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Friday, December 25, 2009

EDITORIAL 25.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 25, edition 000385, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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













  1. 19 YEARS, 6 MONTHS















































Foreigners who visit India are struck by the fact that ours is an open, plural and liberal society with a remarkably high level of tolerance for others. True, there have been instances of bigotry (no country, least of all the US and its trans-Atlantic allies, can claim to be entirely free of them) but these are at best aberrations which by no means suggest that social and religious orthodoxy guides daily life in India. In fact, our cultural ethos, though rooted in our civilisational identity, is defined by its many hues; unlike the West's, our culture is neither monochromatic nor is it religion-specific. Our traditions and the values we cherish transcend selfish concerns. Yet, we now have the Washington-based think-tank, PEW Research Centre, slamming India for social hostility and religious discrimination perpetrated by individuals and groups as well as imposed by Government-induced restrictions. It is amusing that PEW should find Saudi Arabia more tolerant than India in social and religious affairs; it is laughable that a think-tank rated highly by the Washington establishment should be ignorant of the fact that 'Hindutva' does not mean 'Hindu nation'. While PEW's researchers, who look at the world through the prism of Christian majority America and Europe, may find this far too difficult to understand, it bears reiteration that ours is a secular and democratic society because India is a Hindu majority nation with an all-embracing Hindu ethos. Perhaps this inability to grasp the Indian reality is the reason why PEW, in its recent voluminous report, Global Restrictions on Religion, has clubbed India with Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Bangladesh as countries where the majority population wants to protect the "special place" of one particular religion. "Many of the restrictions imposed in these countries are driven by groups pressing for the enshrinement of their interpretation of the majority faith, including through sharia'h law in Muslim societies and Hindutva movement in India which seeks to define India as a Hindu nation," the report says. Those who have funded this project should demand their money back, unless they intended the report to malign India and its Hindu majority. Indeed, questions are already being raised about motives behind PEW's obviously motivated 'findings': Was the report's purpose to reflect concerns of Christian evangelical groups? Or was it to criticise India (and other non-Christian countries) for standing up to the dubious activities of these groups?

According to PEW, its researchers "combed through 16 widely cited, publicly available sources of information, including reports by the US State Department, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Council of the European Union, the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, the Hudson Institute and Amnesty International". This is useful disclosure because it enables us to understand why PEW is so terribly wrong in its assessment. In the past, many of these organisations and agencies of the US Administration have criticised the Government and citizens of India for not facilitating the conversion of those who belong to vulnerable sections of society to Christianity through inducement and fraud. Most recently the USCIRF heaped abuse on India on the basis of fiction propagated by American evangelists. We could view the PEW report as inconsequential. But that would amount to ignoring the sinister purpose behind such calumny.





After a three-day bandh that paralysed Nepal, United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better know as Prachanda, is seemingly taking a U-turn towards dialogue. It goes without saying that optimism behind such a move could very well be short-lived. For, only hours before he met Nepali Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal in a bid to end the political crisis, Prachanda declared to a huge rally that he had no hopes of solving the present imbroglio through dialogue with the mainstream political parties. This, he said, was because the leaders of political parties such as the Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML) were 'puppets' of New Delhi and that he would rather talk to the 'master' directly. He also threatened to paralyse Nepal through an indefinite strike from January 24 if the political deadlock was not resolved by then. But given the subsequent meeting between the Maoist leader and Mr Nepal, there seems to be some sort of flexibility on the dialogue issue. Simultaneously, a high-level meeting of the Maoist leadership has decided to end its seven-month long disruption of the Constituent Assembly, clearing the way for its normal functioning for the first time since May.

It is clear from developments over the past several months that Nepal's Maoists are trying to wear down the Government with their strong-arm tactics. They have made it clear that unless a political arrangement in their favour is soon worked out, they will not only make life difficult for the mainstream political parties but also the people of Nepal. Another disturbing facet of the Maoist tactics has been the tendency to make India the whipping boy. The Left-wing extremists have been consistently suggesting that it is India that is responsible for the political mess in Nepal. The word on the streets in Kathmandu is if the constant strikes and protests bother you, blame New Delhi. Such rhetoric aimed at fuelling anti-India hysteria is detrimental for a country like Nepal that has long enjoyed cordial relations with India. The latter has always been supportive of the aspirations of the Nepali people. If the political crisis in Nepal is hampering that country's peace and development, it is the Maoists who are to blame. They are the ones who are holding the future of Nepal to ransom. If the Maoists want to initiate a dialogue with New Delhi like they have suggested, it is an option worth exploring for the sake of Nepal. But before they are invited to the table, they should be told in clear terms to abandon their anti-India rhetoric. For, bad-mouthing India at the drop of a hat is just a ploy to divert attention from real issues. It will neither solve Nepal's woes nor help earn India's good wishes.



            THE PIONEER



Reports from Nepal are anything but reassuring. After being shown the door from power, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, are now upping the ante for a showdown with the mainstream political parties. They are planning a takeover of the country to reduce it to a satellite of China.

Nepal's Maoists had recently launched a three-day, nationwide bandh that had sparked violence across the country. The bulk of the people of Nepal oppose the Left-wing extremists. But the latter are well organised and their armed cadre is like a parallel army. It is with the help of this parallel army that Nepal's Maoists are enforcing their diktat and even declaring areas under their influence as 'independent' with a parallel administration. "Any kind of violence in favour of the people's rights is justified," declared United Communist Party of Nepal(Maoist) ideologue Baburam Bhattarai.

What the extremists want is a Constitution for Nepal that would guarantee their control of the country's Government in perpetuity. In the present Constituent Assembly, the mainstream political parties are opposing such an authoritarian political structure. But Maoist leaders like Bhattarai have already declared that if the demand for a Constitution of their liking is not met by May 14, they will treat the existing Government as defunct and announce an alternate Government for Nepal.

Another key issue in the political conflict is the merger of the Maoist people's liberation army with the Nepali Army. It goes without saying that any such move would lead to a Maoist takeover of Nepal's armed forces. Once that happens, control of Government will safely be in Maoist hands, even if some other party gets elected to power. Bhattarai has made it clear that it is either the Maoist way or complete anarchy.

Under the earlier Prachanda Government, the Maoist agenda of infiltrating and taking over the institutions of the country one by one was being pursued vigorously. This was done in a systematic manner. First, Prachanda sought to play China against India. This he did by visiting Beijing and then making impossible demands on New Delhi. Next came severing of Nepal's cultural and religious ties with India. Without fully realising the consequences of the steps that the Prachanda-led Government was taking, the other political parties went along with the measures. The alert bell was only sounded when Maoists sought to remove Indian priests from Pashupatinath temple that led to a public outcry.

To gain access to power, Maoists collaborated with the forces of democracy to end monarchy in Nepal. But once in power, they even insisted on the King being driven out of his palace. The other political parties gave in to this demand. But the ultras were not through. Their aim was to impose Maoism on Nepal and jettison Hinduism.

There has been no attempt on the part of Nepal's Maoists to hide their real agenda. Backed by China, whose armed forces are at the border and key officials in Kathmandu, the ultras are sure of winning the battle if it comes to a street fight. Already they have declared parallel administrations in several parts of the country.

What we are seeing unfold in Nepal is the age old Leninist-Maoist tactic of capturing rural areas and then surrounding the cities. To add another dimension to this tactic, Nepal's Maoists have let loose their cadre in Kathmandu and other urban centres like Biratnagar to create chaos. Kathmandu Valley has already been declared as an 'autonomous region'.

The UPA Government in its previous avatar had sent our own Communist leaders like Mr Sitaram Yechury to hammer out a peace deal in Nepal when forces of democracy and royalty were engaged in a confrontation. But unfortunately, our Communist leaders helped broker a peace largely in favour of their ideological colleagues. Since then Nepal's Government has been tilting towards Beijing and adopting an anti-India stance.

For India, Nepal slipping into total Maoist control would be a serious blow to its security. A Maoist Nepal could easily provide material and ideological support to Indian Maoists in our country's east. China's People's Daily has published articles endorsing a plan to break up India into several independent states and thereby weaken her. This is truly ominous and comes on top of the fact that China already has strong links with Pakistan.

The Government in New Delhi appears too weak to respond to this danger from across the border. Its constant downplaying of the Chinese threat has lulled the Indian public into not taking Beijing's real intentions seriously. During the recent incursions by Chinese forces into Indian territory, the UPA Government was more intent on taking action against the reporters who reported the incidents rather than tell the Chinese to behave.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Chinese counterpart two months ago. But there has been no word on whether he raised the Chinese plan of militarily encircling India and promoting anti-India forces with him. When a serving naval chief warned about the Chinese threat, he was asked to shut up.

In the backdrop of this pusillanimity we have reports from the US that a top Chinese naval officer had proposed to his American counterpart to divide the globe into two, with countries west of the Pacific falling under China's sphere of influence. As far as India's defence preparedness is concerned, we have a plethora of reports that suggest our armed forces are lagging behind, ammunition is scarce, modern weapon systems have not been inducted and many of the existing weapons are duds for want of spare parts. Are we waiting for a repeat of 1962?







This refers to the articles, "The 'cool' jihadis of America" by Martha Irvine and Nafeesa Syeed (December 22) and "Swiss ban ripples across Europe" by Daniel Pipes (December 23). The articles raise some serious and disturbing questions about the growing influence of jihadi Islam among migrant, middle-class Muslims in the US and Europe.

The writers of the first article tell us about five young American Muslims of Pakistani origin who studied in good public schools and colleges in the US. They were "seemingly well-adjusted kids". They did attend a common mosque but what seemed to have deeply impacted them was jihadi propaganda on the Internet. This motivated them to nurse a "sub-culture...of Muslims under siege". It is this indoctrination that took them to the nursery of terrorism in Pakistan. At the time of their arrest, their aim was to join the Taliban to "fight US troops in Afghanistan".

Such recurring stories of alienation of young, educated Muslims from the mainstream of their adopted countries that forces them to forge an Islamist identity are clearly the source of great anxiety and concern in American and European societies. This is something that Daniel Pipes has drawn our attention to in the second article. He has made a valid point that any attempt to reject the Swiss vote against Islamic minarets as a 'nut case' would be self-delusional. Its "ripples" are visible across Europe. He quotes readers' polls by several leading French, German and Spanish dailies that overwhelmingly reflect the "growing anti-Islamic sentiments throughout Europe". He has also cited examples of lack of reciprocity and equality on the part of Muslim countries in terms of setting up houses of worship of faiths other than Islam. Having lived in Kuwait, one is familiar with the Kuwaiti Government's hostility to let a Hindu temple or a gurudwara function.

It is time the Muslim intelligentsia asserted itself to give a liberal direction to its community. Muslim migrants to other countries must accept the cultural ethos of their hosts. Those born and brought up in non-Muslim countries must underline their national identity more than their religious identity. This is the only recipe for inter-community harmony and mutual understanding. Preference for standing apart and resisting integration would be disastrous and may prove American author Samuel Huntington's prediction of a clash of civilisations to be true.









Yahoo! India has named Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi as the most popular newsmaker of the country in 2009. This is based on the number of clicks registered for a specific news story pertaining to him and time spent by users on the news page. This week CNN-IBN has declared the Nehru-Gandhi scion as the politician of the year. India TV too has chosen him as the politician of the year. Some of the key stories for this recognition include rejuvenating the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, trying to make the Youth Congress vibrant and shunning a Cabinet position. He has clarified "I don't want to do 10 things at a time. I want to do one thing at a time and right now I want to build the party."

Mr Rahul Gandhi has come a long way since he entered Parliament as a young MP from Amethi in May 2004. Today he is recognised as the third pillar in the party after Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Mr Gandhi has many advantages including his lineage. First of all, he is the unifying factor for the party. Second, he is young and can afford to wait. Third, he is the front-runner among younger generation leaders for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Fourth, he has struck the right chord by moving around the country and identifying himself with the common man and poor. Fifth, he has no challengers in the party. Sixth, his renunciation of power makes him endearing to many people.

For the first four years, the young Gandhi confined himself to Amethi and Uttar Pradesh disappointing his own party. But just before the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2007, he undertook a rigorous election campaign. Although the Congress did not win many seats in Uttar Pradesh and Mayawati's BSP swept the polls, this campaign became a dress rehearsal for him.

Mr Gandhi came into full bloom during the 2009 Lok Sabha election when he managed the show along with his mother Sonia Gandhi. The mother-son duo were the star campaigners. He came out of his shell and addressed 125 rallies criss-crossing the country in six weeks while Ms Sonia Gandhi spoke at 75 meetings and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at 50. Prior to that, he spent many nights burning the midnight oil strategising for the campaign.

The party gave the young Gandhi full credit for its victory in the 2009 elections and more so for his strategy for going it alone in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. The 'ekla chalo' plan worked wonders. The results were unexpected even to those who were optimistic as the party increased its tally to 21 from nine in the previous elections. Although in Bihar the Congress won only two seats, it managed to get more votes. Above all, his gamble to field younger candidates was a great success.

What is his strategy? First, he is not a young man in haste and not looking for short-term gains. Second, he wants to reach the top in his own right and that is why he is doing this 'Bharat darshan,' getting to know the country and the people. Although he is a beneficiary of the dynastic politics, he had admitted publicly, "I have an advantage of my celebrated name. It has guaranteed me an easy entry to the highest echelons of political power. I have greater access and an easy induction. But I know that there are many amongst you who do not have the same advantage. I want to give you that opportunity, no more political patronage and parochial favouritism, it will be fair and equal."

Third, he wants to create a new leadership in the party. He has a long-term goal of rejuvenating the party and spend the next five years to build up the party, as he is aware that without foot soldiers there can be no victory. In this endeavour, he has certainly managed to make some headway. He plans to enlist 10 million young people in Youth Congress and also democratise the party by holding elections. He has already managed to get about 1.5 million to join the Youth Congress. He expects a new leadership to emerge from this lot. The only question mark would be about the quality of the new leadership.

Mr Gandhi is probably looking at the 2014 election scenario. There is going to be a sea change in the election scene by that time. Older generation leaders are almost on their way out. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders like Mr LK Advani, DMK chief M Karunanidhi would be out of the race. Mr Gandhi has already stolen a march over the younger lot after the 2009 elections. Right now the Opposition is in total disarray. But a hat-trick for the UPA is going to be a difficult task.

So far the Gandhi scion has avoided any major controversy. However, building up a party that has been used to getting votes in the name of its leader is not going to be easy. With money power and muscle power overtaking everything else in politics, Mr Gandhi will have a tough time picking up the right persons for the right job. He is now on a honeymoon period with the people and if he does not utilise it properly, then he would have frittered away the goodwill he has earned so far. He should also think of the party as a whole and not confine himself to the Youth Congress and NSUI. Mr Gandhi seems to be on the right track but he should be aware that the system always resists changes. The man of the year recognition should be seen for his potentials just as US President Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize for his potentials.








Seven dead on one day transformed Sunday into a bloody sabbath. This was followed up by conflicting accounts of who had died and by whose agency. Whereas both the Trinamool Congress and the Congress blamed the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for the death in Habra in North 24 Parganas district, the fact is that the mother of Bapi Chaudhury has named Trinamool Congress's Raju Dam and his gang as the killer.

If this is not bloody disorder then what else does West Bengal have to witness in order to give meaning to the descent into turmoil? And yet, on the surface, the turmoil is not pervasive; it remains isolated in pockets where the episodes are staged. The turmoil is not perceived as widespread, almost as though there are multiple and parallel systems within which these episodes occur.

The pockets are well known — West and East Midnapore, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly — where the contest for turf is being fiercely fought. Till now, the two sides were easily identifiable; it was always on the one hand, the CPI(M) and on the other the opposition, be it the Trinamool Congress or the Maoists or the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities. This time, the situation seems to have been complicated by the accusation against the Trinamool Congress.

Irrespective of the political banner to which the dead belong, bottom of the ladder local leaders and people actively engaged in politics are being targeted. It would appear that death is being delivered to deter political participation. It would also appear that under the sweeping charge of 'State sponsored atrocities' the capacity of the West Bengal Government to intervene and act to curb the descent into bloody disorder is being curbed.

It can be argued that the West Bengal Government is unwilling to pay the political price that will inevitably be demanded were it to unleash the full force of its police backed by the paramilitary in the Jangalmahal against the Maoists or its police against warring political groups. It can also be argued that by raising the cry of State-sponsored violence and then taunting the West Bengal administration for its lack of success, the political stage has been set for a free-for-all.

In other words, West Bengal has become the happy hunting ground for all sorts of ambitious political gravediggers willing to kill in order to establish or retain control. Whatever else West Bengal may be it cannot be described as a democratic space. College elections, school advisory board elections, panchayat elections, municipal elections, parliamentary elections, by-elections are all reasons for an outbreak of violent confrontations, burning buses and killings.

It has been argued over and over again that the lid on cumulative grievances has come off with the emergence of a strong Opposition party, namely the Trinamool Congress. With the Trinamool Congress operating as inspiration and shelter, the oppressed are spontaneously igniting resulting in violence. As a dramatic simplification this sounds like a plausible explanation, for the politically naïve.

The violence and the killings demonstrate the capacity of the competition to retaliate, regardless of which party finds itself in the position of challenger. As a build up to a regime change, which is how the ongoing turbulence is being described, it is ominous.

If the real purpose of regime change is an entirely negative and destructive goal of settling scores then it implies that West Bengal will descend from disorder to chaos over the next several years. Like the CPI(M), the overt reasons of the Trinamool Congress and its partner the Congress whipping up expectations for a change are to faithfully deliver development to the 'people'. The question that must be raised is what development can the alternative deliver if it is preceded by such political turbulence? The other question that needs to be asked is can normal democratic politics return post haste once the regime change is affected?

The political turbulence has taken its toll on the willingness of the administration to work effectively in situations where risk is involved. Near Jhargram on Monday, miscreants attempted to burn alive a family of five, merely because the family had ties to the CPI(M). The police could not proceed to rescue the family for fear of land mines or the police chose to play safe. Whatever be the explanations, the incident reveals the disorder.






The Palestinian Authority is seeking membership of the World Trade Organization as part of an effort to build prosperity and the foundations of statehood but the Obama Administration and Israel are blocking the bid.

The WTO could be "an engine for reform and an engine of statebuilding," said former Economics Minister Basim Khoury at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in October, after discussions with WTO chief Pascal Lamy and diplomats from Europe, the US, China and Japan.

The PA — whose Fatah party governs the main Palestinian territory, the West Bank, while militant rivals Hamas run the separate Gaza — is provisionally seeking observer status, allowing it to adjust to WTO terms. The PA could achieve membership in five years even if it has not yet achieved statehood (non-state members include Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao).

Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all members and all enjoy stable relations with the West and Israel, compared to Iran, WTO outsiders. But what improvement can membership make to Palestinians on the ground in the near future? The truth is, very little.

The WTO does not have the power to resolve the primary impediments to Palestinian trade: The security wall around the West Bank, the 600-odd military checkpoints, roadblocks and barriers in the West Bank, and the blockade of Gaza. These measures, to prevent suicide bombings, as during the second intifada in 2000, greatly hamper freedom of movement and thus of trade but are excluded from WTO conditions because they are security measures.

Vehicles take up to four hours to pass through each checkpoint, adding to the cost of transport. Goods often get spoilt when they are unloaded for checks and reloaded. Nassar Stone Investment Company — a stone and marble producer that exports to the US, Europe and the Far East — has to leave enough space in its vehicles to allow access to sniffer dogs, reducing the quantity of goods per journey. Many companies find their working day is limited by checkpoints' opening times.

WTO talks seem an empty gesture amid these constraints. What the PA lacks is not a free-trade framework — Israel is WTO-compliant and accounts for most of Palestinian trade — but the ability to gain access to new markets. To do so, it needs a private sector that is mobile and reliable, and checkpoints hinder both.

In his Foreign Policy Speech to the nation in June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli public he wanted to "strengthen the moderate part of the Palestinian economy by handing rapid growth to those areas." Improved security in the West Bank has been met with a slight thaw at checkpoints. Opening times have already been extended at Nablus, Ramallah, Qalqiliya and Jericho, for instance, and some checkpoints have been dismantled. Trade in Ramallah and Nablus is up, although the International Labour Organisation says there is no increase in jobs yet.


And Mr Netanyahu recently announced a 10-month settlement freeze in order to commence peace talks. The freeze is partial, and does not apply to East Jerusalem or to West Bank projects already started, but may prevent new incursions for the time being.

Improved trade could allow businesses and commerce to grow: A thriving private sector increases employment and security, in turn lessening the need for the archipelago of military watchtowers, in turn increasing the flow of business.

The US has a role to play and needs to adopt a consistent position — more like Turkey's firm diplomacy. It was the Bush Administration that promised WTO membership to the PA back in 2005, yet the Obama Administration is blocking the current WTO bid while also failing to achieve a comprehensive settlement freeze. This is one of US President Barack Obama's biggest failures so far in West Asia, strengthening the perception that the US is an uncritical ally of Israel or, even worse, a weak bystander.

-- The writer is Editor of Exploration and Production: Oil and Gas Review, an independent international journal published in London.







Christmas is bumping into Shiite Islam's most mournful ceremony this year, forcing Iraqi Christians to keep their celebrations under tighter wraps than usual.

Midnight Mass will again be celebrated in daylight across Baghdad, and security around churches is heavier for a community that's been threatened by sectarian violence since the 2003 US-led invasion.

A deadly Christmas eve ambush of a Christian bus driver and a bombing earlier this week targeting a 1,200-year-old church, both in Mosul, underscored their concerns.

But this year, Christians feeling an extra need for caution are toning down the Christmas glitz, and the plastic Santas aren't selling as well as usual. At least one Catholic archbishop has discouraged Christmas decorations and public merrymaking out of respect for Ashoura, a period of Shiite mourning and self-flagellation.

"We used to put the Christmas tree with its bright lights close to the window in the entrance of our home," said Mr Saad Matti, a 51-year-old surgeon and Basra city councilman.

"But this year, we put it away from the window as a kind of respect for the feelings of Shiite Muslims in our neighbourhood because of Ashoura," he said.

Ashoura caps a 10-day period of self-flagellation and mourning for the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, killed in 680 AD during a battle that sealed the split between Shiites and Sunnis.

During the 10 days, throngs of Shiite pilgrims march to the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad.

The lunar Islamic calendar varies against the West's, and this year Ashoura happens to climax on December 27.

Shiites are the majority of Iraq's 28.9 million people and now dominate the country politically, giving other sects more reason to accommodate them.

Few weddings are held during Ashoura, and any business associated with beauty — flower shops, jewelry stores, photography studios — loses money.

"No weddings, no work," Ms Nijood Hassan, a Sunni, complained at her flower shop central Baghdad. "Why do they have to do this?" But the compulsion to preserve an outward appearance of harmony is strong.


s Hassan's sister, Ms Nadia, quickly interjected: "There is no sectarian division any more, and we have no objection whatsoever about that."

The archbishop of the southern Shiite-dominated city of Basra, Imad al-Banna, called on Christians "to respect the feelings of Muslims during Ashoura and not hold the public celebrations during Christmas.... to hold Mass in the church only and not receive guests or show joyful appearances."

Some 1.25 million Christians, 80 per cent of them Catholic, used to live in Iraq. An exodus that began after the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein imposed more Islamic policies, intensified after 2003, when Christians became targets of sectarian violence, and some 868,000 are left.

Iraq's top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, said he used to hold Mass at midnight on Christmas eve but in recent years switched the services to daylight hours, when the streets are safer. He said he was unaware of the Basra priest's Ashoura edict.

"We will do our religious rituals as usual and on its dates, and our Muslim brothers will feel happy that each one has his own dear religion," Delly said.

The Defence Ministry said patrols will be stepped up around churches, Christian neighbourhoods and places of celebration, mostly in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. That didn't stop unidentified gunmen from ambushing a Christian man in Mosul on Thursday, shooting him after pulling him from the bus he was driving in Mosul, police said. It was not clear if the attack was religiously based. The added security also didn't deter Mosul bombers from attacking the Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas, on Wednesday with an explosive hidden in an abandoned cart a few yards away. Two Muslim passers-by were killed, police said.

Christians aren't the only imperiled worshippers. Two dozen Shiite pilgrims preparing for Ashoura rituals were killed over the last two days in bombings in Baghdad and Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometres) to the south. Earlier this week, in Baqouba, two Shiites were gunned down while leaving a mosque where they had been flogging themselves for Ashoura. It was not known if they were targeted because of their beliefs.

Mr Adnan al-Sudani, a cleric in the Shiite-dominated Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad, said Christmas generates no ill will among his followers.


"We as Shiites respect Christian occasions and share their happiness in our hearts," he said.

Shiite shop owner Ali Qassim wished more people would have themselves a very merry Christmas. His electronics shop, in the mixed Muslim-Christian neighbourhood of Karrada, is packed with artificial pine trees and cherry-cheeked faces of plastic Santas, called Baba Noel in Arabic.

But few were sold.

"Nothing is in the streets. Nothing is in the shops," said Mr Qassim, looking out on the bustling midday traffic. "In the past, fashion stores used to put up Baba Noel and a tree in front of the shop. But out of respect, many families will not celebrate because of the Ashoura and to sympathise.

-- AP







UNION Home Minister P Chidambaram should be supported in his endeavour to convert our umbrella Home Ministry into an effective ministry to oversee Internal Security. In the past there have been efforts to have a minister look after the Internal Security portfolio. But this has not adequately addressed the challenge of coping with a country that Mr Chidambaram says stands at the " confluence of every kind of violence" you can think of— separatism, Maoism, religious fanaticism and so on.


The proposal of hiving off the non- security related portfolios from the Home Ministry is long overdue and should be done at the earliest. Likewise, creating a National Counter- Terrorism Centre under the Home Ministry is an idea whose time has come.


The Multi- Agency Centre and the National Investigation Agency that had been set up or activated in the wake of Mumbai do not address the key issue of " counter- terrorism" or active operational measures to deal with violent extremism, religious or otherwise.


The Group of Ministers reform proposals of 2003 had sought deep reforms in the intelligence set- up, but they have been foiled by the existing intelligence agencies which have been all too keen to preserve their existing turfs. Expectations that an intelligence professional like National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan would solve the problems have been belied by his hands- off approach. Over the years the terrorists have become sophisticated in their approach and so it is necessary for the government to also get its act together.


Experience around the world has shown that such reform can only come through effective political leadership. Mr Chidambaram is the right person to lead the process and you can be sure that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is aware of all the details of the proposal which should be implemented at the earliest.






FOR a state wracked by corruption, misgovernance and naxalism, the fractured verdict thrown up in the Jharkhand Assembly polls offers little hope of things looking up substantially in the near future.


By giving the thumbs up to several tainted candidates, the people in Jharkhand have also sent out the message that issues like corruption do not weigh as heavily on their minds as liberal India would like to think.


It is natural for the United Progressive Alliance to claim victory as it has emerged as the largest combine in the state but this has mainly to do with the Congress's tie- up with Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha which has won 11 seats. And the fact that the Congress- JVM alliance is well short of the majority, gives the controversial Shibu Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha a crucial say in government formation.


This, as the Congress well knows from past experience, is prescription for trouble.


The JMM has already indicated that it will settle for nothing less than the CM's post for Mr Soren. This limits the options before the UPA with any arrangement for the sake of power diluting its agenda.


As for the BJP, its downhill slide continues though the NDA still has a theoretical chance of forming the government. Down from 30 seats to 18, the BJP has suffered again by botching up on its pre- poll alliances, an area in which it was a trailblazer in the nineties. This should serve as food for thought for its new leadership.






MICHAEL Schumacher, who turns 41 in January, has given himself and his fans the best possible present by deciding to return to the Formula One circus. Three months after the German aborted an attempt to return to F1 because of an injury to Felippe Massa, Schumacher has worked hard to rediscover his passion for racing.


His decision to break away from Ferrari, an Italian team, and join Mercedes, a German team, will count as the biggest sporting surprise of 2009. Yet, people who have followed his stupendous career are confident Schumacher can again crank up high speeds in his new car for a team where he has Nico Rosberg as partner. There have been many comebacks before this in international sport, with names like Muhammad Ali, Martina Navratilova and Lance Armstrong coming to mind. Schumacher's return once again proves that age is just a figure as long as an athlete can stay fit.








NEXT week the world enters a new decade, the second of this millennium. Because the years to come belong to the future, there is always an uncertainty as to how they will unfold. In the last decade, the one that will end on December 31, India has clinched three key issues. First, it has more or less eliminated all the constraints on the Indian economy. Second, the politics of caste that so debilitated the Indian polity since 1990, have reached their finite limit. And third, Indian foreign policy has come out of the restraints that had been placed on it by the United States and the developed world.


The decade beginning 2010 can be what the period after 1990 was for China. Having suppressed Tiananmen in 1989, China launched a blistering phase of political consolidation and economic growth that has yet to slow down.


Beijing saw the opportunity and seized it with both hands. Can New Delhi do the same ? True, China has certain advantages, not in the least being the single- mindedness and focus of the Communist Party of China, and its principal pillar, the People's Liberation Army. It also has a generous measure of pragmatism, discipline and foresight, special qualities of the Sinic civilisation.


India began the 2000s with the slow meltdown of the BJP- led National Democratic Alliance. The party met its Waterloo when it became clear, in the wake of the post- Godhra Muslim massacre in Gujarat in 2002, that it was not willing to change its medieval view of India. It was not just that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was undermined thereafter, but so was his effort to shift the party away from the thralldom of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh, an exercise that has been marked by failure since.



The poor performance of the great Yadav chieftains of the Gangetic plains— Mulayam Singh and Lalu Yadav— in the 2009 general elections indicates that the Mandal tide has at last turned. Ms Mayawati's inability to break out of her Uttar Pradesh bastion, too, has signaled the limits, if not the dead- end that the politics of caste have reached in the departing decade. The UPA has skillfully reappropriated the mantle of being the party of the poor by coming up with important measures of social welfare such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act which is the closest to a social welfare net that the tens of millions of Indian poor can get.


As for the economy, it has been ticking along at a handsome pace of about 7 per cent growth in the decade gone by. In the last two years, the economy has also weathered one of the worst downturns that the world economy has seen, and yet the rates of growth dipped only to 6.7 per cent in 2008- 2009 and hope to reach 8 per cent in the current fiscal. There is every indication that the Indian economy goes into the new decade with considerable optimism. Barring infrastructure, almost all constraints— savings, investment, policy— have gone.


In the area of foreign policy, the most successful outcome has been the Indo- US nuclear deal. The nuclear issue was the pill stuck in the Indian throat. We had to either wash it down or swallow it. The nuclear tests of 1998 set in motion a complex train of events that finally persuaded the US to come to terms with India.


The result was a far- reaching agreement whose main achievement is to remove a splinter under India's fingernail that gave great pain in our relations with the developed world. A major side- effect of the agreement is that we will be able to sharply ramp up our nuclear power capacity through import in the coming decade.

If India holds true to the trends of the decade past, the period beginning 2010 should see decisive developments in the country's economy, its global standing and its fight against poverty and disease. Take the area of defence, for example. The induction of a number of big ticket items— aircraft carriers and nuclear propelled submarines will compel us to rethink our oceanic strategy in a qualitatively different fashion. There are important gaps, such as the modernisation of the army and filling dangerous gaps in the Air Force, but things will have moved ahead in the coming years.



But there is nothing foreordained about what will happen in the future. While significant achievements in the economy, politics and foreign policy in the past ten years have opened a window of opportunity, it is for the country to collectively seize it.


As it is, there are certain major problems that the policies of the decade gone by have merely touched. The first relates to quality education in the country. While people tend to focus on top schools like the IITs and IIMs, the ability to address the opportunities of the coming decade rests vitally in a comprehensive overhaul of the government run primary and secondary school system, and the extensive network of universities across the country, some run by the Union government, the others by the states.


Their condition today is pitiable. There is not a single university of any value between, say, New Delhi and Kolkata. In an area peopled by hundreds of millions, universities are producing millions of unemployable young men and women who are nothing but cannon fodder for the Maoists— their paper qualifications are of little practical use, but their partial education makes them self- aware and angry about their plight.


The second major failure has been in the area of health. It is well known that private health systems account for an unconscionably large proportion of health expenditure of Indians. The state and union government run systems are, predictably, in a shambles and they do not even pretend to cover even a fraction of the population.

A country which vies to be a world power of some standing cannot do so by having the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality in the world.


Everything will eventually rest on one key issue— leadership.


China's great success, beginning 1990, was the manner in which the CPC managed an orderly leadership transition and the high quality of leadership that the country received. India cannot replicate an authoritarian system, but it needs to do something about the increasingly dysfunctional political system of the country.

Incoherence at the political level cannot but have the most serious consequence in the area of governance.



One of the major unfixed problems has been Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's inability to reform the civil service, something he promised early in the UPA's first government.


Some cosmetic changes have been put forward like external assessment and so on, but there is need for deep and fundamental reform of the civil services to ensure that they do not fail the country in the way they have in the last fifty years or so.


Perhaps the most significant development of the last decade has seen the resurgence of the Congress party and the decline of the BJP. As the decade wore on, the Congress has become stronger and has skillfully expanded its agenda to undertake what it says is " inclusive growth"— that is privileging market- led growth over sham socialism, even while taking serious steps to address urban and rural poverty.


The last decade has set the leadership lines of the Congress party as well.

Rahul Gandhi, the leader in training, will have to take the helm at some point in the coming decade. He has shown himself to be sensitive, caring and unafraid to break the mould. But his and his generation of politicians' real test is ahead. The consequences of success are obvious, but the price of failure would be unimaginable.









THE Supreme Court's anti- NRO judgment was hailed across the country. But it has now attracted a crop of bipartisan critics. The controversy rages around constitutional Articles 62( f), 63( i), 63( p), 89 and 227 on which the judgment is mainly pegged.


Article 62( f) requires members of parliament to be " sagacious, righteous and nonprofligate and honest and ameen". Article 63( i) and 63( p) relate to grounds of " misconduct and moral turpitude" and " conviction in absentia for being an absconder" for disqualification from parliament.


Article 227 is about bringing laws " in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah". It says that " no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions". Article 89 is about the powers of the President to promulgate Ordinances.


Is the SC under CJP Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry about to overthrow landmark judgments of the SC under CJP Justice Mohammad Afzal Zullah ( Hakim Khan case in 1992) and CJP Justice Nasim Hasan Shah ( Kaneez Fatima case in 1993)? These judgments declared that no constitutional or statutory provision may be struck down by any court on the ground that it may violate an injunction of Islam. They held that the status of the Objectives Resolution had undergone no change and it remained a historic statement of purpose for the first constituent assembly in 1949 despite its inclusion as a substantive part of the Constitution later under General Zia ul Haq. They also held that judicial review of any legislation on the ground of repugnance to the injunctions of Islam could only be carried out by the Federal Shariat Court and that the FSC could only make pronouncements with prospective effect and could not declare any law void ab initio.


Further, that Article 227 should be read as an instruction to parliament ( on the recommendations of the Islamic Ideology Council) and not as a basis for judicial review by the courts.


Alengthy articulation of the " immoral politics" of the NRO took place in the SC last week during the hearings, some of it based on a reading by petitioner Hafeez Pirzada of extracts from recent books by Benazir Bhutto and the American journalist Ron Suskind. This was bewildering since there was no discussion in the court of any possible role of Article 227 in the case at hand.


More significantly, the SC under CJP Chaudhry seems to going much further by relying on the Basic or Salient Features Doctrine ( that says that Parliament cannot amend the constitution in any manner that changes the Basic Features of the Constitution) to declare the NRO as unconstitutional because it


ostensibly alters the Basic Features of the 1973 Constitution. This is remarkable considering that the SC in 1997 ( Mahmood Khan Achakzai case) had declared that even General Zia ul Haq's 8th Amendment had not altered the Basic Features of the Constitution! In the NRO case, the SC seems to additionally imply that Islam is a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution and the NRO is repugnant to the injunctions of Islam! The anarchy that may result from this judgment would flow from the stated provision of article 227 that the Islamic provisions are to be applied in accordance with the teachings of each and every Islamic sect. So two questions arise: will the courts henceforth strike down legislation on the ground that it fails to accommodate the teachings of any sect? Will the courts henceforth determine which sect is legitimate for its purpose of interpretation of the legislation and which is not? The SC will now be faced with other relevant questions: if the NRO is discriminatory and immoral, what is the status of bank loan write- offs and defaults of businessmen and politicians since independence? Indeed, what is the status of the immoral and discriminatory grant of perks, privileges and plots by various governments to its supporters? What is the status of Air Marshal ( retd) Asghar Khan's 17 year old petition in the SC indicting the ISI and various PML politicians of illegal gratification and acquisition of funds? And so on. Questions may also be raised about the constitutional validity of the various reprieves and general amnesties ordered by different governments for political reasons.


The SC has ordered the State Bank of Pakistan to furnish lists of all loan defaults and write- offs since 1971 amounting to hundreds of billions of rupees from all banks in the private and public sector.


But how will the SC proceed in this matter? Does it have the expertise to determine in each and every case which was an immoral and crooked write- off and which was a legitimate default? What about obtaining lists of all the plots of land allotted by various governments to thousands of bureaucrats, judges, soldiers, journalists and politicians and inquiring into their legitimacy and Islamic morality? We await the SC's detailed judgment with bated breath and humility. If the SC buries the NRO without creating legal or administrative anarchy and gridlock which destabilise the system, the court will justly deserve the kudos lavished upon it. But if it doesn't, then these 17 judges will go down in history as the fundamental cause of Pakistan's meltdown.


The writer is the editor of Friday Times ( Lahore)



My friends are saying I should rub shoulders with important people. Previously I used to rub shoulders with suntan lotion. They got me an appointment with the American ambassador. I stood outside the American Embassy in a queue with ordinary people trying to get in. A tall man who said he was a plainclothes policeman told me he was making enquiries about a stolen jacked similar to the one I was wearing. When he asked me to take off my jacket I did. He went through the pockets, took out my wallet, gave me my jacket and walked off. When I complained about this to the people in the queue they started laughing.


Then I went in and met Her Excellency. I said, " Listen ambassador" and then I forgot what I had to say. She kept looking at me. I turned to my friend Yousaf who was with me and asked, " Do you remember what I had to say?" Yousaf said, " I can't even remember what I had to say". So we just said, " what's it like being a woman with brains?" Her Excellency replied, " would you two like a couple of bananas?" " No thanks" I said, " we just had a bunch before coming — here, I mean". Then suddenly I thought of something to say, " what's your favourite colour?" " Grey" she said. " Oh" I said and then there was silence. Then I asked her what she thought of the government. " It would be very wrong of me to comment on President Zardari's abysmal performance", she said. What a neutral statement, I thought. After we left the ambassador's office we went to see General Kayani. The first question I asked him was, " how's the army?" " Fine, thank you", he said. " And the navy?" " They've gone for a swim", he said. " And the airforce?" " Up in the air, as usual", he said. Having got the important matters out of the way, I asked him, " what're you going to do about this corrupt government?" " What do you suggest?" he asked me. " Well, get another one", I said. " You mean another such government?" he asked. " No. I mean yes. I mean you should always have a spare one. Not that this one isn't spare enough." Then I asked General Kayani, " do you like the President?" " Of which country?" he asked. I just couldn't think of one. So I said, " do you like the Prime Minister?" " Of Multan?" he said. " Don't be silly", I said, " Multan isn't a country". Then I said, " do you like democracy?" " Tell me" General Kayani said, " what's it like?" Then I explained to him what democracy's all about. " It's a bunch of people lead by another bunch of people chosen by the same bunch of people" I said. " I see" he said, " and how does your system work?" " I make sure I eat six bananas every day and a bag of nuts. Then it works fine." Im the Dim







SEVEN- YEAR- OLD Akanksha paid a heavy price for talking to her friend in the classroom — she was silenced forever, allegedly by her school's headmaster.


The Class III student of a government primary school in Uttar Pradesh's Bailipur village is the latest victim of corporal punishment in educational institutions.


The accused, Amar Singh Gautam, has been arrested for beating the girl to death.


The incident took place on Tuesday. Gautam flew into a rage when he saw Akanksha talking to a friend when the class was on. The headmaster allegedly hit her and even kicked her around. According to her classmates, Gautam didn't stop even after Akanksha collapsed.


But she recovered sometime later and attended the remaining tutorials. On reaching home in the evening, Akanksha started complaining of unbearable pain in the neck. She was admitted to the local community health centre ( CHC), but her condition deteriorated.


The CHC referred Akanksha to the Auraiya district hospital on Wednesday, but it was too late. She succumbed to spinal injuries in the evening.


Inquiry officer Deepak


Mishra said Akanksha's medical report confirmed internal injuries. " There were hairline fractures near her neck. It looks like the headmaster had hit her with full force.


Other students said he was very short- tempered. According to them, he would beat the students with anything he could find," he said.


Madanlal, Akanksha's father, alleged the police was not initially willing to register a case against Gautam. " They fear him. The police registered an FIR and arrested Gautam only after a large number of villagers resorted to violence and pelted stones at the police station," Madanlal said.


Basic education officer Raj Bahadur said the charges against Gautam were correct.


" I have sent a detailed report to my seniors and recommended his suspension. The department will lodge a criminal case against him," Bahadur said.


Sridhar Pathak, Auraiya district police chief said though Akanksha died because of the beating, it was not done intentionally. " We have registered a case against Gautam for culpable homicide not amounting to murder," he said.


Ram Asre, a villager said Gautam was earlier found involved in financial embezzlement but had managed to evade arrest by blaming a colleague for it.




MAY 15, 2009:

A class V girl in Burdwan died after her class teacher allegedly hit her on the head with a duster after she failed to write the national anthem


APRIL 17, 2009:


Shanno Khan, 11, an MCD school student died after being allegedly beaten and punished by her teacher DEC 3, 2008 : An eight- year- old in Kolkata died after she fell unconscious on being allegedly slapped by the school teacher


OCTOBER 25, 2007:


Milan Tanna, 16, a Class XI student in Ahmedabad died after being made to take seven rounds of the school ground for coming late


AUGUST 2, 2007:


Arpit Kavadia, a Class XII student in Udaipur, died in hospital a week after being beaten by his teacher for putting his legs up on table


Speeding bus kills three & injures two in Noida



THREE persons were killed and two others critically injured when a speeding bus lost control and hit a motorcycle and a rickshaw in Noida on Thursday.


The accident took place at 10.30 am in Sector 35 at the Morna Crossing near the City Centre Metro Station. The bus ( DL 1P B 9605), carrying employees of a private company, lost control while taking a turn and hit a pole on the roadside.


The bus then rammed into a rickshaw and a motorcycle. Five people were crushed in the accident.


The police rushed the injured to a nearby hospital. While two persons were declared dead on arrival, three others were admitted to the intensive care unit. One of the them, Lakshman, succumbed later. The injured persons have been identified as Manoj and Ramesh.


The police said the driver, Rakesh, has been arrested. A case of causing death due to negligent driving was registered and the bus was impounded.


During initial interrogation, Rakesh said the accident took place as the brakes had failed. A police officer said, " The bus will be technically examined to verify the driver's claim." The accident led to traffic chaos on the road for about an hour.




UNION minister for corporate and minority affairs Salman Khurshid recently held a house- warming party in grand style at his new 4, Kushak Marg residence. In the galaxy of ministers, distinguished citizens, reporters and corporates, Jaipal Reddy stood out.


Khurshids treated him as the virtual chief guest. Reddy's status as the Union urban development minister had something to do it. After all, it was his ministry or rather his personal intervention that got Khurshid the prized house. Eagle- eyes also noticed the presence of representatives from two prominent industrial house currently having a running feud. Both sides enjoy proximity to the minister.


Now that's being an even- handed minister for corporate affairs!



THE CONGRESS, of late, is having a good run in most of the elections. But the results of the just- held municipal polls in Madhya Pradesh have not been particularly inspiring to the party. It did badly in Rajgarh, Digvijay Singh's pocket borough; Kamal Nath's home turf Chhindwara and Jyotiraditya Scindia's backyard in the Gwalior- Shivpuri region.



SONS and daughters of influential political leaders have formed an informal club. During the just- concluded Parliament session, members of this elite group could be seen chatting in the hallowed central hall. The key members are Sharad Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, Haryana chief ministers Bhupinder Hooda's son Deepender, late Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy's son Jaganmohan, DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav's son Akhilesh. Observers feel this group could take shape as a bloc challenging the babalog brigade headed by Rahul Gandhi.



CONGRESS leader K. Karunakaran has expressed resentment at the way the Congress membership enrollment campaign was being conducted in the party's Kerala unit.


In a letter to Kerala PCC president Ramesh Chennithala, the nonagenarian leader said his supporters were being left out from the process of membership enrollment or its renewal. The copy of the letter had been given to AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai, sources close to Karunakaran said.


Karunakaran broke ranks with the Congress in 2004 but returned to the party a year ago.



THE LUCKNOW bench of the Allahabad High Court has issued a notice to the Uttar Pradesh cabinet secretary on a PIL challenging his appointment. The PIL questioned the appointment of Shashank Shekhar Singh, contending that there was no post of a cabinet secretary prior to his appointment and that the " imaginary post" can't be created.


Petitioner Shiv Prakash Shukla had pleaded that Singh was drawing the salary equivalent to an IAS officer, though he does not belong to the elite cadre. A division bench of justices Pradeep Kant and Shabihul Hasnain took up the petition, though the court had reserved its order on the maintainability of the PIL about a month ago.








Compare last Christmas with this one. Year-end 2008, India's economic indices headed south. Nine per cent growth seemed a distant memory. Capital was flowing out. Jobs were being lost. Cut to December 2009. The finance minister has forecast 8 per cent growth this fiscal, and promised to stick with fiscal stimuli till the next Budget. The message, loud and clear, is that India will keep its eye on the ball of targeting high growth. This, it's being said, has played Santa to the bourses. A slowdown-impacted economy couldn't dream of a better Xmas present to trigger bullishness. But year-end cheer can't just be a matter of talking up the markets. Feelgood draws strength from India's healthy 7.9 per cent second quarter growth. Plus there's been a series of relatively glad tidings, at home and abroad.

India's industrial pick-up is no longer in doubt. Manufacturing's strong rebound has buttressed factory output, which notched 10.3 per cent growth in October. Capital goods have done well, indicating an uptrend in investments by entrepreneurs. Another sign of industrial revival is that direct tax collections for 2009-10 might overshoot Budget estimates. Sharp third quarter growth in corporate advance tax payments isn't just a statistical effect of 2008's low base. Sectors like auto, metals and consumer goods have indeed bounced back, as robust sales figures show.

The Labour Bureau's quick employment survey also lifts festive spirits. Overall, jobs are estimated to have risen by around five lakh in the July-September quarter. A huge majority constitutes workers directly hired by manufacturing industries. Textiles, garments, gems and jewellery are important hirers. Recall that these sectors were badly mauled orders down, lay-offs up by the global crisis. That they're recruiting suggests an uptick in global demand, in the US and Europe particularly. While it may be early for lasting cheer on exports, their growth rate turned positive in November, up 18 per cent after 13 months in the red. The government's role in boosting the exports sector, however proactive, was limited given worldwide recession. So the return of global takers for Indian goods is good news.

On the global scene as well, we've come a long way from the post-Lehman doldrums of end-2008. US incomes rose in November 2009 for the fifth consecutive month, boosting the growth driver of consumer spending. Job losses were fewer than anticipated. Though still precarious, America's economic numbers have improved. Western Europe seems less shaky. And China is global topper, growth-wise. True, massive public spending is fuelling the global recovery, but the fact is the healing process began faster than anyone expected. Where India's place in the world is concerned, it's poised to be a consistently fast-growing major economy. It needs to look up and ahead, stewarded by a government committed to reforms.







Much has been spoken of regarding India's intelligence and internal security mechanisms, and some important steps implemented, in the year since the Mumbai attack. But for sheer impact and far-reaching consequences, Union home minister P Chidambaram's proposal to split the home ministry has the potential to be at the top of the list. The road map outlined by him calls for changing the fundamental structure of the home ministry by hiving off all non-security related functions to another ministry or to another department within the same ministry; setting up a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) under the streamlined home ministry; and subordinating nearly all intelligence agencies in the country to the NCTC. It is, even on paper, a highly ambitious plan. And it is essential that it does not remain just on paper.

As matters stand, there are a multiplicity of intelligence agencies operating in the country, many with overlapping jurisdictions, all of them reporting to different authorities ranging from the national security adviser to the prime minister. It makes for a tangled skein. Factor in turf battles and structural firewalls between agencies, and our intelligence lapses begin to seem inevitable in the current set-up. Some progress has been made in the past year towards sorting out this mess with, for instance, the establishment of the National Investigation Agency. But centralised oversight and a focal point for decision-making and coordination remain elusive. This is where Chidambaram's plan has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the country's security structure.

It will not be an easy plan to implement. Restructuring of authority on this scale is bound to ruffle more than a few bureaucratic feathers. The inertia of lethargy, when it comes to the government's administrative processes, will not help. But delaying these changes is not an option. The first decade of the new millennium has seen the rapid growth of a new model of conflict although India has been grappling with it since the 1980s that favours operationally compact, high impact attacks against civilian targets. Accurate intelligence and the proposed NATGRID networking 21 databases are the weapons that are needed in this kind of conflict.

The US's response to 9/11 is the obvious parallel. The Department of Homeland Security was created almost exactly one year after the attack, pulling together 22 intelligence agencies. It is time New Delhi showed the same kind of urgency. While outlining the new changes, Chidambaram credited luck for the prevention of further attacks. But the thing about luck is, the harder you work, the luckier you get.








In London, a congestion tax on private cars levied in decreasing radials from the town centre makes people think twice before embarking on a journey into town by car. Electric and hybrid vehicles are, however, exempt from this tax. Prohibitive parking rates in Manhattan achieve much the same goal, making it unfeasible to use private cars. In Singapore, the registry of private vehicles takes the form of an auction. With bid amounts sometimes higher than the cost of the car, few can afford the price.

Creating a range of disincentives, cities around the world have found ingenious ways to curb the growing menace of the private car. Viewed in the 1950s as a symbol of personal freedom and the good life, the car is now in the West, at least symptomatic of all that is wrong with urban life: pollution, overcrowding, congestion and urban blight.

India is another story. In Delhi, every day a thousand new vehicles are added to the traffic stream. While this is a matter of some pride amongst those who feel that more cars are a sign of progress, the inability of city roads to accommodate them has produced unmanageable congestion, jams and increasing time periods for travel. Bangalore's urban transport ministry estimates that over Rs 30,000 crore are required to upgrade road infrastructure that includes new flyovers, freeways, freight corridors, terminals etc just to keep up with the present statistics. Mumbai, meanwhile, has found a unique solution to the city's traffic snarls. Local police have created 'silence zones' along the busiest roadways to prevent harassed drivers stuck in traffic jams from honking.

Are these sane solutions to the country's mounting urban problems? Shouldn't a restriction on vehicle numbers become essential in these circumstances? Most western cities have consciously developed new routes through town that give residents a better, greener option. In Copenhagen, a free cycle policy allows anyone to pick up a bicycle from any of the innumerable stands dotting the city, after paying a 10-kroner deposit. The deposit is returned at any stand upon the return of the bicycle. Could Park Street in Kolkata, or the old quarters in Ahmedabad or Hyderabad, benefit from a similar scheme?

In fact, the case for alternative forms of transport can be strengthened only if simultaneously a serious workable policy on car restriction is proposed. Along the East Coast of the US, many communities like Reston and Columbia are designed only for pedestrians. Cars are restricted to lots closer to the highway. Often whole sections of the cityscape are realigned to create a more attractive form of travel.

In the university town of Louvain, cycle tracks are designed to be independent of the city roads aligned instead with the park system, thereby separating polluting cars from non-polluting vehicles and encouraging more people to walk and cycle. On working days it is not unusual to find senior company executives on cycles, gliding past duck ponds and through groves of shady trees to their offices.

In India, along with monumental problems and annual shortfalls, the incomplete approach to city planning and design is compounded by the government's inability to take bold initiatives. Beyond elaborate studies and paper projects little gets implemented.

Private architects in Ahmedabad have suggested using the Sabarmati riverbank as a secondary transport link within the city. Others in Delhi have prepared plans to use the system of nallahs to create a green link between different city neighbourhoods. A long-standing study to ban cars from the centre of Connaught Circus awaits approval (the lack of political will and opposition from shop owners will, however, never allow such a scheme to pass). A detailed proposal to pedestrianise the road between Humayun's and Safdarjung's tombs, and create a historic walkway that merges Nizamuddin and Lodi Gardens into one complete experience also lies on a shelf. In a city designed and run by the middle class for itself, little else can be expected.


With growing car populations and a distressing displacement of the pedestrian, there is a yawning disparity between the space required and the space available in the city. Given the present state of Indian urban growth, obviously too radical a shift in transport planning may not be possible. But if ever there was a need to re-examine new forms of movement in the city for imaginative solutions, it is now.

Transport planners know very well that it is possible to link all points in the city through the subway, buses, cycle-rickshaws and pedestrian sidewalks and so make travel less painful, and douse the rage that overcomes every driver when he takes to the street. With the growing legion of car manufacturers and owners, the battle, however, seems already lost.

The writer is an architect.






Why is research into probiotics important?

Human body has at least 10,000 times more bacteria than human cells, but human cells are bigger. A recent study in the US looked at all the organisms in the human body and though we don't know where they come from, after a couple of years 800 days in fact your flora is established. If you take antibiotics in the middle, it wipes them out but they seem to be able to come back. So, organisms and us are inseparable. Food affects not only your stomach but other parts of your body too, and probiotics is a way to manipulate that. We need manipulation because human beings have been around for ten, twenty thousand years, depending on how you count. We haven't changed that much genetically, but our food has changed dramatically. In the last 50 years, we've had the introduction of antibiotics, not just in treating disease, but in the food we eat. So the question is, with bacteria being involved in our life and health, is there a way to manipulate them so that we benefit? In a sense, probiotics are the first step in that. They're safe for the most part.

How does probiotic food differ from normal food, for example, home-made yogurt and probiotic yogurt?
In general, what people here make at home is yogurt. And in order to make yogurt, we need organisms. And the organisms ferment milk, that's their job. The job is not to give you a health benefit, it's to give you milk. So, in most cases, these organisms die in the bile and acid of the stomach. It's good value because you're eating beneficial bacteria and because the fermented curds are good for you. But if your goal is to do something more specific, like preventing and treating diarrhoea, that's not going to work. Probiotic has to have an additional benefit than just fermentation.

What are the specific diseases that can be treated using probiotic foods?

To name just one example, at least 50 per cent of the population suffers from one form of irritable bowel syndrome or another, which can be pain, constipation, bloating or even diarrhoea. There are a number of studies suggesting that probiotics can relieve the pain and reduce the constipation. Diarrhoea comes in many forms and in children a virus causes it while in adults it's normally pathogenic bacteria. What happens when you get diarrhoea is there is a breakdown in the wall of the gut, so toxins can get through the gut. Probiotics seal off the gut they have a barrier effect. So, instead of having diarrhoea for five days you'll have it for three days. It's not a cure in that sense but it's helping your body recover faster.






In the wake of the demands for new states - from Telangana to Bundelkhand and back - my friend Rajiv has come up with an idea that surprised me: he says that Kutchis like me should demand a state separate from that of Gujarat. What surprised me about Rajiv's idea was that Rajiv is a Gujarati and, like most Gujaratis, he's what might be called an Akhand Gujarati, one who believes that outlying areas such as Kutch (not to mention that suburb of Ahmedabad called Chicago) are all part and parcel of Gujjudom, vaat khatam, no more need be said. As a Kutchi, however, i've always felt there's plenty more to be said, and that the gaal (the Kutchi word for talk, note the difference from the Gujarati 'vaat') is far from khatam. Whenever i'm asked, 'You are Gujarati only, no?', which is often, i always agree, No, i'm not a Gujarati, i'm a Kutchi. 'But aren't Gujaratis and Kutchis same to same?' my interlocutors persist. They are not at all same to same; in fact they are very different to different, i tell them. And i point out the vive la differences (that's neither Gujarati nor Kutchi, but faux French, just to show that we Kutchis are linguists as well). Food, first. Gujarati food is rich, oily, spicy and has sugar in everything, which is all fried anyway. Like the desert where its origins lie, Kutchi food is austere and lean-ribbed, minimalist as the sand dunes that ripple through the Rann of Kutch, home to the famous wild asses.


Even more than the difference in food is the difference in language. Gujarati sounds like, well, Gujarati. Kutchi doesn't sound at all like Gujarati; it sounds like Sindhi, and to begin with it's not even a language but a dialect. What's your name?, in Gujarati, comes out as 'Tamaru naam soo?'. In Kutchi it's 'Anjo naam kuro?'. Different as chalk and Cheddar. Despite these differences, however, we Kutchis, being a law-abiding lot, have never agitated for a separate state. Live and let live; Gujju and let Gujju has been our unstated motto. So i was surprised when Rajiv suggested that Kutchis form a separate state. But then he explained his reasoning.


According to Rajiv one of the reasons why Gujarat CM Narendra Modi remains entrenched in office is because Kutch votes en bloc for him. If Kutch were to separate from Gujarat, NaMo would lose the Kutch vote, and could well lose his gaddi. Rajiv, like me, is no fan of the Gujarat CM. In our book, anything likely to screw NaMo's happiness should be encouraged by word, gesture and deed poll. But a separate state? For Kutchis? Are there enough of us to make a separate state?


The only Kutchis i know of - apart from the scattered and extended Suraiya clan - are my ex-colleagues Kishore Bhimani and Mahendra Ved. And Alyque Padamsee. But in Mumbai's advertising and theatrical circles, Alyque is also known as God. So at best Alyque can be only a part-time Kutchi, the other part-time being Ooperwala. Could the Suraiya family, and two and a half Kutchis (the other half being God) constitute a state? In any case the Suraiyas and the 2 1/2 Kutchis have long left Kutch. So who were all those Modi voters in Kutch? The wild asses left behind? Possibly. But more likely the Kutch vote for NaMo came from Gujaratis who'd snuck into Kutch for the sole purpose of voting for Modi and giving Kutchis in general a bad name.


If Kutch were to become a separate state - Kutchiskhand, or Kutchi Pradesh, say - the Gujarat CM would forfeit a sizeable vote bank, and along with it his gaddi perhaps. But what's to stop NaMo from doing what his Gujju supporters seem to have done, namely, hopping across to Kutch and setting up shop there as a nakli Kutchi? What's to stop NaMo from becoming not only a nakli Kutchi but also the first CM of a newly formed Kutchistan?


That is the Kutch-22, for which neither Rajiv nor i have an answer. How do we resolve NaMo's Kutch-22? God alone knows. Well, do you, Alyque?








I was often tempted, as a kid, to bounce a groundnut off the bald pate in front of me at the cinema theatre. I once did just that and had my ear painfully tweaked by Dad, who had to face my target's ire. I smiled tolerantly, however, when an exuberant boy did precisely the same thing to me the other day. Life had come full circle like the big tonsure on my head nature's handiwork, not the barber's.


My hair loss started early. I found myself unwittingly vying for the title of the best Yul Brynner lookalike, cranium-wise, even in my mid-20s. I splurged on hair-restorers and growth stimulants that claimed to be efficacious but miserably failed to fertilise my fast thinning thatch. I even had my head shaved at a relative's suggestion, hoping it would promote regeneration. Instead, it only further retarded my sluggish hair growth.

I seriously considered a hair transplant with my hair haring off my head alarmingly. I called it off when i found out, though, much to my dismay, that the trichologist himself was as bald as an egg. "Physician, heal thyself!" i muttered while stomping out of his room. Then, like many of my ilk, one tried to divert attention from one's fast receding hairline by growing a beard and moustache. But the facial fungus one managed to raise was pitiable to say the least, resembling the fuzz on a teenager's chin.


And wearing a wig never ever appealed to me. I finally came to terms with my baldness, beaten on all fronts, and even learnt to philosophise about it. I no longer waste time combing my hair, or what's left of it, for one thing. Monthly haircuts are out. I need only occasional, inexpensive trims. And as Don Herold, the American humorist put it, "There's one thing about baldness: it's neat". I've also learnt to put up with friendly ribbing. The other day, seeing my hairless cranium, a friend joked, "A hair on the head is worth two in the brush." I retorted jovially, "Better a bald head than none at all!" I'm reserving my carefully rehearsed punchline for the jibe that really stings me, however. I'll snap then waspishly, "I firmly believe it's what you have inside your head, rather than on top, that really matters!" Surely that will silence my taunters.








Finally, radio frequency for mobile telecom services that provide high-speed internet access will be on sale in January, well over a year after it was initially slotted. A lot has happened in the intervening 12 months. India's cellphone user base has swollen to 500 million, the number of service providers has quadrupled, the government has come round to the view that the best way to allocate a scarce natural resource like spectrum is through an open auction, and technology has taken mobile telecommunications a generation ahead. What has not changed in this time are mindsets — regulatory capture by the umpire and rent-seeking by the players.


The spectrum auction will take place against a backdrop of plummeting average revenues. A new user typically brings less than $8 of business a month to a cellphone operator, mainly in local voice usage. And telecom companies are continuously savaging their rates to get every additional user. Spectrum needs to be made available to the dozen-odd new operators that have been granted licences under controversial circumstances. The government is yet to get the defence establishment to vacate the radio frequencies it intends to put on the block. Hence the six-month lag between auction, the proceeds of which have been factored into this year's Union budget, and allocation.


Under the circumstances, the additional frequency, when available, has a high likelihood of being diverted to carrying voice traffic on existing and new networks. This would defeat the higher goal of a new technology platform but can be defended on the principle of the greater good for the greater number. The government, too, can defend its revenue maximising obligation. What gets lost are the productivity gains arising from access to the digital economy.  Every trip to a bank rendered redundant by mobile banking, for instance, is effort and time saved for use somewhere else. The cellphone is the device that has the highest probability of bringing India's digital have-nots into the fold. Allow the smartphone to be as smart as its designers made it.







The wonderful thing about Christmas is that even if all of us are not overwhelmed by the inspiring force of the Christian God and his divine son, we tend to take the special day as the start of a boisterous 'Western-style' celebratory week. It starts on Christmas Eve — with a mixture of jollity and spirits — and ends in the wee hours of December 31-January 1 — with a mixture of jollity and spirits. In a way, it's an elongated version of Diwali with the additional virtue of being celebrated as a mainstream festival in the developed nations that we, like it or not, wish to join one day. The localised twists give it a special flavour as we see skinny men wearing Santa costumes outside restaurants trying to churn out a 'Ho, ho, ho!' with some of them adding the prefix of 'Jai' with their exclamations.


But we have a darn good suggestion that should make Christmas even more boisterous at least across the Indo-Gangetic plains where the good-natured Sardar (of the 'Sardar jokes' fame) can be seen as a desi version of St Nicholas, the original Father Christmas. And you don't even have to really scour the length and breadth of Punjab to come up with an apt name — it already exists in the form of Santa...and his ever-faithful fellow raconteur Banta.


Santa-Banta jokes have been the staple for clean, fun desi humour much before those less funny ones involving Manmohan-Montek. Santa says something; Banta responds, Santa gives his crowning repartee that makes all of us break into stitches.


To brand Santa (and Banta) as an Indian Christmas special would not only cheer us up with double force but would also confirm our contribution to Christmas celebrations whether in Jesus' birthplace in Palestine or in Santa Claus' headquarters in the North Pole. So as you dig into that plum pudding and interrupt those carol singers, don't hesitate to crack those nuggets celebrating Santa. And Banta.








For a man who runs a coffee estate in the sylvan hills of Kodagu in south Karnataka, Raj Subbiah surprises visitors with an ability to banter in 16 languages. I heard evidence of Konkani, Kannada, Tamil, Marathi, Hindi, Bhojpuri and English.

A compact, mustachioed man, Subbiah was educated at the Bijapur Military School, Karnataka; St Xavier's College, Mumbai; and Benares Hindu University, Uttar Pradesh. After discarding his life as a management consultant, Subbiah, now in his late 50s, lives alone on his coffee estate in Kodagu, or Coorg to use its anglicised name, with five dogs.


I was recently in Kodagu after a gap of nearly 20 years, and I enjoyed meeting returnees like Subbiah. They embody the talent, wanderlust — and endearing quirkiness — of the Kodavas, a people given to good living, tradition and independence.


Kodagu has given India two army chiefs, including the late Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa, the first army chief of independent India (a year before he took charge, one of his officers was a Colonel Ayub Khan, later Field Marshal and President of Pakistan), several hockey players and model/actors.


Ever since India's great economic explosion, many Kodavas streamed into the corporate sector, especially the tech heartland of Bangalore. In 24 hours, I met employees from Cisco, 3M and TCS.


With a literacy rate that hovers near 80 per cent, Kodavas do very well when they leave their homeland. This tiny district is as large as the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Only, Delhi has about 15.5 million more people than Kodagu's half a million.


As the demand for Telangana threatens to split Andhra Pradesh and revive other dormant movements like Gorkhaland and Bundelkhand, it's interesting to note there were no more than stray whispers from Kodagu, where infrequent attempts to resurrect an old sub-national identity have died from lack of popular support.


Earlier this month, P.T. Bopanna, a former colleague from Bangalore, released a book that he edited: The Rise and fall of the Coorg state. He explores the circumstances that led to what he believes was the "unpopular" amalgamation of the independent state of Coorg with Mysore state (now Karnataka) in 1956.


For decades, the question of statehood — Bopanna argues for autonomy — has been kept alive only on the fringes of the Kodava imagination. There have been no rebels, no agitations and no violence. Indeed, the demands are more like suggestions, like this one I found on a blog (run out of West Asia, not Kodagu):


"If Telangana in Andhra Pradesh can be carved as a new state, why not statehood for Kodagu? It is no secret that successive state governments have ignored our district for 50 years now. Pathetic infrastructure and no vision to develop Kodagu as well (sic). Participate in the discussion … It can be a healthy discussion between people for and those against statehood for Kodagu. We can make our case heard in our own sweet way."


I like the our-own-sweet-way bit. It's very Kodava.

So, statehood isn't a popular demand, though I agree with the blogger's point about pathetic infrastructure. The roads were among the worst I've recently encountered and at odds with its sprawling coffee, pepper and cardamom plantations, its red-tiled bungalows and rush of cars and SUVs.


This prosperity, the strong hold of education, and the ability to adapt its generations to the changing country beyond, are big reasons why India hasn't heard of a Kodavaland. States like Nagaland and Mizoram boast of equally strong, if not stronger, education, but no other land in India so strongly combines economic well-being with education.


If it were to be a matter of identity alone, Kodava culture is indisputably distinct from mainstream Karnataka. Kodava Hindu marriages have no priests, there is much liquor, dancing and — my favourite — wedding feasts boast of a main entrée called the pandhi curry, a spicy, vinegary pork curry. The men are resplendent in their turbans and ties. Many sport handlebar moustaches, the effect of a martial tradition. The women are beautiful and ramrod-erect in their specially draped Kodava saree.


For all its virtues, Kodagu isn't all milk and honey.


The downturn and climate change have swept this lush land. The seasons are changing, coffee prices are depressed, and many Kodava techies have been laid off. Drinking is a problem. The Kodavas love their drink, but too many seem to get drunk too fast and too often.


The district's easy social fabric is showing some evidence of fraying. The Hindu-first political philosophy of Hindutva, which has strong roots in neighbouring Mangalore and across Karnataka, appears to be taking hold among the Kodavas.


Muslims and Christians are widely evident in Kodagu, and though there are no riots and obvious hate, there are rumblings of "love jihad" (a term borrowed from neighbouring Kerala, where some young Muslim men are accused of "luring" Hindu girls into marriage). This month, a nationwide investigation into the affairs of Thadiyantavide Naseer, a Keralite who is the main accused in Bangalore's serial bombings, led to new suspects in Kodagu.


But as long as Coorg's returnees keep streaming back, it's unlikely the district will become a Gujarat or a Telangana.

"We are like the elephants born in Nagarhole (a neighbouring forest reserve)," reasoned one slightly sozzled Kodava. "All their lives they roam, into Tamil Nadu, into Kerala and God knows where else. But they all return home to die."








Despite the cringe-inducing behaviour that has become common in Parliament, its members are rational people. More often than not, there's a method to the madness, which has developed over the decades and has its own system of rewards and punishments. As a republic, India is six decades old; at a similar stage in developed-country democracies, the legislative ambience was similar.


Joanne Freeman of Yale University, who is writing a book on violence in the US Congress in the 19th century, states that "(members) pulled knives and guns on one another. There were shoving matches and canings... Tables were flipped, inkwells and spittoons went flying". And yet, today that very same US Congress is a model of procedural rectitude and decorum. I hesitate to speculate how long it might be before our Parliament discovers that ambience, but I am convinced that we will. In part, my hope stems from an unlikely parallel: Bollywood.


Both electoral politics and Bollywood cater to the masses, who prefer tamasha over subtle storytelling. Look back a generation, and Bollywood's offerings for middle class sensitivities were relatively slim pickings. That's where the spectacle of Parliament remains today, with very little on offer for the middle class voter. Many parliamentarians are still stuck in the mould of the anti-establishment, rampaging, angry young man, because that persona, in politics as in the Bollywood of an earlier era, paid dividends.


Many of our politicians cut their teeth in an era when literacy levels were lower, and the explosion in the electronic mass media had yet to happen. Disrupting Parliament was a way of getting attention, whereas asserting that same position via a debate was pointless in a country where most voters never got to hear of it. This strategy still pays dividends because of the media's tendency to highlight disruptive behaviour and ignore parliamentary discussions.


Bollywood, in the meantime, has evolved. As India's middle-class grew, filmmakers smelled money, and as a result today's productions include a large number that target this new demographic. These productions are much more nuanced and less dishum-dishum. Politics, on the other hand, hasn't kept up with the middle class as much because it hasn't had the incentive: the middle class continues to be stingy with the only currency that ultimately matters in politics: votes.


This is rather odd by the standards of developed country democracies, where middle class activism in politics, including voter turnout at elections, is far higher than that of the poor. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact that the size of the middle class far outnumbers the poor, thus putting much more of their way of life at stake.

So, why aren't we experiencing a similar improvement in parliamentary decorum? I believe it's because the size of our middle class — as a percentage of the total population — and the level of its engagement with the political process, has not yet reached a tipping point.   When they do, it will be more profitable for politicians to adapt to what appeals to this demographic than to persist in the old ways.


To me the big question is not if, but when. My optimism stems from both the continuing growth of the middle class and the many new examples of their recognition that it must engage with the political process in order to see it improve. And I keep hoping for the surest prescription for curing bad behaviour in Parliament: for the media to simply ignore it.


Jay Panda is MP, Lok Sabha

The views expressed by the author are personal








This Christmas, go to the values that Jesus truly represents and live them. Then he is not of the past. He is here now. And he will be in the future also, forever and ever.


Jesus did all he could to help one cross the mind and get into the soul, the spirit, the source of life, the Self. Spirit is eternal and beyond birth, death, name and form. You find the most complete expression of love in Jesus.


Jesus and love are synonymous. If you say love, you need not say Jesus and when you say Jesus, it means love. Whatever glimpses you may get here and there indicates that fullness, the ultimate expression of the inexpressible that life is striving to express throughout time.


Love goes with courage and look at the courage of Jesus. He says, "The meek shall inherit the earth. The meek shall inherit heaven." This is because love makes you meek.


Yet love is the strongest force on this universe and brings you the kingdom of heaven. In those days too, even after showing all those miracles, Jesus was asked to prove how he was the son of God. Among thousands, just a few followed him. They were not intellectuals; they were simple, innocent people.


This is because the mind dwells on proof. It cannot understand Jesus, only the heart can feel his presence. Those who crucified Jesus were not bad people. They were ignorant. The Bible said, "Judge not and ye shall not be judged". Christ asks not to judge and leave the judgment only on God. Otherwise, in the name of Jesus, in the name of religion, people kill each other.


When you are truly in love with Jesus, you will see him everywhere. You will break through the limited concept of relating yourself with something, or somebody, or identities, and recognise the divinity within you.


(H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar writes this column exclusively for HT.)








On August 12, 1990, police officer S.P.S. Rathore molested 14-year-old Ruchika Girhotra. That it has taken all of 19 years to be able to write that sentence without fear of libel tells us something of our criminal justice system. And in those 19 years Ruchika committed suicide, her family went through hell, Rathore rose up the ranks to become Haryana's top police officer. When a beaming Rathore walked out of a Chandigarh court on Monday, convicted of molestation but sentenced to just six months in jail, the verdict mocked all that our law and justice system stands for.


In the 19 years between Ruchika's first complaint to Monday's judgment, the crime of molestation was compounded by many other horrors. First was the long delay in filing an FIR, despite the then Haryana DGP's recommendation. Then there was the prolonged hounding of the Girhotra family. The many cases filed against Ruchika's brother were finally halted only after the Punjab and Haryana high court stepped in. Meanwhile, the family went into hiding, and Ruchika killed herself. Even in death, she was besmirched. In court, the defence counsel's lengthy arguments cast aspersions on her character and that of her father. Though no charges of abetment to suicide or criminal harassment have been successfully proved against Rathore, the travesty of justice that Ruchika and her family faced — over and above her molestation — is in plain sight.


In this context, it is still some consolation that Rathore's crime has been confirmed by a court of law — even if the sentence seems paltry for such a crime and other accusations remain unresolved. The case shows once again how inept the system can be, by design or otherwise, in speedily processing cases. Prompt registering of an FIR, a speedy trial and swift conviction might have prevented the many horrors that followed Rathore's original crime. Besides, when there is clear power asymmetry between the perpetrator and the victim, the judicial process must be extra-sensitive to protecting the victim and complainants against retribution. S.P.S. Rathore was even at the time of the crime a powerful officer; in a shocking act of political indifference, he was promoted all the way to eventually become Haryana's DGP. As the higher judiciary and law ministry ponder ways to speed up justice delivery, the many injustices inflicted on Ruchika Girhotra during the agonisingly long wait for justice provides a salutary, if sobering, lesson.







After impulsively announcing a new Telangana state and inflaming ancient blood-grievances in Andhra Pradesh, the Centre has finally decided it wants to have a conversation. The UPA had, in its manifesto, promised to act on Telangana "through a process of consultations and consensus". Unfortunately, consensus is that much more difficult to hammer out after political grandstanding has begun — calm has to be somehow returned to the state's politics if that conversation is to be viable.


Telangana MPs are livid — they see the talks as a transparent ruse, intended to put the matter in deep freeze. If that is indeed the intention, then the political divisions will sharpen and draw blood. K. Chandrasekhar Rao has already announced a bandh and declared hostile intent if the Telangana cause is betrayed again. This is a moment when the Congress, as the largest force in the region, regains control. This is an especially hard task when its own party unit has divided itself along the same traditional fissures, with its legislators dominating the pro-Telangana and pro-unity camps — but the Congress's true test will be the way it can take the matter forward in a disciplined and dispassionate manner.


By committing to the state of Telangana, the Centre now has to address the many manifestations of this breach — how resources will be divided, how diversities will be accommodated, and how Andhra Pradesh could find itself a new capital city. The economic and cultural argument for Telangana has been demonstrated over the decades, but there are valid concerns on either side of this debate. How will the parent state be compensated? Certainly, this could be a big opportunity for Andhra Pradesh to conceive and build another glittering capital. Currently, these questions are being addressed in an atmosphere of intense mutual suspicion, when both sides are determined to maximise political advantage — but the Centre must ensure that the consultations are not hijacked by this reflexive panic. These "wide-ranging talks" could indeed clarify the rationale for a new states reorganisation commission, if questions of governance are placed above emotive identity politics.







That the government has modified its tough stand on visa rules, particularly the controversial two-month "cooling off" period for foreigners with multiple-entry, long-term tourist visas, will be welcomed in various quarters, not least in the missions of countries such as the US and the UK whose nationals looked to be most inconvenienced by the moratorium on their return within a couple of months. All they have to do now is reveal their travel plans as they exit — such as showing confirmed tickets and other travel details — and the immigration officer will not stamp their visas prohibiting a re-entry within two months.


To what extent this mitigates the inconvenience and fears of current or prospective visitors a little time will tell. Several countries have tightened visa regulations in response to terrorism, and India, a long-time, visible victim of terror, is within its rights to tighten its own visa scrutiny, especially after the Headley-Rana revelations. But endangering business interests and tourism, besides inconveniencing travellers, is no guarantee of greater safety for Indians. Moreover, it is ironic that the new strictures were announced soon after the decision to offer India's first ever visa-on-arrival scheme on a pilot basis for a handful of countries. The VoA scheme was supposed to be the harbinger of a more liberal visa regime, taking lessons from Southeast Asian countries that immensely benefit thus from tourism.


The mistake shouldn't be made that increasing numbers of foreign visitors and our safety are mutually exclusive. To begin with, documentation today is more scientific and detailed, and technology allows easier determination of antecedents. Besides, our modernised airports are set to have better screening systems. Terror is a complex problem and calls for a holistic solution rather than a sweeping, single-point prevention that is not in the least foolproof.








Home Minister P. Chidambaram's bold and encouraging outline of a new architecture to counter terror, unveiled on Wednesday, had a telling line that cannot go unnoticed. "It is my fervent plea that this should not result in turf wars," he said at a gathering of the country's top security and intelligence officials as he spelt out the parameters of the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).


While the home minister set out to take the first tentative, yet decisive, steps towards security reforms, this observation showed that he was not unmindful of the phenomenon which could derail government intentions. Like every reform, the challenge lies in fighting the mindset responsible for matters to have reached this point. Turf wars are one manifestation of this larger malaise.


Reorganising the home ministry, creating an NCTC, streamlining reporting structures and synchronising databases are much needed institutional changes. Just like, not too long ago, it was vital to create the office of the National Security Advisor, have a National Security Council, a dedicated technical intelligence body in the National Technical Research Organisation, a Joint Intelligence Council and a Defence Intelligence Agency.


These are issues India has been grappling with for over a decade. It would be unfair to state that all the measures from the past have failed to deliver. It is in the nature of the intelligence profession that failures come to be known and noticed while successes are understandably less advertised. For every terror attack there is one predictable reason — intelligence failure. And for the many that were possibly averted, little is told.


Despite this rider, there is an urgency to reinvent and innovate. Why? Largely because of the nature of the adversaries — those posing the gravest threats to the Indian state are stateless in form, their ideologies cut across national boundaries and they reside within and among all segments of the population. Be it the Indian Mujahideen or the recent case of David Coleman Headley, every terror investigation reveals something new, an innovative new method or tactic. So, the onus to innovate also falls on the enforcer.


The home minister has sought to do exactly that. Behind the gloss of new institutions and ideas which have caught the headlines is an underlying attempt to change mindsets. Be it a plea against turf war or a call against complacency or, for that matter, underlining the attributes of a DNI-like (Director of National Intelligence) office which would be responsible for the NCTC, the aim appears to be to decisively break away from existing practices.


The shift, however, has to run deeper — one that is taking place in intelligence and security agencies across the developed world. For long, intelligence agencies have worked on the principle of "need to know" with information being shared only once the recipient has established the purpose to have access. Western countries, including the US, have changed the dictum now to "responsibility to provide".


It is, therefore, not enough to simply generate and possess valued intelligence but the onus lies with the originator to determine who the recipients of the information ought to be. In many ways, need to know is now the right to know and it is the responsibility of every agency to provide this information to relevant personnel.


Here is where bodies like the proposed NCTC come into play. These institutions, already working in the West, are products of this changed approach where intelligence generation, analysis, investigations and operations are brought under one shelter for effective response. Centres like these, once established, work 24/7 solely dedicated to isolating and countering terror designs.


However, like some other bodies that were created out of previous efforts, something like the NCTC can be completely run aground if the principle of need to know is not replaced by a need to tell. Old principles are bound to prompt the very turf wars that the home minister is wary of and the same ego clashes which failed to collate three separate pieces of information — on terrorist training, target mapping and the ship sailing — to judge a possible attack on Mumbai.


The responsibility to tell does not end with superiors and sister agencies alone. Until the system of a monthly report card which Chidambaram started, there was hardly any information about tackling terror being brought to the public realm. Terrorism impacts people and no amount of security arguments can challenge the people's right to know the government's assessment from time to time on this threat.


It is indeed a matter of concern that the Indian intelligence and security community does not produce even one public document on what could provide an idea of the threats facing the country. In most developed countries, there are intelligence estimates, weekly bulletins, incident reports and analysis that are released with a purpose to inform and sensitise the populace which helps build confidence and enlist better cooperation. Surprisingly, in India, not a single intelligence agency has even a website of its own, let alone sharing assessments with the public.


Something like the NCTC must become a microcosm of such change, which should be infectious in its spread than be reduced to a tussle for posts. A key lesson that agencies across the world have learnt from tackling terror is that their work can no longer be a plain bureaucratic exercise. There is a need to enlarge the intelligence community, foster academic research in these areas and become open to scrutiny for that alone can be the way forward for innovation.


When stories emerge how FBI technicians managed to put together a smashed satellite phone used by one of the Mumbai terrorists and retrieve vital information, they show up the gap in expertise which could easily have been bridged if Indian agencies had connected with the pool of private expertise available in India.


A counter terrorism centre is no one-time panacea for all these shortcomings, but by its vast scope it can help push such change by adopting an outward looking approach. For long, intelligence and security agencies have seen themselves as instruments of power; a new architecture must locate them as a public service, accountable and transparent to the best extent possible. This is no longer just a matter of principle, but an absolute necessity to fight terror.







In the two sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha so far, Parliament has asserted its authority over the executive on a few occasions. In the July-August budget session, Rajya Sabha MPs forced the law minister to withdraw the motion to introduce a bill that had weak provisions for declaration of assets by judges. Later, Lok Sabha MPs refused to permit a discussion on the rubber amendment bill in the absence of the relevant minister; they also insisted that a bill on the Delhi Metro not be passed without discussion. Significantly, some Congress MPs joined hands with the opposition on these occasions. In the recently concluded winter session, Rajya Sabha did not allow the lotteries prohibition bill to be withdrawn without the introduction of a replacement bill. Also Rajya Sabha formed a select committee to examine a bill that Lok Sabha passed without discussion.


These actions, however, are few and far apart. The Constitution requires that the government be responsible to the legislature. This implies that Parliament has the duty to oversee the functioning of the government and hold it accountable for its work. However, in practice, Parliament has often been unable to fulfil this responsibility. Here are a few instances to illustrate the different ways in which the government escapes parliamentary scrutiny.


Parliament met for just 46 days in 2008, the lowest ever for a calendar year. MPs do not have the power to convene Parliament unless the government concurs. Parliament sessions are called by the president on the advice of the prime minister; the only requirement is that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions. An attempt was recently made to wrest back control: Mahendra Mohan of Rajya Sabha introduced a bill that proposed a minimum of 120 working days for Parliament and 60 for state legislatures. The minister for parliamentary affairs said it would not be practical to implement the bill, and on his request the bill was withdrawn.


The anti-defection law also works against the ability of MPs to examine government proposals. For most bills, political parties issue whips directing their MPs to vote in a particular manner. MPs cannot vote according to the interests of their constituency or their conscience if those contradict the party directive; the price for disobeying the whip is disqualification from the legislature. To take a recent example, this law would have deterred ruling party MPs from voting against the bill that lowered sugarcane prices even if they wished to represent the interests of cane farmers. Some experts have suggested amending this law to strike a better balance between the case for stability of the government and that for independence of MPs. This newspaper recently published an article on the Op-Ed Page by Manish Tiwari suggesting that the anti-defection law be restricted to confidence motions and financial bills.


At a recent conference, N.K. Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, highlighted two issues. All expenditure of the government needs parliamentary sanction. However, the five-year plans are not discussed in Parliament. Only the annual component is approved by Parliament every year; however, as these are components of a larger five-year programme, annual scrutiny is neither an effective nor an efficient process. Second, Parliament has not established effective mechanisms for regular oversight of sectoral regulators such as the RBI, SEBI and TRAI.


In various other areas, our MPs have missed the opportunity to hold the government to account. On November 30, Question Hour was curtailed on account of the absence of several MPs whose questions were listed. Indeed, for the full session, as many as a third of the questions called in Lok Sabha were not answered as the relevant MPs were not present. MPs have also permitted the government to pass bills without any discussion. In the winter session, eight of the 15 bills passed by Lok Sabha were not discussed in the house.


Other democracies have evolved methods to strengthen legislative oversight. For example, the British government announces the annual calendar of sittings. It also publishes a draft legislative plan at the beginning of the year to elicit public feedback. The British Parliament also has a Prime Minister's Question Hour in which MPs may ask any policy questions that the PM has to answer. In every session, 20 days are reserved for business that the opposition may choose. In the Australian Parliament, all ministers have to be present during the question hour. MPs may ask questions of any minister without prior notice; this ensures that ministers are held accountable.


The government of the day must be held accountable at a more frequent interval than the five-year election cycle. Our elected representatives are entrusted with this task. They need to strengthen systems — more research staff for MPs and committees, reviewing financial planning and functioning of regulators, amending various laws and rules — that enable them to effectively fulfil this responsibility. The credibility of the democratic system to achieve development and governance goals is at stake.


The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi







For a rather long time until the two countries cooperated conspicuously at the climate change conference at Copenhagen, China's messages to India have been a contradictory mix of bullying noises on the one hand and cooing appeals for concentrating on the "positive" features of the relationship so that differences can be settled amicably, on the other. What complicates the problem is that the Chinese media, a specialist in being acrimonious — its offensive writings have included a blueprint for "dividing India into 20 or 30 parts" — is entirely government-owned. The Indian media that claims it is "provoked" into replying in kind is wholly owned privately.


Looking back at the past, way back to the aftermath of the traumatic 1962 border war, would underscore, however, that the present pattern is not new. In the previous article in this series (IE, Dec 11), China's highly negative role in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh was mentioned briefly.


However, before the balloon went up in Dhaka on March 25, 1971 some signals were being exchanged between New Delhi and Beijing that were significant. These were blown sky-high by the Bangladesh crisis, inevitably leading to war. These merit attention, and the story must begin from the beginning.


At the time of China's unilateral ceasefire, most Indians were as shocked by what they dubbed Chinese perfidy as by the thundering silence of this country's non-aligned friends. Except for President Nasser of Egypt (who masterminded the favourable Colombo proposals that India accepted at once and China ignored completely) most Afro-Asian leaders failed to appreciate the Indian point of view. Some indeed offered the unsolicited advice that the Chinese terms for withdrawal should be accepted. (To be sure there was spontaneous sympathy from western countries, especially the United States and Britain that offered arms and other aid. But that is a separate, long and instructive tale that has to be told separately.)


In that bitter atmosphere, Indian policy was firm that there could be no talks with China until it accepted the Colombo proposals. The Chinese pretended not to have heard. Tension and acrimony degenerated in 1967 into sharp armed clashes across the Nathula in Sikkim during which the Chinese discovered that the Indian Army was no longer the kind of pushover it was five years earlier.


It was against this backdrop that on New Year Day in 1968, Indira Gandhi took an unexpected initiative. She announced that she was ready to negotiate with China without insisting on the acceptance of Colombo proposals or any other precondition. Silently, she also discontinued the practice of publicising the notes exchanged by the two countries. that were generally angry and sometime offensive. She did all this even all through the 1965 war with Pakistan, when China had backed India's western neighbour and even issued an ultimatum to India that was overtaken by the UN-sponsored ceasefire.


China took its time to respond but when the response came it was dramatic. On May Day 1970, Mao Zedong

smiled at the then Indian Charge d' Affaires in Beijing, Brajesh Mishra, and declared that there was no reason why China and India, two great Asian countries, shouldn't be friends. But the mounting Bangladesh crisis and war put paid to all the hopes aroused by Mao's smile.


Throughout the Bangladesh War the Chinese ranted against India — Zhou Enlai proclaiming that India had "picked up a rock that it would drop on its own toe" — but its role on the ground wasn't at all threatening, unlike that in 1965. A major reason for this was the Indo-Soviet treaty and the Soviet Union's private warnings to China. Moreover, China was not only conscious of India's growing military strength but also worried that its own People's Liberation Army was deeply embroiled in the Cultural Revolution.


Undeterred by ups and downs, Indira Gandhi took another initiative in 1976. Since 1959 when India-China relations had started taking a nosedive and G. Parthasarthi had completed his tenure as ambassador in Beijing, India hadn't appointed a successor. The Chinese followed suit the next year when their veteran ambassador Pan Zuli left. After 17 years Indira decided to raise the diplomatic representation to the level of ambassador. To her discreet inquiry whether China was agreeable, Beijing's reply was typical: India was the first to withdraw the ambassador; let it be the first to send one back. K.R. Narayanan, formerly director China, and later president of the republic, was appointed the new ambassador to Beijing. The new Chinese ambassador arrived almost immediately.


The next year Indira Gandhi was voted out of power. The Janata government that replaced hers differed with her on almost every subject, except her China policy. In February 1979, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then external affairs minister and later prime minister, became the first high-ranking Indian to visit China since 1954. His hosts greeted him with cordiality but they had other things on their minds. He had to cut short his sojourn because China invaded Vietnam when Vajpayee was still on Chinese soil.


Back in power in 1980 Indira Gandhi again assigned priority to improving relations with China. During her talks with Mao's successor, Hua Guofeng, at Belgrade during Marshal Tito's funeral, it was agreed that the Chinese foreign minister, Huang Hua, would arrive in Delhi in October to initiate the much-delayed dialogue. His arrival got postponed to June 1981 because of the casual manner in which Indian diplomacy is sometimes conducted. In August of that year K. Shankar Bajpai arrived in the Chinese capital to take over as Indian ambassador. A day earlier, New Delhi announced its recognition of the Heng Samrin government of Cambodia that was anathema to Beijing. Neither the ambassador-designate nor his hosts were informed of what was afoot.


Over the nearly three decades the dialogue between the two Asian giants — first at the level of secretaries, then at the level of foreign secretaries and now at that of Special Representatives — has gone through many vicissitudes but to no avail. Except that never before have China's claims on Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese call "Southern Tibet", been pressed so aggressively as in recent months.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.








The much vilified Royal Nepal Army (now Nepal Army) is fighting many battles simultaneously, all in the name of national pride: but without any political backing. It shot off a letter seeking clarification from the UN peacekeeping mission as to why a serving major was sent back from Chad, and not allowed to join peacekeeping operations as recommended by the Nepal government.


Major Niranjan Basnet had been exonerated by an internal inquiry in the murder case of 15-year-old Maina Sunwar, a Maoist in custody, during the conflict five years ago. Nepal-based human right groups, the office of the Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International have been pressing for his trial in a civilian court, but the army has not yielded yet. Major Basnet is currently under military police custody.


The UN peacekeeping force's decision has raised questions on the way Nepal Army conducted its internal inquiry. In fact, the army seems to be in a fighting mood as it has formed a court of inquiry to take up the issue with the UN. Nepal Army insists that this violates the agreement between the UN and Nepal — one of the biggest suppliers of the peacekeeping force — and the specified conditions for such actions. Officers can be sent back only if any crime/dereliction of duty is committed there, if he falls ill and is responsible for human rights violations in the place he is currently deployed — Chad in this case. "None of this applies in Major Basnet's case", a senior army official told The Indian Express.


But the standoff between human rights groups and Nepal Army continues. None of the political parties, including the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) has said anything on the issue. The UCPN-M is quiet because the party and many of its top leaders figure in human rights violation cases during the conflict. Other political parties do not want to be associated with the Nepal Army that Maoists still consider loyal to the monarchy which no longer exists.


But the Nepali media and a large section of the population have openly supported the army for the first time, as they feel that 'selective justice' and human rights trials from the conflict years will only target one side — the government's security agencies — and leave out the Maoists. As per the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Maoist chief Prachanda and the prime minister on November 21, 2006, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to have been formed within sixty days and the cases were to be referred there. Army chief Chhatra Man Singh Gurung has asked President Rambaran Yadav and Prime Minister Madhav Nepal to have the Commission formed and all cases referred to it, rather than Major Basnet in isolation.


But the government led by Prachanda and earlier by G.P. Koirala, the two signatories of the CPA, chose not to form the TRC, apparently on Maoist insistence. While in government, the Maoists withdrew cases against 349 of its leaders — almost all of them related with human rights violations — making it obvious that they were only keen to trap the security agencies of the state.


In the midst of all this, Nepal Army got a major shot in its arm as India and China came to its aid in a limited, but symbolically meaningful way. China gave a grant of 200 million US dollars while India's Chief of Army Staff Deepak Kapoor expressed his opposition to the integration of Maoist combatants in the Nepal army, which the Maoists have made a prestige issue.


Some pro-Maoist media in Nepal predicted as far back as May that the army was going to stage a soft coup, a prediction that successive events proved wrong. But Maoists now claim that President Yadav and the army are hatching a plot to take over power. Both India and China have adopted a policy of engaging Maoists politically, but have perhaps realised that weakening the army and letting it be solely punished for human rights violation cases leaving the Maoists untouched would demoralise the institution that may have a role if the current political rivalry takes the shape of a conflict, a possibility that no one rules out now. China had supplied arms to the Nepal army during the royal regime to fight Maoists when India and other countries including US and UK had stopped military assistance. It seems to have taken a fresh interest in the Major Basnet case after US Senator Patrick Leahy, known for his support to the Free Tibet movement, openly pressed the Obama administration to be harsh on Nepal if the major was not tried in a civilian court.


Nepal, no doubt, is at a political crossroads. With most parties now saying that meeting the deadline (May 27, 2010) for promulgating the new Constitution is almost impossible, the big question is: what if the Constitution is not written on time? The life of the constituent assembly, as per the interim Constitution, can be extended by up to six months if a state of emergency is declared. But the spirit of the Constitution is equally clear that emergency cannot be imposed just to extend the life of the constituent assembly. In the words of Baburam Bhattarai, key Maoist ideologue, both constituent assembly and the president's office will cease to exist once the May deadline is past, and "in that case, we will declare the Constitution from the street and capture power".


That is why non-Maoist political parties no longer openly criticise the army like they did three years ago, apparently to appease the Maoists.


No political party, in the wake of the power takeover of from the king, came forward to take responsibility for any lapse by the army or security agencies although they were deployed against the Maoists - then declared terrorists by the state — through a unanimous resolution of Parliament back in November 2002.


Prachanda publicly criticised Gen Kapoor yesterday for his having opposed the entry of Maoist combatants in the Nepal army (because retaining its apolitical character was essential) — as a dictate from a "master to its colony".







If you thought James Cameron's Avatar was just a 3-D fantasy flick about nice cat people vs. mechanised mad men, think again. There's a fourth dimension, a shadowy back story about race that has the sci-fi blogosphere engaged in its own war of the worlds.


Annalee Newitz, writing last week on her science blog io9, criticised Avatar for depicting yet another white man as a hero in the liberation struggles of oppressed people of colour.


As happens in movies such as District 9, Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai, Newitz wrote, "a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of colour and eventually becomes its most awesome member."


I came away from Avatar with a similar feeling, although not nearly as strong as I had after watching, say, Mississippi Burning, which portrayed the FBI as heroes of the civil rights movement. And yet, I'd recommend seeing Avatar, not only for the sensational special effects but also to participate in an important discussion about race.


As a movie summary, suffice it to say that an ex-Marine named Jake Sully uses futuristic means to transform himself from a human, or Sky Person, into a Na'vi cat person. Then he infiltrates the cat people to gather intelligence for a military invasion but ends up falling in love with a cat woman. A "race traitor" to his fellow humans, Sully leads the cat people in thwarting the military invasion.


"This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare," Newitz wrote. "It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of colour from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside. Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege."


The Moving Image blogger picked up that same theme. "Sully has the power to choose between being a dominating Sky Person or a Na'vi victim, which in the end yields greater power — the audience's empathy. Only white men are privileged enough to have such choices."


Some might wonder how blue cat people become stand-ins for oppressed people of colour. It's more obvious than it seems. You can tell some cat people are Native Americans, for instance, because, as Newitz describes them, they "wear feathers in their hair, worship nature gods, paint their faces for war, use bows and arrows, and live in tribes."


In addition to Native Americans, I saw some cat people as black people in disguise. This racial effect is cleverly accomplished by using certain speech patterns and body language. One cat man spoke with a West Indian accent, for instance. "By the end of the film, you're left wondering why the film needed the Jake Sully character at all," the Moving Image wrote. "The film could have done just as well by focusing on an actual Na'vi native who comes into contact with crazy humans who have no respect for the environment."


Newitz concluded: "Speaking as a white person ... I'd like to watch some movies about people of colour ... from the perspective of that group, without injecting a random white ... character to explain everything to me."


Eric Ribellarsi, writing on the anti-imperialist blog Fire Collective, fired back at the critics: "This is not a story about a white man who goes to lead native peoples as their condescending saviour. ... It's a story about a backward white man who is transformed and takes up armed struggle against imperialism alongside them."


He cited the radical abolitionist John Brown as a possible template for the Sully character. In leading the fateful raid on the federal armoury at Harpers Ferry, Brown, in effect, became a black man and gave his life in the fight against slavery. Sully becomes blue and puts his life on the line for the Na'vi.


Personally, I prefer my sci-fi movies to be mindless escapism. But when it comes to a national discussion about race — to the extent that there is one at all — I accept the reality that Hollywood is the moderator and the Internet is the forum. Avatar certainly keeps the discussion going.


The Washington Post







Remember Iraq? For months our attention has been focused on Afghanistan, and you can be sure that the surge will be covered exhaustively as it unfolds in 2010.


But the coming year could be even more pivotal in Iraq. The country will hold elections in March to determine its political future. Months of parliamentary horse trading will likely ensue, which could provoke a return to violence. The United States still has 120,000 troops stationed in Iraq, and all combat forces are scheduled to leave by August, further testing the country's ability to handle its own security. How we draw down in Iraq is just as critical as how we ramp up in Afghanistan: If handled badly, this withdrawal could be a disaster. Handled well, it could leave behind a significant success.


Let's review some history. The surge in Iraq was a success in military terms. It defeated a nasty insurgency, reduced violence substantially, and stabilised the country. But the purpose of the surge was, in President Bush's formulation, to give Iraq's leaders a chance to resolve their major political differences. It was these differences —particularly between Sunnis and Shias — that were fuelling the civil war in the first place. If they were not resolved, the war might well begin anew or take some other form that would doom Iraq to a breakup or breakdown.


Iraq's political differences have not been resolved. The most fraught remains the tussle between the Shias, the country's majority sect, and the Sunnis, a minority that has traditionally been the country's elite. The simplest indication that issues between these two communities are still unsettled is the fact that only a few of the 2 million Iraqis who fled the country between 2003 and 2007 — the vast majority of whom were Sunnis — have returned. (Firm numbers are hard to come by, but they did not add up to more than a few tens of thousands as of this summer.) This month the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reaffirmed that Iraq remains a dangerous place for members of minority groups, and that they should therefore not be forced to return to Iraq.


Sunnis in Iraq remain marginalised politically. And there are growing tensions with the Kurds, who run an

autonomous quasi-state in Iraq's north. The Kurds control three of Iraq's provinces but lay claim to three important cities just across the border that have mixed populations. They have also been flouting the central government's authority regarding oil contracts, negotiating 30 separate deals of their own and blocking the flow of oil out of the Kurdish region. Add to these problems disputes over the drawing of boundaries and election rules.


The basic challenge is simple to state but extremely difficult to meet. Iraq needs a stable power-sharing deal that keeps all three groups invested in the new country. To make this happen, all three will need to compromise. And the central positive force in all of this can be the United States. In the early years of the occupation, the Bush administration never pushed the Iraqi government enough to force it to cut deals. This was a historic error because the US had enormous political leverage with the Iraqis at the time. Even later, the Bush administration shied away from pressing the Iraqis too hard, a common thread in its relations with the Afghans and Pakistanis, too.


Yet the United States continues to have considerable influence in Iraq. By all accounts, US diplomacy has been crucial to getting the Kurds to agree to the March elections. President Obama is reported to have called Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and pressed him to withdraw his objections, removing the final obstacle. As American troops draw down, American diplomacy should get aggressive and persistent, pushing the three groups to resolve the basic issues of power sharing.

The costs of the Iraq war have been great and perhaps indefensible. But Iraq could still turn out to be an extraordinary model for the Arab world. Its people are negotiating their differences for the most part peacefully; its politics is becoming more pluralistic and democratic; its press is free; its provinces have autonomy; its focus has shifted to business and wealth creation, not religion and jihad. The Obama administration has a window of opportunity to cement these gains in 2010.










In an interview with FE on Thursday, steel minister Virbhadra Singh has advised the promoters of ArcelorMittal and Posco to offer a long-term income stream to the indigenous people who will need to be rehabilitated from the steel majors' proposed iron ore mining sites. The context for such a suggestion is that land acquisition issues have sent mine allocations into a tailspin, even as the imperatives of national growth render such acquisitions more important by the day. According to a recent report of a committee on agrarian relations and land reforms, headed by the rural development minister, land taken away from tribals for developmental purposes accounts for 40% of all such land acquisitions, while tribals account for only 9% of India's population. This only reconfirms what's been clear for a long time: some of the most mineral-rich of Indian lands currently vest with some of the country's most disadvantaged populations. Minister Singh's suggestion is useful in this regard, that displaced families should be granted ultimate rights to their pieces of land. Once mining activities have drawn to a halt, the land should revert to indigenous owners or their progeny. This proposal has an interesting overlap with that made by road transport & highways minister Kamal Nath, that any land acquired by NHAI be returned to the original land holders if project work is not initiated within five years. Such rehabilitation schemes contain the kind of generosity that may smooth land allocations for mines and other development projects.


As for Singh's proposal that a heavy, deterrent export tax be imposed on all grades of iron ore, here we are entering a tricky territory. First, the GST regime will require exports to be zero-rated. Second, turf issues will become dominant in this regard, such as those voiced by mines minister Bijoy Krishna Handique. Once enacted, the new Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act is expected to make state governments the sole authority for granting mining concessions. But the steel ministry's position is that state governments are notorious for delayed and non-transparent granting of mining approvals and permissions. There is also the fact that states' average royalty from iron ore is just about Rs 18/tonne, while the royalty or equivalent incomes are much higher in China and other mineral-rich countries. This leads us to the third and final point, that system efficiencies desperately need an upgrade. But, should that mean more mandated linkages between iron ore mines and steel groups? Yes, domestic iron ore supply is expected to fall short of steel demand, but the answer lies in transparent market processes rather than in captive mining. Just like better price discovery of tribal land can't be achieved by government diktat alone, but must involve private stakeholders as well.






When the history of the financial crisis of 2008-09 is written in some detail, credit rating agencies will figure as the one guilty party that got away. Even in the epicentre of the crisis in Wall Street, investment bankers have taken all the public and regulatory flak, not credit raters who played an equally important role in bringing the crisis upon the world by indiscriminately rating dodgy securitised assets at AAA or AA. Credit rating agencies ought to have sent the warning signals about the subprime assets that were flooding the system. But they completely failed to do so. Whether this was out of deliberate design/collusion with bankers or simply an act of omission isn't definitively known. But if a similar crisis is to be prevented from recurring—no one is seriously considering a complete ban on securitised products—regulating the work of credit rating agencies is crucial. Interestingly, even as the role of credit rating agencies gets a peripheral mention in the overhaul of financial regulation in the West, there is an indication that authorities in India are set to scrutinise their methods more closely. As reported in The Indian Express on Wednesday, the finance ministry and the High Level Coordination Committee on Financial and Capital Markets discussed the role of credit rating agencies in a recent meeting and suggested greater inter-regulatory coordination in monitoring the work of credit rating agencies in India.


At the moment, credit rating agencies are regulated by Sebi. That is the way it ought to be. However, the fact is that the products produced by credit rating agencies are used across many sectors and by multiple regulators—the insurance regulator and pension regulator, for example, use a lot of material produced by credit raters. Each has a different use for the products. So, it makes sense if the methodology used to arrive at a particular rating is suited to the purpose the rating is to be used for. Otherwise there is a danger of delivering false perceptions of risk. It is, therefore, reasonable to allow other sectoral regulators to monitor the work of credit rating agencies along with Sebi. However, there is a danger of a turf war disrupting the work of credit raters. So, the final authority should still vest with one regulator—Sebi. However, the market regulator should set up a mechanism that allows other regulators to participate in the regulation of credit rating agencies. It will only be of systemic benefit.








It took a global economic crisis to make the world notice India's long-term attractiveness. Outsiders now realise that our million negotiations of democracy, large domestic consumption and attractive demographics make sure that the Indian economy will not be hot, but consistently warm. In a post-crisis world this is not as problematic as it used to sound. But it was also a year where India's labour markets saw a quick and sharp reversal of many years of high tide and lower hiring standards. With all the disclaimers inherent in any predictions, I volunteer a list of five seeds—that were either planted or took stronger roots in 2009—that have the potential to transform our labour markets over the next decade.


The beginning of the end of lifetime employment: The massive demand recession of 2009 forced many companies to massively and somewhat arbitrarily rationalise headcount. Years of high tide had fooled employees, trade unions and policymakers into believing that employers or shareholders pay salaries—actually, customers do. This 'no customers, no employment' may represent an end of innocence but it was only the final blow to the heavily wounded and quaint notion of lifetime employment. In fact, this is the logical culmination of an organisation deconstruction best epitomised by IBM; the book Organisation Man glorified the IBM man in 1950—a lifer who was male, loyal, obedient and socialised. But today 50% of IBM employees have been with them for less than 2 years, 40% of them don't go into an IBM office every day and 30% of them are women. The employment contract has shifted from being a marriage—till death do us part—to being a taxicab relationship—short, intimate and purposeful. Obviously this change offers individuals new structures like telecommuting, part-time work, freelancing and temporary work (massive self-interest disclaimer).


The beginning of the end of the MNC employer myth: Many Indian companies finally realise that their equity is not on their balance sheet but goes home everyday. They ferociously brought HR from the backroom to the boardroom and thought strategically about compensation, culture, performance management and human capital architecture. So, it was clear going into 2009 that the notion of MNCs being better employers was built on a foundation already under threat. But some MNC parents badly bruised by the global crisis were unwilling to take the long view of India and made decisions that, in retrospect, seemed hasty and random. The most telling sign was the matrimonial market: parents starting reversing the MNC apartheid by seeking spouses for their children who worked for 'stable' Indian companies. It may be premature but the unfair labour market advantage that multinationals have had for top talent over the last 30 years is surely going to be challenged over the next 10 years.


The beginning of the end of EPFO: The Employee Provident Fund Organisation's monopoly has made it callous, insensitive and corrupt. In 2009, it defaulted on its flagship pension scheme by reducing benefits, but it was counter-intuitively granted a kingdom expansion to cover more employers. EPFO's lack of online or double-entry book- keeping means they are incapable of early detection of employer defaults. But the launch of the New Pension Scheme (NPS) creates backpack benefits that are linked to employees and has competitive costs—currently EPFO runs the most expensive government securities mutual fund in the world (454 basis points). While EPFO is currently busy fighting NPS around mandatory enforcement—the last refuge of incompetent government service organisations is their regulatory role—every virus needs a host and NPS could radically change employer pensions over the next decade.


The rise of superstar CEOs: The highest salaries in India over the last decade have been of entrepreneurs of large listed companies paying themselves (Reliance, Dr Reddy's, Cipla, Ranbaxy etc). But 2009 saw the rise of the superstar CEO either because 1) families accelerated unbundling ownership from management and 2) private equity firms started doing control transactions or exercising their right around independent management. The telephone number salaries of CEOs is a hot topic of debate globally, but brace yourself for hyperinflation in CEO salaries in India over the next decade and the inevitable public policy firestorm around rising economic inequality and fairness.


A higher migration threshold: India's geography of work is badly skewed with only 34 cities with a million people (China has 174) and 2 lakh villages with less than 200 people. The last decade has seen a massive migration to where jobs are clustering but in 2009 we noticed a trend where job seekers were willing to accept lower salaries or opportunities in rural areas (the threshold has risen from Rs 4,000 per month to Rs 6,500 per month). Whether this reflects the lack of urban reform and higher city costs or the creation of opportunities in rural areas is still early to call. But a new geography of work has important implications for employers who were counting on their ability to cap labour costs by accessing traditional labour market outsiders.


Whatever happens to these five seeds, nobody should doubt that fixing India's human capital ecosystem—education, employment and employability—over the next decade is a unique confluence of public policy and the biggest entrepreneurial opportunity on the planet.


The author is chairman, Teamlease Services







Shakespeare had said: "All the world's a stage..." Yes, we are mere players but irony often enters the characters when we say our lines, especially in the theatre of finance and economics. The year 2009 will be remembered for several such ironies that are in the realm of the theatre of the absurd, and the focus here is on the top 10 stories that add spice and intrigue.


The financial crisis that started in 2007 was still the subject of continued debate. Institutions were blamed and finally it was decided that the culprit was Alan Greenspan who loosened the strings too much and too soon, which engendered the bubble. But once the crisis came in, memories were taken back to the Depression when nothing was done and the crisis was exacerbated. Not surprisingly, Ben has lowered the rates again to virtually zero. Is this the beginning of another bubble?


The RBI basked in its own glory by behaving as if it knew all the time that securitisation and collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) would lead to a financial crisis. They claimed that India came out unscathed because we were prudent. Was this really the case or was it that we have now gone in for sophisticated products because we could not understand them? Few knew beyond the textbook what CDOs were all about, and hence not being affected by the crisis could be simply because we never tried them out. With RBI controlling every aspect of banking right from interest rates to where money should go, we can actually never go wrong. Right?


A fallout of the crisis was that CEO salaries came under the scanner. CEOs of some of the companies that were bailed out through public money had the temerity to give themselves hefty bonuses, which is the ultimate arrogance of capitalism. Indian government officials hence had a field day getting back at the private sector, which had objected to the Pay Commission's proposals a couple of years back by lambasting the CEO pay structure.


Next, Dubai was a case in itself. Once touted as being a potential global financial centre, we had a case of the government refusing to honour the debt of one of its own undertakings. Clearly a financial centre in the 21st century cannot be created by building Taj Mahals.


The monsoon became a major issue, and right up to September all our leaders kept saying that it would revive, which was based on optimism rather than belief, until the IMD declared 2009 a drought year. Not to be deterred, we have been told to carry on with our chins held high as the rabi crop will be good. Do we have any reason for such an assumption?


Notwithstanding the fact that agriculture has failed, we have taken solace in the double-digit industrial growth rate and the fiscal stimulus package to now believe that GDP growth will be closer to 8% than the more humble 6% just one month back. A rare display of the conjurer's magic wand in North Block?


The capital market matched our irrational mood swings. It was down to 8,000-levels in March when we claimed we did better than the world through the crisis. Then it soared to cross 17,000 when we had more bad news pouring in such as inflation and drought. But, good news like good industrial and GDP growth failed to excite it further. We still have to understand the way the Sensex and Nifty move.


Inflation was a crazy phenomenon and debates ranged over whether this was deflation or dis-inflation, and as economists had a roll on this subject, we have suddenly seen prices shooting upwards and no one knows what can be done as one has realised that banning futures trading, imposing strict stock limits, lowering duties and taxes can just not increase production. There are evidently no short-term solutions here.


The derivatives markets had a mixed package. While the commodity market rejoiced when wheat futures was restored, it had to sulk when sugar was banned. Interest rate futures have once again run into rough weather unlike currency futures, which have been a major hit clocking volumes of close to Rs 25,000 crore a day. Can there be a derivative product on risk of failure?


Lastly, while the mood seems to be upbeat (for the right or wrong reasons) a major shadow has been cast by Suresh Tendulkar, who has estimated that 37.2% of our population is below the poverty line. Is he right? We'll have to wait a while to find out.


The author is chief economist at NCDEX. Views are personal







Seeing is believing seems to the buzzword in the Rs 4,200-crore branded chocolate sector in India. Despite the economic slowdown, Indian chocolate majors are betting big on high-voltage television campaigns to lure consumers. Consider this: TV ad volumes (the frequency of ads) of chocolates increased by 92% during Jan-Sep '09 as compared to Jan-Sep '08, according to AdEx India, a division of Tam Media Research.


Market leader Cadbury, with a 74% share, led chocolate advertising on TV, followed by Nestle and ITC with 16% and 4% shares, respectively, during Jan-Sep '09, points out the AdEx survey.


Incidentally, Cadbury's Perk Poppers was the top new brand of chocolates advertised on TV during Jan-Sep '09. Other top new brands advertised during the period include Candyman Choco Double, Horlicks NutriBar, Almarai Chocolate and Lotte Caramilk. Obviously, confectionery majors are heavily relying on television campaigns to announce their new launches. Innovation seems to be the name of the game in this sector.


Reeling under a sharp hike in sugar prices, confectionery makers in India still continue to invest heavily in brand-building plans to pump up volumes. The reason? Smart companies increase their ad spending to build long-term brand-building plans during tough times. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. "It's an ideal opportunity to invest behind brands. You never know when the recession will come to an end. With long-term ad plans in place, you are always ready to fight competition," says Piyush Pandey, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather India, the agency handling the ad account of Cadbury's.


Advertising gurus observe that the impulsive food category, which includes branded chocolate, requires high voltage television campaigns to grab the attention of tele-viewers. The company understands that the main target audience for chocolate ads is 'kids'. So, relying on the pester power, these companies spend money on colourful television ads. It follows that, to sustain its leadership in this sector, Cadbury is sharpening its marketing focus on key brands from its stable. It's investing in television media to reach out to a wider target audience.


Going forward, the branded chocolate sector in India will soon witness a major tussle between


Indian and foreign players. To take on multinational rivals like Cadbury, homegrown brand Amul and ITC are investing in high-profile advertising, too. Swadeshi and videshi players are gearing up for a bitter Indian battle in chocolates.








Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's latest statement on the existential crisis of south India's largest State is a game attempt to calm the situation by taking the Telangana issue back to where it was before his late-night announcement of December 9. The backtracking and throwing up of the central government's hands are understandable. They have had the immediate effect of calming a volatile situation in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, which together account for 175 of the State's 294 MLAs. But predictably, the statement has produced the opposite effect in Telangana. While it may be too soon to get the measure of the violence unleashed in this region, the early incidents of bus burning, stone pelting, attacks on shops and government offices, and sporadic targeting of properties belonging to 'settlers' from the Andhra region do not augur well for the State. Nor does the fact that more than 60 of the 119 MLAs from the Telangana region have initiated 'resignation' moves. (By the time Mr. Chidambaram made his second statement on December 23, 143 of the 175 MLAs from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions had submitted their 'resignations'; many of them are now believed to be ready to withdraw them.) There can be little doubt that by announcing — without wider political consultations at the national level and without assessing the public mood across the State — that "the process of forming the State of Telangana will be initiated" and "an appropriate resolution will be moved in the State Assembly," the central government made a costly blunder. Overnight, a difficult situation created in the State capital by the fast of Telangana Rashtra Samithi leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao was transformed into a first-rate political crisis for the whole State. The legislature has been paralysed and the executive branch reduced to dysfunctionality despite sensible attempts by Chief Minister K. Rosaiah to moderate the situation.


But in terms of what went wrong and what needs to be done, Mr. Chidambaram's latest statement does the service of restoring the political balance by placing the crisis in perspective. What is now clear is this. Not just the Congress party and the central government but most political parties concerned with the long-festering Telangana issue miscalculated and blundered badly. They must therefore accept special responsibility for correcting the situation through constructive responses rather than by exploiting the political troubles of the ruling party. The minutes of the meeting convened by Chief Minister Rosaiah on December 7 reveal that all parties, with the exception of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and the Lok Satta, supported the move to initiate the process of forming a State of Telangana by tabling a resolution in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The Telugu Desam Party and the Praja Rajyam Party might have done a total volte face under the pressure of mass constituency revolts but that does not absolve them of a special responsibility to cooperate with the State and central governments in the efforts to resolve the political crisis.


What then is to be done about the future of independent India's first linguistic State? The first thing the central government needs to do is to firm up its political resolve not to capitulate on a vital issue under the threat of orchestrated militancy and violence. But it also needs to show political imagination and good footwork. Setting up the long-promised Second States Reorganisation Commission will be a good idea. The best way to strengthen Chief Minister Rosaiah's hand in dealing with the crisis will be a combination of political clear-headedness and practical support in the form of adequate central forces to deal with the public order challenge. Everyone knows that long-festering problems do not allow for easy solutions. The Telangana issue as we know it has been around for half a century, and there is also a pre-history of a revolutionary struggle against landlordism in the region. The Congress party has always had an ambiguous stand on this issue. While recent Congress election manifestoes have bought time by either proposing a Second States Reorganisation Commission (in 2004) or remaining silent (in 2009), it is notable that under the pressure of coalition politics, the National Common Minimum Programme of May 2004 made this promise: "The UPA government will consider the demand for the formation of a Telangana state at an appropriate time after due consultations and consensus." The party's strongest and most resourceful State leader of recent times, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, managed to keep the problem under control by first forming a committee under Mr. Rosaiah to study it, and then by trouncing the TRS in its own region in the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. But YSR's death in a helicopter crash changed everything, including the rules of the political game in Telangana. The Maoist presence in the region may be a cause for concern but it should not be allowed to cloud clear thinking. One lesson to be learnt is that on an intractable issue like Telangana, the need to arrive at a national-level political consensus through democratic consultations is inescapable. Recent events have only strengthened the logic of the argument presented in The Hindu's editorial of December 9, 2009 that while the diagnosis of the backwardness and neglect of the Telangana region is sound and must be empathised with, a just and progressive solution can be found within an undivided Andhra Pradesh on the basis of regional autonomy and big, concentrated development efforts.









December 2009 marks 20 years of the insurgency in Kashmir. During this period, Kashmir has metamorphosed — in terms of its politics, discourse, the nature of the militancy, the level of external intervention and perceptions of the potential solutions. Yet, much of India's understanding of Kashmir remains ensnared in the limited confines of history, and thus India fails to understand the changes, declines to advance from age-old positions, and refuses to look for fresh ways to address the conflict.


What has changed since 1989? Let us compare the big picture, then and now. In 1989, India found itself on the losing side of the Cold War with hardly a friend in the international community. More so, the international community was negatively disposed towards India vis-À-vis the Kashmir issue. Pakistan was optimistic after having been part of the alliance that had defeated the Soviet Union in the Afghan war and was confident of its ability and standing in the region. The Kashmiri dissidents, Pakistan and the militants in Kashmir had managed to 'internationalise' their cause and garnered significant levels of sympathy for it. India was being pushed into a corner.


This is no more the case. India is increasingly referred to as an emerging power and is considered a key stabilising player in the South Asian subcontinent. The international community is no longer keen to discuss Kashmir or force a solution; it knows India will not be pushed. The stress is now on India and Pakistan finding their own answers, and not much attention is being given to the wishes of the Kashmiris themselves. Furthermore, unlike in the late-1980s, Pakistan is a much-weakened power now without many reliable strategic partners. The state is widely feared to be heading for failure due to its ingrained promotion of terrorism. Kashmir is no more a pet issue for the international community. There are more pressing issues at hand.


Pakistan has clearly foundered over Kashmir. In fact, its strategy vis-À-vis India in general has gone wrong and has backfired terribly. Many of the elements Pakistan supported in an effort to "liberate" Kashmir from India have turned against it. More significantly, Pakistan has seemingly lost the direction of its foreign policy. Contradictory statements on Kashmir abound, rendering the country's position confusing and ambiguous. Such ambiguity points to a realisation among some people in Pakistan that it needs to think beyond Kashmir, and that it is self-defeating to continue the fight. This has important implications for the conflict.


In India, too, the discourse on Kashmir has changed drastically. The country's mainstream discourse traditionally considered the issue as one driven and created purely by Pakistani interference. Everyone seemed oblivious to the fact that Pakistan had been given the space for this interference due to India's traditional mishandling of Kashmir. This mainstream thinking was infused in the media discourse. Bollywood films and popular writing portrayed Kashmir as a terrorism-infested region that needs to be cleansed of Pakistani agents. It tended to draw a picture of Kashmiris as supporters of terrorism and Pakistan. This thinking is undergoing a positive transformation. Today there is a growing awareness about the nuances of the Kashmir problem, and about the follies the Indian state has committed there. There is an understanding of the pervasive sense of alienation among Kashmiris and a growing realisation that anti-India protests are not necessarily pro-Pakistan. There is the realisation that there is a real problem in Kashmir that needs a political resolution.


Over the years, Kashmiri views on Pakistan have changed. Although many people in Kashmir never wanted it to become part of Pakistan, there were some who thought they would be better off there. Moreover, given the negative light in which many Kashmiris often saw India, there was a tendency, even if not so widespread, to view Pakistan with sympathy and admiration. This is changing, thanks to the existential problems that Pakistan is facing, the atrocities that Pakistan-sponsored terrorists have committed in Kashmir, and the general perception that joining Pakistan may not be the best option for Kashmir. As a result, there are fewer Pakistan supporters in the Valley today, and even fewer of them for militants coming from Pakistan to "liberate Kashmir from Indian tyranny."


Kashmiri politics today is multi-faceted and more vibrant than ever. Analysts and observers tend to get confused while writing about the State primarily because they struggle to appreciate the often contradictory nature of today's political environment. The people of Kashmir are learning to speak two contrasting languages at once: one of dissidence, and the other of mainstream issues. Many analysts argued that India lost Kashmir during the protests against the Amarnath land transfer. Likewise, many argued after last year's elections in Jammu and Kashmir (when more than 62 per cent of the people voted as compared to around 43 per cent in 2002) that the historic referendum was the last nail in the coffin of separatist politics and 'azadi' sentiments in the Valley. Both arguments failed to understand the complexity of the politics in Kashmir or appreciate that political affairs there have changed fundamentally.


The 'mainstreaming of dissent' is another phenomenon in contemporary Kashmir. Gone are the days when the separatists were an untouchable lot. Today, separatist politics and 'azadi' sentiments are more nuanced, more complex than before and take many forms, ranging from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to the People's Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP would object to being called 'pro-azadi,' 'separatist' or even 'soft-separatist,' yet the fact remains that it walks a very fine line. On the one hand, the self-rule proposal put forward by it asks for more than what the Constitution of India promises the State and is closer to the platform proposed by separatist leaders (such as Sajjad Lone). On the other, the PDP has a political constituency that speaks the language of both separatism and 'azadi.' Yet, having ruled the State for three years, the PDP is a mainstream Kashmiri political party with clear links to the Indian state. On the other side of the divide, the dissident APHC often raises governance-related issues. This crossing of traditional political boundaries by the hitherto opposed political groups indicates the complexity of Kashmir's new politics.


The meaning of 'azadi' has also grown in complexity over the last 20 years, becoming more nuanced and developing more shades of meaning, which many analysts fail to recognise. It would not be wrong to say that the aspirations for freedom — the 'azadi' sentiment — were strong in Kashmir when the insurgency began. However, 20 years on, this sentiment is more refined today; 'azadi' does not always mean self-determination in popular parlance now. 'Azadi' today means freedom from the fear of militants and security forces, as well as dignity and self-respect, self-governance, and the absence of New Delhi's perceived political high-handedness.


Many and multifarious pathways aimed at reconciliation have emerged. Although the India-Pakistan peace process is currently on ice, the Srinagar-New Delhi conversation is very much alive. There are dialogues taking place between Jammu and Srinagar as well as among Muzaffarabad and Srinagar and Jammu. Traders from both sides of the State have established a joint J&K Chamber of Commerce and Industries. While many of these 'peace tracks' need to be revived, their very existence shows the fundamental manner in which the conflict has been transformed from the time violence permeated the State.


While it is true that its contours have changed in a fundamental manner, it is also true that both the conflict in Kashmir and the conflict over Kashmir continue to exist. The stakeholders must show more determination and enthusiasm to engage each other and discover a solution. However, to do so they must first acknowledge Kashmir's metamorphosis.









It is evident that the Copenhagen climate summit has failed to produce an equitable and viable plan to combat global warming that responds to both the scientific and moral imperative. But without clarifying the import of Copenhagen in a careful evaluation, taking note of both the process and substantive aspects of what transpired at the summit, one would have little purchase on a future strategy and course of action.


Undoubtedly the success of the United States in forcing the Copenhagen Accord on to the agenda, with the active collusion of several developed countries, constitutes a serious threat to equitable and transparent global environmental governance under United Nations' auspices. Following the personal intervention of President Obama with select leaders, the drafting of the accord, drawn up in a series of closed-door meetings with select participants setting aside the outcomes of earlier negotiations, completely ignored the norms of equality of all nations and transparency that are at the core of the U.N. process. It was the unanticipated but firm opposition of a few developing countries that ensured that the accord remained an agreement only between those nations that chose to declare their adherence to it, and was merely "taken note" of under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


Nevertheless one of Copenhagen's most valuable outcomes has been the guarantee of the continuity of UNFCCC negotiations, which will now continue at least for another year, despite the Copenhagen Accord. The summit plenary also mandated that these extended negotiations would be based on the negotiating texts as they stood prior to the introduction of the accord.


The developing countries have thus managed to ensure that the primary agenda of the developed countries in the run-up to Copenhagen, that sought to dilute or erase the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" has been pushed back in some measure. The attempts to set aside or replace the Kyoto Protocol and alter significantly the terms of the UNFCCC have not succeeded at the formal level, though the Copenhagen Accord itself is likely to be used for fresh attempts in this direction.


The most significant concessions by the developing countries though are in the substance of the Copenhagen Accord. Developed nations are only expected to voluntarily declare their emission reduction commitments by 31 January, 2010. It remains to be seen whether these nations will honour their pre-Copenhagen pledges as is expected. The most significant uncertainty though relates to whether the domestic legislative process of the United States would allow it to make any significant commitment to emissions reduction at all. The summit proceedings have also made it clear that the pre-Copenhagen emission reduction pledges of the developed nations fall well short of what climate science demands.


The accord also devotes disproportionately greater attention to the mitigation actions of developing nations, responding to the US obsession with `transparency' in their reporting and verification. All developing nations too have to declare the mitigation actions they will undertake, with the pre-Copenhagen commitments of the BASIC four likely to be declared by the same cut-off date. The developing countries' position that their voluntary mitigation actions, which are not financially assisted, will be reported only through periodic national communications and will be reviewed only domestically has been partially preserved. However, the developing countries have conceded that all their mitigation action will be subject to ``international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected." The ambiguity in this formulation, that postpones the question of defining the guidelines to the future, is of a piece with the number of other ambiguities that plague the accord.


Despite the strident criticism of sections of climate change activists, it is clear that the BASIC Four (China, India, Brazil and South Africa) had little room for manoeuvre at Copenhagen. In retrospect the only way they could have evaded high-level political negotiations, would have been to reject at the outset itself the ``leader-driven" process promoted by the Danish Prime Minister on behalf of the United States. But faced with the stalemate in climate negotiations, and unwilling to risk being held responsible for pre-determining the summit's failure, the four major developing nations, to varying degrees, were clearly willing to explore the Danish proposals. India went the farthest with its acquiescence in the statement on climate change from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that explicitly welcomed the "leader-driven" process. At the same time, wary of the demands of the developed nations, all the four major developing nations jointly announced their main negotiating positions.


Eventually at Copenhagen, faced with the intransigence of the United States that none of the developed nations were able to mediate, the BASIC Four chose to avoid a summit failure, with its not easily calculable and potentially costly consequences. In a positive reading, the strategy of the BASIC Four appears to have provided a temporary reprieve from the danger of a total breakdown of negotiations. They have demonstrated that they recognise their special (though differentiated) responsibilities while deflecting potential criticism of standing in the way of drawing the United States into global climate action. It is unlikely though that they will have the luxury of a compromise of this nature in the future. The summit also exposed the weakness inherent in the developing nations' strategy of an undifferentiated unity that so far has not, in any formal way, distinguished between the major developing nations and the rest of the G-77 in climate negotiations. The U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's threat that the U.S. offer of climate finance for the poorest nations would expire by the end of the summit if China did not offer greater "transparency" in its mitigation efforts showed that that this unity could be turned against the developing nations themselves. The text of the accord demonstrates that the U.S. successfully used justified concerns regarding the emissions of the major developing economies to impose mitigation demands on the entire developing world. The protection of the most vulnerable nations at the frontline of climate change while guaranteeing the development needs of more than half the world's population cannot be ensured without a more concrete differentiation among Third World nations, while continuing to insist that the developed nations take the lead in mitigation action.


Looking beyond Copenhagen, one can anticipate an even thornier path for future negotiations. Despite its lack

of official status, the Copenhagen Accord will undoubtedly interfere with official UNFCCC negotiations for a legally binding agreement. Resolving this issue will not be easy since at its heart is the key dilemma of dealing with the United States on climate change. Unfortunately for the world, its foremost superpower is trapped domestically in a climate discourse that is short-sighted and parochial and yet seeks to impose this discourse on the entire globe. Engaging the United States for global climate action without allowing it to run away with the global climate agenda is a question that the nations of the world have yet to address adequately. One possibility to partially resolve this dilemma is to look for new interlocutors on either side with better perspectives who could set the terms of the climate debate. A closer climate dialogue between the European Union, currently smarting from being sidelined in the U.S. end-run at Copenhagen, and the major developing economies could have much to offer in this regard. But such dialogues need a willingness to rise above current political prejudices and linkages and a greater expenditure of political capital on the climate question going well beyond the technical skirmishes and semantic battles of the global negotiating table.


(T. Jayaraman is Chairperson, Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.)










Shaped like an eyelid in a halo of azure water, the tiny Indian Ocean island of Dhuvaafaru in the Maldives is a fresh-minted community that has been transplanted to the Raa atoll. Clinics, schools and roads have all been built from scratch. Its homes, all newly peopled, are the legacy of tragedy on a vast scale: the tsunami of 26 December 2004.


This year — at the culmination of the single biggest construction project in Red Cross/Red Crescent history — 4,000 people from the nearby low-lying island of Kandholhudhoo, a place made uninhabitable by the waves that destroyed houses and snapped trees like matchsticks, were finally moved to Dhuvaafaru on the opposite side of the archipelago to begin new lives.


Among them was Hussain Alifulhu, 48, one of the last to escape the island when the tsunami swamped his home. He was among those who helped build the new community, an electrician by trade who spent the last four years living with his family in temporary shelters, fishing for sea cucumbers to make a living. On his new island home, he is working as an electrician once again.


The story of Dhuvaafaru is a reflection of the scale of a recovery operation that continues to this day, although in its last stages — the response to a disaster that claimed 228,000 lives in 13 countries from the coast of Africa to Indonesia in the space of a few hours, among them tens of thousands of children. It displaced 2 million more. The tsunami destroyed towns, villages and livelihoods. Half a million houses were damaged or destroyed. Fields and wells were poisoned with saline water. It obliterated lives and upset the entire composition of societies. But the little island of Dhuvaafaru is the symbol of a relief effort that, by and large, has been regarded as an overwhelming success, rewriting the rules of how best to respond to a major disaster: by empowering its victims to reconstruct their lives rather than imposing aid upon them.


The source of the catastrophe five years ago was a massive undersea earthquake off the island of Sumatra. With a magnitude of 9.3 it was the second-largest seismic event recorded, and the largest tsunami. At their highest, the waves reached almost 30 metres.


While 9,000 foreign tourists died in seaside resorts around the Indian Ocean, the biggest victims by far were the host communities, in particular in Indonesia's Aceh and Northern Sumatra, where 167,000 people died.


For the International Federation of Red Cross societies alone, the figures from the last five years have been staggering, reflecting the scale of its biggest civil recovery operation.


Since 2004 it has provided 4,807,000 people with assistance; 51,395 new houses have been built; 289 hospitals and clinics built or rehabilitated. Pledged international aid from all sources for the recovery has topped $13.5bn, almost half of it given by private individuals and organisations.


That sum stands as a powerful measure of the scale of a disaster that unfolded half a decade ago - whose physical reminders have all but been erased in the reconstruction effort but whose reality has not been wiped from a generation's collective memory.


For the victims a different reality persists, less visible but present all the same, to be found in recollection of the missing and the dead, and the still lingering, faint hope that a lost relative — or at least their body - might yet return.


In Thailand, even today, family members still call into the TTVI centre, the office tasked with finding and identifying the dead, in the hope that officials might have linked one of 300 unclaimed and unidentified bodies buried in the grave site in Phang Nga province, marked by a giant concrete wave, with a name of the missing.


But the monument to the tsunami's nameless victims is the exception, not the rule, in a country where few physical reminders of the disaster remain. In Khao Lak beach, for instance, where 3,000 people died, all that is left are the occasional "tsunami hazard" signs and the colour-coded evacuation routes set up in the aftermath of the disaster. Even the Marriott resort and spa, where 300 died, has reopened for business.


In Banda Aceh, what little wreckage remains has been appropriated as something for curious sightseers. The 2,600-tonne PLTD Apung cargo vessel, which was swept inland in 2004, sat in the middle of a vista of flattened buildings and the tented accommodation of the survivors. These days it is a tourist landmark surrounded by the roofs of rebuilt houses.


Others things have changed in the last five years. On 26 December 2004 — as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others have conceded — the lack of an effective tsunami warning system contributed to the huge death toll. Then there were six experimental tsunami buoys in existence. Today an operating network of 39 exists, comprehensively tested for the first time in October.


But if many of the affected areas on the Indian Ocean coast have physically recovered, guided by the motto "build back better," what has been more difficult to assess has been the complex social, political and personal consequences of the catastrophe.


In villages in Aceh, where the tsunami killed a disproportionate number of women, unable to swim and encumbered by sarongs that made it hard for them to flee, a generation of young men exists who struggle both to find work and women to marry.


The impact of what happened that day has stretched far beyond the obvious. The tsunami acted as the midwife to a surprising peace settlement in Aceh, and as a dangerous accelerant to conflict in Sri Lanka.


Five years on, it is the stories of individuals that still remain most striking. And the loss that clings to their memories.


Nok, a resident of Phang Nga province, was 11 when the tsunami struck and still recalls the moment she saw the "big wave" rising above the others as she stood on the beach with her younger brother, watching the water, waiting for their parents' fishing boat to return. "I'd never heard of tsunami, I didn't know what it was." Her aunt did. "She was screaming at me 'run, run, run'. I didn't get far, only just outside when the wave hit me, it pushed me against the wall, very hard, and it pushed me along."


Nok's brother, still on the beach, was caught up in the wave too. It dragged him inland before sucking him back out to sea. He was rescued by a fisherman who thought his cries for help had come from a ghost. "It was nine o'clock in the night-time that I could find my brother alive. I thought he was dead."


Nok's mother did not survive. Her body was never found. The wave took Nok's aunt, too, and her grandparents. Her father survived the wave, but could no longer look after his children. Now 16, Nok lives with her brother in a community-run home set up for children orphaned by the tsunami. "Every 26 December is an important day. It is a very sad day. I can never forget what happened. The wave took my family."


But for many life has moved on — in large part assisted by international aid agencies, including Oxfam. Aisyah Harun, 49, lost her husband, three children, and two grandchildren. She was reliant on Oxfam, the first aid agency to reach her village, for a micro-loan to buy baking tools and ingredients. "I was very happy to have them back after I lost everything," she says. "The reason I wanted to start my business again as soon as possible wasn't only because I needed to, but I want to kill the trauma and not remember the bad things. So I wanted to work."


But while most tsunami-affected territories have re-emerged physically — if not psychologically — better, not everywhere has recovered at the same pace, including India's Tamil Nadu.


"What is bad is that in the villages on the seashore there has been little clean-up. We can still find boats left five years on which had been washed up and have not been cleaned up. It's more than an eyesore," said Bhatkher Solomon, chief executive officer of the NGO Development Promotion Group.


Sri Lanka, in terms of its population, was the worst hit during the tsunami, and it has also suffered worst in the aftermath, seeing the least coherent recovery — one that allowed a return to war. The Tamil Tigers' monopoly on control of large areas of the country's north and east allowed it to dictate terms to the aid agencies pouring in cash. Money was diverted to buying arms and consolidating military strength. Eventually the two-year long ceasefire collapsed into fighting that only ended this year with the Tigers' final defeat.


"A lot of international agencies with no experience in the country were trying to replicate responses to an African disaster model. This led to waste and things done inappropriately. We had fishing boats given to people who were not fishermen," said PB Gowthaman, Sri Lanka country director for Oxfam Australia.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








Global warming creeps across the world at a speed of a quarter of a mile each year, according to a study that highlights the problems rising temperatures pose to plants and animals.


Species that can tolerate only a narrow range of temperatures will need to move as quickly if they are to survive, and wildlife in lowland tropics, mangroves and desert areas are at greater risk than species in mountainous areas, the study suggests.


"These are the conditions that will set the stage, whether species move or cope in place," said Chris Field, director of the global ecology unit at the Carnegie Institution in the U.S., who worked on the project. "Expressed as velocities, climate change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals."


The study, by scientists at the Carnegie Institution, Stanford University, the California Academy of Sciences, and the University of California, Berkeley, combined information on current and projected climates to calculate a "temperature velocity" for different parts of the world.


They found mountainous areas would have the lowest velocity of temperature change, meaning animals would not need to move very far to stay in the temperature range of their natural habitat. However, much larger geographic displacements would be required in flatter areas, such as deserts, to allow animals to keep pace with their climate zone.


The researchers also found most areas now protected were not big enough to accommodate these displacements.


Healy Hamilton, director of the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Informatics at the California Academy of Sciences, said the data allowed evaluation of how the current protected area network would perform as attempts were made to conserve biodiversity. "When we look at residence times for protected areas, which we define as the amount of time it will take current climate conditions to move across and out of a given protected area, only 8 per cent of our current protected areas have residence times of more than 100 years. If we want to improve these numbers we need to reduce our carbon emissions and work quickly towards expanding and connecting our global network of protected areas."


The study found that global warming would have the lowest velocity in tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, where it would move at about 80 metres a year, and in montane (upland areas below the treeline) grasslands and shrublands, where the projected velocity was about 110 metres a year.


The results, published in the journal Nature, show global warming is expected to sweep more quickly across flatter areas such as mangrove swamps and savannas, where it could have velocities above 1 km a year. Across the world, the average velocity is 420 metres a year.


Wildlife in areas with low projected climate-change velocities will not necessarily be better protected, the scientists say. Habitats such as broadleaf forests are often small and fragmented, which makes it harder for species to move. The scientists stress it is difficult to predict what the impact would be on individual trees, insects and other animals.


While trees are estimated to have spread north through Europe after the end of the last ice age at a speed of about 1km a year, this could be due to re-seeding by dormant seeds, which would not be possible if species had to shift to new territories.


The scientists say global warming will cause temperatures to alter so rapidly almost a third of the globe could see climate velocities higher than even the most optimistic estimates of plant migration speeds. Some species might have to be moved by people, and protected areas joined up and enlarged. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








The fragile truce between science and art came under strain on Wednesday when common depictions of snowflakes threatened to divide the two cultures over the festive season.


In the latest salvo between the warring factions, Christmas card manufacturers, advertising agencies and children's book publishers are accused of corrupting nature with "incorrect designer versions" of snowflakes that defy the laws of physics.


A letter to the prestigious journal Nature calls on scientists to take a stand against all images of four, five and eight-sided "faux" snowflakes.


Professor Thomas Koop, who specialises in ice crystal formation at the University of Bielefled in Germany, had turned a blind eye to the depiction of unnatural snowflakes until he noticed an octagonal one on Nature's own marketing website, captioned "... for anyone who loves science."


Koop decided to make his frustration known. "It bugs me," Koop told the Guardian. "It's the molecular building blocks that shape these crystals and they can't form any shape other than a hexagon."


In a letter to Nature, Koop points out the hexagonal shape of snowflakes has been known for at least 400 years when Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer, published his mini-treatise on the subject, "On the six-cornered snowflake."


"Beautiful photographs abound, including those taken by Vermont farmer Wilson A Bentley starting in 1885 ... Why then do many artists invent their own physically unrealistic snow crystals?"


Snowflakes — or more accurately snow crystals — are famously unique, though Koop admits scientists cannot prove that no two alike have ever fallen to Earth. As different as they are, all have sixfold hexagonal symmetry. Snowflakes can be single crystals or larger agglomerations.


Poor understanding of how snowflakes form means we are now knee-deep in fake flakes, Koop laments. "The grand diversity of naturally occurring snow crystals is commonly corrupted by incorrect 'designer' versions," his letter adds.


Snow crystals form when water vapour condenses into solid ice. Depending on the temperature and relative humidity, the ice crystal will grow into a hexagonal rod, a solid, flat plate, or a spectacular branched crystal. The symmetrical shape comes from the water molecules' hexagonal crystal lattice.


"We who enjoy both science and captivating design should aim to melt away all four, five and eight-cornered snow crystals from cards, children's books and advertisements, by enlightening those who unwittingly generate and distribute them," Koop concludes. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009









Union home minister P Chidambaram's view over the need for a separate ministry for internal security merits serious consideration.

It is understandable that he is focused on the issue of terrorism because of the threat that India has been facing in this decade, starting with the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001 to those in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. He has mooted a national counter-terrorism institute for the purpose.

His broader vision is for a separate ministry to look into questions of internal security, which at the moment would compromise terror threats from jihadi groups, Naxalites and insurgency groups in the north-eastern parts of the country.

There is then the core mandate of the ministry of home affairs (MHA) of maintaining peace and order by providing the needed assistance to the state governments because law and order is a state subject under the Constitution.

Even without the challenges of various insurgents, maintaining law and order is a huge task in itself. The ministry is also required to deal with border management on land and along the coasts. That is why, running the paramilitary forces falls under the purview of the ministry. Not many are aware that Jammu & Kashmir is the MHA's mandate as well.

The MHA has other innumerable functions which have nothing to do with internal security, including deciding on order of precedence, awarding of Padma and gallantry awards, dealing with official language matters and ensuring respect for the national flag among other things.

The other important responsibility of the ministry is disaster management, excluding natural calamities like drought and floods. It is surprising then that disaggregating the disparate and unwieldy functions of the ministry has not been considered all these years.

While Chidambaram's suggestion for the creation of a ministry for internal security is unexceptionable, what is needed is a closer look at the too many things that the MHA is burdened with. What is needed is a streamlining of the ministry.

A large country like India would require far more departments and ministries to make administration effective. The reason that decisions are not taken and when taken, not implemented, might be because too few people are holding on to too many things.

Government needs to be made efficient because we have not yet arrived at the utopian moment of not needing one in the first place.







Over the years, Christmas has become a worldwide festival. Interestingly, it is in many places no longer seen as a religious festival but as a general celebration of good times and good cheer. This gives it a universal appeal that is infectious. Joy to the world, says the Christmas carol and although the second line says "The Lord has come", we are happy to just stay with the joy.

Of course, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Bethlehem 2009 years ago and to that effect, is a Christian festival. But for a number of reasons that go beyond Christianity, Christmas has  taken on many forms.

One is the winter festivals of Europe, which are as appealing for their beauty as for their spirit. Crisp snow, green conifers, lights, green and red decorations all make for a very pretty picture. Across the world — even in those parts where there is no winter — this image is recreated. It might be cotton wool and tinsel but it still looks delightful.

Then there is the legend of Santa Claus. Born as he was Saint Nicholas in Europe in medieval times and adjusted as he was by the Coca-Coal company a few centuries later, he is now the most enduring and endearing symbol of Christmas. The very idea of a jolly, laughing, large man in a red suit dashing around on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, handing out presents makes Christmas a hit with children and adults both.

There are of course both political and commercial implications to Christmas and many find these intolerable. The colonisation of large parts of the world by European nations and the imposition of Christianity on various peoples  have led to the familiarisation of Christmas.

But it is also true that many people now choose to celebrate it anyway. Conversely, in these times of politically correct multiculturalism, in parts of America and Great Britain, Christmas is referred to as a "winter festival" or even a bland, generic, "the holidays".

With gift-giving at the centre point of the celebrations, the retail industry cannot be far behind. In fact, some might feel that commerce runs Christmas. But for tomorrow, as the sun rises on one more Christmas Day and Santa Clause has delivered his presents and returned to the North Pole, it might be a good idea to forget all the negatives and get into the spirit of joy and love for all humankind. After all, we have so few opportunities for something so simple. Merry Christmas!







There is little doubt that the Congress is in a bind over Telangana. Its own rank and file and leadership in Andhra Pradesh are divided mostly on sub-regional and caste lines.

Whether or not you favour or oppose the break up of the state depends on where you hail from. It also depends on who you are, with class affiliation and caste playing a key role in determining attitude.

Only a few days ago, the dramatic announcement by the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had seemed to herald a new dawn for proponents of small states in general.

In Telangana itself, it led to the end of the fast of K Chandra Shekhar Rao, a one-time Congress ally turned opponent. Within hours, the script went awry as legislators and Members of Parliament from the rest of the state resigned en masse.

A political consensus had seemed near-complete last May when even the chief regional party led by N Chandrababu Naidu agreed on the need to create Telengana. That was not months but many light years ago. Naidu has done a smart about turn.

Chiranjeevi, a Kapu from the coastal region, has followed suit.  More ominously for the Congress, the late chief minister's son, Jagan has come out openly for retaining a unified Andhra Pradesh.

For a party like the Congress, highly centralised and personalised as it is, these are events with no recent precedent. True in 1969, the party underwent a great divide but there were issues of principle, ideology and leadership at the pan Indian level at stake. Now, there seems to be near anarchy in its ranks in a state that reaffirmed its role as bastion just last summer.


Andhra Pradesh's problems can be traced to the iron grip of Y Rajasekhara Reddy on the state machinery, the party structure and the polity as a whole. He was a firm opponent of the idea of Telengana and said so in the later round of the campaign in May 2009.

More seriously, he broke the hold of the coastal Reddys and the Kammas on the print media and the television networks using government patronage to help his son's fledgling media venture. Close links with a host of regional business interests was balanced with proper poor programmes such as low cost rice and health care.

The vacuum after his death was all too real. It took as long as three months for the Congress to convene its legislators and affirm K Rosaiah as chief minister.

Even the choice of the former finance minister, a political lightweight from a merchant community, indicates that the national leadership did not want a new strong man in place in Hyderabad. The consequences of this strategy are all too evident.  New Delhi couldn't anticipate the  resistance to Telengana.


It is true that the protests are backed by strong business interests. Since the formation of a unified Telugu-speaking state, it was the coast that spawned many of India's new capitalists, including the GMR and GVK groups.

Harish Damodaran, the chronicler of business houses in post 1947 India, showed how key families in this region saw the transition from farm to factory. Both Chandrababu and YSR indicated the yearning to power in yet another region: Rayalseema.

In the past the Congress, especially under Indira Gandhi, had leaders with a keen sense of the Telugu society. The state gave India its first ever Dalit chief minister, D Sanjeeviah, and its first southern prime minister, PV Narasimha Rao. More crucially, it stood by the Congress when it faced national routs, as in 1977 and 1989. Five years ago, it was the spring board for national power after eight long years in the wilderness.

Such depth of insight was crucial with respect to the Telengana challenge, which is by no means new. In 1969, mass protests on scale far larger than today cut off rail links of north with south India.

The key leader Dr M Channa Reddy had mass support but soon found his place in the Congress platform, going on to serve as steel minister at the Centre and chief minister in the state. Accommodation within a unified state was easier if a man from the disaffected region was at the helm or close to the top.

But much has changed in these past four decades. No one can predict which way the dice will roll when it comes to identities and borders. It is a measure of the short-sightedness of the governing coalition in New Delhi that it did not think through the implications of its announcement on Telengana.

First, it did precious little to prepare the ground for the inevitable in Andhra Pradesh. Second, and more seriously, it does not still seem to have realised that with 33 Lok Sabha MPs anything that happens in the state has consequences for the Congress at a national level. Beyond party politics, a new States Reorganisation Commission seems a logical response. But for that the government has to come up with a long term response.

The writer is a commentator on political affairs







An American professor has researched the differential between the value people place on things that they are given as presents and things they buy themselves.

This doesn't include the chunky diamond ring or the vintage Lamborghini that your sugar daddy might buy you for your birthday because you wouldn't afford them for yourself. He focuses on the clothes, shoes, luxury items, after-shave lotions and bath soaps you could buy and are inevitably given at Christmas.

The research concludes that, for instance, the self-bought sweater is at least 18 per cent more satisfying to me than an equally expensive one bought for me by my sister or daughter. This 18 per cent strikes me as uncannily precise but it is the lowest rung of the discount-in-value ladder. Some presents may carry a 99 per cent devaluation tag.

Being convinced by the good professor, I promptly resorted this Christmas to tell those who threaten to give me presents to rein in generosity and not buy me any 'designer' goods. I don't like wearing labelled sweaters, shirts, jeans, trousers or anything else.

I shy away from brand-identity marks in the form of an animal or the logo-ed initials of the designer on my chest or on my bum. If these designers want people to know that I am wearing one of their products in order to use me, and any allure I might have, as an advertisement for their goods, they'll have to pay me — as they do Tiger Woods, say.

And as far as reciprocal gifts for my children are concerned, I ask them exactly what they want and take them along to the shop to choose it in the case of a fancy mobile phone handset. Or I simply follow the old Parsi joke which used to interpret the 'RSVP' on wedding invitations as "Rokri Sais Vadharey Pasand", which in crude arsi Gujarati means, as far as wedding gifts are concerned, "Loose cash much preferred."

Brands are the most inconsequential snobbery of our age. The shirts made by 'masterji' in the local Indian tailor shop are just as fashionable and durable as the ones I have acquired from Emmett or Turnbull and Asser. Masterji nowadays also puts his name proudly on a label inside the collar of the shirt and that's as indiscreet as I like it. The day he insists on embroidering the pocket with a bandicoot or other creature, I move tailors.

In the gestation of my animosity to 'labels' I have encountered the objection that labels mean reliable quality. I have frequently countered this with the boast that the average consumer would not be able to tell a good Chinese imitation from the branded label it has duplicated.

I have tested my argument in the case of handbags and of jeans by offering the 'asli' one and the 'naqli' one to those of my children's generation who insist on their ability to distinguish. The experiment has proved to be convincing by being neutral — the imitation was chosen as frequently as the 'real' thing.

Bigoted though I am, I am not a relativist in all things. When asked which one thing I learnt at University I may say that I learnt that one poem was better than another. What holds for poems doesn't seem to hold for interpretations of music.

Beethoven's 7th conducted by Karajan can perhaps be distinguished from the same symphony recorded by an unknown Rumanian conductor, but I couldn't for the life of me say which one was 'better'. My son, a musician by trade, says that's because I'm ignorant.

And then there's wine — is a Sancerre 'better' than a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon and could I tell it from our Indian Sula Sauvignon Blanc? (I could actually! — but will maintain that the Sula Sauvignon is the most drinkable Indian wine — and herewith declare that I have not been given so much as a paisa or a free drink for saying so — it's an unbought critical comment.)

The writer is a scriptwriter based in London






The Nativity Scene: Legend tells us that Saint Francis of Assisi constructed the first nativity scene. His depiction included live animals. Francis knew that all the earth can be "holy land."

The Candy Cane: The candy cane represents one of the oldest symbols of Christmas, the shepherd's crook, for the shepherds were among the first to experience that first Christmas. The colours of the candy cane have special meaning, too.

The wide red stripe represents the sacrifice of Christ, "For by his stripes we are healed." The narrow red stripes represent our own sacrifices (giving). The white stripe is a symbol of purity. The peppermint plant is a member of the hyssop family, referred to in the Old Testament as a medicinal herb used for cleansing.

The Christmas Tree: The Christmas tree, which is an evergreen with it's boughs stretched toward heaven, reminds us of the everlasting life that Christ came to bring sinners. The candles or lights on the tree remind us that Jesus is the light of the world.

This surely is what Martin Luther envisioned back in 1535 when he cut and decorated the first Christmas tree for his children. Prince Albert carried the Christmas tree custom from Germany to Windsor Castle in 1841. 

Santa Claus: There are many stories of how the legend of Santa Claus began. One story says that the modern Santa finds his origin in a young pastor named Nicholas. His parents died when he was still a boy, leaving him a fortune. He loved the Lord and cared deeply for those in need. Not wanting to receive any glory himself, he went secretly, during the night, to the homes of poor families. There he left gifts and money because of his love for Christ.

Holly Leaf: The sharp pointy edges of the holly leaf remind us of the crown of thorns that
Jesus wore upon his brow. The red berries remind us of the blood that Jesus shed.









The fifth Working Group on Centre-State relations constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 25, 2006, has taken more than three years to submit its report whereas the other groups — dealing with confidence-building measures, cross-Line of Control travel and trade, economy and good governance — did so long time back. But this was the most important group, whose report presented to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Wednesday echoes a National Conference proposal on autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir to the pre-1953 position. The group's recommendation is also in line with a resolution passed by the state legislature nine years ago with a two-thirds majority. Indeed, such autonomy under the Indian sovereignty can address genuine issues of identity, borders and governance.


The group considers the proposed autonomy to be the most effective measure for improving Centre-State ties. What Jammu and Kashmir needs urgently is peace, progress and prosperity which have been affected due to the ongoing separatist movement aided and abetted by Pakistan. Once the question of accommodating diversity — not only of identity but also of economic development — is addressed, secessionist activities would become largely irrelevant. Significantly, the working group has rejected the demand of the People's Democratic Party for "self-rule". It has also suggested that the abrogation or continuance of Article 370 should be left to the people of the State.


What needs to be underlined is that autonomy in no way should be considered an anti-thesis to India's sovereignty. Nor should it become a pretext for anti-national activities in the border state. Moreover, there is need to factor in the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions. As former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had once said, if that framework is honoured, "sky is the limit" for defining what constitutes autonomy. The time has come to deliver on that magnanimous promise. The atmosphere is just right. The quiet channels opened with various responsible sections can yield positive results. 








It is sad that Andhra Pradesh continues to be on the boil two weeks after the Centre's in-principle decision to work towards statehood for Telangana. Politically, the division between the Telangana region and the rest of Andhra has sharpened to a level that must cause deep concern. That various political parties are playing to their own narrow perceived self-interest with scant regard for the interests of the people at large is worrying. The Centre's efforts on Wednesday to find a solution acceptable to all contending parties by calling for wide-ranging consultations with all parties and groups on the issue of a separate Telangana carved out of Andhra Pradesh have been used by partisans to fan the flames further. The MPs and legislators from Telangana belonging to different parties are up in arms alleging a Central betrayal. While a large number of them have submitted their resignations to their party chiefs, it is significant that they are not pressing hard for acceptance, evidently because they are playing for time.


Actually, all the parties are divided sharply along regional lines and are unsure of what position to take so as not to precipitate a split in their ranks. Each of the major parties is speaking in two voices. With repeated bandhs and hartals crippling the state's economy, work in offices virtually at a standstill, and university students on the rampage in Hyderabad, the first priority is to restore public order and re-energize developmental activity. Andhra Pradesh has been one of the country's prime states with huge stakes in the New Economy and it would be a tragedy if investors start deserting it for greener pastures.


The situation in Andhra needs to be defused urgently. While setting up a second states reorganisation commission with a time-bound schedule may be a possible wayout as this newspaper had suggested soon after the crisis surfaced, it is vital that the leaders of all parties agree to usher in peace without working for partisan ends in the interests of the state and its people.








Shocked by the widespread practice of newspapers and TV channels selling their news space and time during the last Lok Sabha elections, responsible journalists have taken up the issue head-on to stop the loathsome trend before it gets too late. First the Press Council of India and now the Editors Guild of India have set up committees to suggest ways to deal with the menace, which strikes at the very foundation of credibility of the Fourth Estate. This is a welcome development as the saner members of the media have come forward to check the blatant abuse of news.


The once-clear distinction betweenn advertisements and news has started blurring of late. As the media, particularly newspapers in Indian languages, witnessed an unprecedented growth driven by the needs of a rising India, editors and journalists increasingly became subservient to marketing managers for whom news became less sacrosanct and advertisements the mainstay of their profession. The owners were all too happy encouraging them. In the recent elections marketeers turned even more aggressive as the media industry was hit by an economic downturn and came out with competitive election coverage packages for politicians, disregarding all ethics of journalism. Editors of language newspapers, especially in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and some other states, either failed to put their foot down or joined the unethical drive for profit.


These short-sighted strategists do not seem to realise the damage they have done to the profession. The Fourth Estate is built on the foundations of public trust. If that trust were betrayed, it would shake the entire structure. The Editors Guild's initiative to stem the rot, therefore, is welcome. Otherwise, the government or the Election Commission would be forced to step in. Self-regulation is a better option. The Press Council and the Editors Guild can only exercise moral pressure. Hopefully, the recalcitrant members of the media would pay heed to the guidelines that may be prescribed to maintain the dignity and values of the profession.









HER 25th death anniversary only two months ago had turned out to be a celebration of Indira Gandhi the like of which is seldom seen. There was, of course, some criticism of her during the talkathon on TV channels and in the unending newspaper articles on her. But her image at this distance of time was unquestionably brighter and more positive than India's educated middle class was prepared to concede at any time from the late 1960s to well after her assassination. Today, some even among those who had vowed never to forgive her for the "cardinal sin" of the Emergency have started admitting that this hammer-blow to democracy was "scripted jointly by her and JP", the initials standing for the Gandhian leader Jayaprakash Narayan.


However, no new book on her had appeared at this juncture, which seemed odd because since she first became prime minister in 1966 more books have been published on her than on any other Indian, with the solitary and conspicuous exception of the Mahatma. The clear reason for this is the high drama and searing tragedy in her life. Her phenomenal rise to power and glory was followed by a fantastic fall and then by an even more rapid and remarkable political resurrection barely a few months before the death of her favourite son and duly designated political heir Sanjay and less than five years before her own murder. Only the Bhuttos of Pakistan, father Zulfiqar and daughter Benazir, have had a similar fate.


However, the problem about the plethora of Indira's biographies and books about her is that the bulk of them appeared in two big spurts at the highest and lowest points in her career, separated from each other by no more than six years. In the early 1970s, in the wake of her tremendous triumph in the 1971 general election and India's brilliant victory in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh, there was an avalanche of her bagiographies. After her humiliating defeat in the 1977 poll, primarily because of the Emergency, there was a torrent of books practically depicting her as irredeemably evil. In some cases the authors of the books of both kinds were the same. After her spectacular return to power in January 1980 and especially after her assassination in 1984 there had been for several years a steady flow of books on Indira. Their content depended, more often than not, on the authors' personal predilection rather than on facts.


It is this that makes the only book on the subject of how Indira Gandhi looks in the perspective of a quarter of a century to reach my desk, Pranay Gupte's Mother India*, worthy of notice. Nearly 20 years ago he had written a book on Indira Gandhi's life and times, under the same title. Gupte, an Indian-American and a veteran journalist, rightly claims that the new book is not an updated version of the old but an altogether new chronicle and assessment of her life and legacy. His rationale for the title is that the mother figure is highly venerated in India, as in other ancient civilisations, and thus Indira Gandhi was looked upon as Bharat Mata by "her supporters and detractors alike".


"For her fans, Indira was a bountiful mother figure, who radiated strength — shakti … For her critics (she) was more a multi-limbed demon goddess Kali than Bharat Mata." A simultaneous recognition of the good and the bad, the positive and the negative in Indira's record runs like a thread in Gupte's book that does try to be neither bagiography nor demonology and actually manages to balance the two. He is also candid enough to admit that though the conclusions are his own, he has relied on the research of several India specialists, both Indian and foreign.


"In my view," says the author, "Indira Gandhi was the central character in India's modern history. Her fingerprints and footprints are all over contemporary India, and will not be easily erased no matter which government is in power. While her record as a 'national manager' cannot be dismissed lightly, Indira exploited what sociologist Asish Nandi calls the 'criminalisation and commecialisation of politics".


Never unmindful of the yeoman services Indira Gandhi rendered her country, Gupte is sharp in his criticism of the wrongs she committed or allowed her cohorts to commit that have left a lasting imprint on India. Particularly scathing is this indictment: "Indira Gandhi was India's biggest commercial brand name and her associates in the Congress Party merrily exploited that advantage so corruption spread through the system like a malignant metastasis … Today — notwithstanding the economic liberalisation — it is impossible to get anything done in India without bribery and commissions. The culture of corruption is Indira Gandhi's lasting — even if unintended — gift to India, though her supporters argue that she could not have possibly foreseen how much political corruption would expand and extend into other areas of national life. A weak argument, at best."


Understandably, a lot of space in the book is devoted to what continues to be called the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty though its founder was Indira, not her father. But he omits to mention that dynasty building is another major legacy of hers that has flourished in India, not just survived. Barring only a few honourable exceptions, almost all political parties have become family businesses. The Gandhi dynasty remains the only one with an all-India appeal; all others rule the roost, or hope to do so, in specific states. "Now the standard-bearers of (this) dynasty are Rajiv's Italian-born widow, Sonia, and her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka, arguably the most powerful triumvirate in contemporary India".


He goes on to say that the 2009 general election that returned the Congress-led coalition to power was a vindication of Indira's legacy of secularlism, and adds: "Sonia may be a strong leader, even an obstinate one, but she isn't a fearsome figure like her mother-in-law was. Indira Gandhi was sui generis, and we will never again see the like of her."


Quite apart from the fact that Gupte's book is a 597-page tome, he, like most other biographers of Indira, hasn't written adequately about Indira's unflinching dedication to safeguarding India's sovereignty and security or the strategic virtuosity she displayed during the Bangladesh War in which both China and its new-found friend and ally, the United States, were backing the side that was morally in the wrong and militarily doomed to defeat.n


*Mother India by Pranay Gupte (Penguin-Viking, Rs 599)








It's been the year of the swine flu, which means that lesser maladies haven't done too well for themselves. In terms of hogging headlines, that is. This makes life in the times of swine flu quite confusing for those falling prey to viruses that are less news worthy, though in no way less nose worthy.


Such was the predicament of my son when he came back from school sometime back, his nasal tract in a state of spate and his otherwise garrulous mouth jammed into inflamed inaction.


The pause in his delivery of the spoken word was not so much a cause for concern, but the symptomatic similarities to that dreaded Malady of the Moment were. This pressed my panic button pronto. Those scary reports of even the student community getting afflicted by swine flu, schools shutting down and all that had my nervous system already programmed to constrict in a manner as if it were an attack of the aliens.


But I was certainly not alien to the weapon of warfare to be employed against this new hottie in the (IPL) Influenza Premier League. Tamiflu, the name of this remedy, was pounding in my brain when I rushed my son to the doctor.


His diagnosis laid my worst fears to rest, but put my ability to combat less limelight-stricken members of the flu fraternity to test. As it turned out to be a mumps-like condition, Tamiflu was not to be our remedy. What we needed was just some other allopathic ammunition. Or so I thought...


Since alternate theories of treatment had also been activated by then, thanks to certain faithfuls of the old school of thought, I found myself being prodded to look for a rather unusual remedy: a potter.


Desi belief goes that a potter shakes off this glandular swelling, called "kumharan chadna," by scraping a piece of earthen pottery on it.


Ah, but thanks to the relocationary instincts of the authorities, who had some seasons ago shifted the entire kumhar colony out of the city to the peripheral Maloya village, this line of treatment anyways seemed out of reach...


Till a link route presented itself unwittingly. A colleague had visited a kumhar in this colony for a write-up on his skills at the potter's wheel. She offered to contact him.


Then, some time passed and I still didn't hear from her on this. There seemed to be no hurry about the potter. But it turned out that there was a solid hitch. This colleague hadn't got the potter's number.


So, the cure looked too far to fetch. And may be it was far-fetched too.









India is not a banana republic. But certain incidents indicate that the country is rapidly forfeiting the right to be counted among the civilized nations. Take the rape of a Russian girl in Goa. Shanta Ram Naik, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the House which sets tone to public debates, wants a different treatment of the rape cases in which women move around with strangers after midnight. The member expressed no regret for the rape because the Russian girl was outside her place past 12 at night.


I thought Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat would have taken Naik to task. But nothing like that happened. Instead, the Chief Minister said that a girl who went out with a man at night was asking for something like rape. He did not care for the impression he was creating through his statement inside India and in foreign countries.


Asked about the action his government would take against the member, the Chief Minister said: "Let the Russian government write to me." Yet his police has been trying to bribe the girl repeatedly. The last offer made to her was Rs. 15 lakh.


Congress Foreign Minister S.M.Krishna had no word of condemnation either. He merely said: "Foreigners should be more careful." I do not know whether the Minister for Tourism would agree with the Foreign Minister. But how does Goa expect foreigners or, for that matter, Indians to visit the place where one of the ministers of the state says that Goa is the "rape capital of the world."


The incident prompted Moscow's Consul General in Mumbai, Alexander Mantytsky, to write to the Indian authorities about the concern he felt on behalf of his nation.


According to one estimate, the Russians make up about 40,000 of the 400,000 international tourists who visit Goa every year.


Sabina Martins, who runs the NGO, Bailancho Saad, has let the cat out of the bag when she says: "No longer does tourism advertisements talk about the natural beauty or the hospitable nature of the state. It is now promoted along the 'wine, women and song' line, which is different from the local culture."


What has shocked me the most is the silence of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president. She is probably busy calculating what political repercussion the action against the accused, John Fernandes, a heavyweight in the state, would have on the Congress government in Goa.


True, the party rule hangs in balance because the revolt of a few members can make the government fall or bring the opposition to power. But is this what counts ultimately? No morality, only politics!


A television network has asked for three days in a row why no action has been taken against the rapist. Some Parliament members have also posed the same question to the government. But it has preferred to remain silent.


The question is whether the state machinery has any responsibility to pursue the case where a rape has been

committed. The accused may be let off or there may be nothing proved against him. But how can the police, looking after the law and order machinery, sit silent? It is apparent that political pressure can let off 
the rapists.


This is confirmed by a case in Haryana. After 19 years, a special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has sentenced former state Director General of Police SPS Rathore to six months' imprisonment and fined Rs 1,000. He was accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl. I


t is a travesty of justice that the police Director General gets only six months in prison. The court is not to blame for a light sentence because the CBI, for obvious reasons, refused to charge the DGP for the real crime. The FIR was filed nine years after the molestation and that too was changed to a memorandum. The pressure used can well be imagined. Still the state government found Rathore so useful, then IG, that he was promoted after four years of his committing the crime.


How powerful was Rathore can be judged from the fact that goons were placed outside the victim's house to accost and harass her whenever she stepped out. Her house was pelted with stones, smattering the windows.


Three years later she consumed insecticide and died a day later. Her father sold the house in Panchkula, near Chandigarh, and went to Kolkata. Two brothers of the victim faced 11 cooked-up cases which went on for years before they were acquitted.


The mother says in a statement: "We were threatened when we filed a memorandum against Rathore for exemplary punishment." But Rathore was given a bail even for the light imprisonment. The entire police system in Haryana and the CBI, which played with the investigation have to be cleaned up.


Punjab and Haryana High Court Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal can appoint a special team to reinvestigate the case. The Supreme Court did so in the case of Gujarat where it found the judgment was not correct.


It is time that the government introduces the much-awaited police reforms and overhauls the judicial system. How can a case of molestation against a former DGP go on for 19 years? All those ministers, bureaucrats and police officials who are responsible for the cover-up should be brought to justice.


Let this be a test case to punish even the highest in the country. After knowing the details, the nation feels abhorred and inaction would look like a compromise with pressure and power. 


Yet another affront comes from an American Ice cream company, Haagen-Dazs. While opening its branch at Delhi, it puts outside a board to say that only international passport holders can buy ice cream, thereby meaning that no Indian could enter.


This was an outrage for a sovereign country. The company removed the board but it did not tender an apology. The company merely said that the advertisement idea did not work the way it imagined it would. A simple question that the company should answer is: Would it have dared to put up such a board in America, the country which owns the company?


The developed countries consider the Third World a playground to test their arrogant and bizarre ideas. But then the Third World has become prone to humiliation.









Copenhagen has come and gone, but the climate change naysayers are still very much with us. And they are indisputably right about one thing: the scientific consensus can be wrong.


Scientists and their predecessors, the natural philosophers, have been in error in the past on many things, from planetary orbits to the origins of humankind. Scholars with impressive-sounding qualifications argued that the Sun revolved around the Earth and that God created the natural world in all its variety in one astonishing burst of creativity. They were wrong then. So couldn't those massed ranks of doctorate-laden climate scientists, oceanographers and physicists be wrong now about mankind's role in warming the climate?


Yet just because the consensus has, on occasion, been wrong it doesn't follow that the settled view of the scientific community is always in error. This is where the critics of the majority scientific view on global warming run into trouble.


The minority of scientists who argue that the theory of anthropogenic climate change is a fiction, whatever other achievements they might have to their name, have failed to undermine the consensus view.


If these oppositionist scientists were right, they should surely be sweeping all before them, just as Darwin exploded conventional wisdom about the origin of species, and Copernicus and Galileo revolutionised established views about the nature of the cosmos.


But that inexorable victory for the position of the climate oppositionists isn't what we're seeing. The scientific consensus that global warming is the result of human activity has, in fact, significantly hardened in recent years, despite the efforts of dissenting scientists such as Ian Plimer and Patrick Michaels.


Rather than admit that the traditional process by which scientific truth is revealed has failed to vindicate them, these scientists and their often eloquent lay supporters fall back on the allegation that there is a conspiracy in the scientific establishment to silence them, a plot to marginalise those who will not conform to the orthodoxy. Climate science, we are told, has become like a religion, where heretics are ruthlessly suppressed, just as the Catholic Church suppressed Galileo.


Does this sound plausible to you? No heretics have been put under house arrest lately. Indeed, the theories of the oppositionists have been addressed in great detail. The arguments and counter-arguments are available to anyone who cares to look. Is it not more likely that the case of those who do not agree with the consensus has been weighed and simply found wanting?


Aha, say the diehards, what about those leaked emails from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia? Do they not show intent from some prominent climate change scientists to suppress contrary research? The emails certainly don't paint the unit in a flattering light.


And in so far as they show attempts to frustrate Freedom of Information requests, they are shameful. But the naysayers need to show that these scientists – and thousands of others – have falsified their data before they can claim victory. So far they've been unable to do that.


Ad hominem attacks are no substitute. The naysayers say that scientists have an incentive to scare policymakers because that's what delivers the research grants. But there's another powerful incentive in the world of science: the prestige to be had from overturning an orthodoxy. Or are we to believe that only the oppositionists possess such sceptical instincts?


In the end, this is not an argument about science, but logic. Those of us who are not scientific specialists are no more able to talk authoritatively about the physics of climate change than we are able to explain how vaccination works, or how the HIV virus results in Aids. But we (generally) take our jabs and practise safe sex. Scientific consensus matters. Not because the consensus is always right, but because it is the only guide to rational action and policymaking.


Climate change naysayers might yet come up with evidence that disproves the theory of man-made climate change. That would be a revolutionary moment. And the world would surely thank them for their efforts. But it hasn't happened yet. In the meantime it falls to the open-minded layperson and the responsible politician to check that the debate has been free, to ensure that no inconvenient research has been suppressed, and to act in response to the consensus view.


The climate naysayers would have us treat science like an a la carte menu, where we pick out what suits us and dismiss what doesn't. Sorry, but speaking as a non-scientist, that doesn't sound very appetising.


— By arrangement with The Independent








Do you anticipate being snubbed at your in-laws' holiday dinner? Are you pretty sure your spouse will pick up a gift for you at the drugstore on Christmas Eve? Are you starting to take your unsuccessful job hunt personally?


New research may prescribe just the thing for your hurt feelings: the same all-purpose pain reliever people take for headaches, muscle pain and fever.


A study to be published in the journal Psychological Science set out to explore the link between the way we experience physical pain and how we process the pain of social rejection — a novel line of research that has been picking up steam in the past year or so.


The researchers, a far-flung group led by University of Kentucky psychologist C. Nathan DeWall, noted that recent studies have shown lots of overlap in the brain circuits that process physical and social pain. But no study has looked at whether medication that blunts physical pain might do the same for the heartache that comes from the perception that one has been spurned or slighted.


In a pair of experiments using acetaminophen (the active ingredient in over-the-counter pain reliever Tylenol), they found considerable evidence that it does. The first experiment put 62 healthy undergraduates into two groups.


One group was put one on a daily dose of two Tylenol, one each morning and one shortly before going to bed; the other group took a daily dose of placebo. Each evening, participants filled out a quick psychological survey gauging their level of positive emotion and of "hurt feelings."


Subjects in the two groups did not differ measurably in their positive emotions. But starting on Day 9 and continuing for the next 12 days, the group taking Tylenol reported significantly lower daily levels of hurt feelings than did the group taking placebo.


A second experiment had 25 healthy undergraduates play a virtual "ball-tossing" game designed to induce

feelings of social rejection while their brains were being scanned by functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. Ten of the subjects took two acetaminophen tablets each morning and two at night for three weeks before the ball-tossing fMRI session; 15 subjects took placebo pills for the same period.


The brain images showed that compared with the subjects who had taken the dummy pills, the acetaminophen group responded to the virtual exclusion with far less activity in the brain regions linked to the processing of physical and emotional pain, and in other areas in which mood and emotions are processed. Curiously, when individuals in each group were asked to rate their feelings in response to the exclusion episode, the two groups reported equal levels of social distress.


"Our findings do not call for widespread use of acetaminophen to cope with all types of personal problems," the group writes in the article outlining the research. But they do provide some "novel insight into the close relationship between social and physical pain."


Social pain such as chronic loneliness can be as bad for health as smoking and obesity.

And since chronic loneliness is almost as widespread, "we hope our findings can pave the way for interventions designed to reduce the pain of social rejection," DeWall said in a news release.


— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








India's relationship with its neighbours has had its invariable ups and downs. Pakistan has not yet been able to mend fences with our nation; with the others the relationship has oscillated between overt amity and downright hostility. If Bangladesh has overnight grown extremely helpful in carrying out India's requests, a section of the political elements in Nepal has begun to spew vitriol against us. The response on the part of Sri Lanka to any Indian overture has always been a wary one, while Myanmar is more concerned with isolating itself rather than building bridges. Within such a context of ever shifting relations, the sole neighbour which has been steadfastly amicable as far as relation with India is concerned has been the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The Dragon Kingdom has always been a loyal ally, a fact that has been reinforced by the State visit of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and the slew of pacts and memorandum of understanding inked on the occasion between the two nations. This is the King Wangchuk's first maiden foreign visit since his coronation last year and the very fact that he has made India the destination underlines the existing cordiality. One needs to contrast this to the maiden foreign visit of Prachanda of Nepal who, in order to make a point, had chosen China to be his first destination after taking over the helm.

Given this friendship, it was but apt that the two nations should take advantage of the King's visit and agree to initiate projects that would benefit both. One must recall that India and Bhutan had signed a 60 year umbrella agreement in 2006, and the proposed monetary and technical assistance to be offered by India has been inked under this agreement. Among the projects envisaged is the setting up of a super-speciality hospital in the lines of the AIIMS in Bhutan with the technical and exert support from India, as also measures for providing increased air connectivity between the two countries. The most important items on which MoUs on initiating detailed project reports have been signed are four hydro-electric projects in Bhutan which India will help to build. These are Amochu, Kuri-Gongri, Chamkarchu-I and Kholongchu hydro electric projects which will boost Bhutan's installed capacity from 1500 MW at present to over 5000 MW once the projects are operational and 10,000 MW by 2020. Since the power needs of the insulated Himalayan kingdom is very low, Bhutan will earn revenue by selling the excess power to India, helping the latter, whose economy is expanding rapidly, to meet its power needs of the future. This is the kind of symbiosis needed between good neighbours, and the India-Bhutan example can illustrate to other nations the positive manner in which international relationships should proceed.






The usual excuse given by the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) for its failure to perform the entrusted duties is the lack of funds. It blames the Government of Assam (GOA) for delay in release of share of those taxes which are shareable between GMC and GOA. It blames the citizens for non-payment of taxes and other dues. However, for the first time GMC's finances will get a boost because the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) has given GMC an amount of Rs 225.93 crore as devolution during 2007-11. The yearwise break-up will be Rs 25.97 crore for 2007-08, Rs 62.99 crore for 2008-09, Rs 66.64 crore for 2009-10 and Rs 70.34 crore for 2010-11. These amounts are out of a divisible pool of Rs 3,164.10 crore for 2479 Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) and Urban Local Bodies (ULB), which will get 25 per cent of the revenues of GOA. In addition GMC will also get Rs 10 crore as seed/margin money for a town hall costing around Rs 100 crore and appropriate amounts for cremation and burial grounds, public toilets and maintenance and repair of roads and buildings. Earlier TASFC had recommended in its Ad Interim Report as follows: "The accumulated arrears of GMC on account of salary, dearness allowance, CP, group insurance and other terminal benefits to its employees are reported to be Rs 3699.00 lakh. This entire amount should be cleared immediately during 2007-08 so that GMC can start with a new slate." GOA seems to have cleared the salary arrears. However, there was an important recommendation in the main report which read as follows: "TASFC recommends that pensionary benefits should also be given with effect from 01-01-1996 to GMC employees. ....... The increased devolution made in this main report should be able to take care of the additional fund requirement for current and arrear payments." GOA's decision on this recommendation reads as follows: "As per norms of Government employees this matter may be referred to the cabinet." The final decision should be expedited in the interest of GMC employees.

It may be recalled that TASFC, chaired by former Chief Secretary HN Das, submitted its report on March 27, 2008. After more than 20 months and after the report had been thoroughly examined by a cabinet committee the acceptance of most of the recommendations was conveyed to the Assam Legislative Assembly when the report, along with an explanatory memorandum on action taken, was laid on the table of the House by the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on December 11, 2009 as required under Articles 243-I-(4) and 243-Y-(2) of the Indian constitution. It is good that GMC's finances have been revamped and employees' grievances have been looked into. But GOA will have to issue the necessary sanctions and release the funds in time. In respect of the allocations for the years 2007-08 and 2008-09 budget provisions will have to be made by GOA for arrear payments. If this is not done the benefits will not flow to GMC and TASFC recommendations will be negated. Therefore, political pressure will have to be mounted on GOA, specially by civil society activists, to implement all the measures recommended by TASFC.








The Climate Summit of Copenhagen has failed to reach an agreement over the differences on cuts in carbon emissions and other binding principles for the protection from climate change and global warming. The summit has failed mainly because of the policy of undermining the rights of the developing and under developed countries by the rich nations of the North who wanted to impose some legally binding principles on emission cuts. The failure of the summit was well anticipated following the leak of the draft text resolution prepared by the Danish government which had endorsed the policies of the industrialized countries over climate change. The steps put forward by the rich and the most polluting countries of the world on emission cuts, global warming and rise of the sea level are nothing but the continuation of the globalized economy of free market with a view to gain maximum profits at the cost of the rest of the world.

As the Copenhagen Summit began with so much media hype, the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Doha Round of trade negotiations of the WTO began silently in Geneva at the same time to reach an agreement in the nine year long talks. Concerned economists and ecologists have been questioning the importance of free trade over an effective climate management when the rich North is campaigning for their gains at the summit in Copenhagen.

We must acknowledge that the global free market economy has considerably affected the climate of our planet. One important aspect of this export-oriented economy is transportation. A food plate of an American consumer travels 1, 500 miles in average from different sources of the world to reach the table. This transportation requires burning of fossil fuel and this emission of carbon from various transports contributes 13 per cent of the global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and 23 percent of the global carbon dioxide emissions (as per the 2006 data). Due to the current recession thousands of ships, freight carriers and oil tankers have been marooned in major ports of the world through out 2009 far lack of demand. As a result there is a fall in GHG emissions this year which is highest in the last forty years. Therefore this global recession of the free market economy, as stated by economist Walden Bello is a boon for ecology for conservation and to prevent climate change. He says that any discussion on climate change will be fruitless unless the profit motivated incessant drive of capitalism which always transforms living nature into dead trade commodities is not overlooked. The present stagnant Europe and recession hit Japan has forced the free market advocates to find out replacements for the bankrupt American consumer to run the engine of global demand. Therefore the 9th Ministerial Meet of the Doha Round of trade negotiations of WTO in Geneva is aiming to reintroduce carbon trade. Therefore any agreement at Copenhagen ignoring the WTO, Bello says, is a kind of Bend-Aid solution. That is why the climate summit has failed to reach an agreement.

The draft resolution of the Copenhagen summit was prepared for the interest of globalized economy. The leaked text of the draft has called for emission cuts by dividing the countries into industrialized and least developed asking the rest of the world to follow the uniform norms. This is the clear violation of the Kyoto Protocol which has divided the nations among developed, developing and underdeveloped categories. It is strange that how the developed North, the source of global pollution in the last two hundred years of industrialization has insisting the least pollutant developing countries to cut emissions at same level as theirs when the entire planet is suffering climate change for them. The draft also calls for percentage wise legally binding emission cuts to maintain the increase of global temperature to 2 degree Celsius at the preindustrial level, that is to cut 50 per cent emissions by 2050. However the inclusion of developing countries like India, China, Brazil, South Africa etc. to share the 80 per cent of the cuts meant for industrialized nations is the cause of the opposition to the agreement at Copenhagen. Though India and China tops the list of global emissions after US and EU, their per capita emissions are much lower than that of the industrialized countries. On the contrary, President Barack Obama has spoken about no-binding 17 per cent cuts in emissions to the level of 2005 which is the minimum of any cuts (4 percent at the level of 1990) and that too subjected to the approval of the Congress. The draft speaks about the offset trade and transfer of technology, financial aid and capacity building to the countries affected by the emission cuts. But this too is "subject to robust measurement, reporting and verification".

Anofher important aspect of the climate summit was carbon trading. The "cap and trading" policy to offset emission cuts has the objective of permitting pollution where the banks and brokers have a tremendous opportunity to do business. It is Al Gore, the co-recipient of Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 and former US Vice President who endorsed carbon trading in climate negotiations. But this offset policy has been severely decreed by Dr James Hansen, a prominent American ecologist as the Indulgence of the medieval period when the Pope absolved sinners by taking money and issuing a certificate. This carbon trade, supply of green technologies, Clean Development Mechanism of the UN and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation are prepared for the sake of multinational business houses for which the talks at Copenhagen were destined to fail.

The UN proposes to offset the fossil fuel business by introducing massive plantation programmes and using renewable energy from non-conventional sources under its CDM and REDD programme in the developing countries. But as a result thousands of hectares of original forest cover have been cut and cleared to plant trees for commercial use and hundreds of native and indigenous people are uprooted for the benefit of the log industry. In Kampar peninsula of Sumatra, Indonesia the log industry has destroyed a tropical forest area to plant Acacia trees from which the company plans to earn 17 million US dollars by contributing 40 million to emission cuts. Similar problems of ecological disasters have also occurred in Thailand over a biomass power plant and windmill lobby intimidating local people in India concerning land acquisitions.

Thus the Copenhagen Summit was organized to cater the needs and serve the interests of the western capitalist free market in the name of protection from climate change and the mitigations required for the safety of this planet from global warming. The resistance by developing and under developed countries is good sign for the united stand against the rich North. A genuine and justified emission cut regime with democratic principles and transparency is important for a safe future of this planet from further climate degradation.

(The writer teaches English at Lakhimpur Commerce College.








Christmas is celebrated all over the world with great fervour and gaiety. This festival commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, who was born about two thousand years ago. The Bible speaks amply about the birth of Jesus, but it does not indicate the date. Christmas has a long and varied history. It has been celebrated for centuries by different people, at different times, and in many different ways. However, for almost 300 years, the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In AD 221, church historian Sextus Julius Africanas suggested 25 December as the date of Christ's birth. In 325, Constantine the Great introduced Christmas as a feast on 25 December. In 350 Pope Julius I suggested the same date for it. Finally, Pope Liberius in 354 officially ordered to celebrate Christmas on 25 December which was first observed in Rome in that year. Now, December 25 is widely accepted as the Christmas day. However, churches of the Greek, Armenian and Russian Orthodox traditions observe the festival in January.

There are many traditions and legends related to Christmas. Flowers form a major part of the Christmas decoration. Poinsettia, Christmas Cactus, Holly, Christmas Rose, Ivy, Mistletoe, etc., add colour to the festive decoration. A variety of plants over time have come to be called Christmas Rose and they all are steeped in legends. A legend of the Christmas Rose tells about a young girl named Madelon who wanted to come to child Jesus to worship him with gifts. She saw the magis bringing gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus .But she was utterly despaired and wept since she could not get even a flower for him. An angel comforted her and smote the ground that was wet from her tears. There sprang a beautiful bush that bloomed of white roses which she took to offer to Jesus.

The use of Christmas tree originated in Germany in the 16th century. It was common for the Germans to decorate fir trees, both inside and out, with roses, apples, and coloured papers. It is believed that Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, was the first to light candles on such decorated trees. While coming home one dark winter's night near Christmas, he was struck with the beauty of the starlight shining through the branches of a small fir tree outside his home. He duplicated the starlight by using candles attached to the branches of his indoor tree that called to be the Christmas tree.

Santa Claus, also known as Christmas Father is generally depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a white-cuffed red coat and trouser with black leather belt and boots is a legendary figure who brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve. It originated from St. Nicholas who was a bishop in Myra in present day Turkey in the 4th century. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. The legend says that he used to go secretly at night and give away gifts to the children through windows.

The Christmas carol was originated in England. A legend says that a young girl named Carol got lost in the streets of London on a cold winter night. In an attempt to find her, her friends went from house to house. After this episode, the term 'Christmas carol' became widespread in Christmas. Whatever the traditions and legends may be, the Bible is the only reliable source of information of Christmas story. Long before birth of Jesus, the Bible predicted the details of his birth including the place, the nature and the purpose. Accordingly, Jesus was born miraculously of the Virgin Mary in a town called Bethlehem, also known as the City of David, in Palestine. He was born in a stable because there was no place for Mary in any house in Bethlehem where she had gone with Joseph from their home town Nazareth. On the night when Jesus was born, an angel appeared to the shepherds who were watching over their flock in a field and said, "I bring you good news of great joy for all people, for unto you is born this day in the City of David your Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" ; after which the angel was joined by many other angels singing, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men". The shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The Bible says, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins". Therefore, the name Jesus means the Saviour, the one who would save people from the clutches of sin and its power. God gave this name before his birth. Therefore, Christmas has universal significance because Jesus was born to be the Saviour of the world. Therefore the purpose of Christmas was not to establish a new religion but to bring peace and salvation to humanity and to accomplish this Jesus had to die for the world.

Nowadays, Christmas is commonly considered as a time of feasting and rejoicing. Churches and houses are cleaned and decorated; new clothes are worn; prayers are offered and feasts are held; cards and gifts exchanged, and the air is melodious with carols like 'Jingle bells, Jingle bells'. Then, for most people, the festival ends. However, its message and significance remains forever. Therefore it is not proper to romanticize Christmas as to forget its basic purpose of bringing peace and harmony to humanity.

(The writer is Pastor of Guwahati Baptist Church)







The government has done well to bring together the diverse pieces of policy on foreign investment, distributed across Acts, rules and press notes of various vintage, into a single press note. It is welcome also that the government has initiated a process of review of the policy as it stands today, by inviting comments on the draft compendium, released by commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma on Thursday. This is all to the good, as the recent amendments to the policy on foreign investment, outlined in Press Notes 2,3 and 4 of 2009, have occasioned some sharp criticism, with the finance ministry and even the RBI expressing disquiet over their provisions. We wholly commend this openness to constructive criticism, which alone will allow policy to locate and slide into the right equilibrium of multiple demands on the system from different quarters.

That said, it is difficult to appreciate the proposal that the policy will fade into the sunset every six months, to be revived again with possible amendments. Foreigners seeking to invest in the country require stability of policy over a foreseeable time horizon, to commit serious funds to this economy. Once glitches in the existing policy have been ironed out, what emerges should have a fair degree of permanence. A major lacuna of the policy as it stands is that it dilutes the focus on effective control, while determining the foreignness or otherwise of investment in a locally incorporated body. This matters acutely, in sectors where foreign investment has been capped or prohibited. Fuzziness on control arises from existing policy's failure to define beneficial ownership, critical to determining the level of control any investor could exercise over an entity through a web of holding companies or subsidiaries. If beneficial ownership takes into account indirect holdings, as logic demands it should, as well as direct ownership, FDI restrictions in select sectors such as the media would have some sanctity. Policy review should factor this in, apart from the foreignness the new guidelines had imposed on India's leading private sector banks, ICICI and HDFC Bank.







The fractured verdict in Jharkhand is an example of how the politics of uncertainty often leads to rank political expediency. And in an underdeveloped state, beset with chronic corruption, with a large tribal population and a sizeable presence of Maoists, a government formed on the basis of naked opportunism won't really be much to cheer about. Then again, that often is an occupational hazard of Indian democracy, as it were. And Jharkhand exemplifies the preponderance of patronage networks or community loyalty in deciding how votes are cast. Shibu Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), for instance, which has with the BJP emerged as the joint largest party (18 seats each), even with its history of being implicated in cases of corruption, makes no secret of being open to both sides of the political divide, the sole criterion being bagging the CM's post.

And there is every likelihood of that demand being met by either the Congress or the BJP. The latter could well be termed the larger loser in the polls, continuing the saffron party's spate of reversals, given it had won 30 seats in 2005 and 8 of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in 2009. The Congress and its ally, former BJP man Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) might be the biggest bloc (with 14 and 11 seats respectively), but given the totally ruptured verdict, there could be a case for asking the House to elect a leader, rather than following the convention of asking the single largest bloc to prove its majority — which could, in this case, hand a questionable advantage to the Congress.

The other aspect of the unhealthy political volatility of the state, and the attendant opportunism it breeds, is the almost benign acceptance of corruption. The scandal of the Madhu Koda government — itself an example of how far a fractured verdict can be perverted, given that he was an independent who became chief minister for a mere two years — did not affect the Congress, which had supported Koda. The latter's wife, in fact also won, as did other bigwigs accused in corruption cases. Given that, while there may be a deal for now on government formation, democratic stability is likely to yet elude Jharkhand.






Given that the world has moved on a bit since Moses and Jesus trod the earth, it should not surprise anyone that a British vicar has taken it upon himself to do a reality check on the 10 commandments that have guided the faithful so far. "Thou shalt shoplift," is the Reverend Tim Jones' post-recession tenet for his parishioners in the northern town of York, presumably as a solution to the Dickensian hard times Britain is facing again. His reading is that "an honest life" can sometimes seem "an apparent impossibility" for those at the bottom of the social order. But the good citizens of the former empire need not fear a subaltern revolt, for the thoughtful Jones has not advocated abandoning all mores and morality in the pursuit of the bare neccessities of life. That is why he has directed his flock towards the lesser sin of shoplifting rather than letting them infringe other tenets of the decalogue resorting to seamier options such as prostitution, robbery and suicide. He has even benevolently adhered to the 'Thou shalt honour thy father and mother' commandment by telling his congregation to not to steal from mom-and-pop stores but only from "large national businesses". Very Robin Hood-ish of him.

Indeed, Jones insists that this shoplifting exhortation does not violate any commandments at all — especially the one that succinctly orders that Thou shalt not steal — because "God's love for the poor outweighs his love for property rights of the rich". Besides, he's also told them "not to take any more than they need". That, however, is open to interpretation these days: what is too much, when shoplifting? A saucepan is allowed but not a TV? Or both are okay if they are not top-of-the-range teflon saucepans or plasma TV? Potatoes okay, but not asparagus? Or both as long as they are planet-friendly, organic produce? The chances are high, of course, that those who heed his call may just end up as guests of Her Majesty in jail cells for Christmas. He can then always console them by saying that their food and lodgings would be taken care of by the usually uncaring state for a while.






By the time, you dear readers, get to read this column, Zenobia Aunty and her family will probably be back home. It was in late 2000 that Aunty stepped in Bangalore, learnt to love it and stayed on. But, there is something about Mumbai that prompted her, her favourite niece, assorted family members and her dog Spot to make the big move again, this time back home.

At least we will now not have to hear Zenobia Aunty take a cue from John Denver and sing: "City roads, take me home; to the place I belong, aamchi Mumbai, crowded streets, vada-pav and sea breeze, take me home, city roads...."You all know by now, that when Zenobia Aunty decides to sing, Spot dives beneath the bed hoping to be out of hearing distance and we all remember some urgent errands and dash off.

But facts come first. Zenobia Aunty is dictating this column several weeks in advance, to make sure that in all the chaos which a move entails; she does not miss her strict editor's deadline. Nine years is a long time to be away and Mumbai may seem a tad unfamiliar. Familiarity is always comforting, be it the city roads, which one grew up in or CBDT circulars that one relied upon and took their existence for granted.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), has recently withdrawn a forty-year old circular, viz., Circular No 23, dated July 23, 1969. Tax circulars as we all know, are binding on the tax authorities.

Section 9, of the I-T Act, 1961, deals with income accruing or arising, through or from a 'business connection' in India. There is no definition of a business connection in the I-T Act. However, judicial decisions have interpreted it to mean a relation between a business carried on by a non-resident which yields profits and some activity in India which contributes to the earning of such profits.

However, Circular No 23, mitigated the impact of the broad sweeping definition of a 'business connection' and provided respite to those non-residents who were not covered by tax treaty provisions (the Permanent Establishment clause in a tax treaty provides for a comparatively narrow definition and mitigates risk of tax exposure in India).

As per this circular, if the commission received by the Indian agent was fully representative of the value of the profits attributable to his service, no further income was assessable in the hands of the non-resident. The Supreme Court in the case of Morgan Stanley (which of course was an instance where treaty provisions were applicable) has taken the same approach.

The intention for withdrawal of this circular appears to be that taxpayers relied on it to claim relief beyond what was originally intended. With it, the CBDT has also withdrawn two other circulars, viz., Circular No 786, dated February 7, 2000, and Circular No 163 dated May 29, 1975. These circulars also provided instances where non-residents would not be subject to tax in India and no income would be deemed to accrue or arise in the hands of the non-resident







If politics and governance are to be described using daredevilry metaphors, he can be an ace parachutist and a trapeze artist rolled into one. For someone who just celebrated his 75th birthday, the levels of precision and dexterity the two activities demand cannot be easy. Yet Pranab Mukherjee does it with aplomb. The trickiest of issues, the most intractable of problems, the finance minister is the government's pointsman for them. The Congress Party's man for all seasons, the minister for all portfolios. Little wonder that he has held every important portfolio in his long innings in government, a testament to his capacity for hard work, pragmatism and flexibility. And all these qualities were in ample evidence in an interaction with editors from ET. From inflation and interest rates to subsidies to climate change, he spoke freely. Want to know if interest rates will rise? Will subsidies be cut? Will the fiscal deficit be kept on a leash? Read on to find out. Excerpts from the edited interview:

What do you have to say on food prices?

We want that food prices should be under control. Certain factors - one factor, of course is, higher minimum support prices, which we are providing to wheat, rice and to sugarcane - (are) partly responsible for higher prices of these commodities. As far as prices of vegetables are concerned, the disturbing element is that normally seasonal factors (have a role in determining) prices of vegetables, fruits and milk, but this year it has not been so. The result is shortage of supplies.... (Prices have) started coming down. But they should come down more sharply.

If prices are coming under control, then inflation should not be the reason for monetary policy to be tightened?
I am not quite sure to what extent monetary policy is influencing (prices). Because monetary expansion we haven't been doing for quite some time. It's true that in the middle of the last fiscal, we adopted a tight money policy. But thereafter we relaxed it. All the relevant rates...have been reduced on several occasions by the Reserve Bank of India. And until recently we have not resorted to strict money policy. But the liquidity available in the what extent it is influencing prices, particularly commodity prices in hoarding, is yet to be seen. Because institutional credit for commodity hoarding is not permitted. We are constantly watching it, keeping an eye on the market.

Do you see a case for interest rate tightening in the present circumstances if inflation is largely led by supply-side constraints?

If it is substantially from the supply side and if it is not from the demand side, then simply by tightening credit, you are not going to get the desired result. Therefore, a balanced approach needs to be taken.

What is the thinking on reforming the pricing of fossil fuels? We have had many committees, but no action so far. The subsidy bill is very high.

Take the case of kerosene. 300 million people have no access to electricity. What would be the material to light their homes? In villages, where there is no electricity, you have no option but to buy kerosene. (The issue) you are raising, is a failure of the delivery system. But you cannot blame subsidies. If I do not give subsidies, then prices will not come down. Prices will go up because demand and supply will operate there...If I could give them electricity to that extent, I could reduce subsidy.

In almost every Five-Year Plan, we have failed to reach the target we have fixed. Take the case of the 11th Plan.

78000 mw of additional power generation capacity was to be added. We have revised the target. It will be about 60000 mw. It has happened in earlier plans also. These are the problems that we will have to address. To solve one problem, I cannot create problem in other areas.

Why should diesel and petrol be subsidised?

For the obvious reason that you have to administer a scheme where there is a social acceptability. Diesel is used for public transport, cultivation... During this period of drought, to protect the standing crop in Haryana and Punjab, we had to provide energy at a very high cost because the choice was whether to protect your crops to maintain food production or ...think of your price of energy. There are various other factors that have to be considered.

But this is linked to fiscal deficit.

That is why it is a difficult task.

The petroleum ministry has again sought bonds as oil marketing companies are making losses.

We have given some bonds. Nothing new. Whether we give bonds or cash, it is a budgetary exercise and it depends on cash or liquidity available with the government.

Are you confident of meeting the fiscal deficit within the estimate?


I am trying to keep it within the targets. But we will have to see when the final figures come out.


You have talked about the timing of withdrawal of fiscal stimulus.

I have not fixed any target and I have never said that I am going to withdraw the stimulus at this point of time or that point of time...For 2009-10, I have taken into account the fiscal stimulus. So far as 2010-11 is concerned, that is a budgetary exercise that I will not make a comment on it.

There is concern on growing capital flows.

We always watch it. We want it. But there should not be a situation where volatility of the inflowing capital would cause problems. In our system it has not reached that stage where we have to be worried. But we are always watching the situation.

What is the thinking on reforming the pricing of fossil fuels? We have had many committees, but no action so far. The subsidy bill is already very high.

Take the case of kerosene. 300 million people have no access to electricity. What would be the material to light their homes? In villages, where there is no electricity, you have no option but to buy kerosene. (The issue) you are raising, is a failure of the delivery system. But you cannot blame subsidies. If I do not give subsidies, then prices will not come down. Prices will go up because demand and supply will operate there...If I could give them electricity to that extent, I could reduce subsidy. In almost every Five-Year Plan, we have failed to reach the target we have fixed. Take the case of the 11th Plan. 78000 mw of additional power generation capacity was to be added. We have revised the target. It will be about 60000 mw. It has happened in earlier Plans also. These are the problems that we will have to address. To solve one problem, I cannot create problem in other areas.

Why should diesel and petrol be subsidised?

For the obvious reason that you have to administer a scheme where there is a social acceptability. Diesel is used for public transport, cultivation... During this period of drought, to protect the standing crop in Haryana and Punjab, we had to provide energy at a very high cost because the choice was whether to protect your crops to maintain food production or ...think of your price of energy. There are various other factors that have to be considered.

But this is linked to fiscal deficit.


That is why it is a difficult task.

Are you confident of meeting the fiscal deficit within the estimate?

I am trying to keep it within the targets. But we will have to see when the final figures come out.

You have talked about the timing of withdrawal of fiscal stimulus.

I have not fixed any target and I have never said that I am going to withdraw the stimulus at this point of time or that point of time...For 2009-10, I have taken into account the fiscal stimulus. So far as 2010-11 is concerned, that is a budgetary exercise that I will not make a comment on it.

There is concern on growing capital flows.

We always watch it. We want it. But there should not be a situation where volatility of the inflowing capital would cause problems. In our system it has not reached that stage where we have to be worried. But we are always watching the situation.

What is the current thinking on full convertibility of the rupee? Is there a time frame?

There is no time frame. As and when the economy will be in a position to adapt to it, at that stage we will do it.

You said reform is a political issue and not a theoretical issue.

You require parliamentary approval for reforms. If you don't have it, you don't have it. If you cannot implement it, what is the point? (Say) labour market reforms. Suppose I do it and I create a situation where all of us concede there will be a huge strike of the organised labour force. Just for the satisfaction some theoretician...the government does this reform of the labour market. But what benefit I will have?

We have to carry people with us. And it is essentially political... The political system does not permit. One sentence is adequate. If the political system does not permit... no other system can bring it. You can write it on tonnes of newsprint, but it will not make you advance one millimetre unless the system accepts it. But the resilience of our system is that it accepts change, and when it accepts it, we shall proceed. What we did in the 1990s we could not do in 1980s. What we could do in beginning in 2000, we could not do it in 1970s. So there is progress and advancement.


You have been in politics for 40 years. How do you view these years?

There has been a remarkable change. I as FM (finance minister) 25 years ago could not think or imagine a debt waiver of Rs 500 crore. But my predecessor...he could think of a Rs 71,000-crore debt waiver. While I had a tax-to-GDP ratio of 9%, he had a tax to GDP ratio of 12 on a much higher GDP. Therefore, it depends on the health of the economy. It is not mere intention. When you have the capacity to do it, and if the situation had not deteriorated outside India, if the financial meltdown did not come down so heavily on us... people would not have felt the impact of it. The huge deficit you are talking of, we could have absorbed it.

Do you think quality of politics has improved over the years?

Politics is also relevant to the socio-economic condition prevailing at a particular point of time. Politics is not static, and you cannot have one uniform straightjacket formula to study politics. Pre-Independence days politics was how the country can be liberated. Post-Independence days, (it was about) how the country can be transformed from a colonial economy to a modern economy, how institutions could get built and political opinion geared around it.

And you cannot expect in a multi-party democracy system that there will always be convergence. There would be convergence, there would also be divergence... What we are looking around all over India is that a new awareness is coming. Earlier politics was the domain of elite, lawyers, doctors... rich men who had assured income from estates or land.

Today, due to industrialisation, organised labour has influence over political trends, organised peasantry over political trends. Social engineering, social factors, aspirations of the newly educated, their aspirations are getting reflected in the political arena. There is no common stand point. One common stand point is the welfare of the society, betterment of the society, but its manifestations and demonstrations are different.

What have been the standout moments in these 40 years? Do you feel satisfied?

In politics, every moment is a standout moment. Every moment is an excitement of challenge, every moment is of uncertainty. Winning electoral battles is important, but after that... Political life is full of uncertainty, full of anxiety and always full of challenge. One kind of challenge leads to another. I won't be here if I did not feel satisfied. Every political activist wants to change the society.








As the head of the world's second largest sportswear manufacturer's Indian arm, Andreas Gellner is confident of his brand's success here. The brand is at second position in the Rs 800-crore premium sportswear market in India, behind Reebok. From bagging Sachin Tendulkar's bat sponsorship to promoting football as a premium sport in the country, brand Adidas seems to be doing all the right things. In an interview with ET, he discusses the company's strategy in making it big in a growing market that has no dearth of healthy competition from other global brands. Excerpts:

How has the Indian market panned out for Adidas? What are your reflections on the market?

India is a key market to be in. From euphoria one day to crisis the other, there are many hues to the market. Retail in India has been going through a rather challenging period, particularly in the last two and a half years. Our whole group is very positive about India. Till about five years ago, we thought that India was going to be another China for us, with every aspect of the business growing fast. India requires a far higher degree of product localisation than most other markets. For instance, in China, for very long, we did not have to localise product offerings as consumers there are very open to absorb global trends. However, Indian consumers are also very proud of their culture and heritage.

Where does India figure in Adidas' global scheme of things?

We have Germany, France and the UK as our top markets in Europe while Japan and China are our leading markets in Asia. India is still in the early stages of evolution and will take about ten years to have the size of a top market. That said, it is a very important market for us.

Adidas and Reebok, both brands from the same group, operate in the same domain. Is there a conflict or clash sometimes, in terms of trying to attract a similar set of consumers? How do consumers differentiate the two brands?

There is no conflict of interest between Adidas and Reebok, although certain overlaps are always there. However, we believe that the sum of the parts is always bigger than the parts themselves. As far as consumer perception goes, both brands have different brand imagery. Adidas is a male-dominated brand with very American style of design and messaging. Reebok, on the other hand is more female-strong and European in perception.


What are the planks of growth that Adidas plans to use for the Indian market?

About five years ago, when we entered the market, people said that all we could do was to leverage the popularity of cricket to become popular. But now football is very important for us. Soccer is an aspirational sport in the top cities of India. In the past five years, the game has acquired tremendous popularity among urban audiences and has a very niche positioning. It is fun, fast and filled with international stars, quite like the IPL, which has filled the void that cricket started having with younger audiences. It's fast, sexy cricket, just the product youngsters are looking for. In that, it has many soccer-like attributes. We began marketing football more systematically since 2006. Acquiring the Euro Cup football sponsorship is a step in that direction. That said, no one can stand on one leg for long. So for us, football is one leg while cricket is the other. From a marketing standpoint, we would like to be known as the brand that provides the best equipment for every athlete. The brand attributes of Adidas are—international, premium, innovative and centred in sport.

Globally, you have a famed rivalry with Puma. Both brands have their passionate set of loyalists. Explain what the competition is like?

The rivalry between the two brands is indeed talked about a lot. I have always felt that yes, we compete, but we also reflect that it is friendly competition. It is a very brotherly rivalry, one in which you do not go all out to destroy each other.

What was the thought behind sponsoring Sachin's bat?

We are glad that we could get hold of Sachin. Adidas firmly believes in supporting and working with leading athletes who personify the spirit of 'Impossible is Nothing' through excellence on their field. Sachin has been a part of the Adidas family for over 11 years and our association has now extended into a lifetime relationship. The man is a living legend and we could not have chosen a more accomplished athlete to endorse the Cricket hardware range.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Jharkhand Assembly election was held after a long spell of President's Rule on account of unstable political conditions in the state, but the poll results that became available on Wednesday do not hold out the promise of stability. Given the fractured nature of the verdict, government formation is likely to be a complicated exercise. Self-serving, opportunistic and ideology-neutral post-poll associations born out of nothing more than expediency could be on the cards. Such a combination can produce a government, but no government thrown up in such circumstances may be expected to concentrate on development. This essentially sets the stage for misgovernance, in which those at the top focus on fleecing the treasury.

Two features of the poll result stand out. The Congress and its ally, the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) led by Mr Babulal Marandi — once the BJP's most significant leader in the state and a chief minister with a solid personal reputation — ran a campaign against corruption. It cut no ice. The campaign was aimed at the activities of the leadership of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) personified by Mr Shibu Soren, who was briefly a Cabinet minister in the first UPA government and gave the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, a splitting headache. The Congress-JVM front also directed its arrow against the gaggle of independent political entrepreneurs exemplified by the former chief minister, Mr Madhu Koda, who rose from being an ordinary mine worker to presiding over a business empire worth more than four thousand crore rupees. In the event, the JMM, Jharkhand's regional party that professes to espouse tribal interests, came up trumps and has more seats in the House than any other party. Mr Koda is facing legal processes and was unable to contest the election, but his wife and associates have done very well indeed. However, if the corruption plank came a cropper, so did the attack mounted on the question of price rise against the Congress, which was widely believed to be in power indirectly since the state was under President's Rule. Is there a parable of the cynical voter here? Perhaps the electorate in small states such as Jharkhand have come to accept that corruption is a fact of life no matter who wins, and that no party can fix prices, whatever their claims. While the JMM is the largest single party, it is short of majority by a long way and can only form a government if it is supported by the Congress-led front or the BJP-led NDA. A true buccaneer, Mr Soren has announced he is ready to sup with anyone who will help him become chief minister, and could realistically be looking for the BJP's endorsement. The BJP and JD(U) have been trounced separately and as the NDA. This could be a goad for them to back JMM and climb into power.


The Congress is a shade behind the JMM in numbers and has done well in combination with the JVM, which has done very well indeed, considering the party is new on the scene. This front could look to rope in Mr Lalu Yadav's RJD and the All-Jharkhand Students' Union on the secularism plank. The RJD's poor electoral showing has a larger meaning too. The party's hand will be weakened in dealing with the Congress when it comes to lining up for the Assembly election in Bihar, about a year away.








 "If astrology worked

Computers wouldn't"

From The Bachchoo Veda

Three Parsis set out from the East, following the star of fortune. One changes his name from Farokh (his parents couldn't spell!) to Freddie and ends up as the lead singer of a world-famous pop group. The other, already well-heeled, buys into and now owns a famous conglomerate of motorcar companies. The third tries to write, produces lousy articles for great newspapers and is never heard of again…

Restart the story with those original Parsis whose journey a million Christian children will sing and re-enact on primary school stages all over the world, who started this business about following stars. In the original story, they don't have names, but one could call them Freddie, Ratan and What's-is-name-waala.

They set out, according to St. Matthew who wrote the first book of the New Testament, from their country in the East and came with gifts to anoint the birth of a baby whom they knew was destined to be the ethereal King of the Jews.

Now St. Matthew (peace be upon him), is far from clear in the recounting of this episode, or perhaps even then, when Parsis are involved, things got in a muddle, knickers got in a twist and nothing was quite what it seemed. And then, as with succeeding generations of Parsis, there obtained the "oh dear" factor — doing things that are well-intentioned, but go wrong, like buying motor car companies that immediately incur a £1 billion debt.
First of all, our three Parsis, or Magi as they were then called, were looking the wrong way. They saw a star in the East. Now any fool knows that Bethlehem in the Roman Province of Judea is considerably to the West of Iran from whence the Magi came. If they were looking east, the star was probably above Rawalpindi and they took their camels and went in the wrong direction. Unless, of course, the star was a comet and moved slowly from Rawalpindi to Bethlehem!

And what do they do when they get to Judea? Do they go about their quest quietly, secretly, looking for the address of the stable where the baby they are looking for is to be born? Do they lose their way because of the inaccuracy of the satellite navigation afforded by the star? Whatever the cause, they thoughtlessly contact King Herod himself and tell him that they have come from afar to find the child who will grow up to be King of the Jews. This isn't the most diplomatic thing to say to someone who considered himself to be the King of the Jews.


It was bound to cause some consternation and jealousy and, whether our Parsis intended it or not, it led to the most awful slaughter of all the newborn of Judea which Herod immediately commanded.
As we know, an angel came and told Mary and Joseph, the parents of the child, to smuggle him into Egypt to keep him safe from this cruel cull of infants and they did. Judea was filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth and Jewish children were slaughtered in the cruelest ever, recorded act until Hitler.

Nevertheless, the Parsis, having blundered and been passively responsible for the slaughter, went on to bestow their gifts on the infant Messiah. They brought gold, which I expect was very welcome as currency in Egypt, as frankincense and myrrh. The frankincense was also useful as it de-odourised stables and other humble living accommodations, which probably had unsavoury smells in those days (nothing's changed!), but the myrrh remains a mystery. It was used, I find from the Internet, to spray on dead bodies. Not exactly the sort of Christmas present one writes to Santa for.

The historically acute will know that at the time these Parsis made their cold coming, the Zoroastrians lacked an empire. In 326 BC, a barbarian Macedonian called Alexander the Damned defeated the Zoroastrian Achaemenid Emperor of Persia, Darius III, and set fire to the city and palace of Persepolis. The Parsis were, subsequently, ruled by unbelievers and barbarians till the Sassanian dynasty reclaimed Persia for the true religion some five hundred years later.

In 0 BC, when our Magi traveled to Bethlehem, Zoroastrianism was a sort of a guerrilla religion, but it had influenced the soldiers and armies of the Roman Empire, some of whom had seen the light.
St. Matthew, a good Jewish person, must have known that King Artaxerxes of Persia sent his soldiers with the prophet Nehemiah to Jerusalem to fight off the Babylonians and re-establish the walls of the city, which the above-mentioned Babylonians had smashed. He must have also been aware that Zoroastrianism was being preached in Chaldea at the time when Father Abraham who lived in that Provinceo, the Persian Empire, founded the Jewish faith and proclaimed, as Zoroastrian belief had maintained for a few hundred years at least, that there was only one God. ("Jehova" is not very far from "Ahura").

As written in Isaiah and then described 150 years later by Herodotus in his history, King Cyrus of Persia, another Parsi, defeated Belshazzar's Babylon (today's Iraq) and proceeded to restore the temple of the Jews that the Babylonians had destroyed in their pagan fury. In the Old Testament book of Daniel and later in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, all this is acknowledged.

The traffic between Zoroastrianism and Judaism seems to be one-sided. Whilst Judaism, with its emphasis on the chosen people didn't accept converts to the faith, the Zoroastrianism of the time was open to all people who believed and consequently the doctrine of Ahura Mazda had almost certainly spread to the Roman armies.
What St. Matthew was after in chronicling the circumstances around the birth of Jesus Christ, was an endorsement for the new religion he was attempting to spread, not from the existing one that didn't accept converts, but from what he must have seen as the old root of monotheism in his world. So he didn't have Sadducees and Pharisees arriving on donkeys to bless the birth of the messiah, but Parsis, Magi, from the old world. He was looking for endorsement from minor celebrities. It happens in advertising all the time. The Parsis were there to give continuity and authority to the new and inclusive monotheism.

They then went on to invent the recipe for Christmas cake and coined the phrase "Merry Christmas" (Hang on, I think you're going a bit too far there! — Ed.)








Last year in the run-up to Christmas I took my two-year-old son to get his hair cut in one of those strange hybrid toy-cum-barber shops that proliferate in north London. It was going as well as one could hope until they announced a surprise guest as a special treat, Father Christmas. In he came, roaring his Ho Ho Hos and waggling his curly white beard. It didn't matter to my son that it was just a local fatty wearing a lot of cotton wool and a velour hoodie. All that mattered was that he was strange. The boy shot out of the chair, ripped off his tabard and ran behind my legs screaming, "Don't let the Red Man get me!"

Christmas was spent in a fever. Every time there was a sighting of the Red Man in a shop window or on the telly, the wailing would start again. On Christmas Eve we assured him the Red Man wouldn't be allowed in his room. In fact, we said, look, we'll put your stocking in the garden, hanging from the laundry line. That way the Red Man won't even need to come into the house, will he? Even as I said it I knew this sounded odd. The Red Man in his own home? The boy almost fainted with fright. That night he slept in our bed, heavily sedated with medised and thereafter Christmas was cancelled.

On the one hand, you have to sympathise with my son because when you meet the Red Man on the street he is scary. He is scary in the same way a clown is scary. In fact, anyone wearing an eccentric disguise and acting unconventionally is scary. They have about them a particular atmosphere that makes one's hair stand on end, the vestige no doubt of some primal fear once vital for the survival of our cavemen ancestors, though what that might have been one can now only guess.

Leaving aside for a moment the resting actor lurking grotto-bound in his moth-eaten Santa suit, what about the myth of Father Christmas himself? Isn't that also ever so slightly scary? As he stands today, we all know roughly what he is supposed to do: park his sleigh on the roof, come down the chimney, eat a mince pie, take a nip of sherry, pocket some carrots for his reindeer, fill stockings with presents and vamoose. The details are frankly bizarre, of course, but they are not the least believable aspect to this story. What really unsettles a young child is its shapelessness.

Even by the age of two they know there must be a beginning, middle and an end. A boy must be naughty, be sent away to be roared at by Wild Things, overcome that threat and then come home to where people love him best. It must start well, things must go wrong and then, after a bit of a kerfuffle, be put right again. This doesn't happen in the Father Christmas myth and so any child hearing it remains convinced that something still remains to go wrong that will need to be put right. When they think of the Red Man entering their room, they do not necessarily think of him as a soothing presence, but as one carrying an unresolved, vaguely threatening narrative charge.

In any number of modern retellings of the story, the Red Man's arrival comes as the conclusion to the story, but is not the story itself. In this year's wonderful Tumtum and Nutmeg's Christmas Adventure, for example, in which Emily Bearn's eponymous mice have to do battle with the fearsome Baron Toymouse, Father Christmas's arrival is the reward for a battle well fought. You may say that his arrival is reward for a year's worth of good behaviour, but in a child's mind, those two things remain separate.

Additional ambiguity has arisen because the Red Man's story has undergone so many tweaks since his conception. He is now a hybrid mash-up between the Dutch Sinterklaas and the English Lord Christmas, with the result being given a makeover by the Americans. Instead of leaving him with a richness and complexity that might come from this cultural percolation, it has left him with a muddled narrative.

His fundamental problem is that he is missing a partner. He is Bodie without Doyle, Garfunkel without Simon, Laurel without Hardy. He needs someone to work with and against, someone to be bad so that he can be good, someone to threaten a child so that he can bring peace. It comes as no surprise to find that he retains cultural relevance in those countries where they have kept alive his alter ego. In Germany, for example, the Red Man — St. Nicholas in Christian years — came with an opposite number: the properly terrifying Krampus. This chap had a leather face and horns and used to enjoy birching young women when he was not otherwise scaring children with rusty chains and bells. With this sort of character around to punish bad boys, St. Nicholas's arrival would be greeted with relief. It would be the conclusion to a struggle with the Krampus, which makes narrative sense.

But before we start promulgating the idea of the Krampus in this country we ought to think a moment about what we might lose. After all, it is quite a good thing to have a vaguely menacing figure — rather than a howling psychopath — about the place whom we can control. We all know that if a child goes through his or her life without experiencing a flicker of stress they never develop any resilience to the slings and arrows that fortune is bound to send their way.

So this year the stockings might come in off the washing line. They might go on the chimney and next year they might be outside Max's room. Little by little the Red Man will come closer and with each year my son will become a little less terrified of strange men in beards. Whether that is a good thing is another question.







The Wise Men offered gold, frankincense and myrrh — but where can you get hold of myrrh these days? The Spectator asked Britain's great and good what they would give Jesus if He were born todayThe Most Reverend Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of YorkFirstly I would give Him myself. My life is the only valuable possession that I could give Him. We are all made in God's image and likeness. Only a god-like gift is worthy of God. The offering of my total self forms part of my worship.

The second gift I would offer Him is my lips, acknowledging Him as Lord of everything. The prayer of General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer says it all: "We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory". Thanksgiving is the second gift worthy of the God of love.

Thirdly, I would give Him an open invitation to come and stay with me in Yorkshire. It is important that we do not just think of our gifts as financial transactions — giving our time to others and allowing them into our lives is an incredibly valuable and enriching experience. It would give Him a chance to get to know the wonderful people who live in "God's own county", where generosity and hospitality are strong traditions. Although whether I could persuade Him to join me at York City FC is another matter entirely!

Behind all this is the willingness to offer Him all possessions.


Sister Wendy Beckett

I would want to offer the Christ child the three gifts He has given us. Faith in the gospels and their practical implications; Hope in the goodness of His Father whom our Jesus "knows"; and Charity in the hearts of all people whether we see it or not.


Christopher Howse

English poet Christina Rossetti suggested that those without a lamb available should offer their heart. I've tried this, and it is by no means easy. If Jesus were born now, He would find things lacking in adult life that were supplied by friends in His own time. Women, we are given to understand, helped look after Him, no doubt washing and mending His clothes. I wonder if they would today. So, although a life-subscription to a laundry is not an easily found gift, I'm sure some sort of trust fund could be set up for the purpose. Give Him gold, and He'd only use it for other people.


James Delingpole

I'd give Him an X-Box (note for older readers: video game-playing device). "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" (ultra-realistic shoot-'em-up). I think it will help Baby Jesus develop the right motor skills He'll need in the great Clash of Civilisations. That turning-the-other-cheek stuff may have worked in olden-days Palestine, but the kind of Jesus we need in today's terrifying world is the kind who rescued Santa from the evil Islamic terrorists in that memorable South Park episode where our Dear Lord opens His robes to reveal an array of lethal weaponry and announces: "I'm packin'!"


The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster

The Three Wise Men came to Jesus "to pay Him homage". Their gifts were signs of their acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Master. My gift carries the same meaning. It is a pay-as-you-go mobile phone so that I can be summoned by him, any time, anywhere. I am ready for His call and attentive to what He wants me to do. Incidentally, such a gift would have led to less anxiety for Mary and Joseph when Jesus went missing. He could have rung to say He was staying in Jerusalem, with the teachers in the Temple.


Norman Tebbit

I'd steer clear of giving Him any technology, because I don't understand any myself. Who is that latest Tory guru? Oh yes, Phillip Blond. I'd give the Lord a copy of his most recent pronouncements in the hope that He might tell me what on earth they mean.


Vince Cable MP

I think the first thing I would give Him would be an Aramaic/English Dictionary to help Him understand the past and a boxed set of Mozart CDs including the Ramallah Concert recorded by Daniel Barenboim and an orchestra of young Arabs and Jews divided by war. I suppose I would also want Him to have the passport to a world-class university, which is probably a bit better than an apprenticeship in carpentry.

Emily Maitlis

If Christ were born today? A swine flu jab might come in handy. Particularly given His domestic surroundings.The Reverend Nicky Gumbel, Vicar, Holy Trinity, BromptonIn order to get some help with answering the question, I asked my daughter, "If Christ were born today, what would you offer Him?" She replied without hesitation "My red leather jacket!" — her favourite possession.

At the heart of Christmas is God's love for us. They offered Him gold because it is the one metal that all humankind bows down to. They recognised God himself had come to be part of our world.
They offered Him frankincense because of what He came to do. Frankincense is the symbol of prayer and points to a relationship with God — which Jesus made possible.

They offered Him myrrh because of what it cost Him. Myrrh was a burial ointment. Jesus came to give His life for us. If Jesus were born today, I would offer Him "my life, my love, my all".

Actually, I think my daughter's answer is far more profound. It is easy to be general, hard to be specific.

Reporting by Will Heaven








Back in Delhi I notice a more genuine, hardcore enthusiasm about Christmas parties here than in London. We've been here two days and have already been invited to five parties, and that includes a few with compulsory carol singing. (And I am not exactly known for my vocal skills). Yet Delhi has embraced Christmas completely: there are decorations, fake fir trees and baubles, and even mistletoe and holly dangling enticingly from shop doorways. It all looks quite festive — though almost everything carries a Christmas- made-in-China stamp. It is difficult to remember that till a few years ago this was a festival that wasn't even known outside convent schools and the Gymkhana Club — but now like everything else, we have assimilated it into our culture and Indianised it. From the smiling dark-skinned Santa to the faux snow lining the red caps, to the Jingle Bells tune streaming out of mobile phones and reversing cars, it is being as frenetically celebrated as Diwali or Holi. So not only are our Christian friends in Delhi celebrating it — but so is everyone else! It has a certain feel-good factor about it. After all, how can anything that has "ho-ho-ho" in it, not make you feel uplifted?
Of course, economists will point out that this is basically another feature of our hugely consumeristic culture. Earlier the affliction of "dikhawa" had been limited to the materialistic Punjabis. But now the virus has spread and "partying-for-all-reasons" is also part of our global identity. We are all well-travelled and our children are "phoren-educated" and much of our young workforce is employed in call centres confidently talking to people pre-dominantly from all over the Western world.

How can we fail to be affected by Western rituals and customs? The phone, the Internet, along with television has effectively broken the last few aspirational barriers which people in this country may have suffered from. And if people in London or New York are gearing up for a Christmas party, then why not those in New Delhi? Hum kise se kum nahin!

However, in London, I have to admit — apart from the obligatory office Christmas party, most of the "real" Christmas celebrations revolve around the close family unit and are totally home based. These are the parties which are lovingly prepared for — and which are also notorious (paradoxically) for leading to the worst internecine warfare. In a recent survey it was pointed out that the family party usually showed signs of tension within nine minutes — and the real quarrel is ignited during dinner, leading to the climatic explosion just about when the presents are unwrapped. Given the fact that families meet infrequently — and are fairly dysfunctional —there will be no surprise to learn that there are serious disagreements which surface during the annual Christmas party — and remain unresolved till the next year… just like a long-running serial.

Perhaps wisely, therefore, parents have now decided to use Christmas to "bond" with their children going out with family and friends for a good meal and perhaps theatre, and avoiding the traditional (and gruelling) sit-down turkey dinner followed by the familiar duel at dawn. And this has been a growing trend — though during a recession on it is questionable how many will actually be able to afford it.

For the family, the most popular item on the Christmas agenda is to catch a "panto" if their children are still young. This year the best on the agenda is Aladdin, as also Peter Pan and a few more are on the horizon, such as Jack and the Beanstalk, which is shortly going to be staged. For the traditional and seasonal Christmas celebrations, Dickens' A Christmas Carol will be a good option. And then of course, there is glorious ballet! There are versions of the perennial favourite Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker running at various theatres by different dance groups — including the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House.

This is truly the best time to be a child in London — as the number of shows for the family shoots up dramatically — from classics such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears to The Enchanted Pig — in which a princess is "fated" to marry a pig. Lucky swine!

For the more serious seekers of adult entertainment I still think there is nothing like a good party at home (risking the dust up of course) — as noisy carousing in over crowded restaurants and pubs can be quite overpowering. But if you must go out (without the children) — then you could provide succour to your soul with some joyous choral music, as there are plenty of churches and other institutions which stage special performances at this time of the year.

For instance at St. John's at Smith's Square you could have listened last week to Handel's Messiah, or heard seasonal choral music at Westminster Abbey. There are regular gala concerts as well — which are best booked way ahead in advance: for instance Dame Kiri Te Kanawa who performed last week at Cadogan Hall. Even though some of the tickets were priced at £80 I am fairly sure this was a sell-out as in London people do really appreciate talent when they see it — and besides, this is the season to pretend to be jolly and recession-free!
However, if you are adamant about a noisy party then the best place perhaps is to scour the restaurants on the South Bank as any location on the river — with a view of Westminster and the city — is glitzy and alive late into the night. Yet admittedly Christmas still carries a slightly religious message and you cannot wildly whoop it up as you would New Year. Therefore, if you are in London over Christmas, follow the British example — soak up the music and theatre, wander into a midnight mass and spend time with family — with forbearance and gritted teeth. In time you will learn to enjoy it.

Over New Year on the other hand book a deafening restaurant, with live thunderous entertainment on the South Bank and stay up past midnight to see the fireworks explode over London's glittering skyline. Tra la la la la la la la, and Merry Christmas etc!


The writer can be contacted [1]








Just read something in a Cadillac ad in an issue of GQ. It quotes actor Andy Garcia as saying, "It's important, when going after a goal to never lose sight of the integrity of the journey". I so appreciate the way he languaged that. And he's right.

The journey toward any result — whether that result is being amazingly good at what you do for a living or great in the way you conduct your life — is just as important (if not more important) than the end. I guess what I'm inviting you to consider is that the climb offers you far more value and as many rewards as getting to your mountaintop. Why? Because the climb to your ideas shapes your character, offers you opportunities to realise your potential and tests you to see how much you really want to win.

It's the climb that teaches you, transforms you and evokes the genius that inhabits you. You get to develop the qualities of greatness, such as perseverance/courage/resilience/compassion/understanding. Sure, getting to the dream feels deliciously wonderful. I'll be first to agree with you on that. But it doesn't bring you the same sustained gifts that the journey does. We learn more from the times that test us than we do from times of success.

So the next time you feel impatient or frustrated or hopeless en route to the professional and personal life that you want, remember that precisely where you are might just be the best place you could possibly be. And maybe the journey is better than the destination.


— Excerpted from The Greatness Guide 2 byRobin Sharma. Published by Jaico Publishing House, [1]








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.







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








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








The Bharatiya Janata Party may be the biggest loser in Jharkhand, but it is the Congress that faces the toughest challenge over the formation of the next government. That the Congress does not have the numbers to form a government on its own or even with its allies is not its major problem. The bigger challenge that the party faces is one of political morality. The election results make it obvious that the party has little option but to play kingmaker to Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Mr Soren was forced to resign from the United Progressive Alliance government following his conviction in a murder case in 2006. Although he was acquitted on appeal a year later, he was not reinstated in the Union cabinet. If the Congress now supports a government led by Mr Soren, its claim to clean politics will be seriously dented. While it lost the JMM as an ally before the polls, the Congress gained a new one in the Jharkhand Vikas Manch, the party that the former chief minister, Babulal Marandi, floated after quitting the BJP. Mr Marandi has a clean image, but his party has fewer numbers than Mr Soren's. And that makes it difficult for the Congress to choose Mr Marandi over Mr Soren.


However, despite the uncertainty that the fragmented verdict threatens, the one thing Jharkhand needs most is a stable government. Political instability over the past few years may have benefited some of the state's unscrupulous politicians, but it has had a ruinous effect on people's lives. Jharkhand is one of the states that are worst hit by Maoist violence. A political vacuum and a paralyzed administration have together made the state's fight against the Maoists largely ineffective. Another spell of political instability will cause irreparable damage to whatever little of the rule of law exists in the state. Checking the Maoist menace, therefore, has to be the first priority for the next chief minister. Fighting the rebels successfully is also a pre-condition for the state's economic uplift. Despite its abundant natural resources, Jharkhand remains one of the poorest states in the country. And the grinding poverty in which most of its tribal people live makes the state a breeding ground for Maoist rebels. Jharkhand's politicians have dashed its people's hopes regarding the creation of the new state. The price of their failure is already proving too high.







For millions of Indian consumers, having to put their mouths where their money is could mean having to give up eating a few meals each week. Prices of all kinds of food products — from grain to vegetables to processed foods — have gone through the roof, by nearly 20 per cent in November, for instance, compared to the same month a year earlier. The price increases are not reflected just in the consumer price index; the food component of the wholesale price index — where it has a weight of about 18 per cent — has gone up nearly 137 per cent this year over 2008. A number of causes have contributed: some old familiars, but a few of more recent vintage. The first is the failed monsoon, which means lower estimates of food production; second, poor infrastructure, which results in an estimated annual loss of Rs 52,000 crore without cold storage or quick transportation to markets for perishables; third, restrictions on food imports that could have ameliorated the huge price increases. Fourth, there are hoarders, but dealing with them is not new. Fifth, in recent years, with the huge amounts of global liquidity, hedge funds and other institutional speculators have diversified their portfolios into food commodities as an asset class, driving global prices. Sixth, food cultivation has been diverted to bio-fuels as an alternative to high oil prices.


Most people are looking to the Reserve Bank of India, but as Governor Duvvuri Subbarao has said, monetary policy is a blunt instrument for such a complex problem. Raising interest rates could reduce liquidity, but could also adversely impact the nascent recovery in economic growth. Allowing imports is another option; but international macroeconomic factors — exchange rates, volatile oil prices, and continuing very easy liquidity — could play a larger role in exporting nations' decisions. The government could release the stocks it holds, both to the open markets and through the public distribution system, but that is likely to have less impact on vegetable prices. Price controls are a possibility, but that would turn off domestic investors and reduce our attraction as an investment destination. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, said this rapid and sizeable run-up in food prices was a supply side phenomenon, and he's probably right; that implies short-term fixes would not fundamentally address the problems —infrastructure, storage and transportation — that have been essentially long-term.









The growing traffic mess in Delhi — courtesy, it is said, the preparations for next year's Commonwealth Games — may be infuriating to the man in a hurry, but it has provided fresh employment opportunities. It may be a sign of the capital's growing prosperity that beggars (they double up as propitiators of Shani Maharaj on Saturdays) have been vastly outnumbered by an army of itinerant hawkers selling everything from mobile-phone chargers, magazines and pirated paperbacks to boxes of tissues. Last week, the magazine sellers appear to have switched tack and moved on to something extremely seasonal: red-and-white floppy Christmas hats and somewhat frightening masks of a very pink-faced Santa Claus.


Indians are very partial to celebrations of any description. Yet, the transformation of Christmas into a middle-class celebration in a new city whose connections with the raj are at best tenuous has surprised me. Even the 'natives' of Calcutta, a city created and nurtured by the last set of imperial rulers, took a long time to warm up to this seemingly alien tradition. As a child in the Sixties, I was always struck by the fact that most of my relatives and, for that matter, our 'Hindustani' drivers, never referred to Christmas: it was always burra din. Worse, childish implorations to gawk at the lights on Park Street and visit the makeshift shops selling Christmas decorations in the central circle of New Market were invariably translated as the expedition to the 'shaheb para' (sahib quarter). For the Bengali bhadralok, still nurturing a visceral distaste for the rulers who never acknowledged their erudition, burra din was synonymous with shaheb para — although I did witness the incongruity of the Ganguram shop in Gariahat market wishing its customers Merry Xmas.


It is one of the oddities of history that Christmas became an indispensable part of the 'season' only after the Union Jack had been permanently lowered. The boisterous Christmas parties at Firpo's, Princes and the clubs that attracted the beautiful Indians of the 1950s and 1960s were a post-Independence phenomenon. For the burra sahibs of the raj in government, the boxwallas in Clive Street, the Anglo-Indian community around Free School Street and the handful of 'native' Christians, Christmas had a loose religious significance — the Church of England rarely went beyond acknowledging that god was a good chap. But its transformation into a secular bacchanalia had to await a time when race relations were on a more even keel.


It is not that the British in India never tried to spread the tidings of happiness to the other side of the bridge. In Curries and Bugles, a delightful cookbook of the raj, Jennifer Brennan, a daughter of the Regiment, recalled that both British and Indian children were invited to a party hosted in the Karachi garrison but with mixed results: "[The] high point of the party was always the arrival of Father Christmas. Sometimes he rode in on a camel, sometimes grandly on an elephant… Many of the Indian children didn't know who he was but the English kids would rush up and surround him, dragging their nannies and ayahs behind them. I remember one time the red-clad figure with the white woolly beard called out 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' in a stentorian bass voice and a little Indian boy beside me burst into tears. He thought the figure was a demon."


I was narrated the flip side of this cultural mismatch in London in the mid-1990s. An Indian banker was given the responsibility of being Santa Claus in an office party of a conservative financial institution in the City of London. One of his jobs involved plucking out a gift from his sack, calling out the name of a child and presenting it to him with the mandatory 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' It all went smoothly till he plucked out a present for a Scottish lad called Hamish. "Hamish!" he called out, pronouncing his name as a variant of the Indian name, Harish. There was no response. "Hamish!" he bellowed again. Again there was silence. The awkwardness was broken when he heard a mother whispering to a bewildered child, "Hamish, I think he means you."

This year a well-known politician is negating the idea of Christmas as a family occasion and hosting a lunch for 200 of his "close friends" on Christmas Day. He is neither calling it a Christmas lunch (or even the politically correct "holiday lunch") nor does he plan to serve cold cuts and the obligatory pasta; he is partial to Amritsari kulcha and many versions of chhola bhatura. But this politician friend is a wonderful aberration — he once nibbled at a lavish French dinner hosted by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and then feasted on daal-subzi at the Indian ambassador's residence. To the discerning Indian, Christmas is a celebration of Western culture — its cuisine, including mince pies and Christmas pudding, its music, its made-in-Germany Englishness and its theology. The indigenization of Christmas may have taken place in evangelical outposts, but it may take the capture of the Vatican by Kerala before it becomes conventional wisdom.


What is even more striking is that this celebration of Occidental Christendom doesn't follow a script. Once upon a time, while entertaining local Britons, Indian notables tried a bit too hard to provide "English fare" to their guests. The results were often as comic as the old Colonel's suggestion of a spoonful of jam as an antidote to an over-spiced curry. In Dekho! The India That Was, Elizabeth Wilkin recollected a disastrous culinary experiment by an Indian: "The soup was too peppery, the fish too salty. A none-too-tender peacock, which the cook had failed to stuff, was served with a jar of strawberry jam which did proxy for the absent cranberry sauce…and an iced pudding which had refused to freeze made its watery appearance before a final indigestible savoury. Had our hospitable host but realised how much more we would have welcomed a good hot Indian curry, he would have spared himself trouble and us a very painful experience."


Western civilization, which the Mahatma impishly thought was a good idea, lies in the eyes of the beholder. The old burra khana of the regimental mess tends to often get lost in translation or, perhaps, even acquire an entirely new meaning. So it is with Christmas in India—both for Christians and others.


Some years before the 1857 explosion, the dispossessed Nana Saheb invited some East India Company officials to dinner in Cawnpore. Its disdainful description by a guest is instructive: "I sat down to a table which was covered with a damask tablecloth of European manufacture, but instead of a dinner napkin there was a bedroom towel. The soup was served up in a trifle dish…I ladled it with a broken tea cup…The pudding was brought in upon a sup plate…The cool claret I drank out of a richly cut champagne glass, and the beer out of an American tumbler of the very worst quality."


The sneers of the Company officials drove Nana Saheb into rebellion. Some 150 years later, his syncretic tableware would probably have been celebrated as an example of aesthetic audacity, if not multiculturalism. On Christmas Eve, I plan to tuck into New Zealand lamb, washed down with agreeable claret and the choral chants of the New College Choir. On Christmas day, it will be Amritsari kulcha and tandoori chicken. If only I could add the 3 pm Queen's speech and a silly hat, my burra din would be truly gratifying.









The growing traffic mess in Delhi — courtesy, it is said, the preparations for next year's Commonwealth Games — may be infuriating to the man in a hurry, but it has provided fresh employment opportunities. It may be a sign of the capital's growing prosperity that beggars (they double up as propitiators of Shani Maharaj on Saturdays) have been vastly outnumbered by an army of itinerant hawkers selling everything from mobile-phone chargers, magazines and pirated paperbacks to boxes of tissues. Last week, the magazine sellers appear to have switched tack and moved on to something extremely seasonal: red-and-white floppy Christmas hats and somewhat frightening masks of a very pink-faced Santa Claus.


Indians are very partial to celebrations of any description. Yet, the transformation of Christmas into a middle-class celebration in a new city whose connections with the raj are at best tenuous has surprised me. Even the 'natives' of Calcutta, a city created and nurtured by the last set of imperial rulers, took a long time to warm up to this seemingly alien tradition. As a child in the Sixties, I was always struck by the fact that most of my relatives and, for that matter, our 'Hindustani' drivers, never referred to Christmas: it was always burra din. Worse, childish implorations to gawk at the lights on Park Street and visit the makeshift shops selling Christmas decorations in the central circle of New Market were invariably translated as the expedition to the 'shaheb para' (sahib quarter). For the Bengali bhadralok, still nurturing a visceral distaste for the rulers who never acknowledged their erudition, burra din was synonymous with shaheb para — although I did witness the incongruity of the Ganguram shop in Gariahat market wishing its customers Merry Xmas.


It is one of the oddities of history that Christmas became an indispensable part of the 'season' only after the Union Jack had been permanently lowered. The boisterous Christmas parties at Firpo's, Princes and the clubs that attracted the beautiful Indians of the 1950s and 1960s were a post-Independence phenomenon. For the burra sahibs of the raj in government, the boxwallas in Clive Street, the Anglo-Indian community around Free School Street and the handful of 'native' Christians, Christmas had a loose religious significance — the Church of England rarely went beyond acknowledging that god was a good chap. But its transformation into a secular bacchanalia had to await a time when race relations were on a more even keel.


It is not that the British in India never tried to spread the tidings of happiness to the other side of the bridge. In Curries and Bugles, a delightful cookbook of the raj, Jennifer Brennan, a daughter of the Regiment, recalled that both British and Indian children were invited to a party hosted in the Karachi garrison but with mixed results: "[The] high point of the party was always the arrival of Father Christmas. Sometimes he rode in on a camel, sometimes grandly on an elephant… Many of the Indian children didn't know who he was but the English kids would rush up and surround him, dragging their nannies and ayahs behind them. I remember one time the red-clad figure with the white woolly beard called out 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' in a stentorian bass voice and a little Indian boy beside me burst into tears. He thought the figure was a demon."


I was narrated the flip side of this cultural mismatch in London in the mid-1990s. An Indian banker was given the responsibility of being Santa Claus in an office party of a conservative financial institution in the City of London. One of his jobs involved plucking out a gift from his sack, calling out the name of a child and presenting it to him with the mandatory 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' It all went smoothly till he plucked out a present for a Scottish lad called Hamish. "Hamish!" he called out, pronouncing his name as a variant of the Indian name, Harish. There was no response. "Hamish!" he bellowed again. Again there was silence. The awkwardness was broken when he heard a mother whispering to a bewildered child, "Hamish, I think he means you."


This year a well-known politician is negating the idea of Christmas as a family occasion and hosting a lunch for 200 of his "close friends" on Christmas Day. He is neither calling it a Christmas lunch (or even the politically correct "holiday lunch") nor does he plan to serve cold cuts and the obligatory pasta; he is partial to Amritsari kulcha and many versions of chhola bhatura. But this politician friend is a wonderful aberration — he once nibbled at a lavish French dinner hosted by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and then feasted on daal-subzi at the Indian ambassador's residence. To the discerning Indian, Christmas is a celebration of Western culture — its cuisine, including mince pies and Christmas pudding, its music, its made-in-Germany Englishness and its theology. The indigenization of Christmas may have taken place in evangelical outposts, but it may take the capture of the Vatican by Kerala before it becomes conventional wisdom.


What is even more striking is that this celebration of Occidental Christendom doesn't follow a script. Once upon a time, while entertaining local Britons, Indian notables tried a bit too hard to provide "English fare" to their guests. The results were often as comic as the old Colonel's suggestion of a spoonful of jam as an antidote to an over-spiced curry. In Dekho! The India That Was, Elizabeth Wilkin recollected a disastrous culinary experiment by an Indian: "The soup was too peppery, the fish too salty. A none-too-tender peacock, which the cook had failed to stuff, was served with a jar of strawberry jam which did proxy for the absent cranberry sauce…and an iced pudding which had refused to freeze made its watery appearance before a final indigestible savoury. Had our hospitable host but realised how much more we would have welcomed a good hot Indian curry, he would have spared himself trouble and us a very painful experience."


Western civilization, which the Mahatma impishly thought was a good idea, lies in the eyes of the beholder. The old burra khana of the regimental mess tends to often get lost in translation or, perhaps, even acquire an entirely new meaning. So it is with Christmas in India—both for Christians and others.


Some years before the 1857 explosion, the dispossessed Nana Saheb invited some East India Company officials to dinner in Cawnpore. Its disdainful description by a guest is instructive: "I sat down to a table which was covered with a damask tablecloth of European manufacture, but instead of a dinner napkin there was a bedroom towel. The soup was served up in a trifle dish…I ladled it with a broken tea cup…The pudding was brought in upon a sup plate…The cool claret I drank out of a richly cut champagne glass, and the beer out of an American tumbler of the very worst quality."


The sneers of the Company officials drove Nana Saheb into rebellion. Some 150 years later, his syncretic tableware would probably have been celebrated as an example of aesthetic audacity, if not multiculturalism. On Christmas Eve, I plan to tuck into New Zealand lamb, washed down with agreeable claret and the choral chants of the New College Choir. On Christmas day, it will be Amritsari kulcha and tandoori chicken. If only I could add the 3 pm Queen's speech and a silly hat, my burra din would be truly gratifying.









The Gujarat government's decision to make voting compulsory in local body elections has kicked up debate on the need, feasibility and practicality of introducing this at the national level. The move has been prompted by poor voter turnout in elections. In the recent general elections for instance, cities like Mumbai and Bangalore saw low turnout. Unlike in areas like Jammu and Kashmir, where low turnout is linked to boycott calls by separatists, fear of militants and alienation from the Indian state and its democratic processes, in vast parts of the country, it has to do with voter apathy. Mandatory voting will force these apathetic citizens to exercise their franchise. Gujarat will give voters a none of the above option. That is, if none of the candidates in the fray measures up to a voters expectation he can choose not to vote for anyone.

Mandatory voting involves compulsion. Introduction of an element of coercion into the democratic process goes against the notion of freedom, which is fundamental to democracies. Moreover, forcing people to vote does not address some of the underlying reasons for low voter turnout, such as poor quality of candidates, declining faith in democracy and so on. Besides, how is the Election Commission going to enforce the rule on such a large electorate? Over 714 million people were eligible voters in the recent general election. And what punishment will be meted out to those who do not vote? Will they be fined? Or jailed perhaps?


Then there are the costs. Compulsory voting will require identifying, locating and punishing defaulters and this could run into months. The time and funds required to enforce the rule will cost several thousands of crores.

True compulsory voting is not without its problems but it has its plus points. Around 40 countries in the world that have made voting mandatory have seen turnout double. With educated voters turning up at polling booths, perhaps the quality of those who get elected and represent us in legislatures will improve. Politicians cannot afford to take their electorate for granted. They will be forced to perform, just as parties will feel compelled to put up good candidates. With voting becoming compulsory, election authorities will need to do more to ensure that all voters are registered and on electoral lists.


Mandatory voting is no doubt controversial but it is an idea worth exploring seriously. We could assess its impact by observing Gujarat's experiment with it, not dismiss it without trying it.









After a period of lull, the Nepali Maoists, who are at loggerheads with the government, are out on the streets again. They have followed up their declared intention to 'take control' of the capital city of Kathmandu and treat it as 'an autonomous federal state in Nepal' with more street violence.

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' has claimed that his party's latest move was aimed at generating awareness about federalism among the people. After declaring Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktatpur districts as Newa autonomous states, Prachanda has issued a warning that his party would turn them into parallel government structures if 'conspiracies' against federalism, peace and constitution drafting processes continued and impaired the historic processes. Evidently, this move has the potential to destabilise the nascent political structures taking shape after the last elections in the country.

The genesis of the development is the protracted confrontation between the political parties with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) pitted against the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML). The political divergence arises from a deep distrust between the ultra left outfit on one side which failed to win the last elections and the moderate political parties on the other.

Despite their utterances about the adoption of democracy, the Maoists continue to perceive the other political parties as 'stooges of feudals and reactionaries,' who are not prepared to attune themselves to the peoples' aspirations and acknowledge the ultra left as a legitimate political power. As a belligerent opposition, the Maoists had earlier sought a house discussion over their demand to dismiss the army chief which the other parties did not favour. This prompted the Maoists to start a street movement with the slogan of instituting civilian supremacy over the army and a Maoist-led national government.

Today the government which has a majority support of members of the total 601 members in the Constituent Assembly is tasked with drafting a constitution by May 2010 but remains paralysed by the Maoists who have boycotted parliament. Clearly the Maoists intend to precipitate a political crisis and then take the lead to form the government notwithstanding their pious pronouncements about upholding the sovereignty and national interests. Whether the ultra left UCPN (M) which has shunned violence for now would continue to do so or not remains to be seen.









This was like searching for a needle in the haystack. I was looking for a word of remorse or regret in the reams of statements by the BJP on the Liberhan Commission's report on demolition of the Babri masjid and on the stepping down of L K Advani from the office of opposition leader in the Lok Sabha. But I was disappointed.

Not that I was expecting a change of heart in the party. Yet I imagined that some leaders, at least from among the young who are supposed to have taken over the reins of the party, would feel sorry for the masjid's destruction and the killing of hundreds in the wake. It would have sent a message that the BJP was trying to shake off its past and paving a new path of conciliation and consensus.

Instead, there was defiance and justification of demolition in the observations that the BJP leaders made. Remorse was needed, not to humiliate the BJP but to let it realise that a society, founded on the spirit of accommodation, expected the wrong-doers to make amends.

Advani has gone to the extent of saying that the high mark in his political career was the 'rath yatra' from the Somnath temple to Ayodhya where the Babri masjid stood till Dec 6, 1992. Still the din raised by the BJP and other leaders of the Sangh Parivar cannot drown the charge that they are responsible for the destruction and the death right up to Mumbai where scores were killed in early 1993.

The Liberhan Commission has named Advani as one of the 64 accomplices in the destruction of the masjid. There is nothing to ensure that action will be taken against any one of them. What should the nation infer if they get away with all that they did?

Sushma Swaraj has replaced Advani as leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. The change of personalities does not usher a new chapter, the change of policies does. The BJP has given no evidence to suggest that it has jettisoned its communal agenda or that it has distanced from the fanatic RSS which has imposed its trusted man, Nitin Gadkari, as the party's head in place of Rajnath Singh. It is the same old wine of the RSS prowess in a new bottle.

In the face of the Congress party's arrogance, the BJP can attract support provided it does not follow the Hindutva line. At present, the BJP is part of the mob which is out to destroy the country's ethos of pluralism. It has no faith even in India's constitution, which consecrates secularism in the preamble itself.

No punitive action

The Manmohan Singh government  has placed before parliament the Action Taken Report (ART) on the Liberhan Commission's findings. But, shockingly, the government does not contemplate any punitive action against those who planned and pulled down the masjid.

True, Justice Liberhan did something unpardonable when he took 17 years to submit the report which also has some howlers. The BJP only concentrated on those to defend itself. But the verbal mistakes do not falsify the fact of demolition.

No doubt, the Muslim community would feel betrayed if the 64 people named by the commission go scot-free after what they have done. But the nation on the whole would equally be horrified if the guilty are not punished. The majesty of law would come down tumbling. And communalists would have a shot in their arm.

It is already a bad scenario which the country faces. The killing of 3,000 Sikhs at Delhi in 1984, nearly 100 Christians in Orissa two years ago and some 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 has disfigured Indians image as a pluralistic society. In fact, the message going around is that the minorities are not safe. On top of it, if there is no action on the Liberhan Commission's recommendations, India may damage its secular credentials beyond repair.

That the BJP is a rightist party is understandable. The Congress is more or less the same. What is not acceptable is the BJP's communal approach because it poses a threat to the very idea of India, the concept of unity and secularism. The RSS, the BJP's mentor, should learn a lesson from the neighbouring country. Religion does not unify the country, pluralism does.

The pull of religion could not check the Bangladeshis separating from Pakistan because the Urdu speaking west Pakistanis did not accommodate the language, Bengali. The LTTE was a product of the Sinhalese inability to cope with the Tamil identity in Sri Lanka than that of the Tigers assertion. When the BJP ruled the country for six years, it kept aside its agenda of mandir.

The party can begin a new chapter only if it stops using religion for achieving its political ends. When the BJP stands in the way of punishment to the culprits in Gujarat or those who demolished the Babri masjid, the party only proves that it prefers wallowing in the waters of bigotry and communalism to seeking the secure shores of secularism. The day the people see that the BJP has stopped mixing religion with politics, they will consider that the party has begun a new chapter.









Little by little, it is being confirmed that the melting of the polar ice caps, whether in Antarctica or the Arctic, is happening significantly faster than initially predicted.

The consequences of this for peace, one of the main victims of climate change, are enormous. Glaciers and areas of high-altitude mountains that were previously considered zones of perpetual snow are now melting.

A paradigmatic case is that of the alpine border between Switzerland and Italy where during a recent routine verification, certain sections of ice or perennial snow that had been on the map since 1861 were found to be missing. In this case, the two countries have enjoyed long periods of peaceful coexistence and are approaching the problem in a logical and cordial fashion, forming a commission to find a technical solution.

However, the possible implications of cases like this in other geographical areas are very worrisome. The destabilising potential of a similar development on the India-Pakistan border would be enormous, particularly in the zone of Kashmir or the Siachen glacier, where more than 3,000 soldiers of both countries have died since 1984. The same is true of the tense China-India border, or the deeply problematic border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which will grow increasingly porous with melting, contributing to a rise in destabilisation in what are already two of the most unstable countries on the earth.

Opening of shipping lanes

Another major effect of global warming is the gradual opening of major global shipping lanes in areas that had previously been impassable because of ice. The Northeast Passage along the north of Russia, used recently for the first time in history, shortens travel between the ports of China, Japan, and Korea and Hamburg, Rotterdam, and South Hampton by 4,000 kilometres. With the Northwest Passage along northern Canada, travel between the China and the ports of the eastern United States is similarly shortened. The opening of these new routes will completely change the dynamics of intercontinental trade and might render irrelevant places that until now were considered geostrategically essential, such as the Panama and the Suez Canal.

Add to this the draw of massive reserves of raw materials expected to be present in the Arctic, ever more accessible as the ice recedes, which is provoking a race for control of the area. The Russian news agency TASS has calculated oil reserves in the area at over 10 billion tonnes. Last year Canada approved an extraordinary 6.9 billion dollar arms bill to strengthen its military presence in its arctic zone, while Russia has resumed tactical flights of nuclear bombers in its polar region, triggering the protests of numerous countries.

This also explains, in part, the speed with which the European Union is processing the application for EU membership of bankrupt Iceland, which would place the body in the best possible position for future negotiations and territorial claims in the area with regard to future access to the 'Arctic banquet'.

Rising sea levels

The melting of the ice caps is also the major cause of rising sea levels, which have other irreversible territorial, social, and economic consequences, such as the physical disappearance —partial or total — of certain small island states of the Pacific likely to occur within a few years — the Maldives, Samoa, Kiribati, among others.

Obviously the implications are vast, including the political and legal status of future states that have no territory.

The principal components of the global infrastructure, from ports and refineries to airports and nuclear plants, are also seriously at risk, and will find themselves near or at or even below sea level.

It is important to note in this context that the majority of the global population lives in areas close to the sea, starting with megacities like Mumbai, London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Buenos Aires, and densely-populated areas like the Ganges delta in Bangladesh, where rising sea levels are already wreaking havoc in the form of water pollution and related effects. Recent studies indicate the possibility of some 200 million new environmental refugees in coming years.

The Global Humanitarian Fund issued a report this year that shows unequivocally that climate change today is responsible for some 3,00,000 deaths per year. Numbers for the medium and long-term are even higher. In this context, the urgency of fighting climate is a pre-condition for a peaceful future. Therefore, the international community has no other option, specially after the fiasco in Copenhagen, to spring into action as soon as possible. It is about climate, but also about peace and human lives.









It's going to be a desolate X'mas this year at No 4, Langford Road. The reigning matriarch of that charming old world home, with its trellissed verandah, sloping driveway and chaotic garden, is no more. She died the day after Christmas last year. It was also her birthday which she gaily celebrated with her family.

She even had herself photographed, the morning sunlight shining on her hair and face. She wore her years lightly with laughter and banter. Nobody would have guessed how she agonised silently over her son battling against cancer. She kept her private sorrows away from the prying eyes of the world.

Our friendship went back to those golden years in KGF. In a row of bungalows in the Mysore Mine, ours was the first. The Mascarenhas family lived in the last. We were orthodox Hindus. They were equally orthodox Roman Catholics. Yet, we lived like one family whose friendship continued over the next six decades.

Therese was the eldest of four children and taught me maths during my last three years of high school. She loved to announce this in public with special mention of my dubious academic credentials. I would retort "now you know why I am still weak in arithmetic!" And she would laugh heartily. She had the ability to laugh at herself even as she teased and made fun of others.

Her interest in people was amazing. Her knowledge of world affairs never ceased to surprise. She had an opinion on everything under the sun, whether it was politics, cricket or religion. She debated the antics of a Raj Thackeray with the same passion as she discussed papal policies in the Vatican.

Well informed, highly literate and remarkably articulate, she was the ideal senior citizen whose mental faculties remained razor-sharp till the end. She died as she lived. Smiling, laughing and surrounded by friends whose friendship she valued above all else.


Maybe, it will not be so desolate a Christmas, after all. I am sure the amiable spirit of my one-time teacher still lingers in every crevice of that lovely home.








Hearken back to the great ideological divisions of the Zionist movement: Weizmann versus Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion versus Begin, Mapai versus Herut.


In stark contrast, the waning days of "the Naughties" will be remembered for Binyamin Netanyahu's thwarted machinations to entice Kadima Knesset members to quit their party and join his government - not out of principle, but for patronage.


While Israelis worried that Netanyahu was exhausting himself grappling with the emotionally draining Gilad Schalit affair (he kept rushing home to rest and take medication for a sore throat), it turned out he had the energy to oversee the final moves in a months-long behind-the-scenes scheme to dismantle Kadima by luring at least seven of its 28 legislators into joining his coalition. He offered cars, offices, budgets, even a golden parachute to nervous defectors.


The late Yitzhak Rabin similarly enticed Tsomet Knesset members Gonen Segev, Esther Salmovitz and Alex Goldfarb to defect his way in 1995. Their support proved critical in passing the Oslo II accords 61-59. Rabin's scheming ultimately shattered Tsomet, but at least he was inspired by principle - an ill-fated quest to make peace with Yasser Arafat.


In contrast, Netanyahu's desire to splinter Kadima involved no discernible matter of principle, merely a desire to widen his political base and a goodly measure of revenge.


Tzipi Livni put her interests first in March 2009, by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led government which could have been stable, centrist and reformist. Instead, she forced him to cobble together a coalition that depends on the Orthodox parties, thereby stymieing desperately needed electoral reform, a gateway to solving a range of systemic problems plaguing the political system. Livni haughtily predicted Netanyahu's government would fall within a year and deported herself as the premier-in-waiting. Meantime, she alienated many in her own Knesset faction.


YESTERDAY, Netanyahu finally held an oft-delayed meeting with Livni on national security issues and, citing "the security situation," unexpectedly invited Kadima to join a national unity government. Livni is suspiciously mulling the offer.


By raiding her party, Netanyahu was demonstrating that his grip on power was as solid as her's was shaky. Though he didn't gain any Kadima defectors, he did expose the party's fragile political condition. Under these circumstances, Livni's influence in a Netanyahu government would now be limited.


Even without an assist from Netanyahu, it had become increasingly clear that Livni's flash-in-the-pan popularity was not going to translate into political substance. She and her No. 2, Shaul Mofaz, despise each other. They waited until this week's defection crisis before meeting yesterday to discuss a way forward, but still could not agree. Neither appears to place the interests of Kadima at the top of their agenda, though a split will strengthen neither.


WHATEVER else Netanyahu's gamesmanship foreshadows, it is testament to the end of ideology in Israeli politics. There are few philosophical differences between Netanyahu, Labor's Ehud Barak and Livni. It's all personal. They and their "lean and hungry" understudies agree on just about everything, from how to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians (assuming Israel had a peace partner) to the fundamentals of domestic economic policy.


This realignment of the body politic is, alas, unaccompanied by a mechanism to implement the will it reflects.


AMIDST all of this week's plotting and maneuvering, there is a larger good at stake.


Netanyahu has dragged the Likud kicking and screaming to the political center, sometimes employing methods not found in Roberts Rules of Order. The possibility that his party could yet be hijacked by the radical Feiglin camp cannot be ruled out. Labor, meanwhile, is moribund.


That's why it is essential there to be a viable "third way" party to serve as a potential vehicle for progress and reform. Kadima garnered the most votes in the last two elections. It still harbors a Sharon-esque sentiment for pragmatism that's worth salvaging. Were Livni and Mofaz to knock each other out, perhaps a consensus-building viable new leader would emerge.


The end of ideology should have meant an end to pointless polarization, not an end to principle. The Left cannot promise "peace now" and the Right cannot realistically preserve "Greater Israel."


Ariel Sharon's Kadima established an alternative view to such false either/or political choices - one that's now embraced by the four largest parties in the Knesset.


Despite its failings, Kadima and its legacy are worth preserving.








The war the police and the Israel Defense Forces are openly waging against protests by left-wing and human rights activists has heated up in recent weeks. As a result, concern is growing over Israel's image as a free and democratic country, one that accords equal and tolerant treatment to all its citizens and residents.

Nonviolent protests in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah against the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes by extreme right-wingers have met with a violent and disproportionate police response. The IDF has responded with insufferable harshness to protests against the separation fence in the Palestinian villages of Bil'in and Na'alin.

In Sheikh Jarrah, police are fielding unnecessarily large forces armed with tear gas and pepper spray. Over the past two weeks, no less than 50 demonstrators have been arrested at these protests.


In Bil'in and Na'alin, IDF soldiers are firing live rounds at unarmed protesters who do not endanger the soldiers' lives, in violation of the military advocate general's orders. Major arrest sweeps are also taking place in these two villages, of protest organizers and members of the popular committees. Some of those arrested have been brought before a military court, charged with incitement and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

In terms of violence, this represents an escalation. In terms of tolerance, it represents a deterioration - of attitudes toward legitimate protest. Two Israeli lecturers, Prof. Galit Hasan-Rokem and Prof. Daphna Golan, recently described the harsh police response in Sheikh Jarrah in Haaretz. Protests were also dealt with harshly during Operation Cast Lead a year ago: About 800 Israeli citizens, most of them Arab, were arrested, and criminal proceedings were begun against 685 of them. This was an evil omen regarding the state's attitude toward protesters.

And all this is happening at a time when the same law enforcement agencies are showing much more leniency and consideration to right-wingers protesting against the construction freeze in the settlements. There, no massive arrests have been made, and there has been less police violence.

Citizens, whether from the right or the left, have both the right and the duty to protest, within the bounds of the law, against things that upset them. Tolerance toward such protests is the breath of life for any democratic regime.

Photographs of soldiers shooting live fire at demonstrators, in contrast, are familiar from the darkest regimes. If drummers are arrested in Sheikh Jarrah, and Palestinians are arrested in Bil'in for collecting and displaying ammunition shot by the IDF - this is a regime that is not acting with the required tolerance toward legitimate protest.

The pictures from Sheikh Jarrah and the scenes from Bil'in and Na'alin, which repeat themselves weekly, will remain hidden in the darkness of public disinterest and lack of media coverage. But what the police are doing in Sheikh Jarrah and what the IDF is doing in Bil'in and Na'alin should disturb every Israeli, whether right-wing or left-wing - because this is about the very nature of the regime of the country in which we live.







As 2009 draws to a close, President Barack Obama is expected to take stock of his diplomatic overture to Iran. He will not be able to avoid the conclusion that his approach so far has achieved next to nothing: Iran continues to progress, without consequences, toward military nuclear capability. The one hope for a breakthrough agreement - the nuclear fuel deal offered in October - was dashed when Iran not only rejected the deal, but responded with further defiance: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iran's intent to build 10 additional uranium enrichment facilities. Moreover, the UN Security Council's permanent members are not in agreement on moving to harsher economic sanctions.


Does this mean that the diplomatic track is hopeless? Not yet. What it does mean is that diplomacy and negotiations are anything but easy to carry out. And if the United States is truly serious about diplomacy, that seriousness must be apparent in its own approach, and then brought into play in its interactions with Iran.

Some assume that diplomacy is synonymous with a softer approach to international challenges, one that focuses on engagement and reassurance rather than more forceful confrontation. But that isn't the case here, because the Americans have undertaken to convince Iran to back down from a goal that it is highly motivated and determined to achieve. This means that the diplomatic process must be a game of hardball. The fact that it will be a "war" of words rather than a military struggle does not imply that any less determination, focus and resolve will be required of the United States if it is to succeed.


Perhaps ironically, the developments of 2009 put America in a better position to pursue tough diplomacy in two important respects. First, evidence of Iran's military ambitions has mounted. Serious questions and concerns about the nature of the country's activities are coming from the International Atomic Energy Agency itself; of particular note is the "secret annex" to its reports on Iran - details of which were leaked to the press over the summer. To this one must add the revelation of the enrichment facility near Qom; Mohamed ElBaradei's lamentations before leaving the IAEA over the "dead end" reached with Iran; and the recent Times of London report on Iranian work on a neutron initiator since 2007. The upshot of this is that the 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate has been rendered virtually obsolete, and the burden of proof is now on those who continue to adhere to the view that Iran's intentions are not military.

The second point regards the role of "confidence building" in U.S.-Iranian relations. Confidence-building measures are an important diplomatic tool when states have developed a common interest to cooperate, but are unable to do so because of deep-seated tensions in their relations. They work when both sides are dependent on the other to achieve a mutually desired result. This is not the U.S.-Iranian dynamic. While relations are certainly characterized by tension, the two states lack the common interest to cooperate - at least according to the current framing of the nuclear issue. Iran's unwillingness to cooperate is not due to tensions with the United States, but rather to the fact that the cooperation demanded by the latter simply doesn't serve Iran's perceived interest. This was made clear in 2009, especially surrounding the proposed fuel deal. The foremost challenge for the United States, thus, is not to build confidence, but to demonstrate resolve while formulating the contours of a deal that Iran also has a clear interest in pursuing.

This means that the United States must not waste any more time trying to negotiate interim deals with Iran that are devised either to test whether its intentions are peaceful, or to build confidence. It should be focused on the final deal, which it should negotiate with Iran bilaterally. As long as the P5+1 countries (the nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, France, the U.K. and China - plus Germany) are not on the same page with regard to Iran, the multilateral format weakens their collective ability to confront it with the necessary determination.

The United States must also find a way to communicate true resolve to Iran. Projecting the idea that there is no realistic scenario in which the United States would use military force is counterproductive in this regard, as are indications that Afghanistan and Pakistan are much higher on the American agenda than Iran, and hints that the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran.

As Iran gets closer to its goal, it is becoming bolder in its willingness and demonstrated ability to challenge the international community. It could still become interested in negotiating a deal with the United States, but only if a common interest is created, and if there are real consequences for failing to negotiate seriously. Only the United States can fulfill the role of the determined bilateral negotiator. But if the message it conveys is that it lacks the political will to make Iran a top diplomatic priority, or if it shies away from the bilateral format and clear demonstration of its resolve - then diplomacy doesn't stand a chance.

Emily B. Landau is senior research fellow and director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).








My rabbinical colleague Yair Silverman was in a cab in Jerusalem when I phoned last week, asking him to join me on a visit to Yasuf, the village in Samaria where a mosque was desecrated by still-unidentified vandals on December 11. His Palestinian driver, Iyad, offered to take us there, and promised: "No one will hurt you, I'll see to it you'll be safe." As it turned out, Iyad was our savior.

We drove north from Jerusalem, past the breathtaking landscape, where we saw farmers, both Arab and Jewish, working the fertile land nourished by the recent rains. As we approached the outskirts of Nablus and passed the communities of Shiloh and Eli, I thought of my many close friends living there. My daughter, her husband and their large family as well have also made their home in the West Bank, in Efrat.

When we neared Yasuf, Yair put in a call to the regional governor, Munir Abbushi. We expected to meet him at the entrance to the village, where the Israeli army has an outpost, express our sorrow and then leave. We were taken by surprise when the governor, speaking with Iyad in Arabic, told him we could meet him at the mosque. By surprise, since, two days earlier, a delegation of left-wing Israeli rabbis were stopped by Israel Defense Forces soldiers at the entrance to Yasuf. And a day later, when Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and his entourage arrived at the mosque, a curfew was imposed and Yasuf was on lockdown. As Metzger left, stones were reportedly hurled at his group.


And here we arrived, unarmed, without cameras, with residents of Yasuf in the streets - children scurrying home from school, cars and mules filling the narrow lanes, laborers at work on some building sites. We continued on, deep into this village of some 2,000, until we reached the mosque, where workers were inside rebuilding.

Iyad stepped out and we followed. As we stood before the mosque, a few workers emerged. Seeing the kippot on our heads and realizing that we were Jewish, they grew obviously agitated. I reached out to shake hands and no one responded. As word quickly spread of our arrival, some 50 people materialized, seemingly out of nowhere. Clearly offended by our presence, some gestured that we remove our kippot. We indicated that we could not.

A tense moment ensued. I knew the governor would soon arrive, but he seemed to be taking forever. I said to Yair, "Perhaps we should try to leave. We're upsetting people, not comforting them."

Iyad reacted strongly to the belligerent people around us. As he explained later, he told them: "A few rabbis from America have come unarmed, they've placed themselves in danger, and this is your reaction?"

I had begun speaking in English - expressing sympathy and hope for peace - when governor Abbushi finally arrived. Our words were translated into Arabic: Yair and I spoke of the pain we felt at what had occurred. We, members of a people who had too often been the victims of such attacks throughout history, could not but empathize with our Arab brethren.

I thought for a moment of mentioning the destruction of Joseph's Tomb by Palestinians in nearby Nablus several years ago and of synagogues in Gush Katif in Gaza in 2005, where I had spent the final week before the disengagement, but I decided it wasn't the time or place to bring up those incidents. Perhaps it was cowardly, but I had the feeling that we would be exposed to serious danger. Moreover, I felt that destruction by one side does not justify similar acts by the other. For there to be real peace, voices on both sides need to speak out against such acts of desecration.

By now, a Palestinian TV crew had arrived. The reporter asked our reaction to a statement made by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, that all Muslims are "less than human." It was not an easy moment. It's hard to criticize Rabbi Yosef, whom I regard as a great Torah scholar. Nevertheless, he has made similar harmful comments in the past. I responded that I categorically reject such comments. "This is not Torah, it is not Jewish, it is not the Jewish belief," I said.

Those around us seemed to calm down and begin to connect to us. I gave a traditional embrace to the governor, kissing him on both cheeks, invited him to my home and synagogue in New York, and turned to those assembled and offered a prayer - in the spirit of Hanukkah, which we were then celebrating - saying that I hoped that light might emerge from this despicable act of defiling a house of worship.

And then something wondrous occurred. As we left, many who at first had refused to shake our hands reached out. We shook hands, made our way into Iyad's taxi, and slowly pulled away.

We had been in Yasuf for a relatively short period, yet we felt drained. What had potentially been an explosive situation, which could have spiraled out of control, turned out to be a meaningful and perhaps healing experience.

Our visit was a simple gesture, from the heart and soul, that fortunately turned out positively. I am hopeful that it will make a difference for people who were there and perhaps, in its own tiny way, have an impact on the larger geopolitical quest for peace - a real peace that all of humanity so desperately needs.

Rabbi Avi Weiss is founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, co-founder of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, and senior rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.







John Mann is a British Labor MP who explains that there isn't a single Jew among the industrial workers, farmers and retired coal miners in his constituency. He is one of the handful of MPs who came out of the recent parliamentary-expenses scandals cleaner than he went in. He was honored with an award at the Knesset during last week's conference of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, for his work in Britain and internationally against anti-Jewish racism. Mann compared the Jews to a canary, like the ones his constituents used to take three miles down into the mines to make sure that the atmosphere was healthy for human beings. The process of the decay of all human values begins with anti-Semitism, said Gert Weisskirchen, who was honored in the same ceremony. Weisskirchen is a scholar as well as a long-time member of the Bundestag, a man imbued with the spirit of the gentle, civilized and worldly social democracy that built post-war West Germany out of the ashes of the Holocaust.

So what's going on? The Jews are hawks, not canaries, aren't they? The Global Forum is run by Israel's Foreign Ministry, making Avigdor Lieberman its current host. He is a political figure who has broken new ground in Israel, mainstreaming the kind of racialized thinking of which anti-Semitism was a historic prototype, garnering votes by rhetorically threatening the status of the state's Arab citizens. He is the deputy prime minister in a government that continues to fail to bring its army and its settlers home from Palestinian territory, where they perpetrate the daily violence and humiliation characteristic of all occupations.

In truth, it is only by denying whole facets of reality that one can fit Jews and Israelis into a simple worldview that defines everyone either as oppressed or as oppressor. Similarly, we would all like to believe that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, but the ready-made ways of thinking that it offers are too deeply embedded in various cultural imaginations around the world for it to disappear easily. No matter how much serious consideration of anti-Semitism is ridiculed as a dishonest attempt to silence criticism of Israel; no matter how much Israelis would prefer to think of themselves as strong, and as being responsible for their own situation rather than perceiving themselves as victims of anti-Semitism - the old libels are still manifested in the ways in which people think about Israel and about Jews.


Sammy Eppel, a journalist from Venezuela, explained to the conference in Jerusalem how half the members of that country's Jewish community have left, as the Chavez regime continues to whip up fervor against "Jewish Zionist imperialism" and to embrace the Jew-hating Iranian regime. Furthermore, a 747 fully loaded with who-knows-what flies from Caracas to Tehran weekly.

Dovid Katz, who teaches Yiddish in Vilnius, raised the alarm about current trends to normalize the Holocaust in the Baltic states by portraying Stalin and Hitler as perpetrators of twin genocides. This is a rhetoric that hides a preference for Hitler, and allows surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust to be honored as anti-communist partisans, and anti-fascists to be put on trial as Stalin's collaborators. An additional worry is that this kind of "re-understanding" of the Holocaust fits in with other kinds of revisionism - like those that portray the Shoah as an invented justification for the State of Israel, or as a minor intra-European spat, dwarfed in importance and impact by the history of European colonialism - of which the oppression of the Palestinians is currently the key manifestation.

Patrick Desbois, a quiet but hugely charismatic French Catholic priest, was also present at the Global Forum gathering, explaining how he has been traveling Ukraine and Belarus encouraging perpetrators, witnesses and bystanders of the Nazi genocide to divulge their memories before they are lost. Many who refuse to talk to investigators, and who appear to be Jewish, happily chat with him when he is wearing his comforting priest's collar.

Stories were also presented to the conference about intellectuals, trade unionists, anti-racists and other good people who seek to exclude Israelis, and only Israelis, from the global academic, cultural and economic community; who declare that anti-boycott lawyers are financed by stolen Lehman Brothers money from New York; who say that "Zionist" Jews are the new Nazis, the new racists, the new imperialists, the new supporters of apartheid; who teach that the "Israel lobby" is responsible for the Iraq war; who find excuses for anti-Semitic violence and terrorism; who act as apologists for "critics of Israel" who learn from far-right conspiracy theorists; and who seek to silence those who speak up against anti-Semitism by saying that they only do so to give Prime Minister Netanyahu an easy ride.

Eminent Israeli scholars Yehuda Bauer and Emmanuel Sivan skewered the worldview of those who ignorantly and innocently embrace anti-Semitic notions when all they think they are doing is speaking up for Palestinians. Yet they both warned the Global Forum that the fight against anti-Semitism is only part of the general fight against bigotry. Both found it necessary to spell out what ought to have been obvious to the delegates: that the struggles against Islamophobia and other types of racism are intimately related to the fight against anti-Jewish racism.

David Hirsh is a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.








LONDON - Once again, the Anglo-Jewish establishment has scored a spectacular own goal, this time over the Jewish Free School's admission criteria. The soccer analogy seems appropriate: This kind of self-defeating pomposity seems to have become as integral to our community as soccer is to our national identity.

Last week, the Supreme Court here ruled that the admissions policy of the state-funded secondary school breached racial discrimination legislation. To anyone unfamiliar with the case, the details are extraordinary. The school refused entry to a 10-year-old boy because his mother's conversion to Judaism had not been an Orthodox one (even worse, she converted abroad) - never mind the fact that the family members are dedicated, observant Conservative Jews. This was unacceptable to the United Synagogue, the main Orthodox organization in the United Kingdom, with its essentially Haredi beit din (rabbinical court).

This is far from the first time that JFS has gotten into a muddle over admissions policy, and previous instances have been similarly excruciating. There was the mother who had undergone an Orthodox conversion in Israel, but because her subsequent observance was not considered strict enough, her son was retrospectively judged a gentile. Then there was the woman who converted with an Orthodox rabbi and remained impeccably religious, but because her husband was a kohen and thus barred from marrying a convert, her daughter was deemed a halakhic impostor. In both cases, the children were refused admission to the school.


Does it make sense, at a time when the community in England is shrinking, to reject people who want to be Jewish? Yes, apparently, believes the United Synagogue, whose head, the recently ennobled Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, thought it suitable to pursue this case to legal extremis, at a reported cost of 1 million pounds.

Thus we are faced with the bizarre situation in which, quoting Deuteronomy in its decision, the Supreme Court is prevailed upon to decide just who is a Jew - something we haven't exactly managed to do ourselves in several thousand years.

Forget those who bleat that the state has no right interfering in the affairs of a religious school, or who point to this as the latest example of British anti-Jewish hostility (after all, didn't our legal system try to nab Tzipi Livni?).

This is not an issue that British judges ever wanted to address. This is simply an example of the peevish arrogance of a Jewish establishment that seems irresistibly attracted to zero-sum games.

Indeed, the Anglo-Jewish community has made quite a habit of fighting battles it cannot win. Witness the doomed attempts to wreak revenge on London's then-mayor Ken Livingstone after he compared a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard. A consummate politician, Livingstone breezed through months of expensive wrangling to be cleared of all wrongdoing. The community was forced to back down and meekly accept the mayor's "Simcha in the Square" initiative, a risible celebration of Anglo-Jewish life sandwiched between Eid and Diwali in Trafalgar Square.

More recently there was the debacle over a rally held during the Gaza war, ostensibly in support of the beleaguered citizens of Israel and the Palestinians suffering under the yoke of Hamas. Of course, such a distinction was lost on many British Jews horrified at such literal flag-waving, as hundreds were dying in Gaza - and was also entirely lost on the wider public and the media, which saw Jews apparently rallying in support of the shedding of Palestinian blood.

And now, despite some creeping schadenfreude from a few Liberal and Reform quarters, even those who opposed United Synagogue policy are keeping quiet over the affair. It's clear that the whole sorry mess has emphatically not been good for the Jews. It seems impossible to find even an Orthodox establishment figure who isn't privately groaning over the behavior of the US, the chief rabbi, and the school.

"It all could have been avoided if the United Synagogue had not opened this can of worms," sighs one senior community figure. "Insane and indefensible," says another.

But it's not over yet. Sacks has vowed to fight on and has already reportedly been personally lobbying the relevant government minister for changes to the existing Equality Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament and is intended to harmonize and extend current discrimination law. The United Synagogue wants faith schools exempted from legislation, something the government will consider only if the Jewish community is absolutely united on the issue.

And it isn't. The Liberal movement, for one, is just as intent on opposing any change to the law, and is already making overtures to the Conservative party - likely to form the next government in a few months' time - whose deputy treasurer just happens to be one of their patrons.

It's not just the cross-communal infighting this case has provoked. The JFS affair will also set a legal precedent. Some warn that it will even have an impact on the future activities of other faith-based service providers, such as Anglo-Jewry's entirely uncontroversial, halakhically uninterested and excellent social care organizations. Ironically, the "cross-communal" Jewish Seconary School, due to open in September in north London - and originally set up to bypass such admissions idiocy - is also going to have to base its entry criteria on religious observance (rather than descent) to avoid the same racial discrimination pitfalls.

Lacking the confidence of the American community, and the nonchalant identity of Israeli Jews, Anglo-Jewry once again has wasted its resources, not least the patience of its constituents. From the increasingly ultra-Orthodox United Synagogue to its misguided lay leadership, from the poor child who wanted to study at JFS to the school itself - this has been a game, doomed from the start, in which there are no winners.

Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.








LONDON - Once again, the Anglo-Jewish establishment has scored a spectacular own goal, this time over the Jewish Free School's admission criteria. The soccer analogy seems appropriate: This kind of self-defeating pomposity seems to have become as integral to our community as soccer is to our national identity.

Last week, the Supreme Court here ruled that the admissions policy of the state-funded secondary school breached racial discrimination legislation. To anyone unfamiliar with the case, the details are extraordinary. The school refused entry to a 10-year-old boy because his mother's conversion to Judaism had not been an Orthodox one (even worse, she converted abroad) - never mind the fact that the family members are dedicated, observant Conservative Jews. This was unacceptable to the United Synagogue, the main Orthodox organization in the United Kingdom, with its essentially Haredi beit din (rabbinical court).

This is far from the first time that JFS has gotten into a muddle over admissions policy, and previous instances have been similarly excruciating. There was the mother who had undergone an Orthodox conversion in Israel, but because her subsequent observance was not considered strict enough, her son was retrospectively judged a gentile. Then there was the woman who converted with an Orthodox rabbi and remained impeccably religious, but because her husband was a kohen and thus barred from marrying a convert, her daughter was deemed a halakhic impostor. In both cases, the children were refused admission to the school.


Does it make sense, at a time when the community in England is shrinking, to reject people who want to be Jewish? Yes, apparently, believes the United Synagogue, whose head, the recently ennobled Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, thought it suitable to pursue this case to legal extremis, at a reported cost of 1 million pounds.

Thus we are faced with the bizarre situation in which, quoting Deuteronomy in its decision, the Supreme Court is prevailed upon to decide just who is a Jew - something we haven't exactly managed to do ourselves in several thousand years.

Forget those who bleat that the state has no right interfering in the affairs of a religious school, or who point to this as the latest example of British anti-Jewish hostility (after all, didn't our legal system try to nab Tzipi Livni?).

This is not an issue that British judges ever wanted to address. This is simply an example of the peevish arrogance of a Jewish establishment that seems irresistibly attracted to zero-sum games.

Indeed, the Anglo-Jewish community has made quite a habit of fighting battles it cannot win. Witness the doomed attempts to wreak revenge on London's then-mayor Ken Livingstone after he compared a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard. A consummate politician, Livingstone breezed through months of expensive wrangling to be cleared of all wrongdoing. The community was forced to back down and meekly accept the mayor's "Simcha in the Square" initiative, a risible celebration of Anglo-Jewish life sandwiched between Eid and Diwali in Trafalgar Square.

More recently there was the debacle over a rally held during the Gaza war, ostensibly in support of the beleaguered citizens of Israel and the Palestinians suffering under the yoke of Hamas. Of course, such a distinction was lost on many British Jews horrified at such literal flag-waving, as hundreds were dying in Gaza - and was also entirely lost on the wider public and the media, which saw Jews apparently rallying in support of the shedding of Palestinian blood.

And now, despite some creeping schadenfreude from a few Liberal and Reform quarters, even those who opposed United Synagogue policy are keeping quiet over the affair. It's clear that the whole sorry mess has emphatically not been good for the Jews. It seems impossible to find even an Orthodox establishment figure who isn't privately groaning over the behavior of the US, the chief rabbi, and the school.

"It all could have been avoided if the United Synagogue had not opened this can of worms," sighs one senior community figure. "Insane and indefensible," says another.

But it's not over yet. Sacks has vowed to fight on and has already reportedly been personally lobbying the relevant government minister for changes to the existing Equality Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament and is intended to harmonize and extend current discrimination law. The United Synagogue wants faith schools exempted from legislation, something the government will consider only if the Jewish community is absolutely united on the issue.

And it isn't. The Liberal movement, for one, is just as intent on opposing any change to the law, and is already making overtures to the Conservative party - likely to form the next government in a few months' time - whose deputy treasurer just happens to be one of their patrons.

It's not just the cross-communal infighting this case has provoked. The JFS affair will also set a legal precedent. Some warn that it will even have an impact on the future activities of other faith-based service providers, such as Anglo-Jewry's entirely uncontroversial, halakhically uninterested and excellent social care organizations. Ironically, the "cross-communal" Jewish Seconary School, due to open in September in north London - and originally set up to bypass such admissions idiocy - is also going to have to base its entry criteria on religious observance (rather than descent) to avoid the same racial discrimination pitfalls.

Lacking the confidence of the American community, and the nonchalant identity of Israeli Jews, Anglo-Jewry once again has wasted its resources, not least the patience of its constituents. From the increasingly ultra-Orthodox United Synagogue to its misguided lay leadership, from the poor child who wanted to study at JFS to the school itself - this has been a game, doomed from the start, in which there are no winners.

Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.








The creation of Kadima was a good idea. Israel needs a party that will divide the land, set off a governmental and educational revolution, and faithfully represent the silent, evenhanded and pragmatic majority. Israel needs a party that will free it from the muddy and inferior politics it is mired in.

Kadima was based on two pillars upon its establishment. In the diplomatic sphere it offered the path of prime minister Ariel Sharon: not to be blinded by illusions of peace and not to accept the occupation, but to try to give Israel a border. In the political sphere it offered a different type of politics: no more surrendering to the Likud Central Committee and the ultra-Orthodox, but to put the good of the country first. Exchanging sectarian and tribal politics for statesmanlike politics.

From the start Kadima suffered from two defects: Its roster was disappointing and its party rules were draconian. Sharon was never a big democrat. When he finally founded the party, he wanted it to be obedient and subservient. Still, Sharon meant what he said. He was about to divide the country, improve the government and bring about a revolution in education. Had he not had a debilitating stroke four years ago, Sharon would have used Kadima to give Israel a future of hope.


Former prime minister Ehud Olmert and opposition leader Tzipi Livni have been unable to give Israel any hope. There is no point in wasting words on Olmert. If he proves his innocence in court as a result of his corruption indictment, it will be possible once again to discuss his achievements and failures in office. But Livni was supposed to be different. Livni was supposed to return Kadima to its origins, advance the two-state solution in a practical, gradual and cautious manner and seriously address the basic problems of government and education. Livni was supposed to be the executor of Sharon's political testament.

Livni has not done any of those things. Her diplomatic policy has been that of the Geneva Initiative rather than Sharon. She both swallowed up Meretz and was swallowed up by it. She shattered Sharon's fundamental belief that it is dangerous to try to achieve a final-status agreement now. She did not represent the Israeli center and turned sharply to the left.

At the same time, Livni did not confront the challenge of education and was indecisive in her approach to the question of government. Her politics have turned out to be talk without action. Her leadership has consisted of declarations without results. Twice she failed in an attempt to form a government. She has continually failed to lead her party. Under Livni, Kadima has become a strange hybrid that does not represent anything and does not fight for anything - a party without an ideology, achievements or principles. A party that has no right to exist.

To Livni's credit it should be said that she is straight as an arrow. Her personal behavior is impeccable. No cigars, no hotel suites, no conflicts of interest. But with the passing of time it has become clear that she is far from statesmanlike. The good of the country is not her highest priority. At a time when Israel needs a strong and broad national unity government, Livni is standing aloof, preoccupied with herself. Instead of implementing a different type of politics, Livni is promoting the brand name of a different type of politics. She is denying Israel the sane government it so badly needs.

The attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to break up Kadima is unworthy. It is no more or less serious than Livni's ugly attempt to break up the Labor Party. The voters who opted for Kadima need this party to represent them in the Knesset. They are not supposed to find the people they elected serving in Likud's parliamentary faction.

However, this week's crisis proves that Kadima is at a crossroads. It is unconscionable for an antidemocratic constitution to make senior party members live in fear. It is unconscionable for Livni to force on an entire party an ideology it does not believe in. It is unconscionable for not enlightening the public about the gap between Livni's image and substance. It is unconscionable for a conspiracy of silence to continue to protect the failed leader of the country's largest party.

The solution is primaries now. Only a fair process of new internal elections can save Kadima from itself. Only an open and honest discussion of the party's policies and leadership can restore Kadima to itself. Israel still needs Kadima, but it needs a different Kadima - a Kadima that can repair itself, renew and be what it was meant to be.







Since the first evidence of the organized Jewish uprising in the West Bank, which is now assuming unprecedented proportions, great efforts have been made to create an artificial symmetry between the systematic rebellion in the settlements and the refusal to serve in the territories that was prevalent at the beginning of the decade.

To understand how fundamentally distorted this comparison is, we should point out a few facts. Early in 2002 a group of 50 officers and sergeants from combat units signed a document in which they refused - for ethical reasons - to take part in the acts of oppression required by service in the territories. Soon afterward 600 combat soldiers added their signatures. When about 40 of the refuseniks were sentenced to time in a military prison, several hundred faculty members in the universities and colleges published a letter supporting the refuseniks, many of whom were students. Among the signatories was this writer, one of whose more talented students was sitting behind bars.

In those days, that was a proper and worthy act. Since then the Israel Defense Forces has learned to live with fighters who would not hesitate to risk their lives on the battlefield but are not willing to be a cog in the occupation machine: The problems are solved quietly, without statements being released, on the level of the army unit. At the same time, a colonial police force has been established - the Kfir Brigade - to release combat units from carrying out the occupation's daily tasks.



An ethical uprising, anchored in adherence to universal norms, completely personal in nature and accompanied by a willingness to pay its full price, has nothing in common with the violent and organized rebellion that is taking place today in the settlements. This rebellion is essentially political. By the same token, it is absurd to draw a parallel between the hesder yeshivas that combine Torah study and military service with the universities, or between rabbis and professors. These yeshivas are not pluralistic institutions that encourage skepticism or represent the entire range of viewpoints and opinions. They are not institutions that include men and women, secular and religious people, Jews and Arabs, leftists and rightists.

The yeshiva is a way of life, not an institution you enter just to study. It is a monolithic institution, led by an autocrat, that encompasses all the spheres of a student's life. There you learn to obey, not rebel against the consensus or some intellectual authority. True, we can reasonably assume that there are differing viewpoints within the hesder yeshivas, and that there are differences of opinion between them and their leaders. But when it comes to public declarations and political decisions, the ranks there close. The fact is, the head of the Har Bracha yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, received loud and unhesitating support.

Indeed, to an outsider it would seem that the intention of the hesder yeshivas, particularly the more extreme ones, is to impart first to the army and then to all society the values of halakha and the principles of extreme nationalism; this approach rejects the very concept of equality among people, nations and cultures. The settlement leaders and the hesder yeshiva rabbis, the IDF chief rabbi, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and the chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, David Rotem, all have the same objective: to subordinate reason, autonomy of the individual and the right of free choice to halakha and the principles of the supremacy of the Jewish people, the only natural ruler of the entire land. That is how the prevailing norms at Har Bracha are meant to shape the face of all Israeli society.

However, the immediate goal is to protect the settlements by constantly flaunting the ultimate threat of a civil war. In this battle the hesder yeshivas are playing the role of a strike force, so they are the apple of the settlements' eye. In fact, these units are devoted, disciplined and readily available. This is where the future leadership is being educated; using the hesder yeshivas, the settlement movement aspires to gradually increase its influence over the army and ensure that within 10 to 15 years, much of the senior command will be in its hands. This means that the chauvinist and clerical right wing will acquire even greater influence over Israeli politics.

Indeed, the entire goal is political, and to achieve it the yeshiva heads will sign any understandings with the army we want, as long as they can continue with their work. The time when they have enough power to paralyze the government's ability to act on future peace agreements is steadily approaching.








In another country, with a higher level of morality and less exhaustion and despair, the masses would already have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the corruption.

Admittedly, the public did not take to the streets to demonstrate when Benjamin Netanyahu set up the largest, most inflated and wasteful government in the history of the state, a government with no functional logic, which has 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers, most of whom have jobs fabricated out of nothing, grandiose and unnecessary bureaus and ridiculous perks. The public put up with that without a murmur. But now he wants to expand this monstrous government by buying another seven Knesset members who are interested only in a luxurious office, a chauffeur and other perks!

Netanyahu's job project has no connection to ideology. It is all a matter of chair-ology. There is no diplomatic plan on the horizon that requires a majority; there is no new vision that requires people to rally to the flag. Nor is Netanyahu about to sign any withdrawal plan.


Therefore, this is not a legitimate desertion; it is very different from a split on ideological grounds or leaving a party in order to support a new diplomatic program, like the split in Likud under Ariel Sharon, which occurred due to the disengagement plan.

So far, we are merely talking about proposals that have been made to various Knesset members - Arie Bibi, Otniel Schneller, Ronit Tirosh, Shai Hermesh and Yulia Shamalov Berkovich, who only two weeks ago told me that she considers politics "a serious profession that must be studied before one talks." Shamalov Berkovich has served in the Knesset for a mere half year. Is it serious that she should already be appointed a deputy minister?

The positions being offered to those who leave Kadima - for instance, in the Foreign Ministry (an additional minister) and the Public Security Ministry (a deputy minister) - are totally superfluous. They could just as well be appointed Minister of Nothing or Deputy Minister for Zilch. In other words, this is simply crude, blatant bribery that is much worse than the public corruption of which Abraham Hirchson, for example, was convicted.

Hirchson was sentenced to five years and five months in jail for stealing NIS 1.7 million from the National Workers Organization's coffers. That is a personal, localized crime that does not have much effect on the general public. But when the prime minister hands out bribes - every minister and deputy minister costs the taxpayer millions - that is a corruption of the democratic system, contempt for the rules of proper governance and scorn for the voters' choices.

The result will be an even greater distrust of and repugnance toward politicians. From there, the road is short to a loss of faith in the entire democratic process. And that is dangerous.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who took energetic, resolute action against Hirchson when he was down and lacked political clout, is nowhere to be seen when it comes to the prime minister. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is responsible for the rule of law, has no opinion on the issue. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar is also keeping mum. He is the one who in 2008 submitted a bill on Likud's behalf to limit the size of the cabinet to 18 ministers because he was so shocked by Ehud Olmert's oversize government, which contained 25 ministers. But that is nothing compared to Netanyahu. Yet there was a time when Netanyahu boasted of how he gave the public a government of 18 ministers in 1996.

Since then Netanyahu has aged, and for the worse. He understands that "the public is dumb, so the public will pay," as Shalom Hanoch's song says. That is why we now see a prime minister utterly different from the finance minister we saw six years ago and the prime minister of 13 years ago. Netanyahu, from the moment he was elected, has betrayed all his principles. He has smashed the tablets of the covenant that he himself wrote. In fact, he has no principles, except the principle of survival.

Netanyahu no longer has pretensions of improving the economy. He has no pretensions of cutting the budget or carrying out important reforms. He has raised the child allowances that he himself cut and included the budget for yeshivas and yeshiva students in the baseline national budget, something he fought against in the past.

He has given Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini veto power, even though he loathes the organization. Eini's veto will make it impossible for him to carry out important reforms at the Israel Electric Corporation, the Water Authority and the ports.

Every morning, Netanyahu checks to see which way the wind is blowing and then decides which direction to take.

That is why he decided to cancel the drought tax even though he knows the water economy is in a crisis. That is why he canceled value-added tax on fruit and vegetables - because he decided to heed "the public's feelings." That is why he is maneuvering incessantly over the Gilad Shalit deal, because he has not yet decided whether a majority of the public supports or opposes it.

One thing is clear: The public is exhausted and in despair, so it will not exact payment from him for his corrupt actions. Netanyahu understood that the journalists would write a bit and the public would complain a bit, but in the end, everyone would forget - and he would remain, with his hold on power bolstered. The prime minister knows we will not go out to the city square and shout with hoarse voices: "Corrupt politicians, we're fed up with you!"








I Know we're supposed to be happy on this day. How odd that is. Usually I'm just nervous — probably because I'm supposed to be happy. I think about other years. When you're very young, you're usually happy — at least you're ready to be. You get older and see things more clearly and there's less to be happy about. Also, you start losing people — your family. Ours weren't necessarily easy, but they were ours, the hand we were dealt. There were five of us, actually, like a poker hand — I never thought of that before. Now three are gone.


We're beyond the river and into New Jersey now and I'm thinking especially about her — older than me and older than our brother, and always the most responsible. Most of the time I don't think about her because I don't like to feel sad. Her broad cheeks, soft skin, straight, lovely features, her light complexion, blond hair, colored but natural, with a little gray in it. The peaceful and young look on her face, they said, in her coma, for so many days.


So there won't be any more animal-themed presents from her.


What was the point of all those animal-themed presents? To remind me of animals? Did she think I'd forget animals? She gave me a mobile made of china penguins — why? A sea gull of balsa wood that hung on strings and bobbed its wings up and down in the breeze. A dish towel with badgers on it. Or was a love of animals supposed to be some kind of common ground? Although I can't think of any time when I saw her showing love for an animal. She was always so anxious and distracted. She would be affectionate, but in an anxious way. She would give me a big hug, but she would be looking away. She was bigger than I was. I never knew how she felt about anyone except her daughters. I could tell how much she missed them because she would suddenly stop talking. Otherwise she never stopped.


She always sent our package well ahead of time. Inside it, each present would be wrapped in soft tissue paper. Or maybe not. But no boxes. No ribbons. All these presents — she picked them out, bought them, wrapped them in cheerful paper, labeled them in her large script with black marker directly on the gift wrap, and sent them well ahead of time — but they were not what we wanted. Not what I wanted, anyway.

I know I always cared too much about my presents.


The sea gull ended up in a closet, flung there, the strings tangled. I tried to untangle it from time to time. I finally succeeded. I hung it from the ceiling with a piece of duct tape. The tape loosened in the hot weather and it fell down. But what was the point of it? Then there was that green stuffed elephant with sequins, from India. And a thing with pockets to hang on the back of a door and put things in — I don't know what.


Now I remember — she would get these things at special handicraft fairs to benefit some indigenous organization or other. That was part of the reason they were a little odd, kind of a mismatch to the person she was giving them to.


She chose my presents with me in mind, but twisting the facts a little, in an optimistic sort of way, thinking to herself, She'll find this useful to put things in, or maybe saying it to herself without admitting that, No, she won't find this useful at all. I think a lot of people, when they pick out a gift, twist the facts optimistically. But I'm not saying I'm against those handicraft fairs — at least someone benefits.

One problem was she wouldn't spend enough money on a gift. She wasn't cheap — it was her conscience. She didn't think a person should spend a lot of money on a gift, or even on herself. She wore cheap clothes. She didn't think she deserved any better.


So there was always the excitement of her package arriving in the mail. The coarse brown paper was a little battered from the trip overseas. But it was even more exciting than the wrappings inside, because it was so drab, yet you knew that inside there would be that explosion of little packages, each wrapped in different colored paper.


Trenton Makes, the World Takes — out the window. How many slogans will I stare at out the window today? Now, there are poles falling over into the water with all their wires still strung on them — what's that all about? What a way to spend this day. It's always the ones without families who get asked.


We're moving pretty fast now. When you slide by it all, so fast, you think you won't ever have to get bogged down in it again — the traffic, the neighborhoods, the stores, waiting in lines. We're really speeding now. The ride is smooth. Pretty quiet. Just a little squeaking from some metal part in the car that's jiggling. We're all jiggling a little.


What was the last present she gave me? Nine years ago. I don't know if I can remember. I didn't know it would be the last. If it wasn't animal-themed or made by some indigenous person, then it was probably some kind of a bag, not an expensive bag but one that had a special feature, a trick to it, like it folded into itself when it was empty, and then zipped up and had a little clip on it so you could clip it onto another bag. I have a few of those stored away.


She carried those bags herself, though they were always opened up and full of things — an extra sweater, another bag, food, a bottle of whiskey.


She came to visit, one time — I'm thinking of her bags leaning in a group against my furniture. I was nearly paralyzed, not knowing what to do with her or even without her — I didn't want to leave her alone in a room. I wasn't used to having company, or at least I wasn't used to having her there. After a while the panicky feeling passed, maybe just because time passed, but there was a moment when I thought I'd have a breakdown.


Now I don't know why it seemed so complicated — you just go out and do something together, or sit and talk if you stay inside. Talking would have been easy enough, since she did all the talking — I didn't have to say a word.


I wish she would come and visit again. I think I would be a little calmer. I'd be so glad to see her — that would carry us through the day, or at least a few hours. But it doesn't work that way. If she came back, she'd be back for more than just a day, and maybe I wouldn't know what to do with her after all. Now that she's gone, she's gone for good.


Another one was a board game involving endangered species. Who did she think I was going to play it with? There was that optimism again. Or she was doing what our mother used to do — giving me something that required another person, so that I would have to bring another person into my life. I actually meet plenty of people — I even meet them traveling. Most people are basically pretty friendly.


Once our mother gave our brother a self-winding watch. It would keep running only if the person wearing it was pretty active. If you sat still too much, it would run down. As if our brother would start moving more because of that watch.

And another present she gave him, twice in a row, because she forgot, was a history of human culture from the very beginning. So he would get up off the couch and accomplish something.


I say we're all jiggling, but actually there aren't that many of us in the car, though more than I would have thought on this particular day. Of course I think they're all on their way to somewhere warm and friendly, where people are waiting for them. But that may not be true. And they may be thinking the same thing about me.


And some of them who may not be going anywhere special may be relieved, though that's a little hard to believe, because you're made to feel, by all the hype, that you should be somewhere special, with your family. If you're not, you get that old feeling of being left out, another feeling you learned when you were little, in school probably, at the same time that you learned to get excited seeing all those wrapped presents, no matter what you eventually found in them, besides what you wanted.


For us it was usually socks and underwear, or notebooks for school. Our mother wrapped them so there would be more presents under the tree and it would all look more festive.


I think maybe the last thing she gave me was those little white seals with perforated backs. They're filled with charcoal or something that's supposed to absorb odors. You put them in your refrigerator. I guess she thought that because I live alone my refrigerator would smell bad, or just that anyone might need this.


Well, they're more useful to me anyway than the sea gull or the penguin mobile, and I did put them in my refrigerator, though at the back of a shelf, where I wouldn't have to look at their little faces and beady black eyes every time I opened the door. I even took them with me when I moved.


I doubt if they absorb anything anymore. But they don't take up much room, and there's not much in my fridge anyway. If I bend down and move things around I can see them sitting back there under the light that shines through some dried spilled things on the shelf above. There are two of them. They have black smiles painted on their faces. Or at least a line painted on their faces that looks like a smile.


Really, all I ever really wanted was something for work, like a reference book.


Now there's a lot of noise coming from the cafe car — people laughing. They sell drinks there. I've never bought one — I don't drink on trains. Our brother used to buy a couple of stiff ones on his way home from seeing our mother. He told me that once, laughing. More than a couple — he would spend the whole trip in the cafe car. This year he decided to go to Acapulco.


We're just leaving Philly. Must be a group in there, maybe traveling to a conference. I see that all the time. Or a sporting event. That doesn't actually make a lot of sense, though, today. Now someone's coming this way, staring at me. She has a little smile on her face — but she looks embarrassed. Now what. She's lurching. Oh, wait. A party. It's a party — in the cafe car. Everyone's invited.


Lydia Davis is the author, most recently, of "The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis."








Indulge me while I tell you a story — a near-future version of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol." It begins with sad news: young Timothy Cratchit, a k a Tiny Tim, is sick. And his treatment will cost far more than his parents can pay out of pocket.


Fortunately, our story is set in 2014, and the Cratchits have health insurance. Not from their employer: Ebenezer Scrooge doesn't do employee benefits. And just a few years earlier they wouldn't have been able to buy insurance on their own because Tiny Tim has a pre-existing condition, and, anyway, the premiums would have been out of their reach.


But reform legislation enacted in 2010 banned insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history and also created a system of subsidies to help families pay for coverage. Even so, insurance doesn't come cheap — but the Cratchits do have it, and they're grateful. God bless us, everyone.


O.K., that was fiction, but there will be millions of real stories like that in the years to come. Imperfect as it is, the legislation that passed the Senate on Thursday and will probably, in a slightly modified version, soon become law will make America a much better country.


So why are so many people complaining? There are three main groups of critics.


First, there's the crazy right, the tea party and death panel people — a lunatic fringe that is no longer a fringe but has moved into the heart of the Republican Party. In the past, there was a general understanding, a sort of implicit clause in the rules of American politics, that major parties would at least pretend to distance themselves from irrational extremists. But those rules are no longer operative. No, Virginia, at this point there is no sanity clause.


A second strand of opposition comes from what I think of as the Bah Humbug caucus: fiscal scolds who routinely issue sententious warnings about rising debt. By rights, this caucus should find much to like in the Senate health bill, which the Congressional Budget Office says would reduce the deficit, and which — in the judgment of leading health economists — does far more to control costs than anyone has attempted in the past.


But, with few exceptions, the fiscal scolds have had nothing good to say about the bill. And in the process they have revealed that their alleged concern about deficits is, well, humbug. As Slate's Daniel Gross says, what really motivates them is "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, is receiving social insurance."


Finally, there has been opposition from some progressives who are unhappy with the bill's limitations. Some would settle for nothing less than a full, Medicare-type, single-payer system. Others had their hearts set on the creation of a public option to compete with private insurers. And there are complaints that the subsidies are inadequate, that many families will still have trouble paying for medical care.


Unlike the tea partiers and the humbuggers, disappointed progressives have valid complaints. But those complaints don't add up to a reason to reject the bill. Yes, it's a hackneyed phrase, but politics is the art of the possible.


The truth is that there isn't a Congressional majority in favor of anything like single-payer. There is a narrow majority in favor of a plan with a moderately strong public option. The House has passed such a plan. But given the way the Senate rules work, it takes 60 votes to do almost anything. And that fact, combined with total Republican opposition, has placed sharp limits on what can be enacted.


If progressives want more, they'll have to make changing those Senate rules a priority. They'll also have to work long term on electing a more progressive Congress. But, meanwhile, the bill the Senate has just passed, with a few tweaks — I'd especially like to move the start date up from 2014, if that's at all possible — is more or less what the Democratic leadership can get.


And for all its flaws and limitations, it's a great achievement. It will provide real, concrete help to tens of millions of Americans and greater security to everyone. And it establishes the principle — even if it falls somewhat short in practice — that all Americans are entitled to essential health care.


Many people deserve credit for this moment. What really made it possible was the remarkable emergence of universal health care as a core principle during the Democratic primaries of 2007-2008 — an emergence that, in turn, owed a lot to progressive activism. (For what it's worth, the reform that's being passed is closer to Hillary Clinton's plan than to President Obama's). This made health reform a must-win for the next president. And it's actually happening.


So progressives shouldn't stop complaining, but they should congratulate themselves on what is, in the end, a big win for them — and for America.







Every year, I give out Sidney Awards to the best magazine essays of the year. In an age of zipless, electronic media, the idea is to celebrate (and provide online links to) long-form articles that have narrative drive and social impact.


The first rule of the Sidneys is that they cannot go to any article that appeared in The Times. So David Rohde does not get a Sidney for his unforgettable series on being held captive by the Taliban. But those pieces possess exactly the virtues that the Sidneys are meant to honor, and they make one proud to be a journalist.


This year, magazines had a powerful effect on the health care debate. Atul Gawande's piece, "The Cost Conundrum," in The New Yorker, was the most influential essay of 2009, and David Goldhill's "How American Health Care Killed My Father," in The Atlantic, explained why the U.S. needs fundamental health reform. But special recognition should also go to Jonathan Rauch's delightful essay, "Fasten Your Seat Belts — It's Going to Be a Bumpy Flight," in The National Journal.


Rauch described what the airline industry would look like if it worked the way the health care industry works. The piece takes the form of a customer trying to book a flight with a customer service representative. The customer wants to fly from Washington, D.C., to Oregon on Oct. 3, but the airline lady can squeeze him in only in January or February. He can call each of two dozen other airlines if he wants to check other availability.


When he finally gets on a flight, he finds that his airline will only take him to Chicago, since it's an eastern-region specialist. He'll have to find a western-region specialist to get to Eugene. In addition, he'll have to fax in a 30-page travel history questionnaire, make arrangements with a separate luggage transport provider and see if he can find a fuelist who might be free to make fuel arrangements on that date. That is, if the airline is in his insurance company's provider network, which it isn't.


The most powerful essay I read this year was David Grann's "Trial by Fire" in The New Yorker. Grann investigated the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by setting their house on fire.


In the first part of the essay, Grann lays out the evidence that led to Willingham's conviction: the marks on the floor and walls that suggested that a fire accelerant had been splashed around; the distinct smoke patterns suggesting arson; the fact that Willingham was able to flee the house barefoot without burning his feet.


Then, in the rest of the essay, Grann raises grave doubts about that evidence. He tells the story of a few people who looked into the matter, found a miscarriage of justice and then had their arguments ignored as Willingham was put to death. Grann painstakingly describes how bogus science may have swayed the system to kill an innocent man, but at the core of the piece there are the complex relationships that grew up around a man convicted of burning his children. If you can still support the death penalty after reading this piece, you have stronger convictions than I do.


I try not to give Sidneys to the same people year after year, but the fact is, talent is not randomly distributed. Some people, like Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard, just know how to write. His piece, "A Rake's Progress" was a sympathetic and gripping profile of Marion Barry, the former Washington, D.C., mayor, crack-smoker and recent girlfriend-stalker.


At the start of his first interview, Labash, making small talk, asked Barry if he still has a scar from an old bullet wound: " 'Let's see,' he says, lifting his shirt, so that within ten minutes of arriving, I'm eyeball to areola with Barry's left nipple. It's a move that's very Barry. Most times, he reveals nothing at all. Then he reveals too much."


Labash delights in Barry's rascally nature, but also captures why the voters of Barry's ward don't merely vote for him, they possess him and cherish him.


The region around Afghanistan is now regarded as a global backwater, but S. Frederick Starr's "Rediscovering Central Asia," in The Wilson Quarterly, is an eye-opening look at what once was. A thousand years ago, those mountains were the intellectual center of the world. Central Asians invented trigonometry, used crystallization as a means of purification, estimated the Earth's diameter with astonishing precision and anticipated Darwin's theory of evolution. Starr describes glittering cities and a flowering of genius. He also describes the long decline — the Sunni-Shia split played a role — and modern glimmers of revival.


On Tuesday, we will publish another batch of Sidney winners, so turn off "It's a Wonderful Life." Read these today.







Those personally affected by the judgement of the Supreme Court setting aside the ignominious NRO and re-opening cases that were hushed up under it have reacted with yet more ignominy that consists of doing everything that the country has been harmed by in the sixty-three years of its existence. They have defied the court. They have tried to pit institution against institution. They have sought to fan the flames of ethnicity. They have threatened to amputate the limbs of those in the media who expose their corruption. They have done everything except the one honourable thing for them to do; to resign and face the courts. What they have done and are doing may be despicable, but it is not unexpected. It is in perfect harmony with the character shown and the deeds done by this lot for the past two years that they have been in power. The same cannot be said about some others whose integrity and commitment to the ideals of justice and good governance we do not doubt: they have been in the forefront of the struggle for human rights and for a democratic Pakistan. Some of them were vigorously active in the judiciary's struggle against a brutal dictatorship. That is exactly why we find it ironic that they now have chosen to judge the SC judgement in a manner that has little to set them apart from how Musharraf and his minions saw the present judiciary or how Zardari and his henchmen are trying to defame it. They have found the judgement biased, as targeting specific individuals, as persecuting a particular party, as going beyond the pale. And what have they to offer in the way of argument? Precious little. Having a problem with a short order and with the unanimity of the judges (or wondering why the judges were not divided on the issue?) who passed the judgement amounts to actually nothing. Asking why Musharraf was not mentioned in the judgement takes guts though. For the question is being hurled at a judiciary that made history fighting that man in uniform, while some of these critics were, at least for a while, busy trying to make people see that the struggle was one man's quest for glory and had little to do with the independence of the judiciary. This question is apparently also being posed to defend those who actually committed the affront of blocking the reinstatement of the judges, of aiding and abetting the former dictator's escape from the country after they had presented him with the guard of honour. If it is not easy today to bring Musharraf to justice, the accusing finger has to be pointed at Zardari and his men and not those who still cause Musharraf enough worry not to return to the country. And playing the Musharraf card does nothing but adds to the nervous shrieks of those who were his loyal partners then, and are in power now. How does that serve the cause of democracy?

Making much of the 'perception problem' with reference to Sindh is an obscene exercise in opportunism. Scoundrels are said to find last refuge in shallow patriotism. The NRO beneficiaries have fallen even lower in their desperation and are trying to start an ethnic fire; obviously not with an aim to serve the serfs they themselves have held in bondage for long. But to think that this would resonate with those who should know better! Which part of the SC judgement discriminates between Sindhi and non-Sindhi NRO beneficiaries, between those belonging to the PPP and those who do not? The NRO list, it should be remembered, was issued by the law ministry under the PPP. Perceptions, particularly those created with criminal intent, are not sacred. They must be fought against and not fallen for.

The annulment of the NRO ab initio logically entails that all cases closed under it be reopened. Complaining of the judiciary going beyond its bounds and then accusing it of ignoring other alleged cases of corruption is foolishly contradicting oneself. Nobody is stopping Zardari's sympathisers, both outside and within the government, from taking these cases to court or causing them to re-open. Maybe 'reconciliation' will be invoked to counter this point: but this country had better be rid of 'reconciliation of the corrupt'. Honour among thieves is an honour that suits only them. The most glaring of all contradictions that the well-wishers of Zardari/the PPP/democracy (they seem to be having a hard time telling which is which) triumphantly run into is when they wish to see 'politics' determining the SC judgement by stressing that the judges should have taken into account the political implications of their judgement. And by not doing so the judges have overstepped their bounds? They obviously set no such limits for politics.

Refusing to see the obvious, they have come to be haunted by a spectre. To them, the judges are now a part of a conspiracy to topple not just the government but democracy, aided in this task by the media! This boggles the mind. Since when a few individuals, with allegations of corruption against them, have become synonymous with democracy? In effect, what they are saying to the millions who go hungry in this country while the 'democratic' lords of misrule serve each other with 'reconciliation' is that corruption is the new god they should bow themselves to. In a society where poverty and squalor have bred the most obscurantist kind of extremism, we pray this 'perception' of democracy does not take root, for this means the end of all. If there is a conspiracy at work, it is being hatched by those who, sensing they may fall from position of power and privilege on account of their past, perceived or real, misdeeds, would rather cause the whole order to go down with them, instead of proving their innocence or giving way to those whose past and present are not as tainted as theirs. Those who are pained to see democracy under question would do an immense service to this country by trying to persuade these individuals to do the right thing, rather than crying wolf like the shepherd who chose to do it so many times for fun that there was nothing to make his cry credible when it really mattered.







Lampooning presidents, prime ministers and politicians is the very stuff, indeed the soul, of journalism. There is no such thing as positive journalism, a notion put about, mostly in a whining manner, by government information departments. Journalism is at its most responsible when it is explosive and incendiary, shaking people out of accepted modes of thinking. It is at its most irresponsible when it follows the dotted line.

Demagogues and second-rate politicians play to the gallery or dance to the tune of public opinion. The journalist with some respect for his calling looks at the other side of the coin. Priests and other doctors of the cloth may deal in the currency of faith. Indeed, where would they be without it? The journalist treads on less hallowed ground. His primary tool is language for without it he would be like a soldier unskilled in the use of arms. But his highest education is in doubt and cynicism, (which cannot be cultivated without the widest possible reading).

The journalist points the path to no celestial heaven. His Valhalla is in the here and now. Good intentions he leaves to professional charity workers, those in the NGO trade or to politicians contesting elections. For he knows where the best of intentions so often lead.

The world of the hooker and the policeman he understands. Pomposity and self-righteousness, cant and humbug, and all declarations of excessive virtue bring a smile to his lips.

Falstaff, Shakespeare's comic hero, was no journalist although if he had been around, with his jaundiced views on life he would be hailed as the unrivalled prophet of journalism. The high priest of the calling, however, would have to be the American H. L. Mencken (who flourished in the first quarter of the last century) who could make fun of presidents and politicians, and journalists, like no one else. To read Mencken even a century later is to get an education into what journalism, if touched by the gods, can be.

Journalism is flourishing in Pakistan today but of what kind is it? Is it a source of enlightenment or a primary cause of national confusion? Is it deflating pomposity and nailing humbug, or promoting hypocrisy and sanctimonious thinking?

Some idea of what this phenomenon is we can get from some of the knights of the profession. Modesty is not one of their primary failings. They give the impression as if they are somehow possessed of the ultimate truth`; that they hold a net of commandments in their hands and are thereby entitled to bestow the titles of virtue and sin, the mantles of heroism and villainy, in whichever direction their unqualified wisdom dictates.

In the hands of these knights a news report is not a news report unless it is laced with editorial opinion of the strongest kind, expressed in language which, more often than not, leaves much to be desired. We have known many forms of arrogance: military, civilian, and bureaucratic, not to mention the arrogance of self-appointed arbiters of the faith. The arrogance we now face is of a different kind and it comes from what can loosely be called media jehadis, who are as destructive in their own fashion as the Taliban.

Whatever the exalted view that they may have of themselves, what they have helped create is a climate of uncertainty in which the first casualty is democratic stability. They rail against corruption and talk of cleansing the national stables but their real target is President Asif Ali Zardari. We all know that with his colourful past and his familiarity with Swiss bank accounts, Zardari makes for an easy target. But the point lost on our new jehadis is that our national woes did not begin with him and will not end with his departure from the office he holds.

There is another uncomfortable truth to confront. Zardari, whether one likes him or not, is elected President of Pakistan. And he was elected by no process of chicanery but by the freely-expressed wish of a large majority of the presidential electoral college, a choice not forced upon parliament and the provincial assemblies but a choice they freely made. We can regret the choice but we have to live with it.

If anyone, or a combination of any forces, is out to remove him (or get him), there is a path delineated by the Constitution: impeachment. If there are the numbers, and the resolve, to impeach him, this path is there to follow. But if the prerequisites are missing, then good sense and a sense of realism demand that the windmills of conspiracy should take a break and the new jehadis, wiping some of the froth from their mouths, should rein in their ambitions.

Zardari is going to do us no Roman favour. He is not going to fall upon his sword. He is not going to take a helicopter out of the Presidency and catch a plane for Dubai. This is not going to happen. So the temperature of things should come down. And we should return to the working of the Constitution and the logical playing out of the political process.

It would help if Zardari and government were to conduct themselves better and curb the urge, which periodically overtakes them, to shoot themselves in the foot. But even if this tendency is not checked it doesn't mean we cripple or traumatise the political system.

Zardari is no one's idea of an angel. But then what is the strength of angels in the Islamic Republic? Khan Roedad Khan is a friend but when he assumes the mantle of champion of civil liberties even the gods are provoked to laughter. Dr Mubashir Hasan has always been a serious man with the best intentions. We know where they led when he oversaw nationalisation in the 1970s.

Zardari has a past. But who in the current pantheon -- politician, tycoon or even jurisprudential giant -- is without some kind of a past or the other? All their lordships in the Supreme Court once-upon-a-time were counted as PCO judges, taking oath at the altar of Musharraf's first PCO. But no one is saying that because of that they should commit hara-kiri. On the contrary, the nation is wishing them well and urging them to do their best in the performance of their duties (although, at the same time, earnestly wishing that their lordships would refrain from the temptation of fixing the prices of such things as sugar and petroleum).

There's another thing we shouldn't forget. When Benazir Bhutto was assassinated many political parties thought that there was no point in participating in the elections. Even the PML-N, thinking that an election under Musharraf would be an exercise in futility, was in favour of a boycott. At that juncture the most powerful voice urging everyone to participate was Asif Zardari's. Bizarre as it may seem, if there has to be a father chosen for the Feb 2008 elections it is Zardari.

We should get our history straight. The lawyers' movement weakened Musharraf. But it did not strip Musharraf of his uniform and it did not lead to the restoration of the Musharraf-ousted judiciary. The judges were restored by the political process as exemplified by Nawaz Sharif's leadership of the long march. My lawyer friends may not like it but it was that (Nawaz Sharif's leadership), Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's counselling and the strategic intervention on the part of the army chief, Gen Kayani, which restored the judges.

Politicians have been short-sighted in the past but for the most part they are behaving maturely now. Like every party, the PML-N has its share of hawks who see things in black and white. But the overriding sentiment within the party is that come what may, and whatever the charge sheet against an individual, the country cannot afford another derailment of democracy. The person who has done the most to hold the line is Nawaz Sharif. He may have been anything in the past, and his record may have much that may be open to criticism, but in the afternoon of his years it is hard to deny that he is conducting himself like a statesman.

All this is surely not to the liking of the new jehadis. But then it is their turn to grow up and start behaving maturely.









The article is a continuation of the piece published yesterday in which the writer had a look at the problems facing Pakistan in the region.

Despite concoction and contrivance, India has failed to implicate Pakistan and prove to the world that the bombing of Taj Hotel was state-sponsored. Yet the dust kicked and diplomatic offensive launched touched near warlike situation. India took the matter to the UN to seek condemnation and resolution. We have irrefutable evidence of Indian hand in the killings inside our borders. The interior minister is specific and conscientious to claim that India is to blame for the mayhem. The Punjab chief minister, overstepping and overstretching his domain though, has claimed and confirmed Indian involvement. Yet our foreign minister is reluctant to name it. Such ineptitude by us is emboldening the adversary. Luring comments and soothing statements by our rulers cannot deter India's intentions to violate and weaken our sovereignty.

Pakistan has vital interests and serious stakes in Afghanistan. Those detesting the doctrine of strategic depth (since abandoned by our so-called contemporary strategists) may draw pleasure by playing opposite, the initiative has been wrested by India. Located geographically to our east, India has moved physically and strategically towards our western borders as well. It has established a strong base to cause us afflictions. Twisting our tail it can hit the nail in our head. Only a simpleton could consider India to be a threat no longer. It is an illusion. With north in snow and south in sea, India now occupying both its eastern and western flanks, Pakistan can ill-afford to be content or complacent for its security concerns.

Instead of fighting the US war and sinking further and deeper into the quagmire, Pakistan must:

a. Evolve its own Afghan policy based on national interests, popular aspirations and collective wisdom through parliament.

b. Seek OIC's assistance as was done in the 80s against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and China can help coordinate and contribute in our efforts for peace in Afghanistan.

c. Approach the UN for deployment of its peace-keeping force (instead of NATO-ISAF) to stabilise Afghanistan internally. These UN forces may comprise non-regional and preferably Muslim countries.

d. Convince the US that by becoming its ally, Pakistan, as in the past, has suffered enough. We have paid a heavy price. It is now its turn to give enough military and economic assistance. The US must prevail on India to resolve our long-standing mutual disputes, including Kashmir.

Americans travelling in unregistered vehicles with illegal weapons within our territory are ruling our seas and skies as well. Misusing their immunity, the defying diplomats treat our law-enforcement personnel with contempt. Reportedly, taking over and seizure of our nuclear assets by highly-trained US special forces have already been rehearsed to perfection.

The Nehru family in India and the Bhutto clan in Pakistan have the instinct and an evident air of hereditary regency and regalia. The latter appease the former, occasionally, as if they are pleasing an akin-ruler or a neighbouring king. Remember Senior Bhutto's founding declaration of the 'dynastic rule', "udhar tum, idhar hum", and Begum Nusrat Bhutto (may the ailing elderly lady live long and happy) ordaining, "Bhutto boys are born to rule"? Consider and compare royal lineage and ascent equivalence bar of both the royalties: Indira versus Bhutto, Indira's son versus Bhutto's daughter and now Indira's daughter-in-law versus Bhutto's son-in-law -- both lateral entrants grafted into the respective royalties!

Musharraf sold and surrendered our sovereignty with stated aims to (a) safeguard our nuclear assets and (b) keep the Kashmir issue alive. Mr Zardari and his dispensation, before going into oblivion after being de-throned, seem poised to surrender these two, too.


The writer is a former minister. Email:







If one could construct a real end-of-history scenario, the landlocked country on Pakistan's northwest frontier will hold the singular distinction of remaining an unconquerable land through the centuries. Furthermore, it would also win a second prize as the only country which gave the appearance of being an easy prey at first sight, alluring its invaders, who would arrive without much difficulty, but only to discover that they can neither subjugate the Afghans nor leave their land at will.

Such has been the fate of successive invaders--from the Median and Persian armies to that of Alexander. All invaders of this unconquerable land have found this to be true. This has included the Seleucids, the successive waves of Indo-Greek, Turkish, and Mongol armies. And such was the fate of the Soviet army, and there is no reason to believe that history will not repeat itself in the case of the American-led NATO force now occupying Afghanistan. It is already clear that this occupying army cannot leave at will, just as all previous invaders could not. Thus, July 2011 may be a date marked on President Obama's calendar; it is nowhere marked on any Afghan calendar.

Obviously, President Obama did not have Afghanistan as focus in his History 101 class, but it is never too late to brush up, especially for a man who has been singled out by the Nobel Committee for a peace prize based on a noble deed he has yet to perform. If change is still his defining slogan, then President Obama should quickly realise that he himself is the first person who needs to change. And if that really happens, and he changes to such an extent that he can see reality as it really is, he would immediately realise that his soldiers cannot leave Afghanistan at will.

Once this realisation sinks in, he will find something much greater to work with: Afghanistan's future is now irrevocably entwined with Pakistan's future. This stark fact of contemporary geopolitics is a logical extension of the post-2001 events. And it holds tremendous importance for the entire region. Afghanistan is no more a mountain-bound 647,500 square kilometres of rough terrain, where some 28 million poor, uneducated, and resource-less people live, as the State Department would have us believe. Rather, Afghanistan is now a place about which nothing can be decided without deciding the same for Pakistan.

This linkage is not merely through the poorly organised Taliban, nor because of the tribal groups operating on both sides of the border, but is a direct result of American follies in the region and the misdeeds of Pakistani charlatans who sided with the Americans for whatever reasons they had for their misdeeds.

Pakistan at the end of 2009 stands at a crossroads like it never has. The new realities of Pakistan's increasingly tragic and volatile situation are emerging so rapidly that all forecasts and strategic planning falls off the tracks by the sheer force of events. Those who played the gods and brought Benazir Bhutto back through a deal had thought they have a perfect second run on home ground. Her sudden departure and equally sudden rise of a man they never wanted to deal with made short work of their strategic planning, but the change did nothing to avert the integration of Pakistan's future with Afghanistan's past. In fact, it accelerated the process through an ever-expanding engagement of the Pakistani army in the conflict that remains, primarily, a war arising out Afghanistan's occupation of by a foreign army in the centuries-old tradition of invaders of that unconquerable land.

One cannot expect much by way of foresight and strategic vision from the Pakistani leadership if sixty years of Pakistani history are any indicator. But one hopes that the illusion of victory through a possible surge of troops is, deep down in the hearts of President Obama and his team, just that: an illusion.

That both the historical depth and on-ground realities can teach them that with each passing day, they are sinking in a marsh, even as they might have the illusion of swimming; that they are, in fact, digging their heals in sand deeper and deeper and the only logical outcome of their stay in Afghanistan is a catastrophic expansion of the locale of this war of death and destruction further south, into the very heart of Pakistan. And if this is allowed to happen for an extended period of time, no one will be able to put this genie back in the bottle.

The Afghan-Pak genie may already be out of control, but one hopes, against hope, that this is not the case. That there is some way of putting it back in the bottle and that American thinkers will recognise that what they have not been able to do in Afghanistan cannot be done by the Pakistani army in the south.

One hopes that there are enough minds and hearts in the inner chambers of the White House (even though it was not meant to be occupied by such people, in the first place) and the Pentagon who realise this fundamental reality of the Afghan quagmire. One hopes that what is written on the wall is legible for those who are making decisions of immense proportions and consequences for generations to come.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







A few days ago, I found myself in a room full of people who agreed that Karachi "has been turned around" and now "looks like a reasonably functioning city." This impression had been brought about someone's recent visit to the same city where gun-battles had claimed 28 lives in July, where news of the death of Rehman Dakait brought out tens of thousands of mourners to offer his namaz-e-janaza, where over half its people live in slums and where water is now critically short in supply. A strange opinion to hold, given the circumstances, I thought, and wondered what criterion must be applied for someone to completely overlook the real issues that face a city.

City Nazim Mustafa Kamal is energetic and full of ideas. No doubt he has, in many ways, transformed the city of Karachi. Of course, he also had, during his soon-to-expire term, the backing and political will necessary to shape the infrastructure of a mega-city. But Nazim Mustafa Kamal will also be the first to tell you his job isn't even half done: Over half the city lives in slums and katchi abadis; water – one of the prerequisites of a safe habitat – is in scarce supply; there is insufficient public transport, crime is rampant and social inequality growing. Given the circumstances, it takes quite an imagination to conclude that Karachi is "like a reasonably functioning city."

Far too many people who matter – like, sadly, the ones discussing the "transformation" of Karachi – have far too much a say in the planning and development of our cities. If the criterion of a working city for, say, the chief secretary of Punjab happens to be how long it takes it for him to get from home to work and then to the golf club, then Lahore is a great city. If, for example, the commander of the 4th Corps in Lahore thinks that the customers of a bakery on the route between the airport and the city pose a "security threat" to passing VIPs, then, come hell or high water, green belts will be ripped up, trees uprooted, walls built and "security" ensured.

The great road-builders, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Khadim-e-Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, when last in control of the city of Lahore, built wide boulevards from the airport to Model Town and from there to the meetha doodh shops in Purani Anarkali; an overpass called "Honey" Bridge; and, of course, a Motorway to work in Islamabad. The city of Lahore must have functioned pretty well for them. The master property developers, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat -- thinking that marathons, basant, pilgrims from India and the money from Dubai and Abu Dhabi would keep property prices afloat forever -- threw billions of rupees on the developing the Lahore Canal Bank into an inner-city highway when the city was begging for sewage treatment plants and public transport. Like nowhere else as in Pakistan does political power (and all the folly that is born under its patronage) manifest itself in urban planning. I rest my case referring to the KPT fountain in Karachi.

There is much wrong with such a state of affairs. Jane Jacobs, whose book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in the early 1960s, challenged the very foundations upon which the theory of urban planning rested, insisted that, first and foremost, a city is a place of people and, therefore, urban planning must be about people. The heart of this sentiment, according to Jacobs, is not some sort of liberal utopian ideal but a question of property rights.

Few recognise that power manifests itself in our cities in things such as zoning of areas as "residential," "commercial" or "industrial." Since when did it become permissible to tell a person what he could or could not do on with his property? It seems because the people who matter, the people who have far too much say in our urban planning, believe that a "residential area" should be devoid of the ugly face of commerce and free of the congestion and litter that plague our "commercial areas."

Islamabad is a perfectly good example of this. Barring exceptions, residential areas are clearly marked, as are market areas. While this may seem, on first glance, the reason why Islamabad appears to be one of the most orderly and "clean" cities in Pakistan, few understand this is not the case. Islamabad is orderly and clean because it is heavily patronised and subsidised, as are all other urban schemes in this country, to some degree or the other. How else can a city like Islamabad survive, a city which is fast running out of drinking water (largely because everyone waters their lawn and washes their car in it). The fact that the CDA has proposed digging a canal from Ghazi Barotha (while not doing a thing to promote water conservation) is an indication of the type of patronage and subsidy Islamabad enjoys.

Likewise, the DHA in Lahore is a pretty place to live, but few consider the hidden cost of petrol-consumed commuting to and from the rest of the city, and almost no one seems to care about how deep the tube-wells there have now had to be sunk in order to reach clean water.

Despite the best of intentions, it is the "control" of urban planning that segregates work and home which, more than anything, is responsible for the need for motorised transport. The further work is from home, the more you need public transport; and, if there isn't any, a car. Because none of our cities has effective public transport, because we are only now coming to grips with several years of easy credit and the leased automobiles, we have traffic.

The solution given by the people who have too much say – widen roads – doesn't go an iota towards addressing the problems of congestion, let alone solving them. It does, however, explain completely their values and morals when it comes to the environment.

Traffic woes are relieved by allowing mixed-use residential areas and working to reducing the need for motorised transport. Traffic is relieved by public transport (including, importantly, taxis) and by measures such as congestion-charging, traffic management and provision for alternative transport modes (cycles). But for that to happen, the "control" over urban planning has to end. For that to happen, the whole urban planning paradigm has to be changed to make it follow commands from the bottom up, rather than from above, as it does now. Our cities will work only if the people who have too much say in planning them consider something other than their drive from the airport to Sindh Club before concluding Karachi "looks like a reasonably functioning city."

The unwarranted "control" over urban planning is destroying our cities and making them unliveable. At a time when, in less than a decade, over half of all Pakistanis will live in urban areas, an understanding of urban planning is paramount. Not just for the Pakistani economy, but also for its people. Yet it is nowhere to be found. I rest my case with the fact that, six months into the financial year, the Lahore Development Authority still hasn't submitted its statutorily required annual budget. Follow the LDA's source of funds, and you'll find the people who "control" the city.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:








On this day, the 25th of December, we go through the annual ritual of heaping accolades and praise on the founder of the nation. If we go beyond lip service, we would do well to remember that Mohammad Ali Jinnah as, above all, a man of the law who deeply believed in constitutional governance.

Today his successors, in office if not in stature, appear determined to resist the rule of law. The Supreme Court is not a collection of individuals with human frailties but an institution that interprets the Constitution and determines its application. In democratic governance, its orders are the law. Any defiance of it amounts to undermining democracy and its legal underpinnings.

The prime minister has clearly stated that he does not intend to write to the Swiss courts to restart cases against President Zardari. And, despite specific direction by the Supreme Court, no progress is visible regarding changes in the NAB hierarchy or starting legal proceedings against the former attorney general, Malik Qayyum.

Some voices from the civil society and opinion writers are questioning aspects of this decision. They have every right to. The Supreme Court is not infallible and can err in interpreting law. It can also go beyond its constitutional mandate and needs to be reminded of it.

But while this luxury is available to the general public and the media, the government is duty bound to implement the court decision, in letter and spirit. Under Article 190 of the Constitution, all state authorities have to aid the Supreme Court. Not doing so is a violation of the Constitutions and an offence that has seen governments dismissed in the past. By taking this route, the Gilani government is on the path of self-destruction.

Some government people have argued that since President Zardari has immunity under Article 248, and, in international practice, has something called sovereign immunity, a reference cannot be made to the Swiss courts. They also feel that posting and transfer of officials and other such matters are strictly in the executive domain.

Fair enough. If the government genuinely feels that there are difficulties in implementing the court decision, it should move an application before it or ask for a review of the judgement. What it cannot do is to unilaterally choose which aspect of the decision to implement and which not to.

If governments start to judge court decisions themselves to determine their legal veracity, there will be chaos. It will be a sure sign of the collapse of constitutional governance. And that, as we know in our context, is asking for trouble.

The stage is set for the clash of institutions to unfold. Within a day or two, either someone will move a contempt application before the Supreme Court or the court itself will take notice of the non implementation of its decision and seek an explanation from the government.

If the court is not satisfied, the onus will clearly be on Prime Minister Gilani and he will have to answer the court. Let us not forget that in 1998 the Supreme Court summoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and he appeared before it. The same thing may happen again.

What if the court does not find the government explanation satisfactory and holds it derelict or in contempt? What consequences will then follow? The Supreme Court has no force of its own to implement its decisions but it can ask any other state authority to do so. Is the government willing to take that chance?

It is difficult to know what exactly transpired in the PPP CEC, meeting but it is obvious that a decision was made to go on the offensive. This has translated in practical terms to casting aspersions on the court, dragging in the army, playing the so-called Sindh Card, and pleading that it is the sole object of victimisation. A determined assault has also been launched on the media, and in particular against the Jang group.

Some of the allies have also been roped in to further this strategy. Fazlur Rehman, the man with the ample girth and a huge ability to keep filling it, said in one of the talk shows that the Supreme Court is acting on the behest of the army. Others directly or indirectly affiliated with the government have also begun to say similar things.

I suppose that, given our history, conspiracy theories are inevitable. But it stretches the imagination to believe that the 17-member bench of the Supreme Court has no mind of its own as Fazlur Rehman implies.

As regards the army, it would be prudent at a time when its soldiers are giving the ultimate sacrifice for the country, to have some restraint. If Fazlur Rehman and others have some evidence, by all means produce it, but if there is none, please spare insinuation and innuendos about the armed forces in a time of war.

The most bizarre aspect of what is passing for a strategy in the Gilani government is its attitude towards the other major political force, the PML-N. When the prime minister met Mr Shehbaz Sharif, all seemed to be well. Yet, on the same day, the Punjab governor unleashed a broadside on the Sharifs. What is going on?

We are told that in the first week of January a joint session of the parliament is being called to pass some constitutional amendments. As far as I know, this is not the constitutional way, as both the National Assembly and the Senate have to separately approve any changes in the Constitution through a two-thirds majority.

But besides the procedural question, how will anything move forward, if these two parties are gunning for each other in public? And what kind of self-defeating strategy is this for the PPP anyway? It needs the support of all the political forces and yet, it is determined to alienate the one party that can be its most potent ally.

There is a theory making the rounds in Islamabad that President Zardari has decided that if he goes down, he is going to take everything down with him. According to this version, he has instructed Prime Minister Gilani to resign in case he is disqualified, and perhaps something similar may be done in Sindh. If Gilani resigns the entire government collapses, leaving a huge vacuum.

If this is indeed true, we are heading for a potential breakdown of the system. No one knows whether it will ever come to President Zardari's disqualification, but if it does, are we headed in the direction of total chaos! That is the last thing we need at such a difficult time for the nation.

It is time we understood that individuals are not more important than institutions. The PPP is an asset of this nation. It cannot allow its mandate to be thwarted because of certain individuals. No one today is bigger than the party.









On Christmas this year, my heart goes out to the families, relatives and friends of those innocent Christian Pakistanis who suffered death, destruction and gross injustice at the hands of misguided fanatics brandishing batons, clubs and guns all over Pakistan. They attacked the Christian community in Gojra, Toba Tek Singh, resulting in seven deaths and causing severe damage to property. This was the bloodiest in the series of attacks on Christians and their neighbourhoods and villages across the country, particularly in Punjab. In March, a woman was killed in Gujranwala when the community was protesting against the encroachment on a piece of land owned by the local church. In April, Karachi witnessed the death of a young man in Taiser Town. In September, Robert Masih, a poor teenager, was found dead while in jail.

In other attacks, people were wounded and their belongings were either looted or set on fire. As far as I could recall, this happened in Chak 90 of Sahiwal in May, in village Bahmianwala of Kasur in June and in Korian in July. There was an incident in Quetta also where four Christian young men were killed but apparently it was the result of the ethnic-based violence. There are frequent reports of Hindus being treated shabbily in some parts of Sindh although the incidents are not as bloody and widespread as against Christians in Punjab. Sikhs were dislodged by extremists in the north-west of the country and besides the killing of two Ahmadis in Sindh, some students of the Ahmadiya community were rusticated from an educational institution in Faisalabad.

There is no denying the fact that Shia-Sunni strife has caused many more deaths than those of non-Muslims. Indiscriminate terror attacks made more than 11,000 Pakistanis lose their lives in the last four years. Brutality and terrorism have to be condemned in all shapes and forms. But the violence against non-Muslim Pakistanis has another dimension. The discrimination is now embedded in our constitution and law books besides the dated and prejudiced curriculum taught in schools and colleges. This relegates them to being second-class citizens. Not only what is being legitimised in Pakistan is against the spirit of any faith, including Islam, but also against the thinking and wishes of the founder of this country whose own birth anniversary falls on the Christmas day. On many occasions he clearly spelled out the right of non-Muslim Pakistanis to be equal citizens in the state of Pakistan.

It is a fad among the liberals and the semi-literate intelligentsia to castigate Jinnah for all our ills rather than the perpetual failure of the ruling elite to govern in this country since his death. On the other hand, religious right tries to appropriate Jinnah and doctor his progressive ideals. He is misquoted and misinterpreted by many observers, whether from the bigoted right, progressive left or those waging just struggles for the rights of provinces. Like any other politician he committed mistakes and one may not agree with all of his positions. But that man of integrity is continued to be betrayed by our elite.

The dilapidated Quaid-e-Azam House Museum in Karachi, which I visited last week with a colleague, is a reflection of what importance Jinnah really enjoys. Neither there is water to maintain the lawn nor does the building structure is lit up in the night. Remember, we do have resources to build lush green parks by the sea in posh neighbourhoods and maintain a palatial Governor's House in the vicinity.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: harris@spopk. org








IT is good of the Prime Minister that at least he thought it appropriate to convene a meeting to review progress on the all important Diamer-Bhasha Dam. But the meeting apparently failed to produce any tangible outcome except formation of another Committee to address the issues involved and a sermon by the chief executive to prioritise implementation of the project.

In his address to the nation on January 17, 2006 the then President announced construction of five multi-purpose water reservoirs over the next ten to twelve years. Though Kalabagh Dam project was ripe for initiation yet the then Government did not accord priority to the project as some vested interests had politicized it because of selfish and parochial motives and the present Government had publicly announced to discard it once for all. Anyhow, the then Government decided that in the first phase work on Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be undertaken and the then President formally inaugurated the work. It is, however, regrettable that the former rulers could not pay due attention to the project for various reasons and the present Government too appears to be giving no priority to the Dam, the construction of which has become a dire need. Diamer-Bhasha Dam would not only help ease the power shortage as it would be producing 4500 MW of electricity but would also meet irrigation needs during critical periods. Additionally it would slow down the silting in Tarbela and stir up enormous economic activities in backward area of the country. It is regrettable to point out that our leadership lacks the vision to comprehend fully the future requirements of the country in different fields, allocate resources on a priority basis for projects of urgent nature and squeeze some time from gossips to remove bureaucratic and other bottlenecks in the way of speedy implementation of such projects. We wish they should learn from the Chinese experience and model and one such example is the 7,000 kilometre Trans-Asian energy pipeline, which has been completed within just three years. We fear that further delay in implementation of the Dam would not only result in massive escalation in its cost of $ 12.6 billion but also compound economic woes of the country. The Prime Minister should, therefore, personally monitor its progress to ensure time-bound implementation of different phases of the project.








THE Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has given a final warning to persons who got their loans written off to return the looted money or face action. The Supreme Court on Wednesday too in its usual words of wisdom made classic remarks asking the Government to ponder over the appointment of the eunuchs for the recovery of huge bank loans from defaulters. Though the three member bench of the apex court did not go into details yet it is understood that it had in mind the total failure of the government machinery and collapse of the existing system in recovery of bank loans.

Recovery of bank loans from defaulters has become an important national issue. The State Bank in its report to the Supreme Court disclosed that over nineteen thousand people got their loans written off totalling Rs 194 billion betwen 1997 and 2009.The Central Bank has also been directed by the apex court to submit another list of such loans from 1971 to 1977 that would give a whole picture as to how much the country's wealth has been plundered by the high and mighty. The loans had been taken from the nationalized commercial banks, agricultural and other banks and financial institutions meant for the country's development. If one adds Rs 500 billion annual tax evasion, as estimated by the Finance Minister, mostly by the very same persons who are bank loan defaulters, the losses go into trillions of rupees. Had these loans been repaid, and given to genuine borrowers for setting up industries, they would have created more jobs and increased exports. But the unreturned loans stagnated economic activity in the country and we are in a difficult situation today. Credit goes to the Honourable Chief Justice that he took notice of this massive plunder and obviously annoyed over the inefficiency of the state machinery remarked to give this duty to eunuchs. We hope that the observations by the Chief Justice would be taken as a wake-up call and the authorities would draw up a foolproof mechanism to recover the entire looted money and avoid such unethical practices in the future as the country cannot afford to have this repeated all over again.







IT is customary to hold functions to mark the birth anniversary of the founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah where speakers pay tributes to the legendary personality who carved out the largest Muslim State on the map of the world without firing a single shot. And as usual, Radio and TV channels would come out with programmes and newspapers with special supplements to throw light on different aspects of the life of the Quaid.

It is true that celebration and observance of such days helps put the focus back on life, teachings, ideals, vision and philosophy of our founding fathers but regrettably in our context this has become a mere routine and formality devoid of the spirit to carry forward their mission with commitment and vigour. We are sorry to point out that the authorities have put the real message of the Quaid on the back-burner. There is consensus that the vision of the Quaid about Pakistan had three elements to turn Pakistan into (i) Islamic, (ii) Democratic and (iii) Welfare State. A cursory glance would show that not to speak of realization of this cherished goal, we have even not moved effectively towards achievement of any one of them. Pakistan today is neither a genuine Islamic nor a real democratic State and there is no iota of the concept of a welfare State visible if one goes by the model set by the Scandinavian countries, which they borrowed from our early Muslim Caliphates. Though the Constitution too acknowledges it an Islamic State and there are sufficient provisions to promote and strengthen the Islamic identity yet regrettably these remain unimplemented like many other provisions of the document. Democracy too could not take roots here because of palatial conspiracies, lust for power and lack of maturity on the part of our leadership. It is time to rededicate ourselves to the vision of the Quaid and take practical measures to translate his dream into reality.









When India finally became free of foreign rule in 1947,more than 80% of the population was illiterate.The need was for numbers. To train hundreds of thousands of engineers,doctors and other specialists so as to meet the needs of the population. Hundreds of new universities were set up, and by the end of the 1990s, India was turning out more than two million technically qualified people each year,higher than any other country,including China. Even by the 1970s, doctors and engineers from India had spread across the world, earning respect for the Indian passport that predated the boost in image caused by the tech boom of the 1990s. There was no doubt that overall,the quality of professional education in India was good.The doctors and engineers trained within India could hold their own with those who studied in the US or the EU.

However,there was a problem. Although the average level of skills was high,there were almost no "peaks". Although one-sixth of the world's population was from India,yet the country's contribution to significant discoveries was almost nil.There were hardly any Nobel Prizes,the few getting them studying and working in laboratories abroad,such as this year's V Ramakrishnan in Chemistry. The Indian education system promoted quality at the expense of excellence. Students who were brilliant and creative found that they were being stifled by a rule-bound system that discouraged innovation. Once a student entered into a "stream" ( technical,medical or the humanities) in high school, he or she was stuck in that till the doctorate level. Unlike in the US,where there exists flexibility in courses,and where an outstanding student gets special attention,in India,such a student often gets regarded as a disruptive influence,and is sought to be brought down to the level of the rest of the class. Hence the reasonWhy India still depends on foreign countries for so much of its R & D,and why indigenisation has failed so spectacularly Of course,this does not worry many policymakers. Minister of State for External Affairs Sashi Tharoor,for instance,calls those seeking to make India self-reliant as "nationalists" who hold India back from the inevitable globalisation. Tharoor himself has spent most of his life abroad, and hence has escaped the effect that education in India has on initiative and in the willingness to experiment with new ideas.

His impatience with local conditions is therefore understandable, and is shared by the new Education Minister,Kapil Sibal, a successful lawyer who has been seeking the past year to reform the Indian education system. However,he is facing resistance from the many whose careers and whose fortunes would be affected by change. Today, the immense regulatory framework of Indian education has spawned corruption and sloth. Academic freedom is non-existent,and attempts at excellence and innovation are slapped down. Many within the regulatory agencies have enriched themselves, giving sanction to undeserving institutions on payment of bribes. It is such people who are resisting Kapil Sibal as he seeks change.

In India, as in Pakistan, selection to key committees depends on personal friendships rather than on professional expertise. The National Security Advisory Board is an example. The NSAB was set up to provide advice on security issues,and meets each month (if not more often).The members get to stay in 5-star hotels and travel Business Class on aircraft,and each meeting costs the Indian taxpayer millions of rupees. However, very little enlightenment comes out of such deliberations,for the reason that almost all the members have been chosen because of their personal connections. Each National Security Advisor fills the NSAB with friends and admirers, thus repaying old favours and generating new ones. Those who are honest in their criticisms, or are not favourites at the darbars of the powerful,get ignored. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has followed precedent in ensuring that several of his old friends have gotten accomodated in key committees An example is the Education Committee set up under the chairmanship of a close friend of the Prime Minister, Dr Yash Pal. Although Manmohan Singh is regarded as a friend of the private sector,the same cannot be said of the venerable Dr Yash Pal,who has spent his life in government service and clearly has a distaste for anything private.

He has therefore severely downlayed the extent to which the private sector can be an instrument of educational reform. The Education Committee Chairman dislikes the private sector, and it is therefore no accident that the past months have seen multiple attacks on the autonomy and rights of private education providers in India, both in school as well as in the college sector. Such "sarkari" types forget that the government-run institutions are themselves cesspools of corruption,and that there are several cases when well-functioning private institutions have been proceeded against,because they refused to bribe those in charge of the education sector.

By giving the responsibility for framing a higher education policy to an individual who is obsessed with governmental solutions, Prime Minister Singh has answered the question of why there has been no progress in the education sector, during his six years and counting as Prime Minister of India. Unless he breaks out of the sociology that confines itself only to friends and admirers,and looks for talent from elsewhere than within such ranks, Manmohan Singh will not succeed in creating the "education revolution" favoured by Kapil Sibal Sibal is trying to see that the all-powerful (and in many cases corrupt) regulatory bodies that control accreditation to medical and technical education in India are either removed or have their powers diluted.This stand has put him at odds with several politicians and officials,who are each making millions of rupees each year because of the vast powers the regulatory bodies have. However, unless he succeeds, Indian higher education will continue to be bereft of excellence,except in a few pockets such as the Indian Institutes of Technology. Another necessary step is to create a framework for foreign universities to come to India.At present,nearly 300,000 students go from India to other countries to study each year,at a cost of $12 billion. They seek the flexibility and excellence of institutions in the US,the EU abnd elsewhere. Should Kapil Sibal succeed in convincing the Prime Minister to back him in his efforts at getting foreign universities to set up campuses in India, then India could become a major international education provider,earning rather than losing billions of dollars each year. Standards in many parts of India are far better than in countries such as Australia (where racial attacks on Indian students has multiplied), but the complex web of controls that is shackling Indian education needs to be lifted. Education Minister Sibal is seeking just that,and hopefully he will succeed Although as yet there have not been any "Big Bang" reforms,yet in some fields,there has been progress.An example is the 2002 policy of introducing free internet capability in religious schools. Such facilities give the students access to information beyond that purveyed by their teachers. That year,the government also went ahead with providing religious schools with teachers in English and other subjects, so that graduates of such institutions would acquire the skills needed to compete in the job market.A purely religious education results in a very limited access to the job market in India,and consequent frustration. Every student in India needs to have an education that is modern and which gives her or him skills that are useful in a modern economy. This includes familiarity with computers and the internet. Hopefully, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will look beyond the narrow circle of his friends and admirers to identify those who can suggest education reforms. Hoopefully, he will ensure that his government puts in place such reforms. For that is the only ,way to generate more Indian Nobel Prizes, more cutting-edge R&D in India, so that the country develops an education sector as modern as its Information Technology industry.







In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's judgment on NRO when the accountability courts are putting the heat on Zardari and some of his henchmen who are virtually ruling the country holding the most important and sensitive positions in the Presidency and the cabinet , the government is getting destabilized and its image is getting murky worldwide. The Supreme Court has ordered that the cases of corruption against them should be reopened and pursued without any loss of time.

The perception of corruption against PPP leaders and civil servants working under them which had become dim with the passage of time has become loud and clear with the judgment given by the highest court in the land. The culprits have no escape now from the ignominy written large on their foreheads. The honorable way out for them is to resign, as suggested by their senior leader Aitzaz Ahsan, and fight out their cases courageously and boldly. Prime Minister Gilani, who, being in the clear, had accepted the court's verdict with dignity and aplomb, but as the pressure from President Zardari and his henchmen built around him he seems to have succumbed.President Zardari too, who is facing serious charges of corruption well publicized in Pakistani and international media will not be able to face world leaders with a bold face. Even if he decides to stay in his present position he will be a lame duck President. Nevertheless charms of the President's House are great, and the President has made a last ditch effort o survive and fight it out in courts as much as possible. He called a marathon meeting of PPP's central executive council to thrash out the future action plans to fight the cases while remaining in office. Majority of the members approved this plan and expressed their full confidence in President Zardari. He thanked the council for putting their confidence in him, saying that, "we have faced many challenges in the past and are ready to face them once again". There were nevertheless some strong voices of descent from PPP stalwart Aitzaz Ahsan. He was of the view that the resignation of the Interior Rehman Malik who is in the thick of things will relieve pressure on the government and the party. He also advised, as any top lawyer would, that the party leadership should avoid confrontation with the highly charged judiciary because it could prove detrimental for the government as well as the party.

Former information minister Sherry Rehman, who has her hand on the pulse of the media and Senator Raza Rabbani suggested that entire cabinet should be dissolved and replaced by a small, clean cabinet which should govern the country as long a as all the muck is filtered down the drains of accountability courts. This way the corrupt elements will remain busy in fighting their cases while the small but efficient cabinet will look after the governance of the country. This proposal seems to be the best so far, because the country is in great turmoil politically and economically, which requires constant vigilance by an honest and efficient government. As it is, the cabinet is so large, unwieldy and inefficient that even the prime minister probably does not remember the names of all his ministers let alone their performance. The nation expects President Zardari, on whom God in his mercy has bestowed the great honor to rule Pakistan, should put the country first, and PPP or any other interest second.

There is hardly any doubt that the judicial process triggered by NRO is likely to continue for quite a long time putting the country and the government in a mess. But one positive benefit which might by achieved will be to eliminate corrupt elements from society and the government which have been eating into the vitals of the nation.

NRO has in fact proved to be a double edged sword. It has failed to achieve the purpose for which it was conceived but has opened the way for the punishment of corrupt people in the government and the society at large.

The author of NRO, General Musharraf has now admitted that it was a mistake, like the dismissal of the Supreme Court judges which cost him his job. He wrote on the page of his Face book website. "The one clarification that I will make is that I committed this mistake on the strong advice of the political leadership at that time who now blatantly disowns connections with it. My interest was only national, with absolutely no personal bias or agenda."

He said he would have to keep a more detailed response pending for the time being 'because of certain political sensitivities'. However, he promised he would 'take the nation on board at the appropriate time'.

To a related question about the NRO bringing 'corrupt politicians to power' and allowing Zardari to be elected President, Musharraf wrote: "NRO may have allowed Asif Zardari or corrupt politicians to contest elections but it certainly was not the cause of their coming to power. NRO is not responsible for electing the PPP as the majority party or allowing Zardari to win an election.

"NRO is not responsible for corrupt politicians sitting in assemblies, or being appointed as ministers. All this happened through the votes of the people of Pakistan. NRO is not 'responsible for all parliamentarians of provincial and national assemblies and Senate having overwhelmingly voted for Asif Zardari as President. The nation has to learn to cast their votes for the right person and the right party," he added. Musharraf also defended the military operation in Lal Masjid. "The Lal Masjid operation is a case study of how an appropriately timed, meticulously planned and boldly executed operation launched in the supreme national interests who want to present it as a disaster."

He said a claim that hundreds of innocent people were killed was an "absolute lie". "Firstly, none of those killed were innocent. They were terrorists (including five foreigners) who took the law in their hands and killed a number of policemen, kidnapped and physically tortured Chinese citizens… Secondly, the numbers killed were 94 and not a single woman or child was killed. Musharraf is being battered right and left by politicians of all shades of opinions these days. But it is appropriate to project his point of view – right or wrong.







All events of human history have special bearings on the referenced place, time and people. Some episodes, however, transcend all such limits. Ideals pursued and sacrifices rendered in their pursuits put such events at high pedestal as emblem for generations to come. One such event in human history is the Tragedy of Karbala. Apparently the event relate to an area in Iraq, an Arab country, clan of Hashim and Muslims in particular, yet the special features of this event make it a universal event transcending petty limits of time, space and action. The scale of event is so gigantic that whole history of human achievements fails to produce its matching competitor in self-sacrifice, commitment to cause and respect to high ideals of human dignity and honour. Imam Hussain faced the utmost brutality with matching resilience. Cruelties perpetrated on house of Muhammad (PBUH) have no parallel in human history. By withstanding all the persecutions with grace and serenity the Imam set a standard for humanity as to who should be respected and emulated and who should be despised, hated and condemned.

Human nature feels concerned for the oppressed and have hatred for the oppressor. By bearing oppression in such and elegant manners Imam Hussain established himself as the leader of all the oppressed people of the world. He established the principle that oppression whoever may be committing is to be condemned and opposed by all means. By dint of his super human sacrifice Hussain has become the natural leader of all the oppressed and persecuted people on earth. Here the considerations of religion, time, space, colour and ethnicity do not hold. He is always dear to all the oppressed classes of the world. He is always a just and thoughtful example to emulate. The way Imam Hussain faced the coercion of Yazid, may God curse him, and his acolytes demonstrated that the Imam had a strong belief in the superiority of truth over falsehood. The Imam upheld the torch of Human values that were liked, respected and accepted in the fore corners of the world. In the plains of Karbala , the Imam, in fact on behalf of truth lovers of the whole world, fought the battle for human integrity, veracity and honesty. Wherever, truth and virtue is respected people will emulate his example to fight off despotism, terrorism and falsehood. Imam Hussain fought for the values that are universal in their appeal and are natural to human beings. In Karbala Hussain's truthfulness, honesty and fidelity were pitted against deception, duplicity and falsehood of Yazid as symbol of all the evils of that time.

Religions of the world work towards improving the morals of man and there also are certain standards of morality that are universal in their application and recognition. In Karbala , the Imam not only fought for the supremacy of pristine principles of the religion of his grandfather, Muhammad (PBUH), he also fought for universal human values. Yazid promoted a new religious, political and social values that went contrary to what Muhammad (PBUH) had taught which also contravened generally accepted human standards. This the great humanist would not tolerate. He stood against Yazid and sacrificed everything he had in the way of God to preserve the basic human standards, so that man could claim superiority over animals by remaining a good human being.

The Imam had to act. The Islamic edifice was being shaken to the ground. The very bases of its philosophy were being eroded. The integrity of our forefathers and the just and truthful companions of holy prophet was being questioned. The situation was taking a drastic turn. Any delay would cost Human race very dearly. It would be rubbed of a true and chosen religion. It would be condemned to eternal banishment. Whereas, the Imam was nurtured and groomed for such an eventuality, he rose to the occasion and true to his salt, acted timely and saved humanity from falling into the deep chasm of neglect, indifference and pity. This, however, wasn't a fight between two sects of Islam or between two religions. It was an epic battle between good and evil. As all religions of the world, in principle, stand for truth, uprightness, honesty and morality, the Imam has his protagonists all over the world in every religion. Anyone who is fighting against the evil has great example in Hussain to emulate.

Truth and falsehood can never go together; the battle between good and evil is eternal and is still going on. Hussain, therefore, is still relevant to the ever changing times. But for the time being, the evil unfortunately seems to be succeeding. Keeping in view his services to humanity the day of Hussain's martyrdom, the 10th of Muharram should have been an international mourning day. Hussain is being branded as only the leader of one sect of Muslims which is a great travesty of justice. A poet has rightly said:

"Let human race awake, then every nation will claim that Hussain is their leader." The martyrdom of Imam Hussain, commemorated dominantly by Shia community is an exception to the rule, otherwise, all the events in human history involving sacrifices made for humanity are being remembered by the entire human race without exception. One such example is the sacrifice rendered by the labourers on 1st May 1886 in Chicago . They were just demanding increase in wages and reduction in long working hours, when they were showered with bullets. There wasn't any apparent justification for such action in which dozens of people were killed and wounded. The demonstrators carried the blood stained shirts of the victims as flags and began their long drawn battle for deliverance. Since 1890, 1st May is commemorated all across the globe as an international day of laborers that signifies the beginning of their struggle for human rights. The sacrifice offered by Hussain for a greater human cause is not inferior in any respect. Instead, Hussain, here too was a forerunner and taught the labourers of Chicago through his own great example how to oppose the blood thirsty cronies of oppression. They finally succeeded following the footprints of Hussain and his companions on the sands of Karbala .

Once the world comes to realize the true dimensions of Imam Hussain's sacrifices, it will commemorate the 10th of Muharram as an international day of triumph of truth and Humanity over falsehood and despotism.







The Quaid once said that he was not a religious scholar, hence no authority on religious matters; yet views expressed by him on various occasions amply demonstrate, that he had deep in sight into Quranic concepts and teachings. Those who know him closely would vouchsafe that he was a perfectionist to the core and that he would never entertain any claim unless he was convinced of its legitimacy. Reproduced below are excerpts from his speeches to prove this point. This will also dispel the frivolous charge made by certain religious "heavy weights" who allege that since Jinnah was the product of western system of education, he was bereft of the true knowledge of Islam and its teachings:" I am not a 'moulvi" nor I claim to be an expert in theology.

However, I have tried, at my own, to understand Quran and the Islamic laws. In the teachings of this great book there is guidance for each and every aspect of human life, may be it is spiritual, social, political or economical all have been covered by it" (Address at the Usmania University ,Hyderabad,India-1941). "People criticize me alleging that I am not well acquainted with Islam. I. have studied Quran thoroughly and many a time. And when I declared that Islamic system would be established in Pakistan, It was not a mere slogan" ( Tolu-e Islam-February,1959). " You have requested me for giving you a message .What message can I give? For guidance and light, we all are blessed with Quran's loftiest message" (Frontier Muslim Students Conference—April,1943). During struggle for Pakistan when Muslims were facing great hardships and victimization at the hands of Hindus and their allies ,Quaid comforted them saying that ultimate success would be theirs if they only sought guidance from the Quran:—" At present, a battle is going on between the Muslims and the Hindus in the political arena. People ask me as to who is going to be the winner? Only God knows about it. However, as a Muslim I can assure that if we treat the Holy Quran as our final and absolute guide and persevere not forgetting at the same time God's command that all Muslims are brothers to one another, no earthly power or even their combine, can defeat us" ( Address at a meeting in Hyderabad ,Deccan—July,1946). " We have been the victim of a deeply laid and well-planned conspiracy…..We thank Providence for giving us courage and faith to fight these forces of evil. If we take our inspiration and guidance from the Holy Quran, the final victory, I once again say, will be ours."(Speech at a rally at the University Stadium,Lahore-October,1947).

According to the great Quaid, Holy Quran is the "sheet anchor of Islam and fundamental code of life for Muslims "What is it that keeps the Muslims united, and what is bedrock and sheet anchor of the community. It is Islam. It is the great book Quran that is the sheet anchor of Muslim India." ( Speech at ALL India Muslim League Session, Karachi-26-12-1943). " Every Musalman knows that the injunctions of the Quran, are not confined to religious and moral duties. From the Atlantic to the Ganges, Quran is acknowledged as the fundamental code, not only of theology, but of civil and criminal jurisprudence, and the laws which regulate the actions of mankind are governed by the immutable sanctions of the Will of God. Everyone except those who are ignorant knows that Quran is the general code of Muslims. A religious, social, civil ,commercial, military, judicial criminal penal code, it regulates every thing…. .and our Prophet has enjoined on us, that every Musalman should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest. Therefore, Islam is not merely confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or rituals and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society, every department of life, collectively and individually." ( Eid Message to the Nation—September,1945).

Elaborating the role of the Quran and the Islamic State, the Quaid, in his address to the students of the Usmania University, Deccan in August, 1941, said," In Islam ultimate obedience belongs to God alone.The only way to follow His guidance is through the Holy Quran. Islam does not preach obedience to a king, parliament, person or any institution. The Islamic Government means rule of the Quran. And how can you establish the rule of Quran without an independent state? In this state, legislation will take place within the boundaries drawn by the Quran".This scribe has yet to come across a better description of the role and function of the Quran and an Islamic State than the one given above by the great Quaid.








Something I enjoy, being married to a doctor, are the number of complimentary prescription pads, note pads, pens and pencils that are given to her at every medical conference and seminar by pharmaceutical companies. Like little child, I grab these fancy jotters and scratch pads and install them everywhere, near bed and sofa, dashboard of car or anywhere else where profound thought can quickly be written down, before sinking into unreachable oblivion.Today however the little box she placed on writing table had me puzzled. It was some gift from a medical firm but looked more like a little container of pills. I pulled out instead what looked like a six inch replica of an Egyptian mummy but on closer scrutiny found it was a wooden nose. Now I have seen such objects of human anatomy outside churches and other places of worship where people in search of healing buy wax leg or an arm or finger and burn them before their gods. I wondered why any company would want to give a doctor a wooden nose and the doctor her husband the same!

I placed the nose on my table. Very Roman; quite aristocratic; but by itself; hideous! There was something written on the box, I wondered whether it was ransom note, saying that next I would be sent other parts of kidnapped victims body.The note, politely told me instead that the wooden nose was a spectacles holder. I took off my reading glasses and placed them on the nose and suddenly the wooden member was transformed into a rather pleasant aristocratic face. Here I must tell you that my glasses are the cheapest kind available in optician shop, and it is with some embarrassment I enter posh store and walk off with low priced plastic pair, sure that salesman and visiting eye doctor are sniggering at my miserly, tight fisted, niggardly spending.

It was this same pair I placed on wooden nose. There was a slot at the back for the frame to rest, and as I already mentioned the nose took on an agreeable shape. The spectacles so ordinary otherwise, gave wooden nose a dashing look. I smiled. It was the most extraordinary transformation I had seen from something ugly and nasty to a face, stately, well formed and attractive. A pair of cheap, nearly discarded glasses had done the trick! As I stared at good looking face, a thought came to my mind. So many of us with good looking features, powerful personalities, attractive figures are still like wooden nose; something missing. The English suit, American tie, Italian shoes only add to the 'something missing' look.

And then from some old folks home, a discarded mother or ailing father is brought back to a son's or daughter's home; a backward child is given extra love by formerly impatient dad; struggling husband gets a word of encouragement from otherwise ambitious wife.









That the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has of late indicated its willingness to return to parliament and to have a participatory role in decision-making on major national issues sounds  positive. But this declaration of interest is not without condition. BNP secretary general wants the government to create a 'congenial atmosphere' for their return to Parliament. So far BNP has remained absent from the Jatiya Sangsad for 47 working days, another 43 days' absence would mean they lose their parliamentary membership. As for the leader of the opposition Khaleda Zia, the situation is even more critical because she took part in parliamentary session only for three working days. So the elected people's representatives are quite aware of the risk they would run if they continued their boycott of parliament.

Against this backdrop, it is therefore not clear if the latest political overture made by the BNP secretary general and a senior joint secretary general is prompted by a genuine consideration for the need for engagement in informed deliberations and cooperation between the ruling party and the opposition. Yet let us take it as a proactive move by the BNP on the issue of making parliament more effective so that it becomes the focal point of the country's politics. In that case, both this party and its main rival the Awami League must shun some of their postures and start cultivating virtues of democracy. Vitriolic outbursts, innuendos and blame games are what should be avoided in favour of parliamentary languages tempered with humour and subtlety.


Need for holding out olive branches