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Saturday, October 31, 2009

EDITORIAL 31.10.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

 

month october 31, edition 000338, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

  1. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER
  2. SLEEPING WITH THE DEAD
  3. TELLING MRS G FROM HER LEGACY - ASHOK MALIK
  4. SADHANA IS THE REALISATION OF SOUL - ACHARYA MAHAPRAJNA
  5. INDIA'S IRON LADY - SIDDHARTH MISHRA
  6. INDIRA WAS HER OWN WORST ENEMY - SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY
  7. GUNGI GUDIYA WHO TOOK ON UNCLE SAM - CP BHAMBHRI

MAIL TODAY

  1. ROAD NAMES DECIDED ON POLITICAL WHIMSY
  2. PROBE IOC FIRE
  3. INDIRA GANDHI REBOOTED - BY DINESH C SHARMA
  4. BOOMTOWN RAP - MAX MARTIN
  5. INTERESTING STORIES FROM TAMIL NADU
  6. ' FREEDOM OF SPEECH' IN AIR INDIA

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. WHAT'S UP, FAMILY DOC?
  2. SOME QUESTIONS ARE BEST BURIED -
  3. A FLIGHT TO NOWHERE
  4. IT SERVES AN ADMIRABLE PURPOSE -
  5. COOL IT ON CHINA -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A CONNECTION HAS BEEN MADE
  2. NO ANSWERS TO THE KEY QUESTION - PRATIK KANJILAL
  3. MRS G FORCE - VIR SANGHVI

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. READING NUMBERS
  2. WRONG MEDICINE
  3. YOU TOO, ANDRE?
  4. THE IDEA OF INDIRA - SHEKHAR GUPTA
  5. MAO TV, MOU TV. AND MAHATMA - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
  6. 'SHE WAS ALWAYS THE BOSS' - VANDITA MISHRA
  7. THE 'R' IN INDIRA - SEEMA CHISHTI

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. CLUNKERS AND DOLLAR
  2. THE BIG LANDLORD
  3. WE CAN SEE NOW: INDIRA TRULY WAS INDIA - JAITHIRTH RAO
  4. US ARMY AND BRIT COMEDY, THANK YOU - ANAND RAMACHANDRAN
  5. COAL, IN THE BLACK
  6. INDRONIL ROYCHOWDHURY
  7. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. JOURNALISM FOR SALE
  2. U.S. ECONOMY BREATHES AGAIN
  3. PROGRAMMING NREGS TO SUCCEED  - PRAMATHESH AMBASTA
  4. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER  - PRANAY GUPTE
  5. AID FOR CHILD ILLNESSES STALLS AMID FOCUS ON AIDS FIGHT  - CELIA W. DUGGER

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. IS ANYBODY IN PAK LISTENING?
  2. A MISUNDERSTOOD LONER - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
  3. THE ROYAL BANQUET - BY KISHWAR DESAI
  4. GUDIYA TO DURGA - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. RAPID FIRE WITH UK FAR-RIGHT PARTY CHIEF - BY FARRUKH DHONDY

DNA

  1. HAZARDS ALL AROUND
  2. GELLING YOUR NUMBER - YOGI AGGARWAL 
  3. A COMMITTED RULER
  4. GOODBYE SHEPHERD
  5. ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUES 
  6. CHANGE FOR BETTER
  7. BJP'S TRAVAILS
  8. JUST DESSERTS

THE TRIBUNE

  1. WHY THIS EXTRA BURDEN?
  2. POSITIVE SIGNALS
  3. WHEN SUGAR IS LESS SWEET
  4. PITFALLS OF DEMOCRACY - BY KULDIP NAYAR
  5. FUND-RAISING IDEAS - BY S. RAGHUNATH
  6. INDIRA GANDHI REVISITED - BY VIJAY SANGHVI
  7. US ECONOMY ROARS BACK - BY NEIL IRWIN
  8. ARE ALL MEHSUDS TALIBAN SYMPATHISERS? - BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. SAVING PLANET EARTH
  2. HIGHER EDUCATION
  3. MORE WASTED ASSETS - ARUP KUMAR DUTTA
  4. REMINISCENCE OF INDIRA GANDHI - TARUN GOGOI

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. PORN NOW RECESSION PRONE
  2. HEED THE FM'S CALL
  3. WHY PRESS NOTE 2 MAKES LITTLE SENSE
  4. YOU NEED MONSTERS TO VALUE HUMANS - VITHAL C NADKARNI
  5. 'INDIAN IT SHOULD NOT APE US PRODUCTS'
  6. 'INDIA CAN EXPECT GREATER INFLOWS' - APURV GUPTA
  7. 'WE'LL ROLL OUT 3G BY OCT '10 IF AUCTIONS HAPPEN ON TIME' - JOJI THOMAS PHILIP

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. IS ANYBODY IN PAK LISTENING?
  2. GUDIYA TO DURGA - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  3. RAPID FIRE WITH UK FAR-RIGHT PARTY CHIEF - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  4. A MISUNDERSTOOD LONER - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
  5. THE ROYAL BANQUET  - BY KISHWAR DESAI
  6. SPELL IT OUT PLEASE  - BY DOT WORDSWORTH

THE STATESMAN

  1. V-B PLOT THICKENS
  2. DEFENCE PURCHASES
  3. DELAYED ACTION
  4. TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS
  5. INDIAN CHEF CREATES 'WORLD'S HEALTHIEST MEAL'

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. DARK LADY OF INDIA
  2. UNFAIR CLAIMS - SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

DECCAN HERALD

  1. RENEWED HOPE
  2. BEYOND RHETORIC
  3. DISASTER POLITICS - BY GAYATHRI NIVAS
  4. A PILGRIM'S PATH - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
  5. THOSE AUTOCRATS - BY MEERA GUTHI

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. ANOTHER MISSTEP ON THE ROAD TO REFORM
  2. HAWAII'S CHILDREN, LEFT BEHIND
  3. THE HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE AT WORK
  4. CONSTRAINING AMERICA'S BRIGHTEST - BY BOB HERBERT
  5. THE CARNIVORE'S DILEMMA - BY NICOLETTE HAHN NIMAN
  6. RUNNING WITHOUT A NARRATIVE - BY CAMERON STRACHER

I.THE NEWS

  1. CLINTON'S CALL
  2. EYE OF THE STORM
  3. FRIDAY PRAYERS IN AL AQSA - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  4. ANTI-TERROR STRATEGY? - DR MASOODA BANO
  5. CRY, BELOVED PAKISTAN - ROEDAD KHAN
  6. MERGING MINISTRIES? - DR SANIA NISHTAR
  7. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DOGAR - BABAR SATTAR
  8. CAPITAL SUGGESTIONS - ANJUM NIAZ

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. NAVAL CHIEF DRAWS ATTENTION TO GWADAR PORT
  2. WORDS OF WISDOM OF HILLARY CLINTON
  3. SINGH'S DOUBLE STANDARD IN IHK
  4. DEMOCRACY IS THE BEST REVENGE! - NOSHEEN SAEED
  5. UNFOUNDED CONCERNS OVER PROLIFERATION - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  6. SUICIDAL ATTACK IN IRAN - YOUSAF ALAMGIRIAN
  7. THE TENACITY QUESTION - DAVID BROOKS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. C'WEALTH'S NEW FACE
  2. THREAT TO SEA FISH
  3. CHEMO FOR THE BJP…! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
  4. MARKETS, PRIVATE OWNERSHIP AND STATE ENTERPRISES - FORREST COOKSON
  5. BANGLADESH SET TO OVERSHOOT THE MDG
  6. CHILD MORTALITY WITH UNSATISFACTORY HEALTH
  7. DROPPING THE SLIDE RULE - MICHAEL R CZINKOTA AND THOMAS A CZINKOTA

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. NATION NEEDS BOLDER LEADERSHIP FROM PM
  2. BLUNDER DOWN UNDER
  3. PASS THE SAUSAGES

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. FOUR WHEELS GOOD, TWO WHEELS GOOD TOO
  2. TIME TO BUTTER UP YOUR LITTLE TEAPOT
  3. PASSING THE BUCK ON SECURENCY
  4. THEY'RE RACING - BUT NOT ONLY AT FLEMINGTON

THE GURDIAN

  1. EUROPEAN UNION: CHANGING CLIMATE IN BRUSSELS
  2. DRUGS POLICY: SHOOTING UP THE MESSENGER
  3. UNTHINKABLE? A BONUS AMNESTY OVER (A RATHER NICE) BREAKFAST

DAILY EXPRESS

  1. SHUN THIS ISLAMIST MARCH
  2. JACQUI SMITH WILL INDEED BE SORRY AFTER AN ELECTION

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. CO2 EMISSIONS
  2. BAFFLING RULING
  3. PROBLEM OF DEVELOPING NEW DRUGS - SILVIO GARATTINI

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. MORE DOUBTS ABOUT COPENHAGEN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. IT'S NOT JUST THE MESSY TOILETS!
  2. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO LEARN INDONESIAN? - M. MARCELLINO
  3. LESSENING THE ECONOMIC GAP AMONG JAKARTANS - EKO BUDIHARDJO
  4. SUSTAINING THE BUSWAY FOR JAKARTA - WILMAR SALIM
  5. ISLAM FROM A WESTERN PERSPECTIVE (PART 2 OF 2) - NIKOLAOS VAN DAM

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER

EVENTS THAT SHOCKED AND SCARRED INDIA


Aquarter of a century may not be a long time in a nation's life, but it is long enough for memories to be dulled and events to be forgotten. Those who were born after 1984 would have scant knowledge of the events of that year with their tragic consequences. Those who were around would have fading memories; some would rather not revisit the searing summer of that year and a winter that saw gloom descend on the country. As we observe the 25th anniversary of Mrs Indira Gandhi's assassination by her bodyguards, it would be in order to also recall that the chain of events which began with Operation Bluestar that saw the Army storming the Golden Temple to flush out Khalistani extremists led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale ended with the massacre of more than 4,000 innocent Sikhs. Mrs Gandhi had acted with characteristic determination when she ordered the Army into the Golden Temple on June 3, 1984, brushing aside dissenting voices and supremely confident that once Bhindranwale and his men had been neutralised, the Sikhs would forgive, if not forget, the desecration of their holiest shrine. The Army succeeded in securing its objective, but Mrs Gandhi had horribly miscalculated on the aftermath of Operation Bluestar. On October 31 the nation was shocked when she was shot dead at her house by those who were supposed to protect her. What followed was tragedy thrice over: Armed gangs of Congress goons roamed the streets of Delhi for three days, without any let or hindrance, killing innocent men, women and children; looting the homes of Sikhs; reducing colonies to ashes. Elsewhere, Sikhs were dragged out of trains and murdered. By the time the Army was deployed and order restored, 2,733 Sikhs had perished in Delhi alone; another 2,000 had been killed across the country. It was a pogrom conducted in the guise of avenging the death of Mrs Gandhi even as the Congress Government of the day twiddled its thumbs and did nothing to prevent the blood-letting. Rajiv Gandhi's infamous statement — "When a big tree falls, the earth is bound to shake" — did nothing to assuage the savaged sentiments of an entire community. The series of reports subsequently submitted by various commissions of inquiry and committees set up by successive Governments have served to record tales of horror in graphic details, but none of them has really helped in bringing the guilty men of 1984 to justice.

There is, of course, no percentage in reopening wounds inflicted 25 years ago. India has moved on. Punjab has moved on. The Sikhs, as a community, have moved on. Those who survived the massacre will never forget either the horror of being hounded by murderous mobs or the sorrow of losing their loved ones. It would, however, be a tribute to those who died in the madness that followed Mrs Gandhi's death to learn some lessons from the disastrous course on which the Congress had embarked to grab political power in Punjab. It chose to ride the proverbial tiger of Khalistani separatism by promoting Bhindranwale in the hope that he would destroy the Akali Dal. The plan went awry, as it was bound to, and then it was too late to get off the tiger. Sadly, the Congress still persists with this strategy, making common cause with malcontents in its pursuit for power. Assam, where ULFA has been used by the Congress at election time, is but one example. There are many more. For instance, the Congress using the MNS to split Opposition votes in Maharashtra. Politics of cynicism, it would seem, remains in vogue, despite the horrors of 1984.

 

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THE PIONEER

SLEEPING WITH THE DEAD

SPACE CRUNCH LEADS TO SHARED GRAVES


Lack of space is a perennial complaint for most London residents. But now it seems that the same could apply to the city's dead. Reports suggest that London is facing its most severe shortage of burial space to the point that authorities are literally trying to promote the idea of sharing graves. Understandably, the concept seems to have spooked many. For some it is sacrilege, for others it is downright weird. But unless a solution is found soon, finding a resting place for one's dearly departed will become a wee bit problematic. The attitude towards disturbing existing graves has roots in the 18th century when London was the medical research capital of the world. The city was then witness to numerous incidents of body-snatching or grave-robbery where shady characters would dig out recently-buried corpses and deliver them to aspiring surgeons for study. Though the practice might have contributed to significant medical advances, it was, nonetheless, frowned upon by the London public at large. Many people at the time took great pains to ensure that the buried bodies of their loved ones were not whisked away by grave robbers. Records quote one William Horne who was buried in Spitalfields in East London in a triple casket — the outer one made of lead, the middle of iron and the innermost of wood — to prevent his body from being snatched. It is perhaps this historic fear of people digging up other people's graves that has manifested itself in the form of present-day Londoners' allergy to the notion of disturbing the resting place of the long departed to make space for the recently dead.


Nonetheless, a legislation passed in 2007 empowers local councils in London to disturb graves older than 75 years with the consent of the deceased's relatives. This would involve exhuming the older corpse and reburying it deeper to make space for another one on top. But before such shared burials become common it will take the authorities quite a bit of advertising skill to convince Londoners of the benefit of the practice. On top of this, London is a city that has sizeable Islamic and Jewish communities that will definitely have reservations about sharing graves. Unless of course there is a consensus to bury the departed standing up. However, public opinion regarding stand-up entombment cannot be said to be favourable. But if Londoners continue to feel that electric crematoriums are too modern for their taste, there would be no other option but to go in for the double-decker graves. It might be against every British bone in their body, but they would have no other choice. On the positive side, there is no denying that one's dearly departed will not be without company even in death. Now isn't that comforting?

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

TELLING MRS G FROM HER LEGACY

ASHOK MALIK


Twenty-five years after she died, shot down on a deceptively calm early winter morning that no Indian alive that day can ever forget, Mrs Indira Gandhi remains an iconic presence in our collective consciousness. She is the once and forever Mrs G, India's Iron Lady, the Durga of 1971, the 'Only Man in her Cabinet'.


So much of what has constituted Indian politics for the past quarter-century is attributed to her. In a sense, in her final term as Prime Minister and in those turbulent days leading up to 1984 — free India's annus horribilis — she triggered the Hindu turbulence the BJP was to exploit. More recently, and perhaps exaggeratedly, the beginnings of economic reform have been traced back to 1981, when Mrs Gandhi negotiated a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund, and took baby steps to roll back state control of the economy and of external trade.


Yet, nostalgia for Mrs Gandhi is much more than nostalgia for the sum total of her achievements. She is best remembered as a strong and decisive leader, the 'strongman in a democratic framework' that is the Indian middle class's — or any middle class's — dream.


Government veterans say her notes on files were among the most trenchant put down by any Indian politician, not just any Prime Minister. Those in the strategic affairs community swear they have never encountered a Prime Minister with such an astute grasp of realpolitik and so ferociously single-minded in her resolve to protect India's interests, whatever the costs.

 

Even so, two generations after her departure, with the hindsight of history and against the intellectual backdrop of a very different India, a provocative question does arise: Mrs Gandhi may always have desired what was best for India, but what if her interpretation of what was best for India was not necessarily the correct one?

This leads us to the essential paradox about Mrs Gandhi. She was a deeply loved, even revered, leader; a compelling personality; an imperious, awe-inspiring Prime Minister who could leave grown men quivering. Yet, is any assessment of her record in office as unmixed? Does she have a legacy to match her memory? Indeed, can one be a great leader — even India's greatest post-1947 leader — without leaving behind a legacy of unalloyed greatness.


The legacy issue is a strange and often deceptive one. Presidents and Prime Ministers spend long hours fretting over it. It is almost a cliché that every new resident of the White House begins his first day worrying about how history will judge him.


How do Indian Prime Ministers respond to the legacy touchstone? It is important to distinguish legacy from one-off events, even major ones. Legacy is more than a date and time. It can be contended that misreading China and the 1962 war were Jawaharlal Nehru's failings but not necessarily his legacy. Those phenomena were not around for all times to come and could be redressed and rectified by future generations.


Legacy will inevitably be assessed as the relevance of a leader's actions and decisions at a future juncture and their role in shaping successor societies. As such, as nations evolve, so do perceptions of legacy. For example, Nehru's legacy was seen as colossal in the aftermath of his death in 1964, but suffered devastating blows in 1989-90. In that period, the underpinnings of Indian foreign policy were shattered, the economy started to go into free fall, and prevailing notions of "secularism" began to be contested.

Twenty years on, in a more relaxed and prosperous India, Nehru is once again looked upon generously. His role in India's foundational years is appreciated that much more, especially when the contrast is made with the collapse of the Pakistani nation-building project or in the recognition that public investments in higher/technical education in the 1950s have proved economic game-changers.


Similarly, it could be said PV Narasimha Rao spent the final years of his life in exile from his own party, disliked intensely by Congress colleagues targeted by the hawala conspiracy or simply seeing him as a cunning interloper. To others, the sight of Rao going from court to court, defending himself against charges of bribery, constituted a metaphor for India's low politics.


Nevertheless, Rao's principal legacy remains providing the political ballast for liberalisation. So much of what we celebrate in today's India is owed to the fact that Rao took crucial calls in the summer of 1991. The reverberations of his first 100 days could potentially be felt through the 21st century.


The examples can go on, but they detain us from the issue at hand: Mrs Gandhi's legacy. More than the 1971 war or Operation Bluestar, it would be prudent to consider her imprint on India's political economy. It is here that she falters. Mrs Gandhi sowed the wind in the 1970s and India reaped the whirlwind in the 1980s.


Nehru's socialism may not have survived the test of posterity but it was well-intentioned and did not, immediately, damage the country. The destructive strain in India's economic policy was introduced by Mrs Gandhi in the 1970s. At a time when the building blocks of her father's years probably necessitated a gradual deregulation, she swerved to the other extreme.


In a decade when the Asian tigers began to galvanise East Asia, Mrs Gandhi put her faith in wildly Left populism, in a nationalisation binge, in high taxes and an extortionate state that made tax evasion an industry, drove good people out of business and decent, white collar Indians out of the country. All in all, she converted Government into a patronage-dispensing machine in a society of chronic shortages.


It took India 30 years to throw off that incubus. Imagine what may have been if Mrs Gandhi had promoted a less statist, a less highly-strung and an economically liberal India in the 1970s. There would have been no Emergency. The anger and energies of young India and of individual regions and States would have been sublimated in the larger concourse of hope — as is the case with contemporary India. Institutions, from the civil services to the judiciary, would not have been subverted. The public sector would not have become a self-serving racket.


Enlightened governance in the 1970s would have led to a more easy-going and confident India in the 1980s. Unfortunately, for all her sterling qualities as a leader, that was not to be Mrs Gandhi's legacy. It's sad; but she brought it upon herself.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

SADHANA IS THE REALISATION OF SOUL

ACHARYA MAHAPRAJNA


Spells like Aum, Arham, Namo Arihantanam, etc, are powerful esoteric formulas, a recital of which procures various kinds of gains for us. By themselves they are like a boat, which alone is incapable to take you to the opposite shore of the river. Besides the boat, you need a boatman, his technical skill and oars to carry you across the river. Mere mechanical recitation of the mantra will be totally ineffective. Without an expert boatman the boat, while crossing the river, is likely to capsize. Most of us simply recite mantras mechanically without fulfilling the concomitant condition, which are necessary for the affectivity of the mantra with the result that our recitation proves abortive. In such a condition we are likely to lose faith in the power of the mantra.


The first condition is that the practitioner's mind should be joined to the sacred formula. The practitioner has to identify himself with the mantra. He has to be mantra-minded so to say. The mind of man plays a very important role in almost all the activities of life. Even if you eat food without having a mind in it, it will not produce the desired effect.


A distracted mind is an obstacle in Sadhana. The practitioner should not leave any part of his mind unengaged. The mind should be wholly concentrated on the objective. This needs a vigorous training of the mind. It should be trained in such a way that it may be commanded to concentrate on any object you like. There should be the least possibility of its being distracted. A wavering mind is the most ineffectual instrument. It is the divided mind, which wavers and creates all kinds of problems. Every one of us has several minds, so to say. What is needed in Sadhana is to develop a single undivided mind.


The basic aim of Sadhana is to realise the soul, which is essentially a conscious entity. The Prana force can lead us to self-realisation. This needs a strong will and firmness of purpose of Samkalpa. If the will and the vital force are weak and if we are infirm of purpose, we can in no way achieve the soul. It is therefore, necessary to invigorate the Prana force. Japa (recitation of sacred words) operates on the plane of Prana. The Prana force is an electrical force. Every living being possesses this force. All the physical and mental activities of man are due to the Prana force.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INDIA'S IRON LADY

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY ASSASSINS' BULLETS ENDED THE LIFE OF INDIA'S MOST CHARISMATIC PRIME MINISTER YET. A SATURDAY SPECIAL ON THE LEGACY OF INDIRA GANDHI

SIDDHARTH MISHRA


From the point of view of a media person it can be said with certainty that Indira Gandhi was a personality which Indian television missed. In a way she was ahead of her time. The way her personality make-up connected with people even through black and white still photos showed the potential she had for using the camera to her advantage.


In fact, whatever limited opportunity she had with television, she utilised it to the hilt to help build her party and political legacy. Can one forget the immemorable question she posed to astronaut Rakesh Sharma as to how India looked from the space and his reply, "Sare jahan se accha Hindustan hamara?" Ironically, the live coverage of her funeral saw the coming of age of the Indian television.


My first clear memory of Indira Gandhi is as a 10-year-old. In 1977, she had come to Bhagalpur to address a rally on the huge Sandy's Compound in the middle of the town. It was a winter's afternoon and the Emergency was still in force. The preparations for the rally were well-coordinated and there was a huge crowd present. We children had managed to find our way through the barricaded enclosures and reach right up to the front.


The chopper carrying her landed near the stage built for the rally raising a huge cloud of dust, but we loved it. The only other time I had seen a chopper from that close quarter was during the floods in Patna in 1975, when we were stranded in our ancestral home and survived on air-dropped food packets. She emerged from the crowd wearing her customary well-starched cotton sari covering her head and wore her trademark sunglasses.


She raced from the chopper to the podium with the young district collector finding it difficult to keep pace with her. The rally went off pretty well, as far as I could perceive, not really realising that the assembly of the huge crowd was courtesy the district administration. A few weeks later, glued to transistor set we heard All India Radio announce that the Congress had lost and the Janata Party was all set to form the government.


A few months later, the State Assembly poll followed. We had another Prime Minister's public rally on Sandy's Compound. It was again the same podium, the same barricades and the same group of children finding their way to the front. The meeting, however, did not have anything common beyond this. Prime Minister Morarji Desai did not arrive by chopper but by a state plane which landed at the airport a few kilometers away from the meeting ground. Thereafter, he went to the circuit house for rest and refreshment. When he finally arrived, he turned out to be an utterly boring orator. He spoke sitting on a chair like a school master. He did not get much applause either. But AIR was to tell us a few weeks later that the Congress government in Bihar under Jagannath Mishra was on its way out and Socialist leader Karpoori Thakur was to take over.


For several months, after her fall from power, I recall popular Hindi magazine Dharamyug carrying cover stories of excesses committed during the Emergency. Even as it tried to make heroes out of anybody and everybody in the Janata Party, the newspapers were soon to be full of the antics of the shenanigans of the Janata government. First, there was this splash on veteran Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram's son Suresh Ram, which later became popular as Sushma-Suresh Kaand.


Then, of course, there was Raj Narain, the man who had humbled Indira Gandhi at Rae Bareli, acting as Hanuman of Chowdhary Charan Singh and setting the Janata Government on fire. There was also flamboyant George Fernandes, who indulged in extraordinary political hop-step-jump in changing sides. The Congress once again got divided and those loyal to Indira Gandhi called their faction the Congress (I). For years, even after the rival faction had become non-existent, the Congress party continued to be called the Congress (I).


As the internal bickering within the Janata became boring, the newspapers and magazines resumed chasing Indira. And she indeed was master at using the media to her advantage. She traveled to Belchi in Bihar on an elephant to console the survivors of a massacre of Harijans. The state government became jittery.


When Home Minister Chowdhary Charan Singh decided to put her behind bars, she turned it again into a media spectacle. The police first tried to take her out of Delhi to Badkal in Haryana, to which Indira Gandhi opposed as she could not be taken outside the state. They could not keep her in any police station and were forced to take her to Police Lines in Kingsway Camp. She was produced in Court next day to be given bail by Metropolitan Magistrate Dinesh Dayal.


She planned her return to Parliament through the Lok Sabha route and made Chikmagalur famous by choosing it as her constituency. During the Chikmagalur bypoll, the Congress for the first time contested on the Hand symbol. The Government continued to play into her hands by disqualifying her from the Lok Sabha after she won the Chikmagalur seat.


The political vendetta shown towards her by the Janata leaders suited her well. By the time the Janata Party and the Government collapsed like a house of cards, Indira Gandhi had rebuilt her party, and more importantly a sympathy factor for herself. I heard the news of her return in the winter of 1984-85 at most unusual of places.


Bamdeo, if I recall the name of the hamlet correctly, in 1980 was neither connected by road or train to civilisation. A village located some 10 kilometres off Bhagalpur-Dumka highway, Bamdeo, was home of a classmate from my boarding school. We were spending a part of the winter vacation at his village haveli

njoying salubrious climate and desi food.


In those days elections were held in one phase and one did not have to wait for a month for the results to come out. I remember being woken up by the signature tune of AIR. It was still dark and we were advised to remain inside the mosquito nets which covered our beds. Soon the news was broadcast announcing the return of Indira Gandhi at the helm of affairs. The villagers assembled at the haveli to congratulate my classmate's father, who doubled-up as the local chieftain of the Congress.


The villagers noted with satisfaction that Indira Gandhi was once again going to be at the helm of affairs. History will debate whether their confidence was well-founded. The mishandling of the Punjab issue not only provoked her own assassination, but remained a blot on the country's consciousness ever since.

But she had some definitive credit points, more than any single Prime Minister in fact. She abolished the privy purses, nationalised banks, dismembered Pakistan, made India nuclear, and, most importantly, solved the foodgrains scarcity once and for all. Generally speaking, she dug the foundations of India as a 21st century world power for her son and others, notable among them Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to build upon.


Like all great performers in history, the iron lady of India too made a few mistakes. The people of India respected her for her boldness and ability to take a resolve to its logical conclusion. There was also a certain motherly quality about her which endeared herself to a whole generation of Indians. In the long run, some of her decisions cost the country dear, but history will never accused Indira Gandhi of wavering.


The writer is Associate Editor, The Pioneer


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THE PIONEER

OPED

INDIRA WAS HER OWN WORST ENEMY

THERE ARE MANY MYTHS ABOUT INDIRA GANDHI; THE MOST ENDURING BEING HER 'STRENGTH' AND 'COURAGE'. SHE BELIEVED IN THESE AND PUSHED HER LUCK TOO FAR, FALLING EVENTUALLY TO THE SAME DESIGN

SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY


During her sixteen years' tenure as Prime Minister, two dominant flaws in Indira Gandhi's mindset explained most of her controversial political moves. These were a deep insecurity about the loyalty to her from those near and dear to her, and her authoritarian mentality.


Of course, it would be wrong to infer that Indira Gandhi had no good qualities at all. Indeed, she had many likeable attributes, but these were overshadowed in her political decision making by her insecurity and authoritarianism.

This led her to make many blunders, produce many zig-zags, even somersaults in policy. She was obsessed by the urge to emasculate all those around her, particularly those who had patronised her initially. In retrospect, I hold her as a very erratic leader because of these contradictions. To call her 'strong' and 'decisive' is, therefore, very superficial. To anybody who understood politics, she was nothing but somebody highly unsure, even frightened, by events. This led her to perform many rash acts.


She was like a cat when cornered, capable of extraordinary counter-attack. But on normal occasions, she wavered between anxiety and lack of self-confidence. The best example of this zig-zag was her actions during the Emergency. I first met Mrs Gandhi in 1965 when she was Information and Broadcasting Minister in the Shastri's Cabinet. She had come to address a meeting at Brandeis University located in a small town called Waltham near the Harvard campus. At that time I was young professor of economics at Harvard University. Mrs Gandhi, who always fancied the company of intellectuals, sent me word through a common contact to meet her.

My contact with her continued till 1969 when I returned to India and joined the Jana Sangh. For this, she thought I was mad and conveyed the same with much irritation through my father, who was then at a senior level in the civil service, which he had joined after a stint as a Congressman in Tamil Nadu. Following my entry into the Jana Sangh, she became very hostile towards me. This did not change till about 1981.


On March 19, 1970, she took the floor of the Lok Sabha and denounced me by name for my "Swadeshi Plan" which I had submitted to the Jana Sangh. Soon thereafter, I was sacked from my full professorship at IIT Delhi, to which I was re-instated by Court after 22 years in 1991.


In the last three years before her assassination in 1984, after I had done a favour to her government on the China question by meeting Deng Xiaoping in Beijing, cordiality in my relations with her was restored. Thereafter, frequent tit-bit conversations with her took place during official dinners and other engagements which I attended as Deputy Leader of the Janata Party in Parliament. With her encouragement I became a very good friend of Rajiv, and collaborated with him in getting Chandrashekhar installed as PM in 1990.


Mrs Gandhi, in my view, cared a lot about the US and European opinion about her while she seemed, for what shall remain as unexplained reasons, obligated to protect the Soviet Union's interests in India. In 1959, as Congress President she was the prime mover in getting the first Communist government in Kerala dismissed under Article 356.

Her first move as PM in the 1960s was to adopt the West's prescriptions for reviving the Indian economy. So she devaluated the Rupee and empowered the well-to-do or 'kulaks' through the green revolution package. She got kudos for it in The New York Times. But, just as soon as the Left parties became important for her survival, she somersaulted and embraced harsh licensing, land reforms and nationalisation of banks. All this policy jugglery gave a huge boost to black money generation and corrupted Indian society forever.


She disregarded US interests when the Bangladesh issue arose in 1971, but just before the fall of Dhaka she spared West Pakistan from military devastation by declaring a premature ceasefire. A year later, she signed the Simla Agreement which meant restoration of the pre-1971 status quo and benefited Pakistan's military capabilities.

Thereafter, she tried to pacify the US, which had fiercely opposed the Bangladesh military operations. She invited Henry Kissinger to visit India and Kissinger flattered her saying she was "a dove with steel claws". Nothing pleased her more.


She declared the Emergency in 1975 because in her authoritarian wisdom, she could not tolerate the popular opposition which JP generated and represented. JP made her insecure since he had impeccable credentials as a freedom fighter against British colonialism and had a clean image too. The charges of corruption against her bothered her much, judging by her letters to her father's old-time friend in New York, Dorothy Norman. She tried hard to discredit JP with the likes of Sitaram Kesari, but failed.


Her authoritarian nature was fortified because, with notable exceptions, the Opposition leaders of her time lacked the ability to stand up to her methods. Some of them were in contact with her and had emboldened her with the input that JP did not enjoy their confidence.


This encouraged her to clamp down on democratic freedoms, jail 140, 000 innocent persons without trial, impose Press censorship and extend the term of Parliament postponing the elections by a constitutional amendment passed by a captive Parliament. Many Opposition leaders wrote apology letters and crawled out of jail on parole.


She did a volte face in 1977 and declared elections at a most inappropriate time for her. She lost the majority for the party and her own seat in Parliament too. To this day, many wonder why she called the elections at that time. I think the censure she received from longtime liberal friends of Nehru in the US and the UK, as well as the soothing advice from Jiddu Krishnamurthi, who was highly popular in high society abroad, drove her to take this step.


It is also possible that the election of human rights campaigner Jimmy Carter as the President of the US in late 1976 could have increased her anxiety about her legitimacy. Of course, my dramatic entry and escape from Parliament in August 1976 may have made her anxious as to how strong the RSS-organised underground had grown.

In June 1984, she launched the Operation Bluestar on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I spoke to her twice in April that year urging her not to contemplate such action. I told her that there were other better ways of dealing with militants inside the temple. Her answers were vague and reflected a great deal of anxiety. It seemed she was pushed to do it.


After Blue Star, I met Mrs Gandhi in August 1984 for the last time in the corridor of Parliament House. She seemed on edge about Sikh anger and asked what could be done. I could only shrug my shoulders.


I feel sad for India when I look back to the Indira years. The country had given her a huge mandate. Yet her unhappy childhood, her agonising marriage, her disappointment with her siblings, friends, relatives, and most of all her inability to trust anybody caused her to fritter it away. She would be remembered by posterity for the ignominy of the Emergency and Operation Blue Star, without balancing for the Green Revolution, the liberation of Bangla Desh, and for daring to test the nuclear bomb.


The writer is president, Janata Party

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

GUNGI GUDIYA WHO TOOK ON UNCLE SAM

INDIRA GANDHI WAS ESSENTIALLY A DEMOCRAT AND THOUGH HER CRITICS PILLORY HER OVER THE EMERGENCY, NOBODY CAN DENY THAT HER OUTLOOK WAS DEFINED BY THE URGE TO INCLUDE THE POOREST IN INDIA'S GROWTH STORY

CP BHAMBHRI


The social dialectics of a democracy are quite complex and contradictory. How could Indira Gandhi, a 'puppet' of the Congress party bosses become the Amaa of the poor, the Dalits and the women of rural India? How could she return to power on the basis of votes of the same voters who had rejected, even punished her in the Lok Sabha election of 1977? How could she win two-third of the seats in 1971 and 1979? How could she become the 'sole face' of the Congress and its 'sole successful campaigner'? How could she reduce, electorally, the Opposition parties to the position of great insignificance? How could she carry the verdict of voters on her shoulders in spite of the opposition and the sabotaging politicking of fellow Congressmen? Indira was a messiah of the poor and her promises carried great credibility and conviction with the oppressed. Her Garibi Hatao programme evoked enthusiastic endorsement from the masses. Bank nationalisation opened the doors for the Dalits who got jobs in modern organisations.


The Congress had opted for Indira in 1966 on the basis of a premise that as Nehru's daughter she would win elections for the party and as Prime Minister she would toe the line set by the bigwigs. They were not motivated by any sense of loyalty to her. In 1966, she was brought in as an interim Prime Minister after Lal Bahadur Shastri's death. The electoral reverses suffered by the Congress in 1967 brought into the open the conflicts among the various contenders for the prime ministership.


Indira's sense of political insecurity and anxiety forever haunted her and this was revealed when she 'split' the Congress in 1969 and asked for early polls in 1971. She got a confidence boost when that election resulted in a two-thirds majority for the Congress. For a few years, the nation saw a new Indira Gandhi bringing to an end the hesitant Indira of 1966-1971. She showed this new self-confidence while dealing with the crisis of Bangladesh.

During this period, the entire top brass of the party was reduced to the status of a cipher and the Congress had only one boss, i.e. Indira herself. Authority in the party, in the ultimate analysis, got concentrated in Indira's hands. This supreme trait was not confined to the affairs of the Congress; the affairs of the government were also conducted by her on the basis of the 'buck stops here' principle.


The only purpose behind the declaration of the Emergency in 1975 was to protect and defend Indira, the Prime Minister, who was under political siege. Power flowed from the Constitution till it protected Indira in power and the Constitution was expendable when it proved inconvenient to her. It clearly shows that Indira's authoritarian tendencies were integral to her philosophy of governance. This manifested itself in the Emergency and while dealing with 'movements' like the Assam student's demands.


In her obsession with the Opposition, she often adopted Machiavellian methods. To counter the Akalis, she created a Frankenstein in Jarnail Singh Bhindranwalla. To her, the end justified the means. She also created politics of the personality-cult when the need of the hour was to work with constitutionally provided institutions. This face of Indira should not be forgotten by future generations — they should look out for leaders like her who ride rough shod over Constitutional institutions for governance.


When the history of Indira's 15 years in power is written, there may emerge a ruthless leader who was also the darling of the poor.

Historical judgments are ruthless. But it is impossible for contemporary intelligentsia to objectively evaluate her legacy. Indian nationalists cannot forget her contribution to nation building, especially the events leading to the emergence of Bangladesh, especially the rebuff she gave to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.


She also saved India's nascent economy. For today's great liberalisers it is impossible to comprehend the delicate condition that India was in the 1960s under pressure from global capitalism. The victims of the Emergency of 1975-77 cannot accept anything good to be written about Indira. This was Indira, who dominated the political scene and history from 1966 to 1984. She cannot be ignored either by contemporaries or posterity.


What is the real legacy of Indira? First, Indira loved India and was a zealous defender of her sovereignty. Her dialectical relationship with India spelt that love for India was equal to love for ruthless exercise of personal power for the defense of national interest, which got intertwined with her own. Second, Indira taught Indians that democracy can be subverted by a Prime Minster unless Opposition parties are vigilant. Third, only Indians can defend their own freedom from hostile powerful countries and no one will stand for India if the country is facing domestic or external problems.

 

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MAIL TODAY

 COMMENT

ROAD NAMES DECIDED ON POLITICAL WHIMSY

 

THE controversy over the naming of a lane near Lodhi Garden, with the names of two individuals being pitted against each other, highlights the fact that we still do not have a thought- out policy for honouring the dead, besides the question of our legacy for posterity.

 

Streets, buildings and schemes are still being named after individuals in a somewhat random manner, with the whims and fancies of those in power mattering more than the real contributions of people who are conferred the honour. So casual is our system of naming or renaming streets, and so captive in the hands of politicians that most streets in the country's capital are named after people whose contribution to public life or letters is trivial.

 

There is also the problem of certain individuals having too many schemes and structures named after them, with the Nehru Gandhi family and the Congress party being the original sinners in this regard.

 

The question ' why him or her?' is a legitimate one to ask before naming any street, airport, structure or scheme after a certain individual. This will automatically eliminate the candidature of people with somewhat questionable credentials. Also, since the parameters for judging achievement can vary, it is best for the authorities to have a bipartisan procedure when it comes to such an exercise. As things stand today, we have the unwholesome spectacle of political bodies going on a spree to immortalise friends, relatives and personal icons the moment they win power.

 

There is also the issue of renaming structures. The last two decades have seen a spurt in the trend to change the names of cities, streets and markets that are associated with their past, thereby robbing them of their history and heritage.

 

The most notorious example here is the renaming of Connaught Place as Rajiv Chowk.

 

To take an obverse example, several structures in Pakistan today continue to bear their names of the pre- Partition era, such as the Gangaram Hospital and Laxmi Chowk in Lahore. There is an element of maturity in this, as well as a sense of civic pride and self- confidence.

 

New India should make new buildings and structures and name them after its distinguished sons and daughters, but to put a new label over an old name smacks of dishonesty.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

PROBE IOC FIRE

 

THE causes of the fire at the Indian Oil Corporation's fuel depot near Jaipur on Thursday night need to be probed thoroughly.

 

Besides the avoidable loss of six company employees and injuries to some 150 people, the blaze has cost the company a loss of nearly Rs 150 crore worth of fuel.

 

There are reports that a number of houses in the vicinity have developed cracks. While the loss is heavy, the fallout of the loss of fuel will be felt mainly in Rajasthan which was serviced by the tank farm. As of Friday evening, the authorities were still waiting for the fuel to burn itself out before allowing the fire engines which have been rushed to the spot from a number of surrounding towns to go into the depot.

 

The obvious question is the cause of the fire. Some reports speak of a fire being sparked off by a leaky valve. But there are reports that suggest negligence as well because something or someone caused the leaked fuel to ignite.

 

This said, we are confronted with another set of questions relating to the design of the tank farm. Usually such facilities are made in such a way that a limited fire does not trigger a big conflagration.

 

The government needs to review firesafety measures relating to oil storage facilities and petrol stations. Just ten days ago there was a major fire at a Bhopal petrol station, though no casualties were reported. Though there are rules and regulations to ensure that citizens are not endangered, the reality is also that these rules and regulations are broken at will.

 

At places unauthorised houses and shopping centres have been established. There is little point becoming wise after a tragedy, and something as inflammable as oil products is always a fire hazard of the first magnitude.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

INDIRA GANDHI REBOOTED

BY DINESH C SHARMA

 

INDIA's software and outsourcing industry is projected as one of the poster boys of economic liberalisation unleashed in 1992. The sector witnessed exponential growth through the 1990s, and the industry took off with gusto in the post-2000 period. The combined revenue of the Indian information technology and business process outsourcing industry during the current fiscal is projected to cross $70 billion — which is 5.8 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Exports alone will account for revenue worth $47 billion. Undoubtedly, this sector has emerged a major contributor to economic growth, urban employment and exports in recent years. This growth has made India a significant player in the so-called knowledge business in the past few years.

 

The seeds of making India a major knowledge economy player were sowed more than two decades ago. Industry leaders and scholars have often overlooked this and failed to recognise the key role played by Indira Gandhi in steering a decisive shift in electronics and computer policies in early 1980s — ultimately resulting in a robust multi-billion industry at the turn of the new century. It may be worth setting the record straight when Indira Gandhi's tenure is being re-assessed on the occasion of her 25th death anniversary.

 

CHANGE

We normally associate Indira Gandhi's rule with highly restrictive, socialistic economic and trade policies.

 

The government controlled the course of the industry through licensing and restrictions on production capacities. It also controlled the level of technology through curbs on import of technology and equipment.

 

The flow of foreign capital too was regulated through strict rules on foreign equity, technical tie- ups and profit repatriation. Domestic availability of capital was too limited and costly.

 

All this resulted in a slow and painful start of the computer hardware industry in the private sector during her first tenure as the Prime Minister from January 1966 to March 1977. It was during this period that her government rejected applications from companies such as Sony, Fairchild Semiconductors and Texas Instruments to set up export- led manufacturing plants in India. All these companies then went over to Southeast Asian countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia which were eager to facilitate foreign investment in high technology manufacturing. That's why India missed the hardware bus.

 

If the socialist policies of Indira Gandhi are to be blamed for India missing the hardware bus in 1970s, ironically it is the same person who needs to be credited for setting in motion the process for a liberalised computer policy framework in the post- 1980 period. Her second tenure in office was markedly different. The 33 months she was out of power seem to have changed her thinking on economic matters. This changed thinking made her abandon the statist and pro- public sector model of development of the Nehru era and her own populist " Garibi Hatao" policies and embrace pro- private sector policies.

 

She consciously broke away from the set of Nehruvian economic advisors and readily received new ideas presented to her from outside the closed group of advisors whom she depended on in her first tenure. Indira Gandhi gave her nod for preparing a liberalised computer policy early on to Dr N Seshagiri — then a middle- ranking official in the Department of Electronics ( DoE) headed by her. She delicensed consumer electronic manufacturing on the advice of a technocrat- turned- industrialist friend of her elder son — Prabhakar S Deodhar — and later appointed him Chairman of a state corporation functioning under DoE. She heeded the request of a NRI entrepreneur — Satyen Gangaram Pitorda — to present to her a blueprint of introducing India- made digital telephone exchanges in the country. This became a highly successful technology development programme under the Centre for Development of Telematics ( C- DOT) a few years later. Her government also announced a Software Export Promotion Policy in January 1982.

 

The most radical idea that India Gandhi agreed to during the months preceding her assassination was the concept of privately- owned duty- free technology parks for taking up knowledge- based exports. The idea first came from a young NRI entrepreneur — Sharad Madhav Marathe — during her trip to the United States in 1982.

 

Marathe had drawn his inspiration from the Research Triangle Park operating in North Carolina. In parallel, Seshagiri proposed a similar idea in a report he wrote for the United Nations Center for Transnational Corporations.

 

The idea of permitting " software exports through satellite based data links with overseas computers" got incorporated in a policy document, for the first time, in the Import- Export policy for 1985- 88 — approved on September 6, 1984 by the Cabinet Committee on Economics Affairs presided over by Indira Gandhi.

 

LANDMARK

This was a landmark decision that would change the contours of India's nascent computer and software industry over the next decade. In one stroke, the government sought to boost an export industry, without making it suffer due to lack of the physical infrastructure of roads, ports and airports.

 

Bits and bytes of information could simply be exported via computers connected through satellite data links.

 

This was indeed a revolutionary concept at a time when satellite communication itself was in its infancy.

 

The idea was further finetuned and incorporated in the liberalised New Computer Policy which was approved by her cabinet, but before it could be made public she was killed by her own bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Her son Rajiv Gandhi — who succeeded her chose her birthday ( November 19, 1984) to announce the new computer policy. This gave an impression that the new policy was a work of the new government. The widely held notion that a brand new, liberalised computer policy was hurriedly brought in soon after Rajiv became PM is thus misplaced.

 

ACHIEVEMENT

In fact, all major initiatives that are normally linked to the Rajiv Gandhi era — liberalised policy framework for the computer and electronics sectors, rural telephone exchanges, software technology parks, computerised railway reservation project and even technology missions — had their origins in the period when his mother was the Prime Minister. Actually when Rajiv took over, the groundwork for a liberalised regime in electronics, computer and telecom sectors had already been laid. The new electronics policy had been announced.

 

The cabinet had approved the new computer policy, it had cleared the setting up of C- DOT; and manufacturing of telecom equipment had already been opened to the private sector. The government had also announced programmes for introduction of computers in the government, education and public sectors. The forces of change that came to a head under Rajiv's regime had been pursued under Indira Gandhi with Rajiv helping in his personal capacity. It would appear as if Indira was repenting for the excessive socialist policies unleashed under her rule in the 1970s.

 

While the idea of software technology parks was incorporated in the 1984 policy and Texas Instruments set up its export unit in Bangalore in 1985, it took another six years for the parks to become conducive for exports by smaller Indian firms. Once the parks were functional, software exports witnessed exponential growth. The reasons for success of these parks were many. They brought Indian software companies closer to their customers in America and other countries through improved communication links and video conferencing. The parks freed exports from going through the drudgery of ports and customs and gave them fiscal incentives in the form of tax holidays.

 

The software parks also helped the emergence of high technology clusters like Bangalore and Noida. The entry of multinationals in these clusters further helped Indian software companies.

 

The overall impact of all these factors was the emergence of a robust software export industry by mid- 1990s, making the Software Technology Parks scheme the most successful export promotion scheme ever to be formulated by the Indian government.

 

The scheme remains relevant even in 2009 and this is clear from the industry demand for its continuation.

 

Dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in

 

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MAIL TODAY

THE LAHORE LOG

BOOMTOWN RAP

MAX MARTIN

 

IT CITY TO LEAD INDIA'S CHARGE ON CLIMATE

THE rains have stopped and the temperatures are rising once again in Karnataka. Even on the political front. But scientists in Bangalore are more concerned about the warming up on a global scale, and its impact. In the coming years, Bangalore will be known for research on climate change. Two of India's leading think tanks on the subject will be based here.

 

The Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) will be looking closely at the causes and consequences of this global phenomenon. The primary goal of the centre is to quantify climate change and its impact on the environment. The recent flood in the north of the state is seen by some as a mark of climate change. The centre has been established with funds from US-based NRIs Arjun and Diana Divecha and the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.

 

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is setting up its own new centre, jointly with the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The centre will promote India's own research on climate change. The current research is largely US and Europe-based. In some of the studies, there is an inbuilt bias against developing countries, environment minister Jairam Ramesh feels. The minister predicted that more such bogeys will appear in the run- up to the climate talks in Copenhagen. He was right.

 

There are new reports about the Asian Brown Cloud ( ABC). Scientists have studied this phenomenon for many years. Yet they have been unsure of what causes this seasonal haze over south Asia.

 

Where do all this soot and other carbon- containing suspended particles come from, especially during the winter? Fossil fuels guzzled by cars and trucks and coal burnt in power plants contribute to it. So do wood and other biomass burnt by poor people for cooking purposes and the practice of slash- and- burn farming. During the 2002 Johannesburg green summit ( Rio+ 10), ABC loomed large over international politics.

 

Developing country scientists saw it as a case of half- baked science and blaming the victim.

 

IISc scientists, including Prof J Srinivasan, who now heads the Divecha Centre, and monsoon expert Sulochana Gadgil then explained the phenomenon more rationally. To dumb down complex atmospheric science, ABC is not a phenomenon restricted to Asia, it is not brown, and it is not a cloud. More importantly, it is not poor people who are responsible for it. The emerging Bangalore centres are expected to cut through a lot of such haze.

 

CHANGING HATS, PLANTING TREES AND STORIES

REMEMBER Satinder Bindra, the former CNN South Asia bureau chief who wrote the book, Tsunami: Seven Hours that Shook the World ? He is currently the head of information and communication at the UN Environment Programme ( UNEP), based in Nairobi.

 

He is now travelling around the world, telling people to plant more trees, cut carbon and to " seal the deal" at Copenhagen.

 

The idea is to make nations commit to cut carbon emissions.

 

Bindra now produces more films for the UN than he ever did for his broadcasters. He calls himself a story- teller. Of course, he can effortlessly spin a lot of UN yarn. He gave some spirited talk at the Vatavaran.

 

Bindra has a lot of images and footage from across the world on environmental issues — free for publication and broadcast. You will hear more from him in the coming weeks.

 

STUDYING THE EARTH IN BALANCE

 

THE new chairman of ISRO is a man who wears many hats and masks — he is a classical singer and a Kathakali dancer. As the man who set up the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services ( INCOIS) in Hyderabad, K Radhakrishnan will contribute to ISRO's research on sea surface changes too.

 

There is a lot of research in the pipeline. For instance, scientists are awaiting the launch of the Indio- French project, Megha- tropiques, a dedicated satellite to study tropical weather and climate phenomena. It is expected to contribute a lot to the study of climate change.

 

Some of Radhakrishnan's statements, soon after his appointment, came while he was seated on a huge balance. He was offering bananas against his weight at the Guruvayur Krishna temple in his home district of Thrissur in Kerala. This practice is called ' Thulabharam'. It is an act of thanksgiving.

 

In an earth in the balance, with a lot of people going bananas over climate change issues, Radhakrishnan and ISRO will have some tough work ahead.

 

max.martin@mailtoday.in

 

ADDING to the local political temperature are the Reddy brothers, who bankrolled the Bharatiya Janata Party to power in Karnataka.

 

They have challenged the chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, who they have accused of an autocratic style of functioning. The brothers — G Karunakara and G Janardhan — are involved in large- scale mining in the northern district of Bellary, being considered like royalty in that area.

 

There is concern that some of their mining activities are at the cost of local forests.

 

Forests are considered sinks that soak up part of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — in effect cooling the globe. So any destruction of forests leads to global warming.

 

The question is whether Yeddyurappa will take this line and force the brothers to " seal the deal" even before Copenhagen. Anyway a lot of hot air has been released because of the heated exchanges between the two sides.

THIS is a gem from the film Home : We all drink the same water that our ancestors drank tens of thousands of years ago. The logic is that it is the same water that rains down, flows through springs, gets collected in the sea and again evaporates into the sky. There are exceptions of course — glacial lakes could contain water that dates back millions of years, untouched by our ancestors!

 

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MAIL TODAY

INTERACTIVE

INTERESTING STORIES FROM TAMIL NADU

 

THIS refers to the news reports ' Top cops in dock for Madras HC lawyer assault' and ' Villagers rise against Dinakaran' ( both published on October 30). The news items make for interesting reading and highlight the dire need for immediate analysis and remedial action.

 

In Tamil Nadu, the public is aware about the Police machinery abetting a state of lawlessness at the behest of its political masters no matter what party they belong to. Sadly, this happens all over the state, irrespective of the causes, and that too without exercising discretion and truthfulness.

 

The act of 66 residents of a Dalit colony complaining against the Karnataka Chief Justice Paul Dinakaran alleging the destruction of evidence of land- grab by removing the fence around the land was brave, but it is still just a police complaint, and not an FIR. The destruction of evidence cannot be executed without the complicit assistance of the Police. Their apathy also leads to an understanding by the state that it is lawful.

 

In both the cases, the image and conduct of the police establishes the truth that those in authority and power govern the affairs of the state without any fear of the law.

 

The State needs for arrest this tendency and discipline. It can no longer wait.

N. R. Narayanan via email

 

' FREEDOM OF SPEECH' IN AIR INDIA

THIS refers to the news item regarding Air India air- hostess Komal Singh having faced humiliation in a midair scuffle air during Flight IC- 884, being charge- sheeted for speaking to the media.

 

The Supreme Court should suo motu take note of this against the management of the National Aviation Company of India Limited ( NACIL) and Union civil aviation ministry for issuing such orders which prohibit staff of a national airliner speaking to the media, as it is against freedom of speech. Following several RTI petitions, it has been revealed that the company is facing severe losses due to corruption at various levels. However, no one from the Air India staff is willing to speak to the media on account of the fear of losing his or her job. As a result, the facts are forever concealed.

 

A recent RTI petition filed received a response from Air India's chief public information officer that was so weak that it could not even provide the simplest information on pay, perks and facilities available to the airline's top management.

 

On television, the company's chief public relations officer Jitendra Bhargava said that the mid- term termination of the Caribjet contract was due to a financial crunch. However, documents received under the RTI Act reveal that Air India had to suffer a massive loss of Rs 130 crore because the leased planes by CaribJet were not flight worthy, and the legal agreement had no exit clause for Air India in case of a fault on part of CaribJet.

 

The gag on the staff members speaking to media means that important information shall never reach the public. The circular or notification banning staff members of Air India talking to media should be immediately withdrawn.

 

Devendra Narain via email

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

WHAT'S UP, FAMILY DOC?

 

Make up your mind, Doc. Will it be chemotherapy or not? Mind made up, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat blames scribes for 'distorting' his comment that it's for the BJP to decide whether it needs medicine, surgery or chemotherapy. So, going by his illness-as-metaphor clarification, does he want to be doctor do-little because he really thinks the lotus isn't wilting? Or was his mention of a certain drastic treatment a Freudian slip? M M Joshi, for one, calls the BJP-wallahs "patients". Rajnath Singh has a happier diagnosis: party morale is "high" (read: under his stewardship). High, despite bitter pills from the 2009 general elections to the lost battle for Maharashtra. Well, when family doctors contradict each other on what seems a medical emergency, maybe it's time to seek non-parivar opinion.


Symptom-readers on the outside could find two clinical explanations for Rajnath's curious optimism. Either his flock needs to escape reality via intake of verbal hallucinogens. Or Rajnath suffers see-no-evil vision problems. We've all gaped at the spectacle of utter disarray within the "party with a difference". But Rajnath seems optically immune. Maybe that's why he's taken to journeying blind, a habit no less injurious to health than heading an outfit in apparent free fall. Recently, he flew off from an airstrip with only jeep headlights for visibility. Bah, say party colleagues. Since May 2009, haven't they all been doing a swell job of groping in the dark?

So what if they've been contaminated by a few rancid pickles, lotus-eaters and Jinnah fans setting off alarms at Nagpur's ideological wellness centre? If BJP needed intensive care, parivar patriarchs would surely not let it stop at band-aiding electoral wounds. Besides, the likening of Advani to a pickle past its prime was just one leader's way of lauding a specialist charioteer about to take much-needed rest. RSS biggies would agree, especially with the bit about Loh Purush's awaited retirement. Succession plots have been brewing ever since Advani jived with Jinnah's ghost, that too on enemy soil.


And who says the BJP can't perform dogma-saving operations when contagion spreads? Jaswant Singh too caught the Jinnah bug, becoming a qaidi of Qaid-e-Azam. Severed from the party with surgical precision, he had to recuperate from the shock in the hills of Darjeeling. Others need slow-acting panaceas. Iron Man, for instance, has been shedding posts so that a final round of ideological health check-ups throws up a fighting fit replacement. Nagpur seems ready to bless a new-look BJP, giving grassroots life support come polltime. It's called sticking together - in sickness and in health.


Second opinion: for political recovery, the BJP needs an alternative regimen. One, get off those chariots of ire. Two, get on to a 21st century treadmill to shed outmoded thinking. Last, tell parivar hawks their primordial prescriptions are the problem, not the cure. Only, do political saffronites have it in them to be that health conscious?

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

SOME QUESTIONS ARE BEST BURIED

 

Jaswant Singh has done a great service by sensitising us to the importance of a better understanding of India's immediate pre-independence history. His book, and the controversy that surrounded it recently, have led me to undertake a closer scrutiny of this critical period. I have, in turn, reached the conclusion that the key question on which the media has been transfixed who is culpable for the partition is essentially moot. The objectives, philosophies and backgrounds of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah and of the Congress and Muslim League were so fundamentally in conflict that the partition was inevitable.


The 1940s British India was divided into 17 provinces and hundreds of princely states. Of the 17 provinces, governors ruled 11 and chief commissioners the remaining six. The negotiations in the 1940s centred on the 11 provinces under governors. Hindus were in the majority in seven of them and Muslims in four. The principal parties to the negotiations were the Congress, the Muslim League and the British government. Princely states and minorities Sikhs, Christians and Dalits had representation but they did not have decisive influence on the outcome.

Nehru had a vision to build a modern, democratic India with equal representation for all. A strong central government was an integral part of that vision. Jinnah, who had given little thought to nation-building, was solely focused on achieving a post-independence governance structure in which his Muslim League would have parity with the Congress at the Centre and complete autonomy at the provincial level. The latter objective required a weak Centre.


Despite Muslims constituting only 25 per cent of the population, Jinnah insisted on equal representation for his Muslim League to that of the Congress at the Centre. He also saw his Muslim League as the sole representative of all Muslims in India and the Congress as representing strictly upper-caste Hindus. In contrast, the Congress viewed itself as the party of national integration representing all Indians. By corollary, it did not accept the Muslim League as the sole representative of Muslims.


At every stage in the negotiations, Jinnah insisted that the Muslim League be given as many representatives in the key decision-making central bodies as the Congress and that the Muslim League alone be allowed to appoint Muslims on these bodies. To the Congress, whose leadership included members of all communities including Maulana Azad, a Muslim who served as its president from 1940 to 1945 such demands were anathema.


Given the progressively inflexible position of Jinnah, the only way the Congress could have preserved a united India was by accepting his demands in entirety. But in view of his long struggle for independence that included many years spent in jail, his national integration aspirations, and the dream to build a modern democratic India, Nehru could hardly be expected to make such a sacrifice and that too in favour of someone who had not spent a day in jail, was solely focused on the preservation of the interests of a single community, and had little inclination to work cooperatively with the Congress to build a modern India. The experience with the 1946 interim government, administered jointly by the Congress and the Muslim League, confirmed the unworkable nature of their relationship. There came to exist a virtual vertical wall between the departments held by the Congress and the Muslim League from the minister at the top right down to the orderly at the bottom.


Prior to the arrival of Lord Mountbatten, the Cabinet Mission of May 1945 represented the only serious attempt by the British towards independence. To woo Jinnah, the Mission proposed an all-India federation with a three-tier governance structure with a weak Centre at the top, weak provinces at the bottom, and strong groupings of provinces in the middle. Three groupings were proposed: Group A with three contiguous Muslim majority provinces, Group B containing six Hindu majority provinces and Group C clubbing the vast Muslim majority Bengal with a much smaller Hindu majority Assam. Each group was to write its own separate constitution with the Centre's jurisdiction limited to defence, foreign affairs and communications. Predictably, the Congress refused to embrace the groupings idea.


Much has been made of Nehru's public repudiation of the idea in an interview to The Hindu in July 1946. A 1968 book reports even Azad as having said that the interview "changed the course of history". Yet, as a matter of historical record, at no stage had Nehru or the Congress accepted the groupings idea. As the Congress president, Azad himself had informed the Cabinet Mission in May 1945 that the Congress was "entirely opposed to any executive or legislative machinery for a group of provinces".


In the end, the gulf between Nehru's conception of a united India and that of Jinnah was too deep to be filled. Even so, if responsibility for the partition must be assigned, Indians with genuine national-integration aspirations are bound to point the finger at Jinnah.


The writer is a professor of economics at Columbia University.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

A FLIGHT TO NOWHERE

 

President Pratibha Patil, who was the toast of British royalty on a state visit this week, is setting her sights on the sky, quite literally. Defence ministry officials have revealed that plans are afoot to put the president on the Indian Air Force's potent supersonic fighter jet, the Sukhoi-30MKI. Patil is expected to take to the skies in this fourth generation fighter aircraft from the IAF's Lohegaon airbase near Pune in the last week of November. Patil will not be the first president to take a trip on military jet planes. Former president A P J Abdul Kalam has already travelled on such a flight path when he took a spin in a Sukhoi in 2006. He has also taken a ride in a submarine. The question to ask is: What is the point of such exercises?


Supporters of this plan aver that as commander-in-chief, a president on a sortie inspires confidence in India's military preparedness and capabilities. It's a substantive morale-boost both for the people in the forces and the citizens of this country, it is argued. That's a pretty lame argument. If anything, such displays are merely symbolic. The public's confidence in the defence forces is built on the basis of their track record be it during times of war or peace not through VIP endorsements.


The other argument being bandied about in defence of the president's proposed flight is that as the first woman commander-in-chief of India's armed forces, her sortie in the skies will push the case for the induction of women fighter pilots. It will, apparently, help women in the forces to also breach other boundaries that constrain them presently. That is a tenuous link.


The case for women in the forces merits a fair hearing irrespective of the gender of the commander-in-chief and symbolic gestures put out for public consumption. The president of India dons several ceremonial hats. But her substantive role is as the constitutional head of the Republic of India. That is the part that must take precedence.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTER VIEW

IT SERVES AN ADMIRABLE PURPOSE

 

The thought of the diminutive president Pratibha Patil strapping herself into the Indian Air Force's Sukhoi MKI fighter jet capable of shattering the sound barrier and hitting speeds of Mach 2.35 is admittedly a touch strange. But in the larger scheme of things, it is also entirely fitting. If Patil does go ahead with it, she will be following in former president A P J Abdul Kalam's well-publicised footsteps. And like him, she will be demonstrating both a deep appreciation for the armed forces' service to the nation and an understanding of her role within the constitutional framework.


The president's post may be a largely ceremonial one in the Indian context, but whoever holds the office is nevertheless head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces. In a perennial state of readiness due to border conflicts, dealing with decades-old internal security situations that ideally should not be their responsibility, the least the military can expect is a public show of support from its titular head. That Patil should think of doing so by climbing into a fighter jet is particularly apt.


The Air Force has been plagued by bureaucratic and financial constraints; these have seen its squadron strength dip and old, outdated aircraft retained in service. Not surprisingly, there have been a number of accidents and crashes over the years. By choosing to entrust her safety to the Air Force, Patil is providing a testament to both the men and the machines of the service. And if it also serves another purpose pushing the case for women fighter pilots so much the better.


That her position is a ceremonial one, in fact, makes Patil the perfect person for boosting the morale of the armed forces. Tradition and ceremony are inextricably woven into the fabric of the armed forces. They are present in every aspect of their functioning. There are sound reasons for this; a sense of history and continuity are indispensable in a service that has nationalism as its raison d'etre and asks millions of men and women to risk their lives daily. Who better, then, to show that the nation appreciates their service and has faith in them than the highest citizen of the land whose office places a similar emphasis on tradition and history?

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

GLOBAL EYE

COOL IT ON CHINA

 

Until the calming words out of Chinese foreign minister's visit to India this week, the two countries seemed on a collision course. The People's Daily chided India for its border provocation and "dream of hegemony" while the Indian media, especially the echo chamber of 24/7 cable TV, behaved as if 'the Chinese are coming'. Some even predicted a date for the impending Chinese invasion. Scary stories about a Himalayan confrontation hit the world press. All this would be merely amusing sensationalism if not for the risk of generating a nationalist hysteria and an international crisis potentially spiralling out of control.


Indian public opinion has shown great maturity towards Pakistan because it is well-informed about that country's complexity. It is time for cooler editorial heads to prevail in dealing with China. This is not a call to turn one's gaze away from the northern border or to ignore the implications of a rising China and its growing military might. But one needs a realistic assessment of China's power, as well as its weaknesses and insecurities so as not to be obsessed with a hypothetical 'China threat'.


Three hundred years ago, China and India produced half of the world's gross domestic product. They are making a comeback, India more slowly. By building upon its thousands of years experience and opening its economy to the world, China has achieved record growth. It has lifted a quarter of its population out of poverty and is today sitting on a record $2.3 trillion reserve. Its double-digit growth in defence spending for the past two decades has endowed it with impressive military muscle - from long-range nuclear missiles to a blue-water navy.

But this rise has come at a price: growing income inequality and grave environmental degradation with clean-up and health costs amounting to nearly half of its annual GDP growth. Many of the growing numbers of protests in the country 58,000 officially counted "mass incidents" in first quarter of this year alone express anger at corruption and pollution.


The military parade held on the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic was certainly a reminder of Beijing's power but, ironically, also a demonstration of its weakness. For all its might and the size of its internal security forces, citizens were ordered to remain indoors obliged to watch the parade on television, not allowed even to peek through the window. Need to protect the stability of their one-party rule is supreme. Although the neuralgic issue of Taiwan has considerably calmed down with the rise of accommodating leadership on the island, new threats to national unity have emerged from the simmering anger of the minority Tibetan and Uighur populations following the deadly riots earlier this year.


While al-Qaeda's involvement with the Uighur separatists remains a distant threat, Tibetan rebellion is a more immediate concern. India, as the host of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles pining to return home is high on China's worry radar. This concern can only grow as the transition time in Tibetan leadership approaches. China cannot ignore the Dalai Lama's acceptance of Arunachal as belonging to India, nor his remark that his successor may be born outside Tibet, nor the historical fact that Tawang in the contested province was the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. If China's alliance with Pakistan gives it certain leverage, India too enjoys the same vis-a-vis its Tibetan ties. What India needs is a pragmatic and sensitive approach and not histrionics.


It would be an error to cast the inevitably difficult relations with China in terms of military confrontation. India's main challenge from Beijing does not lie across its frozen border but in the economic success evident in China's glittering cities, infrastructure, booming industries, high-quality schools and its emergent clean energy technology. Its growing wealth confers enormous power and influence trillion dollars can buy a lot in international bodies. India's fledgling economy, still beset with widespread poverty, malnutrition, inequality and injustice that spawns, among others, Maoist violence, is no match.


This means that if a military confrontation were to take place, India might well find itself internationally isolated. Money talks and it certainly seems that, for the time being at least, the favoured accent may be Mandarin.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A CONNECTION HAS BEEN MADE

 

There was something refreshingly unadulterated about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Friday. It was an honest, calibrated opinion unclouded by rhetoric. So when Mr Singh stated that "the India of tomorrow cannot be built from New Delhi alone," we clearly heard what he was saying: there is an unquestionable urgency for expansive and inclusive democracy. His projection of a 9-10 per cent growth rate is stitched on to this 'one India' premise

 

Policies and politics that have perpetuated the split-level arrangement of the Great Indian Success Story cohabiting with 'Real India' need to be refitted. When Mr Singh reiterated that "we need to push forward reforms," the message could have been interpreted by those listening to suit what they define as 'reforms'. But the PM's assertion that reforms have "many dimensions" that must include increased rural infrastructure-building and the creation of an atmosphere conducive for rural development along with the more traditional forms of economic reforms underlined the need to demolish the Cartesian divide between Surging India and Left Behind Bharat. If the PM linked economic growth to social stability, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spelt things out further. Three factors, Mr Mukherjee said, will determine India's economic prowess: an institutional higher growth trajectory, fiscal consolidation and inclusive growth. And for all these three to click and trot, not only does the global economic climate have to improve and permanent structures for reforms be put in place, but India's security environment must also improve.

 

That the government is not pushing every security challenge under the carpet of 'external aggression' was made evident by both speakers talking about the challenges of "internal disturbances". If growth has been hit by a 2 per cent dip in agriculture fuelled by the twin terrors of drought and floods, the rumblings from India's have-nots need to be tackled. It is the promise made by the Prime Minister and his colleague in the Finance Ministry of doing just that — tackling this socio-economic problem at its source as well as quelling its consequences — that should make the nation at large believe that something right is being done and allow us to invest our trust in plainspeaking.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NO ANSWERS TO THE KEY QUESTION

PRATIK KANJILAL

 

It's perfectly shocking that a Rajdhani Express can be 'hijacked' in broad daylight. But our sense of shock owes something to that term — 'hijacked'. It's a posh train, aircon from end to end, free mineral water and no beggars on board. So when it's held up by mugs of a Maoist front demanding the release of a fellow mug, it looks shockingly like a 'hijacking'.

 

But in West Bengal, it's called a rail roko, an event as routine as eating a rosogolla. As a local, what I found disturbing was not the hold-up but the firefight on the sidelines between Maoists and the police. It brought back memories of the early 70s, when the Naxalites were a force to reckon with. But otherwise, the Banstala incident was just a rail roko. It was not exactly Kandahar.

 

Every other day, we Bengalis hold up trains to press any old demand, sometimes with tragic consequences. The day of the Rajdhani drama, the Guwahati-Chennai Express was also held up for four hours by a rail passengers' association demanding a change in commuter train timings. On board was a young man travelling to Chennai to seek treatment for a respiratory illness. He did not survive the rail roko. This Assamese man died because of an obscure local issue in a district of West Bengal. To my mind, this sort of thing is truly shocking, because it's been going on for decades.

 

The Bengalis are a resilient lot and have adapted to rail rokos. Adaptation consists of lying back and enjoying the ride. I was once 'hijacked' for several hours at Gurap. Gurap? That's right, I said Gurap. A station as nondescript as Banstala, as the name suggests. No one knew who had 'hijacked' us. No one cared about the identity of the rail roko activists squatting on the tracks in front of the engine, waving placards and raising slogans. It was agreed that this had to be the Gurap Underwear Manufacturers' Association, or some similarly contemptible organisation, and no one paid them any attention.

 

The train was coming down from the north, so the passengers were prepared for a siege. Bottles of Sikkimese and Bhutanese liquor were produced and put through their paces. A foraging party liberated fried fish in industrial quantities from the fair town of Gurap. Another returned with news that the state Minister for Jails was among the 'hostages' on the immobilised train. Triumphant passengers surged out on the platform, shouting ironical demands for the immediate release of the Jail Minister, drowning out the 'hijackers' who were raising slogans about a far less exciting issue. Something about development, I think. The party lasted for hours until the 'hijackers' gave up and the train got under way again to the sound of lusty, drunken cheering.

 

But without Sikkimese lubrication, I don't think any of the passengers on that deliriously happy train would want to repeat the experience. Rail rokos typically cause aggravation, incalculable financial losses and even death. Now that the Maoists have brought the problem to the attention of the Home Minister, I hope he will at least address the most shocking feature of the Banstala drama — when the train was stopped, there wasn't a single policeman on board.

 

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine(The views expressed by the author are personal)

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MRS G FORCE

VIR SANGHVI

 

On this day, 25 years ago, Indira Gandhi was struck down by assassins' bullets. A quarter century later, you would think that with the benefit of hindsight, India might have arrived at a consensus over Mrs Gandhi's legacy or that we were able to judge her time in office with some detachment.

 

In fact, we seem as divided and as confused about Indira Gandhi today as we were when she was alive. Over the last month, I asked people I met casually, those I interact with on Twitter and visitors to my website what they thought of Indira Gandhi.

 

There was no unanimity at all. Many praised her for her strength and leadership. But the critics attacked her on two principal grounds: dynasty and her left-wing economic policies which they argued had severely damaged India.

 

Funnily enough, hardly anybody mentioned the one reason why many people of my generation (including me) opposed her in life: the Emergency.

 

The amnesia about the Emergency extends to the BJP which hardly ever mentions the issue (though the RSS was banned and Jan Sangh leaders were locked up), and seemed content when party workers raised slogans  hailing Varun Gandhi as the new Sanjay Gandhi during the election campaign.

 

Asked by an interviewer how the BJP could allow the glorification of the man responsible (along with his mother) for the lowest phase in Indian democracy, L.K. Advani twinkled, "That is a small matter."

 

So while the Congress seems embarrassed by the Emergency ("even Mrs Gandhi apologised for the excesses and remember, she was the one who called the 1977 election"), the BJP seems to have forgotten about it and is content to hail the legacy of Sanjay Gandhi (a man whose notorious record has led the Congress to photoshop him out of its history)!

 

Who said there was no irony in Indian politics?

 

If you put aside the Emergency (which, unquestionably, was A Bad Thing), Mrs Gandhi's record is complex. There are the spectacular political achievements: the 1971 landslide, the triumphant come-back in 1980, the creation of two separate parties (the Congress-R in 1969 and the Congress-I in 1978) based on little more than her own charisma and many years in office (around 15 years in two separate spells).

 

But equally, there is a dark side. Her own insecurity led her to take steps that had damaging consequences for India. By the end of her first term in office, she had become so mistrustful of her political colleagues that she abandoned Cabinet government for a centralised style of functioning. At first, power was concentrated in her office. And then, more sinisterly, in her Private Secretary. (By 1981, R.K. Dhawan's power was second only to Mrs Gandhi's.)

 

To be fair, the damage to those institutions was temporary. The Cabinet's primacy has now been restored and nobody even knows or cares who the Prime Minister's Private Secretary is these days.

 

However, one consequence of her insecurity still haunts us today. It was Indira Gandhi who legitimised dynasty. While there had always been a family aspect to Indian politics, no Prime Minister had ever been brazen  enough to pick up a delinquent, motor-mechanic son with no previous experience of government and to declare that he would now be her effective second-in-command.

 

That decision opened the floodgates. Now, nearly every party (except the Left) treats genetics as a means of determining political advancement. And India is living with the consequences.

 

Whatever your views on Mrs Gandhi's style of functioning — as you can tell, I was not a fan — there's no denying that as a Prime Minister, she was largely successful.

 

Her primary achievement lay in holding India together in the 1966-1984 period when the neighbourhood was collapsing. Pakistan broke up. Afghanistan was taken over by the Soviets, Sri Lanka was rocked by civil war and Burma shut itself off from the world.

 

It is possible now to underestimate this achievement but till the 1980s, Western political scientists would routinely predict the break-up of India, its Balkanisation or a military take-over. It is to Mrs Gandhi's credit that none of these predictions came true and that elections during her time were vigorous, issue-based exercises that yielded national mandates.

 

Her handling of the economy is harder to judge. You'd have to be crazy to argue that India could have opted for an entirely free market (as Pakistan did) in the Sixties and the Seventies — we needed government investment to build up infrastructure and to ensure equitable development — but equally, there's no doubt that many of Mrs Gandhi's left-wing populist measures did not work: nationalisation of the grain trade, punitive taxation etc.

 

By 1980, Indira Gandhi had abandoned socialism and begun to liberalise but in retrospect it is clear that India moved too slowly to end the licence raj. However, it is not clear that this was Mrs Gandhi's fault alone. She followed the prevailing consensus among economists and political parties and was dead by the time this consensus changed. (Even Manmohan Singh was hardly a radical reformer during his time as an economic civil servant — the consensus changed later).

 

Her area of greatest success was foreign policy.

 

Can you imagine the mess India would be in today if East Pakistan still existed and if terrorists flooded across both our borders? By bisecting Pakistan, she ensured that it would never be more than a nuisance.

 

A united Pakistan, on the other hand, would have been a serious threat. Moreover, since 1971 when Pakistan lost the war, we had no trouble with Islamabad till Mrs Gandhi's death. Kashmir, today's flashpoint, was entirely peaceful.

 

It's easy now to say that she put too much faith in the Soviet Union. But, in reality, India had no choice. In the Sixties, Pakistan was a client state of the US. In 1971, it facilitated the rapprochement between America and China and by 1980, it had become the base for the American operation against Soviet-held Afghanistan.

 

The consequences of Islamabad's engagement with Washington are visible in the debris of Pakistan today. So not only could India not have offered the US the strategic assistance that Pakistan did, we are probably better off for not having done so.

 

So, finally, how does one assess Indira Gandhi?

 

I'll give you my own perspective. When she was alive, I opposed her for the Emergency, for dynasty and for the bypassing of cabinet government. Those are still my views.

 

But where I did not give her enough credit was in keeping India together, in making the electoral process vibrant and energetic and in forging a foreign policy that put a great democratic experiment on track to become a superpower of the 21st century.

 

Time has not softened my views on her flaws. But it has taught me to appreciate her achievements more.

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

READING NUMBERS

 

The numbers tell us the United States is out of recession. According to the US commerce department, America's GDP grew at an annualised rate of 3.5 per cent in this year's third quarter, following four straight quarters in which it shrank. But it may be too soon to beat the drums and bang the gongs of celebration. There are some questions to be asked first.

 

Does this constitute a broad-based recovery? Is it the case that American enterprises and American capital stand ready, again, to serve as the engines of world growth? Sadly, no. Breaking down the numbers makes it clear whence this growth derives: from the enormous resources that the US government has managed to mobilise to keep its economy from a spiralling free-fall into depression. The other components of growth haven't really bounced back in sufficient degree to constitute a full-scale recovery. Look, for example, at consumer spending. Yes, it went up by over 3 per cent; but a big chunk of that was because of the US government's "cash-for-clunkers" scheme, in which Americans were subsidised to encourage them to trade in older cars for newer ones with better fuel efficiency. Then consider the fact that in real estate, the sector in which the contagion began, residential construction went up rather dramatically, by as much as 23 per cent. But when that is put together with the fact that an $8,000 credit on federal tax for first-time home buyers has just been introduced, it makes more sense. The simple truth, therefore, is that crisis measures seem to be working — but that the crisis isn't over yet. The patient is walking, but on crutches; so it is too soon to declare her leg healed.

 

Crisis thinking, therefore, should not be abandoned, nor should any form of complacency be allowed to creep in. For one thing, many other major economies around the world are still in the doldrums — indeed, some in the UK economy fear they haven't yet seen the worst. Instead, policy-makers who believe that the government has done its bit should draw the opposite inference: the lesson that should, indeed, be learnt, is that government action can work to stave off the worst. Yes, perhaps big fiscal stimuli can no longer be handed out, given the size of the deficit and the fiscal space now available. But other, more innovative methods of stimulus are available, at least in India. The best of which: reform. Reform now, reform widely, reform unhesitatingly. That is the way to get India back on to the high-growth path that is politically and economically essential.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WRONG MEDICINE

 

The government's one-size-fits-all panacea to ensuring quality in educational institutions has been "control". How does one ensure teaching quality? Answer: state control. How does one deal with particularly mediocre educational institutions? Answer: even more control. The idea that independence fosters excellence, that the state must regulate quality not squash it, has long been alien to Indian higher education apparatiks. Which is why Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's talk of institutional "autonomy" (especially in the context of IITs and IIMs) has been such a refreshing change.

 

However, consider the recommendations of a UGC-appointed committee, recommendations the UGC has accepted, and ones that the Sibal-appointed committee on deemed universities is said to be in favour of. The Tareen Committee was appointed by the UGC to examine its own haste in giving "deemed university" status to several institutions. One would suppose that the logical corrective to providing deemed university status to places which are ill-equipped, ill-qualified, and mint-fresh is to revoke that status (in fact, another UGC-appointed committee to look into precisely this has been less than stinging). But no, the Tareen Committee recommends that "deemed universities" must have entrance exams and fees must be fixed by a panel. This is in complete contrast to ideas of institutional autonomy. Private bodies must be free to set their own curricula and determine their own fees. The government's role must be reduced to overseeing excellence, and withdrawing licences in the case of fly-by-night operators. The recommendations, if accepted, would constrict all deemed universities, instead of just shutting down the tardy ones.

 

At the heart of the matter is the scandal that many institutions enjoying "deemed university" status have become. Sibal's decision to review many decisions pertaining to deemed universities was necessary. But the recommended solution could make a bad situation worse. Instead of being forward looking, it harks back to ideas that the current HRD minister himself aims to move away from. The UGC must not be allowed to compound its initial mistake with another one.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

YOU TOO, ANDRE?

 

It goes well beyond the occasional confessional outburst. Written in the pages of his memoir Andre Agassi has done the nasty by revealing a shocking secret that he guarded for so long. That Agassi, the golden boy of tennis, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, lied about substance abuse in order to escape a ban has come as a shock to most. During his all-time low in 1997 — when his career dwindled and ranking slid to 141 — Agassi, urged on by his assistant, snorted the highly addictive crystal meth: a drug that would make him feel "like Superman, dude." What's more is that his actions can no longer be penalised but have raised a host of questions.

 

Why now? That's the first question that pops up. Surely a pro who has amassed a small fortune through both tennis and commercial endorsements isn't in need of extra cash. Could it be merely for attention? Agassi left his mark on tennis because he was both a fantastic player and a show-stealer. Be it through his outlandish outfits, lavish hair-dos, his gratitude to his fans by air kisses or tabloid relationships — Agassi commanded attention.

 

Agassi, at the centre of the storm, finds himself under attack now from both the International Tennis Federation and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The former head of WADA has urged authorities to take Agassi's admission as a wake-up call to the ATP: "The fact that one of the stars acknowledged that it is simple to beat the system tells you everything you need to know." Tennis has traditionally been lax about drug testing and Agassi's revelation will speed up the changing anti-doping practice. New WADA regulations are placing the heat on players though, for instance athletes are now required to disclose their whereabouts every single day and tennis has upped the ante by testing players during out-of-competition periods as well — a new practice for tennis but common in other competition sports.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE IDEA OF INDIRA

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

What makes it even more challenging to understand a personality like Indira Gandhi even 25 years after her passing is the fact that you are not talking about one person, but three. Or, to put it more accurately, not one prime minister, but three. Indira Gandhi had two spells in power, but in fairness you have to break her first tenure (1966-77) also into two, with a changing of chapters at the end of the Bangladesh war in December 1971. This gives us three reigns of almost equal length, 1966-71, 1972-77 and 1980-end 1984. In each one, it was the same personality in office but a different prime minister. Mrs Gandhi was no doctrinaire figure, with all her wisdom or ideas inherited from her father. She changed and evolved, often for the better, sometimes not quite so. To that extent, she was an original among leaders who serve long tenures. Think of her, in fact, as a complete opposite of another titan of her times — and one she shared so much mutual fondness with — the unchanging Fidel Castro. Remember that wonderful picture of their joyous hug at the Non-Aligned Summit in New Delhi in 1983?

 

Unlike her son Rajiv, subsequently, Indira was not a reluctant politician. Even when Lal Bahadur Shastri stepped in after Nehru in 1964, many in the Congress saw her as a successor soon enough. She was already the minister for information and broadcasting, but, just like Rajiv, she was fated to be catapulted to prime ministership, unexpectedly with Shastri's sudden death in Tashkent. Her first tenure, therefore, reflected some of that under-preparedness and diffidence. This is what persuaded Ram Manohar Lohia to use for her the description, "goongi gudiya" (dumb doll). She made the entire opposition pay for that over her "three" tenures in power. And how.

 

This diffidence continued till 1969. With successive monsoon failures, dependence on imported foodgrain and political instability — in the 1967 general elections the Congress ceded space to a united opposition in many regions. Within the Congress, the old guard could barely suffer her. The external security environment was a mess — with the growing China-Pakistan bond and a six-day skirmish with the Chinese at Nathula in 1967. The internal situation was worse, with Naga and Mizo insurgencies at their peak and the Dravidian movement still mostly in the "separatist" state of its evolution. But she learnt on the job faster than anybody imagined. She stayed left-of-centre but unhesitatingly embraced America on project green revolution. The success in both, the purge of the "uncles" and agriculture, gave her the assurance of a leader in her own right. That is why when the East Pakistan crisis began on March 25, 1971, she was perfectly positioned to respond to it. She had political stability, five years of experience and a track record of success topped with the Garibi Hatao landslide of just a fortnight earlier.

 

That is why she listened neither to ultra-pacifists who pleaded for a do-nothing approach, nor to hawks who said join the war now, but to Sam Manekshaw who told her he needed time. As Manekshaw prepared his forces, she built the diplomatic foundation that this venture would have required at the peak of the Cold War, just when the odds had become even heavier against India, with the Nixon-Kissinger opening to China. You had to be an iron lady to embark on a project to break up a nation with no mean armed strength of its own and now counting the US and China among its allies. So she built a new, treaty-bound relationship with Moscow.

 

She won the war, but we still do not have sufficient evidence that her socialist swing, and then the Indo-Soviet Treaty, had arisen from a genuine, heart-felt commitment to that ideology. Was she experimenting, was she just playing cynical politics, or was she forced into that situation, socialism becoming her default option against an old guard led by Morarji Desai which was still seen as right-leaning, and the Soviet Union India's only anchor, given the China-US-Pakistan axis? We will probably never know for sure, but I would argue that it was still a case of learning on the job, and adapting, adjusting and manoeuvring in the true spirit of realpolitik.

 

If there was a certain listlessness to her second, post-victory tenure the reasons were quite evident. The euphoria of military victory was soon replaced by the realities of an obstinate poverty despite her slogans, erratic monsoons and rising political unrest. India was no post-World War II US or Europe where massive reconstruction of the economy replaced the high of victory. As history proved later, she showed poor judgment in listening to a left-ideologue cabal of foreign policy advisors and signing the Shimla agreement without ensuring a clearer settlement on Kashmir. Quite in contrast to the deftness with which she had put down the challenge within her party, her handling of political unrest was clumsy, ill-advised and short-sighted. She had lost her popularity as fast as she had built it, in a two-year period, and even Pokharan-I was not able to resurrect the "Indira as Durga" magic. The Allahabad high court judgment, the Emergency, the constitutional sub-version then just followed.

 

How would you describe Indira Gandhi in her second phase? Was she still the iron lady because she took away our fundamental rights, jailed her opposition, broke George Fernandes's rail strike, unleashed Sanjay Gandhi on us, nearly, very nearly destroyed the marvellous constitutional under-pinning that her own father had created for our nation? Not many remember today that the issue of whether there is a fundamental character of the Constitution which no majority in a parliament can violate was settled with the majority of just one in a full Supreme Court bench.

 

I would argue that in her second tenure Mrs Gandhi was no longer the iron lady she was in the first. Most of her actions arose from anger and insecurity, confusion and desperate self-preservation. Today you can look for scapegoats among her advisors and the "Indira is India" flock in her party. But that would be neither factually correct, nor fair to her towering personality. She was just too insecure about losing power. Not surprising therefore that the extreme leftward swing in her politics, the passing of so many terrible, retrograde economic legislations that her successors are still not able to reverse came not from any genuine commitment to socialism, but as an ideological camouflage for a series of dictatorial and subversive blunders which she was to regret later — "a step not to be taken for another 1000 years" — and for which Sonia Gandhi expressed regret in her interview on NDTV's Walk the Talk in the run-up to the 2004 election. It was fitting too that that conversation took place in Allahabad's Anand Bhawan.

 

If Indira Gandhi's second tenure was so forgettable she redeemed herself to some extent in the way she allowed it to end. She withdrew the Emergency, released political prisoners and held a fresh election proving, once again, that she was Nehru's worthy daughter. And I do believe that just those 34 months out of power gave her the time to reflect and regroup so she could return again in the summer of 1980 to her iron lady self. Why do we say so?

 

Not just because of the way she fought the commissions of inquiry and rebuilt her party and politics, or helped along the demise of the Janata government, but also because she showed the courage to change in her third term. She may have been still late in judging where the Cold War was headed, and thereby allowed the remnants of the same old left-ideologue foreign-policy cabal to push India into a morally indefensible and politically unsustainable policy on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In those two years our voting record at the UN compared with that of the worst Soviet client states. But she had the foresight to begin a shift. The younger people who worked with her, on both foreign policy and economy, say she had begun to feel deeply uneasy about India's ideological strait-jacketedness and pushed for change. It was she, for example, who orchestrated a "chance" meeting with Ronald Reagan at Cancun in October 1981. I also have it on good authority that she had now started talking of relaxing controls on the economy. It could just be, then, that she had the intellect to figure out first that the Cold War was ending and if India were to prosper in the new politico-economic environment, it could not do so if its people by and large saw the West as a permanently hostile entity.

 

The rest of her third tenure is still rather recent history: the massacre in Nellie during an election forced on a furious Assam, Bhindranwale, Operation Bluestar, even the beginnings of Indian support to Sri Lankan Tamil insurgency. History will take an unkind view of all of these, but these marked the return of the iron lady. I do not believe any other prime minister would have done any of these: hold an election in Assam (1983) that faced an incredible popular boycott but was constitutionally essential, send tanks and artillery to finish Bhindranwale and train Tamil guerrillas to "teach" big-mouth Jayewardene a lesson. These mistakes were not rooted in the paranoia and insecurities of her second phase, but in the heart of a rejuvenated leader who would not allow her or her nation's authority to be taken lightly. That it ended so tragically with her insistence that her Sikh bodyguards could not be removed is such a fitting tribute to her. Even in her death she ensured that at least one point on which historians would never disagree is that she was, ultimately, a secular, true-blue Indian patriot.

 

sg@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

MAO TV, MOU TV. AND MAHATMA

SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI

 

Mao TV. Actually, MoU TV. For days now, news TV has been bringing to us long conversations on Maoists with important people who have asked us to understand or admit that memoranda of understanding (MoU) on exploiting natural resources between the Indian state and domestic/foreign companies are the reason the state is waging a "war". This seems to be the current grand narrative of the "we don't support violence but the real fault lies with the free-market ideology" group. News TV seems somewhat shy in interrogating this thesis. Members of this group were asked several times if they condemn Maoist violence, but they were seldom asked to fully explain the MoU narrative. Even when some details were offered, anchors didn't seem interested. I am puzzled because it is not as if the same anchors didn't ask 20 questions on all the other stuff. Why not, say, two questions on the big economic claim?

 

Before expanding on this a bit more, let me first put on record that there was a moment when my sympathies were with Arundhati Roy. Roy, being quizzed by a CNN-IBN double-anchor team, was told Mahatma Gandhi would have appealed to Maoists to stop the violence. I am not Mahatma Gandhi, Roy said. Quite. Good answer to a very curious argument.

 

Roy appeared twice on CNN-IBN recently (the other time on Devil's Advocate) and made a series of economic arguments, including the one on MoU, most of which went more or less uncontested. On Devil's Advocate, she said:

 

1. Capitalism guarantees better living standards for a few at the cost of many — plainly wrong, but she wasn't asked to explain herself. 2. Many Dalits are living in famine-like conditions in India — plainly wrong, but no comeback from the anchor. 3. The UNDP's Human Development Index shows 80 per cent of Indians are living in extreme poverty — wrong, but she wasn't asked to give details on this data.

 

4. Even since Independence, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer — all the poor haven't got poorer, poverty has come down, there're truckloads of data on this, but she got away with it on national TV.

 

This was more or less jaw-dropping to me. Hey, okay, I am an insignificant but sincerely committed member of what is now called the corporate media. But I can still ask, can't I, why news TV won't quiz big intellectuals when they trot out these big economic claims. There seems to be no attempt at product differentiation on this: what you see on CNN-IBN is also what you see on NDTV. On NDTV's We the People, Medha Patkar said the Indian state is hand in glove with corporates and international financial institutions, there was the MoU thesis again. Did the anchor, who fluently interrogated all panelists on many issues, ask Patkar to explain:

 

1. What she means by the state being hand in glove?

 

2. Which corporate is she talking about? 3. What does she mean by international financial institutions? Of course, not. Why not is the question that's keeping me awake.

 

You see, senseless violence is being committed — against economics, by important people, on news TV. My appeal: Will someone in news TV please try to stop it?

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'SHE WAS ALWAYS THE BOSS'

VANDITA MISHRA

 

When Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980 — in the election that marked her political rehabilitation after the Emergency — she won both seats she had contested. She retained Medak in Andhra Pradesh and fielded her nephew ARUN NEHRU from Rae Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. That election marked the political debut for Nehru, then freshly retired as president, Jenson & Nicholson, and still in his 30s. Nehru went on to become a close — and controversial — aide to Mrs Gandhi and later her son Rajiv when he became prime minister. He subsequently fell out with Rajiv, taking him on under the umbrella of the Jan Morcha along with V.P. Singh. In an interview with VANDITA MISHRA, Nehru recalls the experience of working with Indira Gandhi, his aunt and prime minister, from 1980 till her assassination in 1984. 

 

What do you recall of the days before the assassination? 

I was the last person to meet Mrs Gandhi on the night of October 30. I had come back late at night from Rae Bareilly. General elections were due in the country and she wanted to see my final list of candidates. For about a week before this, she had been behaving strangely. She had gone to a public meeting in Sultanpur. Rajiv and I were to go on to Gorakhpur. But she asked us not to go, for security reasons. We pooh-poohed her concerns. She called up my wife, asked her to intervene. She had never done this before. Then, she suddenly said she wanted to go to Kashmir, to see the leaves change. The PM couldn't just take off suddenly, so we had to invent reasons for the visit. In the house, there was constant pressure to change the (Sikh) bodyguards. She had been disturbed ever since Operation Blue Star.

 

What are your memories of the day of the assassination? And the terrible violence it set in motion against Sikhs?

I reached the hospital when they were wheeling her out. Sonia was distraught. Rajiv was on tour. I left for the house to see the children (Rahul and Priyanka). The gates were open, there wasn't a single security guard in sight. It took half an hour to secure the PM's house, so you can imagine what was happening in the rest of the city. On the same day, I spoke to some people in the party. Continuity was most important. There are no vacancies in government. If (President) Gianiji, (also out of Delhi at the time) did not come back in time, I had decided (Vice President) Venkataraman would swear in Rajiv. When I went to receive Gianiji at the airport, he asked me, have you taken the decision? I said yes. We fixed the time of the swearing-in. I dropped him at the hospital and went back to get Rajiv. In the car, he only asked — is it the same person? Satwant Singh (one of Indira's assassins) was the guard at Akbar Road; we had all seen the hatred in his eyes. There have been several conspiracy theories about that day — that Pranab (Mukherjee) or Gianiji opposed Rajiv as PM. But where was the conspiracy? It was the logical decision. No one said anything. Later, someone said a meeting should have taken place. But in politics there can't be any vacancies.

 

The Congress is still haunted by the 1984 violence — it is seen as an organised pogrom. 

Rajiv did everything in his power to stop the rioting. There was complete breakdown of law and order. The Army has a drill, it needs time. The looting had started. It was the Gujjars, villagers... Today we are used to a security syndrome. There was no culture of security at that time. Once something like this had happened, there was no protection. After the event, it took six months to a year for security systems to be put in place. The prime minister had what is known as 'Y' level of security today — 1 PSO, 1 gunman. We (Rajiv and I) would have lunch with Mrs Gandhi and if we went on to Parliament with her, to make place in the car, we would leave the PSO behind. On the second day of the rioting, I found Madhu Dandavate shouting at the gate of the PM's house. I got him inside. He said this is happening. I spoke to the LG, the police. I said Dandavate cannot be lying. They said things are being taken care of but they had done nothing. Later, I recommended to Rajiv that anyone connected to it (the violence) has to go, names are not important. Things had gone out of control. But when you are in a position of responsibility, you have to handle a crisis. I will say this, my reaction would have been far more ruthless in the next couple of days.

If they could have acted in a few hours, if there were shoot at sight orders, it could have been controlled. But all of this is wisdom in hindsight. Today, with all the hyper security, you cannot prevent Maoists from taking away a train with nearly 600 people on board. About the violence being organised, I don't know. If someone has done it, they should hang. But I find it very difficult to believe that it was organised. Individuals could have done it.

 

Some accounts of Operation Bluestar — and the Emergency — paint the picture of a leader misled. They suggest that Indira Gandhi was pressured into those decisions by advisors.

I knew Mrs Gandhi was unhappy at the turn of events in Punjab. She did a lot of pujas before Blue Star, attended by the four of us — Rajiv, Sonia, my wife and I. Everyone took the hardline position on Punjab, the bureaucracy as well as political leadership. She was the only dove among the hawks. She was reluctant because she understood politics. These things cannot be solved by force. She understood what it meant to go in (the Golden Temple). She was hoping for a miracle. But she was no misled leader. In 1984, she tried very hard, there were long negotiations, but neither the Akalis nor anyone else wanted to take responsibility. Everyone was playing to the gallery. She looked for a solution but there was no political solution. But to assume that she was run by someone else, that's out of the question. She was always the boss.

 

Going back to 1980, had things changed in her second coming, after the Emergency? It is said she became more insecure of her power, and the PMO became a power centre as never before.

When she came back in 1980, Sanjay was totally in control. She was not running the party. He was. All cabinet appointments, everything. Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay worked in perfect coordination. All chief ministers were his choices, the states were under his control. If she wanted to adjust 5-6 colleagues somewhere, he didn't oppose it. But he was running the politics.Between 1977-79, all party work was handled by Sanjay. She had not changed, but the situation had changed. She adjusted to it. But there was no question of the PMO becoming more powerful.

 

She is seen as the Congress's first dynast. 

She did not push any of us into politics. Sanjay was keen I should fight an election. For Rae Bareilly, they wanted someone from the family. Sanjay said come and talk to mummy. But she badgered me for one hour. She gave me all the negatives, she was testing me, that was her style. When she realised I had made up my mind, she said the UP wallahs are sitting outside, now you deal with them. She threw me to the wolves — I, in my polo neck sweater and blazer. The next day we were off campaigning. Then in 1981, after Sanjay died, there were 6 bypolls in UP, including in Amethi and Allahabad. Rajiv had said he was interested in fighting polls. Sonia was opposed to it. But, contrary to perceptions of him being the reluctant politician, he had made up his mind. She had not talked to him about it. She asked me — Allahabad or Amethi? We kept it open till the last minute. She left on tour. She never pushed him.

 

You were the first of the computerwallahs in the Congress.

It was only a section of the media that created a fuss. In those days, none of us spoke to the media. It wasn't Mrs Gandhi's style. She couldn't care less. People said we were arrogant. But she had her own way of dealing with the media through H.Y. Sharada Prasad.

 

What was the essence of her political style?

She was the best communicator we have seen. I cannot remember a single day in five years when she did not send back the daily report I sent her along with a noting. Every day in Parliament, from 12.30 to 1 pm, she would meet about 50 MPs, no appointment needed. Twice a week, she had a morning darshan. Even if she didn't meet you, you had the impression that she had made herself available. She kept several channels of communication open. Once both Rajiv and I thought someone should be PCC president. She said, if the two of you gang up, you are of no use to me. She felt we were putting her under pressure —and she was right. She didn't appoint the person we recommended. She had her own system of evaluation. In every state, she had political and non-political confidants. I used to do the homework for Rajya Sabha nominations. Once, I chose someone from Bihar. She called me up at night, and said, but he chews paan. She said, I don't want the carpet soiled! I asked this person to come to Delhi and meet her. He was a good party worker. When he met her, she had a good laugh. He got the nomination. The point is, she would check and countercheck.

 

The shrinking of the Congress through the 1990s is often traced to her systematic cutting down of regional Congress leaders in the '80s.

The breakdown of the "Congress system" came in 1991 when Rajiv made a deal with Mulayam Singh Yadav in UP. The Congress did not shrink because of Mrs Gandhi. You cannot compare Panditji in 1952-57 with Mrs Gandhi after 1967 when she had lost half the states. Political power is about control, you have to know when to use it. How would you describe events in Andhra today? Whenever a chief minister goes berserk, it is your job to intervene. It is because of lack of political control that you (the Congress) are down from 67 to 40 in Haryana. Don't think there is no opposition to the Congress today and since the BJP is in a mess, you can do what you want. The public will create the opposition.

 

Do you get the feeling that Mrs Gandhi's ghost is still with us, whether we engage it or do battle with it?

Once you are dead and gone, you are only useful at election time, in posters. I am of the view that once a person is gone, you shouldn't even use him or her for the sake of getting the vote. In 1985 the election was fought on her blood and sacrifice. Thereafter, there was no reason to invoke Indira Gandhi. October 31 is only a ritual remembrance. The BBC did a survey in Allahabad and Panditji came way down in the list of remembered leaders, well after Amitabh Bachchan. Politics is heartless, and there is no place to be sentimental. You cannot personalise a situation in a democracy.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE 'R' IN INDIRA

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

It takes a minute or so to work out why the advertisements issued by the government on Friday to mark the 25th anniversary of Indira Gandhi's passing have the 'r' in Indira in white and the rest of the letters in green. The answer lies in what Indira loyalist, Assamese Congress leader D.K. Barooah had famously said. He pronounced Indira with a silent r, in the '70s. "Indira was India and India was Indira", he declared. Sychophancy of this sort paved the way for the spectacular result that laid the road for India's first non-Congress government in 1977, but perhaps there was a semblance of something (if not the truth) in what the faithful Barooah had said, as India could barely wait for three years for its next round of the Indira premiership.

 

Looking back at the Indira years and what she has meant to the party, which went as Congress (I or Indira) for several years before reverting to INC or Indian National Congress, makes it hard to identify one legacy, one programme or the one thing that she stood for.

 

A feisty, single woman, India's first woman PM who made Ram Manohar Lohia regret his loose remark of her being a "dumb doll", or a paranoid leader when she went onto declare a state of internal emergency? Aligning herself with her husband Feroze Gandhi's ginger group, the Congress Socialist Forum, yet instrumental in ensuring the dismissal of the first elected Communist government in Kerala, then again, carved a pro-poor, Left idea about India, nationalising banks, abolishing the privy purses.

 

The mild-mannered, charming and very political daughter of India's first prime minister, with her distinct voice and white streak, is not half as visible in Congress rhetoric (or on Doordarshan), as one might think a woman like her should be. Her "Gharibi Hatao" slogan of 1971, the Pokharan tests in 1974, her bank nationalisation at about the same time, her role in "dividing Pakistan" may be brought up. But otherwise, the references are subtle, sometimes so subtle that they go unremarked. Remember, that Rae Bareilly, the Congress President's constituency, was where Indira chose to stand from after the death of her husband Feroze. The line from Phoolpur (Nehru's constituency) was quietly allowed to slip, but never Rae Bareilly. Her daughter-in-law's very well-maintained saree collection takes several old timers down memory lane, and they insist that even fresh purchases display the same taste, the same eclectic respect for Indian fabrics — from all parts of the country — Pochampalli, Tant, Jamdani, Paithani — everything. Eclecticism, to perhaps symbolise some of the magic cement that Indira Gandhi represented for her party.

 

It was not something that was a calming unifier though. Indira's struggle to sieze control often convulsed the party. It eventually, further centralised the notion of the "high-command". It resulted in the Congress splitting, first in 1969 and then again in later years when she threatened to snuff out any thought that betrayed anything that was mildly less than idolatory.

 

The Congress has reason to keep what they like out of Indira's legacy and simply ignore the rest as if it never happened at all. Her first trip out of the country, meeting with Lyndon Johnson, when she went to negotiate food aid, was remarkable for the chemistry between her and Johnson that was much remarked upon. And then there was the other trip she made to the Soviet Union in 1971, when she secured a promise of military aid should Pakistan attack India over the Bangladesh war in 1971. Which trip should be appropriated and which must be kept quiet about ?

 

Her declaration of Emergency, just so that the Allahabad High Court, ruling that her election was null and void could be circumvented, which ensured so much hatred for the Congress and ensured a grand coalition against them? Or should there be talk of the fact that it was she who called for the polls and ended the monster reign between June '75 and March '77?

 

The Congress' dilemma goes on and on — a few weeks before her killing, she heroically refused to take her security guards off-duty because they were Sikh. But how about the fact that it was she, who actively supported her son Sanjay to look for a suitable candidate to cut the Akali threat in Punjab, someone who campaigned for her candidates in the 1980 polls — Sant Bhindranwale?   

 

It is because of the big questions that immediately surface when any attempt to quickly recall her legacy is made, that it is felt best to keep it a little quiet. Now, Indira Awaas Yojna remains the most visible symbol of her to the average citizen. Since the 1970s, slums have called themselves Indira Nagar, some named in awe of what the Indira name meant for the poor in the early 70s and some, with memories of later times, in the hope that they would never be pulled down with an address like that.   

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CLUNKERS AND DOLLAR


Finally, there is some good economic news out of the world's largest economy. US GDP grew by 3.5% in the quarter between July and September, a sharp jump from the either lethargic or negative growth rates recorded in the most recent four quarters. To the extent that this downturn is in part a confidence game, such good news is always welcome. It will boost consumer and investor sentiment. However, it is still much too early to call a sustained recovery. It is instead a reason for those who believe that government stimulus can work effectively to feel vindicated. Indeed, any sensible interpretation of this US GDP number has to give much credit to the massive stimulus unleashed by the US government. When one disaggregates the 3.5% number, one finds that the strongest recovery is coming from consumer demand—that accounts for 70% of US GDP. But within that head, there is strong growth (around 22%) in consumer durables. And this is where the key to understanding the 3.5% figure lies.

 

The most important category under consumer durables is automobiles. Here, the government's now famous Car Allowance Rebate System (Cars)—better known as 'cash for clunkers'—has played a crucial role in boosting demand. Under this programme, which ran for a limited period between July 1 and August 24, car owners were encouraged to trade in their old gas guzzlers for newer, more fuel-efficient cars. Crucially the government was committed to financing this scheme. Unsurprisingly, the entire budget for the programme was exhausted by the time it closed. And it shows in the GDP growth numbers. The caveat, of course, is that the cash-for-clunkers programme was a one-off measure, and its positive effect on GDP will show up just for this quarter, which has passed. And that really is the crux of government stimulus—it can only be a temporary measure, not permanent. Already, the US government is running into severe budget constraints. A sustainable recovery, therefore, has to be based on fundamentals beyond just temporary government intervention. And the US continues to remain some distance away from a complete recovery in fundamentals. Joblessness is still rising, even though at a decreasing rate. And a revival of the real economy seems months away, even though the financial sector has got back on its feet. Perhaps what will help recovery in the US most is the decline in the dollar. This will give the real economy, particularly export-oriented manufacturing, a fillip. It will also switch consumer demand to locally produced goods & services. Still, things are looking up for the US and the global economy much faster than most analysts had expected at the same time last year.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

THE BIG LANDLORD


What distinguishes the latest chapter in India's volatile land narrative is that it stars the Army. As The Indian Express has been reporting, senior officers appear to be involved in a fraudulent scheme to transfer land in Sukna to a sham educational society. The concerned land is located in the Himalayan foothills in Darjeeling, West Bengal. Here, the Vedic Village riddle still remains to be solved. Remember, on August 24, this country resort near Rajarhat was burned to the ground by villagers shouting land grab. Both CPI (M) and Trinamool members appear to have been in cahoots, as 44 acres was given away to the resort for Rs 97 lakh—against the official buying rate of Rs 25 crore. While the issue awaits resolution, it's industry—in an all too familiar take—that has once again taken the brunt of the backlash. Remember also, the Satyam scam that shocked us all at this year's opening also had a significant land grab component—with the Raju family having leveraged their political pull to amass thousands of acres across south India. We could go on listing examples, but the point is plain enough, that government agencies have too much control over too much land that they manage too inefficiently.

 

Budget 2009-10 states that the Central government owned Rs 1,15,796 crore of land assets at the beginning of 2007-08 and that it acquired a further Rs 100 crore's worth during the year. These are historical estimates. Plus, we have to consider the states' assets separately. The many scandals that have erupted this year give one face to how these assets are being criminally mismanaged. But the negligence also has an everyday, normalised face. Why, for example, did the Supreme Court recently ban construction of religious structures on public land? They encroach with impunity, making things difficult for traffic control and urban management by the day, and the government looks away. How substantive the encroachment is or how much it costs the exchequer is anybody's guess. Numbers are only intermittently available, such as when the Naveen Patnaik government admitted that 81,514 acres of public land was in unauthorised possession across Orissa. Generally, records are sparse and updated assessments sparser. Result: a waste of incalculable proportions while important projects are delayed for want of land. The web of regulations—from Chennai to Darjeeling—engenders corruption even as it exacerbates India's land logjam. High stamp duties, rent control, the Urban Land Ceiling Act, elaborate controls over the conversion of land from one use to another—the list of regulations that need to be reviewed goes on. Meanwhile, those who argue that the regulatory environment in India incentivises criminalisation of real estate make sense.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WE CAN SEE NOW: INDIRA TRULY WAS INDIA

JAITHIRTH RAO

 

When the paper asked me to write about Indira Gandhi, what started as a piece of political analysis, ended up becoming a personal journey. All of us who have been living observers and participants in the various travails of free India are in some way touched and influenced by Indira, and as we explore her motivations and actions we are forced to face up to our own complex thought processes, tortuous feelings and tortured reactions to what could have been, what should have been and finally about what we are.

 

In 1970, in the warm glow that followed the 'glorious' bank nationalisation, my college friend Vaidyanathan and I declared ourselves as the voice of the youth Congress in college. We became aggressive fellow-travellers and ardent followers. Both of us were disappointed that while we were allowed to get close, another friend Krishnamani was chosen to garland Indira when she landed at Meenambakkam Airport, Madras, as it was then known. I still have with me a photograph signed by her which I conveniently lost for many years and which I have now resurrected and placed prominently in my office.

 

When Frank Moraes wrote his famous Myth and Reality columns, we dismissed him as an irrelevant, frustrated rightist critic. Over the years, as I grew out of my undergraduate leftism, Indira rapidly moved away from the realms of the positive and the dharmic to the regions dominated by the a-dharmic and the asuric in each of our private mental galleries. The Emergency, the imposition of Sanjay on the country, the repeated attempts at self-aggrandisement at the cost of all values, the growth of the vulture state, which sucked out freedom and enterprise while breeding frustration and cynicism, could all be laid squarely at Indira's door. Her supreme act of realpolitik in liberating Bangladesh can be legitimately criticised from the same amoral perspective. Maybe we should have let Pakistan continue undivided with East Bengal as a continuing ulcer debilitating Pakistan for years on end. In her last years, her cynical manipulation of events in the Punjab—first propping up the unsavoury Bhindranwale and then confronting him in a ham-handed manner—has to leave us with a sick feeling. The Indian state under her leadership had attacked the Golden Temple, something that even the British had not done. The last person to do it was Ahmad Shah Abdali a couple of hundred years ago. Frank Moraes's position that she was lacking in integrity and intelligence started acquiring a new-found credibility.

 

And after having said all of this, when I am asked to write about her today, there is no anger that she might have blighted the lives of a couple of generations of Indians. Instead, there is a palpable sense of nostalgia and a feeling of admiration. Of all our leaders, she is the only one who literally had a bond with the soil and the stubble of our land. She intervened decisively to end shikaar, to save our forests and its inhabitants. At one stage, she became the female embodiment of our country. And that is more or less the way we see her now. In her interview with Oriana Fallaci, Indira casually slips in a thought that her destiny and India's are interwoven. Intellectually, that might seem an unacceptable conceit. And yet, between her being our first and perhaps only environmentalist prime minister, our first leader in a long time to lead us to a military victory and probably our first leader since Tipu Sultan to stand up to overbearing foreigners—Nixon and Kissinger being comparable to Cornwallis and Wellesley—Indira does come across as a unique Yuga-amsa, a child and the mistress of our national destiny causing even understated persons like myself to indulge in hyperbole. Intentions are key to ethical disputations. But history is also concerned about outcomes. She, unlike leaders in India's past, was successful. Even the insufferably patronising Kissinger has admitted that India was 'safe' in Indira's hands.

 

Her father had credibility across the country. But he always contested his elections from Uttar Pradesh. She proved the truly 'national' nature of her leadership by standing for elections not only in Uttar Pradesh, but also in Karnataka, far away from imperial Delhi. She mingled with women in public and in a country where symbolism means so much, laid the foundations of a feminist movement, which is slowly and unsteadily gaining ground. Somehow, she seemed one of us, quite unlike the remoteness associated with the westernised Nehru clan. Could it be that as the daughter of the simple Kamala Nehru (nee Kaul) from old Delhi, she acquired traits that made her relate to us with a mixture of charisma and proximity, a little like a neighbourhood devi or a pir who gives us barkat?

 

I came across a book by an eminent astrologer who has analysed the horoscopes of the members of the Nehru family. Apparently, the family astrologer predicted to Motilal Nehru that the girl Kamala—who Jawaharlal was going to marry—would be the mother and the grandmother of great leaders who would lead all of India with distinction. Motilal believed it. India's desacralised intellectuals may not believe it. But most of us can easily believe it because we do see the hand of destiny. And on a mundane level it explains why the Cambridge-educated, westernised Jawaharlal was arm-twisted by his father (who almost certainly believed the predictions) to marry the shy Kashmiri Pandit girl from old Delhi who spoke very little English at the time of her marriage.

 

We love Indira, we miss Indira, because she resembles us. We vacillate between moments of faith in liberty and times when we seek a ruthless efficiency, which is always missing in our society. As we vacillate, we agonise, we throw tantrums, we make grand gestures of love and affection, we simultaneously feel insecure and on top of the world. And all along, rightly or wrongly, we have faith in our stars. She was one of them. In more ways than we care to admit, Indira was indeed India.

 

feedit@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

US ARMY AND BRIT COMEDY, THANK YOU

ANAND RAMACHANDRAN

 

It was 1969, the year Jimi Hendrix played 'The Star Spangled Banner' at Max Yasgur's farm, the year the Beatles broke up, the year man landed on the freakin' moon. It was the year Honduras and El Salvador went to war over a football game, the year the Boeing 747 first took to the skies, the year Led Zeppelin burst onto the scene and changed Rock n Roll forever.

 

In the midst of all this excitement, John Cleese thought it would be a good idea to invite Michael Palin to join Graham Chapman and himself to create a brand new television series for the BBC. Across the pond, US defence scientists used a cool new technology called 'packet-switching' to establish a network connection (They called it ARPANET. Scientists. You'd think they'd have come up with something cooler) between computers located at the UCLA, the Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah.

 

As a result of these two seemingly unrelated events, today we watch episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus on YouTube, excitedly send the link to our friends over e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, and waste the rest of our working day LOLing at the antics of the greatest comedy team in history. It's a complete #WIN.

 

Today, forty years later, it's almost impossible to wrap our minds around the impact that the Internet has had on our lives. It's like trying to describe how our lives have been affected by the invention of the wheel, or language, or processed food. Today, most of us live in a dizzying swirl of instant, always-on connections that criss-cross so many aspects of our daily lives, it's hard to imagine what life was like before the Internet.

 

One way to try and define the impact of the Internet is to look at the situations that it has made extinct. When was the last time you spent days trying to remember the lyrics to a song on the tip of your tongue, or the author of a book, or the winner of a sporting event? When was the last time you pored over old newspapers to find the advertisement you suddenly want to respond to? When was the last time that getting information from a college meant writing a letter to them and hoping for the best?

 

Yes, we don't receive warm, personal greeting cards on our birthdays anymore. But we do get hundreds of wishes from friends we haven't seen for years, and that's pretty nice. Yes, the excitement of finally finding a rare music album or movie is a thing of the past. But we do get to watch or listen to anything we want to, whenever we choose, and that's pretty cool. Suddenly feel the urge to watch Monty Python's famous 'dead parrot' sketch? No need to scour video stores, wait hopefully for TV reruns, or badger relatives in the UK. You can't tell me that's a bad thing.

 

We find jobs without having to leave our homes, reach hundreds of people instantly when we need help during a medical emergency, quickly verify the truth in rumours and don't have to risk buying products without learning what the world thinks of them first.

 

If you have any sense of wonder at all, you can't help but marvel at the amazing sci-fi-ness of it all. Science fiction writers teased us with tales of vid-phones (Skype), mass broadcasting of thought streams (Twitter), virtual avatars engaging in gladiatoral combat (multiplayer games) and all-knowing computer oracles (the World Wide Web). But they didn't warn us that it would all happen in our lifetimes. Guess they didn't know.

 

And those of us born in the sixties and seventies, we caught the crest of the wave. We're the ones who are old enough to remember what it was like before, and are young enough to be in the thick of what it's like now. And I hazard that we're the ones having the most fun, grinning like idiots as we live out what were merely fantasies when we were kids.

 

Even as I write this column in my home office, in my immediate vicinity there are eight devices which are connected to the Internet (two computers, three videogame consoles, two handheld gaming units and a smartphone)—I can almost see a John Cleese sketch called 'the Needlessly Overconnected Man', in which Eric Idle smugly explains to an increasingly stressed-out Cleese how he uses one broadband connection merely to check if the other one is working properly. Cleese then downloads a pistol and shoots Idle in the head, saying, "What a senseless waste of human life." Sounds far-fetched? Wait another twenty years, mate.

 

Until then, Happy 40th Anniversary, Internet. It's nice to have you around. And you too, Pythons.

 

The author is a game designer and gaming journalist based in Mumbai

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

COAL, IN THE BLACK

INDRONIL ROYCHOWDHURY


Just when Indian industry has gone into an overdrive to optimise costs, a number of sectors are surely going to feel the pinch of the 11% increase in coal prices. Even then, Indian coal prices are among the lowest in the world. But coal still remains a government-controlled sector and Coal India Ltd (CIL) controls more than 95% of the Indian coal market.

 

The government always compelled CIL to sell coal at low prices, with the main aim being able to provide cheap power to both industrial and domestic users. But when it allows coal prices to go up, it gives an implicit clearance to the power sector to seek an increase in power tariffs, too. Not surprisingly, as soon as the coal ministry announced the hike, power producers began lobbying with the concerned electricity regulatory authorities for an upward revision of tariffs. For the Indian thermal power sector that consumes 175 tonne of coal for every mw of power produced, an 11% increase in the price of coal implies an incremental expenditure of Rs 77 per tonne of coal consumption with down the line power production cost going up by 5 paise per unit. Power producers will definitely try to pass it on to consumers.

 

If big power consumers, mostly in the metal sector—think steel, aluminium, copper—have to pay higher tariffs, their process of cost optimisation goes for a toss.

 

But CIL, too, has its compulsons. It couldn't have afforded to put its balance sheet under pressure, which was already bearing the impact of the national coal wage agreement and officers' salary revision to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore annually. Besides, it's just got navaratna status and couldn't risk turning into a loss-making company suddenly.

 

So, for CIL, the price increase was necessary, and importantly, it's likely to help two of its BIFR companies—Eastern Coal Fields Ltd and Bharat Coking Coal Ltd—turn black. By allowing CIL to charge 15% more for all grades of ECL and BCCL coal—as opposed to 10% for coal from five other subsidiaries—the ministry has enabled both to turn into profit- making units this year.

 

Ideally, the government should have revised coal prices a couple of months into the meltdown. That would have helped industries across sectors to factor in the hike. Instead, it gave priority to political considerations.

 

indronil.roychowdhury@expressindia.com

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

REPORT CARD

This paper* describes important trade-offs that microfinance practitioners, donors and regulators navigate

 

We start from the observation that commercial banks were initially deterred from entering the microfinance niche by the small scale of the transactions that define it, but that the commercialisation of microfinance has started to change that mindset. A growing number of commercial banks are downscaling their operations, opening up services to poorer segments of the population, and competition is emerging as a result. Increased competition could change the industry in a number of ways, some for the better and others less favourably. We again look at MIX data, in search of evidence on where the balance between these competing effects rests. If microfinance institutions facing greater competition from commercial banks attempt to compensate by shifting their loan portfolios away from segments of the population that are perceived as being more costly to serve—that is, the relatively poor and women—competition may hinder outreach.

 

*Robert Cull, Asli Demirgüç-Kunt and Jonathan Morduch, Microfinance Tradeoffs Regulation, Competition, and Financing, Policy Research Working Paper 5086, World Bank, October 2009

 

REPORT CARD

 

This study* analyses the factors responsible for transport sector CO2 emissions growth in selected developing Asian countries during 1980-2005:

 

To identify the driving factors, we decompose the emission growth into fuel switching, modal shifting, per capita economic growth, population growth and changes in emission coefficients and transportation energy intensity using the Logarithmic Mean Divisia Index (LMDI) approach. We find that population growth, per capita economic growth and change in transportation energy intensity are generally found to be principal drivers of transport sector CO2 emission growth in Asian countries, whereas fuel switching, modal shifting and change in emission coefficients are not found to have a sizeable influence on the growth of transport sector CO2 emissions. The per capita economic growth effect and the population growth effect are found to be primarily responsible for driving transport sector CO2 emissions growth over the study horizon in all countries, except Mongolia. The transportation energy intensity effect is found to be the main driver of the reduction of CO2 emissions in Mongolia. However, improvement in transportation energy intensity is also found to restrain the growth of transport sector CO2 emissions in some countries, significantly in China and India.

 

*GR Timilsina and A Shrestha, Why Have CO2 Emissions Increased in the Transport Sector in Asia? Policy Research Working Paper 5098, The World Bank, September 2009

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

JOURNALISM FOR SALE

 

India's elections, which in mid-2009 brought 415 million voters to the 1.18 million ballot units in 834,944 polling stations and were mostly peaceful, may be one of the wonders of the world. But it is widely understood that in 2009 the free, fair, and democratic attributes of these elections have been compromised as never before by the large-scale, illegal, and scandalous use of money power — which, to a considerable extent, involved recycled dirty money garnered through corruption in executive and legislative office. The role of the Election Commission of India in curbing booth capturing, intimidation of voters, and some other kinds of electoral fraud has won public appreciation. But as P. Sainath points out in his article, "The medium, message and the money," published in The Hindu on October 26, 2009, "it is hard to find a single instance of rigorous or deterrent action" by the ECI in the face of such a serious danger to the democratic process. That is a large question that needs to be addressed in depth and in all its complexity by the various players in the political system.

 

The new shame is the extensive and brazen participation of not insignificant sections of the news media, notably large-circulation Indian language newspapers in two of India's largest States, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, in this genre of corruption — which a politician speaking at a Hyderabad media seminar memorably characterised as a "Cash Transfer Scheme" from politicians to journalists. Sainath's article exposes the phenomenon of "coverage packages" exploding across India's most industrialised State during the recent Assembly election. Candidates paid newspapers different rates for well-differentiated and streamlined packages of news coverage. Those who could not or would not pay for the packages tended to be blacked out. The Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists has, on the basis of a sample survey conducted in West Godavari district, estimated that newspapers across the State netted Rs. 350 crore to Rs. 400 crore through editorial coverage sold to candidates during the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Some candidates even recorded the expenditure incurred in purchasing editorial coverage in their official accounts submitted to the ECI. With some senior journalists drawing its attention to this new-fangled cash transfer scheme in Andhra Pradesh, the Press Council of India has constituted a two-member committee to inquire into the matter. What to do about such a shocking breach of readers' trust (which is unlikely to be confined to Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) by the so-called Fourth Estate will form the subject of a follow-up editorial.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

U.S. ECONOMY BREATHES AGAIN

 

Government stimulus packages have virtually the same effect on the economy as a mechanical ventilator has on a patient with breathing difficulty. They get a slumping economy ticking again, but as in medicine the difficulty is in determining when and how to coax the economy to run along unaided. A year after sinking into its worst spell of recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy has begun to grow again, surprisingly faster than what most experts predicted. President Barack Obama, of course, has taken the initial credit saying the steps taken have made a difference, yet he readily acknowledges that there is a long way to go before the economy can be fully restored. There is no doubt that the huge stimulus package delivered by his government propelled demand over the past few months. With the "cash for clunkers" scheme and the offer of tax credit for first-time home-buyers thrusting government money in the hands of consumers, there was a substantial jump in car and home sales, the effect of which has been to magnify what might have been a 1.9 per cent economic growth in the June-September quarter to 3.5 per cent. The question is what might happen when the effect of the stimulus wears off. Are U.S. consumers and industry ready to pick up the baton? The answer is no. Sales of cars and light trucks dropped sharply in September, the scheme having ended in August. Unemployment is still hovering uncomfortably close to 10 per cent, and consumer credit continues to fall.

 

It is not just the U.S. that is hoping that the recovery is for real. Most emerging economies, especially India, have a considerable stake in the process. Their growth momentum was rudely halted by the downturn in the U.S. last year; normalisation in the U.S. will, as the International Monetary Fund says in its latest regional economic outlook report, generate "an outsized Asian upturn." India's software industry has always relied substantially on the U.S. engine for its growth; its ability to hire the nation's engineering graduates in their hundreds of thousands has remained compromised this past year as the U.S. market convulsed and software exports stagnated. Another large employer, the textile industry too had to downsize as U.S. demand fell sharply. While in recent weeks both sectors have scented recovery in their largest overseas market, the question whether this could be a false dawn still nags. Having run up a monstrous $1.3 trillion deficit, the Obama Administration does not have much money left for a follow-up thrust should the economy be found wanting. That is a predicament none would want the U.S. to get into.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

PROGRAMMING NREGS TO SUCCEED

A HUMUNGOUS PROGRAMME LIKE NREGS NEEDS AN INDEPENDENT BODY THAT LOOKS AFTER IT, HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT, EVALUATION, SOCIAL AUDIT AND GRIEVANCE REDRESS, WITHOUT WHICH QUALITY OUTCOMES WILL REMAIN ELUSIVE.

PRAMATHESH AMBASTA

 

In two general elections since 2004, the "other" India has spoken loud and clear to the few enclaves of prosperity that dot the country's grim development landscape: if growth is not inclusive and broad-based, its wheels will come off, severely undermining the very fabric of Indian democracy. In this context, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme acquires great significance. For, it marks a historic opportunity for pushing ahead with governance reforms in rural India. However, much more needs to be done before NREGS possibilities become a reality. For, the average days of work per household were only 48 in 2008-09. The record of productive assets creation has been poor if not altogether dismal. Long delays in wage payments, sometimes for several months, and the spectre of corruption rearing its ugly head indicate the failure of entitlements reaching the poorest of the nation, thus defeating the very purpose of NREGS.

 

An analysis of these symptoms suggests that there are clear reasons why the results are not along expected lines. Though no magic bullet or quick fixes exist, solutions may well be within our reach. As several observers have remarked, a critical lacuna in the implementation of NREGS has been the shortage of dedicated human resource, with an overloaded bureaucratic structure given "additional charge," leading to delays and poor quality output. Attempts to piggyback a radically new people-centred programme on to a moribund bureaucratic structure of implementation simply do not work.

 

However, a dedicated implementation structure will only solve part of the problem. The second crucial missing link in the implementation chain is concurrent monitoring. Here, Information Technology (IT) has a huge role to play in making necessary information available transparently and at high speed. Rich though the NREGA Management Information System (MIS) is, there is much scope for improvement. The MIS, for instance, is not able to raise an alert on delays in wage payments because data are normally updated post-facto, thus undermining the very basis of monitoring.

 

Evaluation and social audit are the third aspect of NREGS implementation in need of qualitative improvements. Both are integral to the bottom-up architecture of the scheme. Finally, despite the best design and rollout, problems and gaps in execution will always persist. It is here that a lack of any grievance redress mechanism is glaring for, such a system can work wonders in building confidence in the scheme.

 

Taken together with other reforms, changes in these four essential directions — human resource development, better use of IT, independent evaluation and social audit and effective grievance redress — can begin to make NREGS perform to its potential. However, the important question here is: who will oversee these key functions and ensure that all implementation agencies across the country comply with standards and norms established in all these aspects? We strongly believe that the largest employment programme in human history must be armed with an independent, dedicated National Authority to anchor and steer it. Such a national authority for NREGS (NAN) should be set up as an autonomous body. The function of coordinating the implementation and monitoring of the programme by the States would remain with the Department of Rural Development, as at present. But evaluation, social audit and grievance redress would become independent of the department. For, as a matter of principle, the agency executing the programme should not be the one evaluating its own work. In addition, NAN would be charged with the key functions of human resource development (deployment as well as capacity-building) and streamlining IT systems to facilitate effective monitoring and social audit.

 

In order to ensure maximum autonomy, the chairperson of NAN should be an individual of established integrity and eminence chosen from public life. The road map for autonomy along with its legal-constitutional implications should be worked out through detailed deliberations in the public domain. The executive arm of NAN should be headed by a Director-General (DG), an officer not below the rank of Secretary to the Government of India, competitively recruited from the open market using a search committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary and including persons of eminence/experience working on NREGS. Serving government officers would also be able to apply for the post. The DG will report to the chairperson of the Authority.

 

NAN should have four departments — evaluation and social audit, grievance redress, information technology and human resource development — each headed by a Deputy Director-General (DDG), a Joint Secretary rank officer, again recruited in the same manner as the DG.

 

The evaluation and social audit department will be responsible for mounting evaluation through a carefully selected panel of experts and institutions from across the country, and ensuring that social audits are undertaken and monitored. The grievance redress department will be a window for immediate response to any complaint made by wage-seekers or their representatives or organisations, lay citizens, or any other agency wishing to bring to the notice of NAN any violation of the Act anywhere. The department will appoint ombudsmen throughout the country — citizens of proven eminence, integrity and track record of service to the nation who will be fully empowered by NAN to work as its eyes and ears, arms and legs. The ombudsmen will receive complaints and take them up with the district administration and the State Employment Guarantee Council. If needed, they may go to the site from where the complaints originate, or appoint a team to go there, or organise a multilateral committee made up of representatives of the government, the ombudsman concerned and the complainant, to find out the true facts within a time frame. The committee would submit a report with clear recommendations specifying the time within which action needs to be taken. The ombudsman would report to the NAN about the action taken or not taken.

 

In order that NREGS becomes a vehicle for governance on the doorstep of the poorest, the speed and power of computer networks must be harnessed with a thorough understanding of the needs of different stakeholders. IT must enable availability of updated information which is as close to reality as possible for tracking NREGS. There must be a system in place, which is tightly integrated end to end, in which IT deployment is central to the workflow, so that data are as real time as is possible. In addition, there is need for a hardware and connectivity backbone which allows real-time online update of data. The system must also constantly innovate to bring more and more such areas, which have traditionally belonged to note-sheets, files and red tape, under its purview. It must constantly seek to harness newer ideas and innovations to fulfil the goal of digital inclusion. The Unique Identity can find a place within this information system to deliver much more than a number to every Indian, by allowing for real-time, non-repudiable authentication of beneficiaries in critical NREGS transactions. The NREGS worker will biometrically confirm receipt after the payment has been made. Given the importance of information systems, NAN's IT department must use the best technical expertise available in the country, which will take responsibility for putting in place and constantly streamlining the IT backbone for NREGS implementation. The department will also ensure that the States comply with the ICT requirements of data returns and updation.

 

The people-centred architecture of NREGS requires delving deep into complex technical and social processes. This necessitates personnel equipped to do the job. While such a human resource requirement is treated as obvious for infrastructure projects of "national importance," it is tragically never understood that the demands of governance and development in partnership with the rural poor require as much creativity, skill and professionalism, if not more. The human resource department of NAN will be responsible for ensuring that a professional tier is created for the cutting edge of NREGS implementation, work out standards for the personnel recruited, and a system of certification. It will set needs-based standards for training institutions across the country to build the capacities of NREGS implementers. It will also work out a detailed policy, aimed at rewarding performance, weeding out non-performers, low attrition and high retention of people who perform.

 

For the flagship programme to be effective, it needs to be programmed to succeed. A central anchoring agency such as NAN may well hold the password to such a programme, in the course of time, unlocking the gates to let the necessary changes in.

 

(The writer is National Coordinator, Civil Society Consortium on NREGA)

 

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THE HINDU

OP-ED

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER

IN THEIR OWN WAY, INDIRA GANDHI AND HER FAMILY PAVED THE WAY FOR THE INDIA OF TODAY AND TOMORROW.

PRANAY GUPTE

 

Hard to believe now that it's been 25 years since Indira Gandhi was assassinated in the garden of her New Delhi home by her own security guards. Hard to believe that an entire generation of Indians has grown up without Indira in power.

 

I have lived abroad during much of this time, although journalistic assignments brought me to India several times each year. I have seen for myself the transformation of a largely backward country into one that can be termed an authentic economic world power, with a GDP exceeding one-trillion dollars, and a middle class that is larger than that of the entire population of the United States. That isn't to say that poverty has been eradicated, of course, but there is certainly greater prosperity since Indira's time.

 

During these 25 years, India's population has also doubled: the demography of nations changes every 30 years or so; so it could be said that perhaps a majority of Indians alive today have, at the most, dim memories of the Indira Raj. But Raj it certainly was, and it's unlikely that in an age of globalisation where every policy and act of political leaders is subject of intense scrutiny and transparency through the Web, any ruler especially of a country as large as India can rule through diktat, as Indira Gandhi did while she was alive.

 

The 25 years since her death have largely been good years for India, economically speaking, at least, notwithstanding the ups and downs. For me personally, they have not been necessarily kind. I was divorced after a 30-year marriage, I am estranged from my only son, and I lost both my parents and a very dear uncle who raised me as much as my father and mother did. So I sometimes ask myself, where did these years go?

 

But in the final analysis, I am an optimist, a sunny character who believes in redemption and rehabilitation, who believes that nations, like individuals, deserve a second chance in life. I am at that age where there aren't too many opportunities for a second chance, and I know that the years behind me are longer than the ones ahead. But India is forever, India is timeless, and India will endure.

 

And so, as I slip through middle age, I think of how fortunate I am to be able to say that I was born and raised in India, how very lucky I was to witness many of the great events some of them tragic, to be sure almost since India's Independence, and how even more fortunate the Indians whose lifetimes are likely to be longer than mine will be to experience the enormous change that lies ahead. In their own way, Indira Gandhi and her family paved the way for the India of today and tomorrow. All my reservations and criticisms and caviling apart, you cannot take that away from them. The Nehrus and the Gandhis were patriots, for them India did matter and that is what counts. They are the stuff of which history is made.

 

I probably won't be around 25 years from now. But this much I can predict: Like India, the names and legacy of the Nehrus and the Gandhis will endure.

 

(Pranay Gupte's new book, a completely new version of his 1992 Mother India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi, is being published this month by Viking/Penguin, to mark the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Mr. Gupte covered the assassination while he was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times.)

 

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THE HINDU

AID FOR CHILD ILLNESSES STALLS AMID FOCUS ON AIDS FIGHT

ALL THE ATTENTION HAS GONE TO MORE GLAMOROUS DISEASES, BUT THIS BASIC THING HAS BEEN LEFT BEHIND, SAYS THE CHIEF OF HEALTH AT UNICEF.

CELIA W. DUGGER

 

  1. The disparity in American spending on AIDS and the big child killers — pneumonia and diarrhoea — remains stark
  2. Experts agree there is tremendous potential to lower child deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia substantially

 

Diarrhoea kills 1.5 million young children a year in developing countries — more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined — but only four in 10 of those who need the oral rehydration solution that can prevent death for pennies get it.

 

"All the attention has gone to more glamorous diseases, but this basic thing has been left behind," said Mickey Chopra, chief of health at UNICEF, which is trying to put diarrhoea back on the global health agenda. "It's a forgotten disease."

 

His observation lies at the heart of a wider debate over whether the United States and other rich nations spend too much on AIDS, which requires lifelong medications, compared with diarrhoea and the other leading killer of children, pneumonia, both of which can be treated inexpensively.

 

The debate is flaring at a time of great opportunity and risk. Recent data has documented remarkable progress in reducing child mortality and treating people with AIDS. Foreign assistance, which has often delivered disappointing results, is helping save millions of lives, the new figures show.

 

But as the United States and other rich nations hit by the global financial crisis face their own daunting challenges, there is heightened competition for foreign assistance. President Barack Obama has proposed a 2 per cent increase in HIV/AIDS spending for 2010 and a 6 per cent rise for maternal and child health, according to the Global Health Council, but the disparity in American spending on AIDS and the big child killers remains stark.

 

In Africa's two most populous nations, Nigeria and Ethiopia, the number of people who died of AIDS in 2007 — 237,000 — was less than half the 540,000 children under 5 who died of pneumonia and diarrhoea. But this year, the $750 million the United States is spending on HIV/AIDS in the two countries not only dwarfs the $35 million it is spending there on maternal and child health, but is also more than the $646 million it is spending on maternal and child health in all the world's countries combined.

 

"AIDS is still underfunded, no question," said Jeremy Shiffman, a political scientist at Syracuse University who has documented global health spending patterns. "But maternal, newborn and child mortality is a tremendous tragedy and gets peanuts."

 

Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel — a bioethicist, White House official and brother of Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's chief of staff — has contended that international aid for health is limited and would save more lives if increases focused on maternal health and the "mundane but deadly diseases" that kill young children. Such choices are necessary, he and a co-author wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April, "if the United States is going to shoulder the burden of choosing which lives to save in the developing world."

 

WRONG-HEADED IDEA

Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Columbia University economist, countered that wealthy donors still spent far too little on global health and rejected what he called the wrong-headed idea that "we need to make a terrible and tragic choice between AIDS or pneumonia." The United States has invested heavily in the fight against AIDS, and other wealthy nations should pick up more of the cost of other global health priorities, he said. "Rather than tearing down what's working, we should continue to invest in what's needed," he said.

Mr. Obama has promised to put greater focus on child and maternal health and proposed a 53 percent increase next year in money to fight malaria, a major killer of African children, the Global Health Council estimated. But he has also committed to major increases in money to fight AIDS in coming years that, if enacted, would ensure AIDS remained America's global health priority, constituting over 70 per cent of its global health spending, he said.

 

International commitments to combat HIV and AIDS rose at an average annual rate of 48 per cent from 1998 to 2007, reaching $7.4 billion and making up almost half of donor financing for global health, according to Prof. Shiffman's analysis of data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 

Still, more than half the people with the disease who need drug treatment still are not getting it. Two million died in 2007, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

 

The toll of women and children who die of easily preventable or curable conditions is even higher. Pneumonia alone killed two million children under age 5, and diarrhoea 1.5 million more, out of the almost nine million young children who died last year.

 

Dr. Olivier Fontaine, who described himself as the only person at WHO working full time on childhood diarrhoeal diseases, said health ministry managers in poor countries know diarrhoea is a crucial cause of child mortality, but focus on other diseases that have gotten more attention and financing from abroad.

 

Two days after her month-old son's bout of diarrhea began, Marcia Mankense, 23, took him to a hospital here in Johannesburg where a doctor administered fluids through an intravenous line threaded into his scalp. Before his birth, she said, no one told her she should give him oral rehydration salts — known as ORS — as soon as he got diarrhea, though she was counselled on the need to get tested for HIV. Nor did anyone give her a packet of the salts to take home.

 

"He's my firstborn and I know nothing about kids," she said, exhausted next to his crib after days of vigil. "I just feel like I need to be here for him. What if he's crying?"

 

Public health experts agree there is tremendous potential to lower child deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia substantially. New methods of distributing rehydration salts and cheap zinc tablets, also recommended for diarrhoea, are being tested, including giving them away during national campaigns to hand out antimalarial bed nets and to vaccinate children against measles.

 

POPULARISE ORS

"Everyone should have ORS at home like we have Band-aids," Fontaine said.

 

For an extra $3 billion to $4 billion in coming years, children in poor countries could be inoculated against pneumonia and the rotavirus that causes about a third of diarrhoea deaths, according to the GAVI Alliance, a broad group of donors.

 

On the diarrhoea ward at the hospital in Johannesburg, most of the babies and young children had mothers patiently sitting next to their cribs, comforting them. But one little boy, 2 months old, was alone. His mother, a 10th grader, was at school. He had come in dehydrated, with sunken eyes, too enervated to even cry. But after being given fluids intravenously, life flowed back into him.

 

When he howled, a nurse or one of the mothers would look into his eyes. He would fall quiet, his cries muting to soft mewling, his eyes widening curiously.

 

"He wasn't even crying when he got here," Mankense said happily. "Now we can hear his voice. He's naughty!"

 

 © 2009 The New York Times News Service

 

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  THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

IS ANYBODY IN PAK LISTENING?

 

Speaking from the Kashmir Valley this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh probably pitched his message just right, although it might be realistic not to set expectations too high. On the political side, Dr Singh made it clear his government was ready to discuss all aspects with any shade of opinion in the Valley whose representatives were willing to foment an atmosphere of peace and development. This broad formulation is not new in essence. Therefore, a good deal might depend on the progress of the "quiet diplomacy" with various groups promised recently by Union home minister P. Chidambaram. The language he used —specifically referring to "political" issues — has enthused public opinion in Kashmir. But we would do well not to get carried away. Kashmiri separatist groups are known to talk big, but tend to flinch from dialogue with the Centre when threatened by Pakistan-based outfits. With pro-Pakistan hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani sticking to his now-familiar line of not entering into talks until Islamabad is also brought on board in a three-way conversation — whose purpose is to make India acknowledge that Pakistan has a decent enough claim to Kashmir — it is hard to see how the so-called moderate Hurriyat sections can sustain the momentum of a dialogue with Delhi even if some are so inclined. It is not even clear if Mirwaiz Omar Farooq can be said to be in the latter category as he is known to blow hot and cold and normally trims his sails to commandments from Pakistan.

 

It is all too evident, however, that it is important to address the ordinary people of Kashmir who have come out over and over again to vote in "Indian" elections despite intimidation from Pakistan and from Hurriyat sections. Although the Pakistani dimension cannot be overlooked, the Valley's populace must develop enough confidence that the Centre is serious about approaching the subject of "autonomy". They are already persuaded that New Delhi is earnest about development, and also appreciate that several trans-border mechanisms — on trade, transport, communications — haven't fully worked out due to Islamabad dragging its feet. This is why they quietly do what they can — go out and vote. But some day they might pull back if the government cannot ensure them security against Pakistan-based terrorists and their local cohorts.

 

This is why from Kashmir Dr Singh carefully calibrated his call to Pakistan to end succour to terrorist elements on its territory so that peace conversations can be restarted. But Islamabad has clearly not heard. It is breathtaking how obtuse the Pakistan foreign ministry has chosen to be. Its spokesman chose to read in Dr Singh's remarks a "welcome reiteration of the understanding reached" at Sharm el-Sheikh. The tragedy of the situation — not responding to calls to end terrorism in Kashmir while all of Pakistan is being consumed by jihadist violence — clearly does not impress Islamabad. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who was in Pakistan when Dr Singh was in Kashmir, has advised the people and government of Pakistan to embrace trade and economic ties with India if they wanted to get anywhere. There has not been even a pro forma response. She also clearly expressed her surprise that no one in Pakistan seemed to know where Al Qaeda leaders were hiding in that country for seven long years. Ms Clinton also made it clear that Pakistan's "military security establishment", clearly a euphemism for the ISI, came in the way of a "mature partnership" with Pakistan, not just for the United States but also other countries. India has been saying exactly this for three decades. The American tune can, of course, change opportunistically. But at least the secretary of state spelt out to Islamabad that it must sort out differences with India "bilaterally".

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

A MISUNDERSTOOD LONER

BY P.C. ALEXANDER

 

October 31, 2009, marks the conclusion of 25 years after Indira Gandhi's assassination at the hands of her own security guards. Only a few among the new generation which has grown up in India after this tragic event would have had the opportunity of seeing her or listening to her. The image of Indira Gandhi in the minds of most of them is that of a strong-willed person, an iron lady unwilling to make any concession to her political rivals and always ready to take risks by doing what she believed to be necessary in the interest of the country.

 

She has been described as Durga, even by her political adversaries, in admiration for her courage in taking hard decisions. Some others saw this courage as stubbornness or recklessness. The image of her as Prime Minister has generally been that of a hard-hearted dictator who trusted few and wished to concentrate power in herself. However, for those who worked with her closely, this image of her is a mockery, far removed from reality. I would say without any exaggeration, of her personality and style of working, that she was an exceptionally humane person, ever willing to listen to those in whose integrity and experience she had trust.

 

In order to fully understand her personality and style of working, one has to look into how she grew up and the problems she encountered in the early years of her life.

 

Though born into a family of great riches and fame, hers was a very lonely life. Perhaps it was this loneliness that made her cultivate a defensive mechanism in her personal and public life.

 

There were certain unfortunate facets of Indira's childhood which affected her general outlook. Very early in life she discovered that her aunts did not have very cordial relations with Kamala Nehru, her mother, who was suffering from tuberculosis. Since Kamala Nehru was not as educated as them, Jawaharlal Nehru's sisters thought her to be unsophisticated and tended to dominate her. This soured Indira's relations with her aunts. She also sometimes felt that her aunts considered her a competitor for her father's affections and this strongly influenced her relationship with them. If Indira was seen as a very lonely person, a part of the blame should go to the cold relationship she and her mother shared with her aunts.

 

Whatever may be the situation in which she grew up, the fact is that Indira Gandhi remained a loner in both her family and the society. This, in her case, made her unwilling to make compromises or adjustments in her life or to accommodate the wishes of others.

The circumstances of her marriage to Feroze Gandhi illustrate this trait clearly. Even her father was not very happy for a variety of reasons with the idea of her marrying Feroze Gandhi. However, once she had made up her mind that she would not marry anyone else, and made this known to everyone who mattered in her life, others had to fall in line with her wishes. Of course, if her marriage with Feroze Gandhi did not prove to be a great success, the fault cannot be attributed only to Indira Gandhi; her husband also must share a good part of the blame.

 

Indira Gandhi's insistence, after she became Prime Minister, to have a decisive voice in the selection of the Congress Party's candidate for the post of the President of India is another example of her readiness to take any manner of risk to meet her objective. While it was a fact that her election as Prime Minister was possible only after the demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri, she was not prepared to be merely one who reigned while members of the syndicate ruled. She had made it clear to everyone in the party that she would be Prime Minister in her own right. She was fully aware of the risks involved in going against the wishes of senior party leaders in their preference for Sanjeeva Reddy as the presidential candidate; but she was not prepared to surrender her right in selecting her party's candidate. Ultimately Indira Gandhi succeeded in having her nominee, V.V. Giri, elected as the President of India, although the party split on this issue. This was a turning point in her life and she became more convinced than ever that even if she was alone in asserting her rights as Prime Minister, she would do so instead of making any compromises with the principle which she considered most important.

 

Very soon Indira Gandhi established her credentials as leader of the common people in India and this enabled her to play a very important role as the Congress Party's powerful vote-getter in the various elections which followed. Of course, the Emergency which was declared in 1975 throughout the country and the excesses that were indulged in by some persons close to her, dented her image very substantially with disastrous results for her party.

 

The defeat of her party in the northern region of India in 1977 and the loss of political power for the party at the Centre and in most northern states became a good opportunity for introspection. In the general election of 1980 the nation could see a leader in whom it could bestow its trust once again.

 

A most unfortunate development in her new phase as Prime Minister was the Akali Dal agitation against her. Many people have not fully understood the various conciliatory moves made by Indira Gandhi for enlisting the support of the Akali Dal for her stand against organised terrorism unleashed by certain new leaders of the Sikh community. Indira Gandhi tried her best to reach a reasonable settlement with the Akali Dal on its various demands, but with little success. It was after exhausting all chances of arriving at an amicable solution that the unfortunate confrontation with the terrorist groups took place.

 

Critics of Indira Gandhi at that time blamed her for not being firm enough in dealing effectively with such groups. Those who are familiar with the facts relating to the negotiations with the Akalis know that she showed great patience and willingness to accommodate the legitimate demands of peace-loving sections of the Sikh community. It is ironic that her good intentions were misunderstood by some sections and she was blamed for alleged lack of will to deal with the agitations, while some others criticised her for trying to suppress the agitation by use of force. One can only hope that history will be more kind to Indira Gandhi when all facts are known to the people.

 

P.C. Alexander was Principal Secretary to Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi & Rajiv Gandhi

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

THE ROYAL BANQUET

BY KISHWAR DESAI

 

Often described as the most diminutive and least impressive President that India has produced — perhaps Mrs Pratibha Patil's stars are shining since she has arrived on the world stage just when India's fortunes are on the ascendant. Therefore, the reception accorded to her in London on her state visit has been one of the most spectacular — and very heartfelt.

 

The British are best when they do pomp and pageantry and for Madam President they had pulled out the stops. Probably the best evening in her honour this week was the State Banquet held by the Queen in Windsor Castle and I have to say it was mesmerising with its sheer splendour. One hopes that one day we, back home in India, will be able to learn how to arrange the perfectly synchronised reception, complete with trumpeters!

 

Just the glitter of the solid gold candelabras on the table and the gleam from the diamond and ruby tiara worn by the Queen was enough to daze most of the former residents from her erstwhile empire. However, as I have mentioned before, this Queen is very charming with a kindly air about her — which quite outweighs the ceremony which surrounds her. Therefore the evening, which ran with a clockwork precision, was grand but not overwhelming and we all came away with the impression that we all, individually, had been given a wonderful time. In fact, most people were reluctant to leave since the Queen herself stayed on to mingle with her guests during the post-dinner reception.

 

It was a very well organised banquet, where the conversation flowed — because there was a very eclectic mix of people; not just the royals including the queen-in-waiting Camilla and Princess Anne, but also people from the world of art and literature, such as J.K. Rowling and Anish Kapoor. And of course, politicians such as the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. Overall, instead of a large number of the random "usual suspects" there was a more select crowd, so that everyone could meet and actually talk. There is a high premium on conversation since it is an immensely difficult art, and there is nothing worse than being trapped with a boring dinner companion!

 

However, for a change I got lucky! I personally had a great evening since I was seated right next to the very charming and suave leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron who, many predict, will be Britain's next Prime Minister. Mr Cameron turned out to be the ideal dinner companion — he was friendly, relaxed and totally at ease as we chatted away comfortably for nearly two hours. And of course, I found that very reassuring as we come from opposing ends of the political spectrum.

 

It was all the more surprising as after all, when one is billed as the next Prime Minister — the comfort level decreases rapidly. I remember sitting next to Rahul Gandhi, another aspiring Prime Minister, at a dinner a few years ago, and the conversation was nowhere as engrossing. Perhaps Mr Gandhi is still shy or he needs to develop (as Mr Cameron already has) some more confidence and panache. It should not matter who is seated next to him — as his personal charisma should be such that other people remember the evening. However, he was certainly better than some other Indian politicians who are usually so full of themselves that you can plunge face forward into your soup with sheer boredom.

 

Therefore, I was completely enchanted, to find in Mr Cameron someone who is interesting as well as happy to listen. I had imagined that he would be rather on his guard, and with elections barely six months away, be completely plugged into political debate.

 

However, we managed to cover a large number of subjects and even chatted about Indian cinema — which he confessed he had got a glimpse of because he has a Nepalese au pair looking after his children and one of her main conditions for joining the Cameron household was access to Indian cinema on television. So he was familiar with the familiar song and dance routine of Bollywood. Of course, I also recommended that he watches many more Indian films, — a future task that I do hope he is seriously considering.

 

Mr Cameron is also in the spotlight because he is trying to take some tough but necessary decisions. For example, some of the changes he is trying to bring to the Conservative Party are those I wish other parties would emulate: he is holding primaries (as in America) in which candidates are allowed to compete with each other to become the probable nominee for the Conservative Party. Debates are conducted, and the people of the constituencies (regardless of party affiliation) are allowed to vote for the most suitable candidate. Mr Cameron has now gone a step further and has put forward the idea of "women only shortlists" to push the number of women MPs upwards. As in India, male politicians in the UK are terrified of the prospect and are trying to block it. However, Mr Cameron is trying and one wishes him success. Even if he doesn't succeed, it is obvious that it will focus more attention on the need to have more women in Parliament.

 

That is an idea that Mrs Patil should be familiar with — and appreciate.

 

After the State Banquet, the next day we saw her again at the Guildhall for dinner — where once more there was a marvellous demonstration of how much the British believe in tradition. So there were trumpeters, and elaborate rituals — accompanied by uniforms, tiaras and gowns galore.

 

And then we attended the "grand" finale of Mrs Patil's visit — the launch of the Commonwealth Games — with the Queen's Baton Rally starting from Buckingham Palace. While it was a wonderful location — one wishes a little more preparation had gone into the showcasing of India. But more importantly, it was a historic occasion given double the value with the presence of the titular heads of two countries.

 

Though some of the ceremonial performances preceding the baton rally had little connection with the games, the unexpected chanting of a Sanskrit shloka from the Rig Veda by young British school children was very relevant and touching. Hopefully the games in Delhi will reflect some of the hospitality which their launch has received here.

 

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

GUDIYA TO DURGA

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

NEXT only to her illustrious father, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was the longest-lasting Prime Minister of India but with a crucial difference. He was at the helm for 17 long, formative and unbroken years after Independence during which he won three successive elections hands down. All through he was the nation's cherished icon; only after the debacle in the border war with China in 1962 was his image smudged. Her 15 years in power, by contrast, were broken into not just two separate innings but also several different phases with sharp ups and downs, high drama, including a roller-coaster ride, and searing tragedy.

 

This inevitably made her controversial first and then the focus of constant contention until the country was overwhelmed by inflamed polarisation of both the polity and society for or against her. From the late 1960s to well beyond her assassination in 1984, she was either adored or abused. Significantly, reverence came from the masses and vehement reviling from the chattering classes. Her rationalisation of this was that her father's position was a "saint strayed into politics" and since his position was absolutely secure, he never had to struggle. Unlike him, she had to claw every inch of the way to the room at the top. Only the last part of this statement is true.

 

Complex and controversial Indira's personality surely was, but it was also compelling, which should explain her many splendid achievements — despite an equal number of failings and faults — and the lasting imprint she has left behind.

 

Since her life's story is all too well known — more books have been written on her than on any other Indian with the sole exception of the Mahatma — let me skip the phase during which took place the historic transformation of goongi gudiya into invincible goddess Durga, resulting from her tremendous triumph in the 1971 general election, two years after the Congress split, and from India's victory in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh.

 

Even today there is inadequate appreciation of her strategic virtuosity. She realised that international alignments were necessary to meet grim security challenges. After Henry Kissinger's secret flight to China, she signed the Indo-Soviet treaty. More importantly, after the war, during which America sent nuclear-armed Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal, she authorised Raja Ramanna, a nuclear scientist and then the director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, to start working on an underground nuclear test that was conducted in 1974. This was undoubtedly her finest hour. But the trouble with reaching Olympian heights is that you have nowhere else to go but down. No one could have foreseen, however, that Indira's decline would be so swift and stunning.

 

The afterglow of Bangladesh faded fast. In less than two years much else also happened to change the Indian scene so radically as to erode Indira's magic. Rains failed at a time when the government's granaries had been emptied to feed 10 million Bangladeshi refugees. Soaring prices led to mass discontent. The 1973 "oil shock" delivered a shattering blow to the already precarious Indian economy. Clearly, Indira had no control over this. But, unfortunately, she did nothing about equally disastrous developments that she could have and should have controlled. The most corrosive of these was massive corruption among her cohorts and henchmen aggravated by their links with hoarders, smugglers and profiteers.

 

Since, under political compulsions, Indira had moved from pragmatic to populist policies — and had incurred much opposition by such measures as bank nationalisation, abolition of privy purses, rigorous controls on industry and avoidable confrontation with judiciary — she made the cardinal mistake of nationalising the wholesale trade in wheat in conditions of egregious scarcity, and had to rescind it in something of a hurry.  

 

No wonder the dam of pent-up popular anger burst first in Gujarat as "Nav Nirman" and was soon overtaken by the formidable "JP Movement", so called because it was led by the highly respected Gandhian leader, Jayaprakash Narayan.

 

Over time, Indira could have perhaps coped with the tidal wave of protests. After all, she had successfully crushed a railway strike. But the Allahabad high court's judgment, invalidating her election to Parliament and disqualifying her from holding public office for six years, made this impossible.

 

Since she decided not to step down even temporarily, her answer to the countrywide outcry for her immediate removal was the hammer-blow of the Emergency, her Himalayan Blunder and a 19-month nightmare for everyone else. In clamping it she had erred greviously, and greviously did she pay for it. In the 1977 general election she and her party were defeated humiliatingly. The hurriedly cobbled Janata that had overthrown the Empress believed that she had been "consigned to the dustbin of history". How wrong it was. In just three years she was back in power spectacularly.

 

Within six months of this triumph took place the tragedy of the death of her favourite son and duly designated successor, Sanjay. From this shock Indira never recovered fully. But she lost no time to draft her surviving, apolitical son, Rajiv, to take up his brother's role. Dynasty, in her scheme of things, was above all, and this part of her multi-dimensional legacy has flourished in all parties during the last 25 years.

 

Although, after her second coming, Indira Gandhi was besieged by grim challenges from Assam to Punjab to Sri Lanka, Operation Blue Star — the storming by the Army of the holiest of the Sikh shrines because it had been converted into a citadel of secessionism and terrorism by a Frankenstein monster created by her own party — led to her assassination by her own security guards.

 

This is the logical end of the narrative. Let me, therefore, very briefly sum up Indira's unique qualities that made her dominate the Indian scene for 20 years like a colossus, irrespective of whether she was in power or our of it. These also account for the nation's continuing high respect and affection for her.

 

She is and will remain memorable because of her total devotion to India and its supreme interests, and her unflinching determination to defend its sovereignty and unity in all spheres at all costs. In this respect De Gaulle of France is the only other world leader that comes anywhere near her.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

COLUMN

RAPID FIRE WITH UK FAR-RIGHT PARTY CHIEF

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 

The BBC invited Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party (BNP), to participate in a TV debate as a panelist on their prestigious current affairs show Question Time. The format, chaired by veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, features each week a politician from the main parties and one or perhaps two people from wider political persuasions who have some track record of holding opinions of interest. They answer questions from a studio audience. The debate can sometimes get heated but is, in the British way, always contained.

 

Following the dictates of its Charter, which requires the BBC to give proportional air time on radio and TV to elected representatives of the population, invited the far-right BNP to participate. The party, hitherto restricted to representing patches of communities on local councils, won two seats in the last election to the European Parliament and as such was a candidate for air-time.

 

The BBC must also have known that the controversy would boost viewing figures. For weeks before the programme, after Griffin accepted their invitation, there were protests against his appearance on a "respectable" platform. The party was denounced as racist, fascist, homophobic and misogynist — all with plenty of justification.

 

The Labour, Conservative and Liberal politicians who accepted the invitation to share a platform with Griffin argued that challenging his views publicly would expose the BNP's policies for what they are. Their contention was that the people who voted for them had done so out of an ignorance of their origins and the true nature of their intentions. A TV debate would act as an X-ray and expose, if one can tolerate the metaphor, the skeletons in their cupboard, their Nazi past and persuasions.

 

There is no doubt that the BNP is the successor organisation to the British Union of Fascists founded by Oswald Mosley, a dissident semi-aristocratic former scion of Britain's Labour Party. It is a bastard great-grandchild of Mosley and espouses the causes that he first put forward and came, in these fair and fecund isles, inevitably to grief. In his heyday, extolling Hitler, marching with a small army of black-shirted thugs, preaching against the supposed influence of universal Jewry and marching to terrorise and victimise the poor and toiling minority of Jewish immigrants of East London, he won the support of a few thousand mentally or rationally damaged people. When Britain went to war against the Nazis, Mosley was jailed.

 

After the war, Britain was in no mood to tolerate a "Nazi party". The nutters who longed for their black shirts and square moustaches only returned to the political stage with the advent of immigration from the ex-colonies in the 50s and 60s.

 

These Fascists regrouped under the banner of The National Front. Through the 60s and 70s it was the nasty party whose only platform was the repatriation of black and brown people to India, Pakistan and the West Indies. They demanded an immediate halt to all immigration into the UK. They were vociferously opposed by the Left and a trifle haughtily by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal party establishments.

 

The National Front, a rump of a party with no electoral success of any sort, split and gave rise to several nastier formations. The latest progeny of this fascist movement is the BNP even though its leader Nick Griffin, a Cambridge graduate, has attempted to rid it of its criminal image and has induced its members to wear suits and get rid of their skinhead haircuts. He can't, of course, erase the criminal records that very many of those in the leadership of the BNP hold.

 

The Question Time on which Griffin appeared became a national affair. There were demonstrations and a police presence outside the BBC's studios. Griffin arrived with six bodyguards. The format was certainly loaded against him. The studio audience was uniformly hostile with a more than fair representation of black and Asian people. The programme, which normally covers four or five topics of the day, was distorted entirely into denunciations of Griffin and the BNP's attitudes. The fellow defended himself and tried to appear "moderate". Panelists quoted from Griffin's own pronouncements against immigration, against black people, against Islam. Griffin tried to make the racial point about an "indigenous" population of Britain being displaced and challenged by the arrival of immigrants and was faced with the argument that Britain had always been, from Celtic and Roman times, invaded or settled by different nations.

 

The argument may be academically sound, but television is not the forum for the persuasion of reason. Though the programme did expose Griffin as an undesirable racist, his appearance and arguments on it have, according to neutral polls taken after the transmission, not detracted from but mildly boosted the BNP's support.

 

Griffin and his party are no doubt aware of the psyphological research done by Manchester University into the popular appeal of the BNP. The research demonstrates that the BNP has, in the last decade, acquired a new "votebank" as we would call it in India. This is centred around Yorkshire and the Northwest, communities which used to be solidly working class and voted Labour. Support for the party is highest in areas with high Pakistani or Bangladeshi concentration, the mill-and-mosque towns of what used to be manufacturing England. There is very little or no support for the BNP in areas where Indians, mostly Sikhs and Hindus, are concentrated or in areas where people of Afro-Caribbean origin form a proportion of the community.

 

The BNP's support arises then from an anti-Muslim stance. The party has succeeded in channelling the anti-terrorist, anti-Islamist sentiment of the working class into an anti-Muslim political base. The main political parties, whose MPs are elected from several of these constituencies with significant Muslim populations, have taken very little heed of this particular development.

 

Apart from these MPs, the British Muslim population ought to take serious note of it. The counter argument to the BNP's poison has to encompass an absolute distinction between the positions and plans of Islamists and those of the Muslim communities of Britain. Such a distinction can only emerge dynamically from within the Muslim community itself and is long overdue.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

HAZARDS ALL AROUND

 

It is not immediately known what exactly caused the Indian Oil depot fire in Jaipur which has been raging unabated since Thursday evening. Petroleum minister Murli Deora has announced an inquiry committee to look into the causes of the accident and an examination of the safety norms is certainly a necessary response.

 

The immediate fears of a possible sabotage — a legitimate concern in these troubled times — seems to have been allayed. There is a mention of a possible earthquake and a pipe leak but only thorough investigation will tell us what exactly happened and why.

 

The depot with its huge storage capacity of inflammable petroleum products feeds all other depots in Rajasthan. It is situated in an industrial area of the Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation and the fire that broke out has destroyed property all round. The people living in the hutments around were able to flee.

 

It is now clear that the only way the fire will come under control is for the petrol and kerosene to burn out. Only then will fire tenders be able to douse it completely. The know how to put it out is not available. Lives have been lost and any blame game or hasty conclusions can wait; the key task is to ensure damage is minimised.

 

But we need to ask ourselves,  does India have sufficient safeguards to ensure complete safety — from natural disasters, accidents even hostile attacks — of installations such as petroleum storage tanks, LPG depots and such like?

 

Urban areas also need attention. Even a cursory look shows that petroleum tanks and refineries are often in the midst of residential areas or within city limits. A good example is Mumbai, where slums and residential complexes exist cheek by jowl with a vast bank of petroleum tanks which feed the city's petrol pumps. In addition, it is a common sight to see warehouses with LPG cylinders piled up next to a tower block.

 

The companies and agents may argue that when they set up those facilities the areas were fairly remote; an expanding city grew around them. Hence it is not their fault. This may well be true but we have to deal with present day reality and address potential risks.

 

This requires sophisticated urban planning which factors fire and other hazards. Apart from zoning laws, proper maintenance and security systems have to be put in place and implemented. The city's administrators, politicians as much as bureaucrats have to take into account that dense urban habitations have crystallised around the industrial centres.

 

The trend will only increase and with it, the risks. The Jaipur fire is a shocking reminder, a wake up call to governments, especially at local levels, to move fast and create capabilities that can prevent and fight such conflagrations.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

GELLING YOUR NUMBER

YOGI AGGARWAL 

 

Things are not always what they seem or are made out to be. Take the Unique Identification (UID) project set up by the Indian government under former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani. In his interviews to TV and the press, Nilekani has reiterated that the main function of the project is to be "an enabler which will allow more effective public delivery" for schemes for the poor.

 

It plans to have all of India's billion people covered by a unique number, which will have fingerprints, besides a photograph and details of the person, his/her sex, age, and address. All this is to be achieved by people voluntarily agreeing to be fingerprinted and their details being filed in a central depository. No coercion is mentioned and the unspecified "investment of money in this project will actually make all those other monies" for development projects "be spent more efficiently".

 

By funding and placing the project under an innocuous new ministry its real intent is concealed. In other countries such as the UK, similar proposed schemes come under the home ministry as it "offers the potential to combat the threat of terrorism, identity fraud and illegal working." The Indian scheme had a similar purpose when first put forward by the NDA government in 2001 but this has studiously not been mentioned by Nilekani. He has also neatly sidestepped the infringement of civil liberties and a person's privacy that the scheme would entail. 

 

Far from helping, say, people getting work under The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) or people under the poverty line getting food at subsidised rates, it will introduce another bureaucratic layer that will be used to harass them. It would also be used to get information on anyone using banks, passports, driving licenses, demat share accounts or any other place where the individual has to deal with institutions. Once the scheme is installed, all such institutions will ask for the unique identification number, forcing a person to register, placing all such details as bank account numbers, passport details and demat share account numbers in a central depository.

 

Apart from the power such information gives the government, it can be misused by hackers. In October 2006, Jerry Fishenden the national technology officer of Microsoft in the UK wrote in The Scotsman that the proposal to put biometrics such as fingerprints on a national database would perpetuate the very problems it was built to solve, as no computer system is ever 100 per cent secure, "putting a comprehensive set of personal data in one place produces a honeypot effect — a highly attractive and richly rewarding target for criminals" and the UK government  "should not be building systems that allow hackers to mine information so easily".

 

The most comprehensive critique of a national ID scheme was done by the London School of Economics (LSE) of the UK draft Identity Cards Bill. It largely agrees with the conclusions of the UK home affairs committee set up to study the bill. Its analysis has been seen as sufficiently perceptive to contribute to policy deliberations in related areas in the US, Australia and Canada.

 

Among the many observations and recommendations LSE makes, some are worth mentioning as they would equally apply here:

 

In some cases, the use of unique identifiers for citizens has become the key enabler of identity theft. Reports from the US indicates that in 2004 there were 9.3 million victims of identity theft, costing over $50 billion.

 

Genuine biometric information could be inserted into otherwise fraudulent identity documents. Therefore the risk with this type of identifier lies in the issuing process.

 

Although law and order is a key motivation for the establishment of ID cards in numerous countries, evidence establishes that their usefulness to police has been marginal.

 

The National Identity Register poses a far larger risk to the safety and security of UK citizens than any of the problems that it purports to solve.

 

The technology envisioned for this scheme is, to a large extent, untested and unreliable.
No scheme on this scale has been undertaken anywhere in the world. The use of biometrics gives rise to particular concern because this technology has never been used at such a scale.

 

The UK scheme proposes to centralise ID records of 60 million people. India, a far less developed nation is attempting this at 20 times the scale. It is a bonanza for the IT industry but could be a disaster for the rest of us. We must not "sleepwalk into a surveillance society".

 

Gandhiji first used satyagraha in South Africa when the Smuts regime made it compulsory for Indians to have their fingerprints on their certificates of registration. The irony is those who claim his legacy have now put forward a far more intrusive, and ultimately coercive, proposal.

 

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DNA

A COMMITTED RULER

The country will be observing the 25th anniversary of Indira Gandhi's assassination today. She ruled this country with an iron fist when it was passing through a difficult period. Even her detractors would agree that whatever she did, the country's interests were paramount in her thoughts. She was totally committed to the integrity of the nation. When asked what she considered the greatest achievement in the post-Independence era she is reported to have replied "To have survived as a single nation".

VVS Mani, Bengaluru

 

GOODBYE SHEPHERD

Being a hardcore cricket lover, who spent his youth in England, I was sad to read that David Shepherd is no more ('A tribute to David Shepherd', DNA, October 29). Cricket has seen umpires like the legendary Sir Frank Chester and Shepherd's colleague Dickie Bird, but coming across a jovial umpire is a rarity. "Umpires are like stern judges, who don't love to smile, let alone laugh," observed West Indian cricket scribe Sir CLR James, but Shepherd was an exception. Always smiling and cracking jokes, Shepherd belied the general perceptions about the umpires. Despite his friendliness, he was a professional, who never let his off the ground closeness influence his decisions. It is said that he had a fondness for those who played for Gloucestershire county, but he didn't hesitate to adjudge Zaheer Abbas LBW out in a match between Gloucestershire and Kent.We don't get to see people like Shepherd anymore.

Sumit S Paul, Pune

 

ADDRESS THE REAL ISSUES 

The government strategy on Maoists will generate more Naxals than it kills ('Naxals kill three brothers in Chhattisgarh district', DNA, October 30). The Maoists original success was due to the state's failure to provide proper governance in around 30 per cent of the country. Unless the government stops treating this as law and order problem and address real development concerns, it will find it absolutely
impossible to whitewash the red.

Shekhar Suvarna, Navi Mumbai

 

CHANGE FOR BETTER

R Jagannathan amply brought out the changes India has undergone during the past five years, with Manmohan Singh at the helm of affairs ('Brand Manmohan rising', DNA, October 29). And it was a good augury that the paradigm shift in the style of functioning was changed for better!

PM Gopalan, via e-mail

 

BJP'S TRAVAILS

BJP once called itself a factionless party. The hollowness of this claim lies exposed. What is happening in Karnataka is the latest example ('Yeddyurappa has upper hand in game of cat and mouse for CM's seat', DNA, October 30). BS Yeddyurappa was not a natural or popular leader when he initially took over. Though he carried BJP to a majority, with the help of a few independents, in the last assembly elections there was something amiss in his leadership which has come to the fore again. As compared to Yeddyurappa, Ananthkumar, the national general secretary, had more charisma and followers. But caste equations tilted the balance in favour of Yeddyurappa. Those in the thick of Karnataka politics wish Yeddyurappa continues but with a more refined and matured approach.

Ganapathi Bhat, Akola

 

JUST DESSERTS

What is happening in Pakistan is not totally unexpected with the way its military was supporting and training extremist groups. The saying 'as you sow, so you reap' aptly applies to Pakistan. The current scenario in Pakistan is definitely a matter of concern for the US. It is pity that they are paying dearly for the destruction caused by these terrorists. But even America cannot be freed from the guilt. The US faces a peculiar situation; on the one hand its  soldiers are dying in Afghanistan fighting the terrorists and on the other hand, it is reimbursing Pakistan's losses. Either way Pakistan is benefiting.

MH Nayak, Mumbai

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WHY THIS EXTRA BURDEN?

NEED TO SCRAP PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARIES

 

The front-page report on The Tribune (October 30, 2009) brings to the fore the manner in which the chief parliamentary secretaries in Punjab are bleeding the state exchequer with virtually no work to perform. Unfortunately, the malaise is not restricted to Punjab alone. Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, too, have over the years been facing the same problem. There is no need for the chief ministers to continue these posts which are redundant and often sinecures. Apart from being a huge burden on the exchequer, continuance of these posts amounts to nullifying the letter and spirit of the Constitution (Ninety-first Amendment) Act, 2003 under which a state ministry's size cannot exceed 10 per cent of the total strength of the State Assembly. As the chief ministers are unable to accommodate more members in their ministries because of this limit, they appoint parliamentary secretaries with pay, perks and privileges of ministers to keep the MLAs happy.

 

In April 2005, the Himachal Pradesh High Court had ruled that the appointment of parliamentary secretaries in the state was a "fraud on the Constitution". Moreover, it ruled that they are not ministers under Article 164 of the Constitution and no job, which is in the nature of functions and responsibilities to be discharged by ministers, can be assigned to them. If Punjab's parliamentary secretaries think they are being humiliated everyday with no work, it is the Chief Minister's own making and his refusal to scrap these posts. Mr Parkash Singh Badal's claim that these posts are "a tool to groom future leaders" is specious. When he was in the Opposition, he had condemned his predecessor, Capt Amarinder Singh, on this issue.

 

While Punjab boasts of 14 chief parliamentary secretaries, Himachal Pradesh has two as of now. The Veerabhadra Singh government had 11 of them. Haryana had 10 of them in the previous regime. Its Chief Minister, Mr Bhupinder Singh Hooda, is under tremendous pressure now from members for ministerial berths. As his government is heavily dependent upon the seven Independents' support, it remains to be seen whether he would appoint parliamentary secretaries to appease various MLAs. In any case, he would do well to respect the constitutional cap on the ministry size as also refrain from appointing parliamentary secretaries. The money thus saved on these posts can be deployed on development.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POSITIVE SIGNALS

INDIA WILL GAIN WITH END OF US RECESSION

 

If the growth of the US economy by 3.5 per cent in the July-September 2009 quarter is anything to go by, the Americans can feel somewhat relieved that the recession is behind them. The positive signals are manifest—a turnaround in growth after four quarters of continuous decline, improved corporate earnings, and more consumer spending, exports and home construction. The number of people on jobless aid has slid by 148,000 to 5.8 million. Considering that a housing slump had been the main factor behind the economy's downturn, a jump of 23.4 per cent in residential investment can be seen as a hopeful sign. Evidently, the stimulus packages that the US government announced at the height of recession helped in enhancing demand for consumer goods and homes.

 

India can draw comfort from the fact that even at the peak of western recession, it was not badly hit. While much of the world showed negative growth rates, India, along with China, was in the positive range with India's growth rate hovering around 6 per cent. The Manmohan Singh government doubtlessly deserves to be commended for managing the economy wisely at a crucial time. The Indian banking system with its tight regulatory controls proved resilient as compared to the recklessness with which American and other western banks lent money leading to a recovery crisis. Now, with the US joining Germany, Japan, France and Singapore in shrugging off recession, India can hope for a turnaround in exports which have been declining for over a year, and a revival of the international job market.

 

What is crucial for the US at this stage is to see that the economy shows a meaningful momentum on a sustained basis. The fiscal situation continues to be dismal with the deficit ballooning, largely due to the huge spending on bailouts and a drop in tax revenues. The accumulated debt of the US government has hit an all-time high. However, with consumer spending picking up across the board there is much to be hopeful about.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

WHEN SUGAR IS LESS SWEET

STATES WILL HAVE TO BEAR SOME BURDEN

 

The Union Cabinet has kept up the promise of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar to pay a bonus on paddy though the amount of Rs 50 has been dismissed by the Punjab Chief Minister as "too little, too late". It is the Cabinet's other decision to fix the "fair and remunerative price" (FRP) of sugarcane at Rs 129.84 a quintal that may rattle the sugarcane-producing states. It is likely to unsettle their finances. Earlier, they would "advise" (read force) the sugar mills to pay the SAP. Now the Centre has shifted the responsibility for paying the state advised price from the sugar mills to the states.

 

The sugar industry has suffered for long due to the politically motivated sugarcane prices. The states did not follow any objective criteria for jacking up the "advised" prices. Now, they will have to foot the bill for their political largess. The order is bound to create a political controversy as the financial condition of the states, particularly Punjab, is already shaky. Against the Central price of Rs 129.84 a quintal, Punjab had hiked the state advised price for sugarcane to Rs 200 a quintal. The latest order may force the state to either go back on or prune the SAP.

 

This will hurt farmers. Already due to low returns from sugarcane, farmers are shifting to paddy. In Punjab the area under sugarcane has fallen by 30 per cent this season. Lower sugarcane supplies will hit sugar mills' operations. Their gain from paying less for cane could be wiped out by inadequate sugarcane supplies. They may have to pay more to farmers so that they keep growing enough sugarcane. Whether the government's recently introduced FRP in place of the statutory minimum price for cane is "fair" and "remunerative" is debatable, but at least the irrational pricing system will stand scrapped. It had harmed the mills, which, in turn, had failed to make timely payments to farmers.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

PITFALLS OF DEMOCRACY

WHEN POWER FLOWS FROM HIGH COMMAND

BY KULDIP NAYAR

 

With every election, democracy is undoubtedly deepening in India. But it is also exposing the system's limitations. True, the frequency of polls is at regular intervals. It is also true that the voters are free to exercise their ballot and walk up to the polling booths on their own and on their free will.

 

Yet, it is equally true that elections have been reduced to an exercise to grab power — the power which has itself become an end by itself, not an opportunity to serve or perform. Three traits are recognisable: criminals, moneybags and defeat of women candidates.

 

Take the example of the three states — Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh — which went to polls recently. Criminals have captured 50 per cent seats in Maharashtra. There are regular charges under Indian Penal Code against them. Of these, 15 per cent have been booked for murder and 22 per cent for dacoity and kidnapping and six for extortion. The state's record is "better" than before. In the 2004 assembly election, the number of criminal candidates was 123. This time they are 143.

 

Haryana, next door to Delhi, has elected 17 per cent of criminals. Haryana has "slipped" in the sense that in the last election there were as many as 28 members with a criminal history. This time their number has gone down to 17. Arunachal Pradesh has made no "progress." It has maintained the figure of 5 per cent like the last time.

 

Also, money is becoming crucial in every poll. There is no doubting about the relationship between the assets of a candidate and the victory. The analysis of assets declared by candidates — a statutory requirement — showed that if a candidate possessed more than Rs 1 crore, his or her chance of success straightway went up by 50 per cent in all the three states.


In Haryana, an affluent candidate was best placed with 72 per cent chances of success. In Maharashtra, the success was 68 per cent and in Arunachal Pradesh 58 per cent.

 

And it was distressing to see fewer and fewer women winning the election. The government's efforts to reserve 33 per cent of seats in Parliament and state assemblies become all the more necessary to offset their poor representation.

 

In all the three states, women have done badly. The percentage of the success is 3.82 per cent in Maharashtra, the most advanced, 5 per cent in Arunachal and almost twice the average, 8.89 per cent, in the otherwise backward Haryana.

 

A new thing which has, however, emerged is the proliferation of family members. Earlier, this was confined to the Mrs Indira Gandhi's dynasty —she nominating her son Rajiv Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi, positioning her son, Rahul Gandhi, in the Congress party she heads.

 

However, this assembly election has seen chief ministers, party chiefs and those highly placed in the Congress or the BJP nominating their sons, nephews, daughters and daughters-in-law. Most of them have won. The most reprehensible part is that the son of India's President has returned on the Congress ticket. The President is a figurehead in our Constitution and she becomes crucial when the alliances break. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leads a coalition which has inherent weaknesses.

 

What is most disturbing is that the ideology has more or less disappeared. The name of the Congress or that of the BJP was there but candidates seldom mentioned or projected the party's ideology. Combinations and alliances on the basis of sub-castes and regional bias have come to the fore. With no ideology and a surfeit of loyal relatives, political parties are rapidly taking the shape of a private limited company which distributes shares to its deal ones. Both concentrate on the strategy to succeed by hook or by crook.

 

What gave the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) the edge in Maharashtra — they won 188 seats out of 288 — was the alliance and the fallout of the fight between the two Marathi chauvinists, Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena and the breakaway Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by his nephew, Raj Thackeray.

 

The division of votes — MNS secured 6 per cent — also affected the fortunes of the BJP. The MNS also helped the Congress-NCP alliance which had also announced the installation of Rs 250-crore Shivaji statue on the Mumbai seafront.

 

Again, in Haryana, Om Prakash Chautala, who did not win even half a dozen assembly seats in the last election, emerged as the Jat leader by projecting the community's pride. In the house of 90, the Congress secured only 40. And what the party did to form the government is itself a shameful story. Seven independent MLAs were picked up by the police overnight. All have been promised ministership or equivalent positions with the same status and emoluments. And it was not a surprise that the session was convened for one day to administer oaths to 90 MLAs, to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, to have the Governor's address, discussion on it and vote of thanks before adjournment.

 

The state government should have intervened to stop the horse-trading. But how could he have such gumption when he owes his appointment to the Congress-ruled Centre? The civil society does not speak out because it has more or less accepted that politics cannot be cleansed. Then why blame the extreme communists, the Naxalites, who have taken to the gun because of their loss of faith in the ballot box?

 

The sham of democracy was underlined by the one-line resolution passed by elected members: Congress president Sonia Gandhi is authorised to nominate the leader. She named Ashok Chavan to head Maharashtra and Bhupinder Singh Hooda to lead Haryana.

 

The electorate returned members, not Sonia Gandhi. But this has become a practice. The Congress is no exception. All political parties, more or less, adopt the same procedure. BJP's Vasundhara Raje Scindia, former Rajasthan Chief Minister, had to quit the leadership although she commanded the support of the majority of MLAs. The BJP high command — or the party mentor, RSS — "punished" her for the defeat in the Assembly election. If democracy is to prevail, the MLAs, who faced the voters, should have decided her fate.

 

It is always easy to hang all your problems on one peg. It makes you forget even the call of conscience. The high command would decide. But then, it leads to autocracy. At least, the Congress should have learnt the lesson when it was in the wilderness. But then, power is such a heady wine that it makes parties forget to differentiate between wrong and right, moral and immoral. The leader knows best.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

FUND-RAISING IDEAS

BY S. RAGHUNATH

 

I knew there had to be a catch — a loophole thru' which an outsized adult elephant could wriggle with ease and still have plenty of room left.

 

Clarifying its landmark directive banning the collection of donations by private school managements, an official of the Haryana Education Department has said that they (private managements) were, however, free to organise "charity shows" to raise funds.

 

I have been talking to the "Sole Proprietor" a 'mot juste' description—who runs a string of pre-nurseries, LKGs and UKGs across the length and breadth of the state, including the capital Chandigarh and who indeed has found his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

"We're deeply beholden to the Hon'ble Haryana Government for permitting us to hold charity shows to raise funds for our schools, "he said rubbing his hands in glee."

 

"Just what do you have in mind?" I asked.

 

"Well, "said the sole proprietor, "I'm toying with several novel fund-raising ideas."

 

"Such as...." I prompted.

 

"Well, I want to hold a mime show."

 

"A mime show!" I exclaimed.

 

"Yes," he said, "and I'm sure it would be hugely entertaining. The show will revolve round my surly and unkempt school peon entering a make-shift classroom set up on the pavement and going thru' the motions of dusting the furniture and swabbing the floor. Then a nursery teacher will come in and mime writing the English alphabets on a non-existent blackboard and with a silent movement of her lips, she'll say A for Apple, B for Bat, C for Cat and so on."

 

"That would be quite a mind blowing show," I said.

 

"But how are you going to price the tickets?"

 

"Well," said the sole proprietor," a ticket will cost just Rs 50,000 and the tickets will be sold after office hours in special counters set up under the table.

 

"I'm also thinking of staging a fashion show to mobilise funds for my schools."

 

"A fashion show!"

 

"Yes, a bevy of my school ayahs dressed in gorgeous and ethnic ensembles of old cotton sarees and rubber sandals will parade to the accompaniment of liltin' music by that well-known rock band The Daylight Robbers and the show will be directed and choreographed by my school cashier, Mr Shylock."

"What about the tickets?" I asked, "how much will they cost?"

 

"Well," said the sole proprietor," the fashion show will be restricted to parents desperately seeking admission for their wards into the LKG and the ticket will cost a modest Rs 75,000 and as a value add-on bonus, each parent attending the show will receive a fabulous gift hamper of ash and sack cloth and the embossed address of the nearest bankruptcy court.

 

"I'm glad you're abiding by the government order in letter and spirit," I said.

 

"Thank you," said the sole proprietor, "the word 'donation' has suddenly become dirty in my lexicon and from now on, charity shows and not donations will be the goose that lays the golden egg.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

INDIRA GANDHI REVISITED

A LIFE OF CHEQUERED POLITICAL CAREER

BY VIJAY SANGHVI

 

Indira Gandhi was certainly a rare political personality who created her own history because she refused to play by the prevalent rules of the game. She created her own terms for the game she played and won battles, not one but several to overcome her sense of insecurity that was caused by the veterans of the Congress who were responsible for her installation as the Prime Minister in January 1966. She did not want to be a façade of the old veterans or even to allow them to rule by putting their guns on her shoulders.

 

She fought vigorously even at the cost of the great divide of the old party so that she could see the veterans on the other side of the fence, befuddled and being aware of their own incapacity to reign her in.

 

She had left them in confusion as her promise of two meals a day to every Indian electrified the nation with the poor identifying themselves with her to put her on a high pedestal in their hearts.

 

But they also were disappointed and even angry when she did not deliver on her promise for three years and rejected her in March 1977.

 

There would always be two views about the Emergency that she imposed to extricate herself from traps set up for her by the verdict of the Allahabad High Court to unseat her from the Lok Sabha in June 1975.

 

The bigger blow was delivered by her failure to win back power in Gujarat at the same time.The Gujarat debacle was virtually invited by her by her machinations to oust Chimanbhai Patel as the Gujarat Chief Minister as he had got into the seat in defiance of her in July 1974.

 

Both catastrophes had arrived on the same day. Many believe that she drove the country to the brink of dictatorship by her Emergency rule. But few would quickly point out that she had also brought back the nation to the democratic rule by holding the elections even when she knew that defeat was staring her in her face.

 

It was a matter of great courage, particularly when she knew that she would have to fight internal battles with her son, Sanjay Gandhi, for her decision to hold the elections. The story of that battle within the family would never come out as it has been buried with the mother and the son.

 

Most politicians would have lost their heart and gone underground in despair but not Indira Gandhi. She fought her way back, that too on her own terms to rise again to capture power.

 

But the ghost of Bhindranwale that she had encouraged as her political instrument to fight the Janata Party came calling back on her.

 

The menace of terrorism had so engrossed her that she did not find even time to attend to other problems. She sought the solution through the use of state power and shortened her career.

 

It was here the follies of her earlier political moves became apparent because she had removed from her proximity all men who had self-respect, vision and their own ground to stand on.

 

In fact. on her return she had become the most lonely person at the top with no men or women of vision, foresight and courage to point out to her mistakes.

 

Even among the bureaucrats she was surrounded by only mediocre characters who behaved more or less as yes men without showing courage to show her the inherent dangers of her decisions. No man of calibre was around her when she was faced by the menace of terrorism.

 

Even in her party, no one could point out to her that she had taken a wrong political turn. Everyone was scared of inviting her wrath. In those days she was not even responding to the name Indira Gandhi.

 

Yet she was a woman of rare courage and willing to gamble for she knew that her opponents would play the game by the rules they had known all their lives and would not expect her surprise moves.

 

She had also realised that her economic stance in the earlier stint between 1966 and 1977, she had adopted a wrong approach of restricting human creativity by acquiring immense power for the state intervention in every economic activity.

 

Consequently, she could not deliver her promises. She had lost control over the bureaucracy because she had allowed it to enjoy unrestricted power of intervention. She did tell Fritz Capra, known American author who included his interview with Indira Gandhi in his book "Uncommon Wisdom" that she realised that many things had gone wrong. If she were to start again, she would do it all differently but she could not throw away what was created before her time.

 

Even the nominated structure would not have eroded the party base but men and women selected for posts both in the party and the government had lost touch with the masses because of the style of functioning they got used to.

 

She bequeathed the legacy of not only the party but also her party managers to her son as she did not have time to bring about the changes. She had certainly made her place in history by her last actions. She was no doubt a person of rare courage and ready to gamble. But the final gamble did not pay off.

 

She paid with her life but she did it willingly for the nation and the people whom she loved dearly. It may be a coincidence but only on the previous day she had declared at a public meeting in Bhuvaneshwar that every drop of her blood was meant for the nation. Yes. It was.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

US ECONOMY ROARS BACK

BY NEIL IRWIN

 

The U.S. economy roared to life this summer, as an array of government actions led to the strongest quarter of growth in two years.

 

The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that the nation's gross domestic product rose at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the July through September quarter, the strongest evidence yet that the country has begun to emerge from the deepest downturn in decades.

 

But there were few signs in the new data that the private sector will be able to sustain that growth once the government pulls back, or that the rise will soon translate into an improving job market.

 

The unemployment rate has continued rising in recent months, to 9.8 percent in September, as businesses remained reluctant to hire.

 

"We've had a technical end to the recession, which is something that economists and bankers like to talk about," said Robert Dye, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group. "But it's not going to feel like we've had an end to the recession on Main Street until unemployment starts to go down."

 

The renewed growth of the U.S. economy — which followed a 6.4 percent rate of contraction in the first quarter and a 0.7 percent decline in the second — was driven by sweeping government interventions, including the Cash for Clunkers program to stimulate auto sales, a first-time homebuyer tax credit and other policies to stimulate housing, and the rollout of federal stimulus spending.

 

Economists are wary about what happens as those programs recede. Cash for Clunkers is already over, Congress is looking to extend the homebuyers tax credit through the first part of next year, and stimulus spending is set to taper off over the course of 2010.

 

For the expansion to be sustained — let alone accelerate enough to create steady job growth — businesses must gain enough confidence to invest in the future, consumers will need to once gain make purchases absent government incentives, and buyers of American products abroad will need to open their wallets, economists said.

 

Progress on those fronts is mixed. The good news is that the deck is now cleared for a recovery. Businesses, having slashed their inventories for six of the last seven quarters, are now rebuilding them. Housing investment, having subtracted from the economy for three straight years, is now ticking up. Even business investment in equipment and software perked up, after six straight quarters of decline.

 

The bad news is that loans are still hard to get and businesses have become highly risk-averse. Moreover, investment in commercial real estate and other development continues to decline rapidly.

 

Jan Hatzius, chief economist of Goldman Sachs, said the government's fiscal intervention and efforts by businesses to rebuild inventories probably contributed about 4 percentage points to GDP growth.

 

"We're going to lose those 4 percentage points over the next year, and so the private economy and the underlying organic growth path needs to pick up that much to offset it," she said.

GDP is the broadest measure of the nation's economic output, measuring the total value of goods and services produced within U.S. borders during a given period. A panel of economists will eventually decide when the recession ended based on a wide range of data.

 

It is common for the economy to begin expanding again well before the job market improves; the last recession ended in Nov. 2001, for example, though job growth did not get back on track until late 2003. — By arrangement with

 

LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

INSIDE PAKISTAN

ARE ALL MEHSUDS TALIBAN SYMPATHISERS?

BY SYED NOORUZZAMAN

 

An interesting study of the situation in South Waziristan by Shaukat Aziz in Daily Times (Oct 29) gives an idea about the strategy of the Pakistan Army regarding the fight against the Taliban. The writer, a former Vice-President and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, says that Hakimullah Mehsud, who today heads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan may be having the support of less than 30,000 people in South Waziristan, the area inhabited by Mehsud tribe. Some of these 30,000 tribesmen are followers of Waliur Rahman, a former deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, who lost the battle of the Taliban leadership to Hakimullah.

 

"The last census two decades ago (all censuses of tribal areas are notoriously inaccurate) calculated the population of South Waziristan, the area of the Mehsud tribe, at 2,50,000; a rough estimate today would place it at about 400,000. Out of these, 200,000 left South Waziristan before the commencement of the ground operation on October 17, and about 150,000 left since. The remaining 50,000 Mehsuds are not all Taliban. I estimate about 30,000, equally divided under Hakimullah and Waliur Rahman", as Shaukat says.

 

South Waziristan has borders with the NWFP, Balochistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army has reportedly sealed all the exit points for the success of Operation Rah-e-Nijat. Yet there are reports that some of the militants the Army wanted to capture dead or alive have fled their hideouts. Among them are believed to be some foreign elements. No one knows the fate of Hakimullah and Qari Hussain, alias Qari Raees, an expert in training suicide bombers, residents of Kotkai village, which fell to the armed forces on October 24.

 

NEED FOR PLURALIST CULTURE

The fight against the militants in South Waziristan is different from that in the Swat-Malakand area. According to an article by veteran journalist I. A. Rehman (Dawn, Oct 29), the challenge in Swat came from "alien militants who had gathered local adventurers around them and the primary task was to force the outsiders to retreat to their previous positions… In South Waziristan the extremists … have been attacked in their homes. Unlike the outsiders in command in Swat, who could retreat to their own habitats, the Waziristan militants cannot abandon their homes, not for a considerable period at any rate. The question of what is perceived as an attack on traditional autonomy is also far more serious here than it was in Swat."

 

The writer adds: "Two things about the terrorist threat must be borne in mind. First, the fight against terrorism is going to be long, bitter and costly. The conflict in Afghanistan is a major contributing factor but Pakistan will not be rid of the terrorist threat even after peace has returned to Afghanistan. This is because of the second reality that the roots of terrorism in Pakistan are indigenous; they lie in the enormous work the state has done, by its acts of omission and commission, to eradicate the ideas of liberal Islam and facilitate the rise of obscurantists, leaving the entire area of intra-religious discourse open and clear to utterly conservative and dogmatic twisters of texts and exploiters of the faithfuls' vaguely understood belief."

 

There is need "to build a tolerant, pluralist society" to bring terrorism to an end, Rehman suggests.

 

SHRINKING ECONOMY

The Pakistan economy continues to reel under terrorist depredations despite all efforts of the US and Saudi Arabia to save it from sinking. The IMF staff are not even holding routine consultations required for the promised $7.6 billion aid. The IMF Regional Economic Outlook report could not be presented in Pakistan as planned on October 29 because of security problems.

 

Business Recorder says, "The linkage between peace and prosperity is self-evident and was underlined by IMF Managing Director Strauss Kahn in a speech delivered on Friday (last); 'ultimately, peace and prosperity feed on each other. I believe history teaches us this lesson. We all remember how the Great Depression created fertile grounds for a devastating war'."

 

However, according to the Pakistan State Bank's annual study of the economy for 2008-09 (Business Recorder, Oct 30), it is "showing a gradual recovery and real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is likely to be close to the target of 3.3 per cent during the current fiscal year (2009-10)".

 

But the government may face "significant risks to its fiscal targets, as demands for expenditure continue to rise even as revenue targets are increasingly looking uncertain in the wake of the economic slowdown and low import growth", the paper pointed out.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

SAVING PLANET EARTH

 

It had taken quite some time for environmental scientists to convince sceptics, within Governments across the world as well as the general public, that planet earth is indeed under threat from global warming and ecological degradation. At present only a moron would deny the prospect of an apocalypse if humanity does not curb its extravagance. Major changes in climatic pattern, melting of glaciers and arctic ice, rise in sea-level, all these and more are potent indicators that environmental disasters are just around the corner. But humanity does not have to wait for Governments to take action through grandiose visions and ceremonial signing of protocols. In fact, each individual on the earth can play a seminal role, the cumulative impact of which would be significant. A recent study by American researchers, for instance, has revealed that household behavioural changes in that disgracefully profligate nation can reduce an estimated 123 million metric tonnes of emissions of greenhouse gas per year, or about 7 per cent of total US emissions. The researchers have pointed out that practices almost universally prevalent in developing nations like India with a far lower rate of emission, such as hanging out clothes on lines to dry instead of drying them in a machine, would result in reduced emissions if followed by Americans. Yet, ironically, rules imposed by local authorities prevent millions of US household from line-drying!

The researchers have shown that direct household energy use accounts for 626 million metric tonnes, or 38 per cent of total US emissions. As a panacea they have highlighted 17 measures that can be adopted by individuals through mere change of behaviour pattern, which will result in estimated 123 million metric tonne saving, more than France's total emission! Changes in driving behaviour, for example, which includes switching off the engine for stops over 30 second duration as also car-pooling, would go a long way to curb carbon emissions. Of course, technology must keep up with intentions, for fuel efficient vehicles and low rolling resistance tyres are a must if an individual is to contribute in this to the utmost. Use of low-consuming products in household appliances such as refrigerator and water heater, in conjunction with low-flow showerheads and improved home insulation would witness an enormous reduction in emissions. Though the research has been confined only to the US, it can be applied to millions of households throughout the world which have lifestyles comparable to America. Air-conditioners, for instance, have become ubiquitous in urban India — use of efficient AC to lower greenhouse emissions is applicable both to this nation and the US. Currently humanity's focus has been on political platforms and industrial emissions. But, till that hoped for time arrives when scientists develop low-emission renewable energy, each individual needs to contribute to the job of saving planet earth.

  

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

HIGHER EDUCATION

 

The month-long agitation started by the Assam College Teachers' Association (ACTA) in support of its various demands is fraught with the danger of deteriorating further the already deprived academic environment of the State. The demands of the teachers may well be justified, but not the mode of giving vent to their dissent. Taking recourse to a month-long stir involving class boycott, mass casual leave and prolonged demonstrations cannot be said to be in the best interest of the educational environment. The teachers would have done well to find some other means of expressing their resentment without hampering the classes. Growing administrative indiscipline and eroding professionalism has been as much a bane for the education sector as have been the constraints relating to infrastructure. Teachers should not forget that they have the biggest responsibility in ensuring a sound educational environment in the institutions of learning. This cannot be achieved by holding the student community to ransom.


Higher education in the State continues to remain an area of serious concern, with mounting problems impeding its qualitative growth. Falling standards of college and university education is now a big challenge before the Government and policy makers. The absence of a sound, pragmatic policy has been having a debilitating impact on educational growth, with little being done for expansion and consolidation of higher education over the years. While education is now witnessing a transformation worldwide, we have chosen to remain totally oblivious to this transition and therefore failed to adjust ourselves to the changing situation. Along with development of educational infrastructure, stress has to be given on evolving a system that encourages originality and novelty in thinking. Our education system has gone little beyond churning out graduates and postgraduates who are incapable of fending for themselves in an increasingly competitive world. This has to change if we really want the prevailing system to deliver the goods. Effecting sweeping educational reforms is a dire need under the circumstances. While private investment in the sector seems inevitable, the Government has to ensure that we have a thriving public sector education as well. Today's situation calls for a greater sense of dynamism, professionalism and discipline on the part of those imparting and managing education. The classroom being the most crucial component of any system of formal education, any deficiency in professional competence on the part of the teachers is bound to have an adverse bearing on the quality of education.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

MORE WASTED ASSETS

ARUP KUMAR DUTTA

 

Just a fortnight ago, in this column titled "Squandered Assets", I had pointed out to the under-utilisation of the Brahmaputra as a marvellous magnet to attract tourists from far and wide. Let me quote: "It is only recently that the concept of river-cruise appears to be taking root. One luxury cruiser catering only to foreigners is now operating and another one is reportedly on the anvil. But this is hardly enough. Even now we have not been able to compensate for the decades we have squandered by missing out on one of our most tangible assets."


This is why I was exhilarated by a recent news item that a luxury liner christened MV Mahabaahu is being launched from January to undertake long distance river cruise over the Brahmaputra. The Assam Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC), as well as its partner Far Horizons, must be congratulated on taking the initiative. I am also delighted at the announcement by the ATDC General Manager that his organisation will soon be procuring six small cruisers for short-distance local use.


I can only hope that the ATDC, apart from augmenting this fleet, will also aspire towards translating an even longer distance, international cruise through Bangladesh by utilising the Brahmaputra-Ganges link, into reality. Moreover, it must not make long distance cruises on the Brahmaputra an exclusively foreigner oriented affair, as a current operator has been doing. Domestic tourists have as much right to enjoy such cruises as foreigners and ATDC must keep this mind while planning its future cruise operations.


Another huge, wasted asset has been the Lumding-Badarpur hill-section of the railway line towards Silchar, one of the few authentic mountain railways in India, and perhaps the most thrilling of them. While more pedestrian though no less enjoyable mountain railways such as those to Shimla and Darjeeling have acquired five-star status on the international tourism map, even becoming World Heritage Sites, the mountain railway via Haflong to Badarpur and beyond has languished in obscurity.


In his book Travels by a Lesser Line (1993) railway-buff Bill Aitken has this comment to make on the Lumding-Badarpur hill-section: "One had come here to check out the claims that the Lumding-Badarpur section was the most spectacular mountain line in India. The journey was so thrilling in terms of mountain scenery and railroad engineering that there was no question of dissipating one's energy on Burmese border bell-pushes. One just had to go back and ride that line for the sheer pleasure of it. The most scenic part of the journey is the ascent from Lumding to Halflong Hill, 116 km in 6 hours.


"The lushness of the bamboo thickets even in November, which graze the carriages as they force a way through, is phenomenal. The total effect is of impenetrability and one is filled with admiration for the original builders of this line. Judging by the solid tunnels, dated 1901-1903, and their very British design skilled labour was imported. The NEF line is rich both tunnels and viaducts that straddle impressive chasms. For those brought up on the notion that the Ooty climb, also metre gauge, is the most impressive mountain line, the ride to Haflong will prove a sensational journey of discovery."


A segment of the erstwhile Assam Bengal Railways built by tenacious British engineers towards the beginning of the 20th century, the courage and ingenuity of the pioneers who endured immense hardship in its construction does evoke wonder and admiration. Evenduring the first survey in 1882-87 the hills-people had resisted encroachment into their territory by white aliens, Sambhudan Phonglo, who had risen in revolt against the British in 1882 becoming a Dimasa hero. Later, when engineers led by TR Nolan commenced construction, they were confronted with enormous difficulties.

"The country throughout is covered with dense jungle," wrote TR Nolan, "mostly bamboos in the valleys and heavy tree forest, with a thick undergrowth of evergreen shrubs and cane-brake on the higher slopes of the hills. It is rugged and broken in the extreme, the alignment everywhere running round and through a succession of spurs from the main ranges, and crossings, by means of high banks or viaducts, intervening deep and precipitous ravines. During the dry season, October to April, little water is to be seen in the river beds, but during the monsoon they become raging torrents. Fierce thunderstorms prevail during April, May and June, and with less frequency, cyclones. Earthquakes had to be taken into consideration in designing the higher bridges and staff quarters...."


Wild animals, hostile tribesmen, kala-azar and malaria, not to mention the rugged terrain — the pioneering British railwaymen had overcome them all to build a spectacular mountain railway. The technological hurdles appeared almost insurmountable, the character of the terrain posing the greatest challenge, the hills being of carbonaceous shales and sandstones, thus prone to landslides. The cost in terms of human lives while building this railway too was stupendous – local lore has it that in the hill section below every sleeper lie the body of a workman!

It took the Assam Bengal Railway engineers almost 11 years to lay a track on the hill section, but lay it they did, thereby making possible a mountain railway unrivalled by any other in the world. It is ironic, indeed, that this section, traversing a fabulous landscape of sinuous rivers and bamboo-forested hills, has remained almost anonymous in the Indian railway scenario, hitting the headlines only for wrong reasons. It is an asset gifted to us by the enterprising British which we have wasted so far.


Had we made use of this gift the way we should have, perhaps the troubles in the underdeveloped NC Hills might never have taken place. With a scenic hill-station and an exciting mountain railway to get one there, the Lumding-Haflong section could have been made into a tourist attraction as well known as the Darjeeling toy train. One recalls that some years back the Railways had introduced what it called the Jatinga Steam Safari in this section. But, as is the way of any initiative taken by the bureaucracy, lack of publicity brought it to a premature end.


Now that the turmoil gripping the region has died down and the rail route to Silchar has been re-opened, it is time that a serious initiative to make more fruitful use of the mountain railway is taken. Such an initiative needs to be a public-private partnership, of the kind being adopted in the Brahmaputra cruiser venture. Once the outside world learns about the exotic and exclusive thrill that awaits them, there is no reason why tourists, who nowadays are looking for non-stereotyped, out of the way experiences, will abstain from coming. All it requires is imaginative packaging and sustained publicity – the experience itself will do the rest!


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THE ASSAM TRIBUME

EDITORIAL

REMINISCENCE OF INDIRA GANDHI

TARUN GOGOI

 

This is a poignant day for all of us as on this day the country lost one of the most charismatic leaders, Indira Gandhi, in a most tragic manner.


Any talk of politics and its practitioners invariably veers towards her. You could like her or hate her but surely not ignore her. Such was her personality. Indira Gandhi, as I have said, was one of the most charismatic leaders of modern India whose ideas and activities touched different spheres of India's public life and politics and left an imprint on world affairs, especially, the Non Alignment Movement. She was the Prime Minister for over 15 years and is the only lady Prime Minister the country has till date.


During my heydays, the greatest influence in my life was Jawaharlal Nehru, a great leader, a visionary and a statesman. Whenever I came across his statements and photographs in newspapers I kept them as treasure-trove. His ideals and his love for his countrymen greatly attracted me towards him. After Nehru, it was Indira Gandhi. Many thoughts flood my memory when I reminisce about my days with the great leader. I was among a few Congressmen those days that saw her Prime Minister in the making. She had all the ingredients to assume the post.

It is my good fortune that I have had the privilege to work with her. It was, in fact, former President of India, the late Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who introduced me to Indiraji. It was Indiraji who gave me a ticket to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 1971. As a member of the Congress Seva Dal and Youth Congress I met her on umpteenth occasions and discussed with her on a wide gamut of issues concerning Assam and the North East. The more I met her, the more I drew close to her.


Though a workaholic, she had all the time to listen to scores of partymen. Whenever I sought an appointment with her, I used to get it. I used to tell her private secretary, Mr. R.K. Dhawan that I could not jostle my way through hundreds of partymen waiting to meet her. Dhawan understood it and asked me to wait till I was the last man out to have an audience with her. Despite hectic schedules, she had patience to listen to what I have had to say to her. Of course, unlike many who used to waste her precious time talking on trivial matters, I, on the contrary, spoke to the point. She appreciated my forthright views. Moreover, unlike many, I did not seek any personal favours from her. This was also one of the reasons, perhaps, she had a liking for me. In fact, it was Indira Gandhi who inducted me as an executive member into the Congress Parliamentary Party, though I was a first timer. She selected me as one of the members of the Parliamentary delegation to Indonesia, Romania, Chekoslavia and Yugoslavia. It was she who asked me and Mohsina Kidwai to represent India in the Brunei Independence Day celebrations. I was appointed as one of the joint secretaries of the All India Congress Committee.

During the AICC session at Guwahati in 1976, I worked closely with her. She stayed at the State Guest House at Khanapara. It was during the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, Indiraji campaigned for me. She thought me the finer nuances of politics. She imparted lessons as how I should appear on the dais – taking a vantage position - with folded hands so that the public could view me from all sides.


When I asked her about the outcome of the 1977 elections, she said the results were doubtful. She knew what was to follow. Though she was defeated at the hustings, she was not crestfallen. Worse was to follow. The party split up with many one-time loyalists deserting her, even the then Congress President Deba Kanta Barooah. I stood for her while there were many others who were in two minds as to which side they should take. I did not join the party then as there was an election related case pending against me. After the case was over, I was back again to her party fold. I took the lead in bringing Purno A. Sangma and other youths to the Congress (I).

The post emergency period was a daunting challenge for her and her party. Though there were many who castigated her for imposing emergency and even deserted her, I for one stood for her and helped her in whatever way I could. She remained calm and resolute even when the chips were down. I really salute her for her indomitable spirit.


During the anti-foreigners' movement in Assam, I told her to have talks with the movement leaders and to hammer out a solution acceptable to all. It was on my suggestion, she deputed Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma and Jashpal Kapoor to look into the matter. Even former Chief Minister of Manipur Dorendra Singh was roped in to mediate with students' leaders, as per my wish. It was Indira who agreed upon as 1967 as cut-off year but the students' leaders did not accept it. Ironically after many years of agitation and turmoil, they eventually accepted 1971 as the cut-off year in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was at the helm of affairs.


Indira Gandhi had a deep love and concern for the people of Assam. In 1962 during Chinese aggression she was the first to reach out to the people in their hour of need. There are instances galore when people of different parts of the country remembered Indira for the many shining attributes of her vision and catholicity.


She thought of the welfare of the State and many of our discussions centered around the State's interests. It was during her tenure that Assam got two bridges over the Brahmaputra, Ashok Paper Mill, the Brahmaputra Board, BRPL Refinery, among a host of others. So much she was concerned with the development of Assam and the entire North East region, that she constituted the North Eastern Council.


She had a deep love for the poor and the downtrodden and espoused their cause. Her Garibi Hatao and 20-Point Programmes were aimed at ameliorating the economic lot of the poor and weaker segments of the society. She declared that the country must feed itself and she made good this promise, thanks to the Green Revolution. Other major accomplishments of hers were: India became the third largest reservoir of highly skilled scientific and technical manpower, the fifth military power, the sixth member of the nuclear club, the seventh to join the race for space and the tenth industrial power.


Above all, two of her sterling attributes have made her unique among those who have ruled India since the 1960s. One was her absolute refusal to compromise with India's sovereignty, unity, supreme interests, honour and autonomy; the other, her matchless empathy with the poor. Whatever one might say about her radical rhetoric, the poor always believed that she cared. One of the most efficient Prime Ministers of India, she is credited with great achievements. Noteworthy among them are nationalization of banks and liberation of Bangladesh.

Indira Gandhi left us 25 years ago though her memories live on in the nation's and people's minds and psyche. On this day let us take the solemn pledge to rise in unison against the cult of violence and usher in lasting peace in the entire country. And that is the best way to pay our lasting tribute to her.

(The writer is Chief Minister of Assam)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PORN NOW RECESSION PRONE

 

"What goes up must come down/Spinning wheel got to go round/Someone is waiting just for you/Spinning wheel is spinning true," goes the lyrics of the song in an album released exactly 40 years ago by the group Blood, Sweat & Tears.

 

The first line of the lyric has often been used to describe loss-making enterprises. However, even after the Great Depression of the 1930s, it used to be said that the porn industry, euphemistically called adult entertainment, was the one sector which was immune to recession and whose revenues kept going up and up without any downturn.

The $6 billion US porn industry has now been laid low by the ongoing global slowdown, with filming on new productions drooping by 50%. CNN quotes Adult Video News editor Mark Kearnes as saying: "It's the first time I am aware that the industry has been affected by a downturn in the general economy. At its height, I would say there were about 5,000 people employed in various positions, from warehouse personnel to executives. and perhaps another thousand performers."


All that, he adds, has changed, with staff being cut and performers earning less as budgets are slashed. The porn industry's bottom line has also always attracted pirates who release blue movies for free viewing on the internet, now 40 years old. "At 40, men turn naughty," the saying goes!


CNN has not yet told us whether the Obama administration is formulating a stimulus plan for the US porn industry which is now reportedly in more serious trouble than the print-media/newspaper companies. However, not all segments of the adult entertainment industry have been adversely affected to the same extent.


Adult goods like Astroglide and Fleshlight still have a market, perhaps because they cannot be uploaded! It is not known whether the US blue-movie industry is diversifying into that one sector whose fortunes are inversely proportional to the length and depth of a recession — namely anti-depressant pills!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

HEED THE FM'S CALL

 

Finance minister Pranab's Mukherjee's call to all ministries not to ask for more money but to try and save from their existing allocation is not surprising. With gross borrowing for the year budgeted at mammoth Rs 4,51,000 crore, the government needs to do everything possible to husband its resources.

 

More so, since the final fiscal deficit number will, in all probability, exceed the original estimate due to additional ameliorative measures necessitated in the face of the unexpected failure of the monsoon. Add to that the fact that the revenue deficit or the amount borrowed to finance pure consumption expenditure is close to 70% of the fiscal deficit and the case for belt-tightening becomes even more critical.


Unfortunately a large part of non-plan revenue expenditure — interest payments, defence expenditure and salaries and pensions of government employees stands committed. So the government has very little room for manoeuvre when it comes to pruning expenses. This year, for instance, the government has only about Rs 2,50,000 crore after meeting committed expenses.


The scope for discretionary cutbacks is, therefore, exceedingly limited. Nonetheless, since the absolute amounts, even a 10% saving here could free up between Rs 20,000 crore-Rs 25,000 crore, money that could be deployed far more profitably elsewhere.


The problem is few ministries take such calls for austerity seriously. Instead of doing a thorough examination of their expenditure plans to weed out those that are either unnecessary or do not deliver adequate bang for the buck, most make a few token cuts and then it is back to business as usual.


The most telling example of wasteful government expenditure is seen in the centrally-sponsored schemes, where, over the years, multiplicity of schemes, each with its own bureaucracy with a vested interest in continuance of the scheme has resulted in enormous amount of waste. Repeated attempts to cull staff and schemes have met with fierce opposition. If the FM is really serious about cutting back expenditure this is where he should start.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

 

WHY PRESS NOTE 2 MAKES LITTLE SENSE

 

This newspaper carried a report on Thursday about Essar raising a loan making use of the new interpretation of foreign ownership offered by Press Note 2 of 2009. As per PN2, the foreign stake in an investing company would not dilute the Indianness of its investment in another company, so long as the investing company is majority owned and controlled by Indian entities, individuals or companies.

 

Prior to PN2, a part of the investee company's equity, proportionate to the foreign stake in the investing company, would also be deemed to be foreign, held indirectly. This matters a great deal in sectors where the government has thought it fit to limit foreign ownership, directly and indirectly, such as telecom and the media.

After PN2, telecom companies, in which foreign investment is capped at 74% found themselves with more headroom for adding foreign investment: no part of their equity held by companies in which a foreign stake was less than 50% any longer counted as foreign.


Taking advantage of this headroom, Essar has raised money pledging shares in Vodafone Essar with lenders who have an option to sell the pledged shares to Vodafone in case Essar does not repay the loan. Vodafone's guarantee is tenable, only because it can afford to raise its stake in Vodafone Essar, thanks to the headroom created by PN2. At least, this is the ruling interpretation.


However, there is a catch. PN2 says beneficial ownership by foreigners has to be less than 50% in the investing company for its downstream investments to be deemed wholly Indian. The term beneficial ownership is not defined in company law.


If it means, as common sense suggests it should, ownership that entitles the owner to the income being generated by the company, it is difficult to dismiss indirect holdings. If a foreign investor holds 40% in an investing company and 40% directly in its investee company, he is entitled to 64% of the income of the investee company: to 40% of the income directly and to 40% of the 60% accruing to the investing company, or 24%, indirectly.

If 64% of a company's income flows to an entity, shouldn't that entity be considered the beneficial owner of 64% of the company? Logic would say yes, but not PN2, or at least its dominant interpretation.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

YOU NEED MONSTERS TO VALUE HUMANS

VITHAL C NADKARNI

 

The comedy writer Max Brooks specializes in tongue-in-cheek advice on how best to meet our undead monster foes. When you meet a Zombie, for instance, "remain calm; emulate the ancient Romans," he told an April fool's edition of the journal Archaeology.

 

"Panic is the undead's greatest ally, doing far more damage, in some cases, than the creatures themselves," he added. "The goal is to be prepared, not scared, to use your heads, and cut theirs."


Of course, Brooks is joking: only after one lops off somebody's head do they become undead; not before! In any case, trying to run a chopper through a spectral neck is a little like trying to filch gold from a rainbow: impossible!

But there is far more to such stories, says Stephen T Asma in his new book On Monsters: an Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears. Much as rationalists may desire it, the concept of monster cannot just be erased from our language and thinking with the wave of an illuminating wand, he argues.


In other words, you need monsters just to be able to appreciate or value humans. "Ironically then, inhuman threats are great reminders of our own humanity (and vulnerability). And for that we can thank our Zombies," Asma, who teaches philosophy at Columbia College in Chicago, writes in an online essay. "Remember, things don't strike fear in our hearts unless our hearts are already seriously committed to something (e.g., life, limb, children, and ideologies or whatever)."


Paradoxically, when fear departs, when the heart deadens itself against human vulnerability, one may end up with an inhuman monster. That's the lesson of the monstrous metastasis of Ashwathama in Mahabharata. As a child he's naïve enough to accept flour water as milk from his penurious mother.


As a student he vies querulously against the Pandava hero Arjuna and obtains the invincible Brahmasiras missile from his father, Guru Dronacharya. But he lacks the spiritual force and valour needed to control the universally destructive fire of the astra.


At the end of the horrific Great War, Ashwathama morphs into a rogue mercenary so heartless that he does not flinch from attacking the unborn heir of his father's most beloved pupil. He is ultimately banished for eternity outside the pale of humanity.


He's still searching for redemption for his crimes, somewhat like the Wandering Jew. Spare a thought for such monsters on this Halloween night.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'INDIAN IT SHOULD NOT APE US PRODUCTS'

 

Despite evolving as the world's back-office and building an over $50-billion software exports industry, product ideas emerging out of India are still a far cry from what the industry would like to see. Guy Kawasaki, the marketing brain behind Apple's legendary Macintosh system and managing director of Garage Ventures, says many Indian product companies tend to ape American products, which is not such a great idea. ET brought Kawasaki face-to-face with Som Mittal , president of Nasscom and the man responsible for taking the Indian product story forward, in a freewheeling discussion. Excerpts:

 

How is the Indian product story evolving, and does it really compare with what's happening in countries such as US, Israel and others?

Guy Kawasaki (GK): The Indian software industry is primarily business-to-business. What I feel is that most local product firms are trying to copy what is being developed by American firms, and that's shooting too low. I am waiting for the day when US firms will be vying to copy what Indian firms create. Budding entrepreneurs should focus on building something unique, something that "you want to use".


Som Mittal (SM): With consolidation among hardware majors, most have become infrastructure solution firms. This provides local product firms with a lot of opportunity if they can offer niche solutions, software that can interact with infrastructure. Moreover, large system integrators want to work with software product companies to add value to their offerings. Product companies can use such partnerships to reach global customers. In the Indian market, a lot of business-to-government projects are coming up, creating opportunities.


Guy, how do you make an investment decision? And how does a business idea click?

GK: Pump-in moves are purely on gut feel. You see, for an early-stage investor, due diligence is not possible and most often, the ideas that are least likely to succeed do well. Luck actually plays a huge role and nine out of 10 ideas fail.


For example, with texting and e-mail dominating, who would have thought an idea like Twitter would succeed. But it did. In fact, I would tell the start-up guys to avoid venture capital and not spend on marketing. Instead, promote your product through social marketing tools like Facebook and Twitter.


One of the essential ingredients for any product story to evolve is venture funding—how's that shaping up?

SM: I think the funding never disappeared. It slowed down. And it is perhaps seeking parking slots in local market-driven, consumer-oriented, Web-linked products. But seed capital financing is not there.


GK: We have been making direct investments in software, Web services and e-commerce—providing money at the angel investment level or the immediate post-angel stage. But we are not into biotech which needs $20 million locked up. Right now, I an advisor to a net-based social marketing firm called Objective Marketer, whose principal is from Bangalore.

 

Guy, what do you make of Indian engineers, can they be successful entrepreneurs?

GK: Absolutely. If I had the chance, I would allow full brain drain from India, Estonia, Israel into the US. I feel that an engineer at IIT has as much chance of setting up a start-up as one from Stanford. Management education, especially B-schools like Harvard and Yale, do not help entrepreneurs. In fact, I would warn against "Bozos," who discourage entrepreneurs from pursuing their dreams.


What are some of the recent successful product stories globally that excite you?

GK: The focus is on building web services, which is very different from building a database. Mostly because the cost of building a consumer-facing Web service firm has come down from what it was earlier. Alltop, an online magazine rack that I co-founded, took less than $250,000 and just about 20 months to be built. This wouldn't have been possible 10 to 15 years ago.


SM: I feel an interesting trend that's changing the IT product landscape is that people now don't need to own software. Second, the traditional model of buying and selling IT products has changed with one of the dominant distribution channels being the Web.


Mr Mittal, what role does Nasscom play in pushing IT products?

SM: We have created an innovation fund, which provides the initial investment to people who don't have money but have an idea. Plus, we are facilitating meetings between small tech firms in India which service small business customers in the Europe or elsewhere. Nasscom believes that cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) provide excellent paradigms for software product companies to reach out to the mass of small businesses that require IT solutions.

           

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'INDIA CAN EXPECT GREATER INFLOWS'

APURV GUPTA

 

As the risk appetite has returned and investors look to rebalance their portfolios to include emerging markets, there is a renewed interest in high-growth countries like India and China, feels Ajay Garg , MD, Equirus Capital, a boutique investment bank operating in mid-market segment. In an interview with ET Bureau , Garg says that despite concerns such as inflation, global markets will recover. Excerpts:



India has been among the best-performing markets globally over the past couple of months. Would you say there is no major reason to worry now?

As per most forecasts, global markets are expected to recover by early 2010. If that happens, India, which has continued to maintain high growth, will get much more capital flows and that would keep the market momentum. There are concerns around inflation and overall rainfall. But as global markets recover, we feel that there are more positives than negatives.


How are private equity players looking at Indian companies? What is their comfort level after the Satyam episode?
Private equity investors have been very muted this year. We have seen PE investments are at about a tenth of this year's QIPs/ IPOs. Limited partnerships and finding the right deal has been the primary reason for this behaviour. As volumes have reduced in general, it is difficult to say that whether developments like Satyam had any impact on the PE perception of Indian companies. All PE investments are made after elaborate due diligence, we have not heard of any major concern on this front.



How are they ensuring a smooth exit, considering a large number of disputes after last year's markets crash?

Promoters' buybacks have increased. Generally IPOs have been the primary avenue for exits. But given the overall market conditions, justifying fresh equity raising is not well-defined. Lot of these discussions are getting into the hold-and-watch mode.


You have done a couple of deals in the education space recently...

Potential of the education sector in India is huge. We believe India would become the global hub for the education. Few months ago, about 40,000 students were looking to get college admissions. We believe formal education still provides a huge opportunity, and if the government allows private investments, the sector would change overnight.


What are the changes required to give a further thrust to the sector? Which are the other sectors that PE investors are bullish about?

We recently concluded a transaction in the education space where we helped our client, IMS Learning Resources, raise private equity. IMS is a leading test-preparation, skill development and higher education service provider in India. With the funds raised, it intends to expand its distribution and product portfolio to capture the booming demand for education services in India. Besides education, PE investors are interested in healthcare and infrastructure-related services.


What about the real estate space? Do you expect some big-ticket deals there in the near term?

PE in real estate would have an increased role to play in the light of RBI's stricter guidelines on real estate lending. Currently, in the commercial and retail segment, PE funds are very selective in their approach due to lower demand and excess supply situation. Funds are keen to look at residential or mixed-use properties in tier-I cities. We expect to see some PE deals with mid-tier developers having good track record of timely project execution and knowledge of local demand/supply situation. Since the focus of most developers is now on affordable housing, big ticket PE deals are unlikely to happen. There are possibilities of big-ticket deals in hospitality and in select SEZ/ industrial projects.


There seems to be a huge pipeline of QIPs even now...

As the risk appetite has returned and investors look to re-balance their portfolios to include emerging markets, there is renewed interest in high growth countries such as India and China. QIPs not only illustrate the unsatiated appetite of global investors for Indian equities, but also limited avenues that Indian companies have in terms of financing immediate requirements as evidenced by the cash-strapped real estate industry. The availability of larger chunks in a QIP with no impact cost acts as an advantage as compared to secondary market purchase.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE'LL ROLL OUT 3G BY OCT '10 IF AUCTIONS HAPPEN ON TIME'

JOJI THOMAS PHILIP

 

Despite posting a 13% rise in net profit at Rs 2,321 crore on 9% higher sales of Rs 9,846 crore for the quarter ended September, Bharti Airtel's shares plunged over 6% on Friday. With the latest round of tariff cuts impacting the financials of all companies, Bharti Airtel's CEO Manoj Kohli talks to ET NOW on the road ahead and how India's largest telecom company plans to respond to competition. Excerpts:

 

Bharti Airtel's shares crashed close to 7% despite posting profits. The stock has closed at year's low and has lost 18% this year. Are you concerned?

At Bharti, we don't look at our performance based on the reaction of the stock markets. We look at the real market and we are satisfied that we have improved our marketshare even as competition is heating up.


But, your market share has fallen over the past 12 months...

When we refer to market share, we refer to revenue share. Bharti accounts for about 32.7% of the mobile sector's revenues. This indicates the quality of our customers are better and that their usage is higher. Over the next few quarters, our primary objective is to improve our revenue market share.


How long do you expect the ongoing price war to continue? What is Bharti's strategy ?

The tariff war is set to continue for the next few quarters. This will lead to a natural and spontaneous consolidation in the Indian telecom industry. It is very difficult to predict as to how many operators will survive the price war, but the larger operators will emerge stronger. Also, tariff war is not a new phenomenon — we have seen several such rounds in the past. We will not get into offering irrational pricing or free minutes. Our response will be segmented. We will rollout specific tariff plans for select geographies and certain segments of our customers... The company has a three-pronged strategy for growth. The first is to remain the leader in market share — both subscribers and revenues. We are also working towards creating new revenue streams. Bharti is already one of the lowest cost producers of telecom minutes in the world and our objective is to become the most efficient operator in the world.

 

Is the honeymoon period for Indian telecom sector over considering all the recent developments?

I do not agree with that. This sector remains robust and offers a great growth potential of touching a billion mobile customers. The tariff war is a temporary phenomenon as we have seen similar incidents in the past. The sector will bounce back soon — in the medium to long-term perspective, telecom holds massive opportunities for growth.

 

Bharti has cash reserves of over Rs 6,000 crore. The base price for pan-India 3G spectrum is Rs 3,500 crore and even if the bids were to go up to as high as Rs 5,000 crore, Bharti can meet it from its reserves. Does this imply that you will not be required to raise funds for the upcoming auctions?

Probably yes, but I cannot comment on that. We will definitely participate in the upcoming 3G auctions and this opens up a new revenue stream for us. Yes, we have cash in our balance sheet, but for strategic reasons, we cannot reveal as to how much of it will be utilised for the 3G auction. We maintain our earlier position that Bharti will rollout 3G services by October 2010, if the auctions are held on time.

 

There has been a freeze on 2G spectrum allocations for the past couple of months. This may continue for the next one or even more quarters. Bharti's adding close to 9 million new customers every quarter. Can you sustain this growth without additional spectrum allotments?

It has been several months since we and the industry have been allotted 2G spectrum. This sector requires regular flow of spectrum to support growth as well as the quality of services. Since airwaves allocation has stopped, we have been forced to install more towers and take other steps that have increased our capex. A majority of the growth is coming from rural India and we are not confronted with a spectrum scarcity in these regions.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

IS ANYBODY IN PAK LISTENING?

Speaking from the Kashmir Valley this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh probably pitched his message just right, although it might be realistic not to set expectations too high. On the political side, Dr Singh made it clear his government was ready to discuss all aspects with any shade of opinion in the Valley whose representatives were willing to foment an atmosphere of peace and development. This broad formulation is not new in essence. Therefore, a good deal might depend on the progress of the "quiet diplomacy" with various groups promised recently by Union home minister P. Chidambaram. The language he used —specifically referring to "political" issues — has enthused public opinion in Kashmir. But we would do well not to get carried away. Kashmiri separatist groups are known to talk big, but tend to flinch from dialogue with the Centre when threatened by Pakistan-based outfits. With pro-Pakistan hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani sticking to his now-familiar line of not entering into talks until Islamabad is also brought on board in a three-way conversation — whose purpose is to make India acknowledge that Pakistan has a decent enough claim to Kashmir — it is hard to see how the so-called moderate Hurriyat sections can sustain the momentum of a dialogue with Delhi even if some are so inclined. It is not even clear if Mirwaiz Omar Farooq can be said to be in the latter category as he is known to blow hot and cold and normally trims his sails to commandments from Pakistan. It is all too evident, however, that it is important to address the ordinary people of Kashmir who have come out over and over again to vote in "Indian" elections despite intimidation from Pakistan and from Hurriyat sections. Although the Pakistani dimension cannot be overlooked, the Valley's populace must develop enough confidence that the Centre is serious about approaching the subject of "autonomy". They are already persuaded that New Delhi is earnest about development, and also appreciate that several trans-border mechanisms — on trade, transport, communications — haven't fully worked out due to Islamabad dragging its feet. This is why they quietly do what they can — go out and vote. But some day they might pull back if the government cannot ensure them security against Pakistan-based terrorists and their local cohorts. This is why from Kashmir Dr Singh carefully calibrated his call to Pakistan to end succour to terrorist elements on its territory so that peace conversations can be restarted. But Islamabad has clearly not heard. It is breathtaking how obtuse the Pakistan foreign ministry has chosen to be. Its spokesman chose to read in Dr Singh's remarks a "welcome reiteration of the understanding reached" at Sharm el-Sheikh. The tragedy of the situation — not responding to calls to end terrorism in Kashmir while all of Pakistan is being consumed by jihadist violence — clearly does not impress Islamabad. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who was in Pakistan when Dr Singh was in Kashmir, has advised the people and government of Pakistan to embrace trade and economic ties with India if they wanted to get anywhere. There has not been even a pro forma response. She also clearly expressed her surprise that no one in Pakistan seemed to know where Al Qaeda leaders were hiding in that country for seven long years.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GUDIYA TO DURGA

BY INDER MALHOTRA

NEXT only to her illustrious father, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi was the longest-lasting Prime Minister of India but with a crucial difference. He was at the helm for 17 long, formative and unbroken years after Independence during which he won three successive elections hands down. All through he was the nation's cherished icon; only after the debacle in the border war with China in 1962 was his image smudged. Her 15 years in power, by contrast, were broken into not just two separate innings but also several different phases with sharp ups and downs, high drama, including a roller-coaster ride, and searing tragedy.

This inevitably made her controversial first and then the focus of constant contention until the country was overwhelmed by inflamed polarisation of both the polity and society for or against her. From the late 1960s to well beyond her assassination in 1984, she was either adored or abused. Significantly, reverence came from the masses and vehement reviling from the chattering classes. Her rationalisation of this was that her father's position was a "saint strayed into politics" and since his position was absolutely secure, he never had to struggle. Unlike him, she had to claw every inch of the way to the room at the top. Only the last part of this statement is true.

Complex and controversial Indira's personality surely was, but it was also compelling, which should explain her many splendid achievements — despite an equal number of failings and faults — and the lasting imprint she has left behind.

Since her life's story is all too well known — more books have been written on her than on any other Indian with the sole exception of the Mahatma — let me skip the phase during which took place the historic transformation of goongi gudiya into invincible goddess Durga, resulting from her tremendous triumph in the 1971 general election, two years after the Congress split, and from India's victory in the war for the liberation of Bangladesh.

Even today there is inadequate appreciation of her strategic virtuosity. She realised that international alignments were necessary to meet grim security challenges. After Henry Kissinger's secret flight to China, she signed the Indo-Soviet treaty. More importantly, after the war, during which America sent nuclear-armed Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal, she authorised Raja Ramanna, a nuclear scientist and then the director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, to start working on an underground nuclear test that was conducted in 1974. This was undoubtedly her finest hour. But the trouble with reaching Olympian heights is that you have nowhere else to go but down. No one could have foreseen, however, that Indira's decline would be so swift and stunning.

The afterglow of Bangladesh faded fast. In less than two years much else also happened to change the Indian scene so radically as to erode Indira's magic. Rains failed at a time when the government's granaries had been emptied to feed 10 million Bangladeshi refugees. Soaring prices led to mass discontent. The 1973 "oil shock" delivered a shattering blow to the already precarious Indian economy. Clearly, Indira had no control over this. But, unfortunately, she did nothing about equally disastrous developments that she could have and should have controlled. The most corrosive of these was massive corruption among her cohorts and henchmen aggravated by their links with hoarders, smugglers and profiteers.

Since, under political compulsions, Indira had moved from pragmatic to populist policies — and had incurred much opposition by such measures as bank nationalisation, abolition of privy purses, rigorous controls on industry and avoidable confrontation with judiciary — she made the cardinal mistake of nationalising the wholesale trade in wheat in conditions of egregious scarcity, and had to rescind it in something of a hurry.  

No wonder the dam of pent-up popular anger burst first in Gujarat as "Nav Nirman" and was soon overtaken by the formidable "JP Movement", so called because it was led by the highly respected Gandhian leader, Jayaprakash Narayan.

Over time, Indira could have perhaps coped with the tidal wave of protests. After all, she had successfully crushed a railway strike. But the Allahabad high court's judgment, invalidating her election to Parliament and disqualifying her from holding public office for six years, made this impossible.

Since she decided not to step down even temporarily, her answer to the countrywide outcry for her immediate removal was the hammer-blow of the Emergency, her Himalayan Blunder and a 19-month nightmare for everyone else. In clamping it she had erred grievously, and greviously did she pay for it. In the 1977 general election she and her party were defeated humiliatingly. The hurriedly cobbled Janata that had overthrown the Empress believed that she had been "consigned to the dustbin of history". How wrong it was. In just three years she was back in power spectacularly.

Within six months of this triumph took place the tragedy of the death of her favourite son and duly designated successor, Sanjay. From this shock Indira never recovered fully. But she lost no time to draft her surviving, apolitical son, Rajiv, to take up his brother's role. Dynasty, in her scheme of things, was above all, and this part of her multi-dimensional legacy has flourished in all parties during the last 25 years.

Although, after her second coming, Indira Gandhi was besieged by grim challenges from Assam to Punjab to Sri Lanka, Operation Blue Star — the storming by the Army of the holiest of the Sikh shrines because it had been converted into a citadel of secessionism and terrorism by a Frankenstein monster created by her own party — led to her assassination by her own security guards.

This is the logical end of the narrative. Let me, therefore, very briefly sum up Indira's unique qualities that made her dominate the Indian scene for 20 years like a colossus, irrespective of whether she was in power or our of it. These also account for the nation's continuing high respect and affection for her.

She is and will remain memorable because of her total devotion to India and its supreme interests, and her unflinching determination to defend its sovereignty and unity in all spheres at all costs. In this respect De Gaulle of France is the only other world leader that comes anywhere near her.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

RAPID FIRE WITH UK FAR-RIGHT PARTY CHIEF

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

The BBC invited Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party (BNP), to participate in a TV debate as a panelist on their prestigious current affairs show Question Time. The format, chaired by veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, features each week a politician from the main parties and one or perhaps two people from wider political persuasions who have some track record of holding opinions of interest. They answer questions from a studio audience. The debate can sometimes get heated but is, in the British way, always contained.
Following the dictates of its Charter, which requires the BBC to give proportional air time on radio and TV to elected representatives of the population, invited the far-right BNP to participate. The party, hitherto restricted to representing patches of communities on local councils, won two seats in the last election to the European Parliament and as such was a candidate for air-time.

The BBC must also have known that the controversy would boost viewing figures. For weeks before the programme, after Griffin accepted their invitation, there were protests against his appearance on a "respectable" platform. The party was denounced as racist, fascist, homophobic and misogynist — all with plenty of justification.

The Labour, Conservative and Liberal politicians who accepted the invitation to share a platform with Griffin argued that challenging his views publicly would expose the BNP's policies for what they are. Their contention was that the people who voted for them had done so out of an ignorance of their origins and the true nature of their intentions. A TV debate would act as an X-ray and expose, if one can tolerate the metaphor, the skeletons in their cupboard, their Nazi past and persuasions.

There is no doubt that the BNP is the successor organisation to the British Union of Fascists founded by Oswald Mosley, a dissident semi-aristocratic former scion of Britain's Labour Party. It is a bastard great-grandchild of Mosley and espouses the causes that he first put forward and came, in these fair and fecund isles, inevitably to grief. In his heyday, extolling Hitler, marching with a small army of black-shirted thugs, preaching against the supposed influence of universal Jewry and marching to terrorise and victimise the poor and toiling minority of Jewish immigrants of East London, he won the support of a few thousand mentally or rationally damaged people. When Britain went to war against the Nazis, Mosley was jailed.

After the war, Britain was in no mood to tolerate a "Nazi party". The nutters who longed for their black shirts and square moustaches only returned to the political stage with the advent of immigration from the ex-colonies in the 50s and 60s.

These Fascists regrouped under the banner of The National Front. Through the 60s and 70s it was the nasty party whose only platform was the repatriation of black and brown people to India, Pakistan and the West Indies. They demanded an immediate halt to all immigration into the UK. They were vociferously opposed by the Left and a trifle haughtily by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal party establishments.

The National Front, a rump of a party with no electoral success of any sort, split and gave rise to several nastier formations. The latest progeny of this fascist movement is the BNP even though its leader Nick Griffin, a Cambridge graduate, has attempted to rid it of its criminal image and has induced its members to wear suits and get rid of their skinhead haircuts. He can't, of course, erase the criminal records that very many of those in the leadership of the BNP hold.

The Question Time on which Griffin appeared became a national affair. There were demonstrations and a police presence outside the BBC's studios. Griffin arrived with six bodyguards. The format was certainly loaded against him. The studio audience was uniformly hostile with a more than fair representation of black and Asian people. The programme, which normally covers four or five topics of the day, was distorted entirely into denunciations of Griffin and the BNP's attitudes. The fellow defended himself and tried to appear "moderate". Panelists quoted from Griffin's own pronouncements against immigration, against black people, against Islam. Griffin tried to make the racial point about an "indigenous" population of Britain being displaced and challenged by the arrival of immigrants and was faced with the argument that Britain had always been, from Celtic and Roman times, invaded or settled by different nations.

The argument may be academically sound, but television is not the forum for the persuasion of reason. Though the programme did expose Griffin as an undesirable racist, his appearance and arguments on it have, according to neutral polls taken after the transmission, not detracted from but mildly boosted the BNP's support.

Griffin and his party are no doubt aware of the psyphological research done by Manchester University into the popular appeal of the BNP. The research demonstrates that the BNP has, in the last decade, acquired a new "votebank" as we would call it in India. This is centred around Yorkshire and the Northwest, communities which used to be solidly working class and voted Labour. Support for the party is highest in areas with high Pakistani or Bangladeshi concentration, the mill-and-mosque towns of what used to be manufacturing England. There is very little or no support for the BNP in areas where Indians, mostly Sikhs and Hindus, are concentrated or in areas where people of Afro-Caribbean origin form a proportion of the community.

The BNP's support arises then from an anti-Muslim stance. The party has succeeded in channelling the anti-terrorist, anti-Islamist sentiment of the working class into an anti-Muslim political base. The main political parties, whose MPs are elected from several of these constituencies with significant Muslim populations, have taken very little heed of this particular development.


Apart from these MPs, the British Muslim population ought to take serious note of it. The counter argument to the BNP's poison has to encompass an absolute distinction between the positions and plans of Islamists and those of the Muslim communities of Britain. Such a distinction can only emerge dynamically from within the Muslim community itself and is long overdue.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

A MISUNDERSTOOD LONER

BY P.C. ALEXANDER

October 31, 2009, marks the conclusion of 25 years after Indira Gandhi's assassination at the hands of her own security guards. Only a few among the new generation which has grown up in India after this tragic event would have had the opportunity of seeing her or listening to her. The image of Indira Gandhi in the minds of most of them is that of a strong-willed person, an iron lady unwilling to make any concession to her political rivals and always ready to take risks by doing what she believed to be necessary in the interest of the country.

She has been described as Durga, even by her political adversaries, in admiration for her courage in taking hard decisions. Some others saw this courage as stubbornness or recklessness. The image of her as Prime Minister has generally been that of a hard-hearted dictator who trusted few and wished to concentrate power in herself. However, for those who worked with her closely, this image of her is a mockery, far removed from reality. I would say without any exaggeration, of her personality and style of working, that she was an exceptionally humane person, ever willing to listen to those in whose integrity and experience she had trust.

In order to fully understand her personality and style of working, one has to look into how she grew up and the problems she encountered in the early years of her life.

Though born into a family of great riches and fame, hers was a very lonely life. Perhaps it was this loneliness that made her cultivate a defensive mechanism in her personal and public life.

There were certain unfortunate facets of Indira's childhood which affected her general outlook. Very early in life she discovered that her aunts did not have very cordial relations with Kamala Nehru, her mother, who was suffering from tuberculosis. Since Kamala Nehru was not as educated as them, Jawaharlal Nehru's sisters thought her to be unsophisticated and tended to dominate her. This soured Indira's relations with her aunts. She also sometimes felt that her aunts considered her a competitor for her father's affections and this strongly influenced her relationship with them. If Indira was seen as a very lonely person, a part of the blame should go to the cold relationship she and her mother shared with her aunts.

Whatever may be the situation in which she grew up, the fact is that Indira Gandhi remained a loner in both her family and the society. This, in her case, made her unwilling to make compromises or adjustments in her life or to accommodate the wishes of others.

The circumstances of her marriage to Feroze Gandhi illustrate this trait clearly. Even her father was not very happy for a variety of reasons with the idea of her marrying Feroze Gandhi. However, once she had made up her mind that she would not marry anyone else, and made this known to everyone who mattered in her life, others had to fall in line with her wishes. Of course, if her marriage with Feroze Gandhi did not prove to be a great success, the fault cannot be attributed only to Indira Gandhi; her husband also must share a good part of the blame.

Indira Gandhi's insistence, after she became Prime Minister, to have a decisive voice in the selection of the Congress Party's candidate for the post of the President of India is another example of her readiness to take any manner of risk to meet her objective. While it was a fact that her election as Prime Minister was possible only after the demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri, she was not prepared to be merely one who reigned while members of the syndicate ruled. She had made it clear to everyone in the party that she would be Prime Minister in her own right. She was fully aware of the risks involved in going against the wishes of senior party leaders in their preference for Sanjeeva Reddy as the presidential candidate; but she was not prepared to surrender her right in selecting her party's candidate. Ultimately Indira Gandhi succeeded in having her nominee, V.V. Giri, elected as the President of India, although the party split on this issue. This was a turning point in her life and she became more convinced than ever that even if she was alone in asserting her rights as Prime Minister, she would do so instead of making any compromises with the principle which she considered most important.

Very soon Indira Gandhi established her credentials as leader of the common people in India and this enabled her to play a very important role as the Congress Party's powerful vote-getter in the various elections which followed. Of course, the Emergency which was declared in 1975 throughout the country and the excesses that were indulged in by some persons close to her, dented her image very substantially with disastrous results for her party.

The defeat of her party in the northern region of India in 1977 and the loss of political power for the party at the Centre and in most northern states became a good opportunity for introspection. In the general election of 1980 the nation could see a leader in whom it could bestow its trust once again.

A most unfortunate development in her new phase as Prime Minister was the Akali Dal agitation against her. Many people have not fully understood the various conciliatory moves made by Indira Gandhi for enlisting the support of the Akali Dal for her stand against organised terrorism unleashed by certain new leaders of the Sikh community. Indira Gandhi tried her best to reach a reasonable settlement with the Akali Dal on its various demands, but with little success. It was after exhausting all chances of arriving at an amicable solution that the unfortunate confrontation with the terrorist groups took place.

Critics of Indira Gandhi at that time blamed her for not being firm enough in dealing effectively with such groups. Those who are familiar with the facts relating to the negotiations with the Akalis know that she showed great patience and willingness to accommodate the legitimate demands of peace-loving sections of the Sikh community. It is ironic that her good intentions were misunderstood by some sections and she was blamed for alleged lack of will to deal with the agitations, while some others criticised her for trying to suppress the agitation by use of force. One can only hope that history will be more kind to Indira Gandhi when all facts are known to the people.

P.C. Alexander wasPrincipal Secretary to Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi & Rajiv Gandhi

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE ROYAL BANQUET

BY KISHWAR DESAI

Often described as the most diminutive and least impressive President that India has produced — perhaps Mrs Pratibha Patil's stars are shining since she has arrived on the world stage just when India's fortunes are on the ascendant. Therefore, the reception accorded to her in London on her state visit has been one of the most spectacular — and very heartfelt.

The British are best when they do pomp and pageantry and for Madam President they had pulled out the stops. Probably the best evening in her honour this week was the State Banquet held by the Queen in Windsor Castle and I have to say it was mesmerising with its sheer splendour. One hopes that one day we, back home in India, will be able to learn how to arrange the perfectly synchronised reception, complete with trumpeters!

Just the glitter of the solid gold candelabras on the table and the gleam from the diamond and ruby tiara worn by the Queen was enough to daze most of the former residents from her erstwhile empire. However, as I have mentioned before, this Queen is very charming with a kindly air about her — which quite outweighs the ceremony which surrounds her. Therefore the evening, which ran with a clockwork precision, was grand but not overwhelming and we all came away with the impression that we all, individually, had been given a wonderful time. In fact, most people were reluctant to leave since the Queen herself stayed on to mingle with her guests during the post-dinner reception.

It was a very well organised banquet, where the conversation flowed — because there was a very eclectic mix of people; not just the royals including the queen-in-waiting Camilla and Princess Anne, but also people from the world of art and literature, such as J.K. Rowling and Anish Kapoor. And of course, politicians such as the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. Overall, instead of a large number of the random "usual suspects" there was a more select crowd, so that everyone could meet and actually talk. There is a high premium on conversation since it is an immensely difficult art, and there is nothing worse than being trapped with a boring dinner companion!

However, for a change I got lucky! I personally had a great evening since I was seated right next to the very charming and suave leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron who, many predict, will be Britain's next Prime Minister. Mr Cameron turned out to be the ideal dinner companion — he was friendly, relaxed and totally at ease as we chatted away comfortably for nearly two hours. And of course, I found that very reassuring as we come from opposing ends of the political spectrum.

It was all the more surprising as after all, when one is billed as the next Prime Minister — the comfort level decreases rapidly. I remember sitting next to Rahul Gandhi, another aspiring Prime Minister, at a dinner a few years ago, and the conversation was nowhere as engrossing. Perhaps Mr Gandhi is still shy or he needs to develop (as Mr Cameron already has) some more confidence and panache. It should not matter who is seated next to him — as his personal charisma should be such that other people remember the evening. However, he was certainly better than some other Indian politicians who are usually so full of themselves that you can plunge face forward into your soup with sheer boredom.

Therefore, I was completely enchanted, to find in Mr Cameron someone who is interesting as well as happy to listen. I had imagined that he would be rather on his guard, and with elections barely six months away, be completely plugged into political debate.

However, we managed to cover a large number of subjects and even chatted about Indian cinema — which he confessed he had got a glimpse of because he has a Nepalese au pair looking after his children and one of her main conditions for joining the Cameron household was access to Indian cinema on television. So he was familiar with the familiar song and dance routine of Bollywood. Of course, I also recommended that he watches many more Indian films, — a future task that I do hope he is seriously considering.

Mr Cameron is also in the spotlight because he is trying to take some tough but necessary decisions. For example, some of the changes he is trying to bring to the Conservative Party are those I wish other parties would emulate: he is holding primaries (as in America) in which candidates are allowed to compete with each other to become the probable nominee for the Conservative Party. Debates are conducted, and the people of the constituencies (regardless of party affiliation) are allowed to vote for the most suitable candidate. Mr Cameron has now gone a step further and has put forward the idea of "women only shortlists" to push the number of women MPs upwards. As in India, male politicians in the UK are terrified of the prospect and are trying to block it. However, Mr Cameron is trying and one wishes him success. Even if he doesn't succeed, it is obvious that it will focus more attention on the need to have more women in Parliament.

That is an idea that Mrs Patil should be familiar with — and appreciate.

After the State Banquet, the next day we saw her again at the Guildhall for dinner — where once more there was a marvellous demonstration of how much the British believe in tradition. So there were trumpeters, and elaborate rituals — accompanied by uniforms, tiaras and gowns galore.

And then we attended the "grand" finale of Mrs Patil's visit — the launch of the Commonwealth Games — with the Queen's Baton Rally starting from Buckingham Palace. While it was a wonderful location — one wishes a little more preparation had gone into the showcasing of India. But more importantly, it was a historic occasion given double the value with the presence of the titular heads of two countries.

Though some of the ceremonial performances preceding the baton rally had little connection with the games, the unexpected chanting of a Sanskrit shloka from the Rig Veda by young British school children was very relevant and touching. Hopefully the games in Delhi will reflect some of the hospitality which their launch has received here.

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SPELL IT OUT PLEASE

BY DOT WORDSWORTH

Pity the poor undergraduate who falls into the clutches of Professor Bernard Lamb. The youths might be wizards at genetics but if their spelling is shaky Professor Lamb will provide strict correction. It's for their own good. Some undergraduates can't even spell Hardy-Weinberg!

Either they forget the hyphen, he notes, or they make it Weinburg.

When I asked my husband who Hardy-Weinberg was, he laughed, a little unkindly I thought. It isn't a he it is a they: G.H. Hardy and Wilhelm Weinberg, who noticed something interesting about alleles and genotypes. Anyway, a third of British undergraduates failed the Hardy-Weinberg test, whereas only an eighth of foreign undergraduates did.

Professor Lamb, the president of the Queen's English Society, was banging on about this comparative weakness of native English spellers recently on the wireless, but he reported the same thing in 1998, in the journal of the Simplified Spelling Society.

If the Queen's English Society, with its tendency to hyper-correct usage, is tiresome, the Simplified Spelling Society is a nut cutlet in the world of grammar.

The society, founded in 1908, has changed its name to the Spelling Society, and its aims now are: "1) To raise awareness of the problems caused by the irregularity of English spelling. 2) To promote remedies to improve literacy, including spelling reform". But would spelling reform improve literacy?

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

V-B PLOT THICKENS

NEED FOR AN ENLARGED INQUIRY


From the strictly legal perspective, there can be no questioning the Visva-Bharati Vice-Chancellor's contention that "it is unjustified to punish somebody without trial". This is concordant with Indian jurisprudence. Indeed, both the Centre and the university authorities must realise that an investigation into the charges is an urgent imperative, one on which there has been no headway for close to a week. To an extent, one must give it to Professor Rajat Kanta Ray that he has, if belatedly, cleared the air in course of Thursday's interaction with the media. In the process, he may just have opened a can of worms with the admission that there are "many others against whom allegations have been levelled". Nay more, that activities of employees and teachers should also "be brought under the scanner". Professor Ray has demanded that the inquiry ought to be more comprehensive than what the employees or/and teachers are willing to accept. Is that an indirect admission that corruption at the university has been almost institutionalised? It bears emphasis that Visva-Bharati has seldom been above board in financial dealings; the theft of artefacts thrived in a generally unscrupulous set-up. As the drumbeat for his resignation becomes ever more resonant in Santiniketan's otherwise salubrious ambience, it is imperative no less that both the Karmi Sabha and the Adhyapak Sabha name the other suspects. Between them, they have managed to shut down the university. And the crisis deepens with the VC turning down the demand for his resignation. Generally muted has been the response of the Centre; there is yet no indication of how it intends to deal with the impasse in one of its universities, still less whether an inquiry by the CAG or CBI is on the anvil. The sweep of that inquiry must be suitably enlarged. And if heads must roll, so be it. It has been generally established that the lending of Tagore's paintings at a throwaway price or in return for blank cheques was the handiwork of middle level and still junior level staff at Rabindra Bhavan. Yet, as head of the institution, the VC cannot escape responsibility. But what the employees and the teachers call "other anomalies" remain to be spelt out. The matter is much too critical for the Karmi Sabha and the Adhyapak Sabha to rant. The two groups as much as the Vice-Chancellor must immediately ensure that classes are resumed. Learning can't be made to suffer on account of adult foibles. In retrospect, the Cambridge-trained Ray ought to have confined himself to history as he has done so famously for the past forty years.           

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DEFENCE PURCHASES

MUCH 'POLICY', LITTLE RE-ARMING


COUNT has been lost of the number of defence procurement/production policies that have been announced over the last few years. Not content with projecting "his own" formulation, each of the last three defence ministers has come up with more than one edition of it. Each has been touted as being better geared to expedite procurement, boost indigenous production, eliminate corruption and make the Indian military a credible, potent entity. Yet the armed forces are crying themselves hoarse that their weaponry is fast approaching obsolescence, re-equipment and modernisation is long overdue, allegations of kickbacks stall every deal, and slippages in procurement schedules are leaving them vulnerable and exposed. Only 30 per cent of hardware, mostly at the lower end of the technology spectrum, is indigenously manufactured though in the mid-1990s a plan to reverse the 70:30 per cent import ratio had been promised on the floor of Parliament. True, budgetary allocations have multiplied and an expenditure of $ 30-50 billion has been projected over the next five years, but precious little of that money is converted into tangible assets. The artillery has not been up-gunned since the Bofors "big bang" two decades ago, the air force's squadron strength stands dangerously depleted and the navy gets the blues when it monitors the expansion of its Chinese counterpart. Against that dismal record of performance it is difficult to be enthused over AK Antony's declaration that a new policy will come into effect from 1 November and an expressway to modernisation would have been opened. On paper some impediments to joint-venture production with foreign partners appear to have been removed, "buy and make" sounds as catchy as "offsets" did not so long ago, but as the Prime Minister keeps reminding us "the proof of the pudding lies in the eating". It is immaterial if the present defence minister winds up eating humble pie: what is vital is that the forces, the DRDO, defence PSUs, Ordnance Factory Board, and key Indian industrial houses first get an act together, then seek foreign partners and investment. An arduous exercise that will involve deep study of the military's immediate and future requirements; indigenous production capacities; mission-mode R&D also involving production units, and reducing red tape when dealing with foreign firms. Diplomatic and financial factors will also come into play. All in all, an effort much too serious to be revealed in a seminar room.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DELAYED ACTION

TO END A NATIONAL DISGRACE


ONLY two cheers will be due to the home ministry if and when it sets about legal action to facilitate the return of the universally celebrated MF Husain to his homeland. For the fact that fundamentalist elements have forced the artist (once deemed eminent enough to have been nominated to the Rajya Sabha) into self-exile in Dubai over the last three years is not just a smear on the nation's secular credentials, but also suggests that when no votes are at stake there is little protection of the minority community's interests. That the political party that so prides itself on Hindutva has allowed its lunatic fringe to run riot is another ugly manifestation of its scarcely-camouflaged communal agenda. That other Indian painters have paid only lip-service to artistic freedom of expression is equally depressing ~ they ought to have displayed some solidarity and boycotted festivals which cited "security reasons" for not exhibiting Husain's works. And what can one say of the security agencies ~ they bend over backwards to protect politicians but back off from announcing that they will permit no disruption of an art show. No doubt Husain is a bit of a maverick, but that does not entitle the state to duck its primary duty to protect the life and property of its citizens.


Why is it only now that the ministry is seeking to have all the criminal cases against the artist (for allegedly hurting Hindu sentiments) consolidated and submitted for judicial assessment? That ought to have been done soon after the Delhi High Court had in May 2008 ruled in favour of an artistic "basic". And what kind of personal protection will it guarantee the nonagenarian should he opt to attain his desire of coming back to his country? Legal verdicts are no armour against communal mob frenzy. No doubt the home ministry has other law and order "issues" before it ~ tackling the Maoist violence, countering insurgencies in J&K and the North-east, and thwarting externally-sponsored terrorism. Yet Husain's apprehensions that he could be physically harmed, as were some of his paintings, is a cruel reflection of times: worse, a reflection of the indifference of both the government and society at large to his brand of plight. And still we claim to be an enlightened people, although to be fair to ourselves, less often than we used to.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS

 

NO one is fit to comment on economics unless he or she are a Nobel Laureate. The only Asian so far to gain a Nobel Prize in economics is Amartya Sen, but he resides in Harvard.


The 2008 Nobel Laureate, Paul Krugman, famously said, "Much of the work in macro-economics in the past 30 years has been useless at best and harmful at worst." Who am I to argue with that? The definition of a classic is that most people have heard of the book, but very few have actually read it. The same must be true of the work of most Nobel Laureates ~ we are aware that they must be famous, but not sure what they are really famous for.
I have read the work of Oliver Williamson, the 2009 joint Laureate in Economics, because I studied the theory of the firm carefully in trying to understand corporate governance. However, I confess that until the recent announcement, Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom was not on my radar screen.


I commend her award as she truly has contributed significantly towards our understanding of collective human behaviour. Professional economists, like scientists, are tribal in behaviour, because they hold onto their theories and beliefs religiously against all comers. The free market orthodoxy has proven very hard to dislodge because discrepancies found in real life are either "pooh-poohed" or dismissed as defective scholarship. But this current crisis of a massive failure in the financial market has shaken the economics profession to its roots.
Free market economics


THE foundation of free market economics stems from the Scottish moral philosopher, Adam Smith's assertion that the pursuit of individual selfishness can lead to public good. To free-market believers, if government gets out of the way, individual freedom to do selfish things would create the greatest prosperity. This is exactly what Wall Street has preached and practised, leading to the greatest crash since the 1930s. 
In 1968, the ecologist, Garrett Hardin, wrote an influential essay titled "The Tragedy of the Commons". It challenged the Smith assertion. He demonstrated how the selfish behaviour of individual farmers resulted in overgrazing of the common fields and, therefore, destroyed the public good and the environment. We have observed how wanton destruction of forests for short-term gain has denuded our ecological heritage and led eventually to global warming. Hardin's paper stirred up a storm that eventually gave Elinor Ostrom her Nobel prize.
Basically, there were two conventional solutions to stop the tragedy of the commons. One was the imposition by the State of rules to stop encroachment of the public good; the other was privatization of the commons. The free market school favoured privatization, but as experience has shown, privatization has tended to become "privitization", in the sense that some privileged few have gained from the exercise. The late political scientist, Mancur Olson, became famous for his assertion that even the "stationary bandit", the strongest of the contenders for power. can protect the public interest because he has the most to benefit from the public good.
Elinor Ostrom is not only the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, but also a political scientist, meaning an outsider is storming the economics profession. Moreover, she is not a pure theoretician, but a behavioural and empirical analyst, pointing out that there is plenty of evidence in history and real life that collective action problems (such as the Tragedy of the Commons) are not solved by more government or privatization, but through self-governance.


This means that the altruistic behaviour of individuals can lead to protection of the common good. Many communities have solved collective problems through the public spirited individuals, civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 


Ostrom argues that what makes society work together are the core relationships of reciprocity, reputation and trust. She identifies reciprocity as a class of strategies for human behaviour or games between individuals, the most famous being tit-for-tat. Reciprocity is necessary to drive human behaviour towards norms of trust and reputation. If the other side cooperates, you can cooperate to achieve common good. If the other side does not cooperate, most societies can enforce some kind of punishment, such as naming, shaming and isolation.
Social cohesion


MOST people use reciprocity to acquire a reputation by taking short-term action that has costs, but creates long-term net benefits. Trust is the valuable asset that creates social cohesion. Without trust, societies break up because people vote with their feet. The tragedy of the commons occurs because individuals do not trust each other and, therefore, elect to do their own thing selfishly.


In order to break these collective action traps, Ostrom emphasizes the importance of communications and also civic education. If our school textbooks praise self-interest, are we surprised that our financial industry has greedy Gordon Geckos and Bernie Madoffs? 


Ostrom also suggests that the role of the state has to change, because she feels that "national governments are too small to govern the global commons and too big to handle smaller scale problems". She argues for governments to work with civil society, giving them enough space and support to handle the small problems that government bureaucracies cannot handle efficiently. In other words, she argues against the simplistic view that world problems are solved only by governments or private enterprise. There is a major role for citizen participation for the public good.


Traditionally, Asian society sees governance as divided between the State and the family. The rise of the corporate world created governance between the State, the firm (private enterprise) and the family.
Today, there is a new class of civil society, in which citizens want to work with each other to look after their common interest, such as environmental protection, education, public health or social welfare. There is increasing awareness that governments cannot solve all problems and bureaucracies can often be the problem, not the solution of our social ills.


Thanks to Ostrom, we are reminded that governments need to work with civil society to create social cohesion. Most bureaucracies around the world are not equipped to think or function like that. But that is the way of the future.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

INDIAN CHEF CREATES 'WORLD'S HEALTHIEST MEAL'

 

LONDON, 30 OCT: An Indian chef claims to have created the "world's healthiest meal" ~ a curry and rice that can help fight diseases like cancer and dementia.


According to the 32-year-old chef, Mr Gurpareet Bains, the chicken and blueberry curry with goji berry pilau rice is full of natural healthy "superfoods" that fight off cancer and even diseases like Alzheimer's.
In fact, the spicy meal fights off the carcinogenic cells while other traditional ingredients like ginger, chilli, turmeric and garlic, are known for their antibacterial and antiviral properties, he said.


Each serving contains the nutritional equivalent of 49 helpings of spinach, 23 bunches of grapes or nine portions of broccoli, the British media reported.


"It has long been known that some foods including spices and fruits have exceptional health benefits. Combining these two genres of foodstuffs seemed logical in any quest to find the "world's healthiest meal".


"The curry I have created is brimming with health-beneficial ingredients that could if eaten regularly deal a devastating blow to many diseases," Mr Bains was quoted as saying. Mr Bains, a nutritionist and former head chef who lives in Bedford, spent almost two years perfecting the recipe.


Ingredients include blueberries, which have been linked with protecting against cancer and guarding the brain against the sticky protein that clogs brain in Alzheimer's. The pilau rice is flavoured with goji berries ~ a Himalayan "superfood" bursting with vitamins A and C and iron. ~ PTI

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DARK LADY OF INDIA

 

In India myths endure. So it is not surprising that many myths surround the persona of Indira Gandhi who was assassinated today 25 years ago. The way she died has added to the myths. One myth should be dispelled straight away. She is often described, by critic and admirer alike, as a deft politician who knew how to deal with her rivals. Yet the fact of the matter is that in 1971 she was re-elected as prime minister with a huge majority in the Lok Sabha in the wake of the liberation of Bangladesh and the Indo-Pak war; within a couple of years, Indira Gandhi's rule was under attack from within and without the Congress party. The only way she knew to deal with this opposition was by declaring the Emergency and thus undermining Indian democracy. This is not quite the way that a deft practitioner of the art of politicking would have dealt with challenges to her power. She never appeared to be in full control after her return to the top job in 1980.

 

Indira Gandhi's great period was a brief one — lasting from 1969 to 1971, between the break with the Syndicate and the liberation of Bangladesh. But this was also when she wore her radical mask and utilized the ideology of socialism to consolidate her own power. She had none of the idealism of her father and certainly did not believe in the institutions of democracy and civil society. Under her, the cabinet system of government became a mere extension of the prime minister's office. She eroded the independence of the judiciary and the bureaucracy. She packed leading educational institutions, academic bodies and other civil society establishments with her cronies. In all this she broke, with disastrous consequences, from the tradition established by Jawaharlal Nehru. The Emergency was the culmination of a process of centralization of power that Indira Gandhi initiated. It is not unfair to suggest that she had little faith in democratic practices and institutions.

 

In foreign policy, she brought about a pronounced pro-Soviet tilt which led her to support the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She shackled India's economic growth and private investment and entrepreneurship by institutionalizing red tape and a permit and licence raj. This opened up opportunities for venality and corruption. She used the latter with devastating effect on the polity to fund the Congress party and elections.

 

It is thus difficult to be dispassionate about Indira Gandhi and her era. Historians of subsequent generations could describe the period that bears her indelible stamp as a very dark period for India. What cannot be denied, however, is that in her time she was immensely popular. But she made scant use of that support to take India forward. Prime ministers with far less support — to wit P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh — have achieved much more, especially in the fields of economic reform and foreign policy. A large majority might well be an Indian prime minister's worst curse.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

UNFAIR CLAIMS

THE ACTIONS OF A FEW NRIS REINFORCE STEREOTYPES IN THE UK

SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY

 

Pratibha Patil has been and gone with London — which the ultra-nationalist British National Party says is no longer a British city — hardly any the wiser. For her part, the president is unlikely to have realized how large some non-resident Indians loom in the stink that threatens to bring down Gordon Brown's government despite a desperate last-minute clean-up operation.

 

The scandal has enriched the vocabulary. To lie about where you live is "flipping". The government is "redacting" by blackening out chunks of documents to protect guilty parliamentarians. At the root of the pretence and prevarication lies the regulation allowing members of both houses of parliament to claim expenses, including the cost of accommodation, "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a member's parliamentary duties". In short, if a member of parliament lives outside London, he must be reimbursed for costs incurred in maintaining a second home in London to attend parliament. Most of those who submit inflated or fictitious claims, including the prime minister, are what the BNP's Nick Griffin calls "aborigines" being ethnically cleansed. But Keith Vaz, Lord Swraj Paul of Marylebone, and, from across the Padma, Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green are key figures.

 

Let me not tar all parliamentarians of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin with the same brush. Virendra Sharma, a former bus conductor who left India when he was 21 and is actively involved in helping children with Down's Syndrome, refused to make the claim for a second home. He is entitled to do so since his constituency, Ealing, which includes Indian-dominated Southall, is in outer London. Sharma says he has "never been motivated or interested in making money". Paul, who claimed £110,000 by showing a one-bedroom flat in Oxfordshire where he has never "stayed the night" as his "main" residence (he has lived for 43 years in a central London mansion which reportedly also boasts 25 luxury flats), is candid about what drives him. He is quoted as saying, "I've always needed money. All my life I have worked to make money."

 

Even acquisitive Indians take care to operate within the law. An unrepentant Paul, worth between £125 million and £1.2 billion and owner of a £6.1 million country house, argues he is "entitled" to the reimbursement. "I don't make the law," he says. "I just follow it." He must be believed when he adds that if the law is changed he will obey whatever new law replaces it. His bid for two leading Indian companies, DCM and Escorts, was made only after the legal definition of an NRI was widened to include foreigners of Indian origin like himself. It must also be noted that he stepped down as deputy speaker of the Lords when the scandal burst and demanded to be investigated himself.

 

Among other South Asian parliamentarians aboard (or trying to board) the gravy train, Shailesh Vara was caught claiming £1,500 spent before he was elected while Shahid Malik twice tried to pass off Remembrance Sunday wreaths as expenses. Khalid Mahmood went one better, charging £175 per night for the nine nights he spent with his girlfriend in a luxury hotel. The £76 that Parmjit Singh Dhanda, the youngest ever contender for the speaker's post, wanted for a teapot, sugar bowl and gravy boat seems frivolous in contrast. But Dhanda also "overclaimed" by smuggling capital repayment into his mortgage payments figure.

 

Vaz, an Aden-born Cambridge-educated solicitor who chairs the House of Commons home affairs committee, doesn't seem able to decide where he lives. Within the space of 12 months his "main" residence changed from London to Leicester (which he represents in parliament) and back to London again. He is no stranger to controversy. Accused of receiving money from another ethnic Indian lawyer whom he recommended for a peerage and helping one of the Hinduja brothers obtain a British passport, he was obliged to quit as a minister in Tony Blair's cabinet and was suspended from parliament for a month. He is now charged with claiming £75,000 as expenses for a "second" home even though his main residence is only a 40-minute Underground ride from Westminster.

 

The plump and bespectacled 49-year-old Baroness (Pola anglicized to Paula) Uddin is the subject of a police inquiry. Born in Rajshahi, she came to Britain as a teenager, became a social worker and local politician until Blair raised her to the peerage. She lives with her husband in a modest three-bedroom flat in East London. Reports of a "marble mansion" flaunting the House of Lords crest in Bangladesh may be exaggerated, but she has never (or hardly ever) visited the small flat in Maidstone in Kent that is her "main" residence and enabled her to receive £83,000 between 2001 and 2005 as overnight allowance for living outside London. Apparently, she claimed the allowance even before buying the flat in September 2005.

 

The manner in which all this came to light supports my belief that there is no such thing as a journalistic scoop. Every scoop is a leak by some interested party. In this instance, The Daily Telegraph bought the information for £110,000 from an anonymous party represented by an ex-secret service major who had tried to sell it to other newspapers as well. Some other aspects of the controversy deserve mention. First, the now-cornered government persistently tried to conceal the truth and in January 2009 a three-line whip forced Labour MPs to vote for an officially-sponsored motion exempting MPs' expenses from disclosure under a freedom of information act request. Second, it is doubtful if the audit team Brown belatedly appointed to control the damage has the retrospective authority to order MPs either to repay expenses or provide further details. Third, current moves to increase MPs' salaries while cutting down on the scope for such abuse (the recommendations will be made public next Wednesday) recall MPs being discreetly advised, when they sought a pay hike in Margaret Thatcher's time, to make it up in expenses which would not attract the press and public attention that a law raising salaries would.

 

Another controversy — over non-domicile tax status — seems especially scandalous because of the suspicion that it seeks further to enrich those who, in turn, enrich Brown's party. Lakshmi Mittal, Britain's richest man who was already a beneficiary of Tony Blair's good offices and has reportedly donated £1 million to Labour, is non-domiciled, which means exemption from many British taxes. So are Paul and Sir Gulam Noon (called "Curry King" because his fortune comes from packaged food), both of whom give generously to Labour. That might have been less unacceptable if Brown had not decided that the new law passed in July taking away important non-domiciled privileges will not be enforced until after the next general election. Paul, who calls the law "strange", has warned he "won't give money" if it is enforced. Otherwise, "I am willing to donate my entire estate to Gordon to fight the next election." Such magnanimity deserves reward.

 

An ordinary Englishman once told me that Indians were seen as a modern variant of gypsy pedlars who laid a curse on householders who did not cross their palm with silver, as the saying went. My informant had no idea that Romany lore cherishes words and rituals connecting them with their ancient Indian homeland. But his conviction that gypsies are light-fingered and that police and public have to keep an eye on them feeds the modern reputation of South Asian immigrants for cutting corners and exploiting loopholes. It's not a well-founded allegation, for surveys show that many poorer migrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh miss out on entitlements by way of welfare services and financial help because of their ignorance. But the adeptness of a few high-profile immigrants plays into the hands of BNP racists and reinforces a stereotype that no one is likely to have brought to the notice of the president as she flitted in and out.

 

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RENEWED HOPE

"THE TIME IS CONGENIAL FOR RESUMING J&K TALKS."

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's offer, during his two-day visit to Kashmir, of unconditional talks with all sections of people in the state has lent more authority to and taken forward the government's recent initiative, revealed by home minister P Chidambaram, to find an internal political solution in the state. The prime minister has also followed up his offer with meetings with some state leaders. The message that he sent from a public meeting in Anantnag and a press conference later seems to have been well received. The time is congenial for negotiations as violence in the state is at an all-time low and the political situation is stable. Both the National Conference and the opposition People's Democratic Party have welcomed the offer and more importantly, separatists like the Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq have agreed to participate in the talks. Much back channel effort has gone into the initiative and there is reason to hope that the talks will be productive.


The promise to increase the number of commodities to be traded across the Line of Actual Control and to support the commerce with better banking facilities and removal of some procedural controls will also go down well with the people of the state. Steps like reduction of troops in urban areas and relaxation of the draconian laws which are in force in the state are also under consideration. It is also important to address the different regional aspirations of the people of the state within the framework of an autonomy package. There have been efforts in this direction but no substantial progress has been made.


The prime minister also reiterated India's position on resumption of talks with Pakistan, though there is a softening of the position, in tenor but not in substance, as can be seen by his statement that the dismantling of terrorist training camps in that country is not a pre-condition. But Pakistan has to prove its claims of action to prevent terrorist attacks on India, as it has not yet handled the Mumbai attack investigation with sincerity. But the declaration of willingness to resume the peace process is significant and timely. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now visiting Pakistan and Islamabad is putting pressure on the US to persuade India to resume the composite dialogue. The fact that the prime minister's statement has been well received is a sign of a possible positive movement in India-Pakistan engagement.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

BEYOND RHETORIC

"RIC COUNTRIES NEED TO GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER."

 

The ninth Russia-India-China (RIC) foreign ministers' meeting at Bangalore has concluded with the three countries resolving to push for a greater regional role in stabilising the situation in war-torn Afghanistan. They have signaled their continuing commitment to remaining engaged in Afghanistan. This commitment comes at a time when several western countries are looking for exit strategies or ways to downsize their role in Afghanistan. By stressing the need for continued engagement in Afghanistan, the trilateral grouping has urged these countries to rethink their positions. Their call for a greater regional say in the quest for a solution to the Afghan problem is a reminder to the US to move away from its current unilateral approach. Not only do countries like India, Russia and China have stakes in a peaceful Afghanistan but also, they have potential, resources and strengths that could be usefully tapped.


The joint approach on Afghanistan, evident at the Bangalore meet is heartening. However, there are important differences that could undermine this shared position. The situation in Afghanistan is closely linked to Pakistan's tackling of terrorism being nurtured on its soil. While Russia and India have raised their concern over Pakistan's lacklustre performance in this regard, China has been silent. At the Bangalore meeting too, China seems to have been reluctant to call on Pakistan to do more on fighting terrorism. The Bangalore resolution therefore refrained from naming Pakistan and instead called on 'all concerned' to implement UN resolutions on tackling terrorism. It's time Beijing recognised that Islamabad's reluctance to tackle terrorism is severely undermining global security, with implications for its Xinjiang province.


As in previous RIC meetings, this one was also was rich in co-operative rhetoric. It is time the grouping put its lofty words into action. It has achieved little substantial outside these meetings. RIC remains a junior player in global developments as it is riven with internal suspicions and rivalries. These would need to be put aside if RIC should be taken seriously. The US is able to persist with unilateral action on almost every global issue because Russia, India and China have rarely joined forces to rein Washington in. Aspiring for a multi-polar world and supporting multi-lateral approaches to conflict resolution is not enough. Russia, India and China must act together to achieve it.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DISASTER POLITICS

THE FLOODS IN NORTH KARNATAKA WERE A NATURAL DISASTER, THE SUBSEQUENT POLITICAL MESS IN HANDLING IT IS A BIGGER DISASTER.

BY GAYATHRI NIVAS


The north Karnataka response of the B S Yeddyurappa-led BJP government, to one of the most crippling floods, was slowly and steadily shaping up as one of the best examples of public private partnership, when the whole endeavour is threatened by crass politics. And at whose expense is this dirty game of one upmanship being played? The state's, of course, which in turn is met by people's contribution, voluntary or otherwise.


Let's start off by paying a well-deserved tribute to the chief minister, who, in a rare show of maverick, galvanised overwhelming and unprecedented public support to the cause of the flood-hit even if his initial response was delayed. Unlike in most natural calamities, this time the funds flow was a major psychological boost.

While the chief minister's padayatra in Bangalore raised a whopping Rs 1,000 crore in public contributions, a matching sum was promised by the prime minister as interim relief from the Calamity Relief Fund, of which Rs 500 crore has been released with uncommon speed.


Then, there was also the commitment of another Rs 500 crore by the Reddy brothers of Bellary and their mining clan, even if it is money due to the exchequer for evaded taxes and taking an unpardonable toll on the country's natural (iron ore) as well as man-made resources (roads).


So, there was enough seed money, goodwill of the people and the Central government, and things were moving smoothly when everything came to a virtual grinding halt.


Perhaps, the CM did fault in overlooking the critical role of the revenue minister in disaster management of this nature. The CM's dependence on the ministers for rural development and water resources more than the revenue minister, might have understandably irked the latter. Even in the allotment of helicopters for aerial survey and relief operations, the rural development minister, who happens to be the only woman (or man?) on Yeddyurappa's cabinet, got precedence, it is charged. Adding insult to injury, the CM changed horses midstream by appointing an independent MP and a corporate honcho to oversee relief work.


Another folly on the part of the chief minister is said to be the warm hearted welcome he extended to his visiting Andhra Pradesh counterpart K Rosiah. The Reddy brothers, on the contrary, take to Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, MP and aspirant for the Andhra CM's gaddi, like a fish to water because of their common business interests.

The last but not the least irritant to the Reddys and their mining lobby is the toll on iron ore carrying trucks imposed by the state government. Their contention is that the government should be content with the one-time flood relief grant of Rs  500 crore pledged by the mining lobby and not ask for more!



The CM's mistakes conceded, are these reasons strong enough for the Reddy brothers to engineer a rift in the party government and run a virtual parallel government in the name of independently carrying out relief works? From where did they derive such automatic powers in a system where the chosen head of the legislature party leads unless and until he is relieved of the charge. In short, it is not just the CM but the entire BJP leadership that the Reddys have upstaged. Whither the discipline that the BJP and its ideological arm, the RSS, so proudly flaunt on their sleeve?
And this is not the first time that the Reddy brothers have sought to arm-twist the BJP's first government in the south to have their way. Each time they throw tantrums, they have sought to find a dummy to project as their future leader, simply because they neither have the clout nor the confidence to lead themselves. In the past, they tried to rope in Siddaramaiah of the Congress and failed. This time round, they are trying to pit Assembly Speaker Jagadish Shettar against fellow Lingayat Yeddyurappa but the former too is unlikely to play into their hands.

And BJP's ace trouble shooter Arun Jaitley has left after another round of peace brokering between the chief minister and the Reddy bloc, which has become as routine as the RSS baithaks. While he was here, three precious mandays of relief work were lost. And to add to the misery of the suffering flood victims, top officers involved in relief works in the Reddy fiefdom have been replaced. It will be quite some time before the newly posted officers come to grips with the situation.


One more question begging an answer is why did not the chief minister or the revenue minister mobilise the State Disaster Managment Authority constituted in January last, which has  representation from all the relevant sectors like Red Cross, civil defence, scouts and guides and many more.


 If the revenue minister does not fancy outside inference in his work in the form of MP Rajiv Chandrashekar as overseer appointed by the chief minister, he could requisition the services of the authority.



And one last request to the Reddy brothers, who have both the money and the wherewithal to build 50,000 houses for the flood-hit on their own. No mean task, indeed! Would they please relay and maintain National Highway 48 linking Bangalore-Mangalore, the worthiness of which is as crucial to their overladen iron-ore trucks as the commuters of coastal Karnataka?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A PILGRIM'S PATH

BY KHUSHWANT SINGH


I have never been on a pilgrimage. I admit I never had the least desire to do so nor would I go on one now except as a spectator-journalist. However, I also have to admit that everyone known to me who has been on one speaks highly of the emotional satisfaction they derived from the experience.

 

All religions believe in pilgrimages. For Jews and Christians it is Jerusalem, the birthplace of both faiths. They also have lesser places of pilgrimage like Lourdes in France where it is claimed the sick are miraculously healed. Hindus have their Kumbh Melas where they go in millions to bathe in the holy Ganga. The Sikhs have their five 'Takhts' (thrones) with the recent addition of Hemkunt Sahib in Uttarkhand.


By far the most spectacular of all pilgrimages is the Haj to Mecca and Madina. It is obligatory for all Muslims, who can afford it. Millions of Muslims from all parts of the world gather there to offer prayers. Those who can't make it for Haj go on a lesser pilgrimage called Umra. From the pictures I have seen (no non-Muslims are allowed in Mecca or Madina), they make an impressive sight with thousands upon thousands of people similarly attired going through their genuflections with military precision.


I have just finished reading a moving account of an Indian Haji who travelled to Arabia and back by a steamship in 1929. Amir Ahmed Alawi (1811-1952) was a scholar and journalist. He kept a daily diary of his experiences during the journey first published in Urdu under the title 'Safar-e-Sa'adat' (propitious journey). It has now been translated into English as 'Journey to the Holy Land: A pilgrim's Diary' by Mushirul Hasan, till recently vice-chancellor of Jamia Milliah Islamia and his media adviser Rakshanda Jalal.
The diary makes most pleasant and informative reading as Alawi had an eye for trivial details and relates what he had to undergo during the sea journey in Arabia, which was then under British domination. He took many bundles of paan leaves to last during his pilgrimage. He writes of the dirty conditions on the steamship and its bullying British officers. All his narrative is peppered with apt couplets in Urdu and Persian. He was horrified to see Muslim girls dressed like Europeans and in lavishly designed burqas embroidered to attract attention. "When heresy enters the Kaaba, what will be left of Mussalmans?" he asks.


You will enjoy reading the 'Pilgrim's Diary' because it is beautifully written and translated and gives you a flavour of the times.


WHY WRITE?

I often ask myself why do I go on writing. Of course, it provides me my daal, chawal and Scotch whisky. I could earn as much, if not more, running a dhaba on a national highway. However, writing also boosts my ego, which selling tandori chickens and parathas would not. Some people read what I write and send me their opinions. It assures me that what I write has some impact, however minimal. Since some of what I write also gets published in regional languages, chaiwalaas at railway stations, ticket checkers on the trains, policemen on patrol and the butchers in Khan Market make it a point to tell me that they have read some of the stuff I churn out. I feel mighty pleased with myself.


Do any of them change their views after reading what I have written? I am not sure. I believe I was able to persuade some educated sections of my community not to listen to Bhindranwale or consider demanding a separate state. I also write a lot against religious bigotry. I don't think any bigot agrees with me, because many dismissed me as an agnostic, mischief-maker trying to undermine the basis of Indian culture.

I get inspiration from Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's 'Ekela Chalo' (walk alone) when others abandon you. I continue to tread the lonely path. I found further solace in a couple of lines of Urdu poetry by my young friend Prem Mohan Kalra when he came to drop his bi-weekly carton of 'Dahi-bhalla'.


Kya poochtey ho haal

merey karobaar kaa

Ayeeney bechtaa ho andhon

ke shahr main

You ask me about my business and what I have in mind; I sell mirrors in the city of the blind.

Of youthful death

In company with pilot,

Scindhia and Sanjay Gandhi

YSR was youthful and

bubbly even at sixty

When the weather for him turned suddenly misty

Thickening into a dark,
dark storm
And leaving behind neither foot nor finger, nor ear
nor arm.

Promises fulfiled, full of
promise yet
Or not so promising, but to
the dear ones so dear,
Death may or may not be
too bad a bet
But oh the thought of a
youthful death to bear
Too sad for far and near!

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THOSE AUTOCRATS

THE METERS ALWAYS SEEM TO BE ON FIRE, CHANGING EXPO-NENTIALLY WITH EACH BLINK.

BY MEERA GUTHI

 

I always had rotten luck. Put me on a 200 ft wide road with a banana peel and I'll step on it. Give a bowl full of apples with a single rotten one, and I'll reach out for the spoilt one. But the term 'rotten luck' has taken an altogether new twist with my brush with auto drivers.


I always seem to get the ones that reek of alcohol or smoke, grumble about the distance or demand double and even triple the fare, drive rashly, have a meter on fire, never have change on them, argue for 50 paise and even challenge me to take them to the police station! And when I hear stories of 'good auto drivers' returning forgotten purses or missed mobiles and even shopping bags, I almost laugh out hysterical. In my opinion, good auto drivers are an oxymoron.


After years of several bad experiences, including running from one pan beeda shop to another lugging a shopping bag in one hand and a wailing infant in the other, begging for change, I make sure I have my purse filled with every possible denomination, once I step out of the house. And you should see the look on the faces of the auto drivers when I hand them the exact change; fallen, crushed, at the thought of a missed opportunity to make a little extra. As if their ever-speeding meters did not rake them enough moolah already.


Their meters. They are always tweaked. How else would you explain the same distance costing you Rs 65 with one auto and whopping Rs 90 with another? The meters always seem to be on fire, changing exponentially with each blink. My eyes are always fixed on the meter, as if it had a mesmerising power. I once sat in an auto that changed from Rs 35 to Rs 45 directly. And when I confronted the auto driver, he smiled sheepishly and said his meter was faulty. Of course I paid him less.


If you ask auto drivers to take the shortest route, they look at you with disdain. When an auto driver asked me Rs 50 for a minimum distance, I told him to go wash his mouth. If it had not been for the persuading bystanders, we would've have ended up in a fisticuff.


They are always drive as if they were racing on an F1 track. They don't seem to mind the ubiquitous potholes, wayward cows and dogs, the laden vegetable and fruit carts or the equally speeding co-vehicles, travelling nose to tail. I once asked an auto driver to slow down and he gave me look that said, "If you are so namby-pamby, don't travel in autos!"


However petrified I am of the traffic, now I drive my own four wheeler, thumbing my nose every time I pass an auto.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

ANOTHER MISSTEP ON THE ROAD TO REFORM

 

Draft legislation to regulate too-big-to-fail financial firms hit a wall of well-deserved dissent at a hearing on Thursday in the House Financial Services Committee.

 

Authored by the Treasury Department and Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the committee, the proposal broaches a number of essential reforms. Chief among them is the creation of a systemic risk regulator to look for problems that could lead to cascading failures. The regulator would also have resolution authority — the power, if necessary, to seize and restructure critically ill bank holding companies and nonbank financial firms whose failure would pose a systemwide threat.

 

Such broad authority was lacking during the crisis, leading to the disorderly demise of Lehman Brothers, among other fiascoes. Properly executed, resolution authority would impose losses from a failure on a firm's shareholders and creditors. That would force discipline on firms that have come to expect taxpayer rescues.

 

There's little disagreement over the need for systemic risk regulation and resolution authority. But as lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing pointed out, the proposal is flawed in its choices of who should wield the new powers and how they should be defined.

 

The proposal would concentrate much of the new power with the Federal Reserve, which is problematic for several reasons. Not only did the Fed fail in its responsibility to identify and stop several of the threats that led to the crisis, it has further damaged its credibility by failing to fully account for how and why those catastrophic lapses occurred. Before Congress grants new powers to the Fed, it needs a full accounting.

 

The proposal is also weak on certain components of systemic risk management. It proposes to keep secret the name of institutions whose failures would be systemically dangerous, ostensibly to prevent them from enjoying lower financing costs and other advantages that come with implicit government backing. That would be silly if it wasn't so disturbing. Systemic regulation, done right, should not confer advantages. Rather, too-big-to-fail firms should be subjected to much higher capital requirements so they can better absorb their potential outsize losses. They should also be subject to much stiffer insurance premiums, so the government wouldn't have to turn to taxpayers to cover the costs of seizing them.

 

The proposal calls for higher capital, but is vague on specifics. It also would not charge upfront insurance premiums; rather, it would levy an assessment on large firms after one of them had failed. But effective legislation must impose stiff upfront insurance fees and mandate that regulators establish a progressive scale of capital requirements. The riskier the institution, the higher the capital level.

 

The aim should be to make size and complexity so expensive that financial firms opt to be smaller and more manageable.

 

Which brings up the last, but by no means least, of the proposal's flaws. Its premise is that too-big-to fail institutions are an immutable fact of life. They are not. The proposal ignores measures that would control risk by controlling size and complexity, like a ban on proprietary stock and derivatives trading by deposit-taking banks.

 

Systemic regulation and resolution authority are needed. But the current proposal fails not only in its details but in fulfilling broader mandates for transparency, public accountability and thoroughness. Thankfully, it is only a draft. It can and must be significantly reworked.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HAWAII'S CHILDREN, LEFT BEHIND

 

The economic crisis has forced every state to scramble to get its budget in balance. This has meant torturous efforts to preserve essential services and minimize the pain and damage from slashed spending and lost jobs. Every state has sacrificed. But Hawaii has sacrificed its own schoolchildren.

 

The 50th state, the only one with a single statewide school district, has just cut 17 days from the academic year, under a new labor contract with public school teachers that avoids layoffs in favor of pay cuts and furloughs, all to be taken on instructional days. Barring a court order or other intervention, there will be no classes on most Fridays for the rest of the school year, leaving 170,000 children in the lurch. Parents are furious that a state already lagging in academic achievement would willingly adopt the country's shortest school year.

 

The teachers' union, the school board, the Department of Education and Gov. Linda Lingle all share responsibility for the debacle; they all signed off on the new contract last month. Ms. Lingle issued a statement at the time praising it as being "in the best interest of teachers, our students and the general public."

 

Parents don't think so. Nor does the federal education secretary, Arne Duncan. In an op-ed article in The Honolulu Advertiser, he called it "inconceivable" that furlough Fridays were the best solution to school-budget woes and wondered why the state hadn't used its federal stimulus money to save classroom days. (The state instead used the $105 million to cut its own contribution to education, which was legal but hardly admirable.)

 

Hawaii's political leaders and school officials are now standing in a circle of blame, pointing at one another. The governor, who had ordered the Department of Education to cut its $1.8 billion budget by 14 percent, now says she had not expected the union to take its furlough days from instruction time. She said she regretted the settlement, even though her attorney general defended it in hearings over two federal lawsuits filed on behalf of parents and children trying to restore the school days.

 

As other states struggle to bolster education, to add classes and lengthen the school year, Hawaii is going in the wrong direction. What it needs are not apologies but open classrooms for the students whose futures are being mortgaged — especially the poor and disabled children and those in special education who are particularly vulnerable to lost instructional time. For now, they are learning a terrible lesson in how little their government and teachers think an education is worth.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE HOUSE ETHICS COMMITTEE AT WORK

 

A computer gaffe has revealed some of the secretive workings of the House ethics committee, including preliminary inquiries into complaints against 19 members and some of their staff. The accidental disclosure, made by a staffer who was later fired, sent a bipartisan jolt through Congress, which is already wary about new and long overdue mandates for greater ethical transparency.

 

It's important to stress that none of the disclosed inquiries are conclusive or indicate whether any member will be charged with misdeeds. Intended or not, the reported signs of life on the ostensibly moribund ethics committee are an encouraging sign that Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision to create a separate, quasi-independent Office of Congressional Ethics has had an effect.

 

The office is charged with making discrete preliminary inquiries into complaints and forwarding any recommendations for fuller investigation to the ethics panel. That's exactly what happened in the ethics committee's decision this week to look into whether Representative Maxine Waters of California played an unfair role in getting bailout money for a bank where her husband had been a director.

 

Ms. Waters denies violating ethics, as does Representative Laura Richardson of California, the subject of a separate investigation into whether she failed to disclose loan and foreclosure dealings.

 

The data mishap confirmed that two inquiries remain as glaringly unfinished business: the controversial financial dealings of Representative Charles Rangel, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, and the clique of defense appropriators and their cozy relationship with deep-pocketed and well-rewarded defense contractors. Lawmakers understandably worry about the political chaff from greater transparency. They should use their angst to prod the committee to do its job, promptly and thoroughly, and present the public with credible results.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CONSTRAINING AMERICA'S BRIGHTEST

BY BOB HERBERT

 

That period right after college graduation is when young people tend to think they can set the world on fire. Careers are starting, and relationships in the broader world are forming. It's exciting, and optimism is off the charts.

 

So the gloomy outlook that this economy is offering so many of America's brightest young people is not just disconcerting, it's a cultural shift, a harbinger. "Attention," as the wife of a fictional salesman once said, "must be paid."

 

Maggie Mertens graduated in May from Smith College, where she was an editor of the student newspaper. She applied for "tons" of jobs and internships, probably 50 or more. "I was totally unemployed all summer," she said. She eventually landed an internship at NPR in Washington, which she described as "awesome," but it is unpaid.

 

"I was lucky enough," she said, "to connect up with a family that let me live with them for free in exchange for watching their baby a few times a week." But there was still no money coming in. So in addition to the 40-hour-a-week internship and the baby-sitting chores, Ms. Mertens is doing part-time seasonal work at a Whole Foods store.

 

Welcome to the new world of employment in America as we approach the second decade of the 21st century.

 

Josh Riman graduated from Syracuse University in 2006. "I had a job at a great advertising agency," he said, "but was laid off in 2007. I found a job the next day, amazingly enough, and worked at this next advertising shop for about a year and a half. Then, on my birthday, the place went bankrupt. We all lost our jobs."

 

Since then, Mr. Riman has been doing freelance and "pro bono" work. He has been unable to find anything even reasonably secure.

 

As jobs become increasingly scarce, more and more college graduates are working for free, at internships, which is great for employers but something of a handicap for a young man or woman who has to pay for food or a place to live.

 

"The whole idea of apprenticeships is coming back into vogue, as it was 100 years ago," said John Noble, director of the Office of Career Counseling at Williams College. "Certain industries, such as the media, TV, radio and so on, have always exploited recent graduates, giving them a chance to get into a very competitive field in exchange for making them work for no — or low — pay. But now this is spreading to many other industries."

 

Lonnie Dunlap, who heads the career services program at Northwestern University and has been advising young people on careers since the mid-70s, said today's graduates are experiencing the worst employment market she's ever seen.

 

"There's a sense of huge emotional anxiety among our students," she said. The young people are not only having trouble finding work themselves; many feel a sense of obligation to parents who are struggling with job losses and home foreclosures.

"In the past two years," said Ms. Dunlap, "we have seen a huge uptick in the number of recent alums coming back for services because they still haven't found work, as well as midcareer alums who have been laid off and need our help."

Like Mr. Noble, she mentioned the growing use of interns versus paid employees and said she can see the value of such unpaid work for some recent graduates, "though, of course, not everyone can afford to do that."

 

Despite the expansion of the gross domestic product in the quarter that ended in September, there is no sign of the kind of recovery in employment that would be needed to bring the American economy and the economic condition of American families back to robust health. It would be nice if some of the politicians and economists so obsessed with the G.D.P. would take a moment to look out the window at what is happening with real people in the real world.

 

They might see Laura Ram, who graduated from Baruch College in New York in May 2007. She was laid off from a full-time job almost exactly a year ago and hasn't worked since. She's been diligent about submitting applications and showing up at job fairs and so on, but nothing has come close to panning out.

 

"I haven't gone on a single interview," she said, "which manages to shock just about my entire family."

 

These recent graduates have done everything society told them to do. They've worked hard, kept their noses clean and gotten a good education (in many cases from the nation's best schools). They are ready and anxious to work. If we're having trouble finding employment for even these kids, then we're doing something profoundly wrong.

 

Gail Collins and Charles M. Blow are off today.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE CARNIVORE'S DILEMMA

BY NICOLETTE HAHN NIMAN

 

Bolinas, Calif.

 

IS eating a hamburger the global warming equivalent of driving a Hummer? This week an article in The Times of London carried aheadline that blared: "Give Up Meat to Save the Planet." Former Vice President Al Gore, who has made climate change his signature issue, has even been assailed for omnivorous eating by animal rights activists.

 

It's true that food production is an important contributor to climate change. And the claim that meat (especially beef) is closely linked to global warming has received some credible backing, including by the United Nations and University of Chicago. Both institutions have issued reports that have been widely summarized as condemning meat-eating.

 

But that's an overly simplistic conclusion to draw from the research. To a rancher like me, who raises cattle, goats and turkeys the traditional way (on grass), the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat — that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in giant lagoons and cutting down forests to grow crops to feed them — cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian.

 

So what is the real story of meat's connection to global warming? Answering the question requires examining the individual greenhouse gases involved: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides.

 

Carbon dioxide makes up the majority of agriculture-related greenhouse emissions. In American farming, most carbon dioxide emissions come from fuel burned to operate vehicles and equipment. World agricultural carbon emissions, on the other hand, result primarily from the clearing of woods for crop growing and livestock grazing. During the 1990s, tropical deforestation in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Sudan and other developing countries caused 15 percent to 35 percent of annual global fossil fuel emissions.

 

Much Brazilian deforestation is connected to soybean cultivation. As much as 70 percent of areas newly cleared for agriculture in Mato Grosso State in Brazil is being used to grow soybeans. Over half of Brazil's soy harvest is controlled by a handful of international agribusiness companies, which ship it all over the world for animal feed and food products, causing emissions in the process.

 

Meat and dairy eaters need not be part of this. Many smaller, traditional farms and ranches in the United States have scant connection to carbon dioxide emissions because they keep their animals outdoors on pasture and make little use of machinery. Moreover, those farmers generally use less soy than industrial operations do, and those who do often grow their own, so there are no emissions from long-distance transport and zero chance their farms contributed to deforestation in the developing world.

 

In contrast to traditional farms, industrial livestock and poultry facilities keep animals in buildings with mechanized systems for feeding, lighting, sewage flushing, ventilation, heating and cooling, all of which generate emissions. These factory farms are also soy guzzlers and acquire much of their feed overseas. You can reduce your contribution to carbon dioxide emissions by avoiding industrially produced meat and dairy products.

 

Unfortunately for vegetarians who rely on it for protein, avoiding soy from deforested croplands may be more difficult: as the Organic Consumers Association notes, Brazilian soy is common (and unlabeled) in tofu and soymilk sold in American supermarkets.

 

Methane is agriculture's second-largest greenhouse gas. Wetland rice fields alone account for as much 29 percent of the world's human-generated methane. In animal farming, much of the methane comes from lagoons of liquefied manure at industrial facilities, which are as nauseating as they sound.

 

This isn't a problem at traditional farms. "Before the 1970s, methane emissions from manure were minimal because the majority of livestock farms in the U.S. were small operations where animals deposited manure in pastures and corrals," the Environmental Protection Agency says. The E.P.A. found that with the rapid rise of factory farms, liquefied manure systems became the norm and methane emissions skyrocketed. You can reduce your methane emissions by seeking out meat from animals raised outdoors on traditional farms.

 

CRITICS of meat-eating often point out that cattle are prime culprits in methane production. Fortunately, the cause of these methane emissions is understood, and their production can be reduced.

 

Much of the problem arises when livestock eat poor quality forages, throwing their digestive systems out of balance. Livestock nutrition experts have demonstrated that by making minor improvements in animal diets (like providing nutrient-laden salt licks) they can cut enteric methane by half. Other practices, like adding certain proteins to ruminant diets, can reduce methane production per unit of milk or meat by a factor of six, according to research at Australia's University of New England. Enteric methane emissions can also be substantially reduced when cattle are regularly rotated onto fresh pastures, researchers at University of Louisiana have confirmed.

 

Finally, livestock farming plays a role in nitrous oxide emissions, which make up around 5 percent of this country's total greenhouse gases. More than three-quarters of farming's nitrous oxide emissions result from manmade fertilizers. Thus, you can reduce nitrous oxide emissions by buying meat and dairy products from animals that were not fed fertilized crops — in other words, from animals raised on grass or raised organically.

 

In contrast to factory farming, well-managed, non-industrialized animal farming minimizes greenhouse gases and can even benefit the environment. For example, properly timed cattle grazing can increase vegetation by as much as 45 percent, North Dakota State University researchers have found. And grazing by large herbivores (including cattle) is essential for well-functioning prairie ecosystems, research at Kansas State University has determined.

 

Additionally, several recent studies show that pasture and grassland areas used for livestock reduce global warming by acting as carbon sinks. Converting croplands to pasture, which reduces erosion, effectively sequesters significant amounts of carbon. One analysispublished in the journal Global Change Biology showed a 19 percent increase in soil carbon after land changed from cropland to pasture. What's more, animal grazing reduces the need for the fertilizers and fuel used by farm machinery in crop cultivation, things that aggravate climate change.

 

Livestock grazing has other noteworthy environmental benefits as well. Compared to cropland, perennial pastures used for grazing can decrease soil erosion by 80 percent and markedly improve water quality, Minnesota's Land Stewardship Project research has found. Even the United Nations report acknowledges, "There is growing evidence that both cattle ranching and pastoralism can have positive impacts on biodiversity."

 

As the contrast between the environmental impact of traditional farming and industrial farming shows, efforts to minimize greenhouse gases need to be much more sophisticated than just making blanket condemnations of certain foods. Farming methods vary tremendously, leading to widely variable global warming contributions for every food we eat. Recent research in Sweden shows that, depending on how and where a food is produced, its carbon dioxide emissions vary by a factor of 10.

 

And it should also be noted that farmers bear only a portion of the blame for greenhouse gas emissions in the food system. Only about one-fifth of the food system's energy use is farm-related, according to University of Wisconsin research. And the Soil Association in Britain estimates that only half of food's total greenhouse impact has any connection to farms. The rest comes from processing, transportation, storage, retailing and food preparation. The seemingly innocent potato chip, for instance, turns out to be a dreadfully climate-hostile food. Foods that are minimally processed, in season and locally grown, like those available at farmers' markets and backyard gardens, are generally the most climate-friendly.

 

Rampant waste at the processing, retail and household stages compounds the problem. About half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away, according to University of Arizona research. Thus, a consumer could measurably reduce personal global warming impact simply by more judicious grocery purchasing and use.

 

None of us, whether we are vegan or omnivore, can entirely avoid foods that play a role in global warming. Singling out meat is misleading and unhelpful, especially since few people are likely to entirely abandon animal-based foods. Mr. Gore, for one, apparently has no intention of going vegan. The 90 percent of Americans who eat meat and dairy are likely to respond the same way.

 

Still, there are numerous reasonable ways to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through our food choices. Because it takes more resources to produce meat and dairy than, say, fresh locally grown carrots, it's sensible to cut back on consumption of animal-based foods. More important, all eaters can lower their global warming contribution by following these simple rules: avoid processed foods and those from industrialized farms; reduce food waste; and buy local and in season.

 

Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer and livestock rancher, is the author of "Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

RUNNING WITHOUT A NARRATIVE

BY CAMERON STRACHER

 

IT'S been 27 years since an American man or woman has won the New York City marathon, and the streak is unlikely to be broken this Sunday. Indeed, since Alberto Salazar's victories in 1981 and 1982, only one American-born man, Ryan Hall, has managed to run faster than Salazar's 1981 finish of 2:08:13. While Salazar's time was a world record when he ran it, Hall's time (set in 2008 on a faster course at London, where he finished fifth) places him 36th on the list of top marathoners.

 

Some have blamed performance-enhancing drugs for the loss of American dominance on the roads; others have criticized United States training methods; still others see a shifting of interest to other sports, like lacrosse and soccer. But the real reason for the decline is a failure of narrative.

 

From the mid-'70s to the early '80s the United States was blessed with three great runners: Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar. Each held the No. 1 ranking at the marathon distance during that period. Their duels were legendary not only for their frequency and intensity, but also for the ink spilled about them.

 

The novelist Erich Segal provided television commentary for the Olympic marathons in 1972 and 1976, while the magazines Runner's World, Running Times and The Runner thrived during these years, publishing great writing about running by people like Hal Higdon, Joe Henderson, Kenny Moore, Amby Burfoot, George Hirsch and John Parker, all of them elite runners themselves. They detailed Rodgers's and Shorter's battles on the roads in Lynchburg, Va., Atlanta and New York, and Rodgers's and Salazar's duel in the 7.1.-mile Falmouth Road Race in 1978, when Salazar collapsed in the heat and was administered last rites in the medical tent. In no small part, their writings inspired champions like Joan Benoit Samuelson (marathon), Craig Virgin (10,000 meters) and Steve Scott (mile).

 

As the running boom matured, however, the story line shifted from the race itself to the race as "event." In part, this reflected the changing demographic of the sport. But it also reflected a fear on the part of the storytellers that without the human-interest angle their audience would not "get it." (It's the same reason that every four years, in the Olympics, network executives tell us more about a Greco-Roman wrestler's triumph over cancer than about his triumph over his opponent. It's why the tale of, say, a spurned speed skater trumps the drama of athletic endurance.) Sports can be complex and unfathomable, and simple human stories are so much more accessible. They are also easier for the storytellers, who often have no particular expertise in the sport itself. The result, however, was that the story lost its grip on the next group of athletes who could have continued American marathon dominance into the '80s and '90s.

 

Today, pick up an article about the New York City marathon and you're as likely to read about a blind dog running with his septuagenarian master as you are a serious analysis of the race favorites. Even Runner's World, which actually used to write about races, is now full of articles about how to tighten your abs and sculpt your behind. Imagine if instead of writing about the Yankees-Phillies World Series, sportswriters focused their attention on the Yankee fan who organized a Wiffle ball game in his backyard. Yet that is essentially what happened to writing about running: it lost its narrative.

 

The marathon may be an event, but at its heart it is a race — a competition among highly trained athletes. A man who has never seen a baseball game couldn't possibly appreciate the beauty of the hit and run. But give him an understanding of the difficulty of connecting with a ball traveling at 95 miles per hour while another player is in motion as the ball is pitched, throw in all the nuances of the pitch count, the double play and the stolen base, and he might actually want to get out there and take a few swings. Add a long-simmering rivalry, a curse, bad blood and betrayals, and you've got a national pastime that draws the most talented athletes to its fields.

 

Human-interest stories may tug our heartstrings, but only the drama of the race will produce the next generation of champion runners. Until then, it's blind dogs and septuagenarians in a mad dash to the finish.

 

Cameron Stracher, the publisher of the New York Law School Law Review, is writing a book about the running boom and the 1970s.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CLINTON'S CALL

 

Hillary Clinton's three-day visit to Pakistan, her first as US secretary of state, marks a fairly distinct break with the past. Unlike her tough-talking and deliberately abrasive predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, Ms Clinton went out of her way to be charming, open and to talk to a wide range of people. Her experiences in the US Senate also meant she brought in a mature handling of queries and a better understanding of how complex the regional situation is. The interaction with students at the Government College University in Lahore should have been especially instructive for the person who will be playing a key role in devising foreign policy in Washington. The students who lined up to question her were not hostile. But they made it clear they shared with the majority of citizens a lack of trust for the US and scepticism about intentions. To her credit Ms Clinton accepted there were good grounds for this lack of faith. Her assurance that the Obama administration represented real change is one that will need though to be proven through deeds and not just words. The sometimes startled response from the secretary of state to the far tougher questions thrown at her by a TV panel made up of top anchor people suggests the government functionaries she met in Islamabad may have offered up a typically sanitized picture of prevailing sentiments. It is, therefore, encouraging that despite the immense security concerns Hillary Clinton made it a point to see the 'real' Pakistan, also holding a meeting with Mian Nawaz Sharif in his home city.


But for all her pleasant smiles, Ms Clinton did not shy away from making some things quite clear. She stated that she believed the Al Qaeda leadership was indeed in Pakistan, she stressed an all-out effort on every front was needed against terrorism and she focused on how much Pakistan had to gain, especially in economic terms, by normalizing ties with India. If we are honest, we cannot deny that much of what she said was true. For reasons buried in ideology, many of us, whether we draw influence from the right or the left of the political spectrum, have difficulty in suggesting that an alliance with the US could benefit Pakistan. It would also be naïve to assume that Washington wishes to 'help' Pakistan as an ally. International relations are after all geared around self-interest and self-preservation. There is nothing noble about Washington's focus on Islamabad. But it is possible that at this particular moment in history the interests of both nations coincide. This is something we should use to our advantage.


Overcoming the militant threat and entering in to a less acrimonious relationship with India would benefit most citizens. There are segments that would stand to lose, but ways must be found to prevent them from subverting the interests of the majority. They have done so repeatedly through the decades since 1947. The current US setup seems to have recognized some of this. Ms Clinton also emphasized in this respect a dramatic change in policy from those of the George W Bush-led team. The Bush administration's virtually blind backing for former president Musharraf created a number of the problems we face today. Our political leaders must assess the way we can most effectively counter these. In realistic terms, going beyond rhetoric or wishful thinking, it is inevitable that we will need to work with the US at least for some years to come. We cannot on our own hope to conquer that monster of terrorism that Washington's policies helped create. Nor do we have the economic or moral wherewithal to do this. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated a willingness to better understand concerns in Pakistan and to open wider the doors of communication. There are still plenty of reasons to be wary of US intentions. But for now, the opportunities for a more open relation laid out by the secretary of state need to be seized and utilized to pull our country out of the pit into which it has stumbled as a result of errors made in the past.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

EYE OF THE STORM

 

Television channels broadcasting news and current affairs programmes have remained caught up for some time in the eye of a raging storm. There has been criticism of sensationalism, inaccuracy and voyeurism as images are shown of bleeding bodies and severed heads. But this gives no right whatsoever to the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting to suggest the measures it has come up with to curb freedom. By doing so, the committee has shown that intolerance for the media freedom is just as deep-rooted as was the case under Musharraf. While approving an amended version of the PEMRA Bill, the committee has said a body made up of prominent citizens should devise a code of conduct for the media. The proposals that came forward included bars on the live broadcast of terrorist incidents, checks on talk shows that spread 'chaos' and on programmes that fail to conform to cultural norms.


All this is absurd. It is also unintelligent. Citizens are not fools. This is an attempt to limit their right to information which is just as crude as the blanking out of channels in the past. It will also backfire against the government in just the same way. What our legislators fail to realize is that the media reflects reality. Talk shows do not create confusion. Like a mirror they simply reflect that which exists everywhere. The years of PTV monopoly should indeed have taught us that attempts to keep reality from people do not work and act only to create greater doubt and uncertainty. This we definitely do not need. The charge that some shows are not appropriate in terms of accepted norms is even more inane. Viewers everywhere hold in their hands remote control devices; every TV set can quite easily be switched of and, as for children, it is the duty of parents to monitor what they watch. People must be allowed to make free choices. This is their right as citizens and indeed, at a time when we struggle to combat extremism, society is in desperate need of greater openness and more tolerance. It is right to say that the electronic media needs greater maturity. Sensitivity when covering violence would not go amiss. But only codes drawn up by the media itself can be effective in this respect. Those imposed from the outside will have only a negative impact and create more problems than they can be expected to solve

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

FRIDAY PRAYERS IN AL AQSA

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL


As I approach the gate, I see a group of Israeli soldiers behind a metal barricade. They are intently looking at everyone. Fully armed, they wave the young to one side, where another group of soldiers questions them. The older worshippers are allowed to pass through and the foreigners are stopped. I marvel at their training; in the twinkling of an eye, they are able to scrutinise the faithful now coming from all gates of Al-Aqsa for the Friday prayers. I am stopped, asked the usual questions, some of which border on absurdity: Where are you from? Do you have a passport? Why are you coming here? My age and the Canadian passport help in a swift but stern waving of the hand; I pass through the barricade. But behind them are the young men belonging to the Palestinian Authority's security agency. Their task is to make sure that no non-Muslim enters the Masjid. Their methodology is simple; they ask: "Are you a Muslim?" And then the second command-like statement: "Recite Al-Fatiha."

At this time, there are four of them; these are the same men who had seen me earlier when I came out of the gate after sunrise. As I pass by, greeting them with the greeting of Islam, As-salamu alaykum, a faint smile appears on the face of one of them; the others continue their scrutiny of men, women and children entering the gate. Inside the main gates, the vast compound of the Masjid seems empty although many worshippers are entering through the numerous gates located in the stone walls of the Al-Aqsa Compound at the heart of which stands the magnificent Dome of the Rock, erected between 685 and 691 under the supervision of Yazid ibn Salam from Jerusalem and Raja ibn Haywah from Baysan who undertook the construction by the order of the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, upon the very the rock from where Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace, ascended to Heaven accompanied by the Jibril Alayhis-salam.


Passing by the Dome with a grieving heart, I walk towards Al-Aqsa, the saddest masjid on earth today. Originally built by Umar bin al-Khattab, may Allah be well-pleased with him, the Masjid was rebuilt and expanded by the Ummayad caliph Abd al-Malik and finished by his son Al-Walid in 705 CE. Since then, it has been rebuilt twice after earthquakes destroyed it in 754 and 780. The present building is the one built in 1035. Despite Israeli occupation of the city of Jerusalem, the Masjid remains under the administration of the Palestinian-led Islamic waqf.


The interior of Al-Aqsa, supported by 45 columns, is a simple structure compared to the far more ornate and decorated interiors of the other two holiest masajid: the Haram in Makkah and Madinah. Some of its interior walls are marked by bullets; others are whitewashed and still others have some ornate designs. I am able to go to the front as most of the Masjid is still empty. In about half an hour, the Masjid is filled to the end; the faithful sit in long rows as a caller calls to join the prayers about to begin. Two adhans are called and then the Imam delivers his khutba. There is sadness in his voice as he implores the faithful to worship Allah, heed His commands and have no fear of anyone on earth.


As the prayer ends, several young men form a group. Some call for the liberation of their land, others cry out loud: Allahu Akbar!, still others stand helplessly. Nothing actually happens, but this gesture of recall and remembrance of occupation creates a commotion that helps to keep the Palestinian struggle alive. Within half an hour, the faithful have left the Compound. I sit outside the Masjid for a long time, gazing at the vast blue sky; then I go to the ancient graveyard beside the wall of the Al-Aqsa Compound where two noble Companions of the Prophet--upon him be peace and blessings--are buried: Ubada bin Samit and Shaddad bin Aws, may Allah be well-pleased with them.


A contingent of Israeli soldiers stand at the entrance of the graveyard. They look at me intently, but do not stop me. Passing by the graves of the martyrs, supplicating and remembering death and the dead, I arrive at the small green sign which points to the grave of Ubada bin Samit, may Allah be well-pleased with him. His grave is adjacent to the wall of the Compound and is distinguished from the rest of the graves by the metalwork and a green covering, just as the grave of the other Companion. There is no one else in sight. I stand by his grave for a long time, recalling the events of his life, his relationship with the Noble Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, his sacrifices, his courage, his love of the Prophet.


He was among the first of the six men of Yathrib (or twelve, according to another narration) who entered Islam and took an oath on the hand of the Prophet at Aqaba before the Hijrah. He had memorised the entire Qur'an during the life of the Prophet and was in charge of the first school in Islam in the Masjid of the Prophet. The grave was long, for he was a tall man and graceful man whose inner radiance made him one of the most loved men of Al-Quds, the place he chose as his home after the death of the Prophet and where he himself died in 34 AH.

As I came out of the graveyard, the autumn sun was slowly moving towards its setting place and the mu'adhdhan was calling the faithful for the afternoon prayer. Far below the high Compound of Al-Aqsa and the old cemetery, Jerusalem was stretched out on the slopes and hills of the valley. A city filled with unspeakable human agony, Jerusalem awaits an end to occupation and suffering, but its ancient sanctuary remains filled with remembrance even though the number of faithful who show up for the prayer keeps on dwindling.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:
quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

ANTI-TERROR STRATEGY?

DR MASOODA BANO


The situation in Pakistan is getting worse by the day. The past three weeks have played havoc with the lives of the ordinary people. There is not a day that goes by without another shocking attack. No place is safe anymore. The question is, does the government have any plan to deal with this situation? Rehman Malik last week also started pointing fingers towards India for involvement in some of these attacks. But the question is, how does this random labelling helps? All along this government has been quick to label any attack on the Taliban on militants. Even before any investigate is complete whether it was Benazir's assassination, the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore or the more routine attacks the government instantly puts the blame on the militants. So now when out of the blue Rehman Malik also implicates India, it shows that there is no clear sense of direction being followed by the government. It is indeed very worrying.


To put the blame of all militant acts in the country on the Taliban even before the case is fully investigated is a dangerous strategy, as it means that the government never fully attempts to understand the underlying forces behind this phenomenon. One has argued all along, that military strategy alone cannot deliver in a conflict of this nature, one needs to have a more comprehensive strategy which is capable of identifying the root causes of this sustained militancy. Putting the label of Taliban on this militancy is an easy way out for the government or for anyone who does not want the core issues propelling the phenomenon to be addressed.


What has never been fully discussed by the government is that who are the Taliban? If they are actually Pakistanis and are behind these suicide attacks, then it has be asked and investigated what is making them do what they are doing? It is childish to keep arguing that these people are indoctrinated in madrasas or any other religious institution and then sent to kill themselves and others for the promise of the other world. There is no evidence anywhere to support such claims that countless numbers of people can actually give up their lives out of religious indoctrination of such simplistic kind. What is driving these Pakistanis to resort to such extreme measures has to be understood. Further, the more critical issue is to understand which forces are benefiting from it. The Taliban sitting in tribal belt alone cannot sustain such a resistance financially on their own. Who supplies the weapons? Who supplies for the mobilisation and training of suicide bombers? Who is in control of their strategy? These questions are more important to address then carrying out yet another military operation. Unless a serious effort is made to understand the enemy, no amount of military strategy on its own will deliver. The resurgence of these militant attacks after completion of every phase of a military operation by now proves that a more nuanced strategy is required. After all, the lives of our military men are important. One cannot keep asking them to sacrifice their lives in operations, which are failing to eliminate the problem. There has to be better use of intelligence sources to identify the forces driving this phenomenon.


In this respect, there are high chances that external elements are involved in sustaining this militancy. What would the Taliban gain by killing ordinary Pakistanis endlessly? There are clearly more calculated interests driving this phenomenon. The government needs to identify the external forces that are working in Pakistan right now. There has to be better check at the Pakistani borders especially the one shared with Afghanistan given the increased presence of various regional and international forces in that country. The game being played in Pakistan right now is a complex and a deadly one. The sooner the government shakes itself out of the ease of blaming it all on religious indoctrination the better for the country. Such calculated madness has to have powerful forces behind it where either money or sense of revenge is being used to mobilise locals for a resistance which is definitely not entirely driven by domestic factors.

The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CRY, BELOVED PAKISTAN

ROEDAD KHAN


With General Musharraf's exit, we thought we had reached the summit. Alas! The ascent of one ridge simply revealed the next daunting challenge. Before he left the stage in disgrace, Musharraf turned over the car keys to those who had robbed and plundered this country. Mr Jinnah could not have foreseen the tragic decline of Pakistan, when he passed his flaming torch into the hands of his successors. Sixty-two years after Jinnah gave us a great country, little men mired in corruption have captured political power and destroyed his legacy.


Our rulers, both elected and un-elected, have done to Pakistan what the successors of Lenin did to Soviet Union. "Lenin founded our state", Stalin said, after a stormy session with Marshal Zhukov. The German army was at the gate of Moscow. "And we have …it up. Lenin left us a great heritage and we, his successors, have shitted it all up". Isn't this what we have done to Jinnah's Pakistan?


At a time when the country is at war, Mr Zardari spends almost his entire existence in the confines of a bunker. Mortally afraid of his own people and the sword of NRO hanging over his head, he is more concerned about protecting himself and his power, rather than protecting the country or the people of Pakistan. All presidents fall from their honeymoon highs, but no elected president in history has fallen this far this fast.


This country is in deep, deep trouble. Tremendous responsibility rests on the shoulders of our military leadership. Senior military officers involved in decision-making are smart people, but they too live in a very rarefied environment, hardly ever meet common citizens and, as the American say, do not have the daily pulse of the people in their face. Is it any wonder that with a civil war raging and suicide bombers blowing up themselves and causing havoc all over the country, decision-making is flawed, there is no one to provide leadership, no one to inspire the people and no one to govern 170 million people? Today, you can't fail to see the rising specter of a fragile Pakistan helplessly stumbling into catastrophe.


The country is trembling with anxiety. Mr Jinnah's unworthy successors have pushed us to despair. They have infused our life with war, terror and death. As I look back at our irrecoverable past and contemplate the tragedy of a lost future with a deep sense of loss, I am smitten by a sacred rage. It is hard to be happy these days. Like dinosaurs, disaster and frustration roam the country's political landscape. Talk today is of a vanished dignity, of a nation diminished in ways not previously imaginable. It is almost as if no one wants to acknowledge a sad end to what once seemed like a beautiful dream. It speaks volumes for the failure of our rulers who squandered Jinnah's legacy and turned his dream into a nightmare.


In Pakistan, we still live in those aristocratic Victorian days when, as Disraeli said, "the world was for the few, and the very few." The rich are getting richer and the poorer are getting poorer. Two realms, civil and military, exist side by side, in a schizophrenic rift that shows no sign of re healing. Today we have an elected parliament, a democratic government, multiple political parties, a reasonably free press and all the other trappings of democracy. But all these are mere symbols which hide the reality of the power situation and play no role in determining policy decisions. How meaningful is our democratic order when real decisions are made elsewhere?

The country is at war with itself. The battle in Waziristan is a war of choice, not of necessity. Wars of necessity must meet two tests: national interest and a lack of viable alternative to the use of force to protect those interests. World War II was a war of necessity. The Iraq War, on the other hand, is a war of choice. If the war in Waziristan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort – but it's not.

Isn't it tragic that for the first time in the history of Pakistan, air power is being used on the orders of an elected government against our own people in Waziristan? Air power was first used by the British against Mehsud tribesmen in 1925. Pink's war, as it was called, involved air-to-ground bombardment and strafing carried out by the Royal Air Force, under Wing Commander, Richard Charles Montagu Pink. Bristol Fighters and de Havilland DH9s from numbers 5, 27 and 60 squadrons were deployed to the airstrips at Miranshah and Tank.

Air power was last used by the British against the Mehsud and Wazir tribesmen in the 40s. Jinnah condemned it on the floor of the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi and described it as inhuman and barbaric. There was also uproar in the House of Commons and questions were asked. A heated debate followed. Today, there is no protest, no public outrage. A deathly silence prevails.


Air power is the wrong instrument for achieving imprecise objectives based on unrealistic goals. It destroys human habitations, inflicts unacceptable collateral damage and causes easily avoidable human misery. During the Vietnam War, there was a phrase that came to symbolise the entire misbegotten adventure: "it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it." It was said at first with sincerity, then repeated with irony, and finally with despair. Sadly, a similar suicidal drama is being enacted in democratic Pakistan against the Mehsud tribesmen. An elected government must never use its army or air force against its own people. It invariably leads to an army takeover.


In these harsh and difficult political times, the question of leadership is at the centre of our national concerns. The times cry out for leadership of high order. At the heart of the leadership is the leader's character. Pakistan is a nation of teahouse politicians -- midgets with no commitment to principles and no values. Can anyone of our leaders face the court like Nelson Mandela and say, "whatever sentence your Worship sees fit to impose upon me, may it rest assured that when my sentence has been completed, I will still be moved, as men are always moved, by their consciences. And when I come out from serving my sentence, I will take up again, as best I can, the struggle for the rights of my people." Can anyone of our leaders face a judge and declare that he always cherished the ideal of an independent, democratic, corruption–free Pakistan? Mandela didn't flinch. He did not waver and run away. He made no deal. He stood his ground and won. That is the stuff that leaders are made of. Pakistan, I maintain, is a case of failed leadership, not a case of failed state.


"There is a time to laugh," the Bible tells us, "and a time to weep." This is a time to weep for the country we love. Pakistan is descending into chaos and caught between a hard place and many rocks. The political arena seems more like a forum of mass entertainment than a place of serious deliberation. The parliament, the chief instrument of democracy, is cowed, timid, a virtual paralytic, over-paid and under-employed, totally insensitive to the sufferings of the people it claims to represent.


Today all the symptoms which one had ever met within history, previous to great changes and revolutions, exist in Pakistan. The country appears to be adrift. Pakistan is sliding into anarchy. Nobody knows where it was headed without popular leadership to guide or direct it. The social contract between the rulers and ruled has collapsed. Fundamental issues of far-reaching significance are churning beneath the placid surface of life. The Zardari government is a vacuum presiding over chaos. Politics no less than nature abhors a vacuum. If the politicians don't get their act together quickly, I shudder to think what might rush into this void.

Tailpiece: Two mountains have met, and not even a ridiculous mouse has emerged!


The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk, www.roedadkhan.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

MERGING MINISTRIES?

DR SANIA NISHTAR


Aid conditionality appears to be a subject of recent controversy -- not all conditionalities are controversial though. Some -- as pointed out by the writer on these pages on October 22 -- particularly those related to governance reform may be useful for a country, if the structural changes stipulated are carefully implemented. However, in doing so the country must have the capacity to analyse how the generic approaches embodied within aid instruments can be germane to strengthening governance.


In its recent set of conditionalities, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has stipulated that the government abolish 13 ministries with a view to reducing unnecessary establishment expenditures. The suggested approach can be important within the context of the current fiscal space constraints in view of the country's prevailing macroeconomic situation and the need to rationalise costs, integrate programmes, and reduce duplication. In addition, it is also additionally relevant to the on-going negotiations on the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and the deliberations currently underway, with regard to constitutional amendments and the fate of the concurrent list. In relation to the NFC award, provincial concerns about the federal government taking a large pie of the federal divisible pool, and calls on their part to adopt measures to reduce the cost of running the civil bureaucracy, is one reason why merger of ministries should be considered as an option. Ideally, this should be part of a larger drive towards greater provincial autonomy and the abolition of the concurrent list -- an outcome, which the parliamentary committee on constitutional reform should be headed towards.


But even if that were to happen, the merger of ministries and duplicating structures -- theoretically, an evidence-based approach -- would be an extremely difficult measure to implement, because of turf issues and jurisdictional, structural and other human resource-related considerations. Some of these issues may be unique to each one of the 13 ministries, where the merger is proposed. The merger of the ministry of population welfare with the ministry of health would, in fact, present the highest level of complexity for a number of reasons, which are briefly alluded to here to highlight the magnitude of the challenges.


Prima facie, it appears logical to merge the federal and provincial structures of the health and population sectors. Both have ministries at the federal level and provincial departments; both have similar administrative units and service outlets in the field and mobile service units. However, despite this similarity, the functioning of both the sectors is quite different. They have different sources of funding and different channels of fund flows. The population sector is financed entirely through federal funds from the ministry of population welfare down to its service outlets in the districts. The flow of funds takes place through special channels different from the normal channels of the provinces and districts. Health, on the other hand, is funded by federal funds at the federal level, by provincial funds at the provincial level and by allocated provincial funds at the district level; local funds are also allocated at the district level. Unlike population, resource allocations in health at the provincial and district levels are independent of directives from the ministry of health. The funding mechanisms for health and population, therefore, follow separate channels with different arrangements. Hierarchical relationships within each sector are also different -- population is federally funded, not devolved and is only partially de-federalised, whereas health is both federally and provincially funded and stands decentralised. As a result, there is hierarchical continuity in population -- from the ministry of population welfare to population welfare departments to districts in planning, programme formulation and implementation and monitoring. In the health sector, there is no such continuity. The departments of health make their own programmes without directions from the ministry of health and similarly, the district governments are free to determine their own priorities without any reference to provincial priorities even if they exist. Both these complicated stand-alone arrangements can be an impediment to any efforts aimed at institutional mergers.

A historical review of efforts aimed at merger and functional integration also indicate reluctance on part of both population as well as health. A merger poses a threat to the careers of staff in the ministry of population welfare, likely to resist if status quo is challenged. On the other hand, reluctance on part of the provincial health departments is also evident. Despite several high-level directives over the last three decades, significant progress has not been achieved. These directives include the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council's (ECNEC) decision of 1985, the federal cabinet decision (1991), the Chief Executive Review Committee's recommendations (2001) and the 2006 decision by the National Commission for Population Welfare, presided over by the then prime minister. In addition to the lack of will at the administrative level, there also appears that limited political will to go ahead with mergers, as this would eliminate an additional slot for a minister --something political governments vie to create in order to oblige functionaries. Constitutional stipulations pose additional difficulties. Health is a provincial subject whereas population is in the concurrent list. As a result of all these considerations, mergers can be fraught with many impediments.

Lessons from other developing countries can be instructive in assessing the impact of institutional impediments on any attempt that aims to merge institutional structures. The example of Bangladesh is particularly relevant for Pakistan, given the institutional similarities. Bangladesh experienced difficulties in merging its health and population departments even though it had more favourable conditions compared to Pakistan -- unitary form of government and therefore no provincial level, continuous and identical hierarchical structures, same funding sources and similar channels of fund flows and no difference between the two hierarchies with respect to the degree of decentralisation. This experience can provide useful insights into the dynamics of institutional integration vis-à-vis the countervailing forces and their determinants.


Despite these challenges, it must be recognised that a merger is not just a valid approach from a fiscal and efficiency standpoint; it is also a technical imperative. Health and population have shared agendas, which calls for integrating family planning with healthcare. As both the sectors need to be reformed in their own right given their abysmal operational performance, it makes sense to merge both the institutional hierarchies in any new arrangement. A recent policy analysis on the subject published in a special supplement of the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association has called for reconstituting service delivery arrangements, where family planning and reproductive health can be grouped together in the package of essential health services. The latter needs to be benchmarked as a yardstick for public delivery and as the basis of contractual relationships in new management restructuring arrangements.


The analysis notes that although mergers are not the only solution to the multi-faceted issues faced by the health and population sectors -- both being influenced by the social and economic determinants and overall performance of state service delivery systems -- it is nevertheless necessary if not a sufficient step. Examples of successful institutional mergers in the corporate sector reaffirm the notion that if the right incentives can be created for human resource, institutional mergers can actually be achieved.


The above-mentioned case demonstrates the complexity involved in institutional mergers. These complexities also hold true for any structural decision. The ultimate success of structural changes rests on the capacity of a country to analyse the imperatives, the envisaged impact and possible fall-out of decisions and its commitment to deploy knowledge-based solutions. We must enhance our capacity in these areas.


The writer is the founding-president of Heartfile. Email: sania@heartfile.org

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DOGAR

BABAR SATTAR


Pakistan continues to struggle with some ugly realities most recently exemplified by Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar. First, the audacity of Dogar to defend the molestation of the Constitution by its chosen guardians highlights not just the utter shamelessness of certain pigheaded individuals, but a general sense of disbelief over attempts to hold members of the power elite accountable for their acts and omissions. Second, despite the success of the rule-of-law movement that has steered Pakistan towards constitutionalism, the hangover of the doctrines of necessity and expediency lurks and will continue to pose a threat to the implementation of the Constitution in letter and spirit. And, third, the complexes that Pakistan is unfit for democracy, the "illiterate masses" need to be patronised and power flows from the barrel of the gun and not constitutional authority are more deeply ingrained than we sometime care to admit and could threaten continuity of the political process as well our march towards constitutionalism.


In terms of the content of Dogar's press conference there are three issues that need to be addressed: the import of constitutional principles; the disconnect between constitutional principles and constitutional history; and role of society in upholding and defending the Constitution. In theory there is no confusion over the constitutional scheme of distribution of powers.


Once you recognise that no individual or institution in this country has the inherent right to claim omnipotence and that all authority flows from the Constitution, there is no legitimate space left for praetorians or judges acting as comrades-in-robes justifying khaki usurpation of state authority. It is thus incredible that a judge who vowed to protect and defend the Constitution can sit through a press conference with a straight face and assert that once an army chief imposes emergency, the Constitution automatically stands replaced by the emergency order and the legality of any action thereafter needs to be determined in view of the orders issued by such usurper.

If Dogar's proposition regarding legitimate constitutional authority is accepted, the Constitution at any given time will be whatever the ruling despot says it is. Dogar has argued that acting on such depraved understanding of constitutional law he had the right to substitute rule of law with rule of Musharraf, and his actions should be accepted as a legitimate exercise of authority because there are other examples of similar exercise of judicial authority in the past as well. This is where Dogar confuses constitutional law with constitutional history. While there is no disagreement over the theory and foundational principles of constitutional law, our constitutional history has been chequered due to the rotten judicial practice of creating this gulf between law and its faithful implementation in the name of necessity. All sensible legal and constitutional commentaries on judicial decisions such as Dosso, Nusrat Bhutto, Zafar Ali Shah and Iqbal Tikka have consistently criticised them as products of expediency, and not principle.


The Supreme Court has now accepted responsibility for its compromised past as an institution and its murky rulings while overruling them in the PCO Judges Case. But Dogar is proposing that we must continue to justify sin because we have succumbed to indiscretions before, and that as a nation we are fated to suffer a tortured present and future merely because we have a hideous past. Because the argument lacks ingenuity and merit, Dogar has chosen to opt for a slander campaign to dispute the integrity of judges of the reconstituted judiciary presently enforcing the undisputed principles of the Constitution. His argument is twofold: one, if judges could get away with judicial impropriety and subversion of the Constitution in the past, why should the cleansing process start with him and his cronies; and two, when the chief justice and other serving judges of the Supreme Court themselves swore by a PCO in 2000, what moral authority do they have to discipline Dogar for a repeat of the same sin in 2007?


The weak legal argument in support of such accountability by the reinstituted judges is that a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court prohibited all judges from swearing an oath under a PCO or emergency on Nov 3, 2007, while there was no such restraining order in 2000. This, however, is disingenuous. The judges in 2000 ought to have known that their oath under the PCO was in conflict with their prior oath to protect and defend the Constitution, as some did who chose to walk into sunset with honour. So should the PCO judges of 2000 – who recognised their past mistake, took a principled stand in 2007 and put at stake their liberty and livelihood for such principle – also be held accountable in the same vein as Dogar and his ilk?


As a matter of law, they cannot be, as the 17th Constitutional Amendment granted immunity to all unconstitutional acts related to Musharraf's first coup. And as a matter of logic, this is the archetypical process argument aimed at preventing reform. The proponents of the status quo will always try either to stigmatise the agents of change to thwart reform or set such impossible due process ideals that can never be realised. An example of the first is Dogar's argument that only he who has never sinned may cast a stone. And the latter is manifested in the proposal that instead of prosecuting Musharraf for treason under Article 6, we ought to start with Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan by emulating Britain's example of exhuming and hanging the skeleton of Oliver Cromwell.


Once we acknowledge that the Constitution and the law offer protection to the judges who abetted Musharraf's coup of 1999, the remaining question is whether, in view of their erstwhile infraction, and some linked moral principle the restored judges should desist from enforcing provisions of the Constitution against the PCO judges who facilitated Musharraf's subversion of the Constitution in 2007? Let us understand that our courts have an obligation to implement and enforce the law, and the Constitution leaves them no discretion in the matter, except in the realm of interpretation. Judges are thus required to administer the type of justice promised by the provisions of the law, and not that preferred under some self-conceived ideal of equity and fairness.


Those serving judges of the Supreme Court who believe that their personal morality doesn't allow them to strictly enforce the law because of their past acts can elect to retire, but have no discretion to let Dogar and others involved in subverting the Constitution on and after Nov 3, 2007, off the hook. The most unnerving aspect of Dogar's press conference was not his attempt to malign and shame Supreme Court judges as a litigation strategy, but the realisation that vested interests will continue to find and cheer on clowns such as Dogar to pre-empt implementation of rule of law in an unadulterated form.


Dogar's press conference is a wakeup call for those proponents of rule of law who thought that with the restoration of independent-minded judges their job was done. We might have swerved away from the edge of the precipice, but we will not be completely out of woods till the concept of constitutionalism and rule of law is deeply entrenched in our collective psyche. As Justice Jawwad Khawaja candidly observed in his ruling in the PCO Judges Case, "judges can exercise constitutional and moral authority, but they cannot thwart unconstitutional forces without the people actively standing up in defence of their Constitution."

Email: sattar@post.harvard.edu

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

CAPITAL SUGGESTIONS

ANJUM NIAZ


The breaking news, according to The New York Times, is that the 'overnight delivery' of "hundreds of millions of dollars in arms, equipment and sophisticated sensors" to Pakistan from America has arrived. In the diplomatic bag are ten Mi-17 troop transport helicopters; critical spare parts for Cobra helicopter gunships; night vision goggles; body armour and eavesdropping equipment. But listen to this: "It is unclear whether Pakistani authorities are using any of the sophisticated surveillance equipment to combat the urban terrorism," wonders The New York Times. It quotes an unnamed American military officer claiming that Islamabad is not talking openly about American assistance in fighting terrorism: "The Pakistanis insist on 'no American face' on their war. Period." Gen Athar Abbas, the military spokesman, insists that the war is a "purely Pakistani enterprise, unaided by the United States or anyone else.


Three days ago the well-known Foreign Policy magazine uncharitably called Maj-Gen Athar the 'The Baghdad Bob.' According to the magazine Athar was like Saddam Hussein's information minister nicknamed 'Bob' who told Iraqis in 2003 that a US attack would never happen while American tanks were rolling in to Baghdad.Madame Hillary Clinton has come and gone. She was on a charm offensive. But the bombing in Peshawar, leaving hundreds of kids motherless and fatherless, calls for discussion of another kind: a home-grown urgent remedy to stop suicide attacks.


Janet Napolitano, 52, is a tough cookie. The big and tall lady with salt and pepper cropped hair keeps Americans safe from terrorists. She is Rehman Malik's counterpart in Washington. As chief of America's Homeland Security, the lady is doing a swell job according to one intelligence buff with whom I spoke. So does he have any suggestions for Mr Rehman Malik? I ask. Sure, he says. "For starters discontinue cell phone service of every subscriber except for the security personnel. Another suggestion he forwards is "cordoning off" the frontier province from the rest of the country. "I don't know the geography of your country too well but why should it not be possible to seal off the entry points with the exception of a few?" he asks me. I show him the NWFP map. "Listen, you guys can put up check-posts manned by highly trained people who should stop all males aged 18-45 entering or exiting the check-posts. They should be asked to produce their photo IDs and anyone without it should be taken into custody."


Capital suggestions. And here's one for the road: let's have Napolitano come to Pakistan and talk with her counterpart Rehman Malik on fighting terrorism. The Homeland Security secretary visits Europe and the Middle East next week. The lady can surely hop across to Islamabad from Dubai. She can give invaluable advice plus tell us how to use the $13 million worth of electronic eavesdropping equipment to intercept militants' cell phone calls; 200 night vision goggles; 100 day/night scopes; more than 600 radios; and 9,475 sets of body armour that the US has already given us. The Pakistan army has received "$500 million arms, equipment and training assistance to help train and equip the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency operations," claims the Times.


Wow! The Americans have diligently passed this inventory to the New York Times to ensure that every goggle, radio and scope is accounted for by GHQ. Despite all these gadgets, why has Pakistan failed to prevent suicide bombings? A Pakistani in New York suggests that all major highways and roads must be monitored with a body check. "Our police are great at harassing couples by asking for their nikah namas, why don't they show the same level of efficiency and demand photo IDs from everyone?"

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NAVAL CHIEF DRAWS ATTENTION TO GWADAR PORT

 

CHIEF of Naval Staff Admiral Noman Bashir has emphasized the need for taking urgent steps for the fast development of Gwadar port to be recognised as internationally operational port. Talking to media in Karachi on Thursday, he regretted that the port could not become fully operational due to lack of communication infrastructure and weak road network.


Gwadar has great strategic importance because of its huge potential for promoting the country's defence, security and economic interests. It was because of this that the need for a Deep Seaport was being felt since long but the project suffered due to inaction by the successive governments and its politicization. The credit goes to the previous Government for translating the dream into reality with the technical and financial assistance of our trusted friend China. The foundation-stone of the Port was laid in 2002 and it was completed in 2005 but it became operational only in March 2008 when the first cargo vessel arrived there. It was a great news for people of Pakistan but since then things seem to be standstill and this project of vital significance is facing serious hurdles. The management of the port was handed over to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) but the company has miserably failed to take any meaningful step to make it fully operational. Instead of development the facilities that are prerequisite for the functioning of the port, the company has locked horns with the Pakistan Navy over acquisition of a great chunk of land on the plea that it needs to develop offices, residential facilities, port back-up area in the proposed free zone and provide the traders, industrialists, businessmen, shipping companies, stevedoring firms, transporters with all possible facilities for doing business at Gwadar. The issue needs to be resolved at the earliest. Similarly, the planners and policy-makers paid no attention towards development of the rail and road networks without which goods cannot be transported to other parts of the country or to Afghanistan, the Central Asian States and other regional countries. How can we turn the port into a hub of regional economic activity or energy corridor without developing the necessary infrastructure? Though 700 km long Makran Coastal Highway links Gwadar with Pasni, Ormara and Karachi, other regional linkages such as Gwadar-Ratodero motorway are yet to be completed. The motorway would link Gwadar with Indus Highway through districts of Turbat, Awaran and Khuzdar. Similarly, no progress has been made on the proposed rail link from Gwadar to Quetta and Zahidan. It is because of this that only wheat and fertilizer vessels were diverted towards Gwadar and in the absence of fast communication links the Government had to incur subsidy worth billions of rupees on transportation of goods from Gwadar to Karachi and upcountry. This is not the way the Ministries and the Governments work and huge projects made operational by cosmetic measures. We have a dynamic Minister for Ports and Shipping in Babar Khan Ghauri and hopefully he would undertake strenuous efforts and mobilise necessary resources to make the port fully functional at the earliest.

 

 

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

WORDS OF WISDOM OF HILLARY CLINTON

 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Pakistan, as repeatedly pronounced by her, was aimed at forging the partnership and trying to bridge the differences and remove misunderstanding on some of the crucial issues. While she interacted intensely with a cross-section of the society and eloquently presented American point of view on different issues, the visit remains unproductive as far as sensitivities of Pakistani people over Kerry-Lugar Bill are concerned. She also made highly unguarded remarks that it is hard to believe that no one in Pakistani Government knew where Al-Qaeda leadership was hiding.

 

As the Kerry-Lugar Bill controversy was the prime concern of the people of Pakistan, one can safely say that the US Secretary of State's visit, instead of putting balm, added salt to the injuries as she frequently remarked that Pakistan can refuse the aid if conditions are unacceptable. We wish our leaders had the courage to tell her that the aid was not alms but a peanut compensation for the losses being incurred by Pakistan in the US-imposed war on terror — keep your aid to you and fight the terror yourself. Similarly, how Pakistan can have knowledge of whereabouts of Al-Qaeda leadership when the US could not locate them for the last eight years despite claims that its spy satellite can spot even an ant on the earth. She should have been told to be realistic and avoid blaming those who have done more than the United States in reducing threats to regional and global peace. Mrs. Clinton, however, made some of the pertinent observations that merit attention of our policy-makers. She rightly pointed out that there are taxes on everything and everyone in the United States but this is not true of Pakistan. Similarly, she also pointed out that Pakistan's population is going to double in few years and wondered how the country intends to address the problem. It is a fact that every successive Government in Pakistan made tall claims about across the board taxation but ended upon in taxing the already burdened sections of the society. Each and every poor is made to pay substantial indirect taxes but the elite and privileged classes do not pay the direct taxes. There are consistent reports that the wealthy and influential people resort to tax evasion of unimaginable scale with active connivance of petty tax officials. Even Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin recently claimed that the country would not need aid under Kerry-Lugar Bill if we pay our due taxes but the question arises why he is not taking steps in this regard. Again, everyone knows that the population is rapidly increasing and a time would come when the country would find it extremely difficult to feed and clothe its citizens. There is a dire need to evolve a multidimensional approach to address these two burning issues.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

SINGH'S DOUBLE STANDARD IN IHK

 

INDIAN leaders are in the habit of issuing periodic statements aimed at giving false impression of their love for peace and reconciliation. In line with this policy, Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has offered to open a new chapter in peace process in Occupied Kashmir by offering conditional talks to Kashmiri freedom fighters.

Dr Singh claimed that his Government was willing to talk to all groups seeking end of Indian rule from the state provided they, what he called, shun violence. Though the offer is not substantial and was apparently aimed at cultivating the international public opinion yet some circles believe that it also shows that Indians were feeling the heat in Occupied Kashmir. Indian has so far used every conceivable tactic to crush the ongoing freedom movement — political and economic suppression and repression, atrocities, tortures, physical elimination, gang rapes and attempts to change the demography — but it is now dawning upon them that Kashmiris would not rest till the achievement of their birth right of self-determination. But his statement doesn't necessarily mean that the Indian Government would agree to discuss the substantive issue ie vacation of its illegal occupation and granting right of self-determination to Kashmiri people. India has used ploys of talks in the past to defuse the situation to its advantage and there is every reason to believe that the latest offer is continuation of that policy.

 

 

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

DEMOCRACY IS THE BEST REVENGE!

NOSHEEN SAEED


In a rare display of national solidarity, the whole nation including the media, civil society, the elite, youth, opposition leaders, members of the National Assembly and Senate and the Army's top commanders in unison, with one voice, not only expressed their serious concerns against the contentious clauses inserted in the Kerry-Lugar "Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009" but asked the government to build a national response on the controversial bill, through a debate in the parliament. The opposition demanded that the government should present the conditions of the new aid package to the National Assembly and accept it only after parliamentary approval. Backed by parliamentary support, the government could have told the US Congress and the Obama Administration that Pakistan's Parliament was not prepared to accept the meddling and destabilizing series of harsh statements and demands and that it needs to revise the Kerry-Lugar Aid Bill.


It wasn't an unjust demand nor was it opposition hullabaloo to secure points; it was about having genuine reservations on the intrusive language of the bill that puts Pakistan in the dock, presuming the Pakistani State and its institutions to be guilty and having to prove their innocence before the US. Even the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W Patterson admitted that many clauses in the Kerry-Lugar Bill with regard to the Pakistan Army "are a big mistake". She stated that the draft of the bill was poorly written and that the US would address the concerns of Pakistani politicians and the military leadership. Pakistan's Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira declared that Pakistan was not bound to accept the terms and conditions in the bill, as it had not inked any deal with the US in this regard. According to him the final decision regarding whether to accept the bill or reject it would be taken by Parliament. Kaira accused India of lobbying heavily against Pakistan while the bill was being formulated and rejected the notion that the government had not gone through the intricate clauses of the bill document while it was being prepared. Foreign Office Spokesman Abdul Basit in his weekly news briefing told reporters that the Kerry- Lugar Bill that envisages the provision of 7.5 billion dollars in economic aid over five years is not a bilateral pact. He added, "The Kerry-Lugar bill is not a negotiated document. It's a piece of legislation drafted by the US Congress and it's not binding for Pakistan to accept it." Basit declared that the US bill is "not an ideal document" and its "language could have been better". He also confirmed that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi would brief parliament on the bill after his return to the country from a visit to the US.


It was also confirmed by the Prime Minister Gilani that the Foreign Minister, who was in the US, had been summoned to respond to the queries being raised by the parliamentarians in the National Assembly. While the parliamentarians eagerly waited for the Foreign Minister's briefing it was revealed that the Foreign Minister had dashed back to US for an emergency visit to convey Islamabad's objections over the 'stern' clauses attached in the Kerry Lugar Bill. The Foreign Minister was unable to convince our friends in Washington and United States made it clear that it would not remove any clauses in the controversial Kerry Lugar bill and that the bill itself will remain unchanged, rather an explanatory memo addressing Pakistan's reservations would be stapled in with the bill. US Senator John Kerry and Congressman Howard Berman gave Qureshi a document stating that the plan did not impose any conditions on Pakistan or infringe on its sovereignty. The lawmakers said a statement clarifying some points in the legislation would be entered into the congressional record. Our compliant Foreign Minister called the explanatory statement 'historic' and a step forward in bilateral relations and told the lawmakers that he would convey to the Pakistani parliament that the US aid bill was a sign of friendship and not a threat to the country's sovereignty. What our Foreign Minister completely ignored is the fact that the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations "explanatory statement" which seeks to allay concerns over the bill's impact on Pakistani sovereignty are unlikely to assuage fears since neither has the force of law that the bill itself does. All eyes turned to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who had earlier declared that the Kerry-Lugar bill's conditions are not binding on Pakistan and that his government will seek to forge consensus on the issue among political parties and all stakeholders.


All elected representatives should express their views and discuss the matter threadbare." On the last day of the session to every ones utter astonishment no sooner had the Foreign Minister uttered his last sentence the session was abruptly prorogued and the Deputy Speaker walked towards his chambers with lightning speed ignoring the protests of his colleagues in the Parliament. It was obvious that the National Assembly's support was not required to move the bill forward; the government got it passed through the Cabinet and Democracy triumphed over Dictatorship! An influx of cash was given preference over the nation's sovereignty. The Times of India wrote on 30th September, "Pakistan has been put on a US legislative terror watch. Effectively implicating Pakistan in acts of terrorism in the region and across the world, including against India, US lawmakers have imposed stringent conditions on Pakistan( requiring monitoring of compliance by Washington) while okaying a five-year,$7.5 billion dole for Islamabad till 2014. The conditions which should settle some unease in New Delhi that the US is blind to terrorism affecting India, include six-monthly evaluations by Washington of efforts by Pakistan to A) disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, the Taliban and other extremist and terrorist groups in the FATA and settled areas; B) eliminate the safe havens of such forces in Pakistan; C) close terrorist camps, including those of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad; D) cease all support for extremists and terrorist groups; and E) prevent attacks into neighbouring countries. Although there is no specific reference to India in keeping with Pakistan's plea that any India-specific conditions would be humiliating the so called Kerry-Lugar bill leaves no doubt that Islamabad risks losing US aid if it keeps up its terror campaign against India. Underscoring the language in the entire bill is the premise that Pakistan has been using terrorism as state policy against India, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently."


The KLB issues demands about continuing the military offensives against militants across the nation, and seeks to establish US oversight to ensure that the nation's civilian government has primacy over its military. The bill clearly attempts to establish US government oversight over Pakistan's court system and military, increasing American influence in and over the nation. Language critical of the nation's military (in particular the ISI), and demands that the military engage in fights with whoever the US designates as "militants," is language, which the military and the opposition leaders have termed "insulting." The onerous strings attached to KBL have led some to term it a "treaty of surrender." Others believe that Pakistan has formally entered the status of a client state as a proxy democracy which is economically dependent on a more powerful nation.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

Indo-US-Israeli objectives of denuclearisation, Balkanisation and secularisation of Pakistan and turning it into a vassal state of India will be achieved preferably through ongoing covert operations alone supplemented by infamous Kerry-Lugar bill. Already lot of progress has been achieved by our adversaries in destabilising Pakistan. In case they fail to get hold of our nuclear assets and Pakistan refuses to accept pre-eminence of India, Indian armed forces will then be asked to operationalise its Cold Start doctrine by launching limited attacks, or combination of limited attacks and all out Indo-Pak war depending upon the success achieved in battle of frontiers and neutralisation of our nukes. The aim would be cut Pakistan into small quasi states of Balochistan, Sindhudesh, Jinnahpur, Pashtunistan, Punjabistan and Balwaristan. Parameters of the plan conceived in late 2001 to truncate Pakistan and duly modified subsequently were as under:


Convert Afghanistan into a permanent military base and intelligence centre of six agencies to plan, coordinate and launch sustained covert operations against Pakistan till the achievement of laid down objectives. Stir up fissiparous tendencies in smaller provinces and foment hatred against Punjab and army. Karachi Port to be converted into American naval base wherefrom it could overlook Iran, Afghanistan, China and Central Asia and also gain full monopoly over Indian Ocean. In case of refusal by Pakistan to allow this facility, the MQM to attain this objective by first neutralising all its political opponents at grass roots level and at regional level and gain complete political ascendancy in urban Sindh. President Musharraf to provide requisite support by decimating MQM Haqiqui and looking the other way to all its high handed tactics. Cultivate Bugtis, Marris and Mengals and others aspiring for Baloch rights and foment unrest in Balochistan. Promise them independent Balochistan with Gwadar as its free port and control over energy resources. Map of independent Balochistan has been floated. Provide all kinds of war munitions to the rebels and establish Farari camps making best use of four air bases in Balochistan under occupation of US forces since October 2001 and the adjoining soil of Afghanistan. Espouse the cause of Baloch, denounce military operation against them and assure insurgents of direct military support once the insurgency in Balochistan reaches high intensity stage.


Create fake Taliban in FATA, equip and fund them to be able to spread unrest in FATA and NWFP and defame Pakistan by pasting charges of religious extremism and terrorism. Help in establishing Tehrik-e-Taliban under Baitullah Mehsud and in expanding its influence in FATA, NWFP and poverty stricken South Punjab on the false pretext of introducing Sharia to win public support. Lower the image and credibility of the army by pushing it into FATA and by launching a well orchestrated media campaign. Oust religious and other conservative political parties in 2008 general elections and bring in liberal parties in power. Put the noose of NRO around the necks of leadership and make them subservient to wishes of Washington. ANP under Asfandyar Wali, a traditional pro-Congress party, to help in working towards creation of Pakhtunkhwa comprising Pashtun regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A map to this effect was recently on display on billboards in the province. Enfeeble state institutions and turn legislature into a rubber stamp under a powerful president. Lock up two to three Corps in northwest, exhaust and demoralise counter insurgent forces and get them attuned to fighting low intensity war. Likewise pin down one Corps in Balochistan dealing with Baloch insurgency; thus reduce strategic options of Pak army in central and southern Punjab and in the desert belt. Create conditions wherein troops fighting counter insurgency are unable to move back to confront Indian threat. Malign Pakistan's nuclear program and magnify threat of religious extremism and theft of nuclear bombs by terrorists, forcing Pakistan to either roll it up or hand it over to USA. Create an atmosphere of gloom and doom through Jewish controlled electronic and print media and paid writers and intellectuals within Pakistan that Pakistan is falling apart. Create economic crisis and bring it to the brink of default to exert maximum pressure on the NRO cleansed leadership and make it agree to Indo-US demands. Speed up building dams on all rivers flowing into Pakistan with a view to turn Punjab agricultural lands barren.


Once the internal situation becomes murky and desired imbalance is induced in system of forces, India to activate eastern front by staging a drama of terrorism and blaming Pakistan as it had done in December 2001. Mumbai drama in November 2008 was also an act in that direction but it backfired. India to move troops to the border under the garb of winter exercises in November 2009 or playing up threat from Pakistan as it has done several times. Heat up LoC in Kashmir on a false pretext and capture an important post to provoke Pakistan to react. Making it into an excuse, launch limited attacks under the concept of Cold Start doctrine all along the border against at least 14-15 shallow objectives but each one threatening sensitive spaces in depth thereby forcing Pakistan lacking in strategic depth to fight for every inch of the territory and even moving its strategic reserves well forward.


Once bulk of our forces are embroiled in battle of frontiers and our two strategic reserves locked up in corridors away from their areas of interest, strike formations to be brought into action for the decisive action. Prior to launching main offensive, conduct extensive air operations and also quarantine Pakistan by affecting sea-blockade in Indian Ocean. After achieving air supremacy in the south, launch main effort in the desert sector from Shahgarh base of operation to cut main GT Road in Reti-Rahimyar Khan sector and establish bridgehead over Indus to breakout towards deeper objectives. De-link Sindh and then launch manoeuvre of exploitation to link up with rebel forces in Sui-Bugti and make rest of Pakistan landlocked. To create a dilemma for strategic reserves, launch secondary effort in area south of Sutlej in Marot-Fort Abbas area and two to three auxiliaries in other sectors together with two brigade size amphibious operations along our coastal belt. Isolate AJK for subsequent merger with IHK. Gilgit and Baltistan where Indian sponsored separatist movement is already in action to be grouped and made an independent state called Balwaristan. Afghanistan to also heat up western border to ensure that troops in FATA and in Balochistan are not withdrawn. Planned induction of 1,50000 Indian troops in Afghanistan to facilitate two directional threat. (India has established an airbase in Tajikistan which poses threat from the rear). In conjunction with ground offensive, para-dropping planned at strategic choke points. US imagery and satellites to provide intimate information about the location and move of strategic forces and also to jam strategic communications.


US drones/RDF to destroy nuclear tipped missiles when on move towards battle locations to deprive Pakistan of its nuclear response. Impose military and economic sanctions on Pakistan (new restrictions on military aid penned in Kerry-Lugar Bill are a step in that direction). Quislings/militants to make rear area security and supply routes turbulent. Note: the war plan will be executed subject to outcome of operation in South Waziristan. In case of success, intended offensive will be postponed to winters of 2010 but covert operations would continue as heretofore. Use of non-actors in the form of Black water would be extensively used to achieve sinister objectives.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

UNFOUNDED CONCERNS OVER PROLIFERATION

MOHAMMAD JAMIL


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her arrival in Pakistan three days ago told the reporters traveling with her that Pakistan has the potential threat of nuclear-armed terrorists and suggested Pakistan should join nuclear non-proliferation talks. Alluding Abdul Qadeer Khan she said: "Washington had a high degree of confidence that the country's atomic arsenal was safe. But we worry about proliferation and we have good reason to worry about proliferation.


We know Al-Qaeda and their related extremist allies are always on the hunt for nuclear material and it doesn't have to be a lot to create a very damaging explosion with extraordinary psychological and political ramifications". But these are unfounded concerns because Dr A Q Khan is under surveillance, and there is no question of his contact with any country desirous of acquiring nuclear technology. Secondly, Al-Qaeda is not a state with the defined boundaries, and it is only an ideology to counter those westerns that subscribe to the myth of clash of civilizations' theory. Anyhow, to pressurize Pakistan in every respect the US and the West always remind Pakistan about AQ Khan's role in spreading atomic weapons technology, whereas they have been the biggest proliferators. It would not be wrong to say that states that supply know-how, equipment and materials for making nuclear arms should face the same scrutiny as countries that seek to develop the weapons. In fact, whenever any country decided to go nuclear, be it United States, Soviet Union or other nuclear powers including Pakistan, it had bought know-how, equipment and material from the nuclear underground market for its nuclear programme. This means that there has been proliferation by everyone, in respective countries at some stage. And Pakistan must have got this (technology) from someone. The fact remains that Abdul Qadeer Khan was given the assignment of developing nuclear technology in the great national interest, which he did. He was given unlimited powers so that he could achieve the objective.


He used those powers in the promotion of national interest and took certain measures, which he had termed as 'errors of judgement' in his confessional statement. Mr. Khan was taking all the decisions, operating bank accounts, and naturally certain transactions must have passed through those accounts that came to the notice of the US. Having all said, AQ Khan has made Pakistan's defence invincible. Mr Khan, in the supreme national interest had apologised to the government and the people to ease the pressure on Pakistan. There is a perception that this was the minimum requirement of the US. Once the matter was settled during Mushrraf's era and he was given to understand that if government would keep watch on AQ Khan, no questions would be asked any more. But if you look at the Kerry-Lugar Bill there is a condition that nuclear scientists could be questioned, which is ethically and morally wrong to reopen the settled issues. Take the case of US-India nuclear agreement, where the US has legitimized the nuclear proliferation by giving India all the benefits of the state that has signed Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, Britain was the first proliferators. According to a BBC report, England had supplied 20 tons heavy water to Israel in 1959 for Dimona Clandestine atomic installations at the cost of 1.5 million pounds, which was used for enriching plutonium. Documents have revealed that the deal was made by the personnel of foreign office and atomic energy institution without the knowledge of the then British government. In early 1950s an American nuclear scientist was awarded death sentence for passing on the nuclear technology to the USSR but was later given clemency, though it was a Cold War era when the US considered the latter its enemy. It is not being suggested that certain institutions or personalities should be considered above the law in Pakistan, but to bring home the point that all nuclear powers, one way or another, had resorted to the same modus operandi that Pakistan employed.


Even before the Second World War, Stalin government arrested a Russian nuclear scientist attached to Cambridge University when he visited Soviet Union during vacations. He was not allowed to return and was forced by the Stalin government to contribute to the development of nuclear programme. The US also became a nuclear power with the help of scientists from the European countries who had migrated to America during the Second World War. They were the ones to persuade Albert Einstein to write to the President Roosevelt to convince him of the need to develop atom bomb, as Germany had already reached an advanced stage in nuclear technology. So be it US, Russia, China, France, Britain, Israel, India or Pakistan, there appeared to have been overt or covert cooperation in each and every case.


After 9/11, the United States seemed determined to put a halt to nuclear proliferation; and though similar investigations were taking place in more than a dozen countries, Pakistan was the first target. As a matter of fact, since 1950s Pakistan's governments had the passion to have close relations with the US, as most of political leaders thought that without the US support they could not enter in the corridors of power, and could also stay in power at its pleasure. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, almost all the political and religious parties considered the US as an ally of Islam, and waged Jihad against the infidels when former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Pakistan governments as early as in 1950s, whether democratic or military, saw India as a threat to Pakistan's existence, and also had the fear of the Soviet Union, as its desire to reach warm waters was known even during Czars era.


This thesis, prepared by the British trained bureaucracy, provided justification to the government for entering into military pacts with the US and the Western countries. The ruling elite had observed that such pacts would save Pakistan from external aggression and guarantee the integrity of the country. During 1965 and 1971 wars with India, our allies instead of helping Pakistan stopped military and economic aid to Pakistan. The retired Generals and religious parties should realize that by joining the US and the West in a proxy war in 1980s against former Soviet Russia, they were instrumental in break-up of the USSR. And all was done in the name of Jihad against infidels.


They do not understand that 'power' has its own dynamics; and the key to social dynamics that Marx found in wealth, Freud in sex, Bertrand Russel found in power. In view of the consequences of the naked power, Bertrand Russel wrote in his book published in 1938 titled Power: "There is no hope for the world unless power can be tamed and brought into the service, not of this or that group of fanatical tyrants but of the whole human race, white and yellow and black, fascist and communist and democrat; for science has made it inevitable that all must live or all must die."

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

SUICIDAL ATTACK IN IRAN

YOUSAF ALAMGIRIAN


Amid ongoing wave of suicidal attacks in Pakistan a suicidal attempt in Sistan, Iran shook Iran and rest of the world. The anti Muslim elements considered it an appropriate time to drag Iran into the situation which two major Muslim states of the region Pakistan and Afghanistan are, already facing. The blame game of US and few other major countries clearly show their hegemonic designs to malign those Muslim populated states which they think have the potential to counter them in coming future. Pakistan is a declared atomic power whereas Iran is the potential atomic power which has time and again announced that it is not going to roll back its atomic program. On the other hand Afghanistan is a unique country of its kind and Americans know their worth because of their direct involvement during Russian aggression in Afghanistan. That's why when Nine Eleven incident took place USA didn't take a minute to decide to enter into Afghanistan in vague of getting hold of Al-Qaida members specially Osama Bin Laden which they believe were the masterminds of the incident.


It seems highly incapable at the part of a superpower like America that a person hiding in rocks of Afghanistan is involved in such incidents. If it is correct then one can question what the hell was doing its aviation authority people if some plan changed its route what so ever it is to hit world trade center and the Pentagon. This incident however provided US a ground to launch its long awaited aggression against Muslim world. Pakistan being an important country of the region had to stand side by side along with other countries in war against terrorism hence USA very cleverly threw its war in Pakistan's court which Pakistan is handling tactfully. USA has not only intended this war to get Osama but to soften countries like Pakistan and Iran which seems easy for US while staying in Afghanistan. As for as Pakistan is concerned US is satisfied enough that it is grabbed in suicidal attacks and its forces are busy in fighting with terrorists. Pakistan army which is one of the best armies of the world has not only fought the terrorists valiantly but has successfully eradicated them from some of the places like Swat and Malakand division. Operation in Waziristan area is in its full swing where a number of foreign terrorists are hiding. Pakistan army wants those foreign terrorists to leave that place and let live the locals with peace and honor. Ironically when Pakistan is busy fighting terrorists US has taken some meaningful strategic moves which clearly depicts US motives in the region. A news report narrates that "The US-led Nato forces vacated more than half a dozen key security check posts on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border just ahead of the major Pakistan Army ground offensive (code named: Rahe Nijaat) against Taliban-led militants in the volatile tribal area of South Waziristan, it is learnt. It is feared that the American decision will facilitate Afghan Taliban in crossing over to Pakistan and support militants in striking back at the Pakistani security forces in the troubled tribal area. Latest reports indicate that the Americans have also removed some posts close to North Waziristan, which could encourage even more Afghan Taliban fighters to cross over to the Pakistan side. This has raised many eyebrows in government and military circles with points being made about "conflicting interests" and dubious American designs".


Yet role of external elements especially designs of the India, Israel and US triangle can never be ruled out in order to destabilize Pakistan and the neighboring Muslim country, Iran. The recent suicidal attack which occurred on Sunday in the Pishin district of Sistan province in the Iran's southeast near the border with Pakistan and injured several dozen as officers were preparing to stage a meeting. Two high-ranking commanders among those dead included the deputy head of the Guards' ground forces, General Nourali Shoushtari, and the Guards' commander in the Sistan-Baluchistan province, General Rajabali Mohammadzadeh.


Although people of Pakistan are themselves victims of suicidal attacks still they feel sorry for attack in Iran. Pakistani masses feel unique kind of affiliation with Iranian people for being common in many things. They feel religious and spiritual bonding with them. Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused the United States of being involved in the explosion, but the White House denied any involvement and condemned the attack. However some media reports felt appropriate to involve Pakistan in this nefarious act and said that Jundullah hiding in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the blast. Foreign media is ever ready to defame Pakistan .Foreign media has already lost credibility by giving designed and planned stories against Muslim world. It is unfortunate at the part of Pakistan that if anything happens in Pakistan then the terrorists present inside Pakistan are involved and if something worse happened elsewhere even though it is blamed that groups present inside Pakistan are involved. Why the world is so week that a group of few people have made them hostages. India has deputed more than eight million army in held Kashmir still it is not safe from the terrorists groups that too hiding in Waziristan. India needs to recall these are the same groups being patronized by US, Israel and India. Indian consulates in Afghanistan are busy round the clock to support subversive act ivies in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran as well. Indian hand should not be miscalculated in the recent attack in Sistan, Iran. Now Indian agencies can target China in order to blame and defame Pakistan among all the neighboring countries and to create an environment to completely isolate Pakistan in the region.


Prevailing environment and the crisis Pakistan is facing, clearly depicts that 9/11 attack was launched to trap Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran as US and its allying forces are using its full resources to destabilize this part of the region. They are enjoying full support of Indian in this regard. American hegemonic designs are no more secret as US always pretend to be gentleman but play the role of a Villon. US TV channel ABC in its report regarding Jundolla's activities in Iran telecast in 2007 narrated that the terrorists group "has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials to destabilize the government in Iran". So it is need of the hour that Iran and Pakistan should understand that they have the common enemies. It is time to recognize and counter our enemies instead blaming each other.

 

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THE TENACITY QUESTION

DAVID BROOKS


Today, President Obama will lead another meeting to debate strategy in Afghanistan. He will presumably discuss the questions that have divided his advisers: How many troops to commit? How to define plausible goals? Should troops be deployed broadly or just in the cities and towns? I've called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.

Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level. They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination. These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.


Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence. But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.


Their second concern is political. They do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road. Finally, they do not understand the president's fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.


The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama's resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He's cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country. Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.


The determination vacuum affects the debate in this country, too. Every argument about troop levels is really a proxy argument for whether the U.S. should stay or go. The administration is so divided because the fundamental issue of commitment has not been settled. Some of the experts asked what I thought of Obama's commitment level. I had to confess I'm not sure either. So I guess the president's most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It's the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.


Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that counterinsurgency is "an argument to win the support of the people." But it's not an argument won through sophisticated analysis. It's an argument won through the display of raw determination. —The New York Times

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

C'WEALTH'S NEW FACE

 

At a roundtable on "Modernisation and Reform of the Commonwealth" in the city, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni stressed the need for renewal of the multilateral system to make the organisation 'more relevant and more representative.' Her observation that the strength of the Commonwealth lies in its unity and diversity could not be more precise. But it is in the urgency with which she focuses on multilaterism for its revival as an organisation that will draw the attention of the member states. Many are no longer convinced that the Commonwealth can play any decisive role at a time when the world has virtually turned into a global village. Even before the economic meltdown that has swept across the globe, regional trade blocs made a decisive impact. With the emergence of new economic realities and geopolitics, countries such as Brazil, India, China and Russia are getting grouped together to serve common interests.


It is exactly at this point that there is need for a dispassionate analysis of the role the Commonwealth can play as a political, economic and cultural forum. Dipu Moni points out that despite the differences in almost all the fields of race, ethnicity and religion, the Commonwealth countries have every reason to get 'united under one umbrella' by virtue of the common values of pluralism, liberalism, democracy, legal system, political institutions and the English language. The common ideological grounding, she reaffirms, transcends far beyond the colonial roots.


We have no doubt about the spirit of unity in diversity and the organisation's ability to act as a force when they take up important issues of common concern. Climate change is one such issue where Britain has shown a positive attitude towards the countries proving most vulnerable to this potent threat. Now the once all-powerful empire may not have the clout it once enjoyed but together with the Commonwealth members, it can really present the case forcefully. On the cultural and education front, apparently not attached so much importance by politicians, the organisation still has a very important role to play.  

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

THREAT TO SEA FISH

 

Bangladesh has a great natural ecosystem value in terms of scientific interest, not to speak of its outstanding aesthetic value. It also provides multiple renewable resources of direct economic benefits to the nation. But a sustainable coastal management is a must to protect the marine resources of the country.


As it is, indiscriminate fishing is not the only reason for their decline, species that live in the upper 10 per cent of the ocean are at greatest risk from increasing levels of carbon dioxide.  This too is not the only risk as oil spills from ships also threaten the survival of whales and dolphins in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans still supports 291 species of fish resources and constitutes an important commercial and artisanal fishery industry, but these are far fewer than there were in the 50s.


The country has not conducted a survey of its marine fish since the Bay of Bengal Survey programme conducted in 1983-85 but up to now the oceans have been viewed as a free for all. If we are to ensure that the rich and varied life forms are secured for current and future generations, we need to protect our marine life. Despite having one of the largest marine biodiversity patterns, the country is fast losing its fish resources due to a lack of awareness on the part of both public and private sectors.  Although officially no species has been listed as 'endangered,' experts note that at least 10 to 15 species of marine fish are under threat as both their stocks and sizes are decreasing significantly. Indian Salmon, Groupers, Pomfret and Eel, Red snapper, Datkina are some of the species which have become "virtually threatened." The government should intervene with a concrete action programme before it is too late.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

BOB'S BANTER

 

CHEMO FOR THE BJP…!

ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

"..In another stinging blow to the faction feud ridden BJP, RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat has diagnosed that the party is grappling with a life threatening ailment that needs nothing short of drastic surgery or even chemotherapy…" TOI, 28th Oct.


Now that's pretty drastic isn't it? Telling your party it needs chemotherapy? I mean it's like telling somebody who's got what he thinks is a simple cough and cold that he's on his deathbed. I'm nor sure the BJP needs such severe treatment, but I do know harsh medication has its side effects, and maybe the chief should be told the side effects of chemo.


Anxiety: This is a serious side affect of the treatment the RSS chief has recommended for his BJP and he should be prepared for it, "Hello! Hello!"


"Who is it?"

"Advani!"


"What is it, Advaniji?" Advani, "I would like to lead our party to victory in the next general elections!"

"But that is five years away!" Advani, "Yes but I am anxious to be announced as the next prime minister designate!"


"Just go back to the hospital will you!"

Confusion: According to the medical profession, patients of chemo go through bouts of confusion, and this could create chaos for the party. There is some speculation in the country that this is what caused some befuddlement when Advani visited Pakistan: "Jinnah is a great leader!"


"Who?" Advani, "Jinnah!" And later Jaswant Singh, "Jinnah is not to blame for partition!" Eye Problems:

Having problems with your vision is one of the serious side affects that the RSS chief may have to contend with, especially when he raises the temple issue:"We need to build the temple!"


"It is already built!"

"Are you blind what are you talking about?"


"God resides in our hearts, the temple is already there!" Memory Loss: Yes loss of memory Mr Bhagwat is also a very serious side effect: "Who are you?"


"I am the RSS chief!" Advani, "What's that?"


"What's what?" Advani, "The RSS!" Now sir I am sure you agree by now that chemotherapy is too strong a treatment. Maybe a dose of Democracy and meditation on the Constitution could work wonders sir! Maybe…!
bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

MARKETS, PRIVATE OWNERSHIP AND STATE ENTERPRISES

FORREST COOKSON

 

When Bangladesh became independent in 1971 most of the manufacturing and service sector enterprises were owned by West Pakistan citizens or by state owned enterprises that belonged to the Pakistan government. The leaders of the newly formed Bangladesh believed in socialism and enshrined that principle into the Constitution. Most Bangladeshi intellectuals and university trained persons believed that the practice of socialism was the better way to organise an economy than the path of capitalism, private ownership of property, and competitive markets.  Capitalism was perceived as unfair, exploitative of labour, and guilty of making the wrong investments in the economy. Government on the other hand would invest in the interests of the people. In effect the profits from state enterprises would be allocated to the greater good. Combining necessity and belief the government of the new nation took over most of the major enterprises that were physically located within the boundaries of Bangladesh. 


These ideological viewpoints were deeply entrained in Indian thought and had shaped Indian thinkers for centuries. Historically the caste system relegates the businessman to a low level in the society, perceived as exploiting people who must be protected by the Brahmins. Whatever merit this viewpoint may have had in the distant past it is completely inappropriate for the 21st century. The roots of these views are also found in some of the ideas of Marx selling out the misery and difficult conditions that are a consequence of capitalism's emergence as an organising principle for an industrial economy. Asian economic thinking systematically rejects the basic proposition of the superiority of private property, competitive markets and limited government market interference.  There is a strong preference for cooperative behaviour, non-profit institutions, and central control. There are few economists in Bangladesh who accept the model of competitive markets instead, believing in the merits of government interference; in contrast there are few economists in the West who do not believe in this basic competitive model. Indeed Western democratic systems insist on a limited role for government in the production processes, as there is fear government interference will threaten private property, the essential need of a democratic state. All governments in Western societies are engaged in massive transfer from rich to poor as a means of redisturbing the income; but this is after the markets have guided resource collection. Why this finding of economic analysis is so culturally sensitive is a mystery; nevertheless the difference is there. There was also the experience of the depression of the 1930s when the ability of capitalism to provide a stable economy was called into doubt. In 2008-2009 similar doubts have emerged. Still further support for this view of the primacy of the state in the economy arose from the trumpeting of the success of the Soviet Union as a form of economic organisation. Soviet propaganda enchanted a generation of Bangladeshi intellectuals into perceiving the Soviet model as appropriate for the new nation, and substantial fraction of Bangladesh economists trained in the Soviet Union in the decade after independence lent further support to this view. 


Unfortunately 37 years of experience have shown that the Bangladesh government, as most governments, is not able to run energy companies, banks, airlines, or manufacturing industries. Instead government's activities are the main reason for the poverty of so much of the population. We consider first the micro consequences and then briefly the macro consequence.  If you want proof at the micro level first consider what has happened in the power and gas sectors: the state enterprises have failed to produce enough electricity or gas and most of the supply increments in the past decade have come from the private sector.  Furthermore the costs of production by the private sector, and hence the selling prices to the government, are very favourable for Bangladesh. The comparison is dramatic. The reliance on SOEs in the energy sector has been a failure. Only the PSCs for gas and the IPPs for electricity have saved the situation. Continued insistence on SOEs is the real reason why the nation faces the present disastrous energy situation. It is not just Bangladesh - every South Asian nation is in the same condition! The failure to provide electricity hurts the poor - no electricity at all (65 per cent of the population) and fewer manufacturing jobs - more than the rich. Socialism has directed resources against the poor.


Next consider the banks: The government banks [commercial and specialised] have been insolvent for at least twenty years; these organisations have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not change their ways, that they cannot make good loans, that they cannot fight off interference from the government, rather they are flagships of corruption. The expansion of credit for the private sector economy has been carried by the private banks over the past decade.  Endless efforts to reform these government banks have all failed. Half-hearted and ill conceived efforts to privatise these antiques have all failed at enormous cost to the economy. Misallocation and wasted capital by SCBs and specialised banks have probably cost the economy from half to one per cent reduction of the growth rate. Again ironically these banks have helped the rich and exploited the poor.
As for the airlines, BIMAN has been handed one of the sweetest market deals in the world; there are millions of Bangladeshis flying to the Middle East to work. What has happened? BIMAN has given this market away to airlines that are making substantial profits while BIMAN struggles. Interference in the corporation has made it difficult to manage the airline, difficult to manage its finances, forced an inability to manage its routes, all due to interference, corruption, and poor management practices. This gives the nation an airline that should be one of the most successful in the region that instead is continuously on the verge of collapse. Resources are poured into this failed enterprise; it will never improve unless privatised. But privatisation is continuously resisted. We see the consequences of this every year in the struggle to provide transport for the Hajj pilgrims. For the pilgrims transport uncertainty is an unsettling experience, when one should be focused on one's inner being.
Turning to manufacturing the position is even worse. Essentially every manufacturing SOE loses money. Why? Interference by government; labour agitation; excessive wages; no labour discipline; fake payrolls; corruption in borrowing; insufficient investment and maintenance; poor marketing; failure to make delivery deadlines; unable to work out financing arrangement quickly; poor compensation of managers. The Bangladesh government should not be involved in manufacturing!! For that matter no government should. The total failure of the socialist countries should be enough evidence. Why in the world would anyone believe that the Bangladesh government having failed for almost thirty years along with every other country that has tried it will suddenly be able to run efficient manufacturing enterprises?


The new industrial policy will call for slower privatisation, more support for sick industries, and aid for expansion and restarting of state owned enterprises.  This approach is such a bizarre idea and so completely at odds with reality that it is impossible to believe that the government would carry out such a folly. Lip services yes; real action no! What will happen if such policies are put into place?  If implemented losses to the government to bail out state enterprises will increase. If this means expanded lending by state commercial banks to SOEs then we will see a new mountain of bad debt in the future for which the Bangladeshi children of today are going to pay. If this means more reliance on SOEs in the energy sector then I advise "buy candles."  If this means more direct budgetary support for SOEs then the deficit will increase for no gain to the society.  Good industrial policy supports winners not losers.


Take the jute sector. The jute sector was a pretty good industry linking a proven technology and a raw material that Bangladesh was good at producing.  With nationalisation things began to go downhill. Wages went up to appease labour; managers did not have necessary resources; ministers wanted cars, and jobs for their constituents. Product quality was managed, but it declined slowly since no one was accountable. No serious effort was made at product development. No serious effort was made at marketing. Management became very bureaucratic. Mills ran at a loss all of the time and usually were simply not helped by government; managers respond by cutting maintenance and reducing product quality and borrowing more and more from the state banks. Is this what the government wants to return to doing?  Surely not. 


But many say the United States and the UK are taking over enterprises that are failing. Unfortunately that is so. Hopefully such enterprises will be returned to the private sector in due time. [As Bangladesh Bank has done with failed banks that it took over on a temporary basis.] Nothing would please Toyota, Honda, Ford and Kia better than for the United States government to take over and run indefinitely Chrysler and General Motors. That is handing Ford, Japan and Korea a large part of the US automobile market. The US government is fully capable of such folly but the US citizens will pay for it.


Government ownership of banks, manufacturing enterprises, and energy companies is both bad economics and immoral. It is bad economics because it wastes resources and leads to a slower rate of economic growth. It is immoral because it takes resources away from the poor and gives them to the incompetent, the corrupt and the rich. Government ownership of productive enterprises promotes corruption and increases poverty. Bangladesh's wonderful record at reducing poverty rests on the growth of the private sector, the jobs it created, the demands for goods and services associated with it, supported by the efficiency of the private banks and the private energy companies. Turn back to government owned enterprises and one will promote increased poverty.  Failed industries must be allowed to go out of business. The workers will be hired by new enterprises. Employment in a company cannot be a lifetime guarantee. Companies will fail and change reducing their labour force and going off to new locations and new product directions. Bangladesh has a hard enough time allowing businesses to fail cleanly; more support for state enterprises, nationalisation and more help for sick industries will simply make things worse for ordinary people. To lift the Bangladeshi people out of poverty requires rapid growth of manufacturing through private sector investment and management. 


Turning to macro economic aspects: In 1991 with election of a democratic government the economy's performance improved dramatically. Growth increased, poverty declined, inflation was low, the balance of payments was stronger. This excellent performance continued until 2006 - a 15 years period of improved performance and limited. This worked very well as the private manufacturing sector grew rapidly. Ultimately it is employment that brings a reasonable life to a man and increasing to a woman. Only the private sector creates jobs. This is the lesson of experience and we should all pray this is what will continue to guide Bangladesh's future economic policy.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

BANGLADESH SET TO OVERSHOOT THE MDG

CHILD MORTALITY WITH UNSATISFACTORY HEALTH

 

MEHREEN WITH AMANULLAH KHAN AND ABDUR RAHMAN JAHANGIR

(From previous issue)

Saleha, 18, mother of a three-year old boy, Munna, said she gives her son "khichuri", vegetables, eggs and pulses to eat since these foods help build up the body's resistance power that in turn helps to ward off and fight many fatal diseases. She said she tries to keep her son clean and free of infection. She also tries to maintain a close watch over his son lest he ingests any harmful substance. Her husband Mobarak, a cigarette vendor, also takes care of the boy, she said. She, however, complained that the number of beds available in the hospitals are quite inadequate to admit the growing number of sick children for treatment.


All of the respondents claimed that the incidence of death among children was very high 10 years ago but now it has dropped significantly. They said that when they were young, they used to see many infants dying of a host of diseases in front of their eyes. But those days are now over due to the healthcare programmes undertaken by the government and NGOs.


Among the reasons cited by the respondents for the decrease in the child mortality are improved and rising skilled care at birth, access to quality healthcare for the sick children and increasing number of doctors, midwives and nurses, development of medical science and availability of medicines and drugs. Sympathetic attitude and gentle behaviour of doctors and health workers towards patients and NGOs' initiatives together with public-private partnerships to provide healthcare services for children and mothers have also resulted in lowering child mortality, they asserted. They, however, stressed the need for upgrading and extending the existing facilities in this connection.  A striking feature of the community is that they are quite well informed about family planning and the benefits it offers. They say they use birth control contraceptives to plan and reduce the size of  their families.


Amid all these encouraging signs, some negative aspects also emerged that pose threat to the child's health. Many mothers of the community out of ignorance put their blind faith in and tend to seek medical advice from the non-formal health sector consisting of untrained pharmacists in drug dispensing shops, so-called herbal medical practitioners, quack doctors, traditional faith healers and the like when their children fall sick with often disastrous consequences. Another spectre that haunts most of the children of the community is malnutrition as their parents mired in poverty are unable to buy them enough nutritious foods. Many mothers give birth to under weight and feeble children as they are deprived of dietary intake that are indispensable during their pregnancies. Nutrition is the underlying cause of many child deaths annually in the country. According to the Communication and Media Research Initiative (Camri), around 900 children die of malnutrition in Bangladesh everyday mainly due to a poor dietary intake in the earliest months of their life.

[To be continue]

 

(The article is based on one of a series of community centred surveys on selected MDG issues under a UNESCO/AMIC project)

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

DROPPING THE SLIDE RULE

MICHAEL R CZINKOTA AND THOMAS A CZINKOTA

 

We just concluded the fall school vacation. Between us brothers, we have three children, 6, 7, and 10 with whom we spent the week in conversation, playing and thinking. Here are some of the issues, which we addressed but are not sure that we solved: Are children overworked? Over time growing societal surpluses have made it possible to enjoy the fruits of our labours. We no longer learn only because we have to, but because we want to and can focus on learning about history, enjoyment, art, music and beautification and poetry.
Even though the need for learning has changed, the process and conditions of learning have not been altered to provide for a more relaxed childhood. Kids are increasingly overscheduled little beasts of burden with more work of greater complexity carried in ever expanding rollaway knapsacks. The available knowledge has increased very much.


Yet, our children keep on learning the way their parents did. Are we perhaps maintaining an outdated approach, applying it to vastly increased quantities of content with a greatly diminished half life? Could it be that all we are doing is cramming our children's brains with more useless stuff?


We exert pressure on our children so that they learn. Just as high pressure can transform coal into diamonds, perhaps our children grow more talented. We punish them for not doing sufficient work. Boredom is no excuse. Of course, should not we ask why the same child is not getting bored by TV shows, discussions with friends, or the combing of dolls.


In a pharmacological society, many kids are provided prescription pills to cure what once was seen as typical child behaviour. We have even seen children who have their own personal assistant charged with keeping them focused. But there are also procedural learning questions: Why do children still memorise?


Memorisation had its origins when there was no print, no dictionaries, and therefore no 'institutional retention.' Priests and monks had to memorise in order to pass on society's knowledge - they were the living word. Today, we have Google, we have Bing, we have Wikipedia; all systems which remember things for us. Of course, it is said that by subscribing to Wikipedia we are buying into the hidden agenda of secretive editors. Well, why not? For centuries we have bought into the hidden agendas of the secretive editors of the Oxford Dictionary. Even the monks and scribes who laboriously produced manuscripts, added or eliminated details. So the flexibility and adjustment of materials has a long tradition.


How much knowledge does a child realistically need? Will (or should) the acquired knowledge, ever be useful for anything? Does it make sense to dispense knowledge in a shotgun approach (we give you everything and hope some of it helps)?


How about a just-in-time approach where you download information and instructions just when you need them?
There is always a great reluctance to move away from existing patterns. There used to be a firm conviction that only the slide rule would maintain the algebraic memories of children. Well, it's been more than 40 years that Texas Instruments has come out with the cheap plastic calculators which even did square roots - are we all so much dumber now?


When Biro the Hungarian, invented the ballpoint pen, its use was prohibited in schools. The end of Western civilisation as we knew it was predicted if we would cease to lower steel feathers into ink. So where are we today?
How about the perennial efforts to write cursive in beautiful fashion? What's that really worth? Isn't everyone writing with their keyboards - able to select any writing style ranging from Times New Roman to Britannic Bold or Verdana. As to spelling and grammar, the computer can fix most egregious problems - minor ones tend not infringe to on communication and understanding. The increase in kitchen equipment has not really resulted in more free time for spouses working in the kitchen. Is all that learning technology also not going to help free up our children from their time of work? If not, should we still add new materials of new relevance?
Who is in charge of reducing learning materials? We always add but rarely delete.


We visited Jena, in formerly East Germany, where wonderful things are done with glass. Alas, all the lens grinding skills accumulated over the centuries are now done by computers, which do things more quickly, more precisely, and above all, more cheaply. Knowledge lost or made obsolete?


After our vacation together, we ask ourselves whether it isn't much more important to spend time with our children to play more, listen to and perform more music, exercise in more sports, engage in more theatre productions? We need to explain to them the things they need to know - for example about morals, values, a sense of excitement and pleasure; about the facts of life, that prices are typically not the result of costs but of
demand and supply; about friendship, the enjoyment and benefits of new people networks; about the juxtaposition of consumption versus savings. With such knowledge our children might not be able to avoid a global trade and financial crisis, but at least they will understand it and react to it.

 

Michael Czinkota, Georgetown University, USA and the Birmingham Business School in the U.K. Czinkotm@georgetown.edu Thomas Czinkota, Das Folio Inc., Bad Soden, Germany Thomas@czinkota.de

 

 

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

NATION NEEDS BOLDER LEADERSHIP FROM PM

MR RUDD MUST TAKE THE COUNTRY WITH HIM ON REFUGEES

 

AFTER another week of shadow boxing from Canberra to Tanjung Pinang, the government finds itself in an even deeper hole on asylum-seekers. Mr Rudd may prove to have the patience of Job and wait out the 78 Sri Lankans refusing to leave the Oceanic Viking. But the impasse is making the Prime Minister look hesitant rather than decisive.

 

Two weeks ago, we suggested the government indulge in a real bout of nation-building and increase substantially Australia's refugee intake through established UNHCR processes. We argued this would reaffirm a pro-immigration stance while protecting the integrity of Australia's borders. A generous but ordered response would have shown the government's humanity and given Mr Rudd a political buffer to take a tough stand on the Oceanic Viking without alienating those Labor supporters who want a more open-door policy. It is not too late, however, for Mr Rudd to show leadership.

 

This newspaper has supported Mr Rudd's efforts in trying to build an Indonesian solution. We acknowledge that he cannot control events on the Oceanic Viking, nor Jakarta's response. Mr Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith have been entirely correct in dealing directly with the Indonesian government on this issue. It is up to Jakarta to ensure its promises are put into effect in the provinces. At the same time, Australia cannot give into moral blackmail from people who are without rights in this country and who have, in effect, been rescued at sea.

 

Even so, as the Prime Minister heads into the third week dominated by the issue of managing boatpeople, he must be keenly aware that, somewhat uncharacteristically, he has allowed events to run away from him.

 

This paper, like many Australians on both sides of politics, opposed the harsher elements of the Howard government's approach. Apart from anything else, memories of the racist White Australia policy are still strong enough among many of us to resist processes that deny people their individuality and humanity. But even in the toughest years of the policy under Labor's Arthur Calwell, remembered still for his infamous 1947 comment in parliament that "two Wongs don't make a white", Australia opened its doors to refugees displaced by World War II.

 

Labor historically has taken a tough line on border protection. It was a Labor government that introduced mandatory detention in 1992. But there is a bipartisan legacy that Mr Rudd could usefully draw upon to find a way through this issue. It is the unwritten contract that has underpinned Australia's sense of itself as a nation that welcomes immigrants and refugees so long as governments ensure the process is transparent, controlled and lawful.

 

Our story today revealing plans to dramatically increase the size of the Christmas Island facility is an admission by the government that the number of asylum-seekers trying to gain entry to Australia is likely to increase. We welcome this practical move. There is nothing to be gained by pretending extra beds will not be needed. But Mr Rudd must take the lead in explaining his principled position to the nation. Despite the plethora of opinions, this is not a black-and-white issue and the Prime Minister cannot hope for universal approval. He may well have to wear some flak. But that is what leadership is all about.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

BLUNDER DOWN UNDER

... BUT PRINCE EDWARD HAS A POINT

 

PRINCE Edward appears to have inherited his father's foot-in-mouth gene. On Thursday the Earl of Wessex told The Australian young people were often drawn to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme because of the possibility they could die in pursuit of the award. His amateur attempt at teenage psycho-analysis has drawn the reaction it deserves, here and in Britain.

 

While he might have worded his comments differently however, there is no doubt that the Prince was on to something. In an era when too many children are wrapped up in cotton wool by over-protective parents, they can find themselves bored and aimless in their teenage years. With few interests beyond television and electronic games, the risk is not that they will come to harm in the bush, but through drug or alcohol abuse.

 

The death of Sydney schoolboy David Iredale in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, in December 2006 while on an unsupervised bushwalk he undertook as part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme was a tragedy. Such accidents, fortunately, are rare, however, much rarer than the deaths of young people in motor vehicle accidents or suicide.

 

Programs such as the Duke of Edinburgh scheme offer opportunities for young people to develop their characters and build valuable life and leadership skills. Within an organised framework, they allow teenagers and young men and women in their early 20s to undertake volunteer work, try their hand at sports they would not otherwise encounter and explore our great outdoors.

 

A month ago, a story on over-protective parenting by Christine Jackman, published in The Weekend Australian Magazine drew an avalanche of reaction. Jackman wrote that these days, washing powder companies feel the need to tell parents how to make mud pies (add some water). American college freshmen, she reported, were known as "teacups" for being "so fragile you can't take them out in case they might break".

 

Yet many teenagers, especially boys, seem genetically wired for danger and risk-taking, a tendency reflected in the increasing interest in extreme sports. Programs such as the Duke of Edinburgh scheme channel that energy productively, testing fitness, intelligence and skills.

 

The most unfortunate consequence of the Prince's comment would be if it made parents reluctant to let their children test their limits by experiencing the excitement of the program he has travelled here to try to promote.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

PASS THE SAUSAGES

GIVING UP MEAT TO CURB GLOBAL WARMING IS FUTILE SYMBOLISM

 

WHAT consenting adults choose to eat in the privacy of their own homes is their business. And the question of whether or not to eat meat can be influenced by personal taste, health considerations, religious customs or family habits. But giving up the barbecue snags or the Sunday roast and its delicious gravy out of love for the planet, as some zealots advocate, is about as helpful to the environment as hugging trees.

 

This week British economist Nicholas Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review on the economics of climate change, advocated a vegetarian diet on the grounds that "meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases". He should not be so dogmatic.

 

A Dutch study has found the greenhouse gas emissions for tofu were higher than those of milk, and that the greenhouse gas emissions for cheese were higher than those for chicken, pork and veal. Soybeans, like corn and rice, need plenty of water to grow, as do fruit and vegetables. And Australia's cattle farmers are among the most efficient and environmentally clean in the world.

 

Green extremism, whether urging widespread vegetarianism or telling people to abandon their airconditioning or cars, is counter-productive. It detracts attention from the real challenge of harnessing technology to cut carbon. And in taking the debate out of the mainstream to the fringes, such arguments alienate those who will need to support and pay for carbon reduction - the general public.

 

The phoney debate over how to cut carbon has gone on for too long. The likelihood of new targets at or shortly after the Copenhagen conference means it's time to examine the serious options, and the costs. If greenhouse emissions are to be cut while avoiding widespread poverty, unemployment and social upheaval, both in industrialised and developing nations, technology and hard-headed decisions will be the keys. Put bluntly, the world will grind to a halt without coal-fired power. As present technology stands, the only realistic, large-scale alternatives are nuclear energy and LNG - both vehemently opposed by the hessian-bag brigade. Extensive scientific research must also explore the benefits of reforestation, biochar (a charcoal-like substance produced when waste is heated and which stores carbon) and soil sequestration (capturing and storing large quantities of carbon in soil and vegetation).

 

Whatever is decided in Copenhagen, delegates would be foolish to miss out on sampling the frikadeller - Denmark's famous minced meat balls - if it takes their fantasy.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

FOUR WHEELS GOOD, TWO WHEELS GOOD TOO

 

AN INCIDENT more than a week ago set off the latest round in the conflict of two wheels versus four. The vehemence of the debate it started points clearly to a continuing source of irritation on our roads, one which ought to get more attention from government.

 

A cyclist riding (illegally) in the North West Transitway was overtaken by a bus. Apparently angered by how close the bus driver passed him, he caught up to the bus when it was stopped, damaged its mirror, and then later boarded the bus and assaulted the driver.

 

There can obviously be no excuse for behaviour of that kind. Cyclists have condemned it as well as motorists.

 

But as motorists have been observing over subsequent days, it is not unique: some cyclists - by no means all - can become rude, even violent, when they imagine their rights or personal space have been infringed by drivers. Road rage of this kind, and all kinds, is simply inexcusable.

 

Yet though cyclists who lash out in this way cross the line into unacceptable conduct, it has to be said that, more generally, cyclists have several legitimate grievances with the way they are treated - by other road users, and by those who plan and make roads.

 

If cyclists can display extreme aggression when threatened or thwarted, so can Sydney's drivers. In this they are in a class of their own. Visitors from other cities who try to ride bicycles in this city have remarked frequently how badly behaved Sydney drivers are towards cyclists.

 

Motorists' advocates, moreover, have played on this boorishness, turning it into a sense of entitlement to the point where many Sydney drivers appear to believe that the roads are for cars only, and that other users are usurpers.

 

This can be seen in full flower on internet blogs which have discussed last week's incident on the T-way, where the most extreme view claims cyclists have no place on the roads at all.

 

That is simply wrong, as a matter of law or commonsense. Roads have to be open to all. The few exceptions - tunnels, for example, where prohibitive costs put space at a premium and eliminate road shoulders where cyclists may ride - only re-emphasise the rule. Motorists on high-speed routes routinely encounter slow road users - large trucks, cars towing caravans, learner drivers, the occasional horse-drawn cart - without undue aggression. Cyclists are in that category, or should be.

 

What motorists appear to find particularly hard to accept about cyclists is that the latter are increasing relatively rapidly in numbers. Cycling's popularity is growing. Last year, 1 million cars were sold, compared with 1.4 million bicycles. That imbalance has existed for a decade. The relative speed and convenience of cycling, not to mention its other benefits, make it for some an attractive alternative to idling away the minutes in a traffic jam. Others, who may have lost their drivers' licences to speed cameras and the points system, are involuntary converts. All are increasingly occupying the roads - perfectly legitimately. As the Roads and Traffic Authority keeps reminding us, the road is there to share.

 

The RTA and local councils have been slowly - very slowly - improving the infrastructure which legitimises cyclists' presence on roads - or where necessary makes separate provision for them. The intention is welcome, but the realisation often falls short.

 

To take one example - the cycle path beside the North West Transitway. Instead of running straight, it meanders hither and yon, crossing and recrossing Old Windsor Road, with needless detours and long waits at traffic lights. Worse than the flawed design, as Tony Issa, the former mayor of Parramatta has stated, it has gaps which force cyclists on to the T-way itself.

 

It is by no means unique. Cycleways costing millions of dollars are routinely dug up and made impassable with scant thought to providing an alternative, or blocked by power poles or other utilities' obstructions, as if they were an expendable afterthought beside roads, when in fact they are parts of a growing and necessary network of safe cycling routes, a valuable transport asset in their own right.

 

The anger in the debate over the past week is regrettable because it advances the cause neither of motorists nor cyclists. But its intensity at least shows cycling is gradually rising in public consciousness as a transport alternative.

 

Let us hope, though, that from here the future of transport can be debated with less rancour, and more willingness to see the other side.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TIME TO BUTTER UP YOUR LITTLE TEAPOT

 

GREAT news for tea drinkers. Teapot incontinence can be cured. No more will the stream of tea, as you finish pouring, dribble down the spout, lurk mystifyingly around the teapot base, and then end up your lap. Stopping the drips is easy: all you have to do is smear the inside of your teapot's spout with butter, a team of French experts has found, and the problem vanishes, for various reasons to do with fluid dynamics too complicated to discuss here. There is a slight difficulty with this, as alert readers will have observed. Tea from buttered teapots will have butter in it. That may be all right in French research institutes and among our Tibetan readers, who put yak butter in their Earl Grey, but traditionalists will demur. Perhaps they could try smearing the spout with different tasteless, greasy, water-repelling substances such as suet or Vaseline, but we can't say we recommend it. A teabag is of course out of the question. How about a nice glass of red?

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

PASSING THE BUCK ON SECURENCY

 

BIPARTISANSHIP is rare in Canberra these days, but the Government and Opposition are as one on the scandal-racked Reserve Bank subsidiary Securency: they don't want to know about it. Since May, The Age has exposed a string of allegations about the way the company goes about the business of selling its banknote polymer to other nations, some of which are notoriously corrupt. The company is half-owned by the RBA and its board is chaired by an assistant governor. It is accused of multimillion-dollar bribery scandals going back several years. Australian Federal Police are investigating, which the Government and Reserve Bank have invoked as reason for their almost total silence on the matter these past five months.

 

The AFP inquiry relates to possible breaches of Australia's Criminal Code, which prohibits payments to foreign officials or government-controlled firms to secure preferential treatment. Securency has won lucrative contracts to supply polymer to almost 30 countries, often with the aid of Australian ministers, diplomats and trade officials. In Vietnam, Austrade introduced Securency to the Company for Technology and Development, which senior Government sources believe is tied to Hanoi's ministry of public security. Securency paid $5 million to CFTD director-general Anh Ngoc Luong and at least $7 million more to his company, some of which went to accounts in offshore tax havens. Austrade has refused to confirm whether it informed Securency of CFTD's connection to Vietnam's Government.

 

The Vietnamese deal is consistent with a pattern of payments to shady intermediaries, many of them implicated in corruption and fraud inquiries, with the money often going into tax haven accounts. ''If this is happening, then it is against all the policies and procedures the RBA has put in place for the organisation,'' RBA deputy governor Ric Battellino told The Age in May. Well it has been happening for years, and the RBA was so concerned about potential corruption that in 2007 it ended the use of agents by another subsidiary, Note Printing Australia, after questions were asked about excessive commissions in Nepal, Indonesia and Malaysia. Yet Securency continued the same practices unchecked in corruption-prone nations in Asia, South America and Africa. Securency has said all its agents were recommended or approved by Austrade and Australian embassies. The OECD this month criticised Australia's failure to pursue foreign bribery - not a single prosecution has been launched in the decade since ratifying a global anti-bribery convention.

 

As former Coalition attorney-general Philip Ruddock said this week, the nation was put on notice by the inquiry into the Australian Wheat Board bribery scandal in Iraq. The prospect of criminal charges did not then prevent the government setting up an inquiry. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made his name in opposition in his relentless pursuit of the truth about departmental and ministerial responsibilities in the AWB affair. Now his Government is stonewalling similar questions about Securency.

 

The issues at stake go beyond the criminal matters being investigated by the AFP, as Greens leader Bob Brown argued when he sought to have RBA staff questioned by a Senate estimates committee in May. The committee chairwoman, Labor senator Annette Hurley, offered a feeble justification for blocking Senator Brown's bid, saying the committee ''thought that it was a matter of regulation of a company''. A company a bit like AWB, dare we say? The key question, as with AWB, is who knew what? Former ambassador to Vietnam Richard Broinowski said: ''I would have to ask how far the knowledge of this case extends into the senior management of the Reserve Bank, Treasury and therefore into Canberra … into [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade].''

 

Labor and the Coalition, both of which could be embarrassed by closer public scrutiny of Securency's dealings during their times in office, have jointly defeated a bid by Senator Brown to launch a Senate inquiry. He plans to try again next month, because as he rightly says: ''It would be a very serious matter for issues of this magnitude to be denied an inquiry.'' Nigeria's National Assembly has begun an inquiry into Securency, which, in the words of its resolution, ''is believed to have paid millions of dollars in bribe money to Nigerian officials to secure the contract''. The head of Nigeria's central bank has also called for an explanation from the Reserve Bank. If both sides of Australian politics refuse to answer legitimate questions and continue to block an inquiry, the public can only wonder what they have to hide.

 

THEY'RE RACING - BUT NOT ONLY AT FLEMINGTON

AT 11.10 this morning, an expensive assembly of horseflesh and hooves will break from the barriers and hit the turf running in the first race at Flemington. It's Derby day, and the traditional blue cornflower will sprout from several thousand buttonholes and feature somewhere among that milliner's equivalent of a mixed salad, the fascinator.

 

Traditionally, today is the beginning of that unstoppable festival of horses and human beings we call the cup carnival. All the preparations must be ready: there can be no looking back. As Napoleon said before the Battle of Borodino, ''The wine has been uncorked; now we must drink it.'' Which will, no doubt, be taken literally and liberally everywhere from the car park and the Birdcage to the impromptu picnics wherever there is a square metre of space to stake out a rug and portable fridge. Flemington is as much about the popping of corks (much more persuasive a sound than the snapping of screw tops) as the thundering of those hooves - with moderation, it must be hoped.

 

As the multitude celebrates, and while lucky owners and trainers, bookmakers and haute couture merchants rejoice, it is worth remembering that racing does not begin or end at Flemington. The Melbourne Cup may be the race that stops a nation, but there are other races on other courses with their own drawing power and traditions. Look no further than regional Victoria, and the various country meetings that enliven the lives of local communities. This is at risk. Following the amalgamation of regional shires, local councils have been forced, under new legislation, to choose one event as a public holiday, even if that event is inconveniently distant. Some disgruntled communities are unilaterally declaring public holidays to coincide with their premier race day. For example, Macedon Ranges Council is having a bit each way: it has decided to observe the Kyneton Cup as a holiday for the northern part of the shire, and the Melbourne Cup for the southern part. Local communities deserve their day off for local reasons. For all the right reasons, the Government should rectify this problem.

 

Source: The Age

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

EUROPEAN UNION: CHANGING CLIMATE IN BRUSSELS

 

Il Presidente Blair, it seems, is not to be. Over dinners on Thursday night Europe's leaders began to look for a less glamorous and less divisive politician to head the European council. Too socialist for the right, too rightwing for the socialists and too tainted with Iraq for everyone, the excitement about Tony Blair was always biggest in Britain, underscoring the point that this country is only ever gripped by European issues when they are given a domestic spin. It happened to the Conservatives, too; their new alliances in the European parliament only catching alight at home when David Miliband led the attack against them.

 

The murmuring of retreat could be heard in Whitehall yesterday, after a BBC interview with Poland's chief rabbi. In it he described the target of Mr Miliband's ire, the Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, as a mainstream leader who was not antisemitic. Tories welcomed that – and the sense that Mr Miliband may have pushed things too hard – but they should not mistake the easing of one line of attack for a general acceptance of their European policy. Too little about it is known – and what is known is too alarming – for anyone to relax at the prospect of a Conservative government dealing with Brussels.

 

The point is less about extremism than about the party's refusal to co-operate even with European politicians with whom it ought to agree. Fredrik Reinfeldt, for instance, the centre-right Swedish prime minister whose government is in many ways a testing ground for what might become Cameronism, was photographed yesterday cheering the Brussels agreement on climate aid. The agreement promises the developing world a mix of private and public money to cope with the likely impact of global warming. Whether all the promised billions materialise is open to question. But the deal, which Gordon Brown pushed for, raises the European standard ahead of next month's Copenhagen summit. If the EU had done nothing this week, an effective global deal on climate change would have been several steps further away.

 

Though unsatisfactory in its lack of specifics, yesterday's agreement is exactly the sort of thing modern Conservatives ought to be pleased the EU can do. Instead Tory leaders sound obstructive and, more importantly, are seen by other European leaders as bewilderingly hostile to co-operation and rational institutional change. This intransigence has already had consequences: "London's loss will be Madrid's gain," declared Germany's right-of-centre Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung thinktank recently when it moved its respected director from Britain in a small but intentional snub aimed at a Conservative party which walked away from partnership with the CDU in the European parliament.

 

The Tories will not be too shaken by that. But they should be. Abroad, a Cameron government will need friends in Europe in the major countries. At home, a Cameron government that wants to make any headway at all on the things its leader says he cares about – education reform, for instance, or poverty – would be mad to spend its energy instead on picking a fight with the rest of Europe. Whether it does so will depend on how Mr Cameron responds to the final ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which now looks imminent. His line until now, "we will not let matters rest", will not serve after that. He is unlikely to promise a referendum on a treaty that will already be in operation. But he may promise a battle over other things – what, until Lisbon, was the EU social chapter, for instance, or the European budget when it comes up for review in 2011. Poor relations with other European right-of-centre leaders will not make such things easy to achieve.

 

If Mr Cameron is bold, he will face down his party on Europe. It would be a defining moment. It should happen soon. He has a choice: lead his country, or lead the opposition. Europe, once again, is make or break for the Tories.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

DRUGS POLICY: SHOOTING UP THE MESSENGER

 

Professor David Nutt is an expert in his field: a professor of psychopharmacology at Bristol University and head of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. He knows more about the brain's responses to anxiety, addiction and sleep than any politician or media commentator. He is precisely the sort of man who should be helping the government shape its drugs policy, which is why he was appointed and then reappointed to serve as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. That is also why it is such a disgrace that Alan Johnson, the home secretary, sacked him late yesterday afternoon for having the temerity to point out some obvious truths about the government's populist and unthinking handling of the issue.

 

Mr Johnson, it seems, welcomes independent advice when it agrees with his own prejudices but does not have the strength of character to listen to people who tell him difficult truths. Perhaps he would rather Professor Nutt had continued to tolerate past practice, which was to repeatedly advise the government that not all illegal drugs are as dangerous as some influential newspapers claim, and that not all legal ones are safe, and then find that advice rejected just as repeatedly by ministers. Instead the professor made his views public this week, in a speech and in a pamphlet for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. In it, he confronted government policy. But what is the point of having an independent panel of experts if its members are sacked when they offer expert advice?

 

In a statement yesterday the Home Office said it remained "determined to crack down on all illegal substances and minimise their harm to health and society as a whole". Nothing Professor Nutt believes contradicts the important part of that statement – the need to minimise the harm drugs cause. But he is not the only person to see the idiocy in a policy that declares some drugs (cannabis among them) illegal, while others (alcohol, obviously) are not. "Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth," he argued. "Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively."

 

Mr Johnson is the second home secretary to find Professor Nutt's views challenging, but the only one to sack him. When Professor Nutt pointed out to Jacqui Smith that 100 people die a year from riding horses, and only 30 from ecstasy, the press got excited. But no one could show that it wasn't true. Drugs cause harm. Drugs law is a fraught issue. A brave minister would take advice and accept that the government might be in the wrong. Shooting the messenger is stupid and dangerous.

 

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THE GURDIAN

                                                                                                                             EDITORIAL

UNTHINKABLE? A BONUS AMNESTY OVER (A RATHER NICE) BREAKFAST

 

Some good ideas are obvious but unlikely to happen. Here is one. Whenever thoughtful and distinguished bankers are alone and in private, they often say the unsayable: we are paid too much. Sometimes they will go further. They will say: "Yes, what our people are paid is ridiculous and quite impossible to justify, except in one regard. We admit it is, by any standards, preposterous that people working in the financial sector