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Thursday, December 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 24.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 24, edition 000384, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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






































































After the disastrous consequences of the split verdict of 2005, it was widely expected that the people of Jharkhand would vote decisively in this year's Assembly poll to elect a stable Government. Wednesday's results have belied that expectation. It would appear that the people of this State, which has suffered enormously on account of political instability and its concomitant absence of any semblance of governance — apart from rampant corruption as exemplified by Mr Madhu Koda's acquisition of ill-gotten wealth — for four years, have not learned any lesson from their 2005 folly. With none of the three main contenders for power — the BJP, the Congress and the JMM — securing a majority, the coming days will witness hectic horsetrading and the cobbling together of a coalition which, sooner or later, is bound to collapse under the weight of inner contradictions and conflicting interests. It is obvious that no Government can be formed without the participation of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha; it is also evident that Mr Shibu Soren will dictate the terms of engagement. Politics of cynicism and not popular choice will determine who gets to become Chief Minister; those who will come to power will be driven not by concern for Jharkhand's welfare but their own well-being which, as Mr Koda has ably demonstrated, can become the single-point agenda of those in power in such circumstances. The wisdom of the electorate, which is often cited by the commentariat to justify flawed and unexpected election results, is in serious doubt after Wednesday's baffling verdict. There are no clear winners in this poll, but there is an undisputed loser and that is the State of Jharkhand. Any celebrations in Ranchi are entirely misplaced.


It would, however, be unfair to blame the voters alone for a fresh spell of political instability in this State. A fair portion of the blame must be shared by both the Congress and the BJP. Over the last four years the Congress has shown that it can go to any extent to keep its principal political foe, the BJP, out of power. Towards that end, the Congress brazenly used its nominee in the Raj Bhavan to manipulate the course of politics and even propped up Koda, an Independent MLA, as Chief Minister while turning a blind eye to his remorseless loot of the State. It is understandable that the voters should have rejected the Congress, although the party has benefited from its alliance with Mr Babulal Marandi's JVM. The BJP, too, has lost a lot of its appeal, which once upon a time used to be considerable in Jharkhand, on account of infighting, poor leadership and an uneven record of governance. The precipitous if not startling decline in the party's popularity is reflected in its failure to win the 39 Assembly seats where it had a comfortable lead in this summer's general election. There has also been erosion in the party's vote-share which corresponds to loss of votes elsewhere in the country. As for Mr Shibu Soren, this election has witnessed a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of a man who was virtually written off by both the Congress and the BJP. This is not to suggest that the people have endorsed Mr Soren and his politics, but that they have voted partly out of despair and largely along lines of tribal affinity. In a sense, identity issues have prevailed over those of governance: How else can we explain a large number of non-entities being elected? At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that only 19 sitting legislators have been re-elected. If anti-incumbency was at work in this election, its manifestation is truly puzzling.






With Bhutan's king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk's first foreign visit to India after his coronation in November last year, New Delhi has been presented with a golden opportunity to renew its ties with Asia's youngest democracy. Bhutan has traditionally been a valued regional partner for India. The two countries share fantastic bilateral relations and over the years have undertaken meaningful cooperation in a variety of fields that range from security to trade and commerce. Furthering the cordial relations, it is welcome that India and Bhutan have inked as many as 12 pacts in the areas of hydro-power, Information Technology, health and civil aviation on the occasion of the Bhutanese monarch's visit to New Delhi. Given that Bhutan — with its huge potential for hydro-power generation — sells most of its electricity to India, ties in the power sector are of special significance. Currently, Bhutan has the capacity of producing 1,500 MW from existing power projects. With Indian investment that capacity could go up to 10,000 MW by 2020. This in return will help ease the power shortage in eastern India, with New Delhi buying subsidised electricity from Thimphu. Bhutan, on the other hand, will benefit from the economic development that will result as a consequence of these projects. Apart from this, MoUs have been signed between the two sides that aim to address the tackling of the cross-border trade in narcotics and the setting up of a super-speciality hospital and an IT project in Bhutan. These will further strengthen ties between and take our bilateral relationship to a new high.

Whether it is undertaking joint security operations against ULFA militants or cooperating on a host of civil issues, Bhutan has sufficiently proved why it deserves the tag of "India's closest friend and neighbour" as reiterated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Himalayan country has chosen a path for itself — both politically and socially — that deserves admiration and respect. Its first general election held last year firmly put Bhutan on the road to becoming a full-fledged democratic constitutional monarchy. Credit needs to be given to the royal family of Bhutan which unilaterally initiated the process of democratising Bhutanese polity. It is a far-sighted decision that could only have come from an astute understanding of the reality of the times. Bhutan's other great innovation that is fast gaining global recognition as a marker for development is the Gross National Happiness index. The idea that happiness of the people in the context of preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive administration should matter more than material development of a country is truly insightful and deserves to be taken seriously as a measure of growth. It is a matter of pride that India can count Bhutan among its friends.



            THE PIONEER



Defence Minister AK Antony announced recently that the Government is withdrawing two divisions, comprising 30,000 troops, from Jammu & Kashmir. This announcement followed a reduction in infiltration of ISI-backed jihadis across the Line of Control and a determined effort by the State Government led by Mr Omar Abdullah to expand, train and equip the police to deal with terrorist violence, especially in urban areas.

There now appears to have been a change in instructions from across the LoC to the separatist leadership on how the fight for 'azadi' has to be carried forward. The predominant emphasis on jihad has been set aside for the present. The aim now is to seek opportunities to mobilise people by hurling baseless allegations of atrocities, excesses and even rape against the armed forces. The incident at Shopian involving the mysterious deaths of two young women appears a classical example of mobilisation through hysteria and disinformation.

The announcement of troop reductions also addresses the growingly aggressive anti-Indian propaganda unleashed by even normally restrained Pakistani political leaders like President Asif Ali Zardari and influential academics like Ahmed Rashid, claiming that the Pakistani Army cannot deploy more troops on its borders with Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, because of an Indian "threat" on its eastern border. Pakistan asserts that unless the United States, the European Union and China join hands to force India to the negotiating table and mediate and guarantee a resolution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue, the Americans cannot expect the Pakistani Army to deploy enough troops to confront the Taliban.

These developments are taking place at a time when the Pakistani military establishment has successfully cornered Mr Zardari and his close associates by manipulating events to lead the Supreme Court to declare the National Reconciliation Ordinance, under which the present political dispensation was elected, as unconstitutional. A shaken Mr Zardari is now finding his close associates like Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, his PPP and MQM supporters in Sind, and even his own Principal Secretary Salman Farooqui coming under pressure, with threats of arrest.

The Army has repeatedly made it clear that it will not yield ground on its control of issues of national security and relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. Sensing that Mr Zardari was attempting to clip its wings by using the American aid legislation to curb its powers, the Army has hit back by mobilising Right-wing opinion to claim that Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity are being eroded by American meddling.

A rattled Obama Administration has responded with Sen John Kerry and others paying obeisance to Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not bother to shake hands with Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar while spending nearly three hours in talks with Gen Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha. While Mr Obama has proclaimed, "We cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," Gen Kayani has steadfastly refused to act against the Quetta-based political leadership of the Taliban led by Mullah Omar, or the Taliban military leadership of Sirajuddin Haqqani, now operating against American forces in Afghanistan from safe havens in North Waziristan.

The Pakistani Army is thus prepared to even defy the Americans to protect its Taliban 'assets'. Is it, therefore, realistic for anyone in India to believe that a weak and fragmented political leadership in Pakistan can act against the Army's hottest favourite — the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba led by Hafiz Mohammad Saeed?

There seems to be a total lack of understanding in India, even in high levels of the Government, about why Pakistan is frantically pushing for a resumption of the 'Composite Dialogue Process'. Pakistan is now becoming increasingly uncomfortable about the growing and almost daily revelations of the links of its military establishment with terrorist and extremist groups on its borders with both India and Afghanistan.

The influential Pentagon-related Stratfor Website recently noted that operatives of terrorist groups like the LeT and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, which operate against India, are "able to travel, raise funds, communicate, train and plan operations with seemingly little interference. This is a stark contrast to Al Qaeda, which is hunted, on the run and experiencing a great deal of difficulty moving operatives, communicating, raising funds and conducting operations. The links between David Coleman Headley and his associates to current and former Pakistani military officers and Government officials are likely what is affording LeT and HuJI their operational freedom".

The almost hysterical calls for resumption of the Composite Dialogue by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is a protégé of the military establishment, and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, are meant to divert attention from the real issue which is tearing Pakistan apart, which is ISI-sponsored jihadi terrorism, by claims that lack of progress in resolving the 'core issue' of Jammu & Kashmir is the root cause of all the terrorism that the Pakistani Army has unleashed on Afghanistan, India and within Pakistan itself.

This, after the present military establishment led by Gen Kayani has returned to old and hackneyed rhetoric on resolving Jammu & Kashmir and disowned all that was achieved in moving forward on this issue through back-channel talks with the Musharraf dispensation between 2005 and 2007. The withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Jammu & Kashmir effectively counters the Pakistan propaganda. India has to emphasise that it is ISI-sponsored terrorism, and not Jammu & Kashmir, which is the root cause of regional tensions.

Given the dynamics of the developments within Pakistan, particularly on its borders with Afghanistan, which have arisen primarily because of backing radical Islamic groups, both by the military establishment and mainstream political parties, there is very little India can do to influence the course of events within Pakistan.

It seems unlikely that Gen Kayani and his cohorts will be able to quell unrest and violence in Pakistan's Pashtun heartland, even as they remain determined to back Taliban elements that bleed the Americans in Afghanistan. Stability in Pakistan is not going to be promoted by getting carried away by appeals for Indian magnanimity. What India has to ensure is preparedness to deal with the next terrorist strike, whether it is against a nuclear or IT establishment or involves hostage taking of schoolchildren as the Chechens terrorists did in Beslan.








This has reference to the editorial, "Congress chicanery" (December 10), Balbir K Punj's article, "Secularism's rage boys" (December 11) and Praful Goradia's article, "Let's not absolve Rao" (December 14) which rubbishes the findings of the Liberhan Commission. A lot of discussion on the demolition of the disputed Babri structure, inside and outside Parliament, has taken place. Some 24X7 channels went all out to spike any reference to the historical back-ground surrounding the demolition of the disputed structure. It was a patently crude and partisan effort on their part which could be likened to staging Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

There has been a conscious effort to divert attention from the main issue and focus on the demolition alone. That the so-called Babri Masjid, at the time of the demolition, was not being used for any religious purpose by the Muslim community for more than 60 years has been ignored. Thus, the whole idea behind keeping the demolition issue alive is political. If sincere efforts had been made to find an amicable solution to the dispute by everyone concerned, unnecessary tension and turmoil could have been avoided.

The Liberhan Commission, which took 17 years to submit its report with a view towards fixing responsibility for the demolition of the Babri structure, spent Rs 9 crore of tax-payers' money. The final report is full of contradictions, inaccuracies, half truths and distortions. It is just a tool for vested political interests to further strengthen their vote-banks.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, in his interaction with Deoband clergies, raked up the Babri issue with an eye on the by-elections then taking place in Uttar Pradesh. His laboured defence of the Liberhan Report on the floor of Parliament again seemed to be in keeping with his party's political fortunes. The pseudo-secularist camp is simply viewing this report as fodder to further stoke Muslim ire for the BJP.

National interest lies in finding a solution to the problem rather than indulging in blame game. Let the Congress and other pseudo-secular outfits clearly state what they want now. As far as the BJP is concerned, it has clearly stated that it wants a grand temple at Ayodhya. A grand mosque nearby could be built through consensus. This could be done in the spirit of communal harmony rather than through a court order. But this would require true statesmanship on all sides, setting aside petty political gains.








Last week the Alumni Association of Miranda House chose to award three of its former students, resurrecting two of them from the 1960s and one from the 1970s. This article recapitulates a few earthy gems that shone before a hall packed with faculty, students and alumni of Miranda House.

But first a little background about Miranda House. This college for women was the dream-child of Sir Maurice Gwyer, Delhi University's first Vice Chancellor. The then principal recalled three reasons Sir Maurice gave for naming the college Miranda: First, Carmen Miranda was his favourite actress; second, his daughter's name was Miranda; third, Shakespeare's Miranda would be a good example for the young women passing out from the college. Miranda is the lone female character in Shakespeare's play The Tempest the very embodiment of purity and goodness, undefiled by the (male) world outside.

This year the youngest recipient of the Alumnae Award was Anita Pratap the first Indian woman to become a television journalist with CNN and an intrepid war reporter. Dressed in a closely fitted silk jacket in flaming red she dazzled onlookers — as far removed from pictures of the virtuous Miranda as was conceivable.

Anita began by describing hostel life in Miranda House where she roomed in close vicinity to the feisty film director (to be) — Mira Nair whom she described as a compelling senior, her flashing eyes commandeering complete obeisance from the hoi polloi of female undergraduates. The intensity of a single look made her targets cower and scamper from sight, so overpowering was her personality even then. Recounted Anita Pratap, "One night Mira sent for me. I was scared stiff" she continued, "but there being no alternative I lugged myself to the drama queen's room not knowing what to expect. Mira was reclining on the bed in Begum like splendour as she beckoned me with two raised fingers to come and sit by her."

Mira leaned over and asked, "Do you like boys?"

"I don't know," the 16-year-old Anita replied. She recalled then what Mira had sighed in response: "I like girls."

The audience exploded as Anita's eyes glinted with mischief and mirth. (How, now Sir Maurice?)

Ms Indira Rajaraman, one of India's leading economists and the only woman member of the present Finance Commission (and perhaps its one dozen predecessor Commissions too,) stood behind the podium next, dressed in a non-designer sari, no make-up but still looking as she had some 45 years earlier — the same earnest, thoughtful face and the same soft, but blunt way of talking complete sense. In her speech she decried the fact that men (in office) spent so much time doing absolutely nothing, obsessed with cricket scores and similar trivia. She spoke passionately about hurdles that women encountered in a chauvinistic world where men's attitudes had changed not a jot.

Her daily experience of 18 years as one sardine packed in the front half of the Karnataka State Transport bus while commuting to IIM-Bangalore where she was a faculty member, had exposed her to the throbbing realities of a world of illiterate, peasant women and their brood of bawling infants; but it was there that she imbibed lessons about the strength of togetherness and compassion, something her pristine education had never prepared her for.

As first among the speakers I regaled the audience with my status as Miranda's Prima Donna on stage and how from bagging one leading role to another, I found myself in the dream role of the goddess Hera in a hilarious comedy titled The Rape of the Belt. I recounted how as I ascended the dais from one end of the stage, I scrutinised a gangly youth seated on Zeus' throne at the other end. His gloomy face and long legs and 'pap' white pants made him look even gawkier. I tossed my long, thick plait behind me and asked my female co-star snootily, "Who is that ugly fellow? I have never seen him in Stephen's before." With similar disdain she replied, "He's some guy from Kirorimal yaar — his name is Amitabh Bachchan."

That brought the roof down but even more so when I told them that after three rehearsals, I was yanked off the stage when my mother confronted the principal with my third division marks in the terminal examination. Alas there was no option but to renew reciting Paradise Lost.

Drawing on experiences from my long career in public administration I encouraged the students not to equate a career in the civil services with babugiri or boredom. Working on a scale in public service could open opportunities to improve not just hundreds, but millions of lives. Given perseverance, stable domestic arrangements and a little luck, success was assured, no matter what people who could never clear the civil service examinations might say.

Sir Maurice Gwyer's Victorian ideal of the perfect female figurine inside a gilded box was shattered long ago. New generations of Mirandians continue to graduate as indomitable women with minds of their own, unshackled from the fixed stereotype of 'Indian womanhood' that Gwyer sought to mould.








The Union Government, which is engaging secessionists and others in Jammu & Kashmir over the State's future, must approach the issue with extreme caution. Any settlement that weakens India's military position along the international border with Pakistan and the Line of Control will be ruinous for national security.

This becomes clear on recalling certain basic facts. India captured the strategic Haji Pir pass during the September 1965 war with Pakistan only to hand it back at Tashkent in January 1966. It recaptured it in the war in December 1971, which led to the liberation of Bangladesh, but returned it at the Shimla summit between Mrs Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in July 1972. It is now the main route through which armed terrorists of fundamentalist Islamist outfits like Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Jaish-e-Mohammed infiltrate from Pakistan to perpetrate terrorist acts in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere. India can deal with the situation now thanks to the massive presence of its military and para-military forces in Jammu & Kashmir and the fact that it has made infiltration generally difficult along the LoC and the international border. Besides, there is intense pressure by the United States on Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism against India and put terrorist groups like the LeT and JeM out of business.

On their part, Pakistan's Army and Directorate-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, its principal intelligence-gathering and covert operations outfit, which has been in charge of its unconventional war against India through cross-border terrorism, are fully extended by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which they have been fighting since end April. Things will be very different if Indian troops are not strongly entrenched along the LoC and the international border and have a greatly-reduced presence in Jammu & Kashmir at a time when American troops have left Afghanistan following intense domestic pressure, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda are in control of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Apart from American pressure, the present Government of Pakistan is restrained by thoughts of the consequences that might follow if India is pushed too far. It is aware of India's military strength and the dangers of a nuclear war in the sub-continent which will cripple India and destroy Pakistan. The Taliban and Al Qaeda — as also organisations like the LeT and JeM — are unlikely to be swayed by such considerations. They celebrate not life but 'martyrdom'. Death in jihad will immediately whisk one off to heaven and shower one with a multiplicity of rewards.

Heady with their triumph in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and convinced that they will defeat India as they have defeated the Soviet Union and the United States, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are likely to think nothing of launching several 26/11-type terrorist attacks, ignoring the risk of provoking a full-scale military response by India. Should a war follow, they will have little difficulty in breaking through a poorly manned LoC and international border in Jammu & Kashmir and sweeping through inadequately garrisoned Kashmir to the plains of Punjab. Simultaneously, there will be offensives in the Chhamb area, across the Wagah and Sindh-Rajasthan borders.

The hundreds of sleeper cells of the ISI, often linked to the LeT and JeM, that have sprung up in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other parts of the country, will then sabotage India's defence efforts. Many ISI agents and jihadis may pour in through the porous Indo-Nepal border, particularly if that country's administration has by then been undermined by a resumption of Maoist uprising. Things will be worse if a coalition Government, led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, is then in power in Dhaka. Both parties being pathologically hostile to India, their Government may sponsor terrorist strikes along the narrow Siliguri-Islampur corridor to prevent transfer of Indian troops from the North-East to the western front.
Any argument that the scenario sketched above is a figment of a paranoid imagination and that the Taliban and Al Qaeda would never control Afghanistan and Pakistan, holds little water. Given the contradictions in American President Barack Obama's AfPak policy and the growing tiredness in the US with the Afghanistan war, the US may well leave Afghanistan without defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban. In such an eventuality, the segment of the Pakistani Army and civilian administration that is fighting the TTP will crumble. The rest will follow.








The impact of global recession in West Asia and the 'bubble burst' in Dubai last month in the form of the crisis in Dubai World on India, especially Kerala, is far more serious and extensive than some complacent bankers and industrialists with Gulf connections thought, say experts and Gulf returnees in Kerala. Of the 300,000-odd people from South and South-East Asia who have lost their jobs, more than 100,000 are from Kerala.

More than 30,000 of these returnees are from Dubai, they say, adding at least half of them had lost their jobs in the 'bubble-burst last month.

Studies now show that Keralites working or doing business in the GCC member countries are becoming a perpetually floating migrant community and that Dubai has abruptly ceased to be the most sought-after job destination for job-seekers.

Studies also show that more than 300,000 people, mostly families and other dependents of Keralites employed or doing business in the Gulf, have been forced to return since October, 2008, after companies there began massive job-cut initiatives and loan-control measures, necessitated by the recession. Principals and managements of schools in Kerala say that there is a sudden increase in the demand for admissions. The principal of a private school in Thrissur with 2,000 seats said that he had got more than 200 applications, mostly from parents of kids in the Gulf, in the past six months alone.

A study by the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram-based think-tank, put the number of the Gulf-employed Keralites who have returned since the start of the recession at 61,000 but NRI bodies in Kozhikode and Thrissur vouch that the actual number could be far above 100,000. According to KN Pokker, who returned from Abu Dhabi after losing his job there in the dawn of the recession, "The small numbers of returnees shown in formal studies have their origin in the lack of clear documents and formal information. This is not the truth." Pokker is now running a small road-side shop and is active in the field of welfare schemes for Gulf returnees. He says the recent Dubai 'bubble burst had seriously affected the Malayalees. His own feeling is that at least 30,000 Keralites have lost job due to the crisis in Dubai World. The official estimates of job-losers in the crisis would be limited to 15,000 because they do not take into account those who refuse to come back home and are still looking for jobs in other emirates in the UAE or GCC states, he says.

The irony is that these negative developments have failed to end Malayalees' enthusiasm in seeking their luck in the Gulf. Studies say that there has been no drop worth mentioning in the number of people still looking for job in the Gulf but not many seem to prefer Dubai. "The Dubai World crisis has somehow become an eye-opener. The rush of job-seekers to Dubai has come down considerably in the past one month," said a Kochi-based travel agent. He added that fresh job-seekers seemed to put more faith in Saudi Arabia than in the UAE

Banking experts with great trust in the Gulf states' economic strength and who had some six months back claimed that the recession would cause no problems for the Malayalees working and doing business there, have begun to change their perspective. Their opinion was based on the fact that the volume of money repatriated from the Gulf since the start of the recession had grown magically in the last quarter of the last fiscal and the first quarter of the current fiscal. However, statistics of money repatriated from the Gulf in the form of deposits in Kerala banks showed a disappointing picture, with NRI deposits nose-diving in the second quarter of the current fiscal compared to the first. The fact is that over-enthusiastic bankers had failed to understand the actual reason for the sudden growth in the NRI deposits since the start of the recession.

The first quarter of the current fiscal had recorded an increase by Rs 435 crore in the NRI deposits in banks here but the second quarter showed a decrease by Rs 529 crore. "The indications were clear even then, but some people failed to see it. The initial surge was the sign of the urgency among the NRIs to shift their money from insecure territories to India which is indeed insulated against recession to a good extent. Most probably, we will now be seeing a steady decrease in money repatriation," says financial analyst Sethu Nath.







Life in Ladakh is changing rapidly. This rugged mountainous region, a cold desert slashed by icy winds during long winter months, first opened to tourism in 1972. Back then only very few tourists came. Over the years numbers have increased. Today nearly 60,000 foreign and domestic travellers visit the region every year. In 2008 there was a tourist inflow of 74,334 travellers.

Today approximately 318 guesthouses, 120 hotels, 1,035 cabs and 205 travel companies are operating in the region. Leh, the capital city, has particularly seen an upsurge in guesthouses and hotels.

The Sindhu Darshan festival was started with a view to draw tourists at the tail-end of the season in September after which Ladakh is snow-bound for the remaining six months of winter. This has drawn tourists in hordes.

What do these changes signify for communities living in Ladakh and for the fragile ecosystem?

Understandably, it has created several livelihood avenues for local people. Predominantly an agricultural economy with most people living in villages, till the late 60's, the influx has had a dramatic impact on economic patterns. Those involved who were engaged in farming previously began to gravitate towards the city perceiving better returns from jobs in the bludgeoning tourist industry. The entire infrastructure is now geared towards catering to tourism which has opened up work opportunities as guides, porters, pony-men and drivers.

On the flipside, the ugly face of this boom is quite visible. Once clean streets and mountainous streams are now littered with garbage. Existing facilities and infrastructure have not been able to keep pace with the surge in tourism. Public toilets, for instance, are not a priority.

The conventional practice in Ladakh's mountainous terrain, which faces severe water shortage, is to have dry toilets or 'compost' toilets. The waste is used as manure. This practice not only conserves resources but also uses low-cost technology to nourish the soil.

However, the influx of tourists who prefer Western-style toilets has compelled hotels and guesthouses to cater to their needs them despite knowing that the region cannot afford wastage of water.

Understandably, nor have the authorities been able to evolve a system which adequately meets the need of sanitation specifically for managing the toilet water. The Deputy Director of Jammu & Kashmir Tourism of Leh, Mr Nissar Hussain said that only a few tourists accept compost toilets. We have to develop facilities according to them. It is difficult to draw tourists to Ladakhi traditional houses which has the old sanitation system.

Other changes too are taking place, sometimes innocuously, sometimes blatantly, which were not something that Ladakhis had to contend with during its pre-tourism period. Trekkers and tourists brought with the culture of packaged foods, especially bottled water, which is responsible for mounds of plastic waste.

Pristine mountain trails are now dotted with plastic bottles, polythene bags, etc. Laura, a German volunteer, who spent a winter in Ladakh, said, "Only tourists are responsible for plastic pollution."

Further, taxi drivers, who often in a rush do not drive on the tar road but on either sides, destroy the pastureland in Ladakh's portion of the Tibetan Plateau in the Changthang region where the nomadic community depends on livestock.

The more overt signs of change, socially and culturally, are there to observe and experience specially for the old-timers. The traditional dress — a long robe neatly tied at the back — has nearly vanished.

Many students are prompted to abandon their studies as they feel that there is lot of money to be made as tourist guides. Some youths even buy their own taxis and during the tourist season they earn enough for the whole year.

The influx has also brought in its wake social evils like alcohol and drug abuse. For youngsters, the things to aspire towards are laptops, camera and iPods — all symbols of a Western modern lifestyle.

It is time Ladakhis need to be vigilant otherwise all that has sustained its culture, traditions, its ecological and environmental harmony will be destroyed.








AT a time when agencies in the capital are hard- pressed for finances to build infrastructure in the run- up to the Commonwealth Games of 2010, the revelation that five- star hotels, industrialists and politicians owe the New Delhi Municipal Corporation a humongous Rs 850 crore as property tax dues must be given the importance it deserves. For, the sum works out to half the municipal body's annual budget of Rs 1,656 crore for this financial year. And though the NDMC has clarified that the list— which includes big names like the Tatas, Oberois, as also ITDC hotels like Ashok and Samrat— relates to sums outstanding against 400 different properties and that the parties concerned are not strictly defaulters, questions nevertheless arise about the civic body failing to recover its arrears. More so, as the actual money due to the civic agency could be far higher given that the list only includes arrears in excess of Rs 50,000.


Some of these property tax arrears have accumulated over 20 years. This hardly gives the impression of the NDMC being in any hurry to recover its dues. It may be true that in many of these cases appeals, writ petitions or suits have been filed, as the NDMC has said is the case. But, as we all know, embroiling a matter in litigation is one of the surer ways of maintaining status quo in India. It is not difficult for big companies to hire a battery of top lawyers who apply the nuances of law to get temporary relief for their clients.


Therefore, the NDMC must go a step further and list the legal status of cases pending against the various parties on its website.


Otherwise one gets the impression that while individuals of comparatively low net worth are made to pay every paisa of tax they owe to the government, the big players whose arrears run into crores have it easy.






UNION Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had an unenviable task in Parliament on Tuesday. He had to defend a political accord which was being dressed up as an international agreement. The Copenhagen Accord may have made the best of a bad deal in that it got major greenhouse gas emitters into a single agreement, but that best is not being deemed good enough for the challenge that climate change confronts the world with. Mr Ramesh is right when he says that India is not the problem. Considering our relatively low total emissions and very low per capita figures, we are marginal to the issue.


It is China and the US that are the problems.


But as the engine of the world economy, no one wants to force China down a path that could result in an economic slowdown, and Beijing has capitalised on this to obtain the best possible deal it could. The US, for its part, is so deeply divided ideologically that it would be difficult for President Barack Obama to promise anything more than the minimal commitment he has made in terms of cutting emissions. The Copenhagen deal should be seen as a means to an end. Having breached the US and Chinese walls, the world community should now push the two big emitters to give binding commitments.


As for India, it would be advised to play a modest role rather than bat above its league.






AT first sight the judgment of the Lahore High Court to cut off the noses and ears of two people who did the same to a young woman, as well as suffer 50 years' imprisonment, would appear to be condign justice.


But judicial punishment cannot be seen as revenge. It must have the utilitarian elements of deterrence and rehabilitation built into it, otherwise it descends to the level of barbarism.


Unfortunately, the Islamic law of Qisas or revenge has been introduced into the Pakistani judicial system. Islamabad needs to take another look at the manner in which its judiciary functions. We all know that it has handled the terrorist Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed with kid- gloves. Recently, a court adopted a nationalistic garb by protecting five Americans of Pakistani origin who were arrested in the country where they had come to train in terrorist camps.








THE decision to initiate measures to create Telangana has predictably opened a Pandora's box with a number of other movements for new states gathering momentum.


In the midst of this surge of political activity it is tempting to believe the status quo could have been maintained if the government had refused to budge on the demand for Telangana. But a glance at the pressures that are mounting for new states suggests that the problem lies not so much with any perceived weakness on the part of the government as it does with longer term trends in the polity. And the appropriate response to these trends would go beyond merely creating new states.


At the heart of the pressure of smaller states lies the effective decentralisation of the Indian polity over the last six decades. Linguistic states may have been created in 1956 but the polity at the time remained extremely centralised. Few states captured this reality better than Andhra Pradesh. The fast- untodeath of Potti Sreeramulu accelerated the process of the setting up of linguistic states, but politics in Andhra Pradesh remained essentially controlled by the Congress High Command in Delhi. It was only in the 1980s that state- level politicians began to make their presence felt. Rajiv Gandhi's public humiliation of the then Andhra chief minister provided the spark to light the fire of regional sentiment, a fire that NTR made good political use of.




The decades since the 1980s have seen decentralisation move on to the next phase. Leaders from regions within states have been able to make their presence felt. This has contributed to the growing support for regional movements within the states. This has provided considerable momentum to old demands for new states, especially in areas where a deep sense of persecution exists.


In Telangana these demands gained additional momentum from the fact that the discontent that provided support for a new state could easily be diverted to help the Naxalite cause. There was thus a genuine political rationale to give in to the demand for a new Telangana state.


The creation of new smaller states is however not a simple political matter.


It comes into direct conflict with the language based politics that has gained momentum in recent years.


While the rest of Andhra Pradesh would in itself be a much more prosperous state, the language sentiment associated with keeping the state unified cannot be brushed aside.


This is particularly true for local language film stars who use the language identity to enter politics. It is then no surprise that the actor- politician Chiranjeevi who offered support for Telangana during the elections has now resigned his seat in the Assembly and promised to fight for a united Andhra Pradesh.


The threat to the linguistic identity, interestingly enough, suits the national parties. Parties like the BJP that would like to use the all- India character of the Hindu identity may have compromised with state level parties in the past, but it suits them to see the decline of the competing linguistic identity and the state level forces it generates. The BJP is thus quite clear that it would like to see many more new small states. The Congress, as is its wont, is more ambivalent about the issue, but as its response to the demand for Telangana demonstrates, it does not take much to push it too towards creating smaller states.


The covert support of the national parties for smaller states together with the support from regional political leaders within states would seem to make the creation of smaller states just a matter of time. The smoothness of the process could vary from case to case. The states of the larger Hindi heartland that don't have language movements of any great menace could be the easiest to split, while states that have just come to terms with their linguistic identity may be less willing to give it up in a hurry. But it is quite possible, even likely, that the linguistic state level parties may find themselves caught between the rock of Delhi and the hard place of the pressure on the ground.


The emergence of smaller states, breaking up the linguistic identity, does not however guarantee any stability.


The same process of effective decentralisation of the polity creating new leaders of smaller regions could generate demands for the new small states to be split into smaller ones. And if the national parties believe that they are better off dealing with leaders of even smaller states they may well support the next round of splits as well. There is thus no natural limit to the extent to which states can be broken up.


Indeed, there is no logical reason to rule out a return to the number of states existing before Independence.




The emergence of a large number of states could make internal conflicts even more complicated. To cite just one example, inter- state river disputes are difficult enough to solve when there are just a few contenders for the water. When we have a larger number of states fighting for what each one genuinely believes is its fair share of the water, the problem could become even more intractable than it is today. Smaller states may make each one easier to govern, but it would make the task of governing all of them together much more complicated.


This emerging complicated and inefficient reality is however not inevitable. At the heart of the problem is the tendency to respond to the challenges of effective democratic decentralisation of political power essentially through territory.


A system of patronage politics controlled by state chief ministers increases the possibility of remote areas feeling they are not getting a fair share of the cake. As new politicians emerge they vie for political office first at the local level and then the state level. Smaller states allow politicians away from the current state- level patronage centres to offer their constituents a better chance to get official hand- outs.




A more effective response would first recognise that the degree of decentralisation that is ideal would vary. The effective level of decentralisation for water may well be the river basin, even if it cuts across different states. Tribal welfare on the other hand may require greater decentralisation so that their demands would be heard even though they live in remote areas. Rather than looking at territory alone when deciding the effective level of decentralisation we would be better off first considering the function of a particular body.


Such a process of functional decentralisation would create new institutions that are not under individual chief ministers. The Chairman of, say a new effective river basin authority, may on issues that concern water cover a greater area than a chief minister.


This would take care of the local politicians' need for growth.

The emergence of new politicians would then result in demands for new powerful institutions rather than for new states.


The time has clearly come for India to move not just beyond linguistic states but also the tendency to treat territory as the all- important aspect of the emerging Indian decentralised reality.


The writer is professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore








THE decibel level over the Bengaluru International Airport was raised to a new high earlier this week. A joint house committee of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on Monday rapped the consortium that runs the joint- venture on the airport's looks, feel and books. It is interesting to know the reasons for its unhappiness.


The multi- party house panel chaired by BJP leader Dr D Hemachandra Sagar has given 21 recommendations in its report. The first point is that the five directors appointed by the state and central governments to the public- private partnership should " make their presence felt." The report notes that the airport lacks facilities and it uses too much of terminal space for commercial purposes. There are also issues of cost over- runs and profit. It also seeks airport passes for dignitaries.


On the cultural aspects, the panel dislikes the all- glass facade of the terminal building and recommends that the facade should reflect the local culture. It also wants the airport renamed after Kempe Gowda, a chieftain who built Bangalore. Then there are demands for more signboards and newspapers in Kannada.


While a detailed response from BIAL is awaited, the criticism brings to centre- stage several aspects of neo- liberal development patterns and their impact on local cultures.


When the government takes a back seat, the politicians lose their voice. Culture, then, becomes a rallying point for them.


Social scientists note that when global patterns are imposed all of a sudden, the local elements assert themselves, raising their voice; sometimes loudly, even violently.


Some people call it an outcome of ' glocalisation', a hybrid concept that blends the global and the local.


While the financial issues raised with regard to the airport might require scrutiny and possibly corrective/ punitive action, the cultural issues need to be understood in a different context. There have been several small and big instances that reflect the local people and their leaders' irritation with the global looks of Bangalore.


Stones were thrown at the glass walls of malls and tech firms while people were grieving the demise of the movie star Rajkumar. English- only signboards are routinely blacked out with tar. Sometimes cinema theatres face problems for showing Tamil and English releases.


There is a deeply disturbing side to this ad hoc ' localisation' efforts. Largely they are ' mob' acts. Still, on a broader plane such moves could gain public sympathy when people feel overwhelmed by too much of global features around. For instance, there are taxi drivers who politely decline to drive through Brigade Road, the modern fashion street, and prefer the choked lanes in the older parts of the city.


In one of the most inclusive cities in India, where an office can have people from outside as all its department heads, such early signs of discontent should be taken seriously. Promoting local culture and tastes is not parochialism. But the ways of doing it and the timing can leave a bad taste and bad consequences.


Instead of spoiling a beautiful modern building like the airport, the government and local intellectuals should think of creative ways to promote local culture. Or Bangaloreans may no longer like the usage: " Swalpa adjust madi ( Adjust a little)".

A doctor and businessman with a heart

WHEN he was practising as a young heart surgeon in London, his colleagues used to call Dr Devi Shetty a ' surgery machine'. Nobody could match his daily count. This experience perhaps shaped his high- volume, low- cost approach to healthcare in general in his later career as a medical entrepreneur.


Shetty's footprint is spreading across India and abroad.


Recently the prime minister of the Caribbean tax haven Cayman Island, McKeeva Bush, was in Bangalore to inaugurate Narayana Health City, a 3,000- bed multi- speciality complex here.


Back in Cayman Islands, Shetty is building a 2,000- bed general hospital. " About 400 senior consultants from the US sent job applications to me in less than a month," Shetty said.


He would like to cater to people from the whole region including its poorer parts. " We will give the Indian model of healthcare." The treatment is expected to be half as expensive as in the US. Just as he is a surgery machine, he is a born businessman. He grew up in Mangalore and the Shettys of the west coast are known for their business acumen.


His extended family runs a construction business.


The doctor is accessible and easily comes on the line or on the podium to share his personal tales, leaving his listeners wondering why their eyes often get moist.


That looks like business with a heart.

Dr Devi Shetty



AFTER Copenhagen NGOs are jumping on to the climate bandwagon. There are project proposals and ambitious plans — some of them are imaginative.


A group of community broadcasters are thinking up ways to let local communities record and share notes on the changes in their environment. They can also learn from experts what to do against it. For instance, when Himalayan streams run dry, people could learn how to store water. When bees disappear from the forest they can learn how to aid pollination. Or know how to be prepared to face the next cloudburst, flood or storm.


This initiative can contribute to existing channels of communication.


Government sources, including the Indian Space Research Organisation, India Meteorological Department and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, give out a lot of climate- related data. Still their outreach is often inadequate. For instance, last time when there was a tsunami threat after an earthquake in Indonesia, it was the local women who coordinated evacuation in some villages in Tamil Nadu. The government system could reach the last mile only later.


The ' Climate Radio' on the drawing board could fill such gaps. The Community Radio Forum and its partners are experimenting on such models in Goa and elsewhere.



CONFLICT photographer James Nachtwey once said that standing in front of an audience is a cross between an out- of- body experience and a deer caught in the headlights. In real life, deer and other animals in Bandipur wildlife sanctuary close to the Karnataka- Kerala border get caught in the headlights and often also lose their lives.


Wildlife authorities say careless drivers hit a lot of animals. Some estimates put the figure as high as one incident a day. So they have imposed a ban on night traffic along the route. The problem is that it is a busy road for traders, techies and other migrant workers who go home to Kozhikode in Kerala over the weekend or for holidays. Vehicles have to stop at a checkpoint at the beginning of the park and resume travel after daybreak. The other options are to take a circuitous route through Madikeri or an axle- breaking forest road to Kannur and then travel south.


There has been a campaign to open night traffic on the stretch.


Now even some diehard conservationists are having second thoughts. It is not a good idea to let a whole fleet of city vehicles park overnight at the edge of a forest — they pollute with plastic bags and Coke cans. Then by early morning it becomes a stream of vehicles with no break.


Late- rising animals just cannot cross the road! " Open the road, but educate the drivers to drive slow and carefully," says Ullas Kumar, a Bangalore- based conservationist.








If ever there was a travesty of justice this was it. Former Haryana inspector-general of police, S P S Rathore, has got away with a six-month sentence and a fine of Rs 1,000 for molesting a teenager, Ruchika Girhotra, who was driven to commit suicide three years later. What's more the sentence by the special court was handed 19 years after the molestation incident took place.

The details of the case are by now well known. What bears repetition however is the way the victim herself, her family and later the couple responsible for pursuing justice Anand and Madhu Parkash, parents of Ruchika's best friend and key witness Aradhana were systematically harassed. The victim was not only suspended by the state tennis association, she was later thrown out of her school. The situation was such that the Parkashes filed a petition before the court alleging harassment by goons under Rathore's pay.


The story of people in powerful places trying to suppress evidence or abort justice is sickeningly familiar. How often have we seen politicians or senior government officials using their clout to subvert justice? What was slightly different here was that the victim was a budding tennis player and the accused the president of the state lawn tennis association, something that exposed the seamier side of the way sports is run in India.

But this case isn't just about subversion of justice. It's also about gaps in our laws. Shockingly the Indian Penal Code, in large parts a relic of the colonial times, has no special provisions for child victims of sexual molestation. The Law Commission had spotted this and recommended in 2000 a provision recognising and punishing child abuse with imprisonment up to seven years. But nearly a decade has passed and nothing has been done.

The gaps in the law meant that at worst Rathore could get a prison term of up to two years under existing provisions in the IPC for sexual harassment. But he got away with even milder punishment. This case yet again highlights the need for speedy dispensation of justice and protection for the victim and key witnesses.


More importantly it highlights the urgency of drafting legal provisions to treat abuse of children as a special category and to penalise it stringently. Until that happens we might continue to see tragedies of the sort that forced a teenager to take her life, and for monsters who molest children to roam free.







Jharkhand appears headed for another phase of political uncertainty. No single party or pre-poll coalition has won a decisive mandate to form the government in Ranchi. A similar fractured verdict in 2005 allowed political parties to prop up unstable governments and, eventually, facilitate the rare instance of an independent MLA running the state for nearly two years under a cloud of corruption. Parties must ensure this time that a stable government is formed on the basis of a common minimum programme.

Though no party can claim to be the winner, the Congress has a lot to cheer about. It chose to ally with the nascent outfit Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) Prajatantrik led by former BJP chief minister Babulal Marandi. The alliance has done reasonably well. Though the Congress backed the Madhu Koda government, the party escaped flak for the corruption scandals that rocked the Koda administration.


Curiously, corruption as an issue seems to have failed to impact the assembly elections. Geeta Koda, who claimed that the corruption charges were part of an attempt to victimise her husband, has won. So has Anosh Ekka, Koda's cabinet colleague who is also in jail facing corruption charges. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has had its share of scandals but did not suffer for it. The BJP's decline is yet another indication that the party is losing ground in places other than its regional strongholds. The party and its ally, Janata Dal (United), had won 36 seats in 2005, but the tally is likely to fall drastically. A factor that may have contributed to the BJP's prospects is the emergence of Marandi's JVM.

It appears that parties are in a mood to bargain hard. JMM, which is likely to be the second largest party in the assembly, has announced its willingness to deal with both the Congress and the BJP. Its only demand so far seems to be that its leader Shibu Soren be made the chief minister.

A stable government would help Jharkhand to perform better. Though rich in mineral resources, successive governments have failed to manage them efficiently. The underdevelopment across the state is a scandal. Massive corruption, especially in the mining sector, has been a cause for immense social strife. The Maoists have exploited the failures of the political mainstream. But despite the Maoists calling for a boycott of elections, over 58 per cent of the electorate voted. The elected representatives must now live up to the faith reposed by voters in the democratic system.








The Hague: At the annual meeting of state parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), US officials disclosed that their country's stockpile destruction will not finish before 2021, missing the treaty's final extended deadline of 2012 by a long shot. In fact, two new US chemical-demilitarisation plants will not be ready until nine years from now an unusually long time frame for construction. With the US making plain its intention to allow domestic considerations to trump international obligations, Russia has little disincentive to meet the final deadline.

More than 12 years after the CWC entered into force, this regime faces several challenges that extend beyond the still-existing stockpiles of chemical weapons (CWs) in the US, Russia, Libya and Iraq. Of the seven declared possessor states, only India, South Korea and Albania have fully eliminated their stockpiles.

Some states strongly suspected of holding CWs, including China and Pakistan, did not declare any arsenal. China was the assumed source of Albania's stockpile of chemical warfare agents. It also aided Pakistani and Iranian CW programmes. By declaring former production facilities, China, however, tacitly admitted it built and destroyed CWs before joining the treaty, although the US has accused it of still holding "an inventory of traditional CW agents" and maintaining an "advanced R&D programme".

One CWC challenge is the lack of universality, with seven key players still not parties to the treaty, including North Korea, Israel, Egypt, Syria and Myanmar. A second challenge is that more than half of the present 188 parties have yet to implement their obligations by enacting enabling legislation and setting up a national authority. Yet another challenge is that although CWs are the least-important weapons of mass destruction (WMD), they are the most likely to be used by terrorists. Containing that challenge demands effective and full CWC implementation.

CWC has long been seen as a model pact that applies, unlike the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, similar standards to all. But today it faces gnawing uncertainties. For example, how will the anticipated failure of its most powerful parties, America and Russia, to meet the final 2012 deadline affect the regime's integrity and authority? The US, for its part, is now emphasising non-proliferation and intrusive, more frequent inspections of national chemical industries. But the word "non-proliferation" doesn't exist in the CWC text.

Against this background, India's surprise declaration of its CWs, followed by their rushed destruction, stands out. When it signed the CWC in 1993, India stated it had no CWs or production facilities. But three years later, it stunned everyone, including its own military, by declaring it possessed a CW stockpile one of only three countries (the others being the US and Russia) to make such a disclosure by the CWC's June 1996 cut-off date for original signatories. India had secretly built CWs, mostly mustard-gas shells, without integrating the small arsenal with its defence strategy and overall military operations.

Rather than first eliminate its puny, militarily insignificant CW stocks before becoming party to the CWC, India's penchant to take the moral high ground, whatever the price, found expression in its ratifying the treaty ahead of its regional adversaries, and then rushing to meet the pact's 10-year deadline for stockpile destruction. It incinerated most of its CWs by the 2007 deadline, even as the other possessor states had set protracted time frames for stockpile destruction. While the US and Russia sought and got five-year deadline extensions in 2007, India asked for only two years' more time, fully completing its dismantlement in March 2009. Meeting deadlines took precedence over guaranteeing environmentally safe and sound destruction, with secrecy the leitmotif even in dismantlement. The government's fiat to the DRDO was to meet the deadlines, come what may.

But India hasn't earned international respect from such faithful, speedy compliance. Indeed, like in the nuclear realm, India has been left to blow its own trumpet about its "impeccable" credentials. Far from gaining any reward, India has little clout in The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, where no Indian has yet held a top management position. Worse still, Indian taxpayers have had to pick up the tab for international verification of stockpile destruction, with the obliteration bill surpassing the CW production expenses several fold. Pakistan and China, by contrast, have come out better.

The lack of any public discussion in India over its CW experience is unfortunate, given the lessons it holds for its other WMD capabilities and for Indian policy on the whole. Just as it built CWs of little military utility, India continues to lag far behind its credible minimal nuclear deterrent needs, as underscored by the recent failed night-time test of Agni-2 and the weaponisation of only the diminutive 25-kiloton fission prototype warhead. Open debate is indispensable if India is to learn from its record.

The writer is professor, Centre for Policy Research.







The news that the HRD ministry is considering creating an Indian Education Service (IES) to deal with the daunting task of the administration of the country's education system should be welcomed. Trained officers who know how to deal with the specific problems posed by the gaps in the education system would be a worthy addition to the bureaucracy. It is a knee-jerk reaction to dismiss any expansion of the bureaucracy. An IES is a valuable suggestion that must be evaluated on its merits.

Whether we like it or not, bureaucrats are already an integral part of the education system. There is no point in having officers who have no special training to cope with the challenges posed in running schools and colleges. There is much that is wrong with education in our country at all levels, whether it is school or college. A lot of those problems arise from incompetent management of resources. That is precisely what a trained and efficient bureaucracy can tackle.

At present, administrators lack an in-depth knowledge of the education sector, which magnifies its deficiencies. If officers can be trained properly and equipped with the knowledge required to oversee education, it can only benefit taxpayers who are even now registering their displeasure at the idea of expanding the babudom.

Quality education is the need of the hour and the HRD ministry cannot afford to dilly-dally any longer. Reforms are necessary if the education system is to improve, and not all of these will be popular with the chattering classes. The quality of administrators directly affects the quality of education Indian youth will receive. The choice is between a set of bureaucrats for whom education is just another posting that they have to get out of the way before moving on to better things and bureaucrats who actually have a stake in improving the education system. The latter is definitely preferable.









A recent study says most teenagers turn to alcohol due to boredom. In 1986, psychologist Norman D Sundberg and his then student Richard F Farmer developed the 28-question Boredom Proneness Scale (BPS), the first full psychometric scale designed to measure boredom as a trait. A 2005 study of 92 Scottish teenagers, for example, found that boredom was among the top reasons stated for taking drugs. It observed that a longing for thrills to drive away ennui may lead people to indulge in destructive, sensation-seeking activities, including smoking, vandalism, gambling and drugs.


Battling boredom, researchers say, means finding focus, living in the moment and having something to live for. To get past the unbearable heaviness of being, it is interesting to see what men and women do to stave off boredom. They might kill at will, scrounge around aimlessly, have illicit sex, booze, count the stars whatever that suits their temperament. Gustave Flaubert's Emma in Madame Bovary was bored with a devoted husband and with her child, except when she chose to play the role of a loving mother. Thus the provincial housewife became an adulteress who sought freedom from a prosaic, disappointing life and was ultimately destroyed by her selfishness.

While management gurus, yogis and charlatans alike have many remedies to offer, none seems to be a perfect solution. Prescriptions to replace monotony by novelty range from having sex and finding love outside a stale marriage to spicing up your love life, from going sea-rafting to keeping a pet. Thomas Hobbes, while describing the natural state of mankind, said that man was in need to wage a war against every man and the life of man was ''solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short''. Hobbes did not factor in boredom, though human life can be terribly boring and the war of a man against himself can be more fatal than the war against others.


So unlike to the morons bored to death, there are people whose incapacity for boredom makes them suffused so much with lust for life that they can be likened to an incorrigible missionary called the joie de vivrist, who presumes that everyone wants to express pro-life feelings in the same manner. Enjoying life is a rite for him. He has trained himself to be a connoisseur of vitality, and gets easily irritated when life is not filled to the brim. I found an easier antidote to boredom, though. I simply doze off, regardless of the circumstances.







It is Christmas eve today. The snow in the shop windows is not just cotton wool, but Bt cotton.. The glittering Christmas tree is nothing more than bottle brushes dyed a green as fake as the Copenhagen accord, the gift-wrapped boxes piled at its base as empty as G7 + China promises. Which just about sums up the spurious revelry  thrust upon us at this time of year. 


Welcome to the festive spirit of rising prices, temperatures  and crime, judges in the dock,  too many leaders in politics and not enough in the  police force  -- and Narayana Murthy, one of our last heroes standing, being indicted  by a  Karnataka joint house committee. Yes, 'tis the season to be jolly. So deck the halls with plastic holly, Fill the glass, and don't say when. 


Sorry, sorry, I know, I should be wining without the 'h'. This is the time to uncork the spirit and the Beaujolais, and sparkle with the hope of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Frankly, I will settle  for peace in just my building's cooperative society,  and be happy if I can muster goodwill towards the residents  who have piled  the landing with a mini-forest, a sofa, a sideboard and an entire satsang of  assorted sandals.


Yes, it's the last Christmas of the first decade of the no-longer-new millennium, so I should be less cynical and sing 'Joy to the world' and all its fluffy puppies. But, wherever I turn, I see only its Rottenweilers. 


All around me, the beautifully moving Christmas imagery has been subverted. The bright star in the east is Mamata Banerjee.The RSS has sidelined the Three Wise Men  of  Delhi and pitchforked  Greenhorn Gadkari  into  the BJP presidency. Hark, the herald hoardings sing, glorifying yet another highrise kingdom. 'Babes' are wrapped in something considerably less substantial than 'swaddling  clothes', and only dogs are in the manger, lying through their teeth. It's the truth, so don't crucify me for the blasphemy. 


Even the timeless Christmas  carols have been distorted. You think I'm exaggerating? Here, sling them for yourself.


Si-i-lent Night,/ Unho-o-ly Night

All is farce,/All is blight

Yonder victims, not tender or mild ,

Wait for justice sans pe-eace

Wa-ai-t for justice sans  peace. 

Alarm bells, Alarm bells, Ringing all the way.

Oh what chance is there to see

No climate change  today. Hey!

Dashing all our hopes

On a one-clause open slay,

O'er  emission cap we go

Resisting all the way.

BASIC unity forming,

Making Polluters Pay.

Oh what fun it is

To fight and kickTo make old Kyoto stay. Hey!


Thackerays,  the warring cousins

Had a very bloodied nose.

And if you ever saw them,

You'd  even say they came to blows.

All the other parties

Used to scoff, and call them names.

They sat and watched them pitted

In their usual Sena games.

Then one stormy polling day

Raj-bhau came to say,

'Manoos, with your hopes so bright

Won't you pull my rail tonight?'

Then all of Uddhav's Sainiks

Began to jump up and flee.

They knew that clev-er Rajsaheb

Had made them into his-tor-y!

We wish you a messy break up.

We wish you a  messy break-up.We wish you a messy break up,

And a haphazard new state.








After a team of US scientists debunked the stellar role played by coffee in the hangover saga, the holiday season had left many a reveller cheerless about facing the morning after. Though many cures for that nasty hangover exist — from harmless hydration techniques to the really vile ones involving raw eggs in Worcestershire sauce — true tipplers have always known that there really is just one that works: staying drunk.


And now, thanks to some research by an Indian-origin nutritional therapist (why are we not surprised?), Gurpareet Bains, you can drink your way out of the aftershocks. All you have to do before hitting the bar is prepare a very special concoction involving natural 'superfoods' like ajwain, acai (jamun), pomegranate, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and, you guessed it, oodles of vodka. So, instead of following up a drinking binge by cringing in the dark corners, all you need to do to crawl back into the game is throw a few shots of this magic potion down the hatch, and you're good to go.


In case you're wondering about the choice of vodka, earlier this month, research from Brown University had revealed that lighter liquors were less likely to give you that lurking headache than the darker ones, murkier as they are due to the presence of an extra shot of toxins. Well, here's a sobering thought: with all these studies geared towards finding a cure for our hangovers, is it any wonder, then, that scientists are still clueless about how to make us stop drinking in the first place. But with all that holiday cheer reaching a groggy crescendo, who are we to argue with the experts?

So, the next time you spot that hip flask, don't worry, it's just a harmless antidote.







In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chief Shibu Soren has emerged as the kingmaker in the Jharkhand assembly elections. Earlier this year, Mr Soren had all but been written off as a political force after he lost the Tamar by-election and was dogged by controversy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself intervened to keep Mr Soren out of his Cabinet on account of the various taints surrounding him. He is the first Union minister to be convicted of murder and his track record of holding any party that he has lent support to has been extremely dodgy. Though the Congress-led alliance is the largest, it is likely that the Jharkhand assembly will see a hung House. Even before the customary horse-trading has begun, the BJP-led NDA seems to have lost interest after finding its earlier margin dented. This does not bode well for the party that has seen its fortunes plummet in recent times with a shrinking vote base and unseemly infighting. Whichever formation comes to power, the state seems in for another round of instability.


The very formation of Jharkhand in 2000 was to improve and streamline governance. But the resource-rich state has been caught in political scandals and corruption of monumental proportions in contrast to Bihar where a progressive chief minister has steadied the course. Since its formation, the state's track record on every front has been dismal and the people consistently shortchanged by rapacious carpetbaggers and politicians. The JMM seems to be first off the block with demands that Mr Soren be made CM of any formation his party supports. Of course, others will throw their hats in the ring as well. It seems unlikely at present that either the Congress or any of the other political parties will be comfortable with the idea of a government led by Mr Soren. But, as in the past, much will depend on who comes up with the best offer.


The additional factor is the Rashtriya Janata Dal that has put up an impressive showing. It is also clear that corruption is not a major issue given that scam-tainted former Chief Minister Madhu Koda's wife has won quite handsomely. The political instability that is bound to follow this verdict is likely to scare off genuine investors in the state's development. This means that once again the politicians will broker the fortunes of those who will come calling for business. And unfortunately, that means the people get left out of the loop once again.









Reading the lines that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh delivered in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday and between them, the message is evident. "We have been successful in defending India's national interests," he said. "I didn't go to Copenhagen with the mandate of saving the world or humanity. My mandate was to defend India's right to develop at a faster rate. For Western countries, it is an environmental issue but for us, it is a development issue."


Ramesh is articulating what a section of India's elite fervently believes: that it is entirely in our interests to align ourselves with the United States and other major emitters of greenhouse gases. Hence the unholy alliance of four, which China cobbled together, known as BASIC — Brazil, South Africa, India and China. These are what the US and European Union were targeting in the build-up to Copenhagen as "major emerging countries or economies", a term which doesn't figure anywhere in UN negotiations that have been painstakingly proceeding since Bali two years ago.


These four countries are certainly going to be powers to reckon with in the future, in part due to their large populations and natural resources. However, does this mean that they are no longer developing countries? Even China has a per capita income of only $3,000 and as many as 150 million Chinese live below the poverty line. The contradictions between the elites (till recently, exclusively white) of South Africa and Brazil and their majorities are too well-known to bear repetition; by some reckoning, Brazil has the worst class differentials of any society.


Where does that leave India? While there are ongoing debates about how many live below the poverty line — ranging from 50 per cent to 27 per cent — some common sense can help cut through the wrangling. Mumbai is surely one of the richest cities in India: if 55 per cent of its 16 million population lives in slums, they are obviously below the poverty line in not being able to afford decent housing, one of three essentials (roti, kapda aur makaan). By the same token, isn't the rest of India far worse off than Mumbai's citizens? The Arjun Sengupta Committee reported in 2007 that 836 million Indians spend no more than Rs 20 a day. The 'poverty line' measured in calories should be redefined as the starvation line.


Ramesh and others of his ilk ought to know that it is entirely in India's interests to align ourselves with G77 — the group of 130 developing countries, with or without China. That is our common future, not the interests of  the 250 million Indians whom New York Times columnist Tom Freidman dubs 'Americons', consumers on a US scale within this country, which would include all of us. The right to grow doesn't only restrict itself to the GDP increase, in which India is admittedly a star performer, but the distribution of that growth. On that score, as the country with some of the world's most abysmal human development indices — it figures 134th out of 182 countries in this year's United Nations list, down from 126 in 2008 — it certainly deserves to be reckoned as a very poor country. Indeed, in terms of the absolute numbers of poor, it has the most in the world.


Ramesh's second thesis only confirms the belief that some sections are seeking to redefine India's status. He stated: "We don't want international aid. Let us stop this technology transfer mantra. In the next five to ten years, we will be transferring technology to other countries."  In recent years, India has sought to project itself as an aid-giving rather than receiving country, at least as far as its immediate neighbours are concerned.


To argue the same in relation to the Copenhagen outcome is totally to deviate from India's repeatedly-stated position. As
the Kyoto protocol underlines, all countries have a "common but differentiated responsibility" to tackle climate change. Furthermore, as our negotiators have been repeating ad nauseam, even in Copenhagen, India won't agree to any compulsory commitments without industrial countries first providing funds and technology for this and other developing nations, which are the victims of global warming.


Ramesh's much-vaunted 'flexibility' is one thing, elasticity is another matter altogether. Do we really believe that India has the technological prowess to become an exporter of renewable energy in the near future? We may have the fifth largest installed wind energy capacity, but the technology is imported, as is that for solar power. China may have three of the top ten solar companies, but they have invested billions in such technologies. Meanwhile, will it be impertinent to remind the minister that 600 million Indians have to make do without commercial energy altogether and half of these have no access to electricity? What has prevented the government from providing these most essential forms of energy — a clean stove to cook with, a light to read with, all these 60 years?


Darryl D'Monte is Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India (FEJI)


The views expressed by the author are personal







There is only one thing certain about life and that is death. There is only one thing uncertain, and that is when it will come. 


In the Bible, death is viewed in the form of an angel sent by God, a being deprived of all voluntary power. While in the Hindu scriptures, you have Yama or Yamaraja, the god of death. As per the scriptures, all the worlds except the earth are temporary places of stay.


Upon one's death on earth, the god of death tallies athe person's good and bad deeds while on earth and decides if the soul goes to heaven or hell, for how long, and in what capacity. It is considered that only from the earth, and only after a human life, can the soul reach supreme salvation, the state free from the cycle of birth and death and the place beyond the 14 worlds where the eternal god lives.


Similarly, Islam says it is our recognition of and preparation for eternity that must separate those who are smart from those who are not.


For those sacred of death, it is simply the fear of the unknown.  If we have the courage to face death, then we can accomplish anything. After all, if we don't fear death, what remains to frighten us?


Norman Cousins wrote, "Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." It is death that makes life a precious gift. We should be constantly aware of death. Because of it, life has value.


An awareness of death allows us to marvel at the miracle of life, understand its frailty. A person who remembers that he will have to stand before his Creator and be accountable for his actions simply cannot defy God. Let's remember, "It is not the soul that burns but the body/ It is not the end of life but the beginning of another phase. It is not a call from devil but from God."







God has created one major difference between human beings and animals — presence of mind in human beings with which they can think and learn. Life is a continuous learning process, and you learn something new each day provided you have the desire for it.


Learning makes you an experienced individual. It is the kind of wealth that no thief can take, and can never decrease. It remains with you throughout your life and its enrichment benefits not only you but your family, relatives and friends. In times of crisis, we look upon our elders for their opinion and guidance. They are better experienced and have gone through the mill and drill of life. They are in a position to guide you, and even take you out of a difficult situation.


Once a fakir said, "I have learnt something from each and every person." Somebody asked, "What did you learn from a thief?"


The Fakir said that once he stayed in a thief's house. In the night when the thief returned, he asked him as to what did he steal. The thief replied, "Nothing. Today I have returned empty handed, but tomorrow I will definitely get something."


I asked him the same question daily and the thief's reply was the always the same. A month passed and the thief could not get anything. It put me into thinking. The thief goes for stealing every night, misses his sleep but is still not disheartened. He is always optimistic about tomorrow. I took a lesson from the great patience exhibited by the thief.


Remember, age is no bar for learning and it is not necessary that you learn only from your seniors. Inspiration can be drawn from anybody in the process of working together. Accept that with humility. It enhances our knowledge as well as stature. Be simple and humble and enjoy life to the fullest. Only then one can keep on learning and be happy.








Even the most ardent of reformers find it difficult to obliterate their own empires of power and patronage. But that is what Chidambaram did as commerce minister," observed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while launching A View From The Outside, a collection of Chidambaram's columns for The Indian Express. His point was that by cutting his own ministry down to size in the early '90s Chidambaram had cleared the toughest test for a reform.


Now, P. Chidambaram is planning to take a reformist scalpel to his own all-powerful home ministry, in the interest of India's internal security concerns. Currently, the ministry of home affairs is weighed down by its own girth — from caring for freedom fighters to handling the department of official languages, from the Census to disaster management responsibilities, everything's laid at the MHA's door. With such a blunted sense of mission, how can we hold the home ministry accountable for internal security? And how can we afford not to have someone accountable? Speaking at the Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture (see the Op-Ed Page), the home minister outlined an ambitious agenda for our security architecture and creating a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) by 2010. It took the US 36 months after 9/11 to create a single, dedicated agency to confront terrorists. India can't afford to dawdle. Chidambaram's suggestions to streamline the home ministry's organisational chart and entirely focus its efforts on countering terrorism are the obvious way forward.


After 26/11, we have been painfully schooled in the structural impediments to serious reform — our intelligence gathering efforts have been scattered, we have multiple databases only recently wired to each other through the NATGRID apparatus. Most significantly, we have constitutional roadblocks to consolidating Central efforts, given that law and order remains a state subject. The NCTC has been conceived as the intelligence gathering and investigative agency ultimately responsible for every facet of planning and operation. In other words, it will subsume other agencies like the National Intelligence Agency, Joint Intelligence Committee, etc, and pool all the efforts across all layers of government. Whether the threat emanates from insurgency in the Northeast or Maoist violence in central India, the NCTC should have it covered. As the home minister conceives it, the NCTC will be solely responsible for "preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators." Dismantling one's own empire is never easy, especially one with as many incumbent stakeholders as internal security.


Chidambaram's call to reform therefore demands an enlightened political and bureaucratic response.







If the fragmented character of the new Jharkhand assembly appears all too familiar, the results open up interesting possibilities. In a curious way the state's politics, especially in government formation, has directly correlated to the state of play within the main coalitions at the national level. And the BJP, looking for some good news from the states to wrap up a season of high organisational changes, is bound to be disappointed. With just about 20 seats going to the BJP and the JD(U), the NDA has failed to hold the electoral momentum of the Lok Sabha elections this summer, when it won eight of the 14 seats on offer. The Congress may, as a single party, be in third place, but is bound to exult over its takeaway of about 30 seats in alliance with Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. But these results are about more than the individual fortunes of the BJP and Congress. What will be tracked is how their national leaderships rise to the occasion.


For the Congress, the fray is scattered with old fellow travellers. Shibu Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has done surprisingly well, and Lalu Prasad's RJD has held its ground. Soren is amongst the many merchants of chance who have dictated government formation since Jharkhand gained statehood almost a decade ago. But the dynamics of any engagement between the RJD and the Congress — and it is perhaps incumbent on them to seriously explore government formation — will be interesting. After the Congress decided to strike out on its own in UP and Bihar in the general election, Lalu's has been an undefined relationship with the party — not an ally but not quite a foe. With Bihar elections due less than a year from now, talks in Jharkhand could have wider implications.


A fallout of the presence of the two national parties in a fragmented fray has been that Jharkhand's governance has often been based on a politics of expediency — at the Centre and at the state level. In an assembly elected after the Madhu Koda investigations and via a high turnout in Maoist strongholds, the politics needs to be more accountable.







What's the bigger story: Lionel Messi or Barca? 2009 has been every bit annus mirabilis for the Argentine and for Real Madrid's eternal other. The 22-year-old left-footed winger, who curiously plays mostly on the right flank and is valued at 250m euros for a buyout clause, has just added FIFA's World Player of the Year award to his Ballon D'Or (UEFA's European equivalent). Meanwhile, FC Barcelona has done what no club ever had — winning all the competitions (six) it entered this year, with the Club World Cup last Saturday. Messi had no small role in scripting that history.


Ironically, Messi's march with Barca also gives wind to an old grievance against professional club football. Does the commitment that millions of euros demand burn out the Messis, diminishing their performance for national teams? Does the World Cup or Euro lose out in underperforming superstars? Messi, hailed by Maradona as his "successor", has little to say for himself in an Argentina side that almost did not make it to the 2010 World Cup. To be fair, a club team plays together and gels longer — Messi joined Barca's youth system at 13 and debuted for the seniors at 16. He is as much about Barca's trademark attacking football as that Barca style has been about him for a while.


But if this has been the Barca formula's year of vindication, it has also shamed football, with evidence surfacing about perhaps Europe's biggest ever match-fixing scandal — that about 200 matches could have been fixed. This, in fact, is club football's subtext for 2009. 2010, of course, is that every fourth year when no European league comes close to the sport's greatest show — never mind whether mesmerising or dud football. What more could be desired? Perhaps greater enthusiasm for the likes of a young Brazilian woman named Marta who's won Messi's equivalent award for the fourth straight year.








From a summer of protest to a winter of discontent. The Iran that once was — the Supreme Leader unchallenged, the president uninhibited and the critics silenced — is unravelling. Just as the memories of the fateful June 12 election were turning stale crowds have once again captured the wandering eye. Thousands, if not more, have gathered in the holy city of Qom to pay respect to the most vociferous critic and senior cleric, Ayatollah Montazeri.


A regime and a government that he helped build, a constitution he helped draft (that has allowed for the magnanimous powers wielded by the Supreme Leader), a system he knew intimately was one he attacked after falling out of favour with the Islamic Republic's politics.


Speaking after the elections — "illegitimate," he said — Montazeri wrote on his website: "A political system based on force, oppression, changing people's votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons and forcing them to make false confessions in jail is condemned and illegitimate."


A scalding critic and a revolution insider, his presence and support gave legitimacy to the Green Movement. Those who branded the green wave — Moussavi, Karroubi and the thousands on the street included — as a force attempting to overthrow a government were shielded by clerical legitimacy offered to the opposition.


In his death they are celebrating him as a martyr and perhaps his death will bring to the Green Movement what his life did not. Unity. Now, the observer is left wondering, how? Now that he's gone.


In his death Montazeri has pushed civil resistance and discontent to Qom. The clerics in Qom in their high yellow walled compounds were somewhat immune to the June protests taking place in secular Tehran. Montazeri's death has brought politics to the holy city for the first time in almost 30 years.


Comparisons to 1979 are not limited to the thousands chanting "death to the dictator" at Azam Mosque. The speed, momentum and willingness of the opposition to take to the streets — at any opportunity — are reminiscent of an era gone. 1977-79 saw people take advantage of any event or development to voice their discontent for the Shah — the Green Movement too is willing to politicise any event. For instance protests were already planned — as evidenced on websites of the reformists and increased Twitter activity — on the Day of Ashura.


Ashura will serve as a test for the reform movement. Ashura is one the most important days in the Shi'a calendar, it commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed's grandson who died in the Battle of Karbala and is looked upon as a martyr. Turbulence was predicted. But Montazeri's death will serve as a catalyst. Throngs have already been pulled to Qom, the question now is whether the reformists will maintain the momentum. Whether this time they will stand as a united force rather than the scattered clusters seen in the aftermath of the elections.


Ray Takeyk, Iran expert at the NY-based Council of Foreign Relations, notes the discontent prevalent but adds "the problem at this point is that there is sort of an incohesive opposition. It doesn't have a nerve centre; it doesn't have a structure as it did in 1979. I don't know if there's a whole lot of central planning behind it." How then does the opposition unite?


Montazeri's death has exposed fractures in the religious apparatus in Qom — there are clerics who are proposing reform yet are unable to speak out directly. The cleric must remain neutral — but some are willing to offer guidance and support. This trend can be seen in the aftermath of the elections too. Rather than simply mobilising the people the movement will benefit through associating itself with leadership at Qom. What's more, the government unwilling to budge must take into account clerical views — this is mandated in the constitution.


In Montazeri's absence Ayatollah Yousuf Sanei has indicated he is willing to take on the call for reform. As a former head of the Council of Guardians, he yields enormous support. His discontent with the elections was posted on his website on June 15. He wrote, "...such deceit and oppression should not cause despair and hopelessness in the people's path to standing up for their religious and legal rights and in their endeavour to ensure sovereignty over their own destiny."


The path exists for the reform movement to further forward, the coming Sunday will be a good indicator of where it's headed.






You may be able to take India out of the third world in the not too distant future; but it seems impossible to take the third world out of India's mindset. Nothing else can explain the post-Copenhagen fuming among India's chattering classes in the closing moments of 2009.


The defining geopolitical metaphor of 2009 may well be an uninvited president of the "sole superpower" (the United States of America) barging into a meeting of four emerging powers (China, India, Brazil and South Africa) to salvage something out of the global summit on climate change at the very last minute.


As the international power hierarchy is being reconstituted, one would have thought Delhi might savour the moment of transition — from being a permanent protester at international forums to an indispensable actor in the making of any new global compact.


Yet, the Marxists on the left, the BJP on the right, and a perennially morbid sect of talking heads are at it again — that India has abandoned its foreign policy tradition of third world solidarity and bartered away the nation's sovereignty.


You might recall this was the same crew that blocked the implementation of the historic civilian nuclear initiative with the United States and stopped us for more than three years from buying Russian reactors, French nuclear technology and Namibian uranium. Amidst the rash of nuclear agreements that Delhi has signed in 2009, it is quite easy to forget how close the nabobs of negativism had come to keeping India in permanent nuclear isolation.


What is it that makes our foreign policy pundits so cheerless? Their enduring pessimism about India's international prospects is leavened by a fear of failure in navigating the external. Whether it is bilateral talks with Nepal, or the US, or multilateral talks on trade, the idea of "give and take" is alien to this worldview.


The only problem with this sense of victimhood that we have come to love is that India is doing a lot better than its detractors at home would like. While Delhi broods, the rest of the world notes India's growing relative gains throughout this decade.


As India's economy grows faster than all others barring China's, Delhi's weight in the international system will inevitably rise. While the per capita incomes of China and India might be much lower than other countries in the developing world, the aggregate size of their economies gives them unprecedented international clout.


Beijing and Delhi are destined to become global "rule makers and rule enforcers" rather than the "rule takers" they have been in the last couple of centuries. That the Chinese leadership has adapted to its changing status has been quite evident in 2009, not in the least at Copenhagen. Delhi in contrast has looked nervous before, during and after Copenhagen.


Unlike in Beijing where the Chinese Communist Party has had a serious debate on the meaning of China's rise, Delhi's political establishment pretends nothing has changed in the world in the last two decades.


The crafting of a foreign policy for a rising India does not imply abandoning the precepts of its founding fathers. In fact India must rediscover the internationalist legacy of its great globalists — Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru.

If Tagore cautioned against narro nationalism, Nehru's cosmopolitanism was the very foundation of independent India's foreign policy. Recent research by Manu Bhagavan of Hunter College, New York, reveals how emphatic Nehru's negotiating brief was in favour of internationalism in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations during 1947-48.


Nehru also scoffed at the notion of creating a "third world bloc"; how could you argue against the Cold War blocs and create another one, Nehru asked. As he attended the first and only summit of the non-aligned nations in Yugoslavia in 1961, Nehru contested the arguments on the left at home and the Afro-Asian radicals abroad that the meeting must focus on an anti-imperialist agenda.


Nehru instead insisted that the meeting must take up the issue of nuclear war and peace that dominated the global agenda in the early '60s. Nehru, who was the first leader to join the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963 after its sponsors, Washington, Moscow and London, opened the treaty for signature would surely be surprised by India's current virulent opposition to all nuclear treaties.


The principal intellectual challenge for a rising India in the coming year and beyond is to debunk the invented tradition of "third worldism" that has crippled the nation's foreign policy discourse. Nehru had little to do with this '70s fantasy. Indira Gandhi quickly moved beyond it when she found India had no use for it; Rajiv Gandhi ignored it to focus on such practical aspects of ending apartheid in South Africa and renewing contact with all great powers; Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh recognised that if India could lift itself up, it will take care of much of the third world. After all, much of the third world is today within India and the subcontinent.


Delhi's third world mantra has endured because the current Congress leadership has refused to claim the real legacy of Nehru and allowed the Left to make a caricature of the founding principles of India's foreign policy. The time is now for the Congress party and its government to shed their political diffidence and rediscover the exhilarating internationalism that animated independent India's early engagement with the world.


Above all Delhi must find that optimism which propelled independent India's early engagement with the world. With few cards in hand, Nehru crafted an ambitious universalist foreign policy for India. As we enter a new decade, India for the first time may have the resources and opportunities to realise Nehru's vision.


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






By a quirk of fate, India in the twenty-first century has turned out to be the confluence of every kind of violence: insurrection or insurgency in order to carve out sovereign states; armed liberation struggle motivated by a rejected ideology; and terrorism driven by religious fanaticism. Never before has the Indian state faced such a formidable challenge. Never before have the Indian people been asked to prepare themselves for such fundamental changes in the manner in which the country will be secured and protected.


The present architecture consists of political, administrative, intelligence and enforcement elements. What will strike any observer is that there is no single authority to which these organisations report and there is no single or unified command which can issue directions to these agencies and bodies.


Some changes have indeed been brought about after December 1, 2008. The most beneficial change has been the operationalisation of the Multi-Agency Centre. By an Executive Order issued on December 31, 2008, the MAC was energised with a broader and compulsory membership and a new mandate. Every piece of relevant information or intelligence gathered by one of the participating agencies is brought to the table. It is analysed and the analysis is shared with the participating agencies. The key benefit is that no one can say that his/her organisation was kept in the dark.


For example, there is a need to network all the databases that contain vital information and intelligence. Today, each database stands alone. It does not talk to another database. Nor can the 'owner' of one database access another database. As a result, crucial information that rests in one database is not available to another agency. In order to remedy the deficiency, the Central Government has decided to set up NATGRID. Under NATGRID, 21 sets of databases will be networked to achieve quick, seamless and secure access to desired information.


Another major idea is the proposal to set up the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). As the name suggests, the goal is to counter terrorism. Obviously, this will include preventing a terrorist attack, containing a terrorist attack should one take place, and responding to a terrorist attack by inflicting pain upon the perpetrators. Such an organisation does not exist today. I am told that the United States was able to do it within 36 months of September 11, 2001. India cannot afford to wait for 36 months. India must decide now to go forward and India must succeed in setting up the NCTC by the end of 2010.


Once NCTC is set up, it must have the broad mandate to deal with all kinds of terrorist violence directed against the country and the people. While the nature of the response to different kinds of terror would indeed be different and nuanced, NCTC's mandate should be to respond to violence unleashed by any group — be it an insurgent group in the North East or the CPI (Maoist) in the heartland of India or any group of religious fanatics anywhere in India acting on their own or in concert with terrorists outside India. NCTC would therefore have to perform functions relating to intelligence, investigation and operations. All intelligence agencies would therefore have to be represented in the NCTC. Consequently, in my proposal, MAC would be subsumed in the NCTC. As far as investigation is concerned, Government has set up the National Investigation Agency, and that agency would have to be brought under the overall control of NCTC. The last function -— operations — would of course be the most sensitive and difficult part to create and bring under the NCTC. But I am clear in my mind that, without 'operations', NCTC and the security architecture that is needed will be incomplete. It is the proposed 'operations' wing of the NCTC that will give an edge — now absent — to our plans to counter terrorism.


The establishment of the NCTC will indeed result in transferring some oversight responsibilities over existing agencies or bodies to the NCTC. It is my fervent plea that this should not result in turf wars. Some agencies would naturally have to be brought under NCTC and what come to my mind readily are NIA, NTRO, JIC, NCRB and the NSG. The positioning of R&AW, ARC and CBI would have to be re-examined and a way would have to be found to place them under the oversight of NCTC to the extent that they deal with terrorism. The intelligence agencies of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance would continue to remain under the respective Ministry, but their representatives would have to be deputed mandatorily to the NCTC. NATGRID would obviously come under NCTC.


Given the overarching responsibility of NCTC and its mandate, it will be obvious that it must be headed by a highly qualified professional with vast experience in security related matters. Considering the structure of our services, it is natural to expect that the head of one of our organisations will be appointed to the post, by whatever name it may be called. He/she could be a police officer or a military officer. He/she will be the single person accountable to the country on all matters relating to internal security. At the Government level, and in order to be accountable to Parliament, it would be logical and natural to place the NCTC under the Ministry of Home Affairs.


That leaves the question of the structure of the Ministry of Home Affairs itself. MHA now handles a wide portfolio of subjects ranging from 'freedom fighters' to 'forensic science'. Is this a functional arrangement to deal with the grave challenges to internal security that we face and that we will face from many more years? I am afraid not. It is true that the words 'Ministry of Home Affairs' have an authoritative ring, but the MHA now performs a number of functions that have no direct relation to internal security. For example, it has a division dealing with freedom fighters but it does not have even a desk for dealing exclusively with forensic science. There are other divisions or desks that deal with Centre-State Relations, State Legislation, Human Rights, Union Territories, Disaster Management, Census etc. These are undoubtedly important functions and deserve close attention. However, internal security is an equally, if not more, important function that deserves the highest attention. In my view, given the imperatives and the challenges of the times, a division of the current functions of the Ministry of Home Affairs is unavoidable. The Home Minister should devote the whole of his/her time and energy to matters relating to security.


If, as a nation, we must defend ourselves in the present day and prepare for the future, it is imperative that we put in place a new architecture for India's security.









The editorial in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser titled 'Think of governance and growth. Not emotion and petty politics for new states' says: "How many more states can India afford? The manner in which cynical politicians in their greed for power and pelf demand the division of existing states and the knee-jerk response of the Congress at the Centre make a macabre spectre challenging the unity of the country and its economic profile. The idea of linguistic states, though unimaginative to begin with has somehow come to a workable model over the years. A certain level of emotive integration and development structure emerged over a period which brought both political stability and national integration. This is not the time to rake up fresh controversies. We are not opposed to smaller states if that helps administrative cohesion, development work, political accountability and social equity. Religion or language should not become the basis for the creation of new provinces. Muslims see a great chance of domination in a new Harit Pradesh, they view it as a throwback to the Nizam days when they speak of Telangana. These have dangerous dimensions. That language is not a uniting factor is underlined by the numerous demands for the multiple divisions of states speaking the same language".


It adds: "Six decades after independence such demands need not have gained currency but for the failure of the political leadership to ensure uniform growth of all regions and the fair distribution of the share of prosperity to all sections of the society. That there is wide disparity on the ground and that the emergence of India as an economic powerhouse has only sharpened the divide and widened the gap speak volumes on the lopsided priorities of our development planning. To address this problem creation of more states is no solution. The record of smaller states is not very encouraging to justify the promotion of the smaller state idea. Local politicians are prone to foment and support the demand for smaller states as it helps their career advancement. We have a situation where small-time — even panchayat-level politicians — have come to aspire for chief ministership".


It concludes: "If any part of the country is backward the blame should be squarely placed on the doors of the Congress which ruled the country for more than five decades. Its half-baked, pro-rich approach has created two distinct entities in the country — the 30 per cent haves and the rest 70 per cent have-nots. What the country today needs is a strategy for seamless economic and emotional unity, not more states and more political loot at the expense of the tax-payer".



A news item called "24 per cent Americans believe in reincarnation" says: "Roughly 24 per cent American adults believe in reincarnation and a similar number believe in yoga as a spiritual practice, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. This poll also found out that roughly one-quarter of adults express belief in tenets of certain Eastern religions and 25 per cent profess belief in astrology. The poll finds that large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions".


It adds: "Prestigious newsmagazine Newsweek headlined an article recently as 'We Are All Hindus Now', saying 'US Views on God and Life Are Turning Hindu'. Written by its religion editor Lisa Miller, it said, 'recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, ourselves, each other, and eternity'. Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, welcoming the Forum findings, said that the community was glad that rich philosophical thought of Hinduism was being recognised and accepted widely outside the Hindu circles also". It adds: "Dialogue brings us mutual enrichment and helps us overcome the prejudices passed on to us by previous generations".








The US Senate voted to ratify a bill that will reform how healthcare is paid for in that country. For all too long, American healthcare has provided too little health coverage at too much cost. Lyndon Johnson's 1965 creation of healthcare insurance for the elderly was the last successful substantial reform of healthcare financing. Subsequent efforts have fallen short: the Clinton administration's 1994 proposal ('Hillarycare') is only the best known of many failed attempts. One reason American healthcare reform has been thorny is because of its substantial political and economic costs. This bill will add nearly a trillion dollars to the deficit over ten years. And yet, there is near unanimity on the urgency of healthcare reform, a consensus that has made this historic vote a reality.


In India, however, problems with our health system continue to be politically insignificant and publicly invisible. Healthcare was not a significant campaign platform in this summer's or any previous elections. The newly elected UPA government's budget targets economic growth, but healthcare reform doesn't feature. So why does the US care about healthcare reform and why doesn't India?


The simple answer: healthcare is now too expensive for the US state and its citizens. The largest single industry in America, it accounts for nearly a sixth of GDP, and is also growing faster than the rest of the economy. Since the public sector is responsible for about half the total spending, the incessant rise of health costs is on track to bankrupt the trust funds set aside by the state for this purpose. Despite the public spending, most Americans pay for access to healthcare via private health insurance plans. Since these plans offer favourable prices to the wealthy and healthy while excluding the poor and poorly, nearly a sixth of all Americans now find themselves without health insurance: a number rising fast as unemployment increases in this economic downturn. Indeed, the state of the economy makes for a crisis that proponents of healthcare reform are trying desperately not to waste. This bill emerges from a perfect storm; the combination of a popular Democrat president with an eye to posterity, Democrat control of Congress, loss of employer-sponsored insurance through unemployment, soaring costs and ensuing reductions in people's coverage.


The new system will cover more people and cost less. It will require all Americans to have basic healthcare coverage, will provide substantial subsidies for the poor and will not discriminate economically against the sick. These expansions will be underwritten by a tax on the income of very wealthy and their health plans. It will subject insurance plans to more stringent government regulation. A state-run insurance plan, the so-called "public option", promised to offer a cheaper alternative to private plans, but will likely not last because of fierce opposition from private interests (who amusingly cite how this would reduce competition).


In contrast, there is little call for change in India because healthcare is cheap for the Indian state. Since Independence there has been a steady decrease in the public share of health-related spending which is now less than one-fifth of India's health-related spending; less per capita than nearly every other country in the world (Burundi, Myanmar, Sudan are India's neighbors on this scale).


That's no reason to cheer, though. The burden has simply shifted to Indians, who do find that healthcare is expensive. Subsidised healthcare has dwindled, so 80 per cent of all health-related spending is now out-of-pocket. This can be prohibitive for the poor: health-related expenditure is among the leading causes of personal bankruptcy and people entering poverty. For the middle class and wealthy, the absence of appropriate cost controls (such as those that exist in the US) make choosing a scrupulous private provider a matter of faith, all too often betrayed. Most Indians simply don't have an expectation that a system might exist that will take care of them.


What can India learn from US healthcare reform? We could mandate adequate health coverage as a right for Indians, ensure that we pool our risk of unexpected health outcomes, regulate providers who seek advantage over us, and strengthen our public-sector system innovatively so it provides us a real choice. In our own neighborhood, China is reforming its healthcare payment system and promises to cover 90 per cent of its own gigantic population. The real problem is that while easy to call for, enacting these reforms will be hard. The powerful few who influence legislation in India stand to gain by remaining distinct from and thus not paying for their less fortunate compatriots. However, this year there might be reason for enthusiasm: the validation of the UPA's increased social spending in this year's polls offer hope that both politicians and electorate might find common cause in meaningful healthcare reform.


In Washington this Christmas Eve, the United States Senate will deliver the present of a landmark legislation to its citizens by which the wealthy and healthy will pay for the poor and the sick. Here in India, we can only hope that the New Year brings us a resolution of similar ambition.


The writer is a Fellow at Harvard University's Center for Brain Science and works with the Ila Trust as a doctor amongst the underserved in Delhi.








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 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.


How long are we 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, 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 and the Embassy of Denmark recently held a briefing on how Denmark is working to become a low-carbon economy.


Although it still generates the majority of its electricity from coal, "since 1990, Denmark has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 per cent. Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the EU; 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 per cent of Denmark's electricity. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass..."


The Danish government funnels energy tax revenue "back to industry, earmarking much of it to subsidise environmental innovation," wrote Monica Prasad, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research. 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 per cent of Denmark's exports. Oil exports and energy taxes also subsidise 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. 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."


The New York Times







No one can ever doubt Union home minister P Chidambaram's commitment to reform, not just in terms of ideas but also in terms of actually getting difficult things done. He first displayed a strong will to push change in his stint as commerce minister in the early 1990s when he helped dismantle many obstructionist, licence-permit era offices from his own ministry. His two stints as finance minister too did much to further the cause of economic reform. So, it was with much relief that we welcomed his move to the previously moribund home ministry in the aftermath of 26/11. Now, a little more than a year into his new charge, the home minister, speaking at the IB memorial lecture on Wednesday, has revealed a courageous and ambitious plan for revamping India's internal security apparatus from top to bottom. And true to form, he intends the reform to begin right in his ministry. Unusually for a minister, he has recommended the downsizing of his own ministry. And he is absolutely right when he says that the home ministry should focus single-mindedly on internal security. Other functions, including Centre-state relations, official languages, human rights, disaster management etc, should indeed be moved elsewhere in the system. The minister was candid enough to admit that though some changes had taken place after he took charge, these are clearly not sufficient to meet the challenge of terrorism in the future, which is why he is pushing for reform on a larger scale.


One of the key problems that remain in the security apparatus is the lack of coordination and unified command for all aspects of counter-terrorism—prevention, investigations, containment and response (including operations). To address this issue, the minister has proposed setting up a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), which will be an overarching authority to which all intelligence and operational commands, cutting across individual agencies, civil and military, must report. Obviously, this will create turf battles—imagine the difficulty of bringing RAW, IB, armed forces intelligence, NSG, paramilitary forces, even financial intelligence agencies under one roof. But if we are to prevent terrorism from striking again, this sort of coordination and sharing has to happen. The minister is aware of the hurdles but is determined to overcome them. The rest of the Central government (not all intelligence and security agencies report to the home minister) and state governments should cooperate with this effort. The home minister, in his vision for security at the Centre, didn't however leave out the states. He spoke at length about the problems faced by the police forces and committed to giving them the necessary administrative and financial support to upgrade their weapons and other systems. He also emphasised the need to encourage 'community policing', a most basic but hitherto absent method of gathering intelligence. Minister Chidambaram wants to achieve all this in rapid time by the end of 2010. He deserves all the support he needs.






The government-constituted Kirit Parikh committee is working on a sustainable fuel pricing model for India and is expected to submit its recommendations in January 2010. This is only the latest in a long list of previous committees to look into the issue. In the most recent development, upstream oil major ONGC has said that in exchange for a rationalised subsidy-sharing regime, it is ready to accept a special tax on any super-normal profits from high crude prices. Now, prices may have fallen from an appalling high of nearly $150 last year, but they have also climbed up from a really benign 2009 start of around $50. So, the June quarter of 2009-10 saw OMCs reap nice returns, delivering a combined net profit of Rs 5,000 crore compared to losses of around Rs 14,500 crore in the same period in 2008. But things worsened as the year went on. In the third quarter, as the average crude price rose to around $75, under-recoveries for upstream companies also went up. As to the question of by how much, the government has yet to announce the quantum of oil bonds (or cash subsidy, as has been recently suggested). ONGC has made the point that under-recoveries should be shared in an equitable and transparent manner between upstream and downstream oil companies, Central and state governments. ONGC should know what it's talking about, as it has been contributing around 30% of the total subsidy burden in the last 3 years.


These columns have been arguing for deregulation in the pricing of petroleum products. One reason is fiscal. Last year, the government issued oil bonds worth Rs 71,292 crore. This fiscal, the petroleum ministry has only asked for bonds worth Rs 20,872 crore to compensate state-owned retailers for losses incurred on selling fuel below cost. This is a happier state of affairs and it should continue as long as the Opec oil cartel's indication that oil prices will stay at $70-80 a barrel next year is proved true. But there are a lot of ifs in this mix. Global demand, equity prices, the dollar, the war factor or indeed the compliance of Opec itself, anything could spin predictions off track. If that happens, how will increased subsidies impact government deficit? If it doesn't, couldn't the monies be better employed elsewhere? The other reason is environmental. But for the 10% auto-fuel hike of July, under-recoveries would have been bigger. And why shouldn't the fuel consumption of middle-income and high-earning people be benchmarked to global prices? This would amount to a 'down payment' for climate mitigation.







It is now amply clear that the UPA's biggest challenge in 2010 will be inflation management. The overall rate of inflation will most likely be closer to 8% by the time the Union budget is presented in end-February. It will cast its shadow on the budget exercise, which will have to make some assumptions—with RBI's help—on the trade-off between growth and inflation. With food inflation already very high, the overall wholesale price index on a monthly basis could touch double digits by summer 2010, as per an internal estimate of RBI. A simple analysis shows that even if prices remain at their current level, the monthly inflation averages for December, January and February are 7.1%, 7.5% and 8.1%, respectively, simply on account of the base effect.


No wonder, RBI is bracing itself for double-digit inflation by April-May 2010. Double-digit inflation could create many dilemmas for both finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and RBI governor D Subbarao. I remember the RBI governor telling me some time ago that the global financial crisis had in some ways permanently altered the relationship between the fiscal and monetary authorities across the world. Everywhere the fiscal and monetary authorities have been working in close coordination. The whole of 2009, this coordination was very visible in India as both the finance minister and RBI governor were on the same page in regard to continuance of fiscal and monetary stimulus.


However, as growth revives on a sustained basis and inflation moves closer to double digits, it will be interesting to see how the finance ministry and RBI work together towards striking the right balance between inflation and growth. While the central bank's dharma is invariably to keep inflation stability as its topmost priority, Pranab Mukherjee too will come under immense political pressure in Parliament to deliver food and other hard commodities of common man's use at reasonable prices.


One can already feel some tensions within the government in this regard. The Steel minister Virbhadra Singh told FE that steel prices cannot be allowed to go up beyond a point to ensure that products of mass consumption are delivered at reasonable prices. This psychology could spill over to cement and other products, too. So double-digit inflation could result in all kinds of price control regimes coming in through the back door. The UPA will have to tread carefully with its policy design as the Indian economy returns to an 8% growth path with moderate to high inflation. The problems will have to be identified correctly and then specific solutions must be delivered.


There is a consensus around the fact that the food inflation of close to 20% is largely supply-driven, as there are shortages of specific commodities like pulses, edible oils, sugar etc. The chairman of the Prime Minister's


Economic Advisory Council, C Rangarajan, has warned that persistently high food inflation can cause a generalised inflationary tendency. After all, inflation is also about expectations.


At the moment, there isn't a very clear indication of other commodity prices going up due to demand pressures. So, there really isn't a case of the economy heating up due to an increase in demand across the board. The latest quarterly GDP data (July-September) also shows that the growth in private consumption is quite moderate at 5.6% year-on-year. Bank credit too hasn't picked up in recent months to suggest any pick-up in investment demand that could lead to overheating. In fact, RBI has been worried that a lot of money—over Rs 1,50,000 crore—is simply circulating between banks, mutual funds and corporates, parked in short-term liquid instruments without getting deployed productively.


If this be the case, then the Centre must immediately take steps to sharply target the inflation in select food items by improving supplies so that food inflation is not allowed to distort a whole lot of other macro policies. The Centre has to play a proactive role in driving new reforms that check the prices of politically sensitive items. If done properly, this will help reduce pressure on RBI, which will naturally be tempted to use the monetary policy instruments bluntly if the inflation rate inches close to double digits soon.


There is a feeling that the Centre has been lulled into a sense of complacency as India is growing at 7%-plus against the backdrop of a global recession. The tendency, therefore, is to let the economy run on autopilot after delivering a big fiscal and monetary stimulus. This strategy may have worked in 2009. But 2010 will present a different set of challenges. The government will have to get down to delivering some new reform stimuli aimed at removing existing distortions in the product markets. For instance, the long pending objective of making the supply chain—from farm to mandis to retail shops—more efficient and equitable remains to be done. Many food items are cheaper around the local area of produce, but become many times costlier as they move from wholesale mandis to urban retail outlets. The stranglehold of monopolistic middlemen is yet to be broken.


The reform of the tax system will also help introduce structural changes in the way the economy works. It is so apparent that the introduction of goods & services tax will help create a common market and make the supply chain far more efficient by knocking off cascading taxes.


There are other inclusive reforms committed by the UPA in the President's address, but we are told that some of them will have to wait till the Bengal elections in 2011. Why should Mamata Banerjee's overweening desire to win Bengal elections postpone such decisions?


The UPA must become more decisive in 2010.








After a period of two decades we finally dominated a global meet. This column has advocated that India play a role with the BRICS in the G8. In the L20 volume, we saw a special role for India in energy and water negotiations. India went to Copenhagen with a strong position. With an if-then technical stance carefully crafted in the weeks and months before the meeting, we were not being luddites and were an important actor in the unfolding dynamic. Nothing was given away beforehand, but we had a domestic plan and were in fact not only an energy-efficient country but had all the intentions of being one in the future. The critics either didn't understand the basics or were being obstructive. In fact, our stance put us on commanding heights.


We were together with the UK, Japan and some other countries at the top of the rankings in terms of energy consumption per unit of output (almost 40% of the big energy users like the US, China and Canada) and our teams of young modellers had after a long time been commissioned and had produced futuristic counterfactuals. The days of interactive and genuinely dynamic energy policy modelling as a preserve of the OECD countries were over. As someone who had, in the bleak period, played around with poor substitutes of such models with energy photo pictures at different moments of time, I am happy.


Unlike some other large countries, our reform was initially home-driven and the reform of large industry in the late eighties explicitly targeted energy efficiency in big energy-guzzler segments like steel, cement, fertilisers and petrochemicals. As scale expanded and capacity utilisation went up, we really did well in energy consumption per unit of output. All this should give us credibility. We would play our role in negotiations with the US and OECD, and champion the BRICS in the G77. China always played this role and, therefore, it was a little surprising when it declared a somewhat strong bilateral position with the great powers just before the conference started. In a way it was not at all surprising that it soon decided to show great solidarity with India, reflecting again the strength of our position. This became more pronounced towards the end of the summit in Copenhagen.


Some of our commentators and 'experts' have this great ability to snatch mediocrity from the jaws of victory. The great penchant for speaking in different voices even when the whole responsibility is on us to present our strengths and to use them to sell a structure of the future around which we can negotiate—and beyond the bounds of which we will not go—is the hallmark of their style. A leading press agency reported that India and China walked out with Africa and the G77 and our minister was the spokesperson, but one of our interlocuters made it known to a section of our media that we followed China in a walk out, with Africa.


Instead of per capita absolutes we can also negotiate at the margin in terms of changes because our performance in terms of change has been good. So we would win with a little ingenuity if we develop and fight for formulae in terms of energy intensity of output, which is a marginal and not an average concept for it is additional energy per unit of value added and set the bar, in terms of which our head start is an asset. Like the Swiss tariff formula in the WTO, we could develop tools that are forward-looking and to our advantage in terms of incentivising the distance covered towards the bars set in averages, which would be higher than our base positions.


We obviously will not fall for the MRV business (measurement, reporting and verification) and have to tell the West that for a long time the Scandinavians would only discuss our annual plan with them as a condition of their aid. I remember doing that with the Swedes in Yojana Bhavan. Surely they can play with us in a less invasive manner, without insisting on getting into our bedrooms. In an earlier version of this article, while the meeting was on, I said that: "Another interesting way of doing it is to work with a mechanism of the type the annual WTO Trade Review is." It turned out to be prophetic. As we showed in the Annual Trade Review under Mary Whelan, we can tolerate bitter discussions but no strong-arm stuff.


Getting into the last stretch we should win this one in addition to the ODAs.

The author is a former Union minister








The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is currently engaged in the exercise of finalising its recommendations on spectrum pricing—an exercise which would virtually rewrite the existing telecom policy. Obviously the exercise is gargantuan and the stakes are high for all concerned—consumer, industry and government. As is the practice, the regulator has gone about the exercise by holding extensive consultations with the stakeholders, first by inviting comments on its consultation paper and subsequently through a three-day open house session in the Capital.


However, what is surprising is that in the entire exercise the Trai has missed out one very important stakeholder—the multi-disciplinary committee headed by the DoT additional secretary, Subodh Kumar, whose report is the basis on which the entire exercise rests. As argued in these columns earlier, the report is an exhaustive, balanced one suggesting a pragmatic way forward and has industry-wide support. Apart from representation from industry, it also had a Trai representative. Ideally, the Trai should hold a separate meeting with the members of the committee to understand the methodology, goals and the vision behind the report before finalising its recommendations. Going by the principles of consulting the stakeholders, the regulator must invite the committee members for in-depth discussions.


It can be argued that the members were free to either send their views in writing to the Trai or could have voiced the same at the open house sessions. However, to be fair, the members of the committee deserve exclusive treatment and should not be clubbed with other stakeholders. They were mandated a task by the government and before another statutory body examines it, an audience should be granted to them.


The committee had suggested de-linking of the telecom licence from spectrum, which is a departure from the current norm of bundled spectrum with licences and subsequent tranches allotted on achieving pre-determined subscribers in each circle. This is exactly what the Trai is looking at, so it makes sense to have detailed discussions with the committee members rather than reinvent the wheel. The significance of reviewing the spectrum pricing is well known and, therefore, Trai should be extra careful to ensure that whatever its final suggestions are, these are not left to the DoT to tweak as was done in a previous instance, which raised a controversy that is still raging strong, threatening to derail the telecom sector.








Jharkhand seems headed for another five years of political instability with the three main players, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, managing to deny one another a clear majority in the Legislative Assembly. For a stable coalition to take shape, two of the three parties must come together. Since a BJP-Congress coalition is unthinkable, the JMM and independents are in an enviable position. Thus, to nobody's surprise, even as the election trends were firming up, the JMM reinforced its reputation as an unpredictable and opportunistic ally, up for sale to the highest bidder: senior leaders insist that the party's support to any combine would depend on its chief Shibu Soren being made Chief Minister. Steeped as it is in a history of cases relating to corruption, the most notable being the bribery of JMM members of Parliament during a no-confidence motion in 1993 to vote in favour of the Narasimha Rao government, and violence, the JMM will be a difficult political partner — ready to do business at any point with either the BJP or the Congress. That the party continues to command a sizable section of the tribal votes in Jharkhand speaks poorly of representative politics in this underdeveloped State. Jharkhand is yet to emerge out of semi-feudal backwardness, and for large sections of people, tribal loyalties tend to override other considerations on polling day.


The BJP, which bagged 30 seats in 2005, is the biggest loser this time, managing only 18. Evidently, the loss of Babulal Marandi, the first Chief Minister of Jharkhand, is still hurting. Mr. Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), in alliance with the Congress, won 11 seats. The BJP's ally, the Janata Dal (United), also suffered reverses, winning merely two seats against the six won last time. The Congress, with 14 seats, got five seats more than in 2005. The JMM retained its support base, increasing its tally by one to 18. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, a small player in Jharkhand, held on to 5 seats, down two. Even if the Congress wins over the RJD in the name of a broad secular alliance, the coalition would still be far short of the 41 MLAs needed to constitute a majority. Shibu Soren has thus emerged as kingmaker yet again, and he will make his decision solely on the basis of who makes the better offer. The Congress, as head of the United Progressive Alliance government at the centre, can obviously offer more than the BJP. But what is clear is that no matter what Mr. Soren decides, Jharkhand is set for a repeat of the political volatility of the last four years, which witnessed the bizarre spectacle of an Independent, Madhu Koda, reigning as Chief Minister between 2006 and 2008.







The World Trade Organisation's seventh ministerial meeting held earlier this month at Geneva ended without anything substantial to show. But then the meeting was not meant to be "a substantive negotiating round." It did not face the kind of controversies that marred previous ministerial meetings at Seattle (1999) and Cancun (2003), which collapsed amidst intense acrimony. At Geneva, trade ministers were given an agenda that deliberately skirted the subst antive issues plaguing the WTO and the stalled Doha round. However, the WTO's own assessment of the ministerial is more upbeat, as has been the case every time a meeting — official or non-official — ended in a failure. According to its official statement, the conference sent a strong signal of convergence on the importance of Doha round talks to economic recovery and poverty alleviation in developing countries. The ministers reaffirmed the need to complete the Doha round by 2010. A stock-taking exercise is to be held by March next year. The one point on which the member countries have agreed upon since the Hong Kong ministerial meeting (2005) is that the Doha round should be kept alive. However, with each successive failure, hopes of salvaging it are fast receding.


India has special reasons to feel disappointed over the lack of real progress in the eight-year-old Doha development round. The two-day Delhi mini-ministerial in September paved the way for restarting active trade negotiations at the level of trade ministers. Chief negotiators and trade officials were asked to prepare an agenda for action. Like the subsequent Geneva ministerial with a broader participation, the Delhi talks were about processes rather than substantial issues. Despite considerable improvements, the refined texts of the drafts on agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) remain contentious. For India, an important outstanding issue is that of bringing negotiations in services on a par with those in agriculture and NAMA. There is very little indication, even from the Geneva ministerial meeting, that services negotiations will move to the centre stage. It will be unrealistic to expect the Doha round to be wrapped up soon. There are a number of divisive issues that can be deal-breakers. For instance, the framework of a special safeguards mechanism in agriculture that will satisfy all is yet to be worked out. There is an all-round realisation that a successful completion of the Doha round will strengthen the multilateral trading system and boost orderly trade. That, however, seems quite some distance away.









So you thought you'd had enough of Page 3? Newspapers in Maharashtra think otherwise. Some of them had more than one, on several days during the recent state elections. They even had supplements within supplements. So you had page 3 in the main paper. Then the main supplement with its own page 3. Then a further supplement within that, marked as Page III with Roman numerals (rarely, if ever, used in the Marathi press).


This happened mostly during the last days before voting as desperate candidates poured in money to buy "news." As one senior journalist explained it: "On television, the number of bulletins shot up. In print, the number of pages. The demand had to be met. Often the extra package stuff came in at the last minute and had to be accommodated. Why turn them away?"


In Marathi, Hindi, English, and Urdu newspapers across the State, you can find many fascinating things during the election period that were not turned away. Sometimes the same puff item appeared as 'news' in one newspaper and as an advertisement in another. "It is shameful to misguide people," reads the headline of an item paid for by Umakant (Babloo) Deotale, an independent candidate from Nagpur South West. This appears in Lokmat (Oct. 6) with a tiny 'ADVT' (advertisement) at the bottom. It appears the same day in The Hitavada (Nagpur's leading English language daily) with no mention at all of its being an advertisement. Mr. Deotale got one thing right: it is shameful to misguide people.


Interestingly, a spate of genuine advertisements hit the pages on August 30. This was 24 hours before the election code of conduct — under which party and government expenditures come under scrutiny — came into force. After that, the word "advertisement" disappeared, and with it even the fig leaf of "response feature." The items became "news." There was a second surge of real ads just before candidates began filing nominations from September 18. This is because individual expenses come under scrutiny from the day the candidate files his or her nomination. Both these devices enabled the government, big parties, and rich candidates to spend huge sums of money that would not figure in poll expenditure accounts. Yet another device, widely used during the actual campaign, is absent in almost all candidate expenditure accounts: the massive use of SMS and voice mail messages. Also, the setting up of campaign-related websites. The amounts involved were significant. Their reflection in candidate accounts is nil.


"News" reports after August 30 and September 18 were fascinating in many ways. For one thing, there is not a single critical or negative line in any of them. Across hundreds of pages, the "news" consists solely of how wonderful particular candidates were, their achievements, and the progress of their campaigns. Nothing about the issues. Their rivals, people of fewer resources, did not exist in these newspaper pages except, perhaps, as fall guys.


Further, if you struck the right deal, the same "news" could appear in print, on television, and online. This was "package journalism" at its most advanced, that was truly multi-media. The shift to this kind of "news" was so large that real advertising at election time —when it should have been highest — actually fell in some influential newspapers.


Sadly, a few senior journalists had their bylines on some of the paid stuff. Some of them had the rank of chief reporter or even chief of bureau. A few may have done so willingly. But there were those who told me: "In the days when this was about petty corruption of individual journalists, we had a choice. To be or not to be corrupt. Now when this is an organised industry run by our employers, what choice do we have?"


Several newspapers published in Maharashtra between October 1 and 10, 2009 make fun reading. Sometimes, you find a page of mysteriously fixed item sizes, say 125-150 words plus a double column photo. The "fixed size" items are curious. News seldom unfolds in such rigid terms. (Advertisements do.) Elsewhere, you can see multiple fonts and drop case styles in the same page of a single newspaper. This was so because everything — layouts, fonts, and printouts came from the candidate seeking a slot. Even the bad pictures sullying the pages of organised papers came from candidates. There was no way a daily with two or three photographers could cope with the frenzy and demand of the first ten days of October.


Sometimes you got a more organised page or two — on which every single "news item" was on one political party only. No one else was found newsworthy on those pages. Page 3 of Pudhari (Oct. 6) worked for the Congress this way. Pages 3 and 4 of Sakaal's Ranadhumali ("Tumult of the Battlefield") supplement (Oct. 10) found only MNS-related items relevant. Other major parties too, those with ample resources, got such treatment elsewhere. There were pages where only the NCP made "news" (Deshonnati Oct.11). Deshonnati's Sept. 15 edition had four pages on Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. Nothing else appeared in those pages. There were similarly 12 pages of Mr. Chavan in the Hindi daily Nav Bharat between Sept. 30 and Oct. 13 (which brings our tally of Chavan-centric full pages to 89). On the other hand, as D-day approached, you got crowded pages, some with as many as 12 items and 15 photographs.


Since candidates or their political parties mostly delivered the "news" in the poll-period, most papers did not edit or change a thing. How do we explain otherwise why the items and their "bylines" violate the papers' own style or practice? At the very least, this raises troubling questions.


For instance, Sakaal normally credits reports from its own staffers as "Batmidar" (reporter). Or else as being from Sakaal Vruttaseva (News Service) or from the Sakaal News Network. Or it uses the reporter's name in the story. But what are obviously Congress handouts (masquerading as news) come signed as "Pratinidhi" (correspondent). So you found the newspaper carrying items marked "Pratinidhi" against its own run of professional play. One of these party plugs signed "Pratinidhi" (Sakaal, Oct. 4) bears the headline "State's leadership will return to Congress!" Sakaal places "Batmidar" at the top of its stories, the Congress handouts place "Pratinidhi" at the bottom. The two make odd bedfellows in the issues of October 4 and 9. Was this news? Was it advertising? Was it a bird or a plane?


Well-known PR firms, professional designers, and ad agencies served the richer parties and candidates, making up their items in the standard fonts and sizes of the concerned newspapers. They also "customised" the "news" to make it seem exclusive in different publications.


A handful of candidates, many of them builders, made more "news" than others. Conversely, smaller parties and less well-endowed candidates tended to get blacked out of any coverage in several newspapers across the State. Some of them have written to me, telling their stories. One, Shakil Ahmed, a lawyer and independent candidate in Sion-Koliwada in Mumbai, said the very newspapers that had earlier given him space as a social activist "demanded money to write about me as a candidate. Since I refused to pay, nobody wrote about me." Mr. Ahmed is eager to depose before the Election Commission of India as well as the Press Council of India.


Journalists and activists from the districts sent us over a hundred issues of 21 different newspapers in the State. These ranged from high-circulation big names to small local dailies. All had their pages crowded with such "news." In television channels, the same items making the rounds sometimes arrived as news on one channel and as advertisements on another. One such item appeared on two channels with the voice of a reporter from a third. And with the boom mike of the third channel showing up on rival screens.


As polling day approached, some journalists were besieged by desperate candidates with limited resources who risked being drowned in the flood. They needed professionals, they pleaded, to write their "paid news" items and were willing to shell out the modest amounts they could afford. The last days of the campaign actually saw some of these tiny items —reflecting the candidate's financial status — find their way on to newspapers pages.


And these were elections, the news media told us, that had "no issues" at all.








In his khaki shirt, Rameshnath looks no different from any other autorickshaw driver in Thiruvananthapuram. But he has been able to work for the last 15 years only because a damaged valve in his heart could be replaced with an artificial one. That valve was developed at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, a speciality hospital and medical research centre in the same city.


The lower cost of the indigenous valve has given tens of thousands of people in the country, like 55-year-old Mr. Rameshnath, access to life-saving surgery over the course of nearly 20 years. With states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu starting health insurance schemes for the poor, the demand for such a valve is set to grow.


In India, large numbers of people suffer heart valve damage as a result of rheumatic heart disease. This condition is produced when some bacterial throat infections, especially in children, evoke a severe immune response known as rheumatic fever. The body's immune system may then turn on its own tissues, including the heart.


Rheumatic heart disease can affect the valves of the heart, which are then unable to function properly. In such cases, the unfortunate individual is unable to tolerate much exertion and quickly becomes tired and short of breath. Without valve replacement, these people risk heart failure and death.


The Indian Council of Medical Research has estimated that six out of every 1,000 children between the ages of five and 15 in the country suffer from rheumatic fever. Over one million children in the country could therefore be at risk of developing valvular disease.


Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are closely associated with overcrowding and poor living conditions. As a result, these ailments are more common among the poor, who often have limited access to medical care and cannot afford expensive surgery.


"Nothing was more painful or more cruel than the denial of a surgical procedure to a patient on the ground that a life saving device was beyond his or her means," wrote M.S. Valiathan, who headed the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for two decades, in reminisces published in the Journal of Biosciences last year.


In 1976, with a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology, he initiated efforts to make heart valves within the country. (Four years later, the Institute, which had been started by the Kerala Government, was taken over by the Central Government.)


It was decided that the indigenous valve would be a mechanical device, not one that used human or animal tissue, said G.S. Bhuvaneshwar, who came to the institute as a young engineer and was given the task of developing the valve.



One important reason for that choice was that mechanical heart valves last much longer than tissue-based ones. In India, the majority of valve replacements occur in those less than 30 years of age and so the artificial valve needed to function for several decades. Besides, mechanical valves were also cheaper, he pointed out.


(Tissue valves, on the other hand, have the advantage that those who get them do not need to be on drugs that reduce their blood's ability to clot.)


The Sree Chitra team opted for a design where a metal ring with struts holds a tilting disc, which opens and closes, in place. The entire course of development of the valve was both a fascinating study of material science as well as a hugely challenging effort, pointed out A.V. Ramani in a paper published in 1991. Mr. Ramani headed Sree Chitra's Biomedical Technology Wing while the valve was being developed.


The artificial valve must withstand the stress of opening and closing some 40 million times a year. The materials used for the valve have to be compatible with blood and human tissues. When open, the valve should allow the blood to flow smoothly through. Once closed, the back flow of blood had to be minimal.


The setbacks in developing the valve were many. A particularly bad moment came when a model that had passed all the laboratory tests failed when it was implanted in sheep. The tilting disc of synthetic sapphire had broken and the search for a material to replace it had to start anew.


Finally, a new model, with the disc made of a particularly tough and wear-resistant type of plastic, cleared laboratory tests and animal trials. In December 1990, after clearance was obtained from the Institute's ethics committee, the first Chitra valve was implanted in a patient. After successful trials in the Institute, the valve went through further clinical trials at five more hospitals in various parts of the country.


Over 40,000 of the indigenous valves have gone into patients with success rates comparable to those of other mechanical heart valves on the international market today, said Dr. Bhuvaneshwar who now heads the Biomedical Technology Wing. An improved version of the valve is getting ready for clinical trials.


In late 1991, TTK Healthcare, one of the constituents of the TTK group, took the technology for the manufacture of the valve.


The valve is being used at around 275 medical centres across the country, said K.Sunil, vice-president of the company's heart valve division. The Indian market for heart valves was about 30,000 a year and a sizeable portion of that is being met by the TTK-Chitra valves. These valves are being made at a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that was recently commissioned in Thiruvananthapuram, he added.


The burden of rheumatic disease and rheumatic heart disease appears to have declined in many urban areas and states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where human development had taken place, observed R. Krishna Kumar and his colleagues at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre at Kochi in a paper published recently in the journal Current Science. But "there are many areas [of the country] where the disease burden may be high."


Where these diseases were widely prevalent, even young children would turn up requiring valve replacement, Dr. Krishna Kumar, a paediatric cardiologist, told this correspondent. Several children had received the TTK-Chitra valve at the Amrita Institute and follow-up studies indicated that it provided a safe, effective and inexpensive replacement.


But typically it was young men and women in their twenties who needed an artificial valve put in as a result of rheumatic heart disease, he added.


In 2007, the Andhra Pradesh government launched 'Aarogyasri', a community health insurance scheme for the poor. It has opened the doors for those who once could not have afforded valve replacement surgery.


Under this scheme, the hospitals received a fixed amount for valve replacement operations, according to Rekha Matta, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Narayana Medical College Hospital in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. As the Indian valve was up to Rs. 10,000 cheaper than imported ones, it enjoyed a commercial advantage.


Besides, the TTK-Chitra valve was "definitely excellent" and as good as any similar valve made abroad, said Dr. Matta, who trained at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute and was even involved in the animal trials of the valve.


This year, Tamil Nadu launched the "Kalaignar's Insurance Scheme for Life Saving Treatments" for families with an annual income less than Rs. 72,000.


The incidence of rheumatic heart disease seemed to be coming down in Tamil Nadu, observed Dr. S. Muralidharan, chief cardiothoracic surgeon at the G. Kuppuswamy Naidu Memorial Hospital in Coimbatore. There were fewer young patients needing valve replacement and more older people coming in for the operation. Rheumatic heart disease was usually the problem in the former while degenerative processes that affected the valve were common in latter.


The use of tissue valves had grown. The TTK-Chitra valve, imported mechanical valves and tissue valves had roughly equal share in the 150-200 heart valves being used in the hospital each year, he added.


Apart from its use in India, the TTK-Chitra valve is also being exported to countries such as Thailand, Myanmar and Kenya, remarked Mr. Sunil.








About 45,000 travelled to the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen — the vast majority convinced of the need for a new global agreement on climate change.


So why did the summit end without one?


Key governments do not want a global deal: Until the end of this summit, it appeared that all governments wanted to keep the keys to combating climate change within the U.N. climate convention. Implicit in the convention, though, is the idea that governments take account of each others' positions and actually negotiate. That happened at the Kyoto summit. Developed nations arrived arguing for a wide range of desired outcomes; during negotiations, positions converged, and a negotiated deal was done.


In Copenhagen, everyone talked; but no-one really listened. The end of the meeting saw leaders of the U.S. and the BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) hammering out a last-minute deal in a back room as though the nine months of talks leading up to this summit, and the Bali Action Plan to which they had all committed two years previously, did not exist. Over the last few years, statements on climate change have been made in other bodies such as the G8, Major Economies Forum (MEF) and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (APEC), which do not have formal negotiations, and where outcomes are not legally binding.


It appears now that this is the arrangement preferred by the big countries (meaning the U.S. and the BASIC group). Language in the "Copenhagen Accord" could have been taken from — indeed, some passages were reportedly taken from, via the mechanism of copying and pasting — G8 and MEF declarations.


The logical conclusion is that this is the arrangement that the big players now prefer — an informal setting, where each country says what it is prepared to do — where nothing is negotiated and nothing is legally binding.


The U.S. political system: Just about every other country involved in the U.N. talks has a single chain of command; when the president or prime minister speaks, he or she is able to make commitments for the entire government. Not so the U.S.. It effectively has two governments, each with power of veto over the other. It makes the U.S. a nation apart in these processes, often unable to state what its position is.


Bad timing: Although the Bali Action Plan was drawn up two years ago, it is only one year since Barack Obama entered the White House and initiated attempts to curb U.S. carbon emissions. He is also attempting major healthcare reforms; and both measures are proving highly difficult.


If the Copenhagen summit had come a year later, perhaps Mr Obama would have been able to speak from firmer ground, and perhaps offer some indication of further action down the line.


The host government: In many ways, Denmark was an excellent summit host. Copenhagen was a friendly and capable city, transport links worked, Bella Centre food outlets remained open through the long negotiating nights.


But the government of Lars Lokke Rasmussen got things badly, badly wrong. Even before the summit began, his office put forward a draft political declaration to a select group of "important countries" — thereby annoying every country not on the list, including most of the ones that feel seriously threatened by climate impacts.


The chief Danish negotiator Thomas Becker was sacked just weeks before the summit amid tales of a huge rift between Mr. Rasmussen's office and the climate department of minister Connie Hedegaard. This destroyed the atmosphere of trust that developing country negotiators had established with Mr Becker.


Procedurally, the summit was a farce, with the Danes trying to hurry things along so that a conclusion could be reached, bringing protest after protest from some of the developing countries that had presumed everything on the table would be properly negotiated. Suspensions of sessions became routine.


Despite the roasting they had received over the first "Danish text," repeatedly the hosts said they were preparing new documents — which should have been the job of the independent chairs of the various negotiating strands.


China's chief negotiator was barred by security for the first three days of the meeting — a serious issue that should have been sorted out after day one.


The weather: Although "climate sceptical" issues made hardly a stir in the plenary sessions, any delegate wavering as to the scientific credibility of the ``climate threat" would hardly have been convinced by the freezing weather and — on the last few days — the snow that blanketed routes from city centre to Bella Centre.


Reporting that the "noughties" had been the warmest decade since instrumental records began, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) noted "except in parts of North America."


If the U.S. public had experienced the searing heat and prolonged droughts and seriously perturbed rainfall patterns seen in other corners of the globe, would they have pressed their senators harder on climate action over the past few years?


24-hour news culture: The way this deal was concocted and announced was perhaps the logical conclusion of a news culture wherein it is more important to beam a speaking president live into peoples' homes from the other side of the world than it is to evaluate what has happened and give a balanced account. The Obama White House mounted a surgical strike of astounding effectiveness (and astounding cynicism) that saw the president announcing a deal live on TV before anyone — even most of the governments involved in the talks — knew a deal had been done.


The news went first to the White House lobby journalists travelling with the president. With due respect, they are not as well equipped to ask critical questions as the environment specialists who had spent the previous two weeks at the Bella Centre. After the event, of course, journalists pored over the details. But the agenda had already been set; by the time those articles emerged, anyone who was not particularly interested in the issue would have come to believe that a deal on climate change had been done, with the U.S. providing leadership to the global community.


The 24-hour live news culture did not make the Copenhagen Accord. But its existence offered the White House a way to keep the accord's chief architect away from all meaningful scrutiny while telling the world of his triumph.


EU politics: For about two hours on Friday night, the EU held the fate of the Obama-BASIC "accord" in its hands, as leaders who had been sideswiped by the afternoon's diplomatic coup d'etat struggled to make sense of what had happened and decide the appropriate response.


If the EU had declined to endorse the deal at that point, a substantial number of developing countries would have followed suit, and the accord would now be simply an informal agreement between a handful of countries — symbolising the failure of the summit to agree anything close to the EU's minimum requirements, and putting some beef behind Europe's insistence that something significant must be achieved next time around.


So why did the EU endorse such an emasculated document, given that several leaders beforehand had declared that no deal would be better than a weak deal? The answer probably lies in a mixture — in proportions that can only be guessed at — of three factors:


+ Politics as usual — never go against the U.S., particularly the Obama U.S., and always emerge with something to claim as a success.


+ EU expansion, which has increased the proportion of governments in the bloc that are unconvinced of the arguments for constraining emissions.


+ The fact that important EU nations, in particular France and the U.K., had invested significant political capital in preparing the ground for a deal — tying up a pact on finance with Ethiopia's President Meles Zenawi, and mounting a major diplomatic push on Thursday when it appeared things might unravel.


Having prepared the bed for U.S. and Chinese leaders and having hoped to share it with them as equal partners, acquiescing to an outcome that it did not want announced in a manner that gave it no respect arguably leaves the EU cast in a role rather less dignified that it might have imagined.


Campaigners got their strategies wrong: An incredible amount of messaging and consultation went on behind the scenes in the run-up to this meeting, as vast numbers of campaign groups from all over the planet strived to coordinate their "messaging" in order to maximise the chances of achieving their desired outcome.


The messaging had been — in its broadest terms — to praise China, India, Brazil and the other major developing countries that pledged to constrain the growth in their emissions; to go easy on Barack Obama; and to lambast the countries (Canada, Russia, the EU) that campaigners felt could and should do more.


Now, post-mortems are being held, and all those positions are up for review. U.S. groups are still giving Mr. Obama more brickbats than bouquets, for fear of wrecking Congressional legislation — but a change of stance is possible.


Having seen the deal emerge that the real leaders of China, India and the other large developing countries evidently wanted, how will those countries now be treated?


How do you campaign in China — or in Saudi Arabia, another influential country that emerged with a favourable outcome?


The situation is especially demanding for those organisations that have traditionally supported the developing world on a range of issues against what they see as the west's damaging dominance.


After Copenhagen, there is no "developing world" — there are several. Responding to this new world order is a challenge for campaign groups, as it will be for politicians in the old centres of world power. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate







Some argue that the decade isn't over until the end of 2010. But who really thinks the '60s came to a close at the end of 1970?


Here's a look at how life changed for us in the 2000s.



In 2000, Barack Obama was an obscure state senator from the South Side of Chicago who had just lost a disastrous campaign for Congress. Anyone heard of him since? Perhaps the most significant change in our nation's social fabric in the past decade was the election of a person with African roots as U.S. president. Obama's ascendancy added new resonance to the old adage, "In America, anyone can grow up to be president."



Social networking was in its Jurassic period when Facebook was launched from a Harvard dorm room in 2004. Now, it has 350 million users who update their status 55 million times a day and share more than 3.5 billion pieces of content each week. The average Facebooker has 130 friends and is a member of 12 groups. Get on the roller coaster and enjoy the ride!



Just a few years ago, a large part of the country had no idea what "the Google" was, to use George W. Bush's terminology. Now everybody does. Formed just 11 years ago in a garage in Menlo Park, Calif., today it's the world's largest search engine and one of the globe's most valuable brands. It was even recognised as a verb ("to google") by dictionary authorities in 2006. What did we do before Google?



Apple has sold more than 220 million of its wildly successful digital audio devices since its launch in October 2001. The portable digital revolution it wrought changed the way we do almost everything. With the growth of products such as iPhones and BlackBerrys, we now play music, watch videos, take (and transmit) photos, play games, check our contacts and calendars, use email, surf the Web, send text messages, download apps and much, much more — all from the palm of our hands.



Two years ago, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower elicited guffaws at the Texas Book Festival by telling a story about Vice-President Dick Cheney requiring guests in a receiving line to use hand sanitizer before shaking hands with him. It seemed so . . . paranoid. Now, everybody does it. Can you spell H1N1?



Why did none of those sci-fi movies envision a future where Americans would pay big bucks to — yes — drink water? Americans consumed 8.7 billion gallons of bottled water last year and spent more than $11.2 billion on spring, filtered, fizzy, flavoured and other varieties of H{-2}O, up 82 per cent since 2000. One warning sign: There's a brewing environmental backlash against all of the plastic bottles used to fuel our bottled water addiction.



If someone told you at your Millennium Party on Dec. 31, 1999 that the U.S. would have a ``Department of Homeland Security" two years later, they'd think you had been smoking something while reading George Orwell's ``1984." But it's here. And it's the biggest federal bureaucracy since the Pentagon. Duct tape and colored-coded charts. Feeling secure yet?



It can't help but make you giggle. You're in the airport and you see this guy in a beautifully tailored suit and . . . socks. Because some guy named Richard Reid tried (and failed) to blow up a plane by hiding a crude bomb in his shoe, we all have to strip off our footwear before we pass through airport security check points. Coats, belts, shoes. What else are they going to make us take off in the next 10 years?



This was definitely not a problem 10 years ago. But that was before the texting revolution. We want everything NOW. However, it can get a bit dangerous if you're sending messages while zooming down street in rush-hour traffic. That's why cities and states have passed laws banning the practice. Good luck!



Supersize me. Americans want everything bigger and better, new and improved. Well, high-def TV is made to order to fit our national culture. Now, we can look at the TV news anchors' caked-on makeup and the athletes' sweaty faces in excruciating detail. It's good for the economy, too. Cable companies can charge hundreds more dollars a year. And big-box stores, after years of declining TV sales, have gotten their own stimulus package.



Two numbers every American can have: A Social Security number and a mobile phone number. Many young Americans don't even get those dinosaur land lines. Meanwhile, there are more than 270 million mobile phones in use in the U.S. today — and 88 per cent of us use them. That's about double the market penetration of a decade ago. We have no idea what our communications devices will look like in 10 years — but we know our phone number.



Video games have advanced a lot since those days of Pong. Now, Americans can do virtually anything — virtually. How popular are Wii, Xbox and PlayStation? Remember those cops who were raiding a drug-dealer's home and took time to play with the video console before heading back to the police station? Very 2000s.



It used to be that only die-hard Confederates talked longingly about secession. But in the past few years, the governor of Texas mused about it and Alaska had a "first dude" who once was a member of an Alaskan independence party. Bring 'em on, y'all. — © 2009 The New York Times News Service









Jharkhand has thrown up a hung assembly, with no party in a position to form a government on its own. The situation is not very different either for a coalition. Neither the Congress nor the BJP is in a position to lead a stable coalition government.


The state has been through political and constitutional crises in the last five years. Much worse, the unearthing of former chief minister Madhu Koda's accumulation of illegal wealth has more than revealed that the tribal dominated poverty-racked state is ill-served by political leaders facing serious corruption charges.


The election should have been an opportunity to throw out the tainted politicians and bring in an alternative set. What the result has shown is that people of the state have literally expressed lack of confidence in any one party as there were not good enough alternatives. The coalition formation will involve unseemly haggling and bargaining.


It is Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's (JMM) leader Shibu Soren who has emerged king-maker. The JMM has won enough seats on its own — 18 — to call the shots but not enough to form a government. Soren will be bargaining with the Congress, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to form a so-called secular government on the one hand, and the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on the other. There is also the tipping factor of the independents, who could be lured either way.


The hung assembly should be a chastening moment for political parties across the spectrum. They should wonder why they have failed to convince the electorate.


Unfortunately, this is missing. Political pundits inside the party and out take recourse to thecomforting sociological explanations that a split verdict is a reflection of a heterogeneous polity with diverse and even conflicting stakes. This could be true, but it does not explain away the failure of the parties to win the trust of the majority of people. They have lost the ability to offer an acceptable broad political agenda in their anxiety and desire to make compromises with sectional interests.


The election result does not promise an end to the political crisis — the state has been under President's Rule since January. But whichever party or coalition comes to power should do what it can to restore confidence in the political system.







The revelations that Israeli forensic pathologist harvested body parts from Palestinians, Israelis and others during the 1990s raises many questions about both medical ethics and morality — particularly in the light of Holocaust and Nazi atrocities on Jews during the second world war.


That Israel no longer follows these practices is welcome news but hardly provides absolution. For years, corneas, skin, heart valves and bones were harvested from Palestinians, Israeli soldiers and citizens and foreign workers, without permission, at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.


The matter first came to light in 2004 and charges against Dr Jehuda Hiss were subsequently dropped and he is still Israel's chief pathologist. He admitted to the harvesting in an interview to an American academic which was released to the media recently. These revelations come at a time when international opinion is getting increasingly critical of Israel and after a Swedish newspaper did an article on Israel harvesting Palestinian organs, which created a diplomatic incident between the two countries.


But the questions about medical ethics and morality remain, as do the political implications of these revelations. Israeli recalcitrance over Palestinian rights and Jewish settlements is not helping it win or keep friends around the world. Acts like these only add to the anger and give Palestinians more proof of why they should not trust the Israelis. They certainly do not help the Middle East peace process. Israel's friends will have more questions to answer and Israel's enemies more questions to ask.


They also make people wonder about the knee-jerk "anti-Semitic" allegations which ensue as soon as Israel is criticised. But given the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated on the Jews and the collective guilt which Europe and the West carried for years, surely such actions by Israel are sure to raise a few eyebrows? To use people for medical experimentation is dangerous territory as it is. But to use your so-called "enemy" to help yourself somehow reeks chillingly of Nazi cruelty and speaks of a callous indifference to your own history.


It is of course ironic that Israeli actions should mimic that of the Nazis, but sadly it points to how human nature is not determined by region, race or history. Is it fair to expect Israel to maintain a higher standard of human behaviour than everyone else? Perhaps not. But when such revelations become public, we must certainly examine how far we have come as human beings and how easy it is to forget our humanity.







Two recent developments involving the Supreme Court — the prevarications over the elevation of Karnataka chief justice Paul Dinakaran to the highest court and the decision to challenge the applicability of the Right to Information Act (RTI) to the office of the chief justice of India (CJI) — have left the country wondering what the honourable judges are up to.


Both decisions have shown the country's highest judicial authority in poor moral light. The CJI has not covered himself with glory by hemming and hawing in the assets disclosure case and the collegium's reluctance to abandon Dinakaran's elevation can be construed as a case of ethical ineptitude.


Any commonsense approach to Paul Dinakaran's appointment as justice of the Supreme Court should have been nixed the minute so many allegations surfaced against him. The allegations may or may not be false, but not giving them weight sends the wrong signal — that the Supreme Court is unconcerned about the need to keep Caesar's wife above suspicion.


By first lobbing the proposal to the law ministry and then, when the latter refused to do anything, keeping the decision on hold, the Supreme Court and the CJI have fallen short of the high ground they were presumed to be occupying.


The case of the RTI Act is even worse. The moral authority of the Supreme Court could only have been enhanced by a clean disclosure of judges' assets.


In the end, the disclosures came after much prodding and pressures from more forward-looking judges in the high courts. Now that the Supreme Court registrar has decided to challenge the Delhi high court verdict on RTI disclosures with its own bench, any verdict emerging from it will be vulnerable to criticism. When judge after judge has been recusing himself from cases on grounds of a potential conflict of interest, how can the Supreme Court expect the world to believe that it can play both appellant and judge in the RTI case? If the RTI verdict goes in the Supreme Court's favour, it will have low credibility. Only if it loses the case will it have the ring of authenticity. It's a no-win situation and the Supreme Court displayed poor judgment in appealing against the Delhi high court's RTI verdict.


If the judiciary wants to redeem itself in public eyes, it must be at the vanguard of three reforms: one, it must institute a transparent selection process and not decide who should or should not become a judge behind closed doors. Two, it must modernise and become more accountable — by delivering speedier justice. Three, it must abandon efforts to hide behind the law of contempt to escape criticism of its often dilatory processes and poor judicial reasoning in some cases.


The first reform is absolutely critical. When it comes to judicial appointments, the general public gets no clue about how the Supreme Court's collegium, or any other body, decides on whom to nominate for judicial office or elevation to the higher courts. How are we to know why a judge is chosen, when we don't know what he owns, how he made his wealth, what his antecedents were and what kind of previous judgments he handed down?


At the very least, the Supreme Court's collegium should give strong reasons for considering Dinakaran as worthy of higher office. It should also not take at face value any judge's claim that all his wealth was acquired before he became a judge. How does that matter? The key issue is whether the wealth was acquired legitimately, and whether what he or she disclosed was proportionate to his or her known sources of income. If not, the question whether one acquired wealth (or land holdings in Dinakaran's case) before or after one became a judge is immaterial. The law must clearly be changed to allow for financial scrutiny of all judicial appointments before they are made. The Supreme Court should take a lead in insisting on this procedure before even considering someone for elevation.


The second reform is a complete no-brainer. It is no secret that in India justice is denied through the process of delay. Courts condone delays and dilatoriness on the part of appellants and respondents, and this is something well within the Supreme Court's own powers to change. Allowing parties weeks to respond and leaving long gaps between hearings makes no sense. The Supreme Court also needs to abolish all court vacations. When every other constitutional authority can function without long vacations, why should the courts be so self-indulgent?


Lastly, there's the contempt law. Courts have to learn to voluntarily eschew excessive usage of the law of contempt to cocoon themselves from criticism. It is one thing for judges to be accused of bias and not being shown due respect or when specific orders are flouted, but the law of contempt should not be used against people who are merely critical of its functioning. In fact, an open society needs a judicial system that can take criticism — even trenchant criticism — in its stride.







West Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi has demitted office after completing five years in office. His tenure was marked by a series of controversies, chief of which was his open criticism of the Marxists' role in Nandigram. This was untypical of the gentleman that Gopal was.


If he did take the bold position that the ruling party was at least partially to blame for the bloodshed in the area, it must have been due to his sense of outrage. Naturally, his position on Nandigram aroused the ire of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and his colleagues in government and outside in the party apparatus. But the non-partisan in the state and elsewhere knew how right Gopal was in his indignation. Bhattacharya's subsequent admission — honest and transparent that it was — helped set the record right in favour of an outspoken governor.


Those in government thereafter went on needling him on trivial matters, as when they admonished him for announcing that, in view of the power crisis in the state, lights in Raj Bhavan would go off every evening for two hours. This was nothing more than a symbolic gesture. It was not gimmickry, but a sincere exhortation to the public to save on energy. The ruling party picked on him as if he was blaming them for the shortage of power. It was definitely a case of a pricked conscience and the unkindest cut of all to a man who was known for everything other than exhibitionism. True to his nobility, Gopal did not react at all.   


Gopal is a rare breed of public servant who does not seek office or perquisites that go with it. Assignments — secretary to governor SL Khurana and President KR Narayanan, director, Nehru Centre, London and High Commissioner to South Africa — were indeed prize jobs. These came unsought because of Gopal's reputation for balance and integrity. He spoke little even to friends like me. But when he did, one could see seriousness of purpose and an admirable objectivity. He had the great responsibility of upholding an enviable lineage, both of the Mahatma and Rajaji, his grandfathers on either side of his parents.


That was a burden lesser mortals like us could have hardly borne without a blemish during long years of public office. Gopal has come out of the test unscathed. He could have stayed on in office. He did not, obviously out of a sense of propriety. I was expecting him to be sent to Gujarat (where there is a vacancy), and if the government did decide to send him there, that would have been the appropriate place for the Mahatma's grandson to end his glorious career.


Gopal Gandhi's tenure as governor raised many issues governing that high office. What kind of men and women should be sent to the Raj Bhavans? What is their role vis-à-vis the state governments? It is an open secret that right from Independence the Centre had misused the prerogative to appoint governors, by choosing persons whom either the public had rejected at the hustings or those who had become inconvenient for the powers that be in New Delhi.


Some downright bad postings of men with a dubious reputation had been made in the past. Also, the job with enormous perquisites had been given to persons who had sought it. As a result,


postings had come with a price tag. The quid pro quo has taken the form of an unjustified recommendation for President's Rule or a sanction of prosecution against a serving chief minister or denial of such a sanction, depending on what New Delhi wanted.


In a country surcharged with crass party politics, such considerations other than merit are natural. A sober and mature governor can bring so much good to a state's governance, especially in the form of a cleaner administration of universities, an area that reeks with nepotism and corruption. Possibly, it is too much to expect choices like Gopal Gandhi to be anything other than an aberration that comes once in a way!









Political parties have themselves to blame for yet another fractured mandate in Jharkhand. A three-way split between the Congress and its allies, the NDA and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha , with none of the combinations coming anywhere near the halfway mark, has practically ensured another round of ugly horse-trading in government formation. What is more, with pre-poll alliances coming a cropper, the new government will depend on post-poll bargaining and support extended from outside, a potent recipe for political instability. There is, however, no reason to believe that the electorate wanted anything but stability. The healthy polling percentage in the five-phase election, ranging from 53 per cent to 64 per cent , and in defiance of the Maoists' poll-boycott call also indicated a desire for change. But neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party, nor for that matter the JMM, seem to have inspired sufficient confidence across the length and breadth of the state. That is why all the three groups have fallen far short of the halfway mark despite contesting practically all the 81 seats. While the BJP may well have paid the price for over-confidence, the Congress is guilty of stitching a last-minute arrangement with the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and forcing it to contest just one-fourth of the seats.


While it is perhaps too early to ascertain the factors that led to the hung House, an important reason is perhaps the disproportionately large number of political parties and candidates who were in the fray. For an 81-member House, the number of candidates was 1,493; in other words, an average of 17 candidates contested for each seat. Even Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, neither of which has much base in the state, opted to contest 78 and 37 constituencies respectively. In the free-for-all skirmish that followed, votes inevitably were divided.


Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren, abandoned by the Congress and written off by most of the commentators, appears to be having the last laugh though the JMM's electoral performance has been less than spectacular. In the election held five years ago, the JMM had won 17 seats in coalition with the Congress and the RJD but despite contesting alone and for virtually all the seats this time, the JMM has still not managed to add to its tally. That is an important lesson for Soren to bear in mind even as he plays the king-maker in Jharkhand.








As if liquor, fuel and ration scandals were not enough, some of the top army officers of the country have now been found to be involved in a land scam. A Court of Inquiry has recommended disciplinary action against four General-rank officers and several others for alleged bending of rules to favour a private company near Siliguri. The inquiry was ordered after it was found that 33 Corps Headquarters had allowed commercial use of land adjacent to the base and even signed an MoU. The name and picture of one of the Generals figures on the admission brochure of the educational trust. What is particularly galling is that among those against whom the Army inquiry has recommended action is Lt-Gen Avadhesh Prakash, Military Secretary at Army Headquarters and one of the seniormost Generals. It has also recommended court martial proceedings against Lt-Gen P K Rath, whose appointment as Deputy Chief of Army Staff was later cancelled by the Ministry of Defence.


And even that is not the end of it. It has also come to light that the same institution was allegedly in negotiations to purchase another chunk of land belonging to the Ranikhet-based Kumaon Regimental Centre in Uttarakhand. A separate officer has also been recommended to investigate some similar lapses pertaining to military land in the area near Gangtok in Sikkim, which too comes under the territorial jurisdiction of 33 Corps. All that shows that the rot has gone very deep.


It is ironical that while the Army as a whole is doing a good job, some black sheep are out to besmirch its fair name. Two Major-Generals of the AOC faced charges of financial irregularities earlier this year. In 2007, two Lt-Gen ranked officers of the ASC were indicted in two separate cases involving irregularities in procurement of frozen meat for troops posted in Ladakh and discrepancies in procurement of dry rations. Systematic weeding out of all such elements with exemplary punishment will not only help in nipping the evil, but would also establish the fact that the Army men are still gentlemen, a few aberrations notwithstanding. 








By denying the CBI permission to prosecute the Speaker, the Punjab Cabinet has committed a blunder. It has done no favour to Mr Nirmal Singh Kahlon either. In fact, it has harmed his reputation. If he had faced the court proceedings, he would have got a chance to prove himself innocent. Now he would always remain a suspect. Nor has the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal covered itself with glory. It will be seen as patronising corruption. Along with Mr Kahlon, two IAS officers, who too were the suspects in the "cash-for-jobs" scam, have also got away with the alleged acts of corruption.


The arguments put forward by a government spokesman for the denial of the sanction are hardly tenable. The Cabinet decision, it is said, was based on the advice tendered by the Advocate-General and the Chief Secretary. Since Mr Parkash Singh Badal had already defended the Speaker when the Opposition raised the issue in the Assembly, these appointees of the government are not expected to give an opinion that goes contrary to the known position of the Chief Minister. Mr Badal had backed the Speaker saying that "everyone is innocent until held guilty by a court". Now his government has not given the court any chance to pronounce its verdict either exonerating or convicting Mr Kahlon. The Akali Dal's coalition partner, the BJP, has made its stand very clear. No minister from this party attended the Cabinet meeting. Perhaps, it did not want to be a party to the unseemly exercise of bailing out a corruption suspect.


The Punjab government's decision sends a strong and clearly wrong signal to the public that Mr Kahlon has something to hide. Otherwise, where is the harm in allowing the CBI to proceed with the prosecution in an appropriate court and let the law take its own course? The government has violated the established rules of providing a clean administration, which emphasise transparency, justice and clean governance. 









The Defence Minister, Mr A.K. Anthony, announced on December 18 that India was pulling out two divisions comprising 30,000 troops from Jammu and Kashmir. The announcement came in the wake of a reduction in the infiltration of ISI-backed jihadis across the Line of Control and a determined effort by the Omar Abdullah government in the state to expand, train and equip the J&K police to deal with terrorist violence, especially in urban areas. This is an eminently practicable arrangement, as there now appears to have been a change in instructions from across the LoC to the separatist leadership on how the fight for "Azadi" has to be carried forward.


The predominant emphasis on jihad has been set aside. The aim now is to seek opportunities to mobilise people by hurling baseless allegations of atrocities, excesses and even rape against the armed forces. The incident at Shopian involving the mysterious deaths of two young women appears a classical example of mobilisation through hysteria and disinformation.


The announcement of troop reductions also addresses the growingly aggressive anti-Indian propaganda unleashed by even normally restrained Pakistani political leaders like President Zardari and influential academics like Ahmed Rashid, claiming that the Pakistan Army cannot deploy more troops on its borders with Afghanistan to fight the Taliban because of an Indian "threat" on its borders. Pakistan asserts that unless the United States, the European Union and China join hands to force India to the negotiating table and mediate and guarantee a resolution to the Kashmir issue, the level of India-Pakistan tensions would be so high that the West cannot expect the Pakistan Army to confront the Taliban.


These developments are taking place at a time when the Pakistan Army establishment has successfully cornered President Zardari and his close associates by manipulating developments, to lead the Supreme Court to declare the "National Reconciliation Ordinance", under which the present political dispensation was elected, as unconstitutional. A shaken President Zardari is now finding his close associates like Interior (Home) Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, his PPP and MQM supporters in Sindh and even his own Principal Secretary Salman Farooqui coming under pressure with threats of arrest.


Even prior to these developments, the army had made it clear that it will not yield ground on its control of issues of national security and relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. Sensing that Mr Zardari was attempting to clip its wings, by using American aid legislation to curb its powers, the army hit back by mobilising right wing opinion to claim that Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity was being eroded by American meddling. A rattled Obama Administration responded with Senator Kerry and others paying obeisance to General Kayani. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not bother to shake hands with Pakistan's Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar while spending nearly three hours in talks with General Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha.


While President Obama proclaimed: "We cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear," Pakistan's Army establishment led by General Kayani has steadfastly refused to act against the Quetta-based political leadership of the Taliban led by Mullah Omar, or the Taliban military leadership of Sirajuddin Haqqani, now operating against American forces in Afghanistan from safe havens in North Waziristan. The Pakistan military is thus prepared to even defy the Americans, to protect its Taliban "assets". Is it, therefore, at all realistic for anyone in India to believe that a weak and fragmented political leadership in Pakistan can act against the army's hottest favourite, the Hafiz Mohammed Saeed-led Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)?

There seems to be a total lack of understanding in India, even in high levels of the government, about why Pakistan is frantically pushing for a resumption of the "Composite Dialogue Process". Pakistan is now becoming more and more uncomfortable about the growing and almost daily revelations of the links of its military establishment with terrorist and extremist groups on its borders with both India and Afghanistan.


The influential Pentagon-related "Stratfor" website recently noted that operatives of terrorist groups like the LeT and the Harkat-ul-Jihad Al-Islami (HUJI), which operate against India, are "able to travel, raise funds, communicate, train and plan operations with seemingly little interference. This is a stark contrast to Al-Qaeda, which is hunted, is on the run and experiencing a great deal of difficulty moving operatives, communicating, raising funds and conducting operations. The links between David Headley and his associates to current and former Pakistani military officers and government officials are likely what is affording LeT and HUJI their operational freedom".


The almost hysterical calls for the resumption of the "Composite Dialogue" by Prime Minister Gilani, who is a protégé of the military establishment and Foreign Minister Qureishi, are meant to divert attention from the issue which is tearing Pakistan apart, which is ISI-sponsored jihadi terrorism, by claims that the lack of progress in resolving the "core issue" of Jammu and Kashmir is the root cause of the terrorism, which the Pakistan Army has unleashed on Afghanistan, India and within Pakistan itself. This is so after the present military establishment led by General Kayani has returned to old and hackneyed rhetoric of resolving Jammu and Kashmir and disowned all that was achieved in moving forward on this issue, in "back channel" talks with the Musharraf dispensation between 2005 and 2007.


The withdrawal of 30,000 troops from J and K effectively counters the Pakistan propaganda that tensions over Jammu and Kashmir could trigger a conflict. India has to emphasise that it is ISI-sponsored terrorism, not Jammu and Kashmir, which is the root cause of regional tensions.


Given the dynamics of developments within Pakistan and on its borders with Afghanistan, which have arisen primarily because of misguided resort to backing radical Islamic groups, both by the military establishment and even mainstream political parties, there is very little India can do to influence the course of events within Pakistan. It seems unlikely that General Kayani and his cohorts will be able to quell unrest and violence in Pakistan's Pashtun heartland, even as they remain determined to back Taliban elements, which "bleed" the Americans in Afghanistan. Stability in Pakistan is not going to be promoted by getting carried away by appeals for Indian "magnanimity". What India has to ensure is the preparedness to deal with the next terrorist strike, whether it is against a nuclear plant or IT establishment, or it involves hostage taking of schoolchildren as Chechens terrorists did in Beslan.








As chance would have it, I was Illaqa Magistrate of three police stations which went over to Kurukshetra district, when it was carved out of the district of Karnal. Having had a complete tenure at Karnal, I had become compulsively familiar with the habitual criminals of the area, on account of their frequent appearance in the court.


One Bahadur Singh was a regular visitor to the courts. His "sins" had been duly "inherited" by his son Mohinder Singh (during the lifetime of the former) who had further passed on the mantle to his son Gurcharan Singh. There were dates when the trio (grandson, his father and grandfather) would all be facing trial before the court presided over by me on one particular day.


To cut it short, I was familiar with the three generations of that "criminal" family which specialised in the distillation of illicit liquor. After having had a complete tenure at Karnal, we (me and my elder sister who was senior to me) got shifted to Kurukshetra where, too, I happened to be the Illaqa Magistrate of the police station concerned within the " jurisdictional" area in which the trio was residing and "functioning" for a living. As a result, the trio made fairly frequent appearance to face trial in one case or the other.


Six years (three at Karnal and an equal period at Kurukshetra) was not a small period. I got transferred from Kurukshetra in the year 1978. A complete tenure at Gurgaon followed. Thereafter, I had my stint as a Special Railway Magistrate, Haryana, at Ambala Cantt.


In the course of arguments, in an excise case against the "son" out of the trio, the defence counsel harped on the family "antecedents" of that particular accused. When he repeated the family antecedents and the "rich lineage" of the accused, counsel got a toe-cum-elbow signal from that accused to confine the arguments to the merits.


Counsel was found unrelenting and he kept on harping upon the family background of the accused. On conclusion, a verdict of acquittal followed. The merits warranted it. The independent witnesses had turned hostile to the prosecution and the Investigating Officer could not be examined at the trial.


The accused gone, I called upon counsel to give me an idea about what the toe-cum-elbow signal was about. He quoted the accused having told him:


"Vakil sahib, tu meri family te jyada zor na dey. Sahib mainu 1974 da jaanda hai. Sarey khandan nu jaanda. Tu khandan te zor na dey" (Mr counsel, Please do not emphasise credentials of my family. The Presiding Officer knows me since 1974. He knows the credentials of the whole family. Please do not lay stress upon the credentials of family).


A riot of laughter followed and the din could drown only after quite some time.








Satyagraha was for a special purpose; never a free for all. It was led by responsible leaders. Whenever it went out of control, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi re-railed it through his marches and fasts; his humble simplicity finally won


It is unfortunate that in our sixty years of independence, we have turned this silent weapon of protest into a tool for imposing individual whims and wishes on society.


An MLA was attacked in the Maharashtra Assembly because some others legislators did not like his oath-taking in Hindi.


Lawyers force the CJI of the Karnataka High Court to abandon the hearing of a case and lock another courtroom where hearing was in progress.


A group of MPs force the adjournment of Parliament on the issue of sugarcane pricing. Pandemonium prevails in the Parliament on the Liberhan report. Exchanges of blows in state legislatures is frequent.


Farmers block the GT Road for the whole day to force the FCI to relax quality standards for a paddy variety.


Laxity in the registration of a theft complaint leads to total mayhem in and around Ludhiana for a week.


While causes become flimsier, the tally of costs is spiraling into the stratosphere.


About Rs 300 crore is lost by the IOC in the Jaipur depot blaze. The loss in the adjacent industrial estate and Jaipur town is higher. All because of careless coupling of pipes by a tanker driver


Insurance companies go broke in paying compensation. As many as 1,14,000 deaths in road accidents in 2008. Imagine the trauma to families. All due to lack of discipline in driving and maintenance duties. .


Six train accidents in the last five months, two of them major. The excellent track record of the Metro for safety also bursts— three accidents during construction and three derailments.


A failure in meeting the delivery the commitments by auto-ancillaries in Gurgaon results in plant shutdowns in the USA. Customers look for suppliers elsewhere. Indian reliability is under threat. The root cause: protracted indiscipline.


Indiscipline, like swine-flu, is contagious. It spirals exponentially and impacts every sphere of activity. Mounting piles of dirt and garbage everywhere; poor quality; high cost; erratic deliveries; shoddy maintenance; indifferent service are reflections of how deep indiscipline has crept.


It is high time we realised that the 21st century is a radically different era. Globalisation; instant-anywhere communication; Successful adoption of Japan's quality culture by many countries; Turbulent pace of technological advancement, and cut-throat competition have transformed the world.


Customers have become true kings for the first time in history. Choice is endless, prices are competitive, quality is perfect, delivery prompt and service courteous.


"Where do we stand in this new world? is the question which we must ask ourselves. And, in answering that question, let our judgement not get swayed by our mounting forex reserves, FII inflows, high GDP growth rates and global acclaim for our fiscal policies and democracy.


The real reason behind that global acclaim and serenade is the needs and aspirations of our fast-expanding 300 million middle-class market. It is a God-sent opportunity for a developed country. Producers saddled with massive over-capacities in stagnant markets. Their Indian product portfolios are made up of imported models; local manufacture or investment is at minimal levels.


The basic reason is to maintain profitability of parent units and maintain parent country employment. All their effort is focussed on marketing. A rapid increase in share of the service Industry in our GDP reflects this focus. Benefits of the resultant economic boom naturally remain confined to the educated middle class and bypass the 600 million of our weakest segment living in villages and slums.


Social programmes like direct subsidies, loan write-offs, NREGA and JNURM alone reached this lowest segment and helped them look upwards. Political pressure for widening such programmes reflects the importance of equity to a democracy.


But where are funds for them? Funding them through deficit financing stokes inflation. Consequences of the social thrust of last year's budget are already being felt and the price rise has begun to hurt already. Fiscal steps to curb inflation are already being mooted by the RBI


Both the national objectives of growth and equity can only be achieved if productivity of every human and financial asset is raised continually. Economic measures which we have relied on all along by themselves will never be enough. They will only result in periodic cycles of boom and bust. We have been seeing such cycles time and again ever since we became independent.


A globally-proven method for channeling human creativity to raise productivity and efficiency continually is fortunately available today. In the course of development of this now-renowned process, Japanese managements propelled a war-ravaged country to become the global icon of price and quality in three decades. Korea has been able to adopt it with a similar success. Our own auto-ancillary industry has even done it to outstanding results. Can we not take it up as a national mission?


Discipline is the first rung of this long ladder. The journey will also not be easy. But unless and until we begin, we will continue to struggle and live on the bounty of others. Rome was not built in a day.









During the last decade, more than ever before, writers faced the challenge of cutting through the noise. The new millennium began with the enduring influence of W.G. Sebald: his marriage of word and image somewhere deep in the reader's subconscious; his ingenious blending of fact and fiction, dream and reality.


Criticism of the American way of life, particularly the inhumanity of corporate America, has been a consistent theme. Second- and third-generation immigrant fiction expanded the literary globe. Novels overshadowed short stories, the way they often do. Alice Munro, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Updike and Ian McEwan cemented their immortality. Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen, Peter Carey, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, Geoff Dyer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace wrote unforgettable books.


And a strange thing happened in this last decade. Some of our best fiction, literary fiction, was made into movies; there seemed an increase in mutual respect, a better blending of word and image: "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, "There Will Be Blood," based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!", to name a few. Nonfiction pushed forward the idea that we inhabited, if not the margins, something other than the center of the universe -- Richard Dawkins, Bill McKibben and Malcolm Gladwell. Meanwhile, Tracy Kidder, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser showed us the importance of thinking about others as extensions of ourselves.


Still, the truth is that literature has a big head start when it comes to helping us live our lives. On the world map literature would be Europe and the Internet, America. Escaping is one thing -- science fiction, romance novels and nonfiction make excellent magic carpets -- but for turning and facing, there's nothing like good old literary fiction. If I spend money to make myself happy, I could end up like Emma Bovary. If I abandon my children for my lover, I might become Anna Karenina.


"It's not about you," someone else I knew used to say whenever I cried in movies or got too emotional about paintings or accused him of linking certain musical pieces with ex-girlfriends. He's right, I thought, full of self-loathing for my own self-centeredness; art is not about me.


But it is. In order to be truly useful, fiction has to have a certain psychological density and depth. And as much as authors like to deny it, much of that depth comes from the autobiographical component of all fiction. "I live my life 11 days ahead of my fiction," the author Pam Houston used to say. An author's life experience is the glue that holds the characters to the metaphors: the tall pine that gives them courage, the rock or hurdle they have to walk around or the small, shell-shaped cake that brings childhood memories flooding back. A reader brings his or her own experience to the equation.


So authors have to be particularly conscious. And so do readers. The act of reading is not all that relaxing, as

every child first starting out seems to know. Virginia Woolf distinguished between moments of being and unconsciousness -- her work depended on being for its spark and heat. If we become too depleted by, say, the pace of life, the bombarding of information or our disconnection from the natural world; too emptied out, too dependent on external stimuli, we run the risk of being lousy writers and lousy readers.


It takes effort to make art out of emptiness; the more emptiness, the more effort (hence all that phony, amplified emotion in bad writing). You can hear the gears grinding. So the best writing feels light and musical but also plain, honest and clear. And there will be an element of surprise throughout. Characters will not act or react in received ways; the thing we expect to happen will not always happen (never say never). The writer must resist cultural gravity. This is how literature helps not just the reader but the entire species evolve.


This generation's literary grandparents (I'm speaking of America) placed a high value on plain honest fiction. It was the generation with the first almost-clear view of sky through the rubble of World War II. The most successful writers relied heavily on magazines like The New Yorker, Harper's and The Atlantic. In these cozy havens, they could work with one editor for decades, polishing, refining and simplifying their styles and voices. The result was a kind of calm cultural overview that often seemed elitist and sometimes was. The audience took a back seat to the writing life; "Let them eat cake!" If they don't like it, there's always, well, television.


The next generation -- Tobias Wolff, Joy Williams, Raymond Carver and so many others -- had their mentors and their writers groups, but the audience mattered more. It had to. This generation relied heavily on the academy and on grants. Today, young writers do not have the luxury of ignoring their audience. Book deals depend heavily on the audience the author brings with them. There is less money, and the money buys less.


Writers write what they write, a path up and out of one generation's burden, one strangulating set of cultural norms into the future, regardless. But fiction, generally speaking, has been affected by this shrinking market, this smaller pie, largely in the last decade. It is more interactive, in very subtle ways. It tries to do more with less. Plot twists can be interpreted in many ways. Reality is layered, archaeological. Perspective shifts. The narrator is hardly ever reliable.


I could end the decade that began for so many of us with Sebald (who, of course, had been writing for years but hadn't truly percolated through book culture) happily with Nicholson Baker's "The Anthologist," a novel that has the honest clarity of his literary forebears and the sense of cutting a path through the noise, not to mention a return to the lifeboat of language, the fifth beat in the four-beat line, the one we need to be fully conscious to truly hear; awake, alert and ready to read.n


— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








A have-a-go hero blinded in one eye in a chemical attack 15 years ago has got his sight back after pioneering stem cell treatment. Russell Turnbull is one of eight patients with impaired vision who have been treated successfully with their own stem cells, in a technique developed by scientists and eye surgeons at the North East England Stem Cell Institute.


Mr Turnbull, who is now 38, was attacked on his way home following a night out in Newcastle in 1994. On the bus home he overheard a heated argument between two men, which spilled into a fight.


When he intervened to break up the scuffle, one of the men began squirting ammonia around the bus. Mr Turnbull was hit in his right eye, causing massive damage to the cornea stem cells, leaving him with severely impaired vision, a condition known as Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency (LSCD).


LSCD is a painful, blinding disease that requires long-term, costly treatment with frequent clinic visits and intensive hospital admissions.


The vision loss due to LSCD makes this disease not only costly, but often requires social support due to the enormous impact on the patient's quality of life. This is further magnified by the fact that LSCD mostly affects young patients. Mr Turnbull, who lives in Consett, County Durham, spoke about the attack and the impact it had on his life.


"I was in agony instantly, my eye was clamped shut," he said.


"I went home and my mum tried to wash out the chemical and then I went to hospital.


"I was in hospital for two weeks and eventually I was able to open the eye again.


"It was like looking through scratched Perspex. My eye was sensitive to light, it was constantly watering. I was unable to drive as any bright light would cause me pain. "The man who attacked me was caught and sentenced to six months in jail. But I later learned that he had served only two months of that sentence."


After 12 years of living in constant pain and with poor vision, and undergoing various treatments with creams and washes, Mr Turnbull became part of trials of a new treatment for the condition.


The team at North East England Stem Cell Institute took a tiny amount of stem cells from the good eye and grew them in a lab. They were then implanted in the damaged eye, where they then began to function as normal, restoring sight.


The technique avoids the need for drugs to suppress immunity and means there is no chance of the implanted cells being rejected. It is also the first in the world that does not use animal products to help grow the stem cells in the lab.


"I had a lot of anger inside me for a long time after the attack. I lost my job because of it and I had always been a keen jet-skier, which I wasn't able to do," Mr Turnbull said.


"It ruined my life and I went through a really difficult time.


"But then this treatment came along, I can't thank the staff at the RVI (Royal Victoria Infirmary) enough.


"This has transformed my life, my eye is almost as good as it was before the accident.


"I'm working, I can go jet-skiing again and I also ride horses. I have my life back thanks to the operation."


The technique can also be used to treat patients whose eyes have been damaged by contact lenses, in industrial accidents involving thermal or chemical injuries, among other diseases.


Dr Francisco Figueiredo, a consultant eye surgeon, led the project with Professor Majlinda Lako and their work has just been published in the American Journal, Stem Cells.n


 By arrangement with The Independent








By effecting a generational change of guard in the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has put its foot down at a time when the party is facing its toughest phase in national politics. All these changes are in keeping with its pre-ordained script and made with the aim to set things in order after a series of events that threatened the very survival of BJP. By elevating Nitin Gadkari to the president's post, the RSS has placed a man devoted to its ideology and reduced the possibility of further factionalism by keeping second-rung leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar away from the top spot. The post of chairman, created specially for LK Advani, is aimed to retain the stalwart's relevance in the party even while easing him out of the post of the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha. Although there are rumblings in some quarters that it's the end of road for Advani, the octogenarian leader is still going strong and unlikely to fade away so soon. With Swaraj now replacing him and Jaitley leading the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, the two power centres within the party have also taken balanced positions, minimizing the chances of further squabbling. Rajnath Singh's stepping down from the post completes a process that had been in the work since the defeat in the parliamentary polls, and it brings the curtains down on a tenure that would be remembered more for the wrong reasons.

The new BJP chief will therefore be expected to play a unifying role and revive the battered image of the party. The initial impression created by Gadkari's nomination was that the Maharashtra BJP chief might not have the charisma to stem the rot and pull the party out of the present chaos. With the party's main strength – intra-party discipline – cracking up in the backdrop of successive electoral defeats, it will certainly be a huge challenge for him to take everyone along in this revival process. With Rajnath Singh now out of the picture, the resenting leaders might look to bury the hatchets and those who stormed out at different times might also want to come back for the sake of the party. For the BJP as a whole, however, the biggest challenge will be to keep pace with the times and adapt itself in a changed environment where 'Hindutva' does not seem to find many takers among the youth. The RSS with the recent moves has indeed shown that it is taking control of the BJP, but only time will tell whether it will be able to modernize the party even while sticking to its core ideology of Hindutva.







At a time when food scarcity has hit the length and breadth of the planet and food inflation in India has climbed a 10-year high of 19.95 per cent in December, 2009, any wastage of food is certainly a more than criminal act. The recent news that over a million tonnes of food grains worth several hundred crores of rupees and capable of feeding more than 10 million hungry people of the country for at least one complete year are getting damaged in Food Corporation of India's godowns during the last decade adds yet one more dose of salt to the injury caused to economy by a continuous growth of food price indices in our country. The startling fact comes to light when a Delhi resident's query under Right to Information was answered on the inputs received from FCI which admitted that the food grains quantum was damaged in godowns of the government-owned agency that is responsible for procurement and distribution across the country. Not only this, the public sector undertaking had also to spend Rs. 240 crore on account of prevention of losses and disposal of damaged foodgrains. This is a sheer shameful exposure. Since food grains prices are essentially a pace-setter for general price index in a country like India where 70 per cent of people depend on agriculture and since we have already been experiencing sky-rocketing prices, topmost priority should be assigned to food security that fundamentally requires at least three essential guide posts, viz, a complete halt in abnormal wastages and leakages, increased production and efficient supply and demand management.

A recent study report has also unfolded that the wastage of agricultural produce in India in colossal to the extent of Rs 55,000 crore annually owing to bad harvest timing, inefficient technology, lack of farming education and extension services, shortage of storage facility, contamination, excessive exposure to heat and cold and lack of moisture in godowns. While this has to be brought down to rock-bottom level, the demand - supply management cannot be ensured without freeing the public distribution system from huge corruption where not only ghost ration cards are enormous but 40 per cent of beneficiaries are kept away from the scheme by denying them the benefit and where 90 per cent of off-takes do not receive food grains regularly. Most of the food grains meant for public distribution system are leaked out to open market in connivance with the officials manning the system. To achieve food security, the country has to produce much above self-sufficiency level. The productivity per hectare in India is only half the rate of China and one-third of France. Poor input-base, negligible irrigation, poor technology, and lack of flood management, farmers' education and extension services are the main reasons behind our low productivity. Hence, enough public investment needs to flow into the farm sector to build up a world-class infrastructure including technology and farmers' education on the one hand and the government should take all possible means to stop all avoidable wastage and leakages of food grains on the other.








ULFA commander in chief, Paresh Barua's ongoing fusillade aimed at Government of India merits some objective discourse. Sovereignty is an overused word in India's North East. It was first romanticized by the Nagas and later picked up by every armed group straddling between this region and the jungles of Myanmar, the province of Yunnan or the plush gazebos of Dhaka. This is not the first time Barua has spoken about a referendum on sovereignty. But sovereignty as an issue has never been taken seriously by academia and intelligentsia because our collective grouse against the Centre is still seen as something that can be resolved within the ambit of the Indian Constitution.

What Barua suggests could lead to the ultimate demise of the nation state. A referendum on the sovereignty of Assam would snowball into similar demands for referendum from the Khasis, the Dimasas, the Bodos, the Karbis et al. The Nagas have, after nearly twelve years of ceasefire and ongoing talks with the Government of India, agreed to remove the word sovereignty from their future discourses. We are not sure what sort of package has been worked out for the Nagas in the newly crafted document that the Centre is referring to every now and again and which will soon be discussed when NSCN (IM) Secretary General, Th Muivah visits Delhi soon. But if the Nagas are willing to sit and read the document there must be something in it that they consider noteworthy.

A referendum for independence which is what sovereignty means is usually decided by the citizens of a particular territory. If citizens vote in favour of the issue the referendum is considered successful. However, a successful referendum on sovereignty is not a natural corollary to that region becoming independent because there are other relevant political factors outside of the territory which would ultimately determine the results. Perhaps Paresh Barua has not been able to grasp the ground situation of Assam today. When he talks of referendum by the 'Assamese' people, who is he really talking about? What are the boundaries/territories that he is actually referring to? The Bodos will not agree to a referendum on Assam which includes their territories because the NDFB (Ranjan Daimary) is talking about a sovereign Bodoland.

Neither will the Karbi people or the Dimasas want a sovereign Assam where their liberties would further be curtailed by the ULFA chieftains who would then become the ruling monarchs. It is difficult to see anything than a restoration of the Ahom monarchy in the new 'Asom' as envisaged by the ULFA. After all aren't we all going back to ancient history here? We were all chieftainships governed by archaic rules where women were simply appendices necessary for keeping the male alive by cooking and caring for him and providing him sexual satisfaction and then producing his off-springs. We have come a long way since those anachronistic models of life decided by male members of society.

A referendum for a sovereign Assam should be preceded by a road map of how that new independent country would look like and what are the political arrangements envisaged. How can we be sure that the new Assam would not be a satellite of some neighbouring nation? Wouldn't China be happy to see a sovereign Assam coming up in the near future? Hasn't a section of that country's intelligentsia spoken of the balkanisation of India? Is this not the first step towards that noble goal? And how can we be sure that Paresh Barua is not a super-agent of China in its new endeavour to become the Asian super power controlling the markets, the high seas and the rich resources of that new sovereign Assam? Anyone who enjoys the hospitality of another nation while carrying on an armed struggle within his own country can hardly be trusted. Why would a foreign nation harbour anyone in its jungles unless there is some ulterior motive? Granted that the Kachin territory is largely un-administered even by the Burmese junta but that is not the only source of aid for the ULFA. There are many willing free agents who would wish to destabilize India for reasons that need not be listed here.

Of course Paresh Barua might also be trying out last ditch strategies to facilitate his own honourable exit from the jungles of Kachin. It must be a lonely life out there when all his comrades have come over-ground and are reunited with their families. Thirty years of guiding an ill-conceived, grandiose movement that has contributed to the loss of so many innocent lives and been a setback to the lives and livelihoods of people should dent the conscience of the ULFA and its leaders. The Central Government's adamant stance about peace talks being conducted in a non-threatening atmosphere of no pre-conditions is perhaps what is causing the hitch.

But talks are generally held among equals. A pre-condition by one party means that the one setting the pre-conditions has an edge over the other. In the proposed dialogue between ULFA and Government of India there is a third party negotiator. The role of this third party has not received adequate attention. Resolving conflict, especially one that has been hanging fire for three decades, requires some amount of insights and experiences gathered from other instances. The role of a negotiator or an interlocutor is a complex one. The person or group has to remain equidistant from both parties in conflict. Is this the case with the current batch of negotiators in the ULFA case?

It is easy to demonise the Government of India and to see it as the villain of the piece which has reneged on all promises. It is also easy to castigate the state government as being a lackey of the Centre. But this sort of simplistic argument that constantly bitches about what is wrong with the system but hardly moves a finger to correct it is what has made democracy problematic. Democracy, as somebody has rightly said, is not a spectator sport. In a democracy citizens engage continuously. They cannot afford to sit back and watch things happen and gripe when things don't work out for them. Democracy does not brook laziness. Unfortunately there is a huge section of the middle class which today assiduously pursues its wealth making agenda and refuses to add to the societal discourse on issues that directly and indirectly affect them.

We have heard very little from Assamese civil society about what they think of Paresh Barua's repeated refrain on sovereignty and referendum. Barua is challenging every Assamese to speak up. He is not merely trying to bait the Government of India. Barua's attempts to reach out to his own people through the media, demands that they too respond as a collective. The culture of silence is not healthy. This is a good time for people to say their piece. Since the political leadership has virtually failed to meets the needs of the present imbroglio it is important for the Assamese society to throw up societal leaders who can provide direction at this critical juncture. Paresh Barua needs to hear what the average Assamese thinks about sovereignty and a referendum on that. A referendum cannot happen without the endorsement of the people who actually have to vote for it.








Pay Commissions, both at Centre and State level, have raised the pay to their employees substantially at all levels. It is a fact that pay is a major motivational factor to all Government employees, in uniform or among civilians and all in jobs, who gets a pay packet in compensation of work he or she does in the month, so far as the Government jobs are concerned. The cost of living changes and the pay packets have to keep pace, though not a direct co-relation between the two ever was there nor ever there can be one. The complexity of economics does try to keep a balance between the need and the compensation and also a balance between the pay and 'responsibility and authority' of the office concerned. The pay structure of the Central and the State Government employees for same level of job do vary though equilibrium is always attempted to be maintained and as we know, in Assam, at least, parity between the two has been claimed to have been achieved through last pay Commission. All we can say that let no one try to pose all sacrificing and all motivating that pay is not a factor for carrying out assigned job at any level. People work for pay. But the question we are posed with is – is pay the only factor for efficiency, honesty and hard work that should go with the responsibility of a Government official – is it the only motivating factor. If not, what can bring back the missing work culture, missing efficiency and missing honesty?

There is a common complain among the general people in Assam today that there is no work culture among Assam's Government employees in general. People do not work or do not like to put in best of there effort with honesty and diligence while carrying out their assigned responsibility which ultimately affects the common people. On one hand, the Government Employees' union and forums ask for more pay and seemingly never satisfied and at the same time the work culture remains static as they are. By work culture we mean a state of mental attitude which drives an employee to work and put in his or her best, pay not being the only the driving force. In Assam Government service, except for a few senior lot, it is a fact that employees do not generally stay in their tables or does their assigned tasks for the laid down hours they are supposed to stay in office and attend to the files in hand or offers service to the multitude of people visiting offices to get service due to them. If office hours are from ten to four or ten to five with a break, do our employees stay in their table for that many hours? I am not talking about their work quality or efficiency, what is most concerning is that at least seventy per cent office staff in Assam do not adhere to the office timing. The second question comes – do our employees attend to their tasks, at least for the time they are in office, honestly. The third relevant question is – has it become an accepted norm that anyone, man or woman, young or aged, rich or poor, has to pay off for any 'service' or any 'information' they get from the Government Office. The answers to these questions will be the answer to what is our work culture is. And the other important associated question is – will more pay change our work culture?

Before we answer the above, we must remember that simple rule based prescription cannot enhance either efficiency or ethical behaviour. A human being is not a machine and therefore some element of humane approach and human feelings are necessary in any task we undertake which is aimed at serving others. This feeling and a sense of giving or serving cannot come by count of money what an employee, whatever category may be, gets.

Teamwork, discipline, honest commitment to the society is the pillar on which the efficiency and dedication of a government employee, for that matter any employee, depends. In this direction, pay is a factor but certainly not the only factor for service and efficiency. It is the work culture which embraces all the above factors. Of course, it does not mean at all that pay is not a factor. It is and it has been always, as we have stated in the beginning. None works for charity nor should anybody. The question that we are trying to pose or for that matter very relevant today is – shall the increased pay, say of the government employees of Assam will generate better commitment and better service. Things do not seem to have pointed to that direction.

On talking about corruption, the normal complaint we hear from the employees is that if corruption is to be stopped, it must be plugged at the highest level. If ministers and high officers indulge in corruption, corruption at the lower level cannot be stopped or curtailed. The peon or the clerk expecting under or above the table for any 'service' they render to their 'client' cannot be curtailed or called immoral till 'commissions' at the highest level continues. If we examine it critically, such logic cannot hold ground. No doubt, gratification and corruption must be tackled with harsh measure at all level and more so for persons at higher level, it does not mean a licenses for lower grades to indulge in asking money for any 'service', they offer, as if gratuitously. We all have seen people in government service, not in any higher level any way, having such properties and life style that it makes mockery of all words like 'vigilance' and 'pay structure'. Increase pay, but increase a sense of fear also.

Some new system should also be placed in position. Firstly, the 'Performance Evaluation Report' of each employee should be made more realistic, more effective and more responsive. Every employee should not only know what his or her specific job is, every employee should be given a target. He or she must know what is expected from him or she and quantification of product in a particular period should be laid down for each employee. Sometime it may not be possible to quantify all service or product, but it is seen in private sectors that laying of targets in quantifiable jobs for each employee in rational view do bring in efficiency. Each departmental head should have the responsibility to assess and guide the subordinates under him or her comparing and advising what was tasked and what has been achieved. It will also increase interaction and relation between officers and staff.

The tangle between employees and the Government in Assam will pass over one day , but what the civic society is not sure whether more pay, already announced, will bring the common man nearer to the Government with faith and confidence that employees are true servant of the people and the society.






The government is ready to compensate state-owned oil marketing companies (OMCs) with cash instead of oil-bonds for selling petro-fuels below cost. Cash compensation is better than issuing oil bonds — in the sense in which overdosing on sleeping pills is better than harakiri: in either case, it is suicide. The only sensible solution is to let go of administered pricing of petro fuels and allow competition to hold the price line. There would be a one-time shock to the system, but thereafter, as different economic agents adjust to higher fuel prices, there would be gains to the system as a whole, and not just to the fisc and to the oil companies.

The government offsets a part of the under-recovery of OMCs — the difference between the retail price and the actual cost — leaving upstream companies and retailers to share the rest. Private retailers have simply shut shop, since they don't get the subsidy and consumers would buy subsidised fuel from state-owned OMCs. This has reduced competition in fuel retailing as well. Upstream companies compensate OMCs through discounts on crude. On its part, the government has been offering long-maturity bonds to ensure that the accounting profits of oil-retailers remain in black.







The crisis in Nepal, which started with the resignation of PM Prachanda over the reinstatement of the then army chief by President Ram Baran Yadav in May this year, is again threatening to spiral out of control. Even as the three day strike called by the Maoists ended on Tuesday, they are reportedly planning another round of agitation, even as they announced the formation of autonomous states in several parts of the country. As the Nepali Congress-CPN (UML)-led government struggles to find answers to the Maoists' agitational programme, possibilities ranging from declaring President's rule to an army take-over are being mentioned. And the spectre of the conflict heading towards a violent showdown, even civil strife, seems ever more real. That would spell the end of a remarkable political experiment, a process which saw an armed insurgency lead on to a peaceful, democratic transfer of power, and the emergence of a consensus on building a federal Nepal based on constitutional rule and people's sovereignty.

There is still the chance of a resolution to the crisis based on consensus. But that would require all parties to abide by the spirit of the Constituent Assembly (CA). Then again, that is precisely what the dispute is about. Voluntarily announcing autonomous states is an act of bad faith on part of the Maoists. But then, so was the very contravening of the idea of the CA, and of civilian supremacy, by the President in his act of reinstating the army chief that broke the agreement in the first place.

The larger issue, of course, is the redrawing of the social contract the Maoists are intent on. And the opposition to that from remnants of the ancien régime, and their perceived external supporters. In that context, ramping up the polemic, Prachanda has declared the Maoists wanted to talk to India since it was 'running the puppet government' of Nepal. Sarcasm apart, India can play a role in breaking the deadlock, given the high probability of the stalemate continuing. But that requires New Delhi abandon its apparent partisanship, on display during the army chief's dismissal, which only complicates Nepal's complex internal dynamics.






If the politics of symbolism has any potency, we could well be living in an age of its new avatar. Times of austerity drives and royalty playing commoners. Indeed, there is something medieval about all this. The idea of the prince, the ruler leaving his gilded environs and descending into the grime of the commonplace. Legend has it the famed Abbasid caliph Haroun al-Rashid was one of the first to do this, with his nightly soirees to check out the lives and opinions of his subjects.

In the modern era, a few others had the same idea of stepping out from behind the desk. Teddy Roosevelt, the former US president, wikipedia informs us, was also called 'Haroun al-Roosevelt' when, as New York police department commissioner he was prone to walking around Manhattan to find out what his cops were up to. It has a certain charm, the high and mighty walking amongst the nobodys. But one can't be seen to be spying these days. So, the elites-among-the-proletarians trope underwent a sort of change. Thus, they now do it for purposes of charity, or political mileage, or just downright plain PR. On the latter count, a Bollywood star just went around mofussil India posing as a humdrum maulana. In politics, Rahul Gandhi readily comes to mind. And the very fact that India's version of a prince can often be seen down and about has given some political opponents the jitters.

That begs the question: have we really quite moved on since medieval times in terms of our awe of finding the powerful and famous moving around in our local streets and backyards? Even given all those tomes on political philosophy and democracy, perhaps we are yet beholden to our rulers at some sub-conscious level. And are they getting savvy to that? Prince William, for example, speculated to be next in line to the English throne (some things are still blatantly what they used to be), has just spent a night on London's streets, sleeping in the open, apparently to raise awareness about homeless people. Now that is symbolic, is nothing else. Even if just about bringing Haroun al-Rashid's PR game to a perfect modern pitch.







Mobile telecom technology started being used in the world in mid-'80s. We debated whether this was the best for the static Indian. In 1995, we allowed private operators to provide mobile telephony, at payment of huge fee. The government could not enforce interconnection with the incumbent. Consequently TRAI got created in 1997 by court order. No network can work efficiently without sound and viable interconnection. The incumbent demanded usurious charges for interconnection to the heritage network. TRAI was able to sort this out, but some members lost their jobs in the bargain.

TRAI asserted and reduced charges, but movement was slow. Recall days of Rs 32 per minute ten years back. Number of changes was enforced in early 2000s. These changes led to debates, charges, counter charges and litigation. No one cared whether the real aim of reforms, low tariffs and high rate of growth was being achieved. China took these steps early and achieved six million mobile additions per month in late '80s. We had to wait till 2006 to achieve this number. Today, we add 15 million, twice of what China ever added. Yet during the process of changes, we intensely debated and went to courts on why the entry fee discovered through auction was converted to revenue share, why the static WLL licensee allowed to move (though after paying equivalent fee), why did TRAI remove inefficient cross-subsidies (it is a way of life for us Indians!) and why permit unlimited competition and low interconnection charges (they do not help operators!).

Even the government argued why the regulator took so many cases to Supreme Court against the appellate body and warned him (it is another matter that SC/courts ruled in regulator's favour, accelerating reforms) notwithstanding the achievement against the government's targets being three to four times.

Everyone around the world agrees that normal roads and transportation systems cannot achieve as much growth in GDP, as broadband networks can. Despite broadband networks running on the same networks as our highly efficient and viable voice telecom networks, we are miles behind targets because of perpetual debates on these issues, while even the most backward countries have achieved higher broadband capacities.

Again the argumentative Indian is at his best, arguing for four years since 2005, when the first broadband/spectrum recommendations were made, whether we have 3G spectrum for one, two or three operators (a fact normally cannot be debated!) while the spectrum flies unused, Government losing huge revenues and people losing a huge opportunity for growth/e-education/extension/governance, etc. We are repeating what we did between '80s to '90s — debate intensively on efficient mobiles, while the world moved on. We are arguing about the reserve price for auction, while many countries have given spectrum free, about when to auction 4G and at what price, whether 450 MHZ or other ranges like 700 can be opened for broadband.

Spectrum is the same the world over. We have geo-political problems. Inevitably security forces need more spectrum. If we use more for security, which we must, the rest of scarce spectrum should be used efficiently. Having 10-12 operators, dividing spectrum and creating guard bands is not the best way to use scarce spectrum. If we are short of spectrum, like for everything else, we must share it and use it to the maximum. We are debating and arguing whether we should. 3G is equipment and technology and not a spectrum range. It can be loaded on to 2G spectrum also. The licence allows it. Operators have spare 2G spectrum. Why are we intensely arguing whether this should be allowed? Like everything else 3G and 4G will ultimately converge in telecom systems. Why are we resisting spectrum efficient converged/unified and next generation networks. Why are we arguing about 4G spectrum? If we have problems with 3G, why should we also postpone auction of 4G? In any case 4G spectrum would presently be far more useful for rural consumers.

Mobile number portability increases competition and hence service. It has been implemented in most countries — even the most backward one's. No one has had problems. There are no technical issues. Why are we debating its implementation since 2004, when the first recommendations came?

All reform measures impact operators. Today, unlike earlier, they are very powerful. If both the regulator and the government keep examining everyone's concerns all the time and repeatedly, we will never move forward. We have to decide whether we want to further reform or not, particularly for broadband, which has the ability to transform this country and increasing its growth rate. There are hundred processes. All can be criticised. We have to be clear about our aims, decide the process and then steamroll execution. With the same spectrum, all operators can move to broadband systems, ensuring rapid economic development. If some money is lost for higher growth, and ultimately higher revenue, so be it.

(The author is former chairman, TRAI)








We all have two identities, the identity that we project to the outer world, and the identity that we believe to be us in the inner world. The identity that you believe to be you inside your mind is called mamakar in Sanskrit. This will always be much smaller than what you really are. You will carry or remember all your failures, past mistakes and guilt, constantly trying to work on them.

The identity that you project to the outer world is called ahankar. Ahankar is your visiting card. You print everything that you want others to know about yourself. This is based on the identity you show to the outer world. This will always be more than what you are because you think you have to sell yourself. It becomes a basic need to do this, especially in the societies where you have to market yourself.

Ahankar will be based on a superiority complex. Mamakar will be based on an inferiority complex. Ahankar will be based on fear. Mamakar will be based on greed. Your identity, your personality that you show to the outer world will always be based on fear. This is why it will always be more than what is true about you. You will constantly try to keep it alive. The identity that you carry in the inner world is based on greed. This is why you always try to develop the identity that you carry inside you. You constantly work on the identity that you believe is you and continuously try to chisel it.

Your life is nothing but the fight between these two worlds. The conflict between ahankar and mamakar, the conflict between the personality that you show to the outer world and the personality that you reveal in your inner world is called 'tension'. The uneasy feeling between these two identities creates disease. Both the identities, ahankar and mamakar, are pure myths; both are lies! You are something beyond these two identities.

If you spend your whole energy expanding ahankar, the identity that you project to the outer world, your life becomes materialistic. People who work on mamakar are constantly working on their personality, trying to create some identity to feel satisfied about. If you spend your whole life chiselling and developing mamakar, the identity that you think is you, your whole life becomes moralistic and suppressing.

The basic truth is that you are much more than these two identities. When you 'unclutch' from these two identities, you will suddenly realise that you are beyond the two identities. When that happens, these two identities can never bind you again. Be blissful!







The world lost an opportunity in Copenhagen of saving the planet through a planned landing with a clear roadmap of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) load than a certain ecological crash in the absence of one.
In the run up to Copenhagen, it was clear that we will not get a deal to extend life of Kyoto Protocol in 2009 owing to a lack of agreement on some basic issues. But, it was hardly expected that the Accord would be worse than the no deal that we were all reconciling to. India should be a leader demanding capping of emissions by developed nations as well as by countries such as China that have higher emissions than the US, rather than being defensive, that we were, and now jubilant of having escaped of binding commitments.

There was no logic for us to do so, though it seems we took these threats rather seriously and made some strategic errors in positioning ourselves. Despite being the fifth largest GHG emitter, India has the most number of poor in the world and thus cannot be equated with China, which has more than twice of our GDP as their foreign exchange reserves and four times of our wealth. It was a good tactic for China to be clubbed with us, to hide behind equity issue and escape any logical and inevitable binding targets.

We had no conclusive scientific evidence of man-made climate change when Kyoto happened. This is available now through Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As such stronger regime is needed to deal with this phenomenon to avoid an imminent catastrophe.

India is the most vulnerable to vagaries of climate change — resulting in crisis in water and agriculture. Agriculture minister claims that the more 20% rise in food inflation is due to climate change. Our coasts and fisheries are under threat. Cost of adaptation for India could be easily 4% of GDP. Therefore, we needed a deal which would limit the global emission load to 350 parts per million (PPM) as scientists demanded or at least the one to restrict temperature rise to 2oC as politicians agreed. We also needed access to finance for adaptation. India needs a legally binding commitment deal, not only for our own but also in humanity's interest to achieve these.

We seem to be proud that we got an Accord at last, which is non-binding, optional, abstract, non-specific, ambiguous and intrusive in our national action. It doesn't talk of the necessary ingredients of a treaty, but in a way replaces a legally binding, principled, hard-bargained Protocol.

We must work hard till Bonn and Mexico to get a real, durable and a principled deal. While we work on it using diplomatic means, we must also strategise to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make India a global hub of clean technologies. World has to embrace climate-proof technologies once we have a sound regime to combat climate change. We have the information technology, scientific technology, human capital, reverse engineering capabilities and domestic market to reap the benefits of the paradigm shift that the world is required to make. Could India also remind the world that we have a Parliament like some of them and thus could also use Parliamentary approval as a strategy to get a better deal for ourselves?








As Jairam Ramesh mentioned at his press conference, he did not go to Copenhagen with the mandate to save the world or humanity. His mandate was to defend India's right to develop at a faster rate. India's approach to COP 15 at Copenhagen was anchored in the sanctity of the troika – UNFCCC, the Kyoto protocol and the Bali action plan.

It is also India's stand that the widely accepted principles of (i) historical responsibilities and (ii) common but differentiated responsibilities are sacrosanct. On the basis of the above, what has been the outcome of the Copenhagen meet?

Globally, COP15 was a great disappointment. Essentially because there were no legally binding emission cuts.
The Indian concern was that some countries wanted legally binding emission commitments not only from the developed world but also from emerging markets like China and India.

The US insisted on our accepting the concept of a peaking year and that even unsupported mitigation actions by non Annex I countries should be subject to international monitoring and verification. In return, the US offered almost nothing at all. In this scenario what could India do? India wanted to be a deal maker and not a deal breaker. India was fortunate in being part of the BASIC group of countries. This group could resist the pressures from the US.

On Friday, December 18 evening in a meeting between President Obama and BASIC countries a final agreement was hammered out. This accord, however inadequate, is better than no accord at all. BASIC countries succeeded in getting the US on board and formed a strong group which will help them in future negotiations.

What are my doubts about the Accord from the Indian point of view? — The sanctity of the Kyoto protocol. It continues to exist but the wordings of the Accord are such that the developed world can get out of their obligations.

— The Accord speaks of achieving peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible. However, the Accord recognises that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries.

— Mitigation actions, even if unsupported, will be reported to the Secretariat for international consultation and analysis rather than for information. This naturally raises doubts even though the guidelines for such consultation and analysis will ensure that national sovereignty is respected.

As a responsible nation, we have agreed to cut our emission intensity to GDP by 20-25% by 2020 on 2005 levels. To the extent this will be unsupported, it will be a cost to the nation and to the Indian corporates but, even though the developed world is behaving in a highly irresponsible manner, we should be proactive to help reduce the adverse effects of climate change. Of course, with our per capita emissions about 7% of the US and a third of China and with a per capita income of less than $1000 against more than $40,000 in the US, we cannot ignore growth and development. India should work towards sustainable development while ensuring that it does not succumb to the unreasonable and inequitable demands of the developed world. A grouping like G-20, including BASIC countries, may need to work together to reach a satisfactory accord by the next CoP in December 2010 in Mexico.







Modern trade's demand for higher margin is certainly unreasonable. The sales volumes through modern trade format does not account for more than 6-8% for any FMCG company and this too comes at an additional cost. While the returns do not match the higher margins being offered to modern trade, the cost-benefit ratio is not commensurate. Thus, the margins provided by FMCG companies to modern trade, does not justify the sales yield from the latter.


In most cases, barring a select few, the inefficiencies of modern trade are glaringly visible in terms of infrastructure, supply chain management and back end services. The loopholes and deficiencies on these aspects are leading to Modern Trade's demand for higher margins. In other words, we are paying to cover for their inefficiencies and deficiencies.

While margins are passed on to companies, however, it still appears that Modern Trade players still lag in improving their services or efficiencies. Modern Trade format is not creating any value addition for the FMCG industry. Due to the higher margins being paid to modern trade, the relationship with the general groceries or the local kiranawalas is getting impacted, though at present there is not much material difference between the two models as the groceries have also improved their services after feeling the heat from Modern Retail.

Though Modern Trade offers products at a discounted price to consumers, the companies are not getting any benefits in terms of higher sales volumes. The model is not creating any separate value by under-pricing products compared to other grocery shops.

Most of the Modern Trade players demand higher margin by portraying a rosy future projection. The margin prices were worked on future projections, but due to recession and their own inefficiencies most of them failed to deliver what they promised, in terms of volume turnover and expansion plans. They have failed to justify the demand for a higher margin.

Besides, their working capital management is still weak. Their payments are delayed. So despite offering a higher margin, the FMCG companies are not getting faster payments.

Sadly, some players of modern trade now tend to push their own labels more prominently and strongly at the cost of other FMCG brands. Their products get a better visibility and availability compared to others' product. So the higher margins are not accruing the desired results in terms of sales.

The modern trade also spends crores on branding as well as on various schemes festive season. In fact, instead of asking for higher margins, the Modern Trade retailers should improve their efficiency so that there can be a win-win situation for both parties. They are trying to offset the impact by hiking the margin. Besides, while the retail stores need to be profitable within a two-year period, however, the retailers' IRR and pay-back period is quote high. This mismatch is forcing them to ask for higher margins.







This debate needs to be approached differently. Let us first understand why Modern trade is imperative for the consumers, Government, employees, vendors and then arrive at whether the demand for higher margin is reasonable. Retail is a catalyst for consumption which in turn drives the economy. The Modern trade retail format brings lower prices to the consumers and drives higher consumption, hence making a clear case for the existence of the Modern Trade.

While Modern trade drives consumption it also increases the Government's collection of taxes. Modern trade players invest substantially in developing manpower (90% of who are high school passouts) and making them multi- skilled. This enhances employable talent pool for a country which today is exportable and a foreign exchange earner. With limited space in the traditional channels, Modern trade provides an opportunity for new entrants and new products to get quick visibility and reach across consumers thus enabling consumers to make more informed choices. Profit realization to farmers selling directly to Modern Trade is higher than Mandis.

ICRIER survey has revealed that by shopping with Modern Trade lower income consumers saved more. With so much of benefit coming to the community and stake holders, it is important that the environment is conducive to the growth of Modern Trade. Unfortunately the combination of high cost structures and low per capita consumption across categories are challenging the viability of the same. One way to shore- up Modern Trade is by supporting it with Higher Margins. The issue is can the vendor partners afford the higher margins and the unequivocal answer is YES. They can support the higher margins since working with modern trade helps them drive toplines which translate into increased cash flows to them. Surely they can share some of it.

Working with modern Trade helps them derive inventory and backend efficiencies. Part of this gain can be shared with Modern Trade through increased margins.

Finally, both the Modern Trade and the vendor companies have a common goal –which is to increase consumption. Vendor companies have to realize that their best way to achieve this goal is through the Modern Trade.







India has quite a few low-hanging fruits, when it comes to making its contribution to arresting climate change. The voluntary commitment that India has made, that emission intensity — emissions per unit of output — would be brought down 25% over the 2005 base year level is only a fraction of what is achievable, at little cost.
Take the easiest thing to be done. This is in lighting, which accounts for about 15% of all electricity consumption. The scope for raising energy efficiency in lighting is huge. The conventional incandescent lamp, which amazingly continues to rule the roost in government buildings and five-star hotels (save that of ITC), yields 15 lumens of light per watt. The compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is five times more efficient, and produces 65 lumens per watt. Modern light emitting diodes (LEDs) are capable of producing as much as 125-150 lumens of light per watt (most traffic lights these days consist of circular arrays of these pin-points of light).

If we replace all conventional lamps with LEDs, total electricity consumption can come down by at least 10 percentage points. But that would cost a pile. Just as CFLs are more expensive than conventional lamps, LEDs are more expensive than CFLs. But there's a way out: economies of scale.

Can the government place a massive order to replace all existing lamps in all government buildings across the country with LEDs? Can it call upon all information technology companies, automobile manufacturers, all public enterprises, etc to join in and enhance the size of the order? Such a massive order would force the world's LED manufacturers to set up huge capacities in India, and LED prices would come crashing down to a fraction of the current cost. The saving in lighting costs would then persuade households to voluntarily switch to LEDs. All newly electrified rural homes could be supplied with LEDs, which have a long life, as an additional benefit.

Another low-hanging fruit is coal beneficiation. Indian coal is low in sulphur but high in ash. About 40%-45% of what is sold as coal is non-combustible material which turns into fly-ash. Removing/reducing the ash-content is called beneficiation. Coal mining being a government monopoly, there is extraneous matter other than ash that spoils the coal — corruption and inefficiency.

India's unbeneficiated, high-ash coal wastes energy in multiple ways. The Railways earn about 40% of its revenue hauling coal. Passenger loads and high-value parcels weigh less than bulk cargo like coal. So the energy spent on earning one rupee of coal-hauling revenue would be higher than the energy spent on one rupee of other revenue. It would be safe to assume that at least 50% of the Railways' fuel bill would come from transporting coal. But 40% of that so-called coal is rock, shale, etc that will finally turn into fly-ash. In other words, 20% of the Railways' fuel cost is spent on transporting worthless proto- fly ash over long distances. If the coal were beneficiated to bring down the ash content by half before being loaded on to railway rakes, the Railways could save 10% of their fuel.








The economic outlook is distinctly brighter today than at the end of 2008. Then, the world economy was still reeling from the fall-out of the Lehman failure and recovery seemed uncertain. The impact on the Indian economy turned out to be greater than thought earlier.

Some forecast a collapse in housing prices in India and a doubling of banks' non-performing assets. The unravelling of Satyam seemed to presage more disasters in the corporate world. The impending general elections raised the prospect of an unstable coalition at the Centre. The boldness of the terrorist attack in Mumbai last November indicated that we would be exposed to more such attacks.

A year on, none of these forebodings has come true. There is consensus that the worst is over for the world economy. The Indian economy grew at 6.7% in FY 2009 and is forecast to grow at 7% or more in FY 2010. There is no housing bust and Indian banks are in good health. The elections produced a stronger Congress and a more stable coalition at the Centre. And there has been no recurrence of 26/11 anywhere in the country.

The mid-year economic review of the finance ministry says that growth could touch 7.75% this year. Most analysts think this is unduly optimistic as it is based on an extrapolation of second quarter growth of 7.9%. But even a growth rate of 7% in FY 2009-10, which most economists now project, would be a remarkable performance in the present economic environment.

This would be 1.7 percentage points below the average growth of the Indian economy in the previous three years. The IMF expects the world economy to decline by 1.1% in 2009 which is a drop of 5.5 percentage points from the previous three years' average growth. No question that India has done much better than the world economy in the present crisis.

Last year, some commentators were quick to conclude that India's growth acceleration in 2004-08 was a bubble linked to the global economic bubble. Since the global boom had come to an end, they said, India would revert to its earlier growth trajectory of 6% or so. Without a fresh burst of reforms, India could not hope to get back to growth of 8% plus.

These propositions now stand falsified. Even if the world economy were to revert to pre-crisis growth of around 3%, India can count on growth of 8-8.5%. So, the first significant conclusion to be drawn from our experience in the crisis is that India's higher growth trajectory in the period 2004-08 is here to stay. It is only a matter of time before growth climbs to the 9-10% range.

Slower growth last year meant a decline in tax revenues. At the same time, there was no avoiding a strong fiscal stimulus in crisis conditions. As a result, fiscal correction received a setback. This again triggered sombre comments. We were paying the price for reckless spending when the economy was doing well. Finance minister Pranab Mukerjee should not have pegged the fiscal deficit as high as 6.8% in his budget for 2009-10. And so on.

Here again, the critics are likely to be proved wrong. We will, of course, need to exit the fiscal stimulus in due course. But, as growth accelerates over the next two years, the fiscal problem should come under control. This would be in keeping with what has happened in the recent past. Unlike in other economies, fiscal correction in India has come about not so much through cuts in expenditure as through increase in revenues. Increases in tax revenues, in turn, came from higher growth and tax reforms.








The famed Victoria & Albert Museum, London is touring through some of the major cities in India for the first time with an art exhibition. The show, titled Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists (Paintings and Drawings from the V&A 1790-1927), opened in Kolkata lately at the well-known Victoria Memorial. It has been jointly organized by the V&A, Victoria Memorial and is supported by the British Council. V&A director Mark Jones was in the city recently for the unfurling of the exhibit and spoke to ET in a freewheeling chat. Excerpts:

From when did you get drawn to art?

I discovered that I liked looking at paintings when I was in my teens. I was drawn to Constable and Turner. Turner particularly impressed me. This was probably because of the way he used paint to suggest the ephemeral effect of light and weather conditions. As I matured, my interest specially centered on period art

How did you finally venture into this sphere?

Because of this growing interest in art, I decided to study the history of art and took admission in the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. My mind was made up about finding a job in a museum. And, after passing out of Courtauld, I joined the British Museum as curator of commemorative medals.

When did your stint with the Victoria & Albert Museum start? And, what exactly is your ambit of work?

I joined V&A in the beginning of May 2001. As director, I'm responsible for every aspect of art at the museum. That includes exhibition programmes, interacting with the government and public, thrashing out our international strategy, fund raising and administration of the budget among other things.

What is the nature of V&A's collections of objects d'art?

Our collection of art objects runs into 2.7 million in number. This includes textiles, ceramics, metal work, sculptures, paintings, photographs, drawings, manuscripts, furniture, jewellery and tapestry, to talk of a few items.

From where have they been primarily sourced?

They have essentially come from Europe and Asia, the Islamic world, India, China, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Do you stage exhibitions both at the V&A and internationally?

Yes. Last year, 2.7 million visitors came to watch our overseas shows.


Where has the V&A travelled to with its shows in recent times?

We have taken exhibitions to places like Melbourne, Azerbaijan, Bilbao, San Francisco, Moscow and Damascus, to mention just a few.

Has the global economic meltdown impacted your activities in any way?

Not really. Our flow of shows both in London and in international locales has remained at the same level.

Do you exhibit both contemporary and period art?

Yes, we do contemporary and historic art, but not modern and contemporary paintings. That's done by the Tate Gallery in London. Our focus is period art, especially when it comes to paintings. We have also done shows hovering around surrealistic art. When it comes to the contemporary realm, our shows have embraced design and art deco. We have done a photographic show by photographer and model Lee Miller in San Francisco. An exhibit in Azerbaijan focused on ikat fabric design. We have also unveiled a show on contemporary fashion by Vivienne Westwood, while another showcased the creations by Christian Dior.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Our society is no stranger to criminality emanating from high places. Indeed, those who wield power and influence are known to crack the networks to break the law, and then again to shield themselves. But even a society so tolerant of illegality balks at the thought of sexual crimes against minors, as the case of former Haryana DGP S.P.S. Rathore shows. This was an instance of an individual sliding down the moral ladder, a high official of the state who wore the uniform but thought nothing of shedding every scruple of honourable conduct. The surprise does not lie here, however. Individuals are known to have failed themselves before. The shock lies in the fact that the retired DGP appears to have got away with such a light sentence after being found guilty of "moral turpitude" that he left the trial court wearing a very satisfied smile. That smile of self-congratulation was flashed across our TV screens and the front pages of our newspapers. It left the country humbled and has made everyone angry. This is a good moment to think of overhauling the laws that deal with the most vulnerable sections of our society at the social or economic level, especially children and women. No less necessary is to break the binds that make justice the slowest moving machine in the country. A democracy in which speedy justice is not available will one day sow the seeds of its own overthrow. It was 19 years ago that the retired policeman molested a 14-year-old child who killed herself two years later as she could not bear the shame. The criminal has now been convicted. The punishment handed out is six months in jail. He has been granted bail. This is a mockery of every principle we hold dear. It is now up to the high court to raise the sentence to the maximum of two years in jail that the crime attracts. The CBI, which investigated the case, ought to ask for this. But the superior court in Chandigarh can do more. Given the specific circumstances of the case, especially the subsequent suicide of the molested child, the superior judiciary ought to contemplate what would serve the ends of justice best, and consider if any other sections of criminal law can be brought into play. When the convict had committed the crime, he was an inspector-general of police in Haryana. He kept getting his promotions although a case of sexual abuse against a minor had been preferred against him. The high court could consider taking steps that would impact the man's pension at a specific rank. It can also raise questions about the methods followed in promoting officers, ask for old files, and seek to fix responsibility on those (even if they have retired) who showed such utter disregard of the circumstances as to promote to the pinnacle of the police administration in the state a man whose sense of professional and social honour had deserted him completely. Our MPs have demonstrated a sense of outrage at this sordid affair. It is up to them to alter the 150-year-old law under which sexual molestation of a minor by a high official attracts a jail term of two years. There is a silver lining to this episode: the public spirited conduct of Aradhna, a friend of the deceased who was witness to the molestation. Aradhna and her parents have pursued the case and say they are not about to give up.

The woman has made her home in Australia but returns when needed for court formalities. Such spirit among citizens is probably the best shield we have against institutional inertia.








By any measure, 2009 was Mr Barack Obama's year. His journey to the White House was extraordinary enough — the first black to become the President — but the kind of response he evoked at home and abroad was reminiscent of another shooting star in America's past, John F. Kennedy. After eight years of Mr George W. Bush, he was balm to a wounded nation and world.


Mr Obama's Berlin act in his campaigning days was a replay of the magic evoked by Kennedy's "I am a Berliner" theme in the thick of the Cold War. Even more than the United States, the world was waiting for a messiah to rescue it from a planet hurtling towards terrorism and wars. The former Communist European countries were decidedly less euphoric but expectation was in the air.


No human could have measured up to these expectations, but the Nobel Committee, overcome by emotion, awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize before he had achieved anything of substance, making President Obama's burden immeasurably heavier. Fighting two wars and raising troop strength in Afghanistan, he could, in accepting the prize, only temporise on war and peace and the compulsions of the king over those of the philosopher.


One thing Mr Obama did achieve in his first year of office. He "reset" not only his country's relations with Russia but also, more importantly, changed the tone of international relations. The world never fully recovered from the shock of President Bush's 2002 national strategy doctrine declaring America's right pre-emptively to strike any nation that, in its opinion, posed a threat. Although this capability was inherent in America's unmatched strength after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, codifying and broadcasting it was an unsurpassed exercise in arrogance.


Which brings us to the central question: what has President Obama achieved in his first year? The scorecard must be divided between domestic and international affairs. While the world was waiting anxiously for the new President to deliver on his promises, the problems he faced at home were horrendous, given the scale of the economic meltdown set off by the bursting of the housing bubble, the most serious since the Great Depression, and his resolve to tackle the crying need for healthcare reform, which had frustrated President Bill Clinton. All this while he had to rally domestic opinion for fighting two wars.


In the international arena, the problems facing President Obama ranged from finding a rationale for concluding two wars to beginning a new chapter in dealing with Russia, the seminal Israeli-Palestine conflict, handling Iran and North Korea in the context of non-proliferation, in addition to such overarching issues as climate change. His watchword has been engagement, but his pickings thus far have been scanty, and he is still trying to live down his humiliation of being told by Israel to his face that his opening gambit of a total freeze of illegal settlements on occupied land was unacceptable. In scrambling for a response, the President's officials pretended to find comfort in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's token gesture, which derided his country's protector, mentor and aid-giver.


By massively injecting state money, the Obama administration did help rescue the country from disaster, but the lessons learnt by such nations and Britain and France in seeking to regulate financial institutions and their behaviour are out of Washington's reach, given the nativist American belief in unhindered free enterprise. In healthcare reform, President Obama has got farther than any of his predecessors in bringing to near fruition a weaker version of what he had in mind in banishing the national shame of some 40 million Americans remaining without health insurance in the richest nation of the world.


President Obama can claim credit for altering the atmosphere in international relations by making the world more receptive to American initiatives after the toxic years of the Bush presidency. He has succeeded in achieving progress towards a new nuclear arms reduction treaty after his wise decision to scrap Bush's provocative plan for anti-missile installations on Russia's doorstep in Poland and the Czech Republic.


Moscow responded by allowing lethal and non-lethal supplies across its territory for the Afghan war and by taking a kinder view of America's approach to Iran.


In substantive terms, engagement has failed to melt Iran towards a meaningful accommodation on the nuclear issue, and as the redoubtable Henry Kissinger has only recently reminded us, it is Pyongyang that has trumped Washington thus far.


The Iraq war presents fewer problems for President Obama because it is how, rather than whether, it is wound down. The Afghanistan war in another story because he has chosen to escalate the troop strength there in the hope of making the surge arrest and reverse a deteriorating situation.


Pakistan, essential to winning the Afghan war, is riddled with its own increasingly complex problems. But President Obama can claim a consolation prize by brokering a symbolic agreement on climate change at Copenhagen.


Domestically, President Obama's greatest achievement has been to bring his country's centre of gravity more towards the centre from the neoconservative right swing the Bush administration had taken it to. By emphasising that force is a last resort and multilateral diplomacy and the United Nations are not necessarily evil, he has restored a measure of sanity to international affairs.


But as President Obama himself reminded the Nobel Committee, he, as leader of the United States, must fight for his country's interests. And as Ms Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's secretary of state, had asserted in justifying Washington's interest in Russia's backyard that as a world power it had worldwide interests.


The lesson of the first year of the Obama administration is that despite the President's articulateness and soaring rhetoric, he remains a national leader in a world of nation states and he must work within the constraints and ideology of the American system even as he seeks to make his mark. But the impact Mr Obama has made on the world is an indication that whatever the future might hold for power equations, a promising leader in the White House can fire the imagination of the world as no other anywhere.








Copenhagen, 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 West Asia 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 US 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, healthcare, 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 centre, 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 per cent. Over the same timeframe, Danish energy consumption has stayed constant and Denmark's gross domestic product has grown by more than 40 per cent.


Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the EU; due to carbon pricing, through energy taxes, carbon taxes, the "cap and trade" system, strict building codes and energy labelling programmes. Renewable resources currently supply almost 30 per cent of Denmark's electricity. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass... Today, Copenhagen puts only three per cent 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 subsidise environmental innovation", wrote Monica Prasad, a faculty fellow at Northwestern University's Institute for Policy Research, in a March 25, 2008, essay in the New York Times. 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 per cent of Denmark's exports. Oil exports and energy taxes also subsidise 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, SF, "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 four per cent, compared with our 10 per cent, maybe we should at least consider putting a few of








Do I have 10 heroes and villains of 2009, as the editors request? Sure. It's always a bit of a mood and memory thing, isn't it, this picking 10 of the best or worst? Here, I am leaving out many list-worthy people. Like Rehman and Gulzar who don't need Oscars to be heroes. Or Venkatraman Ramakrishnan or Sachin Tendulkar. Or civil rights activists like the celebrated Dr Binayak Sen or the unknown Jasmine Damkewala (she fought hostile neighbours for her right to feed neighbourhood dogs, now the Delhi high court has ordered the government to help set up a city-wide system for it) who represent different sets of heroic people. I am also leaving out several obvious baddies — mega cheats like B. Ramalinga Raju or Madhu Koda, the Muslim-bashing Varun Gandhi, the maid-molesting Shiney Ahuja — for reasons of exhaustion.
So here's my list of 10. If you don't like it, go make your own.


Chief Justice A.P. Shah andJustice S. Muralidhar of the Delhi high courtWith their historic judgment on Section 377, they junked the 150-year-old law and decriminalised gay sex. Their decision upheld the inclusive spirit of the Constitution and gave sexual preference the same protection from discrimination as caste, religion or gender. But this is not a total surprise. These two judges have been consistently rooting for democratic freedom. Justice Shah's many significant rulings have upheld the freedom of speech and protected the disabled and women from discrimination. Justice Muralidhar is known for his sensible stand and moral correctness. Apart from his remarkable earlier work for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy and the Narmada dam, he is also behind the high court order this year saying kissing in public was not obscene. Recently, the dynamic duo pointed out how anti-poor the Delhi administration was being in their arguments to ban unlicensed rickshaws and shamed it into finding more inclusive solutions.


The Indian Voter

He may be hungry and illiterate, but he is certainly not a fool. This parliamentary elections seemed to have no real issues, just pre-poll alliances for post-poll arithmetic, the Bharatiya Janata Party's rabble-rousing, the Left's self-immolation, the Congress' confused serenading of possible partners. Yet the voter found issues among the theatrics, balanced their local needs with the need for national parties, ignored sectarian coercion
and gave a mandate for development and progress. That's truly heroic.


Irom Sharmila of Manipur

This is her 10th year of fasting in protest against the continuation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Northeast, which allows the Army to kill, rape and torture ordinary citizens with impunity. Unlike K. Chandrasekar Rao's 11-day fast demanding Telangana, Sharmila's almost decade-long fast has yielded no constructive response from the government. She has been force-fed and arrested. Undaunted, Sharmila continues her indefinite hunger strike.


Rukhsana Kausar of Jammu and Kashmir

When Lashkar-e-Tayyaba militants barged into their home at night, Rukhsana, 20, and her brother Aijaz, 18, fought them off with an axe and guns snatched from the militants, killing one and driving out the rest. For her courage and presence of mind, she has been made a special police officer. Hopefully, girls around the country will find a role model in her that would break the stereotype of the weak and helpless woman propagated by Bollywood.


Santhi Sounderajan of Tamil Nadu

The athlete who was stripped of her silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games on grounds of inadequate female hormones, the girl who tried to kill herself in 2007, pushed to the limit by the humiliation of media speculation and public gossip about her sex, is now back as a proud athlete. Santhi has set up a residential training academy in her hometown Pudukkottai for athletes from poor families, and two of her students won the Chennai Marathon this year. The daughter of brick kiln workers, who fought malnutrition and hunger to achieve enormous athletic excellence, has now overcome unemployment, ridicule, shame, confusion and trauma to reclaim her life — as an intersexed person but still an excellent athlete.
Now for the villains
The tourist from Pakistan who came to Mumbai to work in films, was wrongly arrested by the police days before the 26/11 attacks, has never seen an AK-47 and looks disturbingly like the lone surviving gunman of the Mumbai terror attacks.
Never mind his conflicting
court statements, Kasab is still Villain No. 1.

Raj Thackeray
The paranoid Marathi manoos and lead basher of North Indians in Maharashtra. He claws his way into news with his goons, destroying, vandalising, extracting unnecessary apologies. Recently his Hindi-hating MLAs created mayhem at the swearing-in ceremony of the Maharashtra Assembly. The physical damage would just make him a nuisance, but his deliberate damage to our democratic freedoms and pluralistic social fabric makes him a real villain.

The Naxalite

The "biggest internal security threat" has now grown even bigger. And the state's flawed attempts at curbing their might has only made it worse. The Naxalite was born out of the state's criminal neglect of its tribal and impoverished rural population. But now he has become a bigger villain than the greedy and negligent state it rebels against.

The heartless mai-baap

Even after 25 years of the Bhopal gas disaster, the hapless locals continue to be killed silently by the toxic waste that still poisons the soil and water. Incredibly, the waste has not been cleaned up. The Central and Madhya Pradesh governments have willingly continued the mass murder started by Union Carbide's gas leak. So what if the sarkar is our mai-baap, it can also be the villain.

But there is life beyond heroes and villains. There is the joker. Where would we be without the jokers who make us laugh and cry all at once?

Prakash Karat


The joker of the year. When everything was going fabulously for the Left, came Karat. What started a couple of years ago with his sneer campaign, came to fruition with the Left's thundering humiliation at the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. The lofty talk of undoing the Indo-US nuclear deal while neglecting issues of governance, hunger and price rise, pulling the plug on a government they had helped set up, putting his ego before the national interest, refusing to support either a BJP or a Congress-led government while wooing Mayawati, all showcased Karat's astounding ignorance of electoral logic. The Karat chop cut the big and powerful Left to size — down to extra small. What an idea, Sirji!

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.

She can be contacted at [1]









There is no case for extending the market hours. This is an issue that has divided brokers and investors as never before, but the issues at stake must be looked at carefully.


The extension in timings will have benefits in probable increase in volumes. This would result in income to brokers and stock exchanges since the investors would perhaps trade more to take advantage of developments in the first hour of trading.


The cost of this additional hour will be the cost of salaries for the staff of the exchanges, brokers, banks, depositories, mutual funds, insurance companies. Service providers such as courier services, cleaning agencies etc will also have to adjust to the extended working hours. The cost of fatigue to the participants in the market who are directly servicing investors, and the impact of this on quality of advice needs to be studied. A white paper on cost-benefit to the society at large is not available.


The stock market systems today carry a large amount of technology risk. The issue of risk of failures of computers in brokers' office, stock exchanges, banks and depositories, network equipment such as VSATs (very small aperture terminals), and telecom equipment are not addressed.


Software failures such as jamming of computers and failures of processes could leave no time to repair. All these risks have no time to be addressed if we have a tight schedule of 9 am to 5 pm. Processing data of lakhs of customers, getting their bank receipts, calculating value of depository stocks, and assigning limits, takes a lot of time.


Compromising with risk in the broker's office is one of the most dangerous aspects of the stock market system. The disaster back up in broker offices is far from achieved. We will add to risk with no recourse to redundancies if we rush with such tight timings.


Lastly, is volume generation the prime agenda of stock exchanges?


Stock exchanges have been established to channelise household savings into the market for onward use for development of the nation. The prosperity of the stock exchanges is still not available to the common man.


Inclusive growth, making markets safer, reducing volatility and risk — operational or otherwise — ought to be at the top of the agenda of stock exchanges. Stock exchanges are socio- economic institutions and not just for — profit organisations.


If this responsibility is understood, priorities will be different from keeping the markets open from 9am to 5 pm.


Deena Mehta is Managing Director, Asit C Mehta Investment Intermediates Ltd


Need to keep pace with global trends


Sudeep BandyopadhyayIndian capital markets are becoming more and more integrated with the international financial markets in an increasingly globalised economy. We can't take an ostrich-like stand and wish away the global trends. The international markets are 24x7 and India, being a part of the global economy, needs to realise this quickly.
About 50 per cent to 60 per cent of total daily Indian equity exchange turnover comprises of trading in Nifty. Singapore Exchange (SGX) also trades in Nifty, and trading at Singapore starts much before the Indian capital markets open. Foreign investors having access to SGX take advantage of this early start and position themselves accordingly, much before the Indian markets open. Apart from this disadvantage for domestic investors, the Indian capital markets lose the Nifty turnover that happens at SGX. We need to harmonise trading timings and remove this apparent handicap for our domestic investors.

International linkage and consequent price movements create both opportunity as well as risk which need to be managed on a 24x7 basis. Indian markets close at 3.30 pm local time when the European markets are at full swing and US markets are yet to open. The entire development in US and significant development during the day in Europe are not captured by the Indian markets. These get factored in when Singapore markets open for trading. Thus, very frequently we find Indian markets opening with a significant gap. This creates huge risk management complication for domestic market participants. Increasing trade timing, both at the beginning and towards the end, will enable Indian players to better manage their risk and not be caught unawares.
The common excuse for not increasing trade timings has been the problem with the domestic banking system. It is a fact that the local banks open for business at 10 am and the RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlement) window closes by 2-3 pm in most cases. However, even today the commodity exchanges operate for longer hours without any major hitch, and they use the same banking system. Thus, to use the inadequacy of the banking system as an excuse for not extending the market timings is inappropriate.

The domestic infrastructure other than the banking system, eg, depository are well equipped to handle incremental trading hours, particularly an early start. In any case, here is no apparent fund transfer bottle-neck for starting early trading. The infrastructure is already in place. It's only a question of getting used to operating in the global environment. The sooner we do this, the better.


Sudeep Bandyopadhyay is Group President,Spice Finance








The end of 2009 seems a good time to take stock of the triangular relationship between India, Pakistan, and the United States. The key strands of the Obama administration's policy towards the subcontinent are now clear. The longer term shifts in US engagement with India and Pakistan can also be discerned. Moreover, towards the end of a turbulent decade we can retrospectively assess the course of India-Pakistan relations.


The US has a long history of engagement with South Asia. But it has been in a comparable position only once in the past. For a brief period in 1962-63, when India turned to the US for military assistance against China, Washington was able to exercise sufficient leverage over New Delhi and Islamabad to attempt mediation of the Kashmir dispute. At no other point during the Cold War did the US have close ties with both the neighbours.


The current configuration of relations began to take shape a decade after the end of the Cold War. Two events at the turn of the century set the new terms of engagement. First, the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests confirmed Washington's view that the subcontinent was a potential "nuclear flashpoint". The Kargil conflict brought these to the fore. Although the Pakistan government disavowed any direct involvement, the Clinton administration brought to bear increasing pressure on Islamabad, eventually compelling it to announce a withdrawal of the infiltrators. Washington's approach was a significant departure from its stance in previous India-Pakistan wars. By indicating that it would not condone forceful violations of the status quo in Kashmir, the US substantially increased it equities with India.


Second, the attacks of 9/11 triggered the first overt American military intervention in the subcontinent. Once Pakistan agreed to execute a volte face on its relationship with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, it was transformed yet again into a frontline ally — now in the so-called war on terror. In securing Pakistan's cooperation, the Americans had to overcome Islamabad's narrative of grievance. In this reading, the Americans had used Pakistan to wage the Afghan jihad, but discarded it after the Red Army had pulled out. The Bush administration, therefore, had to offer a host of incentives to get the Pakistanis to support their efforts against the Al Qaeda.


This strategy of parallel engagement proceeded apace in the following years. Former US President George W. Bush placed considerable emphasis on building a robust partnership with India. The Indo-US civilian nuclear deal was the most visible aspect of the deepening ties. Its significance lay in the fact that hitherto India had been a key target of nuclear non-proliferation regime. Since the Pokhran tests of 1974, the US had led the sanctions regime against India. Now, reversing its longstanding approach, Washington was not only prepared to ease the restrictions on India, but was also ready to punch a hole through the global non-proliferation framework. Equally important was the thickening defence relationship between the two countries.


These developments reflected both realpolitik and the ideological predispositions of the Bush administration. On one hand, the partnership with India was seen as a hedge against a rising China and the consequent challenge to American pre-eminence in Asia. On the other, the importance accorded to democracy in Mr Bush's foreign policy doctrine made India ever more attractive as an ally. But Islamabad was simultaneously designated a major non-Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) ally, and plied with military and civilian aid. The Pakistani establishment's complicity in clandestine nuclear transfers was elided — the blame being pinned on the "A.Q. Khan network".


In consequence, India found diminishing returns in its attempts to work with the US in dealing with its most pressing security concern — terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The Americans made all the right noises, but were understandably reluctant to squeeze Pakistan in the manner desired by India. The limitations of working through the US were underscored by the crisis of 2001-02. In mobilising the Indian military, New Delhi sought not only to threaten Pakistan but also to impel the US to apply pressure on Pakistan to abandon its support for terrorist outfits. In the event, India had to be satisfied with tenuous assurances from US officials that Pakistan was indeed serious about ending terrorism. Following the Mumbai attacks of last year, the US offered to step up intelligence cooperation with India. This has yielded some dividends, but they fall well short of India's core objectives.


India's policy towards Afghanistan has encountered similar problems. From the outset, Washington tended to view New Delhi's efforts in Afghanistan through the prism of Pakistani perceptions. Any increase in Indian presence was seen as likely to provoke Pakistan. Conversely, the Obama administration came to believe that the best way to ensure Islamabad's cooperation was to allay its security concerns. By getting India to negotiate with Pakistan on Kashmir, Washington hoped to convince the Pakistani military that the real threat was not India, but the insurgent groups operating out of western Pakistan. New Delhi's energetic diplomacy ensured that Kashmir was formally kept out of the "AfPak" agenda. But India continues to find itself subject to periodic American prodding to commence discussions with Pakistan.


The ongoing transformation of US-India relations, then, has not paid significant dividends for New Delhi vis-a-vis its concerns about the neighbourhood. Indeed, the policy of excessive reliance on the US has undercut India's own position. As the US prepares to start pulling out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, Pakistan will become increasingly important to its interests in the region. In such scenario, the Americans will be rather chary of offending Islamabad in order to please New Delhi. They will expect that their improving ties with both countries will give them sufficient clout to prevent any future crisis from boiling over.


The realistic course for India is to stop outsourcing to the US its policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan. To be sure, America will continue to be a major player in the region. But it is time New Delhi started thinking creatively about changing the rules of the game.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








That West Bengal's chief minister has seldom sounded credible in recent months is confirmed when he expects the assembly and people outside to believe that, after all that has happened in recent times, the law and order situation in the state is better than in Maharashtra and Delhi. Obviously, it is his duty to ensure that the Centre's concern, despite fervent appeals by Mamata Banerjee, stops short of direct intervention. That was one reason why the state machinery was used to scuttle the Central team's mission in making an on-the-spot study of the unending violence in Hooghly and to restrict it to holding infructuous meetings at Writers' Buildings. If there is a lot to be concealed, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee does so by trotting out figures that are revealing in themselves. There is no irony more cruel than the claim that despite a total of nearly 2,000 deaths by an official count since January, the law and order situation is not as alarming as the opposition suggests. It is equally pathetic that the chief minister keeps harping on a grand alliance between the Maoists and Trinamul that does not go beyond campaign speeches. His claims of having clinching proof of the nexus appear barren when he makes a statement in the assembly based on "meetings'' supposed to have been held in West Midnapore without providing any other proof that he may have in his possession. Nor can he explain why the state's home secretary sings a different tune when he is under pressure to expose the nexus.

As minister in charge of the police department, it does Mr Bhattacharjee no good to complain about shortage of policemen, a handicap he himself could have dealt with effectively. It would have made more sense to explain why the Maoist influence persists in Junglemahal despite all that the state government claims to have done to provide land to tribals, include the poor in the BPL lists and provide scholarships to tribal students. Nor can he explain why the central forces with the help of the state police have made practically no impression. In other parts where clashes are a daily menace, there is no proof that the police are acting on orders not to look at political colours. Positive signals meant for public consumption are pointless when the police proceed to act on orders from the right political quarters. Mr Bhattacharjee can hope to be believed if he can rise above stereotyped posturing instead of seeking refuge in figures, excuses and charges against the opposition to explain away his government's pathetic failure on the law and order front. The credibility gap that persists is rooted in non-performance.







Visva-Bharati's Rabindra Bhavan, mired all too frequently in disgraceful controversies, is in the news again and at a celebratory juncture for salubrious Santiniketan. It has cut a sorry figure in the season of Pous Mela that was inaugurated with the ritualistic pirouetting on Wednesday. The song-and-dance is merely a facade for the underbelly. If adverse developments are deemed as "private information" and the museum's special officer is showcaused for briefing the media, there is life yet in the debate whether this Central university is entitled to invoke Tagore's legacy at every turn. Whose privacy is it trying to ensure? This bit of "private information" pertains to a swindle ~ the lending out of paintings and archival images free of cost or at reduced rates or, far worse, in return for blank cheques. It is this tendency of the university authorities to keep unseemly matters under the hat that compounds the scandal that was exposed by this newspaper in May. While action has been taken against the whistle-blower, an inquiry is yet to be commissioned despite the directive from the PMO to a meditative Vice-Chancellor.

The image of the university, such as it is, gets further tarnished by the authorities' failure to settle what is essentially a union issue. Rabindra Bhavan, a major tourist attraction, will for the first time be closed for the duration of the Pous Mela ~ another travesty of the flaunted legacy. And the fact of the matter can scarcely be airbrushed by citing the security factor. It might be a mite embarrassing for the university to admit that the closure has been ordered in the face of the Karmi Sabha's demand for a hike in the honorarium for the four days of the mela. The muscle-flexing of the employees' association is in parallel with the increasing wimpishness of the university authorities. Barely two months ago, it had shut down the campus to fight its battles with the VC, a stalemate that necessitated the intervention of the Prime Minister. The mela and the university stand blighted with the closure of Rabindra Bhavan. A euphemism for a lockout? Perhaps.







Whether it is a police chief intervening on behalf of money power to break up a wedding in Kolkata or someone of similar rank driving a teenage girl to take her own life, it is the same story of men in unform bent on criminal misuse of official positions. That the law has finally caught up with a retired director-general of police in Haryana who had been charged with molesting the girl back in 1990 and then, after an official complaint, using all possible means to harass the family is small consolation for a crime that prompts the ordinary citizen to lose all faith in the system. This may well be another case of justice so pathetically delayed that it may or may not encourage family and friends to sustain fights that are so unequal. The culprit has found shelter in the letter of the law that has, two decades later, handed down a sentence of six months' imprisonment and allowed discharge on bail while an appeal is filed. That does not remove the fears with regard to the recurring menace of muscle flexing by those in power, often to cover up a horrendous crime. It also does not address the issue of safety at the hands of those who are themselves expected to be protectors of the law.

It is not surprising that when such shocking facts emerge, those at the helm of affairs go into a shell unless provoked by the media. There are just too many skeletons in the cupboard. It is equally unfortunate this invariably turns into a gender issue. Social activists emphasise the helplessness of the family that sees an internal inquiry being virtually ignored and the accused being rewarded with plum postings till his retirement in 2002. If the safety of young women ~ in this case a girl aspiring to be a tennis player but running into the trauma of male-dominated evils ~ remains a major concern, the larger question is whether the system has been damaged beyond repair. Just like the tainted powers destined to rule because there is nothing to stop them, there are the high and mighty who thrive on the loopholes and remain objects of fear. That the system has no answer to all this may be purely a myth. It is more likely that the political leadership does not have the will to think of real reforms.








Persons with long memories will not be too surprised by the final turn of events at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. More than once, a major international conference of comparable size and complexity has been mired in dispute until the last moment, the delegates apparently stuck and unable to resolve their differences. The humble footsoldiers in their conference rooms would have started the fray, trying to reconcile widely disparate national positions through long, gruelling hours of discussion and dispute. As they falter, more senior delegates try their hand, to not much greater avail. Then, ministers are brought in, and with them an injection of political thinking; also a capacity to move from cherished but narrowly held positions in a bid for consensus. But even so, as became very visible at Copenhagen, ministers have their limits, and only the Heads can take the final steps. Only they can walk away from what their own representatives have been fiercely advocating, or come to an assessment of what they must have and what they can do without. As in Copenhagen, they can push through a collective victory of sorts by abandoning bits of what had earlier seemed ineluctable, and then depart from the scene, leaving the toilers to pick up after them. It is a reminder that ultimately a conference like the one just concluded is an exercise in political realism, and only those who wield ultimate authority can take the final call.

Many missing links

AS the dust settles, the first concern about Copenhagen is to figure out just what was agreed. The conference outcome is a massive text, and much of it passed through without divisive debate. But there are many missing links, which is where the problems lie. For one, Copenhagen produced no legally binding document, something that many participants regarded as a sine qua non, with binding commitments in respect of both carbon emissions and fund transfers.

On another key matter, the text recognizes the need to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade though some experts feel the feebleness of the agreed measures points to something closer to the much more dangerous figure of 3 degrees. Regarding funds, $ 30 bn is to be transferred from advanced to developing countries over the next three years for mitigating the effects of climate change, and a figure of $100 bn is mentioned by the year 2020, though this is more an aspiration than a concrete commitment. Carbon markets are also inadequately treated, for it was hoped the conference would give a boost to ecologically sensitive countries like Bhutan, but this has not yet materialized.

Another difficult issue is that of international supervision of agreed measures to control emissions; here, a compromise has been reached with the decision that emerging countries are to monitor their own emissions and report every two years to the UN. And there is much more, for it is a vast and complicated text. What the Heads did at the end was to fashion some common ground on a few of the essentials; over the next year follow-up is to be done and details worked out in a further agreement.

Because so much is left unclear, on the whole the Copenhagen outcome has been received without enthusiasm. Those who pulled it off are of course inclined to be satisfied. But others are disenchanted, some severely so. A group of Latin American countries has been especially vocal, and one of them called the agreement 'a coup d'etat against the authority of the UN'. Many of the experts who have been engaged in discussing the issue for years have criticized the text for its inadequacy to meet the real challenge of climate change. No less discontented and angry are countries that felt marginalized by the negotiating process. Thus there may be a hard slog over the next twelve months as delegates try to complete the required follow-up agreement.
Remember, too, that there was no specific endorsement of the compromise worked out by the five major countries huddled together at the end ~ the Assembly went no further than taking note of the final document, which thus formally binds no one. Yet the weight of opinion is swinging towards the document which will no doubt come to be regarded as a quasi consensus text, even if it lacks formal endorsement.
The key actors in the final stages have attracted much attention, for they look like a new set of players on the international stage. The USA was there, of course, and with it a very prominent China; the others in the inner group being India, South Africa and Brazil, the newly designated 'BASIC' set of countries. Even the EU, normally at the centre of such events, and comprising some of the worst historic polluters, came on board only after the deed had been done. China was especially active before and during the conference. It had earlier been strongly aligned with the G-77 whose main demand was for enhanced resource flows from the rich polluting countries, to help them with the ravages of climate change.

The BASIC group

BUT when President Obama went to Beijing with Copenhagen looming ahead, a different note was sounded. China began to join in a renewed search for a compromise, and in this connection called a meeting of some major developing countries, the BASIC group. As they took stock, these countries appeared less adamant, so much so that India for one drew domestic criticism from many who felt it should stand firm come what may, for any change, it was feared, would mean loss of advantage obtained at earlier conferences in Kyoto and Bali. But there is no benefit to be gained from isolation on an issue like this, and it became more important for India to be flexible and take an active part in the shaping of the final consensus.

In the aftermath, there is much to weigh and assess. The G-77 is in disarray, with wide differences on display between its members. This had already been happening for some time but Copenhagen dramatized the distance between the large developing countries and the others. As it is, India and China have already become indispensable to the G-20, where they act not as representatives of the G-77 but as important factors in the global economy. They and other big developing countries have assumed a role in global management, and this is likely to have an impact on the reform of international institutions. From India's point of view, the endplay at Copenhagen was an important new manifestation of its growing international weight. India played its full part in framing the decision at Copenhagen, joining essential partners in taking responsibility and not leaving it to others. This could be the shape of things to come.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary







WASHINGTON, 23 DEC: Touchscreens are so yesterday. Remote controls? So last century. The future is controlling your devices with a simple wave of the hand.

It's called 3D gesture recognition and while it may not be in stores this Christmas a number of technology companies are promising that it will be by next year. Softkinetic, a Brussels-based software company, is one of the leaders in the gesture-control field and has teamed up with US semiconductor giant Texas Instruments and others to make this touchless vision of the future a reality. ~ AFP








The old order in the Bharatiya Janata Party is changing even though it has taken a very long time to change. The BJP, ever since it was formed, has been dominated by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani — some would argue that it has also been determined by their rivalry. Mr Vajpayee, the abler politician of the two, apparently tried to steer the BJP away from hardline Hindutva and the influence of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Ill health and age have kept him away from politics for some time. Mr Advani is more difficult to pin down since he once rode the tiger of Hindutva, got off it and tried to don the mantle of moderation. These changes in his position convinced no one, especially those that run the RSS. Mr Advani also showed a singular reluctance to hand over the baton to a younger generation despite the many reversals his party has suffered in the elections. This gave to the BJP a geriatric look. Fortunately, this has now changed with Sushma Swaraj becoming the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in place of Mr Advani. This change has gone hand-in-hand with Nitin Gadkari being made president of the BJP. It remains to be seen whether these changes are substantial or only at the level of personnel.


For any substantive change to take place within the BJP, it is necessary for the party to cut its umbilical link with the RSS. Since its inception, in spite of the valiant attempts of Mr Vajpayee, the BJP has been a kind of puppet with the puppeteers holding the strings in Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS. The latter, even when it did not decide all the policies of the BJP, actually held the ultimate veto in all matters. This state of affairs may not have radically altered with the appointments of Ms Swaraj and Mr Gadkari. In fact, there are reasons to suspect that these appointments have been made at the behest of Nagpur. The puppeteers may have chosen a different set of puppets. The challenge before the BJP is to fashion itself into a party that can claim to speak with a degree of credibility for all Indians and not just for a section of Hindus in north India. The vision of the RSS, if it continues to dominate the BJP, will not even allow a recognition of this challenge. The new leadership will have to exorcize, if it at all wants to, its internal demons before it can take on external enemies. Indian politics can be described as the maximization of the impossible but a return of the BJP may be a forlorn hope.







Blaming India for its domestic problems is an old ploy routinely used by Nepal's politicians. It should, therefore, not worry New Delhi too much that Prachanda, the country's former prime minister and leader of its Maoist party, is doing the same. But his latest complaint about India's "naked interference" in Nepal is both unfair and surprising. Prachanda and his comrades had no problem using New Delhi in order to strike a deal with other political parties in Nepal. The Maoist leader knows all about India's role in the peace process that ended their 13-year-long insurgency. If he is now singing a different tune, it only shows his desperation to regain control of Nepalese politics. Curiously, while blaming India for Nepal's domestic problems, the Maoist leader also wants to talk to India, rather than to the "puppet government" in Kathmandu. He seems to have no problem doing business with New Delhi only if he can benefit from it. But New Delhi cannot be interested in helping only the Maoists in Nepal. India's strategic interest is to ensure peace and stability in Nepal and not allow it to become the frontier of another great game. The Maoists, on the other hand, have no use for peace or democracy if it does not help them take power. This strategy threatens both the peace process and the future of multi-party democracy in Nepal.


Yet, there can be no peace in the Himalayan country unless the Maoists want it. Nobody denies that they are a major political force and that their cooperation is essential for the success of the peace process and the fledgling democracy. The Maoists have the power to stir violence or destabilize the political process. The manner in which they recently announced the formation of a dozen autonomous states suggests that they could undermine the election to the constituent assembly. Democracy in Nepal has no hope if the Maoist game is not defeated. It is primarily the responsibility of the people of Nepal and the country's two major democratic parties — the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — to ensure that the country does not end up with a one-party rule. New Delhi, too, should call the Maoists' bluff and do all it can to help multi-party democracy flourish in Nepal. A communist Nepal may be in China's interest, but it will add to India's security concerns in the east.









What is the distance between the masculine and feminine perspectives on romantic love? And is a bridge between these perspectives possible? Some time back, I came across a somewhat unusual romance that takes on these questions. This was no racy and entertaining dose of contemporary pop psychology, but an English translation of a 14th-century Italian text. But this piece of fiction probes, in ways surprisingly meaningful to us hundreds of years later, the feminine and masculine aspects of human nature. In the process, it also hints at what a complex androgynous narrative voice may sound like when it tells a story of love. The text is called The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta, and it was written by the medieval Italian writer, Giovanni Boccaccio.


Boccaccio is best known for his grand framed narrative, The Decameron, a collection of a 100 loosely linked

tales told by 10 Florentine aristocrats. These young people, three men and seven women, have taken refuge for 10 days in a villa outside the walls of Florence because the city is being ravaged by the Black Death. The killer disease has a powerful presence in the work; The Decameron begins with a description of the plague, and throughout the 100 tales, there are references to the physical, social and psychological effects of living cheek by jowl with death, of the fear of death, and of the constant anticipation of death. But despite this grim recurring motif, The Decameron contains stories that range from the bawdy to the erotic to the tragic.


One of the seven women partaking of this story-feast is called Fiammetta; and one of the young men is called Panfilo. Boccaccio himself noted that the names he gave his storytellers matched the qualities of the characters. Fiammetta means "small flame"; Panfilo means "completely in love". It's interesting to keep this in mind because both play the main roles in The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta, a very different sort of work from The Decameron.


What these two completely different literary creations have in common, however, is a remarkable humanist in the author. Boccaccio's creative use of intricate structure and language, of fantasy and grotesque — as well as introspection — made him a quiet rebel pushing the boundaries of the accepted literary tradition of his time. His secular interests and relentless probing of the laws of nature gave his work what seems to us a startling 'modern' tone. And The Elegy of Lady Fiammetta, in particular, seems to treat its subject matter — the love of a woman for a man — using that peculiarly modern take, the psychological approach. In fact, this romance is something of a milestone in feminist literature. Though written by a man, the narrator's voice belongs, consciously and deliberately, to a woman; and her narrative could arguably be viewed as one of the first psychological novels in a modern language. At the same time, it is an innovative piece of narrative, a sort of precursor of stream-of-consciousness fiction.


Lady Fiammetta, the first-person narrator and protagonist of the Elegy, recounts a story of love in which she is both betrayer and betrayed. While married to a loving husband, Fiammetta falls in love with the handsome young foreigner, Panfilo. The two, driven by irresistible passion, become lovers. But as in most love stories, this bliss is short-lived. Panfilo returns to his native land to look after his old father, promising to be back. He fails to keep his promise, and Fiammetta, in the sections that form the heart of the narrative, describes her longings, anguish and despair. Her myriad contradictory sentiments drive her to desperation and to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Fiammetta finally resolves to seek out her lover in his native land. So determined is she that she manages to get her husband to promise his help, disguising, of course, her true intent from him.


This is the bald story. But it is the way in which the story is told that makes the narrator's voice so unique. What, Fiammetta seems to be asking throughout, is this strange thing called love, and what is its power? Using herself as the subject, she attempts an answer to this question — for instance, by making use of a dream and its ability to hold complexities of meaning. "The gods made the future clear to me," she says, "by means of a revealing vision." In the first part of this dream, she wanders about a field, singing to herself, as she gathers flowers to weave a garland. In the second part of the dream, she lies down to rest where the grass is thickest. At this sensuous moment, when both she and the reader can almost feel the damp lushness against her skin, a serpent seems to bite her under her left breast. The snake's bite burns her; still she feels the need to hold the snake in place against her breast. When the snake lets go of her — having swallowed much of her blood — it leaves her breast against her will. Even stranger, it takes her "spirit" with it, so that the clear day grows cloudy; she can feel turbulence both inside her and around her.


The narrative strategy of the Elegy is also noteworthy for the multiplicity of voices submerged within a single woman. To begin with, it is written by a male pretending, indeed determined, to be the intimate first-person voice of a woman. Then Fiammetta announces that she is addressing an exclusively female audience, making an indictment of men as both readers and lovers. Of course, this rejection of men cannot be taken literally. It only adds an edge to the three sets of relationships informing the structure of the work: that between the two lovers in the story; that between Fiammetta the protagonist and Fiammetta the narrator; and that between Fiammetta the protagonist and Boccaccio the narrator.


One possible reading of this composite voice is that, to explore certain aspects of love, the man has to shed the male stereotype and assume a more female persona — to "feel with a woman's heart" the entire emotional range that reduces a lover like Fiammetta to a state of vulnerability. Another possible reading is that Fiammetta is part of the male exercise of imagining the ideal woman. Scholars have suggested that as the idealized lady of one of the three great writers of the early Italian Renaissance, Fiammetta may be more "real" to us than her predecessor, Dante's Beatrice, or her contemporary, Petrarch's Laura. Part of the reason for this is that in a work like the Elegy, the woman is, in a sense, allowed to speak for herself in what could well be "her own voice". Modern readers and critics could possibly view Fiammetta as a pathetic victim of male cruelty, an irresponsible fool, a sophisticated, cunning, and wholly disingenuous female, or a bold and passionate woman. But whatever the judgment of her obsessive quest for love, Fiammetta stands out among imagined medieval women. Through her, the Elegy becomes a psychological exercise through which a woman acquires an awareness of her distinct identity as a complex voice that holds not only the feminine, but also the androgynous.








This is the ultimate in outsourcing! A young woman hired someone to thwart the demolition squads that were to descend on their year-old eatery in Beijing. Ten persons responded to her advertisement for a human 'nail' — so called because the homes of those who resist demolition stick out like nails in a bulldozed neighbourhood. Of the four who were interviewed, a 48-year-old was chosen because of his USP — he was a former construction contractor himself. So now for 1,000 yuan and 2 per cent of the compensation, he stands on duty 24/7 outside the eatery, and plans to set off gas cylinders if nothing else stops the bulldozers.


Demolition squads have had to face Molotov cocktails and gasoline bottles from desperate home-owners, one of whom set herself on fire on the terrace of her home as the bulldozers wrecked it below. That incident, reported in the last column, has shaken the country because it was telecast on CCTV. Five law professors of Peking University have written an open letter to lawmakers, calling for the abolition or at least a review of the Housing Demolition and Relocation Management Regulation that allows the government to raze down private property.


One legislator declared that after the law protecting private property came into force in 2007, all demolitions by governments have been illegal. But, he added, provincial governments were unlikely to stop using the demolition regulation because they make money by selling the land to developers, leaving the latter to deal with protests. It's not only the poor who have to face bulldozers. Take the NRI couple, US green-card holders, who came down to Beijing when they heard that their ancestral home was on the block. The demolition squad dragged out the husband's paralysed mother and his wife, clad in pyjamas. The husband poured gasoline on himself, threatening to light up if they went any further. "Go ahead," the squad told him.



Today, his 81-year-old mother lies in one hospital; he lies in another with 10 per cent burns; his documents, jewellery gone, along with his home. "The Beijing municipal government plans to demolish 50 villages inside the city next year to solve so-called security and health problems in these areas," reports the official China Daily. It's not simply a question of compensation. The NRI couple was offered three apartments and 640,000 yuan in exchange; but they didn't want to give up their childhood home built by their parents. The woman who hired a 'nail' spent 600,000 yuan on the eatery which opened only last year; much of this came from selling the flat which her parents had bought for her. "The restaurant contains the savings from two generations of my family," she said. Besides, she had a three-year contract with the landlord. But he shrugged off his responsibility, saying his land had been acquired by the government.


There's also the cruelty of the demolishers, who belong to demolition companies hired by builders. Last month, in Yunnan, a 29-year-old man rushed to defend his fiancée's mother who was being slapped by the demolition men when she protested. He was beaten so badly that he died 15 days later. In March, a similar sight — demolition men slapping his wife — so enraged a 27-year-old villager that he stabbed one of the men to death. After a year in jail, he was given probation. His home, like all the others in his village, was being razed to build villas.


Where earlier, such incidents were only reported on the internet, of late, the official media have been highlighting them. China Daily's year-end list of "Top ten real estate debacles", has five incidents of individual protests against demolition squads. The government too has responded. The Beijing professors who wrote the open letter were called for a meeting. But, as an edit in China Daily asks, will this be the end of the matter?







The inadequacy of Barack Obama's Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy stems from the exigencies of the calendar of the next presidential elections in America, writes Kanwal Sibal


The striking thing about Barack Obama's new policy initiative on Afghanistan and Pakistan announced on December 1 is how little in it is actually new. It re-states the problem in known terms and the proposed way forward treads old ground. This is surprising, as the president spent an enormous amount of time to examine his options, to the point of being accused of dithering, and knew that the implications of the new course he would choose would matter greatly. Something more assuring, resolute and purposeful should have therefore emerged from the review, not the circumspect, compromising and half-hearted agenda that has surfaced.


The decision to adhere to the broad contours of existing policy — namely, combat the Taliban insurgency and reverse its momentum, deny safe havens to al Qaida in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, strengthen the capacity of the Afghan army and police and progressively transfer security responsibilities to them, induce Pakistan to act against terrorist groups operating from its soil that have now begun to threaten the Pakistani people themselves, and reward it militarily and economically for its cooperation with the United States of America — suggests that the intensive review undertaken by Obama threw up no other practical alternative. This policy has not produced the intended results so far, but the US proposes to persevere with it, nonetheless.


In March 2009, Obama had agreed to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to make up for the relative neglect of the war during the Bush presidency. The overall strategy then announced, with some confidence, was not too different in concept from the one announced now. But it hasn't worked, with the president himself acknowledging that the situation in Afghanistan has actually deteriorated. Because more American ground presence is needed, General McChrystal had asked for 40,000 additional troops. The president has reduced the figure to 30,000, aware of the growing unpopularity of the war and the reluctance of the US public to sacrifice more American lives in Afghanistan. This obliged him to recall at some length in his speech at West Point the reasons for US involvement in the first place. That he needed to educate the Americans on this after eight years of presence in Afghanistan shows the size of the gap that has developed between the public and the administration on the raison d'être of this war.


The US clearly finds itself in a bind. If it does what it must do in the light of the importance it has itself attached to this "war of necessity", then it has to make a longer-term political, military and economic commitment to Afghanistan.


The president has categorically rejected this course as "it would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade" and because "it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests". "America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan," he said, a startling public admission that the Afghan intervention has run aground, with no hope of success.


Obama has thus deliberately lowered his sights in Afghanistan, as well as the stakes involved there for the US, in order to justify an early withdrawal from the country. "I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests," he said — another remarkable acknowledgment of its reduced political, military and economic capacity by the world's most powerful country, and its inability to shape as it desires even the regional, not to mention the global, order any more.


To believe that even the scaled-down Afghan agenda of Obama can be successfully completed in 18 months is to stretch credulity. It is most doubtful that the Afghan security forces can be trained and suitably armed to allow the planned transfer of responsibility from the US troops and the International Security Assistance Force to them in this short time-frame. If the strategy is to "secure key population centres", how will the objective of developing, for instance, agriculture "that can make an immediate impact on the lives of the Afghan people" be realized? Will the civilian surge be confined to the major cities too? Yet, Obama has announced that after 18 months — by July, 2011— the US troops will begin to come home. That he should mention this time-line of withdrawal three times in his speech reflects his anxiety to balance the surge with a timetable for beginning the process of exiting from Aghanistan.


The West, and Obama himself, by denigrating President Hamid Karzai politically for his incompetence and launching broadsides against his fraudulent re-election, have further weakened his capacity to govern. He seems no longer central to US plans to create local conditions for the planned withdrawal as support to him will be performance based. "We will support Afghan ministries, governors and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people," says Obama, signalling an intention to work independently of Karzai and, indeed, set up a parallel authority to the Afghan government to achieve the desired progress on the ground. If the US does not want to be seen as an occupation force, this would hardly be the best way to avoid being castigated as such.


What would be worrying for India is Obama's declaration that the US will "support efforts by the Afghan

government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens". This is really mumbo-jumbo as the Taliban are defending Islam, are wedded to jihad to achieve political ends, and their concept of human rights is based on religious, not constitutional, texts. It is instructive that nowhere in his speech Obama even once refers to "religious extremists" or "religious radicals". The war against the Taliban cannot be won by obscuring their true nature. Karzai has again expressed his willingness to talk to the vandal, Mullah Omar, the destroyer of the Bamiyan Buddhas, although the tiger the Afghan president wants to ride will first devour him. The willingness of the West to live with the obscurantist religious ideology of the Taliban so long as it is not anti-West shows again its penchant to make unprincipled compromises irrespective of regional consequences.


The US's partnership with Pakistan, promised again by Obama, has not yielded the results sought for eight years now, despite the showering of massive military and economic largesse on the country by the Americans. Assurances of support for Pakistan's security and prosperity on a longer-term basis will not make the Pakistanis amenable to fundamentally re-orienting their policies towards Afghanistan and their ambitions there, not to mention those vis-à-vis India. The signal that the US "cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known" suggests a hardening of tone towards Pakistan's ambiguity in dealing with the Afghan Taliban, but it is doubtful if the US will take unilateral action as that could complicate Obama's entire strategy of ensuring Pakistani cooperation and exiting from Afghanistan.


The inadequacy of the freshly announced Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy stems not from a flawed understanding of the situation on the ground, but from the exigencies of the calendar of the next US presidential elections. Obama must win even if the US loses in Afghanistan.


The author is former foreign secretary of India









The six-month jail term given by a Chandigarh court to a Haryana top cop guilty of molesting a teenager who subsequently committed suicide is an instance of too little, too late. Ruchika, a 14-year-old girl was molested by DGP, S P S Rathore. She and her family were intimidated by goons unleashed by Rathore, pushing the girl to take her life three years later. It has taken the court 19 years to deliver a verdict in the case. This is shameful delay. And adding insult to the injury is the small punishment given to Rathore. He has gotten away with a mere rap on the knuckles. Rathore not only molested the girl but he used his powers as a senior police officer to threaten her for three years, driving her to suicide. The crime for which he was convicted comes with a maximum punishment of up to two years. Yet the court has let him get away with a mere six-month jail term. As galling as the sentence is the huge delay on the part of the courts in delivering a verdict. Rathore used every trick in the book to put off hearings. The case was shifted from one court to another.

Rathore's crime did not end with the molesting. It continued with his using his power and position to intimidate not only Ruchika and her family but her friend, Aradhana who pursued the case to its end. One would have expected the state to restrain him from using influence and intimidating the witnesses. Instead, the government rewarded him during this period with repeated promotions, even as the case against him was pending.

Few women victims of sexual crimes are willing to file charges and pursue the case through court because they want to avoid the harassment and humiliation that a trial often means in this country. This is especially so when the assailant is a powerful cop. If Rathore has been convicted today, this is not because of India's judiciary but because a young woman was determined to see justice done. Aradhana's courage and tenacity saw her pursue the case. But to see justice done should not require people to put their lives at risk. Witnesses need protection especially when they are deposing in cases against the rich and powerful. Fast track courts are urgently required. Corruption and delays are eating into our judicial system. The rot should be removed.








A white paper tabled by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee before parliament says that the Indian Railways in the 2004-09 period was not quite in the pink of health as was thought to be. It appears that the profits that the railways claimed during those years were grossly overstated. The period the white paper refers to is when Lalu Prasad Yadav was railway minister. The railways had a cumulative cash surplus in this period of only Rs 39,412 crore against the Rs 88,669 crore claimed by Yadav. The five-year-period that the white paper refers to was widely believed to be among the most financially successful for the railways. Yadav received praise for having played a huge role in its turnaround. His administration of the railways was held up as a model. It was studied by some of the top management schools in India and abroad. Now it seems that it was not the golden period after all. The white paper pegs losses in passenger operations alone at Rs 14,000 crore.

It is said that the inflated profits referred to are not so much the result of cooking up numbers as it was because of the accounting tools used by the ministry in 2004-09. Still, at a time when the role of accountants in bloating profit margins to suggest financial wellbeing is under the scanner thanks to the fraud perpetuated by Satyam Computers' CEO Ramalinga Raju, the poor financial health of the railways as reported by the white paper raises important questions. It underscores the need for the railways to cast their accounts in a manner that is more transparent and easily understood by the public at large.

It is hard to dispel the feeling that the white paper came in handy in the railway minister's game of one-upmanship vis-a-vis her predecessor and political rival, Yadav. She has used the finding that profits were inflated under his stewardship of the railway ministry to score points against him. Hopefully, she will use the white paper for more than taking pot shots at her rivals. The document has important issues that merit the minister's concern and action. Cleaning up accounting procedures is important not only to improve the Indian Railways' profits but also, its financial well-being is important for the quality of services it provides and the safety standards it maintains.








The way to hell, we are told, is paved with good intentions. It appears that some such folly has been committed with regard to reservations policy that is far from practical realities and initiated purely as part of populist measures.

The Rangnath Mishra Commission report on minorities' welfare was tabled in parliament this session as declared by prime minister Manmohan Singh. Be it SCs, STs, OBCs, Muslim Dalits or other so-called minorities for that matter, reservations are a menace for the entire system.


A look at the reservations policy over the decades shows that it has been a rather inefficient model because it was not accompanied by expansion of educational and job opportunities. The remedy does not lie in perpetuating reservations but in finding a more effective way of opening up opportunities for all.

Reservations will not help Muslims. Rather they must gear up for measures such as telling the government to open more schools in their areas than the police stations. Instead of fighting over smaller slices of a small pie of national income, what is needed is the expansion of the national pie which would help everyone to get their rightful and bigger share of the slice. The oppressed and the marginalised people need expansion of opportunities rather than favours from the state.

Delete the words

The case against reservations needs to be made on behalf of those who are supposed to benefit from it. If people say that there is a case for reservation after decades of a positive discrimination policy, there is a need to question the efficacy of affirmative action as such. As a law abiding Indian Muslim, I feel that words such as reservation, minority, majority be deleted from the Indian Constitution in the context of quotas based on caste or religion.

I want the minorities to have an honourable place by having to stop looking at charity in the form of quota and accept the challenge of a competitive life. It's only some politically motivated scholars who are in favour of reservations, for they want the Indian Muslim community to go in with the begging bowl rather than to compete and make a dent in the field of merit.

Those advocating Muslims' reservations must note that ostrich mentality is never going to help Muslims. If they accept quotas, whatever merit we see today, too will vanish as nobody would like to work hard and compete.
It would be worth examining what the founding fathers say about reservations. Interestingly, Sardar Patel did vehemently support the charter of providing political safeguards to the minorities according to articles 292 and 294 of the Draft Constitution but five leaders out of seven, namely Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifzur Rehman, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Hussainbhoy Laljee and Tajammul Hussain opposed.

Fact remains and history has proved that reservations on communal lines are not in the interest of national unity and integrity as it might start a chain reaction among other religious groups as well.

Jawaharlal Nehru, while addressing on democratisation in an important session of the Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949, said, "If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it... May be, you protect it to a slight extent but at what cost — at the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current."
The declaration by Salman Khurshid, minister for minority affairs that the government would bring in reservation within six months sounds merely a lip-service. A similar promise was made by his predecessor A R Antulay who had assured a complete educational, economic and social overhaul of the beleaguered Muslim community in the light of the Sachar Committee report. It remains to be fulfiled till date.

Misuse of quota

The problem with this kind of lop-sided reservation is that the real beneficiaries of reservation may be the economically well-off 'backward community' members, who generation after generation reap the benefits at the expense of the real needy from the general sections as has been seen in the case of the 22.5 per cent quotas in the institutions of higher education like the IIMs, IITs, etc. The government needs to put a stop to such abuses.

The nomenclature minority in India is a misnomer. It is time that we Indians give up this ghettoised minority-majority mindset. Voices of reason demand that educational standards and qualifications should be uniform, whatever the language, religion or region. The need of the hour is to follow the UN definition of minority to begin with and remove those groups in each state where they exceed 10 per cent.

So far as the Muslim community is concerned, the reservations process will be wrought with imperfections as the community is divided into umpteen castes and sub-castes, a system that has percolated in them through their Hindu neighbourhoods. Muslims have four major caste divisions, namely — Ashraf at the top (Syed, Sheikh, Mughal and Pathan), Atraj, the second rung (Rajput, Tyagi, Thakur, Jaat, etc), Azrab, the third rung (Julahe, Kunjre, Darzi, Mirasi, Qasab, Naiee, Mahigir, etc) and Azlab, at the lowest rung (Halalkhor, Chamar, Lalbezi, etc).

Frankly speaking the government is opening a Pandora's box of the kind that we had seen during the Mandal Commission time and let it realise now, lest the general category becomes a minority and asks for its share!
(The writer is a commentator on social and educational issues)








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."








Whatever the political wisdom of the government's decision to deepen the Jewish presence in Jerusalem's Holy Basin surrounding the Old City, including Arab neighborhoods such as Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and Jabal Mukabar, from time to time the policy violates the rule of law.


One instance concerns Beit Yehonatan, a seven-story building constructed by the Ateret Cohanim organization in a densely populated area of Silwan, located below the Old City's southern wall.


Ateret Cohanim, which for many years focused on Jewish settlement in the Muslem quarter of the Old City, has in recent years become one of two religious nationalist organizations, along with Elad, which has been trying to increase the Jewish presence in Silwan.


While Elad has concentrated Jewish settlement in the historic City of David, which includes about 5.5 percent of Silwan's land area and 8.3 percent of its population, Ateret Cohanim has tried to build or purchase homes wherever possible. Thus, Beit Yehonatan is not located in the City of David.


Ateret Cohanim purchased the land legally. However, it erected the seven-story structure, now occupied by seven Jewish families, without a permit.


There was no way it could obtain a permit for the building it had in mind because, in 1976, a town planning scheme entitled Eastern City Plan 9 (AM/9) was approved, designating the area including Silwan a "special public area" where all residential building was prohibited except with special permission. Even before that, Silwan residents could not build houses of more than two stories.


The municipality issued orders to evacuate the occupants of the building and seal it up. The occupants appealed, and since then, the case has been in every echelon of the judicial system. Every court decision has backed the order to seal the building. The final ruling was handed down in July 2008 and upheld in appeal by Jerusalem District Court.


Nevertheless, despite the fact that the court issued an "active order," that is, one calling for immediate implementation, it has not been carried out, even though the Jerusalem Municipality's own legal adviser, Yossi Habilio, has insisted that the city do so without delay.


The impending threat to Beit Yehonatan has galvanized some right-wing MKs into what they believe could be a last ditch effort to stay the order. Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), Zeev Elkin and Yariv Levin (Likud) and Uri Ariel (National Union) all filed urgent motions to discuss the matter. The first of two meetings was held in the Knesset Law Committee on December 13. The second will be held on January 4.


The MKs could not justify their insistence that Beit Yehonatan be spared on legal grounds. Instead, they accused Habilio of discriminating against the Jewish violators of the planning law in favor of Arab violators. They pointed out that there are some 300 orders against illegal construction by Arabs in Silwan. They did not point out that the Arabs have been unable to build legally since AM/9 went into effect 33 years ago.


While the other MKs accused Habilio or Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz of discriminating against Ateret Cohanim, Orlev charged that they were distorting the law and using it to achieve political aims. "They are following a political agenda," warned Orlev, adding ominously. "We will make order and put the law authorities in their place."


JERUSALEM MAYOR Nir Barkat is pushing for a plan that would enable everyone in a designated area of Silwan, including the City of David and Beit Yehonatan, to build up to four stories. That would retroactively legalize much of the illegal Arab construction in the village as well as at least four of Beit Yehonatan's seven stories.


However, no one can say when the plan will be given final approval. In the meantime, the city has ignored an urgent court order for 17 months.


Israel extended sovereignty throughout an expanded municipal Jerusalem after the Six Day War, and there is wide support in Israel for maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the Holy Basin. That interest can only be advanced by upholding the rule of law, and only undermined by trampling all over it. Beit Yehonatan is a glaring case in point.








Whether or not Hamas agrees to free Gilad Schalit, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made them the right offer this week. He made the right decision on where to concede and where to draw the red line.


Israel has to be prepared to go many, many extra miles to bring Schalit home, but there's one place it can't go: It can't place Israelis-at-large at high risk of getting killed in the not-too-distant future. And that's what would happen if 100-odd accomplished, committed political killers were released to the West Bank as Hamas demands.


To those who say there are already so many terrorists and potential terrorists loose in the West Bank that another 100 or so won't make a difference, I say that's being willfully blind. With the West Bank more peaceful now than it's been in over 20 years, it's unreasonable to say that throwing 100-plus triumphant mass killers onto the streets would make no difference to the Israeli public's near-term security. It would make a very big difference. It would risk a return to the days of bus bombings, of another bloody destabilization of life in Israel and the West Bank.


That can't happen. No prime minister has the right to take such a gamble with the public's basic safety, not even for the sake of freeing a soldier who's already spent three-and-a-half years in a Hamas cell.


YET THE danger would be largely neutralized if, as Netanyahu insists, the most dangerous prisoners were deported to the Gaza Strip or elsewhere. You don't need accomplished terrorists to fire rockets at Israel, which is the threat coming from Gaza now, and if we get into another full-scale war over there, another 100 or so experienced killers on the battlefield really wouldn't make that much of a difference. At any rate, it wouldn't make enough of a difference - in a war that may not happen anyway - to pass up the chance of getting Schalit back now.


To those who say deportation is futile, that these seasoned, well-connected operators will find ways to infiltrate back into the West Bank, I say it's about time Israelis learned that the West Bank is not what it used to be. Between the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas has been all but broken as a terrorist organization over there. Whatever the attitude of the Palestinian man on the street, the attitude and actions of the IDF and PA have turned the West Bank into hostile territory for killers who won't put down their weapons. Thousands of Hamasniks have been killed or arrested there over the past two and a half years; it's pretty safe to assume that the released prisoners whom Israel wants to keep out of the West Bank would be kept out.


This is the condition Netanyahu demanded in return for the release of close to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, nearly half of whom have "blood on their hands," and this is what persuaded some high-level opponents of the deal, such as Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, to support it.


Not to put myself on that level, of course, but it was the deportation clause demand that persuaded me, too. Like a lot of people, I've been going back and forth on the Schalit dilemma. I've always thought Israel should do just about anything to win his release, except put the lives of innocent Israelis in proximate danger.


But over the past year, when it seemed that the main sticking point was the number of killers to be freed, and that Israel was ready to release about 75% of the names on Hamas's list - even to the West Bank - I figured that since the country's leadership was already tacitly committed to risking Israeli lives to get Schalit back, there was little left to lose. So why not just give Hamas their 100% and gain Schalit's freedom before it's too late and he becomes another Ron Arad?


And then I changed my mind again - commitment or no, three-and-a-half years of negotiations or no, national hysteria or no, nothing justified endangering Israeli lives like this deal was going to do.


BUT THIS week, when Netanyahu agreed to release the killers, but not to the West Bank, he cut the Gordian knot.


He told an organization of terror victims: "I'm faced with two vital principles: the desire to redeem captives and the desire to defend Israeli citizens from future attacks." I'd say he's balanced those two principles about as well as they can be in this terrible affair, and that earns him a tremendous amount of credit.


There are, of course, many people who don't want to release imprisoned killers no matter where they're sent to. They say it will provide incentive for more kidnappings, will be a great "victory for terror."


I don't think these arguments stand up. If Palestinian guerrillas see no point in holding Israeli prisoners, they'll stop trying to capture them and just kill them instead, like they did two of Schalit's IDF comrades in the attack on June 25, 2006. Would that be an improvement?


And as far as victories for terror go, yes, this will be one, but it's a small battle in a huge, long war that Israel is fighting full-time. This was has seen countless Israeli victories and will see countless more. We can afford to concede a small victory for the sake of freeing the one Israeli captive we know is still alive.


But let's be honest - if Hamas turns down Netanyahu's offer and the deal falls apart, that could be the end for Schalit. The insistence that Israel can have it both ways - that it can rescue him Entebbe-style or turn the screws on Gaza until Hamas coughs him up - is just a pipe dream. If the IDF could have rescued Schalit, it would have. And believe it or not, Israel has been turning the screws on Gaza really tight for three-and-a-half years and it's done no good.


If Hamas stands by its refusal to accept the deportation of so many "VIPs," Netanyahu should tell them "no deal." That may well doom Schalit to disappear into the darkness, and doom his family to a permanent hell of their own. Such consequences are evil, but they're a lesser evil than the violent deaths and maimings of untold numbers of Israelis, which could very well be the consequence of releasing so many legendary terrorists into the West Bank.


And in the matter at hand, choosing the lesser of two evils is the most any Israeli prime minister can be expected to do.







Religious Zionists are confronted by an unenviable challenge which could permanently undermine their status in Israel. From being regarded by the mainstream as the voice of religious moderation and a force of societal unification - whose youth have earned the reputation as role models of devotion and dedication to the state and its defense - they are now teetering on marginalization at best, and stigmatized as zealots at worst.


The current impasse was an inevitable consequence of edicts issued by a number of rabbis proclaiming that forfeiture of territory in the Land of Israel constitutes a breach of Halacha. These rabbis refused to consider any exceptions to this decree - not even for pikuah nefesh, the requirement to safeguard human life, which overrides most halachic injunctions.


Nor were they willing to respect the authority of the majority of their rabbinical colleagues, who disagreed with their interpretation of Jewish law and also recognized the potential societal polarization it would create.


Indeed, such polarization came strongly to the fore in 2005, when former prime minister Ariel Sharon used IDF combat troops to implement the disengagement from Gaza. Among these were religious soldiers, many from settler families. That they were obliged to forcibly evacuate settlements naturally evoked bitterness and resentment. These emotions were subsequently compounded when it turned out that the whole endeavor only served to embolden the jihadists, who transformed the evacuated areas into missile-launching sites from which to attack Israeli civilians.


Now, a mere four years later, the settlement freeze has caused settlers to become apprehensive that another displacement is pending. It was in this context that small groups of hesder soldiers from the Shimshon and Nahshon battalions unfurled banners during military ceremonies proclaiming that they would never again take part in IDF evacuations of settlements.


They were jailed for insubordination.


Whereas most hesder rabbis and religious-Zionist spokesmen condemned or distanced themselves from these actions, a number of rabbis, headed by a rather unworldly Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, not only endorsed their actions but told students they would be breaching Halacha if they were to obey orders to evacuate settlements.


This led to hysterical media accusations against the entire hesder movement, and accusations that rabbis were taking over the IDF. Rabbis were even blamed for creating the climate for the recent desecration of the mosque in Yasuf, despite the fact that they were at the forefront of the nation's condemnation of that despicable vandalism.


In an attempt to stave off confrontation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave Rabbi Melamed every opportunity to backtrack with dignity. But Melamed rebuffed Barak's request for a meeting with undue arrogance, retorting: "I don't work for the defense minister." Fearing negative repercussions on army morale if he failed to act, Barak took the unprecedented step of severing the IDF relationship with Melamed's yeshiva. His response was to accuse Barak of "blood libeling." Regrettably, initially most hesder rabbis - including moderates - were reluctantly dragged into supporting Melamed. And more than 100 hesder yeshiva graduates announced that unless the army rescinded its decision to cut off the Har Bracha Yeshiva, they would refuse orders when called up for reserve duty. Now, belatedly, the rabbis have succeeded in pressuring Rabbi Melamed to withdraw his call on soldiers to disobey orders, but the damage has been done.


IN THE past, religious Zionists accepted the rulings of their rabbis on halachic questions, but refused to take instructions from them on social and political matters. This approach is now being challenged by an increasing number of rabbis, particularly in the hesder yeshivot.


However, the current debate is not as black and white as protagonists from both sides claim. Even IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has repeatedly affirmed that a conscripted army like the IDF, which is continuously engaged in wars and other violent confrontations with deadly terrorists, should not be used by the state as a vehicle for evacuating civilians from their homes.


In most countries such activities are clear-cut civil issues and it is the police or other state-controlled entity that are tasked with implementing such policies. That may be difficult or even impossible in Israel. But there is surely a lack of compassion in forcing soldiers who hail from settlements to forcibly evacuate neighbors, friends and even their own family members from homes which the state not only sanctioned but promoted until the moment that a political decision was made to unilaterally withdraw from them and hand them over to the Palestinians.


Furthermore, religious soldiers are not the first group of inappropriately named "refuseniks" to emerge from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor are their rabbis the first figures of moral and intellectual authority to call upon their "flocks" to disobey orders. Take, for example, the hundred or so university professors who exhorted their students to refuse to serve in the "army of the occupation." Even though rabbis undoubtedly carry greater weight with their students than professors, the double standard here is unmistakable. While no action was taken against universities for failing to take disciplinary action against such academics, Rabbi Melamed - who consistently remained adamant that his students serve in the IDF - was penalized for telling them to refuse to evacuate settlements.


This is not to suggest that there is room for sectarian militias in an army, certainly not in the IDF. In the absence of utter discipline, the military would be dysfunctional, to say the least, and the country endangered. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, "If you want to close down the IDF, then promote refusal to obey orders, which could lead to the collapse of the state."


Religious Zionists - whose children, including those in hesder institutions, have volunteered for combat units in numbers greatly disproportionate to their population - understand this all too well. This was evident by their reluctance, in spite of great anguish, to defy orders during disengagement. It is still evident today. The fact is that the vast majority of religious Zionists are pained and infuriated by the recent behavior of Melamed and other rabbis - behavior which has jeopardized their highly sensitive relationship with the state carefully nurtured over the years.


The onus to correct this rests on the religious-Zionist community as a whole. It is urgent for them to put their house in order.


This does not deny them their democratic right to oppose such actions. But they should do so by fighting the battle in the civil-political arena where it belongs. With this right, however, comes responsibility - that of publicly denouncing anyone, rabbis included, who encourages soldiers to espouse insubordination which could lead to chaos within the IDF.


This will require courage and determination, particularly by moderate religious-Zionist laymen. These represent the vast majority of religious Zionists whose commitment to the state is unconditional, but have hitherto lacked the backbone to resist, condemn and ostracize the extremists. They must do so now, before this hesder-IDF imbroglio spins out of control, endangering the entire religious-Zionist enterprise. This would represent a great loss not only for the IDF, but for the entire nation.








During the past week, Lebanon's president went to Washington and its prime minister to Damascus - journeys that marked Syria's return to power in Lebanon less than five years after its humiliating withdrawal.


Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who led he 2005 Cedar Revolution which helped end 29 years of Syrian occupation, went to Damascus to "kiss the guys who killed his father," said an Israeli expert on Lebanon and Syria.


Hariri reportedly holds Syrian President Bashar Assad responsible for the assassination of his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in February 2005. The car bombing in downtown Beirut was believed to have been carried out by Hizbullah.


International outrage forced Syria's withdrawal and led to an international tribunal to investigate the murder. Syria steadfastly denies any involvement, and the inquiry drags on; Assad wants Hariri to stop the probe lest it get too close to Damascus.


In Washington, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman failed to persuade President Barack Obama to drop objections to Hizbullah's rearming, and instead "exert further pressure" on Israel to withdraw from disputed areas along its border with Lebanon. Suleiman acted "more like the Syrian ambassador than the Lebanese president," observed Farid Ghadry, the Washington-based head of the Reform Party of Syria.


Obama publicly told Suleiman he should enforce UN Resolution 1701 by disarming Hizbullah and halting its "extensive" arms smuggling, which poses "a threat to Israel." Suleiman disagreed, insisting that part of the resolution no longer applies to the militant group because it is a legitimate political party and part of Lebanon's government, which has authorized it to retain its weapons. The real threat, he told Obama, is from Israel.


THAT WAS the message out of Damascus as well. They know Washington won't buy that line, but it plays better with their home audience than the truth. The real enemy of Lebanon and Syria is Iran, which seeks to exploit them both for its own purposes, whatever the cost.


When he got the "invitation" to come to Damascus, Saad Hariri no doubt recalled his father's trip there a few months before his murder. Former Syrian vice president Abdul-Halim Khaddam has said Rafik Hariri was threatened in "extremely harsh words" by Assad that he would "crush" anyone who defied him.


Hariri may have been uncomfortable embracing the man he considers his father's killer, but "that is the price of political survival in a neighborhood dominated by the Syrian bully," said the Israeli expert. The Saudi-born billionaire, who inherited his father's political movement, went first to Riyadh to meet with Saudi King Abdullah, who is no great lover of the Assad family either but wants to improve relations with Syria and Lebanon because he's worried about Iran's influence over the two.


The Financial Times last week reported that a survey commissioned by Qatar's Doha Debates questioned more than 1,000 people in 18 Arab countries and found that most consider Iran a greater threat to their security than Israel. It also found 80 percent didn't believe Iran's insistence that it is not developing nuclear weapons.


Assad and Hariri declared their mutual respect and their strategic relationship to counter the Israeli threat, but Lebanese independence is an oxymoron. Although the two countries recently exchanged ambassadors for the first time in 60 years, it meant little; Syria still considers Lebanon a part of Greater Syria, not an independent sovereign neighbor. Hariri's summons to Damascus made that clear.


Assad's purpose was to remind Hariri who's the boss, and make sure the Lebanese government, and particularly its prime minister, won't press for the arrest and trial of those responsible for Rafik Hariri's assassination. After four years, the international tribunal still hasn't produced any indictments.


Analysts once predicted that Lebanon would be the second Arab country to make peace with Israel, but no longer. Indeed, with Hizbullah, Syria and Iran now calling the tune, it is more likely to be the last. Lebanon's big issue is not some minor territorial disputes but an overwhelming desire to see more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees leave. They remember the brutal state-within-a-state run by Yasser Arafat until he was driven out by Israel in 1982. Today those refugees, in a dozen large camps, are about 10% of the country's population, according to the UN. They have no social or civil rights, limited access to public health and education, and no access to public social services.


Suleiman unsuccessfully pressed Obama to endorse the full right of return for Palestinians even as Fatah leaders are privately talking token repatriation, with the bulk staying where they are or going to the Palestinian state.


The Israel-Lebanon border is relatively calm today, but Hizbullah has significantly upgraded and expanded its arsenal - with help from Syria, Iran and North Korea, among others - from pre-2006 war levels, and many feel another war is a matter of when, not if. Much may depend on when Iran decides to strike.


Syria pulled its military forces out of Lebanon four years ago, but its political reoccupation appears to be expanding and its control tightening. Saad Hariri knows the price of defying Bashar Assad.








It comes as no surprise that the 'culture wars' over Christmas being waged in other lands have hit Jerusalem.


The city and the Jewish National Fund have teamed up once again to spread a little holiday cheer among Jerusalem's Christians by distributing free Christmas trees. However, a group called the "Lobby for Jewish Values" began handing out fliers in Jerusalem condemning the Christmas holiday and warning restaurants and hotels that their kosher certificates could come under challenge if they put up Christmas trees and other "foolish symbols of Christianity."


The group's pamphlet also urged that Jews should "not give in to the clownish atmosphere of the end of the civil year."


Now we are grateful and even amazed that the city of Jerusalem and JNF provide free trees for this revered Christian holiday, and cannot condone such an antagonistic response to this act of goodwill. Yet I would concede that the commercialization of Christmas in America and elsewhere has gone overboard in recent decades. Sure it's meant to create a joyous, upbeat atmosphere, but the 'spirit' of Christmas has been turned into one of 'Give! Give! Give!' so we can 'Get! Get! Get!'


The secularization of Christmas is also robbing the season of its true meaning. It has now become okay to sing songs about Santa and his reindeer in American public schools, but not carols about Jesus and the redemption story told in his lowly birth.


EVEN MORE disturbing to me is the politicalization of Christmas by certain Arab Christian clerics here in the Holy Land, who invariably use the media spotlight during this holiday season to make radical political statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In the past, this has taken such forms as the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, reserving a front-row seat for the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat at Midnight Mass, conducted in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve, then leaving a symbolic keffiyah draped over Arafat's empty chair after his demise.


Thankfully, there is a new Latin Patriarch these days who is more balanced in his approach to the very complex conflict over the land, and less inclined to anti-Israel invective. But Sabbah and a small band of fellow Arab clerics are still seeking to grab the spotlight this year by releasing a provocative pro-Palestinian document just days before Christmas.


A year in the making, "Kairos Palestine 2009" is signed by Sabbah and several other local clerics such as Arab Orthodox priest Atallah Hanna, who has repeatedly upset the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate with his outrageous statements in support of Palestinian shahids (martyrs), as well as Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem Munib Younan, who has made repeated calls for the excommunication of Christians who support Israel.


Modeled after a similar "Kairos" document released in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the current version is merely part of an ongoing campaign to brand Israel an apartheid state and to push for divestment, dismantlement of the "separation wall," and other pro-Palestinian positions.


So far, the statement is not drawing the media attention hoped for, and rightfully so. It contains little new, and most of its signers are known anti-Israel voices. Nonetheless, for those of us who care about the plight of Palestinian Christians, "Kairos 2009" cannot be ignored. It is written "from the heart of Palestinian suffering," and no doubt there has been suffering deserving of our compassion. But like the vast majority of Palestinian propaganda, there is no admission in its pages that a large part of that wound is self-inflicted.


Oddly, there is not one clear reference to the two-state solution - the preferred option of most of the international community. Rather, the document speaks vaguely about Palestinian Christians being oppressed because "our country" is subjected to the dreadful and despised "Israeli occupation," thus suggesting that "Palestine" includes the entire land. There is also the whitewashing of Palestinian terrorism, a troubling legitimacy given to Hamas, and many other flaws in "Kairos Palestine."


LEAVING ASIDE its distorted political and historic narrative, the declaration also does theological cartwheels regarding the Bible and God's unique calling on Israel - the land and people. It argues that "God sent the patriarchs, prophets and apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission to the world." Whatever particularity there was in the divine calling of Israel in God's redemptive purposes, it was all fulfilled in the life of Jesus and the emergence of the Church, which is now commissioned to spread the "Kingdom of God" and its "universal" message of love.


While much of this rings true, the authors bend that message of universality to then contend for their own particular nationalism - that justice and righteousness requires the whole Church to come help them liberate Palestine from the "evil" of "Israeli occupation."


The truth is that the Bible presents God as the unchanging Lord of the universal and of the particular, and even the New Testament affirms the irrevocable and unique calling of the nation of Israel. The Scriptures also reveal that in Israel's restoration to the land in our day is a message to all nations of God's enduring love, faithfulness and ultimate justice - no matter the passage of time.


The problem is that some have resisted that restoration, producing a territorial and religious conflict that has the small Palestinian Christian community squeezed in between.


Sadly, some Palestinian clerics have chosen to assume a role like that of Sanballat and Tobiah from the days of Israel's first return to the Land. They cannot stop the restoration of Israel to her ancient homeland, but they will do all they can to hinder it.


The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem;








Charles Dickens, when writing his ever-popular Oliver Twist, coined the phrase 'The law is an ass'. Indeed it is, because laws are made by committees, some or all of the members of which seek to amend or approve the original proposal until what was once a good idea becomes a stupidity without anyone seeming to notice the progressive degeneration.


Although it did not originate in this part of the world, another popular maxim defines a camel as a horse designed by a committee. It's more than appropriate when examining some of Israel's bureaucratic tangles, such as those related to the citizenship of converts, children of Israeli expatriates, foreign-born, non-Jewish widows or widowers of deceased Israelis and children born in Israel to foreign workers. The case of the Swedish immigrant that was featured in The Jerusalem Post on December 23 is so appalling that anyone contemplating aliya might be deterred after reading it.


The stupidity in Israeli legislation goes far beyond citizenship status. There are truly idiotic and archaic laws in almost every sphere, and no one seems to be examining the system to amend such laws or have them nullified.


WHEN MK Michael Eitan was appointed a minister in the present government, there were no portfolios left to give him - so a new one was invented and he became Israel's first minister for the improvement of government services.


There is no doubt that they needed improving, nor is there any doubt that he applied himself to the task, with the result that there is greater efficiency and a more positive attitude toward the ordinary citizen in some government offices. But Eitan is also a former two-time chairman of the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee, and remained a member of that committee in the last Knesset.


Thus it would have been worthwhile to give his ministry the additional responsibility of examining laws which are draconian, illogical and/or unjust. His ministry could then have a special web site to which victims of the legal system could send complaints that would be sifted by retired judges and law students, sorted and reworded to make it easy for the ministry to examine them.


Such a ministry would also give the public much more confidence in the government, because its findings and proposals would be reported in the media, making it clear that the government is indeed trying to do something to improve the quality of its citizens' lives.


It is impossible to estimate the accumulated waste of time and money, and the psychic damage, that can be attributed to needless bureaucratic hassles resulting from legal absurdities.


While the government continues to do little or nothing about this, the law will remain an ass.








As tension continues to build over the too-high cost we are being asked to pay for the invaluable life of our captured soldier Gilad Schalit, I count my blessings again and again. First, because I cannot even imagine the horror of the Schalit family's agonizing wait. I have no thread of hope, no taunting 'maybe' or 'perhaps' to torture my soul, for I know that I will never see my son again. The last time I saw his too-young, too-innocent face was the night that he and his friends were murdered in the Merkaz Harav library. I identified his body for the police.


Second, I know that the terrorist who took my son's life has lost his, stopped in his terrible rampage by a valiant soldier and a brave civilian. So too, I have been spared the agony of wondering how my son's killer has been faring in prison, or on the run from justice.


And third, I have been spared the agony of wondering what I would do if my son's killer was to be among those freed in exchange for our captive soldier. NO, I will never need to scan the media for news of his release, nor petition the courts against it. Nor must I ever hope the hope of the simple - that prison had somehow tempered the killer's murderous zeal. And best of all, I will never have to wonder if knowing that the little justice we dared do has been undone could tempt me to settle accounts myself. Would I, like the terrorist who murdered my first-born, procure a weapon and gather intelligence? Would I park and watch the comings and goings of my target? Would I train in the Judean hills, shooting, loading, shooting again, secure that the noise was too difficult to trace accurately? And when I left on my mission, what would I tell my wife and three living children? Would I kiss them goodbye, or leave unannounced?


And what would I tell my son's murderer when I found him? Would I ask my friend from IDF intelligence for a few Arabic phrases before starting off - you know, just enough so that I could be sure he knew who it was who had come to end his life?Ana abu Ibrahim Daud Musa, I am the father of Avraham David Moses? I'm sure that during his time in our prisons, with the free newspapers and radio, he would have learned the names of his eight young victims.


And would he care? Might he acknowledge that blood calls for blood - that brutal murder cannot go unpunished? Might he even welcome the bullet which would open the door to his own vision of the hereafter? And afterwards, when I sat with the police and informed them that yes, justice had been done, what would they say? As they placed me in handcuffs, would they know what I told them was true? Would I see relief on the detective's face, knowing that this terrorist, freed in the horrid calculus of prisoner exchange, would never kill again?


I am indeed glad that I need not trouble myself with all these tortured imaginings in the days and weeks to come.


But I know that the tens, if not hundreds, of families whose lives have been torn asunder by terrorists who may soon walk away from prison will once again lay awake at night and agonize over the meaning of justice in the Middle East.


The writer has a PhD in medical history and researches Israeli medical ethics. He is currently completing a book on the Merkaz Harav massacre.








Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staged an illusory spectacle of struggling to make a critical decision this week over the deal to bring back captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Netanyahu called frequent consultations with the forum of seven senior ministers and heads of the defense establishment and met with the Shalit family and bereaved families of terror victims.

He even implied that the weight of the decision had made him ill. But the discussions and deliberations ended, as before, with nothing decided.

Netanyahu's government rejected the German mediator's proposal and is insisting on banishing about 100 of the Palestinian terrorists to be released in the deal to the Gaza Strip, Arab states or Europe - so long as they don't roam freely in the West Bank.

Hamas insists on having all the released prisoners return home. The gap between the positions makes it clear that the negotiations will continue and Shalit will remain in captivity for the time being.

One can understand Netanyahu's agonizing. He of all people, who built his public career on a staunch stand against terror, must now deny his principles and free people who are responsible for terror attacks that caused hundreds of deaths. Every terror attack after the deal will be seen as his responsibility and the right wing will accuse him of encouraging terror.

As time elapses, the prime minister has to explain why the deal is being held up and eventually persuade the public that he managed to get a better deal out of Hamas than his predecessor Ehud Olmert.

As a result, Netanyahu is evading the decision and trying, as he always does, to please everyone. He wants to show that he is acting on behalf of the Shalit family and the deal's supporters, while making demands of Hamas that the deal's opposers will approve of.

But this result is insufferable. Netanyahu was elected to lead and decide. By dragging his feet in the Shalit affair he has forsaken his duty as prime minister.

The deal's framework was agreed on in Olmert's term and Netanyahu has not succeeded in changing it in his nine months in office.

Deporting the released prisoners will change nothing, if instead of returning to the West Bank - where they will be supervised by the Shin Bet and Palestinian Authority - they will travel the world, planning terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets.

Instead of wasting any more time on futile one-upmanship games with Hamas, Netanyahu must say: It stops here. It's time to decide. End Gilad and his family's suffering and bring the soldier home.







The charade of soul-searching surrounding the Gilad Shalit deal staged by the forum of seven senior cabinet ministers revealed that it was in fact an unnecessary effort, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is virtually omnipotent and could have forced the passage of any resolution. We have not had such a strong prime minister in a long time.

FYI to the Americans, who like to think that Netanyahu wants to do the right thing but can't; as well as to the Europeans, the Arabs and especially the Israelis: There are no domestic politics in Israel now, because there is no one who poses a genuine threat to Netanyahu. He has no opposition, neither within his party nor without, neither parliamentary nor extra-parliamentary. His seat is safe.

Above all these words are addressed to Netanyahu himself, that master of intimidation and wizard of self-inflicted fear: You are much stronger than you think and than you project to others. Is that good for Israel? That depends on what Netanyahu really wants.

Even Israel's strongest leaders had to contend with vigorous opposition. David Ben-Gurion faced Menachem Begin, and even his own party gave him a hard time. Moshe Dayan had Yigal Allon, while Levi Eshkol had both of them as well as Ben-Gurion breathing down his neck. Begin and Yitzhak Shamir had Shimon Peres, and Peres and Yitzhak Rabin had each other. Even Ariel Sharon, "Arik, King of Israel" himself, had to face off against the Likud Central Committee and the rebels in the Knesset who forced him to break away and form Kadima.

So who's against Netanyahu? The field is totally empty. There is no opposition, and the prime minister can do what he wants. Likud is in his hands, with or without MKs Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely. Kadima is silent and in paralysis. Labor is not only in Bibi's coalition but is also in its death throes. Even the dreaded settlers have proved to be paper tigers. Their ludicrous photo-op protests against the West Bank construction freeze died as soon as they were included in the national priority map. And the hesder yeshivot surrendered their fight, unconditionally.

So who's a threat to our prime minister? Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom? Don't make us, or Bibi, laugh. Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon? Only the cowsheds of Kibbutz Grofit are waiting for him. Minister Benny Begin? They might find a place for him back at the Geological Survey of Israel. With Defense Minister Ehud Barak tucked into his pocket, with nowhere else to go; with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatening everyone in the world except for him; with Shas content with what it's got and with no force on Earth capable of extracting the Labor ministers from their seats, Netanyahu's road ahead is clear and secure.

Even his attempts to split Kadima and bring some of the Likud runaways - mostly the repeat offenders - back into the fold are superfluous. Why put any effort into it? United or divided, it is devoid of significance for Bibi. On top of all this are the pathological apathy of the public, the dearth of meaningful protest movements, the absence of a peace camp worthy of the name and the lack of figures of stature and influence - even outside of politics.

What's left is the media, but even it is no more than a nuisance. True, most of it isn't too well-disposed toward Netanyahu but it is less hostile to him now than in the past. Essentially the media cooperates with the government, any government. The outside world? Even it is showing less interest, intervening less, pressuring less, the United States included.

Bibi is King of Israel, and on the face of it that's great for him. Just as he effortlessly got away with his "two-states" speech and the construction freeze, he could have freed Gilad Shalit. He could take daring and courageous moves, lift the blockade on Gaza, sign a peace treaty with Syria, and even annex, as he would no doubt like to, more of the territories.

The sky is apparently the limit, but in reality the sky is much lower than it seems; it is limited by Netanyahu's aspirations and intentions. "Go in thy might," as God said to Joshua, but first you have to know where you want to get to.

Netanyahu's path is an easy one. It's been ages since an Israeli leader has had such a golden opportunity to act. But, lo and behold, it is precisely the prime minister who is perhaps the strongest in Israel's history who finds it difficult to make even one bold decision. Nine months in office, and zero. Dense clouds of deliberations, soul-searching, "historic" speeches, but not a drop of rain. How depressing.








Snob, have you been to Tabha already?" "You wanted to suffer - Go to the Via Dolorosa." "End your troubles - Jump from Mount Precipice." "The Mount of Beatitudes - Not just for the rich." Those are only a few of the slogans that come to mind when reading about Stas Misezhnikov's wonderful plans for encouraging tourism to Israel.

Since entering office a year ago, the tourism minister has been trying to put Israel on the map once again as a destination for religious tourism. There are two reasons for that: Israel really is full of sites sacred to four religions (if you include the Bahais), and, as he said two weeks ago, in any case we have no chance of competing with Greece, Cyprus or Turkey as a tourist destination that gives good value to tourists looking for a vacation purely for pleasure.

The minister's plan presumably accords with the justice minister's recent statement describing his vision about returning to a legal system based on Jewish religious law. Regression is apparently the main trend in the present government. The past is the new future.


Misezhnikov, unlike Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, does not wear a skullcap, so it is hard to suspect that his tourism plans are being dictated by religious motives. All he is doing is trying to work with what we have, instead of trying to change what we lack. Instead of battling the scandalous hotel rates, the poor service, the rudeness of service providers, the price gouging by taxi drivers and restaurant owners - all those things that explain why we have no chance against countries popular with tourists, like Turkey and Greece - the minister is trying to nurture what we have here in any case: religious tourism, mainly Christian.

We should point out to Misezhnikov the possibility of tremendous financial savings involved in his proposal. Instead of investing money in upgrading the Christian tourism sites, we can simply allow them to deteriorate on their own. By reading "The Innocents Abroad," in which Mark Twain recorded his visit to the Holy Land in 1867, the minister will discover that Israel, and Jerusalem and Tiberias in particular, are rapidly regressing toward the goal of restoring the glory of their ancient sanctity.

Everything possible has already been said about the plague of the Jerusalem streets constantly being dug up and jammed up, and public transit to the city could also stand to be improved. The filth, the tourist traps and the seasoned tradesmen encountered by Twain have not disappeared; they have merely been replaced. The hordes of beggars, meanwhile, have moved from the Old City to the center of the new city. Lake Kinneret is even less deserving of the name "Sea of Galilee" than it was in Twain's time, while Nazareth is a traffic and health hazard.

The Tourism Ministry doesn't need to do much at all to encourage religious tourism: a bit of investment in building bathrooms, paving convenient access roads and providing parking next to the sites, and here and there initiatives like building an emergency care center at the downtown Jerusalem spot where the Talitha Kumi orphanage for Christian girls once stood, in memory of the miracle of Jesus resurrecting a young girl. The site is currently next to a tower popular with suicides, which looks over the pedestrian mall that is a favorite of those suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome.

It's a shame that in the meantime, the minister is not paying attention to the plan to encourage tourism that is being introduced by the Tel Aviv municipality, which is designed to turn the White City pink by turning it into the capital of gay tourism. This plan does not counteract Israel's image as an ancient land, since according to our sources Israel is also the birthplace of sodomy. A possible slogan: "There's no need to travel to Sodom for sodomy." Or maybe: "Sodom and Gomorrah on the beach."

All the same, there is a problem. That which will turn Israel into a paradise for religious tourism will also turn it into a nightmare for its secular inhabitants - especially when it comes to Jerusalem, which even without the intervention of the tourism minister is becoming more religious from one day to the next. The situation has reached a point where one fears that soon, the few secular people who still live there will be forced to move to Tel Aviv or Eilat, or to flee for their lives to the Hinnom Valley ("the Valley of Hell").

Speaking of which, here's a possible slogan for a future housing project there: "Hinnom Valley, Paradise in Hell." For straight secular people.







"I admit I've bought a few things there in the past, but one can do without Marks & Spencer." With this observation on life's hardships before the cameras, MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) launched her "the Knesset says no to British products" campaign.

Tirosh launches into her war against Britain with a lethal arsenal. Forty-two MKs from most of the parties in the Knesset signed a petition threatening "a boycott of British goods in the wake of the [British] government's recommendation that Israeli products made beyond the Green Line be marked as such." They are backed by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) who called the initiative "correct and important" and offered to have the petition translated and sent to his U.K. counterpart, the speaker of the House of Commons.

Some say the petition's delivery should be accompanied by the Knesset choir belting out "Fools Britannia, ritain's fools and knaves." We'll give them boycott for boycott. Tirosh began with Marks & Spencer. We'll proceed to the Tate galleries and the West End Theater. We'll stay out of Hyde Park, we'll ignore Susan Boyle, and as for the Beatles we don't need them. And if all that doesn't help, we'll recall Liverpool's Israeli soccer star Yossi Benayoun, and even Avram Grant, now coaching bottom-of-the-league Portsmouth.


Just as Tirosh was sticking out her neck to win the "we'll show 'em" sprint, up came Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon to pip her at the post with his riposte to European Union Foreign Minister Katherine Ashton. His "just as the Romans failed to cut Israel off from Jerusalem, so too will United Nations and EU diplomats," gave him the gold medal. Patriotism, it turns out, is also the last refuge of those who can't read the map of reality. Nonetheless it would behoove our legislators and cabinet ministers, as well as their deputies, to take an occasional peek at those irrelevant international factors such as Europe, the UN and the United States. They may well discover that our constant whining is starting to have an effect. And if Tirosh and Ayalon would kindly look eastward from their Jerusalem offices, they would see that what has sprouted there, right under their noses, is not exactly Jack's magic beanstalk.

It is an area whose value has risen several times more than anywhere else in Israel, and whose Jewish residents enjoy privileges several times greater than the residents of the state itself. These are territories that were conquered in war, and a policy of segregation between Jews and Palestinians has been in force for a long time. It is a state within a state, and some call the policy implemented there apartheid - not only in Britain, Sweden, Spain, Austria and Holland. It is in the air. Even in Washington.

The day is not far off when that epithet will be spoken aloud, in the institutions of the EU and the UN, and perhaps also be translated into resolutions like those used against other states and regimes. Tirosh and Ayalon and their leaders should prepare themselves. It begins with trivialities: The sheet music for "Hatikva" can't be found at an international sporting event, an Israeli troupe's invitation to a dance festival is canceled - but it will steadily gather momentum, at conferences, in the discussions of international organizations and in cooperation with them. Although Tirosh and Rivlin may not have noticed it, the world has grown tired of us, and although it may be asleep, sometimes it kicks in its sleep. In the meantime, they should start checking how many and which Israeli companies are registered as suppliers of Marks & Spencer. Their threats against Britain are even dumber than the dumbest of dumb British shaggy dog stories.








The village of Jaljulya was recently the focus of much media attention following the brutal murder of Arik Karp on the Tel Baruch promenade in Tel Aviv, and the incomprehensible murder of the student Amjad Shwahana from Kafr Qasem. In both cases the suspects are minors from Jaljulya.

The escalation in crime among young people and teenagers in general, not only in the Arab sector, should serve as a warning light to the public, because among other things it is a sign of a deterioration in education for discipline and for the ethical values that are essential for every properly run society.

The decline in values-based education, with the resulting increase in criminal behavior, not only disrupts the normal life of a society, but also prevents its ability to advance - even if it succeeds in producing Nobel laureates.


There is no need for a magnifying glass in order to discern the extent to which the failure of education and the disintegration of ethics and values are tying the hands of Arab society. The bonds of delinquency and crime and the increasing power of the underworld make it difficult for us to fight the stigma, as much as we would like to, that Arab citizens do not obey the law, and for the most part prefer to solve their conflicts alone - whether by street fights or a light trigger finger, and not only at weddings.

And nevertheless, we must not forget that the same citizen who does not respect the law - and it's not necessarily an Arab citizen - is for the most part the citizen who was not educated to respect the law, at least not with the same firmness employed to educate him, whether or not he likes it, to respect national symbols like the Israeli flag and Israel's Independence Day.

The debate on the question of who is to blame for this educational failure - the citizen, state institutions or society itself - can go on forever. However, as the the new attorney general said, now is the time for action.

Regarding the handling of crime in general, vigorous and immediate action is needed.

The eradication of violence and crime, which are eroding the normal fabric of life in all strata of Israeli society, requires that various institutions be harnessed to the campaign. Not only the law enforcement authorities and the courts, but the school system as well. Everyone will be required to join hands in order to educate the public to know and obey the law.

For that purpose, a new subject should be introduced into the school curriculum, a required course: knowledge of the law and its demands, including the option of practical experience.

The students will become familiar with the basic criminal offenses as they are defined in the penal code, with an emphasis on the punishments and negative consequences of committing them, and through an emphasis on the general social damages and the personal damages suffered by the victims.

This requires the preparation of creative study programs in the field of Israeli law to be adapted for the schools, in cooperation with experts from the fields of law, education and the police. The new subject can be included in civics lessons or in other contexts.

Such a program has great educational potential. Teenagers who acquire this knowledge during adolescence will be able to use it in case they are tempted to make a wrong move, and we can hope as a result that they will even be deterred from run-ins with the law. Such intelligent enforcement of the law is likely to reduce the need for using other means of enforcement.

The writer is a law student from Jaljulya.







Years before the era of tarmac strandings, of airline passengers trapped in metal tubes without food or working toilets, waiting for hours in filth and foul air and frustration for a departure time that might or might not come, the writer Ian Frazier imagined a commercial flight piloted by Samuel Beckett.


"The time of the dark journey of our existence is not revealed," says Captain Beckett, on a trip from nothingness to empty bleak eternal nothingness, via O'Hare. "When we deplane, I'll weep for happiness."


Mr. Frazier was being funny. But time has greatly blurred the distinction between Beckett's fictional void and the real-life runways on which airlines imprison tens of thousands of passengers a year, neither traveling nor not traveling, unable to escape. This happens when an airline refuses to return a delayed plane to the terminal, lest it lose its place in the takeoff line.


On Monday, the Obama administration imposed a solution that Congress has only talked about. It declared that customer torture cannot be a part of an airline's business plan. After two hours, it said, give the poor souls food and water. After three hours, let them off the plane. Stop cramming your schedules with too many flights that will never be on time. The administration, speaking in the language airlines understand, mandated stiff cash fines for violators: $27,500 per passenger.


The decisive action by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood punctures the absurdist fiction offered by the airlines — that self-policing and consumer complaints are power enough to get them to act decently and sensibly, and that when long delays occur, it's best for suffering passengers and crew to pull together to help the bottom line. Predictably, the airlines responded by warning, or threatening, that the new rules will only create more delays.


The flying public has learned to tolerate a lot of discomfort and inconvenience in return for lower fares and higher security. As it should. But when indignity turns to horror — as it did in August for the passengers stuck overnight on a runway in Rochester, Minn., as food and water ran out and toilets overflowed, with the terminal only yards away — some basic protections have to apply.


Having enough pretzels and bottled water, clean toilets and rational schedules — and being willing to let passengers off the plane when the wait grows absurd — should not be beyond the capabilities of even a marginally competent airline, even in straitened times. Perhaps the belief in corporate progress is a vain illusion, but we are glad that the Obama administration is clinging to it.







Earlier this month, a California venture capitalist pleaded guilty to helping his company land a very rich deal with New York's pension fund. In order to manage a $250 million portion of the $126 billion state pension, Elliott Broidy gave nearly $1 million in gifts to officials in the state comptroller's office.


The details are sordid. He handed out rent for the girlfriend of a state worker who helped invest pensions. He paid a management fee to a consultant. He helped an official's relative. He paid for luxurious trips by "a very high-ranking" official — all to gain management fees worth about $18 million.


As bad as it is, Mr. Broidy's admission is only the latest distressing news about the corrupt and secret way the office of Alan Hevesi, the former state comptroller, controlled the investment of one of the biggest pools of public money in the country.


Mr. Hevesi resigned three years ago after admitting to a felony. Since then, two of his top former associates are fighting criminal charges relating to the pension fund investments. Four others have pleaded guilty for security fraud, including one of the last political bosses in the state: Raymond Harding, who was a leader of the Liberal Party. And an investigation of New York's pension scandal by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and the Securities and Exchange Commission is ongoing.


New York's pension fund desperately needs protection. It needs to be guarded by financial experts and watched carefully by the public. It is about more than the fundamental need for good government in Albany, although that's enough for most people. If the pension loses ground, taxpayers must make up the difference.


Here are three basic reforms that should be imposed on the comptroller's office:


MORE DECISION-MAKERS The comptroller cannot be the sole person managing the investment of so much money. Unlike 47 other states that have boards that help with this huge task of managing workers' pensions, New York's comptroller can, at least theoretically, invest in a best friend's widget factory if he so chooses.


New York needs an official pension investment board, five or seven financial experts, not political hacks appointed by Albany's leaders. Members of this group should be seasoned at managing other people's assets and free of any business associations with the state. They should have refrained from contributing to state political campaigns for several years before joining the board.


The comptroller should have to climb a high hurdle to reject their advice, mainly bringing a majority of the board with him. And the board should have a solid fiduciary duty to the pension fund rather than to the governor, the Legislature or any friends on Wall Street.


One suggestion worth considering from a former New York budget director, Paul Francis: split up the investment duties. Under that plan, the comptroller would make asset allocations (so much for fixed-income investments, so much for overseas equities, etc.). The board would choose the specific fund managers within each area of investment.


LESS FAT-CAT MONEY The comptroller, who runs for public office statewide, cannot continue to be the mother lode of campaign financing for the state's political leaders. It is too easy now for anybody who wants to do business with the comptroller's office to donate big money to Albany's political establishment.

Ideally, the comptroller should be the first state office to receive public campaign financing. Failing that, there should be far stricter rules about contributions to comptroller candidates. For example, a contribution would automatically prohibit that person or firm from doing business with the comptroller.


The Securities and Exchange Commission is putting the finishing touches on regulations that would ban any investment official from contracting with a public pension fund for the next two years. The Legislature should enact the same law immediately and make certain that lawyers who contribute will also be barred from doing business with the comptroller for two years.


MORE TRANSPARENCY Finally, there should be more transparency in the vetting and choice of investments. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who replaced Mr. Hevesi, has instituted many reforms, but they could just as readily be rolled back by another comptroller more friendly to money managers.


After his two-year investigation of corruption involving the state's pension fund, Attorney General Cuomo has proposed the beginnings of a better system for investing the state's pension money. It would establish a strong board to oversee management of the pension fund.


So far, Mr. DiNapoli and other legislative leaders appear to be resisting any move to dilute the comptroller's sole control over investing this enormous public treasure. It is time for them to recognize that New York's pension is too big and the slide into corruption is too easy for one person to keep it safe and invest it wisely.


This article is part of a series examining the political and structural crisis in the New York State government.







The two soldiers lolled speechless in wheelchairs, severely brain damaged by war, staring out at the home front from a diagnosis of "minimal consciousness." Their young brides fed them through gastric tubes, one of the frequent tasks in the women's brave new careers as veterans' family caretakers.


It is a sweet and bitter fact of modern battlefield medicine that more warriors can survive devastating brain wounds that would have killed them in previous wars.


There are about 2,000 suffering the most severe brain trauma from Iraq and Afghanistan, with perhaps 200 more a year to come, according to an estimate by the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity that helps damaged military families.


Rather than store away these young men and women in nursing homes, more family members — their own lives forever upended — are opting to be trained to nurse and rehabilitate their loved ones at home. These gritty families insist that a home setting is essential to any recovery and hope of a worthwhile lifetime.


"I chose to stay with my man," explained RyAnne Noss, ministering to her husband Scot, a once powerful Army Ranger who was dragged from a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. RyAnne put aside her Ph.D. in chemistry to become Scot's round-the-clock helpmate rather than leave him for visits across years in a convalescent home.


Across the way, Anthony Thompson, a Navy medic rendered helpless by a truck bomb in Iraq, was patted lovingly by his wife, Ivonne. "My life has taken a very different turn," she said.


Ivonne gave up her career as a schoolteacher in favor of what she concedes are unknowable years ahead. She's not afraid to face a question with her friend RyAnne: "How much can we handle?" Ivonne has an answer rooted in furious optimism about Anthony and their 2-year-old son, A.J., who she said is already drawing glints of recognition from his father.


RyAnne talks of what love is and what it can accomplish. "They knew we were strong women when they married us," she said, eying the two men in the sunshine flooding their room at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J. Photographs of the men smiling and able-bodied in uniform gleamed from the walls.


Both women have encountered comments from clumsy outsiders that battlefield death would have been more merciful for everyone's future. Their answer is that they can't imagine life without their men, however much damaged, and without the chance to inch them firsthand back toward themselves.


After eight years of war, Congress is finally debating rival bills that would provide these spouses — and parents, too — a small government stipend for their work.


It is not enough, but it is a start. And it is certainly far less expensive than the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year the government spends on each severely injured veteran sent to a nursing home. Congress needs to stop dallying and pass a law.


If haggling lawmakers still have any doubt, they should watch Ivonne and RyAnne at work.

The Senate version is far preferable. It offers a stipend of $2,300 a month, compared with much less in the House bill. And it deals with a fuller cohort of traumatically brain injured veterans, including those with the power of mobility and speech who can't be left untended because of basic cognitive impairments. The House bill covers about 200 warriors, a tenth of the estimated need.


For now, these determined caregivers are grateful for in-service rehabilitation care as they learn the ropes for full home care and are assisted by charities.


Some charities provide free wheelchair vans and help for the caretakers to take relief breaks. But charity alone is no way to meet what is the moral responsibility of the nation that sent these wounded to war.


RyAnne and Ivonne are hoping all the good people they notice driving around with "Support Our Troops" stickers might get in touch with their lawmakers and demand that Congress pass the stronger Senate measure. That would be real support. The two wives seem impassioned enough to go out themselves and wave down traffic for their cause. But, as RyAnne says, "We can't leave our guys."








Are the kids demanding the latest murder-and-mayhem video game? Do your loved ones have all the neckties/bottles of perfume/sweaters that can be used in a lifetime? Tired of celebrating spiritual holidays with crass commercialism?


If so, then perhaps it's time to try a different kind of gift. After all, nothing says "happy holidays" like donating in Aunt Tilda's name to build a composting toilet in Haiti or to deworm kids in Kenya. And a deworming pill will never be regifted!


This time of year I'm always barraged with inquiries about well-run charitable groups doing effective work. So let me tell you about some of the organizations that I've encountered that tackle global poverty in innovative ways.


In this column, I'm putting aside the larger, well-known aid organizations like CARE, Save the Children, Mercy Corps and Heifer International. They all do fabulous work, but today I want to bring to show-and-tell some organizations laboring in obscurity. These groups are also a reminder that the gap in savvy, creativity and effectiveness between the business world and the nonprofit sector is narrowing — in some cases vanishing.


So here's my quirky holiday list of nifty, unknown charities:


• Acumen Fund,, brings a venture capital sensibility to aid work. It invests money in for-profit businesses — like WaterHealth International, whose business model is to provide clean drinking water where none is available. Acumen also invests in LifeSpring Hospitals, which runs low-cost maternity centers where impoverished women can safely deliver babies.


Acumen argues that these businesses, because they earn profits and treat the poor as customers, are more sustainable than giveaways. This reflects a growing trend of using business mechanisms to fight poverty.


• Afghan Institute of Learning,, is an aid group run by Afghan women. It is led by Sakena Yacoobi, a force of nature who was educated in the United States, and it now serves 350,000 Afghan women and children annually.


Yacoobi runs education programs, training centers and clinics, emphasizing local buy-in and self-reliance. Western aid programs in Afghanistan have not always been successful, and my hunch is that if more aid had been routed through Afghan-managed programs like this, more would have been accomplished.


• BRAC,, is a Bangladeshi antipoverty organization that has had huge success serving tens of millions of people there and is now branching out to Afghanistan and Africa. It emphasizes organizing village women and promoting education, health and microfinance.


One of BRAC's strengths is its ability to turn impoverished women into agents of change for the entire community.


• Developments in Literacy,, builds terrific modern schools in Pakistan, particularly for girls. It frustrates me that rural Pakistan abounds with hard-line madrassas financed by fundamentalist Muslims who channel the students toward extremism. Extremists recognize the transformative power of education, and so should we. This is a security issue, for D.I.L. schools can help protect us from terrorism.


• Deworm the World,, tackles a problem most Americans don't even think about: intestinal worms. Most kids in poor countries have worms, and the result is anemia, malnutrition and sicknesses that cause absences from school. One of the most cost-effective ways of getting more children into school appears to be deworming them with one pill a year, for about 50 cents per person reached.


• SOIL,, is bringing dry, composting toilets to Haiti. Run by two remarkable American women, SOIL operates on a shoestring budget in impoverished communities.


One aim is to improve sanitation and public health. Another is to compost waste so that it can be safely used as fertilizer to boost agricultural production.


• Sustainable Health Ventures,, is a new effort to help women and girls in poor countries to manage menstruation, so that they miss less school and work. S.H.E. is trying to help African women start their own businesses based on making and distributing low-cost sanitary pads.


Although one Nepal study found contrary evidence, education experts increasingly believe that a cost-effective way to keep high school girls from dropping out in poor countries is to help provide them with sanitary products and perhaps ibuprofen for cramps.


• The Worldwide Fistula Fund,, and the Fistula Foundation,, are dedicated to correcting a childbirth injury that is one of the worst things that can happen to a person: an obstetric fistula. This is an internal injury that leaves a girl or young woman incontinent, leaking wastes, scorned and ostracized.


A $450 surgical repair can usually solve the problem and give these young women their lives back. For fistula suffers, it's truly the gift of a lifetime.








PRESIDENT OBAMA should not lament but sigh in relief that Iran has rejected his nuclear deal, which was ill conceived from the start. Under the deal, which was formally offered through the United Nations, Iran was to surrender some 2,600 pounds of lightly enriched uranium (some three-quarters of its known stockpile) to Russia, and the next year get back a supply of uranium fuel sufficient to run its Tehran research reactor for three decades. The proposal did not require Iran to halt its enrichment program, despite several United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding such a moratorium.


Iran was thus to be rewarded with much-coveted reactor fuel despite violating international law. Within a year, or sooner in light of its expanding enrichment program, Iran would almost certainly have replenished and augmented its stockpile of enriched uranium, nullifying any ostensible nonproliferation benefit of the deal.


Moreover, by providing reactor fuel, the plan would have fostered proliferation in two ways. First, Iran could have continued operating its research reactor, which has helped train Iranian scientists in weapons techniques like plutonium separation. (Yes, as Iran likes to point out, the reactor also produces medical isotopes. But those can be purchased commercially from abroad, as most countries do, including the United States.) Absent the deal, Iran's reactor will likely run out of fuel within two years, and only a half-dozen countries are able to supply fresh fuel for it. This creates significant international leverage over Iran, which should be used to compel it to halt its enrichment program.


In addition, the vast surplus of higher-enriched fuel Iran was to get under the deal would have permitted some to be diverted to its bomb program. Indeed, many experts believe that the uranium in foreign-provided fuel would be easier to enrich to weapons grade because Iran's uranium contains impurities. Obama administration officials had claimed that delivering uranium in the form of fabricated fuel would prevent further enrichment for weapons, but this is false. Separating uranium from fuel elements so that it can be enriched further is a straightforward engineering task requiring at most a few weeks.


Thus, had the deal gone through, Iran could have benefited from a head start toward making weapons-grade 90 percent-enriched uranium (meaning that 90 percent of its makeup is the fissile isotope U-235) by starting with purified 20 percent-enriched uranium rather than its own weaker, contaminated stuff.


This raises a question: if the deal would have aided Iran's bomb program, why did the United States propose it, and Iran reject it? The main explanation on both sides is domestic politics. President Obama wanted to blunt Republican criticism that his multilateral approach was failing to stem Iran's nuclear program. The deal would have permitted him to claim, for a year or so, that he had defused the crisis by depriving Iran of sufficient enriched uranium to start a crash program to build one bomb.


But in reality no one ever expected Iran to do that, because such a headlong sprint is the one step most likely to provoke an international military response that could cripple the bomb program before it reaches fruition. Iran is far more likely to engage in "salami slicing" — a series of violations each too small to provoke retaliation, but that together will give it a nuclear arsenal. For example, while Iran permits international inspections at its declared enrichment plant at Natanz, it ignores United Nations demands that it close the plant, where it gains the expertise needed to produce weapons-grade uranium at other secret facilities like the nascent one recently uncovered near Qom.


In sum, the proposal would not have averted proliferation in the short run, because that risk always was low, but instead would have fostered it in the long run — a classic example of domestic politics undermining national security.


Tehran's rejection of the deal was likewise propelled by domestic politics — including last June's fraudulent elections and longstanding fears of Western manipulation. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initially embraced the deal because he realized it aided Iran's bomb program. But his domestic political opponents, whom he has tried to label as foreign agents, turned the tables by accusing him of surrendering Iran's patrimony to the West.


Under such domestic pressure, Mr. Ahmadinejad reneged. But Iran still wants reactor fuel, so he threatened to enrich uranium domestically to the 20 percent level. This is a bluff, because even if Iran could further enrich its impure uranium, it lacks the capacity to fabricate that uranium into fuel elements. His real aim is to compel the international community into providing the fuel without requiring Iran to surrender most of the enriched uranium it has on hand.


Indeed, Iran's foreign minister has now proposed just that: offering to exchange a mere quarter of Iran's enriched uranium for an immediate 10-year supply of fuel for the research reactor. This would let Iran run the reactor, retain the bulk of its enriched uranium and continue to enrich more — a bargain unacceptable even to the Obama administration.


Tehran's rejection of the original proposal is revealing. It shows that Iran, for domestic political reasons, cannot make even temporary concessions on its bomb program, regardless of incentives or sanctions. Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work, and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.


The risks of acquiescence are obvious. Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes. Even President Ahmadinejad's domestic opponents support this weapons traffic. If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb.


As for knocking out its nuclear plants, admittedly, aerial bombing might not work. Some Iranian facilities are buried too deeply to destroy from the air. There may also be sites that American intelligence is unaware of. And military action could backfire in various ways, including by undermining Iran's political opposition, accelerating the bomb program or provoking retaliation against American forces and allies in the region.


But history suggests that military strikes could work. Israel's 1981 attack on the nearly finished Osirak reactor prevented Iraq's rapid acquisition of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon and compelled it to pursue a more gradual, uranium-based bomb program. A decade later, the Persian Gulf war uncovered and enabled the destruction of that uranium initiative, which finally deterred Saddam Hussein from further pursuit of nuclear weapons (a fact that eluded American intelligence until after the 2003 invasion). Analogously, Iran's atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.


As for the risk of military strikes undermining Iran's opposition, history suggests that the effect would be temporary. For example, NATO's 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia briefly bolstered support for President Slobodan Milosevic, but a democratic opposition ousted him the next year.


Yes, Iran could retaliate by aiding America's opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does that anyway. Iran's leaders are discouraged from taking more aggressive action against United States forces — and should continue to be — by the fear of provoking a stronger American counter-escalation. If nothing else, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States military can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to.

Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran's bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate.


The final question is, who should launch the air strikes? Israel has shown an eagerness to do so if Iran does not stop enriching uranium, and some hawks in Washington favor letting Israel do the dirty work to avoid fueling anti-Americanism in the Islamic world.


But there are three compelling reasons that the United States itself should carry out the bombings. First, the Pentagon's weapons are better than Israel's at destroying buried facilities. Second, unlike Israel's relatively small air force, the United States military can discourage Iranian retaliation by threatening to expand the bombing campaign. (Yes, Israel could implicitly threaten nuclear counter-retaliation, but Iran might not perceive that as credible.) Finally, because the American military has global reach, air strikes against Iran would be a strong warning to other would-be proliferators.


Negotiation to prevent nuclear proliferation is always preferable to military action. But in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement. We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.


Alan J. Kuperman is the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin.








Los Angeles

"PA rum pum pum pum/ Rum pum pum pum/ Rum pum pum pum."


This, over a funereal cadence, is "The Little Drummer Boy," a song that may be unavoidable this time of the year. It is pumped into stores — sometimes once or twice an hour — from the beginning of November until the last buyer leaves the grocery store on Christmas Day.


Yes, torture can be set to music.


The song as written has six "rum pum pum pums" — and 15 "pa rum pum pum pums." That's 21 "rum pum pum pums" per play, more if any of the passages are extended or repeated. Once an hour, say, 12 hours a day: that's 252 "rum, pum pum pums" over the course of a day. Think of the store clerks overdosed on "rum pum pum pums" this Christmas season.


Most recordings begin with rhythm — a slow drum cadence — or low voices in time: "Rum, rum, rum, rum ...." See the condemned prisoner walking to the gallows?


Then the lyric:


Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum


A newborn king to see, pa rum pum pum pum


Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum


Backwards run sentences until reels the mind.


From the sepulchral voices and the slow, regal beat you know that "The Little Drummer Boy" is no happy "Frosty the Snowman," no simple classic like "O Holy Night," nothing poignant like "I'll Be Home for Christmas."


This "Drummer Boy" is exalted stuff, pompous, candied, reverential. This is portent waiting to happen.


But nothing happens — nothing but an imaginary encounter between a child with a drum and folks too polite to tell him to leave it outside.


What inspires a Christmas song? Irving Berlin composed "White Christmas" after spending a discontented warm yuletide in Los Angeles.


Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" for the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis" knowing that Judy Garland's magnificent voice would bring their song to life.


The song that became "The Little Drummer Boy" came to Katherine K. Davis in 1941 as she was trying to take a nap. Davis was a music teacher with a list of serious compositions to her credit: operas, choral works and piano pieces. She seems to have had a sense of humor about her little song; she titled it "The Carol of the Drum" and whimsically inscribed the manuscript "Czech carol, freely transcribed."


"The Carol of the Drum" came into public consciousness after it was recorded by the Trapp Family Singers (the group that inspired "The Sound of Music") in the early 1950s.


Jack Halloran, a Los Angeles singer and choral director recorded a version in 1957 — but it wasn't released in time for Christmas.


Enter Harry Simeone, a competing movie-industry choral director. In 1958, Simeone released the slowest, most precious version of all, changing the song's name to "The Little Drummer Boy."


The Harry Simeone Chorale's version became a hit, but the year-old recording by the Jack Halloran Singers was played as well. So by late 1958, radio listeners were treated to a double dose: the same song under two different titles.


The pianist Vince Guaraldi recorded perhaps the most charming version of the song in 1965 for "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Guaraldi's wordless, rum-pum-pum free version went by a third name: "My Little Drum."


As a result of his alterations, Harry Simeone is now listed as co-writer of the song, along with Katherine K. Davis and Henry Onorati, Halloran's arranger.


In later interviews, Katherine Davis seemed dismayed about her creation, saying the song had been ruined by being played too often.