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Sunday, January 10, 2010

EDITORIAL 04.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 04, edition 000394, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























































Nobody can control nature and, certainly, Indian Railways cannot be blamed for the fog that enveloped north India early on the morning of January 2. Yet, were the three separate train accidents that involved five trains and killed 10 people entirely caused by foggy conditions? The case of the Gorakhdam Express, which collided with the stationary Prayagraj Express at a small station near Kanpur, is particularly instructive. The Prayagraj Express, a major train that connects Allahabad with the national capital, had come to a stop due to visibility reaching zero levels. The Gorakhdam Express driver was not informed of this — it is inconceivable that he would have wilfully ignored such a message — and crashed right into the last compartment of the Prayagraj Express. Despite the Indian Railways' much vaunted communication network — it made so much of its excess capacities that in a previous incarnation as Railway Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee had mooted a proposal to spin off a separate telecom division as an independent commercial entity — and notwithstanding the supposed focus on passenger safety, it is quite clear that much remains to be done. The previous Railway Minister, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, resorted to financial jugglery by cutting costs in vital areas of safety provision and infrastructure upkeep. This severely compromised passenger safety. Ms Banerjee has spoken of reversing this trend. Yet, with her focus on West Bengal, which goes to polls in the summer of 2011, and in generating sops for Bengali voters she obviously does not have the mental space or the resources to undertake a serious overhaul of existing railway systems and make these accident proof. A fog is not an unknown occurrence. London's train services have lived with fog for decades. Even so, trains don't routinely run into each other and simple warnings are transmitted in real time and with absolute accuracy. This is not rocket science and neither does it cost so much that a developing country cannot afford it. So why isn't it done in India?

To be fair, it would not do to blame the incumbent Railway Minister alone. She has inherited a legacy that has emphasised announcing new trains and increasing the length of journey and number of stops for existing trains but paid insufficient attention to making the network foolproof. Indeed, railway bridges have in some cases not been seriously repaired since the British days. Communication between stations and from trains to stations is, in the case of not so privileged trains, potentially the subject of a quaint nostalgia film in a western country. The fog of January 2 only highlights the intensity of the situation. Anywhere else it would be a crisis; in India it is a routine, everyday affair, just another winter headline. It could be argued that Indian Railways has suffered much bigger accidents earlier, resulting in greater casualties. That would be missing the point.

Next month, Ms Banerjee will present the Railway Budget. She should use the freak accidents of this past week as inspiration for a comprehensive and time-bound programme to revamp safety provisions and guarantee the lives of passengers using the Indian Railways. It will not be possible to accomplish this in a year or even two years. Let the Minister draw up a road map, however, and set aside a realistic outlay for this project. If it requires a moratorium on introducing new trains, so be it.






Post-26/11, the Mumbai Police has been on what is popularly known in the advertising world as a repositioning campaign. After Ajmal Amir Kasab and his gun-totting fidayeen colleagues crippled the city and exposed how ill-prepared the local security apparatus was, an image makeover was only imminent. Notwithstanding the sacrifices of the brave men of the Mumbai Police who laid down their lives fighting the terrorists that fateful November a little over a year ago, the force itself was found wanting on several fronts. To make matters worse, the investigation into the 26/11 attacks has raised several questions about the efficacy of the command structure of the police force as well as the professional conduct of some of its top officers. The circumstances surrounding former ATS chief Hemant Karkare's death too have continued to haunt the Mumbai Police; the mystery of Karkare's missing bullet-proof jacket remains unsolved. In all this the force has been trying to put up a brave face. But lady luck it seems is hardly smiling. A video has surfaced which allegedly shows an IPS officer and four other personnel of the Mumbai Police partying with underworld don Chota Rajan's henchmen at a Christmas-eve bash. Supposedly among the policemen shaking a leg with the mafia are DCP VN Salve and ACP Prakash Wani. Although the two have vehemently denied the charges, Mumbai Police Commissioner D Sivanandan has recommended the suspension of the policemen till an official probe into the matter is conducted.

The incident no doubt casts yet another shadow on the Mumbai Police. If the video is found to be genuine, it would be evidence of an unholy nexus between the Mumbai Police and the underworld — something that many would affirm to. Irrespective of whether or not the footage in question turns out to be incriminating, there is no denying the fact that the police in this country is way too pliant. This is the main reason why those with influence and power can afford to have brazen disregard for the law of the land. Corruption within the police is a cancer that is constantly eating away at the innards of our criminal justice system. And unless this disease is countered effectively, time and again we will find our security compromised and the rich and the powerful using our men in khakis as an instrument to subvert the system. On the terror front, it is no secret that the mafia does business with terror organisations, whether it is providing the latter with guns or other services such as money laundering. That members of a police force recently affected by terrorism have been accused of hobnobbing with the very men they are suppose to hunt down is truly ominous. The guilty, if at all there are any, need to given exemplary punishment.



            THE PIONEER



The Ruchika Girhotra molestation case has gathered momentum with the media having created yet another miracle akin to the Jessica Lall, Nitish Katara, and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases. I have little doubt that former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore will get the punishment he deserves. But I wonder what will happen to the hundreds others in the police, the CBI, the judiciary and in the political establishment who shielded Rathore from the law. Ruchika committed suicide because she could not bear the harassment that her family was being put through by Rathore and his 'friends'. Her brother was tortured and fake cases filed against him. All those complicit are still part of the system. But will the UPA Government, in addition to reforming the system, punish all these people?

The public response in this case is explosive and everyone seems to identify with Ruchika's family. The public anger against the system over this case is palpable. Harassment, extortion and corruption have reached absurd levels in our country. I think we are going to see some remarkable changes due to this case as no Government, judiciary or bureaucracy can afford to fight the force of public opinion in a democracy. There must be hundreds and thousands of similar cases pending and some of these are bound to surface.

We now have a case of a DIG in Rajasthan who had allegedly raped a woman 13 years ago and is presently absconding. He is bound to be traced by the media in no time and again we will see a chain of events which will expose an insensitive system. Political parties can continue to score debating points over each. But it is for those in power today to use this opportunity to reform the system.

It is that time of the year again when awards are distributed. For me the award of the decade must go to the media, both electronic and print, for the rapid strides it has made, leading to greater public awareness. The days of a 'loyal' media are history. One can see the effects in everyday life. We are repulsed and angry whenever the media focuses on wrongdoings within the system and marvel at the spirit and courage of a few dedicated people who dare to stand up to the high and mighty.

But the system will fight back as strong vested interests exist. The test of the Government at the Centre and in Haryana will be to pursue the Ruchika case and punish all those who have contributed to the sufferings of the Girhotra family. We have reasons to be positive in our thinking as the Union Law Ministry is in the process of taking action against Rathore and Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has promised to bring to justice all those who are guilty.

The continuing suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan drive home the reality of terror on a daily basis. The attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger aircraft on Christmas Day was yet another reminder that loopholes in US security systems persist. A Nigerian man carrying explosive chemicals tried to bomb the aircraft. It is a miracle that a major disaster was averted. The airline industry is particularly suspectible to terrorist attacks. After 9/11, the Bush Administration had taken significant steps to strengthen security in this particular sector. But as the Nigerian bomber's case shows, no system is foolproof. There has to be constant evaluation and upgradation of security systems.

The Christmas Day incident also raises disturbing questions about the Americans' ability to tackle such incidents in an effective manner. We have also seen the shocking episode of a couple circumventing security protocols at the White House state dinner at was held for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Such cases are definitely worrisome.

Back home, I would give credit to the UPA Government, particularly the Union Home Ministry, for its efforts to strengthen the security network post-26/11. Having some knowledge of the subject I know that we will always be looking for the solitary needle in many a haystack!

I am amazed at the junior Minister in the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Shashi Tharoor, for publicly making his reservations known about the new visa rules.

This is yet another incident where the junior Minister, who craves media attention, has been fond wanting. This is truly very unfortunate. He has been cautioned before for his "cattle class" remark. Yet he seems to have learnt little. We have serious flaws in our visa system and so does every other country like the US and the UK in view of the methods adopted by terrorists. We have to develop deterrents on an urgent basis. The eventual decisions on security issues are to be determined by the Cabinet Committee on Security and the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs. Membership to these committees is restricted to senior Cabinet Ministers alone. Mr Tharoor should know his place in the scheme of things.







The Prime Minister's Working Group's report, which has recommended 'autonomy' for Jammu & Kashmir, has exposed the National Conference's motive of self-aggrandisement and the UPA's poor sense of judgment, as this misadventure may prove inimical to the unity of India.

Former Justice S Saghir Ahmad, head of the Working Group, recommended that the Centre could consider a National Conference proposal on autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir, as it had before 1953. Also, this means that the Governor will now be called Sadar-i-Riyasat and the Chief Minister will become the Prime Minister of the State. Against this background, it would be safe to conclude that the Centre's presence in the State will almost be nil. Also, it's beyond comprehension why the former justice submitted his report to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who wants to ensure early implementation of the recommendations, while keeping the Prime Minister out of the loop. Further, despite the Group's virtual disappearance as none of its members met even once in the last two years, the timing of this report evokes suspicion. This indicates that the report is influenced by the National Conference as the issue of 'autonomy' is its own baby.

It is unfortunate that the Working Group was formed without taking into confidence the parties that represented the interests of the people of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and ethnic minorities like Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs and Christians. The common man is now at a loss to understand why and on what grounds the recommendation to grant autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir has been made. The city of Jammu observed a one-day bandh against this recommendations. The blame for the entire mess goes to none other than the Congress leaders who are taking decisions in haste while keeping in view their own interests in mind.

Since people's voices have largely been overlooked, it indicates that the panel has only rubber-stamped the resolution of National Conference which was passed in the State Assembly almost a decade ago, but was subsequently rejected by the then BJP Government at the Centre.

There is no denying the fact that Kashmir enjoys enormous autonomy and many privileges that no other State in the country is entitled to. So considering the question of more autonomy may weaken the country at a time when demands for separate States across the country are many.








When Mr Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, then US President George HW Bush, had visited the CIA headquarters and addressed its officers. In his speech welcoming the President, Mr Gates described the CIA officers as risk-takers and not risk-seekers. This quote from his welcome address is inscribed at the entrance to the CIA building to inspire and motivate future entrants to the CIA.

The Soviet, Russian and West European intelligence agencies too have the reputation of being risk-takers. A risk-taking external intelligence agency posts its officers for intelligence collection in remote areas and danger spots and the officers willingly go to such places. Risk-avoiding agencies keep their officers confined to the safe precincts of diplomatic and consular missions, where the risks faced are minimal.

The best professionals of the CIA are posted in areas of conflict and not in areas of comfort. There is never a shortage of volunteers to serve in areas of conflict. They are generally attached to US military units deployed in such areas and use the protection provided by such units to do their intelligence collection and special operations work. The CIA keeps rotating them frequently so that its officers are not required to serve in dangerous areas for a long time. The officers, who volunteer for such posts, also have the confidence that their agency will look after their families during their absence from the US and will not keep them in dangerous areas for too long.

The BBC has published a collation of CIA officers who were known to have been killed since 1965 in the performance of their duty. A total of 35 were killed — two in Washington, DC, and the remaining 33 abroad. The two in Washington, DC, were killed outside the CIA headquarters in January 1993, by a disgruntled Pakistani Mir Aimal Kansi. He had allegedly worked for the CIA against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s and had some grievances relating to his rehabilitation after the Soviet withdrawal. He went to the entrance of the CIA headquarters and indiscriminately opened fire as the staff were coming to work in the morning and then managed to escape to Pakistan. He was arrested by the Pakistani authorities and extradited to the US. He was sentenced to death by a US court. The sentence was carried out in the US and the body returned to his relatives for burial. He was given a heroes' burial in his home village by the local Pakistanis.

Of the 33 CIA personnel who were killed abroad while performing their duty since 1965, two were the staff of a contractor working for the CIA in Afghanistan and the remaining 31 were regular members of the staff of the Agency. Since 1965, the CIA has suffered the largest number of fatalities in Afghanistan — a total of 11, nine of them regular members of its staff and the remaining two employees of a CIA contractor. The two deaths in Washington, DC, were also Afghanistan-related. Thus, the CIA's role in Afghanistan has resulted in the deaths 13 of the 35 officers killed since 1965.

Next to Afghanistan, duties in the Lebanon resulted in the death of nine officers in the 1980s, including that of the then station chief of the CIA in Beirut. The war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in the deaths of seven officers. The remaining six officers were killed in a plane crash in Africa while allegedly helping the anti-communist insurgents in Angola. Surprisingly, there are no known fatalities incurred by the CIA in Iraq since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The absence of CIA fatalities in Iraq and the large number of fatalities incurred by the CIA in Afghanistan could be attributed to the following reasons:

(a) The CIA personnel posted in Iraq totally depend on the US forces for their physical security while performing their duties. They do not depend on Iraqi personnel. In Afghanistan, they depend largely on American personnel, but there is also a limited involvement of Afghan personnel in protecting them.

(b) In Iraq, the intelligence agencies of the US Defence Department play a more active role in intelligence collection and special operations. The casualties incurred in Iraq are essentially those of the agencies of the Pentagon. In Afghanistan, CIA officers play a very active role in intelligence collection and in facilitating the unmanned Drone strikes in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

(c) Individual anti-US officers of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which has had a long history of co-operation with the CIA, know how to identify CIA officers working clandestinely under cover. They expose their identity to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.


The latest incident in the Khost area of Afghanistan involving the death of seven CIA officers at the hands of an Afghan suicide bomber would be a major loss to the CIA at a critical time in the 'war' against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The CIA officers succeeding them would have to start literally from the scratch in building up a new network of contacts. The contacts of the officers, who have been killed, would now be under a question mark due to suspicion regarding the role of any of them in facilitating the suicide bombing.

-- The writer is a former top official of R&AW. His book, Mumbai 26/11, has just been published.







A friend of mine was upset saying that I was too tough on US President Barack Obama. I would say he has done three good things lately: His Nobel speech, which sounded like it was given by a US President; his remarks on the demonstrations in Iran (better six months late than never), and his tough verbal stance about investigating the mistakes that led to the near disaster (though I doubt they will lead to dramatic change and function more as a show to reassure the public that something will be done). I also pointed out that the US Administration's relationship with Israel was pretty good overall.

Yet on the single most important West Asia issue, Iran's nuclear programme and its aggressive ambitions, hints about his policy are getting worrisome. The year has now ended without any major public move toward imposing serious sanctions. True, there are a few statements made that indicate a turn in that direction. Yet what should have happened was a major public speech by December 31 about the Administration's sanction plans. After all, it set that date as a deadline for action and yet there has not even been a public verbal declaration.

Moreover, there are some bad signs. One of them, the likely sending of Senator John Kerry to Tehran, is a terrible idea. It signals US desperation to make a deal to the Tehran regime, sends someone who is highly unqualified and unimpressive, and picks an envoy with too big an incentive to get some agreement at any price.

Of even more concern is the strategy revealed by officials in interviews with the Washington Post which reports that the sanctions are focussed "against discrete elements of the Iranian Government, including those involved in the deadly crackdown on Iranian protesters…." In other words, they will put on sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its front companies.

This seems a too-clever-by-half strategy of using sanctions in a narrow public relations' campaign. The argument is: "to carefully target sanctions to avoid alienating the Iranian public — while keeping the door ajar to a resolution of the struggle over Iran's nuclear programme. The aim of any sanctions is to force the Tehran Government to the negotiating table, rather than to punish it for either its apparent push to develop a nuclear weapon or its treatment of its people."

This seems great in theory but terrible in practice. First, it shows the regime that the US won't go too far because it doesn't want to anger the regime. Second, it encourages Iran's rulers to manipulate American eagerness for talks in order to stall for time. Third, it makes clear that there won't be a serious effort to undermine the country's economy. So why should Iranians pressure the regime to change course due to sanctions, especially since Administration officials are aware that many in the opposition support the nuclear weapons' drive?

But there's more.


People generally don't understand the purpose of sanctions. Of course, the ideal is to force the target to change its policies. But just because sanctions don't succeed in doing that doesn't mean they failed. In addition, assuming the other side will refuse to alter course, sanctions seek to weaken the target so that it might be more easily defeated or fall in future. Another purpose is to deny the enemy resources, making it less able to carry out its programmes. Still another is to show one's own allies a high degree of resolution in containing and countering a threat, thus encouraging their own defiance of it.

Finally, sanctions do seek to isolate and discredit the target, denying it allies and the help of others. In the first sense, sanctions against South Africa or the USSR failed. Yet in other ways they succeeded and helped bring about the regime's downfall.

The Administration is ignoring all these functions to focus merely on one — which will inevitably fail — of getting the Tehran regime to make a deal. But we know they won't back down, which is precisely why the regime should be weakened and made to face a tougher challenge to succeed in getting nuclear weapons at a relatively low cost.

"We have never been attracted to the idea of trying to get the whole world to cordon off their economy," a senior US official told the Washington Post, adding, "We have to be deft at this, because it matters how the Iranian people interpret their isolation — whether they fault the regime or are fooled into thinking we are to blame."

Can the US really determine what the Iranian people are going to think by such methods? If they support or believe the regime they will hate America no matter what it does. If they oppose the regime, they will blame it for Iran's troubles and want a tougher policy against it, though they still might be anti-American despite these calibration efforts. In fact, Washington would be showing Iranians the power of the regime, its ability to defy the US which is either afraid or unable to fight back effectively. This could make more Iranians support the Government.

Equally disconcerting is that the US Government continues to believe that much of the regime wants a deal in which it will give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, it's just too divided and busy dealing with internal conflict to make a decision.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East







Decades don't usually have the courtesy to begin and end on the right year. The social and cultural revolution that Western countries think of when they talk of the 'Sixties' only got underway in 1962-63, and didn't end until the West Asia war and oil embargo of 1973-74. But this one has been quite neat: The 'Noughties' began with the Islamist terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, and they ended with a global financial meltdown in the past year.

The 'Noughties' is just a recent journalistic invention to make it easier to write end-of-the-decade articles like this. The term was launched several times in the last 10 years, but it never took off. Just as well, really, because it sounds a bit frivolous — whereas this was actually a decade when the tectonic plates moved into a new pattern.

Never mind the terrorism. About half a billion people died during the past decade, and fewer than 50,000 of them were victims of terrorism — say, one in every 10 thousand deaths. At least 40,000 of those 50,000 victims of terrorism lived in India, Pakistan or Iraq, and fewer than 4,000 lived in the West. You can hardly make that a defining quality of the decade.

The terrorist threat to the West was minor, but the West's hugely disproportionate and ill-considered response was a key factor in the great shift that defines the decade. The 'war on terror,' the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and all the rest, did not deter a Muslim Nigerian student from trying to blow up an airliner over Detroit on December 29. It motivated him to do so. But it also accelerated the rise of Asia and the relative decline of the West.

That shift was happening anyway. When China and India, with 40 per cent of the world's population between them, are growing economically three to four times as fast as the major Western countries, it's only a matter of time until they catch up with the older industrial economies.

Back in 2003, however, the researchers at Goldman Sachs predicted that the Chinese economy would surpass that of the US by the mid-2040s. By the middle of this year, they were predicting that it would happen in the mid-2020s — and this year, for the first time, China built more cars than the US. That acceleration is in large part a consequence of the huge diversion of Western attention and resources that was caused by the 'war on terror.'

Prestige is a quality that cannot be measured or quantified, but a reputation for competence in the use of power is a great asset in international affairs. After the centuries-old European empires wasted their wealth and the lives of tens of millions of their citizens in two 'world wars' in only 30 years, their empires just melted away. Nobody was in awe of them any more, and they lacked the resources to hold onto their overseas possessions by force.

Something similar has happened over the past decade to the US. Unwinnable wars fought for the wrong reasons always hurt a great power's reputation, and wars fought amidst needless tax cuts, burgeoning deficits and financial anarchy are even more damaging if the country's power depends heavily on a global financial empire.

The US spent the past decade cutting its own throat financially, ending with the near-death experience of the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. The Europeans made all the same mistakes, only more timidly, and the Japanese sat the decade out on the sidelines, mired in a seemingly endless recession. The old order is passing, the dollar is on its way out as the only global currency, and the real power is shifting to mainland Asia.


Or is it? There are two trends that could slow or even stop this shift. They seemed quite distant at the start of the decade, but now they look very big and frightening. One is peak oil; the other is global warming.

In Europe, North America and Japan, energy consumption is growing slowly or not at all, and it is relatively cheap and easy to reduce dependence on imported oil. Just the fuel efficiency standards already mandated by the Obama Administration could reduce American oil imports by half by 2020. Whereas Chinese and Indian dependence on imported oil is soaring. So is their use of coal.

That's unfortunate, because for purely geographical reasons these countries are far more vulnerable to high temperatures than the older industrial nations. At even two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) higher average global temperature, they face floods, droughts and storms on a massive scale, probably accompanied by a steep fall in food production. That sort of thing could abort even the Chinese and Indian economic miracles.

So we're back in the old world where the future is uncertain. Of course. What else did you expect? We can only observe the trends, and try to remember that they are always contingent. But at the moment, it looks like the decade when the West finally lost its domination over the world's economy.

The writer is a London-based independent journalist.






It comes as no surprise whatsoever that Facebook is now being cited in divorce cases. After all, it's only the conclusion of something most people realised a long time ago: That there is no more misleading euphemism than 'social network'. Everything that makes an actual, human relationship good, Facebook seeks to destroy. It is nothing more than a gigantic catalogue of people you never quite slept with. Some friends, the occasional sibling, but mostly a huge, interactive menu of sexual roads less travelled.

It knows this. Why else would it constantly urge you to 'reconnect with her', or 'send her a message'? The emotional wrench of other people's ongoing lives is irresistible: Nothing is more crushing than seeing a chance from your past become 'married', nothing more hopeful than the revelation that she 'is no longer in a relationship'.

As if this wasn't enough, then there are the photos. So many photos of all these lost opportunities. No longer are they incandescent flashes in your memory, snippets of school or university, but there, their parties and holidays fully documented in colour photos, Or videos. Or worst of all the dread hue: Sepia. Even if you didn't fancy someone before, you certainly do after clicking through 300 photos of them in their fanciest frocks or bikinis. The devil makes work for idle hands, and few hands are as idle as those whiling away their careers on the internet. Imagine if, in the pre-internet age, you spent two hours at your desk surreptitiously phoning up girls you went to school with to check how they were. Your partner would quite rightly be suspicious of your deeply sinister mind. Yet on the internet, inexplicably, this is fine.

I claim no innocence. I arrived at university just as not having a Facebook profile became socially leprous. For a few years I was a happy user, logging-in to ascertain whether drunkenly half-met women from the night before were worth pursuing, and then pursuing them, or more often beating a hasty, self-loathing retreat. No doubt they were doing the same thing — I suspect I am a net producer of Facebook missives.

As I enter the adult world, however, I find its beguiling mixture of the intimate and the public is starting to grate. At heart, after all, it's no different from a dating website. People reveal themselves selectively according to what they think will show them in the best light, as anyone who's heard the plaintive cry of 'Detag!' echoing across the campus will know. Whereas dating sites are honest, however, Facebook lies. It uses the fact that real people are involved to imply you are seeing the whole of someone. As couples are discovering, it's dangerous. Real relationships demand the whole of a person, a Facebook profile merely their glossy veneer.







WITH the submission of its report to the President, the Thirteenth Finance Commission, led by Vijay Kelkar, has essentially discharged its responsibility of coming up with a formula for sharing the resources raised through taxes between the Centre and the states. This time around it has also addressed two new tasks – it has come up with an assessment of the new Goods and Services Tax GST) regime and has come up with a plan for sharing the resources. It has also looked at another key issue, which has become critical in the wake of the global financial crisis and the consequent stresses put on state and central finances. It has also suggested some steps which could be taken for maintaining stability in the fiscal environment.


The ball is now in the government's court to ensure that the finance panel's recommendations are discussed and implemented speedily. The Cabinet, which now has to discuss the panel's findings and recommend its adoption to the Parliament, cannot afford to mull over it for too long.


The report itself has been delayed by more than three months, and the finance minister will be hard pressed to reflect its recommendations in the forthcoming Budget, although he has promised to do so.


However, the implications of the report are far wider and more sweeping in their scope and impact than a mere budgetary exercise. Key to any discussion on centrestate financial relations will be the proposed new GST regime. The new GST regime, together with the new Direct Taxes Code, which is proposed to replace the Income Tax Act, will be the most comprehensive and sweeping reworking of taxes attempted by any government after independence.


While the new direct tax code has already been widely welcomed, the GST is quite another matter in an environment of fiscal federalism. Many differences have already emerged between the centre and the states on the issue. The finance commission has recommended a single ' flawless' GST rate of 12 per cent, with the Centre levying 5 per cent and the states, 7 per cent. But the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers, whose agreement is essential for the new GST to get the requisite nods at the state level, has picked a two- rate model, with a plethora of exemptions, and even a special rate for precious metals. Given this scenario, the April deadline for rolling out GST appears unlikely.








THE Indian healthcare system is certainly not the best in the world, but to subject trained doctors at a leading government hospital in New Delhi to surveillance via spy cameras is an abomination.


Ostensibly, this is being done to keep an eye on doctors and other staff at the Lok Nayak Jai Prakash hospital in the Capital.


Indiscipline among the staff is not a problem solely faced by LNJP administrators — it is a universal issue. Last checked, the rest of the world did not buy Rs 1600 worth spy cameras with 16 GB data storage space to clandestinely record staff members and then confront them with the charge of being lazy.


Besides being a questionable management tool, a spycam is more likely to alienate valuable medical staff, many of whom may actually be dedicated to their profession.


As any management student in her first week at business school learns, disincentivising highly skilled staff by putting restrictions on them or making them feel like outsiders will actually bring about a huge dip in productivity, morale and indeed the quality of results. A leading government hospital that caters to hundreds of thousands of patients around the year can ill- afford to have such a situation.


It is no secret also that doctors at government hospitals are overworked and underpaid.


In such a scenario, what if a senior member of the medical staff is genuinely tired and is seen resting for a while? For instance, a paramedic with a spy camera could walk in and record a doctor " lazing away" while he or she is resting or sleeping only to recharge for the next shift.


If doctors need motivation and an upgrade in service quality, then administrators must use incentivising tactics to bring about change. Using spy cameras is an idiotic idea, at the very least.







AS the Union government consults political parties from across Andhra Pradesh on the 5th of January 2010, it will search for common ground on the issue of Telangana.


Whether or not a decision is arrived at quickly, the process of the creation of the new state seems to be on the horizon. The challenge will be two fold. First, in ensuring this comes about in a peaceful and law governed manner. More seriously, it will raise a larger question that needs to be faced squarely.


How many states should India have? How you answer this hinges on how you define the criteria for statehood. It also rests on how far the creation of new states reinforces rather than weakens the broader unity of India. No Indian state can actually be divided unless its own elected State Assembly passes a resolution calling for a re-division.


This is not a constitutional requirement. Unlike in the USA, the powers of the Union are extensive and far-reaching. But it has become a standard political convention since 2000.


This is convention though, it is not a constitutional imperative. It also makes eminent political sense that those who favour a breakaway have to win over consent of the state as a whole. It eases the way for settling or at least discussing disputes over water or power that often follow close on the heels of separation.


But it is essential that 21st century India rethinks core issues of the polity drawing from the last few decades, though in a critical manner.




Nehru had a deep aversion to the linguistic principle once the country attained independence. On the 15th of December 1952 he was readying to present an outline of the First Five Year Plan when the death of the fasting Potti Sriramulu led to an outbreak of protest across the Telugu speaking region. The veteran Gandhian achieved his aim. After his death a Telugu speaking state became a certainty.


The creation of the unified Andhra Pradesh in 1956 was disputed from the start. Telangana had been a separate state from the time of accession in 1948 till the creation of the unified Telugu speaking state. For three years, the two states, Telangana and AP coexisted with Kurnool as capital of the latter. The Commission appointed by the Union government was deeply sceptical that a unified state would work, especially so for Telangana.


In hindsight it is evident that the discontent in Telangana was to strike deep roots. In 1972, a pro Telangana outfit led by Dr Chenna Reddy did well in the State Assembly polls ( despite an Indira wave) but chose to merge with her party rather than fight for the cause. Even earlier in 1969, a major wave of protests led to a political accord to respect sub regional sentiment within a unified state.


But 2010 is vastly different. It is less a case of what K Chandrasekhar Rao's motives were, or what the Union Home Minister did or did not say. By early December 2009, no significant body of opinion in the region was publicly and openly supportive of a united Andhra Pradesh.


It was a measure of this shift in opinion that underpinned the acceptance of the idea of Telangana by virtually all political parties between two successive elections in 2004 and 2009. The strong anti- Telangana protests since December 9th have strong economic support, especially so from the industrial and real estate interests that mostly hail from the coastal districts.


But as the Congress is now aware, the current of opinion on the ground is strong enough for a dozen Members of Parliament to be ready to give up their seats unless the demand is conceded. Like their constituents they took at face value the Congress president's campaign speeches.


After all, even the regional parties like the Telugu Desam and the Praja Rajyam had endorsed the idea in their manifestos last summer. The idea of a Telangana was discussed ad nauseum over the last six years without any major public outcry or protest.


Far reaching change in a democracy always raises the spectre of chaos. It is instructive to recall that Selig S Harrison in his India, The Most Dangerous Decades published five decades ago was sceptical that linguistic states would help hold this country together.


Of course, the idea that administrative territorial units ought not be on cultural lines won strong support of the government in the early post 1947 period. But the longer legacy of language based territorial organisation of the Congress from the Twenties was too strong to be pushed under the carpet.




But the idea of language- based statehood has worked reasonably well since the Fifties. It has of course been a phenomenon with a dark underbelly. Exclusivism based on language often lurks just below the surface.


In states like Maharashtra or Gujarat social reform minded champions of language based states lost out to conservatives in the long run.


No one should doubt that Gujarati or Marathi asmita in their more fearsome forms trace their roots back to the language based identity politics.


What unified the many can now rather quickly become basis for excluding a few. Prabodhankar Thackeray, a key figure in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement was the father of the Shiv Sena founder, Balasaheb Thackeray.




Having opened the Pandora's box it is time to learn how to live with what comes out of it. The linguistic principle itself was only applied in a staggered fashion. It was Indira Gandhi who finally carried it through in the case of composite Punjab, setting aside Nehru's instinctive distrust of a Punjabi ( read Sikh) majority state on the borders.


Even here, the plains and hill areas that spoke Hindi were hived off into separate states, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Few will today dispute that one is a showcase in social and human development while the latter is an economic powerhouse.


Yet, it had to wait for Vajpayee to rethink the internal borders in Hindi speaking India. Here, Jharkhand that had a vibrant and active social movement in the 1970s actually bore fruit; embers of the old fire survived.


Uttarakhand saw an upsurge of regional patriotism in the early 1990s but was simmering but stable when it actually got created. Yet the three new Hindi belt states gave fresh hope to sub regional demands elsewhere.

But the redrawing of the map in peninsular India now as in the Fifties will have implications for the country as a whole. Which aspirations can be accommodated via autonomy short of statehood, and which ones need go further is too vital an issue to be decided by the street. A fresh States Reorganisation Commission is the need of the hour. Its mandate must be wide ranging and it ought to elicit opinions from all quarters in a transparent manner.


But as with Nehru and the creation of Andhra, Telangana cannot be put off any longer. The larger debate has to follow and not precede its creation.


How the Centre manages this will be a test of its decisiveness as much as of its vision.


The writer teaches history in Delhi University








THE job of governor has always been seen as a sinecure. Over- the- hill politicians who needed to be " accommodated" were dispatched to Raj Bhavans across the country where at best, they were content being mere rubber stamps, at worst, agents for the ruling party at the Centre. Long before Narain Dutt Tiwari came along, most of us knew that the salubrious environments of the gubernatorial estates can make even workaholics lazy. Of course it was Tiwari who showed us how really laid- back the job was. When large parts of Andhra Pradesh burnt over Telangana, Tiwari was busy quelling the fire within his 86 year old frame.


Tiwari is the rule, but there are exceptions.


Years ago, there was Garry Saxena, the former RAW chief who had two stints as governor of the troubled Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s.


His role in reviving the government machinery when insurgency was at its peak in the state can't be minimised. It is perhaps no coincidence that the most proactive governor now is another retired IPS officer, ESL Narasimhan, the former IB chief and governor of Chattisgarh. Last week, I had written about Narasimhan creating a history of sorts when he asked the Centre to restrain home minister P. Chidambaram from visiting the Naxal- hit districts of Chhattisgarh.


After Tiwari quit the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan in shame, Narasimhan was concurrently assigned the Hyderabad job and in less than a week, the results are there for all to see. Last week, the Centre summoned him to Delhi for consultations. This has raised eyebrows since, when a state government is in office, it is the chief minister that New Delhi interacts with. The call to Narasimhan is a sure sign that the Centre thinks he has started well. Repulsive as their efforts were, the TV channel that did a sting operation on Tiwari's alleged romp may have done the people of Andhra Pradesh a favour by forcing him to quit.


There is no better replacement than Narasimhan who has got the confidence of 10 Janpath and shares a good rapport with the national security advisor M. K. Narayanan. Narasimhan got down to work right away, and spent New Year's Eve not in Raipur but in Hyderabad. In less than a week that he has been in charge, the stand- in governor has initiated a series of measures that have raised confidence levels in the ruling establishment.


On his first day at work, he met with a cross section of the political leaders in Hyderabad. Shortly after he met the TRS's Chandrasekhar Rao, Narasimhan spoke to Narayanan, the Prime Minister's secretary TKA Nair and home secretary G. K. Pillai. The feed- ESL Narasimhan back from him was in line with the initiatives that the Centre had in mind for the state. As far as creation of the new Telangana state was concerned, his advice was that " nothing need be done in a hurry". Another document marked " Top Secret" dispatched to New Delhi last Wednesday had detailed minutes of his interactions with leaders of 14 political parties in the state ranging from the Congress, the TDP, the Left and the BJP besides details of his meetings with chief minister K Rosiah and members of his cabinet. He made independent assessments of the likely impact that the impending bandh called by opposition parties would have on various parts of the state.


The Joint Director of IB posted in Hyderabad was asked to send twice daily reports on the law and order situation, especially the safety and security of the many central government installations spread across the state. His impeccable credentials as an officer give him the right to pick up his mobile phone and talk directly to the Home Minister and senior officials in the PMO as well as summon senior Central and state officials for discussions.


The lure of a long stint in the Raj Bhavan is too irresistible for politicians whose best days are behind them. Andhra Pradesh has shown that a governor's job is not a time- pass occupation. In the few days he has been in charge, Narasimhan has already made a difference. There is a moral in this. If a pesky retired politician has to be accommodated, give him a PSU chairmanship or some such thing.


The company will already have been milked so dry, there will be nothing left to be lost.



MORE on governors. With Gopal Gandhi packing up at the end of his tenure and leaving the Kolkata Raj Bhavan without even waiting for the formal appointment of his successor and N. D. Tiwari's term in Hyderabad brought to a premature climax by a spy cam presumably hidden in a masseuse's bosom, the Centre is fast- tracking the process of selection of worthies for various Raj Bhavans. ML Fotedar, the Family loyalist was approached, but he has reportedly declined the offer.


I assume he likes active politics more than being caged in a Raj Bhawan. The AICC general secretary Mohsina Kidwai, 66, who retires from Rajya Sabha in July, is a frontrunner to succeed Gandhi in Kolkata while the 65- year old Ronen Sen, India's ambassador in United States until last year, is tipped to become Rajasthan governor. Sen is a former IFS officer who was considered among the most powerful bureaucrats in the PMO during the Rajiv Gandhi era though he was just a joint secretary then. He has also been ambassador to Russia and Germany and our high commissioner in London.


Other names being considered include Arjun Singh. The 79 year old is still smarting from his exclusion from the UPA II cabinet and has two more years left of his term in the Rajya Sabha. His mischief potential as a rebel is enormous and a move to the Chennai Raj Bhavan will be reward for not realising his potential. Santosh Mohan Deb whose dream run of eight consecutive Lok Sabha victories was brought to an end last May is the likely replacement for S. F. Rodrigues whose tenure as Punjab governor has come to an end. And then there is Shivraj Patil.


He was the Union home minister who fiddled when Bangalore, Jaipur, Hyderabad and so many other places burned and hundreds died.


He was finally shown the door after 26/ 11 but I gather that the gates



THIS is a government that waxes eloquent about austerity and cutting flab but its actions suggest it is doing exactly the opposite. With 83 members, the Manmohan Singh council of ministers is the largest ever. One out of seven Lok Sabha MPs is a minister and so is every third MP occupying the treasury benches in the Lower House.


Worse, there are more people outside the ministerial council and bureaucracy who enjoy the status of a cabinet minister, minister of state, or at the very least, a secretary rank posting. Now plans are afoot to add to the already bloated establishment. I understand that six posts which are currently at the rank of additional or special secretary are to be upgraded to secretary's rank.


On Thursday night, the government presented a perfect New Year's eve gift to R. Gopalan and Bhupinder Prashad, who were special secretaries. Till now, Ashok Chawla, secretary finance held additional charge of secretary financial services and Gopalan was a special secretary in the department, but he has now been elevated as secretary.


Bhupinder Prashad, who served as the special secretary, department of justice in the ministry of law & justice has similarly been elevated as secretary, department of justice, a post which until now was being looked after by home secretary G. K. Pillai.


Prashad thus becomes the first secretary in the department of justice. More job creations are on the way and I understand that among those who are waiting in anticipation of enjoying the pay and perks of secretary are the director general of foreign trade, the secretary of the Central Vigilance Commission and the secretary of the Central Information Commission.


In the early 1980s, there were around 80 officers and others who held Secretary rank posts. Today, there are over 200. The government's energies should have been spent creating jobs at the lower levels. Instead it is doing it at the top of the pyramid. If the government pursues its job creation spree, the austerity drive and flab cutting will be nothing less than a cruel and expensive joke.








Six months have passed since the presidential elections in Iran, and they have been as turbulent as the polls themselves. The standoff between the government and those opposing the contentious re-election of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has shown no signs of winding down. There may have been an interregnum in which the government seemed to have quelled the broad-based protests called the green movement, but the past month has shown this to be just an illusion. The protests may yet fizzle out, but as matters stand, Iran teeters on the brink; far-reaching changes in its power structures are a real, if still distant, possibility.

What invests the protest movement with particular significance is that it goes beyond issues of constitutional legality and vote-counting. By all accounts, the movement sees the ayatollahs - the ultimate temporal and spiritual arbiters in Iran's hierarchy - as the primary antagonists, not the president they are propping up. Slogans calling for the death of supreme leader Ali Khamenei can be heard at public protests, unthinkable just a year ago. It is no coincidence that the protesters have chosen green as their colour. It is closely linked to Islam; its choice can be seen as an attempt to appropriate the moral authority associated with the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Fissures within Iran's religious establishment have helped the protesters' cause. In July, a number of clerical leaders defied Khamenei over the elections. More importantly, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri - one of the driving figures of the 1979 revolution - publicly denounced Ahmadinejad's re-election in the same month. His death and funeral in December proved to be the catalyst for the latest round of protests. Montazeri's support and the symbolism of people such as Neda Agha-Soltan - a young woman killed in protests following the elections - have lent the movement a certain legitimacy that has sustained it so far.

There is no certainty how matters will proceed from here. The fact that the protesters have no central figurehead - Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's main rival and one of the green movement's leading figures has admitted he is not truly in control - could turn out to be to its advantage if it robs the government of an easy target for clamping down. Equally, it could be a hindrance if it prevents the movement from functioning effectively. For now, the only given - one that US president Barack Obama seems to have recognised - is that much like another colour revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the country's future will be decided by its people, not by outside intervention.








Fifteen years ago, Boutros-Ghali, then my boss, said that the main challenge for the international system was to work out a counterbalance to US power that could replace the collapsed Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, idealists hoped for the emergence of the UN as the countervailing force and European optimists saw the EU playing this role. For nearly two decades no solution was in sight.

We now know the answer. China has taken on the role of the counterweight to the US behemoth at the other end of the global see-saw. That is what happened at Copenhagen where China made its debut as a superpower.

Measured in terms of carbon emissions there are two 20 per cent players, the US and China, which used their strength knowing that no international agreement can work without their participation. The EU, a 10 per cent player, which suffers from an excess of leaders, could not influence the outcome despite the vigour of its advocacy. Two important 5 per cent players, Japan and Russia, did not play any significant role because neither of the two big players needed their support. One 5 per cent player, India, and a couple of 2 per cent players, Brazil and South Africa, were there at the endgame because one end of the see-saw still needed their weight on its side.

This structure of power, with a rough 40:40:20 split between the two big powers, a dozen or so mid-sized powers and a legion of smaller nearly insignificant players, holds not just for the negotiations on climate change but also in trade and finance. In these areas too the decisive factor is the interplay of US and Chinese interests.

The new global diarchy has taken some time to be recognised because of the delusions of power in Brussels, Moscow, Delhi and Tokyo. We in India see ourselves as China's equal. But Beijing's view of the China-India hyphen is rather similar to our view of the India-Pakistan hyphen: something artificial concocted by a superpower for its own purposes.

China's emergence as a power player in global negotiations was delayed by the erosion of its diplomatic capacity brought about by the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. One could see that Chinese diplomats and civil servants educated and trained during this period lacked not just the language skills but also the confidence to handle the subtle needs of multilateral diplomacy. They tended to leave the talking to more loquacious countries like India. This is changing. A new generation of well-trained Chinese officials, confident in the reality of their power, is taking charge and leading from the front.

But the China you will see in global forums is not a monolith. There are factions with differing views within the power structure in China and they are all represented in the official delegation so that the front-end negotiators are always under watch. This appeared to be the case in Copenhagen also where Wen Jiabao had to watch over his shoulder for the hardliners who did not want any constraint on Chinese growth.

The new oligarchy of power does not bode well for the multilateral system. During the Cold War the UN was a marginal influence on most security issues and a peripheral one on economic matters. The Bretton Woods bodies worked to greater effect because one side of the diarchic confrontation was kept out and an oligarchic board of directors ran the show. The past 20 years saw the UN exercising greater influence with expanded peace-keeping operations and a string of global conferences that redefined the development and environment agenda and catalysed the formation of many activist issue advocacy networks.

All this may change. Copenhagen may mark the end of the democratic moment in global diplomacy. Oligarchic formations like the self-appointed G-20 will be the space for securing a consensus among the more powerful countries on environment, trade, technology and finance. Copenhagen also exposed the limitations of universalism and bilateral agreements and small group pacts may become more important than multilateral treaties.

India will have a place at the high tables of global diplomacy. But to exercise influence it will have to engage with the other 5 per cent and 2 per cent powers to foster a 21st century model of non-alignment that will play a role similar to the earlier version.

The stability of the new bipolar system will depend on the US's willingness to live with the reality of Chinese economic clout, the extent to which the two accommodate the claims to power of Europe, Russia, India and some of the other 5 per cent and 2 per cent players and the way this global oligarchy secures democratic legitimacy for its agenda. The emergence of a militant nationalism in China may be the biggest threat to this new bipolar order.

The new power balance is not forever. Sooner or later the game will begin all over again when one of the two dominant powers succumbs to imperial overstretch. Any bets on who that will be?

The writer is a member of the prime minister's council on climate change.







Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha and PUCL talks to Jyoti Punwani about Chhattisgarh, where the Centre has announced the start of its offensive against the Maoists:

What news of the offensive?

When Operation Green Hunt began in September, notice under Section 95 of the CrPC (which includes sedition) was served on newspapers for publishing the Maoists' press releases, which said that the only persons to have been killed by the security forces were ordinary Adivasis. Over 100 journalists demonstrated in Jagdalpur saying that in a conflict situation, we can't print only police handouts. Journalists have been arrested under the State's Special Security Act. For us, this new offensive is only an intensification of the drive going on since 2005, to clear villages to facilitate a corporate land grab, in the name of fighting insurgency.

Do all parties support this operation?

The CPI's Manish Kunjam has held massive Adivasi maha-sabhas against the indiscriminate efforts by companies to acquire land. But these have barely created a ripple in the administration. The Congress is divided - while Mahendra Karma is the founder of Salwa Judum, Ajit Jogi has questioned it. When Congress MLA Kawasi Lakhma objected to the Singaram fake encounter in which 19 innocents were killed, the district collector recommended that his security be withdrawn. A BJP MLA alleged that most of the 79 so-called surrendered Naxalites paraded by the police in 2007 were innocent peasants. Some were even BJP cadres! But only a few were released. This refusal by the administration to listen to dissent leaves the Adivasis helpless. It makes it appear as if everyone is against them and on the side of the companies. In fact, it is evident that the state is in the stranglehold of the corporates. People objecting at environmental clearance hearings are lathi-charged. Public hearings are held inside police barricades. When gram sabhas refuse to give land, there's compulsory land acquisition at gunpoint.

What's the space for non-mainstream political groups?

Everyone who works with the Adivasis or opposes the corporates is harassed - freedom fighter Ram Kumar Agarwal, Gandhian Himanshu Kumar, environmentalist Jayant Bohidar, Dr Binayak Sen. Every form of dissent is being criminalised. Laws are supposed to define what is a crime. Waging war against the state is a crime. But anyone who protests against the administration is labelled a Naxal supporter. This is McCarthyism.

Don't you want development?

The Bhilai Steel Plant also took away land and water, but it created 96,000 permanent jobs. Chhattisgarh's middle class is a creation of the public sector. Today's mining companies give neither compensation nor permanent jobs. Last year, the state's sponge iron plants were at a standstill because they had to buy iron ore at Rs 5,800 a tonne. But Japan gets it at Rs 400 from Bailadila mines. This is imperialism, not development. We must be grateful to the Adivasis for saving our resources from this loot.








Is Tiger out of the woods yet? New mistresses keep popping out of the woodwork all the while, the number now being a little over a dozen. But that's at the time of writing; between now and when this appears in print, that figure may well have gone up further.

Elin Nordegren is said to be seeking advice from Victoria Beckham on how to survive a husband's philandering. Common sense tells us that multiple infidelities are better than one single, long-lasting one. The former suggests a strong libido coupled with an absence of a moral code, a condition that can be treated, whereas the latter would be proof of a strong emotional involvement for which there is no cure. It's not much of a choice when a concupiscent spouse seems the better option, but that's the hand Elin's been dealt, and that's the hand she has to play with.

She could, of course, choose to walk out. That's probably the best option for all concerned and, most important of all, it's the best option for golf. In all the talk about Tiger Wood's womanising, no one has looked at the possibility that perhaps this character flaw is an essential part of the man, that his priapism is in some way responsible for making him one of the two greatest golfers of all time.

Don't laugh. Look at history and you will find that some of the greatest men that have walked this earth would not qualify as role models of good behaviour. Take one of the greatest Indians of all time, the man we call Mahatma. The extensive literature about him, and his own obsessive writings about himself, make it clear that Gandhi wouldn't be most people's first choice as either a husband or a father. The world of arts and music is full of men and women who will be revered for generations for their talent. But these men and women are revered only for their work; the less we know about their private lives, the better.

Who would want to be Richard Wagner's best friend? He'd stab you in the back and steal your wife. You would also have to live with his virulent anti-Semitism. Which women, given his record, would want to marry Picasso?

The world of sports too is full of people who could be nicer, much nicer. Garfield Sobers is widely acknowledged as the greatest cricketing all-rounder of all time, but you wouldn't want your son to ape his off-field behaviour. John McEnroe and Serena Williams raised the game of tennis quite a few notches, but no one has given them a medal for sporting conduct. The list is long and each sphere of human activity will throw up an example of a great achiever who makes us want to, well, throw up.

Yet what would we have? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, unselfish husband and doting father, or the Mahatma? Wagner, good friend and liberal thinker, or the musician who composed the Ring cycle? Picasso, the devoted husband, or the painter who changed the face of art? Pandit Ravi Shankar, exemplary husband or the sitar maestro who broke several musical barriers? Sobers, all-rounder extraordinary, or the man who was in bed at nine?

In an ideal world every sportsman would be a Sachin Tendulkar (or Roger Federer or Steffi Graf). And every great man would walk the straight and narrow path. But it isn't an ideal world, and most of our idols have feet of clay. Perhaps they need it, they who seem to walk so far above us; they need that bit of clay to be part of this Earth. If Tiger Woods gives up the game he has elevated so much, he will make one woman and two children happy, but millions distraught. Which choice should prevail? For me there seems to be no question: history demands that the greatest good of many must take precedence over the joy and comfort of the few.

The writer is a public affairs commentator.







PG Wodehouse writes of a young man in a country house unable to sleep because of gigantic snores coming from the next room. Seething with fury, he grabs a cake of soap, intending to ram it down the throat of the snorer, but recoils in horror when he realises that the person sleeping there is the girl he loves. The thought that the woman he loves can snore so hideously makes his love teeter on the brink of extinction. It is restored when he realises that it is not his adored object that snores, but rather her bulldog sleeping in the same room. The story is illustrative of the strong emotions that snoring induces in its audience; Anthony Burgess said that when you laugh the world laughs with you but when you snore you sleep alone. Spouses have tried to counter these respiratory excesses by clamping the nostrils or pricking the offender with sharp needles. When even ear-plugs fail, divorce is sought, citing auditory assault. In the Wild West, a cowboy woken by the uproar coming from the room above emptied his gun through the ceiling. The first shot woke the sleeper, the second one killed him.

The quality of snores occupies a wide spectrum - the gurgling of water escaping down a flush, the growls accompanying feeding time at the zoo, the teeth-rattling 110-decibel screech of a supersonic jet on full afterburner. Both the Roosevelts and Churchill snored massively, but Teddy Roosevelt's was described as deafening. A Swedish study of 7,000 women in Uppsala found that every 13th woman snores loud enough to keep her bedmate awake. Fat women, thin women when drunk and women who smoke, all snore. Nor is royalty exempt; Queen Victoria, a five foot-lady with a 46-inch waist would fall asleep anywhere anytime and snore awfully. To prevent the citizenry from hearing the royal snore, maids were employed to keep her from falling asleep during the day. There have been happy stories too, such as that of the wife who slept in peace while her husband roared in his sleep, because she was stone deaf. Composer Johannes Brahms outdid the whole orchestra with his snoring, but an insomniac musician put his wife's snoring to music and made money playing it in public - he found her snoring sounded like Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries! Windows rattled and hair stood on end while he shivered and commended his soul to god.







Whenever fellow disciples spoke to me - as they sometimes did - of trying to "understand" our Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, I could only marvel at the scale and depth of such an endeavour. It struck me as being rather like trying to understand the universe! The task that infinity places squarely on the shoulders of every human being is just this: "Understand thyself - know thyself."

Yogananda was, to each of us, like a flawless mirror. What came back to us from him was not his opinions of us, but our own higher Self's reaction to any lower attitude we projected. His was a perfect self-transcendence. In another person's company he actually, in a sense,became that person. I don't mean that he assumed our weaknesses, our pettiness, or moods of anger or despondency. What he showed us, rather, was the silent watcher at the centre of our own selves.

He tried to pay individual attention when he was training people. It was not that healtered his basic teachings to suit our personal needs. Rather, it was his emphasis that varied. To some he stressed attitudes of service; to others, deep inwardness. To one he emphasised the need for greater joy; to another, for less levity. What he said to one person he might never say to anyone else. In a very real sense he was, to each of us, our very own personal, divine friend.

His concern, always, was for our spiritual needs. Sometimes he would actually take us away from an important assignment - one, perhaps, for which no one else could be found - simply to meet a spiritual need of our own. Sometimes, too, he placed people in positions for which they weren't qualified. This he did with a view to prompting them, in their struggle to meet his expectations, to develop the needed spiritual qualities. At other times he gave us work we disliked - not particularly because we would be good for that work, but because the work would be good forus. Perhaps we needed to learn some spiritual quality - for example, to overcome a natural unwillingness.

Yogananda's help was available to anyone who called to him mentally in meditation. Here he was the guide, ever subtly inspiring us, according to the measure of our receptivity, to make the right kind of spiritual effort. Sometimes, too, when we met him during the day, he would admonish us on some point concerning our meditations. Indeed, he watched over us in all ways. Despite so many disciples to look after, he could be so perfectly aware of the needs of each one. "I go through your souls every day," he told us. "If i see something in you that needs correcting, i tell you about it. Otherwise, i say nothing."


The key to our relationship with our guru was friendship in God. We had to give our utmost to strengthen this friendship so that we could rise to higher levels, closer to divinity.

If a disciple flattered him, Master would gaze at him quietly as if to say, "I will not desecrate the love i bear you by accepting this level of communication." Always he held out to us the highest ideal to which each of us might aspire. Such perfect love imposes the most demanding of all disciplines, for ultimately it asks nothing less of the disciple than the total gift to God of himself.

Swami Kriyananda will deliver a discourse this evening as tribute to Paramhansa Yogananda on his birth anniversary: IHC, 7 - 9 p.m. All are welcome. Contact Ananda Sangha: 9899014209 or (0124) 405-9550.







Building visa barriers is the last refuge of an incompetent security official. The Indian bureaucracy has announced confusing changes to the visa regime that questionably add to the country's security but definitely subtract from the country's economic future. The visa restrictions, though there is much overlap, have come in two forms. One is broadly economic and aimed at ending a common practice of issuing tourist or business visas to foreigners who were coming to India to work. The other is security-related and requires that foreigners who visit India on multiple entry visas in effect take periodic two-month breaks outside the country. This restriction has been repeatedly amended, making what was merely absurd now both confusing and absurd.

The first issue has arisen because of a mismatch between a booming Indian economy and an obsolete work permit system. Indian embassies began issuing tourist and business visas to foreigners invited to work in India because they found it impossible to get such permits issued by the dead hand of the home ministry. This reflects a pre-1991 belief that no foreigner, especially from the West, would work in India unless for some ulterior motive. This is no longer true. India is short of highly-skilled manpower in scores of niche areas. Besides Chinese, tens of thousands of Westerners work in India today. And their numbers will grow. The solution is to streamline the work permit system and — more difficult — moderate the paranoia of the home ministry.

The second issue is security-related and more complex. Visas have never inhibited terrorists from entering a country. But they are an intrinsic part of any domestic monitoring system of foreign visitors. However, no credible explanation of why forcing a visitor to twiddle his thumbs for two months outside the country will help such monitoring. An exhaustive study by Israel, the world's most security-conscious nation, recently concluded visas are no deterrent whatsoever to a dedicated terrorist. Israel now actively promotes visa-free travel agreements. Preventive intelligence, tight local policing and overall integrity among security personnel at all levels are the bases of security in places like Israel. Reform in these areas should be the government's priority. What is clear is that India needs to modernise its visa system for the threats and opportunities of a new century.

So far, however, the security establishment seems to be looking to the wrong century for inspiration.








The Congress turned 125 years old last week. But the low-key celebration of the historic occasion demonstrated that all is not well in the Grand Old Party of India. Contrary to the erroneous impression that the Congress was firmly in control and the Opposition parties, particularly the BJP, were in a poor shape, a fierce power struggle seems afoot among several senior leaders. While Sonia Gandhi's authority is unchallenged as she has steered the party with distinction through its most difficult phase to come to power at the Centre and 15 states in her 11 years in active politics, major differences have cropped up among top leaders.


The first indication of this tussle may emerge when the organisation is revamped. However, the time frame for this exercise is still not clear. There has been huge resentment in the rank and file over the distribution of responsibilities among a few select leaders. The same leaders are ministers and also hold charge of several states. This has left many Congressmen wondering whether there was such a dearth of talent in their party that it had to go against the principle of one man-one post.


When the party began its second term in the central government in May 2009, many party office-bearers were inducted into the Council of Ministers but continued to also look after states. In process, their performance in both places has been questionable and a powerful lobby within the party is making an attempt to impress upon the Congress president that this anomaly needs to be undone. The events that will unfold will also indicate the changing power equations within the organisation and perhaps throw up some new faces before Rahul Gandhi finally decides to take on greater responsibility.


Many senior leaders privately feel that the Congress should not think it will get its way just because the BJP is riddled with internal problems. The manner in which major issues have been handled, including the Telangana affair and the price rise of essential commodities, shows that the party lacks focus. It cannot hope to remain in power just because the opposition was doing badly. It needs to consolidate its position by extraordinary work. The common perception is that ever since the party came to power last May, its government does not have the same kind of authority it had during its first tenure.


The Congress has been through many difficult times even after Independence when it has seen at least three clear splits. The first was in 1969 when a powerful syndicate within the party challenged Indira Gandhi's supremacy. The party, which was elected on the symbol of two bullocks, had to give up its original electoral emblem after Indira Gandhi retained her government with the help of the Left. The 1971 elections where she won on the garibi hatao slogan were contested on the cow and calf symbol.


The second split took place in February 1977 when Jagjivan Ram and H.N. Bahuguna along with a large number of supporters walked out of the party to form the Congress for Democracy thereby paving the way for the Janata Party's historic victory a month later. The third split was in January, 1978, when Indira Gandhi broke away from the party led by senior leaders such as Y.B. Chavan and formed the Congress(I) with Kamlapati Tripathi as its working president and the hand as its new symbol.


There was another split in the nineties when the Congress (Tiwari) was temporarily formed against P.V. Narasimha Rao's manner of functioning. This faction re-merged into the party again.


The party has gained strength under Sonia Gandhi and can consolidate itself in its 125th year if it focuses on sensitive issues more effectively. The Congress president has to realise that the power play is not without reason and matters should be salvaged before it is too late. Between us.







Recent numbers put out by the Central Statistical Organisation show a spurt among India's most-backward states while the country as a whole took a knock from the global financial crisis, shaving 2 percentage points off trend line GDP growth. Bihar did surprisingly well, clocking 11.03 per cent between 2004-05 and 2008-09, a hair's breadth behind Gujarat's scorching 11.05 per cent. Reason enough to raise a toast to inclusive growth? Not quite. Bihar's state domestic product in 2007-08 was Rs 88,290 crore, less than a fourth of the Rs 416,248 crore in Maharashtra, India's richest state.  Bihar would have to grow at 11 per cent for 15 years to catch up with today's Maharashtra. But in that time, Maharashtra's state domestic product, if it grows at its 9 per cent trend, will be three-and-a-half times its present size. The good news is that the gap is closing, but it is agonisingly slow.


Throw in the spectre of population growth and even this limited gain evaporates. Bihar's per capita income in 2007-08 at Rs 8,703 was again a fourth of Maharashtra's Rs 33,302. But Bihar's per capita income is rising by 6 per cent a year, while that in Maharashtra is climbing by 7.2 per cent. Here the gap is flatly opening up. Bihar would reach Maharashtra's present standard of living in 2032, Delhi's in 2043 and Chandigarh's in 2047. The last would be around the time India became the world's third-largest economy, after the US and China.


Thirty-seven years is a long transition from a predominantly farm economy to a services-driven one.


The story of the migrant Bihari is far from over, chances are the hump is ahead of us. Inclusive growth needs to move from the slogan stage into policy that arrests India's geographically lopsided growth. The Centre is as responsible as the states themselves for backwardness. Resource reallocation needs to be thought through beyond the principle of winner takes all. India's advance to a frontline economy seems irreversible, the challenge is to pull up the laggards within the column. Given the right governance, adequate infrastructure and a helping hand from the Centre, there is no reason for Bihar not to walk in step.









In the first weeks of December, I travelled through four states of the Union. In each state, I discussed the local political situation with a cross-section of the citizenry. We spoke of the work of ministers and chief ministers, and, as it happens, of governors. In one place, I heard the complaint that the governor's son was transacting his private business from the Raj Bhavan; in a second, that the governor was playing host to builders and mining dons; in a third, that he was unwilling to make himself available for public functions; in a fourth, that he spent more time in his home state than in the state where he was posted by the President.


One state I did not visit was Andhra Pradesh. I believe that in golf courses around the country, there has been admiring talk of the virility of the octogenarian pleasureseeker whose activities in the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan the television cameras purport to have captured. In less-elevated circles, the incident should instead provoke the questions -- how do we choose our governors, and how must we choose them?

The first question is easily answered.

A vast majority of governors are appointed on the basis of loyalty rather than competence. Between 1998 and 2004, preference was given to members of the BJP or the RSS, whose services to party or sect were rewarded by a stint in a Raj Bhavan. Since 2004, the appointees have been made chiefly on the basis of loyalty to the Congress party and its leaders. In appointing governors, both the Congress and the BJP rarely investigate the suitability of the candidate for the state to which he or she is being posted. Little wonder that many governors treat their posting either as extended holidays paid for by someone else or as opportunities for helping friends and kin.


To be sure, there are exceptions. My home state, Karnataka, was fortunate in having the scholar-administrator T.N. Chaturvedi serve a full term as governor.

Although appointed by a BJP government, Chaturvedi behaved with scrupulous impartiality during a very testing time, marked by fractured election mandates and unstable coalition governments. He also took a keen interest in literature and the arts. One of his last initiatives was to have a train from Chennai to Mysore renamed the Malgudi Express, in homage to R.K. Narayan, who lived in both cities and whose novels were set in a fictional village of that name. (The proposal was stalled by a philistine railway ministry -- but perhaps it can be revived yet.) Another recent governor with an exemplary record was Gopalkrishna Gandhi. West Bengal has been exceptionally fortunate in this regard -- since Independence, it has had such outstanding governors as C. Rajagopalachari, H.C. Mookerjee, Padmaja Naidu, and Nurul Hasan. In the opinion of Bengalis with long memories, Gopalkrishna Gandhi was better than them all. When appointed, he was considered close to the Left; yet through his conduct in the Nandigram and Singur episodes he showed that his first and last commitment was to the Constitution of India.


I am told that the love for Gopalkrishna Gandhi was so great that he could win an election from any constituency in West Bengal. The admiration was mutual. The governor travelled extensively in the state, getting to remote hamlets not visited even by elected politicians. He did a great deal to restore heritage sites, and to try and revive the once great university at Santiniketan. His empathy with his adopted state was such that by the end of his tenure he could speak and read Bengali fluently.


Chaturvedi and Gandhi shared some things in common -- namely, intelligence, integrity, and a close understanding of the Constitution deriving from many decades in the civil service. It may be that non-political governors are generally more able and effective, but sometimes party men can do a decent job too. Thus the current Governor of Maharashtra, S.C. Jamir, is trying hard to infuse energy into the mostly moribund universities of the state. In the past, vice-chancellors were appointed chiefly according to caste considerations or closeness to ruling party politicians. Knowing this, Jamir has sought, in his capacity as chancellor of the state universities, to staff selection committees with independent-minded scholars. Like the office of President, the office of governor has many ceremonial functions attached to it -- such as opening and closing legislatures, receiving and sending off state visitors, laying foundation stones and cutting ribbons for all kinds of schemes and projects. But, like the President again, the governors can sometimes play an active role in shaping society, by acting impartially in times of political crisis, and by identifying with and promoting the best cultural and intellectual traditions of the state in which they have come to serve.


We live in troubled and corrupt times, with most states riven by sectarian discord of one kind or another, and most public institutions in atrophy or decay. A carelessly chosen governor can hasten the slide in the state to which he is sent; a well chosen one, do something to arrest it. The scandal in the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan would have served its purpose if the Government of India can henceforth ensure that administrative competence shall take precedence over party loyalty in the appointment of governors to the 28 states that make our Union.


Ramachandra Guha is the author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy The views expressed by the author are personal








Concerted ground offensives have begun, based on the anti-Naxal strategy that the Union government had drawn up in conjunction with Maoist-affected states recently. While the chase of the Naxalites brings relief it should, at the same time, be remembered that the initial stage of the offensive had been put on hold because of the Jharkhand polls, and can only now be extended to the state, which at last has a government in place. In fact, the state is at the confluence of three national issues: the debate on small states, on mining, and on tackling the Maoists. Therefore, even though Chhattisgarh, in the Centre's estimate, faces the gravest Maoist threat, the operations that have begun there and in Maharashtra must pass the Jharkhand test for a national sense of Maoist riddance.


As of now, state police forces will coordinate offensives in Maoist areas, assisted by battalions of Central paramilitary forces. Even if the Centre is not piloting the operations, the strategy, in its fullest measure, is to keep the security personnel in affected areas for a "reasonable period" — that is, long enough for the concerned state's civil administration to initiate development projects. But, as part of a holistic plan, the battle will be taken to the Maoists, with surgical strikes wherever necessary. Apart from the fact that the strategy is premised on taking the states on board, each state administration also has the responsibility to coordinate with police personnel of other affected states and with Central forces.


In that context, with a government in place, Jharkhand must not stick out as a potential failure. The new dispensation must engender governance and everyday law and order; the government must be stable and transparent. Responsibility for this must lie with the BJP, as a national party that helped form the government; it must ensure not just governmental stability but also administrative focus. Defeating the Maoists calls for all-round cooperation and action; and seizing the opportunity for developing the affected areas is the state government's duty.








It could be scenes from any one of those epic disaster films that Hollywood churns out with banal regularity. Trains collide, the airport turns into a no-fly zone and the city sleeps while wide awake. Behold the wrath of Mother Nature. With one small exception: the fog that caused much of North India to grind to a halt on Friday night and Saturday morning, is an annual occurrence that is entirely predictable. This disaster film is re-released every year.


Which is why the devastation it left in its wake needs to be accounted for. Take the trains: 36 trains were rescheduled and 2 pairs of trains collided with one another killing ten and wounding 45 others. These are human errors that need to be investigated and the systems made fool-proof. But pinning responsibility on errant railway officials begs the larger question: what about the big boss, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee? Her obvious focus on the upcoming West Bengal elections has meant missed meetings, delayed decisions and lackadaisical leadership. The Delhi airport, in the wee hours of Saturday was even more chaotic. 17 flights were diverted, 27 departures rescheduled and approximately 200 more flights diverted due to the backlog. Again, the problem wasn't so much the fog as it was system malfunction: the instrument landing system, meant to guide landing in zero visibility, went kaput. Besides, much of northern India suffered in darkness, as 35 lines of the northern grid tripped due to the fog. One of the officials in charge actually said he was "expecting the situation" that developed.


It would be unreasonable to expect public services to function glitch-less in such weather. Some delay, some disruption, is almost inevitable. But the scale of Saturday's shutdown questions the effectiveness of our disaster management plans. If we cannot plan for routine, expected emergencies, then what happens when an actual, unforeseen disaster strikes? Besides, the plane delay and train collisions took place due to specific mistakes — a malfunctioning all-weather landing system and skipped red signals. Blaming the vagaries of the weather for the errors of humans is the easy way out. But it won't prevent a repeat performance.







For the first time in 13 months, there's good news for India's exporters. Exports as a whole finally showed positive growth in just-released figures for November 2009. According to the commerce ministry, they grew 18.2 per cent that month over the previous November: going up to US$13.2 billion (Rs 61,500 crore) from US$11.2 billion (Rs 52,000 crore). This is an encouraging sign; though, given that India's imports continued to fall as compared to previous years, it is far from the case that the open sectors of India's economy are back to normal. And, indeed, "normal" itself is being redefined.


This January 1, two major trade agreements went into effect. Neither removes all barriers to trade, but both are significant. The first, signed on August 7, 2009 after over three years of negotiation, is with South Korea. It immediately removes tariffs on a subset of traded goods; over the next few years, other tariffs will be phased out — especially on cars. South Korea's exports were booming in December, with overseas shipments increasing by 33.7 per cent. Indian agribusiness, in particular, will benefit from access to Korea; and Korean investment in India should increase. The second deal has been more controversial. India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, were in negotiations for 6 years before they signed an agreement, also last August. There were immediate rumblings of fear — especially from Kerala, where some large plantation farmers, hitherto protected by high tariffs, will now face stiff competition from imports.


But productivity in large plantations in Kerala has consistently declined; they cannot be protected forever. Other sectors have also expressed concerns that India hasn't got as good a deal in terms of market access as ASEAN has. But these worries are minor in comparison to the extra competitive discipline on Indian industry, as well as the great benefits to consumers. As of January 1, trade with Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia became freer; the other ASEAN nations are expected to ratify the FTA in the next few months. Yet, even we move towards freer trade with more countries — and, hopefully, 2009 will be the year in which the WTO's Doha round too finally concludes — India's trade infrastructure will struggles. It was reported recently that government-controlled ports might miss their expansion targets. The government's big push on road and power has this newspaper's support. But efficiency increases in ports must be high on the agenda, too.








The Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee has come out with a white paper which attempts to refute many of the claims of her predecessor, Lalu Prasad, as well as a vision document outlining how Indian Railways, or IR, can be made into a vibrant and modern railway system by 2020. There have been such proposals in the past and they have floundered because IR was unwilling to change its structure. The last example of such an endeavour was the Rakesh Mohan Committee, which made extensive recommendations for institutional reform — but in vain.


I may sound cynical, but in fact I am not. I strongly believe that the time is ripe for civil society to push for reform because outdated IR institutional structure is holding back economic growth. Let us look at how things stand today. The white paper clearly highlights the reasons why IR has been consistently losing market share over the years. Primarily it has been due to below-par growth: for each percentage point the economy grew, IR should have grown by at least 1.25 per cent — but it actually grew by 0.79 per cent. This has brought down the freight traffic market share from 88 per cent in 1950-51 to less than 35 per cent today. IR only contributes 1.18 per cent to GDP when it should be at least 2 per cent. The vision document aims for 3 per cent over the coming decade. If IR is to contribute 3 per cent to GDP, its existing structure has to be radically transformed. Unfortunately the vision document, while recognising the need for change, skims over the details.


Why do I say that a new structure is necessary?


Simply because any change in other infrastructure sectors has come about only after new arrangements have been put in place. The telecom sector changed only when the old arrangements gave way to the new. Modernisation of airports began only after privatisation. The politically-sensitive electricity sector is putting in place, with great reluctance, new institutional arrangements — and improvements can be seen. It is the railways that have shown little inclination to distance the role of government from that of train operator, replace the archaic fare structure, and establish a rates regulatory authority. Creating a globalised rolling stock industry is another area requiring new arrangements, in combination with private industry.


A larger question is network expansion. The document talks 25,000 additional kilometres in 10 years with at least 10,000 km of "socially desirable" lines, regardless of their economic viability in the short run. This is a tall order, when all that IR could achieve in the last 62 years was 10,000 km of new lines. The white paper laments that there is a large shelf of sanctioned projects which languish for want of funds — particularly some that are such, unviable but socially desirable. There is nothing wrong with socially desirable lines per se: globally, investments in railway lines have never been free from an element of equity. It is for these reasons that railway investments are subject of democratic debate. The Jammu-Srinagar and


Agartala-Silchar lines are good examples of projects approved on grounds of equity. However, this cannot be said of a very large number of projects accepted by Parliament.


Recently a new trend has started where projects are announced that have no reason to be built. A few examples to illustrate the point are the construction of a passenger coach factory in Singur in West Bengal and three plants in Bihar: a wheel manufacturing unit at Chapra, a diesel locomotive manufacturing plant at Marhaura and an electric locomotive unit at Madhepura. IR already has two large coach-manufacturing plants, one in Chennai and the other in Kapurthala, and a third one under construction at Rae Bareilly, hence the justification for the Singur plant — augmenting production capacity — is unconvincing.  Similarly, the existing wheel and axle plant at Bangalore, locomotive manufacturing units at Varanasi and Chittaranjan are all capable of increasing production; so the units being built in Bihar are unnecessary.


Clearly the democratic debate that selects railway projects needs to be strengthened. The existing system of examining railway performance and plans during the railway budget has failed to provide leadership in halting, let alone reversing, the fall in market share or on investment decision-making. The solution lies in expanding the debate into the public domain.


The debate must compel the political executive to put in place new institutional arrangements so that the private sector can invest and multilateral organisations can lend the sums needed for transforming IR into a modern and dynamic organisation wished-for in the Vision-2020 document. A good place to start would be to take a look at the large shelf of projects suffering for want of funds and those which seem unnecessary.

The author is a former general manager of Indian Railways and former member of the Central Administrative Tribunal








The consensus on food price rise in the government appears to be moving towards the view that this is not a problem that interest rate hikes can solve. At the same time there are expectations in financial markets that the RBI will tighten monetary policy. What should the RBI do, if it needs to be seen doing something, but does not want to hurt growth? Its best option is to announce an increase in the cash reserve ratio, or CRR, by 1 percentage point in two to three steps to take place over the next couple of months.


The low demand for credit over the last few months has resulted in excess liquidity with banks. Banks have been parking an average of Rs 1 lakh crore a day with the RBI under the reverse repo facility. Over the last few days this has come down a little and banks have been depositing about Rs 75,000 crore with the RBI. For the latest data available for November the growth in credit was not encouraging as non-food credit was still growing at only about 10 per cent per month for seasonally-adjusted bank credit data. The figure suggests that banks may continue to have excess liquidity for some time to come. The RBI has also been expressing concern that banks are lending money to mutual funds, a sector not regulated by the RBI. This makes the RBI uncomfortable — especially after the October 2008 experience, when this sector saw a sudden withdrawal of funds.


If the RBI were to raise interest rates, which would have to be through raising the reverse repo rate, that is, the rate at which the RBI borrows money from banks, it would make it more attractive for banks to park money with the RBI instead of with, say, mutual funds. They would, however, continue to have excess liquidity. The repo rate, the rate at which the RBI lends to banks, is currently irrelevant as there have been no repo transactions for months. When banks have more than adequate money, they do not borrow from the RBI.


Finally, the RBI has the option of raising the CRR. This is the best option, because in the present circumstances the rise in the CRR pulls out the excess Rs 75,000 crore. Instead of parking the money voluntarily with the RBI, banks will do it because they are required to do so. For those outside the banking system this will not be of any consequence. It may, at the margin, affect bank profitability, but would do no great damage. However, one risk this poses is that if there is a CRR hike now then banks may be even more averse to lending than they presently are, expecting that there may be another CRR hike round the corner. This would be because if the RBI only announces one hike it would not be able to announce a very large one since there is no sudden change in circumstances to warrant it.


A single hike, in the present circumstances, could be a maximum of 50 basis points. Since this would not get the job of pulling the excess liquidity out of the system done, it would mean that banks would expect another CRR hike some time soon. Uncertainty about monetary policy would likely make banks hang on to liquidity rather than give out more credit. Such a situation would be harmful to the present, rather shaky, growth in non-food credit currently underway. To avoid such a situation, the RBI should announce a calendar for CRR hikes that aim to pull out about Rs 50,000 crore out of banks over the next couple of months. The certainty created by the RBI's calendar of CRR hikes will reduce the present dangerous uncertainty in the market.


With a hike in CRR the RBI would also be able to continue on the path of signalling that it is going to start withdrawing the excessive easing of monetary policy that was done following the 2008 crisis. This path, which would likely not prompt banks to start raising rates as a response, is likely to cause least damage. Also, until the US Fed starts raising interest rates, which Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank has indicated he may not do for the next six months, it would increase interest differentials.

While the present level of the rupee is much below what it was when the 2008 crisis hit, it is possible, perhaps, for the rupee to go to at least Rs 42 to the dollar before we start seeing pressure from exporters. This is something to be kept in mind before the RBI seriously tries to obtain a higher level of interest rates in the economy. A higher interest differential will attract capital despite all the hundreds of levers and capital controls that the RBI may have. Were the RBI to come under pressure to prevent appreciation by intervening in foreign exchange markets, it would increase liquidity in the system. This would put the RBI in a difficult spot given that there is already excess liquidity in the system today. If the RBI were to then try to sterilise its intervention by selling MSS bonds, even if the present MSS ceilings allow it to do so, it will only make its life more difficult, given the already large stock of government bonds it has to sell already to meet the government's borrowing requirement, and the pressure that that is putting on long-run interest rates.


In summary, the best way out for the RBI now may be to hike the CRR. This will have little effect on those outside the banking system and is unlikely to prompt banks to raise interest rates. In the present circumstances, if the CRR hike is about 1 to 1.25 percentage points it will not reduce the availability of credit (assuming credit demand continues to grow at present rates.) In this, of course, the RBI must make sure that it shapes market expectations such that banks increase, rather than reduce, lending over the coming months.


The writer is professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi







Venkatraman Ramakrishnan won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the structure and function of the ribosome. In an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7's Walk the Talk, Ramakrishnan speaks of his research, on the value of scientific interdisciplinarity, and of his ongoing attempt to learn Spanish


Shekhar Gupta: I am at Bangalore's Indian Institute of Science and my guest this week is Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Nobel Laureate for Chemistry, also a physicist and a biologist. Welcome to Walk the Talk.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Though I have to say, no physicist would consider me a physicist today.


Shekhar Gupta: That's the problem with the business of science now, you don't know who's who.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: That's true. As Balram, director of Indian Institute of Science said in an editorial, the boundaries between the sciences are becoming more fluid.


Shekhar Gupta: So boundaries are breaking up?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Techniques from one discipline are being routinely applied to other disciplines and I have to say that biology is at the receiving end of a lot of this.


Shekhar Gupta: You should know how one thing leads to another and how people find their calling —you are the father of a brilliant musician and even the father-in-law of one.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: My son was a physics undergrad but his love was always the cello. I think he treated physics as hobby. He's a happy musician, I hope.


Shekhar Gupta: Science is a good beginning. I'm happy to say that about myself — I'm from a generation of musicians forced to study science.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: My feeling is that even if you are not a scientist you really should have a certain minimum education in science because we live in a highly technical society. How do you know that the right decisions are being made by your government or people around you? We talk about pollution or global warming. How can you even judge if these things are meaningful or not? If you have a fundamental background in science even at the high school level, it does help you come to grips with the problem instead of taking someone's word for it.


Shekhar Gupta: By the same logic, you also need a background in liberal arts and humanities. Because a lot of kids in India go to IIT straight from school and spend a lifetime in science.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I grew up in the Indian system and I unfortunately had to choose between humanities and science in high school. I'm making up for it. I'm learning Spanish — I've to take an exam in January.


Shekhar Gupta: I took my last exam 33 years ago. My regular nightmare around May is that I come prepared for a botany paper and it's a zoology paper!

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: When I got this Nobel Prize, they had a student from the school where I study Spanish interview me for their paper. And they said, "Hills Road 6 form student wins Nobel Prize."


Shekhar Gupta: Tell us about your journey in science — you started off as a physicist.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I originally thought I might go to medical school. And I got admitted to the Baroda Medical College , but I also appeared for the National Science Talent exam. That was at the encouragement of my mother. I made a deal with my father — that if I got the scholarship, then you shouldn't force me to do anything. He wanted me to be a doctor. I got the scholarship, and while he was away, I transferred my admission from medical college to study physics. The clerk thought I'd made a mistake, and I actually meant the other way round.


Shekhar Gupta: For our generation, the first choice was medicine. Next was engineering. If you failed in both, you went for the IAS.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: One thing that motivated me was that a group of professors, some of whom had come back from the US, had completely modernised the curriculum. 30 years later, my son studied basically the same curriculum at Harvard. So that was a motivation for me to go into physics. Somewhere along the line I realised that I was not going to be a good physicist. I would just be doing some boring calculations and not have any real insight. I believe physics is on a difficult plane, because to make truly fundamental breakthroughs in physics is very hard now. At the same time, molecular biology was blossoming. It seemed every week there was an important discovery being made.


Shekhar Gupta: You talked about reading the Scientific American and seeing breakthroughs all the time...

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: When I read the Scientific American, it was often the biology breakthroughs that were leaping out of the magazine. I thought lots of physicists, Francis Crick for one, have made the transition from physics to biology. And so I thought, why not?


Shekhar Gupta: Francis Crick made the transition very much to the area where you moved.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: He started off as a structural biologist, then became a very general molecular biologist and later a neurobiologist. But he was really a genius, a class by himself.


Shekhar Gupta: So are you, but you don't have to say that.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I mean that very seriously. I think people mistake the Nobel as a prize for being exceptionally intelligent. I think that's a false impression people have. Most Nobel laureates are people who have done important work but they are not themselves that special. They are people who've had the luck to stumble on to something. Some of them have had the combination of persistence and research. But people like Crick really were in a different class.


Shekhar Gupta: Was it like an 'a-ha' moment when you decided to make the switch?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I think my a-ha moment came when I was writing my thesis, actually slightly before. And I realised — what next? I just couldn't see continuing on as a physicist. And then rather doing a post-doc in biology, I decided to go to graduate school and start essentially all over again with the option of getting a second Ph.D. I even took undergraduate courses in biology. Here I was, with a Ph.D. in physics doing undergraduate courses.


Shekhar Gupta: There is performance pressure in academia as well.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I think, in America , there is the idea of starting all over again — having second, or even third chances at life.


Shekhar Gupta: You actually took undergrad courses?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I was registered as a graduate student but since I didn't know any basic biochemistry or genetics, I had to start at a lower level. So in the first year, I actually took undergraduate courses. And once I'd acquired a broad background — I did a year in research in biology — but then I realised I didn't actually need a second Ph.D. I decided to do a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale with Peter Moore, who's a very famous ribosome scientist, which is how I got into my field in 1978.


Shekhar Gupta: One of the wonderful things about doing this show is that there is an opportunity to be educated by the finest teachers in the world. We've had the privilege to have Dr Baltimore to tell us be patient to try and understand biotechnology, we've had Elizabeth Blackburn tell us about aging. So from aging to DNA, to now RNA, we learn about this magical trinity. Tell us about the linkages and connections, the breakthroughs and why we need to be patient.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Let me start off with the ribosome and what it is. If you think of DNA, you can think of it as an archive of information. Ribosome is the machine that takes the information in our genes and makes proteins, using the instructions in our genes. The analogy people draw is that if we have a tape with music stored on it. The tape consists of instructions on how to reproduce that music — it can be stored in different ways, it can be stored digitally or in analog ways to clear a set of instructions. But to convert that set of instructions, you need a tape — like a tape recorder or a machine player. You can think of genes as containing information to make proteins, and what the ribosome does is take that information. You can think of DNA as an archival storage form, and RNA as a working copy. It takes the working copy, in the form of what is called messenger RNA, because it contains the genetic message.


Shekhar Gupta: Why is that important?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: It's important because everything in this cell is done by proteins. We are, of course, discovering more functions for RNA. It is still true that the bulk of the functions is carried out by proteins. Oxygen in your blood is carried by a protein, light in your eye is sensed by a protein. When you have an infection, the antibodies you make are proteins. Your skin is basically collagen, which is protein.


Shekhar Gupta: Antibiotics have to go through proteins...

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Antibiotics can work in many different ways. One other way of looking at the ribosome's importance is that virtually everything in the cell was made by the ribosome, or by enzymes, which themselves are made by the ribosome. It's really responsible for the way a cell is constructed, and that's true for all life forms, including viruses. That's why it is of fundamental importance.


The question you asked about antibiotics — because a ribosome is so ancient, the ribosome of human and bacteria are slightly different. About half of known antibiotics work by targeting the bacterial ribosome, while not binding so well to the human ribosome. When they bind to the bacterial ribosome, they do so at critical sites in the bacterial ribosome and they stop it from working. If a bacteria cannot make protein, it dies, just like if we weren't able to make protein, we would die too. It's the basis of antibiotic function.

The ribosome was discovered in the 50's, and it has been known for a very long time. But to understand how it works, you needed to know its detailed structure. Because if you don't know how a machine works in detail, such as a car engine, then you wouldn't really understand how motor works. We needed a high-resolution structure, and that's what the three awardees of the Nobel Prize did this year which was to determine the atomic structure of the ribosome. We each did one of the sub-units, and then eventually of the entire ribosome.


Shekhar Gupta: Between the three of you, you did about thirty models.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: We've solved many structures, but the real key was the atomic structures of the large and small sub-units of the ribosome. All ribosomes consist of two sub-units, which sort of move, relative to each other during the process. We did atomic structures of the sub-units in the year 2000, and that really paved the way for everything that came later.


Shekhar Gupta: What is your common connection with antibiotics — the three of you? How much of it was collaboration, and how much was it competition?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Once you got the atomic structure, then it was relatively easy to bind the ribosome with these antibiotics and re-determine the structure. Once you have the basic structure, to get the antibiotic structure is quite routine. Once the three of us had our structures of the ribosome components, then we quickly determined the structures with antibiotics. That enabled us, for the first time in 50 years, since tetracycline had been discovered...


Shekhar Gupta: It has been available over the counter in India for over 50 years — people pop it like cough syrup...

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: It's a bad practice, which if you want, I can discuss later. It was possible to determine how these antibiotics bound, and that allowed us to understand how antibiotics blocked ribosome function. It also allows people now how to design better antibiotics, you can see how natural antibiotic is binding in a particular site. You might say, well, we could fill up this vacant space around this antibiotic binding region and say, well, can we design a better molecule? In fact, Thomas Steitz started a company, for which I'm also a consultant. I'm on their scientific advisory board. And they are actually designing new antibiotics, based on these ribosome structures


Shekhar Gupta: Let's go back to what you said just now. Why is it so bad to pop an antibiotic over the counter? We know it can make a bacteria more resistant.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: Just because you have a fever or a running nose doesn't mean that you have a bacterial infection. Many infections are viral. If you have a flu, you have a viral infection. So these antibiotics will be of no use, when you have a viral infection like a flu. At the first sign of something like that, and in India it's especially bad, you ask for tetracycline and they give it to you. The way they do it is that they have some phony doctor on their books who will sign up at some point in time. This leads to overuse of antibiotics, and this causes resistance, where the bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. And also, they don't follow the whole course — as soon as they feel better, they stop taking the antibiotic which also leads to resistance.


I know from working in this company how difficult it is to make a new drug — it takes over a billion dollars. If you make existing antibiotics useless, you're certainly destroying an extremely valuable commodity. I think people should be very careful.

Shekhar Gupta: All you great scientists who have been focused on molecular biology, where has it taken us in our understanding of big diseases such as cancer and HIV, the big challenges?


Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I'm not an expert on either cancer or HIV. But if you look at the progress in the treatment of cancer, you realise that life expectancy and the prognosis of cancer is dramatically different from 10 years ago. (Some lines of treatment) are a complete offshoot of molecular biology, which depends on a technology which was actually developed in my institute. It involves making an antibody that very specifically targets a protein on B-cells, and it ends up specifically killing these cells that are responsible for the lymphoma. That kind of technology will only be available with advances in molecular biology. The time from a basic discovery to an application can be decades, sometimes centuries. Newton discovered the laws of mechanics, but we only had rocketry which used those laws in the 20 th century.

Shekhar Gupta: I've been reading about your irritation, if I may say so, with India embracing you and declaring your Nobel as an Indian triumph. I liked your comment, when you said it's not like cricket and our man winning.


Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: First of all, science is a highly international enterprise. For instance, my lab has a person from Malaysia , two people from China , one from Germany , one was a Canadian, one American... That's the make-up of any lab that's at the forefront of things. Science is international. For example, a discovery made in country X can be quickly exploited in country Y. Information flows quickly, especially in the age of the Internet. Getting back to this whole thing about claiming somebody, I have made it very clear that I grew up in India and I'm very grateful, especially to my teachers. But I'm fundamentally not a nationalist, I have to be honest about that. Because nationalism leads to jingoism and all sorts of problems.


Shekhar Gupta: Last 30 years have seen decline of nationalism in developed societies. There is more passion supporting your club than supporting your country.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: That's always been true of science. Scientists have been the least nationalistic of people — they have always been global in their outlook. They've been willing to move, even in the 19th century. On the other hand, if Indians feel proud that someone who grew up in India , who got their B.Sc in India has gone on and done well — I think that's perfectly understandable.


Shekhar Gupta: And your other comment, that if India has to achieve more, it has to build genuine meritocracy in its institutions.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: It was a reporter from your newspaper who asked me, why is it that Indians who go to the US do so well, and why aren't we doing so well? I think part of the problem is money. America is a very rich country — it has far more resources and that's part of the thing. But America attracts people from all over the world, and these people go on to top positions. They become presidents, CEOs, they are heads of departments, hospitals, they become Nobel laureates.


I think its because in America , people don't care what your background is. What's your family background, which country are you from? In some cases, even where were you educated? I would be lying if I said it didn't matter if you were from Harvard or some unknown state school. But it plays less of a role than in other countries. Primary thing they want to know is — what have you done recently and what can you do for us? And that's a very healthy attitude, and that meritocratic attitude is responsible for America's role as much as anything else.


Shekhar Gupta: In India , I say in some of my cynical moments, that it is important for your parents to have done very well.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: If you get beyond that and become a true meritocracy, it would be a step ahead.


Shekhar Gupta: We have a minister who is trying to set up new great institutions, scale up institutions. Do you have any advice for him?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: I can't give any advice, but I'll tell you one promising thing I've seen. New institutes are being opened up that combine undergraduate education with research and they are more widespread.


Shekhar Gupta: There is massive expansion of higher education, especially in science.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: That's a very good sign. That's a sign that research and science education is being taken seriously. The hope is that these kinds of institutions will be more insulated from local politics that often plagues universities. That's a good sign.


Shekhar Gupta: Even in IIT, JNU, the finest schools in India will not allow the mobility across disciplines that you've enjoyed.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: People are in favour of creating more fluidity between institutions, people are in favour of change. When I went to the US in 1971, virtually no one who could stay on came back to India . Whereas now, there are scientists choosing to come back. And they'll come back with their own ideas of how things should be.


Shekhar Gupta: In the scientific community, this is widely seen as the decade of biology. What will the next decade be like? Will biology continue to rule for another couple of decades?

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: If you look at the early half of the 20th century, that was probably physics. And then, chemistry and biology. I think biology is going to be very exciting for the next few decades to come. For example, we still don't know anything about the organisation of the brain. If I ask you, how do you remember a telephone number, it leads to all sorts of complex questions. There's all this business of generating gnomic data, but we still don't know how to use the data.


Shekhar Gupta: I read somewhere you said the great excitement comes from solving a mystery.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan: That's what it comes down to in its essence, that we're basically puzzle solvers. But the puzzle has to be important, it can't be some trivial thing. It has to be some deep problem that interests you.


Transcribed by Vaibhav Vats.







The power sector was one of the first targets of the economic reform initiative in the early 1990s with the government unfurling an ambitious scheme to accelerate private sector investments through Independent Power Producers. Nearly two decades on, the sector continues to be a laggard with the average increase in supply stuck below the 6% mark. The result is that, as we enter 2010, 600 million Indians do not have access to power. And those with power supply have to make do with periodic cuts as peak power deficits have hovered in the 10-15% range in the past decade. Unfortunately, the scenario is unlikely to improve in the short run. Of the 11th Plan power generation target of 78,700 MW, only 18,235 MW of capacity has been commissioned in the first half of the plan period.


But the government is optimistic about commissioning 62,374 MW in capacity with the expectation that two of the four Ultra-Mega Power Projects awarded will be commissioned in the Plan period.


Many factors account for the slow pace of power reforms. For one , power is a concurrent subject, where both the Centre and the states have a major role, and power pricing continues to be heavily regulated to ensure subsidies to consumers. This strategy—along with the excessive AT&C losses, which still exceed one-third of generated power—has continued to bleed the state electricity boards, whose operational losses last year were Rs 31,862 crore. And private investors are still to benefit from regulations that provide open access for power transmission. All these have discouraged flow of credit to investors and the current estimates are that the funding gap will be as large as Rs 4,21,642 crore in the 11th Plan and even bigger in the 12th Plan. Then there are other more complex issues like the disproportionate share of coal based plants which leave large carbon foot prints. Coal and lignite will account for around two-thirds of the capacity created in the 11th Plan and the dependency on coal will continue until gas supplies pick up substantially. One reason for hope is a potential pickup in nuclear power generation once the availability of fuel and equipment allows substantially scaled-up operations. But problems in transmission and distribution will remain as long as the regulatory policies fail to provide incentives to the states to accelerate the pace of reforms and to empower the state regulatory commissions to function smoothly and put the power sector back on track.






The telecom sector in India is a curious paradox. The government represented by the A Raja-headed department of telecom has made a complete mess of crucial policy decisions, not just in 2009, but even before. At the very least, minister Raja's decisions have cost the government vast amounts in revenue forgone—2G licences were given out for a pittance on a first-come-first-serve basis and then 3G auctions, which ought to have been held long before the global financial crisis struck, were repeatedly delayed; now the government will get a lower price than in boom time. Despite the policy bungling, here's the paradox: the Indian telephone consumer has never had it better. Competition in the mobile space has ensured unprecedented low tariffs—you can now make a local call at less than half a paisa per minute—and nearly half the country's population now owns mobile phones. Telecom companies, on the other hand, are caught between severe competition that is constantly driving down margins and policy inaction that is preventing them from moving into higher value-added services like 3G and Wimax. This year will be critical for government (that needs revenues), telecom cos (that need to move up value chain) and the consumer (who in addition to cheap tariffs, could do with better services).


The first item on the government's agenda has to be 3G auctions. For the moment, they are scheduled for February 13, but until the government actually issues the notification calling for bidders (expected on January 10), things will remain uncertain. There's one reason for optimism—the government needs to complete the auctions before the end of the financial year on March 31. But 3G is just one item on the long agenda for 2010. The telecom regulator needs to reexamine mergers and acquisitions guidelines in the sector, which in their present state make consolidation in the domestic industry difficult—there are tight restrictions on the amount of spectrum a merged firm can hold, for example. Given the constantly eroding margins—the result of continuous tariff wars—it is probably not feasible to have 12 profitable operators per circle. There has to be some rationalisation. And the competition is now deep enough to ensure that one or two consolidations will not lead to monopolistic practices. The third item on the policy agenda should be the future of telecom companies in the public sector. Both MTNL and BSNL are struggling to hold ground despite the explicit policy preferences they receive. BSNL in particular needs to rationalise its bloated workforce. That is unlikely to happen under the government's stewardship. This would be a good year to consider privatising BSNL and MTNL to at least give them a chance to compete in India's telecom space.







The Indian mutual fund industry, reeling under the pressure of global liquidity crunch, saw huge redemptions at the beginning of last year. But with the equity market improving, fund houses witnessed decent inflows. The total assets under management (AUM) for the mutual fund industry stood at over Rs 4.6 lakh crore in January 2008. That surged to over Rs 8 lakh crore in November 2008.


The market regulator, Sebi, too came out with streak of measures to empower investors. Simplified norms made it easier for retail investors to put money in mutual funds. In June 2009, Sebi announced the move to abolish the entry load from August 1, 2009. Independent financial advisors and distributors, integral parts of the Indian mutual fund industry, gradually stopped selling mutual funds and instead opted to sell insurance products, as their commission came down from 2.25% to just 1%.


Despite the ban on entry load, fund houses saw sustained inflows in income schemes as banks and corporate houses started to park their surplus money in mutual funds. Equity schemes, however, started witnessing huge inflows from August that continued till November last year. However, market players say the surge in the AUM of the mutual fund industry in the last few months was because of market appreciation and not due to fresh inflows from the retail investors.


The market regulator came out with another important announcement that there should be parity among all investors while paying the exit load. It was observed that fund houses were making a distinction among unit holders by charging differential exit loads based on the amount of subscription. This announcement also came as a breather for the retail investors as they will now be at par with other mutual fund investors, especially high net worth individuals.


To further facilitate retail investors and increase the reach of mutual funds across the country, Sebi declared that mutual fund schemes can be transacted through the stock exchange infrastructure. Both the exchanges—the NSE and the BSE—have started their platforms for buying and selling mutual fund units.


With improving economic conditions, coupled with encouraging performance of the markets and online platforms, distributors are now aggressively lining up various mutual fund products for 2010.







It would be naïve to accept that global economic conditions have recovered just by looking at the financial market parameters, especially the race-up in the equity markets. But from an economic fundamentals standpoint, India appears in good shape, even compared to China. Unlike China, the growth model in India leant towards fostering domestic demand and not towards the export market. And this is possibly one reason why the slowdown was not as deep as was initially expected, and also did not permeate much beyond the initial fear psychosis that was unleashed in October 2008. Here India was a bit lucky in the sense that the two biggest stimulus packages that worked on the demand side, namely the 6th Pay Commission awards and the Farm Loan Waiver, were instituted long before the crisis erupted and the first tranche of arrears under the Pay Commission awards were also doled out in October 2008. Perfect timing! These and the enhancement of NREGA programme and some tax cuts formed India's fiscal focus to fight the crisis.


India's rural demand has also proved to be rather resilient in the face of severe drought. While it's true that even today 60% of India's population lives in villages, much of the rise in income and consumption of rural India did not have much to do with agriculture. Over the years, better rural roads, electricity connectivity and penetration of communication services have enabled the ancillary services industry and export-oriented industries to flourish in rural areas.


There is no hesitation in indicating that there is little risk for India so far as economic fundamentals are concerned. Growth will stay strong, but will not climb to 9-9.5% immediately. India should be happy achieving 7-7.5% growth for the next year. Inflation is still mainly supply-side and we expect it to come off on the back of base effects. However, it is not the time to relax and my sense is that consumption demand has yet not recovered adequately to supplement withdrawal of fiscal and monetary policies.


On the other hand, financial markets in India this year could be quite volatile with price actions largely dependent on global financial market conditions. For interest rates, I think there will be core pressure to move higher. Even as we talk of fiscal consolidation, not much loosening has happened with the crisis of October 2008 in mind and, therefore, there is not much that gets rolled back anyway. And so far as the 6th Pay Commission awards are concerned, there is a permanent factor of an increase in the salaries of government employees. Next fiscal will also be a period of high redemption pressure for the Central government, given the de-sequestering of MSS bonds that happened in this fiscal. And the high borrowings of the last couple of fiscals would lead to the interest burden going up by Rs 25,000 crore at the minimum in future fiscals.


But, it would probably be wrong to assume significant large capital inflows into India throughout 2010. History suggests that any attempt by the US Fed to reverse its easy monetary policy is likely to lead to dips in the prices of risk assets, including equity. Further, risk aversion could rear its head once again if any of the earlier mentioned risks such as sovereign defaults were to emerge. I am not sure if the already fragile banking system globally could take another hit soon and before all problems have been mended. And as the US signals an interest rate increase, carry trades in dollar will be unwound, leading to large-scale flows of capital back to US.


Thus, the risk is that equity markets globally and also in India will remain largely volatile in 2010, also leading to volatile trends in the currency markets. And reduction of foreign flows in 2010—coupled with the government's high borrowing programme—could potentially lead us back to the old days of 'crowding out', higher inflation and higher interest rates. Unfortunately, in such a situation, funding infrastructure growth would become difficult and would also limit the long-term growth prospects for the Indian economy. Added to this would be consistent fears of policy rate hikes in India.


Overall, it may not be prudent to rest on the laurels of 2009 and hope for an ever-improving economic scenario and asset market momentum in 2010. The challenges of 2010 would be significant and caution needs to be exercised as we discuss the pace of normalisation of fiscal and monetary policies.


The author is chief economist, Kotak Mahindra Bank. These are his personal views








What a year 2009 has been and what a fitting end to the decade. The year saw a turnaround from the depths of despair, which hit the global economy after the Lehman Brothers' crash in September 2008. Many were hopeful that here was the end of capitalism or at least of liberal economics. Sarkozy was found carrying a copy of Marx's Das Kapital. He appointed a Commission with Sen and Stiglitz to re-examine the importance of GDP as a tool for policymaking.


In the event the main task was to keep the system going and revive it rather than replace it. It was the people who had staked their all on globalisation with liberal markets—Gordon Brown and the Americans who moved swiftly at G20 Summits in Washington, London and Pittsburgh, and did just enough to turn the corner. The reform of the financial system will be undertaken within the parameters of the old system—by IMF and various legislatures, which will restructure their regulatory institutions.


Much criticism was levelled at modern macroeconomics for instilling the idea that markets always work and cycles were a thing of the past. This happens in every long boom and every crisis destroys the illusion. But this boom had lasted longer and had a wider reach than any previous boom of the 20th or even the 19th century. Asia had been included as had Latin America, and even Africa was beginning to feel its positive impact by the early years of this century.


Yet if modern macroeconomics was at fault, the doctors to restore the patient's health were also modern economists. Ben Bernanke and Mervyn King were in the middle of the storm as the central bankers of the two of the deepest financial markets and largest economies. They used the tools of trade they had learnt at their universities and managed to innovate on the hoof.


The response of governments was to go for a fiscal reflationary package. This was a back-to-Keynes response.


Yet the crisis was not a Keynesian one. It had been caused by excessive consumption, not by excessive savings in the developed countries. The excessive savings had been in Asia, which required the developed countries—especially the US—to go on consuming to valorise the Chinese savings. The fiscal packages were necessary for that.


But the cause of the crisis at home was the financial market collapse. This required massive state funding to recapitalise the banks. This, in turn, restricted fiscal packages in developed countries and their debts are now precariously high. So, the burden of reviving the economy was taken by central bankers. In terms of academic controversies, it was Friedman, not Keynes, who proved to be pivotal. King and Bernanke innovated Quantitative Easing—flooding the economy with money—which allowed interest rates to be cut to near zero, reduced the burden of servicing debts on consumers and revived consumption.


By the end of 2009, the FT-100 index—Footsie—was back to its pre-Lehman levels. This is just a small indicator that confidence has been restored. Unemployment will take longer to stop rising as employment lags behind output both in the downturn and the upturn. But GDP growth is positive in all major developed economies except the UK. The long-run restoration of the output lost during the recession will take a while, but the direction is upwards. Neither the anti-globalisers nor the Social Democratic Left had an answer, or if they did, was anyone paying any attention to them?


But the cataclysmic change is in the balance of the global economy. The G20 took over from G7, since it was Asia which was crucial. By the time of Copenhagen it was G1—it was the US+BASIC who called the shots. Europe is now a 'sleeping giant' as China once was. The axis has shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the North to the South and from the West to the East. The US alone has the energy, the flexibility and the demographic dividend to match Asia in the new century, which truly began in 2009.


It has been a magical decade for India. It is now one of the poles of a multi-polar world. The fruits of liberal economic reform, often eaten but only with disdain, have made India great. Perhaps the leadership will acquire a taste for these fruits and grow them more avidly.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








It will come as cold comfort to the victims of the November 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Delhi, Kanpur, and other cities that "official sanction" to prosecute Sajjan Kumar in one of the last pending cases against him has finally been given. A Congress strongman in Delhi, Mr. Kumar has been prosecuted before and let off by the courts because of the weakness of the case mounted by the Delhi Police. From the word go, the police subverted all cases stemming from the 1 984 killings with the same degree of commitment to the rule of law that it displayed during the three days murderous mobs were given a free hand to wreak 'vengeance' on innocent Sikhs for the dastardly assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Dozens of murders spread across a vast area were listed in omnibus First Information Reports and details mixed up and confused in such a way that their use in subsequent investigations and prosecutions was next to impossible. Mr. Kumar evaded indictment for years with the help of the political establishment and a surprisingly benevolent judiciary. When he was eventually indicted, he presented as star defence witnesses the very police officers who authored one of those FIRs. This, coupled with the fact that numerous prosecution witnesses "mysteriously" turned hostile, led to his acquittal in the most serious of charges. That matter is now on appeal.


Will the 'Rathore effect' — the widespread public revulsion at the ease with which influential persons get away with heinous criminal acts — force the authorities to mount a proper effort to bring a key player of November 1984 to justice this time around? Or will his forthcoming trial for lesser offences like inciting communal hatred get caught up in labyrinthine procedures? Mass killings of the type and scale of November 1984 or Gujarat 2002 take place partly because an effective immunity from proper investigation and prosecution attach to them. Indian law and judicial process treat these incidents as 'ordinary' rather than genocidal crimes, which require special rules and procedures for prosecution. Crucially, Indian law does not assign command responsibility to those at the top of the administrative pyramid who have both the knowledge of the mass killings taking place and the ability to stop them but do nothing to intervene. This is the yardstick for culpability in modern international humanitarian law. The incorporation of this principle in India will surely have a salutary deterrent effect. Sadly, the proposed Communal Violence Bill lacks this essential element and is so riddled with other infirmities that it will be next to useless in protecting innocent citizens from targeted mass violence.







Ever since 1895, when the Lumiere brothers staged the first paid public screening of a film, the trajectory of cinematic art has been twinned with technological advancement. The first patent for a 3D movie process, which creates an illusion of depth, was filed around the same time. But it wasn't until the 1950s that the 'golden era' of 3D or stereoscopic filmmaking began — a short flowering with mixed results. After shooting Dial M For Murder in this format, Alfred Hitchcock was famously unimpressed, remarking that 3D was a "nine day wonder — and I came in on the ninth day." The release of James Cameron's stunningly successful Avatar demonstrates that 3D today has no resemblance to its earlier, primitive avatars. By combining stereoscopic effect with cutting edge digital production technologies, the truck-driver-turned-director has left audiences gasping at the technical wizardry in his visually breathtaking interstellar epic located in a faraway planet with fantastical creatures, exotic flora and fauna, and an endearing race of blue-skinned humanoids called the Na'vi. Cameron dreamed of making such a film before Titanic, which did anything but sink, grossing a record $1.8 billion and sailing to a record-equalling 11 Oscars in 1998. If he waited so long, he says it was because technology needed to catch up with his vision.


In Cameron's hybrid world, where actors and computer-graphics characters flit in and out of live environments and those created by computerised imagery, illusion and reality are merged to produce a stunningly photorealistic experience. Avatar's innovations include a new form of performance-capture technology, which created computerised images of the Na'vi from real facial expressions and movements of actors, and a new and more nimble 3D camera, designed by his team, which allowed Cameron to film his actors live in the virtual world. Avatar's over-earnest storyline is prosaic and somewhat disappointing. But will it change the way we watch films? It's hard to say, but it is certain to provide a fillip for stereoscopic cinema, which is in the midst of a strong resurgence. Against six in 2008, an estimated 40 3D films are in various stages of production. Last year, there were about 1,500 3D-equipped screens in 30 countries, a number that has already quadrupled and is set to grow rapidly. One reason for the excitement about stereoscopic cinema is that it is less vulnerable to the threat of piracy: you need a cinema hall and polarised glasses to enjoy a 3D film. Cameron has shown that the leap in technology provides a giant leap in the movie-watching experience.









The word "ethnic" (with its derivative, ethnicity), like "colonial," has acquired a soft focus patina permeated with quaintness and romance, something beautiful to long for. The other side of this idealised image is its successful marketing. Thus, one finds that ethnic food, ethnic clothes and ethnic jewellery are among the most assiduously marketed, and hankered after by those with the wherewithal in metropolitan areas — for, these things do not come cheap. Similar is the love and nostalgia for things colonial, especially on the part of those who have no memories of colonial rule.


Just as colonialism in action was one of the cruellest and most rapacious commercial enterprises that profoundly damaged its victims, ethnicity in action, and the uses to which it has been put, have their ugly side. This is certainly so in Assam and its environs where ethnicity has gone beyond being merely an idea and a word used to describe things strange and exotic, once viewed as supposedly unique to the tribal people on the margins. One nowadays speaks routinely of "ethnic Assamese." "Ethnic Assamese" restaurants are a thriving business. Traditional Assamese attire worn by women is sold at "ethnic Assamese boutiques" at very high prices which few "ethnic Assamese" can afford.


Questions about ethnicity and ethnic identity are now a constant in any discussion of the ferment as much among different sections of the tribal and non-tribal people in Assam and its neighbourhood as among the people of the Brahmaputra Valley, the "ethnic Assamese." The idea as much as the word has become part of a new political vocabulary of power, whose defining elements in their more extreme forms of expression are exclusion and hatred of the 'Other.'


This is perhaps natural since underlying the present exclusionary ideologies whose other side is hatred of the 'Other' is the historic reality that those presently driving such exclusionist agendas were themselves despised, excluded and marginalised by communities that have always viewed themselves as part of society's mainstream.


Ethnicity and ethnic consciousness are, however, a universal phenomenon. Every people possess specific identity markers, though in popular usage ethnicity is considered a unique feature of tribal societies. The family, the home, the kinship group, gender, caste, religion, language, race, even the physical space that a people occupy — any and each one of these could be and indeed is a coordinate of a people's identity. These identity markers of their nature criss cross, with the result that every people have multiple identities.


And yet, identity politics and ethnic, now ethno-nationalistic, assertions articulated in singular and exclusive terms have taken some of the most violent forms not merely in Assam and its neighbourhood but worldwide. There is hardly any country, from the economically most advanced to the most backward, where such ethno-nationalistic mobilisations have not taken place with a political agenda of separatism whose objective is to carve out an exclusive territorial and political space, excluding the 'Other' who has historically been part of the same territorial and political space, and has shared the same or similar ethnic identity. Often, the 'Other' is indistinguishable from the self, as in civil wars whose key component is ethnic cleansing, the other side of violent ethnic assertion.


There may be an element of subjectivity in such ethnic identity assertions. One is not merely what one is, one is also what one thinks and feels one is; and no one, certainly no know-all journalist or even better qualified scholars can dismiss even the most subjectively held perceptions of a people as merely reductionism. The problem arises when such assertions seek to deny, diminish and, if possible, destroy the 'Other,' who is very often of one's kind but in this process of exclusionary mobilisation is cast beyond the pale.


A most curious feature of such ethnic mobilisations is the plasticity of identities in whose name such mobilisations are done, with such identities constantly invented and reinvented. When an element of fabrication enters this process of construction and invention, one has to question the very authenticity of such rigid identity assertions. One recalls that a key element in the destruction of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was the invention, in addition to the Serb, the Croat and Bosnian nationalities (the Montenegrins and the Slovenes were still in the making, in political and territorial terms, during those fraught years) of the Muslim as a 'nationality,' virtually replacing the Bosnian, though historically there were (and are) Serbian Muslims, Croatian Muslims and Bosnian Muslims.


This phenomenon of invention and reinvention of identities is widespread in Assam and the northeast. In Assam, the process where a tribal person by going through some simple and nominal ritualistic processes would become part of the caste Hindu Assamese society, albeit at its lower levels, has been well documented. Many tribal communities have reinvented themselves by assuming new nomenclatures, though the reinvention has not meant any substantial change in their social status, but only the restoration of a nomenclature replacing the old that had pejorative connotations. There has also been a singular case of a tribal identity being 'fabricated,' a creation out of airy nothing both a name and a local habitation (see Manufactured identities, Frontline, 7 October 2005).


Manipur presents some of the most striking examples of such invention and reinvention of identities. Thirty-two tribal communities (till recently 29), broadly classified under two heads, the Kuki and the Naga, are recognised in the State. However, the exact number of those classified under the two heads has never been clear because of an element of fluidity in this categorisation. What is clear is that while there are few instances of a Naga tribe switching its identity to Kuki, traffic in the reverse direction is not uncommon. A well documented case is that of the Anal, a tribal people inhabiting Chandel district, who were once classified as Kuki and are now classified as Naga.


One of the most interesting cases of such plasticity is the Monsang, once considered a Kuki tribe and now identified as a Naga tribe. In a conversation with this correspondent in Imphal recently, Professor Gangmumei Kamei, historian of Manipur, referred to Ng Mono, former MLA and leading person from the Monsang community who was at one time the general secretary of the Kuki National Assembly, and who later became a leading member of the Naga Integration Council, which wants the integration of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas under one political and administrative set-up — in short, the break-up of Manipur. Professor Kamei himself presents a most interesting transition. Once known as Gangmumei Kabui, he is now the leading ideologue of the Zeliangrong movement that seeks a homeland for the Zeliangrong community, which is literally a construct made up from the names of three Naga communities of Manipur (and Nagaland) — ZEme, LIANGmei and RONGmei. There have been similar constructs in the region.


During the Kuki-Naga clashes in parts of the State in 1993-94, the Chiru and Kom tribes who did not see themselves as part of either of the two broad categories, nevertheless chose to identify themselves as Kuki or Naga depending on the vicinity they lived in. When the clashes abated, they reverted to their original status. However such strategies of survival have not always worked. The clashes that broke out on July 24, 1997 in Churachandpur (Lamka), headquarters of the district of the same name in southwest Manipur, and persisted for nearly a year involved, both as perpetrators and victims, two of the major communities of the town and the district, the Thadou Kuki and the Paite, both part of the great Kuki-Chin family, and virtually indistinguishable from each other. These clashes were one of the most extreme examples of the 'Other' and the self becoming indistinguishable.


One may well ask, in the words of Shakespeare: Hark in thine ear. Change places and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?


Who is the self, who is the Other?








For more than 60 years Israel has been at war with its neighbours. And for more than 60 years this has been used by the State of Israel to censor its press. When Israeli rockets killed hundreds of people in the Gaza strip this time last year, when its bombs and missiles flattened three U.N. schools, most Israelis were kept unaware of the facts by their own newspapers. They had to turn to the internet or the BBC or the CNN.


Never mind the country's way of waging war has led to it being indicted for war crimes by a U.N. committee headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, the people there are rightly proud of their democracy. If in India we like to boast about being the "biggest democracy in the world", in Israel every now and then one can hear someone say "In the Middle East, Israel is the only country that has a western style democratic polity."


Israel has a healthy multi-party system that functions on the basis of proportional representation and a polity in which coalition governments have become the norm rather than the exception. Around 30 political parties represent varied and often contrary views. The press is free to report on the different political viewpoints and express views critical of government policy, even in the sensitive matter of Israel's conflict with its neighbours and its illegal occupation of territories after the 1967 war beyond the British mandate of 1948. But when it comes to spot news related to the conflict — and internationally that is often what makes the headlines — there is simply no question of the flourishing and "free" Israeli press straying from the path declared to be politically correct by the censor. Of course, there are newspapers and columnists extremely critical of their government's policy and they do get published. But, the government likes to "protect" its citizens from the gory factual details of Israeli military operations and the devastation that they bring to people just across the so-called border with Gaza or with areas under the Palestinian National Authority or even Lebanon.


As Israeli columnist Gideon Levy of the Haaretz newspaper wrote about Israel's 34-day war with Lebanon in 2006: "The devastation we are sowing in Lebanon doesn't touch anyone here and most of it is not even shown to Israelis. Those who want to know what Tyre looks like now have to turn to foreign channels — the BBC reporter brings chilling images from there, the likes of which won't be seen here..."


And again, when Israel carried out waves of airstrikes in the Gaza strip starting December 2008, Israelis were not always aware of what their defence forces were doing to young and old, women and children. Many more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in that war, which also left 13 Israelis dead. The bombing of three U.N. schools in Gaza earlier this year made headlines all over the world, except Israel, where reporting of the event was at best scanty, agency reports of the time noted.


A big hole in the democratic setup is the existence and power of the official Censor, which the otherwise "free" press willingly subjects itself to. Through separate "agreements" with the Israeli government and the Censor, the fourth estate subjects itself to screening — 14 subjects are covered by the censorship law although it is security-related issues that are in effect rigorously scrutinised, said the Editor of Yediot Aharonot to a group of visiting Indian journalists invited by the Government of Israel.


In casual conversation with a number of people — ordinary people, some diplomats, a writer, a film director, a few journalists, inmates of a kibbutz and others — during this visit, the predominant view of the conflict that emerged was: "Palestinians deserve what they are getting; they are fighting among themselves – there is no unity of purpose or mind between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas; Israel wants peace but is forced to retaliate when Hamas slams rockets into Israel …" And finally, the conversation almost always ended with a direct or indirect reference to the Holocaust and the remark "We want peace, but Israel is fighting for its survival."


In Israel, unlike India, there would be almost no question at all of the press trying to take a critical view of any military action. There are numerous instances of news stories from Kashmir — a most recent example is the coverage of the Shopian deaths and there was the earlier case of young boys playing cricket being killed by the security forces — forcing the government to investigate allegations of human rights violations by our armed forces.


But that would be rare, if not impossible in Israel. The only time journalists feared getting into trouble with the government in India was the period of the Emergency between 1975 and 1977, when even unfavourable political coverage of the Congress was frowned upon.


The overarching censorship prevalent in Israel is not news to journalists covering the Middle-East. The Associated Press (an American news agency) has entered into an agreement with the Israeli censor that all its correspondents would abide by the censorship rules. Peter Hounam, a BBC correspondent, was forced to apologise for refusing to submit to the Israeli Military Censor the tapes of a recorded interview of Mordechai Vanunu, when he was released from an Israeli prison after serving an 18-year long sentence for blowing the whistle on the existence of Israel's nuclear weapons programme. Hounam's apology was a condition for permission to re-enter Israel. Journalists can be put into jail in Israel and newspapers forcibly closed (judicial review is allowed) for defying the Censor.


Last year in December when Israeli jets struck Hamas-ruled areas, Israeli newspapers had little or no information for their readers on the huge casualties suffered by civilians in Gaza. The issue of reporting facts (not opinion) went before the former President of the Supreme Court of Israel, Aharon Barak, who ruled that when in conflict, "the right to live" would supersede "the right to free expression." The Court justified its ruling citing the "existential nature of security issues" facing Israel.


May be India's "free press" went overboard when the Mumbai terrorist attack took place last year. There was dismay that television showed in real time NSG commandos being dropped at the "war" zones — clearly that would give the information away to terrorists holed inside. But, in Israel the press would normally not write about the Gaza action that many believe fits the legal meaning of "war crime."


A visitor to Israel would be almost immediately struck by a pervasive siege mentality, although it is the worst kept secret in the region that militarily the Zionist state has no rival in the region. And Israelis know this. Each time an Israeli is killed in a terrorist attack or by a suicide bomber, the retaliation by Israel on unsuspecting innocent people in Gaza or Lebanon is ferocious. Since an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped by the Hamas in Gaza, more than 127 people have been killed in Gaza in "retributive justice." Currently the Israeli government is negotiating the swapping of Shalit with Palestinian prisoners held by it.


During a brief interaction, Noah Klieger — the oldest correspondent of Israel's largest circulated newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, and a Holocaust survivor — said: "If we wanted, there would be no Gaza, no Palestinian Authority. We can liquidate Gaza in one hour, finish it off …the same for other areas under the Palestine Authority. This I am saying on record." And "off the record" he had something similar to say about Iran. His view was the "humaneness of Israel" was demonstrated by the fact that it had not completely finished off every living thing in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority territory. At the same time he claimed his newspaper had no one political line: "Our editorials reflect all shades of opinion, pro-Arab as well as anti-Arab views."


What is alarming is that Mr. Klieger was apparently an influential journalist of the Hebrew language newspaper that sells copies equal to two-thirds of the entire Jewish population of Israel.


What about the Military Censor? He did not think it was unpleasant or a problem at all. "We are Israelis and we don't want to [write or say anything that would] threaten our security." A foreign newspaper may be free to say Israel has nuclear bombs, "I cannot and do not say so."








The state of India's food security is worsening by the year. The cost of food items is increasing rapidly, making them unaffordable to a majority of the people. Added to these woes is the short supply of pulses and edible oils, which forces the Central government to import them.


Pulses play a critical role in the diet of the people of India, where large sections are vegetarians. Protein plays a key role in the human diet. It is the body-building nutrient that develops muscles and is responsible for body strength, endurance and productivity at the workplace.


It is established that a human body requires a daily intake of about 50 gm of protein. While people in the developed countries and most of the developing countries have a satisfactory intake of protein, in India the per capita daily intake is only about 10 gm. This endangers health and work performance.


Proteins are amino acids. Out of the 22 amino acids required in the human diet, the body supplies 14. The remaining eight have to come from food. If all the eight amino acids are present in a single food item, it is called a complete protein food.


Since all proteins from animal sources are complete proteins, it is easy to meet the dietary protein requirements of non-vegetarians. However, the main sources of protein for vegetarians are leguminous plants — to which pulses belong. In general, pulses have lower concentrations of protein than animal sources. Besides, none of the pulses — except soybeans — are complete proteins. Therefore, combinations of two or more pulses are needed in a vegetarian diet. Dairy products, which are complete proteins, may also be used to supplement pulse proteins in vegetarian diets.


Given the important role that pulses play in the human diet, their availability needs to be increased indigenously. The common belief that without new high-yielding varieties the country will have to continue importing pulses and edible oils to meet the requirements is not true.


The possibility of improving productivity per acre by an order of two to three times using existing varieties has been demonstrated time and again in grower-fields in India. However, it is not done just by following current production practices but through the adoption of entirely new but simple and farmer-friendly technologies and tools that are now not available to Indian farmers.


The underlying problem of Indian agriculture that threatens food security is extremely low productivity. For example, in the case of rice it is only a third of what has been achieved elsewhere. Cotton productivity is only a sixth of what has been achieved in developed countries. The situation is no different in the case of other crops. In order to progress, the mindset with regard to the following two factors needs to change:


1. It is not the farmer who makes the food: he is only a facilitator. Food is actually made by plants. Therefore it is important to understand the requirements of plants and supply them without restrictions in order for plants to deliver food. Since plants do not talk, their needs are understood through research and experimentation. As indicated by Dr. R.S. Paroda, a former Director-General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), our agriculture scientists will not by themselves be able to cope with the food security challenges that face the country.


The current policy of pampering farmers with subsidies will get us nowhere in terms of improving productivity. This is well understood not only in developed countries but also in developing African countries like Malawi. Malawi was a basket case of poverty, malnutrition and food shortage. Crop productivity improvements have taken it to the point where the country now exports its surplus food to neighboring poor countries.


The lesson India has to learn is that instead of subsidising food supply to the people, the plants need subsidised food such as fertilizers and other inputs in order for them to produce the food to achieve food security.


2. The mindset that assumes that breeding is the solution to all maladies has to change. Nurturing of plants is several times more important in crop productivity improvement than hybrid seeds per se. A hybrid variety will not produce if planted in non-fertile beach soil. But it will produce several times more if planted in fertile soil.


Brazil learnt this lesson years ago and stopped financing breeding for new varieties. Instead, it scours countries around the world and selects promising varieties to test their adaptability to Brazilian climatic conditions and then provides funding just to do that. It has taken stem cuttings of black pepper varieties from Kerala and spent money and effort on crop production practices. Now Brazil's pepper yield is 1,500 kg an acre compared to India's average of 350 kg an acre, the lowest among all pepper-producing countries.


India has about 50 million acres of irrigated land and is second only to the United States with 60 million acres. In the U.S. it is possible to raise only one crop a year due to weather constraints. However, many areas in India have the potential to raise three crops a year, provided we learn how to sustain the fertility of the soil. This will be equal to 150 million acres of irrigated land. At the present time our system of monitoring soil fertility and maintaining it is flawed and needs urgent attention. We cannot just bury our heads in soil as ostriches may do.


Finally, we have facilities now in place in Tamil Nadu to adopt new crop production technologies and tools, where crop productivity is routinely maintained at 300 per cent to 500 per cent more per acre than the average in India. We are now in the process of developing infrastructure for the rapid propagation of these highly cost- effective crop production technologies across the country.


(Dr. Lux Lakshmanan, CPAg., CPCS, CPSS, is Director, California Agriculture Consulting Service, Davis, California. e-mail: )







Silicon Valley veterans are calling for new laws to encourage more technology entrepreneurs to move to America, as the area attempts to hold on to its crown as the world's hi-tech hotspot.


Reform of U.S. immigration laws is one of the hot topics facing the Obama administration. The internet campaign, which has the support of a range of entrepreneurs and investors, is encouraging the White House to back a "startup visa" givi ng hi-tech entrepreneurs U.S. residency in return for starting a company.


The American technology industry, particularly in northern California, has long relied on bringing in talent from overseas. A quarter of American technology companies have foreign-born founders, and more than half of all Silicon Valley businesses were founded by immigrants.


The Founders Visa campaign argues regulations stifle innovation by forcing students to return to their home countries after completing their studies, or by issuing employment-based visas that lock people into working for large companies.


Its proposals would modify an immigrant visa that is reserved for people who invest at least $500,000 in the U.S. and make it easier for hi-tech entrepreneurs to set up businesses. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010





What significantly differentiates the S.P.S. Rathore case from comparable atrocities of the past is the progressive and healthy shift it has caused in the attitude of the mainstream news media and people, particularly those drawn from the middle classes, to sex-related crimes against women and children. Unlike in the past, this activist concern goes beyond sympathy for the victims. It extends to more substantive and wide-ranging aspects such as the legal rights of the affe cted, the relevant laws, the law's delays, the forms of judicial procedure, the adequacy of the sentence awarded to the perpetrators of the crime, and the compensation decreed to the victims or their families.


All this is reflected in the scores of letters from readers that can be read in newspapers, which published on December 22, 2009 a small report on the court verdict that sentenced Rathore to six months imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 1,000 for sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl at Panchkula in Haryana, 19 years ago. "At long last, justice, too little and too late, has seemingly been done to the girl, who was growing into a promising tennis player, when she chose to end her life," a newspaper quoted a neighbour of the girl's family as saying. (The sexual assault on the minor took place in 1990 and she committed suicide three years later, unable to bear the harassment and torture her father and brother had to suffer at the instance of the police official, abusing all the power at his command. All that the father and son did was to take the issue to court. The investigation and the proceedings in different courts prolonged the agony of the family for nearly two decades.) The media brought to light how the accused used his contacts with the political leadership not only to delay any court action against him, but also to put the girl's brother behind bars by foisting cases against him and to inflict enormous stress on the girl's father.


Indifference of the State Government


Over the past two weeks, the news report on the verdict has generated thousands of articles, analyses, and pictures in print and online. TV channels have vied with one another to take the message to even larger sections of people across the country. It is absolutely clear that most readers and viewers are of the view that the punishment meted out to the former police chief was not commensurate with the enormity of the crime he committed. Appeals have been made by political parties and human rights organisations to the Haryana government to go on appeal to the higher courts and prevent Rathore from getting away with this trifling verdict. Newspapers have written editorials demanding positive steps to undo the wrong done to the girl and her family by ensuring full justice and adequate compensation for the families of the victims in such cases. The indifference and failure of Haryana Chief Ministers to get the culprit punished within a reasonable period have been widely deplored. Om Prakash Chautala asserted that the molestation case was never brought to his notice; he tried to pass on the blame to two rivals, former Chief Ministers Bhajan Lal and Bhansi Lal. The present Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who promised to "re-visit the entire case," has formed a special investigation commission. The Chandigarh administration has also ordered an enquiry to find out why the school in which the girl was studying expelled her soon after the incident. The victim's family suspected the hand of the police official behind this.


Major initiatives of the Centre


The Union Home Ministry and the Law Ministry have also taken major initiatives on the issue. Home Minister P. Chidambaram even invited the victim's family and their lawyer to New Delhi and discussed with them the modalities of further legal proceedings. He issued clarifications about the police force's responsibility in registering First Information Reports (FIR) and asked the States to strictly follow the rules. These efforts have led to the girl's family filing two fresh FIRs relating to the alleged role of Rathore in "driving the victim to commit suicide" and "the harassment and torture" of the victim's brother. The charges include attempt to murder and doctoring the post-mortem report.


It is certainly striking that while the failure of the administrative and justice system, including the law's delays, ensured virtual immunity and protection for Rathore over two decades, the turnaround has taken merely 15 days. How was it possible? The explanation is the investigative and agenda-building role of the news media, which has fuelled public anger. Some lawyers, including Rathore's wife, may complain of 'trial by media,' which would be a serious legal issue in situations where juries rather than trained professional judges determine guilt or innocence. But what the news media, for all the excesses committed by some television channels, have succeeded in doing in this Haryana case is sensitising millions of people to the imperative need to bring justice even at this late stage to the girl's family and obliging the government to take serious steps to rule out such tragic experiences in future. Progressive political activists, women's organisations, and some NGO groups have also made fine contributions to the mobilisation of people through rallies, human chains, candle-light processions, and so on.


"A people's fight for justice"


The lesson is that when the justice system is deeply flawed and everything seems to be loaded against the weak and in favour of the powerful, it is this kind of affective expansion of the support base of the victims that can achieve positive outcomes — even if these are hardly commensurate with the enormity of the wrong suffered and the grief and agony endured. And what can one say about the role of courageous Aradhana, friend and eye-witness to the molestation, and of her parents, Anand Prakash and Madhu who showed tremendous human solidarity and played a vital role in keeping the legal battle alive? Along with a top police official, R.R. Singh, himself a retired DGP, who did the investigation at a crucial stage and was instrumental in taking the issue to the court, it is they who made it possible for the media to play their agenda-building role and develop this into a "people's fight" for justice.


Readers will agree that The Hindu was second to none in its extensive and insightful coverage of this issue. They would also have noted one difference in the nature of the coverage, the steadfast refusal to name the dead girl or publish her picture or the pictures of her family. The Hindu's Editor-in-Chief explains: "This is certainly arguable. On the face of it, this seems absurd when everyone else, including the girl's parents and steadfast friends, are freely naming and identifying her. Some senior journalists within our organisation have pointed this out and we have had some internal discussion on whether we needed to make an exception in this case. But we see what we do as being consistent in complying with the legal and ethical obligation not to name or identify minors who are or were victims of sexual molestation. We can understand and appreciate why others do not see the need for such restraint in this case. Nor will the restraint apply to social historians who will be writing on the subject. But we do feel that the fact the young woman is dead is no reason for a newspaper departing from the legal and ethical obligation. Also, it helps to have consistency, which rules out confusion, within a large news organisation on matters like this."









There is the perfect legal pretext for ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vishnu Prabhakar to reiterate the Indian stand that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that includes parts now in Pakistan — the so-called 'Azad' Kashmir and the Northern Area comprising Gilgit and Baltistan. All Kashmir parties, the mainstream politicians as well as the separatists all argue, in principle, for a J&K that comprises five regions — Kashmir Valley (including the other side of the LoC), Jammu, Ladakh, Gilgit and Baltistan.


Whether this claim can be reinforced on ground after 60 years is not an issue because once negotiations take place — India, Pakistan, Kashmiri separatists all believe in it — then the initial positions assume utmost importance. India has to make the maximum claim to all the territory which was under the erstwhile Kashmir ruler Hari Singh at the time of accession.


Kashmiris of all political hues believe in the not-so-popular Maharajah's far-flung demesne as a basis of their Kashmiri identity. Pakistan claims that the old princely state of J&K with its Muslim majority is a natural part of the new state created on the basis of religious identity. The three views are irreconcilable and there are as many dimensions as there are to the Rubik's cube.


Any future resolution of the issue which would necessarily involve compromise on the part of the two major players — India and Pakistan — is expected to be along the existing line of division. This is something that neither India nor Pakistan would want to acknowledge beforehand because that would weaken their bargaining position.


There is then the element of legalese in the India claim over the pre-1947 J&K. The government cannot be seen to be saying anything less or anything else. This is something like the Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh, which is seen as part of Tibet before communist China walked into Lhasa. Do ordinary people give credence to this casuistry when things are so different on the ground? They do not.


It will require a bold Indian leader to declare that the J&K dispute is a closed chapter and that India and Pakistan will have to redefine their bilateral ties in terms of the present and the future rather than of the past. Until then statements like the one made by Prabhakar will continue to be made.







The government of India has decided to ease some of its new more stringent visa norms, which have received some criticism from other countries as well as from minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor. While Tharoor had to apologise for his message on the social networking site Twitter, which questioned the wisdom of tightening visa norms because of problems for tourists and the fact that the killers of 26/11 had no visas, it


Problems had been foreseen for foreign employees, especially those working in various government departments, as the changed rules stated that people coming to India on business visas could not work without an employment visas. The new rules will now allow for a "government to government" category which will allow more flexibility. Other countries have also asked for flexibility, even for non-goverment workers.


The government has also allowed visas on arrival for people from some countries — Pakistan has been removed from the list, hardly surprising since this visa crackdown is the immediate fallout of the David Headley-Daood Gilani case and the alarm over the ease with which the alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative visited India, set up businesses and travelled around.


The issue of course is a tricky one. Tharoor, quite legitimately, had only asked whether stricter rules would benefit our tourism industry, which needs all the help it can get. He also questioned whether visas could keep committed terrorists out. At the same time, other countries have questioned the need to make things tougher for business visitors, at a time when the world wants to visit India.


But nor can it be denied that security is an issue and together with all the other measures being taken, visas are just one more. It cannot hurt, surely, to have tighter controls on visitors to India if that helps in some small way to keep us — and the world — safer. As usual, hindsight is spot on when it points out that it might have made better sense to have had a larger debate on this issue before issuing the guidelines.


The rules were changed by the Union home ministry, but the effects of those changes affect external affairs, tourism, commerce, trade and in fact, almost every aspect of life today. This requires nuanced thinking and well-calibrated adjustments for different kinds of visitors. It also requires a speedy process so that the genuine are not overly inconvenienced. Pragmatism and anticipation need to go hand in hand here.







The Irish Republican Army (IRA), known for its antipathy to the then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, once hurled a threat at her: "You will have to be lucky all the time. We need to be lucky just once!" Determined to liquidate her for her determination to fight the terrorist outfit, the latter nearly got her and some Conservative colleagues in an unsuccessful attack on the Brighton hotel in which they were staying during a party conference.


The recent aborted Christmas Day attempt by a 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit reminds us how luck plays an important part in averting major disasters. For the 278 passengers and 11 crew on board NW 253, it was real good fortune that an alert passenger chanced upon Umar trying to do something odd — fiddling around under a blanket after telling co-passengers that he was unwell — about 20 minutes before the flight was due to land in Detroit. A former student of the hallowed University College, London and president of its Islamic Society, Umar boarded the flight in Amsterdam with an explosive device packed with PETN (pentaerythritol tetra nitrate) powder fastened on to his innerwear.


Umar ignited the PETN before he was overpowered by a brave passenger and a crew member who quickly doused the minor fire that had been caused. Ultimately, it was a poor detonator that saved the day. When interrogated subsequently, Umar admitted he had received the explosive powder in Yemen and confessed to al Qaeda links, which he retracted later while talking to the FBI. It is learnt that he had hidden the powder initially in his underpants and later used a syringe of chemicals to mix with the PETN powder to produce a lethal device on board.


So much for the Nigerian's ingenuity. What should bother every one of us is how in spite of all tall claims of foolproof security by aviation security officials the world over, we now know of a major chink in the whole mechanics of securing flights. The incident should impress on every terrorist hiding somewhere in the globe that his enemy is not so invincible as one would have imagined earlier, especially after 9/11.


There are two aspects to the Umar story. First is the ease with which he was able to hoodwink the officials and scanners at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. According to experts, PETN can hardly be detected by a conventional metal detector. It is doubtful that even a whole body scanner that uses sound waves to see through a passenger's clothing would have succeeded.


There is speculation that the al Qaeda has developed remarkable expertise on evading scanners and has already done many successful dry runs. US civil aviation authorities nevertheless contemplate installation of such scanners in all airports. There is a privacy concern here, because body scanners reveal far too much of a person for his or her comfort. Indian officials should not therefore rush into installing them.


Even more important is how to prevent known suspects from boarding aircraft. Umar had strong views on religion but was described by the provost of the college as "a well mannered, quietly spoken, polite and able young man. Born into a wealthy family, he had not a care in the world. Interestingly, his parents were concerned about his radical views. When he made himself scarce from the family a few months ago, his father contacted the US Embassy in Lagos and told them about his anxiety.


The information was promptly conveyed to Washington, where the security bureaucracy lost time in deciding whether to put his name in the 550,000- strong list of terror suspects or in a smaller list (4000) of 'no-fly', which would have prevented Umar from getting into any US-bound flight. Since he did not figure in the latter list — having no confirmed past history of terror links — no eyebrows were raised when he bought his air ticket paying cash and did not also check in any baggage. To cap this all, he had a multiple-entry visa to enter the US!


The Umar episode has many lessons for us. Security agencies will need to shed the conventional profile of the modern terrorist, an unkempt frustrated youth coming from a poverty-ridden environment. Mild manners, sophisticated attire and Western education need not necessarily go with liberal views on religion. Secondly, terror data building is laborious, calling for extraordinary patience and resources. Although not totally reliable it has its own utility in keeping track of suspects. The 'no-fly' list is especially valuable, notwithstanding the fact it can lead to some hardship and miscarriage of justice.


Finally, selective introduction of total body scanners is worth the experiment. Their use can be expanded gradually, after paying due attention to the sensitivity of our women passengers. We should not lose sight of the cultural differences between the West and India which militate against the extensive use of whole body scanners. The point to be remembered is technology has a major role in keeping the undesirables away from civilian aircraft.







In the national uproar over the Ruchika case, one important point is being overlooked: Ruchika is not alone. Sadly for our country, there are many Ruchikas everywhere. Their stories may be different, their tormentors may not be as powerful as Rathore, they may not take their own lives, but the essentials will be the same: they will have been sexually molested, some of them will even have been raped; in either case, the long arm of the law will be fiddling in its own pockets and the criminals will roam free.


The latest figures from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) make this amply clear. Crimes against women dominate the NCRB data, 7 of the 10 fastest rising crimes being against them. While the incidence of all crimes rose by just under 5 per cent over the previous year, dowry deaths rose by a staggering 15 per cent.


Cruelty by husbands and relatives, which is one stop short of a dowry death, rose by a 14%. Abduction of girls went up by 13% and sexual harassment by 11%. Rape and molestation increased by 7%. As you can see all these anti-women crimes are well above the increase in general crimes.


If the picture these numbers depict looks grim, the reality is even worse. The NCRB data, although the latest available, comes from 2007. In the two years elapsed since then, we must have made more "progress", and the figures would have got more appalling. But that's not all: apart from dowry deaths which are difficult to hide, most of the other crimes are grossly under-reported since many victims prefer to suffer in silence rather than go through the double trauma of reporting the crime to the police, then re-live the horror in court.


As it is, the crimes that are reported are terrible enough. The other day two young men raped a young girl in "revenge" they said, because of her dispute with her parents. Fathers-in-law have raped the bahu of the house and worse, fathers have raped daughters. In rural areas rape is often used as a weapon in caste disputes, the forced sexual act somehow being seen as non-polluting by upper-castes.


Young men rape the objects of their "affection" if they are rejected, or deform them with acid which I suppose is worse. In Delhi and other parts of the north, macho young men do "car rapes" either as a sport or to assert their masculinity.The list, it seems, is endless.


All of us know the reasons why these crimes are so commonplace. Ours is a male-dominated society and in most of the country, women are second-class citizens. India is also a largely feudal society where the landlords and their successors exercise an absolute right over their subjects and that includes the women.


The situation can't get better because of one simple reason. The men who are products of this society are the ones who go on to become policemen. And the women who are products of this society go on to become the wives, mothers and mothers-in-law who aid and abet these crimes because they actually believe that women are inferior.(Even in the Ruchika case it is Rathore's wife who is his main ally).


Growing urbanisation and literacy, especially female education, will no doubt change this. But the process will be slow and painful. Are we prepared to wait until this happens? While more and more Ruchikas meet their tragic end? Not if we lay claim to an India that is shining and aspires to superpower status.There is only one quick solution. Which is not to wait for attitudes to change, but to force the change, especially in a group that can be controlled.


That group is the police force. Their attitudes will become more liberal if there is a big stick poised to hit them. They will be more considerate to women victims and keener to catch the perpetrators if they knew that they themselves will be punished or sacked. In an insensitive society, fear is the only key.






Every living being, every entity, wants liberation. Unless and until an entity attains liberation, whether in the crude physical sphere or in the subtle sphere, its natural development does not take place. Unless its natural development takes place we cannot obtain detailed knowledge about that entity, and for that reason we cannot achieve maximum utilisation of that object. One of the valuable treasures of human beings is their intellect. Of course, you may say that intuition is more valuable than intellect. It is true, indeed. But the fact is that intuition is generally a substance of the spiritual world, whereas the domain of intellect is both the crude world and the subtle world. In the spiritual world also, the inspiration from intellect is a very important factor. That is why we cannot ignore the contribution of intellect. If we ignore intellect, we will have to deny the difference between human and non-human beings in the mundane world.


What is intellect? In the process of evolution, when the ahamtattva (ego), the subtler form of the citta (elementary mind), has a greater area than that of the citta, then the enlarged area of ahamtattva is called buddhi (intellect). Bodhi (Intuition) is different.


When the existential 'I' feeling, or mahattattva, becomes larger in area than the ahamtattva, then the enlarged area of existential 'I' feeling is called bodhi (intuition). This intuition establishes the link between the crude world and the subtle world.


And as a result of a closer link being established between the subtle and spiritual worlds and as a result of its closer acquaintance with the sweetness of the spiritual world, this intuition guides human beings along the path of spirituality. If we do not protect the human intellect from undesirable onslaughts from various directions, then the future of the human race is surely enveloped in cimmerian darkness.


Shrii Shrii Anandamurtijii









The Union Government has rightly notified the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act, 2008, providing for sweeping changes in the criminal justice system. Significantly, the amended law not only gives protection to rape victims but also provides for completing trials in sexual offences within two months. This should be seen in the context of the infamous Ruchika Girhotra molestation case in which the accused, former Director-General of Police S.P.S. Rathore, after 19 years of trial, got away with a minor punishment of six months in jail. Ruchika, unable to see the torture perpetrated on her and her family, committed suicide. The case is now being re-opened following a public outcry and media pressure. Unfortunately, before the enactment of the Act, the rape victims, devoid of the state and statutory protection, were running from pillar to post for justice.


Surprisingly, despite increasing cases of crime against women, the investigating agencies hardly bother to probe them and bring the culprits to book. The latest data from the National Crimes Records Bureau shows how only three out of 10 rape and dowry deaths are probed within the same year. Admittedly, delayed investigation not only frustrates the victim but also provides an opportunity to the accused to use his clout in influencing the investigation as is evident in the Ruchika case.


The Act has several salutary provisions aimed at helping rape victims. With the court's permission, a rape victim can engage an advocate to help the prosecution. A victim's statement will have to be recorded at her home or in a place of her choice by a woman police officer in the presence of her parents, guardians, near-relatives or local social workers. Under the new law, statements can also be recorded through audio/video or other electronic means. The law also provides for in camera trial by a woman magistrate and protection of the victim's identity. The victim can go on appeal against a court order acquitting the accused or convicting him of a lesser offence or awarding inadequate compensation. While all these provisions are well intended, their efficacy and usefulness will depend on the degree of implementation by the law enforcement agencies. Surely, the focus is on strict enforcement of the new legislation.








The declaration of the first Chief Minister of the so-called "fifth province" of Pakistan, Mr Mehdi Shah, that Gilgit-Baltistan has "no connection to Kashmir" has no legal basis and, therefore, unacceptable to India. New Delhi's strong reaction to Mr Shah's statement is understandable as any move to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be acceptable to India. New Delhi's stand remains unchanged — "the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India" by virtue of its accession to India in 1947. That a large part of the state, PoK, remains under the illegal occupation of Islamabad does not mean that Pakistan has the right to do what it likes to suit its designs.


The first elections in Gilgit-Baltistan were held in November last year after the Pakistan government issued the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009. The Order was ostensibly a part of Islamabad's package for the Northern Areas to quell the unrest there. The Pakistan government camouflaged it as a move to provide the people of the area the right for self-governance with an elected legislative assembly having powers to make laws on 61 subjects. The package also had it that Gilgit-Baltistan would have its separate Public Service Commission, Chief Election Commissioner and Auditor-General. However, it was cleverly designed to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir's Northern Areas, which India considers as its integral part. This was on the lines of what Pakistan did some time ago when it "delinked" Chitral from Jammu and Kashmir and amalgamated it with the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).


The truth is that the people of the Northern Areas have been protesting against Islamabad's high-handedness for a long time. They have been denied of even basic human rights all these years. There was the fear that if their resentment continued to remain ignored the area could become another Balochistan, where most people feel that nothing less than separation of their province from Pakistan can satisfy their democratic urges. But what Pakistan has done in Gilgit-Baltistan is only a cosmetic exercise, as it will continue to remote-control the territory with wide-ranging powers with Islamabad, including the right to dissolve its elected assembly and sack its government.








Dwindling medical ethics have been a cause for worry in India for quite some time. Among other malpractices, there has been an unhealthy nexus between some members of the medical fraternity and pharmaceutical companies. Thus, the Medical Council of India's new code aimed at curbing the practice of accepting freebies by doctors from companies is more than welcome. The MCI's amended code of conduct will include not accepting any gifts or travel facility from any pharmaceutical company and the healthcare industry.

Gone are the days when gifts given to doctors were customary and confined to merely desktop calendars or pen stands. Today pharmaceutical companies, aggressively pushing their products in the market, offer freebies to doctors that range from expensive items to foreign junkets. Though the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association has devised codes of ethical marketing practices, the ground reality leaves much to be desired. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad too has talked about the unholy nexus and admitted that some doctors, influenced by pharma companies, do prescribe expensive medicines though cheaper options are available in the market. While the Medical Council had been asking for stricter guidelines, the government is even considering a Bill to prohibit doctors from accepting gifts from drug companies in return for favours.


However, the new code can address the problem only if it is accepted by the medical professionals without reservations. As it is, the existing rules are being flouted. The IMA code of conduct states that physicians have to write prescriptions of medicine with their generic names. Yet the rule is often not followed. To ensure that the natural trust deficit between the medical fraternity and patients is not eroded any further, doctors would have to take a call. If only they pay heed to the Hippocratic oath and the MCI code more regulations would perhaps not be required.









Ever since the disappearance of the Soviet Union, revisionists have sought to belittle the potential of Indo-Russian relations in the post-Cold War era. The tumult of the 1990s and the socio-economic and political convulsions within an emasculated Russia invited obituaries from virtually all segments of the Indian intellengtsia. When the process of political stabilisation did begin in the early 2000s, few anticipated the restoration of Russian power and its impact on a "unipolar" world.


Buttressed by a surge in hydrocarbon prices after 2003, the watershed event came in 2006 when Russia for the first time regained its 1990 level of the real GDP. However, it was only with the events of August 2008 in the Southern Caucasus that India's strategic community began to take Russian resurgence seriously. What the Georgian conflict produced was a global realisation that Eurasian security cannot be achieved without an acknowledgement of vital Russian security interests and policies.


The past year has also witnessed an infusion of realism in Indian security discourse. There is an emerging consensus that bandwagoning with a declining hegemon is insufficient to attain a higher international profile for India and address its regional security questions. It is against such a backdrop that Moscow and New Delhi conducted their annual summit last month. And while this was the Prime Minister's sixth visit to Russia, a slew of agreements, including a civil nuclear framework agreement (a comprehensive nuclear deal without strings attached) and an extension of military-technical collaboration to 2020 (including a successful resolution of the Gorshkov issue), indicates a renewed focus on the relationship and a belated acceptance of Russia's return as a global actor.


The joint declaration identified specific policy themes. Both sides agreed that the "fight against terrorism cannot be selective, and drawing false distinctions between the 'good' and 'bad' Taliban would be counter-productive." This convergence of views becomes especially relevant in the context of a segment of the western commentariat that holds open the option to forge a bargain with the Taliban with the Pakistani military serving as the conduit. Both Moscow and New Delhi are united in opposition to a stabilisation of the Hindu-Kush that returns a radical proxy regime into power in Kabul. Furthermore, with Washington exploring greater coordination with Beijing in its AfPak plan and encouraging a regional role for China, Russia and India will discover growing opportunities to coordinate their Afghanistan policies.


The joint declaration also focused on Asia, noting "the growing efficacy of close bilateral and multilateral interaction in the Asia-Pacific region as a means to enhance economic cooperation and to maintain regional peace and stability to confront global challenges of security and development of the 21st century." Clearly, this was a reference to strive for a geopolitically plural and an open security architecture for Asia. What is interesting is that both sides appear to be shoring up each other's presence in the Eurasian region: Russia supporting India's membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and "full membership in the SCO"; India supporting Russia's involvement in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).


In fact, the allusion to the Asia-Pacific region is timely as the debate over Russia's evolving role in Asia assumes more clarity. A perception that Russia's "westernisers" have irrevocably steered Russia away from Asia has gained currency in Russian foreign policy discourse. It is argued that a "European choice" and "the preservation of a predominantly European orientation of Russia" will preclude it from pursuing its objectives in Asia.


The reality, however, is more complex. As Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has himself noted, the so-called conflict between the Western and Eastern vectors of Russian policy is "artificial and far-fetched". In fact, what is remarkable is the extent to which Russian foreign policy has come to rely on a non-ideological approach to the West. Geostrategic considerations – Moscow's resolve to prevent the revival of an anti-Russian trans-Atlantic consensus while restoring Russia's influence on its periphery – and geoeconomic realties (energy and technological interdependence with Europe) imply Russia's Western vector is driven largely by realpolitik. Russia is poised to play a major role in Asian security in the coming years after the present phase of transition in completed. Russian strategists are not uninterested in the evolution of the Asian balance of power. The emergence of the RIC and BRIC formats attest to this fact.


As Lavrov argues, "Russia's energy, scientific, technological and intellectual potential" ensures an important role for it in Asia's economic rejuvenation. Furthermore, the fact that a majority of Russia's mineral and resource wealth lies east of the Urals in Asiatic Russia implies that Moscow cannot avoid the challenging task of developing East Siberia and the Russian Far-East. But most importantly, Russia is finally overcoming its "China first" policy – viewing Asia through the Chinese prism – towards more diversified relationships in South-East and East Asia.


The structural logic for greater Indo-Russian cooperation also stems from the construction of a complex interdependence between the United States and China over the past decade. The discernible coopting of China by the West has introduced an additional variable into Moscow's and New Delhi's foreign policies. For New Delhi, the recent patronising Obama-Hu joint statement, declaring South Asia as an object of common concern, underscored India's diplomatic vulnerability to the possibility of Sino-US collaboration on regional geopolitics. Similarly, in the global strategic triangle (US-Russia-China), it is China that enjoys a relative advantage in that the China-Russia and China-US bilateral dyads are more substantial than the Russia-US equation. Indeed, one of Russia's principal dilemmas has been to overcome this relative disadvantage by stabilising its own relations with Washington and an effort at the construction of new interdependencies with the US at the global level (though the entrenched attitude of US security elites indicates that a policy of Russian constrainment remains active).


Suffice it to say, India and Russia would need to expand their interactions both for purposes of strategic insurance vis-à-vis an ascendant China and as a leverage against expanding US-China collaboration on issues of global governance and Eurasian security.


The realities of international life have ensured that nations can rarely claim to have more than uncertain partnerships. The relative permanence of the Indo-Russian relationship must then surely be an outlier in diplomatic history. Moscow and New Delhi are on the cusp of crafting a partnership that transcends the vestiges of the Cold War. Strategic planners in Moscow and New Delhi would do a disservice to their own countries if they do not provide adequate material and intellectual support to this process.


The writer is an international relations analyst at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi.








It is difficult to describe the position and prestige that a Subedar Major enjoys in a unit. Whatever you say about him would fall short of the parameters of his personality. He is rather an institution in himself. His commanding officer often falls back on his advice in difficult situations-specially, those related to the morale, welfare and discipline of his men and the image of the unit.


Most of the clout that he commands comes out of the position of trust that he enjoys with his commanding officer who regards him as a repository of wisdom, sagacity, sobriety, maturity, loyalty, cool-headedness and above all, a sort of farmer's horse-sense. But, this is not all. Let me try to explain this phenomenon more properly through a couple of incidents.


An Army unit was on an operational exercise in a highly undulated and slippery area. Their divisional commander, a Major General, came to oversee them. When being escorted to the exercise area, he slipped and fell on the ground. Seeing the plight of the embarrassed General, the Subedar Major of the unit, following behind his C.O. lost no time in slipping himself in an equally ungainly thud. He then stood up smartly and said, "Saab, yahan to hum roz bees bees bar girte hain (Sir, we fall here scores of times every day)". That put the General at ease instantly, though he did not fail to notice, rather approvingly, why the Subedar Major had enacted all this. Here was a typical S.M. discharging one of his multi-dimensional roles to perfection.


Some 32 years back, the 51 Battalion, C.R.P.Force that I commanded was doing training under an Army brigade at the peak of summer. Our men then did not get any ration allowance. So, their messing had to be managed within their own meagre resources.


Something affordable was needed to be done to save them from heat stoke. I directed that they would be served daily two glasses of diluted milk beverage (lassi). Almond, rose and other essences were to be added for flavour. This worked well, in that none of my men was laid with heat stroke and they enjoyed the drink also.


Encouraged with this, I got another brain wave. The summer was now over. I briefed my faithful S.M. that the sub-units would prepare 'kanji', a black carrot based beverage that also works out cheap and is quite tasty and invigorating.


Thus, massive 'matkas' (earthen pots) were promptly procured in the unit to brew the beverage for the men. After a few days I checked with my Subedar Major how the idea had done. With his usual sense of obedience, he stated that the men were duly being made to drink it 'hukamiya' i.e. under orders. On my prodding, he came out that otherwise the men did not like it.


The incident explains yet another facet of a Subedar Major's profile — there are, of course, many more to it.








Punjab is facing its worst power crisis. Power cuts are being imposed because of the rising gap between demand and supply. Though the state has initiated the process to set up huge coal-based thermal plants, it will take another four to five years to fructify.


Apart from the gestation period, many problems, like coal link, pollution and requirement of vast chunk of land, are associated with such plants. Thus, a viable alternative to these are small biomass-based power plants, as Punjab has a large volume of biomass in the form of agricultural waste. The first such plant that came up at Gulabewala village in Mukatsar district about four years back is running successfully. This 7.5-MW power plant, installed by Malwa Power Private Ltd, generates 1.8 lakh units of electricity daily, which is purchased by the Punjab State Electricity Board under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) at a pre-agreed price of Rs 3.49 per unit.


The plant uses cotton sticks, paddy husk, crop residue, wild grass, cow dung cakes or any other combustible matter, which is chipped into small pieces through chipping machines and burnt to generate heat. Daily consumption is around 240 tons and it takes roughly 1.3 kg of biomass for producing one unit of electricity. The other input is water. Around 14 tons of water is consumed every day after completely de-mineralising it through the RO system installed on the premises. The water is heated to 460 degrees centigrade and the resultant super heated steam runs the turbine at 7500 RPMs. The speed is reduced to 1500 by adjoining gearbox to run the 7.5 MW gen set. The power so generated is carried to in-built grid, where it is metered and supplied to the State Electricity Board.


The technique of power generation in this plant is same as in case of thermal plants and nuclear plants except for the fuel, which is coal and nuclear fuel for such plants, respectively, and biomass for this one. Though arranging the fuel and disposing wastage of thermal and nuclear plants is a problem, biomass plants are eco-friendly as they have almost zero emissions and produce very little quantity of ash. Because of using non-polluting fuels, these are also entitled to carbon credits under the clean development mechanism. The plant earned 48,300 certified emission reductions (CERs) last year, which at the current market price of 13 Euros a CER are equivalent to over Rs 4 crore, which is an extra income for the company. The gestation period for installing a biomass-based plant is lesser as it takes less than a year to complete. Malwa Power completed its first plant in 18 months and the second one at Gaddadob village, near Abohar, was put to steam recently in six months only. The plant can be set up in 12 to 15 acres of land as compared to thousands of acres required for coal-based thermal plants. It is competitive cost-wise, too, as the total project cost of 7.5-MW plant at current prices is Rs 40 crore, that comes around Rs 5 crores per MW. On the other hand, thermal plants have benchmark installation cost of around 5 to 6 crore per MW with 5 to 6 years gestation period.


These plants generate good employment for semi and unskilled workers who make their living by selling biomass at a handsome price. This single plant currently employs 150 people directly and another 4,000 indirectly. The company purchases biomass worth Rs 16 to 18 crore a year, which directly adds to the purchasing power of rural masses.


To make these plants economically viable, the purchasing price of electricity needs to be raised. The Gulabewala plant at the moment is in trouble as the meagre price of Rs 3.49 a unit is making it uneconomical in the wake of rising biomass prices, which have shot up to Rs 1,700 a ton from around Rs 500 a ton few years ago. These units become unviable if the fuel costs surpass Rs 1,200 per ton lest the electricity purchase price is hiked. The playing field is also not levelled as some other players, like sugar mills, which have similar captive co-generation plants, are free to sell the power in open market under open access, where it fetches Rs 6 to 7 a unit. This makes the survival of these plants difficult as other players push up the biomass prices. So, there is no reason for debarring this plant from selling its power in the open market when the government itself purchases the power from open market between Rs 7 to 8 per unit.


Punjab being agriculture dominating state has a huge biomass production in the form of crop residues. The Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA), which looks after the non-conventional energy sources, estimates the total potential of 1000 MW in the biomass sector in the state and 29 projects of 300 MW are under construction in the private sector. Recognising the merits, installation of such plants should be encouraged in the state. Instead of going for high cost, polluting and land consuming thermal plants, it will be a viable and eco-friendly solution for the power-strapped Punjab.









Barack Obama may complain about the "curse of Hawaii" – the unfortunate juxtaposition of a President taking a deserved Christmas break in the sub-tropical islands where he grew up, and his countrymen struggling to cope with ice, snow and the travel inconveniences caused by the most dangerous terrorist threat to the US since 9/11. But his real curse right now is the curse of the past.


It might have been a great American writer who observed that "the past is never dead; it's not even past," but that's not the way America likes to see itself. The past is for wimps and Europeans. Here in the brave new world, the future is what matters, in a country that prides itself on renewal, on its capacity to re-invent itself. Why waste time on what happened yesterday, when today is better and tomorrow is bound to be better still?


The fact however is that, as a miserable decade ends, and another of at best uncertain promise begins, America and its President are prisoners of the past: not a relatively distant past, the kind that trapped the South of William Faulkner – but the very recent past, of Obama's immediate predecessor in office. And in its way, the argument is as fierce as the mighty wars over national history in Europe, even in Russia.


In America as everywhere else, history is not set in stone. It is a subject of unending re-interpretation and revision. Control the past, and you have a good chance of controlling the present and future as well – and thus it goes for the legacy of George W Bush, the man more responsible than any single individual for shaping the events of the last 10 years. The revisionists are already at work to prove that they weren't that terrible after all, or at least as good as could be expected.


In the next year or so, a raft of memoirs by such pillars of the ancien regime as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove and Bush himself will be published. Ostensibly, these will be accounts of the past, belonging to the category of history. But their equal purpose will be to shape the current political debate, to provide ammunition for Republicans as they head into the coming battles of November's mid-term elections and the 2012 presidential election.


Today's across-the-board refusal of the Republican opposition to co-operate with Obama – even if that means the hypocritical rejection of policies they embraced a year or two ago – should also be seen in this light. If American politics are more venomous than ever, the reason is simple. The only way the Bush past can be made into a success is if the Obama present fails. And of course the rules of the game, above all the 60-vote super-majority required in the Senate to pass any significant legislation, provide Republicans with opportunity aplenty.


In truth, though you might have missed it amid the partisan tracer flying in the air, Obama has got off to a quite promising start. It hasn't been perfect, and he hasn't been the miracle worker his most adoring supporters dreamed of. Indeed, who could have been, given the economic and foreign affairs hand he was dealt? In the circumstances though, by any reasonable accounting, he hasn't done badly.


Last February, with the economy in free fall – and having to make do without a single Republican vote in the House, and just three in the Senate – he pushed through a record stimulus package. The package wasn't ideal, but it signalled the government's determination to do whatever it took to prevent the Great Recession turning into a second Great Depression. Ditto the bank bailouts, and the rescue of the car companies. If these measures hadn't been taken, would today's fragile recovery be taking place? Maybe, but you wouldn't bet on it.

No less important he will in a month or two's time, if all goes well, be signing into law desperately needed healthcare reform, again probably without a single Republican vote. This too won't be perfect; the US healthcare system will still be the most expensive and most wasteful in the developed world, and millions of Americans will still lack coverage. But it will be a huge step in the right direction. All in all, not bad for a first year's work. And if Congress manages to pass measures overhauling energy policy and financial market regulation, Obama will have achieved the biggest public policy reforms since Lyndon Johnson, almost half a century ago.


Abroad, he has cleaned up America's image. Yes, critics on the left may complain that despite the beguiling rhetoric, Bush policies are continuing. Cuba remains under an absurd 50-year-old embargo, and yet again an Israeli government has called America's bluff on Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Despite the promise to close Guantanamo Bay by the end of this month, the place remains open. Indeed, after the near-miss terrorist attack on Flight 253 on Christmas Day, it may well remain open for a long while yet.


But the right is no less unhappy, accusing Obama of being soft on China, soft on terrorism, and far too soft on

Iran and its nuclear programme (although even that particular crisis is now overshadowed by the deadly struggle between reformers and hardliners for the country's future, beyond the power of any American president to influence).


He might console himself that if he is upsetting everyone, he is doing something right. The reality is that in foreign policy, Obama is forging his version of the hard-nosed pragmatism that was the hallmark of his Democratic predecessors Harry Truman, John Kennedy and LBJ – at least until Vietnam intervened.


Which brings us back to the past. Memories of Flight 253 and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab will fade, its legacy just extra airport security hassle that we will soon take for granted. The true test for Obama lies in Afghanistan, where more than 900 Americans have already died, where seven CIA officers have just been killed by a suicide bomber, and where parallels with Vietnam multiply by the month. Britain and the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan. Although the fate of America's venture on that treacherous terrain is as yet unknown, the curse of the past is poised to strike again.


 By arrangement with The Independent








MAMATA and her mood swings make people wary of her. Without her tantrums, Mamata Bannerjee will not, of course, be the same. And so, with her unpredictability, she seems determined to continue treading on troubled waters.


Her "white paper" to debunk her predecessor Lalu Prasad Yadav's claims of turning around the Indian Railway's fortunes is really an original idea. It is the done thing for new governments to promptly rundown the previous regimes for mismanagement, but individual ministers have so far refrained from stooping so low. Maybe new-found liking for Nitish Kumar, whose happiest moment is when Lalu's squirming, has something to do with it. Actually, there are no B-school kids from Harvard and MIT are not dropping by to see her, as they did with Lalu. Or, is she trying to divert attention from the total non-performance of the Railway Ministry?


Her main interest is to move to Kolkata, which she is impatient about. She took charge as minister not at the Rail Bhavan in New Delhi but in Kolkata. Since then, apart from presenting the Railway Budget, she has devoted hardly any time in her office. Not only has she not taken any initiatives of her own, she has put a freeze many of the schemes that Lalu had launched.


Mamata may not even want to introduce the Railway Budget this year for fear of presenting a dud. By then, the Assembly elections in her state will be exactly a year away and she may decide to move to Kolkata. This will launch one final offensive that could bring to an end the 33 years misrule of the 'Commies'. Yes, and West Bengal's gain will not to be Rail Bhavan's loss.


Women power in Parliament


Is this women power for just the top posts? For the first time, three of the top slots in the Lok Sabha are now occupied by women with the elevation of Sushma Swaraj as Leader of the Opposition, Meira Kumar is the Speaker, the first woman leader to adorn the high office, while Sonia Gandhi is chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Incidentally, the current Lok Sabha has the highest number of women members – 59 – since Independence. Of them, 23 belong to the Congress followed by 13 of the BJP. There are four woman MPs each from the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Sonia was the first woman to become Leader of the Opposition in 1999. Interestingly, she defeated Swaraj in Bellary for her maiden entry into the lower House. Hopefully, at the ground level, too, empowerment will be as welcome and encouraged. Because these top women really don't make a difference to the aam admi. Their daily problems are still handled by men who have no respect or time for women. We still hear of rapes, satis and feoticide deaths each minute of our lives.


New fare at BJP HQ


As new young President takes over, obviously changes will take place. One change for sure after the arrival of Nitin Gadkari in the BJP headquarters may have been prompted by the RSS but not all associated developments. For instance, the food for his reception surprisingly varied from the puri-sabzi fare routine at party functions to biryani, chicken korma and other non-vegetarian items.


Gadkari's arrival has been welcomed with non-vegetarian delicacies by the BJP office bearers; visitors expect such delights more frequently than the local oily halwai stuff at the saffron headquarters. Maybe they will now have more members attending the meetings now. But at the moment it seems this young Gadkari cannot believe his luck and is beaming non-stop. He has no idea of the thorns around him and the problems he will have to face from within his own party and outsiders too.








The new year has witnessed a tragedy of literally mammoth proportions. On the wee hours of January 2, a goods train mowed down four elephants in the Doldoli area near Diphu railway station. That the train was heavily loaded with petroleum products and travelling at great speed had given it enough momentum to ensure it could ram into and kill the elephants without derailing or even much damaging the engine. The tragedy is heightened not only by the fact that two of the killed were calves, but also that among the dead was a pregnant female, which takes the actual death toll to five. It has occurred just a few days after a train had killed an adult male elephant at Hojai on December 22. The Doldoli area has had similar accidents earlier, involving trains and elephants, and leading to a number of pachyderms being killed. Moreover, it being a winter night, dense fog had reduced visibility. Since the area is a traditional elephant corridor, the State Forest Department had rightly requested the railway authorities to take steps to ensure that trains are driven slowly and carefully across this belt, particularly in winter. That the train which caused the accident had been driven at great speed indicates that the request was not entertained. The area is jointly patrolled by railway officials and the State Forest Department under a Wildlife Trust of India project.

Apparently, such a mechanism had failed or been neglected, otherwise the tragedy may never have happened. Crimes against animals need to be treated with the same degree of seriousness that is accorded to crimes against human beings. There are too many ifs and buts to this particular incident which entail a thorough investigation, as well as exemplary punishment to anyone found guilty of dereliction of duty leading to the accident. Ironically, the tragedy occurred just a day before the Elephant Festival at Kaziranga was inaugurated with fanfare by politicians heading the concerned departments. Notwithstanding the deceptive title, or that futile seminars are held during the festival on man-elephant conflict, such festivals are designed more to attract tourists rather than to devise mechanisms to ensure safety, survival and welfare of this magnificent beast. The elephant is a creature which knows no regional, national or even international boundaries. Because of its size and the enormous requirement of food, elephant herds are constantly on the move through traditional routes many of which we have thoughtlessly blocked by building refineries, industries and the like. One answer to avoiding much of the man-elephant conflict is to ensure that the sanctity of traditional elephant trails is maintained whenever such industries are contemplated. Due to the exigencies of development, often maintenance of such sanctity may not be possible, in which case at least alternative routes need to be provided and kept open.







There has been a spurt of road building in recent years in Assam, particulary out of rural development funds. But these roads are rather poorly maintained. Periodic floods also damage the roads. Proper repair of roads after floods is rare. Sufficient allocations are not made in the State Budget for road repair and maintenance. Again, due to lethargy of the Relief and Rehabilitation and the Finance Departments, funds allocated under the Calamity Relief head to Assam by the Central Finance Commissions have not been fully spent in the past. Therefore, newly built roads become unusuable within a short time. The Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) took cognizance of this sad state of affairs and obtained an estimate from the Public Works Department (PWD), which showed an amount of Rs 98.80 crores as the annual cost of routine maintenance of rural roads (26,906 kms), including SPT bridges (4673) and functional and residential buildings.

The break-up of the estimate is as follows: (i) rural roads Rs 58.02 crores, (ii) SPT bridges Rs 32.78 crores, (iii) functional buildings Rs 5 crores and (iv) residential buildngs Rs 3 crores. TASFC recommended that "the entire amount of Rs 98.80 crores per year should be given as grants-aid to the Zilla Parishads to be spent on repair and maintenance of roads and buildings within their respective jurisdictions during each of the three financial years 2008-11." In view of the above recommendation, which was accepted without any change by the Government of Assam (GOA), it can now be expected that village roads and buildings will improve in appearance and usability. This will also facilitate movement of rural people, goods and commodities. This will in turn help trade and commerce and ultimately income generation in the rural areas. TASFC also recommended that "the annual cost of periodic maintenance of roads" in the rural areas, estimated to cost Rs 216.58 crores per annum, should be referred to the Planning Commission for inclusion in the State Plan. This recommendation was also accepted by GOA. This amount will provide for major repairs required every 5 years or so. The only snag is that inclusion of such provision for rural roads in TASFC's recommendation is not generally known by the Panchayati Raj Institutions and it is likely that GOA may not release the funds in time to the Zilla Parishads. If that happens, the recommendation will be negated by default. The rural people will be losers in that event.








Two generations of Assam's youth have suffered due to the armed insurgency resulting from the United Liberation Front of Asam's (ULFA) struggle for a sovereign Assam. The ULFA was born out of the anti-foreigners movement launched by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) in 1979 against the influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The movement had mass public support as it was non-violent and the cause was genuine. However, as the issue got politicised, the problem of illegal immigration remained in abeyance. As a result ULFA came into existence as a section of the then youth in sheer frustration took up arms against the State. But ironically when the State took action against them and the going got tough they fled from Assam and took refuge in Bangladesh. And over the years, influenced increasingly and mainly by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the ULFA too lost sight of the real issue and indulged in terrorist acts against the very people to protect whose identity and existence they had initially taken up arms. Since then the State has been in turmoil. And till today the real issue of illegal influx from Bangladesh continues unabated making the threat of the indigenous people of Assam becoming a minority in their own homeland a reality. On both sides of the divide two generations have spent three decades in futility. Now a new generation, irrespective of the side they belong to, has come up searching for peace. It remains to be seen whether the respective leaderships have the capability and will to give them peace.

With the recent arrest of ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa along with some other top leaders, the prospects of ending insurgency in Assam have brightened. There is no point harping on the issue whether they have surrendered voluntarily or were handed over to the Indian authorities by the Bangladesh Government. What is significant is that for the first time in decades the Government of India has direct access to these leaders on its own soil free from the interference or pressures on them from foreign agencies inimical to the interests of the country. Hence the Government has the opportunity to acquaint these leaders with the prevailing public sentiment in Assam so that the misconception that a majority of the Assamese people want to secede from India can be clarified and the issue of sovereignty put to rest once and for all. While they are in custody, the Government can adopt a solicitous policy that will allow a cross-section of the public like senior citizens, youth organisations, the intelligentsia, social activists, common folk etc of Assam to meet them so that they can be convinced about the peoples' sentiments and desire for peace.

Like the leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), if the ULFA leaders also respond to the public sentiment then the issue of sovereignty can be put out of the way. In that case there is no reason to continue an armed conflict as there is not much else to negotiate about as economic development of the State is a relevant issue that can be better tackled once there is peace. There remains the real issue of resolving the problem of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. This requires political will and not armed conflict or secession as three decades of insurgency has proved.

Armed insurgency has become a serious malady in the North-Eastern States. The Government's approach of offering to hold negotiations within the framework of the Constitution of India with the pre-condition of the militants giving up arms has not brought the desired results. The Government needs to formulate a comprehensive policy that will not only compel or encourage these outfits to come for a dialogue, but will also bring the negotiations to a swift and successful conclusion.

The Centre needs to integrate its policy of tackling insurgency in the North-East with its foreign policy towards the neighbouring countries so that the region's international borders become areas of cooperation rather than areas of confrontation. The recent success of the Indian intelligence agencies in nabbing the top ULFA leadership would not have come about without the cooperation of the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Now with reports of the ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua as well as other militant outfits of the region shifting base to Myanmar, similar cooperation from the Myanmarese government can compel these leaders to come forward for a negotiated settlement.

But it has often been seen that once the militants come overground either for talks, or for surrendering or because of their arrest, a hue and cry is raised about their human rights. It is commonly expected that notwithstanding their earlier misdeeds they should be accorded a special category status and placed if not above the law then at least outside the normal application of law. Such expectations which are unwarranted have also been raised about the recently arrested ULFA leadership.At present it is important to recognise the fact that over the years ULFA has changed from a revolutionary organisation to a terror outfit instigated by agent provocateurs from outside who have their own agenda and no sympathy for the people's aspirations. Its leaders have lived in Bangladesh and used money extorted from Assam to build business empires there. They have also used jehadi elements to carry out terrorist strikes in Assam which have taken a heavy toll of many innocent lives. From the children of Dhemaji, ruthless murder of social worker Sanjoy Ghosh to the massacre of Hindi speaking labourers, ULFA has repeatedly indulged in wanton bloodshed to spread terror.


ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa's recent statement that a dialogue cannot take place in hand-cuffs indicates that he is expecting some sort of latitude from the Government for talks to take place. But he must acknowledge that in the past he has misled the Government and the public time and again with the ploy of talks and once the heat was off intensified terrorist strikes which took many innocent lives. Treating ultras initially with kid gloves can be counter-productive.However, as the situation is extraordinary involving peace and integrity of a volatile region and alive with separatist sentiments caused by a genuine feeling of alienation, a wholly hardline approach may send out a wrong signal to those still at large but inclined to join the mainstream. Therefore once the due process of law is completed and a verdict delivered, if necessary, the President of India can grant amnesty to those sentenced provided they sincerely undertake to give up violence and join the mainstream as law abiding and peaceful citizens of the country. Such an act will give confidence to those still at large to come overground as they can expect to get justice and resume normal lives in their homeland once they eschew violence. Special courts should be set up for the purpose so that the entire process does not get bogged down by normal court procedures. Of course there is no guarantee that once granted amnesty those pardoned will not revert to militancy. But insurgency survives essentially on public sympathy and Government antipathy. Already, the ULFA stands exposed in the eyes of the people. And the fact that the law will have dealt with them firmly but fairly will create a positive impression for the Government.

It is difficult to understand the logic behind a policy that allows an insurgent outfit that is in ceasefire and engaged in a dialogue with the Government to give shelter to the cadres of another outfit that is carrying on an armed insurrection against the very same Government. Is this not waging a war by proxy? It is because of such illogical and indistinct policies of the Government that militancy is thriving in the region.

A new generation is also out there searching for peace. A new approach is required which instead of relying on the divisions in the ranks of the insurgents to break the outfit is competent and comprehensive enough to tackle all the factions, whether those in jail, those in ceasefire mode and waiting to talk and those still at large and waiting to make the next move. Such an approach will have to combine legal jurisprudence, Government statesmanship and aggressive international diplomacy so that the militants are compelled to bow to the public will. Dilatory tactics as before will only keep the issue simmering.








The statistics are appalling. As many as 2503 children had gone missing in Delhi in the year 2008. Sounding the alarm, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) wants the police to probe all 'missing' complaints and submit details of inquiries and investigations carried out to trace these children.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi early in 2009, the chairperson of DCPCR Amod Kanth admitted that there was need for a 'thorough' inquiry into these incidents. "Taking cognizance of media reports regarding the missing children in Delhi, the Commission had issued notices to the Delhi Police Commissioner for necessary action, and for information to the Commission. Also, the Commission had asked the police to conduct preliminary inquiries and register cases of kidnapping and abduction within the meaning and provisions of Sections of 361-374 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and to take legal action under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000/06, Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1986, and Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956. There is an urgent need to integrate the services of the Delhi police and the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministries of Women and Child Development and State and national level agencies concerned to take care of these children", Kanth said.

Of the 2503 missing children of Delhi, 760 are from North-East Delhi, 572 are from East Delhi, 354 from West Delhi, 242 from North-West Delhi, 225 from Central Delhi, 130 from North Delhi, and 230 from Outer Delhi. In Sangam Vihar alone, more than 112 children had been reported missing. Giving out details about the missing children, the DCPCR chairperson said the maximum number of children were reported missing from areas where people from economically weaker section reside. Stating that evidence and perception about missing children being used in flesh trade, begging rackets and even organ trade in the metropolitan cities, need further probing.

Significantly, a report prepared by two NGOs of Delhi in early 2009 on the issue of missing children from Delhi, said that the worrying aspect was that the actual figure of missing children could be much more as first information reports (FIRs) were registered in less than 10 per cent of the cases. The report, prepared jointly by Naujawan Bharat Sabha and Bigul Mazdoor Dasta, was based on the findings of a survey conducted by a joint inquiry team of the two NGOs and information collected from the police under the Right to Information Act.

The information provided to the organisations reveal that 5,600 children went missing from Delhi in 2007, and on an average, 16 children go missing in Delhi every day. Of these, 80 per cent are from poor families. Since a majority of missing children come from weaker section of the society, the police adopt an irresponsible attitude. Moreover, "the families of the missing children are often humiliated at police stations", the report says. The report reveals that India is fast becoming a centre for human organ trade, child pornography and child prostitution. "There is no Central data on missing children in India, which makes it even more difficult to understand the magnitude of the problem", the report says. The report makes the demand that an inquiry be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to look into involvement of criminal gangs behind the large number of missing children and compulsory filing of FIRs throughout the country in such cases.

In Bihar, according to the official figures compiled by the State police headquarters in Patna, the number of child trafficking cases went up to over 50 per cent in 2008. The police arrested 128 human traffickers and released 91 women and 99 children, mostly below the age of 16 years from the clutches of the traffickers. Of the 99 children rescued from the traffickers in 2008, 31 were from West Bengal, 6 from Jharkhand and the rest from Bihar. The State Government launched the Human Trafficking Prevention Programme in 2007-08 for checking illegal marketing of women and children and ensure a comprehensive rehabilitation package. Under the programme, special human trafficking prevention cells under supervision of the district welfare officials, police officials and representatives from non-governmental organisations have been constituted in the districts of Patna, Muzzaffarpur and Gaya. The cells are required to bring cases of human trafficking to light, launch operation to rescue women and children and bring them to the social mainstream.

In Assam on July 6, 2009, members of student bodies rescued 11 Adivasi and tribal children (four boys and seven girls) from New Bongaigaon railway station. The rescued children, all below the age of 18 years, were travelling in the Gujarat bound 'Okha Express' train. The children were suspected to have been trafficked by some local agent. There have been several cases of trafficked children being rescued by members of local non-governmental organisations and student bodies. Not just Assam, the entire North-East is fast emerging as a major source of human trafficking, especially child trafficking. While poverty, lack of employment avenues and illiteracy contribute largely to this scourge, militancy, ethnic unrest, flood and erosion and cross-border infiltration have compounded the situation in this region.

Meanwhile, the Women and Child Development Ministry, Government of India, is contemplating brining amendments to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 to make it more stringent even as the Union Government is contemplating setting up of anti-human trafficking cells in States under a national plan for countering human trafficking. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram informed the Rajya Sabha on July 8, 2009, that the Home Ministry had formed a nodal cell through which it was coordinating on matters relating to trafficking in human beings with other ministries and State governments.

(The writer is former Principal, Mangaldoi College).








The recent photographs of Jennifer Lopez caused a stir not because the diamante-studded bodysuit she wore turned nearly sheer under stagelights but because she seems to have frittered away her prime asset: her derriere. Barring Michael Jackson's ongoing facial reengineering project, no other celebrity body part in the past decade had achieved that degree of prominence, so it was conventional wisdom that Lopez would preserve it for, well, posterity.

More so since her worth as a composite singer-artiste seems to have been in no small measure due to the sum of her various parts! With her personal assets on a growth curve, the Noughties were rife with rumours of their rising value, with the final figure hovering around the $1-billion mark, a figure Lopez dismissed as 'funny', celeb-speak for 'ridiculous'.

It was said at that time that her legs and butt were assessed at $300 million, eclipsing the benchmark set by yesteryear Hollywood divas Marlene Dietrich's voice and Betty Grable's legs, which were insured for $1 million each.

By contrast, their contemporary dancing star Fred Astaire's skinny pins were only insured for $150,000. Since then, insurers have routinely gone out on a limb, turning celebrities from Tina Turner, Mariah Carey and Claudia Schiffer to Heidi Klum and Rihanna into multi-million-dollar babes.

Men have also risen in the valuation chain since Astaire, with Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley getting his feet insured for $39 million and David Beckham touching $70 million for his gams. This year, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo's muscled thighs and calves were reportedly assessed at $144 million. While the realistic amount deduced by JLo watchers is $27 million for her most prominent asset, a posteriori Lopez' shrinking booty may turn the spotlight on other women with comparable endowments, such as Beyonce, Fergie — of the Black-Eyed Peas band fame, not the Duchess of Pork — and Shakira.

If depletions and backslides spread, insurers have to step in to convince the ladies to put their all their troubles behind them and aim for a healthy growth curve in the coming decade.







The Japanese government reiterated its commitment to the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) last week. This is welcome. It should accelerate industrial activity along the 1,500-km corridor. The project will cause the existing industrial clusters along the corridor to scale up capacity, induct advanced technology, develop better linkages with user-industries and deliver goods required not only in the fast-growing domestic economy but also for the global markets.

New clusters too must be developed, as planned, for that is how industrial development should be promoted. Clusters essentially comprise small and medium enterprises, and such units perform better in terms of efficiency and competitiveness when they operate in clusters, where they have an opportunity to supply goods, services and know-how to one another, often resulting in the wonder of economies of scale.

Improvement of infrastructure — dedicated freight corridor and upgraded highways, among others — would also attract many investors to relocate to industrial areas along the corridor. This rapid scaling up of industrial activity along the corridor running through six states would necessarily mean a sharp increase in energy intensity along the belt.

Also, thousands of new jobs in factories and in support services along the corridor would lead to increased urbanisation. Rather than put more pressure on the infrastructure of existing towns, new integrated townships must be built to accommodate immigrant workers. These new townships should be created to be more people- and environment-friendly, and promote healthier living, for example, by allowing people to walk to work.

Aggressive, intelligent local planning must complement Japanese expertise in developing green cities along the corridor. Creation of industrial belts in one part of the country with cheap foreign aid runs the risk of starving other regions of capital and excess investment along the corridor. But this is not inevitable. That calls for planning and proactive action on the part of the Centre and other state governments.







The export spurt in November, ending 13 months of decline, is definitely good news. However, the magnitude of export growth, 18 per cent, is largely on account of the low base, the shrunken export figure for November 2008, in the post-Lehman crisis.

The decline in imports is definitely not good news. Imports were lower than in the corresponding month a year ago by 2.6 per cent. But if you look at non-oil imports alone, these were 5.9 per cent lower than a year ago. Without more disaggregated data, it is not possible to make a clear judgment, but lower imports are not good news, as imports fuel domestic economic activity.

The only saving grace is that the decline in November is a far cry from the decline in non-oil imports of nearly 24% for the April-November period. So, recovery is on, but the recovery is still not entirely robust. Federation of Indian Export Organisations president A Sakthivel has cautioned against early withdrawal of either the stimulus package or interest subsidy on exports. He has a point.

For better policymaking, better data availability is a must. There is plenty of scope for speeding up data collection and analysis on our foreign trade. In these days of electronic compilation of information, why should it take the government so long to collate the data? After the commissioning of the Reliance refineries, petroleum exports are a major component of India's overall exports. It would be a simple matter to make data on this item available, along with the data on oil imports.

As global economic recovery gathers steam, the panic flight of capital to the US would reverse. And so would the weakening of currencies against the dollar. A stronger rupee would cause exporters to cry foul, but since the dollar would weaken against all major rivals of Indian exporters, save the Chinese, there is less cause for alarm.

Since the Chinese have a large import content to their exports, a weak currency would make their imports costlier and squeeze their margins. However, such economic logic is unlikely to push the Chinese off their fixed dollar peg. As international pressure mounts on China to let the yuan appreciate, India should join in as well. Exports are function of much more than domestic policy.








 "The future ain't what it used to be," was how the iconic US baseball player and manager, Yogi Bera, put it back in the 1950s. And that was when life was more predictable; before the financial crisis turned the well-ordered global economy topsy-turvy and sounded the death knell of the global financial architecture set up more than 60 years ago.

So, now that the Bretton Woods' architecture has all but broken down and we have nothing as yet in lieu thereof, how different will the future be from what it used to be? It's hard to say; except that it's likely to be so different that it would be exceptionally-brave or foolhardy to even hazard a guess.

So, rather than get egg on my face by trying to prophecy what lies ahead, let me play safe by looking, instead, at something more concrete, at the various works-in-process for which goals have been set to be achieved in 2010.
What are the chances 2010 will deliver on them? Will it be a year of more hits than misses? Less hits, more misses? Or, just as tragically, a year of near-misses?

Consider some of the more important deadlines that come up during the year. On the domestic front, there's the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) by April, the women's reservation Bill that the government has promised to introduce in the Budget session of Parliament, the arrangement with the US for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in India that has to be concluded latest by August, getting Delhi's creaking infrastructure ready in time for the Commonwealth Games in October and setting up a nodal anti-terror agency by December.

Hanging over all this like a sword of Damocles is something for which there is no fixed deadline but must be done some time in 2010 — a calibrated exit from the economic stimulus package.

Deadlines in the global arena are just as challenging. The G20 has to come up with a roadmap to address the vexed issue of global imbalances, failing which the global economy will have to brace itself for a bigger fall some years down the line. There's the Doha Round of international trade talks to be wrapped up by the year-end and climate change talks to be completed by end-2010. For developed countries, the final countdown has already begun. They are to indicate their mid-term reduction target for 2020 by January 31, 2010.

So, whichever way you look at it, 2010 is going to be a year of ambitious deadlines. By December, we might want to describe it some other way. But in keeping with the spirit of the New Year, let me not be pessimistic. After all, the world is full of surprises!

Except that even the most optimistic would agree, GST in April is one surprise that is not going to happen. The best we can hope is that major differences — should there be a single or dual rate, should there be a positive list of items on which GST will be levied or a negative list that will be exempt from GST and so on — will be resolved by 2011.

At one level, the delay might seem unconscionable. But GST does not lend itself easily to correction. Errors of design can mar the scheme for ever, so it is better to delay than to rush into a flawed scheme.

On the Women's Reservation Bill, I'd like to believe it will happen, partly because there is no reason why it should not happen this time. The ruling alliance has the numbers, the main opposition party, the BJP, supports it and, most important of all, both the Congress and the BJP (in the Lok Sabha) have women at their helm.

As far as the nuclear fuel pact with the US is concerned, I'm not so hopeful. For all the much tom-tommed personal chemistry between Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama, when it comes to brasstacks, the US under Obama has not been particularly sympathetic to India's interests.

The good thing, however, is that since other nuclear powers, notably Russia and France, are willing to supply us nuclear fuel, the agreement with the US is no longer as critical as before.

That brings me to the next deadline, the Commonwealth Games. Mike Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, might tear his hair in despair each time he visits the Capital and sees how far behind schedule we are on many of our deliverables. But our famed Indian ability to somehow muddle through — north of the Vindhyas they call it jugaad — is likely to come to our rescue.

So, come October, the Capital will be spruced up and ready. Never mind that once the games are over, it will be as if they never happened and it will be back to the usual, chaotic Dilli.

The much-needed nodal anti-terror agency, the brainchild of home minister P Chidambaram, might see him put his phenomenal energies to work on the project. But chances are he will find his Cabinet colleagues not sufficiently alive to the seriousness of the threat facing the country from terrorists, both home-grown as well as from across the border.

The last and perhaps the most crucial deadline relates to the withdrawal of economic crutches extended during the last year. Like Saint Augustine's fervent prayer, 'Lord give me continence and chastity, but not yet', the FM wants the stimulus to continue. But time is running out, the economy cannot continue on steroids. The FM will have to take some tough decisions, and soon, before they are forced on us.

In the global arena, the outlook is far more bleak, mainly because any global agreement, whether on the global financial architecture or trade or climate change requires some ceding of sovereign interests for global well-being. And that is not going to come easy; not long as we have nation states, protective of their own interests, especially when these come into conflict with those of other countries.

This means the three most crucial global deadlines on the new financial architecture, international trade and climate change will all be missed. The good thing, however, is that talks will not be scrapped; instead, negotiators will soldier along: we'll have new deadlines and, some day in the not-too-distant future, the world will come together on an agreement.

Sceptical? Well, it does stretch the imagination. But remember, the world did come together on Bretton Woods, on the Uruguay Round and the Kyoto Protocol. So why should it not do an encore? Here's hoping it will!








How does GDP growth translate into economic prosperity for households? Governance and inclusive growth are the two key terms that are finding more and more emphasis among policymakers today. State governments are beginning to realise that better governance cannot only determine their political fortunes but also has an impact on the economic well-being of their citizens.

If state governments create an enabling environment whereby economic opportunities are enhanced, this has a direct impact on the levels of household income, expenditure and savings in the state. In the absence of vital infrastructure, many states continue to lag behind in offering job and growth opportunities.

Some states are in a better position to attract corporate participation and, thus, offer the right opportunity for socio-economic prosperity to their people.

Let's consider how households in different states are faring in terms of their income-earning capability. The per-capita net domestic product varies significantly, ranging from Rs 29,137 for Delhi (2004-05, CSO estimates) to Rs 6,277 in Bihar. The per-capita income of Delhi, one of the country's richest regions, is roughly five times that of Bihar, one of the poorest states. If the states are bunched into three categories — low, middle and high income — based on the level of their per-capita income, it is evident that 48 per cent of Indians live in low-income states, 30.6 per cent in middle-income ones and the rest in high-income states.

As per NCAER data, of the 205.6 million households in the country, just 44.3 million of them — with a population of 220 million — earn annual average income of Rs 89,288. In contrast, 91.7 million households — with 493.3-million population — that live in low-income states (Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal and Jharkhand) have average income of just over half that of households in high-income states (Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Pondicherry, Chandigarh and Delhi) at Rs 52,052 per annum.

The high-income states have a share of just 21.5 per cent of all the households, but their contribution to total disposable income is nearly 30 per cent. In contrast, low-income states have a share of nearly 45 per cent of all households and their share of total disposable income is about 35.7 per cent.

Low-income states also have a higher concentration of rural population compared to middle- and high-income states. For instance, while more than half the population of low-income states lives in villages (54.4%), this is 29.2 per cent for middle-income states (Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal), and just 16.4 per cent for high-income ones.

It is not surprising that the average annual rural household income in low-income states is much lower than those for both middle- and high-income states: Rs 44,999, Rs 55,604 and Rs 66,121 respectively. Urban households in middle- and high-income states too earn a lot more annually than those in lower-income states: Rs 89,223, Rs 116,421 and Rs 80,948 respectively.

While high-income states may have more households earning higher incomes, the fact is that there is a huge income inequality among households in these states. The most glaring differences in income are evident when comparing the lowest-income quintile group with the top-earning group in the same type of states. For instance, in high-income states, urban households in the top-most income quintile group earn nine times more than their counterparts in the bottom quintile group.

Similarly, in low-income states, top quintile rural households earn about seven times more than the first quintile rural households in such states. This implies that the number of urban poor is much higher in urban areas in high-income states.

To illustrate, 21 per cent of urban households belonging to the first quintile income group are to be found in high-income states compared to just 10 per cent rural households belonging to the same-income quintile group. Also, low-income states also have a higher proportion of rural households belonging to the top-income quintile group (34%) compared to urban households (21%). But low-income states have an overwhelming majority of first quintile rural households (70%) whereas middle-income states' share is just about 20 per cent.

Product ownership patterns also vary drastically between rural areas of low-, middle- and high-income states. For instance, CTVs are found in just 12 per cent rural households in low-income states compared to 36 per cent and 41 per cent respectively in middle- and high-income states. Ownership percentages for pressure cookers are 65 per cent and 35 per cent for high- and low-income states respectively, while for two-wheelers, the percentages are 44 per cent and 19 per cent.

High-end products such as two-wheelers, refrigerators and cars are owned by a much-larger section of the urban households in high-income states. Two-wheeler ownership is growing rapidly among urban households in middle- and low-income states (at 51% and 43% respectively). A quarter of urban households in low-income states, and nearly half of all urban households in high-income states own cellular phones.

These figures corroborate the growing trends towards rural-to-urban and small town-to-metro city migration. Cities in high-income states are coming under more pressure in terms of job creation and infrastructure development.

Also, there is a need for low-income states to create an enabling environment for their people by developing infrastructure and providing job opportunities. Public-private partnership projects are an avenue that could be explored.

Another option is attracting FDI through well-targeted initiatives that involve state as well as central government participation. A multi-pronged approach is needed to ensure that the benefits of high GDP growth rates trickle down to the remotest households in urban and rural India.








It's that time of the year when everyone sits back and takes stock of life, the universe and everything around them. We make resolutions, wish everyone a great and wonderful year to come, and predictions rain heavier than the most elusive monsoons.

2010, however, as the ancient Chinese would say, promises to provide interesting times to live in. There's just so much change happening around the world, politically, economically and sociologically, that most of us are not even going to realise we're living history until much later.

It's also that time of the year when listmania rules, best of, worst of, et al. So I thought I'd compile my own list of trends you want to watch out for, at home and abroad. It isn't comprehensive or original, but I've tried to pick the stuff that's still way below the radar at home.

Miles to go: Despite all the optimistic projections about economic recovery and the end of global recession, keep a very, very wary eye out for that double dip. Or a slow, grinding, painful recovery, something they used to call 'structural adjustment' in the early 1990s. The Indian economy was never as busted as the rest, so the recovery now does not at all reflect what's happening around the world.

The rise and rise of China: Sorry, Chindia, as they used to call it, or even Bric, is dead as a dodo. Despite all the talk about balance of economic power shifting east etc, don't imagine India and China are still in the same bracket. The sheer global economic clout of China, as well as its domestic market, now puts China in a league way beyond anything India or the other Bric nations can touch in the near future. We still tend to say 'emerging markets like India and China', but if you had any idea how we have to stretch our journalistic skills and imagination to drag India into any conversation about China, you'd know that India has pretty much fallen off the map in global discussions. It's the G2 now, US and China. Expect a lot more Obama in Beijing moments. The writing on the wall is in Chinese.

Borders: Never mind Shashi Tharoor and his tweets. The world is going to become a much more difficult place to travel around and work in. Every border is tightening, in both economic and security terms. Invest in a battery of migration lawyers if you're the kind of businessman who needs to move around freely.

The return of ideology: Capitalism, like many thought, ain't going away. But perhaps the single-biggest change to business after the global recession is the return of ideology. Concepts like social utility, justice, public good, human costs and role of corporates in society.

Between the debacle of banking and the pressure of sustainability, Mammon is a seriously discredited god. Do we really need more salty crisps, or yet another credit card?

Big business is in the dock. These supposedly soft issues are keeping CEOs and corporate boards awake these nights. They can't shrug off the post-modern sensitivity, and they know that ignoring 'those huddled masses' could end up being suicidal. CSR moves from glossy brochures to the front of annual reports. It's ironic that just as Indians become prosperous, albeit in unequal patches, being rich, competitive, and successful is no longer in fashion.

Those bankers, again: On the same lines, banking has dominated much of the last year. Next year's banking crisis won't be financial, it will be when big banks realise they have a huge credibility and confidence crisis with everyone outside the financial world. They can kick, scream, threaten and plot as much as they like, and hope the issue will go away when things improve, but too much lasting damage has been done. Maybe later than sooner, they're going to have to accept that those arteries are clogged, and they need to change their lifestyle. Even now, multiple forces are whittling away at how global finance functions, even at those super-size bonuses, slowly but surely.

As a corollary, casino financial activities will move into even more arcane, private and mysterious entities, and I suspect we'll have yet another scam at the end of the coming decade.

An overconfident India Inc: This one's easy. After some ridiculous panic, instead of using the bad year strategically to plan future growth, India Inc is likely to go on a heady high, announce another few dozen pie-in-the sky plans, go back to whingeing about 'talent problems', and not realise that some big-time competition is snapping at their heels.

Global big business, the kind which makes 10-year plans, usually likes systems and legislation in a market to suit them. But when it's a matter of survival, they won't wait around for reforms.

The trouble with teenagers: That famous demographic, the one India Inc is so proud of, should soon start to make itself heard, felt and seen. One of the biggest challenges for Indian business and government will be dealing with a young, restless and demanding workforce, not to mention an equally-young and aggressive poor and disenfranchised population.








Of the two billion people in the world who are financially excluded, more than a third lives in India. Obviously, this presents a huge opportunity. The question is: How do you tap into this opportunity in a manner that is effective in reaching these two billion? I am sure that most banks, if not all, are working at ways on answering this question. I am also aware that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) itself is working towards this goal, having set up a sub-committee under Mrs Usha Thorat to explore ways to reach out to every village in the country in the coming two to three years.

Data integrity and information: Can the recently-announced government initiative of each citizen having a unique identification card be a major factor in us achieving this aim? An electronic data card on the lines of the American Social Security Number that contains some basic information about the person but also includes data on the financial history would enable banks to offer relevant products and services to that customer, and this would also be a database that everyone could tap into. Once implemented, this could well turn out to be the force that drives the financial sector into the hinterland. With the government putting Nandan Nilekani in charge of the project, I see this happening in the near future.

We need more organisations like Cibil to provide data — improving the infrastructure of credit information. Organisations such as Financial Information and Networks (Fino) are also helping in this process. Our private equity arm recently invested in the leading technology and business correspondent services company, Fino. The company has over 7.5 million customers, does more than two million transactions a month through its network of 7,000 agents over 21 states and 200 districts in the country. Fino is also engaged in the NREGA and RSBY scheme of the government.

Operations in a low-cost and high-productivity environment: We need mini-branch models with limited vanilla products and service offerings, since the current full-service branch model may not be viable as one ventures into smaller towns and villages. Finding the right people at the initial stages to work in the smaller areas — people who are able to identify with the local people, connect with them and build trust — would be difficult, and the local people too would need to be trained fairly quickly to take over the running of the branch.

Reach and distribution: We also need to be able to reach out to the financially-excluded. A mobile branch that travels from village to village or town to town, on the lines of a mobile ATM, was one suggestion, but security would be an area of concern.


One could even consider banks partnering with post-offices for banking services. Currently, post-offices do have their own savings schemes that compete with banks. There could be an argument for post-offices acting as deposit and loan agents for various banks and, thus, offering customers a wider choice of products and services where the post-offices could act as backoffice facilitators for banks in those areas and get a fee for the services they provide.

Technology: RBI deputy governor KC Chakraborty had mentioned some time ago that technology can play a key role in microfinance and urban and rural banking — and I agree with him on this point. There have been pilot projects on biometric ATMs, or low-cost ATMs that would also allow illiterate customers to use the ATMs. However, when using technology, one has to be mindful of the infrastructural challenges such as the uninterrupted availability of power.

At the current moment, given the infrastructural gaps that are prevalent in the country, I would lean towards mobile telephony as the route to reach out to a larger customer base. Estimates put the total number of mobile phone subscribers at over 300 million, of which, I would think, at least a 100 million are in rural areas. With the penetration of mobile telephony across the country and the evolution of technology and regulations to support this shift, it could well be that banks' biggest and most important partners and enablers would be mobile phone companies. Someone recently said that if all the people with access to a mobile phone were to conduct banking on the instrument, Bharti Airtel would be India's biggest bank.

There is, in fact, a successful example of using mobile telephony in Africa. The M-Pesa mobile banking model in Kenya has gained over seven million customers. M-Pesa is a branchless banking service, meaning that it is designed to enable users to complete basic banking transactions without the need to visit a bank branch. The continuing success of M-Pesa in Kenya has been due to the creation of a highly popular, affordable payment service with only limited involvement of a bank. The Kenyan model has by and large bypassed the official banking system, and I do not for one moment suggest that as an option, but it certainly is a model worth looking at.
Obviously, security and trust will remain issues, and mobile phones will only enable transactions once customers are in the fold, with getting them in being a big task in itself. But I do believe that regulators, banks, telecom service providers and handset manufacturers will be able to work together and find a solution.

While the mobile solutions develop, at HSBC, we have been working with the technology available to us to engender access. We have worked with partners to introduce e-card solutions for under-banked women in Maharashtra and developing integrated agri-business supply-chain models in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

What I am saying here is that we need to look at innovative, out-of-the-box solutions to a huge problem. These are just some options, but we could also look at the distribution networks of other high-volume, low-value goods providers for inspiration. The banking industry, for example, could look at FMCG companies and how they manage to distribute their products to remote corners. This is beyond just extending banking services to a larger population.

Even if technology emerges as the most viable solution — and let us assume that it is mobile telephony that emerges as the medium of choice — why should customers trust banks with their money, or why should they consider banks to be a better option than the local money lender?

Financial literacy: Here, customer education and the whole issue of financial literacy would play a key role, where banks would need to sell them the idea of the credibility of the industry, and it is only after that will banks be able to market their offerings and embark on the journey of building trust.

For example, recent studies estimate that of the 25 million no-frills accounts, only 11 per cent are operational today. This figure suggests to me that financial exclusion or inclusion is not only about the access to organised banking and financial services, financial literacy is as critical.

Customers would need to be educated and convinced how access to the organised financial system would help many to achieve financial independence, and it is not going to be easy.

HSBC has also been providing microfinance-oriented capacity-building support to entrepreneurial activities, and these partnerships are helping thousands of rural women become sustained and successful entrepreneurs. For example, in rural Maharashtra, in Satara, HSBC's capacity-building support to the Manndeshi Mahila Sahakari Bank has resulted in the creation of the country's first business school for rural women. Close to 24,000 women have been trained and over 6,000 have already started local business enterprises.

Partnerships and collaborations: We also need to work with partners, collaborating with others that fill the gaps. Thus banks, MFIs, business correspondents, mobile phone companies and retailers all need to come together and work out solutions.

The ET Financial Inclusion Summit is the right platform to achieve this objective. I hope that today, we are able to arrive at some of the answers to the gamut of issues surrounding financial inclusion and inclusive growth.

(The article is the text of the author's address at the ET Financial Inclusion Summit. Ms Kidwai is group general manager and country head at HSBC India)








Most persons, who feel they have wasted their lives, not seizing opportunities and thus "missing the bus", choose to drift, brooding on the regretful feeling, "it might have been". They spend the rest of their lives wallowing in envy, anger, grudges and resentment.

The more enterprising and intelligent, however learn to channel their bottled discontent by utilising experience gained for guiding and correcting other seeking aspirants or themselves shifting approach to venture into newer and different pastures. This verily is the process of transforming or transmuting such emotions of regrets and repentance to creative endeavours.

However, the ideal and happiest turnaround in such situations would be to divine that in many cases, lost ground can be retrieved and lost opportunities regained. This dynamism is epitomised by Franklin P Adams in these words, "And of all words of prose or rhyme, / The gladdest are, 'Act while there yet is time' ".

Adams had penned these lines as a conclusion to a parody on Whittier's Maud Muller, in which the beautiful farm lass, Maud is portrayed as one who, on missing out on marrying a rich man, spends her life, ruminating, "it might have been". In contrast to this lass of Whittier, the heroine of Adams is the one who acts "while there yet is time", marrying the love of her dreams.

A supreme example of such "better late than never" action is also to be found in the ancient Indian story of king Parikshit, the posthumous son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Arjuna. Cursed to die of snake bite exactly after seven days, Parikshit decides to act, "while there yet is time", diligently working on those, which he had longed to do all his life.

Applied to practical day-to-day living and to all seekers of effective and creative living, there arises the need to jolt oneself from complacency and inaction, spurred by the realisation, "Enough is enough. Thus far, no further". This verily is the process of making up and often times, more than making up, for the apparent past drift or aimlessness. This also is the art of 'waking up' to make one's dreams come.

It is in this situation of delightful motivation within, other related issues would also align themselves favourably — the "coming together of things", as if every aspect around collaborating and cooperating with the aspirant's progress and pursuit, obtaining for him thus, all nature's support. This is, doubtless, the true and enduring reward of acting "while there yet is time"!








 "The future ain't what it used to be," was how the iconic US baseball player and manager, Yogi Bera, put it back in the 1950s. And that was when life was more predictable; before the financial crisis turned the well-ordered global economy topsy-turvy and sounded the death knell of the global financial architecture set up more than 60 years ago.

So, now that the Bretton Woods' architecture has all but broken down and we have nothing as yet in lieu thereof, how different will the future be from what it used to be? It's hard to say; except that it's likely to be so different that it would be exceptionally-brave or foolhardy to even hazard a guess.

So, rather than get egg on my face by trying to prophecy what lies ahead, let me play safe by looking, instead, at something more concrete, at the various works-in-process for which goals have been set to be achieved in 2010.
What are the chances 2010 will deliver on them? Will it be a year of more hits than misses? Less hits, more misses? Or, just as tragically, a year of near-misses?

Consider some of the more important deadlines that come up during the year. On the domestic front, there's the introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) by April, the women's reservation Bill that the government has promised to introduce in the Budget session of Parliament, the arrangement with the US for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in India that has to be concluded latest by August, getting Delhi's creaking infrastructure ready in time for the Commonwealth Games in October and setting up a nodal anti-terror agency by December.

Hanging over all this like a sword of Damocles is something for which there is no fixed deadline but must be done some time in 2010 — a calibrated exit from the economic stimulus package.

Deadlines in the global arena are just as challenging. The G20 has to come up with a roadmap to address the vexed issue of global imbalances, failing which the global economy will have to brace itself for a bigger fall some years down the line. There's the Doha Round of international trade talks to be wrapped up by the year-end and climate change talks to be completed by end-2010. For developed countries, the final countdown has already begun. They are to indicate their mid-term reduction target for 2020 by January 31, 2010.

So, whichever way you look at it, 2010 is going to be a year of ambitious deadlines. By December, we might want to describe it some other way. But in keeping with the spirit of the New Year, let me not be pessimistic. After all, the world is full of surprises!

Except that even the most optimistic would agree, GST in April is one surprise that is not going to happen. The best we can hope is that major differences — should there be a single or dual rate, should there be a positive list of items on which GST will be levied or a negative list that will be exempt from GST and so on — will be resolved by 2011.

At one level, the delay might seem unconscionable. But GST does not lend itself easily to correction. Errors of design can mar the scheme for ever, so it is better to delay than to rush into a flawed scheme.

On the Women's Reservation Bill, I'd like to believe it will happen, partly because there is no reason why it should not happen this time. The ruling alliance has the numbers, the main opposition party, the BJP, supports it and, most important of all, both the Congress and the BJP (in the Lok Sabha) have women at their helm.

As far as the nuclear fuel pact with the US is concerned, I'm not so hopeful. For all the much tom-tommed personal chemistry between Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama, when it comes to brasstacks, the US under Obama has not been particularly sympathetic to India's interests.

The good thing, however, is that since other nuclear powers, notably Russia and France, are willing to supply us nuclear fuel, the agreement with the US is no longer as critical as before.

That brings me to the next deadline, the Commonwealth Games. Mike Fennell, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, might tear his hair in despair each time he visits the Capital and sees how far behind schedule we are on many of our deliverables. But our famed Indian ability to somehow muddle through — north of the Vindhyas they call it jugaad — is likely to come to our rescue.

So, come October, the Capital will be spruced up and ready. Never mind that once the games are over, it will be as if they never happened and it will be back to the usual, chaotic Dilli.

The much-needed nodal anti-terror agency, the brainchild of home minister P Chidambaram, might see him put his phenomenal energies to work on the project. But chances are he will find his Cabinet colleagues not sufficiently alive to the seriousness of the threat facing the country from terrorists, both home-grown as well as from across the border.

The last and perhaps the most crucial deadline relates to the withdrawal of economic crutches extended during the last year. Like Saint Augustine's fervent prayer, 'Lord give me continence and chastity, but not yet', the FM wants the stimulus to continue. But time is running out, the economy cannot continue on steroids. The FM will have to take some tough decisions, and soon, before they are forced on us.

In the global arena, the outlook is far more bleak, mainly because any global agreement, whether on the global financial architecture or trade or climate change requires some ceding of sovereign interests for global well-being. And that is not going to come easy; not long as we have nation states, protective of their own interests, especially when these come into conflict with those of other countries.

This means the three most crucial global deadlines on the new financial architecture, international trade and climate change will all be missed. The good thing, however, is that talks will not be scrapped; instead, negotiators will soldier along: we'll have new deadlines and, some day in the not-too-distant future, the world will come together on an agreement.

Sceptical? Well, it does stretch the imagination. But remember, the world did come together on Bretton Woods, on the Uruguay Round and the Kyoto Protocol. So why should it not do an encore? Here's hoping it will!








He believes that emerging market valuations are currently around the mid-way mark of their historical 10-year range, and there are enough opportunities in terms of good and solid companies that can survive a downturn. Widely regarded as an emerging markets guru, Mark Mobius, executive chairman, Templeton Asset Management, ranks China and Brazil among his favourite markets, and also has sizeable exposure to Russia, India and Turkey. In an interview with ET, he talks of how frontier markets are the next emerging markets. He says that global interdependency is growing, not shrinking.

Where do you see global equity markets headed in 2010? Which are the ones that you are betting on to outperform the rest?

We think emerging market equities seem likely to hit new highs as we go forward. Emerging economies are forecast to grow approximately four times faster than developed economies — a big difference — which should be reflected in their stock markets. But valuations in emerging markets are still lower than those of Europe and the US because the majority of investors still tend to discount emerging markets, regarding them as too risky. However, this is now changing, as governments around the world, from the US and Europe to China, have substantially increased the level of money supply to prevent deflation. With bank deposit rates, especially in the West, hovering near 1% or lower, most investors are looking for a better return on their investment and are, hence, putting their money to work in the capital markets, fueling a rise in equity prices.

We are finding opportunities in almost all emerging markets. Our ground-up research process locates opportunities in countries where the political or economic outlooks may not, at first appearance, look good. Nevertheless, we generally favour China and Brazil, but also have large positions in Russia, India and Turkey.

What about valuations? Do you think emerging markets still have room to rise?

Even though valuations are no longer as cheap as they were at the end of 2008, we believe current valuations are around the middle of their historical 10-year range. We continue to find opportunities, and our objective is to find good, solid companies that can survive even in a downturn. Valuations in select markets such as Russia are below the average in emerging markets and as such are particularly appealing, in our view.

India/China have clearly benefited from sustained capital flows in 2009 with the former witnessing inflows of over $17 billion. Would you say this is a sign that emerging markets have finally decoupled from the developed western markets?

Emerging markets will always be coupled with developed western markets and vice versa, since trade and money flows are so much connected globally. However, that does not mean that a decline in western markets will mean a decline in emerging markets. We must look at each on a case-by-case basis. Global interdependency is growing, not shrinking. We must be ready, therefore, to grasp all the opportunities when there is an impact on that interdependency.


What are the sectors you expect to shine in 2010, globally and specific to India?

In terms of sectors, we believe commodity stocks look good because we expect the global demand for commodities to continue its long-term growth. We also favour consumer stocks. With rising per-capita income and strong demand for consumer goods and services in many emerging markets, we believe that the earnings growth outlook for these stocks is positive. Within Indian sectors specifically, we're seeing opportunities in materials, financials and information technology.

You have been advocating investments in frontier markets. What are the pulls?

Frontier markets are the next emerging markets and include the likes of Kazakhstan, Romania, Nigeria and Vietnam. The key characteristics are the fact that they are overlooked by investors and have offered fewer investment opportunities. Frontier markets, generally, have companies that are oriented towards their respective domestic economies rather than the global economy, so we believe that they have less correlation to emerging markets in general.

Most investors have refrained from investing in frontier markets because of the perceived risks. However, I do not believe that the level of risk is necessarily higher as compared to emerging markets. Frontier markets generally share the same political and economic issues as emerging markets, but their valuations may be more attractive as a result of this perception. At the end of the day, it all boils down to picking the right company or stock.

Will commodities outperform equities in 2010? What are the dangers right now in your opinion?

We expect commodity prices to continue to trend upwards, partly because of weakness in the US dollar, and also because we expect the global demand for commodities to outgrow supply over the long term. However, speculation in derivatives markets is likely to exacerbate volatility in the sector, and we recognise that the upward trend in commodities is unlikely to be smooth.

Post the Dubai crisis, which are the other landmines that investors will have to watch out for?

The negative news impacted markets globally, particularly in Asia and Europe, because a number of banks are exposed to Dubai debt and several international construction companies have had large contracts in Dubai. Most markets rebounded quite quickly after it was ascertained that damage to companies outside of the Gulf region would be very limited.

As we have said in the past, in any bull market we expect that there will be corrections along the way. In our view, these corrections can be quite healthy, because to us it means that valuations will become more reasonable, presenting buying opportunities. This kind of volatility in emerging markets is what we expect and why it is so important to have a long-term investment horizon. We view these opportunities as a time to continue holding quality investments and to increase our holdings in selected stocks that we believe, over a five-year time frame, will continue to show stable financing.

How do you see interest rate changes in the US impacting the rest in 2010?

If there is a rise in interest rates without a concomitant rise in inflation so that real interest rates become highly positive, then the impact on stock markets around the world could be significant. Nominal interest rates alone would not have an impact except for a temporary psychological one. The key factor is the interplay between interest rates and inflation. High inflation would be good for equity markets provided that those high inflation rates are not accompanied by as high interest rates.








Will Nokia turn around its fortunes? This question was often the topic for much debate all through 2009, despite the handset maker commanding a 37 per cent market share globally in this space. But analysts say 2009 was a year that Nokia would rather forget, especially considering that the Finnish company continued to lose ground to Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone in the lucrative smartphone segment.

Research firm Gartner in a recent report had highlighted that while sales of smartphones boomed in 2009, the rest of the market remained flat. But, the same report also pointed out that smartphone sales, while growing, were also disappointing due to lack of attractive phones in this category from Nokia, whose market share here fell to 35 per cent in the third quarter of 2009, compared with 41 per cent in the previous quarter in the same year.

Nokia's executive vice-president and head of the mobile phones entity Rick Simonson, in an exclusive interview with ET, speaks about the challenges Nokia faces globally, even as he seeks to address many of the 'misconceptions' in the media's reporting of Nokia's performance. He also explains why the company remains bullish on winning the war in the long term. Prior to November 2009, Mr Simonson was the CFO of Nokia Corporation with responsibility for group finance and control, internal audit, treasury, investor relations, M&As, indirect sourcing and venture capital investments. Excerpts:

Nokia's weak selection of smartphones has been the talking point. This is the most lucrative segment in terms of revenues. Nokia has also announced recently that it would reduce its portfolio of smartphones in 2010. When you say Nokia competes in every spectrum, why is it not associated with the smartphone segment? Why has the Nokia's stock taken a beating over the past couple of months?

Yes, we have lost ground in the smartphone space over the past 18 months, but the decline has stopped and stablised in the second and third quarters of 2009. The New Year will see (our) recovery in smartphones with the introduction of Maemo and the stabilisation of the Symbian operating system, which by the way, continues to be the platform for the largest number of smartphones, globally.

If we look at the figures, 50 per cent of smartphone devices globally are on Nokia/Symbian. In smartphones, we are not well positioned in North America, which is a huge market. The media reports are not really wrong, but then we are also seen by the media through American and English speaking lenses. And it is made to seem that what is happening in North America is true to the rest of the world as well. In BRIC countries — we prefer to call them BRIC, and not emerging markets — where people don't just use expensive, high-end devices, where everything is big from very basic phones to high-end smartphones, we are right up there in every segment.

We shipped over 200 million smartphones last year and our strategy is volume driven. We have been stable in this segment and are trying to strengthen our position in the North American market. There is a lot of money to be made in the North American market and since we are not doing too well there, it has resulted in our stock performance — this issue has played up and media coverage makes it appear it the same across the world, which is not the case.

But while you talk about volumes, your competitors' business models are different. For instance, BlackBerry maker RIM may earn more than Nokia makes in the whole of Maharashtra in the smartphone space by just placing their handsets with enterprise customers in Mumbai alone. Does your volume translate into revenues?

Let me explain our strategy. The Nokia Corporation is focusing on 'messaging' in a very big way. For large sections of the world, their first experience of the Internet and email will be mobile handset — this can mean that it may be on a Nokia handset because we are dominant player in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where Internet penetrations are low. While the likes of RIM are known for their success in high quality, very expensive email solution, Nokia's strategy is to bring inexpensive mail for everyone.

Our success is best explained by the fact that Nokia is growing the email market faster then incumbents — we are growing faster than Gmail, Yahoo! and all other email providers. The math does not work according to the business model employed by companies such as RIM. You have to be in the mass market to win. To answer your question, let us take the Mumbai enterprise market — will they win here, if they do what they did in the US? But, this can happen only if the rest of the world does not change. Not every customer looks for a high-end email solution as the sole criteria when picking up a smartphone. They want a slew of other factors, which works to our strength.

To make money, RIM must now focus on mass email — this is an area that we own. Unless, they beat us here, they cannot occupy this area. In the high-end space, we have closed down the data compatibility gap with RIM. About 90 per cent of corporate email boxes today are with Microsoft and IBM and through our partnerships with them, we can mobilise all of them — at no extra fee.

All that is required is the data plan. But, RIM cannot adopt this business model. We are partnering with Microsoft and several others to build a whole range of email solutions — 100s of Microsoft engineers working side by side with 100s of Nokia engineers — these are the biggest companies in their respective spaces and they have put their best minds to the business. We are redefining mobilisation of all aspects of the office — and combining context with it — something that our competitors who are making huge profits are unable to do.

In fact, RIM's revenues are already coming down. In the second quarter of the fiscal 2010, the sales of our E-series range of smartphones was over three times that of RIM's figures, and we are growing faster than them everywhere, except in North America.

I can even make a prediction for 2010: In Latin America, we will grow faster than them. By 2011, our efforts will start producing results, as we will be at par with Apple and RIM in smartphones. Not only we draw level with them, we will also win the war because, in addition to email, we will be adding content, chat, music, entertainment and several other features, which will soon become very critical for success of any company in this space.

Another crucial factor that will play a large role in our success is that we have the power of open operating system coupled with the open distribution model that is not restricted by geographical or technology boundaries. Look at our targets for any segment of our devices for 2010 — they are all 2-10 times that of any of our competitors.

But, isn't this whole thing about building an open system almost like an excuse for not winning in other areas like smartphones? Also, do you see any consolidation in the 10-12 odd existing OS platforms for mobiles? Currently, with so may OS platforms, will developers prefer to work on only few ones leading to the inevitable death of others?

We are not winning in certain pockets and we are trying to change that, but our open system is not the excuse for this. We have three operating platforms — Maemo (for mobile computers), Symbian (for smartphones and our own proprietary platform OS for our mobile phones, which also happens to be the largest in the world in terms of installed handset volumes. In 2010, Nokia will ship over 500 million units across three platforms, which will be about 40 per cent of the global market share and will reach everywhere, from the remotest village in Kenya/parts of Africa to India, to the US.

Through an open system we are encouraging innovation — we are helping more people — I mean developers who produce applications for our system — make money. They stand to make more money with us because, our OS is used not just by Nokia, but several other handset makers since it an open system.

Next, their apps will be used across the world, as our reach is unmatched and therefore, we present them with the biggest audience to sell their products. An open system enables us to work faster at beating competition in the pockets we are not doing too well, by doing things differently. That is precisely why 14-15 operating systems cannot survive.

There is definitely not enough room for more than 4-5 operating systems. Scale is critical. For instance, Palm's OS is very good, but with less than 1% of the global volumes, it won't be too appealing to developers.

There have been several reports of Nokia buying out Palm.

We have been hearing that for a long time now — maybe it is like one of those things that you keep predicting and hope that by 2010, or in the next 10 years, it will actually come true. It's like you keep saying, 'it will rain, it will rain' and one day it finally rains, and then you say you predicted it!

Nokia has a large number of developers, but you are way behind competitors, when it comes to the number of apps you offer?

We started late on this front, but we have already crossed one million downloads a day — we are ahead of the both the BlackBerry Store and Google's Android Store, which puts us No. 2, right after the Apple Store. In May 2009, when we launched, we were present in about 60 countries, but now we have expanded to over 180 countries. We don't think that people in emerging markets need hundreds of thousands of apps, but rather they need ones that are relevant to them, those that can improve the quality of their lives.

We will emerge successful here because an application that has relevance for emerging markets can be used across Asia, Africa and Latin America because of our reach. We will win because our size and scale enables us to have an active dialogue with over a billion customers who use our products. We describe an active user as a Nokia consumer who has used at least one of our services or any other service in the past six months at least once and we have reached out to him/her at least once during this period (with his/her permission).

For instance, we can ask them: 'Hi, we realised that you have activated Nokia Messaging on your E72. Would you like us to activate your Music Store too?' And then we do it very simply. Thus, this active dialogue also opens up a very cheap way of marketing our services too. We have 80 million active users now within months of launching this concept. By the first half of 2010, we target to have 115 million active users and 300 million by end of 2011.








A good memory is regarded as a sign of intelligence and everyone's trying to improve their memory. This is specially true about young parents who are keen that their wards should not be less than Einstein. Prof Mriganka Sur, one of the top five experts on brain and cognitive science in the world, has a simple remedy: keep using those grey cells, either by solving puzzles or doing quizzes. Prof Sur is the Sherman Fairchild Professor of Neuroscience and Head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is also adviser at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune.

Prof Sur did his electrical engineering from IIT, Kanpur in 1974, following it up with an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering in 1975 and 1978, respectively, from the Vanderbilt University, Nashville. He was appointed faculty at Yale University School of Medicine in 1983 and joined the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT in 1986.

So how did this electrical engineering student come to neurosciences?

His studies in biology were not a part of his formal education but on his own, since he believes that one needs a multi-disciplinary approach to understand any subject and the compartmentalised knowledge under different subject heads is less useful. "Brain and cognitive science is a comparatively new field of science. Even in the United States, undergraduate and graduate education in this field is being offered only from last two decades," he said.

Prof Sur built up the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department of MIT from scratch. "Today our department has 40 faculty. We raised a fund of $ 500 million for building two centres," Prof Sur, who still holds his Indian passport, said. Incidentally, the renowned Indian architect Charles Correa has designed the centre at MIT which resembles an Indian haveli.

Explaining the complexities of the brain in a simple and lucid manner, Prof Sur said that information in the brain is coded, stored and transmitted as electrical signals. An important feature of the human brain is its plasticity, which means its capacity to adapt to changes in the stimuli. That is why he calls the fastest computers on the Earth as mere high speed idiots. "In order to make computers intelligent, we will have to understand how the brain works," he said.

The Sur Laboratory at MIT is studying the plasticity of the brain and how it develops the wired network. One of the aims of this study is to understand some brain disorders. "After heart disease and cancer, brain disorders like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, autism, schizophrenia etc are the third-largest health problem of the US," he said.
Brain disorders don't seem critical or sensitive till Prof Sur spelled it out. "Brain disorders have a very high social and economic cost because many societies hide them. They tend to blame the individual for the disease. But we have proved that they have a physical basis. In some cases, genetic factors set up the risk while in others the environment has physical consequences."

How far have they gone down this road?

His team has successfully studied one sub-set of autism called the Rett syndrome, which one out of every 100 children in the western countries is suffering. "We are likely to begin the clinical trials next year of the drug that we have found to reduce the impact of Rett syndrome on the brain on 60 girls," said Prof Sur.

India has its own peculiar brain-related health problems. Due to high propensity of Indians to high blood pressure and heart disease, India has one of the highest incidence of strokes. The boost to indigenous neuroscience study will help India find solutions to such indigenous problems.

What is the outlook for neuroscience research in India?

Typically, Prof Sur went to the root. He stressed the need for India to first focus on basic science education. One has to have deep understanding of biology and other disciplines to study subjects like neuroscience. That is why he feels that institutes like the IIISER, which believe in seamless education are the first step in that direction. "My advice to Indian policy makers has always been to focus on basic education. We have to bring together undergraduate education and research for the development of science like at the IISER and the western countries," he said.








R Kannan, member-actuary, IRDA, sees a pick-up in ULIP sales this year, with the economy showing distinct signs of revival. In an interview with ET, he says fund managers can take investors for a ride while computing the net asset value on a portfolio. The solution is in auditing of NAVs, says Kannan, who is doubling up as member-investment.

What is your assessment of the health of Indian insurers?

Our actuarial analysis shows that the solvency of life companies is well above the prescribed minimum. We, therefore, do not see any problems in the main health parameters. But we are concerned about the expense overrun. If life companies do not contain expenses and position various measures to reduce lapse rates, it could have a serious impact on solvency. Non-life companies have to move towards risk-based pricing to contain underwriting losses. We have advised the appointed actuaries to prepare a financial status report for these insurers.

What are the disclosure norms being proposed for insurers who plan to list on bourses?

We plan to prescribe norms for the valuation of liabilities and assets to ensure there are enough disclosures that would help prospective investors take informed decisions. On assets, valuation norms are well established. On liabilities, the current practice of prudent valuation will continue. We are even examining whether the valuation of liabilities could be reviewed by an independent actuary, apart from the report given by the valuation actuary. Such a peer review will instil more confidence in the valuation process. Insurers will also have to highlight special problems faced by them like an expense overrun, lapse experience, abnormal mortality experience, etc.

Do you see ULIP sales picking up this year?

We expect a reasonable growth in ULIPs between January and March this year. Yet, we are persuading insurance companies to have a minimum threshold of traditional business. We cannot ignore the fact that once the proportion of ULIP business rises, the fortunes of an insurer are linked to the capital market. A combination of ULIPs and traditional products would ensure a balanced growth in business.

Do you plan to lower the cap on ULIP charges further, given that mutual funds are load free?

The existing cap on ULIP charges will improve the yield for customers by 100-250 basis points. We do not have any plans to alter the cap ULIP charges now. Today, insurers have to mandatorily disclose all charges on ULIPs and the customer signs the benefit illustration. The only portion that is left out is the net asset value (NAV) computed for a portfolio. A shrewd fund manager can add a small loading factor in the computation of the NAV that cannot be easily deciphered by an ordinary customer. What is disclosed is the final value. To bring enhanced transparency, we have to examine the adoption of NAV auditing that many regulators have adopted internationally.


Are insurers mis-selling unit-linked pension plans?

There is some confusion on pension products sold by insurers. All products sold by insurance companies are in accordance with the provisions of the Insurance Act. In pension products, there are two phases, namely the accumulation phase and benefit payment phase. One may buy a traditional or a unit-linked pension plan. Mortality risk is present in both during accumulation and benefit payment phases.


If someone buys additional life cover, this helps mainly during the accumulation phase. But during the benefit payment phase, the insurer has to address mortality or longevity risk. There is no escape. Hence, even if someone buys a pension product under a unit-linked platform without a life cover, this cannot be equated to a mutual fund product, because the insurer faces longevity risk during the benefit payment phase. No one can buy a pension product that covers the accumulation phase only, but one can buy an immediate pension product that covers only the benefit payment phase. The presence of longevity risk makes pension products eligible to be sold as insurance products.

What are the major changes in product approval procedure?

The product approval procedure is transparent and the average time taken to clear products has come down significantly over the last three years. After the cap on charges, we have received 230 'File and Use' applications, including riders. At the end of December 2009, 223 products, including riders were cleared. Only seven products are awaiting replies from the regulator.








Widely regarded as an emerging markets guru, Mark Mobius, executive chairman, Templeton Asset Management, ranks China and Brazil among his favourite markets, and also has sizeable exposure to Russia, India and Turkey. In an interview with ET, he talks of how frontier markets are the next emerging markets. He says that global interdependency is growing, not shrinking.

Where do you see global equity markets headed in 2010? Which are the ones that you are betting on to outperform the rest?

We think emerging market equities seem likely to hit new highs as we go forward. Emerging economies are forecast to grow approximately four times faster than developed economies — a big difference — which should be reflected in their stock markets. But valuations in emerging markets are still lower than those of Europe and the US because the majority of investors still tend to discount emerging markets, regarding them as too risky.

However, this is now changing, as governments around the world, from the US and Europe to China, have substantially increased the level of money supply to prevent deflation. With bank deposit rates, especially in the West, hovering near one per cent or lower, most investors are looking for a better return on their investment and are, hence, putting their money to work in the capital markets, fueling a rise in equity prices.

We are finding opportunities in almost all emerging markets. Our ground-up research process locates opportunities in countries where the political or economic outlooks may not, at first appearance, look good. Nevertheless, we generally favour China and Brazil, but also have large positions in Russia, India and Turkey.

What about valuations? Do you think emerging mkts still have room to rise?

Even though valuations are no longer as cheap as they were at the end of 2008, we believe current valuations are around the middle of their historical 10-year range. We continue to find opportunities, and our objective is to find good, solid companies that can survive even in a downturn. Valuations in select markets such as Russia are below the average in emerging markets and as such are particularly appealing, in our view.

India/China have clearly benefited from sustained capital flows in 2009 with the former witnessing inflows of over $17 billion. Would you say this is a sign that emerging markets have finally decoupled from the developed Western markets?

Emerging markets will always be coupled with developed western markets and vice versa, since trade and money flows are so much connected globally. However, that does not mean that a decline in Western markets will mean a decline in emerging markets. We must look at each on a case-by-case basis. Global interdependency is growing, not shrinking. We must be ready, therefore, to grasp all the opportunities when there is an impact on that interdependency.

What are the sectors you expect to shine in 2010, globally and specific to India?

In terms of sectors, we believe commodity stocks look good because we expect the global demand for commodities to continue its long-term growth. We also favour consumer stocks. With rising per-capita income and strong demand for consumer goods and services in many emerging markets, we believe that the earnings growth outlook for these stocks is positive. Within Indian sectors specifically, we're seeing opportunities in materials, financials and information technology.

You have been advocating investments in frontier markets. What are the pulls?

Frontier markets are the next emerging markets and include the likes of Kazakhstan, Romania, Nigeria and Vietnam. The key characteristics are the fact that they are overlooked by investors and have offered fewer investment opportunities. Frontier markets, generally, have companies that are oriented towards their respective domestic economies rather than the global economy, so we believe that they have less correlation to emerging markets in general.

Most investors have refrained from investing in frontier markets because of the perceived risks. However, I do not believe that the level of risk is necessarily higher as compared to emerging markets. Frontier markets generally share the same political and economic issues as emerging markets, but their valuations may be more attractive as a result of this perception. At the end of the day, it all boils down to picking the right company or stock.

Will commodities outperform equities in 2010? What are the dangers right now in your opinion?

We expect commodity prices to continue to trend upwards, partly because of weakness in the US dollar, and also because we expect the global demand for commodities to outgrow supply over the long term. However, speculation in derivatives markets is likely to exacerbate volatility in the sector, and we recognise that the upward trend in commodities is unlikely to be smooth.

Post the Dubai crisis, which are the other landmines that investors will have to watch out for?

The negative news impacted markets globally, particularly in Asia and Europe, because a number of banks are exposed to Dubai debt and several international construction companies have had large contracts in Dubai. Most markets rebounded quite quickly after it was ascertained that damage to companies outside of the Gulf region would be very limited.

As we have said in the past, in any bull market we expect that there will be corrections along the way. In our view, these corrections can be quite healthy, because to us it means that valuations will become more reasonable, presenting buying opportunities. This kind of volatility in emerging markets is what we expect and why it is so important to have a long-term investment horizon. We view these opportunities as a time to continue holding quality investments and to increase our holdings in selected stocks that we believe, over a five-year time frame, will continue to show stable financing.


How do you see interest rate changes in the US impacting the rest in 2010?

If there is a rise in interest rates without a concomitant rise in inflation so that real interest rates become highly positive, then the impact on stock markets around the world could be significant. Nominal interest rates alone would not have an impact except for a temporary psychological one. The key factor is the interplay between interest rates and inflation. High inflation would be good for equity markets provided that those high inflation rates are not accompanied by as high interest rates.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The first trading day in the New Year will usher in one of the most contentious moves ever by the National Stock Exchange and Bombay Stock Exchange — extension of trading time by almost an hour in the morning. The majority of people in the market did not want the early 9 am opening, though a minority — mainly the big trading houses and the financial institutions — are happy as they had been pushing for this. This big versus small battle is likely to edge out the small brokers, who might even advise their clients to resort to trading via the Internet. The small brokers play a vital role as the big broking houses rarely have any time for the small retail investor. What is disturbing about the latest move by the NSE and BSE is the absence of transparency in decision-making. It was earlier claimed that the National Stock Exchange wanted trading to begin early as much of the Nifty trade was going to Singapore and the NSE was losing out on income. But when there was a big uproar last month over the earlier deadline to start trading an hour earlier, the NSE claimed it had brought forward its timings by an hour as the BSE had announced it would start trading five minutes earlier — from 9.50 am instead of 9.55 am! This made it look like a game of one-upmanship. The BSE, on its part, claimed it had gone for the five-minute extension because the Securities and Exchange Board of India had ruled that stock markets could trade anytime between 9 am and 5pm, and it had wanted to be the first to implement this. The entire episode makes a mockery of the process of consultation that such leading institutions are expected to adhere to. The Brokers Associations of both the NSE and BSE had protested strongly over these moves, and clearly voiced their opposition to the extension of trading time for an hour. The associations had also appealed to the finance minister to give them a hearing, but got no reply. The broking community, their staffers and many others who actually run the markets have genuine difficulties, but neither of the two exchanges even bothered to discuss the proposed changes with them. The small brokers are the backbone of the trading system. Many of them and most of their employees live in the distant suburbs of Mumbai: they will now have to leave their homes before 7 am to be in time for pre-trading work. The women among them who also run households are likely to be particularly hard hit. In addition, most commercial banks in India do not start operations at 9 am, so the brokers will face real problems in real time gross settlements (RTGS). More important — trading patterns on the Indian stock exchanges indicate that very little trading activity takes place for the greater part of the day; with most of it being recorded shortly after the opening bell and then around half an hour or even less before the closing bell. So it is debatable how much real change will come about due to the extra 55 minutes in the morning. One of the key objectives behind the BSE-NSE move is to get both of them even more integrated with the global markets, in the hope that this would lead to greater earnings for the exchanges. In any case, the Singapore Nifty opens at around 7.30 am, so how will the 9 am opening in Mumbai be of any help? Unless there is a hidden agenda — and the two bourses plan to extend the timings further by two more hours at some future date!








The dawn of the new decade brings with it important reflections upon the evolution and strengthening of our democracy. The decade which ended with 2009 saw some significant developments in our polity, the most basic of these being the inexorable decline of the nascent trend towards a bipolar polity at the national level brought about by the gradual decline of the support and popularity of the BJP and of BJP-style rabble-rousing politics.


The Congress has emerged as the single-largest formation all over the country, having won the faith and support of the people with its performance and future certainty of stable, secular governance, and inclusive growth. Thus the polity can no longer be considered as moving towards a bipolar regime. The situation is now Congress on one side and other parties on the other side.


A great deal has been said about the decade and the year that just passed, especially about the re-emergence of the Congress and the decline of the BJP. The political ramifications of the developments of the year have also been exhaustively analysed. However, at the core of the debate lies the matter of philosophy and attitude. The Congress stands firmly for an inclusivist approach, whether in social, economic or political issues. The BJP continues to believe and justify its divisive agenda and politics of exclusion. This is the fundamental reason why the Congress appeals to all sections of people, cutting across differences of region, economic status and class.


During the closing days of 2009, Mr Narendra Modi and the BJP struck one more blow against democracy in our country. Sadly, this was done in the guise of promoting democracy. Mr Modi enacted in the Gujarat Assembly a law to make voting in local body elections compulsory for all citizens. Failure to vote will bring penal consequences for defaulters, but in typical Modi fashion, those penal provisions were not simultaneously tabled on the floor of the Assembly. It was declared that rules would be framed and announced at a later date. It is typical of Mr Modi that the most fundamental right and cornerstone of a democratic society should be converted into an instrument of fascism, holding a gunpoint to the head of the voter and citizen.


Mr Modi and the BJP claim that compulsory voting will "strengthen" democracy. Some argue that voting should be made a fundamental duty. But, however attractively the idea is sought to be packaged, the fact remains that compulsory voting can never be good for democracy. Although it is easy to see why the idea appeals to the dictatorial mindset of Mr Modi, there can be no doubt that all he will succeed in doing is to invest bureaucrats and the police with the power to harass innocent citizens and to penalise and punish them if they do not come out to vote, albeit for the most genuine reason.


Indian elections have been likened to a carnival. The glorious confusion, the sound and fury of electioneering, the colourful array of banners and posters, the endless TV, and the excitement of the grand finale of election day, are unparalleled anywhere else in the world, not just due to the sheer numbers (850 million electors). Above all, the Indian electorate knows its mind, and has firmly spoken its mind, and given a mandate, completely unfazed by any red herrings. The electorate, although supposedly uneducated, is among the most mature electorates in the world. Voters have a very clear perspective on what they want, and who should rule them. Time and again, overconfident parties and politicians have bit the dust. It would totally remove the essential spirit of our democracy if voting was made a compulsory duty, enforced by the state. The right to vote, enshrined within itself the right to choose, to vote, and it is an incredible victory for India, that our democracy has stood the test of time.


It is, of course, worrying, that in recent years the turnout on voting day has been listless and apathetic — never a good sign for healthy democracy. This trend, accompanied by the all too palpable hostility of the general public to the political class, compounds the worry and further threatens our polity. It is vitally important that people should be encouraged, persuaded, motivated and cajoled to come out and vote. Only when voters come out in large numbers will our democracy be vindicated in the truest sense. Equally, however, the moment citizens are forced by law to vote, and punished by the police for not voting, the days of free democracy will be numbered, for there can be no doubt that the vote of a person forced to vote will not be a well-informed vote but an ignorant and, therefore, a bad vote.


The concept of compulsory voting has been defeated in the Lok Sabha, which rejected a Private Member's Bill to this effect, moved by a BJP member on April 29, 2005. The Supreme Court also rejected in 2005 a petition seeking to make voting compulsory, and the question of the abstain or "none of the above" provision in voting is pending before the Supreme Court. It has always been a mystery to me why someone who does not want to vote for any of the candidates would take the trouble to come to the voting booth, and press a button to say "none of the above". Why bother to do this?


Inexplicably, Mr Modi, while making voting compulsory, also advocates the provision which gives the voter the option to press a button saying "none of the above"! A paradox, if ever was one.


Mr Modi claims that several other countries have compulsory voting, but what BJP apologists fail to mention is that out of 32 countries which have laws of compulsory voting, only 19 enforce the law, and of these, only Belgium has a punitive section, like the Gujarat law. Further, they fail to explain, what would be the plight of thousands of migrant workers who move from place to place in search of employment, and how they can be punished for failing to vote. Also, what about sick or physically challenged citizens who face genuine difficulty. Have they to stand before a police officer, and explain their failure to vote? In Modi's Gujarat, this is an achievement for democracy, while anywhere else it would be one more weapon to beat the ordinary citizen with.


In the ultimate analysis, the real victory of our democracy lies in those heart-warming instances when voters pour out, in spite of terrorist or other threats, and cast their vote, reaffirming their faith in democracy, such as the recent turnout in the Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh bypolls. Mr Modi will soon realise that the Indian electorate will have as little tolerance for his dictatorial laws as they had for his divisive politics.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in theRajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.








The evidence that Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen had a role in the failed Christmas Day bombing of an American passenger jet has led some to declare that Yemen is the new front in the war against the terrorist organisation. But the truth is, Yemen has been a front in that war since at least October 12, 2000, when Al Qaeda blew up the Navy destroyer Cole, killing 17 American sailors, in the port of Aden. The explosives for the bombing were bought in Yemen, and the attackers and their accomplices were predominantly Yemenis. Indeed, after the attack, terrorists in Qaeda camps in Afghanistan would march and chant, "We, the Yemenis, destroyed the Cole".


As the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) case agent for the Cole investigation from 2000 to 2005, I spent years with colleagues in Yemen hunting down those responsible, and we unravelled an entire Al Qaeda network in the country. Most of the people who executed the 1998 East African embassy bombings either traveled through Yemen or used fraudulent Yemeni passports. Almost two years after the Cole, Qaeda terrorists based in Yemen struck the Limburg, a French oil tanker, off the coast of Yemen. Qaeda terrorists in Yemen also helped facilitate the attacks of 9/11. Fahd al-Quso, a Yemeni Al Qaeda member who confessed to me his role in the USS Cole bombing, also admitted to ferrying money to a Qaeda operative known as Khallad who was part of an important 9/11 planning meeting in Malaysia.


As recently as this past August, an assassination attempt against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia's deputy minister of interior in charge of security, was plotted in Yemen. The explosive mixture that the suicide bomber used in that attack was the same one that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to ignite on the passenger jet over Detroit — and in each case the terrorist hid the mixture in his underwear.


Yemen is a very appealing base for Qaeda for various reasons. From its position at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the country has convenient access to Qaeda's main theatres of battle, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Its borders are unsecured, and tribal groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda control many regions, so terrorists can move freely into, out of and around the country. And guns and explosives are readily available from Yemen's arms market.


The country's tribal nature also makes it a relatively easy place for Qaeda to operate. Yemen has a weak government and powerful regional tribes, which in many ways operate as mini-governments free of central control. In addition, the government is struggling to contain both a secessionist movement in the south and a rebellion in the north.


When I was in Yemen, I found many extremely capable officials in law enforcement and intelligence who were dedicated to stopping Qaeda. With their help, our FBI team was able to arrest and prosecute in a Yemeni court people responsible for the Cole bombing and for planning other attacks. By the time we left Yemen, in 2005, those terrorists were in prison. Later, however, some of them "escaped", and others were given clemency. Jamal al-Badawi, for example, a Qaeda terrorist who confessed to me his role in the bombing of the USS Cole, was sentenced to death by a Yemeni judge in 2004. But in 2006, he "escaped" from jail, only to turn himself the next year — in a deal that released him from prison on a promise of good behaviour. Today, Quso, the confessed Cole bomber, is not only free, he's giving interviews and re-establishing himself as a terrorist operative. During the past year, in an ominous sign of Yemen's rising importance to Qaeda, the Saudi branch of the organisation merged with the Yemeni branch to form a single terrorist group for the entire peninsula. Known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, it is based in Yemen and headed by a Yemeni, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, who served as a close aide to Osama bin Laden.


Some Yemeni government officials highly value their relationship with the United States, which provides financial aid and military training. During our investigation of the Cole bombing, the Yemenis who were dedicated to justice were given free rein and those with extremist ties were sidelined. After the trials were over and the terrorists made it out of jail, Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the FBI, flew to Yemen to complain, but there was little further protest by the US. We dropped the ball.


Today, the terrorists behind the Cole are still free, and an attack connected to Yemen has been attempted. It is possible to defeat Qaeda in Yemen without sending American troops. Now that the Yemenis are once again acting against Qaeda by striking the terrorist group's bases and killing or apprehending many of its members, the US must show that it has learned to stay focused and hold Yemeni officials accountable.








Here is a party chief who seeks donations from workers and supporters and that too openly. However, it is not for his private coffer, but for the poor. The newly-appointed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Nitin Gadkari has installed two daanpatras (donation boxes) in the party headquarters, one outside his chamber and the other inside. He wants his workers to be socially conscious and has urged them as well as party supporters to donate money for the underprivileged, instead of wasting it on buying bouquets and garlands for him. Hence the two donation boxes.
Spotting the one outside Mr Gadkari's office, a visitor who had probably been waiting for quite sometime to meet the party chief quipped, "Pehle chadhava, phir darshan (first donation, then an audience)".


A merry Christmas guest


The United States' advisory to its citizens cautioning them about travel in India depressed many in the tourism industry, but then the Americans themselves recently undid the damage, albeit inadvertently. President Barack Obama's aide and White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, recently holidayed in India and happily took in the sights and sounds of the wildlife, the forts of Rajasthan and also undertook the mandatory road trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. He rounded off his holiday with a meeting with the US ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer and the embassy staff.


Mr Emanuel's Christmas vacation would surely serve to reinforce India's image as a safe tourist destination, in spite of the alarmist travel advisories.
In fact, the US advisory had evoked a sharp reply from the minister of external affairs S.M. Krishna, who assured anybody who was willing to listen that tourists had nothing to worry about. Mr Emanuel would second it now.


Leakage and whodunit?


The BJP MPs are now a worried lot. During the recent winter session of Parliament, they used to meet every Tuesday morning at the Parliament House annexe building. During their last meeting, around 20 BJP MPs, led by Yogi Adityanath who represents Gorakhpur, spoke out strongly against cow slaughter. Adityanath also alleged that beef was being mixed with mutton and sold in the capital by the son of a senior Congress MP. But minutes after BJP leader L.K. Advani returned to his chamber, the Congress MP who was named sent a letter to him refuting the charges. This perturbed the BJP MPs to no end. They are now wondering if there is a mole among them who is keeping the Congress abreast of closed-door discussions in the main Opposition. Now, some BJP MPs are learnt to have written to Mr Advani asking him to hold an internal enquiry into this "leakage."


Who wants the 'ex' tag?


It is a truism that politicians want important positions. And when they lose their posts, they somehow contrive ways to make it seem as if they are still holding it. Take, for instance, former member of Parliament Sajjan Kumar who was driven by more than just filial love for younger brother Ramesh Kumar, a Lok Sabha MP from south Delhi, when he sent out a jointly signed letter last week inviting journalists for a New Year lunch. The official invite mentioned the name of the ex-MP before his brother's name with just a hyphen separating the two names: "Sajjan Kumar-Ramesh Kumar" was how it read. The younger brother had got a ticket courtesy Sajjan Kumar when the party decided to withdraw his nomination after his name cropped up again in connection with the anti-Sikh riots case just ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. The invite was a subtle reminder of who still runs the show.


Positive thinking helps


Sometimes pep talk can do wonders. Officials of the tourism ministry who have been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the availability of adequate number of hotel rooms for this year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi are a harried lot. Whenever they meet to discuss this matter there are groans and complaints about the difficulty of the task. Recently, another such meeting was held and the customary groans were heard again. But amid the depressing and directionless chatter on the fate of the games, a woman official suddenly got up and declared confidently: "We will do it. We will make it possible". This evoked instant applause from other officials who were present. After that, there was cheer all around.


— Contributed by Yojna Gusai, Ramesh Ramachandran, Rashme Sehgal, Preeti Karmyogi and Nitin Mahajan








When I read news of bomb explosions, clashes between protesters and the police and new cases of corruption among our politicians, judges and civil servants I go into deep depression and ask myself: "How can this wretched country move forward, banish poverty and ignorance with so many people in the top layer of our society engaged in filling their pockets with other people's money?"


My only antidote is to read news coming from Pakistan. On incidence of violence and corruption they score over us as they often do in cricket matches. We are the same people and gained independence the same time. We succeeded in establishing democracy in India; they failed miserably to do so. For most years of their existence as an independent state they were ruled by military dictators. Our democratically-elected leaders at the helm of affairs were immune to corruption. Not one of our Presidents or Prime Ministers was ever accused of making illicit money. In Pakistan it was the other way round. Their military dictators, howsoever ruthless they may have been in dealing with their detractors, were never found guilty of filling their own pockets, while their democratically-elected, leaders from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir, her husband Asif Ali Zardari as well as his principal opponent Nawaz Sharif made vast fortunes and put them in Swiss banks or buying real estate in Europe, America or the Emirates. The recent decision to annul the amnesty granted by General Parvez Musharraf to Zardari and two cohorts reads like crime fiction. It opens up a vast network of corrupt elite of the country: it is not eight, or 80, or 800 but 80,000 who are to answer charges of corruption while holding office. The figures involved are mind boggling. President Zardari, commonly known as 'Mr 10%' is known to have stacked away billions of dollars and bought huge estates to add to his late wife's unearned wealth. Amongst the accused is Pakistani defence minister and few others. They have been prevented from fleeing Pakistan.


We may well wonder what has gone wrong with our Pakistani cousins? What happened to the dreams of making the Garden of Eden (Chaman-e-Pakistan) and the land of the Pure?


To hear or not to hear


That was the question facing me. I was losing hearing steadily over the last few years — one after the other sounds I could hear clearly faded out: Calling of birds, soft music and finally human voices. I made light of it and when asked why I did not get a hearing aid, shrugged off the suggestion by replying "saves me from a lot of bullshit". It got worse and worse. One evening an old friend A.R. Kidwai, who has retired after 17 years governorship, dropped in. He has a very soft voice. I could not hear what he was saying. And told him so. "Why don't you get a hearing aid?" he asked plucking them out of his ears. "It would only cost you three lakhs — with rebate a little less. I can arrange it all in your home."
After he had left, I thought over the matter. Three lakhs was a tidy sum and I was not even sure I would last that long. I put the matter out of my mind.


I was bullied by Harjeet Kaur, owner of Hotel Le Meridien to allow myself to be cross-examined by Koel Purie for her TV channel. She is the daughter of Aroon Purie, owner of India Today, Harper Collins and much else. I went reluctantly. There was a sizeable audience — the elite of the city including the Prime Minister's wife Gursharan Kaur. I saw my daughter go up to Koel who was on the stage giving directions to the camera crew and told her that I was hard of hearing. She nodded. I was escorted to the dais and took my seat facing her. I asked her, "Are you going to make an ass of me?" She smiled and replied: "Surely not! I'll let you say what you like on questions I put to you." The interview began. She had done her homework: read some of my books, asked my friends what kind of a person I was. I was impressed: Ravishingly beautiful, beautifully turned out, animated, oozing with self-confidence and professional competence. It lasted little over half an hour. I got home totally exhausted and swore I'd never again appear on TV. However, I was anxious to know how it had gone. A month after the recording, it was shown on her channel. A day before I asked Kidwai to arrange a hearing aids for me. He brought Dr Aditi Shekhar, audiologist and her sales manager Deepak Pareek. She peered into my ears with a torch, pumped some kind of wax in them to take impressions of the inner labyrinth of both ears. They were back again with the hearing aid and literature how to use them. It was a near miracle. Sounds I had not heard for years came back — louder than ever before. I heard a barbet call. people I could not hear earlier in the day yelled at the top of their voices. But I was able to hear every word that Koel said and every sentence I spoke. All said and done, it was personal vanity and desire to get an ego-massage that made me shell out so much money on the eve of my life. My answer to the question to have a hearing aid or not, is a compromise: Put in your ear-plugs when you want to hear; pluck them out when you have had enough.


Selective hearing


This anecdote sent by Vipin Buckshey was close to the bone as I am both elderly and deaf. Here it is.


An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. He went to the doctor who was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids that allowed the gentleman to hear 100 per cent. The elderly gentleman went back in a month to the doctor. The doctor remarked, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again." The gentleman replied, "Oh, I haven't told them. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I've changed my Will three times.








The very aspiration for greatness comes from a very petty mind. It's always a petty mind that aspires to be great. And it is always a very ordinary mind that aspires to be special. It is not necessary to aspire to greatness or to being special.


If you make your life the focus of your life, the ambit of your life and the nature of your life well beyond the concerns of who you are, if you take away from your life the question, "What about me?," you will be a great human being.


How great, how recognised you will be in the society depends on your capabilities. You may be a great man in your street, you may be a great man in your house, you may be a great man in your state or in your nation or in the world — that depends on a variety of situations. Like, for example, historically where are you placed.


If Mahatma Gandhi came today, maybe he wouldn't be as well known as he was then. Because, then there was a situation — at the right time the right kind of spirit came and things happened. Today if he is here in the present political scenario, his principles may work against him and he may not get elected. So greatness happened to him not because he was seeking to be great, but because his way of looking at life was way beyond "What about me?"


If you drop this one calculation from your mind, "What about me?," and just function to the best of your ability, in some way you will be great. Once you take away "What about me," then you're naturally looking at "What can I do about all the life around me?" And once you're looking at "What can I do about the life around me," you will naturally enhance your capabilities because there is so much to do!


I cannot understand how people in India claim that there are so many people who are unemployed when there is still so much to do in this country. It is just that people are too concerned about "What about me." They are only willing to do a certain kind of job, only work to fulfil certain needs, so they think they're unemployed. The fact is that there is too much to do in this country, so how can people be unemployed?


Do not aspire for greatness. Aspiring for greatness shows your pettiness. Just take this one calculation out and function to the fullest of your ability, and what has to happen will happen.


People may call you Mahatma, they may not call you Mahatma, it doesn't matter. But if you live like a Mahatma then you are a Mahatma. Mahatma means you are a great piece of life. And you are a great piece of life the moment you take away this one calculation from your mind, "What about me?" Wherever you are, you will shine. How much you shine depends on the situation and also your ability to do things.


— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a yogi, is a visionary, humanitarian and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru's wit and piercing logic provoke and widen our perception of life. He can be contacted at [1]







Some young people will never learn. After Shashi Tharoor twittered that the new visa rules would not serve the purpose for which they were promulgated, S.M. Krishna, the minister for external affairs, asked him not to differ with the ministry in public. His words, to the effect that everyone had to fall on the same page, may not convey his meaning well; but he meant that whatever their views, all those who speak for the ministry must say the same thing — presumably the same thing as he would say. He did not mean that he is always right; but he wants no quislings in his empire. However wrong he may be, his army must go down fighting for him — and for his minions who write up visa rules for him.


Down the road from South Block, in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Shiva Ayyadurai was told in October not to talk with or write to any of his fellow scientists; three days later, he was sacked. He was not nearly as stylish or famous as Mr Tharoor, but his crime was similar. He, together with Deepak Sardana, had criticized the CSIR top brass in a report. Unlike Mr Krishna, S.K. Brahmachari, the director of the CSIR, did not take responsibility for the punishment; he said that he was against the dismissal but had succumbed to his colleagues' pressure. The plight of Mr Tharoor and Mr Ayyadurai shows that those who run the government of India do not tolerate public criticism from their juniors. Their reactions would suggest that the criticism had substance; if it had been silly, they could have laughed it off, or just ignored it. In fact, gagging both the young and undoubtedly bright men was precisely how men with a weak mind or a weak case would react. If the men in power had wished to invite disdain, they could not have chosen a better way to do it.


But however natural it may be, that interpretation would be unfair to them. For they were not acting for themselves, but for the government of India; they share the conviction that the august, 3.5-million-strong institution to which they belong must speak with one voice. They may well ask what the plight of the British government would have been if its 5,000-odd representatives in colonial India had spoken with different voices. British rule, the British then felt, would not last if they did not fall on the same page, in modern parlance. But the reason why it did not last was precisely that they unanimously refused to share power with those they ruled. It is the ruled who rule now; whether a Brahmachari or a Krishna, the rulers rule by consent. And what the ruled consent to must be determined through debate, to which those juniors contributed. If the elders have an argument, let them come out with it







According to the National Crime Records Bureau, West Bengal was the state with the highest number of suicides in 2005. In 2007, the NCRB confirmed that the state also accounted for the highest percentage of teen suicides in India. West Bengal, as cynics may gleefully exclaim, can always be trusted to hold on to its pride of place among the biggest losers in the country. But cynicism is hardly an honourable response when children as young as 14 or less are impelled to kill themselves with shocking readiness. The commonly attributed causes — family feuds, thwarted romance, the pressure to excel academically — are more confusing than convincing. Dysfunctional family, unrequited love and blind ambition were facts of life even a decade ago. Yet the young back then did not give up with such alacrity. The burden of education, and its related frustration, has undoubtedly increased over the years. Families have disintegrated bit by bit, friendship has moved on from the real to the virtual plane. But there appears to be something beyond loneliness, despair or shame that keeps eluding even psychiatrists, who can expertly rationalize why someone chose to stop living. So it is telling that in 2008, around 16 per cent children up to 14 killed themselves for unspecified reasons.


The 2005 NCRB figures showed that an overwhelming 99 per cent suicides occurred in rural Bengal. Even teen suicides tend to be higher in the districts. It would be unthinking to juxtapose the trials of city children on those faced by their counterparts in the villages. Poverty, unemployed parents, being forced to drop out of school, early marriage, child labour, domestic abuse, and myriad other truths deadlier than jilted love or broken families lead boys and girls in the suburbs to self-destruction. In 2007, a girl killed herself just because her siblings had eaten up the little rice that the family had got after weeks while she was taking a bath. In standard medical jargon, the cause of her death would probably be 'unknown'. That would help the State disown all responsibility and make a scapegoat of flawed parenting.









Shortly after its introduction in the 1850s, the railway network not only radicalized travel in India but also quickly became a rich source for real and fictional adventures and fantasies. Yet, a railway journey was not an enviable experience for all: the train became another site for racial segregation and while the Europeans travelled in first class compartments, most Indians were crammed into the third class, with little access to water and sanitary facilities. In fact, it would not be too fanciful to imagine an early train as India in microcosm: the rulers cocooned in luxury, a few privileged Indians their neighbours in a compartment (though perhaps not in real life), and the majority of passengers in second and, more likely, third class carriages. And life aboard a train for Europeans and a handful of privileged Indians could indeed be luxurious.


Lady Rosamond Lawrence, wife of civilian Henry Lawrence, writes in Indian Embers of train journeys where their official saloon "was shifted from train to train as desired". There was a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen, in addition to the public area furnished with chairs and couches. A few coaches down was another story where the general carriages, wrote Kipling in "A Railway Settlement", "are just now horrid — being filthy and unshaven, dirty to look at and dirty to live in". Over a hundred and fifty years later, cynics might ask, has anything really changed for the vast majority of Indian rail travellers?


Among the many stories early passengers had to tell, a favourite theme was surely about encounters with those one was unlikely to run in to otherwise. In her autobiography, A Look Before and After, the Oriya educationist, Sailabala Das, narrates with some relish her contretemps with English passengers on a journey from Calcutta to Cuttack. Sensing that she may have problems getting a berth in a first class compartment, Sailabala sent her khansama (cook) ahead with the bedding, instructing him to spread it out on a lower berth in the ladies' compartment. Soon enough the chaprasis (peons) of the travelling English family arrived and, disconcerted to see Sailabala's luggage, reported the situation to their master. Sailabala writes, "the gentleman got quite red in the face, sent for the guard and asked him to turn the native woman (me) out and tell her to travel in the third class". The embarrassed guard could say little when he looked at Sailabala's first class ticket. Not one to let matters rest, Sailabala "did not mind being called a 'native woman', for I am a native woman and proud of it". But she was insulted by the Englishman's tone and "wanted to punish them". She quickly changed her khansama's and ayah's tickets into first class ones and watched with glee the consternation on the faces of her fellow passengers who then tried their luck with the station master — but to no avail.


Confusion prevailed and as the memsahib shouted out, "Alec, Alec my dear, see the feet of the native servant dangling just above your head", a distraught Alec tried to barge into the more conducive ladies' compartment. Imagine Sailabala's triumph when she instructed the guard to turn the man out of the ladies' compartment — "I strongly objected to his travelling in the same compartment as me," she reported smugly. The final denouement, however, was an apology when the Englishman, who turned out to be the district magistrate of Cuttack, discovered that she was the daughter of the well-respected M.S. Das. And as a mollified Sailabala reports this too with some pride, we are reminded that the incident did take place a hundred years ago when demonstration of regret from an Englishman was no mean thing.


As the railways opened up new, uninhabited areas, it was important to provide for the security of trains, railway lines, bridges, and tunnels. The photograph shows clearly that railway lines often traversed difficult terrains, through dense jungles and across mutinous rivers. The shack at the left-hand side could be that of workers, employed in the construction of the railway bridge. The two men wearing the ubiquitous sola topis were likely to be of the same ilk as the hard-working Findlayson, C.E. in Kipling's "The Bridge Builders", who turns to opium at the thought of his months of perilous labour and supervision being destroyed by an early flood. Being photographed while at work (and building the railway system was no small task) had gained in popularity by the closing years of the 19th century. It was important to remind the family and posterity of what constructing the empire had meant, and men were quick to underline the hazardously unknown aspects of such work.


Nor were these emotions entirely absent among train passengers. An ambience of slight uncertainty, a latent tension combined with some underlying excitement was common. And often there were serendipitous encounters, not always of the most welcome kind: theft and pilferage became rampant in the railways and often after a robbery, hapless victims were reluctant to report it. Not only had fear of the police network and its unkind ways of functioning become a part of the mythology surrounding the colonial State, but also victims had no common language in which to express themselves.


Imagine a Bihari worker on his way to try his luck in Bombay Presidency being robbed in the forbidding thugee-infested badlands of Central India; while broken Hindustani may have got him some mileage with the local police, it would hardly be enough for him to be able to say where, when and how he had been robbed, if not mugged. Would he have known the route and stations that the train had passed through in the dead of night? Unlikely. Not unexpectedly then, a 1904 Joint Commission on inter-provincial crime in Assam, Bengal and the United Provinces identified the railways as the most significant reason for the alarming rise in theft in this region. Used to a stationary population, the police force was hard put to ferret out 'mobile' thieves.


As one would expect, children, particularly those who travelled in the first class, were immune to such grown-up fears; for them, there was little to rival a train ride. Colonial memoirs recount many such journeys, some more exciting than others. Jon and Rumer Godden in Two Under the Indian Sky write of long train journeys to north Indian hill stations. As high-spirited children, they swung from the upper berths, visited the lavatory endlessly — assiduously disinfected with Lysol by their mother — and waited for entertainment at the next station.


Ample food lay safe in tiffin baskets, "large oblong Japanese cane baskets with leather strappings to hold enamel plates and mugs." Bottled water was carried from home and though during the journey, "bread went dry, butter melted, shells off the hard-boiled eggs got into the buttoned upholstery of the bunk seats... we thought the meal ambrosial". An accompanying servant would come to wash up, squatting on the floor of the lavatory shower room that led off from the compartment. In the blazing hot summer when travelling in what were basically metal boxes on wheels could be unbearable, a zinc stand with a deep tray beneath it was set up in the middle of the compartment "and every morning with shoutings and staggerings, coolies would carry in a huge block of ice and unwrap it from its sacking". A fan often circulated the cooled air and telegrams used to be sent down the line for replacements of ice during the day.


As dusk came about the countryside, "a curious sadness would fall on us" and the compartment suddenly seemed small, "the train infinitesimal as it travelled over the vast Indian plain". And then finally, out came the bedding from those "invaluable roly-poly pieces of luggage rightly called holdalls into which anything and everything would go". Those irreplaceable holdalls may be difficult to come by today, and ice blocks have given way to fitful air conditioning; yet which train passenger can deny an inexplicable sense of wonderment — or maybe even melancholy — as night falls, a few lights twinkle on the horizon and the edges of India fade away beneath the criss-cross of railway tracks?








Decades don't usually have the courtesy to begin and end on the right year. The social and cultural revolution that Western countries think of when they talk of the 'Sixties' only got underway in 1962-63, and didn't end until the Middle East war and oil embargo of 1973-74. But this one has been quite neat: the 'Noughties' began with the Islamist terrorist attacks on the United States of America in 2001, and they ended with a global financial meltdown in the past year.


The terrorist threat to the West was minor, but the West's hugely disproportionate and ill-considered response was a key factor in the great shift that defines the decade. The 'War on Terror,' the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and all the rest, did not deter a Muslim Nigerian student from trying to blow up an airliner over Detroit. It also accelerated the rise of Asia and the relative decline of the West. That shift was happening anyway. When China and India, with 40 per cent of the world's population between them, are growing economically three to four times as fast as the major Western countries, it's only a matter of time until they catch up with the older industrial economies.


Back in 2003, however, the researchers at Goldman Sachs predicted that the Chinese economy would surpass that of the US's by the mid-2040s. By the middle of this year, they were predicting that it would happen in the mid-2020s — and this year, for the first time, China built more cars than the US. That acceleration is in large part a consequence of the huge diversion of Western attention and resources that was caused by the 'War on Terror'.


Prestige is a quality that cannot be measured or quantified, but a reputation for competence in the use of power is a great asset in international affairs. After the centuries-old European empires wasted their wealth and the lives of tens of millions of their citizens in two world wars in only 30 years, their empires just melted away.


New order


Something similar has happened over the past decade to the US. Unwinnable wars fought for the wrong reasons always hurt a great power's reputation, and wars fought amidst needless tax cuts, burgeoning deficits and financial anarchy are even more damaging if the country's power depends heavily on a global financial empire.


The US spent the past decade cutting its own throat financially, ending with the near-death experience of the financial meltdown. The Europeans made all the same mistakes, only more timidly, and the Japanese sat the decade out on the sidelines, mired in a seemingly endless recession. The old order is passing, the US dollar is on its way out as the only global currency and the real power is shifting to mainland Asia.


Or is it? There are two trends that could slow or even stop this shift. One is peak oil; the other is global warming. In Europe, North America and Japan, energy consumption is growing slowly or not at all, and it is relatively cheap and easy to reduce dependence on imported oil. Whereas Chinese and Indian dependence on imported oil is soaring. So is their use of coal.


That's unfortunate, because for purely geographical reasons these countries are far more vulnerable to high temperatures than the older industrial nations. At even two degrees centigrade higher average global temperature, they face floods, droughts and storms on a massive scale, probably accompanied by a steep fall in food production. That sort of thing could abort even the Chinese and Indian economic miracles.


So we're back in the old world where the future is uncertain. We can only observe the trends, and try to remember that they are always contingent. But at the moment, it looks like the decade when the West finally lost its domination over the world's economy.



******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD




The move by the Medical Council of India to amend the code of conduct for doctors barring them or their family members from accepting gifts or hospitality from pharmaceutical companies is welcome. But it also raises questions about the delay in amending the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002. The anti-competitive practices in pharmaceuticals and the health delivery system have become too blatant to be ignored. Many voices have been raised within the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry and in the civil society about such unholy nexus which has seen rapacious profiteering by the pharmaceutical industry in collusion with a section of medical community which has been untrue to its Hippocratic oath. Consumer interest organisations have come out with many instances of differential mark-ups for the same generic drug by different companies and doctors prescribing the higher priced drug when lower priced alternatives are available in return for rewards in the form of cash, foreign trips and upgrading of facilities of clinics at the cost of the pharma companies. The chemists or pharmacists too have colluded in such practices.

There have been instances of private medical practitioners prescribing drugs on trial and medicines that have been banned in the West. Some private practitioners, particularly in rural areas, routinely administer to their patients drugs that they receive as samples from pharma salesmen. There have also been complaints that doctors are paid by the pharma companies on 'per prescription' basis, encouraging them to prescribe unnecessary and costlier drugs to patients. The lax manner in which the Drugs Control Authority operates has contributed to such unethical practices.

It is apparent that the MCI has been remiss in checking such practices while being aware of them. Its newfound alacrity in attempting to pull up its socks may have something to do with Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad announcing that the government was contemplating a bill to break the nexus between doctors and the big pharma. Having announced the changes to the code, the MCI will obviously lobby with the government to pre-empt the bill. The government must not only resist such pressure, but go further to set up a commission with statutory powers to check such dangerous practices and afford cheap and effective health care for all.







The dismissal by a US federal court of murder charges against five private security guards who had killed 17 Iraqis and injured many others in 2007 in unprovoked firing has disappointed all those who had considered it to be a test case of American justice. The shooting in the busy Nisoor square in Baghdad had attracted attraction for many reasons. It exposed in unfavourable light the US government's practice of employing private security contractors, in this case the Blackwater company, for duty in Iraq. The killings increased the rift between the Iraqi government and the US administration and were a turning point in attitudes. The case also underlined the nature of colonial justice. The culprits had immunity from Iraqi laws and could be tried only under US laws, though the offence took place in Iraq and against Iraqis.

The dismissal of the case may be seen as the result of either a failure of the prosecution or a strict and even blind adherence by the court to the law. The judge threw out the charges because the prosecution case rested heavily on the defendants' statements which were given under the promise of immunity or under threat. There was irrefutable objective evidence for the security guards' criminal shooting at a civilian crowd but  for some reason the prosecutors focused on tainted evidence. While the judgment may have upheld the rights of the defendants to a fair trial, it ignored the right of Iraqis to justice.

The security firm Blackwater, in its new name Xe, has again figured in the suicide attack by the Taliban on a CIA base in Afghanistan where the  firm lost two of its staff and the CIA five of its operatives. The entire US establishment is distressed and angry over the loss of lives. But Iraqis and Afghans would want America to show the same kind of concern when the lives of their people are taken by Americans. There cannot be different standards to judge killings, and lives of Iraqis are not cheaper than those of Americans. The Iraqi government has disagreed with the court decision and reiterated in public that the security guards were guilty of murder. The US justice department is considering to appeal the decision but the general view is that the case has been damaged beyond retrieval. The credibility of the US justice system has suffered, as it would be felt that the prosecution deliberately sabotaged the case.









When I longingly look at Europe having one visa, one currency (euro), stronger than dollar, and one parliament to reflect on the decisions taken by individual parliaments, my eyes woefully go to South Asia which is nowhere near normalisation, much less cohesion. It is wracked by internal conflicts and outer dangers. The two main countries, India and Pakistan, are not even on speaking terms. The limited trade between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad was suspended a few days ago.

Not that the European countries, 27 of them, did not quarrel. They had, in fact, wars for hundreds of years and killed thousands of nationals of one another. But they were ultimately seduced by the idea of conciliation and cooperation which has brought them prosperity and stability.

But South Asia remains stagnant. It does not map tidily onto progress for their peoples. It is still stuck in distrust and disruption. Its leaders, leave apart the founders, have never risen above their pettiness and parochialism. It seems that countries in the region realised at one time that they could benefit through friendship and founded the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). But their ego and enmity towards one another are so strong that they have not allowed the institution to function. They simply cannot cast off their animosity to begin a new chapter.

The result is that South Asia has the largest number of poor and the illiterate in the world. Child mortality is the highest. Violations of human rights are in thousands. And the infrastructure that the governments should have built is the weakest. Whatever they earn they spend on armaments — the deadlier, the better. And they have enacted so many draconian laws in the name of security that they have even encroached upon the space of individual freedom.

What the rulers in the region do not realise is that governance has to be not through the police or the paramilitary forces, but through the willing consent of the people.

Development is the key. The more people are better off, the lesser would be the tension.

India's GDP is increasing by eight to nine per cent per year. But when 70 per cent of its people and states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and eastern UP do not have enough even to afford two square meals, what does growth mean? The fallout has been the larger sway of Maoists who believe in armed struggle to free the masses from poverty. In Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, the growth of Talibanisation has been primarily due to dire poverty.


Those wallowing in it have come to believe that fundamentalism is the only solution to their problems.

The menace of the Taliban can be fought provided the army is focused and supported by the joint front of political parties. But the Muslim League (Nawaz) has its eyes fixed on some gain from the turmoil. I was disappointed by Nawaz Sharif's latest speech which deprecated the Asif Zardari government for not making amendments to the constitution to make it more democratic, but did not have a word against the Taliban. He cannot ride two horses at the same time.

In Nepal, the government feels that it can reap a rich harvest if it plays the China card against India. The Nepalese prime minister has visited Beijing in the belief that if Kathmandu were to introduce a new factor, China, in its affairs it would end New Delhi's dictation. The real malady is that different political parties have not learnt how to behave in a democratic set-up.

China as Big Brother

In fact, the point of concern for South Asia is the manner in which China is trying to act as a Big Brother in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even Bangladesh. Islamabad is already on Beijing's side. However, some countries in the region wash off their hands with the argument that it is New Delhi which should worry because China's strategy is to surround India. Yet Beijing's real ambition is to dominate the region, which is pursuing a different culture and is striving to establish a society that remains democratic, without following a doctrinaire line.

The responsibility of unleashing the forces of destruction lies on the eight SAARC countries. Terrorism was the genie which the Pakistan government brought out from the bottle. Many gullible people still believe that the Taliban only want true Islam to come back. Does it mean the killing of the innocent and the denial of right to education and freedom to women?

New Delhi has released the Frankenstein of balkanisation by issuing its fiat at midnight that the government is proposing to take measures for creating the state of Telangana. The Manmohan Singh government's flip-flop has reignited fires of individual identity throughout the country. Already in schools of some of the states songs exalting the regional idea have been introduced into textbooks. History books taught in lower classes have disclosed a marked tendency to exaggerate past achievements of the dominant linguistic groups. The government may rue the day when it announced the formation of Telangana because it has led to a sense of frustration, with grave consequences, if similar demands are not met.

In Pakistan, there is a demand for autonomy by Baluchistan, the North Western Frontier Province and Sind. It looks as if the country faces a real danger of disintegrating. In contrast, Bangladesh has consolidated itself through a democratic government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has retrieved the disturbed Chittagong Hill Tract by giving it more authority. Decentralisation of power is the only way to keep nations together. No country in the region seems to realise this. I hope that Sri Lanka has learnt the lesson.
Otherwise, other elements from among the Tamils may rise and constitute themselves into another LTTE to demand for the right to rule themselves.

Busy as they are in politicking, which only means power and corruption, governance in South Asia is practically non-existent. There is a nexus of politicians, the police and bureaucrats. India, although more democratic in the region, has small fires of defiance burning all over. More stringent measures, which are the only mantra that Home Minister P Chidambaram has learnt, may build up resistance. This is a lesson for the rest of South Asia.

If countries in the region had a common union, they would have together fought some of the challenges they face — terrorism and backwardness. But they would rather shoot at their neighbours than cooperate. Cooperation may help the countries to extinguish the prairie fires, a la Che Guevara, raging within. At present, the countries are wasting all their energies in harming one another. This is the reason why South Asia remains a doomed region.








I don't mean to sound like some wise old sage, because let's face it, I'm not one; but if there's one thing life has taught me, it's that there's truth in the adage that the older you get the faster time seems to pass. To a child, 10 years sounds like a lifetime away: but when you get to my age, you know those years will be gone in the blink of an eye. So when I was asked to write about what changes I'd like to see in the world in the next 10 years, it didn't take me long to realise that the first responses that sprang to mind just wouldn't cut it.

Yes of course I'd like to see world peace and an end to all conflict. Of course I'd like to be able to celebrate an end to global poverty, and to live in a time when everyone, the whole world over, is free to live a life of their own choosing, not one governed by religious or patriarchal dictat. Of course I'd like every child, no matter what their gender, race or country of birth, to have the chance of an education, to have clean water, a roof over their heads, and adequate protection against the preventable diseases that still claim all too many of our young. But all of this within the next 10 years? Much as I'd like to think that all of these things, and more, are achievable in such a short space of time, even I'm realistic enough to know that they're not.

So instead, what I would like to see in the next 10 years is a genuine change in attitude towards all of the items on my shopping list. What I would like to see is national governments and international organisations genuinely committed to improving the lot of everyone on this planet, man, woman and child.

At the moment we seem to be all but drowning under a massive tide of bureaucracy, with human rights instruments and global treaties drawn up to cover just about every scenario under the sun. Meanwhile those who hold the reins of power convene meeting after meeting, conference after conference, doing deals behind the scenes and spending endless hours renegotiating their way out of doing anything that's ever likely to effect any tangible change. It's all smoke and mirrors: paperwork gets signed, lip service gets paid, and the lives of those this is all supposedly set up to help grind on unchanged.

Respect of the majority

What we need is a universal acceptance that in order for things to improve for the majority, the minority will have to give something up. What we need is an end to rich nations having opt-out clauses that protect their own interests but do nothing to help those beyond their own borders, and a UN or similar such organisation that possesses real clout. We need international laws that are binding and non-negotiable, and, most importantly, we need the privileged elite to somehow wake up to the fact that if this planet is to survive, and to survive in a way that makes it a place worth living in, then its people have to be prioritised over how many riches or how much material wealth they can manage to amass.

Ultimately I guess what I'd really like to see is an end to global capitalism and to the corporate power that governs all our lives. What I'd like to see is a new international politics, one where greed and self-interest are discarded and where humanitarian concerns take precedence instead. Of course I don't expect us to have got that far by the end of the next decade, but some genuine commitment, some steps in that direction, surely that's not too much to ask?








I unboard at the airport at Palam. As my parents and I board the taxi, realisation dawns for the first time that I've come back to a crucial piece of my own history — the history of my birth. I am on the soil where I first opened my eyes, breathed my first breath, perhaps cried my first cry… in the face of such megalomaniac sentimentalism I lose my balance for a second. I am proud to show my motherland how well I have grown in spite of the bitter-sweet life I've had or more appropriately because of it. Ironically, the only vacant lodge is just behind the hospital I was born in and we occupy it.

What is most conspicuous to me at this juncture is how different Delhi smells from Bangalore (I have often in jest remarked to mom that I must have been a canine in my previous birth — hence this acute sense of smell). Bangalore has a mild scent — you barely register its fragrance. Delhi, in contrast smells decidedly masculine. Under the virility of its gaze, I notice girls walking with their eyes modestly downcast. But I of the bold south, meet its eye until the smoky whiff of the city embraces me and becomes a part of my being.

Motherland and masculinity alluded together may seem queer but most of us are androgynous and so is Delhi. We see all the must sees — India Gate, the Qutub Minar, the Red Fort, Jantar-mantar, et al.

Certain moments can certainly be described as special; these images will be etched in my memory until my dying breath. The dazzling night in Dilli Haat, the hot favourite shoppers haunt where I buy thrilling little knick-knacks and polish my day off with the typical Punjabi fare; makki ki roti and sarson ka saag — pure bliss in the chilly winter night. We glimpse portions of the Purana Quila as we paddle our way through mossy green waters in our benign slow boat. This harmonious wafting of our vessel hasn't satisfied the adventure seeker in me — I opt for the unimaginably speedy motor scooter — it gives me such a high; for those few seconds I feel I am the queen of the world. 'The garden of five senses' is so peaceful — it reminds me of Bangalore.

I eat little at dinner, melancholy in the knowledge that we are to leave the next morning. I love Bangalore, the city I have spent the major part of my life in… but without having realised I have forged such a deep bond with Delhi, that it seems hard to leave. There is probably still a bond attaching me to my motherland — navel to navel. So moved I am by the beauty of my thoughts that I have to pull my hat down to hide tears glistening in my eyes.







Bush administration officials came up with all kinds of ridiculously offensive rationalizations for torturing prisoners. It's not torture if you don't mean it to be. It's not torture if you don't nearly kill the victim. It's not torture if the president says it's not torture.


It was deeply distressing to watch the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sink to that standard in April when it dismissed a civil case brought by four former Guantánamo detainees never charged with any offense. The court said former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the senior military officers charged in the complaint could not be held responsible for violating the plaintiffs' rights because at the time of their detention, between 2002 and 2004, it was not "clearly established" that torture was illegal.


The Supreme Court could have corrected that outlandish reading of the Constitution, legal precedent, and domestic and international statutes and treaties. Instead, last month, the justices abdicated their legal and moral duty and declined to review the case.


A denial of certiorari is not a ruling on the merits. But the justices surely understood that their failure to accept the case would further undermine the rule of law.


In effect, the Supreme Court has granted the government immunity for subjecting people in its custody to terrible mistreatment. It has deprived victims of a remedy and Americans of government accountability, while further damaging the country's standing in the world.


Contrary to the view of the lower appellate court, it was crystal clear that torture inflicted anywhere is illegal long before the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling that prisoners at Guantánamo, de facto United States territory, have a constitutional right to habeas corpus. Moreover, the shield of qualified immunity was not raised in good faith. Officials decided to hold detainees offshore at Guantánamo precisely to try to avoid claims from victims for conduct the officials knew was illegal.


Reversing the Circuit Court would not have ended the matter. The plaintiffs would still have had to prove their case at trial. They deserved that chance. There are those who oppose trying to punish Bush-era lawlessness — some who argue that America should not look backward and some who excuse that lawlessness. But the rule of law rests on scrutinizing evidence of past behavior to establish accountability, confer justice and deter bad behavior in the future.


President Obama, much to his credit, has forsworn the use of torture, but politics and policy makers change and democracy cannot rely merely on the good will of one president and his aides. Such good will did not exist in the last administration. And the inhumane and illegal treatment of detainees could make a return in a future administration unless the Supreme Court sends a firm message that ordering torture is a grievous violation of fundamental rights.


Anyone who doubts the degree of executive branch pliability in this realm needs to consider this: The party that urged the Supreme Court not to grant the victims' appeal because the illegality of torture was not "clearly established" was the Obama Justice Department.







Even as many members of Congress resist as too hard or too costly the steps necessary to address global warming, American cities and states — the largest of which have carbon footprints bigger than those of most nations — have quietly been making serious commitments to curb emissions. Instead of finding reasons to do nothing, Congress should build on these actions to fashion a national response to climate change.


According to a recent study by Environment America, an advocacy group, about half of the states have broad plans and specific regulations aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. When fully realized, these actions would cut emissions by over 7 percent between now and 2020 — a sizable distance toward the 17 percent reductions President Obama promised at Copenhagen.


About half the reductions would come from proposed emission limits in six big states, plus a regional cap on power plant emissions adopted by New York and nine other Northeastern states. The other half would result from legally required increases in the use of alternative energy sources like wind — 29 states have approved such mandates — as well as stronger state and city efficiency standards for appliances, lighting and buildings.


California's goal of cutting greenhouse gases by one-quarter by 2020 is plausible partly because the state has been so successful in improving the efficiency of its power plants and buildings, promoting renewable






The United States, which has less than 5 percent of the world's population, has about one-quarter of its prisoners. But the relentless rise in the nation's prison population has suddenly slowed as many states discover that it is simply too expensive to overincarcerate.


Between 1987 and 2007 the prison population nearly tripled, from 585,000 to almost 1.6 million. Much of that increase occurred in states — many with falling crime rates — that had adopted overly harsh punishment policies, such as the "three strikes and you're out" rule and drug laws requiring that nonviolent drug offenders be locked away.


These policies have been hugely costly. According to the Pew Center on the States, state spending from general funds on corrections increased from $10.6 billion in 1987 to more than $44 billion in 2007, a 127 percent increase in inflation-adjusted dollars. In the same period, adjusted spending on higher education increased only 21 percent.


In 2008, the explosion of the prison population ground to a near halt, according to data released last month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 739,000 inmates were admitted to federal and state facilities, only about 3,500 more than were released.


One factor seems to be tight budgets as states decide to release nonviolent offenders early. This can not only save money. If done correctly, it can also be very sound social policy. Many nonviolent offenders can be dealt with more effectively and more cheaply through treatment and jobs programs.


Michigan, which has been hard hit by the recession, has done a particularly good job of releasing people who do not need to be in prison. As the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project details in a new report, Michigan reduced its prison population by about 8 percent between March 2007 and November 2009 by taking smart steps, notably doing more to get nonviolent drug offenders out, while helping in their transition to a productive, and crime-free, life.


Not every state has gotten the message. Florida, for example, has a state law mandating that all prisoners serve a high percentage of their sentence, which is both dubious corrections policy and terrible fiscal policy.


For many years, driving up prison populations has been an easy thing for elected officials to do, popular with voters and powerful corrections officer unions. The new incarceration figures suggest, however, that in the current hard economic times, strapped states are beginning to realize that they do not have the money to keep people in prison who do not need to be there.






The nation's hard times are proving to be boom times for the lobbying industry in Washington. Lobbyists are expected to easily break their record of $3.3 billion in annual business, raising an inevitable question: How much more in special-interest donations will be bagged by lawmakers as they are furiously lobbied on everything from health care reform to economic regulation?


No one confesses to explicit quid pro quo crudity. But the power of lobbyists as they channel money and urge favor for rich clients is a gripping, and so far immutable, fact of political life. It needs to change.


To his credit, President Obama has delivered some promised reforms in the executive branch, particularly by banning administration officials from doubling back as lobbyists across his time in office. But the moneyed clout of K Street makes it urgent that Mr. Obama deliver on an even bigger promise. He must repair the damage done by his unfortunate rejection last year of publicly subsidized election financing as an alternative to the temptations of the special-interest trough.


Mr. Obama chose unlimited private financing to buoy his campaign to a huge electioneering advantage. He pronounced the leaner public subsidy option used by major candidates since Watergate to be a "broken system" outdated by modern campaign costs.


Mr. Obama made much of a promise to fix it, once elected. So, the time has come to fix it.


He needs to set a strong example for Congress and the status quo laziness of Washington and move convincingly for revival of the public option, which served the nation well. This would create pressure for a similar system of restraint by Congressional candidates now basted with special-interest money. As the lucre builds to critical mass, a public option for Congressional and presidential candidates becomes ever more vital.







Here's what's coming in economic news: The next employment report could show the economy adding jobs for the first time in two years. The next G.D.P. report is likely to show solid growth in late 2009. There will be lots of bullish commentary — and the calls we're already hearing for an end to stimulus, for reversing the steps the government and the Federal Reserve took to prop up the economy, will grow even louder.


But if those calls are heeded, we'll be repeating the great mistake of 1937, when the Fed and the Roosevelt administration decided that the Great Depression was over, that it was time for the economy to throw away its crutches. Spending was cut back, monetary policy was tightened — and the economy promptly plunged back into the depths.


This shouldn't be happening. Both Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, and Christina Romer, who heads President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, are scholars of the Great Depression. Ms. Romer has warned explicitly against re-enacting the events of 1937. But those who remember the past sometimes repeat it anyway.


As you read the economic news, it will be important to remember, first of all, that blips — occasional good numbers, signifying nothing — are common even when the economy is, in fact, mired in a prolonged slump. In early 2002, for example, initial reports showed the economy growing at a 5.8 percent annual rate. But the unemployment rate kept rising for another year.


And in early 1996 preliminary reports showed the Japanese economy growing at an annual rate of more than 12 percent, leading to triumphant proclamations that "the economy has finally entered a phase of self-propelled recovery." In fact, Japan was only halfway through its lost decade.


Such blips are often, in part, statistical illusions. But even more important, they're usually caused by an "inventory bounce." When the economy slumps, companies typically find themselves with large stocks of unsold goods. To work off their excess inventories, they slash production; once the excess has been disposed of, they raise production again, which shows up as a burst of growth in G.D.P. Unfortunately, growth caused by an inventory bounce is a one-shot affair unless underlying sources of demand, such as consumer spending and long-term investment, pick up.


Which brings us to the still grim fundamentals of the economic situation.


During the good years of the last decade, such as they were, growth was driven by a housing boom and a consumer spending surge. Neither is coming back. There can't be a new housing boom while the nation is still strewn with vacant houses and apartments left behind by the previous boom, and consumers — who are $11 trillion poorer than they were before the housing bust — are in no position to return to the buy-now-save-never habits of yore.


What's left? A boom in business investment would be really helpful right now. But it's hard to see where such a boom would come from: industry is awash in excess capacity, and commercial rents are plunging in the face of a huge oversupply of office space.


Can exports come to the rescue? For a while, a falling U.S. trade deficit helped cushion the economic slump. But the deficit is widening again, in part because China and other surplus countries are refusing to let their currencies adjust.

So the odds are that any good economic news you hear in the near future will be a blip, not an indication that we're on our way to sustained recovery. But will policy makers misinterpret the news and repeat the mistakes of 1937? Actually, they already are.


The Obama fiscal stimulus plan is expected to have its peak effect on G.D.P. and jobs around the middle of this year, then start fading out. That's far too early: why withdraw support in the face of continuing mass unemployment? Congress should have enacted a second round of stimulus months ago, when it became clear that the slump was going to be deeper and longer than originally expected. But nothing was done — and the illusory good numbers we're about to see will probably head off any further possibility of action.


Meanwhile, all the talk at the Fed is about the need for an "exit strategy" from its efforts to support the economy. One of those efforts, purchases of long-term U.S. government debt, has already come to an end. It's widely expected that another, purchases of mortgage-backed securities, will end in a few months. This amounts to a monetary tightening, even if the Fed doesn't raise interest rates directly — and there's a lot of pressure on Mr. Bernanke to do that too.


Will the Fed realize, before it's too late, that the job of fighting the slump isn't finished? Will Congress do the same? If they don't, 2010 will be a year that began in false economic hope and ended in grief.







Here in the United States, we spent New Year's weekend bidding good riddance to the awful, awful aughties — a miserable decade of bubbles and busts, rising health care bills and soaring deficits, domestic terror attacks and overseas quagmires.


Elsewhere, though, the decade's turn was probably flavored by nostalgia. For much of the world, the last 10 years was a period to savor — an era of impressive economic growth, ever-higher life expectancy, relative peace and steady progress against poverty.


A billion-odd Chinese had a pretty good decade, and so did a billion Indians: their economies just about doubled in size, minting new millionaires and lifting countless peasants into a growing middle class. Brazil boomed, Indonesia prospered, and even Africa enjoyed a season of substantial growth. Nobody would mistake Vladimir Putin's Russia for a liberal democratic paradise, but most Russians seem to prefer its stability to the basket-case republic Putin inherited from Boris Yeltsin.


Seen in this light, America's lost decade looks less like a big zero and more like an inevitable corrective to the high-flying 1990s. The enormous Clinton-era gulf between the United States and its competitors was bound to narrow eventually. For now, at least, our decline is only relative — from hyperpower back to superpower, from the only nation that mattered to the one that matters most.


But as the 2010s begin, there's reason to worry that America has further to fall. Our politics are polarized, our finances are still overleveraged, and our society is increasingly segregated — by income, education and family structure — between a thriving elite and a struggling working class. Worse, neither political party seems capable of forging a new policy synthesis to reckon with our domestic challenges.


In the unhappy aughts, we witnessed the exhaustion of Reaganomics. A quarter-century after Ronald Reagan's mix of tax cuts and deregulation revived American competitiveness, George W. Bush's attempt to imitate the Gipper produced only wage stagnation and skyrocketing debt.


This failure helped cost Republicans their majority. But instead of seeking a new post-Reagan consensus, the Obama Democrats are returning to their party's long-running pursuit of European-style social democracy — by micromanaging industry, pouring money into entitlement and welfare programs, and binding the economy in a web of new taxes and regulations.


These policies may help smooth over the inequalities that have opened in our national life since the 1970s. But they threaten to cost America its position in the world along the way.


Social democracy has its benefits, but global competitiveness isn't one of them. As Jim Manzi points out, in an essay on "Keeping America's Edge" in the latest issue of National Affairs, "from 1980 through today, America's share of global output has been constant at about 21 percent. Europe's share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition — going from a little less than 40 percent of global production in the 1970s to about 25 percent today."


If we hope to avoid a similar plunge, the Obama-era tilt toward government intervention needs to be balanced, and soon, by a new growth-oriented agenda. This will require more than the rote invocations of Reaganism that too many Republican politicians have fallen back on, however. The age of sweeping tax cuts financed by deficit spending is over. The policies of the 1980s will not keep America competitive in the 2010s. Our challenges are new, and we must think and act anew.


Manzi's National Affairs essay, a tour d'horizon of our socioeconomic situation, provides a solid place to start. He proposes a fourfold agenda: Unwind the partnerships forged between Big Business and Big Government in the wake of the 2008 crash; seek financial regulations that "contain busts," by segregating high-risk transactions from lower-risk enterprises; deregulate the public school system, to let a thousand charter schools and start-ups bloom; and shift our immigration policy away from low-skilled immigration, and toward the recruitment of high-skilled émigrés from around the globe.


To this list, I would add tax reform and entitlement reform. The former should broaden the tax base while cutting taxes on work, childrearing and investment. The latter should means-test both Social Security and Medicare, reducing both programs' spending on well-off retirees rather than questing fruitlessly for their privatization.


This is a right-of-center agenda, broadly speaking, but it's also one that you could imagine attracting bipartisan support, even in the current polarized environment.


Which is as it should be — since in the quest to make the 2010s a far, far better era than the grueling decade America has just escaped, we're all in this together.








LAST Monday, Somali pirates seized two more prizes in rapid succession: a British-flagged chemical tanker and a Greek bulk carrier, bringing the current number of captive ships to 12 and the number of hostage mariners to at least 278. Despite the presence in the region of three multinational naval task forces comprising about 30 warships, there were 68 successful pirate hijackings in 2009, compared with 49 one year earlier.


If the New Year's Day capture of an Indonesian tanker is any indication, 2010 will not herald an end to the attacks. As one Somali pirate told me last year: "Sometimes, we capture ships when [warships] are right around us. We don't care about them. They're not going to stop us." Indeed, the pirates' range has expanded to more than 1,000 miles off the Somali coast — as far as the Seychelles — and the futility of an exclusively naval strategy is increasingly apparent.


The situation is not without hope. There might be another way to make greater strides against pirates. However, it would involve allying ourselves with a place that doesn't exist: the autonomous region of Puntland, Somalia.


To the ancient Egyptians, the land of Punt was a source of munificent treasures and bountiful wealth. Modern Puntland, a self-governing region in northeastern Somalia, may or may not be the successor to the Punt of legend. As I discovered when I first visited, last year, it contained none of the gold and ebony that dazzled the Egyptians, save perhaps for the color of the sand and the skin of the nomadic goat and camel herders who have inhabited it for centuries.


I arrived in Puntland in the frayed seat of a 1970s Soviet propeller plane. The 737s of Dubai, with their meal service and functioning seatbelts, were a distant memory; the plane I was on was not even allowed to land in Dubai, and the same probably went for the unkempt, ill-tempered Ukrainian pilot.


The state of the sole road running through Puntland's north-south axis is symbolic of the neglect the region experienced under its former dictator, Siad Barre — who was overthrown in 1991 at the onset of the Somali civil war — and from the international community since. The three-decade-old Chinese concrete was crumbling and corroded, with craterous potholes turning my 150-mile journey from the airport into a four- or five-hour jolting ordeal. It was the dry season, and parched shrubs dotted the barren landscape; the dust clung to my skin until my shirt felt like fine sandpaper.


I spent the next six weeks living in the regional capital, Garowe, amid the boom and bustle created by the recent influx of pirates' wealth from nearby coastal bases of operation. Conducting research with a local journalist — who is the son of Puntland's president, Abdirahman Farole — I gained an inside view into the workings of this fledgling and largely autonomous state within Somalia.


Contrary to the oft-recycled one-liners found in most news reports, Somalia is not a country ruled by anarchy. Indeed, it is a mischaracterization to even speak of Somalia as a uniform entity. It is an amalgamation of quasi-independent regions like Puntland, which was founded in 1998 as a tribal sanctuary for the hundreds of thousands of Darod-clan people fleeing massacres in the south. Puntland comprises one-quarter to one-third of Somalia's total land mass (depending on whom you talk to) and almost half of its coastline.


Straddling the shipping bottleneck of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, it was the natural candidate to become the epicenter of the recent outbreak of Somali piracy. But inhabitants of Puntland enjoy a relatively violence-free existence, little troubled by the turmoil to the south. The region has experienced only one low-intensity civil conflict since its founding, a brief dispute in 2001 and 2002 between the presidential incumbent, Abdullahi Yusuf, and his challenger, Jama Ali Jama.


In any serious attempt to combat piracy, Puntland must play an integral role. Yet it is not recognized as a legitimate actor in the region and has been financially abandoned by the international community, which continues to ignore the reality on the ground in favor of the flimsy transitional federal government, a 550-member parliamentary hodgepodge ruling over a few checkpoints in Mogadishu, hundreds of miles from any real pirate activity. A collection of ex-warlords and self-styled moderate Islamists, this is a government that does not govern; its M.P.'s have no constituents, its ministers no portfolios, and it exercises nothing close to control of the violence within its supposed borders.


The perpetuation of this farce is inexplicable. At an April 2009 donor conference in Brussels, the international community pledged $250 million to finance, among other things, the training of a police force and the upkeep of the African Union mission in Mogadishu. This, despite the fact that politicians of the transitional government have a talent for making money vanish into thin air. A far better use of aid would be to augment Puntland's paltry $18 million budget, which is almost exclusively derived from port taxes.


Two weeks into my visit, I accompanied President Farole to Bossaso, Puntland's sweltering northern metropolis (and largest city), on his first domestic tour since his election. Addressing an assembly of Somali businessmen one evening, he appealed for donations to pay for a list of absurdly modest projects: building a four-mile road from the livestock-inspection station to the port; replacing road signs on the lone highway, long ago stripped bare for the valuable metal; constructing a small hospital. As the members of the transitional government huddle in their Mogadishu barracks, waiting to collect their welfare checks, Mr. Farole is reduced to roaming the countryside, begging for alms.


Despite Puntland's limited capacity, Mr. Farole is committed to taking the fight to the pirates. Indeed, the government of Puntland has been advocating a strict policy of nonnegotiation with pirates since the beginning of the crisis. On those occasions that Puntland's tiny (and now defunct) coast guard has been given the authority by shipowners to liberate hijacked vessels, the pirates have tended to melt away, content to keep their lives rather than their prize.


Successful land operations in Puntland's coastal towns have accompanied these marine assaults. One afternoon, while in Bossaso, the president personally led a sudden raid on a gang of pirates preparing to shove off into the Gulf of Aden. These would-be hijackers joined the more than 100 convicted pirates, many with life sentences, being held in Puntland's lone prison.


It is unclear if an all-out assault would have worked with the pirates on board a multimillion-dollar lottery ticket like the Saudi oil supertanker Sirius Star, which was released last year after a huge ransom was paid. But the effect of international shipping companies consistently giving in to pirates' demands is clear: ransoms keep creeping steadily upward, highlighted by a reported $4 million paid to release the Chinese bulk carrier MV De Xin Hai on Dec. 28 — the highest publicly announced amount to date. Unless a concerted effort is made to prevent shipping companies from paying these ransoms, the hands of both international navies and the local authorities will be tied — and the pirates know it.


Meanwhile, the Puntland security forces, at sea and on land, are woefully undermanned, underfinanced and underequipped. The terrain encompassing the eastern coastal towns, including the infamous pirate haven of Eyl, is rugged and roadless. Any land operation has to originate in Bossaso or Garowe, home to the only military bases in the region, and it would involve transporting troops up to hundreds of miles by four-wheel drive. The logistical difficulties in deploying such a response make successful results extremely rare, and almost entirely dependent on timely local intelligence gathering. Without ample international assistance, Puntland's law-enforcement capacity is unlikely to improve.


Buttressing Puntland will not bring an end to the piracy problem. Because of a combination of increasing government security sweeps, hostility from the local people and the growing preference of the pirates to work in the relatively vacant Indian Ocean (and not the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden), the locus of attacks has begun to shift from Eyl to ports farther south, particularly Harardhere.


But Puntland remains crucial, and success there might prove a model for similar action in Harardhere, which is governed by another regional administration distinct from the turbulent south, albeit an extremely weak one.


The way to begin is by siphoning to Puntland some of the money flowing into the bottomless coffers of the transitional government. If the international community is serious about ending Somali piracy, it must engage Puntland as a full-time partner.


Acknowledging its existence would be a sound first step.


Jay Bahadur is currently working on a book about Somali piracy.








Nothing is ever simple or straightforward in the Byzantine state that we live in today. The latest in a line of fiendishly complicated manoeuvrings concerns assorted people at the top of the National Accountability Bureau, (NAB). The government is less than delighted by the way a new zeal has imbued the agency, and particularly peeved that NAB acted so expeditiously to implement the Supreme Court order on the NRO. It seems that a counter-punch, the 'minus-many operation' is now underway to clip the wings of a resurgent NAB. The NAB chairman has been obliged to remove several of the body's most important officials, principally those who were compiling lists following the Supreme Court's short order. The replacements for the zealots are said to be government sympathisers and not prone to compile long and embarrassing lists. The law ministry is said to be seeking details of any vacant posts there might be in NAB, doubtless so that it can identify the finest and least-biased legal minds to fill them. Or not.

One of those removed, Shahzad Bhatti, was the person who issued the letter to all and sundry ordering the immediate implementation of the orders of the apex court. Even more intriguingly, Mr Bhatti was the custodian of the evidence that had been collected by NAB and stored in its strongroom. One might legitimately speculate as to the whereabouts of that evidence now or indeed its continued existence. There are many on 'the list' who will be glad to see the back of Mr Bhatti. Of course all of these changes are purely internal and have nothing at all to do with the government applying pressure to our fragile body; says a NAB spokesman speaking with his arm up his back and a look of exquisite pain across his face. Others say different, say that it is an attempt to de-fang NAB and bring it to heel. This latter explanation at least has the ring of credibility about it.







For the whole of 2009, at virtually every public venue he addressed or press briefing that he or his department gave, Federal Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that loadshedding would be a thing of the past by December 2009. He continued to say this in the face of a mountain of evidence that what he was saying was, to put it as politely as a family newspaper may allow, utter nonsense. Now, it is not fair or right to lay the blame for the electricity crisis only at the feet of the present government, but even so the minister must have understood at some point that about 170 million people were falling over laughing every time he opened his mouth.

Consider the following. Once the power shortfall crossed the 1,000 megawatts line in 2005, it became uncontrollable as the gap between supply and demand increased. In the last year (2009) the shortfall during peak hours was 3,000-4,500 MW. Over the last eight years the demand for power has increased by 65 per cent as the economy grew as did the cities – which are power-hungry monsters. Against this, supply increased by between 30 and 35 per cent. Nursery-class mathematics tells us that the gap between the two means that at any one time the nation has a 30 per cent shortfall in its power needs. All day. Every day. Hot or cold. The installation of rental power plants has done nothing to end the problem (they produce a tiny 285MW) and the annual cleaning of canals and the service of hydro-electric units have added to the nation's woes as we enter 2010. The effect on every sector of the economy has been catastrophic and is set to get worse. Major cities are without power for up to 14 hours a day. Some rural areas are reporting the power off for 16 hours a day. Even Islamabad, home to the rich and powerful, is as powerless as the rest of the country. So what we would like to know, Mr Federal Water and Power Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, is what you are doing about it, when you are going to have done it by and if you can get it done before the entire nation grinds to a halt. And if you can't, we promise not to throw light bulbs at you if you tell us the honest truth of the matter.







It is distinctly heartening at the start of a new year to hear the crash of falling masonry in Lahore as assorted illegal plazas and other encroachments meet their just desserts. It is also equally heartening to be able to hand a plaudit rather than a brickbat to a politician – in this case Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab. His administration has been pursuing an aggressive and hugely successful operation against illegal buildings, some of them very large and expensive projects owned by some very large and expensive men, who are deeply upset to see their investments turned into rubble. We have not a shred of sympathy for them. Mr Sharif, speaking at the inauguration of the new Shalimar Interchange last Friday, said he would not be daunted by the hue and cry raised over the demolition of illegal plazas. He went on to say that those who built illegal structures did not have the poor man's interest at heart – which is true enough but then big business never does, legal or otherwise.

What would really make a difference is if other provincial governors and city managers were to take a leaf from Mr Sharif's book. If there is one evil we are able to confront and defeat, it is the cancer of encroachments. They come in all shapes and sizes in all provinces and in towns large and small. They clog the streets, snarl the traffic, force pedestrians into dangerous proximity to cars, cause a public nuisance as they are never built with off-street parking if they are a shopping mall or wedding hall and allow insidious fingers of corruption into every corner. Those who purchase the shops inside some of these buildings are told they are 'legal' when they are not, and honest folks have seen their investments torn down as well. It is unfortunate for them, but there can be no half-measures. Fining the offenders is no solution – the solution is to tear down anything that is illegally built, enforce building regulations and begin to win at least one of the many battles we have to fight.






In the aftermath of the apex court's current ruling about the validity of the NRO, the public curiosity about the meaning and magnitude of the doctrine of presidential immunity is quite understandable. The future of a sitting president in Pakistan, and by extension the nation's future direction, ride on it.

Is presidential immunity an invisible cloak? The adornment of which can make the president of a country turn invisible in the face of civil or penal charges? Or is it a legitimate constitutional shield rightfully created to protect the president from unnecessary law suits? Does presidential immunity place the president above the law? If not, then, what is presidential immunity and what purpose does it serve? The people of Pakistan rightfully deserve to know.

Presidential immunity is certainly not what it is made to look like in Pakistan by two belligerent camps, which seemingly have their own axes to grind after the NRO's death. Between them, the line for a fierce, bloody, legal and political fight revolving around this issue has already been drawn. Tragically, the fight is personality centred and, consequently, their interest in having a legitimate debate on this pivotal issue is non-existent.

On one side of this divide are those who are in the state of complete denial. They do not believe in the existence of any such thing as presidential immunity. To them, the president can be dragged into courts to face all type of charges. They borrow fake legitimacy for their argument by oversimplified and opportunistic use of notions such as "no one is above the law". Their views are narrowly constructed, and have biblical zeal to them.

On the other side of the fence are those legal warriors, who wish to put every thing under the sun in the president immunity sack. Their claim seems to be absolute, categorical, and devoid of any plausible elaboration or explanation. These legal literalists do not wish to see beyond the words written in the constitution. For them, what lies behind the constitutional text does not weigh much. The intent of the framers of the constitution and the purpose for which the presidential immunity was legislated has no meaning for them.

Aside from these two opposing and politically motivated groups, the Pakistani society has a genuine concern in the outcome of this significant constitutional issue. It is for the first time a sitting president in Pakistan is faced with a situation where old criminal charges have been revived against him. Despite what the constitution says about presidential immunity, there in not sufficient jurisprudential guidance available, since the apex court in Pakistan has not had the challenge to decide a case of this nature before.

There aren't many precedent rulings by foreign courts at hand either. In the US, for instance, a sitting president has never faced criminal charges arising out of his official or his private conduct and, therefore, the issue with regard to presidential immunity in criminal context had not come up for judicial consideration. On the other hand, it is well settled through US Supreme Court (SC) decisions that a sitting president has immunity for his "official conduct" in civil actions. Such immunity, nevertheless, does not cover his private conduct.

In this back ground, two cases come to mind. The first was Nixon versus Fitzgerald, a law suit by a government employee who was sacked after he testified before a US congressional sub-committee which did not agree with the executive branch. After pursuing legal remedies at various forums, Fitzgerald finally went before the SC and sought civil damages for wrongful termination. The main issue in the SC was whether the president is entitled to absolute immunity for his official conduct in a civil case for damages for wrongful termination of a federal employee.

The court held that the president has the privilege of immunity for his official conduct, but not for his un-official conduct. As observed by one legal commentator, "the absolute immunity created by the SC is not a special privilege enjoyed solely by one person by the nature of his office. Instead, it is an area carved out by the courts to ensure the official effectively pursues the interests of the public and to perform his functions without fear that his certain actions may draw personal, civil or criminal liabilities. Extending this immunity to the broad power of the president is the necessary step to allow the leader chosen by the people to fulfil the function bestowed by the US Constitution".

The second case is Clinton versus Jones, in which a former employee filed sexual harassment suits against then President Bill Clinton for incidents occurred while the latter was the governor of Arkansas. When this case went before the SC, the issue was whether the sitting president is entitled to "temporary" immunity from a civil case arising out of events that occurred before he took office.

President Clinton's counsel argued that if such civil action was allowed to proceed, it would impose an unacceptable burden on the president's time and energy and, thus, would impair his effective performance of his constitutional duties. The court rejected such reasoning, noting that many US presidents in the past had gone through the judicial process even though the process imposed many burdens on them. It also noted several incidences where former presidents have given disposition and videotaped testimony, including President Nixon who had to produce the tape recording of his conversation with his aids.

It is, however, not clear how the US SC would rule if a sitting president were indicted for criminal conduct, as no case ever addressed this question before. There were, however, two incidents where two vice presidents at separate occasions were criminally prosecuted while still in office. In one of the cases, the prosecutor argued that the vice president is not entitled to temporary immunity from criminal indictment, but did acknowledged that the president, while in office, may enjoy temporary immunity from indictment and criminal prosecution.

One feels that it would be logical, prudent, and pragmatic to have temporary immunity available to a sitting US president against criminal indictment if such occasion ever arises. The foremost reason for this is the fact that a US president can be removed from office through another constitutionally created process, known as the impeachment process. Once removed from office through impeachment, he may still be subject to criminal indictment and prosecution, even though he received temporary immunity from prosecution while in office.

Secondly, the US enjoys a presidential form of government, in which the president, as the chief executive, head of state and commander in chief, has been given enormous responsibilities. In this form of government, the principle of separation of power is deeply embedded and operative. Wherefore the feasibility of enforcement of both the judicial process and ruling could be a matter of grave concern. The temporary immunity is just a way to postpone the criminal judicial process until the president is removed or resigned from office, without creating political or constitutional chaos. However, despite some theoretical similarities, the factual grounds here are quite different from what Pakistan is currently witnessing.

In Pakistan, the apex court is being confronted with enormous challenges. While the court needs to assert its constitutionally given authority, it should also be cognizant of the fact that it is bound to step into many legal gray areas, where no clear-cut constitutional direction is readily available. This is exactly where the real challenge for the court lies. It is yet to be seen if the Court will manage to navigate through high tides with vision, vigour, and impartiality in a consistent manner on the long and perilous journey ahead.

The writer is a New York-based attorney.







Yet again the army finds itself caught between the devil of a mushrooming tribal insurgency and the deep blue sea of palace "conspiracies." The president, in his fiery oration on Dec 27 from Garhi Khuda Baksh all but confirmed the existence of some serious tensions between the army (rather, the army chief?) and the Presidency.

In a recent statement Punjab senior minister Raja Riaz of the PPP declared that no military general can "blackmail us" and no general can "uproot" the government. What kind of talk is that? What are they driving at? Doesn't it carry a whiff of mischief, even if it is unintended? Are they pushing the civil and military establishments to a collision course?

The president in his heady address spoke of the total institutional collapse in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the unravelling of the military and police forces. Does he see a similar fate overtaking Pakistan?

Almost in tandem with the Cassandra-like reference to "blackmailing" and "uprooting" of the government, the counsel for the federation in the notorious NRO case, Mr Kamal Azfar, stunned the apex court as much as the rest of the country by calling army chief Gen Pervez Ashfaq Kayani a gentleman but referring to his high command a "bad boy" in collaboration with the CIA. Allah Almighty help Pakistan if its main base of military power has been penetrated so deeply by the CIA.

Mr Azfar sought to soften the impact of his shocking disclosure by calling it his personal view, rather than the view of his client — the Federation of Pakistan. Shortly afterwards, however, in an interview with a private TV channel, he bravely stood by his statement on a GHQ-CIA tie-up. If such be the state of the civil-military relations and of the military command, itself split between a good commander and his rogue command, little is left for the nation to hope for.

What lends a touch of the bizarre to the evolving civil-military matrix is that the president and the prime minister each seem looking at the situation from his own favourite end of the telescope, to make it appear either too big or too small but hardly ever in its true perspective. The prime minister argues that the PPP and army are "in sync." The army is a "disciplined force" working within the "constitutional ambit" and "toeing" the official policies.

The chief of the army staff has been supportive of the democratic government. "We are together." He said, and praised the army for its "pro-democracy" role. Must a professional army be either pro- or anti-democracy? Isn't that tantamount to an indirect acceptance of the army's role for or against what is essentially a political issue?

On his government's role in carrying the army along on the restoration of the judiciary, it must be that the president and he decided to inform Gen Kayani after some argument, for or against, before the two would agree to associate the army chief with their decision-making, more as part of discretion and courtesy than for his expert advice in a matter of little concern to him.

In view of the discomfiture felt in the highest civilian echelons after the army's collective reservations on the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the army chief might not have been quite a persona grata. In fact, there had been some sort of loud talk about a "love letter" addressed to the army by the president already drafted.

President Asif Ali Zardari also said something about "tenure jobs," subtly underlining the element of uncertainty attaching to government jobs (premature retirement, etc.). The army picked up a smell of "conspiracy" pervading the Presidency concerning certain sudden changes in the top brass to put the GHQ (the "bad boy") on the alert.

While the absolute truth about it may never be known, there was a hint of alarm in the Garhi Khuda Baksh address of the president. He did point fingers at conspiracies and enemies, without identifying either.

The overall tone of the address was one of a man under stress, contrary to his usual strain of self-(over)confidence. That he should have used the conspiracy theme at all as some sort of pre-emptive device against some impending future threat, real or imagined, is significant, nonetheless.

And that too on the second death anniversary of his wife to give a cutting edge to his innate sense of insecurity, on an occasion to remember and honour someone dead. In political terms sounded more like a beleaguered party leader than a head of state.

For the army (the military establishment) under the PPP, it had almost invariably been a testing time. Except for Gen Tikka Khan's tenure as army chief (1972-1976), civil-military ties had been exposed to the rough-and-tumble of volatile PPP politics.

Under Gen Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) these had been the worst, stained with the blood of the party supremo and prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg (1988-1991) short of being opposed to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto outright, hardly ever wished her well. Gen Pervez Musharraf kept her out of his way for as long as he could wield the big stick, before luring her into his spider's web.

Gen Kayani keeps himself and his command at a safe distance from political involvement despite the displeasure of the president that he incurred for expressing his views on national sovereignty and honour in the debate on the Kerry-Lugar Bill.

The writer is a former director general of the ISPR







The Lahore Development Authority is in the process of demolishing illegally built highrises. It is doing this on the orders of the Supreme Court. More than anything else, this is the symbol of the burst property bubble of the mid-decade. Now, with competing statements coming from the governor of Punjab on the one hand and senior ministers of the government of Punjab, a massive oversight appears to be growing day by day: the protection of the tens of thousands of investors with whose money these highrises were built. This is a subject that has not been properly discussed, and deserves to be.

A few years ago, the neighbours of a property developer constructing "the tallest highrise" along Gulberg's Main Boulevard, woke to find, much to their surprise, an extra step in their living rooms. The piling of the construction – the support foundations need in order to prevent them caving in – was apparently not of the right order and, as a result, serious property damage was caused to said neighbours. A suit for damages was filed and a stay of construction sought.

By the time the stay matter had got to the Supreme Court – and these were the days before Pervez Musharraf decided to vent his fury against members of that Bench – it became clear that the property developer had followed the letter of the law: he had applied for building permission and the LDA had approved his plans for construction, piling and all.

Which is when the Supreme Court is said to have asked the LDA to call its structural engineer. After all, the science of highrise constructions is the subject matter of specialists. However, to everyone's surprise, the LDA replied that, at the time it didn't have a single structural engineer in its employ.

The magnitude of the safety risk posed by poorly constructed highrises was enough for the Supreme Court to take the extraordinary step of ordering a blanket stay on all highrise construction in the city. And while I will make this point later, this is exactly when the clock started ticking for local and provincial government authorities to step in and start thinking about how to protect the many investors – with whose money these buildings were being built – in the event buildings were found to be unsafe.

In any event, the Supreme Court ordered the formation of a three-member committee to examine every single highrise in the city to determine, amongst other things, whether they had been constructed with properly approved building plans, whether such building plans were structurally safe and whether or not property developers had finished their constructions in accordance with approved plans. (In other words, to check if there were shops where parking should be or if there were seven floors when only three had been approved.)

The sack of the superior judiciary and one restoration later, the highrise committee undertook the arduous task of surveying literally thousands of highrise structures and preparing a report on each one. When its task was complete, the committee submitted its report and recommendations to the Supreme Court and the court then ordered the Lahore Development Authority to proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the committee. Hence the present demolitions.

Of course, it takes both hands to clap. For each illegally constructed building, for each violation of approved plans or of building regulations stood a supposedly deaf, dumb and blind LDA and City District Government of Lahore. Recent news has it that legal proceedings have been initiated against some 20 LDA officials and some 50 officials of the local government. The rule of law, for sure, is being applied to everyone who had a hand in this sordid mess. Developers who flouted the law and urban fathers who permitted it cannot and must not be allowed to get away.

And that, in a nutshell, is the first layer of what this entire demolition saga has to offer. But peel below and a completely different picture appears. One that was out of the contemplation of the Supreme Court when it constituted the committee, one that was outside the committee's terms of reference and one which the provincial government, the LDA and local government authorities cannot, at this stage, say they had no knowledge of. It is the picture of the investor with whose money these buildings were constructed.

It's common knowledge that building developers do not spend their own money on the construction of a building. They may cover, for example, the cost of land, and quite often this burden is shared by a consortium of property owners (most of the highrises being demolished now are built after permission was given to commercialise residential land), developers and financiers. The cost of construction is paid for by subscriptions to the development made by investors. The building boom in Lahore during the middle of the decade, in many ways though at a comparatively smaller scale, mimics the South Sea or any other investor bubble since. When the bubble breaks, it's the investor left to cover the loss.

When an illegal structure, like the ones identified by the commission, is torn down, all that's left is the rubble of the structure and the land itself. The rubble, whatever its worth, is either auctioned off or appropriated by the thekedar (contractor) responsible for the felling (I'm not clear on the LDA's deals with demolition contractors). Meanwhile, the land, even if it is sold, cannot cover the repayments to all the investors in the highrise. At best, they'll get a few paisas on their rupee.

It's true that the profits made by the developer during the course of the construction should, in a perfect world, be divided and returned to investors. But doing that would involve a massive paper trail that, quite simply put, no one in the present provincial government, the LDA or local government setup has the competence to deal with. Criminal action against developers is also an option, but so far none has been taken against developers who, knowingly and wilfully, took the public's money for buildings they knew were being constructed in violation of law.

For years now, I have joined the chorus of voices demanding better building regulations that recognise rights in highrise properties. The law, as it stands today, is still firmly rooted in a two-dimensional view of immovable property. It is ill-equipped to deal with issues surrounding compensation of immovable property in three-dimensions. (The ownership of a fifteenth-floor apartment is an abstraction; it is three-dimensional block of air for which our laws are simply not designed.)

I have attended meetings over the past year where the very good idea of introducing condominium-style laws has been discussed. In one meeting, between the commissioner of Lahore Division and the director general of the LDA and MPAs were told that such a law was on the anvil. Where, I ask, is it now? The building demolitions did not show up out of the blue. They were well expected.It may well suit the government of the day to ensure that the orders of the Supreme Court are carried out. But in not providing for the fallout, the government has failed to carry out its first responsibility as representative of the people: to ensure the safety of their life and property. Meanwhile, it does not behoove property developers (the current governor of Punjab included) to attempt to ride the wave of public sympathy created over the plight of the poor investor. Both parties have been caught sleeping on the job.


The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:







2009 was one of the most tumultuous, and in many ways defining, years for Pakistan. The country was in a state of war. Incidents of violence reached new heights as several cities across the country became targets of militants' response to operations in Swat and FATA or became victims of sectarian conflict. Peshawar was the nation's frontline and suffered the most. While the army was regaining lost territory in Swat and South Waziristan, attacks against security personnel and innocent citizens continued. A wave of angst in the people turned the tide against Taliban and the ownership of the battle began to take root. A significant shift in public perception occurred when the real motives of militants were exposed, that is, capturing political power and using religion as a cover.

The resettling of internally displaced people in Swat has been relatively satisfactory, but those displaced from FATA are facing great hardships. Whereas military operation has been fairly successful, pockets of violence exist and the militant leadership is still at large, posing a potential threat of comeback.

Political leaders generally failed to capitalise on the success of military operations. Leaders rarely visited military units in the field or patients in hospitals.

The ultimate success against militancy would depend on economic development, and the strengthening of political and social institutions which is far too slow. The militants in tribal agencies, though linked by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have different motives and dynamics. The army will have to devise a strategy that is different for each group..

The Jihadi and sectarian elements are also posing a serious threat to our integrity. No serious effort was made to harness and bring them back to the mainstream. The danger is if they are not dealt firmly, they could further strengthen nexus with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. There is also ambiguity regarding whether or not the army is fully on board in abandoning its past policy of relying on militant proxies as a strategic tool for India. The fundamental question whether Pakistan should be a Muslim or Islamic state needs to be reopened if fundamentalism is to be combated with full force?

Civil–military relations remained uneasy. Rumours kept afloat that the whole campaign against President Zardari was being orchestrated by the establishment and the media. On the other hand, the civilian government has yet to gain the confidence of the people or the state institutions that it can deliver. Its weakness in performance and policy issues contributed to providing political space to military leadership. Two events were significant. First, when the army intervened to prevent a collision between the government and opposition forces that were supporting the restoration of the judges. The second setback was the judgment on the NRO. This year also witnessed emergence of new power centers. The army is still a dominant player in foreign and security matters and considers itself the ultimate defender of the nation's integrity. Parliament, in order to be assertive and play its due role, will have to engage in legislation, activate its committees to carry out oversight and make value added policy recommendations.

It is most disturbing that long-term problems that are the root cause of most ills are not even on the radar of the government. It was expected that civilian government would develop a long-term vision for the country in which neglected sectors of education, health and transportation will be given high priority and a plan of action with proper oversight implemented. Similarly, there was lack of progress on physical infrastructure. Acute energy shortages (at times crossing 3,500MW) persisted, causing major disruption in industrial activity and agricultural production with a negative fall-out on the economy. There is a false notion among certain politicians that electoral legitimacy gives them a carte blanche so scant attention should be paid to issues of governance and the state of the economy.

There were some important areas where the government made tangible progress. The consensus package for Balochistan raised hopes that after all, a political solution is possible if the genuine demands of resource and power-sharing are met. Still many obstacles remain, as military operations have traumatised the people there.

The other major breakthrough was the agreement on the National Finance Commission (NFC) for which credit goes to the prime minister and the provincial chief ministers.

Indo-Pakistan relations, however, did not improve. Old conflicts, especially Kashmir, kept popping up and Afghanistan became a major area of power rivalry. The agreement made at Sharm-el- Shiekh between the two prime ministers was not implemented as Dr Manmohan Singh faced domestic opposition. Meanwhile, Pakistan blamed India for meddling in Balpchistan and also in the tribal agencies.

The US made a long-term strategic commitment with Pakistan. Relations improved at government level and closer cooperation was achieved between military leaders, but anti-Americanism reached disturbing heights. Deep misgivings were expressed regarding the words and intrusive aspects of the Enhanced Partnership Act (Kerry-Lugar Bill). Similarly, repeated calls to do more and Washington forcing Pakistan to bend its will to its economic and military assistance were a bone of contention. The increase in security and staff personnel by the US embassy to manage the enhanced aid led to paranoia that CIA is planning to seize our nuclear assets. All these factors demonised America, despite its substantial assistance. These contradictions need to be resolved if full benefits are to flow from this relationship.

Our future remains uncertain and bleak because our leaders lack the vision and ability of putting our house in order. Moreover, unless we as a people genuinely believe that our country's problems are primarily our own doing and face them squarely, we will not be able to extricate ourselves from this mess.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email:







The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

Zardari's speech at Naudero on the second anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination was that of a frightened man who has got himself into a corner and, finding no way out of his predicament, flails at everyone and everything around him. He spoke of unspecified threats and of conspiracies from unnamed quarters. But he also held out a warning of his own. "If anyone casts an evil eye on democracy," he declared, "we will gouge out their eyes."

If Zardari did not disclose whose threats and conspiracies he was worried about and who he was warning, he did reveal what he is afraid of. There were, he said, only two places for him: the Presidency or the jail. In plain words, his fear is that if he leaves the Presidency, he would also have to face the courts and possible conviction and the loss of wealth allegedly accumulated by him.

In most democracies, losing power means giving up office, maybe a stint in the opposition and the possibility of a return to government when the political tide turns. In Pakistan, loss of power often takes the form of ouster from office and usually also brings disgrace. Therefore, our rulers cling to office, if they can, long past their use-by date.

For Zardari, the stakes are even higher. It is, as he himself put it graphically, a choice between the Presidency and the jail. It is therefore no wonder that he is prepared to put everything at stake to keep his office. If the country suffers in the process, that is just too bad for the country.

To stay out of jail, Zardari had two options: to fight the corruption cases against him in the courts and prove his innocence; or to evade trial through political manoeuvring. He chose the second course. After the Supreme Court judgement annulling the NRO, the only protection left against resumption of prosecution is the constitutional immunity under Article 248.

But this might be of little avail in case the Swiss courts resume hearing, because they will be guided by their own domestic law rather than that of Pakistan. The government is therefore stalling on the implementation of the Supreme Court's orders to revive money-laundering cases in Switzerland and other countries.

In an article carried in The Wall Street Journal on Dec 27, Zardari wrote that his ministers would defend themselves in the courts if necessary. But Zardari must be aware that if any of his close associates is convicted, his own political position would be further weakened and the pressure on him to face trial would also mount. Therefore, he is not taking any chances and action seems to have been initiated already to protect them from conviction.

Administrative control over NAB has been transferred to the law minister and Babar Awan has been appointed to head that ministry. Personnel changes are also being made in NAB to fill key posts with loyalists who can be trusted to work for the exculpation of those who are close to Zardari. There are also disturbing reports that key evidence against them may be destroyed or withheld from the courts.

To shore up his political support, Zardari has been claiming that he is being victimised because he stands for civilian supremacy over the military and for the rights of the smaller provinces against a Punjabi-dominated establishment. While he has left it to his underlings to play the Sindh card, he has tried to project himself as the champion of NWFP and Balochistan. In recent days, he has charged that the establishment wanted to remove him because of his support for renaming NWFP as Pakhtoonkhwa and because he wanted Balochistan to be given its due rights.

There is a real danger that to get out of the logjam in which he finds himself, Zardari may try a civilian coup as he did last March. The object then was to take over the Punjab government and put the Sharif brothers out of action from the political arena. The attempt failed and a face-saving solution was found with the army playing a moderating role. Though Zardari claimed in his Naudero speech that he wished to prevent a clash between the institutions of state, he may actually be preparing to take on two of them – the army and the judiciary – in his effort to hang on to power. Such a course will not save Zardari, but it is bound to shake the present political system to its foundations. Short of a replacement of the army chief, there could be a fresh move to place the ISI under the interior ministry or even to appoint a civilian party loyalist to head the agency. As for the judiciary, it is possible that the government will refuse to request a reopening of the Swiss case.

Zardari has cut himself off from sane counsel. Within the PPP, there is hardly anyone who could restrain him from taking the path of confrontation. Prime Minister Gilani could have played that role but he has allowed himself to be completely sidelined. The present situation has similarities with that in early November 2007 when Musharraf declared his "emergency," plunging the country into a prolonged crisis.

In these circumstances, other political parties from the ruling coalition as well as the opposition have a responsibility to step up to the plate and stop Zardari from making any move that would pitch the government against the army or the judiciary. The ANP has an interest that Zardari should not rock the boat when the army is engaged in a messy fight against terrorists in the tribal areas.

The present crisis would probably not have arisen if our Constitution did not give the president immunity from criminal proceedings. Zardari would then have had no choice other than to bow before the courts and try to clear his name.

In South Africa there was a lively debate in 2008 over the question of immunity for the president. Some of the supporters of Jacob Zuma, the popular president of the African National Congress who was then facing corruption charges, called for a constitutional amendment to prohibit the prosecution of a serving head of state. One of the arguments given by those who opposed the move was that if such immunity was given, the president might not want to leave office because as soon as that happened, he might be prosecuted.

This is precisely the problem we are facing. All political parties should therefore be cooperating to amend the Constitution to limit the president's immunity to official acts only. This is a more urgent matter than the repeal of the 17th Amendment or of the third-term ban for a prime minister. The old principle that Caesar's wife must be above suspicion applies here. The presumption of innocence is a sacred rule of criminal law. But ethical standards for a president and ministers must be higher than those for common offenders.

Pakistan has a history of autocratic rulers going berserk when their hold on power weakens. And when they finally go down, they pull down the institutions of state with them. Musharraf was the last example. Now Zardari is following the same disastrous course in order to keep his wealth and power.

Few Pakistani rulers have quit power without a lot of kicking and screaming. Since Naudero, we have been hearing plenty of screaming. The kicking is likely to follow soon. We should brace ourselves for some hard blows and try to limit the damage.







If it's a struggle for me then what must it be like for all the rest? There is a roof over my head, food in the larder and a warm bed to sleep in. I lack little. That which I do not have I either don't need or don't desire — but if I did then I would in likelihood be able to have whatever it was that I needed or desired. Yet life, the daily round of earning a living, of pasting together the patchwork of necessities that takes me from dawn to dusk, is a grind. An interesting word, 'grind.' It speaks of wheat and life and health and food on the one hand; but of the reduction of something larger to something smaller on the other. It is that 'smaller' that preoccupies me. The grinding down of the constituent parts to something infinitely less than they were — to a reduction of the sum of their parts.

These words were originally written by candlelight. By means of a light source as old as man's manipulation of fire. The candle is one of the most basic forms of artificial illumination that we have; a wick of braided fibres surrounded by tallow or wax. An ancient light that burns in millions of households today, in 2010, while later inventions — like the light bulb — are merely decorative, and dark.

The light has gone from my home. Rather not gone but it is instead a fitful and intemperate visitor. Capricious. In the last week, the power has been absent for up to 16 hours in any day and you never know when it is coming or going because there is no announcement by any medium as to its presence or absence. I struggle to get my computer to sing its little start-up song to me because there is no blood in its veins. But wait, help is at hand. Over the weekend, a transfusion has been arranged. Blood will flow into the electrical box of tricks down by my right foot courtesy a fresh battery for the UPS and a brand new generator purchased at an expense I can only just afford because the power is never on long enough to recharge the battery that runs the UPS. A circular problem soluble only by the application of money.

This is our life today, a hand-to-mouth existence. A grind that for me is easier for having the money to make it so but for millions here in the Land of the Pure there is not that luxury. They cannot phone a friend as I did, seething with exasperation, and say to him: "Any chance of getting me a generator by Saturday?' They may have the phone but not the money. There will be light in my house by the time these words are read on Monday morning. There probably will not be in the houses of the people who come in daily to make my life even easier, the domestic staff for whom my simple house is a wonderland of gadgetry and luxuries they can look at but never own. They often stay far past their duty time, sitting with little to do but watch the endless soap operas on the television. I asked them once why they stayed. They told me because my house is warm, it has light and food and their houses have little or none of any of those things. So I never shoo them out and I like to think that a little of my own relative wealth is trickling down to them. And as for the daily grind…well we're all in it together, aren't we? Chin up!

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan.








WHILE Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has set aside the rumours by categorically stating that there is no rift between the civilian government and the army yet in our view the more welcome statement has come from President Asif Ali Zardari who in an address on Saturday said that the politicians stand united with the people and the armed forces to defend the country in case of any foreign aggression. Though President's speech reflected some bitterness and some of his utterances need to be fine-tuned yet we would say categorically that his speech has been very well received by the people of Pakistan.

The President is very much right that Pakistan's security is not only the duty of the armed forces but also the incumbent government as its policies, initiatives and manoeuvres would play a very crucial role in mobilising public opinion at the domestic and international level. There is no doubt in any one's mind that when it comes to the defence and sovereignty of the country, the politicians set aside all their differences and stand united at one platform to face the challenges. This was proved when the country faced threats from across the border after the terrorists attack in Mumbai and in the ongoing war against terrorism and we are confident that if there was any danger to the country, the whole nation would stand behind the government and the armed forces to collectively defend the motherland. When the government and the people of a country are standing at their back, the armed forces play their role very effectively and superbly. The President is symbol of the federation and he has to play the role of a rallying force. Though President Asif Ali Zardari is also co-chairman of the ruling PPP and he has to look after the interests of his party yet we think by holding the two offices he enjoys a unique position and should use it to remove any misunderstanding between political parties and State institutions. We would therefore urge the President to please continue with his positive approach to address the difficult issues by forgetting any bitterness and help in creating an enabling environment to face any eventuality. This would be a great service not only to the country but would certainly improve his image as well.








PML-N Quaid Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif has asked the Government to pay due attention to all the ingredients of democracy and demanded urgent action to address the menace of corruption and other challenges faced by the nation. The PML-N Chief has for quite some time been emphasising the need for action against corrupt elements, whether among the politicians or the bureaucracy, whose names have been included in the NRO beneficiaries and against the murderers of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti as well as implementation of Charter of Democracy.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, who is a respected political leader is very much right to say that democracy is neither a license for corruption nor a public mandate to indulge in plunder of national wealth but to address the problems of the masses and to work for the welfare of the country and protect national interests. Democracy is considered to be a better system because there is an element of accountability making the government answerable to Parliament and the electorates. Once the government ensures transparency in governance, there is little possibility of corruption and fair utilisation of resources for the benefit of the people who elect their representatives to resolve their pressing problems. We apprehend that if corrective steps are not taken and public continued to be in an agitational mood, it would cause harm to democracy. The country is in the midst of many problems including law and order, rising inflation, power and gas load shedding and external threats. Though credit goes to the government for resolving the much controversial issue of NFC Award and the announcement of Aghaz-e-Haqooq Balochistan yet it has more difficult issues at the table including Provincial Autonomy, repeal of the 17th amendment, restoration of the original 1973 constitution and implementation of the supreme court verdict on NRO. To address these issues and meet the expectations of the masses, the country needs to move on the path of democracy and this could be ensured if the government takes along the political stakeholders. Therefore we expect the Prime Minister who is rightly believed to be Mr Clean, to listen to the advice of Mian Nawaz Sharif and move on a fast track to address the issues raised by him in a spirit of understanding and accommodation.







AFTER the statement of COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Tariq Majid has very rightly described the utterances of Indian Army Chief, portraying that his army can take on Pakistan and China simultaneously, as rhetoric and showing his lack of strategic acumen. The Chairman JCSC, who has complete command, in-depth knowledge and fuller grasp of the defence capabilities of the two countries told the Indian General that he (Kapoor) knows very well what the Indian Armed Forces cannot and Pakistan Armed Forces can pull off militarily.

People of Pakistan and India want peace and resolution of their problems through dialogue and not by wars. It is strange that the Indian leadership did not take any notice of the boasting of warmongering army chief. General Tariq, though doubted the veracity of Indian media report attributed to General Kapoor by saying that he could not be so outlandish in strategic postulations to place India on a self destruct mechanism. By this the worthy Chairman JCSC was definitely referring to the lethal nuclear deterrence that Pakistan has at its disposal. Pakistan has made tremendous sacrifices and acquired mastery over the sophisticated technology not to keep it as a show–piece but for the preservation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Any how, General Kapoor's ignorance of Mutually Assured Destruction and his inability to grasp the consequences of rash actions across borders shows his juvenile mindset and vacuity of thought. At the same time the new Indian doctrine along with the earlier restructuring of the Command structure, particularly the operationalisation of South West Army Command has increased manifold threats to Pakistan. Therefore we believe that the whole security paradigm for Pakistan has to be revisited in the light of the emerging threats to face any aggression due to folly of an insane Army Commander on our eastern front.







Current spate of heightened violence in Pakistan is characterized by its multidimensional, fluidity and novelty in orchestration. Challenge spectrum has enlarged and become complex owing to multiplicity of factors inciting it. Conventionally however, cost of conflict in terms of human loss and material damage is viewed more critically than the detriment that structure of violence suffers in the process of such undertaking. Latter enfolds both state as well as non-state entities.

Violence is endemic to human nature, it is no surprise thus to find nation states articulating among others, coercive instrument as act of policy to pursue national interests. Within domestic setting, structural violence inherent in closed or exclusive political system is the most visible context that produces societal violence. Declaring Sinhala in 1948 as national language by Sri Lankan government, preferential treatment of urban over Nepal 's rurals, Indian Special Powers Armed Forces Act 1958 and federation centric financial instruments in Pakistan are but a few examples of structural violence. Results have been political violence leading to major armed conflicts in certain cases. Of equal significance is how a nation applies its coercive power against domestic security imperatives. A state that does not exercise this potential carefully has all the prospects to lose and in the process become politically fragile. This historical fact is borne out by famous remark of Thomas Jefferson as quoted by US President Barak Obama on 4 June 2009 at Cairo Egypt, "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be". Implicit in the original context used by Thomas Jefferson was a reference to responsible use of hard power by a state against other nations. At home, it implies that reckless application of military arrogance is inherently a grievance forming act that produces internal challengers only at the expense of fragmentation of political authority and national cohesion. Present scenario in Pakistan fully captures essence of these nuances.

A nemesis of use of force, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) currently represents the principal actor engaged in violent clash with the state. Its motive has transformed from usurpation of national power envisioned by Baitullah Mehsud to avenging death of fallen leader and retaliation against Operation Rahe-e-Nejat. The scope remains strategic, objective has changed. Energized by notion of 'badal', war being waged by them is total to secure visualized objectives. It is not an ideological contest any more rather a score settling struggle pursing blind ends regardless who the victims are.

Mounting anti-militancy sentiments manifest loss of hitherto sympathetic constituencies of Taliban. Unceasing violent overtures by rival structures are nevertheless bearing on public morale. 'Every soldier who suffers from severe combat stress or traumatic brain injury is a son or daughter, a husband, a mother, a parent. Those who sacrifice in war and suffer, seldom suffer alone'. Same holds true for perishing non-combatants. Segments of society therefore question Government's ability to cope with the challenge.

In his reflection on Forgotten lessons of history, Roedad Khan observes, "We have stumbled into a war that we cannot fight and win, we will get bogged down, and why deploy military means in pursuit of an indeterminate and primarily political end? Ayaz Amir diametrically opposed to this notion, in 'A make-or-break moment for Pakistan' contends 'The war our army is now engaged in is more full of meaning than anything attempted in the past. It is not about territory but the soul and meaning of Pakistan '. If history is a guide, this too is a fact that organized movements never concede defeat lest they decline by social and other temporal dynamics. Any side working with an obsession of seeking total victory or defeat of the other side by mere use of 'force' is likely to end up compounding spheres of challenges rather than achieving contemplated policy ends. Defining victor or vanquished in a domestic setting, is a matter of subjective value at best. Military instrument should be applied 'to stabilize the situation so that political space can be created for democratic process rather than to win through coercive means alone'.

Keeping sense of justice warrants restraint and calibrated use of force without competing in scale of violence with challengers to maintain distinction between law and those who violate it. Violence has limits, it can do only as much its capacity allows it and not beyond. It can kill, it might bend will but it can not break it instead may harden it. Tribal traditions tell that by killing, vicious circle of violence will only compound suggesting the need to mold opponents 'will'. Door for reconciliation and dialogue should remain open, afterall howsoever misguided and disillusioned; those opposing the state belong here. Political philosophers who envisioned conception of state personified it as a virtuous and caring entity to sustain dynamism of social pluralism. State is for all, justice dispensation should consequently embody reconciliation and reformation than vengeance lest we crumble under weight of hatred of our own people.







About two-thirds of those polled in India and almost three-fourths of those in Pakistan said they desire a peaceful relationship between the two countries.." Times of India, 1st JanCouldn't have been a better New Year's gift than the headlines in the Times this morning, 'Love Pakistan' it said, followed by pages and pages how it was imperative peace reigned between the two neighbours, who shared same culture, same love for cinema, almost the same language, and once the same land.

Nearly ten years ago when I was asked by the Pakistan Observer, one of the biggest papers in Pakistan to write a daily column for them, I panicked. How was I equipped to write banter for Pakistan? How would my writing agree with people who were hostile with mine?

But, a decade later I must say, it's like writing for the people of India. We share same thoughts, laugh at the same things, have politicians at the top who continue doing the most ludicrous stunts to survive up there and we both have those same diabolical men and women called terrorists who blow themselves up to blow up our own sons and daughters and other loved ones and bring us to tears day after day, year after year!

I realized a partition had taken place geographically, but inside, deep down we are family; bonded, connected, and like two siblings fighting, albeit fiercely, waiting for someone to point out, "Hey boys enough! You're only killing yourselves!" That day I think has come.

War, my dear brothers and sisters in Pakistan and India, has got us nowhere. Money we should've spent on our poor we've spent on arms. If we could buy books instead of AK 47's, if tractors could replace tanks, bridges, mines, if judiciary could be strengthened instead of the size of the army, if peace could reign instead of the threat of war, then a formidable sub-continent could together challenge the rest of the world in trade and commerce. Europe was made up of scores of little nations who waged bitter war with each other till a little while ago they sat and thought, "Aren't we a bunch of fools?" Today the EU is a strong, powerful union with a mighty voice heard worldwide. That day has come for the peoples of India and Pakistan.

What a powerful combination we could be if we in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka laid aside petty differences, subdued our egos, put resources together and faced the world as one people! That day has come..!







Let us hope that Pakistan carries the same sentiment in the year 2010 and a New Year brings positive changes for the nation and in turn the world. Pakistanis greeted the New Year with a hike in oil and gas prices, excessive gas and power load shedding, sugar price hike in Punjab and a promise from President Zardari promising provincial autonomy. Zardari's presidency is sitting in the eye of the storm and as he himself admitted in an interview to KTN News Channel in Sindh that his popularity is plummeting. He expressed his intentions to bring the ISI into civilian control. He compared the "minus one formula" to a "lollypop" and promised local body elections in 90 days. He concluded that the Karachi blast on Ashura was a result of his speech in Noudero. Zardari has been highlighting "non-State actors" since his late wife Benazir Bhutto's death. He is again pointing to "non-State actors" for conspiring to destroy the nation. He promised to expose these "non-State actors" but in time. He said that Pakistan is our home and we must save it. He did not rule out threats to his life but showed confidence in his security. He blamed Baitullah Mehsud for his wife's murder. He accepted responsibility for the deprivation in Balochistan. He further said that the establishment is the name of a mentality that carries with itself various methods to bring down a democratically elected government. Roedad Khan, Former president Leghari or Former Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah are all faces of the "establishment". Zardari said that he too has various political weapons up his sleeve and he will use them when the time arises. He praised and acknowledged the military establishment while condemning a particular "media group" for crossing its boundaries.

Nawaz Sharif on the other hand pledged to start a campaign against Zardari and stated that he will never allow the State to be ruled by one individual. Who is really ruling the State, nobody knows. The reason is that 16 crore Pakistanis are feeling helpless and desperate. Ashura was met with a blast, one day it was judged a suicide blast and the other day it wasn't a suicide blast. On one particular day the TTP accepted responsibility for the blast, on another the spokesman for TTP denied responsibility for the Ashura blast in Karachi. Who are the "non-State actors" Zardari keeps pointing to? Are they the Taliban or forces that support them? Are they the enemies of Sindhi nationalism? Are they the ones who don't want to see peace in Balochistan? Are they the members of the establishment? Are they the same people who assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto? Are they always conspiring to destroy the nation? If that is the case, then what are their motives? The question is too terrifying for most people to answer.

The question Pakistanis should be answering is "what is Pakistan's New Year resolution?" The requirements for Pakistan are good governance, strong and independent institutions, financial stability, and welfare for the masses, and last but not least, zero terrorism. How should we get there? Start with good governance and that has always been a crisis for Pakistanis. Outsiders always say that the Pakistani people are responsible for their plight; they choose their leaders and in turn suffer the consequences. The Pakistani society is a society of patronage where anybody from any walk of life reaches a status expects to be treated like royalty and is treated like royalty. Most people call Zardari "a President by chance", that he is sitting at a position that was meant for his late wife. Suppose Benazir had lived and become Prime Minister, then Pakistan would have elected a woman who had been sacked twice for plundering national wealth, and was accused of corruption and maintaining an estate abroad comprising of palaces. When Benazir returned from exile, every supporter said two things about her. One, she was reformed, and Two, she has learned from past experiences. We never got a chance to find the answer to Benazir Bhutto but has Zardari truly learnt from past mistakes? In the eyes of most Pakistanis he is guilty of corruption regardless of how the courts rule against him in the future. Then Pakistanis should ask another question, if our President is so corrupt then why is he ruling us like a King and why are we guilty of letting him remain at his throne? When the Japanese committed the cardinal sin of bombing the Pearl Harbour, the US President Roosevelt said the very famous line, "Of course you know this means War". Most people considered that a very casual statement when it was anything but. The translation was "We are the protectors of the Christian faith and you have the nerve and the audacity to bomb us. We will be giving you a rebuttal very soon". And a rebuttal came in the form of air raids that destroyed Japan in which even the late Robert Macnamara participated. And three final blows, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the surrender and humiliation of then Japanese Emperor Hirohito. Now in 2009, the Japanese are a "reformed' nation, and Barak Obama has validated that by bowing to Japanese Emperor Akihito. The actions of the Japanese in coming history will decide Barak Obama's legacy. If the Japanese extend support to any cause undertaken by the US, Barak Obama's bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito will be validated, if they rebel and show the signs of the Second World War then the US President will find the worst place in history.

A lot of Pakistanis find America impossible to understand. If you look at the map of the United States and access their individual actions, then they will never make any sense, but if you put the Bible on the US map and understand Americans as a God fearing nation who believe in the Bible and the Christian faith, then they will make all the sense in the world. Two questions Pakistanis ask a lot is why was the United States pro-Osama during the Afghan War, why did they respond so lightly to the bombing of two US embassies and why did they suddenly turn the tables on Osama after 9/11. The answer to that question that the Americans come from a background and belief system that believes strongly in conversion and reform. The Americans believed that Osama can be reformed and will prove a beneficial ally, so they kept giving him one chance after another but after 9/11 they became 100 per cent convinced that Osama is a man who can never be reformed. This is why we see them reacting like this today. When it came to Former President Pervez Musharraf, the statement the US made the most about him was that "Musharraf understands us". They should have rephrased that statement as "Musharraf biblically understands us". But when the Americans realized that Musharraf was simply biting his time, and had no interest in understanding them, they withdrew their support for him. Most Pakistanis will seriously disagree with this statement but if we want to co-exist in this world and work with the US hand in hand, then we must respect their faith, their belief and understand them. It is not a question of right or wrong; it is a question of understanding and getting along. Pakistanis have become so self-righteous that they cannot co-exist with anybody any more. This approach must change. Otherwise we will always find other nations complaining of lack of trust and confidence and understanding.







Whenever any terror-incident takes place or any plot is foiled in Europe and America, their high officials deliberately links it with Pakistan in one or the other way. Notably, when more than 12 Pakistani students were arrested in UK last year in connection with terrorism, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had sated that the most dangerous plot had been foiled by the police. Afterwards, British authorities admitted that the students had no link with terrorism. A few months ago, some suspected white nationals were arrested in Germany. Again, German and American intelligence agencies tried to link them with the tribal areas of Pakistan, despite the fact that there was no such evidence.

It is pertinent note that on December 26, 2009, a Nigerian, Umar Farouk-the alleged Al-Qaida agent tried to blow up a plane as it was about to land in Detroit, America. US law enforcement officials have shown his connections with Yemen. The government of Yemen also confirmed that he was in the country earlier this month. After this terror-attempt, US President Barack Obama pledged to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten" Americans, adding that whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia." Every one knows that Umar Farouk has no connections with Pakistan, but Obama also mentioned the name of this country without any logic.

In the last three years, western leaders and media have continuously been propagating against Islamabad through various concocted stories. Besides other accusations, sometimes they say that white terrorist's training camps exist in Pakistan's FATA regions, and sometimes they indicate that a plot to attack American homeland and Europe has been planned in these areas. In the recent series of allegations, American and British high officials have blamed that Osama and top leadership of Al Qaeda have taken shelter in Pakistan's tribal areas and Balochistan. To what extent, Osama could be used to gain political aims against Pakistan can be judged from the statement of British PM Brown who revealed on November 29, 2009, "We believe, he is in Pakistan." As a matter of fact, in line of Obama's new Afghan strategy, Brown wanted to justify 500 additional troops for Afghanistan in face of demestic pressure. Meanwhile, the US National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones has also expressed similar view.

Pakistan while refuting west's accusation, remarked that the US and UK should share evidence with Islamabad regarding bin Laden's presence in Pakistan, but they did not provide any proof in this respect. In the recent days, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki admitted that Osama Bin Laden's daughter Iman is currently staying in Tehran. In this connection, The Bangkok Post revealed on December 23, "six of Osama bin Laden's children and one of his wives, missing since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, are under house arrest in Iran." Bin Laden was a wealthy national of Saudi Arabia, who also lived in Yemen and Qatar. In this context, it is also of particular attention that all the alleged terrorists who planned the 9/11 catastrophe were from Arab countries. The posters of the most wanted terrorists regarding that tragedy were Arabic in appearance.

Quite contrarily, US and European leaders only want to use Osama Bin Laden as a scapegoat to target and destablise Pakistan because it is the lonely nuclear country in the Islamic World. While Mullah Omar including other core leadership of Al Qaida cannot take shelter in Pakistan where CIA-operated drone strikes have killed a number of renowned commanders of the Taliban, especially Naik Muhammad and Baitullah Mehsood. Moreover, since 9/11, Pakistan's security agencies have also killed or captured many militant commanders which also include the masterminds of Al-Qaeda, namely Khalid Sheikh and Abu Faraj entailing other key leaders. Owing to these developments Taliban leaders had already decided to go to Afghanistan where they have control over more than 70 percent of the territory.

Especially, during the successful military operations in Swat and Malakand Division, the Taliban commander, Maulana Fazalullah escaped to Afghanistan who was recently seen in a video-tape, telecasted by some TV channels. Since the recent military action started in South Waziristan, various middle and lower level commanders of the insurgents have also run to Afghanistan. In this respect, question arises as to how Osama could be hiding in Pakistan, while Al Qaeda or Taliban commanders prefer to live in Afghanistan where they are more safe, and where they have been fighting against the US-led NATO forces, and where level of militancy has increased in 2009 as admitted by the western military commanders.

Nevertheless, if we judge the losses of any country regarding war against terrorism in the last eight years, Pakistan as a frontline state has given great sacrifices in terms of human life, collateral damage and economic losses. In this context, on November 14, 2008, a statement of Pakistan's Finance Division indicated that the country's economy suffered a loss of Rs2.1 trillion due to the global war on terror. It elaborated that the economy suffered direct and indirect losses in terms of exports, foreign investment, privatization and industrial production. Chairman Pak-US Business Council and VP SAARC CCI Iftikhar Ali Malik had pointed out on March 24, 2009: "Pakistan's economy has suffered irreparable loss of $68 billion due to turmoil in Afghanistan—more than three million Afghan refugees harbouring in the country are also posing security risk."

According to an estimate, Pakistan's national economy is exclusively suffering a net loss of $7 billion annually as fallout of the war against terror, which has displaced thousands of people. No doubt, Pakistan has sacrificed more than NATO and USA owing to this new style conflict. Besides other losses like suicide attacks and lawlessness in the country, more than 2000 personnel of the security forces have been martyred during war against militancy. In fact, Indian secret agency, RAW which has established its clandestine networks everywhere in Afghanistan in connivance with the Indian army and additional consulates has regularly been sending well-trained militants in Pakistan so as to target the security agencies and to commit suicide attacks. Perennial support to separatism in Balochistan, and insurgency in the Frontier Province are part of this plot against Pakistan. During the Swat-Malakand and South Waziristan operations, ISPR spokesman, Maj-General Athar Abbas has shown to the media, huge cache of arms and ammuniton, entering Pakistan from Afghanistan. Recently, Pakistan's prime minister and foreign minister have disclosed that India is backing the militancy in our country.

India whom America wants to make a super power of Asia has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan to strengthen its grip, and to get strategic depth against Pakistan, while also acting upon anti-China policy. For these secret strategic goals, India is determined to keep its security agencies there permanently under the cover of the US-led allied forces. While, the US and some western countries praise the successes achieved by Pakistan's armed forces during the military operations against the Taliban militants, but still emphasise to do more in this regard. They also propagate that the nukes of Pakistan are unsafe. Meanwhile, by ignoring the role of Hindus and western nationals in relation to the nuclear black market, revival of blame game about Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan's network is also part of deliberate campaign against Islamabad. In this context, The Washington Post, citing a previous account of Dr. Khan reported on December 27, "Pakistan helped North Korea with vital machinery and technical advice for enrichment of uranium in addition to making plutonium for bombs." On the other side, Islamabad has strongly denied these accusations about Khan and North Korea.

However, these false allegations are part of a conspiracy against our country. Particularly US which tactically favours anti-Pakistan campaign of India has been playing a double game with Islamabad. It could also be assessed from some latest developments. In the aftermath of Obama's decision to increase additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan, on December 27 last year, America's B-52 heavy bomber aircraft which can carry nuclear and conventional ordnance was again seen hovering over Pakistan's tribal areas. Furthermore, Obama did not consult Islamabad for new Af-Pak strategy. All these moves against Islamabad indicate that some US-led countries can conduct full-fledged air strikes on our FATA regions. Although fact remains that in the last eight years, unlike other countries, Pakistan has borne the brunt of major losses during war on terror, yet America and its western allies ignore the sacrifices of our country.








Zardari's speech on Bibi's 2nd anniversary was nothing more than a twitter of party chairperson holding office of the President of Pakistan in violation of relevant laws which prohibit holding the two offices simultaneously. It is opined that the controversial speech could further damage PPPs government in days to come for which the goal posts have been defined. Senator Mushahid Hussain is of the view that speech should be ignored, whereas Nawaz Sharif has said that support for democracy should not be confused with backing for the corruption. Earlier Nawaz Sharif said that NRO tainted PPP cabinet members should have resigned and then faced courts. PPP government by allowing them to hold office and face courts has set an illegal and immoral precedence, which not only undermines writ of the state but has put democracy and PML(N) support for the system on line for the handful few.

It is opined that public is demanding a new social contract (state security and protection against global economic, political and foreign policy challenges) since the vote against Musharraf government but the PPP government is unable to deliver for the last two years. It is this failure which is determining PPPs fate which somehow Zardari is trying to blame on non-state actors, judiciary or "tenure posts". The Karachi carnage is yet another example of PPPs failure to uphold its end of the social contract in return for right to rule in a democracy. The incessant increase in energy prices, persistent load shedding; provision of free fuel, electricity and gas to ruling elite; governments' failure to act against sugar and flour cartels; foot-dragging to recover Rs.1475 bln stolen from national exchequer; political and police excesses are adding to public frustration at the grassroots. There is a majority opinion that since Zardari and his tainted allies have opted to steer PPP on course which is going parallel to the law instead of upholding it, therefore ouster of PPP government is a fait accompli, and the surprise could be in the modality of PPP's ouster than the timing of its departure. The standoff has turned Pakistan into a "Temporary State". Will it be a midterm election, a military or "Bangladesh style" intervention for three months or less to allow holding of elections, or scrapping of 248 etc., only time will tell? The minority however is of the view that Washington factor cannot be ruled out and Zardari government is going to weather out the storm. This lull before the storm situation will continue endlessly just like Philippines and it will continue to undermine normal functions of the state.

I am not going to debate "When" and "How" PPP government will go, or fractiously continue to enjoy power while Pakistan continues to suffer. I am going to highlight issues concerning new social order so that government delivers or makes way for those who can. The 1973 constitution envisages a parliamentary form of government with PM as its chief executive in which "powerless" president acts as the symbolic head of the state. The powers consolidated during Musharraf's rule in the office of President have resulted in a dysfunctional (parliamentary form of) government with Gillani as its PM. The actions not words of Zardari show little signs of restoring the 1973 constitution in its original form in next two years. The question therefore is, Will Gillani stand up to uphold public's mandate of change or support the collusion against restoration of parliamentary form of democracy so that parliament can deliver. Is Gillani a democratic PM of the country? It is opined that he has lost majority after PPPs failure to table NRO in the parliament for the fear of losing the vote on it. In democratic language PPP routing has deprived Gillani of the majority in the parliament and therefore without taking a fresh vote of confidence from the parliament he is everything but a legitimate democratic PM of the country. The experts of democracy would second the opinion that when majority of ruling party in the parliament is in doubt the PM has to take a vote of confidence to restore his legitimacy. Zardari has bitten the hand which is keeping it in power by calling the opposition "not friendly opposition". A no confidence resolution by the opposition will lay before the public the drama of democratic opposition or friendly opposition and government claiming to uphold Supreme Court NRO decision because Gillani has refused to purge the cabinet from tainted characters. In house change including change of PM is part of the parliamentary form of democracy. The concept of completion of five-year fixed tenure is part of presidential form of government and Gillani's statement about completing the tenure undermines parliamentary form of government, which has to uphold the public opinion through show of force on every important ruling. No wonder, local body governments are being resuscitated through dubious "delegation of powers to the provinces" without clear laws so as to leave members of national and provincial assemblies "ineffective" and neutralize unity of governance at federal, provincial and bureaucratic level to continue serving vested local and international stakes. Pakistan has to review its foreign policy in wake of changing world order and regional realities to protect its national and economic interests. The statement of India's Army Chief on fighting simultaneous wars on Pak-China fronts clearly shows the designs of US and its ally in the region. Pakistan therefore has to protect its eastern borders first and review its open ended support for America's so-called war against terrorism (SWAT) which allegedly is being used to control areas of strategic importance for US. It is opined that west's targeting of Yemen "fits" the plan to maintain its control of land access to Europe via Indian Ocean leave Suez Canal, Strait of Hormuz and occupation forces in the region redundant. Islamabad has to adopt look East policy amidst growing calls for Russia and Europe to move closer (Op-ed, December 29, Arab News). Putin has already called for plans to develop new offensive weapons to counter US missile defenses. Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a strong reality in the region. In the wake of our history and Indian Chief's statements, Islamabad should remain vigilant against "surgical strikes" instead of relying on foreign assurances and media peace missions.

Capitalism is dead. Islamabad should give a new economic model to the country to end deep divide between rich and poor. The new social order should be based on equitable distribution of wealth because it is part of good governance. Islamabad should review its policy of implementing international trade laws because they like U.S. trade laws aren't about "fair trade" or "leveling the playing field," or the other clichés of protectionists. They have become tools of political income redistribution, protecting certain industries at the expense of others and the larger U.S. economy (Stealing from Americans, New York Times, 31 Dec.). Next, Islamabad should invest in infrastructure and use large population to kick start and sustain the economy based on domestic consumption. Finally, history shows that world has seen many rich countries but only those countries and individuals left a mark on the world who respected rule of law. Our leaders and their western allies need to uphold law at individual and national level to win against anti-state elements, SWAT, corruption, and poor law and order, and bridge divide between rich and poor. Lastly, twittering can attract "flash mobs" but cannot face the heat of "sunshine laws". Public money will be returned sooner than later and it only matter of time when rule of law will reign supreme in Pakistan also.








Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid has kept his words in fulfilling his government's committment. His ministry has now the enviable record of distributing textbooks among most of the school and madrasa students on the opening day of the new academic year. Considered against the overwhelming odds, such as alleged non-cooperation from printing presses and the recent arson at the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) godown as part of apparent sabotage, this is surely a sterling success. Reportedly 90 per cent secondary school and ibtadai students received their books and for the primary schools and dakhil madrasas the percentage of students who received books is 70-75. This performance of the minister and his ministry has proved that if the government is serious and sincere, it can succeed under toughest and even hostile circumstances.
In this country, promises mostly coated in rhetoric are made only to forget when it is time to deliver. But the education minister has single-mindedly pursued this goal without resorting to rhetoric. His is a job well done and this should be a benchmark for other ministries to follow. We all know how difficult it is to crack the tough nut of the publishers and printers' syndicates which had in the past held the students and their guardians hostage. Such syndicates in collusion with vested quarters in NCTB in the past not only messed things up on textbook publication and distribution, but forced students to buy the books in black markets by creating artificial crisis. We are happy the education minister's bold and focused leadership has for the first time changed the situation for better this year.

Had things gone smoothly according to the plan of the education minister, we believe, cent per cent students would have received their textbooks on the first day of the academic year 2010. The minister has assured that those who failed to get books on first day will have them  soon. If the books reach all the students even within a week, it will definitely have a highly positive impact on the academic activity of our schools. It will help complete the syllabi as well as the academic year without delay or overlapping different levels such as primary, secondary and tertiary education.







Children are being held in Bangladesh prisons, according to a report published by an international NGO, Save the Children, UK. It also says that the draconian Special Powers' Act, 1974 is also being used to put them behind bars and as such they are being denied bail. This is creating a legal problem, too, as the High Court has directed the prison authorities not to hold juveniles in prison.

Much of the complexity arises from the absence of a uniform legal definition of the word, 'minor'. In the labour law, anybody attaining the age of 14 is considered an adult. But when it comes to voting, the age of maturity is considered to be 18 years. In the Penal Code it is fixed at 16. All this makes the application of legal protection to the under-aged difficult. 

To make things even more complex policemen are saying that due to a number of reasons that include the influence of drugs, boys in their late teens are getting in serious crimes - some even involved in use of firearms.


Therefore, it is difficult to treat them lightly.

The issue of juvenile delinquency and crime has been in the national dialogue for long, but many children still remain in jail, where some of them turned to hardened criminals. The accumulated wisdom of the world is that whatever the crime, children should be given a fair chance to lead a normal life, even if they have deviated from the same in the past. To facilitate such a transition, correctional centers have been set up across the country. Hopefully, the jail administration will use them most advantageously. Besides, the High Court order of granting bail to children under the age of 16 should be enforced without further delay.







I know the New Year has come and gone, but for many of us who enter this New Year with fear and trepidation here is a story I've written to strengthen them: It was the night before the New Year! The old man sighed as he watched his family sit together that night. He knew they would be leaving soon for the Watch Night service, and he had got his best suit pressed so he would look good as the New Year came in. His wife sat by his side and smiled at him, she gave him a piece of paper and a pen. He watched as the others wrote on their own pieces of paper.

"Dad!" said his elder son, "you aren't writing anything?"

"Yes grandpa," said his eldest grandson, "you're supposed to write New Year resolutions on your paper. See what I wrote grandpa.."

"Sssshhh son," said his mother, "you've got to read it after the New Year has come in."

The old man sighed as he looked at his family.

"Remember dad you were the one who taught us this habit?"

"Yes," sighed the old man.

"I remember one night I wrote so many resolutions I never slept that night," said his younger son, "and then next morning I couldn't find the paper.."

"That's because I took the paper out of your hand and hid it," said his mother.

"Otherwise you would never have gone to sleep with so many resolutions to write!" smiled the old man, his father as he remembered that night.

"And what were those resolutions?" asked a curious granddaughter, "and grandpa did he keep those resolutions?"

"Yes," said her grandfather, "he did, for exactly one day, and by the end of the day, he had already broken two!"

They all laughed and continued with their writing. The old man, held his blank paper in his hand and looked at them. He cleared his throat once, but did not say anything. "Dad?" asked his elder son, "is there anything bothering you?"       

"Are you feeling unwell?" his wife of many years asked, looking with concern at his blank sheet. "I'm okay," he smiled at her, but she was a little unsure, as she looked his paper. Then suddenly he wrote something, folded it in two and put it in his pocket.

"I'm going to change," said the grandfather as he walked out of the room. He watched as they all looked at the pocket where he had kept his little piece of paper. He smiled as his wife followed him into the bedroom after some time. He left his shirt on a chair and walked into the bathroom to have a bath. There was a smile on his face as he heard his wife tiptoe to the chair, he listened as she took the paper from his shirt pocket and rushed back to where the others were waiting:

"What did dad write?" asked the elder son, with mounting curiosity. They all watched as their mother opened the paper:

"My new year resolution," said the sheet, "Is to allow God to take over my life and to leave all my worries and cares on His Divine shoulder!"

There was a smile on the old man's face as his family, opened their new year resolutions the next day. "Isn't it strange," he said, "we've all written the same thing! But its the only workable resolution..!" And they all nodded and smiled to a God above.






The draft National Education Policy seeks to bring all the streams, except of course the English medium and Quami madrasah schooling, of education as closer as possible to each other. A synthesis in true sense of the term though remains a tough challenge and therefore a long way off, if not elusive. But the ground reality, admittedly, hardly allows a more radical reform to the existing system of education. In a few states of India, including the West Bengal, madrasah education has long shed the Muslim-only tag and Hindu boys are studying in madrasahs in increasing numbers. One wonders why this cannot happen in Bangladesh! If some states in a republic can open the doors of Islamic seminaries to Hindu learners, a sovereign country like Bangladesh should have more reasons to ensure access of non-Muslims to madrasahs.

In the absence of government schools, as we understand, options are few and far between for Hindu students in many Bihar villages. This and the recognition of madrasah degrees and certificates for government jobs by the Bihar state government along with the free meal may have done the trick but no denying the fact that the move has suddenly catapulted the once backward education system on a plane where it has gained enough strength to compete with secular education as offered by the mainstream educational institutions. It surely is a good beginning and sets the stage for dispelling all doubt about the madrasah education often associated with religious bigotry and militancy.

The draft education policy here has sought to modernise madrasah education in line with the general education, the primary stage of which would be extended upto class VIII instead of class V. Thus the Ibtadai education, as proposed, would be an eight-year course, Dakhil four-year, Fazil 3-4-year and Kamil 1-2-year courses in the interest of readjustment with higher education. Here despite the reorgnanisation, the changes are expected to be nominal except in the infrastructure and human resources, meaning the teaching staff. What, however, looks so promising is the inclusion of common subjects like Bangla, English, Mathematics, Social Science, Natural Science, Ethics, Bangladesh studies, ICT and pure Science. Promising because, here is an attempt to introduce modern education at the primary and secondary levels with the aim to reduce the discrimination on account of religious education. Learning scriptures by rote or getting familiarised with the fundamental teachings of any religion should not be a forbidden territory for any citizen. So provision of religious teaching alongside modern education makes the system complementary or even complete. Nothing wrong with it if the subjects are approached with an open mind. Study of religion as an extra subject at such stages can be optional.
Certain quarters though have already embarked on a malicious campaign against the proposed education reform on the pretext that the government has an ulterior motive to undermine Islamic education. The fact is that the draft education policy has made a recommendation for upgrading the Madrasah Board into a full University with the responsibility of overseeing the affairs of curricula, examination and similar other administrative jobs. This makes sense. The important task would be to define the academic pursuit as against the areas of religious performance which is more or less an individual choice and preserve. Thus the Muslim-only madrasah education stands the chance of coming out of the long shadow of faith-based monopoly and make room for the non-Muslims, as has been the case in Bihar and West Bengal.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, there were few educated people in the Indian sub-continent who did not learn two to three languages. Apart from their mother tongue, they used to learn Persian (Farsi), Sanskrit, Hindi or Urdu and then English. Scholars like Dr Shahidullah acquired proficiency in as many as 12 languages. Today choices are wide so far as learning modern languages are concerned but only a few take language courses and a fraction of them for the love of a language. The reason is obvious: commercial compulsion gets the better of love for any foreign language. It is exactly from this point of view the Madrasah education with an emphasis on Arabic or Urdu can be treated. That really helps either in the job market or on account of religion where distortion, eliminating the chance of using the same for narrow and partisan purposes, can be avoided.
The argument is ill-motivated when the claim is made that one cannot be adequately religious if one is modern. Modernity or progressiveness has nothing against religion. The bottom line is to be competent enough to face challenges of the time. That means one has to be armed with the knowledge that makes life easier, leaving enough time for relaxation, study and practice of religion. Islamic erudition should have no conflict with modern disciplines of education. Arabic and Urdu languages like Bangla or any other language not considered suitable for pursuing modern education, for that matter, need to be flexible enough to accommodate the latest scientific and ICT ideas and knowledge.

Languages gather mosses if they are not made to roll to be equal to the challenges thrown by newer concepts, theories and experiments. When a language gets its basics right, pursuit of knowledge in it becomes easy and natural. That is a precondition for staying competitive as a nation in today's world. All we need to do is to put our acts together to see how best we, through consummate scholarship, can make our languages vibrant and accommodative to the needs of the time.

The greatest challenge will be to introduce the right curricula and text books by scholars who know their subjects well and have the capacity to understand child psychology. So far the practice here is to get published textbooks in a casual manner with information gaps and mistakes. Unattractive and uninteresting the books fail to excite and encourage young minds. Narrow political consideration has to be done away with when the syllabi are shaped and subjects chosen. History should be as objective as possible and the academics with professional integrity should be charged with the responsibility of writing Bangladesh history. This is how the spirit of patriotism can be instilled in the young minds. This is true both for the general education as well as other streams of education.

Then there are other considerations such as bridging the rural-urban and rich-poor gaps in terms of opportunities. The draft education policy of Pakistan, without resorting to rhetoric, has sought to address such issues and quite emphatically pledged to ensure equitable distribution of opportunities. So long as Quami madrasahs and the English medium schools remain outside of the pale of a proposed national education policy and radical reform to education is not taken to turn learning lessons a class room-based exercise as against coaching-dependent, such equitable distribution of opportunities will remain a distant dream and education -madrasah or otherwise - will not be able to serve the intended purpose properly. 

(The writer is Assistant Editor, The Independent) 









Perhaps the best way to view a financial crisis is to look at it as a collapse in the risk tolerance of investors in private financial markets. Maybe the collapse stems from lousy internal controls in financial firms that, swaddled by implicit government guarantees, lavish their employees with enormous rewards for risky behaviour. Or perhaps a long run of good fortune has left the financial market dominated by cockeyed optimists, who have finally figured that out. Or perhaps it stems simply from unreasoning panic.

Whatever the cause, when the risk tolerance of the market crashes, so do prices of risky financial assets. Everybody knows that there are immense unrealised losses in financial assets, but no one is sure that they know where those losses are. To buy or even to hold risky assets in such a situation is a recipe for financial disaster. So is buying or holding equity in firms that may be holding risky assets, regardless of how safe a firm's stock was previously thought to be.

This crash in prices of risky financial assets would not overly concern the rest of us were it not for the havoc that it has wrought on the price system, which is sending a peculiar message to the real economy. The price system is saying: shut down risky production activities and don't undertake any new activities that might be risky.

But there aren't enough safe, secure, and sound enterprises to absorb all the workers laid off from risky enterprises. And if the decline in nominal wages signals that there is an excess supply of labour, matters only get worse. General deflation eliminates the capital of yet more financial intermediaries, and makes risky an even larger share of assets that had previously been regarded as safe.

Ever since 1825, central banks' standard response in such situations except during the Great Depression of the 1930s has been the same: raise and support the prices of risky financial assets, and prevent financial markets from sending a signal to the real economy to shut down risky enterprises and eschew risky investments.
This response is understandably controversial, because it rewards those who bet on risky assets, many of whom accepted risk with open eyes and bear some responsibility for causing the crisis. But an effective rescue cannot be done any other way. A policy that leaves owners of risky financial assets impoverished is a policy that shuts down dynamism in the real economy.

The political problem can be finessed: as Don Kohn, a vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently observed, teaching a few thousand feckless financiers not to over-speculate is much less important than securing the jobs of millions of Americans and tens of millions around the globe. Financial rescue operations that benefit even the unworthy can be accepted if they are seen as benefiting all even if the unworthy gain more than their share of the benefits.

What cannot be accepted are financial rescue operations that benefit the unworthy and cause losses to other important groups like taxpayers and wage earners. And that, unfortunately, is the perception held by many nowadays, particularly in the United States.

It is easy to see why.

When Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp attacked Vice President Al Gore in 1996 for the Clinton administration's decision to bail out Mexico's feckless government during the 1994-1995 financial crisis, Gore responded that America made $1.5 billion on the deal.

Similarly, Clinton's treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus were attacked for committing public money to bail out New York banks that had loaned to feckless East Asians in 1997-1998. They responded that they had not rescued the truly bad speculative actor, Russia; that they had bailed in, not bailed out, the New York banks, by requiring them to cough up additional money to support South Korea's economy; and that everyone had benefited massively, because a global recession was avoided.
Now, however, the US government can say none of these things. Officials cannot say that a global recession has been avoided; that they bailed in the banks; that with the exception of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns they forced the bad speculative actors into bankruptcy; or that the government made money on the deal. It is still true that the banking-sector policies that were undertaken were good or at least better than doing nothing. But the certainty that matters would have been much worse under a hands-off approach to the financial sector, Republican Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon in 1930-1931, is not concrete enough to alter public perceptions. What is concrete enough are soaring bankers' bonuses and a real economy that continues to shed jobs.


(J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research)

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009








Khalid Md. Bahauddin

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Most environmental problems, including those arising from climate change, are aggravated by population growth. Thus, the fact that the world's population has surpassed 6.7 billion and continues to grow by some 78 million additional people each year presents enormous challenges.

Making a clear and direct linkage between population change and climate change is complex because the effects of human activity on emissions are the product of a range of driving forces, including economic growth, technological changes, and population growth.

A growing body of evidence shows that recent climate change is primarily the result of human activity.

Evidence suggests that the poorest countries and population groups are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. Population growth is occurring most rapidly in the developing world, increasing the scale of vulnerability to projected impacts of climate change. Other demographic trends, such as urbanisation in coastal areas and encroachment of populations into ecologically marginal areas, can exacerbate climate risks.


Population growth is already putting a strain on the world's limited supply of fresh water. Without taking into account the projected impacts of climate change, five billion people more than half the world's populations are expected to live in water-stressed countries by 2050.

The impacts of extreme weather events and projected sea level rise are particularly significant due to high population density on and near coastlines and low-elevation zones. In Bangladesh and China, for example, populations living in low elevation coastal zones grew at almost twice the national population growth rate between 1990-2000 exposing disproportionately growing numbers of people to the negative effects of sea-level rise and extreme weather.

Under middle range projections of population growth, agricultural production loss and an increase in the prices of crops due to climate change will lead to an additional 90 to 125 million people at risk of hunger in the developing world by 2080. In Bangladesh, on more than 25,000 hectares of land in the south, agricultural production has dropped significantly in recent years. Most of the affected area is less than 1.5m above sea level and due to sea level rise, 13.74 percent of net cropped area and about 401,600 hectares of mangrove forest along with its wild life will be vanished.

In 2005, the average population density in developing countries was 66 people/km2, which is more than double in developed regions (27 people/km2). Under high population pressure, a large share of the population in the developing world is already living in marginalised areas, which are susceptible to climate variation and extreme weather events. For instance, around one-sixth of the world's population is living in arid and semi-arid regions; more than 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, while another one billion are at risk. The world's major arid regions are in the developing world, where the population growth rate is high, and socio-development levels are low.

Poor and vulnerable populations are those living in places exposed to climate risks, heavily dependent on climate for survival, and who have fewer resources to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change. For example, 70 percent of the African population relies on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods, and a slight shift in rainfall patterns or temperature can be disastrous.

It was found by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that higher population growth projections generally result in more GHG emissions. The Population assumptions range widely, from a low population projection of 7.1 billion to a high of 15 billion in 2100. For example, the effects of highly carbon-intensive economic growth and technological change can be more substantial than population growth on future carbon emissions, at least for several decades.

A weakness of the IPCC's current scenarios is that population size is the only demographic variable considered; no allowances are made for compositional changes within the population as it grows. Energy consumption patterns differ between rural and urban populations, between younger and older populations, and between households with many people versus households with fewer. The world is becoming increasingly urban and older, and household sizes are becoming smaller but these changes have not yet been accurately accounted for in climate change models. The majority of future population growth is likely to occur in areas of the world that are already beginning to experience climate change impacts, and this growth is likely to be concentrated in areas and among populations-poor, urban, and coastal-that are already highly vulnerable to climate change impacts.


Many of the policies that affect population trends, such as meeting the demand for family planning and reproductive health services among the world's women and families, can play an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation, but have not yet been incorporated into comprehensive climate change solutions.

Combating climate change calls for the spirit of environmental stewardship and international cooperation on a range of emissions reduction and adaptation approaches. These approaches will benefit from greater attention to population dynamics, including growth, household structure, urbanisation and aging. Population policies and programmes that promote universal access to voluntary contraception, when linked with broader efforts to address a range of demographic factors and meet development and poverty reduction objectives, such as the MDGs, will help lead to a more sustainable demographic future that will play a crucial role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.


(The writer is a Member, Bangladesh Society of Environmental Scientist, Jahangirnagar University)








DANISH cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is reportedly philosophical that his life has been all but destroyed by fundamentalist Islam. The rest of us should remain angry at the alleged assassination attempt on the artist whose cartoon of the prophet Mohammed as a suicide bomber caused outrage four years ago.


Westergaard, who has been in danger since the cartoon was published, is said to be resigned to a life on the run and to accept there is no way out. He attempts as normal a life as possible but like others, such as Salman Rushdie, who have been the targets of extremist Islamic payback, the threat to him and his family is constant. At least two earlier assassination plots have been foiled by police.


Few artists pay such a high price for doing their job - which is to challenge and extend our understanding of events, people and ideas. Westergaard's cartoon, one of 12 commissioned by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, did all of that as well as raising a smile - again a basic aspect of a cartoonist's job description. Many Muslims (and others) were outraged, an understandable response but no reason to censor such cartoons and certainly no reason to kill the cartoonist. Such political art is an integral part of modern cultural life. The freedom to prick pomposity, dogmatism and extremist views and behaviour is what makes societies robust and creative. It is not possible to quarantine religion from the pen of the cartoonist or columnist who must be accorded the right to vigorously express controversial opinions. There are occasions, such as recently in The Netherlands when the Arab European League was prosecuted for publishing a cartoon suggesting the Holocaust did not happen, when a government acts to protect the historical record.


But Westergaard's cartoon was an important and timely commentary on the way in which terrorists were exploiting the prophet to justify their extreme actions. They were published at a time of growing tension within Denmark as its tolerance for different views began to come under pressure from increased numbers of Muslim refugees across Europe and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh who had produced work critical of some Muslim practices.


The recent attack of Westergaard will do nothing to allay the fear and anger of Danes, nor the concerns of citizens around the world.







SHELTER, like food, is such a basic human need that it seems extraordinary that on any given night, more than 100,000 Australians are either sleeping rough or in unstable, temporary or substandard accommodation. That a rich, modern nation such as our own cannot manage to put a decent roof over the heads of its citizens is saddening and confronting to most of us.

It would be easy to blame the individuals involved, some of whom are not able to run their own lives, some of whom make choices that lock them into cycles of drugs, alcohol and joblessness, some of whom are habituated to exploiting the welfare system. But blame will not solve the crisis. It will not ensure babies are protected or that teenagers have enough domestic stability to complete their studies. Blame will do nothing to shore up fragile families so easily shattered by housing stress. It will not help those pushed over the edge by an unlucky break. Most of all, it will not protect the most vulnerable street people - the mentally ill forced out of institutional care in recent years.


To that end, the Rudd government's attention to the homeless is welcome, if ambitious. It has given the issue priority, with a strategy spelled out in its white paper, The Road Home, released in December 2008. The paper identifies the problems, sets targets, suggests measures and outlines the role of the states through the Council of Australian Governments.


The government has until 2013 to meet its target of a 20 per cent cut in homeless numbers and 10 years to cut the level in half. But as we reported in The Weekend Australian, and again today, such major social change is incredibly difficult and takes time. A year after the white paper, there has been no reduction in homeless numbers; rather, the problem is worse.


It is a salutary reminder that this is not a problem solved by pouring in money or building more houses, although there is clearly a shortage of affordable and appropriate housing. For some people, for whom homelessness is a one-off event, providing a home is all that is needed to help them to get back on track. For others, homelessness is a complex problem, intersecting with unemployment, health issues, substance addiction and criminal history, to name just a few variables. By the time people are homeless or shuttling between the street and marginal housing, the problem has gone well beyond the simplistic provision of shelter. Accommodation is but the starting point in terms of the interventions required. There is also the reality, unpalatable as it may be, that for some people, sleeping rough is a habit built up over years spent outside mainstream society, and not easily broken simply by providing access to a room or flat. As we report today, the problem of homelessness is unlikely to be solved without addressing the care and treatment of the mentally ill, who no longer have the option of institutional living arrangements but who are often incapable of living alone.


For most of us, housing is a personal responsibility but the reality is that there will always be some members of our society who will need assistance. We cannot, and must not, be complacent abo