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Monday, January 11, 2010

EDITORIAL 09.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 09, edition 000399, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























































The mob violence witnessed in Hyderabad and other cities and towns in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday was entirely uncalled for and should be treated by law-enforcing agencies as a severely punishable offence. There can be no justification whatsoever for 'fans' of the late Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who are believed to be members of 'YS Yuvasena', to run amok and cause damage to Reliance establishments and public property. The rioting followed the telecast of a spurious story — allegedly published on a dubious website said to be operated by Russian emigrants and reproduced on a little-known blog from where it was picked up by TV 5, a local television channel — according to which the helicopter crash in which YS Rajasekhara Reddy died on September 2 last year was not an accident but the result of an elaborate conspiracy. The story, we are told, was published on September 6; that a local television channel should find it 'news worthy' four months later tells its own story of shame and deceit. As if on cue, two other channels got into the act with 'panel discussions' and within minutes there were mobs on the streets baying for blood.

It would be pertinent to ask why the channels chose to telecast a cockamamie story whose contents are not only potentially libellous but also inflammatory. While television channels are known to indulge in such irresponsible behaviour to grab eyeballs, perhaps this wasn't quite the case with the decision to publicise the unsubstantiated story about Rajasekhara Reddy's death. It is entirely possible that the channels, led by TV 5, were prompted to do something so despicable by certain individuals eager to keep the 'YSR legacy' alive. It is another matter that the legacy is fast turning out to be one of lumpen street violence: Are we to believe that in life as well as death Rajasekhara Reddy inspired only thugs and goons? That's a question for his son YS Jaganmohan Reddy, who believes that he (and not Mr K Rosiah) should have been anointed Chief Minister and is willing to go to any extent to achieve his goal, to answer. It is also for the central leadership of the Congress to read out the riot act to Mr Jaganmohan Reddy, unless, of course, the party views the violence as a means of diverting attention from its botched-up move on Telangana.

Whatever the reason behind the bizarre telecast of a patently fraudulent story and its terrible consequences, we cannot, indeed, must not, ignore the ignominious role played by a section of the audiovisual media. The police have done well to file charges against TV 5; others who followed suit must also be prosecuted. This is not an issue of media freedom, as is being made out by some organisations, but one of wilfully spreading canards with the intention of disturbing public peace. Even if the purpose was to garner ratings by generating controversy, it should be treated as unpardonable. Such media outlets do not deserve sympathy; they must be punished pitilessly. Linked to this is the larger issue of bringing television channels to heel through a broadcast law which has been pending for far too long. Every time there is any talk of enacting the broadcast law, television channels gang up to block it on the specious plea that it would curtail media freedom. The time has come for Government to tell television channels that India can do without media freedom that has become a convenient cover for indulging in gross irresponsibility, spreading canards as 'information' and defaming individuals and organisations.






In a major push to reform higher education in the country, the Ministry of Human Resource Development's recently-announced measures aimed at streamlining the process of approval for technical education institutes as well as cracking down on fake degrees need to be commended. Under the new rules, the All-India Council for Technical Education is to initiate an online approval process for those wanting to set up engineering colleges or institutes providing technical education and associated courses. The new approval mechanism will consist of three phases and will require the institute seeking approval to submit as many as 42 documents pertaining to various aspects such as faculty, courses, etc. In addition to this, the institute will also be required to submit a walkthrough video footage of its campus. This will then be followed by physical verification of the institute's infrastructure by randomly selected members of the AICTE's panel of experts before approval is given. The strength of this mechanism is that it minimises the possibility of human interference. It will be recalled that the AICTE was at the receiving end of bad Press last year when the CBI raided several of its offices and arrested some of its top officials for demanding bribes to facilitate the process of approval of institutes. It is hoped that the new system will restore some of the lost credibility to the AICTE.

The other significant measure that has been announced is the setting up of an online depository of college degrees. This will go a long way in curbing the proliferation of fake degrees that has become a source of concern by making the degrees available only through the online format. A bank of college degrees will also make the process of verification easier which, in turn, will help hasten the tedious procedure of attestation and authentication compulsory for those planning to go for higher studies abroad. Looked at in entirety, these measures essentially aim at getting rid of much of the red-tape that higher education has come to be associated with. The idea is to minimise bureaucratic intervention in the education sector and get back to focussing on quality. If implemented properly, these measures will do a lot to strengthen higher education in India by laying the foundation for a quality education system. As praiseworthy as these measures are, the Ministry can hardly afford to relax. A lot more needs to be done towards capacity-building and ensuring education for all. Nonetheless, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and his team are making the right moves.



            THE PIONEER



Early January is always a good time to get rid of the hangover and get back to business. This is as true of ordinary individuals as institutions. In the case of the UPA Government, the second half of 2009 was spent celebrating the impressive victory in the general election of May. The verdict left the Congress and the UPA much, much more stable than the previous Government (2004-09). There was no Left to worry about. The major parties in the Opposition had suffered a hammering. Conditions were perfect for the Congress to govern as it pleased, and undertake seriously meaningful policy interventions.

However, as senior Congress functionaries are the first to admit, things haven't quite gone to plan. There is, of course, no danger to the Government at all. The BJP has only just begun its rebuilding, and the CPI(M) has not gone even that far. With Mr Rahul Gandhi as potential leader, the Congress still seems well-positioned for 2014.

Nevertheless, the UPA Government's first six months after re-election have not been up to expectation. Harold MacMillan, the late British Prime Minister, once famously told a journalist that the phenomenon most likely to throw Governments off course was: "Events, dear boy, events." This is true enough. From a 1987 radio broadcast in Sweden on bribes paid by a local arms manufacturing company to, 10 years later, a surge in onion prices, Indian Governments have been cornered by completely unexpected occurrences.

Yet, the second UPA Government's problems have not come from external 'events'. They are largely self-generated. Aside from the Telangana announcement of December 9, a result of the Home Minister getting a panic attack, none of the problems is likely to have long-term consequences, at least not yet. Yet, an earlier-than-anticipated course correction in some key areas is necessary.

There is much cogitation in the UPA upper echelons on the performance of certain key Ministers, in crucial economic/infrastructure and social sector Ministries. Two or three Ministers have been identified as extremely vocal but unable to deliver or follow through on well-meaning words and promises. A few of the other Ministers — such as the one for Rural Development — are simply new to the Centre and need the equivalent of coaching classes.

Even where the Government has achievements to report — or at least nothing to be defensive about — it has sometimes been strangely unable to convey the right impression. Take the Ruchika Girhotra case. The former Chief Ministers accused of helping out SPS Rathore — especially Mr OP Chautala — having nothing to do with the Congress. By all accounts, the Congress national leadership is quite happy to see Rathore punished for his perverted crimes. The decision to strip him of his medals is, in the end, an action of the Union Home Ministry.

Yet, the Congress has been unable to make the Ruchika campaign its own. To be fair, this is a civil society and news television initiative, led, admirably, by Ruchika's family and friends. Even so, if there is a political face to it, it is that of Ms Brinda Karat, who has seized the opportunity to become a spokesperson for justice to the memory of Ruchika. The Minister for Women and Child Development has been missing, anyway seen as completely out of her depth.

There are other examples. The Ministry of External Affairs needs a change, at least a junior Minister of some heft within the establishment and of sharp political instincts. A situation where a Minister in the Foreign Office contradicts the Home Minister on the need for a tight visa regime, and dismissively writes that the 26/11 terrorists did not have visas, is ridiculous. Perhaps the Home Ministry did go overboard; perhaps the Tourism Ministry is indeed worried about the impact on tourist arrivals. Yet, these are issues to thrash out within the Government, not on every new-fangled public forum.

On occasion such episodes have tended to cost the Government a compelling attribute: Sobriety. An administration lead by individuals as strait-laced as Mr Manmohan Singh and Mr Pranab Mukherjee would not possibly want that. It would suggest that a reshuffle of even a limited magnitude is likely in the coming months. Given the relatively still nature of the UPA Cabinet in its first term — as Home Minister, Mr Shivraj Patil survived four-and-a-half years of doing nothing — this is noteworthy.


An opportunity will present itself in early summer. In April some half-a-dozen Union Ministers end their Rajya Sabha terms. Most will no doubt come back, though the pressure to accommodate 'outsiders' will be felt this year by Congress Chief Ministers in Haryana and Maharashtra. Some choices will have to be made. In Punjab, fewer seats are available to the Congress than the number of MPs who will retire.

This could be a time to reconfigure the Council of Ministers and pack off a few non-performing members to the party organisation. Indeed, people within the Congress are already speculating about a reshuffle after Parliament's Budget Session.

To some degree, an indication will come from the Budget itself, and from the business of economic reform that the Government takes up — or refuses to take up — as financial year 2010-11 begins. In his first five years as Prime Minister, Mr Singh was convinced of the long-term potential and implications of the India-United States nuclear deal and of reordering Indian foreign policy. He saw this as a historic responsibility and as a legacy question, and was willing to take political risks for its achievement.

In the period till 2014, the legacy issue will become even more pronounced. Given the Congress's domination of the ruling alliance, expectations are that much higher. A Government that hasn't really been able to get down to work over six months after being given a clear mandate needs to do something before the perception sets in that staying in office is an end in itself. For a start, it needs Ministers of competence. Right now there are too few to go around.







Laid up with flu, I was lying on the ground. It was a small house in a small village with open skies. My mind wandered absolutely free and unfettered. Right in front of me was a tree. Everything shone bright in the mid-day sun. I first looked at the tree and then at the sky. The former had a minuscule existence against the latter. The sky is limitless, both spatially and temporally. But in terms of time the tree too is limitless. Not even an atom of the tree can ever be destroyed. It is bound by the philosophical principle that says: Anything existent in the present was so in the past and will be in future too. Anything non-existent in the past can never be either now or in the future.

The sky and the tree have absolutely no idea of their being or not being and yet their existence is unhindered and limitless. If every single atom that exists will forever be, then how can I doubt my own existence. When an atom cannot defy the universal principle of everlasting existence, how can I be an exception? A little more thinking made me wonder why it is that man alone should doubt his existence. He has a more developed consciousness than that of a tree and, therefore, entertains doubts about his existence. Furthermore, his consciousness is not as developed as that of a yogi and, therefore, he cannot understand his infiniteness. From both angles, he is a loser.

Some truths in this world are palpable, others are subtle, and yet others are abstract and intangible. I can apply palpable and subtle means to know the first two types but I have no means of knowing that abstract and the impalpable truths. I can see a mango, taste it, smell it, and touch it simply because it is a palpable reality. In the case of an atom, none of my senses can perceive it, only a microscope can reveal its existence. On the other hand, there is no microscope through which an abstract truth can be perceived, and existence is such an abstract and impalpable truth. If my existence was no part of me, I would have resorted to its description in words that people who claim to have apprehended their existence have used.

The senses, the mind, the intellect, language, etc are all means of indirect experience, whereas knowing results is direct experience. Since none of the means of indirect experience are of any avail when it comes to knowing, I despair researching on my own existence. Objective truth can be experienced only through medium-neutral awareness.








New Year is expected to come with a lot of hope and promise. Memories of the January of 2004 when a fresh beginning was made at the Islamabad SAARC summit played on many people's minds as 2010 was rung in. For the first 100 hours of the New Year, it appeared as if big things were possible. The year just passed was relatively calm on the terror export front. The memory of 26-11 was receding from the public space and peaceniks were back with their "aman" graffiti. But all that changed on the afternoon of January 6.

It was the first terrorist strike in the J&K valley for over two years. Four terrorists attacked a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) picket in Lal Chowk in the heart of Srinagar. They hurled grenades and fired indiscriminately on the civilian population which had somehow come to take peace for granted. Two of the attackers swiftly dissolved into the crowd, while the other two managed to take a hotel called Hotel Punjab under siege and from there engaged the CRPF for two days. Finally, on Thursday, it was all over with both the terrorists slain. Ten people, including civilians and a TV cameraman were injured.

The swiftness and efficiency with which the paramilitary forces dealt with the fidayeen proved to Pakistan that India had not lowered its guard. For the past few months Islamabad had been up to extraordinary duplicity. It had been nagging the world community about New Delhi's skepticism over resuming the composite dialogue process. Naturally, India had been shy of getting into farcical talks with Pakistan till it had shown the resolve to bring the 26-11 lynchpins to justice. Pakistan had been converting this into an opportunity. It shouted from all rooftops that India was the belligerent in Afghanistan and the chief cause behind so many western soldiers returning in body bags.

Hillary Clinton, during her visit to the sub-continent, had somewhat batted for Pakistan. This vibed well with some segments of society in both countries. There was palpable euphoria over imminent resumption of talks, based more on irrational enthusiasm than an understanding of real politic. India and Pakistan have been entering and leaving the dialogue process since 1998, without any change in Pakistan's policy of using terrorism as proxy.

Everyone understands that dialogue is the best option to resolve any issue but should we continue with it irrespective of knowing that it is just not working? Post 26-11, Pakistan has made a joke of India. Instead of showing genuine remorse, it has mocked New Delhi by demanding that India provide proof that the attack was planned on its soil. They slighted India's dossiers and ridiculed every piece of evidence as lacking in credibility.

At Sharm el-Sheikh, which happened within seven months of the 26-11 carnage, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh showed a readiness to resume dialogue. A joint statement issued by Mr Singh and Yousaf Ali Gilani, his Pakistani counterpart, even de-linked dialogue from Pakistan's action against terrorism. This was an extremely bold move on India's part. The government was criticised for this on the home turf. But in hindsight it could be argued that it has hardly made any difference to India's global image. Yes, Pakistan will keep on quoting this joint statement in the years to come in justification of their argument that India is responsible for the ambivalence over dialogue resumption. But unfortunately for Pakistan, its own image has become so maligned that no one would be ready to listen to such preposterous claims.

It needs to be understood that India walked the extra mile at Sharm el-Sheikh and demonstrated that when it comes to diplomacy India is more rational than emotional. But at home spin doctors failed to establish the merit of India's position at Sharm el-Sheikh to the home audience. Hence nothing much has happened post Sharm el-Sheikh as far as process of dialogue is concerned. The national Opposition's criticism stung the Manmohan Singh badly and India is yet to reemerge from the shadow of Sharm el-Sheikh.

During his visit to the United States just ahead of the first anniversary of 26-11 the Indian Prime Minister mentioned New Delhi's readiness to resume the peace dialogue with Pakistan, provided the latter shuns violence and expresses good faith and sincerity. He highlighted that Pakistan should abjure terrorism. Mr Singh knows that apart from terrorism many other issues are also at stake and that probably lay at the basis of his short-lived policy to treat terrorism as a separate issue. The Sir Creek dispute is pending for a long time and any resolution to that effect could bring in significant economic benefits. Water disputes between India and Pakistan demand immediate attention. A couple of years back Pakistan took the Baghlihar issue for international arbitration but failed to push their agenda. They have issues with the Kishanganga project on the Jhelum in J&K also. Pakistan understands that its Kashmir rhetoric would be substantially weakened if the Indian state emerges as an economically prosperous entity. The repeated successes of the democratic process in J&K have proved that the generation born after partition is chiefly concerned about development, not separation from India. Pakistan is therefore trying to open a new front by taking the help of Chinese companies in several projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). This, along with China's continued supply of weapons to Pakistan should be a matter of concern to India. Also, Pakistan has made it clear that it cannot give guarantees for securing the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline.

The arrests of terrorists like Rana and Hadley have made it clear that the Pakistan Army had a direct involvement in 26-11. Former military dictator Pervez Musharraf too had spilled the beans about Pakistan's old policy of using terrorism as a tactic against India. President Zardari has claimed that Pakistan is ready to fight a thousand-year war with India over Kashmir. So, there is no compulsion on India to take recourse to diplomacy.

The present top priority for Pakistan is to handle the threat from Taliban. They are getting some support from the US to address the issues close to the Afghanistan border but they themselves are much confused with regard to their relations with the Afghan Taliban. The history of state versus non-state conflicts has shown that demands for ceasefire or dialogue are generally made when the non-state actor takes the beating and is unable to sustain the conflict. Pakistan is demanding the resumption of talks only because it is unable to bear India's non-stop economic and diplomatic pressure. So why should India do them a big favour?

The writer is Research Fellow, IDSA







On January 5, Omar Abdullah, the youngest Chief Minister of embattled Jammu & Kashmir, completed his maiden year in office. His report card advertised in local newspapers boasted lessening level of violence, developing sense of security among the people, reducing footprints of the security forces and improvement in the law and order situation.

The national Press largely ignored this feel-good story. After all, since when is Srinagar a generator of good news. On the other hand, a photograph of Hurriyat separatist leader Yasin Malik and his wife celebrating the joys of peace in a Srinagar coffee bar enjoyed wider circulation. That told a thousand words about the new mood in India's terrorism battleground city.

The next day, January 6, everything changed. Kashmir was back on the news networks after a long pause. Members of a suicide squad belonging to Lashkar-e-Tayyeba exploded grenades and fired with automatic weapons before seizing a hotel building in Srinagar's nerve centre Lal Chowk. The 22-hour-long gun-battle resulted in the death of a civilian, a policeman and two suicide attackers besides reducing the hotel building to ruins. The stand-off paralysed life in the commercial hub of Srinagar for two days.

The contrast within the same week is telling of the larger picture of Kashmir. There are two sides to the Kashmir coin. Statistics reveal that the level of violence did come down by 25 per cent in 2009. This was in line with a trend that began two years back. In fact, the number of fatalities caused by traffic accidents happened to be higher than that of militancy. A question that looms large is whether reducing the level of violence has improved the general public's confidence.

In his speech during an All India Editors' Conference in Srinagar in October 2009, Omar Abdullah made a seminal point. Kashmir is not a social or economic issue that could be resolved by pumping huge funds and investments. "It is a political problem and requires a political situation". His father and Union Minister, Farooq Abdullah, in the presence of several cabinet colleagues accused New Delhi for pursuing a faulty Kashmir policy that initiates (dialogue) processes but terminates them midway without caring for results. This attitude, he said, was the mother of Kashmir's ills.

Undoubtedly, peace and stability in Jammu & Kashmir is directly dependent on Pakistan's involvement. The death of a Pakistani militant in Lal Chowk and the increase in infiltration attempts on the Line of control is a practical indication. Asif Ali Zardari's reiteration of his slain father-in-law Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's statement to "fight a 1000-year war with India on Kashmir" serves as a theoretical backdrop.

It is not that India disproves Pakistan's role in resolution of Kashmir issue but for past three years it is tending to club it with various other factors. Initially in 2007 when General Musharraf's sway was waning in Pakistan, New Delhi stopped doing business with the military ruler. The installation of a democratic government too did not impress India, as the worsening internal situation from Swat to Waziristan only but extended a fledgling dispensation. The 26-11 attack in Mumbai compelled India to keep Pakistan at a distance till the latter guaranteed mending its ways and punishing the perpetrators.

But this attitude has not gone down well with the people of Kashmir. The roadblock in the Indo-Pak dialogue process has exacerbated public despair. This does not allow the concretisation of arrangements initiated by India to address the dimensions of the issue. The bilateral process initiated by the Home Ministry, aimed at involving a section of separatist leadership in Kashmir did not take off presumably due to this factor.

Home Minister P Chidambaram announced in mid-October that New Delhi was ready to initiate "quiet diplomacy" to find an amicable and sustainable solution that would be acceptable to the vast majority of the people of J&K. The quiet dialogue that was supposed to be held away from media glare was an invitation to separatist groups to engage with the government. The pro-dialogue faction of the Hurriyat led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was encouraged by the offer, describing it a prelude to a triangular dialogue involving Pakistan. However, the young Mirwaiz's friendly approach was disliked by hardliners. Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi too sought to alienate Mirwaiz saying that any arrangement between New Delhi and Srinagar without involving Islamabad would not yield results.

Unfortunately for him, tragedy struck the Mirwaiz faction, and that too a day before the Lal Chowk terrorist attack just as he was preparing to formulate his faction's formal response to the dialogue offer. On December 4, his confidante, Fazlul Haq Qureshi, who has brokered a failed peace deal with Hizbul Mujahideen in the past, was shot at and injured by unknown assailants. The attack on Qureshi was a statement that impacted the ground situation.

Interestingly Pakistan, which had offered space to pro-India Kashmiri leaders in the past, has withdrawn the carpet. Mehbooba Mufti, chief of the People's Democratic Party was not allowed to visit Pakistan when she applied for a visa to attend a conference in Islamabad. This could be a reaction to New Delhi's attempts to narrow down the scope of Kashmiri separatism. Incidentally, the much-hyped Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and the barter trade that began with much hype, has lost their lustre. The bureaucratic hassles faced by ordinary people on the route have discredited this confidence building measure.

A common perception in J&K is that India and Pakistan should shun obstinacy to resume on the path of dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. Observers do not view the involvement of the US in Afghanistan and Pakistan's role there in isolation of developments on the home front. They say that any settlement or lack of it in Afghanistan would have a direct bearing on Kashmir.

The Kashmiri tends to hope that India and Pakistan would work in mutual cooperation to renew the dialogue process. They also expect the local separatist leadership to facilitate talks. Back-channel diplomacy, such as media coordination between the Times of India group and Pakistan's Jang-Geo group is not a misplaced effort. The arrival of Pakistan's National Assembly speaker Fehmeeda Mirza in New Delhi and her meetings with three top-ranking separatist leaders — Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik — are also positive developments.


The writer is The Pioneer's Srinagar correspondent







The United States' new aid policy for Pakistan aims at uplifting its social conditions so as to keep young people from falling prey to Terrorism Inc. The $7.5 billion, five-year package is for improving education, health care and governance. If these targets are pursued honestly, positive results may start coming in after about a decade. So it's a long haul for reforming forces. They can only pray that Pakistan is not changed forever before then by obscurantist Islamists.

There is every indication that Terrorism Inc. is way ahead of the reformers. The two most-developed regions of Pakistan, south Punjab and Sindh, are now in the firm grip of the fundamentalists. There are two reasons why terrorist organisations like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad have flourished in south Punjab. One, they have the backing of the Pakistan establishment which considers them its assets against India. Two, these outfits have no dearth of recruits thanks to the poverty lack of development in this part of Punjab. Unlike the relatively prosperous north, south Punjab is considered a reliable catchment for al-Qaeda and Taliban recruitment. The influence of the Pir and Seraki movements, which somehow kept society moderate, has been rendered weak by government fancy for the fundamentalists.

The Sufi movement has all but disappeared from south Punjab. Since there is no resistance to religious intolerance and terror in south Punjab its eventual duplication in the poor and backward regions of Sindh should not surprise anyone. While the Hindus are persecuted in south Punjab, it's the Christians who are at the receiving end in Sindh. The Sipah-e-Sahaba, with links to Taliban, is the nemesis of the Christians. It accuses members of the community of committing blasphemy against Islam. That is enough to provoke ignorant, hungry mobs to attack Christian houses and churches. The whole blame for this goes to the mob and the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Taliban remain in the background.

A natural corollary of this trend is communal tension. There have been anti-Hindu and anti-Shia riots and forced conversions to Islam. During Zia-ul-Haq's rule, young Hindu girls were kidnapped, forcibly converted and married to Muslim boys. The clerics would not allow the girls to return to their parents arguing that Muslim children could not stay with non-Muslim parents. The society, courts and police found themselves helpless before this argument in the wake of Islamisation. Today, we see a recurrence of that tradition.

The big-ticket terrorist groups are more aggressive when it comes to Shias. On December 28, a procession of Shia Muharram mourners was bombed on Jinnah Road in Karachi, killing 45 and injuring 80. It was a suicide bomber who did it. The Taliban have claimed responsibility. This sparked off sectarian riots leading to 2,000 homes being set on fire.

This kind of atmosphere is natural for a country that has gained international notoriety for hosting dreaded terrorists. There were reports that some months ago that Taliban supremo Mullah Umar was shifted to Karachi from Quetta where there was fear of US Drone attack on his hideout. Karachi, once the city of lights, was thus awarded the opprobrium "city of Mullah Umar."

Hundreds of Taliban slipped into Sindh in the wake of the military crackdown in Malakand followed by South Waziristan. In Sindh, the Taliban are trying to change the whole character of the province. Their special targets are Sufism shrines, which are venerated by both Hindus and Muslims, and minorities and Shias.
An article in Karachi's Newsline says: "shrines of various Sufi saints have been under threat ever since the Taliban began targeting places of pilgrimage, forcibly trying to impose their own religious agenda upon the masses that have been living in peace and harmony for centuries. Due to the deep-rooted influence of Sufism, fanaticism has never flourished in Sindh. However, the proliferation of extremist elements is posing a potential threat to what has been a liberal Sindhi society for many years".

Ideologically all organizations that spread terror in the name of Islam get their inspiration from Salafism, or its extension known as Wahabism. They want Muslims to return to Islamic practices as existed during the time of Prophet Mohammad. Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba and other such militant Islamists share this belief. One may recall that when terrorism started in Kashmir in 1989, shrines and Sufism were among the first targets. In 1995, the siege and destruction of the Charar-e-Sharif shrine by Pakistan-based terrorists shocked the world.

As Sufi shrines in Sindh are under threat, young people are turning to fundamentalist Islam. Religious intolerance is replacing religious tolerance and non-violence in the society. An indication of this trend is the proliferation of madrassas in interior Sindh. It is the fear of Islamists that keep the traditional supporters of Sufism, who included members of the Hindu business community, away from funding their repair and maintenance. The new generation of businessmen prefers to support the cause of the Islamists for fear of violent retribution.

Pakistan is drifting to unmanageable chaos. That poses a grave threat to its neighbours — Afghanistan, India and Iran. So New Delhi should be cautious of taking Pakistan's assurances at face value and stay away from the Composite Dialogue Process till such time as there is evidence of the Pakistani Army and ISI's withdrawal from Terrorism Inc.

The writer is Director, Media Studies, YMCA







THE Right to Information Act has been one of the major pieces of legislation in the country. It is not surprising that the bureaucracy has been trying to put the good genie of information back in the bottle by amending the Act or by ensuring that the information commissioners, too, get bureaucratised. It is, therefore, significant that the Central Information Commission has declared that information on the assets of a public servant, read bureaucrat, is also open to scrutiny.


At the same time, the Delhi High Court has asked the Commonwealth Games ( CWG) Panel and the Sanskriti School to establish information offices under the Act to disseminate information. The Sanskriti School has been set up by the top bureaucrats of the country to provide quality education to their wards. Public funds in inordinate measure are poured into the school which, however, does not want to share information about how they are spent. As for the CWG panel, they have claimed to be a law unto themselves on matters relating to the Games.


Restricting information has been the bane of Indian society and civilisation. The caste system, for example, denied the right of learning and education to the allegedly lower orders. Its modern manifestation has been the zeal with which the bureaucracy has sought to maintain a monopoly on information. While colonial era statutes like the Official Secrets Act is one extreme of the process, the everyday denial of even trivial data is another. It has also become a means of corruption by compelling people to pay for what is legitimately theirs.


Making information available, therefore, has a special resonance in a society like India's. In an age when new technologies are enriching societies through the process of sharing of information, we should not allow one set of people to monopolise it for their own benefit.







EXTERNAL affairs minister S. M. Krishna's advice to students headed for Australia to be more selective about the courses they pick is baffling. Not known for being a good communicator, he has also made India's stand look inconsistent. Just this Sunday he had suggested that the attacks could impact bilateral ties. He now appears to blame the students by seemingly discovering a link between the courses students pursue and becoming the target of hate gangs. It does not stand to reason that someone studying molecular biology will be less vulnerable to attacks than one learning hairstyling.


It is also anybody's guess why, with his unsolicited counsel to the students, Mr Krishna has decided to take on the role of gatekeeper for Australia. That job surely belongs to the Australian Immigration Department. He has possibly confused between an avuncular role and a diplomatic one. Besides, he should know that a skill gained abroad and appropriately flaunted works wonders at home.


However some Australians have apparently blamed India and the media here for stirring up hysteria. But deaths, of which there have been two, do cause hysteria.


Indian students in Australia want New Delhi to be up to speed in getting a guarantee from Canberra that they will be safe and hold them to that. Statements from the Federation of Indian Students in Australia show an absence of faith and Mr Krishna has only made things look worse.






WHY are officials in the White House so lacking in humour? That a company put up billboards of President Obama clad in its brand jacket while visiting the Great Wall of China should have caused amusement, rather than righteous indignation.


Consider the fact that the photo represents one of the few instances when an advertisement is not taking consumers for a ride by having a celebrity endorse a product for monetary considerations rather than its inherent quality. Weatherproof has got an advertisement that companies would die for and it is only fair that it makes the most of it. Barack Obama may be the president of the United States but let's not forget that he made it there because he happens to be a brand that sells. Just like Weatherproof hopes that its jackets will hereafter.







Henry Kissinger once said power is an aphrodisiac but so is money and youth. Sportsmen have both


WHEN the writer Colin Wilson became an overnight sensation in Britain at the age of 24 ( like Byron, he awoke one morning and found himself famous), he was asked what success meant to him. He said that he was most excited about the sexual possibilities. It is the same with sportsmen, only more so because unlike writers they are at their physical peak when success visits them, and the temptations are difficult to resist. As recommended by Oscar Wilde, few attempt to resist. The Olympic Games, according to one participant, " is as much about sport as sex". Sex and the single sportsman, therefore, are, like filter and tobacco in that famousadvertisement, perfectly matched.


When married sportsmen do what the bachelors are expected to ( that is, play the field), that's when the media get interested.


Tiger Woods is in trouble not because he slept with a dozen women; he is in trouble because his handlers ( agents and marketing men) sold him to the public and his sponsors as a family man who is a combination of Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi with a bit of Mother Teresa thrown in. They made him a billionaire under false pretences.


The media were interested in the extra- marital romps of a Boris Becker ( he later clarified that his famous session in a broom cupboard actually took place under the stairs), David Beckham ( who claimed that his affair with Rebecca Loos actually strengthened his marriage), Ian Botham ( remember how he broke the bed he was sharing with a Miss Jamaica?), Kobe Bryant ( was it an assault or consensual sex? He had to buy his wife a four- million dollar diamond ring to patch up), Shane Warne, Wayne Rooney ( who paid 45 pounds to have sex with a grandmother) and others too.


But most of them confessed, appeared contrite and continued with their peccadilloes till the next time. Woods, meanwhile, decided to shut up initially, and a whole lot of innuendos and manufactured stories filled the vacuum.




Strictly speaking, a man's extra marital affair is a matter to be discussed and sorted out with his family.


But when the man is a sportsman, usually a millionaire, often good looking and at the peak of his physical powers, there are too many wheels within wheels. In the case of Saint Tiger Woods, it was a fall waiting to happen, the only surprise being it took so long.


The relationship between a good forehand in tennis or a terrific square cut in cricket on the one hand and a steady supply of women in your bed on the other is a well- established one. Anyone who has wished evil


upon his cricket captain in college because he seemed to be getting all the girls or marveled at an international sportsman who has a blueeyed blonde on his arm despite having a face like a car accident himself knows about the connection.


Joe Namath, the famous American quarterback once said, " I went out and grabbed this girl and brought her back to the hotel, and we had a good time the whole night. It's good for you. It loosens you up good for the game." He was talking of the 1969 Superbowl. Sex- as- preparation- forcompetitive- sport has existed long before the Indian cricket's team management put it on their must- do list for the players with the gentle reminder: " Go ahead and indulge."




Researchers says sex takes only as much energy as running 50 yards, and most sportsmen are happy to indulge in an alternative to 50- yard running.


The boxer Muhammad Ali has described how he went without sex for six weeks while training for a bout.


On the other hand, the only time Bob Beamon had sex before a competition was on the eve of his world record long jump at the Mexico Olympics, a mark that stood for 23 years.


The late soccer great George Best spoke about women who hid in his hotel rooms waiting for him and how he obliged them. During the half time at some matches, he often made love to desperate women with giggling teammates hiding behind curtains.


He saw it all as fun, and part of the fringe benefits of being a sportsman.


Others try to justify the sex as an important element of training.


" Good strikers," according to the Brazilian soccer star Romario " can only score goals if they have had good sex the night before a match. When I do it before a game I feel different. I feel lighter, my legs are more nimble."


But is it only the men? No. Jackie Gallagher- Smith, the woman golfer, was sued four years ago by her caddie Gary Robinson, who said the pregnant player had seduced him after she and her husband could not have a child. Feeling like " an unwitting sperm donor" he sought damages for distress ( and lost!).


Why did the journalists who accompanied Woods not write about his escapades is a question that has been asked. Sports journalists tend not to attach great importance to the sex lives of the stars. In the overall picture, it is irrelevant unless it interferes with performance on the field of play. Such stories are for those evenings of story- swapping that are a part of every tour and nothing more.


" Did you see Mohammed Azharuddin yesterday?" someone asks during a tour when the Indian captain is openly flaunting a girlfriend on tour.


There are a couple of nudges and winks, and matters move on.


The sex lives of Indian cricketers ( and their propensity to get entangled with Bollywood actresses) might be worth a sociological study, nothing more.




In the past, players' wives were banned from joining their husbands on tour as sex was believed to reduce effectiveness on the field. Bishan Bedi once had to explain why his late Australian wife had booked herself into the same hotel as the player.


Bedi's explanation, that she was an adult and free to travel to any country and stay anywhere was not well received. Even less popular was his comment that at least he would be spending time with his wife, unlike others who following the Board's diktat left their wives at home but made merry with the local flora and fauna.


Power is an aphrodisiac, claimed Henry Kissinger. So is money, influence, fame, or sporting talent. Tiger Woods had all of these. The rest was inevitable.


The writer is a Bangalore- based journalist








THE D ELHI High Court's landmark judgement to bring the 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee ( CWGOC) and the Indian Olympic Association ( IOA) and national sports federations ( NSFs) under the Right To Information ( RTI) Act has been welcomed by the masses. But most sports officials fear people could misuse the opportunity to settle " personal and professional scores". This will not help the cause of the Games which are only nine months away.


There are always two sides to the coin, and some officials genuinely feel that the timing of the court judgement is wrong and will hamper Games preparations that are already behind schedule.


Since they are now expecting people — both genuine and the mischievous — to bombard them with queries, a set of dedicated staff would have to be deputed to tackle RTI queries.


" To start with, eight to ten people would be needed to deal with the huge inflow of queries we expect. This will also affect the work of other officials because they will eventually have to answer them," a top IOA official told M AIL T ODAY . " So far only the Sports Authority of India ( SAI) and the sports ministry were under the RTI Act.


Now, we will be answerable for almost every act/ decision of ours. But it will surely check recklessness and corruption to an extent as most RTI queries are expected to be about finance and accounts, he conceded." Sports officials are essentially worried about two kinds of people who would be surely making use of the RTI Act. " The first category could include the disgruntled lot that is in opposition in the IOA and in the federations," observed a veteran SAI official.


" The RTI Act has given them an opportunity to take the people in power to task. They could do it just for fun too. These people include those who have lost elections, either in the IOA or


the federations. There is also a real possibility of people moving several RTI queries, collecting the replies, and then slapping court cases," he said, looking through the crystal ball.


In the second category come those people who failed to get lucrative contracts for the Commonwealth Games in October.


" Companies that have failed to wrest contracts now have got a very effective tool to know the ' real' procedure adopted for awarding them to their rivals.


They would, obviously, move RTI queries through unknown people so that the finger of suspicion is not pointed at them," he said.


Many sports officials say that a majority of RTI questions are motivated. At times, parents/ guardians who feel their wards were wronged in some way seek information while some queries are simply mischievous.


" Recently, we received a query from the mother of a roller skater from Gujarat. She wanted to know the dimensions of a skating rink on which the national championship should be held. This information is easily available on the internet and in any sports encyclopaedia," said a sports ministry official.

" I'm sure the reason she moved the RTI for such a small matter was because her son or daughter did not get selected, or that some nationals was held on a rink of non- uniform dimensions.


Now, once she gets the RTI reply, she could take on the people she perhaps wants to target," he added.



FORMER Test opener Aakash Chopra opted out of Delhi's Ranji Trophy semifinal against Mumbai this week citing an injury. The move made tongues wag, especially since there were allegations of bickering in the team. What fuelled speculations was Chopra's appearance as a studio expert on the channel televising the ongoing ODI triseries in Bangladesh. Of course, even if he had a knee injury, as he claimed for pulling out of the match, he could sit on a chair in the comfortable confines of a studio and commentate on the goings- on in the field. But after Delhi crashed out of the tournament, questions about his " real" injury are being asked more loudly.


But Chopra is not the first player against whom there has been talk of having skipped a match citing dubious injuries. Delhi's present coach Vijay Dahiya did almost the same as a player a few years ago. Before him, former India wicket- keeper Chandrakant Pandit, while playing for Madhya Pradesh as a professional, had skipped a domestic tournament match to play a benefit match.



AFTER Virender Sehwag threatened to quit Delhi in August because of rampant corruption in the selection of teams, Arun Jaitley, president of Delhi and District and Cricket Association ( DDCA) and a veteran politician, promised to effect drastic changes. But nothing seems to have changed in the four months since. During trial matches held between the under- 14 probables, parents and DDCA officials blatantly tried to influence the selectors.


When the short- listed boys played against England's Hampton School recently, many who were not invited by the selectors also turned up ( incidentally, the match was a part of those organised by one of the under- 14 selectors who alternately takes his private team to England and hosts teams from England every year). It transpired that these uninvited players landed at the Ferozeshah Kotla because some influential officials had " asked" them to. " Who asked you to come?" a selector asked a boy. The boy, within the earshot of this reporter, replied: " Mr. Vinod Tihara." Tihara is the convenor of the controversial DDCA sports working committee, which has come under severe attack from many people, including Sehwag, Bishan Singh Bedi and Kirti Azad. But it is not known if the boy was speaking the plain truth.


A few minutes later, a former woman Lok Sabha MP, whose husband is also an ex- member of the same house, walked in and asked for a particular selector. When the selector walked up to her, the woman, in a navy blue suit, asked: " Why didn't you send my son to open the innings?" When the selector came to know who the woman was, he gave her a long explanation. " I told her she can't dictate to us the batting order. I said even Sachin Tendulkar was made to bat at different positions initially," he said, trying to put up a brave face. His co- selector, however, said that regardless of the boy's parentage and despite his physical shortcomings, he had " ball sense". It is now confirmed that proxy votes — through which DDCA elections are fought — are also being used for selection of teams, especially junior ones. An association member said that a member of the under- 14 selection committee had sought proxies from him for including a boy that he wanted selected. Corruption in selection of junior teams is rampant mainly because there is no past record of students who appear for trials, giving the selectors a free hand in manipulation.


Some of the top shooters who walked out of the trials for the Commonwealth Shooting Championship because of faulty machines in Patiala had a genuine grouse, admit top officials in the sports ministry. But the real reason for the malfunctioning of the machines that throw up clay pigeons for trap shooting is not very widely known.

It was a private shooting range, owned by the son of former Punjab chief minister Amrinder Singh, that had hosted the trials. But the machines were not tested properly before being used for the important event. Officials say that though the machines had the official sanction to be used for the trials, they failed because they were new. " They had imported and installed the machines only a few days before the trials and they malfunctioned because they had not been properly tested," said the official.


" The National Rifle Association of India was allowed to hold the trials there because there was hardly any option. The Karni Singh Ranges in New Delhi couldn't be used because they are under renovation for the Commonwealth Games," he added. The sports ministry has ordered retrials.






A UNITED Nations human rights investigator said that a videotape of an apparent execution of blindfolded and naked Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers is authentic.


The investigatior, Philip Alston, has called for a war crimes investigation.


He, however, did not specify who should undertake his recommended investigation into war crimes and other grave violations of human rights allegedly committed in Sri Lanka.


The Sri Lankan government came down heavily on Alston's claims. The government on Friday said the purportedly video was " biased and fabricated". The revived focus on possible wartime abuses could complicate the island nation's efforts to refocus international donors' attention on its postwar rebuilding plans.


" We don't accept his ( Alston) conclusions, and we believe they are highly subjective and biased," Sri Lanka's human rights minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said.


" We believe he is on a crusade of his own to force a war crime inquiry against Sri Lanka." Samarasinghe said the government's own investigation into the footage showed it was filled with " discrepancies and shortcomings", and he accused Alston of not following " proper procedures" before announcing his conclusions.


" The first thing he should have done was to share the information with the country concerned.


But he hasn't done that," Samarasinghe said.


Alston did not specify who should undertake his recommended investigation into war crimes and other grave violations of human rights allegedly committed in Sri Lanka.


The government's 25- year war against the Tamil Tigers ended in May last year.


UN reports say more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the final leg of fighting as government forces closed in on the rebel- held territories.


Thousands of Tamil civilians were trapped in a sprawling tent city along a northeastern coastal strip.


Only months after winning the civil war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is locked in a bitter election contest against a former army chief.


Rajapaksa, a war hero among the Sinhalese majority, is ironically competing for Tamil votes — and dividing Sinhalese loyalties — vying against retired General Sarath Fonseka, who led the army to victory.


Alston, the UN human rights council's investigator on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, said his review of the videotape, based on the work of three independent forensic experts, showed that most of the arguments used by the Sri Lankan government to impugn a video released by Britain's Channel 4 television were flawed.


The TV station released the video footage last August showing what appeared to be the summary execution of Tamils by Sri Lankan soldiers.


The video had been shot by a Sri Lankan soldier in January last year using a mobile phone, according to the group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.


The Sri Lankan government said it had concluded the video footage was fake but Alston said the reports by three US- based experts on forensic pathology, video analysis and firearm evidence " strongly suggest that the video is authentic". The experts concluded the footage of the apparent shootings showed the use of live ammunition, not blank cartridges, and there was no evidence that the images of two people being shot in the head at close range had been manipulated.


Alston, however, said there were some unexplained elements such as the movement of certain victims in the video, 17 frames at the end and the date of July 17, 2009 encoded in it.




WHILE Parliament debates on the impeachment motion against Karnataka high court chief justice P. D. Dinakaran, the Survey of India ( SoI) has started a field study to map the Kaverirajapuram village in Tiruvallur district.


Dinakaran is facing charges of grabbing 193.53 acres of public land adjacent to his property in the predominantly Dalit village. Lucknow- based Geospatial Data Centre director Sanjay Kumar, who is part of the three- member panel probing the case, is supervising the work carried out by over a dozen personnel of the SoI. However, the Campaign for Judicial Reforms and Accountability ( CJRA) has questioned the rationale behind the SoI probe. " It appears to be an effort to somehow get a report favourable to the judge. It could well be a red herring," said noted jurist Prashant Bhushan, convenor of the CJRA that is spearheading the crusade against the judge. " The SoI can't decide on the boundaries of the property. It is the responsibility of the revenue authorities. As such, this probe by the SoI is totally irregular and beyond comprehension," he argued.


The SoI probe comes after Tiruvallur district collector V. Palanikumar sent a report to the Supreme Court, confirming the allegations of encroachment.


The collector had reportedly also written to the Tamil Nadu commissioner of land reforms to take possession of the surplus land in possession of the judge and his family members.


While Kumar visited the village on Thursday, the actual mapping started only on Friday.


District revenue officials as well as representatives of the judge accompanied Kumar to each and every disputed point.


Revenue divisional officer V. G. Jayakumar and Tirutani tehsildar R. Vijayaraghavugulu explained how the barbed wire fencing was removed in an attempt to destroy evidence of encroachment after the land grabbing issue came to the fore.


" It will take at least two weeks to complete the task. My terms of reference are to map entire Kaverirajapuram," Kumar later told newspersons.





" INDIA is a slowmoving elephant but with each step forward it leaves behind a deep imprint." Coming from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the figure of speech appears apt, considering the giant strides the country has been making, at least in the opinion of the government.


But some delegates at the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, where the PM made the comment, started wondering aloud: " If India is an elephant, I'm not sure what the PM would call China. How about a blue whale, given the size and the slippery nature of the Chinese?" asked one of them.



IT WAS not just mere mortals whose plans were derailed by the heavy blanket of fog that engulfed the city on Friday. National Commission for Women ( NCW) chairperson Girija Vyas was scheduled to meet home minister P. Chidambaram at noon.


But Vyas, who was on her way back from Udaipur, was stuck in the train for hours.

Frantic calls were made by Vyas's office to try and reschedule the appointment to 4 pm. However, even at that hour, her train, which was scheduled to arrive at 6 am this morning, was nowhere near New Delhi. Ultimately, the appointment had to be postponed and a car was dispatched to Faridabad to rescue a flustered Vyas.

Ramesh's advice


STUNG by criticism that the Copenhagen accord was against India's interests, environment minister Jairam Ramesh said the country should not be evangelical while holding negotiations at global fora.


Saying that the accord had settled contentious points between developed and developing countries on how to fight climate change without giving up on development, Ramesh said India scored 2.5 out of three on the negotiating table.


Soon after the accord was drafted last month at the UN meet on climate change, various NGOs have been accusing India of bowing to the US as the accord " was not in the interests of the country". " The accord is weak, meaningless and fundamentally flawed. It will be bad for the fight against climate change and bad for India," Centre for Science and Environment ( CSE) director Sunita Narain said. While admitting that the negotiations did not meet anybody's expectations, Ramesh said the developing nations at least managed to ensure that the talks would continue at the multilateral level.



MAHARASHTRA chief minister Ashok Chavan's bungalow has a faulty water meter, making it difficult to record water consumption. This has been revealed in a response to an RTI application.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai ( MCGM) has stepped in and decided to replace or repair the faulty meter, a top civic official said. The MCGM will issue a letter to Chavan's residence in south Mumbai to either replace or repair the water meter, according to additional municipal commissioner Anil Diggikar. The RTI query was filed by Chetan Kothari.








Ever had the weird sense you're somewhere you're actually not? Or that you're someplace people think you're someone you aren't? Camus, philosopher in a trench coat, would call it the absurdity of the human condition. Rock star-poets would say the outsider's sense of unreality is because "people are strange". But America's Men in Black simply call it the wages of crashing the party.

Not that, sometime ago, two bargers-in looked lost at the dinner the Obamas hosted for our PM. The infamous Salahis, dubbed intruders, were so grinningly at home at the White House you'd swear they were America's First Couple. But, reportedly, gatecrasher No. 3 named Carlos Allen has popped up, with ghostlier contours. The Americans thought the Indians had brought him along and the Indians don't recollect taking him along. And he himself is said to deny both being there and not being there a fuzzy state of existence we thought only applied to subatomic particles. Or to rail mantri Mamatadi, for whom life is perennially elsewhere (Kolkata). Or to Andhra's Hyderabadis for whom life might be elsewhere if a certain Telangana champion (hunger) strikes again.

Back in America, Allen allegedly pooped the White House party despite being a party planner himself. He'll get no sympathy from certain Mumbai cops who've got rapped not for crashing a party but so it's said being invited! And, of course, these now-suspended policemen aren't sure if they were there or not there at the bash reportedly payrolled by baddies cops don't usually disco-dance with. That's a shame. Because one guest or gatecrasher spied dancing with (alleged) wolves sure had the moves to give up policing and be the next shake-a-leg Travolta.

Had he been there today, Narasimha Rao would've had his own spooky conundrum. For long, he wasn't sure if he was there or not there in a different kind of party, one whose PM choice he once became. The issue's been settled posthumously. At the inauguration of the Congress's year-long 125th anniversary celebrations, his every trace in the Grand Old Party was definitively erased. Yet surely partyman Rao existed. For, even if reforms get credited to Rajiv, who can forget Rao's signature pout when dynasty finally crashed and crushed his gate?

Amar Singh's luckier. His services to the samajwadis are indisputable: thanks to him, his Lohiaite socialist boss didn't have to crash a single high-society party. On a resignation rampage, the SP leader now rues that blood's thicker than party spirits for Mulayam. Is he there or not there? For the ending of this Amar kahani, wait for the samajwadis' next invitees-only baithak. Amar's consolation? Some say, the NCP. There's hope for partying yet.

Meanwhile, it hits us that being there and not there is a universal condition. We crashed life's gate. We're strangers in (earthly) paradise. And the bouncers always arrive sooner or later to show us the door. Why not enjoy the party while it lasts?








The college community has finally arrived, in folklore, with the movie 3 Idiots. Earlier, Bollywood recognised the college only as a site for the extracurricular. Education was seen as a joke; the canteen was the theatre of activity. Hero and villain resolved key issues around the cafe. It was the site where boy met girl. Love was central, knowledge marginalised by common consensus. In fact, the good student was the standing joke of the campus the butt of every bully. In 3 Idiots, the college, even if arrogantly and naively called the 'Imperial College of Engineering', returns to the forefront. This shift is crucial because college education is recognised for the centrality it possesses in our lives.

For the middle class, education is all. Failing an exam was the tsunami of our lives, where recovery was distant, difficult and doubtful. If you didn't make it to the IIT of your preference the family demoted you in the head. I still remember a student who was berated by her family for missing a centum in mathematics, the poor girl barely reached 99. Yet for all its tensions, college education was a precious moment of freedom, the wild period between innocence and responsibility the classic rite of passage in a modern middle class society. The college was what we looked at in anticipation and nostalgia. The Aamir Khan movie captures this entire gamut of innocence, stupidity and ambition by building the story around a wide cast of well-performed characters following different futures.

The picture reeks of stereotypes, but that is its power. Even the critique of education is predictable. The movie condemns rote education, emphasises the importance of choice, responsibility and freedom. But what holds it together is the riotous sense of fun, where the three idiots see college itself as the rituals of idiocy, centring on marks, hierarchy and rigidity. Most of us remember college for its cast of weird characters who had odd nicknames that captured a type. Memory was built around these types the principal who would not listen, the professor who patented boredom, the student who competed ruthlessly for every mark and the roommate whose stomach contributed to global warming. These stereotypes were the stuff of education as theatre.

The emphasis was not on the abstraction of ideas. Ideas were derivative. They became alive only when lived through this kaleidoscope of characters, the panchayat of friends and the impossible people that made college education a thing of beauty. The theme of stupidity drives the movie and slapstick substitutes for philosophy. For all its emphasis, the movie still plays on the standard themes of college life, hierarchy, rigidity and unfairness. The movie tries to show that laughter and a sense of play can still be winners in this ruthlessly competitive world.

The beauty lies in the intelligence of the movie. Comedy, as a form of intelligence, and stupidity as stereotype create the dialectic called education. In a tacit way, the movie shows that education is not embedded in the blackboard, the textbook and the exam but in the friendships you make, the values you live out and the ideas seeded in college that might germinate later.

There are memorable characters throughout. The stereotype of the ruthless diasporic who stops at nothing for his future Lamborghini is brilliantly done. The young boy from a poor family, the nerd who commits suicide because his project could not be completed on time, are evocative moments. Incidentally, the number of suicides in the IIT during the last three decades is still treated as a state secret.

At the centre of the movie is the question: is success a singular? Or are there plural definitions of success? The intelligence of Aamir Khan and his team lies in cataloguing this play of possibilities where boy gets girl, boy gets job, boy discovers himself and so on. This ballet of possibilities and varieties of success creates the openness of the movie and prevents any moralising about success, values, ideology or intelligence.

Yet the weakest character cinematically is that played by Aamir Khan himself. He seems too original, too rascally, too generous. And one discovers that he is a kind of Indian Edison who has created a school in Ladakh; one knows it is time to go home. The logic of the story is not convincing. But it is these contradictions that keep the myth of college alive as an ever-present kaleidoscope where the difference between integrity and cheating, success and failure, is wafer thin. Also while in earlier eras, the emphasis was on isms, justice and social backgrounds, this movie emphasises individualism, friendship and mobility, making it rhyme with the contemporary generation.

The power of Bollywood lies not in refitting stereotypes but in playing with them to suggest new possibilities. This, 3 Idiots does with laughter and intelligence, by treating lightly what we usually pontificate about, turning education into a world of nostalgia and anticipation that we deeply treasure.

The writer is a social scientist.







The Jain belief is that all living things have an atma, a soul that provides them the characteristic of a living being. Without the soul the body is ajiva, lifeless.

The soul is considered to be a breakaway fragment of a Super Consciousness, Paramatma, which, due to karmic bonds, is locked into a cycle of birth and death. The terms birth and death indicate the transmigration of the soul from one body to another. The soul in its purest form is a replica of the Super Consciousness and is thus all knowing, free from all feelings, and in a constant state of bliss. The true nature of Soul is to revert to it purest form. The degree of karmic bondage to the soul varies; it could be from a mild level to an extreme level.

For human minds to comprehend it, the same could be expressed in terms of colour. The soul could be any colour ranging from the mild to a jet-black. The deeper the bond of karmic influences, the more difficult it is to free the soul of it.

The Jain concept of non-violence could be misunderstood. Generally non-violence is associated with not being violent towards living beings. But that's not all. The Jain concept of non-violence has far broader connotations. To understand the scope of it, one has to go back to the true nature of the soul. Since the soul is locked into a cycle of birth and death due to karmic bonds, its liberation from this cycle and the return to its blissful, all-knowing state, lies in shedding all karmic bonds.

As per Jain thought karmic bondage happens due to the soul's attachment to the world that we see and perceive and in which we exist. This world is in existence and visible to us in its current form due to two phenomena:

First, the interlocking of matter in a space-time paradigm makes up the physical world that we see and perceive as our world. Matter, as per Jain principles, is not liquids, solids and gases that we see, but the particles that make up the liquids, solids, gases and all that we see or feel or perceive around us. Second, the attachment of karmic bonds to soul gives rise to souls locked in birth and death cycles- that is, the fusion of soul to matter.

The cycle of death and birth is almost eternal for a soul unless broken by detachment and is released from karmic bonds. For this the soul has to constantly remember its true character and destination, going back to its pure form. It has to also constantly remember that its presence in the visible world is transient. It has to shed all its karmic bonds to return to its blissful state.

Any attachment to this visible world increases karmic bonds and thus contributes to pollution of the soul. Therefore, to move towards its true destination, the soul has to shed all attachment to the visible world. To shed attachments one has to constantly remember the true nature of the soul, the transient nature of its present state and the fact that it does not belong here. With this realisation, there ought not to be any tendency or urge to violate whatever one sees and perceives in the world around us. That, according to Jainism, is true non-violence.






The beginning of a new decade is an appropriate time to reflect on cricket's peaks and valleys in the previous one. Or it would be if the last 10 years were not a flat, monotonous plain stretching until the eye can see. Certainly, there are a few oases India-Australia in 2001 and the 2005 Ashes would probably feature in any list of the greatest Test series but on the whole, it has been marked by a sameness. A frenetic pace has been set and massive scores rattled up, but therein lies the problem. Exciting is not necessarily the same as interesting. And the reason for this, as various cricket experts have pointed out, is that batting is getting easier.

Strip away everything else, and cricket is a contest between two people; the batsman and the bowler. Take away one half of that equation, and there is precious little left. That, unfortunately, is the direction the game has been headed for a while now. Some of it is inevitable. As technology improves, the quality of bats, for instance, is bound to improve as well; likewise, protective gear. But the problem lies in the rules being altered to make batting even easier instead of maintaining the balance between bat and ball. Restricting the numbers of bouncers per over in Test cricket is a prime example. But the biggest culprit by far has been the deteriorating quality of pitches the world over. In earlier decades, a batsman would have the full range of his skills tested in trying conditions. Now, Melbourne may as well be Mumbai, a tarmac strip that would break any bowler's heart.

This is, sadly, a matter of statistical fact, not opinion. Batsmen have inflated their records as never before in this decade. Analysis shows that the batting averages of the top seven batsmen in a line-up have been the highest in this decade after the 1940s. Even more tellingly, 21 batsmen average more than 50 this decade, an incredible jump from just five in the 1990s. When it comes to truly judging the skill of a batsman now, a batting average of 55 is the new 50.







Have pitches and conditions made it easy for batsmen? If one goes by stats, the answer is yes. But statistics, read out of context, could lead to unreasonable conclusions. To conclude from batting averages that batsmen flourished in the last decade because conditions helped them is to misread statistics. The noughties have been rightly described as the decade of batsmen. But that's because we saw an explosion of talent and innovation among batsmen during this period.

Cricket underwent a radical transformation during the decade. Shorter formats were invented, the game spread to new venues and with big money coming in it became much more competitive than before. The changes in cricket were more demanding of batsmen than bowlers. With the spread of the one-day format and T20 in the later part of the decade batsmen had to reinvent their game. They had to score at all costs, and fast. Old style Test batting that focused on wearing out bowlers went out of fashion. No one said well left any more, even when openers took on the new ball. Batsmen began to take more risks, innovate and invent shots not found in coaching manuals.

Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag best symbolise this transformation of batsmanship in the 2000s. Both have seamlessly blended the requirements of Test cricket and the limited-over game. They invented shots like the upper cut over the slips, greatly useful in the shorter format and to traditionalists acceptable only there, and put them to practice in Tests. The result is there for everyone to see. Three hundred-plus scores on a single day has almost become the norm. Another point to be kept in mind is that these players have scored on a range of grounds across continents. Let's not forget that even Don Bradman scored all his runs in two countries, England and Australia, whereas Tendulkar made his thousands on pitches in six continents.

The unfortunate part is bowlers have failed to change with the times. They have preferred to bowl a restrictive line than attack the batsmen. Fast bowlers want to be line-and-length medium pacers and spinners prefer to bowl flat. There were exceptions like Muthiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Wasim Akram who were hugely successful. Their contests with batsmen were never one-sided. And, these bowlers, among the most successful in the history of cricket, also played in the last decade.








In its eagerness to delight foreign guests, who are expected to come to the capital during the 12-day Commonwealth Games, Delhi is leaving no stone unturned. As a part of its beautification drive for the Games, the zealous officials of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) recently demolished a temporary shelter meant for 250 homeless people in central Delhi. The shelter was removed not just to make the area look more presentable but also because it was an "illegal encroachment" that led to "unsanitary conditions and traffic problems" in the area. Thankfully, the Delhi High Court stepped in and ordered the government to rebuild the centre. The MCD did follow the order to a T: it rebuilt the shelter, but even in this biting cold, it has no blankets, bedding and carpets. The helplessness of those who used this temporary shelter, a tent actually, can be gauged from the fact that even this half-hearted arrangement is being seen as a blessing. According to a conservative estimate, there are 1.5 lakh homeless people in Delhi and there are only 17 regular round shelters that run throughout the year. In the winter of 2009, the government and NGOs were running 47 shelters.


Chief Ministers of Indian metropolises have often talked about the pressure that our cities face from migrants and how they, in turn, put pressure on the civic amenities of cities likes Delhi and Mumbai. While much of this is correct, it is also true that migration is a reality and instead of seeing it as a constant headache, there must be some coherent policy on how to handle people who leave their homes to come to the cities and end up being homeless. The policy on these homeless people has been ad hoc and in Delhi, the number of shelters are increased only during the winter season. Life on the streets is harsh and dangerous for anyone, more so for women and children. Yet many parts of Delhi, like west Delhi, are still not covered even by this ad hoc policy.

 Along with giving people the bare minimum of having a roof over their heads, the state has to make certain other interventions for these unfortunate people: healthcare services, livelihood opportunities and, more important, some sort of identification. A proper identification document will help them access government programmes. But, of course, let us not forget the suffering of these people left to the elements when we are in our warm and secure environs. Surely, they deserve a little more compassion.









I'm visiting coastal Orissa (sorry, Odisha) after a decade. Two grisly images still remain with me from my last visit, shortly after the devastating cyclone of 1999 — a human skeleton in a rice-field in Jagatsinghpur, its arms stretched wide as if to embrace the sky, and a rock which rolled strangely underfoot and turned out to be a skull.

The current iconography is more cheerful. Driving out of Bhubaneswar airport, the biggest billboard in sight has Vedanta declaring that it is "mining happiness for the people of Orissa". On the highway to Cuttack, Posco says: "Steel in every step. Song in every heart." Spin doctors' spells for countering strong NGO magic — activists accuse mining companies of being market neo-colonialists who displace tribals from their mineral-rich lands. Alas, the spells aren't working. Their unctuous smugness betrays terrible insecurities. What they're really saying is: "Please stop beating us. It hurts."


But I don't see the signage I'm looking for, proclaiming that Orissa has ceased to exist by constitutional fiat and that I am now in Odisha. The government buildings, including the imposing State Archives, are still located in Orissa. Their signboards say so. Mumbai and Kolkata announced their change of state with the vehemence typical of the right and the left. Odisha arrived quietly and is waiting enigmatically to be acknowledged.


Maybe it's because of an element of uncertainty. Odisha has competition. It is derived from an indubitably ancient tribal name, but there's also Utkal — the state university is named for it — and Kalinga, a name which resounds through history from the Mahabharata era down to the late Middle Ages. A certain war is named for it, in the course of which the emperor of bloodthirsty Magadha, so terrifyingly depicted in the Arthashastra, converted to the Eightfold Path and became the most influential missionary of peace in all of human history.


But the reach of Ashoka's evangelism was outshone by the vast political, cultural and commercial domain claimed by Kalinga. After the nation rose from the ashes of the war under the stewardship of Kharavela in the 2nd century BCE, its ports, especially Pulicat, became springboards for building a commercial empire in Southeast Asia. Kalinga is the reason why so much of the East bears recognisably Indian names — Singapore (Singhapura), Irrawaddy (Iravati), Borneo (Varuna) and Kampuchea (Kamboja), for instance. And the Tamils there are called 'Kelings', for Kalinga. The word is derogatory in Malaysia because the original Kelings were impossibly rich and therefore disliked, like Jewish and Marwari traders, and recently there was an agitation to get it expurgated from the Malay dictionary.


Place names and the demonyms they give rise to can have tricky histories. It appears that Tamil merchant princes — colleagues of Ilango Adigal, perhaps — travelled overland to Kalinga to take ship for Southeast Asia, where they were identified as Kelings. Just as centuries later, when Calcutta (sorry, Kolkata) became the eastern shipping hub, upcountry Punjabis sailed from there to Malaysia and were welcomed as Bengalis. To their disgust, no doubt, and the disgust of Bengalis too.


Changing place names from Anglicised corruptions to pristine, earthy originals is an act of identity politics. But it's futile because you are not what you call yourself. You are what the world calls you.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine


The views expressed by the author are personal








There's that famous joke that the brilliant Arab-American stand-up comedian Ahmed Ahmed likes to throw at the crowd. In an acerbic, but simultaneously good humoured swipe at what air travel can mean for people of his faith, he says, mockingly, "All you White people have it easy. You guys get to the airport, like an hour or two hours before your flight. It takes me a month and a half."


And then the knife digs deeper in. "They asked me at the gate if I packed my suitcase myself. I said- Yes. So, they arrested me."


The self-deprecating witticisms would be uproariously funny if they weren't almost true in a world once again polarised by the debate around racial profiling. Ahmed himself embraced comedy after a quick sample of Hollywood-style profiling.


The only roles on offer were — Oil Sheikh, Terrorist, Grocer — and soon Ahmed evolved into a superstar humourist instead. But as he travelled the world he would soon discover that with a name like his, he couldn't make it to Duty Free without a pitstop at what he likes to call the airport's "Brown Room". "There's normally about a dozen or so people of a Brownish colour, looking around and saying — you look like a terrorist, no you look like a terrorist," he quips.


But enough of the jokes. What does a terrorist supposedly look like? Fair-skinned, light-eyed and almost Caucasian like David Headley? Or Black, clean-shaven and with a footballer's body like Umer Farouq Abdulmutallab? These days the stereotypical image of the terrorist as an uneducated jihadist with the skull-cap and the unkempt beard keeps getting shown up as an unintelligent caricature.


And yet, as America transits from the Shoe Bomber (Briton Richard Reid; strapped explosives to the base of his boots) to the Underwear Bomber (Nigerian Abdulmutallab; carried a liquid bomb in his underclothes) liberal rantings against the profiling of passengers are now being labelled flights of fancy. Panic-stricken after the Christmas attempt to blow up an airliner, the Obama administration has listed 14 countries for enhanced screening at airports. These include allies like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as well as countries like Yemen and Nigeria.


If the Shoe Bomber triggered the mandatory surrender of footwear at X-ray scanners, the Nigerian bomber has ensured that if you are travelling from any of these countries, you will have to go through body scanners first. It's not so much racial profiling- as much as national profiling — the Americans are arguing.


Despite an intuitive recoil from the notion that an entire faith or nation should be branded because of deviants in its midst, I'm beginning to wonder whether the old politically correct formulations hold either. Of course, prejudicial typecasting is terrible and liberal resistance continues to ensure some accountability and fairness from the system. The Nigerians, for example, have every right to debate why the United Kingdom is not under the scanner considering Abdulmutallab was radicalised there, as were several other terrorists of the al-Qaeda. If a homegrown, desi terrorist found his way to the international stage (it could happen; remember Glasgow?) and India were branded as a country to watch out for, we would all be enraged.


That said, those who dismiss new security measures by arguing that if terrorism changes the way we live, we let the bad guys win — are talking a load of nonsense. Look at us — as we stare warily at that abandoned bag in the restaurant; as we meekly surrender our laptop, shampoo and shoes at security check; as we start at the sound of firecrackers and sometimes mistake them for gunshots; as we wade through the crowds at a railway station and always think of how easy it would be to set off a bomb- who are we kidding? Terrorism has already changed the way we live and the best we can do is to find effective ways to minimise its impact on our well-being. There's no denying the fact that some personal liberties will have to be sacrificed at the altar of security. This means hammering out a new paradigm of what constitutes fair-play for troubled times, without allowing the State to turn Spy on its citizens.


As India grapples with the same dilemma — how to be safe, without being paranoid — our debates should centre more around effectiveness and less on philosophical hand-wringing. Take body scanners, for instance. In the US, the debate is now shifting from the ethical question of an immigration officer being able to stare into your private parts to whether the machines can pick up the kind of explosive the Nigerian bomber had stitched into his crotch.


Critics of the scanners say they are visible ways of appeasing public fears, but offer no guarantees. Some experts say you can walk through a scanner with an explosive worn inside a condom. Other countries are pushing for technology that allows computers instead of men to conduct the full-body scan. Either way the debate gives you a chilling glimpse into how creative security needs to be.


In India too, we don't debate efficacy enough. In all the arguments over whether the controversial new visa rules will keep away tourists we haven't focused enough on whether they can really help stop another Headley from making nine undetected trips in and out of the country.


Of course, better intelligence may be the most potent antidote as all the unheeded warnings about the Nigerian Bomber prove. Likewise with creating barriers for the Headley-style infiltrators. It's dangerous to mistake the wood for the trees. But, equally, we will have to concede that a new culture of security rituals is taking shape and we cannot remain philistines in a changing world.


Ahmed Ahmed likes to joke that it's easier for people of his faith to arrive for a 'pat-down' in a g-string. But, now even strip-searches aren't enough. As all the old rules get re-written, we must be ready to find a new balance between civil liberties as we once knew them and the ever-dangerous mind of the modern terrorist.


Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV

The views expressed by the author are personal








There was the smartphone and now there is the "superphone". Google executives launched the Nexus One Google phone amid much speculation: whether the device would be as user-friendly as the iPhone, whether it would thwart Lenovo's Droid and if it would result in a more competitive market given Google's arrival on the scene. Questions raged: could the Nexus One bring about a mobile revolution as its creators had claimed?


Smartphones have changed interchange and Nexus One has taken it one step further by ensuring an open platform. This means that it will be easier for users to download third party content. Speculation has been rife as to whether the iPhone dominated industry will feel the pressure of the new gadget. Both mobiles are to hit the market soon and Google has a competitive advantage in advertising. Under its browser — right below the "Google Search" and "I'm feeling lucky" — is an advertisement for the phone. For those using the phone it would be a step further into the Google stratosphere — one where all information (e-mails and contacts) gets synced to the mobile.


Many have questioned whether this Orwellian 1984 feel is an invitation to an invasion of privacy. However, with greater access comes greater freedom — the constraints are choices consumers make. Over the past year the power of new media came to light and one of the primary locomotives of change was the mobile. No longer a simple calling device, it serves as a medium of interchange both visual and audial. One simply needs to look at the coverage of the monks' protest in Burma, or the ferment on the streets of Tibet and the ongoing Green wave in Iran to grasp the role personal gadgets have played. No longer do they serve as a simple connection device between two people, but rather they have become a medium of interchange between your phone and those you want to share the information with.








Don't go to Australia for frivolous courses" — that's facile advice from External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. "There are any number of excellent institutes in India — in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. I would suggest to parents that they should be discreet in choosing higher education institutions for their children," he said, while being sniffy about "facials, hairstyling and various other things" for not measuring up to the IIT standard. Of course, the minister is not oblivious to the fact that many of these students are not going in the pursuit of academic excellence, but to convert their flimsy visas and savings into jobs. It is one thing to object to the blatant huckstering that facilitates this flight — the entire network of no-name universities in Australia, and agents and middlemen on both sides. It is also entirely reasonable to worry about the perils of a barely legal, vulnerable existence in Australia, where these young people working low-level jobs trigger the hostility and aggression of a large pool of citizens jostling for the same things.


There has been a visible spurt in incidents of violence against young Indians, though it is unclear whether they are racially motivated or scattered instances of street crime. This has resulted in a stark drop of student applications. Australian immigration department figures, for the period from July to October 31 last year, show a 46 per cent drop in student visa applications from India compared with the same period in 2008. The government there is more reluctant to hand out visas, and young people here more wary.


But the minister is ignoring the core causes of this emigration. Where are these "any number of excellent institutes" that can guarantee lifestyles on a par with what these students seek? It isn't parental "discretion" that makes a young adult choose between aiming for IIT and a hairstyling course. With our appalling paucity of educational and employment opportunities, not to mention a complete disregard for vocational, job-driven learning, it is absurd to complain when students strive, at great personal cost, to make a life elsewhere. Unless India manages to address that only normal appetite for material advancement, it is in no position to lecture people who simply want better options. You can't ban hustle — it's a sign of life.







High school is a uniquely formative experience. The years spent in high school are like that — when the mind roams freest through thickets of ideas, opportunities, possibilities, rebellions, intimations of selfhood. But high school, given those years of young adulthood, is not just a time. It is not even just an institution that provides pedagogic and developmental guidance. It is also a refuge. These are years when many students start discerning between the rights and wrongs impacting their lives for which they can hold persons and institutions to account, when they gain a measure of how much independence over their selves they can and should acquire. These can be difficult rites; and the school is a key source of escape, stability and succour.


Ruchika Girhotra's experience was extreme, taking on a high official in a system and city configured for the powerful to wing their way. But in a what-if scenario, she could have come out of it strong, empowered and vindicated. She tried, as we now know, but just a few years later killed herself. The man accused of molesting Ruchika and then victimising her and her family, S.P.S. Rathore, is now likely to be charged with abetment to suicide. But what of her school? Sacred Heart School, it has now been confirmed by a magisterial inquiry, expelled Ruchika soon after she charged Rathore with harassment. The school, one of Chandigarh's most prominent and playground for the bureaucratic city's charmed children, still sticks to the line that it was a mere procedural technicality. But scrutiny of the school records shows that delay in paying tuition fee is rampant, and no one else has been taken off the rolls for this. The inquiry concludes that the expulsion was done in a "selective, arbitrary, biased and unwarranted manner".


All of this may ultimately tie in with Rathore's direct influence — or it may not. Either way what the school authorities did was unconscionable. They broke the deepest contract between school and student. (In fact, as the remembrances of her classmates indicate, Ruchika became an object of gossip. What the school did by victimising her was send out a signal to all her peers that right would be subordinated to power.) Did the school not abet the young woman's death? Put yourselves in her place for a minute, and the answer must be crystal clear. There is enough information already available to initiate criminal proceedings against Sacred Heart School.








To be honest, we do not exactly have a pressing reason or provocation to assess the performance of UPA-II exactly at this point of time. No first hundred days, no first anniversary, no first budget and so on. In other words, there is nothing that we journalists would call the "news peg". Yet there is something that tells you this is as good a time as any to analyse and evaluate this government's performance at this point, and to check where it is headed. Or even if it is moving, or seeming to stall.


Answers to these questions are never simple or easy, and they have rarely been, except say, in Rajiv Gandhi's first year when things were galloping, and in V.P. Singh's first (and mercifully only year) when we were rapidly sliding backwards. But on balance now you have to admit that large sections of this government give you the impression of stalling. Then, as you dig deeper, you also find that it is stalling not particularly because it encountered any headwinds, but is in the doldrums that are its very own creation. Why it has done so, is an intriguing question. It could be complacence: an easy second term, an economy pretty much reviving by itself, a year of respite from terror. It could be laziness and fatigue: there are still several members in this cabinet who know this is their last real job and if their party still wins in 2014, the best they could hope for is a Raj Bhavan. And not many fancy having the audacity or the hormones to have as much fun there as apparently N.D. Tiwari did. It could also be deliberate: a do-nothing strategy, Mamata Banerjee thinks, can work well for her till 2011, and Sharad Pawar, who has turned out to be such a stunningly clueless agriculture minister, does not know what we can or should do anyway. It is also likely that this is, as we columnists usually love to say, a combination of all three.


But let me dare to suggest that there is a fourth problem that bedevils this government. It is its very surprising inability, even lack of inclination, to talk to the people, either to explain its actions or, even more significantly, to create public opinion to back policy decisions it intends to take. The second decade of the 21st century can't be compared with 1991 when economic reform could be carried out pretty much by stealth, without any debate in public. Narasimha Rao was clear about what he was doing: he was gambling with change he himself wasn't fully convinced about and he would take the credit if it worked, or dump it along with Manmohan Singh if it did not. And the reformer of 1991 was like somebody harvesting an orchard of low-hanging fruit that he could pluck at will. The equation has completely reversed in 2010.


There is very little low-hanging fruit left when it comes to economic and policy reform. No, UPA-II now has to deliver on big, game-changing reform. Revitalising and massively expanding India's creaky and inadequate infrastructure is just the start. Taking on Naxalites needs a similarly big effort. Reworking how industry acquires rural land will need us to alter attitudes that we've had since independence; without sweeping change in higher education, and fast, another generation will be left out of the India growth story. All of these require a robust national conversation.


The likely scapegoat of 1991 is now the leader and yet, if something were to really go to pieces, his party's chosen scapegoat. So there is very little percentage in his not talking to his people and explaining, selling and commending his own policies to them. All this strange diffidence is resulting in is sending large sections of his government into a shell, some in confusion, some in lazy celebration and some, a very small but significant section of the usual suspects, even licking their chops in anticipation of a mid-term "change" if the government continues to looked stalled.


It is a most curious situation where a prime minister with such high personal credibility and a remarkable track record is shy of creating public opinion in support of his own ideas and policies. We have complained in the past about the silence of the reformer in our political system, both in the NDA and UPA. But we now face an utterly avoidable situation of the silence of our entire leadership. It is not as if people are not talking. At least two of the ministers in the MEA can't say no to cameras no matter what the question is about, even if it is about what some nutcase blogger said in China. Nearly a half dozen secretaries in this government are on their way to becoming media stars, filling in the space left vacant by its ministers. But did the prime minister deliver to us simple folk one speech explaining what he was trying to do in Sharm el-Sheikh and why? Did he, or even Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, make even half a statement before that meeting to prepare public opinion for some change or shift? Remember the way Vajpayee, and in the past even Indira and Nehru, used Parliament or just any other public forum to give the people just the cue they need, particularly when they have a government they trust?


The stepping back over Sharm el-Sheikh was this government's first false step, the cricketing equivalent would be a team losing its first wicket. A little quibble over drafting apart, it was entirely self-inflicted because nobody had prepared the people of India for this change. The failure to get any of the old reform bills — pensions, banking, insurance — passed in two sessions of this Parliament is entirely because of that same diffidence. If leaders of this UPA, unburdened of the Left, were using some of the TV talk time to open up these issues, the benefits these reforms will bring to us, in public debate, the BJP would have found it cheap not to offer support in the Rajya Sabha for bills that were first written by its own government. But none of that has been done. There even seems no urgency to do so as we are so consumed by our joy at "seven per cent-plus" growth, sinking even deeper into that China-minus-four complacence. This is when, instead of celebrating seven and anticipating nine, our leaders should have been setting targets of ten and above.


It's not as if nobody is talking. Some are, and getting results. Chidambaram is turning out to be one of our most transparent, and open, home ministers ever, even thinking aloud on structural changes in his ministry and throwing into public debate an idea that could indeed have been pushed through in secrecy. He has similarly communicated with people at large on Naxalism and terrorism and this government has been rewarded with widespread popular support for its policies on these key issues. Kapil Sibal is talking about his ideas way ahead of implementation and while old-timers initially accused him of being impatient and immature, they should now applaud, because not only is there so little opposition to his ideas of change, there is a great deal of support. Jairam Ramesh has done a good job of explaining his shifts, and has not been shy of joining a very robust debate on climate change, with rewards. Kamal Nath inherited a ministry in suspended animation but one reason he has been able to shake it up, and win many internal bureaucratic battles, is that he is talking and building his own public opinion. Then think of all those who are silent: the food and agriculture minister tops the list. Somebody has to explain to the people why food prices are rising and what is being done about it. The last time we heard him talk in public was about the terrible cricket pitch at Kotla.


In 2010, when people are wise as well as impatient, this is not


going to work. Around the world incumbents are getting elected now because people have both access to facts and the wisdom to analyse them. That is why the UPA won a second term with a greater majority. Its silence and complacence are not doing it much good, in spite of all the tom-tomming of 7.5 per cent growth.







In Yemen, there is wisdom" says traditional Arabic folklore. However, in modern-day Yemen there are insurgencies and secessionist movements. There is also the possibility of state failure as President Ali Abdullah Saleh's weak government grapples with a plummeting economy, drying water basins and depleting oil reserves.


Yemen until December 25 — that is prior to the journey of "pant bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — was prodding along without international glare. That, the day before, the US and Yemen launched air strikes against extremist strongholds barely made news. However for much of the past year there has been an increased amount of diplomatic activity in and out of Sana'a. May 2009 saw deputy director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes pay a visit to Saleh; in June it was General David Petraeus's turn and in September Obama's counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, too visited the country.


Many comparisons have been drawn between Yemen and Somalia recently. The one difference: Somalia is being ignored. It is being used as an example: that of a country gone wrong. But Somalia too is fighting its own Islamist insurgency. International assistance to Somalia was once tried and failed; naturally powers are hesitant in intervening again. But ignoring Somalia will further deepen Yemen's problems.


Why? The outfit Somalia's weak government is currently battling — Al Shabaab — has aligned itself with Al Qaeda's ideology. In fact as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula took credit for the attempted bombing, Somalia chimed in with praises. A sermon in Mogadishu declared "We tell our Muslim brothers in Yemen that we will cross the water between us and reach your place to assist you fight the enemy of Allah... I call upon young men in Arab lands to join the fight there." Gulf security analyst Riad Kahwaji has said that "what we are seeing is a pattern of franchises for Al Qaeda opening up."


The Yemen-Somalia connection is strikingly similar to the Afghan-FATA connection. The war in Afghanistan — hailed as a victory in 2001, now in its eighth year of active combat — has showcased how such sanctuaries, and porous borders, make counter-insurgency difficult.


Yemen and Somalia are separated by less than 200 miles across a narrow sea, which serves as a very porous border. The southern secessionist movement in Yemen has made the link between Somalia and Yemen very obvious. Analysts with Jane's and Congressional Research Service note that weapons used by the armies of the south are provided by neighbouring Somalia. Further, Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that "Yemen's security problems won't just stay in Yemen... they're regional problems and they affect Western interests."


Take for instance the northern Houthi rebellion in Yemen. Traditionally pitted as a fight between the government and Shi'a rebels it actually serves as a proxy for a great game in the Middle East. The Houthis are allegedly funded by the Iranians and the government forces are helped and aided by the Saudis. This is a regional, Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry playing out.


Thus the focus upon Saleh's government, and its failure to ensure security. In the past Saleh has been quoted saying that ruling Yemen is akin to "dancing on the heads of snakes." Yemen, its tightly-knit Bedouin communities, works on loose alliances between tribes. Saleh has been successful in bringing a semblance of unity to the country largely through patronage politics. However, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq intensified, aid channelled towards Yemen declined. Unable to buy off opposition, Saleh's position too plummeted. Experts predict that his authority does not extend beyond the capital. It is estimated that two-thirds of the country are either under the control of the separatists or local tribes. This lack of governance — in the lawless mountainous regions — has created a vacuum in which Al Qaeda ideology has bred and taken hold.


Yemen has tightened security along its southern and western coasts in order to prevent Al Shabaab militants from crossing over from Somalia. Their success is questionable, as migration from Somalia is on the rise. UNHCR estimates that in 2008 the number of Somalis "swimming across" was 50,091; in 2009 it increased to 72,753.


Developmental aid to Yemen has been on the increase. 2008 saw a token donation of $8.4 million; 2009 saw a striking rise to $44.3 million and now the Obama administration has pledged $63 million. This is supplanted with a previous and on-going Saudi donation of $2 billion. Britain too has caught on to the Yemen threat: Gordon Brown has pushed for a Yemen Conference alongside the Afghanistan Conference to take place in London at the end of the month.


However, without taking the links between Yemen and Somalia's insurgency into account, as well as the weakness of the Somali government, international assistance will amount to only so much. At the conference alongside Yemen, Somalia too needs discussion.








For a country seeking a second Green Revolution, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) offers hope and promise of rich dividends.


With India's GDP posting a growth of 7.9 per cent in the third quarter of this fiscal, it appears that the overall economy is back on a track of accelerating growth. Yet the brighter outlook cannot quell a nagging unease at the negative performance of the farm sector battered by widespread drought followed by floods in two states.


Propelling agriculture onto a high growth trajectory is imperative for inclusive growth. With almost 60 per cent of population deriving its livelihood from land, a poorly performing farm sector, in the midst of an accelerating broader economy, will widen the rural-urban divide and further marginalise the rural poor.


While the first Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s proved to be a double-edged sword, impressively boosting agricultural productivity, yet raising serious misgivings about its sustainability, a Second Green Revolution piggy-backing on MNREGS will be mindful of past mistakes, safeguard natural resources and ensure equitable rewards from agricultural growth. This could well be an "evergreen revolution" or "doubly green revolution".


In its four years of implementation, MNREGS has sprouted enough green shoots for a fruitful alliance with agricultural development strategies. Five elements, germane to MNREGS, can create an enabling environment to usher in the next Green Revolution, more sustainable than its earlier cousin.


First, recharge of groundwater aquifers, improvement of soil fertility and conservation of biodiversity lie at the heart of MNREGS. Work priorities are mandated under the legislation. Consequently, water conservation, water harvesting, drought-proofing, flood protection, land development and afforestation together account for over 80 percent of all activities undertaken on both public and private lands.


The recent expansion of the scope of MNREGS to include works on the lands of small and marginal farmers is a strategic step towards increasing irrigation potential and drought-proofing small-holder agriculture in rainfed areas. Land development practices reduce soil erosion and loss of organic matter. This constant rejuvenation of the natural resource base through MNREGS is a paradigm shift from the earlier Green Revolution where yield increases came at the cost of groundwater aquifers and soil health.


Second, convergence of MNREGS with other development programmes increases durability and productivity of assets. It also suggests a larger role for conservation style agriculture which includes the use of stress-tolerant, climate-resilient varieties of seeds, drip irrigation, zero-tillage, raised-bed planting and systems of rice intensification. This improves water-use efficiency, optimising productivity per unit of water, thereby producing 'more crop per drop'.


Large number of water bodies being restored and renovated, village tanks being deepened and de-silted, farm ponds being constructed — all create major potential for aquaculture as a means of improved nutrition and income generation. A pond-based farming technology for rainfed waterlogged areas, integrating rice and fish cultivation, raises water productivity and net returns to the farmer.


Contrasted with the wheat-rice led Green Revolution, a latter day productivity boosting regime synergised by MNREGS will be characterised by diversified farming systems, more suitable to rainfed areas. Less water-intensive crops such as pulses and oilseeds, coarse cereals, dryland horticulture, agro-forestry, fodder and pasture development are likely to gain as a result. Diversification will be the hallmark of such a Green Revolution.


Third, MNREGS has its maximum impact in the rainfed areas. The first phase 200 districts are primarily rainfed where single cropping leaves the small-holders unemployed or severely under-employed for a significant part of the year. Market wage rates prevailing are usually lower than the MNREGS wage. Hence workers turn out in large numbers for MNREGS works. Of the nearly 4 crore households provided employment in 620 districts so far this year, nearly half are in the first phase 200 districts. Moreover, of the 25 lakh households who have completed 100 days of employment, 50 per cent are in these districts. More than half the total expenditure of Rs. 20,000 crore so far has been spent here.


Contrasted with the earlier Green Revolution, which by-passed the rainfed areas, the next Green Revolution following on the heels of MNREGS could bring about major productivity transformation in the rainfed areas.

Fourth, through its sheer size and scale, MNREGS can positively influence the farm sector by injecting sizable public investment on both community and private lands. The estimated expenditure under MNREGS in 2009-10 is Rs. 45,000 crore. Public investment of this order on an annual basis will boost gross capital formation, which in turn will further induce private investment. The gross public capital formation in agriculture in 2007-08 was Rs. 33,350 crore . Dug wells on farmers' fields constructed under MNREGS have led to private purchase of water-lifting devices, farm equipment, quality seed and planting material. A more dramatic increase in gross capital formation as a result of MNREGS can be expected.


Fifth, Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) play a pivotal role in implementing the MNREGS. There is a major role also for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in awareness generation, capacity building and catalysing convergence. The setting up of the Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi Seva Kendras in every village panchayat as a Knowledge and Resource Centre with an ICT and e-governance hub under MNREGS will empower the rural community through information access. PRIs, CSOs and ICT enabled services will bolster the official agriculture extension machinery of the state governments, which has seriously weakened over the years. Participatory processes, transparency and accountability in rural governance are being strengthened by the MNREGS.


In an era of technological optimism, a second Green Revolution enabled by MNREGS is within reach, which will be more sustainable than the earlier one. States, especially those with predominance of rainfed farming, need to recognise the opportunities unleashed by MNREGS. Agriculture production strategies cleverly crafted can forge unique synergies for improving the individual and collective livelihoods of the poor. It is time for Lakshmi, that fickle goddess of wealth, to turn her eye towards the bottom of the rural pyramid.


The writer is secretary to Government of India, Ministry of Rural Development. Views expressed are personal.








Cartagena, Colombia - We tend to think that machines connect the world, but it is really in fact people. In the past, it was pilgrims and explorers and colonisers who, in variously benign and cruel ways, drove interchange among peoples. It was they who gave this pastel-hued city on the Caribbean its Spanish-Islamic arches, a cuisine that might blend tamarind and steak and corn in a single dish, and salsa songs equally indebted to the European and African pasts.


Today it is not pilgrims or colonisers who bind us, but a new class of the globally connected who are relentlessly cross-pollinating the human community. They are becoming some of the world's most culturally consequential people, but we know little about them as a class.


They come in several types, though some of them straddle more than one:


The Anointers. They are geographic early adopters: investors who bet on places still thought risky, then see fat returns when the fearful finally join the bandwagon; tourists who venture to countries thought unsafe, as Colombia is thought by many, benefiting from the lower prices and thin crowds, and then spreading word of the new reality to the less-daring; buyers from Bergdorf Goodman who decide whether Moscow's or Cape Town's fashion week has become big enough to attend; event managers who decide where to gather a film festival, software conference or corporate confabulation.


The Replicators. They are corporate colonials: expats, country heads and corporate transfers seeking to spread not civilisation but best practices. They come from New York and Seoul to build foreign offices of Goldman Sachs and Hyundai. HSBC has a special squad known as the "Marines," who must be ready to relocate on a few days' notice. Replicators bring world-class managerial techniques to the countries they inhabit; the best of them imbibe new ideas from the locals that they relay to headquarters. They often spend a disproportionate amount of time ensconced in five-star hotels, but they are adventurers doing business where it is not yet fashionable and raising everybody's game.


The Apprentices. They traveel abroad from less-connected countries, apprentice in the best universities or companies in the world, then rush home to apply their discoveries. They are not interested in hanging around. They have worked back home; they know the opportunities and gaps; they come to learn what cannot be learned easily at home. Upon returning, they tend to bring in better systems and processes, and they adapt alien models to local realities. If Replicators bring cellphone towers from the West to India, Apprentices create Indian companies that let village-dwelling farmers bank on their phones.


The Docks. They are the globalised locals in less-connected societies who serve as receivers for the outside world. They are in a place to stay. They are the keepers of its institutional memory, but speak in a language that foreigners understand. They know what in their society will most appeal to outsiders; they are expert explainers who do not tire of giving the same late-night tour. They live on the social-networking sites Facebook and Orkut and aSmallWorld. They possess insider knowledge: in Shanghai and Buenos Aires, they will tell you which local dive is best and which tailor won't rip you off. They are respected within their societies because they broker access to foreigners and foreign opportunities.


The Switchboards.They do not live in interesting, out-of-the-way places themselves, but they know everyone who does. When in university, they make friends with the foreign students; five years later, they have a guest room awaiting them in a dozen countries. They are collectors of internationals, and connectors, too. Someone working on children's issues in Zimbabwe may be too enmeshed in the cause to come upon someone similarly engaged in Bolivia. Their mutual Switchboard friend will insist that they connect and perform a Switchboard's favorite art: the intro e-mail, with a clever subject line.


The Fusionistas. They are bi-everything, or almost everything — biracial, bicultural, bilingual. They are

diplomats' children, first-generation immigrants, the returned offspring of émigrés. They long agonised over a split identity, and perhaps suffered through high school with their inability to answer the question "Where are you from?" Now it's payback time. They have figured out how to turn hyphenated confusion into a competitive advantage by serving as cultural bridges. They own East-meets-West fashion boutiques in the developing world; they throw dinner parties with soul food and kimchi in rooftop New York apartments.


This connective population deserves further study. They are not necessarily the richest people in their societies, but they often belong to the educated upper-middle class. They share a restless bent of personality. They fancy themselves as adventurers, although in a way they are quite conservative: far from being hippies and backpackers, they roam the world for the sake of work, not play. They hope to join the establishment, not overthrow it.


They can fear commitment — tending to be renters, not buyers, for example, even when they can afford to buy. They find it hard to mate with those less restless and seafaring than they. But they also struggle to hold steady relationships with others of their ilk, bouncing around the world. Video calls on Skype soothe the anomie that comes with ambition.


At first, it was an extra-helpful, eccentric friend here and there. Then there seemed to be more and more such people, but clustered in particular cities like New York and Shanghai. But, increasingly, they are everywhere, connecting, bridging, even in out-of-the-way tropical towns like this one.


So the next time you eat Greek-French food in Tokyo or watch a Chinese-American's avant-garde film about Beijing or hear in Berlin that Beirut is the new vacation spot, you will be watching the pilgrims and explorers of our own age at work.








In the autumn of 2000, a film 'inspired' by Peter Weir's acclaimed Dead Poets' Society hit the screens. Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein was set in an institution under the iron grip of an authoritarian principal, who prohibited romance. In a fantasy of absolute control, the character, played by Amitabh Bachchan, even locked the gates of the institution at night.


A striking feature of Hindi cinema in recent years dealing with oppressive nature of rigid, tyrannical institutions has been a personalising approach, where a central antagonist represents and embodies the morbid flaws of the institution. The narrative tool applied to demonstrate this is a tragic loss, which is used to explain their exceptional severity. This is as true of 3 Idiots, as it was of Mohabbatein — in both cases, the characters played by Boman Irani and Amitabh Bachchan deal with the suicide of their offsprings. The institutions are shaped in their external image, with its absence of empathy and feeling, and defined by a megalomaniac pursuit of discipline.


In 3 Idiots, apart from the main protagonists, the emphasis is either on the unimaginative nerd who aces examinations or the flawed genius who is driven to suicide. The quiet majority lack any substantial voice — those who pass through the grind unnoticed, without achievement or catastrophe, but are permanently damaged.


In Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows, there is a perennial gap between the dreamy inner life of the young Antoine Doinel and the deep-rooted pragmatism of the institutions he inherits. In the film, which was largely autobiographical, Truffaut recognised the limitations of institutions and their inability to encompass the whole of human experience and subjectivity. While in 3 Idiots, educational abodes are either claustrophobic dungeons (the Imperial College of Engineering) or beacons of freedom (the school which Rancho, the character played by Aamir Khan, runs towards the end of the film).


This facile binary is mirrored in the resolution to conflicts of values. In Mohabbatein, the university's ills are banished by a mere change of guard, as Bachchan accepts defeat to a maverick teacher played by Shah Rukh Khan. In the end, the conflict is not about the institution itself, but its control. Similarly, in 3 Idiots, the antagonist's internal transformation ends, in one stroke, all previous arguments that act as a premise for the film's plot to unfold.


The passionate espousal of rebellion finds itself nullified as success is defined by the same yardstick that these films seemingly seek to defy. The dissent so overtly articulated in 3 Idiots, as in Taare Zameen Par, becomes akin to a defanged beast. Taare Zameen Par rails against the horror of the rat race and predatory competition, yet the young protagonist's failures are redeemed by victory in an art competition. The individualistic passion for art is not enough — it must receive the sanctity of institutional approval to become an admired trait.


In an incident towards the end of 3 Idiots, the erstwhile nerd, now a corporate millionaire, berates the lead character for ending up as a schoolteacher. But Rajkumar Hirani's inability to transform this confrontation into a moment of radical assertion represents the real failure of the film. Instead, the lead character is revealed as a prolific scientist, and the opportunity for challenging accepted definitions of success, by illustrating the many ways in which one can succeed, is lost.


Nothing sums up the conformist tenor of Hindi cinema's attempt to occupy an adversarial space than the postscript to the motto - try to become not successful, but capable — that runs through 3 Idiots. A disclaimer promptly follows: if you are capable, success will automatically trail your tracks. In other words, you may rebel, but the definitions of success are, in the end, uniform and non-negotiable.








Choosing your words before uttering them is advisable. But choosing them carefully while communicating with an adversary is imperative. The Indian army chief, General Deepak Kapoor has triggered a fusillade of criticism in Pakistan's media with his "war on two fronts" brainwave.


Dawn, on January 5 quoted an angry foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as saying: "It was against India's own interests and would damage the process of bringing all South Asian countries closer to each other for peace and economic prosperity of the region... 'I would call it an absurd statement. It doesn't befit a person holding such an important and responsible position." The General even got the Opposition to agree with Qureshi, as The News reported on January 5: " PML-Q Secretary General, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, has demanded the Indian government should sack General Deepak Kapoor, and immediately clarify whether his irresponsible war mongering was his own view or represents the official position of the Indian government... Mushahid also urged the government to take up the issue with the UN Security Council, so that the world should know who stood for peace and who the enemy of peace in the region." On January 4, Shahzad Chaudhry in Daily Times drew a comparison Kapoor would hate to learn of. " General Deepak Kapoor... is an interesting fellow. Most Indian chiefs of the army are... quiet as per tradition of the Indian military chiefs. General Kapoor is different. He is very much a Pakistani general... Pakistani generals have also tended to be vocal unlike their Indian colleagues... had he been a Pakistani army chief, he would have manipulated to foster himself as the head of the country a la General Musharraf... His first real test came after 'Mumbai 26/11' when contemplating punitive surgical strikes against Pakistan , it got reported Kapoor had hedged his readiness to indulge in any such adventurism... Just a couple of weeks back, General Kapoor opined that a 'limited' war was possible under a nuclear overhang... In a recent statement, the general thought it appropriate to share the conclusions of an in-house Indian military seminar where reportedly a new, or is it a revised, doctrine is suggested." Ayesha Siddiqa lambasted his idea in Dawn on January 7: "Both Pakistan's army chief and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee rebutted such superfluous claims. The Indian army chief had spoken of a capability that India desires but does not possess at the moment. Taking on two neighbours militarily and ensuring a ceasefire on its conditions is New Delhi's dream."



During his recent visit to Muzaffarabad, President Asif Zardari revisited his father-in-law's infamous idea of the "1000 year war" with India over Kashmir. Only difference, he took it farther by attaching "peaceful"


overtones to it, rather than violent. Dawn reported on January 6: " Referring to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's famous statement that we will fight for Kashmir for 1000 years, Zardari said he and Bilawal Bhutto would guarantee that. However, he repeatedly stated the war would be of thoughts, willpower and patience and avoided any mention of armed conflicts. 'Zulfikar Ali Bhutto didn't say he won't fight with pen and mouth." Daily Times added: " Whenever dictators took over, they spoke of appeasement. We, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto to me... have talked to India on equal terms."


Vibgyor zebras

Amidst all the news of war and gloom, Daily Times on January 4 broke the continuity with a burst of happy colours. "In what can best be described as a form of 'guerrilla art', a number of zebra crossings in central Lahore have been painted in the colours of the rainbow... The colour scheme caught many surprised passersby off guard, and many people could be seen staring in wonder at the road, which had been painted in bright colours... A large sticker pasted at the end of the zebra crossings bears the line 'Small Steps - Big Change'. But it is still not clear who is behind these acts."








There hasn't been the slightest hint of a recessionary gloom at the 10th Auto Expo in New Delhi's Pragati Maidan. In fact, the mood among carmakers and consumers seems to be the precise opposite—brimming with confidence. So, as the government begins to seriously ponder over its strategy to exit from stimulus, a withdrawal of the tax concession given to the automobile sector in the fiscal stimulus package of December 2008 should top the agenda. Sector-specific tax concessions are avoidable at the best of times, but the slowdown that accompanied the financial crisis of late 2008 was an exceptional circumstance. In that context, cutting excise duty for auto from 12% to 8% made sense as a way to boost sales. But the auto sector has shown a remarkable turnaround in the year that followed. Data from Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam) shows that the production of passenger cars between April-December 2009 recorded 24.5% growth over the same period in 2008. The comparative growth figure for domestic sales is almost identical at around 24%. Interestingly, even the segment worst hit by the crisis—commercial vehicles—has registered a turnaround. Again, data from Siam shows that the production of commercial vehicles in the April-December 2009 period recorded a 15% growth over the same period in 2008. The comparative figures for sales were even better—a 22% growth over the two periods.


The aggregate data for the industry as a whole is corroborated by disaggregated firm level performance. Market leader, Maruti Suzuki, registered a 13% growth in FY08, which went down sharply to just 4% in FY09. In the first half of FY10, Maruti has already registered growth of 24%. Mahindra & Mahindra, a major player in utility vehicles, recorded 19% growth in FY08, which went down to just 1% in FY09. Now, in the first half of FY10, its growth is up to 30%. Even accounting for a base effect, these numbers seem to suggest a return to pre-stimulus levels of growth. Given the impressive comeback in GDP growth—7.9% in Q2, FY10, these numbers make complete sense. There is, therefore, no rationale for the government to dole out a fiscal concession to a sector that seems to be in good shape. Of course, the whole turnaround story in auto isn't just because of the fiscal stimulus. It is reasonable to deduce that the monetary stimulus, which made vehicle finance much cheaper, has played a larger role. In fact, banks and financial institutions have reduced their interest rates by as much as 350-400 basis points in the last six-eight months. So, there continues to be a case for retaining a loose monetary policy, while doing away with fiscal stimulus.






Sugar prices are on the boil once again, a trend which has become all too familiar over the last year—prices have more than doubled in that period. The triggers for price rise have been many, ranging from low production and rising demand to costly imports. But even then, the spike seen in the last one month is unusual because the months from October to March are usually the time when sugar supplies are at their highest, even in low output years. Since the first week of December, retail sugar prices have jumped by almost Rs 5-6 per kg in most cities across the country, with the big surge starting on January 1, 2010. In Delhi retail markets, sugar is selling at around Rs 45 a kg. Sugar production has been estimated to be around 16-17 million tonnes in the 2009-10 season, almost 7 million tonnes less than the estimated demand of around 23 million tonnes. Though carryover stocks from last year will make up for some of the deficit, India will still need to import 4 to 6 million tonnes of sugar this year, a fact which has pushed international raw and refined sugar prices to their multi-year highs. This week, refined sugar prices for March delivery rose to $729 per tonne on the Liffe exchange, a level last seen in 1989. Similarly, raw sugar for the same month delivery jumped to 28.90 cents a pound, its highest level since 1981. The global sugar shortage is projected to widen to around 13.5 million tonnes in 2009-10 largely because of low production in India and crop loss due to excess rains in Brazil, the world's largest producer. Locally, sugar output in Uttar Pradesh, the country's second largest producer, in the first three months of the 2009-10 crushing season is estimated to be around 1.7 million tonnes, down from 1.8 million tonnes produced during the same period last year. Though output is slightly higher in Maharashtra, the country's total production in the October-December period is estimated to be around 5.5 million tonnes, down 8.3% from last year. So, even if recoveries improve in the later part of crushing season, output won't be sufficient to meet demand.


But what continues to exacerbate the problem of demand-supply mismatch—and this is why prices are high even though supply is actually better in the winter months—are the numerous market distortions that the sugar economy faces. As has been argued many times in these columns, all policies which distort normal market dynamics should be done away with immediately. The government should not be in the business of fixing the cane reserve area or fixing the monthly production quota or dictating prices to farmers and mill-owners. A low production year is the right time for taking bold decisions.








Paul Samuelson, who passed away recently, once said that funeral by funeral, economics advances. Talking of funerals, one of the many casualties of the recent financial crisis is the textbook macroeconomic model that assumed frictionless markets, flawless regulatory institutions, and fully rational agents. Once again, economists are back to the drawing board.


Was it the excessive formalism of economic models that led the economists astray, mistaking beauty for truth? It is a gloomy backdrop indeed for the legacy of Samuelson, who pioneered the use of formal models in economics.


The list of the most influential economists of the modern era is full of legendary names, such as John Maynard Keynes, John Hicks, John Nash, Kenneth Arrow and Milton Friedman. But what makes Samuelson stand out is that he, more than anyone else, helped unify and formalise the subject by the use of the language and tools of mathematics. He achieved this partly through his own path breaking research, which, as many have pointed out, could fetch him seven or eight Nobel Prizes. But a part of his legacy is through his best-selling textbook, Economics: An Introductory Analysis, which showed how the different branches of economics could all be integrated under a common analytical framework. To give a literary analogy, Samuelson helped invent the grammar of the language of modern analytical economics, and at the same time was one of its greatest writers of all times.


His doctoral dissertation from Harvard in 1941—when he was only twenty-six years old—was published as the Foundations of Economic Analysis in 1947 and is considered to be one of the all time classics in economics. In this he unified the theory of consumer behaviour and the theory of producer behaviour by noting that both—and pretty much any other economic decision—can be viewed as a mathematical problem of maximising a function subject to certain constraints. Once a decision-problem is formulated this way, a rich set of mathematical techniques allows us to derive a set of equations describing the behaviour of firms and consumers. These can then be solved together to find the equilibrium of the economy. Moreover, if the system is disturbed by some shock (say, technological change), Samuelson gave us some techniques that are in everyday use even today to figure the effect on individual and aggregate behaviour.


Samuelson applied some of the microeconomic techniques he developed and helped create a unified theory of international trade. He also made pioneering and lasting contributions in the fields of macroeconomics, welfare economics, public economics, finance, capital theory, and economic growth.


Long before it became a fashionable term, Samuelson helped globalise economics. From Beijing to Boston, from Delhi to Durban, from London to Los Angeles, economists speak in the same language and use the same set of tools. His legacy is acknowledged not just by MIT graduates and Left-of-Centre economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, but also by members of the free-market oriented Chicago school, such as Robert Lucas and Gary Becker, all Nobel laureates.


Having a unified language does not mean economists all think alike. Economists like nothing better than a good argument, and if there is any chance to disagree, they will. It is that, sharing the same language and analytical tools, they can understand very quickly where the differences in opinion are coming from. They might have the same view about how the world works but differ on the facts. For example, if the price of something goes up, two economists can give very different opinions—one can think demand went up, the other can think supply went down—although they are both using the same conceptual framework of supply and demand. Alternatively, they might differ in how they believe the world works, that is, have competing models. The debate about land acquisition for industry, for example, between those in favour of the government's involvement and those favouring a market-oriented approach stems from models that differ in terms of their emphasis on the relative importance of government failures versus market failures.


The advantage of formal modelling is that the argument then quickly shifts to the empirical domain and the question of what facts and processes are, is the most relevant. If the facts change, the conclusions change, some models become more relevant than others, and sometimes, the need arises for new models. The recent crisis has highlighted, for example, the need to introduce frictions in macroeconomic models explicitly, for example, those arising in financial markets.


Formal models are wonderful things, but they are as good as the assumptions that go into them and consequently, their ability to explain phenomena. Whenever a model is proven to be inadequate by events, one should resist Luddite-like calls to abandon the formal modelling approach. To do otherwise would be like advocating going back to the abacus anytime a computer crashes. At the same time, one should also resist the temptation to stubbornly clutch on to old models because of their familiarity or formal elegance when waves of unfavourable evidence crash on the shores like a tsunami.


The author is professor of economics at the London School of Economics







2009 was a rather bad year for the gaming industry—one that isn't really used to bad years. All the early bluster about videogames being 'recession-proof' sounded increasingly hollow as the industry tottered under the effects of declining sales, studio closures, pay cuts and lay-offs. Microsoft laid off over 5,000 employees. EA jettisoned 11% of its workforce. THQ cut its payrolls by 25%. Even mighty Nintendo saw declining sales for six straight months—something that has never happened since the launch of their iconic Wii console in 2006.


Yes, 2009 wasn't pretty, but the industry firmly believes that the worst is over. Obviously, the gaming industry's recovery is closely linked to the recovery of the global economy—but there are many other reasons for the boffins to be optimistic about 2010.


First, though console hardware sales are expected to start plateauing as the market becomes saturated, revenues from software are expected to see a significant increase this year. 2009 was a remarkably weak year in terms of true blockbuster game releases (although it was redeemed somewhat by Modern Warfare 2 and New Super Mario Bros towards the end of Q4). The line-up for 2010 has gamers dizzy with anticipation. Each of the major consoles will see a flagship release this year (Super Mario Galaxy 2 for Wii, Halo: Reach for Xbox and God of War 3 for PS3), and with a slew of other AAA titles (Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2, Gran Turismo 5) backing them up, software revenues this year look set for a dramatic rise. Add the upcoming PC blockbusters Diablo 3 and Starcraft 2, and the continued strong showing of the late releases from 2009, and things begin to look really good.


This is also the year when Sony and Microsoft begin to challenge Nintendo's monopoly over the motion-controller market. When it introduced the now ubiquitous Wiimote controller back in 2006, Nintendo changed the rules for the gaming industry—exploding into completely new target segments and exponentially growing the size of the videogames market. Sony and Microsoft were caught napping, and ended up fighting for the smaller, more saturated 'hardcore' segment while millions of new gamers gleefully lapped up Wii, which ended up outselling Xbox and PS3 combined.


Now Sony and Microsoft are finally getting into this game, hoping to get a chunk of the huge number of casual gamers—kids, women, families—that Nintendo currently targets. While Sony's offering looked rather uninspiring, reminding us of a Wiimote clone combined with Sony's own PS2 eye-toy gadget, Microsoft's much-hyped Project Natal has the potential to be just as revolutionary and influential as Wii was. When Microsoft demonstrated their 'controller-less' gaming system at E3 last year, people were blown away. Using a true motion capture system, the control scheme allowed gamers to translate their real-life gestures such as punching, kicking, ducking and jumping into the game environment. It also featured voice recognition and face recognition systems, offering gamers a completely new, immersive gaming experience.


If Natal makes a strong debut, backed by a good selection of games that use the technology, it could turbo-charge videogame sales just like Nintendo did with Wii, for very similar reasons. Wii is already the favourite party device in millions of households, and Natal takes the same concept to even greater levels and will theoretically appeal to an ever-wider market than Wii.


Of course, a huge and often ignored reason for Wii's spectacular success was its price. Wii was launched at $249, while Xbox 360 was priced $399 and PS3 a ridiculous $599. Natal needs to be priced right if it is to revolutionise the industry, as opposed to ending up as an indulgent novelty for the privileged few. Of course, unless it is widely adopted, developers won't be interested in making games for it, and it will die a natural death. As of now, Microsoft has announced no pricing details for Natal.


Digital distribution platforms such as Valve's Steam, Microsoft's Games on Demand and Apple's App Store have also matured into viable distribution models—ensuring that thousands of titles can continue to sell, without depending on the vagaries of physical retail. This has already opened up the market for independent developers who are too small to take the retail route. Hundreds of such developers putting out quality games translates to millions of dollars in revenue that was previously unavailable to the industry. Digital distribution also helps large publishers keep their catalogues alive, enhancing their revenues significantly from titles that were simply not worth retailing physically. A strong software line-up, the arrival of exciting motion-control systems, and digital distribution becoming mainstream are three chief reasons why the gaming industry is all set to bury the ghosts of 2009 and look forward to 2010.


The author is game designer and gaming journalist based in Mumbai







Trust a Gujarati to sniff out a business opportunity even among debris and rubble. The Dubai realty sector, still shaky from a near brush with bankruptcy, has fired the money-spinning sensibilities of Gujarati realtors like never before and already, in the confines of their swank offices, they're building dreams higher than the Burj Khalifa of picking up hot property at rock bottom prices. That the world too recognises the Midas touch of the Gujaratis is evident from the fact that while a delegation of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers of India is headed for Dubai for a convention later this month, it is delegates of the Gujarat chapter, comprising some of Gujarat's top builders, for whom an auction is being organised by a cartel of agents.


Already there's a palpable air of excitement among builders of arguably India's most enterprising state. That's because at the moment, the realty market in Dubai is down by almost 40%—an ideal time for anyone with a voracious risk appetite to rush in where most investors fear to tread. Knowing their razor-sharp business acumen, not only will the cash-rich Gujarati builders mop up the most lucrative deals and tie-ups with cash-strapped realtors, but will also make substantial inroads into the economy of Dubai.


After all, let's not forget that it is this penchant for sensing a good deal that is responsible for the affluence of non-resident Gujaratis across the world. The motels dotting the landscape in the US are, in fact, even nicknamed 'potels' after the industrious Gujaratis who, like the proverbial camel, first sought shelter in them and then took them over. Today, Gujaratis own or control over 20,000 potels.


Funnily enough, it is this fascination for discount sales, which have earned the Gujarati diaspora a comic reputation as well. In Australia, it is said, even if there's a sale of potato in a store, within hours the entire stock is picked up by thrifty Gujaratis who not only stock up the humble root for a rainy day, but with some deft use of SMSs, even invite their brethren in the city to do so. Moral of my story: Whether its discounted potato or property, you can be sure there'll be a Gujarati waiting with his money bags to make a killing.








Early this week, President Asif Ali Zardari promised legislators in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir that he would honour his father-in-law's promise to wage "a thousand year war" to seize territory claimed by the country from India. On Wednesday, as two jihadists holed up inside a Srinagar hotel battled police personnel, India's media were quick to cast the fighting in similarly apocalyptic terms. Barring that it took place around the corner from the offices of Srinagar-based television stations, there was little to distinguish the incident from dozens of similar fire engagements that regularly take place in the State. In fact the news from Jammu and Kashmir for the most part is heartening. Comprehensive official data are yet to be released, but the authoritative South Asia Terrorism Portal has estimated that 55 civilians, 78 security force personnel, and 244 terrorists were killed in the State in 2009 — the lowest figure since 1990. The figures show just how ill-founded the claims that J&K is a war-zone now are. The United States recorded 5.4 homicides per 100,000 population in 2008. In J&K last year, there were 3.7 terrorism-related deaths per 100,000 population, including combatants.


Policy-makers will, hopefully, continue to draw their lessons from the empirical picture — not television images. There is clear justification for nudging the peace process forward by continuing with careful reductions in troop levels across the State. In addition to cuts in the presence of the Central Reserve Police Force, two divisions of troops were recently withdrawn. In all, more than 30,000 troops have been pulled back since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took office. It would be dangerous, of course, to lose sight of the real threats that lie ahead. Last month's attempted assassination of pro-dialogue secessionist Fazal Haq Qureshi demonstrated that Pakistan-based jihadist groups, as well as their patrons in that country's military establishment, remain hostile to peace. Pakistan's failure to dismantle the infrastructure of jihadist groups has led to continued infiltration across the Line of Control. Last year saw a year-on-year increase in infiltration for the first time since 2002, with an estimated 106 terrorists crossing over in 433 recorded attempts. (There were 342 reported infiltration attempts in 2008.) However, last year's infiltration levels were nowhere near the 1,373 bids recorded in 2003. Pakistan, it is also true, has so far refused to commit itself to the five principles for a resolution of the dispute arrived at between secret envoys appointed by Prime Minister Singh and former President Pervez Musharraf. Given the turmoil in that country, it is unlikely that any political dispensation will gift its opponents political capital by making concessions on J&K. But even then, there are signs of hope. Few noticed the key small print in President Zardari's speech: that the thousand-year-war he spoke of would involve not guns, but "pen and mouth." India must do all it can to encourage and reciprocate this spirit.







The government's decision to allow greater operational and financial freedom to the public sector companies that qualify as 'Maharatnas' — a new category that will have higher performance criteria than applicable to the existing 'Navratna' — is a step in the right direction. The process of speeding up decision-making in government-owned enterprises began in 1997 when nine companies were identified as eligible for the exalted status — hence the appellation 'Navratnas.' Subsequently nine more joined the group. Now, the Maharatnas, to be picked from these companies according to more stringent norms, will get much greater freedom in making financial and managerial decisions, such as top appointments and investments in joint ventures up to a ceiling of Rs.5,000 crore. The expectation is that, taking advantage of these enhanced decision-making powers, the Maharatnas will show better results and the other Navratnas that do not qualify now will be motivated to do better and make the grade.


It is obvious from the very concept of the scheme that the selection criteria must be stiffer than for the Navratna. But it appears that the government has raised the bar rather too high. To qualify, a public sector company will have to be listed on the stock exchanges with a minimum public float as prescribed by SEBI. Apart from a strong international presence, it should have a minimum turnover of Rs.25,000 crore and an average net annual profit of Rs.5,000 crore or more over the last three years. This means, only about a third of the Navratnas may qualify. The insistence on public shareholding is significant in that it recognises that the outside shareholders can have a positive influence on the functioning of a public enterprise. A major shortcoming, however, is that the policy has said nothing about removing some basic constraints under which the government companies are working — such as vigilance oversight and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. Accountability to Parliament through the controlling ministries is no doubt important, as is the issue of broader accountability to the people as a whole. But the enterprises need to be insulated from unwarranted bureaucratic and political interference in the name of accountability and allowed the freedom necessary for efficient functioning.









Sheikh Hasina, who started her second term as Prime Minister of Bangladesh on January 6, 2009, is due to visit India from Sunday. This is her first visit to New Delhi during this term, and it is expected to be a significant one.


When Ms Hasina became Prime Minister in 1996 (she held office till 2001), her Awami League had a thin majority in Parliament, and her government had many limitations. She came to power after two decades that followed the bloody changeover of 1975. Despite those limitations, her government took some remarkable steps vis-À-vis India. Overall, it tried to reverse certain post-1975 political trends and to rejuvenate the pro-liberation spirit that was needed badly for a secular polity in a country that had seen the planned rehabilitation of the so-called 1947 spirit by a set of military and pseudo-democratic rulers.


During that tenure, the Awami League-led government signed the historic Ganga Water Treaty. It also paved the way for the return to India of thousands of Chakma refugees from Tripura with the signing of a landmark accord that ended decades of tribal insurgency in the border region. Then, it sent a firm signal to insurgents operating all across northeastern India, many of whom, as claimed by India, enjoyed sanctuary in Bangladesh. These steps were not easy to take, and indeed constituted a test of courage and conviction for the government.


This time, too, the government of the grand alliance led by the daughter of the slain founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is not without its limitations. But its leadership is now more experienced. It won a landslide in the December 2008 elections, and secured a two-thirds-plus majority in Parliament. This enabled Ms Hasina's government to amend the Constitution and bring about certain changes that it felt were needed to initiate a new journey that Bangladesh needs to undertake in order to get back on the right track.


Having achieved independence from Pakistan in the aftermath and as a consequence of the devastating war of 1971, Bangladesh did not get adequate time to consolidate itself and put itself on a firm democratic footing. India helped the Bengali freedom fighters to a great extent, and finally formed a joint military command after Pakistan attacked its soil. But that remarkable and historic achievement failed to deliver the expected outcome fully, probably due to a certain lack of alertness, a premature sense of euphoria or a misreading of the feelings of the forces that were defeated.


At the high-level meetings between Bangladesh and India over the next few days, particularly of the heads of governments, important bilateral aspects that will have a historical resonance are bound to come up. But the domestic context of the visit is unlikely to remain unnoticed.


Bangladesh is now ruled by secular democratic forces, known as the 'pro-liberation' forces. But the forces which opposed independence from Pakistan and which developed a solid economic foundation and organisational base over the past few decades, have now become quite alert and aggressive. They have been quickly joined by some elements — who were direct beneficiaries of the 1975 changeover and who ruled the country for 30 out of the 39 years of its political existence — and have unleashed a propaganda war.


The fundamentalists and the local versions of the Taliban do not want Bangladesh to remain friendly with India; to them India is "the enemy state." But why is the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is but a mixture of soft Islamists, fundamentalists and former communists, singing a similar tune?

When the national media projected the Prime Minister's visit to India optimistically — as an opportunity to begin a new era and resolve certain outstanding issues — Begum Khaleda Zia, BNP chairperson and chief of the four-party rightist alliance in which the Jamaat-e-Islami plays a pivotal role, posed an open challenge to the government. She stated publicly that should Ms. Hasina conclude an honourable deal with India, she would be welcomed with garlands on her return. If, on the other hand, she failed to protect the 'national interest,' her path would be strewn with thorns.


This is an open challenge posed before the one-year-old government, which has ensured that the war criminals found guilty for their role during the liberation war against Pakistan face trial. The Supreme Court recently upheld the death sentence to the killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.


There are several issues on the table in the context of Ms Hasina's visit. It is all right to analyse them ahead of the summit, but it will be wrong to give the impression that any lack of progress in solving them in a single visit will constitute failure. To imply that even a meeting with the Indian leader could somehow lead to an eventual surrender of national interests is equally fallacious.


Post-1975, the definition of patriotism changed in Bangladesh. Originally, it was the Bengali freedom fighters and their local collaborators on the warfront who were called "patriots" along with the vast majority of people who helped to fight the war against the Pakistan Army. But the history of the independence struggle was re-written, rather distorted, by a set of military and pseudo-democratic rulers. Fortunately, Bangladesh now looks forward to removing the distortions as a younger generation of Bangladeshis seeks to know what really happened.


The Khaleda Zia-led combine, which will soon be under the command of her controversial son Tareq Rahman — he is now in London and faces multiple corruption charges — did not perhaps notice the changed national mood. As Ms Hasina prepared to go to New Delhi, the Leader of the Opposition chose to question the patriotism of even the people who belong to the ruling party, forgetting that patriotism is not the monopoly of any single group or party.


Whenever such a top-level meeting takes place, the mainstream media delve into history and recall India's support to the cause of Bangladesh's nationhood. It is yet another irritant Begum Zia and her alliance have been destined to suffer. It is a matter of history that India sheltered 100 million refugees from the former East Pakistan when the Pakistan Army began a genocidal war against unarmed civilians, and also extended significant support to Bangladesh's war that finally culminated in the creation of a new country.


However, the historic relationship did not develop as it was meant to. Bangladesh faced its first shock in August 1975 with the assassination of Mujibur Rahman. With state power vested in the military and pseudo-democratic rulers for two decades, Bangladesh found a new ethos that practically negated the secular spirit of 1971. India, too, underwent transformation on multiple fronts. Therefore, while history provides a vital thrust, India and Bangladesh must practically resolve the issues that have confronted them, and seek to put their relations on a solid foundation.


Since India is a big neighbour, some psychological impact on both sides of the border is inevitable. When the post-1975 situation influenced a section of Bangladeshis to look back at the "spirit of 1947," which actually ran counter to the spirit of the war of liberation, Dhaka-New Delhi relations faced many obstacles. While this was against the will of many Bangladeshis, the protagonists of the "spirit of 1947" did succeed in influencing a section that would strongly argue that the stumbling blocks were mainly India's "intransigence, chauvinism and obduracy."


Bangladesh covers a relatively small territory. But it has enormous potential and considerable strategic significance. Close relations with India to resolve all major irritants should be a key requirement for it to make a new beginning. Despite having been in office only for a year and despite the fact that the adversaries of the pro-liberation spirit are more powerful than ever before, the Sheikh Hasina government has shown considerable courage and conviction to free its soil from anti-India activity. Many would, therefore, hope for suitable reciprocal gestures to strengthen the polity.


An economically strong, secular and democratic Bangladesh is crucial for New Delhi and the rest of the region. A democratic and secular India, and Bangladesh, that has started its renewed march towards a stable democratic polity despite the muscle flexing by some extremists, should work together for a stable South Asia.


(The writer, who was involved in Bangladesh's freedom struggle, can be reached at:









The Indian Constitution and various laws framed under it grant the Indian state and its agencies enormous power to regulate the movement of persons, especially when the bogey of national security is raised. These powers include the preventive detention of citizens under one pretext or the other and, under the Foreigners Act, the summary deportation of foreign nationals, including those that have legally entered the country and have not violated the laws of the land in any way. Indian nationals who are unable to prove their citizenship to the satisfaction of the police are also subject to summary deportation, without the automatic right to be heard by a court.


Implicit in the grant of such extraordinary powers in a democracy is the understanding that the exercise of authority will be governed by reason and justice in the broadest possible sense. When these principles are jettisoned, arbitrariness and abuse of power become the norm, exposing, under the brittle veneer of democratic paint, the ugly face of a police state answerable to no one other than itself.


Nitu Singh, a young woman from Nepal, is a final year student at the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India at Pune. On the night of December 5, 2009, the city police landed up at the FTII hostel without any warrant or paperwork, took her into custody, gathered her personal effects and moved her to Mumbai, from where she was deported to Kathmandu the next day.


The only reason cited by the Pune police was that Ms. Singh had indulged in "anti-national activities". No detail of these alleged activities was provided, no mention was made of which Indian laws she had violated and no attempt was made to substantiate the charges. The Indian Express, which broke the story, quoted Ravindra Sengaonkar, the city's Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Branch), as saying: "Nitu Singh was deported to Nepal because she was found to be involved in anti-national activities. It was a high-level secret operation which our team completed successfully in quick time… We are not supposed to share details. The case is high-profile and various investigative agencies are involved."


Whatever the nature of her "anti-India activities", one thing is clear: they were not serious enough to warrant the filing of criminal charges. So why was she deported?


Nitu Singh is the wife of Amaresh Singh, a member of Nepal's Constituent Assembly. He has also served as an interlocutor between the Nepali Congress, which is his own party, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and the Government of India, a process in which India's external intelligence agency, RAW, has been deeply involved.


According to women's activists in Pune who have taken up her case, Nitu's deportation was engineered by her husband, from whom she had grown estranged over the past year or so. On his part, Amaresh has denied playing any role in the entire affair.


Of all the issues this deportation involves, the state of the Singh marriage need not detain us. Husbands and wives fight all the time. When global travel is involved, marital disputes can take on very complex dimensions. But what is unusual is the speed with which Nitu's expulsion from India took place and the "national security" grounds invoked by the authorities. Despite the enormous latitude granted to the police by Section 3 (2) (c) of the Foreigners Act, foreign nationals are usually deported from India (a) if they are illegal migrants, (b) if they have overstayed their visa, (c) if they have finished serving their sentence for any crime they might have been convicted of, or (d) if their presence in the country is deemed by a minister to be prejudicial to public order. In most cases, the process of deportation is so leisurely that some of those targeted even manage to bring their case before a court, or to escape, as the three Pakistanis who relieved themselves of their police escort in Delhi did last week.


In Nitu Singh's case, however, none of the usual grounds for deportation obtain. That is why those who took the decision to deport her chose "anti-national activities" as the reason. They gambled on the fact that the smokescreen of national security is usually a thick enough deterrent to ward off troublesome questions. While the S.P.S. Rathore case has taught us that no abuse of law or process is beyond the local constabulary, it is hard to imagine the Pune police dreaming up this deportation on their own steam. Indeed, Mr. Sengaonkar gave the game away by speaking of a "high level" operation and the involvement of other agencies. Since the Ministry of Home Affairs under P. Chidambaram has ordered a probe into this matter, one can safely assume that the "agencies" involved are not those that report to the MHA.


In a speech last month, Mr. Chidamabaram drew attention to the fact that several agencies involved in counter-terrorism report not to him but to the Cabinet Secretariat, the Prime Minister's Office, and the National Security Advisor. Among these are RAW, the Aviation Research Centre and the National Technical Research Organisation. Could one of those agencies have been involved in the deportation? If so, who within the national security establishment decided Nitu Singh was engaging in "anti-national activities" and what evidence do they have to substantiate the charge? Was Amaresh Singh able to influence this process in any way? These are the questions the Home Minister will hopefully ask as he seeks to get to the bottom of a case that makes India look more like a banana republic than a democracy with rule of law.


If the power to expel a foreigner can be exercised so arbitrarily, this is because the power to prevent the movement of citizens within the country is subject to the same degree of caprice and contempt for the rule of law.


A young Adivasi woman named Sambho Sodi who was injured in police firing in Dantewada last year was prevented by the Chhattisgarh police from travelling to Delhi last week for medical treatment to her wounded leg. The grounds for her detention were that the police needed to record her statement about the incident in which she alleges the security forces fired upon unarmed civilians near Gompad village on October 1, 2009. The police, which claimed the Gompad shooting was part of an anti-Naxalite operation, had all the time in the world to record her statement but chose not to do so as long as she was in Dantewada. But the day she needed to travel to Delhi for treatment, they compelled her to get down from the vehicle she was travelling in and took her in for questioning, prompting her colleagues and friends to urgently move the Supreme Court.


On January 7, the Supreme Court ordered the State of Chhatisgarh "not to interfere in any manner whatsoever" with Ms. Sodi coming to Delhi for her medical treatment and to not "create any obstacle in her way". At the time of going to press, however, activists handling her case said the police had still not cleared her departure for Delhi. Chhattisgarh has become one of India's most notorious "no rights" zones, where state-supported vigilantes in the name of Salwa Judum and 'Special Police Officers' are free to attack those who are critical of the actions of the security forces. As matters stand, the Chhattisgarh government is already in violation of Supreme Court orders on the rehabilitation of Adivasis displaced by the Salwa Judum. How long the state police will prevent Ms. Sodi from travelling to Delhi remains to be seen. In their own way, Nitu Singh and Shambho Sodi are both victims of a security establishment which operates on the penumbra of legality and whose forays to the dark side frequently remain unseen and unheard. Rare are the moments when we get to shine the light on them, rarer still the times when senior ministers undertake to right a wrong. The media and the judiciary must make the most of these opportunities.







An influential Yemeni cleric, once thought un-apprehendable by the authorities despite his preaching in support of al-Qaeda, including to several of the 9/11 hijackers, on January 7 appeared to be a target for arrest after a senior Minister suggested the U.S.-born cleric had met the man accused of the attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing.


Rashad al-Alimi, Yemen's Deputy Prime Minister for Defence and Security, told journalists in Sana'a that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who tried to detonate explosives aboard an airliner over Detroit, had gone to Anwar al-Awlaki's home during a trip to Yemen late last year.


Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen in late August on a student visa and was last seen on September 21, according to friends and teachers. He reappeared on December 5, friends said, and left Yemen two days later, the authorities confirmed.


The date of Abdulmutallab's departure calls into question the claim by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP), the group U.S. President Barack Obama blames for the airliner incident, that the attack was in direct response to U.S. military support for Yemen's all-out offensive against the militants, which began on December 17.


The Deputy Mnister confirmed that during his 11-week disappearance Abdulmutallab met al-Qaeda leaders at a farmhouse in Rafad, in Yemen's remote eastern province of Shabwa. The farmhouse was bombed on December 24, a day before the attempted Detroit attack, in air strikes that Yemeni security sources initially said killed Awlaki.


However, a journalist and family friend of Awlaki told the Guardian last week that he had spoken to the cleric, who lives near the farmhouse and he was "alive and well". Several of Awlaki's relatives who had attended the meeting were killed in the attack, but AQAP's senior leadership escaped, said local sources, having left the farm just hours before.


Awlaki's contacts with Nidal Hassan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who killed 13 American soldiers at Fort Hood in November, have raised further serious doubts over the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence gathering. Last month it emerged that Hassan's first email to Awlaki asked whether the cleric could justify, under Islamic law, the killing of American soldiers on U.S. soil. The email was sent on December 17, 2008 and was intercepted by the FBI, who failed to stop Hassan before the killings 11 months later.


The confirmation of Awlaki's contacts with Abdulmutallab will put Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh under serious pressure as his American allies demand to know why the cleric was allowed to continue to operate for months, even after the revelation of his contacts with the Fort Hood killer.








Coral reefs give birth to a dazzling number of new species of sea creatures, according to a study that highlights their critical role in marine ecosystems.


Scientists have found that the reefs not only harbour amazing biodiversity, but are actively involved in the generation of new life forms.


The study overturns conventional thinking that much of the sea life in coral reefs originated elsewhere.


Wolfgang Kiessling of the Humboldt University of Berlin, who led the study, said: "We found that coral reefs are very active at generating biodiversity in the oceans, and that they export biodiversity to other ecosystems. This was a surprise because many people had assumed that reefs were ecological attracters — that species go there from other places."


He and colleagues in Germany and the U.S. studied a database of fossil organisms that lived on the sea floor from the Cambrian period, about 500 million years ago. They compared the number of new genera that first appeared in coral reefs with those in other shallow-water environments and found the reefs were responsible for about 50 per cent more.


The results are published on Friday in the journal Science.




Mr. Kiessling said the study offered extra incentive to protect coral reefs. "If we lose the coral reefs we lose the

ability for marine ecosystems to generate new species in the future." Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere damages coral as seas become warmer. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









The Right To Information (RTI) Act has been truly empowering. It is possible for ordinary people to know what is happening inside government, a legitimate right and concern in a democratic polity.


Pro-active citizens, journalists and others have used the RTI to ferret out relevant information.


There has been resistance from those who hold and wield power. The bureaucrats did not want 'file-noting' to be included in its purview, arguing that it would not allow an officer to state his or her honest opinion. Then there has been resistance from judges of the high court and Supreme Court, who wanted the statements of their assets to be excluded from the RTI domain.


The Central Information Commission (CIC) has struck a fresh blow for RTI by saying that citizens have a right to know all about the assets of bureaucrats. It is a legitimate demand because bureaucrats' salaries are paid in effect by the tax-payer. It will also be a deterrent to corruption as claimed by public interest activists.


But there are those inevitable grey areas, which cannot be avoided unless one is a moral fundamentalist and the world is a simple contrast of white and black. Since political Calvinism is not the credo of a liberal democratic state like ours, there is a need to argue for legitimate limits to the RTI.


It is legitimate to know the detailed expenditure of a bureaucrat while discharging public duty, spending public money for public purpose, but should it include the school and college fees that he or she pays for the children?


Certainly, there should not be a scrutiny of a bureaucrat's family eating out, or the silk sari that an officer's wife may buy! Even a public servant should have a right to privacy. The fundamentalist argument that once a person enters public life, he or she forfeits claims to privacy should be thrown out of the window. This is not to provide a window of escape to thecorrupt but to keep a society sane.


It is indeed the case that money that a bureaucrat defrauds from the public exchequer is generally used to acquire private assets and spend on private pursuits, including dinners and silk saris. The way to observe minimum courtesies and decencies as understood in a bourgeois world is to nail corruption in the public domain and not pry into family and private life. There are no clear demarcating lines. It is a judgment call.


That is why rules are not to be taken literally, something that bureaucrats do with a relish and create a nightmare for everyone else. There is a need to avoid that dead-end. The RTI needs to be applied and interpreted with more than a touch of common sense.









I recently got a CD from the wine marketing board of Austria and it had quite the compilation, a selection of the most tasteful of arrangements of musical pieces from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras of music.



But that was not all for each piece had been paired with a grape based on what type of wines the grape gave forth and how, enjoying a wine from that grape along with the suggested symphony could create a resonance of
harmony and hedonistic well-being.


Great, except that few of us would know a pianoforte from a harpsichord backing . So, in an effort to update the idea of wine music (and without debasing the Austrian effort), some ideas of what would wine be like if it were contemporary music.


Think wines and the first image are the classics; wines which define the region they come from; that don't try too hard or to be something that they aren't. They don't aim to please, they aim to be themselves. The Bordeaux and Burgundies are best serenaded alongside some equally immovable giants of thinking music — jazz as ordained by Charlie Parker, Stan Getz and Miles Davis. A little Ella Fitzgerald could be soothingly nice as also Norah Jones. Newer rock groups like Angels & Airwaves and Death Cab for Cutie also work.


The Italians too are iconic but with a little more edge. The wines have chew and bite; they are not mammas' good boys but they know where the respect lies. The best tribute to them would perhaps then be iconic rebellious bands like the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, even some Ugly Kid Joe. I would also recommend Green Day from their newer, more mature era of rockitude.


Australia and New Zealand wines have universal appeal much like the music of Madonna and Tina Turner.
Austria is not just Sound of Music and Edelweiss. Both they and the Germans have great whites and the lovely strings of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma on the santoor could be an apt ode. The way the wines crisply slide through with a feeling of unmatched freshness, the music would definitely need to reflect this positive buoyancy of energies.

South America as also Spain is where the wines are spicy and the excitement hot. The music is definitely regional salsa, meringue and flamenco. However, stereotypes aside, they do have the potential to pair with some rich yet classic rock numbers from Guns n' Roses, Metallica and even some older RareEarth and Lynnrd Skynnrds.


Champagne would team up well with some classic Mozart and Beethoven. Wait, that has been done to dust and made the drink boring. How about then, with all the bling it attracts, to do it with hip-hop and rap music? That too sadly has been done to death. I guess then some romantic stuff from BB King, Barry White, or Marvin Gaye.Still clueless? Too impatient for symphonies, too tired of pop, but too young for alternative rock? Don't despair, it just means you were young and alive in the glorious 70s — the only era that matters — when love was free, drugs unconditional, and the music divine. You don't need all this malarkey. Wine for you should be a no-brainer.But to generalise, remember this golden rule: when with vinos, discuss music, with musicians, discuss wine. That said, waste no haste in just opening up and swigging. Cheers!







On Friday, deputy chief minister Chaggan Bhujbal and Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel arrived in Navi Mumbai in a private chopper to inaugurate 10th edition of the BANM (Builders Association of Navi Mumbai) property exhibition.


Their private chopper landed in Navi Mumbai Sport Association ground in Vashi which is barely half-a-kilometre away from the toll plaza where we commoners keep shelling out Rs30 upon every entry and exit. Ministers' chopper and the entourage of vehicles had a free ride although they crossed the same plaza, either on the ground or in air, meant to charge every vehicle that passes through.


Sometimes we create rules for the functioning of society, but with the passage of time such stipulations seek to hassle the same people.


Let me elaborate. Establishment of the railway network revolutionised urban planning in Mumbai. The growth of the same heaped rich dividends on those who live in the extended fringes of what is now called the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The idea of the British to start the railway from Victoria Terminus (now CST) to Thane was to actually decongest the island city. They expected that with the easy commute from the hinterland to the main city, people would prefer moving to the fringes and free the island city and tony areas like not only Colaba and Malabar Hills but also Shiv (now Sion) and Curla (now Kurla).

To encourage people to stay away from the main island city, slowly the administration brought a monthly pass system which was far cheaper than the daily ticket, so that people would vacate the posh land meant for the rich and famous.


But today this very idea has become an Albatross around the neck of Navi Mumbaikars. Firstly it is a drain on their wallet. I fail to understand why a Navi Mumbaikar has to pay a toll for the bridges built in island city of Mumbai? The toll is to cover the cost of the bridge that was built some 25 years ago between Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. But it seems that the issue of toll will never cease, because it is a cash cow for the state!


In fact, Navi Mumbai is a miracle in itself. The world's largest planned city has always been one up on Mumbai. While Mumbaikars have to do with narrow roads. Navi Mumbaikars, cruise in their SUVs on wide roads, which can rival the autobahns of Germany. While the city may pride over the sea link, here people have been gliding over the 14-kilometre-long Palm Beach Road stretching from Mahape to Belapur.


At least 20% of Mumbai's students go to Navi Mumbai for their higher studies. It doesn't pinch water from the island city, it has a 24 km-long coastline and now it is going to get a Disneyland amusement park and an airport very soon. On January 16, bids will open for building Disneyland. In fact, National Geographic channel named Navi Mumbai as one of the Super Cities of the World and not Mumbai.


Yet the fleecing of locals at the toll plazas continues unabated. This is also deterring young professionals from moving to Navi Mumbai, because they fear that the toll amount may increase. Today there is a simmering demand among local inhabitants that there must be a toll plaza at a place like Panvel since inhabitants there also use the facilities of Navi Mumbai. Will the government oblige the people of Navi Mumbai?







In 1944, the Maharaja of Mysore acquired 365 acres of farmland where Magadi Road meets the Outer Ring Road and Malagalu Road and set it apart for a beggars' colony.


A good 44 years later, a simple twist of fate changed the course for 63 of those 365 acres: then Chief Minister Devraj Urs met the Archbishop and invited him to address the growth in the number of
leprosy patients in Bangalore.


Urs allotted 63 acres from the beggars' colony to what has come to be called Sumanahalli — which, in Kannada, means "the village of people with a good heart". Sumanahalli is a quiet, breezy, overgrown hillock bristling with songbirds, mango and chikoo trees. It is home to 365 people who live on the quiet campus, afflicted with leprosy, HIV/ AIDS or some form of disability.


Sumanahalli cures, rehabilitates and puts these people back into society or, when that is not possible, cares for them like family. All this is about to change.


Today, a massive flyover is coming up in front of Sumanahalli. In fact, Sumanahalli has given 13 acres of land for this very development, shrinking its size to 50 acres. Now, the government wants the remaining 50 acres of land back. You can almost see a parking lot coming up here over the rocks and stones.


But the government is almost right in asking for the land. Sumanahalli got the 63 acres on a 30-year lease in 1977. Those 30 years have run out long ago. Law and logic dictate that the land be returned. That's also the problem: law and logic provide the way forward; they don't provide answers to real issues.


When Urs gave the land, 20 acres were converted in different surveys within the property so that Sumanahalli could build facilities all over the property. The tacit implication of this was that Sumanahalli could set itself up for the long term.


The organization has been given the responsibility of surveying 25 corporation wards in Bangalore covering 1.2 million people for leprosy and of rehabilitating them.


Today, when the city has grown to reach Sumanahalli, the government wants to evict them. So, what's more important: urban growth or health? The simple answer, and perhaps also a naïve one, is to suggest that Sumanahalli itself be moved to a location some distance from Bangalore.


If the suggestion seems a good one, let's rephrase that idea: when the city grows, the destitute go out with it. Doesn't seem like a just idea anymore, does it?


The bigger question that must fox you is simpler. If the lease expired in 2007, how come Fr George Kannanthanam, the Director of Sumanahallli for the last 9 years, and his flock are still on the hillock? How come he still runs the vocational training centers?


How come they continue to win awards like the National Award for the Best Self Employee (1986, 1990, 1994, 2002), National Award for the Best Placement Officer (1989), the Rajyotsava Award (1992) and State Award for the Best Organisation in Karnataka (2007)?


It's a technical glitch and it happened like this: in 2006, a year before the lease was to expire, it was decided that about 25 acres of the land would go to the campus for the Visvesvaraya Technological University.


In exchange, 30 acres would be granted to the Sumanahalli Society. A little generosity on both sides would solve the problem forever.


So Sumanahalli waited to hear from the government. But what it did hear was in July 2009. A cabinet meeting had passed the decision to acquire all the land, worth, by any estimate, to be worth several hundred crores.


Can you see what is happening out here? No, it's not necessarily the obvious story of greed and avarice. It could be, but we don't have evidence pointing to it. Instead, it's clear that land set aside for a social cause is slowly being taken over, turned into commercial property. Land use is changing. And it is the government passing the orders.


Incidentally, the government is believed to be re-examining the order. But the decision need not necessarily go in favour of Sumanahalli. However, my concerns are somewhat different.


Here are two of them. When the government invites someone (in this case the Archbishop) to address a problem, then throws them out, what is the message going out to other NGOs? The short answer is, "The government is not a reliable enabler for the long term."


The second question can lead to some consternation. The Joint House Committee on Encroachment of Government Land in Bangalore City and Urban District, headed by former MLA AT Ramaswamy, suggests that 45,000 acres of land worth a staggering Rs 50,000 crore stands encroached.


Shouldn't it be recovering this land rather than working on throwing out the disabled and the delinquents?








I have been thinking of what one could call an endangered ritual. Calling on friends. We throw parties, host lunches and have people over for drinks, all planned and orchestrated. But impromptu dropping-in seldom happens these days.


In my childhood, both my parents' and grandparents' homes drew visitors like magnets. My grandmother held court most days. From relatives, vendors, tenants and old acquaintances to wandering puppeteers, they all called on her.


Over the years, my brother and I looked forward to these motley callers with greater excitement than relatives. How could a self-righteous aunt compare to a danseuse of indeterminate sex?


The dancer would greet my grandmother with an elaborate namaste, don anklets and break into a 'jathi' and then settle at her feet for a good chew of betel leaves while regaling her with gossip from the world of classical dance.


Or, how could any cousin compare with Vishalakshi, the drunk? The elderly lady was both a cadger and a free-loader, but she narrated the most macabre medical anecdotes.


By contrast, my parents' guests were the epitome of suburban orderliness. There was nothing random or motley about them. My father would come home from work and announce that Mrs and Mr X would be calling on us that evening.


The guests would arrive at seven and leave at half-past eight. Very seldom did their conversation rise above the mundane, but there lay its essential charm. For in the absence of the extraordinary, the ordinary was treated in such a fashion that it seemed just as exciting as the danseuse or the drunk's tales.


It occurs to me that our lives have changed so much that where we once had open doors, now we need to find a window to fit in callers, be it friends or the insurance agent.


While it assigns a certain control over who we wish and do not wish to entertain, I cannot help the lurking feeling that the impromptu caller also brought in more fun.

Anita Nair's new novel will be published in January.










A total of 135 students defaulted in paying their fees to Sacred Heart School of Chandigarh during the period 1987 to 2009. No prize for guessing as to who was the only girl ever expelled for this "unpardonable" crime. Yes, it was Ruchika Girhotra, the unfortunate girl molested by disgraced top cop SPS Rathore. In that year itself (1990-91), a total of 17 students defaulted, eight of whom did not pay their fees for a period longer than Ruchika's. Yet, not even one of them was expelled. In fact, among those who defaulted was Priyanjali, daughter of Rathore, who was Ruchika's batchmate in the same school. She defaulted on two occasions – one of them in 1990 itself – but no action was taken against her. All these circumstances have made the magisterial inquiry to conclude that Ruchika Girhotra was thrown out in a " selective, arbitrary, biased and unwarranted manner".


The school Principal, Sister S. Sebastina, says she took the decision on her own, and " there was no pressure from any quarter that influenced her decision in this regard whatsoever". But she concedes that no notice/warning/letter was given to the parents of Ruchika regarding non-payment of fees. Because of such strong circumstantial evidence, it is quite obvious that this unprecedented expulsion took place for ulterior motives. The Magistrate says that "this aspect requires an in-depth and thorough probe".


A school is home away from home for a child and the principal is like a parent. Everyone knew that Ruchika was undergoing a nightmare at that time. She needed emotional and moral support. Yet, she was made to undergo this additional trauma, which must have preyed on her teenaged mind goading her towards her eventual suicide. The Principal is neither fit for the state award that she was given in 2005 nor her continuation as Principal does any credit to the well-known institution that she heads. 








The Punjab and Haryana High Court's decision to formulate comprehensive guidelines to check increasing cases of child molestation in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh is heartening. The ruling by a Division Bench consisting of Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice Jasbir Singh in response to a public interest litigation is worthy of appreciation because it comes in the backdrop of the Ruchika molestation case. Unable to face the humiliation and torture of her family by former Haryana DGP S.P.S. Rathore, 14-year-old Ruchika committed suicide. After 19 years of trial, Rathore got away with a punishment of six months jail. Keeping the Rathore episode in view, the Bench has decided that while framing the guidelines, it will examine the procedure to be adopted when senior police officers are accused in such cases.


Significantly, the Bench will consider the procedure adopted by the state governments not only in promoting such tainted police officers but also of recommending conferment of honour on them. Aptly, the Union Government had stripped Rathore of his police medal. The surmise is that when the guidelines are ready, these will help authorities to tackle child molestation cases effectively. They are also expected to act as a deterrent because today officers of Rathore's ilk do not have the fear of law.


Tough enforcement of laws and exemplary punishment of the guilty, however high and powerful they may be, has become imperative today because India has the dubious distinction of having the world's largest number of sexually abused children. Prevention of sexual abuse of children can be focused at three levels. At the primary level, the focus can be on removing the causes, strengthening the child's competence to recognise and react, increasing parental awareness, strengthening social vigilance and bringing in a strong punitive policy. At the secondary level, the emphasis should be on early detection, quick intervention and provision of a supportive environment in schools and families. Finally, tertiary intervention should involve effective coordination among the police, courts, counsellors, doctors and social workers.








Even the predictability of the fog around this time of the year would not have entirely prepared travellers for the delays, disruption and last-minute cancellation of flights and trains this week. This is largely due to the continuing unpredictability of when the fog would descend, how dense it would be and for how long it would last. While Meteorology has acquired a certain degree of precision in predicting weather conditions, it is clearly outwitted by the fog in North India. With long distance trains running several hours late, scores of trains and flights getting cancelled and hundreds getting rescheduled, passengers have had a harrowing time. Poor visibility and poorer driving sense rendering road travel also unsafe and slow, they were reduced to praying for a slice of good fortune. While many of them would have booked tickets weeks, if not months, in advance, last minute cancellation of flights and trains left them in the lurch. Those who had the misfortune of getting stranded at the overflowing railway stations and departure areas in airports had an even more uncomfortable and frustrating time with no place to sit and with supply of food and water running out.


While hi-tech planes have the ability to fly even in blinding weather conditions, pilots continue to rely on their eyesight and what they can see for themselves. Dependence on instruments necessarily slows down taxiing, landing and take-off by planes, increasing operational time. That technology alone is no safeguard against dense fog was evident during Christmas last month when all important airports in Europe virtually shut down, frustrating holiday plans of thousands of people. One must also keep in mind that some of the major disasters involving planes actually took place on the ground and in foggy conditions in Europe and the United States. It would be unfair to blame air traffic controllers, therefore, for being cautious and for placing safety above everything else.


There is, however, no excuse for negligence. The Instrument Landing System (ILS) at the Chandigarh airport was last year found to have outlived its life but is yet to be replaced. If officials are tied down by technical reasons or if they have to wait for the new terminal to become operational, in all fairness they should have made their helplessness public. While more airlines and pilots in the country are said to have become compatible to category III level of the ILS this year, a lot more needs to be done to alert passengers in advance, to enable them to make alternative arrangements and to make the waiting period more comfortable. 









In the South Asian sub-continent, in land area population India is larger than each one of its neighbours: it is larger even than all of them taken together. Each neighbour shares with India a common history and a long and rich tradition of thought and belief, culture and way of life and a common, in some cases, an open border.


These ancient bonds are reinforced by ties of blood and new family links transcending borders, nationality and ethnicity. And daily there is much legal as well as informal commercial activity and social interaction across these borders. The region's geography and history, and the aptitudes and interests of the people make South Asia a natural common market and a integrated though diverse community.


However, ever since the subcontinent's partition and independence from the British rule, the region has been a theatre of responses contrary to the dictates of geography and history and the people's natural propensity for amity, kinship and cooperation. Politics driven by vested interests, the search for new identities on the part of the elites, nationalistic passions often fanned by insecure regimes are part of the reason for this sad state of affairs. The asymmetry in size, resources and power potential between India and its smaller neighbours also causes feelings of envy, unease and resentment among the latter.


Since neither neighbours nor India can do much about the latter's size, the neighbours misinterpret India's nonchalance concerning this penurious aspect of our relations as India's arrogance, if not quite its perfidy. They nurse unwarranted suspicious, raise impossible demands and use India as a punching bag to ease their frustrations.


Some in the region even view India as a country to be balanced and countered through liaisons with extra-regional powers. Not that these latter have done much good to the region: in fact, they have only caused rifts within and between countries and militarised some to virtual self-destruction.

Nevertheless, nothing India does is good enough, and even India's genuine solicitude for its smaller neighbours and its willingness to be of use and help are spurned as condescension, or worse, hypocrisy.


Of course, we have some good and genuinely friendly neighbours too, but overall, India's 60-year experience of neighbourly relations can be summed up in seven short words: Victim of the Tyranny of Small Neighbours!


Be that as it may, neighbours cannot be changed, and it is for the bigger partner to be patient and modest and remain ready always to offer friendship and cooperation and to seize the opportunity, when it turns up, to prove its goodwill, friendship and sincerity and convert estrangement into truly close good-neighbourly relationship. The best way to alleviate the ill-humour caused by asymmetry is to refrain from seeking reciprocity: for what we can do to enhance our neighbour's well-being, prosperity and power eventually adds to our own strength also.


In neighbourhood relationships, everywhere there are commonalities as well as differences. South Asia is no exception and even though in our case commonalities outweigh, by far, our differences, we must, one by one, remove the differences from our bilateral agendas. In that task the initiative should rightly be with the big neighbour.


A moment propitious for such an initiative has now arrived for lifting India-Bangladesh relations, stagnant since the tragic assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujeeb in 1975, to a new rising trajectory of cordiality, trust and cooperation. It is a moment of opportunity because after 15 failed military coups and three military governments, democracy has risen phoenix-like to a new stature in Bangladesh.


Moments are rare in South Asian history when a military takes over its country's rule, rids it of corruption, disciplines the bureaucracy, fights terrorism, restores law and order, curbs extremism, organises a remarkably fair, free and transparent election and hands over power to an elected government.


That is precisely what the Bangladesh Army has done and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes to Delhi later this week as Bangladesh's elected Prime Minister. And she comes to us after doing something which should transform our relations with this good neighbour.


Whereas the previous governments in Dhaka were in denial about sheltering Indian insurgents and turning a blind eye to the activities of Pakistan's ISI in support of terrorism in India, Prime Minister Hasina has expelled or imprisoned the ULFA leaders. India must respond to this voluntary gesture in a way which strengthens Bangladesh and reinforces Prime Minister Haisna's personal position as a new leader of democracy's surge in South Asia.


Bangladesh has a few genuine grievances which we must now redress with promptitude and transparent sincerity. Its very large trade deficit with India has been a source of concern for long. Related to the trade imbalance is the question of non-tariff barriers against meagre Bangladeshi exportable goods.


We agreed to an India-Bangladesh Free Trade Area, but our diligent bureaucrats lost little time in negating that highly desirable measure by pasting on it a negative list of 300 items!


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had spoken sometime ago of "unhindered flow of goods" between the two countries. In implementation of that policy, the negative list of 300 items should be scrapped and a joint mechanism set up to examine and remove non-tariff barriers which continue to hinder trade-flows.


Prime Minister Hasina's visit should also result in equally solid progress in resolving the important issue of fair and equitable sharing of waters of 54 common rivers. The best way to do this would be to initiate a joint environmental programme to address a whole range of issues, including the issue of sharing of river waters, joint projects to build storage dams, generate hydel power and connect grids of the two countries for power trading etc.


Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina herself have been targets of terrorism. There is much room for cooperation

between the two countries to fight that evil. Regular consultations through frequent formal and informal high level exchanges of visits should be instituted between the intelligence agencies, the police and the militaries of the two countries. The BSF should stop shooting to kill Bangladeshi infiltrators — a cause of much public agitation and anti-Indian propaganda in Bangladesh.


Cooperation in border management will help reduce illegal border crossing and combat cross border crime and terrorism. Joint mechanisms should be established to resolve without further delay the important issues of land and maritime boundaries, bilaterally if possible, on the basis of partnership and mutual accommodation or with the help of World Bank's good offices.


During this writer's recent visit to Dhaka, he had difficulty in explaining why an agreement concerning transit facilities for Bangladesh to Nepal, across the Siliguri neck, signed years ago has remained unoperationalised.


In view of the rapidly changing global and sub-continental environment and the growing expanse and complexity of our relations with our South Asian neighbours, the government should consider creating an additional post of Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs to deal exclusively with neighbourhood developments and relationships under the overall direction of the Minister of External Affairs.


The writer is a former Foreign Secretary of India








Dr Rusi Zinzuwadia looked out of the window of his first-floor clinic at the busy traffic on Ashram Road. The windowpanes shut out most of the sounds and also the smells of baked goodies from Pastry Waggon on the ground floor.


The 40-something dentist had reason to feel content. Things were going alright for him, and he was 'alone but not lonely', as he explained to his tennis mates at the club each morning.


Mrs Lobo interrupted his reverie with her announcement, "Percy Anklesaria, Sir — routine extraction — accompanied by his mother!". Dr Zinzuwadia returned to his desk and rose as a reluctant eight-year old was led into the room by his determined parent.


Lily Anklesaria had to be the prettiest lady he had ever met but for now, the dedicated dentist had no time to study her luminous countenance. Percy was sulking and complaining by turns and everyone knew that he could bring the house down with his tantrums. Lily was obviously distressed and explained how she had tried to shake the tooth off but as usual, it just wouldn't oblige. Percy had the strongest milk teeth you had ever seen!


Within minutes, Dr Zinzuwadia led Percy into the examination chair, gave him a squeezy gremlin to distract him and ushered Lily out into the reception area with a "Why don't you just relax with a Limca while I sort Percy out!".


Whatever the dentist did inside took only five minutes and one blood-curdling scream from Percy as Lily pressed her forefingers to each ear in terror. There was only so much a single mother could take, after all! Dr Zinzuwadia scribbled on the case papers as Lily asked, "Any medication, Doctor?" The dentist looked at the patient in serious speculation and said, "Well, Mr Anklesaria, if the patient has pain on his way out of my clinic, be sure to give him the biggest icecream bar you can find!"


Young Percy got the message and began to groan. On their way out, Percy frogmarched his mum into Pastry Waggon's icecream counter seeking compensation for his ordeals.


As luck would have it, each of Percy's teeth required the expertise of Dr Zinzuwadia and the chilled concoctions at Pastry Waggon. Percy was now 11 years old and the last of his milk teeth had been extracted today. Dr Zinzuwadia was filled with a sense of loss as he contemplated the fact that his favourite patient would perhaps no longer require his services — and that he would probably not see much of Lily again. With the unerring instinct of the very young, Percy asked Dr Zinzuwadia, "Can my mum and I marry you, Doctor?"


By the time 12-year old Percy needed braces to fix his mal-aligned teeth, Mrs Lobo had retired. Lily had replaced her as the dentist's assistant with a more significant double role as his wife. The frozen chocolate candy from Pastry Waggon had given way to family packs of premium icecream — another of Percy's initiatives!








It is not statistical jugglery. While the production of food grains was 209.8 million tonnes (mt) in the year 1999-2000, the first year of the 21st century, it is unlikely to be near this figure when estimates are published at the end of June 2010. The agricultural year begins from July 1 and lasts till June 30 the next year. Advance estimates have not been published apparently because of the deficient monsoon in 2009.


During this decade an estimated 120 to 130 million children have been born in the country, putting more pressure on the food grain kitty of the country. Does it mean India is heading for something like a famine?


Fortunately, no. For, it is not a fact that production has not been higher than in 1999-2000 during the subsequent years. However, lower production too has been recorded.


For example, the production during the very next year, 00-01, was 196.8 mt,13 mt less, thanks to 91 per cent rainfall compared to the long period average (LPA).


Rainfall was equally deficient the very next year, 2001. However, thanks to our farmers, production had risen to 212.9 mt that year (2001-02).


Unfortunately, 2002 saw the country face a severe drought, rainfall recording only 81 per cent of the LPA. The production of food grains had plummeted that year (02-03) to 174.8 mt only.


There was welcome relief during the next year (03-04). Because of the 102 per cent of the LPA rainfall, food grain production had registered a huge jump of nearly 40 mt to 213.2 mt. That was the year when there was a political change at the Centre. The NDA regime had ended and the UPA had taken over.


Unfortunately, the UPA regime began with a 13 per cent deficit rainfall from the LPA, with the result that food grain production had gone down by about 15 mt to 198.4 mt. in 04-05.


Although in 05-06, rainfall was 99 per cent of the LPA, food grain production did not rise much during the year. It was only 208.8 mt.


The 09-10 figures are still to see the light of the day although it is feared that the final figure for this year will be about the same as in 99-00, which means food grain production in the country has not made substantial progress during the decade 2000-2010, a monumental failure on the part of the government, which has been singing the tune of the second Green Revolution from almost the first day it had taken office in May, 2004.


The natural question that one may ask the government is: how far is the second Green Revolution from reality?


As soon as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had appointed Mr Sharad Pawar as the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Consumer Affairs, he had been gushingly declaring that a second Green Revolution would be ensured soon. The President of India too had felt this way at a later date. However, there is not even a hint of such a revolution taking place.


One is compelled to compare the situation, in the 1960s when famines were averted by importing wheat from the USA.

Agriculture Minister C. Subramanium had taken the initiative to import high-yielding wheat seed from Mexico in the teeth of opposition from conservative elements raising the bogey of "American agriculture destroying Indian agriculture".


The import of 18,000 tonnes of seed from Mexico, multiplication at many places in India and distributing the new seeds had made the first Green Revolution possible with the rabi season of 1968.


Another Green Revolution will mean another genetic revolution. There are well-meaning people opposing any genetic manipulation for increasing productivity of seeds of food grains.


With due respect to their sentiments, one has to say that these people are pushing India to the brink of another famine by not accepting new technologies, duly approved by official agencies (in case of Bt Brinjal now).


Last year's drought has been blamed for the loss in production of food grains. But even during such a devastating drought, Punjab and Haryana have retained their level of paddy production through innovative means.


The Centre and the States have not, one avers, made efforts to fight the drought as Punjab and Haryana have done.


They have done so by a very stringent use of available water, which prevented the growth of weeds and pest attacks, saving the crops by only life-saving irrigation. What had prevented the Government of India and the minister Mr Pawar, to get other states replicate these innovative measures?


Will India, thus, limit its production of food grains to a level of only about 230 mt a year and depend permanently on imports in order to feed the growing population? One hopes someone in the government answers this question.









The people of one of the most conservative states in the US have stumbled across a simple policy that slashes greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent, saves huge sums of money, improves public services, cuts traffic congestion, and makes 82 per cent of workers happier.


It all began two years ago, when the state was facing a budget crisis. One night, the new Republican Governor Jon Huntsman was staring at the red ink and rough sums when he had an idea. Keeping the state's buildings lit and heated and manned cost a fortune. Could it be cut without cutting the service given to the public?


Then it hit him. What if, instead of working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, the state's employees only came in four days a week, but now from 8 to 6? The state would be getting the same forty hours a week out of its staff – but the costs of maintaining their offices would plummet. The employees would get a three-day weekend, and cut a whole day's worth of tiring, polluting commuting out of their week.


He took the step of requiring it by law for 80 per cent of the state's employees. (Obviously, some places - like the emergency services or prisons – had to be exempted.) At first, there was cautious support among the workforce but as the experiment has rolled on, it has gathered remarkable acclaim. Today, two years on, 82 per cent of employees applaud the new hours, and hardly anyone wants to go back.


A whole series of unexpected benefits started to emerge. The number of sick days claimed by workers fell by 9 per cent. Air pollution fell, since people were spending 20 per cent less time in their cars. Some 17,000 tonnes of warming gases were kept out of the atmosphere. They have a new slogan in Utah – Thank God It's Thursday.


But wouldn't people be irritated that they couldn't contact their state authorities on a Friday? Did the standard of service fall? It was a real worry when the programme started. But before, people had to take time off work to contact the authorities, since they were only open during work hours. Now they were open for an hour before work and an hour after it. It actually became easier to see them Monday to Thursday: waiting times for state services have fallen.


And once we started on this course, it could spur us to think in more radical ways about work. If this tiny little tinker with work routines leads to a big burst of human happiness and environmental sanity, what could bigger changes achieve?


Work is the activity that we spend most of our waking lives engaged in - yet it is too often trapped in an outdated routine. Today, very few of us work in factories, yet we have clung to the habits of the factory with almost religious devotion. Clock in, sit at your terminal, be seen to work, clock out. Is this the best way to make us as productive and creative and happy as we can be? Should we clamber into a steel box every morning to sit in a concrete box all day?


In a wired lap-topped world, far more people could work more effectively from home, in hours of their own choosing, if only their bosses would have confidence in them. They would be better workers, better parents and better people – and we would take a huge number of cars off the road.


But the problem runs deeper than this. Britain now has the longest work hours in the developed world after the US – and in a recession, those of us with jobs scamper ever faster in our hamster-wheels. Yes, the British now make the Japanese look chilled. This is not how 2010 was meant to turn out.


If you look at the economists and thinkers of, say, the 1930s, they assumed that once we had achieved abundance – once humans had all the food and clothes and heat and toys we could use – we would relax and work less. They thought that by now work would barely cover three days as we headed en masse for the beach and the concert-hall.


Instead, the treadmill is whirling ever-faster. This isn't our choice: virtually every study of this issue finds that huge majorities of people say they want to work less and spend more time with their friends, their families and their thoughts. We know it's bad for us.


Professor Cary Cooper, who has studied to effects of overwork on the human body, says: "If you work consistently long hours, more than 45 a week, every week, it will damage your health, physically and psychologically." You become 37 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart-attack if you work 60 hours a week.


We don't stop primarily because we are locked in an arms race with our colleagues. If we relax and become more human, we fall behind the person in the next booth down, who is chasing faster. Work can be one of the richest and most rewarding experiences, but not like this. In a recession, this insecurity only swells.


Under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the 1990s, the French discovered the most elegant way out of this, taking the Utah experiment deeper and further. They insisted that everyone work a maximum of 35 paid hours a week. It was a way of saying: in a rich country, life is about more than serving corporations and slogging.


Wealth generation and consumerism should be our slaves, not our masters: where they make us happy, we should embrace them; where they make us miserable, we should cast them aside. Enjoy yourself. True wealth lies not only in having enough, but in having the time to enjoy everything and everyone around you.n


By arrangement with The Independent










With President Asif Zardari finding it difficult to retain the position of co-chairperson of the PPP along with his responsibilities as the President of Pakistan, efforts are quietly on to pass on the party's leadership to his son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Bilawal technically already holds the position of chairperson of the PPP, but he has to come back from England, where he is studying, and demonstrate that he is the leader of the party, earlier led by his mother, Benazir Bhutto.


But this is not as easy as it appears. A drive has been launched by a section of the PPP in Sindh to ensure that the party's leadership remains in the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's family. Bilawal is a Zardari and, therefore, does not fit in with such a scheme of things.


As M. A. Niazi says in an article in The Nation, "Though Benazir (Bhutto's eldest child) ended up inheriting Zulfikar's mantle, the inheritors he intended were his sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz. Shahnawaz died first, leaving a daughter, and was dead by the time Benazir became PM for the first time.


"Murtaza was elected an MPA (Member of Provincial Assembly), though his other candidates were wiped out, in the 1993 election. He was killed, and a distraught Benazir's government was sacked soon after. He left behind a daughter, Fatima, and a son, Zulfikar Ali. Though still a child, some of the Sindh PPP cadres are looking towards him (Zulfikar) as the ultimate successor, not Bilawal, whom they dismiss as 'Zardari's son'."


That may be the reason why the rumour mill has it that President Zardari wants his son to become Prime Minister as soon as possible.


But is Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani willing to vacate his position? He is too powerful today to be shown the door by Mr Zardari.


Gilani's survival strategy


Mr Gilani's closeness to the Pakistan Army is too well known. He is now trying to mend fences with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also. According to Business Recorder, "… there are sharply contrasting positions taken by various factions within the ruling coalition on the two-term bar on a candidate for the office of Prime Minister. Even when Prime Minister Gilani has offered to lift this bar and Mr Nawaz Sharif told his partymen last Sunday that he would accept the repeal of the 17th Amendment untied to his future candidature; the diktat of realpolitik cannot be defied."


Clearly, Mr Gilani is doing everything possible to make his position secure in view of the goings-on in the PPP. He may be the most suitable person to take over as the President of Pakistan once Mr Zardari is compelled to resign. He seems to be working on the strategy that if the Prime Minister's position falls vacant, it should go to Mr Sharif, and not to Bilawal.


"Missing persons" again


The issue of "missing persons", mostly Baloch nationalists abducted by security and intelligence agencies, is again in the limelight. The case relating to the "missing persons", which led to the removal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry during the regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf, has been taken up afresh by a three-member Bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court following a petition filed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.


Despite Prime Minister Gilani's recent assurance in the National Assembly that all those held in custody without taking recourse to the process of law will be set free, nothing substantial has happened so far. Only five of the thousands of "missing persons" have returned home.


According to The Daily Times (Jan 7), "The law states that no person can be kept in custody unless he has been produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest. (But) this law is practiced more in breach by the intelligence and security agencies, and at a more ordinary everyday level, even by the police."


The Supreme Court has given a good dressing-down to the government. The News quoted Mr Justice Javed Iqbal as saying, "There is no law that permits the abduction of people". Then he observed that the intelligence and other agencies had to abide by the law of the land. He reminded them that the days of their arbitrary style of functioning had gone. The judiciary could no longer allow violations of the law once this was brought to its notice.








Facing its worst ever crisis, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) tried to put a brave face and the commander-in-chief of the outfit, Paresh Baruah recently issued a statement enlisting the targets of the outfit in the coming days. After the arrests of the top leaders of the ULFA including the chairman of the outfit, Arabinda Rajkhowa following the crackdown in Bangladesh, Paresh Baruah is virtually isolated as only two of the Central Committee members of the outfit are now out of the security net and this must have prompted the recent aggressive posture by the C-in-C of the outfit. The statement may also be an attempt by the ULFA to boost the morale of the cadres and to show an aggressive face before the Government at the same time. The statement can also be viewed as an attempt by the ULFA to improve the image among the common people of the State as it is now an established fact that the ULFA is fast losing its popularity as majority of the people of Assam are fed up with killings and violence. In fact, the ULFA C-in-C has been making efforts to improve the outfit's image among the people and he recently apologized to the people for the deaths of 13 women and children in Dhemaji on the Independence Day of 2004. In the recent statement also, Paresh Baruah assured the people of Assam that the outfit would not indulge in blasts in public places and asserted that if any member of the ULFA is found to be involved in blasts in public places, strong action would be taken against such person. The killing of innocent persons in blasts in public places in recent times was one of the main reasons for the sharp decline of the popularity of the ULFA and the outfit is apparently trying to make amends by assuring that it would not involve in blasts in public places. The ULFA also announced its decision to target corrupt officials and those harming the interests of Assam in an apparent bid to winning the hearts of the people of Assam, but under the present circumstances, it will not be easy for the outfit to regain its strength as majority of the top leaders are behind the bars.

Meanwhile, the aggressive posture by the ULFA C-in-C will definitely put a major roadblock in the attempts to bring the militant group to the negotiation table for peaceful political solution to the issues raised by the outfit. The Government has been making efforts to start the process of talks and the statement of Paresh Baruah at this juncture may be viewed as lack of willingness of the ULFA to come for talks by the Central and State Governments. Paresh Baruah has also warned that the ULFA would target the security forces of India and the places where the National Days of India would be celebrated. With the Republic Day celebrations approaching, the police and security forces should view the threat seriously and all the venues of the celebrations should be sensitized to prevent the ULFA from triggering off explosions during the celebrations.







Suddenly, as sunlight becomes scarce and the mercury drops parts of Assam and rest of the North East are experiencing a cold spell. The met office has attributed it to a weather phenomenon that is happening far away, which goes on to show how weather could be affected by distant events. Does it have a link with climate change, which after all is responsible for creating more extreme events? Experts would know better, but one thing is certain that the time for Assam to learn lessons on changing weather patterns has arrived. If we have more chills, and warmer summers in the years ahead, we need to have a strategy that ensures that vital sectors like agriculture, transport and energy could adjust to a different reality. To cite one instance, what would be our energy requirements if winters become more acute and summers more warm? Both would result in soaring energy use, especially in the cities where most residents are yet to care about lowering per capita energy consumption. Or how would the health sector cope with the rise in some diseases which are precipitated by extremes in temperature? Difficult questions that need to be attended before it is too late for millions of people, most with little resources or awareness to adapt to an altered physical landscape.

Here it is interesting to note that the current spell of cold weather has resulted in developments and events much more tangible. Delays and postponements in flights and trains have been reported from most capitals of north-estern India. In Assam, both air and train traffic has been affected thanks to poor visibility conditions in northern India. This again points to infrastructural lapses that continue to hold air and train services hostage. Even though fog has been a persistent phenomenon in parts of India, we are yet to have a fool proof system that would ensure that transport services can continue in inclement weather. Winter, and a longer winter to be precise, poses challenges which spread across a fool sectoral range. One cannot help wondering, how a nation with proven capability in some technological fields would attempt to fill in vital gaps to ensure that weather does not impede economic activity to the extent it does today. It is imperative that India makes rapid progress in weather forecasting, in disseminating weather warnings, and develops technologies that can enable smooth functioning of transport systems regardless of weather anomalies. 








NREGA is a landmark legislation in social security. `It marks a paradigm shift from the previous Wage Employment Programmes. Enacted after a successful struggle for an employment guarantee legislation, this legislation is a partial victory towards a full-fledged right to employment in any developing country. The essential feature of this legislation which separates it from any other public service provisioning scheme is it's enactment through Parliament. Unlike earlier employment schemes, it is demand driven. People who need jobs will demand them, which the government is legally bound to provide. In case of failure to do so, the government has to dole out unemployment allowance. For the first time, rural communities have been given not just a development programme, but also 'a regime of rights'. The Act was preceded by three decades of attempts to bring in such legislation. Along with the Right to Information Act, this legislation has been bringing about a silent revolution in rural areas of the country. Such a guarantee of employment would, to some extent, act as a shield for the rural poor and the landless, saving them from the exploitative rich agricultural class.

The Act was applicable to areas notified by the Central Government and would cover the whole country within five years. In its first phase, it was notified in 200 districts across the country. In the second phase the Act has been notified in the financial year 2007-08 in additional 130 districts, bringing the total of number of districts covered by NREGA to 330. In these districts, pre-existing wage employment programmes, the National Food for Work Programme (NFWP) and the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) were merged with NREGA. The remaining 266 districts came under the purview of the Act from April, 2008. Thus, this is the fulfilment of the statuary commitment of the present government.

NREGA guarantees employment for the poor in crisis. It is to trigger labour intensive growth for the economy in the second round through assets that generate mainstream employment. So it is not about creating a permanent army of unskilled workers. It is a tool for transmission of the economy from labour surplus economy to labour using economy. It has two components–cash transfer and creation of productive assets relevant to local needs. The Act fills up the lean four non-agriculture months that average Indian rural habitant faces. The 100 days of guaranteed employment at a minimum wage of Rs 100 per day aim at holding people to villages during this lean period. Though the Act doesn't limit the guarantee to any period, it is assumed that people will demand works only during the lean season. Technically the Act transfers atleast Rs. 6000 a year to an individual, i.e. around one and half times of the annual poverty line figure of Rs. 4272 for rural areas. So the scheme alone can push a person above the poverty line.

After the passage of NREGA in Parliament, each State government was to formulate Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme under Section 4 of NREGA within six months. The Act gave flexibility to .State governments to formulate their own Act according to their 'contextual requirements'. This is the same provision under the Panchayati Raj Act (1992) that allowed the States the right to evolve their own decentralized governance structure. However, the NREGA makes it mandatory for the States to have their schemes within the 'legally non-negotiable parameters'. Village Panchayats are the nodal implementing bodies for NREGA. The Village Panchayat is responsible for planning of works, registering households, issuing job cards and monitoring implementation of the scheme at the village level. Local bodies will plan, design and execute the works to be taken up. This is a step towards making this Act a participatory process and empowering people at the grassroots level. At least 50 per cent of the works under the scheme will be implemented through Village Panchayats. According to the Union Ministry of Rural Development, there are 61,763 Village Panchayats and 1,894 Block Panchayats in the first cluster of 200 districts. The number of implementing agencies, thus, is very high. They are also extremely diverse in their political and socio-economic structures. While Village Panchayats are reportedly implementing 66 per cent of total NREGA works at national level, others including independent implementing agencies and Block Panchayats are implementing around 34 per cent of works. The Act mandates the Panchayats to prepare village-level plans based on local resources and needs. The Act has provision for appointment of employment guarantee assistant in each panchayat for this purpose. These plans are then implemented using the NREGA, which effectively insulates them from political whims and pressures.

The intermediary Panchayat is responsible for planning at the block level, and for monitoring and supervision. This tier of Panchayat is also given works for implementation from the 50 per cent works that are not to be implemented by the Village Panchayat. District Panchayat is responsible for finalising the district plans for NREGA, which is a comprehensive plan of action for the scheme for the district. District Panchayat can also implement works from the 50 per cent non-village Panchayat pool. NREGA is primarily implemented through two planning documents at district level called district perspective plan and annual plan. Though the District Panchayat coordinates the planning process, the other two tiers of Panchayat play crucial roles in the exercise. These two documents are designed as local five-year plans that take care of local needs. Based on these plans the Panchayats identify works. The works are selected keeping in mind its impact on local development. The district perspective plan is intended to facilitate advance planning and to provide a development perspective for the district. This plan is prepared based on the linkages of assets to be created that will help in local development. This plan is usually for five years and based on village level inputs from panchayat.

NREGA can give rise to a new work culture. Hitherto work was decided from above and the workers were controlled by contractors and their middlemen' who knew how to extract work. Now workers themselves decide which work to be undertaken and a new internal dynamics evolved with peer pressure would ensure that they put in their maximum efforts as such projects are for their benefit only. This Act can help in mobilisation and organisation of poor labourers and in breaking down social differences by increased interaction among people working at common work site irrespective of caste, gender and religion. This Act can also be a tool for ecological regeneration and ensuring food and energy security. NREGA is a particularly important strategy in the current economic context of global economic crisis and national economic slowdown, when raising aggregate demand is a major task for the government. Fiscal policy that provides more wage income directly to unskilled workers in rural areas is likely to be much more effective in increasing aggregate incomes than other forms of public spending, because of the higher value of the multiplier in such expenditure. Poor people have lots of unmet essential needs which they will try to fulfil when they have money in their hands. This will give better living standard for these poor on one hand and raise the aggregate expenditure demand for consumer goods on the other.








Climate change resulting from high degree of concentration of green house gases in the atmosphere has become a matter of serious concern of governments and environmentalists throughout the world. Several research studies have revealed that global surface temperature has increased alarmingly in recent years due to rise in the green house gases (such as carbon-dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, ozone, aerosols, CFCs etc.) in the atmosphere which has resulted from the ever increasing human activities and developmental works and has affected the global climate in a massive scale. As the concentration of green house gases increases, the climatologists of the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change), by studying past and present changes of climate, estimate that average global temperature will increase by 6 degree celsius in the near future and if this will happen, then no one will be able to save the earth from extinction. Therefore, it should not be allowed to rise above 2 degree celsius as suggested by the recent Copenhagen Climate Summit.

Climate change is the most important global environmental challenge facing humanity with serious implications on food production, fresh water supply, eco-system and biodiversity, weather and health. Climate change due to global warming leads to rise in the sea-water levels, melting of polar ice, changing wind patterns and shortage of food. It may cause big disaster like massive flood, erosion, cyclonic strom in the coastal areas. The excessive melting of glaciers in the polar regions and Antaretica is also the consequence of this. There have been severe monsoon floods across South Asia, China, Uruguay and extreme heat waves in South Eastern Europe and Russia. Changing climatic pattern drastically affects agriculture and hence food production. Due to higher temperature and reduced rainfall, soil moisture has declined substantially. Since with higher global temperature, more water is evaporated from the oceans, average rainfall world-wide is bound to increase, but the rainfall pattern is disrupted, varying widely among regions and between times. Climate change is likely to threaten all life froms on earth including plants and animals. It poses a great threat to the functioning of our ecosystem and in the maintenance of biological diversity which maintains the natural balance of our earth. The various functions of the ecosystem are essential for continuation of human and other life forms on the planet. But the equilibrium of the eco-system is now disturbed and has put a question mark on the existence of living organisms. For the emerging economics, the negative impacts of climate change could adversely affect their rate of growth. Evidence shows that most of these changes are due to human activities which include transportation, generation of electricity, production of cement, plastics and other materials, household cooking, deforestation, aerosols, burning of fossile fuels etc. Thus, all these lead to socio-economic and ecological disaster which will seriously affect the existance of living organisms and our common future, scientific concensus has identified carbon dioxide (CO2) as the dominant green house gas and is mainly responsible for global warming and climate change. Thus, the world is facing a severe environmental crisis arising from climate change.

The issue of climate change has been widely discussed in the recent United Nations Climate Summit held in Copenhagen where about 192 countries participated. The summit urged the nations to combat climate change through emission curbing measures for which it advocated common but differentiated responsibilities. The Copenhagen Accord does not lay down any binding target for the developed nations to cut emissions beyond 2012 as demanded by the Kyoto Protocol (2005). The summit urged for common but differentiated responsibilities towards the issue by the respective countries of the world. A prominent environmental NGO, Green Peace, in its statement strongly argued that rather than coming together to secure a future for hundred of millions of people by agreeing a historic deal to avert climate chaos, the world's most powerful countries have betrayed future and current generations. Since the developed countries are the largest emitters of green house gases, so they should take the greater responsibilities in emission cut. There was no specified agreement on technology transfer (anti-polluting technology) and funding mechanism for helping developing nations. It is urged that for developing nations, emissions are for development while for the developed nations, emissions are for luxury. So, the summit insisted on the principle of "common but differentiated resposibilities" to tackle the pressing challenge of climate change. To reduce emission, developed countries are asked to provide funds and thransfer green technology to developing countries. The summit has been condemned for failing to finalise a legally binding treaty. However, despite several loopholes, the summit has successfully brought the attention of the international community about the dangers of global warming and man-made climate change and lay the foundations for international actions that are needed to counteract such changes and to ensure sustainable development in the years to come.

Climate change, no longer, remains a local issue, it now becomes a global issue. So the response towards it must be global. There is still time to avoid the worst impact of climate change. A world-wide cooperation is required to prevent futher worsening of the climate. A cost-benefit analysis of climate change reveals that though costs are large, benefits of avoiding further damage to the earth are greater. To save our blue planet and all its inhabitants from the worst impact of climate change, nations should take steps to reduce green house gases at source. Reduction of green house gases in the atmosphere calls for – using substitutes of CFCs, imposing of carbon tax, enhancing energy efficiency, emission trading, increase afforestation, switch over to non-fossile fuel sources of energy, clean development mechanism, using energy saving bulbs, going for renewable source of power like wind power and solar power, travelling by public transport and bicycles instead of cars etc. Moreover, the risks of worst impact of climate change can be substantially reduced if green house gases in the atmosphere can be stabilised. Mass awarenes campaign and counselling services should be conducted by the local NGOs of the respective countries for reducing green house gas emissions and the resultant climate change. All the nations, irrespective of their level of development, must come forward unitedly without making any differences in their approaches to tackle the growth of this problem on a war footing with a view to save the blue planet from extinction.

(The writer teaches Economics in Dhubri Girls' College)








When L N Mittal voices his frustration at his inability to make any headway with his plans for investment in India, he speaks not only for himself but for the large body of potential investors, both domestic and foreign, who find their best investment decisions speedily come to naught. True, the best-laid plans of men and mice often do go awry anywhere, but nowhere do they go so awry with such unerring regularity and for the same reason as in India.

The main stumbling block is the inability to release land for non-traditional uses with the consent of those who live off, if not always own, the land in question, along with the rent-seeking propensities of our politicians and their henchmen in the bureaucracy. We have seen it again and again in the Doing Business reports of the World Bank that repeatedly place India at the bottom of the list when it comes to ease of doing business. We saw it most recently in the case of the Tatas' investment in Singur.

Domestic investors like the Tatas might still opt to stick it out; at worst, they may shift to more investment-friendly climes within the country. But that is not the case with overseas investors for whom India is just one among many competing avenues for investment. Yes, we have a large and growing middle class, we have the rule of law, sort of, a stable political system, a robust economy and so on.

But there is only thus far that we can piggyback on these advantages. At the end of the day, businesses want to be able to get down to business. And if, for whatever reason — be it land acquisition or environmental clearance — they are forced to keep their plans on hold for an unconscionably long period, they will pack their bags and go.

Yet, it is not as though we can afford to let such investment go. On the contrary, we desperately need all the investment we can get to build not just manufacturing facilities and power plants but roads, bridges, ports, airports, the works. India estimatedly needs $500 billion in the next five years for infrastructure alone.

But none of this will materialise unless we create an enabling environment, both soft — in terms of changed mindsets — and hard — land, clearances etc. That is what the government needs to work on. Increasing absorptive capacity is the key. It will kill two birds with one stone: resolve the issue of 'surplus' dollars and provide the much-needed driver for growth.







The Supreme Court's (SC) concern over the rising incidence of road accidents in India as well as the need to grant timely and adequate compensation to victims of such mishaps is legitimate. Its prescription is, however, limited to the method of compensation and falls far short of tackling the root cause of the malaise. This calls for multi-dimensional change, in things ranging from urban planning, a culture of unquestioning respect for destiny, putatively foretold, and lack of any for the rules of man, particularly on traffic, and the preparedness for trauma care for accident victims to a more democratic, accountable culture of policing.

Law enforcers need to dispel the fear among citizens and hospitals of getting involved in medico-legal cases. Traffic flow will be smooth if roads are upgraded, traffic rules are enforced and the public is educated. Urban planners should factor in the safety needs of road users such as pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and other vulnerable groups who comprise a large chunk of the fatalities. Sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, separate lanes for two-wheelers and lane discipline among motorists will help curb accidents.

Higher investment in public transport and improvement in trauma care is also a necessity. New road projects have to be audited for safety. Likewise, there should be regular audits for the existing road infrastructure, unlike the case now. It is, therefore, not surprising that India has earned the dubious distinction of a country with one of the largest number of motor accident deaths and injuries. Road-related injuries were reported at around 1.5 lakh in 2008, up from 1.1 lakh in 2007.

As several of these accidents are hit-and-run cases, compensation does pose a problem. The SC has suggested the creation of a special fund by levying a cess on the sale of petrol or a one-time premium on the sale of new vehicles. Whether the state is responsible for all accident victims is a question to be settled by the legislature, and the question of funding compensation would arise after that. Insurance schemes make far more sense. The SC can, on its part, make sure that compensation claims against insurance companies do not get caught up in prolonged legal tangles.








MUMBAI: Traders may find it more viable to trade in stock futures and options (F&O) starting April. In a circular issued on Friday, market regulator Sebi said lot sizes of single stock F&O contracts will be aligned to changes in stock prices. Lot size, which is the number of underlying units that form an F&O contract, is multiplied with the share price to calculate the value of the contract. Sebi rules require F&O contracts, other than mini contracts, to have at least Rs 2 lakh in value.

Currently, stock exchanges fix lot sizes of F&O contracts and are not altered more than couple of times a year. In the event of the sharp rise in stock prices, fixed lot sizes became unviable for retail traders.

For instance, if ABC shares are at Rs 500 apiece, then the lot size of ABC's F&O contracts should be at least 400 shares (derived by minimum contract value — 2,00,000/share price — 500). But if ABC shares rise to Rs 1,000 and the lot size remains 400, then the contract value shoots up, requiring traders to deposit higher initial margins with brokers.

The market regulator's latest move will solve this problem. Hereon, lot sizes will be determined by the band in which a stock trades (refer to table for the price band). If ABC is at Rs 500, then the lot size would be 500 shares. And if the stock rises to Rs 1,000, the minimum lot size would reduce to 250 shares.

"Stock exchanges will review the lot size once in every six months based on the average of the closing price of the underlying for the past one month and wherever warranted, revise the lot size by giving an advance notice of at least two weeks to the market," Sebi said. "If the revised lot size is higher than the existing one, it will be effective for only new contracts," it added.

Brokers said the move would boost volumes in the stock futures segment. "It is a much-awaited step, because the sharp rise in stocks were deterring traders from taking meaningful bets in stock futures," said Alex Mathews, head-derivatives and technical research, Geojit BNP Paribas Financial Services.








MUMBAI: Broking firm India Infoline expects a roller-coaster movement in Indian equities in 2010, noting that the mood is one of caution. India Infoline is of the view that though near-term technical momentum for the market seems positive, a rally is unlikely to sustain if the forecast growth doesn't come in. However, the absence of hysterical greed or euphoria is certainly a comfort.

"Consensus Nifty EPS estimate for FY12 assumes a 50% jump over FY10 levels, which is prima facie reasonable, given the big increase in new capacities across sectors and the low base from near-zero EPS growth through FY08-10. We believe that global growth cycle is supportive, but the global cycle needs to be complimentary enough," said broking firm's India Strategy report.

Given their positive stance on consumption, India Infoline's portfolio strategy is to be overweight on all sectors linked to the consumption chain. "In addition, we overweight pharma and software sectors as earnings momentum remains strongly positive, with more upgrades to come. While a tightening liquidity environment is not necessarily conducive for banks, we believe that a lot of negative news is in the price and a revival in credit growth is a matter of time. We overweight banks as well. A major recovery in the global growth cycle would be the key risk to our portfolio stance," the report said.

On FII flows, the broking firm is of the view that it will remain positive, given the increased asset allocations to India. Adding a note of caution, however, it maintains that history shows, net institutional buying alone is no guarantee for markets to give positive returns. With the government keen on divestment, they expect capital raising in 2010 to be as robust as in 2009.

"We don't think such large capital-raising by itself should have much of an adverse impact on valuations. If anything, large and good quality paper issues such as the expected issue by Coal India are welcome, as they will help attract more sticky foreign capital and enhance market breadth," said the report.








MUMBAI: Think dividends, and there is a high probability that companies that come to mind happen to be multinationals (MNCs). MNCs have been consistent when it comes to rewarding shareholders, and maintaining payout ratios. But local companies, mainly public sector enterprises (PSUs) and large conglomerates, seem to be catching up slowly.

About 60 companies have a payout ratio of 25% plus in the past 10 years. The payout ratio is the percentage of dividend paid by companies out of their total profits. About a dozen-odd companies are MNCs that have paid staggering dividend running into thousands of crores in the past 10 years.

For instance, some of the MNCs like Castrol, Nestle, Colgate and HUL have paid over 75% of their net profits, amounting to over Rs 15,000 crore as dividend in the past 10 years. However, there is a catch. Analysts say that a significant part of the payout is repatriated to their foreign promoters. Most of these foreign promoters have been raising their holdings in their Indian arms over the past few years.

"A number of companies, which are in the matured phase of their business cycle, typically have a higher dividend payout ratio, since apart from maintenance capex, they don't have any other liability," says Vishal Jajoo, equity analyst, FCH Centrum Broking.

"Ideally, if a company is able to generate higher returns compared with what a shareholder earns by investing his dividends on retained earnings (assuming it is in the capex mode), it should retain the cash with itself," he says. While it may not be possible for all large Indian corporates to match their MNC counterparts in terms of dividend payout ratio, or in absolute terms, they are trying their best to keep shareholders happy. There is a growing tendency among corporates — both large, and mid-sized to reward their shareholders with large payouts.

For instance, Balmer Lawrie, a public sector undertaking, is one such instance of an Indian company maintaining a high dividend payout ratio. In the case of PSUs, a sizeable chunk of the dividends goes to the government, by virtue of it being the largest shareholder.

The list contains some well-known Indian companies that have been generously doling out dividends. These include Tata Elxsi, Ashok Leyland, Tata Tea, Asian Paints, Supreme Industries, Chambal Fertilisers, Indian Hotels, HDFC, ONGC, GAIL and National Fertilisers, among others. These firms have paid over 35% of their net profit as dividend in the past 10 years and have consistently been paying more than 25% every year.

The list also includes many mid-sized companies that have over 30% payout ratio consistently for the decade. Some of these are Ador Welding, VIP Industries, Varun Shipping and Apollo Hospitals, among others. But should one invest in these companies that have a very high payout ratio?

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Similarly, dividends in the hands of the investors are of much higher value compared with the cash lying with the company," says Mr Jajoo. "As a result, these companies enjoy higher valuations because of these payouts. One way to justify these valuations is that since the company pays out a significant portion of its earnings as dividends, the return on equity (RoE) is pretty high on account of the lower base," adds Mr Jajoo.







Tu-Tu main-main sounds like a kabaddi mantra of one-upmanship. It is the title of a serial about a saucy saas and her back-answering bahu. In idiomatic Hindi, tu-tu main-main is synonymous with name-calling. So, why are so many of our relationships, which are supposedly made in heaven, marred by discord? This is partly due to innate tendencies or what the Bhagavad Gita calls guna or prakrurti:

"We all contain a measure of dark and light, of good and bad; we all have the potential to hurt each other as much as we have the potential to love," write Ed and Deb Shapiro in Be the change: How meditation can transform you and the world. "The greed, hatred, and ignorance in another person can cause great damage, but within each being is also the potential for kindness, generosity and selflessness."

So, how does one ensure that dialogue, not discord, is the result of our interpersonal, familial or even corporate communication?

First of all, do not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness, advises the late American humourist James Thurber. This will enable you to grow heavenly roses out of slinkiest compost. It's also a matter of setting your perspective and priority. Take your pick: lotus or the muck? Half-empty or still to brim over?

The Shapiros carry the principle forward with the story of the scorpion stinging the frog that was ferrying it across a river. Both drown. It demonstrates how fixed and self-absorbed we become to the point of jeopardising our own welfare, they add.

"But we can transform this self-centred aspect of our nature by opening our hearts and awakening us to othercentredness (through meditation, right action and self-reflection)." Then we have the choice to be able to offer generosity in place of selfishness, kindness in place of malice and mildness in place of malevolence. How? Listen to the story of two monks washing their begging bowls in a river when they notice a drowning scorpion.

One monk, who scoops it up promptly, gets stung as he's setting it on a bank. He goes back to washing his bowl even as the scorpion falls back in the river. Then the second monk saves the creature despite getting stung again.

"Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?" asks the first monk. "Because my nature is to save," is the reply.

Become aware of your own inner self before blaming others. Look for it and concord will follow.









After thirteen months of contraction, exports grew strongly in November last year, but a number of sectors are continuing to struggle in the highly competitive world market. In an exclusive interview with ET, commerce secretary Rahul Khullar talks about why it is important not to suddenly withdraw the stimulus package given to the industry merely on the basis of numbers and other issues. Excerpts:

Exports are no longer in the negative zone. Can we finally say now that exports are ready to stand on their own?

It is still too early. I am not going by the November numbers. That is history. I don't want to extrapolate that into the future. But through December, I have had discussions with various exporters and that gives me good reason to believe that things are looking better than they were earlier. I can't say whether those signals would translate into actual numbers immediately or in a couple of months because there is atime lag between orders, deliveries and payments.

Is there still a case for continuation of the stimulus package?

We also have to see aggregate numbers. I have maintained that we will not be able to meet last year's $188 billion. What is the point of saying, November or December numbers are 20% better, if in the aggregate you are not better off. Just because a patient in the hospital was almost dead yesterday but not today, is no reason to pop the champagne. I think you have to retain the stimulus till you see some recovery. After all, if keeping stimulus in place keeps economic activity alive, revenue comes in.

Some economists are of the view that the India-Asean free trade agreement will not fetch much benefit for the Indian industry and all gains will be on the services side. How true is it?

That is not fair. We have very strong interests even on the goods side. Laos and Cambodia may be small, but think of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia which are huge open economies and heavily import dependent. We have deliberately kept looking at the West. They (Asean countries) are our neighbours. We should make an effort and try to do business with them or else watch China take over those markets. Indian companies are already doing business there. Toyota Kirloskar was exporting stuff to Thailand till recently when they had to stop because of some glitch. Whirlpool, too, is exporting refrigerators there. We have to give it a fair chance.

Why are there still concerns surrounding the FTA?

I will tell you where the problem is. In 2004 we did an early harvest programme with Thailand. That got us a very bad name. On 74 lines, we reduced duties straight to zero. We were inundated with imports of these items. I agree that it was a mistake. But merely because you made a mistake once does not mean that you are going to do it again. Now I have protected my defensive concerns adequately and have pushed my interests.









Hyundai is the world's fastest-growing car company and its new range of products are quite a rage in the most competitive market like the US andEurope and is now 4th largest automaker after Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen. Company's agenda with growth is taken cars of by W C Yang, President R&D Hyundai Motors Corp who has conceptualised big luxury cars like the Genesis saloon to small cars being produced under the Kia brand. Yang spoke to ET on the broad spectrum that will course the growth for Hyundai Motors which is also the largest car exporter from India. Excerpts:


After turning out to be the most successful Korean car maker what's your prime focus?

We want to establish Hyundai as foremost name luxury. Like the BMW 7Series, Mercedes SClass and Toyota Lexus we want to be in the same league. World class luxury car where customers are proud to drive our cars globally.

Hyundai is the next Toyota in the making. But still after all the success, what are the other challenges for the company?

We have all kind of technology to keep ahead of the competition and take strides in the global market. With R&D playing a major role we are not complacent and are working hard to improve efficiencies of our vehicles. Improving fuel efficiency is an ongoing challenge but developing the next-generation of automotive fuel remain the biggest issue to scratch our heads all the time.

That transpires that the technology will play and determine the future leader in global auto mart?
The global pecking order is changing. Americans were the leaders in technology 15-20 years back and then there were the Japanese. Now the global phenomena is such that US auto companies are burrowing and buying technologies from Asians.

Hyundai's new range of technology including the alternative and hybrids have been highly appreciated in the US. Where does you stand in developed future hybrid technologies?

Currently we are at par with the Japanese in most areas. Our technology is comparable with the best in the world. Our new range of hybrid vehicles would be our in 2011 and it would be a delight to witness that technology and its inbuilt efficiencies.

What other aspects would determine success in automotive world?

We have had one of the most aesthetically designed cars in our stable. Styling is important but we also draw huge importance on convenience without compromising comfort. Blends of both keep the customers excited and urge them to go for our cars.

What are the traits of Indian customers' and what do you keep in mind when you are developing new cars?
Indian customers are the most demanding in the world. They need comfort utility and stylish cars without any compromise in cabin space and roominess. They want global standards and luxury features in small cars that come in Indian prices. It's a challenge to meet all these parameters often which are difficult to be achieved.

So Hyundai has set up a new R&D centre at Hyderabad where critical parts of its new $4000-5000 small car is being developed. How will it emerge under Hyundai's global R&D?

We have ambitious plans to develop Hyderabad into a major R&D hub for the Asia-Pacific level. It's a challenge to get the right talent and nurture then to develop next level of cars. We would be harnessing Indian inherent Information Technology talent. Initially we will enrich the design talent for local needs and try to develop some basic technology like outer body parts and components. Critical work will be done by us to make the car for global standards.









TVS, India's third-largest two-wheeler manufacturer, has been keeping a low profile for a while but with two new products all set to hit the market in January and February 2010, MD Venu Srinivasan is looking to take his two-wheeler tally to two million next year. In a free-wheeling interview, Mr Srinivasan talks about his company's affinity to niche segments and his expectations from Jive and Wego. Excerpts:

You showcased an electric hybrid scooter at the Auto Expo this week called Qube 2.0. When will it be commercially made and sold?

We have been working on this one for more than 18 months. Right now, just the development phase of the hybrid technology is over. The hybrid part needs many changes. We will launch it in the market towards the middle of this year in small volumes, probably offering it on a lease or rental basis. That way we can track the performance, durability and reliability of the technology for 6-9 months. Based on that feedback, we will take it to next level of mass production. We developed the Qube under a contract development agreement with Ricardo. We also showcased a three-wheeler hybrid though we're not sure its benefits are commensurate with costs in the long term. The hybrid scooter is a more serious product.

You are the number three player in a market dominated by Hero Honda with over 50% market share and with Bajaj as a strong number two. Where do you see TVS in such a scenario?

As a company we tend to look for niches where we can make a big play. The Scooty is one such segment. Apache is another. In more mass volume segments, we have a different positioning. In the entry-level segment for instance, our Star is sturdier and more durable while mopeds are a segment unique to us though small volume and poor margin.

But there are ranges where you are not present at all or present only with a single product...
Correct. In motorcycles we were not present in 40% of the market which is dominated by Hero Honda's Splendor/Passion range. The city commuter market is huge and we are present mostly in towns. When the Victor was phased out, we lost the city market. With the newly-launched Jive, we will re-enter that market. It's the 110cc, Rs 40,000-42,000 bike market that's the bulk of the current motorcycle spread. So Jive is crucial. Based on that, we are aiming at 2 million two-wheeler unit sales in the new year, up from 1.6 million in current year.

Does that mean you will focus less on scooters and mopeds...your traditional markets?

It's one more product range with set customers. But scooter numbers are significantly smaller than motorcycles. With our range – the Scooty Pep and Streak and the Wego—we are reasonably full up on scooters. As for mopeds, they will continue because they are a utility segment with a certain level of customers. The moped leads on to the entry-level bike...and is the real bottom of the two-wheeler pyramid. With Wego and Jive, we will become a more mainstream company.

In a market that's almost commoditised, how will you position the Jive as a differentiated product?

No matter where you are in India, when rush hour starts, traffic comes to a crawl. Cars offer drivers some comfort by going automatic. Motorcycles need something similar, stress-free option. Something that makes the drive bearable. Scooters offer that but their mileage is a problem. Hence the semi-automatic bikes, no clutch use and an engine that doesn't stop. We have also added some sweet features like space for an umbrella or water bottle under the seat. It's also the sweetest engine in our stable.

Suddenly the superbike segment is buzzing with all the international players here in full force. TVS had once shown interest to buy the Royal Enfield...will you make a muscle bike yourself?
For us to make a muscle bike is too much effort with too little benefit. Our focus is on less-than-125cc bikes. That doesn't mean we won't make the occasional 180cc or 160cc but the real Indian market is at the bottom of the pyramid.

What about fresh capacity?

Next year we will start our expansion projects to take capacity to 2.5 million two-wheelers by 2011-2012.


And exports?

We did less than 200,000 units this year and want to do 240,000 next year. We have added Brazil and Philippines (to our markets) and also sell in South America, Africa and some Asean markets from our Indonesian assembly unit. Our breakeven in Indonesia is 60,000 units but we are now at 20,000; so we have a while to go.

What's the update on the case with Bajaj?

It's in court and the trial should start now. One of the reasons why we haven't taken the technology to other products in our range is because we are waiting for the outcome of the case.








National Aluminium Co (Nalco), the country's largest state-run aluminium major, has big plans to grow beyond aluminium. Its board has recently approved a Vision 2020 document, which includes a plan to create three wholly-owned subsidiaries to spearhead its foray into other non-ferrous metals and energy. Nalco will emerge as a mother company with Nalco Metals, Nalco Power and Nalco International as its three subsidiaries.

These companies will be the investment vehicles for Nalco's proposed diversification: Nalco Metals for getting into non-ferrous metals like copper, gold and uranium; Nalco Power investment in the energy sector as an independent power producer (IPP) and Nalco International will invest in overseas ventures on behalf of Nalco. B L Bagra, director of finance at Nalco, give a peek into Vision 2020.

Over the last couple of years, Nalco has been spreading its wings both geographically and to diversify into areas other than aluminium. For the first time in its history, Nalco has taken up a project overseas in Indonesia. "We wanted to lay out a clear roadmap of its plans and actions over the next decade for the benefit of investors and other stakeholders," Mr Bagra says, explaining the thought behind the document.

Nalco is setting up a 0.5 million tonne (mt) aluminium smelter and a 1,250 mw thermal power plant at Kalimantan in Indonesia, where it has teamed up with UAE-based RAK Minerals. The latter is also handling the coal, port and rail infrastructure facilities for the project. The project is linked to Nalco's plan to utilise its domestic alumina output by converting it into metal in countries that have lower energy costs. So, where else is Nalco scouting for cheap energy sources, globally?

"Apart from Indonesia where we have made progress, we are also exploring possibilities in Iran. But we are yet to make much progress there. Thus, we have decided to bring all our overseas investments under a single company, Nalco International."

While the geographic spread make sense, what is the logic behind the company's decision to get into other non-ferrous metals? "Our diversification into other metals is also a strategic move. It is aimed at sustaining our bottomline. We have no control over LME prices, which are often volatile. We need to diversify."

Similarly, the company's proposed joint venture with Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) is part of its diversification into the energy sector. "This will generate an additional, steady revenue stream for us."
Apart from nuclear power, it is also looking at wind power and a couple of hydel projects. "Our vision is to club all these activities through IPP or merchant sales in energy sector under Nalco Power." But captive power plants, both existing and proposed, will not be brought under Nalco Power.

Linked to its foray into merchant power business are its plans in uranium mining. The company is exploring possibilities for copper, gold and uranium in Namibia. "But it is early stage," he says, adding that investments into other ferrous metals like copper, gold or uranium will thus be made by Nalco Metals.

When are these new companies likely to be created? The wholly-owned subsidiaries are to be incorporated as and when the need to inject equity arises. "For instance, we will incorporate Nalco Power at the time when we receive all other approvals for our joint venture with NPCIL. Nalco's foray into nuclear power will be through a 51:49 joint venture between NPCIL and Nalco Power. Right now, we have signed a memorandum of understanding and formed a steering committee to decide on the location and size of the proposed nuclear power plant."

The process is likely to be completed over the next two months. "Since nuclear power generation is at least twice as expensive as thermal power, Nalco is looking at a cost of Rs 8-9 crore per megawatt," Bagra says. The minimum size of the plant is likely to be 1,000-1,400 mw.

So, what kind of target has the company set for itself? "Nalco is expected to achieve a power generation capacity of 1,000 mw by 2016. On the metals front, Nalco hopes to reach a capacity of 1.7 mt of aluminium and 4 mt of alumina from both its domestic and overseas facilities by 2020."









National Aluminium Co (Nalco), the country's largest state-run aluminium major, has big plans to grow beyond aluminium. Its board has recently approved a Vision 2020 document, which includes a plan to create three wholly-owned subsidiaries to spearhead its foray into other non-ferrous metals and energy. Nalco will emerge as a mother company with Nalco Metals, Nalco Power and Nalco International as its three subsidiaries.

These companies will be the investment vehicles for Nalco's proposed diversification: Nalco Metals for getting into non-ferrous metals like copper, gold and uranium; Nalco Power investment in the energy sector as an independent power producer (IPP) and Nalco International will invest in overseas ventures on behalf of Nalco. B L Bagra, director of finance at Nalco, give a peek into Vision 2020.

Over the last couple of years, Nalco has been spreading its wings both geographically and to diversify into areas other than aluminium. For the first time in its history, Nalco has taken up a project overseas in Indonesia. "We wanted to lay out a clear roadmap of its plans and actions over the next decade for the benefit of investors and other stakeholders," Mr Bagra says, explaining the thought behind the document.

Nalco is setting up a 0.5 million tonne (mt) aluminium smelter and a 1,250 mw thermal power plant at Kalimantan in Indonesia, where it has teamed up with UAE-based RAK Minerals. The latter is also handling the coal, port and rail infrastructure facilities for the project. The project is linked to Nalco's plan to utilise its domestic alumina output by converting it into metal in countries that have lower energy costs. So, where else is Nalco scouting for cheap energy sources, globally?

"Apart from Indonesia where we have made progress, we are also exploring possibilities in Iran. But we are yet to make much progress there. Thus, we have decided to bring all our overseas investments under a single company, Nalco International."

While the geographic spread make sense, what is the logic behind the company's decision to get into other non-ferrous metals? "Our diversification into other metals is also a strategic move. It is aimed at sustaining our bottomline. We have no control over LME prices, which are often volatile. We need to diversify."

Similarly, the company's proposed joint venture with Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) is part of its diversification into the energy sector. "This will generate an additional, steady revenue stream for us."
Apart from nuclear power, it is also looking at wind power and a couple of hydel projects. "Our vision is to club all these activities through IPP or merchant sales in energy sector under Nalco Power." But captive power plants, both existing and proposed, will not be brought under Nalco Power.

Linked to its foray into merchant power business are its plans in uranium mining. The company is exploring possibilities for copper, gold and uranium in Namibia. "But it is early stage," he says, adding that investments into other ferrous metals like copper, gold or uranium will thus be made by Nalco Metals.

When are these new companies likely to be created? The wholly-owned subsidiaries are to be incorporated as and when the need to inject equity arises. "For instance, we will incorporate Nalco Power at the time when we receive all other approvals for our joint venture with NPCIL. Nalco's foray into nuclear power will be through a 51:49 joint venture between NPCIL and Nalco Power. Right now, we have signed a memorandum of understanding and formed a steering committee to decide on the location and size of the proposed nuclear power plant."

The process is likely to be completed over the next two months. "Since nuclear power generation is at least twice as expensive as thermal power, Nalco is looking at a cost of Rs 8-9 crore per megawatt," Bagra says. The minimum size of the plant is likely to be 1,000-1,400 mw.

So, what kind of target has the company set for itself? "Nalco is expected to achieve a power generation capacity of 1,000 mw by 2016. On the metals front, Nalco hopes to reach a capacity of 1.7 mt of aluminium and 4 mt of alumina from both its domestic and overseas facilities by 2020."




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Recent remarks by the Indian Army Chief, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, have created a veritable firestorm in the Pakistani media. The offending observation — made at a closed-door seminar of the Army's Training Command — had suggested that Indian forces had the capability to fight a simultaneous two-front war against Pakistan and China. The chief of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff committee, Gen. Tariq Majid, moved swiftly to respond that Gen. Kapoor's statement reflected "lack of strategic acumen" on India's part. The Pakistan government's official spokesman urged the world to take "due note" of India's hegemonic and hostile intentions. US ambassador in Islamabad Anne Patterson did what she could to oblige. In a local television interview, she said of Gen. Kapoor's reported statement: "That was a silly thing to say... Lots of people say silly things on both sides of the border." However, what occasions greater surprise than the reflections of Pakistan's military brass is the observation of a well-known Pakistani civilian defence specialist that Gen. Kapoor's comment showed a shift had occurred in India's civil-military relations, with the weight moving in favour of the military!

The most remarkable aspect of the Pakistani reactions is how little even supposedly informed sections of society know about the Indian system (and this is likely to be more than true the other way round). This is an argument for greater interaction across a wider spectrum among ordinary folk on both sides, for people could tend to feed on government-generated hysteria out of ignorance. This is probably true everywhere, but more so in a country like Pakistan where propaganda plays a key part in manufacturing consent for the Army's stranglehold on the levers of power on a long-term basis. Especially for the sake of our interlocutors in Pakistan, it is important to communicate that in this country the military has virtually next to no voice even in the matter of defence acquisitions, leave alone the determination of strategic doctrine. The latter is for the Prime Minister and the Union Cabinet to lay down, as was the case at the time of the Kargil conflict, and before that in the matter of the exposition of the nuclear doctrine in the aftermath of Pokhran-II. Pakistanis who worry about the shift of the tectonic plate in the realm of civil-military relations in India may let their hair down without entertaining fears of displaying professional carelessness. In India, Gen. Kapoor's reflections were noted only in passing by students of foreign affairs or security matters, and not at all by other media consumers. The US ambassador in Islamabad has put the finger on the reason. It might be instructive to recall in this context some of the deliberations in international security circles in the US in the Bush years when voices grew loud (before the start of the Iraq and the Afghan campaigns) that America must be ready to fight a war on two fronts. In the event, US military resources had to be pulled out of Afghanistan to prosecute the Iraq war, with disastrous consequences for the situation in Afghanistan. Indian generals can, thus, afford to be more realistic in their assessments. But should they be stopped from going public on occasion? That too would be silly.
The more interesting, however, is Gen. Kapoor's articulation of last November, which too was pulverised in Pakistan. The general had noted that the prospect of limited war under a nuclear overhang was very much a reality in our part of the world. Since Kargil has occurred, there is little to object to here. The Kargil fighting initiated by Pakistani generals put paid to the comfortable belief that states with nuclear weapons try to avoid any conventional fighting against one another. With asymmetrical fighting options provided by terrorists for Pakistan, India would be unrealistic not to study this model more thoroughly.








 "A little schadenfreude never hurt nobody"From Proverbs of the Hun by Herr Bachchoo


The law of libel is again causing a stir in England as the science writer Simon Singh has been given leave to appeal against the guilty verdict passed by Mr Justice Eady on an article he wrote against the claims of chiropractors. Simon is a respected writer and scientific journalist who interprets complex scientific history and research for the lay reader. He wrote an article in the Guardian which alleged that chiropractors were "knowingly promoting bogus therapies" which purported to cure asthma, to get rid of and prevent ear infections and to remedy many childhood illnesses. He based his allegations on scientific research which had tested the efficacy of the therapies and was merely reporting what the research had proved.


The British Chiropractic Association sued Singh and the Guardian for libel. They won the case on the very narrow grounds of the spread of meaning of the word "knowingly". This implied, concluded Justice Eady, that Simon Singh was accusing chiropractors of deceiving their patients and potential clients. Singh was able to prove his contention that the treatments had no discernible effects and couldn't be called "cures" in any sense, but the court awarded against him specifying that in addition he had to prove that the chiropractors themselves did not believe that their therapies worked. This is of course impossible. There is no way of proving what the chiropractor has in his mind when prescribing or practising the therapy.


Singh's intention in exposing "alternative therapies" and faith medicines is very clear in his original article. If he is guilty of anything it is the supposition that the therapists themselves don't believe that the therapies they are charging for their remedies.


The extreme interpretation of libel law used by Justice Eady in concluding that he was guilty is about to be challenged in the appeal courts where the Chief Justice Lord Judge and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, will hear the case. They may take the view that what Singh and the Guardian intended was simply to say that alternative therapies were not effective and it would be the responsibility of the chiropractors to keep up with the research that proved it.


The law of libel is quite complex. When I worked as a TV executive for Channel 4 one had to be aware of the elements of it, as all documentary, current affairs, news programmes and even dramas and comedies had to be subjected to legal scrutiny to ensure that they didn't break the broadcasting laws and that they could not be deemed guilty of libel. Very many programmes, one a day at least, carried the risk of being on the wrong side of the interpretation of these laws and our team of lawyers at the channel were repeatedly bold enough to take a risk if the public interest as in the case of Simon Singh, and bogus alternative medicine, was at stake.


Something that the general public are unaware of is that one can't libel the dead. This is irrespective of the status of the person. I can, in writing, say what I like, whether it's true or not, about dead "enemies" (the "live" or half-alive ones have nothing to fear!) or indeed about deceased heroes, heroines and icons of the nation. That their descendants and families object to what I say does not make me guilty of libel and any complaint they make on that score will, by definition, not be deemed libellous.


In India, it would seem, the libel law is more flexible and while in principle it follows British and international libel law in stating that one can't libel the dead, one may easily find oneself in court for publishing anything about nationally respected figures.

I found that out when I wrote the screenplay for Mangal Pandey: The Rising who is reputed to have fired the first shot of what the British called the Indian Mutiny. People purporting to be descendants of Mangal Pandey took the producer, director and myself to court alleging "disrespect" of some sort to a supposed national hero. The case was thrown out but, Mangal being long dead, it was somewhat puzzling that it was heard at all. Perhaps there is a law against libelling the "heroic" dead. Or it may not be a law — it may just be a convention that one doesn't say nasty things about Mahatma Gandhi or Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and it is very evident that libelling Shivaji Maharaj or Guru Gobind Singh may not get one dragged into a court of libel law but it would certainly be a direct ticket to needing heavy plastic and other limb surgery.


The same doesn't apply in Britain to Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill or even Jesus Christ. Why? One needs, as the American Jewish idiom would have it, to "go figure".


Apart from the Mangal Pandey incident I have only once been associated with a libel case and this time as the injured party (being associated with a film in which a woman bandit was raped and being indicted by interested parties for it doesn't strictly count). Libel actions are notoriously expensive and when an article in an Indian weekly said some extremely baseless and abusive things about me I was inclined to take it on the chin and move on. My employers, about whose practices the article was also baselessly critical, decided to sue the Kolkata-based publication for libel on my behalf.


The case got as far as the magazine's legal advisers who judged the article to be a clearly libellous pack of — shall we call it malicious invention? — and recommended that £10,000 be paid in an immediate out-of-court settlement and a grovelling apology be published in the magazine. I didn't bother to check on the adequacy of the apology — perhaps there wasn't one as the magazine was compelled through loss to close thereafter, but the share of the "damages" which the channel insisted I have was not in the least damaging but rather fulfilling.


Now we wait for the fate of Simon Singh, a case which will be decided in February. If he wins as we must hope he does, it may not be as historically significant as Galileo's lost case against his ecclesiastical inquisitors or Captain Dreyfus and Emile Zola's victory for justice and truth, but it will be a blow for scientific truth against the boogoo notions that are so prevalent in our gullible world.








Healthcare 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 sub-prime 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 US 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 nationalised 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 realised 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 OK. Not great, but OK. 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 US President Barack 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.








I stare at the huge building with the distaste that old-timers have for the new. A giant block of white and navy blue on stilts to accommodate a car park, with big glass windows permanently shut and unwelcoming uniformed guards at the closed gate. The concrete block stares back at me with the hauteur of the new generation determined to fight the past to establish their presence.


Once there was a three-storey house here — light grey with dark grey-blue highlights — an old-fashioned modern house with an iron gate that we swung on as children, a little courtyard where we snuck in to play as the policemen lounging on the bench out front looked on. This was our neighbour Jyotibabu's house. We knew Jyotibabu was an important man, though it wasn't exactly clear what he did. But I knew he was very busy because his wife Kamaldi, a beautiful, well-groomed woman, kept lamenting to Dimma, my Ma's Ma, about his disinterest in domestic affairs. "Let him be," Dimma would say, regally arranging her paan in her silver paan-box, "men are like that. And he does have a lot to do."


Which he did. An uncompromising idealist, Jyoti Basu balanced conservative ground realities with his progressive ideological vision and established a culture of Communist governance that was also very human. Right from his early days as a trade union leader to his tenure as chief minister, Jyotibabu never let political theory blur his social vision.


Overcoming almost impossible odds, he somewhat empowered the poor and the women in a state that was strategically important yet underdeveloped and overpopulated, its services overloaded by an influx of refugees from East Pakistan, and later from Bangladesh. His commitment to secularism kept sectarian passions in check in this Partition-hit state steeped in the memory of communal violence. Most of all, his pathbreaking land reforms, along with his commitment to democratic decentralisation and devolution of power down to the panchayat level, vastly empowered the rural peasantry.


A founder member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after the Communist Party of India broke up in 1964, Jyoti Basu is one of the architects of the Left movement in India. The giant strides West Bengal took under his early chief ministership established the Communists as a credible and constructive political force in the country.


It owed as much to his political vision as his personality. Comrade Jyoti Basu remained a proper gentleman, clean, sincere, trusted, who won you over not with the power of rhetoric but with clear, straightforward comments and by explaining what could or could not be done. The masses loved him with a passion. The bhadralok could identify with this sophisticated, intellectually sound barrister-at-law who returned from London to work at the grassroots. Even those who hated the CPI(M) — especially after it stopped delivering results and became infested with goons — blamed the party cadres rather than the top leader. The patriarch lent a dignity and credibility to the Communist movement that spread far beyond West Bengal.


This dignity is evident in practically everything he does. Like when he decided to make way for the younger generation and stepped down in 2000 after a record 23 years of being chief minister in spite of the clamour from the party for him to stay on. Or his voluntary retirement from the CPI(M) politburo. Or the way he bowed to the wishes of the party and declined the prime ministership in 1996, when he was the consensus candidate. He believed that losing this opportunity for the CPI(M) was a "historic blunder" but he accepted the  party's decision with quiet dignity.

Not all his comrades were as stoic. I remember the smothering gloom in the CPI(M) office in Delhi that day, when after hours of ecstatic speculation the politburo's decision was announced. Almost everyone in the media (especially Bengalis!) agreed that Jyoti Basu was the ideal choice. He was not only the tallest leader among the candidates, but also the only one with decades of experience in running a stable coalition government. He had harmonised discordant Left forces into one orchestrated voice. But the new generation led by dogmatic theorists would not allow it. I remember dear old Harkishan Singh Surjeet's almost tearful expression, and the grim, suffering silence of E.M.S. Namboodiripad as distraught journalists like me accosted them demanding an explanation. The old order was changing.


Right now, Jyoti Basu is critically ill and on a ventilator. And I am looking out the window of my room in my mother's house in Kolkata at an indifferent concrete building. I miss the quaint second floor balcony where a freshly bathed Jyotibabu would come out in his spotless half-sleeved vest to hang his thin cotton towel out to dry, and sometimes a couple of clothes he had washed as well. I miss the man who sat at his window across the street from mine, which was also on the second floor, occasionally reading late into the night as I pored over my Agatha Christie. The man who would put up with the loud music of the Durga Puja festivities till midnight, then step out on the balcony and give a quick roar of disapproval. The mikes froze, as did the neighbourhood boys, led by Chandanda, his son and the first in the line of fire. "Rascals!" the exasperated father would grumble as the strains of "O raahi, o raahi…" were cut short and he went back into his room.


I miss the man we knew as kids, who laughed out loud at our childish follies. The man who would gesture from his car, holding back his security convoy to give way to my mother as she drove me to my exam before he left for the Assembly. We were always late, and the security roadblocks didn't help. I was late even on the day of my wedding, and the chief minister's road security made it worse. When we finally got to the venue, Jyotibabu sprang out of his chair and greeted us cheerfully. "Welcome! Welcome!" he said with twinkling eyes. "We are the reception committee for your wedding".


I look at the brash, fresh-faced concrete building outside my window.


This is not Jyotibabu's house. Just as the brash, fresh-faced party that plays election-eve politics in Delhi is not the party he helped build so diligently. Times have changed.


Hopefully, Jyoti Basu's legacy will remain unchanged — as a statesman, a visionary, an honest comrade and considerate human being. Meanwhile, like the rest of the country, I wish him a speedy recovery.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine.She can be contacted at: [1]








In Southern California, a place where almost everything is new, botanists have discovered something very old: a scrub oak that has been cloning itself for at least 13,000 years. The oak, a low thicket of about 70 stem clusters that covers 2,000 square feet in a gulch in the Jurupa Hills of Riverside County, cannot reproduce by sexual means. Instead it reproduces vegetatively, after a fire, with new sprouts growing from the base of burned stems. That means all the plant tissue is genetically identical.


"It's hopped out of the Darwinian struggle for existence," said Edward Newbigin, a botanist at the University of Melbourne in Australia who was not involved in the research but edited a paper describing the clone in the online journal PLoS ONE.


The thicket, of the species Quercus palmeri, or Palmer's oak, was found about 10 years ago by scientists conducting a survey of plant diversity in the region.


Several characteristics led researchers to consider that it might be a clone, said Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, a professor in the department of plant sciences at the University of California, Davis, and senior author of the PLoS ONE paper.


"From a botanical standpoint, it was in a place where it shouldn't be," Ross-Ibarra said.


Normally, Palmer's oak is found at higher elevations and in areas with more moisture. Also, the researchers could not find any mature acorns — all of those they found were small, green and incapable of germinating.


Most oaks need pollen from a different genetic individual to produce fertile acorns. But the Jurupa oak "is the only individual of the species for many miles around," Ross-Ibarra said.


When the oak first grew thousands of years ago, near the end of the epoch of glaciation called the Pleistocene, it most likely had neighbours. But as the climate grew warmer and drier, only it survived, protected in its spot between two large granite boulders.


As for determining the plant's age, Ross-Ibarra said, "What we were really hoping for was to dig around in the

soil and find some old wood left around from the original clone." That would have allowed them to come up with a precise age using radiocarbon techniques.


But plant tissue at the site is at most a few hundred years old, any original stems having long since vanished to decay or, more likely, termites. So the researchers estimated the age by measuring annual growth rates in stems and factoring that in to the size of the thicket. They estimated that the clone is 13,000 to 18,000 years old.


That makes it one of the oldest known clones, although not the oldest. Among others, there is a quaking aspen in Utah that dates to at least 80,000 years ago.


Ross-Ibarra said long-lived clones might, in fact, not be all that rare. "No one's taken the time to look at them", he said.







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








THE hands of the clock are on course to be set to time in Bangladesh. And on the eve of Sheikh Hasina's visit to India, the perceived secular credentials of her dispensation ~ in relative terms at least ~ have been accorded a remarkable boost. The country's Supreme Court has vacated a four-year-old stay, and the landmark ruling ought to restore the word "secularism'' to the Constitution, indeed restore the character of the original document. It bears recall that nationalism, secularism, democracy and socialism had formed the bedrock of the 1972 Constitution. No less crucially, the word Islam will cease to be a label tagged onto the names of political parties ostensibly to buttress their theocratic intent. Stretched to its logical conclusion, the trend towards theocracy, so pronounced under the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's Fifth Amendment and the periodic military dispensations, ought to be reduced to irrelevance.

The entry of religion-based political parties and the removal of the word "secularism" were the two strikingly Islamist features of the Fifth Amendment, introduced in 1979 when Ziaur Rahman was President. The Supreme Court has vacated the 2005 stay. Though an appeal by the BNP cannot be ruled out, Bangladesh is set to witness a break with history, indeed a trend towards Islamisation that was manifest for the past 30 years.
That trend had soured India's relations with Bangladesh for a considerable part of recent history. The trans-border movement of militants from the north-east, their training camps on the other side of the border, the influence of the ISI in these training programmes and at the level of Bangladeshi fundamentalists, and the circulation of spurious currency to destabilise the Indian economy were all embedded in an emergent Islamist structure across the border. To that has been added the use of West Bengal as the corridor to Kashmir and Pakistan. Any comment on Hasina's visit must await the talks in Delhi and the agreements on the anvil. Suffice it to register that India will be dealing with a country about to switch tracks to secularism. That by itself ought to make the discourse more meaningful than it has been for the the past three decades. And chief among the thorny issues are the border and water-sharing.







IT is more than a year since the Left suffered serious reverses in the panchayat elections signalling a disillusionment in the countryside. Confirmation of the public mood should have come with the parliamentary election eight months ago and the ten by-elections to the Assembly that followed in November. But if the West Bengal chief minister is to be believed, the CPI-M is still engaged in an "in-depth analysis'' of the causes for the electoral defeats. This would suggest that if any remedies are contemplated, they could only begin after that process is over. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's audience at the anniversary of the party organ could not have been unaware that time is running out. The next big contest in 82 municipalities, including Kolkata and Salt Lake, is a few months away. By the time the year is out, the state will be on tenterhooks for the assembly elections. Does this line-up of imminent battles of the ballot suggest that a normally well-organised party has a gameplan? The last meeting of the central committee had proposed "rectification'' from the top. That could not have left Biman Bose and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in a happy frame of mind. Nor was there any reference to areas where the party's image needed to be rectified. Now the chief minister takes two steps backward by suggesting that an in-depth analysis is in the pipeline. The clear hint is that state and central leaders are operating at different wavelengths.

For the first time, the party seems to be confused, perhaps divided, and the challenges ahead may have to be faced on the basis of ad hoc devices such as a bizarre appeal by an ailing Jyoti Basu to Congress voters that the Left was the most viable option in the present circumstances. Mr Bhattacharjee has talked about reverses in rural Bengal and disenchantment of Muslim voters. So far he has not had the courage to indicate where he thinks he or his party has gone wrong. Asking his party men to increase contacts with the people ~ as he has done lately not with much success ~ is not the same thing as eliminating the evils of cadre raj against which the people have begun to express themselves. Nor does it help to repeat the clichés of a "rightist conspiracy'' to use terror as a means of evicting the Left and to destroy the road to industrialisation. If it were as simplistic as he would want the people to believe, there would be no need for any introspection. Marxist rulers, the chief minister included, need to be more honest with themselves before they can hope to reverse the trend.







While theoretically the formation of a trade union may be a democratic right, Wednesday's foundation of the Trinamul Congress outfit at Writers' Buildings is bound to make the government's work culture still more unionised. That perception is reinforced after the recent dharna by Trinamul MLAs outside the Chief Minister's office. The union has been formed primarily to act as a counter-weight to the CPI-M's omnipotent Coordination Committee, firmly entrenched at the level of a parallel centre of power over the past three decades. It is a safe guess that whichever party assumes power after the 2011 assembly elections, the administration will get still more chaotic with one union intent on upstaging the other. The Opposition leader, Partha Chatterjee, wants his party's union to coordinate and implement the government's policies, if and when it comes to power. The short point must be that this is precisely why the bureaucracy exists. It must be his union's responsibility to ensure that the work gets done, that arrival and departure timings ~ set by an official circular ~ are strictly adhered to and overall impart a semblance of discipline in the state secretariat. That discipline, never a strong point in the secretariat, has suffered a severe battering in the past year, with rival unions coming to blows leading to the spilling of blood in the corridors of power. The security network can be obtrusive for outsiders; yet there is no control over violently disruptive insiders.

Indiscipline at Writers' has become almost institutionalised under the Coordination Committee's tutelage of the behemoth work staff. It would be folly on the part of Trinamul to regard its union as a front organisation of the party, in the manner of the CPI-M's equation with the CC. If the clone called the United Nationalist State Government Employees' Federation has been formed as an electoral gambit, Writers' Buildings is set to witness another bout of inter-union strife. The Coordination Committee has caused not a little damage to the government's image and the conduct of elections as well. Trinamul's counter-move, in anticipation of victory, can be effective only if the duties and responsibilities of the employees are unambiguously defined, which seems unlikely because the nature of the beast makes it so. Trinamul's union ought not to be a stroke of political oneupmanship in the seat of authority or the district administrations.







London, 8 Jan: Mathematicians discovered a complex 248-dimensional symmetry, called E8, in the late 1800s. In the 1970s, the symmetrical form turned up in calculations, related to "string theory", a candidate for the "theory of everything" that might explain all the forces in the universe.

But string theory, often referred to "perhaps the most beautiful structure in mathematics", still awaits proof.
Now, more than three decades on, this complex form of mathematical symmetry linked to string theory has been glimpsed in the real world for the first time, in laboratory experiments on exotic crystals, the New Scientist reported. ~ PTI








Learning from past experience, what must the Opposition do to win power? If the BJP is truly trying to reinvent itself and shed narrow Hindutva the task of opposition consolidation becomes easier. The following steps suggest themselves for uniting the opposition to create a viable and cohesive national party.

The Agenda

The first step should be to formulate the appropriate national agenda. The agenda presented by JP for total revolution in his movement was flawed. A clutch of intellectuals created a 75-point agenda that had to accommodate all kinds of inputs in order not to ruffle egos. The agenda became irrelevant. The battle cry of a total revolution was all that seemed to matter. What must be avoided in formulating a meaningful agenda is inclusion of self-evident platitudes such as the removal of corruption or delivering social justice. Nobody would dispute these goals. The question is what kind of systemic changes would be required to help achieve these goals.

The agenda should be concrete, basic and comprehensible to the masses. The following five goals may be considered. These would likely touch the lives of the greatest number of people across the nation.
1) South Asian Union : The movement should commit itself to undo the spirit of the Partition and to recreate Hindustan as a confederation of sovereign nations comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It should be resolved that a clause in the Directive Principles of the Constitution be introduced to pursue the goal of creating a community of nations having common tariffs, common defence, and no visas among themselves.

2) Smaller States : There should be constituted a new States Reorganization Commission that would create smaller states for effecting better administration and promoting cultural and ethnic identities. The commission would act according to predetermined norms.

3) Federal System : There should be created a five-tier system of governance. The five tiers would be federal, state, district, block and primary. We should delimit the present districts so that each district conforms to each parliamentary constituency. Similarly, each block would conform to each assembly constituency. The primary units would be the rural village and the urban colony. The three tiers below the federal and state tiers would each have its own elected council and executive committee. The area MP could preside over the district council, the area MLA over the block council, and the elected headman over the primary urban or rural council. All executive powers related to problems faced solely by those residing in an area would devolve on their own elected body. The elections to all bodies of the five tiers should be simultaneous, mandatory, time-barred, and under the authority of the Central Election Commission. All elected bodies of the five tiers should have fixed five-year terms. The President's election should coincide with the general election. The presidential candidates should file their nominations at the same time as the candidates for Parliament and all assembles. The newly elected MPs and MLAs should elect the new President immediately after their election. In case of any executive head at any of the five tiers losing a simple majority in the House, the whole House would elect the successor who would complete the fixed five-year term.

4) President's Role : While devolution of power will enhance self-rule and liberty for people, an executive President will ensure unity and stability of the Republic. The President should have a role commensurate with his mandate that is the widest held by any individual in our Republic. To this end, we should give constitutional status to newly created bodies, as well as to certain existing bodies, in fields that require autonomous functioning, and make them accountable to the President. The Central Election Commission, CBI, CVC, etcetera, would come under this provision. The President's relationship with the Prime Minister and the cabinet would need review. Flawed conventions that have no basis in our written Constitution have rendered the President into a ceremonial robot. The Constitution gives the President powers and responsibilities that are never exercised in practice. This must be rectified.

5) People's Plan : The Planning Commission should be converted into a Peoples' Planning Commission accountable to the Inter-State Council that would be overseen by the President. This Commission should concentrate on formulating Peoples' Plans that deploy the bulk of public funds, including those realized from disinvestment, for providing infrastructure to the masses in the spheres of roads, management of drinking and irrigation water, power generation, healthcare and literacy. Public investment in these sectors would expand employment and purchasing power in rural India. In industry there should be created in addition to the public and private sectors a workers' sector in which all employees would have a share of profit and ownership, and in floor level management. All board decisions would be transparent to workers.

The Organisation

The second step should be to circulate the agenda to all likeminded opposition parties, trade unions, farmers' associations, student bodies and non-electoral groups working in the social sector. This alliance of bodies committed to the agenda should elect a national convener aided by a central steering committee.

The Movement

The third step should be to launch a nationwide movement to propagate the agenda in all corners of the nation. There should be the attempt to hold mass meetings in every state capital of the country. At the end of each of these meetings a state convener of the movement aided by a state steering committee should be announced. These state conveners in turn should appoint conveners and steering committees in every parliamentary and assembly constituency. The assembly conveners should appoint conveners for each primary unit in their areas comprising a specified number of polling booths. Apart from mass meetings to educate the public about the aims of the movement, there should be established connectivity on a weekly basis between the apex and all state units through the Internet. Weekly talking points should be suggested and feedback from the ground to the apex should be studied.

The Party

The fourth step, after the movement has spread across the nation, should be to announce a political party with a federal constitution. At the first phase existing parties, whether single state or multi-state, may be allowed to retain their respective identities at the state level. Only for Parliament should there be common candidates representing the new party and contesting on a common agenda with a single symbol. After testing the waters in the parliamentary election the existing parties could exercise their option to merge completely with the new party. If all these steps are implemented it is likely that every parliamentary seat would be contested by the new party. The draft constitution of the new party could be prepared within a day's notice. A suitable name could be given to the party. One name that suggests itself is Rashtriya Panchayat. The party's federal nature would be understood from its name at even the village level. The contest for power between the Congress and the Panchayat could ignite national participation. If these four steps are taken the new party could well come to power.








There is a shadow on the innocent bikini. Gently sunlit beaches, an alluring mix of peace and luxury, frolics in the sea, that holiday to remember — all that the bikini evokes has been transformed by a sudden awakening in Goa's tourism department. Advertisements for tourism in Goa are no longer to carry images of bikini-clad women; the department will censor such advertisements. The move is meant to emphasize that Goa is not a spot for sex tourism but for family holidays. The Goa government seems to be suffering from an ailment that afflicts most of male and female India: the conviction that women's bodies and sex are somehow indistinguishable. Therefore, if Goa is becoming famous for rapes and molestations — as it had earlier gained a name for child prostitution and paedophilia — the bikini is the culprit. Funny logic: it is mostly men who do these things. But wipe out the bikini from advertisements, and only families with little children and grandparents in tow will come to visit Goa.


The silliness of the Goa government's decision has various fascinating levels. First and foremost, it is another manifestation of the reaction typical of most Indian institutions — if a situation cannot be controlled then ban anything that can be made to look guilty. Women's apparel, whether they reveal or cover "too much", are always a good target in such situations. But how a tour operator chooses to conduct his business, and what effect the image of bikini-clad women has on holiday-makers, cannot be the government's business; it cannot censor what it likes just because it is the government. All censorship arrogantly reduces the consumer to a cretin who does not know what is good for him and so cannot be allowed his adult freedom. Additionally, in this case, the tourism department in Goa cannot suddenly pretend that a significant part of its revenue does not come from visitors who enjoy the freedoms that the place offers, even some freedoms that are not quite licit. Contrasting these with a Victorian notion of the "family" and suggesting that anything outside it leans towards sexual revelry is an unusual form of sublime stupidity.


But most important, the access of concern for the pure-as-driven-snow image, to be achieved by erasing bikinis from advertisements, exposes the government's inability, or unwillingness, to tackle the real problem, that of corruption and lax law-keeping, and of the complicity of politicians and the rich with criminals and criminal activity. If people think that Goa is a good place for sex tourism, the fault is not the bikini in the advertisement — the bikini is beachwear, not lingerie — but the ease with which certain illegal activities can be carried on in Goa. The government would be better engaged in thinking out plans to scotch those, and not run about looking at pictures of women and censoring them.










Mani Shankar Aiyar's indiscreet comparison of India's impoverished Northeast with China's "simply spectacular" development in south-west Tibet (reported in last Monday's Financial Times) would have appealed to many participants of the Regional Outlook Forum 2010 that Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies organized on Thursday. Not because they were game for a bit of India-bashing but because their yardstick was emphatically economic.


That is only to be expected in a region that proudly achieved a high standard of living but recently suffered the worst global downturn since the Great Depression. Having known peak and trough, Asians are now convinced, as Eisuke Sakakibara, a former vice-minister for international finance in Japan, reiterated in his keynote address, that the 21st century will be the "Age of Asia". In effect, he also offered India the choice of belonging to either a stagnant South Asia or a dynamic East Asia. The difference is substantive as well as stylistic. East Asians are not given to verbal flourishes. Nor do they propagate flamboyant nationalism. But though none of Thursday's speakers threw down any kind of gauntlet, the common thread was a steely determination that Asia would have to be master of its own destiny to complete recovery and avoid further mishaps.


Lee Kuan Yew recounted during an Indian tour that 19th-century India and China jointly accounted for 45 per cent of the world's gross domestic product. Sakakibara, who used to be called "Mr Yen" for his ability to move financial markets, once warned that the West "must now learn to respect the environment and values of other civilizations" and that Asia had been the world's centre for 4,000 years. Other presentations at ISEAS's 13th ROF confirmed that the goal Asia has set itself is to recapture that past. The presence of a number of Western diplomats accredited to Singapore and other countries testified to the significance that Asia-watchers attach to this annual event. By that token, the absence of any Indian official revealed the continuing insensitivity and indifference of Indian diplomacy.


Western interest was not confined to Asia's economic nationalism. Two Europeans asked about sustainable environmental protection to which the only delegate from India, Y. Venugopal Reddy, a former Reserve Bank governor, pointed out the perils of the entire global population aspiring to the lifestyle of 300 million Americans. He quoted Gandhi's belief that the world has enough for everyone's need, not greed.


It would not have been in the style of either the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations or the ISEAS to say anything suggestive of a showdown with the United States of America. There was only a low-key reiteration of practical measures to stimulate stagnant economies, curb inflation, increase savings, encourage consumption, improve infrastructure and boost trade. And, indeed, enough recovery has already been made for the circumspect Reddy to suggest that Asia is not "emerging" but "re-emerging". India's checks, balances, self-sufficiency and high level of poverty blunted the edge of the crisis. But Southeast Asians remember Thais forced to auction their Mercedes saloons in the streets of Bangkok when the second disaster struck. The dispassionate view, articulated without emotion or recrimination, was that recession was the price of excessive dependence on the West.


Asia doesn't demand economic swaraj, which would be unrealistic in a globalized world, but regime change, so that other hands control the levers. The case is made with caution — the authors of the 1997 proposal to set up an Asian Monetary Fund as a regional alternative to the International Monetary Fund being deliberately opaque. Sakakibara (the real originator) passed the credit to his finance ministry colleagues. Japan's financial press claimed that the idea had been "advocated by Thailand and other countries" while an official Tokyo report claimed that the scheme had already been "discussed among Asean countries in the spring of 1997". As another Japanese, Kenji Takita, an academic, reminded the conference, "the process of East Asian regionalism began to take shape in fear and trembling". No one wanted a head-on clash with the US or the IMF, which reacted sharply to this show of independence.


The AMF was "torpedoed", in Takita's words. The Western powers (aided by China) had earlier quashed another assertion of independence — Mahathir Mohamad's East Asia Economic Caucus, the so-called "Caucus without Caucasians" because of Mahathir's determination to exclude Americans, Australians and New Zealanders. (Mahathir's enemies enjoyed attributing his stridency to the Indian ethnicity that was otherwise a dark secret.) He got short shrift from the US, which gained more from burgeoning Pacific trade than from traditional commerce across the Atlantic. China, also a gainer, had no qualms then about opposing Mahathir's initiative which would "draw a line in the Pacific Ocean", as the US secretary of state put it. The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which rebuffed India, was part of the American strategy of defusing Asian economic autonomy through a Pacific free trade agreement.


China has shifted position since then. As Zhang Liqing (dean of the school of finance in Beijing being one of several hats he wears) told the ROF, "China has suffered a lot from the continuous depreciation of the US dollar." Zhang also found it "absurd" that a developing country with a per capita income of $3,500 (Singapore's is $39,500; India's $1,017) should be saddled with huge dollar reserves. Complaints are not only on one side. The US feels equally aggrieved about the Chinese renminbi being undervalued at the expense of American importers.


Another set of battle-lines is therefore being drawn. A decade after the devastating financial crisis that swept through this part of Asia, the Asean Plus Three (South Korea, Japan and, of course, China) grouping became the new manifestation of East Asian regionalism. Its new landmark initiative for self-defence, the ambitious Chiang Mai Initiative, to which several conference speakers referred, has been on the anvil for nine years and is expected to be operational in March. The plan for a multilateral currency-swap scheme by pooling funds from the region's vast foreign-exchange reserves to weather upheavals in the future is seen as a device to reactivate the stillborn AMF and EAEC.


This has already set alarm bells ringing in the US, which firmly believes it has ensured peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region where it has huge economic as well as security interests and nearly 100,000 troops. Thursday's speakers were reminded that Barack Obama's assistant secretary of state, Kurt Campbell, announced in Beijing only two months ago that "the guiding mechanism in Asia is so far ambiguous, but any mechanism of significance concerning security, economy and trade cannot do without the American role". Meaning was also read into Hillary Clinton's observation (which Takita cited) that "the (Obama) administration will strive for a 'multi-party', not 'multi-polar' world".


Financial regime change is clearly not to Washington's liking. Fearing that the Americans will oppose any new form of "Asianism" that excludes them, speakers suggested in private conversation that they would not put it past the US to try to scuttle this scheme too by pressuring Japan and South Korea, playing on their traditional suspicion of China, and further inciting Sino-Japanese rivalry over the leadership role in regional economic cooperation.


Sakakibara told a questioner who asked about India's role in all this that he strongly supported intensified interaction between Japan and India, that he had started an India Economic Institute at Waseda University and felt that Asean Plus Three should be enlarged to Asean Plus Four. But he added firmly to laughter that including India could not mean Pakistan and Bangladesh too. Perhaps it's not so much a question now of whether India will abandon the region (and the baggage that goes with it) as whether the region will allow India to abandon it. But the glaring absence of official Indian participation in the ISEAS conference did nothing to assuage the feeling that our diplomats still have little interest in fleshing out the Look East policy.






A 22-hour gun-battle between security forces and militants who took refuge in a hotel in Srinagar after attacking a police outpost has raised doubts over the accuracy of security assessments that claimed a fall in militant capability and activity in the Kashmir Valley. The attack, which is the first major one in Srinagar in over two years, has shaken confidence as it has indicated that militants are able to strike in the heart of Srinagar and hold security forces at bay for almost two days. Security experts have been drawing attention to the sharp fall in militant attacks in the Valley. Indeed, 2009 was a milestone with militant attacks falling to their lowest ever since the eruption of the insurgency two decades ago and dropping by over 30 per cent compared with 2008. This had prompted the Centre to scale back army deployment in the Valley by around 30,000 and to cut paramilitary presence there as well. In fact, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan had even said that the improved security situation in Kashmir provided scope for further cutback in troop deployment in the state.

The standoff in Srinagar will prompt some to call on the government to hold off troop reduction in the Valley. It would indeed be a pity if the Centre heeds their demand. A dialogue is on between the Centre and separatists in the Valley as part of a larger peace process. The downsizing of military presence in the Valley is a vital component of that process, which has contributed to confidence building. Any move to reverse the decision on troop deployment will only serve to subvert the peace process.

There are sections in the government, the armed forces, among politicians, militants and separatists, as well as the public who have a vested interest in keeping the Kashmir cauldron bubbling. They are averse to the situation normalising in the state. They can be expected to use the Srinagar standoff to inflame public sentiments and/or embarrass the government. Jammu and Kashmir's political parties, ever eager to exploit crisis situations to score points against each other, can be expected to engage in some theatrics in the coming days. They must bear in mind that shrill rhetoric is not in the interest of the people, whose welfare they claim is at the heart of their politics. As for the government, it must avoid a knee jerk response at all costs.







The year has started on a grim note for the country's tiger population. Three tigers have been reported dead from Jim Corbett National Park and surrounding areas over the past week. While one tiger seems to have died in fighting with another tiger over food, the role of poachers in the death of the other two is being investigated. If 2009 was described by the National Tiger Conservation Authority as a 'very bad year' for tigers — Union Minister of Environment and Forests has admitted that the tiger death toll in 2009 was the highest in several years — it does seem that 2010 could prove more disastrous for the tigers. The global trade in tigers is a lucrative one, encouraging poachers to slay the cats with little concern for their dwindling numbers. China, which is a key link in the tiger trade, has come under pressure to crackdown on the market for tiger body parts. So high is the profit from the trade that Indian poachers are undeterred by the fines that killing tigers attract. Poachers are also provided protection by a network that includes politicians, police and forest officials.

The Indian tiger is also threatened by loss of habitat to roads, dams and mining projects allowed inside national parks and sanctuaries. And the environment ministry has given its nod for such projects. It has, for instance, given its consent to a limestone mining plant on the periphery of the Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh, one of the finest habitats for the tiger.

India's half-hearted approach to tiger conservation is disappointing. Its pious words on tiger conservation are not matched by action on the ground. Not only is the government complicit in the decimation of the tiger population by allowing projects that destroy habitat but also, it is downplaying the extent of the threat to the tiger. Official estimates put the number of tigers killed last year at around 59, while wildlife experts peg the number at over 80. Later this month, environment ministers will meet at Bangkok to strategise on saving the world's tigers. And in February, global tiger experts will meet at Uttarakhand to find scientific ways to protect the big cat. None of these international efforts will succeed in saving the tiger, if India remains lethargic in protecting its national animal.



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





I often recall those wonderful days when I was in college. The number of clients in the bank were more than the banking staff. While it did take longer to get your cash in hand and update your passbook, you rarely left the bank without getting any work done.

Nowadays, due to facilities like e-banking, we sometimes find more staff than customers in the bank. Then there are those awful days when you are told by one of the bank staff, somewhat sheepishly, that it will take some time for your passbook to be updated. Of course he takes your passbook, so you take your seat on a plush sofa. Wishing you had brought a book to read, you scan the day's newspaper for a second time. Peering above the newspaper, you notice the bank staff looking unusually serious, discussing in hushed undertones and jostling around. You try to make eye contact with them, but they avoid your gaze.

Soon you realise that 'kuch kuch ho raha hai!' Your patience finally wears thin. You approach them. They condescendingly recognise your presence with — "Very sorry, sir, 'the system' is down". 'The system' could be down for as long as a whole day. No one can predict for how long it will be down.

In those schools where the system is used, the end of a term is often a time of excruciating anxiety. Especially if the marks and comments we enter into the system are mysteriously lost. This system, it seems, has a ravenous appetite, swallowing anything entered into it. And when it crashes it refuses to 'vomit' out everything! Only that mastermind in the server room can set it right. The rest of us simply have to wait.
Being a biology teacher by profession, the word system brings to mind those wonderful systems in our body which keep us alive and about which my students love to learn. Those biological systems in the banking staff of yesteryear rarely broke down. They worked feverishly, calculating with their own brains, filled in ledgers and updated passbooks with their own hands. I have yet to recall a day when bank work halted because the systems were down.








At a time when the debate over climate change and the fight to preserve environment have acquired global attention and urgency, what happened in a small village in coastal Karnataka last Sunday merits attention: After almost two years of bitter battle over the setting up of a 450 MW thermal plant at Hanakone, near Karwar, the representatives of the company which planned the unit and the local protest group signed an 'agreement' against the thermal project, made a public announcement through a press conference and submitted a copy of the agreement to the deputy commissioner.

Executive director of Ind Bharat Thermal Power Company Limited, (IBTPCL) A N Vasu Rao and the legal advisor of the Horata Samithi, K R Desai who brought about a 'happy ending' to the confrontation over the project, also announced withdrawal of cases filed against each other. The company, which has already acquired about 160 acres of land in and around Hanakone has promised to take up 'eco-friendly' projects like a medical college, a high-tech hospital and a health resort.

The ecologically sensitive coastal region of Karnataka has borne the brunt of 'development' over the last three to four decades. It is already home to a nuclear power plant, a large naval base and a number of hydro-electric projects, which have come up much against the wishes of the local population. Each one of them faced angry opposition from the people, but the might of the state and the money power finally prevailed.

Even as there is greater recognition now of the need to preserve the unique biodiversity of the Western Ghats and the much-abused Kali river, the investors continue to eye the region because of its natural, cost-effective resources. But, with growing environmental awareness, the situation on the ground is changing: An ambitious 4,000 MW thermal power plant at Tadadi has been shelved after strong public protest, while the agreement to forgo the IBPTCL project is the latest victory for the people.

It is interesting to recount how the companies adopt clandestine methods when they take up unpopular projects. It seems this Hyderabad-based company, which has links with the son of a late chief minister, initially made the local population believe that it was acquiring land for a 'medicinal factory' which would offer hundreds of jobs. It also acquired some government and forest land with the help of officials.

The company also quietly moved files in the Union Environment and Forests ministry and obtained a conditional clearance for the project. It approached the state pollution control board and the state government for other clearances. It was only in early 2008 when a public hearing was organised as per the provisions of Environment Protection Act that the people came to realise the real intent.

The police, as usual, sought to brutally suppress the public agitation and at one point, around 50 villagers including women, were arrested and sent to jail in Bellary, 400 km from their homes. The Horata Samithi, meanwhile, moved the environmental appellate authority in New Delhi and obtained a stay on the project.
The authority sent a three-member team to make a feasibility study and assess the situation. The committee found that the location was most unsuitable from the environment point of view: The project would cause pollution of air and water close to the Western Ghats, affecting its pristine flora and fauna; it would make irreparable damage to aquatic resources and livelihood of fisherfolk; being close to the Kali river, it would damage the river's estuary; the location was less than 5 km from Khotigaon wildlife sanctuary and within 10 km of Anshi project tiger reserve, in clear contravention of the Wild Life Act.

Western Ghats task force member Ashisara — who has been in the forefront of many an agitation along with the Swamiji of Swarnavalli Mutt to save the region's ecology — says that despite overwhelming evidence the company was not willing to give up the project and tried to use its clout in Delhi to get it moving.
The result was that the appellate authority set up a five-member committee in August last year to make a fresh survey and report back to it. By now, the public sentiment had completely turned against the project and when the committee visited Hanakone, over a 1,000 people gathered to say 'no' with one voice.

Horata Samithi adviser Desai says the Hyderabad-based company, having realised the futility of pursuing the project in the teeth of opposition, wisely decided to sue for peace so that  investment already made would not go waste. "Using the land in its possession, if the company plans to set up a high-tech hospital or a health resort, we will fully cooperate with it," he said.

The coastal belt is already weighed down by Kadra and Kodasalli hydro-electric projects, the Kaiga nuclear plant, the Nagarjuna thermal power project, the Thannerbavi project and so on. According to a report of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri), the region's 'carrying capacity' has been exceeded and it cannot take any more load.

It is time the state government took a conscious decision to spare the coastal region from further 'assault' in the name of development and told the prospective investors to look elsewhere for locating their projects.









Christmas is the only religious festival I celebrate in my home but without any religious overtones. It meant nothing to me in my school and college years in India. Though some of my teachers in school were Bengali Christians and I went to a Christian College all I knew about it was, it was the 'baraa din' (big day) for the Christians and they went to church at midnight.

It was in England in Welwyn Garden city with an entirely White Christian population that I got attached to Christmas. I had to take a train every morning to London. I found myself in a compartment with five or six English men and women who spent the hour in train to practice singing Christmas carols. I soon picked up some carols, notably: Stilly Night, Holy night, Holly and the Ivy, Jingle Bells and some others. I began to sing with them.

They invited me to join them on Christmas eve to do the rounds of homes. I became the blackman with a lantern who brought good luck. So we went from door to door, sang a carol or two, were invited indoors and offered wine and some money. After my return home to India, I began to celebrate Christmas with taped carols, Christmas turkey and pudding. None of my guests were Christians.

One reason I chose to spend my Christmas vacations in Goa was the Christmas atmosphere of Bogmalo beach where I stayed. Bogmalo is a Christian village with its own small church. Mornings begin with pealing of church bells. When the faithful are gathered in the church, they sing Christian hymns. In the evenings, the hotel loud speakers relay Christmas carols while guests are busy taking in the gentle sea-breeze. Boys and girls from some school come to the hotel to sing carols. They ring in one's ears while one sleeps.

I don't go to Goa any more as I am too old to travel. But I keep the tradition of celebrating Christmas as I have been doing for the past half-a-century or more. So I end my Christmas greetings to you with Beggar's Rhyme:
Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat;Please put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,If you haven't got a ha'penny, God bless you.
The year gone by was perhaps the most eventful since we became an Independent nation; it determined the shape of things to come, for our future generations. The choice was clear: either we become a Hindu 'rashtra' or we remain a secular state. On May 16, 2009, the people of India gave their verdict: they wanted the Gandhi-Nehru legacy to continue and threw the main contenders — BJP and its allies which had gained strength on mandir-masjid dispute in the dust bin of history.

Heidi of Hamburg

Heidi is a well-to-do German lady living on a farmhouse in the suburgs of Hamburg. She is passionately fond of horses. She has three, which she exercises herself. To get a second-hand look at the world beyond Germany she agreed to take foreign visitors round the city, its land marks, eateries and taverns. That is how I first met Heidi, when she came to the airport to receive my wife and me. That is over 25 years ago. Since then she has been coming to India every winter, escorting chosen groups of German tourists.

Although Heidi has been all over India, she has given her heart to Rajasthan. Some winters she hired Mewar breed of horses and rode across the desert stopping in remote village up to Delhi. Tourists spots like Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Ajanta, Ellora and South Indian temples were too touristic for her taste. Of the many places I suggested to her the only one which passed her test was Orcha in Madhya Pradesh.

This year Heidi has further involved herself in Rajasthan. She organised a Ravanbhata music competition at Mahrajgarh Fort in Jodhpur. The chief performers of Ravanbhata — a two-stringed sarangi — are Bhopas who sing the epic tale of Pabuji, a 14th century Rajput warrior. How more Indian can a German be?

Hun mainee Agya deo

For 10 years Jarnail Singh and Karnail Singh had been best of bosome friends and passed their matric together from a Amritsar village high school. After passing matric, Jarnail joined army and Karnail joined Punjab police. They met after 15 long years, coincidently when both had come on leave to their village. Karnail took Jarnail to his house and they talked their hearts out over many bottles of desi liquor and big chunks of lamb legs. The party ended long after midnight when Jarnail asked Karnail to give him 'agya' now (ie permission to leave) (Hun mainu agya bhi deo).

Karnail suddenly jumped menacingly at Jarnail Singh with a big kirpan in his hand. To his horror Jarnail learnt that Agya (kaur) was the name of Karnail's wife.

(Contributed by Jaidev Bajaj, Pathankot)







If there's a silver lining in the December jobs report, it is this: Nothing concentrates the minds of politicians like rising unemployment in an election year. Unless Congress and the White House push a robust job-creation agenda — starting now — worsening joblessness is a distinct possibility, even if the economy in general recovers in the coming months. That means the unemployment rate could still be high or even climbing when the midterm elections near. That may be the best hope for concerted federal action to put Americans back to work.


At 10 percent, the unemployment rate was unchanged from November to December. But the only reason it held steady is that 661,000 jobless Americans were not counted as unemployed last month because they had not looked for a job in the four weeks preceding the December survey. If they had been included, the jobless rate would have been closer to 10.4 percent. Over all, an estimated 3.6 million out-of-work people have been uncounted since the recession began in December 2007. They include people who had not recently looked for work and those who would have entered the work force in normal times, like recent high school and college graduates, but remained on the sidelines as jobs disappeared.


Here's the rub: As soon as the economy shows more signs of life, those missing workers are likely to start looking for work. That would add to the ranks of the officially unemployed, causing the jobless rate to rise, perhaps dramatically — unless jobs are being created to absorb the labor glut.


The private sector alone is unlikely to create enough new jobs, even as the economy recovers. Employers are more likely to add hours to the truncated workweeks of existing employees than to hire new workers. They may also prefer to make temporary workers permanent rather than add new staff.


And even if hiring were unexpectedly strong, it could not repair the severely damaged job market anytime soon. The economy lost another 85,000 jobs in December, bringing the official total job loss over the past two years to 7.2 million jobs. But with the population growing — and with revisions to earlier data expected to show larger losses than previously reported — the economy is probably coming up short by 10 million to 11 million jobs. The job growth that would be needed to recoup losses of that magnitude in the next three years — some 400,000 jobs a month — is simply not in the cards.


Responding to the jobs report on Friday, Mr. Obama reminded Americans that $2.3 billion in tax credits — passed by Congress last year as part of the fiscal stimulus — would soon begin to spur the creation of some 17,000 green technology jobs. He also called on Congress to approve another $5 billion in spending for more clean energy manufacturing. And he urged lawmakers to move on legislation for several job ideas he put forth last month, including a plan for public-works employment and bolstered small business lending. That's a start, but now he has to get Congress to act.


The jobs he saves may be those of members of Congress from his own party.








Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, has decided that nine years of wrangling over a proposed wind farm off the Massachusetts coast must come to an end — even if it requires his personal intervention. This is the best news this controversial, yet important, project has received in a long time.


Having endured endless state and federal reviews and ferocious opposition from local homeowners who don't like the idea of 130 wind turbines interrupting their views of Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind had moved closer to final approval. Then came complaints from two American Indian tribes in Massachusetts that the turbines would interfere with their spiritual greeting of the sunrise and disturb ancestral burial grounds, now underwater.


The tribes asked that all of Nantucket Sound be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the National Park Service agreed that they had a case.


On Monday, a clearly exasperated Mr. Salazar gave the contending parties — the developers, the tribes, the agencies and the State of Massachusetts, which supports the project — a March 1 deadline to resolve their differences. He said if they could not, he would make the decision himself.


Mr. Salazar has not tipped his hand, but he is a big fan of alternative energy sources, and it would be astonishing if he did not allow this worthy project to succeed. It is the only offshore wind farm with any chance of completion in the next several years, and getting it under way would send a signal to the world of America's resolve to combat global warming and reduce its oil dependency by developing alternative fuels.


Cape Wind and its 130 turbines would be located in what may be the most propitious offshore site in the country: shallow water protected from heavy waves; strong, steady winds; and proximity to consumers and industries that would benefit from its power. We hope the administration can persuade the various sides to quickly reach a compromise that preserves the core of the project. If not, Mr. Salazar can and should decide on his own to allow Cape Wind to proceed.






Five months after Afghanistan's tainted presidential election, it still does not have a fully functioning government in place. President Hamid Karzai nominated 24 members to his new cabinet, and last week Parliament rejected 17 of them.


That could further delay the reforms that are urgently needed to reverse years of government mismanagement and corruption. Still, Parliament has shown a healthy independence and many of its judgments appear sound. It also gives Mr. Karzai another chance to assemble a stronger team. He should do so, quickly.


Several important cabinet posts were approved, including the ministers of defense, interior, finance, agriculture

and education. These appointees are largely technocrats and are seen by American and other Western officials as competent and relatively untainted by corruption — an especially important qualification for officials who will control large sums of outside aid.


Washington lobbied hard for the incumbents Abdul Rahim Wardak, the defense minister, and Hanif Atmar, the interior minister. They are both considered to be strong leaders and allies for the necessary but difficult effort to build up and strengthen the army and to clean up the highly corrupt police.


Lawmakers also wisely rejected the reappointment of Ismail Khan as energy minister and three nominees associated with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. Mr. Khan and General Dostum backed Mr. Karzai in the campaign. Both are also notorious warlords accused of human rights abuses. If Mr. Karzai felt a debt to them, he should consider it repaid, distance himself from such unsavory cronies and reach out to other candidates.


President Karzai showed better sense when he chose political allies of Abdullah Abdullah — his main challenger in the August election — to serve as ministers of higher education, rural rehabilitation and refugees. We don't know why Parliament rejected them; they may not have been the best choices. Mr. Karzai should work hard to find other competent members of Mr. Abdullah's group to serve in the government.


He should also work hard to find a place for Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official who is well regarded internationally. He has sensible ideas about developing a national strategy for improving governance and for adopting transparent criteria for choosing credible people for government jobs. He could bring both credibility and competence to a government short on both.


After the cabinet vote, lawmakers were about go on their winter break. President Karzai was right to insist that they remain in Kabul until they confirm a new cabinet. He now must put forward a better list of nominees and work cooperatively with a Parliament he usually ignores to win their approval. Washington should encourage them to come to terms as quickly as possible. Afghanistan has too many problems for more delay.


On Jan. 28, Mr. Karzai, along with Britain and the United Nations, is scheduled to host an international conference in London to address Afghanistan's problems. Mr. Karzai has promised to unveil an anticorruption campaign and a plan for the government to eventually assume control of Afghan security. We are also looking for NATO, the United Nations and the European Union to say how they are going to do their jobs in Afghanistan better.

If there is any chance of succeeding, Afghanistan must have a credible and honest government that can deliver the services and security that its people desperately need.








The 'development package' announced by the prime minister for the conflict-hit areas of NWFP and FATA appears to have been put together rather hastily – perhaps because Mr Gilani felt compelled to make an announcement on his visit to Peshawar. He had put forward a development plan for Swat on a visit to Mingora late last year. It has yet to materialise in any meaningful form. The latest plan comprises essentially relief measures which include tax exemptions, loan write-offs for farmers and a waiver of some utility bills. Various areas have been classified in terms of the severity of the impact on them and measures announced accordingly. It is hard to estimate offhand how many people will benefit from the plan. Certainly some will. But we must also consider the magnitude and nature of the problems. Unemployment, illiteracy and poverty -- and ignorance bred by these factors -- played a huge part in the dangerous developments of the last decade. It is these issues that need to be addressed. The package will leave many groups out in the cold and offer them no respite from the misery they face now. The vicious cycle of despondency and desperation that drives people into the hands of the militants will then continue.

Indeed, the UN has warned the worst may not be over. It says that while the displacement crisis is seen as a thing of the past, the fact is that some of the 2.3 million forced last year to leave their homes have yet to return. Reports in the media have mentioned widows who have lost homes as among those who cannot return. People from Orakzai and other tribal areas who are still displaced have also received less help than those from Swat. This is a terrible situation to be in. Our government has still to wake up to its gravity. As a nation we desperately need to escape the scourge of terrorism that has torn apart lives and destroyed all semblance of normalcy. Unless we succeed in this there can be no hope of an economic revival or a wider change in fortunes. Only a full-fledged plan to change people's lives, in the north and indeed in other parts of the country, can achieve this. Creating opportunities for employment and opening up the doors to education are central to this. The new development plan falls well short of what is required and can thus have only a minimal impact.







Geography has placed Afghanistan in a position where it is of strategic interest to any number of external actors; and the last two centuries have seen Britain, the US, Russia, India and a slew of other nations with their fingers in the Afghan pie. Our ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, has told the Security Council in a meeting last Thursday that other nations should on the one hand guard against 'outside involvement' in Afghanistan but on the other 'remain engaged'. He did not elaborate on how this apparently contradictory statement might be turned into diplomatic reality; and it is difficult to see how external players cannot be 'involved' at the same time as they remain 'engaged'. Presumably our ambassador means that there needs to be a light touch when dealing with the Afghan government – but as there is a full-scale war being fought by a rainbow of nations over much of the country, a light touch may be difficult to deploy. The Afghan government anyway does not govern in real terms more than 35 per cent of the total land area, with the rest run by the Taliban or the warlords who took over when the Russians left. Perhaps the ambassador was doing no more than highlight a paradox, a quality of which there is no local shortage.

On the same day that our ambassador was addressing the Security Council another box within the set of nesting boxes that are the relationship with our western neighbour was opened. The so-called 'Haqqani network' underpins the Taliban operating in southern Afghanistan. They are said to be closely linked to Al Qaeda and have their rear echelon in North Waziristan. Thus far we have resisted American pressure to tackle the Haqqani network on our side of the border; but that equation may change as the Americans decide how to react to the killing in Afghanistan of seven CIA operatives by a suicide bomber. As yet, there is no evidence that he had links to the Haqqani network, but if there is the merest whisper that he did then we may be sure that screws will tighten and gloves come off. We may also be sure that if they see our government soft-pedaling on the Haqqani elements here, then they may decide to ramp up their 'engagement' on both sides of the border to the point at which it becomes 'outside involvement' in the affairs of ourselves and the Afghans. In one box the delicate footwork of international diplomacy. In another a barrage of Hellfire missiles and sovereignty usurped. Packaged together they become a paradox wrapped in a conundrum.







Geography has placed Afghanistan in a position where it is of strategic interest to any number of external actors; and the last two centuries have seen Britain, the US, Russia, India and a slew of other nations with their fingers in the Afghan pie. Our ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, has told the Security Council in a meeting last Thursday that other nations should on the one hand guard against 'outside involvement' in Afghanistan but on the other 'remain engaged'. He did not elaborate on how this apparently contradictory statement might be turned into diplomatic reality; and it is difficult to see how external players cannot be 'involved' at the same time as they remain 'engaged'. Presumably our ambassador means that there needs to be a light touch when dealing with the Afghan government – but as there is a full-scale war being fought by a rainbow of nations over much of the country, a light touch may be difficult to deploy. The Afghan government anyway does not govern in real terms more than 35 per cent of the total land area, with the rest run by the Taliban or the warlords who took over when the Russians left. Perhaps the ambassador was doing no more than highlight a paradox, a quality of which there is no local shortage.

On the same day that our ambassador was addressing the Security Council another box within the set of nesting boxes that are the relationship with our western neighbour was opened. The so-called 'Haqqani network' underpins the Taliban operating in southern Afghanistan. They are said to be closely linked to Al Qaeda and have their rear echelon in North Waziristan. Thus far we have resisted American pressure to tackle the Haqqani network on our side of the border; but that equation may change as the Americans decide how to react to the killing in Afghanistan of seven CIA operatives by a suicide bomber. As yet, there is no evidence that he had links to the Haqqani network, but if there is the merest whisper that he did then we may be sure that screws will tighten and gloves come off. We may also be sure that if they see our government soft-pedaling on the Haqqani elements here, then they may decide to ramp up their 'engagement' on both sides of the border to the point at which it becomes 'outside involvement' in the affairs of ourselves and the Afghans. In one box the delicate footwork of international diplomacy. In another a barrage of Hellfire missiles and sovereignty usurped. Packaged together they become a paradox wrapped in a conundrum.






Six persons have been killed in a blast at a home in Baldia Town. It appears that the premises may have housed militants and the explosion occurred accidentally. Suicide jackets and ammunition have reportedly been recovered. There are lessons here for us. It has been speculated for sometime that terrorists may be renting out homes in the midst of cities and towns. It is from here that they launch their deadly missions. This should offer some clues as to how they can be apprehended.

A far bigger effort needs to be made to detect these persons. In neighbourhoods we need to set up vigilance committees. They must have the support of police and the administration. People must be trained to develop the community sense that has vanished as a result of rapid urbanisation and the close-knit spirit of the traditional 'mohalla' should be revived. Real-estate agents, postmen, milkmen and others who tend to keep track of comings and goings in a specific area can all play a part. The militants must after all be shopping at corner stores and acquiring from some quarter the other necessities of life. Ways to detect them have to be found. Some television channels have begun an initiative in this regard. This needs to be expanded and taken up by the government so that the message can spread. It is only when we have far wider community action that we will be able to make some headway against militants and prise them out from their hiding places in our streets and alleyways.






The NRO, the product of a deal between the Pakistan People's Party and Gen Musharraf and sponsored by the British and the Americans, opened the door wide to politicians absconding abroad or hiding inside the country, or those who were locked up in jails on charges including massive corruption and multiple murders. It also guaranteed immunity from prosecution and continued presidency to Pervez Musharraf, despite all his sins.

The shenanigans of these persons have brought Pakistan's fortunes to their lowest ebb. They have made the country dependant on handouts for survival while the hapless people are driven to suicides and selling their children in bazaars.

Yet, the beneficiaries of the immoral and unconstitutional NRO have the gall to declare that without it there would be no democracy. However, this so-called democracy ushered in by the NRO is corrupt and bogus, with only the faces changed but all else remaining the same as was under the Musharraf dictatorship. The president enjoys all the powers that the military dictator had, plus the co-chairmanship of the largest party in the country, which he is not supposed to hold.

The obligation to implement the Charter of Democracy, which initiated a march towards a genuine democratic setup, remains totally ignored. Promises to restore the judges were repeatedly broken until Zardari crumbled under pressure in March. The commitment for the repeal of the 17th Amendment is being dodged for twenty months and clearly will not be fulfilled until there is pressure once again.

We have a parliamentary system which is being run by the president. The prime minister had to admit that the setup is neither presidential nor parliamentary. The parliament has sunk into insignificance and has nothing to say on the multitude of problems facing the country, most of all the raging civil war which started at Khyber and has now reached Karachi. Parliament is usually bypassed and legislation is through ordinances even when it is in session. As for reconciliation, this has become a deadweight around the country's neck, leading to greatly increased corruption and doubling of the bill for running the government and parliament, without any corresponding benefit to people. Various opposing parties have huddled together to enjoy the perks and pleasures of pulao politics, leaving the democratic process precariously balanced on a virtually one-party system, which in itself is a negation of democracy.

It is a big relief, which came not a moment too soon, that the Supreme Court has stepped in to bring the curtains down on the disgraceful NRO, but the after-effects will nevertheless persist for some time. The world sees that we have ministers and members of parliament whose corruption and murder cases have been reopened. They are running helter-skelter for legal advice or petitioning the courts for bail. Similarly, very many bureaucrats are also in a whirl.

While the world and the people of Pakistan watch with amazement, the credentials of our head of state are not something to be proud of, and that is putting it mildly. Not only is this a matter of serious embarrassment for the nation, but it reduces the weight and stature of the country in dealings with foreign institutions and countries at a very critical juncture. It is a well-established practice for honourable politicians to give up politics altogether merely on being accused of wrongdoing (some have even committed suicide) rather than manifest a thick skin by insisting on presentation of proof of guilt.

And now, with the refusal by the government to restart the Swiss cases against Zardari, the verdict of the apex court is being challenged. Conflict with the Supreme Court which could, under the Constitution, ask even the armed forces to implement its verdict may lead to catastrophic results for the government and the country. This is all the more dangerous when the government already feels threatened and there are complains about the hostile disposition of the "establishment," when usually the government and the establishment are assumed to be one and the same.

However, it cannot be ruled out that when the government is in the hands of people with no academic credentials and their political and social standing is dependent entirely on past links with a distinguished personality, the establishment feels constrained not to lower their standards beyond a respectable level in performing their functions.

Was it a mistake that Kamal Azfar, an Oxford graduate and a barrister who has been governor and provincial minister, disclosed in the Supreme Court that the government was under threat from the ISI and the CIA? Or was he instructed to voice this fear? All this at least projects a state of uncertainty, if not chaos, which has been amply expounded by Zardari in his speech in Naudero on Shaheed Benazir's death anniversary.

However, what has really made the current setup the target of suspicion and doubt is the declaration that democracy is the revenge for the murder of Benazir Bhutto. How can a corrupt, meaningless and dubious democracy, being run by individuals with criminal cases against them, be a revenge for Benazir's murder? It is clearly visible to most that this expression, along with recourse to Scotland Yard first and then the United Nations, is merely a façade to delay proper investigation and diffuse the situation, the real intention being not to open the Pandora's Box of Benazir's murder . But the trick is not working. With each passing day more and more questions are being asked and fingers pointed.

Be that as it may, is not a benefactor desperately required who comes and relieves the agony of the masses, recovers the looted wealth of the nation, lays the foundation for economic progress, changes the mindset of people focused on individual benefit to that of collective good, regenerates pride in and allegiance to the country, ends lawlessness and civil war, restores the dignity and stature of Pakistan in the community of nations? Is not history replete with records of kings and conquerors who have ushered in golden eras in their lands? By no means do I advocate the rule of a king or a conqueror, but redemption from the NRO-generated black democracy has become a sine qua non.

The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.







The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

The end of Musharraf's rule, return of leaders of our mainstream political parties, restoration of the representative electoral process, restitution of independent-minded judiciary, recent rulings in the PCO judges case and the NRO, together with the role of our diligent media and civil society all mark the advent of an age of constitutionalism, rule of law and democracy. This journey might be slow and perilous, but rule of law and constitutionalism are the only mechanisms available to resurrect a peaceful, strong and stable Pakistan wherein equality and justice thrive along with hope and economic well-being.

We are rightly becoming more cognizant of the need to hold the feet of our corrupt and inept politicos to fire, in order to transform dilapidated structures of representative politics into an effective, sustainable and beneficial democracy. However, the province of khakis, with all its frills, prerogatives and privileges, remains largely outside the scope of rule of law, out of sync with the imperatives of constitutionalism and democracy, and is probably the most ignored area in need of urgent reform.

Any sensible definition of an effective and functional democracy requires effective civilian control of the military. But the military in Pakistan has traditionally been more powerful than all civilian institutions put together. This civil-military imbalance remains a fundamental fault line that imperils both democracy and rule of law.

The omnipotence of the military in Pakistan -- the cause and the consequence of recurring martial rule -- has resulted in the evolution of political and social ethos, promulgation of statutory instruments, and partial judicial pronouncements (coupled with judicial inaction) that have the effect of placing the interests, acts and omissions of the military beyond the scope of political, judicial and social scrutiny. The history of khaki rule together with effective manifestation of its overarching power and influence, every time its institutional interests come under threat, has led to the creation of a khaki mindset that equally afflicts the military and the civilians.

The khaki mindset has multiple facets. The first is an undaunted sense of righteousness. This indoctrinates the military with the belief that its vision and definition of national security and national interest is the perennial manifestation of wisdom and truth. Any involvement of civilians with matters deemed to fall within the domain of national security is seen as unwarranted interference with exclusively military matters and an affront to its interests. This protective sense encourages the military to guard its proclaimed territory as a fief.

The second facet of the khaki mindset is the military's saviour instinct. Despite being a non-representative institution, the military has assigned to itself the role of deciphering aspirations of Pakistanis and protecting them when they are perceived to be threatened by a corrupt civilian government or an activist judiciary. This provides a justification to intervene in the domain of civilian institutions that are seen by the military as malfunctioning. And the most insidious facet of this mindset is the unstated sense of being above the law that binds ordinary citizens.

The civilian sector has been equally responsive to the khaki mindset. Its acquiescence has in fact entrenched this mindset further. Successive civilian governments have made no effort to review and streamline the military's scope of work as an institution, strengthen its capacity to perform its external and internal security functions and curtail its involvement with political and commercial activities.

The focus instead swings between two extremes: finding ways to control the top generals and interfere with purely operational matters such as military promotions and postings, or findings ways to appease these generals through sycophancy and by adding to their already lengthy and undesirable list of prerogatives. Demands for military accountability are a mere reaction to calls for political accountability. They are essentially meant to deter what is seen as military-instigated witch-hunt of a civilian government, and not rooted in the principle that public office holders in all state institutions must be held equally accountable for graft or abuse of authority.

The status of khakis as untouchables is not compatible with rule of law and constitutionalism. This nation has a collective interest in ensuring that power is widely divided amongst state institutions as prescribed by the Constitution, civilian institutions steadily recover their legitimate authority and influence annexed by the military, and the usurpation or abuse of authority produces penal consequences irrespective of whether the usurper is a civilian or khaki. This clawback of civilian authority is not only desirable but also mandated by rule of law and must, therefore, be supported and strengthened. Even the functioning of our reconstituted Supreme Court betrays a feeling that the reluctance in holding khakis accountable for their acts and omissions pervades our corridors of justice as well. But to be fair, this cloud does have a sliver lining.

While the Supreme Court has still not fixed for hearing the ISI case that was filed by Air Marshal Asghar Khan a decade-and-a-half ago, a recent ruling suggests that the apex court will not always look the other way when abuse of authority implicates khakis.

In a consequential ruling announced by the Supreme Court in the Makro-Habib case on December 18, 2009, the apex court declared invalid the lease of a playground in Karachi awarded by General Musharraf to the Army Welfare Trust. While the court ruled that the land in question already stood transferred to the Karachi Development Authority and could therefore not be leased to the AWT by General Musharraf on behalf of the federal government, it held that even if the land had still belonged to the ministry of defence, the manner in which it was transferred amounted to abuse of authority and would have rendered such a transfer invalid.

The court was appalled by the fact that a prime piece of public land (earmarked as a playground for the benefit of disadvantaged sections of the society) could be summarily transferred to the AWT for a period of 90 years at the annual rent of Rs6,070, which in turn rented it out to a private commercial enterprise, the Makro-Habib store, for a 30-year period at the annual rent of Rs17.5 million.

In this propitious ruling, the Supreme Court has postulated a doctrine of collective rights of the people of Pakistan. The court has highlighted that public property collectively belongs to the people and cannot be hastily disposed of at 'peppercorn rent' on the whims of dictator. It has held that the right of citizens to access public places under Article 26 of the Constitution cannot be fettered in a discriminatory manner. It has further held that a lease such as the one granted to AWT and later to Makro-Habib could amount to breach of Article 9 (illegal deprivation of liberty) and Article 24 (protection of property rights).

The court has highlighted that Article 3 requires the state to "ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work," as reiterated by Article 38(a), that the state shall promote the social and economic well-being of the people "by preventing concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest."

And to this end it has reminded state functionaries that even a laudable objective such as welfare of servicemen must be achieved through "permissible means and not at the expense of state exchequer and public at large", and that state functionaries "are fiduciaries, ultimately responsible to their paymasters, that is, the people of Pakistan." Our honorable parliamentarians must bear in mind the principles underlying the Makro-Habib ruling as they consider further entrenching the monopoly of khakis in the business of real estate through promulgation of the Islamabad Defence Housing Authority Act.








Remember Naeem Bokhari? It was less than 36 months ago that his letter to the chief justice of Pakistan turned the nation topsy-turvy. What a heavy price we have been paying since. Foreign investment fled overnight, as if Pakistan had been hit by a plague; businessmen left for greener pastures with their dollars; schools closed; lawyers went on indefinite boycott; work halted and the nation of 180 million got paralysed.

Do we want a repeat?

It appears a section of lawyers, intellectuals, journalists, politicians and others want a repeat. Is it possible that the Zardari government is spearheading a campaign to malign the judiciary? Legal masterminds who have made millions advising Musharraf to make mischief in the land by distorting the Constitution are back, quietly managing the devilment. I don't need to name them. They are the same crooks who appeared on the idiot box to defend their deeds in the past and are currently advancing the cause of their new paymasters.

Where does S M Zafar stand today? He juggles three hats: PML-Q senator; constitutional expert and rights advocate. Over the years he has shared his legal expertise with people via television talk shows and newspaper statements, never disappearing from the public radar for long. His has been the longest presence. He has come across as sober, mature, intelligent and knowledgeable.

But he also is a politician. He is a senator. He is Chaudhry Shujaat's party man. In fact he currently heads the Senate Standing Committee on Education. And lest we forget, he is a Musharraf loyalist and an advisor to the former dictator.

But Zafar's views on NRO beneficiaries are unequivocal. According to the press reports he has said that any property seized, frozen or confiscated on Oct 5, 2007 (when the NRO was promulgated) stands "seized, frozen or confiscated following the apex court's decision" of Dec 16, 2009.

He has also said that under Article 248 of the Constitution, the president is immune from presenting himself before the court, but his assets stand frozen once again.

Now here's the punch line: According to the NAB spokesman, the Bureau has not ordered the freezing of presidential assets.

Critics can turn around to say, why just single out the president, as is happening. Why not drag in the rest of the NRO beneficiaries and make them pay for their alleged sins. That's a fair comment. Others "holier than thou" are demanding that we conduct accountability for the crooks in the military, bureaucracy and even the judiciary itself. That too is a fair demand.

The question is: when, who, where, which and how the process of accountability can begin? The Supreme Court judgement cast the first stone, but since then a babble of dissenting voices is muddying the waters and stalling the process in its embryonic stage. Untrusting of the NAB secretariat, the Supreme Court is playing the role of a supra-auditor, scrutinising the progress reports on corruption cases.

Somebody has to do it!

NAB should either be disbanded or purged of its top officials, who are too busy saving their jobs. We should get back the sacked NAB chairman, Lt-Gen (r) Shahid Aziz, who probed the corruption by government functionaries and oil industry people in the pricing of petroleum products which caused a loss of Rs83 billion to the nation from 2001-2006. His findings were never made public.

Now the Supreme Court has taken up the issue in all seriousness. But more worms are crawling out. We now know that Musharraf's chief honcho Iqbal Z Ahmad has been doling out liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) permits to people to buy their support or silence. They include Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, former NAB chairman Gen (r) Munir Hafeez, federal minister for investment Senator Gulzar Ahmad, former interior ministers Gen (r) Moeenuddin Haider and Aftab Sherpao, former governor of Punjab Gen (r) Khalid Maqbool, National Bank president Syed Ali Raza and Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, and many others.

Every man has his price.

Email: &







The 82nd birthday of the founder of the PPP was celebrated in a rather low-key manner earlier this week. This was preceded by his daughter Ms Benazir Bhutto's second death anniversary late last month. Much earlier in December the PPP celebrated its 42nd founding day.

Such occasions for political parties are generally meant for introspection, stock-taking and setting the future course of action. However, for the PPP and its present leadership they passed with a litany of speeches and mundane tributes to the departed and a bevy of accolades for the ruling leadership. Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, speaking in Lahore, taunted the "jugglers who were conspiring against the ruling party." He also boasted that President Zardari would stay in power till 2018.

Having support in all the four provinces of the country, the Pakistan People's Party is the only national party, in the true sense of the term. It is the fourth time that it is in power at the centre. First under its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, twice under his daughter Benazir Bhutto and presently under her widowed husband Asif Ali Zardari. However, barring Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who remained prime minister for five years before being ousted by General Ziaul Haq in a military coup d'etat in July 1977, the two PPP governments under Benazir Bhutto could remain in office for twenty months and three years, respectively.

President Zardari's government, now in office for a little less than two years, is fighting for its survival. This does not mean that its political obituary has already been written. Nevertheless, President Zardari, as co-chairperson, has the onerous task of steering the party through turbulent political storms and challenges from the higher judiciary and the army.

As a student I was present on the foundation of the PPP on Dec 1, 1967, in Lahore. Mr Bhutto was elected chairman and Dr Mubashir Hasan its secretary general. Those were heady days of socialism and Third World populism. In the aftermath of the Tashkent Deceleration of 1966, the sun was already setting on Field Marshal Ayub Khan's dictatorship. Bhutto, in the mould of Sukarno, Nasser and Ben Bella, enthused the attendants and soon the whole country rang with slogans of Islamic socialism and roti, kapra aur makan.

Since then the age of charismatic leaders in the populist mode has long gone and centralised socialist economies are no longer fashionable. In fact, the late Mr Bhutto is discredited with the voodoo economics of nationalisation that according to his critics inexorably destroyed the economy of Pakistan.

The credit goes to his daughter who, after the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and her long incarceration and relatively brief exile under Zia, resurrected the Party. Persecution, jail sentences and lashings by Zia's military regime and its Islamist cohorts had demoralised the PPP cadres and this resulted in desertions by some of Mr Bhutto's most trusted lieutenants. However, this did not deter Ms Bhutto from reorganising the party after her historic returns to Pakistan. Mammoth crowds in the streets of Lahore greeted her in April 1986.

It is no coincidence that both Mr Bhutto and his daughter chose Lahore as the starting point of the most important political initiative of their political careers as both regarded Punjab as their pivotal support base. Unfortunately, this lesson is lost on some of Mr Zardari's present lot of close advisors who find it politically expedient to play the so-called Sindh card. By portraying it as a favour to Pakistan not to invoke the Sindh card, they have done a disservice to the party and its leadership.

The present PPP leadership should properly analyse the role of Benazir Bhutto in lifting the fortunes of the party in order to charter the future course of action. On her return from exile in 1986, with the PML under Prime Minister Junejo going strong, rejuvenating the PPP was no easy task. I recall during those days Jahangir Badar and Faisal Saleh Hayat lamenting that the electoral prospects for their party were not very bright in the next general elections.

However, Ms Bhutto managed to change the fortunes of her party with a combination of sheer hard work, political acumen and a bit of good luck. First Ziaul Haq sacked Mr Junejo and then a few months later his own demise in a mysterious plane crash was her lucky break. With Ms Bhutto's most formidable and wily opponent gone, there was no stopping her.

Ms Bhutto demonstrated decisiveness and firmness in dealing with party affairs. She had no qualms in sidelining "uncles" like Dr Mubashir Hasan. Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Mumtaz Bhutto, who were her late father's close associates but whom she now thought were either political deadweight or mere liabilities in her scheme of things. Her critics accused her of being ruthless even to the extent of being heartless when she sidelined her own mother. But in the end analysis, her political gamble paid off and her party won the largest bloc of seats in the November 1988 elections in the National Assembly. She was sworn in as prime minister, the first Muslim woman to achieve this honour.

Ms Bhutto's government was dismissed in 1990 on charges of corruption, for which she was never tried. She was re-elected in 1993, again to be dismissed, this time by her handpicked president, Farooq Leghari. After eight years in exile she returned triumphant in October 2007 and was assassinated two months later at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi. Tributes to her bravery and the manner in which she negotiated her return to Pakistan courtesy the USA are numerous. Thanks to her bravery hard work and political tenacity, the PPP rules today.

It is because of the vision of the founder of the party that after more than four decades the PPP is still alive and in power, albeit it has lost most of its original lustre. Now the mantle has fallen upon its present leadership to rejuvenate it. Mr Bhutto's biggest contribution to democracy and federalism is the 1973 Constitution, which despite being abrogated, truncated and trampled over by military dictators and charlatans, has survived the test of times. Mr Bhutto is also the undisputed founder of Pakistan's nuclear programme. These are no mean achievements, now even acknowledged by those who were his biggest critics and in some ways party to his judicial murder.

Dynastic politics are a scourge of the subcontinent. The scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, is set to rule India, while in Bangladesh Ms Hasina Wajid, daughter of the founder of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman rules the roost. In Pakistan it is Mr Zardari who has assumed this role while his son Bilawal, waiting in the wings, is being groomed to lead the party.

Critics ask how could Ms Bhutto bequeath a party through a will, as if it was her personal property? Unfortunately, in the political culture of South Asia, this is how the cookie crumbles. Mr Bhutto passed his political mantle to his daughter rather than to his son. Mir Murtaza Bhutto, by dint of education, was perfectly suited for the job but in spite of his best efforts he could never become a challenge to his sister.

Mr Zardari faces formidable challenges in making the party a force for the future. He has a number of obstacles that he has to overcome. Primarily he has started from a trust deficit. Despite being persecuted by Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf on charges of corruption, and spending more than eight years in jail on yet unproven charges, these allegations and the shield of the NRO have taken their toll on his credibility as a ruler.

He has taken a number of positive steps as a ruler, the most significant being inculcating a culture of live and let live that was previously lacking in our polity. Governance issues and lack of transparency, however, remain a hallmark of his government. If the party in power under his leadership fails to improve the lot of the common man and to connect with the people, it will be difficult for it survive as a force at the national level.

In the aftermath of the furore over the apex court declaring the NRO unconstitutional, Mr Zardari for the first time in his tenure is trying to reach out to his workers and the people; a step in the right direction. He has already visited Sindh and is soon due in Punjab. If he fails to make the present democratic dispensation a success there will be nothing left of the PPP to bequeath to his son and the people of Pakistan.

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email:







A human tragedy of enormous proportions has been continuing over the last year in Gaza, and yet it has not stirred the conscience of the international community and those responsible for global peace. The western media has also been a part of this conspiracy of silence. On Dec 27, some 1,200 international activists from 40 countries gathered in Cairo to enter Gaza to display solidarity with the suffering Palestinians. However, this show of sympathy and support by peace activists is significant only in symbolic terms. International NGOs and UN agencies occasionally raise this issue, but find no resonance because the victims are Palestinian and the oppressor is Israel.

Gaza is a tiny coastal strip of land between Egypt and Israel with 1.5 million inhabitants. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but has retained complete control of the territory by sea, air and land.

On Dec 27, 2008, Israel, in supposed retaliation for rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli territory, unleashed a savage attack that lasted 22 days. The world witnessed the horror show of death and devastation but remained a passive spectator. Nearly 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians including women and children and the elderly, died in the horrific Israeli assault and 5.300 were injured. The international media also reported that an estimated 20,000 houses were destroyed, which left some areas resembling an earthquake zone, and more than 50,000 people were forced to move to temporary shelters. In addition, 48 government offices, 20 mosques and 30 police stations were demolished. Two hundred and nineteen factories were damaged as a result of aerial bombardment, tanks' shelling and armoured bulldozers destroying Gaza's productive capacity and completely ruining the territory's economy. The attack inflicted losses to infrastructure totalling half-a-billion dollars.

The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) used toxic ammunition and white phosphorus in violation of international laws on prohibited weapons. As a result, the Gaza Strip is now home to the highest number of disabled people in the world, in terms of population ratio. About four percent of the residents have some form of disability. According to reports, the use of chemical agents has resulted in a high levels of deformed births and miscarriages." The sufferings are compounded by Israel continuing the blockade and non-availability of medicines in the territory.

Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territory, released his report on the first anniversary of the Gaza carnage. He painted a gruesome picture of pain and suffering of civilians in Gaza and strongly urged the lifting of the blockade. There is a continuing breakdown in the electricity and sanitation systems due to absence of spare-parts. Falk asked for consideration of economic sanction against Israel, which continues to defy international will. In a report the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) has also given accounts of the suffering and miseries of the territory's residents, concluding that Gaza has been bombed "back to the Stone Age."

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other UN agencies have documented Israeli violation of the laws of war. The conduct of war and use of phosphorus bombs and 155mm shells against helpless civilians and indiscriminate carpet bombing provides enough evidence for the indictment of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and other perpetrators of the Gaza massacre for war crimes.

In an article in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Oren Yiftahel, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, said of the Gaza operation that "it was expected Israel behaviour and an extension of Zionist policy that believes in the annihilation of the Palestinian people and erasing their history and existence." Israeli historian Ofer Shelah has said the assault on Gaza was the birth of "a new defensive doctrine for Israel, namely to act as a rogue nation to respond to a source of gunfire with savage and massive military operation, irrespective of the number of causalities."

Israel's acts of genocide and crimes against humanity are reprehensible. Equally unacceptable is the silence and apathy of Muslim governments and the self-styled champions of human rights. Most Muslim countries failed to speak out forcefully against the aggressor, notable exceptions being Turkey, even though it has diplomatic and security relations with Tel Aviv, and Iran. Denouncing the Israeli barbarities in Gaza, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded that Israel be barred from the UN for showing its contempt for the organisation. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Islamic countries to "break your silence on the catastrophic events and the massacre taking place in Gaza."

Pakistan foreign policy of late seems to have relegated the questions of Palestine to low priority. The initiative taken by Musharraf in building contacts with Israel has sullied the image of Pakistan, once considered one of the staunchest ally of the Palestinians. This may explain why Pakistan was not invited to summits of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League last year, in which Turkey and Iran participated on special invitation.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference must raise the issue of the Israeli genocide in Gaza in the International Criminal Court. If Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia can be tried on similar charges, why not Israel's leaders? By taking such a symbolic initiative, the OIC can have a semblance of relevance to the Muslim Ummah.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







The kind of political jokes making the rounds are usually a good way to gauge the latent sentiments and general perceptions about varying entities and figures in the political arena. For example, of late, I have been devilishly asked: what would one call a party which is all-inclusive because officially it is open to all, but secretly only for a specific group of people? On unwittingly referring to a "party" of a different sort, I was crudely told with a huge grin that the answer was the Pakistan People's Party.

And although this may seem innocent, and perhaps even amusing, the honest truth is that such jokes indicate the kind of atmosphere prevalent in Pakistan, and more importantly, a general perception of the politics of the PPP as it is constituted today under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari.

In the recent past, there have been statements by various PPP leaders which would even make PPP supporters uncomfortable. Some lower-tier PPP leaders are on record as saying that Zardari is being targeted because he is Sindhi and, as such, the PPP and Sindh would no longer sacrifice the blood of their sons and daughters in the struggle to establish a democratic Pakistan.


In addition to this, shockingly, some of these lower-tier leaders, such as Raja Riaz, are also reported to have said that this time bodies would not be sent to Sindh but, rather, to Punjab. Raja Riaz is also on record as saying that if Asif Ali Zardari is removed through a "judicial murder," as he believes could be the case, the country would break up. Not to be undone by the likes of these political titans, Zulfiqar Mirza has jumped into the controversy with a bang, saying that the PPP had been determined and ready to break Pakistan, and it was Asif Ali Zardari who persuaded them to raise the slogan "Pakistan Khappay," and save the country. And to top it all, the co-chairman of the PPP is himself on record as having said that forces opposing the party would rue the day when those Sindhi children chanting "Jiye Bhutto" slogans start chanting "other" slogans.

Now, one isn't sure whether such statements are in fact a policy of affirming the PPP's position as a regional party with support in the other provinces, or an ill-thought-out move which would unfortunately establish as much. Taking statements with the PPP emphatically asserting itself as a federal party on face-value, one can give them the benefit of the doubt in presenting the PPP as such. In doing so, the only explanation for the PPP's recent tirades would be that being cornered by those players wanting to topple the party, the PPP has started playing the Sindh card to save its seats without in fact realising the possible adverse consequences that it could bring.

Undoubtedly, at this moment in history, the PPP has roots in all four provinces as well as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. However, it is perhaps not as fundamentally strong and entrenched as the PPP would like to believe. This can be amply seen when one looks at the various election results over the years.


In Punjab, the vote bank of the PPP has been seen to be steadily decreasing, from an impressive 42 percent of the total votes in the 1970 national elections to a percentage hovering in the initial 20s according to the data of all elections that took place in Pakistan on or before 2002. A similar trend can be seen in the NWFP, where the PML-N is seen to be gaining ground and cutting into the PPP vote bank. When it comes to Balochistan, the province has predominantly been a constituency for the Muslim League and the regional parties as a whole.

The PPP's weakness in Balochistan can be better deciphered from the fact that the party was only able to establish a provincial government in the province due to the support of the PML-Q and other regional parties, which in fact were in a much better position to form a government than the PPP. That said, it cannot be discounted that the PPP made a somewhat better showing in the 2008 elections in various provinces. However, it clearly stands as an anomaly when compared to the general pattern emerging in the national election data delineating the party's performance over the years.

It could very well be that the out-of-the-ordinary performance was a result the sympathy votes in the wake of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. However, only the results of the next elections will shed some light on this issue. The PPP has a certain degree of popularity in all the provinces, the popularity is not as robust as the party would want it to be.

Ethnically motivated statements will do nothing other than hastening the bracketing of the PPP as a regional party. Rather than try to invoke a Sindh card, or any other card, for that matter, the PPP should consider strengthening its position in all the provinces, so as for it never to need to manipulate ethnic identities to save its hide when facing charges of corruption and incompetence.

And there may very well be an argument that the PPP leadership never intended or desired that such unwanted consequences result. But the fact remains that such a perception may take root and crystallise into an average person perceiving the PPP leadership of yesteryear as diehard Pakistanis who happened to be proud Sindhis, in contrast to the "new" PPP leadership which is composed of diehard Sindhis who happen to be Pakistanis. The consequences of such a perception for a federal party with such a great history are quite evident.

The writer, a Columbia graduate, practises law in Karachi. Email: basil.nabi@








ASIF Ali Zardari being an elected President is expected to speak the language of the people but he preferred to remain unmindful of the public sentiment on different issues especially those of vital interest to the nation. However, it seems that he has finally decided to say goodbye to this policy of self-inflicting damage and is now trying to re-establish contact with the masses.


It is heartening that the President chose to come out of his groove, visit different parts of the country and meet people to get first-hand knowledge of their aspirations. His recent visit to Sindh, Balochistan and then to Muzaffarabad afforded him such an opportunity where, for example in AJK, he, for the first time, made remarks on Kashmir dispute that are close to the mainstream thinking and national policy of the country on this sensitive issue. It was perhaps in line with his new thinking and approach that the President had a straight talk with the US congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain that called on him on Thursday. During the interaction, the President represented the sentiment of the Pakistani people on the burning issue of drone attacks and in a sense warned the United States that these attacks undermine the strategic relationship and, therefore, must be stopped. Similarly, he also told them that instead of asking Pakistan to do more they should provide the promised assistance to help the country tackle the consequences of the all-out war against terrorist, which has been launched by the Army with political patronage. He rightly pointed out to his guests that Pakistan has suffered huge losses worth $35 billion in this war, which was beyond its capacity to absorb and, therefore, needed international assistance on an urgent basis. This is what the people of Pakistan expect from their leadership and we are glad that the President is now aligning himself with the nation. Political expediencies are one thing but when it comes to fundamental national interests, the leaders ought to speak for the people who have given them mandate to run affairs of the State. This is a healthy departure from the past when the President chose to make controversial comments on important foreign policy issues creating misunderstanding about policies of his Government. Policy statements should be based on institutional input and personal whims must not be allowed to come in the way.










US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made a very pertinent observation about the real cause of the global terrorism. Speaking at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, she pointed out that it was difficult to stop terrorism when hundreds of millions of young people see a future with no jobs, no hope and no way ever to catch up to the developed world. She hammered the point that one-third of humanity lives in conditions that offer little opportunity for improvement to them or their children.

There is universal consensus that terrorism has its roots in abysmal poverty besides injustice and social and political alienation. No doubt, there are religious motivations as well but religious sentiments too are exploited in an atmosphere of political exploitation and economic deprivation. Though in his highly prejudiced work "The Clash of Civilizations", Samuel Huntington blames Muslims for initiating and maintaining regional and global disputes yet he easily overlooks the reality that all of these problems were thrust upon Muslims by imperialist forces who wanted to perpetuate their political and economic exploitation of the Islamic world. Apart from the issues of Palestine and Kashmir which are glaring examples of injustice and oppression, there is near consensus amongst analysts that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan is in fact part of the Western strategy to get hold of natural resources of the Muslim world. When the oppressor would snatch economic resources of the Muslims and force them to live in poverty and ignorance the result would definitely be extremism and terrorism. It is also not a coincidence that majority of recruits of extremist and terrorist organizations come from economically backward areas like Afghanistan, FATA, Yemen, Somalia, and some pockets in Central Asia. But the question arises that if the United States is aware of the root cause then why it is not taking steps to address the cause and instead relying heavily on use of force. We are convinced that the military option is triggering more terrorism and the situation would not change until and unless the focus shifts to eradication of poverty and resolution of the political disputes.







PEOPLE had not come out of the shock they received because of the gory developments of Ashura when a procession of the mourners was targeted on M A Jinnah Road in Karachi followed by loot and arson of unprecedented scale that violence erupted again in Lyari area of the city on Thursday resulting into killing of nine people.

Though Interior Minister Rehman Malik and other officials concerned have claimed that the incident had nothing to do with the target-killings, the nature and scale of the violence has sent shock-waves among the people about the law and order situation in the country's economic hub centre. It seems that the city is sitting on powder keg and the enemy and anti-state elements can turn it into ashes any time at their will. This speaks volumes about effectiveness of our law enforcing agencies and writ of the Government especially that of the Provincial Government right in the provincial capital. This state of affairs is unacceptable and the authorities concerned will have to take some bitter and harsh measures to stem the rot. Interior Minister has already talked about the much-needed operation but he is speaking in the context of the target-killings whereas we need an all-encompassing surgical operation to get rid of crimes and violence of all sorts in the city. Everyone knows that proliferation of weapons has assumed dangerous proportions and drug and gun mafia as well as smugglers operate freely in some pockets of the city. One fails to understand how arms and ammunition on this scale were allowed to reach Karachi and what the law enforcing agencies have been doing over the years. Apart from a campaign for recovery of all illegal weapons, there is also an urgent need to strike at the sources of supply and increase vigilance on borders.












All truth is bitter pill! But to seek it, to speak it and to live it, is to truly care for your native land. Today Pakistan is in a state of confusion because it has become what it was not meant to be. Jinnah's Pakistan was usurped by a clique that wanted the majority of average Pakistanis to be indoctrinated with their own interpretation of Pakistan movement and the concept behind Pakistan's creation. The fact that the Pakistan movement was all about political rights, economic opportunities, equality and social justice for Muslims of India was misconstrued and given an ideological dimension. The two nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations that can't exist together was interpreted as bifurcation of India for religious reasons, thus dexterously turning a political struggle into a religious one.

It's pertinent to comprehend that Muslims were searching for an identity and homeland free from prejudice, dominance and discrimination as regards civil liberties, equality, economic and educational opportunities, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. As mentioned earlier, the Muslim League and the two-nation theory has its roots in the Aligarh movement of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan & Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, as far back as 1880 when the "Shuddhi" movement (forcible conversion of Muslims to Hinduism), language riots & objections to Urdu & the Persian script, bans on cow slaughter and the rise of militancy amongst Hindus started. Numerous leaders and intellectuals such as Nawab Mohsinul Mulk & Nawab Viqarul Mulk and Allama Iqbal came to accept the theory as inevitable.

When the Congress made Bande Matram a national song despite Muslim opposition and introduced the Hindi language and script in schools. Jinnah declared emphatically, "We are now, by the actual working of the Provincial Autonomy, convinced that our necks, which are in the grip of the Congress, are not safe." Mr. Jinnah referred in this connection to the singing of Bande Mataram song in the Provincial Legislatures which he regarded smelt of idolatry and was a war cry against Muslims as a whole. He was terrified to think of the future and declared "I am raising the alarm bell. The flames are raging. It's your business to take care." Proceeding he referred to what he called the compulsory introduction of Hindi Hindustani in the schools of all the Congress provinces and expressed the opinion that it would sound the death knell of Muslim culture and language and would prove suicidal for their children as well.

Congress's intrusion in the Princely states, especially where rulers were Muslims or sympathetic to their Muslim subjects aggravated the position further. Later the princely states of Junagadh, Manavadar, Magrol and Muslim State of Hyderabad which acceded to Pakistan were over-run by Indian military aggression in the name of 'police action'. Lord Mountbatten to weaken Pakistan influenced Radcliff to award Muslim majority Tahsils of Pathan Kot and Gurdaspur to India to provide land route to her to send its army to Kashmir.

"Failure is a word unknown to me," Jinnah once commented. It was his indomitable will that brought out Muslims of India from isolation to integration. Single-handedly and constitutionally he secured a distinct identity for the Muslims of India in a homeland exclusively their own. No longer were they a community or a minority but a nation with a sense of nation hood and political existence. Pakistan movement was a struggle of liberal, middle class and educated Muslims comprising of "civil society" and intellectuals of that time. Jinnah's vision was shared by the masses, workers, women, youth, minorities and leaders of All India Muslim League. Alas! those who openly opposed Quaid-e-Azam and Pakistan, embarked on a mission to Islamize Pakistani state and society misinterpreting "Homeland for Muslims" for "Islamic State" ignoring Jinnah's repeated emphasis on "Pakistan is not going to be a theoretic state — to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims – Hindus, Christians and Parsis but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan." It's important to note that Quaid-e-Azam stated this while discussing the future constitution of Pakistan, in February 1948. On another broadcast, recorded on 19th February 1948, he emphasized "But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it"

Extremist religious and sectarian tendencies surfaced for the first time as earlyas November 1947, when one of the religious parties of pre-independence days, Majlis-i-Ahrar decided to revive itself. Since then it has been a story of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear, and in certain cases offering government patronage and pampering towards the dangerous and harmful activities of these elements. It seemed strange that the rulers of the newly independent Pakistan had come to power through a democratic process, but succumbed, wittingly or unwittingly, to fascist tendencies and tactics at the initial stage of the democratic era.

Throughout history no single man yielded as much power as the Quaid-e-Azam and yet remained uncorrupted, by that power. Gordon Johnson, Director Center of South Asian Studies said rightly of our great leader, "He set a great example for other statesmen to follow by his skill in negotiation, his integrity and his honesty." Never tempted by bribery or the lures of Imperial 'honours' he was, as Liaquat Ali Khan put it "unpurchaseable".

He assured the first Constituent assembly on August 11, 1947. "I shall always be guided by the principles of justice and fairplay without any, as is put in the political language, prejudice or ill-will, in other words, partiality or favouritism. My guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality." Being a man of integrity and principles, honest and incorruptible, the core principle Quaid-e-Azam stood for was that of clean, honest and unstained politics, not meant to secure power and pelf acquired dishonestly but to serve the community and the country. During his life-time no politician could deter him of his set of guidelines and never dare to make recommendations for special privileges, manage finances unscrupulously, indulge in image building, titles or awards and cronyism, nepotism, jobbery or any influence and had to perform their duties as servants to the people and the State, fearlessly and honestly. Even as governor-general, he set an example in austerity. Ispahani Ambassador to U.S.A. from September 1947 to February 1952 tells us that he cancelled the orders for a Lincoln (car) and for an aircraft because Pakistan could not afford to pay for them. For the same reason, he would not go in for installing a lift in the Governor-General House, despite his old age.

Also, he would see that the lights were put off before he retired to his bedroom. He spent his own personal funds to finance his political activities (including travel, boarding and lodging) Compare these austerity measures to the princely and elitist lifestyle of our rulers and one would realize why the Father of the Nation's portraits are being replaced by corrupt, inept leaders for whom the country has proved to be a dripping roast and they live well on the proceeds. This clique that has monopolized Pakistan as their inheritance continues obstructing progress and development to perpetuate their ruthless domination. The funniest part is every leader, calls himself Quaid of this and Quaid of that, without having an iota of semblance to being a leader. This is unfortunately the story of Pakistan, as it's today.

Jinnah was prescient when he reportedly observed, "Each successive government in Pakistan will be worse than its predecessor". The 62 years history of Pakistan establishes the fact that Quaid-e-Azam had tremendous prophetic insight. Successive leadership— up for sale— has taken Pakistan from integration to isolation.







The joint session of Parliament had in depth discussion on Ahgaz-e-Haqooq-e- Balochistan package announced by the government last month. It envisages a number of comprehensive political, administrative and economic measures aimed at addressing long-standing grievances of the people of province. The joint sitting was convened to get input and suggestions of elected representatives for its further improvement and fine-tuning by working with high pace in order to remove sense of deprivation of the people. The grievances are deep and being addressed to bring peace in the province. Many districts of the province lack even the most prime necessities like water and healthcare. Such an acute sense of deprivation is fomenting trouble. It was unfortunate that every government in the past ignored Balochistan.

The patriotism of Baloch leaders was undoubtful as they had an important role in the creation of Pakistan. The government is ready to talk to dissident Baloch leaders including those in exile in order to bring them into mainstream and was also considering general pardon for all those not involved in heinous crimes. When the government took over after February 2008 elections, it was told that around 8,000 persons were missing. However, after a thorough probe it was found that the actual number was only 992. Of these 262 have returned to their homes so far and other innocent would return soon. Last year 83 cases were withdrawn and 89 more would be withdrawn shortly. Te recovery of missing persons is a major achievement of the government. The implementation process of Ahgaz-e-Haqooq-e- Balochistan Package has started for which Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani already issued directions. The Army would be replaced with Frontier Constabulary personnel in the province, addressing a long standing demand of its people. On the direction of the Prime Minister Army has been withdrawn from Kohlu Cantonment and replaced by FC personnel. Army would also be withdrawn from Sui and FC personnel deployed there and border along Mund would be opened. Measures were also being taken to place the FC under the direct control of Chief Minister. The seven check posts at Uthal, Lehri, Dera Allah Yar, Sheikh Wasil, Gawal, Zero Point and Islamzai will be closed.

Advertisements being published in the national dailies for recruitment of Balochistan people in different departments for which the government was giving age relaxation. About 10,000 youth would be provided jobs, 5,000 graduates will also be provided employment in addition to the regular quota. The lowering of educational qualification for appointment in Coast Guards from Matriculation to Class 8 would enable more young people to join the service. The government was taking steps for creating ownership of the package by Baloch people that is essential for its success and shown sincerity in its implementation as it is very serious to bring Balochistan into main political stream and ensure its rapid socio-economic and political development. The package recognizes the demands of Balochistan government, gives them provincial autonomy, relief to political prisoners and royalty over their natural resources. This would greatly help in bridging the trust deficit between the Federation and Balochistan. The discontent is on control of natural resources, political autonomy to largest possible extent, redressal of past injustices. The package moves in the right direction on resolving these issues.

The government was determined to speedily implement the Package to redress longstanding demands of the people and usher in a harmonious relationship between the Province and the Federation. The constitutional amendments about provincial autonomy were being finalized by the Parliamentary Committee and it is hoped the same would be announced shortly. After change in the National Finance Commission NFC award formula based on population; other criteria such as inverse population ratio, backwardness, poverty and resource generation were also being taken into consideration to redress the grievances of Balochistan and other smaller provinces. After rationalization of the royalty formula and gas development surcharge, the concept of public private ownership would be followed in areas granted for exploration. All the new mega projects to be initiated with the consent and approval of the provincial government. The B areas were also being converted into A areas.

The overall development of Balochistan is a key priority of the government to reduce poverty, increase employment opportunities, raise living standard of the people. Measures have also been taken to develop the coastal belt as this would provide more opportunities to people. The launch of large projects will reduce poverty and generate economic opportunities while those in social sector set pace for sustainable socio-economic progress through which people will have access to long-awaited better quality of life. Youth would be trained to acquire modern skills, expertise, necessary for getting jobs in industries. Balochistan, is regarded as most backward of Pakistan's four provinces with 6.5 million inhabitants. In mineral resources it is said to be richest province and is a major supplier of natural gas to the country. With a deep sea port at Gawadar and planned road link with Afghanistan and central Asia, Balochistan has acquired a new significance - both for Pakistan and other regional players. And that is where problem lies. For decades, Baloch nationalists have been critical of Federal government, accusing it of depriving the province its due. The problem is essentially local. Baloch people can only be tamed through political means. The root cause was deep feeling of mistrust. Despite its wealth of oil, gas and other minerals, Balochistan is still poorest province, with 60 percent of its population living below poverty line.

Pakistan Peoples Party government decided to find measures to undo injustices done to the people in the past, promote political reconciliation and harmony at national level and bring the province back on board. It has been decided to take important decisions for development of Balochistan for which Federal government would provide adequate funds to Provincial Government. It would ensure implementation of six percent quota of jobs for the province in federal government services. Federal government will take into confidence all stakeholders in the province while changing old administrative structure. The gas development surcharge and royalty issue would also be resolved under new National Finance Commission award. The government reiterated its offer of talks to those who lay down arms, renounce violence and be part of democratic process. Since in democratic setup all issues can be resolved through political and administrative measures there was no need for resorting to violence.







A 3-day Indo-Pak Conference on 'roadmap for peace' has been planned in New Delhi from January 10 by a consortium of Indian fora. Participants have been invited from Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir in addition to participants from the host country, and the conference will be opened by former Indian premier IK Gujral. On second day of the conference ie January 11, the topic is "Issue of Autonomy: Kashmir and Balochistan", which will be chaired by Rajendra Sacchar former chief justice of Delhi High Court. The session will be addressed by Asma Jehangir of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Quetta-based journalist Siraj Malik Akbar, JKLF chief Yasin Malik, Sajjad Lone of Peoples Conference and Senator Hasil Khan Bizenjo. One does not understand how members of Pakistani delegation have agreed to the topic which is bracketing Balochistan with Kashmir. They are either too naïve or are infatuated with India that they do not see the conspiracy? Don't they realize that the Kashmir dispute is a matter between two sovereign states India and Pakistan, and there are United Nations Security Council resolutions giving Kashmiris the right to decide through plebiscite under UN aegis to join India or Pakistan. But Balochistan is a federating unit of Pakistan and there is no relevance with Kashmir dispute.

However, quantum of autonomy issue is the internal matter of Pakistan and can be resolved through dialogue. It is common knowledge that India's RAW is involved in fanning centrifugal tendencies and supporting insurgents in Balochistan, which matter was brought up by Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Sharm Al-Sheikh. Anyhow, the organizers of conference claim that this conference is being organized to mobilize the peace activists and peace groups from India and Pakistan and to influence both the governments to resume the peace process. In fact, effort has been made to internationalize Balochistan issue in a subtle manner and to lend support to point of view of a few Baloch Sardars who openly say that they don't believe in negotiations with the federal government. And that they would not accept anything short of an independent Balochistan. In this backdrop, those who advocate holding negotiation with sardars' scions who are in self-exile should try and see their real visages.

Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Asma Jahangir, Co-chairman of HRC Iqbal Haider and IA Rehman also would address the controversial session of the conference. Last year, when three Baloch leaders were killed, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a statement had said: "The facts strongly suggest that members of state security picked up the three victims, and tortured and killed them before dumping their bodies." The HRCP office bearers relying upon the members of the banned organizations said that the three men were taken away in cars who were closely followed by Frontier Corps vehicles. One does not understand as to why human rights organizations and activists do not see the murder of settlers from other provinces especially teachers in Balochistan? Do only sardars are human beings and other poor Balochs and settlers are not human beings? According to another report, there were more than a dozen FIRs registered against murdered Baloch leaders on various charges of attacking Frontier Corp, laying anti-tank mine, destruction of government and public property etc. Perhaps it is in this backdrop that fingers of accusation are being pointed towards government and its agencies. Nevertheless, foreign hand behind the murder of Baloch leaders could not be ruled out, as Indian Raw is out to exacerbate the contradictions and fuel passions in Balochistan..

Since 1950s, Baloch sardars have been coming out with unreasonable demands. There were of course some genuine grievances of the people especially after formation of the One Unit. Anyhow, the long dormant crisis had erupted into a brutal confrontation with the center in 1973 when late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had tried to establish educational institutions and construction of roads in Balochistan. The insurgency had lasted for four years from 1973 to 1977, and it was after promulgation of Martial Law by Late General Zia-ul-Haq that sedition cases were withdrawn against Baloch sardars. It has to be mentioned that sardars and feudal chiefs thrived even amid the clashes between them and the security forces. In other words, poor people of Balochistan stand to suffer in general by sardars during peace times and also become fodder for the sardars when they challenge the writ of the state. It is unfortunate that the civil society does not consider it worthwhile to comment on what sardars have been doing to their people. No human right activist cries over the atrocities inflicted on them by their feudal lords and sardars in their private jails. It is too well known that RAW, CIA and Mossad are active in Balochistan and FATA to destabilize Pakistan, and Pakistani leadership – ruling and opposition parties - should work in unison to frustrate the designs of enemies of Pakistan. .

There is no denying that during British Raj and after independence Balochistan and NWFP were neglected so far as its development is concerned. But this is also true that despite being part of the provincial governments, sardars had neither done anything to develop Balochistan nor persuaded the central government to make development plans for their province. They consider all natural resources of Balochistan their personal property and want to pocket all the profits and royalties. From the statements and interviews of scions of Akbar Bugti, one can understand that the bone of contention between late Akbar Bugti and the federation arguably was that the latter wanted increase in gas royalty. As regards Mian Nawaz Sharif's suggestion of holding talks with those who are not in Balochistan is intriguing and he is trying to draw political mileage from the contradictions between sardars and the government. He should have known that Brahamdagh Bugti is ensconced in Afghanistan near President Karzai's palace and Mir Byar Marri is in London and both are reported to have the backing and support from enemies of Pakistan.

There is no denying the fact that tribalism is firmly rooted in Balochistan, and ethnic and tribal identity is a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan with the result that there exists deep polarization among different groups. Each of these groups is based on different rules of social organization, which has left the province inexorably fragmented. Tribal group-ism has failed to integrate the state and enforce a national identity. But those who have not weaned from the poison of sham nationalism should take a look at the history of the Balkans, and the fate they met. A couple of times Sardar Ataullah Mengal appeared in a television interview, and said that America does not pay any attention and would accept any outside help to disntegrate the country. Sardar Ataullah Mengal, Sardar Khair Bakhsh Marri and scions of late Akbar Bugti should try to safeguard the interests of Baloch people but through democratic struggle and not through violence and bloodshed. It is heartening to note that there is realization on the part of the central government as well as provinces; and in this regard Punjab and Sindh have sacrificed part of their share to Balochistan.







The successful launch of Sejil-2 missile by Iran that can target Israel and US did not surprise both these countries as India had already leaked sufficient information on Iranian missile project. Because of the same forecast, Washington was pushing the world community and United Nations for tougher sanctions against ehran. Iran is well aware of Indian role in espionage for US and Israel.

With the surfacing of Indo-US-Israel troika, India's long awaited desire to win over Iran to her side against Pakistan and other Muslim countries seems fading away. Although in the recent years there was a record growth in the bilateral relations between India and Iran but latest India-US-Israel collaboration against the Muslim world has cautioned Iranian government and political analysts in Tehran. Indian modus operandai against Muslims remains that it creates misunderstanding between Muslim countries, which finally lead to suspicion and hostile relations. In a conspiracy against Pakistan, India made a lot of material investment and sacrificed precious time of her Intelligence agencies in order to share so called self-engineered red hot information with US, Israel and at times with Iran.

It is interesting to note that the state of art technical equipment provided by US and Israel to collect intelligence pertaining to Iran's nuclear programme and movement of Iranian Armed Forces, especially the Iranian Navy is also utilized against countries like Pakistan to provide selected information to please strategic partners. The sole aim of India is to isolate Pakistan from Iran in order to create her hegemony over the entire region. In another recent development, a secret Indo-US agreement has been recently concluded by virtue of which India has agreed upon to transfer data regarding Iranian nuclear programme including monitoring of nuclear radiation-emission through human intelligence as well as from India satellite RISAT. It need to be kept in mind that US has started installation of two nuclear reactors on selected Indian sites as a reward for furnishing information against Iranian secrets. Due to US and Israeli growing influence over India, despite New Delhi's generous offers to Iran in the field of military hardware as well as infrastructure, Iran has always looked towards India with suspicion. No doubt that there are numerous agreements inked between the two countries to jointly counter terrorism and extremism but India failed to get recognition of trusted friend in the eyes of an ordinary Iranian. The Iranian intelligence is well aware of India's long term designs in the region and as a defensive strategy, New Delhi is being kept at safe distance. Despite Iranian careful dealings, India is constantly disseminating important intelligence to Non-Muslim world regarding Iran's religious activities in Qom, Mashed and Muqadas shrine, portraying it as anti West and more threatening than the Al-Qaida. Thus purely religious practices are painted as some sort of an attempt to take over the world by a revolution. Indian Consulate General Zahidan and Indian Embassy Tehran have become Indian intelligence agency RAW's breeding ground for agents. Diplomats of Indian Embassy Tehran and Consulate General Zahidan were photographed by Afghan intelligence agencies holding confidential meetings with leaders of Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Jandollah group in Dubai, Zabal and Zarang in Afghanistan.

Many analysts get confused to observe that when India's collaboration with US and Israel is being monitored by Iran, why Tehran is unable to discontinue diplomatic relations with India. In fact, Iran at this critical juncture cannot give India a blunt reply because of her fear of isolation. Iran is very clear that the India will not only allow US and Israeli planes to use its bases but will also extend full strategic and logistic support if pre-emptive military strikes are carried out to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities. In fact, the Israeli Air Force had even held an exercise over the Mediterranean in June 2008, which was widely believed to be the simulation of a strike against Iranian nuclear installations. Among the 52 joint combat exercises between India and US in the last seven years, the Red Flag air combat exercise in US in 2008 and Yudh Abanas in 2009 are excellent examples of Indo-US nexus against Iranian Nuclear and missile installations.

India's past record vis-à-vis Iran had been very poor. India played a major role in developing a consensus against Iran's nuclear programme. It even did not bother the long-standing ties with Iran, when it voted against Iran in the IAEA Board of Governors' meetings in September 2005 and March 2006. Presently India is trying hard to mend fences with Iran. However, the last year's incident of not permitting the Indian aircrafts to fly over Iranian territory is indicative that Iran has lost its trust over India and that she has realized that it is India which is disseminating secrets of Iranian strategic and tactical targets to US and Israel. In the recent past, the espionage activities of Indian diplomats in Afghanistan came into the notice of Iran and United Arab Emirates, when personnel of Indian Border Road Organization (BRO) and Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) were caught red handed carrying out highly objectionable activities. Presently, Presently, Iran security forces have disallowed the Indian agents to us Iranian soil against Pakistan and Afghanistan.

India's Iran Policy has miserably failed rather its long-standing ties with Iran has been strained. Although the India's past record will never encourage any leadership in Tehran to maintain relations of trust with New Delhi but Iran at the same time will not refuse a friendly handshake with India, to avoid international isolation. Supported by powerful print and electronic media, India's policy in the region aimed at maintaining hegemony over the entire region through its bluff game. It is right time for Iran to neutralize the activities being carried out by Indian intelligence agency RAW through Indian Embassy Tehran and Indian Consulate General Zahidan.

There is no doubt that India is waging a silent proxy war inside Iran to serve the interests of US and Israel. By and large Indian civilian workers in Iran and the Gulf region have no bad intentions against Islamic Republic of Iran but Indian Armed Forces personnel and its intelligence agents are working against Iranian interests to please US and Israel.








President Barack Obama's war on Al-Qaeda is assuming awesome dimensions. From Afghanistan, the war first spread to the tribal regions of Pakistan, before returning more recently to Yemen and Somalia, with further forays deep into the wastes of sub-Saharan Africa. These territories where wars are now being waged have several features in common: they are Muslim, tribal and poor, and much of their home territory happens to be wild and inhospitable, with little modern infrastructure. Weighed down by cumbersome logistics, Western armies are at a disadvantage against tribal fighters, who tend to be fleet-of-foot, lightly armed and indistinguishable from civilians.

There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda poses a security threat to the United States. The most recent demonstration was the Christmas Day attempt by a young Nigerian to ignite explosives on a US commercial aircraft. Fortunately, he was overpowered by other passengers, allowing the plane to land safely in Detroit. Equally, there is no doubt that Barack Obama must make war on such militants, and seek to destroy them, with all the power at his command. American opinion — and his duty as commander-in-chief — demands nothing less. All is not plain sailing, however. Many experts believe that provoking the West into attacking Muslim countries is precisely Al Qaida's strategy. This inflames anti-American sentiment and draws recruits into Al Qaida's ranks — especially when there are civilian casualties, as there invariably are.

The question must, therefore, be posed whether military force alone is the best way to defeat a dangerous enemy. Should American hopes of victory lie in the further deployment of troops in Afghanistan; in clandestine operations by Special Forces; in remote-controlled missile attacks, in pouring American money, training and equipment into Pakistan and Yemen to urge them to confront the militants? Or should priority be given to other means — more political and economic — to isolate and neutralise Al Qaida's fighters? In wars of this sort, two powerful mobilising agents are at work, which draw men into militancy. The first is the perceived need to defend Islam against the aggression of infidels; although tribes are notorious for feuding, they will unite against a common enemy, especially if they are called to do so under the banner of Islam. The second is the all-pervasive tribal code that dictates attacks from outside cannot be left unpunished. Retaliation is a central fact of tribal life. If a member of your tribe, clan or family is killed, his death must be avenged.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, tribal traditions are still very powerful. They provide the basis for tribal solidarity. The tribe or clan is the ultimate focus of loyalty, rather than the nation. Seeking to impose a Western model of society on such countries by force of arms is to court defeat. On Al Jazeera the other night, a plainly nervous Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al Qurbi made clear that his country did not want foreign intervention. It needed economic aid and military equipment, but not American troops. Although he did not spell it out, his meaning was plain. American air strikes destabilise and discredit the Yemeni government by portraying it as a stooge of Washington. Exactly the same phenomenon can be observed in Pakistan's tribal reas, where the Pakistan army is seen as waging war against its own people on America's behalf.

Gregory Johnsen is an expert on Yemen at Princeton University. His views are worth considering. Military strikes, he said in a discussion with, "need to come at the end of the process, when Al Qaida has been isolated from the population, when its rhetoric has been discredited, not at the beginning of the process, when Al Qaida members are still seen as pious individuals defending their faith".

His basic point is that a military approach needs to be coupled with a development approach, because it is poverty, unemployment, a corrupt government and a general sense of hopelessness that cause young men to take up arms against America and its allies. High-level international meetings are to be held in London on January 28 to examine the situation in both Afghanistan and Yemen. No doubt the emphasis will be on counter-terrorism. It might perhaps be wiser if priority were given to devising a political exit strategy from these conflict zones. In Afghanistan and Yemen, mediation by influential neighbours or by respected individuals — such as the former Algerian foreign minister and veteran negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi — could help to bring about a ceasefire, so as to provide space in which differences can be aired, governments restructured and conflicts resolved.

It seems clear that Obama's expanding war against Al Qaida is leading America deeper into a quagmire. I have long argued that he needs to apply political shock-therapy to the conflict in Afghanistan, rather than the shock of war. The same applies to Yemen, a country of mountains and powerful tribes, much like Pakistan. Obama urgently needs to change America's image in the Muslim world from that of an enemy to that of a partner. When he came to power a year ago, he tried to do just that. But like George W. Bush before him, he has fallen into Al Qaida's trap.—Gulf News








A bloody clash between the Chhatra League and the Chhatra Moitree left one student dead and seven others, including two police constables, injured on the campus of Rajshahi Polytechnic Institute on Thursday. We condemn the gruesome incident. Chhatra League, an associate body of the ruling Awami League has been blamed for the attack. This is most unfortunate, to say the least.  Clashes between rival student fronts have not been an unheard-of thing during this period but those, mostly intra-party feuds, did not culminate in a tragedy like this. We understand the prime minister dissociated herself from the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) as she was unhappy over the student front's insensitive attitude of defiance. Clearly, the moral high ground from where she took such a decision has failed to bring about any change in the BCL.

This clearly indicates that stringent measures have to be taken to discipline the student front of the ruling Awami League. Without doing this, the Awami League (AL) runs the risk of losing its image, more so when it is keen to project itself as the champion of change. As a student organisation, the BCL must give a good account of itself. The student body's involvement in tender-related malpractice and now in campus violence will ultimately have a negative impact on the parent party.

That is the last thing the AL will want to see happening. The good thing, though, is the arrest of four BCL activists in connection with the barbarity that led to the death of a Chhatra Moitree leader. Usually, the police turn a blind eye to such incidents and dare not catch the culprits belonging to the student wing of the ruling party. Now the onus is on the ruling party to prove that it does not pull the string from behind the scene and allow the law to take its own course. That way, we believe, the violent elements within the student organisations - particularly those within the student body of the ruling AL, will get the right message. This is important for educational institutions to come out of the ominous shadow of campus violence.    









Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina has asked the authorities concerned to simplify and update the curriculum for children. She also detailed her government's efforts to staff the schools adequately. This is the first time that any government has paid attention to the "software" element of education. In the past, all emphasis was on the "hardware" side - school buildings and other infrastructure. Hopefully, this will turn around the quality of education imparted to our young generation.

It is important that our children get quality education. If they do not have the knowledge and skills to compete with the "best and brightest" from other countries there is no way the country can progress. Even if future citizens do not go abroad, they will have to build a country that can compete with others. This will need high quality education.

However, for this to happen there must be total commitment to quality. The kind of errors and mistakes that regularly occur in school textbooks indicate how casually this is treated. Such errors should never be allowed and, if necessary, should be made a punishable offence.

For quality education we also have to think of "outsourcing" or partially outsourcing our education. Other developing countries like Singapore, Malaysia, India and China have greatly benefited from it. Joint venture schools and universities have radically transformed those countries. This has to be thought of, as well.
The country surely needs equity but it also needs to produce world-class students. Class cannot be compromised for equality. Countries that have done it have ended up on the wrong end of the development spectrum. There is no reason why we should follow them, although it is understandable that all should, equally, have access to education.










"…One rail accident every 2 days…" Times of India, 3rd Jan      In a train somewhere in India an old lady looked out of the window fearfully and as night fell and the train chugged along she looked at her two little grandchildren and started a bedtime story. "Once upon a time children, train travel was safe."

"Grandma," said both the children, "you told us never ever to lie, didn't you?"

"People used to get into trains and go to sleep!" continued the old lady.

"Sleep?" shouted both the children. "Weren't they afraid they would never wake up again? Didn't they pray throughout the journey like we do now? Didn't they hug their little children and wish them their last goodbye?


Didn't they cry and weep that they would never see each other again next morning?"

"At every station," continued their grand mother, "passengers got down and stretched their legs."

"Stretched their legs!" cried the elder of the two children. "You mean their limbs were still part of their body?


Grandmother this is a fairy tale isn't it?"

"People used to take out their pack of cards and play a game."

"Didn't they keep a watch at the window? Didn't they always look to see if the engine was still attached and hadn't fallen off…"

"Or rushed off the tracks.."

"Or hit a boulder?"

"Or hit another train?"

"We even shared our food with each other."

"Didn't you keep it for later grandmother, when you would need it in some remote place where you would be lying with only dead people next to you, and the bogies one on top of the other?"

"Signals were checked," said the old lady softly. "Railway lines were inspected. Tax money was spent on safety."

"Why isn't the railway minister concentrating on safety grandma?" whispered the two children.
"Now," said the grandmother, "the railway minister has only one agenda on her mind, which is to topple the government in her home state!"

"Because of which trains are toppling all over the country!" shouted the two children shrilly.
"Derailing all over!"

"Ramming into each other!"

"Why is she the railway minister if her interest is only West Bengal grandma?"

The grandmother nodded sadly and looked out of the window.

The other passengers in the same compartment also looked out of the window, fearfully. A woman held prayer beads and chanted her prayers incessantly, forgetting lines as she stared at the passengers standing at the door, ready to jump out in case the train derailed, hit another train, fell into the river or just fell apart!
The two children looked up fearfully at their grandmother and screamed as the train suddenly rocked and rolled. "Once upon a time,' muttered the grandmother, "train travel was safe..!" and she blacked out.






Today's leading organisations at home and abroad are able to focus on the benefits of operational efficiency as well as the implementation of a long-term business strategy. Many of them are searching for new and innovative ways to deliver high quality, cost-effective solutions and services in order to boost performance in the short and medium term mission and vision. Outsourcing is a part of key strategic business tool. It delivers the flexibility needed to adapt in a fast changing business and economic environment and can transform an organisation's ability to create significant competitive advantage and accordingly realise its strategic ambitions.

The government of Bangladesh is planning to include the outsourcing services as a part of industry. The popular Business  Process  Outsourcing  (BPO)  is  a  form  of  outsourcing  which  involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of any specific business functions to third party business provider. BPO is classified into back office outsourcing and front office outsourcing. When this service contracted outside a company's country is called offshore outsourcing. When a company is contracted to a company's neighbour country is called near shore outsourcing. There is a controversy to explain outsourcing policy and possibilities in home and abroad. Some say that it is wrong to pay people in abroad less than the same job would justify in somewhere like the home country. However, we need to compare not just salaries, but what those salary levels will actually buy in different countries.

Say, an IT professional in India may be far better off in terms of lifestyle, even though paid only a third of the US salary. It all depends on exchange rates and the scale of economy. The pressures will continue to grow, not just for cost saving, but also for quality, service and speed. India produces more than 870,000 new IT graduates a year and produces more than a million engineering graduates a year, plus 16 million others with engineering diplomas. India is leading the way in new areas of pharmaceuticals, biotech, electrical and mechanical engineering. The UK struggles to turn out just 8,000 IT graduates a year. The scenario of Bangladesh is very poor. There are few private universities which are able to survive with producing IT professionals. Even government infrastructure is very poor to provide the requirements of the mission and vision of digital Bangladesh. When a product is manufactured in China, India or Bangladesh instead of the US or Europe, only a small part of the total retail price lands up in that country. Most is taken as before by the retailer, wholesaler, distribution system, research, design and development teams and company owners as profit. So the impact is less than you might expect.

Research shows that some of the new economic activity generated in developing countries by outsourcing will generate new demand for goods and services in the country where the jobs have moved from, for example, America. There are estimates that for every dollar US corporations spend on outsourcing to India, 33c gets 33c and the US economy benefits by $1.14. This is based on several assumptions: that 69% of displaced service workers will find new jobs within a year, and will end up earning 96% of their previous wages - backed up by 1979-1999 data. However, older workers may be out of work far longer, especially if their education is poor.
Outsourcing saves money for corporations which mean lower costs for consumers and higher dividends for pensioners who own 75% of US and UK wealth - that means more money to spend on other things such as local services (meals out, beauty treatments, gardening, decorating, etc.) and that produces new jobs. Outsourcing has meant for example that you can buy a DVD player for less than $100. It is one reason why retail costs of products have halved in many sectors over the last 20 years, allowing for inflation. Future economic growth depends on new generations of creative, dynamic entrepreneurs, with good access to venture capital, which will drive national economies through transition. There has been a rising global confidence in Bangladesh and its IT Industry in the recent years. Goldman Sachs recognised Bangladesh as one of the Next Eleven (N-11) - a list of eleven countries having strong potential for becoming the world's largest economies along with BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), with highly promising outlooks for investment and future growth. European Commission has already included Bangladesh as one of the top IT outsourcing destinations in the world. The US industrial giant General Electric (GE) plans to outsource jobs to Bangladesh. The GE which employs around 40,000 people in India alone - mainly in the outsourcing sector - will initially provide jobs to a company founded by Bangladeshi expatriates in the US. They will invest around $300 million in Bangladesh initially to set up facilities to receive work orders from GE.

Modern business professionals are always searching competitive advantages for cost and profit maximising. We have to develop the opportunities for IT sectors. Like garments, we have the opportunity for outsourcing both in home and abroad and accordingly increase revenue from this very potential business sectors.
We have ample scope of outsourcing in home in several sectors in addition to IT. These are includes tourism, luxury resort, hand embroidery, jewellry, hospital furniture, tiles, ceramics, interior decorations and bricks, etc. We hope business organisations like FBCCI and others will forecast these opportunities for the ongoing SME development in Bangladesh.


(The writer is Assistant Professor, the Millennium University)









Diversity and tolerance are considered very basis of modernity as one of the modernity's fundamental principles is individual and community rights and also, as modernity implies democratic rule, tolerance and right to pursue any ideology or religion assumes great importance. The western countries consider themselves as role models for democracy and freedom. Mr. Bush, after 9/11 attack often used to say why (read Muslims) are jealous of our democracy and freedom?

Most of us believe in this myth that west stands for freedom of conscience, democracy and liberty. And in theory it is quite correct. But is it in practice?  First of all let us ask one question: did they ever consider non-whites, non-Europeans as equal and entitled to equality and liberty? The history tells us no. The white superiority was always underlying assumption and the blacks (now known as African-American) were always discriminated against. Even Jews, until Second World War, did not enjoy equal rights. They were always discriminated against and forced to live in ghettoes, apart from what Nazis did with them. 
Also, until Second World War when the Western world was mono-religious and mono-cultural its tolerance for non-western religions and cultures was never tested. It is only when economic migrations began from the erstwhile colonial countries that west began to experience what they now call multi-culturalism and western society became multi-religious and multi-cultural.

It was then that strains appeared and we saw number of cases of prejudice and discrimination against non-white, non-western people migrating to the west. The most recent case is of Switzerland voting to ban minarets for Muslim mosques. In the poll held 57 per cent Swiss people voted against allowing minarets to Muslim mosques. In Switzerland close to four million people are MuslimsIt is heartening that the New York Times editorially condemned this proposed ban. It is worthwhile to quote excerpts from the editorial which was published on November 30, 2009, immediately after the referendum in Switzerland: "Disgraceful. That is the only way to describe the success of a right-wing initiative to ban the constitution of minarets in Switzerland, where 57 percent of voters cast ballots for a bigoted and mean-spirited measures."
Further the editorial says, "But the vote also carries a strong and urgent message for all Europe, and for all Western nations where Islamic minorities have been growing in numbers; and visibility, and where fear and resentment of Muslim immigrants and their religion have become increasingly strident and widespread. The warning signs have been there: the irrational fierceness of official French resistance to the shawls and burkhas worn by some Muslim women; the growing opposition in many European quarters to Turkish membership in the European Union."

The New York editorial is, indeed the voice of sanity in the growing intolerance in the Western world towards Muslims in particular and, non-western cultures and religions, in general. We would again like to reiterate here that in principle West does stand for equality, freedom of conscience and human rights which most of the Muslim countries have yet to learn. But, as we will show herein below that Islam also stands for tolerance and respect for other culture and faiths and believes diversity is creation of Allah but test really comes in practice.
It is also true that terrorist attacks in some countries, and especially after 9/11 has intensified hatred against Islam and Muslims but then in Switzerland, the Muslims have been peaceful and there have been no instances of such attacks and it appears quite irrational that people of Switzerland should display such intolerance towards their peaceful minority. However, the signs were in the air.

I had delivered a lecture on Islam and non-violence way back in 2004 in Zuric which was held in collaboration with the local church. When question answer session began the journalists present there said how Islam can ever be non-violent and peaceful. I said I have based my speech on the Qur'anic text and anyone can verify what I have said but the journalists did not seem to be convinced. They kept on arguing until the church official intervened. What these journalists must have been writing about Islam is obvious. In modern society media plays very important role.

This is further borne out by the TV debate between noted Swiss Muslim intellectual and my friend Tariq Ramadan and Oskar Freysinger on ban on minaret. It became evident from the debate that the real issue was not minaret, but Islam itself. Dr. Patrick Haenni, a researcher at Religiouscope, who believes that religion, not politics, was the core of the initiator's discourse through a perspective full of misconceptions and stereotypes.
The ban on burqa in France by the Government is another instance of this intolerance for non-western religions and cultures. This writer is no advocate of burqas covering entire body and face from head to toe but the question is not one should wear burqa or not, more fundamental question is of individual right and choice.


Whatever reason for wearing burqa, personal conviction, social or peer pressures or identity issue, does one have right to wear or not? Should one ban it outright?

Here I would like to narrate an interesting experience. I was lecturing on secularism in the University of Bukhara and in the audience were mostly young women dressed in skirts as western women do. During the lecture two burqa clad women (wearing burqa from head to toe) entered and sat down. After my lecture was over some of those women stood up and agitatedly said sir, why should we not thrown out these two women (wearing burqa)? I was shocked at the aggressive tone of these agitated women.

I enquired why do you want to throw them out? These women (all of them Muslim) said why are they wearing burqa and why do they cover themselves? I said I ask you one simple question suppose all these women were clad in Burqa and two of you had come wearing skirts and with modern haircut and if they had asked by not throw these two skirt-wearing women out, what would have been your response?

I said throwing out or banning a practice is not the solution but to dialogue with each other and to understand each other. They then appreciated my viewpoint and sat down quietly and we continued our discussion. Thus to accept the other, as other is (not with prescriptions) is the essence of democracy. Prescription for the other violates the very spirit of others' rights and dignity which is the basis of modernity. Now it has been universally accepted that it is not only individual rights which are important but also group rights of minorities as well are equally important.

The west, whatever its principles and values, is yet to come to terms with non-western others. Also, it should not depend on the doctrine of reciprocation but group rights should be absolute. I remember in UK there was debate in eighties how Muslims treat Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries. Do they give them equal rights and freedom of religion? If not, why do they expect such rights in western countries?
This reciprocation approach contradicts the very spirit of democratic values and principles. These values and principles are absolute and no conditionalities could be prescribed. Of course there are complex reasons for the growing intolerance towards Muslim minorities in the western world. p

(The writer is India-based Islamic scholar)


 As everywhere the rightist forces thrive on hatred of the other and the ban on the minaret in Switzerland is also the result of rise of rightist politics. The Muslims in India too have experienced it when the BJP tried to come to power through hate politics of Ramjanambhoomi.


In France too, ban on hijab came under the regime of Sarkozy who is known rightist. Secondly, the rising number of immigrants also creates fear in the minds of original inhabitants of the country and, in order to press the issue, these numbers are highly exaggerated. Muslims, both by way of migration and birth, are the fastest growing minority in the Europe. Thirdly, most of the Muslim migrants are non-whites, many of them blacks from African countries and here both religious as well as racial prejudice combine and intensify hatred and intolerance.

In France, for example, most of the Muslim migrants are from former French colonies and hence happen to be black. Discrimination against them and their marginalisation totally alienates them and this alienation finds expression through complex ways - through aggressive behaviour or overemphasis on their identities which in turn further intensifies their alienation.And, if this is followed by economic crisis as Europe is undergoing these days, majority fear against the 'migrant other' becomes even more aggressive born out of fear and the rising tide of rightist forces in such circumstances further aggravates it. Also, the US policies in the Middle East has resulted in intensifying extremism in a section of youth in the Muslim countries resulting in terrorist attacks such as 9/11 which excites even more hatred against Muslims in the west.
What is the way out then? Where to stop this vicious circle of action and reaction? It is for sure that we cannot control all the factors. But it is also equally certain that we need a wise political leadership who is not after power but welfare of people. Democracy ideally speaking is for people's participation and for their well being. However, like other political systems, democracy too, has become means of grabbing power by certain groups and classes. Also, it tends to be majoritarian i.e. heavily tilted in favour of racial, religious or linguistic majority. There has been hardly any exception to it in the world.

Certain Muslim countries who swear by the Qur'an as their constitution also flagrantly violate the Qur'anic provisions. The Qur'an gives certain ideals and values for governance, an idea of the desirable society. It says diversity is Allah's creation and must be respected and celebrated. And this diversity includes linguistic, racial and religious and human beings, whatever religion, race or linguistic group they belong to, must be accorded equal dignity and which means all of them should enjoy equal rights.

However, you will not find any Muslim country swearing by the Qur'an as book of Allah implementing these ideals. You find discrimination on the basis of religion, even sects, language and ethnicity. You very much find discrimination for example in Saudi Arabia, against non-Arabs, against non-Wahabi Muslims and against other ethnic and racial groups. One finds discrimination in Iran against Sunni Muslims, against Arabs, against Bahais and against non-Persians.

In Pakistan one finds discrimination against certain linguistic groups like Baluchis and Sindhis. It is dominated by the Punjabi majority. Not only that there is sectarian violence between Shi'ahs and Sunnis besides Christians and Hindus. It is Punjabi majority which rules the roast. One has yet to see any Muslim country which does not violate injunctions of the Qur'an while swearing in by it as one has yet to see any western democracy not violating injunctions of their own constitutions enshrining ideals and values of modern democracy.
As long as the goal remains power, this is bound to happen. Another bane of the situation is current rise in rightist forces which arouse emotions of people on the basis of religion, race and language. Again no country is an exception to it. Education system itself, which prepares children and students for future material of the society, is controlled by, in most, if not all cases, by rightist elements.

The Netherlands is also undergoing severe problem of anti-Muslim tirade. One politician made a film called Fitna and refused to take it back. Also, a Muslim fanatic murdered a film maker from the Netherlands who caste slur on Islam and this further led to anti-Islamic surge there. I met a professor of Islamic studies from Netherlands in Germany who spoke on Islam. The seminar was on progressive Islam.

I was stunned by his anti-Islamic outpouring. It was nothing short of hate-Islam speech. When we protested the organisers maintained that all views are allowed to be expressed from this forum. May be it was so. But what was worrying factor was that the person was teaching Islam in the Netherlands. If such Islam is taught in universities of a country what mindset would be generated? One shudders to think.

Media is no exception. While it must be made clear there are honourable exceptions and some newspapers and TV channels which are quite objective or tend to be so but then such papers and channels are, more often than not, popular. They are read or watched by serious kind of people. Popular media tend to be prejudiced. Also, media is often owned by certain interests and it is not committed to the cause of objective reporting.
And media plays most crucial role in democracy. I would say if media plays responsible role rising above all interests modern democracies would be far more conflict-free than they are today. And in answering the question raised above media provides one of the crucial factors. Despite all the laws made by the state, media behaves the way it wants to as various state organs fail to implement the laws.

It is true we cannot have ideal democracy as the German philosopher rightly points out ideal is not real and real is not ideal, still one has to try to come as close to ideal as possible. Even such efforts are lacking in modern democracies. Invariably it is powerful interests which determine the shape and direction of things and there is always tension between vested interests and the ideals and interests seem to win.

Of course if the conflict remains manageable it is one thing but disaster takes place when it goes beyond manageable proportions. The attack on 9/11 and subsequent attack on Afghanistan and Iraq took this conflict between Islam and the west beyond all imaginable proportions as here too very powerful interests were involved. However, it would be wrong to consider it a self fulfillment of Huntigntonian prediction of 'clash of civilization'. It was, instead, clash of political interests on both sides.

It is interesting to note that Huntington's book received such media attention in the west precisely because certain interests in the west wanted such book written to promote conflict. Of course things may not have gone as planned but to an extent those interests were served but at a great social cost. It greatly sharpened prejudices in the west against Islam. And this has been going on for quite some time now.

Since Muslims began to immigrate to the western countries in the post-colonial period the anti-Islam prejudices began to acquire sharper edge. The Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses in the eighties and the support it received in the west was also part of this process. The enthusiastic support was not for the sake of freedom of opinion. There was a purpose behind it. The Islamic revolution had occurred in Iran which was anti-west in its thrust and made Iranian oil beyond western powers.

Thus the west adopted anti-Iran posture and when Khomeini, for his own political compulsions, issued fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the swords were drawn on both sides and west lent unqualified support to Rushdie in the name of freedom and Muslims stood by Khomeini's fatwa. It was neither freedom nor Islam but who will dominate Iran and its oil, west or people and rulers of Iran.

All these developments through eighties culminated in 9/11 attacks and everything was complete for anti-Islamic prejudices in western countries and media. As far as Arab oil is concerned the clashes are likely to continue and will go through different phases. It reached its culmination during the Bush's unqualified support to rightist policies and outright adventure in the West Asia.

However, since it crossed critical limits in conflict management Obama took over the reigns of administration. But it would indeed be too much to expect that Obama would resolve the conflict. But yes, certainly he may succeed in managing the conflict a shade better and he appears to be sincerely trying. He is far from free agent as many think. His hands are tied by so many uncontrollable factors.

Al-Qaeda and Taliban issue is not here to disappear in few years. Afghan people are fiercely independence loving and even Muslim rulers like Moghuls failed to subdue them, much less totally aliens like Americans. American policy makers should study history of Afghan rebellion much more seriously than they have done. US jackboots cannot crush Afghans. Obama has to an extent realized this and though he is sending more forces but has also promised to withdraw by 2011.

Withdraws or not but certainly solution does not lay in trying to crush Afghans but to resolve it through dialogue and accommodation which again is not easy. US is also not in Afghanistan for just to wipe out Al-Qaeda and Taliban but to control rich gas and mineral resources in Central Asia. It did not invaded Afghanistan for nothing. And as long as US wants to control rich resources of Central Asia it cannot find accommodation with Afghan Taliban and as long as Taliban issue continues anti-Islam prejudices will remain strong as ever.
It is also absolutely necessary to solve Palestinian problem if one desires peace in West Asia. While Afghan Taliban are more concerned about peace in their region but Al-Qaeda is more focused on West Asia and to solve both the problems sans US interests in both the regions is asking for let us say impossible. Should we despair then? Not really. But it is a challenge which few politicians can succeed in facing.

The Muslim countries too will have to seriously contemplate policy changes and have to make concerted efforts to project peaceful Islam on their part. They will have to fight powerful interests and confrontationists mindset on their part. The rulers in the west Asia have to go for modernization, changes in their education system and promoting spirit of understanding and dialogue with the other.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is wiser than his predecessors and following strategies to contain extremist elements in his own country. Like Obama's his hands are tied too. In Pakistan military establishment is too powerful to be contained easily and for quite sometime to come civilian rule will not be able to ascertain its independence and Pakistan is very crucial for peace in Afghan-Pakistan region.


Well, while working for greater understanding let us understand these challenges too.
(The writer is a Mumbai, India-based Islamic scholar)








Roughly one year ago, the global economic situation looked grim: a severe global recession, sizeable wealth destruction, and declines in trade and employment. But a disaster of Great Depression proportions was averted, thanks to unprecedented economic-policy coordination by governments around the world. Continued cooperation, one hopes, will be the legacy of this crisis.

The global economy is now on a recovery path, albeit uneven, and financial conditions have improved substantially. Clouds of uncertainty linger, however, and there is much unfinished business.
Indeed, the work needed to build a more robust, stable, and safe global financial system has only just begun. Moreover, the recovery is not global, unemployment is still rising in most countries, global savings imbalances have not been addressed, and conditions in the world's poorest states remain vulnerable. These issues have broad implications for global stability and peace. Remember, economic stability lays the groundwork for peace, while peace is a necessary precondition for trade and sustained economic growth.

In the annals of economic crises then, where do we find ourselves? In policy terms, we are at a critical point where fundamental changes to the system can be made, in part because our collective memory is sufficiently fresh to supply the necessary political will. We must not waste this opportunity.

What needs to be done? Global economic governance, including at the IMF, must be reformed to reflect the realities of the current era, and global financial-sector supervision and regulation need to be strengthened. Progress is well underway in both areas, but we must maintain the momentum into 2010 and beyond.
This year, leaders have moved decisively to make the G-20 the main forum for international economic cooperation; tripled the IMF's resources; agreed to shift some of the Fund's quota share to under-represented emerging and developing countries; and committed to submitting their economic policy frameworks to mutual assessment, with the IMF's help. Recognising that countries can no longer expect to achieve their economic goals in isolation, this peer review aims to incorporate systematically the goal of collective global welfare into national policy planning.

More specifically, what are the governance priorities for policymakers in 2010? This past autumn, IMF members endorsed the G-20's proposals, and asked the Fund to address four key reform areas the so called Istanbul Decisions in 2010: the IMF's mandate, the Fund's financing role, governance, and multilateral surveillance.
First, we will re-assess the Fund's original mandate as set out in the IMF's Articles, and as practiced in recent years in light of the range of economic and financial-sector policies that currently affect global stability. While the broad goals of promoting global financial stability and sustainable growth remain relevant, the surge in international capital flows, financial sector linkages, cross-border asset holdings, and the nature of this crisis all underscore the need to review the mandate and how we execute it.

Second, following from the mandate question, we need to work closely with members to determine the optimal financing role of the IMF. Many countries have built up large official foreign-exchange reserves, in part as greater self-insurance against adverse external developments. Self-insurance, however, complicates domestic monetary and exchange-rate management, represents a misallocation of capital domestically and globally, and raises the risk of bigger financial crises down the road.

As part of an overhaul of the Fund's lending facilities, we introduced the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), a pre-emptive insurance facility for members with strong policies. While three countries (Mexico, Poland, and Colombia) have used this facility, innovation on a greater scale is probably needed.

Third, in Istanbul, the IMF's governing body endorsed the big step forward on governance agreed by the G-20: a shift in quota shares of at least 5% (by January 2011) from over-represented countries toward dynamic but under-represented emerging markets and developing countries. This change will mark a much-needed step toward making the Fund more democratic, giving members a more credible stake in its management, strategic operations, and aspirations. Greater legitimacy, in turn, will make the IMF more effective in promoting economic growth and stability in all of our member states. Members must push ahead to ratify the 2008 quota increase, and to move forward the 2010 quota review.

Fourth, the IMF's governing body endorsed the G-20 proposal for the Fund to help with their peer review. The IMF has considerable experience with cooperative, peer reviews of members' policy frameworks. But its advice has not always brought about concrete policy action by members. With the quota change noted above and the new G-20 mutual assessment, the traction of surveillance should become significantly deeper. Policymakers need to follow through on their commitment to the peer review process.

Finally, in the area of financial-sector supervision and regulation, governments should forge ahead on reform of micro-prudential (individual entities) and macro-prudential (globally and nationally systemic) regulation. The IMF is working with the Financial Stability Board and other organisations to develop new principles and guidelines, including on capital, liquidity, leverage, interconnectedness, systemically important institutions, the perimeter of regulation, and the pro-cyclical nature of rules. The challenge in this field will be to guard against complacency, while not overburdening the system with excessive regulation.

Policymakers have a big agenda ahead, but they have already made an impressive start. As long as they continue working together to address common challenges in a cooperative spirit, the prospects for success look good.


(The writer is Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund) Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009







The last minute syndrome is one of the most fascinating aspects of the way the Tribhuvan University functions. However, their latest attempt to do away with the Proficiency Certificate Level in its campuses have not worked out the way TU authorities had wanted. The decision in this direction met with stiff resistance, not only from the students affiliated to various student unions, but also from the minister concerned. Of course, the fickle minded officials ought to realize that their effort was not totally undesirable, but that the government ought to have prepared the groundwork, that is making 10+2 education accessible both in terms of economic viability and the choice over a wide range of subjects offered to the students. In fact, it is mostly the private colleges that have gone in a big way for the higher secondary curriculum and in the process have levied a very exorbitant tuition and other fees on the aspirants. With the access to cheap 10+2 education nowhere down the pipeline, the students were bound to protest. In the past decade several attempts were made to make PCL redundant, but they proved to be unsuccessful, including the latest one.

TU has valid reasons for wanting to phase out the PCL. One of them is related to it is that the world over it is not given the due recognition which lands many aspiring students wanting to study abroad in a dead end. The other reason floated is that the university has to foot a heavy bill for running the PCL classes in the campuses funded by it. These motivated TU to announce that no admissions would be undertaken from this year. They were adamant on not revoking their decision. But with the heavy pressure brought on by student unions, the decision could not hold. And now the PCL studies will continue as usual this year. There are some other reasons for vested interest in continuing PCL, besides the extremely low financial burden on the students, and that is related to the politicisation of education. The interest of all the political parties also seems to be working through their student wings to keep intact their vote banks.

As usual, the government that has to make concrete decisions on either retaining or scrapping PCL had to bow down to extreme pressures of the protest that turned violent with a number of cases of vandalism. Maybe, the law and order element saw the government giving the thumbs down to TU to revoke its decision to phase out PCL. For the time being the row has been settled with the students jubilant over making their voices heard. But, the road ahead clearly leads to making PCL redundant very soon considering the requirement criteria accepted in many foreign countries where Nepali students might want to continue their higher studies. In this regard, the welcome move is for the formation of a commission to mull over and recommend the process through which the PCL will be discontinued. The thrust now should be on capacity building of the government schools to include 10+2 in their academic activities which also means that the government also has to increase its investment at this level both for creating the infrastructure and skilled manpower. It calls for commitment and the political will to act.






Nepal was once regarded to be one of the safest destinations for tourists. However, this is no longer the case with many tourists being attacked and cheated or their belongings stolen. Things have gone so out of hand that some foreign countries do not recommend this country for their citizens to include in their itinerary. The implications are far reaching for a country that largely relies on earnings from tourism which is providing the means of livelihood for many Nepalese. Besides, much of the investments made in building the tourism infrastructure are going unutilized as the country is seeing fewer visitors. Not that attempts have not been made to provide extra security to the tourists, but they appear to have so far failed.

Thus, the Hotel Association of Nepal has submitted a memorandum to the CDO of Kaski to provide stronger security in the Lakeside area and other tourist destinations in Pokhara where there is growing insecurity. Thus, there should be provisions for special security for the visitors peculiar to their needs. This may require creating a new security apparatus and provide training to security personnel.






With the scheduling of the election for the Constituent Assembly Constitutional Committee chairman for August 17, all the tall talks for consensual choice has fallen flat. The major political players—UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, and CPN (UML)— have all been adamant regarding their choice to receive the approval stamp. None of the parties have budged from their stance creating the necessity for CA Speaker Subas Chandra Nembang to announce the election as a way out to fill the vacant seat. To go to the backdrop, the CC chairman seat fell vacant with Madhav Kumar Nepal becoming the Prime Minister. It was indeed a matter of great concern that no attempts in the genuine sense had been made to get a new man in the prestigious and responsible post. It was all because of the bickering between the major parties that created the obstacles and the delay that is one of the reasons for the statute drafting task lagging behind schedule. And, of all the surprises that the people have been subjected to, every party wants its own nominee to be steering the CC. This is all queer as the CC has the representation from all the parties and the chief acts as a facilitator rather than decide the whole show.

The Constitutional Committee is supposed to be the most important of the CA committees as it is directly has to deal with the concept papers submitted by the thematic committees and after perusal and thorough study has to prepare the draft of the new constitution. It is unfortunate that such an important committee was left to languish for months