media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 11, edition 000400, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- LET NRIS VOTE
- FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWED
- WHO WILL POLICE THE POLICE? - JOGINDER SINGH
- RETURN TO SIMPLE GANDHIAN VALUES - SUDHANSU R DAS
- NOT AT THE NATION'S COST - RAJIV DOGRA
- US SEEKS TO APPEASE - BARRY RUBIN
- ALL IN THE NAME OF ALLAH - GWYNNE DYER
- IT TRIGGERS MIGRATION IN JHARKHAND - ALOKA
- PM MUST THINK BEFORE HE MAKES A PROMISE
- GO FORTH AND LEND
- HIGH COURTS MUST CHECK ROGUE POLICE - BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
- POWER & POLITICS - PRABHU CHAWLA
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- TROUBLE DOWN UNDER
- OPEN SESAME
- SECURE THE FOUNDATIONS - PRAKASH SINGH
- 'PRIVATE TUTORING CAN CORRUPT PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEMS' - SUBODH VARMA
- EVEREST MYSTERY
- WHODUNNIT FIRST?
- DANCES WITH SMURFS
- SMALL CARS, BIG DEAL
- ASIF HE MEANT IT
- WHAT'S THE BEE IN AMAR'S BONNET? - PANKAJ VOHRA
- BELIEVERS ALONE CAN BE ACHIEVERS - RAJENDRA BIST
- BIRDS OF A FEATHER - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
- OTHER NON-RESIDENTS
- REPORTED SPEECH
- KABUL CONSENSUS
- HOW TO BE ANXIOUS - PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
- YOUR HUMBLE SERVANT - JASSI KHANGURA
- THE GREEN LEAP FORWARD
- THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY - NIKHIL DEY
- INSIDE THE MIND OF A TERRORIST - OBAMA THE OBVIOUS
- COMFORT LIKELY FROM Q3
- CAPITALISM IN ITS NOUGHTIES AVATAR - MICHAEL WALTON
- WHERE'S THE PLAN FOR AGRICULTURE? - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- VOTING WITHOUT BORDERS
- DON'T PAKISTANISE YEMEN
- THE ALPHABET SOUP OF INTERNAL SECURITY - PRAVEEN SWAMI
- OVERCOMING MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS - DAN BILEFSKY
- LOOKING FOR A NEW MEDIA CULTURE AND MEDIA FREEDOM
- WE HAVE NOT VIOLATED ANY PROCEDURE IN THE MATTER OF JUSTICE DINAKARAN' - J. VENKATESAN
- WOOING NRIS
- HOCKEY IN CRISIS
- RUNNING DRY - RANJONA BANERJI
- WHY ARE WE PICKING ON RATHORE ALONE? - AMBERISH K DIWANJI
- PSYCHIC GIFTS
- NRIS DESERVE BETTER
- SUBSIDISING ELECTRICITY
- TACKLING E-WASTE
- BRIDGING THE DIVIDE - BY V. ESHWAR ANAND
- FAITH AND COURAGE - BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
- HOW COMMUNAL DIVIDE OF J&K WAS AVERTED - BY BALRAJ PURI
- LIFE MORE PRECIOUS THAN FREEDOM - BY HOWARD JACOBSON
- CHATTERATI - BY DEVI CHERIAN
- LESSONS FROM BIHAR
- MENACE OF TRAFFICKING
- WATER WOES OF GUWAHATI - DR RABINDRA KR CHOUDHURY
- ROLE OF EDUCATION IN CHANGING SOCIETY - SANGEETA SAIKIA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- POSTPONE POVERTY SURVEY
- A METALS STORY WAITING TO HAPPEN
- WIPE-OUT DOOMSDAY BLOCKBUSTER
- PVT INSURERS TAKE A HIT AGAIN; LOSSES UP 43% IN 2008-09
- NIFTY SUPPORT SEEN AT 5100-5200 LEVEL
- MARKET LOOKS TO Q3 NUMBERS - NISHANTH VASUDEVAN
- TIMELY AND ALSO EFFECTIVE ACTION - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN
- LEAVE STIMULUS ALONE, THINK GROWTH - JAIDEEP MISHRA
- THE ICELAND LINK TO LITTLE BRITAIN'S BIG FREEZE - SUDESHNA SEN
- I AM A FILMMAKER, NOT A BUSINESSMAN: AAMIR - MEENAKSHI VERMA AMBWAN
- 'SEP WILL MAKE COS SMARTER' - SHELLY SINGH
- 'TIME NOT RIPE FOR REMOVING STIMULUS' - G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM & SOMA BANERJEE
- 'WE GAINED FROM FINANCIAL CRISIS' - MAYUR SHETTY & SANGITA MEHTA
- PHILIPS WILL ENGAGE MORE WITH YOUTH - WRITANKAR MUKHERJEE
- CEMENT OFFERS GOOD ENTRY OPPORTUNITY - DEEPTHA RAJKUMAR
- SHAMEFUL CONDUCT HAS SICKENED INDIA
- THE GROWTH REDUX - BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
- CHINA IS WIDE AWAKE, IS US SLEEPING NOW? - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- OF DE'S TWEET & BIG B'S DIPLOMACY - SHOBHAA DE'S FAUX PAS
- LESSONS FROM WINNIE THE POOH - BY THICH NHAT HANH
- 'COPENHAGEN WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT'
- SETBACK FOR KARZAI
- RULE OF THE ARMY
- STAR OF GUJARAT
- NEVER OUT OF SIGHT... EVEN IN THE LOO!
- CRIMSON CORRIDOR~I - ARUN KUMAR BANERJI
- LONG VIEW
- MONEY CAN'T BUY
- POLITICS AND DIVISIONS - S.L. RAO
- JUST A LOT OF NOISE - GWYNNE DYER
- ROUTE TO CARNAGE
- SCIENTIFIC STIMULUS
- PEACE OFFENSIVE - M J AKBAR
- BOLSTER SECULARISM AMONG MUSLIMS - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
- MOTHER OF MINE - BY LEELA RAMASWAMY
THE JERUSALEM POST
- WHY WE ARE HERE
- REALITY CHECK: USHERING IN A MESSIANIC AGE - JEFF BARAK
- THE REGION: A GOLD MINE FOR UNDERSTANDING AMERICA'S MIDDLE EAST POLICY - BARRY RUBIN
- THE LEGACY OF A TRUE FRIEND - COLIN RUBENSTEIN
- HI-TECH, PROSPECTS AND PITFALLS - DANIEL DORON
- ISRAEL NEEDS TO RETHINK ITS GAZA STRATEGY BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE
- BARAK MUST EXPOSE NETANYAHU'S 'TRUE FACE' AS HE DID FOR ARAFAT - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- SOLDIERS' RUCKSACKS AND THE RULE OF LAW - BY ZEEV SEGAL
- LET THE LOSER DROP OUT - BY AMIR OREN
- STILL REFUGEES - BY KARNI ELDAD
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- PRIVATIZED WAR, AND ITS PRICE
- THE RIGHT TO CONFRONT WITNESSES
- PROMISES AND FACTS ON CHARTER SCHOOLS
- YOUNGSTOWN YAWNS
- LEARNING FROM EUROPE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- SO IF THERE WERE ANYT STACKING THE DECK AGAINST PROPOSITION 8 - BY EDWIN MEESE III
- STACKING THE DECK AGAINST PROPOSITION 8 - BY EDWIN MEESE III
- MR. SMITH REWRITES THE CONSTITUTION - BY THOMAS GEOGHEGAN
- MODERATION LIVES
- THE PRICE OF LIFE
- A FLAWED CHARTER? - ASIF EZDI
- ENERGISING THE PEACE PROCESS - TALAT MASOOD
- 2010 GRAND CHALLENGES - SANIA NISHTAR
- NEXT TARGET: YEMEN - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- BUREAUCRACY RULES - ZAFAR HILALY
- CATS' TALES - CHRIS CORK
- KARACHI CANNOT BE LEFT TO MISCREANTS
- DR KHAN ON ENERGY CRISIS
- MASSIVE ISSUANCE OF ARMS LICENSES
- WHITHER THE 'CORE ISSUE'? - KHALID SALEEM
- NATIONAL SOLIDARITY REQUIREMENTS - ALI ASHRAF KHAN
- HOW US, UK LOST IRAQ, AFGHAN WAR? - DR MAHBOOB A KHAWAJA
- CHALLENGES FOR SAARC - ASIMA NOREEN
- A WORKABLE NEW YEAR RESOLUTION..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- MARITIME BOUNDARY
- RABI CROPS
- HANDS THAT WORK MIRACLES ..!
- SLUGGISH INVESTMENT - PROF M. SHAMSUL HAQUE
- DREAM VS REALITY - PROF. SYED AHSANUL ALAM
- OUR DOUBLE-DIP FUTURE - GEORGE SOROS
- GALVANISATION NOW
- MAINTAIN VIGIL
- NEPAL-INDIA RELATIONS: TRADE AND ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS - SHANKER MAN SINGH
- TOPICS: GETTING INTO THE ACT - BUDDHI GAUTAM
- CREDOS: THE BEAVER'S GOALS I - BYRON AND CATHERINE PULSIFER
- BLOG SURFS: CUTE DOGS - ANNIE SCOTT
- NO TIME FOR CRUDE CARTOONS
- THE YEAR OF THE E-READER?
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- A RACIAL FACTOR CANNOT BE DENIED
- DEEPER DIPLOMACY NEEDED IN ASIA
- BRITAIN'S LABOUR PARTY BEGINS TO FEEL THE CHILL
- A WASTE OF GOOD FOOD, AND SO MANY OTHER RESOURCES
- ROYAL INSTITUTION: SPARKS FLY
- IN PRAISE OF MICHAEL POLLAN
- PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATION: OPENING UP THE HOUSE
THE KOREA HERALD
- LOOTED ARTIFACTS
- MORE POLITICAL CLASH
- SPANISH LEADERSHIP FOR EUROPE'S ROMA - GEORGE SOROS
- ASIA'S CHANGING POWER DYNAMICS - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
THE JAPAN TIMES
- DEVOLUTION STRATEGY
- INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MEDIA - BY RAMZY BAROUD
- LATIN AMERICA HOLDS MORE CLOUT, LESS DOUBT
- SPAIN COULD LEAD WAY FOR ROMA - BY GEORGE SOROS
THE JAKARTA POST
- DEFIANT, IGNORANT GOVERNMENT
- INDONESIAN CAPITAL MARKET'S STELLAR PERFORMANCE IN 2009 - CYRILLUS HARINOWO HADIWERDOYO
- THE BLIND MAN WITH 20/20 VISION: A TRIBUTE TO ABDURRAHMAN WAHID - RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER
- RATIFYING CONVENTION ON DISAPPEARANCES - MUGIYANTO
- REFORMING THE COUNTRY'S INTELLIGENCE: MOVING BEYOND VIGILANTE INTELLIGENCE - ALI ABDULLAH WIBISONO
- EXPOSING THE COVER-UP
- CORRUPTION IN ACADEMICS
- OBSTRUCTION OF DEVELOPED NATIONS - BY LU XUEDU (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- BACK TO SCHOOL - BY ALEXEI BAYER
- LIMIT ALL PRESIDENTS TO ONLY 2 TERMS IN OFFICE - BY VLADIMIR FROLOV
LET NRIS VOTE
BUT NOT FROM COMFORT OF HOME
The Prime Minister's announcement at this year's Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that he "sincerely hopes" non-resident Indians can vote in the next general election, scheduled to be held in 2014, has fetched him understandable applause. For a long time now Indians living and working abroad have been seeking the right to participate in the nation's electoral process so that they have a role in deciding who gets to rule India. Under the present law, any Indian who lives abroad for more than six months at a stretch and qualifies to be classified as a non-resident Indian or NRI loses the right to vote in any election his or her name is struck off the electoral rolls. On the face of it, this is an unfair provision which merits rectification; after all, every holder of the Indian passport is deemed to have equal rights under the Constitution of the country by virtue of being a citizen of the republic. To that extent, the Prime Minister's proposal is perfectly in order. In fact, he had promised to remove the restrictive clause while addressing the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2006 and a Bill was moved in Parliament the same year. However, the relevant parliamentary committee had raised objections to the proposal, citing technical reasons as to why this could not be allowed. Hopefully, those objections will be adequately addressed when the Government reintroduces an amendment Bill, as has been promised by Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vyalar Ravi. There is, however, a catch: As and when the current law is amended and NRIs are given the right to vote in Indian elections, they will have to travel home to cast their ballot. There are only two alternative options to this: Postal ballots and online voting; neither option is feasible, nor should it be even considered with any degree of seriousness. Non-resident Indians are scattered across the world and to organise postal ballots for them would be utterly absurd, not least because of the human effort involved. We should also bear in mind that it would be an enormous strain on our missions. As for online voting, there is no reason why such an extraordinary facility should be extended to NRIs when it is not provided to Indians at home. In our endeavour to ensure equality for all Indians we cannot create a super-empowered class of people.
Hence, it is only fair that if NRIs are truly interested in participating in national, State and local elections, they should return to their constituency and vote along with the rest of the people. This would be truly participatory in nature and not just a privilege for an exclusive club. Indeed, NRIs who are so concerned about the political process in India and would like to have a say in how India is governed should ponder over the Prime Minister's apt suggestion that more members of the non-resident Indian community should join return home to join politics it would no doubt be an educative experience for them as well as enrich our public life, especially if professionals who have done well abroad were to bring home their expertise and make a meaningful contribution to national life. They must bear in mind that rights are not divorced from responsibilities it is easy to pontificate on what should be done and pick holes in Government policy; it's far more difficult to translate ideas into action. Many NRIs have given up their exalted status to become permanent residents of their motherland; most of them have done well in their chosen field and some have even joined the hurly-burly of politics. Let others follow suit. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister should spare a thought for millions of Indians at home who are yet to be listed as voters.
INDIAN HOCKEY HITS ROCK BOTTOM
It would be a fair assessment to say that the state of Indian hockey today couldn't have been more tragic. With the hockey World Cup scheduled to be held in Delhi next month, the indefinite boycott by players of the national hockey team has not only jeopardised the home team's chances of putting up a respectable performance at the mega tournament but also severely dented Indian hockey's image. The players have taken this drastic step to protest against the non-payment of dues and other financial compensation that Hockey India owes them. The boycott was called while the team was attending a preparatory camp in Pune. Though hectic meetings were on between senior players and the hockey administrators throughout Saturday to find common ground, the damage to the national sport is there for all to see. If Hockey India cannot even guarantee timely payment of due financial remuneration to its players, all talk of reviving the sport can be relegated to the realm of fantasy. Irrespective of how soon the players and the administrators settle the current dispute, it is clear that there is something much more fundamentally wrong with the way this sport is managed in our country.
It will be recalled that the previous KPS Gill-led Indian Hockey Federation was disbanded and replaced with an ad-hoc body of former Olympians following a cash-for-selection scandal that had come to light in 2008. Last year this ad-hoc body, under pressure from the International Hockey Federation, was turned into the unified Hockey India with the hope that it would resolve all woes plaguing Indian hockey. For, apart from the cash-for-selection scandal, the IHF was also blamed for inefficiency, a charge that was compounded by the national hockey team's miserable showing in the qualifying rounds of the Beijing Olympics the team did not qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1928. Yet, as reflected by the current state of affairs, the situation has only worsened since then. Hockey India today is being criticised for the same things for which its predecessor was given the axe internal politics, nepotism and unprofessionalism. The real problem is the politicisation of sports in this country, be it hockey, cricket or any other sport. More often than not, sporting bodies become pawns in the game of political one-upmanship between various political parties. As a result, little attention is paid to sporting standards and infrastructure. Unless sports administrators start taking pride in their job and undertake sincere efforts to boost sporting standards in this country, things will just turn from bad to worse.
WHO WILL POLICE THE POLICE?
The Union Government has issued a circular to the States calling for mandatory registration of all complaints received at police stations, which should be treated as FIRs. Under Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the law already enjoins officers in charge of police stations to register all cognisable cases and maintain a Station House Diary for non-cognisable cases. For the benefit of the readers, cognisable cases are those where the police are competent to initiate legal action against offenders.
However, it is unfortunate that Government circulars or orders are rarely implemented at the police station level for the simple reason that only a statistical approach is taken for the assessment of police officers. When officers are in a position to manipulate statistics and under-register crime, they do so freely and frequently to show that all is well in their area.
After joining the Indian Police Service, I noticed that the instructions issued and reissued by me as the district police chief of Bidar only marginally improved matters. In one instance, even a case of murder was not registered as the officer-in-charge was trying to bring about a compromise between the two parties. After conducting a departmental inquiry, I dismissed the official who then went in appeal against my order. The Deputy Inspector-General of Police set aside my order after reducing the punishment to a warning. I then went in appeal to the Inspector-General of Police, saying that what had happened was unlawful and that a fraud on the public had been committed. My boss, the DIG, never forgave me for what he called disobedience. Only after my retirement did he tell me that I was young, impetuous and a stickler for rules.
Police forces all over the world are easily upset and hurt with rising crime figures. Therefore, meticulous efforts are made by a section of them to doctor crime statistics in a manner so as to give the impression that overall crime is on the decline. Senior police officers, while not discouraging or taking strict action against erring subordinates, turn a Nelson's eye to such malpractices. The officers insisting on compulsory registration of complaints are criticised for not being competent enough to handle crime.
Take the case of the national capital, which is supposed to set the trend for the police all over the country. A simple analysis of phone call records to the Police Control Room in Delhi in 2008 reveals that on an average nearly 20 complaints of snatchings are made every day. Approximately10 calls are made for robberies. But only 10 per cent of these complaints get converted into FIRs. In 2009, approximately 1,300 cases of snatchings were registered as compared to 13,500 complaints made, while 450 robbery cases were registered out of 3,000 calls received.
Perhaps the police are more sinned against than sinning as sometimes the alleged offences are concocted. Passing of laws is one thing, but providing infrastructure to implement those laws is another. Not only is there a mismatch but also a big gap between the two. The Government feels that it has done its duty by simply passing laws.
Whether it is providing vehicles or money for petrol and stationery items or even filling of vacancies in the police force, most State administrations are extremely lethargic.
During my tenure I noticed that each police station was given a princely sum of Rs 2 per month for stationery purchases. With this amount not only complaints were to be registered but statements recorded and a copy of all evidence against the accused furnished to him or her. Apart from this, the diet allowance for prisoners in police custody was only 75 paisa per meal. The relatives or friends of the accused were expected to feed him. A common complaint against the police was that it would also ask the complainants to bring stationery for official work.
Even the bills for petty expenditure took ages to be cleared. Once, my office, despite repeated reminders to the IG's office, did not get stationery. I wrote to the IG, "I have been begging periodically for stationery but there has been no positive response. This is the last sheet of paper and hence no more correspondence may be expected from this office till we get the stationery". I got the stationery I needed.
With four lakh vacancies in the police all over the country, coupled with pathetic infrastructure, policemen take the short-cut of not registering cases. Though vegetable vendors, coolies and even beggars nowadays have mobile phones, the SHO of a police station is still denied this facility by the Government. It is inexcusable for a police force to indulge in malpractices like corruption. But the greater responsibility lies with the Government to rectify the situation. India not only has one of the lowest police to public ratios in the world, it does not even provide the required facilities for the police to do their job.
Since the job of the police is negative in nature, policemen can never win any popularity contest. Those who criticise the police whether the Government or the accused or the accuser are bound to be always unhappy with the situation. People praising the police is like having the hangman tell you that you have a pretty neck. Condemning the police is no solution. It is the Government that has to take the initiative to mend the present situation.
RETURN TO SIMPLE GANDHIAN VALUES
SUDHANSU R DAS
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a lawyer by profession. But the economic model he offered to his countrymen can enhance the quality of livelihood of millions around the world. Mahatma Gandhi was the keenest observer of micro-economic activities in the sub-continent and he found the Indian way of life to be scientifically designed to sustain a wide range of economic activities. A simple marriage ritual creates jobs for goldsmiths, weavers and people in the food and beverage sector. A pilgrim centre provides livelihood to people selling flowers, handicrafts, religious artifacts, and supports numerous hotels and restaurants.
The Mahatma was not against import of goods, as he said, "I do not boycott anything merely because it is British. I simply boycott all foreign clothes because the dumping of foreign clothes in India has reduced millions of my people to pauperism ."
After so many decades world leaders have realised the importance of living in harmony with nature when global warming is threatening the very existence of the planet. "Every year more than 200 million people are affected by natural disasters across the world," says Salvano Briceno, head of the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. The World Bank estimates that by 2035 as many as three billion people, mainly in developing countries, could live under severe water stress.
Things have come to this pass because the kind of development the world has been following so far is based on growth in a handful of sectors, which in turn has triggered large-scale migration of people to the cities. Mahatma Gandhi had said urban centres would not provide quality life to such a huge population. He had predicted that urban areas would become chaotic once we shifted our focus from agriculture and cottage industries. His prediction has come true. Today more than 30 per cent of the urban population in India lives in slums.
Gandhi's development mantra production by the mass and not mass production is bound to influence economic policies of nations across the world in the coming years. World leaders must stop their current economic misadventure which threatens to wipe out human civilisation itself. It is unfortunate that the recent climate conference in Copenhagen saw some greedy cats fighting over a fish without knowing that the fish was a bait for them.
NOT AT THE NATION'S COST
IT IS NOBODY'S CASE THAT THERE SHOULD BE FRICTION IN INDIA-PAKISTAN RELATIONS. BUT LET US NOT BE TAKEN FOR FOOLS. LET US NOT WALK INTO AN EVEN BIGGER DISASTER THAN SHARM EL-SHEIKH. OUR HISTORY IS LITTERED WITH BILATERAL AGREEMENTS WHICH WERE HONOURED BY PAKISTAN ONLY TO THE EXTENT IT SUITED THEM
The year gone by has proved conclusively that as a nation we catch a cold if anyone so much as sneezes elsewhere. We are hardly an export-dependent economy like China. Yet we spent most of last year agonising over the economic disasters that lay ahead because the US was in a financial meltdown. All this while China was reinforcing its newly dominant position as US's equal on the world stage. And throughout the year it resisted with resolute firmness the US demand that it revalues its currency. We, on the other hand, found ourselves fully in agreement with the American proposals at the G-20 meetings, including those that involve an international oversight over the domestic financial institutions.
It is not just the US that instills a sense of foreboding in our governing psyche. Pakistan does so routinely, and in multiple forms.
Look at the way Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, mocked a nation of 1.2 billion from the court room, hogging unnecessarily the front pages of newspapers and the 24X7 television screens at will. Then, as if in celebration of the turn of the year, three convicted Pakistani terrorists walked away whimsically to their freedom after sharing a leisurely lunch at a restaurant with a police officer.
Yet we spent most of last year shaking our collective fists at Pakistan and threatening that never again would we tolerate another attack.
It is, of course, another matter that Pakistan has long since got tired of such resolves. Of late, it has begun to ignore these fulminations as mere threats; just empty words in air. As a matter of fact its crowning achievement last year was to diplomatically deflect India's accusing finger away from it. Sharm el-Sheikh would long be remembered as a self-goal by India, when it turned that accusing finger towards itself. With that reference in the joint text to Balochistan we agreed to become a co-accused with Pakistan in that deadly game of terror.
Meanwhile, 26/11 continues to bewilder us. David Coleman Headley may spill unpalatable beans and it might emerge that serving Pakistani officers were involved in the planning and execution of the 26/11 massacre. But even then, and regardless of all our resolves of not initiating the dialogue with Pakistan till the perpetrators of 26/11 have been brought to justice, we will find some way of making an adjustment. Just as we have done so many times in the past.
That is why Pakistan does not take our threats seriously. Nor does it buckle under rhetorical posturing of the type during Operation Parakram.
It knows that we lack the spine and the national resolve. It also knows that we are amenable to pressure from other, greater sources. Pakistan is expectantly hoping that this time, under the garb of its engagement in Afghanistan, pressure will mount to such an extent that India may be pushed into making a concession on Kashmir.
Such things are possible only in India. Otherwise, is there any other example in the world where a country ignores repeated acts of terror against it and hope that forgiveness will prevent the perpetrators from striking again?
As a matter of fact most other countries will pursue and destroy the terrorists regardless of the costs, just as the large Nato coalition is doing in Afghanistan, or as Russia and China have done in their respective trouble spots. Recently, China was successful in getting the Uighur terrorists repatriated to it from Pakistan, providing a stark contrast to the stone walling our requests receive.
It is possible that we are being goaded into taking this path on the advice of the big brother. If that is so, it would only be natural because the manoeuvering for the next presidential term would start in a year. A disaster in the AfPak region would not be good news for Mr Barack Obama's new campaign. On the other hand, if India appeases and pleases Pakistan the chances are that Pakistan may deliver just enough for Mr Obama to withdraw with some honour from Afghanistan.
It may or may not play out that way in Afghanistan eventually, but in the meanwhile India might have been cajoled into offering the sacrifice. That this may be so is also aided by the fact that the US may be misreading Pakistan, just as its intelligence agents are misreading the local people. In a recent report the deputy chief of US intelligence in Afghanistan maintained that US intelligence officials were "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the power workers are and how they might be influenced and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers."
But such misguidance is not all. An even greater surprise awaited us on the morning of the New Year. Many would have rubbed their bleary eyes in disbelief that a thing such as the one staring them in the face was actually happening.
Who doesn't want peace? All right-thinking people do. But can peace be achieved under a sword of terror? It is only the naïve who think that the gentility of appeasement can overwhelm the roar of 26/11-type attacks. But even the naïve had wept for the dead of Mumbai. They are the ones who had come out to affirm that never again would we let ourselves be lulled by false promises of Pakistan.
Yet on January 1, The Times of India teamed up with the Jang of Pakistan to usher in what they jointly call, 'Aman ki Asha'. If 'Aman' was truly the intent then the paper had missed the irony in the name and the record of its Pakistani partner.
It is said that in so far as India is concerned the daily effort of the Jang is to live up to its name.
Moreover, is it the right time? After all, the threat of terror has not receded. The Interior Minister of Pakistan continues unhindered with his bellicose statements. Moreover, would any commitment made by the Zardari Government be honoured by its successor?
The history of India-Pakistan relations is littered with bilateral agreements which were honoured by Pakistan only to the extent it suited them. What has since changed for us to trust an establishment which has refused so far to return the massive Rupee loan it had taken immediately after the partition?
Indeed the fundamental premise of the 'Aman ki Asha' exercise is suspect. It maintains that a poll was conducted in six Indian cities and with respondents in eight Pakistani cities and 36 villages. In this exercise 66 per cent of those polled in India and 72 per cent in Pakistan said they desire peaceful relations. If this is so then this desire must be a closely held secret.
Look at the evidence coming in from elsewhere. A paranoid America has selected Pakistan for racial profiling, even though the terrorist in the recent airline incident was a Nigerian. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown misses no opportunity to assert that 2/3 of all terrorist attacks in the UK originate in Pakistan. Closer home in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai blames Pakistan bluntly for his country's misfortunes.
A recent poll conducted in Afghanistan by International Republican Institute revealed that as many as 72 per cent of Afghans view Pakistan unfavourably. Amazingly, even the Taliban don't fare as badly. As against 72 per cent in case of Pakistan, 67 per cent Afghans viewed the Taliban negatively. And far more revealingly only 5 per cent of the Afghans polled wanted good relations with Pakistan! Contrast this with the figure of 66 per cent allegedly concerning Indians!
It is no one's case that there should be friction and bickering in bilateral relations. But let us not be taken for fools. Let us not walk into an even bigger disaster than Sharm el-Sheikh.
Even a Nobel Peace Prize would not be worth it.
The writer is a former Ambassador.
US SEEKS TO APPEASE
AMERICA-BAITERS ARE NOW TERMED AS 'ALLIES'!
What could be more boring, you might ask, then a Press conference after the meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr al-Thani? But this exchange is a gold mine of fascinating material for understanding regional politics and US policy.
Qatar, though tiny, is a very interesting country. On one hand, it hosts al-Udayd air base vital for the US presence in the Gulf. On the other hand, it hosts and owns al Jazeera television which incites anti-Americanism. To make matters worse, Qatar has been the Gulf Arab state closest to Iran and hosted the anti-American radical summit dominated by the Iran-Syria bloc.
So Qatar hedges its bets rather well. In public, Ms Clinton won't complain about this stuff but this kind of statement goes too far in the other direction: "Qatar is a friend and an ally of the United States and the partnership between our two countries is a model of the new beginning based on mutual respect and mutual interest that President Obama called for in Cairo."
A model? This tells Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia that they, too, can be a model partner if they bash the US more and cosy up to Tehran.
Ms Clinton also thanks Qatar for trying "to promote security and stability in the broader Middle East as well as Africa." Egyptian and other moderate Arab leaders clearly consider Qatar a major contributor to regional instability.
Finally, and it's impressive Ms Clinton could say this with a straight face, she expressed appreciation for Qatar's, "Actions in combating hunger and poverty and disease across the region and the world." No I don't think Qatar, given its massive wealth, has been one of the planet's main philanthropists.
But another thing Ms Clinton said is more disturbing and has become an Obama Administration talking point. She said the Palestinians "deserve" a state. In this approach, having a state isn't something earned by ending terrorism and incitement, truly accepting Israel's existence, providing strong security guarantees, and resettling refugees in your own country. According to the US Government, Palestinian statehood is an entitlement, a prize they get no matter how they behave.
So why shouldn't the Palestinians demand they get everything and give nothing? The world owes them a state. By such policies the Obama Administration undermines its own leverage on the issue. One more nail in the already studded coffin of the peace process.
Now, what did Mr Thani say in response to all of this. Yemen? Sure, what's required there is a peaceful solution, not defeating the terrorists and Iran-backed rebels. Remember, Qatar is more on Iran's side than any other Arab state except Syria. Palestinians? Here's his suggestion: "The most important things is how we can (make) a unity Government between the Palestinians so they can concentrate how to deal in the peace process ."
What's this mean? Why that the Palestinian Authority should join up with Hamas, a step ensuring no progress since the latter is dedicated to Israel's destruction and creating a radical Islamist state allied to Iran.
This doesn't mean Qatar just took a hard line on the issue. Mr Thani advocated negotiations and while bashing Israel a bit said something remarkable: There's "an opportunity with this Administration to bring us together to a long-lasting peace between us and Israel." By Arab standards, a very dovish thing to say (I doubt that phrase will be quoted on al Jazeera, which is not allowed to criticise the Qatari Government.)
What does Mr Thani say about Iran? The solution to the nuclear weapons' drive must come through dialogue. Nothing he said would bother Tehran.
As for Ms Clinton, her remark that the US was "disappointed" by Tehran's rejection of US proposals and "deeply disturbed" by repression makes it sound like the US is still more involved in engagement than with pressure.
She, too, said something astonishing, regarding Iran: "We've avoided using the term 'deadline' ourselves. That's not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open."
What? The Obama Administration has repeatedly stated that it was setting the end of 2009 as a deadline for raising sanctions unless Iran changed its approach. This statement could only be read in Tehran as a backing down by Washington.
Her saying, "We have already begun discussions with our partners and with like-minded nations about pressure and sanctions," doesn't sound like this is a high-priority activity. We're in no hurry and we've just started talking. We'll get back to you some time.
Sure enough within a few hours, Mr Ramin Mehmanparast, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman responded, happily: "We share the same idea with her. Deadlines are meaningless. We hope other countries return to their natural path, too."
In other words, we're glad the US is giving us all the time in the world to develop nuclear weapons.
Ms Clinton also confirmed my worst fears about the limited sanctions the administration envisions: "Our goal is to pressure the Iranian Government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iranians who deserve better than what they currently are receiving."
In other words, Ms Clinton says, we'll make sure sanctions don't really damage the Iranian economy!
ALL IN THE NAME OF ALLAH
THE ROW OVER A MALAYSIAN HIGH COURT'S DECISION ALLOWING NON-MUSLIMS TO REFER TO GOD AS 'ALLAH' IS GETTING UGLY. THE GOVERNMENT MUST STOP PLAYING ALONG WITH ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS
In the late-1980s, when I was in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, a friend suggested that I drive out into the desert near Jubail to see the oldest extant Christian church in the world. And there it was, surrounded by a chain-link fence to keep casual visitors and foreign archaeologists out. Experts who saw the site before it was closed said that the church was built by Nestorian Christians, and was probably used from the 4th to the 9th century.
Its existence embarrassed the Saudi Government, which prefers to believe that Arabia went straight from paganism to Islam. But it confirmed the assumption of most historians that Christianity was flourishing in the Arabian Peninsula in the centuries before the rise of Islam. So what did these Arabic-speaking Christians call god? Allah, of course.
I mention this because last week the Malaysian High Court struck down a three-year-old ban on non-Muslims using the word Allah when they speak of god in the Malay language. The court's decision was followed by firebomb attacks on three Christian churches in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday night, and on Friday protesters at mosques in Kuala Lumpur carried placards reading "Allah is only for us."
Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the attacks on the churches, but he supports the ban on Christians using the word 'Allah' in Malay and is appealing the High Court decision.
"We...have the right to use the word 'Allah'," said Rev Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, the newspaper of the Catholic Church in Malaysia, whose use of the word in its Malay-language edition triggered the crisis. Parliamentary opposition leader Lim Kit Siang simply observed that "The term 'Allah' was used to refer to god by Arabic-speaking Christians before Arabic-speaking Muslims existed."
Of course it was. Arabic-speaking Christians predate the rise of Islam by 300 years, and what else were they going to call god? The word 'Allah' is a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- and the noun 'ilah, which means god. In parts of ancient Arabia it once referred to the creator-god (who was not the only god), but for a very long time it has meant the one god.
This Arabic word was imported into the Malay language by converts to Islam, which arrived in the region several centuries before Christianity. All ethnic Malays are considered to be Muslim under Malaysian law, but there are numerous Malay-speakers, especially in northern Borneo, who are Christian and not ethnically Malay. They also use the word Allah for god.
What's the harm in that? Why are Malaysia's Muslims so paranoid? The real paranoia, alas, is ethnic.
Malaysia is an ethnic time-bomb that has turned itself into a peaceful and prosperous country by a huge effort of will. The original population was mostly Malay, but under British rule huge numbers of Indian and Chinese immigrants were imported to work the mines and plantations. By independence, Malays were only 60 per cent of the population, and much poorer than the more recent arrivals. They resented the past, the present, and the probable future.
After several bouts of savage anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rioting, the country arrived at its current, highly successful compromise. The Malays dominate politics, but the Chinese and the Indians thrive in trade and commerce and most people understand that they are ultimately in the same boat, which is called Malaysia.
The state spends a lot of money to raise the living standards of the Malays, and gives them preference for university places and Government jobs. They haven't done badly out of this deal, but nevertheless they feel perpetually insecure. Since they are all Muslims, while few other Malaysians are, they also feel their religion is under threat. Some respond by being aggressively intolerant of minorities.
Not all Malays behave this way. Major Muslim organisations, including the Islamic political party, PAS, have agreed that the other "Abrahamic religions" Christians and Jews may call their god Allah in Malay. But it's getting ugly, and it's high time for the Malaysian Government to stop playing along with the extremists.
The Christians, Hindus, animists and others who make up 40 per cent of Malaysia's people pay higher taxes, in the sense that they subsidise the poorer Malay/Muslim majority. Few of them will ever convert to Islam, but they are not its enemy either. Malaysia has achieved a fragile but workable compromise that gives its people a good life. It should not endanger it so frivolously.
The writer is a London-based independent journalist.
IT TRIGGERS MIGRATION IN JHARKHAND
THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY GOOD NEWS. A LOT MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE IN RURAL AREAS, WRITES ALOKA
We are living in times when the world has shrunk. The marvel of Information Technology has brought people, places and ideas closer. It is time to think about what this phenomenon is doing to villages in Jharkhand and rural areas across the country where agriculture is in peril. In the face of rising input costs, inadequate attention by the state and lack of alternate livelihoods in the agriculture sector, small and marginal farmers are being pushed to the brink. They are compelled to join the multitude of rural folk migrating out of their villages in search of livelihoods to become labour force in urban industrial hubs.
Migration was once regarded as a last-ditch move but it has now become a matter-of-course. There was a time when only small farmers and agricultural labourers used to migrate to cities from villages following drought or floods. Now, people from all sections of rural society are migrating to cities. While poverty and failing agriculture are the factors that result in mass exodus, there is another 'pull' factor at work hidden but powerful.
And that is Information Technology which has virtually connected villagers from remote areas to economic prospects in cities. Its affect on the minds of rural communities cannot be trivialised. Earlier it was through word of mouth that rural folks would come to know about employment opportunities outside their villages. In this day and age, means of communication have improved and much more is known about the kind of work, payment, etc than in the past.
There are other compelling reasons for this 'communication-induced' migration boom which lie in the emergent economic forces that rely on capital-intensive and not labour-intensive industry. These economic forces 'need' cheap labour to migrate to urban centres, where capital is concentrated so that the wheels of industrialisation can be kept running. In fact, the extension of railways, road networks in addition to the spread of telephone and even internet have all come together to create and maintain the emerging economic patterns of society.
The underlying problem is larger, that of development or a warped form of development that is based on allowing big companies to swallow villages, forests and mountains and build urban centres of prosperity.
New technologies have also often deprived people of their livelihood options. Instead of addressing the needs of the rural communities in remote areas, the focus is on centralised development.
Whatever the factors leading to this skewed development model, the effect is quite tangible. Besides, the migrants face immense difficulties in new areas of their settlement. Whether it is crossing the rural-urban divide or coping with differences in cultural and social patterns in other regions, the migrants face identity crisis and are bereft of the support structure that was accessible in their villages. Therefore, a problem which began as an economic one becomes a social one.
Probably, the most affected are the children. With the head of the family often being the one to migrate, children grow up devoid of the presence and support in their formative years. The attention to their schooling, food, medical needs and the imparting of values that take place seamlessly within families in rural areas becomes a casualty.
There is possibly an even bigger casualty that does not figure either as a statistic or an accepted social indicator. With the face of migration changing, instead of groups, people are migrating individually for better and more lucrative prospects. Earlier the migrant group would stick together and customs, cultural patterns and social equations would continue to flourish as they did back in village. There would be interfaces with different communities in the new areas leading to an exchange of ideas and knowledge. It has also helped to soften the barriers of caste and region. But the change has also created an ugly scenario. People are pursuing individual goals even in the migratory circuit and thus are estranged from each other. A village society and economy which is based on collective strength and co-existence is giving way to individualistic way of life marked by a lack of concern for the collective.
The new Government in Jharkhand has its work cut out quite clearly as it has to take measures to make agriculture profitable for farmers so that they stay back and stick to it. Industry and new economic activities can be on the agenda but not at the cost of what sustains the livelihoods of vast sections of its population.
PM MUST THINK BEFORE HE MAKES A PROMISE
WE ARE at a loss to understand just how the Prime Minister proposes to get Non Resident Indians to participate in the next Lok Sabha elections. It is one thing to recognise, as Dr Manmohan Singh did, " the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and have a say in who governs India." However, it is quite another to implement this in practical terms. To obtain their franchise, the government would have to set up polling stations across the world, an enormous exercise considering that Indians are spread out across the world South Africa, Guyana, Surinam, USA, Canada, Australia, the Saudi peninsula, Thailand, Malaysia, Mauritius etc. Even within a country like the US NRIs are scattered across the continental sized land mass, some in extremely small pockets.
It may be argued that a postal ballot system could be established, as in the case of military personnel. But this will not be able to deal with the real problem identifying the NRI's constituency. Currently, some kind of proof of a permanent address in India is required to obtain a valid voter identity card and be listed as a voter in a particular constituency.
There are currently 543 constituencies in which elections are held to the Lok Sabha.
But most NRIs are not likely to have such addresses in this country. Equally important, perhaps, is the fact that most NRIs are only episodically focused on the politics of this country and the Prime Minister should ask himself as to whether the right to vote is what the overseas Indians need the most.
If the government wishes to do good by the overseas Indian, it has a ready- made cause to work for. Millions of Indian workers are abroad, some 5 million in the Persian Gulf area alone. They are exploited, underpaid and yet their meagre remittances have over the years contributed significantly to the country's foreign exchange reserves. Recently, Habib Hussain stowed away in an Air India flight from Medina to Jaipur to escape the oppressive conditions and exploitation that he faced as a worker in Saudi Arabia.
Jamborees like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas are fine as long as it is understood that they are meant for a spot of good time and tourism promotion. But if it is aid to the overseas Indians that the government wishes to provide, they would do well to focus on those who need it.
GO FORTH AND LEND
GROWTH in bank credit has shown an encouraging uptick over the past quarter, with most banks likely to meet or exceed the target of 18 per cent growth in credit off take for the second half of the current financial year ending in March. Although considerably less than the strong 30 per cent- plus average annual increase in bank credit seen in the growth years immediately preceding the credit crisis of 2008, the rising trend in credit off take indicates a reviving economy.
However, bankers are reportedly unsure whether this trend might persist if the current stimulus measures put in
place by the government and the Reserve Bank of India are removed.
To an extent, banks themselves are responsible for the current situation. The real demand of credit may not have decreased as much as the risk appetite of banks. The situation is akin to that found in the housing sector today. While any scheme seen as affordable and fairly priced gets a huge response, pricier projects are failing to find enough takers. In the case of credit too, while credit demand from large corporates has undoubtedly suffered, as major expansion plans were put on hold, demand for affordable credit from the small and medium- scale enterprise ( SME) sector continues to be under- serviced.
The outlook for the economy remains positive, and demand from large corporates is bound to revive strongly in the near term.
As regulator, the Reserve Bank needs to walk a tight line between ensuring that the nascent revival does not get choked off for want of funds, and preventing the current supply- driven food inflation from becoming generalised.
HIGH COURTS MUST CHECK ROGUE POLICE
BY RAJEEV DHAVAN
Given the historyof abuse of power by senior policemen onlya systematic effort can succeed
POLICEMEN who turn criminals are not ordinary criminals. As soon as they move to the 'dark side' they build social and political impunities for themselves. Fellow policemen support them. Politicians of various complexions protect them. Rank and file policemen act as their thugs. Other thugs are at their beck and call. Real cases against them are ignored. Fake cases are registered by them to ensnare whoever they want. Beyond the bent policeman lies the police 'don' who kills with impunity, appropriates at will and inflicts vengeance with ferocity.
The real problem with the Rathore case is that India does not have effective processes to deal with the powerful policeman. Their tribe is increasing. Anti-terrorist campaigns are making terrorists in their own cause. The list is increasing: ADGP Sumedh Saini made members of the Kumar family, disappear.
The other brother, Ashish (a client and friend) has knocked on the highest and lowest courts for justice without success. After nine years IG R.K. Sharma was sentenced for killing journalist Shivani Bhatnagar (another friend). In Rajasthan, DIG Tandon is accused of raping a tribal. Pradeep Sharma responsible for 107 encounter deaths is now held for a fake encounter.
Without activist- media campaigns ( as in the Jessica Lal, Nitish Katara and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases) these are bound to fail. Such campaigns are not trial by media and should not be treated as contempt of court. A popular cry for justice is not populist justice.
Let us turn to the Rathore case. Ruchika loved tennis.
Rathore was a big shot in the Lawn Tennis Association.
In August 1990 he ensnared and molested Ruchika. Reported to Home Secretary Duggal, Rathore decided to wreak vengeance. On August 17, 1990, Rathore's hoodlums made slogans against poor Ruchika and smashed the panes of her house. When the government decided to register an FIR in 1992 against Rathore, the next victim was Ashu ( Ruchika's brother). Arrested in false cases of car theft in October 1993, he was detained, beaten, made to sign confessional statements and taken to Ruchika to remind her of what would befall her family. Ruchika was expelled from school apparently at Rathore's instance.
Unable to stand the humiliation, embarrassment and pain, on December 28, 1993, Ruchika committed suicide.
The postmortem was deliberately botched up. No real investigation took place. Within a month, in January 1994, charges against Rathore were dropped! After three recommendations for action between 1990 and 1992, no departmental action was taken against him. It took till August 21, 1999, for Ruchika's friend Aradhana to secure an order for a CBI inquiry from the Punjab and Haryana ( P& H) High Court.
CBI officer R. M. Singh is now willing to reveal how Rathore tried to pressurise the CBI. Two years later the CBI recommended Rathore's removal. This was not done! He retired as DGP in 2002! The CBI chargesheeted him in December 1999 for outraging and insulting a woman's modesty. The charge of ' abetment of suicide' was quashed by the P& H High Court and the Supreme Court! Effectively, he was found guilty of flirtation in December 2009 fined Rs 1,000 and sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment and allowed bail! The law tries the crime not the criminal. Thus, Rathore is portrayed as having committed a number of individual smaller crimes with the real and full story missing. It is like looking at still photographs instead of a cinematographic depiction of evil. Between 1999 and 2000, Rathore was successfully charged only with flirtation.
Was that all that Rathore did? Under public pressure, in 2009- 2010 he was charged with filing false cases against Ruchika's brother Ashu, fabricating a false post mortem for Ruchika and abetment of her suicide.
Already rejected up to the Supreme Court in 2002, the abetment charge will be difficult to reopen. What is missing from the legal response is his alleged systematic harassment of Ruchika and her family, sending goondas to her home, securing her expulsion from school, targeting Ashu, interfering with the police and CBI investigation, victimisation for almost 20 years with a smile on his face. On January 8, 2010, the HC refused to grant bail.
The smile has gone to gleam in jail unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise.
How does one get justice against pathologically vindictive police officers like Rathore and Saini who commit not one but several crimes? The answer lies in examining the process and not just the event. Indian public interest law has an answer. In December 2000, the P& H High Court itself took suo motu notice, of Rathore's vengeance against Ruchika's brother Ashu. On July 5, 2002, they asked district judge, Patiala to examine Ashu's victimisation.
This would have Xrayed Rathore's misdeeds.
But on May 6, 2005, the Supreme Court through Justice Sabharwal made an egregious mistake and stopped the High Court proceeding. Justice Sabharwal, one of the finest judges in the Supreme Court ( whatever anyone else may think) simply lost the plot in this case. It was wrong to recommend bit- by- bit justice against a policeman who used the police and hoodlums to wreak harassment and crimes against a family who dared oppose him. Examining the process would reveal the full story.
This valuable opportunity to investigate a mass crime with its full contents was lost.
In my view, even now no independent investigation can take place unless it is effectively monitored by the High Court or the Supreme Court. Rathore has the protection of IAS and IPS officers; and of politicians and Chief Ministers.
In the Hawala case ( 1998), the Supreme Court ensured the process of Hawala transactions was properly investigated. In the Noida case after several years of monitoring, the case against Neera Yadav proceeded to trial. Noida's favoured allotments for 10 years were screened. This is what was begun by the High Court in 2002 for Rathore, but stopped after three years by the Supreme Court itself.
One can only urge the Supreme Court to follow the Hawala Noida example to supervise investigation against Rathore. Years ago, the Supreme Court would not have hesitated to do this. Today the judicial colossus, like Atlas, shrugs its shoulders.
The fulcrum around which this problem rotates is to work out a response to dealing with the police as criminals. India needs a good honest police. We know how brutal the police can be. Chhattisgarh police have gone berserk in punishing peaceful activists.
But where the police turn gangsters a new method of monitored investigation by courts is necessary and proper. It is fit for the Chief Justice of India to set up a process for Rathore's unrepentant violation of due process and human rights.
Law minister Moily's faith in fast track courts as a complete answer in this case is exasperating. Fast track courts can only process what is fed to them. For the future specifically, in the long term substantive offences on police misbehaviour and independent investigation processes are necessary.
In the Rathore case itself, his entire term of office from 1990 needs to be Xrayed for systematic abuses of power. This is equally true for his colleague, Saini. This will reveal far more than is known today. Rathore's smile has gone. That is not enough. He needs to be exposed and punished according to law under the vigilant eye of the high court or the Supreme Court.
The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer
POWER & POLITICS
THIS IS NOT FAIR MATE
I ' LL PUT it as diplomatically as possible. At the best of times, our foreign office has been a bundle of contradictions.
Warring ministers, mandarins working at cross purposes and lesser minions have carried on their many private battles for so long that disorder and chaos have become the hallmark of South Block. And now, us confused desis are confounded by the contradictory statements emanating from the ministry of external affairs. For once, Shashi Tharoor is absolved of any misdemeanour though he continues to keep the twittering classes engrossed with daily 140 character outpourings.
A Fulbright scholar, former chief minister and governor, S. M. Krishna is probably more qualified than anyone else in the current UPA dispensation to head the sensitive external affairs ministry. But perhaps, caught short of breath after another round of sparring over visa norms with his much younger ministerial colleague, the 78- year- old's reflexes seem to be failing him. The official dithering that followed the killing of a 21- year- old Delhi boy in Melbourne led to much hype being built in the media, especially in TV studios where one anchor just stopped short of suggesting that India should dispatch the INS Viraat to the southern ocean to teach the Aussies a lesson.
For a full two days after young Nitin Garg was fatally stabbed, the minister's sole response to persistent questioning was " I can comment only after getting first hand information from our high commissioner". In New Delhi's refusal to comment, the Australians saw an opportunity. Its officials were so much in denial that they had the word " insensitivity" written all over their faces.
Foreign minister Simon Crean said " such incidents happen not only in Melbourne but in Mumbai and Delhi too". God forbid such a thing happening, but if an Australian girl gets mugged or worse on the beaches of Goa, will Krishna turn around and tell Crean that " such incidents happen on Bondi Beach also". No.
The Australian high commissioner in New Delhi, the Indianorigin Peter Varghese's credentials as a diplomat should be questioned for his public display of impotence for saying that his government " will not be able to give any guarantee that such crimes can be stopped". Perhaps the most sensible statement to emerge out of this dirty and continuing tit- for- tat came from our foreign minister. " One can understand Indian students going to Australia at the university level, at the IIT level or other institutions of excellence, but when I went there I was shocked to see so many students attending courses in hairstyling and doing facials". A friend of mine who did a stint at our mission in Canberra some time back told me precisely this a few months ago when the attacks on Indians first began.
According to him, four out of five Indian students pay through their noses and go through immigration agents to get into courses which have absolutely no value in India which makes it imperative that they work hard doing extra hours to recover the huge amounts they spent.
Besides, foreign students pay nearly four times the fees that locals pay, are denied the concessions that Australian students get on trains, trams, buses and for other public utilities. Indian students Down Under are promised fabulous job opportunities by their agents back home, but they arrive in Australia and find it tough to get even a part- time job that would take care of fees and rent. Even the fate of some who get into elite institutions is no different. He has seen Indian girls pursuing masters from the University of Technology doing catering jobs in the suburbs, while girls from some of the South- East Asian countries choose to make money working in brothels and massage parlours.
For decades, the best and the brightest from India went to America in search of a better future. Today, the three million Americans of Indian origin not only have the highest education levels but also the highest annual median earnings among all nationalities. You can't expect a country that until as recently as three decades ago practised the White Australia Policy, fearing that non- whites would swarm the place and take all their jobs, to be equally welcoming.
Minister Krishna's advice to parents whose children were eager to go abroad was: be discriminating in the
courses you choose. My advice to the young ones is: there are enough colleges here where you can get a good degree even as you join the radicals in shouting down the US of A. But if you have to go abroad, call Uncle Sam. He will look after you well.
GETTING A MEASURE OF THE J& K ISSUE
LIKE MOST politicians, P. Chidambaram loves to talk, but it must be said to the home minister's credit that he is a rare politician whose actions speak louder than his words.
He speaks tough, acts even tougher and it came as no surprise that after he replaced the narcissistic Shivraj Patil in North Block in the aftermath of 26/ 11, the country saw no terror attacks on its soil for nearly 13 months.
It was he, in cahoots with defence minister A. K. Antony who began the scaling down of the army's presence in Kashmir where almost 30,000 troops have been pulled out over the past few months and more are being gradually withdrawn to enable the state police to take over the task of manning law and order. The long tranquil spell was broken after the two- day- long fidayeen attack in Srinagar last week and the questions now being asked are: have the terrorists begun regrouping? If so, will the government continue with the withdrawal of the forces? True, the terrorists cocked a snook at the Centre's scaling down policy with their brazen attack, but if Chidambaram's response is any indication, troop withdrawals will go on as scheduled.
National security adviser M. K. Narayanan too appears confident that the process of troop reduction can and will continue. And Chidambaram's statement, issued last Friday, should end all speculation about any possible policy reversal.
" The alert J& K Police neutralised the militants without suffering any casualties and evacuated 600 citizens to safety.
It is noteworthy that the state police and the CRPF conducted the operation without calling upon the National Security Guards or the Army Special Forces". Chidambaram seems to subscribe to the view that, bereft of the popular support they once had, the terrorists will pop up once a while just to remind everyone that they are not finished yet.
GOVERNMENT WANTS TO TEACH OLD DOGS SOME NEW TRICKS
IF THE UPA government has its way, bureaucrats across the country will be encouraged to get back to the classrooms and learn a whole lot of new skills. This is part of the prime minister's plans to bring babudom more in tune with the government's policies vis- a- vis the internal situation in the country as well as global trends. As a first step, cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrashekhar has invited chief secretaries of all states for a two- day conference to which all union ministers have also been invited.
A senior bureaucrat admits that in the federal set up that we have in place, state governments should be more concerned about local issues, but emphasised that in a fast changing world, it as imperative that the states also have a vision that encompasses national as well as international issues. The conference scheduled for February 1 and 2 will be a first of sorts in many respects.
Apart from the mandatory speeches by the prime minister and the Cab Sec, there will be presentations by the chiefs of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and other scientific institutions on latest trends in technology that could be of use to specific states; an address by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao on " Emerging Global Challenges and Opportunities", a presentation of International Trade Outlook by commerce secretary Nandan Nilekani will brief the officers on the Unique Identity Card mission and Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh will present a paper on climate change.
Given the security environment across the country where no state, big or small is left untouched by agents of terror, it is not surprising that the government believes that babus from the states should also be given lessons on key security concerns.
For the first time ever, the army, air force and naval chiefs will directly address state- level bureaucrats on the security environment and the role that the state governments must necessarily play to supplement the Centre's efforts. Hopefully, the back- to- the basics approach will yield dividends.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TROUBLE DOWN UNDER
The latest attack on an Indian in Australia over the weekend has added fuel to fire. The 29-year-old man was attacked by four youth and set alight in Melbourne, sending ripples of fear through the Indian community in Australia and their families in India. This assault comes just days after an Indian student, Nitin Garg, was stabbed to death in the same city. The fear and anger among the Indian community in Australia is understandable, especially when viewed in the context of last year's series of attacks - apparently racially motivated - on Indian students there. However, there is little good that will come out of responding hysterically.
New Delhi has expressed its concerns to Canberra and issued a travel advisory to Indian students bound for Australia.However, responses such as the one made by external affairs minister S M Krishna when he questioned the need for students to enrol for courses such as hairstyling are uncalled for. It is not a government's business to prescribe what courses or vocations are worthy of pursuit. The Australian government has, on its part, denounced the attacks and assured Indians that their interests will be protected. It is difficult to establish for certain whether Indians are being racially targeted. It could well be that they are soft targets for violent Australian youth gangs who attack Indians with the intention to rob them. Whatever be the case, Indians are frequently and increasingly becoming targets of crime in Australia. Authorities there will have to step up efforts to ensure the safety of Indian students. And it does not help to dismiss these incidents as ones that occur in any large city, as Australian deputy prime minister Julia Gillard did.
Clearly, the adverse publicity generated by these instances is beginning to hurt Australia. The Australian immigration department says that there has been a 46 per cent drop in student visa applications from India over the past year. Though it cannot be attributed entirely to the attacks, the perception of Australia as unsafe for Indians has contributed to the drop. Education is Australia's third largest export industry and Indian students are the second largest group of international students, contributing in no small measure to Australia's revenue. It's only natural that students considering Australia as a destination, and their parents, would think twice before heading there now.
However, Indians must desist from making broad-brush assumptions of Australian society. Like in any society, there are bound to be some violent elements in Australia too. Recently, a brand of extreme nationalism - which champions an exclusivist, white identity - seems to be on the rise in Australia. But that does not by any stretch of the imagination make all Australians racist.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The scope of the Right to Information (RTI) Act just got widened. Two orders, one by the Delhi high court and the other by the Central Information Commission (CIC), have made it clear that norms of transparency must get precedence over exceptions made under the claims of right of privacy if an individual comes under the definition of public authority or an autonomous body receives public funding.
This is how it ought to have been from the beginning though many public officials and institutions, as well as autonomous bodies receiving public funds seem to think that they can escape the ambit of the RTI Act by defining themselves as organisations functioning independent of the government or citing reasons of privacy.
The directives from the CIC and the high court are positive steps towards infusing more transparency in governance and the use of public funds. The CIC order came after an RTI application seeking a disclosure of assets owned by an employee of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi was dismissed on grounds that it was a private matter and hence need not be made public. The CIC found the argument flawed.
All public officials are needed to declare their assets and liabilities under the employee service rules. There is no reason why the disclosures must not be made public. Legislators and high-ranking public servants like Supreme Court judges already do so. Transparency at all levels of the bureaucracy is necessary to ensure that a high level of probity is maintained in the functioning of public institutions and the utilisation of public resources. Lower levels of bureaucracy are certainly not immune to corruption and any step that helps to reform its conduct and makes it accountable to citizens is welcome.
Similarly, the HC's directive to the Indian Olympic Association and the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee to make their functioning transparent is in the spirit of the RTI Act. These bodies - and Delhi-based Sanskriti School mentioned in the HC order - receive substantial aid from the government.
There is no reason why such institutions should function as if they are private bodies and refuse public scrutiny. Most of our sports bodies are opaque institutions even though they are run on largesse from the government. If we produce successful sportspersons it is despite these bodies.
for the public funds they receive in the name of promoting sports. Accountability will follow if there is greater transparency in their functioning.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
SECURE THE FOUNDATIONS
In his Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture on December 23, 2009, the home minister gave the outlines of a new security architecture for India. The focal point of his proposals is the setting up of a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) with the objective of preventing a terrorist attack, containing the attack should one take place, and responding by "inflicting pain upon the perpetrators".
The NCTC would deal with all kinds of terrorist violence. It would, therefore, perform functions related to intelligence, investigation and operations. The National Investigation Agency and the Multi Agency Centre would become part of the NCTC. Other organisations like the National Technical Research Organisation, the National Crime Records Bureau, the National Intelligence Grid and the National Security Guard would also come under its umbrella.
The home minister also mentioned that his ministry, which had become unwieldy, would be bifurcated. Internal security would receive the home minister's exclusive attention while another minister or a separate department would handle routine matters like Centre-state relations, disaster management, census, human rights, etc.
These reforms were overdue and P Chidambaram deserves credit for the home ministry's proposed restructuring. However, we must diagnose correctly the reasons for our ineptness, if not failure, in handling various problems besetting the country. Unless these are addressed, the proposed security architecture would not deliver.
Successive governments have placed political considerations above national interests. Accountability for failures is not enforced. Corrupt and criminal elements are operating openly and infiltrating state legislatures and Parliament. There is a nexus between corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, police officers and criminals. Corruption is upsetting the development apple cart. The bureaucracy and police have been emasculated by self-seeking and venal politicians. Institutions that inspired confidence and evoked respect are being systematically subverted.
Terrorism is a threat not only to our democratic structure and economy but to the very idea of India. Yet we are diffident about tackling it and have not bothered to enunciate our counterterrorism doctrine. The capitulation at Kandahar was indefensible. The will to fight and to sacrifice are essential for success in the battle against terrorism.
Jammu & Kashmir is a festering sore not because of any failure of the security forces but because of a series of political blunders starting from referring the matter to the UN and then agreeing to a ceasefire, surrendering the gains of the 1965 war at Tashkent, not insisting on a final settlement of the problem at Shimla in 1972, agreeing to release militants in exchange for Rubaiya, and so on. The problems of the north-eastern states are essentially due to political mishandling. There is a ceasefire in Nagaland but we have allowed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) to virtually run a parallel government there.
The Naxal problem represents a failure of governance. Large sections of people, particularly tribals, have been alienated because of acute poverty, failure to implement land reforms, social discrimination or economic deprivation. The problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh has been dusted under the carpet. A group of ministers acknowledged that it posed "a grave danger to our security, social harmony and economic well-being" and yet there is no effort to tackle the problem.
1984 was a disaster but the arch villains of the massacre remain unpunished. 26/11 was a national humiliation but no one in the administration has been held accountable. The guilty men ensured no national commission would go into the causes of our failure to tackle terrorists. The criminal justice system is in the doldrums. All attempts at reform are stymied. The Malimath committee's comprehensive report was dumped.
About 150 MPs elected in 2009 have criminal cases pending against them and these include 73 with serious charges against them under various sections of the IPC. Why can't we have electoral reforms to debar these elements?
The entire security architecture rests on the foundation of district police or, to be more precise, thana police. This foundation continues to be extremely weak. There is paucity of resources, shortage of manpower and the living and service conditions of policemen are pathetic. Most chief ministers have not shown any commitment to police reforms and have treated Supreme Court directions on the subject with contempt. The fragility of the basic unit of the police would prove to be the Achilles' heel of the security architecture if and when there is another major terrorist strike.
Centralisation of powers in the hands of a counterterrorism czar could also create problems. Will the Director of Intelligence Bureau and secretary R&AW be reporting to him? What would be his equation with the national security adviser?
Assuming all these prickly issues are sorted out, our 'original sin' - of placing caste, regional and political considerations above national interests - would still mar our efforts. While the security apparatus does require an overhaul, our principal weakness lies in the of petty politics, rampant corruption, lack of accountability, failure to carry out reforms in the criminal justice system and clean up democratic processes. A magnificent structure cannot be raised on foundations of sand.
The writer is a former director-general, BSF
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'PRIVATE TUTORING CAN CORRUPT PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEMS'
As education rapidly expands the world over, so does its shadow, the private tutoring system. Mark Bray, director of UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning, Paris, has tracked what he describes as the shadow education system through a series of pioneering studies spanning all the continents. In an e-mail interview to Subodh Varma, he summarises the situation:
What is 'shadow education'?
It is a term used for private supplementary tutoring that parallels the mainstream school system. It has become a global phenomenon, but with different types. Shadow systems catering to high achievers have been prominent in East Asia for several decades.
In Eastern Europe, it greatly expanded among all income groups in the early 1990s after economies collapsed. Tutoring has also become more visible in Africa. In part, this reflects teachers' awareness of revenue-generating opportunities available to them in education systems with weak accountability and supervision.
In this respect, Africa may begin to resemble South Asia, where tutoring has become an established part of daily life, especially in urban areas. In Western Europe, North America and Australasia, tutoring remains modest in scale, but has greatly expanded due to competition between schools and as parents see the rewards from investing in it. In Latin America, tutoring is relatively modest except at the upper secondary level.
Why does it arise?
Demand arises from competition and rewards from educational achievement, particularly in countries with high-stakes testing and with stratified education systems (either few people going to universities or few people going to good universities).
In general, rich families pay for greater quantities and better qualities of tutoring than do middle-income and poor families. But then the competition works down the ladder, so that middle-income and even low-income families find themselves forced to pay for tutoring in order not to be left behind.
What effect does it have on children and the society?
In some countries, parents, educators and politicians are highly critical of the way private tutoring has come to dominate the lives of families and pupils. School plus homework plus tutoring does not leave much time for anything else. It can corrupt public education systems, particularly when teachers pay more attention to their private lessons and neglect what they are paid to do.
Tutoring can have a backwash on the school system, leading to inequalities in the classroom and to conflicts in approaches to learning (such as mathematics for understanding as opposed to mathematics by formula and by rote). Tutoring commonly creates and perpetuates social inequalities, and it consumes human and financial resources, which perhaps could be used more appropriately in other activities.
The first thing to do is to recognise its existence - and potential danger. Some regulations can be appropriate, particularly to prohibit teachers from accepting payment for tutoring the pupils for whom those teachers already have responsibility during their normal classes.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
In his latest thriller, Jeffrey Archer revisits an old controversy: Who climbed Mount Everest first - Tensing and Hillary, or Mallory and Irvine? Thanks to technology, the ascent is almost like a walk in the park today.
But when George Mallory and Sandy Irvine went up for the final assault on June 8, 1924, they were wearing just layers of regular winter clothing and home-knitted gloves. They probably did use oxygen cylinders, but those were too heavy to be of much help.
The two were last spotted about 600 feet below the top by Noel Odell, another team member. And then they disappeared forever in clouds of mist. In 1999, Mallory's body was found at 26,760 feet. It was rumoured that Irvine's body had been found, too, but the Chinese climber who made the claim died before he could pinpoint the location.
From the point where they were last seen to the discovery of Mallory's body, the book is all fiction. Archer has them reaching the summit at 3.36 p.m., taking pictures with Irvine's camera, but having separate fatal accidents on the way down. However, in this story there is one strong piece of real circumstantial evidence. It appears that Mallory promised his beautiful wife, Ruth, that if he scaled the peak, he would place her photo there.
He carried it in his wallet. And when the body was actually found 75 years later, the picture was not in it. Besides, his snow goggles were found in his pocket, which suggests that he was on his feet when it got dark. So, he had enough time to make the climb.
But, according to Edmund Hillary, that would make no difference. "The complete climbing of a mountain is reaching the summit and getting safely to the bottom again," he said. Archer disagrees. In a TV interview he said that even if Neil Armstrong had not made it back alive from the moon, we would have given him credit for being the first to reach there. Of course, we have yet to establish who got there first.
Maybe, with global warming, one day the snow on the mountain will melt sufficiently to uncover Irvine's body. Kodak has said that they could even today retrieve the images on the film in his camera. Until then, mountaineering's biggest mystery will remain unsolved.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
DANCES WITH SMURFS
Everybody's talking about it, and it's made an obscene amount of money, and it looks like it might actually threaten Titanic's position at the top of the all-time biggest hit list. James Cameron's Avatar has succeeded beyond the wildest imaginations of perhaps even the studio that produced the movie, which spent an estimated $500 million making and promoting it. Critics, too, have by and large loved it - or at least buried their objections to the film under mounds of praise so that they're not in any danger this time of being accused by the general public of being out of touch with popular tastes, a la Titanic.
But take away the splendour of the 3-D technology employed to admittedly great effect here, the beautiful colours, and the flora and fauna that could've come straight out of a deep sea dive, the exhaustive and mostly scientifically-accurate world building, and you're left with a film that conforms to and indeed exploits every racist narrative trope that one expects from a movie with not too much interest in telling a story as in making it look pretty. Which only makes its stupendous success that much more disappointing.
The plot isn't complex - outsider searching for meaning finds noble savages who help him find himself, with a few ham-handed war on terror and environmentalism parallels thrown in. But what's insulting about Avatar isn't that its story is simple, but that it's simplistic. Let me count the ways. First, the humans are divided into good guy-bad guy camps, with the scientists obviously peace-loving and respectful of the alien culture they encounter and the private military contractors playing the rotten apples who just want to blow things up and possibly torture puppies and other small furry creatures in their spare time. The reason human civilisation is even interested in Pandora is because of the presence of a naturally-occurring ore hilariously called unobtanium.
The dastardly humans will brook no opposition in their quest for this ore and will steamroll over anyone or anything that gets in the way. That includes the natives, the Na'vi, who live in trees and commune with nature and are generally all sweetness and light (except when they're not). Just when it looks like the poor natives will lose their homes to these evil conquistadors, sorry, humans, a human outsider who has been learning the way of the natives comes to their rescue and saves the day.
Sounds familiar? That's because this movie has been made oh-so-many times. Remember Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai? Yeah, variations on the same theme: white guy flees own society/culture for personal reasons, white guy infiltrates native culture, white guy assimilates into native culture and then becomes a better native than the natives themselves, switches sides, averting a dire situation along the way and becomes fearless leader of the oppressed culture. In between, he might fall in love with a native woman, like in Pocahontas, and battle for her affections with her starchy fiance, who he will possibly convince of his awesomeness by pulling off some death-defying stunt.
Subtle Cameron is not. The Na'vi exist solely as a vehicle to impart meaningful life lessons to the human protagonist, Jake Sully, and their mystical, otherworldly wisdom is significant only insofar as it enlightens him of his own culture's deficiencies. So Sully is really just a Mary Sue, a consequence of Cameron's self-insertion fantasy, who lays offensive claim to the history, culture and land of the natives when he could not possibly have any real understanding of either. In giving Sully a leadership position, Cameron deprives the Na'vi of any agency in preserving their homes or their land.
In Avatar, the Na'vi might be Native American analogues, but in this school of film-making, it doesn't matter that the protagonist is a white male. The problem is that the representative of an institutionally powerful group is used to tell the story of an oppressed minority group, which in effect flips the narrative from being about the minority to actually being all about the would-be oppressor's journey of self-discovery.
SMALL CARS, BIG DEAL
Two years after Ratan Tata unveiled the Nano at the Delhi auto show, the city is getting a glimpse of how carmakers across continents reacted to the world's cheapest car. This year's exposition has on display small cars from Toyota, General Motors, Volkswagen and Honda, the heavyweights of the automobile industry. Most of the models will, over the next two years, be made in India where sales of cars, principally small ones, are growing at 16 per cent a year. Three in four of the 1.4 million cars that will be sold in India in 2008-09 will be compacts. China and India are the only two sizeable growth markets in the world, significant for any global manufacturer in the long term. India offers the added advantage of being a testing ground for a global shift towards smaller, fuel-efficient and low-emission cars.
This also brightens the prospects of the country emerging as a hub for manufacturing small cars. Already automobile companies in India led by Suzuki and Hyundai are exporting one in four cars they produce and the expectation is the scale could rise to a million cars by 2015 when domestic sales touch 3 million. Indian car exports should get a leg up with the entry of Japanese and European makers. Those late to arrive in the Indian market are attempting to buy their way in, like Volkswagen which has bought 20 per cent of Suzuki. The Chinese, way up in the automobile manufacturing food chain, are also interested. Shanghai Automobile Corporation has taken control of General Motor's India operations in what could set off an export wave of frugal Chinese engineering.
This edition of the Delhi auto show heralds a phase of heightened competition with entrenched incumbents like Suzuki which sells every second car in India girding up not merely against the Toyotas and Hondas that bring to the market larger pools of proprietary technology but also against companies like the Tatas and the Mahindras that have a innate understanding of the Indian value proposition. Then again, it is bound to get crowded in a market that should double its size in five years. The world has been peering curiously at the stuff bubbling in the Indian automobile laboratory. This could be the decade when the billions at the bottom of the pyramid come into full view.
ASIF HE MEANT IT
You have to hand it to old Asif Zardari. He may be a wash-out as president of Pakistan but he makes up for it by really being a bag full of laughs. Some years ago, he came up with a few nifty one-liners about all Pakistanis and Indians having a bit of each other in them. Only to tell us the next day that he was just kidding. Then off he went to Washington where he apparently told the verbally challenged Sarah Palin that she was gorgeous. Only to assure everyone that he was looking to raise a titter or two before she mistook him for a moose and gutted him.
Now our Asif has people rolling in the aisles with his promise of a 1,000-year ideological war on Kashmir. We are curious to know what ideology he has in mind. Or was he trying to go one better than his father-in-law, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who promised a 1,000-year war with India? As we know it, old Asif is delightfully bereft of any ideology. But we could remedy that. We could send Prakash Karat, now at a loose end, around for some quick indoctrination in Marxism. And L.K. Advani, now job hunting, for a dose of Hindutva. As for radical Islam, he has tutors closer home.
Armed with this knowledge, Asif could be formidable opponent. Or maybe he's just putting one across on us. He's a right regular riot, isn't he? But we do have one suggestion that might work in resolving the Kashmir dispute. We all know what a whiz Asif is at business matters. Without running any visible business, he is able to generate money out of thin air. And invest in property like a pub in London and several homes. We say never mind any ideological battle. Let him launch an economic battle. He'll definitely wipe the floor with us in that one.
ASIF HE MEANT IT
You have to hand it to old Asif Zardari. He may be a wash-out as president of Pakistan but he makes up for it by really being a bag full of laughs. Some years ago, he came up with a few nifty one-liners about all Pakistanis and Indians having a bit of each other in them. Only to tell us the next day that he was just kidding. Then off he went to Washington where he apparently told the verbally challenged Sarah Palin that she was gorgeous. Only to assure everyone that he was looking to raise a titter or two before she mistook him for a moose and gutted him.
Now our Asif has people rolling in the aisles with his promise of a 1,000-year ideological war on Kashmir. We are curious to know what ideology he has in mind. Or was he trying to go one better than his father-in-law, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who promised a 1,000-year war with India? As we know it, old Asif is delightfully bereft of any ideology. But we could remedy that. We could send Prakash Karat, now at a loose end, around for some quick indoctrination in Marxism. And L.K. Advani, now job hunting, for a dose of Hindutva. As for radical Islam, he has tutors closer home.
Armed with this knowledge, Asif could be formidable opponent. Or maybe he's just putting one across on us. He's a right regular riot, isn't he? But we do have one suggestion that might work in resolving the Kashmir dispute. We all know what a whiz Asif is at business matters. Without running any visible business, he is able to generate money out of thin air. And invest in property like a pub in London and several homes. We say never mind any ideological battle. Let him launch an economic battle. He'll definitely wipe the floor with us in that one.
WHAT'S THE BEE IN AMAR'S BONNET?
Senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Amar Singh's decision to quit from various positions in his organisation appears to be impulsive and taken in a fit of pique while he was in Dubai. Had it been a considered move, there would have been no need to fax his resignation letter from a foreign country. He could have easily waited and handed it in personally to party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav who is his close friend. The casual manner in which Yadav dismissed reports of Amar Singh quitting the party also indicates that the boss is confident that he will get his friend to reconsider the decision.
The relationship between Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh has been in the limelight for many years because the
former was able to manage a lot of things for the SP chief. He introduced an element of glamour to the party by bringing in filmstars. His friendship with Amitabh Bachchan helped in consolidating his position. He persuaded Sanjay Dutt to campaign for the SP in the 2009 polls even though the Dutts have been Congress supporters. His close association with Anil Ambani also brought corporate support for Yadav who was earlier known for his caste-based politics.
There is no denying that Amar Singh's emergence also alienated many important SP functionaries like Beni Prasad Verma who is the topmost Kurmi leader in the state and whose role in the 2009 parliamentary polls helped the Congress get a large number of votes from his community. The list of disillusioned SP leaders included Azam Khan, the Muslim face of the party who publicly opposed the party's decision to give the Rampur Lok Sabha ticket to Jayaprada. The actress won the seat but in the bargain, Yadav lost one of his most trusted lieutenants. Similarly, the suave Salim Sherwani also parted company with Yadav and Amar Singh was said to be the reason.
One factor that has recently contributed to the cooling of ties between Amar Singh and Yadav is the result of the Firozabad election where the SP strongman's daughter-in-law Dimple was humbled by actor Raj Babbar, a one-time close associate who contested against her on a Congress ticket. Amar Singh was quick to distance himself from the defeat by claiming that the party should have taken this election seriously. The seat had been vacated by Akhilesh Yadav to enable his wife to contest from there and it is a Yadav family stronghold. It appears that the local Yadavs and Muslims chose to stay away from the SP for the first time. Many in the SP blamed Kalyan Singh's association with the SP for the loss, indirectly hitting out at Amar Singh who had brought the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister close to Yadav.
Though many have held Amar Singh responsible for the downfall of Yadav, others believe that it was only because of the wily Rajput's support that the SP boss has been able to survive the uncertainties of politics. No one can dispute the fact that Yadav on his own is a mass leader and Amar Singh is a perfect foil to him. He is his principal negotiator and has both the finesse and crudity to deal with people. He knows how the system works and is the perfect political man Friday. He is also the custodian of the Yadav clan's secrets. He was considered a dependable friend for Mulayam and an equally ruthless adversary for others.
What is to be seen is whether Yadav will remove the irritants that have led to Amar Singh's resignation or take the SP back to its original style of functioning. Though Amar Singh has hinted that he could join some other party, something which contradicts his "more time for family'' explanation, he can thrive only in the Samajwadi Party. Between us.
BELIEVERS ALONE CAN BE ACHIEVERS
The problem with most of us is that we spend more time in thinking over a given problem than in trying to solve it. Going by experience, I can say that first of all you have to have belief in yourself, not to be cowed down by what others feel about you.
Once, you are able to imbibe within you the spirit of self-confidence, then it is time for you to strike. We must remember that life is short and we should not try to make it shorter by our mistakes. Don't they say think big?
Once you set goals for yourself, you are bound to succeed. But if doubts persist, then the question of achieving success does not arise. You can then sure pass for a doubting Tom.
Failures should not deter us. All great men and women at one point or another were confronted with difficult situations. But those who decided to act with determination ultimately succeeded.
I can't help recalling Bahadur Shah Zafar's couplets, 'umrey daraaz mang kar layae they char din; do arzoo meinbeet gaye , do intzar mein'( Our life consisted of four days, two (half of it) were wasted in expecting and the rest two in wishing to see their fulfilment.)
We expect wonders to happen; but they never happen. We are temporarily here on earth. It would be, therefore, a folly to waste even an iota of it in just thinking without action.
I don't say that one should not think. It is an essential process of our decision-making system. But mere thinking lands us nowhere. Life expects you to believe and act. You are sure to achieve your goal.
But let's have a note of caution: Don't think everything can be achieved by mere belief. It is the will to succeed which inspires you to believe and achieve. So, why don't you resolve to be an achiever by being a firm believer in your own potential?
Of course, you have to match with action.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER
My wife Tara is the birds-person in our family. I know next to nothing about the feathered kind. But about a couple of months before we left Kolkata after our five years' stay in its leafy Raj Bhavan, I made friends with two mynahs.
Or rather, two mynahs flew into my life.
A verandah has edged the governor's apartment overlooking the mansion's spectacular south-western garden for as long as the building has stood, some 206 years. This verandah has been enclosed with a tight meshing in an ingenious design to keep the estate's prolific pigeons out. No pigeon, or any other bird for that matter, could violate the governor's privacy nor anoint his person with the siftings of avian blessing.
But Tara and I longed for an unobstructed view of the garden and the trees around it. So we had the 'cage' opened through a series of windows. The delectably airy stretch on the first floor, a screen of blue sky and green earth, now became the site for our morning coffee, biscuits and newspapers.
One morning as I was taking in the bitter berry draught and breaking my biscuit in half to dip into the brew, a mynah darted in and stood on the window's ledge directly in front of me, no more than two feet away. Bobbing his head, going 'keek-keek-keek', he made his interest clear. But would he acknowledge it? No way. He cocked his head sideways, upways, every conceivable way, as if looking for something he might have inadvertently left in this public space where his entitlements were no less than mine.
My proximity to this bird being what it was and perhaps the newspapers having been (incredibly) dull that morning, I struck up a conversation with the visitor. "Here, here," I said to him, "Biki, biki," the half-biscuit held out a single peck away. "Biki? What biki?" the self-respecting mynah seemed to say, as he flew right over me to a distant ledge, well inside the verandah.
"Your choice." I said, and crunched into the crumbling disc. Back into the columns of printed news stretched
out on my lap, I almost forgot about the mynah when he came back and sat on the floor, beside my feet. "Now we are talking," I said, "You want a bite, don'tcha?"
This time, he didn't posture. He dipped his head as if looking for a moth or ant on the verandah floor. I dropped
the uneaten half onto the marble. Within moments, he had hopped up to it and slanting his head, lifted it up nimbly with his yellow beak. Hop, hop again, and further down the verandah, he bashed his find on the hard surface breaking it into powder.
The pulverised protein grains were picked up individually and ingested in a trice. At this point, in flew another mynah. "A pair!" I exclaimed. The first one inched aside, not seeming all that pleased. But he was not affronted enough to shoo the second visitor away. More biscuit bits were now laid on and soon the floor looked like a pair of very sandy feet had walked over it.
The next morning the ritual was repeated, and the next. And so on for a succession of mornings. Tara , who had been out of town when the first visit took place, joined me a few days later at the spot. "I have named him Biki," I told her. "He loves the Marie. I don't have a name for the second one." As I said this, the second one came and took a crumb from the ground. "Oh, look," Tara said, "She should be named Tuki." So Biki and Tuki they became, our morning companions for nearly two months, our last two months in Kolkata. We observed them closely each morning. The pair would come in almost together, sit on the ledge for a moment of posed unconcern and then, as I opened the biscuit dabba, would go still and chirp, from throat, gut and beak.
Biki was bigger, stronger and was clearly the boss. And what a boss. Tuki would not as much as venture towards a biscuit piece or crumb unless Biki had trod all over the place and, so to say, left the field to her. If we sent a biscuit flying in Tuki's direction, she would look at it longingly for a second and then turn away, as Biki would swoop over the victual and demolish it. "What a bully!" I said to Tara, "He is the typical domineering husband." "How do you know Biki is not the dominating wife?"she asked.
We tried a few tricks, like giving Biki his lion's share and when he was busy with it, send a bit quietly towards Tuki so that she could have it in peace. But no. Biki would catch us at our subterfuge, leave his portion and come flying, establish his claims on the new bit and return to his corner, already laden with earlier grains. Tara caught the sessions on camera more than once, hoping the couple would come up to me or her some day and actually take the crumb from our hands giving us a 'photo-scoop'.
One morning Tuki came in before Biki, looking as if she had been in a fight. "Domestic violence," I suggested darkly. Tara who knew better, laughed and said, "She is probably moulting." "But does a mynah moult overnight to this extent? She looks as if some bird has tried to chew her head off." A couple of days later, she was looking better, head smoother, fur less uneven.
Another morning, Tara and I had our breakthrough. Biki was not around. Tuki, by herself for once, was another being altogether. Confident, self-possessed, she came up right close to us, within touching distance. I placed a biscuit piece on my knee and, sure enough, there looped Tuki, sat on my leg for a fleeting second and picked the bit up and flew away.
Hurray! Tara rushed in to get her camera to catch this scoop. But Tuki would not oblige again. Who knows when the swami will arrive?
It is not as though life was all about biscuits for the couple. There was time and mood for higher things. We saw them on a few occasions move up to each other, go rubby-dovey, cheek-to-cheek, beak-to-beak, and one morning Biki placed his closed beak tenderly into Tuki's open one. Again, the camera was sought, too late. We need our privacy, okay?
On our last morning in Kolkata, we went through the ritual as before. The two came, joined us and when done, just flew away to face another day.
Now, when we are far away, we wonder if the pair wings towards the verandah and, finding the windows shut, hover around the mesh expectantly and after some minutes decide that the old couple have just ceased to be. They do not know of governors and their tenures.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi was the Governor of West Bengal from 2004 to 2009
The views expressed by the author are personal
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking during the lengthy festivities that mark Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, recognised what he called the "legitimate desire" of overseas Indians to participate in politics in their country of origin. He hoped, he said, that by the time the next general elections roll around, Indians all over the world would be able to vote for members of parliament. That India's democracy extends itself to ensure that all Indian citizens have the opportunity to vote is a laudable aim. Yet the promise raises a question: why is the state apparently so willing and able to ensure absentee voting by non-resident Indians, yet so incapable of allowing internal migrants this basic right? We might soon wind up with the confusing fact that moving to Manhattan might not alter your right to vote for your local MP, but moving to Meerut might.
Most estimates put the number of people who migrate within India over 200 million; some respectable estimates take that up to almost a third of India's population. People move from the farms to cities; they move from states which are moribund and economically rudderless to those which are dynamic, and creating jobs; they move because some industries and services are more productive in geographic clusters. These are individuals who are an integral part of indeed, are central to the creation of a new India defined by fast-track economic growth. Yet our democracy has been slow to ensure that they have a political voice. Voting rolls are chronically outdated, and updating them to reflect migration is usually a politically fraught exercise. The obvious answer, to ensure that at least they have an absentee ballot, is an idea that has been dismissed summarily.
This exclusion of migrants, especially seasonal, increasingly reveals itself in India's state politics. Nativist forces, such as Raj Thackeray's in Mumbai, feed off the non-integrated character of local politics. Meanwhile, in order to get themselves registered to vote, migrants increasingly have to depend upon political forces that are familiar to them from their places of origin so, even when registered, they are frequently associated with parties or individuals marginal to mainstream politics in their new place of residence. The exercise to plug gaps in the Indian electorate needs to address this demographic too.
It's become a running pattern Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor shoots his mouth off, the Congress disapproves. He retreats, later broadcasting some Twitter braggadocio. After recently speaking truth to power over the visa issue (forcing senior minister S.M. Krishna to intervene), Tharoor now appears to have picked on the biggest "holy cows" possible Gandhi and Nehru, and the contentious afterlife of Nehru's ideas.
Speaking after (and summing up) Bhikhu Parekh's lecture on 'India's Place in the World', he lauded Nehru's extraordinary "articulation of our civilisational heritage", but also acknowledged how this often amounted to a "moralistic running commentary". An outraged Congress party shot back saying "his responsibility is to carry forward the legacy of Pandit Nehru and not be critical of it". Tharoor chose offence as defence, blaming "inaccurate and tendentious reporting" for the misunderstanding, and clarifying that he was at one with the profound convictions of the Congress.
Tharoor could have a point plucking his words out of context and placing quotation marks around words he did not utter would manifestly be terrible journalism though his manner was unbecoming. However, the larger point remains that the mainstream media (MSM) Tharoor loves to hate did not create this constant tension between him and his party. He is possibly yet untrained in the intricate ways of political communication, and unaware of the weight of his own words as a minister. As his fondness for Twitter demonstrates, he is all about unmediated conversation and the direct, natural, and shoot-from-the-hip speaking voice. Meanwhile, the crusty old Congress party is still used to the monotone of the press release, the platitudes of official spokespersons. At a deeper level, a party that has shape-shifted without actually discussing its icons, without having an internal debate over their legacy, is bound to be fearful of freethinking voices, anxious to impose consensus. Tharoor simply needs to decide whether he wants to be the glib crusader for social media or a responsible junior minister in external affairs and a politician headed for bigger things in the party he's found himself in. Talking down to the media in pompous outrage will, however, get him nowhere.
The political apparatus in Afghanistan continues to be in turmoil. After the disputed August elections and its chaotic aftermath, it is now President Hamid Karzai's cabinet that suffers a setback. After Karzai's cabinet nominations were rejected by an uncharacteristically assertive parliament he now has drawn up a fresh list of more qualified nominees. Of the 24 nominations made on December 19 only seven were approved including for defence and interior ministers. Parliament has however rejected the nominations of dubious warlords and militia leaders such as Ismail Khan. This after the international community has pushed Karzai to rid his government of cronyism and corruption.
Karzai's position has already suffered a major blow. The Election Commission's ruling that votes had been tilted in Karzai's favour in the first round of the presidential poll had complicated the political landscape. It is through this prism that many of Karzai's nominations can be seen. Pressure from former militia commanders and warlords had encouraged Karzai to form tactical alliances with questionable characters. But there has been a move towards reform seen through the nomination of Suraya Dali, a public health graduate and a woman.
Karzai's cabinet choices are far from perfect. However in Afghanistan's complex set-up of tribal and ethnic players, some juggling of alliances is a necessity. Furthermore, as the elections have displayed there is at present no alternative to Karzai. In fact as US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has said "Let's not expect one man to solve the problems for the country. Historically Afghanistan, even in peacetime conditions, was not governed centrally." Thus it is hoped that all stakeholders in Afghanistan's stability work through this rough political phase carefully.
HOW TO BE ANXIOUS
PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
The world is creeping back into a state of nervous anxiety over terrorism. The so-called "underwear bomber" certainly exposed the fragility of even the best resourced security system in the world. Here was a bomber on whom there was about as much advance information as there could possibly have been. The Nigerian national, Umar Faruk Abdumutallab's own father had taken the momentous step of informing the authorities that his son might not be up to any good. A combination of luck and alert passengers prevented another plane from blowing up. But perhaps at the level of sending signals Al Qaeda succeeded. It made the American state look fragile; it will probably induce billions of dollars of more expenditure. It will legitimise the introduction of more and more invasive surveillance techniques. And it might weaken Obama's room for political manoeuvre. It is almost as if Al Qaeda is saying, "You value your rights to liberty and privacy; see what we can do to them." It is important not to be defeatist in preventing terrorist acts. But societies will have to grapple with the difficult question about how much of their way of life they can concede to terrorists.
The fragility of the state apparatus was on display in the suicide attack in Afghanistan that killed several CIA officers. While the usual suspects, including the ISI, will come under scrutiny, the fact that a Jordanian double agent was involved is significant for two reasons. First, it blurs the distinction between allies and foes. Terrorism is as much a mind game, whose success depends upon spreading the shadow of suspicion. Second, the fact that a double agent was involved is also an ideological rebuff of sorts. Terrorists are saying, we will get you with the means and instruments you yourself cultivate. In fact, this is the larger problem that has plagued the so-called war on terror. The very instruments that are used to combat it in turn go on to sustain those structures. The indispensable ally in the war on terror, the Pakistani state, exemplifies the degree to which the so-called solution becomes the problem. And now, with another corrupt and rickety state, Yemen, the likely target of operations, the vicious cycle continues.
But in some senses, the more anxiety inducing reverberations were being felt in Europe. The Danish cartoonist was attacked. The Nigerian bomber has reopened the debate over exactly why British universities are becoming an ideological catchment ground for would be radicals and terrorists. The small town of Wotton Bassett that has become famous for honouring British soldiers killed in combat, threatened to unleash another polarising discussion. A group called Islam4UK threatened a march in that town, ostensibly to draw attention to civilians being killed in the various wars on terror. Gordon Brown was forced to call this march disgusting; and the prospect of a town not being able to honour dead soldiers without disruption brought out the sense in which so many ordinary Britons are feeling under political siege.
The reason these events are of far more significance is this. They have the capacity to produce even more ideological polarisation through a vicious cycle of argument and counter argument. The self-righteous David Miliband had on his trip to India counselled on the need to be sensitive to minorities. This is sound policy. But his government has been quickly forced to confront questions about the line between being sensitive, and tolerating ideologies that jeopardise liberties. This is becoming an increasingly treacherous terrain to negotiate in Europe. And this has to be said as forcefully as possible. The Danish cartoons may have been offensive to some and in bad taste. But easy compromises on the issue of freedom of expression, or legitimising those who attack that value on the grounds that their religious sensitivities have been offended, should be unacceptable. The attack on the Danish cartoonist was not an attack on a prejudiced European, it was an attack on our values and principles.
The debate over root causes has bubbled again to the surface. But there are confusions in this debate. Some problems, like the Palestinian problem, need to be addressed because of the intrinsic issue of justice involved, not simply because they might not be fomenting terrorism. And the US cannot expect that it can act like an imperial power, widening its arc of intervention on one pretext or another, without generating sites of violent resistance. And on these fronts the news has indeed been depressing. Some of Israel's actions have been repeatedly crossing the threshold of moral acceptability as even its own intellectuals, like the incomparable David Shulman, have been pointing out. And for all of Obama's rapprochement strategy, his inability to rein in Israel is making the prospects for peace even more dim. And it is becoming increasingly likely that the US will increase its arc of military and political entanglement in places like Yemen, yet again shifting the frontier of this war.
These issues have to be addressed. But it cannot be denied that there is also something sui generis about the challenges being posed to liberal societies. For one thing, so-called protests from root causes do not address a fundamental asymmetry. We can protest against the US or Britain. But how do we protest against Pakistan or Saudi Arabia or Yemen? Second, even when there are legitimate grievances, there have been more imaginative and morally compelling ways of creating political movements; and certainly Palestine would have achieved a lot more if the political strategy of its leaders had been more credible. Terrorist groups are as much a product of the crisis of authority in the societies they come from; and certainly a lot of the terrorist violence is now intra sectarian. The numbers involved may be, in the larger scheme of things, still small. But then terrorism was never about strength in numbers. It was about magnifying small numbers into large political effects.
The banal truth is that the battle against terrorism will have many different levels. What is producing radicalism on British campuses, and what is producing warriors out of Somalia and Yemen and Pakistan are at one level connected by a narrative. But they may also require different responses. But more than terrorism, the military and political reaction to terrorism has been decisive. Societies with the ability to throw cold water, and not over-react or overestimate their own power, may be able to weather the inevitable storms. But the recent events have reminded us, how close we still are to the precipice of a suffocating and vicious political cycle.
The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
YOUR HUMBLE SERVANT
The high decibel furore surrounding the inadequate sentencing of former Haryana DGP Rathore has one striking omission: the distinct lack of statements by politicians, both from Haryana and from elsewhere. Apart from a few sentences from the Union law minister, the Haryana chief minister and a statement by Manish Tewari, the Congress spokesperson, politicians have kept a safe distance.
But why? Surely an issue that has resoundingly highlighted the incredible failings of our system and the remarkable ease with which influential persons can delay and influence justice should be of some concern to the 5000-odd MLAs and MPs that sit in our various legislatures?
Or is it the case that too many politicians are uncomfortable commenting, for they have themselves so frequently exerted similar influence and delayed due process for their own protection?
Far be it for a first-time state legislator to render any advice to those significantly more experienced in our august houses, but this writer cannot help but feel that to ignore this massive groundswell of public opinion at this juncture is not only bad judgment and hurtful to the victim's family, but also an insult to the intelligence of the very voters that empowered them in the first place.
The deafening silence from politicians normally prone to shooting from the hip at every opportunity might have confirmed the suspicion that many might actually be more dependent for their political survival on the workings of the judiciary and the executive than on those very voters that they are meant to serve.
Were all the cases now pending in our courts against our politicians (including one against the writer for allegedly beating a government servant) to be transferred to special courts for time-bound summary judgment many would bite the dust.
Were all departmental inquiries against politicians and bureaucrats to be transferred to special investigating units supervised by our Central agencies for time-bound resolution, many more would be in the dock.
Public opinion has today hung ex-DGP Rathore high and dry, as it has numerous politicians in the past for their crimes of omission and commission. But that is only because of the media volcano that erupted after the smiling Rathore exited court following a sentence invariably deemed too lenient by all and sundry. But what of the thousands of cases involving our officers and politicians that do not receive such attention?
The overriding lesson of the 19-year delay in Ruchika's family's pursuit of justice and the current failure of our politicians to speak out is that our bureaucrats and politicians exist primarily to protect each other. This cosy relationship is one of the main reasons why we have had incremental degradation of public services over the 62-odd years of our independence.
Had our executive and legislative arms been acting independently in fulfilling their roles in our governance India today would not be the corruption-ridden place that it is. Had our judiciary stuck to its job of applying the law as opposed to interpreting it in a widely divergent manner, our justice system would enjoy a better reputation today.
If there is today an urgent need to fast-track anything, it is not VVIP cars through privileged passages, but the investigations and court proceedings concerning our politicians, judges and officials. These should all be centrally compiled and monitored, with regular updates on the Internet. Then the public would very quickly realise that for every one Rathore now in the public gaze there are hundreds of influential persons deep in a system that simply cannot hold them to account.
Politicians worldwide are used to the adulation or venom of the voting public. But it is really only in emerging countries where officialdom also occupies that high pedestal. The writer, having lived in the UK for 40 years, never had any reason at any time to think of that country's bureaucrats as anything more than mere public servants; certainly not with the demigod-like status that most enjoy here.
The Ruchika episode may well finally call time on Rathore but the system will still allow countless others to escape with impunity or nominal sentences unless we fundamentally change the way we deal with our errant officials, judges and politicians. Sixty-two years of independence may have created many an ill-gotten fortune but if we are to truly take countless hundreds of millions of our citizens out of poverty we must legislate now to ensure that there is for this group of "servants" a real fear of prosecution and conviction.
Teflon-coated politicians, officers and judges that have till now by and large protected themselves in a symbiotic environment need to start thinking that they might actually go to jail. Perhaps we need to devise a punishment for these abusers of power that will act as a genuine deterrent for others considering erring from the true path of the public servant.
The writer represents Halqa Qila Raipur in the Punjab assembly
THE GREEN LEAP FORWARD
C. H. Tung, the first Chinese-appointed chief executive of Hong Kong after the handover in 1997, offered me a three-sentence summary the other day of China's modern economic history: "China was asleep during the Industrial Revolution. She was just waking during the Information Technology Revolution. She intends to participate fully in the Green Revolution." I'll say. Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China's Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the ET Energy Technology revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it. Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, liked to say that companies come to "strategic inflection points," where the fundamentals of a business change and they either make the hard decision to invest in a down cycle and take a more promising trajectory or do nothing and wither. The same is true for countries.
The US is at just such a strategic inflection point. We are either going to put in place a price on carbon and the right regulatory incentives to ensure that America is China's main competitor/partner in theET revolution, or we are going to gradually cede this industry to Beijing.
Is President Obama going to finish health care and then put aside the pending energy legislation and carbon pricing that Congress has already passed in order to get through the midterms without Republicans screaming "new taxes?" Or is he going to seize this moment before the midterms possibly his last window to put together a majority in the Senate, including some Republicans, for a price on carbon and put in place a real US engine for clean energy innovation and energy security?
I've been stunned to learn about the sheer volume of wind, solar, mass transit, nuclear and more efficient coal-burning projects that have sprouted in China in just the last year. Here's email from Bill Gross, who runs eSolar, a promising California solar-thermal start-up: On Saturday, in Beijing, said Gross, he announced "the biggest solar-thermal deal ever. It's a 2 gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build plants in China using our California-based technology. China is being even more aggressive than the US. We applied for a [US Department of Energy] loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico, and in less time than it took them to do stage 1 of the application review, China signs, approves, and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project!"
Yes, climate change is a concern for Beijing, but more immediately China's leaders know that their country is in the midst of the biggest migration of people from the countryside to urban centres in the history of mankind. This is creating a surge in energy demand, which China is determined to meet with cleaner, homegrown sources so that its future economy will be less vulnerable and so it doesn't pollute itself to death.
In the last year alone, so many new solar panel makers emerged in China that the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents, according to The Times's bureau chief here, Keith Bradsher. Meanwhile, China last week tested the fastest bullet train in the world from Wuhan to Guangzhou. As Bradsher noted, China "has nearly finished the construction of a high-speed rail route from Beijing to Shanghai at a cost of $23.5 billion. Trains will cover the 700-mile route in just five hours, compared with 12 hours today. By comparison, Amtrak trains require at least 18 hours to travel a similar distance from New York to Chicago." China is also engaged in the world's most rapid expansion of nuclear power. It is expected to build some 50 new nuclear reactors by 2020; the rest of the world combined might build 15. "By the end of this decade, China will be dominating global production of the whole range of power equipment," said Andrew Brandler, the CEO of the CLP Group, Hong Kong's largest power utility.
In the process, China is going to make clean power technologies cheaper for itself and everyone else. But even Chinese experts will tell you that it will all happen faster and more effectively if China and America work together with the US specialising in energy research and innovation, at which China is still weak, as well as in venture investing and servicing of new clean technologies, and with China specialising in mass production.
This is a strategic inflection point. It is clear that if we care about our energy security, economic strength and environmental quality we need to put in place a long-term carbon price that stimulates and rewards clean power innovation. We can't afford to be asleep with an invigorated China wide awake.
THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY
In February 2011, India will become the first country in the world to issue its residents biometric-based numbers (UID) to establish identity. For this purpose, the Central government has constituted the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Planning Commission. The UID number is marketed as a fundamental enabler for efficient delivery of government services and inclusive development. As per the Authority, benefits of the UID number include elimination of leakages in welfare programs like PDS and NREGA, and facilitation of targeted education and health interventions for underprivileged children.
A less publicised purpose of the UID number is to improve national security. In January 2009, the Centre issued notice to maritime states and two UTs to issue identity cards to all coastal residents. In an interview in the aftermath of the terror attacks, Chidambaram announced "Governments decision to set up the UID authority. The UIDAI was established in February 2009, within three months of the attacks. By the Authority's own admission, "The UIDAI is only in the identity business. The responsibility of tracking beneficiaries and the governance of service delivery will continue to remain with the respective agencies". So once the UIDAI has finished with its business, who will use it, and how? One has to ask whether "security" is not just a peripheral but the primary purpose of the project.
UID is a flexible tool and the Authority's neutral attitude towards its end-use leaves abundant room for abuse. Thus it is imperative that government programs delineate all objectives and there is a robust and inclusive debate to ensure democratic end-use. Public approval of this undertaking is contingent on its stated altruistic goals but these must be clearly enumerated. Given the record of our security agencies and their adherence to democratic principles, the Indian populace is unlikely to sanction a project for its own increased policing. Therefore, it is necessary to examine efficiency issues as well, and pre-emptively block dangerous outgrowths with legislative measures. While an open and informed debate is necessary to develop a comprehensive list, some obvious safeguards are outlined below.
First, non-enrollment should not be treated as criminal. There is a history of states using anti-terrorism/anti-insurgency pretexts to flout or curtail civil liberties; often political issues are treated like law and order situations. Enrollment is currently discretionary. However, there could conceivably be a push for universal enrollment in border, coastal and/or "red" states leading to potential harassment of undocumented individuals, especially poor migrants.
Second, governments should not use UID numbers to trump individual choice. States should not be allowed to specifically target individuals from insurgent areas, inconvenient political groups etc. Moreover, state agencies should be barred from using UID numbers to withdraw essential services in any area to coerce relocation or discourage migration.
Third, social security services should not be withheld due to non-enrollment. The UID number is envisioned as a tool to monitor implementation of government programmes. Therefore, it is likely that these schemes will mandate UID enrollment before providing services. In the case of social security services, the onus of enrolment should be on the organisation, not the beneficiary. Also, the enrolment cost (estimated @ Rs. 20-25 per number) should not be taken from social security outlays. Fourth, private organisations should be debarred from pooling data to form comprehensive individual profiles to prevent invasion of privacy. The Authority aims to make the UID number the preferred mode of identification for both users and public/private organisations to drive revenue through its identity authentication service. Given an incontrovertible unique number for one individual across all of his/her life transactions creates the tremendous risk of this data being pooled to recreate the individual's life history.
Fifth, expenditure incurred should be rationalised and transparent. The UID project comes with no expenditure caps; estimated enrollment costs alone are over Rs. 3000 crore. Unsurprisingly, there is deep interest from multinational technology and private finance organisations. Engagement with civil society will be vital to control ballooning costs and hijack of the project for private profit.
Coming back to the project's stated purpose of forming the basis for efficient delivery of government programs. It is worthwhile to debate both the relevance and effectiveness of the UID number for delivery of welfare schemes. The problem in targeted welfare schemes is of eligibility and not identity. The varying number of BPL families in the country is due to changing eligibility criteria such as income, calories, and other indicators. Moreover, the largest leakages in welfare schemes are due to organised intermediary defalcation not fake beneficiaries. At best, the UID number will address the latter less significant problem.
Additionally, the design of the UID number reduces its effectiveness. The number will only store name, DoB, gender, parent's name, address, photograph and biometric info (fingerprints and iris scan) and will only verify identity of individual; defining and tracking beneficiaries, governance of service delivery will all need to be managed at the individual state government, program or scheme level and entail additional expenditure. This approach leaves a huge lacuna in execution and renders already nascent benefits more uncertain.
Last, there are extensive loopholes to successful implementation. The benefits of UID implementation are contingent on near universal enrollment, which is jeopardised by at least two risks. First, enrollment of individuals without documentary proof of identity rests on the "introducer" system, similar to opening an account at a bank. This strategy is both irrelevant and inadequate for migrant workers (especially those in the unorganised sector) and legions will remain unenrolled. Second, in the absence of universal coverage (target enrolment at 600 million people or 50 per cent of population four years from launch), there will need to be alternatives to the UID to obtain service, verify identity etc. In India, all large databases are riddled with errors; some voter lists alone are incomplete and erroneous by as much as 40 per cent. Since, enrollment in UID will not be mandatory, but "demand driven", the benefit (one number to prove identity for life) will need UID to be accepted as preferred proof of identity by all significant private and public organisations. Given that UID verification will be chargeable (up to Rs. 10 per verification), private organisations may prefer alternative proof of identity thus reducing incentive for voluntary enrollment. The UID project is one of the most ambitious programs in India, without precedence or parallel anywhere. Given its scale, centralised power and potentially invasive use, there is need for transparency of its purpose with civil society and a collaborative design process to ensure that democratic ideals of the country are upheld and derived benefits outweigh its costs.
The writer is a a member of the MKSS and Suchna and Rozghar Adhikar Abhiyan
INSIDE THE MIND OF A TERRORIST
What moves people to kill themselves and innocent bystanders? This mystery of the mind became an issue again in recent weeks as a suicide bomber in Afghanistan a double agent killed seven CIA officers; a man ploughed a truck full of explosives into a crowded playground in Pakistan, and a Nigerian man tried to blow himself up on a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.
Until recently, the psychology of terrorism had been largely theoretical. But access to terrorists has increased and a nascent science is taking shape. Tens of thousands of terrorists are in "de-radicalisation" programs around the globe, offering the chance to collect real data on the subject. Terrorist propaganda has flooded the Internet and the thinking of sympathisers is widely available. There are entire cable television channels operated by extremists, and researchers have access to the writings and "farewell tapes" of the growing number of suicide bombers as well as the transcripts of terrorism trials.
The accounts of the extremists generally militant Islamists are difficult to verify. And researchers often differ over the path to radicalisation. Some boil it down to religion, others to politics and power, others to an array of psychological and social influences. But even if the motivations for terror can be wildly idiosyncratic, a range of patterns have been identified.
1. THE PATH TO VIOLENCE
Despite the lack of a single terrorist profile, researchers have largely agreed on the risk factors for involvement.
They include what Jerrold M. Post, a professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University, calls "generational transmission" of extremist beliefs, which begins early in life; a strong sense of victimisation and alienation; the belief that moral violations by the enemy justify violence in pursuit of a "higher moral condition;" the belief that the terrorists' ethnic, religious or nationalist group is special and in danger of extinction, and that they lack the political power to effect change without violence. Many researchers agree that while there is rarely a moment of epiphany, there is typically a trigger of some kind to accelerate radicalisation for example, the politically related killing of a friend or relative.
Ervin Staub, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts who is finishing a book on what drives terrorism and conflict, has identified three types of terrorists. "Idealists" identify with the suffering of some group. "Respondents" react to the experience of their own group. Finally, "lost souls" are adrift, isolated and perhaps ostracised, and find purpose with a radical group.
2. LIFE IN THE GROUP
The collective, not the individual, identity has drawn the most attention in recent years. Only in rare cases, like those of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and the Washington sniper, John Allen Muhammad, have individuals acted on their own, with no connection to a group. The Internet has come to play a huge role in increasing the number of jihadi groups, many of them offshoots of larger networks or inspired by Al Qaeda. Dr. Post said the Internet has given rise to what he calls a "virtual community of hatred."
3. MORAL QUESTIONS
A play by Albert Camus, "The Just," is sometimes cited in explanations of the moral complexities of terrorism. It tells the true story of the assassination by a revolutionary group in 1905 of a grand duke in Russia. The assassin planned to kill the duke while he was riding alone in a carriage but the duke's niece and nephew accompanied him. So the assassin went back and killed him when he was alone, having drawn from what John Horgan, director of International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University, calls the "internal limits" of terrorists.
For a book published last year, Dr. Horgan collected the accounts of 29 former terrorists, many of them
defectors from groups like the Irish Republican Army and Al Qaeda. He found that terrorists must inherently believe that violence against the enemy is not immoral, but that they also have internal limits, which they often do not learn until they are deeply embedded in a group. Moral quandaries have often splintered groups, or caused them to disband. And to kill or in any way violate their own personal moral codes, many terrorists must believe they will achieve a higher moral condition for the group or society as a whole.
4. THE SUICIDE BOMBERS
Once a terrorist, it is often difficult to turn back. This is particularly true for prospective suicide bombers. Once assigned to their fatal missions, they become known as "walking martyrs." Backing down would create too much shame or humiliation. Much new research also ascribes the phenomenon to other motives that are more personal or temporal, including a desire for honor, dedication to a leader, vengeance, peer pressure (first identified as a motivation among the Japanese Kamikaze fighter pilots), and the material support that a terrorist group promises to extend to a martyr's family after his death.
5. LEAVING TERRORISM
Dr. Horgan has led much of the research into what is known as disengagement - a terrorist's departure from the organisation. He has concluded that terrorists can disengage from violence without abandoning their radical views, and he has also found that some leave after becoming intensely disillusioned with the reality of life in terrorist movements. In one case, a former Al Qaeda recruit told Dr. Horgan that when he arrived to fight in Afghanistan, he was dismayed to find that children and the elderly were being forced into battles. The man's "image of this all-seeing, all-powerful, all-noble movement was receiving its first hard knock," Dr. Horgan said.
OBAMA THE OBVIOUS
Our president came down from the mountaintop. He had applied the freshness of his independent thought to the critical matters at hand. He had convened his seminar, reviewed the reviews, analysed the intelligence every which way, thought anew about everything, and lo and behold, he finally emerged to tell us some stuff we already knew.
We are under attack.
There is evil in the world.
Yemen is a dangerous place that breeds people who want to kill us.
Al Qaeda is determined to attack inside the United States.
Al Qaeda is casting a wide recruiting net for vulnerable young men.
Aspirational terrorists eventually become operational terrorists.
Our airports are not safe.
Metal detectors can't detect nonmetal explosives sewn into underwear.
Our incomplete no-fly lists are more like "Welcome aboard" lists.
We still can't connect the dots, even when the dots are flying at us like 3-D asteroids.
The sun rises in the east.
Two plus two equals four.
"We must do better," Captain Obvious said, "in keeping dangerous people off airplanes while still facilitating air travel." John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser, was equally illuminating. "The intelligence," he informed us, "fell through the cracks." "Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence," Obama said, "this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had."
Wow. That makes me feel that all those billions spent on upgrading the intelligence system were well spent. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father personally delivered a neon warning to our embassy in Nigeria, and a state department employee quickly dropped the ball by misspelling the aspiring terrorist's name, leading to the false assumption that he did not have a valid US visa. Border security officials figured out while he was in the air that the young man had extremist links, but inexplicably decided to wait until he landed to question him, failing to notify the pilot of his plane. After all, what harm could a foreign extremist bring to a plane over American soil.
So it wasn't bureaucratic turf wars that caused the intelligence to fall through the cracks this time. The CIA and counterterrorism agencies weren't hoarding information and refusing to pool tips. They were just out to lunch.
And this is supposed to be progress? I'd rather they were hoarding. It would be more reassuring to think our intelligence analysts actually knew what was going on but were hampered by power grabs than to think they were cooperative but clueless. Even though Russ Feingold, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been pointing out since 2002 that we need to focus on Yemen "It's the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden and the place where Al Qaeda blew up the USS Cole and we lost 17 people," he impatiently notes the president said that the intelligence community was caught off guard by the attack planned by the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
Unlike the Republicans, who have yet to take responsibility for a single disastrous thing they did, President Obama said "ultimately the buck stops with me." But when he failed to immediately step up to the microphones in Hawaii after the Christmas terror and thank the passengers for bravely foiling the plot that his intelligence community had failed to see, President Cool reached the limits of cool.
No Drama Obama is reticent about displays of emotion. That is why he stubbornly insists on staying aloof and setting his own deliberate pace for responding whether it's in a debate or after a debacle. But it's not OK to be cool about national security when Americans are scared.
Our professorial president is no feckless W., biking through Katrina. He is no doubt on top of the crisis in terms of studying it top to bottom. But his inner certainly creates an outer disconnect. He's so sure of himself and his actions that he fails to see that he misses the moment to be president to be the strong father who protects the home from invaders, who reassures and instructs the public at traumatic moments. He's more like the aloof father who's turned the Situation Room into a Seminar Room.
COMFORT LIKELY FROM Q3
As companies start reporting their results for the quarter ending December this week, analysts are expecting sectors like metals, auto and cement to report stellar performance while telecom, real estate and fast moving consumer goods may constitute the laggards. On the back of excise duty reduction, lower interest rates and strong consumer demand, auto companies saw splendid volume growth across all the three categoriestwo wheelers, passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Results for the IT sector, which kickstart with Infosys Technologies on January 12, will be keenly observed by investors for the overall direction of the industry. Though the sequential appreciation of the rupee by 3.8% against the dollar in the quarter will have a modest impact on the bottomline of IT companies, the important thing to watch out for will be the revenue guidance for the year as most companies abroad, read clients, have finalised their IT budgets and set course for the industry. For banks, the core business has remained sluggish with credit growth rate at 11.3% until December end. Net interest income remained moderate in the third quarter of this financial year. Asset quality concerns, especially the slippages from restructured portfolios, will be the most important factor to watch out for when banks report their quarterly results.
The cement sector benefited from the government expenditure on infrastructure projects and most companies have added fresh capacity anticipating large volume growth from the real estate sector. But going ahead, with slow execution in most of the affordable housing projects, margin realisation may be affected. Telecom companies are likely to report a laggard quarter because of the falling average revenue per user, rising competition and the deadlock over spectrum. With positive macro indicators, visibility is gradually improving in the capital goods sector and companies are able to mobilise funds for the closure of stalled projects. The results for quarter ended December are expected to show some surprises on order book positions and margin expansion. The spurt in commodity prices in the last three months does not bode well for the FMCG sector, especially on their operating margins, and analysts expect muted stock prices as currently they are trading at higher than average price-to-equity multiple. In the metals space, steel companies are expected to post strong top-line growth, as companies are ramping up production because of rising demand from automobiles and infrastructure companies. High sales realisation, movement of the dollar and demand growth from China and the US are pushing up prices of metal stocks to all-time high at the bourses. In terms of policy, company results, especially in auto, steel and cement, are likely to point to a withdrawal of fiscal stimulus, especially in auto. The tougher call will be on when to withdraw monetary stimulus.
CAPITALISM IN ITS NOUGHTIES AVATAR
The noughties were the best of times and the worst of times for capitalism. In the coming decade the performance of capitalism will depend, paradoxically, on the performance of the state.It was the best of times for the Chinese and Indian brands of capitalism. In any historical context, China's third decade of rapid growth and India's growth acceleration were stunning. Investment and innovation of essentially capitalist firms lay at the heart of this growth experience. This growth was often dis-equalising, and this is an important concern. But the sheer dynamism cannot be denied.
Both free markets and global engagement are strikingly popular in China and India, at least amongst urbanites. As Ajay Shah recently pointed out, survey results from the Pew Global Attitudes Projects found some 80% of the Chinese and Indians were in favour of free markets in 2009, and well over 90% support international economic integration. These are the highest ratios of any country surveyed, and have risen significantly since the beginning of the decade.
But this was the worst of times at the core of global capitalism. Ten years ago, most people would have said the US exemplified the most advanced form of capitalismwhether they liked it or not. America was the home of diversified ownership, as opposed to old-style family business, of venture capital, of the transparency of sound accounting and of the most sophisticated forms of finance, all complemented by consolidated institutions of democracy to provide checks and balances against any capitalist abuse.
Today, as the decade ends, we see a system mired in instability, rents and influence. Early in the decade, accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom revealed corruption at the heart of great American corporations, alongside failures in institutions of accountability. Steady growth for much of the decade delivered remarkably limited material benefits to most of the population: median incomes stagnated, even as top executives got seemingly obscene salary increases. Financial innovationoften of dubious or negative social valuedistorted the market for talent, pulling some of the brightest minds into finance and away from elsewhere. And, of course, asset bubbles were a defining theme, culminating in the financial crash. Yes, an impressive policy response averted catastrophe, but taxpayers will be picking up the bill for a long time.
A major thread has been revelations of the distorting role of influence over the state. This was evident in the role of big finance in the crisis response, large distortions shaping the food industry, resistance to health reform from private health insurers, and rearguard action against sound policy on climate change.
So, where does this contrast leave us? The question is not whether there is a better system than capitalism, but whether overall societal structures can be designed that support dynamic, innovative and inclusive capitalism and widespread social protection.
Karl Polanyi had two relevant insights, writing in the middle of the last century.
The first is that markets don't operate in a vacuum; the institutional context for market functioning is created by state action. The 19th-century movement to market liberalism was one of proactive state endeavourdespite the ideology of a self-regulating market. A second insight is that societies will always, sooner or later, seek social protection, through formal or informal political means, vis-à-vis the vicissitudes and inequities of the market. The issue is the form this takes and how this interacts with broader questions of conflict and change.
Both insights are relevant to Indiaand indeed to China and other countries. While surprisingly resilient growth is a source of short-term optimism, there remain big questions over the institutional bases for capitalist functioning and protection in the coming decade. As both history and the contemporary experience of the US show, there is a high risk that sectional interests and the functioning of the political market will create systems that are both distorted and inequitable. Yet it is possible to imagine designs that provide incentives for innovation, foster competition, protect minority shareholders, take account of environmental and social externalities of capitalist action, and protect all workers and households in ways that do not make a mess of the functioning of formal labour markets.
The state will be the main site in which such designs are shaped. It is easy to decry the ills of the Indian state and look to the private sector to solve the future. This is a mistake. For good or ill, political and administrative forces that meet in the varied arms of the state will be decisive in these institutional designs. Absent deep, continuing reform of state functioning, the goals of long-term dynamism and a socially acceptable level of protection will be in jeopardy.
The author is at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Centre for Policy Research
WHERE'S THE PLAN FOR AGRICULTURE?
YOGINDER K ALAGH
We are now writing prologues to the mid-term review of the 11th Plan. This piece is on agriculture where there is a fascinating story of diversification and policy shortcomings.
To begin with, the foodgrain sector has collapsed. Growth in the 10th Plan was 0.5% annually. With area rising by 0.3% in response to the UPA's MSPs, productivity took the back seat. With 6.1% growth in 2007-08, a decline of 4.6% in 2008-09 and uncertainty this year, the first three years will end up in growth rates between 0% and 1%. It is commercial crops and non-grain foods like sugar that are leading the growth phalanx in the crop sector. Area under these crops where the underlying trend was 1.02% from the 1990s went up by 2.3% annually in the period 2002-06. It is not unlikely that this growth is maintained in a somewhat dampened manner in the first three years of the 11th Plan with oilseeds taking a big knock from perverse policies. Output growth in this sector in the 10th Plan at 6.1% was twice that of the 1990s and 4-5% growth rate in the 11th Plan is a distant possibility. Crop production growth will probably be around 2.5%. It is animal husbandry and fishing that made the difference and left us to 3% growth. Underlying all this are serious problems and programmatic deficiencies.
The agricultural part of the 11th Plan was perhaps its best, and yet what is implemented is more of the same. The mid-term review of the 10th Plan and the 11th Plan recognised that short run difficulties were nested in the more basic challenge of limits to growth imposed by scarcity of land and water resources. Agricultural capital formation rose and progress was made in agricultural growth, but real resource scarcities remained. The cropped area, earlier a constant, was falling whilst the area under irrigation was a matter of concern. There was recognition that faster diversification of the sector was required to achieve growth objectives, and this required policies relating to market reform and infrastructure in the context of the rural-urban continuum. Since widespread growth was required, a policy of 'walking on two legs' was needed with improved productivity of cereal-producing areas allowing land to be released for high-value crops. In the short run, technology and input intensification were seen as the source of growth as policies of land and water management take effect. The institutional reform of markets, empowerment of small farmers to leverage their assets for strategic partnerships with corporates, new technology, market linkages, and the establishment of farmer groups and local institutions to build up the support bases for emerging Indian agriculture were all planned.
An important innovation during the 11th Plan was the new Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) designed to give more flexibility to states and provide incentives for them to spend more on agriculture and to do so on the basis of properly designed district and state plans. The RKVY provides a framework to achieve this objective. It required that every district draw up a district plan that fully utilises an initial resource envelope available from all existing schemes, state or Central. The Plan stated: "The district agricultural plan should include livestock and fishing and be integrated with minor irrigation projects, rural development works and other schemes for water harvesting and conservation. The state agricultural plan should be based on these initial district plans, subject to reasonable resources from its own plan and adding those available from the Centre, aimed at achieving the state's agricultural growth objective, keeping in view the sustainable management of natural resources and technological possibilities in each agro-climatic region. This plan should then determine each district's final resource envelope, its production plan and the associated input plan. Annual targets at the start of the fiscal year should be fixed and funds for relevant schemes ensured, with implementation reviewed every quarter both at district and state levels."
This has not happened at all. The Central schemes are in a departmental mould. There is no understanding of the resource conserving strategies of the plan and their centrality in achieving growth targets. In fact the actual growth of agriculture is resource wasting. We looked for the largest increase in area in paddy. It was in Gujarat, which is very water scarce. Sugar area is going up in the driest areas in the Deccan and so is dairy farming, which is a very water-intensive activity. Neither the technology extension, nor the economic policies underlying the agricultural plan has made any progress. Dryland crops like oilseeds are crippled by cheap imports. No reform in pricing of inputs hits resource use. The mid-term review has to show the practical steps of the steep climb-up.
The author is a former Union minister
VOTING WITHOUT BORDERS
At a time when India is courting People of Indian Origin from various parts of the world people who are, by definition, foreign citizens it is anomalous that most of its citizens living abroad are disallowed from casting their votes. This disenfranchising of Non-Resident Indians is a serious infirmity in the electoral process, something that has been repeatedly pointed out by the NRIs as well as civil rights activists in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 's hope that Indian citizens living abroad will be able to vote in the next general election promises to redress a longstanding grievance and terminate a blatantly discriminatory provision in the electoral law. Under Article 19 of the Representation of the People Act 1950, only those "ordinarily resident" in a constituency are eligible to be registered in the electoral rolls. Since most NRIs either study or work abroad, often for extended periods, they lose their status as ordinary residents under Section 20 of the Act and are liable to be struck off the electoral rolls. As for those who remain on the electoral rolls, by virtue of not being struck off before the next revision, the only way is to cast a ballot in person, which means returning home (which may not quite be home).
This is not simply an unreasonable provision; it is an utterly iniquitous one. Under the Conduct of Election Rules 1961, the ordinary NRI is excluded while various classes of people are given the facility to cast absentee or postal ballots. They include not only 'special voters' such as the President, Vice-President, Governors, and Union and State Ministers, but also 'service voters,' a category that includes armed forces personnel and staff in diplomatic missions. A number of countries, from the United States and Canada to Argentina and the Philippines, make it possible for their overseas citizens to vote. The Government of India must waste no time in reintroducing the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill in Parliament. The Bill, which sought to amend the RP Act 1950, by inserting a sub-section that classifies citizens who take up "employment, education or otherwise outside India" as ordinary residents, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2006. Evidently it made a number of political interests uneasy, so it was referred to a parliamentary standing committee and the Union Law Ministry has been 'examining' it ever since. The facility to vote must be seen not as a favour done to ordinary Indian citizens living abroad but as their right. Once the conceptual and legal shift takes place, the Election Commission of India will need all the time it can get to set up necessary mechanisms to allow them to vote in 2014.
DON'T PAKISTANISE YEMEN
Yemen, a second-tier preoccupation for terrorism trackers in the west until Christmas day 2009, has now been elevated to the highest-risk category. According to John Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism advisor, it was Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni cleric of the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who helped radicalise, train, and equip Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to attack Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. Other terror attacks that are being attributed to the Yemen-based AQAP include the November 2009 killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, by United States Army major Nidal Malik Hasan; and the August 2009 assassination attempt on Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of the Saudi royal family. The most unmistakable sign of a spike in the perceived terror threat from Yemen was the temporary closure of the embassies of the U.S., Britain, and France in Sana'a this week. These threats to western interests have come on the back of the U.S.-Yemen allied offensive against AQAP in parts of Sana'a and in Abyan, al-Jawf, and Shabwah provinces.
The joint military operations of December reflect a growing yet tenuous bond between Washington and Sana'a. Financial assistance is of course at the heart of the relationship. The U.S. is expected substantially to increase the $70 million in security aid it provided Yemen last year. Its development assistance is poised to reach $120 million over three years. But these levels pale into insignificance compared with the $2 billion that neighbouring Saudi Arabia provides. As the U.S. and Saudi Arabia pump and more funds into Yemen in pursuit of their own foreign policy goals, there is a risk that they will ignore an important fact: political power in the country is still significantly beyond the control of its government, headed by President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Not only is the President embattled with conflicts involving Shia Houthi rebels in north Yemen and discontented secessionists of the south; his authority is further undermined by dwindling oil reserves and allegations of corruption against his administration. However, it is President Saleh's occasional tolerance of Sunni jihadists and his past reliance on them in his fight against the northern Shiite rebels that must be most worrying for Washington. In this fraught polity, ever-increasing surges of American aid will distort the domestic balance of power and deny Yemenis the political space they need to resolve these complex issues. In turn, the U.S. may itself pay a heavy price for the Pakistanisation of Yemen.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
THE ALPHABET SOUP OF INTERNAL SECURITY
WILL THE NATIONAL COUNTER-TERRORISM CENTRE BRING ABOUT A RADICAL IMPROVEMENT IN INDIA'S INTERNAL SECURITY INFRASTRUCTURE?
"Future historians," wrote Walter Lacquer, "will be intrigued and puzzled by the staggering disproportion between the enormous amount of talk about terrorism and the tiny effort made to combat it."
Ever since the savage Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on Mumbai in November 2008, Indians have been demanding that the government add muscle to the country's counter-terrorism defences. Speaking at a lecture organised by the Intelligence Bureau on December 23, 2009, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram laid out the government's response, outlining his vision for the "broad architecture of a new security system that will serve the country today and in the foreseeable future."
India's counter-terrorism response, Mr. Chidambaram said, will soon be led by a single agency with control over intelligence, operations and investigation the National Counter-Terrorism Centre. The NCTC will have access to counter-terrorism intelligence generated by India's covert services, as well as authority over the National Security Guard and the National Intelligence Agency. Newly-created electronic databases will make up the NCTC backbone, providing it with vast access to real-time information. India's new intelligence czar, the Director-General of the NCTC, will report to a Minister with just one responsibility ensuring India's internal security.
Will the new organisation bring about a radical improvement in India's anaemic internal security infrastructure? Or will it, as critics contend, prove to be just one more ingredient in the rich alphabet soup of semi-functional organisations kept warm by India's bourgeoning security budget?
GHOST OF MUMBAI
As Mr. Chidambaram acknowledged in his speech, the ghost of Mumbai has haunted his year in office. "In a few days from today," he said, "2009 will come to a close, and I sincerely hope that we may be able to claim that the year was free from terror attacks. However, there is the danger of a terror-free year inducing complacency, signs of which can be seen everywhere."
Mr. Chidambaram's claim of a terrorism-free year wasn't quite accurate. Three hundred and seventy-eight civilians, and 311 security force personnel, estimates by the authoritative South Asia Terrorism Portal show, died in Maoist violence through 2009 numbers that will likely be revised upwards when the official figures are released next year. Assam saw 386 fatalities, a majority of them civilians and security forces. Even Jammu and Kashmir, where civilian fatalities fell to a historic low of 55, saw fighting which claimed the lives of 72 security personnel.
But the Union Home Minister's turn of phrase demonstrates the deep impact the November 2008 carnage had on policymaking in New Delhi. Killings by terrorists in India's heartlands have become part of the rhythm of everyday life what the Pakistani-American author, Rafia Zakaria, evocatively calls "the new normal." Mumbai, by contrast, demonstrated that terrorism could hit India's élites and damage the country's economic growth. Mr. Chidambaram's proposals are driven by the imperative of preventing similar mass-casualty attacks.
How real is the threat of such attacks taking place again? Most experts believe the question ought to be when
not if they will occur.
National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan has been asking in recent meetings with key officials from the intelligence services why no major terrorist attack took place in 2009. Many in the intelligence services believe that the successful disruption of jihadist networks in India made it difficult for groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba to stage major attacks in India. Moreover, they argue, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate can no longer allow its nationals to participate directly in major operations for fear of international opprobrium.
But most experts believe the cessation in major jihadist attacks is temporary. Jihadist training camps are up and running ready for the time when international pressure eases on Pakistan. Already, the ISI has been testing India's responses by targeting its interests abroad. In October, the Afghan authorities blamed Pakistan-based terrorists for an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, while the police in Bangladesh prevented an attempted assault on the mission in Dhaka the following month.
Will Mr. Chidambaram's plans help deter or, at least, better defend against a new attack?
India's NCTC is similar to the United States National Counter-Terrorism Centre, which Mr. Chidambaram visited last year, and came away impressed. Established by the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, the NCTC was intended to close the gaps in intelligence-sharing that allowed a number of September 11, 2001 hijackers to enter the U.S., although the Central Intelligence Agency had identified them as terror suspects.
The Nigerian-born jihadist, Umar Farooq Mutallab's evasion of the NCTC computer systems that should have stopped him from staging a near-successful attempt to bomb an Amsterdam-Detroit flight illustrates the system's limitations.
Last month, Nigerian banker Alhaji Umaru Mutallab told officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja of his concerns about his son. In July, he said, the family had agreed to Mutallab's request to study Arabic in Yemen. But the father became worried about his safety when Mutallab sent a text message severing all connections with his family. The information provided by Mutallab's family made its way into the computers of the U.S. NCTC.
But it had over half-a-million names on its database numbers no intelligence system can reasonably be expected to seriously investigate. Indeed, the U.S. has in recent years cut back the number of individuals it denies entry to flights from 30,000 to 18,000, responding to complaints that innocent travellers were being harassed. Chennai-based businessman Abdul Haye Mohammad Illyas sparked off an international travel alert in December 2004, for no better reason than that his name was similar to a key al-Qaeda operative.
India's experience of the Multi-Agency Centre the intelligence clearing-house which will form the kernel of the NCTC has been similar. Intelligence services have been inundated with information passed on by often unreliable informants. Early this year, uncorroborated intelligence that the LeT had despatched six pilots and, for some mysterious reason, 30 women to stage terror attacks sparked off nationwide panic.
"We need better systems to collate intelligence," says a senior IB official, "but also the resources to assess and corroborate it. You cannot produce the people needed to do that overnight."
Words like these aren't spoken idly. India's Research and Analysis Wing, sources have told The Hindu, has just over a dozen officer-grade employees with expert Pakistani language and area expertise and less than that familiar with key areas of concern like Central Asia and the Arab world. The IB, for its part, suffers from a chronic shortage of experts familiar with the northeast, and the adivasi languages spoken by the rank and file of Maoist groups.
Filling these gaps has proved less than easy. International relations and area studies programmes, even at premier institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru University, are poorly funded. Hiring policies designed to funnel new graduates into the civil services, as well as reluctance to look to the private sector for technology and knowledge, have further crippled the intelligence services.
India never carried out a full assessment of the lessons of Mumbai but the available evidence does not suggest that an NCTC-type mechanism would have deterred the attacks. The Maharashtra government's official enquiry, led by former intelligence officer Ram Pradhan, noted that the intelligence services had issued at least 17 alerts on Lashkar attacks on the city starting from August 7, 2006. In both May and August 2008, they issued warnings that the Taj Mahal hotel and the Oberoi hotel would be targeted. The Mumbai police officials took the warnings seriously, the enquiry found, but lacked the resources to mount an effective response.
Put simply, no institutional response is likely to be effective until it is supported by an effective police infrastructure.
Mr. Chidambaram's speech makes clear that he understands the problem. "The failure to perform essential police functions," he noted, "is where the rot lies even today." For those police functions to be effectively performed, he noted, the States would have to hire 400,000 constables in the next two years. He pointed to the desperate need for better police infrastructure and training. But there is still no agreed national road map on how these needs will actually be met and when.
Peter Clarke, head of the Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command, said in 2007: "the most important change in counter-terrorism in the U.K. has been the development of the relationship between the police and the security service [MI5]." He said "the joint working between the police and the MI5 has become recognised as a beacon of good practice." That was possible because both MI5 and the police were extensively equipped and trained to deal with terrorism. In India, the process is just beginning and at a pace which would put a tortoise to shame.
The key problem is not the lack of institutional arrangement for the management of India's counter-terrorism response but system-wide deficiencies in skills and capabilities. Vision and hard work will be needed to address them.
OVERCOMING MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS
AN ADVOCATE FOR THE ARMENIAN-TURKISH COMMUNITY IN ISTANBUL BELIEVES A SEMINAL MOMENT HAS ARRIVED WHEN TURKEY AND ARMENIA CAN CONFRONT THE GHOSTS OF HISTORY.
Fethiye Cetin recalled the day her identity shattered. She was a young law student when her maternal grandmother, Seher, took her aside and told her a secret she had hidden for 60 years: that Seher was born a Christian Armenian with the name Heranus and had been saved from a death march by a Turkish officer, who snatched her from her mother's arms in 1915 and raised her as Turkish and Muslim.
Ms Cetin's grandmother, whose parents later turned out to have escaped to New York, was just one of many Armenian children who were kidnapped and adopted by Turkish families during the Armenian genocide, the mass killing of more than a million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1918. These survivors were sometimes called "the leftovers of the sword."
"I was in a state of shock for a long time I suddenly saw the world through different eyes," said Ms Cetin, now 60. "I had grown up thinking of myself as a Turkish Muslim. There had been nothing in the history books about the massacre of a people that had been erased from Turkey's collective memory. Like my grandmother, many had buried their identity and the horrors they had seen deep inside of them."
Now, however, Ms Cetin, a prominent advocate for the estimated 50,000-member Armenian-Turkish community in Istanbul and one of the country's leading human rights lawyers, believes a seminal moment has arrived in which Turkey and Armenia can finally confront the ghosts of history and possibly even overcome one of the world's most enduring and bitter rivalries.
She already has confronted her divided self, which led her from Istanbul to a 10th Street grocery store in New York, where her Armenian relatives had rebuilt their broken lives after fleeing Turkey. (Many of the Armenians who survive in Turkey today do so because their ancestors lived in western provinces during the killings, which took place mostly in the east.)
The latest tentative step toward healing generations of acrimony between the countries took place in October on a soccer field in the north-western Turkish city of Bursa, when President Serzh Sargsyan became the first Armenian head of state to travel to Turkey to attend a soccer game between the national teams. In this latest round of soccer diplomacy, Mr. Sargsyan was joined at the match by President Abdullah Gul of Turkey, who had travelled to a soccer match in Armenia the year before. "We do not write history here," Mr. Gul told his Armenian counterpart in Bursa. "We are making history."
The Bursa encounter came just days after Turkey and Armenia signed a historic series of protocols to establish diplomatic relations and to reopen the Turkish-Armenian border, which has been closed since 1993. The agreement, strongly backed by the United States, the European Union and Russia, has come under vociferous opposition from nationalists in both Turkey and Armenia.
Armenia's sizeable diaspora estimated at more than 7 million in the U.S., France and elsewhere is alarmed that the new warmth may be misused as an excuse to forgive and forget in Turkey, where even uttering the words Armenian genocide can be grounds for prosecution. Also threatening the deal is Armenia's lingering fight with Azerbaijan, its neighbour and a close ally of Turkey, over a breakaway Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.
The agreement, which has yet to be ratified in the Turkish or Armenian parliament, could have broad consequences, helping to end landlocked Armenia's economic isolation, while lifting Turkey's chances for admission into the EU, where the genocide issue remains a crucial obstacle.
But Ms Cetin argued that the most enduring consequence could be helping to overcome mutual recriminations. She said Armenians had been battling a powerful and collective denial in Turkish society about the killings. "Most people in Turkish society have no idea what happened in 1915, and the Armenians they meet are introduced as monsters or villains or enemies in their history books," she said. "Turkey has to confront the past, but before this confrontation can happen, people must know who they are confronting. So we need the borders to come down in order to have dialogue."
Ms Cetin said the borders in her own Muslim Turkish heart came down irrevocably when her grandmother revealed her Armenian past. Heranus, she said, was only a child in 1915 when Turkish soldiers arrived in her ethnically Armenian Turkish village of Maden, rounding up the men and sequestering women and girls in a church courtyard. During the forced march toward exile that followed, Heranus said, she saw her own grandmother drown two of her grandchildren before she herself jumped into the water. Heranus' mother, Isguhi, survived the march, which ended in Syria, and went to join her husband, Hovannes, who had left the village for New York in 1913. They started a new family. "My grandmother was trembling as she told me her story," Ms Cetin said. "She would always say, 'May those days vanish'."
Ms Cetin published a memoir about her grandmother in 2004. She said she purposely omitted the word "genocide" from her book because using the word erected a roadblock to reconciliation. When her grandmother died in 2000 at age 95, Ms Cetin honoured her last wish, publishing a death notice in Agos, in the hope of tracking down her long-lost Armenian family, including her grandmother's sister Margaret, whom she had never seen.
At her emotional reunion with her Armenian family in New York, several months later, Margaret, or "Auntie Marge," told Ms Cetin that when her father had died in 1965, she had found a piece of paper carefully folded in his wallet that he had been keeping for years. It was a letter Heranus had written to him shortly after he had left for the U.S. "We all keep hoping and praying that you are well," the note said. © 2010 The New York Times News Service
LOOKING FOR A NEW MEDIA CULTURE AND MEDIA FREEDOM
For journalists in South Asian countries, particularly the conflict-ridden, terror-prone areas of Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, 2009 was one more year of murderous attacks by state and non-state players. Twelve journalists lost their lives during the period, with Pakistan accounting for seven of them. In addition to this information, the annual report, "South Asia Media Monitor, 2009," of the South Asia Media Commission (SAMC) reveals that during the year hyper-commercialisation, monopolisation, and excessive political clout chipped away at professional and ethical norms, most disturbingly in India and Pakistan.
"The situation for the functioning of a free media rapidly deteriorated as vested interests outmanoeuvred editorial controls," the report commented without any exaggeration, adding: "Confronting the fallout of the global economic downturn, media outlets that have had a buoyant growth in recent years laid off hundreds of their staff deflating professional morale in the region where physical threats abound."
The 180-page report highlights events involving high-risk duties, casualties, threats, and intimidation in the eight South Asian countries Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. On top of Pakistan's seven, the deaths reported were two in Afghanistan, and one each in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. The report finds fault with state authorities for failing to bring to justice the killers of the journalists.
"INDIA IS FAR FROM A SAFE HAVEN FOR JOURNALISTS"
Aside from calling attention to the increase in the incidents of violence against mediapersons, the SAMC report gets into the ongoing debate in India on the ethics of news coverage ("paid news" and "selling news space") in the print and broadcast media. The deplorable phenomenon of "paid news" and "selling news space" has emerged as a great threat not only to media freedom but also to fair, free, and democratic elections. The report comments on the paradox that the world's largest democracy enjoys a freer and more sophisticated press than do many of its neighbours and "yet India is far from a safe haven for journalists." The violence unleashed on TV channels, the assaults on several respected journalists, and the brutal murder of Anil Majumdar, Editor, Aji , who was campaigning for peace talks between the government and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), raise disturbing questions about the state of freedom of the media and the safety of journalists, especially critical and crusading journalists.
Even though the number of journalists killed in the region (12) in 2009 was significantly lower than in the previous year (22), the incidents of violence against them registered a steep rise, worsening the situation on the ground in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the SAMC report observes, "some zealots in the profession have used their new freedoms to scandalise and destabilise a fragile democracy, ignoring media norms quite frequently." Further, some leaders of the ruling party used threatening language against some mediapersons. The year 2009 began with the detention of a journalist (on January 3). The very next day, a cameraman of a television channel and a freelance journalist fell victim to a gas cylinder blast in a suicide attack. Three weeks later Amir Wakeel, editor of a newspaper, was shot dead in Rawalpindi. Four more journalists lost their lives in the following months. The SAMC report observes that the ongoing conflict in the frontier regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan and the surge of terrorism brought tremendous pressure on journalists, making the task of reporting the truth "a hazardous affair."
"SRI LANKAN JOURNALISTS SUFFERED THE MOST"
Although Pakistan accounted for seven of the 12 journalists killed last year in five of the eight south Asian countries under study, it was journalists working at great risk under extremely hostile conditions in battle-torn Sri Lanka who suffered the worst adversities in the region by all standards, according to the report. In the commission's view their sufferings were "more serious than even the travails that their counterparts in Pakistan have faced." The brutal murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, one of the island nation's widely known editors, the "abduction-style arrest" of N. Vithyatharan, and the 20-year jail term imposed on J.S. Tissainayagam, a pro-LTTE journalist, on charges of "terrorism" represent a new low. The report asserts: "Many top journalists had to flee the country fearing for their life."
Wickrematunga, Editor, Sunday Leader, who was known for his strong views against the government, was shot dead on January 8, 2009. "The fearless editor was known for his courage and forthrightness in speaking truth to power," the SAMC report says. Besides exposing "the corruption, nepotism, racism and bad governance of the government," the newspaper was also "critical of the government's warmongering"; it advocated "a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis." Natesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of "Sudar Oli," was arrested and interrogated for long hours for alleged links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Many other employees of the newspaper and its allied publications received death threats. Even more shocking was a court order that convicted Tissainayagam (on August 31) on charges of "supporting terrorism and inciting racial hatred in his articles" and sentencing him to a 20-year jail term. He was the first Sri Lankan journalist to be convicted under the anti-terrorism law. The verdict sent shock waves across the region and journalists and human rights organisations were highly critical of the sentence. "The verdict is a big blow to freedom of the press in the whole South Asian region," said SAMC Chairperson N. Ram and Secretary General Najam Sethi in a statement.
A review of the report says: "Press freedom in Sri Lanka is direly imperilled, following the hard won victories against the Tamil rebels, the Sri Lankan Government seems to have adopted a zero tolerance policy for dissent." In the assessment of Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), Sri Lanka is the least respectful of media freedom among all democratic countries in the world. "Assaults on journalists are widespread, and there appears to be very little political will to protect them," says the review, which cites an attack on the studio of a television and broadcasting organisation on the grounds that it gave inadequate coverage to the government's victories on the battlefront. RSF also refers to the denial of the right of journalists to cover several important events, the bar on some foreign journalists entering the country, and the expulsion of some. What was most striking was the solidarity of Sinhalese journalists with all those who came under attack or extra-constitutional pressure.
South Asia Media Monitor, 2009, which stresses the need for a shared discourse in the South Asian region on media freedom and also on the need to help evolve a healthy and progressive media culture in the light of the shared experiences, is eminently worth reading.
WE HAVE NOT VIOLATED ANY PROCEDURE IN THE MATTER OF JUSTICE DINAKARAN'
I REQUESTED THE GOVERNMENT TO CONDUCT AN ENQUIRY AND CONVEY THE FINDINGS TO ME, SAYS THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA.
("I hope I have done reasonably well in the matter of appointments, and in other areas. But I can't say I am fully satisfied," Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan says with humility, as he goes on to complete three years in office on January 13. In a special interview to The Hindu in New Delhi on January 9, he spoke on a wide range of issues relating to the judiciary. Excerpts:)
You are completing three years in office this week. Are you satisfied with your overall performance? Do you feel much more could have been done?
I cannot say I am fully satisfied because setting up new courts, filling up vacancies these are all things which will take years. But I feel the three years have, by and large, been satisfactory.
Have your efforts yielded the desirable results, particularly in the area of disposal of cases?
On the disposal of cases in the High Courts, I don't have statistics at present. But all I can say is there is lot of improvement in the overall rate of disposal. Even in the Allahabad High Court, where the pendency was large, some old matters have been disposed of. In the Madras High Court and some other High Courts, where there is a fairly good strength of judges, pendency has come down.
In the Supreme Court the disposal rate is high. A total of 71,000 cases were filed in 2009. We disposed of nearly 69,000 cases. The overall pendency now, I think, is 54,000 or 56,000 cases.
What do you think is the solution? Creation of more courts?
A court can handle not more than 200 cases which can be disposed of in six months. At the most 400 cases if it is more than 400 cases, it is difficult. On an average now, more than 1,000 cases are filed in a court. Maybe in remote areas, the number is less.
We need at least another 35,000 courts. Going by any standard in any country, the number of courts is far, far less in our country. Even in a small country like Israel, there are so many courts. One thing every government should ensure is that cases are not blocked. The government will get more revenue because many tax cases have been pending in various High Courts for a long time. Look at the criminal justice delivery system everybody is saying cases should be completed in reasonable time. But serious efforts are not being taken to address the problem.
Is there a proposal to set up a Kerala High Court Bench in Thiruvananthapuram?
Some political parties and lawyers in Thiruvananthapuram have demanded a High Court Bench. But the High Court has not sent any proposal. It has to be approved by the High Court Chief Justice, only then the President can act on it.
You were in favour of setting up 60 additional CBI courts. What is the progress?
I find that corruption cases in CBI courts have been pending for more than 10 to 11 years. These cases must be disposed of. That is why I suggested 60 additional courts. The government has approved the proposal. I feel it should have been done.
In how many States are evening courts functioning?
They are working well in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore. We have a scheme the judge who works late is paid 30 per cent additional salary. The staff who work between 5 pm and 8 pm also get additional salary. We encourage only lawyers with less than seven years of practice to appear in these courts.
Do you think the allocation of funds for the judiciary should be increased?
The problem is the High Courts do not have the technical knowhow on preparing the budget on, say, what would be the next year's expenses on the judiciary. The Planning Commission should see what the requirements in each State are, how many courts are required, what is the possible budget requirement and so on. Probably that is the reason why new courts have not come up so far.
When we talk about infrastructure, I have even suggested to the National Informatics Centre that we should have a separate television channel for the judiciary so that court matters can be highlighted and our training programmes improved. We may not have a 24-hours channel but we can have a channel telecasting the proceedings for a few hours. I have asked the Prime Minister's IT advisor, Sam Pitroda, to explore the possibility. The TV channel should telecast important matters which are argued in the Supreme Court. For example, the Reliance case there are about 3 million shareholders who would be anxious to know what is happening.
Brazil has a separate television channel for the judiciary. In the United Kingdom too, the new Supreme Court has the facility to telecast the proceedings. Even in Canada, such a facility is available. At least some cameras are placed outside the courtroom to record what is happening in the court. This will make the judges more responsible they will be more conscientious. People can criticise judgments which are patently wrong.
In some cases like the Narco analysis issue, judgments have been reserved for almost two years.
Judges don't get time. Everyday, 40 to 50 cases are to be read. Before March, I will finish all the cases and judgments will be delivered.
Why is the setting up of regional Supreme Court Benches being opposed?
Most people associated with the Supreme Court feel that once the Court sits elsewhere, the identity of the institution will be lost. The other suggestion is we can have a third appellate court to deal exclusively with constitutional matters, inter-State water disputes and federal disputes. That, we have to think of seriously.
A crucial issue in 2009 was the Justice Dinakaran issue. There is a perception in the Bar that you have a soft corner for Justice Dinakaran and that the Collegium could have been more transparent in the procedure adopted.
We have not violated a single procedure in the matter of Justice Dinakaran. When the matter came up that he had trespassed into some land I said I didn't have any machinery to find out whether it was correct. I thought the revenue authorities would give some information. It was not my decision, it was the collegium's decision. All decisions are taken by the collegium. We got a report, we decided to get a response from Dinakaran. Then we got the response. He denied that he had trespassed into even an inch of land. Then what is to be done? We don't have a machinery to enquire into land measurement. I never wanted to make use of the judicial machinery, District Judge or Registrar, for any enquiry. So I requested the government to conduct whatever enquiry it wanted to and convey the findings to me. The government ultimately sent the file. By that time, the impeachment proceedings started. I don't know what the Survey of India report is. Now we are not concerned with the report at all. We have asked the government not to process the name for the time being. That is the end of it. It is for Justice Dinakaran to defend himself before the committee. We have not done any favour to him. I can only say not a single representation, objection or complaint was received regarding his integrity or honesty when he was a judge of the Madras High Court or the Karnataka High Court. The collegium with five senior-most judges took into consideration all these factors. We cannot simply withdraw a name. That is not a fair or judicious way of doing things.
In the second issue relating to the recommendation on elevating the Allahabad High Court Chief Justice C.K. Prasad also, President Pratibha Patil has put a note on the file. The collegium will deal with it. We are yet to take a decision.
Were you taken into confidence on the much talked about Judicial Accountability Bill? There is a lot of criticism on the collegium system of appointments.
We don't know what the provisions are. I have seen the draft Bill, but in what form it will come I have no idea. It may go to the Select Committee of Parliament.
Do you welcome the move to set up a National Judicial Council for the appointment of judges?
It should be dealt with separately. In many countries like South Africa and other Commonwealth countries there is the Appointment Council. If the government feels it wants an NJC, it should go about it properly.
As long as the Supreme Court judgment is there, we have to go by it. Those who criticise must understand that. We have only inherited the judgment. How can we change it? We are bound by that judgment. We take consultations, take written opinions from judges. Somebody who strongly feels that it is to be reviewed should take appropriate steps.
It is nearly three-and-a-half years since the Supreme Court had a woman judge. Even after the strength has increased from 26 to 31, there is no woman judge.
It took nearly 45 years for the Supreme Court to have the first woman judge. It is not in my hands alone. I hope my colleagues will consider some of the names.
Do you justify the clean chit given to Justice Nirmal Yadav in the cash at door scam?
We did not give any clean chit. It was the former Attorney-General who said no case was made out. The CBI did not seek any sanction for prosecution in the case. It closed the case. So where is the question of sanction?
What it sought sanction was for 9000 sq m of land purchased by 17 persons in Himachal Pradesh, including Justice Nirmal Yadav. A person can purchase 500 sq m of land. Going by that, no offence is made out. I have not given any sanction for conducting an enquiry. If 17 persons purchase lands, no offence is made out. How can I allow a sitting judge of the High Court to stand before a magistrate in a criminal case?
The Indian government has been wooing non-resident Indians (NRIs) with much ardour ever since the economic reforms got under way in 1991. But it assumed an institutional form with the first Pravasi Bhartatiya Divas (PBD) in 2003. The agenda was slightly different with the then BJP-led NDA government. The right-wing BJP seemed keen to reach out to its reactionary-friendly Hindutva lobby among the diaspora and spread the message of cultural nationalism beyond the borders. It turned out to be quite different because the diaspora was as diverse as the country itself.
The NRIs came and the People of Indian Origin (PIOs) came and they came with a host of demands. Government was overwhelmed and was in no position to meet any of them effectively. The Congress-led UPA government has been trying to tweak the PBD and build a matter-of-fact and business-like agenda. The ideas still seem big and vague and there is not much to please the 25 million Indians spread across the world.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh's promise at PBD 2010 on Friday in New Delhi that perhaps the NRIs could vote in the next general election due in 2014, and his appeal to them to come back and contest elections, is a curious offer and nothing more. It would seem that a PM is looking hopefully to an NRI electorate which could and would endorse his reforms agenda much better than people at home because most of them are assumed to be educated professionals.
This assumption could prove to be as chimerical as BJP's dreams of tapping cultural nationalism among the NRIs. There is also the practical difficulty of arranging for the voting process in the Indian embassies across the world for hundreds of thousands.
There is however a real change in the diaspora connection. Some of the NRIs, especially in the Gulf countries, where they remain permanent aliens and with no great economic prospects, may want to come home because the opportunities and prospects are better here than before. This is not going to be easy in practice.
In late 1990s and in the early years of this decade, some of the NRIs from places like the US and Singapore did try the idea of coming home. But they left after a few years of frustrations because they found that the India of daily hassles has not really changed. This is an issue that merits the serious attention of Singh and his advisers.
HOCKEY IN CRISIS
Such a move could leave India with egg on its face as the country is playing host to the championship which begins on February 28 and runs till March 13.
The players had to resort to such an extreme step as they claimed that Hockey India, the sport's federation, had failed to address the issues of salary and incentives.
Even if the current crisis is averted, the plight of India's national game and its players call for some soul-searching by the game's managers. The money demanded by the players is less than peanuts compared to what the government is spending on the Commonwealth Games, which is a whopping Rs1620 crore.
The blame for the abysmal state of hockey can be attributed to Hockey India, its predecessor Indian Hockey Federation and the Indian Olympic Association.
The over-riding factors have been corruption and apathy. In April, 2008, Kandaswamy Jothikumaran, the Indian Hockey Federation's secretary general, resigned after a television show accused him of corruption.
KPS Gill's 15-year-tenure as chief of the Indian Hockey Federation ended soon after that and IHF was suspended by the Indian Olympic Association. The incident brought the spotlight on hockey. But precious little has been done since then to shore up its sagging fortunes.
It is clear that both the sports ministry as well as Hockey India have failed to promote the sport both in national and international arenas. If hockey has failed to grab eyeballs, it is also due to the largely disappointing performances of the players in international competitions. The sports ministry, apart from releasing funds for hockey, should also monitor the way money is spent in revitalising the sport. It should also hold the federation accountable for any misappropriation of funds or for the tardy progress of hockey.
Alas! Hockey officials had failed to draw inspiration from the success of cricket in India, especially the IPL. Why was the Premier Hockey League (PHL), a professional league competition for top hockey clubs in India, withdrawn only after two years?
Why except for Sahara India have corporates shied away from sponsorships in hockey? These questions beg to be answered. Once the national sport, hockey is now a chronically-languishing sport in need of a resuscitating shot.
That the city of Mumbai suffers from water problems is not new for years, an enduring Mumbai picture has been queues of people surrounded by buckets and jerry cans waiting for the municipal tap to start flowing. But this year, the failure of one monsoon has shown just how dire the situation is. Water supply has been cut by 15 per cent. A weekly 100 per cent cut is being considered. Frantic efforts are on to buy water from the state government and to divert water from other sources into the city.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) supplies around 3400million litres a day and this apparently takes care of 70 per cent of the city's needs. What are the needs? The maximum water that a person can require is about 230 litres of water per day. The BMC manages to supply about 90 litres per customer per day (lpcd) while slum dwellers get about 25 lpcd. By 2021, the projected required water supply will be 6300 million litres per day.
And even that is not likely to be enough.
Environmentalists have long predicted that the next wars will be over water. Usually, the discussion then veers to agriculture and the countryside. But we are going to face a massive problem in our growing urban centres if the problem is not tackled immediately. Mumbai replenishes its water supply annually with the monsoon. Other cities are not so fortunate Chennai suffers the most.
In Ahmedabad, borewells have to go down over 1000 ft to find sweet water. Others just plunder their
The Mumbai story playing out now can serve as an example for the rest of the country. The pipes in the island city and some of the older suburbs are British laid, over 100 years old.
The BMC does not have a proper map of where they are laid. The various infrastructure projects that are tearing Mumbai apart to fulfil its Shanghai dreams regularly break into water pipes with disastrous consequences.
Water pilferage and leakage account for anything from a 20 to 40 to an even 60 per cent loss of water everyday, depending on who you believe. Newly acquired electronic meters have turned out to be full of glitches the chief minister of Maharashtra apparently does not use any water at all according to the meter at his official residence, which ironically is called 'Varsha' which of course means 'rain'.
To add to the problem, the water supply is often contaminated and questions are being raised about the efficacy of the BMC's chlorination plant.
The story ultimately, turns out to be a combination of heavy demand, decaying infrastructure, inefficiency, corruption and theft. And, then there is the way that our cities grow and our first impulse to destroy all green spaces in thrall of concrete growth. This is not just about cutting trees, it is also about covering up all open ground and paving all open spaces.
As a result, rainwater runs directly into the sea in Mumbai and runs off into the drainage system in other cities. This means that every monsoon, a grand opportunity to replenish ground water is being lost to urban development.
Local governments are slowly waking up to concepts like "rainwater harvesting" but it is likely that without popular or NGO support, these will remain concepts. The battle between development and the environment is tilted in favour of the former as people do not always find it easy to understand some larger delayed expensive solution when they are denied water to drink, bathe and cook today.
In an effort to quench Mumbai's thirst, the authorities are looking at augmenting the supply from its six lakes and reservoirs from other sources. This will put additional pressure on the areas outside the city which are also urbanising at a rapid pace.
The state government of Maharashtra is now planning desalinisation plants; Tamil Nadu will start building a nuclear desalinisation plant in February while another plant awaits completion. This is the mantra across the world now the earth maybe two thirds water but only about 3 per cent is fresh water.
The oceans and seas are waiting to be plundered then. We have to be careful, before we embark on this journey because our record in using natural resources for our own benefit has led us to a pretty calamitous position already.
As Mumbai grapples with its shortfall, it prays for a good monsoon in 2010. It can only be hoped that the water conservation being discussed now is not forgotten if the lakes overflow by this September.
According to reports, India had a water shortfall of 25 per cent in 2003 at the rate of 1,500 cubic meters per person per year. That is likely to rise to 33 per cent by 2025. The long term portents for water are looking, to say the least, dry.
WHY ARE WE PICKING ON RATHORE ALONE?
AMBERISH K DIWANJI
In the entire drama of SPS Rathore that has been so lucidly played in the media, few noticed Rathore's wife and lawyer Abha's contention in court that her husband was being hounded by the public and the media.
She has a point: Rathore could not have got away by doing so much wrong for so long with so little repercussions (till now, that is) without the active and passive abetment of a number of people, right from his junior policemen to the school principal who expelled Ruchika to politicians who promoted him over the years.
Not that the others haven't been questioned. An inquiry report has come out strongly against Sister Sebastina, who was (and still is) principal of Sacred Heart school when Ruchika was expelled for non-payment of fees (no one else had ever been expelled for non-payment either before or since then, a clear case of external influence), while a CBI officer who was questioned on why the agency failed to nail Rathore claimed his conscience is clear because there was no evidence!
Ruchika did not commit suicide just because she was molested; she committed suicide three years later, after her expulsion and soon after her brother was arrested on trumped-up charges of stealing cars.
In all this, Rathore was abetted, whether explicitly or implicitly, by a number of other people such as politicians who backed him, police officers who ignored the case, policemen all too willing to carry out his orders, a school principal willing to do his bidding (and school authorities who never thought it fit to question the principal), and a judicial system that took 19 years to find him guilty.
Just as we love creating heroes, we love tearing down the high and mighty. Today, our entire focus has been single-mindedly on Rathore, who appears to be some sort of a demi-god who could get all others to do his bidding. Why are we not asking why the others so willingly agreed to commit a crime when told to do so?
Perhaps it is because deep down we agonise that had we be in the shoes of a junior policeman or Sister Sebastina, we might have behaved no differently. After all, how many of us might actually turn down a request from our boss, even if it is wrong (what happens to my next raise? my next promotion?). And few are the establishments that will not accede to a "request" from a powerful policeman, bureaucrat or politician.
In such a scenario, it is easy to put the entire blame on a powerful person like Rathore for "forcing" others to do his bidding against an innocent girl, while ignoring, or at least playing down, the role of others who are equally culpable. This catharsis extirpates our collective guilt when we should also be asking questions about the role of others.
For instance, when the school expelled Ruchika, why was Sister Sebastina's decision not questioned? What were the authorities/trustees who run the school doing? The risk is now that Sister Sebastina will be made to bear the entire responsibility for Ruchika's expulsion, while others go scot-free.
Similarly, what were the other senior police officers doing when some car thief claimed that Ashu was his accomplice? Why did they so go out of their way to please their boss? How is it that when the judiciary found Ashu innocent of all the charges slapped against him, no one from the police was held accountable?
Many of them might justify their acts of commission or omission by saying they were only obeying orders, or really had no choice under the circumstances. But the truth is that we all have a choice in doing the right thing, either out of respect for our conscience or out of fear of being penalised some 19 years later. Exemplary punishment must be meted out to the others who are guilty along with Rathore so that henceforth this fear looms on the horizon. Only then can we say that Ruchika was given justice.
There are four psychic abilities: clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, and clairgustance.
Clairvoyance is the gift of seeing. We all have an invisible third eye located in the middle of our forehead, which is sometimes referred to as the psychic eye. It's with this third eye that a clairvoyant sees information in the form of pictures, visions, or images. When we see a ghost, a spirit guide, or a deceased loved one, that's also clairvoyance.
Clairaudience is the gift of hearing, which sounds simple enough, but it can become quite confusing. When a clairaudient receives information, it comes into his or her mind as thoughts. Since these thoughts don't sound any different than
one's own thoughts, the clairaudient's job is to learn, through trial and error, to distinguish between personal thoughts and incoming psychic information.
The next psychic gift, clairsentience, has to do with sensing. This is more of a body feeling or sensing than actually seeing visions with your third eye or psychically hearing thoughts or voices. If someone is clairsentient, he or she has psychic radar working all the time, psychically feeling the environment as he or she goes through the day.
They can walk into a room or a meeting and sense the mood. I believe all psychics have this gift and use it their whole life.
Clairgustance is the last psychic gift, and it's an odd one. It's the gift of smell. People with clairgustance have a psychic nose, which means they smell things that aren't physically present.
The most common way that clairgustance manifests itself is when a deceased loved one comes to visit us. The person will project a smell to us (by thinking about it), such as the cologne the person used to wear, or something that will immediately bring a thought of the loved one to mind.
From The Gift by Echo Bodine
NRIS DESERVE BETTER
BUT THEY SHOULD ALSO CONTRIBUTE MORE
The over 30 million Indians settled abroad take pride in India's growth story, which is being talked about all over the world today. The desire to have their say in the electoral process stems from their undiminished love for the land of their forefathers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's declaration at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas function on Friday that all Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) "will get a chance to vote by the time of the next regular general elections" in 2014 is, therefore, welcome. The right to vote will be given to only those who continue to remain Indian citizens, holding Indian passports. Obviously, those holding the Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) cards cannot have this right as they have ceased to be Indian nationals. The Prime Minister's call to overseas Indians to return and join politics and public life is also food for thought.
The Indian diaspora comprising the NRIs and the PIOs can draw greater satisfaction by contributing more to the socio-economic development of the country where their roots lie. They have enough and safe opportunities to invest in industrial and other ventures to help speed up the growth of India. Keeping their savings in banks, as Dr Manmohan Singh pointed out, will not serve the purpose. India needs enormous funds to have world-class infrastructure, health care facilities, educational institutions, etc, and in all these areas the Indians settled in other countries can play a significant role. We must learn from China, which has become what it is today mainly because of the huge investments made by the Chinese living abroad.
If India grows into a major world economic power, obviously it will be in a better position to take care of the interests of the Indian-origin people wherever they are. The government, however, has to remove the road-blocks which come in the way of those NRIs who plan to invest in India. There is need to have a single-window clearing system for NRI projects. This will save the NRI investors from the harrowing experience they have to undergo in getting clearances. The officials dealing with NRI projects must be made to change their negative and discouraging mindset. The NRIs and the PIOs have been, no doubt, given considerable facilities, but they definitely deserve more.
POPULISM WILL CRIPPLE POWER BOARD
In another act of irresponsible governance, the Punjab government has decided to absorb the power tariff hike announced for the domestic, industrial and commercial consumers by the regulatory commission in August last year. This will set the state back by Rs 550 crore. The cash-strapped government is already placed at the edge of a precipice because of its financial mismanagement and the nasty politics of competitive populism in which both coalition partners excel. The Akalis insist on free power for farmers and the BJP resists any attempt to further burden the urban consumers, letting the power board bleed itself to death in the process.
The government has a right to help the needy. But in this case it is bent upon bankrupting the state power board because it is not paying the monthly subsidy in time as legally required. The government has defaulted on subsidy payments for the past three months forcing the regulatory commission to threaten a penalty. The coalition government recently set up a two-member committee to review the ruinous power subsidy that costs the exchequer Rs 3,142 crore annually. That turned out to be an exercise in futility. Hoping to calm the squabbling ruling politicians and hoodwink the public, the Punjab State Electricity Board approached the regulator to defer the tariff hike, which was to its own advantage. In the process the board showcased its monumental legal ignorance and the regulator rightly rubbished the plea.
If the ruling Akali Dal thinks it is helping farmers or the BJP feels it is protecting the urban consumers' or the industry's interests, both are mistaken. The sparring coalition partners might have bought political peace but they have pushed the power board closer to a financial disaster. A cash-starved board, helped by a suicidal management, will only sink deeper in trouble and people will suffer more frequent and prolonged power disruptions.
PROCESSING CENTRES NEED TO BE SET UP
Consumer goods are reused much beyond what their manufacturers intend them to be in India, but there is always a point beyond which they just don't work, and will have to be discarded. At this point, they are sold to scrap dealers, who salvage all that they can recover. To a layman, this may seem like a good example of recycling, but the fact is that what ensues is hazardous, both to the individuals who handle such goods as well as the environment in general.
Waste electrical and electronic equipment or e-waste, to use its popular abbreviation, comprises electronic and electrical devices which are surplus, obsolete, or broken. E-waste can have contaminants like lead, cadmium, beryllium and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are pollutants that pose significant health hazards. E-waste may contain small amounts of precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium and copper, for which it is broken down. Greenpeace estimates that India generated almost four lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2007. Barely 3 per cent of it was recycled properly. India is still in the process of framing legislation that will make the 25-odd PC manufacturers and sellers who control about 75 per cent of the market implement a take-back policy for their end-consumers and recycle the same in an environment-friendly manner. The unorganised sector will also be required to comply with the law, but the buy-back proposal is not enough.
While buyers must pay for the eventual disposal of the products they purchase, the government too must make provisions to recycle the waste and create proper facilities. This is not a problem that can be wished away. With the market for computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, TVs, etc, expanding greatly, it is estimated that eight lakh tonnes of e-waste will be generated by 2012. The nation must take expeditious steps to deal with the problem, which, if unattended to, can pollute the environment and expose its most vulnerable citizens to hazards created by this toxic waste.
BRIDGING THE DIVIDE
STATEHOOD NO PANACEA FOR TELANGANA
BY V. ESHWAR ANAND
The manner in which a peaceful and progressive state like Andhra Pradesh has been plunged into turmoil and uncertainty over the demand for and against separate statehood for Telangana is most unfortunate. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram rightly said at an all-party meeting in New Delhi on January 5 that there was need to restore peace and normalcy in the state urgently so that consultations could be continued with all stakeholders in a congenial atmosphere.
Law and order has deteriorated in the state in the past six weeks. Trains and buses are stopped at will and students have lost heavily because of the agitation. Bandhs, relay hunger strikes and demonstrations for and against Telangana continue. All this should stop forthwith.
The agitation for and against the Telangana has also affected governance. Top IAS officers say in confidence that they are not releasing funds for any project. If funds are released for a certain project in a particular region even as a routine, those from the other regions impute motives and charge them with regional discrimination, they say.
One should not read too much in the resignation spree by MLAs on both sides of the divide. They have done so for tactical reasons for protecting their respective constituencies. Significantly, ministers and MLAs from the Telangana region withdrew their resignations just before Mr Chidambaram's meeting on January 5.
In a democracy, every problem can be resolved through debate and discussion in a spirit of quid pro quo. Certainly, resigning from the ministry or the Assembly and taking to the streets is no way to address the problem.
Indeed, the sine die adjournment of the State Assembly has helped Speaker N. Kiran Kumar Reddy to wriggle out of a difficult situation caused by the MLAs' resignations. But facts speak for themselves. The 294-member House has 123 MLAs from coastal Andhra, 119 from Telangana and 52 from Rayalaseema. As 175 members are strongly opposed to the state's bifurcation, the Andhra Assembly passing a resolution for a separate Telangana state is, apparently, out of the question.
Under the Constitution, Parliament is empowered to form a new state by separating territory from any state or by merging two or more states or parts of states. It can also reduce or increase the area or alter the boundary of any state or even change its name. However, before doing so, a Bill on the matter has to be referred by the President to the legislature of the affected state so that the legislature can express its views within a certain period.
Even if it would be difficult for one to expect the Assembly to pass a resolution on Telangana, the Centre would do well to continue the consultation process with all the stakeholders, including the political parties, students and social workers, to find the best possible and mutually acceptable solution and resolve the tangle.
It would be worthwhile for the Centre, the state and the stakeholders to explore all available options. These include the appointment of a high-power committee consisting of experts, intellectuals, jurists and independent-thinking personalities. The committee should be broadbased to inspire public confidence and trust.
Though the Fazal Ali Commission (1953) was initially opposed to the unification of Telangana with Andhra, it felt that the advantages of a larger Andhra State, including Telangana, were manifold. "It will bring into existence a State of about 32 million with a considerable hinterland with large water and power resources, adequate mineral wealth and valuable raw materials", it said.
Nonetheless, in the context of the fresh demand for the Telangana state, the Centre could look into the possibility of setting up another States Reorganisation Commission. It could have wider terms of reference to include not just Telangana but the clamour for other states such as Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Harit Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh), Gorkhaland (West Bengal), Vidarbha (Maharashtra), Bodoland (Assam) and so on. The proposal for seeking a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court on Telangana under Article 143 of the Constitution also merits attention.
Essentially, the root cause of the current malaise is Telangana's continued neglect by successive governments in the past five decades. Andhra Pradesh, India's fifth largest state, has 23 districts 10 in Telangana, a semi-arid region that was under the Nizam of Hyderabad's dictatorial rule; nine in Andhra along the state's 1,000-km coastline; and four in the Rayalaseema region which were known as Ceded (to the English East India Company) districts.
Telangana may not have mineral resources or quality coal deposits but little has been done to help its people enjoy the benefits of two mega projects on the Telangana-Andhra border the Srisailam and the Nagarjunasagar dams. Ironically, these projects only help the people of Andhra and Rayalaseema and not those of the Telangana region. Similarly, the Godavari cuts through the Telangana area, but irrigation experts have done little to funnel water from the river to the fields. As a result, this region has witnessed suicides by many farmers. Landholdings are also concentrated in the hands of a few and that is the reason why the Naxalite movement has strong roots here.
It is increasingly felt that even if Telangana is granted statehood, it would not be able to stand on its own feet. Funds from the Centre alone cannot bail out the region. For, it is said to have no "native entrepreneurs" but "carpetbaggers" from the coastal areas of the state. Moreover, while the fast growing and investment-rich Visakhapatnam and the Krishna-Godavari Basin will remain with Andhra, questions have arisen about the future of the 400-year-old Hyderabad city.
Hyderabad is a global brand and its contribution to the overall growth of Andhra Pradesh is immense. According to a study, the IT industry in Hyderabad alone contributes 33 per cent of the state's GDP in terms of export revenues. Consequently, apprehensions of the image of Brand Hyderabad getting diluted in the event of the state's bifurcation seem genuine. Proposals for making Hyderabad a Union Territory a la Chandigarh need a careful study.
A new state can be formed if it meets three principal parameters geographical contiguity, economic viability and administrative convenience. The demand for separate statehood for Telangana may not stand the test of scrutiny. Clearly, statehood is no panacea for its problems. Its woes can be tackled effectively if concerted efforts are made by the Centre and the state to formulate a road map for removing regional imbalances.
There is a strong case for developing this region by deploying the combined water and power resources, mineral wealth and trained and skilled manpower of the entire state. Telangana's future is inextricable as it is intertwined with a united and integrated state of Andhra Pradesh. Ultimately, its development will depend upon the collective growth of the entire state.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru reluctantly yielded to the demand for the formation of Andhra state on linguistic lines (by unifying the Telugu-speaking regions of Andhra in the Madras State of that time) following Potti Sriramulu's indefinite fast and subsequent death in December 1952. While inaugurating the state of Andhra Pradesh in Hyderabad on November 1, 1956, he aptly said that the "Telangana people should have an important place in the newly formed state" and that the "leaders of Andhra would be on trial".
No wonder, the onus for the Telangana's continued backwardness is on the leaders themselves. The solution for the current problem lies in applying necessary course corrections in development and not in bifurcating Andhra Pradesh.
FAITH AND COURAGE
BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
Her late husband was my wife's godfather. He and my father-in-law had taught philosophy, in the same college, in Kanpur for many years. She was the daughter of a general and had met him in Shimla where he was on leave.
Long before Independence they had left India. After her husband's demise she continued to correspond with my wife. There was always a Christmas card in December and a couple of newsy letters during the year. A few years ago we heard from a mutual friend that she had suffered a stroke and was in a nursing home.
For months afterwards there was no news. We feared the worst. Then came an aerogramme written with a shaky hand but clear enough to convey her message. The stroke had left her with double vision and she could no longer drive her little car, a nuisance because she had to depend on her neighbours to do her shopping.
We were on leave in the U.K. We drove down to see her. We found her looking frail, which is not surprising at 80, but otherwise fit enough to manage her cottage on her own with only part-time help.
We had driven down from Hampton on a Saturday, arriving just before lunch. Not wishing to put a great strain on her, we had intended leaving after breakfast the following day. But she wouldn't hear of it. Mrs Parfit, the "help", had got her a nice cut of lamb and she would be disappointed if we didn't stay for it.
In the evening, after a sumptuous tea, we went for a walk down narrow and winding lanes strewn with russet leaves. The old lady led the way, thumping the ground with her rubber-tipped stick.
On our way back we came to a little pub. "I'm sure you'd like to take a look inside", she said, "And when you join us at home, there will be a glass of sherry waiting for you". They left me there. Ladies of her generation did not visit pubs.
During lunch on Sunday she told us that her only son and his wife lived a few miles away in a neighbouring country. "Why don't you live with them?" we asked, "Especially now that you have had a stroke and need someone to look after you".
"I'd hate to be a burden to anyone" she said. "They used to come and see me once a week, but when petrol prices went up I persuaded them to make it once a fortnight. I'm never really lonely with my TV and my happy memories".
She waved to us as we drove away. There was a smile on her face that spoke of faith and courage. Faith in the goodness of her friends and courage to take life as it came till she was called to rest.
HOW COMMUNAL DIVIDE OF J&K WAS AVERTED
BY BALRAJ PURI
Encouraged by the announcement about the formation of a separate Talengana state and provoked by the report of Justice Sagheer Ahmad, who headed the fifth Working Group on Centre-State relations in J&K appointed by the Prime Minister, the movement for the separation of Ladakh from Kashmir has gained a fresh momentum and the issue of separate Jammu state is again being debated.
A former member of the Jammu State Morcha recalls how the movement for a separate Jammu state was sabotaged first by the BJP and then by the RSS. He recalls that the RSS and leaders of the Parivar who met at Kurukshetra, passed a resolution in support of a separate Jammu state in 2000.
The BJP was hesitant to come out openly in its support. The RSS floated the Jammu State Morcha. It entered into a seat-sharing arrangement with the BJP to fight the assembly elections in 2002 from all 37 seats in the Jammu region.
But in practice the JSM flouted the agreement in some constituencies allotted to the BJP, splitting each other's votes. Both won just one seat each. Later the RSS wound up the JSM, though it was revived by another group led by Prof Virinder Gupta.
The story of the movement for a separate Jammu state is corroborated by Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Minister of Pakistan in the government of General Pravez Musharraf in his recently released book.
He claimed that an agreement between his country and India had been reached on J&K state on the basis of its division so that the Hindu majority part of Jammu and the Buddhist majority part of Ladakh remained with India and the Pak-administered part of the state with Pakistan as the views of these people were known.
The area of dispute was confined to the Kashmir valley, thus cutting the problem of Kashmir to size. He quotes the Farooq Kathwari formula on the subject.
Kathwari is the richest Kashmiri in the world and wields considerable influence in the valley. He had visited the state in 1999 and spent a day or so in Jammu. When I met him I asked who else he was meeting in Jammu. He replied that none excepting me and the then Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, and he wanted me not to disclose to anybody that he was in town.
While I rejected the division of the state on the religious lines, the reaction of Farooq Abdullah was not immediately known. Earlier, he had met Indian and Pakistan leaders in power and apparently got their consent to his proposal.
Before that he had invited two representatives of the Government of India and Pakistan to New York where he lives to attend a meeting of the Kashmir Study Group, headed by him, which approved his formula.
Alarmed by these developments I organised a meeting of ex-Prime Ministers of India, including Inder Gujral, VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar and independent public men and leading academicians in Delhi. They unanimously resolved that a religious division of the state was dangerous.
I also had a series of meetings with L K Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India. I warned him about implications of the communalisation of the entire state which would also undermine the secular basis of the entire country.
I asked him some searching questions. Did the two representatives of India attend the Kathwari meeting with the consent of the Government of India? Did the government object to the agreement they had with the Kathwari group?
Did Farooq Abdullah, whose government had proposed an administrative division of Jammu on the religious lines do it without the approval of the GOI? Wasn't the Home Ministry financing the Trilateral Front to divide the state in three parts on the religious lines? And so on.
Advani asked me what was the alternative to redress grievances of Jammu and Ladakh against what he called the Kashmiri domination ever since Independence. I suggested my formula, much maligned and condemned by his party, for regional autonomy, which could ensure harmony among the three regions of the state. He seemed to agree.
On the eve of the 2002 assembly elections in the state, the then BJP president J Krishnamurty was asked by media persons when he visited Jammu as to the official stand of his party on a separate Jammu state. He replied that the party had not taken any final decision on the subject but the local unit had a right to give expression to local sentiments.
I again visited Delhi and sought an appointment with Advani. I was told that he was too busy in arrangements about General Musharraf's visit the next day and that I should wait till his departure when he would have more time.
I insisted that I should meet him before Musharraf's visit as it was relevant to Indo-Pak talks. He agreed to meet me. I told him that Krishnamurty's statement was welcomed in Pakistan and the extremist faction of the separatist leaders in Kashmir.
Why had his party become so generous to Pakistan while I was always accused of being pro-Pakistan by it? He said that while he was convinced that the remedy of the communal division of the state was worse than the disease, the RSS was not.
It confirms the recent disclosure of the differences between the RSS and the BJP by a former member of the Jammu State Morcha. Meanwhile, I contacted other members of the Kashmir Study Group.
Many of them agreed with me. Kathwari, too, modified his formula and in a recent telephonic talk with me agreed that my formula of regional autonomy was a first step towards the resolution of the complex Kashmir problem.
LIFE MORE PRECIOUS THAN FREEDOM
BY HOWARD JACOBSON
Nothing is more precious than freedom: true or false? False. Life is more precious than freedom. Which is why the majority of mankind will suffer almost any abridgement of its freedom so long as it can go on breathing. At least alive we may win freedom tomorrow.
And then there's love. People will compromise their freedom for that, too, for to be free and yet alone can make freedom feel a worthless commodity. Who wants to be free as an uprooted tree is free, asked DH Lawrence.
But after life and love, yes, freedom. Which is why it's important that those who offer to act in freedom's name don't take that name in vain. If freedom today is a diminished entity, that is not the fault only of tyrants.
Freedom fighters who are themselves no more than tyrants in waiting demean freedom; privacy advocates who would rather a plane go down than its passengers be searched to within an inch of modesty demean freedom; civil rights activists, when they reduce all relations between the citizen and state to a pantomime demean freedom. Civil rights, human rights! half the time what we call "human rights" are nothing but a travesty of that nexus of obligation and entitlement that makes us human.
I have trouble with the concept of rights, not because I want less protection against violation but because I want more. "Human rights" is too feeble an expression of what we have to lose from the depredations of others. He who throws me into prison without a hearing takes away my liberty, not my rights.
He who sticks a dagger in my heart takes away my life, not my rights. I am unable to think of myself as a person to whom rights attach. I am flesh and blood not a repository of rights. And thou shalt not raise a finger against my flesh nor spill an ounce of my blood. Obey that ancient injunction and you can flush rights down the pan.
There's an old Lithuanian proverb: every man is his neighbour's matching shoe. No there isn't. I've invented it. But there should be such a proverb. Ties of affiliation bind us and at the same time trip us up. Bonds of blood, loyalty, fellowship, even hatred, not rights. We call this what Mrs Thatcher wouldn't "society". Society being a collective for the sake of which we agree to have our shoes tied together and our freedom to do as we wish curtailed.
The suicide bomber seeks to curtail our lives. We need not trouble ourselves with what he seeks to do to his own. By targeting us, he steps outside the collective, forfeiting our fellowship and our protection. He is no longer a companion shoe.
In order to prevent his curtailing our lives, we consent to more of our freedoms being curtailed instead. But not our most precious freedoms. Not our freedom to think or to hold and express contrary opinions.
Not our freedom to love whom we choose, to not love whom we choose, to go our own way in our heads (for we can be bounded in a nutshell and still count ourselves kings of infinite space.) Just our freedom to pass through airport security without immense inconvenience, a sometimes unnecessary degree of rudeness, and without the outlines of our private parts being flashed up on an X-ray screen or whatever.
Where the soul has already been sold cheap should we really waste our outrage on the selling of a body? Privacy? Reader, he who fights to protect our privacy in the age of television and Hello! is defending what almost nobody any longer wants.
Ah, but the children. The children, the children the last refuge of the scoundrel. Better the plane go down and 500 lives be lost than that a single child be exposed to the sexual curiosity of a pervert. We have lost our minds about children. I don't minimise the vileness of the pervert, or the sorrow and the suffering he, or she let's not forget the "she" can cause.
But we cannot police the imagination; nor can we scour the four corners of the earth to remove every image that might stimulate it. Whoever must have such images will find them. We cannot close every school, destroy every camera, or blindfold every adult in order to keep our children off the mental screens of perverts. Through the scanner you must go, my little darlings, so that you might arrive safely at your destination, and let the sick play as they must.
Of course there is always choosing more precisely those we scan and those we don't, but here, in the usual farcical manner of these things, one set of rights collides with another the right, dictated by common sense, to be presumed an unlikely carrier of lethal chemicals, and the rights of people with highly suspicious profiling not to be suspected.
And here the civil rightists are at their most hypocritical and absurd, asking us as a society to deny one of our most useful human instincts, which is to recognise from experience the lineaments of danger, what it looks like, where it comes from. And if we get it wrong, as we will surely sometimes get it wrong? Then we get it wrong. No system of survival was yet devised that did not have unfairness in it.
As for the argument that we will make terrorists out of those we unjustly suspect, only a fool would advance it. Anyone so inflammable as to become a terrorist because he is strip-searched at an airport already is a terrorist.
In the meantime if there is a meantime God save us from the moral illiterates who would put our "rights" before our lives.
By arrangement with The Independent
CONSERVING NATURE NEEDS TO BE TOP PRIORITY
BY DEVI CHERIAN
Tigers facing extinction ought to be our major national concern. And a visit to the Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan restores one's realisation that conserving nature needs to be the highest priority.
Once you have spotted a tiger in the wild, everything else is a bonus. Ranthambore has lots of cheetals, sambhars, chinkaras, wild boars and a host of other animals, including leopard, but seeing a tiger is still the ultimate thrill.
The Jaisal and Anjali Singh-owned Sher Bagh with its luxurious tented accommodation and some of the most experienced forest drivers is clearly the best place to be when you visit.
Ranthambore is the only national park worldwide that allows you to combine nature with history. It has a beautiful jewel of a pre-Mughal fort that is massive and awesome in itself and as a result the park is dotted with ancient monuments through which animals now roam freely and fiercely.
The latest estimates are that Ranthambore now has close to 40 tigers. An energetic and efficient DFO like the one in charge currently clearly makes a difference to the park morale and animal mortality.
The crowds that go fairly deep into the park arrive in hordes and place an unfair burden on the Forest Department. They are neither regulated nor even policed in any real sense.
Sadly, the authorities have not been able to control the boorish behaviour of many tourists who defile the park with their behaviour that is uncaring for nature. They very often attempt to disturb animals, pay little attention to park etiquette and generally ruin the experience of those unfortunate enough to be stuck in the park's diesel fume-spewing Canters.
In a fast-paced world, where conservation and nature are the new buzz words, the appeal to both domestic and foreign tourists is only likely to increase with years ahead.
Simple tents that have superb comfort levels are only one part of Sher Bagh's appeal. An eco-friendly approach permeates everything they do a model for those who need to study luxury tourism.
Given the forward-looking tourism policy, Sher Bagh could be the model that makes an "Incredible India" and goes beyond the more obvious tourist trails as a magnet for global travellers.
Of course, this requires concentrated efforts to make sure that the battle between man and nature is more often decided in favour of nature. Tigers suffer simply because they do not have a vote.
Chhotu could not believe his luck when Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik called him home. Chhotu, who used to shine shoes on a footpath close to the Chief Minister's residence, is now the CM's blue-eyed boy.
It was about two years ago that Chhotu first met Patnaik. He had tagged along with his father, a daily-wage worker, and did not go unnoticed. The CM greeted him with some chocolates.
As fate would have it, Chhotu soon lost both his parents. With their parents dead, Chhotu and his 16-year-old brother started working as shoeshine boys.
Last month Patnaik was passing by the footpath when he noticed the boy again and stopped his car and asked him to come home. Chhotu was received at Patnaiks's residence and the CM made arrangements for Chhotu to be admitted to a government school. He also gets financial assistance from the CM to meet his educational expenses.
In return, Patnaik has one thing to ask of Chhotu: under no circumstance should he bunk classes or go back to work as a shoeshine boy. No wonder this is Patnaik's third term as the CM. There are numerous stories about his sensitive and humane nature.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
LESSONS FROM BIHAR
India's new miracle economy has now turned out to be the State of Bihar which had so far been known as the poorest province of Indian union. The most recent figures of Central Statistical Organisation for the period between 2004-05 and 2008-09 put Bihar as the second fastest growing State of the country with an average annual growth of 11.03 per cent in this five-year period. If we ignore the difference of 0.02 per cent with the corresponding growth rate of the richest State Gujarat at 11.05 per cent, we can say that Bihar has virtually become India's fastest growing State. Again, going by internationally defined miracle economy as those units with over 7 per cent of annual economic growth, Bihar also can aptly be called a miracle economy along with other four so far known poor States, viz, Uttarakhand, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which have been shown by the CSO to have achieved annual average growth rate of 9.31 per cent, 8.74 per cent, 8.45 per cent and 7.35 per cent respectively in the period 2004-2009. The turn around in these States including Bihar is certainly remarkable since their fiscal indicators some ten years back were the worst possible ones in the country. Fiscal and revenue deficits were very high in them and economic growth rates were too low. In Bihar, State domestic product actually declined by more than 5 per cent in 2003-04. The major force behind stability of State finances and accelerating economic growth in these States has been good governance. The high-growth period of Bihar also coincides with Nitish Kumar taking up the reins as its Chief Minister from Lalu Prasad in 2005. He did a lot during the period for the third largest populated State with 82 million, most of whom live in rural areas. The rural economy, in fact, got the Chief Minister's closest attention with diversified agriculture, improved allied agricultural activities, encouraging small scale, tiny and cottage industries, proper utilisation of funds for implementation of Bharat Nirman project and its flagship programmes and National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme-related works.
Apart from this, the Chief Minister had to fight a tough battle to improve the art and science of good governance, particularly in the areas of corruption-ravaged administration and indisciplined work-culture. Again, the law and order situation which happens to be at the back of all economic progress and which was at sixes and sevens before Nitish Kumar assumed his office in 2005 has certainly improved to a great extent for which he deserves huge praise. He gave the impression to every one in administration that his office is serious about good governance in every sphere. It is true that the Mandal revolution of 1990's gave a foundation to the State's social transformation which Nitish Kumar appropriately utilised to climb the ladder of economic excellence. He was also fortunate to have his tenure as a good monsoon period for agricultural prosperity. However, economic miracle does not necessarily mean inclusive growth. The state of poverty might still be wide-spread in Bihar and other high-growth States that will require much larger efforts of government. In spite of this, however, other backward States of India including Assam which carries the tag of being the most corrupt State of India do have much to learn on good governance and cleanliness of administration from the experience of Bihar and other miracle States.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
MENACE OF TRAFFICKING
The rising incidence of trafficking in children and women from the North-East has emerged as a serious concern. Of late there have been a number of instances of trafficked children and women being rescued, which points to the growing dimension of the menace. It is apparent that the interventions coming from the Government as well as non-government agencies have fallen short of making the desired impact. Strengthening the law-enforcing mechanism apart, crucial socio-economic issues need to be addressed for securing a long-term solution. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of employment avenues, etc., constitute the breeding ground for this scourge, and these can be overcome only with good governance. Some peculiar problems afflicting the North-East such as insurgency, ethnic unrest, flood, and large-scale immigration have worsened the situation. Women and children invariably happen to be the most vulnerable section in this nefarious trade, who are often lured out of the region with better job prospects but generally end up exploited in the sex racket. A large migrant population constituting a cheap labour force as also another large population of refugees displaced by flood and erosion is having a perpetuating effect on the problem. Similarly, the ethnic riot victims, especially children and women, living for years in sub-human conditions in relief camps are extremely susceptible to trafficking. It is regrettable that till date the State Government has failed to work out an effective rehabilitation package for the camp inmates. The State Government must treat the situation in the urgency it deserves and ensure interventions that give top priority to the suffering children's interests.
The prevailing situation negates the human rights of children and women to live with dignity. The fact that thousands of children and women are being used in the nefarious rackets of flesh trade, begging and organ trade is a poor commentary on the governance we are getting. More than anything, the growing magnitude of trafficking testifies to the inescapable reality that the all-important issue of poverty alleviation remains largely unaddressed even after more than six decades of independence. While poverty alleviation, and greater access to education and employment opportunities are essential for striking at the roots of the menace, hard crackdowns on the thriving racket and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws are highly imperative as immediate measures. The wide prevalence of child labour is another problem area linked to trafficking. There is also an urgent need for amending the relevant laws so that those behind trafficking rackets get stringent punishment. Ensuring rehabilitation of the rescued victims of trafficking is another vital need.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
WATER WOES OF GUWAHATI
DR RABINDRA KR CHOUDHURY
Searcity of drinking water in Guwahati city is nothing new. However, the plight of people lately has reached the peak. Private vehicles, big and small, with water tankers, fed by various sources are seen plying through roads and lanes of Guwahati to make door-step delivery of drinking water at exorbitant prices. There is no question of varifying the quaity of water or bargaining the price thereof by demanders since they need water at any cost to get going. In the absence of any other source open to most city areas, the residents with their busy living schedules have no time to ascertain where the water comes from or whether it has undergone any treatment before getting delivered.
The signal to private water supplier is clear. It is now a sellers' market having no say of buyers and, hence, at commodity can be sold the any price fixed by the supplier. There is no again, interference from any public authority nor any regulation, whatsoever, to put any restraint on the new-found water business needing least investment and promising an easy fortune at the quickest possible time. The exploitation of water buyers is obvious. At tank-full of 600-litres of water was available some six months back at Rs 60.00 is now being sold at any price between Rs 150.00 and Rs 180.00 to consumers of high-rice buildings and between Rs 120.00 and Rs 140.00 to demanders of ground level houses having reservoirs. Residents of high-rise housing complexes have to reconcile with monopolistic terms of private water carriers since they don't have scope to hire porters to get supplied with comparatively cheaper water to their tall door steps. There continued indifference of municipal authority and government to the long-lasting plight of city dwellers appears now to have pushed them to the walls of mercy, greed and exploitative design of water sellers. To the desparation of people, on the other hand, the government remains only a helpless spectator for the reason best known to it.
Environmental scientists had long warned that water crisis which started emerging the world over would soon take its tall in Guwahati city and that the government of Assam needed to be much more serious on the issue and should prepare adequate plan strategy to meet the need before a crisis situation grips the expanding city. Today, the prediction has come true. It is certainly perplexing that the city of Guwahati which stands by the mighty Brahmaputra with its tributaries wide-spread should be exposed to such a hapless state of drinking water crisis.
The fast-expanding city today shelters around 20 lakh inhabitants that accounts for an increase of 500 per cent in the course of years since nineteen eighties when population was only 5 lakh or so. Most of the settlers since then have been depending on ground water sources since municipal supply has always been limited. The water supply system of Guwahati which could cater to the need of almost 70 per cent of residents in early nineteen eighties can now barely supply 71 million litres of water per day against the requirement of at least 250 million litres. The supply from public authority can barely meet the need of 20 per cent of city's population. Because of constant use of ground water for all these years and because of expansion of concrete surroundings inhibiting adequate recharge of rain water on the one hand and also the decade's lowest rainfall in these days on the other, the ground water level is in constant recession downward.
Residents of several areas of the city, who used to get drinking water from municipal and other public authority sources till mid-1990's after which their taps went dry have since then been compelled to turn to their own private arrangements, mostly in the form of digging wells. However, water level getting depleted, these wells got dried up after serving for a decade or so. The only alternative left to them since then has been to buy potable water for years. Those that are to be completely dried up or which have been further dug still deeper have also not remained safe sources. Water samples collected from them and also from deep tube wells have been found to cross the standard set for pure drinking water because of high levels of sulfer and iron contents.
Although schemes for adequate water supply under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), a flagship programme of Bharat Nirman project were floated through global tender inviting parties to implement multi-crore water supply schemes for which the Centre released Rs 1180 crore as grant-in-aid and Japan bank under international co-operation programme provided Rs 100 crore for uninterrupted water supply to the whole of Guwahati city, only the west Guwahati part comprising areas of Santipur, Maligaon, Pandu and Jalukbari has so far been brought under supply line. The fate of central, east and south Guwahati regions, however, still hangs in balance, reeling under acute water scarcity with many areas still depending partially on underground sources with high levels of iron and sulfer contents that should not be used without proper water treatment.
Whereas residents from various parts of the city repeatedly approached GMC as well as State government authorities to take up seriously the issue of constructing water supply plants without further loss of time to ensure uninterrupted and adequate supply of drinking water to consumers of every locality, response of the latter in every occasion has been a promise of total solution within a few years time though many years have elapsed by now. The latest government position is that the system of regular water supply for whole of the city is targeted to be in place by December, 2010, though no one is concerned at how people would be meeting their need till the time water supply plants, as promised, actually come to start functioning.
The problem, perhaps could not have gone out of hand had the expansion of city, construction of housing complexes and related sanitational issues could actually move in a planned manner. The reality of future migration in large numbers to an expanding city like Guwahati in search of economic prosperity and better life style that could put a trementous strain on its infrastructure designed to serve smaller population was perhaps not well visualised by the urban planners.
The flat culture with high-rise buildings that started developing since mid-1980's continues to grow in most haphazard manner in and around the city. The promoters of these buildings faced no difficulty in getting permission from authority even though many of them did not follow the prescribed rules relating to set-standards of safety, vacancy of space, sanitary and conservancy system and, above all, uninterrupted regular water supply arrangements. As a result, many high-rise buildings have sprung up with no space left between them when promoted by the some developer. To meet the demand for drinking water of around 40,000-50,000 litres per such building per day, the developers provided for ground water system of deep tube wells. However, with passage of some years of continuous extraction most of them are fast becoming either non-functioning or only partially functioning due to underground water getting dried up or the level getting deeper down.
In the case of many high-rise buildings, it is also difficult to find a suitable space to bore an alternative well due to vicinity of saptic tank or other structures. What is all the more purturbing is that the flat owners even after parting with lakh of rupees to go for machine boring of a second deep tube well have become frustrated because the approach road to the buildings is so narrow that the huge-sized machine-boring vehicle fails to find access to the site. Yet another kind of disappointment is that even after spending several lakhs of rupees for machine boring, the efforts simply went in vain as no trace of water could be found even in deep down the earth. This notwithstanding, the attempts are made to try luck and search water below the underground rock level. The future of Guwahatians in the absence of organised tap water system is, thus, anybody's guess.
Astonishingly, consumers of the city are still not fully awakened to the desparate situation. Barring some sufferers occasionally approaching GMC or the government to register their pathetic tale and ask for redressal, it is yet to emerge a serious move in any organised manner. Though comparatively newer localities have never been considered by the municipal authority for installing water supply connections, some old localities which used to get tap water from GMC sources for years started to find the duration of supply getting gradually reduced from few hours to few minutes in course of time and then to a complete halt.
Certainly, there is a point in the argument. One has to agree that there is no room for free lunch in a scarcity-ridden society and less so for those goods and services which might be subjected to misuse and wastage. GMC water is such a commodity which when supplied free of direct charges is found to be recklessly used or even simply wasted. If people can pay Rs 150 for 500 litres of water when supplied by a private seller as its price, one fails to understand why they should shy away from the water metre system like electricity and pay some Rs 10-15 for the same quantity of supply from GMC or other public authority sources.
The government is also responsible for the problem to be dragged to the present juncture. It is about a decade back when scarcity of GMC water started appearing widely, some private companies expressed their keen interest in building up water supply plants tapping the Brahmaputra and its tributary sources to cater to the need of the city for a price at competitive rate. However, objections came from both the government and the consumers.
The need of the hour is to give topmost priority to municipal functions, speeding up of JNNURM water supply projects and strict regulation of high-rise housing under a scientific plan strategy. The multi-crore water supply projects that were taken up years back need be completed on war-footing.
(The writer is former Head of Economics, Gauhati University)
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
ROLE OF EDUCATION IN CHANGING SOCIETY
Every society in this world is a by-product of its system of education. The role played by education in a dynamic and evolutionary society is manifold. The educational system of the society is the pivot around which a society grows and thrives. The society bears heavily on its educational system for its sustenance. The necessity of a sound educational system is a pre-condition for the development of a good society.
Education, as professed by different philosophers is drawing the best out of an individual. The word 'education' has been derived from the Latin word 'educatum' which means to draw out, to lead or bring out. The whole process of education encompasses nurturing and providing sustenance to the inner abilities and talents of individuals.
Society evolves with the passage of time. And so do values. The educational system of the society should be at par with the changes in the society. The values of the changing society, however, must conform to the changes of the society in such a way that the basic tenets of humanism remain intact. Basic tenets of humanism include love for fellow beings, respect for others religion, culture, traditions, benevolence, helpfulness and so on. Times may change but the basic human values should not. Education should strive to infuse these basic human spirits into the mind and soul of every individual.
Apart from this, another aim of education is to make an individual self-reliant by choosing a profession. However, at present times it is seen that employment, more so of "educated unemployment" is on the wane. There are highly qualified and skilled individuals who are sitting idle due to lack of job opportunities. The effect of this is two-fold. On one hand, there has been a huge amount of brain-drain and on the other hand the youths are led astray and forced to take up guns in their hands.
The onus of providing employment falls on the ruling government. It is the responsibility of the government to adopt right policies in this regard. What is actually seen in our State is that education has tended to become expensive owing to privatization, thus depriving the economically weaker sections of the society from their right to education. This goes against the theory of welfare state which aims at providing education to all its citizens for their welfare.
Moreover, the job opportunities do not commensurate with those of the educational sector. It is of no use encouraging privatization of educational institutions unless there is a rise in the employment sector. This has only aggravated the problem of educated unemployment giving rise to a new class of people who only become victims of depression.
The reservation policy of the government also needs to be revised. Granting reservation to SCs, STs and OBCs is not to be criticized. But when this happens at the cost of the meritorious students belonging to general category, it surely assumes an issue of grave importance. Not to mention the corrupt practices involved in the process of appointment to government jobs that has squeezed the middle class families. Perhaps these are not new issues. But what has assumed significance is that there should be an end to these. Unless immediate steps are taken to tackle these issues, they will pose a great hindrance on the development of the society in the near future.
As Education, literally means "to draw out", the policy makers of the state should take adequate steps to serve the purpose of education. Education leads man to move on to a higher plane in life, not to get decayed in the process. The educational system of the country should be moulded anew keeping these aspects in mind. Emphasis should be laid on generating more employment opportunities. The educational system should make an effort to develop an entrepreneurial type of mindset in the mids of the young people. Along with the MNC and big industries, the setting of book publishing houses and media organizations should also be encouraged. This will create avenues of employment to the English knowing people of the region which constitute a majority. It is high time things took a new turn to save the succeeding generations from the onslaught of the pervading tentacles of social evils.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POSTPONE POVERTY SURVEY
What sets poverty in India apart is the effort that has gone into defining, measuring, recalibrating, contesting, recounting, refining and disputing its magnitude, nature and, at least, in the case of one protagonist, existence.
This exegesis on poverty has been captured in a World Bank volume, The Great Indian Poverty Debate, published before the latest estimates by Prof Suresh Tendulkar kicked off yet another round of heated discussion on the subject. The last major round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) measuring consumption was done in 2004-05, when growth was just taking off, after a five-year hiatus inaugurated by the Asian Crisis of 1997.
The most recent poverty measurements are based on its findings. The substantive question is whether reforms and economic growth have dented poverty or not. So, the real test would come from the results of the next detailed survey by the NSSO, which began in July 2009 and is slated to be completed in June 2010. Now, this survey comes after a five-year period of record growth. If poverty in 2009-10 turns out to have come down sharply, that would vindicate those who cite growth as the primary poverty-killer.
If, on the other hand, poverty refuses to fall, the critics of reform would smirk all the way to an empty moral victory. Right now, the deck is stacked in favour of the naysayers, thanks to the truant monsoon and a global spike in food prices. Since poverty is heavily influenced by food prices, an aberrant spike in food prices over the survey period is more likely than not to bring out a poverty figure that is misleadingly high.
This would not be a major disaster the strategy for removing poverty would hardly shift to something other than what has been dubbed 'inclusive growth'. However, a misleading result could lead to waste of intellectual and administrative energy on pointless policy quarrels. This is avoidable.
A simple solution would be to extend the survey for at least six months. Of course, there is the risk of a double-dip in global growth and serial drought at home, nullifying any benefit from postponing the survey. That, perhaps, is lower than the risk of adding yet more data to dogma, to produce a sequel to The Great Indian Poverty Debate.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A METALS STORY WAITING TO HAPPEN
There's a hardening price trend in metals globally, both ferrous and non-ferrous, which has implications for domestic policy. Already, aluminium and copper prices quote at 15-month highs, while steel prices have surpassed levels seen a year ago. The expert projection is that steel demand in India would go up by a solid 9% in 2010. It suggests gathering momentum in steel offtake. Note that during April-November 2009, the demand for steel grew by an estimated 8.1%.
The buoyant steel demand points at higher overall growth in the offing. After all, the automobile industry is beginning to acquire global scale and consumer durables have been driving industrial growth for months. Also, there's a strong reviving demand in the capital goods segment to meet the ongoing capacity addition in industry.
Further, for infrastructure projects like power plants and roads, much bunching of investments now seems likely.
What's required is policy focus to fast-forward brownfield expansion of metal production capacity. In tandem, we need to expedite greenfield projects in the pipeline by purposefully removing policy bottlenecks preventing speedy coagulation of funds on the ground. Besides, it would make ample sense to lower tariff barriers for metal imports with lower countervailing duty and the like, so as to rev up competitive pressures and incentivise domestic value addition.
In parallel, we need to closely examine the whole issue of financialisation of commodities. The idea of regular price discovery and futures markets is not in dispute, but runaway speculation and the notion of commodities as a proper asset class for all and sundry investors certainly is. Now that a bull market is in the cards, what's warranted is norms on forward positions in commodities, so as to discourage excessive speculation especially by non-users and market players across the board.
It's a fact that commodity speculation can lead to price spurts that don't quite reflect the ground realities: recall the huge record rally in oil prices in 2008. We need to garner international consensus so as to keep speculative activity in commodities, not so much range-bound as proactively regulated. Meanwhile, the metals economy here deserves a leg up in policy terms. India is well suited to be a global metals hub.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WIPE-OUT DOOMSDAY BLOCKBUSTER
It's a scenario made for Hollywood: data from the Hubble telescope indicates that a star called T Pyxidis in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is slowly swelling to critical mass, the Chandrasekhar Limit in astronomy-speak, and may soon explode, becoming a supernova. The blast will unleash forces equivalent to 20 billion billion billion megatons of TNT, which, among other things, mean curtains for the relatively tiny blue orb we call home, situated as we are, a mere 3,260 light years away.
It's evidently time for the macho 'leaders of the free world' to stop quibbling about Copenhagen and send out their resolute, square-jawed heroes forthwith to save the Earth from a fate worse than climate change. Especially since this explosion, according to some American astronomers, will wipe out the Earth's depleting protective ozone layer in an instant, putting both developed and developing nations in a shared fix.
Exactly how intrepid humans can stop a 'white dwarf' star from blowing itself to kingdom come isn't clear; it's not even certain whether it's possible. But hey, even if scientists can't find a way to save us all, some bright scriptwriters might; pretty soon too, if the box-office returns look inviting. Time is of the essence, as researchers at the American Astronomical Society say that the star, given, over the past century, to thermonuclear eruptions every 20 years or so, was last observed doing a celestial hiccup in 1967.
Whether a mega hiccup equals going supernova is not certain, but some sort of a burp at least is overdue. This means fast-tracking that movie. But before we all start looking for ways to exit the Earth, it may be germane to read the fine print for this doomsday contract: astronomers estimate the white dwarf's mass could reach the Chandrasekhar Limit in around 10 million years, give or take a few millennia. The chances are, we may wipe ourselves out before that.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PVT INSURERS TAKE A HIT AGAIN; LOSSES UP 43% IN 2008-09
MUMBAI: The private life insurance industry in India recorded losses of Rs 4,879 crore in 2008-09, an increase of 43% over Rs 3,413 crore recorded in the previous year. To make up for this record loss, promoters of life insurance companies had pumped in Rs 5,956 crore in 2008-09, which is equivalent to the amount invested by the promoters of life companies in the preceding 10 years.
Following the losses reported in 2008-09, accumulated losses of the life insurance industry have risen to Rs 8,585 crore. In its annual report released this week, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (Irda) said the outlook for the insurance industry was uncertain due to many challenges. The regulator added that reduced demand, low interest rates and the need for additional capital by many companies are some of the major challenges facing the insurance industry in the current fiscal.
The insurance regulator has said it expects new private life insurance companies to record losses for the first seven to 10 years of operations. "Life insurance industry is capital intensive, and insurers are required to inject capital at frequent intervals to achieve growth in premium income," Irda said.
According to the annual report, out of 22 life insurers, only four have reported profits in 2008-09. This includes LIC, Kotak Mahindra, Met Life and Shriram. LIC reported a higher profit of Rs 957.35 crore compared with the previous year's profit of Rs 844.63 crore. Kotak Mahindra, for the first time, has reported a net profit of Rs 14.34 crore in 2008-09. During the previous year, the company had incurred a loss of Rs 71.87 crore. Met Life has reported a net profit of Rs 14.52 crore and Shriram reported a net profit of Rs 8.11 crore.
SBI Life, which was the first private life insurer to report profit and has been making profits for the past three years, has reported a net loss of Rs 26.31 crore during 2008-09 due to some mark-to-market losses on the shareholder account. ICICI Prudential, the largest private sector life insurer, reported losses for the eighth consecutive year. The company, which reported a loss of Rs 1,395.06 crore in 2007-08, has recorded a loss of Rs 779.70 crore during 2008-09.
During the year under review, net losses of 12 companies have gone up compared to the previous year. Four new life insurance companies came into existence during 2008-09. Among them, except Aegon Religare, other companies namely, Canara HSBC, DLF Pramerica and Star Union Daiichi have reported losses.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NIFTY SUPPORT SEEN AT 5100-5200 LEVEL
The Nifty opened the week on a positive note and maintained above 5200 levels since the beginning of the week till the end. However, it could not close above 5300 levels, even after crossing it twice in a week since January 4. A long build-up was seen during the Monday-Wednesday period.
On Friday, Nifty February futures closed at 5249 levels with five points premium to the Nifty and 17-points loss. The Open Interest decreased by 1%. Long unwinding was seen in Nifty February futures on Thursday and Friday. Put Call Ratio (V), after remaining above one with a high of 1.27 and a low of 1.12 during the week, which shows trading activity on the Put side was of little more interest, but good for market health.
Overall, a long build-up was seen and no major sign of short build-up was seen. In the February series, a maximum open interest was seen on 5300/5400 Calls. On Thursday and Friday, a short build-up was seen in 5300 Call and Open Interest was increased above 10% on both days, which shows the 5300 level to be an effective resistance for further price advance. On the Put side, a maximum Open Interest was seen in 5000/5200 /5100 Puts and a long build-up was seen in 5200/5100 Puts. However, open interest was not so huge.
F&O cues are showing resistance from 5300 levels and support at 5100-5200. Technically, a decisive price rally has not been taking place in major indices of the US, Europe and Asian markets.
Puneet Kinra, Sr Tech Analyst (Equity Research), Bonanza Portfolio
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
MARKET LOOKS TO Q3 NUMBERS
MUMBAI: Earnings from Infosys Technologies, TCS, Bajaj Auto, HDFC Bank and a few others are expected to help benchmark indices shrug off the lethargy this week. Investors are hoping October-December quarter results will give them an insight of what to expect from domestic companies in the next few quarters, though few are expected to base their investment decisions on the outcome.
"This quarter, if it delivers largely as per expectations, should suggest a return to relatively higher level of growth rates," said Citigroup's Aditya Narain and Tirthankar Patnaik. "Could this be the start of a significantly higher growth rate cycle we think it's still early days to make that call, and we don't believe the quarter would give full enough answers either," they said in a report.
Companies constituting the Sensex are expected to report a 15-18% growth in net profits from the same quarter last year, after four quarters of subdued growth, led by a strong sales growth of 20-25%, according to earnings estimates of five brokers. The growth will be partly due to statistical effect of a lower earnings last year, amid the downturn.
Infosys will set in motion the Q3 quarter earnings of top companies on Tuesday. Investors will closely watch comments from the company on IT budgets of US companies, pricing scenario and outlook on rupee. Analysts remain optimistic about the sector's prospects in the long-term.
"Any weakness in stocks during the results season would be an opportunity to buy into the IT sector," said IDFC SSKI Securities's Hitesh Shah. "TCS and Infosys are our key result picks," he added in a report. BSE's IT index has risen over 130% in the past year compared with the 80% gain in the Sensex.
Despite expectations of a rebound in earnings growth, market participants have reason to be sceptical about Indian equities.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TIMELY AND ALSO EFFECTIVE ACTION
Franklin Pierce Adams did conclude his parody to John Greenleaf Whittier's Maud Muller with these wise words, "And of all glad words of prose or rhyme, / The gladdest are, 'Act while there yet is time'." However, Adams could have been more elaborate and conclusive in his observations.
It is not just enough to 'act while there yet is time'. It is also necessary to combine such action with the needed intelligence, effectiveness and focus. Very importantly, it is necessary to ensure that this action is also right and has been well considered. When all these aspects and issues are taken into account, the aspirant would already have taken a giant leap towards truly and enduringly fulfilling his objectives and vision.
Intelligence would prompt the seeker to accept the fact that almost every worthwhile endeavour would initially be met with opposition and perhaps even ridicule. He would also realise that it may also become inevitable to displease and antagonise those even close to him in his chosen pursuit. He would, in his practical and single-minded approach, learn to cultivate a healthy imperviousness and often-times a stoic indifference upekshana, as noted by Patanjali to the gross and superficial. He would also always apply the spirit of Horace Walpole's wise words, "This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel."
Such rightful approach would also incorporate the needed discipline and self-control, guarding against the 'single slip', distractions, vacillations and temptations from within and without, which undo the benefits assiduously accrued. This pursuit would then become an integrated one, when supplemented by effectiveness and focus, 'flow', in life and living. When king Parikshit decided to devote the last week of his life to what he had wanted to do all along, he also did it with supreme focus and efficiency.
This awesome combination of intelligent perseverance and focused application is verily the process of filling "the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run", as conceived of by Rudyard Kipling. This, in essence, is also the art of putting more work into one's hours instead of merely more hours into work. This, doubtless, is excellence in action!
Indeed, timely, intelligent and effective pursuit of one's dreams is the forerunner to his 'waking up' to making these dreams come true, where he is also happy and fulfilled in the feeling that these actually did come true!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LEAVE STIMULUS ALONE, THINK GROWTH
The fiscal purists in the Capital are having a field day, it seems. There's much talk of exiting the fiscal stimulus, in a jiffy preferably, now that the economic growth numbers look rather impressive. Instead, what's required is a more nuanced benefit-cost analysis of the fiscal expansion of the last couple of years, so as to design forward-looking public policy.
The latest data do suggest growth revival in the cards, but the figures are on a low base and the momentum in the trend rate appears, as yet, weak. So, it would be hasty in policy terms to chalk out the Centre's exit from the expansionary fiscal mode, in Budget 2010. What's surely needed is proactivity to boost the growth momentum.
It cannot, of course, be gainsaid that high fiscal deficits can and do cause economic harm, and so are plain avoidable under reasonably normal circumstances. But we have only tentatively begun to emerge from the grimmest global growth scenario in decades, so what's warranted is ample caution in existing the loose fiscal stance. Note that there's been much lowering of tax rates, especially on the indirect tax front, specifically in taxes on production (read: excise duty). There's also been considerable spurt in government spending lately, as a part of the fiscal stimulus put in place to shore up faltering growth.
The Budget for this year, for instance, has brought about fiscal expansion, adding up to 4.1% of gross domestic product over 2007-08 levels. Now, it could be argued, generally speaking, that over-extended government finances and high fiscal deficits can lead to dearer cost of funds and higher interest rates, due to private investment being 'crowded out'. Also, high fiscal deficits can drive down the real effective exchange rate. And currency depreciation together with high interest rates may well show up as high inflation. It can all add up and lead to a balance of payments crisis, as happened in circa 1991.
But the fact of the matter is that the economy now is more robust, competitive and open than in the days of autarky and pre-reform. The sterling growth in export of invisibles, remittances and capital flows have clearly bolstered the rupee albeit a little too much at times resulting in low inflation. The current uptick in prices seems confined largely to select food items like pulses.
As India picks up and sustains economic speed, with high-growth segments like services and manufactures, domestic inflation would tend to be determined by global inflation, which is low. Besides, there's no case really to agonise about trade offs between possible benefits of loose fiscal policy now and high costs in the medium term and beyond.
The point is that in the present Indian context, with significant higher outlays committed for infrastructure, wage goods and social overhead capital, fiscal expansion does not quite crowd out private investment rather, there's widespread 'crowding in', in positive anticipation and expectation of growth right across the board. So, it can well be surmised that fiscal expansion, against the backdrop of high growth and rising incomes, actually strengthens future potential including that for governmental revenues.
In any case, going by the latest numbers, we have not quite traversed the decelerating growth trend of the past several months. Note that in the second quarter of 2009-10, when overall growth did 'rebound' to 7.9% on a year-on-year basis, growth in private final consumption expenditure was a lacklustre 0.9%. In a sequentially, seasonally-adjusted basis, the attendant numbers do show evidence of a turnaround, but it remains to be seen whether a firm trend is underway. Hence, it would be premature to begin exiting the fiscal stimulus.
There is certainly a case for fiscal correction and real consolidation by, for example, exercising greater expenditure restraint in the budgeting process. The way ahead is to purposefully reform the warped, open-ended subsidy regime for petroleum products. But the idea of revving up excise duty surely needs to be shelved. We do, after all, need moderate indirect tax rates for the greater good. Indirect levies paid by all and sundry regardless of income tend to be regressive. It is welcome that the ratio of direct to indirect taxes is now 56%, but we do need to policy aim at a far more progressive ratio, say, 60%.
In parallel, what's required is to work out the numbers for fiscal policy multipliers. The fact is that there are tax multipliers and government spending multiplier effects economy-wide, following expansionary fiscal policy. Tax multipliers denote willingness to consume, and budgetary outlays have multiplier benefits in terms of outcome as well. Both the department of economic affairs and the Planning Commission need to have a thriving working paper series for informed policymaking.
It's entirely possible that the idea of Ricardian equivalence, postulated back in the 1970s in the US, which suggested that higher government borrowings and lower taxes are inadvisable as households would expect higher taxes in the future (to pay for higher government debt) and so avoid consumption, is not applicable for India today.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE ICELAND LINK TO LITTLE BRITAIN'S BIG FREEZE
I'm told these days, when western correspondents are posted to India, they're given a quiet advisory: avoid going on about the beggars, servants, poverty or heat. Similarly, I've consciously refrained from going on about the infamous British weather. Even though, exactly like every stereotype, the Brits (and all of us who live here) incessantly and obsessively talk weather all year around. To most outsiders, it's a weird Brit custom to us, it's a wholly-absorbing subject.
This week though, the capricious weather has topped every chart, with parts of Scotland as cold as the South Pole, so I can finally inflict this on you, gentle reader. I've been getting loads of queries from India as world audiences see images of a UK and Europe and America trapped in what we're calling the Big Freeze.
Okay, first the travel advisory. Most of the horrific images you see are way up north and southwest, in rural areas. TV crews have fanned out to the remotest locations, and naturally those images are way more dramatic than boring London streets. London's still in single digits minus that is but places like Scotland, Cornwall and the north are hitting the 20s below zero. If you were planning to travel to places like Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle or Cardiff, I'd reconsider.
And of course, as usual, we're not prepared, while people in places like Minnesota just carry on. Americans here always want to know why the Brits can't deal with a little winter. Well, we can't mostly, deal with any kind of severe weather.
It's because this quaint li'l island off Europe is buffeted by every odd weather condition on both sides of the Atlantic. About the only thing we can depend on, the weather will be unpredictable, variable, wildly off any scale, in any season. It can fluctuate between arctic and tropical, all in the same week.
We always moan how this happens all the time. In winter, there's snow, in summer, floods this year in the Lake district or heatwaves, Spring's just cranky, Autumn's moody. So well, nobody invests in snowtires or ploughs, councils run out of salt grit the stuff they spread on the roads so snow doesn't turn into ice water pipes and gas pipes freeze, boilers invariably collapse, and most of the relatively-inadequate heating dies. This year, it seems that national gas reserves are running low, and industry has been told to use alternative fuel like coal. Well. We are compulsive about the weather, because it's like a live, often malevolent entity, a deity who rules our lives and demands constant attention.
The joke this time around is that this arctic blast is being sent our way from Iceland, just like last year. It's an odd coincidence. But both times, exactly when the mercury tanks, Britain is embroiled in a row with Iceland. I know the Norse Gods are supposed to be mythic, but well, who knows those Viking types? It's very, very easy to believe in the wrath of Thor or Odin just about now.
The Iceland saga is strangely fascinating. Here's what's happening. In 2008, Iceland's funky online banks collapsed, leaving over 300,000 British depositors stranded, since the bank owed far more than what Iceland's deposit guarantee fund could finance. In the heat of that moment, the British government changed its deposit guarantee schemes, and quickly reimbursed Icesave depositors by 100%.
Somewhere along the way, that became a sovereign loan by the UK and the Netherlands to Iceland, structured so that Iceland has to pay some £3.4 billion, a significant chunk of its GDP over years. To add insult to injury, the UK government used anti-terror legislation to freeze out Icelandic entities. The old Nato ally has not forgotten, or forgiven that slur.
Now, even though Iceland's government (a new one) initially agreed, Icelanders insist on a public referendum. The public is willing to pay what their laws decreed, but not the onerous package now demanded, which is variously being called too harsh by almost everybody including British commentators. Paying this debt will, according to estimates, cost each Icelander about £7,000 odd, and practically impoverish the already-reeling nation. Icelanders say Britain used its clout in the European Union, International Monetary Fund and London's financial control in the region to bully and blackmail a weaker neighbour.
Icelanders don't think they should be held solely responsible for the failure of an FSA-regulated private bank, a decision by the UK government, and the cupidity of British and Dutch depositors. They want negotiations to be reopened for a fairer deal. Now, not-so-veiled threats are flying thick and fast, but Iceland is a democracy, and there's precious little anyone can do if its people are willing to bear the consequences of defiance which some feel can't be worse than agreeing to the deal.
Strangely enough, if you go by the online posts and reactions, a lot of Britons are totally in sympathy with Iceland. Taxpayers of the world, it seems, are uniting against the common enemy, banks and governments. It all sounds eerily reminiscent of how rich nations used to 'negotiate' aid and financial arrangements with poor nations in the 1970s. Meanwhile, does anybody know how to placate angry Norse Gods?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
I AM A FILMMAKER, NOT A BUSINESSMAN: AAMIR
MEENAKSHI VERMA AMBWAN
"I enjoy watching cricket, but I am not going to bid for IPL. I would like to stick to what makes me happy. Telling stories is what makes me happy."
Aamir Khan is in a relaxed mood these days after the stupendous success of Three Idiots, the biggest Indian blockbuster of all times. The 44-year-old actor was in the capital recently on an invitation from the finance ministry to speak at a three-day retreat organised for its senior officials. He spoke to ET in a free-wheeling interview on subjects close to his heart . Excerpts:
Congratulations on the success of Three Idiots, which has grossed over Rs 300 crore worldwide within 17-18 days of its release. Did you actually think the film would be such a big hit?
You can never imagine that. Actually I was just hoping it would cross Ghajini, because Ghajini itself is so huge and to try and come close to it itself is a huge task. I was happy with the way the film had turned out. But I never imagined that it would be so big. The movie is still running and its gross revenues can go anywhere between one-and-a-half to two times more than Ghajini's revenues.
A lot has been said about the unconventional marketing that you did for Three Idiots. How important is marketing for a movie? Have blogs and Twitter become indispensable for Indian actors as marketing tools?
Film making is all about communication. You are telling a story to someone. So once you are ready with the story, you will have to tell people that you are making this story and would they like to hear this. That's what marketing is at the end of the day So if I don't tell anyone that I am about to tell a story how will people know? So certainly marketing is important. But the best that marketing can do is to get you a good opening on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Big stars or the goodwill of a director can only get you a good opening. Ultimately, what's going to take your film forward is the film itself.
You have responded to the Chetan Bhagat controversy on your blog. You have also written that it is important for everyone to distance from this incident to be unemotional and objective.
I would like to speak about this, but as I said in my blog, not right now. The details and facts will not change in a month from now and I would rather discuss it then.
Do you think the rolling credits should be shown in the beginning of the movie rather than the end?
All I want to say are the four facts of the case. The producers in this case have officially bought the rights through a legal contract from the writer of the book. The writer has been paid his money. The writer has been given credit exactly how he asked for it in the contract. He has got a bonus also. I don't want to say anything beyond this right now.
The movie has done extremely well in some international markets like the UK and Australia? How important are international revenues for Indian films?
In the US, it was huge and has done revenues that are double of what the previous best movie earned. I am not a numbers person, but I can tell you that my audience is important to me no matter what part of the world they live in, whether its Varanasi or Chanderi (the places that I went to for the film's promotion ). I want the man living there to like my film and I also want a person living in Paris to like it as well. I would like to reach out to more and more people and engage them.
What do you think contributed to a huge repeat audience for the movie - something that we rarely see these days?
First of all the kind of humour there is in the film, especially the one-liners that Raju (Hirani) and Abhijat (Joshi) have written. The film is entertaining and engaging, when it is not making you laugh, it is making you cry. And it is also enriching since it is teaching you so much. All of these things have contributed to the film's big success and repeat audience. But I think above all this is one factor, that is Raju Hirani. In my opinion his innate goodness as a human being comes through in his work and that intangible quality he has, which gets into his films, is what is taking it beyond. Even when he is showing his negative characters, he looks at them with warmth. That is the kind of person he is and that is what takes the film beyond.
You say you are not a numbers person, but surely numbers define a movie's commercial success. Would you have been disappointed if 3i didn't turn out to be as big a hit as Ghajini?
Numbers do not excite me. If I wanted to earn more money, I would have done four films in a year and multiplied my earnings. For me numbers is a yardstick. They tell me how many people have seen the film, how many times have people seen it and how many times the tickets have been sold. Numbers tell me how much the audience have loved the film.
In the future would we see you more often as a producer, an actor or a director?
You would see me in all these three roles. In fact my next film which I have produced is called Peepli Live. It has been written and directed by Anusha Rizvi who is making her first film. She has written a story which I really loved. It is a satire, a kind of black comedy on rural life of India, administration on local politics, society, and media. A satire on all of us. It is a film that makes you laugh and also breaks your heart. It will release mid-year. As a director and actor I will start reading scripts after two months. As an actor I have another film called Dhobi Ghat that will be come out by the end of the year and it's written and directed by my wife Kiran. It is too early to say when exactly it will release.
What are your future plans for production company Aamir Khan films? Would you look at listing it?
Aamir Khan Films will work as an independent production house. I see myself and my company as a handloom weaver (smiles). We are not a factory, but a small unit that makes films out of passion and love. And it is not purely a business for us. We would like to make films that we believe in and make them economically viable, no doubt. Our thrust of selection of films will be based on our emotions. That is how I have worked for the last 22 years as an actor and that is how my company will operate.
I am not a businessman, but a film maker. When we need money we will raise it in the best possible way. But I don't feel the need to go public or sell shares. What will I do with all that money? Raising funds would also depend on project to project. While I would like to fund some of the projects myself, for others I would like to get a partner. But for me a partner would not just bring in money but also certain value to the film.
You have also produced some commercials. Would you look at it as a serious business?
We do not produce commercials. That is not our business. In the past some of the people who were involved in the endorsement side asked us to make the advertisements. I have produced most of the Coke ads. We do it as a one off assignment, if someone requested us. I enjoy doing advertisements. Some of the stories in these advertisements were challenging stories like what I have done for Tata Sky.
Would Aamir Khan Films look at content production for television?
I don't know. I have not thought about it. Right now I am only looking into making films. But I am not close minded about something. If something exciting comes up we will look into it.
We have seen a lot of actors owning teams of the Indian Premier League. Would you consider bidding for it?
I enjoy watching cricket but I am not looking at bidding for IPL. I would like to stick to what makes me happy. Making films and telling stories is what makes me happy and that is how I would like to spend my time.
What do you look into a brand before you sign for its endorsement and what does brand Aamir Khan stands for?
I look for reliability, energy, integrity, dignity, honesty and if it has the ability to engage.
You have taken a dig at the education system in India through your films like Tare Zameen Par and 3I. What needs to be changed in this system?
I am not taking a dig at the education system. I am very much part of the society of which the education system is a part of. I am also a parent. So, in my opinion, there are a lot of areas where we can improve. And in my opinion, education minister Kapil Sibal is someone who has lots of progressive thoughts on this issue and seems to be doing a fair amount. And there are a lot of other educationists who are working very hard behind the scenes to take education forward in the right direction. But yes, there are certain things that need to be changed in the education system.
All of us have a first hand experience of the education system since we have been students. So both these films shed a positive light on issues we as creative people have discovered in our research. I'm not interested in taking at dig at something. I'm looking at constructively trying to improve things for our children and ourselves.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'SEP WILL MAKE COS SMARTER'
In the alphabet soup of outsourcing that includes BPO, KPO and LPO, the country's largest business process outsourcing company, the $1-billion Genpact, has added one more: SEP, or smart enterprise processes. Genpact claims it's not just another acronym dished out overnight but a rigorous scientific methodology for managing processes.
Over the last 18 months, Genpact analysed over 200 million transactions within 3,000 processes to develop SEP, which the company says can deliver two-to-five times the impact on improved cash flow, margins, revenue growth or other targeted financial and operating metrics. Pramod Bhasin, Genpact's CEO and president, explains why SEP is relevant, and also the outlook for BPO sector and more.
Genpact was spun out of GE with a strong Six Sigma heritage. So, is SEP repackaged Six Sigma? "If that was the case, we would spend a lot of money in branding, signages and promotions which we are not. All enterprises, be they in technology, manufacturing, financial services or product development, apply very little science to managing processes. There are very few benchmarks and very few measurements available on how good a process is," says Mr Bhasin.
But companies track processes with a hawk's eye. Companies like Cisco close accounts on a daily basis. "If everyone was doing it really well, there won't be delays. Document-processing for a loan, insurance policy, a mortgage can take up to 90 days, but in best-of-class companies, it takes less than 10 days. If you go to a Bloomingdales outlet and they are offering a 10% discount on their credit card which you may not have, you will get a new card in just two minutes and avail of the discount. Why can't everyone do it like that?" wonders Mr Bhasin.
The company underwrites truck loans for Hertz Penske, a truck-leasing company. "If somebody comes to lease one of their trucks, we compete on time to say yes. You can't wait for 80-90 days to process it, but in less than, say, a week. Otherwise, the competitor company will get the order.
So how does SEP fit in? The best companies complete processes quickly and smartly. Hence, the impact on cost is huge with better customer retention, customer yield and customer service. "With SEP, we are making enterprises smarter." Mr Bhasin is satisfied that SEP will give his clients the much-needed edge over competitors.
Has SEP helped Genpact win new customers? "A lot of companies are interested. Simple things like account-payable processes best companies process about 30,000 per person per month. Many probably do only 400 and want us to improve that. SEP applies analytics, best practices, technology and reengineering to improve key processes that a company uses to manage its businesses."
So, how has SEP improved operational efficiency in clients' business? When SEP was used at Miami Children's Hospital, it reduced patient waiting time by 18% and improved customer satisfaction by 3%. About 140 core processes were optimised to achieve that. The hospital is on track to achieve 15% increase in net operating income. "Genpact is now keen to offer these solutions to hospitals in India to help them improve patient care in India improve processes and cut out delays," Mr Bhasin adds.
But what will SEP do to Genpact? "Over the years, SEP will do two to three things to us. One, this is not going to be price-per-employee but price-per-outcome. We will be asking clients to give us a portion of gains we deliver. Margins could be at least 5-7 percentage points higher. Our operating margins are running around 17% at present this will improve. Second, it will help our customer win rates. In terms of revenue potential, it is early, but it has to be in hundreds of millions of dollars over a period of time."
Genpact is $1-billion-plus company. Where does it see itself over the next couple of years? "We want to be leaders in managing business processes. We will look at acquisitions as well both in India and outside though we are being careful as valuations are high."
There was much talk about slowdown resulting in more work coming to India. Has this happened? "The market is still tough. However, in the mid-to-long term, things look much better now."
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'TIME NOT RIPE FOR REMOVING STIMULUS'
G GANAPATHY SUBRAMANIAM & SOMA BANERJEE
With export decline getting arrested, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma is now setting his sights higher. In an interview with ET NOW, he explained his vision for rapid economic growth, poverty alleviation, food production, FDI policy and the role of SEZs in the country's export growth. Excerpts:
Has the Indian economy recovered from the impact of global slowdown?
The slowdown was universal, but not uniform. India started feeling the impact from October 2008. The export sector was among the first to be affected and the negative growth in exports peaked to around 40% in May 2009. There has been a turnaround due to a number of policy initiatives: the stimulus packages, Budget 2009 and the new foreign trade policy. My major concern is labour-intensive sectors like handicrafts and I feel that recovery is not complete yet.
India's share of global exports is less than 2% and we should close the gap by the middle of 2011 and the aim thereafter is to achieve 25% growth in exports every year. We should double India's trade by 2010 in terms of volume and by 2020 in terms of India's share in global trade. The negative growth in exports tapered off in October 2009 to 6% and then we saw 18% growth in November 2009. We are not getting complacent, we know that low base effect has played a role in getting to the positive territory.
Even in December 2009, I hope the growth in exports will be positive. Seen in the context of the global export contraction of 9%, we have tackled the slowdown bravely. If major governments across the globe had not acted in time, in a coordinated manner, the recession could have turned into a depression.
What will be the right time to wind down the stimulus measures?
Recovery so far has been stimulus-led and stimulus-fed. We will end 2009-10 with a GDP of 7.5%, if not more. Industrial growth is in double digits and the core sector is doing well. Domestic demand has played a role in the recovery and generation of jobs as well as income. Our banks did not need any recapitalisation and India's stimulus has worked the best. Savings rate has grown and that has provided a solid base. We need high growth over a sustained period to bring millions out of poverty. Therefore, we have to be pragmatic and realistic in our approach.
Even if we have done well, we need high level of growth to sustain the momentum, create infrastructure and generate jobs. We have to sustain high growth for at least two decades. Interest subvention and easier availability of credit should continue. Due to high cost of capital, Indian industry was always at a disadvantage. I know that FM has his concerns. Being a seasoned leader, he is well apprised. We would not have growth without the stimulus measures. A few months of good show in the run-up to the Budget should not lead to steps that will hurt us in the long run.
What steps do you have in mind for improving the investment climate?
We have an investment-friendly regime and a regulatory framework to address grievances. India has been ranked as the second most-sought-after investment destination in a survey done in Japan. Previous studies had put India behind China and the US, but the new study places India ahead of the US. Our investment regime provides stability and predictability, but there are state-specific problems.
We have set up a core committee to bring about a uniform regime across the country and the panel's report should be in by March. We are also expanding e-governance and promoting the country through Invest India. Investment is safe in India, returns are good and foreign investors get a fair deal. Now we are in the process of bringing out a composite document containing the FDI policy for all sectors, replacing the 177 press notes that govern the FDI norms now.
Should India venture into Africa for production of food?
We should look at partnerships between private sector in India and Africa. The partnership could be extended to the government level as well and should be a mutually-beneficial one. The African countries concerned should be in a position to enhance their production and meet domestic demand, while the surplus can be supplied to India. Barring pulses and edible oils, we are not short of food except times when vagaries of nature affect production. However, it's time we launched a second green revolution and meet our growing demand domestically. Strictly speaking, it is not my domain, but we should reduce our post-harvest losses.
Should we allow FDI in retail?
FDI is permitted in cash-and-carry trade, up to the wholesale point. And corporates are allowed to invest in retail. That should take care of the backend. Once the retailers buy directly from farmers, both consumers as well as the producers will benefit. I don't think the time has come for us to review the FDI policy. After infrastructure and energy, I consider food processing to be one of the important segments that need investment promotion and FDI is already allowed in that segment.
Are you looking at a review of the policy for FDI through holding companies?
Policies are dynamic, but there is no review now. We are only putting together all the existing policies in a single, composite document. In the case of FDI through holding companies, the new policy is clear. It has been formulated by an empowered group of ministers and approved by the Cabinet.
What role will SEZs play in your long-term export promotion plans?
SEZs are doing well and exports from this segment were around Rs 1 lakh crore during 2008-09. I expect exports from this segment to virtually double this fiscal year. SEZs should also bring in new technology and infrastructure upgradation. I have said that incentives available to SEZs should continue. We are now planning to set up dedicated investment and manufacturing zones that will focus on the manufacturing sector. The share of manufacturing in our GDP should go up to 25% as compared to 16% now. We will identify partner-states that will host these zones. The policy is under discussion and the concept will be finalised soon.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE GAINED FROM FINANCIAL CRISIS'
MAYUR SHETTY & SANGITA MEHTA
It started as an internet broking firm that wanted to be India's answer to Charles Schwab. In less than a decade, Indiabulls spread itself across old world businesses like real estate, power and commodities. It's meteoric rise has surprised established players in the property and financial markets, sparking rumours of Indiabull's strong connections with the powers that be. In an interview with ET, Indiabulls Financial Services CEO Gagan Banga tells how the group has gained from the downturn and why diversfication makes sense.
From being an internet broking company, you have branched out to property, power and commodities. Why?
The thought was essentially that stockbroking helps you to start fast and break even rather quickly and requires limited capital. We started finance later, as it required capital and a distribution. Once we had done that the natural trajectory for any business house is to think of how to start accruing more annuity like incomes to cash flows.
In real estate, once you have invested in a building, commercial rentals keep coming back on a daily basis. Subsequently, the power business is also in pursuit of getting more annuity income into the group. While building various financial services one starts understanding markets a little bit and once that happens you look at various opportunities that the markets offer. We saw an opportunity in commodities.
But going forward, how will your financial services business expand?
Financial services is the business which has around Rs 4,400 crore of capital and therefore, it is in a position today to incubate financing-related capital, requiring businesses like commodities and our proposed foray into life insurance. Indiabulls Securities is more of a fee-based income company. It will do stockbroking activity, other fee-based income sourcing of mutual funds, sourcing of life insurance and, most importantly, it is getting transformed into a retail-cum-institutional brokerage from a retail brokerage house.
What kind of an asset book do you have in IBFS?
Our job is to ensure that without running an asset-liability mismatch we borrow and lend to the mass market. We do a lot of SME funding where the security is provided by mortgaging the borrower's house. We do commercial vehicle funding, and now we are looking at farm equipment financing. We are already doing infrastructure equipment financing. The objective is that from a balance sheet of around Rs 9,000 crore, the growth is at a gradual rate of 30-35% on an annual basis and for that we also grow our distribution network on a gradual basis.
What was the reason for break-up with SocGen for life insurance?
From the time we entered into a joint venture in April 2008 and reached the second stage of registration when we filed our R2 application, the world had changed. For us, in the near-to-medium future, this will be our only life company and if we are in it, we would like to scale it up. Therefore, after some dissonance, we decided to walk our own paths.
We will now go with a new partner and we are in discussion with a few. The partnership structure with SocGen was that they will come with a premium but we will control the company. This was a perfect structure and we will replicate that with our new partner. We will build a business with a profitability focus. Market share was never a reason for worry. Being the lead indicator, profits have always been important.
Has your sourcing of funds changed after the financial crisis?
Indiabulls gained massively from the financial crisis. Before the crisis started, our style was very conservative and through the financial year April 2008 to March 2009, IBFCS ensured that it had cash or access to cash of around Rs 3,000 crore at any given time. By the end of 2008, practically all public sector banks were funding us. We used the crisis through our conservative balance sheet approach and we de-grew assets from Rs 13,000 crore to Rs 8,000 crore by March 2009.
This was viewed positively by banks and financial institutions. At this point of time, I am sitting on Rs 2,500 crore of approvals. Our cost of funds is well within control and is currently under 10%. I think this type of an environment will come once in a few years and this will be the best phase for non-banking finance companies.
Given your reliance on banks, won't you hit their exposure limits? What other areas of lending will you get into? Do you still have plans for a bank licence?
In our eyes, HDFC is a role model that we would like to emulate. It has shown that you can get assets of Rs 89,000 crore being wholesale-funding dependent without blowing up. We will look at a banking structure whenever regulations permit. We do not want to do below cost of funds or long-dated products. We will go for only those products which will allow us to grow more but within tight risk parameters. We hope that tomorrow if we are funding for sectors and are managing our transactions, RBI will allow us to open a bank whenever regulations open up.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PHILIPS WILL ENGAGE MORE WITH YOUTH
Europe's largest consumer electronics company, Philips, is globally repositioning itself as a health and well-being company. The idea is to emerge from being yet another TV manufacturer into product segments that are closely focused on improving living through innovations. In an interview, Philips Electronics India chief marketing officer Vivek Sharma outlines challenges and plans on how business transformation will unfold in India. Excerpts:
What would repositioning mean for Philips India?
Philips is driving its health and well-being agenda on the backbone of the health and sustainability mega trends taking shape across the globe. Sustainable growth is a key agenda driving both public and private sectors and is being sought via green energy and accessible healthcare. All of this has resulted in and is reflected in the growing demand and awareness from the consumer for healthy food, pure water, and healthy ways of living, increased demand for green lighting, accessible healthcare and lighting solutions for rural India.
The Philips product and solutions portfolio in the consumer lifestyle, lighting and healthcare sectors is well poised to drive and participate in these trends. We are shaping our products and solution offerings to serve the health and sustainability needs of people, businesses and the government. We are focusing more in areas such as water purifiers, juicers, food processors, mother and child, value segment healthcare, home healthcare, green lighting solutions, home decorative lighting, modular switches and rural needs like solar powered lighting.
Philips has traditionally been associated as a TV, music system and lighting company in India. How difficult will it be to reposition the business?
As part of our strategy, we will keep the Philips brand positioning of 'sense and simplicity' intact in India. What we will do is to shift the focus of the domain in which the brand Philips will operate. We have widened and redefined the domain as 'health and well being' and it allows Philips to better serve the current and future needs of people.
Philips has been a trusted part of Indian lives for more than 80 years and with its universal awareness, acceptance and trust, it has been challenging but not difficult to shift the focus of its domain to health and well being.
What kind of marketing and brand-building plans will you adopt to enable this change?
The brand strategy will be to drive customer and consumer loyalty by improving the brand experience. Let me elaborate we aim to provide superior retail and consumer care experience. We have opened 30 lighting lounges and 150 shop-in-shops for consumers to see and experience our home decorative lighting range; we are extending the concept of health corners, grooming corners in the NCR region to other cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The first One Philips store has opened in Noida showcases our complete consumer range across lifestyle and lighting.
The other part of the brand strategy is to increase the brand distribution footprint, especially in rural areas. The brand will engage more with youth through shaving and grooming products such as electric shavers, hair stylers, dryers and mobile entertainment products like MP3 players. Philips will increasingly become more aspirational and desirable to the young as well as the high-end consumers.
Do you think marketing strategies in the industry will change post-recession?
There has been no recession in India. The India economic growth story continues and is getting stronger by each quarter. However, in a globally-connected world where people are aware of difficulties being faced in other parts of the world and the sentiments reach India as well, the mindsets of consumers are changing. The consumers are not only spending and buying, but are also more cautious about seeking value. They no longer see value in freebies and promotions, but seek long-term lasting value through real technology products based on real insights at a real price. They have a more realistic mindset. Second, aspiration for better technology is no longer related to socio-economic class a person in rural area desires the best technology possible and is not willing to settle for less.
Hence, marketing strategies in the white goods industry have to recognise these trends and create more products around local insights of aspiration and value. The marketing communication has to acknowledge this realistic, value seeking and aspirational mindset of consumers. So, promotions and price alone may not be able to attract the consumer.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CEMENT OFFERS GOOD ENTRY OPPORTUNITY
He believes central banks in the West will be cautious in raising interest rates. And with excess capacity in the system, inflation excluding commodities is also less of a worry for them. In a free-wheeling interview with ET, Amit Lodha, fund manager, Fidelity International, London, says that emerging markets don't have excess capacity and commodity inflation especially oil and food. Yet, central banks in these markets may go in for pre-emptive hikes, he feels.
As a fund manager what is your sense of 2010? Is their any one favoured valuation metric that helps serve as a benchmark for your funds?
I expect 2010 to be a year where stock picking is more important, as cheap valuations that we saw post-March 2009 have all but disappeared. Conversely, the best companies show their true colours by restructuring aggressively and taking the market share during recessions. And I am focused on owning these names in my portfolio. We use a range of valuation measures. Given that markets go through cycles, there are different valuation measures that work well during different market cycles. Overall, I do tend to favour cash-flow valuation measures over earnings-based valuation measures.
You manage two funds the Global Industrial Fund and the Global Real Asset Securities Fund. What has been your investment approach and what is the fund-weighting like? Do you see any portfolio rejigging in 2010?
The mandate of the Global Real Assets Fund is to invest in equities backed by physical or identifiable assets as opposed to financial assets assets that can be touched like gold, copper, oil, land, factories etc. My investment approach is to look for equities which have assets that are either not easily replaced or are in short supply and are trading at reasonable valuations.
While the broad approach remains one of bottom-up stock pickings, we also spend a fair amount of time taking a macro view of the world. Based on our work globally, I am positive on steel, platinum, clean energy, fertilisers and Japanese engineering companies. I am more cautious on the outlook for base metals and believe oil is fairly valued.
Gold touched new highs in 2009 and could be found in most investor portfolios. What is your forecast for this precious metal in 2010?
I continue to favour precious metals exposure both platinum and gold. The medium-term investment case for gold is clearly backed by the fact that central banks in emerging market have less than 10% of their forex reserves in gold, while the US central bank, for example, has more than 60% of their forex reserves in gold. This will change over time and buying by central banks will continue to underpin a strong gold price. However, in the near term, if the economic recovery is strong, equities will do better than gold.
I prefer platinum to gold as platinum gives you the best of both worlds it's a precious metal with linkages to gold, but is also used in auto catalysts to reduce vehicle emissions. Consequently, platinum will do well in both scenarios when gold does well and an economic recovery drives increased car demand.
What is your call on commodities and the metal sector in particular? Do you see any shift in investor demand to base metals, going forward?
On average, commodity prices have now rebounded stronger than the historical average rebound over the past 40 years. Consequently, the margin of safety in commodity investments is clearly lacking. Our demand-supply analysis suggests that the average commodity price is now over 60% its marginal cost of production which suggests that the margin of safety in base metals is low. While I like the long-term dynamics of copper, I am cautious on it near term. My preference currently lies with platinum, steel, iron-ore manganese and nickel.
What is your call on oil? Do you see it back at $100?
Commodity prices, especially oil, are very difficult to forecast in the near term. Currently, oil at $70-80 seems fairly valued to me. Below $50, companies won't be incentivised to increase oil production which will be required to meet the needs of growing economies like China and India. However, if oil were to rise significantly above $100, it would become a big tax on growth. Further, OPEC will be incentivised to increase production to balance the market. Longer term, non-OPEC oil supply is constrained and the world needs to continue to invest in new sources of energy, especially clean energy technologies like solar.
Which sectors do you see fancy in general as well as India-specific?
I continue to invest in sectors which I think will gain from the growth that we are seeing in China and India and other emerging markets especially oil, fertilisers and precious metals. With regard to India, I expect growth for India, going forward, to be a lot more resource-intensive. In that context, I think, at some point in 2010, Indian cement companies will offer an excellent entry opportunity.
What is your view on the real estate sector in India?
The property sector has always been one of the big beneficiaries of rising incomes and growing credit penetration. And I don't expect India to be any different. However, investing in the sector from an equity investor's perspective is challenging, given lack of clear legal titles and the quick boom-bust cycles. Moreover, at its core, property development is a very local business which makes scalability a big issue. Consequently, I am more in favour of investing in sectors which gain from growth in the sector like cement, steel or construction companies.
SHAMEFUL CONDUCT HAS SICKENED INDIA
The telecast of a video clip showing two Tamil Nadu ministers watching a sub-inspector battling for life in a pool of blood after being attacked by pipe bombs and sickles by a murderous mob on their travel route has left the entire nation in shock and triggered widespread condemnation of the two men and their large retinue of officials and policemen. Sub-inspector R. Vetrivel could have been saved if only all these public servants had reacted quickly and got him to hospital in one of their cars or at least used a police escort vehicle. The cruel irony is that the killers on Thursday had mistaken the victim to be another sub-inspector whom they had been watching for a month while plotting his elimination for dumping his wife, the sister of one of the villains. The public disgust viewing those television replays through Friday and the following days got the DMK government in the state to undertake some damage-control efforts that only exacerbated the embarrassment. The two ministers Mr M.R.K. Panneerselvam, who ironically handles the health portfolio; and Mr T.P.M. Moideen Khan, environment minister got busy before TV cameras arguing that they had responded quickly under the circumstances by telephoning for an ambulance, which would have critical care equipment to handle the victim while being rushed to hospital. As it turned out, the ambulance was based too far to reach the spot quickly, and so at last the police officer in his final death throes was bundled into a police van and sent to hospital, only to be pronounced "dead on arrival". The sub-inspector, a father of two, had got a double promotion sometime back for being a member of the squad that hunted down dreaded forest brigand Veerappan in 2004. If the Tamil Nadu ministers' guffaws were disgusting, the Nellai district collector, Mr M. Jayaraman, provided even better footage for the TV cameras, putting his foot in the mouth, patiently explaining how important it was for the officers escorting the two ministers to ensure that there were no further casualties by acting in haste. The bureaucrat inadvertently blurted out the truth: that the ministers and those accompanying them took their time to go near the victim, writhing in pain after a pipe bomb blew off a part of his leg and the sickle attack resulted in profuse bleeding, because they were scared there could be an unexploded bomb lying nearby. Subsequently, the additional director-general of police, Mr K. Radhakrishnan, threw more light to bare the shame of the episode when he revealed that the killers were on Vetrivel when the ministerial convoy was just 200 metres away. That means they could have reached the spot in less than 10 seconds and yet, inexplicably, could only chase the assailants much after they had fled. The ADGP explains why: "Initially they did not know who the actual target was an individual or the ministers' convoy." Such testimony from the district collector and a senior state police officer clearly indicates that the two ministers and those escorting them kept a safe distance from the wounded man for fear of their own lives. The TV visual showing the victim pleading for water, and an escort policeman emptying a bottle on him from a distance, only goes to prove this further. The AIADMK supremo, Ms Jayalalithaa, has demanded that the Chief Minister, Mr M. Karunanidhi, drop the two ministers over their "inhuman" conduct.
THE GROWTH REDUX
BY ARJUN SENGUPTA
The New Year began with very good news about the Indian economy. During the last five years, 2004 to 2009, India's most backward states have shown remarkable growth. Bihar, which grew at 4.5 per cent a year between 2001 and 2005, showed a growth rate of 11.3 per cent between 2005 and 2009. Similarly, Odisha increased its growth performance from 4.94 to 8.74 per cent between these two periods; Jharkhand from 1.88 to 8.45 per cent and Uttar Pradesh from 3.34 to 6.29 per cent. If these figures are even approximately correct, they indicate the beginning of a major transformation of the Indian economy. The high growth performances of India in the last 20 years have been largely concentrated in the relatively richer states, bypassing the laggards which remained poor and underdeveloped. If they now register high growth, it will be a sure sign not only of the sustainability of our economic growth but also of steady reduction of poverty, because most of the poor live in these states.
It is tempting to dismiss these numbers as statistical aberrations, especially because the state's gross domestic product (GDP) figures are provided by the state statistical organisations, although the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) checks and monitors them. However, I am not inclined to dismiss them, because our statistical system is very robust and has been built over the years by highly competent experts. There may be glitches here and there but the average of five years may not be subject to any large error. We should rather try to find explanations for these changes and analyse the evidence systematically, with different indicators, private and public investments, plan expenditures, physical performance of infrastructure and further research. In case of Bihar, it is difficult to explain that agriculture grew at 7.9 per cent between 2005 and 2009 compared to 5.9 per cent of the previous five years. Both of these numbers are quite high, especially since we do not have much evidence of increase in agricultural investments or irrigation potential. There is also a substantial increase in services from 5.4 to 10.7 per cent a year during these two periods with trade, hotels and restaurants as well as communications expanding at more than 17 per cent. The Bihar economy must have become much more interconnected although we do not have very reliable figures for rural roads or transport other than railways.
The most astounding growth was in the area of industry which increased from 0.57 per cent in 2001 to 2005 to 22.37 per cent in 2005 to 2009. The major source of such industrial growth was construction which grew at 38.1 per cent during the last five years. These numbers may have been somewhat exaggerated, because product-flows approach of estimating construction is much less reliable for the states than for the country as a whole. Nevertheless, it is clear that construction is the leading sector in Bihar.
Construction activities generate substantial employment, especially of the unorganised workers. As the workers employed in this activity spend their incomes, the multiplier effect on domestic demand pushes the growth even further.
In India, construction has been the major source of growth in states which have been otherwise industrially backward. In Odisha, construction grew at 13.81 per cent in 2005 to 2009 compared to minus 1.7 per cent in 2001 to 2005. In Jharkhand, it was 11.87 per cent compared to 6.54 per cent in the previous five years and even in Uttar Pradesh, which has not performed that well overall, construction grew at 20.75 per cent in 2005 to 2009 compared to 6.8 per cent in 2001 to 2005. So the figures for construction in Bihar may seem to be excessive, but are not implausible and definitely not unwelcome.
The high growth of trade and communication in Bihar may have been linked to high growth of construction, of agriculture and associated activities and improved connectivity through rural roads. Such connectivity has also been a result of expanding communications, especially of IT and telephony. As there has not been commensurate increase in transport income, expanding trade must have been supported by alternative means of movement of goods.
My colleague from the Planning Commission and famous economist S.R. Hashim tells me that in the villages around his native place bordering Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, a new means of transport has emerged displaying the innovativeness of the Indian low-income business class. Many small shops have come up there selling soaps, detergents et cetera that are used by the villagers to wash their clothing at home instead of giving them to dhobis. As a result these dhobis have lost their business and the donkeys they used to move their clothes from village to village are now used to move tradable products from one village to another, in areas where there is no proper road connectivity. The donkeys can go to the interiors to facilitate trading activities and when the volume of business increases they are replaced by mules with additional capacity for expanding trade, incomes of producers rise and demand for other products increase to spread the growth in larger areas.
It seems there have been other collateral developments in many Bihar villages. Even though the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has not been very successful there, trade and other industrial activities, including agricultural growth, have pushed up wages. As incomes increased, people spent more on education and sent their children to private schools. According to Dr Hashim, there is an impressive increase in girls going to schools, moving from one village to another. The public health system has not improved very much but village shops increasingly trade in common and well-known drugs for diarrhoea, fever etc. These anecdotal evidences only confirm spreading development in Bihar even if we lack substantial hard evidence.
All economists should feel quite excited at these new developments. If there is enough expansion in public expenditure to create rural infrastructure roads, markets, schools and health centres together with expanding irrigation and private investment in agriculture this growth experience of Bihar can be replicated in other backward states.
* Dr Arjun Sengupta is a Member of Parliament and former Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
CHINA IS WIDE AWAKE, IS US SLEEPING NOW?
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
C.H. Tung, the first Chinese-appointed chief executive of Hong Kong after the handover in 1997, offered me a three-sentence summary the other day of China's modern economic history: "China was asleep during the Industrial Revolution. She was just waking during the Information Technology Revolution. She intends to participate fully in the Green Revolution".
I'll say. Being in China right now I am more convinced than ever that when historians look back at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, they will say that the most important thing to happen was not the Great Recession, but China's Green Leap Forward. The Beijing leadership clearly understands that the ET Energy Technology revolution is both a necessity and an opportunity, and they do not intend to miss it.
We, by contrast, intend to fix Afghanistan. Have a nice day.
OK, that was a cheap shot. But here's one that isn't: Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, liked to say that companies come to "strategic inflection points", where the fundamentals of a business change and they either make the hard decision to invest in a down cycle and take a more promising trajectory or do nothing and wither.
The same is true for countries.
The United States is at just such a strategic inflection point. We are either going to put in place a price on carbon and the right regulatory incentives to ensure that America is China's main competitor/partner in the ET revolution, or we are going to gradually cede this industry to Beijing and the good jobs and energy security that would go with it.
Is the US President, Mr Barack Obama, going to finish healthcare and then put aside the pending energy legislation and carbon pricing that Congress has already passed in order to get through the mid-terms without Republicans screaming "new taxes"? Or is he going to seize this moment before the mid-terms possibly his last window to put together a majority in the Senate, including some Republicans, for a price on carbon and put in place a real US engine for clean energy innovation and energy security?
I've been stunned to learn about the sheer volume of wind, solar, mass transit, nuclear and more efficient coal-burning projects that have sprouted in China in just the last year.
Here's email from Bill Gross, who runs eSolar, a promising California solar-thermal start-up: On Saturday, in Beijing, said Gross, he announced "the biggest solar-thermal deal ever. It's a two gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build plants in China using our California-based technology. China is being even more aggressive than the US. We applied for a (US department of energy) loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico, and in less time than it took them to do stage one of the application review, China signs, approves, and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project!"
Yes, climate change is a concern for Beijing, but more immediately China's leaders know that their country is in the midst of the biggest migration of people from the countryside to urban centres in the history of mankind. This is creating a surge in energy demand, which China is determined to meet with cleaner, home-grown sources so that its future economy will be less vulnerable to supply shocks and so it doesn't pollute itself to death.
In the last year alone, so many new solar panel makers emerged in China that the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents, according to the Times' bureau chief here, Keith Bradsher. Meanwhile, China last week tested the fastest bullet train in the world 217 miles per hour from Wuhan to Guangzhou. As Bradsher noted, China "has nearly finished the construction of a high-speed rail route from Beijing to Shanghai at a cost of $23.5 billion. Trains will cover the 700-mile route in just five hours, compared with 12 hours today. By comparison, Amtrak trains require at least 18 hours to travel a similar distance from New York to Chicago".
China is also engaged in the world's most rapid expansion of nuclear power. It is expected to build some 50 new nuclear reactors by 2020; the rest of the world combined might build 15.
"By the end of this decade, China will be dominating global production of the whole range of power equipment", said Andrew Brandler, the CEO of the CLP Group, Hong Kong's largest power utility.
In the process, China is going to make clean power technologies cheaper for itself and everyone else. But even Chinese experts will tell you that it will all happen faster and more effectively if China and America work together with the US specialising in energy research and innovation, at which China is still weak, as well as in venture investing and servicing of new clean technologies, and with China specialising in mass production.
This is a strategic inflection point. It is clear that if we, America, care about our energy security, economic strength and environmental quality we need to put in place a long-term carbon price that stimulates and rewards clean power innovation. We can't afford to be asleep with an invigorated China wide-awake.
OF DE'S TWEET & BIG B'S DIPLOMACY
SHOBHAA DE'S FAUX PAS
While veteran CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu fights for his life at a Kolkata hospital, celebrated author Shobhaa De has declared him dead. Not only that, she also paid him a tribute on Twitter on January 6. "Jyoti Babu's death is worth mourning", she tweeted. "I remember our last meeting at the Bengal Club vividly. Intellectual giant and idealist. Rare today. RIP", she wrote even as doctors said that the stalwart was responding to treatment. Surprisingly, Ms De did not bother to remove this tweet or correct it even two days later. Her next tweet was on watching 3 Idiots and how shabbily the filmmakers had handled Chetan Bhagat. That was a thoughtful remark, especially from someone who declared a senior leader dead while he was still alive.
Paa and the idiot
Between 3 Idiots and Paa, and between Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, it is the latter who proved to be a more successful diplomat. Both were recently in Gujarat seeking entertainment tax exemption for their respective films. Though Aamir had earlier enraged Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi by participating in the anti-Narmada dam stir, this time he praised the chief minister's girls' education scheme. But Aamir did not bother to meet the chief minister. On the other hand, the Big B not only dined with Mr Modi but also praised his simplicity and administrative acumen. He wrote a flattering eulogy on Modi the Common Man (aka chief minister) on his celebrated blog. Paa subsequently has become tax-free in Gujarat, while the decision on 3 Idiots is still on hold. It is now being said that Big B may even become Gujarat's brand ambassador!
Kalyan the family man
When leaders lose followers, they take desperate measures. Take the former BJP leader Kalyan Singh for instance. His 77th birthday was celebrated on January 5 and a hoarding came up in the high-security zone, barely 500 metres from the chief minister's residence, to felicitate him. But it evoked more guffaws than admiring glances.
The hoarding carried a huge mugshot of Mr Singh and birthday greetings. However, those wishing the leader happy birthday were his son Rajvir Singh and daughter-in-law Premlata. And for good measure, the hoarding also had pictures of Mr Singh's grandchildren all four of them in a row. When leaders hold sway, it is their supporters who felicitate them. But as the hoarding clearly indicates, Mr Singh does not have enough cohorts these days. In hard times, one needs family support.
The legal battle between the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, over gas supply in Supreme Court was not only confined to heated arguments between the lawyers, but it also triggered an unprecedented public relations blitz. A battery of smartly dressed PR men and women deployed by each side would be standing in front of the Chief Justice's court sharp at 10 am every day, thrusting loads of papers on every passing journalist.
Often, the overzealous girls thrust the papers on litigants too, leaving them perplexed. They were so aggressive that they even left journalists, usually eager to grab any piece of paper on a case, extremely tired. A loud sigh of relief was heard from the press box when the hearings finally ended.
Chair and tablecloth
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is known to be a stickler for detail though unruly MPs don't often allow her to have her way. So when she decided to oversee the arrangements for last week's Commonwealth Conference Speakers' Conference, the staff knew that everything would come under her scrutiny.
Ms Kumar scrupulously checked what would be on display at the exhibition on "Parliamentary Democracy in India: An Overview" at Vigyan Bhavan. But she did not stop at that. The Speaker also chose the flowers and tablecloths that would be used. The "Chair" had the final word on everything.
The usually media-savvy Telugu Desam president, N. Chandrababu Naidu, now avoids the press like the plague. It has been more than 20 days since he spoke to the media. The obvious reason is the "vertical split" in his party over Telangana. A tactful Mr Naidu has told both Telangana and Andhra-Rayalaseema leaders to agitate and speak for their regions while he would keep his mouth shut for the time being. Another reason for his maun vrat could be the suggestion that he don the mantle of "national president", like Mrs Sonia Gandhi, without aspiring for the chief ministership. This probably made him a little pensive.
LESSONS FROM WINNIE THE POOH
BY THICH NHAT HANH
We usually believe that consciousness is something inside us and we go and look for the world outside. We think there is an objective world outside and there is a subjective world inside.
Remember what we read in Winnie the Pooh? Winnie the Pooh thought he saw the footprints of a hostile animal, and he became afraid. But with the help of Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh discovered that the footprints he found on the snow were his own footprints!
The same thing is true with the object of our inquiry the so-called objective reality of the world. We think it is something distinct from our consciousness, but in fact it is only the object of our consciousness.
It is our consciousness. That's the hardest thing to understand and a basic obstacle for us and for science. Now a number of scientists are beginning to understand this concept.
British astronomer Sir Eddington said that on the unknown shore we have discovered footprints of unknown people, and we want to know who has been there before us. We come, inquire and investigate, and we find that they are our own footprints. The world outside is our consciousness, it is us. It is not something separate and distinct. The object and the subject of perception are one. Without subject, there is no object; without object, there is no subject. They manifest at the same time. To see means to see something. The seer does not exist separately from the seen; they manifest at the same time.
If you imagine that the seer is independent and goes out in order to see the seen, that is a mistaken perception.
Consciousness is always consciousness of something, and consciousness only lasts a millisecond.
Consciousness is like an elementary particle, like an electron; its nature is non-local. Non-locality is a word used by scientists about time in quantum physics.
An elementary particle can be everywhere at the same time.
We think that one thing cannot be at several places at once, but scientists have agreed that an elementary particle an electron can be both here and there at the same time. It can be both this and that at the same time. It can be you, it can be me.
Many philosophers and scientists have said that the nature of consciousness has a cinematographic nature. A film is made up of separate pictures that last only a fraction of a second. Consciousness is like that it lasts just one millisecond.
Then, because moments of consciousness succeed each other continuously, you have the impression that consciousness is something that lasts. But the notion of a permanent consciousness is illusion, not reality. Consciousness is only a flash.
Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most respected Zen masters in the world today. He is also a poet and peace and human rights activist. For information about Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness Meditation email firstname.lastname@example.org  or visit www.ahimsatrust.org 
'COPENHAGEN WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT'
Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for environment and forests, is determined to transform his ministry into the most "happening" ministry in the country. In an interview with Rashme Sehgal, Mr Ramesh says that he has launched several initiatives to protect the tiger and other endangered animals. However, he has been receiving his share of brickbats for pushing hard for the Copenhagen Accord at COP 15.
Q. Has the Kyoto Protocol been delivered a body blow with the emergence of the new block of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries?
A. It is in intensive care. Efforts are being made by the developed countries, including Japan and Australia, to abandon the protocol. The United States never ratified it in the first place. The fact of the matter is that the developed countries want a single legally-binding treaty. We (the developing countries) are resisting it. We do not want the Kyoto Protocol to die. We want to revive it and make it part of the climate agenda. In 2010, there will be negotiations for the post-2012 Kyoto Protocol commitments.
The European nations, the Japanese and Australians, do not want to be part of it. It's an interesting situation. The Australians complain that Chinese are not part of the protocol. Nor for that matter are the Americans.
China's emissions are to the tune of 23 per cent of world emissions, while those of the US are 22 per cent of world emissions. That means 55 per cent of the world's emissions are emanating from these two countries which are not part of the protocol.
Q. You seem to be keen to work closely with China.
A. I've written a book called Chindia, an abbreviation for China and India, which was published in 2005. The gist of the book is that India has to learn to engage with China. I am not a China baiter, nor a China romantic, nor do I suffer from China phobia. India must learn to engage with the largest economy in the world. If we had also followed a successful economic growth trajectory, we would have been in the same boat as China, which has grown much more spectacularly. Our poor delivery system saved us.
The traditional equation has been that prosperity is equal to pollution. Which is why I have been stressing the need to evolve a growth path where we invest in new technologies that are environment-friendly.
Q. That sounds very well but where do we have the resources and skills to move into this kind of low carbon growth?
A. We have to make the right choices. India cannot depend on the rest of the world. We have to develop our own financial and managerial resources in order to become a world leader in green technology. This requires us to shed our defensive approach.
Q. You cannot forget that the developing countries have been critical of the Copenhagen Accord.
A. Twenty-nine countries, which include Bangladesh, the Maldives and Ethopia, are party to the accord which was made possible because of the BASIC countries. We tried to take the G-77 nations along with us though they were not opposing the agreement, they were opposed to the process by which it was reached.
Let's face it, there was complete mismanagement by the Danes. They showed a complete lack of leadership and were not able to control events. The situation reached such a pass that the differences between the Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and their climate change minister Connie Hedegaard came to the fore during the climate meet. The developing countries were reacting negatively to the whole process. us President Barack Obama's intervention was the turning point. It helped finalise the accord and it was the American President who was responsible for selling what BASIC nations were proposing to the European nations.
Q. There seems to be more hype than substance in the accord.
A. The Copenhagen conference did not live up to expectations. But this is not the end of the world. We need to understand that this is not a destination it's part of the journey. There are complex scientific, political, economic and social issues involved about which we need to be very careful. Copenhagen was a isappointment.
Q. What was your own approach when you were there?
A. I refused to adopt a moralistic attitude in Copenhagen. We (Indians) are known to be sanctimonious and argumentative. Our own domestic agenda needs to be followed very aggressively. If this is followed through, and our own records improve, we will be able to negotiate better.
Q. What is the biggest obstacle in your ministry's inability to implement environmental schemes on the ground?
A. All our environmental laws are being passed by the Centre but they have to be implemented by the state governments. The states do not share our enthusiasm. It is for this reason that we will have to apply moral and political pressure and also offer them financial incentives in order to protect our forests. We are working on that.
State governments that are good at implementing environmental projects such as cleaning of rivers and ensuring effluents are not dumped in our rivers must be rewarded. All I can do is initiate action.
Q. What you are saying makes sense, but your ministry is giving licences left and right for mining projects. Will this not destroy our forests further?
A. In the last seven months I have stopped a number of projects in Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala and Jharkhand. Earlier, 95 per cent of projects that sought clearance would get approved and another 85 per cent received forestry clearance. I have told my officers that they should have a higher rate of rejection.
Q. Can you give instances of projects you have actually rejected ?
A. I have rejected a power project in Karnataka, a railway project in Jharkhand and mining projects in Maharashtra. The ministry has to learn to say "no".
Q. How are the state governments responding to your "Nos"?
A. Some state governments are responding. We have to create conditions in which they become partners. Consultations and frequent meetings are the best way to ensure this. Let me tell you, this is a thankless job. Industry, trade and politicians criticise me when I say "no" and environmentalists criticise me every time we clear a project. Whatever I do, I am going to receive brickbats from somebody or the other.
SETBACK FOR KARZAI
VICTORY IN ELECTION, DEFEAT IN PARLIAMENT
THE paradox wasn't quite anticipated. Hamid Karzai has won the presidential election in Afghanistan, but he has lost the support of parliament. It is a legislative verdict that reflects poorly on his leadership, indeed qualities over which even the US and its allies have their reservations. In a resounding message to the President, the legislators have overwhelmingly rejected his nominees for cabinet appointments, expressing doubts over the ability of those chosen. As many as 17 of the 24 cabinet nominations have been turned down. In words more blunt, the Afghan parliament has rejected the government that he had tried to put in place. Karzai's fraudulent image has been further dented. And the setback isn't the President's alone; it is a damning in-house indictment that might make the task of internal policing still more intricate for the Western powers.
Ever since the disputed election last October, Karzai was under pressure, both from the opposition and the West, to assemble a cabinet free of corruption and sloth. This might have made amends for the fraudulent vote. Parliament's recent vote confirms that he hasn't met the benchmark, let alone consult the legislators during the nomination process. The common grouse seems to be that the cabinet doesn't represent Afghanistan's ethnic mix.
Clearly, the lawmakers are as anxious to protect their ethnic turfs as they are to have a corruption-free government. And quite plainly, Karzai has failed to satisfy either demand. In forming the new ministry, he had bowed to American pressure as much as to the warlords to whom he owes not a little for the spurious election. It is significant that parliament has retained the ministers with whom the world leaders are believed to be happy, pre-eminently those handling the crucial portfolios of the interior, finance and defence. At the end of the day, the cabinet as an entity is of lesser moment than Barack Obama's double-think on the Af-Pak policy and last month's judicial stricture on the Pakistan President. The cabinet can at worst be a reward for Karzai proteges; at best an agreeable element in the overall construct.
RULE OF THE ARMY
CIVILIAN FAILURE ON THE MAIDAN
There may be hope yet for the Maidan with Friday's robust appeal by the Army to allow it to have its way as the custodian. The dichotomy between military control and the civilian role in maintenance must end. As must the environmentally destructive exhibitions and party rallies. Neither the police nor the PWD, controlled as they are by the party and the government, have been able to safeguard the Maidan. And the Eastern Command is spot on when it asserts that both these official entities have "failed miserably".
The subtext of the appeal makes it clear that both organisations and parties have "defaulted" in their commitments. To the extent that the Calcutta High Court order of 2007 to protect the Victoria Memorial from pollution is breached each time a rally is convened. And it will be again by pilgrims and trucks during the Ganga Sagar mela and yet again in February when the Left Front is scheduled to hold a rally. That statement of fact is as applicable to the organisers of the Kolkata Book Fair as the CPI-M and the Trinamul Congress. The army could well have roped in the KMC as well; the municipal authorities are invariably held responsible by the civilian administration for carrying out the clean-up operation.
If the lungs of the city are dependent on conservancy work, the damage that has been wrought over time can well be imagined. It confirms this newspaper's misgivings ~ "murder of the Maidan'' ~ in the wake of the construction of the Metro Railway that paralleled the emergence of the hawkers' market. From the early Seventies to now, the degradation has been almost beyond redemption. The court order is routinely violated and vigilance has been so lax as to allow a part of the Maidan to be occasionally converted to an open-air kitchen. Justified, therefore, is the suggestion for a blanket ban on rallies even if they are an "inescapable necessity". If the rules of engagement are consistently violated, it's time for the Army to step in with full control of the greens.
STAR OF GUJARAT
BACHCHAN FINDS MORE POLITICAL FRIENDS
THE sequence of events was too glaring to be missed. Amitabh Bachchan, who has been claiming through all his years of proximity with the Samajwadi Party that he is far away from politics, chose just the moment that Amar Singh resigned from the party posts to declare his desire to become the face of a BJP-ruled state. And the day after the Bollywood icon made this welcome gesture, the state's chief minister from whom he would not have expected any hospitality till a few months ago granted tax exemption to a film co-produced by the star's home company that was released more than a month ago and has already raked in huge profits.
The question thus is not whether Mr Bachchan needed financial reliefs for Paa that is regarded to have projected social and human values but whether he has hinted at a deliberate shift in sympathies. Before the last parliamentary election, he had appeared before cheering crowds at rallies organised by political "friends'' to underline what he claimed were the proud achievements of the state rather than lobby for Samajwadi Party candidates. When the next elections come around, no one should complain if he performs as brand ambassador for Gujarat as much as for the textiles he displays with great style.
The question remains as to what will become of his now clouded links with Mulayam Singh Yadav. The party is going through a slump but that may not be as worrying as the fact that Jaya Bachchan will remain, quite embarrassingly, the Samajwadi Party's representative in Parliament till her term gets over. However, that should be a minor hassle compared with the major battles with the income-tax authorities and Congress administrations that he has survived. Besides, he has an unfailing friend and guide in Amar Singh, the trouble-shooter who has seen the actor through his most critical days. It may be too early to predict where Mr Bachchan's gratitude to Narendra Modi will take him. But Bal Thackeray, who once targeted him as a resident of Maharashtra with sympathies rooted elsewhere, may finally be persuaded to change his mind.
NEVER OUT OF SIGHT... EVEN IN THE LOO!
London, 10 Jan: Are you planning a vacation in Glasgow with your family? Try to avoid eating out together if your teenage child is accompanying you.
The Glasgow City Council has ordered that children under the age of 16 must be in sight of their parents anywhere on licensed premises, like eating joints ~ even if that means being accompanied to the loo, The Sunday Times reported.
The regulations state: "While children are in any part of licensed premises and in particular the toilet areas, they must at all times be within sight of an accompanying adult."
Though the regulations have the potential for family embarrassment when, for example, a 15-year-old boy eating at a cafe with his mother has to use the ladies' loo, the Council says the rule is required by the 2005 licensing act. It acknowledges that there's a "huge difference between a toddler and a teenager", but says there are no legal provisions for making a distinction between ages.
"This rule fits with the principle of protecting children from harm. Clearly it'd be unacceptable for children to be unsupervised on licensed premises, but equally we expect licensees to apply this rule with a degree of common sense..." the Glasgow City Council said. PTI
THE DEPRIVATION IS UNIFORM FROM CHHATTISGARH TO LALGARH
ARUN KUMAR BANERJI
IF separatist movements and terrorist activities, perpetrated in the name of religion, are threatening India's security, no less critical has been the escalation in Maoist violence. In Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reckoning, it "has emerged as the biggest internal security problem." The surge in Maoist violence indicates that it is more than a mere law and order problem, and that it has deeper roots. From 156 districts in 12 states in September 2004, Maoist influence has now spread to 231 districts, out of the total number of 626 districts in India. This has affected nearly 40 per cent of the country's total area ~ stretching from Bihar, Jharkhand Orissa and West Bengal in the east to Chhattisgarh, and the Gadchiroli region of Maharashtra, as well as Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka.
Lalgarh in West Midnapore is one of the worst-affected areas of West Bengal. Maoist influence has spread from 300 villages in June 2009 to some 500 villages in October despite the presence of the joint security forces. The Maoists have a strong presence in 18 out of the 30 districts in Orissa, and their influence is spreading deep inside the forest and tribal areas. Malkangiri district, that has a common border with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, is a Maoist stronghold.
ACCORDING to Koteswar Rao (Kishenji), who is in charge of Maoist operations in West Bengal, the extremists are trying to expand their operations in North Bengal, the plains of Bihar, the central districts of Orissa, and the eastern parts of Chhattisgarh. All these areas are economically underdeveloped and strategically located for the spread of the movement. Their objective is to set up a Red Corridor, extending from Nepal and North Bihar, to the underdeveloped hinterland of Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal, taking advantage of the dire poverty of the people living in these areas.
The current spate of violence is the outcome of merger of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) and the PWG (Peoples' War Group) in 2004 to form the CPI (Maoists). Its armed wing is called the Peoples' Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA). It poses a very real threat to India's security and may bring about a change in the course of revolutionary movements not only in India, but also in other parts of South Asia. The CPI (Maoists) has established links with the Maoists in Nepal as well as the communist revolutionary organisations in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, under the banner of the Coordination Committee of the Maoist Parties and Organisations in South Asia (CCOMPOSA).
In an interview to pro-Maoist journalists on 1 November 2009, Mr CP Gajurel, a senior standing committee member of the UCPN(M), said that the Maoists in Nepal have been extending "full support and cooperation to the Indian Maoists who are launching an armed revolt". That there is a measure of collaboration between the Indian Maoists and their counterparts in Nepal is not news to the Indian intelligence agencies. The CPI (Maoists) is also collaborating with the separatist organisations in India and the neighbouring countries and, in some cases, are even suspected to have collaborated with religious extremist groups for procuring arms. They are trying to transform themselves into a modern guerrilla force, equipped with sophisticated weapons and modern communications system. As the violence in Lalgarh showed, their modus operandi is set for a change with the Maoists trying to recruit teenagers to their ranks, in the manner of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. They are also enlisting the support of the villagers by encouraging the Peoples' Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) to bring at least 10 people ~ five men and five women ~ from every village into the PCPA fold. They have thus emerged as one of the most forbidding challenges to security, with the death toll from Maoist violence in 2009 far exceeding the number of deaths from violence unleashed by the religious extremists.
On 12 June 2009, the Maoist leadership had issued an intra-party circular enumerating the immediate and long-term tasks of the party in the aftermath of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The results of the elections were dismissed as a sham, designed to legitimise the government's neo-liberal economic reform policies. The immediate tasks of the party, as enumerated in the document, are to rouse the masses throughout the country, and especially in the under-developed areas, by building up a broad-based mass movement, and, to defend the guerrilla bases in Dandakaranya, Bihar and Jharkhand. To achieve these goals it calls upon the supporters of the party and the PLGA, to confront the brutal enemy onslaught (read state power) by carrying out counter-offensives, by attacking police establishments, informers and other counter-revolutionaries. They want these attacks to be "linked to the seizure of political power establishment of base areas." The document also calls for coordination of activities with other struggling organisations.
So there should not be any doubt about the actual intention of the Maoists who want to establish a liberated zone in the Red Corridor. To an extent they have succeeded in those areas which are most affected by Maoist influence, by gaining peoples' confidence ~ as the real protectors of their rights and interests ~ and through sheer intimidation and violence, should there be any opposition.
Overlooked or suppressed
FROM Chhattisgarh to Lalgarh, the story is the same. It is a story of deprivation, administrative corruption, political apathy and ill-treatment of the people, mostly poor tribals and the landless agriculturalists, by the local administration and the political leaders. Even minor functionaries of the government treat them shabbily; their genuine grievances are overlooked or suppressed. In Chhattisgarh, for example, poor villagers have been arrested or even gunned down by the police on the mere suspicion that they are Maoists. A fact-finding team, composed of academics and intellectuals, working with the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and the Peoples' Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) prepared a long list of innocent people, mostly tribals, who were arrested or killed by the police in Chhattisgarh, on the mere suspicion that they were Naxalites.
Although the police authorities often deny such allegations, they do admit that some mistakes might have been committed. Indeed, the Salwa Judum (the movement for peace) launched in 2005, with government support, was initially a spontaneous people's movement to counter Naxalite violence; but subsequently it degenerated into an instrument of harassment, loot, murder and rape, indulged in by the activists, with the connivance of the police. No wonder, the Maoists took advantage of these developments to direct the people's anger against the government.
In West Bengal, the spurt in Maoist violence during the past two years may be attributed largely to the government's lopsided policy on industrialisation. To that can be added its failure to provide 100 days' employment to every family under the NREGS. In Jharkhand and Bihar, the Maoists spread their influence by taking up the cause of the landless farmers and tribals. In Bihar, in particular the "class war" has been inextricably linked with the "caste war" and the powerful landed gentry's control over the political system. Nitish Kumar's failure to introduce land reforms, as suggested by the Bandyopadhyay Commission, has made matters worse.
As the northern hemisphere shivers under a blanket of snow, sleet and fog, concerns about global warming are the last thing on people's minds. In any case, the minister of state for environment and forests had already excused India and blamed industrial countries for having unleashed billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air. After that exculpation, India could expel billions more tons without feeling guilty. And for once it was comfortable to be in the same boat as China, which is belching out even more carbon dioxide. Their boat sailed to Copenhagen with a red flag, and fired a broadside on the summiteers. They gave up without a battle. India and China are the great carbon emitters of tomorrow; if they did not join the emitters of the past, the latter might just as well go home, sit like Canutes on the beach, and watch the sea rise.
India is used to leading the developing nations in their verbal battles against the developed world. But this time it faced a rebellion, for there are people in the world who cannot take such a devil-may-take-the-hindmost attitude. There are islands which will lose much of their arable land, and where people will have to go and live on trees as long as trees survive the advancing waves. Vanuatu, the tiny nation of 83 islands in the Pacific, led the rebels; its neighbours, Tuvalu, Tonga and Samoa, followed. An Alliance of Small Island States was formed; by now it has attracted 35 members and four observers.
This opposition will not go away; and it will not be a good idea to dismiss it as consisting of insignificant islands. For one of the countries that would expect to lose considerable land is India's neighbour, Myanmar. We may hope that the crore or two who may be displaced from there will go east. But we cannot entertain such hopes about the crores of Bangladeshis; if their villages are inundated, they will turn to India. And the continentals inland who make India's policies do not realize that India has 7600 kilometres of coastline; India's vulnerable coastal population exceeds the population of Bangladesh. If the sea rises, Indians will have nowhere to go but to Pakistan and beyond. Hence it is necessary to rethink India's stand on global warming. This stand was not Jairam Ramesh's alone; the government relied a good deal on advice from The Energy Research Institute. It is a remarkable fact that while the government supports many institutions and researchers in natural and social sciences, it has depended so exclusively on one institution in climate change policy. That institution is facing questions abroad on its finances; the questions need to be answered, for its head is the government's principal adviser on climate change. Even if the government is loath to question him, it should take broader advice on climate change.
MONEY CAN'T BUY
Life would have been so much easier if only money could buy happiness and harmony. Sadly, the real world is far too complex; even the noblest intentions may not succeed here. Which is why the Centre's directive to the states to provide monetary aid to those who opt for inter-caste marriages appears a bit soft-headed. (Half of the expenses will be borne by the Centre's ministry of social justice and empowerment.) The ostensible reason behind this scheme is laudable: to realize the vision of a casteless society. However, utopian ideas are not best served by gross materialism. In India, the lure of money can drive people a long way, and a marriage of convenience often turns out to be the shortest route to prosperity. So, one wonders what the government of Goa has in mind when it offers Rs 1 lakh to couples marrying outside their caste. (The amount varies arbitrarily for the other states, with West Bengal giving a paltry Rs 2,000.) What good can the State bring, in this case, apart from encouraging half-hearted alliances? Can it foster conjugal peace, eradicate domestic violence or abolish dowry? Far from it, the 'gift' of money actually starts looking like another form of appeasement, no less sinister than dowry, that is effectively aimed at bribing people into behaving like enlightened human beings.
Inter-caste marriage often invites fierce retribution. Honour killing, social ostracization, humiliation and blackmail are some of its bleakest consequences. While financial aid may help distressed couples fend for themselves, it is not going to protect them from the ire of disapproval. The most responsible, as well as honourable, course of action for the State would be to focus on the spread of education the key to that casteless wonderland it dreams of. At present, the Centre's aspiration for a "barrier-free" India is deeply mired in self-interest. Which explains why the Centre is yet to finalize similar incentives for inter-faith marriages. That step, as an official said tactfully, can be "quite controversial".
POLITICS AND DIVISIONS
INDIA IS POISED TO BE A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE NEW DECADE
COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO
The last decade of the 20th century changed India. The new decade will help us embark on new paths altogether. The changes were not merely in economic policies, from command and control to openness and freedom for private enterprise. We were recognized as a nuclear power. P.V. Narasimha Rao's hesitant steps towards changing foreign policy directions to look east to Asia have led to the creation of the influential BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China ) group.
The first truly national coalition government the National Democratic Alliance lasted a full term with clearly defined goals. These included military muscle to bolster economic power, anti-Statism in the economy, rapprochement between India and the United States of America, and growing closeness to both the US and Israel, along with attempts to put an end to the mutual antagonism with Pakistan.
Changes in policies despite different governments had continuity. Communal killings (Staines' murders in Orissa, the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat and others), organized and externally supported 'Maoist' rebellion in broad swathes of India, externally funded terrorist attacks, growing internal mobilization of some Muslim youth to create religious disharmony as well as economic pressures due to record oil prices, crop failures and global recession were some of the new challenges. The administrative apparatus was largely unaccountable, ineffective, inefficient, corrupt and concerned more with turf wars than dealing with the growing challenges. All this made policy implementation uncertain.
After the Gujarat riots and the many Muslim deaths, there have been practically no major communal strife. The new decade might see state governments being proactive in preventing disharmony. The Centre may crack the whip more easily, with assistance from the Central security and intelligence set-ups that have been created in response to terrorist threats.
The second decade saw growing hostility to migrants speaking other languages in Bombay, and in states attracting migrant agricultural labour like Punjab, Haryana with no government reaction. Economic neglect of some regions in large states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and even Rajasthan have resulted in agitations for splitting the states. The Centre has done little to alleviate such neglect. Relief packages are poorly thought out and badly implemented. They do not kick-start development or give authority to the local population.
Fear of electoral consequences, and of Balkanization, has led to a dithering on demands for local autonomy. In 1955, the death of Potti Sriramulu in a hunger strike led to the creation of Andhra Pradesh. It also led to the wise decision of setting up a states reorganization commission, leading to the creation of states formed on linguistic lines .
A new SRC in the 1990s could have considered smaller states that are administratively more viable, enabling the speedy development of neglected areas such as Vidarbha in Maharashtra, the hill areas of West Bengal, Bundelkhand and some other parts of Uttar Pradesh, the large tribal tracts of Madhya Pradesh and perhaps some other contiguous areas. Neither the NDA nor the UPA coalition governments acted on this. Telangana will come about, and will lead to smaller states, peacefully or after much violence.
Terrorist attacks in the previous decade were not as military precise in their planning and execution as the Bombay attack in November 2008. These attacks finally woke the government from its complacency. The home and internal security ministries could not any longer be left to a loyal clothes horse or a self-styled 'Iron Man'. Since then, there is for the first time a confidence in the public mind that these portfolios are in good hands and the right actions are being taken speedily to promote coordination among intelligence agencies, police and other security forces to send the clear message that there is zero tolerance for terrorism.
Unfortunately, the same single- point message sent to the Maoists rebelling against the State in the vast tribal belt of central India has been in the wrong. The message must ensure the delivery of economic and social packages. But the administrative systems of the concerned state governments appear incapable of the effort. The tribals in the Maoist-controlled areas, who are citizens and among the most deprived in the country, could tear the country apart in the coming years to secure their just demands.
The other challenge is the development of minorities, especially Muslims and Dalits. The latter remain marginalized even in their present religions. Giving them special preference will either cross the Supreme Court ceiling on reservation or bring them in conflict with the Hindu Dalits. Political sensitivity and leadership can find new approaches, but they will require capable administrative implementation.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated large investments in urban and rural infrastructure, especially in roads and ports. These stimulated the economy. The UPA developed the idea of public-private partnership and viability gap funding, which enabled private sector participation at low cost to government. These have stimulated massive investments in urban and rural infrastructure, consumer demand and economic growth.
Economic reforms in India date back to the opening in the 1980s, under Rajiv Gandhi, to information technology and telecommunication, the relaxing of rigid industrial licensing and the easing of restrictions on so-called industrial monopolies. The 1990s saw all political parties, limited by their mindsets, in favour of State ownership and control.
The presence of the communists in the first UPA coalition made it impossible to change course. These made the easing of many restraints on industrial development difficult. That may explain the faster development of the services sector trade, hotels, restaurants, transport, communications, finance, insurance, real estate, information technology, and government services in relation to industry. Agriculture remains the most neglected sector in the economy despite being the major source of employment. Industry is also a laggard in our poor economy. Y.S.R. Reddy broke the jinx of incumbency in Andhra Pradesh mainly because of massive investments in agricultural assets such as dams, canals and so on. The freedom from the old mindset in this decade might allow national growth-oriented policies in agriculture and industry.
The idea of inclusive growth has seen fruition with the national rural employment guarantee scheme. The bureaucracy has ensured the programme is poorly implemented. But what was implemented has begun to change the face of employment among the rural poor, added substantially to purchasing power, stimulated rural markets and the economy, and begun to change the labour market. Other innovative pro-poor schemes like 'education for all' and the national rural health mission have been implemented even more poorly.
Administrative reform remains the least reformed area. Changes in rules for recruitment, training, evaluation, promotion, tenures and transfers, specialization, accountability, disciplinary actions and so on are yet to take place even 62 years after Independence. The same goes for the reform of administrative institutions, and especially of local self-government, in urban and local bodies to improve autonomy, local planning and implementation. The bureaucracy is a stumbling block everywhere, with legislators wanting to retain credit for improvement in their constituencies.
At the close of the first decade of the new century, it is clear that despite its limitations, India is now poised to be a major player in the comity of nations. Powering this race is the Indian economy. But is it going to be a superpower as many claim or will it merely improve the living conditions for most of its people? In my next column, I shall explore the problems and prospects.
The author is former director- general, National Council for Applied Economic Research
(TO BE CONCLUDED)
JUST A LOT OF NOISE
FIFTH COLUMN -GWYNNE DYER
It is the duty of all public officials to 'do something' whenever a new threat appears, even if there is nothing sensible to be done. So we have had a vigorous US government response to the recent apprehension of the 'Underpants Bomber'. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was from Nigeria, and he was Muslim. Therefore, the American government has announced that all travellers to the United States of America from Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen and seven other Muslim or partly-Muslim countries will face extra checks at airport security. They will be patted down by hand, and their carry-on bags will also be searched by hand. So that's all fixed, then. No more exploding underpants.
Except that Abdulmutallab's underpants were on his body, so hand searches of cabin baggage aren't going to help much. Moreover, it is far from certain that a physical pat-down of Abdulmutallab would have detected the guilty underpants.Then there are the curious additions and omissions in the list of countries affected. Cuba is included, presumably in order to have at least one non-Muslim country on the list, although there has never been any Cuban support for anti-US terrorism. More striking is the absence of Britain, France and the Netherlands from the list of countries whose travellers must get the full treatment. Britain was the home of Richard Reid, the unsuccessful 'Shoe Bomber', who actually departed for the US from Paris. The group that was caught preparing to smuggle explosive liquids aboard US-bound flights in aerosol containers was British. Abdulmutallab actually passed through Schiphol airport security in the Netherlands on his way to Detroit. Why are these countries exempt?
Keep it simple
I'm not actually demanding more stringent security measures. I am arguing in favour of less 'security' at the airport, and a lot more emphasis on real security work before the would-be bombers check in.With the sole exceptions of Reid and Abdulmutallab, all the plots to blow up airliners bound for the US since 9/11 have been thwarted by the intelligence services, not by the hundreds of thousands of poorly paid security personnel at the airports. What conclusion should we draw from that?
We should conclude that further 'enhancements' to airport security are a total waste of time and money, although basic security that stops people from smuggling guns and knives on-board should be maintained. The alternative is to try to close every loophole and the obvious hole in airport security today is that it does not check for anal bombs. The first suicide bomber with an explosive device in his rectum has already struck, although not on an aircraft. Four months ago, an al-Qaida-linked militant passed through all the security checks and blew himself up during an audience with Saudi Arabia's deputy interior minister. His bomb was presumably detonated by remote control, but an airline passenger could simply go to the toilet and trigger it himself.
If Abdulmutallab had boarded the aircraft with the explosive device inside his body, how were the security staff going to find it? Only by the time-tested method that prison guards regularly use: the "body cavity search."This could be done at airports too. You'd have to hire five or six times as many guards and expand the security area considerably to give those being searched some privacy. But if we were really determined to eliminate every threat to air travel, every suspicious body cavity could be searched.
Yet nobody has proposed putting this policy into effect, and that is not because they are worried about a shortage of latex gloves. The whole airport security mania is largely symbolic, and body cavity searches would upset many people. So, in this case, common sense trumps security. It should do so in many other cases too.
ROUTE TO CARNAGE
''CONSTRUCTION OF ROADS REQUIRE GREAT SENSITIVITY.''
The Karnataka government's controversial decision to develop the Mysore-Mananthavadi road through the Nagarahole National Park reflects a bureaucratic thinking impervious to conservationist concerns and can only place the endangered wildlife at further risk. The national park has a delightful abundance of wildlife including tiger, leopard, wild elephant, Indian wild dog and Indian bison, spotted deer, mouse deer, wild boar and many species of fauna. As one of the largest habitats of tiger, Nagarhole continues to boast of one of the largest populations of tiger even as other national parks continue to record decline in the numbers of the big cat. While the entire population of tigers in Sariska in Rajasthan has been wiped out by poachers in collusion with corrupt custodians of the forests, other tiger reserves such as Corbett, Ranthambhore, Kanha and Bandhavgarh are recording fewer tigers by the year. Nagarhole, along with Bandipur, Wayanad in Kerala and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu is part of the largest contiguous wildlife reserve.
What persuaded the government's Project Governing Board (PGB) to reject the genuine concerns expressed by environmental activists and to even defy the Supreme Court, which had directed an alternative route, is not clear. The PGB also dismissed the recommendation made by the department of forests and ecology which had suggested diversion of the road to skirt the park. The PGB's decision becomes even more mystifying considering that the alternative stretch outside the park adds only three kilometres to the route while enormously reducing risk and trauma to the animals in the park.
Roads are integral to development and human communication and livelihoods. The Mysore-Mananthavadi road improvement is urgently needed. But construction of roads in fragile ecosystems require great sensitivity as they lead to road kills, modifying movement patterns and possible home range shift that greatly impact on animal population numbers. The Wildlife Protection Society of India has recorded road kill of 24 leopards, five tigers between 1997 and 2002, and 16 leopards, 50 hyena and 46 blue bulls at Vadodara between 1998 and 2004. Closer home, the road kills at Bandipur should have convinced the PGB to opt for a diversion of the road. That it did not, leads one to wonder if the bureaucrats are aware of the global trends of deepening consciousness about environment and conservation even among governments.
''THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE THAT IS USELESS.''
The 97the Indian Science Congress, which concluded in Thiruvananthapuram last week, underlined both the opportunities and the challenges for science and technology in India. The theme of the congress was "science and technology challenges for the 21 century" from a national perspective. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and eminent scientists and science administrators drew attention to the obstacles and problems in the pursuit of science and the need to get over them. Red tape, corruption and political intervention, which are the bane of other areas of life, are rampant in the world of science too and they should be eliminated if science and technology have to advance. India is at a critical stage of development and the state of its science and technology will be a major factor in its growth. There is a new awareness about this which the science congress indicated.
It was observed that the participation of scientists, technologists, research scholars, students and others in the congress was much more than in previous years. About 2,000 papers were presented and over 40 plenary sessions in various areas were held. Topics as diverse as nutrition, global warming, nanotechnology, energy needs, water and biodiversity were discussed. The suggestions made at the sessions included the formation of a national council to co-ordinate actions to protect bio-diversity and the need to improve the quality of teachers. The idea of concentrating efforts and attention of scientists and technologists on critical areas also received much attention. There is no need to fritter away resources and talent, though ultimately there is no knowledge that is useless.
The congress was also noted for the public participation and the success of the children's science congress. About three lakh students saw the Pride of India exhibition, a showcase of achievements. While these are hopeful signs, there is much to be done to translate them into achievements in future. An annual event like the science congress can be only representative and indicative of the state of science in the country. The responsibility to improve that rests on the government, individual scientists, institutions and the society at large.
THERE IS NO NEED TO SUCCUMB TO HOPELESSNESS WHEN TERRORISTS GET THROUGH OUR DEFENCES AND INFLICT VIOLENCE.
M J AKBAR
The advertising is smart enough to be effective, although how long its effect will last could well depend on what appears on the front page of an English daily rather than the page carrying this ad. The campaign is unique: a joint public service venture by two media groups of India and Pakistan. The theme is unquestionably laudable: 'Aman ki Asha' (Hope for Peace). No region could possibly want peace more urgently than a subcontinent addled with angst and saddled with two nuclear powers.
This could not have happened without a quiet nod from governments in Delhi and Islamabad; and possibly three, if you want to add Washington. The purpose is surely to soften up the street for a deal brewing somewhere within the innards of government. Citizens, so far addicted to conflict at any cost, must slowly be retuned to the wavelength of peace at any cost.
It is axiomatic that both countries will have to compromise on some elements of deeply-held positions to create the 'give' that will get the solution. The process of selling the 'give' to their own publics has begun, albeit through indirect methods. The choice of 'Jang' newspaper in Pakistan is relevant. The readers of 'Dawn' group are probably already amenable to the idea of a rational rapport with India. It is the 'Jang' reader who needs to be turned.
The first advertisement had the kind of headline that makes copywriters give each other awards: Occasionally, peace deserves a war. The amplification in body copy was neo-Buddhist: peace is passive, serene, good; war is active, violent, destructive. It is obvious that we would not appreciate the value of peace if we did not know the price of war just, I suppose, as Adam and Eve did not understand the worth of Paradise before they were banished to earth. One wonders, however, if anyone caught the double entendre in selecting 'Jang' which means war.
The official explanation is that 'Jang' was launched in 1944, when the world was at war. I doubt if anyone wanted to start an Urdu paper on the subcontinent in order to support the liberation of France from Nazi Germany. 1944 was also the year of a Muslim League slogan: "Ladh ke lenge Pakistan! (We will win Pakistan with war!)" But this is good news. If 'Jang' can reinvent itself as a warrior for peace, then something important and beneficial is happening, or has already happened, among opinion-builders in Pakistan.
The problem is with the front pages. On January 8, the newspapers carried a front page story saying '700 Jihadis' had been let loose to spread mayhem in Jammu and Kashmir. On the morning of January 9 all papers published taped extracts of conversations between two terrorists who had entered a hotel in Srinagar and their handlers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
When one of the terrorists said they were surrounded and trapped by Indian police, the reply was "Shahadat se pehle zyada se zyada policewalon ko maro, zyada se zyada nuksaan pahunchao (Before martyrdom kill as many policemen as possible, destroy as much as possible)". After one terrorist was killed, the other sent a desperate message, "Khel khatm hone wala hai (The game is about to be over)". The reply he got was "Daro mat, tumhe jaldi Rab mil jaayega (Do not be afraid, you will soon find God)".
I do not know how 'Jang' reported the incident; in the old days the terrorists would have been extolled as 'freedom-fighters' and 'martyrs.' The incident underlines the enormous difficulties in building a peace constituency. But this much is certain, if peace has to come then it will emerge from page one and not from pages carrying advertisements.
One is not suggesting the false equation used all too often by those who have no interest in peace, that a solution can only be crafted after violence ends. A terrorist organisation, or even a maverick individual, can always sabotage such a counter-productive condition. But we need news that the government is not a silent agent provocateur, that it has been able to identify and imprison the masterminds of terrorism operating from Pakistan. This is not a specific Indian demand; it is the basic minimum that the international community expects in the global fight against terrorism. Islamabad's compliance is a must.
We should not succumb to hopelessness when terrorists get through our defences and inflict violence, as they did in Srinagar this week. There may not be unanimity in the Pak establishment on peace, but, as noted, the participation of 'Jang' represents an important reappraisal and it would be extremely foolish to ignore any glimmer.
The initiative taken by media groups also means that they must create a new culture of reporting in which honesty is not undermined by hysteria. The street listens to media in the hope that it is more credible than governments, a hope that is often belied.
Peace, like charity, begins at home, and peace is where media is.
BOLSTER SECULARISM AMONG MUSLIMS
THE WEST DOES NOT CO-MPREHEND WHAT IT HAS DONE AND MAKES NO EFFORT TO ADDRESS ARAB, MUSLIM GRIEVANCES.
BY MICHAEL JANSEN
Throughout the 19th century Britain and Russia competed for control of Afghanistan and Persia in a conflict dubbed the 'Great Game'. Today there is another 'Great Game' in play.This involves the US drive to eradicate Muslim militancy. The Bush administration called this endeavour a 'war on terror'; the Obama administration has tried to avoid such terminology but it is seeping back into usage. The Bush failed and Obama is certain to fail. Indeed, Barack Obama is likely to compound the damage done by George W Bush.
Obama, his experts and generals do not understand any more than their predecessors what they are confronting even though the US and its allies are largely responsible for the rise of Muslim militancy. Its roots are in the Muslim Brotherhood, established in Egypt in the 1920s. The Brotherhood was a religious revival, reform, and liberation movement all rolled into one. It tried and failed to oust Britain from Egypt and Palestine but its adherents fanned out across the Arab world to found branches of the movement and reached out to disaffected Muslims in the world-wide community.
The extended Brotherhood was courted by the US and other western powers after secular nationalist army officers overthrew Egypt's king and launched an endeavour to achieve Arab unity, which was seen as a challenge to western control of strategic West Asia and a threat to Israel. The US encouraged Saudi Arabia to use its influence and oil money to promote Muslim piety and political identity with the aim of undermining secular pan-Arab nationalism. The Saudis built mosques and provided them with clerics trained by the Saudi puritanical religious establishment, seeding the world with rabble rousing preachers who spread the message of resistance through holy ware or jihad to western political and cultural dominance.
Between 1979-89, the US and Saudi Arabia jointly raised an army of holy warriors, mujahideen, to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Some veterans of this campaign went back into their home countries and raised the standard of revolt against secular regimes. Others joined former mujahideen commanders, like Osama bin Laden, to wage jihad against the West. The objective was to punish it for its support of Israel against the Palestinians, conquest of Iraq, war in Afghanistan, and backing for authoritarian pro-western regimes.
The new version of the 'Great Game' is far more dangerous than the 19th century original because it has a world-wide dimension. The West's rulers simply do not comprehend what they have done and make no effort to address Arab and Muslim grievances. These multiply with every Israeli bombing of Gaza and every US strike on Afghan, Pakistani or Yemeni villages. Arab and Muslim alienation has become so deep and widespread that it is almost too late to address its causes.
Due to pressure from pro-Israeli lobbies, western leaders refuse to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestine. It is no coincidence that Humam Khalil Balawi, the young man who blew up US CIA agents and his Jordanian handler in Afghanistan; Nidal Hasan, the US doctor who shot 13 soldiers in Texas; and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the slain head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, were Palestinian refugees.
Unable to eradicate militancy root and branch, the US and its allies try to identify militant networks, 'kill or capture' mujahideen leaders and fighters, and disrupt the flow of funds. But to succeed, US intelligence agencies need to comprehend their foe and to garner reliable information. They do neither. For example, the CIA's desperation for information led it to recruit Balawi as a double agent to spy on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He was trusted to enter the CIA base, where he slew his controllers even though he openly espoused anti-US sentiments and declared his intention of becoming a suicide bomber.
Following the Christmas day attempt by a young Nigerian to blow up a US airliner over Detroit, Washington is seeking to step up efforts to intercept potential attackers. Success cannot be guaranteed. Intelligence agencies cannot hope to track the movements of all the world's mujahideen and identify those taking part in operations. Security personnel at airports cannot be expected to make up for intelligence deficiencies and high-tech machines are only as effective as the people who operate them.
The only way to play the new 'Great Game' is to deal with Palestinian, Arab and Muslim grievances and bolster secular nationalism.
MOTHER OF MINE
BY LEELA RAMASWAMY
There is nothing a child has to do in order to win mother's appreciation.
What I had long suspected is now official 'mother' has been found to be the most beautiful word in the English language. A survey that encompassed 40,000 overseas voters and learners of English at the British Council Centres has revealed this. Over 7,000 learners from 46 countries participated in it and the word 'mother' easily topped the list.
Why has this word won this distinction? A young woman-doctor I know married but did not want to have children. She wanted to devote herself entirely to her profession.
Pressure from the family mounted though and she finally succumbed to their pleas. Her pregnancy was a difficult one, with many threats to her well-being, but the child that was born was an absolute delight. He was healthy, beautiful and sweet-tempered. The mother is now all smiles. "When I look into his face, I forget all my pains and troubles," she avers. Here, perhaps, lies the secret charm of the word 'mother' it stands for unconditional love.
'Mother' loves her child simply because it is hers. There are no conditions attached to it. The child does not have to live up to any expectations. It may have brought pain, it may not be beautiful; it could mean sleepless nights and endless chores, but mother continues to pour love and attention on it. There is nothing the child has to do in order to win her appreciation. It is loved simply for being the mother's child.
Unqualified love such as this can come only from a mother. Adoptive mothers are no exception. There is the story of such a mother with two children one natural and the other adopted. The two grew up together, receiving plenty of love and care. A visitor who knew that one of them was adopted, asked, "Which one is adopted?" The mother looked her in the eye and said, "I don't know."
Mother's love is bliss, it is peace. It cannot be acquired, but is given freely. To be loved for what one is and not for what one can give brings the deepest satisfaction that one can ever know.
When George Eliot wrote, "I think my life began with waking up and loving my mother's face", she spoke for every one of us. No wonder then that 'mother' tops the list of the most beautiful words one can think of!
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHY WE ARE HERE
Cast your mind back to before Muhammad destroyed the Jewish tribes of Arabia; before Islam expanded beyond the Arabian Peninsula reaching Jerusalem in 638. Before the ancient Roman Empire and the emergence of Christianity; before the Greek empire; even before the Persians came onto the stage of history.
Consider the distant 10th century before the Common Era when the ancient Israelites were consolidating their kingdom under Saul and David.
Over the weekend came a report that an ancient inscription had been deciphered testifying - yet again - to the age-old connection between the people and land of Israel.
On what in ancient times was a main road from the coastal plain to the hill country, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeologist Yosef Garfinkel, digging in the northern Judean hills at Khirbet Qeiyafa - which borders on the Eila Valley (off today's Route 38) - found a piece of pottery with ink writing which dates back to the Davidic era.
The discovery was made a year-and-a-half ago. A number of scholars are examining the text though Prof. Gershon Galil, a biblical studies expert at the University of Haifa, just made his conclusions public.
The inscriptions, he said, are undoubtedly ancient Hebrew, using words such as almana (widow) that would have been written differently in other local languages.
It is easy to get carried away by academic hoopla. Some bible scholars and archeologists may disagree with the tone of Galil's revelations and the assertion that new ground is being broken. Other scholars have yet to weigh in.
STILL, this much appears clear:
There was an expansive Kingdom of David which extended well beyond the hill country.
The Hebrew language was sufficiently developed in the 10th century. It reinforces what many scholars have long appreciated - that parts of the Bible are very, very old.
During the reign of King David there were scribes who were able to compose complex literary texts such as the books of Judges and Samuel.
The find establishes that scholarship was taking place away from kingdom's hub, implying that even greater learning was going on at its heart.
The text is equally significant because it shows that a key concern of the ancient Israelites was social justice:
You shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
[and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
Galil told The Jerusalem Post he has no doubt that the inscription is ancient Hebrew and that only Jews, not Canaanites, could have authored it.
It is living - Carbon-14 dated - proof that in the 10th century Samuel could have written what traditionalists have ascribed to him all along. (Galil also remarked that ancient Hebrew was once written from left to right.)
IT MAY seem obvious that the Jewish connection to this land dates back thousands of years. "By the rivers of Babylon" - but also by the waters of the Danube, Volga, Dnieper and Rhine - "we sat down and cried as we remembered Zion."
The Jewish lament for Zion knew no bounds.
Yet since the Jewish return under the auspices of the modern Zionist movement, an elaborate industry of denial has sprung up.
Many reputable scholars never set out to deny the ancient connection between Jews and Israel, but simply emphasized the lack of contemporary confirmation that Bible figures such as David were anything like their scriptural portraits. Unfortunately, their work was quickly manipulated and exploited by anti-Zionists. All the while, the Palestinian Arab leadership has remained adamant that evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in this land is a figment of the Zionist imagination. It's unlikely that anything will sway Palestinians out of their obdurate denial.
Still, the work of a generation of bible scholars and archeologists - along with their vibrant debates - continues to uplift the Israeli spirit. It is gratifying to observe - from Eila Valley pottery writings and Dead Sea scrolls to Beit Guvrin tablets - ancient Jewish history falling ever more vividly into place, reminding us why we are here.
THE JERUSALEM POST
REALITY CHECK: USHERING IN A MESSIANIC AGE
Perhaps the messiah really is on his way. At the end of last week, Shas leader Eli Yishai pulled the plug on the "jobs law" bill his party was pushing, which would have created dozens of deputy mayors in cities and towns across the country, at the annual cost of around NIS 1 million per deputy mayor.
Shas, along with the Likud and Israel Beiteinu, had originally backed this bill, as it would have created plenty of new jobs for second-rate party hacks for whom living off the state purse is the height of their ambition. Now the bill will revert to its original format and "just" bring up the total of paid deputy mayors in Jerusalem from six to eight.
Why the eternal capital of the Jewish people needs eight deputy mayors is, of course, another question, and it also comes as no surprise that one of Jerusalem's new deputy mayors will be a Shas representative and the second from United Torah Judaism.
But still, hearing Interior Minister Yishai explain his decision to cut back his political job creation scheme on the grounds that it awakened too strong a public criticism is akin to hearing the faint stirring of the shofar heralding the coming of a new era. There are, though, a few other decisions that Yishai needs to take before we can be confident that the scrapping of this bill was not simply another false dawn.
THE FIRST concerns Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi's order to set up a religious council in the new town of Shoham, even though the town's residents say they are happy with the present system, in which whatever services are needed are provided by the town's religious services department and not an independent religious council.
Of the town's approximately 20,000 residents, some 30 percent define themselves as religious or traditional, and relations between religious and secular are described as good. The town's chief rabbi, David Stav, is nationally known for his work in the Tzohar organization, which seeks to improve religious-secular understanding.
Stav points out that Margi failed to consult with him or, indeed, anybody else in Shoham before issuing his order to set up a religious council.
"The existing system for providing religious services works fine," Stav told one newspaper last week. "So why do we need to change it? It will only create friction."
A quick look at some statistics will show why Margi is so eager to see a religious council instituted in Stav's stomping ground. Shoham is a middle-class town of around 20,000 residents, whose average wage (around NIS 12,000 a month) is well above the national norm, as is the high school matriculation success of around 80 percent. In other words, Shoham is the perfect cash cow for Shas.
According to one Shoham municipal official who checked the costs of a religious council at other towns with a similar population, Margi's proposed council would cost Shoham NIS 2.5 million - for services that already exist. And the even greater scandal is that this NIS 2.5 million would, in large part, go on salaries for people appointed by Margi, and not by the residents of Shoham, due to a regulation that allows the religious services minister make appointments to a religious council if, a year after municipal elections, a local authority has failed to appoint one. And one doesn't have to be a political maven to realize to which party Margi-appointed religious council members tend to belong.
NOT SATISFIED with lumbering Shoham with a religious council its residents don't want and don't need, Shas is also behind last week's Knesset Finance Committee decision to force large, wealthy cities to fund religious councils in poorer towns from their budget, under the auspices of the differential budgeting law.
As Holon Mayor Moti Sasson put it: "The Shas people are using the law to reach for the money of residents of large cities and give it to their men. Why should we be sponsoring the weaker towns?"
Eitan Atia, the director-general of the Forum of the 15 Largest Cities, said his organization was considering petitioning the High Court over the Finance Committee's "crooked" decision, noting that the cities would have to cut back their spending on education, sanitation and culture to give money to other towns' religious councils.
A whole slew of reports dating from the 1992 Tzadok Committee and a sharply critical 1996 state comptroller report have described how religious councils are a breeding ground of corruption and a playground for parasitic political hacks. In 2003, the government decided on a much-needed reform in which these councils would lose their independence and be freed from the stranglehold of national politicians. Instead, the councils would become ordinary departments within the local authorities, simply providing municipal services - in this case, religious services - to the local population.
Due to pressure from Shas, this much-needed reform never took place, to the detriment of all Israeli citizens, Jew and non-Jew alike, religious or secular. If Yishai really wants to convince the wider public that he has their interests at heart, the most effective way to do so would be to demand the implementation of the religious council reform.
Oh, and by the way, he could also insist on abolishing the Religious Services Ministry. That would be a sign that we truly have reached a new, messianic age.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE REGION: A GOLD MINE FOR UNDERSTANDING AMERICA'S MIDDLE EAST POLICY
What could be more boring, you might ask, than a press conference after the meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani? However, this exchange is a gold mine of fascinating material for understanding regional politics and US policy.
Qatar, though tiny, is a very interesting country. On one hand, it hosts al-Udayd air base, vital for the US presence in the Gulf. On the other hand, it hosts and owns Al-Jazeera television, which incites anti-Americanism. To make matters worse, Qatar has been the Gulf Arab state closest to Iran and hosted the anti-American radical summit dominated by the Iran-Syria bloc.
So Qatar hedges its bets rather well. In public, Clinton won't complain about this stuff, but this kind of statement goes too far in the other direction: "Qatar is a friend and an ally of the United States, and the partnership between our two countries is a model of the new beginning based on mutual respect and mutual interest that President Obama called for in Cairo."
A model? This tells Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that they, too, can be a model partner if they bash the US more and cozy up to Teheran.
Clinton also thanks Qatar for trying "to promote security and stability in the broader Middle East as well as Africa." Egyptian and other moderate Arab leaders clearly consider Qatar a major contributor to regional instability.
Finally, and it's impressive Clinton could say this with a straight face, she expressed appreciation for Qatar's "actions in combating hunger and poverty and disease across the region and the world." No, I don't think Qatar, given its massive wealth, has been one of the planet's main philanthropists.
BUT ANOTHER thing Clinton said is more disturbing and has become an Obama administration talking point. She said the Palestinians "deserve" a state. In this approach, having a state isn't something earned by ending terrorism and incitement, truly accepting Israel's existence, providing strong security guarantees and resettling refugees in your own country. According to the US government, Palestinian statehood is an entitlement, a prize they get no matter how they behave.
So why shouldn't the Palestinians demand they get everything and give nothing? The world owes them a state. By such policies the Obama administration undermines its own leverage on the issue. One more nail in the already studded coffin of the peace process.
Now, what did Thani say in response to all of this? Yemen? Sure, what's required there is a peaceful solution, not defeating the terrorists and Iran-backed rebels. Remember, Qatar is more on Iran's side than any other Arab state except Syria. Palestinians? Here's his suggestion: "The most important things is how we can [make] a unity government between the Palestinians so they can concentrate on how to deal in the peace process."
What's this mean? Why, that the Palestinian Authority should join up with Hamas - a step ensuring no progress, since the latter is dedicated to Israel's destruction and creating a radical Islamist state allied to Iran.
This doesn't mean Qatar just took a hard line on the issue. Thani advocated negotiations and, while bashing Israel a bit, said something remarkable: There's "an opportunity with this administration to bring us together to a long-lasting peace between us and Israel." By Arab standards, a very dovish thing to say. (I doubt that phrase will be quoted on Al-Jazeera, which is not allowed to criticize the Qatari government.)
What does Thani say about Iran? The solution to the nuclear weapons drive must come through dialogue. Nothing he said would bother Teheran.
AS FOR Clinton, her remark that the US was "disappointed" by Teheran's rejection of its proposals and "deeply disturbed" by repression makes it sound like the US is still more involved in engagement than with pressure.
She, too, said something astonishing, regarding Iran: "We've avoided using the term 'deadline' ourselves. That's not a term that we have used because we want to keep the door to dialogue open."
What? The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that it was setting the end of 2009 as a deadline for raising sanctions unless Iran changed its approach. This statement could only be read in Teheran as Washington's backing down.
Her saying, "We have already begun discussions with our partners and with like-minded nations about pressure and sanctions," doesn't sound like this is a high-priority activity. We're in no hurry, and we've just started talking. We'll get back to you sometime.
Sure enough, within a few hours, Ramin Mehmanparast, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman responded, happily: "We share the same idea with her. Deadlines are meaningless. We hope other countries return to their natural path, too."
In other words, we're glad the US is giving us all the time in the world to develop nuclear weapons.
CLINTON ALSO confirmed my worst fears about the limited sanctions the administration envisions: "Our goal is to pressure the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of the ordinary Iranians who deserve better than what they currently are receiving."
In other words, Clinton says, we'll make sure sanctions don't really damage the Iranian economy and at most make a tiny reduction in the income of those getting rich within Iran itself.
What's already clear is that any sanctions on Iran will be slow in coming and far weaker than what has been expected even by critics of the administration. They'll be based on the smug but silly assumption that making Iran's richest pay will make America popular among the masses and - what? - inspire the surrender of the most fanatical radicals or inspire a revolution? More likely, it will inspire laughter in the Iranian regime and despair from America's regional allies.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE LEGACY OF A TRUE FRIEND
While it was not widely noted outside southeast Asia, last week Indonesia lost both a towering spiritual leader and the father of the country's increasingly vibrant and robust democracy, former president Abdurrahman Wahid - affectionately known there as Gus Dur. But his death will also be felt widely outside Indonesia.
Among many others touched by this brilliant Muslim cleric-turned-campaigner for human rights and principled politician, both the Jewish world and Israel have lost one of their greatest friends in the Muslim world. I had the good fortune to befriend this historic figure and was deeply honored to have met with him several times over the years, both when he was president from 1999-2001 and in the years since, in Jakarta and Australia. The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) was delighted to host lunches for him with our leadership and supporters in both Melbourne and Sydney during his visit to Australia in 2002.
Before rising to the top of Indonesian politics, Wahid was an Islamic scholar of note who led the largest Muslim organization in the world, the 40-million-member Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), for 15 years. Using his brilliant intellect and impeccable Islamic pedigree, he synthesized traditional Islamic scholarship with his own studies of Western literature and culture. He went on to employ both these elements in a life devoted to the struggle for religious understanding, ethnic tolerance and human decency in Indonesia and internationally. He became a principled defender of minority rights, a powerful voice for democracy and a leading international promoter of an inclusive and tolerant Islam.
Courageously, he championed diversity and democracy during the Suharto dictatorship, and quickly showed that he was of the few forces in the country who could stand up to the regime, before becoming a key inspiration for the mass movement that brought the dictatorship to an end.
AS THE leading scholar of Indonesia, Greg Barton, has pointed out, Wahid's was almost an accidental presidency, and he was not particularly well-suited to the political deal-making and back-scratching that the role required. But this does not in any way detract from his huge accomplishments as president.
Among these are achieving a measure of genuine reconciliation with East Timor, adopting innovative approaches to the separatists in Aceh and West Papua based on dialogue, defending the rights of minority Christians, Chinese, Hindus and other groups subject to persecution and suspicion, his successful removal of the seemingly immovable General Wiranto and establishing firmly the principle of civilian control over the Indonesian military; and in his affirmation of the principle that human rights abusers and the corrupt will be investigated and punished. To a very great extent, the increasingly well-established and prosperous democracy one can see in Indonesia today is Wahid's legacy.
Almost uniquely among Muslim leaders and the heads of Muslim states, Wahid was not reticent about his friendship for Israel and his close ties and desire for even closer ones with the Jewish people. He visited Israel a number of times and served on the board of the Peres Center for Peace. On becoming president, he announced a hope to open an Israeli trade office in Jakarta and hinted that Indonesia should eventually go further and seek full political relations with the Jewish state. But unfortunately, he met considerable domestic resistance which limited but did not prevent growing Indonesian contacts and links of various kinds with Israel.
TRADE AND people-to-people ties between Israel and Indonesia have steadily improved since that time, and, despite the political delicacy, many in Indonesia are interested in the potential for both trade and for Indonesia to play a more active role in the Middle East peace process. This is particularly in Israel's interest, given the potential of Indonesia as an economically viable, moderate, liberal and democratic Muslim country to help legitimize and serve as a role-model for any future democratic Palestinian state.
I am proud that AIJAC (together with the American Jewish Committee) has been able to facilitate this growing Indonesian interest in Israel by bringing a number of delegations of Indonesian journalists and analysts to Israel in recent years to examine the situation for themselves.
Meanwhile, even after leaving the presidency, Wahid continued to speak out. At a packed meeting in the University of Melbourne in 2002, I well remember him rebuking a questioner who criticized Israel by eloquently praising Israeli democracy. In 2004, he publicly stated on behalf of Muslims that "Israel has a reputation as a nation with a high regard for God and religion - there is then no reason we have to be against Israel." On Judaism, I can personally attest that he was both knowledgeable and highly interested in all aspects of Jewish tradition, beliefs, culture and literature. The study of Kabbala especially sparked his curiosity.
His personal engagement with Jewish thought and society caused him to react critically to the simplistic and prejudicial notions about Israel and the Jews that he encountered in Muslim circles. Consequently, for the past 30 years he made a point of speaking out against anti-Semitic thinking and ignorance about Israel and Judaism.
Meanwhile, interfaith dialogue involving Jews and all other faiths was both a mission and a passion, right up until his death.
ABDURRAHMAN WAHID'S life was an inspiration to all who believe in mutual respect and harmonious coexistence between diverse peoples and who strive for constructive social action in the cause of democracy, reconciliation and human rights. He demonstrated that all these objectives are fully compatible with a vibrant and evolving Islamic faith and culture.
While he will be sorely missed, his legacy will long be felt in the efforts of those millions of admirers in Indonesia and around the world profoundly touched by the remarkable record, ideals and courage of this champion of human decency.
The writer is executive director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council and recently returned from a visit to Jakarta.
THE JERUSALEM POST
HI-TECH, PROSPECTS AND PITFALLS
Last November's Forbes-Gilder Telecosm - a distinguished annual conclave on science and technology - was devoted entirely to Israel. Telecosm is a co-venture of George Gilder - whose global best-seller Wealth and Poverty ushered the era of Reaganomics and its unprecedented economic growth - and of Steve Forbes, the author, publisher and candidate for US presidency who taught millions the virtues of markets and entrepreneurship.
Telecosm's showcase of Israeli hi-tech followed the publication of the most recent Gilder best-seller The Israel Test. Gilder, a guru of technology and entrepreneurship, claims that attitudes toward Israel are a test case of attitudes toward civilization. Attacks on Israel express "barbarism, envy and death, [a conflict] with civilization, creativity and life."
Israel and the US are hated "primarily because of hostility toward capitalist creativity," Gilder adds.
Since the Middle Ages, Jews have been the pioneers in the great capitalist expansion through international trade. They also led its more recent scientific revolution and its astounding technological applications, creating vast improvement in human life. Jews were also central in creating the weapons that crushed evil regimes. In Milton Friedman's innovative contributions to economics they helped propel 50 years of unprecedented prosperity that spread even to the most laggard economies of China and India.
Anti-Semitism expresses envy and greed, Gilder believes. It is rooted in the Marxist assumption that profit derives from exploitation and that economic creativity is therefore basically sinful. Israel is hated because it is "a leader of human civilization, technological progress and scientific advance," Gilder concludes. On opening a computer you first read "Intel Inside," but it should actually read, he says, "Israel inside," because most major inventions, even of Intel, were largely made here.
IN THESE somber days, it is heartening to get such compliments, especially backed by facts. But we might be dangerously complacent if, when celebrating the extraordinary achievements of Israeli hi-tech, we ignore the serious problems facing it, some general in origin, but many - as is the case with most Israeli economic problems - self-inflicted.
Excessive government intervention caused the recent economic crisis partly by giving free scope to irresponsibility and greed. It choked start-up development even before the 2008 crisis.
"The new [Sarbanes and Oxley] laws and regulations," a December 2008 Wall Street Journal editorial concluded, "have neither prevented frauds nor instituted fairness. But they have managed to kill the creation of new public companies in the US, cripple the venture capital business and damage entrepreneurship."
Costing vast sums to implement the burdens they imposed on small businesses and start-ups resulted - according to the National Venture Capital Association - in just six companies going public in 2008; this compared to 269 IPOs in 1999, 272 in 1996, and 365 in 1986. Nurturing start-ups became even more difficult after the financial markets crisis dried up credit and IPOs were restricted to companies with quadruple the annual income than before.
Besides this US-generated problem, Israel has many homemade problems. Though certain improvements were made in the worse aspects of its complex, rigid and costly incorporation and tax laws, Israel is still not a welcoming environment for "garage type," individualistic start-ups, the kind that have proven most productive. Most capital for start-ups still comes from abroad. Israel's oligolopolistic banks usually shun small enterprises, and hi-tech was no exception. Local companies tended to make their exits far too early, so that their immense potential has seldom been fully enjoyed by Israel.
IRONICALLY, THE worse danger facing Israeli hi-tech may be the bear hug of the government. Politicians and bureaucrats - chiefly President Shimon Peres, but also some in the Treasury - are so determined to nurture innovation that they may choke it to death. Back in the 1980s, Peres, a true man of vision (who has, alas, the inclination to implement it through massive government spending - a reason the Negev and the Galilee, two regions he repeatedly tried to develop by sinking billions in taxpayer money, remain economically and socially backward), tried to establish a government superfund to plan and rationalize hi-tech investment so as to minimize risk and duplication. Luckily the plan did not materialize.
The billions it would have raised did not end up in politically connected loss-making ventures, as happened so often in subsidized industries. Instead "neglected" hi-tech entrepreneurs struggled through the normal chaos of the market's process of trial and error. Oblivious to bureaucratic dictates, markets rewarded, as usual, some risk-taking entrepreneurs while weeding out the less talented or fortunate. On the whole, their performance was stellar and will continue to be so if left alone. Yet the lesson apparently did not sink in, and we again hear talk about massive government support and "direction" for hi-tech development.
Israelis believe that the army, a government body, was the chief catalyzer of hi-tech development. While the army's hi-tech units were an excellent magnet for talent, providing it with purposeful objectives and a can-do attitude, this does not prove that other methods of selection could not have been more efficient. Just note that most known Israeli innovations were not done in the army or in other institutional settings, even those affiliated with our research universities.
This should not surprise those who understand that individual initiative and freedom are essential for creativity, in hi-tech as in all other spheres.
ISRAEL NEEDS TO RETHINK ITS GAZA STRATEGY BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE
After a year of relative quiet in the south following the cease-fire that ended Operation Cast Lead, there has been a marked escalation in violence along the Israel-Gaza border. Qassam rockets and mortars are being fired from Gaza, and the Israel Air Force retaliated by attacking targets in the Strip, killing several Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would "respond forcefully" to any fire on its territory.
Incidents involving live fire have aggravated relations between Hamas and Egypt, which is tightening the siege on Gaza. The Egyptians are building an underground steel wall to thwart smuggling through tunnels into Sinai, and are prohibiting supply convoys from entering Gaza through the Rafah crossing. Foreign peace activists who wanted to show support for Gaza were stopped in Cairo.
Gaza erupts whenever Israelis begin to feel that the Strip and its troubles have been forgotten. There is no easy solution to the troubles of 1.5 million poor Palestinians under double blockade, by Israel and Egypt, and whose government is being boycotted by countries around the world. A renewal of rocket fire shows that even a major military operation that brought death and destruction cannot ensure long-term deterrence and calm.
Israel has an interest in stopping escalation at the border so as not to find itself caught up in another belligerent confrontation with Hamas. Netanyahu's threats have not attained this goal. Like his predecessor, he risks placing his imprimatur on public commitments that will only push Israel toward another military operation to "strengthen deterrence" and teach Hamas a lesson."
The time has come to rethink Israeli strategy in Gaza. The economic embargo, which has brought severe distress to the inhabitants of Gaza, has not brought down Hamas, nor has it freed kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The siege has only damaged Israel's image and led to accusations that it has shirked its humanitarian responsibilities in Gaza under international law.
Instead of erring by invoking the default solution of more force, which does not create long-term security or ease the distress of the Palestinians in Gaza, the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip should be opened and indirect assistance rendered to rebuild its ruins. The same logic that dictates the government's actions in the West Bank - creating an economic incentive to prevent terror - can and must work in the Gaza Strip as well.
BARAK MUST EXPOSE NETANYAHU'S 'TRUE FACE' AS HE DID FOR ARAFAT
BY AKIVA ELDAR
Ehud Barak is living proof that a leader can influence history, for better or for worse. The first time was in Camp David, in July 2000, when he was the first Israeli prime minister to break the taboo on dividing Jerusalem.
The second time was when he got back from there, planted the "no partner" land mine and destroyed the public's faith in the possibility of an agreement with the Palestinians.
Almost 10 years later, Barak can fill in the missing pieces regarding an agreement over Jerusalem and dismantle that land mine. It is in his power to change history for a third time, for better or for worse.
True, this time Barak is only chairman of a crumbling party and has never been further from the premiership. However, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak's weight is many times greater than his formal title.
The power of the Labor Party is greater than the 13 Knesset seats it holds. From a political perspective, Netanyahu's government can survive without the Labor Party, but from a diplomatic perspective, the departure of its only left-wing partner could spell disaster. That is the reason he is desperately courting every Kadima MK.
Labor under Barak's leadership provides a beautiful face for this government (everything is relative), which Labor under foreign minister Shimon Peres gave Ariel Sharon's government. If Barak announced he didn't believe the government wants to pay the price of peace, who would be left to persuade U.S. President Barack Obama that Netanyahu meant what he said in his Bar-Ilan speech? The foreign minister from Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman? Shas Interior Minister Eli Yishai? Perhaps Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, from Habayit Hayehudi?
Barak has come a long way since he turned himself into the main salesman of the "no-partner" brand. He seems to be convinced that the failure of a diplomatic move (like the failure of a military operation) can highlight a problem in implementation and the need to correct an anomaly, not necessarily a fundamental flaw. He does not miss an opportunity to explain that the alternative to a two-state solution is a binational state or an outcast apartheid regime. His analytical brain can describe the reality well, but does nothing to change it.
Brark proudly told members of the Labor Party Bureau Friday that the security situation has not been as good for as long a time. He did not need Gaza's firing on the western Negev over the weekend to know that this security is only as stable as the position of the Palestinian Authority.
The cruel embargo on Gaza and delays in the diplomatic process have recently begun to eat away at the motivation of the Palestinian Authority's security forces in the West Bank. How long will Palestinian police agree to act as the occupation's sub-contractors?
Cairo is somewhat hinting, somewhat threatening, that a failure of the Egyptian initiative to renew talks between Fatah and Israel will lead to renewed attempts by Egypt at reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
Rapprochement with Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal will obviously be one of the issues raised in the upcoming meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus. The Arab peace initiative from March 2002 will be presented for ratification at the Arab League Summit, which is to meet in two months in Libya. If by then there is no essential change in the situation in the territories and in the diplomatic situation, this could be the eighth and last time it is presented.
Barak is proud of the fact that at Camp David he revealed "Arafat's true face." The time has come for him to reveal Netanyahu's true face. If the prime minister intends to reach a permanent status agreement, let him assure Abbas that he will delay the tenders for expanded construction in East Jerusalem until negotiations are over. If we are dealing the old Netanyahu, who built neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to undermine Oslo, Barak has no business being in a right-wing government.
What does he have to lose? He has already been prime minister, and he will not be again. At least he will not go down in Israeli history as the undertaker of the party that established the state.
SOLDIERS' RUCKSACKS AND THE RULE OF LAW
BY ZEEV SEGAL
The new procedures formulated by Israel Defense forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi demand that army lawyers be more actively involved in providing advice to fighting forces while war is being waged. The goal is to further anchor practices that already existed, in both the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. In issuing these new orders, the chief of staff accepted the recommendations of Military Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, and the new guidelines reflect the country's commitment to upholding the ethics of warfare.
The Supreme Court has ruled many times that the legal system that is applicable in areas under Israeli military occupation is international public law, and it is from that law that Israeli military commanders derive their authority. The state has declared, in its responses to many petitions, that it adheres to the humanitarian sections of the Fourth Geneva Convention, concerning the protection of civilians in wartime.
As the Supreme Court has made clear, in its large body of judgments: "The Israeli soldier carries in his rucksack the rules of international public law, including those concerning warfare, as well as the fundamental rules of Israeli administrative law." These laws obligate the military to act not only within the limits of its authority, but also to exercise that authority within the bounds of reason and proportionality.
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When every soldier has to carry Israeli and international law in his rucksack, as it were, he cannot do so without legal advice. But Ashkenazi was also guided by the desire to avoid hindering a military operation while it is under way, and he determined that the place of the legal advisers was at divisional and not brigade or battalion headquarters, even though that is the practice in some Western armies, including that of the United States.
Nevertheless, it has to be clear that this does not mean keeping the law off the battlefield, because otherwise it would not be possible to abide by the legal restrictions incumbent upon Israel should it need to defend itself in international forums. Presumably, it was the uproar about the Goldstone report that has augmented the IDF's readiness to do more than what has been done in the past to ensure the legality of its operations, with an emphasis on their proportionality, particularly when it comes to the danger of harming civilians.
Ashkenazi's orders seem to contradict, prima facie, the report of the Winograd Commission investigation into the Second Lebanon War, specifically the chapter concerning the integration of international law and the purity of arms during hostilities. Although the panel dwelled on the importance of these matters, it also warned that "the threat of international law" - or the danger that soldiers would be prosecuted - could in effect paralyze them and prevent them from carrying out their missions.
The commission did not conceal its opinion that it is better to integrate obligatory norms before taking action, while in real time, during fighting, decision makers and soldiers must be free to act, in accordance with those norms and without interference. Only after an operation, in the commission's opinion, should the events be scrutinized and responsibility assigned if there has been a manifest departure from the obligatory norms. In its words: "It is appropriate that the fighting forces, especially the field echelons, should concentrate on fighting and not on consulting legal advisers." And indeed, a member of the commission, Prof. Yehezkel Dror, complained in a letter to Haaretz Hebrew edition (January 8), that the chief of staff had ignored the commission's recommendations.
It can be assumed that Ashkenazi's latest orders were the result of a process of drawing conclusions from the events of Operation Cast Lead. Some of these events may not have occurred if there had been closer legal oversight in real time. In any event, the government is approaching the moment of truth, when it will have to decide whether to comply with the Goldstone's call for it to independently investigate the matters discussed in his report; if it does not, the Security Council is liable to impose sanctions against Israel.
In view of the overwhelming objections among government leaders until now with respect to any proposals for setting up a state commission of inquiry, or a government investigative panel under a senior judge - it is essential to weigh at least the possibility of establishing an independent team of leading Israeli jurists specializing in military-constitutional and international law, to examine the events described in the Goldstone report, and to accompany the work of the military advocate general and his staff. This would bolster confidence in the IDF's investigations and help ensure that in the future, in cases where it is necessary, and to the extent that it is possible, fighting will be conducted within the limits of the rule of law.
LET THE LOSER DROP OUT
BY AMIR OREN
Benjamin Netanyahu has encased himself in a labyrinth with no exit. His government is in danger of falling apart, which will lead to early elections or the formation of a new government, though the Knesset will remain the same. His grand plan, of redeeming Israel from the Iranian bomb while blocking the efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, has come crashing down. A decision on Iran is moving further out of reach, and the political noose is getting tighter. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mideast envoy George Mitchell made this more evident than ever over the weekend.
Netanyahu's clumsy moves aimed at showing unity, determination and decisiveness have, as usual, achieved the opposite. These included a decision to issue gas masks to everyone - a decision that involves more talk than action and that sent a message to the world that Israel is preparing for an attack on Iran and a chemical and biological counterattack - and a desperate effort to bolster his government with either all or part of Kadima, as part of an end-of-season sale, 75 percent off and duty-free. But he hasn't found any political suspenders to keep up his pants for when his belt comes flying off.
Staying in the opposition has not harmed Kadima, according to an opinion poll it conducted recently. Were elections held now, Kadima and Likud would each receive 31 seats in the Knesset and Labor would drop to six MKs, half its current size and even less than Meretz's eight seats, the poll found - and that was before Ophir Pines-Paz resigned as Labor MK.
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But the group photo of Likud is deceptive. The views of most of its members - in the central committee, the Knesset, and even the cabinet - are a lot closer to those of Likud's Moshe Feiglin than of the prime minister on two decisions that reflect a divergence from the party platform: the limited acceptance of a Palestinian state and the settlement construction freeze. The Likud politicians are worried about the revenge of the Feiglinites in the next election. If Netanyahu has the party vote on his surrender to U.S. President Barack Obama, he will lose.
The prime minister's situation will worsen the minute he resumes talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose declared purpose is to push Israel back to the Green Line, including in East Jerusalem, subject to a Palestinian agreement to exchange territory in return for the settlement blocs. The time frame is two years, a compromise between the three years that Netanyahu demanded (obviously intent on linking the talks with an election period in the United States and Israel), and the one year that Abbas demanded.
Netanyahu is being crushed between the White House and by Yisrael Beiteinu. If the attorney general decides to bring charges against Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister may decide that, in his bid to reach a plea bargain that will keep him out of prison, he is better off bringing down the government, and possibly even the Knesset, and disguising himself as a moderate in a government that has Kadima and Labor at its center.
The specter of Shaul Mofaz's candidacy is submerged beneath these currents. If he wins the leadership of Kadima, he may be able to form a government without elections. He has no real chance of doing so after an election, because Kadima's success depends on Tzipi Livni and the party's few assets, like Roni Bar-On and Tzachi Hanegbi, and maybe even Dan Halutz, for whom Lebanon is increasingly becoming a distant memory. Mofaz is a liability. The voters who left Likud and Labor for a Livni-led Kadima will go elsewhere if Mofaz heads the party.
During party primaries, it is common to ask the candidates to remain loyal even if they lose. This is reasonable in the political culture of Reagan vs. Bush, or Obama vs. Clinton. In Israel, from Yitzhak Rabin vs. Shimon Peres to Yitzhak Shamir vs. Ariel Sharon and David Levy to round one of Livni vs. Mofaz, the No. 2 candidates refuse to accept their rivals' victories and constantly seek to undermine them. It would be better to ask the losing candidates to commit to quitting party politics after the primaries. Livni will not be able to serve under Mofaz, and will not be able to trust him if she does beat him a second or a third time. Let them run again, and let the loser go home afterward.
BY KARNI ELDAD
In one of those idiotic "Man of the Decade" TV shows, former prime minister Ariel Sharon's self-satisfied face suddenly popped up at the entrance to the hospital, asking "Have you missed me?"
Well, no actually, we haven't missed you. It's just a pity that you ruined our lives before your departure. The wicked brew you concocted is still bubbling away today, with thousands stuck in mobile homes, ailing, unemployed and with dashed hopes. The destruction and disconnection and the lost way of life is all because of you, Ariel.
"Begin working, boys, begin working," you ordered at Nitzan, where the evacuees decamped to, before the expulsion from Gush Katif. "The government will find a solution for every settler," you said on the Knesset podium, haughty and brimming over with confidence.
But the thing is they did not, and still do not have solutions, and not one of those innocent-looking and eye-rolling people you spoke to at Nitzan has actually begun working.
Four-and-a-half years later, the disgrace of it all still shocks visitors to Nitzan. Not that there are many visitors. I expected to see them, in my innocence and faith in people, my faith in the moral, true left. I expected to see them slapping the fender of a pickup truck and shouting, "Boys, get to work!"
But no. There's no one shouting. Because the goal and the essence of this move was to harm the settlers, humiliate them, break them.
The wise left should realize that leaving the Gaza expellees in temporary housing, the hardships and the bureaucratic mountains they have to overcome, actually totally preclude any future expulsion. Because even those who want to leave Judea and Samaria won't do it when they see that they can't believe anyone.
What lies at the heart of expulsion is not a security argument, or a desire to reach an agreement with the Arabs (let's not say peace), but hatred of the settlers, pure and simple.
This week, my relatives laid the cornerstone for their new home in Nitzan. Yes, only this week. My in-laws are perhaps the average expellees - some of their neighbors have already built, others haven't yet started.
In the foundations of the home, under the cornerstone, Hadar Bashan, my beloved mother-in-law, tossed the shirt that she tore as a sign of mourning on the day of the expulsion.
Can a stable structure be built on a foundation of nostalgia? At the core of the rehabilitation of the expellees lies the yearning to return to Gush Katif. Some have no doubt at all that the home they are building today is a temporary one, until we return and rebuild. There are those who have given up the dream for themselves, but who are sure that their children, or their grandchildren will return home.
My mother-in-law calls the house that's now under construction "an unwanted pregnancy." In the end, a child will be born, and it will have to be loved, of course, but its conception was a mistake.
Some people believe that the expellees have made the deal of their lives - a villa by the sea paid for by the government. Well, to get the story straight, four-and-a-half years ago 8,000 people were expelled from their homes, their communities, their occupations, the landscapes of their childhoods, their whole lives.
Those 8,000 people are now in forced exile. Refugees. Can any compensation dull the pain of their loss? No. From their point of view, they are worse off now.
The settlers are not a homogenous body. Every region has its own character, and accordingly the character of the inhabitants differs. The mountain ridge is rugged, tough, breathtaking. Gush Etzion has green hills, vineyards, tunnels. The people who live in these places reflect the mold of the landscape.
The people of Gush Katif are sea people, soft and loving. If only that love will build their home, and that home will be one of yearning and of innocence.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PRIVATIZED WAR, AND ITS PRICE
A federal judge in Washington, Ricardo Urbina, has provided another compelling argument against the outsourcing of war to gunslingers from the private sector. In throwing out charges against Blackwater agents who killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad's Nisour Square in September 2007, Judge Urbina highlighted the government's inability to hold mercenaries accountable for crimes they commit.
Judge Urbina correctly ruled that the government violated the Blackwater agents' protection against self-incrimination. He sketched an inept prosecution that relied on compelled statements made by the agents to officials of the State Department, who employed the North Carolina security firm to protect convoys and staff in Iraq. That, he said, amounted to a "reckless violation of the defendants' constitutional rights."
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton competed over who would take the toughest line against mercenaries. It is clear that the only way for President Obama to make good on the rhetoric is to get rid of the thousands of private gunmen still deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The killings in Nisour Square were hardly the first misdeeds by hired guns in Iraq, or the last. The army has said contractors from firms like CACI International Inc. were involved in more than a third of the proven incidents of abuse in 2003 and 2004 in the Abu Ghraib prison. Guards from Blackwater which has renamed itself Xe Services and other security firms, like Triple Canopy, have been involved in other wanton shootings.
On Jan. 7, two former Blackwater guards were arrested on murder charges stemming from a shooting in Afghanistan last May that left two Afghans dead.
Still, the government has failed to hold armed contractors accountable. When its formal occupation of Iraq ended in 2004, the Bush administration demanded that Baghdad grant legal immunity to private contractors.
Congress has tried to cover such crimes with American law. The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act extends civilian law to contractors supporting military operations overseas, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice was broadened in 2006 to cover contractors.
But the government has not prosecuted a single successful case for killings by armed contractors overseas. An Iraqi lawsuit against American military contractors by Iraqi victims of torture at Abu Ghraib was dismissed by a federal appeals court that said the companies had immunity as government contractors.
Furious that the Nisour Square case was dismissed, the Iraqi government said it might file civil suits in the United States and Iraq against Xe. But its chances of success are not considered great. The families of many of the victims of the rampage accepted a settlement from Xe last week, worried that had they pursued their civil suit they might have gotten nothing.
There are many reasons to oppose the privatization of war. Reliance on contractors allows the government to work under the radar of public scrutiny. And freewheeling contractors can be at cross purposes with the armed forces. Blackwater's undersupervised guards undermined the effort to win Iraqi support.But most fundamental is that the government cannot or will not keep a legal handle on its freelance gunmen. A nation of laws cannot go to war like that.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE RIGHT TO CONFRONT WITNESSES
Just last June, the Supreme Court decided that when prosecutors rely on lab reports they must call the experts who prepared them to testify. It was an important ruling, based on a defendant's right to be confronted with witnesses against him, but the court is about to revisit it. The justices should reaffirm that the Sixth Amendment requires prosecutors to call the lab analysts whose work they rely on.
On Monday, the court hears arguments in Briscoe v. Virginia, in which a man was convicted on drug charges. The prosecutors relied on certificates prepared by forensic analysts to prove that the substance seized was cocaine. They did not call the analysts as witnesses.
The defendant should be able to get his conviction overturned based on Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the ruling from last June, which held, by a 5-to-4 vote, that using lab reports without calling the analysts violates the Sixth Amendment.
The amendment's confrontation clause guarantees defendants the right to see prosecution witnesses in person and to cross-examine them, unless they are truly unavailable. In cases that involve drugs, and many that do not, lab analysts' work can be a critical part of the prosecution's case. If the prosecutors want to use the reports, they should be required to call the analysts as witnesses.
Critics of the ruling last June argue that it imposes too great a burden and excessive costs on prosecutors. But in states where analysts have to testify, the burden is easily manageable. Ohio's 14 forensic scientists appeared in 123 drug cases in 2008, less than one appearance each per month.
It is not clear why the Supreme Court is rushing to reconsider this issue. There are some differences in the rules on witnesses between Virginia and Massachusetts. But it may be that with Justice Sonia Sotomayor having replaced Justice David Souter, the dissenters believe they have a fifth vote to erode or undo last June's ruling.
As a former assistant district attorney, some court analysts argue, she may be more sympathetic to the burden on prosecutors. As a circuit court judge, Justice Sotomayor did often rule for the government in criminal cases, but making predictions of this sort is perilous. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the court's most conservative members, wrote the majority opinion in Melendez-Diaz.
If the court changes the rule, it would be a significant setback for civil liberties, and not just in cases involving lab evidence. Prosecutors might use the decision to justify offering all sorts of affidavits, videotaped statements and other evidence from absent witnesses.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PROMISES AND FACTS ON CHARTER SCHOOLS
Charter schools which are run with public money but subject to fewer state regulations have a lot of supporters in Washington. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants states to close some chronically failing schools and turn them into charters. Congress is so enthusiastic that it has created a $50 million fund and given Mr. Duncan the authority to directly finance charter school operators who want to replicate or expand successful programs.
Proponents initially argued that charter schools could provide a better education because they were allowed to operate independently. But the research has turned up mixed results. To ensure that this new money goes only to operators with proven records of success, Mr. Duncan will need to be guided by well-designed studies like the one being carried out by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes.
The center startled many education specialists last summer with a report that showed that a large number of charter schools are failing to deliver on their promises. It compared the performance of charter schools and traditional schools in 15 states and the District of Columbia and found that only about 17 percent of charters offered students a better education than traditional schools and that 37 percent were worse.
A new study from the center has turned up a brighter picture in New York City, where students at more than half of the charter schools are showing more academic improvement in math than their traditional-school counterparts. The reading numbers were not as strong, but still nearly 30 percent of charters outperformed traditional schools.
The Stanford study does not explain why charter schools in New York City are outperforming charters elsewhere. But some ideas spring readily to mind.
New York City has a rigorous mechanism for licensing charters as well as strong oversight of performance. The city also gives charter operators free space, and provides them with administrative support so that they can more easily get up and running and comply with state and federal education law. This environment has been a magnet for strong operators that have been treated almost like pariahs in other states.
Critics have often charged that charter schools look better academically because they skim off the most talented students from neighboring traditional schools. The Stanford study rules out this explanation by carefully controlling for all known variables, including race, gender, ethnicity and achievement level.
The success of high-quality charter schools in places like New York supports Mr. Duncan's view that charters can play an important role in efforts to reform the country's flawed education system but only if they are closely monitored and held to high standards.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Anyone who's spent time in Youngstown, Ohio, is entitled to nagging affection for the gritty old steeltown that has long struggled with lost jobs and serial political corruption. Bruce Springsteen lyricized its fate: "I'm sinkin' down here Darlin' in Youngstown." There's a touch of fresh hope at word that a collective yawn is greeting the return of former Representative James Traficant, who is on the streets vowing a political comeback after a seven-year prison stretch.
The politician once beloved as Jimbo is loudly threatening to run again for Congress and working his old shtick about government victimizing the little people. Trusted civic leaders people who fight endlessly for reform estimate Mr. Traficant's standing to be at best as a talk-radio grievance peddler, not as a resurrected politician capable of catching on, as he is trying to do, with the new tea-party theatrics.
Across nine Congressional terms Mr. Traficant became a cherished folk hero with his eagle's aerie of a toupee and House rants ("Beam me up, Scotty!"). Flamboyance didn't work in court. Despite strutting thunderously as his own defense counsel, he was convicted on 10 counts of official corruption and staff shakedowns.
Mr. Traficant was spellbinding in the courtroom a self-absorbed bully, a tragic clown vowing vengeance as he was led off. You had to hope there was no second act for a politician like him.
If there isn't, something is right in Youngstown. Political corruption is still bone-deep; another former judge pleaded guilty the other day to fraud charges. But the city by the Mahoning may have wised up enough to resist Traficant Redux.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LEARNING FROM EUROPE
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
As health care reform nears the finish line, there is much wailing and rending of garments among conservatives. And I'm not just talking about the tea partiers. Even calmer conservatives have been issuing dire warnings that Obamacare will turn America into a European-style social democracy. And everyone knows that Europe has lost all its economic dynamism.
Strange to say, however, what everyone knows isn't true. Europe has its economic troubles; who doesn't? But the story you hear all the time of a stagnant economy in which high taxes and generous social benefits have undermined incentives, stalling growth and innovation bears little resemblance to the surprisingly positive facts. The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.
Actually, Europe's economic success should be obvious even without statistics. For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe official economic statistics or your own lying eyes the eyes have it.
In any case, the statistics confirm what the eyes see.
It's true that the U.S. economy has grown faster than that of Europe for the past generation. Since 1980 when our politics took a sharp turn to the right, while Europe's didn't America's real G.D.P. has grown, on average, 3 percent per year. Meanwhile, the E.U. 15 the bloc of 15 countries that were members of the European Union before it was enlarged to include a number of former Communist nations has grown only 2.2 percent a year. America rules!
Or maybe not. All this really says is that we've had faster population growth. Since 1980, per capita real G.D.P. which is what matters for living standards has risen at about the same rate in America and in the E.U. 15: 1.95 percent a year here; 1.83 percent there.
What about technology? In the late 1990s you could argue that the revolution in information technology was passing Europe by. But Europe has since caught up in many ways. Broadband, in particular, is just about as widespread in Europe as it is in the United States, and it's much faster and cheaper.
And what about jobs? Here America arguably does better: European unemployment rates are usually substantially higher than the rate here, and the employed fraction of the population lower. But if your vision is of millions of prime-working-age adults sitting idle, living on the dole, think again. In 2008, 80 percent of adults aged 25 to 54 in the E.U. 15 were employed (and 83 percent in France). That's about the same as in the United States. Europeans are less likely than we are to work when young or old, but is that entirely a bad thing?
And Europeans are quite productive, too: they work fewer hours, but output per hour in France and Germany is close to U.S. levels.
The point isn't that Europe is utopia. Like the United States, it's having trouble grappling with the current financial crisis. Like the United States, Europe's big nations face serious long-run fiscal issues and like some individual U.S. states, some European countries are teetering on the edge of fiscal crisis. (Sacramento is now the Athens of America in a bad way.) But taking the longer view, the European economy works; it grows; it's as dynamic, all in all, as our own.
So why do we get such a different picture from many pundits? Because according to the prevailing economic dogma in this country and I'm talking here about many Democrats as well as essentially all Republicans European-style social democracy should be an utter disaster. And people tend to see what they want to see.
After all, while reports of Europe's economic demise are greatly exaggerated, reports of its high taxes and generous benefits aren't. Taxes in major European nations range from 36 to 44 percent of G.D.P., compared with 28 in the United States. Universal health care is, well, universal. Social expenditure is vastly highe