media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 29, edition 000389, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- CHALLENGE FOR BJP
- SHAME AT KOTLA
- BREAKING UP UTTAR PRADESH - A SURYA PRAKASH
- LET'S NOT BE NAIVE ABOUT TERRORISM - BK VERMA
- JANUS-FACED GENERAL - ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
- LOOK BEYOND AMERICA - CP BHAMBHRI
- THE LEFT'S DENIAL OF HASAN'S ISLAMIC ROOTS - JAMIE GLAZOV
- CLIMATE CHANGE IS A DANGEROUS PROPOSITION - ANDREI FEDYASHIN
- TIME TO CLEAN UP THE DDCA MR JAITLEY
- POLITICS OF STATISTICS?
- CONTROL STRAY DOGS
- NO EASY POLICY OPTIONS IN 2010 - BY KANWAL SIBAL
- PATNA DURBAR - GIRIDHAR JHA
TIMES OF INDIA
- POISONED EARTH
- KEEP IT SIMPLE
- TRICK OR TEACH?
- STABLE GOVERNMENT IS THE PRIORITY
- WHAT PRICE, ALLIANCE?
- MU-SICK SEASON
- HUNTING FOR A CURE
- ORIGIN OF SPECIOUS - RUPA SENGUPTA
- AT A FEVER PITCH
- LEAVING IT TO SIMMER
- SELF-INQUIRY MUST - M N KUNDU
- THE WORST ISN'T OVER - SITARAM YECHURY
- LOW PITCH
- SACRED HEARTLESS
- SHADOWS OF 1979
- INTEGRITY, NOT INCENTIVES - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- YOU ASKED, WE ANSWERED - TAHIR MAHMOOD
- SPOILS OF WAR - LAL WICKREMATUNGE
- TUBE TYCOONS - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- RING IN THE NEW - C.V. MADHUKAR
- THE BIG ZERO
- SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
- GOING OFF TRACK
- IN FINANCE, WE ARE NOW COUPLED - JAYANTH R VARMA
- STILL A LONG JOURNEY FOR RAILWAYS - RAJESH CHAKRABARTI
- MITIGATING FRAUD - NAVITA SRIKANT
- AN OPPORTUNISTIC COALITION
- SAVING THE VULTURES
- SOUTH ASIAN AGENDA FOR JAMMU & KASHMIR - MADANJEET SINGH
- IN PAKISTAN'S UNCERTAINTY, ALL EYES ON THE SINDHI TOPI - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
- AAM ADMI FINDS DAL-ROTI OUT OF REACH IN UPA'S SECOND INNINGS - GARGI PARSAI
- UNIVERSITY BRANCHES IN DUBAI ARE STRUGGLING - TAMAR LEWIN
- NEW ZEALANDERS DONATE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS
- TERROR THREAT
- UGLY TURN
- THE NOUGHTIES' EFFECT
- A NATIONAL SHAME
- DAUNTING TASK FOR SOREN
- US UNFAIR ON HEADLEY
- POLITICAL CLIMATE IS CHANGING - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
- SPACED OUT - BY ROOPINDER SINGH
- THE DECADE WE DIDN'T SEE COMING - BY JOEL ACHENBACH
- PUNJAB SPENDS NIGGARDLY ON EDUCATION BY JASWINDER SINGH BRAR
- DELHI DURBAR - GARLAND BAN LASTS A DAY
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- TALKS WITH ULFA
- KOTLA FIASCO
- TRIUMPH OF US DIPLOMACY AT COPENHAGEN - ANUBHAV DUTTA
- DYNAMICS OF AGRICULTURE - MOON MOON SARMAH
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- MAKING SPORTS MORE EXCITING!
- CUT PEAK CUSTOMS DUTY
- FARMERS' TRAVAILS
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
- FOLLOWING GURUJI
- WHY MARKETING MARGINS IN GAS? - SOMA BANERJEE
- FMCG COMPANIES REACHING OUT TO USERS FAR & WIDE
- A BIT OF WISDOM COME LATELY - MUKUL SHARMA
- 'OUR BUSINESS IN INDIA IS DOUBLING EVERY THREE YEARS' - PRAMUGDHA MAMGAIN
- 'NEW FEE STRUCTURE WILL CHANGE THE DYNAMICS OF INSURANCE COS' - PREETI KULKARNI
- INDIAN CRICKET'S DAY OF SHAME
- HEALING A NATION - BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
- 2010 WISH LIST: HONEST DOCTORS IN MODERN HOSPITALS
- BOLLYWOOD'S 10-STEP GUIDE TO A HAPPY 2010
- EMOTIONAL ATYACHAR
- AGAINST THE GRAIN
- KEY & LOCK
- STIRRING STUPIDITY
- SORE THROAT? IT COULD BE MORE THAN WHAT YOU THOUGHT
- WHAT AILS INDIA?~II - BY SAROJ KUMAR MEHERA
- SILLY POINT
- NO DIFFERENCE
- RENOVATING OUR IMAGE - ASHOK V. DESAI
- WHY ADD INSULT TO INJURY? - MALVIKA SINGH
- CLEAR DANGER, UNCLEAR DEALS - JAYANTA BANDYOPADHYAY
- ROLES AND REACTIONS - GOOD ENERGY
- FREE WILLY
- PITCH RIP OFF
- LAMENT FOR THE MEDIA - BY B G VERGHESE
- THE WORLD'S NOT YET OUT OF THE WOODS - BY PASCAL LAMY
- ROUND AS A DOT BY HEERA NAWAZ
THE JERUSALEM POST
- SUPPORT THE IRANIANS
- BORDERLINE VIEWS: THE JEWEL IN EUROPEAN JEWRY'S CROWN - DAVID NEWMAN
- NO HOLDS BARRED: THE ALTERNATE-REALITY DECADE - SHMULEY BOTEACH
- WASHINGTON, NOT J'LEM, NEEDS TO ISSUE CLARIFICATIONS - DAN DIKER
- NETANYAHU MUST BOOT LIEBERMAN FROM FM POST
- THE WEAKEST TRIBE - BY AMIR OREN
- POLITICAL CANNIBALISM - BY MOSHE ARENS
- OBAMA'S LUCK - BY NATASHA MOZGOVAYA
- SETTLEMENT FREEZE IS LIKE RACIAL SEGREGATION IN U.S. - BY KARNI ELDAD
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- IRAN'S WAR ON ITS PEOPLE
- BETTING AGAINST ALL OF US
- IRAN'S WAR ON ITS PEOPLE
- BANANA WARS - BY EDUARDO PORTER
- A LESS THAN HONEST POLICY - BY BOB HERBERT
- THE SIDNEY AWARDS II - BY DAVID BROOKS
- AFTER EIGHT YEARS, TERRORISTS STILL FLY - BY CLARK KENT ERVIN
- SHOULD OLD ARTICLES BE FORGOT - BY WILLIAM FALK
- WEIGH THE GRAVITY
- SERIOUS BREACH
- GLOBAL WARMING IMPLICATIONS FOR NEPAL - BIDUR PRASAD UPADHYAY
- RAGE RACING AS YOU DRIVE - RAJAN RAJ ACHARYA
- WE CANNOT BE SELECTIVE IN LEARNING FROM THE SLUMP
- IRAN EDGES CLOSER TO CHANGE
- TSUNAMI'S APPALLING AFTERMATH
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- CHICKEN'S FATE DOES NOT DETER MONKEYS
- SHUTTERS START TO CLOSE ONCE MORE
- AUSTRALIA GETS BACK TO BUSINESS, BUT NOT ENTIRELY AS USUAL
THE KOREA HERALD
- DREAM COME TRUE
- STILL THE SAME JAPAN
- ANATOMY OF KIM YU-NA PERFORMANCE - LEE JAE-MIN
- NICOLAE CEAUSESCU'S BEAR HUNTING - MICHAEL MEYER
THE JAPAN TIMES
- THE PAST YEAR OF NEWNESS
- PERSUADING CHINA TO PUT THE SCREWS TO IRAN - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
THE JAKARTA POST
- TRADE OPENS NEW OPPORTUNITIES
- HOW SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY CAN BUILD A BETTER WORLD - MOCHAMAD ASRI
- PRESERVING AND LIVING THE BALINESE HERITAGE - ANAND KHRISNA
- HOW WE SHOULD RESPOND TO 'BALIBO': TO STAY OR TO GO - WARIEF DJAJANTO BASORIE
- REALITY CHECK ON THE POOR
- A MATTER OF EQUALITY
- THE NEXT STEP TO SAVE THE EARTH - BY FENG ZHAOKUI (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- CELEBRATING RUSSIA'S WIDE AND WONDERFUL SOUL - BY MICHAEL BOHM
- RUSSIA WILL SAVE THE WEST - BY SERGEI KARAGANOV
CHALLENGE FOR BJP
JHARKHAND NEEDS GOOD GOVERNANCE
Notwithstanding the bravado and the braggadocio, it is obvious that there is a certain amount of disquiet within the BJP over the alliance with Mr Shibu Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. This is understandable given Mr Soren's track record. He has faced charges of murder as well as gross corruption. True, in the past two decades he has done business with both national parties, but the fact is the Congress and the BJP alike have been led into his corner only reluctantly. It was being hoped that a decisive mandate in Jharkhand would not only inaugurate a round of bipolarity in the State's politics but also bring down the curtain on the JMM, which has been reduced to a family firm by the Sorens. However, the people willed otherwise. A good showing in the Santhal Parganas put Mr Soren back in the reckoning and he bargained his way to office yet again. It is anybody's guess how long this arrangement will last. The Congress and its partner, Mr Babulal Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik, are clearly hoping for an early election. Sections of the BJP too are concerned about what the party's link with a Soren-led administration may do to future prospects. Is the long-term being sacrificed for gains in the short-term? Admittedly, this is a valid question and the party leadership would do well not to dismiss it as inconsequential. However, it is equally true that a three-way split in the Jharkhand Assembly could have meant only one of two things either a spell of President's rule followed by another election, as was the case in Bihar in 2005; or two of three pre-poll rivals swallowing their hostility and coming together to give Jharkhand a popular Government, whatever that expression may mean in the current context. Both the Congress and the BJP attempted to do this on their terms. Since a Congress-JVM(P)-JMM alliance turned out to be unfeasible, a BJP-JD(U)-JMM-AJSU tie-up was the only option to President's rule which would have meant the Congress ruling Jharkhand by proxy.
Having arrived at this juncture, the BJP cannot, however, wash its hands of the matter. In the coming days, it has multiple challenges before it. First, it has to provide Jharkhand purposeful governance, free of the scandal and loot of the recent past. The responsibility for this will lie squarely with the BJP. It will have to play both proactive administrator as well as in-house monitor. Second, the BJP has to be mindful of the fact that any failure in office could cost it dearly in the next election. The Congress and the JVM(P) are obviously going to be working on the assumption that both their foes will suffer due to incumbency. Indeed, that is the conventional wisdom. It is for the BJP to prove this wrong. The JMM, with its vote-banks and limited world view, is unlikely to be bothered.
In these circumstances, it would be best if the BJP took the initiative to draw up an agenda for governance and set itself specific, achievable and time-bound goals that it could then advertise as the benchmarks by which to judge the JMM-BJP regime. It would not do to let it be business as usual. The JMM is a difficult, usually unreliable entity; the BJP will have to ensure that its new partner follows the coalition dharma.
SHAME AT KOTLA
INDIAN CRICKET MUST INTROSPECT
For the fifth and final One-Day International between India and Sri Lanka to degenerate into a 'no show' on account of the poor quality to say the least of the pitch at Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla cricket stadium is nothing short of shameful. The match was abandoned a little over two hours into play on Sunday morning. Sri Lankan batsmen complained that the pitch was too dangerous to play on, and not without reason. A sharp rising delivery hit Tillakaratne Dilshan on the forearm that made the Sri Lankan batsman double up with pain. In fact, throughout the course of the brief play, all the visiting team's batsmen had trouble judging the bounce of the deliveries some kept extremely low while others jumped up without warning. After protests from the Sri Lankan team, the umpires rightly called the match off. After all, the safety of the players is of paramount importance. Besides, it wasn't as if team India was particularly looking forward to having a bat on this unpredictable pitch. That Ferozeshah Kotla would provide such an unplayable track was a rude shock to everyone. The fiasco has jeopardised Delhi's chances of hosting any of the matches in the 2011 World Cup. Plus, a one-year international ban on the Ferozeshah Kotla could very well follow. The last time that a One-Day International in India was abandoned due to an unplayable pitch was in Indore in 1997 which, ironically, was also an India-Sri Lanka match. On that occasion, the Nehru Stadium in Indore was handed a one-year suspension.
The incident has no doubt given reason for some serious introspection. Apparently, the curator at Ferozeshah Kotla, Mr Vijay Bahadur Mishra, had very little experience. Also, most pitches that international matches are played on are usually put to the test in domestic matches beforehand. The one at Kotla on Sunday was not. Such unprofessionalism needs to be condemned and those responsible need to be given the boot. In this respect, it is welcome that the BCCI's Grounds and Pitch Committee that oversees the task of pitch preparation has been disbanded. The local cricketing authority, the DDCA, too has seen its own Grounds and Pitch Committee resign on moral grounds. But this is not enough. More needs to be done to ensure that such a disaster is never repeated again. That said, the unseemly scenes that were witnessed when the match was called off needs to be condemned in equal measure. Though the blame for the turn of events lies squarely on the shoulders of the BCCI and the DDCA, there can be no good reason for cricket lovers to start behaving like hooligans and go on a rampage stadium property was damaged, plastic bottles and uprooted fibreglass seats were thrown on the ground. This will neither help solve the problem at hand nor enhance India's image in the cricketing fraternity.
BREAKING UP UTTAR PRADESH
A SURYA PRAKASH
Preying on the grievances of people in backward regions of different States, many provincial leaders have jumped onto the States Reorganisation bandwagon in a bid to carve out their own little political kingdoms. Uneven development is a fact of life and many leaders who see little prospect of political growth in composite States are now fishing in troubled waters. They hope to encash on lop-sided development and create smaller entities in which their writ will run. Though they claim to speak for the underprivileged, there is nothing altruistic in these demands including the audacious proposal mooted by Chief Minister Mayawati to carve out three new States from her State of Uttar Pradesh.
The reorganisation of States is indeed a tricky affair and even the best of minds with the best of intentions may not always reach a consensus. The complexity of reorganisation is best explained by what transpired in the first States Reorganisation Commission that functioned in 1953-55. This commission, which comprised three members Justice Fazl Ali (Chairman), Mr HN Kunzru and Mr KM Panikkar laid down sound principles for formation of new States but could not arrive at unanimity on all issues.
There was complete agreement in regard to the broad principles that the commission would adopt while reorganising States but when it came to the nitty gritty, there were two important States on which there was disagreement. The first of these was Uttar Pradesh. Since Ms Mayawati now wants the Centre to initiate the process to create the States of Bundelkhand, Western Uttar Pradesh and Purvanchal, the disagreements that surfaced during the proceedings of the SRC seem relevant.
The commission decided not to break-up Uttar Pradesh because it said a large State in the Gangetic Valley would hold India together. It disagreed with the view that it is difficult to administer large States. It contended that size does not matter and that there was no connection between the size of the State, quality of administration and its influence in national affairs. It claimed that "the influence of any particular State in national affairs under a federal system of Government is not determined by its size". It also concluded that under a system of Cabinet Government no particular State would have undue influence because party loyalties override State loyalties. Mr Panikkar disagreed. He said, with much prescience, that because of its sheer size, Uttar Pradesh would enjoy massive political clout and this in turn would lead to discord in other regions of the country. "Too great a disparity is likely to create not only suspicion and resentment but generate forces likely to undermine the federal structure itself and thereby be a danger to the unity of the country. This is clearly recognised everywhere and care is taken to limit the influence and authority of the larger units." For example, in the United States, though the size of States may vary, the American Constitution provides for equal representation for all States in the Senate. There is no such provision in the Indian Constitution. As a result, in 1955, Uttar Pradesh had 86 seats out of 499 in the Lok Sabha and 31 out of 216 in the Rajya Sabha. Mr Panikkar feared that "this preponderant influence which would accrue to a very large unit could be abused and would in any case be resented by all the other constituent units". Since the normal constitutional device of equalising grave disparities between units in a federation by ensuring equal or heavily weighted representation in the Upper House is not possible, "the only remedy is to reconstitute the overgrown State in such a manner as to lessen the differences in short to partition the State. This seems to be an obvious proposition". The second problem, as he saw it, was the impact that such a large State would have on intra-party politics and power equations. He said it would be a natural tendency for members of one State to form a powerful political block. "The real issue, therefore, is whether it is desirable to place any unit in a position to exercise an unduly large measure of political influence".
Sure enough, the unfair advantage that Uttar Pradesh had over other States was a key factor (seven of India's first eight Prime Ministers hailed from this State) in rousing strong regional sentiments and the emergence of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its offshoots, the Telugu Desam and several other regional political entities.
The second issue on which there was no agreement was on the future of Himachal Pradesh. The commission recommended that this State be part of the State of Punjab, but its Chairman Mr Fazl Ali disagreed. The commission felt that from an administrative point of view, it made sense to merge Himachal Pradesh in Punjab because Himachal had a resources crunch and also did not have trained personnel to run Government. "It is not, therefore, a unit which can stand by itself". The commission also saw no merit in the contention that Himachalis had a cultural individuality. Justice Fazl Ali, however, disagreed with his colleagues and in his note of dissent he said there was "a great deal of uneasiness" among the people of Himachal Pradesh over the question of merger with Punjab. He felt that this feeling was "both genuine and widespread". Therefore the merger of this region with Punjab would be "extremely unpopular". Justice Fazl Ali proved right when Himachal Pradesh emerged as a separate State a decade later.
Another significant aspect of the report of this commission is that while the Union Government implemented most of its recommendations, it disagreed with the commission in regard to formation of the States of Telangana and Vidarbha. The commission favoured a separate Telangana (called Hyderabad State) and Vidarbha but the Centre rejected these proposals. However, these demands have lingered on for well over half a century.
In other words, even if a commission does a commendable job, there is no guarantee that the Government will accept all its recommendations. All this only goes to show that reorganisation of States in India is a very complex issue and no political party should allow itself to succumb to demands made at gun point.
LET'S NOT BE NAIVE ABOUT TERRORISM
This refers to the letter, "Don't malign religion" by Kajal Chatterjee December 28). It appears that like all secularists Mr Chatterjee has gone on a tangent, misled by Muslim apologists like Nuzhat Aslam's false propaganda about the nature of Islam. He has cited instances of terrorist acts committed by non-Muslims groups like the IRA, Maoists, Khalistanis, LTTE, etc, to justify his view that terrorism is not the monopoly of any one religion. But there is a vital difference between the two sets of terrorists.
While non-Islamic terrorism is confined to a specific country or region and relates to specific goals like secession, economic disparity, etc, jihadi terror is motivated by the single goal of conquering the entire world. Non-Islamic terrorism is transient, whereas Islamists have been troubling mankind for 1,400 years (since AD 622, the start of Hijri). The concept of jihad has been repeatedly stated in the Quran and the Hadiths. It divides people into two, the believers of Islam and the non-believers or kafirs.
Islam's holy books also lay down that permanent enmity shall prevail between Muslims and kafirs: "God is an enemy to the unbelievers"(Quran, 2:90), and "Lo! Allah is an enemy to non-Muslims" (Quran 2:98). Jihad is something that is demanded of all Muslims: "Leaving for jihad in the way of Allah in the morning or in the evening will merit a reward better than the world and all that is in it" (Quran, 3:4639).
The allurement that is engraved in the minds of would-be terrorists is the promise of 72 virgins in paradise if they sacrifice their lives in the cause for jihad. The very history of Islam is full of brigandage, banditry, murder and looting as sanctified by the institution of Razzia (Gazwah). This is something that cannot be ignored. On a theoretical level, it is true that no particular religion should be branded as promoting terrorism. However, facts such as jihad cannot be overlooked. It is also true that most of the terrorist organisations in the world today are proponents of the jihadi ideology. Thus, how can one say that global terrorism is unrelated to one particular religion? It appears that Mr Chatterjee has forgotten the massacres of 9/11, 26/11, and numerous other terrorist bombings and attacks all across the world. But amnesia shall prove to be fatal for the free world if it were lulled into the belief that no religion teaches violence.
FORMER PAKISTANI PRESIDENT GEN PERVEZ MUSHARRAF PROVED HIMSELF TO BE TREACHEROUS, UNTRUTHFUL, AND UNRELIABLE TO HIS OWN COUNTRYMEN. HE SPOKE IN ONE BREATH ABOUT HOW HE WOULD TURN PAKISTAN INTO A MODERATE ISLAMIC STATE AND SIMULTANEOUSLY SUPPORTED JIHADIS
Even in his heydays, Gen Pervez Musharraf was never known to be truthful or balanced. This was made clear in his autobiography In the line of fire. Gen Musharraf, by his own admission, says, "I led a passionate life, perhaps an impetuous one..."
Understandably, retirement and life in exile have given Gen Musharraf time to reflect and rediscover the contours of Afghan war. Thus spoke the mighty Musharraf of yesteryears, "Afghanistan is under influence of Indian intelligence agencies. Afghan intelligence, Afghan President, Afghan Government; they are under influence of Indian intelligence, all of them." One wonders as to which Afghan power centre is Gen Musharraf is referring to President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan National Army, that country's intelligence, the Taliban, the warlords and the drug lords, the northern army or anyone else? Also, is India really influential and effective so as to be in total command and control of the exercises being undertaken by sundry forces in the remote badlands of Afghanistan?
One thing that is for sure is that Gen Musharraf is perhaps the most hated of the four military dictators that Pakistan has produce so far. To begin with, every Pakistani President-cum-Army chief had to overthrow the civilian rule in line with the 'world dictator formula'. However, none ended being exiled like Gen Musharraf. None was sued and pursued so much by the Pakistani judiciary, executive or the legislature. None tinkered with the Army so much and none allowed the US to penetrate so deeply into the systems of the Pakistani state. Also, none played so dirty with India, the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971 notwithstanding. None used the ISI the way Gen Musharraf did. None could manage to extract so much aid and promises from the West and succeed in diverting most of these resources against India. And neither Gen Ayub Khan, nor Gen Yahya Khan, nor Gen Zia-ul Haq ordered the Pakistani Army to fight its own people or allowed American drones to operate within Pakistani territory.
Indeed, Gen Musharraf proved himself to be treacherous, untruthful, and unreliable to his own countrymen. He used the media to his advantage to cultivate an appealing image of himself. In reality, it is only the military uniform that gave Gen Musharraf the aura of invincibility.
Incumbent Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari too has openly castigated his predecessor. The Pakistani judiciary is hounding Gen Musharraf like a criminal while the military is even avoiding uttering his name.
Thus, when a man of such dubious credibility babbles to the world that Afghanistan is under the influence of Indian intelligence agencies, he can hardly be taken seriously. It is ironical that the former Chief Executive of Pakistan, who paved the way for the rise of fundamentalists and terrorists, nurturing them with the assistance of the mullahs and the ISI, is today claiming that India is responsible for Afghanistan's woes.
However, there appears to be a small band of 'Musharraf lovers' in India. These people love him because to them he seems to be the strongman who can bring a semblence sanity to the Pakistani situation. It is like Mussolini had said, "The crowd is like a woman. The crowd loves a strongman".
Have Indians forgotten the dirty deeds of this unreliable former dictator who had nearly taken the world to the brink of a nuclear war? Gen Musharraf was widely known in his own country as "double-talk Musharraf". Thus, he spoke in one breath about how he would turn Pakistan into a moderate Islamic state and simultaneously supported jihadis. Disillusionment with Gen Musharraf began within one year of his coup in October 1999. Qualified people voted with their feet and began to leave the country in droves. A Gallop poll conducted in November 2000 stated that 38 per cent of the entire adult work force wanted to emigrate, while 62 per cent said that they wanted to work abroad. In their reports for the year 2000, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said violence against women, torture and deaths in police custody and intolerance toward non-Muslims were all on the increase.
To find out the real Gen Musharraf one only needs to glance through the Pakistani daily Dawn of June 21, 2001, when the man simply declared himself President of Pakistan on the ground of "supreme national interest". The daily succinctly added, "Military rulers in Pakistan traverse a familiar and well-trodden route, sooner or later assuming the title and office of President. It took General Ayub Khan three weeks to arrive at this stage, General Yahya Khan a few days, General Zia-ul Haq about a year and it has taken Gen Pervez Musharraf a little over 18 months to cover the same journey".
What Gen Musharraf speaks today sounds as familiarly hollow, baseless and senseless as the words he spoke a few month ago in Delhi in front of a captive audience of his Indian 'fans' and 'admirers'. As reported by the Wall Street Journal. "He came. He sparred. And in the end he received a standing ovation." On the occasion 'double-speak' Musharraf tried to sermonise to his Indian audience that they should open up commerce with his beleaguered country and squarely warned of a repeat of Kargil if the 'Kashmir issue' remained unresolved.
To camouflage the horrendously wrongdoings of the ISI, over which he lorded for more than a decade, Gen Musharraf has tried to defame India's R&AW. But he forgets that unlike the ISI, R&AW is a responsible, accountable civil agency under a democratically elected Government. Either he thinks ignorance is bliss or that Indians are gullible.
Perhaps Gen Musharraf is hoping that lady luck will ensconce him once more at the Aiwan-e-Sadr so that he can be in command of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal yet again. This janus-faced, General needs to be exposed for what he really is once and for all.
-The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London.
LOOK BEYOND AMERICA
BASIC COUNTRIES SHOW THE WAY IN COPENHAGEN
As imperialist countries have always been extremely reluctant and hesitant to take any worthwhile step to face the grave challenges posed by global warming at international level, it was good to see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rescue the sinking ship of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen.
The parleys at Copenhagen summit should have been an eye-opener for a completely pro-American Manmohan Singh Government that India can actively bargain with the recalcitrant superpower with the cooperation of other non-European emerging economies.
The pro-American UPA Government foreign policymakers should clearly grapple with the fast changing context of international power system and also about the declining power of the US. America has suffered serious setbacks not only because of global economic meltdown but also because its economy is not able to bear the burden of expenditure of trillion of dollars in wars against Iraq and the ongoing war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Even American public opinion has turned against US President Barack Obama's continuing involvement in war in Afghanistan especially at a time when ordinary American citizen is suffering from the adverse effects of recession.
Indian negotiators in Copenhagen would have learnt their two lessons: First, there is a world beyond and without America. Second, it is the US which needs BASIC countries - Brazil, South Africa, India and China. The bloc of these four emerging centres of economic power were sought after by the Americans because of the economic, political and strategic weight these countries have in Latin America, Africa, East Asia and South Asia respectively. It is not the first time that the BASIC countries have discussed their mutual problems and announced their arrival at a global platform. The emergence of the BASIC countries and their desire to work together at the global level clearly shows that America has to deal with 'alternative emerging centres of power'.
The so-called Copenhagen Accord is not at all the result of American dictations as pre-eminent super power. Instead it has a seal of approval of the BASIC countries without whose 'active or passive' consent, the US President would have gone back empty-handed.
Besides, the unity and cooperation shown by India and China at the Copenhagen summit is a very positive development. Relations between these two neighbours can further be strengthened with a view to resolve bilateral disputes and enhance their cooperation of mutual benefit. India and China can compete and cooperate without policies of hostile confrontation and this is the message from Copenhagen.
It has been reported that some European countries are quite worried about the growing spirit of cooperation between India and China as shown by the two Prime Ministers of these countries at the Copenhagen summit. Both the Prime Ministers were in constant touch with each other on negotiations in Copenhagen and this new personal chemistry of trust between these two political executive heads is a very important gain from Copenhagen.
It cannot be denied that some important disputes between these two countries have not be resolved and such lingering of unresolved issues have given birth to mutual suspicions, even hostilities. But this is only one part of the history of India-China relations. However, it is essential for both the countries to catch the bull by the horns and open new avenues of friendship and cooperation in the second decade of the 21st century. It is a well known fact that cooperation between two neighbours especially those with historically inherited disputes, can become the basis of bilateralism only if suspicions are replaced by trust.
The political signals from Copenhagen are quite positive and it is for foreign policymakers to make use of alternative routes to build friendship and cooperation with China. Further, India can build relationship with other Asian countries at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit. While Russia, China and Central Asian states are member countries of the SCO, India, Iran and Pakistan are important 'observer' countries at the meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
The message from the SCO summit and the Copenhagen meet is that world can be managed and issues can be resolved without the so-called hegemonic presence of imperialist America.
THE LEFT'S DENIAL OF HASAN'S ISLAMIC ROOTS
DESPITE PLENTIFUL EVIDENCE, LEFTISTS REFUSE TO ACCEPT FORT HOOD MASSACRE SUSPECT MAJ NIDAL HASAN'S ISLAMIC INSPIRATION. THIS WAS THE PATTERN THROUGHOUT THE COLD WAR, AND IT HAS CONTINUED DURING THE WAR ON TERROR , WRITES JAMIE GLAZOV
As the United States prepares to try Major Nidal Malik Hasan for 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder at Fort Hood last month, few question the suspect's guilt, but many disagree about his motives. Yet the evidence is now conclusive: The Fort Hood massacre was an act of Islamic terror. Before his shooting spree, Maj Hasan told colleagues that non-Muslims were infidels condemned to hell and that they should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats. Maj Hasan traded 18 e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda recruiter. On the morning of the massacre, he gave his neighbour a Quran as he was departing for the base, telling her that he was going to do "good work for god". Wearing Pakistani garb, Maj Hasan shouted "Allahu akbar" as he began firing at US troops.
Despite the plentiful evidence, however, Leftists refuse to accept Maj Hasan's Islamic inspiration. We've heard the rationalisations: Maj Hasan was a nut; the stresses of serving in the military drove him crazy; he experienced anti-Islamic discrimination; anyone is capable of 'losing it' under such stressful conditions; and so on. These reflexive denials are a logical continuation of the Left's long tradition of denying the evil of our totalitarian enemies-or, when forced to acknowledge them, blaming them on the US. This was the pattern throughout the Cold War, and it's continued during the war on terror.
When it's proven beyond reasonable doubt that jihad was in fact Maj Hasan's motive, here's a prediction: Leftists will either fall into apathetic silence or respond that it was American racism, oppression, and Islamophobia that forced Hasan's hand. To recognise the evil of Maj Nidal Hasan and his ideology, to admit the existence of pernicious enemies, is to concede that there are societies, cultures, and systems that are much more unjust than ours. This is an untenable step for Leftists to take, because it means acknowledging that there is something superior about our civilisation that's worth saving and defending.
The notion that his own society is evil and unjust is the bedrock of the Leftist's vision. Wicked capitalists trample on the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden; the Leftist appoints himself to rescue these victims. He is a self-styled social redeemer, leading a movement to liberate the masses, even if it results in the destruction of his own society. This political mission provides him with immense moral indignation and, therefore, moral superiority, dispositions from which, in turn, he derives emotional self-gratification. His whole belief system provides him with a sense of belonging; he joins other social redeemers, as well as the victims, real or imagined, who wait for him to break their chains.
Thus, the Leftist's political disposition is a faith that reinforces his personal identity and sense of belonging. Admitting that Maj Hasan is a jihadi would undermine that faith. It would also expose the Leftist to potential excommunication from his social community. He'd become politically suspect to his peers, perhaps even accused of becoming a reactionary Right-winger. That's why we will continue to witness more Fort Hood denial from the Left, with all of its irrationality and disregard for human life.
The writer is Frontpage Magazine's editor.
CLIMATE CHANGE IS A DANGEROUS PROPOSITION
THE NOTION THAT RUSSIA COULD THEORETICALLY BENEFIT FROM GLOBAL WARMING IS A DREADFUL DELUSION, WRITES ANDREI FEDYASHIN
If we take a leap of faith and believe the weather forecasters, by New Year's Day we will once again emerge from freezing weather to above-zero temperatures and slush. On the other hand, Europe, which will soon be celebrating Christmas, will be inundated by snow and cold. Or maybe the other way around. This may be connected with man-made global warming and climate change, and it may not belief in this phenomenon, or disbelief fuelled by the energetic efforts of opponents of the theory, has almost turned into a matter of taste.
This includes bad and even politically harmful taste, which we are able to observe in Russia's example.
In the process of preparing for Copenhagen and making sense of what happened there (and what happened is on the whole a dead end disguised as an almost completely non-binding climate accord), Russia obviously and noticeably is experiencing the emergence of its habitually special 'climatic phenomenon' the climatic phenomenon of the enemy.
With all due respect to our estimable academics, it is strange to hear their assertions that in fighting climate change, there is a sense of 'picking on countries rich in oil and gas'. Well, first of all, all things being equal, what countries can be 'picked on' other than those that bring the largest volumes of hydrocarbons to the market, hydrocarbons which produce the largest volumes of greenhouse gases when burned? And secondly, why not 'pick on' them? Maybe this will somehow accelerate the process of weaning Russia off the hydrocarbon superpower exceptionalism.
Who besides environmentalists and our competitors in the oil and gas markets will pick on us is not exactly clear the former pick on everybody and the latter, at the very least, do not need global warming to pick on us.
Although after Russia assumed the obligations it did at Copenhagen, it, as it happens, should be thanked. This is not my personal opinion, but that of several Russian experts, some of whom participated in preparing UN documents on climate and expert evaluations for the international group headed up by former US Vice-President Albert Gore. For his work on protecting the climate based on such evaluations, Mr Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. The devaluation of the prize, of course, reached its nadir by giving it to US President Barack Obama, but still.
At the Copenhagen summit, Russia pledged to cut its CO2 emissions by 20 per cent-25 per cent by the year 2020 as compared with 1990 levels. It is hard to say how much CO2 Russia is currently emitting. There are general and average figures from the UN and other international organisations.
So according to these averages, with our approximate 11 per cent of global emissions, we are in third place after China (19 per cent) and the US (18.4 per cent). In the grand scheme of things, the entire EU could have been ranked third if its countries did not insist on 'individual' and not 'group classification'. India is now in fourth place.
Our 'carbon obligations' look impressive even against the background of the EU, which is ready to cut its 'harmful pollution' only by 20 per cent by 2020 and subsequently by 30 per cent if other violators adopt a 'matching plan'. Since such a plan is not part of the Copenhagen 'final product', it is not even worth mentioning.
But as is often the case with Russia, many of our obligations are so illusory as to have little to do with reality. According to data from Russian experts, from 2000 to 2007, Russia did indeed experience an economic recovery and CO2 emissions grew by approximately 0.6 per cent-one per cent per year. In 2000, they were 60 per cent of the volume of CO2 emitted by the USSR, and by 2007 they were already at 65 per cent of this figure. The 2008 crisis naturally drastically cut the level of industrial activity. By 2009, we were 'spewing' 35 per cent less industrial pollution than in 1990. It is not very difficult to calculate that if current energy consumption and energy-saving rates continue, we will naturally cut emissions by 25 per cent without any difficulty.
It would be very good if in addition to our utterly painless measures for 'saving' the planet's respiratory system, we would make parallel progress in an area in which Russia has been backwards for a long time energy saving and energy consumption.
We are behind the US, Japan and the leading European countries in energy production technologies almost two-thirds of all energy in Russia is produced at cogeneration plants. We are even further behind in energy consumption technologies, so much so that we lose 45 per cent of the energy we generate. If we could learn to use it efficiently and not waste this 45 per cent, Russia could save 450 million metric tonnes of conventional fuel per year and cut the equivalent amount of CO2 emissions.
And a final remark. The notion that Russia could theoretically benefit from global warming and enormous expanses of Siberia would turn into something akin to the US's Great Plains, with colossal bread baskets, forges and resorts, is a dreadful delusion. Sixty per cent of the territory, right behind the Urals, is permafrost. Even if it were to warm up, it would not be suited to agriculture nothing could grow their in commercially viable quantities. And the populations of the northern-most districts would have to leave their way of life would be flooded. And the Russian south and the Caucasus would be lost in debilitating droughts.
The writer is a Moscow-based commentator on current affairs.
TIME TO CLEAN UP THE DDCA MR JAITLEY
THE abandonment of Sunday's India- Sri Lanka match at Ferozeshah Kotla on account of poor pitch quality is a matter of embarrassment for the national Capital, whose prospects of hosting 2011 World Cup matches have been jeopardised. It has also shamed the Delhi & Districts Cricket Association and the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The DDCA, in particular, needs to undergo a thorough revamp in the wake of Sunday's fiasco.
Ever since the T20 Champions League matches were held there in October this year, it was apparent that all was not right with the Kotla cricket pitch. This was reiterated when India played Australia in a one- dayer. But these warning signs were not heeded. Worse, no club or domestic matches were held there before the scheduled one- dayer on December 27. A completely untried and untested pitch was offered up for an international game.
The DDCA has rightly sacked the curator, who supposedly has no experience of laying pitches interestingly, he replaced a man who had laid pitches at Kotla for the last two decades and who was reinstated on Monday and a couple of officials of its grounds committee have resigned. But were it to go no further, it would just be a case of making scapegoats of the small fish. As it is, the officials of the grounds committee will continue to serve the DDCA in other capacities.
As Virender Sehwag pointed out earlier this year, the DDCA is plagued with politics and corruption. Its officials are reputed to employ the huge resources and infrastructure at their disposal for things that have nothing to do with cricket. DDCA president Arun Jaitley should take the opportunity to clean up this mess, just as he had promised in the wake of the Sehwag affair.
POLITICS OF STATISTICS?
PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh could well be right in his assertion that not only has there been no increase in poverty over the past few years of economic reforms and rapid growth, but that the number of poor people has actually been declining in the country.
He recently took on " some economists" who had argued that the poverty line should be redrawn in India, which would have meant that the percentage of population classified as ' below poverty line' would go up drastically. But these are not just " some economists". The new poverty estimates came from a special task force headed by the PM's own chief economic advisor, Suresh Tendulkar.
The earlier figures, which had shown a dramatic fall in the numbers below the poverty line during the reform years, had emanated from the Planning Commission.
The task force's estimates say that the percentage of poor people would be much higher, if one measured rural poverty with the same yardstick used to measure urban poverty. In fact, the task force was actually constituted by the Planning Commission itself, after its poverty numbers came in for widespread criticism.
This dissonance in the numbers emanating from various arms of the government is worrisome. While the PM is undoubtedly correct in suggesting that economic growth is the ultimate cure for poverty, at the ground level, poverty alleviation requires direct intervention something which the government itself has made central to its economic policy. One can only wonder whether such programmes reach the real poor, if the government's own bean counters do not recognise them as poor.
CONTROL STRAY DOGS
NEW DELHI'S boast of attaining world class status took another hit on Sunday when a pack of feral dogs attacked a mother and a child in East Patel Nagar. It is well known that strays in Delhi have many friends. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is about time we began to think about the welfare of the city's human inhabitants as well.
Predictably the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, which spends Rs 2 crore per year to sterilise stray dogs, passed the buck.
Clearly, that money is not being spent for the purpose intended. In such circumstances, the city would be better off if the entire responsibility of managing the problem is shed to a NGO because, given the MCD's reputation, no amount of money or promises are likely to make any difference.
NO EASY POLICY OPTIONS IN 2010
KEY FOREIGN CHALLENGES WILL REMAIN LARGELY UNCHANGED
BY KANWAL SIBAL
THREE relationships with the US, Pakistan and China dominated India's external agenda in 2009. The year 2010 will be no different. The US has been for decades the most powerful external player in South Asia, influencing political relationships and shaping events in the region. Pakistan and China are India's direct neighbours.
Both are antagonistic towards India, collaborate with each other to contain India's rise and threaten India's security. India's other relationships have their own importance, but as they do not present the same challenges to us, they attract less public attention. As 2009 ends, a broad survey of developments in our relationship with these three countries during the year would be instructive, if only to assess what we can expect in this regard in 2010.
With the US, of uppermost concern was whether the new Administration would be as friendly and
accommodating to India as the previous one. This anxiety about India's standing with the Obama Administration appeared excessive.
If enlightened self-interest guides relations between countries, the transformation of India-US ties under the Bush Presidency should have been seen not as a unilateral act of generosity by the US, but as a calculated political step with longer term strategic considerations in mind. We should have reasoned that the Obama Administration would not deny itself a share of the lucrative Indian defence market or jeopardise the opportunity for the US nuclear industry to supply nuclear reactors for producing 10,000 MW of power in India, by downgrading the relationship with India as part of reversing Bush's legacy.
Nor would US business interests want to turn their backs on the enormous potential identified in cooperating with India in the areas of energy, agriculture, science and technology, health and education.
We should have exhibited a greater sense of confidence in dealing with political change in the US, for the simple reason that we are not seeking a patron- client relationship. Besides, without mutuality of interest, no worthwhile long term bilateral relationship can be built. By appearing nervous we increase our vulnerability to pressure by the stronger partner and are liable to obtain less consideration than we would otherwise.
On the ground that India has already obtained more from the US than it deserved, US strategic lobbies are putting us on the defensive by arguing that the ball is now in our court for moving the US relationship forward, and that we must now show what we can do for the US. Notwithstanding the nuclear deal, such arguments exaggerate US steps to build bridges with India and overlook the radical overhaul of Indian attitudes towards the US. In any case, various ends of the nuclear deal still require tying up, whether it is the Reprocessing Agreement or India fulfilling the non- proliferation requirements over and above the 123 Agreement of Section 810 of the US nuclear legislation before US nuclear companies can be licensed to set up nuclear power plants in India. US companies also require the enactlogue.
ment of appropriate Indian legislation to limit accident liability, a step likely to run afoul of Indian Supreme Court judgements as brought out by a former Attorney General.
Oddly, some India entities still remain under US sanctions.
In the dual/ high technology area, Indian industry is disappointed that of the 16 parameters drawn by the US Department of Commerce for denial of such technologies, India still figures in 11 of them. Space cooperation remains limited because of MTCR related issues. Stepped up counterterrorism cooperation between the Indian and US agencies is welcome, but on Mumbai we have seen how relatively ineffectual US has been in forcing Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to justice even though US nationals figured amongst the victims.
The PM's US visit in November served to alleviate Indian doubts about the state of India- US ties under Obama, but the gap will remain between Indian expectations on several fronts where adverse US policies towards India still require course correction and US readiness to deliver. The agenda for 2010 should be to progressively close this gap.
In 2009 the stalemate with Pakistan could not be broken despite the Prime Minister's initiative to resume high level political contacts with its leadership in the hope that such an overture might induce action against the masterminds of the Mumbai terror attack and create an opening to resume the suspended diauncomfortable.
His anxiety to remove any Pakistan argument for resisting action on India- directed terrorism produced the Sharm el Sheikh joint statement. The domestic reaction against it, coupled with Pakistan's two- faced policies on terrorism and mounting instability in Pakistan itself, has deepened the stalemate.
The tone of the Prime Minister's recent statements on Pakistan reflects India's frustration.
Apart from stating that there is no clear interlocutor today in Pakistan, the PM has publicly chided Pakistan for using terrorism as an instrument of state policy, a long abandoned language that contradicts India's position expressed at the Islamabad and Havana summits as well as Sharm el Sheikh that both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism.
With domestic terrorist attacks bleeding Pakistan and political confusion becoming worse confounded by the invalidation of the NRO by Pakistan's Supreme Court, concerns about Pakistan's internal stability are mounting. Is Pakistan headed for an army takeover again, or will the country begin to unravel? It is doubtful if the Pakistani establishment is ready to concede that time has come for Pakistan to end its confrontation with India and abjure its ambitions in Afghanistan if it is to save itself.
With the US sending confused messages about its Af- Pak policy, the Pakistanis may feel time is on their side. 2010 will not give us any respite from our Pakistani migraine.
Our uneasy relationship with China became more diauncomfortable in 2009, with China stepping up its claim on Arunachal Pradesh more pugnaciously bilaterally and multilateralising it in the ADB. It attempted to the credit of our government unsuccessfully to browbeat India into stopping Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh in November. Its state controlled press published offensive commentaries on India.
The Chinese administered a new affront to India's sovereignty by issuing only stapled visas to Kashmiris. The message about the new assertiveness of China was not lost on India's leadership, despite attempts to play down differences, with the PM expressing such a view publicly in Washington in November. Along with eruption of these tensions, the high level dialogue between the two countries continued, with leaders meeting in Thailand, at G- 20 gatherings, in the RIC and BRIC formats.
At the December Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, India and China worked closely in the BASIC format, giving hope that this collusion of interest might help improve the climate of India- China relations.
Such thinking overlooks longer term trends linked to the rising profiles of both countries, the impact on China's external conduct of its rapidly developing economic and military muscles, the complex nature of the border differences where China has the upper hand and China's continued use of Pakistan as a proxy to destabilise India and thwart its ambitions.
The present dichotomy in India- China ties will continue in 2010, with tensions and engagement cohabiting with each other.
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary ( sibalkanwal@ gmail. com)
SOREN CAN LOOK AT BIHAR FOR INSPIRATION
POLITICAL pundits are already predicting further instability in Jharkhand because of the fractured mandate in The failure of any major party to get even one-third of the total Assembly seats has prompted them to write off the new coalition government even before Jharkhand Mukti Morcha president Shibu Soren is sworn in as the chief minister.
But Soren does not have to look far to draw inspiration for steering Jharkhand out of the woods. He only has to emulate Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on how to fight against all odds to ensure proper governance in the state. All he has to do is to understand the nittygritty of running a coalition government with seemingly incompatible allies.
There were a lot of expectations when Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar to become a full-fledged state on November 15, 2000. It was widely assumed that Jharkhand would take rapid strides in all spheres of development. In fact, the level of optimism was so high that a majority of the high- profile bureaucrats from Bihar sought to opt for the Jharkhand cadre, believing it would be a better career option for them.
The first few years proved them right as Jharkhand began its journey on the road to development in right earnest. Roads were promptly laid, the power situation improved considerably and efforts were made to develop adequate infrastructure to attract investors. This yielded quick results as top industrialists showed interest in setting up plants in the tribaldominated state.
This happened at a time when Jharkhand's parent state Bihar was in a veritable state of decay, under the prolonged Rashtriya Janata Dal regime. But then the ' unthinkable' happened. Lalu Prasad Yadav's party lost power for the first time in 15 years paving the way for Nitish Kumar. This also coincided with Jharkhand's rapid decline owing to political instability and the Naxalite problem. The tenure of an independent legislator Madhu Koda as the chief minister accelerated its downfall as his regime " patronised" middlemen and power brokers of all hues with scant regard for Jharkhand's growth.
Bihar, on the other hand, began the task of rebuilding itself brick- by- brick. The Nitish government took effective steps to bring real governance back to the state.
There were a lot of glum faces when Bihar was divided nine years ago. Everybody had thought that the state would further slip after being made to part with its mineral- rich areas.
But nobody seems to regret Bihar's division now.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar had tried to hardsell the turnaround of Bihar during his poll campaign in Jharkhand.
Though it failed to impress the electorate, there is no denying the fact that there has been a reversal of fortunes in the two states since they were split.
The new regime in Jharkhand, therefore, would do well to follow Bihar's example. It is undeniably an onerous task but Soren will do his state a great favour if he manages to do a Nitish and silences the prophets of doom.
A WORKING BREAK
HOME is where the heart is for Nitish Kumar. The Bihar chief minister has shifted for a week to the picturesque valley of Rajgir, 110 km south- east to Patna, in his native Nalanda district to ring out the outgoing year. He has not stopped working on files there but it is obvious that he wants to unwind himself during his stay in the ' city of five hills'. Getting up early in the morning, he hops on to a tonga for a joyride, climbs steep hills along with his entourage with youthful exuberance and gazes at the historical sites in the ancient city which is famous for its hot water springs.
In fact, he was so enamoured of the scenic beauty of a place called Ghorakatora that he instantly decided to develop it as a tourist spot.
Nitish is slated to hold a cabinet meeting at Rajgir on Tuesday, which will be the second to be held outside the state secretariat this year. As expected, Nitish's " excursion" has elicited stinging criticism from the Opposition leaders.
Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav took a dig at Nitish, saying he was taking his ministers to bathe under hot springs because their water had medicinal properties for cure of skin diseases. Unfazed by the criticism, Nitish advised Lalu to also take a dip in the pool of hot water at Rajgir because it could cure people of unstable minds.
THIS TIME IT'S THE RSS IN PATNA AND NITISH IN RAJGIR
IT is an open secret that chief minister Nitish Kumar's views on many key issues are at variance with those of the Sangh Parivar despite the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) being part of the coalition government in Bihar. This is why his absence in Patna during last week's conclave of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ( RSS) set the tongues wagging in the political circles.
Nitish's weeklong Rajgir sojourn began at a time when the RSS was holding a massive congregation in the Bihar capital. Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed an RSS workers' meet at the historic Gandhi Maidan on the day Nitish began his Rajgir tour. Interestingly, the RSS had organised its working committee meeting recently at Rajgir where it had taken the Nitish government to task, accusing it of pursuing a policy of ' minority appeasement'. Since he took over, Nitish has launched a slew of welfare projects for the minorities. But the Opposition parties have always tried to highlight his alliance with the BJP. This time also, the Rashtriya Janata Dal ( RJD) said that Nitish had left for Rajgir after ' handing over the state capital to the RSS'. They also pointed at the presence of BJP ministers in the Nitish cabinet at the RSS meet.
Almost all the state BJP bigwigs, including deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, former union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and state president Radha Mohan Singh, turned up at the RSS meet in traditional attire white shirts, khaki knickers and black caps. It apparently mattered little to them that most of them were slated to attend the cabinet meeting convened by Nitish at Rajgir.
giridhar. jha@ mailtoday. in
BHOJPURI cinema was going places until movies started crashing left, right and centre at the box office last year. The cow belt's film industry has not had a genuine blockbuster in recent times with popular stars like Manoj Tiwari and Ravi Kissen failing to churn out hits. The antimigrant agitation in places like Mumbai and Ludhiana, which were huge markets for Bhojpuri films, dealt a further blow to the industry.
But now, there is hope.
A much talked- about Bhojpuri movie, Brijwa, is being released for the first time in Pakistan.
Starring Vinay Anand, Sadik
Barah baje der nahin/ teen ke baad bhent nahin ( 12 o'clock is not late/ Not found in office after 3 p. m.).' This was for long the favourite couplet of Bihar government employees, who were notorious for late coming, at the state secretariat in Patna. But now, the government has introduced biometric identity cards for the employees. The employees are required to mark their attendance in the morning these days.
So it is quite a sight to see secretariat employees jostling with each other for the purpose. No prizes for guessing that not all are happy.
PASSENGERS of the Delhi- bound Sampoorna Kranti Express had an unusual fellow traveller with them last week: a King Cobra. Hardly had the train left Rajendra Nagar terminal in Patna did somebody in the packed general bogie notice a black snake hissing beneath a berth. In the resultant chaos, some of the panic- stricken passengers jumped out of the bogie when the train slowed down at a signal and got injured in the process.
The unreserved bogie was vacant by the time the train reached Patna Junction. The railway staff then had a tough time evicting the ' ticketless traveller'.
a Randhawa and Gunjan Pant, the movie is being released with 16 prints in Pakistan in the new year. It is based on the theme of Naxal violence in Bihar and has generated good response at the box office back home.
TIMES OF INDIA
The global media went to town with stories of air pollution in Beijing and the possibility of its adversely impacting the performance of athletes participating in the Olympics being held there in 2008. The smog that hung over the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing was given so much coverage that the Chinese had to take drastic measures to scale down air pollution in and around the city. The shoe is now on the other foot. And the poison is not just in the air but extends to water and land, too.
A study undertaken by the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and the Central Pollution Control Board - and released by the Union environment ministry - concludes that with increasing industrialisation, the quality of air around cities in India has deteriorated to dangerous levels. Five out of the list of 20 most polluted zones in India lie in the national capital region or thereabouts, and these include clusters at Ghaziabad, Noida and Faridabad. Of particular concern is the poor state of the Najafgarh drain in east Delhi, close to the venue of the Commonwealth Games to be held in 2010. Ankleshwar and Vapi in Gujarat, Chandrapur in Maharashtra, Bhiwadi in Rajasthan, Angul Talcher in Orissa, Vellore in Tamil Nadu, Singrauli in UP and Ludhiana in Punjab have all made it to the list of 10 most polluting industrial clusters in the country.
Industrial pollution is not restricted to fouling the air. Effluents seep into groundwater sources, poisoning the water table. Discharged untreated into streams and rivers, lakes and tanks, toxic effluents endanger marine organisms and render water unsafe for consumption. All this is tantamount to causing grievous and wilful injury to life - maybe even leading to death - and so ought to be treated as a crime against basic human rights. Unfortunately, though a slew of laws and regulatory bodies are in place, implementation is either lacking or completely absent.
At the recent UN conference on climate change at Copen-hagen, as part of the BASIC group, India committed itself to reining in emissions and adopting a proactive approach to preserving environmental sanctity. The report's findings are therefore cause for concern. On a scale of zero to 100, the above-mentioned clusters have garnered an 80-plus score. Armed with the findings - and without waiting for judicial intervention to take action - the ministries concerned and regulatory authorities need to take punitive steps against defaulters and reward the industries that have introduced treatment plants and recycling measures to keep pollution at the minimum. Any proposal to transfer dirty units to new locations outside these metros will only shift the problem, not solve it - all emissions become part of the common atmosphere, adding to global warming and endangering public health everywhere.
TIMES OF INDIA
KEEP IT SIMPLE
The foreign ministry's easing of the new tourist visa guidelines announced last month is welcome. The issue has now, of course, become tangled with another potential row over minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor's comments on Twitter. But this should not distract from real concerns. While the relaxation of the mandatory provision of a two-month break between two visits on a multiple-entry visa mitigates the problem, added bureaucratic hassle remains. One can understand the security concerns that have prompted the foreign ministry to take this step; the David Headley fiasco shows that they are genuine enough. But addressing them by making travel more difficult for all foreigners is counterproductive.
Currently, the tourism industry is the largest in the services sector in India - over 6 per cent of the GDP, almost 9 per cent of national employment and revenue of $100 billion in 2008. India's position as a hub for travellers in the region is one of the reasons for this. Add to this certain types of tourism in particular - such as medical tourism - that require long stays and multiple visits and the industry's vulnerability to harsher visa controls becomes apparent. At the same time, the country has been burnt too badly too many times to allow any further laxity in security. There are, as Tharoor has admitted, no easy answers here. Missteps may be made in the quest for tighter anti-terrorism controls, but the overall effort must be to proceed in a measured fashion, balancing security and economic concerns.
In this context, it may be more useful to focus on tightening existing procedures and establishing closer networking between various Indian consulates, government departments and foreign agencies. Our track record is not exemplary in this regard. Indian consulates in various countries are notorious for lax background checking and administrative processes. The entire follow up to Headley is a story of the lacunae in the system, with his missing visa papers crowning the affair.
Undoubtedly, some visitors will be inconvenienced, however careful the changes. There is a certain inevitability to it in these days of global terrorism where a plot hatched in Chicago can mean death and disaster in Denmark and India. But the changes can be focused in a way that minimises the fallout - better intelligence and, perhaps, splitting the various categories of visas into sub-categories to narrow the purpose of the visit further as the US does. What is needed here is a scalpel, not a bludgeon.
TIMES OF INDIA
TRICK OR TEACH?
Here is an incontrovertible fact: the majority of children between the ages of eight and 14, rich or poor, attend private schools. Even poor families shun government schools and willingly pay fees to enrol their children in private schools. To cater to this demand, private schools are flourishing, not just in cities and small towns but in villages as well. These schools have been established as commercial ventures. They are of two kinds: recognised and unrecognised by the government. To obtain recognition, private schools have to fulfil impossible criteria including infrastructural demands and have to pay teachers according to the government-appointed Pay Commission's recommendations. Thus, teachers must be paid upward of Rs 20,000 a month as entrants and the scale rises with experience.
Of course, schoolteachers should be paid well and the new scales are welcome. These salary standards, however, are daunting for private schools except elite institutions securing funds from trusts and alumni. In the end, most private schools are commercial ventures that need not just to balance their books but also make a profit. There is a limit on the fees they can charge. And yes, in order to sustain themselves, they must have money to pay their bills and provide a return to investors. Most people are aghast that schools can be run as commerce. Actually, all schools are: the recognised ones are eligible for government grants; the elite ones depend on trust funding; government schools eat up taxpayers' money. Any which way, schools are an enterprise and cannot indefinitely sustain themselves without government funding, alumni benefaction or fees.
Parents shun government schools because these don't function. Government schoolteachers are political factotums who must perform election duty and schools are closed because they are venues for the vote. Politics always get the right of way. In my neighbourhood, i have to cast my vote in the local government school that is truly a beautiful setting, with huge grounds and trees. But when i go into the classrooms where the voting booths are, i find the rubble of broken desks, splintered blackboards and a general aura of decay. One election agent told me very few teachers actually attend class; they mostly have a side business as private tutors. It makes me wonder: what are the children in these schools learning?
The government school system is broken beyond repair and everybody knows that, including the poor. Yet the new Right to Education (RTE) Act turns a blind eye and instead seeks to impose impossible burdens on private schools, not just elite institutions but others catering to the common man. Recognised or not, these schools are filling the gap that government apathy and ineptitude has created.
Recently i attended a conference in which participants debated the newly-enacted RTE Bill. The focus of the discussion was Section 12 of the legislation, which mandates: "For the purposes of this Act, a school, specified in sub-clause (iii) [special schools like Kendriya Vidyalaya, Sainik School, Navodaya Vidyalaya, etc] and (iv) [private unaided] of clause (n) of section 2 shall admit in class I, to the extent of at least twenty-five per cent of the strength of that class, children belonging to (the) weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory elementary education till its completion.."
Also, "the school specified in sub-clause (iv) [private unaided] of clause (n) of section 2 providing free and compulsory elementary education as specifiedâ¦shall be reimbursed expenditure so incurred by it to the extent of per-child-expenditure incurred by the State, or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less (sic)..."
Talk about obfuscation. Who is to decide who this "weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood" is? And what is "the extent of per-child-expenditure by the State"? The answer to the first question is: state-level bureaucrats and local politicians will decide who qualifies. It sets up one more opportunity for milking the poor and holding private schools to ransom. In addition, the government's "per-child-expenditure" is about Rs 3,000 a year, based on an extrapolation from figures provided by the standing committee on human resources development. That's Rs 250 a month! Under the NREGA, the government pays Rs 100 a day for the poorest of the poor to dig ditches. Even that is low. In Goa, the mandated rate for manual labour is Rs 200 a day.
The RTE Act is poorly framed. It is currently being translated into policy under the ministrations of half a dozen bureaucrats. Like all well-meaning legislation, it will only create more problems. Government schools will remain non-functional. Private schools will have to face, in addition to highfalutin government influence over admission policies, the spectre of dealing with low-level bureaucrats and local politicians (read thugs).
Which leads to a crucial question: who says only the government can provide welfare services? Private schools are doing what the government is unable to do. Instead of helping them discharge the function, the new RTE Act creates problems. Is it ineptitude or another scheme to extract rent? Confusion has wrought its masterpiece.
The writer is a public affairs commentator.
TIMES OF INDIA
STABLE GOVERNMENT IS THE PRIORITY
Compromise is key to the formation of coalition governments. What we are about to see in Jharkhand can be no exception. The recent assembly elections produced a fractured verdict. No single party or coalition won enough seats to form a government in Ranchi. In this context, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the BJP, the two largest parties in the Jharkhand assembly, have done the right thing to strike an alliance in order to form a government with the support of smaller outfits. These parties do not share an ideology. Nor did they have a pre-poll alliance. So what? The key thing is to have a common minimum programme so that the coalition partners have a clear framework to govern.
To be fair to the JMM, the party has been clear from the beginning that it does not choose allies on the basis of their secular credentials. Over the years, the JMM has flirted with the BJP-led NDA as well as the Congress-led UPA. As for corruption, can any political party claim the moral high ground on the matter? Party chiefs and ministers to legislators across parties in Jharkhand and elsewhere have had to face charges of corruption. Corruption would be an election issue only if the corrupt politician was an exception. That, unfortunately, is not the case. So, it's least surprising that Jharkhand's voters didn't find corruption to be an overriding concern and even elected a few tainted politicians.
The JMM's political plank has always been the tribal identity of Jharkhand and the party has sought to provide political agency to the tribal population. Its demand for the office of the chief minister reflects its political origins and concerns and the BJP seems to recognise that. The Congress failed to strike an alliance with the JMM mainly because it didn't want to offer the office of the chief minister to the latter.
Jharkhand has had six governments in the past nine years. This instability is a key reason for the prevalence of corruption in the state. Hopefully, a stable government now would help the state to make better use of resources and improve the standard of living.
TIMES OF INDIA
WHAT PRICE, ALLIANCE?
Tying up with Shibu Soren in Jharkhand, is the BJP counting on public memory being short? Too bad for it that people do recall its sustained campaign against Soren when he was coal minister during UPA's first stint at the Centre. Seeking his scalp, the BJP had then decried him as a "tainted" minister. Evidently, the prospect of sharing the spoils of power has now removed that taint. The BJP cites Soren's acquittal in two cases to justify their partnership. It also says it wants to fulfil its "constitutional duty" of ensuring a government is formed. On both counts, it's being disingenuous.
Asked why it's backing Soren, the BJP clearly appears on the defensive. The primary contention of its mouthpieces seems to be that its main rival, the Congress, can't claim moral high ground. Now, whether or not the Congress befriended the JMM or subsequently propped up the scam-tainted Madhu Koda regime in the past isn't the point. A self-styled "party with a difference" shouldn't have to justify its actions by glib comparisons. Moreover, BJP-wallahs themselves don't seem fully persuaded of Soren's refurbished credentials. Rajiv Pratap Rudy, for one, has said that BJP-JMM bonhomie may backfire on his party. This view, however "personal" it may be, is likely to be shared by others.
The BJP claims it's doing Jharkhand a service by facilitating government formation. But, having ceded chief ministership, it won't find it easy accommodating the JMM's future demands. The JMM, on its part, doesn't share its ally's ideological predilections. Once the honeymoon is over, turf battles and incompatibilities will rankle. True, coalition politics forces parties with dissimilar profiles to hold hands. But surely there must be a shared faith in political stability. Now, while Soren's soundbytes are all about delivering stability, BJP leaders are already admitting they can walk out if the "arrangement" fails. Good governance, then, may be a fool's hope in Jharkhand, which has seen political turmoil over the past nine years. Any "party with a difference" must ask itself if the short-term gains of opportunism are worth long-term damage to its reputation and professed principles.
TIMES OF INDIA
HUNTING FOR A CURE
Music, the opiate of the listening classes, is also branded as an over-the-counter drug administered through flapping ears to cure a litany of ailments. Significantly, a full wintry month is earmarked for its copious airing in Chennai, when constitutionally frail ladies and gentlemen who never fail to catch or contract seasonal bugs or viruses that do the rounds look for a cure-all at, of all places, a concert hall. However, it is a pity that a few sticklers for concert codes view with a frown when the suffering rasikas noisily sniffle and/or blow their tomato-red noses into a kerchief in a katcheri. In a recent hyped concert, when the musician did justice to a poorvikalyani alapana, and was wallowing in the subliminal pause that followed, one heard a series of creaking sounds as if made by heavy Malabar police boots. Mr Sharp Ears, sitting by my side, opened his left eye a nanometer and raised a haughty eyebrow, with a condemnatory curl of the upper lip at this affront to his musically sensitive ears. The leathery, creaking solo, after reaching a crescendo, abruptly halted as the late-coming Mr Arthritis, who sourced it from his worn knee joints, lowered his lanky frame on the seat adjacent to Sharp Ears. This done he sneezed thunderously 16 times as if it were his minimum guaranteed count.
Presently the unfazed musician, used to deviant sounds from the auditoria, began making a tonal analysis of the pallavi of a Thyagarajakriti with the mridangam and ghatam percussionists pitching in. Arthritis, whose rusted and rested joints were silent, metamorphosed into Mr Laryngitis. His low-decibel guttural cough started unobtrusively. Gaining pith and vigour, it worked hard to have a phrase edgeways between the mridangam and ghatam beats. Soon it caught up with the adi tala algorithm, weaving adroitly in between the other two, like a Formula One car on the racetracks. Before long, the staccato of the cough fused intricately with the other accompanists' rhythmic acrobatics without the aid and abetment of a state-of-the-art microphone. At this point, Sharp Ears suddenly rose from his seat like a PSLV rocket, his face registering a payload of emotions. Scorching the cacophonous noisemaker with a fierylook from his virtual third-eye, he hurriedly stalked off breathing fire. Laryngitis peered at me, cough and hurt water screening his eyes. Naively, he seemed to ask, "Can't a sufferer come here for the musical cure?"
TIMES OF INDIA
ORIGIN OF SPECIOUS
An octopus species lugs around coconut shells to hide in when threatened. It even builds shelters by joining two shell halves. One biologist calls this "amazing". Another dubs the veined octopus "a low life form, relative of the snail". Have we here all-too-common attitudes towards non-human life: patronising at best, contemptuous at worst? Images of the cephalopod peeping from the shell hollows, however, convey three simple truths. Life is beautiful to every creature born without asking to be born. The world into which it's born is hostile - absurdly so. And survival is very lonely work.
Using tools to survive, scientists wager, is "special" to humans. Really? Bottlenose dolphins use a fishing tool to make foraging easier. Of course, tool users like crows or macaques can't think up brandy snifters and desktop gadgets, let alone gas chambers and dirty bombs. So, long live, anthropocentrism, as exemplified by Descartes, philosopher for whom animals were machines mimicking sentience.
But man shares more with non-humans than he admits: emotions, communication, social organisation geared to largely peaceful coexistence, even altruism. Yet it seems modern research must 'confirm' what was obvious in the 17th century when cat-burning was still a rabble-rousing sport. Pointing to animal intelligence, that's when the great classical writer Jean de la Fontaine took apart the clockwork animal of Cartesian pseudo-science, piece by rusty piece.
Many scientists advocate a radical re-think on the man-accorded status of non-human species, given their cognitive abilities. If nobody's listening, thank speciesism, a tell-all term coined by psychologist Richard Ryder. Speciesists say man's inborn 'superiority' justifies the animal kingdom's exploitation. Unapologetic speciesists call non-human pain a moral irrelevance; apologists say man's special traits warrant special treatment. A bit of both, Roger Scruton fetes man's "inherent mastership". Surely, as a philosopher, he must know it's irrelevant on the cosmic scale whether man or mastodon anoints himself/itself terrestrial king.
Other speciesists - apparently divinely inspired - say 'beasts' lack harvestable souls. So their suffering is a theological non-event. It's also evidently a political non-event, 'beasts' lacking harvestable votes. Popularly elected leaders ignore non-human interests save when voters - democracy's magical majority! - decide otherwise.
But from Pythagoras in Antiquity onwards, speciesism has been knocked down. Thinkers Locke and Schopenhauer felt brutality towards animals served to pervert human nature. Rousseau saw sentience as a universal bond. Bentham identified pain as proof of man-animal kinship: "The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" Yes, and horribly, said legal scholar Steven Wise in the 20th century, telling the story of disease-injected chimps. Modern scholars assert that purported inter-species "differences" to privilege humans stand neither ethical nor scientific scrutiny.
Question: if non-human species are, as speciesists claim, outside the moral ambit, why keep their forced sacrifice out of polite society's sight? Is it because, instinctively, we know what Jainism teaches: there's "no virtue of spirit greater than reverence for life"?
In Coleridge's celebrated poem about moral chaos, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a ghost-ship's captain undergoes expiation for shedding blood. He is ultimately redeemed by a liberating vision of the world's spiritual unity. Gazing in awe rather than customary revulsion at frolicking water-snakes, he is moved to exclaim: "O happy living things! no tongue/ Their beauty might declare:/ A spring of love gushed from my heart,/ And I blessed them unawareâ¦"
Few literary works have conveyed more forcefully the gratuitous nature of human aggression, based on an assumption of brute mastery. Or that the world's interconnectedness flows from empathy, across borders, across species - as even derided creatures falling by the wayside may teach us. Such as Balthazar, beast of burden in Au Hasard Balthazar, Robert Bresson's film classic and ode to transcendence. Enduring myriad forms of man's cruelty through its life, this aged donkey ends up, bullet-hit, on a vast field. And there it slowly dies, free at last - yet unwitting shepherd to sheep that graze.
AT A FEVER PITCH
Cricket, as we know all too well, is a religion in a country that takes its religions very seriously. So when on Sunday the capital of the nation witnessed an international cricket match being abandoned not because of unruly mobs in the stands stopping an inevitable Indian defeat, not because a sudden drop in temperature covered the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds with climate change-induced snow, not because Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara thought he saw his Indian counterpart scraping the ball with a cap from a soft drink bottle, but because the pitch was unplayable. When the match was abandoned in the 24th over of the Sri Lankan innings, quite a few players had already been battered and bruised.
It's one thing to have the Bodyline legend being replicated. It's quite another to find that the villain of the piece was the pitch. So much for India's most popular game being given the star treatment by none other than one of the world's richest sporting bodies, the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India. The Delhi and District Cricket
Association (DDCA) has rightly been punished by Delhi being dropped from the itinerary of the February-March 2010 tour of South Africa. The fat cats in the DDCA have, on their part, blamed the chaps responsible for preparing (sic) the pitch. Who the pitch committee blames is yet to be ascertained.
As Delhi gears up for the Commonwealth Games, Ferozeshah Kotla provided a wake-up call not to the fact that we have no clue about sports infrastructure, not to the fact that we are woefully backward in our sense of priorities, but to the fact that cricket in India under the BCCI is only a microcosm of India under our governments where everything that can go wrong goes wrong and much more too.
LEAVING IT TO SIMMER
The old adage, 'Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today,' is routinely observed in the reverse in Indian politics. The government's performance following the Telangana agitation is the latest case in point. At the first signs of a political agitation, the Pavlovian response is to cave in and make all the right noises and assurances, only to backtrack in the cold light of day. This then sets off a second round of unrest and so we go round and round on a carousel of procrastination. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's assurance that there will soon be good news on Telangana will certainly buy some time, but we are unclear as to what ace the government has up its sleeve to resolve the problem once and for all. Earlier, the Rajasthan government dilly-dallied on the Gujjar-Meena problem with the result that agitators blocked roads, destroyed public property and caused several needless deaths. The issue was put on the backburner after promises, which clearly could not be kept, were made. We are certain that this is not the last we will have seen of that particular problem.
Even as the Telangana issue is up in the air, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has restarted its agitation for Gorkhaland with the usual roadblocks and indefinite fasts. The pusillanimous response to this sort of political blackmail has encouraged anyone with a grievance and a moderate battalion on his side to hold the government to ransom. What seems to be overlooked is the hardship caused to millions of people who want to get on with their lives. The Telangana unrest has now reached such a stage that many examinations will be put off for a year. This means that the lives of thousands of students will have to be put on hold and their chances in the job market adversely affected.
When dealing with such tricky issues, it would help if Parliament and its myriad committees would take their work seriously and debate these problems thoroughly. This way, a consensus could be arrived at before people take to the streets. It is because policy decisions are made in such an ad hoc manner that political demands are taken through coercion and its resultant destruction of public property and loss of lives. Unfortunately, all decisions on contentious issues are made based on the calculus of political opportunism. This ensures that they remain on the boil in perpetuity to be exploited whenever convenient.
M N KUNDU
When the Buddha announced his impending death, his disciple Ananda got into tears, "Lord, so far you have been our sole adviser. After your passing away whom should we approach for advice and instructions?" The Buddha calmly replied, "Atmadeepo bhaba." That means 'be light unto yourself.'
Enlightenment can be attained only through inner illumination. No one from outside can help you unless you kindle the inner light to see the path for yourself.
The essence of spirituality lies in rediscovering the answer to the fourfold fundamental question. Who am I? Wherefrom have I come? Why have I come? Where shall I ultimately go to?
Answers to these are unknown and unknowable to the finite mind as they relate to the realm of the Infinite.
We need to transform our ego, the fragmented self into cosmic self to enter the domain of the Infinite where the questioning mind gets automatically silenced. Spirituality is not a matter of knowing through the intellect, but being and becoming one with the Infinite.
We all behave like the man who was rejoicing in the sinking ship while all others were mourning their imminent death. Being asked the reason for rejoicing, he replied, "Thank God! I have not taken the return ticket, and thus saved a lot."
Indulging in such momentary pleasure out of living in the present is highly irrational in the context of absolute impermanence of all worldly things. That is precisely why our great seers advised us not to live in the past or future, not even in the present, but in eternity.
Our transitory life on earth for a few decades can be really meaningful, enjoyable and carefree only in the context of divine eternity. Only spiritual people can enjoy life in full, others roam in darkness of delusion with some semblance of enjoyment.
Let us make a sincere quest for spiritual meaning of life through serious self-inquiry.
THE WORST ISN'T OVER
As 21st century's first decade ends, globally capitalism has exposed its historical limitations with the economic recession continuing. Large-scale destruction of wealth, decline in industrial production and global trade have, according to the International Labour Organisation, increased global unemployment by 61 million people. The total number of unemployed people stands now at 241 million. This is accompanied by a sharp drop in the real wages of the people who have jobs. This declined from 4.3 per cent in 2007 to 1.4 in 2008. Both these put together have, according to the World Bank, pushed an additional 89 million people into poverty taking the global figure to above 1.5 billion.
While we in India may be patting ourselves for having remained relatively insulated from global shocks, mainly due to the Left blocking many financial liberalisation reforms under UPA-I, the majority of Indians, mainly the poor have been subjected to the relentless battering of rising unemployment and high food prices. This obviously has pushed many more people in our country into poverty.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh struck a very defensive tone at the recent conference of the Indian Economic Association by stating that "the percentage of the population living below the poverty line has certainly not increased." There is an obvious realisation that the economic policies of liberalisation or reforms has ended in creating two Indias a Shining and a Suffering. In an admission of guilt of sorts, he said, "Based on the available evidence, we can claim that there is no evidence that the new economic policies have had an adverse effect on the poor. He also said, "In fact, it (poverty) has continued to decline after the economic reforms at least at the same rate as it did before".
This, in fact, tallies with the latest official estimation of the incidence of poverty. The Suresh Tendulkar Committee, set up by the Planning Commission, has now put out an estimate that over 37 per cent of Indians live in poverty as compared with the existing officially estimated 27.5 per cent. Earlier, the National Commission on Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector estimated on the basis of consumer expenditure data that 78 per cent of Indians are being forced to survive on less than Rs 20 a day. This implies that nearly three-fourths of our population is today living in poverty.
There is a great deal of controversy on the methodology adopted for arriving at correct estimations of poverty. There has been a tendency of gross underestimation. Notwithstanding this, it is now officially recognised that the number of people living below the poverty line has been growing in absolute numbers.
This also converges with the fact that many a state government has challenged the Centre's estimations of those living below the poverty line (BPL). This has become significant since the budgetary allocations for rural development programmes and the supply of foodgrains to the states from the Centre are determined by these estimations. The UPA's commitment to the aam aadmi turned out to be more of a deception in the wake of gross underestimation of the BPL population.
Simultaneously, the quality of livelihood of the aam aadmi has sharply declined due to rising food prices by a whopping 20 per cent this year. Despite all official explanations of a demand-supply mismatch, the worst monsoon in 37 years etc, the fact remains that the government has completely failed in arresting this runaway inflation. Much of this rise in prices can be attributed to speculative trading in commodities. Since April 2009, the companies that have invested in food stocks have reported returns ranging from 150 to 300 per cent. There is no other way to control food prices except to crack down on such speculative trading and by banning forward/futures trading in all essential commodities. This must be accompanied by strengthening the public distribution system. Unless this is done, the double whammy assault on the aam aadmi cannot be prevented.
Under these circumstances, the prospects of a better livelihood for a vast majority of our people will crucially depend on increased governmental outlays for poverty alleviation programmes. A sharp increase in such allocations appear remote given the large shortfalls in revenues. During the first eight months of this fiscal year, indirect taxes under the three major heads excise, customs and services have yielded close to half the budgetary estimation. Similarly, the direct tax receipts have also been less than half of the budget estimate. It is unlikely that these shortfalls will be made up in the last quarter of this fiscal.
The poor can expect an improvement in their livelihood in the coming year only if the UPA redoubles its efforts to mobilise resources for large public expenditures that can combat both poverty and unemployment. During the last fiscal, the government announced that it had foregone legitimate tax revenue to the tune of Rs. 4.18 lakh crore. One good way to begin the new year would be to resolve not to repeat this and instead transfer this amount to public investments that will both create new jobs and improve the quality of livelihood of our people.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal
It seemed perfect. A pleasant, late-December day, made for watching cricket. A Sunday afternoon and evening with a match that could be the highlight of a long weekend. And then Sri Lanka and India started playing, and it swiftly became clear that the pitch wasn't going to let the day's cricket be played. It was more than a disappointment; it was a warning and a reminder: ignoring governance issues in Indian cricket cannot be a sustainable policy.
Indian cricket will continue to suffer until the Board of Control for Cricket in India stops behaving like a relic of the amateur age. Sixty years ago, when many cricketers had day jobs and the sport was a leisurely affair played on matting, it might have been acceptable to have a pitch curator who is as is the case at Kanpur's Green Park actually an electrician. It's not as if the BCCI doesn't know this is a problem: everyone in the cricketing world has repeated the cliché that Indian pitches come in two varieties, boring and terrible. Years of such snark caused the setting up of the Grounds and Wickets Committee, or GWC, in the BCCI, as long ago as 1997. And yet, nothing got done. One exasperated member of the GWC quit saying "the wickets are left to local malis and they are always up to some mischief." Dhiraj Parsana, one of the longest-serving members of the just-sacked GWC defends the central board: their mandate is simply "not to interfere in pitch-making, the nature and texture of the wicket". So there isn't any professionalism, and there's no central authority imposing accountability either.
But how can the BCCI drag itself towards professional management when even those in charge at most levels of the sport are part-timers, embedded deeply in power structures external to the game? The occupation of cricket's power structures by political time-servers will have, as its natural consequence, an inability to modernise. Here, as in so much else, the IPL is indicative: the money and eyeballs that it brought in weren't used to bring Indian cricket's facilities and governance up-to-date; they were used instead for self-aggrandisement and petty politicking. And open lobbying for games that passes as the "rotation" system ensures that, regardless of pitch quality, what matters to get a game is your political power. So why try? We see now the consequences of such thinking. The sacking of the GWC was long overdue. But ensuring we never see scenes like we did at the Kotla will require much deeper change.
There is no such thing as society," declared Margaret Thatcher. A few decades before that, J.B. Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls, a play about a police officer walking into a well-to-do family and shattering their smugness by revealing how each one of them was directly or unwittingly implicated in the social ruin and suicide of a young girl. Ruchika Girhotra's life was something like that: after being molested by an authority figure in her world, she was systematically let down by every place of succour. As her classmates have since confessed, Ruchika was left violently alone in school, the object of her peers' excitable gossip. Finally, she was expelled on the flimsy charge that her fees had not been paid on time (incidentally, she had been attending the school for 10 years). According to Ruchika's father, this one supposedly safe space succumbed to official pressure and asked the vulnerable teenager to leave.
Whatever comes of the renewed investigation into the school's action, it should not surprise anyone who is familiar with the way Chandigarh works. Sacred Heart Convent sarkari kowtowing is emblematic of the city's power-addled character. Few other cities are as implicated in the webs of sarkari influence. It was designed exclusively as a seat of government, and has three administrations jostling to make their presence felt in every facet of daily life. VIPs abound; everyone feels entitled to a free pass.
Unlike most other organically evolving cities, Chandigarh sprang fully formed from Le Corbusier's brow an elegantly Cartesian capital with wide open spaces and identical houses, with uses divided into different sectors. Unlike the anonymity and sense of encounter that other urban spaces hold out, one's place in the social grid is all too obvious, and matters crucially. Designed like a capitol with an elevated head and an array of administrative buildings, the city is simply an arena for the exercise of state power. The competing claims of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh themselves ensure that no one is immune to this favour-mongering, pompous administrative ethos. That S.P.S. Rathore got away for so long and extracted consent from all intervening institutions is of a piece with the control fetishism and bureaucratic tyranny of the town he lived in.
SHADOWS OF 1979
It is the type of turnout the Green Movement hopes for, the sort of response the Iranian theocracy wants to stifle. Reformist websites sounded the call to take to the streets; the government responded with a reminder that protests or gatherings of a political nature were barred. But even in an increasingly stifling Iran where speech is clamped down on, opposition leaders arrested and foreign media barred a festival offers a rare opportunity for people to congregate. Thus protests on the day of Ashura, the 10th day of the month of Muharram, were expected.
Ashura was a perfect excuse to take to the streets. That the reform movement would use the emotional narrative of Imam Hussein's martyrdom was expected. It is believed by Shi'as that Hussein was brutally robbed of his throne and position as leader by Caliph Yazid in the battle of Karbala. And in an Iran divided over an election and its brutal aftermath, the chant "This is a month of blood Yazid will be defeated!" took on a new, political meaning. Couple this with the seven-day death anniversary of opposition cleric Ayatollah Montazeri who is now pitted as a martyr too and crowds were bound to gather.
Defeated reformist Mehdi Karroubi questioned, "What has happened to this religious system that it orders the killing of innocent people during the holy day of Ashura?" No longer targeted solely at Ahmedinejad, protest openly criticises Ayatollah Khameini too. A key development from June: recent protests are not limited to middle-class Tehran, and have spread to Qom, Shiraz and other less developed cities. As events unfold in Tehran one is reminded of the days when the Shah fought for survival from an increasingly disgruntled public though there are important differences. The lack of a unified vision, for example, means that the change this movement seeks is still some distance away.
INTEGRITY, NOT INCENTIVES
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
The year draws to a close in a morally unsettling way. The horror of the Ruchika case draws not simply from the original crime and the fact that it remains, for practical purposes, unpunished. It is that the whole saga ought to be associated with a tyrannical and depraved republic, not a healthy and vibrant democracy. There is the association of power and impunity that only a tyranny could produce. There is the psychological torture and inversion, where more violence seems to be inflicted on the victims than on the perpetrators. There is the evasion of responsibility at so many levels. The invocation of the simple but suffocating word "system" is always a sure sign of the insidious presence of tyranny. There are silver linings: a brave family and small group of friends fighting. On the face of it there is also a growing public outcry. But in a sense the tragedy seems to be that the more nobly the family behaved the less chance it stood. The public campaign may achieve justice; and that will be some consolation. But you wonder about a society where victims have no chance of justice except through participation in a public spectacle. They have to be robbed of the option of reticence and privacy to achieve a modicum of consolation.
But this case, like so many others during the last week, raises the profoundly unsettling question: what will be the place of the moral imagination in the new India? What are the norms that will sustain us? In almost every crisis that evokes this question, the answer is almost always: fix the system. And at one level, there is something in this: the shields that forms, laws, regulations and procedures provide often stymie the most robust moral intent. Individual virtue is often helpless. Institutional design is important. But you cannot help shake off the feeling that perhaps we are looking for external fixes too quickly; that blaming the system has become not much an explanation of our predicament as much as an alibi. Even in this case, the issues are not merely who manipulated the CBI and when. It is also about the social norms and strictures that allowed such a public official not just to be received but felicitated in high society. It is about several chief ministers not showing the slightest bit of moral outrage or delicacy when the occasion called for it. It is that doing the straightforwardly moral thing seemed optional to a large number of people involved.
And it is here that perhaps even our dominant ideologies of reform stymie the moral imagination rather than enlarge it. One line of thought places faith in institutions. Getting the right outcome is simply a matter of getting the balance of power, checks and balances, instruments of accountability, right laws and regulations in place. But this reasonable line of inquiry has been converted almost into a self-defeating fetish. We know that formal properties of institutional design matter, but only up to a point. The best-designed institutions can be subverted by those who do not have a sense of right or wrong; imperfect ones can be elevated by acts of moral leadership. We should design better institutions. But it will be morally obtuse to think that those will do away with the need for moral judgment, interpretation, integrity and better exercise of discretion. New rules or institutions, without an underlying moral framework, displace the problem, not solve it. A focus on external fixes also prevents us from recognising how much space there is, within existing rules, to do the right thing without incurring huge penalties.
The second and related line of thought is the focus on incentives, on rewards and punishments. First of all, we need to recognise that forms of social regulation that depend wholly on incentives and penalties will, under the best circumstances, produce only a fragile compliance, not integrity. Second, even penalties and incentives operate effectively only against a backdrop of internalised morality. Otherwise the costs of eliciting compliance are simply too high. But more insidiously, the language of reward and punishments militates against integrity.
Integrity, whether in personal life or in an official position, depends upon taking seriously the thought that there are certain ends and values that are simply not for sale, dispensable for instrumental purposes. Reputation, income recognition, status, should act more as a society's acknowledgment of an individual's commitments; they should not be the reasons for individual action.
The fundamental contradiction in our approach to reform is this. The more a society legitimises the thought that anything you do must be for the right incentives, not for intrinsic reasons, the more likely that society is to produce people who respond only to external incentives. But a society in which individuals are governed largely by external incentives will be one that does not display integrity in the minimal sense.
In almost every current controversy these motifs recur. New mechanisms for judicial reform are necessary, but we are living in a fool's paradise if we don't acknowledge this. The current system was itself an institutional innovation to redress prior infirmities. Many of its problems can still be fixed within existing norms with some exercise of leadership. In no system can you do away with virtue. You want people to vote, but do you want them to vote only because they are coerced? Society thinks teachers will teach only if they are treated as if they were in a police state.
Institutional quick-fixes are easy to conjure up. And we often want to talk about those because it is harder to confront a deeper topic. What are the social pathologies producing the kinds of perversity we are so publicly witnessing now? Is the project of aligning ambition with social virtue dependent solely on external inducement? What produces a sense of justice and moral delicacy in a society? I suspect the biggest challenge for us in the New Year will not be economics or politics, but taking our own moral measure. A society in which moral discourse is reduced largely to coercion or inducement is a society which will produce two successful character types: tyrants or hustlers, those who enjoy the impunity of power and those willing to instrumentalise anything. To think of morality largely in terms of reward and punishment, without exploring deeper sources, is to be penny-wise, pound-foolish.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
YOU ASKED, WE ANSWERED
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as Ranganath Misra Commission (after its octogenarian head, former Chief Justice of India and first NHRC Chairman Ranganath Misra) recently hit media headlines. Its report, submitted two and a half years earlier, has been tabled in Parliament without a conventional action taken report. All sorts of comments have since been made on it in and outside official circles. While some politicians have dubbed it as "anti-national" others have talked of picking the "sensible" ones from amongst its recommendations. All these comments are focused on just one of the measures mooted by the commission that relating to reservation for minorities.
There is nothing impractical in the Misra Commission report. It did not take up the issue of reservation for minorities on its own. It was asked by the government in its Terms of Reference, to suggest criteria for identifying backward sections among minorities and recommend for them welfare measures "including reservation in education and government employment". For quite some time the minorities especially Muslims had been demanding a share in government offices and state-aided educational institutions. In the 2004 general elections, the Congress manifesto promised to set up a national commission to explore the possible modalities for implementing this demand. The roadmap laid by the first UPA government reiterated the promise, and the four-member Misra Commission started work on March 21, 2005. Now that it has expressed its views, it is talked of as if it raised this controversy on its own initiative. The simple fact however remains that the government asked for its views on it.
The Constitution of India prohibits discrimination between citizens on the grounds of caste, gender or religion but none of these prohibitions is absolute. Protective discrimination in favour of particular castes and of women is, constitutionally, expressly permissible. Analogously, affirmative action in favour of minorities aiming at effecting equality among un-equals would amount to protective discrimination not hit by the constitutional prohibition of religion-based discrimination. That mandate, intended to protect minorities against hegemonic domination by the majority over national resources, is being unfortunately used in the opposite direction of what was intended. The caste system pervades all of Indian society; few enough fume over the Scheduled Caste net being restricted to three chosen religions. No eyebrows were raised when the Supreme Court thought it fit to severely curtail minorities' educational rights unconditionally guaranteed by the Constitution by directing minority educational institutions to keep half of their intake virtually reserved for the majority. Any proposal for a reciprocal measure for minorities by way of earmarking some space for them in non-minority institutions is, on the other hand, invariably dubbed unconstitutional.
The Misra Commission therefore talked of three alternative courses of action, in order of preference. Its first preference: that religion or caste not have any place whatsoever in determining backwardness, and a totally secular criterion should be uniformly adopted for this purpose, for all communities. This measure, if adopted, will require drastic changes in the present laws relating to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs. Given that is likely socially unacceptable, the commission indicated a second alternative: 15 per cent space for minorities in state-aided educational institutions, government employment and welfare schemes. This alternative too, the commission knew, would not be easily digestible. It therefore suggested a third alternative measure: provision for an 8.4 per cent quota for minorities (commensurate with their numbers among the OBCs) within the already in force 27 per cent reservation for OBCs. On being asked for its views about Dalit Christians and Muslims, the commission expressed its well-considered view that since caste-based stratification is shared by the entire society in India, limiting the Scheduled Caste net to three chosen faiths amounts to religion-based discrimination.
The commission recommended much else related to minority welfare, which strangely no one is talking about. Among those ideas: reserving all resources of the Central Wakf Council for their educational uplift and empowering it for that purpose to realise a 5 per cent education cess from all wakfs; giving Aligarh University and Jamia Millia a special responsibility to ensure their educational advancement; providing enhanced aid and better facilities to all Muslim schools and colleges; and running parallel modern education schools for madrasa students. The misplaced belief rampant in society that the Constitution prohibits any kind of reservation for minorities should put no roadblock in implementing at least these recommendations.
The author is a senior professor of law and a former member of Ranganath Misra Commission
SPOILS OF WAR
For little Sri Lanka, 2009 was a year of celebration and heart break. The aftermath of an improbable victory against the LTTE brought a massive wave of support from the Sinhala majority to President Mahinda Rajapakse. The Tamils were dumbfounded. In a near thirty year period of the LTTE's dominance, the Tamil community, though not by choice, looked upto the LTTE to bring about devolution or some semblance of self rule in the North and East of the country. With the end of the war, a vacuum has been created even amongst the Tamil moderate polity. This has yet to be filled.
Large cut-outs and posters of the president flanked by his brothers and the heads of the tri-forces appeared on the skyline of this tiny resplendent island. That President Rajapakse was deified would be an understatement. Meanwhile the equally popular commander of the army, Sarath Fonseka was being retired. The general was irked and whispers were emanting from informed persons that he was a very disappointed man. An astrologer who predicted that there would be serious changes in the political firmament in the country with the advent of a new face was promptly arrested and later released.The cut-outs and posters depicting the general, even in the company of the president, began to come down, only to be replaced by more of a solitary president and his siblings.
The cracks deepened before long and the left wing JVP made initial forays to rope in the general into politics together with the now ousted Mangala Samaraweera, a former minister of foreign affairs and telecommunications in the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge government in which President Rajapakse was the prime minister. Mangala Samaraweera was the architect in spearheading the victory of President Rajapakse in his first term when he led the campaign with the JVP, but was soon sidelined and family members of the Rajapakse clan jostled and took control of the most important positions in the Rajapakse government of 2005.
President Rajapakse had been coercing members of the United National Party of the opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, to defect to the government ranks and were promptly rewarded with ministerial portfolios. That President Rajapakse ruled over the largest cabinet of ministers (over a hundred) was not lost on the hapless public, now burdened with the fall out of a global recession and rising prices.
Though many expected Ranil Wickremesinghe to run for the presidency when it was hinted that the president would call for one after four of his six years (he is legally entitled to do so), in a deft move the joint opposition thrust General (Retd) Sarath Fonseka as their common candidate.The rudderless opposition was given a new lease of life. The United National Party, bruised and battered by the provincial council elections, was up beat. The fractured JVP was jubilant. The very slogan on which President Rajapakse campaigned (the war victory) had now, at best, to be shared. A shocked government resorted to lampooning a war hero which turned the sympathy factor in favour of the retired general. People started questioning the government: "If they could treat the general in this fashion, how would they treat us?"'
That General Fonseka was asked to quit his official residence when he did not have a house fit enough to live, annoyed the public. The general was thus portrayed to be an honest officer as against a century of corrupt ministers led by one family. A hint at a possible coup by the general and the response by the Indian government in helping the current regime was soon found to be hoax. Initial reports show that President Rajapakse will not have a cake walk at this election. The respective polls show a close fight and only in the coming weeks, a clearer picture if at all would emerge. General (Retd) Sarath Fonseka drew first blood when he filed and publicised his declaration of assets when handing over nominations on the December 17. The president failed to do so.
The government's bashing of the West to appease the local market has come to haunt them in the form of the European Union withholding the GSP plus facility, through which as many as 7000 products were exempt from duty to the EU countries. The suppression of the media at the height of the war continues, but now it's for political benefit. As many as eleven journalists have been murdered, over twenty have been abducted, assaulted and scores have fled the country. Self censorship and the resultant apathy have surprised more democratic nations and this island in now scraping at the bottom of the barrel where freedom of expression is concerned.
This election is going to be bruising battle between two patriots and the island is going to emerge fractured after the election. Already, charges and counter charges are being traded. The minority Tamils are more confused. Both front runners are prime movers in the war against the LTTE. It was the absence of the Tamil vote at the behest of Velupillai Prabhakaran that saw President Rajapakse defeat Ranil Wickremesinghe at the last Presidential elections.To abstain at this election would be unthinkable, but they are between a rock and a hard place. Having been confined to camps against their will, they are disillusioned.
If Ranil Wickremesinghe is able to get the die hard UNP vote bank to go to the polling station and the JVP gets the grass roots campaign into gear, which they are famed for, President Rajapakse has a fight on his hands. But the die will be cast if the Tamils vote for the general. If that becomes a reality, he may win. Will General Sarath Fonseka abolish the all-consuming powerful position of the Executive Presidency ( President Rajapakse also promised to do so in his Mahinda Chintanaya manifesto in 2005) and concentrate on removing corruption if he wins, or will it be "more of the same" if President Rajapakse wins a second term? The answer will be known by the January 27, 2010.
The writer is managing editor of the Sri Lankan newspaper 'Sunday Leader'
A decade ago, three terrorists were released to free IC 814 and its passengers. The NDA government has claimed it succumbed to the terrorists demands because of TV's continuous coverage of the grieving, outraged relatives of passengers. Remember the tense, tearful faces on TV for a week, remember the hot, angry words? They dented a government's resolve to stand firm.
On the eve of a new century, TV news set off down revolutionary road. If the 1980s witnessed the golden age of TV entertainment, and the 1990s the birth of commercial satellite TV, 2000 plus has been the era of the news tube.
TV has manufactured and produced "news" on a mass scale, in every size and form, appealing to the highest and lowest common denominators for maximum consumption. It has gone from a handful of channels in 2000 to 249, officially, in 2009 no other genre has grown as much informing, entertaining and, sometimes downright appalling.
After Kandahar, it helped prevent a Vajpayee-Musharraf accord (remember M's famous Agra summit breakfast| broadcast?); it altered the course of a girl's life during a live broadcast Gudiya was forced to reunite with her first husband. It promoted justice (Jessica Lal); it trapped corruption (BJP's Bangaru Laxman in the Tehelka sting) and compromised politicians (it has just assisted N.D. Tiwari out of Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad). It has prosecuted, judged and convicted (Arushi murder case). It has been accused of obstructing security operations (Kargil), endangering lives (26/11), And it transfixed a nation for two days with the boy Prince in a hole. Not bad for an idiot box.
Of course, there was more to the decade. Here are some who made TV news:
Amitabh Bachchan: In 2000, he hosted Kaun Banega Crorepati, propelled Star Plus to the top and gave us a foretaste or is it foreplay? of reality TV. At the end of 2009, he was back on Bigg Boss. Where AB goes Bollywood follows: SRK succeeded him at KBC and others like Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, hosted reality shows (Dus Ka Dum and Fear Factor).
Tulsi and Parvati: The K bahus made TV their home for eight years until a child bride displaced them in 2008 (Ballika Vadhu). Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thhi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki celebrated the parivar as Ekta Kapoor rejigged the soap opera as a heart-stopping-stomping extravaganza of opulence and special effects. Didn't we just love it? Soaps have returned to village India since, but the parivar is holding. As for the village belles, Ekta has a lot to answer for.
Ramdev: Single-handedly, he has twisted India into many shapes and sizes, made om-vilom an all purpose cure and redefined spiritual TV as a nation builder. He's more popular than Shah Rukh Khan his bare torso rivals any six pack workout.
Cyrus Broacha: Formerly MTV's mascot, now TV news satirist a comment on MTV's decline and the quality of news.
Raju Srivastava: Sitcoms died notwithstanding Sab TV's valiant efforts. In their stead, came stand-up comedy with the Great India Laughter Challenge (Star) and funny people from all parts of India. Srivastava was the king of comedy as he went from Kanpur to his own TV shows.
Mandira Bedi: With her 2003 World Cup debut, noodles-Bedi made cricket showbiz a hit beyond the fence. Since then we've had more "extraas" on TV than on the scoreboard. Mandira got women watching cricket and gave it the glamour it lost once Imran Khan had retired. Next stop, cheerleaders and IPL.
Kunjilal: He's the bloke who foresaw his death and then lived to tell the tale. He symbolises what passes for news on Hindi news. Aaj Tak, the news chart topper since 2000, was the first to treat everything as news: from bhoots to bhagwans, from badmaash dons to Bollywood badhshahs, batsmen, border skirmishes, Britney Spears and much, much more.
Vindu: He was Dara Singh's son until he became Bigg Boss last Saturday. Now he's a celebrity like Rahul Mahajan and Rakhi Sawant before him. Reality TV allows anyone to become a star even a regression therapist (Raaz Picchle Janam Ka). While shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Indian Idol still salute talent, reality TV like this year's Sach Ka Samna has Indian's talking sex, lies on videotape. What next? Let 2010 begin.
RING IN THE NEW
In recent years, most sessions of Parliament have ended with the Speaker lamenting the deterioration of standards in the House. And repeatedly, the press has highlighted the decline in the engagement levels of MPs in the House MPs not present in the House when important bills are passed, MPs missing Question Hour, several important bills being passed without any debate, and so on. Despite this, the MPs and Parliament appear to be doing precious little to change things.
At an individual level, many MPs decry the falling standards in Parliament. The chairman of the Rajya Sabha has initiated a number of steps in recent months that gently nudge the House towards better discourse on issues. The Parliament secretariat continues its excellent work in making more of the work of Parliament available in the public domain. Committees of Parliament have looked at ethics and privileges issues from time to time and some MPs have been expelled from Parliament. But despite all this, by most accounts, our Parliament as an institution of governance has failed to live up to the expectations of a nation of a billion people.
Over the next decade, there are three broad areas where I think we will see some change for the better.
The first area is the performance of Parliament as an institution. When we complain about the engagement levels of MPs and sometimes their behaviour in the House, we often do not take a comprehensive look at the incentives and structural issues that appear to hamper the performance of Parliament. In an average session of Parliament about 1,400 documents are tabled on the floor of Parliament. Ostensibly, the purpose of tabling documents is for MPs to scrutinise them and raise any issues related to matters discussed in these documents. To perform this duty, how many qualified research staff do our MPs have zero. When bills are passed in Parliament, because of the party whip system and the tight party discipline, there is no room for an MP to vote his conscience on any piece of legislation. And to add to this, Bills are passed by voice vote, and therefore no one ever knows whether an MP was present in the House even when very important bills are passed.
Given the increasing public scrutiny of Parliament and MPs, and the extent to which things appear to be broken, there will be increasing public pressure to comprehensively re-evaluate the functioning of Parliament, and make it a more effective institution of governance. Indeed, if in 2002, we as a nation felt the need to set up a committee to review the working of our Constitution, one can argue that a thorough review of Parliament will be forced in the next few years.
The second big development in our politics is the prevalence of young MPs in Parliament. The 15th Lok Sabha has over 300 first time MPs, many of them young. Despite the change in the MPs in Parliament, the politics does not seem to have changed at least not yet. The engagement levels of young MPs in Parliament are lower than the average. Most major parties are represented in public by the old guard, with little room for the younger MPs to articulate new ideas. Young MPs are often anticipating what the party position might be, and appear to be rather keen to follow what they think might be the party line than take a chance with a position that might end up being different from the party position.
This is the second area where I expect to see change for the better in a decade. The increasing number of young MPs in future elections will force political parties to re-evaluate their reliance on the old, and make more room for the young to begin articulating positions on issues both within parties and before the people.
The third area of concern right now is that the levels of public engagement in our policy making process is abysmally low. Beyond the sensational, there is little informed discussion of politics or policy. Many existing "think tanks" appear to be more focussed on producing research output than in engaging more widely with policy makers. For a number of professionals in various walks of life, politics has been anathema all these years. But there is a growing number of young professionals who are beginning take a keen interest in policy issues. With the increasing education levels, penetration of the internet, and a re-articulation of policy priorities that will be forced over the next decade, the youth is likely to play an increasingly large role in making this happen.
Critics might point that these three areas appear more like a wish list than a prediction. But, the bottom line for our democracy is that unless these three areas (and more) do not change for the better, democracy as we know it will be in deep peril.
The writer is director, Legislative Research, New Delhi
THE BIG ZERO
Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? But from an economic point of view, I'd suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true. It was a decade with basically zero job creation. It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade's middle years when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 per cent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.
So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened. For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America's business and political establishments. Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration's top economist), gave in 1999. "If you ask why the American financial system succeeds," he said, "at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles..." So here's what Summers and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system. What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero. What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.
Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks' claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn't understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers' expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.
Then there are the politicians. Even now, it's hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we're in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is tax cuts and deregulation.
So let's bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned.
The New York Times
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
One of the great myths that critics of economic reform have perpetuated is that liberal economic policies have led to a rise in povertyor to no decline in poverty at all. The Prime Minister, at a meeting of the Indian Economic Association in Bhubaneswar on Sunday, put the record straight by affirming the realitypoverty has declined in the period after economic reform began. Obviously, if economists and statisticians change the bar by shifting the poverty line, it is possible to show that poverty, by some measure, has increased. But many of the studies that put poverty upwards of 50% are plagued by problems of methodology and dated data. Ideally, the next measurement of poverty needs to wait for the next National Sample Survey numbers, which are due to be published next year. At the moment, we are working with 2004-05 data, which pre-dates the very high growth period of 2004-08. It also precedes UPA-1's ambitious social spending programmes, particularly the widely cast NREG, besides subsidised food programmes. A combination of high growth and some redistribution will undoubtedly show lower numbers in poverty.
Of course, the Prime Minister readily admitted that much more needed to be done to raise the standards of living of the poor, and one can't disagree with that. But the way forward is more reform, not less. As long as we agree that reform is working, we will remain on the right track. The UPA is quite apparently determined to push a redistributionist agenda even in its second term. But for that kind of spending to be sustainable, we need high growth that will boost government revenues. Only deeper economic reform can ensure high growth, once the fiscal and monetary stimulus are withdrawn. Also, economic reform policies have directly benefited the poor even without government redistribution. One need not look any further than the revolution in telecomalmost half of all Indians own mobile phones. Conversely, the lack of reform in certain sectors is the root cause of poverty not falling fast enough. The Prime Minister mentioned agriculture in his speech at the Indian Economic Associationthis is one sector that needs sweeping reform if it is to become more productive. Of course, inclusive growth needs public investment in education, health and infrastructure. But inclusive growth also needs financial sector reform, which will make cheaper finance available to potential small entrepreneurs and to consumers. Only a combination of more market-based reforms and well targeted government spending will bring poverty down faster.
GOING OFF TRACK
China launched the fastest train in the world over the weekend, which clocks 350 kmph, way faster than its nearest competition in Japan and France. While it took China more than two decades to ramp up speeds from 43 kmph to 100 kmph, it has now more than trebled speeds in just nine years. And even while our leadership continues to squabble over relative performance indicators, the Chinese plan to build 42 high-speed rail lines stretching over 13,000 km over the next three years. Our ambitions on speed are in any case limitedthe Vision 2020 document released earlier this month aims to accelerate maximum speeds from 130 kmph to 160-200 kmph for passenger trains and from 70 kmph to over 100 kmph for freight trains. And catching up with China on other parameters would also require more effort than is being currently put in.
Though the total rail network length is almost identical, 63,327 km for India and 63,637 km for China, and so also are the number of passenger coaches, 43,124 in India as compared to 42,471 in China, the number of freight wagons in China (5,71,078) is more than twice that of India (2,07,719). And the 17,222 locomotives on Chinese rail are also more than double the 8,110 in India. So, while India has a marginal edge over China in the number of passenger km carried, the freight km carried by Chinese rail is more than four times that of India. The primary reason for this large disparity is the irrational policies that push up freight fares to subsidise passengers. Average freight charged in India is almost four times that in the US and more than double that in China, as the freight earnings cross-subsidise the losses on passenger fares, which have more than doubled in the last five years to Rs 13,958 crore. Indian Railways has no hope for reversing these trends as long as pricing decisions continue to be guided by populist sentiments. What is even worse is that the Indian Railways authorities even now refuse to focus on the core operations. For instance, the 11th Plan outlays show that the proportion of funds allocated for new lines and rolling stock have dipped even while investments in railways-owned public sector units shot up from 4.4% in the 10th Plan to 17.1% in the 11th Plan. With such policies, rail passengers will indeed be lucky to get even basic amenities, forget world-class services.
IN FINANCE, WE ARE NOW COUPLED
JAYANTH R VARMA
Indian markets in 2009 appeared to dance almost completely to the tune of global developments, reminding us of how strongly integrated we are with world financial markets.
Unlike China, the Indian economy does not depend so much on exports for its growth. Collapse of global trade in 2008 and early 2009 did impact sectors like textiles, diamonds and software services, but collapsing exports did not crush the whole economy because many other sectors thrived on domestic demand.
India's tight coupling with global markets was not due to trade linkages, but to its dependence on foreign portfolio flows for risk capital. Over the last few years, more and more Indian investors have sold their shares in Indian companies largely to foreign investors (but also partly to Indian promoter groups seeking to increase their stakes).
Foreigners might have bought because they are more bullish about our country than we are, or because their global diversification makes them less concerned about India-specific risks. What is important is that Indian asset prices are now increasingly determined by foreign investors.
This dependence has three implications. First, when foreign portfolio flows reversed, as in late 2008 and early 2009, risk capital disappeared completely. A few companies with strong balance sheets were able to raise modest amounts of debt locally, but those with weaker balance sheets found that they could not raise money at all.
When the corporate sector talked about a liquidity crunch in early 2009, it was really bemoaning the lack of risk capital. Banking system liquidity was probably adequate by early 2009, but this liquidity was not risk capital that could meet the needs of cash-strapped businesses. It was the return of foreign risk capital in mid-2009 that saved the day for these companies.
The second implication of India's dependence on foreign risk capital is that asset prices in India depend on global risk aversion as much or even more than on domestic sentiment. Capital inflows can ignite asset-price bubbles and outflows can prick the bubbles.
Many of us worried about asset-price bubbles in India in 2007, particularly in the stock markets and in real estate. This view can be debated, but if it is accepted, some of the air went out of these bubbles in 2008 and early 2009, and the bubbles might have been inflated again in the second half of 2009. They could deflate again if global risk appetite reverses in 2010.
The third implication of reliance on foreign risk capital is that equity portfolio flows have a strong effect on the exchange rate. Reserve accumulation by the central bank dampens currency appreciation but does not eliminate it completely. A regime of managed exchange rates creates difficulties for the conduct of monetary policy.
Despite all these problems, foreign risk capital (unlike debt capital inflows) brings huge benefits to the economy. Even in the extreme scenario where all inflows are sterilised in the form of reserves, capital inflows provide dramatic risk reduction for the economy as a whole.
This benefit was clearly visible in late 2008 and early 2009 when foreign investors sold shares at prices well below what they had paid only months earlier and converted the rupee proceeds into dollars at exchange rates much higher than the rate at which they had bought rupees when they came in.
Whenever foreign investors sell cheap after buying dear, they make a loss and India as a nation makes a profit. More importantly, we as a country make a profit precisely when the economy is not doing too well. This is a wonderful risk hedge that is worth all the costs that come with it.
Looking forward to 2010, it is quite likely that the ups and downs of global markets will be felt in India as well. Major downside risks remain in the global economy and the question is how well positioned we are to cope with their impact on India.
The Indian corporate sector has used the recovery of 2009 to repair balance sheets in a variety of ways. A lot of the rebuilding of balance sheets has been made possible by foreign risk capital.
Some companies have raised new equity in 2009 largely in the form of private placements and sales to strategic investors. Many companies that found themselves struggling to roll over short-term debt in 2008 have taken advantage of benign conditions in 2009 to refinance short-term debt with longer-term debt.
A few companies have also addressed the problem of busted convertibles. The recovery of 2009 enabled them to successfully exchange old convertibles that had uncomfortably high conversion prices for more viable instruments. The re-emergence of mergers and acquisitions activity also allowed some companies to carry out asset sales to rebuild their balance sheet strength.
As a result of all this, the Indian corporate sector is better positioned to face new challenges in 2010.
The author is a professor of finance at IIM Ahmedabad
STILL A LONG JOURNEY FOR RAILWAYS
As China zooms into the record books with a train linking Wuhan and Guangzhou, over 1,000 km apart, in less than three hours, in India the much-vaunted Indian Railways transformation story of Lalu Yadav is being questioned by his successor Mamata Banerjee. She has sought to ascribe much of the transformation to creative accounting changes. Political equations aside, the tactical incentives for Mamata to downplay her predecessor's accomplishments are obviousthey lower the base against which her own achievements in office will be seen.
About the same time that Mamata's White Paper hit Parliament, an in-depth, independent study* hit the stands. Reading it together with the White Paper gives an interesting insight into the Indian Railways story.
Giving a lucid and gripping account of the change process, the book concludes that indeed there has been a major transformation in the Indian Railways and credits Lalu with giving senior bureaucrats and technocrats freedom to do what they thought was right, and a team of innovative top managers, led by Sudhir Kumar, IAS, officer on special duty in the ministry of railways, for actually coming up with the changes that made the difference.
There is little doubt that at the turn of the century, Indian Railways was in troubledeep trouble. Rattled by a series of accidents and near-bankruptcy, an expert committee headed by the future RBI deputy governor Rakesh Mohan had suggested 'radical surgery'downsizing the 1.4 million workforce, restructuring top management, outsourcing non-core activities and increasing passenger fares. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the report was shelved. By 2008 Indian Railways has been resuscitated without doing any of the above.
The book carefully sketches the organisational nature of the railways, with all its challenges of size, bureaucracy and political interference, and the finesse with which the key players pushed change effectively in such a complex setting. It attributes the turnaround story to three basic thrustsincreasing the permitted load of freight trains, speeding up train movements to reduce the turnaround times and what the authors call 'developing business savvy'. This last includes a host of management decisions that built on the underutilised potential of railways from rationalising freight rates to tapping advertising revenue potential. Much of these three thrusts, particularly the first two, were feasible largely because of the investment in railway safety and other areas made by Lalu's predecessor and archrival, Nitish Kumar, between 2001 and 2004.
Mamata's White Paper, on the other hand, contends that the growth was hardly surprising. First, it was just pillion-riding on the great Indian growth story during the period and actually didn't reach its potential if one accepted the World Bank's estimate of an elasticity of 1.25 for railway GDP to economy GDP. Second, it is not as if freight rates have not risen; they have actually risen significantly, as high as 44% in food grains and 35% in fertilisers over the period. Finally, much of financial results stemmed from two accounting changescapitalising of principal repayment lease charges to IRFC and marking the reimbursement from government for building strategic non-commercial lines as an income.
From the big picture view of the railways story, this looks a bit unfair. It is easy to question why even more was not achieved. The report itself admits that the long-run elasticity for India is below 0.8. As for freight rate changes, a careful look does not seem to suggest that the railways was gorging, only using a multi-part pricing strategy, that, at its unlikely worst, could seem complex to customers. As for the accounting changes, first these are publicly notified and audited by multiple agencies. If the changes were not made, and if the effect of the Sixth Pay Commission was evenly distributed (the worst-case scenario for the 2004-09 period), the average annual cash surplus before dividend would have dropped from Rs 17,734 crore to Rs 12,473 crore. Significant drop, but compare this with the 2001 figure of Rs 4,790 crore, and even after accounting for inflation, the change is undeniable.
White Papers are always great for transparency. In this case, it does a good job of scaling down the financial feat, but there is no way of denying that a transformation did happen. As a tactical ploy, however, this report may backfire later. Mamata would be ill-advised to assume that she herself will not be judged in time by the same standards she is now applying. But then again she may be counting on a job change very soon.
The author teaches at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
The financial scandals of the last decade have led to increased regulation of corporate operations. Despite greater focus on anti-fraud controls post-Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), fraud continues to affect corporate reputations and profits, as companies struggle to devise effective anti-fraud programmes. While companies have invested considerable amounts to comply with new regulations, they fail to understand the purpose of these regulations: to protect investors from fraud.
A closer look at the underlying reasons for such oversight reveals a lack of understanding of companies' fraud environment and implementation of policies that are not customised to the requirement of entities to achieve compliance with legal/regulatory requirements. Such quick fixes fail to deter misconduct because they ignore inherent fraud risks at companies. Companies that wish for fraud protection need to invest time and resources to review effectiveness of their policies and assess their fraud exposure periodically.
The Fraud Mitigation Survey 2008, conducted by Ernst & Young in India, revealed that 76% respondents were confident that employees in their companies complied with the code of conduct. However, the fact that only 35% of respondents had signed the code of conduct once and 27% respondents had either never signed a code of conduct or were not aware of such a requirement in their companies, highlights the disconnect between management perception and business reality. Ignorance of the company's policies leads employees and business partners to engage in illegitimate activities, thus exposing the company to fraud risk. Therefore, it is imperative that the various policies, including anti-fraud policy of an organisation, are communicated to all employees, foreign subsidiaries, agents and other business associates. Ongoing fraud awareness training should also be a part of annual training for employees. It should educate employees on the company's code of conduct, process for reporting suspected fraud and disciplinary actions that may be taken in the event of fraud.
The author is partner, fraud investigation & dispute services, Ernst & Young. Views are personal
AN OPPORTUNISTIC COALITION
Past political animosities often melt away in the context of present political exigencies. Given the fragmented nature of the electoral verdict in Jharkhand, a post-election pact between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha was waiting to happen. The BJP wanted to keep the Congress out at any cost, and the JMM wanted itself in, no matter what. All that remained for the two parties to do was to rope in the All Jharkhand Students Union and to decide on the ministerial berths. Since the JMM would not settle for anything less than the post of the chief minister for its leader Shibu Soren, it was decided to have two deputy chief ministers, one from the BJP and the other from AJSU. With all the three parties clear and firm on their minimum demands, not much time was lost in bargaining. Even before the Congress could explore its options, the JMM and the BJP had lined up 44 members on the other side, three more than the required 41 in the 81-member Assembly. Despite making significant gains in the election, the Congress was pushed to the Opposition benches, along with its ally the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik). Given the way the numbers fell in place, Governor K. Sankaranarayanan had little difficulty in inviting Mr. Soren to form the government.
But the manoeuvring and manipulation that Shibu Soren displayed in forging the alliance will not help him in governance. Working together in government is never as easy as joining hands to capture power. In his third term as Chief Minister, Mr. Soren will have to tackle Jharkhand's chronic underdevelopment and the challenge from the Maoists. Tapping the mineral resources of the State without unsettling tribal populations will be a tough ask. The Scheduled Tribes constitute 28 per cent of the population and the Scheduled Castes 12 per cent. Forests and woodlands occupy about 29 per cent of the geographical area. The economy is dependent on mining and heavy industry, and only 25 per cent of the total area is under cultivation. The new government will have to work hard to improve the social indices of the State. Large sections of the population have been left behind even as Jharkhand was mined for its natural resources. Mr. Soren's two previous terms were short-lived, the first in 2005 because he did not enjoy majority support in the Assembly, and the second in January 2009 when he could not muster the voter support to win an Assembly seat. If his new term is not to be similarly aborted, Mr. Soren will need more than the single-minded pursuit of power he has displayed so far to see him through. He will have to focus on development without letting the divisive agenda of his coalition partner, the BJP, rear its head.
SAVING THE VULTURES
Vultures may not win mass support as candidates for aggressive wildlife conservation, but there is renewed concern that three endemic species of the critically endangered bird among the nine recorded in South Asia could perish without active support. The scientific community has been examining the effects of 'ketoprofen,' a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) given to livestock, on Cape griffon and African white-backed vultures. These species are surrogates for the three endangered ones in the sub-continent the oriental white-backed, slender-billed, and long-billed vultures. The scientists' findings, published in the journal Biology Letters, indicate that this NSAID is deadly for Gyps vultures. Moreover, it is detected in livestock carcasses in India at toxic levels. The new evidence is cause for worry as it is the second such veterinary drug with serious consequences for the health of vultures. Earlier, 'diclofenac' administered to livestock was linked to a massive decline in Gyps vulture populations and this led to a ban on its use for veterinary purposes. Hearteningly, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is responding to the concern with support for conservation efforts. The chemical threat of course is by no means the only factor decimating vultures. Ornithologists point out that these birds are generally unaffected in protected areas. Preservation of habitat is therefore as critical as elimination of harmful veterinary drugs and captive breeding initiatives. As natural forests and other habitat shrink, the birds seek carrion over a wider area, including cities. They are then fatally exposed to carcasses that have toxic drug residues.
The first step in a long-term vulture conservation programme should be to produce a comprehensive population estimate of the birds. This will help map the areas that show declines and identify the cause of mortality. There is some useful baseline data in the form of transect surveys done since 1990, but there are gaps in the areas surveyed. Making a comparison of population estimates thus becomes difficult and the results remain tentative. Secondly, conservation measures need to address the question of availability of safe veterinary drugs for the millions of livestock distributed across the country. Going by recent research findings, NSAIDs for livestock that do not affect vultures are available and the challenge is to distribute them widely. Many vultures also die after feeding on carcasses of animals that were poisoned by people for revenge. An awareness campaign on the consequences of avoidable human-animal conflict can raise their survival chances.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
SOUTH ASIAN AGENDA FOR JAMMU & KASHMIR
THE COMMUNAL FANATICS WILL NOT GIVE UP UNLESS THEY ARE REDUCED TO NONENTITIES IN A SECULAR CONFIGURATION OF SOUTH ASIA'S UNITY IN DIVERSITY, AS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION.
The separatists' bullet that killed the moderate Hurriyat leader, Fazl Haque Qureshi, also wounded Home Minister Chidambaram's "quiet diplomacy" for settling the Kashmir problem by making the Line of Control between India and Pakistan "just lines on a map," as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Srinagar on March 24, 2006. The doubts about the government's credibility aired by the Qureshi assassins was disproved by the withdrawal of two Army divisions (about 30,000 troops) from Jammu and Kashmir over the last year and there are plans to pull back more troops if the law and order situation continues to improve, according to a statement made by Defence Minister A.K. Antony on December 18, 2009 (The Hindu, December 19, 2009).
A.G. Noorani's article, "Agenda for Kashmir" (Frontline, December 18, 2009), lays out the four main points on which an India-Pakistan consensus seems to exist. They are self-governance or self-rule for both the Indian and Pakistani parts of the State "real empowerment of the people," as the Prime Minister stated on February 25, 2006; making the LoC an open border for trade and commerce; a joint management mechanism for both parts; and demilitarisation. Mr. Noorani has proposed a draft for a new Article 370 of the Constitution that is in step with the fifth Working Group's recommendations to let the people of Jammu & Kashmir decide on Article 370.
The "Agenda for Kashmir" is on the same wave length as my article published in The Times of India (March 6, 1999) about which I was unaware until journalist N. Ram, whom I met for the first time in Khajuraho, informed me as we were going to attend the millennium celebration of the ancient Hindu temples, inaugurated by President K. R. Narayanan. Evidently the current Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu was in accord with what I had written, for he had heavily underlined most of the text, as I discovered from a copy of the newspaper slipped under the door of my hotel room. "Should common sense prevail," I wrote in that piece, "the first step is obviously to solve the problem of Kashmir, which is difficult but not impossible if leaders on both sides realise the enormous human and material resources they would be saving for the economic benefit of their people by formally stabilising the present 'line of control' in Kashmir agreed upon in 1972." I further pointed out that now that both India and Pakistan had openly become nuclear weapon powers, neither country could further its own interests in Kashmir by force of arms.
President Narayanan too was in agreement when France Marquet, a SAF trustee, and I called on him and his wife Usha the next morning. "There is no problem as far as India is concerned," he remarked, pausing and adding: "It is the government of Pakistan that does not accept this solution."
Indeed, soon after, General Pervez Musharraf's Army and its ISI appendage surreptitiously plotted to infiltrate Pakistani insurgents in Kargil, repeating the folly of the 1948 Kabaili invasion of Kashmir. Greatly worried that India and Pakistan might start a nuclear war, I drafted an appeal signed by my 28 colleagues, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors, and had it placed as a half-page advertisement in The International Herald Tribune. We appealed to the governments of the two countries "to heed the advice of the international community, and resolve their differences diplomatically in a spirit of the sub-continent's traditional common culture of non-violence and tolerance."
In the same issue of The Herald Tribune (June 12, 2002), Selig S. Harrison wrote a cutting edge article entitled, "Why India Dare Not Give Up Kashmir": "While the world's attention is riveted on Kashmir as the flashpoint of a possible India-Pakistan war, 120,000 Indian Muslims remain in Gujarat refugee camps afraid to return to their villages, where they fear a resurgence of the Hindu mob attacks that left 1,200 dead in March. This festering challenge to India's stability as a secular democracy explains what the Kashmir crisis is all about. The governing factor in the current confrontation between New Delhi and Islamabad is the danger of an uncontrollable chain reaction of Hindu reprisals against Muslims throughout India if the Muslims of Kashmir opt for independence or for accession to Pakistan."
The veteran American journalist went on to say: "New Delhi is prepared to risk war not for the sake of retaining Kashmir as such but to ensure against the destabilising impact of a change in the status quo in India as a whole. The political heirs of Gandhi and Nehru in India believe that Kashmir, as the only Indian state with a Muslim majority 'must remain in the Indian Union as proof that Hindus and Muslims can live together in a secular state'."
That was the reason why Maulana Abul Kalam Azad never accepted the "disastrous Partition of India." During his visit to Italy in the early 1950s, India's Education Minister told me in superb Urdu that "one division leads to another in a chain reaction until the country is shredded into pieces." These prophetic words anticipated the break-up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in the 1970s. The present political clamour in India for creating more and more States, for whatever reasons, may turn out to be as dangerous.
The 'Chenab Formula' to partition Kashmir along the river Chenab was conceived by political leaders in India as well as Pakistan to promote a communal agenda. "Most of the districts in Jammu and on the left bank of the Chenab are Hindu majority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while in most of the districts on the western side of the Chenab, the Muslims are predominant," wrote Sartaj Aziz in his book Between Dreams and Reality (page 228). "In short, the River Chenab will form the separation line between the Pakistan and Indian held areas Since India was no longer willing to go back to the concept of Hindu versus Muslim majority, the Chenab formula basically converted a communal formula into a geographic formula since most of the Hindu majority is east of Chenab and Muslim majority districts are west of Chenab."
In Europe, too, a similar scenario of inter-state feuds had resulted in the devastating Second World War. In the early 1950s, I witnessed the unimaginable havoc it had caused as I arrived in Italy on a scholarship. At the time, six European leaders had the vision to sign the Treaty of Rome (on March 25, 1957), establishing the European Economic Community (EEC). They affirmed in its preamble that signatory states were "determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe." They specifically affirmed its political and economic integration, creating a customs union, colloquially known as the "Common Market."
I was elated when, in 1985, the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established and its charter contained several EEC ideas. I felt that a similar South Asian economic and political union and a common currency like the euro, which the EU officially adopted in 1999, would encourage India and Pakistan to cooperate like Germany and France who overcame their enmity after centuries of devastating wars. This notion appeared to provide the healing balm for the trauma of Partition I had personally suffered.
Since then, the euro has become the second largest reserve currency in the world after the U.S. dollar. As of October 2009, with more than 790 billion in circulation, the Eurozone is the second largest economy in the world. In principle, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agrees with the need for a common currency. He wrote the introduction to my book, The Sasia Story 'sasia' (South-Asia) is the name I have coined in the hope that it would, like the euro, become the anchor of South Asia's economic and political stability. At a recent meeting with Dr. Singh, I conveyed the view of President Mohamed Nasheed, whom I met earlier in Malé, that a common currency would accelerate trade and commerce worldwide and that he was in accord with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's common currency proposal at the 2007 SAARC Summit in New Delhi.
Even if the "quiet diplomacy" in Kashmir succeeds in adopting a revised Article 370 and making the Line of Control between India and Pakistan "just lines on a map," the prospects of jihadi suicide bombers changing their one-track mindset is bleak. This might even facilitate infiltration of Islamist militants across the 700-kilometre border between the two parts of Kashmir. On the other side of the U.N. ceasefire line imposed when the first Kashmir war ended in 1949, the anti-Muslim stand and policies of right-wing Hindutva represent a big problem.
Therefore, as in Europe where the Basque in Spain, the Italian Catalan, and the Irish IRA terrorists have been reduced to nonentities under the secular umbrella of the European Union, South Asia's communal fanatics can be isolated in a larger configuration of a union or confederation of SAARC countries. The first step in this direction would be the introduction of a common currency that, like the euro, would accelerate trade and commerce and, more importantly, unleash the centripetal force to help consolidate economic, political, and cultural cooperation among South Asian countries. It is time India stopped dragging its feet even as ASEAN, African, Latin American, and Gulf countries are going ahead to introduce common currencies in their regions.
IN PAKISTAN'S UNCERTAINTY, ALL EYES ON THE SINDHI TOPI
THERE IS SPECULATION THAT IF PRESSURE GROWS ON PRESIDENT ASIF ALI ZARDARI TO RESIGN, THE PPP MAY FALL BACK ON THE "SINDH CARD" TO MOBILISE POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR HIM.
What do a piece of cloth and a cap have to do with the present political uncertainty in Pakistan?
A lot, it would seem, if that cloth is a block printed red-and-blue piece of cotton called ajrak and the cap of the kind that is embroidered with colourful threads and mirrors and has a distinctive slit cut out of its front where it rests on the forehead.
Both are native to the Sindh province. So is President Asif Ali Zardari, although he is an ethnic Baloch, and the Pakistan People's Party, which he leads, has a special place in the hearts of Sindhis. It was a son of the province, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who founded it.
As the PPP government finds itself in hot water over the Supreme Court verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance, there is speculation that if pressure grows on President Asif Ali Zardari to resign, the party may fall back on the "Sindh card" to mobilise political support for him.
The PPP has dropped some hints in this direction already. On December 6, the PPP-led government in the Sindh provinvce, of which this city is the capital, observed the "Sindhi Topi Day- Sindhi Ajrak Day", celebrating both the cap and the colourful cloth that is worn like a shawl by both men and women in rural Sindh.
Combined with Sindh's traditional sense of alienation from Pakistan's Punjabi-dominated ruling elite, and the strong sense of martyrdom in Sindhi political consciousness over the "judicial murder" of Bhutto senior and the killing of his daughter, the topi and ajrak have now become an essential part of Sindh political symbolism.
"We put up a stall outside the Sindh secretariat that day. We sold about 4,000 pieces of ajrak and hundreds of caps," said Shyam Das, an ajrak retailer in Karachi's Zainab Market.
By the time the Supreme Court verdict came, a feeling that Sindhis were being vicitmised was already in the air.
A day after the full-bench struck down the NRO, the Sindh Assembly passed a unanimous resolution reposing confidence in the leadership of President Zardari, and recommending to the government that December 6 should be observed as the "Sindhi Topi and Ajrak Day" every year.
In a session that was spread over six hours without a single break, legislator after legislator in the provincial assembly stood up to make emotional speeches, condemning what they described as a conspiracy against Mr. Zardari, and said he was being targeted as he was a Sindhi.
"Enough is enough. Sindh is not going to receive any more dead bodies lying down," one legislator declared on the floor of the house, recalling that the province had already made its share of sacrifices for democracy in the deaths of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.
The sentiment surfaced again at the PPP central executive committee held three days after the Supreme Court verdict. Party leaders from Sindh are reported to have spoken in charged tones against Supreme Court verdict, bluntly saying they viewed it purely as the persecution of a Sindhi president by a Punjabi-dominated establishment.
One leader even urged President Zardari to use the "Sindh card", much to the horror of party leaders from other parts of the country who warned that going down that road would destroy the PPP's national character.
Unlike other parties, the PPP is seen as the only political force in the country with a good standing in all four provinces, even though it is undeniably Sindh that forms the backbone of the party. Benazir Bhutto always took pride in describing her party as the "symbol of the federation", and "the chain that links the four provinces" of Pakistan.
Mr. Zardari is also said to have rejected the "Sindh card" suggestion, reminding the party congregation that after his wife Benazir's killing, when enraged PPP supporters in Sindh were raising slogans against Pakistan, it was he who had calmed them down with the slogan: "Pakistan Khappay" We want Pakistan. On a visit to Karachi, he met with party workers and reiterated once again that the PPP would never stray from the path of strengthening the federation.
Still, some observers view the continuing "persecution" theme in the tone and tenor of speeches by the PPP's Sindhi leaders as inspired by the top leadership, and a veiled warning of the turn matters might take.
President Zardari's own emotional outburst at Benazir's grave in Garhi Khuda Bux at her second death anniversary on Sunday further reinforced "conspiracy" and "martyrdom" as the centre-piece of the PPP narrative.
He hit out at nameless "conspirators" who were undermining him, democracy and Pakistan, because, as he put it, he had dared to further the political legacy of the Bhutto family as well as its bloodline by fathering Benazir's three children. He even described Garhi Khuda Bux, where all the Bhuttos are buried, as the "Karabala of the PPP", a reference to the martyrdom of the seventh century Imam Hussein, which is observed as Muharram.
President Zardari's critics, however, question the party's capability of mobilising support for him even in its traditional base. He is nowhere near as popular as Benazir or her father in Sindh. There is also dissatisfaction with the PPP for not delivering even on the basics of food, clothing and shelter in its two years in power, let alone anything with a special resonance for Sindh. Even so, some observers believe that the perception that once again, the Pakistani "establishment" is persecuting a Sindhi leader could well override Mr. Zardari's lack of popularity and the grievances against the government.
"The PPP comes to power mainly due to the Sindh mandate. And there is a feeling that whenever there is a PPP government, the establishment does not accept it," said Zamir Ghumro, a Karachi-based lawyer and a columnist in the popular Sindhi newspaper Kawish.
The party has announced it will start a mobilisation campaign in January, which many see as an attempt to counter pressure on Mr. Zardari to quit office. "If there is any move to force Mr. Zardari to resign, there will be a reaction in Sindh, definitely. The estrangement from Islamabad," said Mr. Ghumro "will increase and nationalist feelings will rise."
Meanwhile, in Karachi markets, shopkeepers selling ajrak and topis said they do not care about the politics, but
do not mind if they can sell a few more of these traditional Sindhi items.
AAM ADMI FINDS DAL-ROTI OUT OF REACH IN UPA'S SECOND INNINGS
More than the return of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to power, the aam admi will remember the year 2009 for the back-breaking mehngai and the inability of the government to make dal-roti, sabzi and chini affordable for the masses.
The unprecedented rise in the price of essential commodities, particularly pulses, sugar, milk and vegetables turned the year bitter for the aam admi. What was irksome for the people was that instead of tackling the situation, the government justified price rise and tried to prepare, as it were, the aam admi for what is to come. By the end of the year when inflation soared to 18.65 per cent (for week ending December 12) there were doom's day prediction of it becoming worse in the coming year.
The year began with enhanced prices of essentials that was explained away as part of the global scenario. However, as the year progressed, there was no easing the situation in food items and the blame was laid at the door of deficient monsoon that hit 299 districts in 13 states. The fact, however, remains that the effects of deficient kharif monsoon an estimated 18.8 million tonnes decline in the combined production of rice, coarse cereals and oilseeds would be felt later or even next year, if rabi does not make good the losses. Although monsoon deficiency averaged at 22 per cent, it is hoped that delayed monsoon activity will help the rabi (wheat) crop.
Through the deficient south-west monsoon, the government assured the nation that foodgrain stocks totalling 233.88 million tonnes were enough to tide over the situation. In fact, towards the last quarter, the government decided to offload wheat and rice in the open market to enhance availability and hold prices. So it is not as if the country was short in cereals.
The sugar story took a trajectory of its own. Much into the year the government woke up to the fact that sugar production would be 146.8 lakh tonnes in 2008-09. In the previous year it was 263 lakh tonnes. At the height of robust sugar stocks, the government refrained from allowing sugar exports. But even as reports were coming in about the decline in domestic sugarcane acreage in 2008-09, the government allowed industry to export. And then in 2009-10 kharif sowing, when there was no great improvement in sugarcane sowing figures, and with predictions of sugar output remaining around 160 lakh tonnes this year, the government had to go in for imports of raw and refined sugar. By then, of course, international sugar prices soared. The price of the sweetener in the domestic retain market soared from Rs. 16 two years ago to Rs. 40 a kg currently. Around the same time, koya prices also escalated, impacting Diwali and Id celebrations.
As things stand, the Central government has not been able to get on top of the price rise situation but has almost succeeded in tossing the blame on state governments saying that they must take action against hoarding, speculation and diversion from the PDS. Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar and Mayawati opposed this, but by and large there is an inexplicable quiet in the polity on this. The Samajwadi Party had announced an agitation against price rise but dropped it. Now the Left parties plan to take to the streets on the issue in the budget session which is two months away and by when the situation might alter.
As per official data, atta prices that were Rs. 14 a kg one year ago in Delhi's retail market stood at Rs. 20/kg on December 24, 2009; sugar soared from Rs. 21/kg to Rs. 40/kg; tur dal from Rs. 50/kg to Rs. 90/kg; moong dal from Rs. 45/kg to Rs. 81/kg; urad dal from Rs. 45/kg to Rs. 76/kg; milk from Rs. 21 to Rs. 22-26/kg; wheat from Rs. 13/kg to Rs. 15/kg; rice from Rs. 22/kg to Rs. 23/kg; loose tea from Rs. 144/kg to Rs. 156/kg; salt from Rs. 11/kg to Rs. 12/kg. Ghee prices have also soared.
What is inexplicable is the unprecedented rise in the price of vegetables and fruits, even seasonal ones. Gaps between demand and supply are the routine excuses put out by the administrative ministries. In some cases, as in onion prices "local factors" are responsible. But in the case of potatoes, farmers got paid peanuts while in the cities the tuber is selling at Rs 15/kg. Tomatoes continue to be sold between Rs. 22 to Rs. 30/kg.
Clearly high inflation is the combined and the cascading effect of the last hike in the price of diesel and petrol, the high across-the-board service charges that is levied, and the high percentage (to be raised) of value added tax. Speculation in the futures market is also said to be responsible for the tendency to hoard. The result is that there is no respite for the aam admi and housewives are at their wits end on how to manage the family budget. For the poor and lower middle-class, any medical emergency or celebration or children's education and tuition costs is enough to push them into debt.
In the year to come the aam admi will have to bear the consequences of the free market forces and speculative trading that the Manmohan Singh government favours. Of course the parallel economy in the country will give the government a false sense of comfort about recession not hitting India, but the aam admi will ring in the new year worried about how to make both ends meet.
UNIVERSITY BRANCHES IN DUBAI ARE STRUGGLING
The collapse of Dubai's overheated economy has left the outposts of Michigan State University and the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United Arab Emirates struggling to attract enough qualified students to survive. In the last five years, many American universities have rushed to open branches in the Persian Gulf, attracted by the combination of oil wealth and the area's strong desire for help in creating a higher-education infrastructure. Education City in Qatar has brought in Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth. Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates and the one that controls most of its oil, is still flourishing. And it is still generous in its support for the most ambitious American educational effort in the area, New York University's liberal-arts college, which is scheduled to open there next fall with a highly selective class of 100 young students from around the world.
In Dubai, however, the timing for Michigan State and the Rochester Institute of Technology could hardly have been worse. Both started classes in August 2008, just before Dubai's economy began to crumble. By this month, Dubai's debt problems were so serious that Dubai World, a government-owned investment company, avoided a bond default only with a $10 billion bailout from Abu Dhabi.
Because most Dubai residents are expatriates, thousands of them left when their jobs disappeared, and the prospective college-student pool in the area has shrunk substantially. "Nobody could have anticipated the global meltdown, which has certainly had a negative effect on our student marketing," said Brendan Mullan, executive director of Michigan State Dubai. Michigan State, with only 85 undergraduates, is seeking to raise that figure with a scholarship offering half-price tuition to the first 100 qualified transfer applicants for the semester that starts next month.
"We've had close to 200 transfer applications, some from other universities in the UAE, but others from India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Oman," Mr. Mullan said. "We are not compromising on quality, even if that means it takes us longer to gain traction here. ..." Mr. Mullan said that while the break-even point for the campus was now expected to be five years, up from the original goal of three years, Michigan State was determined to remain in the Gulf.
"We still believe this is viable," he said. "We're not just going to be a teaching storefront here; we're going to have significant research capacity, and our commitment to Dubai is unyielding." Rochester, which began only with graduate programmes, accepted almost 100 students for this academic year. But Mustafa Abushagur, president of the Dubai campus, said it ended up with only about 50, spread among electrical engineering, computer networking, finance, and service and leadership studies. Rochester plans to start an undergraduate programme next year, Mr. Abushagur said.
"Our plan for next year is 100 to 120 students," he said, "which we think we can get, because we've studied the market and we believe that as an institution, we can distinguish ourselves in certain programmes that are in demand here."
George Mason, one of the first American universities to open a branch in the United Arab Emirates, closed its Ras al Khaymah temporary campus in May, having never graduated a single student.
© 2009 The New York Times News Service
NEW ZEALANDERS DONATE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS
New Zealanders have given $1.8 billion to charity in the past year and have donated more than 1.3 million hours of work per week.
The figures are based on the registration of charities seeking an exemption from paying tax on donations, New Zealand Press Association reported on Monday.
The Charities Commission said 24,000 organisations have signed up to the system. Some of the charities have an income of less than about $14,000 a year, while others are pulling in more than $14 million .
The Commission said the registration process means people can now find out more about a charity they are thinking about giving to.
It is urging people to make a difference in their community or internationally, by donating their time, goods or money in the coming year.
There is a world of difference between Habib Hussain, the Indian worker at Medina who travelled surreptitiously on an Air India flight to escape bleak working conditions and Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, who tried to cause an explosion on the Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Eve. The only thing that connects the two incidents is the lapse in security checks at airports and in planes in a post-September 11, 2001 world. The lapse in Air India was serious and could have been fatal but for the forgivable breach of rules committed by Hussain. Mutallab's was a diabolical attempt though he confessed that the device he carried was not meant to be incendiary and not capable of blowing up the plane. However, whether it is a harmless Hussain or a terrorism-driven Mutallab the breach in security is unacceptable.
The argument that thousands fly every day in hundreds of flights across the globe and singling out the lone terrorist in the crowd is literally like finding the proverbial pin in the haystack cannot be made an excuse however plausible it may be. In the war against terrorism, we cannot have momentary lapses.
There is however the broader aspect behind the two stories. In the case of Hussain, the issue is that of humane working conditions. People like Hussain would not commit a desperate act if there was a reasonable alternative to get out of a bad situation. In Gulf countries, governments allow private employers to operate without compunction. It is an issue that India will have to take up with the Gulf governments in ensuring fair working conditions for its citizens.
In the case of Mutallab, the issues at stake are grave. The ideology of fundamentalist Islam and the acts of terror it inspires cannot be countered by rising Islamophobia in the western world. Peoples and governments in Europe and the US will have to look beyond knee-jerk responses
Popular perception in India is that Western countries have managed to contain the threat of Islamic terrorism and that in comparison India has failed come up with a good enough counter-measure. Counter-terrorism in the West is still a shot in the dark because young, poor and the not-so-poor young Muslims in the West resent racial and religious profiling and that they are being recruited by fanatical Islamic clerics. That is why airports and planes remain easy targets.
The turn of events at the Ferozshah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi on Sunday was unfortunate to say the least. That an international cricket match should have to be abandoned because the pitch was declared unfit and dangerous is unacceptable. The officials of the Delhi District Cricket Association (DDCA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India have to hang their heads in shame. Better things were expected from the world's richest cricket body and one of the most affluent state cricket associations in India.
Sadly this was not the first time this year that the DDCA officials, including its revered president Arun Jaitley, were caught napping. Australia skipper Ricky Ponting had launched a scathing attack against them during the previous international fixture at the Kotla. Prior to that, the Champions League T20 was conducted very badly. Further, there was the unseemly episode of the players' revolt against the officials of the association, also unfortunate. The DDCA, obviously, is either oblivious to or not serious about its responsibilities.
However, the BCCI too cannot run away from its share of the responsibility. The dissolution of its ground and fixtures committee after the event is a mark of mere tokenism. It has to explain how a defaulting centre was allotted two ODIs in a span of two months. The murky politicking in the selection of venues can explain the allotment of the Sri Lanka ODI but the richest sporting body in the world can do better by having certain norms of accountability in place.
It will, however, be unfair to keep the national capital out of the 2011 World Cup. DDCA's unprofessional functioning apart, the national capital is one of the biggest centres in world cricket and this showpiece event, without matches in New Delhi, will lose its sheen. The BCCI can look for other punitive measures for Sunday's fiasco. Also it is unfair to punish fans for what surely is not their fault. It is the callous or arbitrary attitude of the officials which needs to be checked. Rather than punish cricket fans, the BCCI should punish the officials and move on.
The season has seen some extreme pitches -- either they are downright road-roller flat wickets or pathetic dust bowls. Immediately, the BCCI should import expertise in pitch preparation not just for the Kotla but also for every hosting centre. India cannot afford to have such fiascos during the World Cup.
THE NOUGHTIES' EFFECT
Decades don't usually have the courtesy to begin and end on the right year. The social and cultural revolution that Western countries think of when they talk of the "Sixties" only got underway in 1962-63, and didn't end until the Middle East war and oil embargo of 1973-74. But this one has been quite neat: the "Noughties" began with the Islamist terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, and they ended with a global financial melt-down in the past year.
The "Noughties" is just a recent journalistic invention to make it easier to write end-of-the-decade articles like this. The term was launched several times in the last ten years, but it never took off. Just as well, really, because it sounds a bit frivolous -- whereas this was actually a decade when the tectonic plates moved into a new pattern.
Never mind the terrorism. About half a billion people died during the past decade, and fewer than fifty thousand of them were victims of terrorism -- say, one in every ten thousand deaths. At least forty thousand of those fifty thousand victims of terrorism lived in India, Pakistan or Iraq, and fewer than four thousand lived in the West. You can hardly make that a defining quality of the decade.
The terrorist threat to the West was minor, but the West's hugely disproportionate and ill-considered response was a key factor in the great shift that defines the decade.The "War on Terror," the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and all the rest, did not deter a Muslim Nigerian student from trying to blow up an airliner over Detroit last Saturday. It motivated him to do so. But it also accelerated the rise of Asia and the relative decline of the West.
That shift was happening anyway. When China and India, with forty per cent of the world's population between them, are growing economically three to four times as fast as the major Western countries, it's only a matter of time until they catch up with the older industrial economies.
Back in 2003, however, the researchers at Goldman Sachs predicted that the Chinese economy would surpass that of the United States by the mid-2040s.By the middle of this year, they were predicting that it would happen in the mid-2020s -- and this year, for the first time, China built more cars than the United States. That acceleration is in large part a consequence of the huge diversion of Western attention and resources that was caused by the "War on Terror."
Prestige is a quality that cannot be measured or quantified, but a reputation for competence in the use of power is a great asset in international affairs. After the centuries-old European empires wasted their wealth and the lives of tens of millions of their citizens in two "world wars" in only thirty years, their empires just melted away. Nobody was in awe of them any more, and they lacked the resources to hold onto their overseas possessions by force.
Something similar has happened over the past decade to the United States. Unwinnable wars fought for the wrong reasons always hurt a great power's reputation, and wars fought amidst needless tax cuts, burgeoning deficits and financial anarchy are even moredamaging if the country's power depends heavily on a global financial empire.
The United States spent the past decade cutting its own throat financially, ending with the near-death experience of the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. The Europeans made all the same mistakes, only more timidly, and the Japanese sat the decade out on the sidelines, mired in a seemingly endless recession. The old order is passing, the US dollar is on its way out as the only global currency, and the real power is shifting to mainland Asia. Or is it? There are two trends that could slow or even stop this shift. They seemed quite distant at the start of the decade, but now they look very big and frightening. One is peak oil; the other is global warming.
In Europe, North America and Japan, energy consumption is growing slowly or not at all, and it is relatively cheap and easy to reduce dependence on imported oil. Just the fuel efficiency standards already mandated by the Obama administration could reduce American oil imports by half by 2020. Whereas Chinese and Indian dependence on imported oil is soaring. So is their use of coal.
That's unfortunate, because for purely geographical reasons these countries are far more vulnerable to high temperatures than the older industrial nations. At even two degrees centigrades (3.6 degrees F) higher average global temperature, they face floods, droughts and storms on a massive scale, probably accompanied by a steep fall in food production.
That sort of thing could abort even the Chinese and Indian economic miracles. So we're back in the old world where the future is uncertain. Of course. What else did you expect? We can only observe the trends, and try to remember that they are always contingent. But at the moment, it looks like the decade when the West finally lost its domination over the world's economy.
A NATIONAL SHAME
INDIA DEFEATED BY ITSELF AT KOTLA
India has come to the top of the Test rankings after a hard grind. The euphoria was yet to sink in when the BCCI and the DDCA punctured the balloon themselves, and earned India ignominy. They have shown to the world that this country of a billion-plus cricket fans cannot even lay a proper pitch. That this should happen in the national capital and not in any non-descript small town adds to the sense of humiliation. The irate fans took out their anger on the newly renovated stadium. Banal explanation of the DDCA, which prepared the pitch as the host association, and the BCCI, which was to supervise and oversee the task, can only salt the wounded national respect. The DDCA officials concerned have resigned and the BCCI has disbanded its Grounds and Pitch Committee but that is hardly any consolation for these pampered worthies who are responsible for what is clearly a national shame. More heads should have rolled than they have by now.
The Ferozshah Kotla ground has a glorious history, having hosted major cricketing events over the decades. The pitch was relaid in April 2009 and its top surface was dug up in November to plant grass to bind the surface. It now comes to light that one, Vijay Bahadur Mishra, appointed curator of the ground one year back, had no previous experience as a curator. Two, it is customary to use pitches in domestic cricket before using them for international matches. Even that was not done. If that is the general state of affairs in the richest and most powerful sports body, one needs to keep one's fingers crossed about the events to come in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games.
What is worse is that the DDCA might have received at least two separate warnings about the shape of things. An ICC report had said that "to simply replant without major renovation of the surface would be a major miscalculation and would result in inadequate pitches at a later date". The BCCI Pitches and Grounds Committee chief Venkat Sundaram too had raised apprehensions about the manner of preparing the pitch. Nothing happened. The fiasco has not only brought ridicule, Delhi could face a ban of up to two years. That would automatically rule it out of the 2011 World Cup venues. What a fall!
DAUNTING TASK FOR SOREN
IT WILL NOT BE EASY TO REVIVE JHARKHAND
The return of Mr Shibu Soren as the Chief Minister of Jharkhand appears to have been greeted in the state with mixed feelings. Mr Soren, who boasts of being the tallest surviving leader of the adivasis in his state and who indeed fought the longest and hardest battle for a separate state, has the challenging task of transforming himself from a street-smart politician into a successful administrator. He, however, faces an uphill task because his ruling coalition that includes the All-Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) and the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) is not just an opportunistic but also "uneasy" new alliance. The three parties opposed each other bitterly in the just-concluded Assembly election with the BJP attacking Mr Soren's "tainted" past. Besides being convicted by the trial court, though acquitted later by the Delhi High Court, in a case relating to the murder of his personal assistant Shashi Nath Jha, the NDA government at the Centre had re-opened several other criminal cases against him. His acquittal was also challenged in the Supreme Court by the family of the "missing" personal assistant and the pending appeal should cause him concern. It will also require a high degree of skill on his part to rein in the AJSU which, with just five MLAs in the Assembly, will always be tempted to hold Mr Soren to ransom.
Poor governance has been the bane of Jharkhand, and Mr Soren's task is to put the "failed" state back on the rails. Generating employment and stopping the flight of tribals and capital, managing the balance between tribals and non-tribals in the sate, dealing with the vexed issue of acquiring land for industry and mining, streamlining the administration besides combating corruption and the Maoists will have to be his priorities.
The first litmus test for Mr Soren will come when he distributes the portfolios. He has in the past been guilty of succumbing to various interest groups, promoting his own family and patronising the corrupt. For the sake of Jharkhand, one hopes Mr Soren's new government gets its priorities right and displays enough commitment, imagination and skill to develop the mineral-rich state for the welfare of its poor people.
US UNFAIR ON HEADLEY
EXTRADITE TERRORIST MASTERMIND TO INDIA
There is no logic in the FBI's stand that Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist mastermind David Coleman Headley (previously called Dawood Gilani), arrested in Chicago some time ago, cannot be extradited to India under the circumstances, though his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack has been proved. The US investigating agency has told Indian officials that Headley may have to serve a jail term ranging between 200 and 300 years before India can get access to him. He may even be awarded death punishment under the US law. This obviously means that Headley can never be handed over to the Indian authorities for his trial and punishment in the country where he committed the most heinous act of terrorism. Interestingly, Headley has been charged by the FBI with committing crime on Indian soil.
The US stand is not going to help the cause of fighting global terrorism. If India can allow US investigators to interrogate Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving terrorist who was a member of the LeT squad that massacred civilians and police personnel on 26/11, why can the US not oblige India accordingly? But what to talk of extradition of Headley to India, the US is reluctant to allow Indian officials even access to the Pakistan-born US national deeply involved in terrorism.
Obviously, there is more to Headley than the US has shared with India. Reports have it that the US intelligence agencies were aware of his alarming activities as a double agent much before 26/11. He would frequently visit India on the pretext of being a businessman. He was in Mumbai before the terrorist attack occurred, but soon he flew to Pakistan to guide the LeT killers from there. He had been in contact with US intelligence officials before they came to know that he was working for the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit too. Washington wants to ensure that the embarrassing details of Headley's connections with the US intelligence networks never come to the surface, and hence the refusal to extradite him to India. But this cannot help the US cover itself with glory, as considerable details have already been brought to light by the media.
POLITICAL CLIMATE IS CHANGING
EMERGING ERA HOLDS PROMISE AND PERIL
BY S. NIHAL SINGH
If 2009 was the year of Barack Obama in the wider world, in India it was the year of the revival of the Congress party, underlined by its return to power in a fractious polity, with a curious twist. The stresses the country is undergoing presage a transition to a different stage of politics. How the new politics will shape up remains to be seen but the emerging era holds promise and peril.
To begin with, the recent waning of the Bharatiya Janata Party's fortunes means that it is desperately trying to retain its place as the alternative national party. It has seen a change of guard at the top choreographed by its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which leaves the party's rationale and autonomy of action up in the air. It certainly represents a generational change but the new president, Mr Nitin Gadkai, has been burdened with the difficult task of leading a divided party while massaging the egos of the second rung of leadership in Delhi to take them along.
The BJP has given up the pretence of being a party with a difference. Witness its exploitation of money power to come to power in Karnataka to be singed by the same flame in keeping Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa's gaddi and its strange bonhomie with Mr Shibu Soren in Jharkhand after denigrating the same leader in the harshest of terms. Is the BJP then fighting for the Hindutva cause to achieve its definition of Ram Rajya or employing all means to come to power and retain it whenever or wherever it can?
The Congress seems to be suffering from another kind of problem. The last of the state leaders to exercise a great deal of autonomy, Y.S. Chandrasekhara Reddy (YSR), is gone and Andhra is witnessing turmoil because there is no longer effective leadership at the state level, with the Telangana question raring its head and Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, the late chief minister's son, peremptorily demanding his right to his father's chair.
Yet "Congress culture" as it has come to be practised requires state leaders to pay obeisance to the Congress leadership at the Centre, principally Ms Sonia Gandhi. The panacea for all state-level problems is to leave the decision to the Congress president even as factions lobby her aides to tilt the scales in their favour. As YSR understood so well, the secret of success is to pay formal obeisance to 10 Janpath while exercising real power in the state.
In parallel with these developments, two new trends have emerged to encroach on the political space. The honing of skills of various lobbies to seek partisan advantage and the impressive growth of non-governmental organisations and citizens' groups to swing decisions on important issues in favour of causes they are fighting for. Although corporate lobbies are increasingly taking on an American flavour (lobbying is a legitimate activity in US polity), citizens' groups, though less well organised, are learning the ropes in trying to influence government decisions in areas of widespread concern.
The Congress as the primary national ruling party finds itself in the forefront in coping with social activism and new pressure. In a sense, the new trend must be welcomed because it is the essence of the cut and thrust of a democratic polity. On the other hand, the Congress is not in the best of health and its recent general election victory must be ascribed as much to the BJP's misfortunes as to the merit of its policies although some of its more inclusive growth measures have had a beneficial impact.
Both the Congress and the BJP are zealous in centralising decision-making at the national level for fear of fragmenting their parties. But the truth is that the most successful state leaders of either party have traditionally been men or women exercising considerable authority in their bailiwicks and capable of arguing their cases with national leaders. This was true even in Jawaharlal Nehru's days, with leaders like West Bengal's B.C. Roy ready to convince the Prime Minister of their policy preferences.
The one thing lacking today in the dissension one sees - more in the BJP than the Congress - is the calibre of state leaders. We might be living in an unheroic age compared to the stalwarts of yesterday, but leadership qualities are essential in governance at the state and national levels, and men and women with such qualities are drifting away to fields of private enterprise where pickings are more bountiful and the pressures of office far less.
Will the New Year then see a peaking of these new trends, with non-political groups and associations seeking to intrude upon political space? Much will depend upon the calibre of leaders the Congress and the BJP produce and how the crowded field of state and regional parties pans out. Their regional and linguistic frameworks restrict some parties but others such as the Bahujan Samaj Party are seeking a wider national stage. The Left parties, particularly the two Communist parties, are finding their ken restricted despite their philosophy of a national approach.
Perhaps the growing trend of citizens' direct participation in influencing public opinion on political issues affecting their lives will give parties the push they need to revitalise their own organisations. The Congress and the BJP have their ancillary outfits although for the latter, they must remain a matter of concern. Rabble-rousing is not a practice restricted to organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar. The Shiv Sena and its offshoots have demonstrated their street power. The BJP's problem is that its allies in the form of Vishwa Hindu Parishad or Bajrang Dal or its moral brigades often cross the line between demonstrating for a cause and descending into plain violent hooliganism.
Will the RSS, which is increasingly calling the shots in the BJP, take the initiative in curbing the actions of its allied organisations that do its image no good? Besides, if the BJP can truly claim the credit for institutionalising the two-party system at the national level, it must behave like a responsible party.
The BJP must share the blame for the ugliness that has crept into Indian polity although the Congress as the pre-eminent national party has greater responsibility in guiding the country towards a healthier political climate. The country awaits their moves as the New Year dawns.
BY ROOPINDER SINGH
Unobtrusively the little black box added music to our life. When my wife came back from school one day, it was there; waiting for her, and the little startled smile that came on her face was reward enough.
Our mornings started with Asa Di Var, and kirtan. Later in the day, we would be humming to some old songs on Farishta, or the more contemporary film music on Jhankar.
Jansher enjoyed the latest English songs on Spin and Top 40, which we also liked, after a fashion, but then we had our own little refuge in Amore, that played mushy ol'e songs and spun its own magic.
The selection was great. Sound quality was crystal clear, except for the occasional day when clouds eclipsed a service that lit up our life at home.
It was the gadget aficionado A.J. Philip who had introduced me to Worldspace and its wonders. Typically, the receiver he had was not available in India, and thus we are relegated to using ones especially made by BPL for the service. Then Sunil got his Worldspace and started singing its praises and then Shastri
The thrifty logic in me, however, just could not warm up to the idea of paying for something that was free on the airwaves, and has been so ever since the inception of the radio. Let's not get into details like licence fees, which have thankfully died a natural and least lamented death.
My father always listened to the radio, and normally by the time I woke up he had twisted the knobs of his trusty old Philips receiver and was au-fair with the latest events. Then it was time for music, which would continue all day, and sometimes into the night, providing a background to his reading and writing. So it was not that there was no music in the house, and to top it all, it was free and FM too was fairly good, becoming better by the day, or so it seemed.
All this was fine, till I realised that Jaspreet was pining for Worldspace, and that was reason enough to change my stance on free airwaves. I joined the gang, and realised what I had been missing all these years. Now it was an integral part of our lives. Yet there were clouds, and we are not talking of atmospheric disturbances.
Now that it has been announced that the New York-based Worldspace Corp has filed for bankruptcy protection, the last day of this year will be the end of service of this remarkable satellite radio that enriched our lives. We will still have music in our lives, Thank God for the free airwaves and the wonderful variety of music that comes through them.
THE DECADE WE DIDN'T SEE COMING
BY JOEL ACHENBACH
The decade began so swimmingly. No Y2K bug, no terrorism, nothing but lots of fireworks as the planet turned and, time zone by time zone, all the zeroes replaced the nines.
America was at peace. Prosperity reigned. The popular president soon announced a budget surplus of $230 billion. The dilemma for Washington lawmakers was what to do with all the extra money.
People watched the values of their houses soar. The Dow had jumped 25 percent in just a year. Imagine how $1,000 might mushroom if invested in stocks for the next decade!
The future had arrived bearing nifty technological gifts. An entire music catalogue could fit in the palm of a hand. People nurtured their avatars in Internet role-playing games. Technology offered a virtual escape from the real world.
Except the real world wouldn't leave us alone. Throughout the decade, the real world pursued, hectored, harassed. Ignorance was punished. Hubris found its comeuppance. The optimists were routed, the pessimists validated. The fabulous economy turned out to be something of a hoax. A war predicted to be a "cakewalk" turned into a dismal slog.
This was a decade when things you didn't know about could really hurt you.
So it was that Americans were shocked by 9/11. That's when the decade really began, regardless of what the calendar might say. Osama bin Laden's 9/11 hijackers, holing up in cheap motels, moving in groups, warily clinging to their luggage, had acted we could say in hindsight pretty much like terrorists plotting something or other. But they were invisible in a nation still blissfully unaware of the intensity with which it was hated. Go back to Jan. 1, 2000: The peace of that first night wasn't quite so real after all. A would-be terrorist, trained in Afghanistan, had planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport. The plot unraveled a couple of weeks before the New Year, and investigators learned the full details only months later.
"History's always catching America off guard," says Rick Shenkman, editor of George Mason University's History News Network. "We have to re-learn that lesson over and over and over again, that we cannot escape history."
The attacks shaped the entire decade. They led to two wars overseas and a new security regime at home that requires grandmothers to take off their shoes and get wanded before they board a flight. Not knowing about 9/11 would be, in this decade, like walking into a whodunit movie 15 minutes late and never understanding what the characters are talking about and why they're so exercised.
The Iraq war, launched by the Bush administration in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that did not actually exist, will be litigated by pundits and historians until the end of time. The decade closes with that war winding down and tens of thousands of troops surging into Afghanistan to intensify the battle with those who attacked us at the decade's start. And just in case we might have begun to let down our guard at home, a man tried to blow up a plane landing in Detroit on the final Christmas of the decade.
This has not been a good decade for anyone overly sensitive to bad news. We've had two recessions, the first caused by the bursting of the tech bubble (wasn't Pets.com supposed to dominate the dog food market?), the second by the even more dramatic popping of the housing bubble (oops, maybe buying that $1.5 million McMansion was rash). The economic recovery has been trembling at best. The titans of industry can't bring themselves to do anything more risky than hire a few temps.
Oh, and that $1,000 investment in the stock market? It turned into about $900 if invested in Dow blue-chips, and even less if you adjust for inflation. For this decade, the mattress would have been a better place to put your money.
Some would call that a disaster. The more technically accurate term among market-watchers is a "correction." The Correction Decade was not much fun.
The U.S. budgetary surplus of 2000 lasted about as long as the cherry blossoms by the Tidal Basin. Debt proved to be the grease by which ideologically polarized parties pushed legislation through Congress. The decade ends with the government running annual deficits that have to be expressed in scientific notation (i.e., 1.5 x 10 to the 12th dollars).
Ordinary people misapprehended their station in life, and overspent, and overborrowed, and suffered the consequences when the whole house of cards fell apart.
Calamity in this era has been very much a group activity. Many institutions were not, in fact, too big to fail just ask the people who used to run the venerable Wall Street firm of Lehman Brothers. Being large and established proved to be a handicap in an era that favored the small and nimble. The Internet destabilized everything from newspapers to the music industry to global security. Jihadists recruit with YouTube.
Politically the 2000s were not exactly the Era of Good Feeling.
History is neither linear nor deterministic, which is why, perhaps, Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, and Tom "The Hammer" DeLay wound up as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars."
An African American won the nation's highest office. Barack Obama's triumph proved a dream come true for millions of Americans who wondered whether they'd live long enough to see a black president. One shocker: The campaign wasn't in any significant way about race.
Clinton had an excellent decade. So did her husband.
Historian Gil Troy, in a recent essay for the History News Network, pointed out that most people had a pretty good time the past 10 years:
"When they look back on this cascade of catastrophes, Americans in the future will assume our lives were miserable, practically unlivable. Yet, for most of us, life has continued. We have maintained our routines, while watching these disasters unfold on the news. In fact, these have been relatively good years. America remains the world's playground, the most prolific, most excessive platform for shopping and fun in human history."
Computers, software, all those 1s and 0s, flourished in the 2000s. This may have been the first decade in history that was better for machines than human beings.
Largely overlooked in the 1990s Internet boom was the power of a computer application known as "search." Google, embryonic at the start of the decade, ends it looking as big and powerful as Ma Bell back in the day.
If the 20th century was the "American Century," as Henry Luce called it, then the 21st century remains with 10 percent of it gone very much up for grabs. China may be the most fascinating country on Earth, but it has demographic and environmental burdens. India has a billion people and a lot of jobs once performed by Americans. Europe is integrating portentously. But the United States remains the world's sole superpower.
America has a new leader who, back in 2000, was an obscure state legislator in Illinois. The next decade could be Obama's to shape. But governing is harder than campaigning. And Obama has already discovered that "Change" is something many people want in the abstract more than in real life.
Human civilization evolves paradoxically. A world where you can donate money with the click of a button to save a life in Africa is also one where men strap bombs to themselves to blow up innocent strangers.
As history marches on, this decade will be known for its stumbles and reversals. The scolds and doubters reminded us that hope is not a plan. But neither is despair a winning strategy. The smart move is to look back at the 2000s glancingly, and then turn, with optimism, to the decade ahead.n
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
PUNJAB SPENDS NIGGARDLY ON EDUCATION
BY JASWINDER SINGH BRAR
The indispensability of public resources in education can not be over-emphasised. It becomes far more crucial in case of developing world suffering from acute poverty, inequalities, illiteracy, child labour, unemployment, malnutrition, and multiple social and economic disparities and discriminations.
The Constitution of India has demarcated a strong role for the state in the domain of education. Article-45 in unequivocal terms states that 'the state shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the constitution, for the free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years'. The Constitutional Amendment-1976, made education the joint responsibility of Centre and state governments by placing the education on the concurrent list.
Kothari Commission (1964-66) has recommended the transfer of resources worth six per cent of state income to education sector through the medium of public funds. This target figured in almost all plan documents and other policy papers of the last decade or so.
There is considerable amount of variation among the states related to educational spending. Presently, out of all of 28 states, 11 states provide resources through the medium of state-government budget to the education department which are more than four per cent of respective incomes. Nine states provide between two-and-a-half and four per cent. Punjab falls in the category of typical eight states- others are Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, and West Bengal- which transfer the lowest proportion(about 2 per cent) of their respective state-incomes to the education sector by the medium of public spending.
Public expenditure on education refers to the expenditure incurred by a government out of its total budget on the development of education. The public expenditure on education consists of three components, viz. (a) revenue account, (b) capital account, and (c) loans and advances.
The term public expenditure on education (i.e. education budget) here refers to the sum total of all of three components. The various time-periods reported here have a specific context. The first two triennium averages (1968-71 and 1978-81) based on concerned financial years are used as bench marks for comparisons. The subsequent period of about a decade or so witnessed the militancy-related violence and disturbances. In case of Punjab, the fifteen years period from 1992-93 to 2006-07 is a period of stable democracy. Three governments completed their full terms alternately: Congress Government (1992-1997); Akali-BJP Government (1997-2002); and Congress Government (2002-2007). It was normally expected that during the said period the state would made more efforts for the development of human resources. The populace would realise 'peace-cum-democratic dividend'.
But, even a cursory look at the report card of Punjab pertaining to educational budget right now presents a disturbing picture. Apparently, the education budget at current prices increased over-period. The absolute level of education budget on triennium basis rose from Rs. 27.69 crore (1968-71), to Rs. 109.40 crore (1978-81), to Rs. 699.82 crore (1992-95), and to Rs. 2275.45 crore (2004-07). But, the education budget as proportion of overall budgetary expenditure of the state had declined substantially. The state had transferred as much as 22.42 per cent and 23.82 per cent of her total budget on education respectively during 1968-71 and 1978-81. It declined to 13.08 per cent during 1992-95 and to 10.72 per cent during 2004-07. It means the share of 'activities other than education' in the state budget was about 90 per cent during 2004-07. However, it was about 76 per cent during 1978-81. The state transferred the highest proportion of income (3.06 per cent) to education only during 1998-2001. It involves the impact of the then grade-revision. Subsequently, it registered a continuous decline and reached to 2.33 per cent during 2004-07.
Similarly, the state has been found to be spending considerably less among the neighbouring and other states during 2004-07. Moreover, the states with much lower levels of per capita incomes-Bihar and Rajasthan- had spared comparatively higher proportion of their respective budgets and incomes for education. Thus, a fundamental distortion has occurred in the budgetary spending of the state which needs immediate attention and correction. There is a dire necessity to increase the education budget of the state in a systematic and time-bound manner.
GARLAND BAN LASTS A DAY
The other day, while addressing his first press conference here in Delhi, the new BJP president Nitin Gadkari tried to put an end to the culture of touching feet, putting up hoardings banners and posters and garlanding and giving bouquets in his party. Instead he suggested to all people interested in presenting bouquets to put the amount in a donation box in the party office with which the party could help families of farmers who committed suicide. There was widespread appreciation of Gadkari's gesture during his press conference and the one who clapped most at the suggestion was none other than outgoing BJP general secretary Vijay Goel. But the very next day at the Bhajan Sandhya Goel organised to celebrate the 86th birthday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the garlanding and bouquet giving was the main highlight of the function. And since Goel had invited prominent non-saffron leaders like Thakur Amar Singh, Om Prakash Chautala, B.J. Panda and former union minister Digvijay Singh for the occasion, the garlanding and bouquet giving ceremony went on endlessly. Perhaps it was the embarrassment of witnessing the bouquet-giving ceremony which kept Gadkari away from this function.
Incidentally a Central minister too has banned any garlanding at his functions. But that they say is because once or twice in the beginning, when he tried taking off the garland in public, his wig and ear plug leaving him not just red-faced but also slightly impaired.
That reminds one that Thakur Amar Singh who has just now launched his website called thakuramarsingh.com, was seen in public without a face mask after a long time. Ever since he returned to India after kidney transplant he had been wearing a face mask, ostensibly to prevent catching any infection since H1N1 was widely prevalent those days. He gave a long winding speech at a Health for All function organized by a popular media group at IIC wearing his face mask throughout. Only problem was that the mask was the one surgeons wear while performing operations. It is slightly different from the H1N1 mask. Curiously the dais that day was full of doctors, but none took notice of that.
The function to lay the foundation stone for the proposed new Congress office in the new institutional area behind Bal Bhawan was jinxed. First there was a problem with its location. It is on Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg and someone told Congress president Sonia Gandhi that AICC office address on a road named after a former Jana Sangh president would send across a wrong message. Eventually this issue was resolved by calling it Kotla Marg, since one side of the plot falls on it. The function fell on the Moharram day and Congress bosses realised that ostentatious celebrations might send a wrong message, since Moharram is a day of mourning. So while the function could not be cancelled last minute, it was made a very simple with a bare minimum done, so as to avoid any criticism.
Contributed by: Anita Katyal and Faraz Ahmed
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
TALKS WITH ULFA
The top leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) were reunited after more than a decade on December 26 after the chairman of the outfit, Arabinda Rajkhowa along with the Deputy Commander in Chief Raju Baruah were remanded to judicial custody and one hopes that the senior leaders of the militant group will now be able to discuss the situation in detail and take a positive decision in regards to talks with the Government of India for a peaceful solution to the problems. In fact, barring two of the central committee members of the outfit including the commander in chief Paresh Baruah all top leaders are now in jail and they have the opportunity to discuss in detail the prevailing situation in the State to take decisions. The vice chairman of the militant group, Pradeep Gogoi is in Guwahati jail since 1997, while, the cultural secretary Pranati Deka is in the same jail since 2002 and publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary is in jail since the Operation All Clear launched by the Bhutan Army in December, 2003 to flush out the militants taking shelter in that country. The adviser of the outfit, Bhimkanta Buragohain alias Mama, arrested during the Bhutan operations in 2003, is in Tezpur jail and the Government can shift him to Guwahati jail to facilitate discussion among the ULFA leaders on the issue of holding talks for peaceful solution to the problems. With possibilities of India and Bangladesh signing an extradition treaty brightening, ULFA general secretary Anup Chetia, who is in Bangladesh jail, may soon be handed over to India and this will enhance the chances of the militant group's top brass taking positive steps in regard to talks.
It is a fact that till now the ULFA leaders are maintaining that they would talk with the Government only on the core issue of sovereignty of Assam, while, on the other hand, the Central and State Governments made it clear that talks are possible only within the framework of the Constitution of India. It is also a fact that talks with ULFA without involving Paresh Baruah will not be fruitful. But after the crackdown by the Government of Bangladesh, the leaders of the ULFA must have realized the fact that they have very little choice to go as it will not be possible for the militant group to re-establish strong bases in Bhutan. After coming back to Assam after a long gap, the ULFA leaders should try to understand the feelings of majority of the people who are fed up with killings and violence and if the outfit refuses to come for talks now, they will lose an opportunity to do so by standing on firm ground. If majority of the central committee leaders of the ULFA can be persuaded to start talks with the Government, it is expected that they will be able to persuade Paresh Baruah about the need for talks in the interest of development of Assam.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The abandonment of the fifth one-dayer between India and Sri Lanka at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground in Delhi due to poor pitch conditions has put the country to shame. Strangely, this has happened in the capital and at a venue where World Cup fixtures are slated to be played in about a year's time. The match had to be called off after 23 overs, and the reason why the match could go that far on a pitch where the even good-length deliveries bounced dangerously was that the on-field umpires as well the players expected the track to settle down after the initial overs. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and this resulted in Lankan batsmen suffering lethal body blows. While thousands of spectators and fans all over India were disappointed, the incident also dampened the joy of the series victory by Team India. Without a doubt, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) will now have a lot of questions to answer for what will rank as one of the most shameful incidents in the history of Indian cricket.
It is a mystery how the DDCA bigwigs could ignore the repeated complaints that had been made about the wicket throughout the year and also in the run-up to the game on Sunday. Therefore, making its grounds and pitches committee a scapegoat for the fiasco and disbanding it is nothing more than hogwash. It must explain how such an incident could take place after so many warnings and what led its members to predict that the pitch, hardly fit enough to host a club-level match, would be full of runs! The DDCA mandarins must own up the responsibility for this disgraceful episode and let others take their positions if they have even any semblance of self-esteem. The BCCI must also explain to the nation what it is doing with its ever-inflating coffer when it is unable to ensure basic conditions even at internationally known venues like Kotla and Eden Gardens. It is worthwhile to recall that at the Eden too the floodlights played a spoilsport during the fourth one-dayer which India won to clinch the series. The Kotla now faces suspension, if the ICC decides to adhere to the rules pertaining to poor pitch conditions. If this happens, it will indeed be a sad day for Indian cricket. The BCCI therefore must pull all stops to prevent this from happening, and ensure proper and adequate facilities at all the important venues if it wishes to host World Cup matches without further humiliation.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
TRIUMPH OF US DIPLOMACY AT COPENHAGEN
The deal on climate change made at Copenhagen summit between USA and BASIC could be counted as a triumph of US diplomacy on the crucial matter. The BASIC consisting of Brazil, South Africa, India and China might be individually benefited by the deal , yet the collective interest of hordes of other nations of the southern hemisphere is defeated by such a deal ,which was struck after a formal end of the summit inconclusively in a situation when the signatories on behalf of the BASIC group were about to board the aircraft homewards from the venue of the summit. Interestingly Jairam Ramesh who went to Copenhagen as a negotiator much ahead of the summit to get a consensus on such a crucial issue threatening mankind made a volte face after our Prime Minister signed the deal. Yet prior to this culmination of the event Jairam Ramesh was very vocal on the key issue of a global consensus with a clear cut policy on financial help and technology support from the rich nations for the poor nations. As a developing nation both India and China unitedly vouched for an acceptance of global strategy on climate change which eluded us since the Kyoto summit days. In fact the reluctance of the US administration to sign any treaty on climate change stood as a stumbling block to arrive at a pragmatic solution of the problem. Even just after signing the controversial deal, Jairam Ramesh was categorical that no formal deal has been struck and the draft would be placed before the plenary session to be attended by the world nations for final acceptance. However the same person a day later opined that India would be benefited by the deal and the first flow of money would be there by 2010. The deal envisages a mobilization of 100 billion dollars as annual funding for developing countries from 2020 to meet the challenge. It also pledges another 30 billion dollars by 2012 to start with.
It seems that the Copenhagen deal is likely to be accepted by the UN as a reference document to evolve a global policy to combat climate change and basing on it new set of rules and regulations would be formulated in the course of time which would be enforced on the member countries equitably. Naturally the basic issue of fixing the historical responsibility of the industrialized nation in contributing to global warming would ever remain suppressed. It would automatically ensure great advantage to the rich nations to start everything anew without any past liabilities. The accord also does not envisage any limit on the cut on green house gas emission, although the rise of temperature has been vaguely limited to a rise of 2 degree Celsius. In absence of any peak global emission level and a deadline to achieve any target, a new precedent has been set which is contradictory to the Kyoto protocol. Above all, the Copenhagen accord has not evolved as a consensus arrived at the formal summit. Only the BASIC countries are likely to be benefited by it, without any legal binding on the commitment made.
Any world poverty reduction drive would necessitate a phenomenal rise of the existing economic growth rate of the poor nations. Naturally the energy need of such nations too would rise manifold. Carbon based fuel being the main source for energy for majority of such nations the possibility of future rise of green house gas level is inevitable. In such a critical situation it would have been prudent to accept a balanced and comprehensive energy development policy which could have paved the way for the much hyped equitable development model often pronounced by the world economic policy makers.,
It would be worth mentioning that energy from non-conventional sources as well as from nuclear power generation could be a possible solution to it. However, the prohibitive cost involved in nuclear power generation , non availability of technology and above all monopoly of the rich nations as reflected in contemporary world politics have made it an uphill task for the poor nations to avail it. Even harnessing of energy from solar sources is a costly affair vis-a-vis power generation from coal. Harnessing of power from wind despite having potential at many places has not become a reality as mass production of power from this source has not materialised. However such generation alone could hardly fulfil the necessity of base load power generation of immense importance in ensuring supply of uninterrupted and quality power to an economic system.
Now, taking into cognizance the socio-economic status of the world nations by and large providing finance and technology transfer to poor nations are the two crucial aspects which should be part and parcel of any macro global strategy to combat the challenge of climatic change. Naturally the hopes of the poor nations were initially enkindled by the actions and utterances of the developing nations like India and China on the eve of Copenhagen summit. There was a definite vacuum for leadership for the majority of world nations to vouch for their collective cause in the UN summit at Copenhagen. However an emergence of collective leadership from the BASIC groups of countries gave them some ray of hope. But the US diplomacy did upset it. Therefore it is natural for nations to be beset by a feeling of being let down by BASIC. Such type of volte face as seen in international national is not at all an exceptional event. In our national politics we very often see it at the crucial time of government formation after general election in a situation when no political party has the simple majority needed to form government. A floor crossing to a rival political formation against which the people voted the incumbent to win too could be seen. It seems to be acceptable to the Indian voters. To-day an earthly gain has become the driving force in Indian politics. But the question arises, has the same psyche been operating in international politics also? In fact the pre-summit and post-summit utterances of Jairam Ramesh speak about such an Indian trend but with a difference that the country would get some financial assistance from the rich nation on account of being a signatory to the deal made between USA and BASIC. Ramesh can definitely rationalize everything he did in Copenhagen, because it was not an individual gain for him but a collective gain for the nation.
Needless to say that the issue of global warming is unlikely to be resolved without an honest understanding of the resource and technology constraints faced by the poor nations to combat it. However the rich nations owning allegiance to the USA are purposefully avoiding it. They could ill afford to lose their economic and technology supremacy by accepting the conditions of financial and technology transfer as demanded by the Third World countries in any draft on global strategy on this crucial matter. Incidentally both India and China took this common stance on behalf of the Third World countries.
The environmentalist groups have rightly termed the Copenhagen summit as a fiasco. The Kyoto protocol was literally non functional because the US did not sign it. But the ongoing process of global warming is continuing its advance and this has stood as the greatest threat to mankind now. Yet both the rich and the BASIC countries who matter in world politics have taken the matter purely from an angle of economic loss and gain! It is unfortunate and disgusting.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
DYNAMICS OF AGRICULTURE
MOON MOON SARMAH
Agriculture is one of the main economic activities of man from time immemorial. It is a vital source for allround progress of our country. But modern agricultural practice has resulted in many other related problems such as depletion of soil fertility, water pollution, emergence of new pests and diseases and above all environmental degradation. Agriculture is a timely operation and depends on vagaries of nature. Ploughing, planting and transplanting of crops require certain amount of minimum rain at particular time. In this case, total rainfall is a misleading indicator.
Today 'Climate change' threatens us all. Frequent occurrence of drought, heat wave, flood, cold spells cyclones,typhoons and soil degradation have created crisis which is already being felt in various parts of the world. In our country also, climate change in the form of a change in the rainfall pattern is raising worries, specially in areas where agriculture is monsoon dependent. This year there was a drought in the initial phases and heavy rainfall towards the end of the rainy season, which disturbed the farming schedule across the country. According to a survey report, this year Indian farmers are likely to lose at least 20 to 25 billion dollars due to the failed monsoon. Maharashtra lost pulses like moong and urad due to the drought while the heavy rainfall later on destroyed standing crops of rice, soyabean and the harvested kharif jowar, which were lying in the fields for drying. Millions of farmers have lost their crops, livestock and millions more are waiting to migrate to the cities in search of jobs. This underlines the country's vulnerability and complete dependence on monsoon. In drought prone area the acute shortage of green and dry fooder and poor quality of grazing land affect the livestock production. Drought becomes one of the main reason for mass sell of malnourished cow in the weekly market of Jhabua is Madhaya Pradesh.
The north eastern region also felt the impact of climate change. Boasting of perfect weather and rich flora and fauna, the eight States in North-East are often said to be cradled in the laps of nature. But climate change with all its manifestations in the form of monsoons, unprecedented drought and floods is making its presence felt in the region. Instead of June-July, the rains came properly only by September. The result was that the paddy crop flowered, but there was no seed inside. The rice that harvested was not of very good quality, In the same way bean plants flowered, but bore no seeds, potato plants became red in colour and were spoilt. Apples of Arunachal Pradesh, Orange of Meghalaya have become smaller and infested with insects, which are normally big and juicy. Changes like rise in temperature, variation in rainfall and disappearance of native plant species are posing challenges to the people specialy the rural and marginal women whose lives are dependent on the forest, agricultural and natural resources. Above all these, Brahmaputra's flood creates havoc among the people of Assam inundating the farmer's land. In the light of this changing environment, efficient management of resources, particularly soil and water resources for improved and sustained agricultural production is very necessary. The practice of farming and production of maximum agricultural yield through management of natural resources without disturbing the environment is called sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agricultural production can be achieved by preventing land degradation, maintaining soil's potentialities, while emphasizing reduction in chemical and energy intensive inputs. For sustainability agricultural practices can be modified and adapted to make production of crops and animals more climate proof.
The impact of Green Revolution remained largely confined to irrigated and high potential area, its benefits does not per locate as much to dry and marginal land. Generally farmers in such area are resource poor. Investment in the drylands requires an entirely different approach. Such dry land technology which are economically affordable and relevant to small and marginal farmers can be apply to drought prone area. Dry land have the capacity of growing nutritive cereals, which have high demand in global market also. To cater the rising demand for high value commodities there is the scope for increasing production of such crops. The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tpropics (ICRISAT) hold the global responsibility for improving livelihood of the poor, where low soil fertility, erratic rainfall and poor infrastructure pose serious threats to, agriculture. ICRISAT lays special emphasizes on such crops which can successfully grow in a warmer world such as ground nut, millet, chick pea etc. These are early maturing crops and have the capacity of drought tolerance. Risk averse and vulnerable farming communities of our region must equipped with climate risk management. Better facilities should provide to farmers to make them less dependent on erratic rains. Neither Government nor the farmers predict the change in the climate. Considering this, controlled farming will essential in future. Currently India has negligible area under protected farming techniques, like poly houses and green houses. But this concept of controlled farming is not applicable to mass farming, because of high investment in it. Scientist has already innovate 'Climate proof' varieties which can be get with fewer seeds, reduced water and less labour which known as System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Innovative farmers of few states like Tripura, Tamil Nadu has already successfully implemented this programme, This year Government of Assam has encouraged farmers of the state to grow Sali Paddy by SRI technique under the newly introduced scheme of Rastriya Krishi Vikash Yojana (RKVY).
Adoption of soil and water conservation measures for efficient utilisation of land, water, vegetation and human resources are necessary to meet the ever increasing demand of food grains. Integrated watershed management is an eco-friendly approach which aims at planning, development and efficient management of resources for economic development of society. Participatory and knowledge based watershed development programmes can provide attractive social return to poverty reduction. Agriculture and economic growth have been the main source of poverty in the country. To address this malady government has launced NREGA. The concept of soil and watershed management would be the best option for implementing this scheme effectively. This would provide employment opportunities for the rural youth similar to the ones provide by the service sector for urban youth. Organic agriculture also help to achieve high plant yields by making efficient use of organic residues. To fertilise soils it uses compost harvest residue and animal manure. It is note worthy to mention that North-Eastern Region has become very popular in the name of organic farming recently.
On the other hand, commercial techniques such as direct marketing, crop insurance etc would make small and marginal farmers more dynamic. Direct marketing by the farmers is a commercially viable measure. Rural infrastructure to enable farmers directly market the produce is essential.
(The writer teaches Economics in MDKG College, Dibrugarh).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MAKING SPORTS MORE EXCITING!
Cricket is a funny game where anything can happen, goes a cliche. The Board of Chaos - sorry Control - for Cricket in India (BCCI) is giving a new lease of life to one-day internationals whose popularity has been affected by the overwhelming response to T20 cricket. For those who thought an ODI was just about two teams batting 50 overs each, the BCCI has introduced a touch of the unpredictable and the unexpected. Under the BCCI's able guidance, the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) organised on December 24 an ODI at the Eden Gardens Stadium in Kolkata where bad light stopped play for over 20 minutes when one of the floodlights switched off! For the December 27 ODI at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in New Delhi, the BCCI came up with an even greater surprise. Play was not just suspended but stopped on the newly relaid pitch which had been prepared by the Doomed - sorry Delhi - District Cricket Association (DDCA). The telecast of a speeding ball shooting across the surface and hitting the Sri Lankan batsman's ankle or suddenly taking off and missing his helmet kept the fans enthralled until skipper Sangakkara made things even more dramatically exciting by walking off!
The fun and games are not just restricted to cricket. Previous Commonwealth Games have been monotonously predictable, with march-pasts being followed by track and field events where records have been routinely broken. The only record that still stands is of a Commonwealth Games not being ready on time. The 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi has created considerable excitement all over the sporting world by delaying things to an extent where no one knows whether any of the stadia will be constructed in time. As the date for the 2010 Games comes closer, we could even see construction-workers running on the job while balancing bricks on their heads. Which could even be a new event for future Commonwealth Games.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CUT PEAK CUSTOMS DUTY
The distinct sign of revival in the manufacturing sector coupled with a pick-up in exports prepares the ground for the Centre to resume the task of lowering the peak customs duty that began in 1991 and got stalled in 2006-07. The wall of import tariffs is generally seen as protecting domestic producers, but has the effect, in the long run, of keeping industry housebound as small players incapable of dominating the world stage. A reduction in the peak import duty from 10% to 7.5% will raise the quality of domestic produce, make our products more competitive and help exporters compete in the international market. It would also help attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in manufacturing. The eventual goal should be a uniform import duty on raw materials, intermediates and final products, so as to provide the same effective rate of protection to all lines of value addition. A phased increase in the basic customs duty of exempted goods will ensure that user industries are not hurt while achieving this goal.
The customs duty structure was unchanged this budget due to the worrisome global scenario after the sub-prime lending mess. But industry appears to be divided over the issue of a duty cut. The Confederation of Indian Industry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry have said that a cut in peak import duty would be counter-productive as a surge in imports from countries lending extra-ordinary support to their domestic industry could mar recovery prospects here. But Assocham wants the government to keep up with its commitment to lower the peak import duty to Asean levels. A reduction in the high rate of customs tariff has been the mantra for policy reforms since the early nineties, with peak duty being progressively lowered to 10% from 150%. The government must continue with customs duty as a market oriented trade policy regime is reckoned to help absorb external and internal shocks better. At the same time, it must ensure that the rupee does not get overvalued by capital inflows that the system cannot absorb. If this happens, a tax on capital flows may be the way out to curb hot money inflows.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha on farmers falling into a debt trap, the government came out with data that are startling. Rice farmers have suffered losses in all regions save Andhra Pradesh over three cropping years ending in 2006-07, with wheat farmers faring a little better. Even today, news reports suggest that farmers do not really gain much even as consumer prices go through the roof. This anomaly of farmers suffering losses, even in crops for which the government provides support prices, while consumers pay high prices deserves urgent official attention. Clearly, fat margins accrue to those who control the series of transactions farm produce undergoes after it leaves the farmer and before it reaches the consumer.
These would be compounded by spoilage, pilferage and waste along this transaction chain. There is no escaping the logic: if we want the farmer to get a remunerative price and the consumer not to be fleeced, this supply chain from the farmer to the consumer has to become efficient, competitive and organised. When the Centre blames the states for failing to act on possible hoarding and artificial shortages leading to a rise in prices, what the Centre fails to mention is its policy of discouraging organised retail. Organised retail is the one industry that has a vested interest in shortening the farm-to-fork supply chain and making it efficient. True, it is the supply chain and logistics management rather than the final distribution to retail customers that really cuts costs. And the government has allowed foreign investment in cash and carry operations that handle the pre-retail supply chain management. Then, why blame the government? Because cash and carry has limited appeal for the investor. It leaves the retail player to add a fat retail margin while having done none of the hard work that brought down the bulk price at the cash and carry outlet. Only when the supply chain manager gets a chance to sell directly to the consumer does it have the full incentive to scale up its operations.
The obverse of the coin is that the farmer also needs to have an organisational form that allows them to negotiate with organised buyers with some leverage, of the kind that Amul offers its stakeholders.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
Shibu Soren's well-wishers are hoping he proves third-time lucky. For Guruji, whose first two stints as CM turned out to be accident-prone, the challenge now will be on legal front: a petition in the Supreme Court challenging his acquittal in a murder case is set to come up next month. Some people are also taking a closer look at a pending FIR in a criminal case against him. But on coalition stability, Soren need not worry given partner BJP's desperation toget a bite of power. Some BJP members are now working on deleting from official records the colourful adjectives they had used against their CM-elect when the NDA staged that principled boycott of the 'tainted' Soren during UPA-1. Funny how the law often seems at odds with politics.
THE TIWARI BURDEN
As ND Tiwari leaves the Raj Bhavan, triggering a new debate on the limits of political morality and the limitless energy of old age, suspense has gripped the Congress brass. The veracity of the sting tapes and the plans to drag Tiwari to the apex court in a paternity case are not their only worries. The details of how the late Narasimha 'Chanakya' Rao once grounded Tiwari by sounding a red alert after the latter went 'intriguingly missing in action' is the kind of stuff being recalled in the grand old party (GOP). As Tiwari heads back to his hill state of Uttarakhand, party colleagues are hoping he won't trigger a Tiger Woods-style me-too calls from other quarters. The last thing the Congress wants is to caddy around such baggage amidst the 125th anniversary celebrations of the GOP.
BEND IT LIKE SINHA
Did you notice who proposed L K Advani's name when he was elected chairman of the BJP parliamentary party? Yashwant Sinha. Yes, the same Sinha who had lambasted Advani's 'Kandahar flip-flop'. But then, when and why did Sinha turn a loyalist? The talk in BJP circles is that Sinha, who lost out in the race for BJP deputy leadership in the LS, PAC chairmanship and also a seat in the Opposition front row, has mellowed after a stint on the margins. Having showed his (re)commitment to the BJP by campaigning hard in Jharkhand, Sinha apparently lobbied, pre-results, for the CM's post of his home state which, of course, required Advani's blessings. As Soren took the cake, Sinha has kept quiet. But not his perennially-sulking colleague-cum-fellow Kayastha Shatrughan Sinha, who said the BJP could have won had Yashwantji been projected as CM candidate. We only wish Sinha had taken another shot at the PAC chairmanship after ex-rebel-in-arms Jaswant Singh quietly resigned, even though BJP deputy leader Gopinath Munde has a traditional claim on the post.
As Shibu Soren gets ready for the big day, the Congress is hoping Lalu Yadav and his counterparts in the SP and LJP have read the Jharkhand message right and will stop pestering them on rekindling old affairs. As Jharkhand threw up a hung verdict, Soren and Lalu were game for a tango with the Congress in Ranchi and then a UPA hitch to Delhi. As Soren got the 'no' message and turned to the BJP, Lalu batted for a joint effort with the Congress and Babulal Marandi for making up the 'secular numbers'in Ranchi. Once the Congress said it would rather sit in the Opposition than ride with the RJD, especially when the party is trying a UP-style solo run in Bihar's elections next year, Lalu decided to relaunch the vanished Fourth Front along with Mulayam and Paswan. An alliance that, surely, has nothing to lose except misplaced hopes.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHY MARKETING MARGINS IN GAS?
School textbooks define 'markets" as a place where people sell their products and wares. This assumes three basic elements, buyers, sellers and a price at which the product is sold. Simple economics tells us that the price of the product would depend on demand and supply and a perfect market can function only if there is competition among suppliers and choice for the consumer. The question today is whether such markets exist at all? If not, is there any scope for marketing costs? Are consumers in India getting to buy at the right price or are they also paying for notional costs like marketing margins which should have no play in perfect markets? There cannot be a simple answer to this.
India imports more than 70% of its crude oil requirement even as domestic gas producers, until recently, met only 50% of the demand for gas. Producers and marketers of oil and gas, just like electricity, can sell effortlessly as starved consumers wait for this crucial requirement. Charges like marketing margin, that relates to the cost incurred for marketing a good or service thus becomes irrelevant in such industries.
Gas transporters like GAIL India have charged marketing margins on the gas they sell despite the skewed gas market that allows natural monopolies like GAIL to exist. This becomes even more glaring as consumers are restricted to those located along the pipeline, making the market even more imperfect. The government has never objected to these costs being charged to consumers despite the fact that companies like GAIL had very little to do as far as marketing or market development was concerned. It thus is not surprising that new entrant Reliance Industries too is charging a marketing margin on its gas which it sells along the East West Pipeline or through GAIL to consumers along the HBJ pipeline. But can the government object now? Unlikely, as it has allowed such practices before. Consumers in the energy market are thus paying charges for notional expenses incurred by producers and marketers, a levy that is completely avoidable and unjustified given the lack of choice resulting in a captive market.
An air traveller can walk up to a ticket counter and select his preferred airline just like a mobile consumer can decide on which operator to opt for. But such choice is limited only to a few segments. Take the case of energy, a daily basic requirement for every stakeholder of the economy. Demand for energy in this country be it electricity, transport fuel or cooking gas far outstrips supply and consumers are left with no or limited choice. So while airline and telecom operators bend over backwards to woo customers with aggressive pricing and discounts, oil companies can afford to sit back as their sales go up every year effortlessly. The imperfect energy market in the country leaves the seller with an inherent advantage of a ready, starved market.
Unfortunately, this has led to the government taking over as regulator even in markets where its own public sector companies are dominant players raising questions over conflict of interest. The government's intervention has been justified as it is ostensibly to protect consumer interest, but it has, on many occasions, become a major hurdle in the normal evolution of a market. The energy sector in India is a classic example of a skewed market which has failed to evolve even after two decades since the government allowed private participation in vital segments of the industry like power generation, distribution, refinery and exploration.
Liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991 signalled the transition from a mixed economy, dominated by socialistic principles, to a market economy which would see multiplicity of players bringing in competition and choice. The government, which till then was solely responsible for the development of most of the industrial activity in the country invited private entrepreneurs to set up factories and offer services to meet the growing demand of the economy. One major objective behind this policy shift was to unleash private entrepreneurship and capital for capacity building, particularly infrastructure.
Two decades down the line, even as new production units come up every year, so do crucial policy questions over price and costs. Clearly, there cannot be a single formula for all products, as each industry develops its market at its own pace, and each market has its own logic.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FMCG COMPANIES REACHING OUT TO USERS FAR & WIDE
In simple terms, a product distribution strategy is to have products made at a certain location and moved to the consumer when he/she needs them. These products are to be made available at a time, quantity and price best suited to the consumer. For a company and here we are talking of the traditional FMCG and the Direct Selling (DS) FMCG (a newer channel of selling products, that is gaining acceptance as well as size) it is to make and move products by the most cost-effective mode of transportation, spending appropriate time, meeting the service-level of a consumer at a defined cost. The strategy would involve working from the other end what raw materials go into making the product/s, manufacture of finished goods, where this is to be done by whom (vendor or owned facility), and then, sending sufficient quantities to different locations.
An ideal product-distribution strategy would be both short-term as well as long-term. While the former addresses day-to-day needs of consumers, a long-term strategy takes various dimensions into account, such as infrastructure required to meet a demand that would emerge 3-5 years down the line, what products the competition could come up with, availability of sufficient raw materials etc. Higher and more accurate predictability leads to higher service levels at optimum costs.
In larger and diverse geographies such as India, companies tend to lose out on economies of scale as it is near impossible to follow the dictum produce nearest the consumer. And as the consumer is spread across 31,66,830 sq km, it is not easiest to have multiple manufacturing bases. Hence, companies consolidate production at fewer locations and have to build-in higher transportation costs as well as delivery time. A strategy would map the consumer-base, and distribution often boils down to handling geographies.
But we are far beyond the era of sending and reading smoke-signals. There are packages that trigger action across the supply chain in a synchronized manner. When a consumer picks up say a bar of soap, a parallel order gets logged for raws almost at the same instant. This causes a domino effect where the stocks sold at retail are replenished from regional warehouses, who would get stocks from the central warehouse, which would intimate the factory as to production quantities. Manufacturing then advises sourcing teams on raw materials that need to be supplied. Companies could get this update on a weekly basis or even in more frequent intervals.
Here, the DS industry has a distinct edge over the traditional FMCGs, where a host of intermediaries such as wholesalers, stockists, dealer and retailer make up larger numbers of links in the chain. In a DS FMCG, there is the producer and the seller, which makes the situation a far more live one. The DS industry is adept at responding swifter as compared to traditional FMCGs as we are that much closer to the consumer. This also translates that the DS industry has to be that much more careful about TNAs! Sensitivity to service is far higher in the DS industry as compared to traditional FMCG, where competition drives efficiency.
India has around six million households that are considered 'rich' and spend more than $28 billion per year. Currently, India is the world's 12th largest consumer market, roughly equivalent to that of Brazil, though with a population six-times larger. By 2015, India's consumer market will match that of Italy's in absolute terms and by 2025 it will trail only those of the US, Japan, China and the UK. Anybody who is somebody has opened shop in India.
Yet there are challenges that need to be woven into a complete product distribution strategy. The heavy dependency on road transportationwhich is still largely unorganized , warehousing often not more than godowns, and unique documentation and taxation requirements that differ from one state to the other. These multiple challenges lead to delayed or idle resources.
We are witnessing the start of global best practices being followed in the surface transport industry, with organized players entering the fray with GPS fitted trucks. We are seeing more close-body haulage than what was on the roads ten years ago and increasing attempts at providing end-to-end solution where vendors offer to take responsibility of transportation and warehousing as well as playing the role of the service provider, with overseas shipping thrown in for good measure. No doubt, industry of all hues is looking forward to GST (Goods and Service Tax) that should see light of day possibly in the second-half of 2010.
(The author is MD & CEO of Amway India Enterprises)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A BIT OF WISDOM COME LATELY
Statistically, chances are that the older one gets, one also gets religion. It's not as if atheists turn overnight into believers although that too happens quite often as we'll see in a moment but that a feeling that may have lain dormant on a forgotten back burner begins to simmer and, before one knows, it's boiling out of control.
It's also not as simple as saying young people are necessarily less mature than old people and that religion appeals more to maturity than immaturity or that in their heart they believe they have more time left than they know what to do with whereas old people know their time is short. It's more because youth has its own priorities.
A life has to be learnt; oats sowed, studies swallowed, families planned, children begotten and homes built. Add to that young people are more likely to defy and rebel against those they see as authority figures who, among other things, will often try to ram in-your-face religion too down their throats. So it's natural they don't feel as sure about things and question everything a lot more. At best, it could be said that religion, when it's there, is there in their hearts but not in their schedule. But, unfortunately, as the Bard put it, "What's to come is still unsure... Youth's a stuff will not endure."
Because one day, when that dividing line of years is crossed and our faculties begin to fail and frailty is useless to fight, what's to come becomes plenty sure. Life leaks, death looms and we realise we don't want to just pass away into the nothingness of science and non-believers. Then it seems foolish to think that there is no intelligence behind the creation of worlds.
Six years ago, the well-known philosopher and even-better-known atheist Antony Flew shocked the world when he announced that he had, in the felicitous phrase made famous by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 'wilfully suspended disbelief' and espoused a First Cause responsible for all creation.
Now the point is not whether professor Flew was scared or senile in fact, he has been diagnosed with dementia but that if such a cause does exist and it is at all engaged with us, will it rebuke or embrace such adoration-come-lately? One would like to believe the latter but in the idiom of Blaise Pascal, why take a chance? That is, instead of frog-marching our young towards altars of varied worship, wouldn't it be better to instil in them this gentle bit of wisdom?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'OUR BUSINESS IN INDIA IS DOUBLING EVERY THREE YEARS'
Imaging major Canon today has offices spread across seven cities in India with an employee strength of over 800 people. Even amidst slowdown the company managed a high growth rate and is eyeing on an average 25-30 per cent growth in the years to come. Canon India, Senior Vice-President Alok Bhardwaj feels the current business environment in India will help the company attain new heights. Excerpts from an interview:
Canon's association with India is more than 12 years old now. How has Canon's journey been in India so far?
Although growth in the first nine years of our operations in India was quite slow, it was satisfactory. During the span of nine years, we grew at around 18 per cent. But, the situation has changed dramatically due to changing lifestyle and consumer preferences in the last three years. Even amidst global economic downturn, we managed to post robust 25-30 per cent growth in topline in 2008. During the year, we also got into a number of partnerships with the corporates to be able to take on the massive growth path. Latest trends and patterns indicate that our business in India is doubling every three years and that we have managed to attain leadership positions across six product categories including laser printer, scanner, digital SLR and photo printers.
What are your immediate business plans for India and what will be the key growth areas?
Canon India will essentially invest in two areas -- organisation and people. Our consistent efforts in expanding and maintaining one of the top positions in the country helped us to retain existing talent as well as add new talent. We are a team of 800 people now in India. On the marketing front, constant efforts are towards building customer care points and service centres primarily for digicams and copiers. This will be in line with our plan to launch 100 new products across categories next year. Almost 66 per cent of the products in our portfolio are churned every year to help people get access to latest technologies. Our investment in marketing alone will be Rs.500 crore over the next three years.
Where do you see Canon in India in the next 3-5 years?
We are making efforts to make our brand No.1 across categories, including format printing and surveillance cameras, but have now which we introduced recently. We are targeting Rs.1,000 crore revenues next year and Rs.2,000 crore by 2013. Out strategy going forward will be to enhance our presence in tier-III towns and we are aiming to touch 1,000 towns in India. Till about three years ago we were present in only top 40 towns expanded reach to 300 towns. Growth will happen across all three dimensions -- new domains, new geographies and new verticals. Investment plans, however depend on the current business environment. With India's GDP growth at about 9 per cent, we should be able to maintain 25-30 per cent growth in the coming years as well.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'NEW FEE STRUCTURE WILL CHANGE THE DYNAMICS OF INSURANCE COS'
From January 2010, life insurance companies will have to ensure that all policies that they sell are compliant with the new charge structure prescribed by the insurance regulator. In addition to this, the Swarup Committee's observations have also put pressure on commissions paid to agents. Against this backdrop, Tata-AIG Life Insurance managing director M Suresh, who took over the reins of the company earlier this year, spells out his views on the way forward for the industry and his company, in an interview with ET Bureau.
What will be the impact of regulatory changes pertaining to cap on ULIP charges from the industry's as well as policyholders' perspective?
With transparency in cap charges, customers will be well-informed. It is a great opportunity for life companies to increase penetration. Also because of the new cap structure, the very dynamics of most insurance companies in terms of how they look at products, pricing and segments will undergo a sea change and any change that triggers opportunities is welcome. For instance, the two new products launched by us InvestAssure SuperStar and InvestAssure Sampatti that conform to the new cap structure have, in themselves, contributed to in excess of about 28% of the overall portfolio. So, customers have responded well to what we have brought in on account of the cap change, which is a great indication of good things to come.
How have the distributors responded to the change?
The opportunity for more customers to come in is going to increase now and distributors see that. The volumes will start compensating for the lower commission. The distributors have understood that the name of the game will slightly change, and therefore the efforts to increase penetration and getting in more customers will possibly be the order of the day, versus looking at pure commissions. So, I think distributors will see it positively and our experience is that they are seeing it positively.
How many products will Tata-AIG have to restructure?
Thankfully, our design of products has been more or less in sync with the cap structure prescribed by the regulator. Bulk of our products required some minimal tweaks. As a portfolio, we have more than 13-14 products, which will undergo some change, but it will not be a major structural change.
What will your product strategy entail, going forward?
There are a few emerging segments that progressive companies can look at. The women's space is a category, for instance, which hasn't seen too much of a foray. We see that as an opportunity, and are looking at a product in this space. We are also going to look at the HNI space lot many companies talk about it, but don't necessarily have the right products. We will also introduce a product in the pension category. Again, in terms of product philosophy, I am of the view that while the life is predominantly a ULIP-focussed market, it is prudent for life insurers to have a balance between unit-linked and traditional platforms.
Could you elaborate on the composition of your portfolio at the moment?
I see health and traditional as one category and this accounts for close to 20-22% of our portfolio. My focus will be to increase this to 30-35%. We were probably one of the first private life companies off the block offering a wide variety and bouquet in the health space. This is an edge that we had, and this is a space where we seem to have not done as much as we wanted to do.
How much does the rural business contribute?
As against regulatory need of 19%, we sell close to 36% of our policies in rural areas. This is a deliberate strategy because eventually when you start expanding, you will have to start reaching these markets far more aggressively.
The draft report field by the committee on investor awareness and protection headed by D Swarup has recommended changes in agents' commission structure. What are your views on this?
It is too early to say. However, you have to understand that there are more than 30 lakh agents in the market today. The penetration has improved over the past 10 years and they play a major role in not only finding solutions for the end customers, but also in terms of basic underwriting, servicing, etc.
In the financial services space, other than banking, the only segment that reaches the customer in such a great detail is insurance, therefore they have a great role to play. And these factors need to be borne in mind before we take a decision. I am sure the committee is conscious of the repercussions and they will look at it more prudently.
There are reports of AIG planning to sell its 26% stake to the Indian partner. What impact will this move if it happens have on Tata-AIG Life?
Nothing of that sort is happening. These are merely speculations. Contrary to what has been written, the relationship is absolutely rock solid. And the good news is that we are only the second company among top 10 insurers to have grown year-on-year.
When are you likely to break-even?
We hope to break-even by 2013, and are doing everything possible to break even earlier.
Could you elaborate on your expansion plans?
We want to grow at a faster pace than the industry. We are working on a strategy to be seen among the top five life insurance companies. I feel a brand like Tata-AIG can do and will do much better than what it is doing currently.
I am not saying we are not doing well at the moment, but we are pretty aggressive in our growth plans. We have just opened 45 new offices. As a company, we are currently present in 265 cities and have more than 403 branches. We have to grow, so we need to be present in more number of cities than we currently are.
What is your premium growth target?
Going by the current trends, if all goes well, we hope to end the year with a year-on-year growth of 25% in terms of new business premium. The next three months are crucial, where a good 40% of the business takes place. We are well set with new products and expansion plans to capture this. Next year, too, we expect to grow on similar or more terms.
INDIAN CRICKET'S DAY OF SHAME
Sunday's fiasco at New Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla grounds, where the fifth and final one-day international between India and Sri Lanka had to be called off after just 24 overs thanks to an unplayable pitch, has underlined yet again the disconnect between the game and those who run it in the nation's capital. This despite the organisation's optimistic name: Delhi and District Cricket Association. The DDCA has a hoary tradition of setting aside cricket for more urgent matters in their estimation politicking, influence-peddling and distribution of passes for international matches. The sport itself can wait. So it was no real surprise that the match organisers were found wanting in their preparations for the game. About the only redeeming feature of the fiasco was that since India had already taken an unbeatable 3-1 lead, it made the Kotla game inconsequential. Had it been otherwise, public anger could well have been much greater and the consequences far more severe. And it is not as if there was no warning that preparations were not going well for this game. In the aftermath of the low-scoring game against Australia in New Delhi in November, the International Cricket Council had in the course of a routine assessment of preparations for the 2011 World Cup pointed out that the pitch was a potential problem area. That advisory was ignored in the bickering and infighting between the DDCA's pitch committee and the Indian cricket board panel that plays an overall role across the country. The fallout is also likely to be disastrous for Delhi. Apart from the disgrace of the national capital and one of the BCCI's oldest constituent units being unable to put together a pitch capable of lasting the distance in a one-day international, a mandatory ban will see Delhi miss out on the World Cup as well. The ICC chief executive, Mr Haroon Lorgat, who flew into the city on the day of the abandoned game, sought to downplay worries of a 12 to 24 months ban being slapped on the venue, but going by precedent this is exactly what Delhi now faces. Clearly, the cross-currents in the DDCA where peer influence and vote power matters above all else have usually relegated concerns about the game to the backburner. Just the fact that a powerful politician like Mr Arun Jaitley is its president and yet can do little to give direction and allay infighting within the organisation shows how deep the rot has spread. Just before the new Ranji Trophy season began, Delhi's iconic Virender Sehwag had led a players' revolt, protesting against the arbitrary policies that mark the DDCA's team selections, with places going to well-connected players ahead of more deserving candidates. The matter almost came to a head with Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma, among others, almost walking out to play for Haryana, but the cracks were then papered over. The action had some effect, with the team having qualified for the Ranji Trophy semi-finals after a disappointing season last year, but much still remains to be done as Sunday's disaster has demonstrated. As always, the first reaction was an attempt to shift the blame with the DDCA and the BCCI pointing fingers at the other.
The retribution, of course, was also swift. In a one-line statement on Sunday evening itself, the BCCI dissolved its grounds and pitches committee. Shortly after, the DDCA's pitch committee too put in its papers. But with such exercises having been gone through with so many times in the past, one wonders whether things will really change. The opportunity has presented itself. The point is, will those in power actually avail of it?
HEALING A NATION
BY PATRALEKHA CHATTERJEE
Copenhagen showed how fast and far India has traveled geo-politically. The same, alas, cannot be said about the health of the nation. On the international stage, India's relentless focus on equity made us proud. The time has come to apply that principle at home.
India's ailing health delivery system is viewed as a worthy but dull topic on a normal day in a typical newsroom in the country. Typically, such neglected issues become headline-grabbers if a crisis strikes. In 2009, that crisis was H1N1, popularly known as swine flu. It turned the harsh glare of public scrutiny on the many cracks and faultiness in our healthcare system the lack of trained personnel, the lack of capacity in our laboratories and so on. By mid-December, swine flu had claimed more than 700 lives within India. In a country of a billion-plus and competing tragedies, however, this is viewed as only one among the many challenges confronting policy-makers and health workers. India has more than 2 million people living with HIV and AIDS, though recent official data points to declining new infections; there were 1.5 million laboratory-confirmed malaria cases in 2008; tuberculosis accounts for around 3,30,000 deaths every year and, in Uttar Pradesh alone, at least 560 people have died of Japanese Encephalitis in 2009.
As a new year and a new decade dawns, there are reasons to be depressed and reasons for hope. First, the depressing news. Quality healthcare remains inaccessible throughout the country despite the presence of a highly skilled and qualified medical workforce. Glaring disparities exist between regions, states, towns and villages and even within the same state. A few telling indicators cited by Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, at the Fourth Oxford India Business Forum in March this year are revealing there are 0.2 hospital beds and 0.6 doctors per 1,000 people in rural India. For urban India, the corresponding figures are 3 and 3.4. India spends only 1.15 per cent of its GDP on health, one of the lowest expenditures in the world. Globally, our out-of-the-pocket spending on health remains one of the highest. All this is exacerbated by an acute shortage of health personnel doctors, especially physicians, at district and sub-district levels, nurses, pharmacists, transfusion technologists, lab technicians, and paramedics. Unresolved and emerging public health concerns include persistent malnutrition, high levels of anemia in women and children, unsafe drinking water in several villages, poor maternal and child health, a pool of infectious diseases, alongside a surge in (chronic) non-communicable diseases.
Now, a few nuggets of good news: India is now the fifth-largest public funder of neglected disease research and development globally, with an investment of $3 billion in 2008, according to the recently-released G-Finder Survey by the George Institute for International Health, an Australian think tank. The driving force behind these investments are a handful of central government funding agencies: the Indian Council for Medical Research, the India Department of Biotechnology, the Department of Science and Technology and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
The latest figures from Sample Registration System of the Registrar General of Census show some improvement in maternal and child health, though we are still far from achieving the National Rural Health Mission's (NRHM) targets for 2012 of reducing the maternal mortality ratio to less than 100 per 1,00,000 live births, and infant mortality ratio to less than 30 per 1,000 live births.
In recent times, there has been a genuine effort in critical areas of the health sector. One important example is the focus on neonatal mortality which accounts for almost half of under-5 deaths in the country. While management of H1N1 situation was the highlight of the year, the government is also trying to give an innovative push to medical education, NRHM, Indian Systems of Medicine, the battle against HIV and AIDS, and medical research.
What needs to happen? Reduction of the glaring disparities in healthcare, tackling the human resource handicap and putting in place an effective regulatory system, are prime needs. Things are moving in some areas, but more medical colleges and doctors alone will not produce a healthier India. More attention needs to be given to continuous skill development of all cadres of health workers, standardised training as well as task shifting and task sharing. Secondly, ministries and departments need to talk to each other more often. Health outcomes are determined not only by what the health ministries do or not do. Other factors such as absence of good roads, electricity, telecommunication services, hugely impact health. India has a thriving pharmaceutical industry and generic majors. This advantage needs to be leveraged to give affordable medicines to all.
The last and most important word is accountability. Without this, all plans will remain just that. As I write, there is news that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has slammed the NRHM for wasting crores of public money. In eight states, more than Rs 8 crore were spent procuring drugs which were not strictly necessary and in seven states, medical equipment worth over Rs 26 crore is lying unutilised, resulting in blockage of funds. We also know that seats in medical colleges are still being sold or even hawked to the highest bidder despite a Supreme Court order.
Continued tolerance of such a state of affairs is continuing the status quo. Time is running out. An influential emerging economy cannot afford to have millions of its people submerged in malnutrition, disease, a lack of basic sanitation or clean water.
Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 
2010 WISH LIST: HONEST DOCTORS IN MODERN HOSPITALS
More than infrastructure, we need doctors who don't run after money. There is need for honest, sincere and morally responsible doctors who don't ask for unnecessary tests, especially in the private sector. With that change alone our healthcare system will improve a lot.
Dr Amit Bannerjee
Medical Superintendent, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, New Delhi
ENOUGH SEATS FOR MDS
Young medical professionals face a great deal of stress as a direct consequence of the serious disconnect between avenues for pursuing graduate and post-graduate studies in medicine. We have about 36,000 MBBS seats in 296 medical colleges where just about 12,000 to 15,000 students get the opportunity to seek higher qualification. I believe there is urgent need to enhance opportunities for MD and MS to build a cadre of adequately-trained medical professionals and then focus on peripheral population by making it mandatory for all qualifying doctors to serve in rural areas. Corporate initiatives in secondary healthcare and medical insurance are welcome but cannot be allowed at the cost of the public sector.
Dr (Prof.) K.K. Talwar
INSTITUTE OF MEDICAL EDUCATION & RESEARCH, CHANDIGARH
MORE AND BETTER DOCTORS
* I want to see a renewed resolve for stricter adherence to sanitation in our hospitals so as to reduce dependence on antibiotics and check hospital-acquired infections.
* I foresee major roads that are less congested leading to hospitals and future city planning with hospital locations in mind.
* Promoting medical tourism at major government hospitals to earn extra funds for treating the poor.
* Removing disparities in doctors' salaries in various states so as to check discontent and migration.
* Improving patient-doctor ratio from the present 32:1 towards the required 5:1 nationwide.
* Equipping the masses with basic medical knowledge about the most common ailments.
* More modern equipment for hospitals* Training hospital staff about new trends in diseases and treatment.
* Strengthening rural hospitals so as to reduce pressure on a state's main hospitals.
Dr R.K. Singh
Deputy Superintendent, Patna Medical College and Hospital
MORE AND BETTER DOCTORS
* I want to see a renewed resolve for stricter adherence to sanitation in our hospitals so as to reduce dependence on antibiotics and check hospital-acquired infections.
* I foresee major roads that are less congested leading to hospitals and future city planning with hospital locations in mind.
* Promoting medical tourism at major government hospitals to earn extra funds for treating
* Removing disparities in doctors' salaries in various states so as to check discontent and migration.
* Improving patient-doctor ratio from the present 32:1 towards the required 5:1 nationwide.
* Equipping the masses with basic medical knowledge about the most common ailments.
* More modern equipment for hospitals
* Training hospital staff about new trends in diseases and treatment.
* Strengthening rural hospitals so as to reduce pressure on a state's main hospitals.
Dr R.K. Singh
Deputy Superintendent, Patna Medical College and Hospital
BETTER TRAUMA TRAINING
Our medical personnel need training in trauma care. The number of road accidents in our country is quite high. If doctors and nurses are trained well they can take better care of accident cases in the first few crucial hours and increase the chances of survival from the current 30 per cent to about 70 per cent. There is also need to develop more primary health centres in the country where basic facilities like laboratory tests and X-rays are available.
Dr N.K. Chaturvedi
Medical Superintendent, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Delhi
Link perks to performance
As the head of a prominent government hospital in the state, I feel one major change that should be brought in our healthcare policy is to make the doctors more accountable. For instance, take the Arogyasri scheme that has been introduced to benefit the poor. Under the scheme, doctors have been given targets such as attending to 100 patients. But there is no evaluation of the treatment or the operations performed. This makes doctors lethargic. Moreover, in the government sector promotions are given to doctors based on their seniority and not performance. This immunity needs to go.
Dr E.A. Ashok Kumar
Modern equipment needed
The Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad is one of the oldest and biggest hospitals in India, treating about 6 lakh outdoor patients and admitting 70,000 patients annually. I aim to make it one of the most modern hospital with world-class medical services. I am confident of the competence of the staff but one thing I am seeking is better infrastructure and more modern amenities.
Dr M.M. Prabhakar
Director, Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad
Get ready for disasters
Though we have managed emergencies like terror attacks and swine flu epidemics well and the government has spent adequate money on health services, still disaster management needs to be given priority. We are currently in the process of getting a fully-equipped 200-bed hospital in Pune for epidemics like swine flu. But such significant steps are yet to be taken in the area of disaster management.
Dr B.S. Dhakure
Director of health services, Mumbai
Patients should cooperate
In the coming year, I look forward to a change in the attitude of the general public. If only they behave the same way at the government hospital as they do at a private hospital and cooperate with the medical staff, we will be able to deliver much better. The government should continue its support to help the common man access quality medical care and if they (government) are willing to stretch the budgets a bit, we can compete with the corporate hospitals.
Dr (Prof.) J.
Mohanasundaram Dean, Madras Medical College and Government General Hospital, Chennai
one nurse, one patient In the absence of funds and the gross shortage of para-medical staff, particularly nurses, it is becoming difficult to sustain the standards of treatment. For critical patients, we need a nurse patient ratio of 1:1 which means five nurses per day per patient. In the present scenario we have one nurse attending to several patients. Similarly in the hygiene sector, one toilet is being used by 25-30 patients and their attendants.
Dr Saroj Chooramani Gopal Vice-chancellor, Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj University
As told to Preeti Karmyogi, Asit Jolly, Amita Verma, Deepal Trivedie, Anand S.T. Das, Krishna Rao and Priya Prabhakaran
BOLLYWOOD'S 10-STEP GUIDE TO A HAPPY 2010
Superhit MuqabalaR. Balki Director
I would not like to see a "superhit" advertisement anywhere in Bollywood. I am totally fed-up of seeing them. There are tons of instances where a film is tagged a "superhit" even before it goes on the floor. I think it's time Bollywood started nurturing itself rather than shouting itself hoarse and branding almost all films as "superhits".
Ram can't be Shyam
Govind Nihalani, Director,writer and film producer
What I don't want to see or hear in the future is the use of the word "Bollywood". It's so wannabe Hollywood. What we have is Indian cinema. Why do we need to ape the West? We are making good films here and we have carved a name for ourselves in the international market. The term "Bollywood" is frankly quite offensive and rather insulting.
I don't want to see bad movies, too. I think it's time we stopped taking our audience for granted and stopped insulting their intelligence.
Thou shall not bore!
Swanand Kirkire Lyricist
I don't want to see frivolousness in the name of entertainment or boredom in the name of intellectualism. I don't want to see the imbalance between content and entertainment. I don't want to see English films being made in Hindi. India is a huge country. We must have our own stories, our own films. There are many stories within me, I have many stories to tell. And I'd like to see more of them on celluloid.
As for lyrics, it is a big thing. I don't want to see frivolous rhymes written for the heck of it. Songs stay beyond films. They have a life of their own.
Aagey se right,
Pankaj Kapur Theatre,
television and film actor
What I wouldn't like to hear or see in the near future is film industry being hit by a financial crunch. The industry has been on a downward slide for the past two years. We have gone through a major crisis with films not doing too well.
Swine flu also took its toll on the multiplexes. I hope the forthcoming year proves positive for the industry.
Javed Akhtar Lyricist, poet and scriptwriter
I wouldn't like to see the callous and frugal attitude towards the content of a song in our cinema. The absolute lack of literary value in songs disturbs me immensely. I think it's high time we took our music seriously.
Music is an integral part of our culture and yet we continue to take our music so lightly. It saddens me when there are meaningless songs with outrageous lyrics and shallow gestures.
Shyam Benegal, Director
Gossip about the film industry is something that I hate to see and read about. Much more time and attention is diverted to gossip than to cinema itself.
I think cinema as a subject is much more interesting than peering into the private lives of film celebrities. This is something we can do without.
Plug the plugs
Shimit Amin Film director
We are spending too much on the publicity and marketing of our films. Especially in terms of doing needless things like shooting songs only to air with the promos of a film. I don't believe in promoting my film with a song shot in Switzerland. I truly believe a film can do well with just word-of-mouth publicity. We also over-expose films by having stars go on reality shows, a trend that has picked up this year.
As told to Shama Bhagat and Nawaid Anjum
Lilette DubeyTheatre director and actor
I don't want to see voyeuristic, tedious reality shows that are tasteless and sensationalist! There are music and dance contests of every shape and size and constant shenanigans of a handful of celebrities rather than real achievements in different fields of major achievers. Then there is high pitched and overly dramatised deliveries of the most inane and irrelevant news items and facts in the news channels. Our urban-biased programming leaves us in the dark about how more than half of India lives. I also feel there is an abnormal obsession with cricket and film-related news.
Shiv Subramaniam Playwright, scriptwriter, actor
I would not like to see sad (read unfunny) comedy shows. I don't have strong dislikes, but some slapstick shows with cheap humour and laboured physical contortions try too hard to make you laugh and it really doesn't go down too well with me.
Another thing that I find quite disturbing are kids with ghastly make-up dressed up as movie stars appearing on television shows and their parents sitting in the studio clapping in encouragement. I wouldn't want my kids to be there.
NOTED THEATRE ACTOR AND DIRECTOR
What I would want to wish away from
television screens are all those meaningless songs with pointless lyrics. I adhere a lot to our traditional roots and I feel there is a lot that a country like India can offer its television audience in terms of art, culture and songs.
The other problem I have with television is the kind of impact it has on our kids, and the kind of programming it has for our young minds. Today's youth is definitely disturbed suicide cases are reported every now and then, there is increasing level of depression. What they need is content that can give them direction and bolster their value system. We could have an entire channel dedicated to the youth.
Independent documentary filmmaker
I started finding TV viewing so futile that I got my cable connection disconnected this year.
Yet I do chance upon some unsettling programme or the other while I am at a friend's or my parents' house. I feel our television content is not sensitive to the viewers.
I don't wish to see bizarre, loud news channels in the coming year.
I still remember this horrendous grab that a news channel ran of a speeding car rushing towards a chained person it was repeated again and again and I found it very disturbing.
I refuse to be part of such drama. It's not that there are brainless or talentless people out there churning out this content it's done just to "catch eyeballs", as they say.
Anand Patwardhan Documentary filmmaker
Viewers are fed with the kind of nonsense that is shown on television. It is all designed to make them go numb, because advertisers don't want people to think. Public will only buy a company's product if they are brainwashed. This slavery to advertisers should be banned.
I also hope that people stop watching these stupid game shows and sleaze on what they call "reality" TV shows, for their own sake.
Theatre and film actor
Another sting operation is what I would hate to watch on television. I think these are unethical. I have been reading about the golfer Tiger Woods' sex escapades and infidelity issues. If somebody wants to guard their personal life then let them be. The media should leave all this to reality shows. We are intelligent people so why get into something that we are not known for? Sting operations have, of late, become one big sensational circus. It is really uncouth, unethical and very morbid.
I don't want to see celebrities making an absolute fool of themselves on reality shows in the coming year. I abhor characters like Vindu Dara Singh on Bigg Boss and don't want to see more such people on TV. I don't want to see politicians taking "under-the-table" favours in the New Year. I don't want to see more wannabes yearning for 15-minutes of fame on television. I don't want to see more Page-3 parties, especially news channels! And yes, definitely no more Doomsday announcements there are some channels that are hell bent on bringing this world to an end for some strange, sadistic reason.
A theatre personality
One person I just don't wish to see in the New Year is Rakhi Sawant. There has been an overdose of her on television. The other two people I would want to wish away from TV screens are Farah Khan and Anu Malik. Farah's recent appearances on TV have been disappointing; she should accept the fact that she is a bad presenter. She tries her best to match up to her friends Karan Johar and Farhan Akhtar in the act but she has failed miserably.
The two things I would absolutely not like to see most in Hindi cinema is mediocrity gaining infinitely greater success over excellence. Secondly the quality of marketing is gaining infinitely more importance than the quality of cinema. It is very sad especially when filmmakers take all the effort to make quality cinema and then end up working harder on marketing the film. I don't think that's fair at all.
AGAINST THE GRAIN
ANOTHER INNINGS, BY CHANCE, FOR SOREN
SHIBU Soren may have cobbled up the numbers to give Jharkhand its seventh loose coalition in nine years but it is an open question whether this represents the mandate of the electorate or whether the NDA-JMM alliance will be able to last longer than the governments that have ruled the state. There was no doubt that the JMM leader, who had been forced to resign as chief minister after being defeated in a by-election, was desperate to get back and had declared his intention to tie up with any party to achieve that objective. Even now Soren, an MP from Dumka, has to contest a by-election. It had been a serious embarrassment for the Congress when Soren lost the election and was forced to vacate the chair, paving the way for President's Rule. The JMM leader's criminal record was an additional reason for the Congress to be more guarded this time. But with ambitions running high, it is clear there is no room for moral debates. The BJP which proposes to support the JMM from the outside cites the opportunism of the Congress in making Soren a Union minister when criminal charges were pending against him and propping up Madhu Koda who has scaled new heights in corruption charges. The latest development suggests that the game of opportunism can be played on both sides.
That still does not guarantee that Soren will last longer than he did on two earlier occasions. The coalitions so far have witnessed pulls and pressures, personal rivalries and discredited opportunists fishing for support and producing successive spells of uncertainty. It has done neither the Congress nor the BJP any credit to rule by proxy by helping individuals whose only claim to the chief minister's chair had been their ethnic identity. That this identity no longer carries the confidence of the people is evident from the fractured mandate. The new government will represent a loose arrangement rather than a popular voice. Soren presents the cruel irony of moving from being a relentless fighter for a cause to a desperate seeker for the loaves and fishes of office when the tribals have lost faith in their own leaders. In the circumstances, it will thus be a miracle if Jharkhand can get a new beginning.
KEY & LOCK
THE RAILWAY EMPLOYMENT PIE IN THE SKY
Mamata Banerjee has discovered the virtues of ancillary industries, more than a year after their location had derailed the small car project. But the Ministry of Railways and the minister's aides ~ notably drawn from a chamber of commerce ~ ought not to delude themselves by parrotting her wishful thinking that the adjuncts to the locomotive component project in Dankuni in West Bengal will generate no fewer than one lakh jobs. The minister ought to have made a reasonable assessment of the employment potential of the project, whose foundation was laid last Saturday, as much as the ancillaries before floating the pie in the sky. Nor for that matter has she indicated the ancillary units likely to come up initially. If the project per se can generate thousands of these one lakh jobs, the manpower deployment by India's largest employer is quite plainly at fault. One major example is Kolkata's Metro Railway, whose operations are said to be hobbled by a staff shortage since the extension of the southern track. The Tatas, it bears recall, had envisaged 10,000 jobs, direct and indirect, in and around the Singur plant.
There is a measure of irony too if one were to draw a parallel with Singur, barely 25 km away from Dankuni. It is precisely the 400-acre contiguous ancillary tract ~ insisted upon by the Tatas ~ that brought the dispute to a head, leading to the relocation of the Nano. Miss Banerjee appears eventually to have grasped the imperative of contiguity in the setting up of ancillary units that cannot logistically be located several kilometres away, as she had once so robustly advocated out of politically convenient ignorance. Her reference to Dankuni as the "key to Bengal's industrialisation and not a lock" might win her the plaudits she seeks. However, just as she holds the key to Dankuni, she must accept responsibility, if in part, for the lock that hangs in Singur. By holding out the assurance of one lakh jobs, she has promised the moon even before the earth has been dug up for the locomotive component project.
NEPAL NEEDS COMPROMISE INSTEAD
FORMER Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" may have belatedly realised that further prolonging the seven-month-old siege of parliament will be detrimental to his Maoist brigade, but this has not ended the political certainty. He still insists that parliament take up President Ram Baran Yadav's "unconstitutional move" in reinstating army chief Rumandkud Katuwal, whom he had dismissed. The latter reportedly defied the defence ministry order not to enlist about 3,000 recruits and reinstated eight brigadier-generals the Maoist government had retired. But Katuwal had also explained, with a good deal of justification, that the order to freeze recruitment came much after the process was over and the brigadier-generals were reinstated in accordance with the Supreme Court's stay order. It would seem Prachanda's rather hasty action was prompted by the fear that it would not be safe to keep a defiant army chief who could even upstage him in a coup. In fact, more than anything else the slighted Prachanda felt compelled to prove who actually called the shots. Of forthright mien, he has been known to talk through his hat. Recently, he let loose a stunner by saying India and the USA were trying to attack China by using Nepalese soil. Last week, the accusation of India's naked intervention in Nepal's internal matters was couched in words to the effect that Prachanda would rather go to New Delhi to try and end the crisis rather than talk with ruling parties as they were controlled by Delhi. The very next day, a Maoist leader said the remark should not be taken seriously.
The situation is such that unless a political consensus is arrived at over the President's issue, there is every possibility of the constituent assembly missing the deadline for the submission of a written constitution by May 2010. Having completed stage three of their protests with a three-day general strike last week, the Maoists have now embarked on a month's "awakening and exposure campaign" ~ directed solely against India ~ and if by 24 January "civilian supremacy" is not restored they have threatened to stretch this indefinitely. As of now, it seems only the politics of compromise can save the country.
SORE THROAT? IT COULD BE MORE THAN WHAT YOU THOUGHT
WASHINGTON, 28 DEC: Suffering from sore throat? Don't take it lightly ~ as American scientists have warned that this could be a sign of something worse.
Earlier, it was believed that group A streptococcal bacteria was the primary cause of sore throat or pharyngitis but a new study found that another bug Fusobacterium necrophorum, which is associated with deadly Lemierre syndrome, could also be responsible for the condition.
The researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) thus suggested, physicians should also look for the presence of Fusobacterium when treating sore throat in young adults and adolescents, that worsens or is strep-negative, journal Annals of Internal Medicine reported.
"Fusobacterium, which only has been recognised as a potential cause of pharyngitis in youngsters in the past five years, may cause up to 10 per cent of sore throat in those 15-24 years of age," lead author Robert Centor said.
"More important, Fusobacterium is associated with a rare but life-threatening complication called Lemierre syndrome," Centor was quoted as saying by the Science Daily.
Lemierre syndrome mostly affects adolescents and rarely is seen in pre-adolescents. It begins with a sore throat, followed by an infected jugular vein after four to five days. Abscesses in other parts of the body may occur.
Group A strep is also associated with a serious complication ~ rheumatic fever ~ but the incidence rate of Lemierre following exposure to Fusobacterium is much higher, and associated with greater morbidity and mortality.
"The risk of Lemierre syndrome exceeds the risk of acute rheumatic fever, which is the classic reason that physicians worry about sore throats," said Centor.
He said clinicians should expand their diagnostic process for adolescents with sore throat to consider Fusobacterium, especially if the sore throat does not improve within three to five days. PTI
WHAT AILS INDIA?~II
THE QUEST FOR UNITY IN DIVERSITY
BY SAROJ KUMAR MEHERA
IN the run-up to Independence, we had fought off efforts to physically Balkanise India but, over the years since then, a different kind of Balkanisation has taken shape. Provincialism and religious identity take precedence over nationalism, possibly aided by the formation of linguistic States. Certainly, under a federal system and given the diverse ethnicity in India, regional pride is understandable. But when it translates into agitations and provokes violence by "locals" against "outsiders" as in Assam and Maharashtra, one wonders where the unity in diversity has gone? Who is an Indian and where is he? The landscape abounds with Punjabis, Haryanvis, Kashmiris, Biharis, Bengalis, Assamese, Keralites, Tamils, Nagas, Khasis, Gujaratis, Marwaris et al. This is sub-divided into Khatris, Aroras, Jats, Yadavs, Mandals, Badagas, Vokkaligas, you name them. We also identify ourselves as Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Dalits, not always tolerant of each other. This intolerance sometimes gives way to violence, witness Operation Blue Star, leading to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, followed by the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, a sponsored pogrom if there ever was one.
Separatist mentalityIT was almost faithfully copied in Gujarat two decades later, the destruction of the Babari Masjid, the Staines murders, the Mumbai, Coimbatore, and Delhi bombings. The perpetrators of all these horrific incidents are known but are not prosecuted because they are powerful politicians of one party or another. A common theme, "teach them a lesson", the "them" being various minorities, runs through these incidents. They all justify the pernicious theories of Savarkar and Golwalkar about first and second class citizenship. Jinnah undoubtedly used these theories to buttress his claim that Hindus and Muslims were separate nations, leading to Partition in 1947.
Insecurity among today's Muslims in a Hindu-majority country is no different to what it was in British India, when Muslims feared Hindu domination if power was handed over to the Congress. The scenario has not changed for them. Lack of modern education has plagued South Asian Muslims for generations, except for their relatively small elite. In Pakistan, basic education for the masses has been destroyed and replaced by thousands of madrasas, which churn out youngsters illiterate in everything except the Koran and religious fanaticism.
The situation in India is not nearly as bad but so-called leaders among the Muslims and their obscurantist mullahs have confined their flock and given it a separatist mentality. This has encouraged the growth of groups inspired by the Cambridge student in the 1930s, Chaudhri Rehmat Ali, who visualised multiple Pakistans as did the Khaksars in the 1940s. Moral support to them comes from extremists across the border who deem it their mission to ultimately Islamise India.
In these circumstances, the growth of Hindu chauvinism is not surprising. What is surprising, though, is Hindu insecurity which finds expression in the ludicrous theory propounded by some people that, despite constituting 85 per cent of India's population today, Hindus will eventually become a minority because of Muslim fecundity where a man is allowed four wives! There is no commonsense, logical, mathematical or demographic evidence for such an assumption.There is nothing wrong in being proud and protective of Hindu heritage but it is quite immoral to tyrannise non-Hindus today, in revenge for historical humiliations perpetrated by their forefathers. We had enough of ethnic cleansing at the time of Partition. Do we want another Yugoslavia? Is a Hindu "Pakistan" our goal?
It is only modern education ~ in the sciences and the arts ~ for the masses in South Asia which will make these countries truly secular. Until then, Hindu-Muslim antagonism will remain unabated.
At the behest of so-called socialists, who included, alas, the hero of my youth, Nehru, we allied ourselves with the USSR, a nation with undoubted, but limited, successes in modernising a feudal economy, without realising that in doing so, we were perpetuating the huzoor maa baap syndrome and damaging the inherent entrepreneurial spirit of our youth. Mercifully, the fundamental weaknesses of Communism broke its system in Russia, a country without any tradition of mercantile activity.
IN China, where such tradition is age-old, the canny Chinese have metamorphosed local Communism into a system which is capitalistic in all but name. They have excellent relations with the USA, commercially and politically, to the great benefit of their economy. The Chinese are only concerned with what is good for their country, no matter who provides it. "It does not matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice" said Deng Xiaopeng. An avowed Communist himself, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seems to have a similar philosophy in West Bengal. But on the national scene, our Communists remain mired in an East India Company syndrome.
Imperialism is a dead duck as is non-alignment and the so-called independent foreign policy. India has come a long way since 1947 and is still full of serious faults but the national backbone is not one of them and the country can never again be enslaved, physically or otherwise.
The Indian Marxists whom I have known have huge intellectual egos and look down on their political opponents as ignoramuses who cannot understand the profundity of dialectical materialism, their ultimate immutable truth. Among our Communists are to be found some of the finest brains and, in keeping with their ideology, they are refreshingly free of religious bigotry. Is it asking too much for them to be as pragmatic as the Chinese? Unfortunately, unlike the Chinese, for us, work is too much hard work! Even when and where we do work, it is twenty men doing the work of five, for the pay of one!
Our biggest asset today is our under-35 young population, numerically a majority in the country, vigorous men and women who, untrammelled by worn-out dogmas of the Left and the Right, have it in their power to trash the query, "What ails India?" Instead, each one of them ought to be able to say, "I am an Indian and I am here."
As an 81-year old, I hope so.
The word "use" was inadvertently inserted in a paragraph of the article, "What ails India? ~ I" in the edition dated 28 December. The paragraph should now read: "The public school education had inculcated a work ethic and sense of discipline in me and my headmaster's exhortation was never to forget a phrase, 'It all depends on me'."
Indian cricketers are doing well but the same cannot be said about those who manage and administer cricket in India. The incompetence that is conventionally associated with most things in India has caught up with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. In Delhi, on Sunday, the one-day international between India and Sri Lanka had to be abandoned because the pitch was deemed to be too dangerous for the players. The match officials and the two captains decided to call off the match keeping in mind the safety of the players. Those who know cricket will admit that there is a vast difference between a lively wicket and a dangerous one. The former allows the ball to seam and spin and also for it to move quickly off the surface. Most batsmen who are technically well-equipped deal with such a pitch and bowlers enjoy bowling on them as it gives them a chance to beat the batsmen. A dangerous wicket is unpredictable; deliveries bounce and rear up even when bowlers do not intend them to behave in such a manner. Obviously, batsmen do not like such pitches; neither do bowlers, since they want to get the batsman out and not to injure him. The Ferozeshah Kotla wicket, it was felt by the experts, could cause serious injury.
It is clear that sufficient attention was not given to preparing the pitch. The BCCI cannot escape the responsibility for the mess even though the local association is actually responsible for preparing the wicket. The BCCI should have kept an eye on things. It has disbanded its ground and pitch committee after the incident. It should order an enquiry to find out how such a wicket was allowed to pass scrutiny. It needs to be pointed out that this incident comes close on the heels of the lights going out in Eden Gardens, Calcutta, on Christmas Eve. This caused the game to be stopped for an hour. Again, even though the BCCI was not responsible directly, it cannot avoid carrying the can. Both these incidents serve to put India in a very poor light in the cricketing world. This is ironic since there is no dearth of resources in the BCCI. What the incidents show is that the apex body for cricket in India not to speak of the state-level associations is run most unprofessionally. Those who are responsible for running the BCCI chase personal agenda. Unless this problem is addressed lights will go on the blink and pitches will prove to be dangerous.
Not very long ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party touted itself as "a party with a difference". That this was an empty slogan was never in doubt. But the party's decision to support a government in Jharkhand to be led by Shibu Soren shows how low it can stoop to conquer. The party was the biggest loser in the polls to the Jharkhand assembly. But that was not bad enough to keep it out of power. The party has no qualms about joining a government led by a man who has come to symbolize the seamy side of Indian politics. It is not that the BJP is the only party that puts power above public morality or that Jharkhand is the only state where this has happened. The Congress may have found Mr Soren too hot to touch this time. But the corruption and criminal charges against Mr Soren all date from the time he was an ally of the Congress. The party cannot but take responsibility for the corruption cases against another former chief minister, Madhu Koda, whose brief reign survived only because of the party's support. The events in Jharkhand raise, yet again, the old question of whether corruption and other issues of public morality really matter in Indian politics.
Jharkhand's need for a stable and sensitive government is greater now than at any other time in the new state's brief history. Repeated spells of political instability have seriously ruined the ability and credibility of its administration. There are two immediate effects of this near-total collapse of the rule of law. The Maoist rebels have taken advantage of the political and administrative vacuum and spread their influence wider and deeper among the people. Jharkhand's failure has also affected the fight against the Maoists in adjoining states. The other impact could prove to be even more damaging in the long run. Although it has an abundance of natural resources, Jharkhand is among the poorest states in the country. With the politicians busy making and breaking fragile governments, economic development seems to be nobody's business. This is a dangerous vacuum in a state where the Maoists recruit the poor tribal people in their ranks. The failures in Jharkhand can only help the Maoist campaign. Power-hungry parties can come together to form a government. But Jharkhand needs a government that benefits, not its unscrupulous politicians, but the people.
RENOVATING OUR IMAGE
THE INDIAN OCEAN COUNTRIES ARE THE BEST TRADE PARTNERS FOR INDIA
WRITING ON THE WALL
ASHOK V. DESAI
A couple of hours' drive out of Delhi, there is the ancient fort of Neemrana stuck on a hill. Francis Wacziarg and Aman Nath renovated it some years ago; it has since been a popular conference venue. In 1995, an Indo-Pakistan friendship group invited me to give a talk there. I looked at national income figures of major countries, and found something striking. Converted to common prices, India's national income in 1980 was a fraction of the national income of all major countries; it was a half of Germany's, a third of Japan's, and an eighth of America's. In the 1980s, India grew much faster than most other countries. In 1992, India had overtaken all European countries except France and Germany; its national income had risen to two-fifths of Japan's and one-sixth of America's. I projected the 1980-92 growth rates to 2004, and predicted that India's national income would overtake that of all countries except the United States of America, Japan, China and Germany, and that it would rise to a quarter of the US's and a half of Japan's by 2004.
In 2003, Goldman Sachs did projections similar to mine for what it called Bric countries, with one difference. It did not correct for price differences between countries. Prices in India are only about a fifth of those in industrial countries, so in the Goldman Sachs report, it started with a much lower base and took much longer to catch up with other countries. According to Goldman Sachs, India's gross domestic product would catch up with Britain's in 2022, Germany's in 2023 and Japan's in 2032. But income comparisons with correction for price differences are wrong and misleading.
Now the World Bank has published GDP figures for 2008 at purchasing power parity for 2008; they are comparable to my calculations of 1992. According to them, India had overtaken all countries by 2008 except the US, China and Japan. Its GDP was 77 per cent of Japan's, 42 per cent of China's and 24 per cent of America's. If we take the World Bank figures and apply the growth rates of the last 15 years to them, we must conclude that by 2020, India will overtake Japan and will have the world's third largest GDP. But it will be decades before it overtakes the US; and it will never overtake China. On the contrary, China's national income will be a progressively increasing multiple of India's. Just now it is two-and-a-half times India's; it will rise to three, four and five times India's.
We Indians tend to be paranoid about China; a trivial encounter between our troops and theirs at the borders leads to banner headlines. Everyone thinks a war is going to break out; and if we look at the forces and the logistics, we can be sure that in a war, India would be as badly mauled as in the 1962 encounter. I do not want to add to this paranoia, because I do not believe that there is going to be a war. The Chinese leadership is far too intelligent. The projections I have cited suggest that the 21st century is going to be a Chinese century; it will fall into China's lap without China having to fight for it.
From this I draw three conclusions. First, India should aim at higher growth at least as high as China's. We are so proud of growing at eight or nine per cent; instead, we should aim to grow at 12, 13, 14 per cent. Second, we are not going to be a global power; we should accept this and work out our strategies on that assumption. And finally, we cannot do everything and achieve everything; we should choose what we want to do and do it well.
Look at the map of the world. India is on the southern edge of the Eurasian continent stretching from Spain in the southwest to Russia's Kamchatka peninsula in the northwest. This continent is being divided up into a Chinese sphere of influence in the east and a European sphere of influence in the west. The border between the two is uncertain, and there may be none; the European Union and China are not in open competition. India is not affected by this division of Eurasia, and cannot do anything about it. But between the two, the EU is a better ally for us; we should get closer to Europe, and work together with it. The other regions of the world around the Pacific and the Atlantic are even more remote from India. The ocean that surrounds us is the Indian Ocean; this is where we should concentrate. It is the countries around it to which we should try to sell Brand India. We do not realize it, but this has been happening already in a small way. The share of our exports to the Indian Ocean region in our total exports was six per cent in 1991-92; by 2007-08, it had risen to 20 per cent. Its share in our imports grew very little, from 12 to 14 per cent; but this area has been increasingly looking to us as a supplier of industrial goods.
It would do so even more. But these developing countries of Africa and Asia are always short of foreign exchange; they would buy more from us if they had more foreign currency. And we can give them more by buying more from them. India has always been very protective of its agriculture, and so has missed out on becoming a market for African and Asian countries. We have reduced our industrial duties to single figures. We should do the same with our agricultural duties, and import cotton from Chad and Burkina Faso, coffee from Burundi and Ethiopia, cocoa beans from San Tome, cashewnuts from Guinea Bissau, tea from Kenya and lentils from South Africa.
In return for their exports, we should not confine ourselves to our commodities. We should build on the specialities we have been developing in the last two decades, namely tertiary education and healthcare. In these two industries, we have built up volume without much care for quality. Now we should introduce grading and standardization. We should aim to become the educational and medical fulcrum of our region. These two industries will lead to other fields of specialization. For instance, education can lead to computer hardware and software, telecommunications and broadband; healthcare can lead to biotechnology and medical engineering.
We are saving 40 per cent of our income; in 10 years, we could be saving 50 per cent or 60 per cent. We will have plenty of savings; we should build up a robust, efficient capital market to channel them into these industries. We should give Indian Ocean countries access to our capital market, and invest in their growth and diversification. They can be our hinterland. We can go to see their wildlife, and they can come to see our holy men. Together with our neighbours, we should work out our own brand of a good life a more relaxed, more meditative, less frenetic, less energy-intensive way than the West's. That way, we would maximize our gross national contentment as Jaswant Singh called it.
WHY ADD INSULT TO INJURY?
It was only last Tuesday that I had written about the exemplary role of Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, and a week later, we have the unsavoury truth about Governor Narain Dutt Tiwari. Here is a politician known over the decades for his penchant for stepping beyond the bounds of dignified personal conduct. He is also known to be an individual who has held high office, and has never been made accountable for his unacceptable behaviour either by the governments he has served or by the Congress party, of which he has been a stalwart member.
Now that the lid has been lifted, much could tumble out of this sordid garbage bin. Till now, men and women with such skeletons in the cupboard have been protected by small-minded political operators in Delhi who got their wheeling and dealing endorsed and delivered by important personages sitting in important offices and making policies. The manipulators always threatened these old partymen with exposure worn-out, fading tricks of the trade. Politics and governance merged with corruption and became the virus that crippled a nation which could have already been an international power to reckon with. Instead, our leaders have condoned wrongs in a bid to keep the status quo, and to maintain peace and their own comfortable cushions.
Whenever anyone from that privileged 'club' has operated against the citizens by thwarting, consciously, the laws of the land and has been caught in the act and exposed in public, the other members of that club have closed ranks and protected the perpetrator of the crime. Today, the protective pillars of this edifice are getting wobbly, the veneer has begun to peel off, and the inmates have read the writing on the wall. They have accelerated the pace of filling their coffers before they are unceremoniously dropped, if only to make way for a new generation. One hopes that the political modus operandi will be dropped as well, sooner rather than later.
I would like to put a question to the prime minister and the Congress president, both of whom have an impeccable record of probity, honesty and good practice why is the selection of the post of governor so insulting to the people of India? Why must governors be selected for all the wrong reasons for having been either sycophants without a mind of their own or for being men and women who can be manipulated for favours by party seniors, general secretaries and ministers? Why not identify men and women who have excelled in different fields, who have recognition and acceptance in the larger sphere, and appoint them to these positions that were once meant to be exalted and have now been reduced to sinecures? Is India bereft of good, honest, clean, intelligent people, or are those who recommend and decide completely isolated from the real and energetic India that continues to produce many bright minds? Why is it so important that governors, with the exception of Gopal Krishna Gandhi, Nikhil Kumar and J.J. Singh, should have at least one foot in the grave, be senile, frothing at the mouth or a long-retired person looking for a roof, car, flag, siren and fawning helpers?
It is most irksome, tiresome and humiliating to have such a personality at the helm of celebrated institutions. It is a national insult. It needs to be corrected immediately for the sake of the future generations, who are being assaulted with all that is unacceptable in civil society. We are fortunate to have a prime minister and a ruling coalition that has within its fold some extremely good and competent people. Therefore, it is imperative to take radical action now, not later. The faultline must be plugged, repaired and sanitized for the sake of India. A cleansing at many levels needs to be launched simultaneously and on a war footing.We want our leaders to lead.
CLEAR DANGER, UNCLEAR DEALS
Even with its shortcomings, the Copenhagen Accord is a starting point for future commitments, writes Jayanta Bandyopadhyay
The spectrum of comments on the unexpected and dramatic end of the Copenhagen climate summit on December 19 is very wide. On a topic that is literally the burning issue facing the world, the countries taking part in the conference went home after "taking note" of the Copenhagen Accord not a legally-binding document providing clear and time-bound national targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. From the range of the comments made on this accord, the common people of the world are really unable to decide whether to celebrate the "essential beginning" of a new global agreement on climate change or to express anguish over an unproductive international jamboree attended by 193 nation-states.
Those who had their eyes and ears open in the weeks prior to the Copenhagen summit would not have expected the 12-day Conference of the Parties to deliver a legally-binding deal with clear time-bound steps for reducing global GHG emissions to ensure that the warming of the earth's atmosphere does not exceed 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level.
The world leaders were tied to respective national mandates, guided by related interests. This is a vital gap in the institutional capability of the present system, as a result of which diverse national interests reduced the scope and speed of decision-making in the negotiation in Copenhagen. To address the challenge of climate change, the world needs to take emergency measures for making drastic cuts in GHG emissions in a very short time.
Back home, Barack Obama has to accept the limit of 17 per cent GHG emission reduction by 2020 over 2005; China's Wen Jiabao, in spite of his country being the largest GHG emitter today, has to keep in mind its future domestic energy ambitions. The outcome of the November 2009 US-China summit was a clear indicator that the world's two largest emitters have come closer. The non-governmental world wanted world leaders to wish away these real political limitations and make Copenhagen a 'great success' by taking decisions that may be less realistic within the present structure of negotiations.
Results of international negotiations are always determined not by the level of urgency of the subject but by the lowest common denominator among the negotiating positions. Further, as in the case of COP15, an agreement had to be adopted by consensus, not by a majority in the house. A single country can raise objection to wordings or a resolution, stopping the entire negotiation process. China did so several times in Copenhagen.
The path to global solutions to global warming may not easily be found within a United Nations platform divided in nations. Yet, national sovereignty needs to be protected at international platforms, as the Indian prime minister has stressed repeatedly. The NGOs that have blamed world leaders for failing in Copenhagen need to be realistic, though their sensationalism has always contributed towards keeping the pressure on the leaders to walk in the right direction.
The procedure that led to the Copenhagen Accord was initiated by Obama and Jiabao. The United States of America and China together account for about 40 per cent of global GHG emissions. So it is not surprising that the accord is vague on a clear peaking time for GHG emissions or on a time-bound reduction. The accord was subsequently agreed upon by Brazil, India and South Africa to start with. Several other industrialized and developing countries joined in, some grudgingly. Thus, stage by stage, the accord was placed in the plenary, as the curtain came down on COP15. Finally, the president of the conference informed that the parties "took note" of the accord.
Obama should surely get the credit for traversing such an informal and innovative path. Hardly has any US president got so intensely involved in the negotiations in the past. This may be a genuine commitment to protecting the earth or for enlarging his own political image as a green leader, or both. However, China prepared the objective ground for the serious gaps in the Copenhagen Accord by opposing many important quantitative time-bound clauses. Credit should go to the other four countries, including India, which supported the draft accord and saved COP15. Accepting their global responsibility, these nations and China have also agreed to make voluntary cuts in their GHG emission intensity.
The process also deviated from the traditional dividing line for UN negotiations between the industrially advanced countries and the rest of the world. While the US was the lone industrialized or Annex-I country in the drafting of the accord, only four non-Annex-I countries were involved initially. While the disappointment of many European countries was expressed openly, the united block of developing countries became non-functional with high emitters like China and India going in favour of the accord. Many African and Latin American countries were upset with it. The European Union, with its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, was left with little flexibility as opposed to the US. All this brought new alignments and groupings into existence.
The criticisms of the accord have focused on several points. Questions have been raised on the science of climate change and complaints publicly made of the misuse of data to fit the position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is now known as the Climategate Scandal. While the accord refers to the science of climate change, it does not address these criticisms. In the interest of stronger scientific support to arrest global warming, this debate needs to be taken up, not set aside. The accord has also been criticized for its veiled promotion of CO2 trading and the possibility of huge volumes of carbon business shifting to the New York Stock Exchange from Europe. The third criticism is an old, but significant, one that the accord uses the financial power of the industrialized countries through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, offering $30 billion between 2010-12 and $100 billion per year by 2020 for adaptation and technology transfer for mitigation in the developing countries. NGO critics describe this, together with CO2 trading, as a getaway mechanism for the US from making deep cuts into its own emission. Together with all its shortcomings and lack of quantitative fixation on several issues, the Copenhagen Accord is the available starting point for further measures.
But then, how many times will the world be given a starting point? It had one in Rio in 1992, another in Kyoto in 1997. The citizens of the world need to mount pressure on all countries to stop shifting the starting line and to get moving to arrive at a legally binding agreement in Mexico next year. The nations are many but humanity has only one earth to live in.
ROLES AND REACTIONS
India's progress in nuclear power generation needs to be put in perspective
Ramachandra Guha's "Our atom state" (The Telegraph, December 5) mixes up nuclear power generation in the country with multi-disciplinary research and development in the Central department of atomic energy. India's first nuclear power station started operating in 1969 and no one could have visited the plants in operation in 1967. The technological development which the country has achieved, in a self-reliant manner, needs to be put in perspective.
Nuclear power generation commenced as a government activity and it entered the commercial domain in 1987 with the formation of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, a public-sector enterprise under the DAE. The activities of the NPCIL are examined regularly by parliamentary committees including the committee on public undertakings and the parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, environment and forests. The accounts of the NPCIL are subject to audit by the comptroller and auditor general of India, apart from internal and external audits in accordance with statutory provisions. The annual reports are on the website, www.npcil.nic.in.
Starting with six reactors in 1987, the company has 17 reactors today, five in advanced stages of construction. It has accumulated reserves of Rs 12,500 crore. The company is AAA-rated and has been executing projects without any budgetary support from the Government of India for the last five years. The NPCIL has to its credit more than 305 reactor-years of safe operation of nuclear power stations. It has been making profits and paying dividend regularly to the government.
The average tariff of nuclear power in 2008-09 at Rs 2.34/kWh amply demonstrates the competitiveness of nuclear power compared to thermal power stations away from coal mines, the only other mode for base load generation in the country. The completion of TAPP-4 and 3 and Kaiga-3 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 has also demonstrated NPCIL's capability to set up new nuclear power projects in a period of about 5 years, maintaining international standards. The performance of power stations has been peer-reviewed by the World Association of Nuclear Operators, which evaluates performance indicators in operation and safety in most of the world's nuclear power stations. The performance indicators of Indian nuclear power plants have been comparable to those elsewhere. The high Capacity Factors at which the fleet was operated in 2002, resulting in the NPCIL fleet of reactors leading the world CFs and one power station being declared the best operating station in the world, attest to the commercial maturity the NPCIL has reached. The international players recognized this and offered to cooperate as equals. India is one of the few countries in the world to have live nuclear technology and is poised to take full advantage of the supply chain for the global nuclear renaissance.
While the solar and wind options have immense potential, the demand for energy is huge. Nuclear power has a role in base load generation. Many ways of mixing energy can be developed for meeting the demand. But no scenario can be complete without nuclear power.
The author is Executive Director, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited
"TIWARI HAS BESMIRCHED THE DIGNITY OF RAJ BHAVAN."
For someone who served as chief minister of two states, as Union minister and was even mentioned as prime ministerial contender in the 90s, Narayan Dutt Tiwari is exiting public life under a dark cloud. The former socialist-turned-Congressman was finally felled by charges of moral turpitude that have dogged him all through his political career, be it concerning his relationship with his Cabinet colleague Indira Hridayesh or with Ujwala Sharma whose son last year claimed he was Tiwari's illegitimate son. His inexplicable vanishing act for a couple of days in 1995 in Gajraula in Uttar Pradesh or his public humiliation in a Haldwani guest house in the mid-80s, when he was caught in the act with a woman friend, were indicative of a personal flaw that the Congress leadership, for whatever reason, tried to gloss over. But by his ménage quatre in the imposing gubernatorial mansion in Hyderabad, Tiwari has finally lived down the famous line about him: "Na nar na naari, Narayan Dutt Tiwari".
Tiwari's tumble into the purgatory of infamy has evoked much moral indignation in a society whose attitude to sex sometimes borders on hypocrisy. True, Tiwari besmirched the dignity of a Raj Bhavan by his romp with women young enough to be his grand daughters. But Indian politics and sex have had a long relationship. Also, while damning Tiwari, the babel of condemnatory chorus seems to have ignored the dangerous implications of the woman behind the exposure brazenly claiming that she sent the three women to Tiwari, for she was seeking a mining licence. It is such trading of public resources by powerful figures for favours, monetary or sexual, that should concern all.
But corruption, financial or moral is a global phenomenon, as Indira Gandhi would have reminded us. Power is the most potent aphrodisiac, Henry Kissinger noted. Men in power are drawn to dangerous liaisons with women, as also the other way round. Such is the obsession that they tend to take unacceptable risks, leading to inevitable disaster. This year alone, libido caused the end of many distinguished careers all over the world, notably the United States, where South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Nevada Senator John Ensign and golf legend Tiger Woods suffered ignominy. The year 2009 is thus truly annus horibilis.
PITCH RIP OFF
"THE BCCI CAN-NOT ABSOLVE ITSELF OF RESPONSIBILITY."
Arun Jaitley and his men in the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) disgraced the country on Sunday. For the second time in 12 years, a One-Day International match in this country had to be called off midway because of a bad pitch, and this time Ferozshah Kotla, maintained by DDCA, was the venue. It would appear that the DDCA bigwigs had little time to bother about such 'minor' issues like ensuring a sporting pitch to host an international match. That is the job of experts and technicians, in this case the Kotla curator. How else does one explain the fact that the unsuitability of Kotla square's main pitch had been noticed a few weeks ago when Champions League matches were played on it? The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) cannot absolve itself of any responsibility in this national shame. For, the BCCI has a technical oversight committee to make sure that all international match venues in the country maintain good pitches and outfield. Obviously, the BCCI too has not done its job.
DDCA, on Monday, made brazen attempts to blame match officials for the Kotla fiasco. And, the man fielded to open this fire-fighting campaign was Chetan Chauhan, the only former professional cricketer of international repute in the DDCA governing body. However, not many would buy that explanation just because it was made by Chauhan. He made a feeble attempt to accuse the International Cricket Council's match referee for the Kotla tie for the abrupt end. Poor Chauhan! He was assigned an impossible task. How can a former Indian opener miss the point that Indian skipper M S Dhoni was consulted before the referee called off the match.
Of course, nobody has ever accused DDCA of being a professionally-run cricket body committed to promoting the game. More often than not it has been a den of petty politics, almost always at loggerheads with its players recently the present crop of Delhi cricketers had almost rebelled against it. On Sunday, it earned the wrath of Delhi's cricket fans as well. Together with the BCCI, it has made the nation hang its head in shame. It is good to earn money as our cricket bodies do like no other counterparts do in the cricketing world. But it is time to spend some of it at least on the cricket infrastructure, including sporting pitches.
LAMENT FOR THE MEDIA
MANAGERS HAVE INCREASINGLY TAKEN OVER FROM EDITORS, SOME OF WHOM HAVE FALLEN PREY TO BLOATED SALARIES AND PERKS.
BY B G VERGHESE
As the year closes, one must with sadness and shame pen a lament for the Indian media. India is rightly proud of its vibrant democracy despite shortcomings and flaws. Among the instrumentalities of our free society is the media, which has seen exponential growth in both the print and electronic segments with a huge and burgeoning viewership and readership in all regions and languages.
The communications revolution has given the media an instant and global reach and, with convergence, a multi-dimensional capability. It has grown in range and sophistication and is now immensely powerful and even feared not only by the public but by the organs of state. It was always true, but today information truly is power. This carries with it a corresponding responsibility imbued with a sense of trusteeship in providing the people with the kind of information needed for democratic participation, empowerment and informed choice.
It is in this regard that we must lament a disgraceful fall in standards as revealed by well documented stories of the sale of electoral coverage by sections of the news media through 'packages' relating to the kind of treatment sought. What earlier seemed an isolated, low-level viral outbreak appears to have gained virulence and epidemic proportions. Alarm bells have sounded. One respected editor of a leading Hindi daily recently resigned on this score while another Urdu editor who contested the elections was also asked to pay for coverage, although on concessional terms after he protested that he was himself a journalist.
A complaint was lodged with the Press Council some months ago by the late Prabhash Joshi and others and the matter is now being investigated by it. Meanwhile, new evidence has come to light from the just-concluded Maharashtra polls. Chief minister Ashok Chavan was found to have shown no more than Rs 10,000 for media advertisements in his election returns though pages and pages of advertising had appeared in his favour which in aggregate in value could even be in excess of the total permissible electoral expenditure for an Assembly seat. Not content with this, he publicly awarded substantial monetary prizes to each of the three polling stations that gave him the highest votes. What is this if not an ex post facto electoral inducement and an act of dubious morality if not an outright electoral malpractice. Who paid, Chavan or the exchequer? If the former then this must be added to his election expenditure which could inflate his returns above the prescribed ceiling. Some one has filed an election petition on Chavan's election expenses and the case will be watched with interest. Technically, he may plead that the advertisements were, unknown to him, placed by 'friends'. None will be taken in by such subterfuge and the papers must be asked to disclose who paid the bills.
The rot set in with economic reforms and deregulation which led to a rapid expansion of economic activity with new ventures, M&As, rising stock values and corresponding public relations spending. Business reporters were baited with freebies and, in turn, started demanding or assuming favours, something governments had long done with housing plots and so on.
The Editor's Guild prescribed a code to curb business sops. But then managements entered the lists and 'advertorials' crept in obliterating the distinction between news and ads. This was followed by 'private treaties' in which advertising was bartered for company shares to mutual benefit with promotional news writing and sponsored news.
News was commodified and dumbed down to provide titillation, sensation, hype and sound-bytes rather than substance to catch 'eyeballs', enhance sales even if it meant dumping copies at vantage points, The media's mission to provide unbiased news, outside the editorial page, yielded to the market.
News has become commerce. Managers have increasingly taken over from editors, some of whom have fallen prey to bloated salaries and perks. Many family papers have gone the same way with money overriding mission.
Honourable exceptions apart, this represents a sad decline in professional values though many journalists are acutely unhappy and embarrassed by these trends. Some of the largest papers have been the worst offenders.
The 24x7 news channels too have not been blameless. They are by nature shallow unless they take special pains to give depth to their coverage.
Some anchors have turned inquisitor, slanting discussion to preconceived views and seeking to impose their opinions on panelists. That there are some excellent programmes too only shows what we are missing. And in this scenario, the government, parliament, the media, advertisers and the entertainment world have willfully conspired to all but kill public service broadcasting and radio. The well heeled consumer has trumped the citizen who looks to the media for empowerment, access and participation in life and living.
The matter is too serious to be left to drift. Maybe the Press Registration Act needs review to entrench the position of the editor who is even now responsible for everything published, including advertisements. Can the law require public interest directors to be appointed to boards of all media houses from tiered panels to act as guardians of the public interest. The establishment of self-regulatory bodies for the broadcast media by no means precludes the necessity for mandatory broadcast regulations as found in every part of the world. This need not curb media freedom. Fast driving requires good brakes. Should 'private (ads for shares) treaties' be required to be mandatorily disclosed by the paper/channel concerned? Can the Election Commission compel separate accounting of all advertisements and advertorial support for candidates under election expense?
These are obviously extremely sensitive and complex matters that impinge on freedom of expression. But when freedom becomes license, democracy is in peril.
THE WORLD'S NOT YET OUT OF THE WOODS
IN FEBRUARY THIS YEAR, THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC DOWNTURN WAS PEAKING. THE COLLAPSE OF INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT AND EXPORTS WAS APPROACHING A 40 PER CENT YEAR-ON-YEAR ON AVERAGE. TRADE WAS SHRINKING DRAMATICALLY. THE OUTLOOK WAS INDEED GLOOMY.
BY PASCAL LAMY
Now, at the end of 2009, progress has been made, but we are not yet out of the woods.
Actions taken by governments and central banks have restored some order in international financial markets. The financial crisis had been triggered by an excess of incentives to take ill-considered risks, as well as by the inability of supervisory authorities to properly regulate the financial system domestically and internationally.
Efforts to remodel the international financial system have been set in motion. A massive process of financial de-leveraging is underway, which is putting pressure on banks' balance sheets and is likely to discourage fresh lending for some time to come. However, progress has been made in dealing with systemic failures.
Efforts to deal with the solvency crisis come at a high cost for the world economy. International and domestic banks have to be recapitalised in line with the losses on their balance sheets, meaning that hundreds of billions of dollars of public or private money will still be necessary to restore sound and safe conditions in the financial sector. All this points to a continuing contraction of bank balance sheets rather than an expansion in lending. The credit crunch in industrialised countries will remain a delaying factor in the global recovery.
The restoration of public confidence in banks and other financial intermediaries is contingent on macro-prudential reforms involving the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. One of the first steps has been to strengthen the governance structure under which new standards can be set for banking regulation and supervision globally. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has broadened its membership and been placed under the authority of a newly-established Financial Stability Board, which reports to G-20 Leaders.
It is important that re-regulation be applied in a non-discriminatory manner, avoiding any form of a 're-nationalisation' of lending. Countries that have provided support to banks should be able to exit support as the de-leveraging process takes place in a manner that ensures a level playing field between national and foreign-owned institutions.
Of course, all this has come at a cost for public finances and should not be implemented for longer than necessary or sustainable. In Asia, where the recovery has been faster, stimulus should not be allowed to overheat the economy. Governments will have to confront the challenge of managing a substantial increase in public indebtedness.
Stricter monitoring of trade and investment policies has also been engaged, with the aim of preventing protectionist tendencies from frustrating the overall recovery efforts.
The existence of a solid, rules-based world trading system has contributed to containing protectionism. While some trade-restrictive measures have been adopted, the volume of global trade affected has remained below one per cent. For the second time in a little more than a decade, the multilateral trading system has passed the 'stress-test' of a significant downturn without major reversals in trade policy.
Pressures for protectionist actions, as cleverly as they may be devised, with their illusory gains for the domestic economy, will not necessarily diminish any time soon. On the contrary, with persisting unemployment, still on the rise, these pressures may intensify.
If global imbalances expand again with increased economic activity, as well they might, this will add an additional layer of protectionist pressures, as was the case in the 1980s: rising unemployment and increasing trade imbalances proved a potent combination in increasing demands for protection.
There is an unfortunate irony in this, since the imbalances are manifested in trade terms but are not caused by trade. Rather, they reflect macroeconomic and sometimes macro-prudential realities.
These realities leave us with no room for complacency as far as trade is concerned. And this is part of the much larger systemic context for why rising to the challenge of completing the Doha Round of world trade negotiations is so vital. It is not only about reaping the potential future economic gains. Success would also send a powerful signal in terms of business and consumer confidence and government resolve to match words with action. Just as important, a successful Round would strengthen the hand of governments as they confront protectionist pressures.
(The writer is director-general of the World Trade Organisation)IPS
ROUND AS A DOT
WHAT IS ROUND AND PURPLE AND HAS CONQUERED THE WORLD?
BY HEERA NAWAZ
Every solid object has a shape, while liquids take the shape of the container. Perhaps, the easiest shape to visualise and conceptualise is 'round', for how can one not think of a bindi, a manhole cover, a basketball, a bubble, a pupil, a coin, and not think of the shape that characterises them round.
It was not for nothing that the round shape elicits keen interest, which accounted for the popularity of the 'Little Dot' comic series, where Little Dot, in so many circumstances and situations, comes in contact with round objects, very much the way Little Lotta interacts with food and Richie Rich with money!
Like it or not, round objects are here to stay. In fact, when a friend asked me a riddle, "What is round and purple and has conquered the world?" I was nonplussed. "Could it be 'cancer'?" I queried incredulously, but realised that technically cancer is not round unless it's a cancerous abscess one is thinking of. "No," said my friend, "I'm thinking of a really 'round' object," and the correct answer is "Alexander, the Grape!"
I remember an interesting anecdote when I worked as a corporate trainer in a medical transcription company. I would reiterate to my trainees to always transcribe reports verbatim without substituting synonyms of words that mean the same thing, no matter how tempting that could be! Thus the transcriptionist's transcribed report is a word-for-word rendition of what the dictator had dictated, without adding or detracting words.
Once, when my trainees couldn't get a particular word, I told them, "Don't worry, I will give you some tips. It starts with 'r' and ends with 'd' and means 'round'. Immediately, one of my trainees shot back, "Why not 'round' itself?" as everyone burst into laughter.
I told them that though technically the meaning 'round' is the same, one cannot substitute synonyms, even closely related ones, for the word in question. Finally, after wracking their brains and still not being able to get the correct word, I told them, "The correct word which the dictator dictated is 'rotund'." Without batting an eyelid, the same trainee immediately shot back, "But, ma'am, I still think 'round' sounds better!" I guess some days, you just don't win.
Finally, the tail piece on the shape 'round'. A call came for me in the trainer's room, "Is Heera around?" Pat came the reply from the trainer, "Yes, Heera is round"!
THE JERUSALEM POST
SUPPORT THE IRANIANS
Looking back from the perspective of more than three decades, the exile of the Shah of Iran and the country's fall to Islamist tyranny in 1979 was arguably the West's worst geo-strategic setback in the second half of the 20th century and doubly disastrous for Israel.
Those who had hankered for change on the grounds that anything would be an improvement over the Shah and his Savak secret police were mistaken. Once in power, the revolution began consuming its own.
A coalition of middle-class reformists, students, intellectuals, leftists and Muslim hard-liners had created an enormous populist movement that forced the cancer-ridden Shah from the throne. But the religious extremists, galvanized by their forbidding leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were the organizational backbone of the revolution. By intimidating, torturing or killing anyone who stood in their way, they solidified their grip on power.
Today, however, this Khomeinist regime has squandered its popularity and is the target of widespread bitterness, for its suppression of freedoms once tolerated and for stealing outright an anyway rigged presidential election. The core of the opposition comes from disenchanted Islamists and has spread like wildfire to other sectors.
As if to replicate the fall of the Shah, the opposition - though fragmented and lacking a clear plan - has exploited political and religious holidays to send masses of its supporters into the streets. Many now risk being openly photographed.
In response, the Khomeinists have fired at protesters in Teheran, even as the unrest has spread to Tabriz, Shiraz and elsewhere. Despite the regime's best censorship efforts, the world is watching a blood-and-fire uprising in the streets.
On Sunday, an adult nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi was assassinated. He was among some 15 killed by Khomeinist forces as Shi'ite Muslims marked Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein - and is the source of the schism between Shi'ites and Sunnis.
When a Shi'ite government shoots Shi'ites on Ashura, its legitimacy has reached a nadir.
The widespread rioting indicates that regime transformation - if not the outright change many Westerners want - is within reach. The regular police are unable (sometimes unwilling) to stop the protesters.
But Khomeinist shock troops can be expected to do whatever it takes to retain power. Leading opposition figures have been picked up by the secret police. Since the bogus elections in June, at least 400 dissidents have been killed (some sadistically tortured) and over 50 people are missing.
Still, the authorities must be loath to defend "Islamic government" with an uninhibited slaughter of believers by the thousands.
IN SOLIDARITY with ordinary Iranians who are risking so much, the minimum leaders of freedom loving countries ought to do is keep their Teheran-based ambassadors home beyond the Christmas/New Year holidays.
Moreover, why should we not see one Western leader after another interrupt their own vacations to personally speak out in support of the Iranian people's campaign to transform their political system?
As we were going to press, US President Barack Obama was scheduled to interrupt his getaway in Hawaii to speak to reporters. We are hopeful he'll talk about Iran because he said this to the mullahs in his inaugural address: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
Those fists are more hatefully clenched than ever.
Will Japan's new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama raise his voice for the Iranian protesters? France's Sarkozy? Britain's Brown? Germany's Merkel? Not their foreign ministers or spokesmen, but the leaders themselves.
This is also the time for Western countries to accelerate clandestine backing for separatist forces in Iran. Selig S. Harrison, a renowned regional expert, writing in The New York Times, called the Kurdish, Arab and Azeri desire for autonomy the greatest threat to the Persian elite.
Since this regime cannot be usefully engaged, it needs to be destabilized - from every possible direction.
The more the Iranian people believe the free world is behind them, the more willing they will be to stay in the streets - and the harder it will be for the Khomeinists to muster the nerve to crush their overwhelming sentiment for change.
THE JERUSALEM POST
BORDERLINE VIEWS: THE JEWEL IN EUROPEAN JEWRY'S CROWN
Picture the scene today. It is a cold, icy winter morning. It is the holiday season between Christmas and the new year when most of the inhabitants of the British isles are tucked away in their beds, with little intention of getting up before midday. Silence is the order of the day. But in one place, on a university campus on the outskirts of Warwick in the center of England, there is action. People are eating a quick breakfast in a university refectory and are scurrying off to lectures that begin at 8 a.m. and that will continue unabated until almost midnight.
And despite this early, cold, uninviting hour, most of the lecture halls are full with people who have decided to spend the Christmas week in a program of intense, voluntary study. There will be classes on almost every possible topic relating to Jewish culture, religion, history and literature, as well as discussions and lectures on anti-Semitism, Israel, liturgy, prayer - just think of a topic and it is there. There will also be films, evening events, concerts and, for those who wish, an entire weekend Shabbat program prior to the commencement of the main conference.
This is Limmud, an annual week of learning and study which, during the past 15 years, has become the jewel in the crown of European Jewry. Some 2,000-3,000 people register (at no small expense) for the entire week, leaving the comfort of their suburban homes in London and Manchester, to stay in the student dormitories and to devote themselves to an intensive period of self study. This year the demand was so great that the entire university accommodation was booked well in advance and they had to turn people away.
The audience is a diverse one - ranging from teenagers and students to pensioners, from beginners to rabbis, judges and professors - but there are no titles at Limmud. You attend as an individual and unless you are one of the people actually giving a lecture, you are no more or less important than the person who is sitting on the chair next to you in the auditorium or dining hall.
I HAVE been fortunate enough to have attended Limmud four times during the past decade and to give a series of lectures. But for me, like most of the other lecturers I have spoken to, the joy of being at Limmud is what we do when we are not teaching. It is a rare opportunity to leave our professional world and work tensions behind us and to spend the rest of the day listening to anything from the history of English cantorial music to new textual interpretations of prayer to the world of Jewish sports participants. It is a self-learning experience par excellence, with no exams or grades at the end of the day; it is study for the sake of study and for no other purpose.
Limmud is something I could never have envisaged when I left the UK for Israel almost 30 years ago. But it has taken off from its small beginnings and has become transformed into one of the global Jewish experiences. The reason for Limmud's huge success is that it remains independent of the community establishment and official organizations. It does receive some institutional funding, but the major costs are covered by the participation fees and the fact that, with a few exceptions, Limmud is organized on an entirely voluntary basis. The moment one Limmud finishes, the next year's group is up and working, devoting many hours to organizing the event.
And Limmud is about as inclusive as any Jewish event can be. There are religious and secular participants, right-wing and left-wing proponents of Israel, members of established communities as well as those for whom Limmud is their only encounter with other Jewish groups.
THE SINGLE exception to this is the self-imposed ban on the part of the haredi community. The previous head of the London Beth Din, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, came out against Limmud because of the fact that many of the topics and lectures implicitly gave recognition to alternative streams of Judaism. Despite the fact that all the food is strictly kosher and that there are daily prayer services and minyanim of every possible variety - or perhaps because of that - Limmud was declared to be too pluralistic, and, implicitly, heretical, in its outlook.
But most mainstream Orthodox members of these communities do attend Limmud, in blatant opposition to the opinions of their rabbis, while some of the more independent-minded rabbis also attend and give lectures. At the end of the day, it is the Orthodox rabbis in the UK who lose out. They would have the opportunity of engaging with audiences who never set foot in an Orthodox synagogue, teaching and discussing their values and beliefs to people for whom Orthodoxy may be anathema. Many Orthodox rabbis and teachers from North America and Israel do participate, and their sessions are always well attended by a diverse and engaged audience.
Limmud has also become international. In recent years, similar conferences have been organized in almost every part of the globe where there are significant Jewish communities. But the one place where it has been tried but never really taken off is in Israel. While many Israelis attend the annual event in the UK, their subsequent attempts to create similar meetings here have met with only limited success.
The idea that so many different people, professing so many different affiliations and attachments to Judaism and the Jewish world, could sit in one place and politely listen to each other, exchange views and learn from each other seems to go against Israel's non-pluralistic norm. Or perhaps it is the mistaken attitude that we in Israel don't have anything to learn about Judaism and Jewish ideas from the Diaspora. But ask any of the Israeli teachers, rabbis and professors who attend Limmud and they will all tell you what an exhilarating and refreshing experience it is.
This is an area in which we here have much to learn from our partners in the Diaspora. Where we have failed to create a widespread platform for debate about Jewish culture and values, to listen to each other, learn from each other and to explicitly recognize the immense pluralism of the Jewish world, Limmud has succeeded.
The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.
THE JERUSALEM POST
NO HOLDS BARRED: THE ALTERNATE-REALITY DECADE
If you had invested $100 in the stock market in January 2000, by now it would be worth just $90. This has led some writers to describe the past 10 years as the lost decade.
I disagree. Loss assumes an unconscious act of forgetfulness. This, by contrast, was a decade of deliberate escape, an era in time when America chose to enter an alternate reality. A 10-year interval where otherwise responsible citizens decided that the best way to deal with their problems was to simply ignore them.
This decade saw the advent of reality TV, launched by Fox in February 2000 with Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire, ushering in an era where people became so unenamored of their own reality that they chose to escape to someone else's. It was a time when we developed an insatiable appetite for fame and learned to live vicariously through Hollywood glamor and celebrity train wrecks. It was a decade that ended with us watching an average of five hours of TV per day and where Hollywood broke all previous records as people saw 10 bucks to escape problems as the ultimate bargain.
It was also a decade that saw the advent of texting, allowing people to forgo the immersion of emotion-filled conversation and escape to dry, robotic discourse. Most of all, it was a decade where we shopped until the economy dropped, using consumption as the ultimate escape from unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
The tragedy of having escaped to an alternate reality this past decade is that our problems have only gotten worse. After 9/11 we delegated the fight against terror to a warrior class of just 2 percent of the population and refused to even watch their dead bodies come home for burial, busy as we were watching Dancing with the Stars.We then refused even to pay for our wars and just added it on to a national debt that at the end of the decade reached the staggering sum of $12 trillion. Having not been content to nearly destroy our entire economy through a truly reckless government and personal spending binge, we added one further escape in the form of Internet porn, which by the end of the decade had grown, by some reports, to an hour a day for men.
In the meantime, our relationships got worse as, for the first time in American history, singles became the majority population in the country. Our country became more politically divided between liberal and conservative, since incessant tension and conflict create a diversionary reality of their own.
And as we escaped and escaped, we scarcely asked ourselves what were escaping from. What was so uninviting about our lives that we were constantly running from them? What was inadequate about our marriages that we spent much of the decade discussing Brad's and Angelina's non-marriage? What was so boring about our kids that we ended up obsessed with Madonna's adopted kids? And what gaping hole had opened inside us that required shoving an endless amount of electronics, cars and jewelry just to fill that cavernous space? A year after the collapse, our bankers are just as greedy, our shopping patterns nearly as voracious, our politician's spending patterns even more reckless.
Some would say that 9/11 was the cause behind the decade of escape. After an end was brought to a lengthy cold war we thought that danger was finally behind us. So when death rained down from the heavens we responded by checking out. I don't buy it. Americans have always responded to military crises by deeper engagement rather than mindless escape.
No, the real reason for our escape was the loss of godly meaning from our lives. The material plenty of the 1980s and '90s brought about a gradual spiritual corrosion. We began to lust for objects rather than purpose. We allowed our careers to take the place of a genuine life calling. Friends came to supplant family. Relationships based on common interests stood in for commitments based on common purpose.
In the process, we allowed shallowness and laziness to creep into our souls. Escaping was so much easier than engaging. Coming home from work, it was a lot easier to pop on the TV than talk to our kids. Taking our spouses out for a weekly movie stood in for having raw and honest conversations. And when all this emptiness depressed us and made us feel lonely, we turned to the impulse purchase as the solution. We went to the mall rather than to the church, to the cineplex rather than the synagogue.
I was born in the US and lived here for the first 16 years of my life, before studying in Israel and Australia and then serving as rabbi at Oxford for what amounted, in total, to 17 years abroad. I returned with my family just as this decade was beginning. I love America, but I'd have to conclude that for all the technological advances of the past decade, we've stagnated socially. We are ending the decade poorer, more ignorant and more alone.
I am therefore not surprised that an obsession with Michael Jackson is what closed the decade, for Michael became the very symbol of American escape. Rather than confront his mounting debt, he just spent more money to distract himself from looming financial oblivion. Rather than seeking to build inner self-esteem, he turned to plastic surgery to feel better about the man he saw in the mirror. And rather than address the pain that was consuming him, he turned to prescription drugs to medicate it away.
We would be wise to reflect on how tragically his story turned out.
Our country needs new direction and now more than ever there is hope for optimism. We have seen how unfulfilling rampant materialism and greed are. We have learned that mindless escapes foster even greater problems. Let this therefore make this coming decade one of reengagement. Let's fill the emptiness in our lives not with more shopping but with more communal volunteering. Let's watch less TV and read more books. Let's text a little less and open up a whole lot more. Let this be the decade of deeper reflection and self-awareness. And over the next 10 years, let's learn to be content with our material blessings and pursue instead the riches of the spirit - wisdom, virtue, character and enlightenment.
After a decade of mindless escapes, it's time we reached for a higher reality.
The writer's most recent books are The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation and The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WASHINGTON, NOT J'LEM, NEEDS TO ISSUE CLARIFICATIONS
The United States' recent request for a public clarification from National Security Adviser Uzi Arad following the IDF's killing of three wanted Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades terrorists in Nablus is unusual and raises questions.
Arad's reported need to explain to his US counterparts the defensive nature of the IDF operation several days after the Iranian-backed terror cell's murder of Rabbi Meir Chai, a father of seven, seems exceptional. This IDF operation was no different than hundreds of other actions against Palestinian terror groups that have murdered well over 1,000 Israeli civilians since the Palestinian Authority launched the Aksa war of terror in 2000.
As a rule, the US has not asked Israel for public clarifications on antiterror operations. Clearly, close communications are important. There are multiple security and intelligence channels between Israel and its closest ally that have been and should be used to handle these types of security queries. The Israeli Embassy in Washington, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, the US consulate in Jerusalem, military attaches and representatives of respective intelligence agencies are appropriate addresses.
But in this extraordinary case, the US demanded a public clarification on behalf of the PA. This clearly represents heightened US sensitivity to Palestinian protests over the IDF's "unjust" incursion into Area A of Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, where the PA has overall security responsibility, to net the Fatah-associated terror cell that resulted in its elimination.
THIS IS where it seems more appropriate that the US issue clarifications to Israel. At least one of the Aksa Brigades commanders - Annan Sabuh, who was found with two M16 automatic rifles and two other firearms - had been part of the amnesty program for former Fatah-affiliated terror group commanders and operatives that was predicated on turning in all weapons. The amnesty program was implemented in no small part at the behest of the United States and its security reform program, which began under Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in 2005.
Notwithstanding IDF praise for PA public policing improvements in some West Bank cities and for PA security actions against Hamas, the American-trained and -funded Palestinian security forces under the command of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have either refused or been unable to uproot the terror infrastructure of the Fatah-associated Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Similar to the three recently neutralized terrorists, thousands of additional Aksa Martyrs operatives and other Fatah militia members have gone into "retirement" via the amnesty agreement with the PA security forces and their US security coordinators, but many operatives still store weapons in their homes. US security officials may also be aware that some Fatah terror operatives have even been sheltered in PA security installations to remove them from Israel's most wanted list.
Fayyad has also coopted some Aksa commanders by assigning them to senior positions in the PA security forces, such as Abu Jabbal, a senior PA security forces officer in Nablus. The increased US commitment in 2009, equaling some $130 million to upgrade the PA forces to nearly 3,500 men, has failed to address the very problem of the continued existence of Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades and other armed Fatah factions that resulted in the recent murder of Chai. It is well known in senior Fatah security echelons that the limited capacity and political will of PA forces require the IDF to assume between 70 percent and 80% of the security operations against the extant terror infrastructure in the West Bank.
ASSERTIONS BY some US officials as to the effectiveness of PA security forces must also be reassessed in view of recent Aksa Martyrs actions against the Palestinian leadership. Aksa operatives fired shots recently at Anan Atiri, deputy to the incoming governor of Nablus, after publishing leaflets labeling the governor a traitor. The group has also publicly labeled Fayyad an American agent and has published threats against him. Add this to the fact that Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades shot at outgoing Nablus Governor Jamal Muheissin on November 26, and that in May it published a leaflet there accusing PA President Mahmoud Abbas of participating in assassinations in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
In view of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades' direct challenge to the US-backed PA Security forces, it would seem appropriate for to Israel to receive clarifications from the United States as to how these robustly funded and well trained paramilitary forces plan to finally uproot the Fatah and Hamas terror infrastructures that continue to claim the lives of Israeli civilians while physically threatening the PA leadership that is supposed to be securing the foundation for independence.
The United States might also clarify to the Palestinian leadership that in the aftermath of the tragic and violent Iranian-backed Hamas takeover of Gaza following Israel's 2005 withdrawal, Israelis are not inclined to assume major security risks in line with Palestinian "red line" demands for a second complete Gaza-type withdrawal, particularly in Area C of the West Bank, which houses the strategically vital Jordan Valley and its 3,000-foot protective hills overlooking Israel's major coastal cities.
To be sure, Israel will become even more risk-averse if the Palestinian Authority proves incapable of completely uprooting the entire terror infrastructure in the areas under their agreed upon jurisdiction.
The writer is director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs and a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
NETANYAHU MUST BOOT LIEBERMAN FROM FM POST
Dozens of Israeli ambassadors were brought to Jerusalem this week from around the world to learn from the minister in charge about forgotten chapters in Israel's foreign policy. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insists on bringing back the Israel of the bad old days of "the whole world is against us" and "there's no one to talk to." The foreign minister, the man responsible for promoting Israel's standing in the international community as a peace-loving country, presented a shamefully bullying approach. Lieberman has already become unwelcome in key countries in the Middle East and Europe. He has turned his chair into a jester's throne, the chair once occupied by people like Moshe Sharett, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, Yigal Allon, Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir.
While the president and defense minister are working to rehabilitate strategic relations with Turkey, the foreign minister arrogantly closes the window that this important Muslim country has opened to Syria. On the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Cairo to try to unfreeze the talks with the Palestinians, Lieberman called the Palestinian Authority "a bunch of terrorists." Arab countries, who have been proposing since 2002 a normalization of relations with Israel, err in having fantasies, the foreign minister says. A few days after the Palestinian president declared publicly that a peace agreement based on the 1967 lines would end demands on Israel, the foreign minister "reached the conclusion" that even returning to the Green Line would not lead to the end of the conflict.
Using blunt language, Lieberman made clear to the ministry staff that his worldview is the one that represents Israel. The next day, Netanyahu told them that conditions were ripe for a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians. This is not a question of differing nuances; the conflicting messages show an Israel given over to the hands of a bizarre government that is deceiving its citizens as well as its neighbors and friends around the world.
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Israel cannot allow itself to have an extreme and irresponsible politician like Lieberman as its showcase to the world. Lieberman's appointment as foreign minister is turning out to be one of Netanyahu's most serious mistakes in putting together his cabinet. If the prime minister really wants to move a peace initiative ahead and win the trust of the international community, he must correct this mistake and release Lieberman from his post.
THE WEAKEST TRIBE
BY AMIR OREN
Gen. James Conway, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, briefed reporters at the Pentagon this month on the image the Marines seek to project to the population of Iraq and Afghanistan: that they are "the strongest tribe," willing to go anywhere to do battle with their enemies, whom Conway praised for their determination and daring.
In the greater Middle East, countries are still artificial implants. The basic structure, just as in days of old, is tribal. A person's first loyalty is to his family, then his clan, and finally his tribe - not to the artificial entity that holds membership in the United Nations.
Saddam Hussein's Iraq was brutally ruled by his own tribe, based in Tikrit. Iran is ruled by the Persian tribe, but about half its population belongs to other tribes, including the Kurds, whose militia, the Pejak, is sometimes cited (including in yesterday's New York Times) as receiving aid from the Mossad and the CIA in its subversive activities against the Iranian regime. In Syria, the Alawi tribe has controlled the government for 40 years now. Lebanon is a state with four tribes - Maronite, Sunni, Druze and Shi'ite - that fight among themselves, mainly along clan and family lines, with Hezbollah representing the strongest tribe.
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The Palestinians are not, will not be, and perhaps do not even want to be a state. They are a collection of tribes - Nablus, Hebron and Gaza. The idea of territorial exchanges on both sides of the Green Line is fundamentally sound, but is it really wise to ask the Fatah-ruled West Bank to make territorial concessions for which Hamas-ruled Gaza will receive the quid pro quo?
On June 10, 1967, the nation that dwells in Zion was the strongest tribe in the region. In fact, it was even a regional power. That was the peak moment of Israel power and the start of its decline. Now the Israeli tribe is acting like the weakest tribe in the region, thereby inviting threats like those voiced by Hassan Nasrallah, who vowed to wage a "60-day war" against Israel - a war of attrition that would be the inverse of the lighting campaigns in which the Israel Defense Forces excelled.
The most depressing manifestation of Israel's weakness is the Gilad Shalit deal. The ambassador of one unreservedly friendly Western country (there are still a few left) shook his head this week as he looked on from Tel Aviv at the government's contortions over the Shalit case. "You're talking with a terrorist organization, you're discussing paying ransom to it while capitulating to extortion, and you're about to cave in to its demands to release murderers whom you caught and convicted," he said. "In your eyes, this is compassion for Shalit and his family. To dispassionate foreign eyes, this is weakness."
The details - who will ultimately be released and to where - are of only tactical importance. It matters to Israel's intelligence community that those released not escape its eyes and ears. But the strategic importance lies in Israel's acceptance - and not for the first time - of the dictates of a terrorist organization that denies its right to exist and rejects any possibility of coexistence with it.
The bargaining with Hamas over Shalit is no different in essence from a prison revolt: If security prisoners were to overpower three prison guards - among them a Druze and a woman - and threaten to murder them unless Israel released hundreds of prisoners, or perhaps even all its prisoners, how would the government justify taking a harder line than it did in the Shalit deal?
Israel has switched from being a society that invests in its future to a society that buys on credit for immediate gratification, with no possibility of repaying the ballooning debt - and from a society willing to sacrifice to one that is decaying. The Declaration of Independence cannot be compressed into a tweet. Behind all the abstract discussions of "existential threats" and "weapons of mass destruction" lies the knowledge that in order to knock Israel completely off-balance, there is no need for an Iranian bomb to cause a million casualties on the home front, or even for 10,000 battlefield casualties, as Israel suffered in 1973. All that is needed is a single captive.
It is the tribe's great misfortune that the principal traits of the person who heads it are boastfulness and panic. Benjamin Netanyahu, who refused to enter a unity government headed by Tzipi Livni some 15 months ago, is not really basing himself on the precedent of May 1967 today. What is he saying? That Israel will be going to war in another five days, but that, like Levi Eshkol, he is too weak to make such a decision with his current government? That he is giving up half his power, as Eshkol did when he was forced to turn the Defense Ministry over to Moshe Dayan? That he is as ill as Eshkol, who died less than two years later? Woe to the tribe who has a man like this as its chief.
BY MOSHE ARENS
This is a unique Israeli phenomenon. To the best of my knowledge it is unknown anywhere else in the democratic world. Israeli political parties eat each other. Sometimes it is just a nibble here and a nibble there - one or another Knesset member who has been enticed to cross party lines. At other times it is a more serious bite. But sometimes it is a whole mouthful, leaving little more than the skeleton of the political party that has been subjected to the cannibal's bite. Watching this spectacle we are reminded of the song "Had Gadya" about the cat that ate the goat, and the dog that ate the cat that ate the goat, and so on. Or the song about the old lady who swallowed a fly, and then swallowed a spider to catch the fly.
The origin of this feasting on your political rival's flesh goes back to our former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who decided to disregard the majority vote of his Likud party against his plan to uproot Israeli settlements, left his party and established a new one. Adopting the outlandish name Kadima, he proceeded to harvest personalities from Likud and the Labor Party, sprinkling the list of Knesset candidates, chosen solely by him, with additional people without prior political experience who were arbitrarily parachuted onto the list.
By the time this cannibalistic feast was over, leading members of Likud, including some who had functioned until the last minute as heads of Likud institutions, as well as those who had sworn that they would never leave their "home" in the party, were catapulted onto the Kadima list. Likud was no more than a shadow of its former self.
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A similar fate awaited the Labor Party. At election time it became clear that Kadima had cannibalized Israel's two major parties. Sharon, benefiting from the irresistible charm of the political penitent who admits his past mistakes, the foremost advocate of settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza who now proceeded to uproot settlements, gained the support of the left, who were now convinced that only Sharon could implement their program while attaching to his coattails many of his former followers from the right.
But where was this brand new party going to lead Israel once the disengagement had been accomplished? To additional uprooting of settlements in Judea and Samaria as promised by Ehud Olmert, the leader who replaced Sharon? To a return to the 1967 lines? Their Knesset faction, including people from right and left, provided no coherent answers, while the Kadima leadership led Israel to a defeat in the Second Lebanon War and permitted civilians in the south to be blasted by Hamas rockets launched from the Gaza Strip for almost three years. This pitiful record brought about the next chapter of political cannibalism.
In the recent elections, Kadima, knowing that it had lost voters on the right, decided to swing leftward, taking another hefty bite out of the Labor Party while itself suffering a similar fate as Likud. That party, now adopting one of the former Kadima MKs, recaptured most of the votes it had lost to Kadima in the previous election. But the cannibalistic feast did not to stop there. After the elections, Kadima MKs, predicting that their party had a limited life expectancy, began looking for escape hatches and ways to move to other parties.
It was the inescapable fate awaiting a party composed of a hodgepodge of MKs promoting no coherent ideas and lacking any party tradition and loyalty among its leaders and members. Their leaders' complaints that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in enticing Kadima MKs to leave Kadima was acting unethically, sound pathetic and hollow - some even had the nerve to claim that he was acting unlawfully. Finding themselves in desperate straits they seem to have forgotten the old adage that people in glass houses should not throw stones.
All this does not seem to bode well for the Kadima party, which instead of moving forward seems to be moving backward. It was founded to promote a fresh idea - unilateral disengagement - which very quickly turned sour. Unlike the traditional political parties on the right and left, it lacks a hard core of long-time members who are loyal to the party. That is, after all, what keeps a political party together, through thick and thin.
BY NATASHA MOZGOVAYA
"Only a miracle prevented a disaster," it was said after the attempted terrorist attack on Delta-Northwest Airlines Flight 253. A passenger, Jasper Schuringa, who jumped on the terrorist as he was trying to set off an explosive device, not only saved his fellow passengers but also the first year of U.S. President Barack Obama's tenure.
The last thing Obama would have needed was to devote his State of the Union address next month to the first big terrorist attack on American soil since September 11, 2001.
The incident reveals just how delicate a situation the president with the ambitious agenda finds himself in. Under the pressure of circumstances, the Obama administration has already been forced to backtrack from its policy of the first few months, when officials refused to use the word "terror" in an attempt to draw a clear line between George W. Bush's policy of "intimidation" and the Obama era.
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In the second half of the past year, however, the word has returned to the administration's lexicon, and it will apparently remain there.
Speaking at the United States Military Academy at West Point at the beginning of the month, when he announced he would be sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, Obama said that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the centers of Al-Qaida's violent extremism. However, he and his advisers now know that the roots of the problem lie not only in the Taliban outposts but also in Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as among a minority of young Muslims in the United States who are undergoing a dangerous process of radicalization.
It is difficult to ignore the sharp increase in the number of extremist Muslim activists in the United States who have been arrested in the past year. But as long as security forces, vigilant civilians and luck prevent attacks and distance the claims of the right wing that Obama's "spineless" policy is making America less safe, the public's attention will focus on the socio-economic arena.
Obama is about to complete a year in office with a historic achievement - health reform. But a reform that more than half of Americans view with suspicion is not enough to reduce the president's political deficit. It seems that Obama's chances of soaring again in the polls are dependent on three factors: whether the economy picks up, whether the unemployment rate drops, and whether the troop surge in Afghanistan is successful.
It is said that for a president to be a great leader, he needs a great crisis. Obama has had no dearth of such crises and does not back away from them. At the climate conference in Copenhagen, Obama intervened without waiting for his aides to prepare the ground. There are some who believe that this approach is not beneficial and say that Obama is wearing thin his prestige in the eyes of the Chinese, Russians and Arabs. But even though not every change in his foreign policy has brought results so far, Obama reads the geopolitical map well and understands America's place on that map.
Obama does not have time. The conduct of Congress over the past few months has demonstrated that there is no chance for a bipartisan foreign policy. The Republicans, who are hungry for a comeback, have already begun their election campaign, and this will have an influence on Obama's involvement in the Middle East. The Senate will vote in January on additional sanctions against Iran, but their efficacy is not clear.
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been pushed to the sidelines of the presidential agenda, Obama has missed at least two opportunities to present a peace plan. The PLO representative in Washington has told Haaretz that the Palestinians do not need a new plan.
"There are already sufficient parameters on the table to renew the negotiations," he said.
If Obama is thinking about acting without waiting for ideal conditions, as he has done on a number of other issues, this is the right time to present his plan.
SETTLEMENT FREEZE IS LIKE RACIAL SEGREGATION IN U.S.
BY KARNI ELDAD
Once upon a time there was a black woman; her name was Rosa Parks. There were racially discriminating laws in the United States, but she continued to sit on the bus even when she was told to vacate her seat for a white person. She was arrested, which set off a process whose end saw the abolishment of racial segregation on American buses. How is it possible that one little black woman, a dressmaker by profession, could change history simply because she remained sitting? Her protest was stronger than any demonstration, op-ed piece or Knesset vote. She opted for the natural choice; that is why she was triumphant.
People get married and have children. The children need space. The children grow up and get married. The children need a house. That is known as life. No one has ever managed to stop it. But every time another evil person arises who plans to destroy us, he does not succeed. And he does not succeed in destroying life itself.
We have enemies who are big and strong. But the defense minister and prime minister are apparently too small to contend with them, so they contend with us instead. That is how we were defined as the enemy. My family and friends were outlawed. Why? Because we are building in the Land of Israel. After all the permits and approvals, in recognized and orderly settlements in which a third generation has already been raised, we woke up one morning to the humming of drones in the sky, taking pictures of us and the situation on the ground. It is forbidden to build. Not even a storeroom. Not a kennel. In certain places, it is even forbidden to add an air conditioner.
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The security forces have plans to cut off the area and act with paralyzing force; to achieve the element of surprise. They have a bank of targets that must be evacuated, and they screen mobile telephones to prevent us from calling up reinforcements against the demolition. This is humiliating, insulting and outrageous.
The freeze is an edict that the public cannot tolerate. It is not democratic, nor is it humane. It hits hard at the pockets of law-abiding citizens and embitters their lives. But at its foundation, either intentionally or by accident, is pure and basic apartheid - it is forbidden for Jews to live in certain places. It is forbidden to build. It is forbidden to develop. And it doesn't matter what the reasons are.
What makes me most furious is that there was no normal decision-making process for approving the move in the cabinet and Knesset. It was a wicked act done stealthily. On Wednesday night, the inner cabinet met, and the minutes are classified, of course. On Thursday there were already drones in the sky taking pictures of us. Suddenly there are no individual rights or civil rights because the law is above everything. This is a move that contravenes the substance of democracy, because democracy is the government of the people. And here rights are being trampled on.
And if we are talking about democracy, how is it possible that the system of government in Israel always lets down the right? It happens to us time and time again. We elected a clearly right-wing leader and we got uprooting, evictions, freezes and delegitimation. What are we supposed to do to make our voices heard? The Knesset elections, after all, don't change a thing. Should we demonstrate? We've already had demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people that have had no effect whatsoever. What is left for us to do? How can we stop what is clearly going to happen? How can we influence the reality?
Despite the fury and the insult, let's not turn to violence. There is a simple, natural solution that is full of life - continuing to build. That will perhaps embarrass the prime minister in front of U.S. President Barack Obama, but that's precisely the point. A person with a manual cement mixer in Samaria can change history. Sometimes the man in the field can be a lot stronger than the great leaders. Just like Rosa Parks.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IRAN'S WAR ON ITS PEOPLE
We are inspired by the bravery of Iranians who continue to demand their rights, even in the face of their government's relentless and shameful brutality. Iran's leaders are so desperate to repel a rising tide of popular unrest that even Ashura which marks the death of Shiite Islam's holiest martyr is no longer sacred.
The anniversary, which fell on Sunday, is supposed to be a time of peaceful commemoration. Even during war, Iranian governments have honored the prohibitions against violence during a two-month period surrounding Ashura. Tehran's current rulers have proved again that their only belief is in their own survival.
On Sunday, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, reportedly killing at least 10 people, and arrested hundreds more. Government forces are also believed to be behind the assassination of Ali Moussavi, nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading candidate in June's fraudulent presidential election. On Monday, opposition Web sites reported that several opposition figures were detained, including former Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi; Emad Baghi, a human rights activist; and three of Mr. Moussavi's top aides.
The government is trying hard to keep the Iranian people, and the world, from learning the full extent of its abuses. Foreign correspondents have largely been barred from the country. Journalists there risk their lives when they dare to do their jobs. Redha al-Basha, a Syrian journalist with Dubai TV, has been reported missing. He was last seen in the midst of the protests, surrounded by security forces. He must be released unharmed. Thankfully there are still many people journalists, bloggers, concerned citizens with cellphone cameras who are determined to get the word out.
The protests began when Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, stole the June election for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The government killed and imprisoned protesters and many feared the movement would flag. It hasn't, and the demands for reform seem to have won significant support from important members of Iran's clerical class.
President Obama is right to remain open to dialogue with Iran and to continue looking for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. He is also right to condemn the violence against Iranian civilians and to place the United States on their side, as he did in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and in comments on Monday.
The government still appears to have firm control of the main levers of power, including the brutish Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia. But Ayatollah Khameini who helped lead the 1979 revolution against the shah should not ignore the echoes of history when protesters defy the death blows of security forces and chant "Death to the dictator" on the streets of Tehran.
The Iranian people are demanding what all people have a right to demand: basic freedoms, economic security, and the knowledge that their government is committed to protecting, not killing its citizens.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BETTING AGAINST ALL OF US
During the bubble, Goldman Sachs and other financial firms created complicated mortgage-related investments, sold them to clients and then placed bets that those investments would decline in value. The practice, detailed in The Times by Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story, allowed Wall Street to profit handsomely as its clients tanked. It also amplified the financial meltdown, spreading the losses to pretty much everyone.
These deals are now the targets of various government and industry-led investigations. It may turn out that some or all of the products and practices were not illegal, in part because the derivatives at the heart of the transactions have been largely deregulated since 2000.
There are several outrages here. Despite pledges to rein in the excesses, financial reform legislation is months away from passage. The House-passed bill would impose some controls over derivatives, although it is unclear whether it would stop this particular practice. The Senate has not yet produced a bill. And neither the White House nor Capitol Hill has adequately addressed the bigger question of how to curb the high-risk proprietary trading by banks that has created conflicts with clients and endangered the economy at large.
Meanwhile, Wall Street continues to defend what looks to us as rank financial speculation. The way the wizards explain it, betting against one's clients is one of many techniques to prudently guard against loss.
The Times article points out that unusually large contrary bets placed by Goldman and others were not primarily defensive. According to industry experts interviewed, these bets put the firms' interests clearly at odds with their clients' interests. Goldman says that its clients knew that it might place contrary bets. But does that excuse placing them? What goals, other than lining it pockets, were served by the deals?
Disclosure doesn't dispel another question: Did Goldman and other firms create securities that were bound to fail in order to up the odds that its contrary bets would pay off? Some of the securities were so prone to failure that they soured within months of being created.
To be thorough, investigations of these and other questions would have to reach into the Obama Treasury Department. One of the most aggressive creators of the questionable investments was a firm called Tricadia, whose parent firm was overseen by Lewis Sachs, now a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Unsavory and dangerous practices like firms betting against their clients need to be thoroughly investigated. They won't end until Congress adopts ambitious financial reforms.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IRAN'S WAR ON ITS PEOPLE
We are inspired by the bravery of Iranians who continue to demand their rights, even in the face of their government's relentless and shameful brutality. Iran's leaders are so desperate to repel a rising tide of popular unrest that even Ashura which marks the death of Shiite Islam's holiest martyr is no longer sacred.
The anniversary, which fell on Sunday, is supposed to be a time of peaceful commemoration. Even during war, Iranian governments have honored the prohibitions against violence during a two-month period surrounding Ashura. Tehran's current rulers have proved again that their only belief is in their own survival.
On Sunday, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters, reportedly killing at least 10 people, and arrested hundreds more. Government forces are also believed to be behind the assassination of Ali Moussavi, nephew of the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading candidate in June's fraudulent presidential election. On Monday, opposition Web sites reported that several opposition figures were detained, including former Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi; Emad Baghi, a human rights activist; and three of Mr. Moussavi's top aides.
The government is trying hard to keep the Iranian people, and the world, from learning the full extent of its abuses. Foreign correspondents have largely been barred from the country. Journalists there risk their lives when they dare to do their jobs. Redha al-Basha, a Syrian journalist with Dubai TV, has been reported missing. He was last seen in the midst of the protests, surrounded by security forces. He must be released unharmed. Thankfully there are still many people journalists, bloggers, concerned citizens with cellphone cameras who are determined to get the word out.
The protests began when Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, stole the June election for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The government killed and imprisoned protesters and many feared the movement would flag. It hasn't, and the demands for reform seem to have won significant support from important members of Iran's clerical class.
President Obama is right to remain open to dialogue with Iran and to continue looking for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. He is also right to condemn the violence against Iranian civilians and to place the United States on their side, as he did in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and in comments on Monday.
The government still appears to have firm control of the main levers of power, including the brutish Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia. But Ayatollah Khameini who helped lead the 1979 revolution against the shah should not ignore the echoes of history when protesters defy the death blows of security forces and chant "Death to the dictator" on the streets of Tehran.
The Iranian people are demanding what all people have a right to demand: basic freedoms, economic security, and the knowledge that their government is committed to protecting, not killing its citizens.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY EDUARDO PORTER
I can hardly believe the banana wars are over. The dispute started back in 1993 when the European Union set quotas favoring banana imports from Ivory Coast, the Windward Islands and other former colonies at the expense of imports from Latin America. American banana companies and the Latin American countries where they grow their bananas sued the E.U., accusing it of rigging an unfair trade deal, first under the GATT and then under the W.T.O.
The suit dragged on for years, and at several points threatened to spark an all-out trade war between Washington and Europe. In 1999, after a meeting on Kosovo was hijacked by the banana crisis, the secretary of state then, Madeleine Albright, declared in exasperation: "I never in my life thought I would spend so much time on bananas."
It finally ended this month when the E.U. said it would continue to grant tariff-free access to its former colonies but would reduce tariffs on Latin American bananas by 35 percent over seven years. The United States and Latin American producers agreed to drop their case. After all the roiling, what strikes me now is how little people seem to care. That says a lot about how attitudes toward trade have changed.
When this started, trade was trumpeted as the single most important tool for development. Europe insisted that its special treatment of its former colonies was central to its post-imperial responsibilities. The United States and Latin American countries vowed to hold the line for free trade over bananas at least to make it a tool of development for all.
Today nobody talks about bananas. Stalled global trade talks (remember Doha?) barely get mentioned. There are a lot of problems out there, including the collapse of world trade in the wake of the global recession and the looming threat of protectionism. Yet there has also been a rethinking about trade's supposed silver bullet role in economic development.
China's growth stands as a beacon for the power of trade. But others that have hitched their economic strategy to trade, like Mexico, have found prosperity elusive. Despite growing banana exports, both the Latin American banana exporters and Europe's impoverished former colonies remain poor.
One thing we have learned over the past 15 years is that trade is necessary but not sufficient for development. Countries also need investment in infrastructure, technology and human capital. They need credit. They need legitimate institutions like clean courts to battle monopolies and help building them. Putting up a few barriers against banana imports, or tearing a few of them down, can't do it all.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A LESS THAN HONEST POLICY
BY BOB HERBERT
There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate's version of President Obama's effort to reform health care.
The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it's a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care.Which is exactly what the tax is designed to do.
The tax would kick in on plans exceeding $23,000 annually for family coverage and $8,500 for individuals, starting in 2013. In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.
Within three years of its implementation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax would apply to nearly 20 percent of all workers with employer-provided health coverage in the country, affecting some 31 million people. Within six years, according to Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would reach a fifth of all households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Those families can hardly be considered very wealthy.
Proponents say the tax will raise nearly $150 billion over 10 years, but there's a catch. It's not expected to raise this money directly. The dirty little secret behind this onerous tax is that no one expects very many people to pay it. The idea is that rather than fork over 40 percent in taxes on the amount by which policies exceed the threshold, employers (and individuals who purchase health insurance on their own) will have little choice but to ratchet down the quality of their health plans.
These lower-value plans would have higher out-of-pocket costs, thus increasing the very things that are so maddening to so many policyholders right now: higher and higher co-payments, soaring deductibles and so forth. Some of the benefits of higher-end policies can be expected in many cases to go by the boards: dental and vision care, for example, and expensive mental health coverage.
Proponents say this is a terrific way to hold down health care costs. If policyholders have to pay more out of their own pockets, they will be more careful that is to say, more reluctant to access health services. On the other hand, people with very serious illnesses will be saddled with much higher out-of-pocket costs. And a reluctance to seek treatment for something that might seem relatively minor at first could well have terrible (and terribly expensive) consequences in the long run.
If even the plan's proponents do not expect policyholders to pay the tax, how will it raise $150 billion in a decade? Great question.
We all remember learning in school about the suspension of disbelief. This part of the Senate's health benefits taxation scheme requires a monumental suspension of disbelief. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, less than 18 percent of the revenue will come from the tax itself. The rest of the $150 billion, more than 82 percent of it, will come from the income taxes paid by workers who have been given pay raises by employers who will have voluntarily handed over the money they saved by offering their employees less valuable health insurance plans.
Can you believe it?
I asked Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., about this. (Labor unions are outraged at the very thought of a health benefits tax.) I had to wait for him to stop laughing to get his answer. "If you believe that," he said, "I have some oceanfront property in southwestern Pennsylvania that I will sell you at a great price."
A survey of business executives by Mercer, a human resources consulting firm, found that only 16 percent of respondents said they would convert the savings from a reduction in health benefits into higher wages for employees. Yet proponents of the tax are holding steadfast to the belief that nearly all would do so.
"In the real world, companies cut costs and they pocket the money," said Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America and a leader of the opposition to the tax. "Executives tell the shareholders: 'Hey, higher profits without any revenue growth. Great!' "
The tax on health benefits is being sold to the public dishonestly as something that will affect only the rich, and it makes a mockery of President Obama's repeated pledge that if you like the health coverage you have now, you can keep it.
Those who believe this is a good idea should at least have the courage to be straight about it with the American people.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SIDNEY AWARDS II
BY DAVID BROOKS
On Friday, I gave out the first batch of Sidney Awards for the best magazine essays of the year. Frankly, it was disappointing to see how quickly some winners were corrupted by fame. Several have already abandoned their families, accepted spots on reality shows and begun hanging out with Lil Wayne. I'm hoping today's winners will do a better job of keepin' it real.
Steven Brill's essay, "The Rubber Room," in The New Yorker generated a lot of discussion. It's about the room where New York City schoolteachers who have been dismissed for incompetence sit for years on end and continue to collect their six-figure salaries for doing nothing. The word Dickensian doesn't fully describe the madness of a system that cannot get rid of bad teachers.
Brill takes readers inside the room, and describes the arbitration hearings for teachers who want to be reinstated. One hearing, with clear-cut evidence against the teacher, stretches on 50 per cent longer than the O.J. trial.
Few essays are as ruthlessly honest as Bethany Vaccaro's piece, "Shock Waves," in The American Scholar. Vaccaro's brother Robert suffered a brain injury, caused by an I.E.D. explosion in Iraq in January 2007.
Vaccaro describes her first glimpse of him weeks after the explosion at Bethesda Naval Hospital. "Robert was swollen and bloated; his skin was puffy and enamel white. He looked worse than dead and somehow a bit reptilian." But the real subject of the essay is the injury's effect on her family. "Now it defines our daily existence. The ongoing process of rehabilitation since his injury has tenaciously enmeshed each one of us, altering our plans, our family structure and interactions, our ideas about life and sacrifice, and most resolutely our belief that if he would only make it back home, everything would be O.K."
Robert's injury, she writes, has "allowed him to come so close to being normal, and yet miss it altogether ... He will frequently prattle away with wide-eyed seriousness and then collapse into silly laughter that is sweet and uninhibited but also sad coming from a 25-year-old man."
After the Israeli incursion into Gaza, the U.N. produced the Goldstone Report, a tendentious and simple-minded account of Israeli tactics. But the report at least produced a sophisticated response, "The Goldstone Illusion," by Moshe Halbertal in The New Republic.
Here's a typical problem: Hamas fires rockets from apartment buildings. Israel calls the residents of the buildings to warn them a counterattack is coming. Hamas then escorts the residents to the roof, knowing Israeli drones will not fire on crowded roofs. Israel then deploys a "roof-knocking missile," a weapon designed to scare people off roofs in preparation for an attack. Halbertal wrestles with the moral boundaries that should guide this kind of warfare.
On the big think front, Josef Joffe has a bracing essay, "The Default Power," in Foreign Affairs, puncturing the claims that America is in decline. William M. Chace wrote "The Decline of the English Department" in The American Scholar on why fewer and fewer college students major in the humanities.
Jim Manzi's essay, "Keeping America's Edge," in National Affairs, explores two giant problems. First, widening inequality; second, economic stagnation, the fear that without rapid innovation, the U.S. will fall behind China and other rising powers.
Manzi investigates a dilemma. Most efforts to expand the welfare state to tackle inequality will slow innovation. Efforts to free up enterprise, meanwhile, will only exacerbate inequality because the already educated will benefit most from information economy growth.
In her Policy Review essay, "Is Food the New Sex?," Mary Eberstadt notes that people in modern societies are freer to consume more food and sex than their ancestors. But this has produced a paradox. For most of human history, food was a matter of taste while sex was governed by universal moral laws. Now the situation is nearly reversed. Food has become enmeshed in moralism while the privacy of the bedroom is sacred. Eberstadt asks why, and provides a philosophical answer.
It's become fashionable to bash Malcolm Gladwell for being too interesting and not theoretical enough. This is absurd. Gladwell's pieces in The New Yorker are always worth reading, so I'll just pick out one, "Offensive Play," on the lingering effects of football violence, for a Sidney award in part to celebrate his work and in part as protest against the envious herd.
There are, of course, many other essays that, in a less arbitrary world, would get Sidneys. Fortunately there are a few Web sites that provide daily links to the best that is thought and said. Arts and Letters Daily is the center of high-toned linkage on the Web. The Browser is a trans-Atlantic site with a superb eye for the interesting and the profound. Book Forum has a more academic feel, but it is also worth a daily read.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AFTER EIGHT YEARS, TERRORISTS STILL FLY
BY CLARK KENT ERVIN
THE Christmas Day attempt to destroy an airplane landing in Detroit underscores the sad reality that terrorism is a constant danger to the United States. Let us hope that policymakers will take this opportunity to make some overdue changes in their strategies for preventing attacks.
They can start by "rationalizing" various government databases. It is disturbing that someone who is thought to have connections to terrorism serious enough to warrant being placed on a government watch list is still not put on the smaller "no-fly" list of people who are banned from airplanes.
How did this come to pass? The no-fly list is reserved for those who are thought to pose a threat to airplanes. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the man charged with the would-be Christmas Day bombing, was on the watch list because his own father had warned American officials about his son's increasing radicalism. But an Obama administration official said "there was insufficient derogatory information available" to merit Mr. Abdulmutallab's inclusion on the list.
Given Al Qaeda's known obsession with attacking our aviation system and its tendency to go after the same target repeatedly, anyone on a terror watch list should automatically be placed on the no-fly list. To those who fear that doing so would tip off an unsuspecting terrorist that we are watching him, I say it is far better to do that than to risk an attack. At least, people known to be, or suspected of being, tied to terrorism should automatically be placed on the so-called selectee list, so that they are subject to especially thorough airport screening.
Then there is the matter of Mr. Abdulmutallab's visa. Citizens of most countries need a visa to visit the United States. To get one in the post-9/11 world, an applicant must go to an American embassy or consulate to be interviewed by a consular officer and have his fingers scanned and his photo taken. His name is run through various databases to determine whether he is a known or suspected terrorist or criminal.
In June 2008, when our embassy in London granted Mr. Abdulmutallab a two-year visa, according to officials, there was nothing to indicate that he had any terrorism ties. So far, so good. But after his father reported him to the American Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, this fall, shouldn't his visa have been revoked? And shouldn't aviation officials have been told to be on the lookout for him, should he attempt to board a plane bound for the United States?
Databases and visas aren't the only areas of weakness: there is also a need for better passenger screening. Apparently, even as law-abiding citizens are routinely delayed for carrying bottled water or too much toothpaste, Mr. Abdulmutallab was able to go through security with a highly explosive powder mixture that he had taped to his leg.
More than eight years after 9/11, most airport checkpoints are still equipped only with metal detectors. Millimeter-wave machines and other body-scanning devices that can spot suspicious items hidden underneath clothing have not yet been deployed in great numbers. And the Transportation Security Administration recently scrapped for performance problems "puffer" machines meant to detect traces of explosives on passengers. The agency must redouble its efforts to develop alternative screening technology, because explosives (including the liquid kind) remain terrorists' weapon of choice.
Perhaps the biggest lesson for airline security from the recent incident is that we must overcome our tendency to be reactive. We always seem to be at least one step behind the terrorists. They find one security gap carrying explosives onto a plane in their shoes, for instance and we close that one, and then wait for them to exploit another. Why not identify all the vulnerabilities and then address each one before terrorists strike again?
Since the authorities have to succeed 100 percent of the time, and terrorists only once, the odds are overwhelmingly against the authorities. But they'll be more likely to defy fate if they go beyond reflexive defense and play offense for a change.
Clark Kent Ervin, who was the inspector general of the State Department from 2001 to 2003 and of the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2004, is the director of the Aspen Institute's homeland security program.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SHOULD OLD ARTICLES BE FORGOT
BY WILLIAM FALK
OVER the past year, Americans have spent an average of 11.8 hours a day consuming information, sucking up, in aggregate, 3.6 zettabytes of data and 10,845 trillion words. That, said the University of California, San Diego, researcher who computed these figures, is triple the amount of "content" that we consumed in 1980.
Thanks to this gargantuan download from all forms of media, we now know vastly more than we did a year ago about bankers' bonuses, Sarah Palin, "death panels," Glenn Beck, where Barack Obama was born, Jon and Kate, and cocktail waitresses who have spent quality time with Tiger Woods.
Hidden among that avalanche of diverting gigabytes were some developments of more enduring significance. Here are just a few:
ROBOTIC WARFARE The use of drones became a central part of the American antiterrorism strategy this year, with President Obama sanctioning about 50 Predator strikes more than George W. Bush approved in his entire second term. As Jane Mayer of The New Yorker reported earlier this year, most of the targets of these assassinations were in the tribal regions of Pakistan, with as many as 500 people killed. Those killed in the missile attacks include many high-ranking Qaeda and Taliban figures and dozens of women and children who lived with them or happened to be nearby.
The military is so enthusiastic about these remotely piloted planes that it is building new ones as fast as it can (including a more heavily armed version called the Reaper). It also announced that it will deploy drones to scour the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean for drug smugglers. What's more, the government is now working on "nano" drones the size of a hummingbird, which would be able to pursue targets into homes and buildings.
CAR CRAZY IN CHINA This year, China surpassed the United States as the largest consumer of that iconic American machine the automobile. China's emerging middle class has fallen in love with cars, with sales up more than 40 percent over 2008; there are now long waiting lists for the coolest and hottest models, ranging from the Buick LaCrosse to BMWs. Automakers are expected to sell 12.8 million cars and light trucks in China this year 2.5 million more than in America.
China's auto boom, of course, has major implications for global efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The nation of 1.3 billion is on pace to double its consumption of gasoline and diesel over the next decade.
REAL WORKING WIVES In more than a third of American households, women are now the chief breadwinners. This reversal of traditional roles was accelerated by a brutal two-year recession, in which 75 percent of all jobs lost were held by men.
Even in homes where both spouses work, one in four wives now earns more than her husband. That's partly because of rising education levels among women, falling salaries in manufacturing and blue-collar jobs and the growing need for both spouses to bring home a paycheck. Wives' earnings, said Kristin Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, have become "critical to keeping families afloat."
A NEW SOURCE OF STEM CELLS Scientists re-engineered regular skin cells from mice into stem cells that are just as versatile as embryonic stem cells. To demonstrate that these re-engineered adult cells could be used to create any kind of cell in the body, the Chinese research team inserted just a few of them into placental tissue and developed them into healthy mice. "We have gone from science fiction to reality," said Robert Lanza, a cell biologist.
If further research on the new technique proves successful, it may create a viable means for scientists to use a patient's own tissue to produce a replacement liver, kidney or other organ without the ethical concerns attached to the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos. But reprogramming adult cells opens the door to a new ethical problem: a rogue scientist could use the method to create human beings from a few cells scraped from a person's arm. "All the pieces are there for serious abuse," Mr. Lanza said.
TEEMING WITH PLANETS Astronomers are closing in on identifying distant worlds that may have the right conditions to support life. Techniques for detecting "exoplanets" are becoming more sophisticated, and over 400 have been discovered so far 30 in October alone. This year brought two particularly intriguing finds. One is Gliese 581d, orbiting a star at a distance that could indicate surface temperatures not so different from Earth's. Astronomers also discovered a "waterworld" composed mostly of H2O, which would be a prime candidate for extraterrestrial life if it were just a little farther from its sun.
The discovery of Earth-like planets, with water and moderate temperatures, is now so likely that the Vatican held a conference of astrobiologists this year to discuss the theological repercussions of extraterrestrial life. "If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs biochemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound," said Chris Impey, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona.
Discovering that we have company in the universe, in fact, might open our eyes to what's important on Earth.
William Falk is the editor in chief of The Week magazine.
WEIGH THE GRAVITY
The doctors are once again striking thereby disrupting health services throughout the country. They had announced a strike yesterday closing down all health institutions except for emergencies. No doubt, the shutdown by the medicos is going to cause a lot of inconveniences to a large number of people who need medical attention. Sometimes, patients particularly in the remote areas commute long distances to reach health posts
or hospitals only to be turned back without treatment adding to their suffering. In some cases, there are also reports of patients in urgent need of treatment being refused to be seen by the doctors and in the process even losing their life. Strikes by doctors and other staff of medical institutions have been plaguing the country but no concrete outlet to these has been found as a result of which patients are denied the necessary treatment often for no fault of theirs. We often hear about hospitals being closed from time to time in various parts of the nation. In fact, the health sector seems to be afflicted with this perennial problem. This has, therefore, been giving the health institutions a sorry image.
Agreed the doctors have genuine grievances for taking drastic measures, but the shutting down of health services is going too far. In the present closure, the doctors have cited the lack of professional security as the prime reason for holding the strike. If we are to go by past news reports then this is valid for the doctors are often attacked by the kin of the patients who believe that the doctors are responsible for negligence. However, we find that in the majority of the cases the doctors are not to be blamed, and they have treated the patients to be best of their ability. But this does not seem to appease the kin of the patients who then resort to manhandling or even assaulting the doctors. Such incidents have become a norm rather than exception and these attacks occur almost every day. Following such attacks emotions run high on both the sides involved and in the process the hospital infrastructure are even vandalized causing irreparable loss.
Inevitably, the government has to intervene and the doctors are placated after much effort, and the authorities say that they would be providing the doctors with adequate security. But there is always a lapse on the security being provided, and this is why the doctors have been agitating. Apart from this, now that the talks are taking place between the doctors and the government which has formed a committee to look into the doctors' demands foolproof security should be provided to the doctors and other medical personnel in all the hospitals. Those attacking the doctors should not be allowed to go scot-free. Furthermore, the doctors other demands too need to be looked into such as of those serving in the remote regions. Then there is the problem of brain drain with many doctors opting to serve in foreign countries. This is a big loss considering that a huge amount has been invested in training the doctors who also gain experience serving here. In any case, let the present negotiations avert future closures of health institutions and also satisfy all the stakeholders.
The dent has been made on the clean reputation. It has to do with the official confirmation of the first swine death in Nepal. It may be the first officially acknowledged death from the A1 (H1N1) virus, but it is enough to send panic signals across the country
all because the contingency measure to contain the said flu is barely evident. If and when a pandemic strikes, the health personnel and the government line agencies would be left breathless because the requisite backup measures have only been publicized and not put in place as they should. It is agreed that the transmission of the H1N1 virus knows no boundaries, but precaution can only be the best means. For this our own preparedness levels are at its ebb with no signs of any resurgence.
The stars must only be thanked that swine flu virus has not proliferated as feared. That, however, cannot be an excuse to let our guards down. It is also not certain what the contingency measures are if the virus spreads in the areas densely populated. It is yet another health front that the government has to be engaged in. With the rather dismal showing in Jajarkot some months back, the assurances of normalcy cannot be believed.
GLOBAL WARMING IMPLICATIONS FOR NEPAL
BIDUR PRASAD UPADHYAY
Global warming is the greatest crisis faced collectively by humankind; and unlike other crisis it is global in nature and threatens the very survival of civilization.
Although natural scientists have pondered the question of global warming for a century, only in 1979, the World Climate Conference identified the effects from accumulation of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. That deserves the most urgent international attention in the following words:
the long continued reliance of society on fossil fuels as a principal energy source of the future, along with continued deforestation, is seen as likely to result in massive atmospheric carbon-dioxide increases in the future decades and that may result in significant and possibly major long-term changes of global scale climate.
Then the WMO/UNEP scientific conference at Villiach, Austria in 1980 and Villiach-Bellagio (Italy) meting of 1987 both expressed the extent of consensus that the warming will proceed rapidly and will present a serious threat to human race. Following the conference several meetings in the past discussed the potential effects as well as policies to prevent mitigate and adapt to global warming.
The first and most significant pronouncement in dealing with global warming and climate change emanated from Toronto conference on "the changing atmosphere: implications to global security" in June 1988.
The conference recognized that no single international organization, country or individual can tackle this in isolation and called on all to take specific actions to reduce the impending crisis caused by the pollution of the atmosphere and to work with urgency towards an action plan for the protection of the atmosphere.
In December 1988 the general assembly of the United Nations deliberated the agenda items on the conservation of climate as part of common heritage of mankind and adopted a resolution on the protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind. The resolution recognized that climate change is a common concern of mankind and requested immediate action.
A big conference was organized in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 with a goal to establish an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol expires. However, a binding agreement for the post-Kyoto period did not arise from the meeting. The conference only set a commitment to limit global warming to two degree Celsius, but did not spell out the important stepping stones for global emission target for 2020 or 2050. European Union has indicated that a level lower than 550 part per million (PPM) of carbon-dioxide should guide global limitation and reduction efforts, as current global concentration is about 388 PPM. It is mentioned in IPCC report that for concentration to be stabilized about 550 PPM global emission need to be reduced by 60% or even 70% during the 22 century. The challenge of meeting this level of reduction cannot be over stated as this will require a major transformation in the generation and consumption of energy.
Thus, the Copenhagen conference of climate change failed in addressing some of the key agendas on climate change despite the mounting pressure from top leaders and wide publicity generated by the media. Also it failed to address agendas raised by the poor and vulnerable population of the world.
However, that rich countries pledged 30 billion dollars in fast track finance for the period 2010-2012 to the poor countries to shore up their defenses against climate change is a significant outcome of the conference.
Nepal as a country with fragile eco-system could face some inter-annual, decadal and continental impact of climate change. These could be in terms of variations in the quality of successive rainy seasons, occurrence of draughts and floods and impacts on agriculture production and bio-diversity conservation.
The likely impacts of climate change that could be seriously felt in the Himalayas and middle mountains would be in terms of snow melting, change in rainfall patterns, increased in flood frequency, vegetation destruction, and outbreak of pest diseases etc in the years to come.
Even two degrees rise in temperature could lead in the retreat of glaciers by 300m causing the loss of 40 per cent of the total glaciated areas of Nepal.
Hence, Nepal being one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change had particular interest in the outcome of the conference where it raised the above mentioned issues along with the suggestion to reduce the global temperature by 1.5 degree Celsius controlling the emissions of carbon in the atmosphere. Though the conference failed to address the problems of poor developing countries, the issues raised by Nepal got due attention in the conference.
Prof. Dr. Upadhyay is with Central Department of Environmental Science, TU
RAGE RACING AS YOU DRIVE
RAJAN RAJ ACHARYA
For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of contentment". That's what R. W. Emerson had made come up with as a piece of enlightenment. When driving, do you get barmy and spark your lights at other drivers, grouse, gesticulate or push to pass? Do you apprehend that even trivial demonstration of rage can generate a retaliatory response in the other driver?
We are increasingly witnessing these dangerous displays today. It was not this way some years back. The phrase "road rage" didn't even exist then.
What has transformed? Road space is not increasing a great deal while the numbers of vehicles are increasing alarmingly. We are stuck in traffic; with people we do not know or care about.
People from all walk of life, with all kind of vehicles and all kind of lifestyle, congregate and intermingle on the same space. We are driving longer distance every day-most of us anxious, overworked, and in a big rush to get where we are going.
Few of us comprehend that all of our individual stress get in the car with us-qualms about money, work tribulations time constraints, rapport issues and depression caused by low self-worth.
The least incidents or inconvenience can trip the delicate balance of our emotional "house of cards".
What is taking place on our roads today is in fact a symptom of unexpressed rage, not the cause of it. If you confess to having a dilemma when you are behind the wheel, it's not so much what transpires on the road that triggers your rage, it may be the package of unsettled issues you are carrying in your head. If you find yourself getting awfully disturbed towards drivers who act idiotically, comprehend that your rage is pointing towards your personal issues. It's not the other party. It's you Conceded, people do unload things when they drive, and it's irksome to be inconvenienced by someone's horrific driving.
Yet, on the road and off, how you react to others relates to your own issues, not theirs. A little blip of idiosyncrasy is one thing, but intense rage or demonstration of outrage directed towards strangers is a signal there's something in your life that needs attention. It's time to figure out what's eating you up.
WE CANNOT BE SELECTIVE IN LEARNING FROM THE SLUMP
REREGULATING THE LABOUR MARKET SETS US UP FOR TROUBLE
PERHAPS the best thing about 2009 is that it wasn't as bad as everybody expected - and that is really saying something. This time 12 months ago, as The Australian cautiously considered what the new year would bring, the global financial crisis was at the top of the agenda. Understandably so. While the world's financial system was standing upright, thanks to the cash crutches the US and European governments provided to otherwise insolvent banks, every new set of statistics showed it was staggering with economies shrinking, unemployment rising and trade collapsing all over the world. Only the most adamant of optimists thought we would come through 2009 on our feet, let alone with a spring in our step. And yet Australia has. Certainly the world is not out of the economic woods just yet and our jaunty pace could still be stopped by a collapse in Chinese export demand. Domestic growth is lacklustre, just 0.2 per cent in the September quarter, and while the jobless rate of 5.7 per cent is far better than anybody anticipated a year ago, there are still 280,000 people in the long-term unemployment queue. But compared with just about every other nation in the G20 group of major economies, Australia is racing ahead. How we managed this says a great deal about where we have come from, and it points to the course we should, but on every indication will not, follow in the year to come.
What we did not know a year ago was the way the global economy had become less dependent on the old industrial economies of the Western world. While Europe and the US were inured in a banking crisis of their own creation, Asia's banks stayed sound and our neighbours', especially China's endless appetite for energy and minerals helped keep Australia on its feet. Despite some slowing in the rate of growth, our future as an energy exporter was confirmed this year. And as the year continued, just about every month brought news of an enormous new project - Western Australia is especially set to become a global gas hub, with assured exports for decades to come. There is no denying Australia was a lucky country in the way our region's economy kept expanding this year, but nations, like individuals, make their own luck and much of our good fortune last year was homemade. In the short term, we were helped by the way the Rudd government responded quickly to the crisis, injecting cash into the economy late last year and early this with payments first to pensioners then low- and middle-income earners. This was followed with massive amounts of money for infrastructure projects, especially the $14 billion school building program, designed to keep tradespeople employed. All up, Canberra committed $42bn to keeping the economy expanding, about a third of which is still to be spent. With the economy recovering, there is now a case for cutting back on make-work projects that will reduce the supply of skilled staff to the private sector, but given all the information they had a year ago, the way Kevin Rudd and his ministers decided to spend an enormous amount of money very quickly was entirely understandable. And while we will never know what other actions would have delivered - a cut in payroll tax, for example - the government can point to a result almost inconceivable 12 months ago: an economy that slowed but did not stop; unemployment that increased, but not by anywhere near as much as expected; and an expectation that we will return to trend growth of 3.25 per cent by the end of next year. While new Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will do well if he sticks with his emphasis on the cost of government spending and the taxes it will take to pay for it, come next year's election the Prime Minister will be able to credibly campaign on the slogan that he saved us from the slump.
But Mr Rudd is not the architect of all our good fortune, and a disciplined, decisive government was not the only reason we did so relatively well this year. Our financial sector escaped relatively unscathed because the big four banks had been cautious with their lending. While state intervention assisted us through the year, it is private sector investment, especially in the energy export sector, that will restore growth and pay the taxes needed to reduce the government's debt. For all the obituaries written during the year, capitalism is still alive and it will kick the economy forward. And Australia adapted to the downturn thanks to the bipartisan labour market reforms of the past 20 years.
Without the flexibility that came with the end of the old award system, which set rigid rates for wages and conditions without considering the ability of individual businesses to pay, there is no doubting we would have seen a desperate increase in the jobless rate. But by re-establishing an industrial system where wages can be centrally set and unions are able to bargain across all industries, the government is now ending the system that helped keep us out of trouble.
In 2009, Australia did better than anybody anticipated 12 months ago because of the market based reforms of the past 20 years. Without them, the next slump will be more severe.
IRAN EDGES CLOSER TO CHANGE
PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD IS LOSING SUPPORT WHERE IT MATTERS
DESPITE the huge protests on the streets of Tehran the theocracy that rules Iran is not in mortal peril yet - but with every demonstration suppressed by the brutal Basij militia President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hold on power looks ever-more precarious. The Iranian regime is starting to show the signs displayed by all authoritarian regimes in trouble. The security forces are increasingly incapable of cowering people on city streets, arguments among the elite are becoming public and the economic incompetence of the state ensures that the protests will not end. Certainly the country's real ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has backed Mr Ahmadinejad ever since the June election, almost universally assumed on the streets of Tehran, to have been stolen. But other allies of the Ayatollah will move against the President if that is the price of maintaining religious rule. And there is no doubting Mr Ahmadinejad has prepared for an eventuality of this kind.
While Mr Ahmadinejad was first elected in 2005 as the cleric's man he has built his own independent power base. He plays the plain-speaking populist, appealing to the rural poor. He is close to the Revolutionary Guard, which controls the Basij, helping the Guard's officers acquire government owned businesses, thus ensuring their economic independence from the state. While the Basij are street-fighting thugs their masters are a praetorian elite, giving Mr Ahmadinejad an independence of the military very useful for a president who does not control the armed forces. It seems almost inconceivable that he would use the Guard against his clerical masters, or that it would follow him if he dared, but Iran's elite is beginning to look divided. And while all the factions will claim to act to protect Ayatollah Khamenei there is no doubting he will deal with whoever can best protect his power. While the youthful protesters battering away at the regime's ramparts are unlikely to bring Mr Ahmadinejad down there is a chance members of the elite could.
But removing the eccentric, economically inept Mr Ahmadinejad will not save the regime. While his rants against the US, denial of the Holocaust and determination to develop the means to build a nuclear weapon alarm educated Iranians, the regime's problems stem from its incompetence and rigid religious rule. Iran floats on an ocean of oil yet petrol is rationed for want of refining capacity and with electricity virtually given away demand so outstrips supply that blackouts are common. Mr Ahmadinejad has sought to prop up his power base with subsidies for the poor and heavy handed social controls that appeal to religious conservatives. In the process he has alienated the urban middle class, people who use the internet, watch satellite television and who simply do not believe that the US, Britain and Israel are to blame for the state of the country's economy. Because Iran is young - 65 per cent plus of its population is under 30 - there are millions of people who do not like being told by Basij's moral enforcers what women can wear and how they must behave. And the people Mr Ahmadinejad has lost are those who can bring him down. There seems little chance of the conservative countryside rising against the regime but older clerics will look at the vast demonstrations on city streets and remember the mass movement that toppled the shah 30 years ago.
TSUNAMI'S APPALLING AFTERMATH
FIVE YEARS AFTER THE 2004 BOXING DAY TSUNAMI KILLED MORE THAN 220,000 PEOPLE ACROSS ASIA, IT WOULD BE HARD TO THINK OF A MORE APPALLING AFTERMATH THAN MORE THAN $1 BILLION IN AID MONEY BEING MISSING OR MISAPPROPRIATED.
The world has seen few examples of nature's destructive power as devastating as the tsunami, which was triggered by a 9.3-magnitude earthquake off the Sumatran coast. Rightly, the devastation prompted unprecedented outpourings of generosity from across the world, including Australia.
This is why it is profoundly disturbing that the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has identified the need for an audit of the $2.5bn received by the Sri Lankan government to help victims of the tsunami, which killed 31,000 Sir Lankans and left a million homeless. The $2.5bn was given to Sri Lanka by official donors including Japan, the World Bank and UN agencies, but the nation also received help from charitable donations.
Transparency International claims that almost $537 million in tsunami aid remains unaccounted for in Sri Lanka and that more than $686m was spent on projects unrelated to the disaster.
The Sri Lankan government has rejected such accusations in the past, but its own audit in 2005 found that less than 13 per cent of the aid had been spent. The most recent census, in 2007, showed almost 9000 people still in temporary shelters. Rebuilding had been slowed by the long-running civil war between the government and Tamil Tigers, which ended in May.
It would be a tragedy if the whiff of corruption deterred individuals, organisations and governments from responding generously to natural disasters in the future.
For this reason, the concerns raised by Transparency International must be investigated thoroughly and the outcomes reported.
From India to Indonesia's Aceh province, site of the tsunami's worst devastation and where 170,000 people died, the pain of the disaster was rekindled yesterday as survivors came together in deeply moving ceremonies to commemorate their lost loved ones.
As many seismologists agree that another event of similar magnitude to the Boxing Day tsunami is almost certain to strike the quake-prone region in the future, it is encouraging that early warning systems have been strengthened. The biggest challenge that remains, however, as UN Under-Secretary General Noeleen Heyzer says, is to ensure that warnings reach people most at risk in coastal communities as fast as possible and that they are acted upon immediately.
In the global village, international co-operation and sharing technology can go a long way towards helping vulnerable communities be as well prepared as possible for any future disasters. The onus is on their governments to make the best use of the world's assistance.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CHICKEN'S FATE DOES NOT DETER MONKEYS
CHINA may have just overtaken Japan as the world's second biggest national economy, and its new train may be the world's fastest, but in political development it stands rather stunted. This is amply illustrated by the 11-year jail term just given to the writer Liu Xiaobo, the furtive nature of his trial, and the pathetic attempt to lessen foreign criticism by announcing the sentence on Christmas Day.
Liu was found guilty of ''incitement to subvert state power'' after a two-hour trial from which his wife, other Chinese supporters, and observers from foreign embassies were excluded, even though no state secrets were part of the evidence. The subversion was helping draw up a manifesto for political liberalisation, known as the Charter '08, and posting it on the internet last December. More than 10,000 Chinese citizens have since put their names to it, but Liu is the only one to be arrested: killing a chicken to scare the monkeys, as the saying goes.
In expressing their views about China's future, the signatories were actually exercising rights supposedly guaranteed by China's constitution. Beyond the petition itself, there was no organisation of protest or advocacy of civil disobedience, let alone violence. Yet they pointed out the pitfalls of an indefinite extension of the Communist Party of China's dictatorship. The security and judicial apparatus - whose mission, like that of the People's Liberation Army, is to protect the party, not the nation and the rights of its people - obediently swung into action.
Western leaders have not been rushing to condemn this outrage. They are too focused on China's new importance in the global economy for that, all too ready to confer face on the party chief Hu Jintao and his heir apparent, Xi Jinping, lined up to take over in 2012. That transition is why the Beijing Olympics heralded not a new political maturity, but reversion: tighter censorship of everything from the magazine Caijing down to personal blogs, recruitment of street toughs as vigilantes, networks of neighbourhood spies, and Maoist publicity campaigns.
In so doing, the party is creating the rigidity that has been fatal to so many previous Chinese dynasties. As it has been with uprisings in Tibet and Xinjiang, it will be constantly surprised by conflict and protest as economic change, education and new media lead the Chinese to expect much more than it has to offer. That thousands have already posted support for Liu, some volunteering to share his imprisonment, is testimony to that.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SHUTTERS START TO CLOSE ONCE MORE
THE bull-at-a-gate approach to politics of the former premier Nathan Rees may have produced ill-considered, even alarming results in some areas, but in one field at least it had a distinct advantage. It promised to sweep away the destructive and anti-democratic secretiveness practised so assiduously in this state by politicians and bureaucrats. The Rees approach was refreshing and unorthodox. It was in the public interest. It was right. That is why the slackening pace of reform in this area is cause for serious concern.
The failure to fill the position of information commissioner, recommended by the Ombudsman in a report in February, as part of a broad revamp of freedom-of-information laws, is ominous. It is not just another senior public service appointment. The commissioner was to have been the champion of openness in a bureaucracy which has always felt more comfortable with clamming up. The position is intended to lead a change of culture within the bureaucracy.
The appointment is only delayed, not cancelled, say the Government's advisers. Well, we shall see. But go-slow tactics are standard bureaucratic procedure where a policy goes against the interests of the public service. They have been part of the gradual process by which existing freedom-of-information laws have been rendered ineffective in this state.
The effect of this pervasive culture of secrecy can be seen in the extraordinary arrangements surrounding the clean-up of the Hunters Hill site contaminated with radiation by a former uranium smelter. Those bidding for the contract to clean the site were not allowed to visit it, or to talk to neighbours. Why? Since at least 1977 the policy of successive governments has been to hide, obfuscate and dissemble on this problem - not for any legitimate public policy reason, but to avoid a fuss. As usual, the instinct for secrecy works against the public interest - in this case because it delays a solution to a problem which may well have public health implications.
We have argued in the past that the cynic's conventional wisdom - that it is oppositions, not governments, that want better freedom-of-information laws - is wrong in NSW because Labor is so close to being tipped out of office. Perhaps Nathan Rees's successor, Kristina Keneally, thinks she can still win. It is certainly not out of the question, but she would have a better chance if she matched her predecessor's enthusiasm for genuine freedom-of-information reforms which put the public interest, not Labor's interest, first.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
AUSTRALIA GETS BACK TO BUSINESS, BUT NOT ENTIRELY AS USUAL
THE LESSONS OF CRISIS AND NEED FOR REFORM MUST NOT BE IGNORED.
A YEAR ago, the financial world lay crippled by a once-in-a-generation crisis. In February, the Reserve Bank was so alarmed at Australia's vulnerability that it slashed interest rates by a full percentage point, followed by a further cut in April, while the Government shovelled stimulatory cash at consumers. Three rate rises later, Australia ends 2009 having endured only one quarter of negative economic growth - that of December 2008. The sharemarket has rebounded beyond the hopes of the bravest speculators, giving back almost half the losses of the crisis, in the steepest rise in household wealth since records began 21 years ago.
But 2009 also had its high-profile disasters: listed financial conglomerate Babcock and Brown, financial planning operation Storm Financial and managed investment scheme spruikers Great Southern and Timbercorp. In three of these four, the worst pain was felt by small investors, who were also hit by a string of failed debenture issuers. As of last month, somewhere between $17 billion and $20 billion of investors' money was trapped in frozen mortgage funds, much of it belonging to retirees.
It emerged that many small investors assumed they were far better protected than they were - that a financial services licence was some sort of guarantee of competence, and that ASIC kept a close eye on every potentially dodgy operator. Clearly, something was wrong. In August, ASIC chairman Tony D'Aloisio suggested debate was needed about the extent of investor protection. He pointed to the 1997 Wallis inquiry, which framed current financial regulations. ''If you read the Wallis inquiry, the report that underpins our whole powers, it's very clear. It says 'we think the efficiency of the market will deliver such benefits that offsets the need for regulation'. Ten or 15 years later, when you've gone through what you've gone through, you say, 'Well, was that right?' ''
The Government responded to the losses and the wider financial crisis with a series of inquiries and reviews, some relatively small, and some conceptually huge. Former ASIC deputy chairman Jeremy Cooper was hand-picked to examine the $1 trillion superannuation system, including its tangle of fees and charges. Labor MP Bernie Ripoll, the chairman of the joint parliamentary committee for Corporations and Financial Services, launched an inquiry into Storm, Opes Prime and the wider financial planning industry - including the role of commissions, financial services licences and ''how the interests of consumers can best be served'' - and a second inquiry into the managed investment scheme failures.
The Government's Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee was asked to examine issues affecting the integrity of financial markets, and the Productivity Commission was directed to look at executive remuneration - a hot-button issue following mass redundancies at several large corporations. Meanwhile, Treasury secretary Ken Henry continued his immense dissection of the tax regime.
At year's end, the two Ripoll inquiries have wrapped up, CAMAC has reported and the Henry Review and the Productivity Commission's recommendations are with the Government. The Cooper review is halfway through its work. The question for 2010 is will the Government act on these inquiries? Will all the hundreds of submissions, the public hearings, the drafts and the money spent lead to meaningful reforms?
Ripoll's committee recommended a series of legislative changes, including altering the Corporations Act to require financial advisers to place clients' interests ahead of their own, and to boost ASIC's power to deny, suspend or cancel financial services licences. It also called on the Government to work with the financial advice industry to eliminate commissions. Cooper has already proposed a radical reshaping of the super industry with the creation of low-fee ''universal funds'' for the majority of Australians who do not make active decisions about their super. But the Government says it will respond to the Ripoll inquiry when Cooper reports in mid-2010, raising the question of whether reform could be derailed by an election - especially as the threat of a double dissolution remains - or by complacency, as the economy continues to recover.
The Rudd Government has shown it is willing to take on complex reform of the financial sector, notably with its decision this year to strip the Australian Securities Exchange of its role as sharemarket supervisor. This followed consumer credit reforms, boosted consumer protections around margin lending, a more transparent short-selling regime and new licences for credit rating agencies, and a continued push to promote Australia as a regional financial services hub.
But amid these targeted actions, is the bigger picture being missed? As 2010 begins, the risk is that Australia, heady with renewed optimism, will forget the lessons of the near past and miss the opportunities for reform. Indeed, some were warning of complacency as far back as July. Pointing to ''profound policy questions'' in Australia's financial system, six high-profile economists called for a comprehensive inquiry to succeed the Wallis, Martin and Campbell inquiries of 1997, 1991 and 1981.
Corporate Law Minister Chris Bowen was dismissive, saying the Government was focused on ''refurbishments, rather than restructure''. Several ''refurbishments'' are under way, and the Ripoll, Cooper and Henry reviews should lead to more. Indeed, after all of the reviews and inquiries of 2009, a comprehensive inquiry into Australia's financial system would be a difficult sell.
But if it will not consider a ''new Wallis'', the Government must at least follow up its reviews with reforms that boost confidence in Australia's financial system while ensuring that confidence is well placed. Such action should help ensure the recovery is sustainable through 2010 and beyond.
THE KOREA HERALD
DREAM COME TRUE
The selection of Korea as the builder of commercial nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates has come as the culmination of its nuclear research, which began with the 1959 importation of a U.S.-made research reactor, and the nation's operation of commercial reactors starting in 1977. It also proves that Korea is an emerging powerhouse to be reckoned with in the global market for nuclear power plants -- a market that has been dominated by the United States, France and several other industrial powers.
The UAE announced the Korean consortium, led by Korea Electric Power Corp., as the winner of the $40 billion contract yesterday. But the Korean consortium, which includes Hyundai Construction and Engineering and Doosan Heavy Industries as participants, had already been anticipated to beat U.S.-Japanese and French bidding groups when President Lee Myung-bak embarked on his trip to Abu Dhabi for summit talks with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahanyan on Saturday.
It was hardly imaginable that the UAE leader had agreed to summit talks with Lee only to send him empty-handed back to Korea. That would have gone against the conduct of diplomacy.
Though it had exported no nuclear plant yet, Korea still had advantages over its rivals as the sixth-largest nuclear power generator in the world. With 20 nuclear reactors in operation, Korea is renowned for the lowest downtime in the world. Moreover, it is highly efficient in constructing nuclear plants, which takes 58 months on average.
Also of great help in winning the contract were the close relations Korea has cultivated with the UAE -- particularly in trade and construction. The UAE is the second-largest oil and natural gas exporter to Korea. In addition, Korean construction companies have been playing a leading role in the building of infrastructure in the Arab country.
Moreover, Korea recently concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with the UAE, under which it is set to extend assistance in building the Middle East country's nuclear program by providing nuclear technology, equipment and supplies for a 20-year period.
Given the sheer size of the contract, Lee had to get himself involved in the bidding race. Reportedly, the portion of construction alone is estimated at as much as $20 billion, an amount equal to revenues from the exports of 1 million NF Sonata compacts or 180 300,000-ton oil tankers.
Moreover, the contract was all the more appealing to the president, given that 10 years of construction, scheduled to begin in 2012, are estimated to provide work for 110,000 people. The contract should prove to be a boon to Lee, who has already promised to give top priority in policy to job creation next year.
The Korean consortium won the contract at a time when the global market for nuclear reactors is on the verge of a quantum leap, as many countries are turning to nuclear power as a source of inexpensive and clean energy. A surge in the price of oil and the increasing public awareness of thermal power stations as a major culprit responsible for greenhouse gas emissions have subdued environmental activists' opposition to nuclear power.
Currently, 436 commercial nuclear reactors are in operation in 31 countries in the world. According to an industry estimate, 400 more will be built by 2030. For its part, Korea plans to build 12 additional nuclear reactors by 2022.
The contract Korea won from the UAE should serve as an excellent track record when it bids for similar contracts in the years ahead. In particular, Korea will have to pay close attention to Thailand, Turkey, Mongolia, Nigeria, Qatar and Azerbaijan, which industry sources say are planning to build nuclear power plants as a new source of energy.
Winning contracts from those countries should not be too difficult. If it has developed its auto, semiconductor, shipbuilding, steelmaking and electronics industries from scratch to become world-class exporters, why cannot Korea add nuclear power generation to the list?
In advancing the nation's nuclear power industry, due credit should be given to early Korean nuclear scientists, who successfully conducted outstanding research projects despite inadequate funding. Two decades ago, nuclear scientists at the Korean Atomic Energy Institute could not afford to develop research reactors tailored to specific purposes.
As such, they decided to develop a multi-purpose one, for which they were reportedly derided by foreign scientists who said one reactor designed to do multiple jobs would do no single job properly. But in 1995, they debuted one that could do all the jobs it was designed to do excellently -- a 30-megawatt High-flux Advanced Neutron Application Reactor, better known as HANARO.
HANARO's development undoubtedly contributed to winning a contract earlier this month to provide Jordan with a small 5-megawatt research reactor -- the first such contract in the nation's 50-year history of atomic research. In the past, Korea has exported parts, equipment and operation-related services, but not a reactor.
Industry sources say worldwide demands for research reactors will increase sharply as many of the 240 in operation will soon become obsolete. Korea will do well to develop research reactors as an important export item.
More important, however, the HANARO development served as the foundation from which to develop the Korean Standard Nuclear Power Plant -- a model jointly developed by Korea Power Engineering Co. and Doosan Heavy Industries. With its own design, Korea will have to more actively engage foreign utilities for additional nuclear plant exports.
Winning a contract from the UAE is undoubtedly a dream come true not just for the KEPCO-led consortium or Korean nuclear scientists but for the entire nation. All the stakeholders are well-advised to keep the dream alive.
**************************************THE KOREA HERALD
STILL THE SAME JAPAN
The new teacher's manual released by the Japanese government last week shows that Japan has changed little, despite the change of government to the more progressive Democratic Party.
On Christmas Day, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan summoned Japanese ambassador Toshinori Shigeie and expressed "worries and regrets in a grave manner over Japan's move to reinforce its school education on the territorial matter."
The teaching handbook calls on high school teachers to teach students that Japan is locked in a territorial dispute with Korea. The manual, which will be used for the next 10 years, says that teachers "need to deepen the understanding (of students) on territorial issue by providing accurate information based on the Japanese government's proper claim and education at junior high school."
The teacher's handbook for junior high schools, published last year, says that students should be taught that the dispute between Korea and Japan over Dokdo is similar to that between Russia and Japan over the Northern Territories, describing them as being occupied illegally by Russia. It also says that "Japan's demand for their return needed to be taught correctly." The Korean government lodged a strong protest against the handbook, recalling its ambassador to Japan. The teacher's handbook is of concern because it can influence textbook publishers. Unlike the junior high school teacher's manual, the new handbook for high school does not mention Dokdo by name. It may be that the Hatoyama administration dropped the specific name because it wanted to avoid another diplomatic row with Seoul. The Hatoyama administration has been seeking to improve Japan's ties with its neighbors, including Korea.
Yet, remarks by Japanese officials concerning Dokdo show that despite the Hatoyama administration's attempts to forge warmer relations with its Asian neighbors, old thoughts and habits die hard. "Nothing has changed the fact that the Takeshima islets are Japanese territories," said Tatsuo Kawabata, Japan's education minister, on Friday. Takeshima is the Japanese name for Dokdo. He added that the reason the specific name "Dokdo" was not used in the high school teacher's guidebook was only because of convenience, to make it more concise by using the phrase "based on education at junior high school."
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said, "Whatever claims the Japanese government makes, our government stresses the position once again that no territorial dispute exists between the two sides."
Japan's attempts to whitewash history, including the Japanese government's role in military sexual slavery during World War II, continues to date. Recently, the Japanese government's decision to pay 99 yen, or approximately 1,300 won, in welfare pension refunds to seven elderly Korean women mobilized to work in a Japanese factory during World War II caused much public indignation. And now, we have remarks by a top Japanese education official insisting that Dokdo belongs to Japan.
The Hatoyama administration claims to want improved ties with its Asian neighbors. Yet, the Japanese government's words and actions do not match its professed goal of forging friendlier relations. Perhaps President Lee Myung-bak was too quick to invite Japanese Emperor Akihito to visit Korea next year. Japan has yet to show its sincerity when it comes to acknowledging its history and making a fresh start with its neighbors.
THE KOREA HERALD
ANATOMY OF KIM YU-NA PERFORMANCE
Pick any Kim Yu-na performance in 2009 and I guarantee you will be mesmerized. Each competition she participates in is filled with wonder and elegance. At least on this peninsula, figure skating has been newly defined because of Kim. She is a reigning world champion in women's figure skating and national icon. Her dominance has made her a shoo-in candidate for a gold medal in the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
And she's not done improving. Her James Bond gesture at the end of her recent programs was simply breathtaking. The nationwide fever will reach a peak if she does earn her expected gold medal in Vancouver.
Setting the elegance and gold medal aside, let's briefly think about what lies beneath her spectacular performance. Her three-minute performance is just the tip of the iceberg. What's beneath the surface?
First: expertise and guidance. Kim's presence in the game has been changed for the better with the addition of a coach and a choreographer, both Canadian. They have done an excellent job in terms of strategy formulation, training, music selection and choreography. Her superb performance on any given night is the product of a near-perfect combination of these other factors off the ice. Without this Canadian input, Kim would have remained one of those good skaters from Korea: blessed with good talent, but coming up short on the world stage.
Second: music. Her fabulous skating and artistic sense in recent programs have become more vivid when they are paired with appropriate background music - the theme music from James Bond movies. Avid fans of Korean movies, myself included, could hardly challenge the fact that music from the 007 movies puts the final touches on her performance. An American product produced by an American business constitutes a core element of her performance.
Finally: the venue. International competitions she participates in are organized and administered by the International Skating Union, founded in 1892 and currently based in Lausanne, Switzerland. But for the entity, there would be no venue for her to play, let alone excel, even if everything is ready on her end. This ISU is the brainchild of the common efforts of the international community to foster and administer skating games.
Put differently, what lies beneath Kim's spectacular performances is the combination of the input from various sources, namely Korean skill, Canadian coaching, American product and international administration. If any of these were missing, the Kim Yu-na we know today would not exist: she would be probably skating in the Jamsil Ice Rink. Although she is Korean and plays with the brand name of Korea, it is the combination of all these foreign elements that have made her a household name the world over. So far, she has successfully utilized all these foreign elements in her favor to achieve her goals.
The case of Kim presents a showcase example of how Korea can compete and succeed in this globalized world. Korea cannot survive or excel all by itself. In fact, no country could in this heavily interdependent world. We badly need foreign services, products and coordination to maximize what we have here and. We could certainly try to do everything ourselves, utilizing and mobilizing only what we have in this small peninsula. But by doing so we would have only a slim chance of success at the end of the day: just think of Kim detached from her global network. We need to take advantage of foreign elements in our favor, which can be achieved through more interaction with our trading partners. Expanding the network of trade is therefore a key to Korea's success in the future.
The year 2009 is now coming to a close. May 2010 be filled with more Kim Yu-na triumphs, including a gold medal in Vancouver, which we will celebrate with James Bond's signature martini "shaken but not stirred."
Lee Jae-min is an associate professor of law at the School of Law, Hanyang University, in Seoul. Formerly he practiced law as an associate attorney with Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. - Ed.
THE KOREA HERALD
NICOLAE CEAUSESCU'S BEAR HUNTING
NEW YORK - Nicolae Ceausescu liked to hunt bear. With his retinue, he would retreat to a lodge in Transylvania and sally forth, locked and loaded. He was accustomed to good fortune, for his huntsmen took precautions. They would chain some poor beast to a tree, drug it to keep it still, and conceal themselves around the blind from which the Great Man would shoot.
One day, they did their job haphazardly. Ceausescu took aim, then fell backward when the bear, inadequately sedated, reared on its hind legs as if to attack. His shot flew into the treetops, even as three bullets entered the bear's heart from the snipers who guaranteed the dictator's marksmanship. This day, I was told by a forester who claimed to have witnessed the incident, Ceausescu did not acknowledge the applause of his retainers.
This could be the story of the Romanian revolution, 20 years ago. The bear is the country's enslaved people. They rise up from slumber. The emperor, alarmed, fires wildly and misses his mark. The sharpshooters hidden in the forest take aim and fire, only this time their target is not the bear, but Ceausescu himself.
Just as the glory of the French Revolution ended in terror, so Eastern Europe's miracle year of 1989 ended in blood. Elsewhere, communist regimes seemed almost to run from power. The people who deposed them celebrated largely painless victories. Not so in Romania. There, the country's communist masters ordered the security forces to fire on the people. They obeyed. A civil war was fought, albeit briefly. Revolution transmuted into a crypto-coup d'etat.
It began in mid-December in the gritty industrial town of Timisoara, close to the Hungarian border. When Ceausescu ordered the military to stage a show of force against those who dared oppose him, commanders took him literally: they put on a parade, complete with marching band. Farce quickly turned to tragedy in the face of the dictator's rage. "I meant tanks, you fool," he said, in effect, to Gen. Iulian Vlad, threatening to put him in front of a firing squad if he did not comply. That night, roughly a hundred Romanian citizens died in the streets, and hundreds more were wounded.
The rest is well-known history. On the morning of Dec. 21, Ceausescu stepped onto the balcony of the Central Committee in the heart of Bucharest to address the people - cadres of state workers assembled, as was customary, to cheer on cue. But something went wrong. From the rear of the huge crowd came shouts: "Ti-mi-soara! Ti-mi-soara!" Then came the fateful call, shouted by perhaps one or two people but soon picked up by others: "Down with Ceausescu!"
Never had Ceausescu heard anything like it. His face sagged. Flustered, he stopped speaking, waved his arms in timid bewilderment, the weak and ineffectual gestures of an imposter. This moment of truth lasted only a few seconds, but it was enough. He stood revealed. Everyone on the square and everyone watching on national TV saw clearly. The emperor had no clothes.
By the next day, rebellion had spread to all major cities. Ceausescu and his wife, the infamous Elena, fled from the roof of the Central Committee aboard a white helicopter as crowds stormed the building. Fighting erupted between the army, siding with the people, and elements of the secret police loyal to Ceausescu. Snipers shot from the rooftops, and tanks blasted away in what today is Revolution Square, setting the national library ablaze. After a three-day chase, on Christmas Day, the dictator and his wife were captured, tried, and summarily executed by a kangaroo "people's court."
Revolutions are probably never as they seem, but Romania's was especially ambiguous. For, at the moment of Ceausescu's speech, it became in effect two revolutions - one that played out publicly in the streets, and the other a deep and behind-the-scenes struggle for power among elites.
I sensed this arriving in Bucharest on Dec. 26. Visiting the television station, seized by a new provisional government called the National Salvation Front, I found an odd melange of revolutionary leaders. I could understand the poets, students, dissidents, and allegedly disaffected government officials. But Gen. Stefan Gruse, the army chief of staff who commanded the troops in Timisoara? The newly appointed president, Ion Iliescu, who was Ceausescu's former chief propagandist?
Perhaps the most incongruous presence was Gen. Victor Stanculescu, a favorite of the Ceausescu's who only days before had reportedly organized their evacuation from the rooftop of the Central Committee. Other reports credited him with subsequently organizing both their trial and a firing squad - even before the legal proceedings began.
The "trial" itself lasted less than an hour. Scarcely seven minutes after the sentence was read out, had the executioners done their work. The event was videotaped, to be aired to an astonished nation the next day, but in the rush the cameraman's power cable was yanked from the wall as the convicted couple was dragged out to an open-air courtyard. By the time he caught up, soldiers were already shooting.
Nicolae Ceausescu lay on his back, in the overcoat and suit in which he had fled, his blue-grey eyes staring vacantly at the sky. Elena had fainted and was shot where she lay.
Michael Meyer is the author of "The Year That Changed the World." - Ed.
THE JAPAN TIMES
THE PAST YEAR OF NEWNESS
The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation's annual kanji of the year for 2009 is, appropriately, " " (shin), meaning "new." This kanji, chosen by national ballot and announced in December at Kyoto's Kiyomizu temple, reflects the win of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which ended a half-century of nearly unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party. But the kanji also reflects a tumultuous year of events and trends, most of them new, though not all good.
The DPJ's overwhelming election victory was the very definition of new. As with the election of President Barack Obama in the United States, voters rejected the old politics and chose change. Unfortunately, new changes are easier to promise than make happen. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has been besieged by allegations of financial abuse and his party has had to backtrack on some campaign pledges. As in the U.S. where old politics blocked the new, the Japanese enthusiasm over a new ruling party has morphed into more than a little disappointment. Making politics new is hard to do.
The economy, unlike politicians, cannot just be voted in. The year's sluggish economy resulted in record unemployment and bankruptcies. Graduating students had the worst year for job-hunting in decades. The former government's ¥12,000 cash handout and the yen's rise to ¥84 to the dollar seemed little compensation, both bringing mixed effects to the economy. The new trend of homemade bento box lunches and self-made tea in thermoses may save a few yen here and there. However, larger projects, like restructuring the finances of ailing Japan Airlines, will require much more.
The floundering economy produced high levels of anxiety. A multinational poll by the advertising firm JWT (J. Walter Thompson) found that the percentage of Japanese who feel "anxious" is among the highest in the world. With economic worries at the top of most people's list of problems, Japanese rates for depression and suicide rose to their highest level ever. While suicide is not a new problem in Japan, the figures from the early part of the year, with nearly 100 suicides per day in January alone and more calls to suicide hotlines than ever before, are on track to exceed 2003's tragic record high.
Another sad new trend for the year was drug abuse. Two high-profile cases, actress/singer Noriko Sakai for amphetamine abuse and actor Manabu Oshio in connection with the death of a woman from an overdose of MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, highlighted the new incursion of drugs into Japan. Arrests for marijuana use among college students and sumo wrestlers also hit the headlines, highlighting the extent of what will surely be an ongoing problem in Japan. The reaction to the death of Michael Jackson was received with outpourings of sorrow in Japan, though without sufficient awareness of Jackson's alleged long-term addiction to sedatives.
While these cases featured arrests, apologies and plenty of media hoopla, the police were less successful in tracking down Tatsuya Ichihashi, who eluded police for over two years before being apprehended in November. Ichihashi confessed in late December, while in custody, to killing Lindsay Hawker, an English-language teacher, in 2007. If he faces the newly installed lay judge system, which began in 2009, he is likely to contend with a conviction rate of almost 100 percent in the first year of the lay judge system.
Not all the news for the year was gloomy, just most of it. The film "Departures (Okuribito)" by director Yojiro Takita, a film about death and burial, won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, after garnering awards at film festivals throughout the year. More lively was news from the world of sports, where Japanese slugger Ichiro Suzuki got 200 hits for the ninth year in a row, breaking a century-old record of American baseball history.
Consumers tried to take their mind off bad news by figuring out the eco-point system for purchases of new electronic goods. Prices for many consumer goods dropped. The price of jeans, for example, dropped to new lows under ¥1,000. High-end and luxury-item stores saw little business, and many closed their doors. Instead of shopping, many young people spent their money on another new trend, konkatsu, or marriage hunting. The term took hold in Japan as young people searched for a spouse through dating sites, marriage services and special clubs. Perhaps the only thing to do in such difficult times is to search for someone to share the burden.
All of these new trends took place under the threat of a swine flu epidemic. Some Japanese schools closed down and every public space in the country began offering antiseptic or soap for cleaning hands. The outbreak has not yet reached its peak, authorities warn.