media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 30, edition 000390, 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
- DEALING WITH RATHORE'S ILK
- A VIRUS CALLED JIHAD
- PRETEND FRIENDS AND POST-MODERNISM - GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
- RSS MUST FOCUS ON UNITING HINDUS - SUDHANSU R DAS
- FIGHTING THE TERROR CURSE - SHASHI SHEKHAR
- 2009 IN RETROSPECT - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- SHAH BANO RETURNS TO HAUNT - SANDEEP B
- LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS - SHIVAJI SARKAR
- THAROOR IS RIGHT ON CLUMSY VISA RULE
- COME ON, MS DIKSHIT
- GROW UP GOP
- INDIA MUST NUANCE ITS POLICY ON NEPAL - BY PRASHANT JHA
- PATIALA PEG - VIKAS KAHOL
TIMES OF INDIA
- TAXING TIMES
- STATE OF DENIAL
- IT'S PART OF THE GAMES - BORIA MAJUMDAR
- 'EVERY CHILD MATTERS, LEARNS DIFFERENTLY'
- ZERO TOLERANCE - JUG SURAIYA
- REWRITING THE PAST - SUMIT PAU
- LET'S PUT FIRS THINGS FIRST
- SEASON FOR REASON
- FULL DISCLOSURE - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- FED UP OF BOARD GAMES - GULU EZEKIEL
- HILL STATUS
- FIRST RESPONSE
- PITCH IMPERFECT - KUNAL PRADHAN
- FASHIONED ANEW - ALIA ALLANA
- REDRAFTING THE CITY - AGKRISHNAMENON
- THE MOMENTOUS MOMENTS - WILLIAM FALK
- AFGHAN ROLE - C. RAJA MOHAN
- THE TELANGANA RIFT
- CORRIDOR OF COOPERATION
- OIL'S PRICEY, AGAIN
- FREE MARKET ISN'T TO BLAME FOR POVERTY - SANJAY BANERJI
- WHAT NEXT FOR THE DISMAL SCIENCE? - PAUL KATTUMAN
- FINALLY, A SHIFT TO NATURAL GAS - NOOR MOHAMMAD
- THE ROT BEYOND RATHORE
- DISGRACE AT FEROZESHAH KOTLA
- POWERING A DYNAMIC, MULTIPOLAR ASIA
- IT TAKES MORE THAN VISA POWER TO STOP A TERRORIST - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
- GAZA: THIS IS NOT HUMANE. WE NEED OUR DIGNITY - SAMI ABDEL-SHAFI
- WHY THE GOLDEN RATIO PLEASES THE EYE - KAREN MCVEIGH
- BEAUTY AND POWER OF PROPORTION - JONATHAN JONES
- AMAZON E-BOOK SALES OVERTAKE PRINT FOR FIRST TIME - KATIE ALLEN
- THE TOKYO STORY
- FOR THE RECORD
- SEX, NEWS AND VIDEOTAPE - SIDHARTH BHATIA
- LET THAROOR TWEET FOR DEMOCRACY'S SAKE - RANJONA BANERJI
- MOONING AROUND
- DON'T SAY NO TO FIRS
- INDIA, JAPAN TIES TO GROW
- TERRORIST, OR TOURIST?
- BEYOND STATEHOOD - BY J. SRI RAMAN
- AN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE SALAD - BY ASHIMA BATH
- LA AFFAIRE RATHORE:BRUTALISATION OF GOVERNANCE - BY M G DEVASAHAYAM
- MEETING AFGHAN NEEDS - BY STANLEY A. WEISS
- WEB SALES REGISTER BIG INCREASE - BY MOLLY SELVIN
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- THREAT TO SOVEREIGNTY
- SWINE FLU
- TELANGANA ISSUE AND ASSAM - DR GOVINDA BALLAV GOSWAMI
- TAX PLANNING FOR INDIVIDUALS - SUBHRANGSHU SEKHAR SARKAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- NAME GAME
- PASSING OVER RAO
- REFINE TAKEOVER CODE
- YOUR LAMP WAS LIT BY ANOTHER LAMP - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- PRIME MINISTER'S COPENHAGEN GAMBLE - ARVIND PANAGARIYA
- YOUR LAMP WAS LIT BY ANOTHER LAMP - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- IT'S TIME TO STAND TALL AND HOLD HANDS - KIRAN BEDI
- ONLY IF STATE-LEVEL INFRASTRUCTURE IS LEVERAGED - V BALACHANDRAN
- KNOWLEDGE IS GROWTH - JAIDEEP MISHRA
- WE DIDN'T ABANDON CUSTOMERS EVEN DURING THE FINANCIAL CRISIS' - PANKAJ MISHRA
- CONGRESS CAN'T JUST FORGET RAO
- PEOPLE WHO MADE NEWS - BY MRINAL PANDE
- BESIDES WOODS, YOU MUST REMEMBER THESE - BY WILLIAM FALK
- BOYS AND GIRLS WITH GOLDEN DREAMS - RINGING IN SOME NEW RESOLUTIONS
- VIR DAS ACTOR, STAND-UP COMEDIAN
- BOLLYWOOD'S 10-STEP GUIDE TO A HAPPY 2010
- SUPERHIT MUQABALA
- REGISTER & ACT
- RELIGION & STATEHOOD
- GROPING IN THE DARK
- THE DAY PEOPLE REALLY FEEL GUILTY
- 2009 TO 2010 - BY RAJINDER PURI
- PARTY TO INDIA
- OUT OF PLACE
- IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER - ANABEL LOYD
- BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY - ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
- AL-QAEDA HAS EXPLOITED YEMEN'S INTERNAL UNREST - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
- DRAWN BY THE 'POWERS' OF MUSIC - BY L SUBRAMANI
THE JERUSALEM POST
- TERMS OF REFERENCE
- RIGHT OF REPLY: OUR SUFFERING SHOULD BE THE BASIS FOR COOPERATION, NOT COMPETITION - BARRY RUBIN
- TERRA INCOGNITA: A RIGHT OF RETURN TO WHAT? - SETH J. FRANTZMAN
- GRAPEVINE: PEACE IS IN THE AIR - GREER FAY CASHMAN
- AMERICAN ALIYA - AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY - MICHAEL HIRSCH
- GEN-X ZIONIST - GREG TEPPER
- THE START OF AN IRANIAN INTIFADA - MEIR JAVEDANFAR
- THEY DON'T BELIEVE HIM
- THE SETTLER ADDICTS - BY ALUF BENN
- THE PANIC CULTURE - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
- ISRAEL CAN'T LAUNCH STRIKE AGAINST IRAN ON ITS OWN - BY AMOS HAREL
- SAVE THE PRESS - BY GABRIEL WEIMANN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- THE CASE FOR REFORM
- THE SYSTEM FAILED
- AS THE NATION'S PULSE RACES, OBAMA CAN'T SEEM TO FIND HIS - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- MULTIPLE TARGETS
- THE PRESIDENT'S ANGER
- POLITICS OF FIRE AND FURY - SHAMSHAD AHMAD
- CAUGHT UP IN ONE'S OWN ACT - RAOOF HASAN
- WITH WHOM DO I STAND? - DR A Q KHAN
- SUCCESS' AND COMPLACENCY - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- 2009: TURNING THE CORNER - MUSHAHID HUSSAIN
- NATO NEEDS AFGHAN WAR - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- ZARDARI'S HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE ADDRESS
- DR MIRZA OWES AN EXPLANATION
- DEPLORABLE ATTACK ON MOURNERS
- IS THE MEDIA IMMATURE?
- PSY WAR AGAINST PAK NUKES - DR RAJA M KHAN
- PAF'S EYE IN THE SKY - SULTAN M HALI
- INDO-BHUTAN RELATIONS - AFSHAIN AFZA
- NO STRANGER IN MY BEDROOM..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- TRAGIC SHIP-BREAKING
- ROYAL DISEASE
- TO DRINK OR NOT TO DRINK..!
- STILL FLYING BLIND - FORREST COOKSON
- THE HISTORY OF ARAKAN, ITS RELIGIONS - U KHIN MAUNG SAW
- A MUSLIM CHRISTMAS FATHER - DR. TERRY LACEY
- NOT AT ALL
- BOMB SCARE
- MEDIA AND POLITICS PUBLIC RIGHT TO DISSENT - GOKUL POKHREL
- CENTURY DROUGHT BROKEN AT LAST
- ENVIRONMENTAL EXTREMISTS FAILED IN COPENHAGEN
- BUILDING A BIG AUSTRALIA
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- LIFT THAT SHOVEL, SHIFT THAT BROOM
- HOUSING TAXES NEED RENOVATIONS
- STATE RALLIES AFTER FIRES, BUT SLIPS UP IN PLANNING FOR GROWTH
- FREEDOM OF INFORMATION: LET THE SUNSHINE IN
- IN PRAISE OF THE SETTLE TO CARLISLE LINE
- BRITAIN AND CHINA: DEATH DEPLORED
THE KOREA HERALD
- BRACING FOR SNOW
- GIVING BUG
- IN INNOVATION, EXECUTION IS EVERYTHING - ANDREW SHENG
- LET'S BUILD FOREIGNER-FRIENDLY SOCIETY - KIM SEONG-KON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- LAY JUDGE SYSTEM TAKES ROOT
- NEW SLOGANS WON'T HELP THE LDP
- A DECADE OF WESTERN LOSSES AND ASIAN GAINS - BY GWYNNE DYER
- IRAN THE CHALLENGE IN 2010 - BY DAVID HOWELL
- THE JAPAN-INDIA PARTNERSHIP TO POWER A MULTIPOLAR ASIA - BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
- IS BRITAIN REALLY BREAKING LONDON'S BANKERS? - BY RONALD J. GILSON
THE JAKARTA POST
- TRUTH REVELATION OR SENSATION?
- MONEY TO BURN - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
- MAINTAINING RI'S BIODIVERSITY - IQBAL ALAN ABDULLAH
- PRITA'S HALF-BAKED JUSTICE
- ASIA'S IMF?
- NO FAKE PRAISES NEEDED
- REBUILDING THE GLOBE AFTER DOUBLE TROUBLE - BY ANDREW SHENG (CHINA DAILY)
- HATOYAMA FACES CATCH-22 OVER AMERICAN AIR BASE - BY MING JING (CHINA DAILY)
- NUCLEAR-FREE DEEDS MOST URGENT - BY ZHANG TUOSHENG (CHINA DAILY)
DEALING WITH RATHORE'S ILK
PRESCRIBED CURE WORSE THAN DISEASE
The Union Government's proclivity for knee-jerk reactions and quick-fix solutions never ceases to surprise. Following the nationwide outrage over the manner in which former Director-General of Haryana Police SPS Rathore has virtually got away with the crime of molesting a minor girl and the criminal justice system making a mockery of the law of the land, the Union Government, at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office, has declared its intention to urge State Governments to make the filing of FIRs or first information reports mandatory. While the Union Government's concern may not be misplaced, it would be facetious to suggest that a mere circular issued to State Governments will serve as a cure for a disease that has eaten into the innards of the system that governs our lives. Rathore is no doubt guilty of molesting a 14-year-old girl, ruining her family and driving her to commit suicide. It is equally true that despite committing the crime when he was an Inspector-General of Police, instead of being stripped of his uniform and sent to prison, he was promoted to the top echelons of Haryana's police force. But Rathore alone is not to blame for the chain of events that followed his sinful misdeed 19 years ago. His colleagues in the police force and the civil administration colluded with him to whitewash his crime; the lower judiciary was loath to pursue the case vigorously; and, politicians who feel perfectly at ease with louts in uniform and crooks as bureaucrats turned a blind eye to the gross abuse of power. All this would have happened even if the police had allowed the victim's family to lodge an FIR which has never really been a deterrent against offenders.
Therefore, it is doubtful whether fresh instructions to the police asking them to lodge FIRs will bring about any radical change. What is required is exemplary action against police officers and bureaucrats for instance, Rathore and his chums in the bureaucracy so that others are not tempted to pursue the path of criminal intimidation and worse. Our bureaucracy has ensured protection for the brotherhood by way of rules and regulations that make it impossible to take punitive action against babus and policemen. If the Government is truly interested in bringing about lasting change, then it should begin with getting rid of rules and regulations that shield criminals like Rathore from punitive action. Simultaneously, special fast track courts should be set up to deal with such tainted individuals so that justice is swift and the punishment is harsh. If this were to be done, then the smirk would disappear from Rathore's face, his friends in the police force and the bureaucracy would be a worried lot; policemen and babus would hesitate to repeat what happened in Haryana. Of course, this would require redrafting laws which would be resisted by our bureaucrats and policemen as well as their patrons in the political class. To overcome this resistance the Government would have to summon courage and determination, which are clearly in short supply. Hence the easy option of issuing 'instructions' that will be followed more in the breach than in practice. While nothing good is likely to come of it, bogus FIRs will be filed to harass innocent people and to settle personal scores. In a sense, the plight of the family of Rathore's victim will be replicated across the country. The prescribed cure, as always, is worse than the disease.
A VIRUS CALLED JIHAD
TIME TO TRASH LEFT-LIB VIEW OF TERRORISM
The 23-year-old Nigerian man who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound transatlantic flight on Christmas Day apparently on behest of Al Qaeda was no uneducated, poor soul who had fallen prey to jihadis. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab came from one of Nigeria's most influential business families and had a privileged life that most can only dream about. He had access to international education that ranged from schooling at the elite British International School in Togo to a degree in mechanical engineering at the prestigious University College London. His teachers describe him as a bright, polite boy who was keen on learning not the image one would have of a would-be terrorist. But despite the ultra-modern lifestyle Abdulmutallab had been exposed to, he chose to embrace the path of jihad and was willing to sacrifice his own life in the process. In fact, his parents, sensing that their ward had taken a fancy for radical Islam, had sent him to Dubai for studies in 2008, hoping that the cosmopolitan environment of the emirate would have a moderating influence on him. But Abdulmutallab rejected the allure of the 'good life'. He cut short his education in Dubai and told his parents that he had found a course in Arabic learning in Yemen that was more to his liking. Since October this year, he had severed all contact with friends and family, only to surface last week in his terrorist avatar.
Abdulmutallab's story is the latest addition to the growing body of evidence that challenges the conventional wisdom that terrorism thrives by preying on the weaknesses of the deprived. Like David Coleman Headley the US citizen of Pakistani origin who is currently being held by American authorities for plotting terrorist attacks, including the 26/11 terror strikes on Mumbai last year the young Nigerian was hardly a gullible fool who could be blackmailed or brainwashed by terrorist handlers. He chose the path he did out of his own free will with no hesitation whatsoever. He, like Headley, was infected by the global jihad virus. And it is here that jihad-inspired terrorism differs from insurgency movements known till date. Normally, a young Nigerian from a wealthy family should hardly have a motive to carry out a terrorist attack against the US. Yet, Abdulmutallab was driven to the point of trying to blow up an American passenger aircraft carrying 300 people. This is something that is unique to Islamist terror. It does not matter if someone is poor or rich, educated or illiterate, once the person is infected by the jihad virus he becomes a merchant of death irrespective of his background or material circumstances. It is high time the international community wakes up to the threat of the jihadi ideology and trashes the outdated Left-liberal hypothesis of economic and material poverty being central to the growth of Islamism.
PRETEND FRIENDS AND POST-MODERNISM
Beautiful Rachel Uchitel, of "I have NOT had an affair with Tiger Woods" fame, who started the avalanche of revelations on the ace golfer's extra-marital activities, is a professional host, a "pretend friend", as The Sunday Times' Style Magazine puts it.
She works at several swish nightclubs in New York and is paid to network with wealthy high-rollers and draw them in. And she is also entitled to a percentage of their hefty spends and makes substantial cash tips from said high-rollers too. And all of this without sex or blackmail entering into it, necessarily, despite the steamy allegations made by the National Enquirer. Because what Ms Uchitel does is smooth the way so that the rich and famous have a good time, with or without publicity as desired. There are many others willing and able to mingle with the seriously wealthy. After all, Ms Uchitel's clients include both married and unmarried oil-rich princes, stars of film, music and sports, as well as international billionaires of every description.
But her work is not to be confused with that of an up-market escort service. It is a niche product yes, typical of the 21st century urge towards differentiation and fine-tuning. It is personalised public relations facilitation, an opposite gender night-club Jeeves.
Irrespective of whether Tiger's marriage survives after wife Elin Nordegren and he return from their media avoiding cruise aboard their 155ft yacht Privacy; the entire scandal has elicited a different response so far.
The classic response would have involved high-priced celebrity lawyers, a big financial settlement, and a divorce. Instead, efforts are on to find a more up-to-date solution, recognising perhaps the temptations and pressures of international stardom and constant travel on the 33-year-old champion.
Meanwhile, the billionaire world number one golfer has put his career on hold to try and save his marriage despite his multiple and publicly acknowledged 'transgressions'. Tiger's Swedish wife Elin, an evidently post-modern spouse, seems willing to give their marriage a chance, provided Tiger never travels on his golfing trips henceforth without her and their two children in tow.
In other words, a negotiated marriage, with new ground rules. It has been done before, also in the public glare, by former US President Bill Clinton and current US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for example.
But apart from the compromise and accommodation such negotiated continuance suggests, there is a subtle reworking of the concept of modernity afoot as well. This new view of modernity may well define not only personal affairs but world affairs too in the coming decade and beyond.
This new look modernity does not believe in refusing to acknowledge ground reality. It does not take the easy route to facile retribution, realising that it may lead to a justice of sorts but not a satisfying justice after all.
History shows the damage done by forced and unequal treaties, such as the Versailles Treaty that humiliated Germany after World War I, and sowed the seeds of Hitler's ascendancy and an even more cataclysmic World War II.
So, to contain the destructive potential of the old eye-for-an eye justice, the new modernity attempts to look at available and residual options as dispassionately as possible with a view to improve matters, rather than settle scores.
We saw this principle operating at the Copenhagen Summit recently with US President Obama personally barging into a meeting of the BASIC countries of India, China, South Africa and Brazil when they were on the brink of a walk-out, and emerging instead with an accord of sorts.
An accord that ignored heaps of other countries, less significant in climate control politics, including those in the EU and Japan. An accord that did not flounder on the rock of the now bypassed Kyoto Protocol reckoned to be the lodestone of climate negotiations.
And closer home, the move to allow more small States to be born is not necessarily the pestilence escaped from Pandora's Box. It is patently unfair to have lopsided development within larger States and do nothing to rectify things. The creation of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and Uttarakhand has not been harmful to its inhabitants. And there is no cause to fear that further small States that may emerge out of an unwieldy Uttar Pradesh or a much neglected Gorkhaland will be bad for the cohesiveness of the Indian Union.
Elsewhere, corporate bosses such as Mr Ratan Tata are calling for reform of land acquisition policies. What is the justice in underpaying poor people for land they are compulsorily required to hand over to the Government for the use of industry or infrastructure? Is it enough to hide behind the brook-no-opposition plea of 'public purpose' when it robs the peasant and tribal of his wherewithal without adequate recompense?
It was alright for a colonial power with a different frame of reference, but clearly unfair for a republic where all citizens have been created constitutionally equal. India cannot be allowed to rob Bharat in the name of progress. In fact, greater equity in such matters will take the wind out of the sails of Maoists and other exploiters of the poor and their misery.
Post-modernism probably needs to come into the thinking on all our knotty issues. As an early advocate of compulsory voting, I am delighted to find myself on the same page as a mass leader like Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat. He is as yet talking of local elections in Gujarat, but the beneficial arguments hold good at the national level too.
Perhaps this same post-modernist wind will cause the next decade to be marked by pragmatism rather than dogma both in the ruling combine and in the Opposition. Mr Nitin Gadkari, the new BJP president, a Brahmin himself, wants more Dalits and Muslims in the party. He also wants dissidents and the expelled to return to the fold.
This is a sign of bold post-modernist thinking that is likely to steer the BJP into new centrist and inclusive positions. At this rate, we can once again look at the future of the principal Opposition party with hope, and be confident about its continued relevance to our collective future. And the recent emphases of the Government, such as PSU performance and divestment, progress in security, diplomacy, reformist and military matters, unhampered by old axioms also owe more to a future post-modernist vision than the past.
RSS MUST FOCUS ON UNITING HINDUS
SUDHANSU R DAS
RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat recently said that a common Hindu past alone could be the basis for the emotional integration for the sub-continent. He referred to a DNA research finding that has revealed that the inhabitants of the sub-continent India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and Tibet have similar DNA.
However, the RSS chief's idea of a common root has no takers as the community for which he works is itself the most divided house in the world. Until the 1970s, the RSS was working to bring a feeling of unity among Hindus on the basis of some common practices like the daily prata smaranam, prarthana, patriotic songs, bhojan mantras, surya namaskar, etc. In all this a simple version of Sanskrit which was used and, therefore, was gladly accepted by people of both north and south India. Nonetheless, these efforts started to dissipate due to the increasing burden of the BJP's electoral growth.
Slowly but surely the RSS's credential as a cultural and nationalist organisation started weakening. Parents who wanted to send their children to RSS sakhas for discipline, physical and moral courage and for sanskar became sceptical. The sakhas, which were once vibrant, started waning. The BJP, after coming to power, could not maintain its public image up to the expectations of the RSS and large sections of the middle class. The BJP leaders too started deviating from the core ideology of the RSS. Had they not done so, they would have continued to enjoy popular mandate.
The story is similar to that of the Congress Seva Dal cadre changing their lifestyle after independence. Just after 1947, Seva Dal members received lucrative packages from the Nehru Government. The Seva Dal's mission of achieving economic freedom and erasing caste discrimination was subsequently sidelined. The same moral degradation was true of the Communists when they enjoyed power under UPA-I and compromised on their principles. As a result, today the Communists have lost the faith of their cadre.
It is high time that the RSS re-dedicates itself to forging a feeling of unity among the people of this land. The RSS chief must lead the way and restore the link that the RSS workers once enjoyed with the masses, and advise the BJP to inspire its own cadre through examples.
FIGHTING THE TERROR CURSE
WITH ANTI-INDIA JIHADIS AT THE HELM OF AL QAEDA'S SHADOW ARMY, NEW DELHI MUST PAY HEED TO HOW THE EFFORTS BY LASHKAR-E-TAYYEBA, HUJI AND INDIAN MUJAHIDEEN CONTRIBUTE TO AL QAEDA'S OVERALL GEO-POLITICAL STRATEGY FOR SOUTH ASIA. FAILING TO DO SO WILL BE FATAL
A recent report has for the first time described Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami's 313 Brigade, as the chief of Al Qaeda's Shadow Army also called Lashkar-al-Zil. In the past Pakistan-based Al Qaeda's operatives Abu Obaida al-Misri and Khalid Habib have been described as holding that role in the Lashkar-al-Zil. While Al-Misri is believed to have died of Hepatitis B back in January 2008, Khalid Habib is believed to have died in a Predator drone strike in October 2008. Since Khalid Habib's death in last year's Predator strike no other Al Qaeda leader was described as having replaced Khalid Habin until the December 24 report in the Asia Times describing Ilyas Kashmiri as the chief of Lashkar-al-Zil.
Bill Roggio writing in the Long War Journal in February describes the Lashkar-Al-Zil as being organised under a military structure that has a clear-cut command structure with established ranks. A senior Al Qaeda military leader is placed in command of the Shadow Army, while experienced officers are put in command of the brigades and subordinate battalions and companies. In article Bill Roggio also explains that this was the result of a revamp and reorganisation of the Shadow Army's precursor Brigade 055.
To know how this reorganisation of the Shadow Army with a military structure could have come about we must rewind back to September 2007 when the Asia Times first reported that former Pakistan military men were operating out of the Waziristan camp of Ilyas Kashmiri. The report described the men as mostly ex-middle cadre (captains, majors, colonels). Subsequently in February 2008 the Asia Times quoted a certain Abu Harris, former Lashkar, that the addition of former jihadis, who were trained by Pakistani intelligence to fight in Kashmir, and some retired Pakistani Army officers to Al Qaeda's ranks has brought about a major change in the group's operational approach while describing Al Qaeda's rationale and justification for Khuruj or revolt in Pakistan. It may not be a coincidence that the latest report in Asia Times on December 24 also describes at length Al Qaeda's rationale for why the Pakistani Army must be attacked. It quotes extensively from a book titled Sharpening the Spearheads for Fighting the Pakistani Army by Abu-Yahya Al-Libby, an Al Qaeda ideologue.
In the aftermath of 26/11 much of the focus and attention in India has been narrowly focussed on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Not as much attention has been paid to how the efforts by Lashkar, HuJI and Indian Mujahideen contribute to Al Qaeda's overall geo-political strategy for South Asia. Even lesser attention has been paid to the steady rise of Pakistan-based anti-India jihadis like Ilyas Kashmiri within Al Qaeda's ranks over the last few years.
The December 24 report in Asia Times also described Ilyas Kashmiri as the chief conspirator of both the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the subsequent planning for new attacks in India that have come to light since the arrests in the US of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana in the Chicago conspiracy case. Specific attention needs to be paid to two references to the Chicago conspiracy case in the December 24 report in the Asia Times in light of Ilyas Kashmiri's role in the planning for new attacks in India.
The first reference has to do with the description of Major Abdul Rehman as Ilyas Kashmiri's main adviser. A perusal of the various filings by the FBI does not reveal any reference to Abdul Rehman being described as Ilyas Kashmiri's main adviser. When viewed in light of references to retired Pakistani military officers advising Al Qaeda from 2007 and 2008, it must be taken that quite likely Abdul Rehman was indeed Ilyas Kashmiri's main adviser. The second has to do with a reference to the Indian Parliament as being one of the targets of attacks planned in New Delhi apart from the National Defence College. Once again a perusal of all filings by the FBI and subsequent media reports reveals no reference to the Indian Parliament being a target.
Since the FBI filings in the Chicago conspiracy case could not have been the source for identifying Maj Abdul Rehman as Ilyas Kashmiri's adviser and also could not have been the source for identifying Indian Parliament as a potential target, we must take it that Syed Saleem Shahzad's references to either must be based on information from jihadi sources. There is good reason for these references to not be ignored. Similar India-centric warnings that appeared in the Asia Times between September and October 2008 had not received much attention in the run up to 26/11.
The first report appeared on September 13, 2008 specifically spoke of how a December 13, 2001-type mobilisation by India along the Pakistan border could tip the balance of events in Pakistan. The second report appeared on October 11, 2008 specifically referred to spectacular acts of terror to be carried out by Al Qaeda's global operations in November 2008 outside Pakistan.
It is clear that Al Qaeda's objectives and intent to trigger terrorist attacks in India remain unchanged in the hope of provoking a conflict with Pakistan thereby distracting and undermining American efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Home Minister P Chidambaram delivering the 22nd Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture called for a radical restructuring of the Home Ministry based on new internal security architecture with a firm focus on counter-terrorism. While Mr Chidambaram cannot be faulted for his intentions the same cannot be said of the political will of his Government in acting against terror with a sense of urgency. Let us not forget that the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai came exactly three days after a speech by the Prime Minister on November 23, 2008 calling for a 100-day roadmap to counter terrorism. Anti-India jihadis at the helm of Al Qaeda's Shadow Army have India on their sights and are unlikely to be deterred by 100-day roadmaps and eloquent speeches on a revamped internal security architecture.
-- The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.
2009 IN RETROSPECT
POLITICAL VIOLENCE MARKS THE YEAR END IN WEST BENGAL
In order to look forward, a stock taking of where things are is mandatory. It therefore requires no particular sagacity to assume, as many working class and middle class people are doing, that West Bengal's prospects in 2010 and 2011 and thereafter are scarily uncertain.
The fear is the rising violence in the State. The uncertainty is whether this violence will abate following the Opposition anticipated regime change, breaking the CPI(M)'s 32-year winning run and transferring power into the hands of a combine led by the Trinamool Congress.
For every passing day brings news of another death. On December 26, it was a death in Bankura. Earlier it was a death in West Midnapore. Prior to that it was a death in Hooghly, and so on and on and on. In recent weeks, the killers are Maoists and the killed are the CPI(M)'s panchayat or local committee leaders, that is, the grassroots of a party that on its own admission had grown distant from its peasant roots. The fact that the local leaders continue to remain loyal and consequently obstruct the advance of the opposite political groups is glaring.
By killing them, the Maoists certainly seem to believe that the message would be correctly read; support to the CPI(M) will cost lives. If this assists the parliamentary Opposition parties, as the CPI(M) has charged, then the situation at the ground level is ominous. The charge of complicity between the law violating parties and the law abiding parties can only mean that uncertainty, fear, anxiety and instability is beginning to violently shake the social and political fabric of West Bengal.
The turf war will not be easily settled and it will be bloody. It may also be protracted as annihilating an organisation with old roots cannot be done quickly or easily. The question is: Does West Bengal's middle class, those who live in Kolkata and are tax-payers in the 126 municipalities in the State comprising about 29 per cent of the population, support endless violence as part of its politics? Judging from frequent comments exchanged over tea and cigarettes (a Bengali staple for any serious conversation) this is how things will go on, the future is bleak, our children will have to migrate to find jobs, our reputation is ruined, who will come here it does appear that support is grudging, because the years of cumulative grievances against the CPI(M) and its methods have exceeded the tolerance limit set by a patient and ultimately loyal voter base.
If West Bengal has lost its appetite for upheaval before a regime change, unlike in the 1970s, then it is for the parliamentary political parties to offer the voter an end to the violence. For none of the political parties CPI(M) and its Left partners, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress are engaged in an ideological struggle; there is no class war that is being waged; even on economic policy, the Trinamool Congress despite its Maa, Mati, Manush slogan has no alternative to the liberalised, reformed market. Looking at how the Indian Railways is planning its future, it would seem that Ms Mamata Banerjee is as eager to partner the market as the market is to seize whatever opportunities she opens up.
Since there is no great ideological divide, since the CPI(M) on its own admission has fallen prey to the disease of capitalist corruption for which it has had to announce a rectification programme, the difference between the Left and the Right has shrunk into a difference of personalities. In retrospect, it is this difference that is crucial to making sense of all that happened between the last quarter of 2008 and the new year that begins in 2010.
The new year will be the election year for West Bengal. The next State Assembly elections are scheduled for May 2011. Therefore, all political parties will apply themselves to showcasing not only their capabilities but also apply themselves with greater effort to showing up the flaws of the rival combine. Since politics has been reduced to personalities and their particular visions for making West Bengal prosperous and peaceful, greater attention needs to be focussed on the leaders.
Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, because he has been Chief Minister from 2000 is better known and therefore more critically judged than Ms Banerjee, who as the Opposition has always enjoyed the advantage of being the victim-heroine. Moreover, the CPI(M) has been in power for 32 years and its faults are better known through everyday experiences. The Trinamool Congress has just begun acquiring power first through the spectacular wins in the panchayat elections and then by its superb performance during the Lok Sabha election. The confirmation of the Trinamool Congress as the alternative rather than the default choice has begun emerging; the last round of by-elections did just that. The Trinamool Congress scored whereas the CPI(M) had to make do with.
Power is it must be assumed shifting to the Trinamool Congress. This imposes a burden on the challenger; the weight of responsibility. It was to win over the CPI(M)'s peasant base that Ms Banerjee converted the land acquisition in Singur into her trademark successfully concluded struggle.
As the imminent incumbent, the Trinamool Congress can either stick to the same position or it can begin modifying it. For as long as Ms Banerjee is a Minister in the Union Government she cannot disown support for a policy framework that prioritises new industrial ventures requiring hectares and hectares of land all of it acquired from peasants involving displacement and transformation of rural community structures. Given that land has been identified as the biggest hurdle to India's speedier economic growth, Ms Banerjee will need to face up to the problem.
SHAH BANO RETURNS TO HAUNT
MUSLIM LAW BOARD'S CRITICISM OF SC JUDGEMENT UPHOLDING THE RIGHT OF A DIVORCED WOMAN TO GET MAINTENANCE FROM HER HUSBAND SMACKS OF AN ATTEMPT TO FOSTER SEPARATIST TENDENCIES
Every application by a divorced woman under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, pending before a Magistrate on the commencement of this Act shall, notwithstanding anything contained in that code be disposed of by such Magistrate in accordance with the provisions of this Act."
This quote is from that spectacular, Congress-created monster called the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. That it was one of the chief factors leading to Rajiv Gandhi's downfall is purely incidental, and depending on which side of the fence you are on, equally led to the rise of 'Hindu fundamentalism'. Also, that the entire Red Spectrum rues till date that this Act was the undoing of about 40 years' of their 'hard work' is also incidental. But all these are incidental because we see subtle portents that this phenomenon is eminently capable of self-renewal. All it needs is a simple perpetuation of the current political climate.
On December 4, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Deepak Verma and Sudarshan Reddy upheld the right of a divorced Muslim woman, Shabana Bano to receive maintenance from her husband.
I don't believe in the supernatural but it's slightly eerie that the latest victim of that Congress party-created monster shares the same last name as her predecessor, Shah Bano. This news appeared in a remote corner in the newspapers in direct contrast to the Shah Bano affair, which in the 1980s was both front-page news and the subject of passionate editorials that played out for months.
Predictably, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has issued a veiled threat of sorts. It has chastised the Supreme Court's judgement as a "direct interference in Muslim personal law" and "against the Shariat." In keeping with the times, it has pulled a buy-one-get-one-free stunt. To quote Mr Khalid Rashid the spokesperson, "the AIMPLB will apprise the Government of its stand on the SC verdict awarding maintenance to Shabana Bano and the Liberhan Commission report." We wonder how the two are connected.
The AIMPLB today amounts next to nothing compared to its phenomenal power of communal blackmailing in the heady 1980s and early 1990s. But it's better to be on guard and call its bluff before it decides to get bolder. Indeed, Shah Bano happened because we failed to nip such divisive calls in the bud. Perhaps the AIMPLB has forgotten that Indian Muslims are Indians first and everything else later. The AIMPLB's statement can reasonably be interpreted as a stealth-attempt at encouraging and fostering separatist tendencies.
The Supreme Court doesn't really care what the Shariat says and consequently doesn't need to give a whit about 'interfering' in Muslim personal law. India is not Saudi Arabia.
The AIMPLB's attack of the Supreme Court's judgement only highlights the plight of poor Muslim women and the urgent need to address this. The National Commission for Women given its 17-year-old history has done precious little to help these women. Those in the celebrity cocktail issues circuit haven't had any 'spontaneous' emotional outbursts at the heart-rending situation of Shabana Bano. Perhaps Shabana Bano's 'crime' of being unable to bring in the dowry demanded by her husband's family isn't chic enough in the secularist and women's liberation quarters. To be fair, a lone article in the Indian Express welcomed the Supreme Court's judgement. But that article didn't delve into the fundamentals, something everybody wants to avoid. Also, the (non) Opposition, the BJP is yet to emerge from stupor given that the Shah Bano affair was one of its biggest scoring points back then.
And what everybody wants to avoid even mentioning is the fact that Indian society cannot survive for long unless a solid Uniform Civil Code is implemented starting now. But the history of Muslim appeasement that began under Jawaharlal Nehru has, Frankenstein-like, spun out of control. The placation is only increasing with time and reached a miserable pitch when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed that Muslims have the first claim on nation's resources: The Union Ministry of Minority Affairs has already granted 100 per cent approval, and released funds for 21 districts in Uttar Pradesh to 'uplift' minorities with more districts to follow.
In a way, the AIMPLB is irrelevant today because the UPA has taken upon itself the task to systematically satisfy every whim of the minorities before they even demand it. And so, if the combined clerical might of the Muslim lobby applies enough pressure, the UPA might 'reconsider' the Supreme Court's ruling in favour of Shabana Bano.
But it's an even greater pity that this issue is not getting the coverage it really deserves.
LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS
TOO MANY PROJECTIONS ON POVERTY, PRICES AND GROWTH BY DIFFERENT AGENCIES CREATE CONFUSION
Realities and projections are foxing the nation. Almost 20 per cent price rise and growing numbers of the poor are the reality. But when it comes to growth projections no one is sure whether there is reality in them or mere officialese.
The October figures leads to a claim of 10.3 per cent surge in industrial production and GDP growth at 7.9 per cent. Comparing the basic projections on the low growth parameters of October 2008 (4.3 per cent) with that of October 2009 and claiming high growth possibilities certainly do not project actual facts. Else the Government would not have been grappling with the poverty figures.
Despite supposed fast-paced pre-2008 growth at around 7 to 8 per cent, it is surprising that the number of poor has not come down. Of course, there are different figures by different committees and departments.
The Government is also not sure whether the growing food prices are adding to the numbers are not. In November alone inflation jumped three-fold from 1.34 per cent in October to 4.78 per cent as WPI. Food prices have risen to nearly 7 per cent from 13.68 per cent on October 31 to 19.95 per cent on December 5.
Logically, it would marginalise many more and push them below the poverty line. This is what four different figures for poverty estimation seem to suggest. Higher poverty ratio has its effect on the Government's kitty as well. It may swell expenditure on poverty alleviation and subsidy-related issues by over Rs 15,000 crore.
The Planning Commission in 2004-05 estimated that 28.3 per cent of the population was below the poverty line. The Government still projects this figure without taking the rise in population into account. This figure has been rejected by three official committees. The SD Tendulkar Committee set up by the Planning Commission has stated that even in 2004-05 the percentage of people below poverty line stood at 41.8 per cent. Officially, the figure is 38 per cent poor in 1990.
The NC Saxena Committee set up by the Rural Development Ministry estimated (considering same parameters of per capita calorie intake of the Planning Commission) that a poor person requires at least Rs 700 a month to survive. The committee estimates 50 per cent of the people are below the poverty line. It has also taken low-weight children and anaemic women into account for the purpose of its calculation.
The Economic Survey of 2008-09 puts the figure at 60.5 per cent on the basis of subsisting on a wage below Rs 20 a day as per National Statistical Organisation Survey. The average works out to Rs 600 a month.
As the Budget is to be presented after two months, the Government has to accept one or the other figure for fund allocations. The closest to the present Government estimates are the Tendulkar Committee figures. But even they are also 13 per cent higher than the accepted official figures.
The figures would be definitely more if high food prices are taken into account. Moreover, incomes have not increased, people have lost their jobs and many especially in corporate sector have been forced to take pay-cuts.
There would be 30 per cent more poor in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal, according to the Tendulkar Committee. It means on PDS alone the Government would have to spend Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 crore. Expenditure will increase also on schemes like NREGS, Indira Awas Yojana, Swarna Jayanti Employment Scheme and, etc.
If the rising prices are taken into account, it would further swell Government expenditure which the Government is trying to do with large borrowings. Presently, almost 7 per cent is the estimated fiscal deficit. It is likely to swell further. This has a cascading effect on expenses as also on actual growth prospects.
This also raises the question about the intention of bringing down the prices. Nobody has yet explained why butter has become scarce. The answer has come from multi-national retailer Walmart which has admitted hoarding butter stocks after acquiring them from Anand in Gujarat. This is a grim signal towards the connection between price rise and entry of MNCs in retail market.
The nation and its parliamentarians need to speak against the entry of big business houses into the retail commodity and vegetable markets. There is no scrutiny of officials and others promoting their entry. Apparently, they lure the Government with artificial growth projections.
The West is suffering the ills of monopolisation of transnational retailers. It's time India envisages a healthy growth that requires a vision and not statistical jugglery.
-- The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.
THAROOR IS RIGHT ON CLUMSY VISA RULE
MINISTER of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor is right when he says that the ham- handed tightening of visa rules by the government in the wake of the David Coleman Headley case will hurt the innocent and cost the country millions.
There is a tendency among bureaucracies everywhere in the world to bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Last month, confronted with the revelation that its vaunted intelligence agencies had failed to detect the activities of Headley, the Union Home Ministry decided it would take it out on innocent foreigners, businessmen and tourists, by refusing them frequent entries on multiple entry visas.
This week, across the US and indeed the world, the security bureaucracies are in the process of punishing the innocent for the transgression of Umar Farooq Abdul Muttalab who tried to blow up an aircraft on Christmas Day over Detroit. Movement within the aircraft one hour before landing has been curtailed. Why one hour? No one knows; after all Muttalab could have made his attempt two hours earlier as well. Knee- jerk reactions are knee- jerk all over the world.
Likewise, a terrorist with a multiple entry visa could decide that he would stay longer on each entry, or, come once every two months and do the needful. The new rules on entry would hardly inconvenience him. The terrorists who came to Mumbai did not need visas, multiple entry or otherwise. The recent case in Lucknow of Pakistani nationals getting clearance for passports brings out the problems of implementing rules through a corrupt instrumentality.
The government would do well to accept Mr Tharoor's tweeted advice that " security must not become an excuse 2change our cntry 4d worse."
COME ON, MS DIKSHIT
DELHI Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit should feel mortified about being praised by the Shiv Sena over her supposed stance that migrants were responsible for many of Delhi's problems. And though her office has clarified that she did not say anything to the effect, the CM can hardly deny having made such noises in the past.
In fact, she was at it again on Monday, demanding that a tax be imposed on vehicles coming into Delhi from outside. She says the proposal is based on what Delhi's satellite towns follow, conveniently forgetting that such a toll is levied by them only on commercial vehicles.
We all know what the Shiv Sena is all about, but for the chief minister of the national capital to have an insular approach of this kind is unbecoming.
Delhi is what it is today only because people from different regions have made it their home. After all, Ms Dikshit herself is not an original Dilliwallah whether through parentage or matrimony.
That Delhi's infrastructure is overburdened is known to all, but the solution to the problem cannot be framed in insideroutsider terms. Indeed, fulfilling the vision of the city as the National Capital Region is the way to go. Delhi is the capital of this country and it is only natural that people from all corners of the country flock to it for the opportunities it offers. Other great cities of the world have witnessed this phenomenon and yet made the best of it. Ms Dikshit would do well to make the NCR a more livable place, rather than seek to do so by excluding people.
GROW UP GOP
THE Congress party may claim to be 125 years old, but it is as mature as an adolescent.
What else can explain the exclusion of people like P. V. Narasimha Rao, Morarji Desai and Jagjivan Ram from the pantheon of the great leaders of the party as enumerated by current President Sonia Gandhi? Rao may have been indirectly responsible for the Babri Masjid's destruction, but he is also the man who guided the country with great skill in a period of great domestic and international turbulence.
An occasion like an anniversary is a good time for honest reflection. If the party is to grow, it needs to confront its mistakes, even while celebrating its no doubt laudable achievements.
INDIA MUST NUANCE ITS POLICY ON NEPAL
BY PRASHANT JHA
AT a mass rally to announce their fourth phase of protests against the President and the present government a week ago, Communist Party of Nepal ( Maoist) chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ' Prachanda' was unusually blunt about the roots of the present impasse in Nepal.
On May 4 when resigning as Prime Minister after the President overturned his decision to sack the then army chief General Rookmangud Katwal, in what the Maoists term as an ' unconstitutional' move, Prachanda had hinted at the role of ' foreign lords'. Last week, he declared it was pointless to talk to other parties like the Nepali Congress or Communist Party of Nepal ( Unified Marxist Leninist) as they were all ' puppets' and ' remote- controlled' by India, and that he would rather talk to the ' master' directly. Prachanda also cited Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor's reported opposition to integration of former Maoist combatants in the Nepal Army as proof of the India's ' naked interference'. Prachanda's speech, which has led to widespread controversy, comes at a time when the political, peace, and constitutional process in Nepal is stuck. The country continues to have two armies, with the People's Liberation Army ( PLA) in UN- monitored cantonments no progress has been made on their integration into security forces or rehabilitation.
The constitution time- table has been amended for the eighth time and the chances of a new statute by May 28, 2010 are unlikely, which can give rise to a vacuum.
With Maoists protests escalating and security forces asserting authority, confrontation is in the air.
At its core, the issue is about balance of power and agenda. The Maoists are stronger than even the two main parties, NC and UML, combined together in the elected house.
The former rebels have used their three years in over- ground politics to expand through front organisations across urban sectors students, university teachers, government servants, and manufacturing and service sector employees. Their core mass base, which includes a substantial segment of hill and Tarai Dalits, marginalised ethnic communities, landless and workers, and the lower middle class, remains intact.
In the last seven months since quitting the government, the Maoists have held at least half- a- dozen mass rallies in the capital alone, besides organising training for cadre across the country. They have used democratic legitimacy and the threat of coercion to penetrate financially lucrative sectors at the local level, for instance constructions and licenses making it perhaps the richest party in Nepal taking care of thousands of full- time workers. On top of this, the Maoists also have a 19,000 strong PLA, and the Young Communist League, a paramilitary structure.
With this kind of base and muscle, the former rebels do not intend to become just another liberal democratic, or even an Indian CPI ( M ) type mainstream Left party. The Maoists are committed to a programme of radical state restructuring, which would include federalism where ethnicity has a prominent basis; ' first rights' to local communities regarding natural resources; land reform; a revised taxation policy to be enforced strictly; an ' equal' relationship with India; an executive Presidency at the centre; ' democratisation' of the Nepal Army through integration of former PLA combatants and firmer civilian control; and eventually restricted multiparty political competition where ' antiimperialist and anti feudal' parties would not be allowed to operate. The party machinery would play an important role in assisting the state in expanding its penetration.
While some leaders believe this can be achieved through peaceful mass politics and electoral politics, other dogmatists seem to emphasise that an urban insurrection is the only way.
For now, Maoists have adopted the route of mass politics, but with degrees of coercion when necessary.
If Maoist energy and radicalism is one side of the picture, the inertia and inability of the other parties to break from their conservative impulses is the other.
The Nepali Congress and UML party structures do not reflect either the generational transformation or the assertion of the marginalised communities that has taken place over the past decade in Nepali society.
The entire top brass of these parties has been a part of the discredited Kathmandu politics of the 1990s.
Both parties have done little to deliver tangible benefits to their own constituencies while in power, or utilise the democratic space and exploit ground level contradictions to battle with the Maoists. Instead, NC's second ranking leaders are embroiled in a battle to decide who would succeed Girija Prasad Koirala.
The UML is locked into a personal positional feud between party Chairman Jhalanath Khanal, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal, and strongman K P Oli and an ideological battle about whether the party should continue with its present right- ward drift or align with the Maoists.
The ' mainstream' outfits are perceived as elite hill Hindu caste- led parties.
And their reluctance to embrace federalism or even active affirmative action policies wins them brownie points with established Kathmandu interests but loses them further support in the countryside.
This utter weakness of Nepal's ' democratic' political class and their incapacity to reform forces them to depend and call out to India externally and the Nepal Army internally for political support to check the Maoists.
New Delhi has its own reasons to suspect the Maoists. The Maoist attempt to internally refashion the Nepali state; its ground strength which made it less pliable than other Nepali regimes to Delhi; the warmth with China while Prachanda was PM; and the move to ' control' the Nepal Army by sacking its chief against Indian advice embittered India- Maoist ties.
India played an active role in cobbling together a discredited coalition of 22 parties after Prachanda resigned, and Delhi's support has sustained the Madhav Nepal government. While engaging with the Maoists sporadically, India's position has got tougher.
It feels that till Maoists engage in a course correction settle PLA question without hampering the Nepal Army's structure, disband YCL, renounce violence, act like a responsible opposition, return seized property, give certain minimum guarantees on the bilateral relationship the former rebels cannot be trusted and have to be kept out.
Prachanda's call for dialogue to Delhi cannot be reciprocated officially by India for obvious reasons. But instead of seeing this as yet another proof of Maoist ' anti- Indianism', Delhi should use the opportunity to review its policy, which is uncannily like George Bush's tendency to see things in black or white. The sum total of India's approach, with M K Narayanan calling the shots, seems to be, " Maoists are bad guys. They are not for us and so they are against us."
By attempting to keep the country's most powerful political party out of the power equation, India is neither helping the cause of democracy in Nepal, nor the democratic transformation of the Maoists itself. It is only strengthening far Left and the far Right elements of Nepali polity. The dogmatic line within the Maoists has got stronger and is telling its cadre they have little choice but to go for a violent insurrection. The right wing elements of the military and established parties who never wanted the peace accord hope to win Indian support for a security crackdown. A prolonged stalemate will mean no constitution; a possible right wing takeover, fueling an ultra Left urban unrest and violent revolt; ethnic warlords gaining ground; and a weak state security apparatus fire- fighting to preserve the state.
The onus lies on the Maoists to shed their unilateralism, dogma and reassure other parties of their commitment to non- violent pluralistic democracy.
Other parties need to feel more secure, which can happen if they work harder on political mobilisation. But India has a role. Instead of acting in a completely partisan manner, and cornering the Maoists, it has to nurture the Nepali consensus back on track by using its leverage on all sides constructively and encouraging the moderates.
If Delhi fails to do so, it will have to bear its share of the responsibility for aborting the process it had initiated by getting the parties and Maoists together, and pushing Nepal back to a conflict.
The writer is a Nepalese journalist based in Kathmandu
MAKING A MOCKERY OF THE RULE OF LAW
THE efficacy of a criminal justice system depends on its capacity to protect the victim and secure speedy conviction of the guilty. But, our criminal justice system miserably failed on these two counts in the Ruchika molestation case.
Ruchika a school girl was only 14 in 1990 when the former Haryana police chief S P S Rathore outraged her modesty.
She gathered courage to fight back. Three years later, she was rusticated from school. She thought the perpetrator would be taught a lesson in June 1992 when the government recommended lodging of an FIR. Instead, all hell broke loose. Instead of a case against Rathore, the police slapped six false cases against Ashu Ruchika's teenaged brother for vehicle thefts.
She could not carry on for long. Depressed, lonely and harassed, Ruchika committed suicide in December 1993.
She died since all those who could initiate action against Rathore adopted an ostrich- like attitude. No one tamed the cop. Instead, Rathore proved dangerous for the girl, her family and close associates, with the defenders of law looking the other way at his misuse of power.
The then chief minister Hukam Singh failed to act despite the DGP R R Singh recommending the registration of an FIR against him. Om Prakash Chautala and Bansi Lal too two other chief ministers cannot escape responsibility for inaction in the case. Nothing happened till the parents of Ruchika's best friend Aradhana Anand Prakash and Madhu moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 1997. An FIR was registered only when the court directed the CBI to look into the matter and the Supreme Court also upheld the order.
S P S Rathore was the Haryana DGP when the CBI filed its chargesheet against him in 2000. He continued to lead the state police even after that. Sometime later, the Chautala government yielding to criticism sent Rathore on leave. But he finally retired as DGP in July 2002 escaping any action.
Even when things appeared to be moving in 2000, the matter suffered inordinate legal delays. It is easy to delay the trial of criminal cases in the country. An accused so disposed can stall proceedings for decades together, if he has the means to do so.
In Ruchika's case, Rathore ensured that an FIR was not registered against him for eight long years after he molested the girl young enough to be his daughter.
There was complete disregard for the Supreme Court's guidelines about lodging of a case, time- bound investigation and speedy trial. In Rathore's case, the CBI did not press charges of ' abetment of suicide' against him. Rathore even " influenced" the country's apex investigation agency.
Now, Law Minister Veerappa Moily agrees that the case should be " revisited" and the " rule of law should not be interfered with by anyone". Moily also says that a " case of this nature has been mistreated and whoever is responsible has to be appropriately dealt with." The Home Minister P. Chidambaram says he has instructed the police to register FIRs on all complaints or face action.
The ministers however do not clarify who will deal with those who shirk their responsibility to act in such cases. Ruchika died because everyone colluded to save Rathore. She had realised that the law does not protect everyone equally. It does not protect the less powerful from being harassed.
The fight for justice in Ruchika's case also got prolonged since nobody thought anything amiss about the inordinate delays in the judicial process.
In the two decades it took for a sentence, Rathore turned 67.
Was it reasonable to let him off with a mild sentence? The CBI court in Chandigarh said, " the prolonged trial and the age of the convict can be considered while passing the order on quantum of sentence" despite its referring to Ruchika's tender age at the time of the incident. It is hardly a surprise then that the former DGP emerged out of the court after his conviction with a broad smile, which people will be forgiven for considering satanic.
GIRL GRANTS SIGHT TO 2 BEFORE END
A ONE- and- a- half year old girl in Mohali has given a perfect New Year gift to two people. She has lit their lives though she lost hers in a freak incident.
The little girl Ada Sharma toppled over the railing of a balcony of her second floor house. On life support system for five days at a Chandigarh hospital, when her pulse started sinking and the doctors gave up, Ada's parents Arvind Sharma and Savina decided to donate her eyes. Though her heart stopped beating on December 22, she became a star lending sparkle to two other homes.
CONTROVERSIAL MIKA TRIESHIS HAND AT ACTING
MIKA known better for his Rakhi Sawant smooch than singing has made a foray into acting. The singer, who has lent his voice to Hindi pop songs like Maujan hi maujan and Bhootni ke says he enjoyed his work in Mitti a story of four aimless boys expelled from university and their fight against the unscrupulous land mafia in Punjab. The film is slated for release on January 8. " Mitti highlights how MNCs have been grabbing the flourishing agriculture sector. It also touches upon the issue of the youth nurturing unrealistic dreams," says Mika.
Obviously, Rakhi does not work with Mika in the film. " There is no question of working with Rakhi," says Mika, who was in Chandigarh for promoting the film. Asked if there is a good script involving Rakhi, Mika quipped, " How can a script be good if there is Rakhi in it?" Mika and Rakhi have been at loggerheads since Rakhi filed a police complaint against Mika for forcibly kissing her on the lips at a birthday party thrown by him.
Vikas. kahol@ mailtoday. in
NITROGEN FOR TYRES
VEHICLE owners in Chandigarh are poised for a greener ride. The Indian Oil Corporation ( IOC) has set up a machine at one of its outlets Sukhna Automobiles for dispensing nitrogen free of cost. This is the first nitrogen dispensing unit set up by any oil company in the region.
Research has proved that nitrogen maintains pressure in tyres for long. Properly inflated tyres have less rolling resistance and so make a vehicle's engine expend less power. They bring down fuel consumption and so such a vehicle is less polluting, says Amanpreet Singh, proprietor of the outlet.
Amanpreet says that nitrogen molecules are bigger than air molecules and leak out slowly, maintaining pressure in tyres longer. Nitrogen which makes up 78 percent of the atmosphere is used for inflating high performance tyres in racing cars, aircraft and even space shuttles.
" Since nitrogen inflated tyres stay cool and wear out slowly, they are less likely to fail. This can increase the life of your tyres and help save lives too," he adds.
TIMES OF INDIA
The law ministry is considering a cess to help clear the three crore cases clogging the courts. Though the proposal is only at a discussion stage, it must be nipped in the bud. We've already had an education cess and it is unclear how much of this has reached the real beneficiaries and if it has led to any perceptible improvement. Instead of further burdening the taxpayer, the government must look at other alternatives to clear the huge backlog of cases.
Obviously the ever-increasing pile-up of cases in our courts is a major cause for concern. Of the three crore cases pending in courts, roughly 2.5 crore are in lower courts, 40 lakh in high courts and around 52,000 in the Supreme Court. The backlog has not only paralysed delivery of justice but also exacted a high economic cost. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee recently said that delays in the courtroom were having an adverse impact on the country's GDP. This is mainly because of the inordinately long time taken to enforce a contract in India.
It is thus imperative to find ways to clear the backlog. But a cess is not the solution. The law ministry has proposed creating a special purpose vehicle, which might involve outsourcing, to clear all pending cases by 2012-end. The ministry's vision document, too, has outlined some measures to clear the backlog. It envisages establishing a national arrears grid to ascertain the exact number of cases in every court and then take steps to reduce the pendency of cases from 15 to three years. It proposes to do this by first increasing the number of judges. Among the other proposals are filling up vacancies in courts quickly. It has been suggested that some 15,000 judges be appointed in trial courts for a two-year term who will work in three shifts. There are other proposals that could also be considered. Retired judges could be drafted to help tackle the shortage of personnel; the long vacation for judges, a holdover from colonial times, should be reduced; out-of-court settlements should be encouraged; and there should be better pay for judges to attract the best talent from among the legal profession. The Law Commission has also rightly suggested that adjournments be resorted to only if absolutely necessary.
These reforms have to be implemented quickly. And the government has to budget for these reforms. The chief justice of India's suggestion of increasing court fees, especially for commercial cases, to meet establishment costs could be considered. But in the end, it's government authorities and not citizens who have to bear the cost of executing long-delayed judicial reforms.
TIMES OF INDIA
STATE OF DENIAL
The Union government seems to be in a fix over the Telangana demand. Opinion in Andhra Pradesh continues to be polarised and a consensus has so far eluded the government. Besides, the success of Telangana supporters has revived similar demands for statehood across the country. A solution that satisfies everyone is easier said than done, but the government's hope that the issue will resolve on its own with time is fraught with risk.
A clarification on how the government intends to satisfy the contrasting demands of legislators from Andhra Pradesh is expected any time now. A team of legislators from Telangana met the Congress's national leadership on Monday and demanded that a time frame be fixed to announce the formation of the new state. An all-party joint action committee on Telangana has called for a bandh on Wednesday. Rallies and other forms of protest have also been announced. Politicians from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema are likely to respond with their own agitations. Ever since the Telangana agitation began, the administration in Andhra Pradesh has come to a standstill. A host of ministers have refused to take back their resignations and attend office. It's necessary that the Union government gets proactive and breaks the logjam in the state.
Instead of exploring options like ministerial committees to further study the Telangana demand the Centre must go for a new state reorganisation commission (SRC). The statehood demand is not restricted to Telangana. The subnationalism that's driving the Telangana movement has found resonance in UP, Maharashtra and West Bengal. These sentiments are unlikely to dissipate once the Telangana issue is settled. An SRC would be better placed than a ministerial committee to address their aspirations. It could work on a set of criteria to evaluate if the statehood demands are justifiable and sustainable and decide accordingly.
However, the Centre must not harbour the idea that a demand for a separate state is per se regressive. The experience so far reveals that smaller administrative units tend to perform better than large states. The SRC with a clearly defined mandate would offer a transparent mechanism to meet statehood aspirations. The Telangana issue spiralled out of control mainly because the Centre kept postponing a decision on the statehood demand. It later succumbed to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti's politics of blackmail. A repeat of the situation must be avoided.
TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S PART OF THE GAMES
Much has been written about the state of under-preparedness in Delhi with just nine months to go for the Commonwealth Games (CWG). Sheila Dikshit's recent statement that she is nervous has fuelled speculation and further debate on whether India is ready to face the glare of the world's cameras come October 3, 2010. There's little doubt that two of the stadiums, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and S P Mukherjee Swimming Complex, remain major concerns and there's still a fair way to go before infrastructure is finally ready.
At the same time, however, a state of under-preparedness with less than a year to go before a mega event isn't unique to India. Rather, this is a tell-tale story of how mega events have been organised by countries over the last two decades. Yet, when the umpire has finally called time, things have been in place whether in Athens in 2004, Sydney in 2000 or Kuala Lumpur in 1998. For a repeat in India, coordination is of the essence between the organising committee and the Delhi government, the two major stakeholders in CWG 2010.
Given the negative publicity surrounding Delhi 2010, it is important to take note of a few lessons from history. The Athens Olympic Games in 2004 staggered on the periphery of catastrophe before it began but eventually did much for Greek national pride and determination. From an organisational perspective, the tumultuous build-up before Athens makes it a just comparison with Delhi. With news of under-preparedness emanating from all over, the world had braced itself for chaos on the eve of the Games in Athens. Everybody knew it would be rough. Since elections were held in Greece just months before the Games and resulted in a change in government, problems were only natural. However, the final result was in no way disastrous. Athens did well to stand up to international scrutiny and the International Olympic Committee and Olympic-watchers were relieved.
With a reasonable budget allowing for modest new constructions, the Athens legacy isn't negative. Athens continues to use newly built metro and tram networks, and many restored archaeological sites and museums have added to its aura as heritage sites. Finally, the transformation of the 530 hectare brownfield site at the obsolete Hellinikon airport into Europe's largest park for sports and recreational use has served Athens well.
If Athens' preparedness was weak, the build-up to the centennial Olympics at Atlanta was a disaster. Atlanta was severely criticised for lack of adequate investment for building infrastructure and its poor transport facilities. Numerous problems prompted the media to describe Atlanta as a city in "complete chaos" leading up to the Games. Atlanta failed to recover from this very poor start and is still regarded as one of the worst organised summer Olympic Games in history. The expected boost to tourism never happened, jobs weren't generated for the economically underprivileged and by the time the Games started most projects geared to the event appeared non-starters. The desire to use profits to develop the disadvantaged sections of the city's communities and bring about integration had been replaced by the urge to ensure that the mega event did not end up rendering the organisers bankrupt.
In contrast, Delhi seems better off. Things have substantially improved since the Commonwealth general assembly in October. What disappoints most, however, is that there is little popular enthusiasm in the city for an event of this magnitude. Ironically, it was a police officer who summed up the city's indifference at a public function to mobilise support for the Games. Speaking at the event, Kulvinder Singh, DCP Gurgaon, was quoted as saying, "There is no excitement in Delhiites about the 2010 Games. It is almost like it is being imposed on them." His words seemed to ring true with each passing day. By 2009-end, then, Delhi's great white hope lay in what north Indians call "jugaad", that wonderful yet utterly untranslatable word that roughly means a propensity to improvise.
Delhi will have its Games. The 'Games train' has already left the station. Studying similar sporting events in the past, one knows that once the wheels are set in motion, the costs of failure become too ghastly to contemplate. This prospect has a dynamic of its own, weighing particularly heavily on emerging centres that do not have an established reputation for successful event management and that may be subject to more or less prejudicial doubts about their abilities on that score.
We are terrified of failing before the world's cameras and, in that sense, India is falling prey to what Havana did for the Latin American Games in 1991, Kuala Lumpur for the 1998 Commonwealth Games and Athens for the 2004 Olympics. Delhi is falling prey to what has been called the 'winner's curse'. It is for us to convert the curse into a blessing in the coming nine months. And it is this challenge of ensuring that the Delhi legacy is positive that makes 2010 the biggest year ever in the history of Indian sport.
The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.
TIMES OF INDIA
'EVERY CHILD MATTERS, LEARNS DIFFERENTLY'
Hyderabad-based educator James Tooley has spent long years in India, China and Africa studying private schools that are not recognised by the government. Tooley's studies defy traditional wisdom that government must provide the poor education. He spoke to Nandita Sengupta:
Your book, The Beautiful Tree, documents the achievements of unrecognised private schools, a sector that education experts have ignored.
The book brings into focus what the poor are doing for themselves. Our study in Hyderabad two years ago showed more children were in unrecognised private schools than in government ones. There's room for improvement though. But these schools are off the radar. It's a perplexing conundrum. Every development report talks of government school inefficiency, yet as a solution returns to government schools. What development guys fail to realise is that in every country these schools are highly regulated. Certainly, the regulations may be of the wrong kind and invariably lead to corruption and bribe around these regulations (licensing, recognition etc).
Is there a low-cost model then for schools?
That's what we're working on. Even if you get the funding, you want a replicable model. It has to be very low cost. With expensive teachers the model collapses. I'm interested in peer-learning models - the Madras method. It's at an embryonic stage in Hyderabad. We are trying in Ghana too. Peer learning is inevitably tied to differentiated learning. So a group of 10 has a pupil teacher. As they master the class, they move on. We're focused on pre-primary and primary because there's freedom there. We're not exposed to tests. Exams, certainly, is an issue. In higher classes classes eight to 10 we're looking at improving students' spoken English, doing foundation courses for exams.
One reason entrepreneurs give for not training teachers is that once trained, they'd move for higher salaries. Teacher retention is hard. Short, sharp-focused training can be one way ahead. We do an initial five-week training programme during the summer holidays followed by shorter modules. Teachers' mentoring post-training counts. In our model, as much importance is given to an academic coordinator who works with three or four schools and mentors class teachers.
Peer learning, tying up with technology, teacher training i'm interested in making these local private schools great places of learning. My guiding principle is every child matters, learns differently.
Should government get out of schooling?
To an extent, government has got out of education. Majority of school kids are in private schools. Not as if government decided to get out. But parents pushed it out. Do we want it back? I'm not sure. The question is what role do we want the government to play? It's probably not the historical role of providing schools, managing schools etc. For whatever reason, it hasn't proved very good at that, barring a few exceptions. Even if you get into private-public partnerships, if teachers aren't in your control and continue to be government teachers, it's a complete waste of time.
TIMES OF INDIA
Voltaire said, "I disagree vehemently with what you say, but i shall defend to my death your right to say it." Today's India might paraphrase that remark to read, "I disagree vehemently with what you say and i shall defend to your death your right not to say it."
If a 198-country survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre is to be believed, India ranks only below civil war-torn Iraq in terms of 'social hostility and religious discrimination'. It would seem that when it comes to respecting the social and religious beliefs and practices of others, we are a zero tolerance society. The report identifies the Hindutva movement as the main reason behind this social and religious chauvinism.
So what happened to the image we'd long fostered about India being an eclectic sponge, capable and, indeed, willing to soak in all the diverse cultural currents that have flowed into it over the millennia? What happened to the ancient concept of 'anekantwad', which has been defined as the willingness to accept another person's point of view, and which has been claimed by some commentators as the taproot of the spreading banyan tree of India's much-celebrated pluralism through the ages? Is that long-enduring tree which for long has given shelter and shade to all, irrespective of creed and custom in danger of withering and dying?
We can, of course, dismiss the Pew report as yet another example of biased, anti-India foreigners who want to paint us in the worst possible light, for their own vested interests, on all issues, be it climate change, corruption or, as in the current case, religious and social intolerance. It is not being paranoid, or xenophobic, to say that often the so-called First World projects a distorted image of India to suit its own ends and to assert an implicit moral, social or political superiority vis-`-vis us.
But such foreign gamesmanship discounted, what is likely to be the reaction to the Pew report? What is your reaction to it? Is it one of the righteous wrath there go these wicked Americans again, spreading nasty lies about us to cover up their own shortcomings on human rights issues or is it one of sober reflection maybe the report is prejudiced, but is there even a germ of truth in it?
On the same day that the Pew Research Centre report appeared in the TOI there was another report which said that in Surat 1,747 tribals had been reconverted from Christianity to Hinduism by the Shree Sampraday organisation. The organisers of the reconversion camp reportedly did not seek official permission to reconvert, as required by the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003.
But that's a minor technical point. A far more significant lapse on the part of the organisers, and their supporters, was that no one seemed to ask why the tribals had converted to Christianity in the first place, and whether they'd converted from Hinduism or from some form of animism. The cruel, and continuing, physical and social dispossession inflicted on our indigenous peoples is exemplified by the episode in the Mahabharat when Dronacharya requires the tribal, Karna, to cut off his thumb as guru dakshina so that the maimed warrior will not be able to match Arjuna in archery.
Why do tribals convert to Christianity? Is it only because those predatory Christian missionaries bribe them with free rice and other goodies, or is there some other reason? Is it the missionaries' carrot or the majority's stick which drives them into the Christian fold? Similarly, when Dalits convert en masse to Buddhism are they falling prey to proselytisation, or are they seeking to escape millennia of persecution by the majority?
Are we going to ask these questions, or are they going to be shouted down before they are raised? If they are, it'll show that the Pew report was wrong. We are not an intolerant lot; we are very tolerant. Of our own intolerance of others.
TIMES OF INDIA
REWRITING THE PAST
Adolf Hitler was Germany's football coach! Wipe that shocked expression off your face, for that's what one in every 20 school kids seems to believe according to a new UK survey. War veterans' charity Erskin questioned 2,000 children aged nine to 15 to reach the conclusion that kids have a poor knowledge of the two world wars. One in six believes that Auschwitz is a Second World War theme park, while one in 20 thinks that the Holocaust meant celebration at the end of the war. Also one in 10 thought that the SS was Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and one in 12 insisted that the Blitz was a huge clean-up operation in Europe post the Second World War. A quarter of the surveyed kids believed a nuclear bomb was dropped on Pearl Harbour, reported a British newspaper.
Indian children aren't far behind on this count, however. They're also fiercely competitive in historical ignorance. Many children believe that Mahatma Gandhi was Indira Gandhi's grandpa. A couple of years back the district education officer of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh went to visit a school and asked the students whether they ever heard the name of Napoleon Bonaparte? One bright spark replied that Napoleon was a French actor. He at least rightly associated Napoleon with the country he belonged to - these are the small mercies we ought to be thankful for. Even the students of a reputed college in Delhi thought that JFK was the founder of JK tyres. American children are the most ignorant in this regard. Many still associate George Washington with anything but being the first president of the US. The geographical and historical ignorance among students is worldwide. Many students in India are committed to their belief that Darjeeling is in Nepal. A few years ago, an aspiring IAS candidate thought that Nagpur was the capital of Madhya Pradesh and that Rajendra Prasad was the first chief minister of Bihar. She further confirmed her rank ignorance by stating that Jawaharlal Nehru was the first president of independent India. These bloopers may cause laughter, but at the same time make one wonder about the sharp decline in general knowledge in this so-called age of information. But, who's to be blamed for this arrant ignorance?
LET'S PUT FIRS THINGS FIRST
Sixteen years after a gross miscarriage of justice claimed the life of Ruchika Girhotra, the Ministry of Home Affairs has directed that all police complaints be treated as First Information Report (FIRs). Though belated, this is a step, which if implemented diligently, could beef up the criminal justice system greatly. No matter which section of society you come from, a visit to a police station to file an FIR can be a challenging experience. The challenge becomes tougher if the complainant happens to come from the wrong side of the social divide or if it's about a rape case. Policemen are known to delay the filing of an FIR sometimes as long as nine years as in the Girhotra case often using the ruse that they are "looking" into the merits of the case. And the Girhotra case is not the only one: the Bhanwari Devi rape case, the Nithari case and the latest road accident involving a Gurgaon-based IT professional, all prove that the first step towards nailing the accused is the most abused in our policing and justice delivery system.
According to the ministry, the Station House Officers must also state their reasons for filing an FIR or not registering one to their senior officials. Registering an FIR, unlike say just entry in a police diary, means the onus would be on the police to report the case to a magistrate, investigate, arrest, chargesheet and prosecute the accused. Delays in filing an FIR have often led to the loss of evidence, which could have been be used to nail the accused. In rape cases, the speedy filing of an FIR becomes all the more important because even a 24-hour delay could mean loss of biological evidence. Recently, A Right to Information plea found out that less than 12 per cent of rape complaints are turned into FIRs.
However, the compulsory filing of an FIR should not be seen as an end in itself. A progressive move like this needs to be supplemented and that can only be done if the government takes strong measures to improve the quality of investigation, reduce the time factor needed to close a case and lessen political interference in the forces. More often than not, onlookers are allowed to swarm the scene of a crime and tamper with evidence. It is true that there could be a glut in FIRs now and our already stretched police force (as of now there are 300,000 vacancies) could find it difficult to marshal its resources. Yet, this cannot be used as an excuse to not file FIRs. The move is an appropriate first step. But the challenge lies in building on it.
SEASON FOR REASON
A kinder, gentler experience awaits the loutish reveler this New Year eve. The Gurgaon police has issued instructions that pub bouncers must use 'non-violent' means to deal with unruly guests.
Apparently, pepper spray is one such non-violent method. Now we can quite imagine the scenario. As the drunken slob begins to molest women guests, even fire a few celebratory shots, the bouncer approaches. "Excuse me sir, your hands seem to have accidentally wandered and are now resting on this lady's personage. We are sure you didn't mean it. And, oh, how nice, you have a Smith and Wesson as a fashion accessory. Now, may we see you to the door so that you can go home and catch 40 winks?" We are certain that your common and garden reveler will see the logic of this and fade away quietly. En route, he might break a few things, call his family and pull out the fashion accessory to show people what a good sport he is.
Silly us, we thought that bouncers were meant to haul you out by the scruff of your neck and fling you into the cold night air outside if you didn't mind your ps and qs. Which was why in the old days, the bouncer was about three feet taller than you and at least 50 kg heavier. Now, we guess such physical attributes are not required but a knowledge of breathing techniques to calm the offender and a soothing Deepak Chopraish monotone on loving yourself and your fellow travellers. But we, the old-fashioned, still maintain that we'd feel a lot better if we were to confront a Charles Bronson lookalike at the door of a pub than some fey lisping soul. We are all for the smack of good pub management and the louder the smack the better.
We live in the age of institutionalised corruption. From politicians to judges, from senior bureaucrats to policemen, from corporate tycoons to petty officials, everyone it seems has a price. As journalists, our profession demands that we enquire, interrogate and expose corruption. So, when a Madhu Koda is jailed we rejoice that the law has caught up with a former chief minister. When allegations against a judge lead to impeachment, we express our satisfaction. When an infotech tsar is punished, we are hopeful of improved standards of corporate governance. But what happens when the camera turns inwards, when news itself has a price tag attached to it?
The recent controversy over 'paid news' that is undermining the very foundation of journalism strikes at the heart of a concept that we swear by: the principle of accountability. What moral right do we have in demanding action against other pillars of our democracy when we wink at the gathering storm in our own profession?
Journalists as a tribe tend to be cynical and self-righteous in equal measure. The cynicism leads us to believe that the glass is always half empty. Our self-righteous streak drives us into spasms of rage when we are accused of lowering ethical standards. This crisis calls for neither an overdose of cynicism nor another bout of self-righteousness. What is required is a robust pragmatism that not only accepts the problem confronting the profession but also sees it as an opportunity to restore falling credibility.
The first step is to understand what is 'paid news'. Some recent articles have tended to confuse legitimate 'advertorials' with the unethical 'sale' of news. The key lies in setting disclosure norms. If a politician/corporate house wishes to 'buy' editorial space or airtime, they can do so, but only if they adhere to rules of disclosure. It is when the political/commercial brand is plugged in a non-transparent manner, when an advertisement masquerades as news without a clear distinction in form or content to the reader or viewer, that the sanctity of news is violated.
Second, we need to realise that 'paid news' is not an overnight phenomenon that began with election 'packages'. Film and sports journalism, for example, has been forced to blur the lines with public relations for some time now. Corporate India has also been a step ahead of political India: 'private treaties' by which a newspaper enters into agreements with business groups to ensure favourable coverage in return for an equity stake in the company has been in existence for several years now. A political candidate who pays for favourable media coverage is not guaranteed victory, a corporate house through a 'private treaty' is almost guaranteed lasting immunity against journalistic 'objectivity'.
Third, we must recognise as to just why there is a growing temptation to opt for 'paid news'. In the case of elections, it is no secret that the Election Commission's attempt to control excessive expenditure by clamping down on rallies and publicity material has only led to political funding going 'underground': like liquor, paid news is part of this 'parallel' election machinery. With many regional politicians controlling cable networks and newspapers, the local media, in particular, is easily compromised.
Moreover, the nature of the news 'business' has fundamentally altered in recent years. The news space in television, and to an extent in print too, is increasingly cluttered and the financial pressures have only heightened in a competitive market. While the advertising pie has grown, it is offset by the growing expenditure. Newspaper cover prices or channel distribution revenues are still below accepted standards. So, 'paid news' has almost become a survival option for some, especially in regional markets. In the process, the 'Chinese wall' that existed between journalist and advertiser, between news and marketing has almost evaporated.
And yet, to blame the sharp-suited sales and marketing teams for 'legitimising' paid news would be to shirk our responsibility as journalists. The imprint of a newspaper carries the byline of an editor, not the proprietor or the marketing guru. It is the editor who is legally responsible for what is carried in a newspaper or telecast on a channel. A sales and marketing professional is paid to enhance revenues. An editorial professional is paid to improve the quality of content. Critical to this value addition are the notions of integrity and credibility, neither of which can be measured through hard cash. Unfortunately, with the declining role of the editor as the watchdog of news and the emergence of fly-by-night owners, a vacuum has been created that has led to a near-total breakdown of rules and standards.
If editors have been accomplices in the debasement of news, they must now take the lead role in restoring its sanctity. If every editor in this country agreed to follow a strict code of conduct in dealing with 'paid news', if there was an insistence on disclosure norms, there is every possibility that the cancer can be checked. Most right-thinking news organisations will realise that 'paid news' will eventually erode their brand, and it is for editors to put sufficient moral pressure through every available media forum to shame and isolate those who refuse to fall in line. It might be a slow process, but one whose success is critical to the future of this profession.
Post-script: at the recent editors guild annual meeting, one venerable editor from the old school of journalism was asked what he would do if he was forced to carry 'paid news'. "Pack my bags and do something else!" was the blunt reply.
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN Network
The views expressed by the author are personal
FED UP OF BOARD GAMES
Over the last decade and particularly since the advent of the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year and the Champions League, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has established itself as one of the sporting world's richest associations.
But sadly for Indian cricket, the adage that some people have more money than sense has been proven once and for all.
In the span of two consecutive One-Day Internationals (ODI), the billion dollar baby that is the BCCI has made itself into an international laughing stock.
This, at a time when the national side is celebrating being anointed as the number one Test team in the world, at least for the time being.
But instead of celebrations, the Indian cricket fraternity needs to face the bitter truth that the BCCI is dysfunctional apparently beyond repair.
This is evident from the fact that it refuses to learn from its mistakes.
During the inaugural IPL 2008 season, the lights went out at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on numerous occasions.
Of course, committees were formed and enquiries commissioned to find out what went wrong. But in India, as is well known by now, commissions and enquiries are a blatant waste of time and money.
Sure enough the Cricket Association of Bengal has formed a seven-member committee to look into the recent fiasco during the fourth ODI against Sri Lanka last week. Its results will never be known, at least not to the general public.
The only question remaining after Sunday's disgrace at the Ferozeshah Kotla is how many members will constitute the inevitable Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) enquiry committee! But then, if buck-passing were an Olympic event, we would be assured of a gold medal every four years.
The shame of the capital's cricket association being unable to provide a decent playing surface over the last few years has only cemented its place as the most incompetent of the many state units that make up the BCCI. And that is saying something.
A huge sum was reportedly spent on building stands and extending the capacity at what traditionally has been the most pathetic international stadium in the country. But then, what is the use of a cricket stadium without a pitch?
The rot within the BCCI is nothing new. But with Indian cricket now gleefully playing the role of the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the focus is on it like never before, particularly with the next World Cup (50 overs) in the sub-continent barely 18 months away.
The raging debate for sometime now in cricket circles is the future of Test cricket. To attend five consecutive days of cricket what spectators require are basic creature comforts.
Fanatical as they are, Indian spectators will brave sub-standard conditions for ODIs or 20/20 matches which are over in a day. But to expect them to go through this ordeal for the duration of a Test match is stretching things.
Cricket matches in England, South Africa and Australia in particular are family affairs with a picnic atmosphere and even outdoor barbeques.
But in India getting past obnoxious security, braving the elements without a roof over one's head, negotiating filthy toilets, stomaching the disgraceful food on offer and exorbitant prices to boot, all these go into making a trip to the cricket ground an ordeal rather than a pleasure.
But then, who cares? Not our power-hungry cricket officials, that's for sure.
Gulu Ezekiel is a Delhi-based senior sports journalist.
The updated edition of his book, Sachin: The Story of the World's Greatest Batsman (Penguin) will be released next month.
The views expressed by the author are personal
If a classic dichotomy between means and ends caused the Telangana imbroglio, that means has intensified the demand for several similar, yet distinct, ends. Although the first demand for a separate administrative set-up for Darjeeling was made around 1907, statehood for Gorkhaland seemed unfeasible as recently as last year. It has now, perhaps, evolved into a genuine case. Smaller states have been, in sum, good for India for one, they are easier to administer and develop. The case for Gorkhaland has been strengthened by Bengal's visibly deteriorating standards of governance. If governance has been abysmal in the state for a while now, in the Darjeeling hills, it has been near-absent for much longer, in a squandering of the opportunity for autonomy and
development once the Gorkha National Liberation Front's violent struggle had ended in 1988.
Nevertheless, the Left Front, the Trinamool and the Congress concur at the moment on opposing any division of the state. Should a consensus be sought, the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha is unlikely to get any. Moreover, the GJM chief Bimal
Gurung's statements about changing the nature of their struggle currently comprised of shutdowns, hunger strikes, squatting on highways and railroads, symbolic acts like replacing the phrase "West Bengal" with "Gorkhaland" on
address signs, etc and his hints about making the area ungovernable should anything less than a separate state be on offer add to the discomfort. There are also allegations of the GJM bullying other Gorkha political voices into silence. Gorkhaland is not a fait accompli; and the next round of talks which the GJM insist must be at a political level may not leave the GJM satisfied either. Meanwhile, hill parties must demonstrate their capability to make the Darjeeling district governable, that they are capable of managing a state and not repeating the avarice and lack of accountability of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council under Subhas Ghising.
There is, in fact, a bigger problem. Gurung's struggle is part of a search for Gorkha identity through a separate state, assuming that a political boundary defines and protects identity. Unlike Telangana, the demand for Gorkhaland has been traditionally voiced in ethnic terms. Dividing the state on ethnic grounds would be a recipe for eternal strife, with non-Gorkhas a minority in the hills and the Gorkhas out-populated in the plains in June 2008, the army had to be alerted in Siliguri. However, it is an altogether different matter to demand Gorkhaland for better administration and faster economic development.
First Home Minister P. Chidambaram and now the ministry that he heads have joined a chorus other members of which include judges of the Supreme Court that complaints submitted to a police station should always be registered as FIRs. This cannot really be imposed, of course, by fiat law and order is a state subject, so the call has to be taken by each state government. But the reasons that this chorus has formed are impressive. After all, as things stand, the FIR is the only way the criminal justice system can be set in motion. But, since then the police are forced to act, the local police have an incentive to not register your complaint over and above any interference with the process, such as appears to have happened in the Ruchika case. If your FIR isn't registered, you have few and difficult options. You can complain to a senior policeman (SP and above); file a private complaint in court; or go to the NHRC.
Yet, while there are excellent reasons to suppose that many legitimate complaints are not being filed, and so action cannot be taken against negligent cops and even reasonable statistics on crime rates are hard to come by the states are likely to raise many objections to any move to make the registration of FIRs compulsory. These concerns are very valid indeed. Harassment once an FIR has already been filed, of frivolous FIRs being taken advantage of by the occasional unscrupulous official in the criminal investigation and even the judicial hierarchy is already common. Nor will compulsory registration mean the system cannot be suborned later. It is a sobering thought that what is being asked for is that the FIR which is, in the end, a potent instrument, the unleashing of the might of the law be handed over to absolutely anyone with a complaint against the world. Can an effort to ensure the police do their duty merely legislate that their duty be done?
The key problem is that there is no onus on the police officer to register, no direct liability if he fails to register. But dealing with excessive discretion by taking away all discretion will clearly have severe repercussions. Enforcing accountability by statute is, as our columnist pointed out on these pages recently, a problematic idea. Getting more legitimate complaints registered is an unquestioned necessity. But recording all complaints might not be the way to get there.
If pitch gazing was an official hobby like star gazing or bird watching people associated with Indian cricket would be its foremost connoisseurs. Often, on the eve of a match, watching members of the Indian team spend hours trying to read the surface, and listening to the media talk endlessly about what lies beneath, has made me wonder if the sport is only about the 22-yard strip, or also about batting, bowling and fielding.
The obsession reaches such alarming levels on occasion, that Test matches are lost the day before they start rather than after the first few sessions.
Here's an example from recent history. In the spring of 2002, the sun index was high, and in the corner of the ground, three Rastafarians in knitted caps and loose slacks had turned up their stereo, ensuring Bob Marley lived on in Kingston town 21 years after his death. It was the afternoon before the fifth and final Test between India and West Indies, and in the centre, the mood in the Indian think-tank was in stark contrast to those dreadlocked locals, as the outfield mingled almost homogeneously with the pitch for the deciding match of the 1-1 series.
For Indian cricket, the colour green is usually associated with fear and insecurity, with confidence being shattered, with imminent defeat. Captains start praying for the coin to fall their way the following morning, for the chance to bowl first and save their batsmen from the ignominy of a paltry double-digit total. On that occasion, Sourav Ganguly got his wish, and his counterpart Carl Hooper smirked as he indicated to his dressing room that they would bat first. First wicket, 111; second wicket, 246; end of match, West Indies won by 155 runs. The wicket had turned out to be a batting beauty, and India had panicked because of the grass cover.
In a country so deeply obsessed with pitches, it is surprising how little resources and expertise India invests on tracks made here. The national board's various state associations have dished out a series of pitches over the years that have ranged from downright boring to utterly decrepit either ensuring runs by the kilo or wickets by the litre. And then, every once in a while, as if for good measure, they throw up a track on which cricket ceases to be a sport, and batting becomes a game of survival in the rawest sense of the word. Replace Sudeep Tyagi with Allan Donald at the Ferozeshah Kotla last Sunday, for example, and the result could have been disastrous.
What happened during the last India vs Sri Lanka one-dayer was a one-off, sure, but there was also a strange pattern behind it. That's why not everyone in the know was surprised to see the ball dart off a length, and behave like it was a missile programmed to cause injury. The Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) had this coming after the amateurish way in which it had handled the central square over the last five years digging and relaying on a whim.
Only two one-day internationals have been abandoned due to a sub-standard pitch, and they've both been in India. Only one country in recent years has been officially censured for making turning tracks that are against the spirit of the game after Mumbai, 2004 and Kanpur, 2008. And only one cricket board is accused repeatedly of turning out wickets that are killing the game because of their lopsided, batsmen-friendly nature.
It's not because India doesn't have the money to ensure proper expertise; and it's definitely not because it doesn't care enough. On the contrary, after mulling over this problem for the last couple of days, my view is that reasons for this constant bungling are: one, there is too much money to burn; and two, there is so much fear of what the wicket will throw up, and how it will affect the home team's chances, that the groundsmen overcompensate one way or the other. As a result, in an attempt to play safe, they turn out pitches either too benign or downright unplayable.
The people who work on the pitches are, in fact, the ones who should be blamed last. It's a problem that comes from the top and makes its way down the hierarchy (like the layers on a pitch: clay, sand, gravel, brick). Eventually the groundsman the smallest man in the chain of command, who is sometimes an electrician, sometimes a fireman is left with too many instructions and too little scientific expertise to make anything out of them.
In most other countries, being a pitch curator is a career option. You decide early, study the science behind the art, and spend time as an assistant before the ground is finally handed over to you. The job ensures enough money for a home and a car, and the responsibility that
what you are producing is yours alone no instructions from the board's head honchos, no suggestions from the team's captain, and no unreasonable last-minute requests from a spinner or an opening batsman that can't be turned down.
There have indeed been occasions when Indian groundsmen have turned out a perfectly suitable wicket, but their consistency level is so low that it seems more by accident than by design. Going forward, the steps that Indian cricket has to take are simple enough educate and train groundsmen, hire foreign experts, research various soils and find out which is suitable for pitch-making in various climatic conditions, stop interfering once a suitable curator has been appointed, and ensure accountability by punishing venues that don't make the cut.
But, apart from these must-dos that the BCCI should have woken up to years ago, the need of the hour is also a change in mindset as far as pitches are concerned. If matches were won and lost only depending on where they were being played, cricket would be no more than a simulation. Since the nature of wickets in most countries remains constant over a fairly long period of time, Indian cricket's fear of the known is as inexplicable as the reluctance to set its house in order.
Fashion speaks a language that transcends boundaries. Look beyond the glossy magazines and over-priced labels. It's a medium of expression yet somehow comment on fashion is manifestly missing.
As the recession gripped world economies the fashion world was quick to adjust. Born were catchphrases "recessionista" magazines were darker, outlook gloomier. But now British Vogue's January 2010 issue has injected a burst of colour, adjusting perhaps to the recovery. Surely some readers have noticed but failed to express an opinion.
Why is that? Is it because fashion the type that is more art than prêt-a-porter (ready to wear) is considered a commodity for the elite? After all, look at a runway, look at the pictures in your tabloid.
What do you see?
Familiar faces, the celebrities: the usual suspects, the mega-rich. Designers that identify with a celebrity and born is the muse, who will define a new line. The web can grow even more complex. Enter the PR agencies.
Those, with their hyper-controlled guest lists and tightly vetted entrants nurture a clique and so a circle is born the so-called "fashion crowd". The fashion crowd is notoriously incestuous so, should a collection not cut the mark, the observers choose to remain silent. Because the saving grace of bad fashion is its own planned obsolescence. A collection lasts only a few months and the designer can be forgiven. He is an artist. Artists are allowed slip-ups "next time round" they quietly murmur to each other.
This set-up is blatantly unnatural and in it, one fails to grasp the importance of fashion as a medium of expression. I believe that art should carry with it a powerful message, a message whose function is to inform or convey knowledge to those who can access it. Is this not what painted art and literature strive to achieve? Is this not what the creative process is all about?
Why not the fashion world too?
Those who view fashion as a good only for a certain class and their ilk are, ironically, out of date. Maison couture or fashion houses such as Chanel, YSL, Bvlgari were born at a specific point in the development of the fashion industry, coinciding with the peak of the old-style industrial economy. The robes were passed from the old aristocracy to industrialists but this is all changing now.
The muse has broken her shackles and is now a creator.
Look at Kate Moss. It took a fixture of the "fashion crowd" to create momentum towards the democratisation of fashion. Her lines for H&M and Topshop the high street option have done the previously unthinkable by taking couture to the masses. So, again the question: If fashion is edging towards a more open and critical public, where is the corresponding debate on it?
With the onslaught of magazines and countless websites dedicated to it, fashion is now more accessible than ever. Designers are more willing to engage with their public and are more open to a trickling-down fashion industry.
Other forms of expression be it art, cinema or literature have created for themselves and allowed for forums for discussion. If an art exhibition disappoints it is lambasted by the (over-)abundant bunch of critics. Any person, no matter how clued-in, knows they can derive or not aesthetic value from a painted canvas. Technology has created the space for critical evaluation anyone with a blog can be a movie critic. This type of engagement between the public and the fashion designers is unfortunately narrow.
Fashion is one of the most coded, visual forms of expression, the kind of thing that should make of everyone a critic. (And it can be more personal: when judging fiction the author merely provides context the written text is allowed to speak for itself. But for fashion this tendency is not so much the design and designer become intrinsically intertwined.) If other arts have harnessed a critical following, why has the Vogue-dominated fashion world not?
Because of the internal politics of the fashion world. Newspapers no longer serve as primary critical centres, passing the task down to magazine editors and stylists. As the filters of a collection and backers of a fashion house, appraisal takes a back seat.
But this too will change in the coming decade.
With the increased relevance of new media the tight grip on comment will undoubtedly loosen. The fashion world is conscious of this look at the decision by Anna Wintour (the devil in The Devil Wears Prada) to replace the uber-skinny model with a fuller, "realer" woman on January 2010's American Vogue.
As the fashion world adjusts to our reality, isn't it time we start poking their creations a bit?
REDRAFTING THE CITY
The preparations for the Commonwealth Games 2010 (CWG) are expected to result in a dramatic makeover for Delhi. Long neglected historic monuments are being spruced up and major roads beautified; new or refurbished sports venues will dominate the cityscape; 'world-class' street lighting and signage are being installed; new flyovers (the Chief Minister proudly describes Delhi as a "city of flyovers"), subways, pedestrian overbridges and other traffic management schemes to mitigate the chaos and congestion on Delhi's roads are planned. Money does not appear to be a constraint; consequently, the whole city resembles a massive construction site.
Holding the CWG in Delhi was a contentious issue from the beginning: some saw it as an opportunity to improve the city's image and infrastructure, while others balked at the extravagance and misdirected priorities that underpin such ventures. Nevertheless, among the several projects being undertaken, two should be highlighted because not only are they innovative initiatives, but their benefits are incontrovertible and have the potential to make the city a better place for all its inhabitants. The first is The Heritage City project; the second, the traffic management scheme for the area around the new MCD Civic Centre, located near the crowded New Delhi Railway Station and in the cordon sanitaire Lutyens created to separate Shahjahanabad and New Delhi. One will redirect the gaze of the city's opinion-makers from Shanghai and Beijing to the city's own incomparable architectural heritage; the second, will help redefine the meaning of urbanity by linking Shahjahanabad and New Delhi through a rational and humane traffic management system.
Much of the now discredited hype surrounding the 'India shining' political slogan has unfortunately been transferred into making Delhi a 'world-class' city. The renewal of the city is undoubtedly long overdue, but the visions guiding the process are dubious: shining glass towers, gated enclaves, sprawling malls and acres of asphalt and concrete to accommodate the ever increasing number of cars. The Heritage City project contests such visions. It proposes instead to make Delhi a 'world-class' city for the rich and poor, by focusing on the city's own architectural heritage and in the process developing a rooted sense of place which is absent among decision-makers, who, by default, look for foreign models to emulate. For example, the city has three World Heritage Sites (Qutab Minar, Humayun's Tomb and Red Fort) and over 170 monuments of national significance protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). And if one takes into account the unique colonial heritage and several post-Independence architectural landmarks, one realises that Delhi in fact possesses an enviable plenitude of architectural riches. Ultimately, the project envisages having Delhi declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO. There are over 220 World Heritage Cities in the world, but not a single one in India. Not that India lacks its share of heritage cities which qualify for that status, but no one least of all the ASI has sought that recognition. Yet as in the case of Rome and Athens, for instance such recognition makes citizens proud of the significance of their heritage and simultaneously boosts tourism. Delhi and many other Indian cities have the same potential to exploit.
Work has commenced to renovate Coronation Park (where New Delhi was declared the capital of India in 1911), Jama Masjid precinct and Red Fort, Feroze Shah Kotla, Purana Quila, Humayun's Tomb, Lodhi Garden Tombs, Connaught Place, Gole Market, Mehrauli Archaeological Park and several other long-neglected historic sites. Simultaneously, 250 unprotected monuments are being accorded legal protection by the Delhi government and almost 1,000 others will be notified as heritage buildings by local municipalities. Plans for conserving many of these monuments will include environmental improvement and make them easily accessible for public use. A proposal to introduce a hop-on-hop-off tourist bus service, organise heritage walks and produce attractive heritage related literatures is also being worked out. When this heritage-related infrastructure is in place, the image of the city would have been rewritten and a substantial part of the homework to apply to UNESCO for the World Heritage City status for Delhi would have been accomplished.
The second project, the traffic management scheme around MCD's Civic Centre, also has the potential to rewrite the city. Earlier attempts to tame Delhi's traffic had run afoul of the elite car-using public who thwarted attempts to rationally restructure road space on more equitable terms. However, the idea is slowly sinking in among urban planners that the Metro and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) are the best modes of transport in Delhi, or indeed, in any 'world class' city. This requires the provision of exclusive lanes for BRT, segregated tracks for cyclists and non-motorised vehicles and user-friendly pavements for pedestrians. Inevitably, such provisions will result in limiting the space for cars and cause congestion during peak hours. This should encourage commuters to changeover from personal motorised modes and use public transport as in other 'world class' cities instead of crying foul and stopping the changes necessary to cope with the mounting traffic problems of the city. The MCD Civic Centre's traffic management scheme begins to put these ideas into practice on a large scale. It eschews flyovers, subways and multi-lane signal-free roads, which are routinely touted as 'solutions' to traffic problems all over the city. At the Civic Centre precinct such 'solutions' would have displaced the heterogeneous activities and life-styles abounding in that area. More importantly, it would have forever sealed the possibility of integrating Shahjahanabad with New Delhi. Fortunately, MCD acted boldly to change tack and opt for a public transport based traffic management strategy with adequate space for pedestrians and non-motorised vehicles to cater to the travel demands that will be generated once the Civic Centre becomes operational. This project, particularly when it is extended to other parts of the city, will significantly impact the image of the city and how it is experienced by a majority of inhabitants and visitors.
Thus, in the interstices of the more glamorous and publicly celebrated stadia and mega-infrastructure projects spawned by the CWG, the city is quietly being rewritten to create a better habitat for all.
The author is an architect, urban planner and convenor, INTACH Delhi Chapter.
THE MOMENTOUS MOMENTS
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. 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 per cent 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 recession, in which 75 per cent 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 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.
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.
C. RAJA MOHAN
As Beijing debates the policy implications of its rise to great power status, its media is actively promoting a discussion on how deep should China be drawn into the international efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. Three broad views have begun to emerge.
All of them highlight the importance of China undertaking the responsibilities that come with being a great power. They all agree that Afghanistan is a vital region on the Chinese frontiers and that bringing peace and stability to the war torn nation in Beijing's vital interest.
The first view argues that Beijing should stop seeing Afghanistan as an exclusive problem of the United States and recognise it as a long-term challenge to China's own security. It goes on to say that "China possesses almost unlimited resources and capability to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan and by providing substantive support, China can help the reconstruction of Afghanistan for the benefit of the Afghan people as well as its neighbours."
A second view is more cautions and points to the many negative consequences of a military involvement in Afghanistan. These include the prospect of Chinese homeland and its personnel and assets abroad becoming a target of Islamist radicalism and terrorism, as Beijing gets sucked into the Afghan quagmire.
It also underlines the possibility of the 'China threat' theory gaining ground in the region and the world, and points to likely large scale casualties among the Chinese troops deployed in Afghanistan. It therefore argues that China should stick to "purely diplomatic and humanitarian" contributions to
A third view underlines a middle path. It suggests sending Chinese police and paramilitary forces into Afghanistan rather than the army. Such an approach would increase Chinese role in Afghanistan as well as signal Beijing's commitment to regional security.
Its emphasis on sending police and paramilitary is circumscribed by a number of caveats. "China should not send police to aid the war in Afghanistan, or to help to search Osama bin Laden in the remote mountains. Instead, they should be sent to help the Afghan government to safeguard the construction projects aided or invested by the Chinese government." The analysis adds that "the Chinese government should first of all get the permission from their Afghan counterparts".
Working with Pak
Delhi will find it interesting that the Chinese debate is now pointing to the benefits of Sino-Pak strategic coordination in Afghanistan. One view suggests that "any joint action between China and Pakistan relating to Afghanistan will be a natural outgrowth of their many decades of strategic partnership. It will be welcomed by many people in both China and Pakistan and will be more acceptable to the Afghan people."
Another view underlines that "China, which shares a common border with both Afghanistan and Pakistan and enjoys close and strategic relations with Pakistan, is one of the few countries, if not the only one, which can substantively help to make a major difference in the Afghan status quo."
Partnership with Pakistan, of course, is only one element that has already positioned Beijing as a powerful future player in Afghanistan. If and when the United States starts reducing its footprint in Afghanistan, the Sino-Pak partnership would become a powerful force in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, China is stepping up its contact with all the other sub-regional forces in western and northern Afghanistan, besides cultivating strong bonds with the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul.
Even before it draws down its military forces, Washington is already pressing Beijing to take more responsibilities in Afghanistan. Whatever move that China makes towards Afghanistan in the next year will be hailed by all as a big favour to regional security and stability. As the world welcomes a larger Chinese role in Afghanistan, Delhi might be tempted to sulk. Isn't it smarter for India to initiate a dialogue with China on Afghanistan instead of simply objecting to it?
Digging the past China's archaeologists say they have found a nearly 1,800-year-old tomb belonging to the legendary ruler Cao Cao, who is known for his tyranny as well as military acumen. The archaeological discoveries in China during the recent years have been at once dramatic and unending. If the Indian political classes can't stop fighting over the past, the Chinese communists are investing massively in discovering and salvaging it.
The writer is Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
THE TELANGANA RIFT
The TDP and the Left consider each other natural allies. But the Telangana crisis has forced at least one Left party the CPI to train its guns at Chandrababu Naidu. As it is, the CPI differs with the CPM on the question of formation of Telangana. CPI Deputy General Secretary S Sudhakar Reddy launched a rare attack on Naidu in the latest edition of party mouthpiece New Age for dilly-dallying onTelangana. It promised to support a resolution for carving out a separate state but later backed out.
"The credibility of Telugu Desam has gone down as they did not keep their promise and TDP and PRP both almost split into groups led by regional leaders fighting against each other," he says. Although he believes that Congress is to be blamed for the present mess, he observes that the TDP leadership has shown "opportunism brazenly." The main message, however, is for the Centre to show "more maturity" to resolve the impasse.
Although the Suresh Tendulkar committee has found that around 37 per cent of Indians live in poverty much higher than government figures the CPM feels that the UPA may consider revising its poverty estimates.
The reason poverty figures matter because they provide the numbers of people to whom government schemes aimed at addressing the worst forms of deprivation are to be "targeted." Since targeting is in fashion, a reasonable estimate of those who deserve the benefit of these schemes is necessary. "If the number of those targeted is kept small because of an inappropriate poverty incidence estimate, the social legitimacy the government seeks through these schemes would not be garnered...In practice, therefore, the numbers identified as BPL for implementing government sponsored schemes were much higher than those seen as below the poverty line as per the official poverty incidence figures," an article in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy argues.
It says that a report prepared by a former Planning Commission member for the rural development ministry had argued that the proportion of BPL population should be closer to 50 per cent, opening doors to poverty incidence figures that would require budgetary outlays for targeted schemes that would trouble a fiscally conservative government. "Thus, since it has managed to legitimise targeting, a method that delivers a middling poverty figure suits the government," it says noting that while there is a cosy convergence in the views of the Tendulkar committee and the government, the poor are not left any better.
Compiled by Manoj C.G
CORRIDOR OF COOPERATION
Maruti Suzuki and the Delhi Metro are perhaps the most visible signs of the modern India-Japan partnership. The first was inked in the pre-liberalisation era in the 1980s. With the likes of Volkswagen and Renault demanding high equity to manufacture a small car for India, Suzuki came on board with a willingness to begin with just 26% equity. Today, Maruti Suzuki sells half of all cars in Indiaan increasingly important market in global terms. As for the Delhi Metro Rail network, over a billion commuters have used it in the last seven years. This showcase of the wonders that public infrastructure projects can deliver when they work to deadlines and within budgets owes a big debt to the Japanese, tooin terms of both financing and know-how. Japan has also been India's largest aid donor since 1986. It's against such a backdrop that the Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama's current visit to India assumes significance. This visit provides both sides an opportunity to take stock of whether or not they have been optimising strong, historical linkages.
An important agreement that Hatoyama's delegation has signed concerns funding for the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor development project, which is being galvanised along the sides of the 1,480-km dedicated freight corridor between the two cities. This rail link is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by Indian Railways. Its beneficiaries range across power houses, mines, ports, manufacturing units, agriculture, services and the people of various states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Also worth noting is Hatoyama's assurance to Indian industrialists that he will be seriously considering the option of directly linking the rupee and yen. This would allow Japanese companies to invest in India directly, something that India should pursue given that Japan's investments here are 1/20th of those in China. This is not to deny that FDI from Japan trebled to $5.4 billion in 2008 as compared to $1.8 billion in 2007, but to emphasise that India and Japan can forge much stronger ties today given that their relationship predates liberalisation. For its part, India has announced that Japan is one of the five countries for which it's considering a visa-on-arrival scheme. Other measures that will streamline bilateral ties and cut through existing red tapes must be expedited as well, especially as the Delhi-Mumbai corridor promises a big multiplier effectcreating employment, wealth and so on. The Japanese are even promising state-of-the-art technologies that will help the region develop into both a globally competitive and an eco-friendly manufacturing and trading centre.
OIL'S PRICEY, AGAIN
At the beginning of 2009 there was very little to cheer about, at least on all economic matters and indicators. The world had just gone through three months of an unprecedented financial crisis, which quite quickly translated into a recession in the real economy. The only silver lining in all the gloom was the easing up of oil prices. From a peak close to $150 per barrel in the summer of 2008, crude oil prices averaged below $40 per barrel in January 2009, a considerable fall in just six months. Obviously, recession pulled down demand sufficiently to put downward pressure on prices. For the UPA government, which had burnt a hole in the fiscal deficit by compensating oil marketing companies for their losses, the easing of prices just before the general election was welcome. Oil marketing companies tend to go into the red once the price of crude crosses the $60-65 mark. Unfortunately, the government missed the perfect opportunity to deregulate oil prices and link them directly to global prices. The ideal time to do this was when crude prices were still hovering between $30 and $40 per barrel. Even if the UPA government did not want to risk such a move before the general election, it had the opportunity to push deregulation of prices when it was returned to power in May.
Now, at the end of 2009, oil prices are close to $80 per barrel. Some of the 12% surge in just the last two weeks is because of a pickup in winter demand (for heating) in the US and in other Western countries. But the steady rise in crude prices isn't simply about a temporary rise in demand. Oil futures are trading at around $90 per barrel, which suggests that investors are betting on a sustained global recovery that will increase the demand for oil. Even at $78 per barrel, oil marketing companies are making losses. If it goes up further, the government will have to dole out subsidy, which it cannot afford. Key Opec members are on record saying that they favour a price of between $70-80 per barrel in 2010a higher price weakens the dollar and therefore the dollar assets held by oil exporting countries. But Opec's comfort level exceeds ours. There is no good reason for the government to continue to administer prices of oil products. In fact, such subsidies run contrary to the spirit of efforts to mitigate climate change. Deregulating prices will rationalise the consumption of oil and its derivative products, will reduce the fiscal burden, and help climate change efforts. But having missed the ideal moment for deregulation earlier this year, will the government bite the bullet in 2010?
FREE MARKET ISN'T TO BLAME FOR POVERTY
The forecast that the Indian economy is expected to grow at the rate of 8% in the near future will certainly be music to many ears. The current spurt in industrial production, increases in advanced tax receipts of the government, and influx of foreign portfolio investment into Indian capital markets indicate that the industrial and service sectors in India are wriggling out of recession. However, one nagging question remains: for whom is the slowdown coming to an end?
At one level, the question is trivial. Since this has been an industrial slowdown, a recovery brings good news to those who would find gainful employment in the sector or could become a part of the vast supply chains or are in some way related to the set of industries poised for resurgent growth.
However, this story leaves out the lives of other people living away from industrial clusters in conditions of low income, poor health, inadequate education and the lack of opportunities in a society still dominated by religion, caste and immobile social hierarchy. Of course, this chain of thought is repeated in almost every discourse on political economy and growth. I, however, strongly disagree with the typical leftist academicians/ politicians that the growth process worsens inequality and free market policies that promote growth should be curbed. Nor do I agree with the Kuznets curve theory (depicting an inverted U-shaped relationship between inequality and growth) which says that economic growth must widen inequality. Of course, concern for a non-inclusive process of growth is genuine, but one must get the perspective right.
First, the Kuznets curve has been calculated for a very long-run period starting with the 1800s. Since much of our growth has taken place in the last 10 years, the appropriate relationship that one should investigate is the one between the rate of reduction of poverty and growth of per capita income. And then compare the pre- and post-1991 period to see whether status quo has been maintained or not. Second, the Kuznets ratio (ratio between income of the top 10% of the population and the income of the bottom 10%) is 7 in India while the same figure is 16 for the US, 6.1 for Norway, 85 for Brazil and 63 for Venezuela. This indicates that at least in absolute terms, we are not faring worse. Third, the Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality that lies between 0 and 1 (with 1 being the most unequal and 0 being most equal) for India is 0.33. The similar figures for the US, EU and Australia are 0.46, 0.36 and 0.35, respectively, with the caveat that Gini is measured in terms of consumption expenditure in India instead of income elsewhere.
While these facts should silence the critics of free market policies, the more disturbing figures come from elsewhere. The educational Gini of the country is around 0.56 and it ranks India 104th among 125 nations. Less than 2% of the poorest sections of society complete high school . These facts together with other miserable human development indices point out a simple truth. Many Indians will miss any resurgence of the industrial sector because they lack education and human capital.
In an important piece of research work, Kaushik Basu and James Foster discuss how the presence of a literate person in an otherwise illiterate family could create a positive externality for the rest in making better decisionsboth economic and non-economic. Though their work is in the context of measurement of literacy, it has a direct policy implication. If the government selects one person each from the poorest families and introduces them to a process of education that ends with acquisition of cognitive and vocational skills that are readily marketable to segments of the industrial or service sectors, it would act as a big push to overall accumulation of human capital.
To achieve this, what we need is a massive education guarantee scheme similar to NREG. Though much more expensive, because of commitment of funds for a sustained period of five to seven years for each person, it has great benefits as well. The externality argument of Basu and Foster implies that an increment of one literate person in a family or neighbourhood would generate a 'multiplier' of informed and semi-educated persons by association and connectivity with the newly educated person and would thus reduce social costs of bringing others into mainstream economic life. That is, while NREG can prevent the level of poverty from rising, a similar policy on education would make the upward movement of lower strata of the population more feasible.
Of course, the design of such a programme (format of the specific skills to be acquired), its implementation (via panchayats, NGOs or school vouchers to introduce elements of competition) and evaluation (measured by the number of people acquiring concrete and marketable skill at the end of such a programme) are thorny issues and need to be resolved.
The author is reader in finance at Essex University
WHAT NEXT FOR THE DISMAL SCIENCE?
I have an eminent colleague who loves to chat about the disarray in the global economy. Each time we enter into a discussion he insinuates that I am personally responsible for the global crisis, as a card-carrying economist. How could I not see the financial upheaval coming? How is it that economists cannot come to agreement on clear and intuitive remedies? This academic comrade happens to be a mathematician who has strayed now into computer science. He does have a sense of humour, but he is not jesting when he grumbles about economists.
The middle fortnight in December is a frenzied time when thousands of sharp, eager and able high school seniors from around the world make their way to Cambridge for their university admission interviews. My scholarly friend did not miss the cue to ask if there were any credible takers at all this year for the dismal science! In the event, there was an embarrassment of riches among economics candidates. But my friend had an excellent point. What kinds of students commit themselves in times such as these to the study of economics?
For well over two decades now, through the golden years of finance, economics was the subject of choice for bright students who wanted to transmute themselves into investment bankers. Clever and hard-working, they mastered theory, techniques, empirics and even the intellectually imperious spirit of the subject during their university years but could not wait to parachute into the financial district and astronomical compensation packages. It was enough to make many of their teachers despair, and to turn not a few, envious!
But this year is different. Aspirants to the art of economics are just as clever and persevering, but are more thoughtful. For one, there is the Freakonomics effect. Some high school students who have dipped into analytical economic arguments written up in the style of popular science by Levitt and Dubner, and also by Tim Hartford, have found it 'really cool' that economists are never at a loss when offering at least partial explanations for almost anything under the sun, including love and sex! It is empowering at that crucial age to feel that ingenuity can help bring a small set of principles to bear on any issue and illuminate key forces that drive the process. This is of course a cause for despondency among other social scientists who feel that insight which comes without deep and costly groundwork on the specifics of particular situations is cheap and worse, fatal. Be that as it may, Dubner, Levitt and Hartford have helped to attract very talented students to economics in the last couple of years.
But the vein is richer this year; there is a definite move away from mere cleverness. There is a more genuine interest in learning about how the fragile edifice of the economy really works. There is more enthusiasm for understanding econ-omic institutions, economic psychology and even economic history. There is a clearer sense of vocation, knowing that a malfunctioning economy can destroy millions of everyday lives. To paraphrase Robert Lucas, the noted economics Nobel Prize winner: "The consequences for human welfare in questions (relating to sound functioning of the economy) are staggering. Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think of anything else."
The world is going to need exceptional economists. A simple metaphor that I used to explain to my friend the challenge that economists face goes as follows: think of a rich ecology in which evolution is speeded upa world in which new species form in a matter of weeks rather than over millions of years. In the rich network of interconnections in this system there will be numerous, unmeasured, direct and indirect, cause and effect links between things. There will be many feedback loops simultaneously working through and producing complex dynamics. The task is to get a grip on problems that arise and possible solutions to them in a similar system, and to do this in real time. There is going to (have to) be a huge creative renaissance in economics.
The great depression spawned economists of the highest calibre. A great example was Paul Samuelson, who died this month at the age of 94. He was 'born' into economics in 1932 (he was 17) thanks to the first great recession. Mathematical modelling of economic phenomena is what Samuelson is known for, but he was of course a most insightful and successful policy advisor, alert to imperfections of markets and the need for their regulation. The resurgent John Maynard Keynes too was driven to economics impelled by a recession: his very first economics research paper, published exactly one hundred years ago, was on 'the effect of the recent global economic downturn on India'.
The author teaches economics at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, and is a fellow of Corpus Christi College
FINALLY, A SHIFT TO NATURAL GAS
Indian industry's energy consumption pattern finally started shifting toward natural gas in 2009. This has led to a drastic reduction in consumption of liquid fuels like naphtha by sectors like power and fertiliser. Natural gas is a clean source of energy and is environment friendly. But the government's efforts in the past to direct a shift in India's energy usage pattern towards natural gas had been hobbled by the wide gap in the domestic demand-supply of the natural gas. The fact that international prices of natural gas were prohibitively high also did not help.
For example, the Union power ministry had envisaged a sizeable chunk of its capacity addition in the 10th Plan based on natural gas. However, most of these projects could not be commissioned in the absence of fuel linkage. The result was that coal continues to remain a fuel of choice for power generators and accounts for more than 50% of India's primary energy consumption.
This trend has changed after Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) started production from its D6 block in the KG basin in April. Fertiliser and power plants are switching to natural gas. This has helped fertiliser manufacturers to cut cost and increase production. That has in turn led to a reduction of Rs 4,000 crore in the government's fertiliser subsidy burden. As per statistics available with the government, the fertiliser industry's naphtha consumption declined by 64% this year.
Increased domestic availability of natural gas has led to a significant improvement in the power generation sector. Electricity generation from gas-based power plants was 30% higher during April-October this year. That led to a significant reduction in electricity shortage.
Meanwhile, the impact of KG basin gas on the country's industrial production became clear, with the mining sector registering double-digit growth in the last two quarters. Significantly, KG basin gas started impacting Indian industry's energy consumption even when the D6 block was producing much below the potential. Now that RIL has ramped up production from 40 million metric standard cubic metre per day (mmscmd) to 80 mmscmd, the pace of change is expected to gain momentum.
THE ROT BEYOND RATHORE
If the appalling facts surrounding the case of sexual molestation of a 14-year-old girl by a senior Haryana police officer, S.P.S. Rathore, have transfixed the nation, this is because of the blatant manner in which the accused was able to use his position to subvert the course of justice. Even in a country inured to the rich, powerful, and shameless getting away, the full spectrum dominance unleashed on the helpless girl's family by Rathore set a new low. And yet, the instant case is not just a morality play about the criminality of one man. It is a cautionary tale about the multiple layers of protection that well-connected offenders enjoy in the Indian criminal justice system by design and default. Subversion begins right after the offence is committed, when the victim finds it impossible to get the local police to register a first information report. Despite numerous court rulings and official guidelines on this matter, police stations around the country routinely refuse to file FIRs against police officers, politicians, and other influential notables. And even if a case is filed, the police often join hands with the accused person's lawyers to ensure the matter gets delayed for years on end. The foisting of false cases on the family of Rathore's victim was another old trick the police officer resorted to.
Rathore and men like him are able to get away with such abuses of authority because they are ever ready to commit similar illegalities for their political masters. Unless meaningful police reforms are introduced, this problem will not go away. The Indian system is also surprisingly lenient towards law enforcement officers who try and frame innocent citizens. In the Shopian case involving the suspicious death of two Kashmiri women, the Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the circumstances of their death, went a step further and filed criminal charges against a number of individuals who had allegedly sought to incriminate the security forces in the incident. But the same CBI, which took up the Rathore case and came across indisputable evidence of police vendetta against his victim's brother, did not see fit to file charges against Rathore and all the subordinate policemen involved in the malicious prosecution of the young man on bogus accusations of auto theft. Even at this late stage, it is essential that the CBI be tasked with unearthing the identity of the dozens of bureaucrats, policemen, and politicians who conspired with Rathore to pervert the course of justice. Haryana's former DGP must get his legal comeuppance; but those who helped him all these years must also get their due.
DISGRACE AT FEROZESHAH KOTLA
The fiasco at New Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla, where the playing surface was deemed too dangerous for play during the fifth ODI between India and Sri Lanka, showed Indian cricket in unflattering light. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) have several uncomfortable questions to answer. Despite curators at the Kotla as well as the BCCI's pitches committee stating that the wicket square, re-laid after the IPL was shifted to South Africa, required at least a year to settle, the ground hosted the Champions League T20 and an ODI between India and Australia in October. The pitches for both occasions were criticised (although for a different reason for being low and slow). A damning indictment came in November when an ICC team, inspecting the stadium in connection with the 2011 World Cup, found that the pitch block required further improvement if it were to be acceptable for the match on December 27. Despite the many warning signals, disaster was invited. The question is: are India's administrators, who proudly proclaim their success at monetising the game, really up to handling cricket's intricacies?
As is the case with failure, the episode contains significant lessons. Disbanding the centralised pitches committee, as the BCCI has done, seems little more than an exercise in deflecting the blame. The Board would do better by investigating the ICC team's observation of differences in opinion between the local curators and the centralised committee. Detail is everything in matters as complex as pitch preparation, and the administration must have in charge of the investigation impartial experts aware of the subtleties of the subject. The Board also owes the public an explanation of why it scheduled cricket at the Kotla despite being cautioned against it. Delhi's future as host of the World Cup is deservedly in jeopardy: should the ICC find the surface "unfit," which is match referee Alan Hurst's assessment, Kotla's international status could be suspended for a period of between 12 and 24 months. But if the ICC's evaluation finds the surface merely "poor," a less serious offence, the venue will at most incur a fine not exceeding $15,000. India's administrators don't deserve to get off on a technicality. What they do next will be followed closely. Already a dismaying example has been set by the DDCA: association member Kirti Azad walked out of Tuesday's annual general meeting, alleging he was insulted. It now falls on the BCCI, the world's richest cricketing body, to show it can act with transparency and accountability, virtues it is rarely credited with.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
POWERING A DYNAMIC, MULTIPOLAR ASIA
Given that the balance of power in Asia will be determined by events as much in the Indian Ocean rim as in East Asia, India and Japan have to work together to promote peace and stability.
The visit of the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, is part of Japan's growing economic and strategic engagement with India. Japan and India indeed are natural allies because they have no conflict of strategic interest and actually share common goals to build stability, power equilibrium and institutionalised multilateral cooperation in Asia. There is neither any negative historical legacy nor a single outstanding political issue between them. If anything, each country enjoys a high positive rating with the public in the other state.
Mr. Hatoyama's year-end visit, fulfilling a bilateral commitment to hold an annual summit meeting, shows he is keen to maintain the priority on closer engagement with India that was set in motion by his predecessors, Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), now in the opposition. Mr. Hatoyama came to office vowing to reorient Japanese foreign policy and seek an "equal" relationship with the United States. But he and his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had said little on India.
Today, just when America's Sino-centric Asia policy has became unmistakable, Mr. Hatoyama's government has put Washington on notice that Japan cannot indefinitely remain a faithful servant of U.S. policies. With Tokyo seeking to rework a 2006 basing deal with the U.S., besides announcing an end to the eight-year-old Indian Ocean refuelling mission in support of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Japan no longer can be regarded as a constant in America's Asia policy. This has been further highlighted by Mr. Hatoyama's re-examination of a secret agreement between the LDP and the U.S. over a subject that is highly sensitive in the only country to fall victim to nuclear attack the storage or trans-shipment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Japan.
Against this background, New Delhi must be pleased that Mr. Hatoyama's visit signals continuity in Tokyo's India policy. It also shows that at a time when Asia is in transition, with the spectre of power disequilibrium looming large, Tokyo wishes to invest in closer economic and strategic bonds with India.
As Asia's first modern economic success story, Japan has always inspired other Asian states. Now, with the emergence of new economic tigers and the ascent of China and India, Asia is collectively bouncing back from nearly two centuries of historical decline.
The most far-reaching but least-noticed development in Asia in the new century has been Japan's political resurgence a trend set in motion by Mr. Koizumi and expected to be accelerated by Mr. Hatoyama's efforts to realign the relationship with the U.S. With Japanese pride and assertiveness rising, the nationalist impulse has become conspicuous at a time when China is headed to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy by the end of next year.
Long used to practising passive, cheque-book diplomacy, Tokyo now seems intent on influencing Asia's power balance. A series of subtle moves has signalled Japan's aim to break out of its post-war pacifist cocoon. One sign is the emphasis on defence modernisation. Japan's navy, except in the nuclear sphere, is already the most sophisticated and powerful in Asia. China's rise has prompted Japan to strengthen its military alliance with the U.S. But in the long run, Japan is likely to move to a more independent security posture.
Although the two demographic titans, China and India, loom large in popular perceptions on where Asia is headed economically, the much-smaller Japan is likely to remain a global economic powerhouse for the foreseeable future. Given the size of Japan's economy its GDP was just under $5 trillion in 2008 annual Japanese growth of just 2 per cent translates into about $100 billion a year in additional output, or nearly the entire annual GDP of small economies like Singapore and the Philippines. Still, given China's rapid economic strides, Japan has been readying itself for the day when it is eclipsed economically by its neighbour.
Leading-edge technologies and a commitment to craftsmanship are expected to power Japan's future prosperity, just as they did its past growth. Its competitive edge, however, is threatened by the economic and social implications of a declining birth-rate and ageing population. With a fertility rate of just 1.37 babies per woman in 2008 America's is 2.12 Japanese deaths have started surpassing births in recent years. Permitting immigration on a large scale is no easy task for the Japanese homogenised society. But just as Japan has come to live with the discomforting fact that today's top sumo wrestlers are not Japanese, it will have to open its research institutions and factories to foreigners in order to raise productivity.
India and Japan, although dissimilar economically, have a lot in common politically. They are Asia's largest democracies, but with messy politics and endemic scandals. Mr. Hatoyama, in office for just three months, has already come under pressure following the indictment of two former secretaries over a funding scandal. In both Japan and India, the Prime Minister is not the most powerful politician in his own party. Fractured politics in both countries crimps their ability to think and act long term. Yet, just as India has progressed from doctrinaire nonalignment to geopolitical pragmatism, Japan the "Land of the Rising Sun" is moving toward greater realism in its economic and foreign policies.
Their growing congruence of strategic interests led to the 2008 Japan-India security agreement, a significant milestone in building Asian power stability. A constellation of Asian states linked by strategic cooperation and sharing common interests is becoming critical to ensuring equilibrium at a time when major shifts in economic and political power are accentuating Asia's security challenges. After all, not only is Asia becoming the pivot of global geopolitical change, but Asian challenges are also playing into international strategic challenges.
The Indo-Japanese security agreement, signed when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Tokyo in October 2008, was modelled on the March 2007 Australia-Japan defence accord. Now the Indo-Japanese security agreement has spawned a similar Indo-Australian accord, signed when Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd came to New Delhi last month. As a result, the structure and even large parts of the content of the three security agreements between Japan and Australia, India and Japan, and India and Australia are alike.
Actually, all three are in the form of a joint declaration on security cooperation. And all of them, while recognising a common commitment to democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, obligate their signatories to work together to build not just bilateral defence cooperation, but also security in Asia. They are designed as agreements to enhance mutual security between equals. By contrast, the U.S.-India defence agreement, with its emphasis on arms sales, force interoperability and intelligence sharing elements not found is Australia-Japan, India-Japan and India-Australia accords is aimed more at undergirding U.S. interests.
The key point is that the path has been opened to adding strategic content to the Indo-Japanese relationship, underscored by the growing number of bilateral visits by top defence and military officials. As part of their "strategic and global partnership," India and Japan are working on joint initiatives on maritime security, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, disaster prevention and management, and energy security. But they need to go much further.
India and Japan, for example, must co-develop defence systems. India and Japan have missile-defence cooperation with Israel and the U.S., respectively. There is no reason why they should not work together on missile defence and on other technologies for mutual defence. There is no ban on weapon exports in Japan's U.S.-imposed Constitution, only a long-standing Cabinet decision. That ban has been loosened, with Tokyo in recent years inserting elasticity to export weapons for peacekeeping operations, counterterrorism and anti-piracy. The original Cabinet decision, in any event, relates to weapons, not technologies.
As two legitimate aspirants to new permanent seats at the U.N. Security Council, India and Japan should work together to persuade existing veto holders to allow the Council's long-pending reform. They must try to convince China in particular that Asian peace and stability would be better served if all three major powers in Asia are in the Council as permanent members. Never before have China, Japan and India all been strong at the same time. Today, they need to find ways to reconcile their interests in Asia so that they can coexist peacefully and prosper.
(Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi and the author of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, with a new U.S. edition scheduled for release in March.)
IT TAKES MORE THAN VISA POWER TO STOP A TERRORIST
HOW HEADLEY GOT HIS INDIAN VISA IS THE WRONG QUESTION. WHAT WE SHOULD BE ASKING IS WHY HIS TRAVEL PROFILE INTO AND OUT OF THE COUNTRY DID NOT TRIGGER ALARM BELLS.
The denial of a visa to a potential terrorist may be a country's first line of defence against terrorism but the effectiveness of this weapon is inversely related to the length and porosity of its land border and coast line.
The discovery that David Headley the alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative now arraigned in Chicago for his involvement in multiple terror plots against India had travelled to Mumbai as many as eight times sent shock waves through the security establishment not so much because he had visited but because he had done so on a valid visa. What has most alarmed our sleepy sleuths is the fact that Headley usually combined his visits to India with onward trips to Pakistan, where he is said to have received instructions from his handlers. That he stayed at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels in Mumbai, presumably as part of the reconnaissance team for the LeT's November 2008 attack on the city, is of course the cherry atop this unwholesome confection.
In response, the Ministry of Home Affairs has decreed that no foreign tourist with a long-term, multiple-entry visa should be allowed to re-enter India within two months of his or her departure. When a number of countries protested and threatened reciprocal restrictions on Indians holding long-term multiple-entry visas, this rule was relaxed, but by introducing an element of subjectivity. "Bona fide tourists" who, after initial entry into India, plan to visit another country and re-enter India before finally exiting, the Ministry of External Affairs said last week, may now be permitted "two or three entries" by Indian missions and immigration check posts "subject to their submission of a detailed itinerary and supporting documentation."
If the two-month rule was absurd to begin with, this proposed relaxation is even more comical. Have the babus in the MHA and MEA not heard of e-tickets and laser printers? Most terrorists don't come to India with visas. And 'tourists' or 'businessmen' like Headley with mala fide intentions can easily procure fake or genuine "supporting documentation" to get past the new rule. But scores of bona fide visitors are likely to be deterred by the lack of predictability such rules engender. How many foreign visitors planning a combined trip to India and Nepal or India, Sri Lanka and Maldives would want to risk being denied re-entry? And since it is the responsibility of the airline to fly out passengers denied entry, one can imagine the confusion and uncertainty that will prevail at foreign airport counters when a tourist who has been to India within the previous 60 days arrives to check in with his "supporting documentation." As for those on business visas, many of whom make dozens of trips into and out of India annually, the two-month rule would prove disastrous were it ever to be made applicable to them. And if the rule is not going to be applied to business visas, how would it help in a repeat of the Headley case considering that the U.S.-based alleged LeT operative had a long-term business visa?
Like so many other "tough" steps India takes to fight terrorism, the new visa rule is really quite useless. Worse, by shifting the burden of prevention to the consular end of the travel chain rather than to border management, the MHA's move is fundamentally misplaced. Consider the Headley case. If an individual lies on his visa application about his parents' names and nationalities, there is no way an Indian consulate abroad can catch him short of demanding an enormous amount of supporting documents from every applicant (and sending it on to the MHA). But immigration officers are trained to flip through the passport of an incoming visitor to see where else he's been travelling and whether his wider itinerary fits in with the line of work he claims to be in. Even if an immigration officer saw no reason to detain Headley or deny him entry, the fact that he had made multiple visits between India and Pakistan in less than a year should have led to his file being discreetly referred to the intelligence agencies for a background check. Had the same agencies run through the names of all those who had stayed at the Taj and Trident hotels in the two years before 26/11 and cross-referenced that list to a list of those making frequent trips between India and Pakistan, Headley might have been arrested soon after the Mumbai attacks rather than nine months later.
Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor may have been indiscreet in publicly questioning the utility of the new visa rules but there is no denying the need for a wider debate on the subject. Asking how Headley got his Indian visa is surely the wrong question. What we should be asking is why his frequent shuttling between Pakistan and India did not trigger alarm bells within the Bureau of Immigration.
In other words, the key to spotting and tracking potential terrorists lies in properly training our immigration officers, providing them with networked, state-of-the-art computers and generally improving the system of data storage and retrieval. Today, most immigration counters in India are staffed by policemen whose unfamiliarity with modern technology is apparent from the way they gingerly handle a mouse and keyboard.
Last month, North Block sources gleefully leaked the news about the MEA having 'lost' Headley's visa papers. The charge turned out to be false, though that didn't prevent the media from working itself into a frenzy for 48 hours. One wonders if the Bureau of Immigration has been able to locate all eight entry and exit immigration forms that Headley filled up and surrendered during his trips to India, as well as those tiny Customs declaration forms inbound passengers must hand in before they leave the airport? Since Headley would have been required to fill out local addresses each time, it would be interesting to see what he wrote and whether that could provide further clues about the extent of his travel and activity. CCTV footage in the arrival hall and passenger reception area on the dates he arrived might have captured a local associate saying goodbye or hello to Headley. Serious policing means doing this sort of tedious work rather than trying to limit the number of trips a foreign visitor makes to India.
WHY SLEDGEHAMMER APPROACH?
Instead of looking inward at the manner in which it guards our frontiers and ports of entry and making urgent improvements, the Home Ministry is keen to fix what ain't broken elsewhere. North Block 'sources' have made much of the fact that a Goa-based American national known to Headley has been living in India for nine years on 180-day tourist visas that he renewed by flying to Nepal just before the expiry date. But this kind of abuse of the system can be fixed by making a small change in the registration rules applied by the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO). Currently, only foreigners holding visas valid for longer than six months are required to register themselves. But the FRRO can just as easily declare that foreigners staying in India for more than 180 accumulated days must register themselves. Promulgating and enforcing such a rule would be a much better way of catching those like the Goa man who abuse Indian visa provisions. Why use a sledgehammer approach of banning re-entry to all tourists for two months when a scalpel would do the job so much more neatly?
GAZA: THIS IS NOT HUMANE. WE NEED OUR DIGNITY
TWELVE MONTHS AFTER ISRAEL'S OPERATION CAST LEAD, CAN BOTH SIDES OF THE DIVIDE AGREE HOW TO END THE SUFFERING? HERE, A RESIDENT OF GAZA CITY WRITES.
On my way to visit a friend in the Abed Rabbo district, north of the Gaza Strip, the taxi driver handed me a small pack of biscuits for change. There are nearly no copper coins left here so cab drivers barter a half Israeli shekel for biscuits brought in from the tunnels between the southern city of Rafah and Egypt's northern Sinai. Some Gazans, who once earned a respectable living, resorted to melting coins and sold the copper for food supplies.
This was not the first time I was forced into arcane methods of barter. A few weeks ago I was told that oil filters for our British-made electricity generator could only be brought in through the tunnels. One alternative was to fit a refurbished car-engine filter to the generator.
We had wood-fired coffee next to the rubble of my friend's family's former homes all levelled during
Israel's three-week war on Gaza that started one year ago. His only source of income, a taxi, was crushed by Israeli tanks during the assault. He agonises about how his children no longer respect him as their father. He is unable to provide them with the security of a house and an independent family life; they lost everything.
The family is spread around relatives' homes. But the family's old man just moved into a 60sq.m house built from mud and brick, standing next to the rubble of his 400 sq.m three-story house for which he saved for a lifetime. It was one of the first the U.N. Relief and Works Agency built after having seemingly lost hope in any Israeli intention to allow construction materials into Gaza. My friend's daughter earns the highest grades in her class and is eyeing a scholarship for one of the universities in Gaza when she leaves high school. But this young woman's resilience and motivation will go nowhere as long as Gaza is blockaded.
Almost nothing has been more deceitful than casting Gaza as a humanitarian case. This is becoming exponentially more problematic a year after the war. Gaza urgently needs far more than merely those items judged by the Israeli military as adequate to satisfy Gaza's humanitarian needs. This list of allowable items is tiny compared to people's needs for a minimally respectable civil life. Gaza is not treated humanely; the immediate concerns about the situation have clearly given way to long-term complacency, while failed politics has now become stagnant. The humanitarian classification conceals the urgent need to address this. Moreover, many in the international community have conveniently resorted to blaming Palestinians for their political divisions, as though they were unrelated to Israel's policies most notably Gaza's closure after Israeli disengagement in 2005.
It seems evident that most officials in the U.S., U.K. and other powerful nations in Europe and the Middle East do not or perhaps cannot pressure Israel to reverse its policy of forcing Palestinians into eternal statelessness. How Palestinians are forced into degrading living standards in Gaza, and how they have no means to repel the ongoing demolition and confiscation of property and land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is abhorrent. How Palestinians are still divided despite the increased suffering of their people is no less abhorrent. However, no one should fool themselves into believing that their reconciliation would alter Israel's policy.
The international community must surely adopt a new approach where it would not be seen as acquiescent to Israel's policies. If the current policy continues then, at least, let it not be at the expense of Palestinian self-respect. Palestinians are a dignified people, as competitive and civilised as any other people in the world. It is far too humiliating for Palestinians to endure not only being occupied but to be made beggars.
For years it has been impossible not to suspect that Israel does not want peace. Of late, the U.S.-backed state has consistently created impossible conditions for fair and equal negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and it continues to undermine moderate voices and drive people towards extremism in Gaza. The fact that Palestinians still genuinely want peace should not allow Israel to reject the simplest rules of civility. The U.S. and the EU should come to Gaza; then they could draw their own conclusions on an Israeli policy they have backed and funded without ever witnessing its consequences on ordinary civilians' lives. Surely then they could not fail to see that changing their policy is a moral imperative.
(Note: Sami Abdel-Shafi is a senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, a management consultancy in Gaza City.)
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
WHY THE GOLDEN RATIO PLEASES THE EYE
From Leonardo da Vinci to Le Corbusier, the golden ratio is believed to have guided artists and architects for centuries. Leonardo is thought to have used the geometric proportion, regarded as the key to creating aesthetically pleasing art, when painting the Mona Lisa. Mondrian used it in his abstract compositions, as did Salvador Dali in his masterpiece The Sacrament of the Last Supper.
Now a U.S. academic believes he has discovered the reason why the golden ratio pleases the eye. The human eye, thinks Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, North Carolina, is capable of interpreting an image featuring the golden ratio faster than any other.
Mr. Bejan argues that an animal's world whether you are a human in an art gallery or an antelope on the savannah is oriented on the horizontal. For the antelope scanning the horizon, danger primarily comes from the sides or from behind, not from below or above, so the scope of its vision evolved accordingly. As vision developed animals got "smarter" and safer by seeing better and so moving faster, Mr. Bejan says.
"It is well known that the eyes take in information more efficiently when they scan side to side, as opposed to up and down," he adds. "When you look at what so many people have been drawing and building, you see these proportions everywhere." Many artists since the Renaissance have proportioned their work in accordance with the golden ratio or 'divine proportion," particularly in the form of the golden rectangle, which informed Leonardo's work and which describes a rectangle with a length roughly one and a half times its width.
Works most usually associated with the ratio are the Mona Lisa and the Parthenon in Athens, although Le Corbusier relied on it for his Modulor system for the scale of architectural proportion. The Parthenon's facade is said to be circumscribed by golden rectangles, though some scholars argue that this is a coincidence.
According to Mr. Bejan, these arguments are academic. Whether intentional or not, the ratio represents the best proportions to transfer to the brain. "This is the best flowing configuration for images from plane to brain."
Bejan explains: "We really want to get on, we don't want to get headaches while we are scanning and recording and understanding things. Shapes that resemble the golden ratio facilitate the scanning of images and their transmission through vision organs to the brain.
"Animals are wired to feel better and better when they are helped and so they feel pleasure when they find food or shelter or a mate. When we see the proportions in the golden ratio, we are helped. We feel pleasure and we call it beauty."
Bejan, an award-winning engineer who, in 1996, developed a law of physics governing the design of matter as it moves through air and water, believes this "constructal law" governs systems that evolve in time, from cars in traffic to blood in circulation, to the development of vision.
Vision and cognition evolved together, he says. "Cognition is the name of the constructal evolution of the brain's architecture, every minute and every moment. This is the phenomenon of thinking, knowing, and then thinking again more efficiently. Getting smarter is the constructal law in action."
This year, in a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Mr. Bejan demonstrated how this law was behind his theory of how elite athletes have become taller, bigger and so faster in the past 100 years. His latest application of constructal law to explain the golden ratio is published online in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
BEAUTY AND POWER OF PROPORTION
The beauty of the golden ratio, surely, lies in the discovery of harmony in imbalance that is, it's not a symmetrical division, but a bit more interesting and lively. In architecture, the piers and windows of Durham Cathedral seem to apply it as assiduously as in the Parthenon in Athens. But why such mystique?
The attitude of the ancient Greek thinker Pythagoras to number (that it is the key to the secret harmony of the universe) survived in the middle ages in Muslim and Christian architecture. In the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci took it to new extremes, analysing the perfect proportions of a horse and a human and finding number at the heart of nature. In 1504 he was designing fortifications for an Italian town. While researching this, I puzzled over diagrams of pyramids that keep interrupting plans for towers until I understood that Leonardo believed so passionately in the power of proportion that he thought it could make a castle invulnerable. He illustrated his friend Fra Luca Pacioli's book The Divine Proportion, which praises the golden ratio, and so helped to create one of the most persistent cults in maths and art.
Whether or not the golden ratio really has any special significance in human psychology, it has been given that status by artists like Leonardo and the great 15th-century painter Piero della Francesca, whose geometrically pleasing art is rooted in mathematics. The persistent pursuit of this proportion right down to Le Corbusier proves that mathematics and art come from the same beautiful place in our minds.
So how do you find this special proportion? Divide a straight line in two so that the ratio of the whole length to the larger part is the same as the ratio of the larger part to the smaller part. The result (roughly 1.62 to 1) is the golden ratio.
(Note: Jonathan Jones's book about Leonardo da Vinci will be published by Simon and Schuster in April 2010.)
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
AMAZON E-BOOK SALES OVERTAKE PRINT FOR FIRST TIME
Spare a thought for the humble hardback this Christmas. It seems the traditional giftwrapped tome is being trumped by downloads, after Amazon customers bought more e-books than printed books for the first time on Christmas Day.
As people rushed to fill their freshly unwrapped e-readers one of the top-selling gadgets this festive season the online retailer said sales at its electronic book store quickly overtook orders for physical books. Its own e-reader, the Kindle, is now the most popular gift in Amazon's history.
Amazon's shares rose sharply on Monday after it updated investors on a strong Christmas performance. On its peak day, December 14, the retailer said customers ordered more than 9.5 m items worldwide, the equivalent of a record-breaking 110 items a second.
The Seattle-based company's top sellers in its home market included Apple's iPod touch, Scrabble Slam Cards, Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus with balance board, the latest Harry Potter DVD, Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue and Susan Boyle's album, I Dreamed a Dream.
Although Amazon has repeatedly trumpeted "record-breaking" Kindle sales, it has refused to say exactly how many have been sold since the 2007 launch.
Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst with Collins Stewart in New York who has tracked the Kindle's performance, believes that across both models the paperback-sized Kindle 2 and larger DX Amazon may be on target to have sold a little over 500,000 units by the end of the year. Nor does it divulge data about the Kindle-compatible books it sells from a Kindle Store that now includes more than 390,000 titles.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
THE TOKYO STORY
Japan urging India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would seem that differences between the two countries on the crucial issue remain unchanged. There is however a shift in perception. Japan recognises India's new importance in the global arena, especially in the economic sphere.
Japan is aware of the fact that it is no more the pre-eminent economy in Asia and in the world and that India and China will dominate the scene in the future. It is not going to change its stance on the nuclear issue in a hurry, but it will not cling to past positions in an obstinate manner. There is a sign of what it wants its relations with India to be in the future in the revival of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).
In his state visit to New Delhi on Tuesday Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama has indicated at a joint press briefing along with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh that cooperation in high end, dual-use technology will be considered.
Hawks in India have always been sore with Japan's pacifist position with regard to nuclear weapons. They have argued that it is hypocritical on the part of Tokyo to sermonise while taking advantage tacitly of the nuclear shied provided by the US. It is a harsh criticism because Japan's pacifism is based in public sentiment as much as it is in strategic calculation. The Japanesehave not forgotten the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused by the atomic bombs that the Americans dropped on the two cities and which ended World War II and it would be unfair to brush it aside.
There is also the need to understand the reasons for the low volume of India-Japanese trade. According to a study by an economic research group, Japanese corporations look to developing long-term relations with their customers and they are keen to maintain quality control. Government and businesses in India must learn to appreciate the Japanese way and strengthen bilateral relations.
It would be short-sighted to dismiss Japan as a spent power. It is more than a truism that India should engage Japan much more than it has done so far, and it should not be confined to economic and technological cooperation. Japan still remains the first Asian nation which has outclassed rich and developed Western countries and it has many lessons to offer. Unfortunately, Japan is largely an unknown Asian power for many in India. This should be rectified.
FOR THE RECORD
The decision by the Union home ministry to get all complaints filed in police stations to be treated as First Information Reports is a direct result of the publicity which has been accorded to the Ruchika Girhotra-SPS Rathore case. It is not news that the police across India are notoriously reluctant to file FIRs and will often try to delay that eventuality by first taking down complaints or non-cognisable offences. There can be some argument in their favour that this gives them the chance to filter our frivolous cases. But this argument does not stand when the matter is serious.
An FIR means that an investigating officer has to be assigned to the case and that within a stipulated time frame a court will decide whether to proceed further on the matter. The more FIRs filed at a particular police station also means that the crime rate in that area will be deemed to have risen. Many police commissioners who are keen to put forward a good record have been known to instruct police stations to limit the
number of FIRs filed.
However, all this is procedural matter and when misused becomes a massive hindrance to the progress of law and jurisprudence. As we have seen in the Ruchika case, because the accused was a senior police officer, the case was not taken seriously or every delaying tactic was used by the Haryana police. This led to a travesty of justice that was allowed by the manipulation of the system that is written into FIR procedures.
This new direction from the Union home ministry, which is expected to be sent to all the states next week, aims at ensuring that complaints are at least taken seriously. This is only one step to break the massive obstructions which exist around police stations in India where the ordinary citizen feels powerless and victimised, harking back partly to our colonial heritage and which the much-discussed police reforms would deal with. This is not a trivial feeling and the public anger that is being expressed now empathises with the helplessness of the Girhotra family.
That they were up against one of the police's own only complicated matters for the girl's family. Clearly, we need other devices in place to deal with complaints against police or government officers which will kick in as soon as such a complaint is filed. One of the recent mantras bandied about has been accountability and it can only be hoped that this new step will help increase that.
SEX, NEWS AND VIDEOTAPE
In recent times, the dying days of the year have seen a major news break, one that inevitably affects the mood around this festive time. Last year of course we had the ghastly terrorist attack of November 26. Four years before that was the terrible tsunami which swept through the littoral in the Indian Ocean and devastated Sri Lanka, parts of Tamil Nadu and other coastal countries and killed over 300,000 people. And at the turn of the millennium, India had to surrender known terrorists to the Taliban after an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked. Luckily the loss of life was minimal, but the feeling of national humiliation was palpable.
By that token, there have been no major events as the year comes to an end. There is no dearth of news, but none of the Big Stories of the type outlined above. The only big bang story (pardon the pun) that could have been but fizzled out fast was the bizarre sex drama which resulted in the summary dismissal -- for that is what it was, never mind the resignation -- of ND Tiwari, the governor of Andhra Pradesh.
Once the video of an old man, alleged to be Tiwari, cavorting with three naked women hit the television channels, it was only a matter of time before he was prevailed upon to quit his post. No party or government can possibly deal with this kind of scandal and sure enough, once he went, protesting his innocence to the last, no one bothered with the story.
Yet, this seedy incident marks a major step forward -- or backward -- in the media history of this nation because it now paves the way for the final frontier of Indian public life to be breached. Till now, corruption, allegations of malfeasance, misuse of office and all kinds of shenanigans have felled politicians, but their private lives were strictly off limits. It was strictly don't ask don't tell and journalists, even though they happily passed around spicy rumours among each other, rarely if ever wrote about them.
The last time a sex scandal came into the public domain was in the 1970s when Jagjivan Ram's son Suresh Ram was featured in flagrante delicto in the pages of Surya, a magazine owned and run by Maneka Gandhi. The photographs of young Suresh with a Delhi university student caused a major sensation and put paid to Jagjivan Ram's ambitions to become the prime minister. There was universal agreement between media practitioners -- there was no private news television then -- that a Rubicon had been crossed but that this would remain an exception. The unspoken law has held fast since.
But it was inevitable that this would change sooner than later. Many journalistic conventions have been upended in the past few years. The proliferation of media outlets has meant that unwritten codes have been challenged, usually unwittingly and traditions given a swift burial. No one now knows or cares for the rule of not naming communities in a communal riot; the pogrom in Gujarat was a watershed in that respect. The names of minors are freely given in sex and other criminal offence cases. Wild allegations are made without the obligatory qualifiers like allegedly.
Stories of sexual escapades of politicians stayed out of the media because they are difficult to show, much less prove. Bollywood actors and celebrities are fair game because they belong to a more "frivolous" world and in any case lack the will or the strength to retaliate. And now even they know the game is rigged. An accused politician can wield real clout. No newspaper management would foolishly want to take him or her on.
Besides, it is usually assumed that the people wouldn't be particularly interested, except at the most salacious level, about the goings on in the politician's bedroom.
Two things have altered the landscape: first is the plethora of 24/7 news channels which need to fill their airtime on a round-the-clock basis and at the same time also need to keep the viewers hooked to prevent them from clicking on the remote. The second is more significant. Many of the newer channels are owned, quite openly too, by politicians and their frontmen. That implies a serious vested interest in carrying news which can help the owner and damage his rivals.
The fact that the Tiwari scandal broke out around the time a high-stakes political game is being played in Andhra Pradesh after the death of YS Reddy and the Telangana crisis raises several uncomfortable questions. Tiwari may have had a colourful past and could well have been indulging in these acts, but the fact remains that the video is hazy at best and the man cannot be clearly identified. But which party will take the risk to defend him?
Whether this is the beginning of the trend for more such stories remains to be seen. It is possible that once again the media will go back to its old ways of leaving politicians and their personal lives out of the news list. On the other hand, having tasted blood, other news outlets, especially television channels may follow. Or a CD with a politician in it may find even its way to YouTube. The media must seriously think through the implications of this new development.
LET THAROOR TWEET FOR DEMOCRACY'S SAKE
Richard III of England lost his kingdom for a horseshoe nail, according to popular legend. Will Shashi Tharoor lose his political career for a mere 140 character tweet? By disagreeing with the government stance on toughening visa norms in a post on the popular website twitter.com, Tharoor has incurred the ire of his boss, Union external affairs minister, SM Krishna.
This is not the first time that Tharoor's Twitter activity has got him into trouble. Only a few months ago, he was pulled up for making fun of his government's austerity drive. Of course, many of his fellow Congress party members completely misunderstood what he said, which made his original -- if minor -- transgression seem much worse than it was.
But Tharoor's observation on tightening visa norms was neither so "clever-clever" as his earlier one on the travails of travelling "cattle class". He quite sensibly asked whether toughening the rules would be good for tourism - make India "less welcoming" -- and also observed that the "26/11 killers had no visas". There is, it can hardly be doubted, shades of "locking the stable door after the horse has bolted" in almost all our security measures. So did Tharoor really go too far this time?
On the face of it, the realists might say that Tharoor should have anticipated the reaction. His last controversial tweet became the subject of much hysterical late-night television chatter. Our hungry-for-excitement TV news channels cannot be blamed for seeing a potential Mount Everest every time an earthworm moves. It is the nature of the beast. But if you leave the hysteria out of the equation, at worst Tharoor's remarks can be the subject of considered debate. Would not that be a minimum requirement of a mature democracy?
Or is it just that traditionalists are unable to understand the new media and the access it gives you to the world? Ministers and party members fight each other all the time. They use their favourite journalists to leak "stories" about their rivals. A running joke in politics is that it is easier to have friends in the opposition than it is in your own party. But Tharoor -- who is a career diplomat and not a career politician -- has used a medium of these times to put forward his point of view. By doing so, he has also interacted directly with the public.
Tharoor has over 540,000 followers on Twitter. The Congress party needs to take note of number. If democracy runs on popular opinion, then Tharoor at least has popularity. Gagging him will hardly help the cause.
A somewhat unpalatable fact for our politicians to swallow is that democracy is about both dissent and discussion. This dissent could be both within and without their party lines. It might also -- gasp, horror -- involve members of the public. And Twitter is a quick, easy way of sharing your thoughts with the world.
So what exactly is Tharoor's crime? That he cannot keep his mouth shut or his fingers from twitching? Neither are cardinal sins. By over-reacting every time Tharoor crosses some invisible party line, the Congress party is behaving like an old-style Stalinist Communist outfit, like Big Brother, like the Ministry of Free Speech which stands for Gag Order.
Instead, the Congress -- and other Indian political outfits -- should welcome the new world order, where everyone's opinion counts and everyone is free to air their opinion. This, after all, is what democracy is all about -- a free exchange of views. It might well be that politicians find that actual democracy is inimical to their interests -- secrecy, intrigue, fascism and organisational supremacy are vital to their self-preservation after all. Sadly, they have no option but to understand these new phenomena.
Like the idiot of old who stood outside the town hall cursing the government, today's "tweeple" are neither frightened nor ashamed of sharing their views with the world.
We see the moon as a goddess, a great mother, a benign presence in the sky. But moon goddesses have not always been nice to know, and sometimes the lunar deity was male. 5000 years ago in Ur in Mesopotamia they worshiped the moon god Sin. The very name of Allah, may stem from the moon god Hubal.
Many Sanskrit names for the moon are male, including Kandra and Soma. On December 31 we also have the Blue Moon, an astral phenomenon, which comes every two-and-a-half years when a second full moon in a calendar month will appear in the night sky.
Chandra (Indian moon god) Chandra is young and dashing. He rides his chariot, the moon, through the night sky pulled by 10 white horses or by an antelope. He carries a club and a lotus flower. Chandra was born after his mother swallowed the moon. He is said to have built a temple of gold to Lord Shiva, Master of the Moon.
Coyolxauhqui (Aztec moon goddess): Coyolxauhqui is the daughter of Caotlicue, the terrible mother of the all the gods. Caotlicue gave birth to the moon, the sun, and the stars. She is a very frightening creature, with a bosom covered with the relics of her children, skulls and bones. She represents life and death, as she has within her both a womb and the grave.
Hecate (Greek moon goddess): Hecate is a spooky moon goddess. Her sacred places were graveyards and three pronged crossroads, where sacrifices could be left for her. She is shown with three heads: a dog, a snake and a horse.
Hubal (Pre Islamic Arabian): A moon god and the most powerful of the three hundred and sixty gods worshipped at Mecca in pre-Islamic times. It is believed that Hubal may have been a forerunner of al-Llah, which means The God, and may be the reason that Mosques have a moon sign over them.
Mamma Quilla (Inca moon goddess): She is the third most important Inca goddess. She protects women, marriage and the menstrual cycle.
DON'T SAY NO TO FIRS
IT REQUIRED RUCHIKA'S FATE FOR REFORM
At last it is the duty of the police to register an FIR when a complaint comes to it. Even the Supreme Court says so: register the case first and then consider the genuineness or otherwise of the information. Yet, there are a large number of policemen who think that by registering an FIR, they are doing a favour to the complainant. There are many others who believe that an FIR is an affront to the person in a position of authority against whom the compliant is lodged or even the police station concerned. That is why in the Ruchika molestation case, the FIR against top cop SPS Rathore could be filed only nine years after the incident. Stung by the criticism, the Home Ministry has now decided to issue a circular to all states asking them to ensure that all complaints received at the police stations are treated as FIRs. This is one move which should have come about immediately after the country gained Independence. That could have prevented many miscarriages of justice, including of the Ruchika kind.
As things stand today, the influential people use their powers to nip at the beginning many a complaint made against them. Since registering an FIR also involves a bit of work which in any case is the job of the policemen they want to avoid it to the extent possible. The registering of the FIR is also discouraged because they want to show that there was very little crime in that area. A query under the Right to Information Act (RTI) Act revealed recently that there are police stations which have not registered a single FIR in the last year and a half, irrespective of the crime in the area.
Such ugly situations would be avoided when the new rule comes into force, provided it is enforced in the right spirit and every complaint is followed up. That will go a long way towards making the police responsive to people's grievances. To make sure that flippant complaints are not filed, there can be punishment for those who try to take the police for a ride. But simply avoiding registering an FIR is the surest way to disaster which we are, unfortunately, treading at the moment. Besides the change in the law, what is needed is also a change of attitude of the police force, which must be told that it is there to serve the people and not to lord over them.
INDIA, JAPAN TIES TO GROW
THE TWO ASIAN GIANTS NEED TO WALK THE TALK
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, during his first visit to India after his party captured power in the August elections, gave enough indications that Tokyo was keen on upgrading its relations with New Delhi considerably. At present the China-Japan bilateral trade volume was much higher than that between India and Japan. Japanese investment in India was 1/20th of that in China. But the situation can change in favour of India in the coming years if both countries concentrate on areas where they can benefit immensely from each other. If Japanese investment in India could be more than that in China in 2008, as it actually happened, there is no reason why this cannot be a regular feature. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out on Tuesday, the Indian economy provided huge opportunities to substantially increase bilateral trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.
India and Japan signed two major agreements on Monday - one for the ambitious Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project and the other for the Delhi-Mumbai Dedicated Railway Freight Corridor. According to the estimate made at this stage, the DMIC project alone can result in an investment of Rs3,60,000 crore. Japanese investments in India will start flowing at a faster rate after the two countries conclude the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) for which negotiations have been continuing for some time. The Manmohan Singh-Hatoyama joint statement issued on Tuesday laid stress on "energetically working towards resolving the remaining issues" so that the mutually beneficially CEPA can be signed at the earliest.
The two sides unveiled an "action plan" to enhance cooperation in security-related areas like global terrorism. The Japanese have reservations in entering into trade with India in civilian nuclear energy, but this is unlikely to come in the way of improving economic relations. In any case, India has made its position clear that there is no question of New Delhi signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the situation exists today. But with its impeccable non-proliferation record, India remains committed to a "universal, voluntary and non-discriminatory" disarmament regime. India has been strictly observing voluntary moratorium on conducting nuclear tests. Japan should reconsider its stand on nuclear trade with India as New Delhi has been granted waiver by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.
TERRORIST, OR TOURIST?
PRESS TWITTER THAROOR FOR AN ANSWER
Mr Shashi Tharoor apparently finds it impossible to stay away from twitting. But then ministers hold public offices and are not allowed to sing like birds. The Minister of State for External Affairs, therefore, ventured a little too far when he questioned the wisdom of new visa restrictions imposed on tourists by the government he is a part of. The Union Council of Ministers, after all, functions on the basis of collective responsibility and whatever doubts the junior minister may have had about the new visa regime, he could have raised them within the government. But Mr Tharoor, who is a compulsive twitter, could not resist the temptation of questioning whether we are being wise " 2 allow terrorists 2 make us less welcoming 2 tourists". Those who launched the terror attack on Mumbai, the minister wisecracked, did not have a visa, after all. The "twit" was stinging and indicated that there was no one view in the government. Or Mr Tharoor may have twitted deliberately to signal that he was out of the loop, that his opinion did not count for much in the Cabinet. Or was he trying to make his colleagues aware that the ultimate goal of a world led by the UN was to create a world without borders that could check terrorists and tourists.
Twitter Tharoor invited a rebuff, though when a mild-mannered Union Minister for External Affairs, Mr S M Krishna, chose to declare that the business of government was "far too serious" for a retreat into Internet triviality. The junior minister had parked himself in a five star hotel and when he was finally forced to pay up and move out, like his seniors, in response to his party's call for austerity, he twitted that he would henceforth travel in "cattle class" in deference to the "holy cows". Politically incorrect and insensitive, the comment drew a lot of flak even from his own partymen. The comment mercifully was not related to his ministerial responsibilities, but to his tendency to indulge in avoidable wordplay.
The real issue is not, perhaps, the denial of visas to those who want to see the Incredible India, but the inability of his government to pull him out of his twitting habit and his inability to distinguish between his e-mail which could be personal in nature and the Twitter which speaks volumes of people around the globe in just under 140 words with all their attendant sweetness and dangers. In any case, India's most well-known twitter has evoked a chuckle, or two, of both terrorists and tourists.
PAST AND FUTURE OF TELANGANA REVOLT
BY J. SRI RAMAN
Our city is strange - it whispers in the nights when you walk on roads,/ Calls you to show its wounds/ As if the secrets of its heart./ Its windows shut, alleys quiet, walls tired, doors locked,/ Only the corpses stayed/ In rented houses for years."
That was Makhdoom Mohiuddin, bard of the armed Telangana struggle of the forties singing of the history of more than Hyderabad. The lines, translated from Urdu, are about the larger meaning of the struggle that has reached a new stage today.
The Centre's concession of the demand for a separate state of Telangana on December 9 led to celebrations and scuffles in the streets of the same city - and to more. It also promised to give a fresh impetus to several other sub-regional movements, and a flurry of demands for separate states has followed. The series of reports and speculation on this score can make the Telangana story appear one of many such tales.
The multi-phase Telangana movement does have similarities with other campaigns for the cause of statehood. Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, before they became separate states, resented the fact that their rich natural resources did not mean better lives for their tribal and other populations but only benefited interests based in the rest of the bigger Bihar and Madhya Pradesh respectively.
Telangana, with tribal tracts in three of its 11 districts, too, has been aggrieved about the Krishna and the Godavari flowing through it to the coastal districts but without benefiting its own agriculture and about its coal not helping to create industries for the region. Telangana constitutes 42 per cent of the area and 40 per cent of Andhra Pradesh's population, as textbooks record, but never received anything like a commensurate share in budgetary allocations or educational and employment opportunities.
Added to this injustice has been the injury inflicted on the identity-conscious Telangana people by the cultural scorn poured upon them by the elite of the coastal districts, especially by their caricature in commercial Telugu cinema. Compounded with indignation at the series of "betrayals" or breaches of pacts and promises (including the latest Central flip-flop), this does yield an explosive separate-state cocktail.
All this, however, forms only part of the story. The longer history of the Telangana struggle includes an important internal dimension as well. This is a dimension that may keep the struggle going despite the seemingly inevitable, successful end to the separate-state movement.
The origin of the struggle can be traced back, after all, to an entirely internal revolt of the region's extremely impoverished and exploited peasantry. The revolt of the forties represented, fundamentally, a challenge to a feudal order propped up by the Nizam regime of the then sovereign state of Hyderabad.
In both the ryotwari and jagirdari areas (where the state's land revenue was collected directly from the cultivators and from the jagirdars or zamindars respectively), the peasants suffered oppression by decadent landlords and deshmukhs (officials) loyal to a Nizam busy setting new records in wealth accumulation.
The revolt, which was to acquire a revolutionary fervour and continue for over six decades in different forms, started as a protest against the exploitation of all brutal manner, including bonded labour. The peasants also demanded a waiver of all debts imposed on them by the feudal lords with the assistance of intriguing officials.
It was this bread-and-butter struggle that was to culminate in the Telangana armed struggle (1946-51) under the banner of the then Communist Party of India and with the broad participation of other forces. By 1944, the movement was demanding back the land of the poor and middle peasants occupied by the landlords. In 1946, the peasants occupied about 3,000 acres of land, provoking and resisting an offensive by the Nizam's armed forces.
The more disadvantaged of Telangana's peasants, the tribal people, too, joined the movement. Village officers deprived them of their land by the simple device, in many cases, of false records in Marathi. The tribal tillers also lost land to reserve forests. All this in addition to land alienation by non-tribal settlers. Much later, the tribal distress and discontent were to give the Maoists a strong constituency in the region.
In the course of the Telangana revolt, the peasants were proclaimed to have actually carried out redistribution of land of four categories - land occupied by landlords in return for unreturned loans and unredeemed mortgages, grazing land, waste land of the government in the landlords' possession, and forest land. This significant shift in land relations was, of course, to be short-lived.
But the Telangana movement as it has evolved through subsequent years has, by most accounts, retained more than a modicum of the radicalism of its initial phase. It has not done so, merely or even mainly because a section of the Maoists has entered or "infiltrated" the separate-state movement. The more important reason lies in the continuation in the region of conditions for a peasant-tribal revolt - besides, of course, the proud tradition of Telangana.
The songs of the original struggle are still sung and preserve its spirit. It is not exactly the vision of a united, separate Telangana that are evoked, for example, by the lines: "Oh peasant, do you think of a compromise?/ Between a cat and a mouse, there can be none." Nor is multi-class unity in such a state the message, despite the Nizam's departure from the scene, of the lines: "The jagirdars, zamindars came to your aid, oh, they came to your aid, sonny Nizam! ... Your military ran away, oh, your military ran away for good, sonny Nizam."
Will Telangana's rural masses be ready to compromise with their long-time, callous oppressors in a separate State? Will they see the separate Telangana's leaders and luminaries, identified with rich-landlord castes, as their liberators?
The prospect appears far from likely to political observers familiar with the region. Says one of them, agricultural economist C. H. Hanumantha Rao: "Radical land reforms were the prime agenda for the peasant movement in the 1940s. However, not enough time was available for this process of agrarian reforms and radical social transformation to run its course. In fact, it was interrupted with the integration of Telangana with the Andhra region, so that it still remains an unfinished revolution or an unfinished task."
He adds; "In a larger and heterogeneous state like AP, there is no adequate perception of this problem by the dominant political leadership which hails basically from the developed parts of the state. Thus, the weaker sections constituting a large majority of population in Telangana would be better able to articulate their problems and politically assert themselves in a separate state."
In other words, separate statehood will only mark a step forward, even if a major one, for the people of Telangana and their struggle of over six decades for equitable development.
AN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE SALAD
BY ASHIMA BATH
ENGLISH is a sure way to communicate, what you infer is really your word-ache. Our annual pilgrimage to Goa gives me enough opportunity to make that sufficiently evident.
Lying on the beach, getting a tan, gloating to be away from the cold, year after year I hear the familiar voice of "Mama" calling out: "hello fruit". Sure, I've been called a basket case but fruit, no! What would I be if I were one? Mama stays annoyed with me as I buy my fruit from Suzanne. On one occasion she called out to me and said: "Hello watermelon" and a thought flashed through my mind that I inadvertently voiced: "I could be a tamarind stick but a watermelon, sweet carrot stick no!" I almost got watermeloned.
On another instance, again on the beach, solving a crossword with our friend Eric, I felt this steely grip on my shoulder and then Mama's melodiously irate voice asking: "Oiy drinking coconut kya?' That was it. My firm resolves of "no laughter" policy frothed out like fresh banana lassi.
Of course, we all knew that this was Mama's way of communicating to sell fruit but the incredible hilarity of the situation is worthy of being penned down.
The fish market has its own clawy humour that usually sounds like, "Madam, only touch fresh lobster, no bite". Yes exactly, am I biting the lobster or is the lobster biting me? Staccato selling indeed with no punctuation required. Try this for a starter: "Madam, take gentle prawn just like pet". I ask you all: What does that mean? I love my forays into the fish market because unless you're there, the startlingly funny import of these words is fished away. There is no room for any crabbiness as the fishermen and I, now, are like succulent calamari in our understanding of each other, waiting to be batter fried and served with a colour-coordinated garnish.
There is a board on the wall outside a shop close to where we live in Goa, which has a priceless sentence on it. My daughter and I have often stood, stared, scratched our heads and retreated hastily into our room before laughing out loud. The board reads: "Made to Order Tailor". Please infer what you must. Ladies and gentlemen, fashion one according to your specifications indeed!
Amongst the sun and the sand this is what we look forward to. The "Oiy coconut" did make me feel like toddy for a while though. Reminds me of, "When you're good to mama, mama's good to you".
January, 2010, Goa here we come and I am ready to learn newer ways to communicate. God bless us all and till next time, byebye peanuts.
LA AFFAIRE RATHORE:BRUTALISATION OF GOVERNANCE
BY M G DEVASAHAYAM
Skeletons are tumbling down in quick succession DGPs and Home Secretaries of Haryana; Home Ministers and Chief Ministers of the State; high-ups of CBI; High Court Judge; elite Sacred Heart Convent. There is more to come. Senior officials who conspired in the torture and humiliation of Ruchika and her family, district officials who executed it and those who failed to prevent this blatant injustice. And the Union Home Ministry, the cadre controlling authority of IPS, who are now busy applying some cosmetics! The list could go on and on because this episode is the standing testimony of the brutalisation of governance at every level, from top to bottom.
Some years ego I wrote in these columns thus about the 'decadence of governance': "The country is slowly moving away from democracy towards 'kleptocracy' with politicians, for whom democracy is nothing but a tool to capture power and the license to loot, at the centre of the orbit. Around them in the orbit are the civil servants, the police and even judges each feathering their own nest". Put in plain words 'kleptocracy' meant 'government of the thieves, by the thieves, for the thieves', bereft of the basic element of governance called justice.
Nobody read the writing on the wall. Instead some of my erstwhile colleagues felt these remarks were rather harsh and 'governance' was not that bad after all. I was hoping so and had been looking for encouraging signals to believe that 'governance was not bad after all'.
Now it looks as if 'governance' is not merely bad, it has become brutal. Total absence of justice for 19 long years is brutalisation of governance, which is the central message coming out of the sordid 'Rathore' episode. It is as if 'institutions of governance and the instruments of public administration' lay buried fathoms-deep.
Media, particularly electronic, is ruthlessly targeting the 'politicians at the top', more specifically the Chief Ministers of Haryana for not taking adequate action on the 'molestation' complaint against a senior police officer. Former DGPs and Home Secretaries are being questioned and old records dug out. Nothing wrong in holding the political bosses and their principal advisors accountable and answerable. But this time around the oft-used decoy of 'political interference' should not be available for the real perpetrators of the crimes that are tumbling out.
It is because for long 'political interference' is the crude brush with which serious lapses of basic governance is being painted white. Politicians come and go, but it is the higher echelons of Civil Service, Police and Judiciary who are creatures of the Constitution charged with the responsibility of providing fearless, honest and just governance at the basic levels where people live. For this purpose Constitution gives these services special privileges and protection. Such protection is not available to the politicians. Neither did the Founding Fathers repose much faith in the political system to give fair governance. Yet today's civil servants and policemen abandon all their responsibilities and cringe before politicians and do their bidding without demur. This is a standing shame on India's once 'Iron Frame'!
Civil servants and the police have near totally succumbed to political thuggery, with some even facilitating it. Higher Judiciary is busy acquitting corrupt and criminal bigwigs by stretching law to absurd limits. Corrupt and the venal are striding this land like colossus, dominating its political, administrative, police, judicial and business spectrum. In the event, over the years while the good and the honest have shrunk and faded away, the corrupt and the venal loom larger than life mocking at the institutions and systems of democratic governance.
Despite the noble cliché of 'We the People', Constitution of India concentrated political and economic powers with the central government, devolving some to the states to maintain a federal facade. None was given to the grass-root entities of district and villages. The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in 1992 for establishing and empowering institutions for 'people to govern themselves' still remain only on paper. The system of governance continues to be top-down and sickeningly arrogant and colonial. Administrators and policemen are nothing but satraps!
Nevertheless, for want of any alternative, the critical task of delivering de-centralised administration and just governance continues to be on the shoulders of India's civil services led by the members of the IAS and IPS. Through a new talisman, Gandhiji summed up the essence of such governance: "Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the ordinary human being whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."
This was humane governance that was practiced by the civil services during the early decades of Independence. Though the colonial administrative structure, with IAS and IPS at the core continued unaltered, most of the civil service incumbents took their job seriously and involved themselves deeply in administrative work at the grassroots and district levels.
For the IAS, increasingly becoming technical and managerial, this commitment soon faded because of absence of glamour in grass-root governance. Instead, the attractions of the new jobs in the burgeoning state industrial and commercial sectors seduced upwardly mobile IAS officials, especially as they were seen as stepping-stones to coveted jobs in the economic ministries in Delhi, with all its allurements and post-retirement bonanza!
Ever since the dawn of the Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation era in early nineties, IAS has been rapidly drifting away from the task of 'basic governance' to that of 'corporate facilitation' catering to the upper crust of society, leaving the aam aadmi in the lurch! And IPS has been cozying up with the new breed of 'rich and the famous'. Good Governance was the inevitable casualty and brutalisation followed.
Responding to public outrage, incumbent Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has said that his government would 'revisit' the entire "Rathore' case. This is no favour. What he should really do is to revisit the 'brutalisation of governance' in the last two decades that has brought things to such a pass! Only then the soul of Ruchika will get 'Justice' and others of her ilk would feel safe and secure.
The writer is a former Army and IAS Officer of the Haryana cadre.
MEETING AFGHAN NEEDS
BY STANLEY A. WEISS
The Obama administration has outlined a three-pronged strategy in Afghanistan, focusing on security, governance and economic development. But the implementation of those elements has been woefully lopsided. Since 2002, 93 percent of the $170 billion the United States has committed to Afghanistan has gone to military operations.
As the country prepares to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, we also need to focus on providing a surge in the quality of life for the Afghan people.
U.S. Agency for International Development workers are tremendously dedicated, but there are not nearly enough of them, which means the agency is heavily dependent on private contractors. There have been some commendable achievements, such as helping reduce Afghanistan's infant mortality rate and rehabilitating nearly 1,000 miles of roads. Still, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton lamented in March, the lack of results for the Afghan people is "heartbreaking."
The Obama administration has pledged a new, improved approach to development aid. Yet USAID has been without an administrator for 10 months, and the president's nominee, Rajiv Shah, has yet to be confirmed. It's now time, with the president's commitment in his West Point speech to "focus our assistance in areas, such as agriculture, that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people," to heed the experience of successful social entrepreneurs who, with far fewer resources at their disposal, have achieved impressive progress on the ground.
Take Greg Mortenson, president of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, or CAI, who over the last 16 years has built or supported 130 schools in remote Pakistani and Afghan villages. These secular schools provide education to more than 30,000 children, the vast majority of them girls. CAI's revenue in fiscal year 2007 were a fraction of what we will spend every day in Afghanistan over the next 18 months.
Or take Sakena Yacoobi, a US-educated public health professional, who returned to her homeland in the 1990s to found the Afghan Institute of Learning, or AIL, now a network of 45 centers in seven provinces that provide comprehensive health and education services. Seventy percent of AIL's staff of more than 400 is female. With an annual budget of $1 million, AIL reaches more than 350,000 Afghan women and children.
Or Connie Duckworth, a former partner at Goldman Sachs, who was so moved by the hardships of the women she met on a visit to Afghanistan in 2002 that she created Arzuwhich means "hope" in Daria rug-making enterprise focused on female weavers that is one of Afghanistan's largest private-sector employers, with 90 percent of its jobs in underserved, rural areas.
What are some key lessons from these social entrepreneurs' success?
First, ask, don't tell: U.S. assistance programs must be tailored to meet local needs, not our own. Over the last eight years, too many well-intentioned U.S. programs have been driven by what America thinks is best, which is how we wasted millions trying to launch a 25,000-acre plantation on soil that was too salty for crops, and initiating cash-for-work construction of cobblestone roads that Afghans rejected because they hurt their camels' hooves. The Afghan people know what they need.
Second, invest capital outside the capitaland devise and direct those projects from the field. Mortenson is successful in part because he spends months every year living with the villagers in the communities his organization serves. That model has not yet penetrated the thinking of U.S. government programs.
Third, ensure that U.S. assistance reaches the Afghan people. This sounds obvious. Yet last year, the nongovernmental Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief reported that 40 percent of official aid to Afghanistan goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries.
Fourth, make women the focus, not the footnote, of aid programs. It's no accident Mortenson, Yacoobi and Duckworth all target their limited resources toward women and girls: In Afghanistan, as elsewhere, investing in women pays dividends many times over. Women are more likely to prioritize the education, nutrition and health of their families, creating a multiplier effect that lifts entire communities.
Finally, approach development as an evolution, not a revolution. As Afghan expert Rory Stewart recently argued in a PBS interview, "Afghanistan is very poor, very fragile, very traumatized. To rebuild a country like that would take 30 or 40 years of patient, tolerant investment."
We should invest in programs that will be sustainable, long-termand be prepared to commit for the long haul.
Mortenson called his book "Three Cups of Tea" in reference to a rural village leader's advice that slowing down and building relationships over tea in the traditional way is as important as building projects. As 30,000 more U.S. troops prepare to depart for Afghanistan, let's hope we also have the stomach for 30,000 cups of tea.n
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
WEB SALES REGISTER BIG INCREASE
BY MOLLY SELVIN
Consumers spent a little more than anticipated during the holiday season, according to a report Monday, and a significant e-tail threshold may have been crossed on Christmas Day at Amazon, the online bookseller.
For the first time ever, online sales of e-books on Christmas Day exceeded sales of physical books at Amazon, the company said Monday.
Over all, retail spending from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 rose 3.6 percent compared with the corresponding period last year, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse survey, which tracks all retail spending, including cash transactions.
The increase was partly attributable to one extra shopping day in 2009. Even removing that day, retail spending still beat last year's performance, when recession-dampened sales slumped 2.3 percent compared with the 2007 period.
This year's results also bested expectations, which forecast a 1 percent slump in holiday spending compared with last year's historically bad results.
"While up is good, it wasn't going to take much" to beat 2008 holiday spending, said Miller Tabak equity strategist Peter Boockvar. "Things are better but still sluggish, and consumers are still fervently looking for sales."
Boockvar pointed to reports Monday of people returning gifts in exchange for cash to buy necessities as "a sign that the labour market and people's pocketbooks are still very uncertain."
According to government data, consumer spending makes up about 70 percent of U.S. GDP.
The biggest jump in 2009 holiday retail spending happened online, where purchases rose 15.5 percent compared with last year.
Contributing to the online surge were electronic book purchases from Amazon, meant for use on the company's Kindle reading device.
Amazon, however, does not release sales figures on Kindle sales, nor on e-books sold on Christmas Day.
Using built-in wireless technology and an electronic display, the Kindle lets users download digitised books, blogs, magazines and newspapers in almost any location and read them on the device's six-inch screen immediately.
Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007. The peak in e-book purchases on Christmas Day indicates that a number of Kindles were given as Christmas presents and were used to buy books that day. In a release, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos called the Kindle, which sells for $259, the "most-gifted item ever in our history."
On a wider scale, the uptick in holiday spending came from electronics, jewellery and footwear, which combined to make up more than 16 percent of all sales, MasterCard said.
Online sales hit a one-day high of $913 million on Dec. 15, comScore reported, the first time they have topped the $900 million mark.
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
THREAT TO SOVEREIGNTY
The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) recently submitted a memorandum to the President of India terming infiltration as a major threat to the sovereignty of the country, which is a fact and the Government of India should take the issue seriously in the interest of preventing the threat posed to the security of the nation. Of course, in recent times, the Government of India has initiated some steps to improve border management to deal with infiltration of foreigners from Bangladesh, but only those steps will not be adequate to deal with the situation. The Government of India has sanctioned installation of flood lights along the international border, which will definitely improve border management by improving visibility at night, while, the strength of the Border Security Force (BSF) along the border with Bangladesh is being increased in a phased manner, which are positive developments. But the slow progress of construction of roads and fencing along the international border is a matter of serious concern and the Government must deal with the matter with due seriousness. Land acquisition remains a problem for construction of border roads and fencing and the Centre should discuss the issue with the concerned State governments to ensure that the problem is solved without any delay. The Government of India should also take advantage of the improved relations with Bangladesh to settle the problems of border disputes and adverse possessions by adopting a policy of give and take so that the fencing can be erected along the entire international border to improve border management. The fencing alone will not be enough to completely seal the international border but it will definitely be a deterrent for anyone seeking to sneak into India from Bangladesh.
On the other hand, efforts must be made to detect and deport the foreigners living in Assam and other parts of India. Though the Assam Government has increased the number of tribunals under the Foreigners' Act to expedite the process of detection of foreigners, the move failed to yield the desired results because of various reasons including the failure of the Government to provide necessary facilities to the tribunals. Moreover, the persons declared as foreigners by tribunals cannot be deported easily because of the reluctance of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) personnel to accept those sought to be deported as Bangladeshi nationals and this issue should be taken up with the Government of the neighbouring country. The Central and State Governments should also expedite the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 and photo identity cards should be issued to all Indian citizens on the basis of the updated NRC. This will help the law enforcing agencies to detect foreign nationals living illegally in India and reduce harassment of genuine Indian citizens during the process of detection of foreigners.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The death of a 21- year girl in the isolation ward of the Guwahati Medical College on December 27 has confirmed the worst fears about the dreaded H1N1 virus. The death of the girl, the first one in the State has sent the signals loud and clear about an impending pandemic in the region. As she had no history of any foreign travel, it is apparent that she had come in contact with persons who are already infected with the H1N1 pandemic virus which is commonly known as swine flu. What has made the alarm bell ringing is that the number of cases of persons infected with the H1N1 virus in the country is fast climbing up. According to the data made available by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare the number of confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in the State till November 30 was 45. However there is a strong possibility that the number of cases might go up.Till December 25 there have been 844 deaths across the country out of the 24,932 cases that have tested positive for the H1N1virus. . Considering the danger swine flu poses, it is time the health authorities of the State swung into action and initiated all possible steps to keep it at bay. Strategies should be formulated to tackle the swine flu cases before it assumes a pandemic form. With the population having no immunity against the swine flu, preventive steps are the only way out to contain the spread of the disease.
The swine flu virus knows no geographical barriers and can rapidly spread across the globe. As it poses threat to mankind as a whole, the World Health Organization has rightly pointed out that all should join together to deal with it. With no effective vaccines in sight, sustained awareness campaigns at all levels may help in containing the spread of the disease. The people must be made aware of the symptoms of the disease. Simple steps like washing hands, avoiding contacts with sick people, avoiding touching nose, eyes, and mouth, refraining from travelling to affected areas and proper quarantine of patients to some extent help in preventing the spread of the disease. An awareness campaign would help in identifying the cases at the earliest and it in turn would make it possible to initiate steps to contain the disease within the area without letting it to spread. The health authorities must be fully prepared to tackle the threat of a pandemic as it may strike at anywhere anytime.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
TELANGANA ISSUE AND ASSAM
DR GOVINDA BALLAV GOSWAMI
The UPA government's arbitrary announcement to grant a separate State of Telangana carving out of Andhra Pradesh evoked sharp reactions in State politics. The decision was taken in the wake of violent students' agitation, followed by 'fast unto death' threat by Telangana Rashtra Samithi Chief K Chandrasekhar Rao. Although his position had gone down massively in the last May elections due to poor performance of his party, his only hope was the Congress party's help and the support of all parties to the statehood demand as promised in their election manifestos. Now, these parties have made a U turn, opposing the formation of Telangana State after the sudden decision of the Union government. Even Chief Minister K Rasaiah was 'shocked and anguished' by the unilateral decision of the Union government. It reveals how the Central leaders of the Congress party at their intervened in the affairs of State politics. Currently Andhra Pradesh is considered to the stronghold of the Congress built by the former Chief Minister late YS Reddy. But Congress is a divided house now with malice towards the Central leadership.
Andhra Pradesh is in turmoil. People from the non-Telangana regions, especially Rayalaseema and coastal regions have virtually revolted. Political parties cutting across party lines have joined hands for a united State. The State has been witnessing large scale protests, bandhs, resignations of legislators, hunger strike since December 10. Around 130 Congress MLAs have already submitted resignations. The Assembly which was in session had to be adjourned sine die due to the grave situation in the State and pandemonium in the Assembly. Students and politicians irrespective of party affiliation and common citizens are in the streets. Congress MP Rajagopal who is on an indefinite fast for a united Andhra Pradesh, is now shifted to hospital. Latest media reports say the hospital has been gheraoed by the Telangana supporters. Praja Rajyam party president and MLA Chiranjeevi with fourteen of his party MLA have resigned from the Assembly. TDP MLA DU Rao who was also on an indefinite fast was forcibly shifted to hospital. Many more are on 'fast unto death row'. The Lok Sabha had to be adjourned on December 18, a day ahead of the schedule amid continuous pandemonium over this issue. Now, pro-Telangana MPs taking a tough stand have warned the Central leaders against deviation from the present stand. The Union government seems to have realised the adverse impact of his hasty decision. Yet it has allowed the Andhra affairs to continue in suspended animation. Meanwhile MPs from the non-Telangana region met the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. The latter asked Chief Minister Rasaiah to wait for appropriate time for moving the resolution in the Assembly on the creation of Telangana. It has become clear that the situation in the State is the result of mishandling of the issue by the Central leaders. According to media reports Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has assured a delegation of Congress MPs from non-Telangana regions to take a final decision on this issue very soon. The statehood issue is also linked with the capital city of Hyderabad which falls in the proposed State. It is unlikely that the people of Telangana region would agree to share Hyderabad jointly like Chandigarh as they consider this city as an asset to the new State. The issue would remain as a bone of contention if statehood is finally conceded.
The Telangana issue has opened a floodgate of demands for new States in many parts of the country. Soon after Home Minister P Chidambaram announced the government decision demands had been pouring in from different quarters for statehood. The Gorkha Janasakti Morcha of Darjeeling hills is on the forefront to raise demand for Gorkhaland for which the Gorkhas have been fighting for long. The Bodo members (BPF) of Parliament and State Assembly immediately reiterated their demand for Bodoland carving out of Assam. UP Chief Minister Mayawati hastened her visit to Delhi and demanded creation of three new States partitioning the State, Bundekhand, Harit Pradesh (Western UP) and Purbanchal (Eastern UP). The demand for creation of Vidarva State in Maharashtra has cropped up. In Orissa also fresh demand for a new State has been raised.
In Assam the new State demand issue has assumed new dimension after the decision on Telangana was announced. Boroland Peoples' Front (BPF) with 10 members voiced its demand for statehood holding playcards in the floor of the State Assembly. Surprisingly, two Cabinet Ministers of the Gogoi government supported the move for Bodoland. The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) chief Hagrama Mohilary also reiterated his demand for statehood to the Bodos. The main opposition party in the Assembly, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) strongly opposed the BPF members' move for a separate State, supported by all the opposition parties barring the AIUDF. The creation of new States would definitely jeopardize the very existence of Assam. Sometime back an AUDF member also demanded an autonomous council for the Muslim dominated areas.
The Chief Minister was, however, prompt to reject all these demands and asked all sections of the people to live peacefully and unitedly. Meanwhile delegations of political parties representing Karbi Anglong and NC Hills met the Prime Minister and the Home Minister and had urged for creating of a new autonomous State for these two districts. They have also observed bandh in support of their cause. In the western front, the Koch-Rajbongshis are on warpath for creation of Kamatapur State comprising few districts of West Bengal and the Western districts of Assam. They have demonstrated their solidarity again by observing a 36 hour bandh in Western Assam and part of North Bengal.
The Telangana issue has sent a wrong signal to Assam. Already the State has been partitioned several times. It is a land of multi ethnic groups having their own language and culture. Various autonomous councils have been created to fulfil the aspirations of these people and to preserve their cultural heritage. But all is not well in the founctioning of these councils.
The decision on Telangana State has opened a new debate on reorganization of States. While speaking for or against formation of new States, one must bear in mind that the socio-political and economic scenario of the country has undergone vast changes over the last five decades. The growing demand for smaller States on the ground that smaller States provide greater participation and representation is a wrong notion. There is no guarantee of better governance. In fact such demands are politically motivated.
Every demand for new State has to be examined in its own merits, such as geography, demographic pattern, language, socio-political security of the citizens, economic viability and above all consensus and ability to govern. The State of affairs in North Cachar Hills Council should be a lesson for the government. It has been proved that democratic institutions cannot survive at the whims of the whims of the power hungry and greedy politicians.
In view of the grave situation in Andhra Pradesh and under pressure from the State Congress leaders, the Union government has the put the Telangana issue on a backburner. Meanwhile widespread protests against this largest decision have engulfed the Telangana region. Amidst pressure and counter pressure from both sides, the Centre is said to be considering setting up a States Reorganization Commission to avoid further political backlash. Notably, the States Reorganization Commission (1953) recommended against the merger of Hyderabad State (Telangana region) with Andhra State. But it was merged in 1956. In 1969 the people of Telangana started a movement for a separate State.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
TAX PLANNING FOR INDIVIDUALS
SUBHRANGSHU SEKHAR SARKAR
Here ends the month of December. It is the high time one should think and freeze decisions regarding saving, investments etc. so that the tax liability can be reduced. With the tax-planning season about to end, most individuals are rushing around to make investments to minimize their tax liability. It has been observed that individuals (often salaried ones) end up paying more taxes than they are obligated to. While lack of sufficient time to conduct the tax-planning exercise is a reason, largely, this can be attributed to lack of awareness about different incentives, allowances and rebates under the Income Tax Act. Apart from the Section 80C deductions which are quite popular, there are various other sections which can help salaried individuals save taxes. There is a need for salaried individuals to devote adequate time and effort to the tax planning exercise and be aware of the various benefits that they can be availed of. A well-thought tax-planning can aid salaried individuals minimize their tax liability. Indian Income tax Act, 1962 provides various avenues whereby an individual can reduce his or her tax liability. It is a win-win situation in the sense that by availing the benefits of various sections of the Act, the tax payer can save money; on the other hand, the Government is able to channelize the investments in appropriate fields. Being a welfare state, Government of India has a role to look for the economic well-beings of the people not only in their present situation but also for their future economic security. The sections for tax planning in the Income tax Act are designed keeping these objectives in mind.
The popular section that is availed by most of the individuals is Section 80C of the Income tax Act. Under Section 80C, the maximum deduction available is Rs 100,000 per annum. Ideally, salaried individuals whose gross total income is equal to or more than Rs 250,000 should utilize the entire Rs 100,000 limit. Consider the case of an individual whose taxable income is Rs 600,000 and who only utilizes half of the available Rs 100,000 limit. He would end up paying an additional tax of Rs 15,450 as opposed to an individual with the same taxable income, but has utilized the entire limit. Also, at times, individuals make investments of over Rs 100,000 in Section 80C designated avenues, since they provide better returns and security. However, some fail to understand that the benefits are capped. For example, despite making investments of Rs 70,000 in Public Provident Fund and Rs 40,000 in ELSS, the amount eligible is only Rs 100,000. Investments/contributions that qualify for Section 80C deductions include Public Provident Fund (PPF), National Savings Certificate (NSCs), Accrued Interest on NSCs, Premium on Life Insurance Policies, Tuition fees paid for Children's Education (to a maximum of 2 children), Principal Component of Home Loan Repayment, Equity Linked Savings Scheme (ELSS) offered by various mutual fund agencies and 5 year Fixed Deposits with Banks and Post offices.
There are some avenues beyond Section 80C whereby tax liability can be somehow reduced by individuals. For salaried individuals whose gross total income exceeds Rs 2,50,000 per annum, deductions under Section 80C may not be sufficient to reduce the overall tax liability. In such cases they can consider availing other sections. Individuals intending to buy/ reconstruct a house should consider opting for a home loan. Interest payments of up to Rs 1,50,000 per annum are eligible for deduction under Section 24. An individual who pays medical insurance premium for self or spouse/dependent children is allowed a deduction of up to Rs 15,000 pa under section 80D. An additional deduction of up to Rs 15,000 per annum is allowed for premium payment made for parents. In case the parents are senior citizens, then the maximum deduction allowed is Rs 20,000 per year. Subject to the stated limits, donations to specified funds/institutions are eligible for tax benefits under Section 80G. Salaried individuals who plan to pursue higher education should avail of an education loan as the entire interest is eligible for deduction under Section 80E. The loan can be for self, spouse or child from an approved charitable institution or a notified financial institution.
When the benefits are received by an individual in monetary terms, the probability of attraction of tax liability is higher than if such benefits are received in kind. For example, while medical allowance received by a salaried employee is fully taxable, medical facilities received in the form of reimbursement is exempted up to Rs. 15,000 per annum under normal circumstances. Same way, when food coupons are provided by employer, it is exempted up to Rs. 60,000 per annum. Transport allowance is exempt up to Rs. 800 per month. Leave Travel Concession (LTC) can be availed twice in a block of four years without attracting any tax liability provided the travel is carried out. Salaried individuals can claim rent paid by them for residential accommodation, if HRA doesn't form part of their salary. This deduction is available under Section 80GG and is least of (a) 25% of the total income; (ii) Rs 2,000 per month or (iii) Excess of rent paid over 10% of total income. It is to be noted that this deduction will be denied if the taxpayer or his spouse or minor child owns a residential accommodation in the location where the taxpayer resides or performs his office duties.
Another important thing to remember is the filing of tax return. Filing of income tax return is compulsory for all individuals whose gross annual income exceeds the maximum amount which is not chargeable to income tax i.e. Rs. 1,90,000 for Resident Women, Rs. 2,40,000 for Senior Citizens and Rs. 1,60,000 for other individuals and HUFs. The last date of filing income tax return is July 31, in case of individuals who are not covered under compulsory tax audit. If the income includes business or professional income requiring tax audit (turnover Rs. 40 lakhs), the last date for filing the return is September 30.
With the complexity of the tax laws, understanding the provisions for tax planning to incorporate into year-end tax planning strategy is very important. A clear understanding helps in better tax planning and compliance of tax laws. The new Direct Tax Code, 2009, may be applicable to next assessment year, is expected to bring about rationalization in the tax structure and usher a new era in tax planning.
(The author is Associate Professor at IIM, Shillong)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
This must be seen as the pitfall of overbranding by hotels. The finance minister of India, no less, apparently landed up late for an engagement at a newly-opened hotel in Mumbai's Bandra-Kurla complex because he was driven instead to another hotel with the same name at the other end of the city!
That both properties belong to the same hotel chain must have been cold comfort for Mr Mukherjee, who arrived two hours late, and indeed left more people red-faced than the minister himself.
Lack of coordination among the minister's security team whose detachment deployed at the hotel obviously forgot to enlighten the contingent in his motorcade about the specific location will surely give the authorities some cause for concern, but think of the ordinary citizen.
The complications caused by nearly every city having airports, railway stations, roads and key buildings named after state heroes and members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan are already quite evident. It is not surprising that there is a feeling of deja vu in nearly every metropolis, as the names all sound, well, familiar.
Now, if all hotels also follow suit and dump the notion of individuality by just sporting their well-known brandnames, confusion is bound to be compounded. Of course, it could foster a feeling of camaraderie if every city and town in India would boast of the same names, but in the interest of clarity, there must be a limit to the number of times a moniker can be tacked on to a building, road and public utility.
Imagine Mr Mukherjee's chagrin were he to be driven from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport to the Allahabad Bank's Naktala branch instead of its headquarters? Both are situated on roads named after the INA hero, at the city's opposite ends.
The locals would know that one is called Netaji Subhas Road and the other Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Road, but what about hapless visitors? Every city has such examples. The message is clear: similarity breeds confusion.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PASSING OVER RAO
This newspaper has described former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao as the frog that was picked up by the princess, but refused to let her kiss him. Now, it appears, the queen does not want even to touch him. On its 125th foundation day, the Congress paid tribute to all past prime ministers from the party save Rao. This was disgraceful.
When the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi thrust the responsibility to guide India's destiny at a moment of economic and political crisis on an ageing politician apparently too frail to rail against the setting of his political sun, no one expected that man to play the transformative role he eventually did.
Rao launched the economic reform programme, going beyond what IMF conditionality required of India. For the purpose, he deployed the expertise, credibility and integrity of seasoned economic administrator Dr Manmohan Singh.
When Rao took over, the embers of terror were still burning in Punjab, Assam was yet to settle down, Kashmir was turbulent, the Hindu revanchist movement led by the Sangh Parivar to demolish the Babri mosque was in full violent flow and the passions inflamed by Mandal reservations for backward castes were still raging across north India.
He could not stop the demolition of the mosque, which led to the Congress' eclipse in several crucial north Indian states. But he managed to cool passions on all other fronts. The global power framework in which India had created room for itself had collapsed, along with the Soviet Union and the Berlin wall.
Rao reconfigured India's coordinates, establishing better ties with the US and diplomatic relations with Israel, initiating the look-east policy to broaden the scope of India's engagement, all the while protecting India's nuclear sovereignty.
True, he could not prevent a deep communal divide. And he lacked the charisma and passion that allow a statesman to become a leader. But he played a hugely constructive role. To ignore that is to distort history.
The point about a political party celebrating its long march is not a pretence of not having taken a single wrong step along the way. Looking back at the distance covered is to draw inspiration for forging ahead. Airbrushing people out of your history is one thing; redeeming your tryst with destiny something else.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REFINE TAKEOVER CODE
The Securities and Exchange Board of India's (SEBI) ongoing revision of the takeover code is welcome. There is a strong case for revising both the threshold of ownership when an acquirer has to make an open offer to other shareholders to buy up the shares they hold in the target company, and the scope of the open offer.
The point is not to kill, but promote a fair market for corporate control. If markets function properly, a company's share price should reflect the worth of its assets and of its business model under the incumbent management. And, if the shares of a company trade at their optimal value, no acquirer would find it worthwhile to pay a higher price to take control of the business.
Takeovers happen only when an acquirer estimates the target company to be performing below its potential, either because of poor management or because it lacks synergy of the kind that the acquirer's operations could bring to the table.
The latent threat of takeover in a well-functioning capital market can significantly improve corporate governance and managerial and allocative efficiency.
The Indian market lacks such a threat. SEBI must ask an acquirer to make open offer for 100% of the outstanding equity, instead of the 20% as prescribed now. Such an open offer is to ensure that all shareholders, and not just a privileged minority, get a chance to exit a company in the event of a management change, and get the same terms as of the transaction(s) leading to the management change.
If the mandatory open offer is for all outstanding stock, the acquisition decision would be costly enough to deter irrational bids and guerrilla raids that can sidetrack managerial attention without leading to takeover. Such a provision would be fair to both managements and shareholders.
It also makes sense for the regulator to raise the threshold for making an open offer from the current 15% to at least 25%. This would give investors such as private equity, whose primary aim is not control, a little more leeway to invest in companies without triggering the takeover code. SEBI also needs to simultaneously tighten other provisions to prevent covert takeovers by persons acting in concert.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
YOUR LAMP WAS LIT BY ANOTHER LAMP
VITHAL C NADKARNI
The great Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi once asked, "Why does a date-palm lose its leaves in autumn? / Why does every beautiful face grow wrinkled in old age?" Adding other examples of ravages wrought by Time, the Master's couplet puts the question to God himself about "the fate of lion that weakens to nothing", and the wrestler who could hold down any man as long he wanted but who's now grown so weak that he needs two people's support under his arms just to walk.
Why had their strength fared so badly? "Because they put on borrowed robes and pretended they were theirs," God answers. "I take the beautiful clothes back." So that we may learn that the silken robe of appearance the outer coil, what another mystic Master Kabir who lived as a weaver in Benares, called zhini chadariya is only a loan: "Your lamp was lit from another lamp," Rumi's poem adds: "All God wants is your gratitude for that."
Rumi thus viewed ageing as being inevitable. From his detached perspective, it was not ageing that was the loss but life itself which was suffused with nostalgia for our origins from which we found ourselves separated. One way of curing ourselves from the ensuing regret, guilt and anxiety is to focus on the present, on the here and now instead of the past or the future.
Awareness of such moments is gained through an exercise proposed by the spiritualist Ken Wilber in his book, Integral Vision: Even as you read these words, think of the images and thoughts going through your mind; notice also your bodily sensations and look around to register the various objects and vistas encompassed by your vision.
Now go back to what was in your awareness just five minutes ago. Most of the thoughts would have changed as did the bodily sensations. Since you sat down to read, it was not the same air you were now exhaling, nor were the cells in the same place. The blood would have moved and the air too. Not one thing is same.
But through all that flux, what is present now that was also present then?
Wilbur calls it the sense of I-Amness; what Vedantins would call the aham-Brahmasmi feeling or the self-validating sense that arises from the body and yet seems to float beyond it.
The Koran calls it Al-Baseer, the All Seeing One, the Ever-Present Seer, one of the manifest attributes of God. He is the One, the great unborn and the undying, who is ever present from beyond the beginning. Be aware of the lamp that lit you.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PRIME MINISTER'S COPENHAGEN GAMBLE
It is difficult to avoid speculating that in approaching the Copenhagen negotiations, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accorded as high a priority towinning the admiration of US President Barack Obama as to cutting a deal that would best serve India's interests. While the former objective was achieved, the same cannot be said of the latter.
Begin by considering three facts relevant to India's interests. First, with 400 million Indians without electricity and 300 million in abject poverty, India's top priority has to be sustained rapid growth that would eliminate poverty and bring electricity to all in another decade or two. Without that, even absent any further global warming, millions of Indians will continue to be victims of cold waves, droughts, floods and cyclones.
Second, while it is feasible to achieve small reductions in carbon emissions at low or no cost, at the current level of technological development, significant reductions would require substantial cuts in energy consumption. This would entail leaving millions of Indians without electricity and compromise growth.
The key reason why the US and Europe have made negligible effort to bring down carbon emissions to-date the US emissions actually rose 19% between 1990 and 2005 and so far offered limited cuts by 2020 is the high cost of mitigation. The industry in the US has been up in arms even at the prospect of being subject to relatively-modest mitigation targets under the Waxman-Markey Bill, which still faces an uphill battle in the US Senate.
Finally, when it comes to poverty, carbon emissions and vulnerability to global warming, India is less like China and more like Africa. Like Africa, India has contributed minimally to the past emissions and remains low emitter currently. Its current carbon emissions are one-fifth those of China and account for only 4% of global emissions. In per-capita emission terms, India ranks 137th.
India is far poorer than China and, like Africa, significantly more vulnerable to the vagaries of nature even absent further global warming. The principal feature distinguishing India from Africa is its high rate of GDP growth, which gives it superior prospects of eliminating poverty in the near future.
These facts suggest that India should have forcefully countered being clubbed with China in the negotiations at Copenhagen. And it should have consented to significant emission cuts only if the offers by developed countries and China were sufficiently large to guarantee a global emission path that would avert the catastrophes many scientists predict along the current path. India did neither.
Rather than emphasise the differences with China, India aligned itself with it. By continuously trying to match the Chinese offers in the run up to Copenhagen, it encouraged the notion that as emitter, it was in the same league as China.
From the offer to hold down per-capita emissions below the average of industrial countries at all times, it first offered to adopt building codes and auto emission standards for all vehicles within 2-3 years and to commit to installing 20,000 mw of solar energy capacity by 2022.
In his maiden speech at Copenhagen, Dr Singh noted its voluntary commitment to bring down emission intensity by 20% and went on to state, "we will deliver on this goal regardless of the outcome of this conference". Such unreciprocated offers may make India popular with environmentalists and President Obama, but they hardly advance India's interest.
Then, with less than a week remaininxg before Copenhagen summit, responding to an announcement by China, it committed to 20% reduction in emission intensity by 2020 relative to 2005.
By itself, India is too small an emitter to make a dent in the global stock of carbon through its individual mitigation efforts. Unless it can leverage its commitments to induce developed countries to improve their offers, its own mitigation can only compromise its growth and poverty goals without the benefit of reduced threat of global warming.
The US and Europe made no changes to their mitigation offers after India raised its offers by committing to cut its emission intensity by 20%. The US offer remained a miserly 3% reduction in emissions by 2020 relative to their 1990 level. This was less than the 7% reduction by 2012 to which it had committed in the Kyoto Protocol that it never ratified.
The only new item President Obama put on the table at Copenhagen was the tiny sum of $30 billion with the US contribution reported to be less than $4 billion to be made available to 150-plus poor countries for adaptation and mitigation. But since these funds have been offered as aid rather than tort payment for past damage, India is unlikely to receive anything out of them.
Yet, India ended up raising its commitments even further at Copenhagen by agreeing to 'international consultations and analysis' of biennial progress reports it must submit to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The offers India has made in the non-binding Copenhagen Accord are not onerous by themselves and the country can live with them. What is worrisome, however, is the road it has chosen for itself.
Whereas a good case can be made for India switching its constituency from G-77 to BASIC countries Brazil, South Africa, India and China in the negotiations for trade liberalisation, the wisdom of such a switch in climate change negotiations is far from clear. With its massive emissions, China will surely be forced to accept absolute emission reductions by 2020.
By closely aligning itself with China and distancing from G-77, India runs the grave risk of being subjected to similar absolute mitigation commitments. Such an outcome will greatly undermine the country's growth and poverty alleviation objectives. With some breathing space between now and the next round of negotiations, the prime minister needs to seriously ponder the long-term implications of his Copenhagen gamble.
(The author is a professor at Columbia University and a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
YOUR LAMP WAS LIT BY ANOTHER LAMP
VITHAL C NADKARNI
The great Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi once asked, "Why does a date-palm lose its leaves in autumn? / Why does every beautiful face grow wrinkled in old age?" Adding other examples of ravages wrought by Time, the Master's couplet puts the question to God himself about "the fate of lion that weakens to nothing", and the wrestler who could hold down any man as long he wanted but who's now grown so weak that he needs two people's support under his arms just to walk.
Why had their strength fared so badly? "Because they put on borrowed robes and pretended they were theirs," God answers. "I take the beautiful clothes back." So that we may learn that the silken robe of appearance the outer coil, what another mystic Master Kabir who lived as a weaver in Benares, called zhini chadariya is only a loan: "Your lamp was lit from another lamp," Rumi's poem adds: "All God wants is your gratitude for that."
Rumi thus viewed ageing as being inevitable. From his detached perspective, it was not ageing that was the loss but life itself which was suffused with nostalgia for our origins from which we found ourselves separated. One way of curing ourselves from the ensuing regret, guilt and anxiety is to focus on the present, on the here and now instead of the past or the future.
Awareness of such moments is gained through an exercise proposed by the spiritualist Ken Wilber in his book, Integral Vision: Even as you read these words, think of the images and thoughts going through your mind; notice also your bodily sensations and look around to register the various objects and vistas encompassed by your vision.
Now go back to what was in your awareness just five minutes ago. Most of the thoughts would have changed as did the bodily sensations. Since you sat down to read, it was not the same air you were now exhaling, nor were the cells in the same place. The blood would have moved and the air too. Not one thing is same.
But through all that flux, what is present now that was also present then?
Wilbur calls it the sense of I-Amness; what Vedantins would call the aham-Brahmasmi feeling or the self-validating sense that arises from the body and yet seems to float beyond it.
The Koran calls it Al-Baseer, the All Seeing One, the Ever-Present Seer, one of the manifest attributes of God. He is the One, the great unborn and the undying, who is ever present from beyond the beginning. Be aware of the lamp that lit you.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT'S TIME TO STAND TALL AND HOLD HANDS
United to protect is the tagline of the National Counter Terrorism Center of the US. India too seems to be set to have its own model of united to prevent if what has been announced by Union home minister is implemented.
The NCTC is envisioned to prevent, contain and respond to any terrorist attack. It will incorporate intelligence, investigation and operations. The proposed NCTC and the home minister's planned technology introductions, namely the Natgrid and Crime & Criminal Tracking Network System are a long-awaited need.
These will help store, digest and disseminate actionable information, hitherto available only in fragments.
Most of all, Mr Chidambaram's revolutionary measures will perforce bring together in an accountable manner compelling not competing leaders of isolated national intelligence agencies, reporting to different heads, and habituated in keeping information to themselves, to earn brownies (sic).
Hopefully, it will teach Indian leaders to work together in national interest.
Mr Chidambaram is addressing some long-standing deficiencies. One, underlining the urgency for the states to fill in 4,00,000 vacancies to ensure more feet on ground and from where real-time intelligence comes. Two, establishing a toll-free service for information or lodging a complaint with a network to store, retrieve and access data relating to crimes and criminals.
Three, a mission-mode project to track all immigration, visa and foreigners' registration, and more. (Recall the Headley case?). The use of modern technology in policing was long awaited, more so when our country is being repeatedly attacked by terrorists.
There was never a dearth of funds with the government of India dearth was of courage to shake off status quo that protected and promoted non-performance.
The real weakness in our policing system is in the states where police chiefs are bonsai leaders. Therefore, it must not reinforce the trend of shifting crisis responsibilities away from the states. If the proposed introduction in the technological architecture alongside ensures this, NCTC will have the capability to prevent, contain and respond to terror attacks. True to form, Mr Chidambaram is addressing the 'deficits' in policing.
(Kiran Bedi is Former DGP & Ramon Magsaysay Awardee)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ONLY IF STATE-LEVEL INFRASTRUCTURE IS LEVERAGED
The National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) proposed by Union home minister P Chidambaram would solve the problem of intelligence integration and dissemination that we discovered during our enquiry into the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Even after a year, there is no indication that the states have understood how to manage intelligence flowing from the Centre. A centralised clearing house to receive, digest and disseminate intelligence with clear directives for ground action is necessary.
However, Indian NCTC's charter appears to be to be far more ambitious than the American NCTC, created under the US law in 2004. In the US, the NCTC has only a 'strategic operational planning' charter including assigning roles and responsibilities to lead US agencies. It does not have the power to 'direct the execution of any resulting operations'.
The Indian version reportedly wants to be singularly responsible for 'preventing, containing and responding to a terrorist attack' through intelligence, investigation and operations. Some central organs are to come under the NCTC fold that will oversee the functions of intelligence agencies. All these have to be achieved by 2010-end. This is a gigantic and controversial task.
There is no mention how this will be achieved at the state level. US security architecture allows units such as the FBI, emergency relief bodies and state police to operate according to their legal charter with ground-level coordination by the department of homeland security (DHS).
Beefing up resistance capacity of our state police is not enough, they also have to be in-sync with the thinking on anti-terrorist tactics, especially as our state police officials get rotated every three years. US achieved this by setting up Homeland Security State & Local Intelligence Community of Interest that constantly consult each other.
Our municipal and private bodies that control critical infrastructure and disaster relief have to be brought on board. DHS did this by decentralising public awareness and participation through Community Response Exercises under National Incident Management System with participation of local bodies, private sector and hundreds of Fema's emergency relief centres under National Infrastructure Protection Plan. If we have to fight terrorism, some of these ideas have to be implemented.
(V Balachandran is Former GoI Spl Secy, Cabinet Secretariat)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
KNOWLEDGE IS GROWTH
All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience, mused the writer and artist, contemplating change and development. That was then, when sustained almost-double-digit economic growth was unheard of, the world over.
Fast forward to the here and now and it is plain that high growth in India has been the key feature of the decade. How would the growth trend pan out in the medium term and beyond? There are grounds for optimism: societal change can be dynamic and path-breaking.
Yet, the Indian high-growth experience has at least three qualitative features that do need to be righted, going forward. For one, the growth numbers appear to have been under-estimated and quite unforeseen by the policy process. It points at the need to respecify forecast models, better anticipate economic shifts and take into account possible structural changes underway.
Next, and obviously more important, anecdotal evidence would suggest much scope for bridging the seemingly-widening gap between the social returns realised by the economy and the private returns realised by investors.
It calls for stressing a panoply of factors and channels through which inputs can be better transformed as output of goods and services, and so boost overall productivity in the bargain. Hence, the need to shore up efficiency levels across the board. The point is that growth needn't be at high cost it underlines the need for proactive policy.
Meanwhile, standard growth theory has been comprehensively revised in the last decade or two. A substantial minority of mavens may still subscribe to the view that most growth is determined largely by 'extra-economic factors'. The theory, posited by Solow for which he won the Nobel in 1987, holds that growth does not depend strongly on economic policy for the reason that progress in science and technology is deemed to rely little on monetary and fiscal policy per se. It has since been called 'exogenous' theory, and no longer widely accepted.
What has more or less replaced it in the domain knowledge space is 'endogenous' growth theory of Romer, who is widely expected to win the prize in the future.
The new theory holds that growth is very much dependent on advance of what's referred to as economically-useful knowledge, and a panoply of attendant factors such as openness to trade, thriving entrepreneurship or the lack of it, and the crucial role of human resources.
What's emphasised is not just the notion that 'good' read forward-looking, and 'bad' or regressive economic policies, can have considerable effects on the growth experience. But that, broadly speakingly, it is ideas which rev up innovations of products, production processes and whole societal systems that are of critical import when it comes to growth dynamics. It has much implication for policy.
It follows that wider diffusion of skills and knowledge would boost productivity, entrepreneurial creativity and, generally speaking, generate new ideas on the factory shopfloor and beyond. It would all tend to positively affect all-round growth.
Yet, the fact of the matter is that today, barely a tenth of the domestic population enrols for tertiary education: it's one of the lowest post-secondary enrolment ratios anywhere. There's the need to step up resource allocation for education to at least 6% of GDP, as called for by the Kothari Commission back in the 1960s.
Nevertheless, the writing on the wall is that gross enrolment ratios would remain relatively low pan-India for decades. Hence the need for innovative policy solutions to plug and upgrade the skills deficit while taking into account resource constraints.
What's required is to design short-term say, one- to three-month course offerings in myriad fields to raise productivity economy-wide. The idea of short-termism in the realm of skilling and training may seem a poor option or worse.
Little knowledge can be dangerously sub-optimal, it has been opined. It can certainly be so envisaged, assuming exogenous growth trajectory of the Solow variety. But in a more broad-based approach, that visualises umpteen channels through which investments can and do influence efficiency levels, well-designed short-term programmes can be thoroughly path-breaking.
There is a case for standardising and periodically revamping, nationally, such courses and to make them 'modular' and accessible across time and space. In tandem, it would make policy sense to incentivise technology upgradation in the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector. The payback should be quick, and the policy package would add to the growth momentum. Additionally, we need up-to-date management methods and information systems in SMEs.
In parallel, what's required is to revamp governance structures and streamline project implementation. Where is no reason, for instance, why at least half the ongoing infrastructure projects need to be delayed, with huge cost implications. Also, tax incentives for capital-intensive industrial projects are plain distortionary and make no sense. Growth, after all, needs to be at the least cost.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE DIDN'T ABANDON CUSTOMERS EVEN DURING THE FINANCIAL CRISIS'
When Lakshmi Narayanan, 56, joined Cognizant as its chief executive in 1994, larger rivals such as TCS, Infosys and Wipro had already started serving global customers, and the industry's biggest inflection point 'Y2K' was still a few years away. He became the company's chief executive officer in December 2003, before taking over as Cognizant's vice-chairman two years ago. In an interview with ET Bureau, Mr Narayanan says that he decided not to join the 'Y2K' phenomenon in a big way like peers to ensure a more sustainable business model for Cognizant. In 2009, one of the toughest years for India's $60-billion IT industry, Cognizant's strategy was proven right, and the company's relentless focus on customers, sales and marketing efforts paid off. Excerpts from the interview.
Many experts are talking about Cognizant's strategy of investing back profits in excess of 20% into operations. Can you continue to grow faster than the industry?
Investors want to avoid uncertainty and we have been delivering 19-20% margins on a sustainable basis. It takes pressure off from us, as it's sustainable quarter after quarter. During 2002-'03, we grew close to 100%. We went to the investors and told them that we will grow between 30-60%. We don't worry about margins every quarter now.
What did you do that was different from others?
Customers have been our prime focus. In fact, during Y2K, we gave up business because we wanted sustainable business from customers. We picked customers keeping long-term potential in mind; even today, a bulk of our business comes from long-term relationships.
We didn't abandon customers even during the financial crisis. We had a couple of mortgage customers who went through challenges during this year, but we stayed with them. Our CFO asked us not to worry about the payments, and we did projects for which we were not even sure to get paid. Some vendors showed less interest in working with these customers because of the challenges. Fortunately for us, both the customers have emerged stronger, and are our customers for life.
Consulting has become some sort of a 'holy grail' for many Indian software companies who even formed separate subsidiaries for the same. However, none of the firms has made any substantial progress so far, why?
There's a definite shift from being seen as a technology company to somebody who can advise customers on business issues. By creating a subsidiary, there is the danger of conflict. Instead, an integrated model works better. We have some 1,700 consultants embedded across the units who work with the core team.
The top ten Indian tech firms account for nearly 60% of the total exports. Don't you find this skewed towards the larger firms? What happens to the new entrants do you see more Cognizants in the making?
During the last decade, we saw companies such as Cognizant and Tech Mahindra emerge, and we are expecting to see another five-six new companies to come in. New players will learn from companies such as Cognizant and do exactly what we did to companies such as IBM and Accenture. But just copying Cognizant will not be enough, like copying an IBM or Accenture was not really good enough.
What impact will social networking have on the workforce and the businesses?
Social networking will trigger many ideas. It will pose questions as to whether we need to evolve a model for new generation of programmers joining the industry, wherein they are paid not on the basis of number of work hours, but by the results they achieve. Newer models will put pressure on companies to change and think differently.
CONGRESS CAN'T JUST FORGET RAO
After the sense of anticipation, the drama, jamboree spirit and purposeful preparation that gave the Congress' centenary celebrations in Mumbai under the late Rajiv Gandhi's stewardship a memorable air, what passed for the launch of the Congress' 125th anniversary celebrations in New Delhi on Monday was a tame affair. So nondescript was it in conception that even Rahul Gandhi gave it a miss, although his presence may have imparted the event energy and some glitter. The Prime Minister said the usual nice things to which few pay attention. The occasion, utilised to lay the foundation of the Congress' new headquarters to be named after Indira Gandhi, might well have passed unnoticed but for the heavy red pencil that party president Sonia Gandhi wielded in excising the late P.V. Narasimha Rao from the Congress' official history. This does come as a little bit of a surprise, for historically, and in terms of its tradition from which robustness is not absent, the Congress is not that sort of a party. Indeed, along with the Socialist Party and its many avatars up to the time of Ram Manohar Lohia, the Congress has represented openness of thought, if not always discussion, although the two are not wholly separable. This indeed has been a quality missing from other major political and ideological groups in India. In the heyday of Nehru, Indira and Rajiv, when the Congress commanded a bulldozing majority in Parliament, it used to be said not without pride among Congressmen that the Opposition lay right there within the Congress. Down the ages, the Congress has also aptly been called a coalition of squabbling factions. Both before and after Independence, the party could hold its own as a forum where loud thinking of every variety could be practised. After it came to power and stepped into the arena of policy and governmental action, the party could hardly remain an upholder of pristine thought, or be above criticism. But no Congress leader who invited inner party criticism, or was pilloried outside, had been sought to be rendered a non-person through omission. Leaders are pushed aside in a democracy if they fail to harvest votes. This is the law of nature. But being pushed aside from future consideration in the leadership stakes is different from being deleted from a party's record, which is meant to represent its collective memory. It is a pity this should happen at all. Official Communist histories essentially stories dictated by winning factions have been known to skip over significant individuals. But they are also known to have taken U-turns when the hour changed, amid introspection and also some snickering. The late Narasimha Rao could not be accused of possessing an overdose of charisma. His actions sank the Congress boat after the tragedy in Ayodhya. But was he complicit with Hindu communalists, as some have sought to suggest? What lines of action were open to him on December 6 as head of government that might have saved the day? These are difficult questions that posterity is better placed to tackle on account of objectivity that distance provides. But even if guilty on every count, should Rao or any leader be eased out from official records? That's the issue. It's important to remember that being effaced from institutional retelling never means being blotted out of history itself! Rao took charge at an extraordinarily difficult moment for both the Congress and for India. The world was also off its political axis at the time. He lost the game for the Congress, but did he lose the way for India? History and the Congress Party cannot duck the question.
As for Congress' extraordinary return centrestage, the playing out of many passions and Mrs Gandhi's singular leadership are key explanations. Masjid, Mandal, and the forgetting of Rao are irrelevant variables in the discussion.
PEOPLE WHO MADE NEWS
BY MRINAL PANDE
"I imagined myself sitting on the end of a beam of light and imagined what I'd see," wrote Albert Einstein. What would Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who turned 63 earlier this month, see if she chooses to sit on a beam of light and looks at her own journey through the year 2009? Most of this journey's achievements, including the general elections, have been uniquely hers. Is it possible, one wonders, if she'd now be experiencing an edge-of-the-world sensation in her career entering entirely new territories of activism and politics, with the wind whistling past her ears. Who would have imagined that she, once among the least externalised of the Gandhis, would in 2009 be India's biggest newsmaker as she and the party she leads move ahead towards a glory that most had thought would never again be theirs.
It is good to see that somewhere along the way Sonia Gandhi has trashed what Germaine Greer called the "chrysalis of conditioning" the psychological shroud which wraps up most women over 60 with all sorts of anxieties about disease and dependency. To women of all ages and all political leanings in India, she represents an energised, effective and politically-savvy elder stateswoman who enjoys immense power without worries of losing her dignity.
For Mr Lal Krishna Advani, the year 2009 has undoubtedly been an Annus Horribilis. Till the other day he was the Iron Man, the lauh purush of the Bharatiya Janata Party, slated to lead the party to certain victory in 2009 elections and take over as the undisputed leader of the National Democratic Alliance. Party astrologers were already predicting a great innings for him and somewhere a Man Friday may also have worked out the first draft of his first speech as the Prime Minister of India. Alas, it was not to be. Like the courtesan, wrote a Sanskrit poet, politics has many unseen faces. The face Advani's party and its mentor the Sangh have revealed to him after the party's poll debacle has been anything but benign. Endless squabbling within the second-rung leaders and the trashing of his trusted Hanuman, Mr Rajnath Singh, by Mr Mohan Bhagwat had already signalled an end to Advani's political career. His latest indictment, by the Liberhan Commission, for the rath yatra and the demolition of the Babri Masjid it triggered, is the last sordid blow to an image already in tatters.
Dr Manmohan Singh's horoscope must feature a most unusual combination of stars. Nothing else would explain how despite qualities that spell political unemployment in India modesty, honesty and a noticeable lack of oratory skills he has notched one success after another. In the international arena, despite the fact that world markets are still to recover, friend Dubya retired and his party failed to capture power in the US, he is the blue-turbaned boy of the Western leaders from Obama to Sarkozy.
As second-time Prime Minister, Dr Singh continues to come across as a sombre man who is always concentrating, absorbed by difficult and important ideas. That is why he rarely smiles and almost never laughs even at the moment of a major victory. After being "re-anointed" as the Prime Minister, visiting a troubled area, returning from a spectacularly fruitful trip abroad, or delivering a public speech, he displayed none of a leader's stagecraft stroking children on their head or raising his hands in the air or dropping his voice to an intimate whisper when delivering a public speech. Yet the world media treats him with respect and presents him as a potent symbol of the bond between capitalism and socialism. It's all in the stars, or at least most of it!
Mr Rahul Gandhi continued to be a newsmaker through 2009, but he broke out of the confining walls of public/media expectations. He politely refused to oblige both the party sycophants who wished to see a fifth-generation Gandhi assume the family gaddi, and the Opposition leaders who awaited the chance to go to town about his pashchatya (westernised) ways and the dynastic politics of the Congress. Mr Rahul is gradually becoming more open, receptive and relaxed as he tours rural India. But he needs to guard against insufficient discrimination between the angst of the genuinely needy and those using fake anger against the system to get tickets (remember Kalavati?). He has so far been a student of no ideological school and says he has agreed to lead the party, particularly the youth wing, because he wishes it to recapture the lost glory and acquire a mass base. Economic stagnation, internal disappointments and bureaucratic lethargy usually push politicians in Asia in one of the two directions: either they become dictators or escalate their activities abroad in the field of foreign policy. Youth and lack of a clear ministerial berth have helped this newsmaker stay clear of both through 2009. Watch this space.
Ms Mayawati is different. She is undoubtedly brave, decisive and dynamic but also an autocratic leader of her party who, when faced with charges of corruption and bullying her pack, continues to be intolerant of dissentions and sharp of tongue. The year 2009 saw her paint herself in a corner over the issue of her stone parks and monuments. She held centrestage in Uttar Pradesh, but held it alone. Even her pet bureaucrats seem to be fast losing touch with her. The secretary in charge of her theme parks allegedly shot himself, the dissatisfied sugar farmers are threatening to go on a dharana, crime graph is rising all over, even the Dalits are complaining about lawlessness to rival Rahul. Yet she managed to defeat arch enemy Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav's party in by-elections. Mayawati's complex, many-layered personality continues to make news as she improvises and changes tack continuously, election after election. No clear long-term vision guides her strategies and tactics. The kind of news she generated in 2009 showed that she is a fascinating juggler with no clear plans. A pity, given the hopes her supporters have riding on her.
Mrinal Pande is an author and journalist andformer editor of Hindi language daily Hindustan
BESIDES WOODS, YOU MUST REMEMBER THESE
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, Ms Sarah Palin, "death panels," Mr Glenn Beck, where Mr 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 anti-terrorism strategy this year, with President Barack 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 Al Qaida 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. 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 in their homes.
Car Crazy in China: This year, China surpassed the United States as the largest consumer of automobiles. China's emerging middle class has fallen in love with cars, with sales up more than 40 per cent 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 per cent 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.
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.
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.
BOYS AND GIRLS WITH GOLDEN DREAMS
Twelve-year-old Sarfaraz Khan, a class VI student of Rizvi Springfield School in Mumbai, wrote his name in the 133-year-old history of his school's cricket when he scored 439 against Indian Education Society in the U-16 inter school Harris Shield three-day match on November 4 to break the 23-year-old record set by Sanjeev Jadhav of Shardashram Vidyamandir in 1986, who had scored 422 runs. Sachin Tendulkar (329) and Vinod Kambli (349) rank among the top 10 in the tournament's history. Even before he moves into the next age group, Sarfaraz is being touted as the next big star.
Child chess prodigy Bansi Prathima has surprised many with her moves on the chess board. Starting early, the eight-year-old was the youngest Fide-rated player from the month of January to September 2009.
Prathima hogged the centrestage in the 64-squares game last January by winning the U-7 Asian Schools meet in Kandy, Sri Lanka. She followed that up with gold at the U-8 World Schools Meet in Singapore six months later. She ended the year with another gold at a team event at the World Youth Chess Championship in Vietnam in November 2008.
Finishing fourth at the World Youth Chess Championship in Turkey this year, Prathima has reserved for herself a place in the 2010 Asian Youth Chess Championship and the World Youth Chess Championship, and has ELO rating of 1562.
Kapurthala's Gaganjeet Bhullar has emerged as the most promising youngster in recent years whom critics have labelled as the next sensation after Jeev Milkha Singh.
Bhullar, who picked up golf at the age of four, won the silver medal at the Doha Asian Games and was India's number one amateur in 2004 and 2006.
He is also credited with equalling Jyoti Randhawa's record of winning five titles in a row in as many starts on the PGTI circuit in 2009.
His sharp mental skills were proven when he won his maiden title on the Asian Tour the Indonesia President Invitational a week after missing the cut at the world's oldest major the British Open this year.
Diwakar Ram was barely 14 when Indian hockey drag-flicker Jugraj Singh took the world by storm. Among his many admirers was young Diwakar who spent hours in front of the TV, imitating his idol's famed drag-flicks.
Today, Diwakar is India's Under-21 captain and a name to bank upon in a crisis. He shot to fame when he scored eight goals in the junior eight-nation tournament in Germany, last year and has an astonishing 59 goals in six international tournaments, all of them from penalty corners. He was recently inducted into the national team to replace the injured Sandeep Singh.
In one of the most physically-demanding sport in the world, the 26-year-old mother of twins has earned the right to be considered one of the best women pugilists in the world. M.C. Mary Kom, who clinched an unprecedented fourth successive World Amateur Boxing Championship title in 2008, is also the recipient of the country's highest sporting honour the Khel Ratna award.
The key to success has been her determination which helped her emerge from a remote village in Manipur and rise to the top of women's boxing. Her efforts as the International Boxing Association ambassador has finally given Olympic recognition to the sport, which is now part of the 2012 London Games. Her eyes are set on a gold medal in London.
Regarded as the future of Indian cuesport by many, Shahbaz Adil Khan has truly made it big, especially at the junior level. The 20-year-old has been consistency personified, winning four junior national billiards titles in successive years, from 2006 to 2009.
In addition, Khan has also dominated the snooker circuit with consecutive titles in Indore (2008) and Agra (2009). His performance at the senior level too was encouraging as he stood eighth this year among the country's best cueists.
With the advantage of height on her side, 14-year-old P.V. Sindhu picked up the badminton raquet at eight to prove her prowess on the court.
The confidence with which this five-foot-10-inch youngster steps onto the court underlines that she is India's up and coming shuttle star.
Sindhu, the sub-junior national champion in singles as well as doubles, combines well with Sikki Reddy, as is evident from their doubles titles at the national level.
Born into a sports family her father P.V. Ramana is an Arjuna awardee in volleyball and mother P. Vijaya is also a former national volleyball player Sindhu won a bronze in the singles at the Asian Sub-Junior Badminton Championship in Colombo in August, and represented the country in Junior Asian Badminton Championships as well as the Junior World Badminton Championships in Malaysia in March and October respectively.
Consistency is what really counts in top-level sport. Somdev Devvarman will realise this when he begins his third season at the ATP Tour in 2010. India's No. 1, who enjoyed a honeymoon year in 2009, has his task cut out in defending the points that helped him reach as high as 116 in the first week of November 2009. Somdev had a fairytale run at the Chennai Open where his runner-up performance not only fetched him 150 points, but also helped him jump 48 places in the world rankings after starting the year at 202. He came back roaring in the US hard court events including the second round at the US Open.
Somdev carries India's hopes at the Davis Cup World Group match against Russia in March.
THE YEAR of the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games may mark the athlete's coming of age. Cracking the two-minute barrier will take Tintu closer to international medals in the 800m, her signature event. She is getting there, though her steps are more steady than spectacular. Tintu's confidence surged after winning back-to-back medals at the Open Nationals and the inter-state championship towards the end of 2009. Indian athletics is in desperate need of inspiration and the little Kerala girl has the tools to make 2010 a breakthrough year in her promising career.
In between writing examinations, Aaron D'Souza finds time to travel abroad and win honours for the country. The 16-year-old, who won India's first medal after 21 years at the Asian Swimming Championship earlier this month, has grown from a gawky teenager to a confident youngster all in a span of one year. Having missed a Beijing Olympics berth by a fraction of a second, he returned to the pool and trained harder. The effort has paid off.
Aaron, who started swimming at the age of 5, turned out to be a medalist at both the Asian Youth Games and the Asian championship. His achievements have not been without hurdles, with finances being a major stumbling block. Earlier this year, Aaron nearly gave up swimming due to lack of financial support and had to be persuaded by his family and coach Pradeep Kumar to continue swimming. With three important events lined-up in 2010 the Youth Olympics, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, the Bengaluru you-ngster has his task cut-out.
Sarfaraz Khan, Cricket DoB: October 22, 1997
Sarfaraz's feat was "a miraculous achievement to score 439 runs. It has never been done before", according to Sunil Gavaskar. When Sarfaraz asked Gavaskar the secret to getting a big score, he told him to stop looking at the scoreboard. He also suggested that the youngster maintain a diary: "Read it when you go through a bad phase. It will give you insights on how you used to do things differently before".
Bansi Prathima, Chess, DoB: January 23, 2001
Prathima has a bright future. She is doing great and it is overwhelming to see such talent in Andhra Pradesh. Prathima has already won so many gold medals and I am sure she will be India's best in the years to come.
18-year-old world junior champion Dronavalli Harika
Gaganjeet Bhullar Golf DoB: April 27, 1988
Bhullar has been playing some superlative golf in the past two years. So I don't see him far away from playing on the USPGA as European conditions are far more harsh for Indians than the US. With a game like his, one can rank him among the top-15 players on the Asian circuit.
Arjuna Awardee and veteran golfer Bunny Laxman Singh
Diwakar Ram Hockey DoB: December 8, 1989
He is an amazing talent. How many times we look up to to him to come good and how well he responds each
time. Having a reliable drag-flicker is a blessing for any team.
Junior India coach A.K. Bansal
Mary Kom Boxing, DoB: March 1, 1983
Mary is one of the most hard-working and determined boxers that I have seen in my career. If she sets her sight on something, she pretty much always achieves it.
Dronacharya award-winning boxing coach Jaidev Bisht
Shahbaaz Adil Khan Cue-sports, DoB: October 14, 1989
Without doubt, Shahbaz is one of the most promising cueists in the country. He is the finest among the juniors. I saw him at the under-21 Men's Snooker Championship in Iran back in August. I found him really talented and capable of upstaging big names... His only problem is that he gets a little too agitated after a defeat.
Former world champion and coach Manoj Kothari
P.V. Sindhu, Badminton, DoB: July 5, 1995
P.V. Sindhu is one ofthe best prospects India has in store in thecoming the years.
Saina Nehwal, the only Indian to win a Super Series event
Somdev Devvarman Tennis, DoB: February 13, 1985
He is a good, clean hard-working youngster and has a great work ethic. He has proved that he has what it takes to deliver when the chips are down as he proved during that incredible run in Chennai and against South Africa.
Davis Cup veteran Leander Paes
Tintu Luka Athletics, DoB: April 26, 1989
Tintu has the ability to go under two minutes in 2010. She has the talent and drive to excel in the exacting world of international competitions. The road ahead is tough. Nothing comes on a platter in athletics.
India's golden girl and Tintu's mentor P.T. Usha
AARON D'SOUZA, Swimming, DoB: July 21, 1992
Aaron is someone to look out for at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore next year. I have seen him grow in confidence this year and this has reflected in his performances in the pool. He still has a gap to bridge with regards to entering the top 150 world rankings, but he is on the right track.
Former Indian swimmer and Sydney Olympian Hakimuddin S.H.
With inputs from Ritika Gupta, Rohit Bhardwaj, Harpreet Kaur Lamba, Devadyuti Das, Sayak Banerjee, C. Santhosh Kumar, T.N. Raghu, Manuja Veerappa and Sundari Iyer
RINGING IN SOME NEW RESOLUTIONS
VIR DAS ACTOR, STAND-UP COMEDIAN
My New Year resolution would be to switch off my phone for at least three weeks. I would also want to take a long vacation, my first in last six years. I want to eat everything I am not supposed to and drink everything I am not supposed to.
Do all the things nobody would suppose I would do with someone I am not supposed to.
Gauhar Khan Actress, modelI seriously feel no human being is capable of living up to a resolution through the year but I still have one for the coming year.
I have not been able to hit the gym very regularly this year because of my tight schedule; it has come down to three-four times a week from every single day. So my resolution is to keep my gym routine strictly daily in the coming year.
Eknath Khadse Maharashtra Opposition leaderMy resolution for the New Year is to ensure that the added responsibility handed over to me as the Leader of Opposition is carried out in the true sense.
I will try to point out every shortcoming in the decision-making process of the government and try to ensure that all questions and difficulties of every citizen, whether staying in big cities, villages, small wadis, or hamlets get due attention in the House.
Vidya Balan Actress
My new Year resolution is to learn horse riding and practice dance at least once a week. It can be any dance form. I learnt Kathak during my schooling days. Maybe I will take up the same again and complete a course.
Sanjana South Indian actress2010 is going to be a very busy year for me as I have already signed five movies so far. Shooting for three of these will begin in the first few months of 2010. I am also working for the Malayalam film industry in 2010 the only South Indian language in which I have not done a movie yet. My New Year resolution is to be super disciplined in terms of my diet, time management, and to improve my looks and shape up to be a totally different person.
G. Kishan Reddy BJP MLA
In 2010, I resolve to focus more on state-level issues and participate actively in agitations on issues concerning the people of the state. In the last five years, I concentrated only on the problems of people in my constituency. Since people elected me for the second time, I have decided to fight with the government and solve problems like rising prices, delay in completion of irrigation projects due to lack of funds, government's inability to reimburse fee for students and other issues that concern not just people in my constituency but the whole state. As a member of a national party in the Opposition, it is my New Year resolution to travel to districts and interior places of the state to voice their problems in the legislative Assembly.
Mohandas Pai Director of Infosys Technologies
I have two resolutions for the New Year: Spend more time with my family, particularly my wife, and meet up with friends and renew relationships with them. I work from 7.45 am to 9 pm every day of the week. Saturdays are mostly spent on company or government related work. I am so tired on Sundays that most of it is spent catching up on sleep, which leaves me with very little time for family and friends.
M. Veerappa Moily, Union law minister
As law minister, I am planning to kickstart judicial reforms before taking up an initiative in legal education. This is one sector we need to bring in a lot of changes. On a personal level, I would like to continue my literary activity. I am planning to complete the epic I am writing on Draupadi. My novel, Kotta, which is being translated in Russian, might be released sometime in middle of 2010.
Dr Srinidhi, Chidambaram, Bharatnatyam dancer and doctor
I resolve that in 2010 I will broaden my learning and knowledge in dance and medicine. It has been my concern that we sometimes get so caught up in day to day management that we don't update our knowledge or skills. I intend addressing this in 2010.
As told to Supriya Sharma, Prashanth Bhat and Shama Bhagat
BOLLYWOOD'S 10-STEP GUIDE TO A HAPPY 2010
R. 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.
Private livesShyam 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
REGISTER & ACT
FIRS MADE MANDATORY
THE union home ministry's belated expression of what ought to have been a rule only exposes the fundamental drawbacks of the police administration. If state governments follow instructions that the Centre says it will issue, First Information Reports will be made mandatory for every complaint that is filed in a police station. That will at once reduce the General Diary ~ often as not an airy fairy document and treated as much ~ to irrelevance. Almost literally, the police across the country have been asked to sit up and take action. That they haven't all these years has led to disastrous consequences, notably in Nithari where the FIR was not lodged for months after the kidnappings, was deferred repeatedly by successive governments in the molestation charge against the former Haryana DGP and quite the worst of the series ~ was filed 38 days after the rape of a nun in Orissa's Kandhamal. Of a piece with this almost criminal callousness is the finding that barely 12 per cent of rape cases make it to the FIRs. In all these instances and many more, the prima facie evidence was potent enough. None of these deserves a mere GD entry, that may or may not be pursued. Yet the fact that the FIRs were not registered confirms suspicions that the police can act in cahoots with the perpetrators or the political class. Suspicions that are reinforced by the home ministry's directive in the aftermath of the Ruchika Girhotra molestation/suicide case. It is not the offence alone that determines action; the status of the accused and the political clout are no less a determinant. These precisely have been the deterrents against an FIR. Hopefully, first information reports will ensure due investigation and monitoring by the magistrate. Nor for that matter can the case be closed without the court's authorisation. It is another matter, of course, how an already overburdoned subordinate judiciary will cope with this additional workload. On the contrary, a General Diary is not ipso facto followed by investigation, let alone arrests and chargesheets. The police, in a word, will be expected to perform its duty although we wouldn't advise anyone to hold their breath until the day this actually happens all over India..
Almost inevitably, a mandatory FIR brings with it the task of separating the grain from the chaff, as it were. The police stations have been given the right not to register an FIR should the preliminary investigation reveal that the complaint is not genuine. The risk of frivolous complaints in the manner of Public Interest Litigations is substantial, and is likely to form the core of the resistance to the Central directive that can be expected. All in all, an essay has eventually been initiated towards streamlining the functioning of the police that receives and treats complaints on its terms. But this is only the first step.
RELIGION & STATEHOOD
RSS MAKES TELANGANA WATERS MURKIER
THE angle is as emotively contrived as its timing is uncanny. The spin doctors of the ascendant Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh seem intent on making the Telangana waters murkier at a juncture when sub-regional jingoism is on the boil again. To the extent that the Centre's dithering, even contradictory postures since 9 December, is being exploited with decidedly communal overtones. The dominant fear of one of the overbearing arms of the Sangh Parivar is that Muslims will constitute 14 per cent of Telangana's population, against the present 9.4 in Andhra as a whole. The misgiving is over the demographic swing in Telangana, should it ever be created. No such concern was betrayed by the NDA's national dispensation when the states bordering Bangladesh witnessed a substantial change in the demographic structure of the population. Worse, it was borne out by the illegal immigration. Ergo, so goes the saffronite logic, Muslims are set to have a "great chance of domination" should Harit Pradesh be created. This could even mean a throwback to the era of the Nizam of Hyderabad. While the basic fact of history cannot be disputed, the central point that the RSS must accept is that religion can never be a determinant for statehood. That demand can arguably be buttressed pre-eminently on the strength of ethnicity and economic exploitation, as in Darjeeling. To play up the communal factor can only make the issue still more sensitive, perhaps even violent.
One is inclined to carp as well over the double-think within the Parivar on the issue of statehood. It runs counter to the Bharatiya Janata Party's support for smaller states, notably Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh ~ indeed, the ones that emerged under its dispensation at the Centre. Logically enough, the party has supported Telangana, has backed the demand for Gorkhaland following its alliance with the GJMM in the Lok Sabha elections, and is now set to be part of the JMM's coalition in Jharkhand. The BJP hasn't wavered, but the parent organization, now handling the remote control mechanism, is inclined to play the dice.
GROPING IN THE DARK
THE POLITICS OF POWER IN BENGAL
MR Devanand Konwar, Governor of Bihar who is holding additional charge in West Bengal, may have made a casual remark on the convention being followed in Raj Bhavan of voluntary power cuts in two spells of one hour each every day. There could be no quarrel with his submission that capacity addition rather than a jugglery with power cuts was the answer to a long-standing problem. It was left to a section of Left leaders to grab the opportunity to "welcome" the statement and use it as a handle to pour scorn on his predecessor. Shyamal Chakraborty, the CPI-M's state committee member, was among those who had been quite vocal in dubbing Mr Gopalkrishna Gandhi a Trinamul sympathiser in the same way as his party was inclined to describe all its critics. Why a statement on a ritual at Raj Bhavan was necessary to begin with is anyone's guess but what is clear is that Alimuddin Street has already begun to draw pointless comparisons between Mr Konwar and his predecessor. The state government is evidently keen on a Governor who is either non-functional or favourably disposed towards everything that the party dictates to the government. Mr Konwar may not have been making the friendly overtures that the Left would want him, and all incumbents of Raj Bhavan, to make. But then a party which has encountered distressing signals over the past one year is quite inclined to clutch at straws.
It does not require a great mind to convince anyone that a two-hour self-inflicted inconvenience will not end the misery that has gripped the state even in winter and has spread to an international event at the Eden Gardens. Mr Gandhi's gesture had served a two-fold objective. One, it signalled a concern for the inconvenience that citizens ~ not so much VIPs in "exempted'' locations ~ faced and had reason to appreciate as genuine. Secondly, it had indirectly exerted some pressure on those who ought to be more concerned. It was a human response that went well beyond the understanding of those who smell politics in every move and whose happiness over the incumbent's statement is wholly misplaced. It leaves West Bengal darker ~ and spiritually poorer.
THE DAY PEOPLE REALLY FEEL GUILTY
LONDON, 29 DEC: A New Year resolution may well be on your cards, but 29 December is payback time ~ it's the crux day when people really feel guilty about all of their indulgences over the year, a new survey has found.
Yes, according to the poll of over 2,000 adults in Britain, it's the day when one's all guilty pleasures come to a head, the Daily Mail reported.
It is also today that millions of people decide on a New Year's resolution ~ whether it be giving up cigarettes, alcohol or fatty food or joining a gym and getting fit, the survey has revealed. ~ PTI
2009 TO 2010
FROM DESPAIR TO HOPE?
BY RAJINDER PURI
The first decade of the 21st century is about to end. What was most urgent and compelling about 2009? I believe it was the continuing and sharp decline of governance that should have attracted most attention. The ability of those who govern and shape opinion to ignore this and to live with it was most alarming. To assess the decline of governance one has only to survey the last days of the year. Consider what is happening right now.
After a TV news channel showed footage of purportedly the governor of a large state consorting with prostitutes in Raj Bhavan, the governor denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, public protests outside Raj Bhavan led to heightened police security of Raj Bhavan to protect it from an ugly crowd. The governor resigned citing reasons of health. The ruling party congratulated the Governor for his high moral standards and preened itself for being a very moral party.
A former cabinet minister, who was convicted for murder and jailed but later released by a higher court because of weak prosecution and insufficient evidence, is being sworn in as the new chief minister of a state that recently concluded its assembly elections. He has acquired his post with the support of the major opposition party that earlier had castigated his criminal past and has pretensions to the high moral ground.
THE senior police officer who molested a teenage girl and drove her to suicide 19 years ago was found guilty and sentenced to six months of jail. Four chief ministers have been named for protecting the official during these past 19 years. The chief ministers are blaming each other. The government is restoring justice by asking the police officer to return the medal of honour he had received from the President!
The Supreme Court has stayed the elevation of a High Court Chief Justice to the Supreme Court pending parliamentary impeachment against that judge for indulging in corruption and land grabbing.
The Union government once again somersaulted on its decision to create Telangana state after anti-Telangana and pro-Telangana protests mounted to divide the State as well as the Congress party. New statehood demands are proliferating across the nation as claimants prepare the ground for fresh agitations. Meanwhile the Union government has given no indication of how it intends to tackle the situation. It continues to buy time in a worsening situation.
The CBI and Enforcement Directorate have still not come up with findings of the ongoing probe against a former chief minister for indulging in astronomical corruption through the sale of mining rights in his state. The accused has claimed that senior ministers and functionaries of the government and the ruling party were involved with him and he has proof to expose them. He kept a diary in which all his transactions with them are listed.
The CBI has also raided the premises of two leaders in another state who indulged in corrupt practices in their mining operations. Very senior central leaders of the major opposition party have allegedly colluded with these leaders in corruption.
A very senior army officer who enjoys the confidence of the Army Chief is facing charges of corruption. The Defence services are facing a dangerous shortage of equipment because of tardy decisions by Defence ministry officials. The general status of the Defence services has deteriorated so much that there exists now a severe shortage of 13000 to 14000 officers.
The Railway Minister has issued a White Paper alleging that the preceding incumbent falsified revenue figures in the Railway Budget and was guilty of corruption. The former minister has rubbished the White Paper and accused the Railway Minister of spreading lies.
After a series of rape cases against visiting tourists involving the kin of a VIP the chief minister blamed the rape victims for being responsible for the rapes. Meanwhile, the embassy of a superpower has officially protested to the state government against the unsatisfactory investigation of the rape case involving one of its citizens. The embassy has warned that it will issue an advisory urging all its citizens to desist from visiting the state.
A leading national daily newspaper has institutionalised the spreading practice of paid journalism ~ the printing of news items prepared by clients who make payment for the publication. The ethics committee of the editors' guild says it is worried and will tackle the problem in 2010.
THE Prime Minister and the Finance Minister stated that the outlook for India is rosy and the annual growth rate can be anything between 8.4 to 9 per cent.
This is not news of a month. Nor is it news of a week. It is news of the day. These things are happening simultaneously. They are happening now as 2009 comes to an end. Is not the current news situation symptomatic? Cannot one big incident shatter the illusion that we are a mature and genuine democracy? The news of the day is dangerous. The absence of alarm caused by it is more dangerous. Governance has totally collapsed and nobody worries about it. Governance collapses when leaders misbehave. It is leaders who make the system. But equally it is the system that conditions the conduct of leaders.
The collapse of governance can be stemmed in two ways. Either the leaders must improve to become better human beings. Or the system must reform to restrain the misconduct of leaders. The improvement in the quality of human conduct can be accomplished only by a messiah or saint who inspires the people. The arrival of any such divine being is not in our hands. Alternatively, the system must be reformed to improve governance and restore democracy in word and in spirit. That is in our hands. There is yet time to take a holistic view and reappraise the entire working of the political system to ensure that the proper checks and balances required for a healthy democracy are put in place. Several utopian suggestions for reform of the system are circulating. Aspiring reformists must keep one imperative in mind. The reform must be within the parameters of the present Constitution and not transgress its basic structure.
The need for fundamental reform has never been more urgent. At the close of 2009 the warning signals could not be clearer. May one hope we will heed them? The year 2010 is still not too late for reform. 2011 may be too late.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
PARTY TO INDIA
When a group of westernized oriental gentlemen sat down in December 1885 to discuss how un-British the rule of the British was in India, little did they imagine that they were laying the foundation stone of a political party, the Indian National Congress, which would transform the history of modern India. In the early 20th century, the Congress emerged as the principal political force committed to freeing India from British rule. The character of the Congress and the movement it led underwent a dramatic transformation under Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who linked the people of India to the Congress. It was through a series of Congress-led mass movements that India was brought to the threshold of independence. Freedom came, unfortunately, with the partition of India, a process to which all Congress leaders, save Gandhi, acquiesced. Given the fact that the Congress had been at the forefront of the movement for freedom, it was natural that it received the reins of government in 1947.
Under the prime ministership of Jawharlal Nehru, the Congress consolidated its position as the party of India and of Indians. This was the main strength of the Congress: its identification with the Indian people and the Indian State. There was no viable alternative to the Congress as Nehru, the undisputed leader of the Congress and of India, went about fashioning the new nation-state. Democracy with full adult franchise, economic growth through state planning, and secularism were embedded in the making of a modern nation. The policies of Nehru helped the Congress to win successive elections till the first overwhelming defeat of the Congress came in 1977 when the country voted against the Emergency that Indira Gandhi had imposed.
Since that time, the fortunes of the Congress have never been the same. It never regained its former unassailable position. In the 1990s it did seem that the Congress had been reduced to an also-ran in Indian politics. Its power and influence had dwindled. Its mass base among scheduled castes and tribes, and among the Muslims, had been eroded by the emergence of other parties. The success of the Congress had always been its umbrella character to which people, irrespective of their caste, religion and creed, had been attracted. The rebuilding of the Congress began under Sonia Gandhi. The process has been slow, but the results are already visible. The Congress is trying to regain its all-India and umbrella character. A 125-year-old political party inevitably has an enormous amount of political baggage. That the Congress still marches on albeit sometimes out of tune with its own history is a wonder. Indian democracy is too capacious to be dominated by one party. The Congress has learnt to live with its recent contemporaries.
OUT OF PLACE
Gravitas need not be as dull as it sounds like. Properly done, it can be turned into quite a style, when sprinkled with the right kind of irreverence. Shashi Tharoor's career on Twitter had been providing a nice sort of counterpoint to his necessarily more straitlaced profile as minister of state. His 'holy cows' tweet after the Congress's and his own government's austerity drive did incur the wrath of the political establishment. However, that said more about the Indian State's humourlessness than about Mr Tharoor's sense of propriety, and was rightly dismissed by the prime minister as nok jhok or banter. But Mr Tharoor has been tweeting again about matters of State visa regulations, a liberal State and this time, it would be specious to invoke the need for humour to make light of what has been regarded as improper behaviour by his senior colleagues in the government. (In a subsequent tweet, Mr Tharoor refers to the reactions as "brouhaha".)
There is something odd about a junior minister's publicly aired political opinions being contrary to the position taken by his ministry, and this contrariness being expressed in a social networking and micro-blogging site on the internet. There can be internal disagreement and dialogue when an issue is being thrashed out within a ministry. But once the government has declared its position on the matter, it is irregular in a manner that is not quite entertaining for a minister of state to be cavalier about how he aligns himself to that position. In his Twitter profile, Mr Tharoor describes himself as "author, humanitarian, peacekeeper, columnist, former UN Under-Secretary General, now Minister of State for External Affairs, Govt of India", in ascending order of gravitas. Given such a line-up of positions held, one would expect better sense from Mr Tharoor in matters of how, and where, to counterpoint ministerial decorum with provocative charm.
IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER
A NEW CLASS WAR IN THE CORRIDORS OF POWER
The papers are attempting to put the usual Christmas and end-of-year cheerful spin on the events of 2009 with some difficulty. We are not yet out of recession, unlike most of the rest of Europe, and unemployment statistics are horrific, however the government tells it. General elections are on our doorstep, but there is little sense that anything more than the faces on our television screens are likely to change in the short term, at least. Meanwhile, whatever is going on in Copenhagen, we are not currently suffering any sort of global warming here, although constant rain, and then terrible floods last month, will certainly be put down to climate change.
We are now in the grasp of a real winter freeze, and I am sure there is climate change. But, for the casual observer, it is very difficult to get much of an idea of this change's direction. The worst thing here, let alone in India and in the low-lying areas of the Pacific, is the threat of imminent inundation, whether from the sea or our bursting rivers. I have written before of my thankfulness that, by the merest chance, we live in the English countryside halfway up a hillside with the river hopefully safely enough in the valley below. Things will have to get quite a lot worse before we have water coming through the door, but most of London where we all spend a good deal of the working week is low-lying, and no one believes that the Thames Barrier is enough to hold back eventual high water levels.
Gordon Brown is clearly working at his best, taking a leading role in the Danish mayhem that has nothing to do with polishing his poor image but appears to come from a genuine understanding of the issues involved in reaching any sort of agreement. No doubt this is when his intellect and a capacity for hard graft over any concerns to his public persona stand us all in good stead, and hats off to him if something worthwhile is achieved, although the general view seems to be that whatever the results they will not be enough ultimately to save the planet. I am not sure that matters immediately so long as Copenhagen is seen only as a beginning of ongoing efforts to make changes, not, as it has been cracked up to be, our one and only chance to save the world for succeeding generations.
The prime minister, whatever his role abroad, is unlikely to receive a hero's welcome when he gets home. We seem to be going backwards here with a vicious row and the sort of poisonous state of affairs between management and unions at British Airways that is reminiscent of industrial relations in the 1960s and 1970s. I am sure that BA cabin staff, like the miners then, have an axe to grind. Clearly, their management has behaved in a high-handed and possibly incompetent way, allowing the situation to get as far out of hand as it has. But the miners lost not only their jobs but also their whole industry to cheaper competition from elsewhere. BA is in trouble anyway and staff cuts are, one imagines, essential, but a total breakdown between entrenched management and obdurate union leaders threatening a strike over the Christmas holidays, ruining them for thousands of potential passengers, has succeeded in losing public sympathy for the staff. We are, instead, all ranged with Willie Walsh and Mrs Justice Cox, who yesterday imposed an injunction making the strike illegal on the basis of a technical mistake in union balloting. The evil day may have been put off, but it isn't going to be a very happy new year for either staff or management at the company as further battles are fought and passengers hurry to book their flights with almost any other airline.
In other ways too, the most unattractive aspects of British social intercourse have lately reared their heads in the corridors of power as Labour and Gordon Brown who ought to be bigger and better than that, when he is, after all, at the top of the political tree have appeared to be fomenting a new and rather ridiculous class war. Most people thought that we really had grown out of the sort of politics that sneers publicly at the backgrounds of others or, more specifically, the backgrounds of those who are once again being portrayed as too patrician and privileged to understand life outside the manor house or the rich enclaves of Notting Hill Gate and Belgravia. Both the government and the Opposition are mixed in old-fashioned class terms, and whilst Old Etonians may at the moment, for those with a will to slant appearances, seem to make the Opposition benches look like an old school club, there have been 'toffs' on the Labour benches, too, ever since the early days of the party. The Liberal Democrats are the successors to the old Liberal party that was always a good mixed bag of all classes descending itself from the largely aristocratic radical parliamentarian Whigs.
I doubt the class card will wash for long with voters who may quite cheerfully carp about privilege, just as we may blame Gordon Brown's Presbyterian manse background for his lack of humour and dour demeanour. We will vote for the individuals and parties that seem most likely to get us out of whatever holes we are in and give us individually the jobs and public services that we need even if we know that means a heavy tax burden for the foreseeable future. I am not a huge fan of the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, nor, as I have said previously, am I too sure about David Cameron. But I do not think, and neither do most other voters, that either of them is less likely to do the right thing after receiving one of the best educations available in the world at Eton and Oxford, or, in fact, because they themselves are well enough off not to be worrying about their own pensions. The only thing that will not help the Conservative case is if the party's so-called 'toffs' spend too much time apologizing for their breeding and upbringing, and thus making it matter too much by appearing to have no confidence in themselves for what they can do rather than who they are.
To win an election, David Cameron needs to gain the voters respect with a believable plan of action should the Conservatives come to power. This is quite clearly, in current conditions, not going to be easy, especially as respect for politicians in general is a minus quantity. But the Labour leadership is exhausted and failing, which should, in the past, have given him the sort of head start that won elections. One of his problems is being seen as 'the heir to Blair', an image which he has previously encouraged and will cause him far greater problems than his tarring with the brush of privilege, especially after Blair's recent BBC interview in which he admitted that he would have taken the country to war with Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein regardless of the excuse of possible WMDs.
Cameron must be seen to be secure in his own skin and careless of his image to the extent that words are more important than pictures. Nobody cares too much about the modernizing of the Conservative party, as had happened with New Labour. They just want a government of whatever hue that will do a decent job for them through a parliament of genuinely honest men and women whose loyalty to themselves comes second to their loyalty to their office, their country and their constituents. I always imagine that the new year will be better than the old one, but I have a feeling that government change one way or another notwithstanding, things may not look much different this time next year but one has to hope. Happy New Year to one and all!
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
It has been reported that the Inter-Services Intelligence chief, lieutenant-general A. Shuja Pasha, has floated the idea of getting a seat at the diplomatic high-table during the Indo-Pak talks. The proposal was apparently presented during a meeting with the three defence advisers in the Indian high commission in Islamabad in July 2009.
The ISI's plea to be officially recognized as a legitimate diplomatic entity dealing with New Delhi is quite surprising. If this were to happen, one wonders what would then be the fate of the Pakistani politicians and diplomats. Would they get eclipsed, once again, by the army? The ISI's demand for a change in role seems highly unlikely though.
The ISI's proposal was followed by the blunt clarification by Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, that the "ISI has been supporting militant groups in Kashmir and in the Federally Administered Tribal Area bordering Afghanistan". Mullen's statement exposed the 'rogue State' within the state of Pakistan.
There is nothing new in Mullen's statement for the Indian establishment. India has been vocal about the ISI's proxy war in Kashmir for a long time. The ISI has also been crossing the Indo-Nepal border with ease, and trying to goad a section of Bangladeshis to support anti-India activities to avenge the 1971 disaster.
Among the most harmful acts to disrupt international relations was the ISI's successful bid to forge a nexus with the Bank of Credit and Commercial International. The seventh largest bank of the world, and the largest Islamic bank in the 1990s, it had financed numerous militant organizations and laundered money with the ISI's assistance.
The ISI's enterprise in India is very well documented. It has been alleged that the ISI was one of the main supporters of the Khalistan movement. Credible media reports state that "the ISI is dominated by Pashtuns, the same tribe that is the Taliban's base of support across the border in Afghanistan. Thus, partly because of its family, clan and business ties with the Taliban, the ISI, even more than Pakistani society in general, has become increasingly enamoured of radical Islam in recent years."
The list of actions by the ISI against India is endless. When India bled, the world simply misread the cause of trouble. Now, as a coalition of international armies fights the Taliban, India's help is being sought to ease matters for the Nato-led troops. Surely, India understands its international obligations to maintain peace and order.
However, India must be careful not to fall into a welllaid trap. It would be potentially disastrous for India to allow the ISI and its agents to come to the table to talk trade, tourism, and terror with New Delhi. India would do much better to talk to those who have been appointed to hold political office as well as with economic advisors instead of spending time confabulating with the ISI whose sole aim is to spread death and destruction. The Indian leadership needs to be wary of an organization that has been accused of espionage and subversion, and of patronizing saboteurs and drug smugglers.
India must exercise utmost caution. The country has to talk with restraint, and act with discretion. Indian leaders must take lessons from real life. If a neighbour is a criminal, one need not invite him for dinner. Instead, it is better to keep a watch on his activities and maintain a minimum level of cordiality. India need not go close to shake hands. It should maintain its distance from those who spell trouble.
AL-QAEDA HAS EXPLOITED YEMEN'S INTERNAL UNREST
AQAP HIT THE HEADLINES IN 2000 WHEN IT ATTACKED A US WARSHIP IN ADEN HARBOUR.
BY MICHAEL JANSEN
Following the Christmas day bomb attempt on a US airliner over Detroit, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula posted a statement on a jihadist website claiming responsibility for the aborted operation. The group (AQAP) said it was mounted in retaliation to the bombardment of Yemeni tribesmen by US naval ships and declared "total war against every crusader".
The attempt on the airliner followed air raids on AQAP sites on Dec 17 and 24 that killed 60 people, a number of them civilians. The first strike was the likely trigger since AQAP needed time to organise its reply. US forces have been directly involved in the Yemeni government's campaign against AQAP for more than a year and $70 million has been allocated over the next 18 months to arming and training Yemeni troops and coast guard.
The al-Qaeda movement has exploited Yemen's internal unrest over the past two years to become the main home and operational base. AQAP is its host. Under pressure from US, Nato, and local forces Afghan and Pakistani jihadis have, reportedly, flocked to Ye-men to live and train in AQAP camps which were already hosting Somalis, Egyptians, and Iraqis. Omar Farouk Abdul Muttalab, the Nigerian involved in the attempt on the airliner, said he had travelled twice to Yemen to study Arabic at a legitimate institute in the capital, Sanaa. He made his second visit to Yemen on a student visa between August and December, leaving shortly before the operation. He flew back to Nigeria before boarding a flight to Amsterdam, transiting to the US-bound plane chosen for destruction. Abdul Muttalab was a ready recruit for AQAP: he is a lonely, rootless, overly pious young man who had no plan for his future.
AQAP seems to have also influenced US army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 US military personnel at Fort Hood in Texas on Nov 5. Hasan, whose family hails from a Palestinian village outside occupied Jerusalem, was also a lonely man who took refuge in religion. He had contact with cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, a leading AQAP ideologue, while he served as a preacher in a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, provides fertile ground for al-Qaeda to take root and flourish. The country's rugged mountainous terrain makes it difficult to impose control on independent and restive tribes. The secular republic has always been a weak state and the 1990 union between the largely tribal Shia north and the Marxist south has not worked. Yemen's proximity to Saudi Arabia has also been a major factor. The Saudis have exported their brand of puritan Sunni Islam to Yemen, energising Sunni tribesmen and alienating Shias. Yemen was also the birthplace of the father of Usama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's founder, so there has always been a close connection between him and the country. Consequently, many Yemenis joined Osama's contingent fighting in Afghanistan, were trained and radicalised in his camps, and ultimately ended up in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Following the US-instigated, Saudi-funded war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Yemen welcomed home its veterans. Some of the harden-ed fighters joined criminal gangs that preyed on foreign tourists and experts working in the country; the politically committed formed al-Qaeda in Yemen.
This group captured the headlines in 2000 when it mounted a bomb-laden speed-boat attack in Aden harbour on a US warship, the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors.
Under US pressure, the government attempted to tackle the group. Senior figures were arrested and jailed. But in early 2006, 23 staged a prison break with the connivance of sympathisers in the intelligence service and police force.
Among the escapees were dedicated activists who revived the leaderless organisation. In November 2008, its fighters attacked the US embassy, killing 10 bystanders. Two months later the Yemeni and Saudi branches merged to form AQAP.
Before being projected into international prominence by the foiled Christmas day attempt, AQAP carried out two major attacks in the Peninsula and Yemen. In August, a Yemen-based Saudi suicide bomber was dispatched to kill Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, head of the country's counter-terrorism operations. In November, AQAP fighters ambushed and slew three senior Yemeni security officials and their bodyguards. In spite of the Detroit set-back, AQAP is determined to carry on with its war against the 'crusaders'. In the chilling communique quoted earlier, AQAP pledged, "We will continue on the path (God willing) until we achieve what we want. We call upon all Muslims to kill every crusader" in the Arabian Peninsula and to punish citizens of the US for supporting leaders who kill "our women and children. We have come to slaughter you and have prepared for you men who love death just as much as you love life."
DRAWN BY THE 'POWERS' OF MUSIC
THE PROFESSOR WANTED TO RESEARCH THE EVOLUTION OF CARNATIC MUSIC.
BY L SUBRAMANI
For Carnatic music fans, December is always a busy month as they converge for the music festival in Chennai. Most of the 'sabhas' (concert halls) brim with audiences, with the most famous Music Academy even finding people sitting in its comfortable lounge, listening to the concerts thanks to the large speakers that adorn the corners.
Besides being visited by an overwhelming number of NRIs, the festival also receives a good number of foreign nationals who had either heard concerts by Carnatic musicians in their home countries or learnt about the festival through Indian friends. Their costumes, mannerisms and obviously their skin colour invariably attract journalists looking for off-beat stories on the festival.
But to stumble on Prof Herald Powers, a Carnatic music scholar from Princeton University, was a great privilege. As a journalist I got not just a story, but a wonderful experience of learning abut Carnatic from a different perspective.
I met Powers in 2003. Tall and well-dressed, Powers was a typical academic with an unusual passion for Carnatic music, which he came across in his adulthood.
As a 24-year-old, Powers had an opportunity to do research in a foreign country and he had to choose either Chinese studies or Carnatic music. "Despite not knowing both the subjects, I wasn't comfortable going to China for the obvious issue of language," Powers, 74, told me in 2003.
Landing in Chennai (or what was Madras in the early 50s), Powers was taken to veteran violinist Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and Rangaramanuja Iyengar. Though Iyengar refused to teach someone who has no grasp of the music, Powers' single-mindedness made him relent eventually.
It was quite a tough initiation for Powers, who could manage better since he had several hours for himself to practice. After five years, he became proficient with the classical music and had even performed in a small 'sabha'. Unlike his compatriot John B Higgins, who became one of the most successful Carnatic vocalists, Powers wanted to be an academician who wanted to research on the way Carnatic music has evolved over the centuries.
"Unlike the Western Classical music that has the scale structure, Carnatic has Raga, which I would define as well-evolved melodic definitions so unique to the classical tradition of India," Powers explained.
As the mellowing December sun illuminated his little suite in Savera Hotel, Powers also said 2003 would probably be his last trip as age wasn't making it easier for him to participate in the festival.
THE JERUSALEM POST
TERMS OF REFERENCE
After 100 years of conflict, Arabs and Jews have seen peace envoys come and go; peace plans rise and fall. While these efforts have not always been driven by altruism, certainly America's are rooted in good intentions.
Obama administration peace envoy George Mitchell is now trying to coax the comparatively moderate Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table by offering customized "terms of reference" memos (TOR) for a way forward to him and Binyamin Netanyahu.
According to Arab press reports, Abbas wants to see the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative, the Oslo Accords, Road Map and Annapolis all cited in his TOR. And he wants negotiations to pick-up from Ehud Olmert's last offer - the one Abbas never bothered responding to.
Plainly, the TORs presented to the respective sides need to be harmonious, otherwise only an illusion of momentum is achieved, though some peace-processors argue that even mere talking is a desirable interim goal to calm a volatile atmosphere.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton essentially provided Israel with the TOR it needed back on November 25 when she stated: "We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."
Thus the administration, after a year of driving down the wrong road, is now back to where the Bush II White House had constructively left matters - meaning that there can be no return to the 1949 Armistice Lines, and that agreement hinges on land swaps, on Israel's retention of strategic settlement blocs and on the Palestinians accepting the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.
Talks can resume as soon as Abbas drops his prerequisite demand for a total settlement freeze everywhere over the Green Line.
AN ADMINISTRATION that wants a breakthrough peace agreement in 2010 might also want to rethink its own terms of reference. Here are some suggestions:
The less the US says about construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem the better. Palestinians know that Israel is not going to tear down Neveh Ya'akov, Pisgat Ze'ev, East Talpiot or Har Homa. They argue, however, that the bigger these neighborhoods get, the less space the Arabs will have after a peace deal. All the more reason, Mitchell should be telling Abbas, to hasten back to the bargaining table and stop behaving as if he had all the time in the world.
That said, we think it is unhelpful for Israel to create pocket Jewish neighborhoods with negligible security utility in built-up Arab sections of the capital. Not every Jewish right needs to be exercised.
The administration has modified its initial fixation on settlement construction. Once the two sides agree on permanent boundaries, settlements on the "wrong" side of the border will be dismantled. Meantime, Israel has taken the extraordinary step of ordering a moratorium on new construction encompassing even the strategic settlement blocs.
The administration now needs to take on board that the settlement issue is a red-herring.
Israelis do not want to see Iranian or al-Qaida camps popping up in the West Bank within walking distance of our major population centers. The sooner the administration incorporates the concept of a demilitarized "Palestine" into its peacemaking, the faster progress can be made.
A workable mechanism for Israeli and international oversight of crossing points between the West Bank and Jordan is equally essential.
There can be no "right" of Palestinians refugees and their descendants to "return" to Israel proper. Palestinian demands for abandoned property reparations will be countered by the parallel demands by Jewish refugees and their descendants of Arab countries. The administration must tell Abbas to start preparing his people for this reality.
ONE FINAL suggested term of reference: The administration's Iran policy is the peacemaking lynchpin. The quicker the mullahs are defanged, and Hamas and Hizbullah deflated, the sooner moderate Arab elements may be willing to take chances for peace.
We applaud the president for speaking out personally Monday in support of the Iranian people protesting against the Khomeinist regime.
The more he leans on Iran, the closer the region gets to peace.
THE JERUSALEM POST
RIGHT OF REPLY: OUR SUFFERING SHOULD BE THE BASIS FOR COOPERATION, NOT COMPETITION
While I have great respect for Efraim Zuroff, I disagree with several points in his "Of insult and mockery" (December 23). He should continue his worthwhile battles, but other voices and viewpoints should also be heard.
Central to Zuroff's argument is the claim that any emphasis by Central European countries regarding their own suffering during World War II - especially if it focuses on the oppression of the Stalinist USSR - is somehow a challenge to the uniqueness and importance of the mass murder of Jews in those countries. Indeed, it is implied that this effort borders on or even exemplifies anti-Semitism.
This argument is fallacious and a strategic mistake. It is never a good idea to conceal history. Due to the existence of the Soviet Union and Soviet Bloc until 1991, the truth about the terrible oppression of Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Ukrainians and others was hidden away from the world until recently. As part of their national reassertion, these peoples want to highlight what happened to them and the full horror of their sufferings.
They have every right to do so. And why should we oppose this, as long as it does not come with the ignoring or justification of the Holocaust? Instead, we should fully participate, as Jews and Israelis, in this process for several good reasons.
ONE FACTOR is that many Jews were among the victims of Soviet repression. In the Lithuanian museum in
Vilnius, housed in the former KGB headquarters, it is pointed out that about 10 percent of those deported by the Soviets in 1940-1941 were Jews. One of them was Menachem Begin. Although being sent to Siberia saved those who survived those camps, this was not the intention. Almost 1,000 Jews were massacred by the KGB in the Katyn forest, along with thousands of Poles. Is the blood of these Jews and of the tens of thousands who perished in the Soviet gulag of lesser value than those murdered by the Germans?
Indeed, even if it came a distant second to the Nazis, the Stalin regime also targeted Jews and greatly contributed to their suffering. If it had not been for the Soviet-Nazi alliance, Hitler might not have been able to start the war in the first place. Stalin turned over some Jewish leaders to the Nazis, and being a Zionist was a criminal offense under the Soviet regime, including in the countries conquered by Moscow during the war.
A second reason we should join with Central Europeans in commemorating and revealing the true extent of this repression and mass murder is to help Jews and others understand today that anti-Semitism is not a monopoly of the political Right. This is of high importance at a time when the main source of anti-Semitism, along with hatred of Jews and Israel in the West, is from a Left that justifies itself by claiming that it is immune to that contagion.
Third, the idea that Jews should only deal with Central Europeans nowadays by demanding they endlessly proclaim their guilt over the Holocaust is counterproductive, likely to produce resentment rather than acknowledgement of responsibility and true repentence. Taking such an approach while refusing to heed their historic suffering at the hands of others is setting up a conflict exploited by anti-Semitic elements. We should engage in a dialogue in which we respect their historical experience, which is also that of many Jews. On this basis of solidarity against totalitarianism, we can stand together as friends.
In fact, these are precisely issues on which we need to cooperate today. At a time when nationalism is viewed as an unacceptable evil, we should affirm the importance of our shared belief in the preciousness of our peoplehood. We share, too, the experience of knowing that the threats of those who would wipe us off the map must be taken seriously.
THESE ARE complex issues. To cite my family's experience, the Soviets imprisoned my Zionist uncle in a cell with members of the Polish and Lithuanian anti-Soviet resistance; some relatives were deported to Siberia, others were saved from the Nazis by Polish collaborationist police who were secretly members of the Polish nationalist underground; still others were turned in by their Polish neighbors; and some were murdered by Lithuanian security police units; while others were saved by Red Army partisans but then kept as prisoners in the USSR for 12 years.
Zuroff ridicules the Lithuanian foreign minister for asking, "How could it be that while some Lithuanians were risking their lives to save their Jewish neighbors, others were committing crimes by sending them to death?" Zuroff is right in saying that far more were committing crimes than saving neighbors. But the foreign minister is asking a central question: How did people in each of these countries choose sides, and what can we learn from this process?
FINALLY, THERE is the question of the Jewish communists, some of whom tortured and murdered locals - including other Jews - in the service of the Soviet secret police. Anti-Semites use this to stir up anti-Jewish hatred, just as the Nazis did (a point well made in Latvia's museum on both the Holocaust and the oppression by Germans and Soviet occupiers). By refusing to deal with this issue, we only help them do so. We should discuss this issue honestly. Just as the action of Nazi collaborators did not turn whole countries into war criminals, all Jews should not be held responsible for the deeds of a tiny minority. Moreover, these people did not act as Jews but as enemies of the Jewish people.
It is an important lesson for Jews to understand how some of their number betrayed them. Jewish communists led the way in destroying the Jewish religion, language and culture in the Soviet Union and satellite states. This is an important lesson for today, when Jewish extreme leftists smear Israel and endeavor to hurt or destroy it.
In short, it is in our moral and political interest to join with Central Europeans in seeking to understand the truth about the past and its significance for the present. That includes acknowledging their suffering from both the Nazis and Stalinists during World War II, and the latter for the half-century thereafter.
The writer is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
TERRA INCOGNITA: A RIGHT OF RETURN TO WHAT?
SETH J. FRANTZMAN
One of the holy grails of the Palestinian movement is the "right of return," and it is one that always haunts any peace agreement. Alongside it is one of the most vilified pieces of Israeli legislation, the Absentee Property Law, which has provided more grist for the academic mill of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than anything else. Even after 60 years of conflict, there is very little understanding by Palestinians or others of either the concept of "return" or that of absentee property - which together represent an idea and the thing to which people might return.
It is important to begin with something that should seem undisputed. Why is there such a dispute as to the total number of Palestinians who became refugees in 1948? The UN claimed, based on British estimates, that there were 1,076,000 Muslims, 13,500 Druse and 145,000 Christians in Palestine in 1947. After the War of Independence there were 32,000 Christians, 90,000 Muslims and 14,000 Druse. Some 507,000 people lived in the West Bank and Gaza before 1948. No more than 592,000 people could have become refugees, and that is using the Mandatory government's population estimate, which was probably an exaggeration. It is the descendants of those people who today claim a right of return.
THERE ARE many Palestinians who, clinging to their ancient keys and documents relating to some property in Israel, have come to visualize a return to a place that is a fantasy. I've spent enough time traveling around the country with educated Palestinians to come across this distortion of memory. Palestinians have an attachment to things that they believe relate to their ancestors, such as old mosques that remain in many places. But they also have an attachment to things that they assume are Palestinian, such as Nahlaot in Jerusalem. The area, built from stone, seems to many Arabs to remind them of the Old City, and they wrongly assume that it must have been an Arab area. Thus some of the "right of return" relates to areas that were never Arab, but which Arabs imagine must have been Arab because of the way they look.
There are other properties that were Arab but were never owned by the people who claim a right of return to them. Take the village of Muharaqa that was once not far from Sderot. This village was established on land acquired by the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II in the late 19th century. He settled peasants from nearby Gaza in a planned village, armed them and told them to till the soil and bring civilization to the hinterland bordering the Negev. They subsisted that way until the sultan's overthrow in 1908, when the village and its lands were confiscated by the Turkish state.
During the British Mandate, the sultan's heirs sued for the return of the village, and the British court found that the land was state land. In the 1940s, the local villagers also petitioned the court and received the same reply. When the villagers subsequently fled in 1948, they left behind houses erected on land they never owned. Now those villagers, probably living in Gaza, want to "return." If they are owed compensation, it would be for their dwellings, not their nonexistent land.
WRITING IN Pity the Nation, the Israel-bashing author Robert Fisk, who usually writes for the Independent, claimed to have uncovered a great gem. He got an interview with the custodian of absentee property, who supposedly informed him that "about 70 percent" of the land of Israel might have Arab claimants to it. Fisk noted, "Arabs owned a far greater proportion of that part of Palestine which became Israel than has previously been imagined."
Fisk and his supposed informant were both wrong.
More than a third of Mandatory Palestine, the Negev, was never surveyed by the British and its land never properly registered, although the British believed that the vast majority of the Negev (13 million dunams) was government land. Of the two-thirds of British Palestine remaining, the area of the West Bank (5 million dunams) was also never surveyed. The British surveyed areas that tended to change hands in land sales and that took place mostly in the low country. It is hard to say exactly how much of the land that has a traceable title was categorized as absentee property of individual Arab landholders, but it wasn't "about 70%."
Whatever the amount was, large portions of it were not actually owned by the people who had lived on it. Some of it was owned by absentee Arab landlords and wealthy families. When Arabs speak of the right of return, they don't usually consider that they will be returning to lease their houses from the Abdul Hadi, Taji or Husseini families. When they speak of compensation, they certainly don't realize that the compensation, if paid to the actual owners, would never go to them. They fantasize about returning to a real house that they can call their own. Probably the most successful propaganda the PA has ever uttered is the idea that there is a right of return to anything that resembles a house and private land in Israel.
The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.
THE JERUSALEM POST
GRAPEVINE: PEACE IS IN THE AIR
GREER FAY CASHMAN
IT WAS somehow appropriate that the 10th anniversary of the Begin Heritage Center should take place during the Christmas period, one of whose focal points is peace. After all, it was Prime Minister Menachem Begin who signed the country's first peace treaty with an Arab state. On hand were Begin stalwarts such as Yehiel Kadishai, Yehuda Avner and Meir Rosenne, but unfortunately there were no members of the Begin family. The late Harry Hurwitz, to whose vision and tenacity the BHC owes its existence, was represented by his wife Freda. Oddly, very little was said about Begin, while Hurwitz, who had been Begin's close friend and ally from 1946 until Begin's death in 1992, and who himself passed away in October 2008, received only a passing mention.
The man of the hour was Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who had come to talk about the way in which the country was overcoming the global economic crisis. He was particularly proud of the fact that in a review of global economies, the investment bank Barclays Capital had pronounced Israel to have the strongest recovery story. Steinitz was also proud of the fact that even though such a measure has been broadly criticized by economists, the Knesset passed a two-year budget.
A punctual man, Steinitz, who was running a fever, had a good excuse for not attending. In fact, he came early and, during the cocktail reception, waited for his turn at the microphone so that he could go home. He spoke without notes, and considering how he felt, he was remarkably good on his feet. Had he not been able to deliver, either Rosenne or Avner could have easily improvised. Both are seasoned public speakers. Smoky Simon, chairman of World Mahal, who had been close to Begin since 1957, said of Avner that Begin had always referred to him as "my Shakespeare."
IN THE same week that the Begin Center held its festivities, there was a wonderful demonstration of coexistence at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall in Jerusalem. The ninth annual Life and Peace concert was actively supported by, and held under the aegis of numerous Italian governmental, parliamentary and municipal bodies, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality and the Tourism Ministry. Black, brown and white cassocked priests sat in the audience alongside Jews with kippot and diplomats representing many countries. But the true coexistence was on stage, where Udi Ben-David, an Israeli cellist, Hanna Khoury, a Palestinian violinist, and Rolando Morales-Matos, a Puerto Rican percussionist, got together to make music. The three had tremendous chemistry which transferred itself to the audience; it was positively electric.
ALSO THIS week, the children from the Voices of Peace, Tel Aviv-Jaffa's inspiring Arab-Jewish choir, endeared themselves to President Shimon Peres, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and heads of Christian denominations at the annual reception hosted by the president for the Christian leadership. Sitting in the front row with Peres and Yishai were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, Catholic Custos of the Holy Land Pierre Batista, Archbishop Aris Shirvanian, foreign relations director of the Armenian Patriarchate, and Elias Chacour, archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.
The young and highly talented singers made such a profound impression on the gathering that after the ceremony was over, many of the clergy lingered to have their photos taken with all or some of the members of the choir. Theophilos III posed with cousins Samira and Lucy Hannani, who have most amazing voices; if they decide to become professional singers, they will undoubtedly go far.
Since its 2002 debut, the choir has delivered a message of peace and tolerance at government-sponsored events and has appeared in front of former US president George Bush, Pope Benedict XVI, Quartet envoy Tony Blair and other international dignitaries. They sing Bob Dylan in English, Ahinoam Nini in Hebrew and Fairouz in Arabic, and have appeared in concert halls from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Opera House to the Berlaymont of the European Commission in Belgium. A few months back they sang together with Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham. Yarrow plans to be back and to sing with them again some time next year. Led by Idan Toledano, the choir is a living example of coexistence and intercultural dialogue.
POLITICIANS CONTINUE to talk about future Jewish-Arab coexistence, when in many places it has been a fact for quite a long time. It certainly exists in the workplace, though not always on an equal footing. It's an obvious fact among staff and patients in most hospitals and it can be seen in universities and colleges.
At Hamidrash L'Ofna, a Jerusalem-based fashion design school, politics are not permitted to get in the way of creativity, and Arab students work side by side and in cooperation with students from settlements in the West Bank, sometimes designing clothes that have universal appeal and sometimes focusing on the specific needs and traditions of the communities in which they live. Some of their efforts were shows at an end-of-course display, in which all the students helped each other to put on the best possible show. Among the designs that were exhibited were those of Assil Samara, 20, from Kafr Yasif, and Tehilla Gol, 35, from Alfei Menashe in Samaria.
JAPANESE AMBASSADOR Haruhisa Takeuchi hardly lets a week go by without hosting at least one reception of some kind at his residence. Last week it was in honor of Haifa's Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and which has received the commendation of the Japanese foreign minister. On hand for the awards ceremony were Nissim Tal, director-general of the Haifa Museum, and Dr. Ilana Singer, Tikotin's chief curator.
The Japanese foreign minister's commendations are given to individuals and groups in recognition of outstanding contributions toward the promotion of friendly relations between Japan and other countries. The Tikotin Museum was chosen for its long-standing contribution to the promotion of Japanese arts here. It is the only museum in the country that is exclusively dedicated to exhibiting Japanese art.
Takeuchi noted that no matter how good a collection is, it is worthless unless viewed and appreciated by many people. In that respect, he said, the Tikotin Museum has been doing an outstanding job by exhibiting its collections with quick rotation. Since his arrival toward the end of 2008, he had already attended four openings at the museum, he said. He applauded the museum for not limiting itself to the visual arts alone, but for hosting concerts, lectures Japanese film nights and other events that gave the public a broader appreciation of Japanese creativity. He was pleased that many more events are scheduled throughout 2010 in celebration of the museum's jubilee year. Among the 80 or so guests at the reception were MKs Anastasia Michaeli and Moshe Matalon.
ISRAELIS ARE becoming increasingly aware of the need to do something for children at risk. Not only is the business community supporting the efforts of organizations such as Elem, which literally takes such youngsters off the streets and places them in a warm, caring environment, but the entertainment industry is also getting involved, with members supporting a wide number of child related causes by appearing gratis at their fund-raising events, contributing financially or, as was the case with singer and raconteur Gidi Gov, giving all the proceeds of one night's performance to a particular charity - in this case Elem. Tickets ranged from NIS 100 to NIS 1,000.
Among the business enterprises that are key supporters of Elem is Osem, whose chairman Dan Proper received a special citation. Others present at the event at Tel Aviv University included Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal, Yehudit Recanati, Raya Strauss, Nili and Eli Zohar, Drorit Wertheim, Ori Slonim, Irit and David Federman, Talia and Gad Ze'evi, Yair Hamburger and naturally Elem president Nava Barak, who also happens to be president of the Friends of the Rabin Medical Center and was likewise on hand for the official opening of a new state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization laboratory at Beilinson Hospital, which is part of the RMC.
The initial fund-raiser for the laboratory was a gala affair held two years ago at the Tel Aviv Museum, where Barak was one of the speakers who attempted to impress on the public just how important such a laboratory would be in the interests of life saving research and treatment. She was there for the dream and she was there for the reality, along with Pini Cohen, chairman of the Friends of RMC; Dr. Eyran Halpern, who is the center's CEO; and Prof. Ran Kornowski, director of RMC's cardiac catheterization laboratories and interventional cardiology.
IT'S HARD to believe that birthright-israel has been in business for a decade. It seems like only yesterday that Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman were selling the concept of bringing unaffiliated young Jewish men and women here on subsidized tours to catch the Zionist bug. There were a lot of people who pooh-poohed the idea, but the fact that it's still going strong and getting stronger speaks for itself. Dignitaries from here and abroad were present at Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday to welcome the 10th anniversary plane.
As great an event as this was, it was not quite as big as the mega event planned for Thursday, January 7, when thousands of young adults and dignitaries will crowd into the Jerusalem International Convention Center to celebrate birthright-israel's 10th anniversary in the presence of President Shimon Peres. Sheldon Adelson, one of its major supporters, who has enabled thousands of university students to come here, flew in especially to greet the 10th anniversary group.
IN THEIR long ago youth in Australia, both Isi Leibler and Jonathan Sheink were leaders of Bnei Akiva in Melbourne. Each got married young and, together with their wives Naomi and Chana, formed a lifelong friendship. Each couple came here from Melbourne and each settled in Jerusalem within fairly easy walking distance of the other. The friendship was maintained here, where each of the couples added to their crops of grandchildren and also became great grandparents. Each has two great grandchildren. The Leiblers got theirs in one fell swoop by way of twins. The Sheinks got theirs one at a time, most recently three weeks ago.
The Leibler family and Isi Leibler in particular were in the forefront of the struggle for Soviet Jewry. One of the grandparents of the Sheinks' younger great grandson is Natan Sharansky, the most widely known Prisoner of Zion, who is today chairman of the Jewish Agency. Sharansky's daughter Hannah married the Sheinks' grandson Nahum Waller just over a year ago.
THE DISTINGUISHED Bahat Prize, the country's highest for a reference manuscript, was awarded to Prof. Eli Yassif, Dr. Dana Olmert (both of Tel Aviv University) and Dr. Yehuda Goodman at a ceremony at the University of Haifa. The prize went to Yassif for his manuscript Legends of Safed, to Olmert - the daughter of former prime minister Ehud Olmert - for her First Hebrew Poetesses and to Goodman for his Exile of Broken Vessels. The manuscripts will be copublished by the University of Haifa Press and Yedioth Books following a partnership agreement that was signed earlier this year.
The Bahat Prize, named after the late Prof. Ya'acov Bahat, one of the founding faculty members of the Department of Comparative Hebrew Literature at the University of Haifa, has been awarded annually since 1998 for quality, original, non-fiction manuscripts in Hebrew that have not been published previously and which have a potentially large popular audience. This is the first year in which the prize for a senior academic faculty member was designated at NIS 100,000, with NIS 40,000 for young scholars. The increase in the amounts resulted from a grant from the Bahat and Yuval families and former students of Bahat's who wished to honor his memory.
FIVE PERCENT of babies are conceived via in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, Prof. Shlomo Mashiach, one of the country's leading fertility pioneers, told Israel Radio this week. When he first introduced this method of conception here nearly 30 years ago, he said, he had also warned that it could have complex ethical consequences. Scientific progress has proved his forecast correct, to the extent that he now believes that scientists should be restricted in how far they're allowed to go. The scientific possibilities are endless, he said, and they're raising too many ethical questions. Nonetheless, there is no greater joy for a physician, he said, than being instrumental in bringing a new life into being.
AS IF Israel does not have sufficient headaches with regard to marginalizing its non-Jewish populations, Hebrew language maven Dr. Avshalom Kor wants to pour oil on already troubled waters. Kor reportedly wants to Hebracize the names of all 19 stations on Jerusalem's upcoming new light rail route. This includes stations in Arab neighborhoods. Kor wants to do away with Arab names, arguing that giving an Arab name to a station would encourage illegal construction by Palestinians.
But it's not just Arab names that Kor wants to erase. He also wants to get rid of historic King George Avenue and call it Bikur Holim, although the Bikur Holim Hospital is in fact in Rehov Strauss, which is an extension of King George. He even wants to change the name of Jaffa Road, and rename it Rehov Davidka in tribute to the name of the mortar that proved so effective during the War of Independence. There is actually a Kikar Davidka on Jaffa Road that is in the final stages of renovation and expansion.
ALTHOUGH HER sexual orientation was not exactly a secret, and her fans and most of the entertainment industry were well aware that her life partner is Naomi Kaniuk, the daughter of writer Yoram Kaniuk, singer Yehudit Ravitz, has decided to come out of the closet. In a cover story in the supplement of Yediot Aharonot, published in advance of a television documentary about Ravitz and Kaniuk, the singer decided to go public.
Generally speaking, Tel Aviv's gay community tends to capitalize on the outings of well known personalities, but this time around, it has remained relatively silent. Part of the reason may be that lesbian and homosexual relationships are no longer shockers.
Ravitz is of course not alone in the local entertainment industry. Among those who are openly gay are Lea Shabat, Yehuda Poliker, Amos Gutman, Dana International, Amir Pei Gutman, Ivri Lider, Gal Ohanskiand Corinne Alal.
WHAT DO former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval and World Keren Hayesod chairman Avi Pazner have in common? They were all born in Gdansk (Danzig), Poland, and each was still a child when he came here.
IT SEEMS as if he's been around forever, so it should have come as no surprise that Yehoram Gaon celebrated his 70th birthday on Monday. Most radio and television stations honored him by playing several of his popular songs, and some even played bits and pieces of the soundtracks from his movies and television series. The Gaon festival went on for most of the week, and is continuing on Reshet Gimmel.
Gaon has long been considered the national troubadour. Unlike Arik Einstein, who will celebrate his 71st birthday on January 3, Gaon's repertoire is free of cynicism. Most of his songs are related to his love for Israel in one way or another, and even though tastes in music have changed over the years, Gaon is still in demand and has a fairly good lineup for 2010. His radio fans would love him to resume his Friday afternoon current affairs commentary, which Israel Radio reported he was scheduled to do some time in 2009. That didn't happen but, hopefully, he'll be back at the Reshet Bet microphone in 2010.
THE JERUSALEM POST
AMERICAN ALIYA - AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
A recent analysis by Haviv Rettig Gur ("What American aliya?" December 16) and a subsequent editorial ("How to bring US aliya," December 20) have both focused on the truth that dare not be spoken - the aliya program is a total failure. Both pieces provide a range of causes and possible solutions. When all is said and done, however, I think even the most well-intentioned will have to draw the conclusion that American aliya en masse is just not meant to be.
How the agencies/bodies responsible for promoting aliya position Israel as an attractive alternative is frankly a non-sequitur. It is a smoke screen behind which aliya "careerists" can devote much time and energy to explaining away their tacit failures. Of much greater import would be a thorough analysis of the potential audience - the average American Jew. And if this were to be performed, it would force those at Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency to reach but one conclusion: Any attempt to promote aliya to this audience is pre-doomed to failure.
FOR THE sake of this discussion, let us break the potential audience into two - Orthodox Jews and all others. In the 2004 presidential election, those Jews voting for president George W. Bush were predominantly Orthodox, while those who voted for Sen. John Kerry were not. In exit polls, Jews who had voted for Kerry, "liberal Jews," were asked which issues were of the greatest concern to them. Gay rights and abortion rights were ranked numbers one and two; Israel came in fifth.
I ask the well-meaning people at NBN and the Jewish Agency: With which powers of persuasion do you believe you were endowed that will sway someone to whom Israel is an afterthought into leaving everything behind and becoming an oleh? Perhaps that explains in the order of the current rate of "success," one-10th of 1 percent.
Turning our attention to the Orthodox, the outlook appears to be as bleak. From personal experience, I would have to say that Israel to the average religious Jew living in the Diaspora is in some state of virtual reality. Yes, there is a State of Israel, but I need not move there until the messiah arrives. Yes, there is a State of Israel, but I need not live there as long as secularists run the government. Yes, there is an Israel, but... etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.
I HAVE often said to religious friends living in the States that prehistoric man would have greater luck extracting mastodons from the La Brea tar pits, than NBN or the agency would have of extracting a religious Jew from the Diaspora. One need only examine centuries of experience to identify this strong bond between the "galutnik" (those sworn to living anywhere on the globe but Israel) and the Diaspora:
1) The Jews of 15th-century Spain are enjoying their "Golden Age," when suddenly the Inquisition falls upon them. How many flee to Israel, how many to other parts of the Diaspora?
2) The Jews of 19th-century Russia are subjected to a long series of pogroms. How many flee to Israel, how many to neighboring states, such as Germany?
3) The Jews of 20th-century Germany are enjoying the "Age of Enlightenment." Along come the signs of impending doom - Kristallnacht, the Nuremburg Laws. How many attempt to flee?
THE JEWS of the Diaspora are fully embedded. Consider the Siyum Hashas (the 7.5-year cycle of learning the Talmud, culminating with a community gathering) held in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan ($500 ringside seats) a few years ago - four-and-a-half hours of lectures by the Torah giants of the Diaspora, but not a single mention of Israel. The prophet may have told us, "For from Zion shall come forth Torah," but that seminal thought obviously does not register with our Diaspora brethren.
That is what is facing the well-meaning folk at Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency in attempting to promote aliya: one body of Jews to whom Israel is at best an afterthought, another group to whom the land exists solely in the mind's eye. The great Torah sage Rashi tells us (Deuteronomy 30:3) that because of the Jews' reluctance to come home to Israel, the messiah will be forced to "pluck" them out one-by-one. To the well-meaning folks at NBN and JA, save your time, money and effort. You will have no better luck.
The writer is a professional portfolio manager for both high net-worth individuals and institutions. He resides in Kochav Yair.
THE JERUSALEM POST
The epic of aliya can be characterized by the transformation from idealist to ideologue to tired man. As the voyage taken transforms from army to school to employment, all-encompassing clarity becomes fogged with obligation and chore. With time and acclamation, the dreams that were the impetus for the journey become less vivid, and principle is replaced with responsibility.
Of course each immigrant's story is different. Perhaps qualification is necessary - this epic is personal, and mine.
Although raised on the seldom-told tales of my grandparents' escape from the czar or whoever else was trying to snatch up a Jew, the idea of a connected past was abstract. My family had made it. We were Americans. So red-blooded was I that in the early 1980s, my friends and I played "fight the Russians" games on the playground. At 13 I put a yellow ribbon on our apple tree. Later, I flirted with joining Bill Clinton's military - the papers to be signed were in front of me.
I spoke one language.
Without telling the story I've told so many times, I found my origins, my ancestral people and my place in life. Yes, I am a Jew. Yes, Zionism is cool. Yes, I want to be an IDF soldier.
Upon becoming Israeli, the mind at first struggles with the awesomeness of receiving that national ID card to carry on our person at all times. Each step on each cracked or poorly paved road in Jerusalem, with the sunlight reflecting off its stone-faced buildings, is a personal achievement, a testament to predecessors' prayers.
They ran to America. I chose to come here.
I may not have walked thousands of miles from Africa or run from a dictator, but hey - I left the US Constitution, economic opportunity, entrepreneurship, customer service and order behind. That's gotta count for something.
And it does. For a while. But the coolness eventually wears off.
After completing a three-year Israeli degree following a few years in the army, the ideals involved in making aliya and becoming part of something bigger, of living that dream, withdraws into some corner of the soul. Each day of life becomes routine.
Everything is an extension of the army. A truer understanding of the Israeli system, of university bureaucracy, National Insurance, banking, taxes and life as a not-so-special former lone soldier recasts the memory of "the old country" as an easier place, a more organized place, a place of comfort.
No more are the relaxing two-day finales of hectic schedules. Six-day weeks are common. Friday may be a day off, but Shabbat is coming and shopping must be done. Saturday may belong to us, but coming from over there, it just never feels right as the week's final day of rest. That extra day of repose so loved, so enabling and empowering for the week to come, is just another manic start to the usual, over here.
Sundays are truly gone.
Terror attacks and reserve duty help form the basis of political views. Coffee can't be shared without sharing personal narrations of frustration and injustice, resentment and corruption. Yet there are jokes and laughs and smiles in that round of brewed Turkish. What's remembered is subject to choice.
We go to work. The "cuteness" of a car parked on a sidewalk has become irritation and then anger as someone justifies leaving a child in a car while he runs into a kiosk. A bus increases speed toward a crosswalk as it plays Are You Faster Than a Pedestrian?
The ideals are overcome by reality, and ideology is subdued by exhaustion.
The dream becomes tangible and, finally, it can be grasped that the daily concerns of all people everywhere are constant here, too. Bills, taxes, politics, road rage and on and on are ours as much as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Yes, this place is a place of reality.
But then someone walks up, smiles, and says, "Hello, dear Jew," wishing a Shabbat shalom even though it's only Wednesday. An old man in a line at some old Mandate-era office building goes wide-eyed in amazement and showers praise as he hears the story of a young Jewish man from the place where so many dream of going, who came here of his own free will and on his own, to make a new life.
Native-born Israeli friends who can't pronounce the letter "R" declare you one of them, an honorary Kurd or Iraqi or Yemenite. And when some people talk of running if there's a war - The War - the thought of abandoning the nation is unfathomable.
Friends get mad you're not around for coffee.
And then one remembers all those people who came here shouting assertions of "Zionism forever!" after making the same journey from back West, promising to join the army and make the desert bloom, only to become disenchanted after failing to learn the language and being unable to find that job. They return to comfort. Gone.
Aliya is rebirth. In that sense, we are all young, learning and trying to make it. Tired is something we all learn to deal with. Being tired is part of being. It can be lived with.
And yes, the fatigue that led to collapse only moments earlier evaporates and a smile creates itself with the realization that all these little problems, inconveniences and daily aggravations belong to me as much as anyone else.
In an instant, endorphins of romanticism are released from some long-dormant Zionist gland and you recall that over there, the same historical connection to the ground simply doesn't exist. Over there, not everyone encountered has a connection to you that transcends appearance, accent or degree of faith.
You'll always be from over there. It's just the way it is, and thank God for that. A wonderful place, that, offering the ability to reach beyond the voluntary acquiescence of precedent and prayer, allows for the capacity to see beyond the next hurdle. How many people are so blessed to be raised on the ideals of republican government, with heroes like Washington, Franklin and Bo Jackson?
But home is here now. And home is good.
The strings of memory may never stop tugging from time to time. Post-idealist weariness is part of growing up. All that is required to end the turmoil is release and acceptance.
Yes, being a capitalist is hard in a country with a socialist history. Yes, love and admiration of the Constitution and separation of powers can continue even when the system of governance here is a jambalaya of executive, legislative and judicial cramming together inside the overlaps of some Venn diagram detailing the party-bolting, coalition-concerned and proportional-(un)representation of the Knesset and its chosen courts.
And yes, it's okay to contemplate what could be in our war-torn tiny land that has brought us all together.
The army will be calling for another month of my life. There will be another election. Each day builds strength for the next. Our poets, singers, bartenders and cops all share what you feel. Nothing is easier over there, not in that respect.
Breathe. Release. Accept. And then, and only for a moment, as the last words of this essay are penned, there is nothing more wonderful than living in Israel, freedom-loving, separation-of-powers-believing, line-wanting, falafel-eating American that I am.
The writer is an internet editor at The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE START OF AN IRANIAN INTIFADA
THE JERUSALEM POST An Iranian-style intifada seems to be in the making. At the beginning of the current period of opposition, which started soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial reelection, quiet periods of seeming normalcy occurred between what were less frequent demonstrations.
Judging from the events of Ashura, however, the protests now seem to carry the potential to turn into a full-scale civil disobedience campaign, not unlike the first intifada the Palestinians initiated against Israel in 1987.
Such an uprising will mean continuous periods of strikes and civil disobedience, as well as more confrontations between members of the public and security forces.
The main factor contributing to the new status quo is the unrelenting policies of the supreme leader, which have pitted his philosophy of the Islamic Republic against longstanding Islamic institutions.
THIS IS a battle that Khamenei will find extremely difficult to win. In fact, if developments continue in their current form, they can result in significant changes to the structure of his regime, or more drastically, lead to its total demise.
His decision to allow the Basij to mount an attack on mourners at Ayatollah Montazeri's funeral was one factor leading to the spread of opposition in rural areas, faster and more efficiently than any campaign the reformist camp could have orchestrated. Yes, members of the opposition tried to take advantage of the mayhem, but also many genuine mourners had come to pay homage to a grand ayatollah. To Khamenei's forces, they were all the same. To allow attacks against the residents of a holy city where the seeds of the 1979 revolution were planted was not just dead wrong from a religious perspective, it was politically counterproductive as well.
To make matters worse, the very next day, the supreme leader's forces attacked mourners attending a ceremony for Montazeri at Isfahan's Seyyed mosque, where inside members of the public were beaten. The Basijis also tried to assault Isfahan's former Friday prayers leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Jalaleddin Taheri, who had arranged the ceremony. However, his supporters protected him.
IF THE Shah had committed such an affront, one could have attributed it to his brute dictatorial secularism. But for the supreme leader of an Islamic republic to order violence against Islamic institutions means turning against the very establishment that formed the foundation - or the very DNA - of the current regime.
In 1987, to Palestinians, Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the deteriorating political and economic situations there formed the nucleus of the political ideology that legitimized the first intifada.
Khamenei's increasing attacks against the Iranian public, followed by full-scale assaults against mosques and religious members of the community, are creating the nucleus of an ideology that is legitimizing opposition, not just in cities, but throughout Iran.
However, ideology is not enough. To succeed, what is needed is to increase the frequency of opposition to the point where the morale of the regime and its forces are sufficiently eroded and they can no longer afford to carry on with their current policies, or their ability to function.
Here again, Khamenei seems to be aiding the opposition. The brutal attack against the mourners at Montazeri's funeral meant that more people were motivated to turn up in the streets on Tasua (the day before Ashura), as well as on Ashura, which happened to fall on the seventh day of Montazeri's passing. In fact, small demonstrations have continued in different places since Montazeri was buried.
Further, on Ashura, his forces killed Seyed Ali Habibi Mousavi Khameneh, the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi. It's very possible that he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, the Mousavi family might understandably assume that he was targeted for assassination. After all, how is it possible that among thousands upon thousands of demonstrators, he was one of the few shot dead? Was he followed from the beginning by an assassination team? Was he marked for death before he left the house? These are questions that cannot be overlooked.
And now his funeral, as well as the seventh day of his death, will provide other occasions for the opposition to demonstrate. Add to this 15 religious holidays, plus at least five major political ones. Meanwhile, more are expected to be killed or arrested, meaning further mourning congregations and demonstrations. Put all of these dates together and the regime could start facing an unprecedented number of demonstrations.
Things could get much worse if the opposition turns to public strikes. With violence against the public expected to continue unabated and Ahmadinejad's plan to cut subsidies, translating to more economic misery, the regime could add to the attraction of this backbreaking scenario.
More than ever, the future of this regime hinges on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He can save his regime and keep it in its current form if he learns from his recent mistakes and modifies the way his forces and government reach out to the public. Failure to readjust could turn out to be a very costly mistake.
This article was originally written for The Tehran Bureau, a partnership with PBS Frontline, at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau.
THEY DON'T BELIEVE HIM
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to bring the Kadima party, "or part of it," into the governing coalition has ended in embarrassing failure. Netanyahu blundered first by trying to persuade Knesset members to quit the largest opposition party, and then by publicly appealing to Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to enter the cabinet as a minister without portfolio. The prime minister's statements about the need to broaden the coalition due to "the challenges Israel faces," and his hints of a major national crisis similar to the run-up to the Six-Day War, were not convincing.
The prime minister's problem is not his political tactics, but his strategy. In his talks with Livni, Netanyahu asked her why no one seems to believe his stated intention of advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. The answer to his question is clear. His decisions and actions raise doubts about his desire to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Netanyahu is superb at equivocating. He halted new residential construction in the settlements and then added settlements to the list of national priority areas. He promised that "the time is ripe to renew the peace process" and went to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and at the same time issued public tenders for hundreds of new apartments in East Jerusalem. How is it possible to take his call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table seriously when Israel is tightening its hold on the disputed city?
At one of the lowest points in his career, in a televised debate with Yitzhak Mordechai before the 1999 election, Netanyahu asked his opponent, "what is your path?" Now he should pose the same question to himself. His political maneuvering between left and right and his attempts to satisfy his political partners are leaving him bereft of public credit.
Livni was right in refusing to accept a cabinet position devoid of content after Netanyahu refused to hold even the most basic discussion of policy with her. This stance united Kadima's ranks behind her and halted her colleagues' planned desertions to Likud. There is no point in broadening the coalition simply for political convenience.
If Netanyahu wants people to believe him, he has to convince them that he is committed to advancing the peace process, with no tricks and no gestures aimed at compensating the settlers. Only after he proposes a new path and demonstrates willingness to confront the right over it will it make sense to shore up the coalition from the left.
THE SETTLER ADDICTS
BY ALUF BENN
Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded. His decision to include dozens of isolated settlements in the national priority map, immediately after announcing the construction freeze in areas beyond the Green Line, has achieved its aim: The settler protest against the freeze dissipated.
Instead of demonstrating against "Bibi's White Paper," instead of shouting and ripping up orders in front of television cameras, the settlers are busy with more funding that they will receive from the "evil" government.
The prime minister kicked his ideology out of concern for a clash with the U.S. administration, and his move showed that the settlers are no different from him. They have once more proved to be government-support addicts. And like those addicted to drugs or cigarettes, the settlers are happy to set aside their beliefs and principles to get their fix.
The settlers love to describe themselves as pioneers, heroes who are mounting the hills of Samaria and Judea to settle ancient parts of the homeland and fight the Arabs surrounding them.
Their narrative links religious salvation, the Biblical story and Zionist history. The settlements are presented as the heritage of the ancient Kingdom of Judea and the tower and stockade settlements from the British Mandate period.
The government in Jerusalem, like the heroes from the Book of Kings, once did what the settlers consider right, but they sinned and now must be fought.
It is a nice myth, good for some festival, but in reality the settlements were not established by divine decree but merely by the hand of ministers and officials. They are not kept in place by divine power, but with state support.
This is the same state that gave them the legal basis, the land, the security and the funding. There is nothing holy in the decisions of ministerial committees which authorized the establishment of settlements, nor anything of the sort in the activities of various ministries and local authorities in developing the outposts.
The comparison to the pioneers of old is not an exaggeration. Since the days of the first immigrations, Jewish settlement in this country was planned, organized and supported from above.
Baron Rothschild backed the first settlements, and the Zionist movement followed him. The settlers of Tel Amal, Hanita and Migdal were not entrepreneurs, but rather emissaries of the movement following orders from its institutions.
Following the establishment of the state, the government initiated, planned and subsidized the settlement activity, and the same model was copied onto the territories conquered in 1967. Even during the first years of their activities, when the settlements supposedly forced themselves onto the government, like in Hebron or Sebastia, they were immediately granted recognition and benefits from the authorities.
The tragedy of the settlers stems from their sense that the deal they have made with the state is one-sided. That from the minute they climbed atop those hills, they cannot be made to return. But the state thinks differently; when it wills it, it will settle and coddle, and when it wishes, it will evacuate and destroy.
That is what it did in Sinai, in the Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria. The state granted the settlements the status of "national priority," until it turned its back on most of them and concentrated on the development of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and the large settlement blocks. The result was that only a few are willing to live in the settlements beyond the separation fence, or even to visit there.
There is a minority among the settlers which opposes the life of dependency, rejects the authority of the state that destroyed Gush Katif, and threatens to refuse orders.
The extremists say that they would prefer to live in a Palestinian state if Israel pulls back from the hills. The Land of Israel is more important to them than a Zionist state.
But the majority is not like them. The elders of the settler tribe still hope that the wind will change its direction, and the state will resume granting "national priority" status to its emissaries outside the fence, directing hundreds of thousands of Jews who will bring an end to the idea of division, and will push the Arabs out.
At this time it does not look like it is going to happen. The isolated settlements will continue to suckle government support and exist on its handouts until they are evacuated.
The silence of the settlers, after Netanyahu bribed them with a few shekels, reflects the depth of their dependence on the state. And after they are evacuated, they will continue asking for help from the authorities: a permit for housing, assistance in finding a job, hooking up to the Internet. Just as happened to the settlers from Gush Katif. That is how it is when you are addicted.
PROMOTION: Mamilla Hotel
THE PANIC CULTURE
BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
Kudos to linguist Avshalom Kor and the Jerusalem municipality, which hired him to give names to the light rail stops in the city. Thanks to them any impure sign that might stain the Hebrew language, Zionism, Judaism or proud nationalism will be blotted from the dictionary, the spoken language and even from thought.
Indeed, it is not appropriate to give a train station in the Jewish state the name Tel al-Ful (the name of the area in Shuafat, in East Jerusalem, where it is slated to be built; literally hill of beans) or King George. Bring us proud Hebrew names from our great nation's heroic past.
But why stop at train stations? Who is this goy La Guardia for whom a street has been named? What's wrong with Bar Kochba? And why Terra Sancta and not Hannah and Her Seven Sons? And a fine should really be imposed on anyone who dares call the Morasha neighborhood Musrara, and probation to anyone who says to turn left at Masmiya junction. Anyone who writes the word "humanism" in Hebrew letters in an academic report will be booted out of the department of philosophy - whoops, Jewish thought. It is untenable that a people would surrender thus to alien culture.
Though it seems like a ridiculous curiosity, this purism is not funny. It is as resounding as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's verbal hooliganism, dripping xenophobia, even though his speech happens to be spiced with many foreign expressions. It echoes like the frightening rabbinic rulings published recently in the book "Torat Hamelekh" by Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva head Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, approving the killing of non-Jewish babies.
The connection linking these three phenomena lies not only their alarming aggressive shallowness but rather in their aim - to arouse panic, consciously. Panic, derived from the name of the naughty god Pan, who would fall shrieking upon people in the forest and alarm them, is a well-known means of controlling the masses. Criminologists call this type of panic "moral panic." Those who provoke it (the "initiators" of moral panic) use their political and media clout to mark out as "enemies of the people" an element or group that ostensibly threatens the public's welfare.
Insofar as we are talking about creating panic about swine flu or a crime wave - the damage is grave, because it distorts society's ability to deal with its real problems in a moral and sober way. In the cultural-political case of the language, diplomatic and rabbinic-racist panic - the damage is far worse and its violence and destructiveness are well-known from modern history.
The three initiators of the above-mentioned panic have breathed monstrous life into ghosts. Hebrew, the great miracle of the last century, is not threatened. Certainly not by Arabic, which barely survives here as an official language. Arabic place names are a part of the history of this land, and in any case every possible effort has already been made to erase them from consciousness.
A healthy people dwelling securely in its land should in fact adopt them and rejoice in the wealth they contain, and the historical memory inherent in them. This also holds true for King George and every Greek, Roman and other uncircumcised personage who put his stamp on this land and on the Hebrew language.
Nor is the State of Israel threatened in the demonic way Lieberman describes, and it is difficult even to respond to the threat from non-Jewish babies. But this triple sowing of moral panic is achieving its aim, which is to increase seclusion and hatred. Though they are trying to sell this as Zionist pride, it is nothing but its diametric opposite. Zionism aimed to achieve a normal life for the Jewish people, in harmony with the world.
The first mistakes of Israeliness were the Hebraizing of surnames, the crushing of Yiddish and Ladino and the creation of a new map on top of the historical Hebrew-Arabic, Latin and Greek maps. These have softened naturally over the years. With them the Diaspora fear of all that is different should also have calmed down.
The sowers of panic are thus drawing Israel backward into a cultural ghetto. And because an iron military fist has been added to this Diaspora mentality, along with a prime minister whose middle name is "panic," this unbridled panic is liable to transmute from a bitter joke into a destructive force, and to create tragedy from the anxiety.
ISRAEL CAN'T LAUNCH STRIKE AGAINST IRAN ON ITS OWN
BY AMOS HAREL
The year 2010 will be the year of Iran. Granted, we have said the same thing every year since 2005. But stopping the Iranian nuclear program will continue to top Israel's priorities during the year that begins in two days' time. The major powers are expected to announce soon that diplomacy has failed to persuade Tehran to freeze its nuclear project. And Western intelligence services believe the Iranians have already accumulated enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb or two.
In the meantime, Israel is striving to develop a military option. Judging by certain leaks and remarks emanating from Jerusalem, the use of force seems to be a real possibility. Such preparations are necessary: The Israel Defense Forces must have a military plan in case other measures fail. The defense establishment needs to improve its protection of the home front, which would be hit by thousands of rockets and missiles even in the event of a limited war with Hezbollah or Hamas.
Military preparations are also essential to prod the United States and Europe to exert maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic. This will not happen unless Western states come to believe that Israel Air Force planes are starting to rev up their engines.
This date with destiny has caused some Israeli leaders to adopt a messianic tone. Some even see a tempting opportunity to change the wider strategic reality in the region. Yet opinions are divided: Air force pilots, as they have stated on several occasions, are confident in their own abilities should the order to strike be given, but senior defense officials are describing their primary mission as preventing any foolish acts in the coming year. The IDF General Staff, as it did during the Gaza offensive, is likely to behave as an operational subcontractor, content merely to present the government with various military scenarios and their possible implications.
It must be stated plainly: Israel does not have independent strike capability against Iran - not in the broad sense of the term. The air force is capable of delivering a certain amount of explosives to a given target and bringing most of its aircraft back home intact. But it is doubtful whether Israel can allow itself to act against the wishes of the United States - to stand alone against an Iranian response and begin an open-ended operation against a nation of 70 million people.
An attack must be the last resort, not just another option placed on the table. It is best to disabuse ourselves of illusions about our ability to dictate a new Mideast order. That is the lesson learned, in blood, by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon in Lebanon in 1982 and by George W. Bush in Iraq in 2003.
This week, new protests erupted against the Iranian regime. It is difficult to predict whether the demonstrations will ultimately topple the government or simply strengthen it, along with the Revolutionary Guards. Maj. Gen. (Res.) Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, formerly the head of Military Intelligence, recently compared the two most significant developments in Iran - the demonstrations and the nuclear program - to two trucks: "Both of them moved up a gear in the past six months, but it is unclear which will reach its destination first. The regime is losing its legitimacy with so much blood spilled on the streets. Israel must now show caution and patience."
Over the past year, the Obama administration has provided the world with ample reason to criticize it for its naivete, its overblown confidence in the power of the spoken word to tear down walls and its impotence on North Korea. On the Iranian front, however, it has acted exactly as it should. Its pursuit of dialogue has pushed Tehran into an uncomfortable corner, created unanticipated common ground between the United States and Russia and could even lead to harsh sanctions against Iran.
What Israel needs now is a responsible adult, one who knows how to pull the emergency lever should the need arise. If such an adult cannot be found in Jerusalem, we must hope there is one sitting in the White House.
SAVE THE PRESS
BY GABRIEL WEIMANN
In recent years, a harsh, cruel, existential war has raged here - a war that attracts hardly any public attention, even though its outcome will have critical implications for Israeli society.
This war is not raging in Israel alone. All over the world, print journalism is in deep crisis. In recent years, sales of leading Western newspapers have declined and those that have not been closed have had to make cruel cuts, firing reporters and making their employment terms worse.
The main factor in the abandonment of newspapers by both readers and advertisers is the Internet, along with the free dailies, which are gaining increasing market share. Nonetheless, we must condemn the initiative by newspaper owners who joined forces with Knesset members in an effort to pass a law that would harm the
Israel Hayom freebie because its owner, Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is a foreign citizen.
This initiative crudely and zealously merges the MKs' political interests with the economic interests of Israel Hayom's competitors. But a bill directed at a specific individual cannot save Israel's press. Moreover, it must be remembered that the entry of Israel Hayom, the country's most widely distributed freebie, did not create the problem; it merely exacerbated the situation.
Nevertheless, behind this hasty legislative initiative hides real distress on the part of the entire press - and this should concern us all.
An independent and financially solid press is a courageous, determined press able to expose folly and corruption. A weak press is a fawning press that courts advertisers, submits to their dictates and tries to appease politicians. Every newspaper that closes will reduce the media supply in Israel and transform the watchdogs of democracy into frightened poodles. If Israel Hayom wipes out one of its competitors, and this is certainly a possibility, Israeli society as a whole, and not just the owner of the newspaper that closes, will be harmed.
The solution must address the whole problem. Several years ago, Knesset members proposed allowing direct broadcasts from courtrooms. This proposal aroused a great deal of opposition. In response, Dorit Beinisch, today president of the Supreme Court, set up a committee that studied the results of similar measures in other countries.
With regard to the question of the press, too, it is worth examining what has been done in other countries instead of hastily passing laws. French President Nicholas Sarkozy has announced several measures to protect print journalism, at a cost of 600 million euros. These measures include doubling the amount of government advertising in the press, giving generous tax breaks and proposing to give every 18-year-old a one-year newspaper subscription.
When radio commercials were first broadcast, there was fear that this would hurt the press. Therefore, "broadcast advertising services" were established under government auspices, in which the newspapers also took part. In this way, they were partially recompensed for their loss of income from advertising that moved to the radio.
When Israel's first commercial television station, Channel 2, began to broadcast, the law compensated newspapers that were not partners in the station's franchise, as well as the owners of movie theaters.
Government aid to the press, which is supposed to criticize the administration, raises fears of undermining its independence. However, the alternative - the collapse of the press - is even scarier. An urgent solution is essential for the continued existence of an independent press in Israel, and therefore for the protection of this country's quality of life.
The author is a professor of communications at Haifa University and was a member of the Beinisch Committee, which looked into allowing broadcasts from the courts
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE CASE FOR REFORM
Reforming this country's broken health care system is an urgent and essential task. Given all of the fabrications and distortions from Republican critics, and the squabbling among Democratic supporters, it is no surprise that many Americans still have doubts.
President Obama and Democratic leaders have a strong case. They need to make it now. Here are compelling reasons for all Americans to root for the reform effort to succeed and urge Congress to complete the job:
THE HEALTH OF MILLIONS OF AMERICANS The fact that 46 million people in this country have no health insurance should be intolerable. Every other major industrial country guarantees health coverage to its citizens, yet the United States, the richest of them all, does not.
Claims that the uninsured can always go to an emergency room for charity care ignore the fact that American taxpayers pay a high price for that care. And it ignores the abundant evidence that people who lack insurance don't get necessary preventive care or screening tests, and suffer gravely when they finally do seek treatment because their diseases have become critical.
The American Cancer Society now says the greatest obstacle to reducing cancer deaths is lack of health insurance. It is so persuaded of that fact that two years ago, instead of promoting its antismoking campaign or publicizing the need for cancer screening, it devoted its entire advertising budget to the problem of inadequate health insurance coverage.
We consider it a moral obligation and sound policy to provide health insurance to as many people as possible. While the pending bills would fall short of complete coverage, by 2019, the Senate bill would cover 31 million people and the House bill 36 million who would otherwise be uninsured under current trends.
MORE SECURITY FOR ALL Horror stories abound of people mainly those who buy individual policies who were charged exorbitant premiums or rejected because of pre-existing conditions or paid out for years and then had their policies rescinded when they got sick.
Such practices would be prohibited completely in three or four years under the reform bills. Before that, insurers would be barred from rescinding policies retroactively and the bills would establish temporary high-risk pools to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
The legislation would also allow unmarried dependent children to remain on their parents' policies until age 26 (the Senate version) or age 27 (the House version).
If reform legislation is approved, employees enrolled in group coverage at work would also be more secure. If workers are laid off an all too common occurrence these days and need to buy policies on their own, insurers would be barred from denying them coverage or charging exorbitant premiums for health reasons.
CUTTING COSTS Americans are justifiably concerned about the rising cost of health insurance and of the medical care it covers. The reform bills won't solve these problems quickly, but they would make a good start.
Despite overheated Republican claims that the reforms would drive up premiums, the Congressional Budget Office projected that under the Senate bill the vast majority of Americans (those covered by employer policies) would see little or no change in their average premiums or even a slight decline. Those who buy their own policies would pay somewhat more but for greatly improved coverage.
Most people who would be buying their own policies would qualify for tax subsidies to help pay their premiums, which could reduce their costs by thousands of dollars a year. And small businesses would qualify for tax credits to defray the cost of covering their workers.
The inexorably rising cost of hospital and medical care is the underlying factor that drives up premiums, deductibles and co-payments. No one yet has an answer to the problem. But the bills would launch an array of pilot projects to test new payment and health care delivery systems within Medicare. These include, for example, incentives to coordinate hospital and post-hospital care to head off needless readmissions, better coordination of care for the chronically ill, and incentives for doctors to provide a patient's total care for a flat fee instead of charging for each test or service provided.
The Senate bill would set up an independent board to spur the use of programs that save money or improve care subject to Congressional veto. Optimists believe the savings might come quickly but this could still take many years. Without passing a reform bill, there is little chance of success.
THE TIME HAS COME For decades, presidents from both parties have tried in vain to reform the health care system and cover the uninsured. Still many Americans wonder, given the deep recession, whether it makes sense to do it now. The first thing to keep in mind is that the C.B.O. says that the reform bills are paid for over the next 10 years and would actually reduce future deficits.
The need is clear and the political timing is right with the Democrats controlling the White House, the Senate and the House. If this chance is squandered and Republicans gain seats, as expected, in the midterm elections, it could be a decade or more before reformers have another opportunity. Americans shouldn't have to wait any longer.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE SYSTEM FAILED
Only luck and the courage of passengers on Northwest Flight 253 averted a tragedy on Christmas Day. When a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow a hole in the airplane's side, the explosive powder he had concealed failed to detonate properly and passengers subdued him before he could do any more damage.
Terrorists will always look for new ways to breach security, and let's hope luck and courage don't ever run out. But as this case makes chillingly clear, the airport security systems put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks complicated, expensive and hugely onerous for travelers have serious flaws. And so do the bureaucracies that run them.
The apparent role played by a branch of Al Qaeda in Yemen Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab told authorities that he had ties to Al Qaeda and got the explosive device in Yemen underscores the need for the Obama administration to review its counterterrorism efforts there.
Let us be clear: the system did not work. It is disturbing that Janet Napolitano, the secretary for homeland security, seemed to suggest, even briefly, that it had. It is unseemly that so many Republicans are rushing to make partisan hay out of the near disaster. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama did a better job, acknowledging what he called a "systemic failure" in the nation's security apparatus and saying he would "insist on accountability at every level."
Everybody bears responsibility: the Bush administration for not connecting the dots before Sept. 11 and not doing enough in the seven years after to rationalize and improve homeland security; the Congress, under both parties, for blocking necessary changes and failing to demand others; the Obama administration, which has shown little interest until now in reforming what is clearly an inadequate security system.
The first issue is the failure of the diplomatic and intelligence screening process, which should have raised alarms long before Mr. Abdulmutallab got on a plane bound for the United States, multiple entry visa in hand.
What makes this so much worse is that officials had something they can't always expect: fair warning. In mid-November, Mr. Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent banker in Nigeria, went to the American Embassy in Abuja to ask for help and warn them of his son's increasing "radicalization." The State Department, working with other agencies, had the power to revoke the son's visa or put a temporary hold on it. Officials say the warning was insufficient. That seems like a very bad judgment call.
The embassy did pass on the father's information, as required, to the National Counterterrorism Center and the son's name was added to a database of 550,000 people with some alleged terrorist connections. Officials decided that the warning wasn't enough to put him on the list of 14,000 people subjected to more thorough airport searches or to the 4,000-person "no fly" list. That was clearly a very bad call.
The case has raised all too familiar and worrying questions about the degree to which the authorities are sharing intelligence within the American bureaucracy and between countries. Officials told The Times on Tuesday that the government had information from Yemen before Christmas that Al Qaeda was talking about "a Nigerian" being readied for an attack.
Technology is also a major issue in this case. With all of the expensive screening machines, how did Mr. Abdulmutallab get 80 grams of PETN the same material used by Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" on the plane? The failure was apparently both in Nigeria, where he started his travel, and in Amsterdam, where he boarded the flight to Detroit.
The incident raises the immediate question of whether this country and others should now buy and widely deploy so-called whole body imagers, which can detect the presence of nonmetallic objects, including lethal chemicals, plastic explosives and ceramic knives.
The machines have been criticized by privacy advocates. We've had some qualms, too, especially with early versions that showed the outlines of a naked body too clearly. But security officials have managed to blur the images and adopted other procedures that should allay those concerns. What is needed is a rigorous and independent process of evaluation for whole body scanners and other equipment the Transportation Security Administration has 10 at some stage of development to figure out what provides the best security at the most rational cost.
Additional security measures may be needed subject to sensible evaluation. A reported new requirement that passengers on international flights into the United States remain seated for the last hour is puzzling since it wouldn't stop a terrorist acting before then. Travelers will put up with a lot to increase aviation security. But it has to be a rational system that does not make them the first line of defense.
Finally, there is the question of how the United States deals with the growing presence of Al Qaeda in Yemen. The administration has been pressing President Ali Abdullah Saleh, with some success, to allow American operations including drone or missile strikes on Yemeni soil. Washington is providing $70 million over the next 18 months to equip and train Yemeni security forces, and has dispatched special operations forces to do the training. The White House will now have to decide if these measures need to be further stepped up.
As soon as Congress gets back to Washington, it must confirm the heads of the T.S.A. and the customs agency, both of which have been under interim management for a year. There is no excuse for more politicking or delay with the nation's security.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AS THE NATION'S PULSE RACES, OBAMA CAN'T SEEM TO FIND HIS
BY MAUREEN DOWD
I was walking through a deserted downtown on Christmas Eve with a friend, past the lonely, gray Treasury Building, past the snowy White House with no president inside.
"I hope the terrorists don't think this is a good time to attack," I said, looking protectively at the White House, which always looks smaller and more vulnerable and beautiful than you expect, no matter how often you see it up close.
I thought our guard might be down because of the holiday; now I realize our guard is down every day.
One thrilling thing about moving from W. to Barack Obama was that Obama seemed like an avatar of modernity.
W., Dick Cheney and Rummy kept ceaselessly dragging us back into the past. America seemed to have lost her ingenuity, her quickness, her man-on-the-moon bravura, her Bugs Bunny panache.
Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?
W.'s favorite word was "resolute," but despite gazillions spent and Cheney's bluster, our efforts to shield ourselves seemed flaccid.
President Obama's favorite word is "unprecedented," as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies' penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he's getting out; and failing to capitalize on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.
Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.
We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year-olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.
Instead of modernity, we have airports where security is so retro that taking away pillows and blankies and bathroom breaks counts as a great leap forward.
If we can't catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn't check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?
We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.
In a rare bipartisan success, House members tried to prevent the Transportation Security Administration from implementing full-body imaging as a screening tool at airports.
Just because Republicans helped lead the ban on better technology and opposed airport security spending doesn't mean they'll stop Cheneying the Democrats for subverting national security.
Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan was weaselly enough to whack the president and "weak-kneed liberals" in his gubernatorial fund-raising letter.
Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned.
On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano (who learned nothing from an earlier Janet named Reno) had first tried to deny: that there had been "a systemic failure" and a "catastrophic breach of security."
But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to "Total Recall."
All that TV viewers heard, broadcast from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, was the president's disembodied voice, talking about "deficiencies."
Citing the attempt of the Nigerian's father to warn U.S. authorities six months ago, the president intoned: "It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list."
In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.
Heck of a job, Barry.
Thomas L. Friedman is off today.
I. THE NEWS
There are 95 people lying in hospital and at least 43 will be lying in their graves by the time these words are read. The bombing of the Ashura procession was, from the point of view of those who planned and resourced it, highly successful. They achieved a high body-count, maimed nearly a hundred others in such a way as to impact on the lives of those close to them, and destroyed as a consequence hundreds of shops, dozens of vehicles and perhaps thousands of livelihoods. They will have increased the level of personal fear and insecurity in millions of people, and brought this battered nation again into the international eye for all the wrong reasons. Not a bad result for the expenditure of a single life the bomber and the 16 kilograms of explosives he was said to have had strapped to his body.
It is illustrative to consider the aftermath of the Karachi bombing in comparison to other places that get bombed in particular Peshawar which has taken by far the heaviest burden of suicide and IED bombing in the last year. Within minutes of the Karachi blast TV news teams had been attacked, police vehicles burned along with private cars, Edhi ambulances destroyed, shops set ablaze and general rioting went on far into the night. Compare that reaction to that following any of the bombings in Peshawar. Is there widespread public disorder? Rarely. Destruction of private property not connected with the explosion? No. What the Peshawaris do, time and time again, is pick themselves up, tend to the wounded and bury the dead, then get on with rebuilding shattered lives and livings. Similar is the case with Lahore or just about anywhere else that gets attacked but Karachi is different. Karachi is a powder-keg of ethnic and religious tensions like no other city in the country. It is a city bursting at the seams with people all living tightly packed into a hugely stressful urban environment where the slightest spark can start a fire that jumps from place to place at lightning speed as it did last Monday. It is a city stretched to the limits that is resource-poor for fire-fighting and search-and-rescue more fires burn themselves out than get extinguished by design. We may never know what the real intention of the attack was whether it was to spark sectarian conflict or more broadly destabilise the city. Time will tell on both counts, but what is clear is that despite Karachi having thus far escaped the worst it is in reality as vulnerable as anywhere else. 'Foolproof' security exists only as a fantasy. The bombers know this and, they having left their calling card, we may be certain that they will be paying a return visit 'foolproof' security or not.
I. THE NEWS
THE PRESIDENT'S ANGER
The feeling of instability shaking the country has developed into what seems like a full-fledged quake. President Asif Ali Zardari's extraordinary address at his wife's death anniversary has left all of us wondering what lies ahead and quite what Mr Zardari meant in the first place. His fiery attack on forces who he alleged were conspiring against the country and its institutions echoes the words used previously by lawyer Kamal Azfar before the Supreme Court. It is hard to say if this is the result of pre-planning or simply chance. The fact that Mr Zardari chose not to spell out who these forces may be simply adds to the mystery behind his rant. Many of those who witnessed it now must be wondering with more gravity as to the ability of Mr Zardari to head the state. Certainly, the paranoia many close to him say he suffers from seems to be growing by the day. What is more, he appears to be unable to handle the running of the state with anything resembling the poise or maturity expected of the president. His latest outburst will only add to the growing unease with his presence in the highest office of state. Pakistan faces enough problems as it is without complications being created by ramblings that in many ways make very little sense.
We do not quite know who the president's closest advisers are. But certainly his aides have been unable to offer him wise advice. A major issue for Mr Zardari has been that of his image. His performance at Garhi Khuda Bux did nothing to add positively to it. Indeed the speech may raise more questions than it answers about quite what the president is trying to achieve. What we do know is that new national divisions have been opened up; fingers have been quite unnecessarily pointed and the possibility of all the components making up the system being able to work smoothly together has been further reduced. Yet, the fact is that today Pakistan needs all its institutions to work in harmony. At the moment, as furious debate rages over the contents of the unexpected address we seem to have moved even further away than before from any possibility of smooth sailing. The question that needs to be asked now is if there is any possibility at all of salvaging the situation and avoiding the upheaval that appears to loom ever closer. There have been suggestions that the president, the prime minister, the army chief and perhaps other key players should sit together and thrash out matters. The proposal is a sound one but such a scenario seems unlikely. The wisdom from the presidency that could have brought this about seems missing and this brings us perilously close to calamity with each passing day.
I. THE NEWS
POLITICS OF FIRE AND FURY
In Plato's view, politics knows no morality, no ethics. He saw the newly restored corrupt democrats condemning and executing his teacher and friend, Socrates, whose truth and wisdom they could not tolerate. For Plato, only his imaginary "philosopher king" could bring enlightenment to the shadowy reality of politics.
Plato devoted almost his entire thinking to reuniting the political and personal realms of existence, so that the virtues of the individual soul would lead to the virtues of the national soul. "Soul tending" he called it, and it is what we in Pakistan today need more than ever before in our history.
Pakistan's largest political party, once again, is on challenge and facing the brunt. In 1971, its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had inherited a physically truncated country. After Benazir Bhutto's assassination two years ago, Asif Ali Zardari's inherited a Bhutto-less truncated party.
Ever since we heard the slogan of "Pakistan Khappey" in the name of "national reconciliation" following her assassination, we have only been cutting ourselves into pieces, severing hands, rupturing knees and breaking jaws. Instead of gaining balance, we have gone to the extremes, and are not sparing even solemn anniversaries for spitting fire against unknown enemies and fuelling conspiracy theories.
This frenzied outburst is a result of the paranoia in reaction to the Supreme Court decision on the NRO, another instrument of "national reconciliation." In the last few weeks, Asif Ali Zardari has twice raised the bogey of "non-state political actors" and other unnamed forces conspiring against his party and its government.
First on the PPP's founding-day anniversary and now on Benazir Bhutto's second death anniversary, he made identical un-presidential speeches, raising many enigmatic and unanswered questions as well as spectres of hallucination.
As president of a country which is a nuclear power he must show some restraint and responsibility. We cannot afford an incendiary or erratic behaviour at this level, at a time when we are facing the worst-ever challenges of our history and need coolheaded, measured approaches in our domestic and external behaviour. We need to focus on the scourge of terrorism and related external challenges to our security and independence.
If Zardari, as co-chairman of his party, must occasionally resort to such behaviour, he should seriously consider giving up the office of president, which by its very nature must epitomise serenity of mind and tenderness of soul. In any case, it is not democratic on his part to be simultaneously holding the two offices. It is also a violation of tradition and an ethical code established by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1947 when, as governor general, he refused to remain head of the Muslim League.
An elected president, a Bhutto successor, is not even embarrassed that he is wearing his dictator predecessor's worn out shoes. Zardari had an opportunity of his life to be a man of destiny in Pakistan's history. But unlike the real Bhuttos, he could not connect himself with the masses, and has had no interaction with the suffering common man. The nation is fast coming to the conclusion that politicians are just not capable of steering its destiny.
What puzzles the nation most is the warnings of "threats" to democracy. Who is threatening it? Also, where is the democracy that is under threat? Democracy is nowhere in sight or in practice in Pakistan. And yet, the PPP's politically illiterate provincial spokespersons are tirelessly ranting about "conspiracies" while senselessly lashing out at unnamed "enemies" of democracy. They are fuming insanity, threatening the very existence of Pakistan if anyone tried to oust the PPP government or its leadership.
One of them went to the extent of claiming that if Zardari had not said "Pakistan Khappey" after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, they were all set for the breaking up of Pakistan. Such behaviour is an outright breach of his oath in which he solemnly pledged allegiance to the same country that he was contemplating to break. Perhaps for politicians of his ilk, Pakistan is no more than a mud house that can be demolished at will. It is time for sanity to return to our politician community.
The tragedy of our nation is that democracy was never allowed to flourish in our country, not only because of the protracted spells of military rule but also because of our political bankruptcy and our feudalised political culture. Democracy in our case has also periodically remained hostage to the personal whims and idiosyncrasies of elected or unelected civilian leaders. The arbitrary dismissal of Pakistan's first Constituent Assembly in 1954 was in fact a civilian coup, and the beginning of the Machiavellian process that continues in different forms.
After eight years of a dictator's rule, the people expected real democracy to return to the country and gave a mandate to their elected political leaders to bring about change. The change never came. The dictator is gone but dictatorship stays put in the form of his notorious 17th Amendment, which is still hanging out there in the Presidency. We may have an elected government and an elected president, but without the original 1973 Constitution, democracy remains elusive in Pakistan.
In less than two years, the politicians have proved themselves unworthy of the trust and confidence the people had reposed in them in February 2008. Our present system, which is neither parliamentary nor presidential, is without parallel in political philosophy or contemporary history. The dysfunctional parliament is no different from Musharraf's rubberstamp 2002 parliament which elected him twice while he was in uniform.
The same breed of shapeless and motionless wooden marionettes that are always at the beck and call of their master are sitting in our present parliament. It does no legislation, except passing the annual finance bill with deficit to be funded from external charity. No wonder we are endlessly lost in what could pass for a puppetry drama where actors made of flesh and actors made of wood are together producing a constant comedy of errors with a surrealist, weirdly hilarious quality.
One thing is clear. Nobody wants to derail the system. But the system must return to the 1973 Constitution as it stood on Oct 12, 1999. The 17th Amendment must go to ensure institutional integrity. President Zardari must uphold the rule of law and revert to what the PPP's founding leaders stood for. That will not only reinforce his own moral and legal authority as a "constitutional head of state" but will also be in conformity with "Bhuttoism." There can also be no greater homage to his slain better half, who gave her life so tragically for democracy.
We are fast drifting into an abysmal political chaos and uncertainty. But politicians are lost in the mire of "conspiracy theories." They must rise above their narrow factional and clannish interests. Pakistan is on fire. Karachi is burning. We are already killing ourselves. No one knows what lies ahead for this tortured nation, which stands completely torn apart and emotionally shattered. This politics of fire and fury must come to an end before all is burned to ashes. It is never too late to come together and collectively heal our wounds. 'Soul tending' is what we need at this time.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@yahoo .com
I. THE NEWS
CAUGHT UP IN ONE'S OWN ACT
Since the announcement of the Supreme Court decision declaring the NRO void ab initio, the Pakistan People's Party has taken one somersault after the other. One point that it has consistently and arrogantly refused to acknowledge is that the SC has adjudicated well within the rights entrusted to it by the constitution of the country. In the process, the demand for recovering the looted billions of the state wealth is being wrongly and injudiciously equated with an attempt to derail the system, damage democracy, even witch-hunting the PPP leadership, most notably its co-chairperson. The parallel escapes all shades of logic as well as political wisdom.
While overtly professing to adhere to the SC injunction, the government (read PPP) is bending over backwards to stall the proceedings against its leaders, some of whom are sitting ministers of the incumbent dispensation. The morality aspect aside, some individuals accused of committing various irregularities actually head the ministries that would be entrusted with the task of proceeding against them under the law. Take the case of the minister of interior who, in his official capacity, can influence the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) the principal organisation responsible for initiating and following up on outstanding cases against those accused. Or, take the case of the minister of law and parliamentary affairs who, though being one of the accused, can impact the outcome of the proceedings through the ministry under his direct command. Or, most importantly, take the case of the prime minister who, though not directly accused of any favours secured under the NRO, happens to head the government that would be required to take appropriate steps to implement the decision of the SC including the re-initiation of the Swiss case against his own president and co-chairperson of the party. Is he up to it? Does he command enough moral and political authority to do the needful? The indications that he has given so far paint a rather dismal picture.
There is one inherent flaw in the way PPP is going about doing what would eventually be done: it is trying desperately to create a perception that the judgement of the SC is aimed at targeting its leadership and that, if implemented, it would derail the system. This is as erroneous as it can get and is only a self-driven attempt to create a blatantly false impression about the operative dynamics. In the process, the PPP is also hitting out at all institutions it perceives to be adversarial: the army, the judiciary, the media and civil society being the principal components of its hate drive. Mr Zardari's ranting from Naudero on the second death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto is all but indicative of a thinking pattern that sees a foe in every institution and every individual. It reflects a mindset that is completely under siege of its own demons. One fails to understand how that would help the PPP, its image and its ultimate objective of salvaging a political legacy that stands grossly tarnished on account of the misdeeds of its own leaders. As a matter of fact, by filibustering on taking the necessary steps to implement the SC decision, it would further jeopardise its long-term interests, even its constitutional basis for staying in power. Wouldn't it then follow automatically that it may become necessary to put an operational mechanism in place, parallel to the government, to implement the SC injunction in its totality? In the event that happens, of which there is a fair chance if the current PPP shenanigans continue, where would that leave the party and its future prospects?
The PPP has got it all wrong. Having failed to honour its avowed stance to respect the SC adjudication, it has driven itself to be caught in a blind alley. Now, if it decides to proceed belatedly with implementing the SC injunction, it runs the risk of having some of its leading lights declared ineligible for holding public office. In addition to nullifying an earlier position taken, restraining any of its leaders from resigning their offices, this would also cast a deafening spell for the future of its co-chairperson particularly with regard to the Swiss and other cases pending against him outside Pakistan. If, on the other hand, it decides to continue procrastinating, or refusing to implement the decision, it runs the risk of committing contempt of court and would then be held accountable for matters in addition to the cases that are already pending before various accountability courts. This paints a debilitating picture for a future with additional emerging challenges to the PPP government, more particularly its co-chairperson, as petitions have already been moved before the SC questioning both his immunity before law and his eligibility to be the president of the country at the time he sent in his papers.
Cumulatively, PPP may have missed out on an historic opportunity to come good on its promise and reap rich political harvest in the bargain. It is gruesomely caught up in its own act. Having reneged on an earlier commitment to fully implement the SC judgement, and with a history of broken promises over the last eighteen months made with political associates, PPP has not only lost out on that prospect, it has inflicted further damage to its reputation and its credentials to be fit to rule the country. By insisting that its NRO-tainted ministers would continue to hold public offices irrespective of the nature and severity of allegations against them, it has also eroded all moral fabric of its controversial rule. It is only adding fire to the embers by injudiciously insisting that it has the mandate of the people to stay in power irrespective of what the courts may adjudicate. This is a sure path to self-ruination. The crisis is that, in the process, the state may suffer irretrievable scars that would be difficult to heal over time.
What is simply unacceptable is that the future of a few individuals against whom there are serious allegations of corruption and misuse of authority is being equated with that of the state, or the system. There is absolutely no parallel and no effort can establish one. The two are separate entities: individuals, no matter how important and elevated in authority, who commit crimes, would be punished, but the state would outlast these punishments. As a matter of fact, transparent and equitable dispensation of justice would further strengthen the institutions that provide sustenance, substance and meaning to the state. Is it that we are on the threshold of re-discovering a nation?
The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad. Email: raoofhasan @hotmail.com
I. THE NEWS
WITH WHOM DO I STAND?
DR A Q KHAN
By looking at the title of this column, you might suppose that I am going to talk about hypocrites, the takers of bribes, adulterators, thieves or murderers, after which I would once again arrive at identifying the enemies of the nation and the state. Far from it! I do not intend to take that painful route today. What I am going to talk about here is a very serious story full of lessons for all of us. My attention was drawn to it by a dear friend of mine, Dr Shamsul Haq Alvi, who is professor of civil engineering and architecture at the University of Bahrain. I am also thankful to my dear friend, Prof Dr M Al-Ghazali for his invaluable input.
We (should) all know that in our Islamic history, there have been four great Imams whose legal edicts are followed by the majority of Muslims today. These are: Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Imam Shafei and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal. The majority of our Shia brothers generally follow Imam Jafar Sadiq. Let me also mention in passing that Imam Muhammad, a well-known disciple of Imam Abu Hanifah, was the teacher of Imam Shafei. The latter was the teacher of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal. Imam Malik, who used to give lectures in the Prophet's mosque at Madinah, was also among the teachers of Imam Shafei. All these Imams were thus connected to a common network of Muslim scholarship and all of them strived to promote the understanding and application of the Divine Commands and instructions given by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to the lives of the Muslim community.
Among the disciples of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal was a great scholar known as Shaikhul Islam Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Nasr Marwazi Baghdadi. (294-202 AH). In his book: Qiyam al-Lail (Praying at Night), he narrates the following story, which is full of lessons for us. In it he also refers to verse 21:10 of the Quran: "We have revealed for you a book in which there is a mention of you. Will you not then understand?"
His story helps us comprehend the meaning of this verse, as it enables us to appreciate how our great elders focused their utmost attention on understanding and reflecting upon the Divine Book and seeking guidance from it. The story goes as follows:
One day a great Tabei (of the generation next to that of the Companions) and an Arab tribal leader by the name of Ahnaf bin Qais was present when someone recited the above verse. Ahnaf was struck by the verse and said: "Bring the Quran! Let me find mention of me in the Quran and see with whom I have been placed and which category of people I have been likened to." He opened the Quran and came across the verse that speaks of some people who: "Were in the habit of sleeping but little by night, and in the hours of early dawn they were praying for forgiveness and in their wealth and possessions was acknowledged the right of the needy and the seekers of help." (51:17-19)
He continued his search in the Quran and came across verses mentioning some others in this way: "Their limbs leave their beds of sleep while they call their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend in charity out of the sustenance that We have bestowed on them." (32:16)
Still further he found a verse saying: "Those who spend the night in adoration of their Lord, prostrate and standing." (25:64)
He then came across another type of people mentioned as: "Those who spend freely whether in prosperity or in adversity, who restrain anger and pardon people, and Allah loves those who do good." (3:134)
Yet another category of people about whom the Quran spoke read: "They give them preference over themselves even though poverty was their own lot. And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity." (59:9)
There were others whose morals were described in this manner: "Those who avoid the grave sins and shameful deeds, and when they are angry, even then forgive; those who hearken to their Lord and establish regular prayer, who conduct their affairs by mutual consultation and who spend out of what We bestow upon them for sustenance." (42:37-38)
At this point he became perplexed and remarked: "O Allah! I know what I am worth. I do not find myself included in these categories of people." Still he continued his search and found some people mentioned in the Quran as: "When they were told that there is no god except Allah, they would puff themselves up with pride and say: 'What! Shall we give up our gods for the sake of a poet possessed?' " (37:35-36)
Then he found still others mentioned as: "When Allah, the One and Only, is mentioned, the hearts of those who believe not in the Hereafter are filled with disgust and horror. But when gods other than He are mentioned, behold, they are filled with joy." (34:45)
He then came across other folk who, when they were asked: "What led you into Hell-Fire?" They replied: "We had not fed the indigent, but we used to talk vanities with vain talkers, and we used to deny the Day of Judgement until there came to us the Hour that is certain." (74: 42-47)
After reading the above verse, he held his breath and exclaimed: "O Allah! I take Thy refuge: I have nothing to do with these men."
He was now turning over the pages of the Quran frantically to find out where he himself was mentioned, until he paused and pondered over the verse that said: "There are some others who have acknowledged their wrongdoings. They have mixed an act that was good with another that was evil. Perhaps Allah will turn unto them in mercy, for Allah is often Forgiving, Most Merciful." (9:102) Thereupon, Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Nasr exclaimed spontaneously: "Yes indeed, this is me; this is my real condition!"
As the readers will have gathered by now, this story is replete with instructive lessons for all of us. We must ask ourselves: "Do we really turn to this supreme source of knowledge, wisdom and guidance that Allah has so raciously placed in our hands?" Some of us do read it off and on. But how often do we seriously reflect upon its intrinsic message of hope and promise, the message of salvation and success which it is meant to carry and apply it to our daily lives in letter and in spirit?
I hope our rulers, politicians, men of influence as well as of affluence as well as the rest of the people will find in this story something to reflect upon and something to encourage them to try to change the course of their lives towards a better direction.
May Allah enable all of us to benefit from the wisdom of our great elders, saints and savants, seers and sages such as Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Nasr al-Marwazi, who despite the high status of respect and admiration that he enjoyed among his peers and friends tried to find out exactly where he belonged in Divine estimation and did not take his high status for granted. Can anyone of us afford to take ourselves for granted without attempting to improve?
In the end, I would like all of us to pray to Almighty Allah using His own words: "Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, and wipe out our evil deeds and make us die with the truly pious. Our Lord! Fulfil what You promised to us through Your Messengers, and disgrace us not on the Day of Resurrection; indeed, You never go back on Your promise." (3:193-194)
I. THE NEWS
SUCCESS' AND COMPLACENCY
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
Pakistan's current account balance improved considerably during the last fiscal year (2008-09) and continues to improve in the current fiscal year (2009-10) as well. As opposed to a deficit of $13.9 billion in 2007-08, or 8.3 per cent of the GDP, the current account deficit (CAD) shrunk to $9.3 billion, or 5.3 per cent of the GDP, in 2008-09 an improvement of $4.6 billion, or 3.0 per cent of the GDP. The CAD shrunk to merely $1.359 billion during the first five months (July-November) of the current fiscal year, as against $7.3 billion in the corresponding period of last year. A decline in the CAD implies reduction in macroeconomic imbalances. Both the Pakistani authorities and the IMF are happy, attributing this improvement to the policies pursued by the government.
Has the CAD improved as a result of the types of fiscal and monetary policies pursued by the government? Should we celebrate success or should we be concerned about the way the CAD has been reduced? Has the IMF, being a professionally sound institution, stated the truth about the reduction in the macroeconomic imbalances? Should Pakistani authorities be complacent on the "success" of minimising macroeconomic imbalances?
The current account is the difference between exports and imports of goods and services. When a country imports more goods and services than it exports, the current account is stated to be in deficit and needs to be financed by an equivalent amount of debt-creating inflows (foreign borrowing) or non-debt creating inflows (foreign investment, grants and assistance) or by running down foreign exchange reserves at the Central Bank. The larger the deficit the more we borrow (if we rely exclusively on debt-creating inflows) and the more rapidly we accumulate external debt.
Pakistan's CAD shrunk to $9.3 billion in 2008-09 from a peak of $13.9 billion a year ago, thus showing an improvement of $4.6 billion. This improvement took place for the wrong reason. Imports declined by 10.3 per cent in 2008-09, as against an increase of 31.2 per cent in 2007-08. Similarly, exports registered a negative growth of 6.4 per cent, as against a positive growth of 18.2 per cent a year ago. Thus, massive adjustments took place both in exports and imports, but imports declined at a much faster pace than exports and as such helped current account to improve.
A careful analysis would reveal that the collapse in commodity prices owing to the global economic meltdown and the extraordinary surge in workers' remittances for reasons still unknown, have played dominant roles in improving the CAD in 2008-09 as well as during the current financial year. As a result of the collapse in oil prices, Pakistan's oil import bill declined to $9.2 billion from a peak of $11.8 billion a year ago, showing a saving of $2.6 billion. Similarly, a decline in the price of palm oil reduced the import bill by $226 million. The decline in the prices of these two items not only helped Pakistan save $2.8 billion but also contributed 62 per cent to the improvement of the CAD in 2008-09.
Pakistan received $7.8 billion in overseas workers' remittances i.e., $1.36 billion more than last year. The increase in remittances alone contributed 30 per cent to the improvement in the CAD in 2008-09. Hence, an over 92 per cent contribution to the improvement in CAD came from the collapse in oil and commodity prices and surge in remittances. This is a windfall gain which helped Pakistan reduce the CAD.
If POL and palm oil imports in 2008-09 were calculated at last year's prices, Pakistan's total imports would have been higher by over $4.0 billion, the CAD would have been $13.4 billion (8.0 per cent of the GDP) and improvement in it would have been a meagre $500,000 million, or 0.3 per cent of the GDP.
Pakistan pursuesd tight fiscal and monetary policies to minimise macroeconomic imbalances. Have we achieved the desired results? What has been the contribution of such policies in reducing the CAD? Was monetary policy really tight? I leave this to Pakistani authorities and the IMF to decide.
In the first five months (July-November) of the current financial year, the CAD stood at $1.4 billion as against $7.3 billion in the same period last year, an improvement of $5.9 billion. What factors contributed to the decline in the CAD? Like last year, the decline in the oil and commodity prices, the unexplained surge in remittances and little or no import of wheat have contributed almost 60 per cent to improvement in the CAD so far. The contributions of monetary and fiscal policies are estimated to be 40 per cent in the current financial year.
What is interesting to note is that Pakistan aggressively pursued tight monetary and fiscal policies in 2008-09, but their contribution to the reduction in macroeconomic imbalances have been minimal. Perhaps these policies work with a lag. The contributions of these policies in reducing imbalances have increased in the current financial year but Pakistani authorities in consultation with the IMF are reversing the tight policies. Is this the right approach?
The advantages of low commodity and oil prices are evaporating. Overall, import growth would begin to turn positive during the second half of the current financial year. If export growth continues to remain in the negative zone, Pakistan's trade balance would start widening, with adverse consequences for the CAD. Monetary policy should be futuristic in approach. There was no economic justification for reduction of the discount rate by 250 bps in three steps since April 2009. There is no room for further reduction in the discount rate during the current financial year.
For Pakistan, there is no room for complacency. It is not policy but the windfall gains that have reduced the CAD. For the IMF, the experts should not misguide Pakistani authorities by encouraging complacency.
The writer is dean and professor at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan @nims.edu.pk
I. THE NEWS
2009: TURNING THE CORNER
The writer is a senator and senior political analyst.
As 2009 draws to a close, there are genuine reasons for hope that Pakistan is turning the corner in its quest to overcome some of the challenges by moving in the right direction. While a perennial "cribbing culture" is purveying doomsday scenarios, reinforced by some of our American friends who had virtually written off Pakistan predicting the country's "imminent implosion," the hard fact is that Pakistani society's resilience and resolve were grossly underestimated.
For a change, even the much-maligned "establishment" had a "positive intervention" earlier this year, with the army chief's phone call at the height of the "long march" averting a collision, bridging the divide, defusing the crisis and helping to restore the chief justice after a two-year hiatus.
2009 will be remembered as the year of the turnaround, capped by the landmark Supreme Court judgment on the NRO. It is this judiciary, working independently for the first time, that has managed to restore popular confidence in the uniform, across-the-board application of justice, without fear or favour.
Not surprisingly, such a bold decision has touched raw nerves among Pakistan's greedy and grabby elite, which acted as if above the law, with a voracious appetite for bounties at state expense. The government's attack on the Supreme Court accuses it of having "gone beyond its jurisdiction by interfering in executive matters." These critics conveniently forget the examples of other, older democracies where the Supreme Court activism is in line with the old Latin maxim "fiat justitia ruat caelum" let justice be done even if the heavens fall.
Take the case of India. There the Supreme Court constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) on the plea of Muslim survivors of the 2002 Gujarat carnage, ordered the interrogation of the controversial Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, and instructed the SIT to provide quarterly monitoring reports to the court for compliance with its directive.
In Pakistan, where the accused ministers have been merely placed on the ECL, in India, an accused minister was ordered to be arrested by the SIT, after which she tendered her resignation.
In the United States, the Supreme Court did something even more unprecedented. In the 2000 presidential elections, it was the Supreme Court that intervened to stop the recount of votes in Forida, and in a 5-4 vote, handed over the presidency to George Bush, although he trailed Gore by over a half-a-million votes! That decision was unanimously accepted by all sides, as the Supreme Court acted as a referee to stop the drift and end the political divide.
In many democracies, a system of rules and laws applied selectively in an uneven manner often protects the Holy Cows of vested interests. One reason is that the bigwigs can hire the best lawyers that money can buy, a case in point being the money bandied around in the Punjab Bank scandal.
In the United States, healthcare and Israel are holy cows. It has taken almost 100 years for healthcare legislation to be passed by the US Congress, although over 40 million Americans are denied this fundamental right, because of the clout of the drug manufacturers, doctors and the health insurance combine working hand-in-glove. And one of America's most morally upright presidents, Jimmy Carter, was forced to apologise last week to Israel because he realised that his grandson's senatorial ambitions would be thwarted by the politically-powerful pro-Israeli lobby.
India's otherwise robust civil society and vibrant media maintain a meek silence when it comes to human rights for Kashmiris or the roots of the Maoist rebellion, whose cudgels only a brave crusader like Arundhati Roy is willing to take up, at the cost of being pilloried for "lack of patriotism."
Given this context, the Supreme Court in Pakistan deserves appreciation for taking the first steps to bring Pakistan into the mainstream of the civilised comity of nations. Obviously, when the vested interests get hit, a reaction, however puerile, was inevitable, but there is the satisfaction of the whole nation being behind the apex court.
Such a broad consensus was also evident on at least three other issues of national importance in Pakistan during 2009, with the media playing a pivotal role.
The decision to go in for the military option in Swat-Malakand, after all other remedies has been exhausted, is one such example. Equally significant is the fact that despite the massive displacement of millions of people the largest in Pakistan's history a potential humanitarian disaster was averted. Eighty per cent of the internally displaced persons were housed with families and friends, with no state support, reflecting the warm and welcoming generosity of Pakistanis. And they were resettled in their own homes, relatively smoothly and swiftly, after the area was secured by the army.
Despite the Washington-based doubting Thomases, who had said Pakistan couldn't or wouldn't do it, our performance in counterinsurgency has certainly been better than that of the NATO and US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan, which are only now coming out of their confusion after twice reshuffling their cards, with false starts and failed commanders.
Two other areas where the first steps are the right ones include the Balochistan Package and the NFC Award, both important for strengthening the federation. These are indicative of the ability to reverse wrongs and produce a consensus after a compromise. Implementation is now the key in carrying forward these initiatives.
If sections of the state structure and the traditional political elites remain stagnant and out of sync with the times, Pakistani society as a whole is demonstrating a lot of vigour and vitality. This is important, since it shows society is neither supine nor people cowed down by challenges; rather, they are ready to surmount difficulties. The self-starter confidence of citizen activists, straddling generations, on issues ranging from climate change to the court of law, reflects this reality.
At the recent Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, Pakistani youth were in the forefront. Four boys and girls Asimah Majeed Marwat, Farrukh Zaman, Marina Ahmed and Nausherwan Ghaffar dominated the young NGO circuit at the conference with their articulate and confident presentations, while the last, a student in Sweden, rode his bicycle all the way from Uppsala to Copenhagen under the theme "Pedalling against Climate Change."
If the young are raising the banner of climate change, octogenarians like Roedad Khan and Dr Mubashir Hasan are not just sitting pretty in a cocoon of comfort but willing to stick their neck out for causes they fervently believe in. The Supreme Court acted on their petitions on the NRO.
Such dynamism in society bodes well for Pakistan's future as we endeavour to transform challenges into opportunities. This "glass is half full" mindset is important in pushing Pakistan away from the "doom and gloom" scenarios that have now been peddled with irritating frequency. Yes, the problems remain a culture of greed amongst the elite, bureaucratic red-tape that impedes progress (as the scandal over the freezing of the $800 million Azad Kashmir hydel project or inability to implement dozens of MOUs with China exemplify) or the abiding failure to fashion an effective counter-terror strategy.
Despite these odds, Pakistanis demonstrated in 2009 they have enough ability and faith in the future to meet these challenges, and also overcome them.
I. THE NEWS
NATO NEEDS AFGHAN WAR
"We are not in Afghanistan to build a perfect democracy." Richard HolbrookeWorldwide mass mobilisations on February 15, 2003, did not succeed in stopping the US invasion of Iraq. However, these manifestations de-legitimised the Iraq war. Another important development, gone almost unnoticed, was a split in NATO. Satraps guarding empire's European outposts were forced by mass mobilisations to refuse in joining Bush's crusade to conquer Babylon. For a while, the Iraq war overshadowed the Afghan war. But not for long. And it is not merely the deterioration in the Afghan situation that Hindukush drew Washington's attention yet again. The Afghan theatre also provides the White House with an opportunity to discipline NATO allies as well as testing new East European mercenaries keen to enter NATO. It is of course Obama's political future at stake in Afghanistan that has prompted the recent surge of 30,000 US troops. The US hawks will make it impossible for Obama to run for the next term if he is seen as a dove. Obama realises this. That was why, during his election campaign, he promised to pull troops out of Iraq. And dispatch them to Afghanistan. To further cultivate a hawkish image, he threatened to invade Pakistan in search of Al Qaeda targets. On assuming power, he has escalated the war to Pakistan. But it is not mere his personal ambitions stoking the Afghan war. The empire, on the pretext of 9/11, arrived in Afghanistan with this country's strategic importance in mind. The US strategy since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been to shift military presence from Europe to the Middle East and Central Asia in search of energy resources. Hence, we see a reduction in US troops' presence in Europe from a Cold War peak of several hundred thousand to 44,000 by 2007. In consolidating the empire's grip over Asia, NATO is supposed to share, if not bear, the burden.
An internal proof is offered by NATO Review (winter 2005). Julian Lindley-French, in her essay "Big World, Big Future, Big NATO", advocates: "In the 21st century NATO must become an alliance founded on the Euro-Atlantic area, designed to project systematic stability beyond its borders." She observes: "The centre of gravity of power on this planet is moving inexorably eastward. The Asia-Pacific region brings much that is dynamic and positive to this world, but as yet the rapid change therein is neither stable nor embedded in stable institutions. Until this is achieved, it is the strategic responsibility of Europeans and North Americans, and the institutions they have built, to lead the way... security effectiveness in such a world is impossible without both legitimacy and capability."
Surrounded by gas-rich Central Asian states, oil-rich Iran while China is within a stone's throw, Afghanistan was an ideal place to seek big future through big NATO. Not merely all 28 NATO countries are in Afghanistan without exception. There are 13 other countries. All under NATO command. However, a growing opposition to the war from Spain to Sweden is a matter of grave concern for NATO member-states. In view of this opposition, many countries have refused to station their troops in the conflict-ridden areas. Others take responsibility for the reconstruction job only. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has therefore been warning that the future of NATO is at risk due to the differences over Afghanistan (BBC February 7, 2008). Economist has also warned: "Defeat would be a body blow to Afghans, but also to the NATO alliance." Economist does not, however, inform its readers that even a NATO victory will be a body blow to Afghans. After all, it is Afghan civilians paying the price with their blood to hold NATO together.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: mfsulehria@ hotmail.com
ZARDARI'S HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE ADDRESS
THE highly charged speech delivered by President Asif Ali Zardari to mark the second death anniversary of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has plunged the country into another vicious cycle of uncertainty as different circles are giving different meanings to the hard-hitting references made in the speech. It has opened floodgates of rumours and speculations and there are apprehensions that the utterances of the Head of the State would spark unnecessary controversies and create misunderstanding among different pillars of the State.
The anniversary was a solemn occasion and the President should have used the occasion to relay a message of hope in the otherwise gloomy environment. One had expected that the Co-Chairperson of the ruling party and symbol of the federation would dwell at length on security and governance issues and delineate a course of action to address the challenges squarely. Instead, he opted to use the platform and occasion to malign state institutions, hurl wild allegations against vital organs of the State, doubt intensions of other political players and attack some sections of the media. Ignoring the issues and problems that agitate the minds of the people of Pakistan, he conveniently chose to raise issues that revolve around his own person and have nothing to do with the country or the masses. He proudly referred to his achievements like announcement of the NFC award, settlement of hydel profit and GDS issues, Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package, package for people of Gilgit-Baltistan and his services to democracy and the cause of the country and wondered whether these were his mistakes. He, however, forgot to mention bad governance, corruption, murder of merit and some foreign policy issues on which his own perception and stance of the Government is in direct conflict with the aspirations of the people. However, leaving all other things aside, his clear reference to Pakistan Army conspiring against democracy or his Government is highly deplorable. Coming from the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, these naked allegations have sent alarming signals all across and, therefore, have rightly been denounced by all. This is shocking because the armed forces are doing their professional responsibilities of safeguarding the interests of Pakistan against internal and external threats. Otherwise too the incumbent Chief of Army Staff is a perfect gentleman who is engaged in efforts to enhance professionalism of the Army and has demonstrated no interests in politics. Instead, he came to the rescue of the President and the Government when they were in dire straits due to their unwise policy of obstructing the will of the people who wanted restoration of the illegally deposed judges of the superior courts. We, therefore, regret that instead of appreciating their role, the President thought it appropriate to attack them and ridicule them. We hope that in view of the sensitivity of the issue, the President would clarify his position.
DR MIRZA OWES AN EXPLANATION
THERE seems to be something seriously wrong with some of the key elements in the PPP and the Government, as hardly a day passes without triggering controversies of all sorts. The latest is the loud and full-throttled public statement of Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, Home Minister of Sindh that he was about to launch 'Break Pakistan' movement after BB's assassination but was prevented from doing so by PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, who instead raised the slogan of 'Pakistan Khappay'.
People like Salman Taseer, Khursheed Shah and Raja Riaz too have been throwing spanners in the works, indulging in statements that sometime jeopardized PPP's working relationship with other coalition partners or the Opposition but none of them went to the extent of threatening to break up Pakistan for selfish motives. Mirza had recently launched a scathing attack against MQM and it was after personal intervention of President Zardari and magnanimity shown by MQM leader Altaf Hussain that the situation was normalized. However, this time Mirza has churned out a statement that clearly attracts treason charges. It is unfortunate that such a statement should come from a person who, by virtue of the office he holds, is directly responsible to keep a vigil on anti-state elements and enemies of Pakistan. What prompted Mirza to spit venom against Pakistan? This revolt against the federation comes from a man who is considered to be the buddy of the President (symbol of the federation), whose wife has the singular honour of being the first woman Speaker of the Islamic world and who himself enjoys a unique position into the Sindh Government. Reports emanating from different parts of the country suggest that his remarks have infuriated people of Pakistan. In no other country people in responsible positions would stoop too low. As he has done damage not only to himself but also to the party and the Government, Mirza owes an explanation while the PPP should initiate action against him.
DEPLORABLE ATTACK ON MOURNERS
THE suicide attack during the Muharram procession in Karachi which claimed lives of more than 35 people and injuries to about 100 others was most shocking and condemned by all sections of the society. The gory incident reflects that the terrorists are all out to destabilize the society through their inhuman acts including sectarian divide to cause maximum damage to the country.
Though the Government had made possible foolproof security arrangements yet it is understandable that in massive Ashura processions it is almost next to impossible to keep an eye on each and every person. Due to the alertness of the security agencies the terrorist, carrying 16 kg explosives could not penetrate in the main procession and blasted him when challenged by a brave soldier of Rangers, otherwise there would have been unimaginable loss of lives. One has to wait for the report of the Committee constituted to inquire into the dastardly incident, yet the involvement of foreign hand cannot be ruled out, as our enemies want to create sectarian divide among the people who otherwise are unanimous in the fight against terrorism. What is even more disturbing is that anti-social and anti-state elements exploited the situation and indulged in burning of around 500 shops and widespread damage to public and private property in the vicinity of Bolton and Light House markets. The reaction indicates that the blast was part of a larger conspiracy to create a turmoil in the commercial hub of the country. The losses by fire are expected to cross billions of rupees. The President, the Prime Minister, leaders of MQM and other political and religious parties have appealed for calm and one hopes that their voice would be listened to and sanity would prevail. The need of the hour is to show patience and not play in the hands of the enemies by indulging in acts of arsons and setting properties of fellow citizens on fire.
IS THE MEDIA IMMATURE?
President Asif Ali Zardari was perhaps caught off guard, when he said that Pakistan media needs to mature up. The implication is that the media is immature. There was no rebuttal or retort from the media, implying that media has ignored the allegation for being immature, and of no consequence. Or perhaps the media collectively decided to ignore this controversial remark to avoid un-necessary rumpus, to further unsettle the presidency and the nascent democracy.
Media's contribution in the struggle for Pakistan is well known. Such a remark would not have been made, had Asif Ali Zardari studied Pakistan's history, especially the role of the media in support of Pakistan's ideology, democracy, good governance, and rule of law. While the judiciary dispenses justice, media keeps the bureaucracy, and politicians on track. There is a disconnect between the President Zardari and the media, because he does not understand the role of the media for good governance. Media is always critical of government performance, nepotism and corruption in high places. This should be welcomed by the rulers. After the Supreme Court decision to scrap the NRO and investigate the embezzlement of funds by influential's, there is a ruckus, by the ruling elite against the media. Media's hostile attitude is disturbing for the President and his colleague's. Mr Zardari's and PPP's bitterness towards the media is because it considers factual reports as negative reporting. The PPP government cannot digest adverse comments and editorials and especially the ruthlessness with which TV anchor persons are exposing the failings of the regime. The resentment against the media is expressed openly by the rank and file of PPP, including the cabinet ministers.
Had President Zardari known the patriotic role of the Pakistani press, before and after independence, he surely would have desisted from calling the media immature. In the present emotionally charged environment of media criticism and allegations, as a human being, he perhaps made the remark of media immaturity, in an emotionally disturbed state of mind. This reminds one of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheeds request to the media not to publish his emotionally charged words. The media at the time respected this plea, and desisted from the publicity of often made emotionally charged remarks. In the same context President Zardari personally or his spokesmen could have apologized and requested the media not to publish what he had said in anger. President Zardari has earned the goodwill of the Baloch by his highly symbolic apology. He needs to earn the good will of the Pakistan media by a similar gesture.
The mature and patriotic role of the Pakistani media in the creation of Pakistan, and exposing Indian conspiracies to destabilize the new country, especially the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir by military power, is well known. In every hour of national crisis the Pakistani print and electronic media has acted as a shield of national defense. Before and during the 1948, 1965 and 1971 indo-Pakistan wars the Pakistani newspapers, radio and TV were as patriotic as the BBC, and British dailies like Times and Daily Telegraph, were in WWII. While the radio played the patriotic songs of Noor Jehan, the dailes both Urdu and English aroused the nation to stay united and the armed forces to give a fitting response to Indian aggression.
Media stalwarts like, Hamid Nizami, Majid Nizami the owners and editors of Nawai-i-Waqt, Aref Nizami editor of Nation, have been in the forefront as intellectuals and promoters of Dr Iqbals vision, Qaid-e-Azam's political sagacity and Pakistan's ideology. Mr Hameed Nizami started publishing the Nawa-i-Waqt on the auspicious day of 23 March 1940. He was assisted by Shababr Hussian, a student of King Edward College Lahore. They were influenced by "Aligarh Opinion", a periodical published by Syed Sibte Hasan, Khawaja Ahmed Abbas and Dr Asraf, whose role in the Pakistan movement should be written in golden letters. In July 1944 Nawa-i-Waqt became a full fledged Urdu daily, and became a champion of Pakistan ideology, and the struggle of the Indian Muslims for an independent homeland-Pakistan. After Mr Hamid Nizami, Mr Majid Nizami has ably held high the banner of Pakistan's ideology, democracy and rights of the down trodden. In editorials and columns both Nawa-e-Waqat and the Nation espouse honesty, and commitment. The editors of these two important dailies are intellectuals of high caliber and balanced critics. Their reporters and journalists are professionals of high integrity. Daily Jang has been in continuous publication since 1939. Its eight hundred thousand- eight lakh copies are published from twelve Pakistani cities and from Birmingham in UK. Jang Karachi was founded by Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman, who has left a distinct imprint of mature and responsible journalism. Hundreds of eminent editors, columnists, journalists and reporters associated with the Jang Group (Jang and The News), have maintained the highest tr