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Sunday, January 10, 2010

EDITORIAL 05.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month  january 05, edition 000395, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




































































It's immaterial whether the Special Branch of Delhi Police or the Foreigners Regional Registration Office is responsible for failing to prevent three undesirable Pakistanis, who had served time in jail after being found guilty of plotting terrorist attacks and were awaiting deportation, from escaping. What is important to note is the cavalier manner in which authority continues to treat issues related to national security. The three Pakistanis were freed from prison in October last year. They should have been deported immediately without being kept in custody. This is the normal procedure followed in any country with a Government worth its name: Unwanted aliens are thrown out without much ado and 'formalities' that involve elaborate paperwork are shunned. Instead, the three men were being held at a detention centre while lazy, overpaid and under-worked babus played a never-ending game of passing the parcel with files stuffed with 'documents' which, we can be sure, are of little significance and are designed to keep otherwise unemployable people employed in cushy jobs. If the delay in deporting the three terrorists to the country of their origin — Pakistan, also known as the Cradle of Jihadis — was on account of the Pakistani High Commission dragging its feet (Pakistanis are exceptionally prompt in disowning their own) then the Ministry of External Affairs should have hastened the process through means which are not unknown to South Block babus. And, if the fault lies with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, then perhaps Mr P Chidambaram would like to seek an explanation or two from his officials. The blame-game that has begun after the astonishing ease with which the three men disappeared into the milling crowds of Old Delhi is meant to cover up obvious lapses and not fix responsibility. Hence, it must be stopped at once and those guilty of dereliction of duty should be given exemplary punishment.

It is laughable that the sub-inspector of police who was accompanying the three Pakistanis should be pilloried; we need to know who allotted him the task after deciding that one policeman was sufficient to guard three hardcore terrorists. It is now being suggested that there was a shortage of police personnel on January 1, the day the three men escaped, as extra forces had been deployed for 'VIP security'. If that was indeed the situation, then why were they taken for an eye check-up on that particular day? Surely there was no tearing hurry to ensure the three men were not suffering from failing eyesight? These are only some of the questions that should agitate those in charge of our national security. Terrorism cannot be fought merely by acquiring weapons, gadgets and fancy amphibian vehicles or setting up special agencies with huge budgets. Nor can tall talk be a substitute for sweeping reforms without which our security apparatus will continue to remain worthless. The shocking incident has served to highlight the rot that pervades every level of our national security system, although this is not the first time that those charged with the responsibility of protecting India's citizens have been found to be playing ducks and drakes with their lives. It remains to be seen whether the Government uses this opportunity to begin fixing the dysfunctional national security apparatus.






The shocking murder of a 21-year-old Indian youth in Melbourne is a rude reminder that we haven't seen the last of racial attacks on the Indian community in Australia. Nitin Garg, who hailed from Punjab, was stabbed while on his way to a restaurant where he worked part-time. After the brutal assault, Garg had managed to drag himself to the restaurant and ask for help, but succumbed to his injury at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Even though so far there is no concrete evidence to suggest that the crime was racially motivated — investigations are still on — to say that the fatal attack on Garg had nothing to do with him being an Indian would be naïve. In fact, on a previous occasion, Garg had been beaten black and blue by a group of White Australian louts. Therefore, it would be surprising if it were to turn out that Garg's murderer had no racial motive whatsoever. It is telling that as many as 100 cases of assault and battery on Indians in Australia were registered last year alone as opposed to 17 in 2008. Seen in this context, the fatal attack on Nitin Garg can only be described as a consequence of the racial hate wave that has gripped Australian society.

There are many theories that try to explain the attacks on Indians Down Under. The Indian student community there has been especially vulnerable. It has been suggested that the attacks are predicated upon a feeling of growing jealousy that average Australians feel towards the upwardly-mobile Indians who have become a steady feature of Australian society. Be that as it may, there is no escaping the fact that Australia needs foreign immigrants to significantly contribute to its economy. It is precisely because of this reason that Australia has been marketing itself as a global destination for everything from education to holidaying to foreign direct investments. This is all the more reason why the Australian Government needs to make security of foreigners in Australia a priority. It is true that every country has law and order problems. But what we are witnessing in Australia goes well beyond that. It is noteworthy that Nitin Garg was quite outspoken about his condemnation of racist hate groups on social networking websites such as Facebook. It is entirely possibly that this had something to do with his murder. The onus is on the Australian Government to take appropriate measures to curb such heinous crimes. On its part, New Delhi is totally justified in suggesting that unless strict measures are undertaken and the perpetrators of the hate attacks apprehended, relations with Canberra might suffer. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had promised that he would do everything in his power to curb the racist attacks when he had come visiting last November. But it appears that he is yet to walk the talk.



            THE PIONEER



The Government must end the doublespeak on Jammu & Kashmir and inform the Indian people if there is a covert understanding, under American aegis, to unravel the northern State bit by bit and surreptitiously cede it to Pakistan. A leading national daily on Saturday reported a 'strong' Indian reaction to Syed Mehdi Shah, newly elected 'first Chief Minister' of Gilgit-Baltistan, calling it the "fifth province" of Pakistan.

An embarrassed External Affairs Ministry rushed to declare: "The entire state of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession to India in 1947. Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under the illegal occupation of Pakistan has no legal basis, and is completely unacceptable."

Doubts about New Delhi's true intentions, however, arise because of the persistent mishandling of the State's integration with India. First, Jawaharlal Nehru was manipulated by Louis Mountbatten into taking the Pakistan invasion to the United Nations and preventing the Indian Army from recovering the captured territories. The UN called for plebiscite and then sent Sir Owen Dixon to 'suggest' de facto partition of the State, with India keeping Hindu areas of Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh, while Pakistan kept the captured Northern Areas and Occupied Kashmir, and further received Muslim-dominant Doda, Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu! The proposed plebiscite was confined to Kashmir Valley, and north of Chenab declared the 'new' international border. As there was no way that Nehru could sell this proposal to his own Cabinet, it died a natural death.

Yet Nehru, like the Bourbons, forgot nothing and learnt nothing. For reasons that defy cogent analysis, the Maharaja's Accession was not treated as final, at par with the accession by other princes. The Hindu king of a critical State was treated like a pariah, and a dangerous concept of 'Muslim precedence' granted to this Muslim-majority region, laying the foundations for the erosion of India's civilisational ethos in the critical Himalayan frontier, and subsequently across the land. Special status was granted to Sheikh Abdullah and his Muslim Conference, who drove the nascent Republic crazy with their shifting stands on every negotiated issue. Article 370 is the enduring legacy of that poor exercise in statesmanship.


After the UN fiasco, New Delhi stoically maintained that the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir was an inalienable part of India. But it was Mrs Indira Gandhi who substantially eroded Article 370 by extending several critical Central laws to Jammu & Kashmir via an accord with Sheikh Abdullah in 1975. Logically, we should have moved inexorably in the direction of its ultimate demise, but separatists and militants were nurtured by vested interests and the rest is history.

What still needs explanation is the BJP's decision to downplay the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley in the winter of 1989, and later, the decision of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to call Gen Pervez Musharraf for a summit at Agra in 2001 to discuss the Kashmir issue. Since then, a variety of ill-conceived unofficial and official dialogues, including 'quiet talks' with separatists in quest of a 'unique solution', have further compromised the Indian position on Kashmir, with myriad State politicians flexing their muscles and demanding autonomy, pre-1953 status, self-rule, even independence.

In these circumstances, it comes as no surprise that Gilgit-Baltistan's first Chief Minister should claim that the recent November elections in the region meant it was a separate province (of Pakistan) and had "no connection to Kashmir". These elections were held on the basis of the Pakistan Cabinet's Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009, which aimed to formally integrate the Northern Areas into the Islamic Republic. The Northern Areas are strategically vital owing to their proximity to Afghanistan and China. Pakistan occupied and isolated them in 1947, treating Gilgit, Baltistan, Hunza and Nagar as a separate administrative unit.

Now, Mr Mehdi Shah's statement suggests that Islamabad is moving to formalise the status quo and turn Gilgit-Baltistan into a province of Pakistan. New Delhi must realise this means Islamabad will no longer support the fiction of 'self-determination' for the people of Jammu & Kashmir; all 'diplomacy' will involve de facto or de jure surrender of Indian territory.

It will be interesting to see how Kashmiri leaders react to this development. Yasin Malik of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front had called the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009 "an arrow that has been shot into the hearts of Kashmiris." He lamented that Pakistan had reneged its promise to consult all stakeholders before taking any decision. Even the Jamaat-e-Islami which favours Kashmir merging with Pakistan, and Syed Salahuddin of the United Jehad Council had opposed piece-meal solution of the Kashmir issue.

It is pertinent that only Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman, All Parties Hurriyat Conference, with whom Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is engaged in 'quiet talks,' supported Pakistan's political-administrative package for Gilgit-Baltistan, saying it met long-standing local aspirations. Mirwaiz was in recent months allowed by the Centre to visit Washington, London, and The Organisation of Islamic Conference, and appears to be in the loop on the emerging Western-Pakistan synergy to dismember India from the north, formally augment Pakistan for the Afghanistan war, while furthering western strategic objectives in the region.

By succumbing to American pressure to treat Jammu & Kashmir as an extra-national concern, by selecting an arbitrary set of 'stake-holders', the UPA has seriously compromised the national interest, national sovereignty, and national security. Interestingly, though both Mr Vajpayee and Mr Manmohan Singh headed coalition regimes, the lead-partner in both coalitions, the BJP and the Congress respectively, was responsible for dilution of the national position on Kashmir. Both must now be called to give an account of their conduct.

It is pertinent that Indian intelligence and diplomatic sources would have known about the November election in Gilgit-Baltistan, but Indian public opinion was kept carefully in the dark. Why, in six decades, has Indian intelligence failed to build 'human resources' in a region badly treated by Pakistan; to sponsor a party that could have come to power?

Were it not for Mr Mehdi Shah's political taunt, New Delhi would have continued to preside over moves to balkanise India via Jammu & Kashmir. Islamabad's next step will be to grant official Pakistani citizenship to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Is South Block ready for that?







What exactly is the status of our relations with Pakistan? According to Minister of State for External Affair Shashi Tharoor, notwithstanding Pakistan's insistence on a resumption of the composite dialogue process, talks cannot take place until Islamabad becomes seriousness about acting against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. At the same time, incidents of firing along LoC by Pakistani forces to aid infiltrations into India have been on the rise.

How should we treat these infiltrations? Is it necessary for us to be the 'bigger person' every time we are attacked and humiliated? It is time we termed every infiltration bid by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists as an open act of aggression by that country and deal with it accordingly.

When it comes to dealing with Pakistan, more often than not, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot with our 'high ideals' and 'self-restraint'. Meanwhile, the enemy, ably aided by its Chinese friends, is determined to balkanise India by supporting domestic anti-national activities. In fact, all separatist groups operating within India are on the scanner of the ISI. On the other hand, the growing demand for smaller States will only dilute India's unified strength by accentuating ethic and cultural differences and making them paramount. It is in this context that the Telangana or the Gorkhaland issue should be looked at.

Former US President John F Kennedy had once said, "It is an unfortunate fact that we can only secure peace by preparing for war." India must become a great military power and hasten defence acquisitions in order to defend itself against those with nefarious designs.

We must not lower our guard and keep building our military strength. It is a matter of serious concern that countries such as China are thinking of developing their own Fifth Generation fighter aircraft while we are still struggling to induct our indigenous Light Combat Aircraft.

Also, it is hardly prudent to rely on the US to put pressure on Pakistan every time there is a terrorist attack in our country. It is no secret that the US will only do whatever is in its own interest. As long as anti-US terrorist organisations in Pakistan are taken out, the Americans do not care what happens to anti-India groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.

In conclusion, India must become more assertive in dealing with Pakistan and shore up its military prowess in order to fend off any kind of attack against the country and its people.








In recent months, much of what we have known about the circumstances and events leading up to the 2008 fidayeen attacks on Mumbai has changed. The alleged death of Ilyas Kashmiri, an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist, in a drone strike in Pakistan started unravelling myriad threads which now include US and Canadian citizens and multiple Government and terrorist agencies.

Overlaying developments in the sub-continent with the latest revelations in the Chicago conspiracy case helps us piece together a narrative highlighting four distinct yet interlinked dynamics within the Pakistani military-jihadi complex that led to the 26/11 attacks and subsequent planning for future attacks.

First, the Pakistani military establishment continued to patronise Lashkar-e-Tayyeba — as a counterweight to anti-establishment jihadi groups — even after officially banning it in December 2001. Second, the ISI's Karachi front office came to be the focal point of this strategy even as it collaborated with American agencies to expose pro-Al Qaeda elements with the outfit. Third, a game of deceit within the Pakistani establishment saw ostensibly pro-establishment ISI-Lashkar elements collaborate with pro-Al Qaeda elements on terrorism directed outwards, against India and other countries. Fourth, anti-establishment elements within the Pakistani military-jihadi complex used the compact on anti-India terrorism to orchestrate events in Pakistan as leverage against the US's AfPak strategy.

Much has been said about David Coleman Headley's troubled personal history and conviction in the 1990s on charges of drug-trafficking. It is now a settled fact that Headley was working as an agent for the US Drug Enforcement Administration to expose Pakistani drug cartels. But at some point in the early years of the last decade, Headley, (then known by his original name Daood Sayed Gilani), might have started working for US intelligence on penetrating Pakistan-based terrorist outfits. At this time though, there is no official confirmation on this.

The events in Pakistan in the years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes help explain ISI's patronage of Lashkar while simultaneously working with the US to expose pro-Al Qaeda elements within it.

In late-2003, Asia Times carried extensive reports of American pressure to shut down "Forward Section 23" in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir leading to the closure of all training camps and ISI operations offices in that region. These reports mentioned a clandestine special investigation cell jointly headed by a member of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency and a member of a US federal agency. The report also revealed that many jihadi groups were actually paramilitary organisations where the unit commander reported to an Army officer. Pakistani military officers were invested in the jihad in Jammu & Kashmir including with the management of funds for training and recruitment.

After the closure of Forward Section 23, the ISI section in Karachi became the hub for the anti-India jihad. In December 2008, the Times News Network quoting unnamed Indian intelligence sources described the "Karachi Project" as involving jihadi fugitives from India, sheltered in Pakistan, luring vulnerable Indian Muslim youth to conduct terrorist attacks against India.

Charge-sheets reveal that Headley first started training with the LeT in 2002. French investigations — into the 2002 killing of submarine engineers and in the Willie Brigitte case — indicate that Brigitte trained with the LeT in the same time frame. The French case mentions two Americans training with Brigitte at a LeT camp at a time when the camp was audited by US federal agents. The LeT commander in the Brigitte case was described as Sajid Mir, a Pakistani military officer. The same Sajid Mir is widely presumed to be the unnamed LeT operative in the Headley case.

The ISI leveraged real-estate contracts in Karachi to fund clandestine activities that often saw the wires crossed between Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Of specific interest are the public accounts of a Dawood Qasmi, who was affiliated to the LeT. Qasmi, in an interview in 2003, describes his interrogations by US authorities on his alleged links to Al Qaeda. His daughter has related how an ISI colonel approached him to rejoin the LeT after his 're-appearance' and his subsequent charity work for the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h. An FBI initiative to trace terror funding through Islamic charities saw Qasmi being detained for a second time for his links with Arif Qasmani, an alleged double agent and financier of Al Qaeda, the ISI and the LeT. Qasmani had been detained between late 2005 and February 2007. His assets were frozen by the US in 2009 after he was accused of having financed the bomb attack on Mumbai local trains in 2006 and the Samjhauta Express in 2007.

Qasmi's story reveals one side of the coin that saw the ISI playing a deceptive game of 'good Lashkar' and 'bad Lashkar' under the watch of US authorities. Qasmani's story reveals the other side where LeT-affiliated individuals deceived Al Qaeda and the Taliban under the watch of elements within the ISI.

Another double agent, Ghulam Mustafa, had two roles, one as chief coordinator of finances and logistics for militant activities in Jammu & Kashmir, and the other as organiser of Al Qaeda's transfer of money and human resources between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mustafa, who has been described as "Al Qaeda's Man who Knew Too Much", was detained in 2006 by Pakistan.

Headley's two Pakistan-based controllers came from each of the two sides. Retired Major Abdur Rehman (Hashim) represented the ex-ISI/Al Qaeda side of the equation in his role as the bridge to Ilyas Kashmiri. A Army Major, possibly LeT's Sajid Mir, represented the ISI-LeT side.

US agencies knew of Mir: The Headley charge-sheet describes him as a senior LeT figure who was well-known to the Government. There have been several reports of joint US-Pakistan operations that have engaged pro-establishment elements within LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed as a counter-balance to the Al Qaeda friendly anti-establishment radicals. One such joint facility was the target of a suicide attack in Lahore in March 2008.

The Chicago charge-sheets and investigation reports reveal several aspects of this dynamic with the ex-ISI/Al Qaeda on the one hand and serving ISI-LeT on the other. Individuals from the two sides had no compunctions on collaborating with each other on acts of terror outside Pakistan. They did, however, have differences in the priorities on the targets of such attacks — India versus other international targets. The factional faultlines between them were about acts of terror within Pakistan.

Mumbai 26/11 represented a unique convergence of interests between these factions. It served the objectives of the Karachi Project in furthering jihad in India. It also offered the anti-establishment factions the prospect of instability in Pakistan in the wake of an Indian reaction.

Indian agencies have failed to penetrate the multiple assumed identities used by ISI officers running the LeT. Many analysts assume that Mir is the 'Zarar Shah' who was earlier named in connection with the 26/11 attacks. He has not been on the Indian radar to date for any acts of terror committed against India. Qasmani was not even charged by India in the Mumbai train bombings case. Also, the veil needs to be lifted on the true identities of those who have been known to India only as Abu al-Qama, Muzammil and Azam Cheema.

Maj Hashim was arrested by Pakistani authorities in August 2009 in connection with the assassination of Maj-Gen Faisal Alvi, but was let off. The Headley charge-sheet quotes Sajid Mir expressing concerns about Maj Hashim cutting a deal with the Pakistani establishment by exposing pro-Al Qaeda elements. The drone strike that allegedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri came after Maj Hashim was released.

It is widely assumed that Maj Hashim also controlled the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-Islami modules that have been responsible for terrorism in India. This thread needs to be further investigated to assess if and how it links to the 'Indian Mujahideen' modules led by Abdul Subhan Tauqeer and Riyaz Bhatkal.

The most significant revelation from the Headley-Rana saga is the existence of 'jihadi free agents' like Headley who occupied the space in between the two sides, comfortably offering services to either. These constitute the latest dimension in the proxy war against India. The US must be more forthcoming in sharing intelligence with Indian authorities in order to unearth the entire story. As long as Pakistan engages in the use of jihadi militants as strategic assets, the complex dynamics will result in terrorist threats to India and other countries. The US would do well to recognise this and act accordingly.

The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.








In the last millennium when pop psychology and affluence had not softened us to the point of needing constant reassurance, whiners, real and potential, were routinely advised — count the blessings. In 2010, it is safer to count the curses, because there is very little about which one can feel upbeat.

Among the worst of the curses is the rising cost of living, thanks to an inflation that is touching 20 per cent; in other words, a fifth of the average person's earnings have evaporated. The poor will, therefore, be poorer and so will the affluent be less so. Given that there is a revision in the calculation of the poverty index, the number of people qualifying as below the poverty line has increased.

The curse of inflation and poverty combined with political bile will convert the misery of people into ammunition in the run-up to the elections in West Bengal in 2011. For the countdown has begun.

Blaming the 32-year-old Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front for the misery is par for the course for the disgruntled, the illogical and the Opposition in West Bengal. It is also safer. Neither the Congress nor the Trinamool Congress would want to accept responsibility for the Union Government's failure to tackle inflation. In other words, there are many ways of looking at a glass of water that is not full.

Since the CPI(M) is no longer the defending champion, the opportunity to score points has multiplied for an aggressive opposition. Because the environment that has turned unhealthily gullible on account of losing the capacity to be sceptical about all things political, nobody is questioning the dangerous absurdities that masquerade as politics in West Bengal.

In anticipation of its birthday, the Trinamool Congress plastered Kolkata with posters that delivered numbing messages of violence. Blame for the violence was obviously heaped on the ruling CPI(M). In other words, since the identity of the aggressor is the CPI(M), the victims are all from the other side. To be rescued from the violence all that the people needed was a transfer of support to the Trinamool Congress.

This narrative of violence ignores other deaths, because to the opposition the daily deaths of political workers belonging to the CPI(M), is irrelevant, hence invisible. The dead are mostly from West Midnapore and Bankura, part of the Jangal Mahal where local level leadership of the CPI(M) are being picked off one by one by the Maoists.

Assuming that the Trinamool Congress-led alliance with the Congress will lead the next State Government in 2011, it is seriously disturbing to note that neither side is willing to face up to the violence that is an everyday affair in parts of West Bengal. The Congress has nothing to say at the local level. The Trinamool Congress has in the past declared these deaths as not the handiwork of the Maoists. Whoever may be responsible for the killings, the Trinamool Congress and the Congress will inherit the problem in 2011 unless the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government can stamp it out by then.

The refusal of the Trinamool Congress to participate in discussions with the ruling regime is, therefore, not wise. Its message that it rejects the regime because it lacks legitimacy post the Lok Sabha election is absurd. By refusing to join the regular modes of political interaction, the Trinamool Congress may be playing to a gallery of politically naïve supporters but it is not acting responsibly. It is breeding a political culture that is intolerant of difference, divisive and negative in its practices.

The end result of such political practices is already visible on the streets of Kolkata. Every so often, a cheeky little car in bright colours is popping out of the traffic chaos; it is a Nano. The delivery of the small car, the common man's car, the car that would have transformed West Bengal's image from a graveyard of aspirations and possibilities into a hive of manufacturing activities, underscores the cost at which the Trinamool Congress snatched victory from its earlier defeat.

The Nano is now being delivered from some place other than Singur. At Singur now, there is an entirely destructive political game in progress — of the Trinamool Congress versus the CPI(M) about the end use of the Nano's originally destined birthplace. The Trinamool Congress victory is part of the curse that darkens West Bengal's future, because it sees things in one dimension.








The WTO was founded January 1, 1995 and is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade established in the wake of the World War II in 1947. Its goal is to liberalise global trade and to streamline trade and political relations between its member countries. It uses both tariff methods toward this end, gradually decreasing import duties, and the elimination of non-tariff barriers.

At this point, the WTO has 153 members.

Russia first applied for WTO membership in 1993. It usually takes between five and seven years to join the organisation, but Russia has been negotiating its entry for 16 years, longer even than China, which joined the WTO after 15 years of talks.

To join the organisation, Russia needs to get approval from all of its members, which is why the process is so complicated. Talks are often put off because the various parties cannot agree or they try to ensure preferences for their producers. In the case of Russia, the negotiating members criticised it for raising timber duty and supporting its automotive industry and the agrarian sector.


For example, Finland was dissatisfied that Russia raised its export duty on rough timber, which badly affected Finnish paper producers.

After Finland reconciled itself to the change, Lithuania accused Russia of redirecting commodity distribution from Baltic to Russian ports.

Moscow broadly hinted a year ago that it would not negotiate the WTO entry endlessly. In June 2009, the Prime Ministers of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus agreed to notify the WTO of their decision to join the organisation as a single customs territory. They suspended bilateral talks and held consultations to coordinate a common entry stance for their Customs Union.

However, this is easier said than done and has been hampered by problems, such as a recent dairy war between Russia and Belarus, when Russia banned the marketing of a number of Belarusian dairy products.

It became clear in October 2009 that the three countries would have to join the WTO individually but would coordinate their stances. This seems like the best approach for Russia. Mr Maxim Medvedkov, Russia's chief negotiator in the WTO accession talks, estimated Russia was 95 per cent of the way through the negotiations, Kazakhstan 70 per cent and Belarus less than 50 per cent.

A joint entry meant that Russia would have to wait several more years while its partners coordinated their positions with the WTO members. Acting separately, Russia could join the organisation in 2010. Presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich said the other day in an interview with the Vesti television channel that Russia was "optimistic about (an early) conclusion of the negotiating process."

Why does Russia want to join the WTO? As a WTO member, it will have easier access to foreign markets bypassing tariff and non-tariff barriers that currently deter trade. Now, Russia loses up to $ 2.5 billion annually from discrimination practices in foreign markets. Open access to these markets could also encourage the production of knowledge-based products in Russia, which its authorities have long been advocating.

Another positive aspect is participation in the development and reform of international trade rules. So far, Russia cannot take part in this process, which means that the rules the other countries adopt may contradict its interests in terms of competition, investment and energy policy.

On the other hand, the opponents of joining the WTO argue that as a member Russia will be unable to approve prohibitive duties allowing foreign goods to replace some of its commodities. They also say that the strictly outlined tariff policies of the WTO member countries will lower budget revenues from import duties.

The consequences of joining the WTO would differ from one economic sector to another. For example, the Russian chemical and steel sectors expect huge benefits because the other member countries will have to lift their anti-dumping customs duties currently protecting their markets from Russian goods.


The sectors competing with foreign producers, above all mechanical engineering, food and light industries, and agriculture, are fiercely opposing WTO entry because open competition with foreign producers may bankrupt them. The Russian financial structure also fears competition with foreign banks.

However, Russian consumers would certainly benefit from WTO membership because this would open the Russian market to foreign banks, construction and food companies, and would also lower duties on imported cars.

And lastly, open competition with foreign companies may force Russian producers to lower prices by cutting both outlays and profits, if they want to survive.








ON Sunday Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told us what we have known for some time— that our scientific establishment is hampered by unwarranted bureaucracy and local politics. It is also a truism that scientific and technological innovation often takes a backseat or is at least not encouraged when bureaucrats who do not have any background in science take over leading institutions in the country.


But isn't the Prime Minister also the Cabinet Minister for Science and Technology? In that capacity, should not the buck stop with him? Of late, the country has been experiencing a " brain gain" as scientists and technologists who had left for the West began to come back the country because of a spike in talent remuneration.


Yet, many of those who returned have gone back to their adopted country disappointed.


A case in point is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's bioengineer Shiva Ayyadurai who had come to India after 40 years of staying in the US to conduct groundbreaking research. Instead of spending time at the labs, he told The New York Times , he spent time in asking for basic infrastructure and lab facilities.


Whether or not he is right or wrong is not the question. The real question is whether India can free its science from the shackles of bureaucracy. India cannot match the West in what it can invest in science. It is all the more important that we have innovative structures and processes that enable us to maximise the talent available.


Government plays a vital role in promoting science and technology in a poor nation. But in India, the results have been meagre looked at any way. It is now up to Prime Minister Singh to walk the talk.


And right now.







THE murder of Nitin Garg, a young Indian in Australia, is proof, if indeed it was needed, that the issue of racist attacks on the Indian community remains to be addressed by the Australian authorities.


The police claim that it is too early to describe the attack as racist, but there are enough indicators that it is most likely to have been motivated by the victim's national origins— his wallet was not stolen, and he had been a victim of an earlier assault as well.


In the past one year, according to the Federation of Indian Students in Australia ( FISA), there have been as many as 1500 attacks on Indians in the country. The Australian government has said it would act to counter such attacks, but deeds need to match words. As of December 31, Victoria Police have special powers to search for knives and weapons without warrants in certain areas designated a week in advance. However, the attack came before the first of the special zones could be notified.


But the local police and authorities need to do more to check the spate of violence against the hapless Indian students and migrants.


For its part the government of India has condemned the incidents. There is a limit to what it can do in such cases. But there is no reason why it cannot get India's diplomatic representatives in Australia to aid the Indian students in distress and to provide them legal assistance to combat the racist attacks.






THERE is something that does not ring true in the escape of the three Pakistani terrorists who had served their sentences and were due to be deported back to their country. It also seems improbable that all three were suffering from an eye ailment at the same time and were, therefore, being taken from the Lampur detention centre to the Guru Nanak Eye Hospital in the Capital.


Equally implausible is the claim that the three dreaded terrorists, who were not handcuffed, were being " escorted" by a single sub- inspector of the Meghalaya Police. It is also not clear as to why the sub- inspector waited for eight hours before raising the alarm.


The big question, however, is why did the three, who had served their sentence and were to be sent back to Pakistan, choose to escape in India.







WITHOUT entering into questions of truth or falsehood, authenticity or inauthenticity, the Narain Dutt Tiwari "episode" offers a powerful metaphor for contemporary Indian politics. It is just not an instance of a political leader being pushed into disgrace and eventual oblivion, but a comment on the political culture that allows a Tiwari to flourish and hold significant constitutional positions.


His only fault is that he was supposedly caught and the whole world saw images, whether true or false, that hardly covered his reputation in glory. Many others get away with it and live in the smug belief that they have fooled just about everyone, especially those who think that they are smarter, cleverer and more talented than the average politician. In its 125th year, the Congress resembles the discredited and shamed Tiwari in many ways.


Both Tiwari and the Congress have existed for a long time. They began their innings at a time when India was not democratic.


Both participated in the freedom movement and claim its legacy. This is where the problem begins.


In both cases, past virtue is called upon to nullify current misdemeanors. Glory in the distant past is seen as an insurance against bad politics, lack of governance, corruption, political expediency, shortsightedness, rank opportunism and arrogance.


Years of practice has equipped the Congress, and congressmen, to hide behind mere verbal forms, be it democracy, secularism or inclusiveness. These rhetorical devices still sell, not because people believe in them, but because they are far better than what the BJP has had to offer in the last 20 years. The Congress "revival" since 2004 is not because it is an improved version of what existed earlier, but only a consequence of choosing the proverbial lesser evil.




Another myth that feeds the Congress mentality is that it has a natural and inalienable right to govern, much like Tiwari believes it is his right to be in public life and hold high office.


This, in turn, breeds an incomparable arrogance that disregards liberal and democratic norms with impunity.


It is this sense of untempered hubris that manifests in a midnight announcement regarding creation of a new state of Telangana, but also claiming that the party was never wholeheartedly in favour of creation of such a state. The Congress has been breeding a political idiom where promises are made to be broken, assurances are given only in order to win elections, and where speech is nothing, to distort Wallace Steven's famous phrase, but dirty silence.




The government and the party depend on ministers who have no real political sense or advisors who are nothing but individuals furthering their self- interest in the narrowest sense of the term. How else can one explain why the decision on Telangana was left to the " judgement" of P. Chidambaram, Veerappa Moily and Ahmed Patel without even going through a preliminary exercise in discussion and consultation? Each of these men represents the growing trend in Indian politics where decisions are left to technocrats, bureaucrats, fixers and racketeers.


A substantial reason for the sorry state in which the Congress finds itself in its 125th year has to do with a lack of vision and perspective.


Vision requires courage and audacity, but it also demands sacrificing immediate gains in order to disseminate something that might shake and disturb the status quo . Therefore, it is not enough for Rahul Gandhi to eat and live in the houses of Dalits and outdo Mayawati at her own game.


The challenge lies in bettering the lot of the Dalits in substantial ways without rendering them as pawns in a game of caste politics. The only way to do it is good politics, but good politics is not always about winning elections.


In the case of UP, it is not just about saying a Congress government would do better than a BSP or an SP government.


It is about making elections more representative, the administration more accountable and transparent, and the polity more responsive and accessible.


But as of now, the Congress seems to believe that once an election is won, it would hide all instances of bad governance and neglect for another five years.


The recent election results in Maharashtra are a classic example of the rot that has set in Indian politics. The Congress- NCP coalition has epitomised bad governance, ineptitude and willful sloth, and yet it has been voted to power again because of the electoral arithmetic going in its favour. The Congress, like Tiwari, just wants to be around at any cost; questions of relevance, usefulness and honesty seem out of place to both.


Both Tiwari and the Congress, then, symbolise a curious combination of misplaced virility and substantial weakness, where one feeds into the other seamlessly. The party speaks about the " aam admi" , but knows little about what this abstract entity really needs. It renders anyone who disagrees with the status quo as an enemy of the state and has no mechanism to address genuine grievances.


No honest attempt is made to open a dialogue with large sections of the population who feel alienated, disgruntled and marginalised.


It forgets that even the grossly misguided naxals are after all people of India, and so are the restive Nagas and Mizos. The farmers who commit suicide are also citizens of this country.


The Kashmiri voice is heard only through the prism of a narrowly defined nationalism. It has failed to grasp the simple idea that as a political party with a long history, its first responsibility is to work towards helping Indians to live together.


Instead, it secretly gloats about Raj Thackeray's role in decimating the Shiv Sena- BJP alliance in the Maharashtra election, and, in turn, handing over an undeserved victory to itself and its allies. What Raj Thackeray represents is of no major concern to the Congress as long as it continues to be in power.




What unites the Congress and Tiwari is our tolerance and our sense of hopelessness.


They know they exist on our sufferance and they are conscious that they still get to occupy positions of power only because there is no alternative. The BJP alternative is only shades worse than the Congress, but it is one that would destroy everything that masquerades in the name of India.


The Congress knows that and takes advantage of what is a substantial vacuum in India politics. Its small men are only marginally taller than the small men of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.


It survives because the average Indian is deeply committed to democracy and decency, sometimes blindly so. And he is ready to forgive crimes and misdemeanors that would otherwise not go unpunished. This is the reason the Congress lives to celebrate its 125th anniversary.


This is also the reason that Tiwari can appear on television screens and defend himself and be heard.


Will the Indian citizen continue to show such unequal generosity for another 125 years? Time for the Congress and the putative Tiwaris to do some serious soul- searching.


The writer teaches politics at the University of Hyderabad








F ROM politicians to painters, police and singers — all of them agree that 2009 was one of the worst years for West Bengal in recent memory.


They also agree on another point — that 2010 could be even worse.


Dark clouds were gathering over " shining Bengal" since 2006. The Singur episode hogged national headlines. But many took it to be a passing phase for the state. Then happened Nandigram in 2007. It was a clear signal that bad days were ahead and that the two main political rivals— the CPI( M) and the Trinamool Congres— were preparing for a no holds barred fight untill death.


Elections for the CPI( M) began to go awry since 2008.


Their first jolt came in the panchayat polls. The municipal election results were worse. The final blow came last year in the from of Lok Sabha elections, not only in terms of the results but also in terms of bloodshed.


So long, violence had been restricted to Nandigram in East Midnapore district and parts of Hooghly and Birbhum. After the Lok Sabha polls violence spread to the entire state. The nature of the clashes shows that the CPI( M) is no longer the big brother in the state.


Repeated electoral debacles and escalating violence have had a crippling effect on the government. Governance has come to a stand still. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had begun his career as chief minister with the catchy slogan of " Do it now." In 2009, the government, it seemed, was in no mood to do anything at all.


Buddhadeb's pet chemical hub project in Nayachar, which was earlier shifted away from Nandigram, is in limbo. His other dream project— India's first mono rail in Kolkata — is yet to take off. Construction of the 20 km project from Budge Budge to Taratala, which was to start in March this year, has been shelved due to land acquisition fears.


The Administrative Reforms Committee, created in 2007, recommended that government departments doing similar work be merged and some totally non- functional departments, such as the Refugee Rehabilitation, should be scrapped in order to steam line administration and speed up work.


The chief minister is yet to place the report in his cabinet following fears that several ministers, belonging to the CPI( M) and its Left Front partners, might be up in arms if the merger goes ahead.


In order to make the " do it now" slogan meaningful, the Administrative Reforms Committee had also recommended creation of a new department of public grievances. Setting up of a centre of excellence for public management, computer literacy for all staff and strengthening of district planning committees are also on the agenda. Division of larger districts such as West Midnapore, North and South 24 Parganas into smaller units have also been suggested.


All these recommendations are now gathering dust.



As many as 13 of the 19 cases brought against him have already been dismissed by courts, either because police failed to produce chargesheet in time or because the court found the evidence too weak.


Last week, the police submitted the vital chargesheet against the Maoist- led PCPA leader Chhatradhar Mahato under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act ( UAPA). This is the first instance of chargesheet under UAPA in the state.


The police claimed in the chargesheet that in September last year, Mahato and his associates had exploded a landmine in Lalgarh. Three people arrested from the spot revealed the whereabouts of Mahato after which he was picked up, the police said.


Yet, Mahato's arrest had taken place in full view of the media. Two detectives, posing as reporters, had sought

an appointment with Mahato for an " interview." They had whipped out revolvers from their bags in the middle of the interview and had whisked away the PCPA chief in the presence of genuine scribes. The episode had been widely reported in the media. Advocates aware of the case feel Chhatradhar could walk free this time as well.



They did not fight off dacoits or save any child from imminent death. Yet they will receive medals from none other than President Pratibha Patil for their acts of outstanding courage.


Meet Rekha Kalindi, Sunita Mahato and Afsana Khatun.


The three teenaged girls thought studies were more important than marriage at their age and dared the society to force them to do otherwise. Rekha from the remote Bararolla village in Purulia district, has already been selected as the national role model by the health and family welfare ministry, after she refused to give up her studies and get married. Sunita and Afsana, also from Purulia, followed Rekha's example.


It needs extreme courage in the society they live to overcome pressures of marriage and continue studies, says Purulia district magistrate Santanu Basu explaining why the three girls were recommended for the national bravery award. Rekha, Sunita and Afsana will receive the award from the President on January 26.



Top politicians are not quite known for their passion to embrace controversies over sports bodies. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is a notable exception. His name has again been dragged into the latest storm blowing over the Cricket Association of Bengal ( CAB).


Ever since the flood lights at the Eden Gardens tripped last month during the ODI match between India and Sri Lanka, the government has been training its gun on the CAB. Buddhadeb's dislike for CAB chief Jagmohan Dalmiya is well known. On two earlier occasions, the chief minister had publicly expressed his dislike for Dalmiya heading the CAB. This had perturbed CPI( M) patriarch Jyoti Basu, who had told his party that it was unbecoming of a chief minister to meddle in the affairs of sports.


When the flood lights tripped, the Kolkata police chief, under obvious instructions from his boss — the chief minister — said the police would think twice before giving permission to hold matches at the Eden Gardens in future. He stopped only after several Left Front ministers pointed out that the police chief was exceeding his jurisdiction.


The police commissioner then alleged that the CAB had no circuit diagram of the electrical connections to the flood lights.

This was proved to be incorrect, as his officials later admitted having received the circuit diagram from CAB. The government formed a seven- member probe committee.


But the police bluntly prepared its report blaming the CAB for the power trip, without even showing the report to the other members of the committee.


When the findings of this committee were questioned, Buddhadeb formed another committee to probe what is being described as the " darkness scandal." " Buddhada should understand that he has more important things to do," said one of his cabinet colleagues.


Aloke. Banerjee@ mailtoday. in








It is part of an annual winter ritual that routinely leaves air, rail and road travellers stranded, their safety endangered, holidays busted and business meetings scrambled. For a country that's being seen as an emerging regional leader, India is yet to put in place an efficient system to ensure glitch-free transportation in inclement weather. The current fog-induced chaos at airports in northern India, particularly at Delhi and Lucknow, has sent tremors through other major airport hubs like Mumbai, causing domestic as well as international flight schedules to go off course. At Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, flight operations were suspended for long hours on Saturday, with hundreds of passengers facing a chilly night of uncertainty due to lack of information and customer service.

With 18 flights diverted to Mumbai - lack of visibility in foggy Delhi preventing their safe landing - the situation at Mumbai airport turned ugly with irate passengers venting their frustration on crew members. The problem was due to the malfunctioning of two Runway Visual Range (RVR) measuring machines. Damaged cables prevented live feeds from being sent to air traffic control. Though normal operations were resumed on Sunday, the snafu resulted in at least a hundred flights getting delayed and several cancelled. With multiple agencies like the Met department, DIAL and Airports Authority of India involved in maintaining airport operations - including the CAT-III instrument landing system, cables and RVR systems - there ought to be greater synergy and coordinated effort to ensure smooth functioning, especially in situations like this one that is so predictable. If cables were damaged, standby options should have been available.

Considering that every winter fog-induced delays at airports and railway stations cause great inconvenience to passengers, arrangements ought to be in place to cater to their needs and keep them informed. However, customer service is neglected by most business enterprises here. Little attention is given to after-sales service, and customers are left to fend for themselves. A similar attitude plagues our transport system as well.

The annual monsoon season brings with it clogging and flooding of roads and traffic jams. A simple maintenance exercise involving cleaning out of drains and checking gradients of roads would help avert the problem, but commuters have had to deal with the inconvenience as part of their collective destiny. Similarly, winter travel delays due to fog - despite our being tech-enabled to overcome the problem - has become part of our karma lore. Airports should carry out mandatory fog drills before winter to check the functioning of all systems and have in place emergency services that can be pressed into action at short notice. Is that too much to ask?







A special court might have found S P S Rathore guilty of molesting Ruchika Girhotra 19 years ago, but the media seems to be going overboard in vilifying the former Haryana director-general of police. There is little doubt that without the media's investigations, the way Rathore used his power and influence to apparently bend rules and subvert justice might have never been unearthed. But we must remember that many of the charges against Rathore, such as abetment to suicide and obstructing justice, are yet to be proved. It is incumbent on the media to exercise some restraint in its coverage. If it does not, there is a real danger of a trial by media.

Does the media frenzy over Rathore have the possibility of influencing the courts? The media campaign has similarities with some earlier high-profile cases, most notably the Jessica Lall murder case. Those who campaigned for bringing Jessica's killers to book had argued that the media and citizens' groups campaigning for justice filled the gap caused by a tardy judicial process. The crusade was also seen as countering the influence of the high and mighty on the judicial process.

However, this pits two constitutional rights against each other: freedom of expression versus the presumed innocence of an accused until proved guilty. The legal principle of sub judice exists precisely to prevent any public action or comment from interfering with the due process of law. Can the crusade for getting justice for Jessica and now Ruchika influence the legal process? There are no easy answers. But what can be said with some certainty is that the intense media campaign has laid bare the ineptitude of investigating agencies and the use of influence. But once a case is before the court, it is up to the judiciary to evaluate available evidence to the best of its ability.

In the current circumstances, where Rathore has been cast as a monster, it might prove difficult for a court to reach a decision without being influenced by the hysteria surrounding the case. There could possibly be a cooling period before the court takes up the Rathore case. If Rathore is guilty of all that he has been accused of, he must pay for it. But it's important that justice is meted out fairly and according to the law.








Assessments of the David Headley episode have focused on two sets of perceived failures outside India. At the ministry of external affairs, there is hand-wringing as to whether the Indian consulate in Chicago did the equivalent of due diligence before fast-tracking Headley's visa application or whether he covered his dodgy past completely.

At the home ministry, briefings by senior officials have allowed the impression to be created that the Americans are not being helpful, that they are deliberately refusing access to Headley, the half-Pakistani Chicago resident identified as a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror scout. Fairly wild speculation has resulted on how much American intelligence agencies knew about the likelihood of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, and whether they did not pass on specific information so as not to compromise their source, Headley.

It now appears Headley was a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent and initially deployed to spy on narcotics traffickers. At some stage after 9/11, Indian intelligence officials surmise, inter-agency resource sharing may have led to the CIA also using Headley to pick up information on Islamist groups such as the LeT.

What if this assessment is true? There is then a possibility that American authorities are denying Indian officials the chance to interrogate Headley because it will reveal their information-gathering and agent-recruitment protocols. Yet, this shouldn't stop India persisting. In the longer term, greater cooperation and trust between the two intelligence networks could reduce such gaps.

The point is, is floating crackpot theories and running an amateur media campaign going to get the Americans to change their minds? It is more likely to interrupt a still nascent intelligence relationship. If that happens, it will be counterproductive and could dry up a source of information that has been very useful to India in the past few years.

It is true the Americans did warn India of a sea-borne attack on key Mumbai installations in September 2008. However, there is no rock-solid evidence to conclude Headley was the source of that warning. It is reliably learnt that the September 2008 message came as a result of signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic surveillance of terror group communications, not from a human informant.

Why then did sections of the home ministry spend some two weeks travelling on this strange road? Perhaps the answer is closer home. After being given the initial leads about Headley by the FBI, India appears to have hit a wall. The trail has run cold. Local investigators don't seem to have got enough on what he did in India. That is why they are desperate to talk to him.

The case of Headley and his colleague Tawahar Rana points to serious investigative and intelligence shortcomings in India. For one year, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been piecing together the 26/11 conspiracy. Yet, till his arrest in America a few weeks ago, Headley was not part of the picture. What else did the NIA miss? Next, consider intelligence misjudgement. It has occurred at three levels in the Headley-Rana affair - external, federal and in the states. Indeed, Headley should have been on the radar much, much earlier.

First, a public servant in the Pakistani prime minister's office, a distant cousin of the prime minister himself, has an American half-brother, Headley, who was once convicted for drug running. Shouldn't India have known this? One expects India's external intelligence agencies do a thorough background check of every official in the Pakistani PMO. Second, Headley walks past immigration gatekeepers in India. A thumbing of his passport and a review of his other visas leads to no questions. It does not have him put on an even remotely mild watch list. The system misses him completely.

Third, since there is no urging from federal agencies or the immigration bureaucracy, state police forces don't keep an eye on Headley and Rana. Between them they travel to numerous Indian states - Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat. What did they do in these states? They took photographs of potential targets. They went shopping in malls, watched movies at multiplexes, stayed and ate at hotels - all the while taking notes, one presumes, on the geography and the layout - and pretended to be business tourists.

Yet, did they meet nobody? Here one is not talking of casual acquaintances they may have run into at a gym or restaurant. The stress should be on their serious interlocutors in India. "It is likely", says one Indian intelligence veteran, "that they met those they were asked to meet."

What does this mean? It is highly probable Headley and Rana contacted local facilitators - in however roundabout a fashion - of the LeT in the cities they visited. At least some of these people should have been under regular surveillance anyway as "suspect characters", "anti-national elements", "religious radicals" and so on. If they had unknown guests, one of whom was a large, foreign-looking man, it should have set wheels in motion. Astonishingly, in half-a-dozen states, the local police and their grassroots intelligence reported nothing.

These are inconvenient truths. Pointing fingers at America won't make them disappear.






The reverberations from Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's thwarted plan to blow up a transatlantic flight to Detroit continue to be felt in America's decision to screen stringently the citizens of 14 nations - including Pakistan and Yemen - at airports worldwide. The ease with which the young Nigerian slipped past airport security protocols put in place to prevent precisely such an incident has resulted in the American and British governments moving to conduct hi-tech airport checks through racial or religious profiling of airline passengers. Khalid Mahmood, a British Muslim MP, has gone so far as to say that he would encourage the Muslim community to accept profiling. But regardless of what Mahmood says, tarring the citizens of an entire country or members of a religious community with the same brush cannot be an option.

The public might be currently predisposed to accept such measures in the wake of the constant fear of terror attacks, but to curtail an entire community or nation's civil liberties for what could be a false sense of security would be a grave mistake. Institutionalising a public policy to discriminate against people because of their nationality or religion undermines the tenets of a just, equal society and only encourages the feeling of victimisation that leads to terrorist attacks. Indeed, it justifies the notion that the members of a community are victims of a majority's excesses and does nothing to address the root causes of the disaffection that leads certain sections to take extreme action.

It's another matter that such extraordinary measures don't really work. Security experts will say that racial profiling is necessary to prevent another terrorist attack, but such measures only train security personnel to look for a certain kind of terrorist while allowing, say, a David Headley to slip past. As long as intelligence agencies and immigration officials in various countries do their jobs properly, racial or religious profiling should be entirely unnecessary and is, indeed, unhelpful. What good, for instance, did extraordinary rendition or preventive detention post-9/11 do? Did it stem the tide of people who wanted to blow themselves and others up to make a point? In fact, it had precisely the opposite effect, causing even more people to turn to terrorism.








Following the unravelling of the Christmas bombing plot, terrorism is naturally back on the global radar. The US's move to screen travellers who are citizens of 14 nations, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, should be viewed in this context. As should British MP Khalid Mahmood's comment that profiling at airports is necessary for the sake of airline passenger safety. The world, remember, has just averted a major disaster planned by a Nigerian national aboard a US airliner. Reportedly, this failed bomber told US authorities that others of his ilk - who've escaped detection - are planning similar attacks. With that kind of information, America and other nations on the terror hit list can hardly agree to being sitting ducks. US authorities already have some making up to do for their reported failure to act on prior intelligence on the would-be bomber.

Why should any social group or country view heightened security as a personal affront? If anything, the more societies discover the scourge of extremism in their midst, the more vigilant they should be. Yemen, for instance, has rightly solicited outside help to combat increasing numbers of al-Qaeda operatives on its soil. Certain countries figure in the terrorists' trail whether for them to build training camps or hideouts, make local recruits or spread their ideology. That's the only reason citizens of these nations would be kept an eye on. Plus, post-9/11, we know that air travellers are vulnerable. A catastrophe in the skies is just the kind of perverse publicity terrorists seek.

Terror victims belong to all communities and nationalities. If Americans or Indians are targeted, Pakistanis and Iraqis are also attacked with sickening regularity. Whether an air traveller is a Saudi or a Swede, an Australian or an Indonesian, he would surely prefer intrusive security to a 9/11 repeat. In a globalised world opening up endless opportunities for overseas travel and trade, one country's security measures are surely not about targetting people from other countries; rather, they're about protecting people, whoever they are and wherever they come from. The anti-terror combat is everybody's war, and an asymmetric one at that. Let's get real about fighting it.








It is a truism that balding men are self-conscious about their cosmetically challenged scalps and go to great pains to find a remedy. So, any amount of words spoken to belittle this affliction of men who despair of hair loss would be considered mere balderdash by them, and would fall only on deaf ears. The thought of being bald colours the attitude towards life of many aesthetically conscious men. For them, baldness is a complex that can't be wished away. They take it to their hearts and camouflage their pates with wigs. When one started losing hair, and one's forehead began its encroachment upon the head, one became desperate. Advertisements in media about products, claiming to cure baldness, were feast to my eyes and music to ears. As desertification of the scalp set in, looking at my receding hairline my wife quipped, "Don't worry, it's a sign of masculinity". "You seem to be my bitter half rather than better half", one retorted furiously. At the risk of infuriating one further, she baldly quoted from what she had read somewhere, "Only floor can stop falling hair". The Scottish knew this better. Time was when the English did not hit it of with their Scottish brethren. To make fun of the latter the former said that when they started losing hair, Englishmen frittered away their finances for hair creams and lotions. But the stingy Scottish took the hair loss in their stride and made money by selling their combs and hairbrushes at the first sign of balding. She was rubbing salt into the wound unwittingly.

For the baldheads, baldness is not merely a cosmetic anomaly, but a problem of cosmic proportions. An old adage has it that there is no cure for jealousy and baldness. Jealousy doesn't have one, sure, but baldness does, if you don't discount the ads about restoring lost hair through hair transplantation and weaving. Man's ingenuity has now conquered baldness, they proclaim. Not everyone buys this claim. When a friend began to go bald, he made for a doctor who, he thought, would cure his affliction. He expectantly sat before the doctor, and, to his chagrin, espied the young doctor's bald crown glisten with sweat as he bent down to pick up something he had dropped. When the doctor straightened himself to face him, there was, as P G Wodehouse would have it, a complete shortage of the patient!







It is common for people to attribute hostility between faiths to mutual ignorance and lack of knowledge of each other's cultural and faith traditions. However, if people are not convinced about the intrinsic equality of all human beings, they are not likely to want to learn about their faiths with a spirit of respect.

An essential precondition for combating the culture of intolerance is to recognise that monotheistic religions -- which believe in the inherent superiority of an exclusivist, hierarchical, jealous god, who alone is the True God while all others are false and evil -- have to make respectful space for other ways of relating to the divine. There are strong connections between authoritarian ways of thinking and tendencies to see god as an intolerant, jealous and tyrannical authority figure that punishes those who do not do his bidding. The continuing efforts to convert so-called heathens and believers in false gods are resulting in endless strife and conflicts.

It speaks volumes for the track record of religious leaders that protection of human rights has been relegated to the secular/political domain with religious authority often presented as an adversary to be tamed. However, no religious establishment is capable of carrying out genocides and massacres on its own strength. Religious leaders can do so only when they become closely allied to the agendas of politicians and are able to get state patronage in order to subjugate and conquer other religious communities. Since this has happened only too frequently in history, many people have come to believe that the answer lies in 'secularism' which requires that religion and religious leaders are kept from meddling in politics or acquiring control over the instruments of state.

There is absolutely no guarantee that politicians and states claiming to be secular demonstrate greater respect for human rights. The US is "secular" but that has not prevented it from polarising global politics on religious lines. Its geopolitics is responsible for the global spread of a virulent version of Islam because of its own history of support to many authoritarian and criminalised regimes and movements in the Islamic world such as the Taliban. In the process it has succeeded in demonising Islam and Muslims on an unprecedented global scale - all under the guise of spreading democracy in the world.

History is witness to the fact that religion and politics by themselves do not make as lethal a mix as do politics and violence, especially when religious leaders are willing to lend a helping hand to politicians in mobilising people around religious identities.

We would also do well to remember that many of the highly venerated political figures of the 20th century have been those who brought the best values of their faith traditions to uplift politics to new moral heights. By contrast, many of those who claimed to be "secular" and, therefore, treated matters of faith with disdain, caused massive genocides and human suffering. Stalin did not use a religious justification while carrying out his genocide among the Soviet Union's peasantry. He did so in the garb of a "secular" cause, namely, "collectivisation" and the uprooting of those he called "kulaks". Nor did he confine his waves of assassinations and purges to those with religious beliefs. He claimed that he killed people in the name of building a "secular" and "socialist" republic. Yet, he caused far more death and destruction than many of those who make a cocktail of religion and politics.

To those who are targeted for violence, it matters little whether those who have come to murder them shout "Allah-O-Akbar" or "Long live communism", whether their war cry is "Pakistan zindabad," or "Bharat Mata ki Jai". Violence, whether justified in the name of communism, nationalism or democracy, or glorified in the name of class struggle or jihad, destroys not only human lives but even the very causes that are touted as justifications for their violence.








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.







Inspector Closeau, the bumbling gendarme from the Pink Panther series, would have been proud of our desi police force. We have taken a leaf out of his book and gone one step further in trying to blend in with criminals so as to better understand their psyche. The latest example of our unique policing techniques is the incident of some Mumbai police officers jiving at a party thrown by associates of notorious don Chhota Rajan. Many have taken grave affront to the officers shaking a leg with known criminals. They are missing the point.


The officers, acting beyond the call of duty, decided to utilise their resources profitably by getting up close and personal with the unsavoury bunch of thugs. Who knows what nuggets of information they might let drop after a drop or two of the good stuff. Or what they might reveal while executing a few sharp turns on the dance floor. Our police are only following the Marxian dictum of subverting the system from within. It is only a matter of time before our novel methods of crime detection are emulated by the best of them across the world.


Look at the manner in which we dealt with the Karkare case. The first thing was to throw away the evidence, in this case the bullet proof jacket in question, and then begin investigations on a clean slate. The confusion over the whereabouts of the jacket is only a smokescreen to confuse vested interests while our super sleuths piece together the events of that fateful day. Evidence, in Perry Masonian manner, routinely disappears during investigations here. But for you Doubting Thomases who think this is negligence, we have news. These are all well-planned so as to conduct the proceedings unhampered by footling nonsense like clues and material evidence. To the untutored let us inform you that the best results are obtained by following our famed procedure that revolves around








We have to live in the thick of worldly things, discharge daily duties and responsibilities and yet satisfy our intense spiritual quests. Today is Paramahansa Yogananda's birth anniversary, and, therefore, the time to recall the lessons on self-realisation he gave the world. Sitting in our drawing rooms, we can have the highest teachings on Rajayoga for total transformation of life from within.


The ultimate fulfilment of life is to realise our oneness with the universal consciousness as a matter of direct experience.  But the outward attachment of the body-bound consciousness is the impediment, which is required to be overcome by an inward journey to self-realisation so that the essence of existence is transformed into all-pervading bliss and cosmic consciousness. 


The purpose of life is to evolve through self-effort so that the encased consciousness is uncased into cosmic consciousness. Man is to realise and experience that he is neither the body nor the mind but the eternal existence, consciousness and joy.  Such realisation requires total transformation of the ego into Divine Self. Intense inner urge and practice of methodical meditation enable us to expedite the same.


To capacitate the aspirants for self-realisation, Yogananda taught Kriyagoga, which is a simple psycho-physical Rajyoga technique that decarbonises blood and vitalises brain and spinal centres to facilitate cosmic consciousness. The practice is perfectly compatible with the life of a householder and is of immense value to them.


Yogananda made significant contribution to the traditional path by combining it with selfless service to mankind and unconditional love for God with deep divine anchorage.  He never accepted scholarly knowledge of scriptures as divine wisdom and advised to assimilate wisdom through repeated self-inquiry and meditation.  Thus, he spread comprehensive yoga by making a perfect synthesis of its fourfold type, namely Rajayoga, Jnanayoga, Bhaktiyoga, and Karmayoga.


Since modern life is not compatible with exhaustive spiritual training at his hermitage, he prepared lessons on self-realisation to disseminate the highest yoga techniques to householders along with instructions on spiritual way of life for the ultimate realisation through meditation and divine love.








New Year resolutions have become a compulsive obsession with me. Even though never more than half of the resolutions were fulfilled, that never bothered me because I had the satisfaction that I had tried my best. And that my next attempt at them would be easier.


Aren't there certain occasions in life when there is greater pleasure in the attempt to succeed?


My point is that one might resolve to do a hundred things, but if one doesn't resolve to become a better human being, one's life is wasted.


To become a good human being, one does not need to do great sacrifices. Small courtesies like vacating your seat in a bus or train for one more deserving, to help the blind cross the road or just to speak politely are steps to peace of mind and happiness. Let's remind ourselves that the source of happiness lies hidden in giving, and not in acquiring.


Acquiring wealth in the rightful means is greater in value than acquiring knowledge, provided your wealth is spent in a manner that makes a difference to others.


I don't try to undermine the value of knowledge. It is important to the extent that it helps in creating conditions for an environment that is good for all. It is an idea that leads to making wealth, and it is wealth used in a meaningful way that leads to a free and just society.


We need to resolve to lead a meaningful life. That can come through only if we all resolve to take definite and visible steps to bring in the desired changes.


Let's recall what Plato had said, "He who commits injustice, is made more wretched than he who suffers it." Experience shows this happens with those who don't tread the path of dharma.


Oh yes, one more resolution: to be less talkative. The more we talk, the more we become irrelevant. Hadn't William Hazlitt said that silence is one great art of conversation. Let that be our guiding line for the New Year.








In the forests of India there is mourning. Billy Arjan Singh, an old tiger, is dead. Fortunately, he has gone to his own paradise, an animal heaven where only some humans are allowed entry. And so there he is, reunited finally with his dog Elie, leopards Prince, Harriet and Juliet, tigress Tara, monkeys Elizabeth Taylor and Sister Guptara, his fishing cat Tiffany. With them, Billy will be home.

The two-footed Billy, 92, spoke for the four-footed unheard. He argued on behalf of those who inhabited the jungles and asked only to live. To say he was India's finest tiger conservationist (winner of the World Wildlife Fund gold medal), sounds silly because it is not a contest. It is a calling, an empathy for the natural world. There is a wonderful photo of him, wearing a cap, with a bird sitting on it. Was the bird tired, disoriented, who knows, but maybe it knew: this man I can trust.

Billy was extraordinary, a writer of books who seemed to emerge from one written by Hemingway. We were distantly related and I went occasionally to Tiger Haven in Uttar Pradesh's Dudhwa National Park where this fascinating character lived. A bow-legged, badly-dressed, wind-breaking, well-read hero.


A committed man with a Charles Atlas handshake, courteous with women, brusque with the ignorant, owner of a humour dryer than London gin, cornering me about boxers and batsmen because he admired athletes.

He was strong, in muscle and belief. As the morning mist clung to the trees, you could hear metal clinking. Billy was lifting barbells and this was fitting for he was an unbending man. He once locked poachers into a granary where his python, the harmless Monty, snoozed in the rafters. Animals surrounded him. In the evenings, Tom Dooley the peacock would come twitching by and the elephant, Bhagwan Piari, her eye fixed adoringly on him, would gulp chapatis thicker than dictionaries.

The conservationist's life is of disappointment. He is going to be defeated, he can only delay some extinctions.

Populations are exploding, man has forgotten his place, he wants the animal's domain too. Billy's life was struggle.

He sweated for the revival of the swamp deer, battled to turn Dudhwa into a sanctuary, experimented with rearing leopards and a tigress in an attempt to rehabilitate them into the wild.

His hiccuping typewriter produced wildlife papers, he wrote books, drove to Delhi to pester officials. His persistence won Indira Gandhi's admiration, and she wrote in 1973 to the UP chief minister: "It is easy to come by armchair conservationists, but rare indeed to find a man with the dedication and perseverance to act in support of a cause he loves." He was crusty, cantankerous, unwilling to compromise.

It was the only way and the wrong way: to save the tiger required obstinacy, but it hardly helped with officials. He talked of tigers, with deep affection and terrible sadness. He wore a devotion I have never seen. Once a hunter, he put down stakes in a jungle after World War II and never left. Just lived there among the coughing leopards. Studying, tracking, fighting, protecting. Every single, damn day for a lifetime. Sometimes, as he trudged into the forest, I wondered: what are the rewards for such men? Just one fresh tiger pugmark imprinted in the dust to reassure him not all were gone?

Legacy is not easily defined. But we can say of Billy that he was a first and an original, a tiger explorer who built an entire life around a single cause. Like Salim Ali with his birds, he was unique. He saw the tiger as the apex of the food chain, wherein a healthy cat population meant a healthy jungle. To save this species was akin to saving it all.

Billy taught us this, he taught us there was a little of William Blake in him, writing: "... the stentorian bugling of the swamp deer, the urgency in the rutting bray of the cheetal, the lilting crow of the jungle cock, and the clarion call of the peacock, all combine to make up the pulsating rhythm of the great forest". He taught us this animal was worth fighting for, worth marching against governments for, worth giving to charities for, worth sitting still for an hour to see it for a second.

He taught men that devoting a life to the tiger was worth it, helping to spawn a generation of conservationists. So I give quiet thanks for Billy. And for people like Ulhas Karanth, Fateh Singh Rathore, Valmik Thapar, Bittu Sahgal, Ashok Kumar, Belinda Wright, Raghu Chundawat. All those who fight for the tiger, and fail, and fight more.

I last saw Billy three years ago, sunken into a chair, fading, his spirit tattered but not extinguished. Even to the end, I suspect, he feared not for himself, but for his forest companions. So many whom he saved, so many he could not.

Rohit Brijnath is a Senior Correspondent with The Straits Times, SingaporeThe views expressed by the author are personal








It might have been called the case of the ignored folder, if it were not for the fact that the West Bengal government had consistently ignored, for years, police intelligence about Maoists, prominent Maoist leaders, as well as their "intellectual" sympathisers. Therefore, even as the state conducts a scaled-up manhunt for Kishenji, disclosures about the state government not acting on an information folder submitted by the West Midnapore police back in 2006 — detailing Kishenji's whereabouts, hideouts and his efforts to rope in intellectuals — surprise less than provoke the sigh over chances missed. Of course, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee doesn't need to be drawn a picture of how things might have transpired in his state today if his administration had feared public opinion less on the eve of the 2006 assembly polls and nabbed Kishenji and company. In fact, for a long time before the state government's newfound urgency in seeking out Maoists, the state police forces had often claimed that despite knowledge about Maoists they couldn't arrest them since they didn't have the government's mandate. Besides, the police claim helplessness not only because "intellectuals" could not be touched but also since many Maoist sympathisers were close to CPM leaders.


Because the Kishenjis back in 2006 had a free run of Kolkata, today they can call up principal secretaries and "complain" about polluting mines; they can talk to "hundreds of journalists everyday" — while the chief minister lamely admits that it's very difficult to track Kishenji. Since he was allowed to slip through the concrete of the city then, months are going by now chasing him on difficult terrain.


The Bengal government was not only initially insincere in moving against Maoists, but it had been almost downright indulgent, given the apathy for using force against their distant ideological brethren among sections of the Left Front. The products of that insincerity have long come home to roost and the government is as clueless as ever. Last October, it had capitulated shamefully by accepting the release of a kidnapped police officer on Maoist terms. How pathetic things were, was demonstrated when, just a day later, Bhattacharjee thundered that he would not surrender to Maoists. As the Centre and states coordinate anti-Naxal offensives, state governments have the dual role of piloting the assaults and initiating development in affected areas. West Bengal, under the strategy, has been given five battalions of Central paramilitary forces. This is the state's last chance to salvage its near-dysfunctional law and order mechanism. For a start, it must pull Kishenji out of the






At the 97th Indian Science Congress in Bangalore, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged scientists to engage with the government for a new Decade of Innovation, and underscored the need to "liberate Indian science from the shackles and deadweight of bureaucratism and in-house favouritism." Recently, an MIT-returned scientist embarrassed the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research by ranting about its draining internal culture, and raised questions about how the Indian science establishment could integrate those trained in a more results-oriented environment abroad, even if both sides were willing.


But while loosening bureaucratic fetters is an obvious good, scientific research in India needs to be fixed at an earlier stage. As Venkatraman Ramakrishnan recently said, his own career is a demonstration of the importance of conversation between scientific disciplines, say between genetics and biochemistry. In India, the focus remains narrowly careerist. The stress is on global competitiveness rather than research for itself. And once set off on a certain scientific path, we tend towards extreme specialisation, that is, to know more and more about less and less. But as Ramakrishnan pointed out, creativity occurs on the cusps, at the interstices between disciplines. In the US, he had the flexibility to take some undergrad courses after a physics PhD — in India, one is locked into one path or the other without even getting to the point where a cross-pollination of ideas is possible.


As far as innovation goes, education must be geared towards action as well as exploration. Other countries facing the same dilemma are experimenting with the paradigm — one new way is the professional science masters degrees, which, despite sniffiness and opposition from research scientists who want to continue with their own departmental cubbyholes, are a great way to integrate science with real-world issues. They aim to produce scientists who are competent across different domains and expert enough to inventively apply that learning to immediate goals — for instance, if we are looking to deploy a scientific corps towards climate change or other challenges, re-imagining the science degree could stand us in good stead.







The recommendations of the 13th Finance Commission, chaired by Vijay Kelkar, are a mix of the radical, the useful and the expected. Kelkar called for an increase in the states' share of the common pool of taxes — by one percentage point, from 30.5 to 31.5 per cent. That in itself, though it reflects the continuing shift of power to increasingly dynamic state governments, is not a giant shift.


Reworking the fiscal prudence strategy is, however, an eminently useful suggestion. It follows on from the fact

that in the difficult post-crisis period, a hefty, if temporary, increase in government spending was generally considered essential to keep the engine of the economy going. But that increase would have been impossible had the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act of 2003 still been in force. Certainly, the aims of the FRBM were clear and laudable. But they were undermined in two ways: one, by their inability to account for business cycles, and the consequent ups and downs in government spending; and two, significant spending on such things as oil and fertiliser subsidies weren't covered. Kelkar wants to plug both gaps. First, he recommends that FRBM-style budgetary constraints not be applied yearly, but be averaged across five years. And second, he wants "below-the-line" budgeting to stop — in other words, expenditure on subsidies should be treated like all other government expenditure.


But perhaps the most overdue recommendation, capable of revolutionising Indian governance, is the suggestion that urban local bodies be permitted greater financial autonomy. This would allow them to, presumably, draw on the common pool of taxes the way states currently do. This is a radical departure for independent India, and one that is very welcome. India's urban areas will need to scale up as growth explodes. Financial autonomy will help them prepare.








With Montek Singh Ahluwalia acknowledging that the Planning Commission is losing its relevance, it's time his idea is taken to its logical conclusion. The idea is to shake up Yojana Bhawan from its current stupor and transform it into a buzzing and independent think-tank that doubles up as coach and consultant to the government of India and various state governments. This would not require an army of employees (its staff strength is some 600-700 now). Ahluwalia's predecessor K.C. Pant, a politician, too tried to restructure the Planning Commission mid-way during his stint, but did not appear to have it in him to get rid of old baggage.


Ahluwalia's first step of assigning to Arun Maira, who headed global consulting firm Boston Consulting Group's India operations, the task of drafting a blueprint gives us some hope. He will bring fresh thinking to the table. Another aspect that is encouraging is the time that Ahluwalia has to make the transition happen. This is the first year of the new United Progressive Alliance government, and it is not dependent on the


Left parties for survival. So, there is time, and scope as well, for manoeuvrability.


Over the last two decades, the Planning Commission has metamorphosed into a stodgy government set-up that does just routine work. It prepares grandiose five-year plans, argues with the finance ministry for higher budgetary resources for the Central Plan and derives a false sense of satisfaction by giving a bit more money to states in support of their plans. Ahluwalia need not take any offence, because this is not a reflection of the individual that he is, but the general impression that the Planning Commission has left on many in the government and outside today. Of course, the personality leading the Planning Commission as its deputy chairperson does define the importance of the office for the limited period he is at the helm.


As can be expected, it is tough to break free from the past. The Planning Commission was set up six decades back in an environment where the state controlled the economy, or almost everything that mattered. Over the years, it has evolved, but only to mirror the functions of the Central government across its various departments and ministries. Yojana Bhawan today has about 28 divisions with overlapping functions, each closely tracking Central departments and ministries in addition to reviewing state plans. Advisors and research officers in the Planning Commission end up with little expertise in any given sector since they are shifted between verticals to suit career objectives as laid out in the bureaucracy. At the top, both the deputy chairperson and the members are political appointees. Each member oversees a sector or two and with it is bundled the responsibility of monitoring some states.


The Planning Commission, we all know, prepares a five-year strategy for the country. It also reviews it once by undertaking a mid-term appraisal, as is being currently done for the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-08 to 2011-12). Every year it negotiates with the finance ministry the size of the budgetary support to the plan. This process is on now for Budget 2010-11. It vets the expenditure proposals of various departments and ministries. Besides, it discusses the plans of states with chief ministers dropping in every year at Yojana Bhawan to make a case for higher resources. All of these, though appropriate in an old economy milieu, had an inherent flaw — they left the Planning Commission without any real understanding of the effectiveness of the plans and programmes it conceived. Yojana Bhawan relied on information fed by other ministries and states. So, in a sense, it was disconnected from ground reality. Moreover, there is no mechanism for the commission to systematically understand and integrate the increasing role of the private sector in the Indian economy.


What is in it for the Planning Commission's deputy chairperson personally? It is important to answer this question because, as I noted earlier, the Planning Commission derives its character from the person who heads it. The deputy chairperson has the rank and status of a cabinet minister, and is a special invitee to cabinet meetings. But besides that, the only clout he enjoys is his limited discretionary power to hand over some extra funds to states. Surely, Ahluwalia or anyone else can live without that. Who heads the plan panel is also significant for the institution that Yojana Bhawan is. If the deputy chairperson is a strong politician, he can use it as an effective vehicle to ply the ruling party's political and economic interests. Everyone stops by Yojana Bhawan then. If it is someone like Ahluwalia, in whom the prime minister has faith, then the person tends to become more important than the institution. But to be fair, in his second term as deputy chairperson, Ahluwalia has inducted lateral expertise.


Yojana Bhawan will be worth a visit irrespective of its occupant only when it dumps its legacy and infuses global expertise and talent. It needs to become an independent think-tank, providing unbiased public policy opinion. It will serve India's development needs well by identifying key medium-term and long-term imperatives. Further, working papers by members can be the starting point for meaningful discussions, finally leading to coherent policy decisions. Of course, being a government entity, the Planning Commission can be a consultant to the Centre and states on issues that are referred to it. And for this, it need not have a staff running into hundreds.


To present a palatable transition framework, Maira may want to suggest that even as the Planning Commission builds a lean and impeccable team of experts and consultants, it continues to fulfil its existing responsibilities. He may, however, like to attach in the annexure of his report a BCG Matrix, differentiating the cash cows and stars from the dogs and question marks, amongst the existing offerings of the Planning Commission.








The Working Group on Centre-state relations headed by Justice Sagheer Ahmad that the prime minister appointed in 2006 is the last of four working groups on other subjects on Jammu and Kashmir, and it submitted its report recently.


Briefly, its recommendations include restoration of autonomy to the state, on the lines of the Indira-Abdullah accord in 1975. "It could not consider self-rule proposal of the PDP in detail as the document containing various aspects of it were not provided to the Working Group." It ruled out the demand of Union Territory status for Ladakh as "it would be detrimental to the unity and integrity of the State." On the issue of discrimination with Jammu, it observed that "the planned expenditure in regions and districts does not indicate any discrimination."


Predictably the reaction has been divergent. Senior BJP leader, and its representative on the group, Arun Jaitley called the report "a fraud". He reiterated the party's opposition to autonomy for the state and demanded abrogation of Article 370; other Jammu-based parties, like Panthers Party and Jammu State Morcha had similar reactions. Ladakh's Union Territory Front leaders decided "to oppose the report tooth and nail". The PDP's president Mehbooba Mufti called the report a juvenile act "with no specifics and substance". The ruling coalition partner National Conference welcomed the report though it fell short of its demand for restoration of the 1953 status of the state.


The entire debate over Centre-state relations has been viewed as Kashmiri nationalism versus Indian nationalism. It needs reframing: instead, discuss it in terms of the interests of the people of Kashmir. If, for instance, the Supreme Court's jurisdiction had extended to the state in 1953, Sheikh Abdullah could not have been dismissed and detained under any law then in force. Similarly, the financial integration of the state sustains its economy. As long as the state had its own election commission, the elections were known to be rigged; the fairness of elections held now, under the Central Election Commission, has been universally acknowledged.


In the post-Nehru era, drastic erosion of the autonomy of the state did take place. But while demanding restoration of autonomy, a distinction could be drawn between the executive powers of the Centre and federal autonomous institutions like the judiciary, the Election Commission and the Auditor and Comptroller General, which check undue encroachment of the executive.


Whatever be the merits and demerits of Article 370, it has nothing to do with problems of Jammu and Ladakh. When Justice Ahmad quotes official figures to prove that there has been no discrimination in development expenditure with any region or district, he must have known that nothing ensures faster and fair development than empowerment of the people at every level, who through their elected representatives should determine their needs and decide their priorities. Allocation of funds should be based on an objective and equitable formula, keeping in view needs and level of development of a region or a district, rather than arbitrarily determined by the ruling party on subjective and political considerations.


Moreover, regional identity is no less important. If it is weakened, religion-based identities would emerge, which would undermine the secular basis of the state and its unity.


Justice Ahmad is all appreciation for development of Ladakh. But he ignores the fact that ever since it was broken into Leh and Kargil districts — 52 per cent Buddhist and 48 per cent Muslim respectively — communal tensions have emerged for the first time there. First priority for Ladakh should be its recognition as a region within the constitution of the state, as are Kashmir and Jammu, which should restore its secular identity, and give it some administrative autonomy, like the other two regions. The present powers of the Autonomous Councils for Leh and Kargil are no more than those enjoyed by zila parishads in many other parts of the country.


A federal decentralised set-up alone can ensure emotional and political unity of the state. Regional autonomy is the logical extension of the autonomy of the state, as Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah had announced at a joint press conference on July 24, 1952 — the basis on which the Praja Parishad, the Jammu affiliate of the Jana Sangh, withdrew its agitation for abrogation of Article 370 in 1953. The State People's Convention convened by Sheikh Abdullah and attended by the entire political spectrum of the Valley adopted a five-tier internal constitution in 1968 which provided for regional autonomy and devolution of political power to the districts, blocks and panchayats. In this context, Justice Ahmad's recommendation for adoption of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Indian Constitution on Panchayati Raj is quite relevant.


There is certainly need for a thorough and frank debate on all the issues raised by the fifth Working Group by all sections, which should generate some light also instead of the mere heat it has done so far.


The writer is a J&K-based commentator and director, Institute of J&K Affairs







Four thoughts cross my mind as I contemplate the evolution of the petroleum industry over the past decade.


One, the 'urgent' has determined action; the 'important' and 'long term' have defined intent and rhetoric. Two, oil has acquired a second persona — that of a financial asset. Three, the 'market' is not an unalloyed opiate but it has catalysed breakthrough performance. Four, the oil industry has finally converged on the importance and validity of carbon regulation.


Let me elaborate on each.


The government's approach to petroleum sector deregulation is an example that best explains my first thought. In 2002, the Cabinet approved the 'R' group report withdrawing all administrative and price controls on the industry. In 2004, it 'reimposed' these controls on the grounds of political 'urgency'. It did not however revoke the Cabinet order. As a result the oil companies found themselves in the netherworld of 'de jure' deregulation and 'de facto' re-regulation. The consequential financial impact led to the neglect of important and long term matters like the maintenance and upgradation of existing assets; R&D for new technology and health, safety and environment. Who knows for instance whether the fire in the IOC tank farm in Jaipur was partly the result of inadequate investment in safety equipment and the accumulated neglect of prescribed safety procedures.


I hope the government will clarify the policy soon but whether it does or not the lesson that must be learnt is that it is not possible to build a world class industry in a sector that requires such massive capital; where the lead times between investment and outcome are so long and which is so dependent on 'state of the art' technology without maintaining a balance between the short term and 'urgent' and the 'important' and long term.


My second thought. The price of oil has for most of the past decade responded to the forces of demand and supply. It has fluctuated within a band that has reflected these fundamentals and when it has moved beyond it has been because of the vagaries of geopolitics. Recently however the price movements have been unusually sharp. In Jan 2008, for instance the price was around $50/bbl; it rose to $145/bbl in July 2008; collapsed to $34/bbl by the end of the year and then hovered under $80/bbl at the end of 2009. These swings cannot be explained by the old fundamentals. They have happened because oil has donned a new garb. It remains a tradable physical commodity but it is also now a fungible financial asset like stocks, bonds and currency. The new fundamentals of exchange rate fluctuations and the speculative play of the commercial and the non-commercial paper traders are the reasons for the recent price volatility. The message that this conveys is that it is futile for decision makers to hope for price stability before implementing policy reform. They should decide suo moto the politically acceptable price range within which the market should be given free rein and then regulate only if and when the prices move beyond this range.


My third thought. The near death experience of the world economy in 2008/2009 may have dulled the 'magic of the market' but it cannot dilute the fact that the successes of the oil industry over the past decade have been because of the forces of free enterprise and the market. Most breakthrough technological developments have occurred within the laboratories of the private sector and under the compulsions of competitive pressure. A good local example of the power of free enterprise has been the D6 gas discovery in the Krishna Godavari (KG) basin by Reliance. The KG basin was for years under the monopoly control of the public sector oil companies. They did explore but with limited and small success. Reliance had no prior experience in oil/gas exploration notwithstanding it discovered one of the largest gas fields in the world. Moreover it brought the discovery into production within a time period that major international companies with much greater experience would have been hard pressed to achieve. Remarkably they did all this with many of the people that had earlier worked for the public sector. How did they do it?. I do not know the specific answer, but I can say that the catalyst for such breakthrough performance had to have been the spirit of excellence that drives successful private enterprise and which gets honed through competition. And also the acknowledgement that in today's connected world it does not matter from where excellence is secured — whether the staff be Indians or foreign; the ideas indigenous or imported; the technology proprietorial or off the shelf — so long as the end result is world-class performance.

Final thought: at the start of the decade, many oil companies looked askance at the scientific reports on global warming. They did not accept its prognosis and some in fact financed studies to refute the evidence. Today, however most have converged onto the mainstream. They have accepted that man has indeed contributed to global warming; that fossil fuels are major emitters of green house gases; that sustainable development will require investments in low carbon technologies and cleaner energy solutions and that they must be part of the solution and not the problem. Each company has its own particular set of mitigant responses and preconditions but in general there is a consensus on the validity and importance of carbon regulation. In India too, the companies have initiated steps to contain their carbon footprint. However judging from the relatively insignificant expenditures that have been allocated to clean energy and R&D, the steps are small and most likely inconsequential.


My hope for the next decade is that this will change and that Indian companies with their enormous entrepreneurial spirit and technical talent will be at the forefront of innovation on matters like cellulosic biofuels, thin film solar; carbon capture and sequestration and the hydrogen energy system.


The New York Times







It had to come to this: Amitabh Bachchan stared us in the eye, and spoke of H1N1 with all the authority of an expert or someone who had just recovered from swine flu. For a moment you mistook this for another public service commercial featuring AB (remember polio drops?). But no, the item continued for longer than 60 seconds. It was the evening news with Amitji — in Hindi (Star News), in English (Times Now) and Bachchan, a black bandhgala nipping his neck, heavy spectacles deepening his eyes, his expression graver than the news, spoke with the same surety he delivers film dialogues.


It's not the first time an actor has doubled as newsreader to promote a forthcoming film — Bachchan's news debut came to you 'Courtesy Rann, the news battle'— but it was certainly the most assured performance. When he said, H1N1 had spread across the globe like a computer virus and India had responded with commonsense (not Norton anti-virus), we believed him. We didn't find it absurd for Bollywood's badshah of badshahs to be reading us the news; on the contrary, the role suited him better than his jacket. That he could consider a post retirement profession as a newsreader — and be thoroughly successful at it — says something about our faith in him and everything about TV news. Newsreader Bachchan sealed a mergers and acquisition deal in the making for several years on December 30, 2009 as news and entertainment became truly one.


To kick in the celebrations, Aaj Tak and CNN-IBN played the best songs of the year, NDTV 24x7 offered us Priyanka Chopra (all atwitter about communicating with her fans) and News 24 predicted our 2010 fortunes (uniformly good and bad for all 12 signs). India TV, which delights in anything fiendish or grim, made gloomy forecasts of the planet's future — and it wasn't talking climate change, but that doomsday soothsayer, Nostradamus. On 31 December, channels exploded with fireworks, song and dance item numbers featuring film and TV stars on both news and entertainment channels. All we need is for Rakhi Sawant to read out the news this New Year's eve.


2010, a Bollywood story, continued with Sony's latest and lamest excuse for film stars on the tube — as if they needed any. Lift Kara De had the mutual admiration society of Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan flirting — with a serious subject. Deprivation. Realising it was too cerebral, they reverted to their favorite pastime: cracking up at each other's jokes. The show is supposed to select a film star's sabse bada fan who wins an audition with his or her icon. It chooses (God knows on what basis) three top fans to compete with each other and, in the process, help an unfortunate soul. What must they do? Act like SRK? Sing? Dance? Answer Slumdog Millionaire questions from KBC's my name is Khan? Nah. In the first episode, they played juice vendor! Sadly, these fans were incidental, they made cameo appearances while Karan and Khan sat about chatting up each other. Nothing could have been more pointless or confused: didn't know what was happening for the first 20 minutes. This may be a Yash Raj production but it didn't hit the right spots. Karan Johar should stick to his Koffee and Shah Rukh to his roles. Seven, also new on Sony, was far superior, perhaps because it was a television show and not a backhanded Bollywood compliment. Seven is an undisguised version of Heroes; it paid tribute to the original by being beautifully shot with excellent special effects. The seven individuals endowed with extraordinary powers will come together to save the planet (from the dire predictions of Nostradamus?). The first episode introduced the seven wonders of the world in a quiet, understated way which made them believable in spite of their unusual abilities. A classy, absorbing act, without Bollywood stars. It is possible, you know.








At 55, Deepa Mohan has to deal with it quite often. The lively and voluble Bangalorean, an avid birdwatcher, wildlife enthusiast and traveller, says she is frequently a victim of ageism.


Ageism is the discrimination that individuals or even groups face because of their age. In a country where every second Indian is under 25 years of age, such prejudices can run deep.


Much is made of India's demographic dividend, its vast supply of young, energetic workers in contrast to the maturing population of Western countries. But in a country so demographically skewed, ageism appears to be an increasing trend. Different cities display it in varying proportions says Mohan who lives in Bangalore, a 'young' city where the shopping malls and pubs crawl with 'mall rats' and 'pub rats'.


India's young technology industry has been powered by a youthful workforce. Its employee base, especially of technology and outsourcing companies, is dominated by brisk workers in the 20-35 age group.


The technology industry the world over is accused of being ageist and India is no different. Thirty-somethings are increasingly common at C-level jobs, and a 40-year-old's job hunt may be thwarted by younger, less-experienced aspirants. It is an unwritten age bar never openly discussed.


Indian laws deal with discrimination based on race, caste and sex but there is no protection against age-based prejudice. In fact, unlike in the West, age is a near-mandatory field in a job resume.


Perhaps the only job in India where age is counter-prejudicial is that of a politician. In mainstream political parties, geriatric political leaders whose medical bills are paid for by tax-payers stay on until their children and even grandchildren become eligible to occupy positions of power.


On the personal front, Mohan says she has encountered the most forceful discrimination in Chennai. She recounts being at a friendly, neighbourhood quiz on a Sunday morning and getting teamed up with a group full of young people. The team would not consult her or allow her a go at any of their questions. She persisted for three consecutive quizzes before she gave up.


Mohan says she goes on bird watching trips and treks with friends who are in their twenties but feels age should not come into it. "People should accept others for who they are and not patronise for being of the previous generation or an 'aunty'," she says.


Many other older people say they are made to feel outdated and often referred to as "seniors" or "oldies".


Mohan admits that she sometimes may not be able to take the physical rigours of rough travelling. She insists on hot water, needs a room to sleep in and says that she has to make concessions for the state of her bones while her younger friends can rough it out in the open with nothing more than a sleeping bag.


Of her obsession to walk or cycle everywhere even in crowded, pavement-challenged Bangalore, her friends pointedly say, "For your age, you are so active!"


The discrimination, she says, recedes when she travels to the West where the fifties are not considered 'old' at all. "In the United States, people in their eighties will be offended if you call them old," she says. Here, when her brother died at the age of 50, Mohan had to contend with well-meaning relatives saying, "At your age, you should expect it."


Mohan is most exasperated when her peers too fall into the stereotyping trap. She says her friends will often say, "Our life is over. Now, it is the time of our children".For Mohan who often goes on wildlife-spotting and nature trips, the most cutting of all comments come from her friends in their forties. "Why are you hanging out with people half your age?" they ask.


But Mohan says she refused to be cowed. She is not ready to be relegated to the background and shelved. "My thoughts are contemporary and modern, I will not allow this."







Hoi An, Vietnam — After the war and failed flight overseas, after her father's persecution and the knowledge of hunger, it was the miracle of the crispy pancake that changed things for Trinh Diem Vy.


That pancakes save lives is not sufficiently known. That Vy's family pancake — a savoury rice-flour creation turned a warm yellow by turmeric and stuffed with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, star fruit, mixed herbs, green banana — can reconcile a war-ravaged nation like Vietnam is a truth this woman has lived.


Hurt still inhabits her eyes. Vy's father worked with US forces during the war. When America lost, retribution came for him in the form of Communist "re-education." Unable to put food on the table, he would bang his head against the wall in frustration. Attempts to flee in 1975 and 1978 failed.


"The second time we got as far as a fishing village and there was this woman with blackened teeth, spooky-looking," Vy tells me. "She offered us clams in a broth with sweet potatoes, and I did not want to eat it but my mother made me. And the comfort of it spread through me. I guess I learned early that when I feel a deep stress, the only place that brings me back is the kitchen."


It was a quiet morning in Hoi An on the central Vietnamese coast, a scent of lemon basil in the air. Old folk were dusting porches with brooms of bound thatch.


Just down the coast, at Danang, the first American marines landed in 1965, and the war soon escalated. Vy smiles at me: "During the hunger, I understood that food was life. Now I look at all the fresh ingredients and it brings back my energy."


I'm a big believer in the stress-dissipating, difference-bridging kitchen. Nothing dissolves angst as fast as culinary creation. I look forward to the first Israeli-Palestinian food festival and the inaugural Indian-Pakistani gastronomic fair. Visceral enemies betray themselves in the similarity of their foods. We know from the Bible how blood brothers slay each other.


Vy, now 40, saw all the killing as a child. She knows the millions of dead beneath the shimmering green of the rice paddies. She saw how the collectivisation of the Communist victors could keep rice from tables. Survival, she understood, comes first; then comes the rest.


The rest began with that crisp pancake, the signature dish of the tiny restaurant her family opened in 1980. From the first, it was about balance of taste and texture. For Vy, there are five essential elements of taste — sweet, sour, hot, bitter and salty. But they demand the five elements of texture: crispy, crunchy, chewy, soft and silky. In their marriage lies the harmony that reconciles.


Locals came. They chewed and talked. So did occasional visitors. The yin-yang pancake was deemed good. Former foes agreed on that.


Vy liked the feel in her hands of the mangos blotchy from the sun, the coarse-skinned pomelos, the turmeric root gnarled as ginger, the crinkly rice paper and crisp-stemmed morning glory. She mused on her future — and took a practical romantic step. He was from the North, of "clean background," and so he opened party-controlled doors. Was it a loveless marriage? "Let's say we are modern friends."


So it was that the daughter of a man who fought with the Americans married into a family that fought against the United States: of such compromises has Vietnam's fast-growing prosperity been built. And so it was that Vy got authorisation to open her own restaurant, "Mermaid," in 1990, about the time that the Communists were deciding socialism was really whatever made the people happy.


Vy now has four restaurants. She's a successful entrepreneur in a country where communism is capitalism. She dreams of the quiet life but "is riding the tiger" for now.


Vietnam induces wonder. All the French blood, American blood, Vietnamese blood, the decades of war, has been conjured away. Nations where women are succeeding and compromise is prized are capable of that. Vy has balanced out the past. Women do that a lot better than men.


She worries about the speed of development now, tells me "we are selling the young rice" (a Vietnamese metaphor for being impatient), losing the life of the spirit to globalised material things. Prospective daughters-in-law need no longer prove their worth by preparing a good "pho" — the national broth. "People want shortcuts, but in cooking there are no short cuts," she says.


With that Vy offers me a wonderful banh mi op la, that marriage of the French baguette, eggs, chili, fresh herbs and spices that in itself seems almost worth a colonial war. The banh mi is an act of balance like Vy's inspiring life.


The New York Times







The reported recommendation of the 13th Finance Commission to raise the share of the states in the gross tax receipts of the Central government to 31.5% has to be read with the plan for the national goods and services tax. The Commission's proposal will hopefully make the states more amenable to accept the switchover to the new tax system, as the buoyancy of the central taxes is expected to be higher than that of the states. The 11th Finance Commission was the first to extend the tax sharing criteria from just income tax and excise duties to all central taxes, recommending a 29.5% share of gross tax revenues, while the next one raised it to 30.5%. This is also a recognition of the fact that states have done a good job on the fiscal front. Their revenue deficit has been wiped out, going from a high of Rs 43,405 crore in 2007-08 to a surplus of Rs 37,058 crore in the 2009-10 budget estimates. In the period, by contrast, central revenue deficit has shot up to Rs 2,82,735 crore. But equally, if not more, important is the question of horizontal distribution between the states.


The finance commissions are still wrestling with a tax devolution formula that balances equity with fiscal efficiency. For instance, the 12th Finance Commission increased the weight given to population in the distribution formulae from 10% to 25%, while it reduced the weight for per capita income distance from 62.5% to 50%. In case of the income distance criterion, which favours the less well-off states, the middle- and high-income states have favoured a reduction in weight to 10%, while poor states like Assam want the weight to be increased to 70%. And the redistributive efforts have increased the tax share of the low-income states over the decades from just 48% in the 3rd Finance Commission award to 61% by the 12th Finance Commission, while that of the rich states has halved to 11% during the same period with no significant impact on inequalities. And a well-governed region like the South has seen its share go down from 25% to 20%. This was basically because of the gap-filling approach adopted by the finance commissions, which ensured more benefits to the less needy states and fewer benefits to the more needy ones. Continuing with such a skewed approach will not be politically sustainable and one can hope that the 13th Finance Commission will help evolve an innovative approach to remedy these shortcomings.






The 10th edition of the Auto Expo in New Delhi will see more than 10 global launches and a slew of small and green car previews. For domestic automakers it has become a must-attend event. And an increasing number of international players also feel like they just can't give it a miss anymore, even though the North American International Auto Show opens in Detroit immediately afterwards. In terms of sheer footfalls, the Delhi show leads the pack—staying definitely ahead of the big events at Shanghai and Frankfurt as well. Delhi is expecting 18 lakh visitors (up from 8 lakh in 2004) as compared with Detroit's 7 lakh. The mood is upbeat here for a very simple reason: the market is growing. It grew even in a year that saw the American market, along with other mature markets, dip down. GM, which had been the world's largest carmaker, filed for bankruptcy. Across the Pacific, Toyota posted a net loss for the first time in 70 years. Sure, the global economic downturn gave the domestic industry some sleepless nights. Sales declined for months before reentering the positive zone. In the first eight months of this fiscal, passenger cars saw a 21.1% uptick. The government also nudged things along, what with the Sixth Pay Commission and other fiscal incentives. Small cars defined the big trend—they already account for 70% of total sales—while rural markets held their own and more.


Component makers also took some disturbing hits early in 2009 and then started hearing good tidings, with the likes of Toyota, Ford and Hyundai affirming plans to make India a manufacturing hub for small cars. An interesting story on this front is that China is leading all international participants in the floor space booked for auto spare parts. Again, the explanation is very simple. A market that's increasing in size will see competition heating up—something that should only benefit the Indian consumer. But before flying away on the wings of self-satisfaction, let's note that even as Detroit now faces competition from the East, it will host more than 700 new cars on display and more than 30 global debuts! Let's also note that the Delhi exhibition area leaves a lot to be desired. Its conferencing, display and other convention facilities are nothing to write home about. This is not a shallow concern but reflects larger organisational issues in the industry. Consider the electric cars and two-wheelers that will generate a lot of press at the show. How will these actually take off? There is no plan in place for networking even our metros with public points at which these green vehicles can be charged.







Indian Railways began the new decade on the worst possible note, with two fatal train accidents reported on the morning of January 2. Of course, the two separate incidents, both involving passenger trains, happened in the blinding fog of North India's plains. But then it would have been reasonable to assume that the railways had the technology to deal with a weather phenomenon that has been presenting itself each year, at the same time, for many decades now. And if the technology does not exist, or does not work, then the least one expects is cancellation of what is likely to be a perilous journey. Coincidentally, I boarded a train from the New Delhi railway station the same morning in blinding fog. Remarkably, given the zero visibility, the train pulled out on time. I might have actually been impressed had I not later realised that we had, in essence, travelled on the rail equivalent of a wing and prayer.


Mamata Banerjee will lay the blame on her predecessor. Lalu Prasad, according to a white paper released by Mamata's ministry, did little to enhance the railways' fortune (and therefore safety, service etc) other than an exercise in creative accounting. Given the chance, Lalu will undoubtedly point to Mamata's largely absentee tenure as railways minister.


Let's even give both Lalu and Mamata their due. It is easy to disagree with Mamata when she says Lalu did nothing in his tenure. Just two crucial decisions—to increase freight load and to reduce turnaround time of trains—enhanced the profitability of the railways. Obviously, the boom in economic growth helped the cause. But to use this to take away all credit from Lalu is unfair. Even Mamata's absenteeism can be forgiven. If Lalu's great strength as Railways minister was to give autonomy to his officials, there is no reason to assume that Mamata's officials cannot deliver for her.


But the plain truth of the matter is that despite the reasonable success of the last decade, the railways continue to remain shabby.


Safety is the most basic goal for anyone in the transportation business. But early evidence from 2010 already indicates how far the railways lag in the latest signalling and communications technologies—if the drivers of the ill-fated trains could not see the signals, they could surely have been informed by other means.


Customer service should be the next priority. Unfortunately, there has been little improvement even in the last decade. To return to the personal, I have travelled on the same Shatabdi Express frequently since 2005. This is apparently the flagship train (along with the Rajdhanis) of Indian Railways, but the rolling stock, at least two decades old, has steadily deteriorated. Even in executive class, the seats are stained, the floors caked in dirt and the bathrooms filthy. There has been no improvement in five years, most of which were the 'Golden Years'. If this is the state of a premier train, one only shudders to think of the state of the rest. And let's not even discuss speed—though given the lax safety standards, slower is probably better than fast!


The fundamental problem, of course, is that the railways have no competition, so there is no incentive to improve. And the political leadership in India, used to viewing railways as a source of patronage—just count the number of aspirants for the post of railways minister each time it becomes vacant—will never have the kind of corporate vision needed to transform the behemoth.


Unfortunately, the rather limited turnaround of the 2000s may perversely have ruled out the kind of grand change that may have happened if the railways had indeed gone bankrupt. Of course, a monopoly can always find ways to present a profit, but a monopoly profit doesn't translate into investment in safety and services for consumers.


If the railways are to make real progress this decade (not just monopoly profit), someone has to unveil a grand vision. Privatisation is the obvious solution, but this too will need some creative thinking.


Ideally, Indian Railways needs to be broken down into five or six separate entities and each of those then needs to be privatised. This will ensure a competitive setup. We already have a zonal system (by region) that could form the basis of division. So, Northern and Southern Railways, for example, would then, as separate firms, offer competing services for inter-sector trains—passengers and indeed users of freight will choose the one that is best. Also, if each of the separate firms is listed in stock markets, an element of market discipline will also be enforced on their performance.


There will obviously be a need for an independent regulator to ensure that each company adheres to safety standards. The regulator will also have to ensure that each of the separate entities allows all others use of all tracks. It will also have to ensure that no anti-competitive practices develop within regional entities. All this may seem complicated, but it is a standard and doable practice in a market economy.


Let's face it. We cannot aspire to be a major economic power by 2020 if rail services continue to be of the standards of the 1960s.







Four thoughts cross my mind as I contemplate the evolution of the petroleum industry over the past decade. One, the 'urgent' has determined action; the 'important' and 'long-term' have defined intent and rhetoric. Two, oil has acquired a second persona—that of a financial asset. Three, the 'market' is not an unalloyed opiate but it has catalysed breakthrough performance. Four, the oil industry has finally converged on the importance and validity of carbon regulation.


The government's approach to petroleum sector deregulation is an example that best explains my first thought. In 2002, the Cabinet approved the Rangarajan group report withdrawing all administrative and price controls on the industry. In 2004, it 'reimposed' these controls on the grounds of political 'urgency'. It did not, however, revoke the Cabinet order. As a result the oil companies found themselves in the netherworld of de jure deregulation and de facto re-regulation. The consequent financial impact led to the neglect of important and long-term matters like the maintenance and upgrade of existing assets; R&D for new technology and health, safety and environment.


I hope the government will clarify the policy soon but whether it does or not, the lesson that must be learnt is that it is not possible to build a world-class industry without maintaining a balance between the short-term and 'urgent' and the 'important' and long-term.


Two, the price of oil has for most of the past decade responded to the forces of supply and demand. It has fluctuated within a band that has reflected these fundamentals and when it has moved beyond, it has been because of the vagaries of geopolitics. Recently, however, price movements have been unusually sharp. In January 2008, for instance, the price was around $50/bbl; it rose to $145/bbl in July 2008, collapsed to $34/bbl by the end of the year and then hovered under $80/bbl at the end of 2009. These swings cannot be explained by the old fundamentals. They have happened because oil has donned a new garb. It remains a tradable physical commodity but it is also now a fungible financial asset like stocks, bonds and currency. The new fundamentals of exchange rate fluctuations and the speculative play of commercial and non-commercial paper traders are the reasons for the recent price volatility. The message that this conveys is that it is futile for decision-makers to hope for price stability before implementing policy reform. They should decide suo motu the politically acceptable price range within which the market should be given free rein and then regulate only if and when the prices move beyond this range.


Three, the near death experience of the world economy in 2008-09 may have dulled the 'magic of the market' but it cannot dilute the fact that the successes of the oil industry over the past decade have been because of the forces of free enterprise and the market. A good local example of the power of free enterprise has been the D6 gas discovery in the Krishna Godavari (KG) basin by Reliance. The KG basin was for years under the monopoly control of public sector oil companies. They did explore but with limited and small success. Reliance had no prior experience in oil/gas exploration, even though it discovered one of the largest gas fields in the world. Moreover, it brought the discovery into production within a time period that major international companies with much greater experience would have been hard pressed to achieve. Remarkably, they did all this with many of the people that had earlier worked for the public sector. How did they do it? I do not know the specific answer, but I can say that the catalyst for such a breakthrough performance had to have been the spirit of excellence that drives successful private enterprise and which gets honed through competition.


Four, at the start of the decade many oil companies looked askance at the scientific reports on global warming. They did not accept its prognosis and some in fact financed studies to refute the evidence. Today, however, most have converged into the mainstream. Each company has its own particular set of mitigant responses and preconditions, but in general there is a consensus on the validity and importance of carbon regulation. In India too, the companies have initiated steps to contain their carbon footprint. However, judging from the relatively insignificant expenditures that have been allocated to clean energy and R&D, the steps are small and most likely inconsequential.


My hope for the next decade is that this will change and that Indian companies, with their enormous entrepreneurial spirit and technical talent, will be at the forefront of innovation on matters like cellulosic biofuels, thin film solar, carbon capture and sequestration and the hydrogen energy system.


The author is chairman of the Shell Group of Companies in India. These are his personal views







For the Indian IT industry, 2009 was a landmark year. It started with the mind-boggling confession of Satyam chief R Raju about the fraud perpetrated at the company for many years and saw the Centre quickly jump in and play saviour by not only saving Satyam from collapse but also protecting India Inc's global image. Now it's going to be a year since Raju decided to shoot off that explosive letter to the stock exchanges, Satyam is now Mahindra Satyam, post the acquisition by Tech Mahindra.


While the investigating agencies are still trying to join loose ends and skeletons are still tumbling out of cupboards, Mahindra Satyam has an uphill task to restore the company to its past glory. If it has been successful in retaining Satyam's clients, the challenge now is to stop the exodus of senior executive from the company. An even bigger one is to quickly adjust to the changed IT landscape, where deals are fewer and competition cut-throat.


Satyam apart, for the first time in years, the industry saw its growth drop down to single digits from the earlier 30-35% (Nasscom has predicted 4-7% growth in the current financial year). The deal pipeline dried up to a large extent, clients slashed existing budgets and demanded heavy price cuts. Moreover, currency movements played havoc with the bottomlines. Though the situation has yet to stabilise completely, tech CEOs are more optimistic about 2010. Most of them expect clients' IT budgets for this year to be between flat to marginally down, which is better than the steep cuts they saw last year.


Moreover, the downturn altered IT firms' strategy in many ways and this was for the better. As part of their quest for untapped emerging markets, there was a like-never-before focus on the domestic market. The SMB space, which received little attention earlier, became quite sought after. The fact that clients became wary of large capital investments came in as a blessing in disguise for operational expenditure driven models like 'pay as you go' and software as a service along with virtualisation and green IT. Thanks to the economic crisis, these future technology platforms emerged out of their shells and are here to stay.








When Nigerian terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded the Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines Flight 253 at Amsterdam, he was already in the least-restrictive, 550,000-person Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database of the United States National Counterterrorism Centre. As a result of what President Obama candidly described as "a mix of human and systemic failures," Abdulmutallab's name never moved from there to the 4,000-person no-fly lis t, nor was his multiple-entry U.S. visa revoked. The botched Christmas-day terror attack occurred despite the Central Investigative Agency receiving information last November from Abdulmutallab's father regarding the terror risk that his son posed; further the National Security Agency had intercepted, in August, al-Qaeda chatter in Yemen on a terror plot involving a Nigerian. The implied inter-agency coordination failures have sparked a sharp debate on national security, mostly along party lines. The Republican opposition, undoubtedly mindful of the mid-term Congressional elections in November, has called into question Mr. Obama's track record against terror, with former Vice President Dick Cheney saying that the President was "trying to pretend we are not at war." The White House hit back saying, "Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al-Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country."


Yet there is a danger in dismissing specific Republican questions as opportunistic or irrelevant political posturing. President Obama would do well to take the queries seriously, especially given that the attack was foiled by circumstance rather than any prior intelligence. For example, it was fair to ask, as Representative John Boehner of Ohio did, what exactly is the administration's "overarching strategy to confront the terrorist threat and keep America safe"; or to criticise, as Republican of the House Intelligence Committee Peter Hoekstra did, the lack of follow-up action when data on Abdulmutallab became available months ago. Some of these arguments may also paradoxically undermine the Republican campaign: Democrats have been quick to point out that it was House Republicans who voted this year against a $44 billion bill financing additional airport security measures. In particular, there is a strong case for using full-body scanners at airports — devices that would have detected the materials Abdulmutallab carried — subject to privacy concerns being addressed. Against the backdrop of intelligence lapses and coordination failures is the spectre of a shift in the balance of Congressional power after the November elections. A new Congress that is less overwhelmingly Democratic is likely to keep up the pressure on President Obama to address security concerns more rigorously.







The report of the 13th Finance Commission (TFC) has not been made public but it is obvious that it will be comprehensive, encompassing, besides its core area of tax sharing, critical issues such as fiscal consolidation. The Commission was constituted in 2007. In August 2008, the government, faced with the charge of persisting with opaque accounting practices — specifically in treating the burgeoning petroleum and other subsidies as "off-budget" items  212; asked the TFC to suggest a revised road map with "a view to maintaining the gains of fiscal consolidation through 2010 to 2015." That additional point of reference has since become critically important in the context of the stimulus packages involving more spending by government. The government is still undecided about the timing of withdrawing the stimulus packages but will obviously be influenced by the TFC's recommendations. Another area in which the Commission will have a substantial say is in the design of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The TFC has already made it known that it favours a revenue-neutral, single GST, preferably at 12 per cent, arguing that the relatively low rate will lead to better compliance and boost the GDP by as much as 1.5 percentage points.


The focus of the TFC's report will be on correcting the growing imbalance in the sharing of tax resources by the Centre and the States. According to a recent estimate by the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, States raise 34 per cent of the consolidated tax revenues but incur 58 per cent of the expenditure. Further, a significant part of the States' expenditure is tied to the central expenditure on schemes launched by the Centre. In that category are some of the flagship schemes in the social sector, which has received enhanced budgetary allocation this year. Moreover, since 2003-04 the Centre has been transferring funds directly to the implementing agencies at the district, even village-level, bypassing the State exchequer. Also, the backward States rich in mineral wealth feel discriminated against in the matter of royalties. The TFC can be expected to have addressed these and related issues. But over the years Finance Commissions have been constrained by three factors: expansion in the terms of reference beyond tax devolution; restriction of its scope to non-Plan expenditure; and the emergence of multiple agencies in making transfers.









The "Climategate" over the alleged rigging of temperature data in support of global warming might not have contributed to the failure of the world summit in Copenhagen but it highlighted the need for a fresh look at the problem of climate change. Russia, for one, has pledged to undertake such a review. A new climate doctrine signed into law by President Dmitry Medvedev during the Copenhagen conference stresses the importance of making "independent assessments and conclusions on the basis of exhaustive, objective and authentic information on the current and possible future climate changes."


The objectivity of the data supporting man-made global warming was thrown into doubt when a thousand private emails were hacked in November from the computer of the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (Hadley CRU) and posted on a Russian website in what came to be known as the "Climategate." In the emails, climatologists apparently discussed doctoring the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend and silencing dissenting scientists.


Russian researchers poured more fuel in the scandal, accusing British climatologists of manipulating weather data for Russia. In a report released last month, the Moscow-based Institute for Economic Analysis (IEA) said the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research of the British Meteorology Office used only carefully selected statistics from weather stations in Russia that fitted its global warming theory, and ignored those that did not.


The Hadley Centre ignored data from three quarters of the weather stations in Russian territory. This means 40 per cent of Russia's territory is not represented in the world's most important temperature database, on which the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others have relied for more than two decades.


Worse still, the British climatologists preferred data from warmer urban met stations in Russia to those in rural areas, especially Siberia, the IEA report said. All in all, the institute evaluated "the overstating of the scale of the warming" for Russia between 1870s and 1990s, at 0.64 degrees Celsius at the very least. Distorted temperatures for Russia, which accounts for 12.5 per cent of the global landmass, must have led to exaggerated global warming levels (estimated at 0.74 C over the past 100 years), the report said.


Discussing climate change with Russia's leading scientists in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, Mr. Medvedev said politics, commercial interests and emotions "heavily weighed down on" climate predictions. He suggested that the human factor in climate change could be greatly overstated and drew parallels with the 2000 software scare that prompted governments and businesses to spend an estimated $300 billion to fight the non-existent "millennium bug." "When the clocks rolled over into 2000 nothing happened, but moneys were earned and pocketed," the Russian leader said.


Russian Academy of Sciences Vice-President Nikolai Laverov recalled the ozone depletion scare that led to an international ban on Freon gas in the 1980s and enriched a U.S. company that introduced an alternative refrigerant. "We have since proved that refrigerants do not destroy the ozone layer," the academician told Mr. Medvedev. He said the post-Kyoto climate debate amounted to "an attack on countries rich in oil and gas."


"The anti-hydrocarbons bias is there, of course," Mr. Medvedev agreed. "We must not allow them to pull the wool over our eyes." Analysts see Europe as the main driving force behind the anti-carbon campaign. "Europe's own hydrocarbon reserves are fast dwindling and hence it is actively promoting the idea of giving up oil and gas for ecological reasons," says Konstantin Simonov of the Russian Centre for Current Politics think tank.


Mr. Medvedev strongly warned against trying to tax hydrocarbons producers, calling such proposals "witch-hunting" that would kill any climate agreement. A growing number of Russian scientists — solar physicists, biologists, palaeontologists, geographers — believe that the world climate changes in recurring cycles are related to solar activity and many other natural factors (The Hindu, July 10, 2008).


The new Russian doctrine reflects the widespread scepticism in the Russian scientific community over climate change. "The doctrine mirrors the view of our scientists that the human impact on climate change is still unclear and hard to gauge," Mr. Medvedev's economic adviser Arkady Dvorkovich said. "In large measure, climate change is linked with long-playing global trends, and irrespective of what we do changes will persist due to natural causes; therefore, we will take measures to adapt to changes."


Yet in Copenhagen, Russia did nothing to undermine the talks. Addressing the conference, the President pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent or 30 billion tonnes by 2020 compared with 1990 so long as this was part of a global pact. His offer did not mean that he had become a climate change zealot. Rather he backed a global agreement in Copenhagen because it would facilitate access for Russia to energy saving technologies and thereby help advance his goal of modernising the Russian industry.


"We must be in the mainstream … in order to try and solve our economic problems and create an energy efficient economy," Mr. Medvedev said before travelling to Copenhagen. "The so-called global climate deal gives us a real chance to expand scientific innovation cooperation with our partners … an opportunity to switch to advanced technologies."


Russia, which is the third largest producer of carbon dioxide today, would strive to cut emissions by adopting energy efficiency measures rather than by slapping restrictions on industry, Mr. Medvedev said. He has promised to make Russia 40 per cent more energy efficient by 2020.


"We will not make any emission reduction commitments that may negatively affect our economic growth," Mr. Dvorkovich said. This idea underlies the Russian doctrine. "The strategic goal of climate policy is to guarantee the secure and stable development of the Russian Federation," the doctrine declares. Russia will shape its climate policy "on the basis of national interests."


Over the next decade or so, emission cuts will not hamper Russia's growth. Its emissions declined so sharply when the industrial sector collapsed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that the 25-per cent reduction target Mr. Medvedev announced in Copenhagen would actually mean an increase of 13 per cent from 2007. Russia feels it has already made more than a generous contribution to the Kyoto process.


"Our country accounts for half of all emission reductions in the world over the last 20 years," Mr. Medvedev said at the summit. "This has gone a long way towards offsetting increases in harmful emissions in other countries."


His use of the term "harmful emissions," instead of "carbon dioxide" or "greenhouse gases," is significant. Many Russian scientists believe that the anti-CO{-2} warriors are diverting attention from the real problem of air and water pollution. "We should fight real harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and a range of other pollutants spewed by our industry and vehicles, not carbon dioxide, a perfectly harmless gas which is moreover essential for the life of plants and animals," said academician Andrei Kapitsa, a renowned Russian geographer.


Climatologists deliberately confuse the two issues, claiming that a low-carbon economy would kill two birds with one stone — save the world from global warming and improve ecology. However, if man is powerless to influence climate, as Russian scientists say, why throw away billions of dollars on burying carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels underground or combating methane emission from animal husbandry. Surely, not because corporate interests are salivating to create a carbon emissions credits market double the size of the oil market? Wouldn't it be more sensible, as the Russian doctrine proposes, to concentrate on measures to adapt to climate changes?


Russia's open mind on climate issues and emphasis on independent studies could pave the way for a truly objective international review of the causes and effects of climate change. "It is necessary to fund and organise climate research in such a way that scientists are protected from the state's political interference and even from fellow scientists," says Prof. Konstantin Sonin of the New Economic School in Moscow


A vast body of scientific evidence challenging the man-made warming theory has been accumulated in Russia and other countries. It shatters the myth of a Global Warming Consensus. The BRIC group, whose sustainable development plans would be derailed if the West imposes its selfish climate agenda on the world, could take the initiative in launching climate research outside the framework of the U.N. Panel on Climate Change, which has sought to exclude critics from the debate. The two-decades-old Indo-Russian Integrated Long-Term Programme (ILTP) of scientific collaboration could provide an initial basis for multination across-discipline studies of climate-related problems.








  • China has not staked claim as the leader of the East Asian grouping but stands to benefit from it
  • A reversal of the U.S. economic decline will put it right back on the East Asian economic map


The dawn of 2010 has brought with it expectations of a greater degree of economic cooperation among the politically diverse states of East Asia. In realpolitik terms, the dominant role of the United States — or as its critics say, its domineering presence in East Asia — may be just beginning to fade. Emerging already are political signs that a new ecosystem of inter-state ties is slowly evolving in the region.


A massive free trade area, covering China and the nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), came into being on New Year's Day. China is widely tipped to occupy the central position, or more precisely, play a critical role in, interactions among the East Asian states. Such a scenario is the result of three clear trends, two of them of Asian origin. The rapid and continuing rise of China is matched, as a parallel Asian trend, by the diplomatic activism of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Of direct relevance to this situation is the non-Asian trend of America's ongoing economic decline on the global stage. A full or substantial reversal of this decline may cast doubts on the fade-out of the U.S. in East Asia.


Political leaders and pundits of East Asia are, therefore, hedging their bets. Mr. Hatoyama is just beginning to set the ball rolling for a potential end-game for an American departure from East Asia. He wants the U.S. to wind down military activities at its bases in Japan. His compelling political wish is to re-link Japan with the rest of East Asia, as a normal country this time and not as an imperial power as in the past. But Washington is making clear its aversion to being pushed around, even if only on the turf of ideas. As a result, there is no political roadmap of East Asia without the U.S., as of now.


Despite such nuances, the signs of an East Asian ecosystem of inter-state relations cannot be missed. Any such system should not be mistaken for a new East Asian order in the conventional political sense. Often, a new global or regional order is the result of proactive efforts by a country or a group of powers for a dominant role in the relevant theatre. In contrast, an ecosystem of inter-state ties is the result of evolution of political and economic trends in a region or on the global stage, as the case might be.


Today, even as East Asia shows signs of evolving into a pan-regional ecosystem of inter-state relations, China has not staked claim to being the top leader. This is best understood in the changing context of East Asian regionalism which is currently driven by ASEAN. The East Asia Summit (EAS) consists of the 10-nation ASEAN as the "driving force," besides China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, and New Zealand.


Pan-regional economic cooperation in East Asia is at present more vibrant in the ASEAN+3 grouping rather than in the larger EAS forum. China, Japan, and South Korea are ASEAN's +3 partners. The former ASEAN Secretary-General, Rodolfo Severino, says the ASEAN+3 grouping has attained, by now, a lot of "solidity" as an economic force.


Mr. Severino sees Mr. Hatoyama's idea of an East Asian Community as very much a parlour game still. Responding to questions, he said neither Japan nor China may be willing, as of now, to let the other be the leader of any such new community. The existing ASEAN+3 grouping may stay the course, with the 10-nation Association remaining in the driver's seat. Mr. Severino is of the view that the present dispensation suits China admirably. "China has influence across East Asia without actually appearing to be influential."


The former top mandarin of the intricate ASEAN network is not alone in believing that China is "having the best of both worlds" — influence without its odium. In a wider perspective, ASEAN's relevance to East Asia may be heightened by an anticipated economic development in 2010. The Chiang Mai Initiative of the ASEAN+3 grouping will be enlarged to provide greater liquidity-support to member-countries during financial crises.


On the economic turf of this initiative, China's influence cannot be eclipsed by ASEAN's usual role as a convener in East Asian affairs, say other experts. This is especially so given the general assessment that China's economy will surpass Japan's in 2010. At the moment, as the world's second largest economy Japan's contributions to the Chiang Mai Initiative are as important as China's.


The relative roles of Beijing and Tokyo will come under greater focus from now, especially because of Mr. Hatoyama's positive view of China's rise. Relevant to this equation is a studied comment by Martin Jacques in his 2009 treatise titled 'When China Rules the World.' Japan, in his view, "will ultimately be obliged to accept China's leadership of East Asia." According to him, this scenario is inevitable "on the assumption that China's rapid [economic] growth continues" well into the future.


Beijing's future profile is widely seen in political terms too. Mushahid Hussain, a Pakistani expert, sees China as a South Asian power as well. Already most South Asian countries welcome such a Chinese profile.



A logical converse question in this context is whether India can hope to enlarge its geopolitical footprint in East Asia. New Delhi's free trade agreement with ASEAN went into effect on New Year's Day — as also its free trade pact with South Korea. But there is no move by ASEAN to give India a status similar to that of the +3 countries. And, not known is Mr. Hatoyama's thinking on a poser by this journalist and perhaps also others: Can China, India, and Japan form an Asian concert of powers?


China is not aggressively asserting its leadership in East Asia at this stage. This need not, however, prevent other countries from accepting the reality of its rise. Tim Huxley, a Singapore-based expert of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, points out how a rising U.S. was accepted by East Asia decades ago. Countries that were long used to British supremacy simply and quickly accommodated the U.S. as the new big leader. Unrelated to such views of experts, this can possibly happen to China more easily in an evolving ecosystem of accommodation among the East Asian states.








finds itself so frequently linked to Islamist radicals. No matter where in the world — from Mumbai to Detroit — a terror attack takes place or a terror suspect is caught, more often than not it turns up a London "connection".


Indeed, Britain has become so notorious for its reputation as a safe haven for the radical flotsam and jetsam of the world that whenever a plot is uncovered intelligence agencies instinctively look for a link with London, dubbed "Londonistan" to rhyme with such hotbeds of extremism as Pakistan and Afghanistan.


The revelation that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian youth who attempted to blow up an American airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, spent three years at a London university where he allegedly dabbled in extremist propaganda has reignited the row over the so-called "Islamisation" of British campuses with the government being accused of not doing enough to tackle the problem.


It has emerged that during his time at the University College London, Abdulmutallab was president of the Islamic Society whose branches in various institutions are often controlled by radical groups, notably Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) that calls for the establishment of a worldwide Islamic state and some of whose ex-members are said to have gone on to become militant jihadis. It has been claimed that he is the fourth president of a university Islamic Society to face terror charges.


Lately, a number of former HuT activists — now supposedly "reformed" — have come in from the cold to give an "insider's" account of outfit's activities and presence on British campuses. They include Ed Husain who has written a best-selling book, The Islamist, on the subject and now heads a high-profile think-tank that advises the government on "de-radicalisation" strategies.


Radicalisation of British universities has become a major political issue in recent years. Three months after the July 2005 London bombings, Professor Anthony Glees, a Right-wing academic, published a rather alarmist report sensationally titled When Students Turn to Terror in which he named more than 30 universities where, he claimed, "extremist and/or terror groups" operated. Within months, the government issued guidelines to universities advising them to "vet" students for extremist tendencies, identify potential jihadis and report them to security agencies. However, it was forced to tone down the advice after academics protested that it amounted to asking them to "spy" on their own students.


The Right has seized the botched Detroit plot to demand that the old guidelines be revived and strictly implemented, and to attack universities which accept funding from "Arabic and Islamic sources" (as one self-styled "Islamic specialist" put it) for setting up centres of Islamic studies. "Reformed" radicals, fired by the zeal of a "new mullah", have joined calls for strict "policing" of campuses and warned that otherwise "we will see more Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs."


Writing in this week's Observer, a former senior member of HuT, Rashad Ali, painted an alarming picture of how extremist groups have penetrated universities through organisations like the Islamic Society.


"When I was involved with Hizb, we controlled the Islamic Society of Sheffield Hallam University for several years, as well as running the society in Bradford University and Birmingham University. We were full-time activists dedicated to fomenting dissent, anti-western feelings and nurturing those who we believed could help to advance our cause," he wrote accusing universities of being in denial about the "level of radicalisation" taking place on campuses.


Post-Detroit, there have been renewed calls for a ban on HuT and other similar organisations. But there are those who sensibly argue that banning religious or cultural groups, no matter how toxic their views, goes against the very idea of free debate associated with campus tradition. Besides, a ban would simply drive such groups underground and make it more difficult to monitor them.


Outlawing a group simply because of its views is seen as the first step towards a slippery slope that can only lead to turning universities into cantonments. Historically, universities have been battlegrounds for competing ideas and worldviews; and, occasionally, things may have gone wrong but as John Sutherland, Emeritus Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London (yes, the same college that Abdulmutallab attended) says, British universities have "usually got it right." Important campaigns against fascism and war, for example, have come out of the tradition of free speech on university campuses.


In an article in The Times, Prof. Sutherland argued that universities had to take "risks" and tolerate "radical and dissident elements" in their midst. He warned against knee-jerk reactions and urged university administrators to "keep a cool head" when faced with demands for "drastic" measures.


The question they must ask themselves, he said, was: "At what point must institutional tolerance give way to heavy-handed control? And if you ban the Islamic Society, do you also ban the Jewish Society, or the female students' consciousness-raising groups? At what point does militancy — never in itself a bad thing in a young student — become signing up to terrorism?"


Increasingly, however, sane voices such as those of Prof. Sutherland's are being drowned by shrill calls for a "crackdown" and there is a real danger that campuses could soon turn into "cantonments." All it will take is one more HuT/al-Qaeda-inspired atrocity with a London connection.








After two weeks' over-exposure to one another during the Christmas break, the first call many couples make is to their lawyer. Vanessa Lloyd Platt, founder of Lloyd Platt & Co, one of the U.K.'s top divorce law firms, says she gets a 60 per cent increase in inquiries in the first week of January.


A few lucky couples, though, will have had a head start. These are the ones who got Lloyd Platt divorce vouchers for Christmas. "It's not quite as bad as it sounds," Ms. Lloyd Platt says. "We are offering legal advice vouchers. Our aim is not to push people into divorce; rather it's to give people a chance to talk through the legal implications of separating."


Even so, it is a curious Christmas present. "I agree," she says, "but it started when a friend asked me how she could contribute to her niece's divorce. I suggested a voucher, and she said 'great.'" By Christmas Eve, more than 60 had been sold. The majority were bought by women for other women friends — "There's something quite powerful about five or six people joining forces to send you a message that they feel it's time you dealt with an abusive relationship." Some were bought by agents who were fed up with hearing about their clients' problems — Lloyd Platt & Co gets more than its fair share of celeb break-ups. And a few were bought by mistresses to give their dawdling inamoratas a kick.


However, Ms. Lloyd Platt is adamant that no one bought one just for a laugh. "We did two vouchers; a half-hour for £125 plus VAT and an hour for £250 plus VAT," she says. "Either way, it's a very expensive laugh."


But will it catch on?


"I don't see why not," says Ms. Lloyd Platt. "I've had inquiries from all over the world. I even had one lawyer asking if I thought there was a market in Christmas vouchers for making a will. I had to tell him there were limits." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010






The Philippines has ordered its seafarers, who constitute about a third of the world's commercial sailors, to go through anti-piracy training before they will be allowed to board ships, the labor secretary said Monday.


The training, which lasts about eight hours, will be mandatory starting January 15. The measure is a response to a wave of ship hijackings, which remain a serious problem a year after an international naval armada began operating off Somalia to protect shipping lanes.


Sailors will be taught how to manoeuvre their vessels to prevent pirates from boarding them. They will also learn how to manage hostage crises if they are taken captive.


The Philippines supplies about a third of the 1.5 million commercial seafarers worldwide. Somali pirates have kidnapped 470 Filipinos since 2006, and are still holding at least 74 aboard six ships. — AP









Prime minister Manmohan Singh's inaugural address to the 97th Indian Science Congress in Thriuvananthapuram on Sunday was unusually candid.


He talked about the need to remove bureaucracy and red-tape in science institutes so that creativity can be unleashed and the country can benefit from the breakthroughs in science and technology. Singh acknowledged the criticism voiced by India-born scientist and 2009 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, that there should be autonomy in research institutes.


The fact that Indian science has been bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape is a well-known one, but it needed a Nobel winner to say it as it is and it needed a sensitive prime minister to acknowledge the problem.


There are two aspects to this problem. The first is with regard to the interference on the part of officials who call the shots in the department of science and technology and other places who cite the rulebook only in order to raise objections. There is need for officials to look after the administrative nitty-gritty in science institutes because it would be a waste of time, energy and talent for scientists to be caught up in paper work.


But these officials should be facilitators and not be obstacles. There should be either officers who are sensitive to the work being done by scientists or the rules must be simplified in such a way that officers cannot impede work.


The second aspect of the problem relates to the scientists themselves and it is much more serious than the one posed by dull officers. Science-managers in this country are scientists with grandiose plans and big egos. They want to be seen as masters of the national research centres and they lobby for it hard with the powers that be. The top science managers in a majority of cases happen to be people who had given up actual science research many years ago.


These senior scientists have set a bad example to their peers and juniors, and the virus of bureaucratic tardiness has percolated down the ranks of the scientists themselves. Science research needs to be led by people who are themselves brilliant scientists and are actively engaged in research work.


It might be difficult to find them because such people are more interested in doing their work quietly and they usually shy away from positions of power. This is the dilemma that needs to be resolved if Indian science is to become the game changer.







The incident at the Mumbai airport on Saturday where a plane load of 269 passengers and 12 crew members were practically held hostage by another 20 passengers for 13 hours is surely unprecedented in our aviation history.


The reason for the behaviour of these 20 was their rage that their Air India flight did not take off for Delhi because of the fog in the capital. Several flights were cancelled or delayed because of the fog. After being made to wait on the tarmac in Mumbai for a few hours, it was decided that landing in Delhi was impossible and that the passengers would be put up in hotels until the flight took off.


The fact that the airline could not guarantee when the flight would finally take off so enraged these 20 fliers that they did not allow the crew or the other passengers to leave the plane. Since the flight had been cancelled, there was no water or food on board. Airline officials repeatedly tried to plead with the 20, but to no avail. Certainly, this is air rage taken to new levels.


There are two issues to be considered here — passengerbehaviour and how it can be dealt with and the responsibility of the airline at such times. Certainly, as flying patterns have changed in India and the volume of fliers has gone up dramatically in the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the number of incidents of unruly and belligerent behaviour. But there are protocols in place for this and it is here that the airline seems to have floundered.


As the passenger blockade showed no sign of lifting, the airline should have realised that its powers of persuasion were not working and informed the airport authorities and the CISF which provides security.

Since hotels had been fixed and offered to the passengers, it was the airline's responsibility to ensure that its other passengers were not inconvenienced. Instead, 281 people had to spend a night in harrowing conditions. Even if the hijackers were just angry passengers — what would have happened had they been terrorists is too frightening to contemplate given the way the situation was allowed to continue — they still held a plane-load of people hostage. They denied them food, water, sanitation and terrified them. It is just sheer good fortune that no one was seriously sick or injured.


India's aviation industry and its airports must do now what it has evidently not done already — put in place protocols for such eventualities. The fact that no harm was done cannot lead to complacency.






Even as we are standing at the threshold of the new fiscal year (2010-11), writing about how the economy is likely to perform next year is hazardous exercise.Uncertainties and unpredictability continue to dominate the mind. Anything that can be said at this stage has to be qualified with many riders and it has to be assumed that henceforth the global economy would remain firmly on the recovery path.


The industrial economy is getting back to its trend rate of 8 per cent growth. Further, exports have just got back to positive growth. The stimulus provided by the government has worked wonders. Foreign capital is flowing steadily, through both FDI and FII routes.Though moderated and influenced by unpredictable global cues, the stock market is realistically confident and steady. IPOs are getting lined up in expectation.


India Inc, global face of the Indian economy, was not too much subdued by developments in the world economy in the past one year, and is gearing up for its aggressive forays into the global market.


In the current year (2009-10), the GDP growth may not cross the 7 per cent mark, and we all know why. Agriculture has played the spoilsport due to bad monsoon. A normal rainfall could have ensured near 8 per cent growth for the economy. GDP growth for 2009-10 is not the concern at this stage, however.


More important question is if, as we step into 2010-11, the growth conditions will continue to be favourable. Alternatively, if beginning next year the economy will continue to move upstream. The present conditions are not favourable, and would need careful monitoring. On the contrary, we have several challenges confronting the economy.


First, there is the danger of rising inflation, threatening any optimistic outlook at this stage. The current year's WPI inflation is likely to end at 7 per cent (or more?) annual inflation. The current inflation, as we know, is primarily about food price inflation, but foodgrain and food prices are not likely to be tamed anytime soon.


Accordingly, we can expect the CPI inflation to go up further and be in the range of 12 per cent. We will, enter 2010-11 with high inflation and rising inflationary expectation. This is what poses a major threat, and we do not see any concrete strategy in place to tackle this threat.


What, however, worries me most is not the extent of inflation, but possible response to it. What may be the counter-inflationary measures that are likely to be unleashed by the government and the RBI? Given this, there is serious uncertainty about the interest rates on one hand and availability of credit on the other.


About the last aspect, it may be mentioned, that stimulus measures notwithstanding, the situation has not yet improved much.
It should also be noted that much of the outlook for industrial growth during 2010-11 will depend on the interest rate and credit policy directions in the coming months.


The current trend in industrial revival may not automatically continue through the next fiscal. Lot will also depend on domestic demand conditions, where rising food price inflation and cost of living index pose a serious threat.


In the current year, bulging government expenditure has been one of the important factors behind industrial revival. The other factor has been working of the fiscal stimulus. Next big challenge is that of fiscal deficit, which is likely to be higher than the budget estimate of 6.8 per cent.


This is about central Government's fiscal deficit. And if we take into account the state governments' deficits, then the overall fiscal deficit is poised to exceed 11 per cent of GDP. When this is the case, the government may find it difficult to continue with the stimulus and would like to exit. But should the government do it?


There is this issue of trade-off between the imperative of sustaining the recovery and that of containing the fiscal deficit. Only a judicious balance of objectives will help. There is no doubt that the government will need to exit from the stimulus strategy, but the exit has to be phased out carefully. A critical constraint before the government is that it cannot expect substantial tax revenue buoyancy, in view of low growth.


Similarly, it is also a matter of concern that the scope for government borrowing is also limited, in view of the existing debt burden, but more importantly because larger government borrowing from the banking sector may affect the much needed credit growth for the commercial and industrial sector.


But for these constraints and negatives, there are not many adverse developments on the horizon at the moment. The government had demonstrated its skill in crisis management reasonably well in the last one year, and we can expect that expertise in tackling the impending challenges.


In such a scenario, and assuming a normal monsoon in the next year on one hand and continued recovery in the global economy on the other, we can be confident that the economy will probably bounce back to 9 per cent growth in the next fiscal year. And it may as well be accompanied by higher employment growth.







Aamir Khan, Raju Hirani, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Chetan Bhagat couldn't have given us a better beginning to 2010 if they had planned it (actually, had they?).


The fracas over 3 Idiots was worth several chuckles and several more hours of television drama. And how serendipitous for commentators and columnists was the name of the film. Suppose it had been called 'Three Friends' or 'College yaar yaar' or 'Teen bindaas'?But, no, they kindly gave us '3 Idiots'. And went on to prove how true that is with their idiotic behaviour.


I have not seen the film 3 Idiots and I have only flipped through Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone. The film is a huge hit and the book sold in millions. But apart from the childish behaviour of all the protagonists in this battle over copyright, story credit and the subsequent drama in front of the media, there is also the issue of writers and their rights. It may be in artistic terms that the film is superior to the book. Bhagat is not the world's best writer but he is a phenomenal success. Hirani, Chopra and Khan may well have come up with a better product and improved upon the book. But they appear to have been mean and petty about giving due credit.


The fact is, the idea and the story belonged to Bhagat and in all fairness, he should have got a better deal than a line at the end of the film. Of course, one can take a contrarian view that Bhagat should be grateful that someone in the film industry actually read a book — this is extremely rare in Mumbai judging from the films that are made — and then honoured him further by basing a film on it.


Story ideas for films in Bollywood have often been decided on a day to day basis while shooting is going on, as is well known. For someone to have actually read a book and written a script and screenplay — Abhijat Joshi and Hirani — is a rarity for Bollywood. Casual enquiries made to friends and colleagues and a trawl through memory banks could not come up with too many examples.


Yes, Satyajit Ray used novels and stories, notably Rabindranath Tagore, Bibhutibhushan Bandyapadhyay, Premchand, as did Bimal Roy and Gulzar. More recently, Vishal Bharadwaj used Othello and Macbeth from Shakespeare. And Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee must be the most-read book by Indian filmmakers; alternatively they could have all just seen one of the several movies based on that story.


RK Narayan had a fairly harrowing time during the making of Guide and much as the film is wonderful, the writer remained traumatised. This is perhaps natural — the demands of cinema are specific and stories have to be either changed substantially or tinkered with so that they suit the screen. But Narayan at least was given full credit. This, for a writer, is the least expectation. The idea that a thought has intellectual property rights is meagrely understood, especially in this country. See how easily our music directors "borrow" tunes and then claim they were paying "homage"?


Bhagat joins a list of writers who can also claim that their intellectual property was mauled by filmmakers. This is another category of writers who feel they might have been better off if no one had made film out of their work. This is common in Hollywood, as studios change at will. Perhaps Bhagat himself felt that about Hello, based on his One Night at a Call Centre, since we never heard too much about that. Surely, if Jane Austen had been alive, she would have been quite shattered at what Gurinder Chhada did to Pride and Prejudice. She would need all of her sense of humour to have survived it.


The petty drama of the various idiots aside, it now seems that Bollywood has learnt to read. There's a film due based on Austen's Emma and another on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.


Unfortunately for the drama-searchers, both authors are long dead. Still, Bhagat's protests have brought the plight of the poor writer to the forefront. Now, let's see how the idiots make good









The public outrage over the non-supply of water and electricity, inordinate delay in the air and train services over the weekend following a power grid collapse is understandable but it is not an uncommon occurrence. Almost every winter there is a massive breakdown of the power system, resulting in consequent inconvenience to the public and loss of industrial production. It is not an insurmountable problem. Those (mis)managing the power sector in the northern region are quick to blame the fog but don't have the grace to own their share of responsibility. It is amazing a rising power like India can be crippled by a handful of non-performers.


It is well known that power tripping can be avoided if the line insulators are cleaned up before the onset of winter. The Power Grid Corporation hires machinery and helicopters for use by the state electricity boards on 80 per cent payment of the cost. Since it is an expensive exercise — though nothing compared to the havoc played with normal life of citizens in the region — state governments and power boards do not like to spend their limited resources on these and allow citizens to go through a harrowing experience every year. It again comes to poor governance and distorted priorities.


Fog-resistant polymer-made discs are available to replace the existing porcelain insulators. But this is expensive and requires effort apart from a mindset to serve society. This is something the self-servers at the helm badly lack. It is not fog that brings life to a standstill — as newspaper headlines proclaim. It is the vote-driven, short-sighted ruling politicians who are to blame for the systemic mismanagement. Power is a state subject. Whatever efforts the Centre makes to push reforms to insulate state boards from political interference and make them financially viable are resisted by myopic state politicians. They do not mind giving power free for votes. Influential and industrial users tend to steal power with official connivance. Customers oppose moves to hike tariffs. Where will money come from for buying fog-resistant technology or replacing the worn-out transmission system? 








That the Indian scientists can compete with the world's best is an acknowledged fact. But this eminence is despite the environment in which they work, not because of it. One can well imagine what they could have achieved had they not been fighting against odds. Now even the Prime Minister has conceded this ugly fact. Speaking at Thiruvananthapuram after presenting the Panambilli Govinda Menon award to former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair on Sunday, Dr Manmohan Singh regretted that red tape, political interference and lack of recognition of good work contributed to a regression in Indian science in some sectors. He has reflected the frustration of many a scientist. In fact, the notorious brain drain is a direct consequence of this dissatisfaction.


Dr Manmohan Singh has exhorted scientific institutions to introspect and put in place mechanisms for greater autonomy. That can indeed ease the problem but only at in-house level. What is needed is insulating the science sector from bureaucratic meddling. Nosey politicians and babus have tried to corner power and influence in every sector of life, including science. There can be a turnaround only if his government plays a proactive role in giving autonomy to the scientific community.


The way some Indian scientists made good after going overseas should have set the alarm bells ringing but it did not. While it is desirable to get the sons of the soil back to their country, what is all the more necessary is to address the genuine grievances of those who have been trudging on right here all these years. The atmosphere of favouritism has kept them from giving off their best. Letting in some sunshine can produce dramatic results. Indeed, the imbalance can be set right by encouraging women to join the scientific domain. But whether it is men or women, it is necessary to nurture them all with a friendly, respectful approach. Only then can original, useful research take place.








The Punjab and Haryana High Court has rightly deprecated the manner in which tainted IAS and IPS officers and politicians are evading justice by circumventing the system and getting away with light or no punishment at all. Referring to the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case in which the accused, former DGP S.P.S. Rathore, after 19 years of trial, got away with a minor punishment of six months' jail, Justice Ranjit Singh observed that this was a classic example of how justice delayed was justice denied. In this case, Rathore either delayed the trial or influenced the investigating officers to ensure that the charges against him were relatively minor instead of what many perceived it to be his abetment to Ruchika's suicide. While Ruchika killed herself in 1993, three years after she and her family were relentlessly harassed, Rathore rose to become the DGP before superannuation.


Unfortunately, bigwigs who are expected to follow the rules themselves flout them with impunity. In an affidavit to the High Court in April 2008, the Punjab government had stated that criminal, vigilance and departmental cases were pending against 25 IAS and 10 IPS officers of the state. Though these figures need to be updated because of increasing cases against them since then, there is no doubt that many of them have become a law unto themselves. They grab prime land, take bribes and withdraw public money for personal aggrandisement. This has become a routine affair and yet, they are not made accountable for their crime. Even if some are arrested, they subvert the trial and go unpunished.


It is in this context that Justice Ranjit Singh's suggestion for putting cases involving bigwigs on the fast track merits urgent attention. The process of sanction for the prosecution of tainted bigwigs also needs to be expedited. Recently, while the Punjab government denied permission to the CBI to prosecute the Assembly Speaker for allegedly accepting bribe during his tenure as minister in the 1997-2002 Akali-BJP government, two IAS officers also involved in the case got away scot free. What prevents the government from taking action against them?









The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009, passed recently by the state Assembly making it "compulsory" to vote in elections to municipal corporations has justifiably invited a lot of comment.


On the face of it, making voting compulsory sounds like a good idea as it requires citizens to perform what is arguably their most important duty. That is possibly why it has been getting approval ratings of 80-90 per cent in various TV polls. However, as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details". And the details in the case of this Act are delightfully vague. For example, the Act says, "It shall be the duty of a qualified voter of the municipal corporation/municipality/ panchayats to vote at the election of the municipal corporation/municipality/ panchayats; however he will be free to cast his vote in favour of none of the candidates contesting elections as indicated in Sub-Section (2)." One, therefore, expects Sub-Section (2) to throw light on how one casts one's vote "in favour of none of the candidates". Let's see what Sub-Section (2) says.


It "indicates" that "The qualified voter shall cast his vote in favour of none of the candidates contesting election, in the manner as may be prescribed by rules, in case where he does not want to cast his vote in favour of any candidate." This raises the question, where will the "rules" come from? The "Memorandum regarding delegated legislation," which is a part the Act, clarifies as follows: "Sub-Section (2) of the new section 16A/15B/34B proposed to be inserted in the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporations Act, 1949/Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963/Gujarat Panchayats Act, 1993, by this clause empowers the state government to prescribe by rules, the manner in which the qualified voter shall require to cast his vote in favour of none of the candidates contesting election."


This is where the "details" become important. The "manner in which the qualified voter shall require to cast his vote in favour of none of the candidates contesting election" will be decided by the state government. There is a well-known method for casting votes in favour of none of the candidates: that of having a button saying, "none of the above" on the EVM. This is well-known because it was recommended by the Election Commission of India to the Government of India in 2001. It was repeated in a letter (No. 3/ER/2004) written to the Prime Minister on July 05, 2004, by the then Chief Election Commissioner. And a petition filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties seeking this provision is pending in the Supreme Court.


The mere provision of a "none of the above" (NOTA) button is, of course, not enough. The votes polled by NOTA should also be counted, and if NOTA gets more votes than any of the contesting candidates, none of the contesting candidates should be declared as elected. A fresh election should be held in which none of the candidates who contested the earlier election should be allowed to contest.


It has been said that the above procedure is very cumbersome and that a poor country such as India cannot afford to have repeated elections. But should someone be declared elected if the largest number of qualified voters actually voting do not want anyone of the contesting candidates to be elected? With the cumbersomeness of the voting process having been significantly reduced by the use of EVMs, is any price too heavy for an effective democracy?


Why has the Gujarat State Assembly chosen not to specify this method and leave it to the state government is not really clear.


The "Statement of objects and reasons" of the Act says that "It is absolutely inevitable for strengthening the democratic fabric of the country which is the basic feature of the Constitution of India that each and every citizen discharges his obligation to the nation by exercising his pious right to vote at elections. It is observed that due to low turnover of voters to discharge their duty by exercising their right to vote, the true spirit of the will of the people is not reflected in the electoral mandate." The "object" of the Act, therefore, is stated to be "to achieve the goal of reflection of the true democratic will in the elections of the local self-governments… to make legislative provisions to make the duty to exercise the right to vote in the elections to local self-governments a statutory obligation."


The semantic jugglery of converting a right into an obligation apart, is it not worth thinking about why does "each and every citizen" not exercise his "pious" right to vote at elections? And is democracy, a basic feature of the Constitution, fostered merely by the voters casting their votes regardless of whom they are voting for, and do they actually have an effective choice while casting their vote?


"Why do voters vote the way they do?" is a very complex question that cannot be answered with one simple reason. It does not seem to occur to the political establishment that the quality of candidates nominated by the political parties might be a contributory factor, and might itself be causing the much-touted "voter apathy".


This is where the December 21, 2009 statement of the Gujarat Chief Minister that the objective was to "bring the voter, rather than the political party, centrestage" and to "strengthen democracy" becomes relevant. Political parties have been functioning, and controlling the governance of the country, without being on the "centrestage" for far too long. It is the political parties who, in a way, control or at least constrain the choice of the voters. They do this by the control they have on deciding on who can contest the election on their behalf. Prospective candidates are known to have had to even pay substantial sums of money to get party nominations in some parties. In others, the price of nominations may well be not cash but in kind. And once a person gets elected to the legislature, his/her choice of what to vote for and what to vote against in the legislature is again controlled by-guess who-the political party…by virtue of the whip and the anti-defection law.


It is, therefore, high time political parties were brought centrestage and their internal functioning made visible to the public. Voter turnout cannot be increased so long as the internal functioning of political parties is shrouded in the secrecy of the decisions taken by the "High Command".


Democracy in India can best be strengthened by the political parties practising democracy in their internal functioning.n


The writer is a former professor and Director-in-Charge, IIM, Ahmedabad.








Their romance began the day they got married. She had never set her eyes upon him before that and neither had he had a glimpse of her till then. It was that kind of era. You met your life-partner at your wedding and fell in love thereafter. That he held her hand in the car while they drove off was probably a major scandal of the time.


For the next 62 years they were a couple with vastly different persona but with a chemistry that was gentle and sizzling at the same time. They had six children and managed to raise them all with grace and fortitude, despite modest means, for them to become fine citizens of the world. They had their quarrels too and, sometimes, long periods of not talking to each other, but even as a young boy I knew that my grandparents were a really special couple and that they cared for each other no end.


He was tall and handsome; she was tiny but somewhat portly. He was a stickler for punctuality; she was quite laid back. He was intelligence personified; she was a little slow on the uptake at times. He held a postgraduate degree in English; she had attended only a few primary classes at school. He was blessed with a sense of wit; she would laugh heartily at his jokes. At times he would crack some really hi-fi ones which went over her head, but he would also repeat some old jokes for her benefit at which she would be in splits as if she'd heard them for the first time.


They were quite a team! Six children were apparently packed off to school and college every morning without much fuss. In situations that called for a cool head, it would be my grandmother who maintained her poise even if her husband was infuriated at the turn of events.


On their 60th anniversary, they were looking like shy newly weds, ensconced together on their throne-like seats. The whole clan was present to greet them. I had discovered that anniversary cards were available only till the golden jubilee. Not too many people needed them beyond that.


As I watched them hold each other's hands, I realised once more that their love was not the sort that was to be explicitly displayed, but the genteel, graceful sort that existed in the eyes, in the smiles, in the holding of hands.


When he left us forever a couple of years later, she didn't cry much. She remained silent for long periods though, and it was an effort to get her to talk. Earlier this month, she passed away too, and now whenever I look up at the sky, I know that he has held her hand once again, never to let it go.









As 2010 dawns, the overall geo-political and security scenario across the globe will appear to be distinctly dismal with 2009 not having witnessed any significant political breakthroughs towards peace and stability. Severe recession plagued the world's economy as never before and the scourge of terrorism unrelentingly expanded its global footprint in more dangerously innovative forms.


Unbridgeable chasms in managing the world's environment and climate continued to bedevil the developed and the still developing fraternity among nations where billions still remain deprived of the most basic sustenance.


Nearer home, South Asia presents a bleak picture with most of our neighbours suffering, apart from economic deprivation, political instability underscored by the ever-expanding spectre of terrorism.


Mercifully, as alluded to by our no-nonsense Home Minister, India did not witness any major terror strikes in 2009 with over a dozen of these strikes perhaps averted, thanks to some improvements in our overall security architecture, besides the always welcome "luck" factor.


Terrorists and all those agencies, predominantly foreign and now some home grown, which mastermind terror will undoubtedly be waiting in the wings to fructify their evil agendas soon for 365 days without a major terror act in the Indian hinterland would be unpalatable to them.


As such, 2010 could prove to be very challenging to India's security apparatus, besides, once again, testing the resolve of the Indian state to combat terror. India thus has to look inwards to ensure its own well-being by itself, and as an extension of its ethos and values and as the premier power in this region, do all it can to stabilise South Asia.


To our immediate west lies the most dangerous expanse of the world, namely, the Af-Pak region. Pakistan, globally acknowledged as a fountainhead of terror, is at the cross-roads with its own existence as a nation-state under grave threat attributable to those very elements of the Taliban and al Qaida it nourished for years to foment terror in India and Afghanistan as an extension of its myopic state policy.


Almost daily major acts of violence all across Pakistan have virtually brought it to a halt, but is Pakistan still sincere in combating terror or will its death wish take it to further ruin? An unstable albeit nuclear-armed Pakistan in the danger of imploding has severe security implications for India and we thus have to monitor the overall situation with great caution.


Though adopting a posture of benign neglect towards them may have some takers in this country, yet indifference towards Pakistan may not prove prudent in the long run. As we remain firm in not restarting the composite dialogue till the 26/11 perpetrators are brought to book by Pakistanis and as unambiguously stated by our Prime Minister that no redrawing of boundaries could be ever considered, India could mull over two steps in the larger interests of peace and stability for this region.


We must impress upon Pakistan that, in Afghanistan, India's sole interest is to bring peace and development to that hapless nation and thus Pakistan must refrain from carrying out any anti-India activities there.


Accordingly, the first step India could contemplate is that if Pakistan officially commits to genuinely stop abetting terror, India may once again offer a no-war pact on the lines of one that was suggested by the Prime Minister in Amritsar four years back.


Consequently, Pakistan could safely withdraw as many troops they wish from their eastern border to pursue their internal war against the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists more vigorously.


The second step could be to invite the main centre of power in Pakistan, namely their Army Chief, Gen Kayani, for a frank 'one-to-one' discussion with the Indian government on some security collaborative measures which need to be taken.


Our democratic dispensation in India will naturally be hesitant to have parleys with the Pak Army Chief in India instead of their political leadership and thus such meetings could be managed even outside the country in a confidential manner.


Nevertheless, as we must upgrade our badly lagging and ageing military preparedness, India must not remain indifferent to the happenings inside Pakistan and the small yet civilised constituency for democracy and sanity inside Pakistan needs our encouragement.


Importantly, India must also impress upon the U.S. that for stabilizing Afghanistan, more than a unilateral approach, getting together all the principal players of the region like Russia, even China, Iran, India, Pakistan and itself to collaborate, under the UN banner, may prove beneficial to that fragile and impoverished country.


Towards our East, after years of an uneasy relationship with Bangladesh, the scenario is positively encouraging with the friendly regime of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handing over the bulk of the Bangladesh-located rebel ULFA leadership to India.


This major goodwill measure needs to be reciprocated in a substantial manner by our government and we need to address the problems of the Farraka Barrage, the Tin Bigha corridor, the trade deficit problems with equanimity and in a spirit of cooperation.


India must make maximum use of this window of opportunity to cement a multi-faceted relationship with Bangladesh, especially during the forthcoming visit of its Prime Minister to India.


Notwithstanding the fact that Dhaka's military establishment and intelligence agencies( predominantly its Directorate General Forces Intelligence) have had very close linkages with both the Chinese military and Pakistan's ISI, a fresh approach to foster security relationships with them be tried. The cooperation of Bangladesh is vital for peace in our restive North-East region.


With Nepal, over the years, our relationships have been peculiar of love and hate. Nepal, since the end of monarchy, has itself been witnessing a fratricidal struggle owing to the power and ideological struggles between the pro-democracy elements and the Maoists.


Notwithstanding the Maoists' unfavourable perceptions of India, the visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar to India in August 2009 was indeed a promising beginning for Indo-Nepalese relations. India must strive for the speedy implementation of the various trade and river waters treaties in existence and those signed recently.


We also need to give a fillip to the Bilateral Consultative Group on Security to address all security issues, including cross-border crimes. However, Nepal has to be firmly told that anti-India activities being masterminded by the ISI from Nepal, especially of sending in trained terrorists and the use of Nepalese territory as a conduit for smuggling in fake Indian currency to India has to be dealt with effectively.


The Indian establishment needs to work out long-term strategic-cum-intelligence arrangements with the Nepalese establishment, notwithstanding the current opposition to it by pro-China elements inside Nepal. In addition, fencing of the currently open Indo-Nepal border could be thought of, besides revisiting the 1950 India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship.


Though we have warm relations with Sri Lanka, India does not appear to be proactive in furthering its multi-faceted relationship with the island territory. With the Chinese ever active in the implementation of their "string-of-pearls" strategy, it is embarking on the construction of the strategic port of Hambontota in Sri Lanka, which has security implications for us.


And now with Tamil Tiger Prabhakaran out of the way and the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, India could consider supplying most of the military equipment for the Sri Lankan armed forces as possible and carve out newer areas of cooperation with its tiny neighbour. India has to prevent the Chinese doing a Myanmar in Sri Lanka.


The world acknowledges our "seat on the high table" and the potential of India as a significant global player in the coming years . A strong, secure and self-reliant India must play its major role to bring peace and stability to South Asia and the world at large.









THE chairman of the US Federal Reserve has blamed poor financial regulation for the financial crisis and defended the record of America's central bank. Ben Bernanke also called for urgent improvements to financial oversight to prevent a repeat of an economic storm that he said could ultimately prove to be "the worst in history".


In a speech to the American Economic Association in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday Mr Bernanke argued that low interest rates in the first five years of the new millennium were "appropriate" for the time and had not caused the "bubble" in US house prices.


The Fed has been criticised by some economists who argue that it kept rates too low for too long, encouraging the property boom. The subsequent crash led to a surge in repossessions, leaving lenders with huge losses and the financial contagion quickly spread around the world.


Mr Bernanke suggested that the bubble was inflated by poor mortgage underwriting and weak supervision of lenders, and he said this must change.


"Surely, both the private sector and the financial regulators must improve their ability to monitor and control risk-taking," he added. "The crisis revealed not only weaknesses in regulators' oversight of financial institutions but also, more fundamentally, important gaps in the architecture of financial regulation around the world.


"Stronger regulation and supervision aimed at problems with (mortgage) underwriting practices and lenders' risk management would have been a more effective and surgical approach to constraining the housing bubble than a general increase in interest rates.


"Moreover, regulators, supervisors and the private sector could have more effectively addressed building risk concentrations and inadequate risk-management practices without necessarily having had to make a judgement about the sustainability of house prices."


Mr Bernanke insisted the Federal Reserve had been "working hard to identify problems and to improve and strengthen our supervisory policies and practices", adding: "The lesson I take from this experience is not that financial regulation and supervision are ineffective for controlling emerging risks, but that their execution must be better and smarter."


However, despite his remarks, he said policymakers should not rule out using interest rates as a measure to prevent any future build-up of asset price bubbles. "If adequate reforms are not made, or if they are made but prove insufficient to prevent dangerous build-ups of financial risks, we must remain open to using monetary policy as a supplementary tool for addressing those risks," he explained.


"Clearly, we still have much to learn about how best to make monetary policy and to meet threats to financial stability in this new era."


Mr Bernanke's speech comes as the US Senate prepares to debate regulatory reforms that would remove the Fed's responsibility for overseeing large financial institutions and leave it to focus on interest rates, a move that has already happened in Britain. Here, the Conservative Party has pledged to reverse this policy and return to the Bank of England its responsibility for supervising lenders.


Mr Bernanke has argued against the Senate's move, saying it would damage oversight of the system by removing a crucial monitor. The Fed chairman, who took office in February 2006 following the long reign of Alan Greenspan, has been nominated for another term by President Obama. The Senate Banking Committee voted in his favour last month and, while his nomination remains contentious with some, it is expected to be confirmed.


 By arrangement with The Independent








Feroze Shah Kotla Ground in Delhi has suddenly earned tremendous notoriety when the India-Sri Lanka one-day cricket match had to be abandoned due to a bad pitch. This has naturally turned everybody's attention to the role of the DDCA office-bearers, more so its president, who is none other than the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and the BJP's spin doctor, Arun Jaitley.


Every time journalists visit his room while a cricket match is on, which these days is the rule rather than an exception, Jaitley is busy watching the match on his TV screen.


Just before the winter session of Parliament ended, Jaitley in his passion for the game organised a match between MPs and journalists. He enlisted some top former cricketers like Mohammad Azharuddin to play against journalists.


But when journalists asked him to let out Feroze Shah Kotla Ground for this match, he refused to oblige saying he wouldn't want to spoil the pitch. And this comment became a big subject of discussion in the media when the India-Sri Lanka match was scrapped because of the condition of the pitch.


Sajjan Kumar's lunch for farmers


Congress strongman from outer Delhi Sajjan Kumar is a man who never says die. Ever since he was implicated in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, he has often been denied the party ticket and forced to sit out, but he has not lost his zest and zing.


Every year he organises a lunch, all vegetarian, for farmers and invites almost every known and unknown media person. This year too he remained unfazed and invited all to his 16, Ashoka Road residence.


Through a strange coincidence the luncheon invitation arrived in media offices almost simultaneously with the news from the Union Home Ministry that it has extracted from Delhi's Lt. Governor Tejinder Khanna the sanction to prosecute Sajjan Kumar for his alleged involvement in the 1984 riots.


Ministers reluctant to go to Africa


It turned out to be quite a herculean task for the government to find a Minister of State to travel as the Minister-in-Waiting with Vice-President Hamid Ansari on his coming three-nation tour of Africa.


The Prime Minster's Office contacted almost every MoS, seeking his/her consent for accompanying the Vice-President. Finally, Minister of State for Labour Harish Rawat reluctantly agreed to go on the trip during which several agreements are expected to be signed by India with Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.n


Contributed by Anita Katyal, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja








It has been quite a few years now that the forces of the West, led by the US and supported by allies such as Pakistan, have gone hammer and tongs at Islamic fiandarnentalists, namely the Taliban and the al Qaeda. These have been hit hard, but not decimated. While the Taliban is lying low within the rugged terrain of North West Pakistan and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden's outfit appears to have strayed out of the sheltering arms of the former and set up base elsewhere. Disinformation being a part of the strategy in warfare in modern times, any hint in the media that the al Qaeda has been reduced to a shadow of its former self or that its leader is either dead or dying has to be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. As though to re-emphasise the veracity of its continued existence the al Qaeda has carried out a number of 'operations' in the past few weeks which, though less spectacular and successful than its previous 'achievements', nonetheless serve as stark reminders that the scorpion has lost none of its sting. In Holland there was an attempt to kill the Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, whose 2008 cartoon in the newspaper Jyllands-Posten depicting Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban had sparked off enormous outrage in the Muslim world. During the aborted attempt a Somali man with al Qaeda links was wounded and arrested.

In another incident a Nigerian allegedly trained by al Qaeda had smuggled an incendiary device on to an American plane, but was overpowered as he was trying to set it alight. Though this attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was almost amateurish by al Qaeda standards, yet it raises terrifying questions about air-travel safety since it exposes loopholes in airport security. One common link bonding the two separate incidents is that both the operatives were from East Africa, reflecting the distinct change of pattern in al Qaeda operations. With safe havens such as Afghanistan being no longer available, apparently more and more the organisation is shifting base to Africa for training purposes while using Middle East Asian countries like Yemen as strategic and financing bases. The above incidents reinforce the conclusion that brute military force alone will not be able to obliterate fundamentalist outfits. Given the depth of anti-American sentiments in the Islamic world, even amongst ordinary Muslims who abhor the modus operandi of outfits such as the al Qaeda, terror organisations will not lack for support or recruits. For instance, even in West oriented Yemen, the US has been compelled to shut down its Embassy in the capital Sanaa due to possible al Queda threat. Hearts and minds are needed to be won in order to bridge the gulf, a prospect that appears far distant in the contemporary global scene.







Shillong Lajong may have stopped short of creating history in the Federations Cup final on Sunday, but having taken the formidable East Bengal to the tie-breaker stage, they too can be termed 'winners' in their own right. Holding off the formidable Kolkata outfit for 120 minutes without conceding a goal was no mean task. In fact, it was an achievement equivalent to a victory, as a penalty shootout is always akin to tossing up the coin. East Bengal custodian Abhra Mandal's brilliance under the bar won the coveted title for his team, but Shillong Lajong can take pride in the fact that they could at least end the regulation time in a goalless stalemate and it was their inexperience in the tie-breaker that denied them a shot at history. Prior to that, the boys from the North East, bustling with youthful exuberance and strong determination and egged on by a vociferous crowd at the Nehru Stadium, matched fire with fire with a combination of attacking football and solid defence. But their fighting display in the final apart, the very fact that Lajong could reach the summit clash in their debut season itself, having removed a top-class team like Churchill Brothers out of the way in the semifinal, is a remarkable feat indeed. Those who thought Lajong were mere pretenders did so at their own peril. Shillong Lajong have therefore finished the tournament with their heads held high and their magnificent run have earned them the tag of the new wonderboys of Indian football.

With their brilliant display in the Federations Cup, Shillong Lajong have made everyone sit up and take notice and sent out a confident message that they are here to stay. Much of the credit for Lajong's success must go to their coach Stanley Rosario, who has created a strong and smart unit out of nothing and used their raw energy and natural instincts to unleash them on a giant-killing spree. Their meteoric rise is nothing short of a phenomenon, and this raises expectations for an encore in the upcoming tournaments. Lajong have also inspired a whole new generation of young footballers in the North East and instilled immense self-belief in them to strive for excellence at higher levels of soccer. The North East certainly has the potential to emerge as a football hub in future, and Lajong's success should add to the popularity the game already enjoys in the region.








Of the many aberrations of democracy that are visible all over the world, the most sinister perhaps is the pretence that there is the sanction of the people – the masters in a democratic system – for things that our elected representatives do, when there is really no such sanction. Actually, the imagined sanction of just a few people will not do in a democracy. It is the sanction of the majority through their representatives that is necessary. Since this is missing most of the time, the rulers must manufacture a make-believe majority sanction. In Assam, this has been achieved in three ways. First, the majority has been broken up into its smaller constituent ethnic groups by the rulers' stress on the need for autonomy of smaller groups. Secondly, the remaining major constituent of the majority has been turned into a minority through large-scale orchestrated import of foreign voters from Bangladesh who now constitute the majority in about 12 districts of Assam. Thirdly, since this is a silent majority except in electoral matters, there is no risk of their opposing the ruling party or the State government's actions on matters not related to elections, residency rights, citizenship, health care and employment. So, all that the rulers have to do is to set up committees manned exclusively by their blue-eyed boys to take the decisions that they want in all other matters. These decisions can always be projected as democratic ones because they have a committee taking the decisions in every case. The minister's hand is not visible because he is not on any of the committees – only his hand-picked members are there.

Having ensured the three major safeguards to make significant public protests to the hijacking of democracy seem irrelevant, the ruling party ministers and lawmakers can proceed to do everything possible to maximize personal profit in the minimum time. Quite often the process involves the forcible occupation of government land in the name of some organization or the other, construction activities according to the whims of some minister or the other and acts of nepotism and other more serious corrupt practices that all ensure swift personal gains rather than the greatest good of the greatest number. In all such endeavours, the general trend is to involve a contractor or a middleman who helps to obscure the identity of the real perpetrator.

How disastrous this hijacking of all democratic norms (along with the pretence that democracy is functioning) is can be best assessed by looking at the kind of anarchy that we now have. The perpetrators of this anarchy never cease to extol the merits of democracy while practicing a warped kind of neo-feudalism at best. Fealty to the feudal lord is the prime prerequisite for the citizen's survival in the State with even a semblance of dignity. As for economic opportunities, people must have noticed that it is virtually impossible to secure the necessary permission and the licences to start any new enterprise unless one is a member or known supporter of the ruling political party. The same kind of thing is beginning to happen to people seeking employment in Assam. One can only have the crumbs if one has no links with the ruling party. For any decent government jobs one needs support of the ruling party. And this holds good for teaching jobs in provincialized schools and all colleges. As for jobs that are decided by the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC), it is a matter of bidding at an auction where the minimum keeps changing from year to year. Even the government contracts for setting up marquees for any of the numerous public rallies go to those with links with the ruling party. In a word, any economic activity in Assam cannot be contemplated without links with the ruling party. As for the smaller contracts of the State government, the SULFA has a major say in who shall bid and who shall not, and the SULFA nexus with the ruling party is a well established one. What shall the deserving ones who have no links with the ruling party do to eke out a living? They must either forge the links that do not exist or set up small outlets for Xerox copying with the State-run ASEB sabotaging their humble endeavours to survive.

It is the total rejection of social justice in all this that has caused the greatest discontent and antagonism among all conscientious citizens. In one sentence, it is the total rejection of merit in favour of money and political connections that has generated all the righteous indignation that is not getting anywhere because it is not properly channeled and coordinated. The most outstanding instance of the total rejection of merit is the perpetuation of the reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes that was given in our Constitution only for a period of ten years. This has been turned into a political gimmick and made a permanent feature of our polity, because experience has shown that nothing gets votes as easily as a politician's ability to distribute backwardness to different castes and ethnic groups. This is a handy device that guarantees perpetual political power without any performance.

With devices like this and the import of foreign nationals to swell the vote banks, the Indian politician is assured of a durability that goes beyond a five-year spell and the time to look after his/her own interests. The minimum span of ten years in the legislature that can be expected with the right kind of investments at the elections leaves the politician with the expected opportunities for bhog without any waste of time for tyaag of any kind. For today's politicians, such ideals were buried with the passing away of leaders like Gandhiji.

In a scenario like the present one, where merit has been rejected for all times and the upright and law-abiding citizen marginalized, it is a free-for-all in the political world. No wonder, more and more criminals are getting into politics and becoming lawmakers. There is no activity for criminals quite as lucrative as being in politics, since there is the added bonus of immunity from the penal provisions of the law. The first casualty, naturally, is the rule of law. Can one expect any rule of law in a State where a minister can appropriate government land for himself, where directors of the Education Department can distribute hundreds of non-existent teaching jobs and make crores of rupees, where State terrorism can take hundreds of lives in fake encounters and where postings and transfers are determined by nepotism, vindictiveness and slush money? Is there any social justice in a system that permits terrorism itself to become an industry because it has not been able to create industries in 30 years or to attract outside investment to the State? There is none. So we shall go on creating the right kind of soil for terrorism. We shall continue to see vested interests strongly opposed to any peace talks because terrorism is an industry in the State just as siphoning out development funds of the government is big business. It is the gestalt of such social injustice that promotes terrorism. So we do not have to look outward to see how much of terrorism has been exported to India by which neighbouring country. We just have to look inwards to see how much of it has been stoked by our own political system. And what applies to Assam also applies to the rest of the country. The Naxalites and the Maoists are all angry young men determined to change the present order with guns, because the day is long over when electoral reforms can keep criminals out of the Legislature. For most of us, the infiltration of the Legislature by criminals is the worst social injustice anyone can think of because of what this will do to our laws, the nadir to which corruption can descend and to the future of our nation. It is this social injustice that is the last straw that breaks the camel's back.








Sometime back, I happened to read an article on the Canadian media system which contained a passing reference to something interesting. The reference was about the power that mass media ownership wields in the modem worid.

The article stated that about three decades ago the owner of the famous Time magazine planned to launch a Canadian edition of the magazine and the usual process of formalities were initiated by the management. However, because of some rules of the Canadian government there was a major difficulty in allowing this to have taken place. But the owner was so influential that a special envoy of the then US President visited Canada and requested her Prime Minister to manage something to allow the Canadian edition of Time to be published. Otherwise, the envoy explained that if the owner of the organisation was disappointed it would cause major trouble for the US President also.

Further, I read the autobiography of a former editor of United Kingdom's leading newspaper in Fleet Street which contained another interesting anecdote. While the Iron Lady of the UK, Margaret Thatcher was very much in power her daughter was a middle-level journalist in this newspaper. At one point of time in the early 1980s because of recession and other problems quite a few journalists had to be laid. This also included Thatcher's daughter. This lady had threatened the management through the editor that she would see how the newspaper carried on its functioning by antagonizing the daughter of the Prime Minister of the country. But despite a lot of threats nothing happened because Thatcher did not even utter a single word to the management of the daily about her daughter's job loss.

The same autobiography also informs that it used to be a normal affair for the national political leaders of that country - whether those in power, including the Prime Minister, Home Minister or those from the Opposition – to have visited newspaper offices now and then and exchange views on various issues. Of course, even though we can term this basically as a public relations exercise by those leader, yet it also emphasizes how much they do realise anout the extent of media power in making or breaking their individual or their party's future.

This reference brings to mind another aspect of media power getting concentrated in the hands of a single or a few individuals. The former editor also wrote in detail about how the media magnet – Rupert Murdoch, owner of the STAR TV empire defied all challenges from established trade unions and shifted offices and printing systems of the newspapers and magazines taken over by him from their earlier place of origin at Fleet Street in London without any worthwhile resistance.

Mass media influences our choices and preferences either knowingly or unknowingly.

Nearer home, most of us may recall how the owner of Zee TV media empire dared to challenge the mighty Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with his Indian Cricket League (ICL) series. It needs mention here that BCCI is the richest cricket administration body in the world with a lot of weight that is thrown around whenever its bosses feel like, both in the national as well as international arena. Even though it could not succeed in the long run for many factors, yet the point was made that mass media wields a serious challenge to any power in this world whenever it is applied.

The Government of India's pet giants are All India Radio (AIR) and Doordarshan (DD). Between them, they cover almost hundred per cent of the country's population along with territory at any given time of the day or year. Now, if such expensive mass media outlets were 'misused' for spreading subversive messages or sabotage services by any party, we can imagine the consequences. So we can say that in our country at least the Union Government is the biggest media magnet. It is a bit difficult to realise it at first. But if we look deeply into it we will find that mass media houses having a pan-Indian presence in a majority of small and big towns, besides cities have the capacity to mobilise many people. We all know that media has the power to mould public opinion and if this business is taken to a newer height with a propagandist view in mind then anything may happen.

The situation is more serious than it appears to the masses. For example, The Times of India group of newspapers owns quite a few dailies and magazines in English, Hindi and also other regional languages all over the country, commercial FM radio stations, TV channels and what not. Similarly, the Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, Dainik Jagaran, Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhumi, Sakal group of newspapers etc all have a large presence at many places of the country. This can be used for pushing causes which might be favourable for them. This is called cross ownership of mass media.

The situation is somewhat similar to that of 'cartelization of any business' in the world by a few business houses. This allows them a highly advantageous position which lets them decide exclusively what content they would let the masses enjoy, at what price, at what time etc as a total monopoly concern.

Experts in the government and the media have provided for the clause of prevention of 'cross ownership' of mass media outlets/entities by a few persons or groups so that absolute concentration of media power as may be prevented. Thus, any mass media group is not usually allowed to own a very high number of media outlets either in one specific field or across several categories.

In this regard it is also necessary that a strong mass movement mobilized for forcing the Union Government to implement provisions for prevention of cross ownership of mass media in the interest of the masses against a highly 'cartelized' mass media business.

(The writer is Associate Professor, Dept of Mass Communication & Journalism, Tezpur University).









Shashi Tharoor has quite been a case of 'owner's pride' (the Sonia-Rahul-Manmohan establishment) and neighbours' (fellow Congress leaders) envy ever since he hit the big league. Given his impressive academic and professional background, Tharoor was widely seen in Delhi as a chosen one.

The fact that he stuck his neck out to win a Lok Sabha seat only made the Capital's drawing-room leaders squirm in their chairs. So, his first 'cattle class' tweeting adventure triggered a 'fix him' whisper campaign from the gallery. He survived to reconfirm his strategic placing. But his latest twitter misadventure on the visa front has made many wonder whether Tharoor has got his priorities right. They wonder if, like the love-bitten prince who gave up the throne to keep his beloved, Shashi is destined to blow his political career at the altar of compulsive tweeting. A case of thinning out the masters' patience...?


Vilasrao Deshmukh might have shown his skills in managing a political re-accommodation in the Union Cabinet post-26/11. But the Union heavy industries minister is realising that finding a suitable official bungalow in Lutyen's Delhi is a much tougher task than checkmating Sharad Pawar.

Seven months after assuming charge, Deshmukh is living out of a Bhel guest house. First, he had identified a Krishna Menon Marg bungalow, to be vacated by George Fernandes after he declined a Rajya Sabha nomination. But Fernandes changed his mind and extended his stay. Deshmukh then zeroed in on an Akbar Road bungalow to be vacated by Mani Shankar Aiyar after his poll defeat. But his appointment as honorary adviser of the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies still entitles Mani to the official accommodation. So Deshmukh's house hunt continues...


Will the calculating politician in Bihar CM Nitish Kumar opt for playing out the remaining 11 months — the assembly polls are due by 2010-end — or will he gamble on a mid-year electoral plunge? On record, Bihar leaders talk about completing their full term.

But the buzz is that Nitish is studying the electoral chessboard with an eye on the state's weather clock. At a time when the Lalu-Paswan combine is down and out, while Rahul Gandhi is only starting his Mission Bihar, the Congress-RJD divorce seems final and the battered BJP an option-less JD(U) ally, it looks a dream scene for Nitish now. Some say the CM is in the process of deciding whether he should take the poll plunge after allowing the mandatory August-September floods to wash away some of the feel-good factor of his governance or jump right into the poll tide before the waters breach the Bihar border.


Sushil Kumar Shinde has become a topic of discussion in Congress' ante-room. Notwithstanding the gathering clouds, his well-wishers are still hoping that Shinde's expertise in retaining the goodwill of his mentors will help him survive these testing times.

After all, such is his skill in winnings friends that Shinde is perhaps the only Congress leader whom Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar like and trust equally! But then, a political VVIP who understands the importance of the power ministry as the catalyst for ushering in radical changes in the development paradigm, is reportedly
not finding Shinde's likeable personal qualities an effective compensation for his lack of administrative dynamism and vision in steering the power sector. His worried backers are hoping Shinde will be forgiven, as in the past, and won't be shunted out to 24, Akbar Road, in this biting winter.







Inaugurating the 97th edition of the Indian Science Congress, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did some plain speaking: the organisation of Indian science is fossilised and bureaucratic, it smothers innovation, lacks relevance to India's development needs, has poor links to industry and the blame for all this lies with those at the helm of affairs in our university departments and research institutions.

Of course, the PM used far more diplomatic language. He went on to stress the global opportunities that Indian science has, in areas such as climate change mitigation and adaptation. He also hoped to attract talented Indians working in laboratories abroad to Indian research outfits, at least for short stints. All this is appropriate.

But the point is, how will things change, and change for the better? Mere exhortation will not do. The change required is far reaching - a great many things hamper science in this country, ranging from the general culture, the school syllabus and the division of teaching and research between universities and specialised research organisations to overall lack of democratic values in society.

Indian culture traditionally assumed knowledge to be finite (the original Sankaracharya was even vested with the title sarvagnya, or one who knows everything), and a student is expected to master received wisdom rather than constantly test and challenge concepts. Curiosity is discouraged in the name of respect for authority. This kills innovation and new thinking. Schools imbibed the philosophy of Macaulay's minute on education and continues with the mission of producing clerks.

Universities are training grounds, rather than incubators of intellectual curiosity. Research is supposed to take place in specialised, mostly state-funded, research outfits, but these are run on bureaucratic lines that stifle dissent, intellectual or otherwise. What offers hope is that some in India still manage to do good science, beating all these odds.

The powerlessness of Ruchika Girhotra and her family against those who wield state power replicates itself in most settings, including the organisation of science in India. Ultimately, this has to change for Indian science to unleash creativity on the scale of its full potential.







It is indeed heartening to note that most states have been growing remarkably fast, going by the Central Statistical Organisation's (CSO) current data on the economic growth of states over the last decade. Even chronically poor states such as Orissa, Bihar, Rajasthan and, more anaemically, Uttar Pradesh have participated in the boom, sending out a clear message that no state can be written off.

One can argue that GDP alone cannot be the final indicator of the overall well being of people living in these states. They need good governance to register growth on the human development index as well. Higher growth would, in fact, help reach this goal. States will have more revenues to invest in social infrastructure such as health and education. This, in turn, will lead to an improvement in the quality of human capital, thereby making it a virtuous cycle.

That gross state domestic product (GSDP) has been growing well in states like Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat, along with the southern pack, does not come as a surprise. But Bihar growing at 11.4% last fiscal, surpassing even Gujarat, India's fastest growing state over the last seven years, is something else. Its growth accelerated from an average of 3.7% over the 9th Plan (1997-'02) to 8.5% over the 10th Plan (2002-'07). Orissa's growth rate accelerated from 5.1% over the 9th Plan to 9.2% over the 10th. The newly created states of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, too have been growing particularly well.

But Madhya Pradesh continued to be a laggard, its growth rate stagnant at 4.5% over the 9th and 10th Plan periods. The growth rate of India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh, picked up from an abysmal average of 2.6% during the 9th Plan to a still low 5.4% over the 10th Plan. West Bengal has been another disappointment, with its average growth rate for the 10th Plan, 6.3% actually lower than the level of 6.5% achieved during the 9th Plan in contrast to Kerala, the other Communist-ruled state. Without stellar performance from the states, there would have been no India growth story, of course.







Unfriend, the act of removing someone from a social networking site list may have been named the word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, but the word generator of the year tag surely belongs to US President Barack Obama.

While unfriend beat 'hashtag' (similarly tagged tweets), 'intexticated; (those with a Tharoorian predilection for the virtual word), 'sexting' (sending sexually explicit SMSes and pictures by cellphone), 'freemium' (a business model with some free basic services), 'funemployed' (newly unemployed people using their free time to have fun or pursue other interests and deleb (a dead celeb), Obama inspired enough words for a small dictionary. In the past year that saw the total English language wordcount cross 1 million, scarcely any words have not had Barack or Obama tagged onto it.

Words like barackolyte, obamanomics, obamacare, baracklamation, and obamarama roll off the tongue, thanks to the vowel-consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel formation of Obama that lends itself to blending. Call it an obamination, the trend is likely to continue through the new decade, fuelled by the obamalicious and obamafriendly. Indeed Obama was surpassed only by Twitter as the top word of 2009 by the Global Language Monitor, but beat H1N1, Stimulus, and Vampire.

The first few days of 2010 have already yielded an obamaword: snowbama. It has nothing to do with the current cold snap that's brought much of the world to a standstill; it is the moniker given by a Hawaiian beachside vendor to the President's favourite lemon and lime, cherry and passion guava ice-slush, better known as chuski in India.

Linguists have also suggested some rules, as both his names are neologism-friendly. So for future additions to the Baracktionary, choose words that already echo his name like bureaucracy (barackracy), find a functional word-creation style like obamalaise and baracturnal, or stick a recognisable part of his name in a word, like obalma mater. A tougher task, of course, would be to find words that don't link easily with either Barack or Obama. Climate change, for instance.








There's a show currently running on an Indian TV channel about cheating partners, which is loosely based on an international show. The purpose of both the shows are similar—voyeurism with a liberal dose of sleaze.

But the place where the two shows differ dramatically is the way the anchors approach the show. The international one doesn't make much bones about it – but the Indian show anchor is made to look like the upholder of Indian morality. The show is made to sound like a social service targeted towards emotionally bruised souls – a little nudge and it would have called itself the Samaritans.

This misplaced sense of morality is possibly one of the strongest Indian traits and its influence on Indian society, popular culture and even marketing is undeniable.

From sex education at school to reality show formats, we have a strong moral point of view on everything. So much so that even pure commercial transactions are viewed from a moral lens. Take, for example, the current feud between writer Chetan Bhagat and the makers of the movie 3 idiots.

The issue was no longer about legal obligation. A writer who has been paid money for licensing a story was very upset at the placement of his credit. To turn it into a moral issue he had to bring in the account of his mother in tears. But the best part of the story was the makers were also looking for a moral response rather than a commercial response.

'Only 5% similarity with the book' was more of a moral response by the filmmakers – they were almost afraid to bring up the contractual details. It's difficult to conclude who was right in this feud but it's possibly very easy to conclude that in India a moral question cannot be answered either commercially or legally.

In India, the sense of right and wrong is a more fundamental discourse than anything else. We can ignore information, we can ignore observation we can even ignore objectivity. But we mostly succumb to the social code of morality and try to justify every action from that point of view. The concept of morality always has an undertone of either religion or politics. Indian society is fundamentally governed by an overdose of religion and politics and, hence, morality is always the default force. Some scholars argue that in Hinduism morality and law is often one and the same and can be used interchangeably. I think this viewpoint is the source code for our misplaced sense of morality.

We have moral police in action in metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai before the state police comes into action. In corporate world even when companies evade taxes, use unethical means of doing business, the proprietors often claim moral rightness. This moral one-upmanship is often used by brands to create a false sense of stature.


 chewing gum brand doles out the moral discourse of right and wrong in traffic violation, a tea brand takes a moral stand on democracy and the importance of voting. Indian home grown brands often use Indianess as a superior value over the Western, ayurvedic and natural brands feel morally superior over the scientific ones. The biggest advantage of this approach is that moral values can be constituted on completely unfounded grounds. The political party in Mumbai that partake in all sorts of vandalism consider themselves to be the moral guardians of the city. Ask why and you will realise that morality is not only relative, but is based on convenience.

At this point it may be worthwhile to differentiate between morality and ethics. Though etymologically they stem from similar origin and mean more or less the same, in the world of business they have different connotations.

Ethics are often absolute and well defined and can be used as a true differentiator for a brand. Ethical brands are often true to their social, economic and environmental responsibilities. And many consumers buy into the principle and consumption of the brand is often driven by a sense of doing the right thing. This concept unfortunately hasn't been very popular in India. Taking a moral stance is one thing, opening up the organisational practice to a transparent scrutiny is another. Indian marketing reserves the right to propagate moral platitude without necessarily being subjected to an audit of business ethics.

The biggest advantage of Indian morality is that it's mostly symbolic. Without doing anything meaningful or acting responsible in any manner, a brand can create a token sense of morality. Be it reminding people of their filial responsibilities, or allegedly taking sided with darker women or even representing the interest of the less fortunate. And more often than not this morality is disseminated only through advertising. So far we were used to 'claim level' ingredients in our product – the next thing brands will use to differentiate themselves would be a 'claim level' morality.

Ethical branding in India is a far cry. What we are likely to witness a lot in the near future is that brands trying to exploit our misplaced sense of morality to create a symbolic high ground.

(The author is Managing Partner, BBH India)








What better way to begin a year than to recall T S Eliot's lines: For last year's words belong to last year's language / And next year's words await another voice / And to make an end is to make a beginning.

A new year is certainly a start for many things. As one gets over the hangover of the year gone by — and, for some, of spirits gone in — it is the time to look ahead. The joy of the festive season has not yet worn off, and an upbeat, feel-good mood is in the air. An optimistic outlook is, therefore, quite in order. Here, then, is a what-may-be look at the brand-new year, before the shine wears off, and through distinctly rose-tinted glasses.

All through 2010, economic growth continues to accelerate. Spurred by a slow but definite global recovery and a positive Budget, the Indian economy does exceptionally well, with a run-rate of over 9% growth. An excellent monsoon, coming after a disastrous one in 2009, leads to a strong bounce-back in agriculture and stimulates rural demand and growth. Manufacturing does well, with a big improvement in availability of power, cheaper import of raw material — thanks to a stronger rupee — and more efficient logistics. The last is a consequence of removing bureaucratic hurdles of assorted levies and paperwork traditionally involved in the movement of goods, along with better roads and a technology-enabled goods tracking system to minimise cost and time of shipments.

The entry of large retail chains has had an immediate impact on the supply chain. Wastage of agricultural produce has been minimised, as has time-to-market, thanks to cold storage facilities and refrigerated transport. Better rural roads, linked to high-speed rail and highway networks, have helped in reducing cost and time of transportation. This has led to fresher and cheaper farm produce for the consumer, while efficiencies and disintermediation have meant higher prices for farmers. The availability of cold chains, all the way from farm to urban consumer, is resulting in farmers growing more fruit and vegetables. This generates higher incomes, but has a short-term impact on the availability and prices of foodgrains; however, the large budgetary outlays for agricultural extension will help to quickly increase the yield of grains, while the big increase in R&D funding will lead to higher productivity in a few years. These steps will increase supply and keep prices in check.

NREGA continues to be a boon to the really poor, providing employment where and when none exists, and also leading to an increase in general wage rates. The use of IT and innovative solutions — like payments through pre-paid cards in mobile phones, with voice recognition technology for ID — has led to quick payments, full transparency and accountability, and higher system efficiency. Meanwhile, the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) — with NREGA melding into it — has taken off.

NRLM provides training for in-demand skills, including training for installation, maintenance and repair of agri-equipment and electronics (TV, computers, mobiles and telecom equipment, cable and DTH, air conditioners, etc); plumbing, electrical work, masonry and construction; sales; driving and auto maintenance; agriculture, horticulture and forestry related, etc. NREGA supports this by paying eligible trainees in recognised courses a per diem stipend equivalent to the NREGA wage rate. Such training has resulted in vastly improved employment prospects, higher wages, and better productivity: gains for the individual as well as the economy.

After a difficult year, India's flagship IT-BPO industry has picked up steam once again, as companies world-wide begin to increase IT budgets and look at India not just for wage differentials, but also for skill arbitrage and innovation. Booming domestic demand provides an additional fillip to this sector, resulting in an estimated direct employment generation of over 400,000 new jobs during the year, and about four times that through indirect job-creation. The government ensures the long-term growth and global competitive advantage of this sector through positive steps in education, training and fiscal policy, including the recognition of all STPI-registered units as 'deemed SEZs'.

Matching the bold steps by government, Nasscom announced that all IT-BPO companies with a turnover of Rs 100 crore or more had voluntarily agreed to put 3% of their profits into a special fund. Of this, two-thirds would be a fund, managed by Nasscom, for educational initiatives; the other one-third would be managed by Nasscom Foundation, and would be dedicated to improving the lives of the disadvantaged through education, training and skill development. This path-breaking initiative in corporate social responsibility by the IT-BPO industry has already energised other sectors to follow suit.

In a widely welcomed new move, the finance minister invited civil society groups for pre-Budget discussions. He agreed to ensure that each line item of budgetary expenditure would indicate the expected outcome and impact on the disadvantaged — specifically, on those below the poverty line. Government would also institute a mandatory social audit — funded by government, but independently conducted — of every social scheme with an outlay of over Rs 500 crore.

The frequency — quarterly or annual — and other modalities would be decided in consultation with civil society groups. There will also be a managerial audit of all government projects to ensure accountability for delays or mala fide in decision-making. Further, even as administrative reforms are put on a fast track, a new commission will review laws to identify, within a year, obsolete and unnecessary laws that need to be repealed.

Government has created, under the auspices of the National Innovation Council, an 'India Idea Fund' of Rs 1,000 crore a year to provide seed money — as grant or equity — to innovative and intellectual property focused start-up ventures. Special priority will be given to social entrepreneurship which will help to improve livelihoods and services for the disadvantaged.

Are these random possibilities merely dreams emanating from 'year-end euphoria'? Maybe; but I echo Lennon: You may say I'm a dreamer/ But I'm not the only one/ I hope someday you'll join us. So, do. After all, Man's reach must exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for.

(The author is an independent strategy and policy analyst)








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 US. 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 1994-95 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 1997-98. 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, à la Republican Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon in 1930-31, 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.

(The author is professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research)

© Project Syndicate, 2009








Once upon a time there was a disciple of the Buddha who had reached the enlightenment of Great Emptiness where it was said the Eternal Real and the passing unreal were one. Sitting under a tree in this enlightenment, he suddenly found flowers drifting down on him from the heavens. And he heard godlike voices which told him, "We are ready to praise your eloquence on Emptiness." The disciple was curious. "But I have not spoken of Emptiness," he said. "You have not spoken of it; we have not heard it. This is true Emptiness," said the voices, and the flowers continued to fall on him like rain.

However, this seemed to irritate the disciple who thought for a while and then raised his voice and said, "Hey wait a minute, hang on. I have a couple of issues here. Firstly, what is it with the flowers falling? I understand that in our way of thinking and living they are supposed to be symbols of something else and that used to be fine with me all along. But now I realise a symbol represents an image, object or idea which means that such things obviously exist in some conceptual background. So what's the big deal about the Great Emptiness? Or is the bs about flowers only meant to please readers in times to come to think that the outcome of this story was somehow blessed and good?"

He paused again for a moment to draw a deep breath and then, getting to his feet, continued with the harangue. "Secondly, why could it not be that an Eternal Unreal and the passing real were one instead of the other way around? What possible difference could it make to an ultimate and continuing Emptiness?

Besides, now that I have spoken of it and you have heard it will you never be ready in future to praise my eloquence on Emptiness? What kind of message would you be sending to all the illusory and actual Buddhas that will ever exist?"

The godlike voices retreated and conferred among themselves while the flowers slowly faded and stopped falling on the disciple standing under the tree in his enlightenment. Finally they said, "What you say is true. Unfortunately heavenly flowers and future readers have empty minds of their own to do with them as they wish just as you have done with yours. This is true Fullness." After a long time the disciple sat down again and the flowers resumed their falling. "God! You just can't lose," he muttered.








Honda is not a luxury carmaker in the league of BMW or Mercedes, but it remains the most aspirational brand for the large Indian middle-class . Its City sedan has outsold other sedans and has remained the most desirable car in its 11 year of existence in India. While Honda sold over 2.8 lakh City sedans, its hybrid launch strategy went haywire, and it had to cut prices by over 4% to clear off the piled inventory. Honda's vicepresident (marketing), Jnaneshwar Sen, in a freewheeling chat with ET Bureau outlines the strategies that has kept Honda the fastest growing premium badge in India. Excerpts:

How has Honda maintained such a strong premium brand tag?

Honda has been in India for over an decade and still remains one of the most aspirational car brands. We have launched three generations of City sedan, and each of these cars with its performance and quality have been an outstanding success. We still have customers looking for the first generation (City), which are now hard to find. Our customers continue to hunt for the same genre to satisfy their motoring instincts. This is Honda in India. Call it brand recall or anything, but it's a simple success story for our products.

How do you keep a track of such a large band of customers for feedback?

All our customers are under digital surveillance. Honda's newly-formed web system keeps a tab on each and every potential customer that enter the showroom. Commonly called WAP, it helps us to keep the Honda fledging family 'digitally connected' . It is a combination of net and mobile usage and collects data to start new customers services and drive sales promotion.

What has made Honda go for such an elaborate digital affair? Does it help in sales?

We are tracking all our sales closely. This comes from the fact that 42% of the Jazz buyers have owned a Honda car previously and likewise around 30% of the new City customers are old Honda customers. Moreover, almost 50% of the Civic customers are from the Honda family. So for us, a significant business comes form our existing customer base. Honda is an aspiration brand. We make cars that customers not just buy, but also are 'proud' to own. Likewise, 61% of our flagship Accord sedan customers are from the Honda clientele itself. Though Honda is still evolving in India, past 11 years had been a great learning to maintain our top position in premium car segment. Likewise, when Honda launched City in 1998, it was the most coveted car in its segment. Over the years many other cars have tried to compete , but none could ever come close in terms of sales.

What keeps Honda on the forefront?

The sheer joy of owning Honda makes the difference . We are not exactly a luxury car maker, but all our cars are closest to any luxury marque. Safety is standard on all Honda cars -- anti-lock brake system, airbags and G-Con safety body is common that gives our customers more confidence.

How far do you modify/customise your products for the Indian market?

Honda is perhaps the only carmaker that has modified its global cars especially for the Indian customers. Our flagship sedan Accord and Civic does not have any steering mounted music controls. Because these cars are chauffeur driven, so we shifted music controls to the rear. But that's not the case in all cars. The popular ones —Jazz & City—have all the music command right on the steering. Simple logic: both are most self driven cars.

Does it mean that Indian customers get the best available from the Honda portfolio?

We work on Honda's global philosophy of three joys of owning, selling and creating a Honda product. We make strategies to take it forward. We have launched all its global products simultaneously in the Indian market without a lag. The third generation City debuted India immediately after its global launch in Thailand. India was the first market to have the sixth generation Accord hitting after its lead market the US and Europe.

Honda is the only company to recall its vehicles from the market. What has been the thinking on that score?
We recalled our sports utility vehicle CRV, City sedan and the flagship Accord saloon in the past, even though there were no complaints in India. We are proactive in India and opted to change auto parts even when there was no need. Such moves ensured peace of mind —durability , quality and reliability—and helped Honda to top the JD Power customer surveys for service & sales satisfaction consistently for the past two years. All this also helps in shaping a positive image for the brand.

Honda has had its share of failures too. Its most stylish launch, the Jazz hatchback, was expected to be a roaring success, but has failed to excite the Indian customers?

We are trying to create a new segment -- equivalent to a sedan and far superior than any hatchback. It's a urban car with ample space and multi-utilisation options, rather to say having the best of both worlds. It is a higher priced product and could be more expensive than its competitors like the Maruti Swift, Hyundai I20 and the Skoda Fabia, but will create a market of its own in due course.

Keeping the momentum going, what are your plans for the Indian market?

We are developing a small car for India. Currently, we are undertaking surveys on the new products as it is being developed keeping in mind Indian customers. We have started studying Indian customers' behaviour and usage patterns—weekend trend, shopping habits etc—to design stylish cars with modern looks and pack them with ergonomics features.








Cars, tractors, components, IT outsourcing, retail, infrastructure, hospitality, aerospace ... Group Mahindra is a true federation of diverse businesses. So what next? "The new area for us would be renewable energy. We have no concrete plans at the moment, but solar power is an area of very very strong interest to us," said Anand Mahindra, the $6.3-billion conglomerate's vice-chairman and managing director, in a free-wheeling interview with ET Now. Excerpts:

After a bit of a slowdown, the auto industry is bouncing back. How is Group Mahindra planning to ride the growth crest?

It's been a long time coming. Industry has been through a rough patch so we're grateful it's looking up. The potential tipping point has been breached or is about to be breached. The tipping point refers to motorisation rates in an economy. There's a theory in industry worldwide that when you get to a certain per capita level, sales of automobiles take off. That's what's happening right now in India. The good news is, during the meltdown we never stopped any of our own product-related expenditures—capex, new products in the pipeline. We also have a brand new plant and new capacity coming on stream in Chakan. We have a new R&D facility coming up next year. We're good to surf any wave in the auto market.

M&M has launched its Navistar range of trucks at the expo bringing it head to head with the established duopoly of Tata Motors and Ashok Leyland. What is your commercial vehicle strategy all about?

We think the truck pie is poised to expand. We don't underestimate the two established players. But we think duopolies are interesting. If you are able to differentiate, there is room in an expanding market for a new player on the basis of technology, innovation and performance. The good thing is, the whole cycle of investment for the Chakan plant is in place. We didn't delay that, so we are ready to cash in right now.

Any plans to take a stake in Navistar, turn the partnership into a global stake alliance on the lines of VW-Suzuki?
No such plan. The JV is very focused on exploiting the expanding truck market in India with products that are new and world-class. Value creation for the next decade will be in India and China—so we've got our blinkers on and our eye on the road here.

What's happening with the Mahindra Renault JV? Are you walking away?

One of the mistakes we made was creating an over-expectation for how much the Logan could sell in India. From the point of view of product and quality, it met all its goals. Four to five years later, it's still selling in what would be reasonable numbers for a sedan that has not been refreshed at all. It hit its sweet spot and if you talk to customers, they are the most satisfied across the group. Secondly, regulations changed so the tariff structure weighed against a product like this where we could not alter its size. That factor was beyond Mahindra's control.

You've just announced a major investment in your Chinese tractor JV. Clearly, China is a crucial part of your tractor strategy, but is there a larger China strategy for the group? Are more acquisitions/alliances on the anvil?

China has no competence in diesel engines, so our commitment to build a diesel engine plant there, albeit in tractors, is very crucial. China is the fastest growing market in the world. If there are opportunities, we will find them.

In the two biggest businesses you are in, you are directly pitched against Tatas. With your latest truck product, Maxximo, you will be targeting their Ace. Is Group Mahindra taking on Group Tata?

The Tata Group is a role model; we are following a group that did well and is worthy of emulation. My grandfather used to work for the Tatas as GM marketing. Keshub Mahindra was close to (the late) JRD (Tata).




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, inaugurating the Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday, echoed the sentiments of thousands of young scientists when he made a fervent plea to rid science of red-tapism and political interference, which he acknowledged had led to the "regression" of science in India. Young scientists are being relentlessly thwarted by administrators and accountants, who can make or break a Nobel laureate in the making by trying to arbitrarily decide what he or she should or should not do. The office administrators at our institutes of science and higher learning are not impressed by the flight of imagination of young people, which is essential for the development of indigenous science. Administrators, because of their training and attitude, prefer "stability" and pre-set procedures, and to stick to "time-tested methods", allergic to innovation of any kind. This, needless to say, has made any kind of original research or thinking in this country next to impossible. The Prime Minister has obviously been touched to the core by the remarks of 2009 Nobel laureate Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, who made the obvious point that Indian scientists needed greater autonomy from red tape and politics. After he and two others shared the Chemistry Nobel last year, Dr Ramakrishnan found almost everyone in India had started claiming him as their own — after showing almost no interest in his work for several decades. He is not the first Nobel laureate born in India to comment on this — 1968 Medicine laureate Hargobind Khurana had noted how he had to go abroad to even do his Ph.D. The rot had set in that far back! It is true that despite all shortcomings and red-tapism, India has advanced tremendously in science and space — from two nuclear explosions to the successful Chandrayaan mission which found traces of water on the moon. It would be unrealistic, uneconomical and untenable to depend entirely on experiments conducted in overseas laboratories. We have to develop at our own pace — and our young scientists must be given unfettered freedom to pursue their innovations, whether in "pure" science or even more prosaic disciplines such as manufacturing. Dr Manmohan Singh has called for a switch from the brain drain to a "brain gain" — urging scientists of Indian origin working abroad to come back to the homeland, if only for a few months at a time, to deliver lectures or otherwise inspire successive new generations. He called for the setting up of a mechanism to free science from bureaucratic heavy-handedness: it goes without saying this needs to be done on a war footing. Apart from anything else, it would also further our strategic interests — in making us less dependent on the developed countries, which would like nothing better than to be able to dump their outdated technologies on us. The human resources development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, has been working tirelessly since the start of the second UPA government to create centres of excellence in higher education as it is necessary to develop absolute quality and not work on a percentile basis. This is somewhat reminiscent of the extraordinary vision of our first Prime Minister Jawaharalal Nehru, who could dream big and, besides the IITs, had laid the foundation of India's science, nuclear and space programmes through geniuses like Homi Bhabha to whom he gave a free hand.








The birth of India and Pakistan as sovereign states took place in the wake of a holocaust in which millions were killed and millions uprooted. Twenty-four years later Bangladesh was born in the midst of extensive state-sponsored genocide. Bangladesh maintains that three million people were killed and two lakh women raped. The Hamoodur Inquiry Committee set up by Pakistan put the casualties as low as 25,000. However, international sources have quoted casualty figures between 2,00,000 and three million. The Guinness Book of Records ranks the Bangladesh killings as one of the five worst genocides of the 20th century. Not long after Bangladesh came into being, its founder, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and his family were killed in a military coup. Two of his daughters, Sheikh Hasina and her sister, lived because they were abroad. In her first term as Prime Minister, when Sheikh Hasina had a slender majority, she initiated action against the killers of her father and family. That process is now complete with the Bangladesh Supreme Court confirming the death sentences of Sheikh Mujib's killers. In her second tenure as Prime Minister, she has set in motion the process against the war criminals of 1971.


In 1971, over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered to us. It so happened that I had some previous experience dealing with PoWs: at the end of the Second World War, I was appointed adjutant of a camp holding over 8,000 Japanese PoWs near Pegu, Burma. In 1971, I was overall in charge of looking after the Pakistani PoWs. Understandably, the Bangladeshis were seething against the Pakistani PoWs. We had to make special arrangements for their protection. Even key civil officials of erstwhile East Pakistan, including the Chief Secretary, were in custody along with the PoWs.


Our government at the highest level decided that the PoWs should be treated in the most humane manner. Our aim was to send them back as ambassadors of durable peace. Initially, a list of 400 alleged war criminals was given to us by the Bangladesh government. In July 1972, this number was reduced to 195.


Considering how the US treated Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and what Pakistan did to Indian prisoners after Kargil when they handed over their mutilated bodies, one needs to place on record how well we treated the 90,000 Pakistani PoWs. They were given the same rations as our own soldiers. We kept a record of their weight and almost all of them put on weight while in our custody.


Officers were given separate accommodation from the men, as required by the Geneva Convention, at the PoW camps at Bareilly, Agra, Meerut, Faizabad, Gaya, Ramgarh, Ranchi, Gwalior and Sagar. Our combat units were deployed in forward areas and their empty barracks were utilised to accommodate PoWs. When our troops returned, they stayed in tents for a few months till the PoWs were repatriated. Facilities to play football, hockey, volleyball and basketball were provided. There were recreation rooms with indoor games, reading material and radio. India had not then entered the television age. Mushairas and film shows were held regularly. The Red Cross was allowed access and, when required, met the prisoners individually. Both the International Red Cross and our National Red Cross gave the PoWs gifts and their letters were delivered to their families.


I frequently interacted with the prisoners and met a few with whom I had served before Partition, like Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, the Commander-in-Chief in East Pakistan. He and I had served as captains in Indonesia in 1946 and knew each other. There were other officer PoWs too who had served with me in the undivided Indian Army. They told me they had never imagined they would be treated so well.


I remember participating in an Id Bara Khana at the Faizabad PoW camp. A Baluch subedar beside me told me that in over two decades of service he was sitting with a general at dinner for the first time. He added that in his Army the generals were too busy with politics and that is why Pakistan had lost the 1971 war. But the delay in repatriation worried them and some made quite a few attempts to escape. Some succeeded.


At the instance of the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organised a conference on application of human rights to warfare at San Remo, Italy. Several countries sent delegations. Pakistan did not. I led the Indian team. The Geneva Convention, to which India is a signatory, requires that PoWs be repatriated as soon as possible after hostilities end. We had been holding Pakistani prisoners for over a year. The American delegate was highly critical. I was asked to respond so I countered, spelling out in detail how the PoWs were being looked after. I told them a team of American journalists had visited the Roorkee camp where they saw Pakistani PoWs and Indian officers playing cricket. They spent a whole day there and interacted individually with some PoWs with no Indian present. The Los Angeles Times wrote that never in history had prisoners of war been treated as well as India had been doing. I explained that the prisoners had surrendered to the joint Indo-Bangladesh command. Pakistan had not yet recognised the Republic of Bangladesh and, till they did, Bangladesh was not prepared to repatriate the prisoners. Further, the case of the war criminals had to be tackled. The American delegate said he had been informed wrongly and withdrew his allegation.


A little before the Shimla accord, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman revised his stand on war criminals. He allowed them to be repatriated along with the other prisoners of war so that he could get Pakistan and other Islamic countries to recognise Bangladesh. The PoWs returned home, as agreed by Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at Shimla. On return, they gave a good account of how they had been treated in India. I was surprised to receive a personal letter from Nawaz Hussain, the then Cabinet Secretary of Pakistan, thanking me for treating the prisoners so well.


But in Bangladesh the wounds were too deep to be forgotten. They still observe Martyred Intellectuals' Day on December 14, when the Pakistan Army, before surrendering, massacred hundreds of Bengali intellectuals in Dhaka. During her second term as Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has opened the case of the war criminals. Bangladesh has sought and received assistance from the UN to investigate and prosecute these crimes against humanity. The UN has made four international war crimes experts available to Dhaka. War crimes cannot be ignored and the war criminals of 1971 must be punished.


The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.








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 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 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 Federal Reserve System (Fed) chairman, and Christina Romer, who heads President Barack 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 per cent 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 per cent, 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 GDP. 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 US 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. 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 GDP 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 US 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 Bernanke to do that too.


Will the Fed realise, 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.










On december 28, 2009, 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 colour of the sand and the skin of the camel herders who have inhabited it for centuries.


I arrived in Puntland in the frayed seat of a 1970s Soviet propeller plane and 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 — 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 mischaracterisation 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 epicentre 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 recognised 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 favour 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 MPs 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; constructing a small hospital. As the members of the transitional government huddle in their Mogadishu barracks, waiting to collect their welfare cheques, President Farole is reduced to roaming the countryside, begging for alms.


Despite Puntland's limited capacity, President Farole is committed to taking the fight to the pirates. Indeed, the government of Puntland has been advocating a strict policy of non-negotiation 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. 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 December 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.


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 aboutSomali piracy








Economists have debated and continue to debate about how unequal India is. There is anecdotal evidence that indicates that even if the poor are not becoming poorer, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow even as the economy grows by eight to nine per cent each year and politicians mouth empty slogans about the need for "inclusive" growth. The fact is that the government's actions tend to favour the affluent and often come down hard on the underprivileged.


The venue was the ballroom of a five-star hotel in Delhi where a television channel was giving awards celebrating excellence in human and social development in Indian states.


Towards the conclusion of the function and a little before the whisky started flowing, one of the judges of the competition stood up to make a brief intervention. He happened to be a member of the Rajya Sabha and a former governor of Reserve Bank of India, Bimal Jalan. He stated that the total value of the assets of the country's top five billionaires (that is, in US dollar terms) equalled those of the bottom 300 million people. He was no party-pooper that evening for scarcely an eyebrow was raised. Before long, it was back to the booze.


The upper classes in the country and, increasingly, large sections of the middle classes as well, have become apathetic to rising inequality.


"The poor are poor because they are lazy and inefficient… the poor must become resigned to their fates because human beings are not born equal, just as five fingers in a hand are not the same" — such statements are made with unerring regularity as well-off, inured individuals seek to clear their conscience by rolling down the windows of their air-conditioned cars to drop a few coins in the hands of begging children.


Yes, it's become a cliché but the fact needs repeating: India produces one-third of the world's computer software engineers and one-fourth of the planet's poor, under-nourished and illiterate. In a recent article entitled How unequal a country is India? economist Pranab Bardhan argues that inequality in India is not merely higher than in China but possibly "in the Latin American range" as official data in this country focuses on distribution of consumption expenditure and not on income, which under-estimates inequality as the rich tend to save more than the poor (Business Standard, September 5, 2009).


Dr Bardhan argues that if one considers factors such as inequality in the distribution of land and capital, access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities and mobility across generations and social groups, there is substantial evidence to indicate that Indian society is becoming more polarised along class lines.


He refutes Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar's contention about the poor that if they cared about inequality, they should have celebrated the erosion in the wealth of the rich on account of the worldwide recession. Dr Bardhan writes that the "reduction in the net worth of India's corporate oligarchy has not at all reduced its corrupt grip in the (country's) political life, or lowered the power of local landlords or the political elite that capture local governance and misappropriate funds and services meant for the poor".


When, in May 2006, the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector headed by Arjun Sengupta claimed that 78 per cent of those who work in the unorganised sector in India live on Rs 20 a day or less, there was a huge hue and cry from economists who questioned the methodology and authenticity of the data that was used to arrive at such a conclusion. In December 2009, an expert group headed by the former head of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, Suresh Tendulkar, estimated that roughly a quarter of the country's urban population live on Rs 19 a day while close to 42 per cent of the rural population consume goods and services roughly worth Rs 15 a day.


One can quibble for months about which estimate made by which particular group of economists is more accurate than the other. But the fact is that despite a lot of hot air about the need to ensure growth with equity, India's track record in this regard has been pretty poor. This is regardless the overall rate of the economy picking up significantly in recent years. Yet, traditionally, unequal countries like Mexico, Brazil and Chile have been far more successful than India has been in reducing poverty and inequality, often by more than a fifth, through conditional cash transfer schemes — one important condition being that girl-children remain in school.


An example of how the Indian government often turns a blind eye towards recovering dues from the rich became known when, in response to a query raised under the Right to Information Act, the New Delhi Municipal Committee (NDMC) disclosed a list of arrears that were due to it, the country's most affluent civic body, accounting for over half its annual budget of Rs 1,656 crores.


Here's a small sample from the list on the NDMC's website: ITC Maurya Hotel (Rs 64 crores), Taj Palace Hotel (Rs 43 crores), the public sector State Trading Corporation (Rs 43 crores), The Oberoi Hotel (Rs 37 crores), the government owned Ashok Hotel (Rs 31 crores) and Samrat Hotel (Rs 20 crores).


Even the owners of the building on Tansen Marg, that houses the offices of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an association of some of India's most wealthy industrialists, owes the NDMC over Rs 1 crore. Not surprisingly, these claims of arrears are embroiled in a welter of complex legal cases, suits, petitions and appeals in and out of courts.


This is India, for you. A steaming cup of tea in one of the hotels mentioned could cost you more than what an unskilled labourer will earn as his or her new daily minimum wage for eight hours of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — said to the world's largest social security programme — that is, a princely sum of a hundred rupees.


Mera Bharat mahaan. Happy new year!


Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator








Sikhism is the youngest of the major world religions. It is strictly monotheistic in its fundamental belief, namely, that God is one, a single supreme reality. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak who was born in 1469 AD. The Janamsakhis, or traditional accounts of his life and teachings, reveal that Guru Nanak, from his early childhood, possessed a highly reflective mind. The turning point in his life came in 1496 when he was a young man of 27, and worked as a storekeeper in the royal stores in Sultanpur Lodhi. According to the Janamsakhi, in those days Guru Nanak would often fall into a reverie or trance. On one such occasion, while supervising the weighment of stores, he stopped at the count of "tera" (thirteen) which also means, "I am yours". He went on repeating "tera, tera", while measure after measure of store kept being passed out. Complaints were made to the Prince about this alleged misconduct and court investigations were started.


Meanwhile, one day Guru Nanak, as usual, went to take his early morning dip in the small river called the Kali Bein, which continues to flow adjacent to the town of Sultanpur Lodhi till date. He did not come out of the water for three days and was thus assumed drowned. On the morning of the fourth day he came out of the water, and the first words he uttered were, "There is no Hindu, no Muslim". All chronicles of Guru Nanak's life agree that he received his first revelation to found a new religion and a new way of life at this juncture. Guru Nanak himself said:


"Haun dhadhi vekaru karai laia" ("Me, the bard out of work, the Lord has applied to His service," from Var Manjh, M.1, GGS, 150), and "Dhadhi sachhe mahal khasam bulaya" ("The Master summoned the minstrel to His True Court," from Var Manjh, M.1, GGS, 150). 


Soon after, the investigations revealed that not only had there been no loss at the royal stores, but rather, there had been a profit of Rs 760. Few days later, Guru Nanak resigned from his post and started on his Udasis (long journeys). According to the Janamsakhis, he travelled across India, Sri Lanka, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Arabia, Turkey and Iraq. He was accompanied by Bhai Mardana, a Muslim and Bhai Bala a childhood companion and a Hindu. The sacred verses and compositions (bani) of Guru Nanak and his successors were compiled into one scripture, the Adi Granth by Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth Sikh Guru. The Adi Granth also contains the compositions and verses of Bhakti and Sufi saints.


Subsequently, Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, included the compositions of Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Sikh Guru, into the Adi Granth. Later Guru Gobind Singh passed on the succession to this holy book, thus ending the line of human Gurus. He declared that henceforth, and for all times to come, the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, would be the Guru for all Sikhs.


Gurmeet Rai is a conservation architect engaged in the conservation of Sikh heritage since 1994








AN inquiry has been ordered into Saturday's serial train accidents in the midst of the fog in northern India. Nothing can be more routine in this country. What ought first to be acknowledged by the Railway ministry is that the functioning of the very network of traffic and safety is fogbound, to use the language of the metaphor. Will a few questions get to be asked and answered instead of blaming it entirely on Nature at this time of year? For, palpable enough is the human error and the failure of equipment. Why were the two trains that collided running on the same track without any alert whatsoever? Did the drivers miss the signal? Was the automatic "cracker burst mechanism" dysfunctional as the two drivers rammed their locomotives into two others? Why was the Gorakhdham Express running at 50 km per hour in poor visibility? These are issues that have left the railway brass quite totally puzzled. Indeed, the authorities are as bamboozled as they were when a train chugged out of a station with an unmanned driver's cabin during Lalu Prasad's dispensation.

The conclusion is inescapable, that basics are being accorded a relatively minor rating as the present Railway Board ~ bar retirements, much the same as the one that served Lalu ~ is overly anxious to run down the previous dispensation and trumpet the perceived potential of the present. There is little doubt that Lalu's claims were contrived, but a bureaucracy ought to set more worthwhile targets to achieve.

The statement of the BJP leader, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, who escaped the Prayagraj accident unscathed, calls for reflection. He is spot on when he asserts that "while the railway minister is busy announcing new plans, she has not made the basic arrangements to cope with the winter fog". Mamata Banerjee's plans, it is increasingly obvious, are geared to political grandstanding, such as the extension of Kolkata's Metro Railway to Dakshineswar, coinciding with the serial collisions that killed ten people as 2010 unfolded. And yet not a word on the tragedy. She is scarcely aware that the railway administration today showcases a "human and systemic failure", to summon Barack Obama's words in another context. It is the functioning of the network that needs to be streamlined, more urgently than anything else.







FROM allegations against the vice-chancellor to complaints about recurring thefts from the international ladies' hostel, the situation at Visva-Bharati only gets worse. The Centre had started an inquiry on the basis of representations by teaching and non-teaching staff and by students. But the probe has been delayed because those entrusted with the job have backed out. Normally official announcements on such inquiries are made after consents are received. To return to the process from scratch defeats the purpose of finding an early solution to a long-pending stalemate that has left the vice-chancellor, Dr Rajat Kanta Ray, virtually non-functional. But while the probe takes its normal course, it is clear that, while the special status of this central university has been seriously compromised, there is an urgent need to re-examine the methods by which appointments are made in senior academic positions.

All this, predictably, has had a direct impact on the administration. The mystery of the Nobel medal theft is yet to be solved. If fresh demands for reopening the case after the CBI has pulled out are to be taken seriously, the fundamental question of security has to be settled not only in the museum premises where the priceless objects are preserved but also in hostels where the students keep complaining about thefts. The horrendous incident of stabbing in one of the hostel rooms at Visva-Bharati should have alerted the authorities. Instead, students from Mauritius, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Germany have complained about thefts from the international ladies' hostel despite the security that exists ~ perhaps only on paper. Obviously, there is a lot to answer for.
The vice-chancellor does his reputation no good by carrying proposals for reform to Delhi when routine matters are left unattended. It is a serious reflection on the administration when priorities are questioned and students left with no means of redressal. While the Prime Minister, also the Acharya, has promised action against the vice-chancellor, it is clear that the unrest has deeper roots. More than the alleged shortcomings of an individual or reforms proposed by particular sections, it is the university as a whole that needs to be lifted from the moth-eaten ideas of the past to a position where it can compete with the best.







THE dwindling and extraordinary circle of wildlife enthusiasts, driven by a genuine feeling of love, is the poorer with the death of Kanwar "Billy" Arjan Singh. It must seem still more tragic as contemporary interest in wild life centres in the main on holiday resorts, when not stealing and killing for commercial gain. The Sundarbans and the Alipore Zoo are but symptoms of a nationwide trend. Billy personified the metamorphosis from a hunter to the protector of the species. Having killed seven of the regal species, his phenomenal contribution to conservation was to get tiger hunting banned after Independence. Well and truly can he be regarded as the last of a protective and loving generation. A chapter has ended with his passing at 92 in his home, aptly named Tiger Haven near the Dudhwa National Park. Indeed, the park was almost his creation, a testament to his labour of love.

He was acutely aware of the drawbacks of India's conservation efforts; breeding was affected within the limited and far-flung wildlife reserves. And Billy's singular achievement was what they call the "artificial restocking" of the tiger population by releasing the captive-bred of the species into the wild. He replenished the tiger stock in the isolated forests with zoo-born animals. It was almost an "out-of-Africa" exercise for the experiment had been successfully carried out with lions and cheetahs in the continent. His experiments with releasing the captive-bred carnivores into the wild, notably the zoo-born tigress Tara ~ imported from England in 1976 ~ remain unparalleled in Asia. The bonding between man and animal, depicted so famously in Bert Haanstra's Ape and Superape was reinforced by the succession of dearly loved leopards that he had for company in Tiger Haven in the forested area of Lakhimpur-Kheri district. He ought to serve as a role model to forest departments across the country.







LONDON, 4 JAN: An artificial mind! Yes, a machine brain, perhaps much more intelligent than your own may someday be a reality, if scientists are to be believed.

A Swiss team, led by Professor Henry Markram, claims to be working on the world's first artificial conscious and intelligent mind, made of silicon, gold and copper, which they say would be ready latest by 2018. According to Prof Markram of the Brain Mind Institute at Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, the artificial mind would render vivisection obsolete, conquer insanity and even improve human intelligence and ability to learn.
What Markram's "Blue Brain" project amounts to is an audacious attempt to build a computerised copy of a brain ~ starting with a rat's brain, then progressing to a human brain ~ inside one of the world's most powerful computers, British newspaper the Daily Mail reported.

This will bring into being a sentient mind that will be able to think, reason, express will, lay down memories and perhaps even experience love, anger, pain, sadness and joy, according to the scientists.

"We will do it by 2018. We need a lot of money, but I am getting it. There are few scientists in the world with the resources I have at my disposal," Prof Markram said.

The Swiss team is in fact building what it hopes will be a real person, or at least the most important and complex part of a real person ~ its mind. And so instead of trying to copy what a brain does, the scientists have started at the bottom, with the biological brain itself.

As human brains are full of nerve cells called neurons, which communicate with one another using minuscule electrical impulses, the project takes apart actual brains cell by cell, analyses the billions of connections between the cells, and then plots these connections into a computer.

The upshot is, in effect, a blueprint or carbon copy of a brain, rendered in software rather than flesh and blood. The idea is that by building a model of a real brain, it might begin to behave like the real thing, the scientists say.








THE movement for the state of Telangana reflects the flip-flop by the Union Government and its continuing ambiguity over the questions of autonomy and power-sharing within the Indian territory. It is a balloon that appears to have burst on the face of the United Progressive Alliance government, which accepted the demand for a separate state in the wake of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti chief, K. Chandrashekhar Rao's indefinite fast since November 29. The Centre has retracted after a strong reaction in the Andhra region.
In the midst of the utter confusion, the demand for Gorkhaland has been orchestrated. The UP chief minister, Mayawati, also jumped onto the bandwagon with a proposal to trifurcate the state, though conveniently ignoring the demand for Bundelkhand. The proposal for a second States Reorganisation Commission or a committee to review such demands has been floated. Actually, the trial balloon was set in motion by the first UPA government in January 2008, but never pursued. Within two years, it has boomeranged on UPA-II. The detractors are ready to take advantage without any concern for the critical issue of power-sharing and regional autonomy that the Indian state has been unable to address since independence.


The ripple effect

Whatever the political calculations of the Congress in conceding Telangana, a demand hanging in the balance since the 1950s, the ripple effect has the potential to stir old as well as fresh demands. Thus, Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh and Poorvanchal (all in UP), Vidarbha (Maharashtra), Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Kosal (Orissa), Karbi Anglong (Meghalaya), and Bodoland (Assam) and a few others in the north-east could erupt violently any time. However, this will leave two core issues unattended ~ organising India's architecture of political autonomy and putting in place a democratic arrangement in power-sharing. This will cut across the identities that constitute India's plurality.

Without any prejudice against well-governed small states, there would still be a limit to drawing up the number of viable states. Further, the fear expressed in the Constituent Assembly regarding centrifugal forces could gradually become a reality unless the questions of power-sharing, cohabitation, autonomy and statehood are seriously considered. The sovereignty of the Indian people was settled on 15 August 1947 and reinforced by the Constitution in 1950. But the reorganisation of the structure of autonomy, satisfying all shades of ethnic identities, has remained unsettled. For, the creation of 14 states in 1956 on the recommendation of the States Reorganisation Commission has been followed by the creation of new states in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s 1990s, and in the 21st century. The number of states has doubled through political ad hocism. 
The Constitution combined political sovereignty with popular sovereignty, but is somewhat ambiguous about political autonomy. There is little doubt that the Centre has the power to influence state autonomy. It is difficult to surmise whether Ambedkar's fears on 'localism' would have come true had the Constituent Assembly overruled him to create the third tier of Indian democracy. However, its absence certainly created a distance between the local communities and the immediate seat of power and denied India a model of power-sharing. This further consolidated Delhi's political clout, creating an autonomy vacuum that erupts from time to time.
The first SRC, chaired by Fazal Ali, was set up in 1953 under Article 3 of the Constitution to rationalise India's internal boundaries that the British had drawn up in an ad hoc fashion. It faced a difficult task of reconciling a multitude of interests, each expecting its own rationale for reorganisation to be accepted. The 14 states created by the SRC have now doubled and seven Union Territories have retained only their numbers.
The SRC appeared to be influenced by the Motilal Nehru Committee, which had stipulated that the basis of "redistribution of provinces' in independent India should be partly geographical and partly economic and financial, but the main considerations must necessarily be the wishes of the people and the linguistic unity of the area concerned". A common medium of communication, education and administration for convenience as well as emotional bonding were its main considerations. Though the SRC realised that none of the states could be absolutely unilingual and would have to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of linguistic minorities, it based its report on linguistic majoritarianism. It stipulated that 'where there was a substantial minority constituting 30 per cent or so of the population, the State should be recognised as bilingual for administrative purposes'.
In an article in The Times of India on April 23, 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru asked: "In a linguistic State what would remain for the smaller communities to look to? Can they hope to be elected to the Legislature? Can they hope to maintain a place in the State Service?" He feared linguistic majoritarianism and recommended a system of 'checks and balances'. His opposition to the creation of Maharashtra and the Punjabi Suba is well-documented. His impassioned debate with CD Deshmukh in the Lok Sabha against bifurcation of the state of Bombay ranks as one of the finest parliamentary speeches.

Yet demands for new states started surfacing soon after the first exercise was completed. The creation of new states became a regular feature of the Indian polity in every decade since the Fifties. Beyond linguistic considerations, the lack of development and ethno-regional identities were the other contributory factors. The perceived threat to ethnic identity and impoverishment of an ethnic group because of regional imbalances have caused and aggravated fissiparous tendencies. The movements have led to the formation of autonomous councils in Darjeeling, Bodoland and Leh under Schedules 5 and 6 of the Constitution. More than the creation of a new state, a power arrangement that takes care of political autonomy and governance is the major objective behind such demands.

Partisan objectives

However, the intervention of macro politics, emanating either from the national or state level, has influenced these micro political aspirations, guiding them to achieve their own partisan objectives. Some of the states carved out in recent years could have been avoided. This is not to argue that good governance does not demand smaller states. In fact, the politics surrounding the creation of states since independence has camouflaged the real purpose of territorial reorganisation, i.e. the creation of governable administrative units.
The controversies and political discourse on new states have also obscured the questions of autonomy of and power sharing with local communities. Neither the Motilal Nehru Committee nor the SRC viewed the process of state reorganisation from this perspective. Centralism has characterised the Indian state since the colonial days. No wonder pockets of disaffection emerge from time to time. This has not been addressed even by the arrangements provided for in the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments and various district councils created under Schedules 5 and 6.

A second SRC appears to be a prudent idea under the circumstances. But it should be a political multi-party body with some experts to settle the question of redrawing India's internal boundary for some time to come. There must be a consensus on issues of autonomy, power-sharing and an agreeable basis for the creation of states, with good governance as the ultimate objective.

The writer is honorary Director, Centre for Public Affairs, Noida







There is something very unseemly about the Union home minister and the chief minister of a state having a public exchange of sharp words. In this particular instance, the home minister, P. Chidambaram, will have to bear the responsibility of having cast the first stone. And he is certainly not without sin. The chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has only retaliated. Mr Chidambaram had no business shooting off a longish missive to Mr Bhattacharjee on the subject of the law and order situation in West Bengal. In his enthusiasm, he overlooked the simple fact that law and order under the Constitution is a state subject. It is nobody's argument that law and order in West Bengal has deteriorated. Even Mr Bhattacharjee has been honest enough to admit this. What is equally true is that much of the violence that is visible is rooted in the politics of revenge. For the escalation of this violence, the Trinamul Congress, a coalition partner in the United Progressive Alliance, has to share some of the blame. The TMC supporters have not been kind to a rival that is now down and maybe on its way out. Thus the second mistake that Mr Chidambaram made was to take a view that was too obviously one-sided and partisan. The third error was the hectoring and holier-than-thou tone that he adopted. On many counts therefore, Mr Chidambaram, in his gratuitous letter to Mr Bhattacharjee, did not bring dignity to the august office he occupies.


There is another, graver aspect to consider. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, recently described the Maoist threat as one of the most serious before the country. By making this issue a debating point between himself and Mr Bhattacharjee, the home minister has trivialized the problem. Maoist violence is too big a matter to use to score points over a political rival. There are many districts in India, falling into four or five states, where the Maoists are creating mayhem. No state administration has been very successful in eradicating this kind of violence. There is no evidence that the home minister has written to the chief ministers of the other states in the same vein and at the same length as he has done to the chief minister of West Bengal. The question, why Mr Bhattacharjee was singled out, is thus legitimate. Mr Chidambaram deserves the short shrift he got from Mr Bhattacharjee







Prolonged bad practice often has one disturbing fallout. Correction, when it does come, tends to be overly rigorous. Anyone who has had the misfortune to go to a police station with a serious complaint knows that getting the police to register a first information report usually means engaging in a verbal duel likely to be crowned with defeat at the end. With the Ruchika Girhotra case blowing wide open, the traditional reluctance of the police to register FIRs is being seen as a crucial step in the years-old cover-up. The Union home ministry has therefore decided to instruct all states and Union territories to ensure that each police station registers all complaints as FIRs. So far, the police have tended to register FIRs only when they chose, even when the offence was a cognizable one, in which the police are empowered to investigate and make arrests without orders from the court. Registering an FIR means immediate action of one kind or another, and that seldom suited the police, maybe because of lack of personnel, or the reluctance to move, or simply the political, social or economic clout of the person being complained against.


The home ministry has reacted only after a particular case became a national scandal. That is a pity, for it is impossible to count the number of complaints, especially from women, about molestation, abuse, violence and rape, that have gone unregistered. Numerous women have been turned away or treated with such suggestive contempt or rudeness that many baulk at having to complain at all. The ministry's directive implies a long-deserved admonition; it suggests that the police have misused their powers of discretion, and makes the station-in-charge answerable with regard to the registering of cases. Even if a complaint is false, the police are free to drop the FIR only after initial investigation. Yet the police's discretion in the matter, properly used, was a positive feature of the justice system. Besides smoothing the course of natural justice, it could help complainants understand their rights and decide on the course they wished to take. A blanket transformation of all complaints into FIRs may become a new way to harass the innocent and the powerless apart from being wasteful of the police's time and resources. And do the police have enough trained personnel to carry out the numerous investigations that would immediately become mandatory? Over-correction, in spite of its undoubted good effects, can also generate problems.









After Mujibur Rahman's assassination in 1975, the received wisdom was that no political party in Bangladesh seeking close ties with India could win a general election. The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who visits India this month, has proved that supposition wrong. In December 2008, Bangladeshis turned out in large numbers to hand a massive victory to Wajed's Awami League and 13 allies which campaigned for Liberation War values, reached out to the younger generation and the Hindus, pledged action against corruption and promised to rid the country of terrorists. The opposition leader, Begum Khaleda Zia, protests about rigging and procedures and absents her Bangladesh Nationalist Party from parliament, but the BNP is in a shambles and in no position to take to the streets. This raises hopes that destructive 'movements' may be a thing of the past.


The army that played a central role in Bangladeshi politics from 1975 to 1990, and again in 2007-08, will note that the election produced a clear mandate — which makes it less likely that the previous pattern of political commotion will erase the gains of this election, unless there is externally-sponsored subversion. Despite many threats to her life, Wajed has emerged with credit for her courageous handling of the Bangladesh Rifles revolt, and the military may not aspire for power now as it did during the coups of the 1970s and 1980s. The role of the army has never been as salient as in Pakistan but it harbours similar extremist elements, and these, and the jihadis in the intelligence agencies, will have to be neutralized through sufficient understanding between patriots in the army and the Awami League to give Wajed a fair wind through her term in office.


For India, the stakes in the last elections were high. Khaleda Zia's regime was marked by growing Islamist militancy that she was neither capable nor interested in curbing, and Bangladesh became a hotbed of terrorism against India and an arms trafficking conduit to our Northeast, with close rapport among the insurgents, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, National Security Intelligence, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh, Islamic Oikya Jote and Lashkar-e-Toiba. The technocrats who ran the subsequent caretaker administration were as inhibited in resolving issues with India as the politicians had been earlier. Wajed's victory corrects the image of Mujibur Rahman's party whose secular character was gravely dented over the years. The Awami League has leading figures with sympathy for India's values, even if they rarely matched their actions with these sentiments when in office. In the now-forward-now-back world of Indo-Bangladesh ties, there are, finally, high expectations from Wajed's forthcoming visit.


To dispose of caveats, while the rendition of several Northeast militants across the border is welcome, there is more to be done by Dhaka; there remain activists in Bangladesh with nefarious links to militant groups in India, and Paresh Barua managed to escape from Bangladesh last year to head for China. There is yet no action against well-placed criminals clearly identified in the media as being behind the BDR revolt and supplying arms to insurgents in the Northeast. Last year saw the sentencing of the 'killer majors' of 1975 and the trial of nearly 4,000 men for the BDR mutiny. The killer majors have always been a part of Wajed's agenda, and she must hope to lance the boil of the 1975 trauma. The trials of the jail killers and known razakars are to follow, despite high-level threats from Pakistan. The nature of the BDR revolt is still mysterious; can 4,000 persons be part of a clandestine conspiracy? What about complaints about the pay and the conduct of officers that were the ostensible cause? If the whole truth does emerge, will it be palatable? Above all, will these actions detract from the all-important economic agenda? Wajed would argue that the decks must be cleared before real development can be achieved; retribution must take place, and the best time is now. But she has limited time to show concrete progress for her people if she is to be re-elected, which is essential if the political gains are to be consolidated. There may not be a second chance: in no election since 1991 has the same party been returned to power. In that context, having held an election that fulfilled international standards, is it wise to do away with the constitutional provision regarding the caretaker authority? This damages credibility and could be interpreted as preparing the way for election engineering. Some ministers are inexperienced managers, there is no strong second line of leadership, too much depends on one woman, and the bureaucracy, both in India and Bangladesh, is out of tune with the top leadership and will create obstacles — more so in Delhi than Dhaka because here it is much more influential.


But the signs are promising. For the first time since liberation, minorities feel secure, temples are being rebuilt, the Vested Properties Return Act has been ratified and Hindu exodus largely arrested, which will have a salutary effect on the broader issue of illegal immigration. The foreign ministers' agreement last September signifies an awareness in Dhaka that economic progress requires Indian support, and the erstwhile procrastination and pleading of political difficulties and national sensitivities will no longer be in evidence. On New Delhi's part, now is the time to forget past grievances and be generous to a fault. Bangladesh, as a big Muslim country, should be regarded as a strategic partner; our security interests will be gravely affected if there is an indifferent or hostile Bangladesh to match the talibanization to our Northwest, and we cannot take Chinese inactivity in our Northeast for granted. Security cooperation will be strengthened by various agreements on criminality and terrorism, but above all, the outcomes of Wajed's visit must be seen by Bangladeshis as directly contributing to their prosperity, and going far beyond the symbolism of the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize for their prime minister.


If India permits duty-free import of Bangladeshi goods, the fiscal loss is estimated to be $50 million, a trifling amount compared to the goodwill created. Some hundreds of items are still on the negative list under Saarc Preferential Trading Arrangement, thanks to the protectionist mindset of our bureaucrats and businessmen. Heavy congestion, primitive procedures, lack of financial connectivity and corruption plague the Benapole-Petrapole land route, and have encouraged smuggling, which is equivalent to the annual legal trade of $3.5 billion. Such impediments must be removed and to stimulate industrial and commercial intercourse, a substantial credit facility to Bangladesh should be extended.


There are various issues on common rivers. The lowest flows of Teesta are 4,000 cusecs, whereas the canal system in India alone requires 4,400; and the Tipaimukh dam on the Barak cause concern downstream. Both require urgent address if they are not to become another Farraka dispute, whereas if the two countries cooperate, they could make joint approaches to upper riparians for hugely beneficial uses of Himalayan rivers in China, Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladeshi riverways are under-utilized for want of dredging and night navigation, and these are areas to assist Bangladesh promptly. Likewise, our neighbour could assist through its skills and capacity in boat-building to improve water transport in Assam, which has the largest such trade in India.


Bangladesh is in acute need of power. India should agree to supply at least 200 MW from and through the Northeast including Bhutan. New legal frameworks are needed to implement multi-modal connectivity, by which Bangladesh can be a transport service hub for Nepal and Bhutan's use of Mongla and India's use of Chittagong. Dhaka could also become a centre for air connectivity with the Northeast, Nepal and Bhutan since only 40 per cent of its capacity provided by the Civil Aviation Agreement is presently utilized. The land and maritime boundaries should be settled. On the former, merely 6.5 km remain, and a deadline should be given to surveyors to complete this task, which includes exchange of adverse possessions and enclaves. On the latter, following the example of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, we could cooperate on exploration for hydro-carbons on a bilateral or trilateral basis including Myanmar, even pending a formal settlement.


Not all of this may happen at once, but there has to be an Indo-Bangladesh roadmap of result-evident cooperation from now until 2018. For the first time in nearly 40 years, the ball is back in New Delhi's court.

The author is former foreign secretary of India








Erratic weather patterns have begun to besiege us, catching us unawares and disallowing all plannings, ranging from when to sow seeds for a crop to the preparations for a trip away from the predictable comforts of homes, and everything in between those two polar priorities. Are these seasonal shifts being addressed by our scientists, agriculturists and other such professionals, if only to plan better for the future and thereby, to circumvent disasters? Are leaders, their cabinets and administrators, even concerned about these changing realities that will soon overwhelm them and demand correctives and solutions? Are all those men and women who determine the future course of our collective lives, conscious of the need to rethink the paradigms that have dictated our lives thus far?


Copenhagen happens. Our Opposition grabs those straws and begins to bash the ruling coalition that represented India at the summit. Its rhetoric is predictable and it jars because it suggests no alternatives, no solutions or correctives. The discourse has reduced itself to abuses hurled at one another within the sacrosanct doors of Parliament. Is our political space utterly bereft of good thoughts and action? For how long are those in politics and the civil services who run the administrative machine going to pollute the domain that belongs to us all? Will the opposition parties fight a good idea merely because it came from somewhere else? Will India ever use the mechanisms of democratic functioning to better the environment and the habitat? Or will the privileged amongst us, the politicians and administrators, continue to divert attention from what they have failed to deliver to the people by introducing irrelevant googlies that trigger fresh controversies, which help disguise their congenital inability to protect the basic tenets of civil society?


In pain


One such 'googly' at this juncture of our accelerated growth, and our hopelessly faltering delivery of the very basic infrastructure necessary to support the pace of growth happening around us despite the malfunctioning government, is the demand for smaller states. The failed political and administrative class claims that its inability to contain the near-complete collapse of the governing system is due to the 'unmanageable' size of the states. Reduce the states into smaller units and all will be well. This notion reinforces the irresponsibility and lack of accountability that have become the signature of the politico and his non-performing babu.


The winners in this breakdown of governance have been the Maoists or the Naxals, call them what you may. Jharkhand is in their control, and if Telangana is christened, it will be another state under their active jurisdiction. Statistics show a different picture. Uttarakhand was comparatively prosperous before it broke away and so were Punjab and Haryana. Bifurcation did not do the trick. If the Indian administrative service worked honestly and by the book, if it stopped pandering to the greedy, illegitimate demands of its political bosses, then every district would have been well governed and the baton would have been passed on to the larger, next in line, entities of the social, economic and political structures.


Therefore, rather than be in a hurry to break up states into smaller pieces and build a complicated and hugely volatile jigsaw that might set the stage for balkanization, it makes far better political sense to radically overhaul and correct the system that has become totally unhealthy and diseased. Finding excuses for faulty and corrupt governance does not do justice either to the agenda of the United Progressive Alliance or to the issue of smaller states. It is a shame that India is in pain because the government wants to cure a hairline fracture with an amputation.


            THE TELEGRAPH





On December 6, 2009, the Copenhagen Conference on climate change started with more anxiety than hope. To iron out the conflicts of interest and arrive at a consensus appear to have been on the top of the agenda. Economic progress, higher consumption of energy, carbon dioxide (even monoxide) enveloping the planet, greenhouse effects and so on are intimately connected. Not surprisingly, therefore, the United States of America topped the list of this irreversible menace.


On the same day, one of the most enlightened governors, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, introduced solar power to light up the magnificent Raj Bhavan at night in the presence of the president. Whatever may be the truth or untruth, expressing concern about climate change is no longer about hopping on to a fashionable bandwagon. Clearly, there is a serious problem at hand. The clash between 'progress' and the survival of the planet has become a crucial issue at present. Public awareness of this impending disaster has been quite incredible, particularly in those countries that have been primarily responsible for precipitating the crisis. On the other hand, no country, by far and large, wants to take a drastic step to reduce carbon emission perceptibly. One needs to go through the recent history of world energy to examine the damage man has already wrought on ecology, as well as to understand how the human race can save itself.


What are the sources of energy? Oil counts for about 35 per cent of energy consumption in the world; next comes coal, going upto 25 per cent, and natural gas with about 25 per cent. Thus, more than 80 per cent of the world's energy comes from burning fossil fuel. Fossil-fuel-generated energy resources are directly responsible for carbon emission and the consequent damage to the environment. On the other hand, it is now evident that nuclear power-based electric energy is the safest and cleanest. Compared to the innumerable disasters at coal mines, and considering the aspect of carbon emission, nuclear power is relatively safe. Nuclear waste, too, is a minor problem that is now well under control.


The world average of nuclear electricity is about seven per cent of the total world energy. India still remains at the three per cent level in the nuclear sector, whereas France produces around 80 per cent of electric power from nuclear resources.


World energy use is expected to grow by 50 per cent by 2030. Alleviation of the misery of the poor is the central objective in this context. About 80 per cent of this enormous energy requirement is fed by burning fossil fuel, a process that irreversibly contributes to climate change and pollution. At the current rate of consumption, crude oil can last for 20 years, coal for 150 years but, with only a five per cent increase in demand, for only 50 years, and gas for a mere 30 years.


With the discovery of new sites, the life span of these resources can be extended only marginally. So, to maintain a reasonably healthy planet, we need to devise a method to use energy more efficiently. However, reversing the dominance of fossil products — a trend that has continued for over three centuries — may not be accomplished easily.


Let us examine the accumulated horror of burning fossil fuel. A staggering 300,000 coal pollution related deaths take place in China every year. The graveness of the situation has been aptly captured in the following Saudi slogan: "My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a plane. His son will ride a camel once again". Industrial revolution was driven by the abundance of cheap fossil energies. The horrifying fact is that anthropogenic carbon dioxide release affects the climate for hundreds of thousands of years. This realization has not yet seeped into public awareness, whereas nuclear waste continues to bother the world.


Let us now look at the recent fate of that wonderful, enigmatic, and permanently ice-covered area called Greenland. Greenland's ice sheet melt area has increased on an average of 16 per cent, at the rate of about 1 per cent per year. The surface area of summer sea ice floating in the Arctic was nearly 23 per cent below the previous record. In fact, the northwest passage opened up to even navigation. Surface temperatures in the Arctic ocean this summer were the highest in 77 years. By 2020-40, all the summer sea ice may be gone at this rate. The induced warming may also lead to the subsequent melting of the ice sheet. An incredible 550 billion tonnes of melted ice will then be released into the oceans. The truth is that the speed of the reduction of the sea ice is growing much more rapidly than the worst predictions. The meltdown of Greenland's ice caps may cause sea levels to rise between 7 to 15 metres. Calcutta and its surrounding 'delta' island of Bangladesh have already gone on to a more than dangerous level. Recently, the prime minister of the Maldives held a cabinet meeting under the sea in a dramatic display of the imminent doomsday.


Thus, the inevitable conclusion is that carbon dioxide emission is a serious threat to mankind. Ironically, on an average, the Chinese emit just 3.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. The Britons, on the other hand, emit nearly 10 tonnes and the Americans 20 tonnes. India's emission rate is lower than China's, and considerably lesser than those of the United Kingdom and the US. No wonder the Copenhagen Conference got murky at times. Unfortunately, there is no easy way out either.


Let us examine briefly the nuclear and then the solar option. India, after the Indo-US nuclear deal, has access to uranium from other countries. Before the deal was struck, no country was keen to supply uranium to India without a 'nod' from the US. Otherwise, they risked losing ground in global business and commerce which they could not possibly afford. India is also going through a nuclear renaissance. Just the other day, the fifth unit of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Plant got connected to the main grid. A large number of reactors are being commissioned or planned across the country as well. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited is spearheading the nuclear power programme in the country, that too with considerable success. By 2020, India should have 20,000 megawatts. With the completion of the projects under construction in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the figure will increase to 7,280 MWs by 2012. The long- term plan is to take the production level close to 60,000 MWs by 2032, while introducing novel and new technologies in the power reactor.


Where does Bengal stand in this new wave of nuclear renaissance? The plan is to build six units of 1,000 MWs each at Haripur in Midnapore. This has been approved by the government of India already. Deep in the South, at the very end of India, Kudankulam is going to have two of these 1,000 MWs reactors in collaboration with the Russians. Haripur, located in Bengal, is three times larger.


Significantly, the reactors will not be housed on fertile land but on a marshy stretch. The local inhabitants will be real time partners just as in the cases of the other reactor sites such as Kalpakkam near Chennai. Schools, colleges, hospitals and other facilities will be built and the fishermen will have absolutely no problems in continuing with fishing in a cleaner environment. That is exactly what has happened in Kalpakkam.


But, despite the amazing growth in nuclear-power production, it is estimated that by 2030-32, the total share of nuclear power will touch two digits in the country. It is being estimated that it will be a mere 10 per cent of the total requirement. Even in the global context, if human civilization were to escape from the greenhouse nightmare, then mankind needs to tap every possible source of alternative renewable energy to obliterate the dependence on fossil fuel. What about tapping the ultimate and the most fundamental source of all energy — the essential source of energy in our lives on the planet — the sun? The Greek scientist, scholar and philosopher, Archimedes, had managed to devise a simple method of using a huge lens to direct the light to ignite the massive wooden structures of ships during the siege of Syracuse. Indeed, the first solar facility to produce electricity was installed way back in 1912 by Schumann and Maadi in Egypt.


The parabolic mirror trough concentrates sun rays as a line focus in which a tube was installed containing water, which eventually came to boil and then produced electricity. This extraordinarily simple device produced 5 kilowatts of electric power.


The great Sahara desert is an incredibly powerful solar powerhouse. A stretch of 210 x 210 sq km of the desert, which is only 0.13 per cent of the entire area, is a reservoir of solar energy whose quantum equals that of the entire global energy consumption.


An enormous amount of research and engineering work is going on at present to harness solar power economically. The Photo Voltaic cell still remains expensive and is hence not viable economically. The Nobel laureate, and a great advocate of solar power, Carlo Rubbia, puts it thus: "Just as Microsoft changed everything on earth...we have to invent more novel and attractive way to use solar energy efficiently." In Spain, for example, Plataforma Solar Sanlúcar la Mayor produces 300 MWs by installing a simple reflector, thereby avoiding 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emanation. Even in Nevada, such experiments have been hugely successful. There are many other examples of this.


In India, we are quite advanced in nuclear power, but are miserably behind in the case of using solar power. This, despite the fact that the sun has remained as the centre of our general psyche and activities. The abundance of sunlight, however, remains under-utilized in this part of the world.The world needs a transition from fossils to solar energy, and the revolution has to start right here.


Mankind has gone through numerous revolutions in the course of its history. The revolution that daunts us, indeed stares at us at the moment, is not a social or political revolution. In fact, it involves revolutionizing our basic perceptions on life, ways of living and the future. The time is ripe for a quantum shift in our mindset. The journey, however, is long and full of obstacles and may pose a challenge to our fossilized minds.



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




Three train accidents on a single day in Uttar Pradesh have laid bare the abysmal safety record of the Indian Railways. The accidents took place when trains collided at Kanpur, Etawah and Allahabad districts. Around 10 people have been killed in the three incidents with over 45 injured. According to railway officials, heavy fog contributed to poor visibility resulting in the trains colliding. But why two trains were on the same track in the first place boggles the mind. Are we so callous about the safety of passengers? A probe is on and hopefully this will reveal whether it was human error or mechanical failures that paved the way for the disaster. Saturday, the day of the triple collisions, would have been even bloodier had alert rail officials not noticed cracks in the tracks between Meenambakkam  and Tirusallam railway stations in Chennai.

Train accidents have witnessed a sharp surge over the past few months. Since October last year, there have been eight major accidents; three of these were major. It has been alleged that Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is far too preoccupied with local politics, is neglecting the railway portfolio and not paying it the attention it deserves. Last month she had come under some flak for using the presentation of the White Paper to settle scores with her predecessor, Lalu Yadav. It is time she stopped using her ministry to score political points and instead started the important work of improving rail safety.

While Railway authorities cannot absolve themselves of responsibilities for mishaps, the public has a role to play in ensuring safety as well. And passengers have often shown themselves up to be far from responsible in their conduct. Passengers pull the emergency chain to stop the train so that they can get off where they please rather than to use this device to halt the train in a crisis. Besides, it is well known that visibility is low during winter. Passengers often gherao the train driver, forcing him to plough through the fog even when they know this is not the most prudent thing to do. Over the past weekend, there have been countless incidents of passengers harassing, even holding air crew hostage, to force airplanes to fly despite poor visibility. It is time the public understood that running trains or planes during heavy fog puts at risk the lives of thousands of people. They must leave these decisions to the concerned authorities.








The Delhi lieutenant-governor's grant of sanction to the CBI to prosecute former MP and Congress leader Sajjan Kumar for his alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots is a belated but welcome move to bring to book the culprits of one of the nation's worst communal pogroms. It is a sad commentary on the system of justice that it has taken more than 25 years to bring forward charges against a person who is said to have been responsible for many deaths. As he is a former MP, the lieutenant-governor's sanction was necessary for prosecution. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had told parliament that he had set a deadline for a decision on prosecution of Sajjan Kumar and another Delhi Congress leader Jagdish Tytler. A case was registered against Sajjan Kumar after the GT Nanavati Commission named him in its report in 2005 but the government had sat on the sanction for prosecution.

In Tytler's case the CBI has sought closure of all cases on the plea that there is no evidence, and the home ministry has said that there is no case pending for his prosecution. This has not convinced most people and the issue will come up again in a Delhi court next month. Both these leaders had been named Congress candidates in the last Lok Sabha election but the party dropped them following public protests. It is not only in the case of leaders that justice has failed. Though about 3,000 Sikhs are said to have been killed in the riots there have been only 21 convictions in Delhi. The reports of as many as 10 inquiry commissions have not helped to further the cause of justice.

The CBI must ensure that Sajjan Kumar's trial and prosecution are not delayed any further. The case should be fast-tracked, lest it suffer from forced and usual judicial delays for some more years. The home minister should keep his promise to follow up the hundreds of other cases also. It is not only in bringing the guilty to book that there has been tardiness. Many people and families who were entitled to government relief have not received it. The home minister himself said the reason is 'bureaucratic excuses.' To give the surviving victims and the kin of the dead their rightful dues is also part of the delivery of justice.










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.









As the war against the al-Qaeda shifts its focus to Yemen — the ancestral place of the man who has become the face of the events following 9/11 — what does the future hold for Afghanistan and the region? Are the spin doctors in Washington looking for exit strategies from Afghanistan or is the threat from Yemen as serious as it was perceived from Afghanistan in the last quarter of the last century?

Even as the Taliban's offensive resurges in different parts of the country the 'war against terror' is turning to new allies with the opening up of Central Asian routes for NATO supplies being the latest in such partnerships. And yet, 30 years since the Afghan mujahideen took on the military might of the Kremlin in 1979 — and even though the war between these two sides and a host of other non-state actors ended 10 years later — the violence is yet to.

Not only did the Red Army withdraw vanquished from Afghanistan but watching the Caucasus and Central Asian states take their destinies into their own hands as they threw off the yoke of the restwhile USSR held much promise for the western countries engaged in the region. Two decades later their democratic development appears to have hit a roadblock.

Despotic states

Even as the fledgling Afghan democracy's struggle with issues of governance continues to remain in the news many fear that the Central Asian Republics (CAR) have suffered as a consequence with little or no attention focused on them. From the repression of women's rights and media freedoms, the abundance of arms and the nexus between criminal and terror networks Central Asia today is largely seen as a collection of despotic states displaying varying degrees of oppression.

Their own political histories and social structures have meant that for many of the people in these countries, the western concept and forms of  democracy are not only alien to them but their own lack of experience with pluralism or free media have manifested in a weak resistance, if any at all, to their authoritarian regimes.
Thus, even as its more infamous neighbour, Afghanistan, struggles to form and function through democratic tools the decay in the existent ones among its Central Asian neighbours is difficult to ignore. Even countries like Kyrgyzstan, that were once the rare democratic examples for other CARs in the midst of established tyrannical regimes have collapsed into the same state.

Uzbekistan has been consistently listed by rights groups among the world's most repressive countries ever since it gained independence in 1991. Less than six months after the Afghan elections it is Uzbekistan's turn to vote for parliamentary elections — to compete for 150 seats in the lower house of the country's bicameral legislature.

Ironically, there are no opposition parties taking part in the elections and the 'democratic' choice to the voters is between four parties that back the country's authoritarian regime. These are the elections that President Karimov describes as "a step in the larger democratisation process."

Like in Afghanistan, here too the western governments have stayed away from the controversy as Uzbekistan agreed to allow non-military supplies to pass through its territory, a possibly vital supply route for the Afghan conflict. Subsequently, even the European Union lifted the last of the sanctions imposed against the country in 2005 in response then to the Uzbek government's brutal crackdown on protestors killing hundreds of people.

Even as most of the wars sponsored by the United States have been waged on the question of human rights and democracy, yet quite ironically, it is these very issues that have been shelved with regard to the CARs for the more critical conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And even as these countries become new allies their far from democratic leaders have used this to their advantage as Washington has consistently had more lenient rules of democratic engagement for its allies, Pakistan being a prime example.

Not surprising then that as long as the West's realpolitik is engaged with the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and new energy sources remain a critical concern the resultant policies might continue to claim their price by sacrificing democratic values and human rights issues in Central Asia.









Ace photographer T S Satyan's recent demise, brought back memories of the occasions I had shared with him. A diminutive man, Satyan was approachable with any number of requests. I met him often to benefit from his expertise in photography. We would lay before him the photographs we had taken to be used as greeting cards.
He didn't mince words in pointing out the wrong choices, deficiencies in the composition. Often we were devastated at his onslaught. Fresh attempts were made after he suggested what the composition of the photographs could be. Simplicity and accessibility were his hallmarks. Satyan became a friend and a guide. He put us in touch with his contacts.

Conversing with the Satyans was a pleasure. Combined with the warmth of their hospitality, we had no second thoughts in following up on the impulse of visiting his home. His repertoire of anecdotes had our attention focused. As our familiarity with him grew, I felt comfortable in requesting him to take a photograph of the building which housed our institution.

He chose a late afternoon when the natural light would be most appropriate. On arrival in the campus, he waited till he was satisfied with the cloud formation and its location in the sky, in relation to the building. He didn't name his price for obliging us. He graciously accepted the small amount given as a token of our appreciation. The photo was used to make greeting cards and a calendar.

Satyan had received an assignment from a leading international magazine for a photo, the details of which I don't recall. His conceptualisation of the shot included a small snake hanging from the branch of a tree. He had in his mind a snake of a particular size. He would not settle for something not matching the vision he had of the shot. Even though the shot had to wait until his pursuit with 'snake Shyam' was successful, the deadline was met.

My last visit to Satyan's home was with a group of carol singers. He and his wife didn't seem to mind our intrusion. Satyan's demeanour was one of appreciation, humility and respectfulness, in keeping with the occasion. The students who were there from different parts of the country, were indeed blessed to hold the attention of a person of Satyan's eminence.








Human nature being what it is, gratitude has its limits. The more we are on the receiving end of a recurring good, the less grateful we become. Nations are likewise susceptible to "What have you done for me lately?" syndrome.


It is fitting, therefore, to acknowledge the ongoing aid Israel receives from the United States. It may not come out of purely altruistic motives, yet Washington's intentions are largely good, and absent its unwavering military and diplomatic backing, the world would be an even lonelier place for our Jewish state.


Within the past several weeks, the US Congress approved and President Barack Obama signed into law an FY 2010 aid package to Israel that includes $2.22 billion in security assistance. This brings the total amount of aid for the year to $2.775 billion. About 75 percent of these monies will be spent in the US. In addition, the US provides "virtual aid" in the form of loan guarantees.


Especially at a time when Americans are hurting economically, this financial support to Israel is deeply appreciated. In light of our shared values and mutual interests, the American people should know that they can always count on Israel.


ISRAELIS also recognize that America has interests elsewhere in our region. For instance, although the US now gets most of its imported oil from non-Arab sources, Saudi Arabia remains a major supplier of crude. Washington has an interest in bolstering Arab allies who may feel threatened by Persian imperialism.


For decades administrations have been selling advanced weapons to Arab states even when Israel strenuously protested these transactions.


Now, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, an arm of the Pentagon, the Obama administration is about to sell yet more billions of dollars worth of armaments to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.


For instance, it plans to sell the UAE 12 of the latest C-130 Hercules military cargo planes and 16 Chinook helicopters. The UAE is also interested in a supply of 400 GBU-24s bunker-buster bombs.


The Saudis are in the market for the latest in anti-tank missiles. And on a more modest scale, Jordan will buy aircraft engines and anti-tank guided missiles.


But the sale of weapons to Egypt is the hardest to fathom. Cairo wants state-of-the-art Harpoon II anti-ship cruise missiles ($145 million); four high-speed missile craft for its navy ($1.29 billion), and 450 Hellfire air-to-surface anti-armor missiles. Throw in 156 replacement engines, plus 24 new F16 fighters, and you are dealing with a lot of firepower.


The Pentagon insists none of this will "adversely affect the military balance in the region."


WE'RE somewhat less sanguine about these weapons. Egypt, which faces no threat from its neighbors, officially spends roughly $2-3 billion annually on its military and fields a 450,000-man standing army - on top of its mammoth domestic security apparatus. Cairo recently established a strategic military relationship with its old partner, Russia, and has reportedly expressed interest in the S-400 anti-missile missile on the pretext that it is worried about Iran.


In the context of a cold peace, Israel's relations with Egypt are on an even keel. True, President Hosni Mubarak, age 81, refuses to visit Israel and has made our foreign minister persona non-grata. But he does cordially receive Israeli leaders. For years he did precious little to block weapons smuggling from the Sinai into Hamas-controlled Gaza; now that he is making an apparently genuine effort, he is facing strident domestic opposition. Having quashed reformist political parties, his most viable opponents are Muslim extremists.


Egypt is a poor country with relatively weak political institutions and no assured mechanism for presidential succession. Its stability is one of Israel's highest strategic interests. Practically half of Egypt's 83 million people are under age 25. Many live on two dollars a day. Compounding the official unemployment level of 9% is endemic structural unemployment. Corruption is rampant; infrastructure is crumbling. Does this sound like a country that needs cruise missiles?


Since 1975, America has invested $14.83 billion in a wide array of AID projects to make Egypt a better place for its people. Helping ordinary Egyptians is where Washington's emphasis can continue to do the most good. Adding to Egypt's considerable stockpile of weapons hardly benefits its people. And such weapons could, heaven forbid, one day fall into the wrong hands.








I'm sitting at Newark Airport waiting for my wife and nine children to disembark from an aircraft that landed hours ago. They arrived from Chicago, where we all attended a beautiful family wedding. The kids have school tomorrow and would have had a decent night's sleep, except that some guy wandered backward through an exit and into the secure area of the Continental Airlines terminal, sending the entire airport into lockdown. (Sometimes I wonder if God is playing a trick by making me the Forrest Gump of current events. How did I ever get into this story?)


My wife is calling me every 10 minutes with an "update"; the pilot will only say they are delayed indefinitely. The entire terminal is being cleared out. All departing planes are being unloaded and passengers are having to go through security all over again. And all because one guy walked backward through an exit. They've scoured the airport and they can't find him.


How embarrassing.


THIS IS the level of farce that passes for airport security here in the United States. Just over a week ago a Nigerian man sewed explosives into his skivvies and would have blown up hundreds of innocents except that his underwear failed to ignite. The fact that his super-credible banker father had already gone to the American Embassy to warn that his son was an extremist nut wasn't enough to get his visa revoked or get his name put on a no-fly list. And here we are, just a few days later, and one of New York's three premiere airports is shut down because a man walked straight through a "secure" exit without being stopped.


Nice to know we're being protected by the Keystone Kops.


Let's state the obvious. They can install the most sophisticated machinery. They can X-ray our boxers, they can check for explosives in every bodily orifice, but we're still not going to be safe; it's not only people's bodies but their backgrounds, their nationalities, and especially their eyes.


Israel has the most secure airport in the world. I cannot imagine for a moment that a man with nitroglycerine in his undies would ever have made it on an Israeli plane. And why? Because they would have asked him some simple, direct questions with the purpose of studying his reactions. You're from Nigeria. You're going to the US. Why? How long are you staying? What is your purpose? And where is your return ticket? All along they would be scrutinizing not his bodily bulges but his twitches. What Israel excels at is not even ethnic profiling so much as psychological profiling.


BUT HOW can we ever hope to study people's suspicious behavior when Transportation Security Administration agents are wasting their precious time on the most innocent of passengers who don't fit any kind of terrorist profile? On the way to Chicago last week, my 11-year-old daughter's backpack somehow merited secondary screening. For 10 minutes a TSA agent performed about seven explosive swab tests on every knickknack a young girl might carry onto a plane. Her reading books seemed to be of particular interest. I could only roll my eyes and pray for patience. While this went on, approximately 50 adults passed through without any secondary screening because my 11-year-old occupied the agent's rapt attention. Could this have gotten any more ridiculous?


The answer, unfortunately, is yes. I travel often. They degree of silliness I have witnessed is staggering. I have seen 70-year-old grandmas with hip replacements being combed by two TSA agents (who knows what those surgeons implanted there!). I once saw an octogenarian with a cane forced to remove his neck brace and have it repeatedly swabbed for explosives.


Good, you say. Terrorists come in many forms. And if we principally look out for young men from known terrorist countries, the terrorists will quickly adapt and activate their sleeper-agent - Edith from Valley View Retirement Home - to detonate the nitroglycerine hidden in her dentures.


I concede that indeed there have been unsuspecting young female passengers who have been given bombs by their terrorist boyfriends, which is why we have to absolutely check everyone. But airport security is never going to be omniscient, so you need to focus on those who pose the greatest threat.


Nationality is not any real predictor of terrorism. Richard Reid was a Briton who was half-Jamaican. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is not from the Middle East, but Nigeria. Timothy McVeigh was an American. But these, and nearly every other terrorist bomber, were males of a certain age group. None were 11-year-olds with schoolwork stuffed in their backpacks who happened to be traveling with eight other siblings. Would it not therefore make sense to concentrate on those who most closely fit the terrorist profile, while letting up on the three-year-olds with their toy tractors?


HERE IS where Israel has a unique opening. A country that routinely gets terrible press because of how effectively its enemies portray it as repressive can come to the West's rescue with sound advice on how to secure air travel. In the process the West will gain a greater understanding of the level of threat Israel is up against. I'm surprised that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not already given a major address sympathizing with the American people for the intended attack on Christmas Day and offering Israel's assistance.


Israel, after all, often dispatches humanitarian rescue teams to various parts of the world after an earthquake or tsunami. Why not immediately dispatch a high-level security team to Washington to advise an increasingly hapless Homeland Security Administration about the right way to deploy limited resources in securing a vast air network? I realize that Israel is a tiny country and has to secure only one major airport. But then again, unlike the US, it lives surrounded by terrorists yet has an exemplary record in protecting air travel.


Well, here I am at the end of my column and my family is still stuck on the plane. Aside from the subject matter this unfortunate nuisance has provided, this has been a real hindrance to nine children who have school tomorrow. I can only hope that by the time next week's column is due I'm not still here waiting for the TSA to find a man who simply waltzed into one of America's most guarded airports.


The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network and author of The Michael Jackson Tapes.








There could scarcely have been a better illustration of why so many Jews feel distanced from the Torah and from Orthodox Judaism than the cruel reactions from Yeshiva University officials and other members of the Orthodox community to a recent panel discussion about treatment of homosexuals at the university.


Critics said the event claimed that it "legitimized" homosexuality by discussing the poor treatment many homosexuals experience inside the Orthodox world. But even a cursory look at the YU debate shows clearly that there was no discussion of the halachic aspects of homosexual behavior, for the simple reason that there is little debate to be had. The Torah prohibits one, narrowly-defined homosexual act: anal penetration between two men. Traditional rabbinic sources do look down on lesbian sex and other homosexual acts, but these acts are not technically prohibited. That's about the end of the halachic debate on this issue.


But Halacha has little to do with this discussion. Thousands of men and women believe in the divinity of the Torah and the rabbinic system but also experience strong desires to build romantic same-gender relationships. For many of these people, that reality presents an inherent contradiction, one that causes tremendous inner turmoil and pain. That pain is compounded by the poor treatment they receive by much, or even most, of the Orthodox world.


So how does the Orthodox world propose recognizing this pain and the inner conflict? Is it the "Orthodox" view that these individuals should be cast out, ostracized, ignored?


ONE JERUSALEM-AREA psychologist, Sara Halevi, has been treating teenagers for behavioral and emotional issues for more than 20 years. During her career, she has seen dozens of patients trying to come to terms with their homosexuality, including many from Orthodox homes. She considers those in the Orthodox camp who advocate rejection, self-hate and "living a lie" for gay Jews to be at best complicit, at worst culpable in the exorbitant suicide rate among gay religious teens.


It is interesting to compare Orthodox attitudes toward homosexuals and toward those who do not observe Shabbat in a halachic manner. Whereas gays and lesbians are routinely subjected to poor treatment (when they are acknowledged at all) in many or even most Orthodox circles, people who do not observe the halachot of Shabbat or kashrut (arguably far more severe offenses in the eyes of the Torah) are considered mistaken, but they are not snubbed.


But for some reason, homosexuality is different. Whereas Orthodox society prides itself on adhering to even the most obscure, strict details of most rabbinic mitzvot (six hours between meat and milk), the command by the mishnaic scholar Shammai "to receive all men with a cheerful face" (Avot 1:16) is considered optional, at least with regard to homosexuals.


But I am unaware of any early or later rabbinic commentator or halachic authority that grants an exception to Shammai's rule for gays. Rambam does not include such an exception in his Commentary on the Mishna or in his halachic work, Mishna Torah.


AND YET Orthodox society as a whole continues to kick these individuals, many of whom have a deep love for Torah, prayer, the Land of Israel and mitzvot. Their struggle is a non-issue in many, or most, Orthodox circles. Instead, we dismiss the "faigeles" and continue on our merry (but not gay!) way.

The human cost for this attitude is massive. The emotional turmoil of the halachicly-committed gay Jew must be terrible indeed, but his pain is of little interest to far too many Orthodox Jews and their organizations.


Yeshiva University must be commended for taking a courageous step and discussing ways to accept Orthodox, and non-Orthodox, homosexuals. Without "legitimizing" an act that the Torah expressly prohibits, last month's forum was an important step toward recognizing these individuals and toward easing their inner turmoil. For that alone, it was a critical event.


The writer is a freelance journalist.








What does a Gazan "snakehead" (or smuggling-tunnel owner) have in common with a drug dealer working for the Mexican cartel? Both have profit margins of around 400 percent: A Gazan snakehead can build a tunnel for $40,000 and make up to $200,000 each day; likewise, the wholesale price for a kilo of cocaine in America can run between $15,000 and $25,000 (depending on the seller's proximity to the Mexican border) and can fetch around $90,000. And both represent a seemingly unfixable border problem between two countries.


In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, David Luhnow makes a compelling case that "to weaken the cartels, some argue that the US should legalize marijuana, let cocaine pass through the Caribbean and take the profit motive out of the drug trade." Israel cannot do the same in Gaza; it cannot permit the free-flow of weapons, and it has taken effective means of reducing the supply. But as long as profit margins remain high for the smugglers, goods remain scarce because of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, and consumer demand remains unchanged, Gaza's smuggling industry will remain lucrative.


Moreover, Gaza's underground economy is extremely diverse. It is not just weapons being smuggled through tunnels, and the smugglers are savvy businessmen, varying their cargo to meet demand: perfumes, cigarettes, drugs, fugitives (going rate $2,000 per trip), cows and even lions (three are now a part of the Rafah zoo).


SO WHAT can Israel learn from Mexico and its dealings with the drug cartel?


Luhnow provides a possible solution: "If the war on drugs [in Mexico] has failed, it is partly because it has been waged almost entirely as a law-and-order issue, without understanding of how cartels work as a business... We've been attacking the players rather than attacking the industry. We need to focus on shrinking their markets and raising their operating costs."


Israel has been shrinking the markets in Gaza by utilizing precision air strikes on tunnels (Israel estimates that 80% of the tunnels were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead), intercepting Iranian munitions destined for Gaza and encouraging the construction of Egypt's underground iron wall. Yet these military solutions are unstable in the long run and will force the Gazan population to support Hamas, if only out of desperation. In other words, by dealing with the tunneling problem exclusively by means of force and firepower, instead of by economic means, Israel is bypassing a tremendous opportunity to win the support of the Gazan population.


Hamas's popular support is unprecedentedly low. Just this week, Hamas staged a heavily publicized rally marking the one-year anniversary of Cast Lead, but was frustrated by poor turnout and lack of civil support. If public opinion polls mean anything in Gaza, 58% of Gazans have said they disapprove of the job being done by Hamas, while 42% "disapproved strongly," according to the Israel Project.


Further proof of Hamas's dwindling support comes from the tunnel business itself: There are rumors that Hamas makes millions of dollars each year by administering unofficial "tunnel taxes" to ensure that the industry does not become too privatized, fearful that it would lead to further distance between the Islamic movement and the general population.


THUS, ISRAEL has an unprecedented opportunity to enter the Gazan market and uproot Hamas as a popular movement by easing the blockade and offering goods (possibly through NGOs) to Gazans at a lower price than the smugglers charge. Perhaps it can even "employ" the smugglers, thereby removing the serious risks associated with tunneling, whether by aerial attack or tunnel collapse. This, in turn, could reduce the smugglers' will to import weapons, because these would represent unnecessary risk. In the long run, it might even reduce the extremely high birthrate and dangerous "youth bulge" (or demographic bomb) by easing the high unemployment levels and encouraging Gazans to be more career-oriented.


Israel stands to gain both financially and politically from this move, since it has been negatively affected by the closure of Gaza as well: The New York Times, using Israeli estimates, says Israeli businesses are losing $2 million a day from the closure.


The results will not be immediate, but the possibility for an effective, new approach is enticing. Given Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's fiscal prowess, this might be the perfect time to try a much-ignored economic approach to the crisis in Gaza.


The writer is a senior at New York University majoring in philosophy.








Last week's High Court ruling opening part of Route 443 to Palestinian traffic has set off a firestorm of criticism in Israeli political circles. In a 38-page decision, the court ruled that by keeping Palestinians off the road, which winds through post-1967 lands on the northwest approach to Jerusalem, the army unfairly discriminated against local Palestinians who should be allowed to use it, fostering among them a "sense of inequality and even associations of improper motives."


The court ordered the army to find "another solution" that would avoid the "sense of discrimination" that the closure entails. While the ruling may at first sound both reasonable and fair, it is in practicality neither and will result in the deaths of additional Israelis.


FIRST, THE history. The IDF's security concerns are far from theoretical. Beginning with the second intifada in 2000, Palestinian terrorists found in 443 an easy target for shootings and other deadly attacks. In just eight months, from December 2000 to August 2001, six Israelis were murdered, and many more wounded, on that very road. The villagers who would use the road today are those who knowingly harbored these terrorists and provided them with an easy escape route. This is why the road was closed to Palestinian traffic in the first place.


Although the Palestinians have failed to mount deadly attacks on 443 since the road was closed to them in 2002, it is not for lack of trying. In the last few years, the IDF has recorded hundreds of violent attacks, from throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails to shootings, along Route 443. Just last month, the army defused a massive roadside bomb along the road. Even with the closure, 443 remains one of the most vulnerable highways to terror.


Second, the road itself. Route 443 is no side street. It is one of the two major arteries connecting Jerusalem with the rest of the country. For many of the more than 100,000 residents living along the stretch from Modi'in to the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, it is the only way to get to and from work each day. Although a small part of the road goes through post-1967 territory, the people who use the road are not "settlers," but ordinary Israelis, Arabs and Jews, living their lives.


A great deal of Israelis' sense of day-to-day safety rests on the ability of the army to keep the Palestinians away from the daily lives of ordinary Israeli citizens. The court may consider this discriminatory, but there are good reasons we feel uncomfortable seeing green-and-white license plates on the road beside them: It is from these cars, licensed and registered with the Palestinian Authority, that the drive-by shootings come - like the one that killed Meir Chai, 45, a father of seven, outside Shavei Shomron last week; or like the attacker who popped out of such a car two weeks ago and stabbed Ayala Margalit, 22, as she stood at a bus stop in Gush Etzion. The court's ruling will dramatically undermine the sense of physical security of thousands of Israelis each day.


BUT THE third, and possibly most important, context is that of the High Court's other rulings concerning Judea and Samaria in the last few years. Through a long string of decisions, the court has repeatedly and incrementally cut away from the government's ability to safeguard Israelis from Palestinian terror - whether by repeatedly rerouting the security fence, always to Israel's disadvantage, or by limiting the abilities of soldiers to defend themselves or by interfering with the demolition of the homes of Arab terrorists.


The court claims that these rulings are based on what is known as the "reasonability" test, in which the justices assert the right to overrule any government action they deems unreasonable. When the court started using this test in the 1990s, critics warned that it would inevitably lead to judges imposing their ideology on the country, and replacing their judgment for that of elected officials - a slap in the face to democratic rule, according to which it is the voters, not the unelected judges, who ultimately decide whether their leaders are doing a reasonable job. The 443 ruling proves, again, that the critics were right.


As an attorney for some of the the respondents in the 443 petition, 120 residents of communities like Modi'in, Hashmonaim, Givat Ze'ev and Ramot, and in several other security related petitions to the High Court, it is clear to me that it is always Israel that loses, step by step, control over land whose future would rightfully be left for the parties to negotiate over - effectively creating facts on the ground that will prejudice the outcome in favor of the court's conspicuously ideological bent. The ruling is another step in a prolonged process in which the High Court, salami-style, predetermines the country's future borders, without negotiations, without respect for the democratic process.


BY INSISTING that the feelings of equality of a small number of Palestinians trump the feelings of physical security of a large number of Israelis, it is the court that is fostering a "sense of discrimination," not the IDF. And though the court's decision asserts that the IDF "went beyond its authority" in preserving 443 as an access road for Israelis traveling to and from Jerusalem, it is the court that has gone beyond its authority, in intervening in reasonable judgment calls that are the job of elected officials to make. Even if one argued that since the Palestinians don't vote in Israeli elections, sometimes the courts need to get involved in protecting them from IDF abuse, this should only be done in the most egregious cases.


Now the judges have ruled, and we all know who will pay the price: Some Israeli on his or her way to work, targeted by terrorists who will take advantage of their new, easy access to Route 443, and make their quick getaway.


Blood will be shed, and then, one way or another, the road will be closed again. Why go there?

The writer is the director of Shurat Hadin - Israel Law Center.








Why is the Knesset debating a new bill, proposed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party, that suggests changing the wording of the oath taken by MKs so that instead of swearing loyalty to "the State of Israel and its laws," they will be required to vow loyalty to the State of Israel as a "Jewish democratic state"? The current laws are more than sufficient to ensure loyalty to the state. The initiative is little more than demagoguery, populism and a cheap political move aimed at getting headlines.


The current status of law on the issue of loyalty to the state is based on the "Rules of Ethics for Members of the Knesset, Chapter B: Basic Rules," which states: "The Knesset Member shall fulfill his position out of loyalty to the basic values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." Furthermore, the Basic Law: The Knesset (Amendment No. 9) states: "Prevention of participation of candidates' list: A candidates' list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following: (1) negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; (2) negation of the democratic character of the state; (3) incitement to racism."


In 1992, the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. Section 1a declares that "the purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."


Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak offered the following interpretation of Israel as Jewish and democratic: "The expression 'Jewish and democratic' does not imply two opposites, but rather their being complementary and harmonious... Indeed, the state is Jewish not in the religious-halachic sense, but in the sense that Jews have the right to migrate there, and that their national being is reflected in the being of the state (the matter finds expression, inter alia, in language and in days of rest). The fundamental values of Judaism are the fundamental values of the state - namely, love of man, the sanctity of life, social justice, doing what is good and right, preserving human dignity, the rule of law, etc. - values bequeathed by Judaism to the entire world... the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state cannot be identified with Jewish law. One must not forget that a sizable non-Jewish population lives in Israel. Indeed, the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state are those same universal values that are common to democratic societies, which emerged from Jewish tradition and history."


ALL MODERN nation-states have minorities living in their midst. France is the nation-state of the French people, but it is also the state of all of the descendents of former Algerians born there. Likewise, Germany is the nation-state of the German people, as well as all of the children of former citizens of Turkey who were born there.


Twenty percent of Israel's citizens are not Jewish by national or religious definition, but they were born here, and the State of Israel is theirs as well. That is why David Ben-Gurion included in the Declaration of Independence: "We appeal - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the up-building of the state on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."


The country's first president, Chaim Weizmann, said: "I am certain that the world will judge the Jewish state by what it will do with the Arabs, just as the Jewish people at large will be judged by what we do or fail to do in this state where we have been given such a wonderful opportunity after thousands of years of wandering and suffering."


The Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot identify with it as the state of the Jewish people. They can, however, accept it, if their basic rights as full citizens are in turn accepted by the state. The Jewish nation-state must relate to its non-Jewish citizens as equal in all respects. It must recognize the particular difficulties faced by its Palestinian citizens as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and must demand that they remain law-abiding citizens - this is reasonable and is, in fact, the reality. To demand "loyalty," meaning identification with the Jewish flag and national anthem, is not only impractical, it is asking for them to voice disloyalty at a time when their fundamental demand from the state is to recognize them as full citizens. Palestinian citizens, in their complaints of discrimination, are essentially demanding the right to be Israelis.


THIS DISCUSSION begs for us to clarify what is meant by the notion of a Jewish state. There is too much confusion in Israel not only on the questions concerning the axis of Jewish and democratic, but also on the concept of Jewish state or state of the Jews. In his book The Jewish State Theodor Herzl wrote: "We are a people - one people... I think the Jewish question is no more a social than a religious one, notwithstanding that it sometimes takes these and other forms. It is a national question."


The Declaration of Independence states: "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped... the First Zionist Congress convened and proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country... The Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its national home..."


ISRAEL IS a nation-state; it is not a religious state or the state of a religious group. The intention of the Zionist movement in calling for the creation of a state for the Jewish people was not to create a state for the Jewish religion. Israel is a civil state, and its laws are civil laws, not religious laws (with the exception of laws of personal status which have been inherited from the Ottoman Empire, and the time has come to remove that exception).


The confusion between Israel as a Jewish state and Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is one shared by Jews and non-Jews alike. The terms are used almost interchangeably, and that has caused confusion. There is also an ideological argument between those who use the differing terms, even if at times they are not fully aware of the differences. Those, such as the current minister of justice, who would like to see the laws of the state be based on Halacha, refer to the Jewish state with its religious connotation. Those who understand modern international law and have a comprehension of the legal basis on which Israel was founded understand the importance of the definition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.


THE DECLARATIONS of the State of Israel and the state of Palestine both base their legal right to exist on UN Resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine into two states - a Jewish state and an Arab state. The UN resolution was speaking about two nation-states, and in that context former foreign minister Tzipi Livni declared: "That's why I support the establishment of a Palestinian state, on condition that it will be the national solution for all the Palestinians, just as Israel is the national solution for all the Jews."


And why in his Bar-Ilan speech, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly referred to Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and called on Palestinians to recognize it as the nation-state of the Jewish people.


Peace between the State of Israel and the future state of Palestine will be based on two nation-states for two peoples, and just as there is a sizable Palestinian minority in the state of the Jewish people, we can all hope that there will be a sizable Jewish minority in the state of the Palestinian people, all living in peace, democracy and equality.


The writer is co-CEO the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement party (








If an outside observer needs to be convinced of just how absurd and intractable the Israel-Palestine conflict has become, he/she only needs to reflect on last week's High Court ruling concerning the right of travel for Palestinians on Route 443, linking Jerusalem to Modi'in.


Take a step back and think about it - the court had to remind the country, which prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East, that in a democratic society, everyone has the right of access to public facilities, not least the major transportation arteries.


For its part, the Defense Ministry argued that it was necessary to keep Palestinians from using this route due to the security risk involved. It was the classic argument - in the name of security, everything is permissible, even when it comes to blatant discrimination. Even the court ruling did not totally prohibit road closures, and allowed one section of 443 to remain closed to Palestinian cars.


Interestingly, no such argument was used to ban settlers from using roads on the West Bank. Security is only about security for the Jewish citizens of the country, never for the Arabs or Palestinians, many of whom have suffered violence at the hands of some settlers - such as the burning of mosques, the destruction of orchards and even the murder of innocent civilians - from the Jewish underground in the 1980s, to Baruch Goldstein in Hebron in 1994, to the recent activities of Ya'acov Teitel.


If anyone from the outside suggests that such policies smell of something called apartheid, we immediately reject such a comparison and write long letters and articles explaining why the system of discrimination against the black population in South Africa bears no relationship to the situation of the Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank. But for the first time in a High Court discussion, the term apartheid was used by one of the appellants on behalf of the Palestinians to describe the situation by which one ethnic group is forbidden from driving on a road exclusively reserved for the Jewish population.


CALL IT security, call it discrimination, call it apartheid - it is stupid and shortsighted. It reflects, yet again, the fact that after 42 years of occupation of the West Bank, Israel is controlled by, rather than in control of, the situation. We continue to live in fear, unable to maintain a secure environment for our citizens. So we resort to incremental, half-baked solutions such as the building of concrete walls in the middle of cities and along both sides of Route 443, the prevention of free access and travel to citizens of one group, and the confiscation and destruction of olive groves and orchards in those places where we argue there is a security risk.


The one thing we prove time after time is that the mighty IDF may be good at defending its external borders (and even this is not necessarily the case any more), but it is hopeless when it comes to controlling another people who want nothing more than their own political and sovereign rights.


The construction of roads is part of a wider system of regional and physical planning which has always been governed by political and security dictates. During the country's first decades, the establishment of civilian settlements along its borders was seen as an integral part of its defense policy and, as such, could override any objections raised by planning, economic or environmental lobbies.


I OFTEN drive from the Negev to Jerusalem via the West Bank, using roads which have been constructed and expanded in recent years to enable ease of access for the Jewish settlers and travelers, while the roads leading into Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and other Palestinian cities have been transformed into minor roads in poor condition, although they serve the needs of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. We drive along empty highways, while they drive along narrow, overcrowded and dangerous side roads - and we do all this in the name of security, so that we can bypass the cities which we ostensibly control but are afraid to enter, and so that we can have ease of access to every small settlement and hilltop outpost without having to encounter our neighbors who are excluded from large parts of the territory.


While Palestinians are able to drive freely on all roads in Areas A and B (as defined in the Oslo Accords), there are more than 300 kilometers of roads in Area C (under Israeli control) on which they either are forbidden to travel or must have special authorization. Any car with Palestinian license plates can be prevented from travelling on these roads, especially those defined as "sterile" by the Israeli authorities.


Within the Green Line, too, roads are used as a powerful political tool. The construction of the new road to Arad and parts of the Route 6 extension in the South have enabled the removal of some 15 unrecognized Beduin villages on the grounds of "public need."


PLANNING IS a powerful tool of territorial and land control which can be, and in the case of Israel is, used to ensure that the political objectives of the state are achieved. And where there is no reason to build settlements along borders or construct bypass roads and highways for exclusive use, there is always the Jewish National Fund, which designates areas for afforestation - especially in close proximity to the Green Line - so as to close them to any form of alternative development, even if other communities require space to meet the residential needs of their rapidly growing populations.


Security is important to all of us. None of us wants to be blown up by a roadside bomb, a Katyusha rocket or a suicide bomber, just as no Palestinian wants to see IDF tanks and soldiers in their backyard or ripping up their orchards. But to prevent the normal civilian rights and privileges of hundreds of thousands of innocent people from building homes or travelling along roads is a cynical manipulation of the security agenda - and it is this which brings our democracy into disrepute.


The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University, and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.








The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has become an empty phrase since Israel's elections, interchangeable with the word "daydreaming." On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted on conditions that will prevent a renewal of the process such as Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or not freezing construction in East Jerusalem. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas has insisted on freezing all Israeli construction over the Green Line, even after Washington gave Israel "discounts."

Over the past few days, a crack seems to be opening in the ice, and the peace process has a chance to be revived. Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, presented the outlines of a plan and was even praised by the Egyptian foreign ministry. Abbas is also willing to move ahead; reports from his visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt indicate that he is ready to be more flexible in his conditions.

These positive signs must be encouraged, because when peace talks are frozen they are replaced by another, more threatening and dangerous dialogue. It's not just a question of whether there will be a third intifada, a discussion that is gaining sway on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. It's a matter of renewed terror in the West Bank, which has enjoyed relative quiet under the control of the Palestinian security forces.


This calm can flourish if it is nourished by the hope of a better future. A lack of diplomatic prospects could generate a new wave of terror, as the head of the Shin Bet secur ity service, Yuval Diskin, warned last week. Experienced Israelis and Palestinians are all too familiar with this formula. So we must try immediately to revive the negotiations. The parties know full well what the disputes are and which agreements have been reached in the past. They especially understand the danger if the diplomatic stalemate continues.

Abbas and Netanyahu must sweep away preconditions to renew the talks, even if such conditions are justified. A construction freeze in the settlements, even if it is not total, and adopting the two-state principle are appropriate incentives to get the Palestinians back to the table. Palestinian security control of the West Bank is the "goods" Israel has always demanded. Now is the time to resuscitate the road map's other conditions and begin a new stage in the peace process.








As I was born in Istanbul and still remember my Ladino, I almost fell off my chair when MK Ronit Tirosh, a former director general of the Education Ministry and possible candidate to replace Avigdor Lieberman, described her own party, Kadima, as "a party of dictatorship, a party of demikulo." The precise translation of this spoken Ladino word is "my ass."

Tirosh was criticizing party leader Tzipi Livni for rejecting Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to join the government - a crude gimmick aimed at undermining Livni and giving Kadima No. 2 Shaul Mofaz an excuse to desert the party.

Mofaz may speak nicer Hebrew than Tirosh, but in practice he is sabotaging Livni and is full of himself, thinking he is the country's savior. One thing remains unclear: If he thinks he was cheated in Kadima's leadership primary, why didn't he complain to the police at the time?


But regardless, his confidence that he is more suitable than anyone else to lead the country at this time is embarrassing. In our region, sabotage generally does not end well. Bibi's trick of summoning Livni and expecting her to decide to join his government within two hours also looks like something between a joke and an insult. Ostensibly striving to form a unity government and being left with only MK Eli Aflalo shows that Bibi has yet to be broken of the gimmicks and tricks of his previous term as premier.

Despite their respective comebacks, neither Bibi nor Ehud Barak have become Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon in their second terms as prime minister. Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, while Sharon buried the dream of the greater Land of Israel and evacuated the Gush Katif settlements.


Livni, who made a terrific first impression, is not made of the same leadership stuff as her predecessors. She erred when she failed to form a government without elections after succeeding Ehud Olmert: Had she done so, she could have shown what she was able to do as prime minister until the government's term ended in 2010.

But she has neither the fire nor the sophistication to be a fighting leader of the opposition.

Bibi and Barak are the new Yitzhak Shamirs. They run in place. The difference is that Shamir did so with wisdom and modesty. He never badmouthed anyone, he never played games. He had one single goal: to bequeath to his successors the same country he inherited, without conceding any part of the Land of Israel on either side of the Green Line.

For better or worse, Shamir at least had an agenda. Among today's leaders - Bibi and Barak on the one hand and Livni on the other - it is not clear who is leading whom, or to where, or for what purpose.

The first leaders of the state were guided above all by an agenda - whether social or diplomatic, whether establishing a national education system or creating the tools needed for the state to defend itself by itself. David Ben-Gurion laid down the principle that if attacked, Israel would respond swiftly and carry the battle to the enemy's turf. He decided that Israel needed the Holocaust reparations from Germany, which enabled it to absorb the massive wave of immigrants and ensured Germany's long-term commitment to Israel's security. Ben-Gurion also had an agenda once to eliminate the preposition "et" from the Hebrew language.

Today's comeback leaders not only lack a clear agenda, but are also misleading both the public and our ally, the United States. When Bibi gets up in the morning, what does he want to achieve that day other than stealing seven MKs from Kadima?

As for Barak's agenda - that is far more complex. He no longer has any chance of becoming prime minister, but he is still quarreling with his aides and replacing them every other day. Yet his IQ is high enough to run a war that brought the whole world down on us while enjoying all the perks of his job.

And if someone whispers to me that he recently bought a watch worth $60,000 - where is it written that a genius is forbidden to use his money to enjoy life?

It's not clear whether Bibi's "two states for two peoples" speech at Bar-Ilan University was a trick or whether he truly means it. His words made an impression on the U.S. administration, but less so on the Palestinians. They also demanded a freeze on settlement construction.

The forum of seven key cabinet ministers sat for seven days and seven nights, after which Bibi promised Barack Obama that he would freeze construction for 10 months.

When he saw that his party was starting to rise up against him, he added, "10 months and not a day more." Even Benny Begin, the most honest of men, declared that "this isn't a freeze," noting that over the next 10 months, 3,000 new housing units and 10,000 new residents would be added to West Bank settlements. And the resumption of terror attacks is only a matter of time.

That's how it is when a state is run according to a demikulo agenda.







Amanah Hassan, 43, hadn't worked for 20 years. She received a meager allowance from the government, NIS 1,300 a month, with which she had to make do. In 2005, Hassan joined the welfare-to-work Wisconsin plan, where she took vocational training and empowerment workshops. Today she's employed at a BIG shopping center and earns three times as much as the allowance she used to receive. She says she's happy.

Hila Gochshtand, 56, is a divorcee with a 20-year-old son. She was a bitter opponent of the privately-operated Wisconsin plan and even got a chance to express her objections at Knesset hearings two years ago. Nevertheless, she joined the program, acquired qualifications and began working as an English teacher. Recently she took part in another Knesset hearing on the program; this time she ardently supported it.

But Hassan and Gochshtand don't impress our legislators who hate the Wisconsin plan precisely because it works well. Unlike the government's archaic Employment Service, the program has brought thousands of people into the job market who for years had lived on allowances and welfare payments. Out of their frustration over the project's success, these Knesset members have assailed it as well as the finance and labor ministries, which want to see it expanded. They have called it "corrupt," "something that won't last" and a "pillage of the public coffers".

The Wisconsin plan was launched in Israel in 2005 after nine years of bitter squabbling. Its aims to help chronically unemployed people, those who have been getting welfare payments from the government for years. It has been operating on a pilot basis in four regions and the current fight is over expanding it nationwide.

Of the 45,000 people referred to the program, 7,500 never reported at all; these people work without the knowledge of the authorities. Such people would not be able to take part in the project, which requires almost daily participation, because they work and fraudulently collect welfare payments. Around 18,000 people have found jobs thanks to the program, thoroughly changing their lives for the better. Not only are they earning a living with their own hands, they no longer live off public funding.

These are impressive results. They have been examined by a bunch of committees and institutes, all of which recommend that the program be expanded. A comprehensive study conducted by the Brookdale Institute, a joint project of the Joint Distribution Committee and the National Insurance Institute, revealed that the Wisconsin plan is more effective than the Employment Service at integrating the chronically unemployed into the job market. Meanwhile, Bank of Israel experts who examined the data say it should be expanded nationwide once its flaws have been ironed out. They have been. A report by the Israeli Academy of Sciences made a similar recommendation in December 2008, as have international organizations that monitor Israel's economy, like the International Monetary Fund.

The Wisconsin plan's achievements have angered the Employment Service's 800 officials, who have imposed sanctions on it because the program proves that the private market is succeeding precisely where they failed. It also infuriates MKs to whom the word privatization is like a red rag to a bull.

One reason these MKs give for their opposition is that the government has to invest too much money in the program, money that goes to businessmen.

This is utter nonsense because there is nothing wrong with the state investing in improving the lot of its weaker citizens. And 90 percent of the outlays go to personal training programs, including Hebrew lessons, as well as help in writing CVs and finding jobs and subsidizing day-care centers. The profits for the company operating the plan are what is left over, and they depend on results: the number of people shifted from welfare to gainful employment.

If the program is extended over the whole country, it will be able to integrate another 20,000 to 40,000 people into the job market within the next four years. This is why mayors everywhere support it. They understand well the enormous social benefits the Wisconsin plan could bring: the restoration of self-respect to people who begin earning a living by working, without having to resort to gifts from the government. This is exactly what has happened to Amanah Hassan and Hila Gochshtand.









Israel's political and unilateral moves in the past decade have shown that its position on the borders with the Palestinians is divorced from the requirements of security, water supply and infrastructure. They are dictated by one factor alone: the settlements. Israeli prime ministers, only too aware of their domestic political weakness, want to avoid any significant evacuation of settlers.

Meanwhile, not only have they done nothing to block the increase in the numbers of settlers, they have failed to funnel that increase into areas they want to annex and distinguish between the varying interests of the different settler groups. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, subject to a timetable and clear-cut topics to be discussed, he may find that a differentiated application of the construction freeze in the territories could have a positive result.

During talks with the Palestinians, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni drew maps of the future borders. Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz tried to reach those lines through unilateral moves like the security fence and the disengagement. Altogether, the Israeli position since the end of 2000 has been to annex 6 percent to 8 percent of the West Bank.


Although the border is planned to snake around for more than 800 kilometers, almost three times the length of the Green Line, it neither creates strategic depth nor includes security zones (with the demilitarization of the Palestinian state substituting for these). Neither does it ensure Israeli control over aquifers, strategic roads or areas that dominate Israel's coastal plain and the airfields there. All it amounts to is a winding line between Jewish and Arab communities, whose purpose is to leave 80 percent of the settlers under Israeli sovereignty and to avoid annexing Arabs.

If the government had concentrated settlement growth on the Israeli side of this line since entering the political process in 1993, only 20,000 Israelis would have to be evacuated today. But while the number of settlers in this area has grown by slightly more than twofold, diplomatic myopia and domestic political weakness have led to an increase in the numbers beyond that line by a factor of five. Israel has settled 80,000 people, at an outlay of billions, outside the areas it is demanding, only to have to evacuate and compensate them in any future peace agreement.

One-fifth of the exceptions to the construction freeze have been allocated to settlements outside this line, and the national priority map has recently been extended to include these isolated locations. These steps strengthen precisely those settlements that account for most of the per-capita excesses over the Israeli average in security, infrastructure and education. Once more the diplomatic and economic folly inherent in their very existence has been underlined.

Most of the demographic growth inside the line has been in Betar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit; this is why a third of West Bank settlers are now ultra-Orthodox. These towns are on the Green Line, and they were built mainly to relieve housing shortages in the Haredi community. These places will be annexed to Israel, even under every Palestinian proposal submitted so far.

Beyond this line, most settlers are the heirs of Gush Emunim who reject any possibility of sharing the country. Therefore, the decision to apply the construction freeze to the Haredim, who have to open a new kindergarten every week in Modi'in Ilit, is a cynical subjugation of their interests to those of the rulers of the land of the illegal outposts.

With the resumption of negotiations, it will be possible to separate areas using a different freeze line; to weaken the opponents of the two-state solution who are concentrated beyond the line laid by Israel. This will also strengthen the coalition needed for resuming talks and reaching a final-status agreement in which 80 percent of the settlers finally find themselves living in a Jewish and democratic State of Israel.







The debate around the Vatican's supposed intent to canonize Pope Pius XII - the pope who reigned during World War II and never denounced the genocide of Europe's Jews - must be dealt with from a number of perspectives that are usually ignored.

The road to sainthood in the church is long and involves two phases: beatification and canonization; the second is more important. First, the Vatican appoints a committee to study the candidate's special qualities in purely theological terms. The file is given to the pope for approval. Indeed, a few days ago Benedict XVI confirmed that Pius XII had met the necessary criteria in this area.

In fact, this is a matter of automatic approval, an essential intermediate phase on the way to beatification that does not necessarily ensure it. For that to happen, it must be proved that the candidate performed a miracle. No miracle has yet been found in Pius XII's past, so the process of beatification is likely to come to a halt at this point. If that is the case, he is not expected to attain sainthood, which, as noted, is the second and final stage of the process because proof of a second miracle is also needed.


This stage of the process is not connected to Pius' behavior during the Holocaust. If a miracle is found in his past, if the College of Cardinals (which would also discuss other aspects of his past) recommends that the pope beatify Pius and the pope agrees, only then would it be proper for the Jewish people's outcry to be heard. Currently, the work is being done by the Vatican itself, so protest seems premature, does not serve a purpose and may even be seen as intervention in the Vatican's internal affairs. If and when the stage of beatification comes, the approach of the Jewish people and Israel must be based on the following points.

Historical judgment about Pius XII must be based (at least partly) on documents from that period, which should be in the Vatican archives and may shed light on his behavior and positions during the Holocaust. These documents are now being catalogued and computerized and will not be available to the public until 2014. If indeed Pius' behavior was above reproach, this is a historical truth that will not change even in a few years when the archives are opened. However, it is reasonable to assume that even when the archives are opened, no documents will be found that support the Vatican's position regarding Pius XII; had such documents existed, the Vatican would probably have already presented them publicly.

Beatification and canonization are an internal church matter, but it is precisely from the church's leaders, who frequently stress the relationship between Christianity and the Jewish people, that sensitivity toward the Jewish people should be expected. Such sensitivity should be displayed particularly toward Holocaust survivors, who do not see eye to eye with the Vatican regarding "the silent pope." The church should take these feelings into account.

The painful history of Christian-Jewish relations, in which Jews were usually victims and which peaked tragically with the Holocaust, created a low level of tolerance by the Jewish people for the declarations and actions of the church. An examination of some of the Vatican's actions in recent years reveals the unfortunate fact that even if these actions were not directed against the Jewish people, the church's attitude did not always excel in sensitivity toward those it has deemed "our elder brothers."

The writer is an official at the Foreign Ministry and Israel's former ambassador to the Vatican.  







The financial crisis and Great Recession have their roots in the housing bust. When it comes, a lasting recovery will be evident in a housing rebound. Unfortunately, housing appears to be weakening anew.


Figures released last week show that after four months of gains, home prices flattened in October. At that time, low mortgage rates (courtesy of the Federal Reserve) and a home buyer's tax credit (courtesy of Congress) were fueling sales. That should have propped up prices. But it was not enough to overcome the drag created by a glut of 3.2 million new and existing unsold single-family homes — about a seven-month supply.


The situation, we fear, will only get worse in months to come. Rates already are starting to rise as lenders brace for the Fed to curtail support for mortgage lending as early as the end of March. The home buyer's tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of April. And a new flood of foreclosed homes is ready to hit the market.


It is increasingly clear that the Obama administration's anti-foreclosure effort — which pressed lenders to reduce interest rates — isn't doing nearly enough. High unemployment rates also mean that many borrowers who did qualify for aid have been unable to keep up with even reduced monthly payments.


As a result, an estimated 2.4 million foreclosed homes will be added to the existing glut in 2010, driving prices down by another 10 percent or so. That would bring the average decline nationwide to about 40 percent since the peak of the market in 2006.


A renewed price drop could usher in a new grim chapter in the foreclosure crisis. Already an estimated one-third of homeowners with a mortgage — nearly 16 million people — owe more than their homes are worth; in industry parlance, they are "underwater." If prices drop further, ever more borrowers will sink ever deeper. Research suggests that the greater the loss of home equity, the greater the likelihood that borrowers will decide to turn in the keys and find a cheaper place to rent.


Things didn't have to get this bad.


The best way to modify an underwater loan is to reduce the principal balance, lowering the monthly payment and restoring equity. But for the most part, lenders have refused to reduce principal because it would force them to take an immediate loss on the loan. Lenders also have vehemently — and successfully — resisted Congressional efforts to change the law so that bankruptcy courts could reduce the mortgage balances for bankrupt borrowers.


The administration decided not to press lenders to grant principal reductions in the flawed belief that simply making payments more affordable would be enough to forestall foreclosures. It hasn't. The administration also didn't fight for the bankruptcy fix when it was before Congress last year despite President Obama's campaign promise to do so.


The economy is hard pressed to function, let alone thrive, when house prices are falling. As home equity erodes, consumer spending falls and foreclosures increase. Lenders lose the ability and willingness to extend credit and employers are disinclined to hire. True economic recovery is all but impossible.


To avert the worst, the White House should alter its loan-modification effort to emphasize principal reduction. Job creation should also be a priority so that rising unemployment does not cause more defaults.


We wish we could proclaim a Happy New Year in housing. But until more is done to help struggling homeowners, the portents are not good.







Uganda's government, which has a shameful record of discrimination against gay men and lesbians, is now considering legislation that would impose the death sentence for homosexual behavior. The United States and others need to make clear to the Ugandan government that such barbarism is intolerable and will make it an international pariah.


Corruption and repression — including violence against women and children and abuse of prisoners — are rife in Uganda. According to The Times's Jeffrey Gettleman, officially sanctioned homophobia is particularly acute. Gay Ugandans are tormented with beatings, blackmail, death threats and what has been described as "correctional rape."


The government's venom is chilling: "Homosexuals can forget about human rights," James Nsaba Buturo, who holds the cynically titled position of minister of ethics and integrity, said recently.


What makes this even worse is that three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about "curing" gays and lesbians have been widely discredited in the United States, helped feed this hatred. Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer gave a series of talks in Uganda last March to thousands of police officers, teachers and politicians in which, according to participants and audio recordings, they claimed that gays and lesbians are a threat to Bible-based family values.


Now the three Americans are saying they had no intention of provoking the anger that, just one month later, led to the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. You can't preach hate and not accept responsibility for the way that hate is manifested.


We don't have much hope that they will atone for their acts. But right now the American government, and others, should make clear to Uganda that if this legislation becomes law, it will lose millions of dollars in foreign aid and be shunned globally.






A federal appeals court in California has sent a strong warning to law enforcement officials that should make them rethink the all-too-common use of Tasers. It ruled last week that a police officer can be held liable for delivering a high-level electric shock to an unarmed person who poses no immediate threat.


Carl Bryan, 21, was driving to his parents' home in Southern California when he was stopped for speeding. On the same trip, he was pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. Angry at facing a second traffic citation, he hit the steering wheel and yelled expletives to himself. He then stepped out of the car. There is some disagreement over what happened next — the officer said Mr. Bryan took "one step" toward him, while Mr. Bryan said he did not take any. It is undisputed that Mr. Bryan, who was not armed, did not verbally threaten the officer and was not attempting to flee.


Without warning, the officer shot Mr. Bryan with a Taser, which uses compressed nitrogen to propel "probes" — aluminum darts connected to wires that deliver a very painful, 1,200-volt electric charge into the target's muscles. As the current immobilized him, Mr. Bryan fell to the ground, fracturing four teeth. A doctor had to remove one of the probes with a scalpel.


Mr. Bryan sued for assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The officer tried to get the suit dismissed on summary judgment, but the trial court ruled that it could go forward. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, affirmed that decision by a 3-to-0 vote.


The appeals court ruled that the officer was not justified in using the Taser. The evidence showed, the court said, that Mr. Bryan did not pose an immediate threat. It was also relevant that the "crime" he was accused of was a mere traffic violation. Given these facts, the amount of force used was unreasonable.


Although the Ninth Circuit's decision is only binding on a group of Western states and territories, all of the more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the country that use Tasers should follow its guidance. There are questions about how safe Tasers are in the best of circumstances, an issue that deserves greater study. But it is clear that they are too powerful for use on people who do not pose a serious danger to others.







The Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art was sold out, which is not serious deprivation at a museum that also offers Cézanne's apples and Matisse's goldfish. But what could disappointed fans of the dark vision of Edward Scissorhands or Gothic Batman turn to?


The answer was right down the corridor in the first look — with more to come — at a rather terrifying arts venture that skips the surrealism and gets right to the anticipated flooding of New York City.


Climate experts predict that at current rates of global warming, the city will face a tidal rise of 2 feet or more by 2080. The potential effect on Gotham and its surroundings could be so severe that someone ought to be thinking about it right now. So MoMA has commissioned four teams of young architects to anticipate the waters' rise and come up with new ways to break up the devastating storm surges.


Are escapist art lovers up for wet reality? Many brush by, but a few pause at the startling graphic of the city's familiar coastal profile shrinking inward as inky waters rise. Most of Governors Island is swallowed undersea. Manhattan still stands, but with ugly amoeba-shaped excisions. The graphic is in stark black and white, with no esthetic mercies like Magritte's bowler-hatted floaters or Picasso's bathers.


The project — called Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront — has been using space at MoMA's affiliate, the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, Queens, to devise innovations for the "impending urgencies" of irresistible tides and apocalyptic weather that are likely to confront New York City and other coastal cities.


Instead of concrete barrier defenses, the teams are aiming at ecological solutions and "soft infrastructure": artful piers and parks, adaptive chains of new wetlands and giant oyster beds like those that once buffered the New World. P.S. 1 will offer an advance peek at the architects' brave new world on Saturday. MoMA has scheduled an exhibit in Manhattan in March. There is no sign yet of Tim Burton-size curiosity from the public. FRANCIS X. CLINES







The United States opens this decade in a sour mood. First, Americans are anxious about the future. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe the country is in decline, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. Only 27 percent feel confident that their children's generation will be better off than they are.


Second, Americans have lost faith in their institutions. During the great moments of social reform, at least 60 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Now, only a quarter have that kind of trust.


The country is evenly divided about President Obama, but state governments are in disrepute and confidence in Congress is at withering lows. As Frank Newport of the Gallup organization noted in his year-end wrap-up, "Americans have less faith in their elected representatives than ever before."


Third, the new administration has not galvanized a popular majority. In almost every sphere of public opinion, Americans are moving away from the administration, not toward it. The Ipsos/McClatchy organizations have been asking voters which party can do the best job of handling a range of 13 different issues. During the first year of the Obama administration, the Republicans gained ground on all 13.


The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.


The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.


The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should "go our own way" has risen sharply.


A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity.


The tea party movement is a large, fractious confederation of Americans who are defined by what they are against. They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy — with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes and intrusive regulation.


The tea party movement is mostly famous for its flamboyant fringe. But it is now more popular than either major party. According to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view of the tea party movement. Only 35 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Democrats and only 28 percent have a positive view of the Republican Party.


The movement is especially popular among independents. The Rasmussen organization asked independent voters whom they would support in a generic election between a Democrat, a Republican and a tea party candidate. The tea party candidate won, with 33 percent of independents. Undecided came in second with 30 percent. The Democrats came in third with 25 percent and the Republicans fourth with 12 percent.


Over the course of this year, the tea party movement will probably be transformed. Right now, it is an amateurish movement with mediocre leadership. But several bright and polished politicians, like Marco Rubio of Florida and Gary Johnson of New Mexico, are unofficially competing to become its de facto leader. If they succeed, their movement is likely to outgrow its crude beginnings and become a major force in American politics. After all, it represents arguments that are deeply rooted in American history.


The Obama administration is premised on the conviction that pragmatic federal leaders with professional expertise should have the power to implement programs to solve the country's problems. Many Americans do not have faith in that sort of centralized expertise or in the political class generally.


Moreover, the tea party movement has passion. Think back on the recent decades of American history — the way the hippies defined the 1960s; the feminists, the 1970s; the Christian conservatives, the 1980s. American history is often driven by passionate outsiders who force themselves into the center of American life.


In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could be the ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate. But don't underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-dip recession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack or some other major scandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only the tea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill.


Personally, I'm not a fan of this movement. But I can certainly see its potential to shape the coming decade.







I'm starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation's grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.


Staggering numbers of Americans are still unemployed and nearly a quarter of all homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Forget the false hope of modestly improving monthly job numbers. The real story right now is the entrenched suffering (with no end in sight) that has been inflicted on scores of millions of working Americans by the Great Recession and the misguided economic policies that preceded it.


As The Washington Post reported over the weekend, the entire past decade "was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times." There was no net job creation — none — between December 1999 and now. None!


The Post article read like a lament, a longing for the U.S. as we'd once known it: "No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent."


Middle-class families in 2008 actually earned less, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999. The data for 2009 are not yet in, but you can just imagine what happened to those families in that nightmarish downturn. Small children over the holidays were asking Santa Claus to bring mommy or daddy a job.


One in eight Americans, and one in four children, are on food stamps. Some six million Americans, according to an article in The Times on Sunday, have said that food stamps were their only income.


This is a society in deep, deep trouble and the fixes currently in the works are in no way adequate to the enormous challenges we're facing. For example, an end to the mantra of monthly job losses would undoubtedly be welcomed. But even if the economy manages to create a few hundred thousand new jobs a month, it would do little to haul us from the unemployment pit dug for us by the Great Recession. We need to create more than 10 million new jobs just to get us back to where we were when the recession began in December 2007.


What's needed are big new innovative efforts to fashion an economy that creates jobs for all who want and need to work. Just getting us back in fits and starts over the next few years to where we were when the recession began should not be acceptable to anyone. We should be moving now to invest aggressively in a new, greener economy, leading the world in the development of alternative fuels, advanced transportation networks and the effort to restrain the poisoning of the planet. We should be developing an industrial policy that emphasizes the need for America to regain its manufacturing mojo, as tough as that might seem, and we need to rebuild our infrastructure.


We're not smart as a nation. We don't learn from the past, and we don't plan for the future. We've spent a year turning ourselves inside out with arguments of every sort over health care reform only to come up with a bloated, Rube Goldberg legislative mess that protects the insurance and drug industries and does not rein in runaway health care costs.


The politicians will be back soon, trust me, screaming about the need to rein in health costs.


We keep talking about how essential it is to radically improve public education while, at the same time, we're closing libraries and firing teachers by the tens of thousands for economic reasons.


The fault lies everywhere. The president, the Congress, the news media and the public are all to blame. Shared sacrifice is not part of anyone's program. Politicians can't seem to tell the difference between wasteful spending and investments in a more sustainable future. Any talk of raising taxes is considered blasphemous, but there is a constant din of empty yapping about controlling budget deficits.


Oh, yes, and we're fighting two wars.


If America can't change, then the current state of decline is bound to continue. You can't have a healthy economy with so many millions of people out of work, and there is no plan now that would result in the creation of millions of new jobs any time soon.


Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation's moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well.


Now we're escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.








WHY are we reading Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights instead of taking him somewhere and forcibly finding out where he got the explosive underwear and whatever else he might know about Al Qaeda? Isn't this, as well as the forthcoming federal court trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, proof that the Obama administration doesn't really regard the war on terrorism as a war?


Even worse, isn't President Obama, despite his statements on terrorism over the weekend, confused and amateurish on this deadly serious issue? At his direction, thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are doing their best to kill terrorists, would-be terrorists and terrorists in training with no thought whatsoever to the legal niceties. Why do these two scoundrels deserve lawyers and a trial?


Republican critics like Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich have raised these questions in the past few days. There's a gruesome anomaly here, to be sure: the United States government will blow you to smithereens and consider it a good day's work if you're a Qaeda member dreaming of jihadist glory while residing somewhere outside the United States, but will pay for your lawyer if you get caught in the act within our borders. But this anomaly didn't arise with the Obama administration. It is built into our dual role as a liberal democracy and as a legitimately aggrieved superpower.


The charms of liberal democracy sometimes need to be defended by war, and Mr. Obama's critics are right that war can't be conducted with a high level of concern for individual justice. A liberal democracy aspires to punish only the guilty. But war is inherently unfair — it distributes suffering arbitrarily among enemy combatants, civilians and one's own soldiers. A line has to be drawn somewhere to determine which of these utterly different standards of government behavior is applied where — and the nation's border is as good a line as any.


Members of Al Qaeda are not the only ones affected by this double standard. The most repulsive and obviously guilty child molester — or drug kingpin who may also have information that the government could use — gets American justice, while an innocent child killed accidentally in our pursuit of terrorists gets no justice at all. (This second part of the equation doesn't seem to bother the Cheneys and the Gingriches.) Any place you draw the line, it will be possible to come up with what lawyers call "a parade of horribles." Any line you draw can be made to seem absurd, because it is absurd. But the line must be drawn somewhere.


So why not draw the line to put an Abdulmutallab or a Shaikh Mohammed on the "war" side and treat him as an enemy combatant? Well, first, recognize that this has become a judgment call so the answer is no longer obvious or mandated by logic. Second, recognize that the national border is a "bright line," and if people captured within the United States are going to be treated as if they were somewhere else — provided that they are certified terrorists — things are going to get complicated quickly.


What about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November? He was influenced by an Islamic cleric, but seems to have been fighting his own demons rather than participating in a larger plot. And he's a citizen. What about Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber? What about the Columbine high school killers? Are they terrorists? Is American justice too good for them?


American justice is not a "get out of jail free" card. Obviously guilty murderers rarely escape punishment here. We have nothing to be ashamed of, little to fear and much to be proud of in choosing to err on the side of treating captured foreign terrorists as we would treat any upstanding American who tried to blow up an airplane full of people.


Michael Kinsley is the editor in chief of a forthcoming Web site for business executives.








Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday described relations with the army as being on an even keel. He has also praised the pro-democracy views of the incumbent chief of the army staff on more than one occasion. While it is always a relief to learn that the boots are not itching to march towards Islamabad's Constitution Avenue, the question remains whether it behoves the chief executive of the country to repeatedly refer to the complacency and good mannerism of government functionaries and subordinate state institutions? Also, since when have the moral and legal authority of a duly elected political dispensation been placed on the same pedestal as that of a government service? Military adventurism has never been placated by pandering statements of the political leadership. To keep the record straight, every successive military dictator invariably started off as a 'good professional soldier', each one praised by his appointing authority as being so different from some of his adventurous predecessors. And yet, come certain circumstances and it is yesterday once more.

The only real bulwark against any ultra-constitutional adventurism remains good governance. If the government of the day is seen by the people to be working for them, and not furthering the vested interests of the high and mighty, then not even the most daring of the generals may dare intervene. The need of the hour is not for the prime minister to exhaust all his energies solely to bridge the gaps, whether real or imaginary, between his government, his president and his army generals but between his government and the people of Pakistan. Keeping this group or that at bay is just a temporary palliative at best as permanence lies in earning the nation's continued faith. The ruling dispensation got the mandate to come into power on the basis of the pledges made to the people, for it to remain so it must now deliver on them. The nation indeed owes a huge debt to its valiant forces, its officers and jawans, who have fallen in the line of fire so that we can rise as a nation. The nation owes them its eternal gratitude, and so do their own superiors who must not even think of tarnishing their selfless sacrifices for the sake of adventurism. So Mr Prime Minister, please get on with the job of providing leadership and governance. The rest will fall in place on its own.







The monotonous drone of the PPP whingeing about the media generally and a 'certain media group' in particular which, it says, is excavating the foundations of democracy in order to bring it crashing around our ears continues. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and PPP Secretary Information Fauzia Wahab were in action over the weekend, adamant that there were elements of the media actively working to destabilise and, if possible, bring down the PPP government. They see conspiracies being hatched in the depths of media empires as fast as they can be thrown beneath a chicken big enough to incubate them. Ms Wahab has informed the world that new directives to the party's district information secretaries have been issued to counter the "campaign launched against the president through the media". The media doubtless trembles in its collective boots at exactly what this might mean, particularly given that political activists seem to have taken it upon themselves to assault members of the Fourth Estate if they do not like what is written about their glorious leaders.

The government and the PPP leadership need to get themselves a reality check. They may be surprised to learn that it is the job of the media in a free and democratic society – which we are sure they regard this country as being – to criticise the government, its officers and institutions. There does not seem to be any evidence that has been presented thus far to support the idea that 'the media' wishes to undermine democracy – indeed the opposite is the truth. The media generally, and certainly as it is constituted in the Pakistan of today, has a strong vested interest in the preservation of democracy, and would be one of the first to suffer if democracy were undermined or collapsed. Far from undermining democracy the media is doing much to foster it by exposing those who claim to be democrats but still seek to perpetuate feudal rule. The media questions ineptitude at every level of governance. It challenges misleading or unclear statements by ministers and bureaucrats. It lays bare our social ills and even offers remedy for some of them. Robust criticism should not be mistaken for a lack of commitment to democracy and its institutions and processes. And those who cannot bear the heat of scrutiny shouldn't be in the political kitchen anyway.







The northern parts of the country have been brought to a standstill by fog which has blanketed Lahore and other cities. Sections of the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway have had to be closed down due to visibility of only a few hundred metres, and there has been chaos at airports with dozens of flights delayed or cancelled. It is easy to attribute all this to natural phenomena. But it is worth thinking about just a little more deeply. In other nations across the globe, where winters are long and dominated by snow, sleet, rain and freezing winds, life continues more or less on track. Flights at major airports take off and land in all kinds of weather.

It is also a fact that for us fog is a relatively recent problem, descending with a vengeance only since the 1990s. In this context it is reminiscent of the smog that gripped London during the 1960s or the similar problems that overwhelmed New Delhi a few decades later. What is significant is that the authorities in both these cities recognised that worsening environmental air quality was a key factor in the problem. This is certainly the case in Lahore too where vehicular and industrial emissions have contributed immensely to the fog problem. It is time the problem was tackled. This is necessary not only to combat travel disruptions and the inconveniences they cause, but also because worsening air quality with high levels of suspended particles is having a terrible impact on health. Rates of asthma and other respiratory complaints in children have increased markedly, and this alone indicates an urgent need to make some effort to remedy the situation.






Already suffering from the fall-out of the eight-year-old US-led war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan is now confronted with arguably the most dangerous phase of the seemingly endless battle. This is a critical stage also for the future of Islamabad's uneasy relationship with Washington.


With the formidable US spy network, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), threatening revenge after losing seven agents including two women in a Taliban-sponsored suicide bombing in Afghanistan's Khost province bordering North Waziristan, there will definitely be an escalation in its not-so-secret war being conducted primarily through unpiloted predator and reaper aircraft striking targets in Pakistan's tribal areas. One should now expect North Waziristan and, to a lesser extent, South Waziristan and other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to become a frequent hunting ground for the drones operating in the region..

Pakistan's dilemma in these difficult times is hard to explain. It is critical of US drone strikes on its soil, but is unwilling and unable to go beyond the customary and almost muted protests over the violation of its airspace. It doesn't want to risk America's wrath by trying to shoot down the CIA-operated spy planes. It has the capability to bring down the intruding drones, but such an act would be considered hostile and unpardonable by the US. Pakistan has been designated the closest non-NATO ally by the US and members of the western military alliance, and is expected to remain a steadfast partner in the so-called 'war on terror'. It is being paid to fight the war within its borders and the US military aid has now been augmented by civilian assistance amounting to $7.5 billion over the next five years.

However, Pakistan has to pay a huge price for remaining a US ally. At a time when public opinion surveys show more than 80 per cent of Pakistanis opposing US policies and mentioning it as a bigger threat to Pakistan than India, Al Qaeda and Taliban, it cannot be easy for any government or military to justify an unpopular alliance with America. The closer Pakistan is seen standing with the US, the greater the chances of its streets becoming restless and the conservative sections of its population showing resentment. In a world where the Muslim populations have become polarised with their rulers mostly siding with the US, contrary to the aspirations of their subjects, it becomes all the more difficult for politically unstable and economically depressed countries such as Pakistan to justify its alliance with America. Pakistan would certainly become a less violent place if it could detach itself from the US war on terror but this is easier said than done. It won't be easy for Pakistan to extricate itself from a suffocating embrace with the US and even if it were to happen, the consequences would be painful.

Already, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and intensity of the US drone attacks, particularly in North Waziristan where there was no shortage of local and foreign militants. More have flocked there from the adjoining South Waziristan agency following the ground offensive by Pakistan's security forces on October 17 last year. Reports showed there were 44 strikes by the US drones in 2009 in which 708 people, overwhelmingly Pakistani civilians though many guilty of hosting wanted Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, were killed. The known militants killed in these attacks were few and far between and among them were Pakistani Taliban commanders Baitullah Mehsud and Haji Omar, and Al Qaeda's Usama al-Kin and Sheikh Ahmad Salim. In 2010, there have already been three drone strikes in North Waziristan and many more should be expected. If these airstrikes are to continue at this pace, 2010 will see record attacks by the US drones.

It isn't hard to imagine the anger that these US missile strikes will cause in North Waziristan and other parts of country, not only against America but also the government and armed forces for their inability to protect Pakistani citizens and territory, and for continuing to side with the US. Sections of the Pakhtun youth on both sides of Pak-Afghan border have already been radicalised, and more would be tempted to take the same emotional route as the US drone programme in Pakistan's tribal areas escalates and the military surge ordered by President Obama in Afghanistan leads to more fighting.

There is no doubt that the December 30, 2009 suicide attack on the CIA station in Khost at the Forward Operating Base Chapman was a historic blow as it was the deadliest ever in the spy agency's history. In one incident, seven CIA operatives who for years had been hunting key Al Qaeda and Taliban figures were dead and six others wounded. Those who were killed include the CIA station head, an unidentified woman in her 30s, who since 1990s had been part of the team unsuccessfully chasing Osama bin Laden. They were probably the best CIA assets working in a dangerous place, hiring and cultivating Afghan and Pakistani informants, coordinating the drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas and collectively possessing the most comprehensive knowledge about the Al Qaeda and Taliban. The eighth spy killed in the suicide bombing was a Jordanian, Captain Ali bin Zeid, from his country's intelligence organisation, Mukhabirat. He is the first soldier from Jordan, which along with Turkey, UAE, Kazakhstan and Albania are the Muslim countries with troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of the US-led coalition forces, to die in battle in the war-battered country. His presence also explains the fact that spies from Middle Eastern countries are an essential part of the CIA campaign.

Perhaps bigger than the loss of its experienced agents was the embarrassment caused to the CIA and the US army of the security lapse at a base as secure as the old, Soviet-built Khost airbase where the suicide bomber was able to strike. The Afghan Taliban were obviously proud of the feat and they wasted no time in claiming that a double-agent Afghan named Samiullah was the suicide bomber, a CIA informant, allowed unhindered access to the base.

It was clear that the Haqqani Network, named after the legendary Afghan mujahideen and Taliban commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani but now run by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, was behind the suicide bombing even though the Pakistani Taliban commander Qari Hussain unconvincingly claimed responsibility for the attack to avenge the assassination of Baitullah Mehsud. The US army, or the CIA to be specific, and the Haqqanis were already involved in a deadly war of revenge against each other and their blood feud has now become deadlier and personal. In the 80s, the elder Haqqani and CIA cooperated with each other fighting the Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan. Today, they are rivals.

The US Special Forces and CIA have killed scores of Haqqani's men, women and children in secret operations and drone strikes in Afghanistan and in North Waziristan, where the family migrated from Khost after the Soviet invasion in December 1979. The CIA will now try harder to eliminate the Haqqanis, who control one of the most powerful Taliban groups in Afghanistan. To succeed, the CIA will make more frequent use of drones in North Waziristan and other Pakistani tribal areas, and hire a larger number of informants, (better screened to prevent incidents like the recent suicide bombing at Khost).

Aware that escalation in US drone strikes will further destabilise Pakistan, Islamabad is urging restraint on part of Washington. But the US, upset that Pakistan hasn't taken any action against the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban's Quetta Shura, is unlikely to heed this advice. More drone attacks could also cause the collapse of the critical peace deals that the Pakistan government has made with powerful, non-TTP Pakistani Taliban commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan and Maulvi Nazeer in Wana to prevent them from joining forces with the Hakimullah Mehsud-led militants in South Waziristan.

It seems the US prefers this scenario so that Pakistan's armed forces are forced to launch military operations in both Wana and Shakai in North and South Waziristan. This will widen the battlefield and result in more retaliatory suicide attacks by the militants in Pakistani cities. In case Islamabad decides under US pressure to cut off its links with the Afghan Taliban, particularly the Haqqanis, it means creating more enemies at a time when Pakistan is finding it difficult to put down an insurgency fed by Pakistani Taliban and other home-grown jihadis.

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim







In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's judgment, which has been delivered via a short order, concerted efforts have been made by the ruling PPP to politicize the Supreme Court and create the impression that the decision was not impartial and that the court has over-stepped its constitutional bounds. What is notable that some liberal rights advocates and former supporters of the court during the lawyers' movement have joined in the criticism with an array of legal arguments which appear to us to lack any credibility upon closer scrutiny.

Firstly, it has been argued by the court's critics, expressly as well as through innuendo, that the Supreme Court has focused undue attention upon the corruption cases, particularly the cases against the president. It has been suggested that the court did not pay as much attention to the criminal charges (mostly against MQM members) covered by the NRO as it did to the corruption cases against PPP politicians. Another criticism, which had an active life of a day, was that the court's selective accountability drive did not cover PML-N and PML-Q politicians who had misused political influence to have their bank loans written off: the Supreme Court's subsequent order on the recovery of bank loans caused some embarrassment to its critics.

As regards the assertion of an undue focus on the corruption cases as compared to the criminal cases, anyone who followed the court's proceedings would know that when the court initially asked for information concerning the cases covered by the NRO, the advocate general of Sindh fully co-operated and provided the relevant information forthwith. In contrast, NAB officials dithered, twiddled their thumbs and ultimately committed perjury by trying to withhold or present misleading information. A lot of the court's time and effort was utilized in getting this information out of the NAB officials. It is partly for this reason that the court made adverse observations regarding the role played by the chairman of NAB and its senior-most prosecutors.

As regards the criticism that the court appeared to go out of its way to nail President Zardari and over-stepped its bounds by directing NAB officials to re-open the cases in Switzerland, the argument is disingenuous. Contrary to Governor Taseer's unsound sound bite that the court should have confined itself to a two-liner of an order, the court was obligated to spell out the consequences of its judgment that the NRO was void ab initio. As regards the criminal cases in Pakistan, the situation is rather simple as these cases were restored to their pre-NRO situation. However, as regards the Swiss case the benefit had been availed outside the country and unless that undue benefit is reversed the value of the Supreme Court's pronouncements in the NRO judgment shall be undermined. Another criticism leveled at the Supreme Court is that the court has transgressed upon the domain of the executive by establishing a mechanism to oversee the prosecution of the cases that were covered by the NRO. This contention is particularly disturbing when advanced by some leading lawyers, notably Ms Asma Jehangir. Such critics are presumably well aware that the supervision of the trial and pre-trial processes is a core judicial function. After all, Ms Asma Jehangir, amongst other human rights lawyers, have filed and argued numerous writ petitions seeking quashment or registration of FIRs and the grant of bails.

Furthermore, high courts are routinely asked by lawyers to direct executive officials to perform their legal obligations and to exercise their discretion in an appropriate manner. Critics of the Supreme Court are well aware that established judicial review practice in Pakistan empowers the High Courts and the Supreme Court to scrutinize how public prosecutors in criminal cases and the NAB prosecutors in corruption cases perform their obligations to aggressively seek a conviction and present all available evidence before the trial courts. Therefore, criticism that the Supreme Court has violated the constitutional balance of powers by establishing mechanisms to oversee criminal prosecutions in cases covered by the NRO reeks of efforts to politicize the judiciary and deter future actions that may end up undermining the political credibility of the PPP government.
Lastly, we seek to clear the smoke and dust thrown up by the indiscriminate usage of high-sounding catchphrases such as 'judicial activism' or 'judicial adventurism'. The critics of the Supreme Court have indulged in fear mongering and have sought to create an impression through the use of such jargon that the court is threatening to destabilize the political system. Judicial activism suggests that the court is going beyond established precedents and practices to develop new juristic concepts. Judicial adventurism suggests that the court is simply playing politics and is aggrandizing its own powers in disregard of the adverse political consequences that might entail.

This Supreme Court cannot be accused of either judicial activism or adventurism. In the NRO judgment the Supreme Court merely confined itself to elaborating on the logical consequences of the unconstitutionality of the NRO, a position that was unanimously adopted by all parties appearing before the court. As far as fancy labels go, the court does deserve to be commended for its judicial 'proactivism' in that instead of sitting back and waiting for numerous writ petitions to be filed before the High Courts challenging the manner in which cases previously covered by NRO might be compromised by prosecutors seeking to favour powerful politicians and bureaucrats, the Supreme Court developed a novel administrative mechanism to ensure a degree of transparency.

Perhaps it is the transparency that is the cause of such unease!

Moeen H Cheema is an associate lecturer at the Australian National University (ANU). Shahzad Akbar is an advocate of the Lahore High Court.







After decades of stable economic growth, the world economy was hit hard by the global financial crisis in August-September 2008, which led to a synchronised decline in the world economic growth of a depth not seen before in the last six decades. Like other regions of the world, growth in Asia was severely affected with all its adverse consequences for the people of the region. Asian countries paid a heavy price in terms of loss of incomes and human suffering for which they were not responsible. Rather, they paid the price for the mis-governance of others.

The crisis has brought multi-dimensional problems for Asia. More than 26 million people could lose jobs by the end of 2010; millions who took decades to work their way out of poverty have slipped back in it within months; the hopes of 65 million people have been diminished; and it may take another five years to make up for the lost ground in the struggle against poverty. Policy response at the global level was biggest, broadest and fastest. The catastrophe appears to have been averted and the world economy is entering the recovery phase. The economies of Asia may recover soon as well but the human suffering will persist for sometime.

The crisis has provided some food for thought to governments of the region. The need for regional financial cooperation has never been so great. Prior to the crisis, the primary decision-making and implementing institutions were G-8, IMF and the World Bank. The region's experience with the IMF during the 1997 crisis as well as the recent one has not been up to the mark. G-8 has now been expanded to G-20 to assuage the concerns of major developing countries through their inclusion. This represents an important first step in providing a greater voice to the developing world in global decision-making.

G-20 is supporting a primary role for the IMF in future crisis management. However, there is a need to reform the modalities of the IMF intervention. Guiding principles may include lending for the balance of payment support with no structural conditions if the crisis emanates from temporary external shocks; allow the country to pursue counter-cyclical policies; the country may be allowed a debt standstill; and exchange controls may be used. In other words, the IMF must differentiate between the balance of payment crisis owing to temporary external shocks or structural reasons.

The second reflection for Asian governments was the region's excessive depend