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Monday, November 30, 2009

EDITORIAL 30.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month november 30, edition 000363, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









  5. A SEA VIEW -
  6. BITE ME -


























































The fallout of the financial crisis in Dubai may be difficult to estimate immediately but will certainly be substantial. Dubai World, the Government-owned investment company and principal promoter of the desert emirate's recent real estate surge, has defaulted on loan payments. In effect, the Government of Dubai has declared itself as being at the cusp of reneging on a sovereign guarantee. It is expected — or hoped — that the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi will bail out Dubai. Nevertheless, the conditions attached to this hypothetical bailout remain unknown. They could have both economic and lifestyle implications, given Dubai is the most permissive city in the Gulf. Dubai has very little oil. It gets its revenue from being the pleasure and financial capital of the Arab world, and the one city where Westerners and expatriates can live a semblance of normal life. In the past decade or so, Dubai sought to reinvent itself as the Singapore of West Asia, as a financial centre, a playground for the global elite and, with sovereign-backed firms such as Dubai World, an investor in companies and markets around the world. Among other things, this led to the creation of a massive real estate bubble. Skyscrapers and dazzling landscapes, even man-made islands, were thrown open to speculators. Celebrities from Richard Branson to Shah Rukh Khan were invited to own designer homes in Dubai. An extravagant sports city, which saw itself as among other things Manchester United's Asian hub, was built from scratch. The Wall Street financial crisis of 2008 hit Dubai hard. At home, real estate prices crashed; abroad, the value of Dubai's investments fell sharply. Yet, nobody knew exactly how hard the impact was. This past week, the intensity became apparent. The Dubai Government itself was contemplating bankruptcy.

Adversity will automatically pare down ambition. Dubai's dreams of becoming the Gulf's first post-petroleum economy, insulated forever from the energy resource that drives its region, will now be downsized. The wealthy bankers and luxury retail chains that had made the city their habitat will have to look elsewhere or contemplate less business. The job market too will be tempered. Since the earlier oil boom of the 1970s, Dubai has been the South Asian blue collar worker's city of gold. Two of every five residents are Indians. Exact figures are unavailable but according to some calculations, 25 cents of every dollar sent home by NRIs as remittances comes from Dubai. Kerala will be severely hit. So will Gujarat, which is a big exporter of gems and jewellery to Dubai. The exposure of some Indian banks to projects in Dubai and the investment plans of Dubai-based real estate companies in India — one of them is building the Commonwealth Games village in Delhi and has already been burnt by the Indian real estate collapse of 2008 — will also arouse concern.

In the long run, India will probably be less affected than certain other countries that are far more dependent on Dubai and its dollars. Yet, there will be an indirect affect. If Dubai World is forced to liquidate its assets in, say, Europe — and these are said to be not insignificant — then the prospect of a distress sale will only drive down prices in those markets. This is not happy news for a global economy that thought the worst was over. Suddenly, 2010 doesn't look as much of a recovery year as it was being made out to be before the bubble called Dubai burst.






There is something sinfully exciting about gatecrashing an exclusive party. Perhaps it is the adrenalin rush that one experiences from being able to break into the 'charmed circle' and successfully mingling with the 'hip' crowd without looking out of place. In fact, the very tag of 'exclusiveness' makes one want to be a part of the occasion. And they don't come more exclusive than a White House state dinner. Hence, it is hardly surprising that people wanted to drop in uninvited when US President Barack Obama and the White House staff decided to roll out the red carpet in honour of our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But what is surprising is that an enterprising couple from Virginia were actually able to pull a fast one on the US Secret Service and sashay their way into the super-private soirée. Understandably, this has left the Secret Service looking sheepish. In their defence, the two intruders, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, were amiable-looking folks who even bothered to dress for the occasion: She wore a stunning red lehnga-choli while he looked as distinguished as anyone else in his finely pressed tuxedo and both mingled easily with the high and the mighty. They even got their pictures clicked with US Vice-President Joe Biden as if they were old college mates. Mr Obama too wasn't shy of flashing a smile for the shutterbugs when the Salahis greeted him. Besides, Ms Salahi is supposed to be a star on the television programme Real Housewives of Washington. Don't people watch that show? It is entirely possible that the bright, young Secret Service chap manning the gates for the evening instantly recognised Ms Salahi and her husband from TV and ruled out any threat perception.

Had it not been for an undercover Washington Post journalist who just couldn't stick to his bread and butter story about the dinner, the Salahis would have got away with their act and none would have been the wiser. But no, the snooping journalist had to be a killjoy and find a different angle. As for the Salahis posting pictures of their gala evening spent in the company of Washington's movers and shakers on their Facebook page, who can blame them? What's the point in gatecrashing an exclusive party and not being able to brag about it to your friends? They would have been daft to keep it a secret. Which puts into perspective the hoopla surrounding state dinners. Aren't they just an excuse to show off and go the whole hog to impress the guests and have a good time? After all, with the media constantly keeping politicians on their toes, it becomes difficult for the poor souls to kick back and relax once in a while. So let us call it a day and stick to what our Prime Minister had to say on the grand occasion: "The dinner was lavish and extravagant."



            THE PIONEER




In a communication to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt has conveyed his sense of "great betrayal" over the manner in which his son, Rahul, has been handled by those investigating the David Headley-Tahawwur Rana episode. He felt anguished over his son being questioned.

It would only be fair to set the record straight. The National Investigation Agency team probing Headley and Rana's movements and activities during their stay in Mumbai naturally needed to examine whether any of their local friends or acquaintances, including Rahul, had taken them around the landmarks that were hit by the 26/11 terrorist attack.

The investigating agency has to investigate whether Pakistan-born Daood Gilani did not choose his Christian-sounding name, David Headley, for a definite objective. He has reportedly told the US authorities that it was done to avoid raising an alarm when he travelled.


In fact, it was his American identity that failed to awaken suspicion among immigration and police authorities in India. Headley was issued a five-year, multiple-entry business visa, which is said to be against the rules of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The rules reportedly require all cases of Pakistan-born individuals seeking an Indian visa to be referred directly to the MHA.


Headley had used his visa to extensively travel across India between 2006 and 2009. He made as many as nine trips to this country, visiting various cities like Delhi, Kochi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Agra and Lucknow besides Mumbai from where he operated his so-called immigration assistance firm. It is apparent that this firm was only a cover used by Headley to recruit footsoldiers for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

The Headley-Rana episode is also one of the first cases wherein a link has been established between a terror suspect in the US and a former Pakistani military officer. Subsequently, five have been arrested in Pakistan.

The problem is that as human beings we are susceptible to forgetfulness, however grievous a hurt might have been. Investigation is a painstaking job. It is the first step in uncovering the truth. Investigation cannot be done as per the wishes of the persons summoned. Determination of the truth and backing it up with solid evidence in court is of utmost importance. But in the absence of a witness protection programme, it becomes almost impossible to get independent witnesses to depose in court, resulting in the cases lingering on for years.

As per the present laws, any statement made to the police or an investigating officer need not be signed. In fact, telling one thing to the investigating officer and another to the court has become the norm as hardly anybody is punished for perjury.

Theoretically, terrorists can kill hundreds, as they did in Mumbai on 26/11, confess to their crime before the police and then deny their guilt in court. On the other hand, the police have to produce independent witnesses to prove that they have the real killers. Plus, anybody is free to go to the media or approach politicians to complain about investigating excesses and project himself or herself as the victim.

No investigator has a magic wand. Concrete links have to be established during the investigation process to build a case. The investigator has not only to establish connections between the crime and the criminals but also answer many unanswered questions that arise during the investigation.

Terrorism is the biggest threat facing India. Following are some of the major terror incidents to have shaken the country which are worth listing:

Mumbai, November 26, 2008: 173 killed and more than three hundred injured in fidayeen strikes


Assam, October 30, 2008: 55 killed and over 119 injured in 18 terror bombings across Assam.


Imphal, October 21, 2008: 17 killed in a powerful blast near the Manipur Police Commando complex.


Kanpur, October 14, 2008: Eight people injured after a bomb planted on a rented bicycle went off at Colonelganj market.

Malegaon, September 29, 2008: Five people killed after a bomb kept on a motorbike went off in a crowded market.

New Delhi, September 27, 2008: Three people killed after a crude bomb went off in a busy market in Mehrauli.

New Delhi, September 13, 2008: 26 people killed in six bombings.

Ahmedabad, July 26, 2008: 57 people killed after 22 synchronised bombs went off within less than two hours.

Bangalore, July 25, 2008: One person killed in a low-intensity bomb explosion.

Jaipur, May 13, 2008: 68 people killed in serial bombings.

Hyderabad, August 25, 2007: 42 people killed in two bombings at a popular eatery and a public park.

Samjhauta Express, February 19, 2007: 66 people killed after two firebombs went off on the India-Pakistan friendship train.

Malegaon, September 8, 2006: 40 people killed in two bomb explosions.

Mumbai, July 11, 2006: 209 people killed in seven bombings on suburban trains and stations.

Varanasi, March 7, 2006: 21 people killed in three bombings, including one at a temple and another at a railway station.

New Delhi, October 29, 2005: 61 people killed in three bombings on the eve of Diwali.

Mumbai, August 25, 2003: 46 people killed in two bomb explosions, including one near the Gateway of India.

Gandhinagar, September 24, 2002: 34 people killed in an attack on the Akshardham temple.


Our police forces and investigating agencies are under tremendous pressure to contain terrorism and at the same time keep their political masters happy. It is nobody's case that Mahesh Bhatt's son is a confirmed terrorist. But it would be in the best interest of the country for him to co-operate so that the truth comes out.

Meanwhile, it is high time that visa procedures were streamlined and made more stringent. The general prevailing impression is that a Caucasian with a Christian name cannot be a terrorist. This myth should be dispelled from the minds of the investigating and security agencies. Also, it is time to give our police forces and investigating agencies autonomy as per the September 2007 ruling of the Supreme Court. The media, on its part, should continue playing a constructive role and become its own and the country's watchdog.







Serious threats imposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran's Revolutionary Guards did not stop thousands of protesters from marching in the streets of Tehran last week. The protesters wanted to make it clear that the post-election momentum has not dissipated. Security forces barricaded the city's main roads to prevent the Opposition from gaining force as plain clothed and uniformed guards spread through streets using aggression and, in some reported incidents, violence to deter the demonstrators.

The most recent protests commemorated the murders of political activists Dariush Forouhar and his wife, Parvaneh, who were viciously stabbed to death in 1998. The Forouhars were the founders and leaders of the Hezb-e-Melat-e Iran, or the Nation of Iran Party, that openly criticised the Islamic regime. Organisers arranged small-scale protests to begin in the morning and march towards the Forouhar home, located in central Tehran, in the late afternoon. Before protesters could get close to their neighbourhood, riot police had already closed off the area.

"My parents and many like them died in the name of freedom for the people of Iran," said Parastou Forouhar, the daughter of the slain couple, in a phone interview while Revolutionary Guards were still vigilantly loitering outside her parents' home. Parastou and her brother Arash, who flew into Tehran from Frankfurt, Germany, where they currently live, visit their parents' home every year on the anniversary of their deaths.

Loud cheering and the chanting of political slogans could be heard blocks away where demonstrators had been stopped, she said. Regime guards had ordered her and her family to not leave the house all day. Reports indicated that students protesting at Tehran University had a sizeable turnout but were contained by police and not allowed to leave campus. Similar reports came from the University of Shiraz, though not confirmed.

Riot police and Islamic security forces have repeatedly warned protesters not to participate in demonstrations, threatening arrest and severe repercussions. Yet, since the upheaval that followed the contested June 12 election, the Iranian Opposition, lacking the authority to stage its own demonstrations, has used holidays and commemorative days to organise and protest in the streets, universities and in various cities across the country.









The indictment of seven accused in a Pakistani anti-terrorism court last week in connection with the 26/11 fidayeenattacks on Mumbai was perhaps more farcical than belated.

The 26/11 chargesheet filed in a Mumbai court names 35 accused. Three of these accused are standing trial in India, while nine others are rotting in a morgue in Mumbai.

But then not all of the seven indicted in Pakistan are listed in the chargesheet in India. But that's not even where the farce begins.


The chargesheet in India names four distinct individuals — Hafiz Saeed, Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Abu al-Qama and Zarar Shah — among others. Several news reports from Pakistan have identified the detainees Zarar Shah as Abdul Wajid and Abu al-Qama as Mazhar Iqbal.

But then as with many aspects of the conspiracy behind the 26/11 attacks these identities too have come under a cloud with the still unravelling findings into the activities of the two accused in the Chicago conspiracy — David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

More specifically the intrigue is centered around the identities of the two Pakistan-based associates of Headley who have been named only in the third person in the Chicago conspiracy complaints by the FBI in the US.

Several news reports, unconfirmed though, have named the two Pakistan-based individuals linked to Headley and Rana to be Sajid Mir and a certain Abdul Rehman.

Sajid Mir has been known internationally as a Lashkar commander and controller in a much publicised plot of a French national Willy Briggette accused of terrorism back in 2006. Strangely enough, Sajid Mir has never been named by Indian authorities or media for any of the past attacks this decade.

Strangely, a week ago sources within Intelligence Bureau revealed twice in less than a week to an online news portal that Sajid Mir may in fact be Abu al-Qama. Those unfamiliar with al-Qama may want to rewind back to 2005 when he was held responsible for the 2005 serial blasts in New Delhi.

Not just that the same IB sources also now suspect Sajid Mir to be Zarar Shah whose name gained popular attention as the person who set up the e-mail account from which the claim of responsibility for 26/11 was issued in the name of the Deccan Mujahideen.

The confusion over the veracity of multiple identities perhaps assumed by the same Lashkar commander can be best appreciated by rewinding back to September 2008 in the days after the serial blasts in Delhi.

On September 26, 2008 the Indian Express carried a report quoting sources in Delhi Police that claimed Lashkar commander Abu al-Qama had been directing the Indian Mujahideen wave of serial blasts in multiple cities in India. But contradicting this claim the report said Jammu & Kashmir Police believed al-Qama had been killed six months back in Gujranwala after he deserted Lashkar. The Indian Express followed up with another report on September 30 quoting the Delhi Police special chief that al-Qama was alive.

On more than one occasion there has been confusion on the antecedents and sphere of influence of not just al-Qama but the other Lashkar commander who has also been variously attributed responsibility for attacks last decade.

Two satellite phone numbers — 8821651135541 and 8821621330743 — that were listed in a report that appeared in the DNA on December 19, 2008 had also appeared in a report in the Indian Express on July 26, 2005 when two satellite phones were allegedly recovered in Jammu & Kashmir during an encounter. While in 2005 either satellite phone number was associated with Muzammil and al-Qama, in 2008 both the satellite phone numbers were claimed to have been used by Muzammil. Also back in 2005 al-Qama was described as Lashkar's commander for attacks in Jammu & Kashmir and Muzammil as the commander for all attacks outside the State.

The myth around division of responsibility between them that was first described in 2005 is severely put to test in 2006 when a third name re-emerges as the Lashkar's commander responsible for attacks outside Jammu & Kashmir — Azam Cheema who is the prime accused in the July 2006 serial blasts in Mumbai. To square the division of labour between the two known commanders of Lashkar a new myth emerges in October of 2006 on the alleged competition between Cheema and his peers Muzammil and al-Qama.

This myth takes a curious turn to when another appears to explain that the Baba referred to in 26/11 phone intercepts was not Azam Cheema who we are told was suffering from diabetes. In the same report from January 19, 2009 we were also told Azam Cheema had transferred control to al-Qama.

Meanwhile, the legend of Muzammil takes its own life in the aftermath of the January 2008 fidayeenattack on a CRPF camp in Rampur. The many confessions of Fahim Ansari and Sabahuddin Sheikh reported variously in the media in April 2008 reveal Muzammil as the mastermind behind the 7/11 attacks while describing him in a subordinate capacity to Azam Cheema.


Strangely enough, while Muzammil emerges as key Lashkar mastermind post-7/11 overshadowing Azam Cheema, al-Qama practically fades from public memory but for his alleged role in the 2005 Delhi blasts till he re-surfaces in the 26/11 chargesheet.

It is important to note the chronological sequence in which al-Qama (Delhi 2005), Azam Cheema (Mumbai 2006) and Muzammil (all attacks after 7/11) have been attributed responsibility for major attacks since 2005.

With Muzammil, al-Qama and Zarar Shah named in the 26/11 chargesheet as three distinct individuals, Headley's revelations on Sajid Mir take us deeper into a tangled web of assumed identities. So deep that to date Sajid Mir was not even on the radar of Indian agencies for any of the attacks on Indian soil.

On the first anniversary of 26/11 we are no wiser on the operational layer of command between the known leaders of LeT, JeM and HuJI — Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Masood Azhar, llyas Kashmiri and their Indian origin lieutenants like Amir Raza Khan and the allegedly dead Shahid Bilal amongst others.

The cold reality a year after 26/11 is that we have mostly been chasing ghosts for the last five years while the sponsors of terror continue to operate from behind a web of anonymity.

The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.








There is a difference between a shake-out, a clean-up, a purge and rectification. Hopefully the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India(Marxist) knows the difference, because it is almost certain that the central leadership of the party, namely general secretary Prakash Karat, does not.

A cleaning supervisor who ends up making a mess is not the best guide for a State poised on the brink of regime change as West Bengal is. Quite apart from the disaster that Mr Karat produced by following through on his threat to withdraw support from the Congress at the Centre in 2008 compounded by the ridiculous exercise in alliance building with Ms Mayawati on the one hand and Ms J Jayalalithaa on the other, his interventions in Kerala have ensured that not only did the CPI(M) lose in the Lok Sabha election but that it will lose to the Congress and usher in a United Democratic Front Government in the next Assembly elections.

The formal inauguration of the rectification drive in West Bengal, following the post-mortem of the Lok Sabha election results does not augur well for the already demoralised cadres of the CPI(M). It must be presumed that the rectification has a purpose larger than the routine task of identifying the loyal foot soldiers from the mercenaries. With stories in circulation of how the party's cadres have evolved into contractors and suppliers, using their clout to drive business, the purpose of the rectification drive seems to be a public relations exercise for the benefit of the CPI(M)'s critics and the disgruntled voters.

Minus the substance, the naming, shaming, rectification is a textbook solution to a complicated problem at a critical juncture. In the real world, especially in a boisterous democracy, the rigid rules cannot be imposed and implemented. For one, the party has grown too large; producing a format to clean up three lakh plus members over two days is a fantastic target, given the complexities of relationships and circumstances within West Bengal. For another, the fixers need to start with a clear understanding of what can be fixed and what needs to be discarded. Communicating this down the line so that the rectification does not turn into a witch-hunt in places, a settling of scores elsewhere is essential.

The fact of the matter is that some of this could have been achieved had there been a credible chain of command. Unfortunately, the State unit of the CPI(M) has poor commanders and in some districts grossly overage leaders, who cannot be expected to deliver on anything, leave alone lead an exercise that requires energy, discernment, diplomacy and a certain degree of ruthlessness.

For a party that prides itself on the smooth transfer of power from the veterans to the 'younger' leaders, all of who are pushing 60 now, it has proved ridiculously inept in replacing the veterans at the district level. While Mr Jyoti Basu bowed out and then quit the Polit Bureau, others have not done so; some because no one suggested it to them, others because an acceptable replacement could not be named. In Kolkata district, so crucial for the party's morale, the leadership has remained with Mr Raghunath Kushari for decades. In Purulia, Mr Nakul Mahato has been around forever; Burdwan district is still in the grip of Mr Binoy Konar despite his age and health.

There was a time when the CPI(M) did drop old timers and even younger leaders who were getting too hot to handle. It served a different purpose; it signalled to the rest of the party what was desirable and what had to be either pensioned off or discarded. The people named and removed were examples and that seemed to work better, than what this rectification drive promises.

The CPI(M) in West Bengal is being driven back to the wall by the pressure from the opposition buoyed by a tidal wave of disappointments, discontents and anger. The party has been in power for 32 years and in as much as it has to account for its actions to the electorate, it has to account for its actions to the party. To be guided by the central leadership of the CPI(M) on rectification may be a technical requirement, but the State leadership cannot afford to let itself be dominated by a 'line'.

Mr Biman Bose, technically and Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, morally, are required to lead the party in West Bengal.

The shakier the CPI(M) gets as a vote catching machine, the greater the need to be seen to provide effective security to its local leaders. A harsh rectification will drive the mercenaries towards the opposition; a blundering drive will alienate the locals and their leaders. They cannot do anything that jeopardises the lives of the thousands who have lived and worked for the CPI(M). They cannot wreck the party in the name of rectification.

The difficulty is that Mr Bose and Mr Bhattacharjee have to agree and follow through on a strategy of exemplary punishment that communicates the message within the party, can be paraded for mending relations with the disenchanted public and repair morale. Blundering into a rectification that ends up as a bloodbath is not politic; Mr Bose and Mr Bhattacharjee have responsibilities beyond supervising a clean-up. Their roots are in West Bengal; they have lived and led here. They cannot be obedient to the boss and let down their comrades. If they can pull it off, the CPI(M) can salvage itself from defeat; if they fail, they will have cut the ground from under their own feet.








I had overlooked the significance of what a member of Rajiv Gandhi's Cabinet had casually mentioned sometime in 1987. The BJP had not then taken on board its 'Ayodhya manifesto'. The Minister had said that the Ram mandir would become a greater liability for the Congress than it was an asset for the Hindu movement. It was only in September 1991 that I was reminded of the mandir. By then Parliament had unanimously passed the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. This law prohibited any alteration in the character of a place of worship in India from what it had been since August 15, 1947. Except the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure. While the Act was significant I did not quite realise its import.

Thereafter, in late-November 1992 when Mr Keshubhai Patel, later the Chief Minister of Gujarat, telephoned me to get ready to accompany him and Mr Suresh Mehta to Ayodhya. By 10:40 am on the fateful day we were all on the VIP terrace with the Babri edifice in view from not very far. We could not leave the terrace till nearly 5:45 pm by when it was cold and completely dark. Well before 6 pm we were in our car and on our way back to Lucknow for the night. On Mr Mehta's transistor radio we heard that the Centre had dismissed all the four BJP State Governments, including that of Mr Kalyan Singh.

On the terrace, Acharya Dharmendra was acting as the master of ceremonies with the help of the only microphone available there. From time to time, he would invite anybody willing to sing or speak in praise of Sri Ram. As more VIPs came up to the terrace, the younger persons were asked to make space. By noon the terrace had a galaxy of VIPs. When a number of young men climbed on to the main dome of the edifice, in all they were three, Mr HV Seshadri made fervent appeals on the microphone successively in six different languages asking the young men to get down as he feared for their lives. Instead of getting off, the young enthusiasts scratched the surface of the dome so hard that it became golden sand in colour.

In the meantime, came up to the terrace two photographers who had lost their cameras, had been badly bruised and humiliated. They had insisted on taking photographs of the so-called kar sevaks who were, with the help of crow bars, digging into the bottom edges of the domes. I was surprised that kar sevaks would object to being photographed. Normally, they should have been delighted. My poser to the photographers was, were the kar sevaks, by any chance, Government servants? Perhaps, PWD men? At approximately 2:30 pm one of the domes on the extreme right from where we were, collapsed. Surely, if the Centre disapproved of such demolition, it could have imposed Governor's rule immediately and saved the next two domes. The next one to go was at 3:40 pm and the last one survived until 4:30 pm. There was still clear day light when the entire Babri structure with its 10 walls, some three feet thick and over 30 feet tall, standing in all their domeless splendour. The walls were intact; with the three domes gone.

We returned to Lucknow by about 8:30 pm. The city was by then under curfew, and after some searching got rooms in a guest house. While we were having dinner came Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao on television. He was speaking in Hindi to express his sorrow at what had happened in Ayodhya that afternoon. After condemning the act repeatedly he solemnly promised that he would re-build the Babri masjid very soon. To which our reaction was: Where was the need to re-build the edifice? It was still very much there. Only the three domes were missing which could be re-built in no time. Instead, the Governor representing the Central Government demolished the standing walls.

Ayodhya had been so cordoned off that no photograph could be taken of the walls without the domes. Neither I have seen the picture nor have I met anyone who has seen one.

Thereafter, there was little specific news from Ayodhya. What we saw next were the newspapers of December 9 showing photographs of Ram Lalla in the make-shift temple guarded by para-military jawans. We were astonished to find from the photographs that the entire structure was missing, all the walls gone and no rubble. All this happened in the course of 60 hours between the night of December 6 and December 8. Without the whole-hearted support of the State Public Works Department and its bulldozers, this enormous task could not have been accomplished. All this while Uttar Pradesh was under Governor's rule and, therefore, at the beck and call of the Centre.

Narasimha Rao used his foresight for the sake of the Congress. So long as the Babri edifice had remained, the BJP would have a handle to agitate and win Hindu support. The Congress might have been continually on the defensive. With the structure gone and Ram Lalla installed at his birthplace, the BJP will lose the cause for agitation.







During a parade on the embankment of Mumbai on the anniversary of last year's hideous terrorist attack, the police showed new weapons and armoured vehicles.

The parade followed the route of the terrorists, passing by the city's two best hotels and the famous railway station, which looks like a huge Catholic cathedral.

Last year 10 young people, well-trained and armed to the teeth, arrived by boat from neighbouring Pakistan and killed 166 people in the course of 60 hours.

It was a unique act of terror, which called into doubt our ability to stop such actions as a seizure of a city centre by a small group of people.

This terrorist attack did not affect India's domestic policy. The ruling Congress has won the general elections. Surprisingly, no major changes have taken place in India's foreign policy but the reason for that is simple: Any attempts to counter the threat emanating from Pakistan seemed pointless.

During this anniversary Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid a visit to Washington, DC. He told the American audience that when Pakistan was ruled by Gen Pervez Musharraf, who was not an ardent champion of democracy, it was at least clear whom to call. This is no longer possible now that Pakistan is ruled by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who are not on very good terms.

Needless to say, India broke off political dialogue with Pakistan. After an exchange of letters between New Delhi and Islamabad, which lasted for months, Pakistan finally charged seven people with 'complicity' in the events in Mumbai. One of the 10 terrorists (others were killed) will go on trial in India.

However, there is no guarantee that these actions will help the world reach its main goal, which Mr Singh described as "the destruction of the infrastructure of terrorism."

It appears that nobody knows how to attain this goal. The unprecedented 9/11 attacks in New York and the massive act of terror in Mumbai originated in the same barely controlled part of the world. For all the reservations about their names, Al Qaeda, which was in charge of 9/11, and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, which was behind the Mumbai attacks, are links of the same chain. It is believed that this chain was set up by Pakistani secret services, and not without participation of their American colleagues.

Indians maintain that the Pakistani military could easily destroy the infrastructure of terrorism and should be encouraged to do so. The weak Pakistani Government should be given some guarantees of survival after doing this.

Americans were much more radical in their moves. They simply occupied Afghanistan after the war in the winter of 2001-2002. The results were negligible in both cases. There is no guarantee against new major raids in any part of the world. There are places like Somalia, where people limit their activities to such trifles as piracy on one of the world's busiest routes by sheer accident. Nobody knows how to cope with these problems.

At any rate, nobody knew this in the strange transitional world which emerged in the 1990s — an uncontrollable world of illusions about the 'only superpower' and globalisation under one and the same pattern. It is obvious now that this world will never come back but it is not clear what system of global management will replace it. It is being created by test and trial before our eyes.

The anniversary of the act of terror in Mumbai is an excellent illustration of this process because on that day US President Barack Obama met with the Indian Prime Minister in Washington, DC. Their conversation primarily revolved around Mumbai, Pakistan and terrorism. Mr Obama is expected to announce a new strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan on December 1, and it will have nothing to do with retreat or withdrawal. India, a key country in the region, did not take part in US policy before, but this absurdity had long been obvious.

It is not yet clear what the two leaders agreed on in Washington. Obviously, the US is no longer on Pakistan's side. Now Americans and Indians are fighting terrorism together. India is grateful to Mr Obama for his role in putting the Pakistani 'suspects' on trial.

The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.








DUBAI'S debt disaster has sent waves of fear and panic through investors worldwide. The panic is not surprising. Just when they thought that governments around the world had managed to successfully stave off the prospect of a collapse of the world financial system, the news that a sovereign government would recklessly endanger not only its, but the entire region's financial stability and economic development is enough to scare anybody. But that is exactly what Dubai, an autocratic kingdom which is run more like a closely- held family company, has been doing.


Technically, the default in debt repayment was committed by a real estate developer, Nakheel. But Nakheel is owned by Dubai World, which is Dubai's sovereign wealth fund. And Dubai World's debts were in turn backed by the Dubai government. The Dubai debacle is entirely man- made, just like the impossible skyscrapers and the unbelievable artificial islands which have become its trademark. It borrowed and spent recklessly on projects which would have simply failed to find financial backing in any other corner of the world. This was driven by Dubai's ruler, Sheikh al Maktoum's ambition to turn his tiny desert city- state into a magnet for the world's wealth and playground for the rich and famous. The result has been a mountain of debt and empty monuments to human imagination.


Dubai's crisis is of immediate concern to India. Dubai has always been very closely linked with India. Indians control its thriving gold market, power its construction boom and dominate its trade. The government and the Reserve Bank have said there is little to worry. But the informal linkages are much bigger. Dubai is the focal point of India's hawala trade, channeling billions through unofficial channels in and out of India. The panic in the stock markets was triggered by the fact that most players are aware of the extent to which these funds have been pumped back into Indian stocks and real estate. The plight of millions of Indians working in India is also of pressing concern.


The end of the Dubai dream will mean a nightmare for millions more back home, dependent as they are on remittances from family members there. Kerala, with lakhs of its citizens there, has already called for help.


The government needs to act proactively to prevent a human tragedy.







THE panel set up by the Union Surface Transport and Highways Ministry to review the Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 is right in proposing stiffer penalties for drunken driving, with slabs being set for different alcohol levels in the blood stream. As is well known, the present law — where there is a uniform penalty of Rs 2,000 irrespective of how much alcohol a driver has consumed — is too soft to deter offenders.


Drunken driving is something most Indians who consume alcohol have been guilty of, at some point or the other. But it is high time we stopped considering it as a mere indulgence.


Those inclined to see it that way must remember that it is estimated that 40 per cent of road accidents in India occur at night, with one- third of those being caused due to alcohol — a lakh people are killed on our roads every year.


But it is not enough to merely raise fines for drunken driving. The panel must also take a call on habitual offenders, with a third violation leading to cancellation of licence. In any case, it is not laws and regulations but their enforcement that is the key here. For instance the Motor Vehicle Act of 1988 even stipulates imprisonment for drunken driving but rare is the case when this actually happens.


Our policemen need to be more vigilant at night and they must be provided proper equipment to check alcohol levels. Also, the possibility of the proposal merely helping policemen make more money is real and needs to be guarded against.


It is perhaps not within the purview of the panel to consider death due to drunken driving but this is a matter on which our parliamentarians must show the way. As we have said before, section 304A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with death due to negligence is too mild a provision against a drunk driver running over someone. A parliamentary panel had suggested that an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder be made out in such cases. The lawmakers could consider this proposal or, at the very least, introduce a specific provision in the IPC against the offence.








Those indicted culpablybythe Liberhan panel must not hide behind procedure or the leakof the report


AT LAST after 17 years, 399 settings, 48 extensions, a cost of Rs 17 crores, embarrassing differences between the Commission's counsel and Chairperson, litigation in court to delay it, the Liberhan Report on the destruction of Babri Masjid has arrived. Submitted on 30th June 2009, Home Minister P Chidambaram held on to it until, it was leaked on 23rd November 2009 amidst accusations of conspiracy and finally tabled on 24th November.


First, the leak. It was a coup for a newspaper. If anyone knows about the leak, surely it is that newspaper which stole a march to make a coup. In fact, what was wrong was the archaic law of non- disclosure. It is an absurd relic from English practice. There is no reason why reports should be disclosed to parliament first.


On one occasion in 1960 or so, Pandit Nehru was accused of breach of parliamentary privilege because he pre- disclosed to the press a comment he was to make in Parliament. This part of parliamentary privilege should be removed by legislation. An Act should be enacted which simply says " All reports to Parliament shall be submitted to the Speaker and Chair of each House; and simultaneously published straightaway; ( 2) Any Action Taken Report ( ATR) shall be declared to Parliament within one month". This cat- and- mouse game of publication will disappear consistent with RTI principles of transparency. No report should be withheld from the public by either the government or parliament.



Second, the spat between the Chairperson and Liberhan Counsel Anupam Gupta was unnecessary.


Self- advertisement is not unknown to Gupta who acquired notoriety in other controversies over judicial corruption in 1993. Liberhan appointed Gupta.


There is no reason to doubt Liberhan's integrity. Making media capital out of personal recriminations is not right morally, under lawyerconduct rules or otherwise.


Everytime a report comes out, we do not have to wail that all commissions are useless and designed to gather dust.


Reports are of many kinds: on corruption, riots, events or people. Corruption reports on Kairon and TT Krishnamachari were given to Nehru who took action. Today, Prime Ministers and all political parties tolerate corruption.


Parliament's own Joint Committee Report on Bofors, on Rajiv Gandhi's involvement, has never been accepted as true or convincing. Commission reports should not become political toys. The Babri Masjid report explores a damning event of our history.


It is easy to dissolve its findings in acerbic party- political acid. But this should not happen.


Let us look at the Report and the political antics designed to obfuscate its message. This is a people's paredness of the Karsevaks, there was a well planned conspiracy to destroy the Masjid; ( 3) Financial support came from Sangh Parivar funds including bank accounts operated by various named persons; ( 4) The, then, Chief Minister Kalyan Singh and his handpicked bureaucrats were involved in the conspiracy to destroy the Masjid and allowed a " parallel government" and " cartel" to facilitate the campaign which infiltrated the government; ( 5) The state ( of UP) had become a willing ally and co- conspirator in the joint common enterprise…( of) demolishing the structure; ( 6) The conspiracy arose from the single- minded efforts of the RSS and VHP ideologues and theologians to manipulate ordinary people into a frenzied mob; ( 7) The campaign had nothing to do with a popular mandate from the people who were manipulated to support it; ( 8) The police fell in line with this conspiracy; ( 9) The union government was crippled by failure of intelligence and the " all- is- well reports by its rapporteur Tej Shankar"; ( 10) Not a single video camera was put in place; ( 11) The media " and report for the people to find their way around a people's issue on an event that divided India. 6th December 1992, when the Masjid fell, is a watershed in India's contemporary history. Through the demolition, the Sangh Parivar legitimised the politics of destructive communal hate. Hitherto, communal tension was regarded as an evil in governance.



After Babri Masjid, BJP leaders and the Parivar set a new political standard which declared that the destruction of masjids, killings of people, destroying of art works were a legitimate pursuit of a communal pseudo- Hindu nationalism advancing the cause of the " true Aryan" people.


Liberhan was not examining a " who- done- it". He was looking at a phenomenon that shook India's secular, multicultural people and polity. What Liberhan found was what we already know but need to know better. His conclusions in chapter 14 were ( 1) Babri Masjid was not an unintended spontaneous event except for " self- serving hyperbole"; ( 2) Logistically, given the total pre journalists were subjected to systematic harassment"; ( 12) Leaders like Vajpayee, MM Joshi and L. K. Advani, and Govindacharya knew of the designs of the Sangh Parivar and lent their support in various ways; ( 13) Muslim leaders " wittingly or unwittingly" did not counter the plans of the RSS and VHP, effectively to make the latter's task easier; ( 14) 68 persons are found " culpable", including Advani, Vajpayee and Joshi, but not Narsimha Rao.


There are several recommendations for the future on both the inadequacy of response and the need for new changes. None of the 68 indicted culpably should hide behind procedure ( even if those like Vajpayee have a genuine grievance of not being called a witness in his defence) or the leak of the report. Let them replace artful defence with honesty and candour. The indicted persons face two alternatives other than criminal proceedings. The first alternative for them is to candidly state: " I was involved in the destruction of the Babri Masjid and I am proud of it"; and face the social, legal and political consequences. Alternatively, if they are innocent, then each individual in this group of 68 should be prepared to say: " I never intended or participated in any conspiracy to destroy the Masjid; I denounce and condemn its destruction as illegal and unconscionable; I express my regrets over its destruction and promise never to be involved in any conspiracy and actions to destroy religious structures or victimise people of other faiths and religions." There is no other alternative. It's truth or nothing.



India must put this divisive event behind it. The Supreme Court decisions on the Ayodhya Act and Presidential reference case of 1994 have stated that the vesting of the Babri Masjid area in the Union Government makes the latter trustees and not owners of the structural area until the Lucknow court decides this issue. At least court proceedings have brought temporary peace. But, following the Liberhan Commission report there should be ' truth and reconciliation' in which statements and regrets are talked through.


The BJP and Sangh Parivar must be truthful. The nation cannot move on until the truth is told. The Liberhan Commission invites a premium on truth not for further divisiveness but to heal a nation which was split open. But if obtaining political power is more important than governance, these games will continue to infiltrate our psyche. The most frightening part of the Liberhan report is how the ' state' and ' governance' can be hijacked into manipulation and control. Fascism began in this way.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer








IT WAS an occasion when leaders, cutting across party barriers, should have stood shoulder to shoulder, heads bowed in dignified mourning. Instead what millions of TV viewers saw last Thursday on the first anniversary of the Mumbai attack was something that was totally at odds with the solemn occasion. Our politicians were busy trying to score brownie points. What else would explain the ugly, acrimonious scenes witnessed in the Lok Sabha that forced the seasoned Pranab Mukherjee to curtly tell the BJP's Ananth Kumar, " I did not come here to listen to you, I came to listen to your leader LK Advani". What prompted the vicious response was Kumar's allegation that even one year after 26/ 11, less than 1/ 4th of the victims or their families had been paid the promised compensation. Kumar's charges were not without basis but by raking it up on the day when people across the country lit candles in remembrance of the dead and reached out to commiserate with one another, he only managed to prove that even on an issue that should have glued us all, our politicians stand divided. Sadly, this percolates down the line and it was appalling to see senior police officials indulging in a tu tu mein mein that would churn the stomach of most of us. What was most astounding was that it was Hassan Gafoor, then Mumbai Police Commissioner who has since won " promotion" as DGP( Housing), who chose to launch the internecine war by levelling needless accusations against four senior Mumbai police officials of dereliction of duty.


I don't know what the provocation was but Ghafoor has opened a can of worms and I won't be surprised if even school children are now tempted to believe that the police establishment itself was responsible for the death of some of its finest officers.


Now the wives of some of those bravehearts have joined the battle and are openly alleging that their husbands died because of the effete top brass of the Mumbai police. Vinita Kamte, wife of Ashok Kamte, Additional Commissioner of Police who was killed along with anti- terrorism specialists Hemant Karkare and Vijay Salaskar has held the Mumbai police top brass responsible for their deaths, accusing them of giving inadequate information from the police control room about the attacks. Hers is no empty boast. A lawyer by training, Vinita's conclusions are based on the telephone call logs of the Mumbai police that she accessed using the Right to Information Act. Kavita Karkare, widow of the slain ATS chief, too filed an RTI seeking information on her hus- Vinita Kamte band's bulletproof jacket, only to be told that it is missing.


We would have laughed at such sloppiness if it weren't for the deaths of so many brave men. I was in Mumbai on 26/ 11 and was dining with my colleagues at the Taj Land'send in Bandra when I heard about the shootings. We persuaded a reluctant taxi driver to drop us near the Trident Hotel where we stayed put till the early hours. Based just on what I saw that night, I had in these columns exactly a year ago written about the casual manner in which Hassan and Jt Commissioner Rakesh Maria seemed to be going about their jobs when they should have been leading from the front. I am not surprised that Vinita Kamte's painstaking work has unearthed what had been suspected all along: that Mumbai police goofed up. And having done so badly, were desperately seeking to cover up. Faced with Vinita's allegations, now published in a book, Maria has threatened to quit. Ironically, Maria who stands accused of laxity, is also in charge of the 26/ 11 investigations. Judge, jury, prosecution and defence, rolled into one. So much for accountability.


The uncivil war has spared none. Like the police, politicians too are busy pointing fingers at each other. The Congress, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, seeks to wash its hands of, because the home portfolio is held, then as now, by the NCP. In Delhi, Advani and Ananth Kumar must have taken leave of their senses to launch such a low- level attack on the government.

If the politicians who are supposed to lead and the police who are tasked with securing our safety are so divided, it may not be long before 26/ 11 comes visiting again.




WHY DID it take the Congress high command three months to hold the meeting of the 199- member Andhra Pradesh legislature Party? To correct a constitutional impropriety that was committed when governor N. D. Tiwari used his discretionary powers to appoint K. Rosaiah as successor to late Y. S. Rajsekhara Reddy.


Under the Constitution, the governor can appoint someone only after he or she has been formally elected by the legislative party.


In this case, this was not done and legal questions were being raised about the legitimacy of the government. The CLP was put off for three months because of the fear that Jaganmohan Reddy, YSR's son, would ride the sympathy wave to get himself elected.


All this while, Congress leaders from New Delhi worked quietly on him and other potential candidates.


Last week, the high command sent its two most powerful emissaries, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and law minister Veerappa Moily to Hyderabad to resolve the issue.


On Saturday, when the CLP met, it passed a resolution authorising Sonia Gandhi to choose its leader.


Curiously, Congress MPs were special invitees to the CLP and even more curiously, the resolution was moved not by an MLA but by Jagan who is an MP. Within 24 hours, chief minsiter Rosaiah's name was formally announced. But the crisis will be fully resolved only when the Congress honours the second part of the deal with YSR's son.


After the party lost a few local civic elections recently, the Jagan group launched a fresh offensive to " save the party" and demanded Rosaiah's head on the ground that he doesn't have a mass base and is not aggressive enough, as YSR was.


So Rosaiah's election doesn't in anyway ensure that he will continue in office for long.


The majority of the Congress leaders in the state feel that unless the party has a firm and decisive leadership, the state will slowly slip away from its hand.


Chandrababu Naidu, the Telugu Desam Party ( TDP) cheif, must surely be licking his chops in anticipation


FOR A bureaucrat, Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrashekhar is quite net savvy, even an ardent votary of e- governance. Recently, he sent memos to secretaries of all departments about the quality of the government websites that left a lot to be desired in terms of design, accessibility, quality and currency of content, all of which were compounded by the obsolete technology that was used. " Today, websites are considered the virtual face of the Department in cyber space… and must accurately reflect the Department's activities and initiatives in the real world as well as offer more and more services online," his note said. And so he asked all department Secretaries to nominate senior officers at Additional Secretary or Joint Secretary level who would take upon themselves the task of ensuring up- to- date and high quality content on the websites as well as ensure timely response on queries received through websites.

The secretaries were also asked to review the overall quality of the websites on a periodic basis.


But of the 700 odd IAS officers of the rank of secretaries, additional secretaries, joint secretaries and other heads of departments, a majority still leave the job of logging on and off their computers to their personal staff. Last heard, the response from the departments has been disappointing as few officers have volunteered to take up the responsibility. Chandrashekhar's dream of encouraging e- governance through citizen centric and visitor friendly government websites may remain just that — a dream.








Dubai's government-run investment firm, Dubai World, sought a "standstill" agreement last week to defer repayment on much of its $59 billion debt. This rocked global stock markets. The move now has national governments everywhere worried about the impact of the corporate debt default request. Is there cause for knee-jerk panic? Experts the world over seem to think not. They say Dubai is only the latest demonstration of the perils of overleveraged ambitions. The unravelling of what's dubbed "the Dubai model" of breakneck speed development was waiting to happen. Indian authorities, on their part, recommend a calm assessment of Dubai's possible fallout. This is wise.

Banks are checking their exposure levels, and so is industry. Our real estate firms are largely domestically driven, but even those with projects in Dubai don't seem ruffled so far as their India operations go. So far, it appears that Dubai World's debt woes could have a marginal fallout. While the conglomerate's future plans in India may falter, existing projects may remain unscathed. Nonetheless, concern for around five million Indians living and working in the Gulf is understandable. They remit over $10 billion annually. Around 40 per cent of the UAE's population is Indian, contributing over 10 per cent of incoming remittances. Yet if incomes of the families of immigrants and contracted workers dip, it's worth recalling that money flow has been thinning for some time. Also, NRI deposits are more likely to be hit than remittances. Again, job contraction may occur, but migrant labourers have been coming home over the past year since most are employed in construction, a sector badly hit by the global recession.

The focus is also on investor confidence, and its possible domino effect in the form of capital outflows from emerging markets. Where India's concerned, some amount of capital flight may actually facilitate a correction in Dalal Street, in light of a recent surge in FII inflows that raised eyebrows. But the prospect of big outflows looks unlikely. Dubai-based sovereign funds are not big buyers of Indian equities and other financial assets. Nor is there much Dubai-linked private stakeholding in listed Indian companies. So the bourses aren't likely to be too rattled.

Finally, it's improbable that Dubai World will be allowed to tank by Abu Dhabi, with all its oil money. With many of the developed world's biggest banks surviving on government handouts, a bailout for a Middle Eastern government-owned investment fund would be unexceptionable. Minus the firm promise of a quick bailout, however, the markets could bet on a sovereign default. Today, sovereign debt's piled up everywhere. One sovereign default may make bond holders and markets start doubting the repayment abilities of their debtors. That's something global finance doesn't need.







The back and forth on Iran's nuclear programme continues to confound. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution censuring Iran comes less than two months after what was hailed as a diplomatic success in the entire process. While IAEA inspectors did examine the newly revealed nuclear facility near Qom as Tehran had acquiesced to then, the second clause - shipment of the majority of Iran's uranium stocks to another country for enrichment - continues to be problematic. Given the prevarication, the late revelation of the Qom facility and the fact that China and Russia backed the resolution as well, India took the correct decision by supporting it.

Given the tricky duality of India's long-standing ties with Iran and its strategic interests in preventing nuclear proliferation, New Delhi has made the best of the situation. Its stand is a suitably nuanced one. One the one hand, it cannot afford to lose the ethical high ground on nuclear proliferation that has enabled its unique nuclear status among non-P5 nations. Voting against the resolution when even Russia and China, usually votaries of a softer approach to Iran, had come on board would have achieved precisely that. Neither is it in Indian interests to have another nuclear weapons state in the region.


On the other hand, the foreign office has made it clear that New Delhi does not support punitive measures or a drawing down of diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue. This is essential, since the internal dissent in Iran about Tehran's agreeing to the two measures is a good sign. While the proverbial stick is necessary in case the naysayers win, it should not be employed hastily. Such debates take time to play out.

As for fears of deterioration in India-Iran ties if New Delhi supports the IAEA, they are exaggerated. The big-ticket item in the relationship, the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, remains a pipe dream for the moment. By the time the India-Pakistan situation is resolved sufficiently to make it a reality, a lot of water will have flowed under the bridge. New Delhi and Tehran's shared security concerns in Afghanistan are also likely to ameliorate any possible friction. And oft-cited fears of domestic reactions in India are hyperbole at best. Public engagement with regular foreign policy issues has never been high. It is unlikely to change now.






The problems the UPA government had faced with the Left during its last tenure may not be too dissimilar from the difficulties it's likely to have with its Trinamul allies during this one. In the first chill blast, Mamata Banerjee vetoed legislation that would reform current land acquisition laws. Ironically, it's those laws that enabled the Left Front to take over land at Nandigram and Singur, which Trinamul has been in the forefront of protesting.

Such cussedness and lack of pragmatism closely parallel the Left's own stand on the India-US nuclear deal, when the Left tried hard to get New Delhi to cut off its own nose in order to spite Washington. Given that the Left has a strong Bengali dimension (Trinamul of course is a Bengali party), it's time to revisit the old adage about India thinking tomorrow what Bengal thinks today. Bengal now lags behind the times, thinking today what India thought yesterday. Communist rule has led to the stagnation of Bengal, as was the case in Soviet Russia under Leonid Brezhnev.

If anything survives the uproar over the Liberhan commission report during the current session of Parliament, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and related Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill are slated to come up again. What position the Trinamul stakes out on these will indicate whether it's a pragmatic and future-oriented party or whether it wishes to perpetuate the old self-wounding politics of Bengal. The continuation of this politics has meant that while this year's parliamentary elections were peaceable in most parts of India, its Bengal phase unleashed what governor Gopal Gandhi - usually a mild-mannered man - described as "a tandava of political violence". More than a hundred people died in political clashes between May and August this year.

It's hard to watch The Leopard - Luchino Visconti's classic film about 19{+t}{+h} century Sicily - against the backdrop of today's Bengal and not make connections. The film evokes wonderfully the torpor of the Sicilian summer, which stands out against the movement for change and modernity that comes to the island with its invasion by Garibaldi's redshirts. Don Fabrizio, the sensual yet world-weary Sicilian aristocrat played by Burt Lancaster, votes in favour of the revolution. But he is cynically clear-eyed about its prospects: "something has to change for everything to stay as it was". In his view Sicily is liable to remain as it always was, a place where only lineage and patronage will matter, and personal achievement counts for nothing.

The revolution brought to Bengal by the Left Front government in 1977 is now coming apart at the seams, because another one's in the offing. Today's political tandava may be happening because the tables are turning once again, as Trinamul makes headway at the cost of the Left Front. Despite the utopian hopes aroused by the Left, its principal failing is that it changed Bengal's patrons but not the system of patronage. Everything in Bengal's institutions and public life was systematically and relentlessly politicised under its rule. Despite the overwhelming sympathy the Left received from Bengal's intelligentsia it failed to cash in. One only hopes Trinamul doesn't repeat history when (and if) it comes to power.

The Left Front started well with Operation Barga, the movement to record the names of sharecroppers in the countryside. As sharecropper rights were made inheritable, Operation Barga did raise rural living standards and spur agricultural growth. But land reform can't be a one-point economic programme, with little effort made to lift industrial or social indicators. What happens when the population goes up, and the sharecropper has to divide his land among multiple offspring? What does Bengal do with its vast army of educated unemployed, apart from keeping them engaged in internecine political warfare?

By the time chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee launched a crash industrialisation programme - after three decades of Left rule had elapsed - another problem had cropped up. Collapsing all distinction between party and government, the CPM had unleashed its cadres on the countryside. While this cadre followed the Maoist dictum that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, police forces in the state were rendered ineffective. Ironically, while Operation Barga strengthened the claims of peasant proprietorship, cadre power undermined it. These two principles came into collision at Nandigram, as the cadre was let loose on villagers who resisted land acquisition.

The Left is now haunted by the manner in which it undermined governance and the legitimacy of state institutions. Result: Bengal is close to realising the communist goal of the state withering away, and Maoists have come to the fore. Ironically, it's the "radical" Maoists who are now raising the issue of non-implementation of NREGS in the state by the "moderate" Left Front government, worsening the plight of the rural poor. Trinamul is busy taking advantage of the situation. But it too may be riding a tiger it will be unable to dismount later. The question remains whether it can make the transition from a party of opposition to a party of governance. If it can't, its balloon is liable to be pricked much faster than the Left's was.







Noted art historian and head of the department of art history and aesthetics at M S University of Baroda, Shivaji K Panikkar is currently engaged in setting up an institution named ARQ (Archive, Research and Queer Cultural Practice). He spoke with Romain Maitra about his views on the ethos of the 'queer':

What do you wish to attain through the notion of the 'queer' - around issues of gender and alternative sexuality?
The 'queer' values have to become a socio-politico-economic movement in order to revolutionise and transform the norms of the heterosexual nucleus family system, interpersonal and social relationships, and private possession and ownership, into new systems of communal sharing, living, responsibilities and ownership. The 'queer' movement will undo the pretentious heterosexual values and usher many human beings into a new world of freedom of choice to live truthfully. It will replace the dominance of the religious and theocratic world view with a new anthropocentrism, humanism and true secularism. The new culture that will evolve as a result of 'queer' movement will break all the barriers of nationality, caste, class, gender and sexuality.

What's been the response of the general public and public bodies in India to 'queer' activism?

In India too, 'queer' activism is slowly but steadily making its affects felt in jurisprudence, political bodies, social discourse and cultural circles. Particularly noteworthy are the attempts in interrogations being made among different religious leaderships, community organisations, agencies concerned with health and academic disciplines. Changes of drastic kind can be expected to happen slowly and only through consistent efforts as there are many impediments like convention-driven Indian social and family values, moralist discourses, slow legal and governing machinery, lack of consistent and sustained support from the media, and so on. Besides, when a lot of focus of activism is centred on health sector, the aspects of cultural and political empowerment are somewhat ignored by the activists.

What are the manifestations of the 'queers' in artistic and cultural practices in India?

It is only in the past over four decades that identifiable queer activism and its expressions in various fields of art are publicly visible anywhere in the world. In the recent past, writing queer histories for strengthening legitimacy to queer existence and its own political conviction, and inculcating faith in queer activism have come into existence in India. These, apart from asserting the claims of the past, also contest the myth that gay experiences and expressions are vices that developed in the western societies and imported to India. Further, while the 'coming out of closet' is often accompanied by pain and embarrassment, the 'queer' identity politics in art is also a fragile field. However, although it is quite heartening and inspiring that the queer identity in art, cinema and literature has provided major fillip to the movement, the queer cultural practitioners have to make further negotiations and adopt new strategies to make their presence more effective.






Last week saw the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, an attack that failed to destroy the hotel and its spirit. The damage sustained has been repaired and the hotel has been functioning smoothly for several months now. For the navy, the Taj is more than just a hotel. Notwithstanding the numerous skyscrapers that have come up, the Taj dome has always been a prominent nautical landmark and naval officers learn to recognise it from the sea even before setting foot inside the hotel. The dome is frequently used for various navigational functions such as fixing the position of the ship, checking the accuracy of the compass and anchoring. Since it is within walking distance from the naval dockyard, it is convenient for naval officers to visit whenever their pockets are full.

Back in the1960s,we had a cocktail party onboard my ship that went on late into the night. Three of us decided to go out and eat at the Sea Lounge. We ordered Swedish open sandwiches and the waiter brought a big tray with a large assortment of them. All of us had one each, and like Oliver Twist, wanted more when one friend averred that we could eat as many as we liked and would only be charged for one. Only too willing to believe him, we picked a few and were stupefied to see that we had been charged for every single piece! Then there was the Blow Up, India's first real discotheque, the hottest place in town to take one's girlfriend. The music and the psychedelic lights were mind-blowing.

On other occasions, particularly in the wee hours of the morning after a Bacchanalian binge, the Taj provided a reference point for the Bade Miyan stall just behind the hotel. The navy was introduced to it by a roly-poly bachelor who regularly visited it with all his shipmates. It became so popular that soon Bade Miyan was invited to cater for parties on ships. I believe that tradition continues to flourish to this day. I am only an occasional visitor now and look forward to my next trip to Mumbai, so i can walk into the Sea Lounge and order Swedish open sandwiches. I will happily pay for more than one this time!






A Twilight movie smashing the Dark Knight's opening day record? Wow, that's like, so totally uncool. Whatever could the multitudes of screaming girls on Team Edward or Team Jacob find in movies that share with their source material a singular lack of artistic and literary merit? It's almost as if they're in a vampire thrall, mind-controlled into believing that these books and movies are, well, good. If reading Twilight is a tortuous experience for most people with an ounce of intelligence, watching Edward the creepy, stalker-like centuries-old vampire our unlovable teenaged protagonist hungers after sparkle in the sun is even more nauseating. It's insulting that Hollywood assumes such dreck is palatable to large chunks of the female population or it would be if they hadn't been proved so humiliatingly, depressingly right with the hundreds of millions that New Moon, the just-out second movie in the series, has earned.

So, who's to blame for inflicting upon the world this bad fan fiction masquerading as young adult literature? Who primed unsuspecting humans of the female persuasion for Stephanie Meyer's nefarious, vampire-loving purposes? What ungodly phenomena unleashed upon us the uber-emo Edward and the unbelievably wet Bella?

It wasn't always like this. Vampires were once scary creatures of the night that preyed upon humans for their survival. They were just this side of feral and looked like the bloodsucking beasts they were meant to be. But the tortured new vampire as exemplified by Edward is more interested in true love than true blood. His popularity suggests that much like a unicorn, he's the fantastical creature that all girls want the perfect boyfriend.

The seduction of and the ultimate blame for the existence of Twilight must be laid at the feet of one Bram Stoker. Dracula, Stoker's claim to fame, drew on the mythologies of monsters like werewolves to establish new vampire lore, in which vampires and other creatures represented the anxieties of the age.

Popular culture is meant to reflect the modern human experience. It is at its most persuasive when doing so. Part of the reason vampires have endured to this day is because they, like all good monsters, can act as ciphers for the representation of sexuality. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the eponymous protagonist is a sexually confident young woman, whose vampire boyfriend nonetheless literally becomes a soulless monster after she sleeps with him, telegraphing the fears of millions of young women the world over. But Twilight is an allegorical tale about the dangers of unfettered female sexuality masquerading as a fairytale about true love: Bella's awakening sexuality is such a problem that Edward must physically restrain her from ravishing him. And when he finally gives in to her, she falls pregnant with a half-vampire fetus that attempts to kill her from inside the womb. Charming.

That's the other, perhaps more unforgivable problem with Twilight; why its popularity amongst tweens and their moms is so depressing. In the fracas over Team Edward and Team Jacob, there's no talk of Team Bella. That's because it's impossible to be on Bella's team - she has little intelligence, less self-respect and no agency. Indeed, you're left wondering why a creature so perfect as Edward would fall in love with her. Then you understand: it's not what she does, but rather what she is. Her blood is irresistible to the magical perfect vampire man thing that is Edward. Bella has no personality she's a tabula rasa and her overwhelming passivity allows things to happen to her, but she doesn't do much of anything.

The wild popularity of the Twilight books and films is discouraging not only on the aesthetic level, where vampires bear a strong resemblance to shiny woodland creatures, but because of Bella's willingness to sacrifice everything friends, family, education, even physical safety for Edward, who controls every aspect of her existence. Bella's the metamorphical princess locked away in her tower, and it is deeply tragic that young women project themselves in her place to be vicariously wooed by the undead, no matter how dazzling and attractive the vampire company might be.








Prospects of a $59 billion debt default by Dubai World, a sovereign fund, are roiling an international financial structure that has just pulled back from the edge. The latest shock to the global recovery will pass through India because of our economic exposure to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE account for 11 per cent of our exports and have directly invested $1.4 billion in the country till date. But this does not come even remotely close to capturing the terms of economic engagement. Indians working in the Emirates sent home approximately a tenth of the $44 billion that India, the world's largest recipient, got as remittances in 2008-09.


Dollar flows from the Persian Gulf have a direct correspondence with Kerala's foreign exchange earnings. Every third house in the state has a person working abroad, principally in the Gulf. Their loss of livelihood could be a double whammy. It would not only hit our exports but also crimp consumption back home at a time when India, along with the rest of the world, is trying to spend its way out of a crisis. Understandably, the rupee is taking a hard knock — it has tumbled more than most Asian currencies. The Mumbai bourse has not come in for undue punishment though because of the low exposure of Indian companies to Dubai's construction bubble. The fall in the stock indices reflects a secular flight of portfolio investment to security and should reverse once the dust settles in the Gulf.


In fact, strong emerging economies like ours stand to gain once the dollar resumes its quest for higher returns. Last year's financial crisis will serve to identify pockets of prudence amid the build-up in asset values across large parts of the globe. Dubai's four-year real estate bubble, which saw prices crashing 50 per cent from last year, should work as a marker for the dollar (or euro) carry trade on what constitutes reasonable returns in emerging markets. India's demand for physical infrastructure will also come up against fewer capacity bottlenecks if Dubai's appetite for construction resources were to ebb. Finally, Mumbai's claim to becoming a regional financial centre is perversely tied to the eclipse of the Gulf powerhouse.







Sena bahu Smita Thackeray says she speaks only in Marathi at home and her son, vilayat-trained Rahul's first film will be in Marathi. Surprised? No? We don't blame you. That's Ms Thackeray's very unimaginative and frantic bid to pitchfork herself back into Maharashtra politics, this time piggyback-riding on the Congress. Ms Thackeray, the lady of Matoshree, is apparently disillusioned with her father-in-law, Bal Thackeray, and the way the Shiv Sena is run these days. No more is she  the Rani of Realpolitik. Instead she now has to play second fiddle to other leaders.


And that's not all. There's more on the peeve list: Thackeray Sr refused to publish her second article in the family publication, Saamna. This rebuff led to two earth-shattering incidents: she not only tore up the article (something we hear quite often happening when we send a polite rejection letter ourselves) but also has severed her relationship with the Sena. Well done, ma'am. Imagine your magnum opus landing in the dustbin at the editor's office. On this, Ms Thackeray, you have our vote. We wish you had sent the piece to us instead.


But behind all this whining — and pining for the Congress — the adaptability of the Thackeray bahu must be acknowledged. Where did she learn this from? Not at the feet of the Tiger who doesn't change his stripes for sure. After realising that the Sena is not going anywhere, Smitaji marched straight to the opposite tent — no, we didn't say 'duplicate' camp and, therefore, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj — but the Congress. She insists she  has an 'identity' of her own. To bolster her case, she gushed a bit on the importance of English and Hindi too. As they say, better late than never. Last heard, Thackeray Sr, has been ranting about how Raj is the only 'orjinal' Sena.







Tomorrow is the world Aids Day. The absence of effective cures warrants campaigns to prevent the spread of this killer cellular mutative disease. Yet another silent mutation, cancer, continues to claim many lives, eluding a decisive cure. Could it be possible that these mutations are part of the evolutionary process signalling that in a very distant future, life-forms on this planet could be those that are completely unrecognisable today?


Such are the questions that arise in the 200th year of Charles Darwin's birth. During this preceding week of November 150 years ago Darwin's The Origin of Species was published, revolutionising scientific and rational thinking. This, for the first time, scientifically established that all living beings originated through entirely natural processes. So antagonistic was this to the reigning religious and philosophical view of the Divine Creator that Darwin himself once jocularly labelled himself as the 'devil's chaplain'. In a fascinating biography of The Origin of Species, Janet Browne says that it "in many ways [it] is the story of the modern world".


Not surprisingly, since the time of its publication, The Origin continues to be at the centre of many controversies. Even those who could not negate the irrefutable, scientific foundations of evolution, could not come to terms with the fact that it was threatening the existence of theology. From this sprang the postulate that the shaping of Earth and its inhabitants is a continuous process controlled by laws that god had instituted in the beginning. To this came the retort that if this be true, then god must be the most unemployed and bored entity since the laws are running their natural course. Such a deep churning on matters of theology and morality continue even today despite the fact that evolution has been scientifically accepted.


Darwin himself chose not to enter this controversy. Only 12 years later in The Descent of Man, he famously said "it has often and confidently been asserted that man's origin can never be known; but... it is those who know little and not those who know much who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."


Some of the most brilliant minds of the 19th century took up cudgels on behalf of Darwin. The most famous of them all, Thomas Huxley — who incidentally coined the term 'agnostic' — cast himself as 'Darwin's bulldog'. He passionately defended and propagated the question of ape ancestry and the close anatomical relationship between the humans and the primates. This led many for nearly a century to search for the 'missing link'. Darwin himself had, however, suggested a common ancestry for both humans and primates closest to us like gorillas and chimpanzees.


Paying homage to Darwin, the confirmation of this has come, literally from afar — the discovery of the fossil remains of Ardipithecus ramidus, 'Ardi' for short, a hominid species that lived 4.4 million years ago in the Afar Rift region of northeastern Ethiopia. While this was discovered in 1992, it took all these years of research by an international scientific team, whose results were published in Science in October this year. This now establishes  the fact that there is a direct evolutionary genetic link between today's humans and our earliest pre-human ancestors. The humans did not evolve from the primates but both evolved from a common ancestor which is yet to be found. While our ancestors were evolving in a specifically 'human' direction, primate ancestors were evolving in a specifically 'chimp' direction.


These exciting discoveries, providing us very deep insights, reassert that evolution takes place essentially in the concrete material conditions and the needs for that particular life form to survive and develop. The evolution of the modern human being, the development of brain as the highest form of matter, continues to be shaped by the ceaseless man-nature dialectic.

While such discoveries should have settled the age-old philosophical debate between idealism and materialism, an opinion poll in the New York Times in November 2004 showed that 55 per cent of the respondents believed that god created humans in their present form. Thus, the philosophical debates of human and moral consciousness will continue. The majesty of discoveries like Ardi, however, reasserts the grandeur of nature as Darwin said in The Origin: "There is grandeur in this view of life... whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."


As humanity continues with its endeavours to better understand its evolution, and on that basis find solutions for diseases like Aids and cancer, the fact remains that all this is the unfolding of the man-nature dialectic. Darwin's own assessment of his work continues to remain as relevant today as it was when he published The Origin. "Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future."


Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP


The views expressed by the author are personal








The report of the M.S. Liberhan Commission, which probed the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya, has not left anybody wiser. In fact, there is more information available from other sources. The report appears to be incomprehensive despite the long time it took for Liberhan to submit his findings after so much money was spent and numerous extensions given.


What has surprised many is that Liberhan made no attempt to examine so many people who were in the know of things. Instead, he reached his conclusions that are not only inconsistent but are written in different styles of language across sections. Liberhan must have certainly silenced his critics in the bar who always questioned his ability to write judgements and reports.


The report actually made its way into the public domain through a selective leak to The Indian Express during Parliament session. Understandably, the leakage led to a hue and cry and both the Congress and the BJP accused each other of sharing the report with the newspaper. As according to the home minister's statement, there were just two copies of the report and he assured members that he had not leaked it. The obvious implication of this was that the leakage occurred from Liberhan's side.


Though the learned judge denied vehemently any such doing on his part, several BJP and Janata Dal (United) members admitted in private to the possibility of the hand of a Haryana politician in the affair. Many also saw this as a ploy to unite the divided BJP and also to enable L.K. Advani, under fire from the RSS, to extend his tenure as leader of the Opposition. The other explanation was that the report could have been leaked by the Congress to divide a united opposition wanting to discuss price rise, the Koda episode and a host of other issues.


But coming back to the report, a lot was made out of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's name appearing among those responsible for the conspiracy to knock down the Babri Masjid. VHP leader Ashok Singhal on Friday did confirm that Vajpayee was associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement even if there was nothing to suggest his direct involvement. In any case, he was the biggest beneficiary of the movement since he went on to become the Prime Minister for six-and-a-half years over two terms.


Singhal, incidentally, has advised Advani to refrain from saying things like "It was the saddest day of his life."


The report goes on to absolve P.V. Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister. This has been done without caring to examine leaders like Makhan Lal Fotedar who was the only member of Rao's Cabinet to resign on this issue and who had warned him time and again that the kar sevaks would demolish the disputed structure.


Fotedar, a former political adviser to both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, later told Rao at a Cabinet meeting on the day of the incident that he was to be blamed for the destruction of the structure. Earlier, the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma had told Fotedar that he got the impression that Rao had prevented Governor B. Satya Narayan Reddy from imposing President's rule at that time as a pre-emptive step. Liberhan never examined Reddy.


Sources in the bureaucracy also confirmed that even the Cabinet Secretary S. Rajgopal had an inkling of what was going to happen on that day. But the PM overruled him. Singhal has alleged that Rao was sympathetic to their cause. The rest, as they say, is history.

What has surprised many is that the government's comments on the report are extremely bureaucratic. It is true that with a report like this, there is nothing much any government can do in its Action Taken Report (ATR).


But the anthology of different styles in the Liberhan report is, in fact, a joke on the people of India. Who will ever believe any commission of inquiry after such a shoddy job? In the end, Justice Liberhan has no reason to be proud of himself. Between us.









It may not exactly be equivalent to having it from the horse's mouth — with or without Liberhan, the horses were always too many — but we've just had it from the man chosen by the Sangh to cast the first stone at Ayodhya in 1989. Kameshwar Chaupal is a BJP MLC in Bihar, whose moment in a troublesome history was sealed when his fact of being a Dalit was capitalised on to bolster the BJP/ RSS's claims to an inclusive Hindutva. But what Chaupal has told this newspaper amounts to a much-articulated refrain in the public


debate — that the politics of Ayodhya has run its course and is no longer a vote-catcher. Except that, it is uttered now by a low-profile (and thus perhaps down-to-earth?) individual once integrally associated with the Ayodhya agitation and who has reappraised the politics that catapulted the BJP to national prominence and subsequently handicapped it.


Chaupal says that the BJP should add roti (that is, livelihood) to Ram. While there's an essential truth to this aam aadmi-like rebuke, the more useful thrust of Chaupal's complaint points at the present existential dilemma of the BJP than at what should have been done 17 years ago. Of course, the BJP got the script violently wrong then; but is it, post-Liberhan, post-electoral defeat, willing to listen to public opinion and its own Chaupals?


A man who might or might not have belonged to its class of rabble rousers has spoken out about the distance he's travelled from that winter of Hindutva discontent. But his party is yet to make up its mind about the path it henceforth wants to tread — a return to its rabble-rousing days or a considered centre-right re-positioning commensurate with the changed political discourse of the country in these 17 years. Either way, the BJP should note that what's felt by people on the outside is also being voiced by many insiders.







Close on the heels of the human resource development ministry giving the green signal for the Indian Institutes of Management to set up campuses abroad, comes another welcome move. The proposal to set up an Indian Institute of Technology campus in Qatar is reported to have been given the all clear by the ministry. From student exchanges to those of faculty and new revenue models, these foreign outposts could revitalise the Indian core. And given how many students, in India and increasingly abroad, want the benefit of an IIT education, more campuses serve a larger social good.


The IITs' decision to think global is one of many radical ways in which they are redefining themselves. The IITs are good at producing world-class engineers who can compete with the best anywhere else in the world. Yet, there has been over time criticism that the institutes are, in contrast, not that effective in producing scholars and thinkers who can test the boundaries of their discipline. It has also been felt that the IITs — and Indian academia in general — could benefit from more expansive liberal arts departments. In a concerted bid to address this, the IITs have ramped up their humanities studies, investing money, professors and resources into expanding in this direction. The IITs are perhaps in a better position to fast-track proposals for reform and innovation — the kind of changes, for instance, that could put them on a trajectory covered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, from being a good engineering college to a broad-based centre of learning and research.


With Kapil Sibal signalling his openness to creative thinking,


institutions of higher education have a great opportunity to make up for the stagnation of past decades. It is therefore hoped that the IITs' appetite for expansion will have a contagion effect.






The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, or CHOGM, is usually a sleepy affair. Queen Elizabeth II, the body's figurehead, gives a speech, a pariah state is expelled or one that's finally held elections is welcomed back to the fold. But this instalment, in Trinidad in the West Indies, has become the centre of attention. The last meeting of a major grouping of nations before the Copenhagen climate change summit gets underway, CHOGM was effectively taken over by climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen, the host of the December summit, all turned up, hoping that something substantive would be agreed upon; something that would build upon recent moves by China and the United States to go to Copenhagen with something substantive to put on the table.


In the end, something was indeed agreed upon: a $10 billion plan that will help small island nations, like Mauritius, respond to the threat of rising sea levels. These are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the least able to finance adaptation to those effects. About half the Commonwealth consists of such states, so getting agreement is a good sign that something about adaptation might well be achieved at Copenhagen. But other sticking points continued. In a speech that was sharply worded, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that it was unfortunate that climate change negotiations had become "enmeshed" with threats about trade measures. He moderated that tone by elsewhere in his speech assuring his listeners that India will sign on to an "ambitious" global target for emissions, if the burden is shared "equitably."


That latter does not mark an enormous departure for the Indian position. But the Indian insistence that Copenhagen not be "pre-empted" — in other words, that the architecture of a final agreement not be understood beforehand — and that nobody should give up on a final, binding agreement at that summit, sets it apart from many other major economies. While the latter is an optimistic view that many should take, the former might be more short-sighted. All major economies are going to Copenhagen with numbers on the table, and with a sense of where their negotiating position starts. India has demonstrated its commitment to climate change already. It must go the last mile, and properly quantify that commitment. The environment minister, who spent the weekend chasing a chimera of old-style Us-vs-Them solidarity in Beijing when China and Brazil have already jumped ship, should be instructed by the cabinet to come up with the best estimates of India's emissions targets — before the government's negotiators leave for Copenhagen.







Section 3 of the Commission of Inquiries Act provides that when the Central or state government is of the opinion that it is necessary to do so, it may appoint a commission to inquire into any matter of definite public importance. If the appropriate legislature (Parliament or state legislature) passes a resolution to that effect, the appropriate government is bound to appoint such a commission. This power of the appropriate government has been judicially held to be based on the subjective satisfaction of the government as to the existence of a definite matter of public importance which requires to be inquired into. It is not justiciable as a court cannot direct the appointment of such a commission. This is the stage where political wisdom overtakes rational wisdom, making it possible for a government to play the ostrich burying its head in the sand and pretend that no such situation exists, even if there is a public outcry. The eventuality of the appropriate legislature passing a resolution and compelling the government to appoint a commission, though theoretically possible, is remote, as it may be avoided by deft political manoeuvring.


More often than not, the public importance of the definite matter stems more from its political overtones than its inherent moment. The overtones make it inherently difficult for a person not immune or indifferent to political pressure to act judiciously and in accordance with the dictates of his conscience. The commission then degenerates into a convenient tool in the hands of the political class to stifle debate in the legislature and hope that the groundswell of public opinion would eventually subside with the passage of time.


The act prescribes no qualification for the person to be appointed on the commission. This gives another handle to the government to appoint any convenient bureaucrat effectively to whitewash the issues and ensure that there are no adverse findings against it. The person chosen may also be a retired judge whose self-interest may override judiciousness in his findings. Every time there is such a definite matter of public importance, and the government dithers, there is persistent clamour for the appointment of a sitting judge, preferably of the high court or Supreme Court, to preside over the commission. In theory, at least, the last category of persons is expected to be impervious to political carrots and sticks.


The inevitable political overtones of the inquiry throw open the doors to all busybodies to claim before the commission that they represent particular interests that have certain facts to present and views to project during the inquiry before the commission. Even if many of them are publicity seeking busybodies, it becomes impossible to separate the chaff from the grain until the whole process is completed. Apart from dumping tonnes of relevant and irrelevant documents on the commission, the representatives of different sections, often represented by astute counsel, insist on interminable cross-examination of witnesses, often randomly and ramblingly. The commission is often buffeted by the strong side winds, unable to steer the course for the inquiry charted by it. Any stern ruling by the commission brings forth flared tempers, acrimony, innuendos and outright allegations of bias. The commission must be made of sterner stuff if it has to navigate the turbulent sea of voluble lawyers, perjuring witnesses and uncooperative officers of the government to grapple with the Holy Grail of truth.


The task of the commission is to sift through the mass of documents and testimonies presented before it and draw rationally acceptable conclusions and suggest appropriate remedial measures to the government. The blame game freely indulged in by all political parties renders this task of the commission immeasurably complex. The sheer political sensitivity of the task daunts many, impelling them to seek quietude by adroit avoidance of appointment to the commission by convenient excuses, perhaps to prove Alexander Pope's astute observation that fools rush in where angels fear to tread.


Even if an occasional lionhearted one volunteers to brave the flings and arrows of an outrageous fortune and decides to take arms against a sea of troubles to end them all, the outcome is utterly disillusioning. The government that solemnly appointed the commission is not obliged to accept the findings of the commission and may disdainfully dismiss them as "not acceptable" with nary an apology for the sheer waste of precious time, talent and public funds. True, Section 3(4) of the act requires that the report of the commission be tabled before the appropriate legislature together with a Memorandum of Action Taken. This is intended for the legislature to debate upon before acceptance. Aye, there lies the rub, for such a memorandum, called the Action Taken Report in popular parlance, gives free rein to the use of bureaucratic jargon to obfuscate material facts and metamorphose the Action Taken Report into a veritable No-Action Taken Report.


An unbiased reader of such an Action Taken Report will often find it to be an exercise in suppressio veri, if not suggestio falsi. Creative usage of bureaucratic language used in such an Action Taken Report is often replete with such circumlocution as would make Samuel Johnson blush in his grave. The findings of the commission accepted would be relatively few and insignificant, as compared to those that are officiously rejected as not acceptable. The reasons given for such non-acceptance of the commission's findings are hardly enough to satisfy a reasonable mind but miraculously the legislature is made to accept the ATR and treat the matter as closed. The aggrieved citizens are left wondering as to whether the exercise was worth the time and money spent.


This is the painful and pitiable saga of most reports of commissions of inquiry appointed in this country so far. In the final analysis, the whole exercise, to quote William Shakespeare, resembles "A tale told by an idiot, full

of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Justice Srikrishna, who headed the commission of inquiry into the Bombay riots of 1992-3, retired as a judge of the Supreme Court







As the ATP finals wind down to a fitting close, with Roger Federer assuring his year-end number one ranking, as well as making it to the semi-finals, this has been a historic year not just for Federer, but also for tennis as a whole. In a sport that is known for its ups and downs, and which is just a year removed from witnessing what is almost universally being acknowledged as the greatest match ever, namely the Wimbledon 2008 finals, this has been a see-saw of a year, with momentum shifts, feel-good stories, injuries — and unfortunately, controversy as well.


What is certain is that this was Federer's year, but, ironically, he has a feeling of vulnerability about him, and his winning is no longer a foregone conclusion. Rather, his turnaround year can be attributed to some support from a person who was barely known in his home country of Sweden, but in the ATP finals defeated two of the top three players in the world. Robin Soderling was the protagonist of what is now considered the greatest upset of all time, when he defeated Rafael Nadal at the French Open and opened wide the window of opportunity for Roger to kill three birds with one swing of his racquet: slam number 14, his first French Open, and a career grand slam. More importantly, it was a far cry from when he literally cried his heart out during the prize distribution ceremony at the Australian Open, seemingly unable to decode the Nadal puzzle.


Nadal's, of course, is another story that started as a fairytale year, and is ending in a heap of unfulfilled expectations. Before the Soderling match, Nadal was peaking, and in every which way El Toro de Oro, or the Golden Bull: the defending Wimbledon champion, Australian Open champion, Olympic gold medallist, and well on his way to remaining undefeated at Roland Garros. Since that match, Nadal has looked a pale imitation of his once immortal persona: aching, woebegone, and seemingly unable to come to terms with his body not being a hundred per cent. He wins against the world's top players on increasingly rare instances; and in recent months, has not been considered the favourite by a long shot, fighting to hold on to his ranking. With his high-impact game, his reliance on endurance, speed, stamina and physicality, a Nadal less than a hundred per cent fit is a sitting duck even for players not named Roger, Andy or Novak (and now, Juan and Robin).


Tennis has changed now, and the depth is significant. Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Robin Soderling, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and of course Andy Roddick, not only compete with, but often have a fairer than even chance of beating Federer or Nadal. While their overall consistency is questionable for all the grand slams, they are more than capable of raining on the potential champions' parade, and also winning their own share of grand slams soon. Federer is winning harder, and savouring each victory with more relish with each passing year, and each grand slam he wins is more a testament to his greatness, and less a stain on the deep competition.


Tennis was in a great spot and for all intents and purposes had never looked better. Women's tennis too was on the upswing with Serena doing well, Venus re-emerging, and Clijsters going on to win a Cinderella grand slam.


And then came Agassi, and his book. Open has thrown the tennis world into disarray, and angered most tennis purists, especially the players. That there seems to be no purpose behind the revelations from one of tennis's greatest ambassadors and biggest stars makes it seem that much more futile. The doping stories caused a crackdown, with two Belgian players being banned for not reporting for drug testing under the now infamous WADA "whereabouts" clause, and threatening to sue the ATP and WTA. Agassi, of course, will face no legal action since his acts all stemmed from over 10 years ago.


The next few years will see many new faces and hopefully some Indian ones as well, as the changing of the guard takes place. This is why 2009 will not only represent all the records that were broken, but also a paradigm shift, with depth replacing dominance, and power replacing finesse. One should savour these last few pulses of the tennis calendar with relish. Tennis has had a year of paradoxes, and fittingly, there will be no epic ATP Finals featuring Federer and one of his young nemeses, in a thrill a minute encounter. One must get used to the fact that a Nadal or a Federer will not be a part of every tournament finals from here on, but should also reflect on just how much each man has achieved in the last two years. 2008 was Rafa's year, but when the dust settles, this will be seen as one of the most momentous years in the history of tennis: when a gracious superstar stamped his legacy against all the odds. The days of the 'Rog' continue.


The writer is a sports attorney






Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. There are days in my life when I really love my job, and this is one of those. Why? Because we stand here in a sacred grove. The only buzz you can hear, in fact, is that of breeze blowing through this wonderful, wonderful forest. And sacred grove because for hundreds and hundreds of years nobody has been allowed to touch a leaf, an animal in this forest because the tribals of Meghalaya protect it. We are in the village of Mawphlang, about 30-35 km from Shillong — really one of the most distinct and forgotten parts of India, particularly when we look from Delhi. And my guests today: two wonderful people, Toki Blah and Mebanda Blah, the father-daughter duo, who will tell us more about questions of identity, insecurity, alienation, distance that the tribal people face, particularly the hill tribal people. So welcome to Walk the Talk, Toki and Mebanda. We stand in this sacred grove, tell us a bit about it. Because you know there is so much tribal tradition that we seem to be losing.


Toki: Yeah, this is part of our culture, the maintenance of these sacred groves. You see in Meghalaya, there are around 8,500 sq km of forest. Of this around 1,000 km are sacred groves, run either by the village committee, by clans, by individuals… and this is one such forest. This is a sacred grove where, as you said earlier, you are not even expected to take out even a leaf or a twig. There is some deity here.

That is the belief?

Toki: That is the belief and this deity is the one that protects the community, protects the village.

Mebanda: These are guardian spirits of the forest. And it is also said that these are the same guardian spirits who…you know, if women walk alone, these are the spirits who help the women. They also take care of the forest.

Women can afford to walk not only just alone but in the lead in these parts, because this is a matrilineal system. Women wield real power here, isn't it?

Mebanda: Yes, they do.

And this tradition is common to Khasis as well as Jantias?

Toki: Yes.

The two of you are Jantia?

Toki: Yes, we are Jantias.

And Khasis and Jantias are very similar.

Toki: They are more or less the same.

So are we losing some of this tradition? This, and many other tribal traditions?

Toki: That is one of the main issues for indigenous people like us. The fear of losing our identity... I mean the monetary pressures that are coming up in our society today, most of these forests, the sacred groves have been cut down because of their timber value. This is one of the forests that has been protected. We have faced a number of problems, social and political, in our state, in our community because of this issue of identity. I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed.


Mebanda, does the issue of identity worry you? Or should it worry the tribals as much as it seems to?

Mebanda: It does worry me, especially since I represent the younger generation. For us it is not so much, you know, we want to know that we have a future and our future will be as Khasis, we will be known as the Khasis. But slowly, you know, globalisation, Westernisation... we are slowly losing that, even my generation.


You recently went to a UN convention on indigenous people, what did you learn from people from other communities from other parts of the world who came there?

Mebanda: That experience was quite enlightening, in the sense that it made me realise the problems that we as the indigenous people here face, is something that is not isolated but it is a very global problem of all indigenous communities. We are doubly marginalised.  


How do you mean, doubly marginalised?

Mebanda: Well, firstly, thinking about women. This is a matrilineal society but there are other indigenous societies where women do not play such an important role, they are marginalised, in some cases even here. But the fact that we are tribals, so we are doubly marginalised because of this.  


One of the most unusual things about the Khasis and the Jantias is the matrilineal system. Is some of that also being lost now? Are you also becoming male-dominated or are women losing some of the power? I see lot of people in this generation, for example, carrying their fathers' second names.

Mebanda: When it comes to the second name, that is a more a personal, family thing. But losing power, I don't really know if that is what the case is. In spite of the fact that it is a matrilineal society, women do not play a role in local darbars. The chief and even the main members of the darbar are male.

Toki: You see, you are talking about losing out. The scariest part is we are losing our social values, the value systems we as indigenous people carry.


You came back to work with your people. You were an IAS officer. In fact, if I remember correctly, you were the batchmate of G.K. Pillai, the current Union Home Secretary.

Toki: Yeah. '72 batch.

And you chucked it to come back?

Toki: I had to come back. The attraction back home was greater, I think, than the service.    


Are all these fears of identity real? Because wherever you go now, you find posters from students' unions, political parties, if I read the newspapers… they are full of stories of identity. Is some of that exaggerated or is it real?

Toki: I think it is both ways. Demographically, I think, there is some fear that we may be swamped since we are a minority. But then as I said, we have to live with the times. My daughter talked about globalisation. It is an issue that is going to impinge on our societies. But the fear that is uppermost on our minds is losing the value systems that we have because that will be a big loss, really.

Mebanda: Another thing is that indigenous communities like ours are mostly based on oral traditions. So if nothing is documented we lose more. And I think, no offence to my father's generation, but they didn't really do much documenting. Now it falls to our generation.

But Toki, do you think some of these fears are also exaggerated or they are deliberately, politically exacerbated?

Toki: Oh sure. They have political value. If you are able to frighten the population, mobilise them and polarise the society, definitely, that is there.  

And how do you counter this? How do you convince your young people not to be paranoid?

Toki: I think education should play a major role. If we are able to create a level system of education, educate our people, create that awareness, I think that is important. Then we will be able to adjust with the world, not only in the minuscule world of our own.

Why is there so much alienation in the Northeast? We know that Meghalaya, fortunately, has never had an insurgency but there is alienation. There is a feeling of being far away, of being distant, of being cut-off.

Toki: When you ask that question, I can't but help answer. We hate a person because we don't know him. And we don't know him because we hate him. So, this is a vicious cycle. I think a lot of people from mainland India, I will put it that way, are yet to understand us.

The younger people — why the feeling of alienation now that access is much better, there are flights, there are much better connections. I find a lot of youngsters from the Northeast, particularly from Meghalaya, working all over India. So why is there still so much alienation?

Mebanda: Well, I don't really know but one of the things is that if we go to, like he said, mainland India, we are judged by the way we speak, the way we look. And at the end of the day, no matter how much you try, you will always be just a scheduled tribe, never just a plain Indian like everybody else. We always have this tag with us.

But what is India, if not a celebration of diversity?

Toki: We believe in that. But just because I am different doesn't mean that I am not an Indian. I am very much Indian but…

But then why the insecurity here? Why the continuing insecurity?

Toki: I think one of the basic reasons is lack of governance in this area. People really don't see a connect between their own insecurity and the governance around them. That is a fear we have. We see poverty increase, we see the irrelevance of politics in our day-to-day lives, and there is a feeling of isolation, especially in remote areas. Take a village like Mawphlang. It feels like it lives just by itself.

But that is a wonderful thing. That is also a tribal way of living because villages have their own democracy and their own system of governance. We have another village not very far away, which is the cleanest village in India, most probably, and it is all done with local action. It couldn't happen in UP because the village would be divided on caste, by big landowners… the distinctions are too many. Tribal societies make sure those don't matter.

Toki: This is social capital that we have. It needs to be built on. But at the same time, we belong to an ever-shrinking world... Within that we need to open up and we have to realise where our strengths and weaknesses are.

Mebanda, when you talk to young people, what do you think disturbs them most of all? Why this latent anger, distrust as if, if I may put it a bit crudely, India will come and take our assets away?

Mebanda: Well, again it is not so much India…

…Or evil Delhi?      

Mebanda: No, it is not that actually. We don't have any animosity against the country as such but, like my father said, the lack of governance. These people, the representatives, are representing mainland India. They have run short of their promises…

That is, your local politicians? Are they the ones who are increasing the alienation?

Mebanda: In many ways, I would say so.  

Because you people will see them as an extension of the Delhi establishment?

Mebanda: Exactly.

Not as an extension of your society into the Delhi establishment but the other way round.

Toki: Let me put it this way. Once a guy gets elected, comes into politics, he forgets that he should be speaking in the interest of the community. He starts speaking about financial interests, monetary interests, about the interests of someone else. I mean, this is ridiculous.

Tell me, you both have spent time outside of the Northeast. What are the most interesting things people have said to you, that show ignorance and at the same time that might show affection or large heartedness?

Toki: Once I was in Chennai and I was in a shop. So this guy was talking to me. We were speaking in English and then when I started purchasing something, he said, "Do you have dollars?" I said "No, I have Indian money". He said, "Where are you from?" I said I am from Meghalaya. He said, "Oh Malaysia". He just couldn't place me as being an Indian.

Mebanda, do you have a story?

Mebanda: Something similar. You know, every time you say Shillong, everyone thinks it is Ceylon. For some reason we don't really gel or we don't really look …

But it is also true that you are a very small minority. Khasis and Jantias are just about a million people? Like 7-8 per cent of Delhi, that is all. So it takes time for the rest of the country to figure out...

Toki: Yes. So, that is why, I think, we have not been able to make much of an impression.

Don't say that, because one of your own tribesmen J.M. Lyngdoh became a national star. He was an Indian all of us are proud of.

Toki: But that was from the political angle. What I am talking about is…we come back to the cultural angle. Here we are standing in the midst of a culture, which I think can contribute a lot not only to India but to the world.      

Mebanda: Just as he was saying this should be, you know, the solution to things like climate change, a global problem. Our ancestors have had these forests for centuries and it is only now that the world has woken up to the fact that forests are important, so our stewardship roles are our answers.

Tell us a few more really valuable traditions of your tribes that are worth emulating, preserving, remembering?

Toki: The issue of governance, again…governance has now been put into the context of divisive politics. In our traditional way, governance was consensous. I think this is a thing we need to show and teach the world. The tribe got together, and there was never a split over a majority or a minority, or you belong to the Congress, you belong to the BJP. The other thing that we can give the world is the wisdom we have in our healthcare system. We have this herbal healthcare system, especially in paralysis, broken bones, in so many other ailments.

This forest is also laden with some of the rarest of trees. Isn't it?

Toki: Yes, yes. Repository of lot of extinct herbs.

And one of the trees vandalised all over India's forests for its anti-cancer properties.    

Toki: Taxus baccata . One of the trees you can find here.  

And what about family values? Tell us about a few that are worth preserving, that should not get lost and also about changes that have taken place.

Mebanda: Well, one of the things about our traditional Khasi family is the kind of respect we have for elders. For instance, unless you address a question to me, I can't really answer because I have an elder before me, things like these. So in many ways the word of the elder would be the highest authority. We look at nature as part of the family, but the kind of respect we had for nature is slowly dying out now.

And what is happening to the village as a unit because the Khasi village is not just any other village. A Khasi village is a universe in itself. Is that under threat?

Toki: It is. It is under threat especially because of the media. A lot of new influences have come into the village. Like she said, the word of the elder is now slowly being marginalised and the wisdom of our elders and forefathers is slowly being substituted by other elements.

So, I know that you are now a full-time activist, she is an activist. You (Mebanda) also teach English literature. You are among a very small but a very important group of activists now, and that you are trying to preserve not only the environment but also tradition, and to highlight some of that for the rest of the country. So what are you focussing on in the immediate future?

Toki: The issue of governance is a very important issue that needs to be brought in. So that participatory concept of governance which is our main strength needs to be reflected in modern governance. The second issue: do we start identifying and bonding ourselves with modern culture.

So Mebanda, you are not trying to hide away from modernity?  

Mebanda: No, not really. We embrace it and yet at the same time we want to be rooted. Just because I embrace being like any other person anywhere else in the world doesn't mean that I lose out on my culture, my roots.   

Because, you know, you read about the problems that tribals in central India are having where we now have Naxalism, Maoism and a lot of exploitation. There is poverty here too, but to a much greater degree there. Do you have a view on how the tribal problem can be handled differently? Are there lessons from here that can be applied there or lessons from there that can be applied here?

Toki: I think that the social bonding that we have as tribals is one of the main factors that has prevented these sorts of divisive issues to come in. And religion also plays a major part in preventing such forces as these extreme views to come into our society.

Christianity in the case of Meghalaya?

Toki: Yeah.

So, Christianity is a moderating force?

Toki: Yeah. But for how long can we resist unless there is an improvement in governance?

Mebanda, do you see a lot of impatience in young people with the quality of governance?

Mebanda: Yes, there is. Each time before the election, everyone tells us that they will be the one bringing the change and we are still waiting. So…

If it doesn't happen for too long, people will get angry?

Mebanda: Definitely, because, you know, we are not stupid, we know what we have. You can't sell everything to us in the name of development.

In the name of fake development.

Mebanda: Fake development. Yes.

Because if there is development, you will welcome it.

Mebanda: Definitely. But not at the cost of our traditions, our culture.

And the responsibility for that lies here with your leadership or would you expect that to come from Delhi?

Toki: No, it lies with us, within us.

So, Mebanda, you said half -jokingly that we are not stupid people. In fact, you bring so much wisdom and also such a remarkable ability to maintain tradition and also to absorb modernity. We stand next to this sacred grove and we stand next to these monoliths, which have been there for, God knows, hundreds of years. Tell us about them.

Toki: As my daughter said, it is through oral traditions that we handed wisdom down and these are some of the marks that our fathers put in to commemorate memorable occasions in their lives then. Usually we have three monoliths but here is a very unique formation, this might be a small grave... this is to mark a very important event in the history of our community.

Now, you know, you are a community of less than a million people but are you also conscious that now you are really asserting so much soft power all over India, because everybody knows that Meghalaya is the home of such wonderful music.

Toki: Yes, it is the music capital of India.

And you have a football club of your own that is doing very well, Lajong FC.

Toki: The youngsters are more into that.

Tell me Mebanda about music, football…Meghalayans are reaching out to the rest of the country now.

Mebanda: Yeah. The thing is it has always been there. It is only now that people have realised that we have a lot to offer.

That is why it is such a wonderful feeling to have chatted with you. Thank you very much.

Toki: Thank you for coming to Meghalaya.

Transcript prepared by Mehraj D Lone







The world, still uncertain about economic prospects, now made a little more uncertain by Dubai's bankruptcy, seems to be making a beeline for gold, still considered a safe investment. Of course, as is well known, there is an inverse relationship between the fortunes of the dollar and gold prices and as the dollar has lost almost 8.4% this year against a basket of major currencies, the yellow metal has moved towards its biggest yearly gain since 1979. In India, the world's largest consumer of gold, prices jumped to whopping Rs 18,000 per 10 grams, from around Rs 12,000 in a span of just six months. This has dampened the demand for gold, in physical form. Purchases during the festival and marriage season have been sluggish because of high prices. Interestingly, in October (the peak of the festival period), Indian gold imports dropped by almost 11.5 tonnes to 26 tonnes. And even though gold prices in the Indian market didn't entirely reflect the spike in global rates—the rupee went up by almost 3.9% in the last three months—it was good enough to ward off several new and prospective buyers.


However, gold continues to attract investor interest, if not retail interest. Even central banks seem interested. RBI's sudden move to buy 200 tonnes of IMF gold, followed by similar purchases—though in far smaller quantities—by Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Russia were all noteworthy. The continuous rise of gold has led to a boom in investment in instruments like ETFs. As on November 25, investments in SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest exchange traded fund-backed by bullion stood at 1,127 tonnes, almost 4.5% more than the holdings on September 14. Still, the events of the last days further showed the vulnerabilities that a retail investor has to bear with. A rise in dollar index along with the Dubai debt default crisis which triggered fears of another banking meltdown compelled investors to look for the nearest exit route. Spot Gold dropped almost 3.4% from Thursday's close to around $1,151.60 per ounce—in just 24 hours the metal lost almost $40 per ounce. This is precisely the sort of blip that makes us less bullish on gold. Historically, and leave out the last few years, gold has been an underperformer compared to its biggest rival, equities. The World Gold Council data shows that on a five-year basis return on the main 200 stocks listed in the Bombay Stock Exchange has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 24%, while investment in gold in rupee terms has grown at a CAGR of 19.8%. Something worth pondering over in the mad rush towards gold.







That there has been a surge in the import of Chinese power equipment into India—according to some estimates these have gone up to more than a fifth of the total national capacity installed annually—is not in question. The real question is whether the government should take steps to intervene and prevent these imports. The government has already displayed protectionist instincts by clamping down on the issue of visas to Chinese workers, many of whom were working on power projects in India. Of course, the clampdown has already taken a toll on power projects, which are now short of manpower. On Chinese equipment, the government has set up a high-level committee chaired by a member of the Planning Commission to assess the impact of such imports and recommend a plan of action. The plan of action should surely be to do nothing. For one, local power generation companies which have benefited from the lower investment costs and faster pace of project completion using Chinese equipment and Chinese workers are thoroughly opposed to any restrictions.


But the government seems more focused on the interests of the giant public sector Bhel. Bhel's market share in power equipment has incidentally dipped to 53%. But the fact is that it is the slow response of Bhel—which is still in the process of ramping up capacity from 10,000 to 15,000 MW even as its order book position has more than doubled from Rs 55,000 crore in October 2007 to Rs 1,17,000 crore by March 2009—that has led to Chinese firms making substantial headway. In fact, inadequate capacity and the delay in tying up super-critical technology by Bhel had earlier led to a capacity slippage of almost 4000 MW in the Tenth Plan. But though the shortage of power equipment has been a visible bottleneck for some time now, this is soon set to change as the government's efforts to boost capacity by linking up new equipment orders with domestic production bear fruit. The decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure last August to go in for a bulk ordering of 11 super-critical units with a phased manufacturing programme for development of indigenous facilities is one step in this direction. These efforts will also be supplemented by market forces as indicated by the greenfield projects planned through joint ventures between L&T and MHI, JSW and Toshiba, Bharat Forge and Alstom, and GB Engineering and Ansaldo for manufacture of supercritical boilers and turbine generators, a technology that is expected to account for a major share of the power capacities installed in the Twelfth Plan. Amidst all this, the government would do well to resist the temptation to bar Chinese imports and let the market choose the best equipment.







Memories of currency markets since early 2007 still remain fresh in our collective memories, despite the intervening turmoil that had changed our perceptions of financial life. India had net capital inflows of $108 bn in 2007-08, the rupee had risen from Rs 48 to the dollar at end-2006 to over 39 at the beginning of 2008, an appreciation of over 13% over a year. India's foreign currency assets swelled from $170 bn to $284 bn in January 2008 (increasing thereafter to $302 bn by May 2008). RBI bought a net $105 bn through currency intervention operations in the spot markets and then augmented this through a buildup of $17 bn in forwards markets exposures.


This intervention consequently increased pressure on domestic money, forcing RBI to sterilise the added liquidity using Market Stabilisation Scheme (MSS) bonds, extracting close to Rs 1.8 lakh crore. The government had to pay market interest on this corpus, and more insidiously, pushed up the cost of the entire market borrowing programme. We had estimated then that net of sterilisation, RBI's currency intervention resulted in an approximate injection of Rs 2,49,000 crores, almost 30% of incremental M3 in 2007-08. The effect of this increase on inflation can only be surmised.


It is against this backdrop that current concerns of many emerging markets about a sudden surge of capital inflows, a lot of it speculative, need to be understood. Brazil and Taiwan have been among the first to impose some controls on speculative and arbitrage seeking capital flows. Should India begin thinking of appropriate controls?


What exactly is the problem with such a surge in flows? The first is that the resultant rise in a currency renders exports relatively uncompetitive. In India's case, exports have begun to account for a significant engine of economic activity, accounting for over a sixth of GDP, using the simple (and probably simplistic) metric of magnitudes. Given that developed country imports remain weak, this just makes export growth more problematic.


The second problem is that associated swings in currency driven by volatile portfolio capital increases uncertainty and operational costs of not just exporters, but all entities with exposure to global trade and capital operations, should they wish to hedge their exposures. India's total inbound and outbound interactions account for well over 100% of its GDP, having doubled over the past half a decade. This proportion will have been even higher for many other important emerging markets.


The third adverse impact is the potential buildup of bubbles (rise in asset market levels beyond that warranted by fundamentals, although this is notoriously difficult to ascertain). Policy authorities fear, justifiably, that foreign funds are diverted into uses different from those originally intended, and this is particularly difficult to monitor. Rapid rises in rates increases system volatility and interferes with many policy objectives.


Having said this, there are many benefits of a strong local currency. The first is an aid in inflation control, since a strengthening rupee reduces the cost of imports, allowing importers to pass on cost savings to domestic consumers. That's the theory, at least; the actual pass-throughs will depend on specific market structures. Depending on the extent of the pass-throughs, importers' profitabilities also improve, increasing their tax potential for the exchequer. For emerging markets like India, with significant external debt repayment obligations, the overall debt burden falls.


Policy authorities, therefore, have to balance competing considerations in taking a view on currencies and capital flows and of the most appropriate instruments to transfer the benefits and costs between various stakeholders. As a sidenote here, even in the academic literature, while there is near unanimity on the virtues of free trade, the jury is out on full capital account convertibility. So, if there is indeed a need for some controls on cross-border capital movements, what might be the best and cheapest way of imposing this, particularly given the potentially adverse effects on foreign investor confidence?


We have already had a taste of the fiscal and other costs of currency intervention by RBI. If a more hands-off approach to the rupee is adopted, should exporters be compensated for their hit? If so, how, particularly given the constraints of the WTO regime in which we now operate. If legally feasible, will direct transfers be less expensive than currency intervention? Will more direct limits on the magnitude and nature of flows have less distortionary effect on overall activity (and in economic parlance, lower deadweight losses)? Is portfolio capital really more volatile than other, supposedly more stable, flows like FDI and NRI funds? Many studies of the 1998 Asian crisis found evidence that portfolio capital was not the main culprit, it was short-term debt capital.


There is bound to be strong reduction in portfolio flows, if some controls are imposed, but this is likely to be temporary. Capital with a relatively long-term returns perspective will still be attracted to India's growth prospects. What the best approach might be requires deeper study, and we should do this as swiftly as possible.


The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. Views are personal








Whenever I go somewhere I have a bad habit of going to a village. I must be the only FE columnist who wrote a centrepiece from a village bar in the Canadian badlands at the end of the western part of the Prairies. Farmers complain everywhere. We have had a bad kharif, but is anything seriously wrong with Indian agriculture, in the sense that we did not know earlier? It's difficult to say. As chairman of the Agricultural Prices Commission that started publishing its reports, the CACP dutifully sends me a copy. I must be the only one in the world to have read all their reports, each one running into five hundred pages. So, I was amused when a politico asked why the CACP reports are secret. The last one for 08/09 is written eruditely by two CACP chairmen, the current one and his predecessor, both very competent economists. CACP reports are so good that no one reads them.


They both tell us an interesting story. The recent trend in agriculture is not bad for the last three years. Of course, that was before the knocking of Kharif '09. After all, '03 and '05 were both bad years and taking away a bad base always gives good growth estimates. The long-term trend is not much to preen about what they say. But hidden somewhere is the story that cereals are doing badly in spite of the good crop of 07/08. Non-cereals are doing better, apart from edible oils, and it's animal husbandry and fish that are the leaders of the pack. In the growth league it is animal husbandry, non-cereals, and then cereals, with pulses and inferior cereals at the bottom.


Now CACP doesn't say so, but the cereal economy is the only one in a government price policy frame. CACP says that the policymaker should announce support at the time of sowing so that the economics work. It also raises its eyebrows on bonuses after the crop is in, having read its Ricardo, but it is left to a group of young economists, who have been doing a slew of acreage and supply response studies, to show that markets don't seem to allocate in cereal crops. My son is a product of the Bombay School and is naturally critical of my 'planning mindset', but is a part of the pack on this in a forthcoming book on supply response. It is extremely unlikely, it seems at present, that the demand of around 240 million tonnes of foodgrains in the Eleventh Plan will be met. In commercial crops prices matter and the CACP also suggests that it would not be wise to import without protection as in oilseeds. In general, there is hardly any improvement in terms of trade for agriculture and so no big breakthroughs in private investment.


The official and media concern is high agricultural prices. Last year, agricultural prices fell and there was no comment. Seasonality in agricultural prices is a dominating fact and the media and political parties show no awareness of this, the latter asking for good prices for farmers and cheap food at the same time. Montek was right in saying that food prices will fall. In fact, the last Wholesale Price Index, now released only monthly, says that food prices are lower than the same month last year, while overall prices are rising. But housewives are complaining and it is true that consumer prices are rising. Once upon a time consumer and wholesale prices always moved together. Now this is not so and we don't know why.


A study by Sukhpal Singh and Naresh Singla at the IIMA on the impacts of retail supply chain effects showed that the retail mall paid a price of nine rupees per kg of cauliflower, while the A-grade price in the mandi was eight rupees a kilo in a major metro where retail malls are popular. Obviously in this case farmers are getting better prices. Equally obviously the price was 12.5% higher and would show up in the consumer price index. In cabbage the January price was around 17% higher, but taking into account off-season prices, the average was only 4% higher. One of the objectives of supply chain management was for the farmer to get better prices and now that he is getting it, one can't cavil. But the price would rise.


These are only stories and we still don't know why retail and wholesale prices are behaving differently, but they should find out. Quality may be an answer, improving incentives another. The CPI is reportedly ready for urban areas and needs looking at for rural areas. One hopes it will have some answers before policies are put into place. On a general plane we do know that the central bank and the chief economic advisor are right. There is too much of purchasing power in the system and a liquidity overhang, and it makes it difficult to fight inflation. Inflation pricing has to be separated from incentive pricing policies as apart of the reform process. There are many things we don't know, neither do many others, but they won't say so. It's time to find out.


The author is a former Union minister








Should A Raja continue to be telecom minister? This newspaper has brought to light how norms were twisted by the department of telecommunications officials under Raja's directions. However, Raja had all along a line of defence—that he's done nothing wrong and purely gone by the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and kept the Prime Minister and finance minister in the loop. Whatever be the merits in those arguments, in our democratic structure the courts are the final arbiter and the verdict is out.


The observations by the Delhi High Court are not the first. The single bench of the court had last year in July already struck the arbitrary advancement of the cut-off date to grant new telecom licences, which denied the same to many, including the global telecom major AT&T, but helped real estate companies like Unitech and DB group with no prior experience to get licences, as illegal. The DoT had appealed against that judgment to a division bench headed by the Chief Justice AP Shah and found no relief. That surely says something significant. For argument's sake, DoT may say that it would appeal in the Supreme Court. If the apex court upholds the High Court judgment, what should Raja do? Stay on, still?


The government should now get into the act of clearing up the mess and this calls for hard steps. It is a well-known fact now that there was not enough spectrum to accommodate a large number of operators, yet DoT tweaked Trai recommendations in a way to grant licences to a few favoured firms, lied in the court that the balance applications have not been rejected but are on a waitlist, then on the sly asked the Trai once again to review whether more licences should be given since there's spectrum crunch.


The sequence of events coupled with the HC judgment clearly establishes something was seriously wrong. Now DoT has no option but to give licences to the balance 343 applications of 16 companies. Does it have the spectrum? The time to answer tough questions and take tougher decisions has come now.







Using firm-level data, this paper* analyses the transformation of India's economic structure following the implementation of economic reforms:


In this paper we analyse the evolution of India's industrial composition by focusing on the microfoundations of its productive structure: we examine the evolution of India's industrial structure at the firm level following reforms. In addition to changes in the industrial composition, we examine whether entry took place and if so, whether at the expense of traditional incumbents such as state-owned and traditional private firms. Finally, we examine the evolution of firm size, market share and industry concentration over time and in industries that were liberalised to either domestic or foreign entry or trade. Using firm-level data, we document dynamism and change in the productive structure following the implementation of economic reforms. Substantial new entry by foreign and private firms went along with high growth in their assets, sales and profits. In recent years, for example, some new and important private players have emerged in sectors such as IT services, pharma and telecom. However, despite the substantial increase in the number of private and foreign firms, the overall pattern that emerges after close to two decades of reforms is one of continued incumbent dominance in terms of assets, sales and profits: state-owned firms and traditional private firms. In sectors dominated by state-owned and traditional private firms before liberalisation (with assets, sales and profits representing 50% or higher shares), these firms remain the dominant ownership group following liberalisation.


* Laura Alfaro and Anusha Chari; India Transformed? Insights From The Firm Level 1988-2005; Working Paper 15,448, National Bureau Of Economic Research, October 2009








Nobody would have thought there was any public interest left in Bofors, a quintessential 20th century corruption scandal involving top political figures in India and Sweden. But the ghosts of Bofors have a habit of returning to haunt the functionaries and apologists of the party behind the scandal and its cover-up. Congress or Congress-led governments have gone to extraordinary lengths over two decades to obstruct and subvert justice in the Bofors criminal case. The latest instance is getting the Central Bureau of Investigation to ask Interpol to withdraw its Red Corner Notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi, the sole surviving accused in the corruption case and a fugitive from justice. This allows the Italian wheeler-dealer, who enjoyed unrestricted access to the highest reaches of power in 1986 when the Rs.1,437 crore howitzer deal was struck, to travel abroad without fear of arrest or extradition. It is not as though evidence on his key role in the Bofors scandal is in short supply. Swiss bank documents and a mass of other evidence assembled by the CBI in its criminal investigation have established that, using a front called A.E. Services Ltd., Mr. Quattrocchi and his wife received kickbacks amounting to $7.32 million from the Swedish arms manufacturer for no demonstrable services rendered.


Time and again, the Bofors payoff case has exposed, aside from unclean political hands, the CBI's shameful lack of independence and the willingness of the country's top law officers to oblige their political patrons. If attempts to bring Mr. Quattrocchi to trial in India have failed, it is because own goals were deliberately and repeatedly scored. In a shocking act of collusion, the Narasimha Rao regime allowed him to slip out of the country in 1993. In December 2005, two of the Italian businessman's bank accounts in London were unfrozen thanks to an Indian Additional Solicitor General misinforming the Crown Prosecution Service in England that there was no evidence to link these deposits with the Bofors payoffs. This was after two British courts had upheld the freeze on the accounts. And why was Mr. Quattrocchi let off in Argentina after being detained in 2007? It surely had something to do with the fact that the CBI's extradition plea contained an invalid arrest warrant and failed to spell out the reasons why the accused should be extradited, as required by Argentinean law. The Argentinean court not only let him go but even ordered the CBI to pay his legal costs. By gifting Mr. Quattrocchi the freedom of travel he lacked for a decade, the Congress dispensation has shown it would spare no effort to bail out the man referred to as 'Q' in former Bofors chief Martin Ardbo's diary.






A significant reduction in malaria deaths through targeted intervention measures, particularly in Africa, and a substantial rise in funding to fight the scourge have brought the goal of elimination of the disease nearer. The search for a malaria vaccine may eventually present a winning candidate, but the focus for the immediate future must be on controlling the deadly falciparum form of the disease. The global health community, which has been enthused by the outcome of int ensified malaria control efforts, is now talking of elimination. A dramatic reduction in mortality has been demonstrated with the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets and access to Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT). The World Health Organisation's Roll Back Malaria initiative is working to bring down deaths from close to a million a year today to near zero by 2015. Much of the optimism stems from good results reported by countries such as Zambia, where malaria deaths have declined by two-thirds. This breakthrough was achieved by distributing millions of insecticide-treated bed nets and making available ACTs widely over a two-year period. If the 60 other 'malaria heartland' countries can replicate these results, the disease can certainly be rolled back within a few years.


On World Malaria Day (April 25) this year, an ambitious Affordable Medicines Facility under the Roll Back Malaria framework was unveiled. This will bring ACTs within reach of everyone in a selected group of countries. It has been made possible by fixing low, subsidised drug prices through negotiations with manufacturers. If the experiment succeeds, it can become a global programme. Expanded funding running into billions of dollars has been pledged by various sources, starting with $4.6 billion from the Global Fund, to scale up malaria control and offer combination therapy where appropriate. The talk about rising India must not be allowed to obscure the harsh reality that remote areas in India, especially in the Northeast, continue to witness significant levels of death and morbidity due to falciparum malaria. Studies show that the affected regions are backward and extremely poor. It is crucial, therefore, that national malaria control efforts carefully weigh the evidence on the efficacy of fixed-dose combination therapy in comparison with conventional medicines and monotherapy. It will then be possible to make the best therapies available through the public health system to those who need them. The war against malaria has been long and costly but there is excellent evidence in hand to suggest that it can be won if the right public health choices are made.









Over the last few months, just as the economy entered its current recessionary phase, the mainstream media, which till then had been uniformly unswerving in their antipathy to NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), suddenly began to sing its praises. In all the gloom and doom, we are told, rural India is shining.


All this talk of a shining rural India must, of course, be dismissed as it was by the electorate five years ago. India's countryside continues to be characterised by a sluggish agrarian economy, marred by malnourished children and anaemic women, as also suicide by farmers in distress. But there is no question that NREGA has put money into the hands of the poorest of the poor on a scale that is unprecedented in the history of independent India.


The concepts of the multiplier and accelerator borrowed from macroeconomics and adapted to an agrarian economy help explain what such money could do in a recession. Till the 1930s, mainstream economic theory was steadfast in its denial of the very possibility of large-scale unemployment under capitalism. The work of two great economists (Michal Kalecki and John Maynard Keynes), following up on the Great Depression of 1929-33, changed this view forever. They showed that without appropriate government intervention, widespread unemployment would be a characteristic feature of capitalism.


Government intercession in a recession can take the form of various counter-cyclical policies to stimulate demand. One is to reduce taxes so that there is more money in the hands of taxpayers. Another is a large-scale public works programme like NREGA, which creates purchasing power among workers. When those receiving tax breaks or working on NREGA sites spend this additional money, they create demand for commodities. The production of these commodities, in turn, creates demand for capital, raw materials and workers. The extra incomes so generated cause further demand, which again provides a stimulus to production, employment and demand ... and so on in a spiral. This demand stimulating process is called the multiplier.


The value of this multiplier depends on the marginal propensity to consume (mpc) of those benefiting from government intervention. The mpc is our extra spending out of the additional rupee we earn. Clearly, the higher the mpc, the greater the stimulus provided to demand. The great thing about NREGA from this point of view is that it is putting money into the hands of those whose mpc is the highest. Those on the margins of existence are more likely to spend than save most of what they earn.


This explains the celebration of NREGA in the media. Apparently demand in the economy is being sustained by rural buying, which has received a boost from NREGA incomes. But this is not even half of NREGA's full potential. For NREGA is much more than an ad hoc relief programme dishing out doles (or what these days are more fashionably called direct cash transfers). It promises transformation of rural livelihoods. To understand how NREGA can deliver on this potential, we need to grasp a curious unrecognised fact about agricultural labour in the most backward regions.


Not many people know what data from the Rural Labour Enquiry of the National Sample Survey confirms, that a very high proportion of agricultural labour households in India actually owns land. The percentage is around 50 in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, 60 in Orissa and Uttar Pradesh and over 70 in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. And if we focus on Adivasis, the proportion shoots up to as high as 76-87 per cent in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan.


Why are these facts important? Because they help us understand that NREGA workers are not just consumers stimulating demand in a recessionary economy. They also include producers — millions of small and marginal farmers forced to work under NREGA because the productivity of their own farms is no longer enough to make ends meet. NREGA will become really powerful when it helps rebuild this decimated productivity of small farms. Public investment in the programme incentivises private investment by small farmers and gives them a chance to return to full-time farming. I have seen hundreds of such examples, especially in the central Indian tribal belt, arguably the poorest parts of the country. Here earthen dams on common land have recharged wells of those poor farmers who earlier worked as labourers to build these dams. These farmers are now busy making a series of investments to improve their own farms.


Thus, a mutually reinforcing relationship between investment and income is catalysed by NREGA. First, investment generates demand and income through the multiplier. Then, income stimulates investment via the accelerator. Giving rise to a spiralling cycle repeated in successive rounds. Although not usually deployed in such a context, the accelerator principle in macroeconomic theory describes the positive impact of growing incomes on private fixed investment. Rising incomes also improve capacity utilisation and happier expectations act as incentives for more investment. Under NREGA, farmers have come back to land they long abandoned, as increased output, in an atmosphere of renewed hope, spurs further investment. Converging NREGA with other programmes for rural livelihoods would carry this momentum forward in a positive upward spiral, which will broadbase the growth process via downstream multiplier-accelerator effects. Effectively a wage employment programme can thus be transformed into a source of sustainable livelihoods generating self-employment. Which would permit reductions in allocations for NREGA over time, not only because landed labourers get back to their own farms but also because of a general rise in demand for labour in the rural economy.


Ten years ago, in our book, India's Drylands, my colleagues and I sketched precisely this kind of scenario. With the key proviso that investments in an employment guarantee programme must be in productive, eco-friendly assets. This would ensure that the resultant growth dynamic is both sustainable (by regenerating the environment) and non-inflationary (by easing the agrarian constraint). Not only does demand need stimulation, growth has to be sustainable in both economic and ecological terms, especially in these times of climate change. So what we require is not just a stimulus a la Keynes but a specific new kind of stimulus a la Schumpeter!


There is no way this multiplier-accelerator synergy can fully come into play without the most important piece of the NREGA jigsaw falling into place – radical governance reform. NREGA is a revolutionary Act that seeks to bring real democracy to India's grass-roots. By replacing the contractor raj, which has dominated rural development in India, with Panchayat Raj — planning, implementation and social audit of works by gram panchayats under the oversight of the Gram Sabha. This requires the creation of a new cadre of dedicated executive agencies serving panchayats, with a team of barefoot engineers and social mobilisers supporting them. Only then can NREGA yield rejuvenated watersheds and recharged water tables. Without which the multiplier-accelerator synergy will remain a distant dream.


Radical governance reform challenges the very fabric of rural social relations. Strong state support is essential to dismantle the fossilised yet exploitative system and to build an effective alternative. Even the few hesitant steps in this direction have produced a violent reaction. As we approach the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Lalit Mehta, a crusader in the NREGA cause, it is time to remind the state of its duty to protect the unsung heroes who continue to risk their lives to make NREGA a success.


While entering untested waters, there are other fresh challenges. Paradoxically, the attempt to check corruption by making payments through banks or post offices has backfired in transition. The additional NREGA load is proving impossible to handle and workers also find it hard to reach these sparsely located distant offices. Local elites with greater mobility and access take hold of workers' job cards and swindle them by fudging entries both on job cards and the centralised computer database. As the social audit process picks up and workers become more aware of the scams taking place in their name, things will improve but there is no alternative to making banks and post offices better equipped and more effective. Could these expenses be met through the 6 per cent administrative costs provided under NREGA? NREGA has fallen short of its potential because the preparation needed for this revolutionary Act was not in place before it was launched. Let us focus radical governance reforms on the 200 most backward districts or even better 1,000 most backward blocks. Where NREGA really matters and should have been restricted to in the first place. If a new architecture of implementation is put in place here, we could see not only the multiplier but a productivity enhancing accelerator in action that transforms livelihoods for millions of our poorest people, in a manner that is sustainable in both economic and ecological terms.


(Dr. Mihir Shah, an economist, is a member of the Central Employment Guarantee Council.)








From home videos of the ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, cooing over his baby daughter to the "to-do lists" written by the bombers in their final days, the trial of Waheed Ali, Sadeer Saleem and Mohammed Shakil offered a new insight into the preparations for the July 7 attacks, and the four men who would go on to carry out the suicide bombings that killed 52.


The police believe the bombers were schooled by the al-Qaeda operatives when they travelled to Pakistan. Khan twice attended training camps there and went a final time with Aldgate bomber Shehzad Tanweer in late 2004. It was on this trip that authorities believe their plans changed from fighting overseas to an attack in the U.K.


Ali claimed Khan and Tanweer came to him in Pakistan to tell him they were heading back home "to do a couple of things for the brothers."


The trial also revealed:

— Previously unseen footage that showed Khan, who would go on to kill six people near Edgware Road, tenderly saying goodbye to his six-month-old daughter before going to Pakistan. Cradling the child in his arms he tells her that he is going away "for the sake of Islam."


— How the bombers may have deliberately dropped ID and bank cards some distance from where they sat before they detonated their devices, so the documents would survive and they could be easily identified as the perpetrators and "get credit" for what they had done.


— Details, for the first time, of a second bomb factory — a bedsit (one-room flat) above a shop in Chapeltown, Leeds — where investigators believe the four carried out preparatory work in spring 2005. Traces of explosives were found there and CCTV footage captured all four entering the building.



The prosecution's forensic scientist said the unique design of the rucksack bombs that would kill 52 people meant their carriers almost certainly had help to make them. The jury saw the first pictures of the main bomb factory, at Alexandra Grove in Leeds, and heard descriptions of the chemical residues, bulbs, wires, batteries and traces of high explosives found scattered in disarray around the flat.


The bombers' to-do lists, found at the Alexandra Grove bomb factory, included a "plan for the day," thought to have been penned by bus bomber Hasib Hussain. It had just four elements: "Rehersal [sic]. If confronted: deal with it. Pop it if overheats on thing. Organise times!"


A longer list, scrawled by Tanweer, reminded the bombers to memorise prayers. A charred note showing timings of journeys on the underground was recovered from the wreckage of the Russell Square bomb.


Previously unseen CCTV pictures followed an anxious Hussain after his bomb failed to explode on the underground, rooting around in his bag on the concourse at King's Cross. By the time he boarded a number 91 bus, sweat was pouring down his face and his lips were dry and cracked, according to a fellow passenger. The footage of Khan with his daughter was shot two days before he flew to Pakistan in November 2004. The prosecution said it was clear he did not expect to see her again, although in fact he was to return to the U.K. to mastermind the bombings.


"I just wish I could have been part of your life, especially these growing up — these next months, they're really special with you learning to walk and things," he says. "But I have to do this thing for our future and it will be for the best, inshallah, in the long run." He adds: "Be strong, learn to fight — fighting is good." In another clip, shot the month before, he is seen introducing his daughter to her "uncles" — Tanweer, Hussain and Ali.


Detectives based in Yorkshire learned that Ilkley Moor was used as a fitness training ground by young would-be terrorists. Among those spotted running and rock climbing there was Khan. Eyewitnesses are understood to have told detectives that he would frequently be seen there, often with younger men. Usually they would run to the Cow and Calf, an outcrop of rocks at the top of the moor, where they could then be seen hugging.



The court heard of another side to Khan's character. Mohammed Shakil told how when the pair became friends in their early 20s, Khan — or Sid, as he was known — was "not a good practising Muslim" and the pair would drink alcohol and smoke cannabis together. The court also heard that during the trip which the prosecution alleged was for reconnaissance to London, Piccadilly line bomber Germaine Lindsay stole the wallets of two men staying in their hostel because he was angry that they were smoking cannabis.


Tanweer, according to Ali, was a more gentle character who had been so religious as a teenager — praying five times a day and growing his beard at 14 or 15 — that other children gave him the nickname "Pious." He "looked after" Ali, and the pair played cricket together in the park the night before the bombings. Tanweer's hair and eyebrows had changed colour — bleached by the chemicals in the bomb factory. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009







The New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team at the foothills of where the giant Buddha statues stood.


A recent five-day visit to Afghanistan left me both profoundly pessimistic about the accomplishments to date against the scale of international blood and treasure expended, yet convinced also of the importance of not losing the war with the Taliban, al Qaeda and fellow travellers. Kabul defined the pessimism: after more than seven years of massive security assistance and operations, travel in the capital city was permitted only in armoured cars and wearing bullet-proof ves ts. Bamiyan defined the determination not to abandon the cause: the gaping hillside holes from the two giant Buddha statues, which stood as silent sentinels for more than 1500 years before the Taliban destroyed them in an act of wilful cultural vandalism, stand in silent rebuke to a world that allowed this to happen.


The two pressing priorities are to transform the mission from a heavily militarised to a civilianised operation, and to shift it from an externally directed into a locally owned enterprise. At present the capital and the country are fortified garrisons and Afghanistan is not merely under foreign occupation but feels like a quasi-colonial country with real power divided between the Afghan warlords and the American overlords.


The centrepiece of the political situation this year will be the presidential election scheduled for mid-August. By all accounts, Hamid Karzai, who is seeking re-election, is the man to beat. While almost everyone expects him to win, it was hard to find anyone who is filled with genuine enthusiasm, excitement and hope at the prospect of another five years of Mr. Karzai. He is yet to issue a political platform for which he can be held accountable by Afghans and outsiders alike.


One puzzle is whether the Taliban will take part in the political process, in preparation for the parliamentary elections due next year, or whether they will remain outside the process, waiting for the low lying fruits of political victory to fall into their laps as the coterie around the president become increasingly more corrupt, powerless and ineffectual and public cynicism and revulsion grow proportionately. Events in Pakistan show how an enfeebled government saps the morale of the people in standing up to the threat of the spreading Taliban.


In the meantime, there is an agonising debate over whether there is any such thing as a moderate Taliban who can be engaged, detached from the militancy, and integrated into the new national community. Are there people who joined the Taliban for reasons other than ideological fanaticism and can be weaned away from the path of militancy? Or will concessions and goodwill gestures of accommodation be seen as signs of weakness and serve merely to embolden the insurgency, as seems to have happened with the notorious deal between the government and the Taliban in Pakistan with respect to the once lovely Swat valley?


A second imponderable is whether the election will be seen as free and fair by the Afghans regardless of how international observers certify it. There is some concern that five tools in government hands will facilitate the manipulation of the machinery and process to the incumbent's advantage and thereby compromise the integrity of the presidential election. The Afghan Independent Election Commission, its name notwithstanding, has yet to establish its credibility as an independent body. The Afghan National Police, widely reviled for corruption and shake down habits, is a pliant tool in government hands. The provincial governors are appointed by the president and the chain of command extends to district administrators and police commanders. The government enjoys the power of the purse and the revenue streams can be directed to serve electoral rather than development goals. And there is no independent and robust media to subject the government to critical scrutiny and disseminate alternative political platforms and opinions.


The new Afghanistan strategy announced by U.S. President Barack Obama seems to put the focus more strongly on fighting terrorism and less on civilian assistance and local ownership. This goes against the reality of recent and continuing reversals on the human rights, civil liberties and press freedoms front. The passage of the notorious Shia law with its antediluvian views on the wifely duty to provide sex on tap for husbands is but one example; the jailing of journalists for seemingly innocuous behaviour is another. Canadian and European allies will lose the will to fight in Afghanistan if they see the government's behaviour sliding to match the Taliban approach to governance, fatwa for fatwa.


The Rumsfeld instrument of combining security, development, and governance was the provincial reconstruction teams. The PRT-led effort means that everything is seen through the military and security lens, which results in the militarisation and securitisation of all efforts. Moreover, to the extent that attempts are underway to devolve power form the central to the provincial level, this also means that real power has been appropriated by the PRTs at the local level.


The retreat from nation-building, by which is meant building the institutions of state, could prove fatal to the cause of creating and leaving behind a stable polity and a sound economy. This includes strengthening the police, judicial and criminal justice systems, instilling discipline and professionalism, paying adequate salaries so they don't take bribes out of economic necessity as opposed to corrupt character, and accentuating national as opposed to sectarian identity. The army needs to be built up into a professional and national force too. But history shows that to succeed, a counter-insurgency operation has to be led by the police, not the military (think Khalistan versus Kashmir). The EU police presence in Kosovo is in the order of around 2,500; in Afghanistan just over two hundred but slated to rise to 400. Yet the number of Afghan police killed last year was around 2,000, double the army soldiers killed.


The ideal partnership between the international community and the Afghans is for outsiders to stay engaged on security assistance and development aid, and for the Afghans to deliver on corruption, drugs, and disarming of the warlords.


The strengthened U.S. military presence and activity come with heightened risk of an increased level of civilian casualties and culturally offensive behaviour. Just as there is a need to shift from a heavy military to a major civilian footprint, so at some stage the lead international actor should be the United Nations. For all its faults, the organisation has no peer competitor in nation building. For reasons that remain unclear, the U.N. wanted and was given a light footprint. The result, much to the evident frustration of its senior leadership in Afghanistan, is a one-third unfilled number of U.N. vacancies there and even those who go are not always the best, for the U.N.'s best are not attracted to a mission of playing second fiddle to the Americans.


Another lesson from the history of counter-insurgency is that insurgents cannot be defeated if they enjoy sanctuary and strategic depth in a neighbouring country. After all, Washington used Pakistan as a sanctuary for the mujahideen to devastating effect against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The battle space in Afghanistan today straddles the border with Pakistan. Each passing year, the West has become increasingly blunt and public in pinpointing Pakistan's troubled northwest regions as safe havens for insurgents who launch increasingly daring raids into Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they are becoming just as frequent in launching raids deep into Punjab, Pakistan's heartland. As long as Pakistan feeds on its own paranoia of India being the greater existential threat, both Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain volatile.


Knowing what we do of Taliban rule in Afghanistan for many years, having been given a foretaste of what to expect in Pakistan if they manage to capture power there with the stomach-churning video of the young woman being publicly flogged for immoral acts real or imagined, bearing in mind that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, and mindful also of the grave threat that a Taliban-ruled Pakistan would pose to India with its own 150 million Muslims, the one option we do not have is to give up.


(Ramesh Thakur is the founding director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada.)








Narendra Modi has come to represent an interesting and, to some, a troublesome model of control and charisma.


Even before the mysteriously timed judicial intervention materialised four days before Gujarat went to the polls, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had come to define the election scene in the State. His personality, political persona and administrative performance have fleshed out the Bharatiya Janata Party's electoral strategy to enhance its tally of 14 out of the 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat. Even L.K. Advani is precariously dependent upon Mr. Modi's charisma to beat down an unexpectedly strong opposition from a young, local Congress MLA in the prestigious Gandhinagar constituency.


"Narendra Modi is the BJP, and the BJP is Narendra Modi," argues a former Chief Minister. And, a senior political aide of the Chief Minister agrees heartily: "We are able to seek and get votes only in Narendrabhai's name."


Nowhere in the country has a regional leader dwarfed the national party so decisively. Kalyan Singh of the 1990s is perhaps the only other man who became similarly critical to the BJP's electoral fortunes and political appeal.



Mr. Modi is the face, message, strategist, and organiser for the BJP in the battle for Gujarat's 26 seats. And he does make an indefatigable, imaginative, and in-your-face campaigner. Explained a senior aide: "He is constantly finessing his rhetorical pitch. Every night there is a review session; there is a discussion of which lines, phrases, and images have worked; there is a lot of homework behind all those seemingly effortless but evocative sentences."


In Ahmedabad, it is mostly Mr. Modi's visage that dominates the billboards. The message of "strong leader, decisive government" — designed nationally around Mr. Advani — finds perfect resonance around Mr. Modi. And, though there is no visible Hindu-Muslim tension, there is invocation of terror, nationalism, patriotism, all weaved in to pander to the Gujarati middle classes' incipient regional parochialism.


Realising Mr. Modi's overwhelming presence in the Gujarati political discourse, the Congress has devised a mostly non-confrontational approach. The refrain is not to attack the Chief Minister, not to give him any opportunity to play the victim, and to let him overtalk himself into fleeting sound-bytes. It is almost as if the Congress has applied "closure" on the 2002 riots.


Instead, its accent is on questioning Mr. Modi's claims on performance, as also on selling the Manmohan Singh government's achievements, on the Prime Minister's reputation as a good manager of the economy, and on the party's sales pitch of stability and growth. What is more, the Congress has refused to be provoked even as the Chief Minister tried to hit its national leaders below the belt. On their part, the Congress candidates have concentrated on local issues, thereby diluting Mr. Modi's pan-Gujarat appeal.



While this larger-than-life profile has enabled Mr. Modi to elbow other "generation next" leaders such as Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh out of the BJP's picture frame in Gujarat, he has also taken a calculated risk: he needs to demonstrate that given a free hand, he will be capable of winning votes and seats for the party. The Chief Minister's media managers whisper: "20 to 22." The BJP spin-doctors insist that there is no way the Congress will secure more than four seats. Unless the BJP wins at least 20 seats, questions will be raised about the advisability of converting the election into a referendum on Mr. Modi. Any tally below 20 would, of course, have consequences for the Chief Minister's leadership claims beyond Gujarat.


And that is where the problem begins. Even Mr. Modi's admirers are flummoxed by how he selected BJP candidates. Many of them have just crossed over from the Congress, some have a definite tainted past, and, some were involved in a cooperative bank scam a few years ago. The choice of such dubious characters has distracted from the Chief Minister's image as a no-nonsense man, besides putting the onus on him to see the chosen ones through.


Admittedly, if Mr. Modi has prospered politically it is only because the BJP enjoys a decisive edge over the Congress in terms of organisational presence and resourcefulness in Gujarat. Still, the party has become totally synonymous with the Chief Minister; the electorate has to be appeased with the promise — even if a distant one — of his becoming Prime Minister.


Nonetheless, this total focus on one man has reduced other senior leaders to virtual non-entities. And the Chief Minister's own preference to rely on the government's machinery to build up his image has left the cadres somewhat out of practice for the gruelling electoral scrimmage. The outcome will have lessons for other Chief Ministers, too.


Mr. Modi has come to represent an interesting — and, to some, troublesome — model of control and charisma. A senior ministerial colleague recently compared him to a ringmaster who has competently tamed the corporate lions. The entire bureaucracy has cheerfully slipped into the role of the Chief Minister's cheerleaders. All State-level BJP leaders have faded into political irrelevance. The media too have been made to appreciate the advantages of appreciating the Chief Minister. It is this model of control and charisma that is on test in the Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat. The outcome will be of interest way beyond Gujarat.








The pressure on banks to lend, particularly to the micro and small and medium industries (SMEs), is increasing but the banks appear unmoved. But unless they lend to the manufacturing sector, there will be no real growth in production and consequently in the economy. Small and medium industries comprise the bulk of the manufacturing sector. Both state-owned and private sector banks complain that there are hardly any viable projects to lend to, an argument which industry leaders are quick to dismiss. The viability of a project is not that easy to assess, they say, asking in turn that if the bankers' logic was true, and they lend only to "viable" projects, then how do the banks end up with so many non-performing assets (NPAs)? The entrepreneur is not the only one to blame if a project fails; there are other factors such as technical and labour problems, besides loan delays! One estimate has it that lending to the small and medium sector has fallen from 12 per cent to nine per cent — which is alarming as unlike the big corporates, who can always tap other credit channels, including the capital markets and external commercial borrowings, the SMEs are not so privileged. A member of


Parliament, making a fervent plea to banks to lend more to SMEs, observed recently that the banks' lending policy was not in tune with efforts by the Reserve Bank to spur banks to lend more.


In his last credit policy statement, RBI governor D. Subbarao had said that since mid-September 2008, the central bank's measures had resulted in augmenting actual and potential liquidity by Rs 5,61,700 crores. This liquidity expansion has been consistent with the Reserve Bank's efforts to ensure a policy regime enabling credit expansion at viable rates while preserving credit quality. But as they say, you can take the horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink water, so it is with the banks. Their credit deposit ratio is 69.39 per cent as on November 6, 2009: which means that for every Rs 100, Rs 70 is lent. But the banks prefer to park their surplus funds with the RBI instead of lending to industry, particularly the manufacturing sector. It is estimated that banks keep over Rs 1,50,000 crores with the RBI on any given day even though the interest rate they earn is minimal. But for risk-averse banks, the big thing is that it is totally risk-free.


The banks, of course, have their own compulsions. They are risk-averse because their NPAs are increasing, and the RBI recently asked them to increase provisioning for this, which means the banks will have to freeze around Rs 30,000 crores for this. Banks must bring down gross NPAs to three per cent and net NPAs to one per cent by March 1, 2010, so the pressure is there. The NPAs are increasing partly due to the recession, and so they are even more cautious now, particularly on home loans and other personal loans. Credit defaults are huge in this segment as in the good times the banks lent to the aspirational middle and lower middle classes, which drew high salaries. Realty is another sector where the banks landed in a mess despite the RBI's controls. The only solution to this impasse between borrowers and lenders is really for the government to set up a monitoring committee which would examine proposals in minute detail, assess the feasibility or otherwise of projects to ensure that deserving ones are not denied credit and that manufacturing activity begins to pick up.








One of the most sacred forms of trusteeship is the act of storytelling. Storytelling expresses ways of telling the truth. It realises truth can be told differently and that truth needs to be seen differently. But such differences never destroyed the power of truth or the integrity of the storyteller.


The power of the story emerges in one of Anna Akhmatova's stories. The poetess writes about a group of people hanging around a prison camp, waiting day after day for news of their beloved. A line of grim committed people standing in the cold. It is at one such desolate movement that a woman turns around to Akhmatova and asks "can you describe what you saw?" The poet nods. A smile spreads over both faces because they realised a story told and retold becomes a pathway to justice.


One discovered that same moment of epiphany in the reports on Watergate or the Pentagon report on the Vietnam War. A lie was exposed and truth recited across a variety of perspectives. It is these moments that made journalists like David Halberstam, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein storytellers who kept the myth and social contract of democracy alive.


As one watched the leak of the Liberhan Commission report, one was left with a different feeling. The report of the destruction of Babri Masjid has been told in many ways. There was lot that was not clear about the behaviour of both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). When the media and the politicians got together to discuss the leak, what one missed was the integrity of the storyteller.


There was something belated about the report itself. The Liberhans Commission had 47 extensions and cost Rs 8 crores. This fact itself is surreal. What adds to the comedy was what was a still-life suddenly erupts into frenzy by being leaked.


A leak is an amazing moment. It valorises a report, adds dignity, an explosive charm to its contents. What is a lame-duck report suddenly flickers to life by asking each man to invent his own story. Liberhans raved not because of the leak but because he had been demoted to a pretext to a set of imaginary texts. Politics and media jumped into the fray replaying Babri again.


Listening is a crucial part of storytelling. One listens so can tell the story. There is an ethics to listening. What one witnessed was the claim that the leaders were not responsible. The leak and the injustice of the leak dominated over the truth of the story. Responsibility is denied, remorse erased. But behind the consternation was the fact that the greatest hard-sell of the Babri story cracked like a China vase. Atal Behari Vajpayee was no longer the innocent he was presented to be. Whether it was the nuclear bomb or Babri Masjid, his claim to exoneration was always the rhetoric of regret. A Macbeth hides his crime borrowing the poetry of a Hamlet. His poetry might be fine, but his ethics never rises above the level of a limerick.


Then there is the Punch and Judy performance of Lal Krishna Advani and Vinay Katiyar. The first said that it was "the saddest day of his life", the second "the happiest". Between the two, one was a troubled Quixote, the other as a happy Sancho. They articulated the paradox of the BJP. The crowd destroyed the temple. Yet at that very moment, it also destroyed the BJP. It was no longer a cadre-driven party working on disciplined lines. It was the mob and not the leaders who created history. The Masjid fell but along with it crumpled the myth of the BJP as a controlled vehicle of politics.


The third specimen was P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Machiavelli of the non-decision. Some claimed he was in collusion, some felt his hands were tied by the governor's advice.


But what is interesting in all these stories is the notion of responsibility. But what intrigues is the manner of the white wash. Rao hides behind a constitutional caveat, Mr Advani behind over-enthusiasm and Mr Vajpayee claims absence. It is as if politics is no longer about responsibility. And it is this that makes the report such a joke. It becomes an empty Crapps Last tape of Indian politics, a masterpiece about delay.


What was cynical and sad was that all sides knew it was a sordid joke. Cynicism provided the common weave, the unity of response. Each journalist acted as if he was privy to this before the other. Two thousand people die and each mediaperson like a narrator in a post-modern play says no one was really responsible. Babri just happened. The mob did what the politicians wished to but dwandled over. The intent to kill and destroy was all there but a hiccup overwhelmed the act.


Subsequently the hiccup becomes the alibi. The citizen does not know which is more obscene: the demolition or the report which produced a still-born piece after the longest investigative pregnancy.


Watching TV one feels media, politics and the bureaucracy conspired to create a cynical joke on justice. One felt one was watching a group of club members toasting a common story. One felt soiled watching the piety of politicians and the cynicism of journalists. What is worse is that this new media's Orwellianisim reveals some are more cynical than others. While the press boasts of access to truth, it is precisely truth that becomes a disabled entitlement. We do not need a Goebbels to destroy truth, only those who destroy the truth of storytelling by realising that a lie is a truth postponed long enough. It is the reverse of the Akhmatova anecdote. When a listener asks our media, "can you describe it?", our cozy coalition of media-lovelies will look blankly.


The truth that emerges is not about communalism or governance. It is what I call the complicity of the political. The Congress, the BJP, the Muslim leaders might be allies or adversaries. But there is an uncanny unity in the pursuit of power. It is the ultimate construction of cynical reason to explain away an empty politics.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unlearnt his socialism after he advised Indira Gandhi during her garibi hatao days in the early-1970s. During his recent visit to the United States, he emphatically endorsed American-style capitalism and his faith in the once-mighty greenback. At a time when many around the world are not merely questioning their faith in free enterprise and the alleged self-correcting abilities of markets, Dr Singh's hosannas to the "entrepreneurial spirit" of a country where socialism is still a dirty word make it clear that his belief in the virtues of American "model" of development has become stronger than before.


In an interview with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek that was broadcast on CNN on November 23, the academic-turned-technocrat-turned-politician said that his own feeling "is that we have not entered an era of irreversible shift in the economic strength of the US". The Indian Prime Minister added that the economic crisis in the US — for which the rest of the world is suffering for no fault of theirs — is a "temporary setback" and that America "has shown remarkable capacity to bounce back". Pooh-poohing the suggestion that there has been a sharp decline in US power and prestige across the globe on account of the recession, Dr Singh had "no doubt that these things are not permanent".


He believes the US dollar will remain the reserve currency of the world for some time to come. He said that "as far as I can see right how, there is no substitute for the dollar" and added that as far back as the late-1960s, Yale University economist Robert Griffin had incorrectly predicted that the days of the dollar as the reserve currency of the world were over. Dr Singh stated that the fact that China had not withdrawn "even a fraction" of its $2.5 trillion of reserve assets in the US Treasury bonds was "a measure of the confidence that the world has in the dollar".


It is a separate matter that China — and Russia — have for long been expressing their dissatisfaction at the pre-eminence of the dollar as a reserve currency. Before the first meeting of the heads-of-state of the four Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries at Yekaterinburg, in June 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had remarked: "There can be no successful global currency system if the financial instruments that are used are denominated in only one currency…"


Faced with terrible recessionary conditions, many countries are frustrated at their powerlessness in influencing the exchange rate of the American greenback while remaining vulnerable to its fluctuations. At the end of March, China reportedly held US Treasury bonds worth nearly US $770 billion, Russia held securities worth $139 billion and Brazil had $127 billion worth of official American paper. The Reserve Bank of India does not provide a currency-wise break-up of foreign currency reserves but this country's total foreign exchange assets are currently close to $300 billion. There is no unanimity as yet, within the Bric nations and elsewhere, about how the dollar could be replaced as an international benchmark currency. Still, the debate on whether "special drawing rights" issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could become the new reserve currency has certainly intensified.


This was hardly the first time that Dr Singh lavished praise on the US. After he decided to jettison the support of the Left for the first United Progressive Alliance government on the India-US nuclear deal, on September 26, 2008, he sat beside George W. Bush Jr. in the Oval Office and said: "Mr President, this may be my last visit to you during your presidency and let me thank you very much. The people of India deeply love you. And all that you have done to bring our two countries together is something history will remember forever".


He didn't stop there but continued gushing: "In the last four-and-half-years that I have been Prime Minister, I have been the recipient of your generosity, your affection, your friendship. It means a lot to me and the people of India".


It did not matter to the Indian Prime Minister that at the time he uttered these sentences, George W. Bush had become one of the most unpopular American Presidents in that country's history. The then foreign secretary of India Shivshankar Menon — who was handpicked by Dr Singh superseding a number of other officers of the Indian Foreign Service — had claimed at that time that "the ratings for President Bush are higher in India than in any other country".


Prakash Karat, general-secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), later quipped that the Prime Minister should not have brought the people of India in-between his friendship with Bush. This expression of love surprised many of Dr Singh's colleagues in the Congress who realised that then outgoing, lame-duck President of the US did not have too many supporters in India. They attributed the Prime Minister's outpouring of affection to the long battle he had fought against the Left to conclude the nuclear agreement, a deal on which he had staked not only his personal reputation but that of his government as well. Yet, the nuclear deal — or for that matter, US imperialism — did not evidently matter much as an issue for Indian voters.


Till the point he became finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government in June 1991, Dr Singh was seen as an economist who had endorsed the "socialist" policy framework of the Indian government. Even as the South Commission's secretary-general in the late-1980s, he had articulated the economic aspirations of the developing countries and been critical of the IMF and World Bank. He did surprise many when he espoused a sharp rightward shift in India's economic policy regime as finance minister between June 1991 and April 1996. Even as Prime Minister, Dr Singh is still seen as among the more right-wing leaders of the Congress as far as his economic ideology is concerned.


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator









The request for restructuring the debt of Dubai World, which includes the real estate subsidiary Nakheel, is connected with the financial meltdown in the western markets in 2008.

It is a curious coincidence that even as the sub-prime bubble in the housing sector in the United States was the root cause of the mayhem in the financial markets in the capitalist countries, it is the over-ambitious — to put it mildly — real estate projects in the flamboyant emirate that triggered the tremor that could turn out to be a major market quake.

It was natural that following the recession in western markets, Dubai's own projects would grind to a halt. Until and unless western financial markets recover and the funds start flowing, Dubai would not be able to get on with its grandiose building projects. 

Unlike other Gulf countries, Dubai's economy was not built around petro-dollars because the emirate does not have oil resources. That is why, the ruling family, the Maktoums, had taken the diversification route with the intention of making Dubai an international hub for trade and services.

The plan seemed to work and paid dividends as well. Spurred by this initial success of the economy freed from its dependence on oil revenues, the planners in Dubai went into overdrive.

While the Wall Street managers committed the excesses of greed that led to the recession, in Dubai it was an excess of the extravagance — supported and abetted all the while by a less than mediocre western expatriate crowd of advisers and promoters — that has unhinged the economy.

Dubai has been indulging in capitalist excess for nearly a decade now, but westerners and those at the helm of western financial institutions with an uncanny combination of cynicism and naivete performed the role of cheerleaders and pumped in money.

Now, western market analysts are screaming murder, and expressing disbelief and rage at the disaster which was waiting to happen. They are pointing to the lack of transparency in Dubai's make-believe financial world with its false glitter. Until now they have been willing participants in the most immature capitalist pantomime.

This is the painful reality check that Dubai badly needed. It could not have sustained longer the vaulting Las Vegas dreams. It is going to be a painful climb back to economic stability but Dubai is sure to emerge an economy anchored in reality.

As a result the emirate would be better integrated with the regional economy and the focus will hopefully shift from the western to Asian economic partners.







There appears to be some sort of churning within India's political arena as all the parties with a "difference" now find that they are truly different — and at odds with the expectations of their voters and their members.

The elections this year appear to have set off a process of churning which is far from over. Just as the Bharatiya Janata Party lurches from one crisis to another, its alliance partner in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena, finds that life is a non-stop obstacle course.

The problems in the party reflect the fissures in the Thackeray family, since the family is the bedrock of the Sena. This weekend saw another crisis brewing as one more family member — after the defection of Bal Thackeray's nephew Raj three years ago — made clear her disillusionment with the Sena.

Smita Thackeray, a daughter in law of the house and once considered a party powerhouse, now says that she cannot in good conscience support the parochial politics practised by both the Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Instead, she finds that she greatly admires Sonia Gandhi for the leadership direction she has given the Congress and that she is impressed with the dedication shown by Rahul Gandhi.

What is immediately evident is that more and more people are frustrated with divisive politics. After all the problems that the Congress went through, from the latter part of the Indira Gandhi years right up to when it lost power to various coalitions through the 1990s, it now appears to have come full circle in people's minds — a party for all seasons.

This does not imply the Congress is the answer, so much as it reflects on the inability of its political opponents to read and understand the popular mood. Hate politics has a limited place and time and by its own nature, burns itself out.

For the Shiv Sena, though, the blows are coming thick and fast — the defection of Raj and the threat posed by the MNS, the ill-advised attack on Sachin Tendulkar, the constant harping on the Marathi manoos while providing Maharashtra no constructive game plan for improvement and now a very well-argued criticism of the short-sightedness of pro-Marathi politics by Smita Thackeray.

The obvious target will be Uddhav Thackeray as the leader of the party. But the actual problem lies deeper, with the Sena's past, its history and its idea of its own ideology. An object lesson here for all Indian politicians.








The little girl selling candles outside the Taj Mahal hotel on November 26 was having the best time. No one quibbled when she asked for Rs10 for each candle.


All kinds of people bought candles from her and lit them ritualistically outside the hotel.Candle lighting is now standard practice for all such anniversaries.


But this anniversary went beyond such symbolism. Assorted groups with their own agendas used the presence of the media to put forward their messages. So while a group from the BJP shouted slogans like "Phansi do, phansi do" demanding that Ajmal Kasab be hanged, the Hare Rama Hare Krishna brigade danced around singing bhajans.


Next to them stood a woman with an old poster, created after the 1992-93 communal riots by a garment manufacturer in Dharavi, the late Waqar Younis, showing four young boys depicting four different religions under the slogan "Hum Sab Ek Hain".


It was a mela of personal messages and agendas.And somewhere in the background was the memory that a year ago the structure before which all this was happening had been under siege in one of the most spectacular terror attacks seen in India.


The odd slogans apart what one did not sense was any anger.Disappointment, yes.But not anger.Not of the kind expressed a year back. So what had happened? Had people changed?Or had the anger drummed up at that time subsided because it had not been channelled into anything constructive?


Of course, if you believed what you heard on television, Mumbaikars apparently were angry.Some of the talking heads on TV declared repeatedly that they were angry and fed up with the government and the political class. Venting is the easiest form of expression and the electronic media, in particular, now gives everyone a chance to do that.But what is achieved at the end of all that except some hot air?


Strikingly, those who said they were not angry were people who were still grieving a personal loss.People like Ragini Sharma, the wife of a ticket collector who was shot down at CST station. Or slain journalist Sabina Sehgal Saikia's brother, who suggested that people needed to move on beyond anger.


The elite and the middle class in this city seem convinced that if they speak, the rulers must listen. So if they shout and say they are angry, those in power should shake in trepidation and immediately set about making changes.


If they ask questions like "Why didn't the NSG use tear gas in the Taj while tackling the terrorists?" they must be given a studied response even though the question arises from complete ignorance about how such situations are handled.


In between such questions being raised on prime time television, there is little or no engagement with the realities of the city.Some are engaged, but their numbers are few, not enough to make a dent in the city's development plans, to break the growing and obvious nexus between builders and politicians, to impact the course of decision-making on issues vital to people's daily existence.

The exceptions are where people have decided not to sit back and protest but to organise and resist. Thus the residents of Gorai, for instance, successfully prevented land acquisition for an SEZ that would have destroyed the lives and livelihood of thousands of fisherfolk and farmers.


But apart from a handful of such examples of successful interventions in changing policy, Mumbaikars continue to demonstrate amazing indifference to their surroundings and only wake up periodically when disasters hit them -- a flood, a bomb blast or a terror attack.


The problem with the hype around anniversaries like November 26 is that it is only hype. When anger does not lead to constructive engagement, it dissipates and results in nothing changing. If there is anything we should learn a year after November 26, it is this, a truth that has been evident for decades in this city.


The writer is is a Mumbai-based independent journalist and columnist






Compared with all other means, knowledge is the only direct means to liberation. As cooking is impossible without fire, so is liberation impossible without knowledge.

Ritual cannot dispel ignorance, because they are not mutually contradictory. But knowledge destroys ignorance, as light destroys darkness.  The self appears to be conditioned by virtue of ignorance. But when that (ignorance) is destroyed, the unconditioned self shines by its own light.


Having purified, by repeated instruction, the soul that is turbid with ignorance, knowledge should efface itself. The world, abounding in desire, hatred is like a dream. While it lasts, it seems to be real, but, when one awakes, it becomes unreal. Like the (illusion of) silver in mother-o'-pearl, the world appears to be real until the immutable reality behind everything, is realised.

Like space, the Lord Vishnu, coming in contact with various conditions, appears to be different by reason of their differences, but is seen to be undifferentiated when those (conditions) are destroyed.

Only by virtue of varying conditions are caste, name, periods of religious life, etc., imposed on the self, like taste, colour and other distinctions imposed on water. The place for experiencing happiness and misery, which is made up of the fivefold compounds of the great elements and is obtained as the result of past actions, is called the (dense) body.

The instrument of enjoyment, which is made up of the uncompounded elements and which consists of the five life-forces, the mind, the consciousness, and the ten senses, is the subtle body. The beginningless illusion that is indefinable is called the causal body.


One should understand the self as other than these three bodies (or conditions), the pure self, by the relation of the five sheaths appears to assume their respective natures, like a crystal reflecting a blue cloth.

Select Works of Sri Sankaracharya







History repeats itself, first time as a tragedy and the second time as a disaster, as Karl Marx did not say. For the BJP, revisiting the Ramjanmabhoomi movement via the Liberhan report may well turn out to be the second denouement.

It is not only that a replay lacks the excitement of the original event. It can also highlight what went wrong. This educative aspect of a second look holds considerable significance for the party. It took only four years after the Babri masjid demolition for the BJP to realise that its Hindutva agenda had led it into a cul-de-sac.

The realisation dawned when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government failed to secure a majority in Parliament in 1996 despite 13 days of wooing of possible allies.

As it reluctantly offered its resignation, Vajpayee announced that the BJP was putting the temple issue on the back burner along with the two other favourite subjects of the saffron brotherhood, the introduction of a uniform civil code and the scrapping of Article 370.

Even before this retreat in 1996, the party had lost the UP elections, where the Samajwadi Party and the BSP had formed the government. It was another matter that this alliance of the subalterns soon fell apart. What was more relevant was that the temple issue had not yielded as much political mileage as the Hindutva brigade believed.

Instead, it has been a millstone round the BJP's neck. It is only the cynical tactic of shelving the project of building the temple which has ensured the party's survival at the head of the NDA. And it is only by remaining in this position that the party can ever hope to regain power at the Centre.

However, a renewed emphasis on the temple following the Liberhan report will only accelerate the NDA's disintegration, whose latest signs were the desertions of Naveen Patnaik and Mamata Banerjee. Earlier, of course, a host of others like Chandrababu Naidu, Ramvilas Paswan and Farooq Abdullah had left the alliance.

Yet, despite the writing on the wall, the RSS continues to insist that it is the shelving of the Hindutva agenda which led to the BJP's defeats in 2004 and 2009. Now, the revival of the memories of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation has brought the saffron hawks again to the fore.

While Kalyan Singh's proud announcement of his lack of remorse for the demolition can be dismissed as an act of expediency after the snapping of his ties with the Samajwadi Party, this cannot be said of similar assertions by Giriraj Kishore, Pravin Togadia, Vinay Katiyar and others. These are the saffron storm-troopers who have again seen an opportunity to take up their favourite chant.

Since the entire top leadership of the BJP has been indicted in the report, the party has no option but to claim that it did no wrong. The resultant endorsement of the temple project entails a denial, therefore, of the 1996 pledge, if not an outright rejection.

As a consequence, LK Advani's recent attempts to don Vajpayee's moderate mantle will no longer carry much credibility. As it is, the move never seemed too convincing in view of Advani's longstanding hardline image. Instead, it was seen as a pre-poll ploy to woo the minorities. After the defeat, Arun Jaitley also played the moderate card by saying that the party had to abandon its shrill tone.

But these voices will now be stilled, as Jaswant Singh's was for his book on Jinnah and for having said that Hindutva needed a new definition. Since the moderates are a minuscule group in the BJP, the hawks will not find it too difficult to corner them with their strident justification for the demolition.

Besides, as Advani has never been a fully paid-up member of this group, the chances are that he will return to his combative days of the early 1990s, with a nudge and a wink from the RSS.

There may not be a formal restoration of the three shelved issue — temple, uniform  civil code and Article 370 — on the BJP's  list of priorities, but the ascendancy of the hardliners, evident in the shouting of the  Jai Shri Ram slogan in the Rajya Sabha and the extolling of December 6, 1992, as a memorable day for Hindus, cannot but unnerve the BJP's sole remaining secular partner, the Janata Dal (United).

The BJP will have to relive, therefore, the crucial days of 1996 when it had to make up its mind on persisting with its fiery rhetoric or become less shrill. But now, the RSS's greater control over the party means that it has much less room for manoeuvre.

Besides, it does not have someone of Vajpayee's stature to navigate through the choppy waters. Yet, the few saner elements in the party know that a return to the earlier combativeness will forever close its doors to power at the Centre.

The writer is a Delhi-based commentator on social and political affairs









Like beauty, economic recovery, lies in the eyes of the beholder. Those who see the glass half full are upbeat about the state of the Indian economy and believe the positive reports emanating from the US and Europe that the worse is over. Since the stock markets have been on an upswing, fuelled by usually optimistic media reports about strong economic data, RBI Governor D. Subba Rao has thought it fit to send out a note of caution to the over-enthusiasts. India's recovery from the slowdown, he says, is "still fragile". And to back his claim, he has pointed to (a) the decline in exports for 12 months in a row (b) the lower demand for non-food credit and (c) an 18 per cent dip in the kharif output.


The RBI Governor's sane advice came on a day when the stock markets the world over were rattled by the debt woes of the state-owned investment conglomerate, Dubai World, currently saddled with $59 billion worth liabilities. Experts are still assessing its impact on global financial institutions and the nascent global economic recovery. Banks and reality companies are expected to face the heat. The RBI has asked the banks about their exposure to the troubled West Asian city. Unofficial reports put India Inc's risk at Rs 7,000 crore. Speaking in Chandigarh on Saturday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee ruled out any major impact of the crisis on the Indian economy, which is quite resilient. Even if there is no serious damage, the positive sentiment has definitely given way to fears of another Lehman Brothers in the making.


In an increasingly inter-connected world, bad news anywhere hurts everyone. In a belated admission, the RBI Governor said India was affected by the global crisis "because we were more globally integrated than we consciously recognised". To strengthen the recovery, the RBI and the government will have to support the engines of growth and continue the fiscal stimulus until the country is on a firm ground. Quite an optimist, Mr Pranab Mukherjee is seeing "a beginning of the end of the financial crisis".








India's vote at the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) governor's meeting for the third time last Friday against Iran's controversial nuclear programme reflects the country's consistent stand on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. New Delhi is in principle committed to the cause of non-proliferation, which was the reason why it was seen on the side of those opposing Iran's nuclear ambitions at the IAEA in September 2005 and February 2006 also. India has been maintaining an impeccable record on the non-proliferation front as a responsible nuclear power all these years. No responsible nation would like any new nuclear weapon state to emerge anywhere in the world in the interest of peace. Also, India does not want another nuclear power in the neighbourhood.


India has always had friendly relations with Iran. There is no reason why the two countries should not remain friends today also despite what has happened at the IAEA. India has, after all, opposed the imposition of fresh sanctions against Iran. Voting against the Iranian nuclear programme along with 24 other nations at the IAEA headquarters at Vienna, India stated, "This resolution cannot be the basis of a renewed punitive approach or new sanctions." India has been consistently arguing that a sanctions regime, even a crippling one, cannot help find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.


There is no better alternative to dialogue. The US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany have had two meetings with Iranian representatives at Geneva and Vienna in the recent past. The renewed engagement with Teheran has been encouraging. This must be continued till a final solution is hammered out. Of late, Iran has also been cooperating with the IAEA in the inspection of its nuclear plants. Teheran needs to show transparency while trying to convince the international community that its nuclear power programme is not aimed at making the weapon of mass destruction, as it claims. Iran must keep in view that it has certain obligations to fulfil as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.








The Minister for Surface Transport, Mr Kamal Nath, was not there at the first global summit on road safety which concluded in Moscow recently. The UN meeting, attended by ministers from over 70 countries, had been planned a year ago and the next summit is expected five years later. India's representation needed to be there at a senior level mainly because of our vast experience of neglecting road safety over the years. India, which has just 1 per cent of the world's vehicles, actually accounts for 10 per cent of the deaths on roads every year. It has actually overtaken China in recording 1,14,000 deaths last year while China, despite having more vehicles than India, reduced the number of deaths to 90,000.


While the Moscow declaration has approved a "decade of action" for road safety and calls for greater political commitment, different studies in the past have established that the problem is acute in developing countries in Asia and Africa. The concern of the Western world is also prompted by the increasing number of people moving into these regions for travel or employment. While developing countries are preoccupied with widening highways, laying better roads and ensuring greater speed for vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, rickshaws and bullock carts have been left to fend for themselves.


Several studies in India also indicate that a majority of the road accidents, a whopping 77 per cent, according to one of them, are due to mistakes made by drivers. Absence of rear reflectors in vehicles and road signs, faulty signals and other factors are some of the reasons which call for intervention by government agencies. But bad driving and the plight of the accident victims are yet to be paid much attention by the Indian authorities. One hopes the Centre and the state governments will wake up soon for preventing deaths on roads.









Clearly nothing succeeds like success. President Obama's swing through East Asia appeared high on symbolism — US "continued interest in Asia, reassuring allies in South Korea and Japan and, as culmination, a visit to the Middle Kingdom. To the Chinese, it must have seemed fitting that the once sole and now declining super power was calling on China in need. Whether in fact the US is a declining power or not, it is at the moment trammeled sorely by problems at home and abroad. At the very least, the US is, in its own words, seeking "strategic reassurance" from the Chinese. Issues such as China's military modernisation, trade issues, China's undervalued currency, human rights and climate change were probably raised, but what appears most important is the formal recognition by the US of China's emergence as a great power.


Coming at a time when India's own relationship with China is under strain as the rising great power flexes its muscles, this recognition can only be a source of discomfort in New Delhi. Not that India should grudge the Chinese their magnificent growth, but there is no doubt that such recognition might make Chinese posturing on our borders more rigid and uncompromising.


Working out a modus vivendi with China, an essential element of India's own hopes of building a more prosperous economy, will become that much more difficult. I am not here referring to the not-so-innocuous reference to South Asia — no doubt insisted on by the Chinese to "balance" the reference to Pakistan's role in terrorism in the region, and agreed to by the US as not of great consequence — but to the appearance of the sole super power concurring in China's approaches to not just President Obama's programme while in China but also to those relating to China's "core issues". Whether difficult or not, India, a growing rather than a rising economy, will have to accept that it will have to contend with a not-so-friendly neighbour for the immediate future.


Almost immediately after President Obama returned to Washington, he had to receive Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While the importance of this visit to the US was nowhere near that of the Chinese meeting, it was also full of symbolism. India's democracy has been, no doubt, lauded — somewhat patronising I have always felt — as was New Delhi's strategic importance. But does anyone stress Japan's democratic credentials? Even in an interview given by the Prime Minister to The Washington Post, he shed light on the issues which were likely to be discussed and these were bilateral ones — we seem to be still building the relationship. It is now clear that there were no grand initiatives, and that is perhaps just as well. There are still too many disagreements on issues such as non-proliferation and climate change, not to mention protectionism and, of course, the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement.


The Prime Minister rued the fact in the interview that the US was still unwilling to give India the access to technology that had been the basis of that agreement. At the same time, in other areas such as defence and cooperation on counter-terrorism after 26/11, matters appear to be moving ahead. There is no doubt the relationship has "normalised", with areas of agreement and disagreement; perhaps we should work on keeping it that way. After all, one of the most important issues for the US at the moment lies in our neighbourhood, in the Af-Pak region. Had we really been of strategic importance to the US, surely there would have been more consultations on the way ahead? Instead, the US has chosen to depend on the analysis of the Pakistani Army, including on the usefulness or otherwise of India's advice.


It would be well to recognise the close relationship, even at the personal level, between the US military and intelligence services and the Pakistani Army — it is a decades' old relationship and has been cultivated assiduously by both sides over the years. The developments immediately after the passage of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, granting Pakistan massive and badly required aid, were telling. The Pakistani Army objected to some sections of the Bill, which they felt affected its role in the governance of the country; a US Senator, one of the authors of the Bill, was rushed to Islamabad to "explain" the motivations behind the Bill. Yet the Pakistan Army had accepted US largesse over the years. According to a book written by the now much-maligned (in Pakistan) Pakistani Ambassador to the US, such largesse was one of the reasons why the Pakistan Army had, from Ayub's days, cultivated the US.


The argument I would put forward would be that, instead of looking beyond symbolism during the Prime Minister's visit, India should have used the symbolism to strengthen the relationship, and not try to break any new ground with what appears to be a less than comfortable relationship. India needs to bide its time till the US has figured out how important New Delhi is in its geopolitical vision. That the US will remain important to India is obvious.








Managing time after retirement is a real problem, especially for those who are not club-minded, who do not play bridge and who do not drink. There is always enough time left after a morning walk, yoga, reading newspapers and magazines and watching TV.


Whenever two old friends meet, the usual topic for discussion is "how do you spend time".


Some people have done a good deal of research on the subject and devised novel ways and means to kill time without shedding any blood, for which they deserve to be honoured with nothing less than a Nobel Prize. They have tried these recipes themselves and they claim a 100 per cent money-back guarantee in case of their failure.


One of my colleagues says that after getting ready and taking breakfast, he asks his wife if she needed anything to be brought from the market for the day. She would be pleased to name two or three things. The gentleman would go to a general store in the neighbourhood market which he has patronised and purchase one thing.


He would come back and say, "sorry dear, I forgot to bring the other two items." After about an hour, he would go again and bring one more item and make the same excuse. He would make a third trip after some time and bring the third item. This is his routine.


This exercise enables him to spend some time. The shopkeeper addresses him as 'Sir' every time he visits the shop and this reminds him of the good old days. His spirit gets a boost and he feels elated. The rest of the day passes cheerfully.


Another colleague has made it a point to go out at about 11 a.m. to the mini secretariat or some other office complex. He would spot some officer who is seemingly not so busy. He would introduce himself, sit down and narrate some interesting incident of his career to impress him. The young officer might start addressing him as 'Sir' and offer him a cup of tea. He has cultivated 4-5 such contacts and he frequents them according to the degree of their hospitality and regard shown by them.


Here is a third colleague and his modus-operandi is most interesting. He met me at a marriage party. After exchanging pleasantries, I posed the same question to him. He said, he was doing his MBA. I was astonished and asked him if he had gone mad. MBA required so much labour which was not possible at this age.


He said, "nothing to be afraid of. It is all very easy. I will tell you the trick, if you are interested to know." He walked away in the crowd shaking hands with other acquaintances and friends. My eyes were following his movement as I was anxious to know the trick of doing MBA — a much coveted degree in this age. After some time, he returned to me and took me aside. He said, "I will now tell you what an MBA is. MBA means Marriage, Bhog and Akhandpath."


While taking leave, he spoke in an authoritative tone: "Do not miss the opportunity to show your presence whenever there is such an occasion."








Omar Abdullah in his incisive programme "Devil's Advocate" on CNN-IBN. Here are excerpts from the interview:


Q: Chief Minister, there are widespread reports — first broken by The Hindu — that the Home Minister had two secret meetings with the Hurriyat leadership, and in particular with Mirwaiz Omar Farooq. If these reports are accurate, do you as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir welcome such talks?

A: If they are accurate then yes we certainly do. We have been advocating a sustained dialogue between New Delhi and various shades of political opinion that is not represented by the mainstream political parties. I think the best way to carry out the initial stages of that engagement is away from the glare of the media. I think it is unfortunate that we already have this story break on the front page of The Hindu but I hope too much damage has not been done by that.


Q: You began by saying if they are accurate, but you ended your answer almost as if you believed that they are accurate. What is the truth? Are they happening?

A: I think it would be futile to deny a story that has not been denied by anybody else. We have been advocating a dialogue; the Home Minister has recognised the need for a dialogue and he has talked about quiet diplomacy. When you put these three points together, I think the answer should become self-evident.


Q: I will take that as confirmation. Let me raise with you the manner in which the talks are happening. The Home Minister has emphasised silent talks away from the glare of the media, but members of the Hurriyat Conference — like Naeem Khan himself — have said quiet diplomacy could lead to deceit, transparency is a more honest and accountable way. Do you think that there may be truth in that, given the awkwardness of the Kashmir situation?

A: Certainly. If quiet diplomacy was to suddenly result in an outcome I would be suspicious as well. I think quiet diplomacy is necessary for both sides to feel each other out, to see where the lines in the sand can be drawn, what they expect from each other and a certain amount of confidence building.

Once that is done then the rest of the discussion will take place within the glare of all the publicity and attention that would follow. But I think for the time being a little bit of quiet won't hurt anybody.


Q: But you are also suggesting that the second the talks begin to become substantive and there is a real possibility they could result in an outcome, then they need to become open and transparent.

A: I believe so. I think it is important that the people gain confidence in the system of dialogue. I think it is also important they understand that there is no underhand deals going on, no backroom operations and no selling out. The worst thing will be nay sayers — and there will be a lot of them — getting an opportunity to say 'this was done secretly, it is a deal, it is a sellout and the interests of the people of Kashmir have not been kept in mind."


Q: So to guard against the naysayers undermining things, it is important that at a critical point the talks become open and public.

A: I believe so.


Q: Let me put to you what Mirwaiz Omar Farooq has said. He says that "flexibility is the need of the hour, we have to be open to all new proposals on Kashmir" and then he adds "a hawkish attitude will get us nowhere". More importantly he says I am not looking at a one-off solution at one go. I am looking at incremental progress. How do you assess the thinking and the position that lies behind that statement?

A: I think a lot of thought has gone into that line of thinking. I think it is the most realistic line we have heard from the Hurriyat in a very long time; and given the rather chequered history we have of having engagement with them I think this provides us a great opportunity for a graded sort of march towards the final solution we are looking for rather than a one-off agreement that everybody has to sign off on.

But again the Mirwaiz is just one individual amongst a large number — no doubt perhaps the highest profile among them — a decent support base but he is one individual in the moderate Hurriyat faction. There are others — both at the top tier and as well as the second level — that also need to feel part of the process. Otherwise all they will do is jump on to the hard-line bandwagon and threaten the process.


Q: A second voice from Hurriyat is that of Abdul Ghani Bhatt, a former chairman of Hurriyat Conference. He has gone a step further and he has said that Hurriyat is interested in triangular talks and not tripartite talks, by which he means that they will talk to India and Pakistan but separately.

Do you think this is a neat way of finessing the stand-off between Delhi and Islamabad?

A: I think again (it is) realistic. You are not going to get a situation where New Delhi, Islamabad and the Hurriyat are going to be sitting at the same table — it is not going to happen. Therefore, if you can work a system wherein you engage with Islamabad and you engage with New Delhi, both at the same time, I see no harm in it. We have done it from the mainstream point of view. I have had engagement with the government of Pakistan as well as the government of India, and I don't think anything harmful has come out of that.


Q: You have used the adjective realism to reflect both the thinking of the Mirwaiz as well Mr Bhatt. Realism, in a sense, has begun to dawn on the Hurriyat, hasn't it?

A: I believe so, at least in a section of the opinion makers in the Hurriyat Conference.


Q: Abdul Ghani Bhatt has said another interesting thing. He has actually called upon mainstream parties, like your National Conference and the PDP, to join hands with the Hurriyat. How do you as president of your party and Chief Minister respond to that sentiment?

A: Well it is one thing to join hands; it is another thing to engage with. We have never had difficulties in engaging with the leadership of the Hurriyat Conference, whoever it may be. Joining hands has a completely different connotation. It means either they have to accept our line of thinking, or we have to accept theirs. It is a little premature in the process to (join hands).


Q: But engage you are willing to do?

A: Engage we never had a problem with them. I have publicly and privately engaged at various fora and would be quite happy to do so.


Q: The fact that they are labelled separatists doesn't put you off?

A: No, absolutely not. They are part of the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. How much of a role they have to play is open to individual interpretation. But they have a role.


Q: Therefore, do I also sense a change of attitude in the government of Jammu and Kashmir toward the separatists? Previously they were kept at arm's length, now as Chief Minister you are prepared to engage with them.

A: I believe my predecessors also have been (engaging).


Q: Not so openly.

A: Perhaps time has changed and attitudes need to change along with those times.


Q: You accept that, in a sense, its happened with you? You have crystallized that.

A: I think that's important given the desire on all sides for a negotiated settlement to this problem. It's important that we all keep an open mind and we all are willing to be flexible. Being rigid is not going to get any of us anywhere.


Q: You talk about a need for an open mind and need to be flexible. Now both you and the Home Minister of India have separately said that all shades of political opinion need to be embraced by the talks. But is it possible to bring someone like Syed Ali Shah Geelani on? After all he has laid down rigid conditions for talks. Can New Delhi meet them?

A: At this point, no. I think the goal post that he has set would make a dialogue with him almost impossible. But then never say never again.


Q: If he has set a goal post that makes dialogue with him impossible, can talks without him be meaningful?

A: Sure, no solution is going to be acceptable to 100 (hundred) per cent of the people. We should have the willingness to accept that. Therefore there are going to be those people, who will not accept, whatever the outcome of this dialogue is. If Syed Ali Shah Geelani is going to be one of those people, so be it.


Q: But if these talks come close to some sort of solutions would it stick, if Geelani is not part of the process? Mehbooba Mufti for instance says it wouldn't stand the test of scrutiny.

A: Well, she has a different equation with him than we do. Perhaps, that's her political compulsion and necessity. He does not represent Kashmir, he represents a selection of opinion in Kashmir. If that section of opinion chooses to remain out of the process, you can't force them into it. But they are not the majority of the people. If the majority of the people are willing to go with whatever solution has been worked out that is what will happen.


Q: So the talks can proceed without Geelani?

A: I believe so. For the time being I think yes.


Q: Let me quote to you something you said at the All India Editor's Conference in Srinagar, just about six weeks ago on October 13. You said, "it is necessary to engage all political forces, listen to each view, and take all sides of opinion into consideration". Does that also include militant groups like Hizbul Mujahideen?

A: If they are willing to... move from a path of violence. We have done it in the past and I see no reason why we can't do it in the future. We have engaged, the government of India has engaged, the Hizbul Mujahideen in the year 2000.


Q: That was a BJP government?

A: It was a BJP government with a National Conference government in the state.


Q: So presumably it should be that much easier for today's government to do the same thing.

A: Well, BJP has a history of opposing everything that they did in government once they are in Opposition. So I wouldn't expect — support.


Q: But could you, if the situation reaches that point, as Chief Minister invite them to join the talks on the proviso that they lay down arms and put away violence.

A: Well, if they are willing to, as I said, shift from a path of violence. Then sure I believe it would be possible for the state government to ask the government of India to engage them and if necessary for the state government to engage them as well — let's understand that they are really not looking for anything from the state government. So our role is of a facilitator.


Q: A facilitator?

A: We would be happy to facilitate.

Q: But you're prepared to play that role not just for people like the Hurriyat, who are just separatists, but possibly even for the Hizbul Mujahideen

A: As long as they give up the wrong side, the path of violence. Yes, I don't see any problem because we have done that not only in J&K, as I said, but also in the other states.


Q: Anything that brings peace and a solution to Kashmir you are prepared to try to do?

A: I am prepared to be flexible but sure it can't be completely unconditional.


Q: Chief Minister, let's come to the key question that has under laid the discussion until now. Has the time come for New Delhi to resume its interrupted dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir?

A: New Delhi has already resumed its dialogue with Pakistan, they did it in Egypt in Sharm-el-Sheikh. It's been subsequently interrupted again because of the furore that the joint declaration resulted in. But I think it is necessary that we continue our engagement with Pakistan. The problem is- I think the Prime Minister himself brought it out- the multiplicity of power centres in Pakistan makes our task much more difficult.


Q: It's very interesting that you should have said New Delhi has already resumed the dialogue at Sharm-el-Sheikh, using the word dialogue. Because officials in the Prime Minister's office and in particular the Foreign secretary of the day, they have made it clear that those were talks not dialogue. You actually see it as dialogue.

A: I am not a diplomat. So I am sorry, I don't cross my Ts and dot my Is with as much care as others do. If I did, I would be a foreign office official and not the Chief Minister of J& K.


Q: When one is talking it is dialogue and let's not play around with words.

A: When you're talking, you talk. You call it whatever you like but you are talking to each other.


Q: Let's come to the position that the Prime Minister articulated in your capital Srinagar on October 30. He said there were no pre-condition to talk or dialogue with Pakistan but he added that it was essential that effective control be exercised over terrorist groups that target India.

The alternate view is that given that Pakistan itself is experiencing terror, it might actually help Pakistan to exercise that control if talks or dialogue were to be resumed. Of those two views which do you incline towards

A: I think there is no doubt that it would definitely help Pakistan to exercise control over the forces that have in the past been used against India particularly in Jammu and Kashmir. So it's a win-win for both sides. Pakistan excising control over militants helps them domestically and it also ensures that India is able to get engaged with them in a sustained long term dialogue and that, ultimately, is what both sides want.


Q: Do you think the time has come, one year after 26/11, for India to perhaps find a way of resuming that dialogue? Because not just is Pakistan's own internal future at stake but in a sense the future of Kashmir is standing still and marking time. So has the time come for India to put out some feelers and start the process?

A: I believe India has already put out feelers and started some sort of a process in Egypt and then you had the Sharm-el-Sheikh declaration. It's a different matter that there was a backlash.


Q: Yes the backlash —

A: It didn't go down very well at all back home which probably resulted in some amount of pulling back. But I believe it is important that we engage Pakistan. I think it definitely is in the interest of the both countries.


Q: So, it's time for another try?

A: I believe so. We must always keep trying and there is no time like the present.


Q: And in a sense for Kashmir in particular it's important that you keep trying.

A: You will not get a solution if the dialogue is only focused internally. Whether we like it or not an external dialogue with Pakistan is also part of the entire process and that's why I have always maintained that both need to go on almost simultaneously for us to be able to arrive at something realistic.


Q: So do you agree with the view of The Hindu newspaper- "Islamabad's support for the dialogue process within the state must be secured"?

A: No, I am not talking about support from them. I'm talking about a discussion, a dialogue and a talk with Pakistan aimed at easing their parts of the problem as well. Let's not forget Kashmir is not just an internal issue, it's been brought on the international stage as a result of the Simla agreement.


Q: We can't forget that it has this international dimension.

A: It does have. It's been accepted by us on paper.


Q: In fact that's a fact you can't run away from today

A: you can neither deny nor you can run away from it.


Q: So, if in a sense Islamabad or Pakistan is kept out in the cold then the hope of a meaningful dialogue with groups in Srinagar, particularly the Hurriyat, will not really materialise.

A: It will reach a point beyond which we will not be able to drive it further.


Q: One last thing. When ever there is a serious possibility of resuming dialogue with Pakistan, the security situation ends up bedeviling things. Recently there has been this discovery of Tahawwur Hussain Rana and David Coleman Headley and it seemed to have scuppered the possibility of a resumption. How does India get out of this bind?

A: I think, you come back again to what the Prime Minister has been saying that no preconditions but it would help if these sort of forces are controlled. That's probably the only way we can get a sustained dialogue and be able to withstand these sorts of security shocks.


Q: So it's a tight rope you have to walk and you have to hope you keep your balance on both sides?

A: Yes and get a very long stick to hang on to.


Q: Chief Minister, a pleasure talking to you.

A: My pleasure.








With the wedding season in full swing, guess what's hot with the generation next? Bachelor parties - the all-guy thing usually organised by friends of the groom before the wedding.

Farmhouses are the favored spots to host bachelors' parties, but also in society basements, pubs, terraces and apartments. These bachelor parties have almost doubled in number in the last two years because they are the new status symbol.


These clandestine get-togethers now have themes. From the décor and menu to games and guests, everything's undergoing a makeover. Themes such as Playboy, Casino, Arabian Nights and Moulin Rouge are the hot favourites. Décor, music, food and spirits to the theme.


New-age grooms no longer prefer the beer 'n' babe routine. They opt for expensive props, chilled-out ambience and first-rate booze. There are throw-n pool tables, roulette, massages and hookahs to heighten the fun. Naughty cakes in the shapes of a woman's body parts are popular at such affairs with city bakeries getting many orders.


Most-sought after strippers are from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the Phillipines. Belly dancers from West Asia are also preferred for their voluptuous bods and masseurs are flown in from Thailand. Indians and Russians, however, charge the highest fee.


Striptease, pole and lap dance are all part and parcel of this evening. Bollywood item girls and starlets are also in demand by those who can afford. Obviously fun costs money and the groom is ready to spend.



Chidambaram is always quietly and efficiently doing his work. After the Union Cabinet decided on the need to preserve the North and South Blocks in their original shape and splendour, a beautiful lawn has sprung up right in the middle of the MHA, in close proximity to Chidambaram's office.


The landscape lawn with a water fountain in the middle has come up in quick time. The Home Minister took personal interest in getting the green area developed. He often spends a couple of minutes in it while entering or exiting his office.


But Chidambaram has many colleagues who have green interests. Ghulam Nabi Azad loves gardening. Ambika Soni has a garden to be proud of and so does Shiela Dixit. There are politicians with taste and class and a love for nature.



Is the Gujarat Chief Minister taking a cue from Rahul Gandhi on dressing? Narendra Modi has been always seen in a kurta pyjama. But of late Modi has been spotted wearing pullovers, scarves, corduroy trousers and a hat. Then Mr. Modi was seen in a smart blazer with a tie. Quite amazing! From "bandgalas" to hats. Also trendy sunglasses. And I must say he seemed very casual, yet confident.


Is this the new Modi image! Is he getting ready for a role in politics at the Centre? Many say that Modi is quietly changing his ways to be at the centre-stage in the coming years. His silence is deafening as all other leaders of the BJP are out to outdo one another. But not a single statement from Modi on anything.


Whether it is the infighting of the BJP or the RSS interference or the Liberhan report. He has purposely kept a neutral image. He is not to be ignored but he is keeping away from all controversial matters.








The deterioration of the law and order situation in Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) area has become a matter of serious concern and the Government must take effective steps to deal with the situation without further delay to prevent the situation from going totally out of control. Killings have become a regular feature in the BTC area and the rival political groups are accusing each other for the deterioration of the situation instead of trying to sit together to settle their differences and on their part, the law enforcing agencies are also not very successful in dealing with the situation, which is very unfortunate. The Government must act immediately and deal with anyone involved in such acts of violence with strong hands and if necessary, additional security forces should be rushed to the trouble torn areas to effectively deal with the situation. If the situation is not brought under control immediately, there is every possibility of further deterioration of the situation before the polls to the BTC due early next year and in that case, there will be no possibility of free and fair polls. In fact, political difference is believed to be the main reason for the deterioration of the situation as there have been instances of attacks and even killings in the run up to every subsequent elections in the BTC area right from the last election to the Council in 2005 to the last Lok Sabha elections early this year and if such incidents are allowed to continue, many innocent lives will be lost in the days to come.

It is often alleged that a section of former Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) cadres did not deposit all their weapons when the outfit was disbanded following the signing of the Accord with the State and Central Governments in 2003 and the Government must examine the allegation seriously and if anyone is found with an illegal weapon, strong action should be taken against him irrespective of his party affiliation. At the same time, the pro-talk faction members of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) must be forced to deposit their weapons as was done by the cadres of the DHD(J) recently and the security forces must keep a close watch on the activities of the group and provide identity cards to all those staying in the designated camps to ensure that none of them manages to indulge in any act of violence. The members of the anti-talk faction of the NDFB are also active in the area and though in recent months police and security forces achieved considerable success in the counter-insurgency operations against the members of the outfit, the forces should not lower their guards as the outfit is known for lethal attacks. On top of all, the Government must send a strong signal by dealing with anyone found to be involved in any unlawful activity.







India has registered its hundredth victory in Test cricket, and what a way to get it! The resounding innings defeat, inflicted on Sri Lanka in Kanpur Test, was a perfect way to enter the elite club and make it unforgettable. The Indian team members will cherish being part of this historic occasion. India, with this win, has become the sixth nation, after Australia, England, West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan to achieve this feat. It has come a long way since appearing on the scene in 1932, though for most parts of these 77 years, Test wins have been few and far between for India, and there was a tedious time during which even a draw was considered to be as good as victory. Pataudi, Wadekar and Gavaskar and Azharuddin's stints at the helm did have some memorable victories. But it's only in recent years that India started winning on a relatively more regular basis, including a few times on foreign soil, especially after Ganguly had taken over the reins. With Dhoni's team now winning more consistently, it is hoped India would further reduce the difference with the losses it has suffered in Tests. India has tasted 136 defeats in the 431 matches it has played, which is biggest difference among all these six nations. India should strive to alter that ratio.

The Kanpur Test will also be remembered for the stunning comeback made by a bowler who once thought he would never play for India again. Shantakumaran Sreesanth, who did many things in his short career to be branded a bad boy of Indian cricket, turned the match on its head with a devastating display of pace bowling after the run feast led by Sehwag, Gambhir and Dravid. The boy from Kerala took five wickets in the first innings on a placid track to help India enforce follow-on and pave the way to victory. After coming close to getting a temporary ban in domestic circuit due to disciplinary problems, Sreesanth was perhaps as astonished as anybody when he was picked for the Test series. But it was a gamble that paid off handsomely. If Sreesanth continues to exercise self-control like this and stays focused on cricket, India, which has been battling bowling problems of late, should find the going a lot easier. This also sets up an interesting battle in the final Test, with Sri Lanka likely to come back hard at India.







Africa's success in avoiding the worst of the economic crisis that has swept the industrialised world has been due in large part to the remarkable growth of trade and investment with China, India, Brazil and other "emerging" developing countries In the last three years Africa's trade with China has doubled, reaching US $106.7 bn in 2008. While China dominates in terms ofsheer numbers, trade and investment with other emerging markets, such as Brazil, India and Malaysia, has also been rising sharply, reducing Africa's dependence on traditional partners in Europe and the US and fuelling the continent's impressive growth in recent years,

About one-third of Africa's total trade is already with markets in emerging or other developing countries. China alone is now Africa's second-largest single trading partner.








The earth apparently is going through a major environmental crisis and there have been great concerns all over the world regarding the survival of humanity and the earth itself The scientists and the scholars are unanimous in their opinion regarding our obligations to the earth. We have been hearing about global warming, which might ultimately lead to the extinction of life. Human beings themselves seem to have damaged the eco system by their inconsiderate activities against nature.

To make people aware of the dangers they are facing, the first Earth Day was held in 1970, when environmentalists started urging philosophers to consider the philosophical aspects of environmental problems. The emergence of anxiety over survival was no doubt due to the increasing awareness in the 1960s of the effects of technology, industry, economic expansion and population growth on the environment. The development of such awareness was aided by the publication of two important books at this time. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, first published in 1962, alerted readers as to how the wide- spread use of chemical pesticides was posing a serious threat to public health and leading to the destruction of wildlife. Of similar significance was Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book The Population Bomb, which warned about the devastating effects of spiraling human population on the planet's resources. Pollution and depletion of natural resources have not been the only environmental concerns since that time. The loss of wilderness, the degradation of ecosystem, and climate change are all parts of a raft of' green' issues that have become planted in both public consciousness and public policy over subsequent years. The publication of a few papers had a crucial impact on public awareness. Some of them are Lynn White's "The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis", Garet Hardin's essay "Exploring New Ethics For Survival" as well as an essay by Aldo Leopold called "The Land Ethic" in which he claimed that the roots of the ecological crisis were philosophical.

Many thinkers regard environmental concerns to have warranted an entirely new ideological perspective that has been termed ecology'. There are some factors which are basic to ecology. Some of them are :- (1) The wellbeing and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on earth have value in themselves. (2) Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of these values and are also values in themselves. (3) Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to satisfy vital needs. (4) The flourishing of human life and culture is compatible with substantially smaller population and the flourishing of nonhuman life requires a smaller human population. (5) The present human interference with the nonhuman world is excessive and the situation is rapidly worsening.

Some of the scholars state that the real environmental issues cannot be solved by some theoretical principles. Ecology is not about drawing up codes of conduct, but adopting a global comprehensive attitude. Given the increasing concern for environment and the impact that our actions have upon it, it is obvious that the field of environmental study is here to stay. After World War II Martin Heidegger directed much of his thinking to technology and to the impact of technology on human life. One of the essays developed along this path was "The Question Concerning Technology". It is unfortunate that this essay is not widely read, since it carries a critical analysis of technology and delivers it into a new light.


Technology stands today as danger to earth and it seems to be hostile to nature. It conveys an atmosphere of violence and exploitation and challenges nature. As an example of old technology, the windmill took energy from the wind and converted it immediately into other manifestations, such as the grinding of grain. The windmill did not unlock energy from the wind in order to store it for later arbitrary distribution. Modern wind - generators on the other hand, convert the energy of wind into electrical power, which can be stored in batteries or otherwise. The significance of storage is that it places the energy at our disposal and because of this storage the powers of nature can be turned back upon itself. The storing of energy is in this sense the symbol of our overcoming of nature as a potent object. Heidegger says "... a tract of land is challenged into the putting out of coal and ore. The earth now reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit". Heidegger demonstrates the difference between old technology and modern technology. He says that the old technology diverts natural course cooperatively and modern technology not only achieves the unnatural by force, but it is achieved by placing nature under our subiective context entirely setting aside the natural processes and concerning natural flora and fauna as being relevant only to human subjective needs.

The essence of technology originally was a revealing of life and nature in which human intervention deflected the natural course, while still regarding nature as the teacher and the keeper. The essence of modern technology is a revealing of phenomena, far removed from anything that resembles "life and nature", in which human intrusion not only diverts nature, but fundamentally changes it. Technology challenges nature and makes use of natural things for the use of human beings. We pump crude oil from the ground and shift to refineries where it is fractionally distilled into volatile substances and we ship these to gas stations around the world, where they reside in huge underground tanks, standing ready to power our automobiles and airplanes. Technology has intruded upon nature in a far more active way that represents a consistent direction of domination. Everything is regarded as a "standing – reserve" and in that loses its natural objective identity. The river, for instance, is not seen as a river, it is seen as a source of hydro – electric power, as a water supply or as an avenue of navigation through which to contact inland markets.

Once there was a close proximity between human beings and nature, which was regarded as a living entity. If we go back to the epic age we can see how close was man to nature once. In Kalidasa's famous classic Abhigyana Sakuntatalam we find a wonderful account of the wedding of Sakuntala and Dushyanta amidst natural flora and fauna and nature was the witness to the wedding. Then at the time of Sakuntala's departure to her husband's home nature bestowed gifts on her. People after reaching a certain age went to the forest to take up 'Vanprastha' and `Sanyas'. Ramchandra, with his wife and brother went to the forests to serve 12 years' 'Vanvas'. So did the Pandavas. All these instances show that once man treated nature with humility and reverence.

But now man treats nature with arrogance and wants to dominate it. Human beings believe that natural things and wildlife have been created for their benefit. Natural products have been used by man for his own shorttime benefit without caring that he is doing it to his own peril. Due to the ruthless and inconsiderate behaviour of man the earth seems to be heading for destruction. Several dangers from diverse sources have threatened the very survival of earth and its inhabitants. Besides natural disasters the population is facing serious health hazards from various sources. India's burgeoning population which has touched over 1200 million, has been polluting and degrading the environment, creating adverse health conditions. Increasing industrial waste, over-flowing garbage, countless vehicles, depleting water resources, lack of civil amenities etc have worsened the situation. These problems have posed a serious challenge to survival.

The threat of nuclear annihilation is currently the most dramatic and ironic sign of technology's 'success' and its overwhelming power. On the one hand, we consider ourselves, rightfully as the most advanced of all the people who have resided in earth since earliest times and on the other hand. we can see, when we care to, that our way of life has also become the most profound threat to life that earth has yet witnessed. Man has become so arrogant that he seems to think that there is nothing impossible for him. Medical science and technology have even begun to suggest that we may learn enough about disease and the process of aging in the human body so that we might extend individual human lives indefinitely. In this respect, we have not only usurped God's rights of creation and destruction of species, but we may even usurp the most terrifying of God's rights - determination of mortality and immortality.

The "withdrawal of Gods" is a sign of our pervasive powers and our progressive -"egocentrism". The human ego stands at the centre of everything, and indeed, sees no other thing or object with which it must reckon an equal footing'. We have become alone in the universe in the most profound sense. Looking outward we only see objects standing - in - reserve for our use. It is no wonder that we have "ethical problems" with our environment, because the whole concept of environment has been transformed.








Agriculture is the practice of cultivating the land and keeping or breeding animals for food. India has traditionally been an agrarian economy. Most of the states posses fertile alluvial soil that yield two or three crops a year. But use of traditional methods of cultivation, marginal land holdings and greater dependence on monsoon has put the agriculture in a distressed situation. On the other hand, an industry is a combination of firms for carrying productive activity. Productive activity is the process of transforming inputs into outputs. It is more or less controlled by human beings "Income, output and unemployment" – three macro variables of Keynesian growth model move much faster in industrially advanced economy. Industrialisation has become sine qua-non for economic development. For such reasons conflict between industry and agriculture has become a common phenomenon in our country.

Land acquisition war has been going since independence. Capitalists and industrialists from the metropolitan cities often came to the villages to establish their industrial estate, hotels, resort etc snatching the farmer's land which was also reflected in novels, dramas and especially in Hindi movies. Today the Singur situation in West-Bengal begs the same age-old sociological dilemma: agriculture or industry? Singur has strong agricultural base, where farming is the mainstay for a majority. Automobile Giant Tata Motors acquired 997 acres for its middle-class family car – Nano Project. Another such case was at Nandigram some 150 km from Kolkata, flared up in 2007 over proposed land acquisition for SEZ. Finally both these projects were scrapped due to strong protest of the farmers. Recently, another Singur emerged in Manipur, as farmers of Imphal East vowed to even 'shed blood" against an ambitious plan to set up an industrial growth centre at Chingarel, which is a prime agricultural land. These are some recent examples of the tussle between agriculture and industry.

In a true sense, relationship between agriculture and industry is not competitive, but complementary. Industrialisation does not begin in vacuum, it starts in an agricultural base. Agricultural prosperity have smoothed the way for establishment and growth of industry. "Agriculture is the foundation and industry is the leading sector". History tells us that most of the developed countries of today were once predominantly agricultural based. Improvement in the productivity of agriculture is one of the most important means of promoting industrialisation. The agriculture sector serves industry in various forms. Besides creating income and employment, it provides food for the growing industrial population. It also provides raw materials for industrial processing and helps to earn foreign exchange by exporting agricultural products. At the same time agricultural improvement cannot go very far unless there is industrial development. Industrialisation will raise the productivity in agriculture both by increasing the demand for agricultural products and by furnishing the tools and equipments needed to improve agricultural techniques. It supplies agricultural inputs like means of irrigation, fertilizers, agricultural machineries etc. which help the growth of agriculture. Again industrial sector must take the surplus agricultural labour for its healthy growth. So in the long run agriculture and industry feed each other.

This inter-relationship of agriculture and industry can apply for the development of Assam economy. Small size of holdings, defective land tenure systern, poverty and illiteracy of the farmers proves to be the basic constraints of agricultural development of Assam. Even after the abolition of Zamindari system and enactment of tenancy legislation the position of tenants is still far from satisfactory. Major portion of cultivated area are occupied by unproductive agents such as religious institutions tea companies, rich persons etc. For eradication of such anomalies, recently the farmers of Assam have undertaken agitational programme under the banner of "Kisan Mukti Sangram Samiti". No doubt, through proper valuation of these cultivated land and rehabilitation programme government can change the fate of the poor farmers. In this case co-operative farming is a way out for the poverty ridden farmers to move forward.

On the other hand agricultural prosperity alone cannot help the farmer's society to come out of the vicious circle of poverty. To exploit these agricultural resources properly there must be industry along the same line. For example, there must be some processing units for exploiting the horticultural products. Live-stock farmers can utilise their raw-materials for preparation of dairy products, which will grow income at a faster rate. Another emerging area is the establishment of industrial units for utilisation of agricultural waste with advanced technology. Moreover low-fertile and inaccessible cultivable area can be used for establishment of appropriate industry. Industry and agriculture should co-exist. Emphasis should be given to develop master plan from grass root levels and focus strengths in different sectors.








Making a virtue out of the inevitable would appear to be the way forward in climate change negotiations. After the US agreed to reduce aggregate emissions 17% over 2005 levels by 2025, and China agreed to reduce the carbon intensity of its growth (emissions per unit of output) by 40% on a voluntary basis, there is pressure on India to place its own emission reduction targets. India should oblige. It can, happily.

The fact is that emission intensity has been coming down steadily over the years, thanks to technological changes. Even if the same level of incremental gains in energy efficiency are maintained, India can safely reduce its carbon intensity by some 25% by 2025. And this is the level of cuts that environment minister Jairam Ramesh has suggested as viable. If additional measures are taken, which India can and should, intensity can be brought down even further. So, it makes sense for India to accept measurable, verifiable cuts in energy intensity, in return for finance and technology to make those cuts happen.

The Chinese 'sacrifice' is something that will happen as a by-product of their ongoing efforts to bring down visible levels of pollution. If the Chinese were to switch to a market economy where capital comes at its true cost, Chinese growth would become more resource-efficient. India's growth already enjoys low carbon intensity on this count. We need to do much more, particularly for the poor. India's poor are the worst sufferers of high-carbon progress: they can least protect themselves from the ill-effects of pollution.

They would also suffer the most if and when climate change really bites. So, there is no case for making the poor of India an excuse for continuing with business as usual.

There are any number of things that India needs to do for its own efficiency and welfare gains, which will bring down carbon intensity drastically: shifting to higher thermal efficiency technologies in power generation even with coal, more widespread use of compressed natural gas in public transport, creation of efficient public transport and taxation to induce a generalised shift away from private transport, building new towns designed to eliminate/reduce the need for commuting to work, green buildings, etc. If we add up the carbon gains from such moves, they will be more than anything we commit ourselves to.







It is notable that Shree Renuka Sugars, the country's largest sugar refiner and ethanol producer, has acquired production facilities of VDI in Brazil, the world's largest sugar producing and exporting country. It points at ample scope for growing crops like pulses and oilseeds abroad, which remain in severe short supply domestically. We are, of course, the largest consumers of sugar, but Indian producers had no Brazilian presence.

Now, the financial crisis has meant a spike in the debt burden of sugar producers like VDI, thus making it possible for a domestic player like Renuka Sugars to take it over and grow its production base in the centre-south region of Brazil. There are other, parallel moves underway to acquire and lease land for agri-purposes in sparsely-populated Africa and Latin America, with high land-man ratios. In Ethiopia, for example, India is reportedly funding an $800-million project for sugar development, the largest corpus for such financing abroad.

The flat Pampas of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay seem ideal for growing agri-produce such as pulses that seem perennially in short supply in India. In any case, the water-abundant Indo-Gangetic plains, especially Bihar, would be ideal for sugarcane cultivation, with effective policy. The main obstacle here, however, is law and order: if you can't set up a factory without an official or his child being kidnapped, you will set up the factory someplace else. Meanwhile, State Trading Corporation is said to be looking at land in Peru to grow tur dal, domestic prices of which have witnessed much hardening of late.

Also, the Solvent Extractors Association, the Indian oilseeds industry body, has reportedly formed a consortium of 18 companies to acquire 10,000 hectares of farmland in a $40-million deal in Uruguay and Paraguay, to cultivate oilseeds and pulses. However, credit availability appears to be an issue. Domestic banks, it seems, are not very sanguine for such deals. Hence the need for a proactive policy to better tackle food inflation via globalisation.






This will be music to the ears of those who have refused to succumb to the tyranny of the treadmill or the torture of gym workouts. It is perhaps entirely appropriate that researchers from a nation of dog lovers, Britain, have found out that most owners take their pets for a walk twice a day for 24 minutes each a week, totalling five hours and 38 minutes, plus three longer outings a week that add another two hours and 33 minutes to their grand total.

That puts them well above the government's recommendation of half an hour of cardio-vascular exercise three to five times a week to stay fit. So walking Fido is good for health. In contrast, non-pet owners average just 1 hour 20 minutes a week gymming or jogging, with almost half of them doing no exercise at all. Even those who do notch up formidable treadmill miles or calorie-loss averages in the gym are still at a relative disadvantage to pet-walkers given that the latter exercise in the open, instead of indoors.

Over half of the 3,000 dog owners among the 5,000 people assessed said that taking their pet for walks was their main exercise, and over 75% of them preferred it over gym workouts anyway. Significantly, some 86% of pet-owners averred that they enjoyed their daily outings, while 70% of those who got their daily exercise in gyms found it a chore! Of course the survey was conducted for a petcare company, but the findings do underline the fact that pets are good for health.

Their heroic contribution to healing trauma victims, helping the disabled and even lowering blood pressure, has been well chronicled. Now their salutary effect on an even more widespread lifestyle disease, obesity, is being asserted. Gyms may or may not call clients back if they miss that daily workout, but doggone it, there is no way Fido will be deflected from his daily outings. As upwardly-mobile populations in countries across the world become more overweight and underactive, this may be a good time to compile a factfile on the health benefits of owning pets.








MUMBAI: Markets regulator Sebi has said that the exchange-traded currency futures market is more efficient than the over-the-counter (OTC) interbank forex market as far as the cost of entering or exiting a trade is concerned.

Sebi's statement made in an internal memorandum to its board has come as a surprise to many analysts since internationally, the forward market is much more liquid than its exchange-traded counterpart.

The market regulator has studied trends in currency futures and the OTC market and concluded that the former has been operating at a bid-ask spread narrower than that of the OTC spot market. Now, analysts are seeing this as a prelude to the regulator introducing futures contracts in currencies other than the dollar-rupee.

Volumes in listed currency futures have grown phenomenally well since August when they were first introduced with contracts of over $3 billion being traded daily in November 2009. Sebi says this rise that has allowed almost all of the FX futures transactions at NSE amid MCX-SX to take place at a spread less than or equal to half a paisa. The corresponding figure for the OTC market is 6.53%, Sebi said.

The bid-ask spread gives an indication of the cost and ease with which a contract can be traded, essentially a proxy for a market's liquidity. In a recent research paper, Gurnain Kaur Pasricha, a senior analyst at bank of Canada said Brazil is the only country in the world, prior to India, where the currency futures market has become more liquid than the forward market.

"Once the exchange (traded market) becomes liquid, the network externality of market liquidity sucks in further order flow and preserves the domination of the exchange, even after these rules (helping the segment) are removed," she concluded in the paper.

The Sebi study also says the share of merchant (corporates) transactions in the OTC market has fallen from 63% in November 2008 to 30% in November 2008. This could mean that as a hedging tool, merchants are probably moving to the futures market, the memorandum said. U Venkatraman, executive director, MCX Stock Exchange attributes this to banks offering the product to customers encouraging participation from exporters, importers and other small and medium enterprises.

Entities other than banks and retail investors made up around 65% of daily volumes in August 2009 for FX futures. While the futures and forward rate diverged initially, they have appeared to converge recently, was another of Sebi's observation. This underscores the gradual disappearance of arbitrage opportunity between the two markets.








MUMBAI: If you want to know 'the power of small', the best person to ask is a small-cap mutual fund investor. Small- and mid-cap funds that invest in relatively small value, illiquid stocks have handily beaten large-cap funds by a wide margin. While one-year returns on small-cap funds have been in the range of 105-110%, gains on heavyweight blue-chip funds, which are often regarded as flagship schemes, are much lower, with average (category) returns falling between 75% and 78% for one year.

According to fund managers, though the market has run up over the past one year, hurtling stocks to the
expensive zone, there are still factors that could sustain small- and mid-caps rally for some more time. While
sector frontliners have run ahead in terms of valuations, there are several mid- and small-cap stocks that have relatively more upside to grow in value.


In terms of earnings growth, several mid- and small-cap companies have beaten their larger peers (though business turnover of smaller companies is anything but significant to compare with large-cap companies).

"The best thing about a small company is that minor improvements in corporate numbers or working style reflect on their stock price. Small improvement here and there contribute so much to their stock price," said A Balasubramanian, CEO, Birla Sunlife Mutual Fund.

According to fund managers, small companies with good management vision and ability to offer rare products or services make it to fund portfolios. Though large-cap stocks tend to balance the earnings capacity of a portfolio, it is lesser-known volatile stock groupings that give the portfolio an extra 'gain-kicker'. If one were to see small- and mid-cap businesses that made it big over the past few years, companies such as Hero Honda (the larger peer being Bajaj Auto), Maruti (the larger peers — M&M and Tata Motors), Marico and Godrej Consumers (the larger peer being HUL) would top the list.

"Spotting a potential multi-bagger is the key to small- and mid-cap fund management. Small-cap fund managers do thorough research before allocating money to smaller companies. The general belief is that if a small-cap company is doing well, it will match up to large-cap companies in terms of returns," Mr Balasubramanian added.

According to fund experts, stocks that are not part of an index or are rarely tracked by analysts, perform well over the longer term. The returns on these stocks will almost match up to large-cap peers. This may actually reduce the earnings capacity of a small-cap portfolio, as most stocks in the grouping would have reached the fair price (market discovered price on the basis of corporate earning) over a longer investment term. This aspect makes it imperative on the part of small-cap fund managers to shift their investments to a new set of small- or mid-cap stocks after a some time.

Another theory with regards to small-, and mid-cap stocks is that smaller companies fall deeper and faster when the broader market is on a downtrend. However, when the market is rising, small- and mid-cap stocks always follow large-cap stocks in terms of appreciation. Smaller stocks, which have fallen deeper, also have a tendency to rise higher (in percentage terms) than their larger peers.

To moot the point, the BSE Sensex had fallen 52% in the calendar year 2008, much lower than the 73% fall of BSE SmallCap index during the same period last year. If one plots the one-year gain period for both indices, the Sensex surged 84%, while the SmallCap index shot up by 122% in value. In essence, gains and losses in small-cap funds are normally higher in a rising market and lower in a weak market.

The best idea, according to investment experts, is to have a mix of both large-cap and small-cap funds in a portfolio. The small-cap portion will help investors gain when market is upbeat; the large-cap part will prevent severe or deep erosion of portfolio values in times of stress.








The concepts concerning atmasuddhi, besides exercises in contemplation and meditation or taking time to be with oneself — these are not, in their true sense, merely religious or spiritual involvements. Purely from a rational and pragmatic point of view, elimination of the undesirables obtains for the seeker that 'space' within, where truth, wisdom and intelligence can enter and take root.

Consequently and naturally, he would be guided well to pre-empt or sidestep mistakes and errors in judgement. This verily is karmasu kaushalam (Bhagawad Gita: 2,50), leading inevitably to 'dissociation from suffering' (6,23) and also the concept of James Allen, "suffering ceases for him, who is pure".

The above would serve as explanation to the axiom that all aspects without (transactions, relationships, developments and events) are mirrors of the state within. True progress towards atmasuddhi is thus manifest externally in many ways. Gita elaborates on certain characteristics of such an evolved person (sthithaprajna) — 2:55 to 59 and 2:71.

Certain other specific traits would also include creativity, pursuit of excellence in chosen field, control on all concerned aspects, including on habits and lifestyle, besides planning what one does and doing what one plans, obtaining thus, as if effortlessly, the art of time management by putting more work into one's hours than hours into his work, transcending thus also the laws of Parkinson and Murphy.


That uncanny ability to confront odds and pessimism all around, being scintillating, displaying virtues that scorn the limitations within, practically applying one's knowledge (jnanam and kriya and the Biblical concept of "faith and works" — James: 2,20), freedom from obsession with oneself, concerned with others too, besides cultivating a healthy indifference to the evil — these dynamic characteristics would also embellish the evolved being.

Such a seeker, imbued with pursuit of atmasuddhi, would naturally also discover "new, universal and more liberal laws" beginning to establish themselves "around and within" him, enabling him to live with the "licence of a higher order of beings" (Thoreau's concept). He would also comprehend how "God's in His Heaven - /All's right with the world", feeling thus that "all we behold is full of blessings".

Indeed, such signs manifesting externally spring from the dynamic cleansing within — that progress towards true atmasuddhi.








Days like this, I feel like I'm stuck in one of those surreal science fiction movies about an unending time loop. Around this time last year, I remember sitting around with the kind of people who matter — bankers, CEOs, analysts and journalists — all muttering and shaking heads in hushed tones about Dubai. We had the prospect of Dubai imploding, a mad scramble to find out exactly what everyone's exposure was to the crisis.

A year on, it's the same old, same old. Okay, Dubai. Don't panic. Or yes, do, because to me it seems like those traders and financial market players haven't learnt a single lesson in the past two years. Despite even the most respected oracles like the JP Morgans and Merrills putting out large Don't Panic signs, everyone decided to panic en masse. Again. Some smart commentators are calling it lehmanitis: when world markets stage a concerted walk out at the first sign of trouble.

Unless they make it so, what has happened in Dubai should not be Armageddon Part II. Dubai wants to delay paying a lot of money to its creditors for six months. Yeah, so? Most of those lenders are already heavily underwritten by their respective governments and, according to analysts I trust (not necessarily the ones the market swears by), the UK banks at least should be able to absorb the hit, with a little bit of discomfort. Or I'll end up paying for it, again. Not the markets.

The funniest bit, to me, is the sense of outrage and betrayal coming out of the largely western media, reflecting the views of the investors and the market. Ooh, Dubai didn't tell us things were so bad. Ooh, this creates such a huge confidence crisis, we assumed the Arabs would pour in oil money to protect the interests of its western lenders and investors. They're not 'one of us' they need to work that much harder. Exactly how are palace politics any worse than Wall Street politics, pray? Which planet were they living in the past year, with thousands unemployed, building projects lying derelict, and so on?

If you look at the Dubai model, which UK media today is vehemently criticising, it's very similar to the UK model. Little island with not too many natural or manufacturing resources, surrounded by more powerful neighbours, a rich trading history, fabulous time zone and location, let's make it an entrepot and playground for the rich and powerful. Not surprisingly, since Dubai is largely run by Brits.

Okay, so here's yet another theory, which could be as right as anything that all the frantic sellers were moved by. First, the announcement came on the eve of a long Eid holiday break in Dubai, coinciding with Thanksgiving weekend, I'd bet key trading desks were probably staffed with those who drew very short straws. On Thursday, the LSE had a technical problem, and was down for three hours. So, the FTSE tanked. Also, from what I hear, most international banks have already frozen their bonuses for this year — usually decided by Christmas — and no trader is in the mood to take excess risks now. Not worth it.

Now why did the emirate behave as it did? They said it was part of a plan. I suspect that the Sheikh is aware that this year, most of his lenders have again started making obscene profits. Like the rest of us, he doesn't see why he should pay up meekly without a bit of a fight. Or go to Abu Dhabi with a begging bowl, maybe make his own people suffer, just to keep western investors happy. So maybe he's just pushing for a better deal.

Or he's decided that they don't really need another tallest tower in the world, or yet another pleasure island in the sea, and he's making a point that the Emirates isn't about to bail out everyone just to save global face. Maybe he's been listening to Mervyn King and others who say that bad entities should be allowed to go under, only socially-productive ones should be bailed out.

In the post-Lehman world, the lines are blurred. Lenders are not always the good guys, defaulters are not always the bad guys. It's not a term that's come up much this weekend, but 'resetting a banking covenant' — which hundreds of private companies have done — is something similar. You tell your bankers you can't pay in time, or at the rate and how they want, you renegotiate your penalty clauses and everyone comes to terms.

After all, these guys pretty much bought, as the adage is, the Brooklyn Bridge. Why exactly anyone needed complicated financial instruments to evaluate the potential risk for increasingly more outrageous building projects is one for the historians. It was obvious, even to the most humble labourer, that Dubai's building mania had reached unreal proportions. I do wish I'd managed to start that project for a spa on the moon back then. Someone would have lent me the money.








Reforms in sectors like education, agriculture and public sector undertakings are likely to be the theme at stock exchanges in the medium term, says A Balasubramanian, chief executive officer and chief investment officer, Birla Sunlife Mutual Fund. In an interview with ET, he says that interest rates are unlikely to rise soon, given the weak credit demand in the system. Excerpts:

What impact do you see the debt crisis in Dubai having on equity markets globally; India in particular?
I don't think the events in Dubai will significantly change the outlook on equity markets globally, given the relatively small size of Dubai's economy. In India, the worry is that some of the banks may have a sizeable exposure to projects in Dubai.

But those worries, too, may have been overplayed, considering that banks follow strict RBI guidelines. As far as Indian equities are concerned, the focus will continue to remain on corporate earnings, as we are largely a domestic demand-driven economy. The theme we expect to play out over the medium term is reform initiatives by the government, especially in areas like education, agriculture and public sector undertakings.

Banking stocks have been underperforming of late. Do you see the recent weakness as an opportunity?
Banking was the second-best performing sector during the market rally this year. So, some profit-taking is inevitable. However, investors who have exposure to the sector should stay on.

The proportion of non-performing assets (NPAs) is only declining, deposit rates are low, and banks have managed to replace a large chunk of their high interest rate deposits. The key challenge for banks is to improve credit offtake.

As you mentioned, credit offtake is not really picking up. So, how do banks improve their revenues? Doesn't the poor demand for credit reflect a slower growth in the economy than what is being talked about?
Indian companies are not in a hurry to expand capacity. They have a built-up capacity for the next 2-3 years at least. Unless they see signs of a strong revival in demand, they will not invest more. Also, the stock market is doing well and that is prompting many firms to raise equity instead of debt, even if that means dilution of earnings and a lower return on equity (RoE). By doing this, they are realigning their debt-equity ratio which was more skewed towards debt till recently.

Because of a weak credit offtake from corporates, we expect interest rates to remain stable for some time. That, in turn, could drive up demand for credit from retail customers. Volume sales in interest rate-sensitive sectors like auto, real estate and consumer goods could rise significantly, benefiting banks.

Which are the other sectors that you are bullish on?

We are bullish on power and power equipment companies, and also those into road construction. Most of these companies had taken a hit last year due to liquidity problems, which resulted in delayed execution of projects. But the order momentum is quite strong.

The government, too, is accelerating some of the road and power projects. Availability of funds, more importantly risk capital, has gone up. The number of financial closures of major government projects are happening at a much faster rate.

Too many fund managers are positive on infrastructure companies? Won't that distort valuations?
Not really. Some may argue that infrastructure companies look expensive, given that the recent quarterly numbers in most cases were not up to the mark. But the sector holds tremendous potential in terms of increased activity, going ahead. That will soon reflect in the order books of these companies.

What is your outlook on interest rates over the next three months?

Interest rates will move up, but gradually. Over the next three months, we expect a hike in the cash reserve ratio (CRR) of banks. But interest rates may not spike up, given that credit offtake is not yet strong.

Also, the government appears committed to prune the fiscal deficit. Interest rates will firm up only once economic activity gains momentum. Given the stable interest rate regime, investors can look at income funds from a one-year perspective, and dynamic funds managed at the shorter end of the yield curve.

What are the portfolios that you would recommend for an aggressive investor, and a moderate risk taker?
From a systematic investment plan perspective, an aggressive investor should deploy 60% of his assets in equity diversified schemes, including mid-cap schemes, and the divide the remaining 40% between real estate funds, gold funds, thematic funds like infrastructure and global equity funds. A moderate risk taker should put 60% of his money in equity diversified schemes, and the divide the remaining between monthly income plans and fixed income schemes of more than 1-year duration.







Infrastructure, or the lack of it, is quite clearly going to be the one factor that will decide India's place in the global economy. And as head of one of the largest infrastructure-focused NBFCs in the country, Rajiv Lall, MD & CEO of Infrastructure Development Finance Company (IDFC), has his task cut out. In an interview with ET NOW, Mr Lall speaks of the challenges that India faces in fixing the huge infrastructure gap. Excerpts:

On the power scenario, what is your outlook for merchant power in particular, especially in the context of the shortage that we are seeing currently?

It is basically a simple supply and demand situation. As long as we remain an acutely supply-constrained economy, there will be opportunities for people to make money through merchant power. I think, that's actually encouraging. At least, some proportional merchant power sales are extremely important to eventually eliminate the supply gap. If private players are given the opportunity to make extra margins, they will invest more. And as they invest more, greater capacity will be created and we will eventually benefit.

And where do you see merchant power prices over the longer-term?

This is very difficult to predict, but when we look at particular deals from the point of view of making an investment, if the assumption is Rs 9 per kilowatt hour, then we will save at least 30-40% of that price. As more power comes on line, these prices will be bid down at the margin.

The government is investing a lot of money in road development projects. What potential does this have for companies?

Well, it's good for the country. Only some roads take on high volumes of traffic. If you want to develop a coherent road infrastructure network across the country, the government will need to step up and build roads that may have a lower financial rate of return but in the long run will offer a much higher economical rate of return for the country.

What are your views on urban infrastructure, especially the pace at which we are growing?
The development of urban infrastructure is lagging. We need to do a lot more work at a faster pace to mitigate the inevitable deterioration in the condition of our cities. The urban population over the next decade is going to double and unless we start investing in renewing the quality of our water distribution infrastructure, building proper roads and investing heavily in slum redevelopment, we will have a huge problem on our hands. I think, the JNURM is a tremendously important initiative that has been launched to address the problem, but a lot more needs to be done.

Banks have so far been the biggest lenders in infrastructure despite the asset-liability mismatches that they may run into. So how are you going to be able to compete with them?

Banks have been getting increasingly involved in infrastructure financing and that's a good thing. We will not be able to meet debt requirements of the infrastructure space unless banks actually take up their share of the burden. We have to, however, manage the risk implications of increasing bank lending to the infrastructure sector. The Reserve Bank of India has been pursuing several initiatives that we hope will mitigate this risk and we look forward to their implementation.

How are you going to benefit from RBI's move to create a separate category of infrastructure-focused NBFCs?
This is a tremendously important initiative and it is very important for IDFC. Large NBFCs focused on infrastructure financing have an important role to play in funding the sector because of the specialised knowledge that resides in these entities and their ability to actually lead debt syndicates into the space.

NBFCs need special attention to be able to meet the challenges of managing their asset liability mismatches. We hope that the infrastructure NBFC category that RBI is seeking to create will be designed to mitigate the liability management challenges of growing balance sheets of NBFCs that are focused specifically on infrastructure. This is why we welcome RBI's initiative.

You are organising an investor conference this week in Delhi. What would the underlying theme of the conference be?

We hope to attract attention to the growing importance of the private sector in developing India's infrastructure. It is a little-known fact that over the next four years, close to 60,000 megawatts of additional power generating capacity is likely to be built and this will be built by the private sector. Considering that today's overall capacity in the sector is only 140,000 megawatts, 60,000 megawatts coming from the private sector demonstrates two things: it shows the private sector's risk-taking ability and appetite to actually invest big money in risky sectors.

It reflects its ability to raise capital — both equity risk capital as well as debt financing. It reflects an improving overall environment in terms of implementation on the ground. I think that we talk too much about what is not working, I am hoping that this conference will showcase what's working a bit better.








Paul Holmes is a film maker and lecturer in directing at the Screen Academy Scotland (SAS). Before joining as a faculty member at SAS, Holmes was a freelance film maker who made short films and television series for well-known channels like BBC, ITV and Channel 5. Now, he is spearheading a project revolving around collaboration in film ventures between the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) and Screen Academy Scotland.

This project, in time, may spread to other film schools in India. Holmes' vision is to also trigger such joint ventures between established film makers in Bengal and India and Scotland. Holmes, who was in Kolkata and SRFTI recently and helped set in motion a collaborative film project between SRFTI and SAS students, spoke to ET exclusively about his mission.

How did this whole idea of collaboration between Indian and Scottish film students come up?
I was here last year around the same time in November. We had a package of films from the Screen Academy Scotland, which is based in Edinburgh, being shown at the Calcutta film festival. And, while I was here, we met up with members of the faculty at the SRFTI to explore possibilities for collaboration. We also caught up with other film makers and emerging ones. Our student film makers were with us.

After returning to Scotland, I corresponded with SRFTI's Amaresh Chakraborty who was my counterpart in the faculty of directing. We devised an exchange workshop in which a group of students from Scotland would visit Calcutta in November 2009 to coincide with the Calcutta film festival. At the same time, a group of their students would come across to Scotland in June 2010 in sync with the Edinburgh International Film Festival.


What spurred this concept?

The idea of the exchange is that our two schools have differing facilities and teaching traditions. Thus, this would be an opportunity for the film makers to learn new creative techniques. We also felt it was important that these emerging film makers from our two cities should get to collaborate with each other. One hopes that these collaborations may lead to lasting links between film makers in India and Scotland.

How is this project fructifying now?

Students from the Screen Academy Scotland wrote a short film script and students from the SRFTI are helping them to realise that project here. In June 2010, students from SRFTI will come up with a project and our students will help them make it in Edinburgh. The script that is being shot now and has been written by Scottish students, is a film based in India. The shooting is unfolding at the studio in SRFTI.

The film that Indian students are slated to write will be based in Scotland and shot on location at Edinburgh. This is one reflection of the different working methods. Some from the faculty in both the schools are and will be with their students to help out with the logistics like equipment.

How do you plan to take this forward?

We hope that this is something that can run every year and possibly develop into larger projects. This is a 1-2 minute film. It requires a different skill-set to write such a script compared to a longer one. And, it's one of the challenges that students face to make such a film. We would not only like this exchange to continue, but also to expand in future years provided the funding keeps coming in.

We collaborate with other film schools internationally. This is the first time we are entering India. Hopefully, our Indian foray will be a success and can lead to contacts with other potential collaborators elsewhere in India.

What is the source of funding?

Each school takes care of the funding for their contribution to the exchange. The Screen Academy's funding, which totals £15,000, has been generously provided by the British Council in Edinburgh and the Scottish government. The funds cover the making of the film and costs toward travel and stay at a particular locale.

How many film schools does Scotland boast of?

We are the only Screen Academy in Scotland. In Britain, Screen Academy is a label that brands film schools of the highest standard. Our films have a significant presence in Calcutta and all around the world including Venice, Beijing and Lodz in Poland.

Wouldn't you wish to extend these collaborative efforts between established film makers in both Scotland and India? We were at an interactive session fielded by the British Council with established film makers of Calcutta. We will definitely explore the possibilities of future collaborations between well-known film-makers in Edinburgh and Calcutta and Scotland and India.

Which Indian film makers are known in Scotland?

For me, Satyajit Ray is the most famous example in Scotland. I also enjoy a large number of films that have the Bengali sensibility. For instance, there was a season of Bengali films at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and I was lucky to see the Ritwik Ghatak's The Cloud-Capped Star (Meghe Dhaka Tara).

We are fans of world cinema and would like our students to have access to the widest possible range of movie influences. Edinburgh is very culturally rich, whether its theatre, literature or cinema. Obviously, a large number of movie film festivals are unveiled including the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

What were you occupied in before joining the Screen Academy?

I was freelance director. I made a number of short films and television series for mainline channels like the BBC, ITV and Channel 5.







The financial crisis has taken its toll on some of the largest global financial institutions and Citi has been one of the worst hit. However, India continues to be among the top-three operations for the group in the Asia Pacific region. Among financial institutions, Citi is one of the largest investors in India having invested over $4 billion. George Smith Alexander speaks to Mark T Robinson, the new CEO of Citi South Asia on Citi's Indian investments and what went wrong in retail. Excerpts

How much capital has been invested by Citi in India?

We have three types of investments — one in the bank branch of around $2.5 billion. The other Citigroup legal vehicles have several hundred million. We also have various investments, such as our stake in HDFC and funds where we are a 30% partner, and our real estate portfolio. Overall, we remain the largest foreign direct investor in financial services in India with a total capital commitment of over $4 billion. We continue to retain all our profits in the country. We have also proposed that we invest more capital in the bank.

Given that Citi has been facing a problem in its home market, how will it fund its India operations?

The issues with our parent are well known, but that has had no discernible impact on Citi in India. One demonstration of this is the fact that there has been a $300-million liquidity support into our NBFCs, including $200 million solely in CitiFinancial, and we have continued our track record of a 100% profit retention in the Bank.

At one point of time, India was part of Citi's core market. Has there been a change in focus?

There is absolutely no change whatsoever. Citi has an incredibly unique franchise in over a hundred countries. In a smaller group of countries, like Mexico, Poland, Russia, India, China and South Korea, we are an embedded local bank, a top-ten player with market shares of 1 to 25%. These franchises typify what Citi is best known for. Nothing about that has changed in a very long time. In fact, with what has happened in the industry, there is even more focus on countries such as India.

Would there be any more rationalisation as far as Citi India is concerned?

As the market continues to change, evolve and get more sophisticated and competitive, there will always be times when we have to respond to our customer demands by doing things differently, faster, quicker or more cost-efficiently. Sometimes that will mean that we have to redeploy our resources. The real question will be how to do this in a thoughtful way that doesn't unduly expose customers to disruptions and waste human talent. It is important people understand that to be competitive you have to continue to adapt and so, there will always be some kind of rationalisation.

Given the lower growth in credit, will the bank be relying on the capital market related business?

There was 9.5% credit growth in the domestic banking sector for the first half of the year. On our part, we are having a very good year in investment banking and capital markets. Our transactions services business, and particularly our custody business, have also benefited from the buoyancy in the capital markets. We do need to keep in mind though that a lot of the equity raised has been used to restructure balance sheets and pay back bank debt. The proceeds of the bonds issues have also been used to repay bank debt or strengthen balance sheets in many cases. Overall, credit growth will be retarded with what is going on in retail. In the past 2-3 years, there has been strong double digit growth in some of the retail segments. Today, despite continuing to lend, some major banks like us are forecasting growth next year in the consumer portfolio will remain flat.
Overall, how is the retail business of Citi doing?

In the past three years, the consumer banking industry has learned very valuable lessons. Both globally and in India, there is a clear shift away from a mono-line approach towards consumer credit extension to deepening relationships with the existing base and using partnerships. We acknowledge that the speed at which we expanded into unsecured lending, be it cards or personal loans, and particularly in consumer finance, was inappropriate given the lack of credit bureau data, and this has led to avoidable losses. In contrast to 2007 and 2008, our strategy today is no longer lending-led. Today, our view of our customer is holistic as is our credit decision-making. We are still undergoing a remodelling, but the loss rates have peaked and are now coming down. No doubt these will impact our current year's profits, but I expect that the business will return to a more normalised curve in the second half of 2010.


Is Citi getting out of the mass market segments and focusing on the higher end?

We have scaled back from the mass market, into which we were lending through the 450 plus CitiFinancial branch network. This network has been restructured to 118 branches. Our focus is now squarely on the emerging affluent and above segments. In terms of the customer credit profile, we have tightened it, given the poor performance of certain segments.

So, will lending be primarily in corporate banking?

Asset growth will be driven in large part by the activities of the top corporates as they invest in infrastructure and by the working capital needs of the subsidiaries of global companies. Commercial banking too, in which we have a little over $2 billion in assets, is likely to grow 25% in the next year. Retail bank lending is likely to remain flat. In the case of corporate banking, we are forecasting 15% growth. However, this can see an upward trend on account of episodic financing, which is when a major company embarks on a major acquisition or a project. Loan growth can also happen from Citi offshore that won't necessarily reflect in the local sector statistics.


What is happening to Citi's stake in HDFC?

Vikram (Pandit) is the decision maker on that. The fact to note is that when we created Citi Holdings and Citicorp to segregate our core and non-strategic businesses, the HDFC stake was included in Citicorp, and Vikram has stated that it will remain so. No doubt that there is always interest in that stake.

What business does CitiFinancial do now? Has it turned around?

CitiFinancial today has two major business — mortgages and personal unsecured loans. We have also attempted to diversify our sources of revenue by introducing products such as insurance. However, we are not growing the assets. With the existing 118 branches being in some of the larger centres, CitiFinancial continues to strengthen day in and day out, both in terms of controls and in a strategic and management sense. We also continue to do more and more mortgages. Unlike the US, these mortgages are first mortgages so with a performance of 50 bps of losses, these are quite manageable.

As a part of the global process, Citi was to put its real estate and the assets groups, CitiFinancial, etc on the block. What is the progress?

While the real estate and the special situations group are relatively small and not material to Citi in India, CitiFinancial is the primary India business that became part of Citi Holdings. This we are supporting and managing for value. In fact, we have already completed a $200-million capital infusion into Citifinancial this year, in addition to providing a $200-million liquidity support from offshore. We hope that over time there will be value-enhancing disposition and combination opportunities for us to realise its value for our shareholders. This may happen via several different ways — an outright sale, a partnership or an IPO are among the available routes.

Are you still looking to sell down the ABF business?

Our asset based financing business is very valuable to us, and since I took over, we have streamlined our strategy to focus it solely towards customers eligible for priority sector assets. Besides, our regulatory obligation, our intention is to grow our PSL, and this serves as an ideal vehicle to enable us to do that. Meanwhile, we will allow the approximately $300-million of non-PSL assets to run off.








Tata DoCoMo, perhaps the most aggressive new entrant in the GSM mobile telecom space in the country, stormed into the big league straight away through a flurry of attractive schemes—the latest being one-paisa-per-second roaming—and high decibel adblitz. The launch of the GSM service in late June has made Tata Teleservice the hottest player in the telecom space. Since August, it's been adding more subscribers every month than any other telco across CDMA (Tata Indicom) and GSM (Tata Docomo) platforms. ET caught up with Gurinder Sandhu, the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Tata DoCoMo to to talk about the brand's aspirations and plans. Excerpts.

How do you want to position your brand and how do you think the consumers perceive your brand?

We are a very youthful brand and that's how we wanted to project it as. Our campaigns, our logos, the way we do things are all in line with how we want to project ourselves. Like the today's youth, who is vary of being tied to a rule, we also want to break the set paradigms. We have already done it in the industry and I assure that there's more in offing. About consumer perception, I would say that the kind of feedback we have got is very encouraging. I think the consumers find our brand very appealing, be it the colour play or tariff schemes. We are not a tel or a com, we are different and our basic aim is to break through the clutter and simplify things. We believe we can make a change.

How do you propose to take your brand to the next level?

We want to build a unique brand property. We would continue to break the set paradigms and offer our consumers something different. We want to really involve our consumers in our growth in our bid to be Number One eventually.

Given the huge amount of competition in the telecom market, there is always a need for an operator to differentiate itself. But, no one thought it is going to be on the side of tariffs. How did you come up with that?

Yes, I think, the tariff side was believed to almost saturated, but as I said, we want to simplify things and there we saw an opportunity. Currently, the tariff scene in India is very complicated; so many schemes, different tariffs, various plan offerings, for consumers it is a humungous task to sift through all and find the right scheme. We have just one plan, be it off network or on network, STD, ISD, it's simple. This hasn't been achieved in the industry as yet, and as a new operator with global expertise, we felt we can do this. Apart from that we also want to differentiate ourselves on VAS platform like many others, but our product would be different. We have NTT DoCoMo as a partner who has a lot of experience in this space. In the VAS space also we would replicate the pay per second model, which is in line with our strategy to simplify.

What has been the thinking behind your branding initiatives?

Our branding is very simple. It's a reflection of our brand DNA. It's youthful, colourful and uncomplicated. We were the first to release a logo in three different colours and why not! Why to stick to mundane rules? Our start-up kits (SUK) also come in different colours. We also do branding through our stores. Our campaigns are very innovative and we have made an effort to reach out to our consumers. Our mantra is to create the co-creator, i.e., our consumers. We invited consumers to design ad campaigns and we have received a huge response. We are also set to soon air the wining entry. Then we have also innovated in media buying. At the time of our launch, we bought the complete three-hour radio slot, we did not choose just one station, and we were all across. Our branding is not over the top. We have a simple funda – "Do The New", which we strive to include in whatever we do. We want to challenge the norms. We had the quickest rollout in past three months and we have already covered 11 circles. So we are also increasing our visibility, which is part of our branding initiative.


Would you opt for title sponsorship of an event or eventually rope in a celebrity to endorse your brand?
We are looking for an opportunity. We are ready to invest in an event that can take our brand property forward. We have done a lot of other sponsorship, in cricket basically. Other than that we have not zeroed in on anything right now. As far as brand ambassador is concerned we are not exploring the option as of now. I am not sure if we would really want to narrow down the importance of our brand in one individual. We don't want to simplify our brand in such a way. Even merchandise licensing is an interesting branding avenue and our brand fits in that space very well, but no plans have been explored as yet. We are already running animated advertisement, which I think would be great for character merchandising.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The pressure on banks to lend, particularly to the micro and small and medium industries (SMEs), is increasing but the banks appear unmoved. But unless they lend to the manufacturing sector, there will be no real growth in production and consequently in the economy. Small and medium industries comprise the bulk of the manufacturing sector. Both state-owned and private sector banks complain that there are hardly any viable projects to lend to, an argument which industry leaders are quick to dismiss. The viability of a project is not that easy to assess, they say, asking in turn that if the bankers' logic was true, and they lend only to "viable" projects, then how do the banks end up with so many non-performing assets (NPAs)? The entrepreneur is not the only one to blame if a project fails; there are other factors such as technical and labour problems, besides loan delays! One estimate has it that lending to the small and medium sector has fallen from 12 per cent to nine per cent — which is alarming as unlike the big corporates, who can always tap other credit channels, including the capital markets and external commercial borrowings, the SMEs are not so privileged. A member of Parliament, making a fervent plea to banks to lend more to SMEs, observed recently that the banks' lending policy was not in tune with efforts by the Reserve Bank to spur banks to lend more. In his last credit policy statement, the RBI governor, Mr D. Subbarao, had said that since mid-September 2008, the central bank's measures had resulted in augmenting actual and potential liquidity by Rs 5,61,700 crores. This liquidity expansion has been consistent with the Reserve Bank's efforts to ensure a policy regime enabling credit expansion at viable rates while preserving credit quality. But as they say, you can take the horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink water, so it is with the banks. Their credit deposit ratio is 69.39 per cent as on November 6, 2009: which means that for every Rs 100, Rs 70 is lent. But the banks prefer to park their surplus funds with the RBI instead of lending to industry, particularly the manufacturing sector. It is estimated that banks keep over Rs 1,50,000 crores with the RBI on any given day even though the interest rate they earn is minimal. But for risk-averse banks, the big thing is that it is totally risk-free. The banks, of course, have their own compulsions. They are risk-averse because their NPAs are increasing, and the RBI recently asked them to increase provisioning for this, which means the banks will have to freeze around Rs 30,000 crore for this. Banks must bring down gross NPAs to three per cent and net NPAs to one per cent by March 1, 2010, so the pressure is there. The NPAs are increasing partly due to the recession, and so they are even more cautious now, particularly on home loans and other personal loans. Credit defaults are huge in this segment as in the good times the banks lent to the aspirational middle and lower middle classes, which drew high salaries. Realty is another sector where the banks landed in a mess despite the RBI's controls. The only solution to this impasse between borrowers and lenders is really for the government to set up a monitoring committee which would examine proposals in minute detail, assess the feasibility or otherwise of projects to ensure that deserving ones are not denied credit and that manufacturing activity begins to pick up.








The Indian economy is picking up and should be able to expand at eight to nine per cent. It is high time that the government initiates a universal public distribution system covering at least the essential commodities.


Incomes of the rich will go up and India will be a major player in the world when it revives. But the bulk of the population, about 70 per cent, will remain poor with their dire struggle for minimal livelihood. About 350 million people will remain below the poverty line.


In the past, growth has bypassed them and unless there is a total change in the approach, growth will continue to bypass them.


As a revolutionary change in the system is not in the agenda of any political party, the government has to try to keep the system going without being destabilised and losing the growth momentum itself in the process. For that, the universalisation of the public distribution system would be the first important step.


The prices of essential commodities have been rising at an unprecedented rate. Not only foodgrains but vegetables like onions and potatoes are becoming costlier day by day. These affect all Indians but for the poor they are devastating as all their meagre incomes get exhausted, not meeting even a portion of the necessities.


Although a universal public distribution system should cover both those living below the poverty line (BPL) and above the poverty line, for at least a limited amount of essentials, the government should begin with the BPL population by supplying them with the essential commodities at cheap and affordable prices.


There are many problems that have to be solved even for a limited PDS. At least to foodgrains, should be added dal, oil and some basic vegetables. Prices of these products are no doubt largely due to shortfall in production but there are clear signs of market cornering, hoarding and price fixing.


It is, however, very difficult to control speculatory tendencies by physical measures because the players are too many in the country and not just big traders and producers, even the common rehriwalla is hoarding. Unless those expectations are dampened they cannot bring down the speculation. The only way to do that is to increase supplies, if not through temporary production increase measures, then through additional imports.


If PDS is targeted to a limited BPL population it may also be possible to increase their supplies through market purchase of these products and sell them at subsidised prices. This would push up the open market prices somewhat further. But targeted PDS can be sustained if the government is willing to subsidise the difference between market price and issue price of commodities. Hopefully increased prices, supported by planned increase in production incentives, will raise output in a short period reducing the supplies bottleneck. But in the immediate future, the government has to be ready to bear the cost of maintaining the PDS.


However, the most important requirement is organisation of the system. That cannot be achieved by market incentives or subsidies. The government has to build up a huge and efficient structure of distribution throughout the country. It has to procure, purchase or import products and reach them to different destinations of the PDS. This can be done only with the help of state governments, first to identify the BPL beneficiaries and then to have fair-price shops supply the products efficiently.


The Centre can share the burden of the cost with the states but the organisation of PDS supplies has to be the responsibility of the states. A national programme of expanding the PDS must be initiated immediately as its efficiency can only be increased through experience.

There are other problems which must be attended to. Vegetables in particular are perishable products and refrigerated storage systems have to be built throughout the country. Dal, rice, also edible oil, may have to be imported in large quantities from wherever we can and the difference between import price and the issue price have to be borne by the government for a sufficiently long period. Also they have to be transported as quickly as possible from the ports and distant markets where purchases are made to the fair-price shops.


The aim of immediate short-term policy is to spread such PDS for the targeted population. Even if finance can be arranged the organisation cannot be built overnight without the concerted planning.


There is a variant of the programme also, which the government may seriously consider, namely to organise such a system through public commercial corporations with the state responsible for financing the operations and investments in infrastructure.


For instance, let the Food Corporation of India (FCI) take the responsibility of organising the supply through market purchases and imports and function as big traders entering into long-term contracts with producers and exporters playing in the market against other traders.


For this FCI should be able to buy and sell in the open market and make profits as a large monopoly player with no restriction on their pricing and operation programmes by the government.


It is only when FCI will be supplying to PDS will it need government subsidies. Corporations can function more efficiently than government motivated by profitable business and developing specialised experience.


National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (Nafed) or similar organisations can be created for vegetable and other such products. They should build up storages and have contract farming both at home and abroad and especially for products like dal which growers produce only when there is an assured market.


It is through increased efficiency of these organisations that they may themselves enter into cross subsidisation for supply of PDS. The trading corporations of the world are very profitable today and if there are no restrictions on the imports and exports of these commodities, our Nafed-like organisations would also become global players.


The time has now come for all kinds of "out-of-the-box" thinking to meet a serious problem of economic management in the country. Indian development, if it has to follow an inclusive path, must reinvent itself so that the poor develop an equal stake in our growth process.


Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament andformer Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi








What should we make of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who apparently killed 13 innocent people at Fort Hood?


Here's my take: Major Hasan may have been mentally unbalanced — I assume anyone who shoots up innocent people is. But the more you read about his support for Muslim suicide bombers, about how he showed up at a public-health seminar with a PowerPoint presentation titled "Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam", and about his contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric famous for using the Web to support jihadist violence against America — the more it seems that Major Hasan was just another angry jihadist spurred to action by "The Narrative".


What is scary is that even though he was born, raised and educated in America, the Narrative still got to him.


The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and outright lies about the US that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist websites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand "American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy" to keep Muslims down.


Yes, after two decades in which US foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.


Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you'd never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America's unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims of US perfidy.


Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders. The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.


It's working. As a Jordanian-born counterterrorism expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said to me: "This narrative is now omnipresent in Arab and Muslim communities in the region and in migrant communities around the world. These communities are bombarded with this narrative in huge doses and on a daily basis. (It says) the West, and right now mostly the US and Israel, is single-handedly responsible for all the grievances of the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Ironically, the vast majority of the media outlets targeting these communities are Arab-government owned — mostly from the Gulf".


This narrative suits Arab governments. It allows them to deflect onto America all of their people's grievances over why their countries are falling behind. And it suits Al Qaeda, which doesn't need much organisation anymore — just push out The Narrative over the Web and satellite TV, let it heat up humiliated, frustrated or socially alienated Muslim males, and one or two will open fire on their own. See: Major Hasan.


"Liberal Arabs like me are as angry as a terrorist and as determined to change the status quo", said my Jordanian friend. The only difference "is that while we choose education, knowledge and success to bring about change, a terrorist, having bought into the narrative, has a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which are inculcated in us from childhood, that lead him to believe that there is only one way, and that is violence".


What to do? Many Arab Muslims know that what ails their societies is more than the West, and that the Narrative is just an escape from looking honestly at themselves. But none of their leaders dare or care to open that discussion. In his Cairo speech last June, US President Obama effectively built a connection with the Muslim mainstream. Maybe he could spark the debate by asking that same audience this question: "Whenever something like Fort Hood happens you say, 'This is not Islam.' I believe that. But you keep telling us what Islam isn't. You need to tell us what it is and show us how its positive interpretations are being promoted in your schools and mosques. If this is not Islam, then why is it that a million Muslims will pour into the streets to protest Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, but not one will take to the streets to protest Muslim suicide bombers who blow up other Muslims, real people, created in the image of God? You need to explain that to us  and to yourselves".









One of the most sacred forms of trusteeship is the act of storytelling. Storytelling expresses ways of telling the truth. It realises truth can be told differently and that truth needs to be seen differently. But such differences never destroyed the power of truth or the integrity of the storyteller.


The power of the story emerges in one of Anna Akhmatova's stories. The poetess writes about a group of people hanging around a prison camp, waiting day after day for news of their beloved. A line of grim committed people standing in the cold. It is at one such desolate movement that a woman turns around to Akhmatova and asks "can you describe what you saw?" The poet nods. A smile spreads over both faces because they realised a story told and retold becomes a pathway to justice.


One discovered that same moment of epiphany in the reports on Watergate or the Pentagon report on the Vietnam War. A lie was exposed and truth recited across a variety of perspectives. It is these moments that made journalists like David Halberstam, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein storytellers who kept the myth and social contract of democracy alive.


As one watched the leak of the Liberhan Commission report, one was left with a different feeling. The report of the destruction of Babri Masjid has been told in many ways. There was lot that was not clear about the behaviour of both Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). When the media and the politicians got together to discuss the leak, what one missed was the integrity of the storyteller.


There was something belated about the report itself. The Liberhans Commission had 47 extensions and cost Rs 8 crores. This fact itself is surreal. What adds to the comedy was what was a still-life suddenly erupts into frenzy by being leaked.


A leak is an amazing moment. It valorises a report, adds dignity, an explosive charm to its contents. What is a lame-duck report suddenly flickers to life by asking each man to invent his own story. Liberhans raved not because of the leak but because he had been demoted to a pretext to a set of imaginary texts. Politics and media jumped into the fray replaying Babri again.


Listening is a crucial part of storytelling. One listens so can tell the story. There is an ethics to listening. What one witnessed was the claim that the leaders were not responsible. The leak and the injustice of the leak dominated over the truth of the story. Responsibility is denied, remorse erased. But behind the consternation was the fact that the greatest hard-sell of the Babri story cracked like a China vase. Atal Behari Vajpayee was no longer the innocent he was presented to be. Whether it was the nuclear bomb or Babri Masjid, his claim to exoneration was always the rhetoric of regret. A Macbeth hides his crime borrowing the poetry of a Hamlet. His poetry might be fine, but his ethics never rises above the level of a limerick.


Then there is the Punch and Judy performance of Lal Krishna Advani and Vinay Katiyar. The first said that it was "the saddest day of his life", the second "the happiest". Between the two, one was a troubled Quixote, the other as a happy Sancho. They articulated the paradox of the BJP. The crowd destroyed the temple. Yet at that very moment, it also destroyed the BJP. It was no longer a cadre-driven party working on disciplined lines. It was the mob and not the leaders who created history. The Masjid fell but along with it crumpled the myth of the BJP as a controlled vehicle of politics.


The third specimen was P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Machiavelli of the non-decision. Some claimed he was in collusion, some felt his hands were tied by the governor's advice.


But what is interesting in all these stories is the notion of responsibility. But what intrigues is the manner of the white wash. Rao hides behind a constitutional caveat, Mr Advani behind over-enthusiasm and Mr Vajpayee claims absence. It is as if politics is no longer about responsibility. And it is this that makes the report such a joke. It becomes an empty Crapps Last tape of Indian politics, a masterpiece about delay.


What was cynical and sad was that all sides knew it was a sordid joke. Cynicism provided the common weave, the unity of response. Each journalist acted as if he was privy to this before the other. Two thousand people die and each mediaperson like a narrator in a post-modern play says no one was really responsible. Babri just happened. The mob did what the politicians wished to but dwandled over. The intent to kill and destroy was all there but a hiccup overwhelmed the act.


Subsequently the hiccup becomes the alibi. The citizen does not know which is more obscene: the demolition or the report which produced a still-born piece after the longest investigative pregnancy.


Watching TV one feels media, politics and the bureaucracy conspired to create a cynical joke on justice. One felt one was watching a group of club members toasting a common story. One felt soiled watching the piety of politicians and the cynicism of journalists. What is worse is that this new media's Orwellianisim reveals some are more cynical than others. While the press boasts of access to truth, it is precisely truth that becomes a disabled entitlement. We do not need a Goebbels to destroy truth, only those who destroy the truth of storytelling by realising that a lie is a truth postponed long enough. It is the reverse of the Akhmatova anecdote. When a listener asks our media, "can you describe it?", our cozy coalition of media-lovelies will look blankly.


The truth that emerges is not about communalism or governance. It is what I call the complicity of the political. The Congress, the BJP, the Muslim leaders might be allies or adversaries. But there is an uncanny unity in the pursuit of power. It is the ultimate construction of cynical reason to explain away an empty politics.


Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist








There is much to be learned from exits.


How people leave relationships. How people help their loved ones negotiate their final months and years. How we ourselves face the final curtain, as Frank Sinatra would say.


I've seen some people who were fierce in the face of mortification and death. But none as fierce as Abe Pollin.


In the last few years, Washington's great sports impresario and philanthropist suffered from a rare brain disease that robbed him of everything but his burning love of life and sports and his burning desire to help sick children and the poor in Washington and around the world.


After giving everyone in his company, from part-time ushers to top executives, a Thanksgiving bonus; after

making sure that the Wizards staff was going to get out early for the holiday; after sending his wife, Irene, a bouquet of yellow roses to thank her for their 64 years together, the 85-year-old Pollin died Tuesday at his home in Bethesda, Md.


Pinioned by his crippling neurological disease, he could no longer walk, read or write. He was confined to a

wheelchair with a neck brace holding his head in place.


His mind was working, but his body was a cage around it. Just about the only pleasures left to Pollin, besides his loyal family, were Tchaikovsky's Fifth, Puccini's "Turandot," Frank Sinatra (Abe loved that you could hear every word Frank sang), sunshine, birds, root beer Popsicles and Wizards basketball games.


Anything the debilitated Wizards owner wanted to remember about team business, he had to hold in his head, since he could no longer jot down a note. Sometimes he stayed up all night just trying to hang on to what he wanted to remember the next day.


His son, Bob, who worked with me many years ago at The Washington Star on the clerks' desk before becoming an economist and professor, said in his emotional eulogy at Washington Hebrew Congregation on Friday that he was amazed that his father "was never bitter."


"He loved and appreciated simple pleasures," Bob said dryly. "Like a basketball team. And yes, he had four houses. Not as many as John McCain."


Bob noted: "My mother and he always celebrated Shabbat dinner on Friday night. And they always had lobster."


As strongly as Abe Pollin felt about Judaism, Bob said, it was not the rituals that he considered important so much as "leading a moral life."


Abe, the son of a Russian immigrant plumber, was famously frugal. But when he saw children in need, his generosity was boundless. After reading an article in The Washington Post in 1984 about 40,000 children dying daily from malnutrition in Africa, he called the story's writer to see if it was a typo. Assured that it was accurate, Pollin called a top Unicef official and said: "I want to help. I will do anything." And so he became an honorary chairman of the global charity.


He transformed a bleak swath of downtown Washington in 1997 when he opened what is now the Verizon Center, built with $200 million of his own money. Pollin — who originally entered the family construction business — created the Linda Pollin Memorial Housing Project in southeast Washington in honour of his daughter, who died at 16 of congenital heart disease. And he was about to break ground on an affordable-housing project here when he died. "We'll do all the things the way you wanted it, Dad," Bob promised.


President Obama, who attended a Wizards game in February at Pollin's invitation, said in a statement on Wednesday: "Abe believed in Washington, D.C., when many others didn't — putting his own fortune on the line to help revitalise the city he loved."


I still remember when Abe decided that the original name of his team, the Bullets, was offensive and he was going to change it to something less violent, the Wonders, maybe, or the Wizards. Unlike the owners of the Redskins, he decided it was worth the marketing tumult.


Even though his team had won its only championship in 1978 as the Bullets, Abe felt, as Bob put it, "that a bullet killed Yitzhak Rabin and bullets killed young people in Washington every day."


He famously fired Michael Jordan in 2003 because he thought Jordan was a bad manager, always out on the links, and a divisive force with the players.


I went to a game with Bob, Abe and Abe's friend Tom Friedman a few months ago and was deeply moved by the courage of Mr. P., as he was known by his adoring Wizards staff. He could barely move a muscle, but he emanated joy.


"He was in such bad shape for so long, but he would somehow always muster the strength and courage to surge back," Bob told me. "He was having just such a surge on Tuesday. I had just finished feeding him lunch — a full, happy meal — and we were planning to go to the Wizards' game that evening. That is when he died suddenly." His heart stopped. But oh, what a heart it was.









On the evening of September 11, 2001, I hurried through a dark apple orchard to the nearest television in this Himalayan village. My landlord opened his door reluctantly, and then appeared unmoved by the news I had just received by phone. I struggled to explain the enormity of what was happening, the significance of New York, the iconic status of the World Trade Centre — to no avail. It was time for his evening prayers; the television could not be turned on.


I did not witness the horrific sights of 9/11 until three days later. Since then, cable television and even broadband Internet have arrived in Mashobra and in my own home. Now the world's manifold atrocities are always available for brisk inspection on India's many 24-hour news channels. Indeed, the brutal terrorist assault on Mumbai that killed 163 people a year ago was immediately proclaimed as India's own 9/11 by the country's young TV anchors, who seem to model themselves on Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Yet, on the first anniversary of "26/11", it seems as remote as 9/11 to the inhabitants of this village.


There is no great mystery behind this indifference, which is distinct from callousness. India, where most people still depend on agriculture for a living, has just suffered one of its most serious droughts in decades. The outlook for winter crops is bleak; many farmers have committed suicide in recent months, adding to the epidemic of rural suicides over the last few years.


Politically, too, India has lurched from one crisis to another in the last year. Prudent financial regulation saved India from the worst effects of the worldwide economic recession. But the rage of people who feel themselves not only left behind but victimised by corporate-driven and urban-oriented economic growth has erupted into violence; the Indian government has called for an all-out war against the Maoist insurgent groups that now administer large parts of central India. Anti-India insurgencies in Kashmir and the Northeast continue to simmer, exacting a little-reported but high daily toll.


Geopolitically, India's room to manoeuvre has shrunk since the Mumbai attacks. Last November, middle-class nationalist fury, though initially directed at inept Indian authorities, settled on Pakistan, where the attacks were partly planned and financed. The writer Shashi Tharoor described "India's leaders and strategic thinkers" as watching Israel's assault on Gaza last winter with "empathy", and wondering "why can't we do the same?" One hopes Mr Tharoor, who has since become India's junior foreign minister, is today more aware of why India can't do a Gaza or Lebanon on its nuclear-armed neighbour.


As Western anxiety about nuclear-armed Pakistan's stability deepens, India can barely afford aggressive rhetoric, let alone military retaliation, against its long-time foe. Pakistan remains vital to Western campaigns against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Aware of its strategic importance, Pakistan has been in no hurry to accede to India's demands to prosecute those it holds responsible for the Mumbai massacre. (One hopes the charges filed against seven radicals recently mark a real change.) Islamabad has also upped the rhetorical ante by accusing India of backing the violent secessionist movement in Balochistan, in western Pakistan.


India's seeming impotence enrages those in the new Right-wing news media who are eager to commemorate 26/11, and to make that ersatz shorthand signify India's unavenged humiliation and shame. Prabhu Chawla, the editor of India Today, the country's leading newsmagazine, expressed the frustration of many middle-class nationalists: "India, divided by politics, doesn't know what to do with its enemy or with its much-mauled nationalist soul. We are as clueless as we were on that dreadful November night one year ago".


That may be true, but in a country where 400 million live without electricity, it isn't easy to manufacture, or sustain, a national consensus. In any case, things are not as bad as the pundits make out. The lone surviving Mumbai killer is already on trial; his accomplices are being gradually apprehended. There have been no major retaliatory attacks against Muslims. There are stirrings of a civic, even political, consciousness among rich Indians who, until the Mumbai massacre, were largely unaffected by our frequent terrorist bombings.


India may have been passive after the Mumbai attacks. But India has not launched wars against either abstract nouns or actual countries that it has no hope of winning or even disengaging from. Another major terrorist assault on our large and chaotic cities is very probable, but it is unlikely to have the sort of effect that 9/11 had on America.


This is largely because many Indians still live with a sense of permanent crisis, of a world out of joint, where violence can be contained but never fully prevented, and where human action quickly reveals its tragic limits. The fatalism I sense in my village may be the consolation of the weak, of those powerless to shape the world to their ends. But it also provides a built-in check against the arrogance of power — and the hubris that has made America's response to 9/11 so disastrously counter-productive.


Pankaj Mishra is the author of Temptationsof the West: How to Be Modern in India,Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond









WISE men learn from the mistakes of others, fools from their own. It would be pointless to speculate which category the minister for sport would figure in, but it would be reasonable to assume that the struggle to get things in place for the Commonwealth Games heavily influenced MS Gill telling the Rajya Sabha that bidding for the 2020 Olympics was inadvisable. For, even as he wondered if India could emulate China in laying out $50 billion for the Beijing Games ~ "look at the poverty in this country, look at our infrastructure, are you willing to spend that amount? ~ he actually reopened the debate on whether the Rs 4,100 crore government was spending on CWG 2010 was wasteful expenditure. While he responded specifically to Jaya Bachchan's theory that a successful CWG would lubricate an Olympic bid, Gill was clearly addressing a larger audience when he said some people were "casually" talking about the 2020 Olympiad: it took little reading between the lines to discern the target of his barb: "there is a class of people who like and enjoy it because it is good entertainment for them". Many genuine sports lovers would hail what could go down as the first "authentic" observation from the minister; for far too long has "that class of people" enjoyed themselves at the expense of those still denied the basics of sport. The top heaviness being the result of politicians muscling their way to monopoly positions in the federations, having taken a cue from Rajiv Gandhi supposedly performed the rescue act for the 1982 Asian Games. Whatever happened to government directives putting a time-limit on holding office in the federations? Or is violating them part of an MP's package of privileges?

For the record Gill rejected charges that things were so far behind schedule that the CWG would prove a national embarrassment, what else could a minister do in Parliament, but his contention that not seeking Olympic glory was no personal opinion but government policy would rankle some. Mani Shankar Aiyar was divested of the sports portfolio when he had the courage to defy self-seeking moneybags and not push for further international events: will Gill suffer a similar fate? Or have the Prime Minister and the "high command" finally seen through the bloated egos that have made a thorough mess of 2010, but remain so thick-skinned as to nurse Olympic ambitions?









THE East Kolkata wetland is just one example among many strewn all over the country glowingly demonstrating the knowledge of the farmers, fishermen, craftpersons and health practitioners about how to live creatively with Nature. That the people of Kolkata themselves have not understood the virtues of its wetlands is obvious from their continuing decimation, despite public spirited opposition to such efforts.

Unmarked though, there is a striking fallout of this 'great paradigm shift' in the capitalist economic theory for honouring the thresholds of Nature. Large numbers of village people in China, India, Africa, Latin America and in such other places, who form the majority, have a remarkable understanding of Nature and have evolved a scintillating repertoire of traditional practices. The poorer parts of the world with much richer stock of knowledge in transacting with Nature sustainably enjoy a clear advantage in this new epistemological playfield and stand a bright chance of drawing up superior development plans that can be implemented. This they will do by blending modern science and traditional wisdom relatively quickly. This can lead to greater self-reliance and sustainability of the poorer countries.

Traditional knowledge

AS it is for any engineering practice, traditional resource use techniques are retained only through continuous practice. The knowledge system flows through one generation to the other while working together. If for about 20 to 20 years at a stretch the rural people can be held back from falling back upon their own traditional stock of knowledge and lured to adopt some such alien techniques that will give them some temporary but attractive instant gain, the very edifice of the traditional knowledge system will collapse. Once that happens the rural people will have no means of reverting to tradition even when they have been totally disillusioned by their new ways. This is what has been happening in many places in India, especially in the fields of agriculture and healthcare.

It is important to understand that a search for traditional practices for an alternative knowledge base does not mean any random adoption of whatever the local or indigenous people are doing. These will have to be shortlisted by preliminary enquiry ascertaining the scientific validity by the scientists who have the proper mindset for carrying out such work. Thereafter, the most important task of ecological interpretation will have to be taken up with sufficient analytical vigour. The next task will be mainstreaming the lessons and simultaneously conserving the original practice in its place.

There is much to be learnt from the developed world and much to be revisited from the vast bank of resident knowledge in India. Much of it could profitably be shared with the rest of the world that can put to good use a decidedly superior knowledge base in managing natural resources sustainably, which again is so crucial in designing options for sustainable development.

The problem is that India is still to think in terms of setting out independent and self-reliant alternatives (termed as traditional/ indigenous/ or local knowledge) to sustainable development for its own benefit. It does not care to take advantage of this ingrained wisdom evolved through many years of experience of living creatively with Nature that, in a sense, describes the genesis of the subaltern wisdom in natural resource conservation and the route forward to ecological security. Knowledge of conservation and judicious use of Nature and natural resources, including its governance is inherent in them and has evolved through many years of inter-generational transfer. It is time for contemporary society and state to incorporate this stock of knowledge and experience in natural resource conservation into mainstream development activities to sustain the life and livelihood of the people, particularly those who are on the margin.



There has been an interesting turn of history. The basic enquiry that drove the subaltern study group, a major intellectual fallout of the peasant uprising that started in the late Sixties, was the relationship between peasants as the major demographic formation in India and the emergence of the modern state. After about three decades, the wisdom of the same demographic formation has become crucial in giving shape to the ecological history of our times. It is for the intellectual communities to merge theory with practice in ensuring ecological security for the millions, which currently is comprehensively threatened with farmers in large numbers increasingly rendered ecologically handicapped every moment.

India and some other parts of the world boast remarkable examples of ecosystem restoration using traditional wisdom. Outstanding partnerships between the facilitator and the villagers and profound understanding and familiarity with the local social, economic and ecological order have perfected their initiatives. In a country where partnerships are being talked about all the time ~ from public-private partnerships to cricketing partnerships in 50-over matches ~ this is a very special partnership that deserves special consideration.







SOLEMNITY, it would seem, fosters sanity. Having joined in the heated, competitive-politics-triggered calls for downsizing the army presence in Jammu and Kashmir, and much drumbeating against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act being applicable in his state, chief minister Omar Abdullah has now come out strongly in favour of continued army deployment: indeed he has publicly lauded the role it is playing. While the solemnity of the dedication of a martyrs' memorial in Jammu, and the presence of much gold braid and red tabs, may have influenced his presentation, some of the points he made were too significant to be trivialised. Apart from pointing to increasing infiltration bids running counter to the decline in violence levels, the chief minister told the people of the state something that they have long needed to be told: "the army is not out there of their own free will, but they are out for our safety." Of course it is difficult to accept that there will be widespread endorsement of his contention that the people had bonded with the army and were opposed to its withdrawal, but his saying so does suggest signs of some changed thinking. Whether Omar will stick to his guns should his pet aversion, Mehbooba Mufti, use his observations to unleash another round of rabble-rousing rhetoric remains to be seen. But with a "Kashmiri" leader eventually speaking in favour of the army, morale should get a boost as the troops dig in for another tough cold winter.

There would also be need for the army to reciprocate. Omar spoke of the military adhering to its zero-tolerance policy on human rights violations; it is now imperative that the field commanders live up to that commitment. True the soldiers will be frequently provoked, publicly insulted and so on, but to react is to fritter away the gains of their counter-insurgency operations, to fall into a trap. It would be unfair to expect simple soldiers operating in difficult conditions under severe mental stress to be "alive" to the political implications of possible misdemeanour, but it would be valid to expect them to uphold regimental traditions and not compromise on their training and discipline. The officers, JCOs and NCOs now have added responsibility: the chief minister has stuck his neck out for them, they must not present his opponents a garrote.







HAS Calcutta University's examination reform programme hit the bump? If the immediate response of the authorities to the generally indifferent performance in the graduate level exam is any indication, the "one-plus-one-plus-one" model is open to reflection. Concern has promptly been expressed by the Vice-Chancellor, an Oxford-trained historian. Dr Suranjan Das's call for a "thorough investigation" underscores the disaster of the graduate-level performance. And it is fervently to be hoped that the authorities will get to the root of the crisis. Introduced in 2006 ~ to replace the two-part system ~ this is the second year in succession that the results have been dismal, indeed registering a decline over the previous year. And the decline has been noted in both the Honours and general streams. Far from achieving a hundred per cent success rate, as envisaged, 12 per cent of those who took the Honours papers have failed to make it. The performance has been still more alarming in the general disciplines ~ 42 per cent have flunked, against last year's 35.

Significantly, the students have not been blamed for half-baked preparation, if at all. The examination system appears to have come under the scanner, indicating an essentially adult failure. The objective of the new system has not been fulfilled. Even if the pressure on the students has to an extent been lessened, the authorities are acutely aware that this has not been reflected in the performance levels. Short of admitting that the results were generally better under the previous system, there is a clear hint that the number of lectures in an academic year has turned out to be inadequate to do justice to the syllabus. A restructuring of the syllabus is not the remedy; it is quite evident that the academic circuit is yet to switch gears in accord with the new format. Several factors for the denouement of the students are merely being speculated upon. It is imperative that these are identified and corrective action taken. The university may even revert to the previous system, considering that the new model has failed to benefit the students.







MOSCOW, 29 NOV: Good news for Vodka lovers as you can consume your favourite drink just like any other solid food, without the hassle of carrying heavy glass bottles.

Russian professor Evgeny Moskalev of Saint Petersburg Technological University has evolved a technique that allows turning alcohol into powder and packing it in pills. The new technique can solidify any kind of alcohol, including whisky, cognac, wine and beer.

"Dry" vodka can be wrapped in paper and carried around in a pocket or a bag. Vodka in form of a pill would come handy at parties when "consumers" would be able to calculate their exact required dosage.

Prof Moskalev worked for the defence industry during the Soviet regime, but during Gorbachev's perestroika and the economic turmoil he had to start freelancing.

"One company wanted to capsulate water and spirit based extract for an animal medication. Animals do not like the smell of spirit but in capsule form it could be added to their food. As a result, we developed a technology that allowed us to turn any liquid solution into powder," the scientist was quoted as saying by a web portal. The technology was tested on spirit of 96 per cent purity and the know-how was patented.

However, Prof Moskalev himself prefers the classic way ~ a shot from a glass and a pickled cucumber to chase it with. "Unfortunately, spirit can be only retained in capsules made of stearic acid, so powdered vodka tastes like a candle. Generally, an unpleasant taste could be easily removed with flavouring agents," Prof Moskalev said.PTI







Climate is not the only thing that is changing in the world. For some countries coping with climate change, their status in the world and ability to work with, or against, the interests of other countries are also changing in an unprecedented manner. As nations of growing economic and political importance, India and China seem to have now found something other than competitiveness and mutual lack of trust to bring them together on an international platform, thanks to the politics of negotiating climate change. China has taken the initiative to draw up a draft plan with which to counter the developed nations' pressure on the developing ones regarding emission cutting commitments. And India, together with Brazil and South Africa, has decided to put its trust on this initiative and take it forward into a joint front of developing nations (the Basic countries) that would present this counter-agenda in Copenhagen to the developed nations. This is perhaps the first time that Indian and Chinese interests are converging within a broader international context that goes beyond politics even when the path to that goal is still firmly geopolitical. Countries like France and Denmark are making their presences felt — more proactively than imagined, perhaps — at the Commonwealth summit in the Port of Spain. Again, the central issue there seems to be climate change, and what the alignments and allegiances are going to be in Copenhagen when the bargaining begins. India's place in the Basic cluster is of key importance, and its decision to stick with the others on whether to stay or leave en masse the negotiating table in Copenhagen has implications that go beyond global warming. Insisting on sticking to the terms laid down by the Kyoto Protocol is both a way of reinforcing that solidarity and putting counter-pressure on the United States of America for equity and proportion in fixing the terms.


If the Indian prime minister feels the same sort of pressure to be present in Copenhagen as the American president is possibly feeling, it only goes to show how widely different economic and political positions can take on equal strategic importance in this sort of an international scenario. With power, and with growth, comes responsibility, and it is time for both the US and India, and the different allegiances each represents, to look eye to eye.







Over the past few months, Pakistan has been making quiet changes to its body politic. Two months ago, the long-neglected northern areas, which include Gilgit and Baltistan, got their self-governance package. This time it is Balochistan, which has often been dubbed Pakistan's Kashmir for its problematic relationship with the federation. As in Gilgit-Baltistan, the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan is a beginning of the acknowledgement of the rights of the province. In the case of Balochistan, a 'beginning' (actually a second beginning) was imperative not only because the province had figured prominently in the electoral rhetoric of the Pakistan People's Party and a placatory gesture was overdue. But any serious attempt at meeting the threat from the Taliban also requires that the Pakistan government begins to try and find a political solution to the lingering problems that are a drain on precious resources, both human and material. The incessant finger-pointing at India for messing in Balochistan also may have made it important for the Pakistan government to be seen as doing something constructive in Balochistan, where China has made major investments.


For Pakistan to make any headway in this region, which has fiercely resisted co-option into the federation, it needs to do a lot more than just wave an olive branch. The package announced for Balochistan talks about the release of political prisoners, the withdrawal of the army from key areas, a temporary halt to the building of cantonments, the handing over of law enforcement to the Frontier Corps, the payment of gas royalties, the offer of jobs, initiation of inquiry into the murder of the Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti, and the promise of a political settlement with the involvement of the "stakeholders" in Balochistan. It goes without saying that apart from the sops, the package holds no concrete assurances on Balochistan's autonomy, which has been the central demand of the insurgents, who, incidentally, are not recognized as stakeholders by the State. Apart from the historical legacy, a warped taxation structure and the lack of development have worsened Balochistan's relations with the State. Unless the federal government relents and allows locals to have more say in administration and more control over the resources, Pakistan may not be able to make peace with Balochistan and "heal hearts".









Non-governmental organizations are making a difference to the lives of poor and marginalized people in India. Most work in geographically limited areas. They are idealistic and want change, and hope to enter the lives of those they work with. Funding agencies and NGOs are enthused by any sign of change in the long-failed state of Bihar. A virulent and discriminatory caste system that deprives the lower castes even of government-funded entitlements is reinforced by a very corrupt bureaucracy, especially at the lower levels. Even the chief minister, Nitish Kumar, will admit that Bihar today is still far from being transformed. It is only beginning a long process of change.


The Aga Khan Foundation is an example of an NGO that, through its development network, is working on livelihood enhancement, health, sanitation and education. It has commenced a programme to approach these issues in a unified manner in Bihar.


A two-day intensive trip by road in Bihar to see a sample of its work took me to villages in and around Patna, Muzaffarpur and Samastipur. We met many Dalits, both Hindu and Muslim. They reported some improvement in law and order, and better roads. The bane of Bihar, as of the rest of India, but far worse, is the poor government delivery system. This is so with schools, health centres, immunization programmes, the mid-day meal and national rural employment guarantee schemes and a myriad others from the Central and state governments. Entitlements are denied mostly to those the schemes are most meant for, the lower-caste poor. This denial by low-level bureaucrats is combined with greater caste discrimination than anywhere else in today's India. A corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy combines with upper-caste mukhiyas in panchayats to deny entitlements to the largely illiterate and browbeaten poor. So NGOs have a major role to play in educating them on their entitlements and helping them access these.


The difference that small interventions by NGOs can make in the limited geography they work in, is striking. The transformation in lives, especially of mothers and children, made by solar lamps sponsored by The Energy and Resources Institute in the "to light a billion homes" project was immediate and heart-warming. The Aga Khan Foundation is also piloting a savings programme. Unlike the many self-financing schemes now driven by banks and non-banking finance institutions which have become high profit-makers, the foundation concentrates on the poorest, and is entirely community-driven. If it can be replicated over the state it has the potential to make a real impact and at a low cost per contact. It is the replication of such pilot programmes which are high cost per contact into mass programmes reaching many that is the real challenge and will indicate the programme's success. The other challenge is to sensitize lower socio-economic classes about their entitlements, and help get them.


The foundation's approach is towards a holistic development programme which covers livelihoods, education, health and savings. Both state and Central governments have ambitious programmes covering these over the whole state. The foundation, like other NGOs, must aim at learning and then teaching the lessons for the government to use in its large programmes. It is also well-placed to try new solutions that can then be offered to the government to implement on a much larger scale.


The focus for all NGOs must always and everywhere be on replicability and maximum impact. The innovations being piloted by the foundation are simple but effective. In agriculture, for example, a proven technique for paddy cultivation elsewhere in India uses 40 per cent less water. A simple polythene covered tent helps small farmers produce high quality tomatoes and exotic vegetables that can add significantly to income. Rural communities must be taught to use the cell phones that have entered the state. If the farmers work together, they can explore best prices in different markets and also arrange for a truck to come to the village to carry the produce. Farmers must be helped to work together to such mutual advantage.


These poor farmers meet regularly to discuss how the paddy programme and the tents are working. They could, at the same time, learn about their entitlements under various government schemes. Job cards under the NREGS are not issued. Even when they are issued, work is not given; full wages are not paid. To ensure that they get the full benefits, NGOs could train the poor in tackling government officials. Foundation workers could also support them in their meetings with some of these officials.


The innovative community savings groups consist entirely of women and are intended to provide funds in case of emergencies at much lower cost than if they went to the mahajan — moneylender — as they have done so far. The entire operation of recording, collecting, safeguarding the money, recovering dues, and so on, are handled by different women in the group, which is also responsible for ensuring that the loans are returned on time. The intention is not to expand these groups into the financing of investments but keep them confined to emergency loans, a need that strikes every poor family occasionally and for which the only recourse hitherto was the extortionate moneylender.


These women's groups can also be involved in other village activities. They could take responsibility for midday meals in schools and earn some money, handle the provisions of midday meals in schools, usually for their own children, and also be given training in local hygiene and sanitation programmes. Thus, the stealing by government officials can be reduced, food of improved quality be given to children, and teachers enabled to devote the time now devoted to cooking and serving to teaching.


The foundation has also set up learning centres, superior duplicates of the regular government schools. The children attend these after going to the government school. The Dalit and Muslim children in these centres were enthusiastic learners. The parents are unanimous that their children are at last learning. Better trained and dedicated teachers and novel techniques of teaching make these centres popular and effective. But a learning centre is a duplicate of the government school. Government schools must be made to improve on a mass scale. The learning centres can be the models for improving the quality of teaching and teachers in government schools. The focus must be to help improve the thousands of government schools and their teachers.


In a large madrasa at Pusa, the foundation has introduced computer training for girls. It gives them self-respect and introduces the new essential for success, computers. The girls are keen to earn using their new skills. But there are no jobs for them in the neighbourhood, they have little English, no bookkeeping or statistics, are taught only Word and Excel, and the whole state suffers frequent power outages. Nor can the girls afford their own computers. Perhaps locally marketable skills that can help the girls earn in their neighbourhood might have more value.

The outlook under the Nitish Kumar government is hopeful and optimistic. There is some improvement in law and order, transport and communications. But schooling, hygiene, health, including immunization services, remain far behind the rest of India. A very inefficient and corrupt bureaucracy at almost all levels of government must improve. The NGOs with access to the government at the higher levels can play a catalytic role in educating people on entitlements and assuring their delivery to the poor. Interventions in spheres where the government has the resources to cover the whole population must only be to improve government delivery and try out new ideas that can then be implemented more widely by government agencies. Hence NGOs must constantly consider impact and replicability. Only these can transform the wretched lives of the lowest socio-economic classes.

The author is former director- general, National Council for Applied Economic Research








If a Shakespeare should ever arise in Bangladesh, he would have plenty of tragedies to weave his history plays around. The country is only 38 years old, but the vendettas between the leading families, the murders, plots and coups, have been just as tangled and bloody as the ones in 14th and 15th-century England that gave the playwright so much of his material. But that kind of history may be coming to an end in Bangladesh.


It's not quite dead yet. Last February, at least 4,000 soldiers serving in the Bangladesh Rifles mutinied and began killing their officers. Fifty-seven officers and 17 other people were murdered by the mutineers, who dumped their bodies in sewers and an incinerator. The violence spread to military camps all over Bangladesh.


The mutineers said they were revolting against poor pay, but many suspected that there was a political motive behind it all. If there was one, it failed. The rest of the army remained loyal, tanks surrounded the regiment's camps, and the government promised to look into the rebels' complaints if they surrendered.


That was a lie, of course: they were all arrested. The first nine soldiers went on trial for mutiny before a military court on November 24, and more than 3,500 others will follow in various military cantonments around the country, while several hundred others will be tried before civilian courts for murder, rape and looting.


There has been a second high-profile case in Bangladesh recently. On November 19, the supreme court confirmed the death sentences for 12 former military officers who took part in the assassination of Bangladesh's founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in 1975. The five ex-officers who are actually in custody, and whose final appeal was rejected, face imminent execution for their crime of 34 years ago.


Few countries had a bloodier birth than Bangladesh. For a decade and a half after the partition of India in 1947, it was just the eastern wing of Pakistan, a country in two parts with a lot of Indian territory between them. But the two parts never got along, and when what is now Bangladesh tried to leave Pakistan in 1971, it got very ugly.



The Pakistan army killed up to three million people in rebel East Pakistan before Indian intervention forced it to withdraw. East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh, and Mujib, who had spent the war in jail in West Pakistan, came home to lead it.


In the early hours of August 15, 1975, a group of officers stormed Mujib's house and killed everybody in it, including his wife, his three sons and his servants. Only his two daughters, who were abroad at the time, survived. One of them, Sheikh Hasina, is now the prime minister. (I told you it was Shakespearean.)


The officers who murdered Mujib were overthrown by another group within months, and a coup removed that bunch before the end of the year. Eventually power ended up in the hands of Ziaur Rahman, who was also murdered by fellow officers in 1981. His widow, Khaleda Zia, has been prime minister three times, and still leads the main opposition party.


Zia was not involved in the murder of Mujib, but he did end up being allies with those who killed Mujib: officers who detested Mujib's secularism and had helped the Pakistani army slaughter their own people during the independence war. They killed Zia too, but that does not stop Zia's widow and Mujib's daughter from hating each other. That personal vendetta has virtually paralysed the politics of Bangladesh. Ever since democracy was restored in 1990, Hasina and Khaleda have alternated in power, each devoting all her time in opposition to sabotaging the other's initiatives. But now the page may have turned.


Hasina's Awami League won the last election by a landslide, and the army stayed loyal to the elected government right through the mutiny. The Bangladeshi Shakespeare may be running out of material.










Vice-chief of air staff Air Marshal P K Barbora has apologised for his recent negative comments on the induction of women in the fighter stream of the force but the remarks were yet another indication of the entrenched attitudes at the top levels of the defence forces. Barbora has said that his opinion was personal, but a responsible defence official has no business to express a personal view on an important issue in public. The burden of his view was that it was not a good financial proposition to have women fighter pilots as they cannot be utilised fully because of compulsions like maternity. He also said the policy can change only if some pre-conditions are met.

If President Pratibha Patil's flight on a Sukhoi 30MKI was a symbolic gesture and the recent commissioning of two women as navigators in the Navy's flying branch, which has combat duties,  marked a positive movement, Barbora's comments were retrograde. India's defence forces have to change their notions of male superiority and accept women as equal to men in all areas of functioning and operations. Women have proved their worth in all fields that require high physical and mental effort and involve stress and tension. There is a change of attitude in the police and paramilitary forces where there are more women now, though they also need to recruit more women. While India's defence force leadership is still hesitant, others are not. Women make up 20 per cent of the US defence forces personnel and about 10 per cent of the UK forces. They are also deployed in combat zones. The Indian Air Force has only a few hundred women in the officer cadre. The situation in the Army and the Navy is not much better. This is when there is a severe shortage of officers and the forces find it difficult to attract young people to them even with the incentives that are on offer.

The idea that women are only good for certain occupations should be jettisoned. The government has often said that its policy is to give a greater role for women in the forces and has taken some steps also in this regard. Even here there are ifs and buts about the cadres that they could be inducted in. However, effective implementation of the policy will be difficult if the senior leadership of the forces stick to outdated ideas on gender roles.







It is to take advantage of his current popularity that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to advance presidential polls by almost two years. Following the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May this year, the Sri Lankan president has emerged as a Sinhala-Buddhist hero. And it is to win himself another six-year term as president before this wave of support begins to dissipate that Rajapaksa has gone in for early elections. While he does indeed enjoy immense popularity, it does seem he will have to fight for the vote of the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists. This is because former Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka, who led the military operations against the LTTE and is far more of a 'war hero' than is Rajapaksa, is likely to challenge the president. Fonseka is expected to contest as the common candidate of a new opposition alliance of around a dozen political parties, ensuring a keen battle between him and Rajapaksa.

With the contest for the Sinhala vote likely to be close, neither of the candidates can afford to ignore the votes of the island's minority communities — the Tamils and the Muslims. And it is with this in mind that the two have made positive gestures towards the Tamils in recent days. In his resignation letter to the president last week, Fonseka expressed 'great concern' over the plight of nearly 2,00,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) still living in camps in northern Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa has sought to match that by announcing that all IDPs would be resettled by January 31. He has said that by early next month restrictions on the freedom of movement of the IDPs would be lifted.

For the lakhs of Tamils who have been languishing in the IDP camps, this is good news. They can leave the barbed wire camps to return home again. But what awaits them at home is another story. Very little infrastructure has survived the intense fighting that took place in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The Tamils will need more than expressions of concern as they have suffered grievously. Fonseka and Rajapaksa will have to do more to erase the memory and devastation of a terrible war the former waged and the latter authorised.








Going by the dubious precedence set by Justice M S Liberhan, a half-truth about the catastrophic events of Mumbai 26/11 should become available to parliament and the Indian public by 2025. Bad luck if you want the full truth, or you want it within your lifetime; you can never hurry a judge determined to be slow.

A fate worse than death awaits the judge whose conscience cannot be purchased at the going rate of a government bungalow in Delhi. In Mumbai, Justice Srikrishna delivered his findings on the violent consequences of the Babri demolition, a far more difficult and sensitive assignment, well in time.

His report has not been allowed formally into the public domain, since it tells the truth, and truth is injurious to the health of a government that was complicit in the mismanagement of the riots.

The duty of an enquiry is not to restate the obvious, but to repair any faults in the system through a thorough diagnosis of the malady, to lay out the findings fearlessly, and hold the powerful accountable where there has been a violation of trust or a betrayal of the responsibilities of office.


A judicial enquiry is much more than a police investigation into guilt. It invokes the highest sense of justice, which is far more than legality. We have become indifferent to corruption at the lower levels of the criminal-justice system. Are we now being trained to accept partiality and collusion in a judicial enquiry? If nothing is sacrosanct, we will be subject to the dictatorship of the profane.

We did not need 17 years of casuistry to reveal something that was visibly evident within 17 minutes of the first assault on the dome and structure of the Babri mosque on Dec 6, 1992 – that the BJP, RSS and Shiv Sena were involved. They had led the emotional movement that climaxed on Dec 6. BJP leaders like Vinay Katiyar, the alleged mastermind, wear it as a badge of pride.

 Justice Liberhan has done us no favours by 'concluding' what was reported in every newspaper the next day. But he has done the nation and the people a huge disfavour by twisting and contorting elements of the truth in order to hide the conscious collusion of then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, his home minister S B Chavan and eventually, through a conspiracy of silence, the whole Cabinet.

It requires a tremendous backward leap of logic to find Rao innocent and hold those who were working to protect the Babri mosque, like leaders of the Babri Masjid protection committee, guilty. It is true that a few Muslim leaders were shrill in some speeches, but so what? Emotions were high, and their tenor was nothing compared to the rhetoric of others. Incredible as it might seem, this is one of the findings of the Liberhan report.

With the credibility of enquiry commissions in tatters, it is hardly surprising that the protagonists and victims of the barbarous terrorist invasion of Mumbai a year are not waiting for any government-sponsored investigation to run its course.

I presume they do not, for starters, want to wait for 17 years. Officers at the very top of the hierarchy, like former police commissioner Hassan Gafoor, have begun to tell their versions to a hungry media.

 This is not the whole of it. Leaking by police officers on an off-the-record basis has reached monsoon proportions in Mumbai. This constitutes, in theory, an astonishing collapse of discipline; in practice, the government is utterly incapable of taking any action because anything it does will also expose its own sins of omission and commission.

Widows of martyred police officers have no faith in the government's ability or desire to establish a credible narrative of what actually transpired, and why. They are publishing their impression of events, backed up by their individual research, like Vinita Kamte, wife of assistant commissioner of police Ashok Kamte, who died doing his duty while others chose survival over challenge.


They are filling a black hole into which the government has sought to consign that terrible memory. In the process, allegations have been made against serving police officers that cannot be ignored; they must be investigated, and the officers either exonerated or punished.

The reluctance of the politician to pursue the past can be easily understood. Much drama surrounded the resignation of the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Where is he now? Why, in the Union cabinet, of course, a loyal colleague of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, responsible for managing the whole nation rather than just one state.

The resignation drama of 2009 was highly effective, since it staved off any punishment at the polls in 2010. Politicians are certain of one thing if they are certain of anything at all: the voter has a short memory.

Ruling party politicians might find it useful to recall, however, a well-known rule of democracy. When Opposition parties fail to play their role, the people become the opposition. This takes a long time, and people give their government a very long rope. But every rope is finite. And a rope can so easily become a noose.










It has taken the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) 25 years to communicate to all that it is unable to carry out the regulatory role the institutional structure was designed for. A discussion note recently revealed by MoEF on September 17, 2009, seeks to overhaul the way environment governance will play itself out in the future. The note strategically ackowledges the evidence NGO studies and Planning Commission documents highlight as to how the current decision making structures have failed to achieve environment protection over the years.

To bail itself out of this mess, the MoEF has proposed four formulae to create a magic potion, permutations of which are to be developed into estabilishing India's very own National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA). Prime Minster Manmohan Singh had already set the ball rolling for this when he annonced this intention before all the state ministers of environment and forests a month before the discussion note began doing the rounds in cyberspace. Setting up the NEPA now also appears on the agenda of the US-India partnership following Singh's visit there last week.

If this proposal has its way, the MoEF will take upon itself the responsibility to draft policies and laws, participate in international negotiations and carry out environment education programmes. The implementation of the existing environment regulatory frameworks like the Environment Impact Assessment Notification (EIA), 2006 or the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification, 1991 and also the functions of the MoEF's regional offices and Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) will be either absolved or networked with NEPA. What this simply means is that NEPA will be responsible for the environment clearance of development and industrial projects and ensure the monitoring as well as compliance of all conditions levied as part of the clearances.

Burden of regulation

Even as the MoEF shifts the burden of regulation, monitoring and enforcement to an "independant" authority, there is no intention stated upfront that brought it to this position. A close examination of these factors is the most urgent task at hand before one hands over an unresolvable legacy to a new generation of enthusiasts.

The foremost of the issues is the dilution of the environmental regulatory framework in favour of industrial expansion and the haste in granting clearance at the cost of sound impact assessments. This has gone hand-in-hand with increased violence at the time of mandatory public hearings and also a rise in ligitiation against clearances. NEPA will be handed over this flawed framework on a platter. With this will come the inability to deal with monitoring and compliance of environment clearance conditions. If MoEF, with its six regional offices, has washed its hands off on this, how will NEPA manage the inheritance of monitoring over 6,000 projects. The number of clearances are on the rise each day.

NEPA is envisaged to be a body independant of the MoEF. Even as centralisation of decision making remains, it will divide itself into two structures: one that determines the agenda and the other that fulfills it. So passing the buck will be much easier than before, with citizens not being able to hold the MoEF and its minister accountable on issues of enforcement.

Failure of proposal

The current proposal fails to deal with a deep-rooted problem of the environment clearance process, with its heavy reliance on scientific experts. Much of the compostion of this authority is proposed to be just that. It ignores the fact that matters of environment are not just related to pollution standards or their management as it is understood among experts. A much broader view needs to take into account principles of natural and social justice as well as long-term ecological security in setting up infrastructure or industrial operations in a particular site. This is irrespective of the fact that the project design promises to comply to pre-determined standards rendered permissible by the politics of scientific expertise.

Many other core concerns of environment governance, like the lack of coordination between the various sets of clearances handled by the ministry, remain. The NEPA mechanism washes its hands over the forest clearance process also handled in MoEF, which ideally should be in coordination (but not combined) with environment clearance considerations. The facts of one regulatory process need to be able to match the claims in the other.

We don't need to wait another 25 years to ascertain as to what seems like MoEF's solution to India's crisis. It is basically nothing less than washing its hands off the muck that pollutes forests and the silt that chokes our rivers.

Instead of breaking heads over creating fresh institutional monstors, why is it that energies are not being combined to reform the known devil?









I believe in truth and honesty, but let me confess: As a young woman, I always wanted a handsome liar in my life –yes, who like a cuckoo clock would come out with a sweet lie every hour, about me, about my beauty, about whatever I did…


I wished that he would be someone made of a finer mould than common men who don't know that most women pine not only for powerful manly arms, but also for big fat white lies to hold on to…


My dream to have a liar in my life came true when I got married—he is a much better than the liar I had imagined—with a straight face he can lie. One day, I went  to a beauty parlour and came out, and he exclaimed with a straight face – "I don't recognise you, you look so much younger, beautiful and trim…" though all that I had  gotten done was eye-brow trimming… but his lie left me beaming.

The other day, when I bought a gift for a friend's birthday -- he complimented  me,
calling me a genius, saying that only I could spot such a delightful novelty— the gift I had bought on impulse was a floral designed hat—a silly, childish gift for someone who spends time more in temples and in bhajans.

 I gave away something else as a gift to my friend, but retained the hat -- a memento for my husband's  intellect to recognise the genius in me. 

Once, while window shopping, I rushed into a saree shop drawn completely by a
designer saree on display, a shocking pink- coloured one with gold sequins all over—'gaudy' or more precisely 'an eye-sore' would be the word normal humans would describe it—but he, without batting an eye-lid said, 'Oh you will carry it off very well…actually shocking bright colours are made for women like you."

"Like me? fat and brown?" I asked. "Yes, brown and round, like a  sweet muffin" he said. This time he failed to look like a liar.

Choosing colours which suit one's complexion is a vulnerable point for many a woman, but ego massage is also quite important for her—she doesn't care if the end result will make her look like a walking debacle, if the joy of the compliment by her personal liar fills her with  power and esteem—and the liar looks like a hero.

 Though I didn't buy the saree, my liar looked every inch a hero. I know that his white lies stem from his love for me -- he indulges me, proving that all is fair in love...

'A rose-coloured fib a day keeps age away,' goes the saying. Women love sweet liars. It is another matter that mirrors do not lie.








The good news is that the hastily organized, barely advertised, after-Shabbat rally against ultra-Orthodox religious coercion in Jerusalem swelled to several thousand participants by the time it peaked in Zion Square. Unfortunately, such numbers fall woefully short of ensuring a city whose ethos needs to be tradition and tolerance. The demonstration was supposed to bring together secular, Reform, Masorti and modern Orthodox Jerusalemites. But while there was a scattered representation from progressive Orthodox quarters, the middle-of-the-road kipa sruga crowd was mostly absent.


Part of the problem, we suspect, is that Jerusalem is a small "c" conservative city. You won't draw the multitudes in defense of a woman's right to wear a tallit - even in the public plaza adjacent to the Western Wall - probably because many Jerusalemites are culturally Orthodox even if non-practicing.


Moreover, last night's rally featured both Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz and Meretz municipal council member Pepe Allalo, thus signaling that this was a protest not just for people opposed to haredi bullying, but for those who also champion religious egalitarianism and gay rights.


The modern Orthodoxy are willing to take ideas from the outside world, perhaps interpret Halacha in a more broadminded way, but this does not connote laxity in observance on a drift on core tenets. Granted, theologically progressive Orthodoxy is pushing the envelope on women's participation at gender segregated services. At the end of the day, however, Orthodoxy is not egalitarian and simply cannot embrace homosexuality as being on par with heterosexuality.


That being the case, it would be more practical to pursue a broad-based Zionist coalition aimed at bringing together socially conservative Jerusalemites, the modern Orthodox along with progressives of various stripes to campaign for:


• Protecting mixed and secular neighborhoods from haredi encroachment, while lobbying for non-luxury housing construction that caters to these demographic groups;


• Demanding an equitable allocation of municipal resources especially in education, religious services and culture;


• Insisting on an absolute respect for the rule of law.


One can oppose haredi bullying without ridiculing other aspects of the community's lifestyle and without seeking fundamental changes in the religious status quo at the municipal level.


Disgraceful haredi behavior generates headlines, tarnishes Jerusalem's image, and propels the occasional counter-demonstration. But it is the methodical wielding of haredi clout and patronage that has left this city increasingly insular, close-minded and parochial. This reality begs for a wall-to-wall Zionist coalition.


In a sense we're really asking: What will it take to get rabbis of the caliber of a Michael Melchior and a Benjamin Lau off the dime? They may not march for egalitarianism, but will they stay home even as family style seating at national ceremonies for new olim at the Western Wall becomes de-facto forbidden? Will observant Jews of good will support the demands of Masorti and visiting US Conservative Jews for 24/7 free access to Robinson's Arch?


BY COINCIDENCE, Saturday night's anti-haredi coercion protest marched past the Great Synagogue where, on the first anniversary of Mayor Nir Barkat's stewardship at City Hall, he sat in dialogue with Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz.


Barkat made a generally favorable impression as someone who does not court confrontation. He is committed to growing jobs and oversaw a successful summer of culture in the capital, other tensions notwithstanding.


Barkat senses that the outflow of kipa sruga Jerusalemites is ebbing, citing an increase in the number of national religious youngsters in the schools set aside for them. He also notes that there was no decrease of enrollment in secular public schools.


The mayor thinks of himself as a CEO more than a politician. He's proud of the fact that he does not wheel and deal. Unfortunately, the mayor's lack of political acumen - especially in dealing with the volatile haredi community - has cost the city dearly even when, at the end of the day, the collective interest wins out. We trust that Barkat will come to appreciate that running this city requires him to hone his political acumen so that he is not repeatedly blindsided by controversy. He needs to keep lines of communication open with the rabbis, politicians, mukhtars and neighborhood activists who can help him head off trouble as he implements his agenda of jobs, housing... and tolerance.








Perhaps Bennie Begin was right after all when he said that Binyamin Netanyahu had changed over the past decade. The often hesitant Netanyahu of the past nine months bears little resemblance to the impulsive Bibi of old, while the prime minister's major policy announcements are tantamount, at least at first glance, to a rejection of his previously deeply held beliefs.


Last week's security cabinet decision to announce a 10-month freeze on private building in the West Bank certainly marks a declarative change of direction for Netanyahu, who until now had steadfastly insisted that he would not halt "natural growth" construction in the settlements. Coupled with his Bar-Ilan speech in which he became the first right-wing leader to utter the words "two states for two peoples," the Likud leader has now gone down in history as the first prime minister, from any party, to order a settlement freeze in the West Bank.


Interestingly, Netanyahu has not received a thing from the Palestinians in return. The "reciprocity" mantra of his first term in office has disappeared as Israel finds itself making unilateral concessions to the Palestinians to stave off an increasingly hostile international diplomatic environment.


And in between recognizing the Palestinian right to statehood and freezing Jewish construction in the West Bank, Netanyahu has also been negotiating a prisoner exchange with Hamas for Gilad Schalit, agreeing, as far as one can tell, to the serial release of deadly terrorists, responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis, and proving more flexible in his determination to get a deal than Ehud Olmert during his final days in office.


This particular surrender to terrorism is definitely not reminiscent of the young Netanyahu, who first came to fame as an anti-terror expert. While Israel's ambassador to the UN in 1985, Netanyahu wrote to foreign minister Yitzhak Shamir complaining that the Jibril deal, in which 1,150 Palestinian detainees were released in return for three IDF soldiers, would only endanger the lives of more Israelis in the future.


A decade later, in his book A Place Under the Sun, Netanyahu joined those who argued that this prisoner release helped spark the flames of the first intifada that broke out a couple of years later.


It's hard to know how Netanyahu justifies his change of approach to a prisoner release because he has successfully avoided discussing the Schalit case. In this, he has been helped by the heavy-handed use of military censorship to prevent details of which Palestinian terrorists stand to regain their freedom, which has further dampened any public discussion of the deal.


BUT HAS Netanyahu really changed as some media commentators insist or, particularly with regard to the peace process, is he just seeking to buy time and appease Washington - not the Palestinians - by minor gestures? Again, it's worth looking at what MK Begin has to say and he is undoubtedly right when he notes that the 10-month settlement freeze will not change the reality of construction work in the West Bank in any meaningful way.


The settlers knew what was coming and prepared accordingly. According to Defense Ministry data, around 2,500 housing units are presently under construction and so will not be affected by the freeze, which only refers to new building starts. On top of this, Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently approved the construction of another 490 units, which will also escape the freeze. The security cabinet's decision also permits the building of public facilities such as schools and synagogues, as opposed to private housing, and almost immediately after the security cabinet vote, Barak authorized the construction of 28 new public facilities in the settlements.


So, as Begin said in a television interview following Netanyahu's announcement, whoever thinks he won't be seeing tractors and bulldozers working in Judea and Samaria over the next 10 months is deluding himself. Furthermore, east Jerusalem, the most sensitive of all areas in the territories, has not been included in the settlement freeze.


BEGIN IS a rarity in Israeli politics, a true man of principle. If he could bring himself to vote in favor, and later enthusiastically defend, a cabinet decision announcing a settlement freeze, it's clear that he does not view this decision as weakening Jewish settlement in the West Bank in any substantive manner. Ten months, as Begin further remarked, is not a particularly long period of time, and after this date the government is not committed to anything.


Netanyahu has shown great political skill in establishing and maintaining his coalition, but he is still failing to communicate exactly where this government is heading. If he was that anxious to kick-start the peace process with the Palestinians, there was no need for him to have waited this long before announcing a settlement freeze.


Imagine how much stronger the impact of his Bar-Ilan speech would have been had he announced then his support for a two-state solution, coupled with a freeze on all settlement construction. Such a speech would not have left him in the position he found himself earlier this month, begging for a White House meeting.


But given that Netanyahu is not explaining himself to the Israeli people, it seems that we will have to use Bennie Begin as the bellwether of the prime minister's intentions. And as long as Begin is in the government, one can conclude that Netanyahu is not serious about reaching a deal with the Palestinians based on two states for two people.


The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.








Finally, we know the terms of the US-Israel agreement on freezing construction in West Bank settlements. It is a good plan and represents a considerable, well-crafted, albeit unilateral, concession by Israel. No licenses will be granted or apartments started in the West Bank for the next 10 months. And Israel doesn't consider east Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank.


The US government praised the decision; after all it was pretty much what President Barack Obama has been trying to obtain for nine months and has worked hard to negotiate. "We believe the steps announced by the prime minister are significant and could have substantial impact on the ground," said George Mitchell, Obama's Middle East special envoy.


But, of course, it will have no impact whatsoever. On the contrary, the Palestinians and the Arab states will complain that it isn't enough, that it doesn't mean anything, and that they have more demands. Their openly stated demand is that Israel just hand over all the West Bank and east Jerusalem in exchange for nothing.


In giving something in exchange for no material gain or even a gesture from the other side, Israel can only hope that the president appreciates this and remembers that he did not deliver on his promise to get some concession from the Arab side to match it.


But will it be appreciated and even kept by the Obama administration? Will the world give Israel any credit for making one more effort to show that it wants peace? Is it going to be widely understood as demonstrating - unfortunately - that the other side doesn't? Is this going to affect the knee-jerk media view of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as "hard-line"?


Probably, not but it's worth a try. Obama will be president another three to seven years and he should be shown that Israel wants peace and is willing to cooperate with his efforts to a reasonable extent.


But that's also why there's a time limit. It's not a high price to pay for keeping the US happy and showing Obama that Israel wants peace, is cooperative and is willing to make him look good. Certainly, it won't please the Palestinians.


FOR REASONS different from what you might think, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is not so happy. He's complained in an interview that Obama is "doing nothing right now" regarding the peace process."I hope he'll take a more important role in the future," Abbas said. The Palestinians "are waiting for the United States to put pressure on Israel so it respects international law, so it takes up the road map... It can do two things: put pressure on the Israelis so they reject settlements, and put pressure so they accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders."


Can you see the humor in this? Here's Obama who campaigned and continues to say that his predecessor was "doing nothing" on the issue and that's why it hadn't been solved. Could Obama have possibly tried harder? He made it his most outspoken issue, talked about it constantly, met with leaders, put forward plans, pressured Israel, reached a deal with Israel that involved considerable Israeli concessions and asked for - but didn't receive - Arab help.


Could the lesson be more obvious? The problem isn't Obama or Netanyahu, it's Abbas. He is the one refusing to negotiate and is making a president who promised talks within two months look bad.


Why is Abbas behaving this way: because he's frustrated that progress isn't being made? This claim is rather ironic since he's the one blocking progress. The real reason is that he wants Obama to get him everything he wants without him making any compromises or concessions.


It isn't going to happen. And the Palestinians, Arabs in general and many Muslims will blame Obama. This must be a shock to him since he'd have tried so hard and bent over backwards to make them happy. And this disrespect is coming from Abbas, leader of the group which Obama has tried hardest to help.


Ironically, too, this is the first real foreign policy success for the Obama administration after 10 months in office. Yet the White House isn't eager - or not likely to be successful - in so claiming since so many people never want to credit Israel's compromises. Once Arab sources criticized Hillary Clinton's enthusiasm, the administration backed down in its praise and looked for still new, albeit small, ways to show that it is tough on Israel.


Objectively, though, bilateral relations are good, due in no small part to this step.


If the Palestinian side was sincere about negotiating and making peace, it would respond rationally.


Okay, they could say, it is only for 10 months but we can use that period to make so much progress that it will be extended. Even better, they could understand that if they made a peace treaty and got a state, there wouldn't be any more settlements in the territory they would be ruling (though there would be on land swapped with Israel).


But, of course, Abbas and the PA don't intend to do anything serious diplomatically in the next 10 months, or 20, or 30. All Abbas wants is that the United States force Israel to "accept withdrawing to the 1967 borders" and give up demands for settling Palestinians only in Palestine, not Israel.


Let's all watch, see and draw appropriate conclusion about what actually happens. And for those who didn't learn this lesson the last half-dozen times - most importantly from the fate of the 1990s' peace process, Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon, Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - this can be a less costly way of understanding that it is the Palestinian side that is blocking peace and that support for Israel is the proper response to this situation.








Freedom of speech is under physical and legal threat not only from terrorists but also at the UN. Two US-based Islamists planned to kill a cartoonist and the editor of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten responsible for publishing cartoons depicting Muhammad in 2005, it was revealed a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, at the UN, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) delivered another blow with a resolution on "combating defamation of religion," which was passed by a committee of the UN's General Assembly on 12 November.


While the tactics employed by terrorists and the OIC are obviously different, the purpose is essentially the same: to ensure that criticism of Islam is censored. And it is working.


Following news of the foiled attack against Jyllands-Posten, leading Danish newspapers refrained from reprinting the Muhammad cartoons despite doing so last year when another attack on the cartoonist was foiled. While the editors have explained this omission as a matter of "responsibility," fear would seem more likely. That was, after all, the reason why Yale University chose to omit pictures of Muhammad in a book called The Cartoons That Shook the World. Thus, grotesquely, a book dedicated to investigating "the conflict that aroused impassioned debates around the world on freedom of expression, blasphemy and the nature of modern Islam" does not contain the very cartoons which were at the core of the book's subject matter.


From Salman Rushdie to Jyllands-Posten, death threats have had a chilling effect on discussion, let alone criticism, of Islam.


The efforts to ban criticism of Islam through human rights law at the UN are not yet legally binding but they are making progress.


The OIC has been successful in passing numerous resolutions on defamation of religion at the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. The latest from March 2009 states that "defamation of religions is a serious affront to human dignity leading to restriction on the freedom of religion."


IN GENEVA, the OIC is working on the adoption of a legally binding instrument that would oblige member states to prohibit criticism of religion. In an explanatory letter of October 29 the OIC said that in Denmark and the Netherlands the personality of Muhammad had been ridiculed with intent to "violate Muslim sentiments" and, therefore, "the contention that human rights standards should apply only to individuals is not credible."


The concept of defamation of religion thus turns human rights on their head by protecting abstract religions and ideas from criticism by individuals, rather than protecting individuals from oppressive dogmas. While the Western states at the UN have weakly complained about the concept of defamation of religion, the relentless efforts of the 57-member OIC and its allies have got the votes. Too often Western states have entered into seemingly harmless compromises that really serve as a way of chipping away at the concept of free speech bit by bit.


The latest example is the Obama administration's co-sponsoring at the UN of a resolution on freedom of speech with Egypt - of all countries. But this resolution of October 2009 also condemns "negative religious stereotyping." This concept is not included as one of the permissible restrictions of free speech under international human rights law, so it suggests a protection of religions and religious symbols, not just individuals.

That very interpretation was emphasized by the OIC, which at the vote stated that "negative stereotyping or defamation of religions was a modern expression of religious hatred and xenophobia. This spread not only to individuals but to religions and belief systems." Accordingly the US-Egyptian compromise may help repression of dissenters such as the Egyptian blogger Kareem who has been imprisoned for four years for insulting Islam - by criticizing religious intolerance.


With protection for a loosely-defined concept like religion, the self-proclaimed victims will be the ones who can determine when they feel offended. That is particularly dangerous in countries where the state is the guardian of religion - such as Iran and Saudi Arabia - since the prohibition will affect not only the ability to freely discuss religion but also the ability to criticize the government.


Instead of being on the defensive and compromising free speech, Western states should go on the offensive and strengthen it. That would not only give an important morale boost to the victims of death threats from terrorists but also to the many oppressed citizens of Muslim countries who cannot speak their minds or question the dominant religion.


So far the most vocal opponents of the OIC have been an impressive alliance of NGOs and human rights activists including some from Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bahrain and Egypt.


If a number of brave Muslims have the courage to defend free speech against the nefarious agendas of their own governments and the repressive interpretations of their own religion, so should the political leaders of the West.


The writer is head of legal affairs at CEPOS, a Danish think tank, and an external lecturer of international human rights law at the University of Copenhagen.








After the Obama administration voiced "dismay" earlier this month at the decision by the Jerusalem municipality to approve 900 new housing units in the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, straddling the Green Line, former housing minister Meir Sheetrit quipped that the White House seems to think that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since Camp David, not King David.


Criticisms of Obama's earlier Cairo speech - which urged Arabs and Muslims to accept the reality of the Holocaust but not the Jews' historic claim to Jerusalem or the modern Zionist movement's century-long connection to the Holy Land - are on point but are only half the story. America's first African-American president not only suffers from historical amnesia regarding Israel's pre-1948 roots, he is also oblivious to African and African-American debts to the Zionist movement.


The story begins in 1898 when Edward Wilmot Blyden - whose status as the founding father of the modern pan-African movement was recognized by Cheikh Anta Diop, George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah - lauded Theodore Herzl's launching of "that marvelous movement called Zionism" in Der Judenstaat (1896). Born into a free black family on Charlotte-Amalie, capitol of St. Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands, Blyden always prided himself on his ties to Amalie's 400-strong Jewish community which produced such expatriate luminaries as Impressionist painter Camille Pisarro and whose rabbi taught him the rudiments of Hebrew.


After unsuccessfully pursuing a theological education in the US, Blyden became an agent of the American Colonization Society to Liberia, the American "Back to Africa" experiment that in 1847 became an independent nation. Devoting the rest of his life to Africa as an educator, publicist, and diplomat, he traveled widely including an 1866 trip to Jerusalem about which he wrote in From West Africa to Palestine (1873).


Blyden did not visit early Alliance Israelite Universelle projects, but nevertheless predicted that "Jews are to be restored to the land of their fathers" once "the misrule of the Turks" was overcome. He also longed for the emergence among African-Americans of "a Negro of Negroes, like Moses was a Hebrew of the Hebrews - even if brought up in Pharaoh's house."


Without any knowledge of Blyden, Herzl in his 1902 novel, Altneuland, has Zionist Professor Steineck remark: "Now, that I have lived to see the return of the Jews, I wish I could help to prepare the return of the Negroes... All men should have a homeland." This was Blyden's view until his death in 1912.


FAST FORWARD to the 1920s. Americans, white and black, are riveted by the pyrotechnic conflict between Marcus Josiah Garvey, the Jamaican-born "Black Moses" and leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and W. E. B. Du Bois, godfather of the NAACP. In 1918, when he launched his newspaper, The Negro World, Garvey cabled British foreign minister Arthur Balfour to do for Africans what the Balfour Declaration promised to do for Jews. Subsequently, his attitude soured toward American Jews, whom he unfairly blamed for his conviction and deportation in 1927 for mail fraud and for their support for Du Bois's civil rights agenda. Yet, despite praising Hitler after 1933, Garvey never abandoned "white Zionism" as the model for his own "Back to Africa" crusade.


Du Bois outgrew the patina of genteel anti-Semitism he absorbed at Harvard and German universities as he worked with Jews such as Joel and Arthur Spingarn and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise in founding the NAACP. The issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 helped crystallize Du Bois's decision to launch the Pan African Congress in 1919. In Paris that year, he declared: "The African movement must mean to us what the Zionist movement must mean to the Jews, the centralization of race effort and the recognition of a racial front."


In 1921, Du Bois commented favorably on the completion of blueprints for a Hebrew University on Mount Scopus "in the new Palestine." In 1929, he blamed "the murder of Jews in Palestine" by "ruthless and bloodthirsty evil-doers" primarily on British maladministration. His sympathy for Jewish victims of persecution worldwide made him one of a handful of intellectuals to recognize in the midst of World War II the unfolding of the Holocaust.


Polish Jewish adventurer and Zionist Jacques Faitlovich established the American Pro-Falasha Committee in 1922 and brought Emmanuel Taamrat, the first Falasha to come to the New York, to study in the US around 1931. Arnold J. Ford, leader of one among many "Black Jewish" congregations asserting a hereditary connection with the biblical Hebrews, decided after a meeting with Faitlovich to move his congregation to Addis Ababa where he showed them films about the Holy Land and preached Jewish-Arab reconciliation. Carried over from Haile Selassie's heroic resistance to Mussolini in 1936, "the Ethiopian mystique" among Christian as well as "Black Jewish" African-Americans remained overwhelmingly pro-Zionist through 1948 - with the exception of such fringe groups as Elijah Muhammad's The Nation of Islam.


Menachem Begin, who met secretly with the UN's Ralph Bunche, winner of the 1950 Nobel Prize for his mediation of an end to the first Arab-Israel war, recalled Bunche saying: "I can understand you. I am also a member of a persecuted minority."


THE SUBSEQUENT anti-Israel shift in African-American and African opinion - far from being a natural evolution of historical attitudes - was very much driven by the white leftist party line. It began as early as the 1956 Suez Campaign with Du Bois. During the Popular Front era when the Kremlin's line had been pro-Israel, Du Bois denounced Saudi Arabia's unrepentant continuation of the slave trade and criticized the Arabs for "widespread ignorance and poverty and disease and a fanatic belief in the Mohammedan religion." U-turning after the new anti-Israel party line, Du Bois in a 1956 poem, "Suez," portrayed Israelis as "the shock troops" of Anglo-American imperialists.


The 1967 Six Day War completed rather than began the transformation of Israel, in the minds of African-American radicals like Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, from an anti-colonial David battling the British Goliath to an imperialist ally of America's Philistines, intent on conquering the Egyptian frontier of African anti-colonialism. Rejecting the pro-Israel spin placed by earlier African-American preachers on Psalms 68:31 - "Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands to God" - Carmichael had already enlisted under Gamal Abdel Nasser's banner: "We are Africans wherever we are. [Israel] is moving to take over Egypt. Egypt is our motherland - it's in Africa." Israel's Trotskyist Matzpen movement subsequently encouraged American Black Panthers to go one step further by staging a hostile occupation of the Jewish state.


It took until the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Arab oil embargo for African nations to follow African-American nationalists by drastically distancing themselves from Israel.


Yet the Zionist template's hold on African and African-American thought - about which Malcolm X declared toward the end of his life: "Pan Africanism will do for the people of African descent all over the world, the same that Zionism has done for Jews all over the world" - still occasionally surfaces in black memory. It remains to be seen whether it will survive the age of Obama. The writer is an historian with a PhD from UCLA for a dissertation on the history of black-Jewish relations. He lives in San Diego.








Last year at this time, the comedian Otto Jespersen said in his weekly program on the major Norwegian commercial television station TV2: "I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background." What was even worse was that the director of TV2 did not consider this to be an anti-Semitic remark.


A week later Jespersen, in his weekly television appearance, presented a "satiric" monologue of mixed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli remarks. He concluded by wishing the Jews a happy Christmas. As an afterthought he added that this was not proper as the Jews had murdered Jesus.


Two years earlier, the same comedian had burned pages from the Old Testament on live television. Although there was criticism, the television company did not see this as a reason to terminate his employment. Jespersen also said that he would not burn the Koran, as he wanted to live longer than a week.


Finally, after complaints from Jewish groups, the Press Ethics Commission condemned TV2. The Jespersen incident, however, was just one in a series of recent events which have brought international attention to Norwegian attitudes toward Israel and the Jews.


A part of Norway's dominant elites, who falsely call themselves progressive, have expressed biased attitudes toward Israel. This involves government circles, the media, NGOs and some academic milieus which have developed a number of pioneering hate actions. Furthermore, among the large Muslim immigrant community, there are some physically violent anti-Semites whose number may well exceed that of the 700 members of the organized Jewish community.


However, not all is black. Most Norwegians have other problems than the Middle East conflict. There is also a group of very devoted friends of Israel. As an example, earlier this year 3,500 Christians, despised by the elite, from all over Norway marched in Stavanger in favor of freeing Gilad Schalit.


Former minister Michael Melchior, still chief rabbi of Norway, is a moderate person who does his best to keep up the country's image. Yet in an interview in 2002 he said that many Norwegian media had "lost every sense of proportion, of democracy and of basic moral values."


ONLY A few of the many recent incidents can be mentioned here. During Operation Cast Lead, Kristin Halvorsen, leader of the Left Socialist Party and at the time the Norwegian finance minister, was among those who participated in an anti-Israeli demonstration in Oslo. It was reported that slogans such as "Death to the Jews" were heard. Later both her party and the Norwegian ambassador in Israel would falsely write to The Jerusalem Post that it had been a dignified event. The Tundra Tabloids blog in Finland then published a picture of Halvorsen standing at the demonstration very close to a person holding a sign that said "The greatest axis of evil - USA and Israel."


Another internationally publicized incident concerned Trine Lilleng, a first secretary in the Norwegian embassy in Saudi Arabia. She sent an e-mail from her ministry account in which she juxtaposed pictures of slain children in Gaza with "photos of Holocaust victims in seemingly correlating situations." When Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was interviewed by Ma'ariv in March, he said that she was no longer in Riyadh. A few months later, Cnaan Liphshitz, an Israeli journalist, called the embassy in Saudi Arabia to verify this. He was told that she was now a consul there.


In February, Queen Sophia opened an exhibition for Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian author who had won the Nobel Prize. This Nazi admirer had dedicated his prize to Goebbels and written a positive obituary for Hitler. After the war, he was condemned as a collaborator. This year the Norwegian government spent $30 million for the Hamsun 2009 festivities celebrating the 150th year of his birth.


Norway was criticized about the absurd combination of the country's chairmanship of the ITF, the task force for international cooperation in the field of Holocaust education, memory and research, and the Hamsun 2009 festivities. The answer was that, within the framework of these events, attention would also be given to Hamsun's Nazi past.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center verified this shortly afterward and concluded: "A review of official Norwegian Web sites shows a virtual whitewashing of Hamsun's Nazi connection, while glorifying his literary career."


THERE ARE only three Jewish cemeteries in Norway. Two of them have been desecrated in the last few years, most recently the old Sofienberg cemetery in Oslo in May. That same month the TV2 station gave more than a quarter of an hour of television time to British Holocaust denier David Irving. The station covered his travel and hotel expenses. The journalist who interviewed him showed little knowledge of the subject.


NGO Monitor has published a study titled "Norwegian Government Funds Fuel Middle East Conflict." The report details how, under the false pretense of "development aid," the Norwegian government donates indirectly substantial sums to "extreme NGOs that demonize Israel."


The latest incident concerns the proposal to boycott Israeli academia brought to the board of the NTNU University in Trondheim. It was widely condemned internationally, including by 13 Nobel Prize winners, among them the only two living Norwegian recipients.


Only after the bad publicity began to damage Norway's image abroad did Tora Aasland, minister of research and higher education of the Socialist Left Party, declare that the proposed boycott was illegal. The major Norwegian newspapers Verdens Gang and Aftenposten also condemned it. The NTNU board then rejected the proposal. Now a new myth is being propagated that there had been strong opposition in Norway against the boycott from the time it was first proposed.


At a lecture in mid-November I said: "The present Norwegian government was recently elected for four years. We can thus again expect many anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents in Norway in the coming years." One did not have to wait long. The very next day Ingrid Fiskaa of the Socialist Left was appointed deputy minister of the environment. Just last year she told the communist daily Klassekampen that on certain days she hoped that the UN would send precision missiles against Israeli targets.


The writer is chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Among his books is Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews. A Norwegian version, titled Anti-Semitism in Norway, will be coming out next month.








The Likud Knesset members' show of strength in presenting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a list of opponents of the temporary settlement freeze is damaging and unnecessary.

Suddenly, long after Netanyahu laid out his position on settlements at a speech at Bar-Ilan University - where he tried his best not to offer commitments, but instead spoke in double-talk intended for both Washington and the settlers - the Likud lawmakers are refusing to accept what most of the public realized ages ago. Namely, that Israel cannot engage in sophisticated delay tactics, and that it must make at least one small goodwill gesture so the world, led by the United States, believes it is truly interested in negotiations, let alone peace.

Amid the bluster of Likud ministers Limor Livnat (who labeled the Obama administration "terrible," then later retracted her statement), Moshe Kahlon (who prodded Netanyahu to convene the Knesset faction for consultations on a decision already made, a commitment already given), Gilad Erdan, Silvan Shalom and Yuli Edelstein, Netanyahu is being depicted as a tragic hero about to embark on a fateful decision.


This is, of course, grotesque and ludicrous. In May 2003, the Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon adopted the Middle East road map, which called for a complete halt to settlement building and the dismantling of outposts. Netanyahu's order for a temporary freeze is a small step, one that may not even prove consequential in the long term, rendering the Likud chorus of resistance all the more shrill, artificial and ultimately troubling. Many vocal opponents of the freeze are the heads of regional councils who have promised their constituents to fight any "concessionary" agreement, and who have received - explicitly or implicitly - a vow from Netanyahu that he would not work against their interests.

If Netanyahu surrenders to pressure on such an inconsequential, elementary matter, he will certainly not be able to stand before the settlers if and when the real moment of truth arrives. Likud's blusterers - some of whom denigrated the Obama government as "anti-Semitic," an evictor of Jews - want to prove that the prime minister can be pressured and extorted, to show the U.S. president who is really in charge of Israel. Netanyahu must prove to himself, his government and this country's citizens that authority lies with him, not with those orchestrating calculated resistance.







If we ignore Limor Livnat, the way we ignore a cuckoo that pops out of a clock once every dozen years (the 1997 Hebron Agreement, the 2009 settlement construction freeze), there are three women in Benjamin Netanyahu's life. There's the diplomatic one, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the political one, opposition leader Tzipi Livni; and the personal one, Sara Netanyahu, nee Ben-Artzi.

Had the prime minister shifted toward Clinton and Livni eight months ago, he wouldn't be in such a dismal position today. In late March, Benjamin Netanyahu could have established a moderate government, even if it were only a rotation government with Likud, Kadima and Labor; he also could have responded immediately to the Obama administration's call for a settlement freeze and continued talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But a man like Netanyahu won't cave easily. His consent must be acquired by force, producing the image of one who has been defeated rather than one who gives generously. And after he's wasted precious time, he ends up weakening Abbas and strengthening Hamas.


This is a bogus leader who is completely lacking a worldview and administrative ability. He's just a hired mouthpiece, a deputy marketing manager. That might be good enough for a furniture factory, maybe, but not for a country.

Netanyahu's 1996 book "Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists" provides a good demonstration of his consistent ability to succeed in theory but fail when put to the test.

Those seeking a manual for Netanyahu's current actions need only read his statements then and omit one small word: "no."

A Palestinian state (which Abbas and his comrades are less than thrilled to establish, like the chick that refuses to break through its shell and go out into the cold world), a settlement freeze, the release of murderers in a swap - everything in the book is written in the negative.

Netanyahu is certainly not the first politician whose actions contradict his philosophy. But the customary explanation that the dichotomy is due to the change in perspective caused by having a wider view is incorrect; it is due to the desire to hold on to power.

When politicians are out of power, they want to get into a better position and say whatever they think will get them in. When they're already in power, they do all they can to stay there, and to hell with principles.

Netanyahu isn't fooling anybody by his pride in the tremendous accomplishment of limiting the freeze to 10 months. The freeze is forever. Who's the naif who's going to clash with U.S. President Barack Obama on October 1, 2010, as the Iran issue looms, and on the eve of midterm elections for the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate, just to put the pro-Israel lobbyists to the test?

Add to this the deal for the release of dozens of murderers in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Public opinion, which Netanyahu wants to appease, is too unstable to base any arguments on it. All that needs to happen is for Shalit to utter a single sentence upon his return that is interpreted as being understanding of his abductors' troubles, and public support for the price of his release will be replaced with helpless rage.

Even without waiting for the next attack aimed at gaining the Palestinians another bargaining chip, from now on Netanyahu will have to justify the military order requiring soldiers to keep going without stopping to treat the wounded, because the mission takes precedence over everything else.

Netanyahu appointed Hagai Hadas to coordinate the Shalit case on the coattails of Hadas' operational reputation in the Mossad and Israel Defense Forces, in the hope that he would pull a rescue operation out of his hat. But like Netanyahu, who opposed the Oslo process but continued it on the pretext that he would do it better than his Oslo-supporting predecessors, Hadas was dragged into an effort to improve the deal without eroding its logic.

This is the Col. Nicholson syndrome, as per the character in "The Bridge on the River Kwai": Opposition in principle to the construction of a bridge that would help the enemy turns into the aspiration to prove the ability to build a better bridge.

One result of this is the strange submission to the German mediator. The achievements of a mediator are judged by the signing of an agreement. A mediator has no yesterday and no tomorrow. What does he care about terror victims, or deterrence, or the ties between Hamas and Abbas? And as for the Germans, give them a mission and they'll carry it out.

Netanyahu, it turns out, is no longer so attentive to his closest adviser. The book that describes the opposition of Netanyahu of 1996 to the acts of Netanyahu of 2009, the author writes, could not have been written without the support of his wife, Sara, who helped him tremendously with her wise counsel, clarification of important matters and emphasis on the principles underlying the book.

It's clear what happened to Netanyahu and his principles, but what happened to Sara, to her counsel, clarifications and emphasis?








The choosing of a new attorney general has been marked by the selection committee's inability to reach a consensus of four out of five members regarding a "qualified, suitable and appropriate" candidate, as the cabinet decision required. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman acted appropriately when he recommended that the cabinet appoint Yehuda Weinstein, whom the search committee noted was someone who, along with three other candidates, had the support of three committee members. Neeman made it clear that his recommendation was based on an examination of the candidates' records and their legal-professional experience.

In various settings, including this newspaper, it has been argued that the best candidate for the job is someone with expertise in administrative and public law. So Weinstein, whose main professional experience has been in criminal law and who is a leading defense lawyer who has represented high-ranking public figures, must not be suitable.

This approach appears to me to be mistaken and baseless. As long as the position of attorney general is not divided into two posts, one civil and one criminal, it is a multidisciplinary position whose incumbent wears four hats: the head of the state prosecution; the state's representative in court, most importantly the High Court of Justice; the legal adviser to the cabinet and its individual ministers; and the public's representative with the authority to intervene in legal proceedings of public importance even if the parties to the case are private citizens. When Aharon Barak was asked when he was attorney general who his client really was, he replied "the whole Israeli people."

The Shamgar Commission, which in 1998 published a report on the institution of the attorney general, noted that the AG "requires expertise in penal laws." The commission also noted that "expertise in the fields of constitutional and administrative law are also required." The cabinet decision on the appointment of the attorney general in 2000 provided that the candidate should be qualified, "suitable and appropriate," in accordance with the principles outlined in the Shamgar report.

The concise language of the report should not mislead. The attorney general must first and foremost have in-depth knowledge of criminal law; only as an add-on should he have expertise in constitutional and administrative law. In today's professional world, which requires specialization and where we wouldn't find anyone with a complete mastery of both criminal and constitutional-administrative law, expertise in criminal law is preferable and essential.

The report's recommendation should be read against the backdrop that criminal law, and especially anything related to bringing high-ranking figures to justice, is a prism through which all the attorney general's work is viewed. A mistake in judgment on this subject can cost the AG the public's trust. Fresh in office, Menachem Mazuz's hasty decision not to try Ariel Sharon in connection with the Greek island affair, despite the recommendation by state prosecutor Edna Arbel, who had wide experience in this field, proved two things. First, it showed the personal involvement and authority of the attorney general in such an important decision, although he had a skilled professional as state prosecutor serving with him. Second, it showed the consequences of a lack of expertise and prior experience.

An opinion by the High Court of Justice (although the court refrained from interfering, as is customary regarding an attorney general's decision not to pursue a case due to a lack of evidence), included harsh criticism by justice Eliahu Mazza, a criminal law expert, on the way the decision was made. Mazuz's conduct in everything relating to the case against former president Moshe Katsav also proves that Mazuz's experience as attorney general is no a substitute for a familiarity with criminal law over many years of work as a prosecutor or criminal defense attorney.

The Shamgar Commission did not satisfy itself by noting the area of primary expertise required of the attorney general. It also focused on personality traits, including "the highest professional level combining insistence on personal integrity, intellectual integrity, emotional independence [and] loyalty to the fundamental values of the state."

As someone who knows Weinstein well, I can testify that it would be hard to describe someone more trustworthy. The commission wrote as if it were describing his attributes. He is known for fairness, integrity, professionalism and common sense.








In his op-ed ("The right way to run a prison", November 23) Shlomo Avineri welcomes the High Court of Justice's decision to strike down an amendment that would have allowed private companies to run prisons; the court wrote that "only a government agency has the right to restrict a citizen's freedom." Still, the government delegates authority to companies and individuals in many fields, and this in no way harms any principle because the source of authority remains a government agency. It's the one that dictates the conditions of any contract with a private company.

Local authorities and public institutions transfer services such as garbage collection and cleaning to private franchisees. The growing phenomenon in Israel and elsewhere of outsourcing government activities blunts the ideological aspect raised by Avineri. It puts the focus on every product or service: Which kind of ownership, overnment or private, is cheaper, more effective and reliable?

Even if the government has noneconomic interests such as the environment or assistance to development towns, these can be achieved both through government-owned agencies or private companies; the difference is the means employed. It's possible to require a government-owned electric company to choose "green" technology and to set pricing that will cover the costs. A private electric company can be given the incentive to choose green technology through a subsidy or tax break. The important difference between public and private ownership lies in which of them is better at reducing costs, and which supplies the product at a reasonable price with the desired quality?


Regarding quality, the question arises - can a contract ensure that wardens employed by a private company will maintain proper rules of conduct? Is it possible to maintain a proper level of services for prisoners? Does the Prison Service fulfill all these conditions? It's interesting to see what considerations guided the High Court of Justice in its ruling.

In utilities such as telecommunications, electricity and water, which are known as natural monopolies, it is essential to ensure reliable supervision that will protect consumers from a privately held monopoly. The argument in Israel about desired regulation of the capital market and infrastructure is the main thing that will determine the extent of future privatizations. In competitive industries it is often possible to rely on "market forces," but when talking about products about which consumers have limited understanding (such as the financial products that led to the recent economic crisis), supervisory intervention is required.

The French economist and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Allais proposed in the 1950s that there be one state-owned company in every industry alongside private companies to let performance be compared. In the U.S. debate about government-funded health insurance to be supplied by private companies, the Obama administration has proposed that every state have a government health company that would compete with private firms. This would help keep prices at a reasonable level.

In the past, the Israeli government owned hotels, insurance firms and many service companies, all of which were successfully privatized. The Histadrut-owned Hevrat Haovdim, which was actually the long arm of the government and which once owned a considerable part of the economy, collapsed and disappeared. There is no point in yearning for those bygone days. The writer is an economics professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.








I am a settler, the daughter of settlers. My husband (or "partner" or "other half" or whatever you call it) is also of that ilk. A settler. And with the precepts of our forefathers in mind, and our genetic makeup, we are looking for a plot of land, a home. We are searching for a new place, one that is young and where religious and secular people live side by side ("mixed"). A place whose future has not yet been set, and if possible, not in the heart of the Arab population. What can I do - I don't want to dispossess Arabs of their lands.

In short, we are looking for a hilltop.


Not in the topographic sense, of course. Sometimes a hilltop is really a valley. But a "hilltop" in the settlements is an outpost, an extension of an existing community, a recent extension that usually consists of two families and a single person with a dog in windswept prefabricated homes. It's a place where you can never find a pair of socks where you hung them, only one of the socks. Always. And one belonging to the neighbors.


Amos Oz was right in his book "In the Land of Israel" when he described the settlements as a foreign implant. Our courageous forefathers, who were pathfinders and revolutionaries, also made a number of mistakes when they set up the settlement enterprise. Of course, I'm not talking about the settlements themselves but rather their character. In the best case, the houses are covered with Jerusalem stone. In the earlier settlements, they are coated with soft spray paint and have red-tiled roofs as if we were in Switzerland with its heavy snow. Moreover, a house in the South Hebron Hills resembles one in northern Samaria. There is no connection to the land, and there is hardly any agriculture.

We came, we conquered, we settled.

The new generation now has time for luxuries. They can think about settlements that are greener, more ecological and more agricultural. They can cover the prefabricated homes with local stones and look back at the mother settlement with a bit of arrogance. To those readers who are not settlers I would like to clarify a widespread error: There is hardly any connection between hilltops and the hilltop youth. The latter largely come from Petah Tikva or Ra'anana and they are motivated by defiance against the bourgeois generation of the religious Zionists. Sometimes, out of this rebellion, they even do things that should not be done. The hilltops are a place where regular people settle, with a different agenda - simple Zionism, raising children and finding the sock that blew away in the wind.


One of these hilltops had a special attraction for us. It has a mixed population, an excellent location, is close to civilization but not too close, without any Arab villages nearby. A young community, with young people who have a dream, and all the intrigues of any small community.

"There are three vacant prefabricated homes. Choose," we were told. I turned white. "But, but," I stammered. "I have already lived in a prefabricated home. Is there no exemption? Can you understand - I'm a musician and the acoustics in a prefabricated home are simply awful, and the doctor has forbidden it, and besides," I said, pulling out the doomsday weapon, "besides, I'm spoiled."

"It's as I said," the secretary continued, smiling. "There are three prefabricated homes. Choose one. I suggest the one belonging to Foxman; it hardly leaks at all."

Great. What a headache. It turns out that it's impossible to be a real right-winger without implementing the ideology using your place of residence as well. And it turns out that, like many other young couples in Israel, we can't let ourselves live in one of the economically established settlements where there is asphalt instead of mud. It's simply too expensive. So it turns out that we are moving to a hilltop. Soon. Maybe in the summer.







Kevon Simpson was 10 months old when his mother was gunned down. His grandmother, who raised him, was determined that he transcend the low expectations of so many people in their Bronx neighborhood.


With her support, Mr. Simpson, now 18, earned his high school diploma and graduated from Job Corps, a program run by the Department of Labor. Unsure what to do next, he sought information about joining the military from a counselor at the Next Generation Center, a Bronx facility for teens run by the Children's Aid Society, one of seven agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.


The counselor, Leslie Smith, provided Mr. Simpson with the information he requested. She also presented a second option: college. Mr. Simpson decided to apply to a few schools and, in early July, learned he was accepted to Erie Community College, in Buffalo. His grandmother was thrilled, and Mr. Simpson was astonished. "I didn't think I was a college person," he said.


With Ms. Smith's help, Mr. Simpson secured a Pell grant and a Stafford loan to cover tuition and housing. Ms. Smith drew on the Neediest Cases Fund to pay for bus tickets, books, school supplies and winter clothing.


Now in his first semester, Mr. Simpson is playing football, taking a full course load and, in a criminal-justice class he is particularly excited about, developing a keen interest in law. "I'm starting to learn there are a whole lot more things you can do," he said.


Donations to The Times's Neediest Cases Fund go to seven charities: the Children's Aid Society; the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York; Catholic Charities, Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens; the Community Service Society of New York; the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; and UJA-Federation of New York.







The train wreck last summer that killed nine commuters and injured 80 in the nation's capital laid bare a deadly paradox: the safety failures at the heart of the collision occurred on a subway track devoid of the strong federal crashworthiness standards in place on Amtrak's immediately adjacent railroad line. Regional systems of light-rail and subways are not subject to the federal government's more stringent safety requirements.


The Obama administration wisely wants to end this disjunction by proposing that Congress extend federal standards to subway and light-rail lines now haphazardly regulated in more than two dozen city and regional systems. The safety rules and monitoring are shockingly toothless in too many jurisdictions, with the systems averaging less than one overworked safety worker.


The Washington accident happened on the second-busiest subway line in the nation. It is theoretically monitored by a tri-state committee that was found, however, to have no regulatory authority or enforcement workers.


Under the administration's approach, the safety of subway and light-rail lines could remain under the jurisdiction of local authorities only if they agreed to upgraded equipment and monitoring standards set by the Department of Transportation. The alternative would be direct federal regulation. Federal money already subsidizes subway and light-rail growth, and it should be cut off to systems that cling to risky standards.


The government was barred from regulating subways and light rail in 1965 when home rule was a priority. But new systems have boomed since then, along with collisions and derailments. The National Transportation Safety Board has warned about the dangers for decades.


The choice for Congress is stark: Improve safety on light rail and subways, or wait for the next train wreck.







Twenty years ago, the widely respected Feerick Commission on Government Integrity declared that "campaign finance laws in New York are a disgrace."


Politicians in New York City were embarrassed enough to create one of the best and fairest campaign financing systems in the country. Albany's lawmakers, who know no shame, shrugged and did next to nothing. The system is just as disgraceful today as it was then.


As a result, big money rules in Albany. Big business, big unions, and any wealthy individual or interest group can buy access, block reforms, and sometimes even write their own laws. The state Board of Elections, which is supposed to enforce these flimsy rules, has almost no staff and no authority. The maximum fines are a joke: $500 for not filing a campaign disclosure report.


Here are some grimy details, collected with the help of the New York Public Interest Research Group:


PAY TO PLAY — WITH FEW LIMITS Most state legislatures limit campaign contributions. Not in New York.


The average national limit for contributions in governor's races is around $7,500 per election. In New York, the limit, if you can call it that, is $55,900 per person, more than the average New Yorker's salary. The limits are high for other races as well — $15,000 per donor for a Senate race and $7,600 for an Assembly candidate. The current master at vacuuming in campaign contributions is State Senator Carl Kruger. Until recently, the Brooklyn Democrat was an Albany unknown. Early this year, he took the chair of the crucial Senate Finance Committee, where he can call any bill into his committee and, if he wants, bottle it up forever. Mr. Kruger's "Friends of Carl" fund started January with $1.7 million; by July he had added over $560,000, giving him the largest campaign chest in the Senate. Senator Kruger, who says donors recognized he is "a rising star" in the part, is now a very special friend to Albany's special interests.


PAY TO PLAY — WITH NO LIMITS Donations from individuals to political parties are limited to $94,300 per year, but there are no limits at all for contributions to something called party housekeeping, or party building.


Both parties love this loophole. The Greater New York Hospital Association, for example, gave $300,000 to the Democratic Party in the first half of this year. At a time when the Legislature and the governor have to make deep cuts in the budget, this lobbying group seems eager to buy as many influential friends as possible.


When Republicans controlled the State Senate, they pulled in big housekeeping money. Checks for $100,000 were listed as coming from favor-seekers like 1199, the service employees union, Freddie Mac and JPMorgan Chase, and people like Earle Mack, a prominent developer, and Kenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot.


By far the biggest devotee of the state housekeeping loophole is Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has given at least $4 million since 2001, most of it to the Republican Party. More recently, he gave $250,000 to the Independence Party after it agreed to put him on its ballot line for this month's mayoral election. Mr. Bloomberg won by a scant 50,000 votes, and he got at least 150,000 votes on that Independence line. That is very tidy housekeeping.


SO WHAT'S THIS MONEY FOR, ANYWAY? New York law requires politicians to use campaign funds for campaigns. But most incumbents do not have to spend a lot since, thanks to gerrymandering, service in New York's Legislature is almost a lifetime sinecure. Many of Albany's most favored end up using their donations for what everyone else would consider personal expenses: country club memberships, a pool cover, pet food and football tickets, according to reports filed with the state. That makes their gratitude to donors even more personal.


These days a lot of those campaign dollars are also being spent on lawyers. In the first six months of this year, Joseph Bruno, the former Senate majority leader who has been fighting federal corruption charges, spent $440,000 in campaign leftovers on his defense team.


WHAT, THEM WORRY? The few rules for fund-raising that do exist are barely enforced. The state Board of Elections has only 18 people on its enforcement staff, including just one full-time investigator. With that small team, and an antiquated computer system, it is supposed to review an estimated 30,000 campaign fund disclosure forms each year. It is a scofflaws' paradise. State Senator Pedro Espada Jr., a Bronx Democrat who has about 10 campaign committees, owes the state over $10,000 for late filings. Since 1995, Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, a Bronx Democrat, has failed to file campaign finance reports more than 60 times. Each time, the board slams her campaign with a fine, and each time, the campaign fails to pay. The election board's accountants figure she and her campaigns now owe almost $33,000.


WHAT TO DO? Albany's lawmakers thunder on about the importance of campaign finance reform. But it is clearly not in their self-interest to change anything — unless the voters finally demand it.


Albany should emulate New York City's public financing of campaigns, which promotes competition and lessens the corrupting influence of special interests. But given the current deep financial crisis, that is unlikely. There are other steps that can be taken right now:


Bring campaign contribution limits in line with those in most other states. That means no person or corporation could give more than a few thousand dollars to any one candidate.


Require politicians to fully and more precisely identify donors, including "bundlers" who give huge amounts by organizing groups of individual donors.


Get rid of the "housekeeping" accounts, which just give the rich even more political advantage.


No more slush funds. Politicians should spend campaign contributions only on offices, mailings, signs, ads — the real stuff of elections.


Create a workable enforcement unit at the Board of Elections and give it the authority to levy fines that bite. Refer the worst cases for prosecution.


A new ethics proposal being pushed by Senator Eric Schneiderman, a Manhattan Democrat, would establish a larger enforcement unit at the Board of Elections with more power to investigate and impose larger fines, some over $10,000 for each violation. That is a good start.


Before next year's election, voters must demand that their representatives pass a sweeping reform of New

York's corrupt campaign finance system. Until that happens, "pay to play" will be the real law in Albany.









TWENTY years ago, dictatorships across Central and Eastern Europe toppled. During this season of remembering, the focus has rightly been on celebration of the new freedoms gained by the inhabitants of those countries: to speak freely, to travel, to vote and to choose their own national futures and alliances. Yet the legacy of 1989 has difficult aspects as well, mostly centering on the origins and legitimacy of later NATO expansion to former East German and Warsaw Pact territory; acknowledgment of them by the United States could greatly improve American and Russian relations.


Moscow has long asserted that the Soviet Union allowed Germany to unify only in return for a pledge from Washington never to expand the Atlantic alliance. Former advisers to Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have transcended partisan differences in dismissing the Russian claim. An internal State Department review during the Clinton era concluded that no legally binding prohibition on NATO enlargement emerged from the era of German unification.


Since then, however, it has become possible to reconstruct what happened from first-hand evidence. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany released the papers of his office, which inspired the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to publish many of his own. A number of other leaders and institutions also opened files in advance of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall: the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library, Secretary of State James Baker, the German Foreign Ministry and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office among them.


There are many twists and turns, but the story as we now understand it is as follows: The crucial month was February 1990. It had become apparent that the cold war order in Europe had collapsed. Some kind of new order needed to be established quickly. Bonn and Washington had agreed that it should center on the rapid unification of Germany.


Both countries also wanted to head off alternative visions to NATO's continued primacy that were proposed by Mr. Gorbachev, who sought new European institutions from the Atlantic to the Urals, and by former Warsaw Pact dissidents-turned-rulers, who wanted a demilitarized Central and Eastern Europe to serve as a neutral bridge between East and West. Those plans would have diminished the leading role of the United States in Europe, whereas perpetuating the Atlantic alliance would maintain it.


The biggest obstacle was, of course, the Soviet Union. Despite economic hardship at home, the Soviets maintained 380,000 troops in East Germany and still held legal rights of occupation emanating from the unconditional German surrender in 1945. Bonn and Washington thus wanted Moscow to remove its troops and to renounce its claims, without forcing NATO troops out as part of the bargain.


What would Mr. Gorbachev demand in return? To learn the answer, Mr. Baker and Mr. Kohl journeyed to Moscow within a day of each other. On Feb. 9, 1990, Mr. Baker asked Mr. Gorbachev, "Would you prefer to see a unified Germany outside of NATO, independent and with no U.S. forces or would you prefer a unified Germany to be tied to NATO, with assurances that NATO's jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position?" Mr. Gorbachev, according to Mr. Baker, answered that "any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable." Their meeting ended without any final deals made. Mr. Baker left behind a secret letter, detailing what he had said, for Mr. Kohl in Moscow.

While Mr. Baker was in Moscow, though, members of the National Security Council back in Washington were worrying about his comment that NATO would not move eastward. To undo the damage they felt Mr. Baker had caused, they drafted a letter that President Bush sent to Mr. Kohl later that day.


The presidential letter included language that differed in a subtle but significant way from the language offered by the secretary of state. Instead of a pledge about NATO's borders, Mr. Bush suggested that East German territory be given a "special military status" within NATO. What that status would consist of was to be negotiated later, but the core assumption was clear. NATO would grow and former East German areas would have a special status within the alliance as it did so.


A foreign leader can see daylight between a president and his secretary of state from the other side of the world, and Mr. Kohl did not have to look that far. He just had to read the differing phrasings used by Mr. Bush and Mr. Baker to notice it. So whose language did Mr. Kohl echo in his own talks with Mr. Gorbachev the next day, Feb. 10 — the president's or the secretary's?


Mr. Kohl chose to echo Mr. Baker, not Mr. Bush. The chancellor assured Mr. Gorbachev, as Mr. Baker had done, that "naturally NATO could not expand its territory" into East Germany. The documents available do not record Mr. Kohl using the presidential phrase — "special military status" — that the National Security Council had rushed over to him. Mr. Kohl's foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, visiting the Kremlin as well, assured his Soviet counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, that "for us, it stands firm: NATO will not expand itself to the East."


Crucially, the Gorbachev-Kohl meeting ended with a deal, as opposed to the Gorbachev-Baker session the previous day. After listening to Mr. Kohl, Mr. Gorbachev agreed that Germany could unify internally. Mr. Kohl and his aides publicized this major concession immediately at a press conference. Then they returned home to begin merging the two Germanys under one currency and economic system.


In essentially settling for a gentleman's agreement, Mr. Gorbachev missed some important pitfalls and then failed to do anything about them. First, Mr. Kohl spoke for West Germany, not for the United States or for NATO as a whole. Second, the Soviet leader got nothing about the trans-Atlantic alliance in writing. Third, Mr. Gorbachev did not criticize Mr. Kohl publicly when he and Mr. Bush later agreed to offer only a special military status to the former East Germany instead of a pledge that NATO wouldn't expand. Finally, he did not catch subtle signals that, by early 1990, speculative discussion in the West about NATO's future involved the inclusion of Eastern Europe as well. Mr. Gorbachev later complained to Mr. Kohl that he felt he had fallen into a trap.


Did the United States betray Russia at the dawn of the post-cold war era? The short answer is no. Nothing legally binding emerged from the negotiations over German unification. In fact, in September 1990, an embattled Mr. Gorbachev signed the accords that allowed NATO to extend itself over the former East Germany in exchange for financial assistance from Bonn to Moscow. A longer answer, however, shows that there were mixed messages and diplomatic ambiguities.


By acknowledging that there might be some substance to Russian grievances, the Obama administration would strengthen our relations with Moscow. Given that NATO enlargement has already taken place (and efforts for further expansion are stalled), little would be lost with such an acknowledgment but much could be gained. Certainly, Western attempts to manage everything from Iran's nuclear program to European energy supplies during the coming winter would be a great deal easier with Russia's cooperation. A commemoration of the events of 20 years ago that included both celebration and candor would increase the likelihood of such cooperation.


Mary Elise Sarotte, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California and a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, is the author of "1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe."








If you're looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.


You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There's a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.


This is wrong and unacceptable.


Yes, the recession is probably over in a technical sense, but that doesn't mean that full employment is just around the corner. Historically, financial crises have typically been followed not just by severe recessions but by anemic recoveries; it's usually years before unemployment declines to anything like normal levels. And all indications are that the aftermath of the latest financial crisis is following the usual script. The Federal Reserve, for example, expects unemployment, currently 10.2 percent, to stay above 8 percent — a number that would have been considered disastrous not long ago — until sometime in 2012.


And the damage from sustained high unemployment will last much longer. The long-term unemployed can lose their skills, and even when the economy recovers they tend to have difficulty finding a job, because they're regarded as poor risks by potential employers. Meanwhile, students who graduate into a poor labor market start their careers at a huge disadvantage — and pay a price in lower earnings for their whole working lives. Failure to act on unemployment isn't just cruel, it's short-sighted.


So it's time for an emergency jobs program.


How is a jobs program different from a second stimulus? It's a matter of priorities. The 2009 Obama stimulus bill was focused on restoring economic growth. It was, in effect, based on the belief that if you build G.D.P., the jobs will come. That strategy might have worked if the stimulus had been big enough — but it wasn't. And as a matter of political reality, it's hard to see how the administration could pass a second stimulus big enough to make up for the original shortfall.


So our best hope now is for a somewhat cheaper program that generates more jobs for the buck. Such a program should shy away from measures, like general tax cuts, that at best lead only indirectly to job creation, with many possible disconnects along the way. Instead, it should consist of measures that more or less directly save or add jobs.


One such measure would be another round of aid to beleaguered state and local governments, which have seen their tax receipts plunge and which, unlike the federal government, can't borrow to cover a temporary shortfall. More aid would help avoid both a drastic worsening of public services (especially education) and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs.


Meanwhile, the federal government could provide jobs by ... providing jobs. It's time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment. There would be accusations that the government was creating make-work jobs, but the W.P.A. left many solid achievements in its wake. And the key point is that direct public employment can create a lot of jobs at relatively low cost. In a proposal to be released today, the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, argues that spending $40 billion a year for three years on public-service employment would create a million jobs, which sounds about right.


Finally, we can offer businesses direct incentives for employment. It's probably too late for a job-conserving program, like the highly successful subsidy Germany offered to employers who maintained their work forces. But employers could be encouraged to add workers as the economy expands. The Economic Policy Institute proposes a tax credit for employers who increase their payrolls, which is certainly worth trying.


All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run. But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency.


Later this week, President Obama will hold a "jobs summit." Most of the people I talk to are cynical about the event, and expect the administration to offer no more than symbolic gestures. But it doesn't have to be that way. Yes, we can create more jobs — and yes, we should.







Come Friday that is December 4, not only the Nepali citizens but the whole world will be witness to a spectacular display of concern over the global warming that has led to climate change, through a Cabinet level meeting at Gorakshep, Sagarmatha Base Camp at 5,164 metres (17, 000 vertical feet). The name of Mount Sagarmatha (Everest) needs no introduction, and the government has found the right vehicle to show that the climate change is taking a heavy toll on the environment, with reports flowing in of the formation of new glaciers as some peaks are losing the snow cover. But, there is one point to note whether it is a temporary phenomenon or an event that will see further erosion of the mantle of snow that the Himalayan peaks are so renowned for. However, the scientific basis have to be established, through extensive studies, to identify that the global warming has something to do with the changing landscape of which the Himalayan region can be the barometer. As for the cabinet meeting at the Everest Base Camp, it will certainly attract media glare that would be enough to set the agenda for Nepal for the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen from Dec 7-18. The ministerial meet presided by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal will, as decided, be for a symbolic 20 minutes. Yet, it will be able to convey that the country is not sitting idly when it comes to think about and act to stem the tide of climate change.


The open concern for climate change is a sea change from the past when a mere lip service was evident at the official level. The UN meet on climate change to be held next month has definitely spurred the government to meditate on it as the country's reflection will be presented at the venue by the prime minister. Nepal, as a member of the LDC group, has to be especially worried with the gloomy picture being painted as the impact of climate change. Basically an agricultural country, the country has already seen the impacts of changing patterns of the climate in reduced agro-output, drought, floods and the like. Even without the sophisticated equipment at disposal for scientific studies, a layperson will be able to dwell on woes resulting due to the climactic shifts in recent years. Herein, it would be worthwhile to mention that a developing country like Nepal contributes only a fraction of the greenhouse gases as compared to the industrialized world. Yet, even a small country has a stake in reversing the global warming trend. It becomes a moral responsibility, not only for the LDCs, but also for the industrialized world to heed the warning of what the present climate changes hint at.

Lowering greenhouse gases in the environment to 350 parts per million could be a valuable step forward in safeguarding the green future of the planet. The Cabinet level gathering at Gorakshep ought to be a wake-up call to all around the world highlighting the fact that climate change resulting from, among others, the increased carbon footprints will prove fatal not only for the mankind but also for all the living creatures and plant life in the planet. And, it has to be a united action, through a fair demonstration of solidarity.






Traffic snarls are common these days and certain roads are particularly vulnerable to road accidents. There are simply not enough roads to accommodate the high number of vehicles. To provide respite to the capital's denizens, five flyovers are being constructed in a bid to make the roads less congested and safer. The flyovers which would be two- laned would be built at Balaju, Narayan Gopal Chowk, Kalanki, Chabahil and Koteshwor. These junctions are particularly susceptible to traffic jams and many mishaps repeatedly take place here. This time the construction activities are being taken seriously and feasibility studies are to be carried out as well as the survey.

It is hoped that the building of the flyovers will take place as envisaged that is on a war footing. The flyovers would help ameliorate the quality of the life in the capital city and also contribute in a major way in checking emissions and pollution. The flyovers would facilitate both the vehicle drivers and pedestrians. The flyovers are ambitious projects being taken by the government, and their completion would stand it in good stead in the eyes of the public.








On November 30, the trade and economic ministers of the 153 WTO member countries will assemble in Geneva to keep the stalled Doha Round of trade talks back on track. The ambitious round of multilateral trade talks, aimed at issues ranging from reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) in goods and services to trade facilitations and to more open markets for environmental goods and services, began in Doha in 2001. After eight years of strenuous negotiations, it is now moving towards the closing stages. And it is inevitable that the round is concluded to overcome the worst economic and financial crisis of modern times.

The insecurity created by the current financial crisis has adversely affected the flow of international trade and investment, with the threat of mass unemployment in industrialized economies. Already the international trade has been disturbed by some sort of trade barriers and trade remedy measures, such as anti-dumping actions, taken by some countries to protect their domestic production. That somehow manifested the "beggar-thy-neighbour" protectionism of the Great Depression of the Thirties, exacerbating the current world trade and financial crisis.

The World Bank, in its Global Economic Prospects report estimated that a successful Doha Round could generate US $ 291 billion in global economic gains; developing countries and rich countries reaping the benefits of US $ 159 billion and US $ 132 billion respectively by 2015.

Consequently, it is expected that the number of poor will substantially decline and that "the number of persons living on US $ 1-per-day or less will decline by 61 million-or 8% of the forecast of 734 million." Thus, what is at stake for Nepal out of the successful conclusion of the Doha Round? Or, what really matters to Nepal about this round of trade talks, which is supposed to be the development round?

Rather than a deal for slashing tariffs and subsidies, Nepal's priority would apparently be the WTO commitment for duty-free, quota-free market access for all LDC products as stipulated in the Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting. This is supposed to obligate rich countries for granting the preferential treatment to all LDC products without discriminating among the LDCs. Moreover, this will be a binding commitment for preferential market access to all LDCs under the multilateral trading system. It is presumed that without this deal the Doha Round of negotiation will be of little worth for Nepal and other poor countries. However, the commitment to the duty-free, quota-free market access is not without loopholes. The privilege covers only 97 per cent of LDC products and provides a safety margin of 3 per cent to rich countries to list any LDC product as sensitive to their imports at their discretion. That means there is a possibility of excluding products of export interest to poor countries from the 97 per cent provision, limiting the beneficial impacts of trade preferences on their exports.

While the proposed WTO preferential scheme for LDCs is not without limitations, the margins of preference to LDCs have been eroding due to the gradually reducing tariffs, taking place unilaterally or multilaterally, on the other. The potential erosion of the preference margin is likely to be even more intense with a massive reduction of tariffs under the NAMA (non-agricultural market access) of the Doha Round negotiation. Since the WTO negotiations are done in a package, the successful Doha Round will embrace both the duty-free, quota-free market access provision and an understanding on NAMA, together with other agendas.

To address these setbacks in this round of trade negotiation, a high-level government and the private sector dialogue should have been initiated with utmost priority. That was actually a prerequisite to help redress the issues through long-term strategies to diversify economic bases, enhance competitiveness, increase productive capacity, as well as develop new export opportunities for Nepal. The private sector should have been active to identify and analyse the issues in order to set priorities and select strategic options. With the consultation of the private sector, the government should determine a set of possible packages that could emerge as an outcome to the Doha Round negotiation, not only for Nepal, but for the LDCs as a group. But unfortunately, the government undermined a dialogue with the private sector, except for reiterating a hope for the duty-free, quota-free market access without evaluating a real gain from the scheme.

It reveals Nepal's ill preparation for the Doha Round negotiation, despite the government having a donor funded trade project within the Ministry of Commerce to deal with such kind of trade issues. So it is doubtful that Nepal will have a share in the World Bank anticipated economic gain of US $ 159 billion for developing countries out of the successful conclusion of the Doha Development Round.

Shakya is Lecturer of Economics, TU






Pregnancy experiences for many women are lifetime memories. One never forgets them. Each of the smallest twinges, the first time the baby movef and kicked, the first time one felt a craving for something, each small experience is like a memory cell that always haunt women, for the rest of the life.

Motherly yearnings are a natural and integral part of every woman's psyche. This is why she experiences a deep, new sense of fulfillment when she conceives a child, a feeling that grows at every stage of the pregnancy.

When she gives birth, this sense of completeness reaches its peak. This is the source of her inner strength that helps her to undergo the extremely painful process. Once the child is born, she simply overflows with love and tenderness; she becomes completely wrapped up in nurturing and cherishing the new baby.

These changes in a woman's being (psyche) during pregnancy and childbirth are surely part of the grand plan of nature. This is evident, not just in the human race, but throughout the entire animal kingdom too.

Motherhood is a deep and intense part of a woman's life with the birth of a child, a new mother is born too. Earlier she was a wife or daughter-in-law, now suddenly she is a mother. A first-time mother pours her heart and soul into her newborn.

This is what gives her utmost satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. This is the way nature has meant it to be. Nurturing her baby becomes her primary pre-occupation, her world. This is nature's special arrangement in woman's psyche. Just as a woman enjoys and pleasures of motherhood, a man too can drive much joy from becoming a father.

In fact, at this time, a couple has the opportunity to experience a new kind of intimacy, a closeness and bonding. This is a great opportunity indeed, which should not be wasted. It can provide the basis for an emotionally solid and sustainable martial relationship.

Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one says Gloria Steinham. No matter, how difficult things were during pregnancy. The baby, a wonder living miracle, makes mother forget all the pain she has undergone.







CAMBRIDGE: US President Barack Obama's first trip to China was like a splendid stage play. The performance was long rehearsed in both Washington and Beijing, because both governments needed at least the appearance of a successful visit. China's ruling Communist Party needed Obama's unequivocal endorsement of China's increasingly important international role in order to buttress its domestic legitimacy. The US needed China's cooperation to demonstrate the effectiveness of Obama's new strategy of collaborative global leadership.

Now that the play is over and the applause has died down, it is time to check the balance sheet and see how much Obama achieved and how much he conceded.

On the positive side of the ledger, Obama received ceremonial treatment not normally accorded to visiting foreign leaders, even other visiting US presidents, demonstrating the importance China's government attached to the visit. China's President Hu Jintao sent his likely successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, to greet Obama at Beijing Airport, going well beyond the usual protocol. And Hu himself dined with Obama twice during his two-day stay in Beijing - a gesture never made to any visiting foreign leader, including Obama's predecessor, George W Bush.

Obama also initially appeared to make some progress in giving voice to the universal values of human rights and democracy. He met with students in Shanghai in his favourite "town-hall" format, which allowed for face-to-face discussions with young Chinese. Moreover, China's government allowed Nanfang Zhoumo, the country's most liberal newspaper, to conduct a 12-minute exclusive interview with Obama.

But the Chinese public soon discounted the value of these political set pieces. People quickly discovered that the "students" allowed to ask questions at Obama's town-hall meeting in Shanghai were young Communist party activists. Moreover, unlike with other US presidents, the event was not broadcast nationwide, and Nanfang Zhoumo's full interview with Obama did not appear in the newspaper, despite the Communist Party propaganda departments' advance approval of all the interview questions.

And the negative side of the ledger? Obama gave up two things that have usually been at the top of the agenda when US presidents meet with Chinese leaders.

First, Obama did not openly criticise the Chinese government's notorious human rights record, nor did he use his influence to persuade China to release any prisoner of conscience, as his US predecessors always did when visiting the country. While Obama toasted President Hu, Liu Xiaobo, a famous Chinese dissident, remained shut away in an unknown location, having vanished last December because of his leading role in drafting a written appeal for constitutional rights. Soon after Obama left China, two other writers, Huang Qi and Tan Tiandun, were sentenced to prison. Their crime was to investigate cases of corruption by local government officials that were linked to the deaths of tens of thousands of students in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008.

Second, Obama did not seriously seek to resolve existing US-China economic disagreements, particularly over trade. With China running a seemingly perpetual external surplus, foreign-currency reserves have continued to mount even during the global economic crisis, with net growth reaching $140 billion in the third quarter of this year. China's main trade partners are deeply worried about the consequences of this continuing imbalance. They urge China's government to reduce its export subsidies and to allow the yuan to appreciate, expecting such measures to reduce their trade deficits, help their economies recover, and create more jobs. On this front, however, China's leaders made no compromise with Obama.

So, on balance, Obama's first trip to China achieved relatively little. Moreover, what he did achieve looks superficial, while what he gave up seems substantial. Of course, this is partly because of the changes in the relative economic and political power of the US and China over the past decade, and especially during the current global economic crisis. However, the sizable deficit on the balance sheet of Obama's China trip could have been much lower if Obama had paid more attention to substance. It seems that Hu Jintao is more skillful than the polished Obama at maximising his gains at little cost.