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Monday, January 11, 2010

EDITORIAL 08.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 08, edition 000398, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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































  1. ACT NOW

















It is astounding that Canberra should ask New Delhi to refrain from "whipping up hysteria" over the brutal attacks on Indian students in Australia. The country's acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard have gone on record to say that there is nothing to suggest that the murders of Nitin Garg and Ranjodh Singh in the last few days were racially motivated. In fact, the two Australian Government representatives went on to explain how crimes take place all over the world and that it is practically impossible for any Government to wipe out crime completely. All of this has come in response to External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's comment that unless the vicious attacks on Indians in Australia are curbed, relations between the two countries will suffer. The Ministry of External Affairs has also issued a travel advisory to Indians travelling to or planning to stay in Australia for a significant amount of time. But Canberra, it would appear, is offended by this response. It would have us believe that New Delhi is over-reacting and that there is absolutely nothing to worry about since the investigations into the crimes are already underway. But is the Indian reaction really so irrational? These attacks have been taking place for over a year now. Every time an Indian has been attacked in Australia, the authorities there have reassured us that they are looking into the cases and will crack down on the perpetrators. But the fact is the attacks have continued unabated and there is nothing to suggest that we have seen the last of them. If the Australian authorities think that New Delhi's reaction has been harsh, they must also remember that it comes after two Indian citizens were murdered.

The Australian authorities' reiteration that investigations into the incidents are underway is simply not good enough. If at all action has been taken against the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, we need to know the details. We also need to know what measures the Australian Government has taken to ensure that such racial attacks do not take place in the future. After all, the victims are Indian citizens and it is the job of the Government of India to be concerned about their welfare. Besides, there is absolutely nothing provocative in the travel advisory that has been issued. All that has been advised is that Indian students in Australia should take precautions, avoid travelling alone at night and stick to busy areas. In fact, given the circumstances, the Victoria Police itself has concurred with the travel advisory. To be very honest, in the interest of protecting its citizens, if things do not improve, the Government of India must consider issuing a sterner advisory. It is not that New Delhi wants to jeopardise its relationship with Canberra in any way. But if the Australian authorities do not do something to bring down the incidents of crime substantially, it will automatically start impacting relations between the two countries. For, Indian students going to Australia to pursue higher studies is something that is an intrinsic part of bilateral relations. If Indians start viewing Australia as an unsafe destination, those ties will obviously deteriorate and there is nothing that New Delhi can do about it. The onus is on the Australian authorities to get out of denial mode and start producing results as far as the investigations into the crimes against Indians are concerned. The time for promises is over.






The dark truth about Hamas now stands irrefutably established although it was never in doubt. Wednesday's violent clashes between Hamas activists and Egyptian soldiers along Gaza's border could have been described as no more than a routine affair had it not been for the fact that the Islamists were protesting against Egypt's decision to build a subterranean steel wall to prevent the smuggling of arms, drugs and money through hundreds of tunnels that have kept them in business and power for years. It is the 'tunnel network' that stretches across Gaza's southern border into Egypt's Sinai desert that has sustained Hamas's bloody campaign of terror against Israel as well as those Palestinians who are loyal to Fatah. Israel has for long sought Egypt's assistance to block the tunnels but all efforts by both Cairo and Tel Aviv have failed in the past. Given the nature of Sinai's terrain and the fact that Bedouins thrive on smuggling activities, policing the border and its adjacent areas is virtually an impossible task. Also, Cairo is wary of alienating Sinai's Bedouin population for various reasons; attempts to control their movements have resulted in protests that Egypt would rather avoid. The Israeli Defence Force has tried to bomb the tunnels with limited success — each time a tunnel has been blown up, Hamas activists have dug a new one. That will now become impossible with the steel wall acting as an impregnable barrier. The subterranean wall is likely to have sensors which will alert soldiers if an attempt is made to cut through the steel. In a sense, the security fence that has brought about a dramatic decline in Palestinian terrorism is being replicated, albeit with an engineering twist. There is sweet irony in the fact that the utility of the 'Wall' is now being grudgingly acknowledged by its critics.

In stark comparison to West Bank where peace has held for quite some time now, Gaza continues to be the source of continuous tension. Although Gaza has been blockaded by both Egypt and Israel, there has been no reduction in Hamas's ability to strike whenever it wishes to; the armoury at its disposal is truly amazing as is the wealth in its treasury — both weapons and cash, believed to be provided by Iran and routed to Sinai through Syria and Lebanon — continue to pour into Gaza through its maze of cross-border tunnels. Unless Hamas is starved of arms and funds, it will remain untamed and scuttle all attempts by Israel and Fatah at reaching an honourable settlement. More importantly, Arab countries now realise that there is an urgent need to halt the alarming rise of Iran's influence in the region by neutralising Tehran's Islamist allies, most notably Hizbullah and Hamas. The subterranean steel wall is the first step in that direction.



            THE PIONEER



As we enter a new decade of the 21st century, can there be "understanding and far-sightedness" on the part of the regime in Beijing towards resolving the Tibetan dispute? The three-decade-long history of 'negotiations' between Dharamsala and Beijing is indicative of China's intentions. The traffic has been one-way. The more the Dalai Lama has tried to arrive at a compromise with China, the more the Chinese have held to their position or even backtracked (as in the case of "everything except independence").

So, is there any hope for Tibetans in Tibet and those living in exile? The only change in view is a change inside China. Interestingly, a report prepared by a Chinese think-tank, Open Constitution Initiative or Beijing Gongmeng Consulting, on the 2008 riots in Tibet is an eye-opener. It entirely contradicts the Chinese Communist Party's official version. The authors, Li Kun, Huang Li, Li Xiang and Wang Hongzhe, are lawyers "committed to building a modernised China and promoting human rights, democracy, and rule of law in China."

Their research team spent a month in Tibet "interviewing Tibetan monks, nomads, farmers, scholars, migrants, artists, and business people". Their objective was to come into personal contact with voices which can give "a clear and objective outline of ordinary people's living conditions in Tibetan areas".

The lawyers have pointed out "major errors in Government policy" after the March-April 2008 protests. One was 'over-propagandising of violence'; another, encouragement of racist sentiment towards Tibetans: "The excessive response of the Government all over Tibet was to regard every tree and blade of grass as a potential enemy soldier."

According to them, this has further strained the relations between the local Tibetans and the Han immigrants. One of their conclusions is: "Understanding is a precondition for discussion, unity and development. If the promotion of healthy development in Tibetan areas is truly desired then there must be a change in thinking and an adjustment in thinking behind the current nationality theories and policies."

'Stability in ethnic areas' has for a long time been essential to the Central Government policies. The leadership in Beijing (and probably even more the PLA) has emphasised the importance of stability to 'defend China's borders'. Soon after the Tiananmen massacre, in October 1989, the Summary of the Central Politburo Standing Committee's Forum on Tibet Work pointed out two main issues 'to firmly grasp the Tibet work': Stability of the political situation and economic development. Since then the dual mantra has been constantly repeated, though 'stability' has never been achieved. The lawyers' report has tried to find out why.

According to them, one of the issues which makes Tibet (and China) so unstable is the emergence of a new aristocracy. The Chinese Revolution is supposed to have wiped out the old aristocracy and emancipated the masses. This has not happened.

The report has found that in Tibet, the difficult terrain has created "locally fixed power networks, which inevitably lead to a high incidence of corruption and dereliction of duty". For the Chinese lawyers, this new aristocracy, which is 'legitimised by the Party', is even more powerful than the old one.

The report analyses in detail the rapport between the new aristocracy and the masses: "There is a lack of any effective supervision over the local officials. …'Foreign forces' and 'Tibet independence' are used by many local officials as fig leaves to conceal their mistakes in governance and to repress social discontent… elevating everything to the level of splittist forces in order to conceal their errors." The final conclusions are not far from the Tibetan diaspora's views: "Earnestly listen to the voices of ordinary Tibetans and respect and protect each of the Tibetan people's rights and interests."

Regarding 'stability', the lawyers' conclusions are lucid: "Due to the special nature of the political environment in Tibetan areas, 'stability' in the state's Tibet policies has special significance. The Centre considers that, 'If there is not a stable social environment, then all talk of development is empty.' Even though 'development and stability' are the two trains of thought for Government work in ethnic areas, in the actual exercise of power, 'stability' takes on an overwhelming importance."

The problem, according to the report, is that "there are many people who have learned how to use stability to protect themselves". A similar conclusion was arrived at in the 70,000-character petition sent by the previous Panchen Lama to Premier Zhou Enlai in 1962, for which the former spent 17 years in jail.

Negotiations are complicated by the fact that a solution for Tibet would have to apply to the 55 other nationalities of the People's Republic of China. Beijing is clearly not ready to take the jump.

During the 'General Meeting' called by the Dalai Lama in November last year to assert the opinion of the Tibetans on the future of negotiations with China, a majority were said to be ready to follow the Tibetan leader in his 'Middle-Path Approach'. But it appears that the Dalai Lama is now trying another strategy: As the present authoritarian regime in Beijing has not shown any signs of "understanding and far-sightedness", he has begun to enlarge his personal contacts with the people of China.

In this context, a first Sino-Tibetan Conference called 'Finding Common Ground' was organised between August 6 and 9 last year in Geneva. In his address, the Dalai Lama pleaded with the Chinese participants: "I have two appeals to our Chinese brothers and sisters who are participating in this conference. First, I seek your advice and frank opinions on what steps to take in future to solve the Tibetan problem. Secondly, I request your help in carrying a message to the Chinese people that we Tibetans harbour no hatred against our Chinese brothers and sisters, and that we Tibetans are neither anti-Chinese nor anti-China."

The conclusions of the conference, attended by Chinese and Tibetan scholars, educators, writers and human rights advocates, were hopeful: "The common wish of this Sino-Tibetan conference is for the Tibetan people to regain freedom and to prevent the extinction of Tibetan culture. We share a fundamental belief: Freedom is the highest value; Tibetan culture is a precious treasure among the many cultures of humanity. Without freedom for Tibet, there will be no freedom for China. The extinction of Tibetan culture would not only be a tragedy for the Tibetan people, but would be a disgrace for the Chinese people and an irreplaceable loss for the whole of humanity."

Will this new strategy work better than the previous one?

The writer's new book, Dharamsala and Beijing: The Negotiations that Never Were, has just been published.







Let it be said, and said right away, that I have no moral stand on the issue discussed here and that this is just an attempt to understand why female models are so intrinsic to automobile shows. For, apart from the environment-conscious concept cars that are grabbing news space, models at the 10th Auto Expo in New Delhi are getting as much attention. Why is it that female models are consistently used to show off cars the world over? On the face of it there appears to be no apparent reason for this apart from aesthetics. But the issue goes well beyond that. Most events that involve cars, be it car races, exhibitions or launches, are swarming with female models. In fact, when it comes to car races such as NASCAR, there is even a term to describe them— Pit Babes.

The activist in me is writhing with anger at this point. I can understand female models walking the ramp, showing off the latest in women's fashion. But there is no good reason to have women stand around cars and be objectified. Worse still, models taking part in the Auto Expo are frequently victims of lecherous behaviour and lewd, sexually explicit remarks. So why have them there in the first place?

Though the consummate automobile enthusiast at such shows will be indifferent to the presence of models and be turned on by the cars, the same cannot be said of many a casual visitor. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the automobile industry has for decades cultivated a culture that associates cars with feminine sexuality. Numerous songs have been written about cars and women — music videos today are an amalgamation of dancing models and flashy cars — and even automobile designs and photography have come to be done in a way that accentuates the oomph of the particular model — the car's, I mean. This could also explain the common practice of giving one's car a female name.

The point is if automobile-makers today use female models to show off cars, it is because they are trying to cash in on that sexually-suggestive automobile culture. The reason why I refuse to take a moral stand on the issue is because it is very easy to act the moral police and say something like let's ban models at auto shows. But the sexual connotations associated with cars will still persist. Besides, models have every right to do their job without having to suffer perverts.






Criminal syndicates often already possess the operational expertise needed to engage in terrorist acts. They may already employ terrorist specialists to transfer money, purchase weapons, build bombs, and eliminate rivals. The D-Company's seeming transformation from a profit-motivated criminal syndicate to a fusion crime-terror organisation proves this point

The US has at last recognised the 'criminal terrorism fusion model' 17 years after Dawood Ibrahim planned and executed the Mumbai bombings in which at least 258 people were killed. A US Congressional Research Service report, International Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Security Threats, US Policy, and Considerations for Congress, provides a fascinating overview of the criminal-terrorist nexus. The following are excerpts from the report pertaining to the chief of the infamous D-Company:

Over time, a purely criminal group may transform, adopting political goals and new operational objectives. These organisations can form alliances with existing terrorist organisations or foreign Governments to help achieve their strategic aspirations. Or they can initiate, direct, and perpetrate terrorist attacks without external assistance, resulting in the group becoming labelled a terrorist organisation.

Criminal syndicates often already possess the operational expertise needed to engage in terrorist acts. They may already employ terrorist specialists to conduct surveillance, transfer money, purchase weapons, build bombs, and eliminate rivals.

A criminal organisation can easily transfer this apparatus toward politically motivated ends. The result is either a truly evolved criminal-turned-terrorist group or a 'fused' criminal-terrorist organisation that seeks to develop ties with like-minded ideological movements. The use of criminal skills for terrorist ends raises the concern among some experts that terrorists may seek out criminals for recruitment or radicalisation, believing them to be a higher skilled partner than non-criminals. A criminal's participation in terrorist activity, however, brings greater scrutiny from law enforcement agencies and politicians. Furthermore, a concentration on terrorist attacks could divert resources away from criminal endeavours, producing disillusionment and desertion among members who joined strictly for monetary reasons.

Dawood Ibrahim's D-Company, a 5,000-member criminal syndicate operating mostly in Pakistan, India, and the United Arab Emirates, provides an example of the criminal-terrorism 'fusion' model. The US Department of Treasury designated Ibrahim as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist under Executive Order 13224 in October 2003. In June 2006, President George W Bush designated him, as well as his D-Company organisation, as a Significant Foreign Narcotics Trafficker under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (hereafter 'Kingpin Act'). D-Company is reportedly involved in several criminal activities, including extortion, smuggling, narcotics trafficking, and contract killing. The organisation has also reportedly infiltrated the Indian filmmaking industry, extorting producers, assassinating directors, distributing movies, and pirating films.

Ibrahim began as a criminal specialist in Bombay, India, first as a low-level smuggler in the 1970s and later as the leader of a poly-crime syndicate. He formed a thriving criminal enterprise throughout the 1980s and became radicalised in the 1990s, forging relationships with Islamists, including Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Al Qaeda. D-Company's evolution into a true criminal-terrorist group began in response to the destruction of the Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh, India, in December 1992, and the subsequent riots that killed hundreds of Muslims. Outraged by the attacks on fellow Muslims and believing the Indian Government acted indifferently to their plight, Ibrahim decided to retaliate. A heretofore secular organisation with a sizable Hindu membership now assumed the objective of protecting India's Muslim minority. Reportedly with assistance from the Pakistan Government's intelligence branch, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, D-Company launched a series of bombing attacks on March 12, 1993, killing 257 people.

Following the attacks, Ibrahim moved his organisation's headquarters to Karachi, Pakistan. There, D-Company is believed to have both deepened its strategic alliance with the ISI and developed links to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, which was designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organisation in 2001. During this time period, some say D-Company began to finance LeT's activities, use its companies to lure recruits to LeT training camps, and give LeT operatives use of its smuggling routes and contacts. Press accounts have reported that Ibrahim's network might have provided a boat to the 10 terrorists who killed 173 people in Mumbai in November 2008. The US Government contends that D-Company has found common cause with Al Qaeda and shares its smuggling routes with that terrorist group. The United Nations has added Ibrahim to its list of individuals associated with Al Qaeda.

D-Company's seeming transformation from a profit-motivated criminal syndicate to a fusion crime-terror organisation also altered its composition. Many of the Hindu members left the group after the 1993 bombings, with some forming a competing gang. While the organisation reportedly collaborates with LeT and Al Qaeda, the more secular orientation of D-Company's leadership makes it unlikely that it will formally merge with those terrorist groups, analysts believe. Regardless, D-Company's own terrorist endeavours, its deep pockets, and its reported cooperation with LeT and Al Qaeda, present a credible a threat to US interests in South Asia, security experts assess. Lending his criminal expertise and networks to such terrorist groups, he is capable of smuggling terrorists across national borders, trafficking in weapons and drugs, controlling extortion and protection rackets, and laundering ill-gotten proceeds, including through the abuse of traditional value transfer methods, like hawala. By providing those organisations with funding, contacts, and logistical support, it amplifies their capabilities and durability.








Telangana looks like a woman all dressed up and nowhere to go. All indications are that it may take a while even if the Centre decides to form a separate Telangana State. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has admitted that it is not going to be easy, given the aspirations and emotions of the people of Andhra Pradesh. Any number of meetings and committees will not find an answer as they are only meant to buy time. Added to that is the report given by Andhra Pradesh Governor ES Lakshmi Narasimhan that if there is a separate Telangana State, there is the danger of it becoming a Maoist State.

What has happened in these past few weeks on the emotional issue is revealing. First of all, neither the State Government nor the Centre has any clue as to how to deal with the situation after opening the Pandora's Box. The State remains paralysed with bandhs and violence while Chief Minister K Rosaiah, who has been running to New Delhi for every decision, has proved to be a disaster. On Centre's own admission, the Maoists, who were already active in the Telangana region, have become more aggressive taking advantage of the explosive situation.

The progress of the State has come to a standstill and investors are hesitant in view of the uncertainty and political instability. The question mark over Hyderabad's fate has sent shivers to investors. Money power and vested interests have jumped into the chaotic situation to make it worse.

On the political side, the Congress, which came back with a thumping majority in the State, is clueless as to how to control its own MPs and MLAs. There is a vertical division in the ranks. Those belonging to Telangana are batting for a separate State while the rest want a united Andhra Pradesh. The legislators are in no position to listen to the party high command as they are fighting for their survival in their constituencies. The Congress is speaking with a forked tongue trying to please both sides, which is just not possible. The main Opposition, the Telugu Desam Party, is sailing in the same boat as it is too divided on the issue. TDP supremo N Chandrababu Naidu, who supported the separate Telangana demand before the 2009 election, is now dilly-dallying and weighing his options. The people had rejected the Telangana demand by giving very few seats to the grand alliance consisting of the Left parties, TRS and TDP. Praja Rajyam chief Chiranjeevi, who is new to politics, is opposed to a separate Telangana State. The CPI(M) and Majlis are also opposed to it. In such a situation, how could Home Minister P Chidambaram find a consensus at a meeting which was convened to discuss the issue? No wonder the meeting ended without any solution.

Is there a way out and what are the options before the Government? First of all, the normalcy should be brought in the State as soon as possible. This is easier said than done because the agitations — pro-Telangana and anti-Telangana — are picking up. College students have jumped into it and with both anti and pro-Telangana groups using them. Soon the situation will so out of control that the political parties, which are using them, will have no control over them.

Second, the Centre and the State should engage the pro and anti-Telangana groups in a dialogue to make sure that things are not taken to the extreme by either side. Dialogue is the only way out. There are various ways of doing this. Several ideas are floating around like forming a Group of Ministers to look into the issue, formation of a sub-committee, etc.

Third, and most important, the Congress should declare its stand publicly and persuade the other side in the party to come to the negotiating table. This again is not going to be an easy task because the legislators are fearing for their lives and apprehensive of next elections.

Fourth, Since Mr Rosaiah took over as the Chief Minister, he has been looking to the Centre for every decision, which makes him look a weak Chief Minister. He should be able instill confidence not only among his partymen but also among other political parties in the State.

Fifth, and more important, the Centre should take steps to cool the tempers of the people in the State. If the situation goes out of control, the only option left will be to impose President's Rule in the State.

Sixth, the spillover of the Telangana agitation is being felt in other States. For instance, the separate Vidarbha movement is gaining ground in Maharashtra with other political parties joining the bandwagon. Demand for small States has grown shriller in other States. There is urgent need for the Centre to make sure that situation does not go out of control in other States the way it has gone in Andhra Pradesh.

Setting up of a second States Reorganisation Commission may be an option, which will give enough time for the Centre to find a solution. But the immediate thing is to bring normalcy in Andhra Pradesh. What is required is political sagacity and tactful handling of the situation.






While Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina will discuss several bilateral issues with Indian leaders during her visit next week like sharing of waters of the common rivers, including Teesta, increasing trade and commerce, mutual cooperation in power and energy and security related matters, Pandara Park would definitely remain in her mind during her stay in New Delhi.

Notwithstanding the fact that it is now little less than three decades have passed when New Delhi was home to Sheikh Hasina Wajed, but she would not have forgotten those days. For almost five years, she used to live quietly here with her nuclear scientist husband, M Wajed and children Sajeeb and Saima Putul. A flat in C block of Pandara Park was her abode.

Ms Hasina came to the city the year her father and founder of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was fallen to the bullets of assassins in his Dhan Mandi home in Dhaka along with his wife and three sons. The killings took place on August 25, 1975. Ms Hasina and her younger sister escaped death because they were in Germany at that time.

Given the fact, Sheikh Hasina has very strong emotional ties with New Delhi. Ms Hasina, who camped in New Delhi for more than five years, moved to Pandara Park in the later part of December 1975. She first lived at 56 Ring Road, Lajpat Nagar. Interestingly enough, later Bangladesh High Commission worked from 56 Ring Road before shifting to more spacious Chanakyapuri.

Ms Hasina lived in New Delhi till 1981. It is still unclear whether she would make an emotional trip to her 'home' despite her crowded itinerary and security reasons, but one thing is very sure that during her stay in New Delhi she would think of her exile days. It is said that the daughter of a powerful political leader was rank apolitical when she came to New Delhi. Her father was a fiery political leader since his college days in Calcutta and was at the forefront when the Pakistani Government tried to impose Urdu in East Pakistan. Coming back to Ms Hasina's days and years in New Delhi, when she came here Emergency was imposed in India. She was always surrounded by security guards.

Leaders of the Bangladesh Awami League visited her to persuade her to take the reins of the party. She was elected the head of the party while in exile in India. While Ms Hasina was in New Delhi, a person by the name of AL Khatib worked as her assistant. Khatib had also authored one book Who killed Mujib. Vikas Publication had published the book. DK Bose, a very familiar face in the football circles of the capital, was among the few who had met her at Pandara Park home. Remembers Bose, the meeting with her was organised by an academician from Dhaka University. Though it was a brief meeting, they had discussed the state of Bangladesh and Bangla literature at length. While she was still not recovered from the tragic events in her home country, yet she enquired as to what new was happening in Bengali literature. She generally remained indoor, except for visiting Indian International Centre for a quiet lunch or dinner once in a while.

Last but not the least, New Delhi was home to two very prominent Bengali leaders before India was carved out in 1947. Mohammad Ali Bogra, who later became the only second Prime Minister of Pakistan from the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was a civil servant before partition and posted in New Delhi. He remained the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1952-55. And how can one forget Altaf Hussain, the editor of The Dawn, the mouthpiece of Muslim League? Originally from Khulna, Altaf Hussain was appointed for the key post by none other than Mohammed Ali Jinnah. During those days The Dawn used to publish from New Delhi.

Tailpiece: Altaf Hussain used to stay at Sujan Singh Park, where our very own Khushwant Singh lives.







FOR a party that often preached propriety to the Atal Behari Vajpayee- led NDA government until 2004, it seems ironic that the Congress- led UPA regime should commit the same errors of commission six years hence. The National Highways Authority of India, which works under the ministry of road transport and highways led by Kamal Nath, has directed contractors across the country to put up display boards every 25 km featuring, along with the highway project details, images of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. In fact, to save the contractors some trouble, the NHAI has also specified the dimensions of the boards.

If not for an RTI activist, the Congress would have gotten away and perhaps still would get away with saving up to a maximum of Rs 29.76 crore of its election expenses by letting the contractors pick up the tab. This is not only unethical and immoral, it also smacks of utter arrogance of power. Instead of asking contractors to pay tribute to the two political leaders and propagandise the party's credentials, the government should have laid down stringent rules for the setting up of quality rest stops and public utilities and use of topclass technology to build better roads.


Instead, what we are faced with is a possible downgrade in the quality of roads as the Rs 2 lakh the contractors would spend on each of the hoardings would no doubt be taken out from the road building budget through one means or the other.







AMAR SINGH's resignation citing health reasons as Samajwadi Party general secretary and member of its parliamentary board does not come as a surprise. Tensions had been brewing between him and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's family members for a long time. But, Singh's illness that kept him away from politics for a while and the loss of Mulayam's daughter- in- law, Dimple, in the Firozabad Lok Sabha by- polls, have hastened matters. The timing was right for his powerful detractors, Mulayam's brothers Ram Gopal and Shivpal, and son Akhilesh to act. Besides, Mulayam appears to be easing his hold over the reins of the party in favour of his family members.


However, it will not be right to blame Singh entirely for taking matters to a pitch.


True, he had done the unthinkable by blaming Mulayam and his family for the Firozabad defeat. But, his opponents too had never missed an opportunity to target him. For instance, while he could fill the party's coffers, he was blamed for taking the SP away from its socialist ideals.


Singh, who stands virtually alone in SP after his resignation must have seen the writing on the wall. A man who prides himself for being a consummate politician, and had once famously described Sonia Gandhi as a housewife not fit for politics, would have realised that in a family- run party, the family inevitably prevails over all else.


Whether Mulayam asserts himself for Singh's sake will depend on the balance of convenience of having Singh in the SP.






THE recommendations of the Supreme Court to ensure payment of compensation to accident victims are forward looking, to say the least. As the court pointed out, the present system denies compensation to 20 per cent of accident victims, who may have encountered a hit- and- run case, been hit by an uninsured vehicle or may have been ' gratuitous' passengers in a vehicle that met with an accident.


Considering that many of such victims are from the lower strata, this is criminal.


The money needed to meet such claims can be raised by levying a surcharge or cess for an accident relief fund or by extending the definition of third party insurance, as the court has suggested. But really the modalities are for the executive to decide as long as all victims get compensated.


The apex court's order to implement Section 158 ( 6) of the Motor Vehicles Act that mandates that the police quickly forward accident information reports to the Motor Vehicle Claims Tribunal must be welcomed too. By directing such tribunals to process the claim without waiting for a formal application from the victim or her family, hopes have been raised that the poor will no longer be short- changed due to their poor awareness of the law.






MINISTER of State for External Affairs Mr Shashi Tharoor is ranked 264 ( as of 6th Jan 2010 by twitterholic. com) in terms of the number of followers on the popular social networking and micro blogging site called Twitter. That rank among more than 18 million users means he has been able to make the site much more popular in India because of his regular short messages on the site, known as ' tweets'. Till date he has more than half a million followers on Twitter, much more than any Indian although he ranks far behind Ashton Kutcher, the husband of Demi Moore, who leads the Twitter popularity charts with 4.2 million followers followed closely by Britney Spears with 4.1 million. President Barack Obama tops among the politicians, and ranks fourth globally with a little over 3 million followers.


Twitter, which started in 2006, is often described as the SMS of the internet and offers a message routing system which is device agnostic and facilitates tweets to flow across from SMS, web, mobile web, instant message and from third party application providers. Tweets have been restricted to 140 characters, almost the size limit of an SMS message.


However such a limit is not a constraint as all forms of links can be tagged to messages either by URL shortening services or content hosting services.


Obama used it extensively during his election campaign and during the Australian bushfires in February 2009 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used the medium to send regular updates on all affected communities. Likewise tweets were the only bits of information available from the protestors during the crackdown in Iran in June 2009.


Most of the tweets analysed in various studies have been found to be in the areas of news, self promotion, conversational messages and also passing along of messages. Also Twitter's usage is more popular among older adults, a trend different from that in all other social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut where youngsters dominate.


Almost 12 million users joined in the year 2009 itself and the total Twitter population in 2010 is conservatively expected to be around 26 million.




Twitter follows some rules on the content that can be posted as tweets and has identified contents related to impersonation, privacy, trademark, violence and threats, copyrights and unlawful use that cannot be published on the website or will be blocked and the user suspended if such a violation is detected. Likewise spam messages, name squatting, serial accounts and selling user names are a strict nono.


Even pornographic contents are disallowed from profile picture and user background submissions.


Again the laws of the land policy is followed for addressing any contentious issues. Twitter has a good privacy policy and does not display any advertisement although it collects personally identifiable information as one registers as a user.


Out of the 208 tweets that Mr Tharoor has posted in the last ten months, only two have become controversial, less for their content value and more for the media coverage and analysis that they provoked.


Such a position forced the government and the ruling Congress party to take note of the tweets and make some carefully crafted statements on them. The first of the controversial tweets on September 15 last year was actually a response to journalist Kanchan Gupta's direct post to him: ' Tell us Minister, next time when you travel to Kerala, will it be cattle class?' This was around the time when the austerity issue had beenraised across government circles and some visible steps were being taken by the top leadership of the Congress party and government to display their commitment to austerity.


Mr Tharoor's response was ' Absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with our holy cows!' So the ' cattle class' reference is not attributable to him although the reference to holy cows is quite tricky and has been interpreted in various terms and led to the controversy.


The second controversy arose some 100 days later on December 29 and this related to a policy decision by the government with respect to tourist visas.


The Minister's tweet actually had merit and many people would have agreed with him but because of his ministerial responsibilities he would not have been expected to make that comment. And so to borrow External Affairs Minister Mr SM Krishna's words, the issue should have been settled within the four walls of the Ministry and not on Twitter. Moreover the issue was sensitive as it could have triggered a major spat between the External Affairs and the Home ministries. The Home Minister who is quite sensitive to many issues and is currently trying to cover many loopholes which plague our security system would have been seen as being directly challenged in his wisdom of taking a certain decision. That brings us to the question of what content and how much of content can be tweeted or for that matter shared in social networking domains. Needless to say, Mr Tharoor's reach has been tremendous over the months, both in terms of the numbers of followers and also the content that he tweets. More so, in our culture of keeping all stuff related to government and its activities either under the wrap of secrecy or expressing it in lengthy bureaucratese.


Mr Tharoor leads by an example of tweeting on what he does in his constituency, the interesting meetings that he has as a minister, besides expressing his views on cricket and other subjects that touch a middle class Indian.




Even major newspapers do not have the reach that he has with his 140 character push. Few politicians have emulated him in this area although there are a lot of Indian journalists who are regular with their tweets. The political class stays away from the Twitter medium primarily because most of them are yet to become IT savvy and the few who are, are too shy to become controversial.


To an extent the present culture of political correctness among our parliamentarians whereby one has to go strictly along party lines rather than be able to speak up as individuals and lawmakers is a problem and the government government should explore the possibility of restricting its whip only for certain specific matters. There is a need to take another look at the provision of the 10th Schedule of the Constitution for some flexibility of individual expression.




While Twitter may have its own set of rules for postings and contents, individual discretion also becomes important and so the whole debate around those two tweets of Mr Tharoor centred around whether people in public office should be using the social networking medium to express thoughts on issues that have policy implications. In October 2009, an MP in the Canadian House of Commons had to apologise to the House during its proceedings for ' tweeting about matters that ought not to have been tweeted about'. Definitely the space for expression becomes restricted and so most of the policy makers and bureaucrats are out of the tweeting business. However the government should have some action plan for the media relations department of ministries so that they can offer quality and updated information through tweets to enable them to have some feedback on popular thinking.


While controlled tweeting is desirable, there has to be some care about some of the users and their motivation.


It is well known that David Coleman Headley was using the medium for hate postings till he was caught and removed from the network. Likewise there have been attempts to attack Twitter itself. For now the medium is bound to grow because of its simple proposition — WHAT'S HAPPENING? ( Tweet me @ subimal).


The writer is the country head of General Dynamics. The views are personal








CONTRARY to popular perception, the PPP government has notched up some significant and unprecedented successes. The National Finance Commission Award is a great blow for provincial rights because it enhances their share of the national exchequer by 10 per cent and addresses the developmentpoverty equation between them amicably. In the same vein, the Economic Package for Balochistan, coupled with concrete measures to root out the political causes of separatism and insurgency, promises to yield results in the national interest. Finally, unequivocal ownership of the war against terrorism, though unpopular initially, has served to unite the nation and nip the evil in the bud.


But credit for these achievements has not been sufficiently accorded to the PPP leadership and government. One reason for this is the media obsession with the doings, rather undoings, of the Supreme Court which seems fixated on rapping the government for various deeds of omission and commission. Such developments could have been treated ordinarily if it hadn't been for the wholesale perception that the court is somehow " out to get" President Asif Zardari and therefore the media has to hang on to every word uttered by the judges and treat it as " breaking news". The second is owed to President Zardari's decision to hunker down in the Presidency and wait for the storm to pass. This has had the opposite effect by creating the impression that he was scared, nervous and unsure of what to do, therefore on his way out. The third factor remains the inability of the PPP leadership to sell or market its success in transforming some key problems into core opportunities.


The fourth reason is the constant economic hangover from the past — rising joblessness and poverty, falling real incomes and running shortages of everyday necessities like power and essentials like sugar — which has soured the political environment.


BUT all this is beginning to change. Following the NRO judgment the independent media is inclined to ask reasonable questions about the decision and criticise some of the arguments pegged to it.


This has provided some respite to the PPP and enabled it to marshal a degree of executive authority and credibility. President Zardari has also come out of his bunker rather dramatically and demonstrated a fighting spirit that has galvanised the PPP rank and file and set


hostile minds on the defensive. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's firm but cool response demonstrating that he is on the same page with President Zardari on matters to do with the longevity of the PPP government has also thwarted those who would like to throw a spanner in his works with President Zardari.


But President Zardari is not yet out of the woods. In fact, all eyes are still on the SC which is in a hyper active and selfrighteous mode and may be about to start hearing petitions challenging his right to be president on grounds of " morality". The ride is also going to remain bumpy because of the conditions ordered by the IMF which wants a reduction in government expenditures and an increase in taxes. The unrelenting power shortages and inflationary pressures are going to keep public tempers short and alienation from government at a record high. Under the circumstances, the PPP government must change the public's negative perception of it.


For starters, it should press home the new perception that perhaps all the talk about increasing differences and distances between the President and Prime Minister is so much hogwash. Indeed, it may be time for the President to become the good cop and the Prime Minister the bad cop, a reversal of the role each has seemingly played in the mind of the public.

The reason for this is obvious: it is the president who is in the eye of the storm and it is the prime minister who has strengthened the party whenever he has spoken up. So the PM should take on the government's detractors and the President should apply the balm for a change and build up the trust deficit.


The second thing that the PPP might consider strategising is its approach to the three by- elections scheduled in the next two months. Nothing will change the direction of the wind more than a setback for the favourite Muslim League Nawaz on this front. A win for the PPP or an anti- PMNL candidate will not GETITS DUE


change the arithmetic in parliament but it will be a huge psychological blow in favour of the besieged party and government.


At the very least it will dent the media perception that the PPP is the most unpopular party at the moment on account of its dismal performance in government and " immoral" leadership, and revive the legitimacy of the argument that in a democracy the final accountability of the rulers is gauged during an election and not at the hands of a visibly tilted media.


THE third thing the PPP leadership should do is to try and persuade the public that it is not dragging its feet on the issue of the constitutional amendments demanded by the opposition. Apparently, the constitutional parliamentary committee, which is headed by Senator Raza Rabbani and includes all the stakeholders, has waded through the constitution, clause by disputed clause, and is about to present a unified draft of the proposed amendment. The problem is that if and when a consensus is announced, the opposition is bound to claim successful ownership by reiterating that the government only did it under pressure as in the case of the restoration of the Supreme Court judges last March.


Finally, it is advisable that the government and army should remain on the same page as far as Pak- US and Pak- India relations are concerned. Indeed, it is imperative that some advance thinking be done on how to respond to two probable challenges in 2010: another Mumbaitype attack by non- state actors whose footprints lead to Pakistan, and an extension of American drone strikes to Balochistan or special US operations in North Waziristan that are inimical to Pakistan's interests in one way or another.


The PPP must improve its act and sell it in 2010. Otherwise there will be no reprieve for it.


The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)





I DO not want to celibate. What is there to celibate, hain ji? For a country with people full of gas, there is no gas.


For a country full of powerful people, there is no power.


And for a country whose entire papulation passes water on the street, there is no water. So what is there to be celibate about in this new year, hain ji? For winter holidays your bhabi and I went to London.


When we got to earpote, I said to your bhabi that I wish I had brought our dining table with us. Why on earth should we have brought dining table, she asked me.


" Because I left our tickets on top of it", I said. So it was not a very good start to trip. Because as you know, I don't belief in this VIP culture. Without tickets, we stood in qyaoo. I never asked PIA staff to put me on plane without tickets. They did it of their own sweet will.


On the way, the man sitting naxt to me was the last remaining tourist in Pakistan. He was devout Japanese Buddhist who came to see remains in Taxila and Swat. I asked that what you did in Swat, hain ji. " You must have enjoyed, walking, drinking bottles, hain ji?" He said he went to see old Buddhist stupids. I said please don't talk like that. It is not nice. Then he explained and I realised that by stupids he meant Buddhist girjas. Yes they are very old I said, because the paint has peeled off and the stone is showing. Japanese said it was in Swat that Buddha found enlightenment. How nice, I said, when did he find it? About 1215 BC, he said. Oh ho, I said, looking at my watch, just a few hours ago. Poor Asaf also needs to find enlightenment because power shartage has ruined economy.


Unfortunately, Japanese Buddhist turned out to have verbal diary. He couldn't stop talking. He said Pakistani leaders should do something about the economy. We are, I said, we are doing supply side economics but the supply hasn't started yet. Then he said your papulation is exploding. I said oye, it is only papulation exployion, not bum exployion so don't be worry. Then he said why you don't educate your pheasants? I said because faujis are taking all the money and to educate millions of pheasants we need money. Do something about the faujis then, he said. I asked sweetly and smilingly, what you suggest we do with faujis, hain ji? Just then PIA captain passed by. Japanese starting talking against faujis.


I said excuse me, bathroom is coming, and I left.


So ja raj dularay, so ja NS







PAKISTAN often doesn't see eye to eye with India on matters related to Kashmir.


But it did accede to New Delhi's request to withdraw dinner invitations to the separatist leaders.


The Pakistan high commission had initially invited government functionaries, as well as separatist leaders — including those of the Hurriyat Conference ( HC) — for a dinner on Wednesday night in honour of a delegation led by Pakistan's national assembly speaker Fahmida Mirza. But the leaders, including HC ( moderate) chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, were later left out of the invitee list.


It is understood that Indian authorities prevailed upon the high commission not to invite separatist leaders to the dinner, while conceding that they could hold talks with Mirza separately.


New Delhi wasn't keen on Mirza hobnobbing with the separatists at the dinner in the presence of Indian dignitaries, sources close to Mirwaiz claimed.


Mirza, therefore, met the separatist leaders on Wednesday afternoon. A high tea was organised in their honour.


" Jammu and Kashmir separatists were scheduled to meet the visiting leader for consultations but a dinner invitation was never on the cards," a Pakistan high commission official claimed.


Mirwaiz said the decision to exclude the separatist leaders was conveyed to them even before they arrived here.


" We were earlier invited to the dinner. But around 12 days ago, the Pakistani high commission informed us that we will have separate meetings with Mirza," he said.


During the course of discussions, Mirza is understood to have asked the feuding factions of Kashmiri separatists to present a united front.


Mirza was here to attend the Commonwealth Speakers' Conference.


Diplomatic sources said Mirza had conveyed to the separatists that Pakistan would provide moral and diplomatic support to the cause.


She also assured them that Pakistan would make all efforts to muster global support for Kashmir.


She said the country would strengthen and activate the Kashmir committee, which has been dormant for the last two years.


She reiterated Pakistan's stand of supporting tripartite talks and resolution of the Kashmir issue on the basis of the UN resolution.


Mirza held separate meetings with hardline faction leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the sources said.


The meeting with Mirwaiz, who is also reportedly holding back- channel talks with New Delhi, went on for more than an hour. Abdul Ghani Bhat and Bilal Lone were present there. Pakistani high commissioner Shahid Malik was also at the meeting.


Mirza also met Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yaseen Malik.


Naveen Jindal imports armoured vehicles



CONGRESS MP and industrialist Naveen Jindal has imported four armoured bulletproof vehicles after obtaining due clearance from the Union ministry of home affairs.


In May 2009, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade ( DGFT) had granted an ex- post facto approval to Jindal for importing nine armoured vehicles in his personal capacity.


According to a source close to the Jindals, the four bulletproof vehicles have been bought for personal use and the customs duty has been paid.


The source, citing security reasons, however, refused to disclose details about the make and price of the vehicles. " It was decided to import four vehicles, already in use, against the permission for nine vehicles," he added.


A DGFT official said government guidelines permit the import of a car only after the payment of customs duty. " In case of restricted items, the home ministry's approval is required, another official said.


According to the minutes of the Policy Relaxation Committee ( PRC), the home ministry had granted a no- objection certificate to Jindal in March 2008.


" The MP had to seek the PRC's permission because the vehicles were to be bulletproofed," a DGFT official said.


The PRC meeting was held on May 18, 2009, wherein the case of Naveen Jindal, EVC & MD M/ s Jindal Steel & Power Ltd, was considered.


The minutes stated: " The committee noted that the ministry of home affairs had given a no- objection certificate to Shri Navin Jindal vide its letter dated March 26, 2008. The DG has already granted approval on file to Shri Jindal for import of the above vehicles in his personal capacity."




THE Congress sees nothing wrong in the proposal of putting up hoardings of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi along national highways.


" The surface transport ministry might have reasons for doing so. I am not aware of the decision.


Only a government spokesman could reply to that," party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said when asked whether it was ethically correct to put the Prime Minister and the Congress president's pictures on a project conceived during the NDA's rule.


To justify the proposal, Ahmed pointed out that though the NREGA was a central government scheme, several state governments issued advertisements with photographs of their chief ministers, claiming that the project was their own. " Ninety per cent of the NREGA funds are provided by the Centre," he said.


Rapport with Ravi


ALL MPs, who were demanding passes on the occasion of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, were snubbed by the overseas affairs ministry.


They were apparently told that the event was not a " free show" and hence they were not entitled to free passes. So how much did one have to fork out for a pass? A cool $ 250 ( Rs 12,500).


Most of the MPs could not digest the ministry's answer. " How can the government charge money from us?" they thundered. Many of them promptly used their ' rapport' with overseas affairs minister Vayalar Ravi to " sneak into" Vigyan Bhawan, the venue of the show.



A SINGLE man was enough

h to take the sheen off a road safety awards function held the other day by the road transport and highways ministry.


One of the awardees for ' individual effort in promoting road safety' not only refused the award, but also harangued the government over lack of efforts on the issue.


The miffed awardee, who had lost his brother in a road accident, reminded the government that mere lip service won't improve things.


The electronic media lapped up the opportunity to interview the man, taking the shine off minister Kamal Nath's function.



A SECTION of the air force officialdom is up in arms against defence minister A. K. Antony. The babu s claim his decision not to back the air force's favourite European multi- role tanker transporter deal on the face of the finance ministry's opposition to it caused them to junk the idea altogether.


They believe his inaction on account of his desire to be like " Caesar's wife" cost them a " strategic asset". " Any other minister would have put his foot down against the interloping interference of the finance ministry," an air force official said.








Bangladesh is going back to the fundamental principles laid down by its original constitution in the way it conducts its politics. That is, the country is curbing the use of religion which had crept into the affairs of the state. This development is a result of the Bangladeshi supreme court upholding an earlier high court verdict banning the abuse of religion for political purposes. In 2005, a three-judge bench had deemed the fifth amendment to the Bangladeshi constitution which legitimised martial law and suspended the constitution following the military coup of 1975 illegal and sought to ban all those parties which flouted the secular principles originally laid down in the constitution following the birth of Bangladesh.

This move is a welcome one from New Delhi's perspective. The increased clout of Islamic parties across India's eastern border was conducive for religious extremists to operate, thus destabilising not just Bangladesh but the entire region. A political environment charged with religious sentiment sometimes of the extreme variety spilled over and bolstered extremist groups who did not shy from using terror to achieve their narrow ends. India's security interests have, in the process, been compromised.

This latest twist in Bangladesh's political tale traces its history to the long and bitter political rivalry between the Awami League in power with Sheikh Hasina at the helm and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by Khaleda Zia, the widow of Ziaur Rahman, the martial administrator who once ran the country. When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina's father, took over the presidency of the newly-formed Bangladesh, he backed a secular order, and tried to marginalise Muslim religious groups. But under Ziaur Rahman's watch, the path was paved for Islamic elements to gain ground in the political sphere, over which they have exerted considerable influence through that country's fractured democratic history.

This history has a bearing on the current state of affairs two of BNP's allies are Islamic parties and they have already stated their intent to challenge the verdict. It was a similar challenge from these sections that had led to a stay on the high court verdict of 2005, which has been overturned after four years. These are political challenges that the present government will have to negotiate carefully; it cannot afford the issue to turn into a full-blown crisis that could threaten its legitimacy, offering the military a foot in the door. That's something our eastern neighbour, which has rolled from one crisis to another, could do without.








Think of the names of the best-known scientists in India, and examine their resumes. Inevitably you find that, besides being great scientists and researchers, they were heads, directors or chairpersons of various committees, advisers to ministers/the prime minister, etc. It will be very hard to find a well-known scientist in India who did not become an administrator particularly in the past few decades. (In an exercise we did, a few PhD students were asked to list the Indian scientists whose names they knew and then check their CVs all 21 scientists listed had held significant administrative positions.)

Now let us look at the best researchers in the scientifically advanced countries. Of the 27 Nobel laureates in physics of the last 10 years, only seven hold any major administrative post.

This reflects a basic difference in how science and scientists are viewed in our society and how they view themselves, as compared to the situation in the scientifically advanced countries. We still remain a very hierarchy and title conscious society, where power and title are regarded more important goals than anything else (except money perhaps). When a scientist does good work and is recognised globally, the best way the government and the civic structures seem to reward the person is by giving an administrative title and role, so he becomes a 'big administrator' who will rub shoulders with the 'powers-that-be'. Not only is the thinking of administrators and government like this, this is the nature of thinking of scientists and academics also after an individual has achieved some name in science, he starts looking for 'elevation' as an administrator.

We do not seem to have reached a state of evolution in our scientific community where science and research can be ends in themselves, and not a means to a 'higher' end. To be fair, a good scientist or a researcher starts with intentions of doing great science/research. However, slowly after a decade or two, often he starts facing the 'what next' question. Rather than striving harder to reach a higher level in science and research, either due to complacency which over the years sets in as it is systematically encouraged, or due to lack of recognition or visibility as compared to administrators, or some other reason, remaining a scientist no longer seems sufficient. The senior scientist then starts aspiring for administrative positions with power.

This situation is not likely to change unless there is pride and satisfaction in being an academic or a researcher, and unless there are icons in society that are academics and researchers. In the last two decades, people like founders of companies such as Infosys have created new icons. This has put entrepreneurs and business people on a high pedestal you can see that they no longer feel 'below' the bureaucracy but treat them, and are treated as, equal (or sometimes even superior as they are rich).

Similar icons need to be created in academics scientists who are held in high esteem and are 'stars' not for the position they hold but for the science and academics they did and contributions they made to the furthering of science, research and education. And the way the government should support them is by giving them labs and grants, awards, monetary rewards, naming buildings, roads and the like after them, promoting them in national and global forums as icons, etc, and not merely by giving them administrative posts.

management of scientific and academic institutions also needs to change. They have to imbibe the value system where an administrator feels pride in what scientists and academics have done rather than what he as an individual has achieved. And instead of feeling dwarfed by the fame of a scientist working 'under' him, an administrator ought to see that as a sign of his doing a good job that should be rewarded.

Unless we reach a stage where the stars are the scientists, and the administrators are understood to be good only to the extent they provide support to create such stars, we should not hope for much excellence. Excellence in research cannot be achieved by half-hearted commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. We must develop a value system where a star scientist wishes to remain a scientist and is respected and admired for the science and research he does.

It should, however, be added that a scientific establishment, if it is to achieve any levels of excellence, must be headed by a scientist/academic of decent calibre who understands excellence and what is needed for it. Putting an average scientist/academic or a bureaucrat in charge can be a recipe for disaster, as such a person is likely to surround himself with average people ("An A hires an A, but a B hires a C"). But the administrator must support the value system in which he is mostly a facilitator for getting good science and research done. The limelight rightfully belongs to the brilliant scientists and researchers doing excellent work.

The writer is professor, IIT Delhi.






Omar Khalidi , a scholar attached to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, has written extensively on the social and economic profile of Muslims in independent India. Among his works are Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India. Khalidi spoke to Humra Quraishi :

You have researched the ethnic and religious composition of the security forces in India. What patterns has your study revealed?

There is a clear, consistent pattern of recruitment in the army. The army's infantry regiments are still recruited in states and areas with "martial races", i.e. in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and western UP. These so-called "martial races" are Hindu, Sikh and Gorkha. There are very few Muslims among the jawans and still fewer among the officers. Officers are fewer partly because Muslims' educational level, and thus the ability to compete in the UPSC examination, is poor. Dalits are also conspicuous by their absence. Christians are well represented in the officer class. The Rapid Action Force of the CRPF has a good representation of Muslims. The composition of police is also somewhat similar. There are far fewer Muslim police officers, and within that a tiny number of IPS officers. It is only in Andhra Pradesh that Muslims are far in excess of their numbers, but only at the constable level.

Do these factors ethnic and religious composition of the forces impact their functioning in a democratic republic?
The army has so far been exceptionally fair and neutral, and this must be strongly commended. It is a tribute to the rigid discipline and sense of duty in the army. The paramilitary forces' performance is OK. It is the performance of the police that is often poor. The police's poor performance is largely because the police does not have a free hand. It follows the orders of the chief minister or home minister. If the government wants, the police can be very effective. So, the police must be made largely free of political interference and allowed to play its role impartially. As long as the police is under the control of the political party in power, its performance is going to be influenced by the wishes of the ruling party.

Your study also focuses on the ethnic composition of security forces prior to independence. Has the situation changed for the better?

I talk about the pre-independence era for purposes of comparison. Minorities were better represented in the colonial army and police than today. On the positive side, Scheduled Castes and Tribes which were not well represented in the colonial era are now better represented in the IPS cadres due to the system of reservation. Since Muslims are not well represented in the IPS, there is every justification for reservation for them at least for a decade. A virtual middle class has come about due to the reservation system. Simultaneously, there ought to be widespread coaching for minorities to compete successfully in the UPSC examination.








Winter makes blimps out of people. If you step out onto the streets of Delhi, you'll see that everyone's walking around like they're in fat suits. When a person puts on three to four layers of sweaters, a pair of thick woollen gloves and a cap pulled so far down his face that he's at a risk of asphyxiating himself, you can't really blame him for looking like Eddie Murphy from The Nutty Professor. This is my second winter in Delhi and my teeth have done a lot more chattering this year than it did last year. Experience definitely is not a useful weapon in your arsenal when it comes to combating Delhi winters. More often than not, multiple layers of clothing end up not achieving the desired effect. A couple of days ago while travelling by auto, my exposed face got such a ruthless dose of biting cold that i was, for the first time in my life, able to empathise with refrigerated meat. The auto driver, whose black eyes were the only thing revealed to the outer world, were fixed on me as if to suggest that i was dumber than a lobotomised chipmunk.

I encountered, however, more daring winter-rebels on the streets: the homeless people of Delhi clad in their usual torn T-shirts and pants begging for alms. Sure, their working conditions and hours weren't as bad as what some of the A-list Bollywood actors have to deal with 'oh shooting in Switzerland was so tiring. I had to wake up at 4 a.m. from my luxurious trailer and parrot lines for a few hours for a measly sum of Rs 50 lakh' but it was an unenviable sight nevertheless. I have created a list for the benefit of those lacking the skills to combat the piercing cold after barely surviving two merciless Delhi winters. First, when you get a cup of coffee or tea don't drink it. Instead, move it all over the exposed parts of your body in an effort to thaw them. Second, if you're travelling by auto, always have two naive friends with you and seat yourself in between them. Third, always sleep with your shoes on, preferably large cowboy boots. Four, if you have a big furry dog or an oddly hairy relative, hug him like there's no tomorrow. And finally, move to the Caribbean islands.








Non-Indians might think that all Indians suffer from multiple personality disorder. That all of us are not just Jekyll-and-Hyde, but Jekyll-and-Hyde-and-his-cujjin-brother as well. The reason is that, unlike monolingual people, most Indians speak two or more languages. We not only speak them, we do them. Language has been called the garb of thought. In our case it could be called the uniform of action. For as we speak, so do we do.

Take Bengalis. As an hon Bong (honorary Bengali) i know that all Bengali bhadralok are equally at ease in English and Bengali. As Nirad Chaudhuri said, the last Englishman alive will almost certainly be a Bengali. Bengalis claim that on a planet awash with American English and other such travesties, it is they who are the only custodians of the language, as it is only they who know that the correct pronunciation of biscuit is not bis-kit, as the world thinks, but 'biskoot'. So yar boo sucks to Oxbridge and the BBC. Now, when speaking English - over a cup of tea and a biskoot - the Bengali is a very upbeat, can-do individual, full of optimism and get-up-and-go. Like Pranabda, who as FM keeps predicting that the economy will grow at 8 per cent this fisc.However, the moment the Bengali switches to Bengali, a metamorphosis takes place. Maybe it's got something to do with the soft Bengali vowel sounds, which make everything you say sound like Rabindrasangeet, but that same gung-ho guy, the moment he switches to Bong begins to ooze melancholy like a baigoon bhaja oozes mustard oil. He says he is not feeling well, he is catching a cold, his bowel movements have become progressively erratic. Aee jibon ki koshto, ki koshto. This life so phool of oes, so phool of oes.Punjabi, on the other hand, is for party-sharty time. You don't have to know a lot of Punjabi to get into the party spirit. Just say 'balle, balle' with your index fingers stuck up in the air, and you're ready to swing. Punjabi is also the language for cussing in. And you don't even have to resort to all that unnecessary BC/MC stuff. A simple 'Oy, teriiii!' will do the trick. As in: See, see how that two-wheeler cut across me? Oy, teriiii!


Gujarati, like Marwari which it somewhat resembles, is for doing dhanda in. It's business talk. Hear a Gujarati say 'Su?' - or a Marwari say 'Toh?' - and you know that that single word packs a wealth of meaning, literally. It means 'What's the deal?' It means 'Show me the money'. It means mega bucks. The English equivalent of 'Su?' or 'Toh?' is the insipid 'So?'. As in 'So what?'. So what, indeed. 'So?' has none of the resonance of 'Su?' or 'Toh?'. How do you think the Ambanis became the Ambanis? Su? The Birlas? Toh?


South Indian languages - all south Indian languages - are to do mathematics in. This is because an order placed in an Udipi restaurant - ravaidlidosavadauttapambonda - sounds like logarithm tables being recited at double speed. Constant practice ensures that Udipi orders, in time, become logarithm tables. Infosys? Silicon Valley? IT? Why do you think it's all in the south? Go figure. Idlidosavadasambharrasam...


Hindi - shudh Hindi, born-again Sanskritised Hindi, and not the ratta-phatta streetside, chalta hai Hindustani that most of us commonly speak - is the language of pomp and circumstance, of ceremony and ritual. It is the language of ghee poured into havans, the language of weddings, and funerals, and Doordarshan's commentary on the Republic Day parade. It is a solemn and studious language, with a caste mark on its forehead, and it makes almost anything you say - like 'Pass the aloo-mattar', or 'Wassup, yaar' - sound like Amitabh Bachchan reciting the Gayatri Mantra. Or maybe Madhushala.


India is a lucky dip of languages. Take your pick. Just remember that when people ask you 'Arre, but what you are saying?', what they really mean is 'What you are doing?'. What we speak is what we are. So what'll it be today? Biskoot, or erratic bowels?








Bangladesh's Supreme Court has set up an interesting phase in the country's constitutional life. This month the court lifted a four-year stay on a ban on the "abuse of religion for political purposes", and now efforts could be on to restore the word "secularism" to its constitution. Since 1972, Bangladesh politics has been as much a contest of visions for the country's founding principles as it has been personal. It is, however, not just the expectations of a clash of ideas set up by the apex court that marks it as significant; it is also that the development comes upon a few years of amazing change in the country's governance and economy. The December 2008 elections, in which Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League won power, and their aftermath, have revealed a remarkable deepening of democracy. In addition, Bangladesh has continued to spring its so-called "development surprise", a phase of high economic growth driven by garment exports and the informal sector. It is with the confidence of diverse changes that Prime Minister Hasina will arrive in New Delhi next week — and an opportunity is at hand to reconfigure a bilateral relationship that has, all too often inexplicably, been defined by drift and even neglect.


Among the deliverables during the visit is expected to be Delhi's announcement of a $500 million line of credit to build infrastructure and connectivity to Bhutan and Nepal cutting through India. It is to India and Bangladesh's mutual interest to economically integrate the eastern reaches of the subcontinent. Both acknowledge the potential benefits of connectivity through each other's territory. That the potential has been far from realised shows how elusive mutual cooperation and trust have been. Of late, however, both countries have made substantial moves to assure each other on key concerns. The Hasina government has ramped up offers on counter-terrorism (addressing Delhi's concern about refuge for militants active in the Northeast) and on power trading on the border. While incremental moves by India on tariffs on trade from Bangladesh can be expected, the need now is to reload the bilateral relationship.


Bangladesh's challenges, even after its good years, are by no means insubstantial — challenges of poverty, fragile institutional democracy, security, political polarisation, migration, ecology — which India had deep concerns about. It is therefore Delhi's challenge to reassure and strengthen its key eastern neighbour — and to do so in a way that builds the largest possible political consensus in that country for mutual trust.








There are many good words that could be used to describe Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh. "Mercurial" perhaps. "Gadfly" is a good one; so is "unpredictable". "Retiring", however, is not one of those words. So news that Singh has resigned from his various posts in the SP — apparently in a fax he sent the party's head, Mulayam Singh, from Dubai — unsurprisingly caused a few eyebrows to be raised. Singh's health problems have been no secret — he's had trouble with his kidneys, has spent some time in hospital in Singapore, and has been convalescing in Dubai — but there's little support for the idea that we've heard the last of Amar Singh, the politician.


That Singh has chosen this moment to launch a broadside against "family control" of the SP will not shock, therefore, those prepared to believe that this dramatic resignation is not unconnected to Singh's ongoing attempt to minimise the influence of Mulayam Singh's cousin, Ram Gopal Yadav. (He recently lost a bitter battle over nominations to the UP state legislative council to Ram Gopal Yadav.) In the recent past, Amar Singh has several times expressed unhappiness with Mulayam Singh's decisions; and, in each case so far, he has been placated by that master negotiator. This might be one more.


But Singh's huff points to something more than the personal. The post-Mandal parties that were born of the mobilisation and assertion of particular castes are facing trouble modernising and updating themselves in an era when their old raison d'etre no longer has the force that it once had; and that trouble manifests itself most in the question of succession, where undisputed party leaders — usually with a stature born of time spent in "movement" trenches — have to decide how to deal with the next generation of leaders. Some of them will become, presumably, family firms, living off the personal popularity of those leaders. But that won't disguise the fact that for many of them the "use-by" date is rapidly approaching. Could it be that in Amar Singh's battle-cries, the SP will find an opportunity to confront its big dilemmas?







That India bears the dubious distinction of being high on the list of countries with the most road accidents is a cause for concern. Especially as there are major loopholes in compensation for victims of hit-and-run accidents, vehicles with only third-party insurance, and accidents involving uninsured vehicles. Thus the Supreme Court's suggestion: imposing a cess on the price of petrol and diesel. This, together with a one-time insurance premium on each vehicle sold, would then be collected in a special accident fund which could be paid out to all victims.


The concept is clever. A pooled insurance scheme, with a premium paid automatically at petrol pumps, makes economic sense. Charging those on the roads a mandatory premium would be a good move on from the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. But this idea also raises concerns. The most obvious question: how will the fund be monitored? Another concern is that it might let our un-reformed insurance off too easily. Insurance agencies' grievances — that they fork out four times as much in compensation as compared to their premiums — get addressed through the special accident fund; but this is not a move towards a more comprehensive regime. That monitoring such a fund may be challenging is acknowledged by the court.


However, at the heart of the matter lies road safety. Road rules and regulations need reform. Further, that the insurance cover on many cars is frequently not renewed is a sign of negligence — on the part of both the driver and transport authorities. A better, more universal compensation policy will inevitably build on outdated policies; but the test will be the implementation.








The speech made by the Army Chief of Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, at a recent Training Command seminar about India getting prepared for a two-front war both on the northern and western fronts has received a lot of publicity and attention both in Pakistan and China. The criticism is very strident as is to be expected, particularly in Pakistan. It is also understandable since General Kapoor's speech marks a point of departure in terms of style and content from the views that used to be voiced by all previous army chiefs. We could have done without it at a time when the Indian defence secretary is meeting his Chinese counterpart.


It is necessary to start with a clarification for both Indian and foreign audiences. Unlike in Pakistan, the Indian army chief is not the final authority to decide on the strategy to be adopted in case of any hostilities. As General Malik has explained in his book, at the time of the Kargil war, Prime Minister Vajpayee directed that the Indian military operations should be restricted to the Indian side of the Line of Control. That was strictly implemented irrespective of the views that might have been held by other military and civilian leaders. Unlike in China, the Indian army does not function under party control with a military commission which excludes the prime minister and has a majority of the military leadership and is dominated by it. In other words, strategic policy-making in India is exclusively a political function and not a military one. No doubt, ultimately at the time of the decision, if at all such need arises, it will be to a great degree influenced by the inputs of the chiefs of staff of the time but the final decision-maker will be the prime minister.


The present criticism of the views of General Kapoor highlights the need for early establishment of a National Defence University and imbuing our senior service officers with adequate diplomatic skills besides their military ones. In the present day globalised world professional soldiers also need to be diplomats when they deal with international situations. General Kapoor is due to retire in the next few months. In a democracy like ours he is entitled to have his views and also express them at professional seminars, provided he makes it clear they are his personal views. Surely the Indian audience at the seminar would have interpreted them in that way. Perhaps his personal caveats were not reported in the media. It would be a pity if because of embarrassment caused there are attempts by politicians and the civil bureaucracy to stifle such frank expression of opinions in professional debates and seminars.


As the American strategist Bernard Brodie pointed out, in the earlier periods the role of the armed forces was to win a war after diplomacy failed and in the nuclear age their role is to prevent a war from breaking out. It can perhaps be argued that by talking about India getting prepared for a two-front war the purpose was to discourage the two anti-status quo neighbours who have committed aggression against India in the past. Professionally, Indian armed forces officers have a duty to anticipate such adventures by our potential adversaries in future and plan to forestall them. It would be justified to think about such a contingency since this country was threatened with such a possibility in 1965 and in 1971. However the international situation has radically changed with the end of the Cold War. Most strategic opinion today discounts the possibility of a war among major powers with nuclear weapons. Pakistan tested out the old Maxwell Taylor thesis of salami slicing in Kargil and had to withdraw when it met with an effective flexible response.


Today the main threat is that of terrorism, the sub-conventional asymmetric war behind the shield of nuclear deterrence. Some Indian strategists are trying to follow the Brodie maxim of formulating a strategy to prevent state-sponsored terrorist aggression by threatening a cold start or limited war under a nuclear overhang to punish such terrorist aggression. They are also influenced by the fact that China armed Pakistan with nuclear weapons and missiles and continues to provide the bulk of its conventional arsenal. However the term "two-front war" reminds people of the superpower idiom of the Cold War era. Irrespective of the proliferation relationship between China and Pakistan and the former using the latter as a surrogate, the nature of the security problem this country faces in respect of each country is different. As a status-quo power India is interested in forestalling threats as they arise and cannot be planning for any pre-emptive moves. In such circumstances what should be planned for is exercise of deterrence and dissuasion in each case using the most modern technology available. How realistic are scenarios of wars for even a week or two in the present international strategic environment? If deterrence and dissuasion fail, will a limited war or a cold start army operation be the first logical steps or are there other possible alternatives? These have to be thought through in interdisciplinary fora which include all the three services, the foreign service and intelligence services. Since the nature of the threat and conflict on the two fronts are vastly different the choice of the term "two-front war" appears to be inappropriate.


While stressing particular strategic responses may be deemed part of the exercise of nuclear deterrence, if it is done by the political leadership at appropriate levels surely nations do not emphasise particular strategic and tactical responses in terms of contingency planning in conventional operations and make a doctrine out of it. The adversary is best left in uncertainty while attempting to assess one's own response. Part of the Indian problem, both in the diplomatic and military fields, is the absence of a national intelligence assessment of potential adversaries. So, each service, agency and ministry makes its own assessment and attempts to formulate its own plans on that basis. That invariably results in linear extrapolation of the past behaviour pattern of the adversaries, overlooking the possible discontinuities and innovations in their behaviour. It has been said often that people tend to prepare for the last war and not for the next conflict.


The country needs more such debates. India should cultivate the healthy practice of officers coming out with the caveat that the views expressed are personal and not those of the service or the government. If the Pakistanis and the Chinese confuse the views of senior Indian officers expressed in seminars as policies of the government, let them be confused more and more. No harm done from the point of view of our national interest or security.


The writer is a senior defence analyst








Accusations of defamation, copyright infringement and oblique motivations have been exchanged over 3 Idiots this week, as we watched and wondered who the real off-screen idiots were. The peculiar nature of author Chetan Bhagat's claim, that he ought to have been given greater credit for the contribution of his novel, Five Point Someone, complicates matters. For those that associate the infringement of legal rights with an award of real, monetary damages, Bhagat's claim seems uncomfortably intangible.


This story has none of the typical ingredients: money, copyright infringement or contractual breach. Bhagat and the producers (Vinod Chopra Films) allegedly entered into a contract by which Bhagat was to be paid a sum of Rs 1 lakh for the rights to his novel, and an additional sum of Rs 10 lakh to be paid at the discretion of the producers. The contract was further said to have provided that it was obligatory for the producers to "accord credit to the author in the rolling credits" as follows: "Based on the novel FIVE POINT SOMEONE by Chetan Bhagat". Strikingly, it does not appear to be Bhagat's claim that these contractual rights have been infringed at all. Rather, the author claims that he ought to have been given greater credit, or what he terms "due credit", by placing his name amongst the writers of the film. So if contractual rights have been met, the author paid and accorded credit, does this story not seem to lose its plot?


Enter "moral rights", stage left. Apparently, when you buy a novel or DVD at a store, although you've perhaps bought a limited licence to read or watch the work, the author of the work is still entitled to certain moral or non-pecuniary rights that cannot, by law, be contracted away. Yale Law scholar, Henry Hansmann, would argue that "moral rights" consist of four distinct rights: first, the right of integrity, by which an author can prevent her work from being defaced or defiled; second, paternity by which an author can insist that her name be associated with her work; third, disclosure, by which an author can insist that the work not be displayed to the public until it is ready; and fourth, retraction, by which an author can withdraw the work from the public domain. The 3 Idiots controversy seems to concern the second of these rights, that is, the right of "paternity" or "attribution" which is perhaps the most closely interrelated with legal copyright protections. Interestingly, Indian copyright law recognises the author's "special right" to claim authorship of a work, while moral rights have to some extent been recognised by Indian courts, most notably by the Delhi high court.


The next time you read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy or My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, notice that the author of the work is actually the person who has translated it to its present form. Translation requires sophisticated and imaginative thinking; but you rarely see these works passed off as those of Constance Garnett or Erdag Goknar, accomplished as their translations may be, without the author's name displayed prominently across the title page. Should 3 Idiots, or an alleged act of "translating" or adapting a novel to film, be any different?


On the other hand, one wonders how the presumed correctness of Bhagat's claims would impact the universe of talent orbiting Bollywood. If producers are required to assign proportionate or "due" credit to each of several composers, lyricists, writers, and choreographers who worked on a film, then assessing the contribution of each individual would entail intricately complex analysis. Ghost-writers, writing for politicians or celebrities, would be forced to negotiate their rates down if they were permitted by law to claim authorship to the work in the future and discredit the personality that signs off on the autobiography. What of those in the employment of others? Employees are routinely required to sign agreements by which they assign all intellectual property to employers — would the employee's ability to claim moral rights in the use of the employer's intellectual property not work to reduce the price that the employee can get for his/ her efforts?

Following the illustrious list of novelists whose works have been converted to film, (consider Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code) one can quite understand an author's consternation at not being accorded enough recognition, with its concomitant bragging rights, in a movie's credits. However, one wonders if the present debate doesn't underestimate the intelligence of the average Indian movie-goer. After all, we do not need court orders to tell us that many Indian movies and songs have been "inspired" by offshore cinema. It is certainly not inconceivable that the average Indian movie-goer will read the book, watch the movie, and give credit where it is deserved.


The writer is a Los Angeles-based attorney






AS hinted in the previous article in this series (IE, Dec 25), the humiliation of defeat in the border war with China in 1962 was followed by disillusionment with our Afro-Asian friends because of their lack of sympathy for our plight. In sharp contrast, sympathy in the usually indifferent western countries, especially the United States and Britain, was spontaneous and promises of support prompt. Indeed, some "emergency arms supply" started almost immediately. But as Krishna Menon — embittered after being ejected from the Ministry of Defence — remarked, "with each gun came two military advisers and three reporters". Soon enough a large US military mission, headed by Brigadier-General Kelly, was established at the American embassy. However, negotiations for military assistance to cope with the Chinese challenge ran into difficulties and dragged on for years.


The initial American enthusiasm waned because of two reasons. The first was the unilateral Chinese cease-fire and Beijing's commitment to withdraw from the occupied territory. India understandably found a "short-term" Anglo-American package of $120 million "grossly inadequate". Secondly, and more importantly, America and Britain were both worried about Pakistan's sensitivities about the flow of arms into India. Spurning President Kennedy's assurance that any military aid to India would be for its "immediate needs" and "for use against the Chinese only" Ayub Khan demanded that Pakistan must have "satisfaction" over Kashmir. That is where the high-powered delegations from Washington and London came in. Averrel Harriman, the veteran US diplomat, headed the American team and Britain's Commonwealth Secretary Duncan Sandys led his country's delegation. The styles of the two men could not have been more different. Harriman, a man of impeccable courtesy, raised even the most sensitive issues with "exquisite subtlety". Sandys, a blunderbuss, practiced only "sledgehammer diplomacy", to borrow words from the Commonwealth Secretary in the Indian Foreign Office, Y. D. Gundevia.


By shuttling between Delhi and Rawalpindi almost constantly, the duo succeeded, according to Gundevia, in "arm-twisting" Nehru, "normally a hardliner on Kashmir" into starting negotiations with Pakistan to "settle the Kashmir problem". Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were nominated as the negotiators. Their talks lasted for nearly half a dozen dreary rounds over as many months, to no avail whatsoever. The story of these conversations, sometimes boring or bizarre, and often resembling two crackled gramophone records with needles stuck in them, need a separate narration. For the present let us return to the slow, stilted and even frustrating negotiations for arms aid from America.


At one stage the two sides were so exuberant as to talk in terms of expanding the Indian Army to 50 divisions. But when they came to brass tacks, even a target of 25 divisions seemed hard to achieve. Other complications followed. But it would be wrong to blame only the American side. Indian negotiators also bungled. For instance, in the early stages India indented so many mortars that the Americans pointed out: "A flotilla of Liberty ships would take weeks to bring the mortars to Indian shores, and given the state of Indian ports, unloading them might take another two months". On another occasion, the US lodged an official protest because the Chief of General Staff (now called the Deputy Chief of the Army Staff) gave the Pentagon information on Indian needs that was at variance with what the Army Chief, General J.N. Chaudhary, had conveyed to Gen. Kelly. In Ambassador's Journal, John Kenneth Galbraith writes about an Indian cabinet minister who visited him and argued that nothing short of $1 billion worth of military aid would do. The ambassador gently tried to puncture this pipedream. However, the real problem lay with American policy that was focused on Pakistan's reaction.


As is well known, on November 19 and 20, just before the unilateral Chinese cease-fire, Nehru had written to

Kennedy two rather abject letters (reportedly drafted by Foreign Secretary M.J. Desai). The US president sent to the Bay of Bengal a naval task force. Ironically, it was led by the nuclear carrier Enterprise that Nixon sent to the same waters during the Bangladesh War on a mission hostile to India.


There were sharp divisions within the Kennedy administration over military aid to India. The Pentagon leaned heavily on Pakistani side. Chester Bowles, who had by April 1963 replaced Galbraith as ambassador to India argued, on the other hand: "If we don't do this right, they (India) would go to Russia", a forecast that proved prophetic. Bowles's recommendation that India should be given arms aid worth $ 500 over five years was opposed by several of Kennedy's advisers. Ultimately, a compromise was reached on $375 million. Kennedy fixed a meeting on November 26, to clinch the issue. Four days earlier he was assassinated. No wonder, Dennis Kux's heading on the chapter on the Kennedy presidency in his book Estranged Democracies is "Neither Kashmir nor India".


Some time in February 1964 President Lyndon Johnson "blessed" the figure of $375 million, divided between grant and low interest credit. But there was a catch, and a serious one. This country badly wanted F-104 supersonic aircraft, which Pakistan already possessed and would use in the 1965 War. America absolutely refused to give these because of vehement Pakistani objections.


Y.B. Chavan, as defence minister, discussed F-104s in Washington and went off to Seattle to see some production line. His hope of finalising some American aid programme before returning home was stymied by Nehru's death on May 27. On June 6, 1964, Chavan and US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara settled all matters other than F-104s. That we did not get the coveted warplanes was a blessing in disguise. A decade later, when the infamous Lockheed scandal burst into the open, it was found that the aircraft was dangerous and was promptly nicknamed "widow-maker". A European crown prince and a Japanese prime minister were among those brought to book. The countries that bought F-104s realised that they had been sold a pup. However, as arrangements to implement the American military aid programme were being made, there was an anti-climax.


The US stopped all military aid to India and Pakistan at the start of the 1965 India-Pakistan War.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator.







Ralph Kramden can finally buy a television. It was more than half a century ago, in a 1955 episode of The Honeymooners, that Kramden, the parsimonious bus driver played by Jackie Gleason, told his wife, Alice, that he had not yet bought a new television because "I'm waiting for 3-D."


The wait will soon be over. A full-fledged 3-D television turf war is brewing, as manufacturers unveil sets capable of 3-D and cable programmers rush to create new channels for them.


Many people are sceptical that consumers will suddenly pull their LCD and plasma televisions off the wall. The 3-D sets will, at first, cost more than even the current crop of high-end flat-screens, and buyers will need special glasses — techie goggles, really — to watch in 3-D.


But programmers and technology companies are betting that consumers are almost ready to fall in love with television in the third dimension. In part, it could be the "Avatar" effect: with 3-D films gaining traction at the box office — James Cameron's Avatar surpassed the staggering $1 billion mark last weekend — companies are now determined to bring an equivalent experience to the living room.


"The stars are aligning to make 2010 the launch year of 3-D," said John Taylor, a vice president for LG Electronics USA. "It's still just in its infancy, but when there is a sufficient amount of content available — and lots of people are working on this—- there will be a true tipping point for consumers."


At that point, the question becomes whether consumers — many of whom have only recently upgraded to costly new high-definition sets — will want to watch in three dimensions enough to pay for the privilege. "I think 90 per cent of the males in this country would be dying to watch the Super Bowl and be immersed in it," said Riddhi Patel, an analyst at the research firm iSuppli.


For most consumers, 3-D is still far in the distance. It took high-definition television about a decade to catch on — to the point where it has become part of the entertainment mainstream, with an adequate stock of HD programming and the sets now cheap enough to entice middle-class buyers. Analysts expect 3-D television to go through the same curve.


Or, of course, the technology could be a total flop.


For decades 3-D was a gimmick for B-movies and occasionally on television (in bad quality with flimsy paper glasses), but newer technology has largely erased those memories.


New 3-D televisions, like the 3-D screens in theatres, work by dividing picture images into two sets, one for each eye. A viewer must wear special glasses, so each eye captures a different image, creating the illusion of depth. Filming entails two connected cameras, one for the left-eye image and the other for the right. On the horizon is technology that allows people to watch 3-D without glasses, but that has severe limitations, like forcing viewers to sit at a certain distance. Indeed, a number of hurdles remain, including a lack of production equipment and duelling 3-D transmission standards. But backers like David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications, say 3-D is bound to gain attention because consumers and producers are always striving for what looks "closest to real life."







Hmmm. You think it's a coincidence? Costa Rica is one of the very few countries to have abolished its army, and it's also arguably the happiest nation on earth.


There are several ways of measuring happiness in countries, all inexact, but this pearl of Central America does stunningly well by whatever system is used. For example, the World Database of Happiness, compiled on the basis of answers to surveys by Gallup and others, lists Costa Rica in the top spot out of 148 nations.


Scholars also calculate happiness by determining "happy life years." This figure results from merging average self-reported happiness, as above, with life expectancy. Using this system, Costa Rica again easily tops the list.


The United States is 19th, and Zimbabwe comes in last. A third approach is the "happy planet index," devised by the New Economics Foundation, a liberal think tank. This combines happiness and longevity but adjusts for environmental impact. Here again, Costa Rica wins the day, for achieving contentment and longevity in an environmentally sustainable way.


Maybe Costa Rican contentment has something to do with the chance to explore dazzling beaches on both sides of the country, when one isn't admiring the sloths in the jungle. It's surely easier to be happy while basking in sunshine and greenery than while shivering up north and suffering "nature deficit disorder."


What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists.


I'm not antimilitary. But the evidence is strong that education is often a far better investment than artillery. In Costa Rica, rising education levels also fostered impressive gender equality so that it ranks higher than the US in the World Economic Forum gender gap index. This allows Costa Rica to use its female population more productively than is true in most of the region. Likewise, education nurtured improvements in health care, with life expectancy now about the same as in the US — a bit longer in some data sets, a bit shorter in others.


Rising education levels also led the country to preserve its lush environment as an economic asset. Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer, introducing a carbon tax in 1997. The Environmental Performance Index, a collaboration of Yale and Columbia Universities, ranks Costa Rica at No. 5.


This emphasis on the environment hasn't sabotaged Costa Rica's economy but has bolstered it. Indeed, Costa Rica is one of the few countries that is seeing migration from the United States: Yankees are moving here to enjoy a low-cost retirement. My hunch is that in 25 years, we'll see large numbers of English-speaking retirement communities along the Costa Rican coast.


Latin countries generally do well in happiness surveys. Mexico and Colombia rank higher than the United States in self-reported contentment. Perhaps one reason is a cultural emphasis on family and friends, on social capital over financial capital.


Cross-country comparisons of happiness are controversial and uncertain. But what does seem quite clear is that Costa Rica's national decision to invest in education rather than arms has paid rich dividends. Maybe the lesson for the US is that we should devote fewer resources to shoring up foreign armies and more to bolstering schools both at home and abroad.


In the meantime, I encourage you to conduct your own research in Costa Rica, exploring those magnificent beaches or admiring those slothful sloths. It'll surely make you happy.








Since the 2007 assembly elections, when Congress won the Jhansi assembly seat, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi has been taking a special interest in Bundelkhand.


Rahul's recent visit to the region to assess the working of women's self-help group (Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojna) formed a year ago is significant in the backdrop of the demand for separate Bundelkhand, as also his success in getting Rs. 7266 crores of Central funds allocated in November for development. Rahul visited Bundelkhand earlier in January 2008 and accused the UP government of not helping farmers and misdirecting Central funds for the construction of statues and museums. He had also chaired a meeting in Jhansi for the formation of a separate Bundelkhand.


Why all this interest? Does Buldekhand have a special identity? Is it a socially and culturally compact area? Presently, half of it is in Uttar Pradesh (Jhansi, Banda, Jalaun, Chitrakoot, Mahoba, Hamirpur and Lalitpur districts), and another half in Madhya Pradesh (Datia, Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna, Sagar and Damoh districts). This dichotomy has existed since Independence and during the past six decades, the social and political orientations of the two parts have diverged. The only common ground today between the two halves are poverty, backwardness, drought, and lack of industrialisation and development. And so, raising the identity issue to pitch for a separate state is misguided.


What about Bundelkhand's development? The credibility of political parties has sunk so low that even genuine and serious initiatives may smack of ulterior motives. Rahul might have fine intentions, but one still wonders whether his initiative is about the development of Bundelkhand or about Dalits? Many know Bundelkhand for droughts, dacoits and lack of development, but few know about its Dalit face: its Dalit population (21-30 per cent) is higher than state average.


Bundelkhand has been on UP's development agenda through the state planning board's carving UP into four economic regions — western, central, eastern and Bundelkhand. There have been separate budget allocations for Bundelkhand since 1990-91. In 1970, the UP government set up Bundelkhand Divisional Development Corporation (BDDC), which was wound up in 1992 for non-performance. The Mayawati government revived BDDC in April 2008 and also formed Bundelkhand Special Area Development Authority in July that year to counter Rahul Gandhi's demand for a separate Bundelkhand Development Authority (BDA). Madhya Pradesh also set up a BDA for development of its part of Bundelkhand in May 2007 and allocated a package of Rs.10 crores.


Agriculture is the predominant occupation in Bundelkhand. According to Census 2001, the percentage of workers engaged in agriculture, as cultivators or labourers, was higher than 60, and much higher than state and national averages, in all districts of Bundelkhand except Jhansi, Damoh and Sagar. The share of farmers with marginal holdings i.e less than one hectare is high (70.3 per cent), and productivity is low owing to the soil's poor water retention, weather fluctuations and large amounts of wasteland. The percentage of net irrigated area to net area sown is low in Bundelkhand region (UP and MP both 50 per cent). There is acute shortage of water and women spend several hours daily to fetch potable water. There are reports of musclemen diverting irrigation water to their fields under shadow of guns. No effort is made to harness rain and flood water by digging ponds and wells. Farmers in Bundelkhand usually prefer to grow wheat (41.97 per cent) as it ensures food security. Mentha (mint) and sugarcane are other preferred crops. Recent attempts by farmers to go for Mentha farming with export potential have further aggravated the groundwater situation.

Bundelkhand also suffers from low industrialisation. There are only two major industrial units in Bundelkhand; Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited at Jhansi set up in 1970s and a cement plant of Birla Group set up at Damoh in 1980s. There are a few medium and small-sized industries but none have emerged as a major source of employment. Railways at Jhansi do provide employment to about ten thousand people but 80 per cent of them are from outside Bundelkhand. The flourishing handmade tericot clothes industry at Ranipur, Jhansi died owing to neglect by state government. Tourism can become a lucrative industry in Bundelkhand but only places like Khajuraho in Chatterpur, Orcha in Tikamgarh, Panna Tiger sanctuary and Chitrakoot have been promoted. Beedi manufacture is the single largest source of non-agricultural employment.


The National Highway Development Project makes Bundelkhand the centre of the Golden Cross as east-west and north-south corridors cross each other at Jhansi. That may facilitate development in the future. But road construction is taking a toll, destroying hills to provide filler material for elevated roads. Had there been coordination by digging fresh ponds and making roads, then road building would have been accompanied by a chain of ponds for lean periods. However, lack of development on both sides of Bundelkhand is not indicative of paucity of funds; largely, money is eaten up by the entire machinery responsible for development.


Though female literacy is high and women constitute higher percentage in workforce in Bundelkhand, they suffer from the structural backwardness of the region. But there are some positive glimmers. In the Banda-Chitrakoot area, an all-women 'Gulabi-gang' wearing pink sarees has come up as bulwark against domestic and social violence of all kinds. Recently, an all-woman run local fortnightly newspaper 'Khabar Lahariya' in Bundelkhand was given King Sejong Literacy prize by UNESCO.


Why has Bundelkhand in particular, and UP and MP in general remained backward for so long? Has governance and development ever been on the agenda? With the strengthening of the grassroots democratic institutions after the 73rd and 74th amendments of Constitution, the quantum of development money sent to grassroots functionaries has increased phenomenally leading to networking of local mafias for appropriating all the political positions directly or by proxy.


Mayawati and the BSP consider Bundelkhand a political issue, instead of focussing on a development strategy. With her national ambitions, a couple of smaller states (if UP is divided into a few states) may give her a chance to accommodate some BSP stalwarts as regional satraps, while also cutting their size and influence. Mayawati had succeeded in dislodging the Samajwadi Party from Bundelkhand during the 2007 assembly elections, and now, she does not want to lose it to Congress. In MP, Shivraj Singh Chouhan dislodged Congress and he is also keen to stabilise the BJP regime there. So, while Congress wants to stage a comeback in Bundelkhand and the entire Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, BSP in UP and BJP in MP want to thwart that.


Bundelkhand's real identity and development don't appear to command attention on anyone's agenda.


The writer teaches politics at Christ Church College, Kanpur.







Even as the Budget exercise gathers steam, the finance minister has received two interesting, but highly debatable, proposals to levy cess. In the first, prominent chambers of industry, including Ficci and CII, have reportedly asked the government to levy a cess on direct taxes to fund social security for workers in the unorganised sector. In the second, the Supreme Court has suggested a cess on petrol and diesel to create a fund to compensate those road accident victims who have been hit by uninsured vehicles and are thus ineligible for compensation. Consider the first. It is difficult to argue that workers in the unorganised sector—the overwhelming majority of India's workforce—should not receive any form of social security. But a cess on direct taxes to fund such an exercise is clearly a second best option. The best option to address the genuine problems faced by workers in the unorganised sector is to reform labour laws so that a greater proportion of the workforce is drawn into the organised sector. Once in the organised sector, both the employer and employee will have to contribute towards social security in any case. It may, of course, be politically easier for the government to levy a cess and transfer funds to workers in unorganised sectors than to reform labour laws. But it may put the issue of labour law reform on the backburner for the long term—bad for industrialisation—and create additional avenues for leakages and rent seeking in the government system.


Even in the second case, it is difficult to argue against the goal of ensuring that every victim of a road accident receives compensation. But again, a central cess on petrol and diesel is at most a second best solution. The first-best solution is to ensure that all vehicles are insured, and in the event that they are not, offenders must be penalised. Creating a government financed insurance scheme will perhaps reduce the incentive for those who don't have insurance to buy it. It also threatens to let insurance companies that have been reluctant in handing out even legitimate compensation, off the hook. It will be too easy for insurance companies to pass the buck elsewhere. Also, and this is an argument that applies to both suggestions, what is the rationale for levying additional taxes for earmarked purposes? After all, direct (and indirect) taxes paid to the government in normal course ought to be enough to take care of all necessary spending on public goods. So, while there is every reason to carefully consider the end goals that industry bodies and the Supreme Court are suggesting, imposing a 'bad' tax is unnecessary and likely to pervert incentives.






When Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd was corporatised in 2000, the move was intended to help it emerge as a muscular incumbent. BSNL made a good start. India had only around a million mobile subscribers at that time. They are now 500 million strong. Till four years ago, the company was the most profitable of the telecom operators in the country. But things have been going downhill since. In 2008-09, it saw a net profit erosion of 81%, reporting the lowest net profit among the telcos. This fiscal, it's expected to post losses for the first time. In defence, the PSU underlines how competition has really grown, as the ongoing tariff wars show. But no operator is sheltered from such forces, so they don't really explain why BSNL has slipped to the fourth spot in terms of subscriber base. Another defence is that BSNL's expenditures on wireline operations, especially in rural India, are financially unviable. But the company has lost market share even in wireline telephony. Clearly, there is something deeply defective about the PSU's management. Now, yet another high-level government meeting has bought up the matter of selling 10% government equity in BSNL. But as long as key management issues aren't sorted out, what kind of credibility will this offering have with the investors?


The larger issue is that the government has no business being in the telecom business when private players are already offering plenty of quality services to Indian consumers. A 10% stake sale may put some money into the coffers of the BSNL, but while reins remain in government hands—which have been leading the company to one blunder after another—there is little chance of a convincing turnaround in its fortunes. Take the recent brouhaha over BSNL floating the world's largest tender in mobile space, for laying out Rs 36,000 crore worth of 93 million GSM lines. The company claims its expansion plans have been delayed because it has to follow established institutional procedures as opposed to private companies. But given declining market shares and profits, our columnists have questioned the business case for BSNL's decision to try to expand capacity before taking any steps to bring down operational costs. An excessive wage bill of Rs 10,000 crore for over 3 lakh employees represents 28% of BSNL's turnover, compared with Bharti Airtel's 4.6% employee-turnover ratio. There has been talk that before listing the PSU on the stock exchanges, about two-thirds of its employees will be shifted to a newly-created government enterprise, the National Optic Fibre Authority. This would be an easy way of sprucing up the company's financials before opening them to public scrutiny, but it's no substitute for substantive restructuring. Or complete privatisation.








Observers of India are generally struck by the extent to which statist solutions dominate. Economic reforms are seen as orphans in the political landscape. We commonly see hostility towards globalisation, a discomfort with markets, and support for a big role for the state in a diverse array of problems. However, the limited evidence that is available on the views of the population on these questions reveals some important differences in approach.


In India, there is a certain Left-wing bias in government policy, in the positions of an array of political parties, mainstream views in the media, and the thinking of intellectuals. The instinctive response in Indian public policy involves being focused on market failures and being optimistic about government failures. Generally, we think that India is Left of Centre, by international standards. To what extent does this reflect the beliefs of the mainstream citizenry?


The Pew Institute conducts surveys worldwide that can help us understand the variation in political perception of citizens across countries and across time. In India, they sample roughly 2,000 people, which is enough to get a good estimate at the all-India level. Their measurement is likely to have an urban bias.


The first interesting area is support for the free market. Their question is: "Please tell me whether you completely agree, mostly agree, mostly disagree or completely disagree with the following statements: most people are better off in a free-market economy, even though some people are rich and some are poor." In India, 62% of those polled agreed in 2002. This number went up to 81% in 2009. In 2009, this was the biggest proportion (of support) across the G20 countries.


On one hand, one wonders about how this question was translated into local languages and properly understood by respondents across the country. These difficulties would afflict all years. Even if there are some systematic problems in translation and comprehension, these cannot generate the rise in support from 2002 to 2009.


The second interesting area is support for globalisation. Their question is: "What do you think about the growing trade and business ties between India and other countries—do you think it is a very good thing, somewhat good, somewhat bad or a very bad thing for our country?" It is interesting to note that this question is about globalisation more broadly, and not narrowly international trade. Here, support in India grew from 88% in 2002 to 96% in 2009. Once again, in 2009, support in India was the highest in the world.


Why is support for globalisation so great in India when compared to industrial countries? One dimension of this could be the sense that for India there is only gain and no real down side to integrating with the world economy. In contrast, in rich countries, many people fear losing their jobs when facing competition with producers in India.


Another piece of evidence on these questions is found in the CMIE Consumer Pyramids data, where we get a measure of the fraction of voters who support Left parties. The overall number in the CMIE data stands at 5.4%, which is roughly consistent with the vote share seen in election data. Perhaps this is the hard-core constituency that opposes the market economy and opposes globalisation.


The urban Left support starts out at roughly 2% at age 20 and grows to 4% by age 40. India's median age is 26, and urbanisation is increasingly important. The opposition to market-oriented economics that is implied by support for Left parties is thus weakest in this most-important group (the young and urban). This might have induced a bias in the Pew Institute results, where sampling has an urban bias.


This age dimension might help us better understand the divergence between the broad sense that India is fairly dirigiste as opposed to survey evidence, which suggests otherwise. Perhaps the leadership in ideas of government, political parties, media and intelligentsia is disproportionately made up of older people. As an example, a person at the peak of his career at age 50 is a person born in 1960 with formative experiences in an India that is almost unrecognisably different from that found today.


Household surveys measure the situation with a random sample of the population, and half of India is below age 25. Hence, the picture as seen in household surveys is an unfiltered reflection of India as it is, giving greater credence to the views of the young. Perhaps there is a very different un-socialist India that is now rising up from below. If this is indeed the case, the positions of government, political parties, media and intellectuals could shift significantly to the Right as generational change takes place over the next 10 to 20 years.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








As debates on the issue of regional convergence or divergence continue, most evidence shows that regional inequality kept rising in the 1990s. Various theories have expounded different reasons for this trend. But when we look at the more recent figures, from the current decade, they show that more dramatic changes are occurring in the economy as the impact of liberalisation becomes more visible. Not only are the poorest states and the resource-rich states, which have been bogged down till now, catching up quickly with the rest, but new disparities are emerging between coastal and hinterland states, and also between states that have made greater gains in core areas of human resource development like education and the laggards.


The overall picture from 2000-01 to 2008-09 shows that topping the ranks of the 21 major states, with an SDP of at least Rs 10,000 crore at constant prices in the middle of the decade, were Haryana (9.1%), Uttarakhand (9.1%), Delhi (9%), Gujarat (8.8%) and Bihar (8.1%). This is an odd mix that included rich (Delhi), poor (Bihar), coastal (Gujarat), landlocked (Haryana) and new (Uttarakhand) states.


But a deeper perusal reveals a more rational picture. While the rich states, with per capita net SDP of more than Rs 40,000, continue to grow much faster, the poorest states, with per capita net SDP of less than Rs 20,000, are quickly catching up with the middle-income states, with per capita net SDP between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000.


Average numbers for the decade show that while overall annual growth in the richest states was 7.4%, that of middle-income states was 6.7% and that of the poorest states was 5.7%. The rich are making greater gains, as the pickup in the rich states was much faster, with the annual average growth picking up by 4.4 percentage points to get to 10.1% in the second half of the decade (here the annual average data was limited to 3-4 years).


But what was more striking was that low income states were able to close the gap, with their average annual growth accelerating by 2.7 percentage points in the second half, which is just two notches below the 2.9 percentage point increase clocked by the middle-income states. However, the 7.2% second half annual average growth in the low-income states still remained marginally lower than the 8.4% clocked by the middle-income states.


More importantly, the four Bimaru states—Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and UP—that are at the core of the rich-poor debate seem to have fared much better than even the middle-income states. Average growth rates in the Bimaru states accelerated by 3.5 percentage points, which is even better than the 2.9 percentage point improvement in the middle-income states. The largest gains were made by Bihar, followed by MP, Rajasthan and UP.


But the reduction in growth disparities between the poor- and middle-income states seems to have sparked off new disparities in other areas, the most significant of which seems to be that between coastal and hinterland states. Numbers for the first half of the decade show that annual average growth was strikingly similar in both the coastal and hinterland states, with the former clocking 5.8% and the latter 5.7%. But growth in the coastal states then accelerated sharply, going up by 3.4 percentage points to 9.2% in the second half of the decade. In contrast, growth in the hinterland states went up by only 2.5 percentage points to 8.2%.


However, on the positive front, note that the five resource-rich states—MP, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Jharkhand—that have generally lagged in growth have been able to keep up with the rest in the most recent period. While the 4.7% average growth in the mineral-rich states was slower than the 5.6% clocked by the other major states, the former were able to accelerate growth by 2.8 percentage points, the same as that of the other major states. And the 7.5% growth in the mineral-rich states in the second half of the year was just one percentage point lower than the 8.5% growth clocked by the other major states. The spurt in the growth of resource-based sectors like power and metals seems to have finally removed the curse on the resource-rich states.


The growing role of the resource base in fostering faster growth is evident not only in physical resources but also in social resources. A look at the supply of human capital from the gross enrolment rate in secondary education shows that states with enrolment levels of more than 50% fared much better than the rest.


The 11 states with higher enrolment rates clocked an annual average growth of 7.6% during the decade, which was substantially higher than the 5.8% achieved by the other major states. But what is more important is the greater gains made by the former. Numbers show that states with higher enrolment in secondary schools were able to improve growth rates by as much as 3.2 percentage points to 9.5% in the second half of the year, as compared to the 2.7% gain in the states with laggard educational attainments.








With over 44 companies filing the draft red herring prospectus with Sebi to raise around Rs 30,000 crore this year, there's a lot of buzz in the markets. But an analysis of IPOs from 2007 till now shows that 105 out of 159 offerings are reporting negative returns. The year 2007 boasted a record 103 IPOs. But 68 of them are reporting negative returns till date. Similarly, data from SMC Capitals shows that out of the 37 public issues that came out in 2008, only eight are showing profits. Of the 16 offerings last year, as many as 50% are showing negative returns.


These numbers cannot but disincentivise retail investors. Why should they pursue equity as an asset class when it delivers such poor returns? Going forward, it looks likely that IPOs will remain overvalued. This means that they will continue to impact the sentiments of retail investors negatively, which will have a negative impact on the overall growth of the markets.


Though IPOs did make a comeback towards the end of last year after a long lull, the listing performance of some of the high-profile companies was disappointing. This is raising concerns among retail investors about the recovery of primary markets, which is getting highly institutionalised. Also, most of the IPOs that held anchor investors' interest underperformed in comparison to the IPOs that had not received any investment from anchor investors. On an aggregate basis, of the Rs 6,000 crore mobilised by IPOs that had received anchor investors, the current mark-to-market loss is around 7%.


However, an analysis by Motilal Oswal shows that companies accounting for about 69% of India's market capitalisation are unlikely to need significant fresh equity capital for organic growth. This suggests that 2010-11 will be a good time for the government to aggressively pursue its disinvestment programme, which will pep up the confidence of retail investors in primary markets.


While the last leg of the bull market from 2007 to mid-2008 saw the debut of a third of all IPOs in the last seven years, investors cannot blame companies for the timings and high valuations. Going ahead, for retail investors, valuations will be the key deciding factor to invest in primary markets. Retail investors will be looking at the long-term past performance of various companies rather than just their future projections.








The fatal stabbing of 21-year-old Nitin Garg and the recovery of the burnt body of a Punjabi youth have re-ignited the debate about the safety of Indian students in Australia. Coming in the wake of a spate of attacks on Indian students over the past year, they are certainly disturbing. In addition to condemning the attacks and indirectly raising questions about the effectiveness of the steps taken by the Australian authorities, the Government of India has issued a restrain ed travel advisory asking Indian students Down Under to take "basic precautions in being alert to their own security." Regrettably, the official reaction in Australia, at the federal as well as the state level, has been less than satisfactory — a reaction wrapped around denial. Australian officials have busied themselves in discounting the possibility that racism could be a significant cause for Indian students being targeted. At a time when precious young lives have been lost and emotions are running high, it is poor consolation and bad diplomacy to be told that the number of attacks has been exaggerated or that Indian students are soft targets because they live or work in rough neighbourhoods. This kind of insensitivity was reflected in acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean's remark that such incidents happen not only in Melbourne but also in "Delhi and Mumbai."


It is possible that many of the attacks on Indian students in the Melbourne area are opportunistic rather than racial. But virtually ruling out racial motivation in advance of a proper police investigation of two brutal murders against a distressing background of attacks suggests that the authorities are making light of a serious problem. The Australian government needs to address, at the highest political level, the growing feeling among Indian students that their concerns about racial violence are not being addressed sincerely. This is against the background of a rise over the last few years in the number of attacks against the Indian community, as evidenced by the Victoria police's own data. Not surprisingly, visa applications from Indian students — who constitute the second largest foreign student contingent in Australia, after Chinese students — have shown a 46 per cent decline. This will certainly worry a nation where the higher education industry has emerged as the third largest export, valued close to $14 billion. Australia has built its reputation as an attractive educational destination by offering a variety of courses, good value for money, and the promise of a friendly environment. Its government needs to be firmly reminded that efforts to tackle an unacceptable series of attacks on young Indians can be undermined by a stance of defensiveness, denial, and insensitivity.







The accomplished oceanographer Sylvia Earle said: "You must love it before you are moved to save it." That is true as much for whales and their cetacean kin as it is for the vast oceans. After suffering shocking losses from mindless killing during the 20th century, whale populations are on the path to recovery. Most countries — the exceptions are a few led by Japan — have adopted a strong conservationist stance towards whales and dolphins. The forem ost priority today is to close the loopholes in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. The key provision under the whaling convention that enables countries to kill whales is the sanction for scientific research. There is general agreement that little science has emerged from the annual hunts, while the meat is allowed to be sold freely. A suggestion was made at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) last year in Madeira that the ban on commercial hunting should be lifted, as it is 'counterproductive.' The outgoing IWC chairman, William Hogarth, informally advocated a controversial policy of sustainable, regulated hunting. But such a view prioritises the narrow concerns of a small group of countries, often based on reactionary cultural notions, over enlightened international opinion that favours a science-based conservation framework.


Whaling massacres at least 1,500 of the great animals in an average year. There are many other less visible lethal threats that need to be addressed urgently. Ship strikes, pollution, net entanglement in fisheries, loss of food sources and man-made sonar and oil-drilling noise — all harm whales. In the case of the giant humpback whale, which is found in greater numbers in the southern hemisphere, only two per cent of the original population is believed to have survived at the time of the implementation of the moratorium. Happily, over the last two decades, their numbers have bounced back. These early positives reinforce the need for a strong framework to mitigate the gamut of threats to whales. Moreover, this arrangement should be no less rigorous than conservation actions for land animals. It is heartening that Australia and New Zealand will soon be launching non-lethal research on whales in Antarctica. This step can potentially produce enough scientific evidence leading to a full ban on killing of whales in the name of science. It can also be a model for all countries in the study of the life and behaviour of intelligent species that some see as the great apes of the sea.










Since December 30 last, a group of two dozen boys and girls, accompanied by a few adult women, has been squatting outside the Quetta Press Club, braving the biting cold that sweeps through Pakistan's Balochistan province at this time of the year. The group is on a daily hunger-strike, protesting the disappearance of a father or a brother, allegedly after he was taken away by state intelligence agencies.


Holding photographs of their missing family members, these children say they will sit there indefinitely — until they get some news of their family members.


In the group are the young sons and daughters of Ali Asghar Bungalzai, a 38-year-old Quetta tailor. For months after he was picked up in October 2001, military and intelligence officials reportedly kept assuring his family that he would be released soon. Between 2006 and 2007, the children — all of them then under 20 — stood outside the press club for a full 371 days, demanding that their father be restored to them. They were persuaded to leave only after the Governor assured them that he would take a personal interest in tracking down their father. But Bunglazai remains missing to this day.


A woman in the group told journalists that she was looking for her brother Zakir Majeed Baloch, a leader of the Baloch Students Organisation, who went missing on June 8, 2009, allegedly after having been whisked away by an intelligence agency. She said she was trying to get human rights organisations to exert pressure on the government for the recovery of her brother and other missing Baloch.


Majeed went missing while he was travelling by road between Mastung and Khuzdar. He was picked up twice before — in 2007 and 2008. After his release in 2008, he said he had been detained and tortured at the Qulli camp, a military detention centre in the Quetta Cantonment.


There are plenty of similar stories. Mushtaq Baloch, also a BSO activist, disappeared in March 2009. He was in the first year of his intermediate course at the Degree College in Khuzdar and was picked up along with his friends and fellow student activists Kabir Baloch and Ataullah Baloch.


Some months after he went missing, an unidentified caller phoned Mushtaq's family with the information that a body was lying at a location in Mach in Bolan district. His brothers rushed to Mach but found nothing. Since then, there has been no news of any of the three boys.


While the issue of enforced disappearances in Balochistan is a continuing tragedy for the affected families, for the alienated province, it is yet another festering wound inflicted by Islamabad after the Musharraf regime began military operations there in 2005 to quell a low-intensity separatist insurgency, which is often blamed on India. By the government's own estimate, there are 1,300 cases of enforced disappearances. But according to the Voice For the Missing Baloch Persons, the organisation that is behind the protest outside the Press Club, at least 8,000 Baloch are missing after being picked up by the army or the paramilitary Frontier Corps, or one or the other intelligence agency.


Earlier this week, the protesting children were joined by a sizeable number of women as they marched to the Provincial Assembly to draw attention to their cause. The rally was unusual in itself. In Balochistan, it is only the rare woman that is seen outdoors. "In a society where women hardly step out of their homes, if these women have taken to the streets in protest, there has to be a very good reason," Nasrullah Baloch, convener of the organisation, told The Hindu.


The issue of the missing persons is now seen as one of the biggest hurdles in the way of efforts by the PPP-led government for reconciliation with Balochistan. In November 2009, Islamabad announced a package of political, administrative and financial measures for the restive province.


The package is called the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (The Beginning of the Rights of Balochistan), the clunky title managing to convey two things: one, the Baloch people and the province had been deprived of their rights; and two, this package was the "beginning" of the reconciliation process.


But it was rejected even by moderate Baloch politicians. A major criticism was that it contained only a promise to consider in an undetermined future crucial concessions such as constitutional reforms for provincial autonomy. Baloch politicians were also angered by the announced "demilitarisation" replacing the military with the Frontier Corps. The paramilitary evokes more dread than the Army in the province.


Writing in the Dawn newspaper, Sanaullah Baloch, a young leader of the Baloch National Party, who resigned from the Senate last year to highlight what he called the government's indifference to Balochistan, said no reconciliation would be possible unless the Constitution was changed for maximum, even "asymmetric," devolution. He called for international mediation and facilitation, and for international guarantors to underwrite all promises made by Islamabad to the Baloch people.


The BNP at least still believes a solution is possible within the framework of the Pakistan federation. Not so many others do. According to Rashid Rehman, editor of the Daily Times newspaper, the government has failed to appreciate that the atmosphere in Balochistan has undergone a dramatic change.


"The demands that have now emerged are far more radical than anything before. Now the Baloch are talking about separation, secession, independence, and it's being talked about openly, it is being discussed in the political space," said Mr. Rehman, who fought in the 1970s Baloch insurgency on the side of the guerrillas.


A major narrative in the Baloch discourse is the "betrayal" of the province by successive governments in Islamabad, he said, and hence the new demands for international guarantors and third-party mediation. The minimum that "even a halfway house package" would have to contain, according to him, is provincial autonomy through changes in the Constitution, which would allow all decisions to be made in the province. Crucially, it would give the province control over the natural gas found in its territory and any possible oil find. "The relationship with the centre will have to be reversed completely, no less," said Mr. Rehman.


The government, meanwhile, has taken some tentative confidence-building steps, in line with the measures announced in the package. In December, it withdrew 89 cases registered against political leaders and activists, including Brahmdagh Bugti, president of the Balochistan Republican Party, who is alleged to be leading the insurgency, Balochistan National Party president Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Jamil Akbar Bugti, son of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti.


But the missing hundreds — or thousands — remain missing, despite the promise in the package to release those against whom there are no charges and produce the remaining before a competent court. A total of five missing persons are reported to have returned home after the package was announced. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court also added its voice to the cause, saying reconciliation in Balochistan would be impossible unless the missing were traced.


"This is the biggest humanitarian crisis in Balochistan right now," said Nasurllah Baloch of the VFMBP, "and the elected government should play its role in tracing them. Press charges against them if you want, but produce them before a court."


But the question often asked is whether the elected government really has the power to bring back the missing and end the practice of enforced disappearances. It is well known that the security establishment plays a big role in shaping Pakistan's Balochistan policy. Some would say the insurgency makes this necessary, but it is widely acknowledged that this has tied the government's hands from doing everything it can to heal the wounds.


Revealingly, there have been several cases of enforced disappearances since February 2008, when the PPP came to power and Asif Ali Zardari offered an "unconditional apology" to the Baloch, pledging to "embark on a new highway of healing and mutual respect." Mr. Nasrullah Baloch alleges that people have gone missing, including Sana Sangat, a leader of Brahmdagh Bugti, ever since the package was announced. Despite the difficulties, government circles remain optimistic that the Balochistan package will soon start working its magic.


At the end of December 2008, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani visited Balochistan and held a mid-sea Cabinet meeting off Gwadar. It lifted the national mood somewhat. But more to the point, on the call of the Baloch National Front, Gwadar and two other districts observed a total strike on the day of his visit, while in Quetta, the families of the missing people marked the day with a protest march.









The air in Jerusalem is thick with religiosity. Competing claims based on the three great Religions of the Book — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — cry out for the suspension of all disbelief. You are invited to walk several hundred centuries into the past to revisit the conflicts that in many ways are at the root of the 60-year-old crisis in the Middle East today.


No wonder tourists, visitors and even residents are awe-struck by the holiness of the place and some are taken in by the Jerusalem Syndrome — waiting for Christ to return; or the advent of the Jewish Messiah, the Redeemer, son of King David, who will usher in an era of peace; or look in wonder at the Al Aqsa Mosque from where Prophet Muhammad ascended the golden stairs to the Seventh Heaven.


"Jerusalem is a bubble," said writer Shifra Horn over dinner. As we ate a delicious kosher meal in the city just a few days before Christmas — six Indian journalists were guests of the Israeli government — Ms. Horn talked about the Jerusalem Syndrome. "Haven't you come across people waiting for the Second Coming of Christ? The Crusaders called it the Jerusalem fever… after a visit here people fantasise about the city for the rest of their lives."


Here is where myth blends into history, fiction and legend are presented as a melodramatic reality play, and history cannot be separated from mythology and legend without offending someone's religious sensitivity. But most of all, Jerusalem and the legends associated with it are an intrinsic part of the political plan to legitimise the presence of a Zionist state in the midst of predominantly Muslim Arab nations.


In the old walled city of Jerusalem — that was part of Jordan till 1967 and is now under illegal occupation of Israel — Jewish people from all over the world come to the Western Wall (popularly known as the Wailing Wall) to grieve over the two lost temples by which they define their nationhood. The old Wall, we were told, is what remains of the temple complex, marking the compound where the Biblical King Solomon's temple stood, never mind the fact that the grand old Al Aqsa Mosque has been standing at the spot since the eighth century A.D. And as if this was not enough to make us tremble under the weight of the old conflicts, a few metres away Stations of the Cross mark the path Jesus took to Crucifixion. And the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the empty grave from where Jesus miraculously rose from the dead three days after his death.


Myth and legend dating back some 3,000 years are an inseparable part of Zionism. This is the Biblical "promised land" and Jerusalem is central to it. The now non-existent Jewish temples on this Temple Mount are crucial to the Israelis' claim that this is their ancient land.


In 2002, Yasser Arafat had challenged Israelis to find a "single stone from the Temple of Solomon." They have been digging around for 34 years without finding even one, he pointed out.


Undoing the intervening centuries since King Solomon and pushing under the carpet the atrocities inflicted on Palestinians and Arabs has been an official Israeli project from the start. In a lengthy article "An Introduction to the Israeli-Palestine Conflict," the radical American scholar Norman Finkelstein quotes the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion, to make the point that "settlement" was the weapon used by the Zionist movement "to establish a great Jewish fact" in Israel.


The "great Jewish fact," it would seem, is being established by not only presenting religious beliefs as history, but by engineering the demography of the walled city.


A Moroccan quarter was cleaned out to make way for the compound in front of the Wailing Wall; after the 1967 "capture" of East Jerusalem by Israel, thousands of Muslim Arabs left or were forced to leave. Israeli law prevents them from returning to claim their properties. We saw refurbished modern apartments housing ultra-orthodox Jews that have come up exactly across the compound.


It seems the process is slow but never-ending. A CNN report said in 2008 that more than 4,500 residency permits of Muslim Arabs were withdrawn and more than 8,500 were "cleansed out" in the previous years. Mr. Finkelstein quotes British Labour MP Richard Crossman as saying in the 1940s: "Zionism is… the attempt by the European Jew to build his national life on the soil of Palestine…" and the Arab must "go down before the march of progress".


The former Israeli Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan (whose incognito visit to India in the 1970s led to India eventually establishing diplomatic ties with Israel) had admitted that Israelis were "a generation of settlers, and without the combat helmet and the barrel of a gun, we will not be able to plant a tree or build a house."


He might as well have added that without U.S. aid of some $3 billion a year and German guilt money totalling some €64 billion (including sums paid to private entities) the Israeli economic miracle of $24,000 per capita income, a war machine like no other, and lush fruits and vegetables in greenhouses in the middle of the desert may not have been possible.


"There is a longing for peace... but in 1967 war was imposed on us [by the Arabs]," continued Ms. Horn over dinner. "Yes, we took advantage of that war to take and keep a bigger Israel [including the walled city of Jerusalem]," she admitted. "We are the survivors of the Holocaust… everywhere we lived as minorities… now we are settled here; for us this country is a shelter…"


But what about the Palestinians, whose home this was? "I'm very, very sad we cannot live like in a normal country…we believe our [Muslim Arabs and Jews] DNA is similar… Palestinians were Jews converted to Christianity or Islam…"


The script was familiar to Indians. After all, have we not heard the Hindu Right fanatics declare their love for Muslims (and Christians), for after all, were they not Hindus not so long ago?


As Jewish settlers from around the world were invited to return to "the promised land" to resolve what some European scholars have described as Europe's "Jewish problem," the price of European anti-semitism and Hitler's genocide began to be paid by the Arabs. Edward Said put it briefly: what the Holocaust was to the Jews, the Naqba (the day of disaster when Israel was created in 1948) is to the Palestinians.


Just 20 months ago when Israel celebrated its 60th birth anniversary, some 100 Jewish intellectuals wrote a letter to The Guardian explaining why they would not celebrate the event. Even as Israel was born, Plan Dalet was put into operation, authorising the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of its people, they said. Some 400 villages were wiped off the map. In all 7,50,000 Palestinians became refugees. They will not celebrate Israel's birth.


The question of refugees popped up during a conversation with an Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry official. "Yes," he said, "there were refugees, but the total number was small. Instead of keeping them in camps, why couldn't Lebanon and other Arab countries absorb this population? They want to keep the problem alive…" Of course, the question of Israel absorbing them did not arise, we supposed. Israeli law does not allow Muslim Arabs who have left their homes, for whatever reason, to return.


Through myth-making or an act of faith, the repeated attempt is to prove that Jews have been here since Biblical times and that this land belongs to them. Arab presence is simply an inconvenient fact.


It is the same theme everywhere. "Sixty years ago we were given this land to set up kibbutz Ein Gedi," said Ron Meir as we were shown around the botanical gardens maintained by the kibbutz, situated not far from Jerusalem. "We were just 3 km from the Jordanian border. The idea was to establish a Jewish presence in this desert…"


But the young in Israel may be changing; at least that is the hope, said film producer Sylvain Biegeleisen. "Hundreds of films have been made about the conflict… I made a series of giving cameras to children on both sides…when Rabin and Arafat shook hands I made a film on what people felt… on both sides they want peace… Yes, there is a censor, but few films have been banned..."


There are strong, dissenting voices within Israel — even among the young who are forced to do military duty. But reports suggest that there is a renewed attempt by the Israeli government to muzzle all voices that question its militarist policies.


Something needs to be done. "Israelis need to integrate with the Middle East. We cannot forever remain like some strange European bodies in the middle of the desert," said foodie Janna Gur, noting the Lebanese, the Moroccan and the Palestinian influences on what goes as Israeli cuisine.


When will peace come to the Middle East, pocked by conflict for 60 years? Why does Israel have to respond with such ferocity to every hostile act by Hamas even when that has not caused much damage or injury? David Goldfarb in the South Asia Department of Israel's Foreign Ministry, who attempted an answer, was, perhaps, looking for a Second Coming of a different kind: "For that to happen we would need two Gandhis, one on our side and another on the other side."








The sudden retirement of two senior Democratic Senators shook the party's leaders on Wednesday and signalled that U.S. President Barack Obama is facing a perilous political environment that could hold major implications for this year's midterm elections and his own agenda.


The rapidly shifting climate, less than a year after Mr. Obama took office on the strength of a historic Democratic sweep, was brought into focus by the announcements that Senators Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota would retire rather than wage uphill fights for re-election.


With the chances growing that the election in November would end the 60-vote majority Democrats enjoy in the Senate — the practical threshold for being able to overcome united Republican opposition — the President and his party face additional urgency to make progress on his agenda this year.


There was no immediate sign that the developments would further complicate White House efforts to secure final passage of Mr. Obama's main domestic priority, the overhaul of the health care system, but the political pressure on Democrats from competitive states and districts will not make it any easier.


Following on the heels of the news of the Senators' retirements, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, a Democrat, also announced on Wednesday that he would not seek a second term.


Together, the developments heightened a perception that a conservative push against the President's ambitious agenda, a sluggish recovery from the deep recession and an outbreak of angry populism have combined to deplete Mr. Obama's political strength and give Republicans a chance for big gains in this year's Senate and House races.


To the degree that the retirements reflect increasing scepticism among voters about the direction Democrats are pushing the country, Mr. Obama could face a tougher time winning legislative support as he presses ahead with initiatives on climate change, financial regulation, education and other issues.


Republicans seized on the resignations as a way to raise money and generate enthusiasm among voters in their conservative base. "Voters and donors out in the country see two senior Democrats, both of whom were perceived to be safe a year ago, now retiring for fear of losing," said Rob Jesmer, the executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "This further underscores our belief that with each passing day, the environment is getting better and better for Republicans, which energises our people and demoralises theirs."


The White House and Democratic Party leaders reached out on Wednesday to reassure other potentially vulnerable Democrats in an effort to prevent any more retirements or party-switching. Aides to Mr. Obama played down the developments, saying it would be foolish to make predictions now about the November elections before Mr. Obama had even delivered his State of the Union address. If health care legislation passes and the economy improves, advisers believe the President and the party will be in a stronger position by fall.


"We're weathering the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression," said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, "so it's not a hospitable environment for incumbents generally. We're in the majority party, so the brunt of that falls on us."


"There's not an election tomorrow," said Mr. Axelrod. "There's not an election next week. There's not an election for 11 months."


The effects of the retirements are not entirely negative for Democrats. Senator Dodd had been widely expected to lose if he had stayed in the race; his departure clears the way for Democrats to put in a stronger candidate — Richard Blumenthal, the state Attorney-General, who announced on Wednesday that he was running. Senator Dorgan was facing tough going as it was; his departure, Democrats and Republicans said, left the Democrats with an uphill battle to hold on to the seat in North Dakota.


While Democrats seemed confident about holding on to a majority in the Senate, they acknowledged that keeping their 60-seat majority would be difficult and that 51 votes are not enough to advance most legislation in the face of united Republican opposition.


For Mr. Obama, that means the legislative clock is ticking. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the retirements of Senator Dodd and Senator Dorgan would not create a ripple effect among other senators facing re-election. Senator Menendez said the Senators were hiring campaign staff and raising money with an eye toward November.


Still, seldom has a week passed in the last few months when a House or Senate Democrat, fearful of the outcome in the midterm elections, has not switched parties or retired. And the image of Democrats struggling could have the effect of encouraging other Democratic officeholders worried about the political climate to step aside. "We should be concerned," said Governor Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, "and we should develop our plans and our policies and the programs we are going to push for with an eye to 2010. But there's no reason to panic."


While Republicans appear to be in a position to make strong gains in Congress, analysts say they appear unlikely to regain control of either the House or Senate, given the strong margins Democrats built after 2008. In the Senate, Democrats hold 58 seats and Republicans 40 seats; the remaining two are held by independents. About seven Democratic seats and four Republican-held seats appear to be in play now.


In the House, Democrats have a 256-178 majority. Despite the focus on the Democrats' problems, Republicans are faring worse this year in terms of resignations putting seats in play. In the House, 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats are retiring. — © 2010 The New York Times News Service








Administration officials said on Wednesday that a classified Pentagon report concludes that of some 560 detenus transferred abroad from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, about one in five has engaged in, or is suspected of engaging in, terrorism or militant activity.


The finding comes amid reports that one former Guantanamo detenu released in 2007 under the administration of President George W. Bush is now involved in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group that President Barack Obama has said sponsored the attempt to bomb an American airliner on Christmas Day.


Mr. Obama announced on Tuesday that he was suspending the transfers of additional detenus from Guantanamo to Yemen, even though he said he remained committed to his plan, now delayed, to close the prison.


A Pentagon report released last May found that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners who had been transferred had engaged in terrorism or militant activity or was suspected of doing so.


Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, would not confirm the findings in the most recent Pentagon report, but he said on Wednesday at a briefing that "the trend hasn't reversed itself." He said that determining which Guantanamo detenus should be released was an "inexact science" and that officials were "making subjective calls based upon judgment, intelligence, and so there is no foolproof answer in this realm."


Civil liberties and human rights groups sharply criticised the May 2009 report and earlier Pentagon reports during the Bush administration concluding that substantial numbers of former Guantanamo detenus had engaged in terrorism or militant activity. The groups said that the information was too vague to be credible and amounted to propaganda in favour of keeping the prison open.


In the May report, the Pentagon said that 74 former prisoners were engaged in or suspected of engaging in terrorism or militant activity, but it identified only 29 of them by name. Of those, many were described as associating with terrorists or training with terrorists, with few other details provided. The Pentagon provided no way of authenticating the 45 unidentified former detenus.


The Obama administration has been highly sensitive to Republican criticism that it is soft on terrorism and has sought to distance itself from the decisions to release Guantanamo detenus during the Bush administration.


Mr. Obama inherited 242 detenus at Guantanamo when he took office, and so far he has released or transferred 44. Of the 198 remaining, about 92 are from Yemen. Of those, just under 40 have been cleared for release.


An administration official said that the White House had "been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight." The official was critical of the Bush administration for what the official said was a sloppy, ad hoc process for determining which detenus would be released.


Mr. Obama's decision to suspend the transfers of detenus from Guantanamo to Yemen was another reflection of his difficulties in closing the prison.


The President was already on track to miss his self-imposed one-year deadline for closing the prison by January 22, but evidence that the Qaeda branch in Yemen was behind the attempted airliner attack on December 25 means he will probably fall further behind schedule. — © 2010 The New York Times News Service







America's love affair with the automobile could be sputtering to an end. Some 14 million cars were taken out of action in 2009, 4 million more than rolled off the assembly lines and on to the roads, a report from the Earth Policy Institute said on January 6.


It was the first time more cars were scrapped than sold since the second world war, reducing the size of the U.S. car fleet from an all-time high of 250 million to 246 million.


Last year was an extraordinarily bad year for the U.S. car industry. Two of the three big car-makers — GM and Chrysler — went through bankruptcy and were bailed out by the U.S. government.


Sales fell 21.2 per cent from 2008 and the total sales volume was the lowest since 1982. Many consumers held off buying new cars because of fears of losing their jobs.


The Obama administration's efforts to spur demand by offering motorists up to $4,500 on trade-ins of older cars and pick-up trucks saw 7,00,000 older models taken off the road last year. But that did not affect the total number of vehicles on the road because consumers could only take advantage of the scrappage scheme if they replaced their old clunkers with more efficient vehicles.


Lester Brown, the director of the Earth Policy Institute, said the slump in car sales went beyond the economic recession. Americans may finally have decided that — with cars — enough is enough. The country now has 246 million licensed cars for 209 million licensed drivers. "This is not a one-time event. We expect the shrinkage to continue into the indefinite future," said Mr. Brown.


America has also undergone a transition into a largely urbanised society, with four out of five residents living in towns. Major U.S. corporations are now taking congestion into account when planning new offices, said Mr. Brown. Washington and other major U.S. cities have been raising parking fees to increase revenue. Others are exploring congestion charges.


A younger generation — unsure about finding a job after high school or college — is also far less likely to see car ownership as a rite of passage, Mr. Brown argues. According to the report, the number of teenagers with licences peaked at 12 million in 1978 but is now under 10 million.


"When I was a kid, socialising revolved around getting into a car and going for a drive. Today kids socialise over the internet and on smart phones," said Mr. Brown.


"No one knows how many cars will be sold in the years ahead, but given the many forces at work, U.S. vehicle sales may never again reach the 17 million that were sold each year between 1999 and 2007. Sales seem more likely to remain between 10 million and 14 million a year," he said. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









The court, as is common in India, was looking at the larger of picture of religious or communal sentiment, which should not be "offended". A short list of banned publications, as examples, would include Aubrey Menen's Ramayana Retold, Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and James Laine's Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India. Added to this are the works of renowned artist MF Husain, which are not officially banned, but the artist has been in exile for three years and his works are rarely exhibited for fear of violent vandalism by hotheads.


BR Ambedkar's Riddles of Hinduism and Thoughts on Pakistan are not officially banned, but seldom seen on bookstands. Many books and films which deal with sex often get banned as well.

All these show a poor record in freedom of expression for the world's largest democracy. We have suffered as a whole because of various forms of religious and sectarian intolerance and violence.


Yet, banning thought cannot be the answer. Rather, we need to do the opposite — have a wide inflow of thoughts and ideas of as many sorts as possible. Artistic expression and intellectual thought are two major bulwarks of human achievement.


For those works that are malicious and dangerous, there are recourses available — approaching the courts for slander or libel is one such. There is also a larger court of public opinion which can take a substandard product and treat it with contempt. If Bhasin's book makes unsubstantiated claims, scholars and historians can deal with him — the court has intriguingly pointed to his poor scholarship but that cannot be a matter of law. But in many cases, we also lose out on informed thought because we pit possible angry reactions against the greater idea of freedom of expression.


The courts only seem to be echoing government or certain public sentiment in such banning decisions. Perhaps we need to look, as a society, at the larger picture.







The army headquarters seems to be dragging its feet in taking action against lieutenant general Avadesh Prakash and others in the eastern command. They have been found guilty of favouring a private builder at Sukhna by a commission of inquiry (COI) which has recommended Prakash's dismissal.



The discipline and vigilance branch has concurred with the verdict and the recommendation. The army is known to act against errant officers, and it should not be found wanting this time round.


Issues of favouritism and financial irregularities are not exactly new in the defence forces, but any hint of complacency in the matter is just unacceptable. The canker of moral laxity in the public sphere that is so prevalent in the country cannot be allowed to spread to the security establishment. Every time it raises its ugly head, it has to be firmly put down. The army must act without hesitation against those who have been found guilty.


Prakash and others can contest the conclusions of both the COI and the DV branch of the army if they feel that they did not get a fair hearing, and they can go in appeal to the Supreme Court. But the army cannot be seen to be dithering in the matter because that would send out the wrong message that there is no price to be paid for acts of indiscretion.


The Sukhna scam or similar episodes should be seen as a wake-up call about all that needs to be set right in the armed forces. There is no scope for arguments of moral relativism which imply that if the larger society is lax then the institutions within it — like the army or the judiciary — cannot remain immune.


Though logically plausible, it is a slippery slope that should be avoided. There is need to expect and demand the highest standards from all the public institutions, and it is totally unacceptable to lower the guard when it comes to the armed forces.


To be fair to the army, the interior checks and balances in place seem to be quite effective. They need to be strengthened further by allowing the procedures in tackling corrupt officers to play out. In this instance, it requires Prakash should be dismissed from service without much ado.


The fight against corruption is indeed a rearguard battle, and the army is the place where it needs to be waged with full force. Neither defence minister AK Antony nor army chief Deepak Kapoor should blink now.







Yes, this is, inevitably, one of the many end-of-the-year pieces that will litter journals and magazines for the next few days. It's not just a look backwards but a carrying forward of memories, which are never bound by calendars and dates. Events, people, even emotions and the recollection of emotions, of perceptions and the awareness of mistakes made, the quiet satisfaction of something that went right, went as planned.

We will, each of us, have our own private stock of all this, and the public lists will be presented by the media for our collective edification. Invariably, though, it is the private stock that we will treasure (or not want to, depending on what it is). And the New Year will make no difference to their existence, really, because it is, finally, just a new set of dates. Invented dates, not dates that go with changing seasons or anything like that.


For most of us, the great regret is that our memories die with us, gone forever, as if they'd never been. Except of course, for those who put some of it down in books — memoirs, and even novels, poetry and essays, from all of which personal memories can be teased out, at least to an extent. Many of these end up as piles of dusty old books that eventually end up being recycled, or travel to some unknown Valhalla for forgotten books.


But some stay back, although the writers may well not know that it will. John Keats never thought any of his writings would be remembered, and therefore wanted that his tomb carry the words (which it does) 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water'.

Not so with others. Shakespeare was confident that whatever he wrote would last well beyond him; in one of his finest sonnets he says to his love that her beauty will never fade, because "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."


'This' being, of course, the poem itself. He was supremely confident it would last for all time, as, in fact, it has.

Isn't that what really lies behind the festivities the world over, the hectic partying, the consumption of large quantities of alcohol? Fear? Fear that oblivion lies in wait just around the corner for most of us, which will swallow us up as if we had never been?


Celebrities, world leaders and others who are kept alive in historical accounts do live on, but one wonders if they were truly the persons history says they were. The fact that the perception of scholars of some personages differ over time bears this out. Was Attila a barbaric, cruel killer or a shrewd leader with a vision far beyond his time?


It isn't so much the awareness of oblivion as the not knowing whether it does or not that pervades our sensibilities. The transition to a new set of dates is in a sense a triumph for us all; it's as if we're saying, 'See? We've come through!' Reason enough, then, to rejoice, for those of us who have not, and will never, write immortal novels or poetry, or act in a manner that will be remembered for all time.


We, the 'masses' as politicians are so fond of calling us, need the celebration as a sort of collective raising of our personal standards or flags, the collective shaking of spears against the inexorable passage of time, cold and impersonal as it is.


Much in the public domain will stay with us as a part of our personal memories, at least for a while. The memory of 13-year-old Ruchika Girhotra, denied her youth and the excitement that comes with growing up, because of a brutal man's coarse sexual urges and subsequent implacable hate; of the skill and dedication of our space scientists, working on a tiny budget and yet taking us to the stars.


But, finally, it will be the most personal memories that we will take with us, and with it a sense of anticipation that this new set of dates brings. Only very peculiar people will look down the future months with gloom and foreboding; most others will do so with hope, however casual they may appear to be, or be seen to be.
That sense of hope and anticipation stays with us for a little while, and then they fade into more immediate expectations or apprehensions. That's when the new year finally and firmly takes hold, and we're well and truly in 2010.


There's still time for that to happen, though. The hope, the anticipation, the subconscious fear of oblivion, at least of not knowing whether it will come, and when, is still very much in the air and most of us are within that. What it translates into is merry-making, jollity and for those who prefer the more immediate oblivion of alcohol, then much drunkenness without a thought to what follows in the shape of a hangover when you wish you had, in fact, faded away. The readiness, as our old friend wrote, is all.







Just when you begin to believe that there is no God, the skies open and a thunderbolt strikes you in the chest but keeps you alive to hear a pronouncement from the clouds saying "I am that I am, foolish mortal. Those who doubt shall suffer rout and this thunderbolt's a mere warning, the next will be a boot where it hurts!"



That is of course just a way of speaking. What I meant was that just as I was beginning to believe the propaganda I read day after day for global warming, the coldest spell for 50 years hits England where I am — stranded in Dairy Cottage in a valley in Wiltshire, the home of Vidia Naipaul where I was visiting for two days before waking up on the third with a foot of snow on the window sills, the valet around white and the roads clogged to impassability.


The snows will get heavier, the roads will be more impassable, the airports and railway stations will freeze and cease operation and the only sound of traffic will be the beating of the fans of emergency ambulance helicopters winging their way to the sick.

We, which means I and Nadira (Lady Naipaul) only realised that there was a deluge coming when we went yesterday to a supermarket to pick up a packet of dumpling mix for the evening's stew I offered to cook.


The supermarket was being stormed as though it were the Bastille in 1789. The aisles were clogged with trolleys and yummy-mummies with their brats, the queues at the checkouts were more thronged than an al Qaeda march in Bradford. And this was sleepy Salisbury!


So what was going on? The assistant at the checkout told us that there had been a two week snow alert and these good citizens from the outlying villages of Salisbury had flooded in to stock up on food in case they were snowed in and starved to death. "Stupid British panic," said Nadira and we paid for our dumpling mix and a few bottles of cider and drove back to Dairy Cottage. The others, it appeared, were stocking up for the siege of Stalingrad.


I was to be driven to the railway station the next morning to get on with life in London, but it was not to be. The snow fell even as we, oblivious, slept putting paid to this year's global warming predictions. The polar bears would be walking off their floes and surveying their iced Arctic winter wonderland. Al Gore would be discussing prospects with his bank manager.


We woke up in Dairy Cottage and counted the bags of flour, rice, daal, the cans of sardines, the servings of frozen fish, cauliflower, corn, peas in the freezer, the cartons of milk in the cupboards and the wine in the cellar. We concluded as Robert Clive did that we could withstand a long freeze.


The last time I was thus stranded was in a flat in Lokhandwala in Mumbai some years ago when myself, two friends and my Nepalese-man-of-several-trades Ganesh, were gheraoed by the monsoon flood waters that followed two days of torrential rain.

With no way out of the building or down the streets and no markets to go to we took an inventory of the number of chappatis we could make, the servings of daal and rice and the absolutely necessary supply of onions in the basket. The four days of the flood were passed in a heroic spirit of survival.


Only on switching on the TV did we see that the floods had caused fatal landslides and traffic disasters elsewhere in Mumbai and had been the occasion of real heroism, sacrifice, charity, concern for others and stoicism from the citizenry of the city.

I shall now turn on the British TV news and will no doubt find reports of the same tragedy and sacrifice here and now in the unexpected, unforgiving snow of Wiltshire. Then I shall twitter Al Gore.






When you dream, you see the events of fifty years within an hour. You actually feel that fifty years have passed. Which is correct, the time of one hour of waking consciousness or the fifty years of dreaming consciousness? Both are correct.


Pascal is right when he asserts that if the same dream comes to us every night, we should be just as much occupied by it as by the things which we see every day. To quote his words: "If an artisan were certain that he would dream every night for fully twelve hours that he was a king, I believe that he would be just as happy as a king who dreams every night for twelve hours that he is an artisan".


Just as a large fish swims alternately to both the banks of the river, the right and the left one, or to the eastern and the western, so glides the Purusha between both the boundaries, the boundary of dream and the boundary of the waking state.


This change in consciousness brings about either the waking or the dream experience. The objects do not change in themselves. There is only change in the mind.


Dream is called the intermediate state, because it is midway between waking and the deep sleep state, between Jagrat and Sushupti.


The dream world is separate from the waking one. Deep sleep is separate from both the dream world and the world in the waking state.


The sun is the source and the temporary resting place of its rays. The rays emanate from the sun and spread in all directions at the time of sunrise. Even so, the states of wakefulness and dream come out from the state of deep sleep and re-enter it and lose themselves there to follow the same course again.


As soon as you wake up, the dream becomes unreal. Both the dream and the waking states are not present in deep sleep. Therefore, all the three states are unreal.

Swami Sivananda









The fidayeen attack at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, on Wednesday dented the hopes of the people who had begun to think that terrorism in the Kashmir valley was gasping for breath. Everybody was expecting a new dawn when two heavily armed terrorists struck a police vehicle, leading to the death of one policeman. Both terrorists, who took up positions in a hotel, were also killed in the gun-battle that ended on Thursday. The attack appears to be an act of desperation, as militants are finding it difficult to keep their local support base intact. The people of Kashmir, who are sick of the activities of extremists, want the revival of normal business activity. The latest fidayeen strike has come after a gap of over two years. Such an incident had last occurred on November 11, 2007, when militants stormed the battalion headquarters of the CRPF in the state's summer capital.


Wednesday's incident carries a message: the security forces have to remain vigilant even when the terrorist problem appears to be coming to an end. The terrorists' infrastructure on the other side of the border has still not been dismantled. Nor has Pakistan provided proof of having scrapped its policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. There is little pressure on Kashmir-bound terrorist outfits in Pakistan to close down their camps. Infiltration from across the border may rise after the harsh winter months come to an end.


The Centre has withdrawn 30,000 troops from the state in view of the changing reality in the valley. But the latest development shows that wisdom lies in going slow. Of course, there is tremendous pressure on the militants from the security forces, but those trained to cause mayhem can always spring a surprise. So long as the armed forces remain deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should not be withdrawn. The successive Army Chiefs had a point when they took the stand that the armed forces needed the AFSPA to carry out counter-insurgency operations effectively. Any step that can make the functioning of the armed forces difficult must be avoided.








The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment's recommendation to the government to include caste as one of the criteria in the 2011 census is ill-advised. Based on a suggestion from the National Backward Classes Commission, the Ministry is believed to have asked for a differential headcount of the Other Backward Classes and reassessment of their condition so that some changes could be incorporated in the OBC list. The Ministry is reportedly of the view that a caste-based census will help government know the exact population of various castes as also their degree of progress. The proposal, however, is devoid of merit because caste-based census will not only re-affirm caste but also perpetuate the caste system. Moreover, this runs counter to our founding fathers' avowed aim to establish a casteless, progressive and egalitarian society.


Significantly, the Centre has been saying no to accepting the demand for caste-based census for quite some time. It is noteworthy that India's first Union Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had made it clear that the 1931 census would be the last caste-based census. Later, B.P. Mandal, former MP and author of the Mandal Commission report, had asked former Home Ministers H.M. Patel, Y.B. Chavan and Giani Zail Singh between 1978 and 1980 for such a census. But the Centre rejected the demand on the ground that enumeration of thousands of castes and sub-castes in the country was not only "undesirable" but also "impossible".


Interestingly, the Centre used the same argument when the Supreme Court asked it to update data on the country's OBC population in the backdrop of the controversy over reservations in 2006. Moreover, it had told the court that it had an "impressive volume of data", collected scientifically by the National Sample Survey Organisation, the National Family Health Survey, the Mandal Commission and others. Unfortunately, political parties have been using caste for playing vote-bank politics. Caste is so deeply entrenched in Indian society that reservations have consolidated caste divisions and hampered the herald of a casteless society. It is time we looked beyond castes, quotas and vote banks.








As the industrial package given to the hill states, including Himachal Pradesh, comes to an end in March, 2010, a controversy has erupted as the chief ministers of the northern states lobby for and against its extension. The BJP government in Himachal Pradesh is pleading for stretching the tax bonanza to the hill states by another 10 years, or at least for three more years as initially planned. The Union Commerce Minister, Mr Anand Sharma, who hails from Himachal, has backed his home state's demand. This has raised the hackles of the political leaders and industrialists in the neighbouring state of Punjab who are vigorously opposing any further extension of the package.


Originally granted in 2003 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre for 10 years, the industrial package, which included an income tax exemption for five years and an excise duty holiday for 10 years to industries setting up shop in the hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, was curtailed to seven years by the subsequent Congress government led by Dr Manmohan Singh. Though the spirit behind the grant of the tax concessions to industries is understandable as the hill states had lagged behind in development, this has unnecessarily vitiated the cordial atmosphere prevailing among the neighbouring states. In fact, states as far as Maharashtra are voicing concerns over this special treatment as industrial units are moving from their existing locations in various states to take advantage of the tax relief.


Instead of adopting a discriminatory, state-specific approach to promote industrial development, the Centre should encourage regional cooperation so that states in a particular region pool their resources and make joint efforts for integrated growth. This will also check the duplicity of facilities and wastage of limited resources. The ruling political leaders of the northern states should sink their differences and sit on one platform to forge a joint development strategy.










AT the turn of the year there was a plethora of projections about this country's spectacular strides not only during the New Year but also throughout the "decisive decade" and beyond. There was no dearth of forecasts that within the foreseeable future India would "overtake China". This prognostication can by no means be dismissed as preposterous, judging by the rate of growth during the years 2004-08 and even in the period following the worst global recession in 80 years. For quite a while the international community has been talking of "Rising India", and has taken note of its advantageous attributes such as democracy, long tradition of entrepreneurship, knowledge of English, demographic dividend in terms of young population and so on.


However, perceptive observers, Indian and foreign, are equally aware that we cannot achieve our undoubted potential for as long as we manage our affairs so badly as we have been doing so far. We have been muddling through at best and making a mess of things at worst. Witness, Telangana, the case of the Haryana top cop who molested a minor girl and tortured her family and has received a minor sentence of six months' imprisonment after 19 years, or soaring food prices under a reign that never stops swearing by aam aadmi. The politico-bureaucratic culture, work ethics, a climate of mindless but unending violence, gargantuan corruption and much else that we have allowed to develop and flourish can defeat the best of aspirations and efforts.


An alarming, if also illuminating, example of what we are confronted with is best provided by the ease with which three Pakistani terrorists - convicted of bomb attacks near the Red Fort nine years ago and awaiting deportation to their country after completing their sentences - have managed to escape. Merely to state the bare facts of this outrage is to numb the mind. The three Pakistani terrorists, one of whom was convicted of "waging war against India", were housed at a detention centre run by the Foreigners Registration Regional Office (FRRO) with apparently minimal security. It now transpires that they had been at the detention centre for several months. No one has explained why. But it is possible that there were difficulties in sending them back to Pakistan, as that country has always refused to accept even the remains of Pakistani terrorists or even soldiers killed in this country.


The terrorist trio complained of eye ailment and a lone sub-inspector escorted them to a hospital. Thereafter, all four went to a restaurant close to the area where the terrorists had perpetrated their heinous acts to lunch. From there the three terrorists made good their escape. Thereafter, the sub-inspector took a good 13 hours to inform his superiors, thus giving the desperadoes enough time to disappear. It is no less disturbing that the authorities at the detention centre also took no notice of the prolonged absence of the detainees and their solitary escort. Whether the announcement that a "massive manhunt" for them has begun and that a special cell has been established for this purpose will amount to anything is difficult to say. In the past such efforts haven't.


Delhi's Commissioner of Police has submitted a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs and some inquiries and investigations are on. There is some talk that the sub-inspector concerned would be arrested. Be that as it may, no great intelligence is required to surmise that the whole sordid drama of escape was pre-arranged. And what could have smoothened the arrangement better than a huge dollop of bribe? This leads to a further question: Since Pakistani prisoners released from Indian jails could not have been flush with cash, the money must have come from their collaborators in this country who, in all probability, are also Pakistanis. It is a sobering thought that the neat escape has taken place barely three weeks before Republic Day, a favourite target of Pakistani terrorist outfits.


Some people have raised the pertinent question as to why such dangerous persons as the Pakistani terrorists were not in chains while being moved from one spot to another. It seems there is a lacuna in the law that requires that anyone who has done his time in jail cannot be sent back to police custody. But in heaven's name, the Pakistani terrorists were no ordinary criminals and Indian authorities were dealing with them 13 months after the dastardly Pakistani attack on Mumbai, known across the world as 26/11.


During this period, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has done a lot to strengthen counter-terrorism mechanism. But quite clearly no one thought of the contingency that arose in the case of the Pakistani trio with frightening results. With great justification, this country blames the FBI of the United States for having withheld information about the Headley-Rana case. Shouldn't we introspect about own shortcomings in the supremely vital area of security?


By a revealing coincidence, on the day the Delhi police was red-faced because of the Pakistani terrorists' escape (their mentors in the ISI back home must be shaking with laughter) several police officers of Mumbai were caught on camera dancing at a New Year party with notorious mafia dons of the western metropolis. Mercifully, they have being suspended for the present. Whether they would be dismissed remains to be seen. Meanwhile, there has been a chorus in Maharashtra's capital, joined by several retired top cops, to the effect that there is "nothing new" in the cosy partnership between the state police and mafia. Whatever is true of Mumbai is true also of the force across the country.


And what is true of policing is true, to some extent, of every other area of governance. Coinciding with the escape in Delhi and dancing in Mumbai were three train accidents in Uttar Pradesh in single day, which were initially blamed on the fog that had engulfed North India. Later, even glib railway officials realised that fog had nothing to do with the three mishaps. This makes nonsense of all the tall claims Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and her predecessor, Lalu Yadav, have been making while denouncing each other.


It was in the 1960s that Gunnar Myrdal described India as a "soft state". Around the same time John Kenneth Galbraith had commented that India was a "functioning anarchy". Since then, alas, things haven't improved but deteriorated. One may add, with all due respect, that soft states don't super powers make.








After spending three decades in the academia, I found '3 Idiots' teaching me more about education than all the years spent in the classroom. The Aamir Khan starrer Bollywood blockbuster is something far beyond just a damn good spoof. It's educational system reform.


Every year the students of the architectural institution that I headed, produced an annual journal. A forum for the students' contributions on architecture — the magazine also had an art and literary section. One issue, which I released after much fanfare, to my utter embarrassment, also carried caricatures of all faculty members, including one of me!


As I leafed through the cartoons nervously-all along sporting a sheepish grin — I realised that the students had indeed been rather, insightful and creative in highlighting our respective strengths and eccentricities. Alluding to my deep interest in landscape design and being rather obsessive about trees, my 'portrait' showed a sapling growing out of my bald head!


However, some of my colleagues didn't find their respective caricatures very amusing, and protested at such audacity! Though the students subsequently apologised, I'm sure everyone had a good laugh — especially our spouses! And more importantly, I realised that the faculty needed to break out of old academic moulds and develop new shoots of knowledge.


Similarly I remember that some odd student, every few year, producing extraordinary, creative designs — at times bordering on the bizarre. One student nicknamed 'Pilot' as he had taken flying lessons before joining architecture, was always flying on thin air regarding his grandiose design concepts. For the final year thesis project, much against faculty advice he insisted on designing the tallest building in the world, located in the sea. Though he remained at sea about the structural design problems of the project and barely scraped through; he pursued his passion for tall buildings by studying abroad — and today, works with an international firm that is building the first bionic tower of the world!


Once a group of students performed a play called 'North Point' in the college festival — written, directed and acted by them. A big hit, it spoofed the obsessively pet concern of architectural teachers about orientation of the buildings in relation to the cardinal points. But more importantly, it made a subtle point about having a larger view of design evaluation, than just looking at myopic fundamentals.


The Howard Roarks of the world are not merely a figment of Ayn Rand's fiction, but often it's the naughty, irreverent; but sparkling 'idiots' who rattle the hallowed portals of learning. I only hope in hindsight that I was not a Viru Sahastrabudhe who trampled down a Rancho.









Since the early fifties students of economics have been taught that in Punjab farmers are born and die in debt and bequeath debt to the next generation. Writers have been exposing the exploitation of the peasantry by money-lending sharks.


The bane of indebtedness has been a serious subject for investigating scholars as this was a cause of misery for a majority of the population. In this line a new study presents a harrowing picture.


This study conducted by Prof. H.S. Shergill, a well-known economist with the Institute for Development and Communication, records that the farm debt over 1997-2008 at the current prices has gone up five times — from Rs 5, 700.91 crore in 1997 to Rs 30, 394.12 crore in 2008.


Even in real terms at the 1997 constant prices of farm products, it has more than doubled — from Rs 5,700.91 crore in 1997 to Rs 13, 829.32 crore in 2008. The per farm household debt (at 1997 constant prices) has become almost three times over these 10 years — from Rs 52,000 to Rs 1.39 lakh.


The outstanding debt component has increased at a faster rate (14.13 per cent per year) than the total farm debt — 8.81 per cent per year. Shergill estimates that the mortgage debt, however, has declined over this period and may completely disappear in the near future.


A puzzling revelation is that the debt of small and marginal farmers has grown at a slower rate (1.29 per cent per year) than the debt of medium and big farmers (2.71 per cent per year).


Also, over these ten years farm debt has increased at a faster rate than farm incomes, and, as a result, the burden of debt on the farm sector has gone up substantially. The debt amount has increased from being 68 per cent in 1997 to 84 per cent in 2008 of the net farm income generated by the farm sector.


As a proportion of the value of machinery owned by Punjab farmers the debt amount has gone up from being 15 per cent in 1997 to 53 per cent in 2008.


In spite of the steep rise in farm land prices in Punjab, the amount of farm debt in 2008 was equal to 4 per cent of the total value of farm land, compared to it being 3 per cent in 1997.


On the same lines the annual interest burden of farm debt has gone up from 11 per cent to 14 per cent of the net farm income.


It now absorbs about one-third of the rental surplus of the entire operated area, compared to being one-fifth of the rental surplus in 1997. Clearly both the burden of farm debt and interest payments on it has gone up substantially. Around 72 per cent of farm households are heavily stuck in debt.


A disturbing trend is that out of these 72 per cent heavily indebted farmers 17 per cent were under very heavy debt amounting to Rs 80, 000 and more per acre of land owned by them. These 17 per cent farm households are in a virtual 'debt trap' in the sense that they cannot pay even the annual interest charge from their current farm income.


What should be done for the small and marginal farmers who are perpetually under debt? These are mostly in the Malwa, which incidentally has produced senior political figures, including five chief ministers, a President of India and several Union and state ministers. Currently, Akali stalwart Parkash Singh Badal rules the state, all in the name of these debt-ridden farmers.


Whom do the farmers owe this huge debt? In the total debt owed by Punjab farmers the share of commission agents and money-lenders is 43.46 per cent or Rs 13,179 crore, of commercial banks 31.78 per cent or Rs 9, 660 crore, and of cooperative credit institutions 18.91 per cent or Rs 5,748 crore.


The remainder is from friends and relatives (3.16 per cent), a mere 0.08 per cent from the government and 2.71 per cent from others.


Private lenders were the single largest player in the farm credit market of Punjab. This tyrannical system continues despite six decades of effort to wean farmers from the private lenders whose interest rates varies from 12 per cent to 48 per cent to cooperative and commercial banks.


The failure of these agencies except commercial banks is writ large on the faces of debt-ridden farmers. Why has the cooperative route for lending been so weak in Punjab?


Strangely, between 1997 and 2008, the share of cooperative credit institutions has declined substantially, by 8.23 per cent points. But the share of commission agents and money lenders declined marginally by 2.96 per cent points; from 46.32 per cent in 1997 to 43.36 per cent in 2008.


Their position as the single largest farm credit agency, however, has not changed. Only the commercial banks gained in the farm credit market — from 19.42 per cent in 1997 to 31.78 per cent in 2008.


These estimates indicated the average amount of long-term (productive) loans per borrowing farmer was Rs 87,921, and per operated acre amount came to Rs 6,663. The per acre amount of these loans was the highest in the case of small and medium farms.


About 78 per cent of these loans were contracted for purchasing machinery and installing tubewells, about 13 per cent for purchasing land, and the remaining 9 per cent to purchase cattle.


The main sources were banks, 62.65 per cent. Commission agents and money lenders provided 32 per cent. The share of cooperatives was negligible — 2.63 per cent.


Significantly, almost 30 per cent of the farm households of the state borrowed some money for long-term non-productive purposes during the agricultural year 2007-08. The total estimated amount of these loans in the state during 2007-08 was Rs 4,060 crore. The average amount of these loans per borrowing farmer was Rs 1.25 lakh. The non-productive long-term loan was the highest in the case of small farms.


The amount of non-productive long-term loans (Rs 4,059 crore) was almost four times that of productive long-term loans (Rs 1073 crore). The incidence of involvement in long-term non-productive loans (29.67 per cent) was also much higher than in long-term productive loans (12.67 per cent).


All debt is not bad as we know. We borrow for various reasons. Sometimes to pay debt, other times to have a good social function like marriage or at times to invest in farming. The farmers also borrow for education of children or for sending them aboard.


If farmers borrow to increase production, that is investment like industrialists and is a productive debt. A legitimate question arises: in spite of an increase in the contribution of agriculture to net state domestic product, an increase in production of wheat and paddy and also the multiplication of the minimum support prices, why is the farm debt increasing?


One reason is the high cost of production that leaves less money in the pockets of farmers. While there are farmers who are now traders and some even lend to agents, yet the vast majority is not only steeped in debt, but also taking to drugs and other social evils. Region-to-region broad contours show heavy spending on social ceremonies like marriages, litigation and to send young boys to foreign lands for jobs. Something to ponder over for policy-planners!









Sitting amid the trawlers in Reykjavik harbour is a solitary gunboat, a reminder of what happened when Britain and Iceland last went to war. The little grey vessel saw off the British Navy 37 years ago in the Cod Wars, and it serves now to underline the bravery and bloody-mindedness of an isolated island nation.


Once again, the two countries are at loggerheads as they clear up the mess of the credit crisis. Both recklessly rode the boom and are now suffering the hangover, with huge debts threatening prosperity for a generation.


And since Iceland owes us £3.6bn after Alistair Darling bailed out British customers of one of its banks, it seems a simple equation that Icelanders should pay us back.


A deal was struck that involved reimbursement at a hefty 5.5 per cent interest rate over 14 years. But now, following the first grassroots revolt against a bailout since the credit crunch swept the globe 16 months ago, the Icelandic president has bowed to people power and refused to sign the repayment schedule into law. Instead, it will be put to referendum.


Iceland is not saying it won't pay, just querying the terms. Predictably, British ministers fired off fusillades across the Atlantic, telling Iceland to forget about joining the EU. Equally predictably, their opposite numbers in Reykjavik are returning fire. Now Britain should back down, stop the bullying and seek a compromise.


Consider the facts. A group of greedy oligarchs in Iceland, egged on by inept politicians, borrowed huge amounts in a bid to turn a tiny fishing nation into a global financial powerhouse. It didn't take a genius to see they were building empires on foundations of sand as they gobbled up third-rate retailers and offered savers market-beating rates of interest.


When Landsbanki collapsed, British ministers panicked, using anti-terror legislation to freeze assets belonging to a Nato ally. Understandably, this was viewed as betrayal in Iceland, causing bitterness that still fuels the anger behind protests.


The Icelandic bankers were incompetent, taking huge risks to build market share. But so were their domestic regulators, the British regulators, their political masters and, dare I say, those depositers who failed to question why a bank was offering such good deals. Britain and Holland did not have to bail out investors with Icesave, who were putting cash into a foreign-based institution.


The suspicion remains that they acted hastily to cover up their own regulatory failings, a draconian move blamed for precipitating the downfall of Kaupthing, Iceland's biggest bank.


Despite the ill-feeling, Alistair Darling has played hardball. But the terms are extreme. The Icelandic people know their nation has behaved foolishly, and they know they must pay the consequences. The economy shrank more than seven per cent last year, unemployment has soared and national bankruptcy remains a possibility. The country's debt was downgraded this week to junk levels.


Now the mood is turning ugly. "I fear for our future. I have never seen such heated debate and felt such an unpleasant mood," said one prominent local yesterday. "We are not being allowed time to rebuild."


At the heart of things remains the divisive figure of David Oddsson, who viewed himself as Iceland's answer to Margaret Thatcher when his government privatised the banks, unleashing the disastrous boom.


After a spell as governor of the central bank, he became editor of the main newspaper, from where he has fermented resistence against the Icesave deal, embarrassing his social democrat and green successors.


History shows it is counter-productive to humiliate nations with savage reparation demands. The sum we are seeking is small to us, but crippling for a nation with a population the size of Coventry.


It amounts to £11,700 per person, taking national debt to 200 per cent of GDP. Imagine how would we feel if we had to pay £718bn – the equivalent sum based on our population – to another country to cover the misdemeanours of Sir Fred Goodwin?


Instead of firing off new threats, ministers should reflect on their own role in the affair. Then they should sit down with their Icelandic and Dutch counterparts and work out a longer-term and less punitive deal.


— By arrangement with The Independent








Mobile phones may improve memory and protect against Alzheimer's disease, scientists have discovered.


In one of the most unexpected scientific findings for some time, researchers have found that the electromagnetic waves emitted by the devices may improve cognitive function.


After years of health warnings about mobile phones, scientists in Florida admit they were as surprised as anyone when their research showed they might be good for the brain.


But they have enough confidence in their results to recommend that the electromagnetic waves the phones emit should be "vigorously investigated" as a memory enhancer and treatment for Alzheimer's.


Mobile phones have been suspected of causing problems ranging from ear ache to brain cancer by raising the temperature of the head and exposing cells to "oxidative stress". Inquiries into their safety have been held, but no conclusive evidence of damage has been found.


Scientists in the Department of Cell Biology at the University of South Florida attempted to quantify the damaging effects by exposing mice to levels of radiation similar to that emitted by mobile phones.


The mice received two one-hour doses, delivered in the morning and afternoon each day, for up to eight months – equivalent to that of a frequent mobile phone user.


Half of the mice were genetically engineered to have symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. In them, exposure to the electromagnetic waves was associated with disappearance of the "amyloid plaques" – protein deposits in the brain – believed to be a cause of dementia.


In the younger mice, the electromagnetic waves prevented amyloid plaques building up and had "beneficial cognitive effects".


The researchers, writing in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, suggest the waves may prevent plaques sticking together, forming clumps, or may stimulate the neurons.


Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: "This research has been carried out in mice that mimic some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's in people, so we don't know if any similar effects will be seen in humans.


"Although the researchers hope their findings will translate to people, much more research is needed to find out if there could be any beneficial effects of long-term exposure to electromagnetism, and to guarantee its safety. We don't recommend spending 24 hours a day on a mobile phone – we don't know the long-term effects, and bills could go through the roof."


By arrangement with The Independent








The judgement of the Gauhati High Court asking the State Government to strictly implement the law laid down by the Supreme Court for preventing infringement of various fundamental rights of the people on account of bandhs is most welcome. The apex court had earlier held that bandhs called by any political party or organization – apart from being violative of the citizens' fundamental rights – also caused national loss and were, therefore, unconstitutional and illegal. Assam and several other parts of the North-East have been the worst-hit by this perverse culture of bandhs resorted to at the drop of a hat by all and sundry. The economic loss suffered by a backward State like Assam due to bandhs has been staggering, and the bandh-induced environment also severely impacted its already fragile work culture. Bandhs have become widespread because it involves minimum effort on the part of the caller, and secondly and more importantly, it elicits immediate response from a large section of the people delighted at the prospects of a paid holiday. By bringing everything into a total standstill, bandhs have a way of stopping all productive activities, affecting everyone in the process -- from the daily wage earner to the big industrialist, from the private concerns to the Government, and of course, the student.

Following the High Court order, the State Government would do well to initiate necessary steps to put an end to this perverse culture. Leaders of any party or organization behind any bandh call must be booked and prosecuted as per law. Then, it has to be ensured that there is no disruption of transport and trade and commerce in the event of a bandh. The court order has made it obligatory on the part of the Government to negate bandhs, and the Government can definitely take some proactive measures for ensuring normal activities during a bandh. Government intervention apart, the role of the people will matter most when it comes to defying a bandh. It has become a habit with the people to support a bandh, willingly or otherwise, which in turn has perpetuated this vicious trend. The time has come for putting up stiff public resistance against bandhs, and the court order should be the right incentive for both the public and the government machinery to stop this irrational restraint sought to be imposed on them by the tribe of some self-proclaimed patriots. Even when the issues behind bandhs are genuine and justified, there is no dearth of means to register one's protests in a manner that is both effective and not detrimental to public interest.






Markets have played an important role in all civilizations. Since ancient times people have used markets as meeting places besides the main function of exchanging goods. Local bodies have raised tolls and other charges to run the markets and to add to the revenues of these bodies. In Assam and the North Eastern Region of India a new trend has emerged in recent times. It is that of insurgent outfits and mafia type of organizations raising illegal "goonda tax" from the vendors of all types of markets. In Assam an extra-constitutional institution, called the State Agricultural Marketing Board, has been set up by the Government of Assam (GOA). This Board runs some big wholesale markets in difterent rural areas. This Board, headed by political personalities, is now running these markets. Media reports allege high level of corruption in running these markets. The Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC), chaired by the former State Chief Secretary H. N. Das, examined this matter in detail and came to the conclusion that " the market now being run by the State Agricultural Markets Board should be transferred to the concerned PRIs and ULBs. That will bring in additional income for PRIs and ULBs." This recommendation of TASFC has been accepted by GOA.

This decision of GOA is really welcome. It is in consonance with the arrangements made in Article 243 read with the 11th and the 12th Schedules of the Indian Constitution. The virtual abolition of the State Agricultural Marketing Board will also bring relief to producers of agricultural commodities by removing the high rates of taxes now levied by the Board. However, there is no time table laid down for implementation of GOA's decision on TASFC's recommendation. The urgency will have to be appreciated by the State Agriculture Department who has to implement the decision. TASFC's Report was laid on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly, along with Chief Minister's Explanatory Memorandum on Action Taken, on December 11, 2009. GOA should now lay down a time limit, say, of a two month peiod from December 11, 2009 for implementation of this decision.






The Union Cabinet recently approved the introduction of a Bill in Parliament for carrying out certain amendments to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 has been enacted by the Parliament to provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. After receiving the assent of the President, the Act was published in the Gazette of India on August 27, 2009.

The department of school education and literacy received representations from various organisations working for the welfare of the children with disabilities and who set up minority institutions, seeking certain amendments to the legislation. Consequent upon examination of the issues/points raised in these representations it is proposed to make some amendments in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.

A Bill will be introduced later in the Parliament








The juvenile or young delinquent has become the demon of the 20th and 21st century. The delinquency among children of tender age has always been a threat and a source of trouble in society. Juvenile delinquency involves wrong-doing by a child or by a young person who is under an age specified ty the law in force. An effective control of juvenile delinquency is needed to reduce crime in the society at all levels as the delinquent child of today may become the formidatle criminal of tomorrow. Like economy, crime is our major social problem and most potent source of fear and trouble. We spend a large sum of money and energy for the care and protection of juvenile delinquents without making much of a dent in its inexorable rise which accounts for a large element of our fear and frustration. The UN Congress (1960) and the U.N. standard minimum rules for the administration of juvenile justice (Beijing Rules, 1985) suggested a series of possible, practicable and relatively low cost measures which by taking together are likely to reduce the number of juvenile or young offenders to much more tolerable proportions. An effective implication of such measures depends on systematic setting of the reasons why we must reassert social control of juvenile crime, the charecteristics of young offenders and how their delinquency is generated and maintained by the ambiguities, wishful thinking, contradictions and double talk which permeate our policies and practices in this area. The suggestive measures are not a miracle cure for eradicating delinquency overnight, but a prolonged and sustainable remedy of the problem.

In our country the ongoing law in force which governs the juveniles who are in conflict with law and children who are in need of care and protection is called "Juvenile (Care and Protection of children) Act. 2000", primarily designed to give effect to the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 (ratified by India in December, 1992). The Convention laid stress on social reintegration of child victims to the extent possible, without resorting to judicial proceedings. The problems of children in recent years are of such an enormous magnitude that measures that have been taken by the government as well as by the concerned agencies become insufficient. If the problems continue to flourish without halting with proper care, protection and treatment of the delinquent children, the country will have to face serious consequences. Its dimension is evident from the cases reported by various agencies, researchers and juvenile workers. A child or young person becomes delinquent who is growing idly or living in crime or associating with thieves, robbers or bad characters, vagrants, prostitutes, peddling and begging, disorderly conduct, malicious mischiefs, visits a gambling saloon or billiard room, wanders about streets at night, absents himself from home without the consent of parents or guardians and ungovernable behaviour itself. The investigation of cases of hard-core criminals reveal that a large number of criminals have roots in childhood. So, juvenile delinquency is a gateway to adult crime.

The causes of juvenile delinquency are of many kinds and patterns which can be divided into two broad groups: environmental and personal i.e. physiological or psychological. The important environmental causes are undesirable family condition and environment at home, dissatisfaction of school environment,bad company, imitation, customs susceptible to delinquency, pornographic literature, early sex experience, adolescent instability and impulses, love of adventure, street life and physical conditions of all sorts. The sociological conditions causing delinquency are ailments of any type, overdevelopment in adolecence, hypersexuality etc. The physiological factors causing delinquency are of two types – organic mental diseases and functional mental disseases. Organic mental diseases are those in which definite brain pathology is present. In functional mental diseases or emotional problems no such pathology has yet been demonstrated. Some sociological conditions prone to delinquency in children are: improper parental control, exploitation by unscrupulous persons, religious rigidity, social attitude overcrowding, criminal association, caste system, lack of family discipline, unsatisfactory customs, parental encouragement to criminal activities and antisocial acts, endogamous restriction and pornographic literature. These condition, however, are manifest reasons, the relevance of which would differ from situation to situation. Physical ailments and organic and functional diseases coupled with environment are favourable conditions for anti-social outburst.

From past experience we know that some features of social environment lead to socially desirable behaviour and others trigger disruptive and anti-social acts. The children showing undesirable behaviour should be given treatment on the basis of the type of behaviour and causal source of delinquency in its early stage. The good citizen has to be made in the days of the school, because it is in the time of boyhood that the character is shaped. Children left without s e c u r i ty, neglected and not properly taken care of by their parents or left to their own selves because of lack of schooling and parents going out for work, run the risk of falling into anti-social conduct. The delinquent children if handled indiscreetly by law, there is every chance of their adhering to delinquency and taking ultimately to major criminality. Young delinquents have to be handled with great care and wisdom, if good results are to be expected.

Every member of a society must obey the norms prescribed by the society over a period of time and are modified in the light of experience or major shifts in its power structure. It is the responsibility of the guardians of delinouent children to train up their wards in behavioural aspects such as to live in the spirit of brotherhood and mutual regards. Another potent mode of preventing juvenile delinquency is that of moral education in schools. Undoubtedly a proper way of thinking, a proper way of doing things, an ideal relationship of behaviour with others, socialising and proper conditioning of the emotions, proper habitualising to right action constitute good traits of character. Thoughts govern one's action and continuing to think rightly and act rightly develops good habits. Good habits in turn constitute a good temperament. Education to children must have a socialising value. Educators, especially class room teachers are the logical ones to observe deviant behaviour. The information on school failure, truancy and behavioural problems coupled with an understanding of home and community problems can help to locate children who are delinquency prone and accordingly corrective measures can be taken by parents in co-operation with the teachers.

It is scant comfort that our society is still among the most peaceful on earth if our anxieties about crime escalate through constant jolts by the politicians and the media. Social control of juvenile crime is a primary need to eradicate this evil from the society. The government in a democracy is centrally responsible to upgrade the environmental conditions of juveniles including the culture under the roof by taking measures through social welfare schemes apart from strict implementation of the existing Act for dealing with juvenile delinquents.







Our traditional agricultural practices produced safe and quality food and cared for environment but could not keep pace with increasing demand for food due to ever growing population. Thus, invention of modern agricultural system took place with use of high yielding varieties ,inorganic fertilizers and pesticides .Under the aegis of "Green Revolution" our country has attained self sufficiency on the food production front within the impossibly short span of time through the adoption of modern agricultural practices .The agricultural experts ,scientists and farmers are so convinced on the role that usage of chemicals was indispensable in the increased agricultural productivity, though the long term consequences of these agricultural chemicals have often been sadly left out. Farming these days needs drastic changes owing to the change in policies and human needs. Although, markets have opened up, the quality has also been given priority over quantity.

India is one of the largest producers of farm commodities and is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world after China contributing 41 per cent of mango production, 23 per cent of banana, 24 per cent of cashew nut, 16 per cent of green pea and 10 per cent of onion production. However, our share in the global markets for these commodities is negligible i.e. less than 1 per cent of the global trade for fruits and vegetables. The main reasons behind this are poor agricultural practices, unhygienic condition of the farms and uncontrolled use of synthetic agro-chemicals which leave residues much higher than the permissible limits. The current scenario of agriculture reveals that on an average 80 per cent of the foods of developed countries do not contain pesticide residues, whereas in India, the situation is so grave that this percentage is as low as 2.5. This calls for a new approach for improving our farming practices to address the issues of food safety. The importance of safe and secure food supply was first emphasized in European countries due to the outbreak of 'Mad Cow Disease' and 'Foot and Mouth' disease as well as traditional concern with environment, particularly pesticides and issues of surrounding genetically modified organism. This has led to the evolution of good agricultural practices. In USA, safe and secure food supply was initiated due to outbreak of food born diseases, often associated with consumption of fresh and processed food. In our country, such concern was mainly because of loss of stored food, poor export quality and several food born sicknesses. In this context, importance of microbial contamination and agrochemical toxicity is of major concern.

There is increasing number of immuno-compromised people as well as increased outbreak of diseases in developing and developed countries which are often related to inadequate sanitary measures and use of contaminated water for drinking and in agricultural food production system. This has led world community to pay attention on integration of modern agricultural practices with traditional knowledge of crop production so that a sustainable crop production system can be maintained. Therefore, Lab to Land programme need to be planned on the basis of Farm to Fork or Tillage to Table prgrammes due to world wide increase in demand of safe food. Agriculture in 21st century is facing three main challenges such as food security, diversified demand for safe food and other products and conservation and protection of natural resources. These can partially be tackled through the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). For development of food products from Tillage to Table the food retailers have enforced their growers to follow certain standards for production processes which could reduce, not eliminate, food contamination. These practices are termed as Good Agricultural Practices. Good agricultural practices are "application of available knowledge for addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability for on farm production and post production processes resulting in safe and healthy food and non food agricultural products". According to International Regulatory Frame Work, GAP is the 'practices followed for reducing risks associated with the use of pesticides, taking into account public and occupational health, environmental and safety consideration'. In developing and developed countries, many farmers have already adopted GAP through sustainable agricultural practices like integrated plant nutrient management, integrated pest management and conservation agriculture. The top priority for application of GAP is to be given first for those products which are consumed raw without cooking such as fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants; secondly, those products which are prone to contamination even after cooking viz. meat, eggs, milk and milk products and thirdly, for common use and less prone to contamination but prone to chemical toxicity viz. food grains, oilseeds, sugar yielding crops. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has recommended standards on GAP for soil, water, crop production, crop protection, harvest, on-farm processing and storage, human welfare, health and safety, animal production, animal health, waste management etc. etc. Standards for production processes are set forth under two programmes – programme recognition on outside of on-farm food safety programmes and programme recognition on on-farm food safety programmes. Under the first programme, Indian standard Institute (ISI) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are two organizations responsible for determining the standards. Programme recognition on on-farm food safety programme include FAO standard, EUREPGAP, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), USDA-Organic food certification etc. EUREPGAP, now known as GLOBALGAP has gained the greatest acceptance and has the greatest impact on the international market. It is a private sector protocol system initiated by European Retailers Produce Working Group (EUREP) which includes a set of standards prepared by a committee consisting of retailers, suppliers, growers for safe and sustainable agriculture. They have developed a set of standards called EUREPGAP, which incorporates the concept of globally accepted Good Agricultural Practices within the framework of commercial agricultural production for the long term improvement and sustainability. These standards include certain control points related to soil and substrate management, proper selection of seeds/rootstock, optimum usage of fertilizers, conservation of water, safe application of pesticides, harvesting, produce handling, waste and pollution management, workers health, safety and welfare, environmental issues and record keeping for traceability. Many EUREPGAP member countries are global player in retail industries and obtain food products from around the world.








The government must get its priorities right in exiting from the financial stimulus of 2008-09. Exit is important but not urgent. The world might suffer a double-dip recession in 2010, so exit must not be too fast. Although inflation in India is very high, it is concentrated in food items after a major drought, and this situation cannot be rectified by tight money.

So, first priority should be fiscal consolidation, at a measured pace. Within fiscal consolidation, top priority should be given to slashing subsidies for petroleum products. However, this is a politically-difficult exercise that the government has long dodged, and it will happen, if at all, only in dribs and drabs. The next priority in fiscal consolidation is to reverse, at a measured pace, the cut of 6% in excise duty and 2% in service tax as part of the financial stimulus.

The government should increase excise duty by 1% and service tax by 0.5% every quarter, starting in the April-June quarter. Within 12 months, a decision will also have to be taken on the shift to a universal goods and services tax (GST). A sub-committee of the Finance Commission is said to have recommended rates of 5% and 7% respectively for the new central and state GST.

These rates would be ideal once all production is captured in the tax net through serious systemic reform. Pending that, we could consider rates closer to 8% apiece for the central and state GST. If all goes well and the GST provides a huge revenue bonanza by massively checking evasion, GST rates can be lowered later. But it would be very risky to do so straightaway.

Monetary policy merits much lower priority in exit policy. Bank credit to the commercial sector has been decelerating for months, and surplus liquidity is sloshing around in the financial system. This is the very opposite of overheating. The RBI can raise the cash reserve ratio, mopping up surplus liquidity.

But it should not raise interest rates at this stage, when a double-dip recession is still a possibility. If, instead, the world economy strengthens, and non-food inflation accelerates in the next six months, that will be the right time to hike interest rates.







The fidayeen attack in Srinagar should not be allowed to subvert plans of reducing troops in Jammu and Kashmir. Indeed, given that some progress has been made on that front, the attack could be aimed at stymieing the process. It is, without doubt, in the terrorist's interest that an aura of relative normalcy, of which a troop cut is a part, is shattered. It is also clear that the whole troop reduction process has a firm basis in the decline in terrorist incidents.

As senior security officials have revealed, last year actually saw a record low of such incidents in the past 20 years. Even compared to 2008, civilian killings went down by more than 42% while terrorist incidents dropped by over 35%. That said, it is nobody's case that total normalcy has returned to Jammu and Kashmir. Even with the drastic reduction in violence, the nature of the Kashmir problem means that things will not quieten down immediately even if security forces are reduced numerically.

The militants do still have a presence, as this latest attack shows, and they will, periodically, try to assert themselves. The challenge, therefore, is to tackle them without allowing the bigger conflict resolution agenda to be disrupted. In that context, despite his many failings, chief minister Omar Abdullah's plan of envisaging a greater role for the state police is a step in the right direction.

For, it is also a fact that many incidents in recent years that put Kashmir on the boil again, seemingly undoing gains made on the political front, occurred because of the overbearing presence of security forces in everyday Kashmiri life. Troop reductions would certainly be an integral part of avoiding such conflagrations. The state police certainly can — as Wednesday's attack itself proved — tackle the militant threat, at least in the urban areas.

It should, then, be strengthened so as to fulfil the enhanced responsibility. While, of course, remembering that addressing Kashmir isn't just about maintaining law and order. A wider political resolution is far from being achieved, but reducing troops is, inarguably, also a key part of it. The woods must not be missed for the trees in
Kashmir, yet again.







Good thing that airbrushing had not been invented back when Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli and other maestros were painting portraits of the families of wealthy aristocrats and merchants. Otherwise, Vito Franco of the University of Palermo would never have been able to glean relevant nuggets of information such as the fact that La Gioconda, alias Mona Lisa, had such high cholesterol that da Vinci willy-nilly immortalised it in her portrait in 1514, albeit subtly.

Not that da Vinci would have any reason not to paint her as is: no one had heard of cholesterol at that time, so why hide its tell-tale signs on the person of the otherwise-comely Lisa Gherardini — fatty deposits under the eyes called xanthelasma and a lipoma or fatty tissue tumour on one hand? Nor would Francesco Mazzola — better known as Parmigianino — have ever imagined Franco would also deduce that the elongated limbs of his Madonna with a Long Neck was not due to his characteristic 16th-century Mannerist style but was a manifestation of Marfan Syndrome, a genetic disorder that was only identified in 1896, over 350 years after Parmigianino died.

And, of all the thoughts that run through viewers' heads when gazing at Sandro Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man, the notion that the youth suffered from juvenile arthritis would not be the first to spring to mind. That would be left for the eagle eye of Dr Franco, the intrepid professor of pathological anatomy and his system of 'icono-diagnostics', who has also found that Michelangelo, as seen in a Raphael painting that he appears in, suffered from renal calculosis and the Spanish Infanta Margarita in Velazquez's famous Las Meninas showed signs of goitre or, worse still, the McCune-Albright syndrome associated with premature puberty.

Of what possible use would these revelations have for the world at large is difficult to divine. Would it affect the $100-million valuation of the Mona Lisa? At best, it could give yet another interpretation of her enigmatic smile: the effects of a hearty meal of pasta with meat sauce before sitting for her portrait, perhaps?








MUMBAI: Despite a huge pipeline of issuances, the current calendar year is likely to see a slower rollout of initial public offerings (IPOs). At last count, as many as 41 prospectus are awaiting Sebi clearance, with some more waiting to be filed.

Even if the necessary regulatory approvals are obtained before the end of this month, most companies are unlikely to hit the market before the completion of mega PSU issuances lined up in February. Last month, five issues have been cleared, and none so far this month.

"There is a clogging up at the Sebi end. Prospectus filed as late as September 2009 are yet to be cleared," said an investment banker with a foreign bank. "If the September deals had been cleared in December 2009, we could have seen a few hit the market by end-January. With February and March being crowded months, one may not see any offerings come to the market in these months," he said.

If one were to do a random check, of the six documents filed on September 25, '09 (including one rights), only one IPO has received clearance. Of the 10 documents filed on September 29, '09 (including one rights), only the rights issue was cleared. Of the 13 documents filed on September 30 (including four rights), only one issue was cleared. Significantly, the REC prospectus, which was filed on December 1, 2009, had received observations by December 31.

February 2010 will see three big PSU follow-on public offerings (FPOs) hit the market. These include those from NTPC, NMDC and REC. The Union Budget will also be presented in February. Typically, April is the month where companies report their fourth quarter earnings and it's also the time for advance tax payment. As such most bankers are looking at a post-April listing.

Interestingly, this will be the first time that the auction methodology will be introduced in FPOs. Sebi had in November 2009 said the auction-based book-building method for FPOs will allow QIBs or institutional investors to bid for shares at any level above a floor price and shares will be allotted at different prices.

Under the new method, bidders will be free to bid at any price above the floor price. At present, allotments are made at the floor price. Retail investors, however, will be allotted shares at the floor price.

"Going slow doesn't mean that we will see fewer IPOs come to the market in 2010. In fact, the level of activity will be higher than last year," says Munesh Khanna, CEO and MD-Investment Banking, Centrum.

Of the 41 prospectus filed with Sebi, 12 are from realty firms, while four more are borderline real estate/infrastructure companies. Some bankers believe that the market is not ready for so many real estate IPOs. "The lack of appetite is primarily on account of project execution risk and high leverage," says Jagannadham Thunuguntla, equity head of Delhi-based investment bank SMCCapitals. Real estate companies that are awaiting Sebi clearance are Sahara Prime, Lodha Developers, DB Realty, Kumar Builders, Nitesh Estates, Prestige Estates, BPTP, Ambience, Neptune Developers etc.







MUMBAI: The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) on Thursday made it compulsory for credit rating agencies (CRAs) to have internal auditsThe internal audit to be conducted on a half-yearly basis by chartered accountants, company secretaries or cost accountants, and will cover all aspects of CRA operations and procedures, including investor grievance redressal mechanism, the regulator said in its circular.

The report will have to state the methodology adopted, deficiencies observed and consideration of response of the management on the deficiencies. Besides a summary of operations and of the audit, covering the size of operations, number of transactions audited and the number of instances where violations were observed will also have to be stated.

Sebi also said the report would also have to comment on the adequacy of systems adopted by the CRA for compliance with the requirements of regulations. "The CRA will receive the report of the internal audit within two months from the end of the half-year. The board of directors of the CRA will consider the report and take steps to rectify the deficiencies, if any, and the CRA will send an action taken report to Sebi within the next two months," the Sebi circular said.

For the half-year (October '09 to March '10), the CRA will receive the report of the internal audit by May 31, '10. Its board will have to consider the report and take appropriate measures to rectify the deficiencies and the rating agency will have to send the action taken report to Sebi by July 31, 2010.

Recently, the High-Level Coordination Committee on Financial Markets (HLCCFM) had discussed the functioning of credit rating agencies.

The history of credit ratings in India can be traced to 1987, with the setting up of Crisil. At present, there are five-registered credit rating agencies in India, including CARE, ICRA, Fitch, Crisil and Brickwork Ratings India.

In its recent annual report, Sebi had said the role of credit rating has grown, because of expansion in issuance volume and increasing faith of investors as well as regulators in ratings. Ratings have far-reaching consequences for issuers as well as investors. CRAs contribute to the achievement of the regulatory objectives of investor protection, fair and transparent markets and reduction of systemic risk.









The pick-up in sales of passenger cars and two-wheelers in the domestic market has led to a buoyant production growth for auto component makers whose fortunes are closely linked to the auto sector.

The fiscal stimulus measures extended by the government to boost domestic production through the cut in excise duty that resulted in recovery in auto sales has also had a rub-off effect on auto ancillary firms, beginning the quarter ended March 2009.

Although both earnings and revenue growth for component makers have been lower than the auto firms, they have also shown improvement in performance. An ETIG analysis reveals that a group of 23 listed auto ancillary firms, including Bosch, Bharat Forge, Motherson Sumi Systems and Amtek Auto, has together posted 11% growth in net sales for the quarter ended September 2009 over the previous quarter ended June while net profit rose 18% sequentially during the same two quarters.

In the same period, the set of seven top auto companies, including Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra, has reported growth of 16% in revenues and 34% increase in stand-alone earnings.

If auto sales are any indication, component makers are likely to report better earnings performance for the quarter ended December 2009. For instance, passenger car sales rose 9% in 3-month period from October 2009-November 2009 as compared to 13% in the previous quarter, buoyed by an improving economic growth, easier availability of loans and festive demand.

Going forward, earnings growth will depend on whether volume growth tapers down and how auto component firms manage the rising cost of production, considering that metal prices have once again started moving up.

Auto component makers have managed to maintain 18% operating profit margins in the past two quarters, despite hardening raw material costs on a sequential quarter basis. If they are able to pass on any extra cost of manufacturing to automakers, then auto component stocks could be considered attractive to investors in the near term.








According to the Beliefnet website, "What's your religion?" used to be a simple and fairly simple question to answer at one time. One was either a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, born again, agnostic or whatever, but, apparently, the religious landscape has changed such a lot these days, a better question today would be, "What's your spiritual type?"

The quiz it presents now to determine such denominations are, therefore, more moderated towards New Age concerns. Question #5, for instance, reads: I believe that the universe we observe (1) is natural in origin but has higher spiritual aspects, (2) was created supernaturally, (3) is completely natural and has no higher aspect, (4) and was created under guidance but using natural physics.

But are these choices really separable? Consider option #1 and #3. Of course the universe is natural in origin; it repeatedly and demonstrably follows the rigid natural laws of physics. At the same time, there is altruism, morality and the potential for goodness all around us and, plausibly, wherever sentient life exists. These are undeniable higher spiritual aspects as we define, understand and live them and there is no physics whatsoever behind their manifestation.

But can't ethical behaviour also be seen as a natural expression of our brains and minds? After all, there are many more even half-way principled people in the world than there are unbridled felons.

Option #2: Was the universe created supernaturally? As far as we know, the natural laws of physics don't hold good at some of the extreme conditions that existed just before or at the moment of the Big Bang that is considered to be responsible for all of creation.

And even as we speak, there are black holes around where those same laws break down again. Supernatural can also be interpreted rather simply.

As for option #4 and the question of 'guidance', how can there be two opinions about this? If natural laws were not around before something called a 'singularity' suddenly appeared out of the most genuine nowhere we know of as a result of something else called a 'vacuum fluctuation' that defies all our understanding, they were obviously steered or directed so that the evolution of those laws could take place and persist thereafter.

What's so difficult about accepting such a straightforward argument? And where's the need to fragment it into four mutually-incompatible options?







It is as inept of the government to strip some delinquent police officers of the decorations awarded to them as it is disgraceful for the officers themselves to be humiliated this way for their serious misdemeanours. The action shows the government in a poor light as a protracted process of scrutiny and assessment of the records of officers necessarily takes place at the state and central levels before their selection for such decorations. Either the process is defective or its implementation dubious and suspect.

The prevailing mechanism for the selection of officers for these awards is flawed and open to manipulation. Several gallantry medal awardees in the police are, at any rate, clearly undeserving just as many police selections for governors seem questionable and non-transparent in much the same way as selections of some political appointees to such positions.

The government's perfunctory approach in the present case is an attempt to evade its basic and unavoidable responsibility to carry out police reforms to improve efficiency, integrity and professionalism. This has resulted in a deep crisis of credibility and legitimacy for the ruling elite.

Reforms have been repeatedly discussed during the colonial period and after, though with no significant follow up action by the government. The East India Company noted in 1859 that the Indian police was 'all but useless for prevention and sadly inefficient in the detection of crime and unscrupulous in the exercise of authority with a generalised reputation for corruption and oppression'. The reputation in 2009 remains quite the same.

Token and ineffective gestures such as deprivation of certain awards to policemen for their misdemeanours is no substitute for far-reaching reforms to enforce police accountability not only to government and superior officers but, more importantly, to the local community. The culture of impunity must go.

The recent incident involving serving police officials including a DCP who participated in and danced at a party thrown by a notorious criminal in Mumbai must cause serious official concern. Superficial responses such as stripping of decorations from guilty policemen beg the question of long-delayed, comprehensive and meaningful reforms.


It's better to acknowledge a mistake

The short answer to that question is no. People do make mistakes. Processes certainly can be imperfect. But taking the opportunity to right a wrong is good for everyone. It shows maturity, wisdom and enhances public confidence that governments can admit a wrong and then self-correct. Police medals are given for gallantry, meritorious and distinguished service — the last two are given for special contributions to policing and sustained work after long periods in service.

Gallantry awards are given for acts of special bravery. The process is multi-layered. Initiated by the police, recommendations then move through state and central scrutiny committees. The intelligence bureau (IB) too cross-verifies the recipient's general reputation and good standing so that the government is spared the embarrassment of honouring some dirty rotten scoundrel.

But the further away the final decision-makers are from the ground, the more risky is the enterprise. After all, they can only rely on the record before them and hope that the recommendations are not spurious or motivated by favouritism. In the end, for honest incentives to work, one has to have an honour system working throughout, at all levels. If sleight of hand practices or manipulation is commonplace down the line, there is precious little that the final committee can do.

But for some time now, the burnish on police medals has been wearing off. There has been a lot of concern about influence peddling and the kinds of medals for which gallantry awards are given. 'Encounter specialists' whose prowess to tackle genuine combat is uncertain have been given reward medals of a particularly dark colour. A medal is a badge of honour. It is an incentive to be good. Just as it is itself for the good.

It belongs as much to the service as to the deserving individual. It assumes an officer and a gentleman or lady at the receiving end. If it turns out otherwise or if the receiver sullies the good company he is meant to be part of, then it honours other winners that he is stripped of it. No shame in that.

(*Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)







The short answer to that question is no. People do make mistakes. Processes certainly can be imperfect. But taking the opportunity to right a wrong is good for everyone. It shows maturity, wisdom and enhances public confidence that governments can admit a wrong and then self-correct. Police medals are given for gallantry, meritorious and distinguished service — the last two are given for special contributions to policing and sustained work after long periods in service.

Gallantry awards are given for acts of special bravery. The process is multi-layered. Initiated by the police, recommendations then move through state and central scrutiny committees. The intelligence bureau (IB) too cross-verifies the recipient's general reputation and good standing so that the government is spared the embarrassment of honouring some dirty rotten scoundrel.

But the further away the final decision-makers are from the ground, the more risky is the enterprise. After all, they can only rely on the record before them and hope that the recommendations are not spurious or motivated by favouritism. In the end, for honest incentives to work, one has to have an honour system working throughout, at all levels. If sleight of hand practices or manipulation is commonplace down the line, there is precious little that the final committee can do.

But for some time now, the burnish on police medals has been wearing off. There has been a lot of concern about influence peddling and the kinds of medals for which gallantry awards are given. 'Encounter specialists' whose prowess to tackle genuine combat is uncertain have been given reward medals of a particularly dark colour. A medal is a badge of honour. It is an incentive to be good. Just as it is itself for the good.

It belongs as much to the service as to the deserving individual. It assumes an officer and a gentleman or lady at the receiving end. If it turns out otherwise or if the receiver sullies the good company he is meant to be part of, then it honours other winners that he is stripped of it. No shame in that.

(*Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative)







It is as inept of the government to strip some delinquent police officers of the decorations awarded to them as it is disgraceful for the officers themselves to be humiliated this way for their serious misdemeanours. The action shows the government in a poor light as a protracted process of scrutiny and assessment of the records of officers necessarily takes place at the state and central levels before their selection for such decorations. Either the process is defective or its implementation dubious and suspect.

The prevailing mechanism for the selection of officers for these awards is flawed and open to manipulation. Several gallantry medal awardees in the police are, at any rate, clearly undeserving just as many police selections for governors seem questionable and non-transparent in much the same way as selections of some political appointees to such positions.

The government's perfunctory approach in the present case is an attempt to evade its basic and unavoidable responsibility to carry out police reforms to improve efficiency, integrity and professionalism. This has resulted in a deep crisis of credibility and legitimacy for the ruling elite.

Reforms have been repeatedly discussed during the colonial period and after, though with no significant follow up action by the government. The East India Company noted in 1859 that the Indian police was 'all but useless for prevention and sadly inefficient in the detection of crime and unscrupulous in the exercise of authority with a generalised reputation for corruption and oppression'. The reputation in 2009 remains quite the same.

Token and ineffective gestures such as deprivation of certain awards to policemen for their misdemeanours is no substitute for far-reaching reforms to enforce police accountability not only to government and superior officers but, more importantly, to the local community. The culture of impunity must go.

The recent incident involving serving police officials including a DCP who participated in and danced at a party thrown by a notorious criminal in Mumbai must cause serious official concern. Superficial responses such as stripping of decorations from guilty policemen beg the question of long-delayed, comprehensive and meaningful reforms.








German luxury car manufacturer Audi is the fastest growing one in the luxury segment. Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of Audi's board of management, spelt out the carmaker's strategy to overtake arch-rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the Indian market in a freewheeling chat with ET. Excerpts:

The company has been doing well in India...

Our sales in the domestic market increased 58% to 1,658 cars in 2009, which exceeded our own expectations. Despite challenging market conditions, the Indian market has grown for the second year in succession and we are expecting impressive growth in 2010.

What is the sales target for 2010?

We should be selling around 2,500 cars this year. There are plans to launch an array of new models such as the Audi Q7 4.2TDI, which is the most powerful diesel sports utility vehicle (SUV) in the market. We will also start production of our Q5 sports utility vehicles in India this year, which will further stimulate growth. To celebrate its 100 years, Audi will offer a limited edition of our Audi A6 2.7 TDI.

How do you perceive the numerous challenges posed by the Indian market?

We are extremely happy with our performance in India in the last few years. Basically the initial years were meant to showcase and build brand while looking for long-term consistent growth and meet the brand equity levels for the Indian customers. We introduced our sporty R8 version, which was taken well. We'll unveil its limousine version soon.

Does the company have adequate network to support the targeted growth?

Audi India is putting up its dealership and service network in place. We are looking to cover all the major cities initially, followed by other cities like Jaipur, Ludhania, Nagpur and Lucknow, which offer growth options. We will grow to 18 dealership from the current 12 in 2010. We have 20% market share in the luxury car market, which should grow to 30-35 % in the next few years.

So does it mean that India is among the few markets globally that are doing well for Audi?

We are going to see major growth coming from China, while our traditionally large markets like the US will show some growth and Europe will be more or less flat. India does not have large volumes, but it is the market for the future and is bound to emerge as a major growth centre in the Asia Pacific region in the next decade.

Are there any plans to launch the luxury hatchbacks in India?

We have a fairly large outlook for the Indian market. We are interested in whichever segment we can find customers. Audi is developing a super mini series the A1 in Europe. If there is adequate demand, we are open to bringing the A1 here.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The terrorist assault in central Srinagar on Wednesday does not change the story. The hit was sudden and dramatic as such strikes invariably are, and the shooting went on for around 22 hours as the attackers had got inside a hotel. Fortunately, casualties were limited. The joint action of the Jammu and Kashmir police and the CRPF to bring the terrorists down was precise, patient and praiseworthy. The initial commotion apart, since it was the middle of the day, and a so-called fidayeen or suicide assault was taking place after a gap of 26 months, it is unlikely that anyone in Kashmir will draw the inference that the Valley is once again on the cusp of an era of unremitting violence. Nor does the episode qualify as being a security or intelligence lapse. Stray terrorist modules can always be mobilised in a place like Kashmir, when foolproof arrangements against infiltration are not exactly possible as the infrastructure of terrorism continues to be nurtured in PoK. More attacks cannot be ruled out in a few months when the mountain snows melt and infiltration routes become easier of access. However, the key social and political feature of the situation is that popular support to militancy is no longer available. In the absence of that critical element, occasional violence is the only means left to the jihadis to advertise their cause. There is some irony in the fact that Wednesday also saw a suicide bomb attack on a Pakistan Army barracks at Rawalakot in PoK, near the Line of Control. The motivation and dynamics of that would be quite different from any attacks in the Valley and we would do well to avoid the temptation of concluding that India and Pakistan are equal and simultaneous co-victims of terrorism. We have known over time that while the Pakistan Army is battling the Pakistan Taliban, the same institution and its subsidiaries and cohorts continue to fan the flames of militancy against this country in order to keep alive their political constituency that seeks the co-option of Kashmir with Pakistan. The Rawalakot attack, which took five lives, was the fourth in PoK in about a year, while there had been none in the Valley for about two years. From a propaganda and political perspective, such asymmetry is intolerable to the Pakistani establishment. This consideration cannot be ruled out as a motivation for the attack at Srinagar's Lal Chowk. There would be other reasons as well. The most important of these at this point would be to discourage Kashmir's secessionist politicians from engaging even in indirect conversations with New Delhi under the recent scheme proposed by the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidamabaram. In pursuit of this, about a month ago, the terrorists had mounted a murderous assault on a low-key prominent pro-dialogue secessionist politician who all his life avoided getting mixed up with the politics of violence. When the jihadists are beginning to speak through guns and bombs, the Centre will be called upon to take steps to protect the initiative spelt out by the home minister. That is why it is imperative that the government does not let up on the process of thinning down troop numbers in Kashmir.








Once an object of derision as the state where everything had broken down and no progress, except in crime, could be expected, Bihar has within four years managed to top the states' growth chart and today stands next only to Gujarat. That Gujarat is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone, and Bihar by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in which the BJP is an equal partner with Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United (JD-U), has its own lessons for those who have written off the BJP.


The growth rate of 11.03 per cent in Bihar's gross domestic product, from 2005 to 2009, contrasts sharply with the complete breakdown in governance that the state witnessed during the Rashtriya Janata Dal's reign under Mr Lalu Prasad, when casteism ruled and growth was negative, at 5.15 per cent. The NDA-ruled Bihar has not only been lifted out of negative growth in just four years, but its growth rate has also gone far ahead of the national average.


The Chief Minister, Mr Nitish Kumar, substituted "Mandalism" with focused development that was inclusive. He started by basic changes in health, education and infrastructure. Even non-political observers have found that in Bihar, where nothing seemed to work during the Lalu Prasad years, teachers are now back in schools, government servants are at their desks and police officers are on duty.


Significant improvement in law and order has enabled industry and businesses to resume work without fear of extortion or kidnapping. During Mr Prasad's "Mandalised" rule, news from Bihar was only about kidnappings — extortion was the only industry in Bihar, with even a school to train criminals. But last July, a World Bank report, "Doing Business with India", ranked Bihar 14th, ahead of even Tamil Nadu and other places in the country, for ease of starting business — a real tribute from outside the country to the progress achieved in the state.


Bihar's deputy chief minister and BJP leader Mr Sushil Kumar Modi recently explained this massive difference between Mr Prasad's 15-year-long era and the NDA's four years. "The 11.03 per cent growth could be achieved only because we could spend Rs 35,368 crore during the four years of NDA rule as against Rs 25,000 crore spent in 15 years of Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress rule", he said. What made a difference is also the discipline in the administration, beginning with discipline enforced in the Cabinet itself. Both the JD(U) and the BJP got non-performing ministers to quit and showed no mercy for criminal elements within their respective parties. One single instance of kidnapping and the government reached to the top-most police officer to set an example. For the first time in Bihar, the kidnapping industry found that rules had changed with the NDA government in charge.


Compare This with what is happening in Marxist-ruled Kerala. The expose of a terrorist recruitment and training ring following the arrest of Thadiyantavide Nazir, the suspected Lashkar-e-Tayyaba operative, as also the ruling Marxist party's alliance with Abdul Naseer Madani's People's Democratic Party (PDP) have had tectonic repercussions. The Marxist party state boss Pinarayi Vijayan sought to dismiss this alliance as a minor affair but his own Chief Minister Mr V.S. Achuthanandan has listed this alliance as the prime cause of the Left Democratic Front's (LDF) dismal performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The other major component of LDF, the Communist Party of India, had opposed the tie-up in May 2009 itself.


The capture of Nazir in Bangladesh, after he escaped from Kerala police's custody despite a hundred policemen surrounding him, has brought the Union home ministry into play. Nazir was leading the recruitment of young men from Kerala for first training in Pakistan and then terror strikes. He was also involved, along with others, in the burning of a Tamil Nadu state transport bus in Kerala, purchase and storage of explosive material on a large scale, two explosions in Kozhikode and the serial bomb blasts in Bengaluru. The scale and impact of his network that has been exposed clearly point to aid from terror mongers in Kerala's political and police establishment. It is this that has prompted the Union home ministry to intervene and entrust all further investigations to the National Investigating Agency. That the Marxist state home minister, Mr K. Balakrishnan, is accusing the Centre of ignoring him is another instance of how the Marxists are now scared that the Centre will get to the root of how recruitment for terror flourished in the state under the Marxist regime.


And what about development? Nothing to show, say the numbers. Only Rs 2,000 crore of software export from Kerala out of Rs 1,25,000 crore worth of software export from the country despite the fact that the state has two IT parks. The only showpiece for the state is tourism and a burgeoning investment in real estate and gold — the $20 billion that come to the state from its workers abroad has no other investment outlet and so real estate prices are going up and crime is flourishing, especially aimed at the senior citizens and wealthy households receiving money from abroad. In fact, a huge corruption case is underway against the Marxist state party chief — desperate attempts by the Marxist bosses to stop the case that's now in court notwithstanding.


In Marxist-ruled West Bengal too the situation is similar to what it is in Kerala. Industries are reluctant to troop back into West Bengal after their experience of dealing with Marxist party cadres. The Singur and Nandigram fiasco have warned prospective entrepreneurs to keep out of the communist land. By the time the Marxist top brass realised that enterprise is beneficial to people and that wealth creation is possible only when investments are made that yield good surplus, it was too late. The moral of the story is that Marxism has failed to deliver in India as well, like it did in the rest of the world.


Mandal can neither ensure social justice nor growth. Only regimes fired by strong nationalism and sense of purpose can ensure progress.


Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at [1]








SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica

Hmmm. You think it's a coincidence? Costa Rica is one of the very few countries to have abolished its Army, and it's also arguably the happiest nation on earth.


There are several ways of measuring happiness in countries, all inexact, but this pearl of Central America does stunningly well by whatever system is used. For example, the World Database of Happiness, compiled by a Dutch sociologist on the basis of answers to surveys by Gallup and others, lists Costa Rica in the top spot out of 148 nations.


That's because Costa Ricans, asked to rate their own happiness on a 10-point scale, average 8.5. Denmark is next at 8.3, the United States ranks 20th at 7.4 and Togo and Tanzania bring up the caboose at 2.6.


Scholars also calculate happiness by determining "happy life years". This figure results from merging average self-reported happiness, as above, with life expectancy. Using this system, Costa Rica again easily tops the list. The United States is 19th, and Zimbabwe comes in last.


A third approach is the "happy planet index", devised by the New Economics Foundation, a liberal think tank. This combines happiness and longevity but adjusts for environmental impact — such as the carbon that countries spew.


Here again, Costa Rica wins the day, for achieving contentment and longevity in an environmentally sustainable way. The Dominican Republic ranks second, the United States 114th (because of its huge ecological footprint) and Zimbabwe is last.


Maybe Costa Rican contentment has something to do with the chance to explore dazzling beaches on both sides of the country, when one isn't admiring the sloths in the jungle (sloths truly are slothful, I discovered; they are the tortoises of the trees).


Costa Rica has done an unusually good job preserving nature, and it's surely easier to be happy while basking in sunshine and greenery than while shivering up north and suffering "nature deficit disorder".


After dragging my 12-year-old daughter through Honduran slums and Nicaraguan villages on this trip, she was delighted to see a Costa Rican beach and stroll through a national park. Among her favourite animals now: iguanas and sloths.


(Note to boss: Maybe we should have a columnist based in Costa Rica?)


What sets Costa Rica apart is its remarkable decision in 1949 to dissolve its armed forces and invest instead in education. Increased schooling created a more stable society, less prone to the conflicts that have raged elsewhere in Central America. Education also boosted the economy, enabling the country to become a major exporter of computer chips and improving English-language skills so as to attract American eco-tourists.


I'm not anti-military. But the evidence is strong that education is often a far better investment than artillery.


In Costa Rica, rising education levels also fostered impressive gender equality so that it ranks higher than the United States in the World Economic Forum gender gap index. This allows Costa Rica to use its female population more productively than is true in most of the region. Likewise, education nurtured improvements in healthcare, with life expectancy now about the same as in the United States — a bit longer in some data sets, a bit shorter in others.

Rising education levels also led the country to preserve its lush environment as an economic asset. Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer, introducing a carbon tax in 1997. The Environmental Performance Index, a collaboration of Yale and Columbia Universities, ranks Costa Rica at No. 5 in the world, the best outside Europe.
This emphasis on the environment hasn't sabotaged Costa Rica's economy but has bolstered it.


Indeed, Costa Rica is one of the few countries that is seeing migration from the United States: Yankees are moving here to enjoy a low-cost retirement. My hunch is that in 25 years, we'll see large numbers of English-speaking retirement communities along the Costa Rican coast.


Latin countries generally do well in happiness surveys. Mexico and Colombia rank higher than the United States in self-reported contentment. Perhaps one reason is a cultural emphasis on family and friends, on social capital over financial capital — but then again, Mexicans sometimes slip into the United States, presumably in pursuit of both happiness and assets.


Cross-country comparisons of happiness are controversial and uncertain. But what does seem quite clear is that Costa Rica's national decision to invest in education rather than arms has paid rich dividends. Maybe the lesson for the United States is that we should devote fewer resources to shoring up foreign armies and more to bolstering schools both at home and abroad.


In the meantime, I encourage you to conduct your own research in Costa Rica, exploring those magnificent beaches or admiring those slothful sloths. It'll surely make you happy.








Back in Sri Lanka after a hectic fortnight in Karachi, I was having breakfast in the veranda of the Galle Face hotel in Colombo and reading the local Daily Mirror to catch up on news. This hotel, built in 1864, has played host to many famous people whose comments are inscribed on a large board. One of them was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who stayed here briefly in the 60s. For some weeks now, the media here has been full of charges and denials made against and on behalf of ex-Army Chief and presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka.


According to the general, in the last few days of the fighting in the war against the Tamil Tigers in the north last May, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the President's brother and defence secretary, ordered the Army to kill any Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters who were trying to surrender. The newspaper specifically quoted Fonseka as saying that he was out of the country and these orders went directly to the brigadier leading the final assault.


Coming as it did on the heels of other serious charges of human rights abuses during the final days of the war, General Fonseka's allegation was a huge embarrassment for the Sri Lankan Army and government. Ever since the Sunday Leader published this interview last month, the President's campaign team and the state media have been hammering away at the Opposition candidate's supposed lack of patriotism. He has been accused of turning against the Army in his desire to win the election.


Initially, General Fonseka stood by his accusation, but when he saw the backlash developing, he said he had been misquoted. However, the interviewer (the editor of Sunday Leader), Fredrica Jansz, has firmly denied that she got the general wrong. Apparently, she took the precaution of calling him after the interview to ask him to re-confirm the damaging charge he had laid. According to her, Fonseka was categorical in stating that she had reflected his views accurately.


This episode underlines his inexperience as a politician. A wooden speaker, he has little to offer the electorate excepting his image as an authentic war hero.


The taxi driver who drove us into town from the airport made no secret of where his loyalties lie: he said he had bet a hundred thousand rupees on the President. When I gently told him that people in the south — Rajapakse's stronghold — were fed up with high prices, unemployment and corruption at the very highest levels of government, our driver exploded. "Where's the proof?".


In the fortnight since I was last here, some of the wind seems to have gone out of General Fonseka's sail. As it is, the Opposition is fighting an uphill battle, trying to oust a sitting President who controls all the levers of power. With three brothers in the government, he has many allies who have benefited from his first term. However, the fact that several of his supporters have gone across to the Opposition is revealing of how close this electoral battle still is.


Another major factor in this campaign is the President's folksy manner and human touch. He is a good communicator, and his public speeches are laced with appeals to the ordinary voter. And despite the Election Commission's directive to remove hoardings and posters, the President's grinning face is everywhere. However, if the incumbent wins the election, the police officer should think of an alternative career…


One imponderable in this election is how the minority Tamils will vote. Indications thus far are that this crucial vote will be split. After the demise of the LTTE, no party has yet filled the vacuum. A number of Tamil parties purport to speak for them, but no clear line seems to have emerged. So far, indications are that this important vote will be split. Some Muslims — around 10 per cent of the population — appear to be leaning towards the government. This is especially true of the ones in the north and east who have been promised resettlement in the lands they were evicted from by the LTTE.


Not surprisingly, Fonseka is very popular in the Army, and there are reports that many soldiers will take leave before the elections to guard polling stations to ensure that government supporters do not meddle. Rigging remains the wild card: observers feel that if Fonseka has a lead of over six per cent or so, it will be difficult for the ruling coalition to produce the numbers needed for victory. The presence of an independent Election Commissioner will also help the cause of a free election.


Yet another imponderable is how Sri Lankan women will vote. Given the high level of inflation, many of them have been hit hard by the government's inability to control prices. Even though gross domestic product per capita in Sri Lanka is nearly double India's and Pakistan's, this is still a poor country where the prices of basics figure high in household budgets. Young people, too, feel marginalised in a tough job market. Many of them feel the free-market United National Party, a key Opposition party, will be more effective in creating new jobs.


So the jury is still out on who will be the new President. If Fonseka can build up some extra momentum before January 27, he could still spring a surprise.








In the age of emails and SMSes, the tradition of handwritten Christmas cards has taken quite a beating. Nevertheless, greeting friends and relatives through electronic means or the printed beautiful cards still continues. The text on the "greetings" is invariably "Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year". Since the New Year's Day falls exactly a week after Christmas, it gets closely connected with the event of Christmas where the world basically celebrates the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.


The tradition of celebrating New Year is quite ancient. It goes as far back as 46 BCE (Before the Common Era), when the Roman emperor Julius Caesar (Julian calendar was named after him) first established January 1 as New Year's Day. "Janus" was the Roman God of doors and gates and had two faces, one looking forward and one back. Caesar felt that the month named after this God ("January") would be the appropriate "door" to the year. 


By the early medieval period, however, most of Christian Europe regarded Annunciation Day (March 25) as the beginning of the year as described in the Gospel of Luke 1:31. According to Christian tradition, "Annunciation Day" commemorates the message given by Angel Gabriel to Virgin Mary that she would conceive a son who would be called Jesus. In some countries March 25 is a holiday even to this day.


After William of Normandy became King of England on December 25, 1066, he decreed that the English return to the date established by Julius Caesar, January 1. This move ensured that the commemoration of Jesus' birthday would align with William's coronation, and the commemoration of Jesus' circumcision (January 1) would start the New Year — thus rooting the English and Christian calendars and his own coronation. William's innovation was eventually rejected and England rejoined the rest of the Christian world and returned to celebrating New Year's Day on March 25.


About 500 years later, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII brought in a new calendar due to a slight inaccuracy in the Julian calendar which caused it to slip behind the seasons about one day per century. The inaccuracy was corrected by introducing a leap year.


One of the important connections between Christianity and the universal calendar now in use is the application of BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, The Year of Our Lord) to denote periods of time in history. That is the importance given to the birth of Christ (Christmas).


Whichever way one looks at January 1 or the New Year, it is either connected to the circumcision of Jesus or the Annunciation Day, influencing its observance by the Christian tradition. In the Catholic Church, January 1 is currently celebrated as the feast of the Motherhood of Mary, making that connection when for centuries the New Year was celebrated on the day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become Mother of Jesus.


— Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the Government of India.








Can the tiger save India?

The question is usually posed in reverse order. India has more tigers and possibly more intact tiger habitat complete with prey species for the great predator than any other country in Asia. Over the last three decades, there have been several moments of crisis for the great cat, brought about by multiple threats to its home and its body.


Just over five-and-a-half years ago, a task force submitted an outline to the government on how best to marshal forces of science, citizen and community to protect it in its forest home.


But the question posed here is exactly the opposite — Can the tiger save India? The tiger after all is a symbol of more than just conservation. It links us to our shared past in more ways than one. Across the ages, like its close cousin the lion, it has been a symbol of power and strength. No wonder the ruler Samudra Gupta struck coins with the title "vyagra bala parakrama" (the slayer of tigers).


At another level there were associations with divinity, as with the temple of Vyagra Paadishwara in Chennai. Roll it off your tongue for it means "the Lord with tiger's feet".


Not that royalty or divinity was any shield against a continuing centuries' long conflict with humans. After all, for two millennia India has had the largest lactose-tolerant society on earth. Ungulates, especially domestic ones, were bred to give milk and pull ploughs, making them food on the hoof for large carnivores.


This long tug of war of conflict and co-existence, of fear mixed with awe got a new twist over the last two centuries. The British and their princely allies did not just kill tigers. They often hunted them down with a vengeance.


Bounties for females and cubs were heftier than those for male tigers. As the forester naturalist Alan Dunbar Brander remarked, there was a time when it looked like only the tiger or its human combatant would survive. He himself remarked on how by the 1920s the large parts of plains in India hardly had any tigers. He went on to presciently remark on how a few tigers would do certain forest tracts a great deal of good by holding down the herds of deer and sounders of wild boar. The tiger could thus be the cultivator's ally and friend of the forester.


Such sentiments had little resonance in policy till 1969-70. Moved by reports of a precipitous decline due to shikaar, skin trade and the expansion of agriculture, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi initiated a number of steps to protect the species. This culminated in a string of reserves in different key habitats to protect nature.


To this day, this single act did more to set an example for other Asian countries than initiate any single step for nature conservation in India's long history. It enabled real life laboratories of nature to survive intact. These included the marshes of the Bengal Sundarbans and the rainforest of Kalakad Mundathurai, Tamil Nadu.


At its heart was a concept which the late naturalist M. Krishnan called "ecological patriotism" — the idea that nature if left unsullied in a small slice of landscape and waters would contribute to the country's cultural and scientific life. This was not a narrow idea of the nation but a broad and all encompassing one. In the tiger's name rare creatures, plants and animals, some without its arresting good looks, got a lease of life.


In the process, there was the hope that a larger environmental ethic that would respect life in its entirety would moderate the impact of modern technology and development on the landscape and waters. The tiger would be one flagship among others of a new way of seeing and searching for a harmony with nature at a time of intense turmoil.


There were a host of reasons why the political leadership of India in the 1970s looked at and acted on the fate of the forest. In part it was a corrective to the idea that unlimited growth was an end in itself. It is no coincidence that wildlife conservation got its firm anchor at the same time as more extensive projects of social and economic change. Nationalising the banks and abolishing privy purses were as much part of the creation of a larger sense of populism as saving the natural heritage.


Four decades on, India has moved on. It is now an economic giant, an "Asian tiger" with double-digit growth within its reach. Its middle classes, small though influential at the time tiger conservation got off to a flying start, are larger. More of them, not less, reach out for binoculars and field guides on safaris to nature reserves.


Yet, now more than then, the tiger and its fellow creatures have a deeper significance for the future. On a planet where so much of nature is being unmade, having tracts where it can be studied is all the more important.


India is an exceptional developing country in trying so hard to reconcile human aspirations with natural heritage. The challenge is in doing so in a manner sensitive to under-privileged rural people while preventing industry from laying the land waste.


It is not the tiger that needs India from threats posed by need or greed. In doing so, we tame our own dark side. It is the tiger that will help save India from the devils within.


Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian. He recently co-edited the book Environmental History: As If

Nature Existed







India's relations with Australia were so good as to encourage large-scale migration since the sixties. Trade and educational links have increased to an extent where more than 100,000 Indian students are estimated to be engaged in different courses Down Under, thousands more have contributed to the labour market and private institutions in India have sought affiliations with counterparts in Australia to upgrade their professional courses. Whether 9/11 was an ominous watershed in the public perception of the Asian community is a matter of speculation but successive attacks on Indians have naturally raised concerns that many of the assaults may be racial in nature.

The killing of a young man from Punjab going to work at a restaurant in Melbourne and the most recent discovery of a half-burnt body of an Indian management student in New South Wales are being investigated as just crimes after senior officials in the Australian government have refrained from acknowledging any further motives. That close to 100 such attacks have reportedly taken place during the past year throws doubts on the Australian position but has fortunately driven India into a sterner warning with the External Affairs Minister even hinting at "other ways'' of telling Australia that it is not satisfied with the preventive measures taken so far.

The Australian authorities have a valid point that it is not possible to provide individual security. But the point of concern is that assurances at the highest levels have not yielded the results that would make life safer for the Indian community. While just a handful have been convicted, no figures are available on how many suspects have been identified. Repeated declarations that it is "premature'' to describe the attacks as racial without the Australian police being seen to be dealing with the menace in right earnest merely prompt a terror-stricken Indian community to talk of the Australian authorities "downplaying'' the incidents. The advisory that India has issued to its students cover protective measures at the individual level. It has wisely refrained from any suggestions of a collective response like setting up vigilance squads because that could easily become a source of more tension. While India has mixed caution with serious concern, the best signal that Australia can give to immigrants and students is that it means business in getting to the root of a painful wound in its relations with India. That could include a rigorous scrutiny at entry points. It should also include appropriate steps to bring the culprits to book and remove fears that may have arisen in recent times from Australia being closer to Asia than to the West.







Amar Singh has made himself "politically dispensable" to the party, after all. His resignation from the posts of the Samajwadi Party's general secretary, spokesman and parliamentary board member is another jolt for Mulayam Singh Yadav's outfit. That the simmering tension between the two was in the open was clear enough from Amar's recent blog. They have reached a parting of the ways not too long after the party's serial by-election defeats in Mulayam's turf of Firozabad, Etawah and Kanauj. The setback had rankled even more as it was Mulayam's kin ~ in particular his daughter-in-law ~ who had been defeated. The party's old guard had blamed Amar Singh for the defeats. Small wonder why the leadership has refused to heed his suggestions on nominees for the forthcoming legislative council elections. Considering his record of backtracking, his detractors may have reasons to call it a drama. But his assertion that this time he "will not listen" to Mulayam even if it is tantamount to disobedience suggests that he might just be content with his membership of the party and the Rajya Sabha. 

There are two ponderables for Mulayam. The first is the prospect of the return of his former confidant, Azam Khan, who had resigned following differences with Amar. The second, and perhaps more crucially in terms of the party's fortunes, will be the outcome of this week's legislative council elections. It is an open question whether in the absence of Amar, Mulayam's son and heir apparent, Akhilesh, and cousin, Ram Gopal Yadav, will be able to effect a swing in the votes that can be crucial in a bicameral legislature. The Samajwadi Party, which graduated from a regional, caste-based outfit to the national level, is not merely down at the heels after the electoral setbacks; it may even be at the crossroads. Amar Singh, with his potential as a manipulator, had proved his utility on occasion. Is he eyeing a re-entry to the Congress? His options must remain an open question.







HOPEFULLY Union home minister P Chidrambaram's recent remark about good news "in the days to come" with regard to Ulfa will fructify. Unless he has something up his sleeve, or the Centre is heading for a compromise, he could not have made such a prediction. But if he has based his assumption on the Assam government's ability to draw incarcerated Ulfa leaders to the negotiating table, the clear answer is no way. Here, Ulfa leaders, particularly chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa's prestige, come into play. There is controversy over whether he was "arrested" or "surrendered". Initially the authorities announced his "arrest" but later, following a public murmur, it was changed to "surrender". So, if Rajkhowa had actually "surrendered" why was he produced before the court in handcuffs? Leaders who surrendered in the past were not handcuffed. Rajkhowa's assertion that he neither surrendered nor ever would and that there would be no talks in isolation has set at rest any immediate prospect of a settlement of the Assam problem. A "responsible" leader like Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi is alleged to have remarked, in a somewhat childish manner, that "we arrested him because he refused to talk". With Ulfa leaders putting their foot down on sovereignty, the situation has come to a point where the Centre has to take a bold decision on whether to go along with talks or prolong Ulfa leaders' terms in jail. If talks have to start then both sides have to descend to the level where there will be neither winners nor losers.

The principal obstacle is elusive self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, a hard nut to crack. If the Centre talks to jailed Ulfa leaders by omitting him, that will signal the opening of yet another nightmare as he still has the wherewithal to engineer trouble. Good news will depend on how the Centre interprets sovereignty.








Democracy is considered healthy when there are two national parties. India has no national party. It has two unstable coalitions that compete for power. The major ruling party is faltering. The major opposition party is crumbling. Rahul Gandhi is attempting to reinvent the Congress to its pristine strength. If he succeeds it will take care of one power pole. One hopes he succeeds. It is the other power pole that needs attention.

Recent history indicates that the Sangh Parivar's earlier approach has failed. The Jayaprakash Narayan approach was a success. To appreciate this, one must understand why the Janata Party failed and why the BJP today is in crisis. After the Janata Party split in 1980, the BJP was created. After its nationwide exposure as a powerful faction of the Janata government the Sangh Parivar sought to occupy the Janata Party's space with its own united organization and pro-Hindu ideology.

After its creation in 1980, the BJP had unfettered access to its core beliefs. The Ram Mandir Rath Yatra reached the pinnacle of Hindutva aspiration. But in truth, of little avail. The BJP could not emerge as a single nationwide entity. It rose to greater heights only after pre-poll seat adjustments with VP Singh and other regional parties. Subsequently, it existed in uneasy coalitions with regional partners that distanced themselves from the RSS and Hindutva. Gradually the Ram Mandir issue became stale. The load of Hindutva became too heavy. The compromised alliance with reluctant coalition partners became too exposed. The excesses of the fired up Hindutva elements such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal became too embarrassing. Eventually the unacknowledged realization dawned that the traditional exclusivist BJP ideology had failed. The attempt to reinvent the BJP has commenced. It is being done without openly acknowledging that its pro-Hindu mantra and exclusivist approach has failed. This transition is what the RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat, seems to be attempting.

Common DNA

Bhagwat is now talking of promoting Hindustanis and not just Hindus. He is talking about reunification of the subcontinent in some arrangement, although he has not specified as yet the South Asian Union modelled on the European Union. But he has referred to the example of erstwhile rivals Germany and France uniting in common purpose. He has affirmed that regardless of religious belief the people of South Asia by and large share a common DNA. He has stressed that ethnically they are the same. He has openly warned China against meddling in the affairs of the subcontinent. He has expressed the eventual common purpose between India and even Afghanistan. He has criticized the divisive and anti-national approach of the Shiv Sena factions. In short, he is conforming to the approach of Jayaprakash Narayan. He has recognized that an exclusivist  Hindutva approach has little future.

However, JP's creation, the Janata Party, also failed. To avoid the pitfalls of the Janata Party, the reasons for its failures must be understood. If the BJP failed because of a failed ideology, the Janata Party failed because of a flawed organizational structure that was incompatible with its ideological impulse. The Congress which has ruled India for most of the time since Independence reflects centripetal tendencies. Centralization of power is sometimes healthy and necessary for a large multi-lingual, multi-religious nation like India. But this is not true all the time. Centrifugal tendencies need equal expression depending upon the conditions prevalent at any time. The natural polarization of the Indian polity is not between Left and Right as they are commonly understood in the West. The natural polarization in India is between the forces of centralization and decentralization. The ebb and flow between centralization and liberalism has characterized Indian history. Ashoka the liberal was followed by Chandragupta the centralist. Akbar the liberal was followed by Aurangzeb the centralist. Nehru the liberal was balanced by Sardar Patel the centralist. JP the liberal challenged Indira Gandhi the centralist. So, why did the Janata Party fail?

The Janata Party failed because it took birth in extraordinary circumstances occasioned by the Emergency. It was a hasty cut-and-paste job under the shadow of a crisis. The party was led mainly by former Congressmen whose main claim was that they were better Congressmen than Indira Gandhi. Their mindset was incompatible with the demands of a genuine alternative to the Congress. Those who had fought all their lives the Congress to create the foundation of a genuine alternative were marginalized by events. And Ram Manohar Lohia was dead. Instead of forming a federal party to reflect the liberal forces of decentralization the Janata Party leaders attempted to replicate the Congress of Nehru and Patel when organizational ground realities precluded that possibility.

This is not the wisdom of hindsight. Before the Emergency, by when JP had resolved to challenge Indira Gandhi electorally, this scribe wrote an article for JP's weekly magazine, Everyman's. The article was entitled "The Alternative". From the first preparatory meeting JP tried to unify all the opposition parties to create a national alternative. The meeting was held on November 25, 1974. JP circulated the article to all delegates present at the meeting. The following extracts quoted from that article are worth recalling.
The article written in autumn of 1974 said: "A little after her last meeting with JP the Prime Minister observed that if JP and his supporters had any grievance they could test their strength at the next general election, which was not too far away. If this was intended to be a veiled taunt, Mrs Gandhi may have to rue her words. JP has accepted the challenge… The people's efforts to paralyze and remove from office corrupt Congress regimes will now be supplemented by the attempt to create an organization capable of winning the next election… The issue that will catch the imagination of the people all over the country is the issue of decentralized planning and administration, and of greater power for the States to identify their own problems, set out their own priorities, formulate their own solutions, and themselves execute policies. In short, more self-rule for the people… the most formidable electoral challenge to the Congress has come from regional parties… these factors are not, as some Congressmen have perversely argued, the signs of national disintegration. These reflect the essence of democracy ~ the urge among people for greater participation in policy making and government… At the State level a federation of the various parties, retaining their separate identities might be perfectly compatible with merger at the national level, leading to one-party candidates for the Lok Sabha. This would imply at the first stage of the evolution of the new party a common symbol, common candidates to the Lok Sabha, and a federal alliance in each state, with the parties retaining their separate identities but ensuring that the federal alliance puts up one candidate in each assembly constituency..."

Federal alliance

This was what eventually transpired. The federal alliance put up common candidates under the common symbol of the Janata Party. For the first and only time in India's post-Independence history a single non-Congress party with a single symbol governed India. But within two years the Janata Party disintegrated. The reason was simple. The main leaders of the party ~ Morarji Desai, Chandra Shekhar, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram ~ were all former Congressmen. They were trying to reinvent another centralized Congress Party dominated by each of them respectively. JP's health was already failing. All the federal alliance parties were prematurely dissolved. They merged with the Janata Party. This went against the phased plan suggested by this scribe's article that was distributed by JP in his first meeting with leaders

The ground realities quickly asserted themselves. In each State four-member committees representing the parties or groups led by Morarji, Charan Singh, Jagjivan Ram and Vajpayee took decisions. The real leaders on the ground were marginalized and became disgruntled. Thus, others apart from Charan Singh's party had no influence in UP. Others apart from Vajpayee's party had no influence in Delhi. Yet authority was wielded by rootless functionaries. Significantly the discord started from within States. It spread to the top rungs of the central leadership. A federal organization was sought to be run like a centralized unit. Failure was inevitable.
(To be concluded)







There are some political alliances that have fragility written on them. The shotgun marriage between Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh was one of those. Mr Singh is a maverick politician. He rose from the alleyways of Burrabazar in Calcutta to be one of the principal figures in New Delhi's corridors of power. It used to be said that he could be the maker and unmaker of governments. He was certainly often critical in the sealing of deals. From simple beginnings he made himself a man of wealth with a wide network of connections and with his fingers in many pies. Even his critics and enemies — and they are innumerable — could not deny that Mr Singh was a go-getter. His political career was built upon his network; it was definitely not on the basis of mass political support that had been built through years of work at the grassroots level. He was bound to be a misfit in any political outfit, even in the Samajwadi Party led by Mr Yadav. The latter's success was derived on a support base, which is now a little dwindling. Mr Yadav, at the peak of his power and influence, was a force to reckon with in the mass politics and elections in Uttar Pradesh. Mr Singh, on the other hand, was often perceived, within the SP, and without, as the fixer who hogged the limelight. Mr Singh was larger than life and this provided his enemies with ammunition to bring him down.


His resignation from all party posts — it will never be known if he was edged out or he quit voluntarily — highlights another important facet of Indian political life. Figures like Mr Singh, without any background of political work among the people, and therefore with no mass base, have flitted across the Indian political firmament. But those with the staying power are all persons who have earned their laurels the hard way and thereby won for themselves the respect and the trust of the electorate. The people in their wisdom always choose the party worker over the party fixer. This is Mr Yadav's strength over Mr Singh. This is not to extol Mr Yadav and to villify Mr Singh. It is only to point to a vital difference in their political careers. This difference indicates why the alliance between the two would inevitably be fragile. On Mr Singh fell the mantle of a Johnny-come-lately who had become too big for his boots. Such a perception was harsh, but it came with the roles that he played.







A nation's search for identity may not begin and end in a written constitution. But a country's constitution is meant to capture the collective wish of its people. The legal battle in Bangladesh to restore the word, "secularism", in the constitution is only superficially a political issue; at stake is the bigger question of what kind of a nation-state it hopes to evolve into. At its birth as a new nation, Bangladesh aspired to be a secular, democratic republic. When the fifth amendment to the constitution dropped the word "secularism", it reflected more the politics of the government of the day than the wishes of the people. Opponents of the new move to restore the word in the constitution now make the same complaint. The two main political parties in Bangladesh — the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — agree on almost nothing. Worse, almost everything is given a partisan twist. But the country's liberation war left no room for doubt that secular nationalism was its prime mover. The move to restore "secularism" in the constitution should thus be seen as an attempt to return to the spirit of both the original constitution and Bangladeshi nationalism.


More troublesome for the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, could be the move to ban religion-based parties. Her opponents would try to exploit the issue in order to recover lost ground. But Ms Wajed's massive victory in the last elections reflected a popular anger against parties and leaders who sought to ruin Bangladesh's secular polity. In a country where Muslims form nearly 90 per cent of the population, the majority religion cannot be in any real danger. To argue that a ban on religion-based parties poses a threat to Islam in Bangladesh is no more than familiar political rhetoric. Bangladeshis cannot be unaware that the making of a modern nation has much to do with the separation of State from religion. In fact, many of the country's problems in recent years resulted from the way some political parties abused the people's religious sentiments for narrow partisan gains. Some of these parties even sought to use religion to try and obliterate the nationalism that gave birth to the nation. The rise of religious fundamentalism and the resultant violence were also a direct outcome of religion-based politics. The return to secularism will not solve all of Bangladesh's problems, but it can better safeguard its fledgling democratic polity.








There is nothing celebratory in the reams of newspapers or on television screens that enter the privacy of our homes. Rape, molestation, protection of erring civil servants, corruption of politicians, blackmail, fasts-unto-death, untenable excuses and explanation for immoral acts indulged in by those who make the laws they break, and the abuse of the mechanisms that ensure civil society overwhelm the citizens of India.


A small democratic kingdom, tucked away in the Himalaya, isolated from the ravages of greed, has instituted the mantra of Gross National Happiness as its development barometer. This is an idea that we, in our large and unruly subcontinent, need to adopt. In India, most people in positions of power, across all professions, tend to pooh-pooh innovations that deviate from established methodologies, most of which have failed miserably. In Bhutan, the priorities are clear and carefully mandated. The importance given to culture, education, health, environment and clean, democratic governance is salutary. It is interesting to see and experience how a monarchy has transited to a democratic framework and evolved a working constitution. The king actively sought the intervention of people across his kingdom before finalizing its tenets and formalizing the document. India reacts to this by saying that this country is far too large and over-populated for such experiments in growth and governance. This is the typical, cynical response to any new idea or demand for fresh processes.


Make it happen

Rajiv Gandhi had understood the need for grassroot governance and put a huge premium on panchayati raj. The babus and politicians realized quickly that their ruthless, often illegitimate, hold on all economic and social activity would be diluted substantially with the devolution of power and resources to the base. They ensured that new processes to empower the panchayats effectively were actively stalled so that there was no transition of power out of their centralized domain. That space now stands hopelessly corrupt.


Maybe the Congress needs to celebrate Rajiv Gandhi and reconsider the parameters within which the panchayats function today. It should restructure the system by giving more power to the panchayats and putting in place checks and balances in the form of regular audit to make them accountable. The symbol of the party is the right hand. Four fingers and a thumb: culture, education, health, environment and transparent governance — all of which, if properly and honestly managed and executed, could deliver the Gross National Happiness.


Start small at the panchayat level. Define 'culture', which embodies a wide range of elements intrinsic to life and living, from faith to building techniques, living styles, dress patterns and eating habits. Create new building norms based on traditional styles and the skills of the particular community; identify the craft of the area and showcase it in the haats and larger markets; encourage school-going children to wear the local form of dress as uniform to reinforce a sense of pride; make it mandatory to have a small community 'museum' and a sacred grove in every panchayat area that allow the young and old to remain connected with their cultural ethos; regional languages, dialects, myths and legends should be part of the extra-curricular activities in schools; local cures should be part of the healthcare; all this and more. A collective orchestration of the community, making it responsible for itself, supported by the panchayat.


Rural employment based on traditional expertise will grow, and so will pride. Hitherto neglected Indians, ignored by a bureaucracy built on an alien, Western model, will begin to feel empowered. Their dignity, lost in the folds of bad governance, will become a reality.



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





Yet another attack on an Indian in Australia has exposed the repeated assurances of the Australian government that it would take effective action to prevent such attacks on Indian students as hollow. The latest act of violence, this time on a Punjabi youth, Nithin Garg, on his way to work resulted in death and this is the first time such attacks have become murderous. That marks a new level in the growing offensive against Indians in that country. Over a hundred students have till now been attacked, creating fear and even panic among the Indian community in Australia and their relatives back home.  Many Indians who study in Australia have to simultaneously work also to finance their studies. They are attacked when they go to or return from work and the incidents have increased now.

The Australian government has denied that the attack on Nithin Garg was racial. But Deputy Prime Minister Julian Gillard, who made the denial, has not been able to explain why most of the victims of the attacks have been Indians. The Australian high commissioner's statement that most such attacks are 'opportunistic' is also not convincing. Australia takes pride in being "a nation that overwhelmingly is an open, tolerant, multi-cultural, welcoming society". But the continuing attacks belie that claim.

Every time an attack takes place the provincial and federal governments issue statements that show them as not very serious, accompanied however with promises to prevent them. But they keep recurring. The increasing violence has also been attributed to social unrest as a result of layoffs in the wake of recession. But denials and explanations do not change the situation on the streets.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has conveyed to the Australian government India's anger and warned that such incidents could vitiate the atmosphere of trust and spoil the good relations between the two countries. India has also issued a travel advisory to Australia warning students that they face an increased danger of attacks there.

Australia's reputation as an educational destination has also been spoiled. There are more than one lakh Indian students in that country. But the visa applications from Indian students have fallen recently. This is because of the attacks on students and the unscrupulous practices of some of the institutions that take in students. The Australian government needs to take effective action on both these fronts and India should increase diplomatic pressure for this to happen.







Scientists are warning of an acute food crisis if the government persists with its current approach of neglecting the agricultural sector. Farm scientist M S Swaminathan, who spearheaded the Green Revolution in the 1960s and hauled India out of the ship-to-mouth existence, has pointed out that the impact of shortages in grain production and bottlenecks in its supply has been accentuated by the current food inflation, which he has described as frightening. He has called for reforms in agri-culture sector. It is not just agricultural scientists that are sounding the alarm bells. At the recent Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram, scientists from an array of fields ranging from climate change to space were drawing attention to the deteriorating food security situation in the country.

The food crisis is not one that villagers and farmers alone need to worry about. It is having a devastating impact on urban India as well. Experts have been warning that food insecurity is a problem that grips not just the chronically poor states but also the economically advanced ones. The country is already home to the largest number of hungry and malnutritioned people. In the circumstances, the food crisis impact will prove disastrous.

Sixty per cent of India's population is directly engaged in agriculture and another 200 million landless labourers are dependent on this sector. Yet the government continues to ignore the agricultural sector. Despite the severity and spread of the food crisis, it remains preoccupied with monitoring the health of corporates and stock exchanges and has been generous in extending sops and stimulus packages to industry, even as suicide among debt-ridden farmers touched new levels last year. We have become immune to the terrible suffering unfolding in rural India.  Our approach to rural problems hinges on the flawed belief that high economic growth rates will somehow trickle down on their own to bring positive change in the lives of the poor. This has not happened so far.

Swaminathan has drawn attention to the annual ritual of finance ministry officials consulting captains of corporate India in the run-up to the budget. They should be engaging with farmers representatives instead, he has rightly pointed out.









The epitaphs being written of Asif Zardari after the supreme court of Pakistan declared the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance void ab initio are perhaps somewhat premature. Despite panic buttons being pressed by the PPP rank and file after the judgement, things seem to have somewhat settled down.

This does not mean that the legal minefield that has been laid out for President Zardari has disappeared. Indeed, the hostile courts will remain hanging like a sword of Damocles over the head of the PPP chief and his close associates. But the looming threat of the government being destabilised by the joint effort of the military establishment and some powerful media barons has receded for the time being.

For how long the ruling dispensation will be able to cling on in office — it has already lost its powers — is still not clear. What is clear, however, is that even if because of fortuitous circumstances the PPP-led coalition survives its full term, it will be as nothing more than a glorified municipality.

The Pakistan army is not really in favour of the overturning the current system. But the army had a lot of reservations against the national security policy — relations with US, India, Afghanistan, the nuclear programme and doctrine, Pakistan's participation in the War on Terror, etc — of the PPP-led government.

This was the reason why the dirty tricks department of the military orchestrated the entire campaign of vilification against Zardari and his close associates and brought them under so much pressure that they have now thrown in the towel as far as making policy or taking decisions on issues of national security are concerned.

Giving a new dimension to the doctrine of separation of powers, the civilian government of Pakistan will now be responsible for everything except the vital foreign, defence and security issues, which will be the sole preserve of the military. Even political initiatives that have a bearing on national security — for instance, in Balochistan or in Gilgit Baltistan — require a clearance from the Pakistan army.

With the civilian government going out of its way to placate the army — India-bashing is once again back on the centre-stage — the generals have got what they wanted. It would now be counter-productive for the army to force the government out of office.

Although the army would like to see the back of Zardari, it might well decide to tolerate him as a necessary evil, more so after Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has thrown his weight behind the president.


Gilani has understood that he won't be able to survive in office for very long — a few months at best — if Zardari is ousted. The army is also apprehensive that move against  Zardari could easily lead to a severe reaction in Sindh, something that the army cannot afford at a time when it is combating insurgencies in FATA and Balochistan.

If the current dispensation collapses, this will leave basically two options. The first is a new election. Given the current security situation a new election doesn't seem very feasible. And even if fresh elections are held, they will most likely catapult Nawaz Sharif's party into power. This is not exactly a very welcome prospect for the army because Nawaz Sharif is unlikely to be a pushover. The army also fears that he will wreck his vengeance on military officers who crossed his path when he was ousted by Gen Musharraf. Even worse, he will go out of his way to end the army's political role.

The second option is what is known as the 'Bangladesh model' — a government of technocrats backed by the army. But this option gives rise to two important questions.

First, the so-called 'Bangladesh model' was originally the 'Musharraf model' who until the 2002 elections ruled through a cabinet of technocrats. Neither the 'Musharraf model' worked miracles, nor did the 'Bangladesh model' change anything in Bangladesh.

The second question relates to the courts. The 'Bangladesh model' has no constitutional sanction. Unless the courts approve such an arrangement by once again resurrecting the 'doctrine of necessity', they will be constrained to strike it down. And if they don't strike it down, the courts will lose every shred of credibility and legitimacy.

Of course, under the guise of the 'Bangladesh model' the army could overthrow the current judiciary. But this will end up pitting the army against the public, something the army cannot afford especially when it needs the public support in its fight against the 'bad' Taliban.

Given the dialectics of the situation, it therefore serves the interests of everyone if the Zardari/Gilani combine continues to occupy their offices but without wielding any real power. The only spoiler in this whole scheme could be the supreme court. Unless the judges take a step back and desist from opening multiple Pandora's boxes, they will almost certainly end up destabilising the entire system.

What remains to be seen is whether the judiciary survives this destabilisation or whether the politicians and military establishment gang up and fix the judiciary. Either way, Pakistan will face great instability and unrest.








During my recent family trip to Mysore we stopped at a wayside restaurant for refreshments. As I had finished eating and was waiting in our vehicle for the others to join me, I noticed an aged beggar asking for money from the occupant of the car parked next to mine. The chap gave a small coin to the beggar who contemptuously thrust it back to the giver, saying loudly, "Keep this precious thing yourself!"

He then slowly limped towards me, eyes wide with disdain. Giving him some money I told him casually that he should gratefully accept whatever is given to him as charity. With a look that seemed to suggest that my remark lacked basic worldly wisdom he blurted out, "Tell me sir, can that small coin buy anything these days for a hungry man? Give us a chance to live with some human dignity!"

Come to think of it, there was nothing wrong in what he felt and said. Not long ago, there was a news item about an appeal from the Beggars' Association requesting the public to give them a minimum of one rupee as charity in view of the rising cost of living and declining value of the rupee! Though it might seem amusing at the outset, it is thought-provoking indeed and deserves to be viewed rationally — considering that this unfortunate strata is an inseparable part of our society that cannot be eradicated at least in the near future and we have an unwritten commitment to impart a certain hue of humaneness to this scenario.

While the employed get enhancement in their earning in proportion to the cost of living index and the business class devise their own methods of augmenting their income, are not beggars, who have to live in the same world as ours, justified in airing their grievances?

Although there is no compulsion whatsoever to 'give,' when 'given' let it be done gracefully so that it satisfies both the giver and the receiver. We give food to our maid asking her to take the 'left overs.' How graceful it would sound if the same thing is given with a 'take your share!'

We know of people who donate huge amounts of money to their deity either as thanksgiving or in anticipation of blessings to fulfil their expectations which in no way reflects a selfless grace. Compare this with the case of a well-known doctor friend of ours who recently donated her mortal remains to a medical college for the benefit of her fraternity, which I consider the noblest act of giving with lasting grace.








Two thick steel doors shut softly behind me. I'm not locked into this boxy, cell-like 'quiet lab' deep in the bowels of Bristol University's new Centre for Nanoscience and Quantum Information, but it feels like I might as well be. A journalist could disappear here: no sound penetrates, and no one would hear my screams…

A constant stream of traffic drives past the centre, but the springs and dampers upon which this new building has been constructed ensure that very little noise, and virtually no vibration whatsoever, impinges on the finely tuned experiments on nanoparticles taking place in a series of quiet labs all along the basement corridor.

This small lab, however, is the stillest of them all: having been given the tour of the basement, I'm now standing in the quietest room in the quietest building in the world, and I can almost hear my heart beat. Losing all auditory references does funny things to your balance, and I lurch slightly as the double doors open to let me out. It's a relief to hear the faint underlying buzz that indicates life as we know it.

The key factor

I've come to meet Dr Neil Fox who's going to tell me how sunlight shining on diamonds can generate electricity. It's theoretically possible, but doing it cheaply and consistently is the tricky bit. The heat contained in the sun's rays, clearly, comes for free, but the problem with solar power to date, explains Fox, has been the cost and logistics involved in generating usable electricity on a large scale.

Storing the sun's power tends to be done by using its rays to heat oil or a special salt mixture to a high temperature. This provides a store of heat that is used to drive steam turbine generators just like any conventional power station. Although the principle is sound, the construction and operating costs of utility-scale plants are not cheap.

Nanodiamonds, Fox explains, are one of the few materials that can absorb heat, and, while barely red-hot, emit thermionic electrons. By arranging for this thermionic current to be harvested, electrical power can be generated directly. Job done, it might seem. Well, not quite.

"They're not very efficient," he explains, kindly sketching a vastly simplified picture to illustrate for me the problems currently taxing his team. The potential for generating clean power cheaply and easily would be an amazing breakthrough, and it's the central reason why Fox and his research assistant, Dr Kane O'Donnell, spend much of their lives closeted in a quiet lab in the basement getting up close and personal with a shiny silver scanning probe microscope.

It looks rather like an old-fashioned diver's helmet. Curious, I peer through a little window into its innards. I don't know what I'm expecting — given that a nanoparticle of diamond is unimaginably tiny, I'm hardly likely to see anything sparkly, much less an emitted electron dancing around. Images from the microscope are sent to O'Donnell's computer: auditory and vibrational quiet is essential, he explains, to the accuracy of their results.

"There's a similar microscope at UCL, but their lab is next to a tube line, so things can sometimes go wrong," he says with a small grin. "What we're doing is probing at the atomic scale. It's like trying to position a needle above a particle at a distance of about an atom."

The most infinitesimal shake can make the tiny diamond particles under scrutiny appear to jump the nano-equivalent of a continent's width to the left or right, up or down. To prevent this, the section of the room where the microscope sits is a solid block of concrete several metres thick, which can be suspended on jets of air to isolate it from any noise or vibration. There are no phones in these labs, special non-buzzing lighting has been installed, and the only copper wiring permitted is that required to power computers.

Without this facility, adds Fox, it wouldn't have been worth spending half a million euros on such a super-specified instrument. But the laboratory environment here allows his team to achieve a precision available nowhere else.

It's rare, explains O'Donnell, for researchers in the physical sciences to be doing fundamental science and applied science in the same project, but the results of combining their brainpower could potentially make solar energy viable on a major scale. If nanodiamonds can be manipulated to make the cost per kilowatt cheaper, conventional energy companies would be far more willing to invest in solar power.








Through the fog Benjamin Netanyahu is creating around the new Egyptian-American initiative, one can discern the outlines of the emerging formula to resume the peace process. The formula consists of accelerated negotiations to establish a Palestinian state, with the 1967 lines as its borders (with territory exchanges) and East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Obama administration has been making efforts in the last few days to raise overall Arab and international support for this plan and bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table. The president's envoy George Mitchell said on Wednesday that a final status agreement could be reached in less than two years.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem the prime minister is reverting to his old ways. Whenever there seems to be progress in the Israeli-Palestinian track, Netanyahu pushes East Jerusalem to center stage. During his first term in office, his one hand signed the Hebron agreement and shook Yasser Arafat's hand at the Wye Plantation. His other hand, at the same time, was signing the scheme to populate the Ras al-Amud neighborhood with Jews and a plan to build the Har Homa neighborhood on land confiscated from Palestinians.


The "new" Netanyahu is acting exactly as the old one did. In the Bar-Ilan University speech in June the prime minister adopted the two-states-for-two-peoples solution. But in July he announced his support for a right-wing group's construction enterprise in the Shepherd Hotel compound in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Then a report about expanding the Gilo neighborhood appeared and shortly afterward the Housing and Construction Ministry stated that it was issuing tenders to build 692 housing units in Pisgat Ze'ev, Neveh Yaakov and Har Homa. This week it transpired that Jerusalem's municipal council is advancing right-wing organizations' plans to house Jews on the Mount of Olives and Shuafat, demonstrating that the construction spree in East Jerusalem reaches the very heart of the Arab neighborhoods.

The prime minister accompanied the cabinet's decision to temporarily freeze West Bank settlement construction with declarations that the restrictions would not apply to East Jerusalem. The American administration and even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas understood that coalition constraints prevented the prime minister from openly undertaking to freeze construction in the capital. However, they expected Netanyahu to reject government real estate initiatives in East Jerusalem and thwart right-wing groups' efforts to carry out volatile faits accomplis intended to sabotage the peace talks.

Netanyahu's encouragement - albeit silent - to the variety of government, municipal and private blueprints to populate East Jerusalem with Jews is casting doubt over his enthusiastic calls to resume the talks with the Palestinians. Accelerating Israeli construction in the east of the city, which the international community sees as the capital of the future Palestine, is regarded as provocation, intended to sabotage the negotiations even before they begin.


Like his predecessors, Netanyahu agreed to negotiate over Jerusalem's status as part of the final status agreement. But his acts foil any possible compromise, deepen the conflict in the city and destroy the chance to implement the two-state solution.








In the past few weeks, a number of threatening messages have arrived in Jerusalem from the White House. The U.S. president's top adviser, Rahm Emanuel, was quoted by our diplomats in Washington as having said that Obama was tired of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Emanuel reportedly told them something to the effect that they were wasting precious time and missing the opportunity to reach peace. Eventually the United States will simply give up, stop dealing with this interminable conflict and we leave Israel alone, he reportedly said.

These worrisome warnings were also reflected in a column by the New York Times' Thomas Friedman, in which he proposed that U.S. President Barack Obama wash his hands of our conflict and follow in the footsteps of former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, who once told Israel's leaders to call the White House's switchboard once they got serious.

That kind of looks like advice for the American president to let us stew in our own juices.



It is not clear who incited whom, but there is no doubt but that these remarks indicate a tendency toward frustration and anger. The very fact that Israel, "our great allies," are mentioned in the same breath as the Palestinians, instigators of terror in the region, hints at the fact that the days of intimacy and special relations with the United States are in jeopardy.

However, although it seemed at the time that Obama's speech at Cairo University was a breakthrough and a world-embracing initiative for establishing peace in our region - it now appears to have been just hot air.

Netanyahu's speech at Bar-Ilan University was likewise made of the same stuff. And meanwhile Al Qaida's terror has once again reached America itself.

It is one thing to give advice to a country across the sea and another to give advice to a government controlled by the president.

Simultaneously, Israel is preparing for the worst. Gas masks will soon be distributed to most of the population and this week a gigantic simulation of a biological attack will take place.


What is common to both Israel and the United States is that both countries have turned their attention to self-defense against future wars instead of Obama's longed-for peace.

As someone who followed the peace talks with the Egyptians when I was Haaretz's correspondent in Washington, I wondered how the two countries that had spilled so much of each others' blood could achieve peace, especially when the leaders involved were right-winger Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.

The truth is that the peace talks actually started from the end. They started when both of them realized that after so many wars, talking would yield the most results. In a secret meeting held by Moshe Dayan in Morocco with Sadat's close adviser, he let it be understood that in return for peace, the Egyptian president would get back everything that had been conquered.

Dayan was so keen to come to an arrangement that he persuaded Begin at the time to speak about everything, including mentioning Jerusalem. Begin was hesitant, but Dayan convinced him.

"What are negotiations?" he asked. "He will demand something and we will refuse; we will propose something and he will refuse?"

It was decided in principle that the final objective was peace, and two years of negotiations were held until a peace agreement was signed.

The Carter administration buckled down to prepare all the documents and all possible alternatives so that a basic agreement would come out of Camp David.

What will we do with the Pithat Rafiah settlements in Sinai, Ezer Weizman asked Sadat. I say burn them, came the reply.

Take note all those who are dreaming of leaving behind settlements under Palestinian sovereignty.

Egypt not merely gained prestige but also magnanimous annual aid from the Americans. Without such deep involvement on the part of Washington, would it have been possible to achieve a durable peace? That is not a given.

Sadat and Begin got their Nobel Peace Prizes after signing the deal; Obama has already received his as advance payment on the basis of words alone.

There is no use in temporary arrangements that don't lead to a final objective agreed upon in advance.

A step like freezing construction in the settlements for 10 months is like giving a Band-aid to a cancer patient. Even though there is no resemblance between an agreement with the Palestinians and an agreement with an already-formed state like Egypt, it is essential to start from the end.

The Palestinians are behaving as if they have all the time in the world. They claim they were here before us, depending on how much time back they are counting.

There are people who believe that the only person among us at this time who is capable of giving up territory and moving the settlers is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, like Begin, would enjoy massive support if he were to make concessions in return for peace.

However, nothing will move without an American plan, without a massive push, even a forced one, from Obama. We were always wary of a forced solution but it is most likely that there are greater dangers than that - the continuation of terrorism and Palestinian demographic dominance.

Instead of broadcasting to us weariness and anger, it would be better if Obama would initiate a mediation proposal or obligatory arbitration so as to achieve peace and permanent borders between the two peoples.









Very quietly, behind the scenes, a battle of giants is underway over a piece of the national commercials pie. The cable television providers HOT and Yes want to begin broadcasting commercials on the hundreds of channels they offer - but commercial channels 2 and 10 are opposed. They don't want any other parties taking a bite out of the commercial pie from which they earn a living.

The motivating force behind this "reform" is actually the budget division of the Finance Ministry. It plans to convince Yes and HOT to provide a cheap and limited package of channels, and in exchange they will receive two rewards: commercials and a reduction in royalty payments.

Although the time has come to do something about the overpriced "basic packages" offered by HOT and Yes, why reward them?



Both companies sell the customers a basic package that are among the most expensive in the world. The user pays about NIS 200 a month for a package of about 70 channels, the vast majority of which he never watches. In the United States a similar package costs NIS 130, in Belgium NIS 140, in Ireland and Holland NIS 150, and in England only NIS 30.

This is not the first time the budget division has tried to force HOT and Yes to provide cheap and limited packages. This is what led it to promote the "digital converter" initiative, with which it is now possible to watch the five public channels - 1, 2, 10, 23 and 99 - without being a Yes or HOT subscriber. This service is provided in return for a one-time payment of NIS 450.

The idea was that the moment the digital converter came onto the market, Yes and HOT would be forced to sell a limited package of 10 to 15 channels for the low price of about NIS 90 a month - in order to prevent the loss of customers. But that hasn't happened because the two providers understood that, in return for agreeing to a limited package, they could extort from the treasury both the introduction of commercials and a reduction in royalties.

This is a mistake on the part of the budget division. It should not have linked a limited package with commercials. It should have intervened in the market and forced Yes and HOT to provide the public with limited packages reasonably, not exorbitantly, priced - because this is a non-competitive market, a market controlled by only two companies.

The treasury should have continued in the direction it began with the creation of the digital converter. There is no reason to make do with five channels when the digital converter can transmit 10. Technological progress must not be halted due to pressure from wealthy businessmen. Nobody is saying the Internet should be restricted because newspaper owners are harmed. Nobody is saying the development of solar energy should be halted because it harms the oil companies. Therefore, in the same way, there should be no restriction on the digital converter. Permission to transmit dozens of channels through it, not only five, should be granted. Then Yes and HOT would understand that it is worth their while to offer a limited package - because if they don't, their customers will simply leave.

The attitude of the treasury is also surprising in light of the fact that the government is trying very hard to keep Channel 10 alive. It is waiving prior commitments and enabling the channel to continue to broadcast without a new tender. If this is the case, how can the Finance Ministry help a channel with one hand and with the other deliver it a death blow by granting Yes and HOT a license to broadcast commercials?

There is a great deal of logic in the present structure of TV broadcasts. We pay for the public channel, Channel 1, by means of a licensing fee. We pay for the two commercial channels by watching commercials. We pay for cable television with monthly subscription fees. In that case, why allow Yes and HOT to enjoy both worlds, both subscription fees and revenues from advertisements?

An examination conducted by the Cable and Satellite Council indicated that the cost of the limited package would amount to NIS 90, but most subscribers would choose to purchase about another 10 channels for an additional charge. Therefore the overall cost will be NIS 190 per subscriber. What have we gained here? Will we all pay the same price and suffer through commercials as well?

There is no reason to increase the brainwashing the public is already subject to on the two commercial channels. Sometimes it seems more time is devoted to commercials and previews than the programs themselves. How much more can we watch Mega Bool celebrate its first anniversary and Supersol Deal celebrate its fifth?

And how much more can we hear about L'Oreal Paris, which with the aid of a simple cream smoothes the skin on our necks and tautens our face? And of course there's Bezeq, with high-speed surfing, and Strauss and Osem and Ikea and the desire for Opticana eyeglasses. You can go crazy from the endless repetition of the same annoying commercials.

And now, according to the treasury's proposal, will we be subject to all those ads on Channel 8, Yes Docu, National Geographic, the film channels, the family channels and the sports channels too? That would be the ultimate in brainwashing. Help!








In the past, they regarded him as someone who had come from both near and far; as someone who had built a nest among us like a foreign species of bird who had displaced the local fowl. But no longer - today he is the national bird.

The way in which he was absorbed here is a success story that has no equal; he was a rising star. When the second decade arrived and the first decade was being summed up, his image as the super-Israeli stood out immediately - the Israeli who inherits the earth, someone more Israeli than any other. His facial composite bears an exact reflection of the face of the generation.

He represents verbal abuse and, at least in one case, physical abuse; there is no one who speaks as loud as he does.



He takes care of both the state and his own home at the same time, as well as his daughter. He stirs up disputes between people while pretending to be a persecuted minority.

He keeps company with the oligarchs because he is of their ilk. He rubs up against the law enforcers, defies the authorities investigating him and tries with his own hands to break the branch on which he sits even though he might have to sit there in the future. He is the person least suited to his position and yet many challenges still await him.

He is the stranger and he is one of us, he is like a bone stuck in our throats and he is part and parcel of our own bones. Is there anyone who is more of a prototype than he? Is there anyone who more successfully portrays the spirit of the times?

There are Israelis who are more typical than he is, but there is no Israeli as typical as he - whose thoroughbred personality encompasses the characteristics of this time and place. One can merely wonder how the summations of the past decade - of which we had so many - did not shine any light upon him as he "trod the high places of the earth," pushing aside all the caricatures of the naive Israeli who had represented us before him.

His defense attorneys say that behind closed doors he behaves with composure, like a civilized person; it is only when he emerges from the tent that he goes berserk. It would be more appropriate for the opposite to happen - for him to overturn tables while inside, and neatly set them when outside.

It became clear this week that his integration here is in fact more perfect than had been thought. Even the leaders of the Semitic Action movement that advocated Israel's integration into the region never imagined that he of all people would be their successor; Uri Avnery is writhing in his bed as this new salt of the earth is being poured on his wounds.

"Terms such as national pride have value in the Middle East," Avigdor Lieberman explained to 150 surprised ambassadors who had gathered in Jerusalem. "The problem with Israeli diplomacy," the Foreign Minister complained, "is that it does not preserve the state's honor. The period of obsequiousness is now over." Therefore the minister is instructing his emissaries all over the world to bang on the doors that have not been opened to him.

We came to this country to work, the early settlers thought; but Lieberman has come here to preserve the state's honor - and precisely at a time when the proud Arab nation is less inclined to wallow in respectful ceremonies, and is bequeathing these customs to the Jews.

Next thing you know, we'll be conducting honor killings.

He came from a large country and saw a country that was too small. There was no choice but to enlarge its territory, to thin out its population and, most importantly, to puff up its chest.

He is no longer a stranger; we who are meek and bent over, we are the strangers in our land.








Gideon Sa'ar, the activist education minister, has proposed a new initiative to ensure the proper use of our language. Perhaps he's done so out of a belief that pure language will not only improve our culture of speech, in urgent need of repair, but will also help solve our pressing need for public discipline - in turn leading to the obeying of laws, respect for others and even a reduction in the violence rife among our young people.

Minister Sa'ar also proposes that schools devote a certain amount of time each day to language study, in order to correct linguistic mistakes and uproot those errors that have become ingrained. But the acuteness of the problem is not limited to our children, it belongs to all of us: in the universities; among both students and teachers; among respected lawyers who are supposed to express themselves with precision; broadcasters and journalists, who determine the expressions we often use; and of course politicians, who fill the air with their poorly worded declarations.

Even writers as well as theater and film actors, models for the general public, repeat basic mistakes that are never corrected. Famous and prize-winning writers and poets have not learned nor internalized the rules of Hebrew grammar. Anyone who stands in front of a class or any other audience, or writes for the masses, feeding them his errors, will be considered a model worthy of imitation. And so instead of educating the public to perfection and linguistic purity, he will continue to mire them deep in their mistakes. One talented and admired writer gave her book a grammatically incorrect title, and when people said she'd referred to the subject as the object she ignored their comments instead of apologizing and correcting the mistake.


So who will teach the teachers who are supposed to teach our children? Language mavens Ruth Almagor and Avshalom Kor cannot reach every public institution. Even where they are available their voice is not always heard, and if it is heard it's not always heeded.

Insisting on the use of proper language is not only a petty matter for purists and the fastidious. The absence of such insistence is liable to lead to confusion, distortions in communication. I recently informed a student at the university that I would be lecturing at a certain location on Friday night and she came to the meeting place on Saturday night, even claiming that I'd sent her on a wild goose chase. Only then did I understand that to her "lail Shabbat" (Friday night) meant the next day, i.e. Saturday night. Go explain the ancient tradition of "And it was evening and it was morning" - because of which "lail shishi" means the end of the fifth day, i.e. Thursday night. [In the Hebrew calendar, the next day begins in the evening.] And who hasn't heard, ad nauseam, our students, our most learned scholars and our leading statesmen use the masculine form of the number 18 instead of the feminine form when referring to a century (which is feminine in Hebrew). I'm even certain that many of them would not know how to correct this mistake.

Our forgiving attitude toward mistaken expressions - if ignorance has not prevented us from noticing them - has endowed us with the habit of neglecting to enforce rules in all facets of our lives. We shout at one another when we should be speaking, and interrupt each other; interviewers argue with their interviewees, becoming a party to the argument, instead of delicately and efficiently drawing out the information which they and their audience desire; we display contempt for public property, people destroy bus stops, flower beds and lawns; people dirty streets, walls and public squares; we drive aggressively, competitively, wildly and without regard for anyone else; we let legal demonstrations overflow into unbridled riots; we unrestrainedly attack those who enforce the law, while on the other hand, the latter also show contempt for human dignity when they carry out their work; and above all - for any reason, large or small, or no reason at all, people pull out knives and kill innocent people too.

Therefore, what we need in schools are not only set times for correcting language, but an overall and systemic educational curriculum for respecting rules, from top to bottom, in all areas of our lives, of which corrections to linguistic mistakes is only a part. We need public discipline in order to internalize these rules as part of our set of values and daily lifestyle. A child who learns to express himself correctly - who learns to speak with clear diction, calmly, without shrieking, while observing the basic rules of the language; who is guided by the clean and precise pronunciation of broadcasters, reporters, writers, politicians and other talking heads; who respects the authority of his teachers and the privacy of his friends; who has respect for public property and cleanliness - will also drive his car like a human being and know how to control his impulses.

And beyond that, there is nothing like personal involvement - for example campaigns to clean up, practice debates, imposing serious punishment on those who violate the law and drive like maniacs, and having the elites in politics, culture, academia, teaching, economics and religion provide personal examples in order to facilitate these changes.

The writer teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.








In an opinion piece published last week in Haaretz ("Just like Rosa Parks," Dec. 29, 2009), columnist Karni Eldad compared the government's 10-month freeze on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank with institutionalized discrimination against blacks in the United States. She called on her fellow settlers to ignore the freeze, equating such proposed civil disobedience with Rosa Parks' refusal to "move to the back of the bus," in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 - one of the touchstone incidents in the civil rights movement.

Assuming Eldad intended this comparison to be taken seriously, it is worth highlighting some of the moral and historical differences between the two situations:

b Rosa Parks was a member of a beleaguered and persecuted minority.


An Israeli settler is a member of a dominant and powerful majority.

b The laws of the land at the time discriminated against Rosa Parks on the basis of her skin color, as they did against all African Americans.

The laws of the land favor settlers on the basis of their national identity, but discriminate against another people: Palestinian residents of the territories.

b Rosa Parks was poor, and represented a disempowered people subject to the often violent whims of law enforcement agencies.

Most settlers are not poor. The physical infrastructure of their settlements and their network of bypass roads is paid for by all Israeli citizens, and their protection is provided by our nation's military, one of the most powerful armed forces in the Middle East.


b Rosa Parks' civil disobedience took the form of nonviolent protest.

Settlers attacking building inspectors are breaking the law and engaging in violence in their attempt to thwart a political decision they do not like. Threats against the defense minister are likewise illegal attempts at intimidation.

b Rosa Parks fought segregation.

Settlers actively or passively promote segregation. Think of roads for "Jews only."

b Rosa Parks risked her life to fight a discriminatory system.

Settlers risk their lives to preserve a discriminatory system.

b The laws used to discriminate against Rosa Parks were based on an immoral social code, which was justified by various baseless claims of racial inferiority and contamination.

The decision to freeze settlement building is based on the momentary political calculus of a right-wing government trying to appease its American ally, and has little moral weight. The laws that favor Israeli settlers at the expense of Palestinians are indeed immoral, and use our very real security problems as an excuse to nibble away at Palestinian land and to limit Palestinian freedom and development opportunities.

b Rosa Parks' call to end segregation was intended to correct the basic injustice that had marred American democracy since its founding, when the institution of slavery was left intact, and which continued in its most extreme form in the South almost a century after emancipation.

The settlers' call to continue construction to meet the needs of "natural growth" is a form of double-speak, employing a term originating in political spin to justify further expropriation of Palestinian land. Settlement expansion has little to do with "natural growth" - as evidenced by the marketing campaigns to sell new housing units to buyers with no family ties to settlers. The demand for financial compensation for losses incurred by the government-mandated construction moratorium establishes a new benchmark in greed and gall from some in the settler community, who have grown too used to drinking from the national trough.

b Rosa Parks did not lead or found the civil rights movement, but the publicity around her action developed enormous symbolic significance.

As Israeli citizens, settlers have the same rights as all other citizens of the state, but their central symbolic significance in the civil rights arena is in the denial of civil rights to their Palestinian neighbors, who are routinely displaced, have their freedom of movement curtailed, and are left with almost no legal recourse when they or their property are abused by settlers or our state agencies.

b The laws that were used against Rosa Parks are today universally considered to be morally invalid and despicable.

The laws that favor settlers but encroach upon Palestinian life are today considered to be morally invalid and despicable across the globe, in much of Israel and among a majority of the Jewish people around the world. Only our government and some settlers remain unaware of this.

To suggest that the situation of a settler enduring a temporary settlement freeze is parallel to the circumstances facing Rosa Parks is obscene, and reflects an impressive ignorance of history.

Furthermore, one would be advised to read "1984," by George Orwell, with special attention to "newspeak" - aka doublespeak - when making the "natural growth" argument. (Nota bene: "1984" was intended as a critique of totalitarian and fascist tendencies in a democratic society, not as a how-to book.) This is simply another attempt to change the public discourse in Israeli society by portraying settlers, rather than the Palestinians, as the victims of our policies in the West Bank.

Don Futterman is the Israel program director of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation that has worked for more than 20 years to promote civil rights and democracy in Israel, and to strengthen Israel's civil society.







Once upon a time, simply plunking any Israeli singer in front of a Diaspora audience was enough to get them dancing the hora and wiping away a tear. Not at Limmud UK: This conference has a discerning palate. This week-long gathering of Jewish learning and culture, which each year between Christmas and New Year's draws more than 2,000 people to the campus of the University of Warwick, has already enjoyed performances by the top names in Jewish and Israeli music. Ehud Banai, Hadag Nachash, Etti Ankri, Coolooloosh and Sfatayim have shared space in the famous fat Limmud program book with such varied American Jewish performers as Debbie Friedman, Craig Taubman and Sway Machinery.

At Makom, which develops and organizes educational and cultural materials and events intended to deepen the relationship between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, we had a feeling that Kobi Oz's new band, playing the songs he had written while "soaking in the warm marinade of Judaism," might strike a chord with Limmud's connoisseur audiences. Limmud was welcoming, the Jewish Agency in the U.K. was up for it, we at Makom translated the songs so they could be projected during the performance, and Oz and his band traveled to the cold of Warwick to perform "Mizmorei Nevukhim" (Psalms for the Perplexed) twice for the Limmud UK Conference.

Responses were not just good. The entire conference was ecstatic. Long-term Limmud junkies emerged from the show in raptures. "I heard the lost voice of Am Yisrael rising," a respected lecturer wrote me by e-mail later. "Transcends categorization, speaks with the heart and soul of a Jew," enthused an artist. "Nuance, depth and emotion, all tempered with a sense of humor that was simultaneously cutting, loving and surreal. It was a gift to hear him perform," gushed another respected researcher and educator in the Jewish world. Clearly "Mizmorei Nevukhim" struck gold. Why did this meeting between the music of Kobi Oz and the audience at Limmud UK end up being so much more than just another concert?


It may well have been due to the way the show flowed so easily and generously between Sephardi and Ashkenazi styles. Limmud has already danced to the Moroccan wedding romps of Sfatayim, but it has rarely heard a Tunisian guy lead audience and band in a rousing version of a niggun by the ultimate Ashkenazi songster, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. With a surprising disco-like a capella burst in the middle of that song, Oz's band was able to swim so charmingly between the oceans of Sepharad and Ashkenaz, reminding us they were really only a single sea.

Or perhaps "Mizmorei Nevukhim" was so appreciated because it offered Limmud some hope regarding the developing Jewish nature of Israel. Limmudniks - that strange new denomination of Jews who pay more than $800 to spend their Christmas break surrounded by Jewish pluralism and tolerance - have been following our religious problems in Israel with a concern verging on heartbreak. Reform Jews (a significant population at Limmud) read of the arrest of a tallit-wearing woman at the Kotel, and note sadly that Israel may be the only democracy in the world where they are not free to practice their Judaism; the politically liberal (also well-represented at Limmud) cringe when they hear settlers presenting "Jewish values" in opposite ways from how they understand them; and most at Limmud have simply taken for granted that Israel is mainly full of "Hebrew-speaking goyim."

Into this chasm of disappointment stepped Kobi Oz. Former longtime leader of the Teapacks band and successful novelist, his pate free of religious covering, he sang honestly and wittily of his mixed feelings about religious ritual (recounting his first venture into a mikveh, he wonders fearfully "Will I emerge a king, or a mule?" and comes out relieved: "Still feel like myself, thank God ..."), and of his love and respect for the faith of his grandfather. He conducted a dialogue with rabbis of the Talmud, on the one hand, and with eccentrics holding "Messiah" signs, on the other. The Israeli Judaism of Kobi Oz seemed to be a cultural resource, a smiling companion, a call to social action: much like the kind of Judaism that comes to life during the week of Limmud.

And as a result the largest emotional and sociological chasm of all - that which lies between Israel and the Diaspora - seemed to disappear in the harmonies. Though he continued to pronounce the "P" in the translation of the show's title "Psalms for the Perplexed," and though he bravely battled through a joke whose punch line, "amba," was never going to be met with the guffaws it sparks in Israel, Oz proved himself bilingual in more ways than one. When he casually threw off an observation that "mitzvot are Pilates for the personality," he was sharing a witty and wise insight with a large global community - and in more catchy, alliterative English than Limmud's best teachers could ever conjure.

As Oz and his incredibly talented band, like musical pixies, led Limmud skipping through moral minefields of rich and poor, right and left, religious and secular, it became clear that "Mizmorei Nevukhim" was more than just a great musical celebration. It was an expression of the very generosity, diversity, plurality and sense of fun that Limmud prides itself on. Though they had never met before, Kobi Oz had written for Limmudniks the theme songs they hadn't even known they might dream of.






As the world struggles to emerge from last fall's economic near-collapse, there is one sub-group that has slid below the waterline in record numbers: formerly middle-class women. A new report shows that a million American middle-class women will find themselves in bankruptcy court this year. This is more women than will "graduate from college, receive a diagnosis of cancer, or file for divorce," according to the economist Elizabeth Warren. Their plight, symptomatic in many ways of the plight of women around the world, holds lessons for us all.

These bankrupt women are better educated than their male counterparts: Most have some college; and more than half own their own homes. What tipped them from middle-class lifestyles to incomes just above the poverty line were likely to have been one or all of three factors. Two are economic, and, for many women, the third may be emotional.

First, these women tend to be awash in debt. Just about everyone spent above their means in the recent bubble, but middle-class women have a special relationship to debt. Many of them have jobs that require them to dip into credit lines just to stay afloat. But others have been successfully targeted by luxury-goods manufacturers and credit-card companies, which benefit from the way that mass culture ties certain kinds of consumerism - the latest designer clothes, this season's "it" bag, the right highlights, and even the trendiest sports car - into a narrative of successful femininity.

Nor is this pressure confined to the United States. New middle classes are emerging globally, and magazines like Cosmopolitan and Vogue are targeting newly middle-class women in India and China - many of them part of a generation with its own disposable income for the first time ever in their family histories - with the very same luxury goods.

The second reason that a million U.S. women have filed for bankruptcy is that legislation enacted in 2005 now pits individual women against credit-card companies in terms of who gets paid first when ex-husbands owe delinquent credit-card payments and child-support payments.

These pressures are serious, and both are discussed publicly. But there is frequently a third factor in middle-class women's economic stress, less addressed publicly, much less measured. It has to do with many middle-class women's emotionally complex expectations and projections about money.

In the young women's leadership program that I help run at the Woodhull Institute, we regularly see that middle-class women, more often than working-class women, find it embarrassing to talk about money. When they do bring it up, they use apologetic, self-defeating language. They are reluctant to negotiate salaries and rarely know how to do so. They believe that asking for money in exchange for their labor makes them "unfeminine." They frequently assume that working twice as hard as those around them - while never speaking up for their own worth or accomplishments - will generate a raise because an authority figure will notice.

Moreover, these women tend to have unrealistic notions about their economic paths. Young, middle-class women often fail to save because they assume - still - that marriage will rescue them financially. As a result, they often see buying trendy shoes or a great haircut - rather than giving some money each month to a broker - as an "investment" in their romantic futures. And the familiar cliche is all too often true: Older middle-class women fail to become financially literate in their own households, and leave investment, tax and insurance matters to their husbands. This leaves them economically vulnerable when divorce or widowhood strikes.
Paradoxically, we have found that working-class women (and women of color) rarely harbor such economically problematic structures of denial. They tend to be more ready than middle-class white women to master the basics of financial literacy and to learn salary negotiation, because they don't have the luxury of assuming that a knight on a white horse will rescue them financially.

Indeed, the financial pragmatism of working-class and poor women is the reason for the successes in the developing world of micro-financing that puts money in their hands. It would surprise me if middle-class women anywhere in the world - brought up to view certain forms of economic ignorance and naivete as socially appropriate - could, without climbing a steep learning curve, be as reliable and hard-nosed as the world's poor and working-class women consistently prove themselves to be.

The new book "Financial Intimacy," by Jacquette Timmons, offers truths that would have been valuable to any of the middle-class women now in crisis. "Many women today earn significantly more than women in previous generations," she writes. "But, ironically, that hasn't necessarily resulted in a higher degree of financial security," owing to the "don't talk about money taboo."

When middle-class women anywhere in the world get over this taboo, we will do so by understanding that money is never just about money, and that becoming financially literate means pushing back against a social role that casts middle-class women as polite, economically vague, underpaid, shopping-dazed dependents. All the other awful pressures that are driving so many women into bankruptcy will still exist, but at least more women will be facing these pressures with their eyes wide open, and, one hopes, with many better options.*







President Obama was right to take responsibility for the near-catastrophic Christmas Day terrorist plot. The buck, as always, must stop with the president. And it was a relief to hear him candidly acknowledge widespread failures in the vast and vastly expensive intelligence and homeland security system and insist that his administration do better. It must.


Of course, we have heard about these problems before in the months and years after 9/11. And while Mr. Obama did not create the current system, he has now gotten a bitter lesson in its weaknesses and its stubborn resistance to change, despite the mea culpas and pledges of reform.


Many of the most glaring failings — specifically the failure to correlate and act on available intelligence about a brewing terrorist plot — were supposed to have been corrected long ago. They clearly were not.


The review the White House released on Thursday acknowledges that the government was awash in clues — about a plot by an Al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen to attack the United States and about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man trained in Yemen who is accused of trying to blow a hole in the side of Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253. The report is filled with shocking details on how the government failed to act.


To recap what happened, quickly:


In May, Britain refused to renew Mr. Abdulmutallab's visa, and it put him on a watch list. In August, the National Security Agency overheard leaders of the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen discussing a plot involving a Nigerian man. In November, Mr. Abdulmutallab's father, a respected banker in Nigeria, warned the American Embassy in Abuja that his son was being radicalized and had disappeared in Yemen. The father even met with an official of the Central Intelligence Agency.


The son was put on the least-restrictive American watch list — one that still allowed him to board a plane to Detroit without luggage and with a ticket that was paid for with cash.


The report implicitly acknowledges all of this, saying that the system failed "to identify, correlate, and fuse into a coherent story all of the discrete pieces of intelligence held by the U.S. government" about both the Al Qaeda group and Mr. Abdulmutallab. It also makes clear that this was not a single failure by one agency but was a cascade of failures across agencies and departments and the bureaucracies that are supposed to coordinate them.


It says that once the government learned of a possible plot in Yemen, the intelligence community failed to devote more analytic resources, and it failed to put one agency or official in charge. John Brennan, the senior official responsible for figuring out what went wrong, said on Thursday that only after the failed plot did the intelligence community recognize that the group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, actually posed a direct threat to the United States.


The report also describes serious problems with the system of watch lists, which, even with fair and frightening warning, put Mr. Abdulmutallab on one that only flagged him for future investigation rather than on the no-fly list. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said that while Mr. Abdulmutallab was in the air, customs officials had decided to question him after he landed.

The government's report chillingly acknowledges that, eight years after 9/11, it still does not have a single database that contains all terrorism-related information. And, incredibly, the report suggests that the intelligence community does not know the current "visa status of all 'known and suspected terrorists,' beginning with the No Fly list."


President Obama has now ordered a raft of immediate improvements in the handling of intelligence and in border security.


We would feel more reassured if these steps weren't so basic and self-evident: improve intelligence analysis; clarify the responsibilities of different agencies; upgrade computer technology; ensure faster distribution of intelligence reports; train National Security Agency personnel in watch list procedures; add more people to watch lists; enhance airport screening.


More than eight years after 9/11, the United States has another chance to learn from its mistakes. So does Al Qaeda. President Obama has his work cut out for him.







Between them, the Obama administration and the federal courts have reversed most of the Bush administration's wrongheaded environmental regulations. But a few bad rules linger on the books, among them an inadequate health standard governing harmful ozone, which most people call smog.


Mr. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is now proposing to get rid of this rule and replace it with a stronger standard. This would result in cleaner air and better health for millions of Americans.


Ozone is a photochemical reaction that occurs when sunlight mixes with nitrogen oxides and other pollutants from power plants, vehicles, refineries and industrial facilities. It poses a serious health threat, especially in children and people suffering from asthma and lung disease, and is responsible for respiratory-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths.


Apart from their health advantages, the new rules proposed reflect the administration's effort to restore science, as opposed to politics, to its rightful place in environmental rule-making. In 2008, the E.P.A.'s independent board of scientific advisers unanimously recommended that the ozone standards be set at somewhere between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million.


Responding, in part, to industry pressure, the Bush administration imposed a less exacting and less protective standard of 0.075 parts per million. The new proposal, to be issued after a 60-day comment period, is expected to be somewhere in the range originally proposed by the scientific panel.


Some big polluters, including the oil companies, are likely to resist since the new standards would require investments in stronger pollution controls on power plants, refineries and chemical plants. The standards could also provide the impetus for cleaner vehicles.


Lisa Jackson, the E.P.A.'s administrator, should stick to her guns. When Carol Browner, then the administrator, first tightened health standards for smog and other pollutants like soot in 1997, industry groups rose up as one, predicting bankruptcy. But technology almost always catches up. In the end, costs are a fraction of the original claims, and the air is a lot cleaner.






Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was on the mark when he said this week that the state needed to change policies that spend more money on prisons than on the state's once-vaunted higher education systems, which are being bled to death in budget cuts. But Mr. Schwarzenegger was way off the mark when he suggested that the answer was to privatize prison services or to pass yet another constitutional amendment, this time to limit prison spending.


States that privatize prisons sometimes save money, but they can also buy trouble by ceding control to companies that put profit first and inmate welfare a distant second. That would be disastrous for the California prison system. It is already under pressure from scores of court orders that require it to reduce its growing prison count and provide adequate mental, medical and dental services, as well as better care for the disabled.


It would generally be impossible for the state to unilaterally lower prison spending without first cutting the prison population dramatically. And because so much prison spending is nondiscretionary, a constitutional amendment that reduced spending — without cutting the prison population — would be doomed to failure. It would also draw the ire of judges who have rightly run out of patience with the state's long list of failures in this area.


The only real way for California to cut prison costs is to reverse sentencing policies that have filled its prisons to bursting and have driven up costs by about 50 percent over the last decade alone. Among other things, too many minor offenders are sent to jail for too long.


The Legislature tinkered at the margins of this problem last year. But real sentencing reform has proved impossible in the State Assembly, where lawmakers live in fear of the politically powerful corrections officers' union lobby, which enforces the status quo by labeling reformers as soft on crime.


Sleight of hand will not cut prison costs in California. To do that, lawmakers will need to find their spines.






Somewhere in the afterlife's screening room, Will Hays, architect of Hollywood's old Production Code, and the stern Catholic bishops of the Legion of Decency are probably sharing a chuckle, maybe over Scotch and cigarettes. Why? The recent fuss over "Avatar," the James Cameron film in which the latest in cinematic technology meets the oldest argument in the movies: whether vice on screen encourages vice in real life.


In "Avatar," a character played by Sigourney Weaver smokes. Antitobacco advocates say on-screen smoking — even by a character we're supposed to dislike, like Ms. Weaver's — makes children pick up the habit. They have criticized the movie as a threat to public health.


Your initial response — for God's sake — might be tempered by knowing that the advocates have persuasive scientific studies to support their warnings. Stanton A. Glantz, the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, points to several, in publications like the medical journal The Lancet, showing strong evidence that on-screen smoking increases teenage cigarette use.


The World Health Organization wants governments to "severely restrict smoking imagery in all film media." Mr. Glantz doesn't go that far. He is not urging government regulation but industry self-restraint and greater public awareness, like an R rating for smoking so families can go to the multiplex forewarned.


Does that strike you as nannyish and make you a little queasy? Us, too. But it's hard to condemn the strategy of using information, not censorship, to confront a perceived public-health threat, especially when, as Mr. Glantz argues, big spending on movie product placement by tobacco companies tilts the field heavily in smoking's favor.


Probably the only rational response is to let the artists and scolds flourish together, along with information. Protect our children as we must, but we should leave the moviemakers to do their thing.







Health care reform is almost (knock on wood) a done deal. Next up: fixing the financial system. I'll be writing a lot about financial reform in the weeks ahead. Let me begin by asking a basic question: What should reformers try to accomplish?


A lot of the public debate has been about protecting borrowers. Indeed, a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to help stop deceptive lending practices is a very good idea. And better consumer protection might have limited the overall size of the housing bubble.


But consumer protection, while it might have blocked many subprime loans, wouldn't have prevented the sharply rising rate of delinquency on conventional, plain-vanilla mortgages. And it certainly wouldn't have prevented the monstrous boom and bust in commercial real estate.


Reform, in other words, probably can't prevent either bad loans or bubbles. But it can do a great deal to ensure that bubbles don't collapse the financial system when they burst.


Bear in mind that the implosion of the 1990s stock bubble, while nasty — households took a $5 trillion hit — didn't provoke a financial crisis. So what was different about the housing bubble that followed?


The short answer is that while the stock bubble created a lot of risk, that risk was fairly widely diffused across the economy. By contrast, the risks created by the housing bubble were strongly concentrated in the financial sector. As a result, the collapse of the housing bubble threatened to bring down the nation's banks. And banks play a special role in the economy. If they can't function, the wheels of commerce as a whole grind to a halt.


Why did the bankers take on so much risk? Because it was in their self-interest to do so. By increasing leverage — that is, by making risky investments with borrowed money — banks could increase their short-term profits. And these short-term profits, in turn, were reflected in immense personal bonuses. If the concentration of risk in the banking sector increased the danger of a systemwide financial crisis, well, that wasn't the bankers' problem.


Of course, that conflict of interest is the reason we have bank regulation. But in the years before the crisis, the rules were relaxed — and, even more important, regulators failed to expand the rules to cover the growing "shadow" banking system, consisting of institutions like Lehman Brothers that performed banklike functions even though they didn't offer conventional bank deposits.


The result was a financial industry that was hugely profitable as long as housing prices were going up — finance accounted for more than a third of total U.S. profits as the bubble was inflating — but was brought to the edge of collapse once the bubble burst. It took government aid on an immense scale, and the promise of even more aid if needed, to pull the industry back from the brink.


And here's the thing: Since that aid came with few strings — in particular, no major banks were nationalized even though some clearly wouldn't have survived without government help — there's every incentive for bankers to engage in a repeat performance. After all, it's now clear that they're living in a heads-they-win, tails-taxpayers-lose world.


The test for reform, then, is whether it reduces bankers' incentives and ability to concentrate risk going forward.


Transparency is part of the answer. Before the crisis, hardly anyone realized just how much risk the banks were taking on. More disclosure, especially with regard to complex financial derivatives, would clearly help.


Beyond that, an important aspect of reform should be new rules limiting bank leverage. I'll be delving into proposed legislation in future columns, but here's what I can say about the financial reform bill the House passed — with zero Republican votes — last month: Its limits on leverage look O.K. Not great, but O.K. It would, however, be all too easy for those rules to get weakened to the point where they wouldn't do the job. A few tweaks in the fine print and banks would be free to play the same game all over again.


And reform really should take on the financial industry's compensation practices. If Congress can't legislate away the financial rewards for excessive risk-taking, it can at least try to tax them.


Let me conclude with a political note. The main reason for reform is to serve the nation. If we don't get major financial reform now, we're laying the foundations for the next crisis. But there are also political reasons to act.


For there's a populist rage building in this country, and President Obama's kid-gloves treatment of the bankers has put Democrats on the wrong side of this rage. If Congressional Democrats don't take a tough line with the banks in the months ahead, they will pay a big price in November.







Every age produces its own sort of fables, and our age seems to have produced The White Messiah fable.

This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.


Avid moviegoers will remember "A Man Called Horse," which began to establish the pattern, and "At Play in the Fields of the Lord." More people will have seen "Dances With Wolves" or "The Last Samurai."


Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like "Pocahontas" and "FernGully."


It's a pretty serviceable formula. Once a director selects the White Messiah fable, he or she doesn't have to waste time explaining the plot because everybody knows roughly what's going to happen.


The formula also gives movies a little socially conscious allure. Audiences like it because it is so environmentally sensitive. Academy Award voters like it because it is so multiculturally aware. Critics like it because the formula inevitably involves the loincloth-clad good guys sticking it to the military-industrial complex.


Yet of all the directors who have used versions of the White Messiah formula over the years, no one has done so with as much exuberance as James Cameron in "Avatar."


"Avatar" is a racial fantasy par excellence. The hero is a white former Marine who is adrift in his civilization. He ends up working with a giant corporation and flies through space to help plunder the environment of a pristine planet and displace its peace-loving natives.


The peace-loving natives — compiled from a mélange of Native American, African, Vietnamese, Iraqi and other cultural fragments — are like the peace-loving natives you've seen in a hundred other movies. They're tall, muscular and admirably slender. They walk around nearly naked. They are phenomenal athletes and pretty good singers and dancers.


The white guy notices that the peace-loving natives are much cooler than the greedy corporate tools and the bloodthirsty U.S. military types he came over with. He goes to live with the natives, and, in short order, he's the most awesome member of their tribe. He has sex with their hottest babe. He learns to jump through the jungle and ride horses. It turns out that he's even got more guts and athletic prowess than they do. He flies the big red bird that no one in generations has been able to master.


Along the way, he has his consciousness raised. The peace-loving natives are at one with nature, and even have a fiber-optic cable sticking out of their bodies that they can plug into horses and trees, which is like Horse Whispering without the wireless technology. Because they are not corrupted by things like literacy, cellphones and blockbuster movies, they have deep and tranquil souls.


The natives help the white guy discover that he, too, has a deep and tranquil soul.


The natives have hot bodies and perfect ecological sensibilities, but they are natural creatures, not history-making ones. When the military-industrial complex comes in to strip mine their homes, they need a White Messiah to lead and inspire the defense.


Our hero leaps in, with the help of a pack of dinosaurs summoned by Mother Earth. As he and his fellow freedom fighters kill wave after wave of Marines or former Marines or whatever they are, he achieves the ultimate prize: He is accepted by the natives and can spend the rest of his life in their excellent culture.


Cameron's handling of the White Messiah fable is not the reason "Avatar" is such a huge global hit. As John Podhoretz wrote in The Weekly Standard, "Cameron has simply used these familiar bromides as shorthand to give his special-effects spectacular some resonance." The plotline gives global audiences a chance to see American troops get killed. It offers useful hooks on which McDonald's and other corporations can hang their tie-in campaigns.


Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?


It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.


It's just escapism, obviously, but benevolent romanticism can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind — even when you surround it with pop-up ferns and floating mountains.








IN the final days of a year dominated by repeated — and mostly unheeded — calls for full disclosure on the part of Wall Street banks, pharmaceutical companies, the N.F.L. and any number of other organizations, transparency arrived out of the blue from an unlikely quarter if ever there was one: the Freemasons.


Thanks go not to Dan Brown, whose latest novel, "The Lost Symbol," focuses on the notoriously mysterious fraternal order, but to Tom Sturgeon, a career law-enforcement officer, who was installed as Right Worshipful Grand Master for Pennsylvania on Dec. 28. His ceremony, in a break with centuries-old Masonic tradition, was held at a convention center here and open to the public. "We need to make Freemasonry more contemporary," Mr. Sturgeon told me, "to make it reflect 2010, not 1910 — or 1810."


Nonetheless, the audience of about 1,200 people seemed to consist primarily of members and their families with a sizeable contingent of Masonic dignitaries from 13 other states and Canada. Many had come in full regalia, sporting tailcoats, purple moire or black velvet "collars," satin aprons embroidered with esoteric symbols, white gloves, swords — all telegraphing distinctions of rank legible only to insiders.


Freemasonry in America is organized by state — there is no higher governing body — and Pennsylvania is the largest Masonic jurisdiction in the world, with a spectacular temple in Philadelphia, completed in 1873, as its headquarters. Mr. Sturgeon was sworn in reciting the same oath, or "obligation," Benjamin Franklin recited 275 years ago when he took the same office.


If the ceremony at the convention center was any indication, it appears that not much has changed in the interim, although the torches around the altar are now electric and the musical repertoire has been updated to include "Beer Barrel Polka" and "No Man Is an Island." Membership has been declining (currently 120,000 in Pennsylvania, down from 260,000 when Mr. Sturgeon joined in 1965) and the median age has been steadily climbing (now 68).


"Brethren, ladies and friends," Mr. Sturgeon greeted the audience for his installation. "The 21st-century Masonic Renaissance starts today!"


The "renaissance" is Mr. Sturgeon's agenda for reform, jump-starting a membership drive with a new strategy that permits "selective invitation," replacing the old "To be one, ask one" policy that forbade Masons to proselytize. He also decreed a lifetime dues exemption for any Mason over 60 who brings in two new members under 30. Like other Pennsylvania grand masters before him, Mr. Sturgeon designed a necktie, to be distributed as a token of appreciation. Typically, the ties are a vehicle for the Masonic insignia; his is more in the style of Jerry Garcia, something he thinks younger guys might be more inclined to wear.


In his most radical move, Mr. Sturgeon has mandated that the ritual be published in book form. In Pennsylvania, since the order's beginnings, each Mason has learned his obligation from another Mason, one on one. The ritual had never been written down. For the two lowest ranks of Freemasonry it lasts 30 minutes or so; for the third and highest degree it takes roughly an hour and runs to some 8,000 words. "It might take a man away from home maybe 50 nights to sit and learn it," he said.


Though candidates will still be required to perform the ritual from memory, the printed text allows them to learn it on their own. Mr. Sturgeon assured his fellow masons that photocopying will be prohibited, that all copies will be signed out and strictly audited. Even so, this announcement met with silence, a response he had foreseen. "Many Masons will tell you that one of the great bonds of this fraternity happens when I meet with you 40 times to go over this work, and I become your mentor," he said. "Now, that's true. But for the greater good, we have to make a decision."


Not a secret society but "a society with secrets" is how the protagonist of "The Lost Symbol" describes the Masons. Has that secrecy served a purpose? Is the famous Masonic bond based, at least to some extent, on shared information that nobody else knows? If that was once the case, it seems safe to say that it isn't any longer, now that detailed accounts of the Masons' procedures have been posted online, including YouTube videos of the secret handshake.


The drama seems to be in short supply. Any Dan Brown fans who came to the convention center in Pittsburgh expecting daggers pressed to bare chests or red wine drunk out of a skull surely left disappointed. Mr. Sturgeon says that he thought Mr. Brown made that stuff up until a friend reminded him that in one ceremony they attended for a branch of Masonry called the Scottish Rite there had indeed been a skull; he is, however, quite certain that he didn't drink wine out of it. And if there is a pyramid with Freemasonry's highest secrets inscribed on it, as "The Lost Symbol" purports, he has yet to hear about it.


Some Masons may regret losing the mystique — though surely not as much as the conspiracy theorists, who now have less room for speculation about the order. While it's hard to put much store in allegations that Freemasonry is Satan worship or a plot to dominate the world when its membership has included such disparate characters as Count Basie, Daniel Boone, Winston Churchill, Paul Revere, Clark Gable, J. Edgar Hoover, Mozart, Colonel Sanders, Peter Sellers, Cy Young, Pushkin and Brad Paisley, those suspicions thrived nonetheless. The conspiracy theorists, it seems, needed the Masons' secrecy even more than the Masons needed it themselves.


Holly Brubach is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.







EVERY year, more than 100,000 Americans discover that they have often life-threatening blood and bone-marrow diseases like leukemia. For many, the only hope is a transplant of blood-producing marrow cells.


Finding someone to donate the marrow is challenging, though, because the cells must be a near-perfect genetic match with the patient's own cells, and those are hard to find. Even siblings have compatible marrow cells only 30 percent of the time. Most patients must search nationally and internationally for potential donors.


Only 7 in 10 Caucasian patients who need a donor find one. For African-Americans, the odds are longer still; only one in four do. Tens of thousands of Americans have died for lack of a donor.


It would make sense to encourage donation by offering potential donors an incentive — a gift to a favorite charity, for example, or a scholarship. But federal law forbids doctors, nurses or dying patients to offer any incentives. The intent of the 1984 law, the National Organ Transplant Act, was to prevent the sale of human kidneys for transplant, out of concern that a market in organs could tempt people to risk their health for money by making an irreversible decision to be a donor.


But with marrow donation this is not an issue. Unlike organs, marrow cells — basically, immature blood cells — are renewable. The body grows fresh ones quickly enough to replace those extracted for transplant in about a month. And donating marrow cells is now very safe — in most cases, it's simply a matter of drawing blood from the donor's arm and running it through a machine that skims off the marrow cells. Well under half of donations are conducted the old way, by harvesting marrow cells from the donor's hip.


Interestingly, Congress didn't bar compensation for all human donors. In writing the 1984 law, it excluded renewable cells like blood or sperm from the payment prohibition, even as it inexplicably included bone marrow.


We have filed in federal district court a constitutional challenge to the marrow prohibition, because we want to set up a pilot program to ascertain the extent to which certain strategic incentives — a $3,000 scholarship, a housing allowance, a charitable gift — could increase marrow-cell donations.


If our suit is successful and incentives are allowed, it would not create a freewheeling market in bone marrow donation. Marrow donation would, and should, remain anonymous — and there should be no negotiation with donors. There would be no buyers or sellers, no possibility of market-like transactions.


But people who provide life-giving marrow cells could, in good conscience, get something in return for helping save a life.


John Wagner is a professor of pediatrics and the director of the blood and marrow transplant program at the University of Minnesota. Jeff Rowes is a senior lawyer with the Institute for Justice, in Arlington, Va.








In some highly pointed remarks on the existing system and the threat to it, a three-member SC bench has observed that the issue of missing persons is a far bigger one than that of the NRO. The SC also noticed that after its ruling on the NRO an upheaval had been created, threatening to throw the country into turmoil. The court's observations should make all of us take note. The issue of missing persons, and the involvement of key agencies in it, is one that has gone on now for years. It involves ordinary people taken away from homes or public places. The apparent threat the taking up of this matter poses to the establishment was evidenced by the fact that the November 2007 dismissal of the court by the former regime of President Pervez Musharraf came just days after the SC summoned heads of key agencies in the case.

We must now see what the elected government's real commitment to democracy is and how much it believes in the slogans it has raised. The fact is that the system can only be strengthened by strengthening democracy and all that it stands for. The question we must ask is if our government has the wisdom and good sense to recognise that stability can be gained only by squarely addressing issues such as that of the missing persons. This also raises issues of credibility. The prime minister has already stated in parliament that the missing persons would return home. This has, except in a handful of cases, yet to happen. Unless it does, matters in Balochistan will remain volatile and there can be no hope of winning back the trust of the people of that province. The SC has also noted that the issue of the system appears to be raised whenever it suits the government. Experience over the past years shows how true it is. What is also sad is that each time a problem is pointed out by the courts it tends to be taken amiss by governments. This has, in the past, led to a clash between institutions. That threat is again with us today. The need is for action to be taken in the national interest. In no genuinely democratic system should people be 'picked up' and held illegally for years. The apex court has taken the initiative by pointing this out again.







Power generation is approaching a crisis again and this time it has the potential to be truly catastrophic rather than merely an unconscionable burden. National fuel reserves – the fuel that is used to power thermal generators – have dropped to twelve days. Pakistan State Oil is unable to import the oil that we desperately need because it cannot afford to pay for it. Two ships are already loaded and waiting to bring the oil to us but until their cargo is paid for they will not leave port. The PSO general manager was perhaps understandably reticent when asked about this matter but grudgingly admitted that the ships had been delayed and that any further comment on the oil reserves and how long they would last if not replenished was 'not in the interest of the country.'

Not in the interests of the country? It most certainly is in the interests of the country because if this little wrinkle is not ironed out soon, we could be facing not just loadshedding but a national power shutdown for all but essential services – an eventuality that is now measurably imminent. It is not known where the ships carrying the oil are at present, but even if their cargo is paid for today and they can leave on the next tide they will take days to get here and unload; and we are running out of days. The underlying cause of the lack of liquidity at PSO is the eternal problem of circular debt – they can't pay for the oil because they are not themselves paid what they are owed. Into the equation has to be added the fact that hydro power generation is very low at 517MW -- understandable as the water level has decreased in both Tarbela and Mangla dams and canals are closed for cleaning and are likely to remain so for another month. Further pain is brought by the weather – the winter rains have failed this year, down 96 per cent in Punjab alone – and the stage is set for a collision of problems that have the capacity to literally bring the country to its knees. In all of this there is an irony – we are producing 7,486MW electricity against an installed capacity of 20,231MW. Power generation has fallen to just above one-third of the generation capacity and is set to fall further in coming days. This time, it really could be 'game over'.








During his visit to Karachi, Mian Nawaz Sharif has emphatically stated he has no intention of ditching President Asif Ali Zardari. While relations between the PPP and the PML-N have seen ups and downs for sometime, the chief of the PML-N has suggested he is willing to continue to hold out a hand of friendship. He has also said that the problems facing the country are so enormous that they simply cannot be solved by any one party alone. In this context he referred specifically to the latest bomb blasts in Karachi and Lakki Marwat. But he went beyond this also, to raise the issue of loadshedding and its impact as well as other problems we all confront. Few would doubt that Mr Sharif is right when he says it needs a joint effort to counter these matters. Games of accusations and counteraccusations will lead us nowhere at all but simply push us deeper into the pit that has been dug over many decades and which today threatens to swallow all that is good within our nation.

We need to find a solid rope that can be used to climb out from that pit. If necessary, we must tie together the broken pieces of twine we can find to put together such a rope. But as things stand, we need to build consensus and harmony. The major political parties and other groups in society need to work together towards creating a tomorrow for Pakistan. At present too many fear that this tomorrow looks bleak. This despondency will change only if a national vision can be created. To do so the government would act wisely to accept the hand held out by the PML-N chief.






Our national anger, of which we have an unusually large store, should be directed at clearer targets. Before working ourselves into a lather of excitement, which we do all too readily given the slightest provocation, we should be clear in our minds what we are getting angry about.

What did Indian army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor really say that has us so upset? His reported remarks were that India was modifying its military doctrine to include the possibility of a two-front war -- that is, against China and Pakistan. What's wrong with this?

From India's point of view -- and Gen Kapoor, after all, heads the Indian not the Pakistan army -- the possible threat India faces is from China and Pakistan, not the Maldives or Burma. Just as the possible threat we face is from India, not Uzbekistan or Sri Lanka.

If an Indian army chief were not to envisage the possibility of a two-front war, and mull over the means of waging it, he would deserve to be sacked. Just as Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani would be shirking his responsibility if under his watch the Mily Ops Directorate were to ignore the possibility of the Pakistan army being engaged simultaneously on both the eastern and western fronts.

Military planning is not about certainties -- for potential threats by definition lurk in the realm of the uncertain -- but contingencies, about situations that could arise. And one not forearmed, to state the obvious, is foredoomed. Whether India attacks us or not is beside the point. Given our history, and our history of distrust, it's only common sense, not strategic brilliance, to be prepared for the possibility, near or remote as it may be.

It was the Times of India which first reported Gen Kapoor as saying, "The plan now is to launch self-contained and highly mobile 'battle groups…adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 96 hours." General Heinz Guderian would have approved. This reads like something out of a Wehrmacht blitzkrieg manual.

And it would be highly surprisingly, and the highest dereliction of duty, if General Headquarters in Rawalpindi were similarly not programmed to take the fight into Indian territory, should hostilities break out, not just in 96 hours but perhaps a bit sooner.

This may be like trying to seize the stars or clutch at the moon but if our war planning is worth anything our sights should be on our mechanised columns, backed by the full might of the air force, to be across the border in fairly quick order should war break out. Armies plan for victory, and rapid victory at that, not attrition or picnic parties.

In any Indo-Pak conflict -- may there never be one again -- we will be the David, or should be the David, to India's Goliath. If we are to prevail -- although I hasten to repeat that may things never come to this pass -- David's path should be ours, boldness and decisiveness our weapons. This is the only way to counter a bigger enemy.

We live in a dangerous environment. Thanks to Afghanistan and the American presence there, and the assorted engines of terrorism brought into being by previous fixations and earlier follies, our region counts as one of the most dangerous flashpoints on the planet. So the luxury of taking anything for granted is not ours. But even as we go arming ourselves against the worst, the least we owe ourselves is to read the minds and words of our adversaries correctly.

After so many years of independent existence we should be able to see things dispassionately. Gen Kapoor was not flaming the fans of war. He was not indulging in war-mongering, which would be silly in the present circumstances. He was carrying out a risk-assessment of the threat that India, to his mind, faces. Yes, he has spoken of better coordination (better synergy, in his words) between the three Indian services. What's wrong with that? Our services could do with better synergy. He has spoken of enhancing India's strategic reach into the Indian Ocean. Had our economy been in better shape, and if we not shown such a talent for making a mess at home, we would have been talking of spreading our reach into the Persian Gulf and beyond. And no one would have blamed us. Now what we have is a nuke capability in jarring contrast to our iron begging bowl.

China is attaining superpower status because of its growing economic might. It became a nuclear power in 1964 but is emerging as a giant on the world stage only now. As India's economy grows so will its great-power ambitions. The answer to this is not to sulk or go red in the face but, to the exclusion of other things, concentrate on our economy. Balancing our accounts is our number one problem, greater even than the threat from the Taliban. If our economic base remains brittle and our begging bowl is the only thing that helps us survive, no amount of military muscle will do us any good or make us look strong.

Gen Kapoor is also being berated in the Pakistani media for having said in November last year, "The possibility of a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a possibility at least in the Indian sub-continent." There is nothing inaccurate about this, else why would we have such a large standing army? If there was no threat of a conventional war with India we would be well advised to disband half our forces and send them home. Sadly, the nuclear overhang has not made the threat of conventional war go away. Wisdom in any full measure has yet to dawn on the subcontinent.

Let's not forget, Kargil was not a full-fledged war engaging the bulk of the armies on both sides. But it was a serious conflict nonetheless which had every potential of getting out of hand, had not President Clinton eventually, at our urgent insistence, helped pull our chestnuts out of the fire.

For the foreseeable future we are doomed to have a touchy relationship with India, unless through vision and statesmanship, of which there are no early signs around the corner, we are able to transcend the dictates of geography and history.

But sixty years on the world stage is a long time to be around, at least enough to leave the apprenticeship of nationhood behind. As part of this growing-up it is high time we learnt to react with calmness to things coming from across the border, even if they happen to be blustery and provocative.

If we cast our minds back to the summer of 1998, India's nuclear tests were followed by some very provocative statements on the part of L K Advani and the like. As a result of those statements, our national morale was said to have been badly affected. Our response eventually, I am sure, was calibrated to the tests and not the statements. But the way this entire situation was played out in the media it almost seemed as if Pakistan was responding to the statements.

Gen Kapoor's two-front war assessment has been read in Pakistan almost as a declaration of war, and everyone responding to it has done so with a mixture of anger and heightened alarm. From Gen Kayani has come this warning: "Proponents of conventional application of military forces, in a nuclear overhang, are charting an adventurous path, the consequences of which could be both unintended and uncontrollable." The foreign minister has been livid as has been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen Tariq Majeed.

Has all this wordiness been necessary? Are we such an insecure nation that a single misinterpreted statement can so unsettle us? If a riposte was necessary, a one-liner from the Inter-Services Public Relations would have served the purpose. Something like, "Everyone is entitled to his fantasies", delivered with an ironic curl of the lips.

Philip, Alexander's father, sent Sparta a message: "If I enter Laconia, you shall be exterminated." He received just one word in answer: "If". When French marshals turned their backs on him in Paris, Wellington merely said, "I have seen their backs before." The cultivation of calm and brevity would improve our tone as a nation.








Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab wrought what he wrought with his explosives which would not explode. Thus, it is the moral burden of the leadership of the most powerful nation on earth to explain to the rest of the world actions of a state that has broken all laws in the book by which nations have hitherto conducted their business. From Guantanamo Bay to Abu Ghraib and from the drone attacks that regularly violate the sovereignty of Pakistan (a state whose leadership seems to have ransomed the honour of its people for a few crumbs from the king's table), the writing on the American wall of justice glows red when compared to the madness of one Abdul Mutallab who may turn out to be the greatest hoax of the new century (so far). The issue at hand is the knee-jerk reaction of President Obama and his administration, reminiscent of the bullying of his predecessor, a reaction that is utterly out of proportion and devoid of any moral justification save the myopic view of the self-assuming role of saving American lives at the expense of others.

With one failed attempt, Mr Obama has shed all his colouring and now talks exactly like Mr Bush. His words state what Bush used to: all other human beings are somehow less human than Americans. Had that not been the case, Mr Obama would have stopped the drone attacks in Pakistan in respect of the lives of innocent women and children. He would have apologised for what had been done to the prisoners of war in that outpost of humanity called Guantanamo Bay; he would have gone to Iraq and wept at the graves of Iraqis mercilessly killed by American bombers. He would have read out loud the dark record of covert CIA operations all around the world -- a record that no other nation can match.

He would have asked: "Is it not strange that when Americans kill, no one is supposed to mourn those deaths, no country is allowed to take any measures against continuous American attacks, but it is always the other way around." When seven CIA agents were killed in Afghanistan last week, the most obvious question that should have been asked was: what were they doing there? Why were they there in the first place?

But no one asked that question, at least not in America. Instead, glowing tributes were paid to them; their work was hailed. Obama said those killed were "part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life." "Our way of life" is exactly what Mr Bush would have said on this occasion. And when Mr Obama wrote a letter to CIA employees, saying the victims had "taken great risks to protect our country" and that their sacrifices had "sometimes been unknown to your fellow citizens, your friends, and even your families", he sounded just like George W Bush.

The CIA agents, who were working from the 'forward operating base Chapman' in Afghanistan, reportedly used for US drone attacks on Pakistan, have all become American heroes, but thousands of Afghans who have been killed by CIA operatives and American forces find no mention on the lips of the American president. In fact, the inhumane attitude of American officials can be judged from the actions of those who distributed some money in the Tagab Valley not too long ago; this story tells what they think of other lives.

Col Greg Julian, the top US spokesman in Afghanistan, led the Americans to the far-flung village of Inzeri in Tagab valley. Americans had $40,000 which they were going to distribute to relatives of 15 people who were killed in a US raid. The Americans had arrived in the village after a lot of pressure was exerted on the Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had admitted to a senate committee that "civilian casualties are doing us enormous harm in Afghanistan." The villagers were brought close to 15-newly dug graves. The village consisted of a small homes made out of stone and mud, set high in a steep, rocky valley just 30 miles north of Kabul. The villagers were asked to produce a list of the dead, but no one could as there was no on the in village who could read and write. Finally, the payments were made in local currency and the US officials said some words which no one could understand. But it is the words of the man who helped oversee the payments which tell the real attitude of Americans toward those they had killed: Lt Col Steven Weir, the military lawyer who helped oversee the payments, made a statement that "payments were not an admission by the US that innocents were killed. It's a condolence payment."

Weir added: "The villagers said none of them were in the Taliban, just peaceful individuals from the village. So by this payment they will understand it's not our goal to kill innocent people. This may help them understand we're here to build a safer and more secure Afghanistan." When asked if the US was paying money to relatives of people that it had wanted to kill or capture, Weir said: "If we did accidentally shoot someone, we want to make that right, and if we have to pay money to someone who didn't deserve it ... it's kind of like it's better to let nine guilty people go free than to jail one innocent person."

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







The Supreme Court and the High Courts have always been the protectors of parks and green spaces. Recently, the Supreme Court had a wholesale shopping market in Karachi agree to relocate after finding that the land it occupied was originally meant for public space. The Supreme Court is also hearing cases regarding commercial activities in a park in Islamabad.

Parks in our cities are regarded, over other considerations, as recreational spaces and as "lungs" to improve the environment. This they are, but as our cities grow and become more complex, perhaps it is time to consider parks outside the confines in which they have hitherto been dealt with.

There is a world of difference between a park and a garden. Gardens are formal spaces characterised by boundary walls. Historically, gardens were for the privileged, for royalty and aristocracy. They were expressions of political will, displays of engineering prowess and samples of the bounty and plenty acquired by their patrons. But they were never meant for public use.

Parks, on the other hand, historically appear as political instruments of social reform. For example, the world's first public park, Peel Park, was opened in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 1864 as a response to increasing concerns of the segregation of those allowed and denied entry into "gardens" and the demand for recreational space for the workers and inhabitants of England's filthy Industrial Revolution cities. In New York, the demand, as early as 1853, for a public space that could provide "working class New Yorkers with a healthy alternative to the saloon" led to the construction of Central Park.

The situation in Pakistan and other cities in developing countries is similar to the conditions that forced the city fathers of those times to look at recreational space with, well, less of a leisurely attitude.

Approximately 35 percent of the 170 million Pakistanis live in cities and urban areas. By 2030, it is estimated that over 50 percent of then over 250 million Pakistani will live in cities. Urban areas are expected to grow and become increasingly more and more densely populated and congested.

This is going to put enormous pressure on available housing stock. It will require a sewerage and sanitation infrastructure twice as large as the one existing today. It will be necessary to provide nearby employment opportunities as well as educational and healthcare facilities. It will also put enormous strain on available recreational spaces.

Every time one spots a cricket game on the street, it's a symbol of the existing shortage of recreational space for the people who live in cities. But a cricket game is just the tip of the iceberg. Every time one spots a cricket game on the street, think about the number of people who don't have even that.

The first contention would have to be, therefore, to place recreational space at par with the requirements of housing, sanitation, employment, education and healthcare facilities. Only if this is done will provision of recreational space become more than a "favour" government doles out on the few; only if this is done can one ensure that the need for public recreational space is given the importance and recognition it deserves.

Also, by classifying recreational space in this manner one can begin to deal with it like the scarce commodity it is. This, in turn, changes the way in which we currently allow parks to be run.

The first question that has to be asked is whether public recreational spaces should be provided, like water, at nominal rates or, like housing, to those who can afford them. For all the obvious reasons, public recreational spaces should be kept free. This means users of public spaces should have the right to enter and enjoy them.

The problem with keeping pubic recreational spaces free is the cost of acquiring the land on which they will be set out and then maintaining them. Maintenance includes irrigation costs, labour and other overheads.

One either asks the government to finance these costs or, perhaps and where it can, subsidise them or one can look to the private sector for assistance in meeting these costs. And this is where the dividing line between what is a permissible commercial activity on public land on the one hand and a prohibited activity on the other becomes very hard to distinguish.

Several things can be done to help make this line clearer. First, commercial activity allowed in public recreational areas must not be excluded. All too often, this exclusion takes place by the high price of the commercial activity undertaken. Not everyone, for example, may be able to afford a round of mini-golf and, for this reason, for them to be excluded from public recreational space must not be condoned. But this is not to say that, just because the commercial activity is within the financial grasp of everyone, this justifies the commercial entity to claim some sort of exclusive possession. Public recreation space is, by its definition, public, and any attempt to segregate such space, on any ground and for any reason, is unjustified.

Second, the users of public recreation space must be allowed to avail of services that enhance their use and enjoyment of that space. The first thing that comes to mind is bathrooms. The second is the cost of keeping them clean. But because a bathroom is a facility that enhances that enjoyment of a public park (imagine trying to enjoy a stroll in the park without one), allowing operators to set up and run bathrooms at cost should be allowed. Note that many times, public bathrooms are operated by the authority in charge of the park itself.

Nonetheless, the same principle applies to concession stands. Since the enjoyment of a park is enhanced by one's ability to find nearby food and refreshments, or by renting a boat to take a ride in a lake, such activity should also be allowed and vendors permitted to set up such concessions. However, these concessions must not be allowed to take advantage of the park-goers.

They are meant only to serve the users of the park. A restaurant on the corner of a park that has a drive-by serves no benefit to the park or its users. Quite the contrary, it is taking advantage of cheap real estate to serve its own commercial interests. And such things cannot be permitted in public spaces.

The underlying thought here has to stem from an understanding that parks and public recreational spaces are public trusts to be administered by government with the same importance it gives to other public utilities. Only if this mindset can be brought about will the next generation of urbanites have access to cheap and clean pubic spaces.

This is vitally important because, like no other thing, public spaces are the laboratory of democracy, and we should ensure that men, women and children from all segments of society can, freely and unmolested, be able to spend recreational time in their cities and near their homes.

Postscript: Careful reader Bilal Farooq, a party and witness to the proceedings in the Supreme Court in the highrise litigation referred to in last week's column, wrote to inform me that my reference that the developers of the highrise that set off this entire demolition saga had "followed the letter of the law" was incorrect. They were, according to Mr Farooq's eyewitness account, guilty of "gross violations of all the rules of LDA." One tries to give even the devil his due, but I thank Mr Farooq for correcting any misimpression that may have been created by my carelessness.

The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:







The crisis mode created around President Zardari's speech has an air of planned maneuvering around it. Zardari is not without his weaknesses but the air of tension being created after his speech on the second anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's death is highly exaggerated. Commentators are arguing that he is putting the country at risk by entering into a confrontation with the US and other institutions of the state. They are not holding back from making all kind of personal comments about him too. However, what is becoming more clear in the process are two critical issues. One, it is not just the governments but a large number of the Pakistani commentators who are quite comfortable with the existing alliances and do not want them disturbed. Two, there is a systematic effort at disrupting the democratic process once again. Both issues have serious implications.

There is nothing in Zardari's speech that is not part of the popular belief. If he hinted towards the role of US in weakening institutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and argued that Pakistan won't be allowed to reach that stage while talking about the forces within the state, which are out to destabilise the democratic process, the question is what is so shocking about it. Anyone who engages with the ordinary public on these issues knows that both are popularly argued positions and many within the masses actually want the government to keep a distance from the US. The movement for reinstatement of the judges removed under the Muhsarraf rule was proof of the public demand for a clear delineation of authority and responsibility among the institutions of the state. There are few, apart from those directly benefitting from the military coup, who today would approve of another military intervention in the democratic process.

Yet, when the president has tried to take an open position against undue interventions by the US and military, the so-called Pakistani intelligentsia has started to issue crude commentaries. To require the president of the country to act responsibly and not issue ultimatums that can put the country at an undue risk is one thing, but to start to ridicule the country's highest office holder for expressing views, which actually are reflective of the mood of many in the public, shows a biased assessment of the situation. The mood being created by these commentaries is to make the president look so irresponsible that another military intervention seems justified since there are little chances of the president being impeached in parliament. PPP's concerns that there is a planned campaign at the movement against the president and democratic system thus is acquiring greater weight. The issue is not whether Zardari is clean or corrupt; the issue is whether or not he heads the PPP that won a major public mandate to run the affairs of the state. To make demands on the government and to deliver on basic public needs is a legitimate demand. However, to start a campaign to derail the democratic process by initiating a campaign against Zardari should have no support. This country stands at the brink of disaster because of the repeated military interventions displacing democratic governments. Then, in order to build international legitimacy, they put their obedience at the service of foreign powers. No western government is able to win undue concessions from Indian politicians, yet the military generals ruling Pakistan sell the people to western interests without giving them a trial in the country and allow all kinds of interventions in Pakistan to secure their own rule.In a country with such an entrenched military and intelligence system, if a civilian president is finally willing to talk against military intervention and the US, the commentators have the responsibility lend support to the civilian institutions rather than creating grounds to justify another military intervention. An independent media that wants to be viewed as part of civil society and has public credibility cannot afford to support a sustained attempt at marginalising a civilian president vis-à-vis the military agencies.

The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com







Michael Ignatieff is a significant historian, fiction writer and politician. I believe he now heads the Liberal Party of Canada and sits in the House of Commons as the leader of the opposition. For many years, while he used to teach in the UK, he anchored some popular radio and television programmes. We in Pakistan know very little about Canadian politics but from the outside, it seems that Jack Layton's New Democratic Party (NDP) is more appealing to people like us than Ignatieff's platform. But one must acknowledge his contribution as an academic, writer and broadcaster. He once said, "Television is the church of modern authority."

We have seen this authority being exercised in Pakistan. People belonging to all tiers of the middle class all over the country are glued to live coverage of events, sensational talk shows, news analysis, investigative reports and political interviews. The good part is that they get to hear different viewpoints, opinions and comments on issues faced by the country and society at large. A change in consciousness is the beginning for a real social change. I have seen the magic of television twice in the past few years. First, it was the earthquake of 2005 when the whole country was galvanised. Private television channels played a key role in raising both human help and financial resources. Then it was the movement for the restoration of judiciary and countrywide protests against the imposition of emergency rule during 2007 and 2008. Processions, speeches, fistfights, baton-charges and teargas shelling were all happening in our living rooms. There is a lot of public good private television channels have promoted. The couple of channels in English have better public messages and programming content but some in Urdu are also doing well when it comes to raising social issues and seeking their solutions.

Listening to radio is now largely limited to music and late-night entertainment on FM channels. An interesting difference between the print media and television is that newspapers are largely limited to Urdu, English and Sindhi. But television programming in Pakistan has reached new heights by the introduction of current affairs and entertainment programmes in Pashto, Seraiki, Punjabi and Balochi besides the three languages mentioned earlier. Active television programming in seven languages twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is a major achievement for a society which is backward and struggling to be civil and mature for so many years. Young women and men with a lot of energy and dynamism work day in and day out to quench our thirst for news and information. When I get up in the morning and flip channels, some remarkably well-produced programmes are on air. Likewise, during primetime in the evenings, some infotainment and news analysis offered by even middle of the line channels are educative and enlightening.

So when we establish that television is so significant, what kind of responsibility it imposes on people who run it? Incredible, humungous and massive. And while I have fully appreciated the struggling young women and men who put in a lot of effort to inform and entertain us, some of them who have become leading primetime anchors are miserably failing us in bearing this heavy responsibility. With a serious lack of knowledge on the subject being discussed and a weak sense of history, not only that they speak more than their guests, they palpably push their own views and prejudices. This will eventually make them unpopular but in the meanwhile, a lot of half-truths will be accepted as truths.


The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: harris@spopk. org








PML (N) Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif paid long due visits to Karachi and Quetta where he understandably attracted a lot of attention from different circles. These visits were invariably linked to reorganisation of the party and revival of ties with political forces and the results would be definitely encouraging for him.

Some quarters had been raising accusing fingers towards President Asif Ali Zardari that he was ruling from a bunker, an impression he effectively diluted by his recent visits to Karachi, interior Sindh, Balochistan and Muzaffarabad. But Mian Nawaz Sharif too was guilty of such an approach as he too remained out-of-touch with the masses for a long time. Being leader of the largest Opposition political party, he was expected to mobilize people on important national issues yet he largely confined himself to television appearances and press conferences. But leaving this aspect aside, it is heartening to note that during his visit to Karachi and Quetta, the PML (N) leader once again threw his weight firmly behind the democratic system and made it clear that he would be the last person to destabilize an elected Government. We tend to agree with him that no single party can solve the serious challenges confronting the country and that there is a need for national cohesion to safeguard interests of the motherland. This is a saner and healthy approach that contrasts sharply with the politics of confrontation of 1990s that led to repeated fall of elected Governments. Mian Nawaz Sharif deserves appreciation for adopting this commendable course of action despite provocations by some elements in the PPP and his genuine grievances against the PPP leadership, which failed to fulfil its commitments with regard to implementation of COD and repeal of 17th Amendment. This shows large-heartedness and political maturity of Mian Sahib in the face of experiences like uncalled-for dismissal of the Punjab Government and imposition of Governor's rule in the Province.












DURING hearing of the case relating to much-talked-about and lingering issue of missing persons, Justice Javed Iqbal, who heads the three member bench seized with the case, has made some very pertinent remarks, which deserve to be given due attention by all stakeholders in the larger interest of the country.

The worthy Judge, who has fuller understanding of the genesis of Pakistan, the objectives of its creation and what direction it should head for, has painstakingly observed that the system in the country was in jeopardy and the concept of democracy will remain illusive until fundamental rights of the citizens were ensured. Though remarks of the honourable Judge of the Supreme Court are not part of the judgement and mere observation yet in view of the prevailing circumstances these assume greater importance and relevance and must be heeded to by all concerned with a view to addressing the wrongs and ills in the system. Majority of the people fully agree with Justice Javed Iqbal that the system was not delivering. The judges too are mindful of the fact that governance is the job of the executive branch but it has rightly been pointed out that someone will have to intervene if things went wrong. What restrains the Government from pursuing the path of good governance and concentrating on addressing the day-to-day problems of the citizens? The present Government that assumed powers two years back is still groping in the dark and there is a growing impression that it has not been able to come up to the expectations of the people. Barring a few macro-level decisions like consensus NFC Award, Balochistan package and empowerment of people of Gilgit-Baltistan, its performance needs much to be desired especially in the realm of rule of law, supremacy of the constitution, merit, fair play, human rights, price-hike, unemployment, protection of life and property of the citizens and safeguarding the national interests. In the case under discussion, the authorities have failed to recover or produce all the missing persons despite uproar by their relatives and human rights oranisations as well as directions of the court. In this backdrop, if the judiciary intervenes, the Government should welcome it as one of the means to rectify the situation. We hope that all the stakeholders would be receptive to the words of wisdom of Justice Javed Iqbal, which carry a lot of weight and are reflective of his concerns about what is happening in this State of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.







THE soft-spoken US Ambassador in Pakistan Anne Patterson Wednesday announced one billion rupees financial assistance for the many small businesses of Karachi which suffered losses during the Boulton Martket attack. Addressing the American Business Council she said the losses had gone beyond damages to property and businesses and it was heartening that she directed her staff to work with the Council on an assessment of the damage to help facilitate a speedy mobilisation of the US and others' support to victims of the carnage.

The unexpected assistance announced for the affected business community is a good gesture of the Obama administration, which shows concern for the colossal losses and sufferings of the people of Karachi. The Ambassador also disclosed that the first tranche worth around $180 million of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, under which the US would provide Pakistan civilian aid of $7.5 billion over the next five years, had also arrived in Pakistan. The US had earlier provided assistance to Pakistan for reconstruction and rehabilitation in earthquake affected areas and IDPs of Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan. Such goodwill gestures earn wider recognition and appreciation from the common man. In our view the US needs to take more similar initiatives to remove any ill will, right or wrong, towards Washington. Building of schools, helping in agriculture projects, creating job opportunities for the poor and assisting medical centres can win over the masses. Investments and assistance in these sectors will help fill a vacuum of poor education and governance that militants often exploit. Two other issues that need urgent attention by the US Ambassador in Pakistan are finalization of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in FATA and the Free Trade Agreement. Their early finalization would give a positive signal to the people of Pakistan as they would help in the creation of more jobs in FATA and other parts of the country and strengthen our economy, which has been badly affected by militancy and international recession. It is a fact that traditionally the people and the Government of Pakistan feel comfortable while dealing with the US and these steps would earn more goodwill for the US in Pakistan.








There are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan, which is why it is surprising that successive governments have so far done nothing to bring Islamic banking into India. The consequence of such neglect is that millions of observant Muslims are forced to park their savings in dubious entities,because they have been deprived of financial institutions in India that are Sharia-compliant and avoid the payment of interest,because of its ban in the Quran (3:130).

Indeed, the Quran sets forth some very healthy financial principles,such as the avoiding of the giving of finance to unsavoury businesses (5:2), and the showing of compassion to the financially disadvantaged (2;280). As has been pointed out by several scholars,the prohibition of interest is not unique to Islam,but is also found in Judaism and Christianity ( Psalms 15:5, Nehemiah 5:7). However,throughout the world,the giving and taking of interest has become widespread Financial experts estimate that more than $50 billion of funds from the Gulf can flow to India,should Islamic banking institutions be set up in the country. This will generate 2.7 million jobs in the country,both directly and indirectly. At present,almost all the surplus cash of the Gulf countries is parked in London (which, ironically, is the world's top "Islamic Banking" centre), New York,Zurich and Frankfurt. Naturally,the financial instititions headquartered in these locations would not like to see India emerge as a competitor in the parking of funds from the Gulf.

They are aware of the strong historical and civilisational ties between India and the Arab world,and are nervous that this may result in funds moving away from them. Indeed,many Arabs are justifiably upset that they have suffered a collective loss of $1.3 trillion because of the numerous malpractices of financial institutions in the US and the EU,and would prefer to place their money in India. However,thus far,because of the immense influence that financial entities in the US and the EU have over the Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Finance,thus far, the policy changes needed to attract such funds have not come about So pervasive is the influence of US and EU funds over India's financial policymakers that the Reserve Bank of India significantly slowed down economic expansion in India during 2007-2008 by raising interest rates to levels not seen in more than a decade.

Although the RBI justified this as an anti-inflation measure,they themselves know that such painful steps have no impact on price rise,caused as this is by speculation and by policies that favour the middleman over the producer and the consumer. All that the policy of high interest rates has done was to make several segments in Indian industry less competitive than they were when interest rates were low. The policies followed by the monetary authorities in India have forced several corporates to borrow money from London and other centres in the developed world,at a profit for these centres of 3%.

Small wonder that there is so much pressure on India to prevent the authorities from taking steps that could attract funds from the Gulf. Had the authorities in India encouraged their domestic companies the way policymakers in the US and the EU unfailingly do,India would not have been in today's situation,when even tiny Taiwan exports double the volume India does Recently,the government of Kerala,a state that has ties with the Gulf that go back for 1600 years,sought to set up an Islamic Banking division in one of their financial institutions. However, a politician having close links with a section of the Hindu religious leadership has got the Kerala High Court to stay the operationalisation of this move.

India's courts are famously liberal when it comes to granting stays,with some even lasting for decades.In countries such as the US or the UK, stays are granted only after the court is convinced that there exists a strong prima facie case in favour of the individual making the request. In the case of India, stays by a court are granted far more liberally.The Kerala High Court order means that the attempt by the state's Communist rulers to set up an Islamic banking system in a state where 20% of the population are Muslims may be indefinitely delayed.Bankers in Europe and in the US can rest easy, knowing that it may be a long time before the estimated $1.16 trillion dollars parked in so-called "Islamic Banking" institutions in these locations faces competition from India

Although it is true that several policymakers allow themselves to be unduly infuenced by interested parties operating overseas,the fact remains that overall,India's policymakers are a patriotic group. Indeed, with all their faults,India's administrators have done a commendable job in ensuring a modicum of stability in the face of frequent political upheavals.Hence,this columnist is optimistic that it will not be long before India copies the Malaysian model,and brings Islamic banking into the country. Closer economic interaction between India and the Gulf is in the interests of both sides. The GCC countries and India are complementary in their skills and congruent in their interests. The setting up of Islamic banking divisions within the existing banking network in India would ensure a substantial flow of investible funds into the country.

Of course,none of this money would get diverted to industries such as gambling and alchohol, that are barred in Islam. A beginning has been made by the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind,which has set up a committee on Islamic banking under a noted scholar,Mr Abdur Raqeeb. Some influential policymakers within the Congress Party are also active in seeking to overcome the block to Islamic banking that has been artificially created by international interests keen to ensure that India does not take money away from them India is a secular country,and therefore Islamic banking needs to be seen not as a "Muslim" issue,but as one that involves the welfare of each citizen,whether Muslim,Christian, Hindu, Jain, Sikh or Buddhist. After all, the huge volume of remittances from Indians working in the Gulf benefits the entire country and not simply those belonging to a particular religion. Islamic banking therefore needs to be viewed less as a religious right than as a secular advantage. Allowing India's observant Muslims to gain access to domestic funds that are Sharia-compliant would ensure that they avoid getting duped by unregulated and often dubious entities that seek to profit from their faith. The Islamic world is India's natural partner,and one way of strengthening such linkages would be through the introduction of Islamic banking in India Indeed,it can be argued that the healthy financial principles mentioned in the Quran were the earliest enunciation of the "mutual fund" concept. Unless mutual gain comes from mutual effort, and unless moral principles are given primacy in decision-making,the wotkd will witness further man-made catastrophes such as the 2008 financial crash.

This was caused entirely by the greed of some 380 individuals, who were the prime movers in the relentless speculation that artificially drove up the prices of commodities such as foodgrains,copper,steel and oil. Sadly, apart from a handful,not one of the 380 have suffered any legal consequence of their devastating economic attack on humanity.Indeed,the Obama administration seems as deferential to them as was George W Bush.Small wonder that speculation in commodities is once again rearing its poisonous head,making the price of oil and other essentials rise despite the weakened state of the international economy. Judging by the way in whuch Barack Obama,Gordon Brown,Angela Merkel and others are obedient to their whims, it looks as though those guilty of causing the distress of hundreds of millions in their insatiable greed for money will once again plunge the world into chaos,and soon.

In such a context,the need to create financial systems grounded on moral values becomes clear.Should Islamic baning entities finally get sanctioned in India,and should they function in the way that is intended,then not only Muslims but Hindus and others will start putting their savings in them. As the sages say, we need to look for good everywhere, so as to reach it everywhere.







The New Year has begun in Pakistan with an awful carnage when a huge bomb blast ripped through the Ashura procession participated by thousands of mourners including men, women and children, killed at least 45 people and injured many others. This was the first time in Karachi's history that the sanctity of Ashura was most savagely violated by the terrorists of Tehreek-e-Taliban according to its own admission. As the disrupted procession snaked through M A Jinnah road the rowdy elements burnt down over 2000 small shops causing and estimated loss of about 50 billion rupees to small traders There is hardly any doubt that the Sind government miserably failed to make adequate security arrangements ignoring the volatile law and order situation in the country. The federal government too, does not seem to have taken the incident very seriously. At least an enquiry must be ordered against those responsible for maintaining peace in the city on such momentous occasions. President Zardari has put the blame of the incident on what he called non-state actors, whatever he means by it. In his speech on the occasion of the second death anniversary of Ms. Benazir Bhutto he had blamed these nameless actors for all his troubles. Some analysts think he means by this certain media people. If he does, how could media be responsible for the Ashura carnage? This needs some explaining by his spokesman. Mr. Zardari also said that PPP believes that Baitullah Mehsud was responsible for the killing of Ms. Benazir Bhutto. Since Baitullah Mehsud has been killed in a drone attack what is the point in dragging the UN inquiry? Karachi is a volatile city. The government must take serious precautions for possible eruption of sectarian violence in future.

Karachi, which was once considered the safest, most peaceful metropolis in South Asia, has become over the past few years a den of senseless crime, ethnic strife and sectarian fanaticism. Every day newspapers are full of revolting stories of gruesome murders, dare-devil robberies, car snatchings and free use of most sophisticated and fearsome automatic weapons.

These merchants of death and destruction are roaming around freely striking at innocent people and peaceful citizens sleeping in their houses, sitting in their shops or walking on the streets. Six to eight people die almost every day and as many families are destroyed. Even mosques have become the battleground of sectarian warfare and people offering prayers are sprayed with bullets indiscriminately.

When Karachi was selected to be the capital of Pakistan by the Quaid-e-Azam in 1947, this city was the pride of the nation. The birthplace of the Quaid, the hub of big business and industrial activity, its coffers full of wealth and its ports humming with ships from foreign lands, streaming in and out of its harbors round the clock. This generous city provided refuge to people who had left their homes in India either by force or by choice. It gave shelter to all those who came from all parts of the country in search of work and employment. Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans, Balochs, Mohajirs, all converged on this hospitable land of opportunity. People were living together in peace.

This way of life remained in vogue for 28 years i.e. from 1947 to 1975, a very tumultuous period which saw the imposition of the first martial law under President Ayub Khan, two futile wars with India, break-up of Pakistan in 1971 and the rise of a quasi-socialistic system under Z. A. Bhutto. A constitution was framed in 1973, but the process of its mutilation started soon afterwards, the economic situation became chaotic owing to the hasty nationalization of major industries. Prices of essential commodities soared beyond the reach of common man and the poor and middle classes became disgruntled with the government.Ironically, General Zia, who himself grabbed power through deceit and duplicity became the foremost champion of Nizam-e-Mustafa. He fully exploited the name of Islam to perpetuate his autocratic rule fro about 11 years and gave full freedom to misguided religious zealots to strengthen their bases and spread sectarian hatred. The cherished Nizam-e-Mustafa never materialized in Pakistan.

The Afghan war brought in its wake a steady stream of sophisticated weapons passing through Pakistan. A sizable part of these weapons fell into the hands of Pakistani criminals and drug mafia who are now playing havoc in the country.

The most regrettable aspect of the prevailing situation is that neither the federal and provincial governments, nor the major political parties seem genuinely concerned about the carnage in Karachi. Besides offering utopian economic packages for the people of the city and issuing pious statements of intent to bring the chaotic situation under control, they have not taken any tangible measures to resolve the crisis which needs to be settled politically.

All what is happening in Karachi today is partly the consequence of this "divide and rule" policy. The terrorism let loose in the city cannot be suppressed by force as has been quite evident in recent months. Only MQM, which is a part of the government, could handle the situation forcefully. And it must.







Verily, the best speech is the Book of Allah and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad ibnu 'Abd Allah (SAAW). The worst of all affairs in this Diyn are innovations. Every innovation is a Bid'ah and every Bid'ah is a going astray and every going astray is in the Hell Fire. Developing true love for Allah's messenger (SAAW): Having the proper love for Allah's Messenger (SAAW) is a must for any Muslim who is striving to please his/her Lord and who seeks his/her Lord's Forgiveness. Learning how to properly apply this love for the last Nabee (SAAW) is to properly implement the testimony: wa ash hadu ana Muhammadan rusulu Allah (SAAW). Indeed, one cannot just say he/she loves the Prophet (SAAW) while his/her actions and 'Aqeedah are fundamentaly against what the Prophet (SAAW) brought (i.e. the Qur'an and the authentic Sunnah). Hence, the first step in the process of developing this love is to acknowledge that the Prophet (SAAW) has a claim over the believers. Allah has said in the Qur'an (what means): "The Prophet (SAAW) is closer to the believers than their ownselves..." [Al-Ahzab: 6].

Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah (Rahimullah), one of the great scholars of this Ummah, relates that this Ayah means the Prophet (SAAW) has a "higher claim" on the believers than they have on themselves. This claim involves two important matters: This is so because this claim is based on love. One has the most claim to oneself for one loves oneself more than anything. Thus, a person knows what types of foods, clothing, etc. he/she likes to eat, drink, etc. more than all others. However, when it comes to Islam, we know that Allah knows us better than we know ourselves; thus, we submit to Him and His Orders. We it comes to the Prophet (SAAW), we are to love him more than our own selves; thus, we too put his commandments above our own opinions, logic, etc.

Once this true love is established, compliance, obedience, satisfication with his (SAAW) jugdements, and other matters related to true love will follow. This is confirmed in the following authentic Haadith found in Sahih Al-Bukhari: Narrated 'Abd Allah bin Hisham: 'We were with the Prophet (SAAW) and he was holding the hand of 'Umar ibnu Al-Khattab (RAA). 'Umar said to him, "O Allah's Messenger (SAAW)! You are dearer to me than everything except my ownself." Allah's Messenger (SAAW) said: "No, by Him in Whose Hand my soul is, (you will not have complete Faith) untill I am dearer to you than your ownself." Then 'Umar (RAA) said: "However, now, by Allah, you are dearer to me than my ownself." He (SAAW) then said: "Now, O 'Umar, (now you are a believer)." The Prophet (SAAW) negates (i.e. rejects, denies) that a person can have complete Imaan with his statement,

"No, by Him in Whose Hand my soul is...". Thus, the affirmation, or condition of having complete Imaan, follows: "...until I am dearer to you than your ownself...". Therefore, the Muslim will never attain true Imaan unless he/she considers the Prophet (SAAW) to be dearer to him/her than everything including one's ownself. Upon hearing that true Imaan can only be achieved through loving the Messenger (SAAW) more than everything, including one's self, 'Umar (RAA) quickly complied with the commandment of the Prophet (SAAW). The Sahabah wasted no time in doing those acts which were pleasing to Allah and His Messeger (SAAW).

The Messenger (SAAW) has more rule over an individual than that individual has over his/herself. This means that a person only does those actions which are in accordance with the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah of His Messenger (SAAW). Therefore, three critical conditions must be fulfilled in order for a deed to be accepted: a. One must confess his/her belief in Islam (i.e. one must be a Muslim). b. One must have Ikhlaas of the Niyah (i.e. purity of the intention). c. One must do that deed in accordance with the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah of His Messenger (SAAW).

If one of these conditions are not meet, that person's deed will not benefit him/her in the least. Of course, absence of knowledge is always an exception (eg. a person may make Wudhu but does not know the specific parts of the body that are to be washed; thus, he/she washes those parts which he/she thinks to be significant. His/her Wudhu was not done in accordance with the Book and the Sunnah; however, he/she did not know the way to make Wudhu according to the Book and the Sunnah; hence, their Wudhu would be accepted for a and b were fulfilled, wa Allahu 'alam). These are the conditions which the Salaaf As-Salih (Pious Predecessors) understood with regards to the acceptance and rejection of a deed. Another implications of the testimony: Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah (SAAW).

Verily, Allah, azza wa jall, has said in the Qur'an (what means): "Say (O Muhammad SAAW): O mankind! Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allah - to Whom belongs the dominion of the Heavens and the Earth. La illaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He). It is He Who gives life and causes death. So believe in Allah and His Messenger (SAAW), the Prophet who can neither read nor write, who believes in Allah and His Words, and follow him so that you may be guided." [Al-A'raf: 158]. The prophet (SAAW) said (what means): "And the Prophets were formerly sent to their people only, whereas I have been sent to all mankind." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Therefore, recognizing that he (SAAW) was sent as a mercy to all of mankind will, Inshallah, help kindle the proper love for him which will be manifested through obedience to his rulings. Indeed, there is no Messenger/Prophet after Muhammd ibnu 'Abd Allah (SAAW) as Allah, Ta 'Ala, says in His Book (what means): "Muhammad (SAAW) is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah, and the last (end) of the Prophets. Allah is Ever All-Aware of everything." [Al-Ahzab: 40]. The Prophet (SAAW) has said (what means): "And the line of the Prophets is closed with me." [Muslim]. Believing that Muhammad (SAAW) is the final Messenger of Allah confirms Allah's statement (what means): "...This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed my Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion..." [Al-Ma'idah:3 (in part)]. Thus, if Islam were not a complete way of life, then this religion would need to be constantly updated. In order to update this religion, there would have to be another Prophet after Muhammad (SAAW). However, this is not so as Allah completed this Diyn and it can never be changed from its true form.







The Maoist or Naxalite insurgency in India is gnawing away India's roots and has become a cause of major concern of its administration. Let us briefly examine this uprising. The term 'Naxalite' draws its origin from an organized armed peasant resistance against the landlords that began in March 1967 in a small village called Naxalbari in the state of West Bengal. It signaled the birth of a new movement and since then, all forms of armed struggle with socio-economic development of the downtrodden as the cause have come to be termed 'Naxalite'. Other terms that are used to describe the movement are 'leftwing extremism' and 'radical Maoism'.

Naxalites are backed by the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). According to Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, Naxalites' extremism today constitutes the single most important internal security threat to India. The Naxal groups have spread their activities to as many as 22 out of 28 states in the country. In East Bengal the Naxal movement was immensely popular with not only the radical sections of the students movement in Calcutta, but the whole student body of Bengal undeniably were sympathetic about them since the mainstream Communist ideology had proved itself to be hypocritical and farcical in practice, as they stand to this day. The state machinery of India systematically annihilated this student support baseline from the whole movement as international human rights watchdog bodies picked up frantic calls of disappearances of students and intellectuals. Between 1969 and 1979 an estimated 5000 students and intellectuals disappeared or were killed under mysterious conditions. The West Bengal Left Front maintains that these students and intellectuals left their education to join violent activities of the Naxalites. Charu Majumdar progressively changed the tactics of CPI (ML), and declared that revolutionary warfare was to take place not only in the rural areas but everywhere and spontaneously. Thus Majumdar's 'annihilation line', a dictum that Naxalites should assassinate individual "class enemies" as a part of the insurrection, was exploited by state media and the Bengal Left Front to infuse a sense of demonic identity into Naxals and over thirty years portrayed them as a social evil.

Whereas the statistical data refers to the theory being only practiced against such elements in civil society who were deemed to be "class enemies": the police, landlords, and corrupt politicians cutting across mainstream party lines. Throughout Calcutta, schools were shut down. The strategy of individual terrorism soon proved counterproductive. Eventually, the Chief Minister, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, began to institute counter-measures against the Naxalites. The West Bengal police and the state sponsored CPI (Marxist) cadres fought back to stop the advancement of Naxalites. The student part of the movement was cruelly repressed by numerous disappearing s, staged encounters, and a doldrum of state sponsored media allegations tarnishing the image of the Naxalite movement and this massive and relentless public brain washing campaign was partly successful in hijacking public opinion sympathetic of the Naxalite ideology to that of misinformed 'fear'. The human rights violations on the West Bengal police went unabated for decades after this to attain the demonic proportions of the eighties and nineties where they have been appropriately termed as the 'uniformed mafia'. Buddhadev Bhattacharya tactically led from the front line as the police and home minister of West Bengal during the same period to turn the evil nexus of CPIM and the West Bengal Police into a feared repressive regime which was the most effective counteractive agent against the onslaught of Naxalites.

Significantly, aside from the internal dynamics of the Maoist/ Naxal insurgency India also perceives an external element to it. Indian security and intelligence agencies maintain that the Maoists are receiving weapons from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and China through illegal channels So far Indian security forces have tried to suppress the rebellion with brute force; there is an increasing need of a serious dialogue with all the groups involved in the Maoist/Naxal insurgency. The dialogue which has taken place so far with the Maoists is deemed to be a mere ploy by the government to buy time before launching a stronger offensive against the Maoists for which a number of internal security measures have been taken recently which include: trawling the international arms market to upgrade the country's counter-insurgency capabilities by India's security agencies; floating global tenders for more than 800 bulletproof vehicles by the Indian military, which are likely to be given to security agencies involved in counter-insurgency operations in Moist effected areas; allocating an additional 10 billion dollars by the Indian government to upgrade its homeland security by 2016. This upgrade envisages affordable technology comprising laser-guided armaments, light vehicles and drones as priority purchases. India has also drawn up a multi-pronged strategy that will target top leaders, win people through a propaganda war and offer cadres a surrender-and-rehabilitation policy while launching an extensive armed operation in Maoist strongholds across the country.

The Indian Central government has also asked the State governments to speed up development works and employment generation programmes in the Naxal-affected areas so as to counter left wing extremism with development. A military advisor has been appointed to prepare an action plan for dealing with Maoists. Indian Central Government is actively considering setting up brigade headquarters or Army cantonments in interior areas of Naxal affected states.

If Indian media reports are credible, the Indian government is preparing to launch full-fledged anti-Naxal operations at three different areas, considered tri-junctions of worst Naxal-affected states. The tri-junctions identified for the offensive are Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh; Orissa-Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh and West Bengal-Jharkhand- Orissa. The Maoists are enjoying popular support in the poorer area of rural, central and eastern India. Any full fledged anti-Naxal operation will be a great challenge to the Indian Security establishment. India is hosting the 2010 Commonwealth games for the first time and in the backdrop of acute threats from the Naxalites, its security forces face a major challenge. Unless it can curb or pacify the Naxalites in the meanwhile, it may be nigh impossible to host the games without exposing the participants from 71 nations to extreme danger.








From his perch above Earth the New Year looked down and gasped as he saw the scene below: "What's happening?" he asked the sentry of the gate of time.

"The people are waiting to welcome you," said the sentry grimly, "Some are praying, look at that couple literally down on their knees looking at you with pleading eyes!" "And there!" said the New Year. "Yes that's a dance hall, those people are partying, and at the stroke of twelve they will all holler and yell and kiss each other and wish…"

"Wish what?" "That you will allow them to holler and yell and kiss throughout the year!" said the sentry of the gate of time sadly. "The people expect a lot from me," said the New Year nervously. "Yes they do 2010!" said the old sentry. "Yes they do!" From his perch above Earth the New Year continued looking at the people below, it was a few minutes before twelve o clock, a few minutes before he would have to go down to Earth. He stared at the scenes below. "What's that?" he asked.

"Soldiers!" said the sentry. "They've made a truce with the enemy, 'no firing at each other' till the New Year comes in!" "Why?" "Both sides are hoping and praying that peace will prevail!" "The people expect a lot from me," said the New Year again, nervously. "Yes they do 2010!" said the sentry of the gate of time, "yes they do!" From his perch above Earth the New Year looked at hungry people holding their empty food bowls up to him. He looked at thirsty people begging him to send rain to their parched throats and barren lands. "What's that?" he asked.

"Activists! They are praying to you that this year world leaders will stop the alarming rate of global warming!" "And there, what's that happening over there?""Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters crying out to you to stop the terror that seems to be taking over the world. They pray that reason will enter the head of the terrorists this New Year!" From his perch above Earth the New Year saw the clock come closer to the hour of twelve. He took a deep breath and then as the bells rang through the Earth below, he spoke, "Oh people of Earth. You, who expect miracles from me, it is in your hands to shape and mould me as you will. You want a year of peace? You can shape me likewise! You want prosperity? Use me for such! A year of plenty? Use the 365 days I give, to work hard and make it happen! I'm all yours to do as you please!"

The bells rang, the clocks chimed, fireworks went off as the New Year entered Earth. The old sentry at the gate of time looked below, and said, "Did you hear him? He's all yours this Two Thousand and Ten, make the New Year what you want it to be..!"










At last efforts are underway to clean up the River Buriganga considered to be the artery of Dhaka city. The river is facing multiple challenges of pollution, encroachment and waste dumping. Several attempts in the past were largely directed at encroachment but those were not particularly successful.  But the situation seems to have changed somewhat, after the high-profile Copenhagen meet last month. It seems to have finally sent home the message that a casual approach can be extremely dangerous and more so for a highly vulnerable country like Bangladesh. Besides, a High Court directive to clean and free the rivers, surrounding the city, has jolted the administration into action.  

For a lasting solution to the growing menace of river strangulation, a lot of effort will be necessary. Not only will the river need to be cleaned but efforts must also be there to stop new sources of affliction. We cannot afford to  continue to use the river as a dumping ground for all our waste. Most of the waste that is deposited into the Buriganga mainly comes from the adjoining city and some of it from marine sources. Both these sources must be stopped if the river is to remain clean. Therefore, it needs constant monitoring by the authorities to fend off pollution.

Land-filling by developers has been a continuous source of trouble for the rivers around the city. Several attempts in the past were foiled by powerful real estate companies; the current effort, therefore, must be tellingly different from what was done in the past. Also the construction of bridges on the river is likely to reduce the pressure on the water body. 


Recycling the non-biodegradable a must

The government has also assured the nation that the Buriganga will be connected to the Jamuna through excavating the Dhaleshwari - a challenging task indeed but not an impossible one. As for the urban waste, it must be disposed of, according to category. Non-biodegradable waste must be recycled while the bio-degradable should be utilised for better purposes. It is hoped that the current realization will get some institutional shape if it is to continue beyond the initial spurt of the moment.










In yet another High Court ruling upon an appeal of public interest litigation (PIL), the government was compelled to form a committee comprising 39 members, which will be responsible for monitoring the country's earthquake preparedness. More, they will also hold the power to make a list of rescue equipment required for facing any possible quake disaster. So the message is clear: earthquake preparedness has to be speeded up so that the country is not caught off-guard in case of a major jolt.  Since a severe tremor is likely to wreak havoc on the urban centres of heavy population concentration mostly growing without proper planning, the focus naturally has to be on cities and towns.

A series of mild jolts in recent times, experts are convinced, point to a violent quake soon. The urgency of a reasonable preparedness for a looming disaster, therefore, should get high priority.  Fires at a large shopping mall and a high-rise office building have exposed the weakness of the capital city in dealing with comparable disasters. In case of a quake measuring 8-9 on the Richter scale, the devastation in cities and towns are likely to be of cataclysmic proportion. There is no point foot-dragging on matters such as procurement of sophisticated machines and equipment when the potential threat is so big.


Preparing list of equipment

Now the onus is on the committee to prepare a realistic list of equipment. The sooner it is done the better. Highly costly and heavy machines needed for rescue operation should be procured in phases but the less costly equipment such as scanners for detection of survivors buried under rubbles should be obtained in adequate numbers. Also the strength of the brigade of volunteers should be raised manifold, which can be deployed for raising the awareness of people about the dos and don'ts during an earthquake disaster.







"….5 teens commit suicide in a single day…"

"Hey kids don't do it!"

"But I can't take it anymore!"

"Take what my child?"

"The taunts, the struggle, the fights, the laughter, oh god it's terrible!"

"Come here!"

"No I don't want another lecture, I've heard enough! Enough!"

"It's not another lecture, I just want you to look at somebody, come here a moment, just look at him! Can you see him?"

"It's me, that's a mirror, that's me!"

"Now look out of that window, who's that down there?"

"A dog!"

"And in the other window?"

"Another dog who looks just like the first dog!"

"And have you ever found someone who looks the same as the person you just saw in the mirror? Someone with the same nose, same mouth, that lovely hairstyle, those shining eyes, have you ever seen that person elsewhere?"


"But the dogs, many look alike don't they? Have you ever thought why with six billion other people on this earth, which means there are more people than dogs, still we all manage to look different?"


"Because you are unique! You've been made different! There's no one who's like you in the whole wide planet earth! You're one of a kind!"

"I'm an idiot! I'm ugly! I'm terrible!"

"Says who?"

"All the others!"

"How can they say something about somebody who's not like them! Only you know what you are! Only you can understand yourself! There's only one of you, and only you can take care and nurture that person! Look in the mirror! You're frowning! Just try to smile!"

"I can't!"

"Tell yourself you can! Tell yourself you will!"

"I can! I will!"

"Look you smile! Now tell yourself you are special, unique, one of a kind, that never more will what people say effect you, that you will smile when you want, and not cry when others want! Tell yourself that the rope you have tied to that fan will never entice you because that's a reaction to what others want from you, but what is your reaction going to be from now on my child?"

"To live!"

"Yes my child, to live and smile as you win against a struggle, laugh as you overcome a problem, and cry and rise again if you fall, because you are…"

"Unique! I am one of a kind in this world of six billion!"

"That's right! Smile my child..!" 






In the days of yore, Dhaka was little more than a collection of villages loosely connected by lanes and thoroughfare. At that time it was believed that the soil had a limited bearing capacity and would take no more than a two-storied structure often made from wood. But as Dhaka grew in prosperity, land became increasingly scarce while the influx of migrants from rural areas increased, the demand for housing became unprecedented and small tin structures became the norm. All too soon the population of Dhaka was bursting at the seams, and single-family homes became insufficient for their needs. To many, hi-rise construction seemed the only solution. As time passed four to five storied buildings were also not enough and the only way to close the gap between demand for housing and supply of land, was to build ever upwards. And when it became possible to construct super-tall buildings, which could provide large amounts of floor areas without the need for buildings to be one on top of another, we embraced it wholeheartedly. Today as Dhaka faces an acute crisis for land