data feed will be completely different. Right now, the service centre has two data feeds—telephone and email. Service centre of the future will be able to communicate with different data feeds and be both proactive and reactive—push out information about a product to Facebook and Twitter and pull out information from there.

Service centre of the future will turn the wisdom of crowds into knowledge, constantly updated into a Knowledge Management System. For example, my BlackBerry went out in Melbourne. I put out a Tweet, saying `BlackBerry working fine, no idea what happened, went out suddenly'. Someone suggested trying a different battery as sometimes if you use a different power supply in a country, it doesn't work. That didn't come from the service centre, but from someone who had gone through a similar situation. Wouldn't it be great if that information Tweet was pulled back by and fed to me by the company?

Can you tell us about the cloud computing architecture to offer CRM?


Cloud computing is not only a different way of building applications, it's also a different architecture for hosting applications. And at the heart of that architecture is multi-tenent. There's a single infrastructure in which everybody has their own security down to field level and block level security—it's highly secure with shared infrastructure. It's like an apartment block with your own apartment in it. You lock the door and secure it, but you share water and electricity and pay as you use. That is the key operating principle of cloud computing and CRM on the cloud.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In view of the ground realities, the US and other Nato powers have been obliged to accept willy nilly, first, the result of the recent presidential election in Afghanistan which gave the President, Mr Hamid Karzai, a new term, and, subsequently, the Cabinet he chose this week. For well over a year, the internationals have been expressing their unhappiness with Afghanistan's elected President. The US President, Mr Barack Obama, himself chose to lead the attack from the time he assumed office. This was a signal for an open season on the Afghan leader. The charge against him was that he operated a corrupt and inept government which basked in a culture of impunity and was thus jeopardising the stabilisation process and the fight against the Taliban. The sallies against Mr Karzai commenced when he began to question Western military strategies and tactics — which were taking an unacceptably high toll of civilian lives and causing bitterness in the country — from a nationalist standpoint. He also attracted adverse attention for hitting back on the corruption issue with the suggestion that his government could not be held principally responsible on that count since most of the money that had been spent in the country since the ouster of the Taliban had flowed through the hands of foreigners, mainly US personnel, official and non-official. At the end of the day, when elections came, the people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly endorsed Mr Karzai. But the Western elements cried foul, alleged electoral malpractice and ensured the invalidating of more than a million votes cast for the incumbent President. Even so, he showed that 49.6 per cent of the country was with him. But the internationals then began drawing red lines about the choice of new Cabinet personnel. In the event, Mr Karzai has brought back his key ministers, their portfolios unchanged. He has given ground on corruption and inefficiency charges and dropped two Cabinet colleagues, and removed the mayor of Kabul. But he has stuck to his own plans on consolidating his political network in the country, in the process causing no discomfort to regional Afghan leaders of his choice who are now denounced as "warlords" by Western leaders and opinion-makers but were once lionised for their role in the fight against the Taliban regime before 2001. This is not to the liking of the internationals who are just about being tolerated in Afghanistan because they do the spending. The US and the Europeans, who appear to have done little to atone for their excesses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, are happy to lecture the Afghan political class on human rights at the drop of a hat. The tendency has grown under the Democratic dispensation in the US. Nato countries have not succeeded in imposing their Cabinet preferences for Afghanistan to the extent they would have liked. But this does not mean there will be a let-up in their eagerness to fix personnel in the area of sub-national governance, appointing provincial and district governors in specific regions, and push for changes even at this fragile stage in the direction of weakening the centre in the name of decentralising of authority.








Except during the 19-month interlude of nightmarish Emergency, India has been and continues to be a lively — if also raucously noisy, indeed contentious — democracy. Unfortunately, it has never developed a coherent and effective Opposition in Parliament, an integral feature of the democratic system. For, in its formative years, the country lived for far too long under a single-party dominance in a milieu of brisk multi-party activity. Though united in attacking the Congress on almost every issue, the numerous Opposition groups with rather small representation in the House had much greater hostility towards one another than towards the dominant Congress.


Whatever may have happened in some of the states, at the Centre the Congress remained entrenched in power for a full 30 years even though it had ceased to be a unifying and stabilising force much earlier. In 1977, thanks largely to Indira Gandhi's Himalayan Blunder of slapping the Emergency on the country, the Janata Party dethroned the empress. The new ruling party was, in fact, a coalition of four Opposition groups with which a splinter group of the Congress (I) had aligned. The Janata Party collapsed in less than three years for reasons that had kept its constituents apart in the past and even more because of the clashing ambitions and inflated egos of its three senior leaders, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram. Indira Gandhi was back in power spectacularly. She and her son, Rajiv, ruled for a whole decade. By this time Indian polity had become even more fragmented, regionalised, shifting and opportunistic.


The coalition that defeated Rajiv Gandhi in the 1989 general election, led by his former finance and defence minister, V.P. Singh, was even more fragile than the Janata. It was also vulnerable because of its dependence on the opposite poles of the political spectrum, the Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) and the Communists. The basic conflict between the BJP — which has always oscillated between hard Hindutva and moderation, symbolised by Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee — erupted when Mr Singh opted for the Mandal Commission's recommendation for reservation of jobs and educational opportunities for the OBCs. The BJP chose the Mandir issue and the resultant conflict led to enormous violence, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during the 1991 general election. Yet the Congress could form only a minority government that wily P.V. Narasimha Rao kept going for full five years by maintaining a working relationship with the main Opposition party, the BJP, and by bribing the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha unashamedly.


During the six years that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in power, Mr Vajpayee also paid due heed to the views of the Congress Party, but this sensible practice, damaged by the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Mr Rao's time, ended in 2004 when, to the BJP's shock and dismay, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance came to power. The saffron party was so unhinged that it disrupted a full session of Parliament. The Budget of a billion plus people had to be passed without a single minute's discussion. Since then the visceral hatred between the two mainstream parties has increased, not lessened. Notably, however, some of the regional parties, such as Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress, that were part of the Vajpayee government, have been merrily ensconced also in the Manmohan Singh government. Ramvilas Paswan, too, enjoyed the best of both worlds for quite some time.


It is in this context that the parliamentary elections seven months ago and the three-state Assembly elections in October have changed the political landscape. The BJP has been badly defeated in both the polls. Its leadership is bitterly divided and its ranks deeply frustrated. Despite all its efforts to put up a brave face, the party seems in precipitate decline, if not embarked on self-destruction. The new chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mr Mohan Bhagwat, has given up the pretence that as a political party, the BJP is autonomous of the RSS. He wants to micro-manage the Sangh's political wing. It is he who has nominated Mr Nitin Gadkari as the BJP's next president.


The party is somewhat pleased with itself that the debate on the Liberhan Commission's report did it no damage and even the Congress defended Mr Vajpayee and blamed its own man, Narasimha Rao.


But how far can this take it? The BJP is on firmer ground in believing that instead of making the most of its increased strength, the Congress has weakened itself over Telangana, soaring food prices and other issues. But will this be enough to enable the saffron party to reinvigorate itself?


On the contrary, the decision to make Mr L.K. Advani chairman of the parliamentary party makes no sense unless his ambition to be Prime Minister still survives. The BJP should realise that whoever is to lead in the 2014 polls should take over right now.


Equally pitiable is the plight of the Left Front that was left far behind in the 2009 elections. The enormous clout it wielded in New Delhi until the parting of ways with the UPA over the Indo-US nuclear deal, is history. Its strength in Lok Sabha is greatly reduced. Unlike BJP, the fraction-ridden Left Front is confined to three strongholds — West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. In the Lok Sabha and municipal elections as well as Assembly byelections in West Bengal, Ms Mamata di's party has beaten the Marxists thoroughly and the Maoists are targeting them. Having been in power in the state for 32 years continuously, the time for their exit has come. In Kerala, the same government is seldom voted back to power. Reunification and rejuvenation of the Left Front is problematic because the CPI (M) general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, though very popular among his comrades in Kerala, faces stiff opposition from Marxist stalwarts in West Bengal, the party's bastion.


However, both the BJP rightists and the Leftists must know that they owe it both to themselves and the country to reinvent themselves. Without a coherent and efficacious Opposition, the Indian democracy would be incomplete.








India, perhaps more than any other nation on earth, has the capacity to rapidly propel the world towards the first Millennium Development Goal — to reduce by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.


In his Independence Day speech last year, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, moved the nation and world when he stated that "malnutrition is a curse" that must be removed. In this, he appealed for a national resolve to root out malnutrition from India, focusing on the needs of women and children.


Recognising both the moral imperative and economic risks of malnutrition, his bold leadership will help ensure that India's next generation reaches its maximum potential and the country will sustain and even strengthen its growth.


The World Food Programme created at the United Nations, under the leadership of Josette Sheeran (one of the authors of this article), aims to assist nations with hunger and nutrition solutions, and hereby pledges to work with all in India who want to achieve the Prime Minister's bold vision — including NGOs and the private sector, who are already pioneering innovative, sustainable solutions. Here again India's scientific leadership can set the pace for the world.


Child under nutrition rates are alarmingly high with 48 per cent of children under five years stunted or chronically undernourished and 43 per cent underweight. A joint report by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and the World Food Programme India earlier this year recommends a comprehensive approach to addressing nutrition security, including measures for improving the performance of food delivery systems.


Why should the world care about solving hunger and malnutrition? We should do so for two powerful reasons.


Firstly, addressing the scourge of malnutrition is an urgent moral imperative. Science has now proven that when children under two years do not have adequate nutrition they suffer irreversible damage to their bodies and minds. We are robbing a generation of their potential — and diminishing the social and economic growth of whole societies.


Undernourished children are vulnerable to a variety of illnesses, including malaria and tuberculosis. One third of all under-five child deaths per year worldwide attributed to malnutrition.


Secondly, solving malnutrition is in the self-interest of nations with a huge economic return on investment. World Food Programme studies demonstrate that malnutrition costs societies an average of six per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), while solutions can be executed at a fraction of that cost. In India alone, it is estimated that malnutrition costs the economy $29 billion per year in India — as much as four per cent of GDP annually — as a result of reduced productivity and earnings and increased health costs.


India has stunned the world with innovations that have lifted millions out of poverty and opened new worlds of opportunities. And India has with great determination moved to a food surplus nation. These advances have helped lead and move the world.


But malnutrition is a development paradox that casts an ominous shadow on this otherwise limitless economic potential. Despite a booming economy with nearly 10 per cent economic growth annually, the nutrition situation in India has remained alarmingly stagnant.


Today, one-third of the world's undernourished children reside in India.


The modest average annual decline of .05 per cent lags woefully behind economic growth. The sad reality is that at this pace it will take India until 2043 to reach the first Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of hungry and undernourished people by 2015.


It's important to remember that this is a solvable problem. And it can be a win for civil society, the private sector, and the economy. Most now prosperous nations, including the United States, suffered widespread malnutrition in the past few generations. India is a nation of many brilliant problem-solvers. Once the goal is clear, we firmly believe India will again stun the world with its innovative progress.


The World Food Programme has already replicated malnutrition solutions "home grown" in India throughout the world.


The know-how is there. The political vision and commitment, from the Prime Minister, is in place. The tipping point will come when India unites to act on behalf of its most vulnerable children and ensure access to necessary micronutrients, vitamins and minerals to achieve their full mental and physical potential. No nation can achieve its full global position without maximising the potential of every child. In 2010 the world will assess progress on the first Millennium Development Goal: Let India inspire a global tipping point that will leave child stunting and malnutrition behind completely.Let India help lead the way to success.


Deepak Chopra is the Founder of The ChopraFoundation and Josette Sheeran is Executive Director, United Nations World Food Programme








In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organising information. A new drug is a protocol for organising chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass.


A protocol economy has very different properties than a physical stuff economy. For example, you and I can't use the same piece of metal at the same time. But you and I can use the same software program at the same time. Physical stuff is subject to the laws of scarcity: you can use up your timber. But it's hard to use up a good idea. Prices for material goods tend toward equilibrium, depending on supply and demand. Equilibrium doesn't really apply to the market for new ideas Over the past decades, many economists have sought to define the differences between the physical goods economy and the modern protocol economy. In 2000, Larry Summers, the then US Treasury secretary, gave a speech called "The New Wealth of Nations", laying out some principles. Leading work has been done by Douglass North of Washington University, Robert Fogel of the University of Chicago, Joel Mokyr of Northwestern and Paul Romer of Stanford.


Their research is the subject of an important new book called From Poverty to Prosperity, by Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz.


Kling and Schulz start off entertainingly by describing a food court. There are protocols everywhere, not only for how to make the food, but how to greet the customers, how to share common equipment like trays and tables, how to settle disputes between the stalls and enforce contracts with the management.


Protocols are intangible, so the traits needed to invent and absorb them are intangible, too. First, a nation has to have a good operating system: laws, regulations and property rights.


For example, if you are making steel, it costs a medium amount to make your first piece of steel and then a significant amount for each additional piece. If, on the other hand, you are making a new drug, it costs an incredible amount to invent your first pill. But then it's nearly free to copy it millions of times. You're only going to invest the money to make that first pill if you can have a temporary monopoly to sell the copies. So a nation has to find a way to protect intellectual property while still encouraging the flow of ideas.


Second, a nation has to have a good economic culture. From Poverty to Prosperity includes interviews with major economists, and it is striking how they are moving away from mathematical modelling and toward fields like sociology and anthropology. What really matters, Edmund S. Phelps of Columbia argues, is economic culture — attitudes toward uncertainty, the willingness to exert leadership, the willingness to follow orders.


A protocol economy tends toward inequality because some subcultures have norms, attitudes and customs that increase the velocity of new recipes while other subcultures retard it. It's exciting to see so many Nobel laureates taking this consilient approach. North, the leader of the field, doesn't even think his work is economics, just unified social science.


But they are still economists, with worldviews that are still excessively rationalistic. Kling and Schulz do not do a good job of explaining how innovation emerges. They list some banal character traits — charisma, passion — that entrepreneurs supposedly possess. To get a complete view of where the debate is headed, I'd read From Poverty to Prosperity, and then I'd read Richard Ogle's 2007 book, Smart World, one of the most underappreciated books of the decade. Ogle applies the theory of networks and the philosophy of the extended mind to show how real world innovation emerges from social clusters. Economic change is fomenting intellectual change. When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it's about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology.








It's fitting that James Cameron's Avatar arrived in theatres at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It's at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.


But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, Avatar is Cameron's long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.


In Cameron's sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na'Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders.
Na'Vi are saved by the movie's hero, a turncoat Marine, but they're also saved by their faith in Eywa, the "All Mother", described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.


If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that's because pantheism has been Hollywood's religion of choice for a generation now. It's the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It's the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like The Lion King and Pocahontas. And it's the dogma of George Lucas' Jedi, whose mystical Force "surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together".


Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favourably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the "religion and inspiration" section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the "spiritual energy" of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na'Vi.


As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. "Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator", he suggested, democratic man "seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole".


Today there are other forces that expand pantheism's American appeal. We pine for what we've left behind, and divining the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of "thou shalt nots", and a piping-hot apocalypse.


At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps "bring God closer to human experience", while "depriving him of recognisable personal traits". For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.


Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism "a sexed-up atheism". (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic The End of Faith by rhapsodising about the mystical experiences available from immersion in "the roiling mystery of the world". Citing Albert Einstein's expression of religious awe at the "beauty and sublimity" of the universe, Dawkins allows, "In this sense I too am religious".


The question is whether nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: If God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its "circle of life" is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren't the shining Edens of James Cameron's fond imaginings. They're places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.


Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren't at home amid these cruel rhythms.


We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We're beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.


This is an agonised position, and if there's no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.


Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.


But except as dust and ashes, nature cannot take us back.








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.








With remarkable prescience and with tongue firmly in cheek, Lars Lekke Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, had termed the legend of the climate summit as "Hopenhagen". No more and no less, one must add at the end of the jaw-jaw at Copenhagen's high table. The outcome of the meeting, stretched to a fortnight, is as hazy as the world's environment. Aside from the geo-political advance, there is little or nothing in what has been packaged as the Copenhagen Accord that is particularly dramatic. India, China, Brazil and South Africa have joined the key players of the West ~ a development in international relations that has somewhat alienated the developing bloc further still. The Group of 77 have nothing to show to their domestic constituencies with the formation of this early 21st century League of Nations, in a manner of speaking. If the role of the United Nations has been restricted, there appears to have been a parallel diminution in the role of the US as well, indeed the Western world. Even Barack Obama's offer of dollar pump-priming has cut no ice. For the developing countries, most importantly the island nations, a non-binding agreement is neither here nor there. No fewer than 30 nations were involved in the crucial negotiations of the final stage. But the Copenhagen Accord has been choreographed by a mere five ~ America, India, Brazil, China, and South Africa. That India and China eventually dissociated themselves from the text with a diplomatic "taken note of" stance points to the opposition from the smaller countries. Even as a signal of intent, the document is thoroughly disappointing considering the grandstanding and the build-up. As a perceived new global climate order, the hastily cobbled entity has been framed on an uncertain foundation. It may be touted as a model within the UN, an exercise carried out independently of the world body. Yet some may even wonder whether the smaller countries ~ in favour of the UN's role ~ are set to lose their voice on the climate issue.

Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to submit that the world has been overwhelmingly left out on an issue that concerns the Earth. Critical are the varying perceptions over the basics. The holding down of the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius has been vehemently opposed by the smaller nations which maintain that even a 1.5-degree rise in Celsius could be catastrophic. Their sensitivities have not been taken into account in the patchwork quilt that has been woven in the Danish capital. The road to the next round in Mexico has been paved with good intentions and weak resolutions. The dress rehearsal has been almost pathetic.







THE fact that Bimal Gurung chose to address a rally at just the time the tripartite talks were being held ~ and not far from the venue ~ was a clear enough indication that Gorkha Janmukti Morcha did not expect much to emerge from the initiative. Barring the orchestrated cheers, the Morcha may know that the demand for statehood, while not devoid of merit, is virtually a non-starter, more so after the tangles into which the Telengana issue have been thrown. The doubts were reinforced by the limited brief given to the officials from Delhi and Kolkata ~ that of deciding on an alternative administrative mechanism for Darjeeling in which the Morcha would play a dominant role, after winding up the Hill Council. Since the agitation leaders stuck to the one-point agenda of a new state, the talks lost all relevance and the morcha could only claim the "victory'' of pressing a deadline of 45 days for a political meeting. The Morcha leaders may have hoodwinked the cheering crowds into believing that there has been some forward movement. Gurung knows it is back to square one, which is why he chose to announce a fresh agitation after the Christmas holidays.

The political contacts which the Morcha leaders have already established have yielded nothing so far. Even the BJP which sent Jaswant Singh to contest the Darjeeling parliamentary seat with sympathetic noises may distance itself after their candidate has been expelled for other reasons. The other major parties ~ Congress and Trinamul on the one side and the Left on the other ~ have locked horns on all issues except Darjeeling. To this has been added the anti-Gorkhaland stir in the Terai-Dooars region which the Morcha claims would be part of the new state. That leaves the agitation leaders with no alternative but to accept the reality, abide by an earlier resolution to scrap the Hill Council and look for further incentives from Delhi under a new set-up. Rather than strive for what seems impossible, the Morcha has a better chance of sustaining the goodwill of hill people by striving to undo the evils of the Ghisingh era. Or else, the history of the GNLF may repeat itself.







THE political uncertainty in Nepal threatens to drag on if its leaders continue to refuse to see sense. They must end more than seven months of agreeing to disagree following the resignation of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka Prachanda. With parliamentary proceedings deadlocked since 6 August ~ after the Communist (United Marxist-Leninist)-led coalition headed by Madhav Kumar Nepal's refusal to give in to the Maoist demand to rectify President Ram Baran Yadav's "unconstitutional move" in reinstating army chief Rukmankud Katuwal, earlier dismissed by Prachanda ~ the country has been in a shambles. Since then, the Maoists' prime objective has been to topple the government and establish what they call "civilian supremacy". Last month they set up more than a dozen parallel regional administrations across the country by organising massive rallies and a few days ago even declared Kathmandu as an autonomous state, though they claim this is only symbolic. The latest in the series of agitations is the three-day nationwide general strike that began on 20 December, on the first day of which several agitators were arrested. This was a calculated attempt at creating a disruption on the day the Prime Minister was coming home after attending the Copenhagen meeting. It is now clear that no Maoist agitation, no matter what the pretext, can force the government to change its mind. The best possible way out is to reach a political consensus keeping the people's interests in mind.

As if massive rallies and agitations are not enough, the Maoists reportedly grabbed thousands of acres of government and private land. This merely serves to illustrate their desperation, the likely effect of which could be violence on a scale worse than Nepal has witnessed over the past 14 years of rebellion. Unless the country has a new constitution by May 2010, the biggest casualty will be the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Treaty. What seems to stand in the way of a political consensus is ego. But is it not time Nepal's leaders do for country and not self?







The Egyptian Pyramids, the Parthen-on, Mona Lisa's face and the head of George Clooney all have one thing in common. Their attractiveness is said to be based on the "golden ratio", which is supposed to be the most aesthetically pleasing shape to the human eye. The golden ratio, also known as the divine proportion, produces a shape similar to a cinema screen and describes a rectangle with a length roughly one-and-a-half times its width. The proportion is said to pervade art, architecture and nature in both its horizontal or vertical format.
Now, a theoretical mathematician has come up with a possible reason why the human eye finds shapes in this proportion so appealing.

Prof. Adrian Bejan of Duke University in North Carolina has claimed that the golden ratio is the most efficient shape for visual scanning. "When you look at what so many people have been drawing and building, you see these proportions everywhere. It is well known that the eyes take in information more efficiently when they scan side-to-side, as opposed to up and down," Prof. Bejan said. "Scanning left to right is five times faster than scanning up and down and that is largely due to the left or right eye taking over when the opposite eye gives up. When you scan vertically, it's like having just one eye. The eyes are also arranged on a horizontal axis, which happens to fit in with the landscape."~ The Independent








HILARY Clinton, the US Secretary of State, recently spoke of the trust deficit in relations between the USA and Pakistan. "Pakistan is at a critical juncture and we all have a stake in Pakistan's future," she told the American Pakistani Foundation in New York. Indeed, for the USA, Pakistan has become, as Stephen Cohen described it, "part problem and part solution".

An ally in the war against terrorism, it is also a centre of radicalism and nuclear proliferation. Its army is now engaged in operations in South Waziristan, where the Taliban, unlike their Afghan cousin, is a challenge to the army's authority. Its objective is to overthrow the Pakistani state. It is almost an existential threat to the country
In South Waziristan, several Taliban commanders and fighters have fled their homes. But retaliatory suicide bombings are being carried out with chilling frequency, the GHQ in Rawalpindi being the recent target.
America has welcomed Pakistan's offensive. It is exerting pressure on Islamabad to carry out similar operations against the Al Qaida and the Taliban in North Waziristan. America feels that its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan will not be successful unless their hideouts in North Waziristan and other tribal areas along the Af-Pak border are destroyed.

But the Pakistan army is unwilling to play ball. Its army lends support to the Taliban in Afghanistan and military commanders, notably Sirajudeen Haqquani in North Waziristan. The military also supports the Taliban political leadership under Mullah Omar, known as "Quetta Sura," entrenched in Pakistan.

Worst nightmare

IN the army's reckoning, President Obama's surge in Afghanistan is a storm before the calm. His latest strategy clearly outlines American plans of withdrawal by 2011. The army has reportedly approached the commanders in the pro-Afghan Taliban resistance to ensure that in the event of America's withdrawal, Pakistan is viewed as a friendly state. It is unwilling to bow to American pressure and launch operations against the Afghan Taliban. 
This double game was played by Pervez Musharraf when he tracked down the Al Qaida operatives but did not crack down on the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan needs a card to play with when the US decides to leave Afghanistan. Pakistani generals are convinced that sooner or later America will pull out of Afghanistan ~ as they had done earlier in Vietnam. They fear that in that eventuality India would be asked to ensure that the Taliban do not return to Kabul. Pakistan would be encircled by the Indian forces, and that is the worst nightmare of its generals.

Obama's new Af-Pak policy has served to complicate the situation. He has decided on a rapid surge of 30,000 additional troops and the process is to be completed by next summer. American military operations in a landlocked country like Afghanistan will be difficult without Pakistan's help to protect the convoys carrying supplies for the western troops.

But President Obama has now endorsed an intensification of a campaign against the Al Qaida and its allies. The surge of US troops will push the Afghan Taliban into the safe hideouts in Pakistan. This will, in turn, boost the morale of the Pakistani Taliban and exacerbate problems for the Pakistan army.

In the operation against Hakimullah Meshud-led Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan's security forces are relying on pro-Afghan Taliban commanders in north and South Waziristan to capture the main sanctuaries of the Pakistani Taliban. If the Afghan Taliban join hands with the Pakistan Taliban, it will seriously aggravate the problems of the Pakistan security forces. Neither vigorous policing nor security checkpoints will ever be able to prevent a committed enemy ~ with thousands of young suicide bombers ~ from transforming the suburbs of Pakistan to a war zone.

America feels that it will not be possible to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan without striking at their bases in Pakistan. Irrespective of the number of troops Barack Obama despatches to Afghanistan, the strategy will flounder unless the safe havens inside Pakistan are targeted. The CIA has reportedly decided to expand the drone strikes to the tribal areas in Pakistan from where many important Afghan-Taliban leaders are operating. Such an expansion of the war will push the insurgents deeper into the country and destabilise Pakistan.
If America extends its operations to Baluchistan, North Waziristan and other tribal areas, Pakistan is hardly in a position to oppose, far less defy America. As the Baluchistan Governor, Zulfiqur Maghi, remarked, "Washington can do what it pleases because we cannot oppose someone who pays you money".
Islamabad thus finds itself in a cleft stick. It cannot overtly defy America and refuse to counter the Afghan Talibans. At the same time, it has to countenance devastating attacks from the militants. Pakistan is hoping that US air strikes inside Pakistan will enable the mullahs to exploit the existing anti-American sentiment and win over the Pakistanis.

Critical months

IN this scenario, it is possible that terrorist organisations such as the Al Qaida and LeT may launch major terror strikes against India to trigger a war, deflect the focus, and forestall action against them. Defence Secretary Robert Gates has also warned that the Al Qaida will try to provoke a war between India and Pakistan with the aim of destabilising the country and gaining access to its nuclear weapons. The view has been shared by the US defence chief, Admiral Mullen. Aside from the terrorist organisations, the army might also provoke retaliatory action by India and use this as an excuse not to carry on the offensive against the terrorists. Such a course of action will be tacitly approved in Pakistan.

The war-cry against India will unite divergent groups, perhaps even with the support of the jihadis. Hence India must, as the Union home secretary recently suggested, "think of the unthinkable" and gear up to meet such serious terrorists threats. The next few months will be critical.

Pakistan's Supreme Court has struck down the controversial amnesty law. The arrest warrants against the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, and the Defence Minister, Choudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, have considerably weakened the present civilian government. Given the political uncertainty, the army will continue to influence policy. General Kayani is known to be strongly anti-India, a soldier who regards LeT and the Afghan Taliban as strategic assets.

The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, former Director-General, National Human Rights

Commission, and former Director, National Police Academy








The law and order situation in West Bengal has come to such a pass that even the chief minister of the state has been compelled to admit to the Opposition in the assembly that conditions are far from joyous. The admission is a measure of the deteriorating condition since the chief minister, by making such an admission, is passing an adverse comment on his own administration. The fact is obvious enough: violence, very often provoked by political rivalry, has escalated and has spread across the state. It is worth recalling that little over a week ago, the outgoing governor of West Bengal, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, had made an appeal to political parties to eschew the politics of vendetta. That appeal, not unexpectedly, fell on deaf ears. Political parties, as is their wont, will chase their own narrow agenda and will show their utter contempt for any kind of responsibility towards society. They will also continue to play the blame game to their own advantage. What, however, is disheartening are the indifference and incompetence of the administration. This is nothing short of a failure of governance. Events show that parts of the state have become arsenals of political parties, and the administration seems unable or unwilling to identify these stockpiles and to nail the culprits.


It is difficult to believe that this is a very difficult task for the police to perform. What this does demand is the police force's freedom from political patronage. For over three decades, the police and other bureaucrats in the state have worked at the behest of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). They are thus reluctant still to move against the ruling dispensation and its armed cadre. They are also not too keen to act against those belonging to the Trinamul Congress since the latter is seen as the ruling party-in-waiting. In other words, political patronage and interference have rendered spineless the law and order machinery of the state. Bureaucrats and policemen have forgotten the elementary lesson that crime has no political colour. The chief minister can continue to lament the collapse of law and order in West Bengal but this will get him nowhere since the prevailing condition is the direct outcome of what his party has done to the administration ever since it came to power. It may well turn out to be too late for the chief minister to realize that he is locked in his own history.








Human beings, like other forms of life, are mapped and coded in many complex and inscrutable ways. Among these, genes pose one of the greatest challenges to human self-knowledge and to thinking about the past and the future of mankind. Recently in India, two kinds of work with genes seem to have come to a head, putting Indian geneticists and the institutions they work for in the international community of genetic research. First, a consortium of Asian scientists, coordinated by the Genome Institute of Singapore, has analysed variations in genetic sequences from almost 2,000 people representing 70-odd populations from across Asia, to work out a sort of genetic pan-Asianism, although it would be hasty to conclude from this that all eastern Asian populations had roots in India. But through a peculiar combination of discovering what is shared and what is diverse, this kind of genetic research into the human past and into patterns of migration can radically change notions of race and ethnicity, dispelling myths of purity as well as difference. On another scale, scientists at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research claim to have successfully mapped the human genome sequence for the first time in India, thereby joining — a bit late in the day — a club of five nations. The benefits of this are more directly medical, from predicting diseases in individuals to advanced forms of treatment.


As with all such highly specialized and immensely expensive forms of knowledge, transparency, accountability and ethics remain a serious concern here. To make its most esoteric findings intelligible to ordinary people is a special responsibility of scientific research — in this case, more so, since this is knowledge that alters the understanding of life, death and human well-being. Predicting disease is both a comforting and an alarming idea — think of how, for instance, it might affect criteria for eligibility to health insurance. Also, seeing genes as destiny, the primary cause of why people are who and what they are, may endorse a particularly dangerous form of biological determinism. From cancer to criminality, genes cannot be the easy, 'scientific' answer to the complexities of human behaviour or the simple solution to human ills. Geneticists should ensure that the right kind of information is transmitted to lay people about the nature of genes.








Most languages but English, I noted two weeks ago, give gender-labels to the names of things that in the real world have no gender. Or even wrongly label things that do. Thus in German, the girl is das Mädchen, a neuter noun. (And in Latin-born languages, add male chauvinists, heart is masculine, but reason feminine).


Does it matter?, asks a reader — maybe, like native English-speakers, too content with her own largely gender-free language to worry about others. Yes, Ms Banerji, it matters. Why? The short answer, a friend tells me, is "Try learning Tamil, and you'll know." But let's not incite inter-state discord; I'll stick to Europe. Yes indeed, linguistic gender, like real-world sex, greatly complicates life.


Germans, for example, have to use der, die and das — masculine, feminine and neuter — for our simple the; and likewise for a/an. And likewise in other languages. But worse follows. For a start, languages that inflect their nouns often have different gender-dependent endings for each of their several 'cases' of the noun. That's a lot to learn.


There's more. Adjectives must fit the gender of the noun they apply to, and they too may vary. This brings grief and woe to foreigners — indeed to many native children learning their own tongue. You want to say that the beaches of France are beautiful? The beaches, no problem: les plages — you needn't know what gender plage is, because the plural les goes for both. But oh yes you do: are these beaches beaux or belles? (Belles, in fact, but how can you tell?)


More grief if you're unsure of your grammar. A smiling Frenchwoman is une femme souriante, with a feminine -e added to souriant. But one smiling at her husband is une femme souriant á son mari, because this souriant is no adjective but a gender-free part of a verb.


And what's this son mari? Isn't son a masculine form, how can it mean not his but her? Masculine it is, but it too has to agree with the noun it applies to. More woe. Le mari aime sa maitresse — et son chat. The husband loves his mistress, fair enough, this is France. But is it his cat or her cat that he also loves? Let's hope they share one, because French can't tell his from her, unless it adds further words.


Now back to the Germans. Does das Mädchen need neuter-looking adjectives? Or ones showing that she is, after all, a girl? I'm told — I've met German girls in my time, but happily never ones who spoke only German — that the answer is "neuter-looking", unlike the girls. Ah, but go to Italy, where the polite word for you is lei. It's a feminine word, she, by origin (and still also used for she ) — but not one to ally with feminine adjectives, if the Italian you're talking to is a man.


"Enough," you cry, Ms Banerji? There's more. In Russian not only must adjectives agree in gender (and Russian has three) with the noun, but past tenses of verbs with the subject thereof. And in Arabic and Farsi, other tenses of the verb as well. Hindi, my friend tells me, goes even further: it may require the verb to agree with its object instead of subject. Enough? No, there's worse still: in some languages, such rules, quite recently, have altered....Two weeks ago, I gave thanks that English, for all its other lunacies, had escaped most of the horrors of gender. Point proved?










The Copenhagen Accord on climate change is like India's nuclear deal. The deal, which was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, in July 2005, had a tortuous course. For well over three years, it was 'on', then it was 'off', intermittently 'on' again and 'off' again. Even now, after it has been embraced by the die-hards in the global nuclear non-proliferation regime such as Canada and acknowledged by Japan, the only victim of a nuclear attack, doubts are raised from time to time about where the Indo-US deal is finally headed. Yet, the agreement has prevailed.


So it will be with the climate change deal reached at the United Nations summit in Copenhagen last week. Some will see it as the foundation for a soon-to-come treaty that was agreed upon at the end of two years of persevering work leading to the summit. Others will play it down as nothing more than a reference paper that was an essential face-saver to conclude the climate change summit.


Indians ought to be familiar with such differing interpretations of what really is something straightforwardly the outcome of intense, often dramatic, negotiations. After all, at the end of the most comprehensive Indo-US engagement in history, the protracted talks between the National Democratic Alliance government's Jaswant Singh and Bill Clinton's deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, following India's nuclear tests 11 years ago, the two sides could not agree even on how many rounds of talks Jaswant Singh and Talbott had held.


The most sober assessment of the outcome in Copenhagen has come from the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, who described it as an "essential beginning", which scored progress on every front associated with climate change. If there was one knight in shining armour during the darkest preparatory phases of the climate change summit and in Copenhagen itself, that knight was the UN secretary-general. When everyone despaired about the 15th UN Climate Change Conference or COP15, as it is commonly known, Ban almost alone remained optimistic. From the US Capitol to China, from the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago to the Group of Eight meeting in Italy, Ban tirelessly travelled all of this year, determined to see that COP15 did not end in disarray.


It is typical of the American spin machine that the Copenhagen Accord is being projected as the product of Barack Obama's somewhat unconventional style of diplomacy, which was in action at the Bella Centre, the venue of the climate change summit. Equally, the Indian and the Chinese media are separately painting the summit in colours that show their new clout on the world stage.


But behind the scenes, the unsung hero of Copenhagen was Ban Ki-moon. When the dust has settled a little on the controversies over how a deal was carved out of the acrimonious gathering at Bella Centre, an image from Copenhagen, which many people will remember, is that of a pretty Venezuelan delegate to the summit bloodying her delicate hand while banging on the table and clapping to be heard by the conference. Equally stirring the conscience of the world for some time to come will be the frantic pleas by Tuvalu's delegate not to trade tomorrow "for thirty pieces of silver today" — a reference to the proposal by the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to help raise $100 billion in climate finance.


While everyone is focusing on how Obama barged into a meeting of the heads of delegations of Brazil, India, South Africa and China, and crafted the final deal in Copenhagen, no one is, unfortunately, talking about an equally dramatic one-hour meeting at Bella Centre where the UN secretary-general intervened to prevent the summit from collapsing, summoned all the aggrieved delegations and gave them a very patient hearing.

Ban could not obviously give them what they were clamouring for. But what he gave them was respect and recognition. Indeed, when Tuvalu's delegate returned to the conference after the meeting with the secretary-general, his remark was that "within the UN, we are given respect as nations", and that the secretary-general gave them time when the leaders of big nations or rich countries had no time for them. Without that one-hour meeting between Ban and the aggrieved delegations, the Copenhagen summit would have collapsed. Nicaragua's demand in the final hours of the summit — made on behalf of the dissenting delegations to suspend COP15 without any final outcome — was withdrawn only after the crucial meeting called by Ban and a procedural intervention by India on the floor of the conference.


What Ban achieved at the climate talks last week was a repeat of his performance in Bali two years ago, when he saved a crucial meeting preparatory to COP15 which, too, was heading for collapse like the Copenhagen summit in its final hours. Ban had left the Bali meeting and flown out of Indonesia, but when he was told that there had been no agreement at the preparatory conference, he turned around and flew back to Bali, persuading the famously intransigent Bush administration at that time to give in on their disagreements on the floor of that conference.


The power of spin in the age of 24-hour television and the short shelf lives of news stories are such that nobody now recalls that none of the so-called heroes of Copenhagen — Obama, Manmohan Singh and the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao — was even planning to attend the Copenhagen summit until a few weeks ago. Obama made up his mind to go for the climate change talks only at the end of last month, actually after Ban went to the US Capitol earlier in November and sweet-talked members of the American Congress, which has a pending bill that actually limited what Obama could commit in Copenhagen, a Congress which is deeply suspicious of Obama's intentions on global warming. Wen also announced his decision to attend the COP15 around that time after long discussions with Ban.


Singh, whose reluctance to jet around the world is well known, had decided against going to Copenhagen until he was told that with Obama and Wen there, India too needed to be represented at the level of the head of government. Actually, it was the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom the prime minister has a very comfortable relationship, who finally persuaded Singh to go to Copenhagen when the two men had a meeting on November 27 on the sidelines of the Commonwealth summit, a meeting that spilled over into an unscheduled lunch. Besides, Ban had bent over backwards to persuade Singh to attend a climate change meeting that the secretary-general had convened in New York in September. But the prime minister chose not to go to New York and went for the Group of Twenty summit in Pittsburgh instead, although the two meetings were back to back.


The reason why Ban is the unsung hero of Copenhagen — but a hero, nevertheless — is also the nature of his job. The UN's chief cannot be a decision-maker because he does not have any of the powers of a head of state or government. But Ban's strength, which other world leaders have begun to appreciate more than half way into his five-year tenure as secretary-general, is that he is quite happy to work behind the scenes and leave the credit for what has been achieved to others with clear political agendas like Obama, Sarkozy or the British prime minister, Gordon Brown. They have to be seen as having done things, they have to go to their people and get re-elected.


In this context, Ban's natural, East Asian style of low-key, but intense, diplomacy has come in handy. In every crisis since he became the UN secretary-general — including the crisis in Copenhagen created by a lack of trust between rich nations and emerging economies like India on the one hand and between small island-states and everyone else on the other — Ban has been careful not to surpass or upstage elected leaders of governments that make up the UN. He has also made it plain that his role is not to make policy, but to work on those who make policy, be persuasive and talk, but also listen as much as talk.


Ban is remarkably different in this regard from some of his predecessors who had a tendency to become the secular pope of the world community in their role as head of the world body and use the UN's bully pulpit to speak, and speak about the great issues of the day. It is true that the UN secretary-general has to speak out about the world he is dealing with, but more than any of his predecessors, it is clear that Ban wants to be remembered for what he accomplished and not for what he said.


This is not to say that he has been found wanting when a public demonstration of the UN's commitment to an issue was called for. In the build-up to the climate talks, when many other leaders were content with pious sermons, Ban chose to be the first UN secretary-general to make a dramatic visit to the Antarctica and focus on the problem of global warming by standing on Antarctic ice sheets melting beneath his feet. It was this style of his that made even the modest achievement in Copenhagen possible.








The bowing out of two BJP stalwarts -- octogenarian L K Advani and Rajnath Singh -- will likely have a profound impact on an already directionless, frustrated and faction-ridden party. Advani's exit - his dreams of becoming prime minister unfulfilled - is particularly significant because it comes after Atal Behari Vajpayee has almost lapsed into anonymity. For decades, the party's gradual rise was dominated by the formidable twin presence of Vajpayee and Advani. Since 2004, when the BJP-led NDA was mauled at the hustings by the Congress-led UPA that inflicted an even more humiliating defeat on it this year, the saffron party has slipped into near-irrelevance. Vajpayee is now a political recluse; accorded the ceremonial title of 'mentor' after his exit; Advani will follow him soon into that space of the party's history.

Coupled with its electoral misfortunes, the BJP was faced with leadership and identity crises: mutual recriminations among leaders that led to a purge in the upper echelons of the hierarchy and ideological disarray which left the party questioning the very essence of its being - Hindutva politics. Bickering leaders and an agonising debate over ideology have ensured its waning influence over the polity. The departure of Advani and Rajnath Singh has come seven months too late. They should have stepped down at that time and departed as defeated heroes rather than vain-glorious opportunists seen to be clinging to whatever was left of their power within a crumbling organisation. Advani's successor as Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj is untested. She is a pale shadow of not only Advani's towering personality, but little is known of her organising skills. What is, however, known is the intense rivalry between Swaraj and Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley - a friction point that may not augur well for the BJP.

At the same time, Rajnath's tenure was marked by an almost unbroken string of stumbles, frustrations and embarrassments. For all his political feats as Uttar Pradesh chief minister and being an Advani understudy, Rajnath's effectiveness as party president began to dissipate almost immediately after he took office. Like Swaraj, Rajnath's successor, Nitin Gadkari, is puzzling considering he was leader of the BJP's Maharashtra unit where the party has suffered successive defeats at the hands of the Congress-NCP combine. What the BJP can do without at this juncture is paroxysms of inner conflict; what it must do with is to marshal its leadership resources to work as a coherent organisation.







Defence Minister A K Anthony recently announced that the army had withdrawn 30,000 troops from Jammu & Kashmir and is prepared to further scale down force levels depending on how the situation improves in the trouble-torn border state. This refers to the exit of the army's two fighting formations, namely the 27 and 39 divisions from J & K over a two year period. Clearly the government was comfortable about the progress of the peace process that has successfully taken shape in the border state wracked by insurgency for over two decades.
The decision to reduce force levels implies that the situation has improved south of the Pir Panjal mountain ranges but not necessarily in the Valley. The move implies that the army has thinned out its presence in the state but not exited from the Valley that remains vulnerable to insurgency. The army has also decided to reduce its visible presence in the state by conducting fewer operations against insurgents in order to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. From a military point of view the withdrawal would enable the army to provide its weary troops the much needed rest and recreation that they deserve; besides being able to put them through their regular training sessions which tend to suffer when they are deployed in counter insurgency roles for extended periods. These two aspects have a direct bearing on the operational preparedness in terms of morale and  honing combat capabilities.       

The army's extended presence in J& K has always been a controversial issue. While the army has withdrawn 30,000 troops, it has not handed over those areas to the  J&K police. How soon and how much of the area the army is able to entrust to the J&K police will become an index of the success of the peace process. The government gradually needs to reduce the army's presence from the hinterland in the long term and replace it with the state police force. The army would then only be confined to the borders for external security which is its primary role. The unilateral reduction of troops will also smoothen the path for the stalled peace talks between India and Pakistan to resume.








Swine Flu, which was a terror a few months ago, has now gone out of the radar of public and government attention these days. No one talks about it and the episode - while it lasted – typified the pathetic initial lethargy followed by subsequent delayed and unsustained knee-jerk reaction characteristic of our country's health administration to various communicable diseases.

Preventive and social medicine, which should occupy a position of huge importance in a country like ours that still has one-third its population going hungry and a similar one-third illiterate, has been woefully neglected.  

Compare the following two real scenarios, just four months ago, regarding our dealing with the Swine Flu. Scene 1: You are travelling to Beijing or Hong Kong from Delhi or other foreign city. Fifteen to twenty minutes before the plane touches down at Beijing airport, the air hostesses scan every passenger systematically for body temperature using the electronic scanner. It takes only a couple of minutes to scan all the passengers.

The flight now touches down at Beijing. Immediately, two small groups of medical technicians attired in the white protective gear scan the body temperature again and in suspected cases they investigate further. The procedure takes only a couple of minutes. Of course, you would have already filled in a short voluntary declaration form in which you state the countries you have visited recently and if you have fever or cough.

Scene 2: You are travelling from Beijing to Delhi. You fill up a longish voluntary declaration form regarding any fever, cough and countries recently visited. At the point where you immigrate, there are at least a dozen medics who just ask you if you are running temperature.

You shake your head in the negative and you walk off. The authorities even forget to collect the form you had filled. Then you also realise that to ask the question "Do you have any fever?" the government has employed qualified degree-holding doctors on a night shift.

Which scene, from the above two, is more effective and efficient in the effort to prevent the spread of H1N1 virus or swine flu? The answer is obvious. The contrast between the purposeful and meticulous approach of the Chinese and the laid-back and resource-wasting approach of the Indians is, to say the very least, shocking. Why have a façade of having employed qualified doctors when the effort is going to be so lackadaisical and farcical?

But then, this is how our Indian government's approach has been over the past decades regarding health administration all over the breadth and length of the country. The case of H1N1 presented here was only an example. A sloppy approach can always have a justification. The H1N1 cases reported worldwide were then in excess of a few thousand while only about a hundred cases had been registered in India.

Mindless advisories

What is the point in giving mindless government advisories asking people to desist from visiting several countries that have reported H1N1 cases when our people go abroad mainly for compulsions of employment, business and university studies?

Instead of doing its job of thoroughly screening the incoming passengers, quarantining suspect cases, and making adequate treatment facilities available and accessible across the country, why does our government start telling others – the foreign nations and the already helpless Indian citizens – as to what they should be doing? When is our government going to get really serious about public health?  

Tracking records

Let us track our record with respect to other communicable diseases. Of the 1315 polio cases reported worldwide during 2007, 60 per cent of the cases – 874 cases – occurred in India. Despite the much media-hyped pulse polio programme, a really essential 'house- to- house search and vaccinate' programme to break the final chain of polio virus transmission has not taken place.

India has more number of TB cases annually than any other country, ranking first among the 22 'high-burden TB countries' worldwide, according to WHO's Global TB Report 2008.There are 1.9 to 2.0 million new TB cases every year in India with 1.2 per cent infected with HIV and 2.8 per cent with Multi-Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB). Easily, 30 per cent of the cases do not even get detected.

Leprosy is supposed to have been 'eradicated' from our country. But, as per experts, this programme too is under a cloud. Government of India seems to be in an undue hurry to show the 'eradication' target numbers, while relaxing the definition of 'eradication'.

 The official policy calls for (i) stopping all active case detection, (ii) declaring patients as 'released from treatment' (RFT) and delete their names from registers as they receive the last dose of drug. Reportedly, there are instructions for not registering single lesion cases for now. Thus, active surveillance has been discontinued. Questions are being raised about this early dismantling of 'leprosy eradication' services.

In short, our approach to community health services lacks real intent, focus and drive. Every issue seems to be viewed more in a short-term perspective than in the long-term. The whole approach is lackadaisical and populist. After all, elected offices and bureaucratic chairs may not be there for long. In a game of rocking musical chairs, there is little time to think of anything other than the chair and the music faced then. Purposeful long-term policies and measures will take back seats.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)









It's that time of the year again when Christians throughout the world wish for peace on earth and goodwill to all men. A very commendable aim. This slogan will be found in Christmas cards and posted among the tinsel and decorations and, on reading it, everyone will be filled with a warm, glowing feeling.

In some ways, this saying has come to define the Christmas spirit. But it's strange, isn't it, that such vacuous rhetoric has become a defining feature of the greatest event in the Christian calender?

I am currently staying in a guest house in India that is run by a Christian family. There is a foreign man staying who has just had all of his money stolen and is awaiting help from his embassy. Meanwhile, he has no means of support and has paid some days in advance for his room. The guest house owner will not reimburse some of the rent because he fears that he may eventually lose out in financial terms.

Each night, I can hear the family recite prayers in the main house. Christmas decorations adorn the place, and the 'spirit of Christmas' has been unleashed. But it is I, the avowed atheist, who has dug deep to help out my fellow guest with money for food, not the family that owns the guest house. Goodwill to all men? Only if you can pay the rent it seems!

But surely, I'm being too harsh. Maybe not. Currently, back in the West, Christmas celebrations will be reaching fever pitch, helped along with massive intakes of alcohol (and alcohol related violence — peace on earth, brother?). But in its favour, I must admit that Christmas is a time when families come together and people try to reconnect with the core values of communality and camaraderie, regardless of whether or not you are a 'believer' in the faith.

But it's also a time when commercial enterprises do their best business of the year. This year, I noticed that TV commercials aimed at the Christmas market began appearing on TV in late September. Business interests and advertising agencies love Christmas and use the full array of devices to manipulate and entice people to buy products.

The cynical commercialisation of Christmas has been well documented for some time now. Goodwill to all men? Only if you can dig deep into your pocket. That warm Christmas glow is always helped along when the cash registers sing to the tune of the mighty dollar, pound or euro. If Christmas did not exist, sooner or later consumer capitalism would have invented it.

As people wish one another goodwill and a peaceful Christmas back in the West, they will of course know fully well that their political leaders will also mouth the same platitude to their friends, colleagues and family members. And former leaders, such as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Blair, will no doubt wish each other peace and goodwill, regardless of the havoc and violence they have caused over the last decade.
Christmas is without doubt a special time. But, I'm one of those people who doesn't take well to designated events, unless the spirit of the event is carried through the whole year and actually contains some genuine meaning.

Peace for all?

Peace on earth and goodwill to all men? Not if you are one of those who has been imprisoned without trial for years in Guantanamo Bay. Not to those who dare to resist the western military presence in Afghanistan. And perhaps not to those Iranians who don't believe in bending to US and Israeli pressure.

Does the peace and good will extend to Palestinians who resist Israeli occupation, and did it extend to ordinary Iraqis and their children who suffered from western sanctions for all of those Christmas throughout the 1990s? I could go on, but you kind of get the point. It's a curious thing this peace and goodwill thing. It's rather selective, isn't it?

In the UK, every year Charles Dickens' famous story 'A Christmas Carol' will be screened on TV. I have no doubt that it will be shown again this year. The Ebeneezer Scrooge character will be despised or pitied until the end of the film, when he finally sees the light and realises the goodness in humankind and participates in the spirit of Christmas.

It's a feel good film with a feel good ending. And this Dickens version of Christmas has come to epitomise the ideological representation of what the festival means in the UK — a fantasy world that has no bearing in reality.
But who needs reality when fantasy will do? It's Christmas!









Is being truthful a negative trait? I am often confronted with this question and haven't found an answer yet. I have landed in problematic situations in my circle of friends and relatives due to openly speaking the plain truth and have struggled to come out unscathed. I am labelled as tactless and as a person having no worldly wisdom; I am not street smart and do not know how to get around; poor in relationship management, etc.
Many of my friends and relatives avoid any serious conversation with me fearing some backlash and frank views which are true but unpalatable. So, of late I have been keeping mum. Now the word being passed around is that I am cold, boorish and posing as an intellectual!

The other day one of my relatives got into a tricky situation for lying to her friends about her son's ranking in CET exam. They had already found out the correct rank by asking the boy directly before talking to his mother. The two rankings were separated by only a few thousand ranks!

When she was confronted with the truth, she felt ashamed. She was also belittled in the presence of her son who took her to task as he was embarrassed. Why do we have to lie about the accomplishments of our children (or anything else for that matter) when others have little to do with it or least affected by it?

Also to sustain lies already uttered, new lies have to be invented and over a period of time it becomes too burdensome to manage the whole thing.

While boasting packed with lies inflates our egos and makes us feel superior to others, let us not forget that it is short lived. Truth catches up sooner or later. And when that happens, we fall down with a thud and get a resounding slap in the face.

It's useful to remember Mark Twain's immortal words: "If you speak the truth, you don't have to remember anything."







According to a new study, New York State ranks dead last in a nationwide ranking of happiest places to live. We'd like to feel bad about this news, but we can't because we're too busy feeling bad about so many other things.


We suspect that the results of this study will not come as a surprise to most New Yorkers — not because we're so unhappy but because happiness isn't exactly why we choose to live here. New Yorkers love challenges, and where exactly is the challenge in being happy?


This new study — a collaboration between Hamilton College and the University of Warwick — explores the correlation between a wide array of objective measures, like weather, crime, commuting time, taxes and living costs, and the subjective indicator called happiness. The most surprising result of the study isn't New York's dismal ranking. It's the fact that what seems to make us unhappy are real causes, like the amount of coastline a state has or its student-teacher ratios. In other words, our unhappiness is reality-based. So, sadly, is our happiness.


If there had been an objective measure called "difficulty getting the groceries home," we're sure the researchers would have used it, too — and it would have done nothing to improve where New York stands. We really can't do much about most of the things that send us to the bottom of the chart — things like average wind speed or the number of National Parks in our state, two more potential indicators of happiness. And the things we can change are badly hampered by — what else? — Albany. What we'd like to see is another study that measures stoicism state by state. We're pretty sure we'd come out on top.








It is not surprising that Russian reactions to the death of Yegor Gaidar, the wunderkind who had a meteoric rise, and fall, as Communism fell apart, have been divided along the same lines that have divided the country since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


His comrades among the reformers of the chaotic, heady and hungry 1990s eulogized a brave and far-seeing hero of "shock therapy" who set Russia on its rocky road to a free market economy. His detractors, including legislators who refused a motion for a minute of silence in the Duma, accused him of serving the West, undermining the Russian state and ushering in all the woes and inequities that have befallen Russia.


In one form or another, this debate has become a fixture in Russia as it has careened among extremes of wealth and poverty, freedom and control, bombast and humiliation. It was bound to surface on the death of so central a figure in Russia's emergence from the Soviet Union.


What struck me was that Mr. Gaidar was only 53 when he died last week. It was another reminder that only 18 years have passed since Mr. Gaidar engineered the fateful "price liberalization" of Jan. 1, 1992, driving a stake through the heart of the controlled economy and breaking one of the Kremlin's most powerful and destructive levers of control.


Mr. Gaidar (pronounced GUY-dar) and the other economists tapped for this task were academics with only a theoretical understanding of capitalism and no experience in management or government. Gaidar was 35, and up to then had worked only in Communist Party institutes and publications. He had joined Boris Yeltsin's government less than two months before the economic reforms were initiated.


Of the other reformers of the time, Boris Fyodorov (who died a year ago at age 50) was 34; Boris Nemtsov was 33; Anatoly Chubais was 37; Grigory Yavlinsky was an old-timer at 40. Their foes dubbed them "the boys in pink shorts." But they were all Russia had.


We are prone to forget what they were up against. The late 1980s and early 1990s were marked by the headlong disintegration of the economy. Russia's foreign-exchange reserves were almost down to nothing. Stores were empty, and the most basic foods were rationed.


Mr. Yeltsin's hold on power was tenuous as he battled increasingly hostile legislators for every scrap of reform. At the close of 1990, the newspaper Kommersant wrote: "The problem is not only the cold and the hunger. Strange as it may seem, almost nobody has any faith left in a better future."


The crisis found its man in an unlikely academic — short, plump and always polite, with an intelligentsia pedigree: his grandfather was a popular children's writer and his father was a war correspondent. He had an unflinching belief that there was no option other than to free prices, both to restore the supply chain and to break the state's grip and so give democracy a chance.


Mr. Gaidar achieved the immediate end: food and goods reappeared in stores. But what followed was also chaotic and often ugly. Prices soared manyfold; people reared in the stifling paternalism of the Soviet system were cast onto the unfamiliar free market. Many suffered, especially the old.


Racketeers and bandits created a multiheaded mafia that remains potent and ubiquitous. Privatization led to the transfer of vast wealth to a handful of oligarchs and to rampant corruption. Under Vladimir Putin, the government is taking back many of the powers and controls that Mr. Yeltsin and his young lieutenants tried to release.


This is what most Russians today associate with the name Gaidar. In a nationwide poll conducted two years ago, only 17 percent of Russians thought well of what Mr. Gaidar did.


In an article for Izvestia shortly after he was ousted by Mr. Yeltsin, Mr. Gaidar wrote about Russia's race for a place in the world: "Through superhuman effort, Russia would manage to catch up and overtake, especially in military technology. Yet the world would unnoticeably but steadily move on, and again after disgraceful and torturous setbacks the country would regroup for a leap and make another lurch, and everything would be repeated."


Mr. Gaidar remained optimistic about breaking that cycle. Two years ago, he was asked about the chances for democracy, he answered: "Short-term, bad. Long-term, O.K. Russia has an educated, practical society with a G.D.P. of about $10,000 per capita. You can't isolate a society like that from democracy forever." If so, it will be in part thanks to him. If not, at least he tried.








The Maverick's buck stops here.

John McCain is no longer the media's delight and his party's burr, bucking convention with infectious relish.


The man used to be such a constructive independent that some of his Republican Senate colleagues called him a traitor. Now he's such a predictable obstructionist that he's in the just-say-no vanguard with the same conservatives who used to despise him.


On Tuesday afternoon on the floor, Senator Mitch McConnell, who contemptuously fought McCain's campaign finance reform bill all the way to the Supreme Court, oozed admiration toward his Arizona colleague, as McCain did yet another grandstanding fandango on the health care bill.


Watching him, one can only wonder: Is McCain betraying his best self? Who is the real McCain?


Even some of McCain's former aides are disturbed by the 73-year-old's hostile, vindictive, sarcastic persona — a far cry from The Honorable Man portrait so lovingly pumped up in books by his former aide and co-writer Mark Salter.


After he lost to W. in a nasty primary battle in 2000, McCain delighted in poking at the new Republican president. But he was a trenchant critic of W.'s budget-busting tax cuts and other policies because his objections were consistent and honestly felt. (Or so we thought.)


Now he delights in attacking another man he ran against and lost to: a new Democratic president who had once hoped, based on McCain's past positions, that his former Republican rival might be of help in such areas as the economy, national security, immigration and climate change.


With President Obama, McCain's objections seem motivated more by vendetta than principle.


He angrily turned on his former base, the news media, during his campaign when his lame performance on the economy and his irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin got panned.


In 2000, McCain would devilishly point out Tom Brokaw or a Times journalist to town hall audiences as "one of the last Trotskyites, left-wing, Communist, pinkos of the American media."


In 2008, he snarled to political aides about journalists whom he had once admired, like Brokaw and Charlie Gibson, and he cut off The Times completely. He talks about the media betrayal with the same outsize scorn that he once reserved for his Viet Cong captors.


The famous twinkle is gone, replaced by an infamous bitterness.


After his 2008 race against Obama — a campaign that too often took the low road in toadying to the right and painting Obama as a socialist and terrorist fellow-traveler — the capital eagerly waited to see which McCain would return to the Capitol.


Would McCain be the new lion of the Senate, putting "Country First" for a historic final chapter to his long career? Or would he morph into the sort of knee-jerk Congressional partisan he had once loathed?

Sadly, despite the scary trellis of problems America faces, the unorthodox, brave and cheeky McCain failed to show up.


Part of his sharp turn to the right may be motivated by his primary challenge for a fifth term from J.D. Hayworth, a conservative, anti-immigration talk-show host and former Republican House member (who has also been anti-Times at times).


But he has said himself that it's more about philosophical differences with President Obama.


Unlike his pal Lindsey Graham, who voted to confirm Sonia Sotomayor, McCain seemed motivated by revenge when he voted against Obama's first Supreme Court nominee.


"An excellent résumé and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court," McCain sniffed.


McCain, who once led the fight in the Senate with his pal Joe Lieberman on enacting a global warming bill, shocked many when he flipped on the issue, attacking climate legislation supported by Lieberman, Graham and John Kerry.


McCain has also descended into demagoguery on Medicare. Although he has been in favor of Medicare

reductions to cut the deficit over years, he's now adopted a rigid hands-off Medicare stance.


He rejected the idea of being a point man on immigration in the Senate, apparently preferring to stew.


A couple of times, during floor speeches on health care this month, the Arizona senator noted "that a fight not

joined is a fight not enjoyed."

It seemed to be an inadvertent recognition that he was fighting for the sake of it, not to help the country get past some of the hideous problems left by the man McCain failed to stop in 2000.


Maybe an excellent résumé and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one as a real statesman.









As I listened to Denmark's minister of economic and business affairs describe how her country used higher energy taxes to stimulate innovation in green power and then recycled the tax revenues back to Danish industry and consumers to make it easier for them to make and buy the new clean technologies, it all sounded so, well, intelligent. It sounded as if the Danes looked at themselves after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, found that they were totally dependent on Middle East oil and put in place a long-term strategy to make Denmark energy-secure and start a new industry at the same time.


The more I listened to the Danish minister, Lene Espersen, the more I thought of my own country, where I've been told time and again by U.S. politicians that proposing even a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in gasoline taxes to make America more energy independent and to stimulate fuel efficiency is "off the table," an act of sure political suicide.


Not in Denmark. So I asked the Danish minister: "Tell me, what planet are you people from?"


Espersen laughed. But I didn't. How long are we Americans going to go on thinking that we can thrive in the 21st century when doing the optimal things — whether for energy, health care, education or the deficit — are "off the table." They've been banished by an ad hoc coalition of lobbyists loaded with money, loud-mouth talk-show hosts who will flame anyone who crosses them, political consultants who warn that asking Americans to do anything important but hard makes one unelectable and a citizenry that doesn't even ask for optimal anymore because it believes that optimal is impossible.


Sorry, but there are no good ideas proven to work in other democratic/capitalist societies that we can afford to shove off our table — not when we need to build a knowledge economy with good jobs and everyone else is trying to do the same.


"Already the green taxes here are quite high," said Espersen. "And even though we know this is not popular with business and industry, it has made all the difference for us. It forced our businesses to become more energy efficient and innovative, and this meant that, suddenly, we were inventing things nobody else was inventing because our businesses needed to be competitive."


The Environmental and Energy Study Institute, a nonpartisan research center, and the Embassy of Denmark recently held a briefing on how Denmark is working to become a low-carbon economy. Here are some highlights:


Although it still generates the majority of its electricity from coal, "since 1990, Denmark has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent. Over the same time frame, Danish energy consumption has stayed constant and Denmark's gross domestic product has grown by more than 40 percent. Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the E.U.; due to carbon pricing, through energy taxes, carbon taxes, the 'cap and trade' system, strict building codes and energy labeling programs. Renewable resources currently supply almost 30 percent of Denmark's electricity. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass. ... Today, Copenhagen puts only 3 percent of its waste into landfills and incinerates 39 percent to generate electricity for thousands of households."


The Danish government funnels energy tax revenue "back to industry, earmarking much of it to subsidize environmental innovation," wrote Monica Prasad, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research, in a March 25, 2008, essay in this newspaper. Therefore, "Danish firms are pushed away from carbon and pulled into environmental innovation, and the country's economy isn't put at a competitive disadvantage."


It's why Denmark, with only five million people, boasts some of the leading wind, biofuel and heating, cooling and efficiency companies in the world. Energy technologies are now 11 percent of Denmark's exports. Oil exports and energy taxes also subsidize mass transit and energy efficiency, keeping bills low for Danish consumers.


Where do Danish politicians get the courage to do the right things — even if painful?


"We don't have a lot of resources," said Ida Auken, a spokeswoman for the Danish green/socialist party, S.F. "We have a welfare state that we have to keep up, so we have to think forward all the time and not get stuck in the past. That is where we get the courage. And we have seen it work for 30 years. It is good business. Danish contractors are begging for strict standards on buildings because they know that if they can become efficient and meet them here, they can compete anywhere in the whole world."


My fellow Americans, the fact that the recent Copenhagen climate summit was a bust in terms of solving our energy/climate problems doesn't mean that we can ignore those problems — or that we can ignore how individual countries, like Denmark, have effectively addressed them. With unemployment in Denmark at about 4 percent, compared with our 10 percent, maybe we should at least consider putting a few of its ideas on our table.








FOR anyone who has had to wait a long time to schedule a medical appointment, it might seem as if the world needs more doctors, and that training more of them would be a good idea. An amendment that teaching hospitals are pushing to include in the health care legislation before a final vote is taken in the Senate and the House would do just that. It would add 15,000 medical residency slots to the 100,000 residencies the federal government now finances, most of them through Medicare.


This amendment is being heavily promoted by several doctor specialty societies and the Association of American Medical Colleges, a group that represents the nation's major teaching hospitals. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea. It would raise Medicare's bill for residencies, which is already $9 billion a year. More important, since the cost of health care follows the supply of doctors, the added slots would substantially increase the national health care bill. And the measure would not address the underlying reason that patients are forced to wait to see doctors.


Over the past 20 years, the number of doctors in relation to the American population has risen by 30 percent. Yet in many parts of the country, more doctors has simply meant more doctors, not better access for patients, not better communication among a patient's health care providers, and not better results. The truth is that regions with the highest number of doctors per capita tend to deliver lower quality care at a higher cost.


Increasing the number of doctors would make our health care system worse, not better, because the United States doesn't actually need more doctors. What we do need is for primary care to reclaim its central role in the delivery of medicine, to provide the preventive care, chronic disease management and coordination of services that is lacking in so many parts of the country. Primary care doctors can help patients avoid unnecessary visits to specialists, hospitals and emergency rooms, thus lowering health care costs.


Granted, the teaching hospitals and others lobbying for more doctors would have Congress designate some of the new residency slots for family practice, pediatrics and internal medicine. But there are already plenty of residency openings in those areas that currently go unfilled. And since the amendment would not prohibit the positions going to specialists, that is who would fill them. If the past is prologue, these newly minted specialists would most likely gravitate toward cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami, which already have plenty of doctors — and relatively poor care.


Our national problem is that primary care doctors are leaving their practices in droves, driven out by their low pay (relative to that of specialists), long hours and mountains of paperwork. Some of them go to work in emergency rooms or hospitals, others become specialists, and many simply abandon medicine. The idea that there's a supply-side solution to this problem is a little like thinking you can fill a bucket with holes in the bottom by pouring in more water.


Increasing the number of residency slots would also mean that the United States would continue to rob other nations of their doctors. More than a quarter of American residencies are filled by graduates of foreign medical schools, more than half of them from poor countries. After training here, many stay, leaving the people of their own countries holding the bill for their training. In a kind of reverse foreign aid, the president's Global Health Initiative is poised to invest millions in medical education in Africa and elsewhere, while American academic institutions expect to employ more of their medical school graduates.


Before adding residency slots, Congress should demand that academic medical centers come up with a plan to improve the disorganized, fragmented care that plagues much of the country. Insurers and Medicare should pay family-practice doctors and general internists enough to keep them in the field. And federal financing for medical education programs should hinge on their plans to train more primary care doctors and fewer specialists.


Otherwise, we'll simply end up perpetuating a system in which too many doctors provide poor-quality care at too high a price.


Shannon Brownlee, a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of "Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer." David Goodman is a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.










"FESTIVALS," to adapt an anthropological adage, "are good to think with." An especially salient festival like Christmas is abundantly thought-provoking. Take one aspect of behavior at Christmas: gift-giving.


Our culture divides the world into the public and the private. The public is for business, impersonality, contracts, cold reason, politics, officialdom, money and legal obligation. The private is everything the public is not — warm emotional involvement with family and friends, love, the unofficial, the uncalculating. We place the giving and receiving of personal gifts in the private sphere. Obligatory giving is for us a contradiction in terms.


But lots of things are given at Christmas to people we scarcely know or for whom we feel little warmth — to clients, colleagues, children's teachers or people we ought to remember but seldom do. Giving then spills over into the calculating, the public, the area of social pressure and of obligation. Yet we call these presents "gifts," even though a gift not given freely is no gift at all. Contradictions to which we pay too little attention become, at Christmas, irritatingly apparent. The feast makes us pause and reconsider.


In many cultures, obligatory giving is perfectly normal. People know exactly what to give on what occasion, and how much the gift should cost. Leaving the price on a present is therefore quite acceptable, and so is handing on a conventional present to someone else. There is no relegation of personal gifts to the private sphere, no categorization of gifts as necessarily free and "from the heart," or as occasions for the equally free gift of gratitude.


The lack of a word for what for us is not a gift has clearly been felt by users of American English. An obsolete verb, "to gift" (as in "He gyfted them richely," 16th century), has been picked up and given new work to do. "Gifting" is often used now for handing people objects disguised as gifts for the purpose of carrying out conventions and socially imposed duties. These are operations we define as utterly distinct from giving — although it must be admitted that motives and emotions are seldom either pure or simple.


The practice of "regifting," or handing on an unwanted gift to someone else, goes too far in the opinion of many of us. We can tell that from the way people who "regift" take care that the original giver should not find out. In Japan, should receivers of obligatory gifts hand them on to others, they do so openly and without offense. And gratitude, in such cases, is inappropriate.


After the return of the verb "to gift," why have we not found an alternative noun for "gifts"? Perhaps it is because we need some vagueness behind which to conceal unworthy motives, for the sake of other people's feelings as well as our own. Love and gratitude cannot be demanded from anyone. Yet sometimes, for example at Christmas, we want or even need to appear to feel what we do not.


A person is grateful to receive a gift precisely to the degree to which she realizes that the giver wants to give it, that real benevolence is its meaning. If you "gift" something, offering a present entirely out of duty or convention, do not expect gratitude: receivers usually know what the present represents. And gratitude is not normally inspired by a duty done.


But gratitude is the receiver's to give should she want to. In fact, gratitude is like any true gift, both intentional and gratis. In times when duty and politeness seem to be in decline, receivers are capable of being grateful to — and grateful for — people who are dutiful. Therefore, should "gifting" take place at Christmas, people who think ("thank" is related to "think") will be capable of gratitude for "gifting" too.


Gifts fit into Christmas because memory and narrative are their medium, as well as caring. Money is not the point. Our son, as a child, once gave us a Pyrex lemon squeezer for Christmas, of the kind driven by hand-and-wrist power, with little spikes to catch the pips.


For 30 years we have thought of him (on and off, and more or less) every time we squeezed a lemon. The other day the object fell off our kitchen counter and broke. We are both very upset. We'll buy another lemon squeezer of course. But salad-making in our house will never be quite the same again.


Margaret Visser is the author of "The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude."








Learning from the past is not something we as a nation do well. That is why mistakes are repeated so often and the same pitfalls stumbled into again and again. The memory of the bitter confrontation between the major political parties which dominated the 1990s is still fresh in many minds. So too are the constant instability of that period and the many problems it gave rise to. It seems that the leaders of the PML-N and the PPP rank among those who remember well. In exchange for an agreement to do away with the 17th Amendment, the PML-N has reportedly agreed not to demand the resignation of President Zardari. Indeed, following a meeting between the prime minister and the Punjab chief minister in Lahore, there has been a distinct change in tone. The president then had good reason to smile as he was apprised of this development by Mr Gilani. An open confrontation with the opposition is not something his party could afford right now. There appears to be a definite reluctance, this time round, to jolt the system.


But the PML-N faces something of a dilemma. It wishes to play a constructive role in opposition, but at the same time it must also be seen to be doing the right thing. It is quite obvious that people wish to see Mr Zardari step down. This has nothing to do with politics or the legalities of the situation but simply with morality and public perception of the need to act on principle. There is little doubt that, on this basis, people believe strongly that the holder of the highest office in state should quit. For now the PML-N has acted wisely. Its maturity and its refusal to engage in undignified baying for blood should help bolster its public image. It is also coming across as a loyal ally, determined not to hit the president when he is down. If it succeeds this time round in getting rid of the 17th Amendment, this will be a huge service in itself. The PPP must realise it can no longer continue to make promises it is not willing to keep and now must do away with the amendment and the extraordinary powers it bestows on the president. If it fails to do so once again, the PML-N may find itself left with little choice but to adopt a somewhat different strategy.







Senior PPP leaders, while addressing the provincial party council on Monday, threatened physical harm to four journalists of the Jang Group. Rana Aftab promised an aggressive reaction while Raja Riaz, thundering like a Punjabi film villain, vowed to "chop off their hands" (mercifully not their heads) if they didn't mend their 'anti-government' ways. It is indeed unfortunate, and alarming, that the PPP leadership is behaving in a manner that is not only unsavoury but falls within the ambit of criminality. The anti-media PPP campaign was launched with criticism by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer then joined in. Now this criticism has transformed into real threats.

Legally speaking, Raja Riaz can be booked for making such a real and blatant threat, which was not one made in a moment of unguarded fury but was the logical culmination of a longwinded argument which preceded the ominous warning. Threats are nothing new for us. We have faced rough weathers, suffered hardships, seen business closures and undergone incarcerations. We have seen it all. But so far such behaviour had predominantly remained the forte of successive uniformed despots. No longer, it seems. A culture of elected autocracy sired by moral bankruptcy and growing political isolation appears to be taking roots within the ruling dispensation. It would be advisable for Raja Riaz and his ilk to put their own house in order, provide good governance and fight corruption to improve their political standing instead of threatening journalists. We can take care of our principles and ourselves. Though the seriousness of the threat does not escape us, we cannot help being amused by this shameless display of sycophancy, in which threats are being made in Lahore to actually score loyalty points in Islamabad. What remains worrying is that these sycophants do not know where and when to stop.







For people locked in a constant struggle against poverty and hardship, life just got a little tougher. Complying with tough demands from the IMF, the government will raise power tariff by 13.5 per cent in January. To make matters worse, the subsidy to lifeline consumers, or those who consume 50 units a month or less, is to go. At present, Rs7 billion is given out annually as subsidy to these users. Subsidies for the agricultural sector, specifically on the use of tube-wells, will also go. There is more bad news: power tariffs will rise by another six per cent after March.

The impact of the deal of desperation struck with the IMF last year, as the country faced bankruptcy, is now hitting home hard. The cuts in benefits given to the poorest of the poor means that in shacks and mud huts across the country, lone bulbs or solitary fans could flicker out. The consequence of this is something the government needs to consider. Each rise in the power tariff makes life that much more difficult for people. Other than bottom-end consumers, almost everyone else has to struggle to pay utility bills that rise regularly. Wages, of course, do not keep pace. Inflation adds its own burdens. For the government this means increased unrest beneath what seems to be a calm surface. But even a slight attempt to scratch it reveals the desperation that lies just below. There seems little doubt that it will one day burst out into the open. The power raises mean that the start of the new year will be a bleak one. The government must consider just what this entails and how it will cope with the growing anger of people simply unable to survive.






Lawlessness, violence and corruption flourish only in societies where common purposes lose out to rulers' will. Our history is constant witness to this grim reality.

But for Pakistanis, history is nothing more than a "tableau of crimes, follies and misfortunes of our ancestors." Also, history never looks like history when you are actually living it. We are bent upon living through our history without remorse or respite, and take no lessons from it. For us as an independent nation, this has indeed been a turbulent, ill-piloted rollercoaster ride through trials and tribulations that perhaps no other country in the world has experienced.

During the 62 years of our independent statehood, we have seen the "rule of law" perennially subjugated, constitutions repeatedly trampled and disfigured, elected governments overthrown one after the other in civil and military coups, and political opponents, including elected sitting and former prime ministers and veteran provincial leaders, eliminated with a vengeance.

Against this dismal backdrop, the newly independent judiciary was seen by the nation as a ray of hope and redemption, and it is already repaying some of its old debts owed to the nation since the 1950s. It has at least made a sincere attempt to atone its own past by signalling its resolve not to be used again for legitimisation of unconstitutional takeovers. It has buried the infamous "doctrine of necessity" forever, and now seeks to uphold the rule of law and constitutional supremacy in the country.

This should have been welcomed by the nation and its political leaders as the beginning of the end of the era of dictatorial PCOs. On its part, the army, which is fast recovering from the Musharraf era setbacks to its prestige and professionalism and fighting internal and external enemies of the state, also seems determined to play by the rule. While not interfering in civilian affairs, it now expects the civilian government to function democratically and constitutionally.

But the question is, are our political leaders on their part ready to reverse the galling tide of history? Do they now subscribe to any value system? Do they have the will or the capacity to function democratically and constitutionally? Have they learnt any lessons from their own failures that invariably led to successive political breakdowns and long spells of military rule? They just need to look into their conscience to answer these questions.

And we just need to look at the sequence of events since after the "prodigal" sons of our politics returned to the political centre-stage through the February 2008 elections. They were kept out of the country's politics by a dictator for nearly a decade. On return from their protracted exile, they had an opportunity to re-enter the political arena with clean hands and unassailable credentials. The people, who had struggled for over two years for democracy, an independent judiciary and the "rule of law," welcomed them with open arms. Given the first opportunity, they voted in favour of democracy. They gave a verdict, loud and clear, against dictatorship.

Surely, Gen Musharraf did everything to block this process by assaulting the judiciary, the media and the Constitution through arbitrary and draconian measures. He scored a clean "knockout" against the politicians, first by deporting his sole nemesis and arch challenger, Nawaz Sharif, back to Saudi Arabia in blatant defiance of the Supreme Court's ruling, and, then, throwing the remaining opposition into chaos and disarray by sowing discord in their ranks and undermining their credibility in the eyes of the nation.

Everyone knows what the NRO was all about. By announcing selective "amnesty" for all "politically-motivated" corruption charges pertaining to the period from January 1986 to Oct 12, 1999, in the name of "national reconciliation," he threw its main beneficiary, the PPP, reeling flat on the ground, totally disgraced, demoralised and discredited in the eyes of the people. He was also able to bare the face of "loot and plunder" in Pakistan. He did it with ingenious acumen and sophistry.

Deals are always dubious and have double meanings. For a major people-based political party like the PPP, it would have been far better to make its political comeback through a people-based political process. Elections, which were coming in any case, would have been the most transparent and dignified route for its "return to power." The people were dazed, if not shocked, by the nature, timing and purport of the shady deal under the signatures of a military dictator.

The PPP did no service to itself. Benazir Bhutto soon realised this faux pas. While she was extricating herself from this odious arrangement, she was tragically removed from the scene under the most bizarre and mysterious circumstances. No amount of explanations and clarifications will now undo the damage that has been done to the country's politicians and their slimy politics. They have been "punched" below the belt and forced to take a full step back within months after their return to the country and into the politics.

In a parliamentary democracy, the sovereign power rests with the people, for they alone are in possession of an inalienable will. Our people now know that their will is being violated wilfully by their elected leaders with utter insensitivity. With an elected government, a "sovereign" parliament and a democratically chosen president, there should have been no reason for the people to suffer continued deprivation and hardships.

The common man is suffering the worst-ever hardships. Poor governance is also at its worst in our history. There is no law and order in the country. Crime and corruption are rampant. There is no end to exploitation of the state's resources by public officeholders. No other country is familiar with the practice of forgiving, as a matter of rule, the elite looters, plunderers, loan-defaulters and highly placed hoarders, profiteers and criminals of all sorts. There is also no end to "deceitful" and "vicious" exploitation of the people by the rulers.

As things continue to unfold, the people see what is not, and do not see what is. In this murky atmosphere, the Supreme Court's historic ruling, not against any person or individual but against an outlandish illegality, the NRO, perpetrated by a dictator with the help of his foreign sponsors as his last-ditch effort to hang on to power by all means, brings a gust of fresh air to the nation.

Interestingly, this landmark decision correcting a historic wrong comes on Dec 16, which is chronicled as a "black day" in Pakistan's history. Every year, it reminds us of the country's dismemberment. Our political leaders apparently didn't notice or grasp this coincidental advent of justice. The Supreme Court's ruling with seminal bearing on the future of this country, coming on this agonisingly "fateful" day, should have been an eye-opener even for those who have no comprehension of realities around them.

It should have been a welcome opportunity for the ruling party to use this historic verdict for its much needed "facelift" through honourable means. The problem with us is that we just do not have capacity to digest good things. In 1970, we had the first-ever, and perhaps the last-ever, free elections, and, thereafter, thanks to the political frenzy ignited by "udhar tum, idhar ham" political catchphrase, we lost half the country.

The nation is not ready for another politically-impelled Dec 16 disaster. The PPP's reaction to the Supreme Court's NRO ruling was uncalled-for. The verdict was an opportunity to have the party's leaders exonerated honourably through due judicial process in the courts of law. The ruling was not against them; it was against the unconstitutionality of the NRO. There is no threat to the system unless the politicians themselves mess it up. We cannot afford anymore hara- kiris or blind forays into points of no return.

Any attempts to cry foul in ethnic tunes and threatening political rivals will only discredit the political parties and their leaders beyond repair. Some of their political illiterates are fuming insanity which may only lead the country into yet another phase of political chaos and instability.

Politicians are again proving themselves unworthy of running the country democratically and constitutionally. Attention is already shifting to alternative centres of power. What our political gnomes today forget is that an independent judiciary is their strength, not weakness. They must respect its verdicts and enforce the rule of law, before it is too late.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@







Today we are engaged in a great battle for the rule of law and corruption-free politics. With the demise of the NRO, we have won the first round, but the fight is not over. In fact, it has just begun. All the robber barons are clinging to office like a dirty old piece of chewing gum on the leg of a chair. In this country, nobody vacates office voluntarily. It is not a part of our political culture. They have found in "democracy," the perfect Trojan horse for attaining and preserving power. It has provided a shell under which they plunder and beggar their people. They will not leave easily. They have to be hounded out. But do we have to wait for Armageddon to hound them out? That is the question.

In every period of political turmoil, men must have confidence that the superior judiciary, the guardian of the Constitution, will be fiercely independent and will resist all attempts to subvert the Constitution. It is our good fortune that after years of subservience to the executive, the Supreme Court is now back on its feet. Pakistan too has woken up. It has raised its head, stands tall and erect. Sadly, the hope that was sweeping Pakistan soon began to fade. As apprehended, the euphoria, the excitement that accompanied the Dec 16 verdict has been overtaken in short order by cynicism, fear, doubt and anxiety.


There are already worrisome indications that the executive is determined to defy the apex court. The first threats have already begun to appear. However, it is the last desperate gamble of a hated and doomed, corrupt fascist autocracy – which fortunately, is soon due to make its exit from the stage of history.

Democracy is a splendid conception, but it has the disadvantage, on occasion, of placing in the lead men whose hands are dirty, who are mired in corruption, who will sap the strength of their country, not in years but over a period of months, and encompass the collapse of a great nation in the space of a few weeks. Today Pakistan is ruled by a president who lacks credibility and integrity and seems oblivious to the realities of his awesome responsibilities, and is interested only in perpetuating himself. The country is breaking down. It has become ungovernable and will remain so as long as he remains in power. When he goes abroad or speaks to foreign heads of state, Pakistanis sit on the edge of their collective seats wondering how their ruler will embarrass them next.

To no nation has fate been more malignant than to Pakistan. With few exceptions, Pakistan has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military dictators, political illiterates and carpetbaggers. With all her shortcomings, Benazir Bhutto had undoubted leadership qualities – charisma, courage, political acumen and articulation. After her tragic assassination, Mr Zardari's sudden ascension to the presidency caused panic among people. God help us all!

Isn't it a great tragedy that at a critical time like this, the only office that matters in Pakistan, is the Zardari presidency? Democracy is in limbo. Parliament is paralysed. The opposition languishes in torpid impotence. The Constitution is a figment; all civil and political institutions remain eviscerated. All power is concentrated in the hands of Mr Asif Ali Zardari. He is the president and supreme commander, and party co-chairperson, to boot. He wields absolute power without responsibility and is accountable to none. Instead of governing, Zardari is lurching from disaster to disaster. Is it any wonder that the situation in Pakistan is so dire? How much more dire it must get before the people do something about it.

In this country some, like Zardari, are above the law, above the Constitution. They can do no wrong. Others, less fortunate, are below the law. Years ago, the framers of our Constitution decided to outlaw the trial of a sitting president – sometimes referred to as the "Berlusconi solution," named for the immunity acquired, since withdrawn, by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Italy's highest court made a wise decision in overturning an outrageous law granting the prime minister immunity from prosecution as long as he remained in office. It ruled that the law violated a clause in the Constitution granting citizens equality under the law. The Constitutional Court upheld a fundamental democratic principle that no one, however rich or powerful, can stand above the law.

When politics or politicians fail to resolve, or even to address, the great issues people face, what often happens is that civil society rises up to change politics. Historians call such moments "great awakenings" which often lead to big changes in society. Today Pakistan may be on the edge of such a time with a younger generation of lawyers and civil society as its cutting edge, ready to face the challenges and issues that weigh so heavily on this great country. They must urgently organise themselves throughout the length and breadth of the country at all levels – tehsil, district, division, province and the federal capital.

With all the challenges we Pakistanis face: anarchy from within, irresistible pressure from without, American drone attacks, killing innocent men, women and children, a proxy war, an all-pervasive fear, abject poverty, more than half the population living on less then a dollar a day, a national embarrassment called Zardari, nothing has mobilised public opinion in recent history quite like the infamous NRO.

If people want a change, they will have to vote with their bodies and keep voting in the streets – over and over and over. A regime defying the Supreme Court can only be brought down or changed if enough people vote in the streets. This is what the regime fears most, because it either has to shoot its people or quit. A bloodless revolution but a mighty revolution – that is what we need today.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,







The history of most countries of the world is full of wars and victories and defeats. While a nation is proud of its victories, it is the defeats that leave indelible marks, unforgettable pain and, to some extent, ignominy. Sometimes a victory after many defeats becomes a landmark in the history of that nation. The great victories achieved by Napoleon Bonaparte were followed by his defeats in Russia and at Waterloo. Similarly, Hitler's victories were undone by his ultimate defeat and suicide. Neither the French nor the Germans will ever forget these defeats.

In the same way, the glory of the victories in the First World War won by the Allied Forces, Britain and Australia, were negated by their defeat at Gallipoli at the hands of the Turkish army. On the other hand, the series of defeats of the British forces at the hands of the Germans were turned into glory with the victory of Field Marshal Montgomery's Eighth Army over Field Marshal Rommel's Afrikakorps at Al-Alamein in Egypt. Similarly, all the brutal and bloody victories of the Mongols were wiped out by one ignominious defeat at Ain Jalut in present-day Jordan and Van in modern eastern Turkey at the hands of Malik Az-Zahir Beybars.

In our history, unfortunately, there are no glorious victories of which to be proud. The ignominious defeat and surrender on Dec 16, 1971, at Paltan Maidan was yet another addition to the series of defeats suffered by our country. In history it may have been just yet another defeat, but to me it was one of my most painful memories. Images of Gen Niazi signing the document of surrender to Gen Aurora of the Indian Army will remain with me forever. Every year, the nearer the 16th of December comes, the more my heart sinks. Those who claim that it should be a thing of the past should think again. We should learn from history, not forget it.

I had completed my PhD thesis in October 1971 and submitted it for its defence. Meanwhile, I was preparing research papers for publication and editing a book. Along with many others, I believed that it was necessary to move against the subversive elements being supported by India. As facts slowly emerged from TV and newspaper sources, a dilemma arose. I had seen the army officers and jawans in 1958 when Gen Ayub Khan had taken over and had witnessed the respect they received. Now I was seeing with my own eyes the massacre of our Muslim brethren in East Pakistan. I was shocked to see pictures of dead, mutilated bodies and, worst of all, half-eaten bodies of children being dragged around by wild dogs.

The teachers and students of the university where I studied planned a large demonstration against Pakistan, but I managed to convince them that an educational institution should not indulge in politics. I had, once before, managed to boost Pakistan's image. That was in 1965 when Pakistan and India were at war. Dr de Jong, a noted historian, often discussed the Kashmir dispute and always gave the Indian point of view. After I had set out the acts to him, he became more objective and gave our point of view as well.

Then came that tragic episode of Dec 16, 1971 -- the darkest day of our history. The picture of Gen A A K Niazi signing the surrender documents stayed in my mind for days, robbing me of sleep and appetite and causing me to lose weight. There was nothing I could do. At the time of this disastrous campaign, Habib Jalib had said:

Mohabbat golion se bo rahe ho,/Watan ka chehra khun se dho rahe ho;/Guman tum ko ke rasta kat raha hai,/Yaqin mujh ko ke manzil kho rahe ho.

Later I read in the papers that the Pakistani army had rounded up about 100 Bengali intellectuals, shot them and then buried them in a mass grave in the suburbs of Dacca (Dhaka). Many other atrocious incidents came to light and were described by eyewitnesses. I had difficulty in believing it all, but later, when I came to Pakistan, I heard from colleagues who had been there that most of those stories were more or less true. I was deeply shamed.

Har fasana ghaur se sunta hun, Mohsin, is liey;/Ik haqiqat ke bhi banjate hain afsane bohot.

It was this defeat and the Indian nuclear explosions of 1974 that directly led to my return to Pakistan. My family and I had been coming to Pakistan on holiday in December every year. On our visit in 1974 I discussed the possibility with Mr Z A Bhutto of realising his dream of making Pakistan a nuclear power. Plans were finalised to begin the groundwork for the project. When we came in December 1975, Mr Bhutto requested me to remain in Pakistan, as he felt I was the only person who could accomplish this work.

Details of my giving up an excellent job, the hardships my family faced, the obstructions put in my way, the professional jealousy that arose are all well recorded. Thanks to Allah's blessings and with the hard work and dedication put in by my team, Pakistan became a nuclear and missile power within a relatively short span of time. My technological knowledge was worth billions of dollars for which I received no more than a meagre salary every month. Seeing what I have received in return since, it sometimes makes me wonder if it was worth it. Not only was the technology supplied by me, but Pakistan had not signed the NPT or the NSG. Nonetheless, I have been branded and projected and treated like a traitor. Unfortunately, this achievement has not turned out to be a turning point in the history of our country, as had been hoped.

Ahmed Faraz, once visited the war museum in Dhaka and, in what could be considered to be the sentiments of the whole nation, described his feelings thus:

Kabhi ye shehr mera tha, zameen meri thi,/Mere hi log the, mere hi dast-o-bazoo the;/Main jis dayar me be-yar o be-rafiq phiroon,/Yahan ke sare sanam mere ashna-roo the;/Kise khabar thi ke umron ki ashiqi ka ma'aal/Dil-e-shikista o chashm-e-puraab jaisa tha;/Kise khabar thi ke is dajla-e-mohabbat men/Hamara sath bhi mauj-e-hubab jaisa tha/Khabar nahin ye raqabat thi in khudaon ki/Ke ye siyasat-e darban ki chal thi koi/Do-neem toot ke aisi hui zameen jaise/Meri ikai bhi khab-o-khayal thi koi/Ye museum to hai us roz-e-bad ka aaina/Jo nafraton ki tahun ka hisab rakhta hai/Kahin laga hua anbaar-e-ustakhan, to kahin/Lahoo me dooba hua aftab rakhta hai/Kahin mere sipah-salar ki jhuki garden/Adu ke saamne hathiar daalne ka samaan/Mere Khuda meri beenaee chin-le mujh say/Main kaise dekh raha hun hazimat-e yaraan/Main sar jhukae hue, dard ko chhupae hue/Palat kar aaya to her rahguzar andheri thi/Main sochta hun abhi to chiragh roshan the/Kabhi yeh sheher mera tha, zameen meri thi.

The nearer Dec 16 comes, the more often I feel like praying:

Yaad-e maazi azaab hai, ya Rab,/Chhin-le mujh se hafiza mera.

We should remember that those who do not learn from past mistakes always end up repeating them. It looks very much like we have not learnt anything from Dec 16, 1971. We are killing many of our own innocent people at the behest of others. The national fabric is in tatters and only Divine Intervention can save us and put things right. Pakistan is in mortal danger.







India Today, in its June 2009 issue, provided some interesting facts about the newly elected MPs of the 15th Lok Sabha. According to the magazine, the 15th Lok Sabha is the richest ever Lok Sabha to be elected in India's electoral history. It has a staggering 300 MP who are billionaires based upon their declared assets. This, however, is not the only interesting fact. The number of MPs with criminal records has gone up from 128 in 2004 to 153 in 2009, which is 28.6% of the House.

Indian democracy is working and Indians take huge pride in their democracy. India is now marching ahead towards progress and development at breakneck speeds. The whole world extols the virtues of India's democracy and it is hailed as the largest democracy in the world. Yet the same democracy has 153 members of parliament with criminal records. The Indians don't seem to be worried about it and are not shy of reporting it either. The Indian democratic system has worked smoothly for over 60 years now.

Now let's cross to this side of the border. The nascent democratically elected political set up is once again under attack from the "concerned" citizenry which is worried about a president with a tainted past. I too believe that the incumbent government has a lot to prove and leaves much to be desired, but I respect the right of the common man who has voted for the PPP and considers it his right to have a say in running the affairs of this country, come what may. We know the consequences of not respecting the voter's choice.

Zardari was elected by the assemblies, so all those members of parliament who elected him as president must also be asked to resign if he has to go. This will mean, at the very least, asking all PPP parliamentarians to resign from the parliament because they chose the wrong person to sit in the Presidency. This should, also "logically" entail barring all voters who have voted for the PPP from ever voting again in any national election because if history holds any lesson they will choose the same parliamentarians again and they, in turn, may choose Zardari again. Only these measures can stop Zardari from getting into any political office again. Does every one like this "logical" way of removing Zardari and precluding the possibility of ever seeing him again in an elected office?

This will also logically mean winding up the current government which came through a free and fair election and handing it over to a caretaker setup that will then once again arrange a general election, probably wasting more public money and resources than this government could possibly squander or steal. What impression will this convey to the world about us?

But all the above is irrelevant as long as the "concerned citizenry" is unhappy with the president, what right has he to sit in the Presidency. Let's talk about an important fact. Would we not, by doing away with the political regime in essence, be also telling the common voter that he is nothing but a mere actor in a political circus? That he can vote to his heart's content but the real decisions will be made by those who probably have never voted?

Why should, then, the common man stand, regardless of rain and sunshine, in long queues to vote for his candidate and fulfil his national duty. No doubt, the percentage of registered voters who do vote keeps falling in each general election. We are ready to oust the existing system and try once again like always before for a better outcome. Fine, let's do it but please answer some of my questions also:

Having done away with Zardari and the PPP government, what change for the better will happen when someone else comes to power? Will milk and honey immediately start flowing in our country and a system that has never been allowed to function, on various flimsy premises, for 60-odd years, start producing an honest political class overnight? Is there any guarantee that the new incoming government will not lose favour with us in less then just two years? Do we really think that democracy is all about the personalities at the top and the system's smooth functioning is of no consequence?

Good things come to those who are patient and persevere. Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit; however, in our beloved nation any tree that fails to bear fruit in a short time is considered unworthy and is quickly uprooted. Miracles don't happen, at least not in this age. Everything has to be achieved through perseverance and constant endeavour, without a thought about the fruit of effort. It is only then that the fruit is obtained.

We as nation want instant results and improvements and want a messiah with a magic wand who will wish away all our problems in one magic wave of his gleaming wand. Let us be realists. We all know that the present government is not made up of saints but there is a Buddhist saying:

"If you are lying on the ground, you must use the ground to raise yourself."

We too must use the existing political parties and system to improve our lot and raise ourselves. Everything else has been tried and has failed.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Australia.







The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

Nations where double standards become rampant are destroyed by God – Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)

The prime minister is defiant. He has spurned the Supreme Court judgment. Ministers in Sindh call the December 16 judgment a conspiracy against their province. Its minister for interior, whose bi-polar outbursts and hyperbole are commonplace, warns of an East Pakistan repeat. In sum, the 17 judges are being painted as the 'dividers' of the country, while the PPP ministers and their mouthpieces are presenting themselves as the great 'uniters.' Some are openly committing contempt of court by attacking the judges. Emboldened by the support received from a section of the media, well-respected columnists and human rights activists, Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer is in the chorus asserting that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry too faced allegations but he didn't resign. Taseer has a point here. Had the CJ resigned, we would have lost him forever. Instead he chose to fight and win his case.

But do you seriously think that 'Snow White and the seven dwarfs' can prove their innocence?

Barrister Jawaid Iqbal Jafree does not think so. "Two days ago, the Lahore high Court heard my 11-year-old writ in which I had prayed back in 1997 that assets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and their touts, accessories and advocates be frozen and confiscated for national treasury." The barrister from Harvard Law School, who is an artist with several international art exhibitions under his belt, is somewhat of a maverick. His writ petitions are peculiarly penned. I doubt if many in our courts can fathom the double entendres laced with humorous or rhetorical effect they are meant to evoke. Puns and parables aside, he is a lone crusader whose voice against the corrupt has so far been choked. He's unfazed. Happy that his decade-old petition may yet have a ripple effect, he says: "The revival of my writ is causing much concern, because there is no pardon in my books. I am disinterested in paisa, power, pelf or patronage." The next hearing is on January 21.

Jafree requested the court to withdraw immunity for VVIPs like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari and freeze their wealth. "My original writ was way ahead of the present furore. Had the matter not been delayed and time wasted since 2000, today Pakistan would not be the begging-bowl state where philanderers and forex mafia rule, while half the nation goes without two meals a day. I had offered to excavate and extract $20 billion from 200 'top' money-launderers within a year provided there was no interference or intrusion."

"This is in national interest," he insists.

The Supreme Court is already seized with this issue and has taken cognisance of what Jafree has been trying to drum in since years. The chief justice of Pakistan has nominated Supreme Court Justice Ghulam Rabbani as head of the monitoring cell in the apex court. The chief justices of the provincial high courts have nominated themselves as heads of the monitoring cells in their provinces. These are men of character and standing: Chief Justices Sarmad Jalal Osmani in Sindh; Khwaja Muhammad Sharif in Punjab; Ijaz Afzal Khan in NWFP; Qazi Faez Issa in Balochistan.

Asma Jehangir, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has written an article questioning the Supreme Court judgment. "Is it the function of the superior courts to sanctify the infamous NAB ordinance, the mechanism itself and to restructure it with people of their liking?" she asks. "It is true that the public has greater trust in the judiciary than in any other institution of the state, but that neither justifies encroachment on the powers of the executive or legislature nor does it assist in keeping an impartial image of the judiciary."

She has also demanded that the judges be scrutinised the way politicians are. "The NRO judgment has struck down the law also for being violative of Article 62(f), which requires a member of parliament to be, 'Sagacious, righteous and non-profligate and honest and ameen'. Hence, the bench will now judge the moral standing of parliamentarians on these stringent standards set by the notorious Zia regime… If parliamentarians, who also go through the rigorous test of contesting elections in the public domain, are to be subjected to such exacting moral standards then the scrutiny of judges should be higher still. After all, judges are selected purely on the value of their integrity and skills. Judges who erred in the past seek understanding on the plea that they subsequently suffered and have made amends. Should others also not be given the same opportunity to turn over a new leaf? How will sagacity and non-profligate behaviour be judged?"

The politicians have had several opportunities "to turn over a new leaf." The people have lost hope. We need change. "Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time," says Bill Gates. The richest man in America who changed the world with his invention of the Internet Explorer and the Windows computer software is still inventing. But this time around he's inventing ways of investing his billions on improving the quality of life across the globe. Pakistanis too need a bailout, not the type the IMF, the World Bank or phony 'Friends of Pakistan' offers, but a political bailout from the corruption that has turned us into a basket case. Islam advocates the severest punishment for those who steal. Instead we allow our leaders to steal. We reward the robbers by re-electing them not once but many times over. As I write, our leaders' hands are in the till.

Going rogue is then the answer. No, I'm not referring to the woman with a corny voice Sarah Palin's bestseller Going Rogue, the same lady whom our president called 'Gorgeous'. I'm advocating a complete breakaway from the failed political system that has plundered us since our independence. Instead of sitting in drawing rooms and becoming the chattering classes; instead of being ensconced in television studios and repeating the same mantra like broken down records; instead of churning out the same baloney year after year in the newsprint, let the initiated, the intellectuals, the anchors, the journalists, the columnists and the think tanks challenge their grey matter and come up with practical 'how to' clean the mess and move on.

Pakistan must change the way it selects, elects and chooses its leaders. We cannot allow 30 per cent of people to elect leaders who are serial liars, lotas and convicts. They buy votes with their billions. Once in office they multiply their wealth. No, we don't want this kind of 'democracy.' Let our constitutional experts, political scientists and thinking heads hold moots on which political system is best for Pakistan.

Say goodbye to men and women who have made this country a mess. I have seen these foxes and vixens operate through the decades, using their skills, wealth, family name and social status. The list includes fat-cat lawyers who have been in and out of governments while raking it in and selling their soul to the ruler of the day; politicians who have changed loyalties and blackened their faces but still continue to come on talk shows; media practitioners who have enriched themselves with plots and pelf – abusing the leaders when out of power and kowtowing to the same when in power.

Until that happens the Supreme Court is our saviour. The judges are our crusaders.

Email: &








Little noticed but highly significant development took place on December 16 when a British court issued warrants of arrest for Israel leader of Kadima party Tpizi Livni, who was Israel's foreign minister during the December 2008 brutal offensive against Gaza. In 22 days of savagery, Israel pulverised Gaza, ruined its economy and killed 1,417 Palestinian as against 13 Israelis killed.

Israel's devastating military operation has been condemned by the international community as crimes against humanity and war crimes. Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued separate reports documenting Israeli brutality. The UNHCR decided to probe the massive destruction and killing of civilians, including women and children. A delegation led by Goldstone, a former judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa, submitted his report on September 17 to the UNHCR in Geneva corroborating the findings of the AI and the HRW. The matter was also taken up by the UN Security Council but due to the US threat of veto it did not pass any resolution.

Gaza is a tiny strip of land between Egypt and Israel with 1.5 million inhabitants. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has retrained complete control of the territory by sea, air and land. It has imposed a blockade on Gaza. Essential food supply, fuel, electricity and water have been denied, impoverishing the Palestinians' pitiable existence.

Last week a British court issued the warrant of arrest against Tpizi Livni who was due to visit London to address the Jewish National Fund Conference, but postponed her visit after being tipped off about the proposed action. The warrant was issued at the request of lawyers representing Gaza victims.

The episode, nevertheless, has shaken the Israeli government. Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected 'this absurdity' and has mounted extreme pressure on the British government to withdraw court powers under the ill-defined legal concept of 'universal jurisdiction' on which this warrant was based. Britain is a staunch supporter of Israel. The episode has, therefore, immensely embarrassed the UK. Foreign Secretary Miliband assured Israel that "Britain will no longer tolerate legal harassment of Israeli officials".

This was not the first time that British courts have issued such a warrant. In September a similar warrant was issued against Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak under the 1988 Criminal Jurisdiction Act which gives the court in England and Wales universal jurisdiction in war-crime cases. Being a cabinet minister of Israel Barak escaped arrest invoking his diplomatic immunity.

The concept of 'universal jurisdiction' is an extremely useful tool to pursue and punish perpetrators of war crimes. It, however, needs refinement and clarity. Legal experts are of the opinion that due to this legal remedy any high-profile visitor involved in a military or anti-terrorist operation would be scared to visit a country that has such a provision in its constitution which could, in times to come, blossom into an internationally accepted legal norm. Earlier, a Swedish court under the same provision had issued a warrant against Ariel Sharon, Israel's defence minister. The concept is the evolution of humanitarian laws and conventions to fix responsibility of war crimes on the leader rather than the soldier. The International Criminal Court in The Hague, now trying the leaders of Serbia and Yugoslavia, has drawn strength from this concept.

The Kashmiri expatriate in England can perhaps invoke similar action against the Indian government for the atrocities committed by the Indian security forces and killing of 70,000 Kashmiris since 1989.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








NO saner element would disagree that there was dire need to avoid taking steps that could raise the political temperature and political parties should shun the path of confrontation so that the democratic process moves on. However, it is very intriguing and shameful that political parties in this country come closer only to protect and promote their vested interests and are not bothered about politics of principles.


Monday's crucial meeting between Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and PML (N) President Mian Shahbaz Sharif is being viewed by analysts in this perspective and is a clear manifestation of how far our political forces can go to accommodate each others' woes that have least to do with the overall interest of the country. While it is true that the country, which is passing through a highly volatile phase of its existence, can hardly afford more political or economic instability yet the way the two major political parties are conducting themselves sends wrong message all around. It is because of this that the understanding arrived at the meeting of the two leaders has been described by some sections of the press as ceasefire dictated by political expediencies. It is understood that Mr. Gilani was dispatched to Lahore by the beleaguered President, who needs some breathing space. And as in the past, the PML (N) has not disappointed him by extending a hand of friendship and giving firm assurances that the largest opposition party would not demand resignation from the man at the hilltop. Fine. But we wish all this was based on principles and not on the basis of pure mutual facilitation that could benefit only individuals and not the system or the country. Beyond that the understanding has no moral or ethical grounds and can, in fact, be termed as another sort of NRO. If the two parties are genuinely sincere in their moves then one fails to understand why a failed attempt was made to engineer coup in Punjab through imposition of the Governor's rule and the foul-mouthed Governor is still there poking his nose in everything political even after the move to get Punjab backfired. This is a sad state of affairs disfiguring not only the image of the Government but also that of the Government-in-waiting.








IT must have come as rude shock to the power consumers that the Government would increase the rates of electricity significantly from the first day of the New Year. According to reports, a decision has been taken to jack up the prices by 13.5% for all types of consumers, which would surely add to the miseries of the people who are already groaning under the skyrocketing inflation and shortage of essential commodities.

Power tariff in Pakistan is one of the highest in the world and that is why consumers are unable to digest the frequent increases in the rates of the electricity. There is hardly any economic or technical justification for frequent and quantum jump in power rates and the decisions are made just to cover up wrong decisions, commissions and kickbacks, rampant corruption in WAPDA and KESC, broad daylight thefts, thefts in collusion with officials of the distribution companies, unacceptable line losses and the worn out distribution system. Experts agree that the front-loaded power purchase agreements between WAPDA and the IPPs, high per kilowatt rates for power actually supplied, a guaranteed internal rate of return of 18% for each IPP and skewing ratio of thermal to hydroelectric power plants have played havoc with the power sector of the country. All this shows that the trouble in the power sector is the making of the successive Governments. High tariffs have increased manufacturing and farming costs across the board. It is obvious that the Government is obliged to increase the power tariff despite negative consequences because of its commitments with the IMF. The IMF is notorious for pressurizing the recipient countries to make such highly unpopular and unjustified decisions and that is why its cliental has shrunk. It is also regrettable that the increase is being made at a time when the curse of load-shedding has again resumed after a break of few weeks, making it all the more difficult for the consumers to digest the increase.







THE Government appears to be all set to make public in the next few days the list of those who got their loans waived in the past which would expose the people who through influence robbed the banks and managed to go scot-free. The menaces of massive write-offs and the ever-ballooning figure of the non-performing loans go on unchecked which affected the financial sector and the national economy.

The black laws such as the NRO, which has been rightly declared by the Supreme Court as void ab initio and the writing-off of loans have made a mockery of the nation and caused disappointment and anger at large. While the PPP Information Secretary Fauzia Wahab announced on Monday that the list of beneficiaries of write-off loans would be made public, we expect the Government to take the initiative and direct the banks to recover the hundreds of billions of rupees from those who made fortunes at the cost of the poor masses savings. Though the National Accountability Bureau recovered Rs 116 billion from the loan eating crocodiles and got loans worth Rs 67 billion rescheduled during its initial few years, yet the Bureau became toothless after sometime when politicians got the opportunity to pressurize the government. The Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly received a long list of hundreds of pages with details of loan defaulters from the Finance Ministry, which gives a whooping figure of Rs 400 billion on account of non-performing loans till end November 2009. A report submitted to the Supreme Court by the State Bank of Pakistan revealed that Rs 193 billion were written off between 1997-2009. It is a known fact that those who got their loan written off are still running profitable industries and business houses and can repay their loans with interest. We expect that along with the NRO beneficiaries, these hitherto untouched plunderers would be brought to the net and every single penny recovered from them, which would boost the deposit base of banks and utilised to reinvigorate the economy.







Like the myth of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda headquartered in FATA, another absurd claim has been made that Mullah Omar along with his Shura is based in Quetta, Pakistan. This story woven by spin doctors has caught the imagination of policy makers in Washington and they are playing it impishly. Pakistani leaders already harassed by never ending allegations are at a loss how to respond to the latest assault since denials make no impression on the accusers. After repeating the story several times, US officials laid bare their actual motive by mentioning their flaming desire to employ the horrible drones in Balochistan including its capital as well. Let us carryout a dispassionate appraisal of this claim. It is now a well known reality that Afghan Taliban hold control of nearly 80% Afghan Territory and wield complete sway in southern, eastern and to some extent western Afghanistan.

These regions provide them a secured base to operate into western, central and northern Afghanistan and return back. Had their hold over southern and eastern Afghanistan been weak, it was logical to assume that they might have made FATA or Pashtun belt of Balochistan adjacent to Helmand Province as their bases of operation. Now that over 30000 troops of Pakistan Army have taken full control of South Waziristan (SW) and division plus force is in North Waziristan (NW), part of which is in Makeen area, any possibility of Afghan Taliban operating from these regions is ruled out.

The same scenario is applicable to Al-Qaeda. The only possible space which still requires further scanning is the countryside west of Ladha and Makeen in SW towards Afghanistan border. Using boots on ground strategy, our troops are gradually clearing these areas as well. Within Afghanistan, morale of US-Nato forces has sunk low and bunker mentality has crept in due to sudden increase in casualty rate. Karzai regime has no control over state affairs and his credibility after August fraudulent election has eroded further. The Afghan National Army and Police are in bad shape and operationally unfit to confront Taliban challenge, even after years of training and billions of US dollars spent.

Afghan Pashtuns hate Americans and are supportive of Taliban. Gulbadin Hikmatyar, and Jalaluddin Haqqani are also anti-American and anti-Karzai. Given the favourable operational environment in Afghanistan for the Taliban, it will be utterly foolish on part of Mullah Omar and his Shura to abandon the fully secured bases in Afghanistan and opt for insecure base in Quetta where CIA, FBI, US Marines, Blackwater, MI-6, RAW, and shady Baloch separatist groups command strong influence.Target killings by Baloch terrorist groups in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan have become a norm. Jacobabad and Pasni air bases in this region of Pakistan are still under the operational control of US troops. Shamsi base near Kharan has also been in use for launching drones where reportedly Blackwater elements are employed. Quetta being a capital city is too open and conspicuous for Mullah Omar to hide particularly with a large bounty on his head. He is conscious of his critical role in keeping Taliban resistance movement in Afghanistan alive. Realising that his personal survival is vital for the success of Taliban movement, he has opted to go underground and remain out of sight. Since December 2001, none has seen him. Except for his hardcore loyalists, Omar cannot trust anyone, least of all Pakistan that had betrayed him and joined hands with USA to topple his regime in Kabul. How can he trust Pakistan which had arrested dozens of Taliban leaders and handed them to USA for internment in horrific Guantanamo Bay Prison and continues to provide logistics to US-NATO troops. Pashtun areas in Balochistan have kept themselves dissociated from RAW backed Baloch insurgency, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Under such insalubrious environments, it is preposterous for the US to keep insisting that Afghan Shura is in Quetta. If for discussion sake we accept the wacky claims of presence of Afghan Shura in Quetta and that of Osama led Al-Qaeda in FATA theoretically; it implies that as far as US is concerned battle for Afghanistan is almost over. The news should have logically instilled Gen McChrystal and his team with joy. Learning that the entire Taliban leadership and Al-Qaeda had fled to Pakistan, making it much easier for them to get hold of few thousand rag tag Taliban fighters and not more than 100 Al-Qaeda fighters devoid of leadership, especially considering the military situation in the region, would mean the war was won.

Some of the precautionary measures required to be taken were to prevent re-entry of Afghan Shura and Al-Qaeda leadership into Afghanistan by enhancing number of border check posts from 100 to 1000, improving surveillance means coupled with fencing and mining of entire 2500 km long Afghan-Pakistan border as frequently requested by Pakistan but refused by Karzai and USA for reasons best known to them. These measures would have broken the nexus between leaders and the led and rendered the two entities like fish out of water.

No such thing has happened since McChrystal is depressed because of Osama phobia. He considers Osama an invisible phantom residing in FATA who can walk across Durand Line unobserved and unless he is killed war cannot be won. Within Pakistan, once US intelligence agencies acquired credible intelligence, should they not have carried out joint raids on suspected locations without wasting a minute?

CIA, FBI and US diplomats should not have encountered any bottlenecks since they move about in Pakistan unchecked and enjoy full cooperation of all law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Was it wise on part of US leadership to broadcast the locations of Omar and Osama prematurely thereby giving them full chance to runaway? Knowing well that the Pakistan Army is deeply committed in fighting foreign agencies sponsored terrorists in various parts of NWFP and FATA and achieving fruitful results, the US instead of feeling mighty pleased and cheering up its ally, is it morally correct to criticise and complain? Areas in Waziristan which are presently quiet and neutral are being provoked through drone attacks. The US is pressing Pakistan to shift more troops from its eastern border and to start operations in Wazir inhabited SW and in NW where it fantasises that most Taliban insurgents have fled. It is trying to create conditions wherein Pakistan Army is compelled to fight the combined force of Maulvi Nazir, Hakimullah Mehsud and Gul Bahadur, opponents who would never normally be aligned. Having fully committed the army in fighting a futile US war on terror, RAW sponsored terrorists duly aided by Blackwater elements are playing havoc into major cities of Pakistan through almost daily bomb blasts and suicide attacks. While CIA and FBI along with its shady private mercenary outfits are fully involved in the destabilisation game, the US leaders are hypocritically singing tunes that Pakistan is a key ally and the US seeks its stability and prosperity. Fact of the matter is that Omar, Osama and nuclear cards are being played with devious intentions. The real purpose behind it is to cast aspersion on Pakistan that Pakistan Army and the ISI are aligned with Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda and sheltering them.

It implies that there is a nexus between Pakistan-Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda and Pakistan is fully supporting Taliban and Al-Qaeda in their war against US-Nato forces in Afghanistan. With leadership of the two deadly organisations based inside Pakistan, it becomes a fit case for USA to mount an offensive against Pakistan to root out safe sanctuaries and turn the corner. (A preferred place for this incursion would be oil and gas rich Balochistan, directly in the path of the proposed American 'surge' into Helmand.

—The writer is a defence and security analyst.







PM Gilani's Press conference within 48 hours of 17-judge full court panel Supreme Court landmark judgment has been dubbed as "confrontational, indicating confusion and government heading for a clash with the judiciary", remarked Chaudhry Nisar, the opposition leader of the Nation Assembly. Gilani's conference has exposed a person to the nation who displayed little regard for the law of the land, the constitutional and democratic aspiration of the nation-seeking end of corruption and respite from illegal unlawful foreign attacks. In all probability the verse he quoted for honorable Babar Awan is more of an epithet for his and his party's government, and its attitude towards good governance. In all probability, Gilani's Press conference has taken away what little credibility he had in the eyes of ordinary people.

Going by the yardstick of history, PPP should have and should honor Supreme Court's decision because support of courts strengthens democracy and accountability is very much part of democratic dispensation of good governance. At least this is what US President Thomas Jefferson did in Marbury v. Madison case in 1803 in which he upheld the Supreme Court judgment despite his open disapproval. The case established the US Supreme Court's powers of judicial review, which allowed courts to veto acts of Congress that violate the Constitution of the United States. Marbury v. Madison established the courts as the ultimate interpreters of the Constitution, giving them an essential role to play in the American system of checks and balances. Pakistan today is standing in the twilight zone with hope on the horizon and darkness chasing it. It is hoped that PPP government will support the rule of law so that country transcends into light of day for which lawyers, judiciary, civil society, media and people at large have struggled this far. PPP government cannot blame Supreme Court for judicial review because enough time was given to settle the issue of NRO. It was fear of losing show of power in the parliament that PPP left the issue unresolved. It is opined that the Supreme Court's decision of monitoring the accountability process is a positive step because it will help expedite the decades old cases. The critics Monitoring Committees have failed to recognize the ground realities including use of delaying tactics by the parties for decades to avoid judgments. The nationwide monitoring of court case data is an established process. Politicians cannot self-monitor their accountability. If only realized, monitoring will only add to transparency and accountability process.

The experts including Atizaz Ashan are of the view that the Supreme Court's NRO judgment should be upheld in letter and in spirit. PPP leadership including Zardari should face the independent courts to settle cases the cases permanently. Gillani's statement that Zardari has already faced eleven years in court defies the norm of justice. No one is above law. The government instead of playing judge and jury both should allow the courts to dispense justice to bring an end to two sets of law in the country: one for the rich and another for the poor.

In Islamic Republic of Pakistan no law can be passed in violation of Islamic Sharia. Zardari as president of the Islamic Republic cannot exercise immunity under relevant articles including 248. The constitutional immunity for the president defies the fundamentals of country's constitution which draws its strength from the belief that all power on earth belongs to Allah Almighty and leader of Islamic Republic of Pakistan upholds the trust. It is therefore opined that there is no immunity for Zardari and it is only matter of time that immunity clauses for all heads will be challenged and scrapped. If and when that happens, it will facilitate eradication of corruption, instilling culture of accountability and transparency in the country. The opposition leader of Sindh Assembly has supported scrapping of NRO.

PPP had enough time to plan its NRO strategy, which is evident in the absence of resignations, removal of interior secretary and repositioning of Babar Awan to Law and Justice Ministry. PPP government's decision to hold party based local body elections show that like Musharraf they plan to maintain one-man presidential form of government despite the public mandate for change. It is opined that mired in controversies PPP government will slug it out in power to hold its end of infamous deal (NRO was brokered by US and UK, WSJ dated 17 December 2009). The continuation of Musharraf policies, absence of parliamentary form of government and good-governance is undermining country's economic, military and geographic integrity under infamous Kerry-Lugar Bill, illegal drone attacks, Pak-Afghan Trade Transit Pact envisaging trade route to India at the behest of Washington, controversial expansion of US embassy and alleged operation of mercenary forces in Pakistani territory. PPP instead of using courts, police and law of the land and international law is kowtowing judge and jury-cowboy justice system to kill innocent people.

It is about time concerned authorities in Pakistan and rest of the world including human rights and international convention watch groups help bring an end to war crimes committed against innocent people of sovereign Pakistan by civil, military and intelligence administrations of America, India, Afghanistan and NATO. It is hoped that Gillani administration will approach UN General Assembly, UNSC, SCO and EU Council to register war crimes cases against Obama and NATO allies. Reportedly, public is already demanding inquiry against Merkel for her role in cover-up of innocent Afghan deaths due to German airstrike. It is opined like war criminal Blair, Bush, Obama, Olmert, Livni, Musharraf, Brown and other allies will not survive the spillover of "just-war" inquiries. In case Pakistan's sovereignty is continued to be violated, in step with Italian and British law officers concerned authorities should exercise right of universal jurisdiction and issue summons for arrest of US, EU, NATO, ISAF leaders as war criminals and those cooperating with them in Pakistan. After all international Conventions and Laws are based on equality and reciprocity. The statement of Pakistan's foreign office urging American diplomats to uphold international norms is too little too late. Pakistan needs to reject infamous Kerry-Lugar Bill reduce number of US diplomats to single digit to preserve working relations with US and national interests.

Finally, PPP government was given enough time to deal with NRO. It had a choice to cleanse itself from tainted leadership and complete its democratic tenure, but it has failed to put its own house in order. Furthermore it has failed to deliver in terms of good governance, protect lives of ordinary citizens from mafias, cartels and consequences of America's war in the region. Pakistan has reportedly lost 28,000 persons in the war including 800 drone related deaths. Its pro-US and India policies are a threat to country's integrity, economic and security interests including nuclear program. In all probability PPP government humiliated by its failed policies is yearning political "martyrdom" at the hands of martial law to stay relevant in politics of democracy. If political pundits are right, martial law is not in the offing. Thereby leaving PPP with two options; uphold NRO verdict in letter and in spirit or get ready to face a democratic change. History is a witness that time and tide wait for no man.







The long-awaited verdict of the Supreme Court which declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance null and void has been welcomed by the legal community and the public at large enthusiastically so much so that the frightened government put the police on red alert so as to prevent people from celebration openly in the streets which would have been a big embarrassment for the ruling junta, who appears to be determined to safeguard personal interest over and above the national interest perhaps on some tip from some other benefactors.Though this verdict of the court has awakened many hopes in the people who want to see accountability and responsibility restored in this country.

The NRO was having a fatal impact on the public morals giving a license to cheat and steel to political office holders and other high-ups. Whatever blessing is expected by Pakistani people from the 'return to democracy' has so far betrayed all expectation with the democratical set-up high-jacked by exploiters and vested interest groups. In this time when Pakistan is at war against its own population and under considerable pressure from the Americans and their cronies, who are day-in day-out visiting Pakistan to pressurize its leaders to accept their demand for doing more and relief them from their ill-begotten war in Afghanistan our stand at this juncture will make or break our unity, we need more than at any other time a strong and competent government to take their just stand. How can this be done by a government like this which has lost its creditability in the cheap maneuvering with regard to the NRO in order to save their own necks? I was enrolled as member Punjab Bar Council in 1973 and 1st International Jurist Conference was held at Karachi in 1974, where I was to read my paper on Turkish Judiciary. It was on my arrival in Karachi that concept of Rule of Law was dinned into my ears by my friend in RCD SAP Mr. Iqbal Haider, who was very actively opposing this conference and asked me to abstain also, who then use to consider PPP government not only a usurper of fundamental rights to establish fascist rule, a victim of which was its own Secretary General Mr. J. A. Rahim. Iqbal Haider was then very active in formulating public opinion against the government.

Now he has joined HRCP, where his views are still not known but their lady chairperson has expressed personally biased and highly controversial views against the NRO decision, which may lead towards another type of anarchy. This kind of attitude needs some explanation in detail to refresh our memories so that we show some responsibility in talking to media, interesting to note is that around two thousands years back it was Aristotle and Plato who endorsed the need and requirement of rule of law, writing that "law should govern", and those in power should be "servants of the laws" and not try to place themselves above it. The ancient concept of rule of law is to be distinguished from rule by law, according to some leading political science professors "The that under the rule of law the law is preeminent and can serve as a check against the abuse of power. Under rule by law, the law can serve as a mere tool for a government that suppresses in a legalistic fashion." Which is still going on in our land of the pures? An allusion to the rule of law applying to the Median kingdom is found in the book of Daniel, where it is stated that not even that king can arbitrarily alter a law he has previously enacted: The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked. The concept of Rule of law is not an exclusively western notion. For example, it was developed by Islamic jurists before the twelfth century, so that no official could claim to be above the law, not even the caliph under the laws of Islamic Sharia..

In 1215 AD, a similar development occurred in England: King John was forced by the English Barons to grant at Runny made on June 15, 1215 Charter of civil rights and liberties to establish England's future sovereigns and magistrates at least partially within the rule of law. In 1776, the notion that no one is above the law was popular during the founding of the United States, for example Thomas Paine wrote in his pamphlet Common Sense "that in America, the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."

In 1780, John Adams enshrined this principle in the Massachusetts Constitution by seeking to establish "a government of laws and not of men.Different people have different interpretations about exactly what "rule of law" means. According to political theorist Judith N. Shklar, "the phrase 'the Rule of Law' has become meaningless thanks to ideological abuse and general over-use", but nevertheless this phrase has in the past had specific and important meanings. Among modern legal theorists, most views on this subject fall into three general categories: the formal approach, the substantive approach, and the functional approach.In recent years, access to justice has emerged as a top priority and the focus of substantial international funding in Pakistan. Campaigns have been promoted and a great publicity stunt for the current government has been generated. The very goal of bringing justice to the ordinary citizen of Pakistan has however, altogether failed. As part of the early initiatives of the military government, which assumed power in October 1999, was the devolution of power down to a grassroots level. The assumption was that increasing accountability to the grassroots level would improve service delivery, including that of law and order as well as the dispensation of justice.

The government has claimed rampant success, but when looking at the lives of common Pakistanis as far as improvement of the access to justice is concerned, success seems distant. In the name of reforms, the government has only managed to get the course of justice from the hands of politicians to those of the feudal lords. The recent Judgement on NRO is an effort to return to Rule of Law. The present situation is not only alarming but also confirms that the system of might is right is still in place in Pakistan. Rather than dispensing justice though, the system is merely another means of political and feudal control of the population. It leaves individuals vulnerable, with no hope of justice. Such a situation can only emerge in an exceptional breakdown of the rule of law if national interest is not supreme.

It is high time and a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning can be made by respecting the Supreme Court decision on NRO. Let accountability and justice take its due course and root out the long-standing frauds and their committers recover every rupee from them. There are not only the NRO beneficiaries but there are a lot more known as SRO plunderers of state revenue who have swindled hundred of billions and are enjoying their booty scot-free and no accountability law has so far established its writ on them or defaulters of bank loans. Zindabad Pakistan.







President Obama in his speech touched upon a number of issues and in the process, made several references to Pakistan. However, the speech was primarily related to Afghanistan and it examines prospects of seeing how America could find an honourable exit before Obama presents himself for re-elections. As expected, Obama declared in his speech that 30,000 more troops would be sent to participate in the on-going war and win it. However, keeping in view the distinctive features of Afghan culture, verdict of history tells us a different story, sum total of which is that in conventional terms, wars fought against Afghans have invariably been unwinnable and Afghanistan has never suffered a decisive defeat by force of arms. Keeping in view the prevailing circumstances, Obama is set to begin withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan by 2011.

However, in this regard, he has given no firm date for final disengagement and also has made no commitment in what time frame, the troops will be withdrawn. Decision regarding these issues will be taken in due course of time, after taking stock of ground realities. The deployment of these additional troops may not expected to defeat the Taliban, however they will make desperate efforts to ensure that Taliban's onward march towards victory is reversed and a space is created for the Afghan forces to arrange an honourable exit. To achieve this objective, Obama has told Karzai in categorical terms to clean up his act. He has also given a piece of advice to Pakistan, which we will discuss a little later. Surprisingly, in his otherwise lengthy speech, Obama made only a cursory reference to the process of national building and reconstruction and we feel that here lies the weakness at the heart of the Obama strategy. Recently events related to Taliban's ouster from the seats of power, it was quite an easy job to pack them home, but soon after their exit, they embarked on a long and successful campaign to stage a come back. And net result of their effort was that today they have emerged as defector rulers of a large part of Afghanistan.

As things stand today, we feel that even with this enhanced force, for America and NATO forces, there are no prospects of winning this war. We feel that the Taliban will now sit on the sidelines and wait till such time that US will and determination is totally exhausted. As this point of time, the Taliban will hit back with a vengeance. Keeping all these challenges in view, it is imperative that Obama adopts a realistic approach to deal with these daunting challenges. As things stand, it is likely that additional force now deployed in Afghanistan will train the Afghan army and the police force to hold against the tough Taliban. However, it appears that these trainers will not be able to bear the brunt of Taliban's attacks. They (Taliban) are now waiting for American and NATO forces to quit. The moment this is done, they will take on Karzai and see to it that his command comes to an unhappy end.

However, USA will keep in view that it will take into consideration, these core elements of its strategy before taking the final decision. These options are: 1) a military effort to create conditions for smooth transition; 2) a civilian surge that could reinforce positive action; and 3), an effective partnership with Pakistan. Keeping all these options in view, experience suggests that the war zone in Afghanistan will not lend itself to "civilian surge in quick order." Incidentally, the British had discovered this many years ago. Mr. Obama must also be knowing this, as he had himself promised a similar civilian surge in his March speech on his first Af-Pak Strategy, but it had not materialized. So even if there are now military success, thanks to the additional troops that are soon to be injected into Afghanistan, it is not clear whether success on civilian side would be possible within the time frame that Mr. Obama has set. Now with regard to US partnership with Pakistan, Mr. Obama has sent an encouraging signal. Appreciating Pakistan's strategic visions as displayed in Swat and South Waziristan operations, Obama says, "America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after guns have fallen silent." This we feel, is a welcome change from his oft-repeated "Do More" mantra. However, he has administered Pakistan a piece of advice as well, saying that it should make efforts to see that "safe havens" to terrorists entering Pakistan from Afghanistan are not provided to them. To him, in case, Pakistan shows any slackness on its part, there would be every likelihood of destabilization of the country. The problem would be further aggravated in view of US/NATO's refusal to adopt any of the defensive strategies to stem the infiltration of terrorists across the porous Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

Another problem agitating Pakistan is the story set afloat by our American friends that Al-Qaeda is after Pakistan's nuclear assets. This observation is ridiculous to say the least. The war, Al-Qaeda is fighting, for that, it not require nuclear assets. On the other hand, it is the US which is certainly keen to target these assets. These motives, obviously, run counter to America's loud claims of lasting friendship with Pakistan. It is high time for America to learn that for achieving success, we must make sure that our words and deeds go together. This harmony in the thought process is likely to yield positive results.








With so many political leaders all over the country wanting to form their own states and even going on fasts to achieve their end, I wasn't surprised when the chairman of my colony called me for a meeting and I was told in no uncertain terms that our housing colony would soon get statehood:

"Will you agree to be an ordinary citizen or would you insist on becoming a minister like all the others are demanding?" he asked me and I saw all the other members of the committee who had gathered in the room looking anxiously at me. "I'll have to ask the wife," I said. "She's already said she wants to be a minister!" said the chairman.


"And we know she will be an excellent one!" said another member as all the others in the room nodded in agreement. "Our only problem is you!" "Me?" I asked weakly. "Yes we are not sure what role the press will play in our new government!" "Or if we want it to play any role at all!" said the wife as she walked into the room and all the members got up to greet her. "But don't you believe in the freedom of the press? This should be an integral part of the laws your new state adopts!" I said angrily. "I told you he'd give problems," said the wife as the others nodded in agreement. "Whoa! Whoa!" I shouted, "I think this is getting out of hand!"

"I think you are getting out of hand!" said the chairman as the wife nodded. "Lets gag him!" she said."Gag me?" I asked incredulously. "Here put this on him!" said the wife as she took out a large handkerchief of mine she'd brought along. "Now that we have gagged him, let's get on with the meeting!" said the chairman of the housing society where I live. "First we have to choose a president!" I watched as they all turned to the wife who nodded and took the chairman's place, "My first declaration," she said, "Is to declare this state a dictatorship!" "A dictatorship?" I whispered weakly through the hanky. "Get the watchmen ready!" shouted the wife who was now the President. "Pick up your sticks!" said the wife to the watchmen, "Lock these people in that dark room!" "You can't do that!" I tried to say through the cloth round my mouth.

"Quiet!" said the wife, "There's nothing you can do; we've gagged the press!" The chairman and the other members looked at me appealingly as they were led away, but I pointed to my gag and closed my eyes. "You shouted in your sleep," said the wife the next morning, "You said you were not for smaller states!" "I must have been dreaming!" I said sheepishly and then stared horrified at the hanky in her hand.








In the middle of the anti-Taliban military offensive, the Pakistan government faces a new threat - this time from the country's increasingly assertive judiciary which has questioned the legality of a controversial law promulgated by former military dictator, General Parvez Musharraff, that provided amnesty to prominent political figures of the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) including current interior minister, Rehman Malik and defence minister, Chowdhury Ahmed Mukhtar. Incumbent Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari, who also benefited from the same legal waiver, has come under fire. So far, his main protective shield has been the legal immunity that goes with the presidency.

The judiciary in Pakistan has been at the centre of discussion for quite sometime now. The current chief justice, Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury, hogged the international media headlines after he along with five of his colleagues was shown the door unceremoniously by the then president Musharraff. The movement for restoring him to the high judicial office led to Musharraff's fall and brought back home the nation's exiled politicians, including Zardari's wife Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

The actual restoration of the sacked chief justice and his colleagues was also a high drama. President Zardari initially refused to reinstate them, but he was forced to do only after the opposition Muslim League walked out of the ruling coalition and threatened nation-wide protests. In retrospect, it seems that the president had good reasons to wait on the decision.  

Zardari's main opponent former premier Nawaz Sharif was unusually subdued in his criticism of the government as it squirmed in the midst of the storm with the threat of a military takeover always looming in Pakistan.

For the time being President Zardari will have to relinquish much of the powers he inherited from Musharraff to Prime Minister Gilani, as calls for his resignation gain in intensity. The judiciary will also increasingly scrutinise the possibility of circumventing the president's cloak of immunity. If it breaks, it will have broader political implications beyond its borders. 









The appointment of Ameerah Huq, a Bangladesh national, as a United Nations (UN) under-secretary-general and the special representative for Timor-Leste (East Timor) is a welcome news. As the first woman from Bangladesh to have reached this level of UN hierarchy, she certainly makes herself and the country proud. Her elevation to this high UN position is expected to be an abiding inspiration for our women. If she succeeds in her leadership of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Lesthe, the tiny South-East Asian country that achieved its independence in 2002 after it had voted to separate from Indonesia, she would earn more laurels for the country.

Sure enough, there has been a literally light-year shift in the attitude of people here in that they used to think of only house-keeping job for women. Particularly the overriding necessity of poor families has pushed young girls in droves out of sleepy villages to take jobs in garments factories in cities. Yet this does not quite represent women's participation in the job market, including government services. Low representation of women with a very few of them making it to the top echelon should be a cause for serious concern.

In such a gloomy situation of gender parity, so far as women's employment is concerned, Ameerah's representation at the tier next to the UN secretary-general gives us enough cause for celebration. We can hope that following her example, our career women community will feel confident to pursue more such lofty assignments. We pray for Ameera's sound health and wish her Godspeed.









Been away the last couple of days in Delhi and been missing my morning cup of coffee, and even when some kind soul in the capital out of sympathy looking at my wistful face every morning did make me coffee, it was a poor cup compared to my own home brewed morning cuppa!

My morning cuppa is an addiction but I quickly add, 'A good one!'

 "What do you have when you return from your morning walk?" I ask my friends.
 "Gallons of water!" says Manoj.

 "Yeah water replenishes the sweat you lose," says another wisely, "and you?"

  "My morning cuppa!" I say happily and drool. 

Very often during same walk I'm joined by friends and neighbors laughing, joking and talking about events that have happened the day before; football, cricket, politics or other stuff men and even women love to chatter about. I become a little quiet after awhile and suddenly the group whispers and looks at me, "Bob?" they ask,


"Working on your next piece?" I smile and say nothing.

How do you tell this bunch of warm, friendly good natured people you're just waiting to leave their company,


that all their banter and jesting cannot replace the temptress waiting at home: Sizzling hot, seductively sweet,


whose aroma you sniff in anticipation, taste buds drooling with longing.

Ah my morning cuppa!

Not a day can I live without her. I remember years ago as a young bachelor I had to make a choice between her and another, prettier, more shapely.

 "What do you love the most?" she asked.

 "My coffee!" I said and did I see disappointment in her adoring eyes.

 "I make good tea!"

Our friendship never went farther and sometimes when I think of choice I made I pat myself and whisper, 'there really was no choice was there Bob?'

And yet one day I walked away from my beloved coffee:
'Twas at Milan one cold morning at an outside eatery a few years ago: "What will you have sir?" asked busy waitress as I sat alone. "Coffee!" I said.

 "Which coffee?" she asked and threw menu on my table, hurrying away.
 "Which coffee!" I stared at the card. There was Caffe Latte! Espresso! Caffe Macha! there was Breve and Café Cito! And there was Granita!"

I sighed as the menu card stared mockingly back at me, "Choose!" it sneered, "Choose between us!"

I couldn't. How could I be disloyal to any? The waitress came back, "Which?" she asked. "Tea!" I whispered weakly and glanced away from mocking card.








Justice Nazrul Islam Chowdhury the other day while speaking at a discussion meeting organised by "Odhikar" at one stage remarked: "While clerks prepare the laws, the illiterate Members of Parliament pass them with applause by thumping tables in the House". Wahey! Justice Chowdhury stirred up a real hornet's nest and all hell broke loose! All lawmakers bristled with rage.

Next day, the state minister for law Quamrul Islam threatened to complain to the Supreme Judicial Council against the judge for his making such a derogatory public comment against lawmakers and the parliament.
Only if the High Court judge Nazrul Islam Chowdhury were not so blatant in his remarks about the lawmakers he would perhaps have been safer now; only if he had said: "Prodigies prepare the laws, giants pass them!"
Asked whether his threat against the judge could anyway amount to contempt of court, the state minister replied in the negative, saying that 'the parliament is the highest institution against which the judge or anyone else cannot speak. The High Court judge earns his living by interpreting the laws framed by the lawmakers in the parliament'.

The High Court judge said: "Being a sitting judge it was not wise for him to deliver speeches on political issues, but they were concerned about human rights.'

We don't know how the alleged derogatory remark would be interpreted by the Supreme Judicial Council once the complaint is formally lodged. But it is sure Justice Chowdhury would lose his job if he is proven guilty.
Two words "clerks" and "illiterate" in the justice's remark were derogatory indeed. And it is foolhardy on anybody's part to enjoy unbridled freedom of speech when everybody is busy flattering and pampering the government functionaries in power.

If one is given latitude of a little freedom to analyse the statement made by the High Court judge he or she may find some semblance of truth in the remark only if the derogatory words were replaced by two metaphoric words: "pen pushers" and "blind followers".

Is it not true that many laws in our country are framed and passed in accordance with fancies and caprices of those who are in power? Law, that protected the killers of Bangabandhu for example? Is it not true that the bureaucrats sitting in the secretariat are mere pen pushers busy penning down what their bosses dictate and the bosses busy saying "yes sir" to their bosses all the way up and up? Is it not true that all the members of the parliament are not as educated as Quamrul Islam, the state minister for law, is? Is it not true that citizens, who are illiterate themselves, care not for whether people they elect are literate or illiterate, full mad or half mad? Is it not true citizens who are so-called educated but intellectually dishonest are more venomous than the illiterate?
In an environment where his colleagues are quite circumspect in delivery of their judgments Justice Nazrul Islam Chowdhury had to be cautious about choosing his words of criticism, no matter it was a matter of human rights or a freedom of speech.

It is also not quite statesman-like for a leader to react angrily to a critic who attempts to nudge him with a cartoon on a newspaper or a statement in a public gathering or an episode in a drama. Freedom---of expression or of speech---is the essence of democracy.     

One of the main culprits in our leadership crisis is our leaders' intolerance. Our leaders are eager only to be flattered and have no tolerance for any critical view. Our leaders would fire an adviser who dares say what he thinks wrong that our leaders wrongly think right. So, in their attempts to mollify their godlike leaders, devotees and sycophants breathlessly recite the phrase 'yes sir' or 'yes madam' the way a fanatic worshiper maddeningly murmurs esoteric words while begging favours from a deity.

History is however replete with facts, tales, legends and sagas that it was always sycophants who were responsible for the disgraceful falls of kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers. Sycophants keep their masters disconnected from reality and keep them afloat in a cozy castle in the air. Some reports and rumors that we learn from reading in newspapers and viewing on televisions suggest our elected leaders in power are being hoodwinked into believing that renaming establishments like bridges, roads, seaports and airports after the names of their choices may erase whatever legacies the members of their opposition parties had left behind when they were in power.

As reported, the government is contemplating to rename Zia International Airport, in short ZIA, a coincidental acronym connoting both the name of the airport and the nickname of former president of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman after whose name the airport was named after his death. One freedom fighter, who is now holding a high position in bureaucracy, suggested in a TV talk show to rename Dhaka City as Bangabandhu City the way Saigon was renamed as Ho Chi Min City. It will not be surprising if Bangladesh someday is renamed as Ziadesh only to be renamed again as Bangabandhudesh!

It must be advisers who broach suggestions to be passed by the prime minister. I wonder what intention drives the advisers for renaming the names of establishments. I'm afraid, the intention is to defame our prime minister through flattery and it would be a tragedy if our prime minister fails to discern what flattery is and what appreciative suggestion is.

Meanwhile, I would suggest our leaders to reread the book "How to Win Friends & Influence People" where the author Dale Carnegie suggested: "Don't be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you."


(Maswood Alam Khan is a freelance writer)









The Senate made history as the health reform was cleared of its most important hurdle yet -- garnering the 60 votes needed to move toward a final vote in that chamber later this week.

This marks the first time in our nation's history that comprehensive health reform has come to this point. And it appears that the American people will soon realize the genuine reform that offers security to those who have health insurance and affordable options to those who do not.

I'm grateful to Senator Harry Reid and every senator who's been working around the clock to make this happen. And I'm grateful to you, and every member of this community, for all the work you have done to make this progress possible.

After a nearly century-long struggle, we are now on the cusp of making health insurance reform a reality in the United States of America.

As with any legislation, compromise is part of the process. But I'm pleased that recently added provisions have made this landmark bill even stronger. Between the time when the bill passes and the time when the insurance exchanges get up and running, insurance companies that try to jack up their rates do so at their own peril. Those who hike their prices may be barred from selling plans on the exchanges.

And while insurance companies will be prevented from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing conditions once the exchanges are open, in the meantime there will be a high-risk pool where people with pre-existing conditions can purchase affordable coverage.

A recent amendment has made these protections even stronger. Insurance companies will now be prohibited from denying coverage to children immediately after this bill passes. There's also explicit language in this bill that will protect a patient's choice of doctor. And small businesses will get additional assistance as well.

These protections are in addition to the ones we've been talking about for some time. No longer will insurance companies be able to drop your coverage if you become sick and no longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for treatments that you need.

Under this bill families will save on their premiums; businesses that would see their costs rise if we don't act will save money now and in the future. This bill will strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program.


Because it's paid for and gets rid of waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this will be the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.Finally, this reform will extend coverage to more than 30 million Americans who don't have it.
These are not small changes. These are big changes. They're fundamental reforms. They will save money. They will save lives.

And your passion, your work, your organizing helped make all of this possible. Now it's time to finish the job.

(The writer is US president)







(Contd. from yesterday's issue)

A large number of the biological species still remain to be described, classified, recorded and assessed properly from the view point of their usefulness as food, medicine, building material and provider of other supplies. It may not be possible to say which species/varieties are redundant from considerations for long-term sustainable development unless the above mentioned jobs are completed. The developing countries including Bangladesh cleared the forests for agricultural uses. The lands projected to be reclaimed clearing forests until 2030 are though small compared to the global stock but further loss of forests likely affect the global bio-logical equilibrium.

Wetlands in many developing countries including Bangladesh are being drained rampantly for agriculture because wetlands when drained become suitable for permanent agriculture for the growing population. The shortsighted policy makers seldom consider the fact that wetlands are rich in biodiversity, highly productive and helpful for environment to purify surface water, regulate flood as check-valves, support capture fisheries, wild lives, floral diversities and act as community resources. Draining of wetlands to claim lands for agriculture will only provide a small part of national requirement but will create social imbalance due to inequity in the distribution of natural resources that happened in case of shrimp farming in Bangladesh.

Agriculture is still the mainstay of livelihood earnings in Bangladesh from the context of contributions e.g. 25.0 percent of GDP, 23.0 percent of exports and 60 percent of livelihoods. Moreover, nothing can be done under the plea of development that affects 150 million Bangladeshis' interests, affects ecology and person/land ratio and induce natural calamities. The impacts of horizontal expansion of agriculture lands destroying the country's natural forests and wetlands have already cast its grim shadow creating crisis due to short supply of other essential food items and fodders. Bangladesh population grows 0.20 million/year. Hence land shortage for food production cannot be faced by clearing forests and draining the wetlands. Bangladesh, for meeting the food challenge, should generate extra income adding values of the agro-produces availing the facilities like crop diversification, agro-processing using chief labor and exploring the export potentials. The geographic location of Bangladesh and the WTO can favour Bangladesh competing for export of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other non-conventional items in EU countries.

The MoEF, in 2005, prepared the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP). The information for this document was collected, compiled, screened, evaluated and prioritized following the bottom up method. This document is for use by the agencies, bodies and interested public in spirits and structure for biodiversity management and conservation in Bangladesh.

The major share of benefits of the physical infrastructure development interventions in Bangladesh goes to the privileged while the major costs are borne by poor. The investments made for conservation of hill forests, sal forests, coastal forests, wetlands, grazing lands, homesteads, agriculture lands, common grazing fields related with bio-diversity are destroyed rampantly under the plea of development that directly hurt the poor. Thus the poor are deprived steadily from customary rights of earning livelihoods to create large-scale rural unemployed. Therefore, the development scenarios needed to be designed as per the NBSAP to minimize their anti people impacts. Moreover, benefit/cost aspects of the investments on biodiversity need to be given due emphasis in Bangladesh contexts to minimize inequitable distribution of natural resources.

The homestead ecosystem in Bangladesh covers nearly 0.20 million hectare rich with trees, shrubs, herbs, creepers and grasses. Homestead ecosystems are considered highly productive because of their contributions in providing sustained supply of food, fodder, fuel wood, construction materials, and raw material for cottage industries, medicinal, aromatic and ethno-botanical species. The rural women in Bangladesh are the custodians of customary rules regarding species diversities and their multiple utilities and/or cultural activities. Women are keen in maintaining diversities of crop and weed species whether these are beneficial or not. They are also keen in the use of genetic resources and/or varieties befitting with the changed environment, usefulness and social preference. Taste, texture, processing, storage qualities, resistance to pest and diseases, and adaptabilities of crop species/varieties are the characteristics based on which utilities of plant species whether exotic and/or indigenous are chosen. Knowledge they possess have been inherited from the predecessors who through experience in dealing the species and ecosystem relationship acquired that knowledge. Thus women play pivotal roles in the land based production systems dealing particularly the production, post-harvest processing and storage of food grains and preparation of food for consumption. Relationships of the housewives with diversified production and processing systems therefore demand recognition and be assessed in economic terms to estimate their real contributions to the GDP for appraisal by all concerned.

 — Concluded

(The writer is former Director, BFRI)









Few months back the government of Bangladesh implemented a decision to advance one hour time in our clock. The main intention of this effort was to maximize use of daylight so that electricity consumption could be reduced and load shedding could be minimised. From the theoretical point of view, the decision of the government was noteworthy, but practically it has brought different results.

To take a decision is not a difficult task, but real challenge lies with the process of its implementation. And the situation in Bangladesh is more difficult since people lack responsiveness to the government decision, which is required for successful implementation of any decision. Thus, in the context of the day light saving time, proper implementation is utmost necessary since it is related to savings of electricity as well. What we have seen that majority of shops and markets have not abided by the rules of their closing time. The government has failed to control use of electricity even at the day time in the shopping malls. As a result, we are not sure whether and to what extent electricity consumption has reduced. The government's responsible authority has failed to offer us with a concrete accounts as regards to savings of electricity. Different organisations have provided us with different accounts.

When the decision was taken it was circulated from the part of the government that they would go back to the original time at the end of September or early October. In different countries of Europe, they usually advance their watch by one hour in the last Sunday of October and again go back to the earlier time in last Sunday of March. However, our government did not take any initiative in this regard which is really irrational.
Instead of having a positive impact on the life of the ordinary citizen, this decision of the government has brought enormous sufferings to the people. People from all sections have suffered from this decision. In the winter sun rises at almost 7:00 o'clock in the morning and sets at before 6:00 o'clock in the evening. Thus if we consider school-going children in Dhaka, it seems that students are tortured. It is important to mention here that the government has rescheduled offices and schools hours in the capital in order to manage traffic jam in the road. As of rescheduling, most of the schools in the city start at 7:30 in the morning. Considering the regular traffic jam and distance of school from home, a student's (even those who go to nursery classes) need to commence their journey for school at 6:30 a.m. For commencing their journey at 6:30 a.m. they must get up from the bed at 5:30 a.m. which is mid-night to a child since children usually have more sleep than adults. Could we imagine the extent of their suffering?

It is not only the students suffer, their parents also suffer since they need to be accompanied by either father or mother. The situation is more miserable for those parents who are working in different offices. Although they have different office time, but still they have to go out at the same time with the child since they drop them on the way to office. Few weeks back I was sharing this matter with one of my Dhaka university colleagues who informed me that his 6 and 8 years old sons go out from the home before the sun rises and come back home after the sun sets. A couple of weeks back, I was reading a vernacular daily, which published an interview-based report on the bad effect of daylight saving time. Most of the people who were interviewed expressed their dissatisfaction about the decision of the government. One college-going student expressed her discontent that she hardly finds any time to talk to her mother who works in a NGO since her mother goes out from home with her little brother (who goes to a nursery) before the sun rises and comes back home in the evening when she feels very tried. The situation is same outside Dhaka since we really are getting tired to cope with the changing time especially in the cold winter morning.

As I have mentioned above, the intention of the government was noble, but the decision of not reverting has left tremendous physical and mental pressure on the common people. The government did not offer us any logical explanation regarding their decision not to change the time. In the context of Bangladesh, it is usual that policy makers would not feel the pulse of the common people for whom the policy is implemented. One possible explanation is that these people do not face the challenges and negative impact of new time management. We could bear the sufferings if some positive results are evident. Unfortunately we have not found any positive outcome of the government decision to advance time to maximize the use of day light.


(The writer is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Public Administration, University of Rajshahi.)








IN HIS drive to modernise the Liberal Party as he sees it, Tony Abbott is to abandon another of its shibboleths: a deep commitment to states' rights. He is not doing it reluctantly, dragged by a reforming Labor government to accept the inevitable, but as a reformer himself - a former health minister who has seen the problems at first hand, and despaired of the current arrangements ever fixing them. Abbott, eager to appear a policy action man beside the Prime Minister's timorous consensus-seeker, wants a referendum which would allow a federal government to fund hospitals directly through local boards, bypassing the states.


This was, voters might have thought, something like what federal Labor promised before the election, when it pledged to take over hospitals if states failed to improve services within 12 months. A report of the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission in July, though, and a closer assessment of the cost of its promise in a period of economic uncertainty, have led to a watered-down version of the pledge. And in trying to persuade the states to hand over control of even this reduced program, Labor is finding the going heavy.


It is obvious the present system - in which two levels of government, two sets of officials and politicians and, potentially, two conflicting political outlooks govern the way hospitals are funded - needs reform. Its failings are there for all to see: cost shifting, blame shifting, and a waste of energy and resources on bureaucratic, not medical problems. Labor's pared-back attempt at reform will change things only at the margins - if it ever sees the light of day.


That is why Abbott's sudden, attempted outflanking manoeuvre is so important. Final judgment on Abbott's scheme must await publication of the detail. Whether it succeeds or fails will depend on whether it ensures that a single level of government is responsible for hospitals.


What it does show though is a willingness to embrace the change that is needed. So far, Labor's reaction has been to complain that Abbott was the minister who cut billions from the federal health budget, that having floated exactly this idea as minister he squibbed the chance to do anything. All that is true. So is the fact that Abbott is a policy weathervane on many issues. It is also irrelevant - a historical curiosity beside the clear, present importance of bipartisan support for a major piece of constitutional reform on a major policy area. If this is an attempt at bluff, Labor should call it.







SUPPORTERS of the Palestinian cause have succeeded in getting an arrest warrant issued in London for the former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, alleging involvement in war crimes. Israel and its supporters are furious and the British Government has quickly apologised to Ms Livni. Britain's Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, went so far as to promise a change in British law to ensure such a thing never happened again.


What Miliband might instead have pointed out is that the judiciary in Britain is independent, and the principle of universal jurisdiction is the only enforcement mechanism that exists for war crimes. That an independent judge had evidently been satisfied there was reasonable evidence of such crimes to issue a warrant. That Britain is obliged by the Geneva Conventions to try persons suspected of war crimes in its courts. That Britain could not treat alleged war criminals from its allies any differently from those from countries with which it did not enjoy a special relationship.


He would have been correct, but in the real world politics rarely adheres to principle. The problem is that a British court is patently not the place to investigate the conduct of Livni or other Israeli leaders relating to the bombardment of Gaza. The proper place would, of course, be in Israel. If it really is the paragon of democracy Livni says, the country should conduct an open inquiry into its leaders' conduct before and during the war - much as Britain is doing regarding the Iraq war.


The Palestinian advocates would have known the chance of getting Livni tried in Britain was almost zero. Theirs was a piece of jujitsu legalism, but just a stunt. International laws to punish those responsible for war crimes can only be undermined by such exercises. This week's revelation that Hamas provided evidence to the lawyers working on the case underscores that.


Hamas, of course, plays a dual role in the Middle East conflict. It is both the elected government in Gaza, and therefore has claims to legitimacy; it is also a terrorist organisation which denies the right of Israel to exist. It is unfortunate that the British court appears to have been unable to take this equivocation into account in assessing the prima facie evidence against Livni.


If Hamas wants to use the mechanisms of civil society to harry those it sees as its enemies, it must first conform to the norms of civil society: it must renounce violence and recognise the right of Israel to exist. It cannot choose to observe the rule of law only when it sees an advantage in doing so.







THERE was a time, in the often fearful Catholic enclaves of Northern Ireland, when the IRA dealt with sex abusers and other offenders by shooting them. Referring complaints of criminal conduct to the then highly politicised police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, would have been unthinkable. So when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams last week publicly urged his fugitive brother, Liam, to turn himself in to the RUC's successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, it was another sign that the political culture of the historically troubled province is changing for the better.


Liam Adams is accused by his daughter Aine Tyrell of having sexually abused her from the age of 4 until she turned 12. Gerry Adams has given police a statement in support of his niece, and has also revealed that some of his own siblings were abused by their father, Gerry Adams snr. The case is a complex one, and some commentators have argued that Gerry Adams' comments are self-serving. He admits, after all, to having known Ms Tyrell's story and accepted its truth for more than 20 years. Yet his brother never received the usual IRA retribution. This has invited unflattering comparisons between his conduct and that of Ireland's Catholic bishops, who concealed the actions of clerical sex abusers.


Whatever the consequences of these revelations might be for Adams' political career, the way in which he has had to handle them suggests that a more open society, recognising the rule of law, is slowly supplanting the older politics of secrecy and tribal loyalties. A notable aspect of the story is that Sinn Fein's Unionist opponents have not sought to turn it to their advantage. None of this will ease the pain of Ms Tyrell, but it does point to progress, of a kind, for both communities in Northern Ireland.


Source: The Age








THE Opposition Leader's apparent willingness to take a major health-reform package to the next election suggests both clever politics and interesting policy.


It is clever politics, at least from the present perspective, because it attempts to hijack the Rudd Government's own health reform agenda, now running six months behind schedule and in grave danger of being stillborn through the resistance of state governments. Abbott's plan to redirect federal health funding from state governments to local hospital boards is also interesting, in policy terms, because it envisages the same flexing of the Commonwealth's muscle but for a different, decentralised outcome. Of course, more detail is needed before the merits of this proposal can be properly assessed. But at the very least, Tony Abbott's plan represents a promising attempt to challenge the Federal Government on policy grounds. And after years of Coalition shadow-boxing, backflipping and grandstanding on many issues from the climate-change agenda to asylum seekers and industrial relations, it's certainly a welcome shift.


Mr Abbott has framed his health reform proposals around a national referendum of voters - a strategy reportedly initiated by Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton. This can possibly be read in two ways. First, as an audacious bid to outmanoeuvre Kevin Rudd, who has vowed to ''seek a mandate'' at the next election for a federal takeover of public hospitals if the states refuse to agree to the Government's conditions on funding.


But a less generous reading would criticise the plan as little more than a stunt. Mr Abbott, offering no magic formula of his own for solving the reform impasse with the states, proposes going straight to what would ordinarily - and justifiably - be characterised as the option of last resort. (Mr Rudd himself has not ruled out the possibility of a referendum should it come to that.) While the public may be angry at the underperformance of state governments on health, and fed up with the ritual blame-shifting between the two tiers of government, assuming this anger would culminate in a ''yes'' vote at referendum is a big assumption indeed. This would hold true even if the health reform referendum were blessed with bipartisan support federally. Australians' historical tendency to vote ''no'' on questions of constitutional change cannot be discounted, and the more complex the issue, the more likely the negative result. And precisely what Mr Abbott would do in the event that it's back-to-square-one on health is not entirely clear.


More importantly, Mr Abbott needs to spell out precisely what the advantages would be of Canberra directly financing newly created local health and hospital boards. The idea of placing decisions over health dollars into the hands of those nearest to where the services are delivered is appealing at first blush. In many ways, it is more confidence-inspiring than the prospect of a newly empowered bureaucracy dictating solutions from Canberra. But there would need to be assurances about the transparency and accountability of these new bodies or, viewed another way, the public would want confidence the Federal Government was not seeking to divest itself of responsibility.


The Rudd Government's stalled health-reform agenda has left it exposed to this kind of attack. Mr Rudd's threat to strip the states of responsibility for public hospitals if they can't deliver a better, more cost-effective service dates back to his 2007 election campaign. In July, his own National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission proposed a set of sweeping reforms that stop short of an immediate Commonwealth takeover of responsibilities, but envisage federal control of primary health care and a number of other major initiatives. At this month's Council of Australian Governments meeting, Mr Rudd was only able to reach agreement with state and territory leaders on a process to move towards reform decisions in the first part of next year. The states are still holding out on reform proposals, with Victoria taking a ''show us the money'' approach, and expressly rejecting the idea of a federal takeover of funding for non-hospital services such as community health centres. Mr Abbott is banking on the states fighting the reform agenda to the last. His approach may return dividends, although NSW has dropped its proposal for a more regional funding approach. The policy tussle on health is finally looking serious.


Source: The Age







First, some good news. In next year's UK general election there will at last be televised debates between the main party leaders. What took us so long? There have been televisions in the majority of British homes since before the Elvis Presley era. Next year it will be half a century since the United States held its first presidential debate – two of our three party leaders were not even born when Kennedy met Nixon. Here in Britain, politicians have too often seen television as more threat than opportunity. We may be a long way from the 1955 general election, when broadcasters actually observed a complete election reporting ban during the campaign, allowing only party election broadcasts on the airwaves. Yet British elections have still been disablingly cautious about embracing modern communications. Today's party leaders deserve a pat on the back for taking us across the threshold at last.


Now, some bad news. The deal that has been struck between the political parties and the broadcasters to hold three debates during the 2010 campaign is in significant respects neither sensible nor fair. It is not sensible because each of the debates is to be handed to a separate broadcaster, not carried simultaneously by all three. Before the debates go ahead we should adopt the American system in which all the networks and all the cable news channels simultaneously carry all of the debates.


The debates are not fair to Scotland and Wales. Both nations are represented in Westminster by four parties, not three, and have been for 30 years. In both countries, nationalist parties are in government. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are not aspiring parliamentary parties like Ukip, the Greens or a dozen others even further to the margins. They are there already. It is inevitable, nevertheless, that the debates process should make distinctions between the three main UK-wide parties on the one hand and the nationalists on the other. The three main parties, after all, are competing in all British constituencies, and their leaders are competing to be prime minister of the UK.


Northern Ireland is a different situation entirely because the UK parties do not compete for seats there, but it would be entirely unacceptable to entirely exclude the nationalists in Scotland and Wales as the current deal proposes. Quebec nationalists are within Canada's coast-to-coast federal election debates, and a solution will also have to be found for the UK. So there are details to be worked through. But suddenly, one way or another, televised election debates are here to stay. Having allowed them once, we will surely never disallow them in the future. The debates should therefore be properly and independently regulated, as they are in the US. It is not good enough for the ring to be held only by the political parties and the broadcasters, all of whom have vested interests in the deal. It is very important that the questions to the leaders are properly probing, not trivial, abusive or self-promoting. Even at this stage, the Electoral Commission should be given the responsibility to devise and supervise the debates in the public interest, ensuring that the process is fair, balanced, robust, comprehensive and independent – and ensuring the presence of a female face or three among the inquisitors.

Televised debates can be an important part of the re-engagement with politics that this country needs and that the next election may help to provide. We should not expect too much of them – experience in many countries suggests that they rarely change the public's already-half-made-up mind. Despite the politicians' collective insistence that they will thrash out the issues that matter, there is bound to be a good deal of cheap point-scoring. Even so, they should not be so regulated that they become boring. For all the predictable flaws, the new debates are a step forward. About time too. Bring them on.








"They looked up and saw a star … " Sometimes, if the night is clear as singers take to the streets with music and collecting tins at this time of year, they can glance skywards and see, not just the single star of The First Noel, but thousands shimmering in the firmament. Which is a happy bonus as they continue the ancient tradition of singing songs of virgin births, wise men and faithful shepherds. The tradition is a bit wobbly now, with agnostic parents in these CRB-check days less willing to let their children wander after dark with Good King Wenceslas; and adults may be put off by the need to obtain a licence from the local council before those collecting tins can be rattled. But there is nothing quite like singing in the open air on a frosty December night and then coming home with cold-nipped faces. In times past, as Thomas Hardy knew, the old carollers would take their lanterns to walk and sing throughout the night, even if a 3am version of Christians Awake! Salute The Happy Morn and a request for a donation to a good cause may not always have been received with the true Christmas spirit by those dreaming in warm beds. Today, some carol groups, relishing the challenge of singing While Shepherds Watched to as many tunes as possible in one night's ramblings, borrow from the pub carol tradition of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire such fine old tunes as Pentonville, Liverpool, Lyngham, Old Foster or Cranbrook (more familiar as On Ilkley Moor). Long may they sing on under the stars.







Crisis, what crisis? Wander around the shops in the last frantic days before Christmas, and any signs of Britain being in its biggest recession since records began are far outnumbered by the repeated plays of yuletide number ones (but not, sadly, Rage Against the Machine) and the beeps of barcode readers. No surprise there, one might argue: surely last-minute present-buying is as hardy a Christmas perennial as It's a Wonderful Life? Not quite. Last December was the worst month ever for shops, according to the British Retail Consortium, with sales plunging 3.3% on the year before. Haunted by the Ghost of Lehman's Past, anxious shoppers kept their hands in their pockets. Twelve months on, and the outlook on the high street is a lot brighter – even though the banking system remains on life support and unemployment continues to rise. Why?


In two words: state action. Between them, the Treasury and the Bank of England averted a rerun of the Great Depression – and took the edge off an otherwise subarctic wind for consumers. The biggest boost came from Mervyn King and his colleagues on Threadneedle Street. True, they were slow to react to the credit crunch, and to heed the warnings of Danny Blanchflower (the only member of the monetary policy committee who spotted the turmoil ahead). Just days before Lehman Brothers fell over last September, the Bank's key interest rate was still at 5%. After that, however, Mr King relented – and took it down to 0.5%. Also helpful was Alistair Darling's emergency VAT cut. These measures mean that many of those homeowners still in work have seen their mortgage payments dwindle – leaving them with a monthly cash windfall.


But if this is not the Great Depression, economists are calling it the Great Recession. As was confirmed yesterday, Britain remains the only member of the G20 leading economies still in recession, and continues to suffer an under-supply of credit. Governments already plan a series of tax rises over the next couple of years, and interest rates are likely to edge up too. And while dole queues may not reach 3 million, workers are seeing their wages frozen or cut. Retail sales are rising again – but consumers are buying food and discounted clothing rather than fridges or TVs. It will be a while before Britain returns to the free spending of the mid-noughties.


Which is no bad thing. That consumer boom only highlighted the economy's lopsidedness: hooked on cheap Chinese imports, not selling enough goods abroad. The authorities did well to stave off a shopping slump; but the government's task now must be to rebuild the industrial base – and to replace consumer debt with substantial growth in the average wage.








Yet another presidential committee is officially launched today. The Presidential Committee for Social Integration, headed by Goh Kun, is charged with addressing the divides in our society - economic, ideological, regional and generational - and promoting national unity.


Goh Kun, who served as the first prime minister under former President Roh Moo-hyun, heads the 48-member panel which draws on figures from the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, progressives, conservatives and 16 government ministers and officials. In its composition, the committee appears to reflect the diversity of Korea today and seems well-equipped to tackle the problems that plague our society.


Goh, a career bureaucrat who is widely seen as politically neutral, said he would maintain political neutrality as the head of the presidential committee and focus on establishing systems and policies to prevent and resolve social conflicts.


The committee has its work cut out for it. Our society is deeply divided along various lines, with compromises and reconciliations seemingly unattainable. The financial crisis of 1997 resulted in a growing gap between the rich and the poor, polarizing society. The perennial ideological divide that colors virtually all social issues knows no abating. The deeply rooted regional antagonism stands in the way of achieving national unity.


There are several specific issues that divide the country into different interest groups. The plan to revise the Sejong City project and the four-rivers clean up project are two large issues that split the country along ideological and regional lines.


The goal of the presidential committee is lofty. Goh is right when he says, "social integration is the most important and the most difficult task of our time." However, there are those who question whether a single committee can achieve social integration.


The committee will operate four subcommittees, each staffed by 30 officials and experts, raising the possibility that it could become inefficient due to its size. Committees that spring up to address specific issues have a tendency to cast their nets too wide, clashing with existing government organizations. Critics also charge that committees are all talk and no action.


For the sake of this country's future, it is sincerely hoped that the new committee will be a committee of substance. It will do well to start its work by paying attention to the different points of view. Resolving conflicts starts with really listening to what the differing sides have to say. Sometimes, just knowing that one's voice is being heard can lead to resolution of conflicts.







Cancer patients in Korea are feeling the effect of the global shortage of medical radioisotopes with many diagnostic tests and treatments being delayed. Against this background, the government has eliminated the 3 billion won budget for radioisotope research and development for next year.